Fall 2008 SST Unit in China

The Fall 2008 unit has returned, but we'll leave this record of their journey here.

Tue, 19 Aug 2008

Arrival in Sichuan Province

We arrived in China on August 8, as the Olympics were gearing up in Beijing. We passed through the Beijing airport on our way to Chengdu, which is our home for our first two weeks in country. Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, is a city of some 4 million. We live on the seventh floor of an apartment building across from the south entrance to Sichuan Normal University, on the southeast side of the city.

We are in Chengdu to participate in the summer language program of Mennonite Partners in China (MPC). We study language in the mornings and explore the city and do business and errands in the afternoons. Thus far the weather has been quite warm but not as hot and humid as we expected. The people of Sichuan are warm and gracious hosts and the food in this region is excellent.

On August 15-17 we traveled by train with other MPC folks to Xi’an, the historic capital of the first emperor. In our next posting, we’ll include pictures and a description of that trip.

Posted at 22:43 #

Trip to Xi'an

On Thursday, August 14 we took an overnight train north to Xi'an, traveling with four other MPC folks. We left Chengdu about 8:30 pm and arrived in Xi'an about noon Friday. We rode in what is known as a "hard sleeper car" with six bunks per compartment. ("Soft sleepers" are somewhat more comfortable and roomier with only four beds per compartment.)

Xi'an is the capital of Saanxi Province, but it is also one of China's most historic cities. In the 200s B.C., Xi'an's king Qin ShiHuang consolidated power and control over a much larger area and thereby came to be regarded as China's first emperor and Xi'an as the first capital of China. Xi'an is also where Buddhist teachings were first taught and translated in China. It is also one of the few large cities in China that has retained its historic city wall and gates.

Friday afternoon we visited the terracotta warrior museum complex outside Xi'an. In 1974 rural workers digging a well uncovered the remains of the first Qin emperor's burial complex. These figures of humans, horses and chariots stood guarding the emperor's tomb and awaiting service to the emperor in the afterlife. The museum includes four major buildings, three of which enclose active archaeological sites. The tomb itself has not yet been opened.

Saturday morning we visited the "Forest of Tablets," a library of ancient texts carved on (mostly) granite. The tablets are almost all indoors today on the grounds of a Confucian temple. Most of the texts are Confucian writings and commentaries. The work that went into craving these huge tablets is astounding. Scholars today study the carvings to understand the evolution of Chinese character writing, as well as the interaction of ancient Chinese thinkers with other schools of thought from around Asia and Europe. One text recounts Nestorian Christian teachings that had made their way to Xi'an by the 700s A.D.

In the afternoon we visited the Saanxi Historical Museum, which houses many archaeological treasurers from about 7,000 B.C. through 1200 A.D. Later we walked through part of Xi'an's "Muslim Quarter," which is just behind the old city's central Drum Tower. In some parts of China, Islam is the religion of Turkish or other ethnic minority groups, but here in Xi’an the historic Muslim community is ethnically Han, that is, they are part of the majority Chinese population. Xi'an is home to China's Great Mosque, a complex that dates from the 700s A.D. and is build in the architectural style of the Tang Dynasty. Many of the old inscriptions in the mosque are Chinese characters, but some are in Arabic.

Saturday night we caught a night train to Chengdu, arriving back at our temporary home just after noon on Sunday.

In late November the SST group will visit Xi'an and see the terracotta soldiers and other sites as part of a train trip north to Beijing.

Posted at 03:02 #

Wed, 20 Aug 2008

Food and friends

We love the food here in Chengdu! Sichuanese food is distinctive in China, known for its variety and spicy flavors. We've eaten at nearly a dozen different small restaurants, each of which serves common dishes and its own specialty items. Restaurants make use of fresh produce. For example, if you ask for a broccoli dish in August, the server will give you a friendly laugh and remind you that it's not broccoli season, so they can't cook it for you.

Members of the Mennonite Partners in China team have been wonderful in helping orient us these first weeks in China. Included here are a couple pictures of them.

Posted at 11:17 #

Fri, 29 Aug 2008

Getting settled in Nanchong

[www.admissions.cn...] -- We arrived in Nanchong -- our SST base for the 2008 fall semester -- on Monday, August 25, just before noon. We were met at the bus station by Professor "Sharon" Wang, an English faculty member here who was an exchange professor at Goshen two years ago, and Ms. Yang, the director of the Foreign Affairs Office of West China Normal University.

We have spent most of this week getting settled into our apartment and beginning to learn our way around the city. Nanchong officially has a population of 750,000, but that includes the metropolitan census area of surrounding smaller towns; the city proper is about 350,000. It is a compact city and we live near the center of town and can easily walk most places, although there is also a good bus system that is quite inexpensive. Nanchong does not have any one major industry, although there is a large oil refinery on the north side of town, which is the largest employer aside from the three universities here.

We are based at China West Normal University (Xihua Shifan Daxue), founded in 1946, and the largest of the three schools here. CWNU was founded to train school teachers, and this remains the largest undergraduate major, but the university now also has a full range of academic programs in the arts and sciences. There are about 30,000 students enrolled in the undergraduate and graduate (master's degree) programs.

We live in an apartment on the "old campus" -- the original location of the school in the downtown area. Six years ago a spacious "new campus" opened north of the city, and two years ago a second section of this new campus opened. Classes are held on both the old and new campuses, and faculty and students live in apartments and dormitories in both. Although the new campus features newer buildings and a lot more green space, the old campus is conveniently located in the downtown and more accessible to stores and eating places and the city's elementary and secondary schools, so many faculty prefer living on the old campus. Most Goshen SSTers will live with faculty families on the old campus, but some will live with hosts who have chosen to move to the new campus. The old and new campuses are connected via a city bus (No. 5) or a university shuttle bus. It takes about 20 minutes, depending on traffic, to go between the old and new campuses by bus.

Downtown Nanchong is home to many stores and restaurants. The Wuxing Huayuan ("Five Star Garden") is the heart of the downtown, and features a number of large department stores.

Between our apartment and the heart of downtown is the expansive Beihu ("north lake") Park.

Hopefully I can post more photos in a day or two. It has been raining the past couple days and I haven't been carrying my camera when I go out.

Posted at 21:10 #

Tue, 2 Sep 2008

CWNU campuses come to life

The campuses of China West Normal University have come to life as students began arriving Sunday and more poured in yesterday and today. The basketball courts, swimming pool, and shaded patios are full of people playing, talking, and reconnecting. The Number 5 bus line, which connects downtown with the new campus, is crowded with young adult riders.

And we're anticipating the arrival of 21 Goshen College SSTers! Tomorrow (Wednesday) we will return to Chengdu and meet them on their arrival at the Chengdu airport on Thursday, about 1 pm local time.

Posted at 09:55 #

Sun, 7 Sep 2008

Host families in Nanchong

Here are pictures of each SSTer with someone from their host family.

Posted at 11:45 #

SSTers arrive in China!

After a long and tiring set of flight that included delays, a rerouting, and mad dash through the Hong Kong airport, the China SSTers arrived safely in Chengdu just after 9:00 p.m. local time, Thursday, September 4. (Remarkably, everyone's luggage also arrived!) Everyone was in good spirits and happy to be on the ground in Sichuan Province. The group spent their first night at a downtown hotel-youth hostel (the "Jiaotong").

The next morning we took a bus north of the city to the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Pandas and Panda Breeding. The 260 acre park contains natural enclosures for adult and young giant pandas, red (lesser) pandas, and infant pandas. The giant panda nursery facility was perhaps the most fascinating area, but photos were prohibited there since the flash would damage the eyes of the young pandas. The youngest was a mere three days old, and a couple others were just a few weeks old. About a half dozen month-old babies were also sleeping in the nursery.

For lunch we went back down town to Jingli Street, a restored 300-year old market street where vendors sell traditional Sichuan food.

Next we met up with 12 Sichuan Normal University English majors and divided into six groups for a Chengdu-wide city scavenger hunt, making use of the bus system. In groups of three or four, Goshen students teamed with two SNU students to gather photos or objects from around the city. And find supper. They left about 2:00 pm and were to be back at our hotel by 7:00 pm. A couple groups arrived around 7:00, but everyone was back by 8:00. Each group had found almost everything, built confidence getting around a Chinese city on public transit, and were able to interact with fellow Chinese college students. (Thanks to Michelle Stabler-Havener for organizing this activity for us.)

On Saturday morning, about 10:45, we boarded a bus sent by West China Normal University and drove to Nanchong, arriving about 2:30. We split into three groups to find lunch -- MPC teacher Dan took one group, Rachel and MPC teacher Karen took another, and Steve took the third. By 4:00 we met on campus for host family introductions.

We gathered again as a group on Sunday afternoon at Rachel and Steve's apartment, for sharing about our first day in Nanchong and their host families, going over schedules, and worship.

Posted at 10:14 #

Sat, 13 Sep 2008

Our first week of classes

During the first six weeks of SST we're studying at China West Normal University. Each day students have two-and-half hours of Chinese language study and two hours of lecture (in English) on some aspect of Chinese history, culture, literature, arts, or ecology.

Typically language classes are in the morning and topical lectures are in the afternoon, although sometimes the times are reversed. During the long noon break students find lunch at a wide variety of area restaurants and explore the city and its shops and parks.

This first week of study included topical lectures on Chinese history to 1949, Chinese values and how they shape communication patterns, and a beginners class in tai chi. Next week's lectures include the family in China, women's issues in contemporary China, music appreciation, and recent Chinese history. Next week we will also have several structured times for interaction with CWNU English majors.

On Thursday evening we were guests at a welcome banquet hosted by CWNU president Dr. Chen Ning. The SSTers and members of their host families were the special guests, as well as several other foreigners who are on campus this year. During the meal, President Chen asked several Chinese faculty members to sing Sichuan folk songs. Then he called on the Goshen students to sing! Quickly putting their heads together, a group of eight decided to harmonize the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," and received warm applause.

Posted at 23:45 #

SSTers practice tai-ji, attract a crowd

On Thursday afternoon, our Chinese culture lesson was a two-hour outdoor session introducing us to tài jí quán (sometimes written here as tai-qi, and in old style, tai-chi). Tai-ji originated in the martial arts tradition, but in modern times it is practiced more for aesthetic and exercise purposes. Traditional movements demand concentration and precise form.

During our two hours we practiced five basic movements. On September 23 we will have another afternoon session, during which time our instructor hopes to teach us five more movements.

Tai-ji was new for almost all of us, and many of us were surprised by how tiring a slow-moving exercise could be!

Thursday was a warm, bright day, and our group quickly attracted dozens of Chinese spectators, who sat politely watching these North Americans practice.

Posted at 06:54 #

Mon, 15 Sep 2008

Mid-Autumn Festival

Today is Mid-Autumn Festival here in China. Somewhat akin to Thanksgiving in North America, Mid-Autumn Festival is a traditional holiday rooted in cycles of rural harvest and a time when families gather for visiting around tables piled with food. Mid-Autumn Festival coincides with the full moon of the eighth lunar month -- which is usually in the second half of September in the solar calendar, but this year falls on September 15. Because Mid-Autumn Festival is a Monday this year, some families gathered on Saturday or Sunday during this three-day weekend. Today the university and primary and secondary schools were all closed. The GC SSTers were the only people in class today!

Most SSTers celebrated with their host families on Saturday or Sunday, joining extended family dinners or going on special outings. On Sunday afternoon a sizable group of SSTers accepted the invitation of some Chinese university students to join them in going to the top of Xishan (west mountain) outside Nanchong. They took a ski-lift to the top and visited a Buddhist temple there.

On Saturday afternoon the Nolts planned to hike up to Kaihan Tower, overlooking the city and atop the Xishan ridge, south of the Buddhist temple. We invited anyone from the group who wasn't doing anything with their host family to join us, and a couple students did. We stopped counting steps after 304, and are certain there must have been at least 700 steps we climbed -- not counting the steps around the base of the tower and the steps we took inside the five-story tower to get to the top. Unfortunately the sky was very hazy, so we couldn't see as far as we would have liked.

Patrick's host family, the Wangs, invited us to join them Sunday evening for their Mid-Autumn Festival dinner. We began by wrapping jiaozi (traditional dumplings). For dinner we ate the delicious jiaozi, roasted duck, and watermelon. And for dessert, moon cakes!

Giving and eating moon cakes are long-standing Mid-Autumn Festival traditions. Moon cakes are small, round, filled cakes. Fillings vary and include fruit, meat, sweet beans, or nuts. Typically they come wrapped in elaborate packaging. By now each of us has eaten many moon cakes!

Posted at 04:15 #

Wed, 17 Sep 2008

Chinese folk music instruments

Today our afternoon lecture was also a recital. The dean of the College of Music, Professor Hu, organized an "Introduction to Chinese folk musical instruments" that featuring China West Normal University music majors.

Chinese students introduced five traditional instruments: the Chinese dulcimer, Chinese zither, urheen, bamboo flute, and suona horn. Dressed in traditional folk-performance costume, the Chinese students played recital pieces on each one. After playing solos or duets on the instruments individually, the music students then performed numbers that involved several different instruments at once -- including an excerpt from traditional Shanxi opera and a traditional tune from Shanghai, "Fighting Against Typhoon."

Afterward the SSTers mixed with the music students to ask questions and pose for pictures. Several Goshen students with deeper interest in music remained even longer, examining the instruments, comparing them with western ones, and discussing the tuning of these folk music instruments.

Posted at 11:43 #

Sat, 20 Sep 2008

Conversations with Chinese students

In addition to their daily interaction with host families, shop keepers and restaurateurs, SSTers have regular opportunity to interact informally with China West university students. As well, we have several more structured times for interaction.

On Thursday evenings our group meets with Chinese students enrolled in Karen Beiler's oral English class. (Karen is an MPC teacher here in Nanchong.) This past Thursday evening 16 Goshen students met with 21 Chinese students in a classroom on the old campus (downtown) and 5 SSTers met with a dozen Chinese students on the university’s new campus, north of town. In small groups they introduced themselves and their families, compared student life at CWNU and GC, discussed their favorite music and movies, and talked about their career plans. Lucas demonstrated his hacky sack skills for several of the Chinese guys. The photos here were taken with the group that met on old campus.

On Friday afternoon, Sept. 19, we met for two hours with 62 Chinese students enrolled in the program for teaching Chinese to non-native speakers. The conversations there were lively and laughter-filled. Photos from that interaction (taken by Drew) are the last several that are posted here.

Posted at 22:29 #

Tue, 23 Sep 2008

Chinese hospitality

Journal entry, Sept. 18

By Ben

(used with permission)

"One thing that has struck me here is the Chinese people's propensity for hospitality. ...I mean everyone: vendors, restaurant owners, the random passerby. ...The other day I went into the store where I had earlier bought a ping-pong paddle, and the same woman was working who had sold me the paddle. I wanted ping-pong balls, but they were 15 yuan, which I didn't have just then, so I was going to come back another day. But the clerk came over and gave me the balls for free because I had bought the paddle earlier, and in her best effort to communicate in English said, "How like China?" My response was "Feichang, feichang hao!" [Very, very good!] I've had so many similar experiences these first weeks. … I can't help but admire a culture where generosity to the stranger is so central to the practice of ordinary interactions."

Posted at 11:06 #

Wed, 24 Sep 2008

It's hot

It's hot here in Nanchong. Typically July and August are very warm and humid, but this year August was unusually temperate. That's why the locals –- and the SSTers –- have been surprised by this year's later September temperatures. It's running 35+ C (95+ F) this week, with very high humidity -– warmer than it was here this summer. Some shops have begun closing from 1 to 3 because of the heat. Our afternoon classes don't start until 3, but the daily question remains: How do you beat the heat?

Hand-held fans and cold drinks are the common answer. Traditional Chinese custom suggests remaining hydrated in hot weather by drinking warm or even hot water, so as not to upset body balance or introduce dissonance into your body by taking a cold liquid into a warm body. So tea shops remain popular places for locals to spend a hot afternoon.

Amidst of the heat we had our second Tai-ji session Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, Chinese university freshmen are completing their two weeks of compulsory military training on campus. This practice, begun across the country in the early 1990s, aims to teach marching formation and other martial skills, but also to instill in university students a sense of "discipline and the hard life." Standing at attention for an hour in 95 degree sun in nylon jumpsuits probably fulfills this latter purpose. Witnessing the military training has promoted discussion among the Goshen students and with their Chinese student friends.

The weather is to change this weekend. We hope for cooler temperatures next week as we travel to three destinations in Sichuan Province. Next week is National Day Week, and schools are closed. National Day in China (much like July 4 in the U.S. and July 1 in Canada) is October 1.

Posted at 01:48 #

Fri, 26 Sep 2008

Enjoying and participating in the arts

Two of our culture sessions this week involved traditional Chinese arts. On Wednesday afternoon we enjoyed a splendid performance of traditional and contemporary dance. Dance students from CWNU's College of Music performed seven dances, including traditional folk dances, a traditional dance reworked to contemporary techno music, a one-person political drama-dance written in 1919, a modern dance inspired by the terracotta soldiers unearthed at Xi'an, a dance entitled "Yellow River" that commemorates Chinese resistance during World War II, and a performance based on a traditional legend of romance.

On Friday morning we had two hours to practice Chinese calligraphy. Our instructor, Prof. Liu Qingyang, is dean of the College of Fine Arts and a noted calligrapher. He is also the host father for Jordan. Everyone agreed that this was a highly-skilled art that was much harder than professor Liu made it look with his easy brushstrokes. You must hold the brush perpendicular to the paper and apply varying amounts of pressure to the brush tip, while keeping the motion constant and smooth. In a couple weeks we will have another calligraphy session.

Dance photos were taken by Drew.

Posted at 04:08 #

Sat, 4 Oct 2008

A week of travel

During China's national holiday week -– September 29 through October 3 -– West China Normal University was closed and the SST group spent the week touring sites in eastern Sichuan Province.

We spent Monday and Tuesday in the 2,300-year-old city of Langzhong. Although much of Langzhong is a modern, contemporary city, the historic heart of the town, by the bend in the Jialing River, has been preserved and restored. A few of the buildings even date to the late 1200s. Traditional architecture and courtyard houses remain. We stayed in a hotel that was once a wealthy merchant's home. We were able to visit two old city towers, the Zhang Fei Temple, and a Qing Dynasty Imperial Examination Room, as well as explore the shops and open air markets of the old city.

Zhang Fei (d.221 AD) was a famous governor and warrior in Langzhong who achieved legendary status as stories of his heroic exploits passed down through the generations. Because he died in Langzhong, locals built a temple at his grave. Re-enactors represent Zhang Fei and his band of loyal soldiers marching through the old city. Today, Zhang Fei is also the brand name of a kind of beef marketed from the city, which some of us purchased.

During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) students from southwestern China came to the regional Imperial Examination Room at Langzhong to try and pass the rigorous civil service exam and earn the right to serve in government. The system was the world's first civil service system.

At one point, when some group members were gathered around an antique shop, buying old 1960s-era political posters, a few of us noticed a TV camera and crew following us. Later, when we returned to Nanchong, we heard from several Chinese friends that our group was featured (briefly, but long enough for them to recognize us) on national television as part of a story on tourist travel during national holiday week. Our footage illustrated foreign tourists enjoying one of China’s destination spots!

On Wednesday we went to Guang'an, site of the Deng Xiaoping Museum. Deng (1904-1997) was China’s paramount leader from 1978 through the early 1990s and introduced far-reaching changes that have shaped contemporary China, including the ending of rural communes, the shift to a market-based economy, and an emphasis on global trade. The museum is located on the grounds of his boyhood farm home, which remains there. The day we visited, National Day, was very crowded with Chinese tourists.

Thursday and Friday we spent on Jincheng Mountain. Thursday afternoon we played several group games, including a competition between two groups to see who could get all members of their group over a 1.5 meter-high rope without touching the rope and without anyone crossing back once they were on the other side. Thursday we were able to hike in the beautiful surroundings, including visiting an old Buddhist temple on the mountain, still inhabited by four monks. Unfortunately Friday it rained, so our activities were limited to reading, board games and catching up on sleep -– all of which were popular activities, even though many of us wished we could have hiked again. In fact, some group members got some exercise by walking for more than an hour, down the mountain, in the drizzle, to meet the bus to Nanchong at the bottom of the mountain instead of waiting for it at the retreat center.

We have two more weeks of classes here in Nanchong, beginning, Monday, October 6.

Posted at 10:52 #

Tue, 14 Oct 2008

Lunchtime routines

This blog has been inactive for more than a week! Last week Goshen College International Education Director Tom Meyers was here in Nanchong for his semester site visit, and then Tom and Steve went to Beijing to make arrangements for our group's travel at the end of November.

Today is a bright sunny day here, just right for taking pictures of some of the students over our midday lunch break. Chinese class ended at 11:30 and our afternoon lecture does not begin until 2:30 this afternoon.

Posted at 01:51 #

Wed, 15 Oct 2008

Sharing music

Last Friday, Oct. 10 and Tuesday, Oct 14, our afternoon cultural sessions featured traditional Chinese music. On Friday music students from China West Normal University taught the Goshen SSTers a well-known Sichuan folk song. In return, Prof. Hu Xuqing had asked if members of the SST group would prepare several songs to sing for the Chinese students. So a quartet of Alyson, Beth, Ben, and David sang two hymns: "God is Here among Us" and "I Sing the Mighty Power of God."

On Tuesday, seven members of the CWNU College of Music--undergraduates, a graduate student, and two faculty faculty--performed eleven different pieces of traditional vocal music, from ethnic folk songs to recent compositions. Again, they asked if the SSTers would perform a song in return. Ben (on piano) and Keleem (on flute) played a jazz version of "Amazing Grace" and then the entire SST group sang along.

In their closing remarks, the Chinese students were were emcees for the afternoon said, 'People are divided by political boundaries and different languages, but the universal language of music is something we can all share."

Posted at 10:11 #

Thu, 16 Oct 2008

Basketball with Chinese characteristics

By Isaac

Journal excerpt

"I was looking forward to playing basketball here. I knew that basketball was a popular sport in China with a growing fan base due to the success of Yao Ming and Sun Yue. (One Chinese student told me he watches every Lakers game on line.) And I figured it would be an activity I could join in without knowing all the language. But I soon found out that the international language of basketball has a particular Chinese dialect.

"For starters there the physical difference. Compared with the average Chinese student with whom I play, I'm much taller and better able to force my way to the basket. The advantage they have is that they are quicker and closer to the ground, giving them better ball handing. All of which makes for a different game that what I'm used to playing back home, and a different game for them when I'm playing with them. They are used to quick dribbling to drive the lane and lay the ball up. But with me in the game, they needed to pull up and short of pass the ball around me. For my part, I've had to learn to make cuts to get past their quick defense.

"But it's not just different skill sets that affect the game here. In China we always play make-it-take-it and they never check the ball, meaning the game is constant play without any breaks. This was exhausting for me. Finally, I asked one of my friends why they play a continuous game. He pointed to the edge of the court and all the people waiting to play. There isn't time to stop when there are so many people and so many teams waiting! Even basketball is played differently to accommodate the large population here. Once again, I saw how a society adapts, even its recreation, to fit its needs and context."

Posted at 01:36 #

Sat, 18 Oct 2008

Party of thanks and farewell for our Nanchong host families

On Friday evening, October 17, the Goshen SSTers hosted a thank you party and farewell celebration for the families who have hosted them for six weeks here in Nanchong. Their language teachers and members of the university Foreign Affairs Office were also guests.

We gathered at the Min Yu Hotel on the north side of Bei Hu Park at 7:00 pm for American-style refreshments: cake, chips and cookies, fruit, and soft drinks.

At 7:30 the Goshen students put on a program, which included Chinese dialogues they had learned in class as well as one written by Kaleem, singing, a hacky-sack demonstration (always intriguing to the Chinese), and a slide show of scenes from the past month and a half.

The SSTers had decided they also wanted to sing some of GC's trademark 'soccer songs' -- the songs students sing back home to cheer on the soccer teams ("Go Goshen Go" and "Maple Leafs Rock the House.") Lacking a soccer game that evening, they sang instead to a mock ping-pong match.

The students also sang the first verses of the Sichuan folk song they had learned in class, and a quartet sang "My Life Flows On, in Endless Song" and "Amazing Grace." The slide show drew a lot of laughter with a series of humorous pictures.

The evening ended with scores of photographs, further visiting and many hugs. Several host family members came up to Steve and said "When your school brings more students to Nanchong, I hope we can be a host family again!"

Tomorrow, the students leave for the service portion of SST, teaching English in three country schools north of Nanchong.

Posted at 09:34 #

Sun, 19 Oct 2008

Service assignments and new host families

The SSTers have moved to their service assignments teaching English in middle schools in three smaller cities north of Nanchong. Middle schools in China encompass grades 7-12, with junior middle school including grades 7-9 and senior middle school, grades 10-12. This is the first China SST group to spend their service component teaching in county schools. The schools were eager to have the Goshen students and to offer their own Chinese middle schoolers a rare opportunity to learn from native speakers. Typically, such opportunities are confined to elite middle schools in large cities.

Early Saturday morning, after taking a group photo at the new campus, we left by bus for Xichong, a small city about an hour north of Nanchong. Adie, Ben, Brooke, Elijah, Lucas, Max, and Melissa will be teaching at the Xichong Middle School, which has an enrollment of 6,000 students.

After saying good-bye to the Xichong group, the rest of us continued on to Nanbu, a city further north. The Nanbu Middle School, with 10,000 students, will be where David, Drew, Isaac, Jordan, Nathan, Rocio, and Sarah will be teaching. Because of street construction around the school, the bus had to drop us off more than a block a way, but the Nanbu English teacher who is coordinating their stay met us there and introduced SSTers and host families right there on the sidewalk.

From Nanbu, the bus took the last seven Goshen students on to Langzhong, a city about a half hour north of Nanbu and three hours north of Nanchong. (Our group had visited the historic section of Langzhong during our national holiday trips the first week of October; the SSTers will be teaching in 'modern' Langzhong.) We arrived in the early afternoon and the school administrators took us to lunch and then introduced the students and host families. The Langzhong Middle School, where Alyson, Beth, Chris, Kaleem, P.J., Pat, and Reuben will be teaching, has an enrollment of 7,000 students, but most of their teaching will be at a special 600-student sub-campus, known as the Langzhong Duowei Foreign Language School.

In each location, the SSTers will be helping teach English to Chinese students whose focus is always on preparing for the rigorous university entrance exam that takes place at the end of their middle school years, and which includes a sizable English language component.

The service host families are associated in some way with the various middle schools: most of the host parents are teachers and a few are staff or administrators. The photos here are of each SSTer and one or more members of their host family, plus the Xichong and Langzhong schools. (There is no photo of the Nanbu campus because we couldn't get there with the bus on Saturday. Steve had visited the Nanbu school earlier, but hadn't had his camera with him.)

Steve and Rachel will begin visiting the students on service next week (week of October 27) and will post updates from those visits.

Posted at 08:47 #

Fri, 31 Oct 2008

SSTers in Xichong

On Monday, October 27 we visited the SSTers in Xichong, a smaller city northwest of Nanchong. They are teaching English at the Xichong Middle School, one of three "key schools" in the Nanchong prefecture -- meaning it is designated as an exceptional school and receives extra funding.

The students faced some challenges here with the teaching schedule, but are doing a wonderful job in the classroom. The administrator offered praise and appreciation for their teaching. The school has asked the SSTers to focus on oral English and listening comprehension, rather than grammar or vocabulary. The SSTers feel a bit like celebrities with all the attention they receive from the adoring middle school students who all want to shake their hands and talk with them.

This week (Oct. 27-31) was an unusual week since most of the senior middle school students here were taking a major standardized exam, so classes were rearranged and not every Goshen student was teaching the day we visited, but I observed five of the seven students teaching two different classes.

The Xichong Middle School is a new building, about three years old. Six of the seven SSTers are living with school teacher families in similarly new faculty housing, just a short walk from the school building. A number of the host families are good friends, and the SSTers here get together and see each other, on their own or when their hosts socialize together, more frequently than those at the other two service locations.

Xichong has grown tremendously in the past 15 years, moving from a sleepy village to a small city of 100,000, but the traffic and general busyness of the city is considerably less than in Nanchong. The Xichong Middle School draws students from the surrounding rural countryside, as well, with many hoping to be the first in their family to make it into college.

Athletic facilities at the school are still under construction, so there is less sports activity here for the SSTers to join.

We ate lunch with the entire Goshen group at a small restaurant the SSTers have discovered in downtown Xichong, and then went to a coffee shop where we had individual meetings with each SSTer. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me at all times during the day, so don't have pictures of everyone. My apologies to friends and family of the Xichong group! We will be returning in two weeks and I will take more pictures then.

Posted at 00:28 #

SSTers in Nanbu

On Wednesday, October 29, we visited the SST group in Nanbu, a growing city of more than 200,000 about 2.5 hours north of Nanchong. The seven Goshen students here are teaching at Nanbu Middle School. Nanbu Middle School is a large campus overlooking the river, with more than a dozen buildings and an enrollment of 12,000 students.

The teaching schedule here is fixed and predictable, but involves teaching several senior grade levels each week, and occasionally teaching a junior middle school (equivalent to American junior high) section. Each week the Goshen teachers develop a new lesson plan -- this week's focus was on introducing vocabulary on North American holidays. They also play word and spelling games, and model oral reading. The school's teachers expressed deep appreciation for the SSTers.

Similar to the other two service locations, Nanbu features middle schoolers who are enamored with the Goshen group, begging for autographs and swarming around them between classes. The novelty hadn't worn off too much after almost two weeks. All of which led Sarah to ask "What would happen if real celebrities ever showed up at the Nanbu Middle School?"

Nanbu Middle School has an impressive athletic complex, and the SSTers regularly play basketball and soccer with Chinese students and teachers.

Most of the Goshen group are living with Nanbu school teacher families, and reside close to the school. They all report enjoying their host family situations. The group here does not see as much of each other outside of school hours as does the Xichong group. They are enjoying getting to know their way around the city.

After observing classes, we went to lunch with the SSTers and then had individual meetings with the students all afternoon in a conference room on school grounds. In the evening one of the English teachers, who is also the host family coordinator and a host father himself, took us and two of the SSTers out to dinner to express his thanks for the Goshen group's presence.

Posted at 03:30 #

SSTers in Langzhong

On October 30 we spent the day with the SSTers teaching in Langzhong, a city of 83,000 about three hours north of Nanchong. The Goshen students are teaching at the middle school's experimental teaching campus, which has a strong foreign language focus.

Each Goshen teaching team works with a distinct grade level: Reuben, Pat and Alyson teach the equivalent of 7th grade, Beth and Chris teach the equivalent of 8th grade, and Kaleem and P.J. have 9th grade. Teachers here have asked the SSTers to supplement the units they are currently teaching, and in some cases utilize the workbook exercises the students otherwise go over with their regular teachers, but to do so with the cadence and pronunciation of native speakers.

Since the Goshen students' teaching schedules differ significantly from one another, they aren't always on campus at the same time, and don't cross paths as often as the SSTers in the other locations do. They live with families who have students enrolled in the middle school, but few host parents here are middle school teachers and few speak much English. Most of the SSTers here report needing to use more Chinese than they did in Nanchong.

We all went to lunch at a Korean-style barbecue, and then had individual meetings until about 5:15. Before our family headed back to Nanchong, I met with one of the Langzhong Middle School headmasters, who told me that that the students and teachers love the Goshen students and the work they are doing.

It was a rewarding week of travel to see the SSTers in action. They have adjusted to life in new Sichuan settings and are doing impressive and appreciated work in their classrooms.

Posted at 04:07 #

Sat, 15 Nov 2008

Attending a Chinese wedding

Several SSTers have been invited to attend weddings during their time here. Rocio attended two weddings, along with her Nanchong host family. Below she shares some description and photos. Weddings here typically take place at noon, and might be any day of the week. The program and reception, typically held in hotel ballroom, usually last two hours, from noon to 2 pm.

"At both weddings I attended the bride and groom met guests at the door and welcomed them. Each guest hands the couple a red envelope with money inside, often 100 RMB per guest.

"The ceremony is very brief and involves reading an official statement of marriage. Mostly, the event seems like a big reception with a program. Traditionally -- for hundred of years, at least -- Chinese brides wore red wedding dresses. They never wore white, because white was the color of death; people were buried in white. But now, some couples try to imitate 'Western wedding' styles with the bride wearing a white dress and veil.

"At the last wedding I attended, the bride wore a white dress and veil for the reading of the marriage statement, but then changed into a red dress which she wore for the rest of the time, including going around and meeting the guests at each table. The couple go from table to table, receiving congratulations from each guest and each table presents a formal toast to the couple.

"After that is done everyone begins to eat. It feels like the meal will never end because they keep bringing out dish after dish. There is so much food!

"I appreciated being invited to these weddings, but I almost felt ashamed that I took some of the attention away from the bride and groom. In both cases, the bride and groom especially came to my table to say 'Welcome to China' and they wanted to have a photo taken with me, as the foreign wedding guest. Even at this important event in their lives they wanted to be hospitable to me as the guest and make sure I was being taken care of."

Further notes: Chinese weddings have undergone a transformation of rituals in recent years. Traditional Chinese weddings, up through the 1940s in urban areas and even after that in rural areas, were rituals that involved families sealing a previously arranged marriage. Today, some Chinese couples are adopting the Western practice of the bride and groom exchanging vows to each other, a practice that represents marriage as an individual choice, and which is seem as a Western interpretation of marriage.

Posted at 11:14 #

New pictures from Xichong

Here are some photos of the SSTers in Xichong, taken when Steve and Rachel visited there again this week. Everyone reports enjoying living with their host families, and that the families are so hospitable. The Goshen students find it hard to believe that they have been teaching here for four weeks already. Only one week left! The SSTers all return to Nanchong on Friday evening, November 21.

Posted at 21:17 #

Nanbu appreciates SSTers

The seven SSTers in Nanbu continue to receive praise from the teachers and administrators at the Nanbu Middle School. When Steve visited them again this week, the local coordinating teacher emphasized that the school was pleased with their teaching and that host families all like having the Goshen students living with them. Four weeks ago, the Nanbu school administrators had expressed caution in accepting responsibility for hosting students, emphasizing that the school had never done anything like this and were unsure how foreigners would be willing to accommodate themselves to Chinese culture. A month later, any concerns are forgotten and stress that the SSTers represent themselves and their school in an ideal way. For their part, the SSTers are enjoying life in Nanbu and the eager students of Nanbu Middle School.

Posted at 22:19 #

After exam week Langzhong SSTers relax at a tea house

The Langzhong SSTers had a bit of a break from teaching this week, since this week Langzhong's middle school students took their two-day quarterly exams, so some regular classes were cancelled and replaced with testing periods. The Goshen students were able to see the Chinese exam process up close -- from the perspective of the teachers and parents who wondered how well their students and children would do, and from the perspective of their host siblings, who were taking the exams. P.J. also helped to grade some of the English exams. As a reward for good exam performance, the school is planning an outing this Sunday, November 16, for the top students and the SSTers, involving games, songs and skits.

The SSTers in the photos here were having tea and coffee and playing cards late Friday afternoon at a tea house owned by members of Beth's extended host family, who insisted that everything was "on the house." (Chris taught all morning, but was not feeling well, so went home in the afternoon to rest and is not in these pictures.)

Posted at 22:57 #

Sat, 22 Nov 2008

SSTers return to Nanchong, prepare to travel

The SSTers returned to Nanchong late Friday afternoon, November 21. Members of the three service locations had not seen one another during the last five weeks, and there was a lot of excitement as they reconnected, sharing hugs and swapping stories. We had supper together at a restaurant by Beihu Park, and spent time catching up with one another.

On Saturday each student presented an oral report to the group based on their SST project -- a particular topic they chose researched via interviews and reading. Topics included Chinese appropriation of Western classical music, the calligraphy of Mao Zedong, marriage and divorce in China, how history is taught in China, the persistence of traditional religious values in an overtly secular society, the significance of the color red in Chinese culture, Chinese bakeries and baked goods, the economy of Sichuan Province in the context of China's growing national economy, and much more.

On Sunday morning, November 23, we will meet for worship at 9 am, and then will have individual, one-on-one meetings with each student throughout the rest of the day. Students are again living with their Nanchong host families during this weekend, and many are spending much of Sunday with their families in a final outing or activity.

Monday morning we'll pack, and then at 2 pm, leave Nanchong by bus for the Chengdu train station and a week of travel. Since it's unclear how much opportunity I'll have to post web updates while we travel, I'll list our schedule for the coming week.

Monday, Nov. 24, leave Chengdu on an overnight sleeper train for Xi'an.

Tuesday, Nov. 25, arrive in Xi'an, and spend most of the next three days (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) visiting sites in and around the city of Xi'an, including the Terracotta warriors, the old city wall, ancient Muslim quarter, and museums.

Thursday evening we board an overnight sleeper train for Beijing, arriving in the capital Friday morning.

Friday and Saturday, Nov. 28 and 29, we visit sites in Beijing. Sunday, Nov. 30, we spend the day hiking on the Great Wall, northwest of Beijing.

Monday, Dec. 1, the SST group departs Beijing on a 7:50 am flight, arriving back in Chicago, via the miracle of time-zone travel, still on December 1 only a few apparent hours later!

We’ve had a great semester and are looking forward to a fun week of travel together, exploring some of China’s magnificent historical and cultural wonders.

Posted at 07:37 #

Tue, 2 Dec 2008

Final week in China, travel to Xi'an

On Monday, November 24 the SST group left Nanchong about 2:30 pm, after several rounds of hugs and a few tears from host families saying goodbye. Our bus ride to Chengdu was delayed as we stopped to wait for missed bags and to change a flat tire, but we arrived at the Chengdu train station in time to make our 8:50 pm overnight sleeper train to Xi'an.

We arrived at the Xi'an train station about noon the next day and met Yin Hongtao, who would be our guide for the remainder of our trip. A former pastor, Hongtao works in the area of church relations for Mennonite Partners in China from his office in Beijing, and had a lot of experience leading North American groups. We checked into our hotel, downtown, opposite the city's central Drum Tower, and then went for lunch. (Hongtao did a good job of selecting different restaurants for us and allowing us to sample the variety of Chinese foodways outside of Sichuan.)

The second half of that sunny Tuesday afternoon we visited the Xi'an city wall. Xi'an has the most complete and best preserved city wall remaining in China, enclosing the old downtown city center. The wall is about 8.5 miles in length, 40 feet high and more than 40 feet wide across the top. There are four gates through the wall, one on each side, allowing traffic to enter and exit the old city center. The wall was first built in the 600s (Tang Dynasty), and rebuilt to its current dimensions in the 1300s (Ming Dynasty).

Atop the wall one can survey the enclosed city and also look out over the new city that spreads as far as one can see in all directions from the walled city. We rented bicycles and rode around the top of the city wall for about an hour.

Posted at 22:03 #

More time in Xi'an

Knowing that we would be traveling north into cooler latitudes, we wondered what the weather would be like during this final week of travel. Happily, we had very nice weather almost all week. In fact, Wednesday, November 26, was our only cold day, with drizzle that made if feel even chillier. On that cool and damp Wednesday morning we visited the terracotta soldiers that guarded the tomb of emperor Qin Shi Huang, China's first emperor (d. 210 BC). The site is about 45 minutes outside Xi'an, and was discovered in 1974 by local peasants digging a well. Since then, archeologists have conducted several massive digs, but have only unearthed a portion of the site. They believe that more than 6,000 figures -- each with unique facial features -- are buried here, and only a portion of which have been excavated. The excavated soldiers and horses are visible in three buildings that enclose three archeological pits. A fourth building houses other exhibits related the area and bronze chariots discovered in another dig in the region. Emperor Qin's tomb itself has yet to be excavated.

That afternoon we visited Xi'an's Muslim quarter, and the students had the later afternoon and evening as free time on their own. Being in Xi'an, a major city that receives many tourists, was something of culture shock to our group. We were unaccustomed to seeing so many foreigners, as well as Starbucks, Pizza Hut and other Western establishments that seemed so plentiful here. Later in the week, in Beijing, such sights were even more common.

Thursday, November 27, we visited two museums in Xi'an. The so-called "Forest of Tablets" is a Confucian temple which, since 1087, has housed a remarkable collection of some 3,000 inscribed stone tablets, including early editions of Chinese classics, family and imperial records, and other documents all carved in stone. The collection allows linguists to study the evolution of Chinese character writing over the centuries, and the SSTers enjoyed identifying the characters they now recognized after several months of studying the language. The "Forest" is also testimony to the significance of the written language in Chinese culture, and the care that has been taken in creating and preserving texts. Next we visited the Shaanxi Provincial Museum, which houses exhibits on the archeology of central China from prehistoric times through the 1200s.

In the afternoon we visited Big Wild Goose Pagoda (Dayan Ta). Built in 652 AD, during the Tang Dynasty, the pagoda and grounds became home to the scholar Xuanzang, who had traveled to India and returned with Buddhist documents that he then translated from Sanskrit into Chinese, thus making Wild Goose the birthplace of Chinese Buddhism -- yet another reason Xi'an is often said to be the most historic city in China. We ended Thursday afternoon at the train station where we caught a 6:48 overnight train to Beijing.

Posted at 09:45 #

Wed, 3 Dec 2008

Visiting Beijing

We arrived in Beijing at 6:30 am on Friday morning, and encountered the morning rush hour traffic in China's sprawling capital city of 17 million people as we spent an hour on the bus going from the Beijing West Train station to our hotel on the northeast side of the city. After taking a bit of time to rest after our short night on the train, we headed out to see several sites in Beijing, beginning with the Olympic Park venues. Later we went to the Summer Palace (Yihe Yuan) on Beijing's northwest side, which was the expansive summer retreat for the imperial family from 1750 until 1911. The grounds included the largest botanical gardens in the world, as well as royal residences, and a huge temple build on Long Life Mountain, which rises behind the palace. The mountain is a remarkable example of human effort, created from the earth that was removed in the process of digging the large man-made lake which the Summer Palace fronts. Burned down in 1860 and damaged in 1900, both times by invading European forces, the Summer Palace compound was rebuilt and remodeled after each attack. Unfortunately, the SST leaders' camera battery died just as we arrived there, so this page has no photos from the Summer Palace, although we posed for our official China SST 08 group photo here, by the lake with the palace in the background. The shot was captured on several SSTer's cameras, and when one of the photos is forwarded to me I’ll add it here. Climbing to the top of the temple which rises above the palace grounds offers a fabulous view.

On Saturday, November 29, we began our day with a walk through Tiananmen Square, and then explored the Forbidden City. After lunch at a Mongolian hot pot restaurant, we spent the afternoon at the Temple of Heaven and Pearl Market. The Forbidden City, which covers more than 180 acres, was the imperial compound for Ming and Qing emperors from the early 1400s until 1924, when the last emperor (dethroned in 1911) was finally driven out. The complex includes scores of building and thousands of rooms, most of which now house Chinese cultural treasures. The Temple of Heaven, built in the 1500s, was the center of annual religious rituals carried out by Ming and Qing emperors in honor of heaven and to pray for good harvest.

Posted at 11:05 #

The Great Wall -- and the end of a Great Semester in China

On Sunday, November 30, we spent time hiking on the Great Wall. The wall, which runs across the top of mountains that once provided a barrier from northern invaders, was originally 2,587 miles long. Not all sections remain intact, but several major portions near Beijing are open to walk. After the bus drove as far as it could, we hiked the rest of the way up to the wall, an ascent of 500 meters. Once we arrived at the top, out of breath from the steep steps, the panoramic view took our breath away in another sense. Most of us walked from the tenth to the fourteenth tower (the wall is measured by the towers that mark its length in particular places). The Wall itself –- its construction and sheer immensity –- is amazing, but so too is the view one gets from the Wall, as you literally walk across the top of the mountain range.

That night we gathered for a 'last supper' as an SST group, and enjoyed a local specialty, Beijing duck. We all agreed that it was very hard to believe that three months had passed so quickly, and yet at the same time, it seemed that so much had happened this semester. We were eager to go home to see our families again, but more than a little sad to leave this place we had come to appreciate and enjoy, where we made new friends and lasting memories. As SST leaders, we received much from the semester and each member of the SST group. It was rewarding in so many ways to watch students engage a new culture, connect with host families, use their gifts and skills, and grow in self-confidence and understanding. None of us is sure if or when we will return to China, but many of us hope to do so. And all of us will carry our China experience with us for a long time to come.

Posted at 12:00 #

China SSTers arrive in Goshen

China SST students alighted from their bus at 6 a.m., December 2 in front of the Goshen College Union building.

Posted at 22:23 #

Goshen College
International Education Office
Kevin Koch
+1 (574) 535-7346