Confidence makes me braver

6 01 2010

So tonight Missy and I were invited to be judges at her school’s speech competition. Well technically, she was invited and asked if I could also participate, but they were super-excited to have not one, but two Foreign teachers as judges for the competition.
The event was scheduled to start at 3:30 in one of the lecture halls at Nanwei (This is what I’m calling her school from now on), so we walked over to the school at 3 and were escorted up to the lecture hall, where a group of students were getting some PowerPoint presentations and music together for the competition. It didn’t start at 3:30. In fact, I think I might be correct in saying that it didn’t start until after four, though I’ll allow Missy to correct me on that. We were each handed a stack of paper to write scores (between 8 and 10, apparently) for each of the competitors, and I had a name tag. Jerry! Well, they were close, at least.
The competition began, and there were 19 girls taking part. Before they began, they each stepped up to the microphone and introduced themselves, which involved a couple singing and a few doing
PowerPoints. Then the speeches began. And by and large, they were OK. Some of the girls not so great, some pretty good, and a couple who had clearly done this before. We were each given a copy of two students’ speeches and were told to ask a question at the end of their speech. I’m going to say at this point that it didn’t seem THAT unorganized, just more or less what you’d find at a school dance or something like that. And it was cold. No heater in this lecture hall. Anyway, the students got through all 19 speeches, with a few awkward/poor questions from judges who didn’t seem to be paying attention. (“So your speech is ‘My experiences with culture shock’. Umm…what are your experiences with culture shock?) Then it got weird. Weirder. The MCs (and I use this term very loosely – it was actually one of the competitors and some guy who is a student at the school) announced that the students would read a passage out of a book, which would be randomly chosen. So as judges, we expected to be given new
instructions on what we were doing, but we weren’t. Each student walked up to the podium, had a number randomly picked by a computer program – which incidentally, the staff didn’t seem to know how to use – and then would read a passage out of the book, then go sit down. There were five total passages, which meant we heard a few of them several times. We sat there waiting for instructions, or, oh, more paper to grade them on, then were told that we weren’t actually giving them any kind of score for this section, which still managed to go on for too long.(It was supposed to be over at 5, but ended after 6). After that, they hastily called up the students and gave them awards, though it wasn’t clear, being a non-prolific speaker of Mandarin, who was getting what award. The girl who was one of the MCs won first place, which made for an awkward (for me, anyway) situation where she announced herself as the winner, then we were herded out the door.

Here are a couple quick observations:
1. Chinese people, God bless them, can’t think on their feet. One student gave her speech, then waited patiently for a judge to ask her a question. And waited. And waited. The teachers looked at one another. No one had the speech! What would we going to do? Luckily, Missy made up a question on the spot, and sweat was wiped off each Chinese brow. If she hadn’t been there, or me I guess, since I would’ve had to do it if she hadn’t, either the competition would’ve been called off, or they would’ve made the student read the speech again, just so a judge could write down a question to ask her. As referenced earlier, there was also the occasional sensation of a judge seemingly not realizing they were supposed to ask a question of a student, letting the auditorium become engulfed by silence, then saying something hurriedly in Chinese before asking a question that the student already answered in their speech.
2. Students are schooled in this bizarre introduction thing that goes essentially like this: “There is a boy. He is a very hopeful boy. He wants you to like this blog. This boy’s favorite color is blue. Who is this boy? This boy is Jeremiah. I am this boy.” If you ever come to China, you will read a paper where a student introduces themselves in this way, I promise you. I’ve heard/read it at least four times in five months here. Every student is taught that and the “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” response to the greeting “How are you?”

That’s it for now.

Thanksgiving preparedness

23 11 2009

OK, so I’m not going to rise to the bait and comment at length about the state of healthcare in the U.S., since it would probably alternately bore people to death or anger them or get them fired up, and since this post is about Thanksgiving, I feel it’s not in the right spirit of things. But I’ll just leave you with this one comment: We need more than two parties, as revolutionary as that sounds. Other countries do it. Moving on…
Being so far away from home, we tend to focus more on stuff that reminds us of home. This week, it’s Thanksgiving, naturally. We have been told that the holiday season is difficult here because the only people who celebrate it really are the Westerners, which makes sense, of course. Missy and I are both doing a presentation on Thanksgiving. We decided to avoid doing the “Then the pilgrims put up anchor on a rock called Plymouth” crap that the kids have probably had a few times already. Instead, we’re focusing on food, so there are lots of pictures of cranberry sauce, turkey and the like. We also dug up some video of people cooking, and some stuff related to the Macys Thanksgiving Parade. Lastly, I found some video of people falling down, because to Chinese people (and Missy, for that matter), falling down is comedy gold. But let’s be honest: Who doesn’t like a good blooper video?
So for the holiday itself, we’re going to this German restaurant that generally has acceptable pizza, as weird as that sounds, which is having a full-on Thanksgiving feast. It’s a bit expensive, but they’ll have the whole shebang, which is exciting. After that, some friends are having a Thanksgiving party, which should be nice. On Friday, we’ll attend our first Chinese wedding, then Missy (and possibly me as well, we don’t know yet) will head to another little-known Chinese city of 5 million to judge a speech contest.
We hope all of you enjoy a relaxing holiday. And don’t get sick! -Jeremiah