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Things You'd Know: The Heihe - Tongcheng Line

Proposed in 1934 by geographer Hu Huanyong, the Heihe-Tengchong line is not China’s newest highspeed rail line, but an interesting artifact of human geography. This line divides China roughly into two halves  in terms of geographic area (57% to the West, 43% to the East), but nearly all the population - a whopping 94% - resides to the East of the line. 
Impressive though these numbers may be, what’s perhaps more impressive is that despite having a population density lower than all but 27 countries, the western half of China would still be the 16th largest country in the world by population, just below Germany. 

As you can see from the map, China’s population density is highly concentrated between the Yellow River (黄河) to the north and the Yang-tze River (长江)to the Souh, as well as along the coast. The large red spot just east of the line represents a very fertile agricultural area sometimes referred to as “China’s breadbasket” and includes the megacities Chengdu and Chongqing.  Most of China’s West is arid, high up in the mountains, or both, making it difficult to sustain dense populations.

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Teacher Tuesday: Victoria Caitlin Evans

Victoria Caitlin Evans, placed in Longwan High School in Wenzhou, brings creativity to the classroom. When teaching her Grade 1’s (17 year olds) she prioritizes student involvement, creating fun lessons that  stretch students use of the English language and promotes full class participation. Her method is simple, “I have an outline of what I want to happen, tell them, and then we work through it together. For example, the last lesson I did we played scrabble with some homemade scrabble letters I made. I explained to them how to play, and as they are playing/writing/talking /singing (whatever we are doing that day), I make my rounds and just help them out, whether that’s keeping them on task or answering questions.”

Caitlin has found many ways to adjust to her new home in Wenzhou. She mentions that the other AYC'ers in the area have helped her adjustment to China life, as well as her awesome students. Some adjustments have stemmed from ingenuity: she was able to overcome a lapse in communication with her school by increasing her  involvement around the school. Other hurdles proved to be more difficult. Upon arriving into China, aside from the universal barriers of  language and culture for foreigners, Caitlin has faced “an apartment fire, a typhoon, small earthquakes, late paychecks from [her] school, and worst of all, [her] school lost a student to depression in the fall.” Facing these issues in ones native country can be difficult– in a foreign land they can be down-right soul crushing, but Caitlin has passed through the darker spots head-held high and thankful for this experience. “It’s going to be a bittersweet good-bye in July, but I’m grateful to have been able to come to Longwan, (or as I like to call it #Winning-zhou) and -cheesy warning- I’ll always have a special place for it in my heart forever.“

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Fact Friday: Labor Day Used to be a Week Off

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Before 2008, International Labor Day was one of three long holidays during the year, along with Spring Festival and National Day. Like every other so-called “Golden Week” this inspired enormous crowds, jacked up prices, and severe shortage of resources in tourist areas. Around 2008 the government realized that if the holidays were a bit more spread out workers would be happier and fewer old ladies would get punched in the face for the last train ticket. And so, Labor Day was reformed from a week long holiday into a three day one, and three other holidays were given official recognition.

These holidays, Qingming (Tomb Sweeping Festival), Duanwu (Dragon Boat Festival) and Middle Autumn Day, were not new creations, but rather traditional holidays that were reinstated in 2008. These holidays all enjoyed official status during the Republican period (1912-1949), but saw it revoked with the rise of a new government determined to wipe out old superstition. However, recent years have seen interest in preserving traditional culture rekindled in China, and these holidays have accordingly been transformed from something to be ideologically reviled to a way to preserve and continue aspects of China’s unique cultural heritage like respect for ancestors, love of nature, and punching old ladies in the face.

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Tip #4 For China: How to Call a Cab

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The internet may finally be putting an end to problems getting taxis in China: two new(ish) apps have made it possible to call a taxi to your spot in minutes via your smart phone. 嘀嘀打车 (Android and IOS)and 快的打车 (Android) allow users to input their destination either by text or by voice and sends that information to drivers nearby. After a driver accepts the call, the phone number and license plate of the driver is sent to the user. A little Chinese is required, but you can store commonly used addresses and send the request by text, so if a friend helps you set it up you can easily learn how to use it.

Although it may soon be difficult to get a cab without them, these apps saw slow growth since their release in 2012 – the entire city of Beijing had only 15 drivers using 嘀嘀打车 on the day it went online! The companies behind these apps offered cash bonuses to drivers who referred others to the app, and phone minutes to cover the significant data charges drivers incur, but it wasn’t until this year when they started offering 10 yuan discounts on taxi rides that the two apps really took off. 

Of course, there is the ever-present internet problem of how to make this service profitable. Both companies seem to be looking to incorporating online payments as a way to bring in revenue, but neither seems to have a coherent plan. The services are available in major cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou etc.) and are continuing to expand, so if they can ever turn a profit, they may be coming to Yuncheng very soon.

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Fact Friday: Chinese Typing & Shortcuts

After inventing the movable type printing press, not a lot of innovation happened in Chinese typography until the invention of the computer. Early attempts to digitize the language included shape-based methods like Cangjie and phonetic-based ones like Zhuyin, but today the most common are Pinyin and Wubi. After six years in China Wubi is still like sorcery to me, so today we’ll just talk about Pinyin. Among Pinyin input systems, the best by far is Sougou.

Earlier Pinyin methods worked character by character, so you had to type wo, select 我, yao, select 要,  qu, select 去…. but Sougou and other modern pinyin inputs can interpret entire sentences (woyaoquxuexiao 我要去学校) with impressive accuracy using context clues and data from other users. You can also just type the first letter of each syllable, for example xx pulls up 谢谢, 学校, and 信息 as my top 3. Typing rq for 日期 gives you the date in multiple different formats, and classical poems are indexed as well (try typing llysc!). After some practice I found that I could type in Chinese even faster than in English.
One particularly cool feature for learners of Chinese is that  by first typing u you enter an input mode that allows you to break up characters you don’t know and enter them radical by radical. For example, to type 淼, a character made up of three 水s, type u then “shuishuishui” and Sougou will tell you it’s pronounced miao3. NICE.
As many of you are painfully aware, China is a land of many dialects, and people are often unsure of the “proper” pronunciation of a character. So most Pinyin systems today allow for what’s called “fuzzy Pinyin”. In the settings menu you can check boxes indicating the features of your dialect (sh goes to s, h goes to f, n goes to l, etc.). 
Last but not least, if you come across a computer that’s typing like this, the computer is in full-width character mode, which you can exit by hitting shift+space or control+space.

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Fact Friday: 56 Ethnicities, 56 Flowers

China has its own special way of celebrating diversity, but as the song referenced in the title suggests, China is home to a staggering array of ethnic diversity. Nothing you can say about 56 different cultural groups in two paragraphs could really communicate anything, so the only option is to go out there and experience it first hand. Popular destinations for cultural travel in China include Yunnan (Xishuang Bannna and Lijiang) and Guangxi (Yangshuo), which are very accessible but quite touristy. For people who want to get off the beaten track a bit, there are some better options. For Tibetan culture, Western Sichuan is actually a better choice than Tibet, as there are less restrictions both on you the traveler and on the local community. For Miao/Hmong people, Guizhou is working hard to attract tourists but is still full of amazing undeveloped places to visit, and the local culture is extremely hospitable (but be prepared to be drunk every day). Even further afield choices include Ningxia for an interesting mix of East and Central Asian cultures inhabited by the Hui people (Chinese Muslims), and the Nu and Dulong river valleys in the far west of Yunnan near the border with Myanmar. These latter two valleys are very hard to get to, but home to some of the smallest ethnic groups in the country (the Nu and Dulong respectively). If you do not fear the cold, legend has it the far Northeast still has nomadic herders of the reindeer variety. Any true China experience should include at least some time spent in minority areas. 

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Teacher Tuesday:

Samantha Coughran is in Beilun, Ningbo at Chai Qiao High School! Here with two of her best friends from University of California Santa Barbara, John Leach and Amy Montemayor, she explains that because of them her adjustment to China has been a smooth one, aside from the clear bathroom doors, learning Chinese, and the not-so-casual daily stares. With about 3 and a half months left in her China experience she’s hoping to get some bucket list items crossed off, by heading to the Great Wall!
In the Classroom Sam has been through the novelty phase and uses her classroom as a portal to a land of excitement, flaws, and learning, “Perfection has been the ultimate goal for these students, so a class dedicated to speaking with flaws and discussing weaknesses is horrifying. I’ve turned my classes into a goofy 45-minute break from their hectic day; I focus on things my students like, crack jokes, dance and laugh…My students are less afraid of speaking, chat with me during passing period and hang out in my office to read English books that I had donated to the school through a Book Drive.” This kind of classroom ability is to be expected from an old pro. Sam, and her two very good friends, taught English in The Republic of Georgia last year!
Sam not only works for her students advancement in the classroom, she also works for it through social media by promoting her book drive to her friends in the states, in hopes that they will send books for her students to enhance their English literacy and understanding of American culture through reading!

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Teacher Profile: Sean Hayes' Spring Festival Experience

Sean Hayes is currently teaching in Guangzhou. Like many AYC'ers he visited the Ice Festival in Harbin during his Spring Festival break, but by the time he left he was engaged! Read up on his magical proposal:

“I have a very interesting, and I think unique, story to tell about my Christmas and Spring Festival break.  I’m not sure if anyone at all except my own friends and family know this, but I’m very happy to share it with others who may become inspired by my story.  I recently took my girlfriend, who lives and works in Tianjin, on a trip to Harbin in the far north of China.  We had a marvelous time viewing all the sights, as well as visiting the famous Harbin Ice and Snow World, which was almost entirely composed of breathtaking ice sculptures.  Even the buildings were made out of ice!  It was amazing.  Even more amazing though is what happened in front of the Russian cathedral, St. Sophia’s, where my girlfriend of over two years became my new fiancé. Yes, I asked my girlfriend to marry me. It was like something out of a fairy tale.  Everything had been just perfect, right down to the falling snow and beautiful music being played by the church in the background.  After Harbin, there was my visit to my fiance’s home town were we spent the entire break visiting her extended family and telling everyone on her side the good news.  I enjoyed every moment of visiting my future Chinese family.  After our vacation, my fiancé and I returned to our respective cities to resume working.”

Congratulations to Sean Hayes and his new fiance! Who says that dreams can’t come true in China!

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Tip #3 For China: Embrace the Soccer Ball

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Soccer, that foot sport you may remember from elementary school gym class, is an excellent way to meet people in China. There are a couple of reasons for this: you don’t have to speak Chinese to play it, and, unlike table tennis or some of the card games, it’s a popular game that you know how to play.

The hardest part, which is actually pretty easy, is finding a game. Ask some of your (male) colleagues, students, or neighbors if they have a regular pickup game that you can join. (Note: If you’re a woman, they may find your request a little odd, since soccer is, like, so brutal. But don’t let that stop you!) If they don’t have a game, or you don’t want to play with them, try heading down to a nearby university or park on the weekend and hanging out at their soccer fields. When you see a group of friends with a ball, ask to join their game. It’s a request that’s pretty easy to make with body language if your soccer Chinese is sub-par: join the warm-up circle and see if they let you in.

Once you’re in the game, everything should go pretty smoothly. Keep in mind that, as in the US, some players take their games super-seriously, while others are more like your little brother and will tackle their friends. Go along with it, and enjoy your new hobby!

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Teacher Tuesday: Anitra Saddler

Like most AYCers, Anitra Saddler wanted a new experience. “I chose China as a way to branch out into the world,” she says. “I wanted to experience life that was different from my own.” She sought the exact opposite of her small town in Minnesota: Changsha, in Hunan Province, renowned for its spicy food and warm climate. “Here in China it has been a different beat I have to move to and learn how to adapt to day to day,” says Anitra. “I am sometimes frustrated with the new change of pace; however, I do not regret it for one moment.”

For many teachers, Anitra’s classes would have posed a huge problem. She encountered the same problems all foreign teachers have in China: huge class sizes of up to 40 kids, in her case all girls, and her students entered the room believing they could walk all over a foreign teacher. But for Anitra, who comes from a large family with many younger siblings, controlling her classroom has never been an issue. “The students are so used to being drilled by their teachers that they believe foreign teachers are the “easy fun class” and will try not to follow the rules,” Anitra says. “It is very important for them to know you want to have fun, but you are their teacher and rules MUST be followed.”

Another challenge Anitra faces is that she teaches a mixture classroom: half her students spoke English fluently, while half knew no English at all. “At times making lesson plans is a bit difficult due to the wide range of English abilities. However, I love the challenge! This gives me the opportunity to use multiple strategies, learning aids, and so on to engage the students.” Anitra’s effort pays off: she loves her students and her students love her, constantly approaching her for hugs and presenting her with gifts. But she doesn’t get a swelled head; instead, she is reflective. “The older children are more difficult to bring them out of their comfort zone. They are afraid of losing face!!! The younger children most of the time can’t get enough. Making the class fun and new, keeps everyone interested and willing to explore outside the norm.”

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Teacher Tuesday: Meet the Barnes Family

Robert and Annemarie Barnes work at the Wuxi International School as Pre-K teachers. Along with teaching their students, meeting neighbors, and exploring Wuxi, they are also raising two children, Althea and Robert ages 4 and 2. Annmarie teaches a small class of 7 students all with varied language skills. “Since I work at an International School, I have students from Korea, Taiwan, America, and China.  They all have different language abilities, ranging from only English with no Chinese at all, to only Chinese with almost no English at all.” Still she says that she loves teaching in an international school and it is a profession that she could see herself in for a long time. Robert and Annemarie seem to be making Wuxi their own through biking adventures and taking their children to dance in the public square, as well as befriending their neighbors and enjoying homemade dumplings. Annemarie cites the language barrier as her greatest challenge, as well as her never ending struggle with WiFi. Despite the challenges, the entire family continues to power on and learn Chinese as well as they can. The children are learning in the Wuxi International School and Robert and Annemarie are learning as they go. The Barnes’ are truly a family immersing themselves in China and loving it.

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