An American Abroad

Archives for November 2013

Yuxi University English Skits

Last night, I was honored to serve as a judge for a series of skits that were written and performed by English students at Yuxi Normal University.
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Most of the twelve performances I saw were well done. I was amused and interested by the American pop cultural references that popped up. It’s pretty funny to see a Chinese college student saying “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
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Perhaps because about 90% of the students were young women, most of the playlets concerned themes of love, marriage, and money. (These matters seem to preoccupy young Chinese women far more than their western counterparts.)
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The winning group, pictured below with their teacher and her son, did a madcap courtly love story inexplicably punctuated by commercials for milk and featuring a real chew-the-scenery death scene.
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The Ailao Mountains

I met my new friends Soli and Seka at 8:00 in the morning at their Yuxi wine shop. We set out in Soli’s mother’s immaculate Honda Accord, heading southwest toward Xinping. As we rolled down the superhighway, the CD player cranked out a mix of Taiwanese pop, Beijing Opera, and the vocal stylings of the ubiquitous (in China) Sarah McLachlan. West of Xinping, we got onto a smaller highway and began to climb into the Ailao Mountains. The morning fog hadn’t completely burned off, so in the distance the crenelated peaks seemed to dissolve into the sky.
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The topography is like that of West Virginia magnified by a factor of 2.5.

We picked up an elderly Yi woman who was on her way to Xinhua for market day. She was beautiful: her skin was baked walnut-brown, her eyes twinkled, her silver teeth flashed with every easy smile.
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We passed many other Yi people who were also heading to market.
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Just outside of Xinhua, the highway was closed for repairs. We were shunted onto a small dirt road that seemed to just barely cling to the mountainsides. There were no guardrails and the drop-offs were steep and sheer. I watched the outside dualie wheel of the truck ahead of us slip over the edge on a particularly sharp switchback, but the inside wheel held. Herds of goats occasionally blocked our path.
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The Accord bottomed out repeatedly, the trucks kicked up thick dust that made it hard to see, and the sharp curves and steep inclines soon had me nauseated.
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After more than an hour of this, the detour finally returned us to a smooth paved road, much to my stomach’s relief. We stopped every few miles to look up at the springs that flowed down the hillsides and look down into the valleys that were so far below.
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I had left my altimeter-equipped chronometer at home so I don’t know how high we were, but it looked to me like we were at least a vertical mile above the valley floor. Terraces clung to the mountainsides, some of which rose at angles of at least 60 degrees.

By a spring near Jiasa Town, a farm truck pulled up just behind us, its engine steaming.
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These trucks look home-brewed, but are actually manufactured to spec and are common in this part of Yunnan. They are essentially truck bodies mounted to tractor drivetrains, with undersized, uncovered, underpowered engines out front.
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The driver of the steaming truck snapped off a dried reed and dipped it into the radiator to determine the coolant level. He then took a plastic jug to the nearby spring, filled it, and topped off his thirsty ride. I was fascinated by this vehicle and asked the driver if I could drive a little way.
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As we drove deeper into the mountains, the springs became bigger and more numerous as we got near the Yuan River. We stopped so Soli and Seka could pose for pictures.
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We stopped at the Shimen Gorge, and while Soli (who had done all the driving) took a well-deserved nap, Seka and I went hiking. This was the most beautiful place I have been in China–and one of the most beautiful anywhere.
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After this five mile trek, the sun was sinking and we started back toward home. The detour on the dirt road didn’t seem so bad going down as it had coming up, and traffic was a lot lighter. We stopped at a Dai village for dinner.
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We finally returned to Yuxi about 14 hours after we’d left. It was a great day. The news media have run many stories recently about China’s environmental degradation. These articles give the impression that the whole country is an ecological hellhole. This may be true for some parts of China, but up in the Ailao Mountains the air is clean, the water is pure, and the countryside is a beautiful as any I have seen.

Declaring War on Pink-Uh

One of the most common mistakes my students make in speaking English isn’t their fault. They’re just doing what they’ve been taught. But they’ve been taught wrong.

I call my battle to correct their errors The War on Pink-uh.

Nearly all of my students have learned the Roman alphabet and the basics of phonics by the time they start studying with me. Their well-meaning teachers have taught them “T sounds like tuh; P sounds like puh; and K sounds like kuh.” My students have learned these sounds very well–but unfortunately, they have learned them as voiced consonants, as I have written here. Little wonder, then, that as we work through the color words, we get hung up on pink:

Me: What color is it?
Student: It’s pink-uh.
Me: Pink.
Student: Pink-uh.
Me: No, not Pink-UH. Pink!
Student: Pink-uh
Me: [facepalm]

I spend more time trying to fix pronunciation of that word than any other. Oddly, my students rarely say “black-uh,” probably because it doesn’t require them to put two consonant sounds together.

So please, all you preschool and kindergarten teachers out there: T is not tuh, P is not puh, and above all, K is not kuh. Turn off the voice on those, would you?

Halloween at Shane English Yuxi

Halloween isn’t celebrated in Yuxi, but we have made some effort to do so at Shane English Yuxi. We carved pumpkins and set them around the hallways. We strung up cobwebs and pictures of skeletons, monsters and ghosts. And we blacked out the windows in the hallways and turned out the lights so the kids had to find their way by jack-o-lantern light.

I wish I could have gotten dressed up for the occasion, but since I arrived here traveling light, the only thing in my suitcase was a cowboy hat (which was given to me by Elizabeth Cottle after our production of The Rainmaker at The Village Players). So here I am on Halloween with one of my favorite classes:
And here are some of my younger students: