I’ve been invited (hired) to come talk with and demonstrate Project-Based Learning at a conference for Chinese teachers here in Shenzhen, China. What follows is a rough, stream of consciousness post that are like my bread-crumbed notes for each day that I’m here. Please forgive any typos or cultural gaffes.
And if you’re reading this on Facebook or Twitter, please leave your comments here at the bottom of this post. I can’t read them on Facebook or Twitter. 🙂
It’s 1am on day one and I’m feeling pretty good today. I got six hours of sleep. Skipped breakfast but am waiting for my ankles to stop swelling from the airline flight. Meeting Tori Cheung, my contact, for lunch and will go over work for the next couple days. She is from Taiwan, originally, lived in San Francisco for about 18 years.
I was early for lunch and found that most people in Shenzhen speak zero English, unlike what I had read (most people under 30 years old speak some English). Or at least the ones here in what Tori keeps calling “a remote area.” It’s like a suburb with high-rises and lots of people. So we walked a few blocks away from the hotel and ate at a local restaurant. Note: Daikon radishes are extremely spicy…at least they were today. We both struggled to eat some of the food. A begger woman came inside looking for money and a beggar man stayed at the doorway of the restaurant playing a one stringed guitar. Not a guitar but that traditional Chinese instrument. No one gave her money except for one of the waiters handed her money and asked her to leave. Tori said that was very unusual to have a begger actually come inside the restaurant. Following the lead of my host, I did not give her money. Later I thought on it and realized that I had some RMB in my pocket and handing her a few would’ve been like handing her a couple quarters to me. it would’ve been very easy. But again, on day 1, I’m going to follow my host.
We walked back to the hotel and did some clarification on the timing and expectations of some of my lessons. This is a PBL conference; however very little of what they are asking me to do is actual PBL. I did learn that several school districts have spent millions and millions of dollars building large PBL facilities. These facilities have farms and shooting ranges and athletic events and movie theaters that are run by hired adults. And the schools bring the students to observe the work that the adults are doing and they call that PBL. Yes students go into the movie theater where the school district has purchased DVDs and show videos to the kids. This is a PBL class, according to these Chinese schools. I think these facilities are a wonderful opportunity to have just a slight shift and do some truly amazing learning with kids.
Right as I learn about the PBL facilities I start realizing that there is a lot in China that I’m seeing so far that is very western but has some sort of Hitchcock or Serling sort of surreal twist to the reality of it. Like, it is very familiar but there’s just something unidentifiable and “off” about it. Kind of like the Christmas decorations all over the inside of our beautiful hotel lobby. The decorations are just not quite right. But it is a Western Hotel and so they seem obliged to put up those sorts of things. I see lots of English translations which are almost perfect but not quite. I think to myself about trying a hamburger or a steak that the Chinese have prepared and I wonder if it will also be just slightly not quite right. And I think about how we in America cook Chinese food like sweet and sour chicken and call it Chinese when in actuality it’s not quite right either.
When I think about culture and these “not quite right” moments I’m trying to see the obvious educational connections to learning something completely foreign to yourself. There’s courage there. There’s courage in just going ahead and trying it even though you don’t have it perfect. There’s also a bit of arrogance and saying that it is the same when it’s not quite the same. Kevin Honeycutt wrote a post and tells a story about an iPhone that he bought in Shanghai. When he asked if it was real the vendor responded to him, “China real.” This means that it’s close, but not quite right. I have a feeling I will get to see quite a bit of this tomorrow as we travel around Shenzhen.
I’m trying to remember some of my basic Chinese phrases and will try them out on Tori to see if I too, am just not quite right with them, before I use them.
Incidentally there are no smoking rules around the area but yet there are lots of guidelines and safety supports for what to do if there is a fire.
Oh and apparently I am a curiosity as I walk around the streets here. Not so much when I’m with Tori but by myself everyone stares. I’m not sure if they’re staring because I’m American or because I’m fat. Shenzhen is not a small town and I’ve read that it’s full of immigrants but apparently it’s immigrants from all over China. People don’t talk when I’m around them like they stop talking when I walk by and they just stare. since I’ve left the Hong Kong airport I have not seen another Caucasian person at all, except on the television where they keep advertising products with Caucasian people.
I also find myself wanting to default toward communicating in Spanish. Apparently my skills there are better than I thought! However, I’m sure that’s just as useless as my English.
I would send this out on my word press but apparently that is also blocked under The Great Firewall of China. Maybe the app will work.