Wednesday, September 26, 2007

T-Shirts I Have Seen This Week

A shirt with a picture of Snoopy (who is extremely popular here), underneath which are the words "Sometimes I feel compelled to justify my existence . . ."

A pink shirt bearing the picture of a party balloon and the words "Microtube Technology? Piece of Cake!"

A sweatshirt with a leaping bunny, his rump emblazoned with a capital A, shouting "I want to be your dog!"

A shirt (worn by one of my more tiny and adorable female students) with the word STUD written across it in flowery sequined letters.

Kinda makes you wonder if your friend's Chinese tattoo really says "Love," doesn't it?


P.S. I would love a shirt like the one in the picture :-D

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chinese proverbs on books and learning

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.

A book tightly shut is but a block of paper.

Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.

He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.

Typhoon Wipha

Our students were very disappointed in the typhoon today because it didn't give us enough rain or wind to convince our school to cancel classes. Right now we're getting some rain off and on and of course we keep getting burst of wind. But so far, the typhoon has steered clear of us. We'll see what happens next.

Last night several of us had tickets to go to a Women's World Cup match in downtown Shanghai, but we were asked to stay home. (Apparently someone in the government called our program's administrator to tell him that all foreigners should stay at the campus.) People have been evacuated, but those have mostly been people in mobile homes or dilapidated housing. We're all snug as a bug in our nice apartment building, teaching during the day and then staying dry the rest of the time.

Thanks for thinking about us. We'll continue to give updates if anything changes.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Sold My Soul on E-Bay (no, not mine!)

I Sold My Soul On Ebay
This book was a gift from a friend. Actually, as far as that goes, I’m not really sure what you’re trying to communicate, Katherine. Are you suggesting that I would identify with the author? That I should give it a try? That I already have?

OK, kidding, kidding. In fact (as Katherine suspected) I enjoyed reading this account of a self-described “friendly atheist” Hemant Mehta who sells service attendance to the highest bidder online. He goes to a very, very wide variety of assemblies, ranging from traditional to liberal to emergent to parochial. He then critiques each of the services that he attends on how well (in his opinion) it reached him.

In general, Mehta’s broad assessment of the need to ‘walk the walk,’ particularly in meeting people’s physical needs, was a valid comment (though overstated). I also appreciated his oft-repeated refrain that there often seemed to be a vast gulf between the current practitioners of the movement in question and its founder. What Mehta writes about Ted Haggard was extremely interesting to me in light of recent events. Of course, hindsight’s 20/20, but the things that bothered him about Haggard should, I think, have bothered him.

On the other hand, he was entranced by Joel Osteen and was delighted that such a high-profile leader has been able to set aside doctrinal issues to get to the real heart of things. This, unfortunately, misses the point entirely: without doctrine, there are no real issues. In addition, the things Mehta heard that he was most disturbed by were often things that lie at the core of true exposition (such as his distress at the line “every knee will bow”). He is so well-entrenched in an atheist worldview that he entirely misses the significance of some of the things he heard, reasoning that since “that’s not my truth, there must be some other explanation.” It apparently never occurs to him that there may in fact be a truth that is truer than his.

Overall, it was worth a read and provoked some valuable self-examination. Thanks, Kat.


P.S. If you're feeling a bit lost by some of my vocabulary choices, I understand your frustration. There are, unfortunately, some things that I can't just come right out and say on this blog. Hopefully you understand.

The Great Divorce (no, not ours!)

OK, people. You must read this book. And I mean read it next, not just put it on your list. If I could just pick one recommendation from all summer, it would be this. Let me enumerate the reasons that you, and not only I, must read this book:

1) It’s short. Some people quail at reading lists, envisioning all the time gone by. I read this entire book out loud to my wife in about four hours. So can you. Well, unless you don’t have a wife.

2) It’s different. I mean, it’s a book about a guy who takes a bus from hell to heaven. Top that.

3) It’s by C.S. Lewis. Maybe you don’t like some of Lewis’s ideas. Neither do I. But for crying out loud, why would you only read books you agree with? Lewis is worth reading, if for no other reason than for his absolute mastery of concise language and his ability to use narrative to cut instantly to the heart of a problem.

4) It’s brilliant. Lewis manages to capture (in my opinion, far better than anyone else I’ve ever read, including Bunyan) what’s at the heart of life after death. He masterfully explains why and how people choose which direction they go, and he illustrates his points with riveting dialogues between the damned and those (now exalted) who were their friends in life.

5) It’s thought-provoking. His ideas force you to back to the text (no, not Lewis’s text) in order to reconcile what exactly we are told about these things. Does he get it all right? I don’t think so. Lewis (as in much of his writing) places too much emphasis on philosophical symmetry. But for those of us who share a similar background, it’s a welcome and necessary challenge.

So open up a new window in your web browser, go to Amazon, and order this book. Now. When it arrives, cancel your plans for the evening (or better yet, gather a few friends) and sit down to think about what comes after you die.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chinese proverb of the day

Chinese proverb
Don't open a shop unless you like to smile.

My version
Don't teach English in China unless you like to speak slowly and repeat yourself.

So maybe it's lacking that proverbial pithiness. But it's so true!


Saturday, September 15, 2007

The full Chinese experience

Well, last night was Friday, what I like to call "Date Night" (even though the real date night typically happens only one Friday a month). Dave and I planned to go into Zhou Pu for dinner and to buy some groceries. At lunch, the duo became a trio when a new acquaintance, Jim, asked if he could go with us. Jim is one of the very first male Chinese students to form a friendship with us. (Students in our particular program are all female, and most male students do not usually strike up conversations with us--we're not sure why. It may be standoffishness or maybe just lower English ability.)

But Jim is decidedly different. He first met Dave out at the track and field and began a conversation, which led to lunch, which led to a group outing to Zhou Pu. Unlike most students, Jim is not from Shanghai but from a about 5 hours north, so he is unable to go home during the weekends. The school looks like a ghost town after 3:00 on Fridays, so we were happy to be able to spend time with Jim and keep him from a lonely evening in the dormitory.

Going out with us also gave Jim the opportunity to practice his English. (And whatever Jim lacks in vocabulary and grammar knowledge he makes up for in bravery--he certainly doesn't shy away from trying to use his English.) Even during the few days between seeing Jim on the track and eating lunch with him, his skill had already improved. Friday evening would stretch him even further and would give us a good lesson in culture (and as it ended up, patience).

Upon entering the town, we asked Jim where he wanted to eat, only to discover that he wasn't hungry. (Hadn't we told him we were going there for dinner?) So we walked around a bit to work up an appetite. After a while, we all decided to find some Chinese food, Jim leading the way to a good restaurant. He felt responsible to show us around, but unfortunately, because he doesn't live in this area, he knew his way around even less than we did. Finally we made our way to a familiar restaurant, one that has a dish that we actually know how to order. This is when Chinese regionalisms became apparent.

Again, Jim wanted to help by ordering for us, but he didn't know what the food was called. (In his area, they apparently have different words for it.) This is what led to what I like to call the full Chinese experience: taking 5 times longer than you expect to order something, only to then get something other than what you ordered. In our normal, insulated state of being around Americans and Chinese who speak English quite well, we don't get to experience this very often. I felt like the night was a success, really. You shouldn't live in China and never experience these kinds of things. How dull would that be?

The real fun came when we started back for home and asked Jim if he would come back with us or stay and visit an internet cafe (Jim had told us he likes to "surf the net" in Zhou Pu):

Us: "It is time for us to go back home."
Jim: "Oh, yes, it is late."
Us: "So, will you come back with us, or will you stay here and surf the net?"
Jim: "Huh?"
Us: "So, will you come back with us, or will you stay here and surf the net?"
Jim: "Yes, it is time for you to go home. You are very busy."
Us: "So will you go back to the school, or will you stay here?"
Jim: "Yes."
We stop asking questions and wait to see if Jim will get on the bus.

When we got back, Dave and I just laughed. It was like being on a first date where both people are trying to think of things to do, each trying to do what the other person wants even though they don't really know what that is. You end up feeling like neither of you actually did what you wanted. But, hao, it's ok. We wanted food, and Jim wanted to practice English and get out of the dorm. But as we patiently helped each other, we get something more: friendship.

And, actually, what I've come to learn about teaching in China is that friendship with students is definitely part of the experience.


Friday, September 7, 2007

First few weeks

Several helpful souls have given me rules for the first few weeks of teaching: Don't smile. Don't laugh. Be very strict because it's always easier to lighten up than to get tougher toward the end of the semester. Not sure about the last one. But as far as the first two go, I'm failing miserably.

I know this because the first day, when I asked my students to stand up, introduce themselves, and tell us all a few things they like to do outside of class, three of them came out with comments like, "I hope we will become best friends!" "You are very beautiful!" "I love your smile." I sigh, knowing that a dutifully dour-faced teacher would not be subjected to such heinous words. Words that spell impending doom for class discipline.

They certainly don't make it easy for me. What's a teacher supposed to do when a student stands up to introduce herself and says, "Hello. My name is Alice. And I like to eat meat." (Fortunately for Alice, she also likes to play sports, so her meat-eating is not a problem, she promises us.)

Seriously, though. I can't help but smile when I look at all of these fresh faces, surprisingly eager to learn and to get to know their foreign teachers. Today was Teacher Day in China. I have received M&Ms, Dove chocolate, and two Hello Kitty lollipops. I love my students. And I cannot help but smile and look for ways to speak with them and learn about them and teach them what I can about this crazy English language.