How to survive in rural China
July 5, 2005 11:40 AM   Subscribe

My sister will be spending 4 weeks in rural China (in the same province as Shanghai) teaching English.

Is there anything she should or shouldn't bring (i.e. would it be bad to bring an iPod or digital camera)? And does anyone have suggestions on how to occupy the attention of 30 Chinese 3rd-graders, given that she has limited fluency in their language? Basically, any and all advice on how to survive and enjoy the experience would be welcome. Thanks in advance!
posted by gsteff to Travel & Transportation around China (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For the teaching part, she could look at the FLTeach site. She will find quite a lot of advice and pointers there. If she joins the mailing list, she will be warmly received and advised by a large number of experienced teachers who will be happy to help her on her way.

She might want to look at techniques like TPR and TPR-S. (Warning - these two sites want to sell you stuff - but the basic techniques can be used by anyone with a minimum of material. I have reservations about both approaches, but for four weeks with children, they'll give your sister a lot to do that will probably work quite well).
posted by TimothyMason at 11:58 AM on July 5, 2005

My wife is in rural China right now with both my Mp3 player and digital camera, I'd better get them back or they'll be heck to pay, heck I say!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:11 PM on July 5, 2005

I can speak a bit to technology in rural areas (Africa)--basically, as far as the ipod goes, if she feels she can't live without it for four weeks (not meant as a snark!) then she should take it. However, she should also accept the fact that anything she takes with her may be lost, stolen, eaten by a goat or dropped in a bucket of water by a curious toddler. In other words, assume she won't come home with it. If she is not OK with that, consider buying a cheaper device (maybe an iShuffle, or burn a few CDs). Yes, music is nice on a long flight, and may help to amuse her during some downtime, but four weeks really isn't that long, and when you clamp on headphones you're shutting yourself off from the culture you presumably came to experience. If she's genuinely worried about being homesick or needing music to help her relax or cope with frustrations, consider again a cheap iShuffle or a few CDs and a cheap discman.

As far as the camera goes, she'll definitely want to remember her experiences and share them with folks back home. Again, take only what you'd be OK losing. Digital cameras are getting pretty cheap, and you can remove the memory cards and keep them in a safer location in your belongings.

As for teaching aids, you don't say what she's supposed to be teaching, but games and songs are always popular. Even with the language barriers, you can probably get across "Row, row, row your boat" (maybe with a few pictures or motions), or even a line or two of "We all live in a yellow submarine." Ditto for outdoor games like marco polo. If she brings some basic markers and sticky putty (and can dig up some paper on site) she can label English words for objects in the classroom, numbers, and anything else she can draw.

I hope this is useful--I just re-read it and it sounds like a bit of a technology rant. It really isn't, and I should say that I brought a laptop, cheap digital camera and iPod for my stint as Peace Corps volunteer in Africa (although that was planning for 27 months). The camera was great, the iPod rarely used, and the laptop useful but mostly because of the projects my husband and I were doing, but my concerns about theft made it somewhat of an albatross.
posted by handful of rain at 1:26 PM on July 5, 2005

iPod and camera is fine. Religious, political or sexual literature/pictures/video might be a problem, but as long as the quantity is low, you should be OK (except for the porn).

A couple notes on china in general:

1) Cars have the right of way, you should get the hell out of their way, they will actually accelerate and try to run you down (my experience in shanghai, beijing is different)

2) Paper has value and is not freely given out in resturants, bathrooms and the like. One should always carry paper napkins and toilet paper. You may also find it useful to learn how to squat when using the toilet, falling over is not recommended. Also get used having people watch you do your business, doors are not common on the commode or if present won't lock.

3) Nobody forms a line, just form a crowd around the door / ticket seller / order taking person and push yourself to the front.

4) If anyone walks up to you on the street and starts talking, 99% of the time "Boo yow" (Don't want) is the correct response. It will likely take 3 repetitions at increasing volume before they get the point.
However, you could skip all this and go straight to a fist fight by saying "zhao nee ma be" (F*** your mothers c***), but being such an extreme insult they might be too stunned to react, or assume that they misheard you.

5) Of course, don't drink or brush your teeth with the water. It probably won't resemble water anyway, being green or brown, smelling bad and containing small stones. That is, if you have running water.

6) She really should visit the silk market in Beijing on her way back if at all possible. Clothing can be had for about 20% of what it would cost anywhere else. The correct way to negotiate is to offer a 10th of the sellers opening price and when the refuse, walk away. About half the

Good luck!
posted by darkness at 2:33 PM on July 5, 2005

Check out sinosplice the blog of our fellow Mefite afu. He has an excellent section Teaching in China: A Guide for the Uninitiated and I think he is in the Shanghai area.
posted by mlis at 5:18 PM on July 5, 2005

Response by poster: Great stuff, thanks!
posted by gsteff at 6:23 PM on July 5, 2005

PendantFilter: Shanghai isn't in a province, but is rather it's its own governing district.

I've been to rural China plenty of times. You don't have to worry about theft as long as you're reasonably careful.

The one teaching aid that I'd recommend you bring is a deck of Uno cards.
posted by alidarbac at 9:13 PM on July 5, 2005

Forget the iPod. Part of the experience of being in China is the sound of the environment.
posted by cmacleod at 1:46 AM on July 6, 2005

In terms of what to bring - deodorant. I can't stress that enough. Also, it would probably do you good to buy some rechargeable batteries on the way from wherever she's landing. You can get them at supermarkets, the chargers are about $15-30 and the batteries vary depending on the output you want, and usually the chargers are internationally compatible. For my digital camera, I use 2200+. Sometimes the disposable batteries they sell here in Tianjin are shady or have a low power output or no charge, plus there's lots of fake batteries, so if her appliances are heavy on battery use, she should get those ahead of time.

Teaching, um... Teaching that age group is a trip. Seriously. I've been doing that to butter my bread while I've lived in China, and I'm just at the point where I don't have the energy anymore. Not to say that it's bad, or not fun, but my personality is geared toward more Zen-like pursuits. They're exactly what you imagine: 30-80 kids in a room who don't understand you and half of whom aren't even interested in understanding you. She'll have to be cool with dancing around and being a big doofus. Draw big faces on the board, be as silly and nonsensical as possible, and think of big garrulous actions for vocabulary words. Be demented, make it play, and focus all your energy on the class. If I go anywhere else mentally for a second, I snap back into adult mode, and it throws off the rhythm of class. This blabbering is all leading into something else she should bring - coffee. Enough caffeine and you get goofy and twittery. Then you're in their world. More generally, touch them, tousle hair, pick them up, tickle. That helps them get into your groove, and if they know the "Tickle Bogeyman" is coming, they pay attention better. All this with safety kept in mind, of course.

Another thing I've done is bought an old laptop. It's an ancient brick, but it's great for doing multimedia in class, which expands your possible lesson plans a lot. There are internet cafes everywhere, even rural China, so she should be able to download things if she has enough Chinese under her belt to explain herself to them. (That's one great thing about the informal way of doing business here, most people are cool with just about anything reasonable.) Another thing she could bring is little distinctively American trinkets. Buy little keychains, cheap toys, dollar store stuff. I have keychains that look like real dead fish and lightbulbs (they light up!). If she's interested in getting some in Beijing, there are clothing wholesale markets where she can get a shopping bag full of little toys for $7-10.

I use games to reinforce what I teach and practice speaking and listening. There are infinite variations on the class in two teams/who can answer fastest formula, and I've probably used all of them. Use the toys, and keep the pace fast or you'll lose them. As far as I know, most schools will also give you an assistant teacher, usually an English teacher from the primary school. They're a crapshoot - some are fantastic teachers with a perfect command of English, and others are sort of apathetic. She should plan the class ahead of time and make sure the assistant teacher understands the lesson plan and the games, as well as your teaching philosophy and feelings about how the class should be conducted. I italicize because China, 'specially the sticks, likes face, and apparently admitting to not understanding what I'm planning for class is a greater loss of face than having the class spiral out of control while I'm trying to explain to my assistant and then hearing the wrong translations of my game instructions multiple times. Whenever I hear the word "harrowing" that experience (more than once with more than one assistant teacher) comes to mind. Eeesh.

That's all I've got, I guess. I love teaching, but it sucks me dry of energy to think and do other things so I can't anymore. And, y'know.. I've gone from zero to Sinophile in the last year and a half and it's always cool that other people want to experience China too. If I can help or there are more questions or anything, my email's in my profile.
posted by saysthis at 2:27 AM on July 6, 2005

Do not discuss politics. It makes people nervous, and could get you in trouble.

Costco sells a Panasonic battery charger with NiMh batteries that will work in China and the U.S.

Take the camera, and bring some extra storage cards; you'll want to take a lot of pictures. Policemen may object to being photographed. If it looks military, don't point a camera at it.

Drink water only after it's boiled. The Chinese all drink hot water (or tea, or beer). See if your doctor will give you some Cipro if that precaution turns out to be inadequate.

darkness may have been referring to Silk Alley in Beijing, which is just outside the U.S. embassy, but the Pearl Market is much more extensive, and has pearls and electronics, besides the stuff at Silk Alley. I haven't been to Shanghai, but would be surprised if there were not a similar place there.

posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:04 AM on July 6, 2005

I 2nd saysthis' recommendation for deodorant. This is really important.
posted by darkness at 10:49 AM on July 6, 2005

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