Ritsuko Nakata just returned from a week of doing workshops in China. She visited three cities: Shengyang, which is the city close to North Korea; Chengdu, the land of the pandas; and Shanghai, a most cosmopolitan city with tall buildings reaching the sky.
It was a great experience! China is like any other country — department stores with huge neon signs for Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Estee Lauder, Armani, etc., etc. But you know something is different when you try to get into Facebook and other websites find that they cannot be accessed. The traffic and driving in the taxis were quite thrilling experiences, and you have to hold on tight for dear life and pray that they won’t bump into another car… But the people were very nice and the teachers I met were very enthusiastic, some traveling 13 hours by bus to attend!
Shengyang was a 3 1/2 hour flight from Tokyo as we went a round-about way across Japan to Russia and down into China. It would have been closer to go straight across Korea to get there, but I think we would have had to go into North Korean territory, so the flight went around, instead. Shengyang is very close to the North Korean border. It was cold — minus 3 or so at night.
I was met at the airport by Catherine, the young lady who took care of me during the entire trip. She was extremely efficient, helpful, and kind. She works for the Chinese company that invited me, and it has schools throughout China using Let’s Go. We had lunch at “Oshinoya” which serves beef bowl, but I realized the sign was missing the “Y” for “Yoshinoya”:-)
At the workshop the next day, there were nearly 500 active teachers. Despite the cold room, they had fun doing the MAT actions with the verbs and MAT Phonics from Let’s Go STARTER. I found some Filipino teachers working for a language school there, who were very active and lively. Afterwards, Mark Richard, the OUP representative from Taiwan, who also did Let’s Go presentations and I were treated to a special Chinese court dinner. With me being guest of honor, I was able to sit on the “throne”! Fun!
Chengdu, located in the southwest, was a 3 1/2 hour plane ride across China to Sichuan Province, which is noted for its spicy Chinese food. It was chilly and drizzly. It rains all year round there, I hear. We took a taxi and drove full speed to the Sheraton Hotel where I was staying. Even with all the rain, there were water fountains and wall waterfalls going full blast. We headed for the venue that night to see what the room was like. We waited for cab at the hotel for over 30 minutes, since it was rush hour. One cab finally came and we happily got in. We passed a huge statue of Mao Tse-tung waving his hand at us. But then the driver told us to get off — he had a flat tire. So we stood in the rain for another 40 minutes trying to catch another cab. But finally, a “black” taxi, an unauthorized private car, stopped and we hopped in. The venue was warm, light and a great place for a workshop. The next day I found that some teachers came from Inner Mongolia and traveled 13 hours to get to the venue. Others traveled for 9 or 10 hours just to come for the workshops! I think we are very lucky here in Japan to have lots of training and different kinds of workshops available to us! We must be very grateful for this!
Catherine and I had some time before dinner so we went to the fancy department store across the street. Wow, it was really nice! It had all the big brand names and fancy clothes, accessories and cosmetics. The interior was spacious, modern and very nice, but unfortunately, I didn’t do any shopping. But we had a marvelous Hagen Daz ice cream treat before heading out to dinner… The next day before our flight to Shanghai, we went to see the cute pandas at the Panda Center.
Chengdu is the place where the famous panda breeding center was. It was destroyed in the great earthquake of 2008 and the pandas were moved to different parts of China. We went to the Panda Center where there were more than 100 pandas happily eating the bamboo leaves in their yards. It was like a safari park, with a fence to separate the pandas and the visitors, but the pandas were very close and looked like they enjoyed their freedom. It was fun to see the pandas in the “wild” as they wrestled with each other, or sat in the tree tops, with the thin branches looking as if they would break under the weight of the big panda. Here’s a site to see the pandas on Youtube.
After the Panda Center we came back to reality and headed for the airport to go to Shanghai. The airport was extremely modern and clean. Because of a delay in the schedule, Catherine and I enjoyed a very nice noodle lunch with tiny, tiny cups to drink our oolong tea.
In Shanghai, the venue was in the building of the company that Catherine works for, so it was big and nice. We had over 1,000 teachers combined at all the venues, and it was such a wonderful treat and experience to talk to the teachers. One school owner, Mr. Jiang, has more than 2,000 students at his six schools near Shanghai, and he is trying to get his teachers trained so that they will be even better teachers. The enthusiasm of all the Chinese teachers using Let’s Go was fantastic.
In public schools, English is taught from first grade. In the lower grades it is taught once a week, and the upper grades two or three times a week. As with other Asian countries, China is putting a lot of energy into English education, as they know it is an important step in getting ahead in economic, academic and international affairs. Japan must get serious about English education for our children, too.
Next, I will be in Korea. I hope to report on what is going on there soon.