Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dazed and Confucius: Western Academy of Beijing

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Confucius say: Well, this Confucius didn’t say much of anything because he was a statue on the grounds of the Western Academy of Beijing, where Sara and I spent eight days working with the Elementary, Middle and High School scholars plus an after school teacher session.
Librarian extraordinaire, Trish McNair – a short cropped redheaded Canuck who has seemingly harnessed the energy of the Calgary Stampede  - shepherded us through our visit, finding us when we were lost, making us espressos when we began to get bleary eyed and never complaining (too loud) when we asked for another print-out of our schedule.
Having thoroughly author visitized the elementary school the preceding week, Sara and I tackled the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Monday through Thursday and then moved over to the high school on Friday.

8th graders share their memoirs

We worked on figurative language, memoir and definition poems with the students and presented on vocabulary acquisition and writing across the curriculum for the teachers. The students then had an opportunity to perform their or other’s work at an after school Coffee House Poetry Reading that saw way more hot chocolate being consumed than coffee.
MIddle School Poetry Coffee House

Friday we moved over to the high school and presented on public speaking and the politics poetry during a global issues conference entitled Speak Out. The morning keynote was given in the gymnasium by the US ambassador to China, Gary Locke. Which was cool – but the real highlight was the international lunch where all the different nationalities comprising the student body of WAB present native cuisine for the epicurean pleasure of students, staff and presenters. Extra super yum.
We had one swooner at the coffee house

High School Poetry Workshop

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Sara and Trish hatch a plot

something fishy in the library

couple of kids at the coffee house

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Monday, November 7, 2011

As the (book)Worm turns

logo_thebookwormIn Beijing there is a funky  little bookshop with giant ambitions run by an ex pat named Alex Pearson. Our librarian friend and hostess Trish suggested that we might like scoping the place out so Sara and I swung by and had a look around and a bit of lunch at The Bookworm. well as we perused the upcoming events at the joint we saw that a troupe of Polish performance poets were coming into town as part of a Spoke n Word tour. I mentioned to Trish about how sometimes Sara and I forget about our adult poet voices when we are on the road visiting schools. We get so wrapped up in making sure we provide good lessons for the kids that we never think to look for performance opportunities for ourselves in adult venues in the cities we visit.

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Well Trish hopped on this and called her friend Alex which led to a dinner date for all four of us at the bookstore. Alex told us that the Poles had hoped to invite some Chinese performance poets to join their set but were unable to find any. we offered our services, she checked out our credentials and forwarded them on to the Polish bards who then said sure, they’d love to have us jump in on their set.

So serendipity baby – Sara and I landed a gig in Beijing. To top it off – a bunch of the teachers we met at the International School of Beijing made our reading the cap off to a gals day out in the city.  It was fun for us to have the opportunity to perform some of our adult material for a change and to do so in the coolest bookstore in Beijing – well it just doesn’t get any better does it?

Check out the link to this bookstore and the literary festival that Alex puts on – it’s pretty amazing. in the meantime here are some pics from the reading.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Three wheels are better than none – I guess

taxi001What looks like a glorified hotdog cart, has three wheels, a motor and smells like gin? The little taxi contraption that Sara and I got into after our walk around the Forbidden City.

Even though we successfully managed to ride the subway down to the Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City we decided for the sake of Sara’s legs we would hop a cab back. Now, as is par for most tourist destinations there were cabs waiting to take folks anywhere they wanted to go ~ for a price. See hacks like to grab fares from popular sightseeing destinations sans meter – negotiating an unusually exorbitant price.

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We had about a 20 minute ride, a little less than six kilometers. The first cabbie quoted us something like 150 Yuan which equals almost 25 bucks US. Well it was also about three times what I thought we should pay so we politely told him to go packing. We whipped out our map and decided to walk a bit further away from the touristy area and try and find a cab with a meter.

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Half a block away, while I’m walking looking at my map, one of these three wheeled little tin boxes pulls up and the driver asks us where we are going. Mind you though, he’s speaking Mandarin and we English but I show him the major landmark near the apartment we are borrowing for the weekend rom our librarian friend Trish ~ Workers Stadium. He gives us a thumbs up and I ask how much. 50 he says – perfect exactly what I figured would be fair so we squeeze into the back and off we go.

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It was once we were in the tin can confines of the three wheeled dervish that we both noticed our driver smelled very strongly of adult beverages. He was either hammered or riding with a bucket of formaldehyde sloshing between his legs. We careened through traffic – our horn beeping like a flock of Canadian geese headed south. Sara commented that it was probably a really good thing we were facing backwards.

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Thank Buddha we arrived at our destination in one piece. but then when we gave him his fifty he tried to tell us that he meant fifty for each of us – he wanted a hundred now. I told him “Boo Yow” which I am pretty sure means NO Want and we hopped out of of his tri wheeled coffin. He didn’t even hesitate as he looped around and swerved back in the direction we had just come.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Mao you’ve gone and done it

subwaySara and I hit the streets during our day off here in Beijing – we managed to navigate the subway, visited Tiananmen Square and got to se the iconic portrait of Chairman Mao and walked from one end to the other of the Forbidden city. Now we’re getting ready to go shopping for notions with one of the teachers from the Western Academy so I don’t have time for a proper posting. Here’s a few pics of our day.

 

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Friday, November 4, 2011

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

isb001To get to the International School of Beijing from the Lido (pronounced lee-doo) Hotel, where Sara and I are staying during our visit to the city, we take a bus that picks us up at 7:10am. We wait across the street from our hotel with a dozen or so other teachers including our librarian hostess Nadine,  Starbucks coffees in hand.

Okay, I want to take a little aside here, crossing the street is an accomplishment in itself here in Beijing. In retail one may have heard the adage the customer is always right – in Beijing traffic, the motorist is always top dog – no matter what. Zebra crossings, walk signs, crutches, sudden appearances of deities hold no sway with the Beijingalings behind the wheels of their automobiles. A pedestrian might as well be made from a wisp of smoke as far as they are concerned – make eye contact with one of these drivers and you might as well paint a bull's-eye on your chest. just sayin’…

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Anyway, we successfully crossed the street three mornings in a row in order to work with the middle-schoolers. We ran workshops on memoir, metaphor and imagery with the 6, 7 and 8th graders in some very well equipped mini auditoriums with embarrassingly large banners announcing our presence in the school outside the doorways. Even though most of the groups consisted of double classes and the students were writing in their laps we couldn’t have asked for a more successful visit.

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The best part was in the evening when I was checking my e-mail after our first day at ISB and I began receiving messages from some of the 8th graders I had worked with during the day. Attached were copies of their writings from the workshops and it was obvious that they had been working on the pieces after the workshop was over. Believe it or not this is the first time I have received so many samples from kids I have worked with so quickly – I don’t care if they probably were getting extra credit for sending hem – it really made my day. (I even forgive the one girl who attached her work as a pdf that ate up half my cell data allowance.)

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It’s always a leap of faith by the folks who put their neck on the line to bring a couple crackpot poets from thousands of miles away to infiltrate their classrooms and Sara and I so appreciate their willingness to take the risk. Hopefully, we made them look as good as their students made us look.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Be Vewy Vewwwy Qwuiet–I’m huntin’ WABbits

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Okay – I’m a decade or so into this whole teaching artist gig and I’ve learned over the years that the smarter I get as a teacher the younger the kids I can work with. The beginning of the week Sara and I worked with the elementary kids at the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB).

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Let me tell you – these little guys can be scary. They smell fear and will call you out in a heartbeat. There is nothing more humbling than being bent over  a first grader helping the student with a piece of writing and them looking up and saying, “You breath stinks really bad!” or “You’ve got a lot of hair in your nose!”

Well luckily either my breath wasn’t too bad or the elementary students here are exponentially more polite than your average crop. I ran writing workshops with grades three, four and five and we had a great time. We worked on patterns in poetry and defining emotions. The elementary school librarian John kept the show rolling along smooth as possible and I even lent Sara a hand during an assembly for first graders.

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Now I know better than to think three successful days with grade-schoolers makes me an expert with the missing tooth crowd – but I think I’m making progress.

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