One more week before I head to Chengdu and the city is covered in snow. It’s pretty, and it’s somehow still dry here. The snow is like powder, when you touch it, it just disintegrates before you can make much of it. Just like the dirt here, it looks more solid than it is. It doesn’t leave the sludge you get in New York the day after, but when it melts and refreezes you still have the sheets of ice covering the ground in places.
I find I’m oddly homesick these days, but for Mexico. It’s hard to go out much here because of the cold, so I don’t see people as often as I usually do. I miss Spanish, the food, the insults and challenges. Something about Mexico will always be home, even with all of the problems. But, in another week I won’t have time to think about much beyond class.
IST is two weeks of training for us. Language, teaching, culture, and protocol I’m guessing. After that, I can relax a bit in Guilin. I’ll still have Chinese classes, but I won’t have to stress so much, and Guilin is far to the south where it’s warm. I’m looking forward to seeing more of China, and that is a good place to start.
There is a lot going on here, and a lot of people are leaving town for vacation. They head back to their home towns, to other countries, to wherever they can find warmth, be it family and home or just a warmer climate. It will be nice to be in a small town to see the new year in. The Chinese New Year will be awesome, and I should be able to go to the Shaolin Temple in Henan at some point.
There is a weird balance here when it comes to vacation. I have to report all the details of my trip to the Peace Corps before I leave, but I never really plan that far ahead. I have a direction, not a plan. Like in Mexico when we just drove to Colima and saw what there was to see. To Queretaro then up to Xilitla to see something old and beautiful.
Everything here seems to be trying to fit into a box. The order and stability of the Chinese culture, the requirements of a program like Peace Corps, the need for people to have plans, and yet nothing about this place really holds to that ideal. Plans change often and at the last minute. Nothing is really stable, or even known in advance most of the time. Everything changes, and I like it that way.
I think what bothers me is the attempt to contain that chaos. The desire to regulate and limit the chaos. I got used to the chaos in Mexico, and I think that still suits me more than anything. Rules exist to keep us safe, to teach us how to begin, but there is a point when the rules stop being a guide and begin to limit us. Maybe I just took in too much chaos in Mexico and now I have trouble going back.
I was invited to give a lecture on how to create lesson plans during our training, but I don’t know if I can or should teach what I do. I build from an idea, add in comments, chop it up, reorganize, borrow pieces from other people, and wind up with something that resembles order, but it’s really not. It’s chaos, a series of reminders and triggers so I don’t forget what I want to talk about, with parts of it broken down to help teach the students English while we study medicine.
When I first started teaching the Spaniard talked about how we could teach anything in English and it would help the students more than just teaching them English. Rather than just using a sterile language lesson, teach them about computers, or sociology, or anything. In this case, medicine. They have already studied it for years, I just give them the American perspective in English and help them practice. It is English, but it’s also not.
I have been focusing on teaching them how to learn, how to organize information, how to practice, and how to ask questions. Language isn’t something you memorize, but you have to memorize it. It only exists as communication between people, but we spend most of our time learning alone. You can never know if you are right or wrong about anything until you say it and see the reaction, but we memorize all the rules and words beforehand. Language is inherently chaotic, but we try to teach using rules. Begin with the rules, but only use them until you don’t need them anymore.
All the things we do, the games we play, the stories we learn, the music we listen to, teach us something, but in a way that all becomes part of our culture. Here the games focus on tactics and competition, often with a little gambling on the side. Go, Mahjong, cards, but nothing with too much language or culture in in. In the States we have scrabble, taboo, monopoly, clue, trivia games, word games, and an endless variety of board games that involve competition, tactics, conversation, dialogue, and so much more.
Ying told me it was because the Chinese often work hard so when they play, they prefer to relax. I think that is why TV culture became so big in the US so quickly, something entertaining but doesn’t require us to create something new. Or maybe it’s just all the years I spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, creating worlds and lives out of nothing that gives me such a strange perspective on these things. The beauty was always in the stories we created, the stories I remember as much as if they were real.
It’s always hard to tell what is my perspective and what is tied to my culture. America is so varied, with so many people, cultures, religions, histories, and dreams that it’s hard to ever say what Americans prefer. That is one of the hardest parts of talking about it, trying to tell people what we really are. Trying to explain that even we don’t really know who we are.
Maybe it’s just that I finally have a moment to relax and begin to analyze the last few months I’ve been here. All that is left is the class final and an overnight train to Chengdu. The last part of the semester and the beginning of an adventure.