We have settled into a rhythmic homeschooling pattern where in the morning, Joshua and Jimmy work with online programs in English, Chinese and math. Joshua writes in his diary while afternoons are free to enjoy the outdoors. While time4learning is loading, Joshua does math or language exercises in IXL which was recommended by a homeschooling couple we met in Manila with four kids.
We have a new favorite app that solves the long standing dilemma of being stuck in a place with no English bookstores. Getepic offers hundreds of children’s books online and the range of choices is amazing! No more hankering for a quick escape to a big international city or looking in frustration for English books on Taobao.
In the afternoon, we explore the mountains nearby which are filled with rows upon rows of beautiful rubber trees that have tiny bowls attached onto each trunk ready to catch the day’s sap. Upon research, however, I found there is a sad story behind these huge tracts of rubber and banana plantations that blanket the slopes of Xishuangbanna. In pursuit of the almighty profit, the rich, diverse jungles gave way to a monocrop that is destroying the environment, the reversal of which entails much political and community will.
The Chinese word for rubber tree has the same sound as banana so when Jason kept pointing at the xiangjiao, I couldn’t figure out where the heck were the banana trees until the wires connected in my brain that this was one of those common occurrences studying Chinese. It always happens to a hapless learner – those pesky homonyms but to the native speaker, the tones and characters are definitively different. Jason is not amused when I ask him to keep repeating the two words until I could distinguish the difference because even if I listen a million times, it’s the same banana to my stubborn, untrained ears.
Anyway, I remember in school when we were asked to memorize which products and raw materials were produced in regions and countries around the world like rubber, copper, wheat, etc. which I’ve all completely forgotten. I didn’t know then what Joshua and Jimmy saw for themselves now walking in the forest – botany and social studies alive. Jason talked about the dangers of having a single crop culture degrading the quality of the soil, making it dry.
Together with Hudou, Jason’s friend and partner in the tea business, we drove through kid-unfriendly, vomit-inducing winding intestinal roads up and down the mountain to procure tea leaves. The paths to the wild tea trees themselves were even less accessible like they were secrets to be guarded. A sumptuous lunch of worms gathered from the insides of bamboo stalks waited for us in the village. To a junk food addict like me, the combined crunchiness and saltiness made it like a nutritious alternative to potato chips that went well with a bowl of steamed rice.
The random mountain trails we find close by have me convinced that life here would be hard to beat by any place in the Philippines or China. The mild weather, affordability, the urban and the natural weaving in an unlikely harmony. It’s a wonder people are not flocking in droves and there are real estate projects like ghost towns pockmarking Everywhere, China. Perhaps that’s another plus side to new recruits in the area looking forward to an nth boom, figuring out how landlocked regions turn their weaknesses into an advantage.
Now, if only I can find other homeschoolers.
These are examples of treasures from Getepic. I think I am having as much if not more fun than Joshua and Jimmy opening these gems. I sometimes avoid clicking on the books that I know they like but I don’t because of the writing. What I do is what I do even with actual books: I try to hide the ones I don’t like so I can read the ones I do. I don’t do that all the time but I try to sneak in the ones I favor even though I’m an advocate of self-directed learning and freedom of choice. Since I’m the one reading the books out loud, some bonus for the audio talent, please.