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."