Keats Language School, Kunming China
Four hours of speaking Chinese has turned my brain to mush. One-on-one classes are great for personalized instruction and provide tons of language practice, but they also mean that you are “on” for the full four hours. No breaks while the other guy tries to answer a question. Especially at the beginning stages of language learning this intensity is so draining that by the end of class my mind just simply turns off and refuses to produce anything intelligible. Little by little, I tell myself. It will get easier.
The class was loosely structured. I was supposed to introduce myself, a typical first activity in a language class. She then showed me some flashcards with place names written in Chinese characters. We went through them, deciding which ones I really needed to learn. Bathroom is important to know but bank is always written in both Chinese and English. We then discussed giving directions to places. At my suggestion we pulled out a map and did some role play scenarios, taking turns asking for directions to various places on the map. Too often teachers get stuck telling you information and forget that students really need to practice what they know, the more real the situation the better. The next activity was her reading a paragraph and then having me answer questions about it. I suppose this is good listening practice but not the most useful exercise. She then wanted me to retell the story which I feigned not being able to remember. I need to be practicing useful conversation, not reciting paragraphs about two kids going to a museum. So far the content of the class is somewhat lacking, but she is very open and patient and I think with time the lessons will only get better.
The teaching supervisor came by our room in the afternoon to inquire about the class. A very nice touch. I focused on the positive and explained in English the kind of practice I wanted, that I liked role play and field trips and wanted to concentrate on practical situations and, of course, food. I have high hopes for my time here.
Found a street of restaurants and food shops – fresh vegetables, fruit and meat, not far from the school. One even sold eggs and live birds. Next door was a shop selling purses with a table of fresh mushrooms at the entrance, a slice of old China.
In desperate need of veggies – too many noodle shops in this town –I found a “real” restaurant and not just a quick bites place. Walking into the restaurant, they looked at me kind of funny when I told them I’m just one person. Just before 7pm the dining room was fairly full and they weren’t sure where to put me. Finally they gave me a four-top with one side of the glass top smashed and taped back together. The menu was another epic book of pictures and unrecognizable names. The more characters I learn the more I still don’t know and trying to read them quickly enough to pick out something to eat while the server waits for me doesn’t make the process easier. Turned out I chose a local style of pork xuan wei, sautéed with chili and Chinese leeks, and a plate of stir fried pea shoots. I’m still not understanding the waiter very well, and it doesn’t help that he asks me unexpected questions, like “do you want your beer cold?” Cold is a word I know, but I didn’t get it until he took me to the case and showed me the refrigerated bottles and the warm bottles behind the counter. Who chooses warm beer? Live and learn.