Saturday, October 9, 2010

Notification of new blog

Hi guys,

Accessing blogspot is too much of a hassle with the Chinese censors so I am switching blog venues. My latest post and any following can be found at

Sorry for the troubles,


Monday, September 27, 2010

The encroaching fall and other things

The past few weeks have been quite enjoyable in Kaifeng. The weather is beginning to turn; you can feel it in the early morning. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 6:30am our running club meets for a jog around our part of town. This Tuesday morning in particular had a distinct flavor of autumn. The cool breeze made for very pleasant jogging weather. Additionally, though it is still quite green in the gardens around campus, more and more leaves fall every day. Without fail, Mrs. Liu, Lao Wang’s precious little wife, is out every morning at 6:00am sweeping up the fallen leaves with a massive bamboo broom.

The Mid-Autumn Festival celebration has just passed. The mid-autumn day, according to the lunar calendar, was on September 22nd. The campus had Wednesday through Sunday off for the celebration. Many students returned home to be with their families. The customary food of the festival is moon cake, a sweet little run treat that is filled with all kinds of filling from red bean to beef. They are a very polarizing food; you love them or you hate them. I am in the ‘love them’ camp. On Mid-Autumn night, we gathered in a quiet park on campus and watched a full orange moon rise over the east track complex. It was a perfect night for moon-gazing. Fireworks were booming all round the city which provided the appropriate festival atmosphere.

The Frisbee club is going well. We had a very intense game between the foreign teachers and some advanced Chinese players on Sunday. It was all in good fun of course!

Classes are also quite enjoyable. My students shed all fear of speaking in front of class when they act out their self-designed dialogues at the front of the room. They are hilarious! It takes all of my willpower not to burst out in laughter. They are quite creative and work diligently to quickly memorize their skit and present it to the class. My third years have their first composition to write: topics related to alternative energy. We’ve been discussing the tenants of a good essay and thesis statement and I believe they will do well on their first big assignment.

For the upcoming National Day holiday we think we might take a train to Shanghai for the Expo. More on that as the story develops…

P.S. The college PE classes are out on the east track doing aerobic exercises to Lady GaGa.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Some Interesting Experiences

This weekend has been a very exciting and refreshing time for the lao wai (foreigners). On Saturday night, Ben suggested we have dinner with a student of his from outside the university. All we knew is that his student was older and carved wood for a living. We weren't entirely enthused about the idea but that all changed when the night began.

Ben's student pulled up to the foreigners complex in a very flashy, fancy, state of the art Toyota SUV (dude obviously has some money--hint 1). The driver stepped out and we saw a young man, fashionably dressed, with long, jet black hair pulled back. We piled in the car after greetings and enjoyed the Indian pop music softly playing in the background. The first stop was this man's main store. We learned that his name was Zhu Xue and that he is a Kaifeng native. Upon arriving at his store on the west side of town, we quickly realized that to say that he was a "wood carver" was a huge understatement. His work was amazingly beautiful and intricate. The whole facade of his storefront was two stories tall and completely hand-carved to look like lions.

Inside were his pieces ranging from coasters to a drivable wooden car carved with a mind-boggling array of intricately designed Olympic themes (for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing). There were wooden dragons, beds, thrones, desks, tables, lamps, globes, and more, all hand carved by Zhu Xue. Some projects took two days while others, like his wooden version of the famous Qingming Scroll (a painting from the Song Dynasty depicting typical Kaifeng life-it is very large) which took 5 years to complete.

He also did excellent calligraphy and made each of us a character of our choosing to take home (see picture). We then dined with him at a very classy restaurant. When dinner had finished up and we were heading home, he asked us if we liked singing. We said yes so he took us to the "best KTV (karaoke) place in Kaifeng." KTV is awesome because you and your party get your own techno-decked-out room with plush couches, strobe lights, and alcohol. There was a huge flat screen TV with an interactive touch screen song-choosing station and two microphones that made your voice boom. It was a very fun time singing Celine Dion and Aerosmith, etc. (all the REALLY GOOD SONGS for over the top singing with your friends).

The next morning, Marija rode Ben's bike with me as I ran north, 8 km away to the Yellow River. The road went due north and we passed endless rice paddies and corn fields. The road T's and we turned left, which quickly opens up into a park area. Along the park's main road there are small cut-offs that you can take which meander through willow groves and corn fields. The park is sprinkled with pagodas, statues, and sheep. We went down a cobblestone path that led us to the Yellow River itself.

Seeing this famous River was everything I'd hoped it to be. There is a huge clay flat that stretches 500 feet or so from the river's edge. The world seemed to open up and it was just gooey clay, yellow water, and gray sky. The river moved surprisingly quickly and was very cold. We took off our shoes and walked in the clay, which sank and collapsed beneath our feet. Wading into the water (picture), I suddenly felt very small and insignificant in comparison to the water. The Yellow River is known as the cradle of Chinese civilization, and all I could do while I stood in the shallows was think about the thousands of years of history, life, and culture flowing over my feet. It was a humbling experience.

After running/biking back we played our bi-weekly frisbee with the frisbee club that we've started and now I'm here!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The First REAL Day of Class!!!!!!!

Hello everyone,

I finally had my first day of classes! They went wonderfully! My first class was an afternoon writing class for Juniors. There were 38 students in a small, cramped, and hot room. I had to shout over the car horns and the ever present hustle of the Kaifeng streets floating in through the open windows. The students were attentive and excited. On my survey, I asked the question, "If you had a superpower what would it be and why?" I received a variety of responses, but a majority dealt with reading the hearts and minds of others, and the reason for this was so that the students could help other people be happier. Many also wished that their superpower could make everyone in the world happy. In short, all of the students expressed very selfless qualities which I thought was very endearing.

Another class activity was a short writing exercise with the following prompt: "Time spent at university can be very eye-opening for students. What experience has had a significant impact on you during your college career so far? Why?"

To provide an example of how to respond, I described to the class my experiences that occurred the night that we found out Obama had been elected. That election was very significant for me because it was the first time I was old enough to vote, and I felt like I was truly part of something much more powerful than myself. The night that the nation found out Obama was the victor, I was in in the library furiously working on a genetics poster with my groupmates. The homepage soon refreshed and proclaimed the new president. Not a minute later, I heard muffled noise from the library doors, and it was growing louder. We all walked to the front door of the library and stepped into street. Like a scene from a movie, we were literally drawn into the streets of Beloit by songs and dances of celebration. We followed the din until we arrived at The Wall where the students had amassed; singing, dancing, and playing drums. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The students oohed and ahhed at this story.

I have not read all of the students' responses, but many spoke of meeting inspirational mentors and friends during their freshman year, or they wrote about their time traveling to a large city far from home. Their written English is pretty decent and I can understand most of them very well. All in all, it was a great class. The students concluded by telling me I was handsome and they clapped for me (I felt very silly).

My class of freshmen was very nervous, but we played a game in the North Building courtyard to set them at ease. We each had two slips of paper, each with a question on it. We stood in a circle and threw a frisbee to each other. The thrower asked one of their questions and the receiver answered, and the game continued until everyone had asked a question. At the end of class they all took pictures of me with their camera phones (very silly again).

Well, that's about it, I'll be slipping into routine soon.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"My First Day of Class"

The title of this entry is in quotes because my first day of class did not really happen the way that I supposed it would. On Wednesday at 2:30 PM I was doing my final run through of my lesson plan to make sure that I had it down cold. It was going to go something like this:

-Introduce myself (name, major, age, family, hobbies, reasons why I am teaching in China, etc.)
-Pass out and go over the syllabus and tentative schedule for the course (boring stuff out of the way first)
-Have the students fill out a brief interest survey that asked questions ranging from “What topics would you like to cover in this class, such as Chinese vs. American diets, etc.?” to “If you had one superpower, what would it be and why?”
-Class break (they are two-hour blocks)
-Student introductions (stand up, say name, English name if have one, something interesting about themselves (~40 students per class)
-Writing Exercise: a short, timed writing about what they hope to gain from their college experience, other than a diploma.
-Assign homework

I had gone over it my head 100 times and I was ready. Winifred (you will come to realize that our students have very interesting English names), Marlie’s class monitor came to pick us up at the International Residence Complex, and Marlie, Jon-Michael, Winifred, and I walked west across campus. Marlie and Jon-Michael had classes in the Comprehensive Building, a massive tiled building on the far west end of campus, while I had class in the Foreign Language North Building. We parted ways and wished each other luck and I began the ascent to the fifth floor. I approached room 501 with feelings of apprehension and excitement wrestling in my stomach. As I grasped the door handle I could feel the sweat on my palms-here we go! Locked. The door wouldn’t budge and no one was around. It was 2:48 PM and normally most of the students would be there, waiting for their 3:00 PM class to commence on the dot.

I went down to the janitor’s office and asked for a key to room 501 and he told me that everyone had keys, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Thinking that my students were just a little later than usual I ran back upstairs to find a still locked room and an empty hallway. It was 2:53 PM now, and the nerves were tingling. I whipped out my schedule and read it three times, looking at the “Room 501 Classroom” sign on the wall. I was in the right place at the right time! What was going on? I decided to call my teaching assistant and see if I mixed something up. Unfortunately, my cell phone was back in my room. A split decision caused me to fly down the steps and run to my apartment. On the way I was rummaging in my pockets for my house key but to no avail. Then it hit me-my cell phone was in my locked apartment while my keys were in Marlie’s locked apartment. Of all the days to be careless with my keys!

I didn’t spare a second. I ran over to Marija’s apartment and used her internet to see if my TA had sent me a schedule change. Nope. Now I was in panic mode; I was thinking, “I’m going to get fired”, “I’m going to be asked to leave”. These thoughts swirled in my brain as I ran to Jackie’s office and hurriedly explained my dire situation. He gave me my TA’s cell phone number and I used the office phone to call her.

Ring. Ring.
“Wei?” (The Chinese phone version of ‘hello’)
“Hey Zhang Min, it’s Josh. There’s nobody at my classroom and I’m sure I’m in the right place: North Building 501, right?”
“Mmmm, let me make some phone calls. I’ll call this number in a few minutes.”

It was 3:11 PM. At 3:15 the office phone rang. That’s when Zhang Min tells me that the class has been moved to 301, and is no longer in 501. I quickly thanked her and sprinted back to the North Building to room 301. Locked. You’ve got to be kidding me!?! I knocked on the door and a frightened student cautiously opened the door.

“Hi,” I said, “Is this Third Year English Writing?” She smiled, and nodded her head vigorously. I poked my head in and looked at the empty room.

“Where are the other students?” I asked, still quite puzzled.

“Oh, we had campus labor day. We worked in the gardens, so we have three days of rest.”

I was skeptical. I had never heard of this from any of the teachers. I clarified what she said in Chinese.

“Nimen jintian mei you ke, dui bu dui?” (So you don’t have class today?) I asked. She was extremely excited that I made a Chinese utterance and replied, “Yes, that is right! No class!”

I thanked her, introduced myself, and told her that I looked forward to seeing her next week. Let’s just say that I was still confused. I went back to the office and called Zhang Min to relay the information.

“Ohh!” she exclaimed, “nobody told me! Yes, the students have had their school work day and now they have no classes until next week. I am so sorry!”

I said it was no big deal and thanked her. As I sat on the saggy couch in the International Office, the whole situation became very comical, and I was laughing out loud at how ridiculous I must have looked careening up and down stairs, trying not to spill my coffee, all the while trying to maintain a cool image. My students are in a different college than the other English teachers’; theirs are Minsheng students while mine are strictly within the Foreign Language Department. As such, they are on different campus labor schedules. Since the freshmen are still doing their military training, I do not have class until next Wednesday!

And that was my first day of class!

By the way, I can receive mail at the following address if anyone is interested. Thanks.

International Affairs Office
c/o Josh Davendonis
85 Minglun Street
Kaifeng, Henan Province 475001

Monday, September 6, 2010

The First Week of School

Classes have begun and the weather has been terrible. It began raining on Monday and really hasn't stopped. My front porch has settled over the years to point where water flows into the screened in front room... so while I'm at home I take a broom to the standing pools of water about every hour or so to prevent it from seeping between the cracks of my front door.

This weather prompted us to buy rain boots because Kaifeng has terrible drainage problems. The square in front of the Great Hall and the sidewalks have literally become 7-inch deep rivers of dark murky water. Students take their shoes off and wade through the rushing water on their way to classes. But with our rain boots, we were romping around and taking pictures of the watery chaos, having a big old time of it all.

I've acquired some water colors and paintbrushes from the previous tenant so in my off time I have been painting pictures of mountains and trees. If I were in 3rd grade would think I was a hotshot painter for sure! I hung up my humble creations on my fridge and as my eyes catch the wispy images of scenery, I feel a twinge of homesickness for Colorado. Another wave of nostalgia swept over me upon hearing Lady Gaga's "Alejandro" (yeah, I know...) as my thoughts immediately switched to memories of Spring Break with Beloit's Track and Field Team. Sometimes I see pictures from the younger guys of the cross team from this season on Facebook and I REALLY MISS BELOIT. It's OK because I have Beloiters here, I've been running, and some of the English teachers and I are starting an English Running Club and an Ultimate Frisbee league.

Tomorrow is my first class. I'll let you know how it goes!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Classes begin next week

Hello all,

Classes at the university begin on Monday; however, since first years have their military training for the first two weeks, I only will be teaching the third year classes starting on Wednesday.

I will be teaching eight classes in total; each of them two hours long. Half of the classes consist of third year academic writing for English majors while the other half are first year conversation classes, also for English majors. Each class, probably 45 students on average, meets once a week. I have a teaching assistant who has been very helpful in my preparations for these challenges. She has helped me craft the syllabi and offered valuable insights from a Chinese student's perspective. Her name is Zhangmin, and she is a graduate student at the university. As a welcome gift she bought me my cell phone here in China and refused to let me give her money for it. That is very Chinese.

More to come soon of the first week of class.