Thursday, December 31, 2009


None of my students have shown up for class, my iPod's playing Michael Jackson through the school's sound system, and I'm growing a beard.

(More) Practice

I was speaking Chinese—"{When I was little, my mom—}"—when one of the teachers leaned over and told me, "I give you permission to speak English." She laughed. "Now I know how you feel when I'm speaking English and you can't understand me."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snow-and-Ice-Covered Kaifaqu

The sidewalk of much of Kaifaqu is made of either polished marble or slate—I'm not sure which. When the sun shines on it, it sparkles nicely, which adds a charm to this area of town, I'm sure. Yesterday, however, snow fell and quickly accumulated on the ground. As you can imagine, this made the sidewalk incredibly slippery. I saw people almost bite it several times. In addition to that mess, the stairs of many places were not shoveled or sprinkled with salt. One set of stairs I went down was almost entirely covered in ice.

"What if you fall and hurt yourself?"

"You have to take care of yourself."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Snow White

In the Kaifaqu library today, I found a Chinese translation of Donald Barthelme's Snow White, one of my favorite books.

  • The Chinese title has two possible translations, I've been told:

    (1) Princess Snow White's Next Story*
    which translation is disappointing, as it allows the events in the more familiar (read "Disney") tale to have happened


    (2) Another Edition of Princess Snow White*
    which I prefer, as it suggests a replacement for that more insipid version

    I wonder how the rest of the book is translated.

    * loosely

    High-Context(-)Language Learning

    "[B]oth classroom teaching and the teaching material itself have their limitations. A teaching material usually arranges its contents with a systematic design, and therefore is unlikely to exhaust the usages of a certain grammatical form in one unit. Generally, the teacher is supposed to explain any language point involved in the lesson and exemplify its usages in different contexts. However, owing to the limited time and language environment in class, the teacher may not be able to provide students with all relevant information. Even if possible, this requirement will largely increase the teacher's workload. Moreover, this will increase students' pressure and language anxiety as well, which may lead to unsuccessful teaching in the end."
    A Handbook of Chinese Basic Forms Focused on Communication, page 2

    Monday, December 28, 2009


    Found out tonight that the Chinese slang for "penis" is xiǎodìdi, "little brother."

    Sunday, December 27, 2009

    A Few from Christmas

    my three dads: Uncle Miles, Uncle Tim, and Uncle Preston with Baby Jasmine

    a slow dance or a cried-on shoulder?

    what ya got?

    lit up

    Saturday, December 26, 2009


    Every other Saturday a woman comes to clean our entire apartment. The total cost is 50 RMB, only 7.32 US.

    Friday, December 25, 2009

    From Wednesday's Christmas Party

    me teachin' students how to make paper stand-up trees

    Oren, the youngest of the young

    Thursday, December 24, 2009

    Christmas Eve in China

    Time to invite some coworkers over, get drunk, and watch the first Harry Potter movie with Brad Neely's audio.

    Wednesday, December 23, 2009


    No more Korean lessons with Snow, I learned from Dawn yesterday. Snow's finishing up college and spending the next year preparing to get a job. It's too bad because I used to get a lot of ideas during Korean lessons—namely, on how to slow down and check students' understanding. Either because Snow could speak only a little English or because she refused to speak what she did know, which reasons both worked out to the same limitation, she asked only, "{Do you understand?}"

    "{No, I don't.}"

    Tuesday, December 22, 2009

    A Couple Useful Phrases

    When you startle somebody, you can ask, "{Did I step on/catch your tail?}"

    To call someone {two hundred fifty} is to call them crazy.

    Monday, December 21, 2009


    My favorite class to teach is SBS4. This is the one composed, now, of seven Chinese students, one Korean student, three Russian students, and one student born in China who lived most of his life in Canada before moving back here. It's not that their English is the best of those I teach—it is—but that they actually tell me when they don't understand something. This is unusual here, at least from what I've been told and from what I've seen in my own classes.

    You spend an hour writing the lesson plan and later ten minutes explaining in superb but also simple English the subject, and then you make the mistake of asking, "Do you understand?" at which the students nod their heads. Of course they do. You've done such a beautiful job, and you're such a wonderful teacher, right?

    No. To tell the teacher you don't understand after he's made all this effort is to take away his face or to point out your own stupidity (I should ask my students which is worse).

    But I don't want my classrooms that way. I tell all my students that it's OK if they don't understand. It took a long time, but now the SBS4 students will stop me in the middle of a lesson and explain to me not only that they don't understand but also how they don't understand.

    I purposefully switched the referent of you above.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    The Last Few Days Have Been Fever Dreams and Don Quixote


    "Have you taken medicine?"


    "You don't trust Chinese medicine?"

    "It's not that. I just never take medicine."


    "Drink hot water."

    Saturday, December 19, 2009


    The same Eastern teacher came in the office two minutes later holding a Bible. "Is this very common in America?" she asked me.


    "[Mumbled] said if I read this, I'll be less confused and a lot happier."

    "Who told you that?"

    "Somebody." She said she didn't believe in god. "Do people really believe the god is there?" She pointed up.


    "Most Chinese don't believe."

    "I know."

    Wrote a Story

    One of the new Eastern teachers came into the office today to ask how something should be translated. The phrase was wrote a story, and she wondered whether story meant a short story or a novel. I said that story could denote any length.

    She considered the age group she was to teach, around ten years old, and said, "We'd better not translate it to 'novel.'"

    "OK," I said, thinking that had resolved the issue.

    "But you can't say 'write a story' in Chinese," she said.

    I looked up in surprise. "Why not?"

    Hillary was working nearby. "You can tell a story, but we never say 'write a story,'" she said. "It sounds too weird in Chinese."

    "What if you want to talk about writing a short story?"

    "There's a problem."

    Friday, December 18, 2009


    Dawn, my younger sister and coteacher, is getting married this month. Today was her last day of work for a while. I'll miss her.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    High versus Low Context

    Today there was a two-hour meeting to go over every single detail of the upcoming Christmas party at school. Each teacher was handed a six-sheet packet of spreadsheets listing everybody's duties. Earlier in the day, I'd asked to be sent a summary of the meeting so that I could contribute. I was told, however, that it would be easier just to send me the entire list. Summarizing the meeting into a couple sentences would be too hard. And so at the meeting, Ted and I sat there for an hour while the vice principal discussed everybody's duties. I looked around the crowded room, expecting to catch somebody's eyes, but everybody was looking at their paper. Even when something didn't pertain to them, they followed right along. Everybody corrected minor errors. For example, one of my classes was listed as being taught by somebody else—no big deal, but everybody crossed out the other teacher's name and wrote in mine. Hell, I didn't even do that. We even discussed duties of people who weren't at the meeting, and the teachers took notes. The headers of the spreadsheets were named and discussed. Who would take out the trash and when, who to go to for every problem and when, why and when and of what to take pictures, what the theme of each floor would be and why, when and why to clean up the floor—these were things that had to be explained away. Everybody looked so serious, as though they would miss something if they didn't know why the temperature of the sitting-out food had to be checked every so often, even if they would be in charge of games and nowhere near the food.

    After an hour, with still an hour to go, Preston, who hadn't realized we'd been pulled into the meeting, yanked Ted and me out. "Do you have any questions?"


    You Are Who?

    One of my adult students is going to Britain in a few weeks to teach PE. Since starting, he's constantly asked how things are said in British English. It was strange, then, that he acted so surprised when tonight I said, "They don't talk like I do."

    I haven't had a Korean lesson in a long time. I want to learn South Korean Korean, and J., who I've begun calling Snow, speaks a different variant.

    Hillary grew up speaking her hometown dialect. She had to learn the Beijing version of Mandarin when she got to college. Now she teaches me.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    English Phone

    Every week we call our students to check on their English. This week we asked our Conversational English class to give us directions on some process. One of them gave me instructions for kicking a baby down the stairs.

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    A Dinner

    me 'n' Sophia, who teaches three classes with me

    pork, corn-flour dumplings, etc.

    delicious doves

    Monday, December 14, 2009


    The school has seven new Eastern teachers. They've been watching classes for the past two weeks. After this week's Conversational English, the observing teacher said something like "This was a good class. I learned a lot. You're a good teacher," which made me feel great, of course. However, I've been told repeatedly, by non-Chinese, that you can't trust a compliment here, that a compliment is in actuality a way of calling attention to a problem. The experienced staff has dealt with Westerners long enough, though, that even if the compliment–cum–vague-critical-piece-of-advice stuff is true, they should feel free to be straightforward. But do they? When is a compliment just a compliment?

    Sunday, December 13, 2009


    I can see how many bites make up my meal. I take my time.

    Article on the ajumma Resistance to Kim Jong Il


    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    More Praise for the Tiny Tots

    Tiny Tots, aka the youngest of the young, had a full review this morning, with everything they'd learned from September up to today, and the only word they had trouble with, out of the nearly fifty or so, was brown. I admit: this class has quickly become one of my favorites.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    An Alphabet behind a Nonalphabet

    When I learn a language, I split words into official and unofficial. For a word to be official, not only do I have to know what it means and how to say it, but I also have to be able to write it. This division is silly, I realize, and only points to how I've learned to value the written over the spoken. In China, I can't read, of course. There's no alphabet to learn, and even if I work hard at Chinese for the next twentyish months, I'll probably still be illiterate, but at least maybe I'll be a functioning illiterate. Chinese children use Pinyin to help them learn the pronunciation of characters. I'm not at that level yet; characters are a long way off. I thought about making my own phonetic transcription of what I learned, but I realized how obsessive I'd get about perfecting it. Learning to read Pinyin saves me from all that. Perhaps I'll have few official words here. Maybe I'll just have to learn to value the spoken after all.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Words Are Starting to Come out of Sounds

    Tonight Sophia and I had our adult students give commands to each other to get them into certain weird poses. Nothing like watching grown-ass adults do silly things in order to learn a language.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Highlights from the Lesson Plan for One of My Classes This Week

  • review simple-past forms of irregular verbs
  • have students write about their week
  • go over responses to How are you?
  • teach moonwalking
  • Tuesday, December 8, 2009


    韩怡, aka Hillary, finished her Chinese translation of "Antarctica." More on this to come.

    Monday, December 7, 2009


    There's a boy in one of my higher-level classes who's always chatting me up during break instead of talking to the other students. I suspect this is because he's the only Russian in a class otherwise filled with Chinese. It must be hard for him to make friends. He's a pretty aggressive questioner, actually, grilling me on where I've been, how much I know about math, physics, and geography. He stands too close. If I go downstairs to (I say) grab a cup of hot water, this student begins talking, in Chinese, to Dawn, who's my co for this class, or to the new teacher shadowing her. He's obviously practicing his Chinese, although we teachers aren't supposed to respond in anything but English. Every week it's another conversation I have a hard time figuring him out through.


    "Why you come to China?"

    "To teach."


    "I like China. It's a lot different from anywhere I've ever been."

    "There no money in China. You have other job?"

    "No. I don't care about the money."

    "You go to college?"


    "What you learn?"

    "I studied English."

    "You study business?"


    "Why no business? Business is money."

    "I don't like business. I like teaching."

    "There no jobs in America?"

    "There are jobs, but I want to be here."

    "You go to America. You get job and money."

    Sunday, December 6, 2009

    "The Heart Has Cleverness"

    the translation the software on my computer came up with for the Chinese meaning "two people simultaneously doing something exactly the same without consulting each other"

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    Developing Country

    Last night a couple of us smoked cigars and drank beers in the maternity ward to celebrate the birth of a Western teacher's daughter. More on this to come later, maybe in a published-elsewhere essay.

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    The Tones of shi (Frequently Used Words)

    An example of how tone affects meaning in Chinese:

    in first tone, shi means "poetry"

    in second, "ten"

    in third, "shit"

    in fourth, "to be"

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    Holiday Lesson Plan

    This week we're supposed to do a culture lesson on American fall/winter holidays. I wanna do one on Black Friday: "OK, there's the door. Now everybody try to get through at the same time!" For at least one of my classes, though, that would be just like every other day.

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009


    shīrén, "poet," literally "poem person"

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009


    Some of the best nights I had in Korea were spent watching Banco play, especially when they played at Rocky Mountain Tavern in Itaewon back on November 28, 2008.

    Been listening a lot to my brother's AM:PM, especially "Pink Pink Makeup Makeup," which I can't get out of my head.

    Downloaded "The W.A.N.D." by The Flaming Lips today (the video of which you can watch here [fuck the disabled embedding]).

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    "南极洲," a Translation to Come

    Hillary, who looked at "Antarctica" today in order to start translating it, just texted to say she didn't want to change my meaning. But I told her that it was her translation, that translating would mean change necessarily. Seems so ridiculous for one to be strict with one's texts.

    Sunday, November 29, 2009


    Dàjiě just told me, "Good morning," the first English I've ever heard her speak.

    Saturday, November 28, 2009

    Tiny Tots (About Fifteen Months Out)

    The youngest of my students, between the ages of like two and a half and five, were difficult to teach at first. They didn't listen, they got out of their chairs, and they cried a lot. For the past few weeks, though, they've listened well, been attentive, and known almost every answer. The youngest of the youngest—that is, the two-and-a-half-year-old—said this morning, "Do you have a teddy bear?" when another of the students hid it behind her back. This sentence may seem silly to get excited about, but you've gotta understand how few full English sentences are actually wielded in a day and how little this little guy is.

    Friday, November 27, 2009

    Oh, You Know, the Traditional Chinese Thanksgiving

  • me 'n' Preston on Skype, telling a potential employee about the incredibly hard work we do but not failing also to mention 3:00 dance time and moonwalking lessons in the school's lobby
  • a circle of people holding hands, listening to a prayer, a lot of them probably definitely not Christian—amen!
  • OK, yeah, turkey, etc.
  • a Chinese lesson
  • lesson plans for students ranging from two and a half to
  • a class of adults, a few of whom—men at least my dad's age—Sophia and I have to tell to be quiet, let others talk, and speak English
  • postwork noodles in a place that reminds me I'm white, with two middle-aged men center table chugging beer and yelling at the waitress, who only laughs at them at first but then looks increasingly alarmed
  • coworkers' stories about growing up in China
  • Thursday, November 26, 2009

    No Pressure to Get It Right, But

    "The measure words in Chinese are not only numerous but also very vivid. You must be careful in choosing them while reading and writing Chinese, otherwise you will be a joke."
    —Ding Haosen, A Crash Course in Chinese—Sentence Construction Patterns in Modern Chinese, revised edition, page 7

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Sick Day

    Cold last night beyond current imagination. Fever dream: Self as adjective being described as a word and therefore underlined, Abby. Do you understand? And once I got myself up and dressed and into the living room with the heater—that is, once overhot and nice—Abby did understand, and I was underlined. Muscles aching. The clothes I wore, with a stench.

    Working from home today. The heat's out at work because someone didn't pay the bills, and I couldn't get warm in the three hours I was there, during which I did nothing but read Blake Butler's tweets.

    Any time I'm on the shitter, I read Dinosaur Comics on my iPod.

    Monday, November 23, 2009


    Dàjiě, which translates to "eldest sister," is the cleaning woman's title. Cleaning woman is a misnomer, though, as she does more than clean; she also cooks our meals, looks after the building when nobody's there, and takes care of us. She's one of the loveliest people here.

    Though she can't speak any English, we both try to talk to each other. Sometimes it's only the two of us in the basement, and as I eat, she speaks quickly, pointing at, then grabbing my waist. Later someone will tell me, "Dàjiě says you're too skinny. If you really enjoy her food, you should eat more." I had a coworker tell her I was learning Chinese only so I could speak to her. On Saturday, after she'd prepared eggplant, one of my favorite foods, I told her, "{I love you,}" and she laughed.

    She has a hard time remembering my Western name, so she often refers to me as {the one who calls Hillary "Teacher"}.

    Yesterday she came into the Westerners' office to clean. She stopped and stared at the writing in my notebook. In my busted-ass Chinese, I tried to tell her I was writing poetry. She waved her hand and shook her head. Then she said something in Chinese, her mouth so close to mine that had we been in any other context, I would have thought she wanted to kiss me.

    Sunday, November 22, 2009


    Last weekend I bought the entire series of Six Feet Under—that is, twenty-four discs—for only 144 RMB (21.09 US dollars) in a movie store that looked like an apartment without the furniture.

    Saturday, November 21, 2009


    Nobody's supposed to speak Chinese at work unless they really have to, like to parents or visitors. The only exception is during meals. English is our product, Preston always says. I like the idea of total immersion, and I must say I'm disappointed when anybody, staff or student, disrupts the English-only atmosphere the school is supposed to have. Still, it's weird to hear somebody tell others not to speak their first language. Weirder still: being the one to tell others to speak English (this I do only to students; there's no way I'd do it to the staff). By all reports, D.—fuck it: Dawn—screams if anybody speaks English at home (most of the Chinese staff live in one of two apartments). It's nice, then, to hear Chinese during the daily school-provided lunches and dinners. Nice to teach the staff more English (Dawn always wants to learn slang) and then go to lunch and have my ass kicked in conversation and then have it further kicked by Hillary during my Chinese lesson.

    Last night one coworker was amazed when I understood that she was asking me whether I'd eaten a lot of gimbap (literally "seaweed rice"[the translating software on my computer translates it as "seaweed roll," but nobody I ever hung out with in Korea ever said that]) in Korea. I understood only {this} and {Korea} and figured the rest out from context. We were eating gimbap.

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    Chinese Doesn't Sound like Chinese Anymore

    A couple weeks ago, I told the Chinese staff to speak only Chinese to me at lunch and dinner so that I could practice my listening. This has led to meals during which I understand almost nothing. This week, however, words are coming out of sounds. A few people have told me what a good job I'm doing, but really, my sentences are still very elementary.

    For example:

    As soon as I got here, D. started calling me {big brother} in Korean, so I took to calling her {little sister} in Chinese as soon as I learned the word for it. Hillary then became my sister when she gave me her family name.

    The other day I told the cleaning woman, "{Hillary is my big sister.}"

    "{No,}" she said, "{she's your teacher.}"

    "{Yes, she is my teacher and big sister. D. is my little sister.}"

    Then, from context, I gathered that the cleaning woman was telling me, "{Well, OK, if D. is your little sister, then so is Hillary. They're both younger than you.}"

    "{I know,}" I said, and then my Chinese ran out, "but Hillary's my teacher, so she won't let me call her my little sister."

    I can only imagine what English must sound like to the children we teach. Some, the very youngest, don't even understand that I don't speak Chinese. They unknowingly help me review the colors as they color: "{Teacher, yellow!}"

    Of course, Korean hasn't sounded like Korean in a long time either.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    I've Already Decided to Stay for Two Years

    "My goal is to get the company to grow fast enough that you and Miles [a coworker from Pennsylvania] stay and help the company expand even more, and then we can all make millions of dollars," Preston, my boss, said tonight. "What that means is, you can never leave. You know that, right?"

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009


    The electricity in the school keeps going out. Too much juice to run everything plus the heaters. Last week we had a couple classes by candlelight, which the parents didn't like at first, of course. They complained and tried to get a free class, but the staff did a good job reassuring everybody that they could handle the problem.

    140-Character Somethings?

    you twit

    for a different audience perhaps

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    After Shopping at Decathlon and IKEA

    Walking through an alley this afternoon, my friends and I saw three or four dogs, one with its head cut off, all skinned, waiting to be cut up for food (perhaps waiting is the wrong verb here). A few blocks later we saw a cat limping, a bone sticking out of its front left leg. And then up in a tower, the proprietor of an apartment serving as a high-quality-bootleg-DVD store assured us that she had previewed all the movies for quality.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Part 1

    One of my friends asked me why I post here every day.

    When I finish reading a book, I often wish there were more to it—not that the text isn't in itself complete or enough, just that I want more. Often I want something to complicate it, to, for some reason, contradict it. Something that can keep being commented on, included, rejected. Optional. I like both plain and extra extra. Can't—no, don't—come to a decision about what is the correct choice.

    Before moving to South Korea, I decided not only to write about my time there but also to involve it in my projects—namely, "Exeunt Omnes" (which is beginning [continuing?] to look like Exeunt Omnes). My favorite month, and perhaps my most productive period, during my time in Korea was February, when writing and still figuring out how to navigate a country where I didn't speak the language felt like the same thing.

    And still do.

    I want to be able to keep adding. I love working on something, even, or perhaps especially, when it feels that I'm doing so only tangentially. Don't want to stop playing. Complicating by navigating.

    This post feels unfinished.

    See also the first little bit of "Apology (?)/Defense (?); Video As Though to Say, 'Shut the Door'; Pedagogy of Deception."

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    I Love Teaching

    Today one of my smartest students—in my favorite class, SBS4—recited the following sentence with great intonation: "'I thought that that that that that student wrote on the blackboard was wrong.'"

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Two Texts

    Zhao Yuanren's "Lion-Eating Poet," an essay composed entirely of the same sound but different tones

    Chapter I of Christian Bök's Eunoia, the chapters of which each uses only one vowel

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    And Yet Nobody's Surprised

    The boss has added dancing to the daily schedule. Today's song was Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," boomed out through the school's sound system. You ever see your teachers dancing in a circle as you walk through the lobby on your way to class?

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Currently Thirty-Two/Zero

    The past couple days have been below freezing, yet rarely have I seen anybody wearing a hat. D., who's sitting next to me as we call my students to check on their pronunciation and comprehension (tonight they're doing pretty well), says that the Chinese think it's more important to keep the feet warm than it is to keep the head warm. Forget especially wearing a green hat: if you're a man, it means your partner's cheating on you; if you're a woman, it means you're cheating on your partner. I was wearing a green hat last weekend, and D. went nuts, especially when I tried to put it on her own head. Meanwhile, I'm bundled up, hat included, which elicits, so far anyway, either laughter or comments on how old I am. It's so cold, though, that the government decided to turn on the heat even though it's not the fifteenth yet.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    Our Days Off Are Monday and Tuesday

    Last night was one of the most fun nights I've had since coming to China. After a baby shower, dinner, and drinks at a bar, some of my coworkers, including many who normally don't dance or drink, and I went to a club downtown and commenced to dancing and drinking, not, of course, in that order. At first, practically everybody in the place, each party at its own table, was playing this dice game that required its players to guess how many of each number there were under the cover that hid each player's dice. Good practice at saying one's numbers correctly, but I abstained, preferring instead to watch the giving out of stink eyes to us. Every once in a while, I called out impossible dice outcomes: "{Two hundred four eights! Two fifty-twos!}" Because it was the club's grand opening, the drinks were free: whiskey mixed with green tea, which tasted better than it sounds. Not too long after that, we headed to the (lack of a) dance floor. There was, to no one's surprise, little touching. The describing of Western dancing using two hands pressed together, as though trying to move through each other, came to mind and was deployed only after someone asked for it. Those of the stink eyes became those of the soft eyes and smiles, those dancing with us.

    Today: the Michael Jackson movie with some of the same coworkers, who said they loved it.

    November 10

    Happy birthday, Ben.

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    New Work

    in yesterday/today's issue of 50 to 1

    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    All Day Staring at Words

    What is language but context? Right? Or is that going too far?

    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    One Studies






    Friday, November 6, 2009

    According to Who You're Talking To

    Today, more than two months after moving away from Seoul, I finally learned how to conjugate Korean verbs into all the forms of the indicative present. I'd been especially curious about addressing children because whenever I talked to them, they laughed not only at my pronunciation but also at my formality, yet they couldn't, or perhaps wouldn't, tell me how I was supposed to end my verbs with them.

    They're the Places That You Wanted to Go

    More art like this please.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Coats Inside

    Residents' and businesses' radiators are controlled not by any knob, indoor thermostat, or other adjustable element but by the government, and whether the temperature's cold or not—and it is ("Is that Fahrenheit or Celsius?" "First one, then the other.")—there are still eleven more days until the heat's getting turned on.

    One of My Favorite Things

    is to watch people write.

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009


    "Once we dreamt that we were strangers.

    "We wake up to find that we were dear to each other."

    假如 (jiǎrú), "if," begins to convey supposition.

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Are Languages Synonyms for Each Other?

    D. sometimes misinterprets my laughter during our Korean lessons as something directed at her, when in fact, I just find the constant code switching hilarious and difficult. I'm never sure whether to use yes, ne, or duì. All three of us agreed to speak only Korean or English, but some concepts require the third language. Sometimes during the English half of the exchange, I switch to a very rudimentary Korean to explain something. J., our teacher/student, often surprises me by explaining the concept back to me in English or to D. in Chinese.

    J. said today that English was hard. She could understand most of what she read, but speaking and writing were hard. She couldn't, she said, keep the tenses straight. She started learning the subjunctive (for example, She wishes it were easy), which she seemed to pick up rather quickly. "I think English is good," she said. In Chinese: "{I study every day.}"

    Often I wish I knew the subjunctive in Korean, but I'm just beginning to pick up the basic tenses. Of course, Chinese doesn't have inflected verbs, so what does the subjunctive stance look like?

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Saturday, October 31, 2009

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    Sample Reactions to Mistakes Made

    During last night's adult class, I found a mistake in the book and pointed it out to the students. The oldest, a physics professor, was visibly upset. "Mistake," he said, shaking his head and exhaling sharply.

    A couple of the workbooks Elmo Class used were terrible. Some of the kids were audibly disgusted whenever I pointed out a mistake. Barbie used to say, "What a horrible book." Some of them demanded we find whoever made the books and give this person a lecture on both spelling and grammar. Those books, however, helped the students, who became eager about calling out errors and who learned a lot the lesson plans hadn't called for. Sometimes they noticed stuff I hadn't.

    Last week, when one of my teenage students pointed out a mistake I'd made on the board, I was happy.

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    I Was Writing About

    If you don't want to read about grammar, don't.

    In German, there's a subjunctive tense that people can use to indicate that they're not speaking from their opinions but are only reporting what someone else has said. This tense is called subjunctive I, a great way to avoid having to use according to, allegedly, etc., in every sentence. All you do is conjugate the verb, and you've removed yourself from making an accusation.

    The English (near) equivalent isn't a tense exactly. Each verb is changed to a form happening in a more distant past—that is, simple present to simple past, simple past and present perfect to past perfect, etc.—for example,
    What are you writing about?
    She asked him what he was writing about.
    Not so much a tense change but a (feeling of) displacement. Temporal displacement is the marker of a subjunctive stance.


    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Hoping I Can Speak Decent Chinese by the Time You Get Here

    Halloween costumes are mandatory this week.

    Won two games of mah-jongg tonight.

    Twelve hours behind:

    Monday, October 26, 2009


    Last week H.—who I may as well call by her English name, Hillary, since I've already used her Chinese name, 韩怡 (Hán Yí), in a previous post—introduced me to Rabindranath Tagore and borrowed an English-and-Chinese translation of his Stray Birds from the library for me. A line therefrom that could be an epigraph for "Exeunt Omnes": "O troupe of little vagrants of the world, leave your footprints in my words."

    Downloaded the audiobook version of Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men tonight.


    "Everything is miscellaneous."
    —Michael Wesch

    It is not uncommon for me to wake up to firecrackers. They're used, early morning or not, for weddings and business openings and. I ignore the usual 6:45 beep of the phone: a text from P., my boss, asking about running. We always run at 7, but he asks nonetheless.

    P. and I communicate the way I've communicated with a lot of expats, mostly guys—that is, through movie and music references. The Eastern teachers say they can't understand anything when P. and I talk to each other, and I explain our words away as a way of seeking commonality: not talking about movies or music but through them.

    We run through the eddying of people on their way to work or. P. talks a lot about the future of the school and about how happy he is to have good people working there.

    On the street, small children piss through the holes in their clothes. Diapers? Nah. Somebody told me that parents often make an s sound while their child is going so that a nice Pavlovian thing sets in. As with most things I hear here, if they come from someone not from here, I store the information in the well, maybe. Is seeing, then, etc.?

    A bit of studying and then to school.

    As in South Korea, the Western teachers make a lot more than the Eastern teachers. Here it's something like six times as much, which fact involves a certain amount of guilt.

    I've heard that irony doesn't translate, but that's a crock. Stephen Fry says that some Europeans like to congratulate themselves for having a good sense of irony and to blame Americans for lacking one, and I've seen some Americans do the same thing with regard to Asian countries, as though irony were the measure of a people's sophistication. Whenever there's a miscommunication, the Eastern teacher I work with the most likes to tell me that maybe I need to practice my English more.

    A few pictures, just received, from last week:

    Decorating for Halloween at the downtown school.

    This restaurant had two tables. We took up both.


    It's time for a Korean lesson.

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    The Makeup of My Favorite Class

    six Chinese students, one Korean student, two Russian students, one Chinese teacher, and one American teacher

    Saturday, October 24, 2009


    First game of mah-jongg tonight. It took a lot more concentration than I wanted to give it, mostly because I was interested in the interactions of English and Chinese at the table, most specifically Ted's use of Chinese words as present participles—that is, "You're [Chinese word I didn't know]ing 'er!"—and C.'s excitement over having "a sweet hand."

    Downloaded the audiobook version of David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster Thursday night.

    Friday, October 23, 2009


    And of course it feels weird sometimes teaching the teachers. At least when H. is teaching me, I don't know any of it already. I mean, we're talking real zero-level stuff here. To be type stuff. Once, when my pronunciation was particularly bad, she jokingly said, "You make me want to go back to the beginning." We wouldn't have had far to go, however.


    I keep asking the Eastern teachers about language. All of them live together, in one of two apartments. Yesterday D. said that she screams whenever someone speaks English at home. They use their English names so often that they've forgotten their Chinese ones, she joked.

    "Which language do you speak more often, Chinese or English?"


    Last night I caught a ride with four coworkers. They spoke in English even though I was the only Westerner. One was telling the other how much she'd enjoyed the salad we had for dinner.

    "Why are you speaking English?" I asked, trying not to make it sound like an accusation.

    "So you can understand."

    "But I don't need to understand that she wants more salad."

    The one who had answered me just smiled back.

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    To Watch Documentaries on China While Living in China

    "When people first get here," my boss said, "they write and write, but the longer they're here, the less they write. Then they just stop because they realize, hey, this isn't true."

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    I've Been Avoiding My iPod so That I Can Hear You

    The Korean word 시 and the Chinese word 诗, both of which mean "poem," are pronounced pretty much the same: /shee/.

    I've been having dreams about the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, sixth edition.

    I love the physicality language sometimes has to take on.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Another Version

    H. has agreed to translate "Antarctica" into Chinese. The continent isn't owned by any country, I told her, and so this three-line text should occur in multiple languages.

    Monday, October 19, 2009


    To eat someone's tofu doesn't mean "to flirt with someone"; it means "to take advantage of someone."

    Saturday, October 17, 2009


    Hán Yí is the teacher. Hán Yè is her student.

    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Tomorrow's Project

    "Why not write a Chinese poem?"

    "Do I know enough Chinese?"

    "That's the challenge. You can have a try. You know numbers, jobs, date, distance, direction, places. Try."

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    Ya Heard?

    One of my jobs at school is to teach classes for the Chinese staff. Part of this week's homework is to eavesdrop on the Westerners' conversations. Already one of them told me that she'd overheard Ted and me talking about "a song that was sexy." Actually, we'd been talking about the sexism in Disney's adaptation of The Little Mermaid.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Book Learnin'

    Till August 2011

    Just told my boss I'd stay another year here.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Metalanguage/Object Language

    Some weeks ago, Ted bought all five seasons of The Wire, a show following Baltimore police and criminals. Ted watches it with Chinese subtitles in an effort to learn cuss words, but when he translates the characters back into English, he's disappointed—take, for example, dumb fuck, which becomes something like "foolish person." When Ted related this bit of sad news to one of our coworkers, she assured us that Chinese is full of cuss words, that what Ted had seen was only the translator's choice. Still, that anyone could translate the slang and fast talking of The Wire into Chinese is impressive. Then again, how the fuck are we supposed to know whether the translation's any good?

    Meanwhile, the past couple days' Korean lessons have been somewhat frustrating. Because the lessons are trilingual, I have to make the best of what I can understand. I have so many questions, but not all of them can be answered. I may not be asking right. Even though, by her own admission, D. rarely studies, her pronunciation and comprehension of vocabulary are better than mine, but I understand the grammar faster, perhaps because I get obsessive with that kind of information or perhaps because Chinese doesn't have tenses, only markers of when something occurs. D. seems to learn the language by speaking; we hardly ever write anything down. During the last two lessons, I somehow figured out the grammar points our teacher was saying in Korean and Chinese and explained it to D. in English, but she could translate almost everything on the page into both Chinese and English.

    Course, only half the time is spent learning Korean. The other half of the exchange is D. and me teaching English. Our teacher's English is actually better than she sometimes lets on, definitely better than my Korean or Chinese, but that's not saying much. Like many others I teach, our teacher seems extremely nervous about saying something for fear that she'll get it wrong. When I look at her, she giggles, then answers in Chinese, corrects herself to Korean, corrects herself to English.

    So often during these lessons, I think of Kass Fleisher.

    The language is that of the dominant one, right?

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    "More Than My Job"

    Found out today that H. will still be my teacher for at least another month.

    To eat someone's tofu means "to flirt with someone."

    关系, guanxi


    I may be writing for a magazine here soon.

    A coworker said yesterday that American English is lazy, citing gonna and traveling with one l as examples.

    So often I wish English had another subjunctive tense.

    Ah, I've been looking for this.

    Lately language has been easier to write about than people.

    Friday, October 9, 2009

    These: Yes, Eyes

    Javascript ASCII special code generator

    I: "Give me some honest feedback on my class. How can I make it better?"

    ET: "You should go home and read some books, and maybe you can improve your English."

    Looking at schools for next fall, though thinking about staying another year out.

    Today was the last class with H. The brilliance of her: "This is the language as it happens to be, not as it has to be."

    blow down vs. blow up, as in "The scary clown blows down the house" in The Dark Knight

    Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    Five Colour City

    One of my favorite parts of Kaifaqu is Five Colour City, what could perhaps be described as a several-block dive with bright lights (blue, green, red, yellow—I have no idea what the fifth color is supposed to be). A lot of people talk shit about Five Colour, but then there they are, enjoying themselves. I've been told that a lot of prostitution goes on in the area, but I've seen nothing to substantiate this claim; then again, it's not as though I've gone looking. Once, two of my Chinese coworkers followed me there, their first time in Five Colour. "This isn't a place where good girls go," one said. "Here are many prostitutes."

    "No," the other corrected. "Whores."

    There's one bar I frequent where my favorite bartender, S., has worked since the its opening, in June or July. She dropped out of school after eighth grade and now takes English classes twice a week. Her English is among the best I've heard in Dalian. "First I could understand only very simple sentences—'How are you?' 'Where are you from?'—but now I can understand everything you say." She pays 2,000 RMB (currently 292.98 US dollars) a year for classes with an English-speaking Chinese teacher. "If I want to talk to a foreigner, it's more." But she can talk to us all the time.

    It's not uncommon for all the bartenders—I've ever seen only women, never men—in the joint to dance with you, and these nights are among my favorites, even when it seems that my friends and I are the only four out in Five Colour.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009


    This afternoon one of the Western teachers I work with asked several of the Eastern teachers who among them has the best Chinese. They answered, with a little hedging, that maybe this person does. Curious, I asked them who among the WTs has the best English, and none of them answered.

    Sometimes it doesn't seem as though the ETs think the WTs have good grammar. Sure, the WTs know the vocabulary but not the proper way to put together a sentence. An ET told me once, again hedging, that maybe I didn't understand the grammatical point she was trying to make because maybe I learned English as a first language and therefore don't have to think at all about it. You can see it on the ETs' faces sometimes, like they're holding out for an explanation that'll come later, like they're listening but don't quite believe.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    The Holiday's Over

    Get back to work.

    Monday, October 5, 2009


    an alphabet

    Sunday, October 4, 2009


    9:45 p.m.: take off
    9:45 p.m.: land

    Sunday, September 27, 2009

    Saturday, September 26, 2009

    Call It Education

    Teaching without compassion is reckless.

    Friday, September 25, 2009

    No Illusions of Becoming Fluent

    "I like Korean because it sounds like singing. Same with English."

    One class is learning what its books call the past unreal conditional. If the students had known they'd have to learn such a difficult tense, would they have shown up? Does one teach regret in the coughing out of this tense?


    From New Oxford American Dictionary: "In modern English, the subjunctive mood still exists but is regarded in many contexts as optional. Use of the subjunctive tends to convey a more formal tone, but there are few people who would regard its absence as actually wrong."

    "What are you thinking about?"

    thinking through writing through only by read scribble say I do suck lips through hips jerk

    "Are you serious about learning Chinese?"


    "This isn't poetry. It doesn't rhyme, and it doesn't have any form."

    grin, not green

    "You and I are always watching each other's mouths."

    "Are you speaking English right now?"

    Thursday, September 24, 2009

    Fernando Pessoa

    Are you reading, or am I writing? Certainly, I can now argue that I'm writing, but you can also argue, sometime later perhaps, that you're reading. Though we're at the same site, we are absent to each other.

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009

    Folks Keep Asking, "Do You Like Korea or China Better?" (Part Nine: Name)

    Today H. gave me my Chinese name: 韩烨 (Hán Yè). The first name is H.'s family name. She gave it to me, she said, because she wants me to be her brother and because it sounds like the beginning of the Chinese word for Korea (it also sounds like the beginning of the Korean word for Korea, but H. didn't know that). The second name is made up of two elements, "fire" and "China," which together mean "passionate and beautiful," she said.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    Folks Keep Asking, "Do You Like 한국 or 中国 Better?" (Part Eight: Subject/Object)

    "You're using your spare time to learn Korean. You should be using your spare time to learn Chinese."

    Earlier, the same argument put differently: "Why do you want to learn Korean? You don't live in Korea anymore."

    In Dalian, China, I'm watching Monty Python's Flying Circus, a show filmed in Britain between 1969 and 1974, on a machine designed in California; made in China; and bought and given as a gift in Seoul, South Korea, and I'm thinking about a trip to Busan you and I weren't sure we could even afford, with plans to stay in a hotel that might not have had rooms available. On a train, as we rode backward, I was reimagining stories.

    What would happen in August?

    "Whatcha writin' about?"

    I told you you could read it later. You smiled.

    Ronald Sukenick:
    Interruption. Discontinuity. Imperfection. It can't be helped. This very instant as I write as you read a hundred things. A hundred things to tangle with resolve ignore before you are together. Together for an instant and then smash it's all gone still it's worth it. I feel. This composure grown out of ongoing decomposition.
    Chase Twichell:
    I want you with me, and yet you are the end
    of my privacy. Do you see how these rooms
    have become public? How we glance to see if—
    who? Who did you imagine?
    Surely we're not here alone, you and I.

    I've been wandering
    where the cold tracks of language
    collapse into cinders, unburnable trash.
    Beyond that, all I can see is the remote cold
    of meteors before their avalanches of farewell.

    If you asked me what words
    a voice like this one says in parting,
    I'd say, I'm sweeping an empty factory
    toward which I feel neither hostility nor nostalgia.
    I'm just a broom, sweeping.
    "It feels like we haven't seen each other in months."

    "We haven't, in a sense."

    "It's nice to talk to you again."

    The first Korean lesson: why not? A Korean lesson not in Korea, taught by a Korean Chinese who barely speaks English. D., one of the Chinese teachers I work with, is learning with me. She has to have the Korean translated into Chinese so that she can first understand it and then translate it to me in English. "{Is that a pen? No, that is not a pen. That is a door.}"

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    Sunday, September 20, 2009

    Saturday, September 19, 2009

    Folks Keep Asking, "Do You Like Korea or China Better?" (Part Seven)

    In both places, the cleaning woman's one of the people I want to talk to most. Here I tell her, "{Thank you.}" She smiles, sits quietly next to me as I eat the meal she's prepared. In Korea, she learned a bit of English in the time I was there, mostly how to ask for food.

    Friday, September 18, 2009

    Folks Keep Asking, "Do You Like Korea or China Better?" (Part Six)

    E-mail from Pluto Cellina:
    Today coming new teacher.
    He's name is [removed] teacher.
    I am not glad.
    Chang teacher chang teacer...... so I am unhappy.
    I beginning learn type(english and korean)writing. ^^
    It's so hard. ㅜㅜ
    I need energe from Tim teacher!
    I missing you.
    I hope you're well.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    The Subject Objects to Its Long-Distance Relationship with the Object

    In Chinese, H. told me today, the subject and object of a sentence are often dropped because two people talking form a "we." Anything that can be used as a marker of difference—that is, an "I" or a "you"—should be left out.

    Re Strict Grammarians

    Fuck 'em.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Folks Keep Asking, "Do You Like Korea or China Better?" (Part Five)

    going out

    folks give you two names: one Chinese, one English

    three if they hear you've been to Korea

    big deal you're bilingual

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Folks Keep Asking, "Do You Like Korea or China Better?" (Part Four)

    better than

    The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
    Mad Men
    Daily Show
    Full Episodes
    Political HumorHealthcare Protests

    Folks Keep Asking, "Do You Like Korea or China Better?" (Part Three)

    re Englishes:

    "That's one thing I won't tolerate. 'I'm good.' No, you're well. I just can't lower myself to 'I'm good.'"

    "In the US, everybody has bad handwriting."

    Stephen Fry on language.


    The school I work for is in Kaifaqu, Dalian, with another location downtown. It's owned by a young American who seems to know everybody in the city. He has a partnership with a company who's the main supplier to one of the big import stores back in the States—tiny tinny collectable automobiles (it's probably not tin)—and the factories' output gives backing to the venture of running the school. Besides teaching English to Chinese students, the school provides cultural training to American business people over here.

    Each class is taught by an Eastern and a Western teacher. Most of my time Wednesday through Friday is spent making lesson plans and meeting with the Eastern teachers to discuss not only whether these lesson plans will work in the given time but also whether the students will be able to learn in the way I've proposed, so while I design a good portion of my classes, keeping in mind the school's curriculum, the Eastern teachers tell me what will or won't work. There are constant meetings and workshops.

    The school also has a strong business feel to it, a business that's not within my level of operation but just to the side of it perhaps. I'm aware of all the clients the school caters to. The cultural training takes place in the basement, while teaching goes on on the second floor, with my boss code switching between all of us.

    The Eastern teachers are great. All of them, I think, recently graduated from college or are close to graduating. They have an amazing knowledge of English and are good teachers. Besides teaching, their job also includes helping the Western staff outside school. I still haven't gotten used to their help—I often feel like I'm bothering them—but it makes living here a lot easier and more enjoyable, and there's opportunity to learn more about them.

    Folks Keep Asking, "Do You Like Korea or China Better?" (Part Two)

    around/re/with the language:

    mā, má, mǎ, mà

    "Do you have a Chinese name?"

    "No. Will you give me one?"

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Folks Keep Asking, "Do You Like Korea or China Better?" (Part One Perhaps)

    usually in the midst of celebration:

    the sharing of a birthday with the GM of ———, who announces to the bar that they must toast him at 09:09 on 09/09/09, and he hugs you and tells you where he was when you were born, the day he turned thirty, and asks you do you know what famous person, besides you, of course, ha, ha, ha, shares the same birthday, and for some obsessive reason, you've memorized too many calendars, one of which listed celebrities, so you know the answer's Michael Keaton, but you keep Leo Tolstoy to yourself—this chucklehead.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009


    Yesterday one of the Chinese teachers asked me about Lolita and why it was ever banned.

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    The Division of Exit-Entry Administration of the Dalian Municipal Public Security Bureau

    Yesterday morning Ted and I had to go to the Division of Exit-Entry Administration of the Dalian Municipal Public Security Bureau, a huge building backed by a hill with little surrounding it, to get our residence permits and visas. The inside of the building was mostly open space, designed, it appeared, for expert waiting, with the purgatory feel of an airport, except not as multilingual. While a member of the school's staff filled out our paperwork, we looked at the IDs we'd been issued, passport-looking collections of paper declaring we'd been deemed experts in our field by the Chinese government. The staff member led us to various rooms, collecting more paper and stamps. At one point, she cursed the Dalian police, with whom we registered upon first arriving in the city, for not typing our information into the Dalian database. She had to visit another room so that someone could type all that up so that another person in another room could find us in the system. This would've been a bad place to go crazy in.

    Friday, September 11, 2009


    Yesterday was my first Chinese lesson, taught by H., a coworker, who was patient through my atonal monstrosity of a pronunciation. The difficulties are in the vowel sounds and tones. Chinese has four tones—level, rising, what I'll call turning, and what I'll call falling—attached to every vowel sound. There's also a neutral tone. You have to get used to Pinyin to even begin getting these sounds down. In Chinese, there are no tenses, so so much depends on syntax. I'm not sure why I'm writing about grammar, though, since the level of sounds is hard enough. The complexity is exciting.

    Yesterday I also started Don Quixote (John Rutherford's translation). My favorite part so far is the friend's advice in the prologue to part 1:
    Your first problem, about [including important works by famous writers] for the beginning of the book, can be remedied if you take the trouble to write them yourself and then christen them and give them whatever names you like…; and even supposing…some pedants and academics start their backbiting and their nit-picking about whether this is true or not, you mustn't care a hoot about that, because even if they do find out that you were telling lies they aren't going to cut off the hand with which you wrote them down.

    Thursday, September 10, 2009


    My roommate's keeping a blog (to which I won't link, out of respect for his wish to remain mostly anonymous) about his living here. He's changed the names of everybody involved, all except mine.

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009

    IKEA Couches and Teachers

    If you look closely, you can see Fernando Pessoa.


    Yesterday the school threw a party for Preston, my boss, whose birthday was Monday, and me. Part of the festivities included making dumplings. If you make them well, the Chinese teachers told me, you will marry a handsome man. Mine, I'm afraid, were wretched: lopsided and falling apart. "Maybe you will practice and get better," one teacher said. "Maybe you will be a bachelor," another told me.

    Today I asked the person who'll be teaching me Chinese what tomorrow's lesson will be. She asked me what I wanted to learn. I want something to see, I told her, something to associate with sounds. I'm such a visual and kinetic learner, and without being able to write the characters, this language is going to be difficult, especially with the tones. I don't necessarily need to learn Pinyin, but I know how obsessive I am about language: if I don't have a consistent way of writing what I hear, I'll be wicked distracted thinking up one. After listening to her talk and failing to say things the way she said them, I said, "Don't worry. I'm a good student." She recalled yesterday's lesson in making dumplings. "OK, well, I'm tenacious anyway," I said.

    The funny thing about having studied English is that so many people think you know a lot about grammar. Anything I learned about grammar comes from having studied German and, I admit, from having been obsessive about/with it as a younger person, back before I learned much about language.

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    IKEA in Dalian (Fernando Pessoa Remix)

    Fernando Pessoa walks through display rooms, crosses his legs in a seat for hours, says nothing, is photographed on couches with other expatriates, wonders what it's like to occupy space in space not normally occupied by skin, on a shelf high up perhaps. He's not quite sure how he feels about the availability of these collected rooms, is drawn and thwarted by half-finished displays, the things to fill them.

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    IKEA in Dalian

    IKEA isn't a store; it's a tour of home, of possible home. A place of people's future things, collected now, displayed only for another arrangement. I liked everything so much I left it all there.

    Sunday, September 6, 2009


    Today I downloaded a VPN to bypass the Chinese government's block on so many useful Web sites.

    Saturday, September 5, 2009

    Conversational English

    The hardest part of teaching is generating conversation, a task made more difficult when teaching children—whose interests, obviously, aren't necessarily the same as yours—and much more difficult sometimes when teaching children whose first language isn't yours. On Saturdays, my last class is a ninety-minute session that has no books; all we do is talk. The students' ages range from fourteen to seventeen, an age group I never taught before. I admit I was a little nervous this afternoon, but the students surprised me with their willingness and smarts. By far, the conversation class has the best English of the nine classes I teach. It was interesting starting the day off with three-to-five-year-old children who barely spoke any English and ending with teenagers discussing whether the US should spend money on developing ways to send people to Mars. One teen even reminded me that the US owes China a lot of money and should perhaps keep that in mind when thinking about spending. The conversation class's weekly assignment is to bring in texts on current events that interest them. I'm excited to hear what they have to say.

    Friday, September 4, 2009


    Today the class of three- and four-year-olds I subbed for learned five words—dinosaur, doll, fire truck, jump rope, and robot—and four commands—get on the bus, sit down, stand up, and get off the bus.

    I learned one word, the Chinese for yes. Lessons start soon.

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    First Day of Teaching

    The great thing about the new job is that I get to teach three-year-olds all the way up to adults. Tonight's class, the first I've taught here, was an adult class, which I enjoyed. Unlike with the previous job, I write my own lesson plans, and while that takes a lot more work, I rather enjoy thinking through the class instead of looking at my schedule the moment I go to teach, although there was a certain enjoyment in looking at a college-level textbook and thinking, Right. How do I explain the difference between present perfect and present perfect progressive to a nine-year-old whose first language isn't English? Hell, how do you explain that even to a kid whose first language is English? Which, of course, is ridiculous, the beyond-the-level book, the memorization of a tense's name regardless of whether one knows how or when it's used, the persistent decontextualized metalanguage. This school seems to understand the students' levels rather well, though, and their workload isn't ridiculous. Tonight's students were fun to work with, and I'm glad that my days are a progression through the ages, ending with folks older than I.

    One thing: I'm glad I don't have to learn English. It seems wicked hard.

    Another: I'm glad I get to learn Chinese. It seems wicked hard. I'm going to continue to learn Korean too.


    You know you're in China, I've been told, when you can't trust a fart not to be a shit.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009


    Ted, my roommate, who this evening excitedly started to teach me Pinyin (a romanization system for Mandarin), said that he was told there are three types of expats here:

    1. those who come only to work and end up drinking away their money

    2. those who have the travel bug and stay only long enough to see interesting things

    3. those who love China and want to learn Chinese

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Four Words





    Monday, August 31, 2009

    Responses to a Question about Crime

    Don't get in a fight, I was told. OK.

    Anyone who does violence to a foreigner receives the death penalty, I was told.


    There were no signs for me when I got off the plane. After I passed the line of greeters, a man approached me. "Are you Jeremy?" he asked.

    "No. Tim." The compulsion to say a name.

    "From the University of Dalian?"

    "No, I—"

    "Dude, I'm fucking with you. My car's out there. Let's go."

    Sunday, August 30, 2009

    First Day

    Coworkers think I speak Korean.

    Saturday, August 29, 2009


    9:45 p.m.: take off
    9:45 p.m.: land