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