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."