Friday, August 04, 2006

Chennai Journal - Part four

Friday night, 10:00 PM July 28, 2006 – Chennai, India

This was the best day yet. It started when we gave our talks for the 9:00 AM session. Dr Anthony Edwards from Liverpool Hope University and Ron and I were on the bill for this all-group session. Anthony talked about e-learning at their university and Ron and I talked about using PowerPoint effectively. An interesting thing often happens to teachers when they use PowerPoint – they forget a lot of the other stuff they learned about teaching and go back to straight lecture, except now their lectures are spiced up with colored words on a screen. So we talked about that.

The talks went over extremely well. We posed for dozens of pictures afterward and spoke with a number of people about what we said and about whether we would be able to return to talk more about things like this. We also got to know Anthony a lot better, which was a great deal of fun. I was asked, as Ron and Anthony had been yesterday, to chair one of the breakout sessions. These sessions involve five or so people presenting the papers that they had prepared. Some read the papers and some talk about them. The chair, however, needs to run the meeting, announce the names of the participants (a real challenge for me since the Indian names are quite unfamiliar) and then respond to the paper with a comment or question. That was also a challenge because I sometimes had a hard time understanding some of the people because of the accent. I think they have a hard time with me as well, especially when I speak quickly – I tried to slow down and succeeded at least some of the time.) At the beginning of each of these sessions the chair is presented with a memento of the event, an inscribed silver plate and flowers. It was great and I’m looking forward to displaying the plate in my office.

After a long day of sessions we were all invited to St Christopher’s College for a cultural program. Dr. Vimala Punithakumar personally took Ron, Anthony and me to the college and gave a look at the beach on the way. We stopped at the beach on the Bay of Bengal and looked out at the sea. This is a spot where the tsunami stuck a year and a half ago and killed about 100 people. The beach is very long and very wide, the longest beach in the world, I understand. The sand reminded me of Lake Michigan near Holland. The driving in Chennai was not as hectic as on the way to the airport – at least it didn’t seem that way but perhaps I was just getting used to it. Anyway, we saw some more of the city, saw the University of Madras and also saw some people living in extreme poverty. Quite an amazing thing to see. After a while we got to the beautiful campus of St. Christopher’s College of Education. This was a calm spot in the otherwise crowded and hectic city. The campus buildings are simple but well kept and functional. After a brief tour of some of the campus we sat with a few new Indian friends in a room that might be the staff room and chatted for a while. Then we were escorted out to the outdoor theater for the cultural program, which consisted mostly of traditional Indian dance. It was wonderful. The dancers, all students from St Christopher’s, danced beautifully and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The whole time we were hearing mynah birds in the background. Amazing. This was a real highlight of the trip. After dinner on the lawn we got in a bus and headed back to the hotel. The bus had curtains so we didn’t see much outside the bus but Ron pulled his back and at one point a beggar with a partial arm came to the window asking for something. We really couldn’t tell what he was saying but the image is one that will stick with me for a while.

This day was wonderful. I finally got outside the hotel, got to experience some of the city and made some new friends.

On to part five

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