Thursday, 12 February 2009

Imagining Cars

Before I start writing my entry for today, I just want to reiterate my thanks to the people who left me advice in my previous post. Each comment has genuinely been of help, and I will obviously keep you all posted on the events that unfold....eventually.

I was back at work today, five classes again. It seems the credit crunch has only hit the shoe factories, as there are new students forking out thousands of RMB for English classes every day. Since I was away for over a month I don't seem to recognise a large proportion of the faces now. It is another disadvantage of working in the "training centre" business: the incredibly rapid turnover of students and teachers. In less than one year I have seen eight or nine colleagues leave; the job just isn't designed for long-term employment. I have made some good friends at Web, but most of the people I teach are temporary passengers in the mechanics of factory-farmed English lessons.

Today I had three salon classes (which are aimed at group-work activities). Each of them were frustrating, very frustrating. The first was a beginner class. It was a simple topic: fairy tales. The start of the lesson was OK, I explained "Little Red Riding Hood". Easy enough I thought. Next, I asked them to tell me about a very famous Chinese fairy tale: "Niu Lang and Zhi Nu". Of the seven students present, none of them could explain to me the story. In fact, I knew it better than all of them. Can you imagine not being able to summarise "Jack and the Beanstalk", or "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"?

I wanted them to tell a story in simple English. I wrote the first sentence and the last sentence of the story, and one-by-one we would go round the classroom adding new sentences until we got to the end. It was simple enough, very easy I thought. But I was wrong. Apart from one young man in the class, they couldn't do it. I was beginning to get a little annoyed as I waited in silence for the next student to reply. I wasn't backing down this time, and after a short while he piped up, "It's too hard to think in English". I knew this wasn't true, I wasn't asking for Shakespeare, so I asked him to just tell me in Chinese, we could easily translate it -- nothing. Not even in Chinese could he think of a simple continuation to the story. They were completely bereft of any kind of creativity, it was astonishing to see.

I have often doubted my own abilities with regards to explaining things, but now I have been given proof that even if I was speaking Chinese I would not get answers to many of my requests. It seems that using one's imagination is an incredibly difficult task for my Web students (a lot of them anyway). Is it the education system's fault? Have they relied on their logical left-side of the brain for all the mathematics and business related activities for too long? Has their creative right-side of the brain completely given up and gone on a permanent holiday to the Maldives? I do not know. But it's bloody hard getting anything other than "nothing" if I ask a "What do you think...?" question.

I won't go into detail with my following salons, but suffice to say, then next higher level class was equally as disappointing. I was asking for advice for simple problems like, "I can't sleep at night" etc. Again, I got the bare minimum. It was another painful hour. My final salon was different, it was better, but it was just too difficult for them. If they cannot understand the English on the handouts then I don't know what to do.

In other news, Kimi is on the verge of buying a car after passing most of her driving test (the final part of three is next week). She is in the lucky position of having her mother pay 100,000 RMB (about £10,000) for a brand new motor. We have been looking at small cars, which have all noticeably copied the design of the new Mini:

The Suzuki, I mean Swift

One thing that isn't cheaper in China is the automobile. An example of this is the Mini Cooper itself. To buy a second-hand new model -- barely driven -- can cost 340,000 RMB (£34,000). To buy the same Mini brand new from the UK costs just £13,000 (130,000 RMB). Why the price difference is so extreme I have no idea. It makes me really wonder at the amount of money so many Wenzhounese are making when they can afford these huge Porsche 4x4 cars -- all brand new of course, they wouldn't be seen dead with a second hand model I'm sure.


Kevin said...

"It seems that using ones imagination is an incredibly difficult task for my Web students (a lot of them anyway). Is it the education system's fault?"

Oh yeah.

I think you need to teach in the Public Sector for a while to get an idea of this.

This blog post from 2005 puts it best I think. There's lots of great advice in there too.

I.S. said...

The automobile tax is incredibly high in China and some other Asian countries. It's a way for the government to limit the amount of cars on the road.

The Acolyte Tao said...

Wow, that's completely strange about not being able to imagine that way. Seems to be the opposite of the Western Culture for the most part. I know in my school we have more English and History classes than science and math.
I believe I've had a total of 7 History classes and 3 math and 3 science total and 4 English in my high school career. Funny how that works.

Marius said...

nice car ^^

Anonymous said...

. She is in the lucky position of having her mother pay 100,000 RMB (about £10,000) for a brand new motor

I can almost feel the sweat trickling down the back of your neck as you say, I do!

(One reason, I'd NEVER get married in China!!)

Chin up, we'll have to do a beer, I'm feeling equally as fed up as you.


mabelp said...

Hi Chris! I know teaching could be quite disappointing sometimes. I'm teaching in a mainstream secondary school, but a Special Needs Class with students with Hyperactive, Autism, Emotional Behavioural Disorder, Dyslexia and others... but this school is not a special school, of course I should teach them according to the standard curriculum. And u know the problems of my students, some of them really like to "X" my mother everyday. U can find them shouting, yelling and leaving their seats all the times. Other than treating myself as a psychiatrist, I have no other option. It's impossible for them to catch up with the standard curriculum indeed.

During the meetings, I did suggest some advices like skipping some parts of the curriculum contents and exams, but the panel teachers rejected me. To be honest, this suggestion was not created by me, but by the Education Bureau.

Don't worry! You can leave this company in April, right? Just try to enjoy the remaining time with the good students and colleagues there.

That pic is nice. In HK, you can find many Porsche, Ferrari, Benz and .... everywhere too. Actually, HK is very small, so we really don't have enough space for cars. Haha!

Johnny Ding said...

For the car to get through our Chinese custom, people shall pay 100% or even 200% of the value. So the cost of a car is doubled after it. This is a way of protecting the domestic car industry.

Creativity? We almost lost it when we grew up. You will see the primary students are lovely and creative, they would like to think about things different. But when they rise to middle school, they are too busy with homework to do daydreaming. Part of their imagination is hide back or lost.
Back when you see the students in high school, you will get the answer to your questions. One is not able to go to bed until they finish their damn homework until 10 or even 11 o'clock pm.
Most of what we learned from school was to do excises mechanically.
We lost our imagination when we slept in the class. Just kidding.

Anonymous said...

Actually, HK is very small, so we really don't have enough space for cars. Haha!

Thats because you have a very good underground train system that is convenient for getting around the city, with many stops.

And I wonder where that came from, hmmmm??

Anonymous said...

This is a way of protecting the domestic car industry.

Protectionism is insecurity and nationalism in my opinion, but you know what you are experiencing that too, because India is refusing to accept Chinese toy imports. Not so much fun to be on the receiving end of it, is it?

Now do you want to go back to debating Education and creativity, or continue with nationalistic, pompous, self righteous attitudes?


大眼睛熊 said...

We do have less imagination than u westerners i have to admit that, and it mostly due to our education system i'm afraid.
I wish i had a Mini Cooper, she's my dream car, and i cant believe how cheap it is in the uk, it would be great if i can buy one in the uk then ship it to china,dont u think? :D xxxxxxxxx

Chris said...

Kevin, thank you for that link, that guy's blog is hilarious, shame he stopped updating it.

Alex, if you're ever free any time soon it would be great to meet up for a couple of beers.

Kimi, that Mini Cooper could be yours for a bargain price in the UK. Interested? ;)