ren sun ren hai – ‘people mountain people sea’

It was with great curiousity, I heard Evon (my Chinese hostess in Ipoh) tell me about her student use of the Chinese phrase “ren sun ren hai” (Mandarin) which means “a crowded place”. I was intrigued to learn that Evon and Veronica Woo had learnt this phrase  from reading their student essays.

However, I experienced the full meaning and impact  of this saying during my time at  SMJK Poi Lam in late September 2010. How?

  1. I came from a farm in SE Australia, where the nearest town has 150 residents, to  Ipoh, Malaysia where the populations is 2 million!
  2. I teach at Hawkesdale P12 College  where class sizes of 26 students is the maximum, (but on average, my classes number 15) to SMJK Poi Lam where classes average 40+!
  3. Whilst in Ipoh, I presented to 120 teachers spread across two rooms
  4. … and had two classes of 80+students!

However, it was my great pleasure to be able to work in this ‘ crowded place’,  with the secondary teachers from this school and from a nearby Chinese primary school. The numbers involved and the setting across two rooms presented a challenge. Before, further explanation and reflection, I would like to sincerely thank Veronica Woo for her fantastic, conscientious and diligent work in ensuring that I could come to her school and that all flowed smoothly. Her commitment to organising the finest detail was amazing and I personally, learnt so much from working with her. I would also like to thank my hostess, Yew Yan Koon and to her wonderful family for all their hospitality in accommodating myself and my husband Bruce and ensuring that we had the best possible time whilst in Ipoh. T o the  school administrators of SMJK Poi Lam and the  PTA Chairman and Treasurer of  for being so supportive of Veronica’s plan to bring me to Ipoh and taking the risk of allowing me to show you some of the fabulous online tools that can be used to connect students and enable them to communicate in amazing ways. For the wonderful lunch given as a farewell gesture and the memorable gifts given, again thank you.

Further challenges:-

  • I was the only native English speaker. My audience spoke English as their second, third or fourth language.
  • Mine was a white caucasian culture, theirs was Chinese, Malay, Indian etc
  • I was the oldest person there! (not sure what effect that produced though!)
  • teachers had mixed abilities when using technology
  • I was uncertain as to whether each had an email address
  • needed a backup plan should the internet fail

Yet we all a common purpose – we love to teach and we love to learn!

As I had two hours to work with the staff, I spent the first hour or so, sharing stories, online tools and resources from my classroom with a formal powerpoint presentation. As it is always more interesting to participate in a ‘hands on’ session, I had also organised activities based on wordle, google doc, voicethread and MS photostory. However, there were 120 teachers involved and as they needed access to a computer each, they were spread between two rooms – some on laptops and on desktops.

Veronica, my Malaysian colleague and PD Co-ordinator had hooked up a video camera to film my presentation in real time to those in the room above. When it came to the ‘hands on’, the google doc would not work (fear this may have had something to do with number of people involved and their internet speed). Instead, we worked with creating a wordle on Ipoh, where staff were asked to tell me what I would see, hear or taste in Ipoh. I like wordle- a word cloud creator-  as it can be used in all levels of education, with all technological ability levels and all subject areas – 

  • supports visual analyis
  • creates attractive flyers
  • brainstorm
  •  introduce new terms
  •  summarise topics
  •  even as puzzles (‘spot the odd ones out”!) etc

It does not require any user names, passwords, email contacts etc and best of all is a free online tool.  The more complex part was saving it as a jpg, by getting a ‘print screen’ and pasting it into MS Paint and then saving it as a jpg image for use in a presentation, on flyers or in an online space eg blog.

Reflections on the session:-

What worked well:-

  1. Setting up the links and some instructions on my blog – they have a present and  future point of reference to try and go back to. (those who are quick to complete, can go on to the next tool and try it)
  2. My initial presentation with lots of images and samples of student work.
  3. Most teachers were able to create a wordle and many made it into an image.

What did not work so well!

  • 2 hours is a long session
  • The language barrier – I need to speak slowly and succintly and know that at times, I started to talk too quickly again. 
  • participants split between two classes (although the video camera could beam to me the class above, so I could see their concentration levels.
  • The fact that I only got one hands on tool demonstrated
  • Next time, I would start with a wallwisher wall. This would be  setup with a link on my blog (as they all seemed to find my blog)  to get each participant to comment eg how I use technology in the classroom, why I should use technology in the classroom or what I want to know about using technology in the classroom. This is  an easy activity, makes participants use another free online tool that seems to cope with unlimited simultaneous users and is one that any level and subject could find a use for.
  • The default in MS Paint to save images appeared to be a bmp, not jpg as required for online use.
  • Using the crop feature in MS Paint to crop the pic was a little complex for some.
  • Test out fully the use of a google doc as a back channel or perhaps use wallwisher as the backchannel and I could go back later and answer questions there. (Wallwisher copes with 80 users on it at once and possibly more)

However, I loved the experience, have benefitted enormously from it, been challenged  by language and cultural differences and have learnt to improve upon it all. My grateful thanks to the wonderful staff at SMJK Poi Lam School and to my fantastic hosts Veronica and Evon and their respective families.

3 responses to “ren sun ren hai – ‘people mountain people sea’

  1. Pingback: World Wide News Flash

  2. Hi! Anne
    Greetings to you from Malaysia. Thanks for your sincere word of thanks to all parties concerned via your e-mails and blog.

    You mentioned something concerning language barriers in this blog. If I may enlighten you, most teachers in Malaysia do have a certain level of English proficiency in order to qualify as one. For your information, English is being taught as a second language in Malaysia.

    From a TESL teacher’s perspective, I think the language problem here will be more of having to do with getting accustomed to the accent of an English native speaker. That being the possible reason why speaking slowly will help make the speaker’s speech more comprehensible to the listener.

    Yet another hindrance will be in the area of English for Specific Purposes. Whereby ICT in Education is considered as a specialised field by itself, there are definitely jargons that one has to deal with in grasping certain concepts or ideas. And all this would definitely require more pauses on the speaker’s part in order to allow more time for the listeners to make sense of what is being said or to absorb.

    Well, I do hope what I’ve mentioned here does help in your understanding when dealing with our Malaysian audience, especially in an education setting. Will give you more feedback later.

  3. Pingback: Highlights of 2010 | On an e-Journey with Generation Y

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