Friday, December 31, 2010

To Cut Down

Because I want to finish the book by September, I'm probably gonna cut way down on posting here, perhaps down to only once a week. I enjoy posting every day, but. Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"I Want to Give You a Story without My Mother to Tell You I Have Only Pain"

One of my favorite things to do in the more advanced classes is to tell my students, without warning, "OK, today you're going to translate Spanish into English," and then watch their heads explode. Of course none of them knows Spanish, and at first, everybody usually gives me the what-the-fuck face, a face I've come to love. Then I blast The Mars Volta's "L'Via L'Viaquez" and kind of dance around and ask them to write sounds. After a minute, I stop the music and ask them to read what they've written. With heads bowed, all nervously, they read out gibberish. Yes, good, great. I heard that too. I read my own. I can demonstrate nonsense, and in being given a permission to make nonwords, the students run with it. Then I ask them to look for words that sound like English or Chinese and change the words. In tonight's class, one student, an intelligent girl, wrote something like "Whatever I want, you don't want to play." Dead on. Whoever says that you lose something in translation misses what's also gained, misses not only what is revealed about what a culture values, never mind an individual, but misses also the distance between the cultures, a distance many lovely people live in, all of those with two names, who have gotten used to one name in one context and another in another. How can you understand something in two lives? Remix net persona. As I write, as you read, we are together. None of us writes alone.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Job

The schedule
6 a.m.–7: write
7–8: study Chinese
8–9: study Korean
9–10: study Ger—
"Boring," Hanna says at tonight's dinner. But I'm thinking about one of tonight's classes, the one with only two students, who should be able to read but who can't even pronounce all the letters, which is sure as shit frustrating, during which class I realized again the tickle of words, the sure mess of them, the good difficulty of trying to remember them all, and so I can't really be too frustrated in the mix of them.
10 p.m.: go to bed

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

More Online Space

In a move to get myself to write reviews, I've joined Goodreads.

Monday, December 27, 2010


I haven't been drunk since the end of October. It's been nice. Expats drink, though. Many a night that became a late morning, a trip to McDonald's to use your busted Chinese (it gets really easy, for example to say, "{I'd like a number 6,}" in Chinese). In the spring of 2009, in Seoul, I started getting tired early, couldn't hang anymore but tried. Maybe I'm getting lame. As I've written before, I try to go to bed by 10 so I can get up at 6. I like the first four hours of the morning: writing and studying. The continual Five Colour City party—fuck it. But folks'll give you shit for not drinking. Not much. It's OK. I want to hide out these days. I want to be working on projects.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I wish the students' parents wouldn't stand over them and force them to talk before and after class. All the forced Merry Christmases are really unnecessary.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Central Kingdom

It's face mask weather. All the obvious jokes about robbing a bank are made. Everyone can say, "{Give me all your money,}" in Chinese. Supposedly, people who can't understand English can still understand all the fucks, shits, and damns M. and I are using. The assumption that nobody else on the train can understand much of the rest. The hope, anyway. Actually, the not really think about it.

Tonight Hanna admits she's upset after she's asked and I've said I'm not lonely.

Tonight my student Sophia Li asks, "Isn't this a holiday when families get together?" Yes. "Then why are you here?"

This week there are so many mispronunciations of Christ's name: Jessie, Jaysoo, Haysus, Juses. There is a lot of blushing at the talk of mistletoe. The students have a lot of trouble concentrating. There's a gift exchange in every class. It's not so much the gifts that distract them; it's the difference in the room. Hardly anybody seems happy or sad or anything after having opened the packages, not even the three-year-olds. Because I've been reading 1984, facecrime is the first word I think of, though this is probably unfair.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

So Much to Remember

Nothing like Chinese class to remind me how little I know. Today the newest Eastern teacher watched my class, and of course, I couldn't remember anything.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Outline for a Project to Be Finished by September

probably in completely different forms

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Job

There are people who don't belong here.

Tonight's fog doesn't mean drivers will turn their lights on. The slippery sidewalks, the gates with lock-down times you haven't quite remembered and so have to go all the way around a block or two, the heat in the new place that hasn't worked but should tonight but isn't. I'm on the train again. To arrive in Kaifaqu Station. Again the thought that I love it here, that I will walk home alone. That I will try to get to bed by 10 so I can get up at 6 and study so that getting around will be easier.

Work is a grind. And in addition to the grind inside is the difficulty of culture and language outside. At the school I worked for in Korea, somebody else always wrote my lesson plans. The third- and fourth-graders used an American college textbook for grammar. Here I write the lesson plans, the easiest and most boring part of the job. But something I gladly do.

我: "{Give me my change.}"
司机: "{No.}"
Only two kuai, but. What's an appropriate insult? "你没有荣耀"?

There are those who expect Christmas off even though we have thirteen days for Spring Festival. This is an American company, goes the argument. Is China a getaway?

Edit: The difficulty of culture and language is also inside, one should say.

I want my higher-level students to understand the subjunctive not because I expect them to use it often but because if they can use it, they might be able to contextualize time in a way that English uses.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Opposite of Loneliness

Not that I don't miss you all. I do. Incredibly. Thus the continually writing into this thing.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Opposite of Loneliness

I often feel crowded. Not necessarily in a bad way. In a Pessoan way—that is, "Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves" (The Book of Disquiet 327–28).

Almost nobody sits in the upstairs office anymore. Because one of the Western teachers left, there's more space in the downstairs office. Usually it's just me upstairs. Sometimes R. Today Tiffany asked, "Aren't you lonely up here?"

Culturally, my decision to work alone might be seen as a negative thing here. In China, relationships rule. Every time we hang out, Hanna asks why I like being alone, like she can't get over the fact. She said tonight that she didn't believe I liked everybody at work. "Are you often lonely?" she asked.

"It is the opposite of loneliness," I said. Perhaps crassly. Or if not crassly, at least perhaps too directly.

A wince to her face. "I miss my family," she said. Here is a woman who gets to see her baby daughter only once every few months or so.

These conversations never go well. It's as though I'm attacking a very basic need. Hanna often becomes very defensive of her loneliness, like it's something I'm trying to make her feel like shit for feeling. I say nothing to indicate that her loneliness is a weakness or that my—what is it?—is a strength. I don't feel that way.

Hanna asks again about spending time with friends. She and Sunny share a room at home in addition to working all day together. I'm never home.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A New Translation

this one by 曲艳玲, aka Evila: "南极洲."

"'Blank broadcast' is the hardest part to translate."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Teaching for the Test

(Personal rail: And then there's the GRE, the test that students [not just foreign students but also Americans] have to take in order to get into many American grad schools. This test tests only how well you can take tests. The only benefits from taking it, apart from the boost a high score can give you in being accepted somewhere [as though school were life instead of only part of it], are learning new words and brushing up on your algebra in preparing for it.)

Teaching for the Test

doesn't occur only here in Dalian, China, of course. In Seoul, South Korea, the same phenomenon overwhelmed many of my students and made learning secondary to getting the book finished (one of the several reasons I left). Teaching for the test has made many students unable to speak a language they've been studying for years. English loses context, becomes only _____s, encoded, scripted, stupid, stale, ever present but unavailable. I love all the beautiful conversations every day that are "wrong," that are difficult and lovely and fumbled through and understood anyway. Outside class, I love all the Englishes, all the versions that are possible, are possibly on their way to some other way of

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Teaching for the Test

After English Program today, a new Eastern teacher told me that there were four steps a Chinese teacher of English did when teaching the present perfect:
  1. talk about the corresponding construction in Chinese
  2. give the forms
  3. give several example sentences
  4. give the students a test
I listened. When he was finished, I said, "Yes, but your coworkers have already studied these things. We're just trying to contextualize time. If you sit them down, most of them can give you the right answers. On a test. But when they speak, they don't know when to use the right tense. What we're trying—"

"But I have experience. My boss said a Chinese teacher does this."

OK. That's still teaching to pass a test. Our teachers should have a thorough understanding of when to use things. There's no more test to pass.

Good questions and their corresponding order: what, how, when, and only then why. But, yes, include why.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Tonight Hanna took me to a Korean restaurant. I was happily surprised that the people working there were Korean and spoke Korean. Most of the places I've been to in Koreatown don't actually have Korean-speaking staff. Weird, though: when I didn't know the Korean word, my reaction was to try Chinese.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"{Give Me My Money!}"

"[Yelling in Chinese, something about a key breaking off in the lock to the door I no longer enter, the door to my fourth apartment.]"

"{I'm sorry. I don't understand what you're saying. My Chinese is terrible.}"

"{Don't give me that. You understand me.} [Not understandable but very quick.]"

"{I still don't understand.}"

"{Twenty yuan! Twenty yuan! Give me twenty! The man came and fixed the door, and [can't understand], so you [can't understand], and give me twenty yuan.}"

And "Jesus Christ" and "Fuck." Hand over the money, even though I'm not the one who broke the lock, and at least the other Western teacher can get into the apartment I've just moved out of. Really, no big deal, except the landlord's proxy is smiling now that Eastern workers are showing up and asking what the problem is, assuring me she's not yelling, just talking loudly, as, you know, people in the Northeast are known to do, ha, ha, I'm told. Bullshit. Instead of fixing broken pipes, she has taped the leaks, taped the toilet, taped anything to do with water. She has lied: "{There is no problem.}" She is yelling at me again. And I'm gone.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tomorrow I'm moving yet again. This'll be the fifth apartment I've lived in since coming to Dalian.


My application's finally finished.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hell, the Classroom Is a Weird Place

Parents of very young students often apologize when their student is shy on the first day. "{Maybe she cannot learn here. She is scared.}" As though sitting next to some strange white dude were totally normal for a three-year-old Chinese child.

An example of power playing out in the EFL classroom: new students usually stop crying when they see me high-five another student and pretend to have been hurt by the contact.

What many parents expect, they tell us, is a fearlessness I don't expect from anybody.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Writing, 2

My work as a teacher complements my work as a poet: there is a sense of responsibility that must attend writing if it is to be useful—that is, if it is to demonstrate the possibilities of our identities.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Just about finished writing the required statement of objectives, academic-writing sample, and creative-writing sample for the application to the PhD program. As I worked on it this morning, I was excited. If I don't get in, at least I'll have written some poems, and I'll get to stay here another year. If I do get in, I'll get to settle down into some nice writing routine, with Korean and Mandarin classes.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

An English Translation of China's Charter 08

is here. Its signers advocate
  1. a new constitution
  2. separation of powers
  3. legislative democracy
  4. an independent judiciary
  5. public control of public servants
  6. guarantee of human rights
  7. election of public officials
  8. rural-urban equality
  9. freedom to form groups
  10. freedom to assemble
  11. freedom of expression
  12. freedom of religion
  13. civic education
  14. protection of private property
  15. financial and tax reform
  16. social security
  17. protection of the environment
  18. a federated republic
  19. truth in reconciliation

Poems on 6/4

Graywolf Press will publish Nobel Peace Prize–winning Chinese poet Liu Xiaobo's first collection of poems in English, June Fourth Elegies.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Private Performance

This morning Alex skyped from Korea and had her kindergarten class sing "Edelweiss" to me as I sat in my office. To think that those students knew no English when they went to her two years ago.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


worked all day on Fernando Pessoa poems

Monday, December 6, 2010


The new Focus is out, with an article I wrote about Dalian American International School, a school for students holding non-Chinese passports. After spending all day today writing poems, it's strange to look at blocks of prose on glossy pages and think about trying to be a journalist. The editors of Focus once again changed some of my stuff around, but since these articles are somewhat beside the point, I'm not that bothered. I keep getting sent to these nice places: an apartment complex that might as well be a hotel, a bar district looking as though it's melting, and a school nicer than either college I attended. Jesus, writing poems is weird anymore.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Big writing session this weekend. Get this application off to a school and see whether I'll be here another year.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

If You Don't Know, Google That Shit

It's hard—when some of the Eastern teachers are going on and on about how much they hate the Japanese for, among many other crimes, rewriting their history books—not to ask, "But what happened in Beijing in 1989?" or "What's going on in Tibet?" or "Is Taiwan part of China?" or, etc.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"Ode to the Goose"

Last Christmas Hillary bought me a book of Chinese poetry, which I could never read until now. Well, that overstates my abilities quite a bit. Almost all of it is still way beyond my understanding. Sunny's been teaching me a lot of characters lately, so tonight, curious, I picked up the book of poetry to see what I could get from it.

The very first poem, by 骆宾王 (Luò Bīnwáng, whose name took me twenty minutes to figure out the transliteration for), goes like this:
咏鹅 (Yǒng é)

鹅,鹅,鹅,曲项向天歌。(É, é, é, qū xiàng xiàng tiān gē.)
白毛浮绿水,红掌拨清波。(Bái máo fú lǚ shuǐ, hóng zhǎng bō qīng bō.)
which is a well-known poem, come to find out. I tried translating it myself:
Ode to the Goose

goose, goose, goose, neck bent, sings to the sky
white feathers float on green water, red feet stir clear waves


Jim, one of the Eastern teachers, says that traditional characters, different from the simplified characters now used, are illegal. When he was in college, some of the signs there were written in the old characters and had to be changed before officials came. The last character in Jayland's Chinese name is traditional.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

An Example of How the Grammar's Getting Harder

In Chinese word order, the sentence
There lived a greedy puppy, who looked everywhere for bones to eat every day, as long as he didn't fall asleep.
Was one greedy small dog, he every day as long as not goes to bed only everywhere tries to find bone eat.


This morning I slipped in the shower and landed on my mouth. Only a little blood and then a headache all day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Speech Writing

Ms. L., one of my students, came into the school tonight for help with a speech she'd been working on for a contest. The speech was fine, she said, until she saw her classmate's. His had beautiful sentences, she said. Also, though, his had been written by his father's friend. "It's not a competition for composition," she said. "Our teacher told us to let others to write it for us." But she wanted to write it herself. We went over the tenses, and she corrected the mistakes herself. Her speech, on saying no to a boy who'd asked her out (so that she could focus on her studies, natch), wasn't actually something that had happened to her. "If we write about what really happens, we won't receive full marks. We always lie."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Couple of Dunces

After a long break, Miles and I are back to working on the play. We're about sixty pages away from finishing the first draft. Shit, we better finish this before one of us leaves China.

Monday, November 29, 2010


On the plane back here, there were no rows 4, 13, or 14. In Chinese, the words for "four" and "death" have similar pronunciations, so 4's considered bad luck and is to be avoided. Guess the absence of row 13 was for the Westerners.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Oh My _____

In an exclamation where Sunny might have otherwise said, "Oh my god," she said instead, "Oh my Lady Gaga." Thinking this was only her usage, I tried to track down who'd taught her the phrase. Apparently, she's not the only one saying it. According to some of the other Western teachers, this is fairly common usage, especially among the teenage students in our classes. And just now, in the process of writing this, I finally google it and see that I'm once again getting to such a usage pretty late.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Jayland has its own monetary unit, the Jay buck, something the students are rewarded with and can use toward prizes in a display case downstairs. In our class of three- and four-year-olds this morning, Sunny and I gave five Jay bucks to P. for being the student of the month. Once in the lobby, another student, G., crying over not being picked, grabbed the toy gun he'd brought to school with him, ran up to me, pushed the gun into my belly, and screamed, "{Give me five Jay bucks, Teacher!}"

Friday, November 26, 2010


It's weird finally being able to have conversations with people I once only gestured with. Since returning from the States, I've become even more excited about learning Chinese. Reading and writing take a long time but eventually give me something to put the sound to. Once I learn a character, I better not forget anything about it. And so now all these people with whom I was silent, who tried to talk with me—finally, well, on my part.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Writing, 1

"All forms of writing are creative."
—Beth Zold

As I was finishing my research for the latest Focus article, the person I was interviewing said that writing was hard. "You have to live and think interesting thoughts." My god, I thought, and here I am playing journalist and making things up as I go. Was recovering from jet lag through the first bit of the research. Interesting thoughts? You develop those. You foster those and hope they don't fuck off too often. It's a good time to be in Kaifaqu, Dalian, Liaoning, China. Was the person I was interviewing trying to tell me to think harder about portraying her? That's a fantastic solution to being the subject.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Call It Education

One of my students arrived late to class today. Her mother, the wife of ———, entered with her, sat in the back, and from there directed both her daughter and my coteacher, J., and therefore my class. "{The teacher told you to draw the picture. Draw the picture!}" J. started writing Chinese characters on the board, something we never do. As the students acted out vocabulary words, you could tell the daughter was nervous. During the break, the woman instructed J. further, then turned to me and said that her daughter often didn't know, even right after class, the words we'd just spent an hour and a half teaching her. For the past two weeks, she's been asking her daughter the meaning of every single word out of the books we read.

"We're trying to get the students to understand the bigger concept," I said. "We're not trying to get them to learn every single word."

"You can't just introduce the words to them. They need to see it more than once," she said.

"I agree. That's why we just spent half an hour going over the words. We introduce the words, do an activity, and then read the book."

"You foreigners learn by listening, but we Chinese learn by seeing. You need to write the characters."

"We don't write characters on the board. We're not teaching Chinese."

"But characters are more scientific," she said.

She commented on the students' reluctance to say anything. "I think the students are just nervous," I said. She said that all Chinese students are always nervous. No, not in my classes, they aren't, at least not to the degree her daughter was tonight.

The class was probably 75 percent Chinese today. The students read a short book and then, because of this mother, translated the thing into Chinese to show that they understood the meaning. They did a fine job, but they didn't need to translate. We could have asked them comprehension questions or gotten them to write responses to the text.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Including but Not Limited to Ass, Damn, Shit, and Fuck

Yesterday one of my students, upon coming to class late, flipped off a classmate who'd called him something in Chinese. I stopped my review of phrasal verbs ("Do fuck off") and told the student, "Don't do that," feeling weird about correcting him. I added, "You don't know what that means, so you're not allowed to do it," but he might've known or at least had an idea that it was something supposedly bad. I'd love if my students swore. It'd be less ridiculous and more to the point—at least in the Englishes I'm used to—than, say, "Buck is a girl." But the contexts of the conversations my students learn don't include cussing or giving folks the bird. Again, I'm thinking about the difference between English as a second language and English as a foreign language. It's irresponsible to teach words without context.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

No Two People Are Not Assholes

On my way to the States, a white American man made fun of the Japanese voice coming through the overhead speaker as we entered customs. On my way back to Dalian, a Chinese man made fun of the English announcement concerning our late flight.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


"Are you still living in America time?"

Oh, how I'd like to parse that sentence.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"I Got This Feeling I'm Going to Cop It, Horatio, and You Know, I Couldn't Give a Flying Fuck"

Theater is the theme for this week's culture lesson (for our students anyway; for the rest of us, shit, who knows what culture lesson will play out, especially considering I've just gotten back ["Is it strange to be back?" "No. It was strange to have left."]). While searching online for level-appropriate plays, I found this modern-English version of Hamlet.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


After two weeks in America, surprising my brother by showing up out of nowhere for his birthday, I'm back. Right now I'm in Shanghai, waiting for my final flight to board. I love on international flights the awkwardness of not knowing which language to speak.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Qù 家。Huì huílai.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The other expats who've lived with me—they say I'm a good roommate. I'm never home.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


A guilt-free day with The Chicago Manual of Style in bed.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Notes from a Party

On my left hand: "I'm in love with so many (different kinds of) people."

On my right: "[Illegible.]"

Big complaints about folks being nice.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The number 9 (九) is lucky in Chinese because its pronunciation, /jiǔ/, is the same as that of the word for "long" (久), as in "long life." Course, it also has the same pronunciation as the word for "alcohol" (酒). And for "moxibustion" (灸).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


A guilt-free day of cartoons.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


On the last day of Creative Writing, Sophia brought in her translation of "Antarctica":

Monday, October 25, 2010

Electronic Version

The Five Colour City article has been posted here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Grammar God

Grammar god is meant to be an insult, remember.

Where would one be were one not at work? Not because one wants to be at work but because one (feels that one) must be at work. One feels that one is at work all the time anyway. You've joined me in this space. In a manner of speaking, certainly, you and I are here.

How much about language do you need to know in order to be a good teacher? Maybe know is the wrong word; maybe care is better. Like, do you need to be obsessed?

Not that I want to talk about language with others. Because they have their own ideas about language, of course, so often they want to be right. I just want to have fun. So rarely do people just want to have fun. Even when they're playing games.

Or then they refer to a proper grammar and so ask me what's absolutely right, but seldom are they happy with my arguments. "Well, but so what's the correct version?" Our Englishes may vary.

What I want from a teacher is the ability to think through a language and be jazzed by it, to find it fascinating and not a burden.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Friday, October 22, 2010

On Writing

Craig Mod

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


During lessons, Sunny teaches me insults in Chinese, and at home, she teaches Hanna insults in English, so Hanna and I spend our days insulting one another in the other's first language. That's how we know we're close.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Well-Worn Habits of Movement

One thing T.'s arrival has made me do is to finally start setting up the new place. It's bare, and quite a few workers who've been through to fix various things have commented on the fact that it looks like nobody lives in this apartment. Another person adds depth. It's nice to have these lines.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I forget sometimes that other people need normal things like plates and pots and pans in their apartment. So much emptiness I never noticed here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stay Tuned

Hi, Tiffany's mom. Thanks for reading. Your daughter has arrived safely. Updates forthcoming.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Her Way In

Preparing the new place for a new roommate. Fourth apartment, third roommate. Or fourth or fifth or sixth. Depends how you count 'em. Such is the expat life sometimes. Everybody always on the way out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I need an assistant. Problem is finding one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Stumbled on My First Dictionary this evening. Some good stuff there.

Routine Stops

This morning the Maple Leaf students were all lined up row after row. Through a loud speaker that I could hear throughout my entire apartment, a voice spoke calmly but robotically in English: "Would. You. Like. To. Come. To. My. Birthday. Party." The entire courtyard of students repeated with the same brokenness to their voices. "What. Would. You. Like. For. Your. Birthday." Then it was time for exercises and marching.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


"Language is the epitome of creative and variable behavior. Most utterances are brand-new combinations of words, never before uttered in the history of humankind."
—Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

Monday, October 11, 2010


Up on the walls today at work are signs of the character Nelson from The Simpsons, his right arm up, his finger pointing, commanding everybody, "Speak English!"

Being Taken Care Of

One of the shitty things about living here, as an expat anyway, is, you can't do things yourself. Of course, the more Chinese you learn, the more you can do on my own—for example, I know enough to be able to go to the bank and transfer money without help—but there's still so much you can't do alone. And language isn't the only barrier, of course. Who you know has a lot to do with when or even whether things get done. Emma, one of the new Eastern teachers, is, as we say, my person. She takes care of the things I need. The new apartment had a leak, and the washing machine and a connection to the Internet needed to be installed. I know the Chinese for There's water on the floor, but after that, I'm pretty useless. Emma's been coming over to help with the problems. Today, after several hours helping me, with me grasping only a few words of every conversation between her and others, she told me she'd never handled these kinds of things. She didn't know there was so much involved. "It's hard to live, huh?" she asked.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Other Names

More on Liu Xiaobo. Folks have devised ways to talk about him without using his name since it's supposed to be avoided.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Nobel Prize

Some Chinese leaders ain't so happy about Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

I spent the workday translating all the TV and DVD menus and remotes in the school from Chinese to English, dorking out between language and technology.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Not the Actual Things but Only Their Representations

The portrait on the side of Maple Leaf looks less like a boy with a maple leaf for hair and more like a boy on fire.

Outside my kitchen window is a cage with a birdhouse inside. The top of the cage is open. Maybe birds will come back.

Outside the building, fake pandas are in the middle of eating fake bamboo. In the little play area, children climb up an elephant's ass and slide down his trunk into dirty sand. Exercise equipment surrounds this meeting point. Somewhere else stiff deer are supposedly running.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On "Distraction"-Free Writing

With the talk of creating new creative environments, some folks have forgotten about
Embracing the Impossibles. Getting past […] intellectual koans by simply accepting life's innumerable and unresolvable paradoxes, hypocrisies, and impossibilities as God-given gifts of creative constraint. Rather than, say, a mimeographed page of long division problems that must be solved for a whole number, n.
  1. I just can't ever get away from this […]. For me, it's what everything inevitably comes back to.
  2. The very definition of our jobs is to solve the right problem at the right level for the right reason—based on a combination of the best info we have for now and a clear-eyed dedication to never pushing an unnecessary rock up an avoidable hill.
  3. YET, we keep force-feeding the monster that tells us to fiddle and fart and blame the Big Cruel World whenever we face work that might threaten our fragile personal mythology.
    1. "Sigh. I wish I could finally start writing My Novel….Ooooooh, if only I had a slightly nicer pen…and Zeus loved me more…."
—Merlin Mann, "'Distraction,' Simplicity, and Running toward Shitstorms"


"Never diagram a sentence when under the influence of alcohol or strong narcotics, even if it IS hilarious."
Fake AP Stylebook

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Yes, but How Would You Say This with the Formal Ending?

Before leaving the States, I bought a book called Making Out in Korean, which includes a whole bunch of stuff you'd say only if you were incredibly familiar with your listener. Toward the back of this book, the author includes the Korean for "I'm going to come," a sentence I'm sure I'd never be able to remember in that moment.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

小心滑倒 ("Slip and Fall Down Carefully"?)

In an article about Chenglish, in the new issue of Focus on Dalian, a Chinese businessman is quoted: "Most Chinese businesses do not add English to communicate with Westerners; they include it to impress Chinese. Accuracy is not important."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Conflation of Spaces

The Five Colour City article came out Thursday. It's mostly as I wrote it. I haven't been to FCC much in a long time. The fireworks going off in the middle of the streets; the bartenders hitting on you, we're sure, just to get you to buy more drinks; all the doors you've never been through—you can wander and will if you're new here, if you don't believe that this is the shady part of town, or, fuck, maybe that's why you'll go. FCC's a good place to hide out, as I propose in the article. Some of the bars in FCC seem unnecessarily large, dark spaces meant to be cuddled into. But and so, unpeopled, they are lonely places to be seen over the shoulders of those slinging beers. However, it's not unusual for me to sit in the school without anybody else in the building. Even now I'm sitting in the basement, the whole beautiful building above me, unstudented, unteachered. I go up into the classrooms and gesture with the lights off as though I were teaching, as though I were audienced. It should feel weirder. Certainly, drinking beer in a minimally occupied business feels weird, especially if on other nights, nights when the place is packed, you sit in a far-away-from-the-bar seat and try to picture again what it would be like for the place to be empty. What you notice is the strobing lights hitting a corner you never considered before. When I teach, I am conscious of walls. In both places, I'm thinking about what words to form next. At every word, now delivered more slowly, I wonder what other words I need to teach, learn.

Friday, October 1, 2010


It's National Day and therefore time for a five-day break. I've written all the lesson plans for the next couple weeks. It's time to relax. I spent most of today in the café, the school dark and empty above.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shénme yìsi?

People talk to me as though I understood them. I almost never respond in English. Today, however, I was the only person besides the new dàjiě in the school. I was in the middle of interviewing somebody, and suddenly men came down into the basement and started yelling. I followed them up when I finished the interview. One of them spoke very fast at me. "{I don't understand,}" I told him. "{You're talking too fast.}" Which wasn't the problem, of course. I often say, "{Could you say that again?}" as though a repetition will suddenly make me fluent. This dude today, though—he just kept speaking faster and faster. Finally I busted out the English to discourage him: "Man, you keep talking to me like I know. I don't understand anything you're saying." He turned on all the faucets in the entire school. I called out for a translation.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The new place is in an neighborhood called Cuì Zhú Nán Lǐ ("Green Bamboo South Neighborhood"), right behind the school.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Symbols and Exercise

The new apartment is across the street from Maple Leaf, a school that supposedly prepares its students for life in Canada. Yesterday the Canadian national anthem tinned through speakers. Then students marched into the building.

Have somehow associated the idea of taking up only a little bit of the apartment with the idea of Pessoa. Imagine him sleeping at his desk if he could, if he were alone. He'd like to sleep where he worked, wouldn't see the point in occupying another room when everything he wanted to be surrounded by was already collected around him. Still, each room has its function, its obligation, though you'll most likely eat in every room, live in every room.

In Chinese, living room is kètīng, literally "guest room." You'll be a guest in your own place. The gulf between where I'm supposed to do one thing and where I'm supposed to do another. Obligated by the name of a room. How do you occupy so much space?

The smaller the space, the better, but even then you have your definitions. Even then you have to figure out what each room is for. From now until I move, I will do only this here. So rigid. And but you feel guilty doing this other thing in a space clearly not intended for it. Even if they are your intentions and definitions. You're not being loyal to yourself.

That's where it's easy to break down. You see only faintly that you've been the cause of your work, your obsessions. These rooms mean nothing on their own. By extension, then, you fill them with your own dimensions—for example, home can't be special if you're used to it even after two years away.

That's what's scary: home won't be special; it'll be just another thing you're used to. Most of your days have been spent in English, so why should hearing English all day every day come as a shock? Why should being around people you understand be weird? Don't think about home.

Even that last sentence evokes home. Don't think it.

우리가 같이 무엇을 할까요?

Miles McFall is on the other side of the world, in Pennsylvania, surrounded by books in English. It's remarkable still that we can have a conversation, one that is happening in China and the US at the same time even though he is twelve hours behind me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Green Bamboo Southern District

My landlord lives in Japan. Today his proxies got a new water heater hooked up and opened up the gas. The air conditioner works. A new washing machine's coming tomorrow. The kitchen is the farthest room from the door. The living room feels like another obligation. Who's expected to fill up all the space?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Versions Of

Yesterday was National Punctuation Day in the States. Thus in so many online feeds links to places that said English was dying or dead.

Most of my days, but not their entireties, spent in Englishes.

One of the new teachers and I were talking about how Mao wanted to get rid of characters and just use Pinyin. The new teacher said he'd heard that Stalin talked Mao into keeping the characters. Tradition, you know.

Part of my job is to talk to an Eastern staff about Western society and to talk to a Western staff about Eastern society. Lots of room to talk in absolutes. Who said, "The time to make up your mind about people is never"?

Spent in Englishes. You might say Chenglish. In versions between English and Chinese. Between?

Kelly's studying Korean. She says she misuses Korean, that most Koreans do. How? She uses honorifics wrong.

Students don't learn tenses till a certain level. How do they conceptualize time? How do they think of completed action?

These imagined enemies.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Minor Flooding

Nobody's lived in the new place for the past four years. Last night I turned the water heater on so I could have a shower. A minute later I heard a loud crack. In the kitchen, water was spurting everywhere. The heater had exploded a bit. A new one's supposed to come Saturday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Digs

I'm about to finish moving. This will by the fourth apartment I've lived in since moving to China.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Such a weird thing to learn to read and write again. So fascinating to recognize something, even if it's only one character in a series of fifty.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Far Away And


why are you sorry

he was a _____

and, and

I don't understand family

Friday, September 17, 2010

Harold Winslow Gower

Harold Winslow Gower, my great-grandfather, died yesterday. He was ninety-six years old.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


If I know the context, I can usually understand most of the conversation, but if I don't know the context, I can't even pick out words I know well.

Monday, September 13, 2010

FCC Research and Epigraph

Tonight, aided by Miles, I'm going to do some research for the Five Colour City article. Though I know it will most definitely be cut, I want to have the beginning of The Mars Volta's "Cassandra Gemini" as the epigraph:
There was a frail syrup dripping off His lap danced lapel, punctuated by her Decrepit prowl she washed down the hatching Gizzard soft as a mane of needles His orifice icicles hemorrhaged By combing her torso to a pile Perspired the trophy shelves made room for his collapse She was a mink handjob in sarcophagus heels

Sunday, September 12, 2010

There Are Plenty of People I

Kelly quotes T. in a Pessoan moment: "I miss situations, not people."

"Liu Xiang Is One of the Famous Players in the World"

"I just want to know if the grammar is correct."

"It's fine grammatically, but contextually it might not be."

"Just tell me if the sentence is right."


Friday, September 10, 2010

Exactly Right

"You look like you're having so much fun while you teach."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Due Soon

Received notice that there will be no advertising involved with the Five Colour City article. Therefore received also permission to write with full autonomy, the only way to cover FCC. Rumor has it that downtown expats think FCC is some kind of mythical place. More like several buildings failing to be a funhouse.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How Many People Understand You?

Today: a woman walking around Kaifaqu with a shirt that read, "Who do I have to BLOW to get a drink in this place?"

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pretty Much SOP for FCC

Passing through Five Colour City after getting off the light rail this afternoon, I heard music blasting through huge speakers. At first, I didn't recognize the words as English. Then I realized that the lyrics were something like "If you wanna be my girl, put my dick in your mouth. Move it left. Move it right." Then "If you want to be my man, lick my clit." About fifty meters away, there was a roped-off section where a kid was riding a fake horse. He made it move by bouncing up and down on top.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fourth Apartment

Word is, I have to move again soon, like maybe tomorrow. Three new Western teachers are coming in, and they need a place to live.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

You Give Me a Corpse

During a warm-up, the students and teachers each write down three things about themselves and then exchange the information so that somebody else in the class has to guess who's written what.

"'I hate the Japanese,'" reads a student.

OK, which student needs to be talked to? But the Eastern teacher is grinning, and the students right away guess him. My coteacher has announced to the teenagers his hatred.

Later a different Eastern teacher needs help finding the Chinese translation for a couple words, including condominium. "We often call it just a condo," I say.

She looks it up.

"That's a bad word," she reports. She's looked up condom. She's a recent graduate of college, and she's saying that condom is a bad word.

"Condo," I stress.

She looks it up again, again with the m.

Later I end up playing Rock Band and then Lego Rock Band in another expat's house. I forget I'm in China. I drink a margarita and then sangria. I don't really forget I'm in China. My name sounds weird in others' mouths.

Friday, September 3, 2010

To Describe

When describing the person, Sunny says, it's important for students to go in a certain order: first height, then weight, then features from head to toe. Don't describe the socks, though. Big eyes are a good thing to praise. So's a big—"high," her word—nose. If these adjectives don't appropriately describe the subject, don't list the eyes or the nose at all, even if the person won't hear you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Someone stopped me and asked for directions this morning. I understood her Chinese completely, but I still didn't know where the restaurant she wanted was. She complained about my not knowing.

About the same time yesterday, I was sprayed a little in the face with herbicide being hosed over the fence of the local university. "{Be careful,}" I told someone else and pointed at the hose. He looked, saw the hose, and then turned to stare at me.

A small student, not in any of my classes, told me this afternoon, "{You're a foreigner.}"

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In Sleep

NPR did a profile on Deborah Fallows, author of Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language.

Ex: Pat

on the inadvertent username, over at HTMLGIANT

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


For months, I waited for August 29, the marker of a year here. I'd stop writing in this space, I had decided. At least, I'd stop writing every day. For a year, except for the few times when I missed because I was out and couldn't reach a connection or because I fell asleep with the computer in front of me, I was here. Perhaps obsessively, one could argue. I was going to rest, I reasoned with myself, finally, removing the obligation I felt to this process.

But last night I missed it, and as I worked on Confederacy of Dunces with Miles this afternoon and then, tonight, walked through Kaifaqu with Sunny, I knew I wanted to come back here. Another year of writing then? Nobody should be surprised.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

One Year

A year later I'm sitting at an outside table in Five Colour City with the café staff and Preston. The place is a Korean joint, and I'm ordering in Korean while everybody else orders in Chinese. Because I keep switching between languages, I keep getting 1 and 2 mixed up ("一" and "이"). The waitress double-checks, looks at my fingers, doesn't believe my mouth. The staff is saying goodbye to Bob, a college student who worked in the basement this summer. Bad karaoke is coming down from a window above. Many of us want sleep.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

It Is Not Loneliness but Its Opposite

The desk faces east, a wall separating it from the living room. The bedroom door is to the north of the desk. Beside the door are two black suitcases belonging to someone else. They have not been emptied since the move. They sit there, waiting to be evacuated and returned to their owners. Next to the suitcases, to the west, is a big wardrobe, which holds all nonworn clothes. The clothes frequently worn are scattered on either side of the bed, which has its head against the west wall in more or less the center of the room. A nightstand is to the south of the bed, and beside the nightstand is a hamper with a broken leg. A white shirt hangs out of it.

Outside the room, a garden runs along the back of the apartment complex. Hardly anyone's out there this summer. It's more of a spring activity, tending the garden. Across the street are more apartments. Mixed in are a few stores.

Back in the apartment, in the living room, to the east of the bedroom, are a couch, a love seat, a chair, and a futon. This room is highly uncomfortable and is avoided at almost all times. The kitchen and dining room, both to the north of the living room, are also uncomfortable-feeling rooms and are almost always avoided, though the books are kept in the dining room.

On the staircase, the motion-censored lights may not light up as tenants walk by. It seems that noise more than motion sets them off. There are four flights of stairs to the bottom, each forgettable, marked with the floor number. The doors, two on each floor, have their Spring Festival decorations up, most of them. The door at the bottom of this set of stairs is usually unlocked. Sometimes a turn of a dial to the east of the door is necessary. Outside is dirt and garbage cans placed at irregular intervals. The dirt is covered with bricks, which ride the dirt when there's been a lot of rain, which there has been recently. The bricks are loose, were simply laid down but not cemented together. When cars drive on them, the water and mud from below squirts out.

At the gate to the complex, which gate is never closed, is a guard building, with one or two people doing who knows what inside. Manning, guarding. Children often squat in one of the doorways, playing Pog, which is big here (and in Korea). Sometimes children play with the mud that rises up between the bricks. Cats—whether owned or feral, it's hard to tell—run everywhere, many of them limping or missing hair or both. They raid the trash cans, are incredibly timid around people, do not accept "Here, kitty, kitty," but don't hiss either.

Across from the apartments is a corner store. The couple who own and run it have been in a bad mood for something like a month now. In the store is mostly junk food. There are a few household items: TP, tissue, that kind of thing. Just outside the store, against its front facade, are two Coke coolers. The one to the south houses soda; the one to the north, beer. The summer, it seems, is the only time cold soda or beer is drunk. Soda is three yuan (forty-five cents) a bottle. Beer ranges from three to six. To the south of the cooler housing soda is a freezer full of ice cream, which freezer is inside the store in colder months. There is no cash register; the couple simply take money and put it in a drawer that seems to have no lock. The couple largely sit outside, with friends. On warm nights, it's not uncommon to see men huddled around men playing Chinese chess, a confusing game for those uninitiated and not able to read characters.

To the south of the store, a ways down the street, is a hill, at the top of which is a UFO-shaped observation deck, usually closed. At night, it's lit up, shining blue over the park. From the top of the hill, much of Kaifaqu can be seen. There's a wooden path leading up. Below is the park, groomed constantly by men and women.

There are street cleaners, notably mostly women, whose uniforms, green and yellow, cover the whole body and most of the face, even in the hot months. It is not uncommon for these women to get hit and every so often killed by passing cars, according to the rumor. The streets and sidewalks are filthy. Many people simply throw trash on the ground even though there are garbage and even recycling cans throughout Kaifaqu. There are claims that the street cleaners clean everything by evening or morning, but these claims aren't true. In some corners of this part of town, the trash accumulates, and where there's already trash, trash goes. Sometimes high school students are assigned a day of service and must go out to pick up after everyone.

In the middle of the sidewalks, a series of small bumps protrudes into the air. This is for the blind to follow, although where are the blind? There are also many holes, many places where the bricks that make up the sidewalk have simply given way, the dirt under them moved somehow. The holes remain largely unmarked. Sometimes a head can be seen and then a shovel. It is not a lovely job, digging, and a place where a former hole was always seems dangerous, even after rebricked.

On the streets are these languages, in descending-by-use order: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Russian, English, German.

It's raining. Several birds cry out. The Chinese think the magpie is lucky. Many parts of the walk to school are flooded today. When it rains, it's hard to get a cab. On the way to school are several empty buildings.

Just outside the park is a building that obviously used to serve as a bar. Now drinks and ice cream are served from it. Customers can go only a meter or two into the dark building. The drinks are not fountain drinks. The ice cream is individually wrapped. Outside the building sits a pathetic box with a display of mostly drunk drinks, their labels sun bleached and peeling or peeled off. It's hard to tell whether anybody's watching.

Across from the former bar is a series of bushes. In the summer months, dragonflies appear in large numbers. It is tempting to try to swat them with an umbrella on days when it looks like it's going to rain but doesn't, but don't.

Around the corner are four traces of metal circles where a bus stop used to be a covered bus stop. The cover was taken down during the spring for some reason. The bus stop is in front of a hospital. A lot of people have head wounds. Cabs tun into and pull away from the hospital quickly, pedestrians or no, and must be watched for. There's no light at this intersection. There is, however, a tree in the road, about a meter away from the sidewalk, blocking cars from taking an easy right into the hospital; cars have to make a ninety-degree turn almost rather than just rounding the curb.

Further west is an intersection that usually has power. Usually. Even when pedestrians have the right of way, cars are still allowed to turn, so the people can be hit if they're not paying attention. The lights usually count about fifty seconds before changing colors. People jaywalk. Cars do not slow down.

On the road to the south and parallel to the road just described are many massage parlors, these being the kind where patrons can get a bit of the tug, supposedly, and more. A lot of the signs for these places are in three or four languages: Chinese, English, Japanese, and Korean. Inside, women lounge, usually very thin and bored looking. They sit with the door open. The lights around many of these places are hot red or blue, snake lights. Outside the last parlor on the block, a limo is always parked, white, stretched. It doesn't ever seem to move.

Friday, August 27, 2010


Hillary and Sunny, my teachers, had to learn Mandarin before college—that is, when they were already in their late teens. They both originally spoke separate dialects. While the written form of Chinese is the same everywhere, different areas have completely different versions of spoken Chinese. Chinese TV shows have Chinese subtitles.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


"Everyone has to speak of what they know, and what they do not know they should ask."
—José Saramago

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


"Everybody who tells you how to act has whisky on their breath."
—John Updike

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It Always Feels Like I'm Writing When I Can Understand Only So Little

I spent much of the day with Hanna. We went to one of the shopping centers where you can haggle. Holding up a pair of earrings, I asked a saleswoman, "{Do these look good?}" She replied that they looked nice on me indeed and indicated a necklace to go with it. As Hanna and I walked down the rows, people yelled out their English hellos in an effort to attract our attention. Sometimes "Please come in" was added. One shirt read, "Telling you is only." I turned it over, but there wasn't anything more printed. "{What does this mean?}" I asked. The saleswoman here responded by asking me, in Chinese, whether it was raining. Even though I was carrying an umbrella, I didn't realize she was talking to me. "{Is it raining?}" she asked again. She switched to English: "You know: rain, r-a-i-n." In Chinese, I told her no but maybe it would later. On a table in the middle of a stall a little ways down, two fish swam in their tiny tank. While Hanna looked at shirts, I regarded the fish, wanting them to jump out of their home. "{I'll sell them to you for two yuan,}" one two saleswomen said. They both laughed. "{He understands you,}" Hanna told them. Further along, we came upon a girl as she did several cartwheels. "{Very nice,}" I told her. She ran and clutched her mother, who tried to get her to speak English with me. Instead, the girl did three more cartwheels and then returned to her mother. Outside, people were burning paper money for their dead ancestors. Today was July 15, according to the lunar calendar: Ghost Day.

Monday, August 23, 2010

High Context

It's not as though the classroom persona is any less real than the nonclassroom persona; they're just different. Of course. But so it's frustrating when somebody expects you to act like you act when you're with your young students.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

August 22, 2010

The summer semester, with its seventeen classes a week, ended today. Next week, though each Eastern teacher will stay with their classes, the Western teachers will switch. That their child will have a new teacher is sometimes a little difficult for some of the parents to understand. In China, students stay not only with the same group of classmates but also with the same teacher for many years. I have no idea how the students feel about the change. Some of them are too young, of course, to realize what's going on, even when we explain, first in English and then in Chinese. Others, perhaps, don't give a shit. They go to school five or sometimes six days a week and then have to come to our school in addition.

I said goodbye to one of my favorite classes this morning, SK3B. I'll still see them around, of course, as they'll only be down the hall, in a room called Los Angeles. Next semester—that is, next week—I'll even get two of my former classes back.

Also, Stephanie, a Western teacher who's become a good friend, is heading downtown next week. It'll be weird not having her around.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

All Levels

I love teaching all levels of EFL, from the tiniest of the tinies to the adults. The older students show you what you really need to reinforce with the younger students. Here it's mostly phonics. A lot of students treat English words the same way they treat Chinese characters. Thus, they don't know how to read a new word without first being told how it sounds. A few students see a word that starts with m and read it as "mother" almost every time. The youngest ones teach you patience. After a couple hours with folks sneezing on you, crying loudly in a language you don't understand, and pulling their dicks out through the bottom of their shorts, you can handle the rest of the day pretty easily. These folks also teach you that you can be silly, and silliness helps you teach better.

Friday, August 20, 2010

It's Easier to Write for Somebody than about Somebody

This Sunday is supposed to be the last day I have with one of my Conversational English classes, but unfortunately, most of them have military training and so won't attend. They're like fourteen and fifteen years old. Such training improves character, an Eastern teacher told me during lunch, her mouth full of eggplant. It keeps the mind sharp.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

SK1C, Laiboman

For the past semester, I've had class in another school. The students were amazing, funny folk.

They're playing a game, but you know goddamn well they know they're learning. In the background is a lobster mislabeled in two languages—"shrimp" and "虾"—or maybe it's the picture, not the words, that's wrong. Behind the photographer is a window that opens onto a beautiful view of the hallway, where the light switch for the room is located, which light switch is, unfortunately, fucked with by unsupervised students. Notice the iPod, used as a clock. What you can't see is an actual chalkboard with its chalk lined up, dustying up clothes. Fairy and Peter will tie, two games each. Shawn will win four games, but Steven won't seem to care.

Steven asked today, "Do you have a girlfriend?" Sometimes he arrived late to class just to practice the dialogue
A: Sorry I'm late.

B: That's OK.
Everybody looks more serious than they are.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Course Description


创新写作课是主要针对于SBS4和 CE级别的课程。这门课程主要介绍一些作家们通常创作富有想象力的作品时的写作方法以及他们的写作风格。对于创新写作课程,我们将着重介绍的体裁有:非小说类写诗文学,小说和诗歌。在课堂上我们会阅读以上体裁的作品,探讨作者的选材,课堂的讨论将不仅仅局限于怎样抓住读者的兴趣,还将探讨如何使读者觉得阅读过程是一个挑战。在课堂上,学生们将创作属于自己的具有独创性和细节性的作品。与此同时,老师也会教给学生如何培养写作中给读者创造惊喜的能力,由此一来学生也会在日常生活中发现有趣的话题。每节课开始的时候,我们都会给学生布置作业,每个星期学生都必须创作一篇原创的故事或者诗歌,以供在课堂上讨论。在课程的结尾,同学们将会将一篇自己最喜欢某个作家的故事或者诗歌翻译成英文。为了使学生进行更有效的翻译,我们在课堂上会教给学生怎样用文字向读者们呈现我们丰富生动的文化。这门课程最终将会为每位学生制作一个原创作品的选集,学生可以将其珍藏留作纪念。

Two Years Out

Q. Can I use the first person?

A. Evidently.
Chicago Style Q&A

It's hard to sit in the office. Almost as soon as the last class lets out, the lights are turned off upstairs, and the second floor goes to a dark I find incongruent to the amount of activity that has just ceased. I'm not sure which is more obligating, a full school or one in which all the lights are off.

People stare at me. One of my favorite things is to make faces at children—I mean, really get the tongue way out there. There's a fair number of them who stick their tongues out back. At school, the students' sticking tongues out is pretty much a sign of friendship between them and me. Not all of them are my students even.

The threat level was orange the day I left. A woman next to me on the plane got up to use the lavatory as we were taking off. A flight attendant ran back to stop her, and the plane had to touch back down. "Really!" the woman said. "I've never been treated so rudely in my life." The captain came on to tell us we'd be grounded for a while while we waited to get back in line for takeoff. I worried I wouldn't be able to recognize the Japanese for "Seoul" in the Tokyo airport.

I keep getting up. There are many days when I feel uncomfortable in this online space. Overexposed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


When I'm with my coworkers, I can understand most of the Chinese I hear. Last night I went out and was the only Westerner in the joint. A friend danced. She took me to another bar, this one called 98 (Jiǔbā—get it?), where everybody spoke Chinese. I understood almost nothing. Maybe three words. My Chinese is habitual, like the asking for ketchup, like the asking for a cold drink instead of a hot one. Contextual. Cigarette after cigarette passed my way. A Korean tried to explain to me, in Korean, why he regretted the tattoo of a dragon engulfing his left shoulder and pec, but I didn't understand that either, so he translated himself in Chinese, which my dancer friend further translated. People were afraid of him, she said he'd said. "Cheers" was said many times. What was I waiting around for?

Today I was asked to write an article on Five Colour City.

So much of talking seems to have to be stolen from others. I say almost nothing.

Monday, August 16, 2010


The really young students don't understand yet that I don't speak Chinese. I must seem like an idiot to them sometimes.

Yesterday a class of five-year-olds was speaking Chinese. Sharon, the Eastern teacher, stopped them and, in Chinese, said, "{When you speak Chinese, Tim Teacher doesn't understand you.}"

In English, not thinking about what I was saying, I said, "Yeah, Sharon's right: I don't understand you."

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Today was Dawn's last day at Jayland. As soon as I got here from Korea, she started calling me 오빠, "big brother." Goodbye, 妹妹.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Year

The new contract expires a year from today. My promotion, to director of the English Program, was announced at the morning meeting. I have to do research for the cultural training of Eastern and Western teachers and to create a curriculum to improve the Eastern staff's English—stuff I was basically doing already. It's a weird thing to monitor others' language all day.

After class tonight, as the lights were being shut off, one of the Eastern teachers said, "What if we had only one person stay here all alone at midnight? It would be very scary."

No. The school with its lights off and its people gone is finally relaxing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Englishes between Friends

The fact that my new friend just skyped me an essay she wrote in preparation for the TOEFL bums me out. It means she probably wants to be friends just to improve her English. I dunno. It's always hard to judge these things. People are always asking how to say something. And it's not like I don't get anything out of it. I mean, on some level, I'm trying to improve my Chinese too, no? But I don't want to work on friends' language right now. What's interesting is the putting together of conversations that can't be entirely in one language, that switch, questioned, mispronounced, and misgrammared through.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Maria, my boss, after my saying that it's hard to get good books out here, tried to inspire me to stay another, oh, couple of years: "What if we get you a Kindle?"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Agnes just asked me to teach her German. I'm curious how hard it would be for her to learn. Of the four languages, German seems to make the most sense. Chinese to German by way of English? Why not?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


At work, I track down the Englishes. Outside, it's the Englishes that are the most interesting. You can learn a lot about Chinese sentence structure from all the Englishes between it and the American English you speak. You begin to anticipate other structures. Some say it's impossible to resist the temptation to use Chenglish: you can talk faster, goes the reasoning. Makes my job harder, though. Reinforces bad habits in others. A teacher ought to understand the context of a tense.

Monday, August 9, 2010


The sparrow may be small, but all its vital organs are there.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I've let Jayland have a strong gravity lately. I walk around inside when the lights are off and hardly anyone else is there. I feel obligated by empty halls, by rooms students have absented.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


I just signed the new contract. I'll be with Jayland, in Dalian, China, for at least one more year and a week.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Social Reading

I want an e-reader with a system set up where readers can upload their notes, as Craig Mod proposes here. And a personal cut of a book? That would be amazing.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Focus on Dalian Article

My article, "Shama Luxe Grand Central: Luxe for One Night," which I wrote back in May, was published in this month's Focus on Dalian, just out today. During one of the interviews, I was asked if the apartment's management would be allowed to read the piece before it was printed. "It was part of the deal when we agreed to the article," the interviewee said. After that, much of the fun was gone. I didn't want to write something that would be checked. I mean, I hadn't planned to bash the place, but. The magazine's operations manager assured me that even though the apartment folk would be allowed to read my stuff, they wouldn't be allowed to change it at all. "I intend to keep some integrity." And but the thought that the article would be read before it was read bothered me during the writing. I've looked at it only a little in its static form in the glossy pages. It is at least one sentence longer than the version I wrote, ending with something I would never write. At least it's not one of my poems.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

One More Year

Tomorrow's the last day of my contract. If I hadn't agreed to re-sign, I'd be going home. One more year. Happily.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


The tickets, which have been given to us gratis through school connections, are in the middle of booklets of advertisements. The men rip the stubs out. Though there are trash cans just inside, most people just throw their stub and booklet onto the ground. We walk around the square. Everybody wants to take in everything. Miles and I are eager to get to the actual beer. Vendors are selling scorpions and tarantulas on sticks, snacks for the beer drinkers. We finally choose Paulener's tent. Inside this German-beer tent, a Filipino band sings American country songs. I cringe at "Achy Breaky Heart." "好不好?C'mon! I can't hear you! 好不好?" the singer's shouting. The crowd finally gives her a "好." Miles and I order a five-liter keg and stay put as the others leave. I'm not drunk, but after only one beer, I feel increasingly silly, and I'm laughing because the combined German and Chinese is like fucking with my ability to speak English. I want to be able to understand everything. The troughs of piss aren't overflowing. "That's because it's early," Miles says. Later, when tables of people stand and try to follow the German band's German—that's when you know shit's started. A very little girl is touching the stage, where women hardly dressed dance, try their best to be seductive. I'm trying to write all this on my hands. "The Chicken Dance." A conga line. The cups are so flimsy I squeeze through two of them within thirty minutes, sending beer all over both times. "Goddammit," Miles says. Everybody we've come with or we're supposed to have met up with—they're all trying to find each other, but it feels good not to move.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hours before Beerfest

Beerfest later today. Supposed to be rivers of piss. No real bathrooms, only troughs that overflow inside tents. Maria and Preston have told stories about people left face down in the road after only a few beers. Some of the Eastern teachers are going today too. They don't really drink. They don't handle it well. It's currently eighty-four degrees out, too hot, some say, to be out with beer. Disagree.

Being in China is hard lately. Seems like a long time since a conversation made sense. What feeling now? Not loneliness. The opposite of that. Strange feeling.

Thing currently most missed: writing for hours at a diner during winter, refills on their way.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


You don't really turn down someone who's invited you to do something. What you do is say, "I'll do my best," and then not show up. Last week almost everyone in the company went to an island where no expats had been before, but I declined to go: I still had lesson plans to write, and I was simply exhausted. Because we had to sign up before the trip, I couldn't pull the whole "I'll do my best" trick. A lot of the staff got butt hurt I didn't go: they took it as a sign that I wanted to be far away from them. In this high context, it's hard to be alone.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Model Everything

Impromptu lesson on sneezing into their hand or arm after a three-year-old student blew thick snot onto Dawn too many times this morning.

Laugh As We Get Out

Maria gives the directions to the cab driver. She does so fast. When he doesn't go, she gives them again, slowly.

Cab driver to Maria: "{I don't understand. Your Chinese is bad.}"

Maria: "{No. Your Chinese is bad.}"

Cab driver to me: "{She just told me my Chinese is bad.}"

Me: "{I know. She's Vietnamese.}"

Cab driver: "{And you're German?}"

Me: "{Yes.}"


But of course, the Eastern teachers are also my teachers. They do a good job of not wincing whenever I speak Chinese.

Friday, July 30, 2010

But Isn't English Always Provisional?

A few days ago I downloaded the audiobook version of David Lipsky's Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, and I've been enjoying listening to it as I walk around Kaifaqu. It's funny and sad, what you'd expect from listening to David Foster Wallace (although it's not really him, is it?) talk about himself.

At home, I've been watching Twin Peaks in my bedroom. What I keep wanting from that show is for it to scare me real bad. Last night I fell asleep with earbuds in during the pilot episode and woke to Bobby and his friend barking at James in the prison, and that scared me real good out of sleep.

What I get from Wallace and Lynch is the feeling that I'm neither crazy nor alone. When I was young, I thought I hated people. I haven't felt that way in a long time. Lately I've been frustrated with my coworkers—namely, the Eastern teachers. Yesterday, as I was teaching a young class in a hot room with no breeze or air, I realized that a great majority of the people I work with are also my students and that it would be ridiculous of me to get mad at them for their poor English, which I've been doing frequently lately. I'm in a weird position: I'm not their boss, but I'm responsible for chasing after them for their mistakes. Most of the time, I feel like a real dick correcting them. But it's not that their English is even poor. When I arrived here, last year, I thought their English was amazing. It must be hard to communicate every day in your second language, I told them. Over time, however, I've listened to and corrected the same mistakes over and over. No, it's not that their English is poor; it's that their English is habitual. Take my Chinese: I understand a lot of the Chinese I hear, and I feel confident speaking it, but what I actually hear, say, and understand is just the same words over and over again, mostly school, food, taxi, and drink lingo. When it comes to other things, I'm in all actuality lost, but because I've been at work every day for weeks, context hardly comes around to other vocabulary. The ETs' English is kind of like that; they've developed a working English that can be understood enough to get them through the day. Now, you could view this—let's call it provisional—English as lazy. Well, not the English but its users: they've gone with what works but not necessarily with what's correct (let's bracket for now the argument that I know comes with that statement). This way of thinking is easy to follow, and on bad days here, I think this way, but it's not productive and will actually sour a day. Further, it may not be an accurate way to think, may not be how language really works or at least how we can usefully conceptualize it as part of the teaching gig. If the ETs get desired result x from this English, it's no wonder that they continue to use it, just like I continue to use my broken-ass Chinese. After all this time, after all day every day speaking English, is it still hard for them?

Thursday, July 29, 2010


A thought: most of my coworkers are also my students. Which thought makes me want to be more patient with them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


For the past two days, I've been downloading the first season of Twin Peaks. Last night I was at a bar with a stripper pole and a punching bag. Nobody stripped, though somebody danced. On my days off, I wrote lesson plans in the basement café. Either keep falling asleep before having a chance to write here or keep keeping away. It's the summer semester, thus seventeen classes a week. Plans soon to travel by myself.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Or at Least Three I Enjoy

On a questionnaire passed out at work today:
What are your three favorite English words or phrases?
Ab ovo

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My First Case of Food Poisoning in This Country

Last night I got food poisoning from one of my favorite restaurants. This morning I started teaching two classes with three- and four-year-olds. Had to leave each one to puke. Almost didn't make it to the bathroom once.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Job I Love

I haven't been home in days. Last night I slept at the school. At 8, workers woke me up. They set to drilling in the basement. I went to my office on the second floor and pounded out a few lesson plans.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Orange-Scented Anything Is Always a Letdown

Scented highlighters: encouraging student addictions from an early age.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Last Day Downtown

Because downtown was short a teacher this semester, I commuted every Saturday to teach four classes there.


The one flashing the peace sign above is Terra. She uses that same hand to pat my butt when I'm turned around at the board.

Janice, my co, with the students


the class translator


Becky, my co
On the board, I've written that the present perfect continuous is used to complain.


a rare action photo
"Use the index," I'm probably saying.


The word I've been trying to remember for months is shuttlecock.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chinese Program

Today was my last Chinese class for a while because the summer semester starts next week. Sunny's been a great teacher, and I hope to continue learning with her in the fall.

Mostly a Marker of Anger

Tonight I had dinner with Agnes and Hanna. Our waitress came up to the table and showed us a napkin on which was written, "Fuck."

"{What does this mean?}" she asked my friends.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


"Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvellous, intoxicating."
Simone Weil (via Gabriel Gudding)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

Can I Name the Three Horsemen?

They: Maria, Miles, I. In reverse order: one of us is writing about us, one of us is writing about martinis, and one of us is trying to get the other two to go back out.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

First, Second: In, Out

If you're in someone's in group, they'll always be willing to help you. You can tease each other, and it's no big deal. You can borrow money without losing face. If you're not in someone's in group, if you're on the outs, fuck you very much, it seems. Sometimes I purposely ask people who aren't in my in group out to lunch. It's interesting: either we have a meal together and get closer, or I learn to recognize lies.

1: "Do you want to have lunch this weekend?"

2: "Where?"

1: "You know all the good places. I was hoping you'd tell me."

2: "OK. I'll call you and let you know where."

To Use Pez as a Criticism

Maria brought back Pez dispensers from her last trip to the States. This morning she put them in all the teachers' mailboxes. Later some of the Eastern teachers asked if the characters at the tops of the dispensers were how Maria viewed them. "Do you think I'm a man?" one asked. No joke. They were actually complaining about Maria's present, worried that she had meant something more with her candy and plastic. "No, you guys. They have nothing to do with what I think of you or what you look like."

Friday, July 9, 2010

First Characters

Yesterday Sunny started teaching me characters. Nothing big, just 爸爸 (bàba, "father"), 手 (shǒu, "hand"), 下 (xià, "down"), 几 (, "some"), 儿子 (érzi, "son"), 是 (shì, "to be"), and 的 (de, the adjective marker). Today I learned the interrogative marker, 吗 (ma), and 我 (, "I"). Apparently, speaking isn't hard enough.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Of Course

In fact, I understand very little.

English Program

"ET-WT bridge" would be stretching it—that is, such a title would be overstating my abilities to understand the relationships between the Eastern and Western teachers. I teach English Program, a class for the Eastern teachers that's designed to improve their English, help them develop professionalism, and teach them Western culture. The class, then, requires that I pay attention not only to the Easterners' and Westerners' language uses but also to their interactions. I am, however, even after a year not even close to understanding everything. Of course.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

One Pays Attention

Tonight Maria asked me what I wanted my new title to be. I've been here almost a year, and the new contract's coming up. Negotiations are apparently under way. "How about 'ET-WT bridge'?" she asked.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Grammar God's Birthday

There we are. It's Miles's birthday. You can see us: him and me, sitting at the bar, arguing with somebody about why we know grammar so well. The bartender comes up to me and says, "When are you guys going to stop talking about pussy and start talking about pussy?"

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Because They Could Understand Me, but What's the Speed with Those Who Understand You

Today I talked to my Western friends' children. I didn't know at which speed I was supposed to proceed.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Why Is One Wearing Goggles?

The Chinese children's book on sperm, in my classroom this morning, was a surprise.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Authorized to Hand Out Only up to Five Jay Bucks per Class; Class of Eight

I hate competition and hate it even more in education, but here I am, writing names on the board and drawing stars next to them to correspond with students' behavior, making them compete for who's going to get the most stars and therefore a Jay buck (yes, Jayland has its own currency, which can be spent on the contents of a large display case in the lobby), but the stars are how we control this particular class of five- and six-year-olds, and until we implemented this system, only four weeks ago, the class was the hardest hour of the week. Still.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Space, Work or Otherwise; Body and Mind As If Separate

The café at Jayland opened today, with the grand opening to come. Preston's been talking about it since I arrived. Now there are three branches of the business: the English-language school, the Chinese-culture center, this café. For weeks, Preston and the separate café staff have been selling bread to the parents and students who come on Fridays. It's the best bread I've tasted in almost two years, and it was nice today to finish teaching and then head down into the basement for a few cocktails. Weird, though, like a bar crawling into your work space. Lately the work's been crawling into my out space—invitedly, I must admit.


Today Sunny taught me Wǒde shēntǐ hěn lèi, dànshì wǒde tóunǎo hěn qīngxǐng, "My body is tired, but my mind is awake."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

We Ourselves Don't Dance

The way the lights progress across the room onto the old man's shiny shirt makes him look as though he is continually about to stand. I'm with people who never drink, and one of them tells me, "You're the only foreigner in the whole place," a sentence I've heard a lot lately. They don't know the Chinese word for "vodka," and even when we figure it out, using "clear" and "transparent," what comes are not three fully iced glasses but is in fact a whole bottle. "He says, '{Is this what you wanted?}'" No. "He says, '{This is the only way it comes.}'" Well, this is what we'll have then. Even here—where people dance not so much with each other as much as near each other (it's certainly not the on-each-other-ness of clubs that you might be used to [except for one couple who are perhaps a few inches away from each other, the man behind the woman, they dancing like spoons, one could say, at which my friends point]), pole dancers keep most of their clothes on (although they're pretty naked compared to the rest of the place [my friends keep pointing and saying, "Wow," and, "You should really look," but I don't want to]), and old men in tacky clothes dance in a way that reminds me of the loops you see in cartoons when a whole bunch of people are in frame together—even here I'm thinking about work. I have to admit. The old man—I swear this time he's going to get up. He's watching somebody dance. I'm watching him watch. I scan the room for anybody watching me watch. The music's too loud for talking, of course, and for obvious reasons, the old trick of lip reading doesn't work. Neither does encouraging people to drink more slowly, probably because I myself am pulling directly from the bottle's lip, the vodka weak. "He asked me, '{Is he European?}' and I told him, '{No, he's American.}'" In front of the trough of a urinal, some men are pissing; others are talking in very close groups around the pissers, one man with his arm around his buddy as the latter unzips and goes. In the actual urinal, there are pictures of women you can't help but piss on. My friends lie several times before they admit they want to go.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Kelly is returning to South Korea tomorrow morning.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Part 2

Part 1

None of us can read, so we have to go to a restaurant that has pictures. A. says, "Let's stop talking about work," but we're in a high context and all together: A., M., N., R., S., and I. Collectively we order. I have to order the eggplant three times before I finally tell the waitress that I don't actually believe they have it. She assures me they do, and it comes fifteen minutes after the meal's over, and it tastes horrible. I leave it to burn on the table's flames. England's losing to Germany over A.'s and my shoulders.

Can't get away from work when the job's language. Can't stop the language machine. Thinking about all the subsets. "{I don't know how to say _____.}"

Disengage. Alone. And

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Everybody always wants somebody to be sorry. Fuck that."
—Donald Barthelme

Saturday, June 26, 2010