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.