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"YingHua in Beijing" Summer Program Announcement

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by Liao,Bonnie on 2010-10-15

Today was again sunny and warm, though not nearly as hot as Tuesday.  We were on campus again today, and began the day at 6:55 with morning exercises.  Your children ran and then practiced the martial arts performance to the music, following Benoit and Shannon's lead, before heading back for breakfast and then going to class.
We had a good morning of classes, and a healthy selection of dishes at lunch.  The chefs have been adding dishes to our meals that have cooling properties to counter against this hot weather.  In addition to tofu, eggplant, chicken and beef dishes, our lunch also included a light egg soup and a broth with ludou (mung beans), which is particularly good for reducing internal heat.
After lunch the all the students gathered with the teachers and learned to sing two Chinese songs.  One is "pengyou" (Friends) and the other one is "tonghua" (Fairytale). I then spoke with the students about strategies for studying Chinese and how studying Chinese may differ from other subjects they have studies in school. We talked about the importance of rote memorization in Chinese language study as well as the importance of review.  Students shared strategies they have found helpful in effectively memorizing new vocabulary and I also shared my own tips as a non-native student of Mandarin.  I think this conversation will be helpful for students as they move to the next phase of our program, as they are acquiring a great deal of vocabulary in a short period of time.  I hope this will also encourage them in laying the foundation for future studies at more advanced levels.
I then gave a lecture and facilitated a discussion on Chinese dynasties.  We talked about diversity within China throughout its history, both regional and ethnic diversity, and about they dynastic system and philosophical foundations of rule as being one of the important things that has unified China across time. We looked at a timeline of Chinese history, noting the many periods of disunity intermixed with periods of unity, and noting the differing lengths of dynasties: some lasting little more than a decade, others enduring for hundreds of years.  We also noted how multiple dynasties and kingdoms have at times existed simultaneously, and the important divisions at times between the north and the south and the historic need for protection against northern invaders.  We concluded with a discussion of the difference between a cyclical experience of history and time and a more linear idea of progress into the future. Many students were surprised to hear that historically Chinese statesmen and thinkers measured “success” by how closely the present conformed to an idealized past, where the wisdom of sage kings, benevolent rulers, and a harmonious society were the true gold standard and not “progress” in the way we understand this in the modern world.  I hope this will help your children better understand the value some Chinese place on history and on an awareness of the achievements of China’s past.
All of this brainwork had us working up an appetite, and at 3:30 we went to the hotel restaurant for an introduction to Peking duck. This was such a treat.  A chef introduced us to the history of Peking duck, different kinds of duck, the ingredients and process of cooking duck, and how to actually eat duck.  Finally, the hands on learning began when everyone finally got to eat duck.  Our chef quizzed the students in the new words they had learned for ingredients and sauces, and those who got the correct answers first got to step forward and take a turn at carving pieces of the duck. The students were terrific about serving duck to their teachers.
The duck lesson gave us a wonderful opportunity to talk to your children about another aspect of Chinese culture that has been on our minds: table manners.  Of course your children all have good table manners, but not everyone is accustomed to eating family style in mixed aged groups in what has become our norm. We’ve noticed that some of our hungry campers have the tendency to dive into a newly arrived dish placed on the table like the bunch of growing, hungry animals that they are, not always mindful that there are others next to them that are quietly waiting while they elbow their ways into the biggest servings.  There is plenty of food to go around and the kitchen is always generous in providing second servings of popular dishes as they are emptied.  So we are trying to use our communal dining as an opportunity for students to practice both good leadership skills (such as inquiring if anyone else might like some tea before they pour their own) and sensitivity to cultural differences (such as allowing our Chinese teachers to serve themselves first before diving into a dish).  I was amazed to see how your children took this lesson to heart and really slowed down as they began their dinners, serving one another and waiting their turns with much less urgency and much greater awareness of one another.
After the duck snack, Liao Laoshi conducted another leadership workshop.  She distributed a Time Magazine article by Bill Powell entitled “Five Things the U.S. can learn from China” (see attached).  She asked the students to ponder four questions while reading this article:  1) Why is China significant for world peace in today’s world? 2) Why is the Chinese economy important to the world economy?  3) According to the author, what are the five things the U.S can learn from China?  4) Which of these five things might you want to focus on implementing during our summer program?  
After giving the students 10 minutes quiet reading time, Liao Laoshi then divided the students into small groups of 2-4 people to discuss their answers and share with the larger group.
The five things mentioned in the article are
1) Be Ambitious
2) Education Matters
3) Look After the Elders
4) Save More
5) Look over the Horizon
All of these have direct applications in this summer program, especially three of them can be directly linked with the Chinese language learning. Liao Laoshi asked each member of the small group to pick one thing to focus on that is different from the others in the small group. In this way, each small group could cover 2-4 things in their personal resolution setting the stage for all students to be recharged in their Chinese-learning effort. This is timely as some of the students are slacking off their effort or have never made enough effort in learning Chinese here.
After your well-mannered children polished off their dinners this evening, we met back in the dorm again for reflection.  Tomorrow the students will be given midterm grades on various aspects of their study and growth in the program and in anticipation of this Liao Liaoshi asked them to write a self-assessment of their Chinese language progress up until now.  She asked them to give an assessment on how they have been doing (participation, homework, quizzes, etc.), a reflection on what they think have been their greatest accomplishments, and a reflection on what they want to do differently.  We collected these assessments and will be reading these along with the teachers’ assessments and giving you reports on how your children’s language learning has been progressing.
Tomorrow we have a busy day, with two trips off campus.  If you email or speak with your children you may want to ask them how roast duck first became an important cuisine in Beijing, how it feels to eat as a good guest at a Chinese meal, and what (if anything) they think Americans might learn from China.
All the best from Beijing,

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