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