Thursday, September 25, 2008

Milk and Bail

It was the 7th and 8th time I was teaching the lesson that it started seeping in.

I'm teaching a class called Nursing English to new students of the Shanghai Lida Polytechnic Institute.  They are fresh out of middle school and on a track to become nurses.  This class is teaching English through scenarios a nurse would encounter as well as (hopefully) giving practice in using language to show empathy, instead of just nursing through book psychology.

So.  Getting familiar with the hospital.  The lobby is next to information. The admitting office is across from the cashier.  The pharmacy is down the hall, on the left, next to the patient elevators.  Excuse me, where is the snack bar?  It's on the left, just past the gift shop.  Asking directions.  Prepositional phrases.  Locations in a hospital.  That was last week's lesson.  This week, I was reviewing the locations with a power point presentation that had visuals that would or would not correspond with the location we were reviewing (when it doesn't correspond, there is the chance for the yes-no question,  i.e. Is this a hospital lobby?  No, it's a hotel lobby.)

With each class, the lesson gets tighter.  I teach each lesson 8 times to 8 different classes.  By the 3rd and 4th class, the lesson has all the elements timed out perfectly.  The 5th and 6th time, it's there, but I'm starting to get a bit bored with the material.  I actually embrace the challenge of teaching this over a course of 3 days--I marvel at actors who can do 8 shows a week and imbue each performance (theoretically) with the freshness of a first performance. I welcome the chance to practice the buddhist concept of 'beginner's mind' with each 80 minute class, investing the same lesson with new and keen energy (theoretically).

So by the time I was describing 'Billing' for the 7th time, I started riffing a new example.  The past six times, I would show a piece of paper and say that this was a bill, and this has the amount of money you have to pay, this is the number of yuan you have to give to the hospital, on this piece of paper, this is the bill, this is the office that makes this bill, it is 'Billing.'
Do you have to pay in China?
No, someone says.
Right, you're a socialist country, the doctor's are 'free.'
The class is stone-faced and silent.
Well in the United States, there are lots of bills.
There's a bill for electricity.
A bill for gas.
A bill for your telephone.
Wait, you guys here all buy your minutes in a chip and when you run out, you buy some more, so you never have a telephone bill.  You don't have to write a check (cuz you guys are such a cash economy) and then send it with the bill to the company, right?
They shake there heads.
(There English is proficient! (?))
A bill for your house.
A bill for your credit card.

Great, a new angle to expand out the idea.  A little cultural sharing.  U.S. life vs. China life.  Pay later vs. Pay now.  Abstract money vs. Cash money.

Come the 8th and final time (the 4th time this day) for reviewing the locations of the hospital, billing becomes just a list.  In the U.S. we have to pay:
A bill for electricity.
A bill for gas.
A bill for your telephone.
A bill for your house.
A bill for you credit card.
A bill for bailing out your government.
That's right, to the tune of 2000 US buckaroos per person in the United States.
So yes, that's billing.  That's the office that gives you your bill.
Does everyone understand?

Come time to talk about the coffee shop, there's still an hour to go.  At this point it goes from 'beginner's mind' to Outward Bound.  I humor them with the eye-popping energy of a caffeinated face and also explain how in the U.S., college students drink lots and lots of coffee to stay awake when they study.  The graphic shows a man pouring coffee, the way a Moroccan pours tea, high above the head, the drink cascading down with aimed skill.  Aha.  A moment to review the present continuous and use a verb:  
What is he doing class?  He's pouring coffee.
Everybody:  He's pouring coffee
He's pouring coffee
He's pouring coffee
What else can you pour?
I show them my Nongfu spring bottle.
Can you pour bread?
Can you pour beer?
Can you pour milk?
(beat) Yes.
Can you pour rice?
No you can't pour rice after it's cooked, but before?  Before it's cooked? Yes, you can pour rice into the pot.
They nod.

Milk just went by.  Didn't have to expand it.  The bigger point was to have them think about the action of pouring.  But milk right now is definitely not a talking point in class.  It is better not to translate the tragedy of melamine, the plastics and fertilizer additive that shows up as the required protein in milk tests, and has caused infant death and tens of thousands of infant kidney stones.  There's nowhere to go with it.  The part where so much of the kidney ailment and parent/child suffering could have been avoided, but no one wanted to spoil the 'two perfect weeks' of the Olympics with the melamine discovery.  It's not possible to discuss.  Especially where  economic and social progress outpaces the political: party officials, afraid that increased milk prices would cause protest, place caps on prices.  This then puts suppliers in a bind, needing to beef up supply to keep prices down.  (We definitely can't discuss this; it's beyond Nursing English).  When leaders of companies are many a time party officials as well, decisions get made to either keep the face of the state or fatten cadre pockets while citizen tragedy ensues.   (Re: collapse of buildings in Szechuan earthquake).

This is a big loss of face for China and loss of confidence in Chinese product for the world.  The thing is, the corrupt Chinese officials are immediately removed (not sure about parachutes, gold, silk or otherwise), and the Chinese citizens do not even have to entertain the thought of bailing  out their financial institutions, because the government already owns them. 

Next week's lesson:  Patient Admission and Orientation.

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