Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why We Check the Pronunciation of Each Word before Calling the Students

"No, no. Peanuts."

"Peanuts. That's what I said."

"No, it's not."

"What did I say?"


"I don't hear the difference."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Good Post on the Logic of Language

over at Motivated Grammar

The Beginning of Our Weekend Is the End of Everybody Else's

Preston, a networker's networker, knows everybody, so it's not surprising when we fall into a wine tasting. "Free of charge, free of charge." We're supposed to be in the import store for illegally photocopied novels, but. The in-store bar is filled with Chinese people who quickly ask us in decent English where we're from. They know where California is, but Michigan is given a blank look. "Ah, so you're an ABC," somebody says to Preston. American-born Chinese. "What do you do?" I point at Preston and start to say, "I work for him," but I have food in my mouth. Usually talking with your mouth full wouldn't be a problem, but with this crowd, it seems rude again. As I pause to chew, Preston says, "We work together." He never admits in such company that he can speak Chinese or that he owns the school or even that we teach. Too many asked favors. "We do services for expats," he explains. Two women walk in, and several folks mean mug. "Koreans," one man says to us not quietly but not meanly. "They have a different air." Looking around at the interior, I say, "I feel like I'm in Seoul," which is supposed to be kind of a dig, but directed at whom? But I feel like digging.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


On Friday, Dàjiě told me, indicating the Eastern teachers, "{All of them are your little sisters.}"

At the downtown school yesterday, Janice came up to me, gave me a hug, and said, "When you come here, I feel like family has arrived."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Before Another Move

I have a hard time leaving the school after work's over. It's not that I don't want to go, just that I'm pulled in by the space of almost none of us there.

I saw my new apartment today. As we checked out the place, we pointed out things that needed to be fixed. The landlord told Sophia long stories about appliances and furniture and a soft spot in the floor where there'd been a flood. "{OK,}" Sophia said, "{but they still need to be fixed.}"

I was pulled in by the space of my not yet being there, trying to figure out how I'd occupy every room. I have this habit of staying in only one part of my apartments, but there's this urge to divide life into a series of rooms: here is where I always eat; here, work. With the suitcases I brought from the States, I feel like a temporary selection, a for-now occupant of some hotel, kept neat and proper for the next person, who, it seems, will more fully inhabit my former space.

So often my body is exhausted, but I don't want to sleep, don't want

Thursday, March 25, 2010

:) (dance)

As much as I (formally) hate(d) emoticons, they're incredibly useful when you're IMing somebody from a different culture. Pleasantries can easily be missed, so the silly little dancing man in Skype, for example, is perhaps better than saying, really, I feel good.

For a bonus, on Skype: "(mooning)" and "(finger)."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Learnin'

Kelly hates the Korean-language books I have now because they don't teach me the casual way of speaking, only the polite or, worse, the formal way of speaking. Sometimes I get frustrated with the Chinese-language books I have. One has English explanations of the grammar but then provides examples only in characters, which, of course, I still can't read. The other continually asks me to translate sentences that contain words I haven't yet learned and aren't in the book. I see the Pinyin in my head clearly, with all the sounds and tones marked, but it's hard to get them through the lips.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Too, one hears {why} all the time. It's one of the most easily distinguished bits of sound, among the first that you learn. If you're listening.


It passed the House!

Monday, March 22, 2010


"You can't explain why you love somebody," the teacher said.

OK, but you're taught what to love. Just because you can't articulate it doesn't mean there's no reason behind it.

Singular Plural Self-Reference

Last Wednesday Preston had a man come in to talk to us Western teachers about feng shui and Chinese medicine. Preston wanted to see whether this man's speech could be used as part of culture training, one of the services our school provides for expats in Dalian. The man introduced himself as a teacher with twenty years' experience in teaching Chinese culture—not, he stressed, Chinese language. He had studied and professed comparative culture.

Almost the first sentence was "Chinese people sense but don't come to conclusions about the environment, so—"

His phone rang, and he had to stop talking for nearly three minutes in order to concentrate on "powering it down."

He went on: "Everything has two aspects, yin and yang," although because the Chinese don't come to conclusions, these don't always symbolize negative and positive. There is no stable definition.

Mentality is divided into two: intelligence and emotions. The Chinese think intelligence has nothing to do with emotions. The characters for the feeling of love are [character for love][character for feeling], not [character for love][character for reason], after all.

Preston asked a question here, about, OK, yes, with this theory, what about pragmatics? How does this way of thinking inform feng shui?

By way of answering, the man said, "The Chinese don't know major or minor premises. They just sum up from the experiences. Knowledge is two parts, the visible and the invisible. The Chinese spend most of their time studying the invisible part. You can't break the mind open to see what's there; you can only give it info and get feedback. You collect all feedback and form [sic] pattern.

"For us Chinese, we never reason. We just sense. There's no why. We Chinese never ask why. If we get experience, we tell others. Reason is only for visible things, but we never consider it very important. We use reason just to justify what we've already done. But actually, I probably don't think that way. If you do business with a Chinese person, you may notice that the boss doesn't have rules. You, because you're American, may think at red lights, you must stop, but we have experience. At midnight, we go through the red light. We don't care about rules. We don't follow rules. We know if there's no camera and no police, nothing bad will happen."

Here Preston, a Chinese American, asked about the younger generation, including those Chinese descendants now living abroad: do they now reason?

"You cannot change the Chinese thinking pattern," the teacher said. "We only experience. When we do something right, we write it down. The children learn it, but they have to verify it for themselves. In China, there's no need to learn reason."

About medicine, the man said that everyone's everyone's own doctor. "We do not cure people of their ill. We just prevent illness before it becomes illness." On SARS, the dude said Western medicine couldn't control it. The Chinese could, though: they told people just to sweat it out.

I've been thinking about how to present the above reported speech (again wishing for a more precise conjugation, a better subjunctive). I don't trust the placement of some of my quotes.

I'm tempted to say I don't want to comment on anything the guy said, but by writing about it, I'm commenting on it. Here I want to contradict him only once: people can change their thinking patterns. I do not mean by this to imply that the Chinese need to change their thinking patterns, of course.

I post all this because I'm curious about singular plural self-representation: one person speaking for all their fellow country folk. It seems like part of my job sometimes, though, too. "Tim, what do Americans think of _____?" During English Program, a class for the Eastern teachers, we often discuss Western culture and problems that arise in the office from differences between the Chinese and the American teachers. Too, we're using the words Eastern and Western as though China and the States stood for the two hemispheres.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


In my class of teenagers this afternoon, we were talking about kinds of awards. One student suggested the award for the most famous person in the world.

"Who is the most famous person in the world?" I asked the class.

Without hesitation, one of the girls said, "Lady Gaga." Then a boy started singing "Bad Romance."

"Lady Obama?" another girl ventured.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Joyce, the principal of the downtown school; and the two teachers I work with down there, Becky and Janice

Friday, March 19, 2010

A New Venue

I've been asked to contribute articles to Focus on Dalian, a local magazine for expats.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What I Can Remember of a Conversation Today on Transgender People and Lesbians

"There is a man. He is wearing woman's clothes. How do you call that?"


"Is it weird?"


"But how do you call this kind of person, he or she?"

"You call that person whatever they want to be called."

"I met some lesbians. I feel so uncomfortable around these people."

"That's not their problem; that's your problem."

"They live together and say nice things about each other. They talk about their parents. She says, 'He is my father-in-law.' And their parents are really accepting. Her father says, 'She is a good host.' It's like they are normal."

"No. It's not like they're normal. They're just normal."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kelly and Trilingual Dinners

My friend Kelly, from South Korea, says she's often mistaken for Chinese—until she speaks, that is. She moves between Korean and Chinese easily and quickly, although maybe it's only my lack in these languages that makes me think she moves so effortlessly. Our dinners together are mostly in English, a language she's greatly improved in, dinners punctuated with my poor attempts to order in Chinese, with Kelly coming in to clarify my gibberish to the confused wait staff. Never mind that the staff, especially in Five Colour, probably know more English than I do Chinese. Sometimes Kelly and I try Korean restaurants, where I attempt to order in Korean, but she knows better: hardly anybody in these places speaks Korean, even in Koreatown. We eat Japanese food more often than anything else. There are some expressions we never use English for: Excuse me is always in Korean; I don't know is half the time in Korean, half the time in Chinese. Swearing is always done in English, of course.


Whereas my Canadian and Scottish friends were constantly mistaken for Americans in South Korea, I'm constantly mistaken for anything but American here. Most often I'm British.

Last week a cab driver thought Miles and I were French.

"{We're American,}" I told him, "{and you?}"

"{Chinese, of course.}"


He laughed. "{Really.}"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Good Good Study, Day Day Up

I suppose it's time I start looking at schools. I'd like someplace where I could write a creative diss and possibly study Korean and Chinese.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Usage, an (American?) English

"Do you know caveat lector? // It was a child from my songhood: everything / needed my looking up."
"Exeunt Omnes"

so much of what we do with our hands and mouths
everybody wants to be good at language
and sex, but
are you supposed to look at the interviewer or the camera?
muscle memory as I

You're so loud.
You're too loud.

"The caller you are trying to reach is power off."
"I was not on purpose."
"It was so hurry I didn't have time."

many sections of Dalian with abandoned apartments, some parts without walls around them
not only abandoned but mostly hollowed-out containers of no tenants
does anybody still play there?

"What's that word?"
"Is that a word?"
"Do you know what I mean?"

What are you going to use this English for?

many of the buildings being torn down
losing landmarks even as I
get to understand the city

Stop talking for me.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Define & Conquer
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorSkate Expectations

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lead Sausage and Eggs

Yes, lead in the food. Black sausage and black eggs. They're delicious, I was told this morning. A little bit is all right. Even the packages that claim "{No lead!}" have lead in them. How are you supposed to know? Everybody just knows. The lead eggs are called {flower eggs}. Not hidden. Not by accident. Lead in the food. A little bit is fine.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Watching Monty Python with a Chinese Coworker

What's it like to understand both languages in the room: American English and British English?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010


I have to move again, I was told this week. The landlord wants to charge more to a new tenant. Apparently, my single is only slightly cheaper than a double. Since moving in here, I've felt as though I were living in a hotel. A temporary selection. The absolutely-clean-for-once space of it all. Some of the best apartments I've lived in have been those I didn't live in in the US.

Meanwhile, in South Korea

a shoe thief

Sunday, March 7, 2010

In Michigan

Congratulations to Ben Lantz, who passed his audition on Friday for acceptance into Wayne State University's music-technology program!

Saturday, March 6, 2010


This week Sunny became my new Chinese teacher.

Friday, March 5, 2010

I'm Your Passenger

from Harper's Magazine: "Six Questions for Peter Hessler about Driving in China"

And if you sit in the front passenger seat of a cab in Dalian and try to put the seatbelt on, you'll most likely hear, "{No need}," or, "{I'm a good driver.}" The first time I reached for the seatbelt, the driver said, "{Don't be so silly.}" I shrugged and continued trying to put it on, but he physically prevented me from doing so.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


me 'n' Dawn at work

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Text from My Friend

"How's work today? The moment that I'm eating very fresh pineapple, the cat is putting out his shit. Now I only can smell his,not pineapple."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A New Project

Today coworker and friend Miles McFall and I started working on a stage adaptation of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, one of the books I brought with me from the States. We wrote in his apartment's office, his cats climbing all over me and my copy of the book. We're in that overwriting part of adaptation, with lots of room to play yet.

In order to flush Miles's pink-and-blue toilet, by the way, you have to run the sink's cold-water faucet and then pull on a piece of wire coming up from the pipe in the back of the sink. I thought he was putting me on at first.

Monday, March 1, 2010

People Keep Asking, "Do You Like Korea or China Better?" (Part Eleven: Thirteen Months Later)

"I slam doors within me where certain sensations were about to pass in order to be realized."
—Fernando Pessoa

Kaifaqu, Dalian, Liaoning, China

Ssangmun-dong, Dobong-gu, Seoul, South Korea

More Examples of How Important Tones Are in Chinese

bǎo le, "to be full"

bào le, "to have exploded"