Classes

Fonglou is a small village within Guangxi another autonomous zone in the south of China along the Dragon River, amidst these karsts. They are unique enough to have their own dialect that is sometimes difficult for Sun and Xiao Ming to understand. We stayed at the Fonglou Phoenix Pagoda. It is a small hotel managed and partially owned by a Taiwanese man with the English name Jerry. He has the organizational skills one would expect from the retired army colonel that he is. Jerry is polite and personable; his staff is helpful and efficient. They are dedicated to the comfort of their guests and seem to like their jobs, including educating us about local culture. With a 0900 am class start, I was up and ready for breakfast every day just before 0800. On a couple of occasions I went to the top of Moon Hill first before helping Jerry remove the covers from the tables on the 3rd floor deck so that we can eat outdoors.

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We conducted the class on the second floor of the hotel and the surrounding patio and terrace areas. Our afternoons were held at an isolated spot along a river about a 15 minute walk from the hotel. There were plenty of open areas along with bathrooms and an open-sided building covered by a roof and supplied by electricity for presentations. The only background noise besides the wind came from quacking ducks and the bells of cow grazing cows in the local fields. The karsts provided climbing sites for simulations. All and all, it was pretty nice.

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The classes went well. Our 14 students were from throughout China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The three physicians in the class have helped us fine tune and refine some of the verbiage in our translations. Still there were some amusing speed bumps.

The major challenge, as always, had to do with the translations. One wrinkle was that Sun’s base is Mandarin; John’s Cantonese. The other had to do with pacing. Sun, John and Xiao Ming’s had different styles we had to be cognizant of when we transitioned from one to another. Each also has a different level of experience and background with the curriculum so their understandings are different, even if just in a nuanced way. As I may have mentioned previously, there is a rhythm that you get into with your translators. With a professional translator you can just keep talking. With these guys, there is more of a speak and wait pattern. A logical break for English and most western speakers is not necessarily the same for Chinese speakers because of the ways ideas are expressed. This a problem analogous to characters versus words. Sometimes Fay or I would get a bewildered look when we paused because the translator was not sure where we were going. Unfortunately I cannot think of a good example. Other times we just stood back and let them talk over. This happened regularly during question and answer times.

Early on, we had one interesting dilemma that took some real effort to sort out. Western medical practitioners use the term subjective to mean something that is spoken, a story. This kind of information is referred to as subjective regardless of who provides the information (e.g., patient, family member, bystander). In China, subjective is not all-inclusive in the same way. Sun understands what we mean because he teaches in English. The collective murmuring and confused looks made me realize that I had stepped into it. My clarifications only confused the matter. We had to stop and let Sun explain it to the Chinese and John to the Taiwanese and Hong Kong students. I didn’t understand what the problem was until later in the day. Another problem is acronyms. Westerners, especially Americans in medical fields, rely on them heavily as memorization tools. They make almost no sense to Chinese (and Japanese) students who know little or no English. As a result we tried to de-emphasize them and stress concepts instead. I would love to find characters that would be analogous to some of our achronyms to represent similar concepts .

I won’t belabor the point. The classes went well. We now have 18 new assistant instructors in China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan who are colleagues and friends. The idea of representatives from these 4 countries working together teaching while their governments squabble is almost unbearably satisfying.

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