A Fantastic Karst Cave

This essay was written by a Chinese student of mine, Sarah Zhang, currently in Grade 5.

On International Labour Day, my grandma, grandpa, mother and I went to a karst cave.

The karst cave was fantastic. It had seven layers, but only four layers were open. The first to fifth layer were dry, the sixth and seventh layer had water on it and we could go boating. The fourth layer was under the ground about 300 metres deep. It was very beautiful.

Inside the cave were some stalactites. Provided there were water, these stalactites could be longer, but they grew just one millimeter a year. In the karst cave, there were lots of beautiful artificial lights. And it had some stone waterfalls, which were unimaginable!

It had some transparent stalagmites, they looked like crystals. The curtain was called a schistose, the formations looked like harps.It was very beautiful! The best of them all was a kind of rock with some fragile things inside, like flowers, and easily broken. It was called a stone flower.

These many fantastic stalactites were all made of limestone. I thought that nature is wonderful. I learnt so many things today!

A Visit to an Orphanage

This is an essay written by one of my Chinese students, Linda Huang, currently in Grade 6.

A Visit to an Orphanage

It was the May Day holiday, and I was so bored. Then mom asked me, “Would you like to go to the orphanage with me?” “Sure!” I replied heartily.

The orphanage was far from the downtown, we needed thirty minutes to get there by car. After thirty minutes, we arrived. That was my first time at the orphanage. The building was a villa, it looked very luxurious.

First I saw the playground, there were many things belonging to the orphans on it. The inside of the orphanage was pretty clean, but we also needed to wipe the floor. Mom and I worked hard there, after we wiped the floor, we went upstairs to clean the beds which the orphans slept on. This work used up much of my time. Because I have mysophobia, I could not let the bed go dirty.

After we have finished all the work, mom and I played with the orphans. They were so cute, and they were only one or two years old. I liked an orphan best, his name was Lele. He was lovely. I played with him all the time, he never cried when I was there. I felt excited when I was in the orphanage.

Soon it was time for me to go. I said good-bye to them all. I was so happy that I could help them, but sad because they have no parents. But the orphans were also happy, because now they lived in an orphanage. That day, I had a meaningful morning.

I ended the day with gladness and delight.

An Exciting Day

This essay was written by a Chinese student of mine, Sarah Zhang, currently in Grade 5.

“Great,” my mother told me, “Linda, Jason and I are going to take part in a play!”

A few days ago, we went to Beijing by car. We felt happy we had seven days to learn drama. Our drama teachers, Durand and his assistant Alice, came from America. They were nice and ebullient. They were funny and good at drama.

Our play’s name was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Linda portrayed Quince, Jason portrayed Flute, and I portrayed Queen Titania.

The exciting day finally arrived.

The morning of the day we put up our play, we got up, and the first thing we did was to review our dialogue. Everybody did what he had to do. Our teachers were very caring, they wanted us to rest at home that morning.

When noon came, everyone’s hearts were jumping fast. After lunch, Ms Alice put on our makeup, one by one, in accordance with our role’s character. She was very careful and diligent, our dresses were different too.

Time passed slowly, the time to start the play was close at hand. Do I feel happy? Excited? Tension? I did not know, I was full of contradictions. Before the play began, we still did some exercises, so we would not hurt our body when we fall.

Soon after the first act was the second act, when I must go on stage. I went up on stage. First, I was scared, I lost a sentence. And then, I felt better. Finally, I was not afraid, and was enjoying it.

After the show, I asked my mother, “Do you know I lost a sentence?”

“I don’t know,” my mother said, “Everyone was good!”

As the play ended, we must finally split from our classmates and teachers. We were not willing. We hugged our teachers, but had to leave at last.

That day was most exciting! I knew how to act in a play, but better than that, I knew what true friendship was!

An Accident

This essay was written by a Chinese student of mine, Jason Shan, currently in Grade 5.

An Accident

A month ago, I was on the street. I saw a car and another car collide. I was very surprised. The accident happened like this. The first car turned left, the second car went straight. The two cars went along. Then the two cars collided.

The policeman saw the accident and came to help them settle the accident. One hour later, the accident was settled. There were many cars on the road, bumper-to-bumper. All the cars could not go. The policeman came and directed these cars. Later, these cars went on their way.

I thought to myself: we should think first before we do anything. We should not do anything sloppily.

An Exciting Day

This is an essay written by one of my Chinese students, Linda Huang, currently in Grade 6.

An Exciting Day

After our laborious practice, the most exciting day was coming! It was the day that we were performing our play!
We were allowed to sleep in that day, so I slept until nine o’clock. In the morning, except the time when I was sleeping, I was practising the lines with Sarah and Jason. I was so nervous about the show in the evening.

The time passed by quickly, the afternoon was already coming. Our parents sent us to the place where we always practised. Alice and Durand were there, too. These two were the teachers who taught us to perform our play. A busy afternoon was waving at us.

Teacher told us to put on our costumes for the show. After Alice reviewed our performance, we practised again and again, because Alice and Durand wanted us to be perfect. This time everyone did a good job, no one was distracted. Everyone wanted to be the best, too, including me.

Soon, it was time for supper. We ate at the canteen to save time. Then Alice put on our make-up. Many parents were in the theatre. My heart pounded with nervousness.

After a while, the play started. It was pretty quiet in the theatre. I was the first to go on stage. I could not see the audience on the stage, so I was not nervous anymore. The time passed by really fast.

Unfortunately, I was not really immersed into the play, until the play was over. When the play was over, every member of the audience clapped their hands, some even cheered for us!

It was also the saddest part. We needed to say good-bye to our partner and teachers. But we also did a great job, maybe someday we could meet again!

This experience was the best experience ever! I believed everybody had fun, learnt many things from this experience, and found a new friend!

A Most Exciting Day

This is an essay written by one of my Chinese students Haylin Lu, currently in Grade 9.

A Most Exciting Day

I could still remember that most exciting day when we were running on the racing track; the early autumn wind wafted across our faces and T-shirts. It was hard to hear what the spectators and cheering teams shouted because my heartbeats were as loud as their voices. My first sports meeting in junior high school gave me the most exciting memory.

On September 28th, 2011, I got up early and packed my things 3 times. I have never taken part in any big sports meeting like this one, so I was very excited, and of course a little nervous. I was asked by my teacher to enroll in the 400m race. The opening of the meeting was grand. Flags were everywhere; every class marched to the field  in good order. Each class had chosen a slogan previously. It told other classes how united and excellent we were. When Class 10 marched by the rostrum, we shouted our slogan together. The cheering team waved their bouquets towards us.

After the speech of the principal and the kung fu performance, we could finally start the sports meeting. We sat in the auditorium and took the snacks out of our bags. But I sat there still and stared at the field impatiently.

“Would you like some chocolate, Haylin?” One of my friends handed me some chocolate.

“No, thank you. I would rather not eat anything so that I won’t feel bad when I am running.” I thanked her and gave back the chocolate.

“Don’t feel nervous, it is just a sports meeting. We are so lucky to be in this China Petroleum and Natural Gas Pipeline Bureau Middle School, aren’t we? Other schools in the city have never had a sports meeting before.” She comforted me and gave me a bottle of water.

“I am not so nervous; I am just very excited and can’t wait for my turn,” I explained. “I hope I can win the something for my class; no matter the medal is gold, silver or bronze.”

“Good luck to you, Haylin. I know you can. I will cheer for you,” she said.

We sat there and watched the meeting. Finally the loudspeaker said, “All the female students in the Grade 7 400m race, please come to the registry.”

“Come on, Haylin. You can beat them!” my classmates said. I smiled and said, “I won’t let you down.”

I leaned down on the racing track with the other girls and took a deep breath. When the referee pointed his gun at the sky, I told myself this was the time. After the gunshot, I ran as fast as I could, but the others were faster than me. I was the last one. Then I realized that I should not use all of my strength on the beginning, so I began to adjust my breath. When the others slowed down in the final dash, I ran past one after another. I heard my classmates shouting, “Come on, Haylin! Come on, Haylin!” and waved at them. At that moment, I felt so glad to be in this school and this class.

I got the bronze medal in the end. My classmates patted my shoulder and said, “At first, we all thought you might be the last one, but you really didn’t let us down.”

“That was because you guys raised me up.” I patted them, too.

It was the most exciting day in my life. For days and days we spent time studying and doing homework, but our school provided us a chance to relax and have fun. It also made our body strong and healthy. And I also saw friendship during this sports meeting. After the sports meeting, we knew each other better and the whole class became more united.

Cultural Differences

This article was originally written when Sensei Michael was still working in China. It is edited and republished here for the benefit of my readers.

Sijngapore is a multi-cultural, multi-racial nation, but within this vernier lies a “Singapore” culture of its own, defined by a shared nation-building process over more than 40 years. The “Singaporean” culture, however, has been eroded over the years as immigration forced a nation where citizens comprises only 62% of the total population (and we have not considered citizens that were not born and bred in Singapore).

In this post, I share with my readers what I have learnt in my 8 years in China, working not just with the Chinese but also with the expatriate community (my business serves the expatriate community).

Singapore has a very detailed-oriented, serious and strongly communal working culture. It is probably why we Singaporeans are normally in demand as managers of very strongly process-oriented vocations (factory managers, for example).

Singaporean teachers are well known for the details we pay to our marking of our pupils’ work. A single essay would have all the spelling, grammatical and structural errors all circled and marked out, and peppered with comments in the lines between, as well as at the end of the essay. I have seen how 2 of my former western colleagues mark their essays – it’s normally a single tick across the the entire essay, with some comments at the end of the essay. All the grammatical and spelling errors were not pointed out to the pupils, since the grade is given based on an impressionistic approach based on the content. Such differences created a lot of problems during the marking of essays during examinations.

Western teachers are always shocked to find that a child who has answered a question correctly (the idea is there) for a Comprehension question, but has structural and grammatical errors, would not get the full 2 marks for that question – a mark would be penalised for his non-comprehension-related errors. Over where they came from, as long as the idea was there, the pupils get full marks for that question. To them, the child would be crushed to see their essays riddled in red ink – it’s a mutilation of their work!

Our Chinese staff have their differences as well. I was always very puzzled, when I first began my work in my school, why it was that simple little things that anyone of us would have done without being told needed us to tell them, before it got done. It was not until Buddy’s encounter after one of our major performances that we began to get an idea.

The janitors were hanging around in the auditorium, chatting among themselves, although the chairs needed to be cleared after the performance. Buddy approached them, and asked if they could see the chairs needed clearing. They nodded – they understood. Then why were not they clearing the chairs?

“No, no, we cannot do anything without our supervisor telling us to do so. Otherwise she’d think that we’re trying to climb over her head or that we can go without her. Our lives will be very miserable in the future!”

So here is the crux of the matter. When a westerner or Singaporean takes the initiative and made a mess out of things, his superior recognises his leadership potential and will cover up for him. The westerner or Singaporean will make an apology, learn from his mistakes and become a better person in the organisation. When a Chinese does the same, his superior thinks of him as a threat and will thumb him down. The Chinese tries to make excuses to avoid getting into trouble as a result, instead of accepting his mistakes and learning from them.

And wait till the 3 cultures come together. The Chinese are shocked that we Singaporeans expect them to think on their feet and move with us at the same crazy pace that we used to race at. The westerners are shocked that we Singaporeans approach every little thing so seriously, every event, every publication, every exam paper, must be perfect – as if President Hu Jintao himself is coming to inspect (as a Canadian teacher remarked once over our preparations for the school open house).

And we Singaporeans get exasperated over having to deal with every little thing the Chinese do if we want it perfect. We get exasperated over how mistakes that we cannot accept could be accepted by our western colleagues. And unlike Singaporean manager, the concept of giving face to a superior or to another probably holds little water, creating plenty of friction.

It sure is challenging being a leader at an international school!

Complacence vs Complacency

When does one use complacence, and when does one use complacency? Both of them are nouns, so obviously they have different meanings and usage.

Complacence is a calm satisfaction with oneself. A monk is likely to be someone with a sense of complacence, at peace with oneself and with his lot in life.

Complacency is a whole lot more dangerous – complacency means a self-satisfaction but coupled with a lack of awareness of what is happening around it. It is normally used to describe a person or nation which has become so self-absorbed and satisfied that it does not see looming danger until it is too late. A champion swimmer who has a sense of complacency is unlikely to put in the effort to train, until his young upstart takes the medal from him.

So there you are, some tips from your friendly neighbourhood English teacher.

Dependent vs Dependant

The Americans really have life easy. They can omit letters when they spell, can spell certain words differently, and in today’s lesson, we learn that they can even use the same spelling for two forms of the same word.

In American English, dependent can be used both as a noun and as an adjective. In British English (which Singaporeans use), the spelling is different.

Dependent is used as an adjective, to mean “reliant on something or someone, whether for aid or as a crutch”. One can find himself dependent on drugs to kill pain, or dependent on someone because of their lack of emotional strength.

Dependant is used as a noun, to mean “a person who is dependent on someone else”. This word is used very often by expatriates, as we bring along with us our wife and children as dependants, those who do not generate their own income but depends on us.

So here we are, another lesson from your friendly neighbourhood English teacher!

The Emergency Ward in China

This post was first written back when Sensei Michael was working in China.

I am very familiar with the Emergency Ward back in Singapore, having escorted countless numbers of pupils there. I have become very accustomed to washing blood off myself.

My superior recently described his experience at the Emergency Ward of a local hospital (he was there to accompany someone). It really reinforced my view of China – that lives here are cheap. So cheap that an abortion is only RMB10 (about USD1.50, and they do not call it abortion – it’s a “miscarriage”).

At the 6th People’s Hospital, when the ambulance first brings in the patient, he is simply left untreated (even if he’s bleeding) until someone pays the admission fee. Only then will a doctor or nurse attend to him. Until then, the puddles of blood on the floor remains uncleaned.

The next thing that happens would shock anybody coming from a more civilised part of the world. Right out in the ward, without curtains to form individual examination wards (Singapore has them) the unconscious patient (male or female) would be stripped and examined. The ridiculously curious Chinese who were there with their relatives would begin to surround and gawk! I would be very, very angry if the same thing happened to my wife!

Not only that, but the ridiculous going-all-over-the-place-to-pay treatment exists in the Emergency Ward as well! Take a CAT scan? Go to another counter and pay first, before going for the scan. Need a blood test? Go to another counter and pay first, then have your test. Someone might die any moment and there you are giving the roundabout treatment? How cheap can lives get – that it has to be measured in cash and time? Lives are supposed to be priceless!

Life is seriously cheap in China.