In this space, Yale-China Teaching Fellows (current and former) will share their experiences and answer your questions in preparation for the Yale-China/Yale Alumni Service Corps (YASC) program in Xiuning in 2011. Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, and visit often!

Editor’s Note: Several of the Teaching Fellows who will be joining us as Leaders during the program teach at other Yale-China teaching sites, though they have all spent time in Xiuning. We have asked these Fellows to share their experiences at their own teaching sites in order to give you a fuller picture of China, providing a wider context for the project sites in Xiuning.

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Xiuning Local Coverage

Visit the following pages to see the photos of the Yale-China / YASC Cultural Exchange that Xiuzhong (high school) and No. 2 Primary School have posted on their website!

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A Little Bit of Chinese— Chéngyǔ 成语

Similar to idioms, chéngyǔ (成语) are set, typically four character Chinese phrases. They are used frequently and often* have ties to Chinese history or ancient literature. Learning chéngyǔ is a great way to get exposed to Chinese culture and is a fun way to pass the time with Chinese friends if you’re waiting for the bus. Below are three chéngyǔ my students taught me this year.


马马虎虎  Mǎmǎhǔhǔ

Literally: Horse horse tiger tiger

Figuratively: So-so


Mǎmǎhǔhǔ is a phrase you can use when something (including you) is only so-so. For example, you can use it to describe a long, not especially great, not especially terrible day, how you are after that day, or that movie you watched on the airplane because you had nothing else to do. There are multiple origin stories for mǎmǎhǔhǔ (which is the case for many chéngyǔ). A popular one is that there was once a great artist painting on the wall of a cave. First one, then many people walked up to observe his work. They began to ooh and aahh. However, when they began to talk to each other, they realized they didn’t know whether the animal the great artist was painting was a horse, which is mǎ in Chinese, or a tiger, which is hǔ. Since they couldn’t decide what it was, they come to the conclusion that the painting wasn’t actually that great—it was only so-so.


破釜沉舟  Pòfǔchénzhōu

Literally: Break the cauldrons, sink the boats

Figuratively (roughly): To pass the point of no return (and succeed because of it)


This chéngyǔ refers to a command military leader Xiang Yu (232-202 BCE) gave during a battle where his men were greatly outnumbered by Qin soldiers. In order to win, Xiang Yu’s men needed to break into the walls of a city and beat the enemy soldiers within. Xiang Yu’s command was as follows: Cross the river to get to the walled city, and then break (pò) our cooking pots (fǔ), sink (chén) our ships (zhōu), and leave only three days of food. His army thus either had to succeed or perish—and they succeeded! Thus, pòfǔchénzhōu describes a situation or tactic where you pass a point of no return and win because of the pressure this puts on you.


一箭双雕  Yījiànshuāngdiāo

Literally: One arrow, two vultures

Figuratively: Hit two birds with one stone


I love this chéngyǔ for its resemblance to “kill two birds with one stone” (as well as the Russian kill two hares with one shot, the German slay two flies with one swat, and a surprising number of others). It comes from a story about Zhang Sun Cheng, a general renowned for his archery skills during the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589CE). There are many variations in the details of this story as well, but while he is out hunting, his party sees two vultures. At this point he is handed two arrows, and to everyone’s surprise, he hits both vultures with the first one. Thus, one arrow, two vultures. Just as with two birds with one stone, it’s used to refer to situations where two objectives are efficiently achieved with one action.


* Some people don’t consider a four character set phrase a chéngyǔ if it doesn’t have a literary or historical origin—but that’s a debate I’ll keep out of this blog entry.

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Meet Frank…

Meet Frank, a student from an honors science class

Name: Frank 刘和兴
Age: 17
Major: Science
Students in Class 5: 61
Students in Gao 2: about 700
Hometown: Xiuning, Anhui Province

What does your father do for a living?

He chauffeurs for a brewery company (休宁啤酒厂—迎客松) in Xiuning.

What does your mother do for a living?

She works in the marketing research division of the brewery that my father works for.

Frank rents a room in Wan’an Town, across the street from the school. Frank’s mother wants to take a hiatus from her job during Frank’s third year in school while he studies for the college entrance exam, the gaokao. However, he says: I think I’m old enough to take care of myself, and I don’t want my mother to trouble herself for a whole year. If she cooks for me and lives with me, I think my father will feel lonely.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like to play basketball, usually 3-on-3. Sometimes I will call friends first or sometimes I will just go find people on the courts.

What is your dream job?

To be the leader of a company. However, I haven’t thought about this problem clearly. I think this is because after I graduate from Xiuzhong, I will go to a college. I will choose a major and then decide what to do in the future. I guess my “dream” is world peace! I hope I can do something to help make the world peaceful.

After a bout of laughter, I asked why he was laughing, and he responded: This is too big for us to talk about, to do. It is a joke.

What is your most memorably childhood story?

This is a real story about firecrackers. During Spring Festival when I was 8 years old, I was setting firecrackers with my neighbors in the farm fields of my village. While we were having fun, a friend of mine came and gave me a special firecracker. He said to me, “This kind of firecracker is very powerful.” So I lit the firecracker and threw it. It fell into a hole that is used to store manure. Just as my friend said, it was very powerful. The pot that was in the hole to store the manure broke, and I realized it was a serious problem because the owner of the manure would scold me and tell this to my parents. So I was very afraid at that moment. Then I had an idea. I wanted to fix the pot. So I went back home and opened my pencil case. I took out my tape and went back to the farm. My neighbors asked me what I wanted to do. I told them that I wanted to use the tape to glue the pot together again. I asked for their help, but they thought that it would be very dirty. So they did not come help me. So I had to do it myself without gloves. I used the tape to put the pot back together. I did not ask my parents for help because I was afraid that they would be angry. I didn’t think to buy a new pot. It was very hard work, but I succeeded. I felt very stinky and tired. Today, the pot that I fixed is still on my neighbor’s farm and every time I see it, it reminds me of this memory from my childhood. I think I was a little naïve.

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Thank you for your second-hand smoke (谢谢你的二手烟)

A Chinese worker walks out of the rising sun and towards the future, promoting China's own "Liberation Cigarettes."

During my time in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), I have noticed that “禁止吸烟” – or “No Smoking” – signs are at their best a polite suggestion, more often a pesky requirement posted simply as routine and mechanical procedure – also, people must admit, its design does create a lovely regulatory aesthetic.  It seems common for people to overlook or ignore these postings.  There’s no enforcement; they’re meaningless.

China’s consumes roughly one-third of the world’s tobacco, consumption fed by its roughly 300 million smokers, the supermajority of whom are men.[1] In fact, it is estimated that 3 out of every 4 Chinese men lights up.[2] Say it with me: wow.

In the mid-twentieth century, cigarette consumption was driven by national pride.  The government-owned companies went so far as to explicitly link smoking to patriotism (“Consume your cigarettes!  Support the Party!  Support the revolution!”).

Women surround Chairman Mao, all vying for the chance to light the Chinese leader's cigarette.

Chairman Mao Zedong is the PRC’s most famous nicotine addict and is commonly featurein photographs holding a cigarette between two figures.

In recent years, it seems that cigarette consumption – among men, in particular – has been propelled by 酒桌文化 – or “Drinking Culture.”  Alcohol and cigarettes are used as a way to show respect, build relationships, and have a good old-fashion time.  It is common to present expensive alcohol or cigarettes to superiors as a gift, and if you are offered a drink or a cigarette, it is quite rude to turn it down, as I learned from experience.

Curbing cigarette consumption in the PRC is a daunting task, but the government/Party seems up to the challenge.  On May 1, 2011, the central government/Party leaders enacted a nationwide ban on smoking in all public places, including restaurants, bars, stores, and public transportation.  It seemed like signs were posted everywhere.

Now, the one million renminbi question: can – and will – it actually be enforced?  Can you curb the smoking habits of 300-plus million people?  So far, I have been disappointed.  Smoking still seems common in those enumerated public places, regardless of the aesthetically-pleasing government-issued non-smoking signs.

However, I also see signs of change.  I see increasing numbers of non-smokers showing a sense of empowerment.  I’m starting to hear, “请问,麻烦你灭掉你的烟,” – “Excuse me, please do not smoke” –  more and more frequently.  Just as promising, I see smokers listening and respectfully extinguishing their cigarettes.

So, will the law be effective?  It will depend not on the government, but on the people.  I’m crossing my fingers and holding my breath.

For more information on the PRC’s national smoking ban:

For more information on the PRC’s tobacco industry:



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A Taste of Hong Kong

Even if you’re only in Hong Kong for short time, you’ll have time to eat. And, with 11,000 restaurants in Hong Kong’s 426 square miles, you won’t have to go far to do so. Harder though, can be choosing a restaurant. There’s everything—from Cantonese* to Shanghainese, from McDonalds to Genki Sushi, from vegetarian meals at temples to steak dinners in skyscrapers, and it can cost from thousands of dollars to two or three for a satisfying meal.

If you already have an idea of what you’d like to sample while you’re in Hong Kong, I recommend looking at the “Dining Search” or “Interactive Dining Planner” at the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s web site (links are along the side panel): However, if you’re looking for suggestions, read on…

Dim Sum 點心

“Dim sum” refers to bite sized (or slightly larger) pieces of food served on small plates or in bamboo baskets. It includes familiar favorites like dumplings and spring rolls and some foods that may be less familiar—such as turnip cake and chicken feet. Dim sum restaurants are typically open during breakfast, brunch, and lunch. The characters of dim sum, 點 and 心, literally mean “dot/little” and “heart” but are often poetically translated as “little hearts” or “to touch your heart”.

One of Hong Kong’s most popular dim sum restaurants is Tim Ho Wan , which was opened by former Four Seasons dim sum chef Mak Pui Gor. Queues are long and the restaurant is teensy, but the dim sum is incredible.  Additional dim sum restaurants can be found at the Tourism Board website above.


If you’re a seafood lover and have some time, make the trek out to Sai Kung or take a ferry to Lamma Island’s Sok Kwu Wan for incredible seafood restaurants right along the water. In either place, you’ll be able to select your meal from huge fish tanks next to the restaurant. Sok Kwu Wan’s Rainbow Seafood Restaurant is reliably excellent as is the restaurant farthest to the left on Sai Kung’s boardwalk (when facing the water). However, whichever restaurant looks most bustling will probably have good catches & deals that day.

More information can be found on Sai Kung restaurants and how to get there here: and here

To get to Sok Kwu Wan, you’ll need to leave from Hong Kong Island’s Central Pier (time table here:, which is located very close to the metro’s “Hong Kong” stop . You’ll be dropped off in the heart of the restaurants when the ferry arrives at Sok Kwu Wan.


All over Hong Kong, you’ll find restaurants that reflect Hong Kong’s internationality. A great place to see this (very inexpensively) is at Hong Kong’s cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳). The atmosphere at one is somewhat like an American diner’s or cafeteria’s, but the menu makes it clear that you’re someplace quite different–for example, at almost any cha chaan teng you go to, you’ll be able to get wonton soup, steak, French toast, curry, and much more.

If you’re not in the mood for a cha chaan teng, you’ll be able to see examples of fusion at almost any restaurant  that calls itself “Western” or doesn’t bill itself as serving one specific type of cuisine (but you’ll likely be able to find fusion dishes at those too). Below are some of my favorite fusion dishes:

Mushroom Risotto with Wasabi Sauce (all of the following dishes were eaten at Café de Itamomo

Baked Egg Tofu with Bacon and Cream Sauce


Coffee with Tea (also popular at cha chaan tengs and called Yuenyeung 鴛鴦)


Happy Dining!


*What is Cantonese food? Most likely, it is very similar to the Chinese food you already know, because immigrants from Southeastern China (where Cantonese food comes from) were some of the first to come to America and open up restaurants. Think combinations of rice, meats (chicken/pork/beef), vegetables, sparing use of ginger or chili pepper—steaming or stir frying likely.

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“Robin Hood” Comes to Xiuzhong!

Xiuzhong had its 4th annual English musical this past weekend at the Haiyang Theater, a traditional Huizhou Opera (徽剧) house with wooden pillars and balconies surrounding the main seating area; the theater is rather small, compared to a Broadway theater, but the acoustics are surprisingly resonant, perhaps due to its high ceiling and right angles. “Robin Hood” sold out both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, with Saturday’s performance containing over 40 SRO attendees!

The following are some thoughts about the “Robin Hood” performances from the four Xiuning Teaching Fellows.

Doug practices with David (Sir Henry) on words like "regal,” “dignified,” “sincere,” and “noble."

Doug (Co-Director): Students whose English wasn’t “performance ready” were given the opportunity to work with several of us in extra afternoon sessions. Three of our main actors decided to work with us, in sessions that used the words “regal,” “dignified,” “sincere,” and “noble” more times than I care to remember. For me, I ended up learning a lot about teaching pronunciation, which spilled over into my other class: my students now understand that when I say “Big Mouth,” I am highlighting, of course, the juxtaposition of the greater use of the mandible and lip organs in the production of English phonemes as compared with Chinese phonemes.


The chorus seizes the day in three-part harmony.

Annie (Musical Director): The choir admirably performed two pieces in three-part harmony: “Happy Birthday” and the introduction to “Seize the Day.” Because all three parts in “Happy Birthday” began on the same note, it was easy for the students to perform this tune a cappella. However, “Seize the Day” was a challenge, and for our two performances, I quietly accompanied the three parts on the piano while the students sang on risers next to the piano. It was a rewarding experience to see the students step out of their comfort zone and try a different form of art from the Western culture. Many audience members commented on the quality of the singing as a highlight of the show.


Students help Aaron create background sets and props during their short dinner hour.

Aaron (Technical Director): Working with the crew was two great, distinct experiences. One was a mob of 20 kids designing, painting and building in the weeks leading up to the performances.  The other was watching a pared-down team of six students design and execute a plan for setting up and breaking down the 10 scenes of “Robin Hood” – practicing to the point where I, as the technical director, could just sit back and watch them go.


Mr. He, a Senior 1 English teacher, guest stars as King Richard.

Zoe (Co-Director): One of the more interesting decisions we made for Robin Hood was the casting of King Richard the Lionhearted. It seemed like a waste to cast a student for only a few lines at the very end of the play, but who else could we ask? Using one of the Teaching Fellows would be too obvious and would lack the proper “oomph” that a deus ex machina of that magnitude deserves. Who then, to ask? For us, the answer was obvious. One of our good friends, Mr. He, was not only the most renowned English teacher at the school, famous for both his strict teaching methods and impeccable gaokao (college entrance examination) record, but also a current Senior 1 (freshman year) teacher. Even better, Mr. He spent most of his first semester in England, so King Richard’s return from far-away Jerusalem nicely paralleled Mr. He’s own return home from distant lands.

Next step: secrecy. In retrospect, I have no idea how this was kept quiet in the furious rumor-mill of Xiuning Middle School, but it was. We didn’t tell anyone, trying to keep it a secret not only from our audience but from our actors as well. We managed to guard the secret right up to the afternoon dress rehearsal before our Saturday evening performance. When Mr. He stepped on to the stage, clad in a red tunic emblazoned with a lion rampant and a sword at his side, our actors still didn’t know who the king would be. I half-expected our onstage “audience” to shout out “Mr. He?!” but we had trained them well. All that astonishment and surprise went into the line “King Richard!!??” and everyone acted the rest of the scene beautifully in a slight natural daze.

At that moment, hidden behind the curtains upstage left, I was literally jumping for joy and pumping my fist in the air. Almost more exciting than the performance itself, this was the moment worth waiting for. And if the explosion of noise and applause that accompanied King Richard’s entrance on Saturday night and Sunday was any indication–the audience agreed.


Check out this video clip from our Sunday performance. Robin Hood and his Merry Men disguise themselves as fortune tellers and steal from the cold-hearted Prince John and his sycophantic sidekick Sir Henry. Robin Hood Fortune Tellers

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Traveling in Hangzhou

Hangzhou is conveniently only a 2.5-hour bus ride from Xiuning. While it is crowded with international travelers and Chinese tourists alike, Hangzhou is still a fun getaway destination for the Xiuning fellows.

Last week, Doug and I went to Hangzhou for a three-day vacation. We saw a variety of touristy attractions like the Hangzhou zoo, the vast tea fields, and of course, the renowned West Lake (or 西湖 Xihu).

The most exciting aspect of our trip in Hangzhou was our mode of transportation. The westernized city employs the most extensive public bicycle system in the world. With over 60,000 bikes and parking stations every 100 meters, Hangzhou has found an economically and environmentally friendly means of transportation that caters to locals and tourists alike. Hangzhou’s impressive and sizable system surpasses Paris’ 20,000 bikes, well-known to Europe lovers, though only available to Parisian credit card holders.

After a 300 rmb deposit, Doug and I received cards to rent bikes, and we cycled around the edge of the entire lake. After an entire day of biking, we were only charged 15 rmb, or roughly $2.00! Considering it was a hot day, we enjoyed riding for the breeze and the scenery by the lake.

This was by far the best travel experience I have had in China. And while I encountered near-collisions with cars and motorcyclists multiple times throughout the day, I am ready to return for more rides on the Hangzhou bikes!

Annie with one of Hangzhou's 60,000 public bikes.

Editor’s Note: We will be stopping briefly in Hangzhou this summer, on the way to Beijing after the program in Xiuning has concluded, so you’ll be able to experience the beauty of West Lake for yourself!

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Hiking in Hong Kong–A Trip to Mui Wo

Before moving to Hong Kong, I was looking forward to many things in addition to teaching. One was the city itself—my first association with Hong Kong had always been its amazing skyline (see picture below). I was also looking forward to living in a place where there was a mixing and melding of people & cultures from all over the world. I haven’t been disappointed with regards to either. However, I’ve loved another aspect of living in Hong Kong that I had in no way expected—the hiking!

It turns out that about 40% of Hong Kong is protected country park area*. Within these areas, the government maintains numerous campsites and hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails**. Some trails are quite similar to many in the US—they go up mountains, through forests, and the paths themselves are made of dirt and wood. Others are quite different; often made of concrete, they’re more walking trails that take you in and out of nature as well as past villages and farms.

To give you a taste of the latter, let me show you some shots from a recent hike I took around Mui Wo, a city on Lantau Island, Hong Kong’s largest island, but also one of its least densely populated (783-2999 people per square kilometer vs. downtown’s 40,000-52123 people [!!] per per square kilometer). Mui Wo is on Lantau’s eastern coast and literally means “Plum’s Nest” but is also sometimes referred to as Silver Mine Bay for the silver mines that were active on it in the 1800s. One can get there by ferry from downtown Hong Kong in twenty to forty minutes (the pier is actually in the middle of the buildings in the picture of the skyline above).
After arriving at Mui Wo Pier, we passed several farms.

Then we came to several small villages.

And finally, the view from the top!



*To learn more about conservation in Hong Kong, you can go here:

**For a list of trails and more about hiking in Hong Kong, go here:

For more about camping, here:

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Ban Competitions

You think the rivalry between Pierson and Davenport gets a little out of hand? You haven’t met the students in China yet.

Before I continue, let me briefly explain how the student body is structured in Chinese high schools. When they matriculate, students are usually placed into a ban, or class. For example, Senior 1 students at  Yali are split into twenty bans, each with sixty students. This seemingly innocuous step actually has an enormous impact on the student’s experience at the school. After all, the student will be taking every single academic class with other students of the same ban for the rest of his or her time at the school. Furthermore, not all bans are equal. Unlike how Yale “randomly” places its students into a residential college, Chinese students are placed into a ban based on their high school entrance exam scores. Thus, the highest-scoring students are placed in top bans and usually have more academic opportunities (along with a heavier workload, of course).

Conveniently, the ban system also serves as an easy structure for ban competitions. What are ban competitions? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Throughout the year, the school holds major events, pitting the bans against each other. Sometimes, they are academic. For example, the average exam scores from each ban are posted on school walls, ranked from highest to lowest. Students take pride in their ban performing well. Other times, the competitions involve creative or musical talents. In fact, one of the ban I teach won the grade-wide singing competition. They got to represent the school at the provincial level, where they won second place. I’d like to say that I had something to do with their success, but I would be lying to myself.

Yali Class 1005

Yali's Class 1005, the class that won the singing competition, sings for a visiting delegation from an American school.

Furthermore, ban competitions are not limited to the classrooms and performance halls. More often than not, they spill out onto the field. In the Fall, classes are canceled as students sprint around the 350m track, toss javelins, and cleared hurdles. As the temperatures drop precipitously, students move from the track field to the basketball court. The boys don on matching gear while the girls make up cheers on the spot. When Spring begin teasing us with its warmth and its blooming buds, the class competition returns to the field for an onslaught of tug-of-war and jump-rope contests.

Long Jump

A Yali-er competes in the long jump.

Even the students who are not blessed with athletic prowess do not sit idly by. They tirelessly write inspirational and encouraging messages to be broadcasted over the intercom, because exceptional messages are also awarded points that count towards the final tally.

Students sweat and bleed. They leave everything on the field, and occasionally, they themselves have to be carried off. This is all to earn glory and bragging rights for their fellow ban-mates. Does this all sound familiar? I guess they aren’t so different from us after all.

The Parade of the Ban

Yalies take note: Before a competition begins, there must always be an awesome parade with awesome posters. I believe Confucius himself said that.

Editor’s Note: Students in Xiuning are also divided into ban, with similar competitions.

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Ultimate Frisbee at Xiuzhong

Senior 2 Class 4 students strategically pass around the big groups.

Xiuzhong students are experts at how to play four sports: basketball, ping-pong, badminton, and basic track events. When one teaches them a new sport, it is crucial to keep this in mind!

Two weeks ago, I taught my classes Ultimate Frisbee, a popular pastime for many Yalies on Old Campus or Cross Campus. The students first learned how to throw a Frisbee so that it would fly smoothly through the air toward a target student. No problem! After a PowerPoint recap of game rules and multiple comprehension checks, I was confident that the students knew the rules.

Regardless of their understanding of the rules, the students reverted to playing in the style of basketball–the hands-on defense, the fast pace of the game, and checking out of bounds.

Senior 2 student Sonia guards James as he catches the Frisbee.

I caught myself screaming “慢下来! 慢下来!”, or “Slow down! Slow down!” However, once they got into the swing of things, they couldn’t help themselves! The excitement of NBA-like guarding and aggressive offensive strategies overtook them, and teams were scoring almost 10 goals per game.

We had some great players on each team though. They would make great team captains if ever an Ultimate Frisbee Team were to form in Xiuning!

Senior 2 student Daniel catches some air for the Frisbee.

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