Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Best and Brightest

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I am back in the classrooms with a vengeance. My first series of lessons have been pronunciation of the "ARRRRR" sound, idioms, and a presentation on American high schools. The high school talk stresses the many differences in the two systems, and always gets me thinking about what each country could emulate from the other to improve what they have.
One of the things China does differently is to rank its schools. I teach at the #1 Middle School. It's called that because it is the top school, and has the top students in the region. Kids come from all over and live in the dorms here. Competition is fierce, and the workload is staggering. They are motivated by each other, family, teachers and the desire to do well in life. They are divided into classes according to test scores, and remain in that particular class for the school year. There are 39 classes of about 50-55 students in the sophomore class. Virtually all of their lessons are held in these classrooms. Here, the teacher is homeless, we go to the students. They develop a bond with their classmates, and each becomes its own unique community. Each student has their own desk, a place to study and keep their piles of books. The rooms soon become cluttered with plastic bins, since the desks aren't big enough to hold all these learning materials.
The advantage of this system is obvious. Your elite students are all together getting the best education they can get. They are all motivated, they compete, they help each other, and they have access to the best resources available. It's a giant nerdfest, without the disruptive lowlifes that can make life miserable for the brainy kids.
Having a set classroom creates a sense of community and family in what would otherwise be an isolating environment.
The schools here, even the elite ones don't come close to having the resources that American schools have. The classes are huge, they lack labs, computers, music, arts, and many of the creature comforts. The fun factor is very low. There are definite weaknesses in areas like creativity and self confidence, but they are very strong in math and the sciences, better than the US.
I read an interesting opinion piece last month that talked about the lack of motivation in too many American high school students, and how maybe the schools are not completely to blame.
Americans could do a much better job in encouraging bright students to do their best, and it might not be a bad idea to consider starting regional schools for its best and brightest kids. Too many are languishing.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mid Autumn Festival

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Mid Autumn Festival is coming up this week. We are already eating lots of moon cake. It falls on the full moon, which is Wednesday. It's a genuine traditional holiday, and virtually everyone outside of retail and hospitality industries take the day off. We also get an additional two days off from school, and many get the same thing from work.
But here's the rub:
Most of us have to work on Sunday and next Saturday to make up for the extra two days off! Basically they move your days off around and call them a "holiday". This doesn't seem to bother most people, just us spoiled foreigners. We are planning to go to our favorite beach so we can get a room and enjoy the full moon by the sea. Unfortunately, there is a typhoon coming into the region the day before. The moon may be a little scarce, and the crab shack may blow down again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some Hong Kong

We didn't stay here.

My kinda town!
The lovely view from The Frog Arms Hotel
Jackie Chan has big hands!

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Long time no write. We went to the US for a family and loved ones visit. It was nice. The home country is much cleaner, and the nights are noticeably cooler. People stop at the lights, and there are just a whole lot fewer people.
We flew out of Hong Kong. We took a bus there and spent the night. Our fun filled evening was marred by torrential rains which managed to soak us in spite of umbrellas. We did have a great seafood meal in a crowded little place that was frequented by both locals and foreigners.
Hong Kong different in many significant ways from the mainland.
It's cleaner. People don't litter like they do in China, and debris is cleaned up from construction projects in a timely manner. It's also more orderly. There are no motorcycles on the sidewalks and in the crosswalks. There are actually few motorcycles. Horns are not constantly blaring.
They drive on the wrong side of the road, just like the British.
There are tons of non Chinese folks. There are lots of white folks, Africans, Indians and Pakistanis, especially in Kowloon. I saw my first Ninja suited Muslim woman there.
On our return trip we spent two nights there, since we arrived late at night. The next day we went to the Museum of Art which has a fine collection of Chinese art from all eras. I couldn't help but wonder how much was destroyed in the mainland during the Cultural Revolution.
We also went to the Hong Kong Avenue of the Stars, which is the tribute to all the great Hong Kong actors, and is along the water front.
Hong Kong is expensive compared to the rest of Southeast Asia, about what you would expect to spend in the US. After my budget trips to this city, I decided to upgrade a bit in the lodging. We stayed in two different places that had a similar price range, about twice as much as the backpacker/third world/cubbyhole that I stayed in before. Both were well worth the extra dough. One had a much larger room with free breakfast and a view of the crappy building across the street. The other had a small, but nice room with a great view of the bay and an expensive breakfast. It was French owned.
A Westerner who wants to travel in China might want to consider going to Hong Kong first. It's a good way to ease yourself into the Middle Kingdom. People speak English, they have English menus, rules are followed, and you can get pizza.