Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Love of Prince: A Fairy Tale by Betty and Jesse

This is one of the fairy tales that my students wrote for me last week. Enjoy :-)

Long long ago, in a desolate castle, there lived a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry. Tom always wanted to eat Jerry, but he never succeeded. Jerry hadn’t eaten anything because of escaping from Tom. In the midnight, Jerry was so hungry that she must look for something to eat. She shambled along the wall. Suddenly she saw a cheesecake beside Tom who was sleeping. Though she was very afraid of Tom, the delicious cheesecake attracted her very much. As she touched the cheesecake, Tom rushed to Jerry and caught her. Tom ate Jerry at once.

Suddenly, a shadow fell over the whole castle. The desolate castle became magnificent. Tom changed into a handsome prince. He reminded everything. One hundred years ago, he lived with Jerry who is a very beautiful girl, but a witch was very jealous of their happy life. She put a curse on them that prince was changed to a cat and Princess was changed to a mouse. They would be opposite forever until Tom eats Jerry.

Tom was so regretful, but everything happened. Later, Tom killed the witch. He never falls in love with other girls in his rest of life.

Moral: True love is beyond life.

Dave (struggling to hold back tears)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Happiness is a Frog Prince

This past week has been crazy-running-around time. Between Thanksgiving, class observations, two writing assignments, and a test, I confess that I haven't thought much about the blog.

On the other hand, all that student writing provides me with ample material for your amusement . . . or at least, for my amusement. If you don't think it's funny, get your own blog ;-)

We've been studying fairy tales, and I assigned the students to write their own fairy tales. Some of those were hilarious. Here are a few choice lines. Those crazy words make so much difference!

-The farmer saw an injured snake, and decided to help the snake to its feet. (one of those pre-Fall snakes, apparently)
-The demon laughed and said, "I am not a true demon. I am an angle." (Whew! Just some innocent geometry . . .)
-Pam saw Cindy playing with a ball. He ran to her and pillaged the ball.

I also had some humorous responses on the test. One of the questions asked what nearly every fairy tale taught would make a person happy. The rather obvious choice, of course, is true love. One student, either from poor reading comprehension skills or truly bizzare priorities, wrote that what makes people happy is Frog Prince.

I mean, it's on my Christmas list. Stay tuned for some fine examples of student fairy tales.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Seeing double

**SURGEON LT.’S WARNING** Due to the potentially boring and soporific content of this blog post (i.e. grammar), please do not read while operating heavy machinery. Come to think of it, you probably shouldn’t read anything while operating heavy machinery, except for, say, instructions for said machinery.

One of the projects that Dave and I are working on this year is a massive vocabulary list to use as a foundation for our two-year English curriculum. We hope to use this list to teach our students some of the most frequent and useful English words. That’s when we found [drumroll, please] . . . the Oxford 3000. Yes, the Oxford 3000! The keywords of the Oxford 3000 have been carefully selected by a group of language experts and experienced teachers to fulfill all of your vocabulary needs! . . . Well, maybe not, but it’s a pretty good list, and while 3000 words might seem like overload, have no fear, the list begins with a and includes words like Thursday, November, and teacher. So we’re hoping to pare it down quite a bit by finding out what words most of the students already know.

The past few days, we’ve been talking a lot about words. And once again I’m reminded of how difficult this crazy language is. Take the word light, for example. Did you know that it has no fewer than 15 different definitions? Or how about words like subject and record. They can be nouns; they can be verbs. We don’t change the spelling if we use them as verbs or nouns, but we do pronounce them differently (by emphasizing the first or second syllable). Or how about those countable and uncountable nouns? (We can have three apples, but not three rices.) Those really trip up the Chinese, who have neither plural forms of nouns nor articles. And what about nouns that can be both countable and uncountable? (The three gossips spread gossip all over town.)

But I think nothing is more troublesome than the word double. The basic meaning is simple, but the nuances in usage are a nightmare. You name a part of speech, it’s there. (The Oxford 3000 lists it as adj., det., adv., n., v.) According to the American Heritage ESL Dictionary, it has 18 different definitions of its own, not to mention the trail of other entries listed after it (double-breasted, double-check, double-cross, double-digit, double standard, etc.). And I can’t just ignore it—it’s everywhere. Can you double that? I need that on the double! Would you like double cheese? Give him a double dose. It doubles as a paperweight. Still haven't quite figured out how to approach it, though.


**Photo: A Chinese wedding cake with a traditional wedding wish on top: "Double Happiness!"

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Friday: Round Two

We had just been prodded, poked, weighed, measured, and ultrasounded (see "Friday: Round One"). We were hungry and restless, so we headed out for our trip to YuYuan (or, in English, Yu Garden).

I'd heard about Yu Garden plenty of times from the girls; apparently it's something of a shopper's paradise made up of little stalls and big stores all selling pretty well everything you can imagine. Not really being the shopping type, that description didn't excite me much. But the girls kept talking about it, and since we were already well down into Shanghai proper, I figured I might as well go and see what all of the fuss was about.

It's really a lovely place. I don't know the origins of the area, but it looks like a large complex of original pre-Communist buildings (which, outside of the Bundt, are less common in Shanghai than I could wish for), so the architecture is all classic Asian: sloped roofs, black tiles, and big wooden beams with characters painted on them. That was enough to ingratiate Yu Garden to me, even if it is just a glorified mall.

Once inside, we chowed down on some traditional Asian McDonalds food and headed out to look at the shops. This can be a bit hard to imagine if you've never been outside North America. In the West (at least, most places I've been), you tend to have several big stores. Here, you see dozens of tiny stores (and tiny is no exaggeration; some were just big enough for a display counter and a chair), most of which sell the same thing. If you want to buy a scarf, there are probably twenty tiny shops that sell scarves. If you want fancy chopsticks, please check out any of our fifty chopstick specialists, most of whom will be carrying the exact same items. It's kind of weird at first, but you get used to it.

My main interest was in "authentic" Chinese items; art, gifts, clothes, etc. Of course we wanted to get some gifts, but I think that traditionally-styled Chinese art is very beautiful, and I just like to look at it. Although I did get one bit of art as a present for someone, my personal acquisitions consisted of incense (to freshen up the room a bit), a deck of playing cards (purchased because every card features a picture of Our Glorious Leader, and the top card on the deck had a shot of Mao with the word JOKER stamped across it in big letters), and some kind of hacked Nintendo DS game.

The main activity in Chinese-style shopping is bargaining. When someone (particularly a rich-and-stupid-looking foreigner) strolls into a shop, picks up an item, and asks the price, the discerning Chinese shopkeeper will quote a price three (or more) times higher than what they are willing to sell it for. The seller and buyer then engage in verbal fisticuffs: the former bewailing his poverty and the needs of his family, while the latter decries the apalling greed of the former and repeatedly insists that the item is really worth nothing at all, and that he is interested in it only by way of boredom or charity. Even if you don't want anything, merely entering a 10' zone surrounding the seller is enough to make them start shouting "Hello! Hello! Looky-looky! Best price!"

If you don't spend at least two solid minutes arguing about the price of something, you're getting ripped off. I learned this with my deck of playing cards; I asked the price, and she said 40. "Si shi [forty]?" I scoffed, "Ar shi [twenty]!" "OK," she replied. D'oh! I should have paid five! The negotiations often become personal. When I was haggling with the seller over my DS game, the seller began to reinforce her offers by telling me that I was very handsome, and she was offering me the handsome price.

Fellow teacher Paul Wagner learned the hard way that even attempting the ridiculous is no guarantee of being left alone. We were standing by a ladies' clothing store, waiting for my wife to finish purchasing a jacket, when Paul made the tactical error of glancing in the direction of a fancy chopsticks shop ten feet away. The shopkeeper immediately lunged across the counter and thrust a few of her choice products under Paul's nose. "Very nice! Very beautiful! Only 350!"

Attempting to escape, Paul mumbled "Tai kue le, tai kue le" (too expensive).

"What's your best price?" countered the seller.

"Uh . . ." responded Paul, thinking not quite fast enough, "50."

"50?" the woman fairly screamed, feigning a myo-cardial infarction, "No, no! True best price?"

"50," repeated Paul stubbornly, hoping that the woman would move off. His hope was in vain. For the next fifteen minutes, Paul argued with the chopsticks-seller. Each round, she would offer a slightly lower price. Each round, Paul would doggedly reiterate that he would not pay more than fifty. After the first such exchange, he began to add that he did not really want the chopsticks at all and that he was just waiting for someone. Several times, he attempted to leave the shop area, only to be seized by the diminuitive owner and physically dragged back to the bargaining counter. When Des was ready to leave with her coat, Paul was the not-so-proud owner of a fine pair of jade chopsticks, purchased for a mere fifty RMB. And I have to say, he's an inspiration to us all.


Monday, November 5, 2007

Friday: Round One

One of the delightful Oriental cultural experiences available to those working here is -- you guessed it -- the visa application process. My colleagues and I were informed a while back that we would all have our files submitted for the "Foreign Expert" qualification. Now, this is actually very helpful; it means that we won't have to have our visas renewed every ninety days, and it just looks good sitting there in your drawer, you know what I mean? Of course, we had a few papers to submit: a current resume, photocopies of all of our academic and professional qualifications, passports, eight 3x5cm photos, and a health certification. And we had to submit them by the next day. C'est la vie, as the French say. At least, they do when they're in China.

The problem, of course, is the health certification, which none of us had. So the school cancelled all of our classes this past Friday and herded us onto a bus at (or shortly after) 7:00 AM. We were going to get physicals!

The bus drive lasted for approximately 7,000 years -- years which seemed longer because the bus was made for much shorter people than I am and because we had been instructed not to eat before we went. Some of us were a bit hungry. Matt told us that he was dying (this statement was shouted down by the nurses, who set about explaining to him the vast reserves of energy that his body possesses. Such killjoys, nurses). It probably also didn't help that the driver (not our usual guy) appeared to have a rather dim acquaintance with the area. At one point we drove half a block down a one-way street (the wrong way, of course). This wouldn't have been so bad, except that it was under construction. And that there was no place to turn around. And the bus doesn't really reverse so well. At one point, we were moving construction barriers around so that the bus could drive on top of the roadwork-in-progress in order to escape.

We arrived at the Foreign Clinic at 9:30ish, and were (in the greatest medical tradition) given forms to fill out. We did so. And waited. After another hour or so, during which Matt claimed that he could feel his stomach chewing its way out of his body, we were whisked into another room and given numbers.

They took us, one at a time, into the Back Hallway and gave us our Approved Medical Attire, which consisted of a one-size-fits-all bathrobe and little purple footies to place over your shoes. The problem, of course, was that one size does not fit all. At least, it does not fit me. I was deeply grateful that I was allowed to retain my pants (as, no doubt, was everyone else). I was then seated in the hallway, clutching my form, with my bathrobe ties creaking ominously. It was Foreign Expert Medical Exam Time!

My blood was taken by a hematological choreographer who alternated between stabbing, drawing, telling people to "press hardly!" on their wounds, and hurrying them out of the room, all the while maintaining a pleasant expression. I was given a chest X-ray by a couple of technicians who were (rather ominously) laughing as they dismissed me. My blood pressure was taken, although the cuff didn't fit (they solved this problem by jamming up as high as it would go on my elbow). I was given a vision test. I received an ultrasound (!) during which it was confirmed that I do, in fact, have a liver. A serious-looking doctor listened to my breathing. And finally, I was given an EKG (a rather off-putting experience, if you've never had one; I kept expecting the doctor to unveil a huge switch connecting the clamps all over my body to a lighting rod, or to say something like "I've just sucked one year of your life away. I might one day go as high as five . . ."). The whole time, the various clinic personnel were marking off boxes on my form as though I was part of some kind of medical scavenger hunt ("Person with a liver: check!").

To tell you the truth, though, I wasn't really bothered by anything except for the last blank on my form. I was greatly relieved when they told me that I could get dressed and I gave the form back with that blank unfilled. I just don't know that a gynecology exam would agree with me.