Time Flies

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It wasn’t until last night that I realized I forgot to make a post about last week, so I’m going to tell you about it now, even though it’s already almost the end of the third week.

Last week was very… interesting. My teaching partner Chauncy was sick and in the hospital from early Monday morning to late Thursday morning, so I spent four days teaching almost entirely on my own. Everyone is proud and impressed that I was able to handle it, but from my point of view, things went downhill really fast. I came in Monday morning ready to tackle the day, confident that I could handle everything and hoping that Chauncy would be back the next day or Wednesday at the latest. I was given the option to cancel my classes, and also to have a Chinese teacher sit in with me to help with translation and discipline, but I insisted that I had things under control… I quickly discovered, however, that I did not. Chauncy is much better at discipline than I am, and even when I could make myself understood, it was difficult to coordinate, teach, and entertain 21 ten-year-olds with vastly different personalities by myself all at the same time. I really don’t know how the Learning Enterprises volunteers in the other countries do it, since LE China is the only branch where we have teaching partners; the volunteers in other countries are ALWAYS teaching by themselves, not just for four days like me.

Anyway, I altered Monday morning’s lesson plans a bit to teach the kids how to say “Get well soon” and have them make cards for Chauncy. The results were quite hilarious. I struggled to explain how exactly to make and decorate the card, so several of them were backwards and/or blank inside. Chauncy’s name was misspelled several times, even though I wrote it on the board. And a significant number of kids wrote something to the effect of “Please come back because we need you to translate for Evangelista.” But when I brought them to Chauncy that afternoon, he liked them and they made him laugh.

By the time Wednesday morning rolled around, I was exhausted and already out of ideas, so we watched the movie Frozen. Even this caused me a lot of pain: First, my computer doesn’t have a jack that fit correctly with the wire to connect to the projector. The principal tried to let me borrow his computer, but it didn’t have software that would play the video. I asked to borrow Kelly’s computer, but the battery was dead. Finally, after 30 or 40 minutes of freaking out because I didn’t have a backup plan, I was able to borrow Ling’s computer and get the movie started.

Chauncy finally came back at the end of class on Thursday. Half the kids practically tackled him when they saw him. I’m so glad that he’s better, for his own sake of course, but also for my own, haha. I don’t know how much longer I could have held out and taught class without him.

Last weekend, the American volunteers all went to Suzhou. We left Friday right after class and came back all at different times on Sunday. It takes about an hour and a half to go between Nantong and Suzhou by bus. Since I had already been to Suzhou three times, I mostly went shopping and went to see a friend while everybody else went to the gardens and such, and I came back to Nantong immediately after checking out of the hostel on Sunday.

This week, we’ve been working on geography words in class. We taught the kids the directions, the names of some of the US states, some countries, the continents, the oceans, and some words like “mountain”, “river”, etc. I’m not surprised that they struggle with some of the longer words like Antarctica and Australia, but it’s interesting to me that they also have trouble with words that I thought would be easy, such as Brazil and Asia. They also had a hard time saying Pacific and kept trying to say “Pa-sophie”, which is extra funny because one of the girls in our class is named Sophie.

Tomorrow, we’re planning on giving them a test over vocabulary that we’ve learned. I didn’t want to give any tests, but my class has a lot of students who are very smart and capable, but they’re easily distracted or they simply don’t want to study, so we figured that giving them a test and some prizes for good grades might motivate them to learn more of the words we’ve tried to teach them. Overall, though, despite the occasional discipline problems, I’m really proud of my students. Several of them take impeccable notes and do review their vocabulary at home. One girl writes down literally every English word I put on the board, to the point that if Chauncy and I borrow her notes to quiz the kids, they complain that we’re quizzing them on words we didn’t teach. Other kids learn really fast, and some have shown improvement in their learning since we reassigned seats.

Whirlwind

It’s been a little more than a week, and I don’t even know what to say. Things have been enjoyable yet confusing; rewarding yet exhausting; fun yet stressful.

I guess I’ll start with my living conditions. I’ve attached a picture of my house for you to see. My living partner Kelly and I have kind of middle-of-the-road accommodations: There are others in our team who have it better than we do, but there are also a few who have it worse. We are fortunate to have an air conditioner, wifi, a television, and a shower (though the water pressure isn’t fantastic). Our misfortune is in the realms of laundry and toilets. There is a washing machine, but we have not tried to use it because it appears that the only setting is for a 9 hour wash cycle? Maybe at some point we’ll ask about it, but for the time being, we’re washing clothes by hand. As for our toilet, it’s located in what is more or less a storage shed attached to the house (You can see the blue door at the far left of the photo). The toilet is a hole in the floor covered by a big wooden box, and there is no running water to it, so it’s a bit smelly, as you might imagine. To be honest, I don’t REALLY mind (mostly I’m just glad it’s not a squat toilet lol); what I mind most about it is that we have to go outside to get to it. So if it’s raining or it’s the middle of the night or something like that, it’s not super convenient. But I suppose it could be worse.

Our hosts are really nice though! We live with a Nainai (奶奶 grandma) and Yeye (爷爷 grandpa). They both speak with a heavy Nantong accent, which sometimes makes it hard for even Kelly (a native Chinese speaker) to understand them, but they have been very kind and hospitable to us so far. Nainai cooks dinner for us every night and never lets us help clean up, and one night last week Yeye took us out for dinner. We also have a Shushu (叔叔 uncle) and Ayi (阿姨 aunt) who have a son and a daughter, but they don’t live here with the grandparents, so we rarely see them. They’re really nice too though. Ayi is an English teacher. Shushu often offers to drive us to where we need to go if he’s there when we’re leaving.

I guess the next thing to talk about is school. I’m teaching English at a school in Nantong, Jiangsu Province called Yanbin Primary School (南通市雁滨小学). It takes about 15-20 minutes to walk there from my house. We usually arrive at school around 7:20 or 7:30am and start class about 8:00. We teach until 11:00am with breaks every hour or so and then send the kids home, but they can come back for office hours between 1:00 and 3:00pm if they want to. The school’s principal (校长) is really kind and generous and seems really enthusiastic about hosting us. When we first arrived, he and some other people (who I’m assuming are on the staff at the school?) personally drove us all to our host families’ homes. They also drove us to a supermarket and let us use their memberships to get in, and then waited for us while we did our shopping. Every morning, the school’s staff prepares a good breakfast for us, and they make lunch for us in the afternoon after classes are over. We have access to the teachers’ office, where we can relax, store our teaching materials, and use the desks, computers, and wifi to plan lessons. Nevertheless, our resources are a little limited. Only one classroom in the school has a projector, so it is difficult to show powerpoints, movies, and photos. We also have no access to Google, which can make it hard to search for pictures or for ideas for lessons and games. Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google, is available of course, but it doesn’t always yield the most ideal results.

Anyway, my teaching partner Chauncy and I have a class of 20 rising fifth-graders. Our original class list had only 15 students (12 girls and 3 boys!), but three students from the original list haven’t come at all, and we’ve gotten a few new students who weren’t on the original list (so now we have 13 girls and 7 boys). On the first day of class, we gave each student an English name and had them make name tags with their English name on one side and their Chinese name on the other side. Sometimes the hardest thing about teaching them is that I don’t know what they’ve learned already and what they haven’t, and even if they have learned it before, can they just read the words, or can they actually use them? But we’re doing our best to teach them as much as possible while keeping them engaged. It’s fun but really exhausting; I’m rarely around kids, so I forgot how much energy they have and I don’t always know what they will and won’t like. They’re cute though, and they seem to like Chauncy and me (some of the girls are particularly fascinated by my hair). This week, we’re going to speak English more and try to translate less. Even though they’re young, I think they’re capable of more English than they want to admit, and I want to push them and encourage them so they can build confidence and continue learning successfully after I leave.

I’m really bad at titles (Sorry)

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I arrived in Shanghai on Sunday afternoon, and my friend and her dad picked me up from the airport.

On Monday, my friend and her parents took me to a place called Laochangfang (老场房). It was a little weird and creepy because it’s an old slaughterhouse from the 1930s that has been converted into a tourist site and commercial building with shops and restaurants (including a dog cafe!). Parts of it looked like it could be a map from one of those first-person shooter video games… Also some of the staircases were really steep and terrifying.

We also went to the area where all the pavilions were when Shanghai hosted the World Expo in 2010. The Saudi Pavilion (now the Moon Boat – 月亮船) is still there, and we went to see it. Sadly, all of the art and the model Bedouin tent have all been removed, but they did have this really cool and massive projection thingy that showed pictures of Saudi Arabia. We enjoyed that enough to go through it twice!

Then we went to visit the old China Pavilion, which is now the China Art Museum Shanghai. We didn’t stay there for very long because we were getting tired and it was almost dinner time, but I liked the parts I saw and it was the first time this trip that a random person asked to take a picture with me!

Yesterday, my friend and I went to the Shanghai Museum in People’s Square. I saw it from the outside while I was here last year but just never went inside. We saw pottery, bronze work, sculptures, calligraphy, and paintings. We had fun chuckling and speculating about some of the objects that didn’t quite match their descriptions, such as a pot that was supposed to be bird-shaped but had four legs, and frogs that appeared to have wings drawn on them. My favorite was the calligraphy; it’s impossible for me to read it, of course, but I have fun trying!

Today, my friend and I are just staying home while her parents are at work. It’s hot out, and we’re both kind of tired – I pretty much passed out after we came home from dinner last night. I also had some work to finish up, anyway (I had to submit a preliminary curriculum for the kids I’m going to be teaching by Friday and submit a transcript and a summary of the last school year so I could renew a scholarship), so it’s still been fairly productive.

[no gallery]

Germany Week 4

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Today I went back to the train station to reserve specific seats on my trains next weekend…

Me: I would like to… reserve a… seat??
Deutsche Bahn Lady: Ok. For the way there or back?
Me: um… *internally: Both? No. 都?No. HELP.*
DB Lady: Beide?
Me: Ja. *nods emphatically*
DB Lady: Ok. And do you want a table or a [insert unknown German words here]?
Me: *waves arms around a bit* I’m sorry……
DB Lady: *chooses for me* Ok, 9 Euros please.
Me: Thank you so much……

We also had an InterDaF Karneval party at the Moritzbastei tonight. Armed with my purple cloak and some silver glitter, I was as ready as I was ever going to be to attend a Karneval party at a student club. Although I didn’t stay for very long, I’m glad that I went for a little while. It was fun to see everyone in their costumes!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do anything of particular interest today. After class, I went straight back to my dorm, where I spent the rest of the evening because I had Skype meetings and interviews scheduled regarding a club that I’m taking over this semester and a student assistant position I’m hoping to get at the Confucius Institute.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Today we went to see a movie called Wir sind die Neuen. It was a comedy about three older people who were roommates in college, and they decide to move in together again to save money. They end up renting rooms in a house where three uptight, stressed out college students live upstairs. They start out feuding and being annoyed at each other, but by the end, they realize that they need each other. Even though I couldn’t understand very much of the dialogue, I thought the movie was funny and well-made. I hope that someday soon I will be able to watch it again and follow along better. It seemed like a great movie that I would enjoy if I could actually understand what the characters were saying.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Today was our last day in class, which was sad. I really enjoyed having Mr. A as a teacher, and I’m definitely going to miss him! We took our written final after lunch, and though I’m sure I made a couple of mistakes, I think that I did well overall. I’m pretty proud of how far my German has come in such a short time. It’s still not particularly good, but it’s so much better than when we got here.

After the test, I went straight to the train station to wait for my train to visit my friend Annie for the free weekend. I found my car and seat pretty easily, and wound up sitting across from a friendly man with whom I attempted to have a conversation. He had the score of a Frank Ticheli piece called Cajun Folk Songs out in front of him, and was listening to it and practicing conducting it, so I asked if he was a conductor. He said, “Um, yes and no,” and then proceed to explain, but I didn’t really understand most of what he said… I think it might have been something about how he was learning to be and the regular conductor wasn’t there so he was going to do it. Maybe. But when he noticed me continually checking the time and my tickets and looking around for where we were at every stop, he was very nice and showed me the pamphlet he had that listed all the stops the train was scheduled to make.

Three trains and several hours later, Annie and her host mom picked me up from the train station and drove me to their house where I met Annie’s host dad and host sister, and their dog Mona. Annie’s host mom heated up some leftovers for me, and we all sat kind of awkwardly around the kitchen table talking until I finished eating.

Friday, January 30, 2015

This morning I went with Annie to her English class. I was very surprised at the lack of control and discipline that existed in the classroom. Most of the students in Annie’s class don’t like their English teacher, and they constantly talk over him. It’s a pity because the students he called on to speak seemed to be very good at English; it’s too bad that they don’t enjoy the class. They were discussing Brave New World, which I haven’t read, but it sounds like a very interesting book that I think I may try to read now.

After class, we went home and had breakfast with the whole family, including Annie’s host grandma. German breakfast is apparently pretty extensive. There were rolls; various spreads such as Nutella, jelly, and Weinachtshonig (honey with cinnamon and vanilla!); and cold cuts such as cheese and ham. Even though I couldn’t understand most of the conversation, I enjoyed listening and getting a feel for real spoken German – the rhythm of it, what words they use a lot, and so on.

Annie and I took the train to Essen after breakfast. We saw the Essen Cathedral and the town hall, and we spent a lot of time in the Old Synagogue. Aside from being very pretty, it contained a museum about Judaism and Jewish life. One thing they had that I really liked was an installation with two giant gears that you could spin and it would line up corresponding dates between the Jewish and Gregorian calendars. Annie and I also liked the setup they had where they played music and projected videos of traditional Jewish dances onto a screen, and then they projected another video to try to teach you the dance, and then they played the first video again so you could try to dance along. We didn’t dance, though; we just enjoyed it because of the music!

We also stopped by an old coal mine called Zeche Zollverein. It used to be a large industrial site, but now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum. We didn’t have enough time to actually go into the museum, but we walked around the site, and it was actually quite pretty.

From Essen, we took the train to Dortmund. We had hoped to visit several places there, but we didn’t really get to because it was already 5pm when we got there, so it was getting dark and things were closing. We did get to see St. Reinold’s Church from the outside, and then we stopped at an Asian supermarket and then went back home.

When we got back, we had dinner – bread and cold cuts – with Annie’s host parents, and then Annie’s host mom got the dog to demonstrate some of her tricks. Mona stays put while Annie’s host mom puts her food bowl down and doesn’t go over until she’s told it’s ok. Then when she’s finished, Annie’s host mom tells Mona to go get the bowl, and she brings it back! She also knows “up” and “down” in English, and she can shake hands and play dead. Mona is a very food-motivated dog, and she’s very cute and funny.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

After breakfast Annie’s host dad took us with him to do a few errands. First we went to a recycling center to drop off an old washing machine. That in itself isn’t a very interesting thing, but it was still interesting in that I haven’t seen anything like it in the US before. In most cases in the US, you have to go to great lengths to recycle much more than cans and bottles. Though many schools and other community organizations run regular recycling days, many of them charge for the service or at least ask for a donation, and after just one day, the recycling drive is over. But where we went was a permanent, extensive, and very efficient recycling center. One worker told Annie’s host dad where to drive to, another helped him get the washer out of the car, and then we were on our way. Next we went to the market. Aside from fruits and vegetables and bread, there were also all kinds of clothes and accessories. A lot of the people selling clothing items seemed to be foreign – Turkish, probably.

From the market, Annie and I caught a bus to the train station to meet her friend Lina and travel to Cologne together. As soon as we stepped out of the train station in Cologne, the Cologne Cathedral was towering over us. Even though I’ve seen some “mega churches” at home, I still think that this cathedral was probably the biggest church I’ve ever seen. Even though there were some repairs being done, the Gothic architecture was beautiful, and when we went inside, the sun coming through all the stained glass windows threw colors on the walls. We also went and bought tickets to climb the tower. The stairs there were terrifying! Not only was it a seemingly endless narrow spiral staircase, but it was also the ONLY way up AND down the tower, so people were constantly going both directions. It was especially frightening on the way up because the people coming down had unspoken rights to the side where the steps were wider and where there was a handrail. Every time someone coming down passed me as I was going up, I had to move toward the center of the staircase, and… Well, it was scary. So I only went part of the way up and let Annie and Lina climb the rest without me.

When we finished at the Cologne Cathedral, we went to Hohenzollern Bridge to see the love locks, and we visited the Great St. Martin Church. We also went to the chocolate museum, and although we didn’t have time to go into the actual museum, it was, of course, absolutely necessary that we visit the museum shop. And then we stopped by the town hall, and then headed back toward home. We made a stop in downtown Duisburg so that Annie and Lina could show me around, but there wasn’t much to see there, so the “tour” didn’t last long.

Back at home, there were guests over for a birthday party for Annie’s host dad, her host brother, and her host brother’s girlfriend. Everyone was quite friendly and nice. Aside from the food being a little different and everybody speaking German, everything was pretty much the same as any house party I’ve been to in the US: The drinks were outside to keep them cold; there was a “kids’” table and an “adults’” table; and because it was a Saturday, a lot of people stayed up talking until some ridiculous hour. A couple people tried to talk to me for a little bit, but mostly I couldn’t understand any of the conversations. It was fun though.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Today I had a late breakfast with Annie and her host family, and then I had to catch my train back to Leipzig in the early afternoon. A delay in Duisburg made me miss my train out of Dortmund, but the lady at the information counter was very helpful and put me right on the next train. I found it and got on with no problems, and it was only 20 or 30 minutes later than my original train was supposed to be.

Spending the weekend with a German family was a very interesting new experience that I’m glad I was able to have. It was nice to be able to meet and interact with some actual German people, not just teachers or wait staff or salespeople, and see how they use their language and how they live their regular, everyday lives. I also liked being able to see some of western Germany and comparing it with the east. One difference that I noticed is that there seem to be a lot more houses and other free-standing buildings in the west, where in the east there are a lot of apartment blocks and big, long, connected buildings. There also seem to be a lot more areas in the west that are run-down or even abandoned. Some of the “stations” where the regional trains stopped appeared questionable and in disrepair. Finally, the western part of Germany seems to have a lot more foreigners than the east. Even in cities such as Essen that I don’t really think of as big, famous German cities, I noticed several other languages being spoken, including a lot of Chinese, which I almost never hear in Leipzig, except from InterDaF and university students who I see on the tram or in my dorm.

Monday, February 2, 2015

This morning we had a speaking class with Ms. L, and then we had our oral tests in the afternoon. I was the fourth person to go. I was a little nervous, but I wound up getting 100% on both the written and spoken portions of the final. I do wish that I had chosen to take the A2 test rather than the A1 test; Mr. A said I probably still would have gotten 100 on the writing and probably a 98 on speaking. But at the same time, too, I think just doing A1 was ok. I’ve only been learning German for 4 months, and even though I’ve learned how to do a lot of things well, there are still plenty of basic communicative tasks that I can’t handle. And I think that being able to call my German a good, solid A1 feels better for me than saying I passed a test at the A2 level when I still don’t even know how to say that I want my gelato in a cup instead of a cone.

After my test, I finally went to the zoo. It seemed like poor planning that all the paths were dirt, because the entire zoo was a giant mud pit. But other than that, I enjoyed it. The exhibits were well-designed, and they had some animals that I had only ever heard of but never seen, such as tapirs and Przewalski’s horses, and some that I have never heard of before, such as Chinese muntjacs. And I got to see the pygmy hippos like I wanted to!

Anyway, I guess this is my last journal entry. I can’t believe how fast it went. Tomorrow is going to be a whirlwind of tying up loose ends, and then we leave early on Wednesday morning. I’m going to miss Leipzig, and Mr. A, and of course, having only two classes to worry about and being able to focus on German, rather than having to balance a full course load. And I’m going to miss being able to see the Monument to the Battle of the Nations out my bedroom window and the convenience of the tram. But I think I’m also ready to go home. I’m ready to understand what’s going on around me and to know what kinds of food and drinks I’m buying without using Google Translate. And I’m ready to meet my new roommate and start a new semester. But I am definitely not ready to figure out how to pack all of this stuff and get it home!

Germany Week 3 (only 4 months late haha)

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This is really long but I did try to go through it and change the German words that I used into English…

Monday, January 19, 2015

Today I learned that I need to work on German vowels and that I’m terrible at making the German R sound. I understand the concepts, and I hear the differences, but I’m struggling to replicate them. We also had the Länderabend (where the students from each country did a presentation or performance), where we performed a skit about not knowing what to do for a skit and consequently deciding to do a skit about not knowing what to do for a skit (all of this because we really didn’t know what to do for a skit). All of us were nervous about it, but I think it turned out well. The other presentations were really good too. Some groups brought food for us to try, and it was delicious! I think my favorite presentation was by the group from Australia and New Zealand. They made fun of and explained some of their mannerisms and idioms, and it was really funny and entertaining. I want to start using the expression “as cross as a frog in a sock” and see what happens.

After the Länderabend, Nate, Steve, Viktor, and I went to a restaurant and played foosball in the basement. Or, rather, they played and I contributed what little I could with my “outstanding” ability to spin the handles as if my life depended on it. In the middle of our game, two German guys came down and knocked on the foosball table, which we assumed to mean that they wanted to play when we finished our game. When we looked confused, however, they explained to us that that meant they wanted to challenge whoever won. One of them was a law student, and it was fun and interesting to talk to them about differences in law practice and in universities between the US and Germany. When we told him how much we have to pay for school, the law student said, “I feel rich!”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Today I went to a museum called Zeitgeschichtliches Forum. Although I struggled to read most of the information, I did learn a few things. For example, I didn’t know much about the history of the press in Germany and didn’t realize that the Allies initially banned all newspapers and magazines in West Germany. I also thought it was interesting that when they referred to the Allies, they said “the victorious powers” or “the victors”. That definitely makes sense, but I had just never thought much about what words Germany might use to refer to the countries that won World War Two. I wish that I could have gotten more out of this museum than I did, though. My German vocabulary wasn’t extensive enough to pick up more than a few words on most of the placards. I did use my cell phone to Google a few key words and names, but it was generally difficult and discouraging. There were a lot of interesting-looking artifacts and photos that I wish I could have learned more about. The section that they had about the Stasi was interesting; I could understand it better than some of the other parts because of the background information I already had from the Stasi Museum. Overall it seemed like a very good museum. Maybe someday when my German is better, I will have the opportunity to go back and pick up on all of the things I missed today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Today we were supposed to take a trip to the BMW plant after class, but InterDaF cancelled the excursion because PEGIDA had a massive protest planned for today. Authorities were expecting 100,000 people including counter-protesters, and we would have wound up returning to the city center in the middle of it, when it would have been difficult for us to get home and maybe not too safe. So Steve and Nate and I went to go look for costumes for the Karneval party on Monday and then go get some lunch. Nate and Steve both bought costumes, but I didn’t find anything yet. We ate lunch at a café near the old city hall and watched out the window as police vans poured into the market square in preparation for the protest. When we left and headed back toward Augustusplatz, we saw that there were police cars and armored police officers literally everywhere. None of us had ever seen so many police all in one place at one time! And naturally, the trams had already stopped running, so we just started walking. Nate lives in the dorms closer to the city center, so he got home first, and Steve and I kept walking. I thought we would have to walk all the way out to Lössnig, but luckily we caught a tram that was running some odd combination of lines 10 and 16. They must have been running trams to some of the farther areas to help people get home. When I got back to my dorm, I read some articles on the protest and watched some of the live stream when it started. Though I couldn’t read all the comments on the live stream, many of them – from both sides – were really terrible and at times immature. A lot of people were commenting, “DEUTSCHLAND ÜBER ALLES” which I’ve heard is often a frowned-upon phrase. It started making me angry, so eventually I shut it off.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Today I had my first Döner kebab ever for lunch. It was really good! I’m not sure why it took me this long to get some! After lunch I went to the train station and bought train tickets to go see my friend in Duisburg on the free weekend. At first I tried to buy them myself at the machine, but then I decided that since I’m not so familiar with trains, it might be better if I just went to the counter and asked them to do it for me. I wandered around for a minute before I realized I needed to take a number, but eventually I was successful. I also went to the musical instrument museum today. I enjoyed it a lot! There was no English at all, and I didn’t get an audio guide, but even so, I got a lot more out of it than I did out of the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum. For example, I was able to read the whole paragraph about Werner Fabricius without a dictionary! (Werner Fabricius was the organist and music director at the University Church from 1656-1679 and the organist at the St. Nicholas Church from 1658 on.) Here are some other things I noticed, learned, and thought about while I was there:

1) There were lots of instruments I had never seen or heard of before, such as a zink, a kit violin, and a contrabass saxophone. It was really cool to see these and wonder what they might sound like; I definitely plan to look for some videos online!

2) So many of the instruments were beautifully and intricately carved or painted. It’s amazing that all of that was done by hand!

3) Looking at some of the old sheet music, I noticed differences between how sheet music used to look a few hundred years ago versus how it looks today. For example, on one piece of music, the stems of the notes were always on the same side; now whether the stem is on the right or left side depends on how high or low on the staff the note is written.

4) They had on display some conventional instruments made with unconventional materials, such as a crystal flute, a red Plexiglas flute, and (what I’m pretty sure was) a porcelain violin. I can’t help but wonder what those would sound like, and if a porcelain violin would even be playable!

5) I didn’t see any metal flutes or a lot of other familiar-looking wind instruments until the section for the mid/late- 1800s. Even instruments such as the oboe and trumpet that did appear earlier in the museum looked very different from modern ones up to this point.

And then tonight all the students from InterDaF went to the Gewandhaus concert hall to hear the orchestra! They played Tchaikovsky and Mahler, and it was incredible. I was excited about this concert since before we even got here, but it totally exceeded expectations. The violin soloist was unbelievably talented. And I was glad that the concert hall was constructed in such a way that even though we were sitting behind the orchestra, we could still hear well and it still sounded great. It was also fun to be able to watch the conductor.  A lot of conductors I see when I watch videos of orchestras seem like they take themselves too seriously, but I actually enjoyed watching Riccardo Chailly conduct; his face was always expressive, and he seemed to be interacting and collaborating with the musicians as they played rather than expecting them to follow his lead all the time.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Today we left for Berlin early in the morning. When we got there, our guide took us to see the Reichstag (the parliament building) and Chancellery, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Holocaust Memorial. We then spent a lot of time in what had been the Jewish area of the city, where we saw a beautiful synagogue that had not been burned during Kristallnacht because a police officer stopped the arsonists; and where we learned about Stella, a Jewish girl who cooperated with the Nazis to save her parents, but then near the end of the war, her parents got deported anyway. We saw the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon when he visited Berlin, and some of the little plaques to honor people who were deported during the Holocaust that people can sponsor and have placed on the street where the deported person lived. We also saw learned about Otto Weidt, who helped Jews, most of them blind, during the Holocaust by employing them and bribing the Nazis. When they got deported anyway, he sent them packages with food.

After we were done touring for the day, I went with John, Ryan, Steve, and Nate to a restaurant called Weihenstephan, which claims to be the world’s oldest brewery. The food was amazing, and although I didn’t try any, the beer was apparently really good too. I also managed to find a shiny purple cloak to wear as a costume for the Karneval party on Monday.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Today we met with our tour guide again, and she took us to different important points along the Berlin Wall. First, we saw the East Side Gallery. It felt very strange to stand in what used to be No Man’s Land, where not too long ago it would have been dangerous and illegal for any of us to set foot, and see businesses and graffiti. When we went to the other side, the actuall “gallery” part, there were a lot of interesting, beautiful, and meaningful paintings that real artists had been commissioned to paint. It made me sad that a lot of those paintings were graffiti-ed over. While we were there, we learned that a section of the wall that had been there had been removed because an investor wanted a clear view to the west from the O2 World arena that he was having built.

We also went to the Berlin Wall Museum and the area around it. There had been a church caught in No Man’s Land that fell into disrepair because of disuse, and it was demolished shortly before reunification, when there would have been money to repair it. Now there is a new church there, and we visited that. We also saw a memorial there that had the names of people who had died at the Wall, and photos of most of them. Many of the people were very young. I wish I could have had a little more time there. Inside the museum, they had a lot of photos and videos of when the Wall was just starting to be built. If it felt terrible to see pictures of friends and family crying on opposite sides of barbed wire, I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to actually be one of those people.

Afterwards, we went for lunch as a group, and then I went with John, Ryan, Steve, and Nate to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. They had a lot of interesting items and information, but it’s hard to know if I got to see everything because it was crowded and had a very awkward setup. It was definitely fascinating to see some of the things people used to use to try to escape the East. One of the most interesting things to me was a Swiss passport and some seal furs that a woman had used to disguise herself and pass through a border checkpoint. The story said that the woman had had to learn a lot of background information about the lady the passport actually belonged to in case they questioned her, but that she was nervous about not being able to speak any Swiss German. It also said that just 10 days after she made it through, someone else trying to use a Swiss passport to escape was caught and arrested.

Tonight as a group, we went to see a musical called Hinterm Horizont. It was based on the life of rock star Udo Lindenberg and a girl named Jessy from East Berlin who he fell in love with. It was extremely cheesy, but I thought that for what it was, it wasn’t too bad. Even though I’m sure there was some artistic license taken, it was interesting to see examples of the lengths the Stasi went to in order to bribe people and get the information they wanted, rather than just hearing about it from a tour guide in a museum. It was funny, the acting and singing was good, and the people in charge of all the effects and lights were really on top of things. Also, I was glad that they provided English translations of the lines, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had been able to understand the German being spoken. The screens showing the English were in awkward places, so if I tried to read I couldn’t watch, and if I tried to watch I couldn’t read. I’m sure I missed some things because of that. I also noticed that I would laugh before everyone else, because I had read to the end of the joke before the line had actually been spoken. Overall, I felt like it was one of those things where you should see it once to say you’ve seen it, but there’s really no need to see it a second time. The only reason I might consider watching it again would be to get another chance at understanding it in a few years when my German is better.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Today we went on a tour of the Reichstag. I really enjoyed it; our tour guide was thorough and informative, and it was interesting to compare it to the tour I took of the Capitol Building a couple years ago. Even though the building looks quite old on the outside, the inside is really modern, with a lot of glass and metal. I liked the way that they incorporated the building’s history into its modern appearance. They left the holes from drywall and from bullets in some of the walls, and they also left the graffiti that Russian soldiers wrote on the walls. In the assembly room, our tour guide pointed out which political party sits where, and said that seats are added or taken out depending on how many people from a particular party get elected. He also said that there are no assigned seats, but that the party leaders sit in the front two rows where the desks have telephones. (I was kind of surprised that the chairs were purple; it seemed like an unusual color for anything in a parliamentary assembly room.) Then our guide showed us which seating areas are reserved for journalists, visiting politicians and dignitaries, and regular visitors. After our tour of the building, we went up to the glass dome. Even though the weather wasn’t too good, I enjoyed being able to see out over Berlin. While I was up there, I also heard the Carillon being played, which was cool.

When we finished at the Reichstag, we took the S-Bahn to go see a palace in another part of the city. We didn’t have the time to go inside, but it was so pretty! We took some pictures, then went to a café, and then we had to take the S-Bahn back to the train station, get our things from the hotel, and catch our train back to Leipzig.

I enjoyed our time in Berlin, but I also felt glad and relieved to return to Leipzig this evening. Leipzig has become more or less “home” for me this month. I know where things are and how to get to them. I know where I can go to eat and what there is to do when I have free time. Berlin was also very strange for me because there has only ever been one Germany in my lifetime, so it’s very easy for me to forget that it was still divided up until just five years before I was born. Being able to stand in what used to be No Man’s Land, or put one foot on either side of where the Berlin Wall used to stand, or see differences between the two sides in something as simple as the number of trees, was a very unusual experience.

Apparently I am incapable of keeping up this blog

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So I never finished posting about Germany… Sorry about that. I was required to keep journals so I’ll probably create some posts out of those so that my Germany category isn’t half finished.

I successfully finished my first year at university and also declared a German minor!

And I’m going back to China this summer! This will be my 5th trip to China, and I’m really excited. I will be there for almost 2 months, 3 weeks of which will be spent visiting friends and my host family and 5 weeks of which will be spent volunteering teaching English in an underprivileged area with an organization called Learning Enterprises. I don’t have very much experience with teaching, and I won’t know my students’ age or English level before I get there, so I’m a little nervous. But I will have other volunteers and also a native-Chinese-speaking teaching partner with me, so I won’t be left completely on my own to figure things out. On top of that, we’ll be volunteering in Jiangsu province in an area not too far from where my host family lives; it makes me feel even better knowing they’ll be close by. I’m hoping that I’ll have opportunities to blog while I’m there (and that I’ll remember to do so)!

 

The Second Week

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Day 8 (Jan 12)

Our assignment for after class was to go on a “Stadterkundung”. They joined us with the next class up and put us in groups of 4 or 5 to go out to one of Leipzig’s districts and get information on it that we could present the next day. We were supposed to take some pictures, talk to locals, and see what we could find out about what kinds of people live there, what interesting places there are, and things like that. My group got assigned to a district named Schleussig, in kind of the southwest part of the city. It was a very pretty area, but not much around, and not even very many people when we went. We did find a church and we talked to a lady who works there. She told us that a lot of the people who live in Schleussig are families with children, so I guessed there probably weren’t any people out because it was near the end of the school day, and parents were probably picking up their kids. I think it was a good experience to go see a part of Leipzig I probably would never have gone to otherwise, but I was really nervous about presenting it, since everyone else in my group and both classes has better German than me.

Day 9 (Jan 13)

We had to present what we learned on our Stadterkundung. Each group spent the morning making posters with pictures of and information about the district they went to. One of our group members didn’t show up to present, and then we drew numbers and my group wound up having to go first. I don’t feel like I did very well, and I also feel bad because my other two group members had to talk so much more than I did. I guess there’s not much I can do about that, but I still didn’t like it. And then that evening, all but two of us went to Ms. R’s (our professor who came with us from the US) apartment for dinner. The view of the city from the living room window was great, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to sit down and get to know my group members a little bit better. I definitely like the small-sized group we have that allows us to get together all at the same time and actually all have a conversation all at once instead of always breaking ourselves up into smaller groups.

Day 10 (Jan 14)

I was definitely in over my head in the second level class, so I had asked to be switched down, and this was my first day in the easier class taught by Mr. A. I really enjoyed it and definitely feel like I was more productive and understood more of what was going on. I think that this class will still challenge me and help me improve my German a lot, but I won’t be constantly struggling and 2 steps behind. That evening we had another Stammtisch, this time at the Volkshaus on Karli Street. It was a very interesting experience. I wound up “talking” with the two Korean girls from my class, and the InterDaF assistant. Communication was a challenge. The Korean girls’ and my German is not very good, and even when the Korean girls do speak German, they speak very quietly and have strong accents. The assistant and the Korean girls also don’t speak very much English. And between the four of us, we covered the Korean, Chinese, and Japanese languages, with no overlap. I told a friend about it later, and she said that it sounded like it should be a skit… It really could have been!

Day 11 (Jan 15)

We had the entire afternoon and evening free after class. After getting lunch and dropping my school stuff off back at my dorm, I planned to use the time to do a lot of different things: buy some postcards, visit an old bookstore, go to a museum, see a movie. But in reality I wound up only getting through the first two… I spend way too much time in bookstores! Once I found the section on foreign languages and the boxes of sheet music, there was no escaping!

Day 12 (Jan 16)

In class, Mr. A taught us how to sound arrogant in German, and it was actually hilarious and a lot of fun! We listened to a recording of a man bragging about himself, and then we repeated it back using the same emphasis and pauses. Later, we had a cooking class. While I was waiting to meet with everyone, I visited another bookstore (I may have a book problem) and bought copies of a few of my favorite books in German. I’m not sure I can read them yet, but I like to have them and look through and see what I can pick up. The cooking class, though, was really fun. Usually, I’m not very good at cooking and don’t like it very much, but I had a great time, and the food we made was really good. It was certainly an interesting test for my German, too, since “Kitchen Utensils” isn’t exactly a unit in most German classes.

Day 13 (Jan 17)

We went as a group to the Stasi Museum. (Yes, I stopped at another bookstore beforehand. Yes, I definitely have a book problem…) Our tour guide was very thorough and informative, and it was fascinating to see and hear about the lengths that they went to to keep tabs on everything and everyone in East Germany. After the museum, Steve and Nate and I went to a café and then to the organ concert at the St. Nicholas Church. It was beautiful, and they chose a great program. My favorite pieces to hear were the ones by Johann Pachelbel. One of my favorite classical pieces is his Canon in D, but like a lot of other people, that’s the only piece by him that I know. I enjoyed having the opportunity to hear some of his other work.

Day 14 (Today, Jan 18)

This afternoon, I walked form my dorm to the Monument to the Battle of the Nations to meet up with my group. One of the routes that Google Maps suggested, and the one I wound up choosing, wound up taking me through a cemetery. It seemed a little strange at first, but I actually enjoyed the walk. The cemetery was very beautiful and peaceful; I liked it better than any American cemetery I’ve ever visited. The monument itself was interesting and impressive. I can see it out my window and tell that it’s very big, but I didn’t realize how big it is until I got up close to it. The view from the top of it is really incredible; I could see all of Leipzig! We were really lucky to get a nice, clear day. But I think the part of our tour that actually stood out most to me was the video at the beginning about the history of the monument. I liked it because there was no narration to distract from the pictures, video clips, and music that already told the story quite well. It was really well done.

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks and we’re already just about halfway done. This week I’ve definitely had some new experiences and had time to think about differences between the US and Germany that I like and dislike. Something that I really like is that at restaurants and cafés, when you’re ready to pay, they bring you the check and take the payment right away, instead of leaving it on the table and then taking forever to come pick it up. One thing that I have not enjoyed so far is the prevalence of smoking in public areas. I don’t mind if other people choose to smoke, but I don’t appreciate inhaling secondhand smoke at every tram stop and outside public places like the train station. Finally, I’m still not sure how I feel about the German obsession with open windows in the winter. I’ve taken to doing it in my room when it gets stuffy, and it makes it more comfortable, but it seems like every time they open a window in the classrooms, it’s freezing! Maybe I’ll get used to it, and when I go back the US I’ll question everybody as to why there are no windows open?

The First Week

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It’s the end of my second week here in Leipzig, Germany! I would have posted sooner, but I couldn’t get my computer set up with internet until just a couple days ago.

Anyway, I don’t really know how I’m going to sum up the last two weeks in one blog post. My journal is over 9 typed pages already. So I think the best way to do it is to split it into two posts. Here are the highlights from the first week!

Day 1 (Jan 5)

After some lunch and a short orientation, they dropped us off at our dorms, and we were on our own for the evening. I was too tired to explore, so instead I unpacked and went to buy some kind of food just so I would have something to eat the next morning. While shopping, I learned that you have to bring your own shopping bags in Germany, or buy them at the register. I also noticed that the aisles were not quite as well-organized as I expected them to be. Some of the combinations didn’t seem logical, such as the drinks in the same aisle as the pet food. Also with the drinks, instead of having some items out for individual sale and others still in their cases for bulk sale like in the US, all the bottles were still in their cases, and if people didn’t want the whole case, they could just tear a hole in the plastic and take however many they wanted. I thought that was interesting.

Day 2 (Jan 6)

Ms. S picked up the 4 of us who live in my dorm complex and took us on the tram to meet the rest of the group at the Hauptbahnhof (train station). From there, Mr. A took us on a tour of the area around the city center. We visited the St. Nicholas Church and the St. Thomas Church, and he showed us were the Moritzbastei (a student club) and the cafeteria are. After our tour, we went to a restaurant for lunch, where I learned that in Germany, even just regular water comes in glass bottles and costs money. After that I went with Nate and Steve first to the bookstore and then to a café. When we were finished, we looked up the word for “check” (die Rechnung!) and discovered that we had to make a real effort to get the waiter’s attention so we could ask for it; they didn’t try to get us right in and out like they would in the US.

Day 3 (Jan 7)

They trusted us to get ourselves to InterDaF (the school) by 9am. We also took our placement test, and it was hard. It was multiple choice, but it was mostly grammar stuff that I’m not familiar with, so I guessed a lot. After the placement test, we went on another tour with Dr. B. We went to a lot of the same places that we went to with Mr. A, and a few that we didn’t, only this time everything was in German, and my group was split up and mixed with the other students. At the end of the tour, we met up with everybody else and all ate lunch together at Auerbachs Keller, which is a very famous restaurant in which a scene took place in Faust.

Day 4 (Jan 8)

The first day of class. I somehow placed into the second level class with Mr. S. Everyone else in there except one has at least 2 years of German; meanwhile I have only 1 semester. It was pretty hard, but Mr. S and my classmates were all very nice. For lunch I went with Nate and Steve to the train station (there’s basically a mall in there) where we ate some pretty good Asian food. Then we went back to the institute for our first session of our culture class, where we learned about Germany’s borders and had an introduction to Dresden. I went back to my dorm after that but then went back out around 7 because we had a Stammtisch (basically a social event where you reserve tables for a large group at a restaurant) at the Moritzbastei at 8. All of the teachers and a good number of the students were there. It was a good time.

Day 5 (Jan 9)

We had class and then a tour of the Bach Museum. At the museum, we had a really nice and enthusiastic tour guide. I thought it was interesting that the museum is not actually in the Bach family’s house, but rather in a friend’s house across the street. They had some old musical instruments, some interactive things, and even some of the original copies of Bach’s work. As a music person, I definitely enjoyed the tour! Afterwards, there was nothing planned and I didn’t do anything much; just went back to my dorm and prepared to go to Dresden!

Day 6 (Jan 10)

We took the train and got to Dresden in the early afternoon. When we got there, we went on a tour around the city where we saw some of the most famous locations such as the Church of Our Lady, the Elbe River, and the Opera House. Everything was so beautiful! One thing I learned that I thought was very interesting was that the Frauenkirche is Lutheran and the Cathedral is Catholic, even though they look like they should be the other way around. I also thought it was cool that even though a lot of buildings had to be reconstructed after World War II, people were able to preserve some of the ruins and incorporate parts of the old structure into the new building. After the tour was over, I went to the Church of Our Lady again to see the protest that was going on there. Recently there have been anti-Islamic/anti-refugee protests by a group called PEGIDA, but today outside the Church of Our Lady, there was a protest against PEGIDA. The crowd was pretty big, and a lot of people had small children with them, which I didn’t really expect. I wish I had been able to understand what the speakers were saying, but since I knew what the protest was already, I did have enough information to explain the general idea to an Australian man who stopped me to ask what was going on.

Day 7 (Jan 11)

We went to the museums at the Zwinger and the Residenzschloss in Dresden. At the Zwinger, they had an exhibit of Chinese, Japanese, and Meissen porcelain. All of the work was incredibly intricate; it’s incredible that it was handmade! Augustus the Strong’s porcelain “zoo” was particularly interesting. Despite all the animals being extremely detailed, some of them, such as the lions, looked nothing like the actual animal. I wonder what the artists’ sources were for the images. At the Residenzschloss, we went to the armory exhibits where they had armor and both practical and ceremonial weapons on display. Some of the weapons were so huge and heavy, but people back then were smaller on average. I can’t even imagine the level of strength and skill necessary to wield most of those weapons. Even some of the arrows looked heavy!

The first week was exhausting and amazing. I like Germany a lot so far, even though my German is still not so good. One of my favorite things is the tram. Not only is it really convenient, but compared to the Chinese public transportation that I’m used to, there’s so much space on it! Even when it’s crowded it’s not even crowded.

Something I learned this week that I didn’t really realize before I came here is how little the Soviet Union did to rebuild structures that had been destroyed during WWII. Although I know that things in East Germany weren’t great under the USSR, I did not know that they just left most of the ruins and damaged buildings as they were. I’m really glad they’ve started reconstruction work since reunification. But Leipzig’s old post office building, which is still empty, gives me a kind of inexplicable uneasy feeling. I wonder what they’ll do with it.

Ich reise nach Deutschland!

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That’s right! In less than 10 days, I’ll be traveling to Germany! I leave the US on January 4th and then reLeipzigturn on February 4th, right before spring semester starts on February 9th. I’ll be traveling as part of a group of 12 students and one German professor from my university. We’ll be staying at the University of Leipzig (Universität Leipzig) in Leipzig, Saxony in the eastern part of Germany and also visiting Dresden and Berlin for one weekend each. The other two weekends will be one weekend staying in Leipzig, and the other is a free weekend, when I’m hoping to travel and visit a friend who is currently in Germany on another exchange program! And since this is a study abroad program through my university, I’ll be getting credits for a German language class and a German culture class.

Spending next month in Germany is sure to be an interesting adventure. I took German for one semester in high school and this past semester during my first semester at university. That’s it. And although I did well in both those classes, my German is not at a level that I’m sure I would even describe as basic. Not to mention, with almost a month off from school before I get to Germany, and limited opportunities to practice German at home, I have a feeling I’m going to forget a lot of the things that I HAVE learned. So it’s gonna be great!

But I’m excited!

Some Straggler Pictures… Because I Promised

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I’ve been back in the US for about 2 months now, and definitely promised more pictures but never got around to it. Sorry about that… So here are some of the best pictures that sum up my trip after I stopped posting:

A trend in China... Poor dog.

A trend in China… Poor dog.

The Shanghai Museum

The Shanghai Museum

Lujiazui, Shanghai

Lujiazui, Shanghai

A beautiful day outside my apartment in Shanghai

A beautiful day outside my apartment in Shanghai

The Pearl Tower, Shanghai

The Pearl Tower, Shanghai

Chinglish!

Chinglish!

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"The Pants Building", Suzhou

“The Pants Building”, Suzhou

Lujiazui, Shanghai

Lujiazui, Shanghai

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M&M's World, Shanghai

M&M’s World, Shanghai