What may come as a surprise for some friends, family, and students has actually been a defining moment for keeping the last 7 years of my life from gathering dust. Originally, my 5 year plan saw me coming back to New England, finding a job, and perhaps marrying a Chinese Harvard grad! But since publishing that plan I realized that none of my plans would appropriately take advantage of my valuable experience in Asia. I have made a decision based on the realization that completely moving back home would not have been the best investment of my time, business relationships, and experience. Some might be thinking, “Where did this change come from?” or “Isn’t this a little sudden?” I understand that reaction, but have a different way of looking at it. Since it might be a bit much to swallow all at once, I’ll just describe what has been going through my mind over the past three or four weeks.
“The China Guan” is my way of calling this amazing 2010 World Expo pavilion that still receives thousands of visitors per day in Shanghai. The building is a tribute to traditional Chinese architecture dating back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-467 BC). From this artist’s rendition you can see the “interlocking wooden brackets” which are the most important element of this kind of traditional structure. Although I hadn’t made the effort to visit the Expo in 2010, I felt it was important to see this pavilion before it gets torn down… or perhaps it will be the only building left standing in this expensive downtown location.
The China Guan really impressed me not only because of its unique outer covering, but mostly because of the video exhibit that you are shown in the first hall. After taking an elevator up one of the legs of this massive building you are led into a dome-like video area. The room is packed with people eager to get a dose of modern Chinese culture. The lights dim to black and the show starts. Continue reading The China Guan: Shanghai
Good food on a budget is a specialty not only in China, but across the developing world. In countries which have recently joined the world economy, or only within the past 20-30 years, local food traditions have stayed strong. And although Western food is becoming more popular in these countries, their preference for local traditional dishes is unlikely to change in the near future.
The one common remark that students studying abroad make about their experience is that food doesn’t meet their standards. For example, the pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and salads option that fill cafeterias in the US provoke a homesickness that is unavoidable. Looking at the common dish I had for dinner last night, could you blame them for missing home?
Of all the concepts that differ between Western and Eastern culture, I’ve found that age represents one of the deepest divides. When China celebrated its 60th year of founding their nation in 2009, I quickly discovered that it was more than just a multiple-of-10 anniversary; China had become a fully matured adult. The phrase for turning sixty is “年过花甲”, which is a cycle of 60 years; or literally becoming a flower. 花 is flower in Chinese, but in this case it represents the white hair of a 60 year-old.
There is a respect for elders here (in China and greater Asia) which I’ve never experienced before my arrival in 2004. Back home turning 40 means going “over the hill” which is a concept that doesn’t exist here. The jokes about “getting old” are supposed to be playful, but actually linger in our subconscious… Wouldn’t it be nice if getting older was a sign of wisdom and experience, rather than a reason to be pitied?
Times are changing. Its true that Asian people don’t enjoy getting old either. They also wish to stay young forever… and they certainly try! After about 20 years of life it seems both Western and Eastern cultures start getting nervous about age. Perhaps they should get married soon… have a child before 30… own a house by some other pre-set age… Parents out here are mostly at fault for causing the age-anxiety in their children. As for me, I’m just lucky to have very supportive parents who don’t set arbitrary expectations on their children. I’m taking my time and enjoying the ride. So, thanks for the freedom mom and dad; you won’t regret it!
March 12, 2007 – 4:00pm Meeting with …. The Whole Staff! Johnson (Wang Manager-Lobby) Simon (Yan Asst. Manager-Lobby)
A situation that I wanted to avoid became unavoidable today! My intention was to meet the manager(s) of the Guest Relations office or Front office. I hoped to discuss what their specific situation is like before meeting the staff altogether. I thought this would be a good step-by-step approach. This is China right?? But, i got a kind of rushed (almost Western) feeling.
I arrived on time, greeted by Wang Qi, the bellboy who was my initial contact. He had been there for 2 years and his English was severely lacking- my first conundrum, although extremely friendly. He took me to the 3rd floor and we stopped outside the VIP conference room. That’s when he said “Everyone is here.” I said “really?? well… this is not what i expected. I’m not prepared to hold a class. I should talk to the manager first.” Then, the Asst. Mngr., Simon, came out to talk to me. He said “Hello, nice to meet you!” I also met Manager Wang. They told me about 20 staff members were waiting in the meeting room…
Now, i wanted to just meet these two men and discuss returning for a few classes, however, a new situation slapped me in the face: an actual class! So, I told them it would be a short meeting with the staff and in I went… I was applauded and got a standing ovation. I was under pressure!
I basically adapted what i planned to say with the managers to suite a large group of people. I used my famous “Make a friend with you” example. This got an immediate response from about 5-8 people; the other 12-15 were lost. (I suggest this for future initial meetings. It helped me see how many intermediate and upper level students there were. Also, it lightens the mood!)
Here is the breakdown of the staff:
Most are at a very low level of English. A few have actual questions that could be useful to discuss. BUT, that’s not the case for most of them.
If they are ALL lumped together in one class, i’ll spend the beginning on simple conversation and dialogue + vocab. In the middle, I’ll discuss some upper level vocabulary with “contextual” examples. Finally, i’ll review the simple conversation with the lower levels. They will form pairs and repeat the dialogues.
Here is what the managers expect the classes to include:
Of course, they want their staff to understand specific cultural differences between the languages, but they think a major focus should be vocabulary. So, i plan to give them relevant vocabulary and their various forms/ parts of speech. Looks like i’ll be in the book store tomorrow AM…
Specifics about the Catic Hotel:
1) They don’t have an “annual English program” for their employees. It doesn’t surprise me considering the low level of English most of the staff has. The lobby managers are young, with fair English, and very interested in helping their staff improve English. Good prospect!
2) The Asst. manager of their department is a slightly older woman who speaks no English. She looks a little impatient as well. I should consider her more next time I visit!
3) Hotels in general seem to have just a couple very good English speakers. Their abilities must be considered and we should allow them to take an active role in helping the class. It’s a chance for them to shine, not for them to feel isolated.
4) Simon mentioned “hui bao” or “repayment.” The hotel really seems to want to repay me in some way. I will be more clear about what I hope to do in the future in order to quench their curiousity. Maybe I need to up the ante after the first classes of both YinDo and Catic.
5) Catic’s design and managerial aspects are much more creative and youthful. Their strong support can really be useful for the website and future tutor offerings!
6)* Over a plate of Baby Japanese Octopus, Simon discussed the hotel’s goal to have the “Best Front Office/Reception” in Zhuhai. There must be some kind of award for this. If so, find the source and advertise future “Hospitality English” training programs there.
Zhuhai, China & Venice in a day (maepearl.wordpress.com)
March 8, 2007 – 9:30am Meeting with Zhou Laoshi. (HR department- 13 years experience)
Meeting with Zhou Laoshi was a pleasant experience this morning. I found out, ironically, that she was probably in her late 40s and rather traditional, but ready to accept me and bring me in for a few test classes ASAP! One of the most important experiences of all, though, were the moments when her boss would speak Chinese with her. This was the “invisible wall” factor that most chinese count on and 99% can trust is there.
You know, it’s the “we speak our language with the foreigners present and assume they can’t understand it” wall. For example, they had already agreed on times for me to come in next week and then the HR Manager asked about “future cooperation,” “what does he want to do with us in the near future?” “Will these classes really be free?” etc. I knew about these discussions and waited for the translated version from Zhou Laoshi. (She was very diplomatic by the way. She didn’t want to discuss the future yet, so she just simply left it out of the conversation. I respected that invisible wall and didn’t bring it up.)
This was perhaps the most victorious feeling i’ve had since my stay here in China. I’m now able to (listen through that wall and) consider all of these outside ideas, projections, and queries without responding to them instead of the translator. I feel like changing my name to a number… maybe 008!
We discussed the following points, which I will remember easier in a list:
1) Major problems for teaching English with the current hotel scheduling system:
a. Entire staff on different levels. Some think the lessons are too simple, while others find them too hard. Can’t be consistent with everyone!
b. A group works together one week, at the same time. The next week there is a time change for half of them. This creates different mixes of staff in the classes, creating inconsistant groupings in class.
2) Because of the above, there is always a dropping number of students no matter what is done to counter that; It goes from MANY to A lot… to some……. to few …………to very few.
3) 600 employees, but many don’t need English. IN FACT, only 15% of the guests are Westerners. This creates less demand for English study. *MORE Korean and Japanese* Although i did argue the fact that many Asian people can’t speak Chinese either.
4) March and April are the slowest times of the year. The times when hotels do annual English Lessons to reteach the basics to everyone.
a. May- (1-7) is Golden week, a big time for chinese travellers.
b. Summer months are usually busy because of Zhuhai‘s resort status.
c. Sept./Oct.- Moon cake time (Famous in ZH) they sell “1,000 million” I guess…
d. Oct. (1) is national day, busy time.
e. Nov./Dec.- Most people get married during these months to get ready for the New Year.
So, it was a productive morning. I had coffee after the initial meeting and I got a tour. I met everyone from high-level managers to trainees. All had rather mediocre English, but i stayed positive through it all. Sometimes i showed my chinese ability, but not in front of Zhou Laoshi or her boss. I will keep that a secret the staff doesn’t leak it first!
I further learned that the foreigners in this area are mostly Korean and Japanese. This is an idea that I would like to apply to my website- a kind of teacher search portal, but more on that in the next post.