Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Making Lemonade from Chinese Lemons

Life on the outskirts of Shanghai carries with it certain inescapable realities. One of those is distance. There are approximately twenty million people who live in the greater Shanghai area, and although the population density here is truly remarkable, you still have to account for some spreading out. Of course, there are plenty of amenities close to home, but several of the things that we teachers enjoy from time to time(western restaurants, English-language establishments, museums, cultural whatnot, and the like) are right down in the heart of Shanghai.

Getting to that means bus rides. Now, I have nothing against buses per se; I rode a bus to and from Henry Wise Wood High School every day when I was younger, and I have served three tours of duty in taking the Greyhound from Calgary, Alberta to Greenville, South Carolina (and let me tell you what, there's nothing like riding on a bus for three unshowered, unshaven, barely-sleeping days to give you some perspective on people). The Chinese bus rides are just rather longish (generally between sixty and ninety minutes one way), and I often don't have a seat, which means that I'm either wedged into a corner with people jabbing me in the side with their elbows, or I'm trying not to fall down as the driver shifts from third to park without a clutch. Or both.

That's where technology comes in. Three years ago, I succumbed to the pressures of society and purchased for myself an Apple iPod Mini. This device is now hopelessly outdated and obsolete, but my geriatric MP3 player and I have powered our way through many a boring bus ride. In my opinion, an iPod is to a Chinese bus ride as general anesthetic is to major surgery; they make a painful necessity bearable.

I listen to music sometimes, though the bus is usually too noisy for me to properly appreciate the delicate strains of a Bach organ fugue. More often, I tune in to class. I've worked my way through both semesters of David Calhoun's History lectures from Covenant (found at www.covenantseminary.edu) and am currently chewing on John Frame's class on Apologetics at Reformed (www.rts.edu), both of which have been excellent. Other teachers here listen to the latest lesson from Mark Minnick, Jim Berg, or someone else. Elijah would spend his time practicing Chinese.

Whatever you happen to enjoy, it helps pass the kilometers. Even if you are standing in the corner.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I don't know what it is, but it likes ESPN2...

Sorry for the lack of posting last week . . . I'm a bad Dave! Bad! One of my big goals for this term was to post every week, so hopefully getting it out in front like this will spur me on. It's not like nothing ever happens here.

I gave my first test last week, and as bonus questions, asked them to write a sentence using one of the slang phrases that I've taught them. A few students got them right. Many more failed in spectacular ways. Most of the difficulties centered around the phrase "couch potato." Seems simple enough, right? Maybe to you. A few of the (erroneous) attempts at capturing this phrase follow.
- He is a couch tomato.
- I was a sofa tomato.
- We should not be couch pasta (I know it's some kind of starchy food!)
- We are sofa and Pomato on the holiday.
- My sister likes laying Tomato, she always sitting on sofa.
- Tom A Couch Plato (These are not the ultimate Doritos, but merely shadowy copies of the true form).
- you watch TV, you will be crouch potato (Looks like the three-point stance to me)

And, in a guess at "baby boomer":
- After the 2th World War, many boom babies borned.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Does this tie go with these bunny slippers?

One of the quirks that I've observed here in China is the Chinese attitude toward clothes. Sure, my students wear clothes -- often the same clothes for a week at a time -- but it's what they wear that strikes me as a bit . . . different.

For one thing, the Chinese seem to love uniforms. Everyone has a uniform. The nurses have uniforms, the guards have uniforms, the cleaning ladies have uniforms, the gardeners have uniforms. Des wanted to go to a hair salon last week to get her hair trimmed, and every single man working there (it was a big place) was wearing what looked for all the world like some sheriff's uniform, complete with spangled epilauts and (I kid you not) holsters. Holsters with scissors and combs in them.

For another thing, they just don't really seem that concerned about what they wear around. I've never been to Europe, but I've been told that in Paris, Berlin, Rome and the like, people tend to dress up to go out, even if it's just to do some shopping. Here, it's kind of the opposite, at least for men. It's not at all unusual to see men walking around wearing sleeveless t-shirts ("wife-beaters," as we called 'em in college) or even no shirt at all. Sure, it's hot here. But I hardly ever saw anyone in Greenville doing that.

The thing that really threw me for a loop, though, were the pajamas. They wear pajamas outside. I've kind of gotten used to seeing groups of girls in their PJs and slippers wandering over to the campus store at 8:00 PM. I had sort of assumed it was a kid thing. After all, they are pretty close to their rooms. Yesterday, though, I learned differently. Des and I were riding the bus down to Puxi. At the Century Mart stop (about 10 AM), the doors opened and man scrambled on. He was wearing blue plaid cotton jammies (button-up shirt and pants) and a pair of blue flip-flops. He rode the bus down four or five stops and hopped off. This guy was probably forty years old.

So I'm thinking about teaching next week in my bathrobe. I mean, why not? The students might appreciate that I was finally coming around to their point of view.