Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sept. 11th -- Last day at Xiang Primary School --- The Mice Are A Hit

Rajat, Rachel & I with the Xiang Primary School - Grade 5 class

Today is our last day in Dujiangyan, and the Primary School. Rajat (IBM India), Rachel (IBM Brazil), Frank Shi (our NGO), and 2 of our Interpretors -- Kevin & Lauren join me as we connect with 120 - Grade 5 & 6 students, over a 3 hour period. Our objectives -- give the kids some cultural insights into our countries, have them hear & practice english, and do it in a fun/interactive way. The country matching game is a hit.... the kids take english words -- eg. Elephant and have to match it to the right country (India), then repeat the word in english. They have a great time - we are all exhausted -- running from country posterboards (on the walls of the room) to posterboard!

We wrap up each group session with a special treat --- cups filled with cream & chocolate -- shaped like mice. At first the reaction is non - existent -- they sit quietly, many not even opening their desert packaging. When they do, everyone is very tentive -- eating the cream that surrounds the mouse's face -- slowly, methodically. I'm disappointed -- they don't like the treat ! My interpretor Lauren jumps in --- no, not he case she says, they LOVE them. She tells me that she over hears many of the students saying how delicious it is -- but many have never had a desert like this before .... and they want to save it to show their parents/friends. Alas, we explain to all that its made of cream, and will spoil in the 80 degree weather --- finally they all start to enjoy!

Its been a hectic but rewarding week. I' enjoyed working with several grade 5 & 6 classes, and running the cultural program on Friday. I've also engaged the 2 English teachers at the Primary school to give them some tips & program ideas to use in the classroom to teach english in a fun interactive way. Many thanks to Barb M. for her ESL knowledge and her help with game ideas.

We depart for Chengdu on Saturday afternoon -- after a day of cultural activities.

Sept. 9th - IBM Education Support Donation at Xiang Primary School & I speak to press for first time

Back in Xiang Primary School today. The entire 9 member team participates in an IBM China donation ceremony for 'Learning Companion' software -- which allows younger children just being introduced to english to be able to read simple books, and repeat content from the book back to the english speaker thru audio ear phones (also donated). Key govt. officials and the regional executive for IBM West China are in attendance, and press are along too. Several speeches are given, and 10 children (from Xiang Primary School & the local Jr. High) are awarded scholarship funds (by us IBMers) to help support their education needs (boarding, school books etc.). Amazing to me is that just 200 Yuan (Chinese currency) equates to about USD $ 28.00 will provide boarding & meals for one student for the entire year. Our contributions (though small to us) will actually ensure the education of these children over several years.

Above you see me captioned with some of these children reviewing the Reading Companion. Following the donation ceremony -- my colleague Etienne (IBM France) and I participate at a press conference, sharing more about the CSC program and our personal experiences working here in China. The IBM China representative in attendance asks if I've had experience with the Press - answer is NO - but she says she's suprised given how professional I came off -- guess we impressed !

Sept. 8th - Visit to Xiang Primary School, Dujiangyan - Quake Zone

This picture show how many of the locals live in the mountainous regions around Dujiangyan.

Hard to believe seeing the smiling facing, and beautiful new Primary School (grades 1 thru 6) that just 16 months ago these children were witness to the devastating earthquake that killed 200+ of their class mates. It happened in May 2008, at 2:30 in the afternoon, when classrooms were full -- very tragic, and yet the resiliency of these children is remarkable.

My objective this week is to give the local teachers exposure to a native english speaker, share some tips & tricks - through interactive games & activities that help generate excitement for english learning. Best way to do that -- jump right in! I find myself in a class of 30/5th graders -- all smiles & filled with anticipation. There language skills are minimal, and they are shy about speaking at all. We start out with a couple of games, then move on to a singalong --- 10 Little Monkey's Jumping On the Bed -- with powerpoint visuals to go along. Many have never seen a laptop computer before, they flash their hands in the light of the projector & want to get up close to see the PC. I let some of them scan their finger to make my PC work - they get the big red X - then scan my finger -- a green check mark appears/and the PCs comes to life -- they think this is very funny.

Friday morning we'll rotate 120ish - grade 5 & 6 students through a 45 minute game where they get simple clues (eg. polar bear) and they have to match what country it belongs to. The idea is to teach them some english words while giving them some cultural insights about our countries.

I've prepared some of the Grade 6 students with background on the 7 countries the CSC team come from so they can know a little bit about our countries before Friday's game. Lauren my ever so competent translator helped source some chocolate & cream treats (shaped like little mice) at the local bakery - they are on order for the kids on Friday. These children come from rural areas, many living in poor economic conditions - I hope the surprise desert will be a hit.

Stay tuned for an update when I conclude my Friday visit and activities.

Sept. 5th - Mt. Emei & Giant Buddha - Got a Workout Today

This weekend we all board a bus, final destination Dujianyan City (quake zone). First we spend an incredible cultural day at the Giant Buddha followed by an overnight stay at Mt. Emei (see photo). The Giant Buddha stands several stories high, the walk down -- awesome --- the walk back up exhausting in 85 degree/high humidity! It is truly an impressive sight.

Following this onward to Mt. Emei where we leverage several forms of transportation ultimate goal - mountain top. First we take a 1 hour bus ride, weaving through the pcturesque hillsides, for a flora and fauna lover like myself the views out of the windows - breathtaking -- canna lilies, various ferns, anenome's all grow wild. Beautiful rambling perfectly clear streams cascade down the mountain sides. We follow our bus trip with a 30 minute climb (several 100 steps) up the mountainside, then a cable car ride to the top. The view from the top -- well on that day -- only mist! After an overnight stay at the mountain top hotel, everyone's up and hillside by 5:30 am. to catch the morning sunrise -- us 9 -- and about 300 locals -- enjoying. Many of my colleagues rent winter coats for the early morning (we are warned its chilly). I laugh, at long last the temperature is comfortable -- I'm enjoying the experience in T-shirt only, finally not feeling hot & sweaty!

Aug. 29th - Meet My Panda

So perhaps China will surprise me yet, but already the trip has been OH SO rewarding. Today we visited Ya'an Wildlife Zoo dedicated to Panda preservation & breeding. For those of you that know me well, you know I'm facinated by wildlife preservation.... so today is especially significant for me to see up close the very rare panda -- estimate is only 1600 living in the mountain ranges in the Chinese province of Sichuan. Everywhere in Chengdu, the Panda is a logo -- they have the Panda Store & taxi's depict the panda on their gas tanks -- it truly is a national treasure.

So guess what -- for 500 Yuan (about 75US), you can spend 5 minutes up close and personal with a baby Panda (see me depicted in picture above). This panda cub is about 6 months old (unfortunately too heavy to sit in my lap) but he was agreeable to pose for the camera for a few moments (or atleast while the apple the staff enticed him with lasted). He was a wee bit intimidating up close, but not a bad pic don't you think? We also saw infants (<>

Following the visit to the Panda reserve we also went to Shangli old town, where we toured the well preserved site and enjoyed incredible architecture.

Week 1 - Aug 24 - 28 -- Interviews, Interviews, Interviews

Here's Layne, Rajani, Frank (NGO) and I outside the offices of the Investment Development Association, enroute to yet another interview.

In Toronto, I sit at a home office for 10 hours a day - not here! Its hustle, and bustle --shuffling from one interview to the next around the city. On average we do 2 interviews a day -- Foreign Affairs Office, French Consulate, British Consulate, Chambers of Commerce, Private Corporations (eg real estate companies), Tourism Boards, local English Guide (The Chengdoo), IBM Executives, High Tech Zone and on, and on. The goal is to collect as much data as we can to support a report that provides recommendations for how to Internationalize the city of Chengdu.

You've probably guessed it -- none of us are experts in this field but that's what this assignment is all about - stretching ourselves, leveraging one another, being resourceful to get the job done. I'll let you know how it all turned out in week 4 when we deliver the final report to the Foreign Affairs office. Frank (our NGO) is with us much of the time, supporting us with translation, leveraging his relationships (key to success in China) to open doors & get access to individuals whom we'd probably otherwise not be able to interface with.

Week 1 - Aug 24 - 28th - Conference Management Organization

I'm with the Public Sector subteam -- 3 members -- Rajani (IBM India), Layne (IBM Washington DC) and myself. Our focus is on three distinct activities: a) to produce a report for our client the Foreign Affairs office on 'Internationalization of Chengdu', b) to share experience & insights on event marketing, planning & execution and c) to build and deliver an english language program for school children in Dujiangyan City (quake zone).

Week 1 & 2 are largely dedicated to interviews to support our efforts associated with the report on Internationalization of Chengdu, and also on meeting and sharing experiences with a Conference logistics organization looking to expand their conference & tradeshow business (also in support of internationalization). Given my recent experience with events, the team agrees to divide and conquer - with Layne & Rajani spending time at the Tourism Board and other related Tourism offices while I meet with the Conference Management organization to understand their business & challenges, and then share my experiences, and brainstorm how they might further enhance their event marketing.

Based on the interview process, I pull together a recommendation document, and share some of my experience (IOD was showcased) with event planning & execution to give them more insight on management of complex events (their focus today is largely on tradeshows). The presentation was delivered to about 30 individuals -- translated into Chinese -- IOD team - check out the view of the WAAG translated to chinese! It seemed to go over very well - with a follow-up invitation to dinner hosted by the client for our entire team.