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Month: September 2017

Dispatch from a cafe on a rainy Saturday

Dispatch from a cafe on a rainy Saturday

As I teach, I am learning to be more of a self-starter. I now direct the students’ learning: instead of sitting at a desk, I am now at front of the room, standing on a platform both literal and metaphorical. I have become very into reading teaching blogs and ESL forums and have taken to wearing my glasses and sweater sets more. (That’s not true, I don’t own any sweater sets but if I did now would be the time to break them out.) I am in charge of facilitating student learning, which is a big responsibility.

I have also been continuing to explore Nanjing. I discovered the charming on-campus bookstore and today plan to learn how to send mail. Yesterday, I went on an adventure that led me to take two buses an hour to the north of Nanjing to look at the bridge crossing the Yangtze River (南京长江大桥). It is one of the longest in China. When I exited the bus at the last stop on the line, I appeared to be alone under a highway underpass. There was no signage so I wandered for a bit, then discovered that the bridge is closed for construction. I will go back in spring!

On one of my more successful adventures, one of my roommates and I took the subway a few stops to Xuanwu Lake Park (玄武湖公园). Xuanwu is a gorgeous lake, right in the middle of Nanjing (pictured above). It is surrounded by a 500-plus hectare park and houses part of Nanjing’s massive Ming Dynasty city wall. We got lucky and the weather was stunning, 70s and sunny. The park was crowded with local families. I am thrilled to have access to such green spaces.

There is still so much to see in Nanjing, and I am hoping to wander more during the upcoming week. October 2-8 is a holiday week, celebrating China’s National Day (founding of the modern PRC) and the Mid-Autumn Festival. We have been warned that traveling during the National Day holiday is hectic — all of China is on the move — but may venture to Shanghai or Suzhou, a nearby city famous for its gardens and crafting.

Although teaching and adventuring are forcing me to be more independent, living in a new place reminds me of the importance of relying on other people. I don’t know all of the social norms and so must frequently ask people for information and help. My Mandarin is not good enough to call the bank or even set up a phone number, so the incredible student assistants help. They are so patient and I am very grateful! It is both humbling to be surrounded by such kind people and also good motivation for me to keep studying Chinese, so that I can be more independent.

Last week was the first week that I taught all of my classes and went to intensive Chinese classes. Nanjing Normal has a vibrant study abroad program and we are allowed to audit their Chinese intensive classes. Now I am happy to report that I study Chinese for a few hours a day, three times a week. I am slowly starting to be able to eavesdrop, which is hugely exciting. I will report my findings in the next blog.

On Learning to Teach

On Learning to Teach

I started strong this week by locking myself inside my own office. My Monday began as usual: I rolled out of bed, made coffee and caught the inter-campus shuttle to Xianlin Campus, where I teach. I arrived about 45 minutes later and walked through a light rain to my building. I had just arrived in my fifth floor office and put my bag down when a gust of wind slammed the office door shut. I tried and failed to pull the door open. I grabbed my keys and tried to undo the bolt. That failed. I tried again and then called one of my roommates, trying to disguise my panic at being locked in a room alone. How would I explain what happened when I was released, possibly days later? Finally, a specific twist and pull movement released the door and I was freed from my office prison.

On Tuesday, there was another lock-based incident, this time at my Suiyuan office. Nanjing Normal has two campuses and we are lucky enough to have offices on both. This Tuesday morning, I tried to go work at the Suiyuan office and found myself unable to open the door. In a reversal from Monday, on Tuesday I was locked out of my own office. Instead, I worked in a nearby room, where I was very productive and finalized some class plans.

I have an incredible amount of freedom to create a curriculum, which is a blessing and a challenge. A blessing because I can cater the class to my students’ interests, which often center upon practicing their pronunciation and gaining confidence when speaking. It is a challenge because I have never created curriculum before and there are so many possibilities. I am absolutely still learning, gauging how long activities will take is especially challenging, but I am really enjoying working with the students and looking forward to the rest of the semester. I love teaching Greek Mythology, though it is a challenge not to teach everything from the heavily feminist classicist’s perspective. I’ll have be subtle as I continue to further my feminist agenda. I do slip in Classical Greek words whenever possible. So far, we have learned mythos, barbaros, and hubris and I am beginning to sound like the father from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

I am very grateful to previous Wellesley fellows for their course material and advice. Today (Wednesday) I discovered a treasure trove of unit ideas and previous final exams in our office (once I opened the door). It is so helpful to see previous lessons, ideas that worked in the past to use as a guide for my own planning. The binders also contained some fun pronunciation exercises. For example, “Wring out the towel as you pronounce the vowels in, ‘How now, brown cow?’” I aim to include a moment of nonsense or fun in each class, whether that be tongue-twisters or puns, and these will provide fun practice for my students. Although I have to say, with its tones, Chinese has English clobbered in the tongue twister division. One famous Chinese version is just a bunch of “shir” sounds, pronounced in different tones and very quickly. Needless to say, I’ll spend the rest of the year practicing that one!

About the photo above: One of my roommates and I went exploring the area near Fuzimiao Temple, which is south of our home in the Gulou district. Fuzimiao is much more touristy, the streets are wider and the architecture is more traditional. It is very pretty, especially on a sunny day! There are more photos in the “Photos” tab on the top right.



This Saturday marked the end of my first full week in Nanjing. The city has proven to be much greener than I anticipated, with sycamore trees lining most streets. It is also more bustling: the largest subway station has 18 exits. I am having fun exploring my new home with the help of Baidu Maps, the Chinese-version of Google Maps. Baidu has no English language option, which adds a fun element of uncertainty to my journeys. I have also obtained a guidebook and plan to explore the city one cardinal direction at a time. This weekend, I went east!

Slowly, I am becoming more comfortable speaking Mandarin and can now handle basic transactions, like purchasing fruit at the fantastic, 24-hour fruit market near campus. I am still working on more complicated interactions, such as ordering food. Recently, I tried to obtain a bowl of noodles and got a bit flustered. The woman behind the counter told me how much the food was, I misunderstood and shouted out, “我吃肉!,” which means, “I eat meat!” Shockingly, she managed not to laugh and I was able to pay for my noodles.

In a few crucial ways, despite its size, Nanjing is very accessible. Its public bus and subway system is efficient, timely, and well marked (in both Chinese and English). This makes exploring the many corners of the city easier. On Saturday, one of my roommates and I took the 4 subway line and explored the eastern part of the city. There we wandered Wuchaomen Park (午朝门公园), looked at the ruins of Nanjing’s imperial palace, and clambered up part of the Ming dynasty wall, the Meridian Gate. Those walls must have been incredibly thick, because the gate was around 50 feet across (that probably is not an accurate estimate, give or take 20 feet).

Nearby the park is the Nanjing Museum, which had a neat exhibit on the connections between Golden Age Russia and China during the early Qing dynasty. Our understanding of the exhibition was hampered by our limited proficiency in Mandarin and lack of proficiency in Russian, but it was interesting to see the artifacts.

Along with sightseeing, I’ve been planning classes and getting set up in my new home. This afternoon I teach my first class, Mythology and Folk Literature. Wish me luck!