A BUSINESS TRIP TO WUHAN


A BUSINESS TRIP TO WUHAN

 

WHY

 

On the afternoon of April 18, two of my colleagues and I went on a trip to Wuhan. A national conference on English language teaching and research in high school was scheduled to take place there April 19 – April 21. We would attend speeches and lectures and observe teaching sessions in the teaching contest at the conference.

 

THE SHIYAN-WUHAN EXPRESSWAY

 

Normally travellers from my city to the provincial capital choose the railway. It is fast, comfortable and punctual. However, we three decided to try a different mode of transport for this trip. We would travel there by coach on the Shiyan-Wuhan Expressway. This road link has been there for a number of years. How does it feel to travel on it?

 hubei

The journey to Wuhan was taken on a long-distance coach. The vehicle was a bit old. The interior was not very clean. Each passenger had a bunk to lie on. But we did not have enough space to sit up or stand. So all the way I had to lie there. At the end of the journey I suffered from a stiff back. We got off at a bus station on Hanzhengjie – a famous business street in central China.

 

For the return journey, we took a normal bus with a seat for each passenger. This bus was very comfy. There was even a toilet on it. On the expressway, it was fast and smooth. I looked out of the window and watched the passing houses, trees and fields. I was impressed by the good farmland the province boasts on the Jianghan Plain. The plain stretched as far as the eye could see, as though there were no end of it.

 

It was a pity that darkness was closing in after we travelled on the expressway around 2 hours. I kept an eye out for where the Jianghan Plain ends and the hills and mountains begin. Around Anlu, a town on the way, the plain gradually gave way to low hills. As the coach was gliding along, the plain was left behind and massive hills and mountains came into sight. It was a sharp contrast between the two terrains. It was a wonderful experience to see a dot of highland rising in the distance, growing larger and taller little by little and turning finally into an immense mountain range. Later I consulted a map of Hubei and it proved that my observation was right. (See the map below.)

 anlu hubei

By the time we stopped over at the Zaoyang Service Station for a 20-minute break, it was pitch-dark. It was drizzling there. I checked the time and it was around 20:30. We got home a little before 23:00.

 

On the whole, it was a pleasant experience travelling on the Shiyan-Wuhan Expressway. Also the expressway is being extended up north to the capital city of Shaanxi Province – Xi’an. In the near future, folks here will be able to travel up north as smoothly.

 

THE HOTEL

 

We were the last batch to arrive for the conference in Wuhan. The designated hotel had no more rooms left for us. We were put up at a nearby hotel. It was simply-furnished but it was good and cheap, each room equipped with a toilet and a shower.

 

This time no midnight calls from a prostitute disturbed our sleep. Well, there is an advantage of staying at a cheaper place. Those expensive and luxurious hotels offer all-round services, including sex service.

 

We had to look after our three meals on our own. We dined at nearby restaurants and eateries in the neighbourhood. Meals at the provincial capital were reasonably priced. Actually most dishes were even cheaper than those back home in Shiyan and the quality was as good or even better.

 

THE VENUES

 

The organiser of the conference had some problems with the venue of the conference. We hopped from one place to another during the stay there. The first day we attended the conference in an auditorium at the Wuluolu High School. The second day we were conducted to an auditorium at a neighbouring school – the Provincial Academy of Preschool Education. On the third day we walked in the opposite direction around 20 minutes to the South Central China University of Politics and Finance for the morning. And for the afternoon we returned to the Academy of Preschool Education. Quite interesting. Many of the fellow conference-goers complained about it.

 

THE LESSONS

 

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS

 

A big chunk of the conference was the teaching competition. All the contestants were chosen through eliminating contests in their home provinces or province-level municipalities. They were the cream of the English language teachers of high school in China.

 

Their ability to use the language in the classroom was high but fell short of my expectations. All through the contests, I watched them closely. It seemed that some invisible force was dragging them and therefore there was a lack of ease and facility in their use of the language. Of course, we have to acknowledge that English is a foreign language here in China. It is not a second language. The status of the language means that English is not used in real-life contexts. For example, you would not find Chinese people speaking English on the street, although the language is taught, learned and tested in Chinese schools of all levels, from kindergarten to uni.

 

The students who attended their contest lessons were from City High School No. 15 Wuhan. The teenagers were typical Chinese high schoolers. Obedient in class and following the instructions closely, they retained the shyness, timidity and rigidity characteristic of Chinese teenagers.

 

I reflected on what good teaching is and my thoughts are as follows.

 

GOOD TEACHING

 

A GOOD COMMAND OF THE SUBJECT

 

A teacher has to have an absolutely good command of the language. This good command comprises knowledge and ability. He knows Chinese and western culture well. He is completely at ease with the English language itself.

 

This is where all the language teachers in the country should put hard work in. To use the language naturally and properly takes years of practice and accumulation. Any relaxation of effort would constitute failure in reaching the desired proficiency. A good language teacher uses English as part of his life. He is able to integrate the language into his everyday life. He speaks it in the classroom and outside the classroom. Only through constant use will he be able to maintain his language competence and to improve on it day in and day out.

 

The question is how. Why are language teachers in the country not keen to use the language? Why, instead, do they channel their energy into doing repetitive and unoriginal donkey-work? The answer is that a teacher lacking strong language competence can still maximise his students’ exam grades by excessive pushing and cramming, and as a result, he is valued as a good teacher by the system and he is rewarded with tons of carrots. So why bother to better my language competence? Donkeys are models. They drudge and they are well fed and they have a strong sense of security. A life of slavish bliss.

 

THE ABILITY TO CONNECT

 

The teacher works with Chinese teenagers. He has to know them well. What do they love and hate? What trend are they following? Who are their pop icons? What are their values?

 

Only when the teacher knows the students well can he relate to them as a matter of course. Learning with the teacher then will occur comfortably and effectively.

 

Some teachers only teach books. They do not teach people. Some cannot even match the names on the record with the students themselves after sharing the same classroom for three years.

 

BE A HUMAN

 

Both the teacher and students are humans and therefore human nature takes centre stage in the teaching. The teacher should always put the needs of his students above all. The teaching itself should be done by taking advantage of all the human-nature related situations and topics – family, friends, food, culture, and many others. The student is not a machine for earning high marks for an exam or for a show-off. Instead he is a human with intelligence and emotions. With his active participation in the learning process, learning occurs in his brain, resulting in the internalisation of the target knowledge, skills and attitudes.

 

TEACHING TECHNIQUES

 

Without the aforesaid three elements present, teaching techniques would have no role to play. Of course, good techniques increase learning and teaching efficiency. Currently in Chinese classrooms, there is a ridiculous trend that everybody seems to be pursuing a perfect teaching technique whereas the first three qualities are missing or not strong enough. Can you imagine what it is like when a teacher resorts to POPULAR teaching aids like the PPT programme with a lousy command of the language itself? Is it like a mean person wearing all the make-up and chic clothes to cover up his black heart?

 

THE CITY OF WUHAN

 

THE DOWN SIDE

 

The City of Wuhan did not make a good impression on me on my trips. I visited the city a number of times, but the visits did not make my memories of the provincial capital any fonder.

 

My first visit happened in the summer of 1994. I stayed in the town for around 45 days on a training programme. The weather tortured me then. I shared a dorm with three other trainees. There was only an electric fan in the room. Air-conditioning was a luxury in those days. I ended up with a prolonged cold.

 

On each of my visits I met con men and women – people who tried to get something out of me dishonestly. Some succeeded; some did not. I compared notes with some fellow travellers and they had similar experiences.

 

You would have to be especially cautious on a crowded bus. It is said that the city buses are frequented by pickpockets.

 

The city was dirty and is still so. I remember how dirty it was back in 1994. On this trip I found some big changes are taking place. On the main street, it is cleaner and many high-rises are in place where old buildings were. However, the pavement is still littered with bits and ends, paper, wrappings or whatever. Lanes are worse still. I got up in the morning and took a stroll in the neighbourhood. It was disappointing. Dirty, dirty, dirty. I would not compliment the city on its cleanliness.

 

THE UP SIDE

 

One positive change has occurred around the neighbourhood where the famous Xinhai Revolution, which was initiated by Mr Sun Yat-sen, started towards the end of the Qing Dynasty. Some years ago, this historical part of the town was crammed with shops and slums. You would not have thought this was a site of great historical significance.

 

On this trip, to my amazement, I found all the slums and shops were replaced by greens. It is clear that the government has been restoring the remaining historical sites in the neighbourhood. Irrelevant buildings have been torn down. Hong Lou (Red Mansion) has been reopened to tourists. Some years ago, the place was rented to businesses, which ran their shops, workshops or training centres in it.

 

I bet this renovation has won applause from those who know well Chinese history and the significance of the site.

 

THE WUHANESE DIALECT

 

Chinese is spoken on the streets of Wuhan in a unique way. The Wuhanese dialect sounds loud, forceful and musical. The intonation rises and falls in an exaggerated way. It is hard to comprehend for people of a different dialect. Many visitors to the city say that the Wuhanese are rude, for the obvious reason that they talk loud. Of course the louder one speaks, the more emotional he is supposed to be. This is some misunderstanding, though. The Wuhanese talk loud, just the way they are. Some say the hot weather influences the way the locals speak. There is more than a grain of truth in it, for Wuhan is one of the three Chinese cities nicknamed “summer stoves” – Wuhan, Chongqing and Nanjing. When it is extremely hot, people tend to speak louder and faster and to lose their temper more often.

 

However, one feature I do not like about the dialect is that the locals swear an awful lot. They swear not to offend anyone, but to show friendliness. When friends greet each other, they use some swear words. One such phrase for socialisation literally means “You are a prostitute’s son” when put into English. Of course this phrase is exchanged between males and between close male pals.

 

When walking along a street, I happened to see a row going on between a woman and a man. What a colourful scene! I fastened my eyes on the woman and lent an ear to her. The expressive face and the forceful tones are recorded in my mind.

 

THE WEATHER

 

The weather was changeable during my stay there. One day it was hot like summer and the streets saw girls in skirts and summer wear. The other day, a cold breeze put jackets and sweaters back on the pedestrians. It was quite windy, compared with my city, probably because the city is on the plain. Generally speaking the temperature is higher in Wuhan than in my city. It is a metropolis, where greater amounts of greenhouse gases are released into the air. My home city is little, mountainous and very much forested.

 

BAO TIANREN

 

This national conference on teaching was sponsored by a language teaching paper – the English Coaching Paper. The publication is based in Tonghua City, Jilin Province. The boss is Mr Bao Tianren.

 

As far as I know, the language paper has been successful in making profits. The company under Mr Bao has expanded extensively over the years. It has opened its research centres in the Chinese capital city. It collaborates with some governmental offices on a number of teaching and research projects.

 

Mr Bao gave a speech on the first afternoon.

 

First of all, he criticised the ongoing education reforms in Chinese high schools. He said they had been a failure in most cases and he predicted that they were doomed.

 

He preached the 4-in-1 teaching and learning methodology which he claimed he himself invented. In order to sell his ideas, he highlighted the faults of other teaching approaches and the well-known problems with ELT in China.

 

At the end of his speech, he advertised his paper. I would like to quote him. He said, “Buy my paper, because my paper is the best in China. Buy my paper because I am its editor-in-chief. My paper is the best because I am an old teacher and I know what Chinese teachers and students need in the teaching and learning.”

 

He was down-to-earth, arrogant and conservative. Some of his ideas are reasonable. For example, he said that we have to take into consideration the fact that Chinese teachers do not have strong language competence. He stressed that people are more important than computers. However, his conservatism ran through his talk. He was trying to hold on to what he was accustomed to. This is not right. China is changing and reforms are not only necessary for a better society but also the key to higher-quality high schools. In the academic field, people should be free to express their original ideas. But they should respect each other. Attacking maliciously those who hold differing views is no good.

 

His English was nothing special. He talked in Mandarin. The few English words and phrases he sprinkled his speech with sounded clumsy.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kelly
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 16:50:54

    To be a good teacher can be demanding, for strong language competence,personality cultivation,healthy mentality and so on are the qualities teachers should have. Well, you are one of the few. And I am on the way trying to catch up. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your entries with us. They are distinctively impressing and helpful.

    Reply

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