The American Council on the teaching of foreign languages or ACTFL, just concluded it's 2010 annual conference in our very own Boston. The conference was held in the Hynes Convention center over a period of three days Nov 19th-Nov21. Hundreds of attendees were showing off the latest in technological innovations in language learning. Learn Yu Wen took it's place alongside it's counterparts and made inroads into the teaching community; There was a good showing of it's employees with most coming for all three days of the event.
I arrived mid-morning on Friday and was waiting in a very long line. But I found it quite fascinating as I was conversing with a Japanese teacher from Detroit and a Chinese teacher from New York. After getting my pass at security I proceeded up to the third floor and entered into the convention hall. I walked around and saw all the different booths representing numerous cultures and languages.
Just about every continent on the globe was represented by an institution promoting it's main spoken language. Every language from German to Swahili was in attendance. The two giants amongst all these languages were clearly Chinese and Spanish. From a rough estimate, it would appear that at least 30% of the displays were devoted to the study of the Chinese language. Spanish would be the other major hitter with around 40% of the displays. It was quite clear to see the direction in which the world's study of foreign languages was shifting.
After all of that traveling, I needed to settle down a bit. It was time to get an apartment. A local girl from Suzhou named Azalea who had majored in English in college assisted Jake and me in our apartment search. Although we were barely acquainted, Azalea spent three full days trekking around Suzhou with us in order to help us find an apartment.
I have mentioned that there is a lack of abidance to rules in China, but don’t get that confused with a lack of courtesy. Once you have met someone here in China, they will go way out of their way to assist you in any means possible.
Azalea helped us find a fully furnished two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with a study and large living room on the border of the SND (Suzhou New District) for RMB 2800/month (aprox. $350). It easily trumped my previous place, which was an unfurnished basement apartment in Boston that cost $1200/month. Over a month’s time, I had gone from a financially strapped college kid to a member of the upper-middle class. China was treating me well.
We took a cruise ship down the Three Gorges Canal and were able to take in the scenery from the deck. The shores were lined with trees and picturesque little villages. Sadly, these villages are probably no longer there as the water levels have risen significantly due to the Three Gorges Dam, which was under construction on our trip. The Gorges peak at hundreds of feet above water level; some are vertical cliffs and others are rolling mountains. At one point of the cruise, the canal got too narrow to continue, so we docked and took little wood rafts further down the river.
After the cruise we decided to continue down the river to Yichang in order to see the dam, which is the world's largest hydroelectric power station. We wanted to keep haste and board a speedboat, as the slow ones can take ten times as long. Unsure of how to say “speedboat” we just smiled at the ticket clerk and said, “Yichang, wooooooo.” This is how two different Chinese guys described the boat to us in different towns, and it worked perfectly here. After a three-hour ride, we were in Yichang.
Upon arriving, we were swarmed by merchants trying to sell us tours of the dam. We spoke in Spanish until they got confused and left us alone. However, once we got into a taxi we found out that we were far away from the city of Yichang. We paid RMB 150 to a civilian to drive us into town. He stopped at the dam on the way, and we got out to take a look. It was huge, but hard to see clearly because of the clouds and mist that encumber the area.