Saturday, April 30, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011


Next week the Western teachers are having their first grammar colloquium. It's been so long since I talked about grammar in a low-context manner I've all but forgotten. Gotta give 'em the why.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


When I lived in Korea, I always wanted to teach my students the subjunctive. I didn't understand how hard the unreal was to conceptualize, and I asked myself, Jesus, what gives with these kids who can't understand the difference between will and would? You can teach the difference between real and unreal, sure, but for the students to be able to use the subjunctive, they've got to understand the perfect tenses first, for the most part. I have an opportunity to teach the subjunctive here, in China; it takes up a good portion of the last book the teenagers learn. I don't find much use for it, though, as most of my students at this level talk almost exclusively about the piles of homework they have every day. "Yeah, well, what would you do if you didn't have homework?" That question's almost an insult. They haven't, according to them, thought about it much. I mean, they have, but. In Korea, I pushed the subjective, however unwisely, even though it wasn't part of the curriculum, at least not yet, because the students talked so much about unreal events. I'm not sure what it is that I want to accomplish by pushing the unreal.

The other day I woke up from a nightmare in which I was teaching three-year-olds the past unreal conditional.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I'm trying to figure out whether I said it wrong or the bartender didn't expect me to know the Chinese word for "hookah." Probably the latter, my friend tells me. I feel like I should understand more, and it frustrates me that I don't. If I miss the context, I'm totally screwed and end up unable to recognize words I know well. Too often I'm told, "That's just the way it is," or, "We say it like that because it sounds better that way."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Caleb Powell's "Yīn Dào"

(link e-mailed to me from my friend in New Orleans)

Monday, April 25, 2011


The easiest thing to do while teaching ESL is to have the students say the Chinese for the words you've just taught them. The students wait for you to finish the English, then look at the Chinese teacher. "{What's that mean?}" But there are so many other ways to get people to understand you. Sunny and I have decided to avoid all uses of Chinese in SK5B, a class of like ten-year-olds who have been with Sunny for more than two years. This is the second time I've taught them. The students are amazing. The class takes a lot longer without any Chinese. For the past couple weeks, we haven't been able to finish our lesson plans, but. We're trying to train the students to tell us when they don't understand. Reorganizations of the English. Recontextualizations. They're getting it, though.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Speak English

My favorite part of Sundays is teaching two classes without using any Chinese at all to explain complicated words and grammar. Sunny's the best teacher to work with.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

Who Cannot Escape the Language Machine

The Bear brings me a belt. It is a good belt and much needed. The old belt has become tatters. Weight flux as I either crave or do not crave certain types of food. You can guess which food one craves by the effects on weight, skin, fucking irritability. The Bear is a good person. The Bear has many catch phrases, all but one of them in Chinese. She is watching me type.

The pink monsters are my students. I'm the dude with the beard, of course. Making you the old dudes in the balcony, don't you know?

Good thing this video's blocked in China, no?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Does Anyone Know Her Own Grammar?

So many students are in a rush to get through learning the languages. As though the language were going away. So many more parents are in a rush to get their children through the language. Outside the classroom, they press their noses to the glass of the window, point, mouth toward their children a repetition. And when class is over, they swarm: "{This is what? This is what? This is what?}" and all the goddamming of a teacher is like, shit, your children just learned these words. Let them go home, review, and think about things.

"{All his friends are at a higher level, so we want him to move to that level.}"

Well, but then he'd skip a year and a half's worth of material. I mean, I know several fluent speakers of Chinese, so, yeah, of course, that means I also can speak fluent Chinese, for example, is the thing.

Meanwhile, some of the grammars—for example, A Practical Chinese Grammar for Foreigners, the title of which I resent—seem pretty much written for someone who already knows all that shit. Do the authors know what low context means?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Who Love Words

The Bear leaves behind a list of pronouns I should learn by tomorrow. I don't want to send her home. There is something satisfying about not having to be anywhere. In the morning, I have to memorize words.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Missed Calls

I'm trying to finish an article for Focus, but a woman I've seen only twice won't stop calling me. She got the number from a mutual friend. I've asked her nicely to stop calling me. She calls me a bad man because I want to be left alone. She calls me a bad man because I finally used the fuck-word in the instructions on how to go away.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Goddamn Blockage

The VPN was blocked again last night. The company I go through keeps having to tell me new settings because China keeps blocking the newest remote server. Worried they'll be blocked again, the company can't even post the newest settings, and it asks everyone not to post the information.

There are two reasons for censuring online content: (1) good old-fashioned this-is-bad-for-you-ness and (2) reduction of competition.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

* * *

Tonight another dinner with Hanna, who finally said she understood the opposite of loneliness, but there was still a sadness to her counter offer: "Everybody is always going away."

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Range of Tenses and Their Implications 5

In the middle of the rules for nouns as, like, kinds of modifiers, in A Practical Chinese Grammar for Foreigners

以上 above
以下 below

is when I notice the young man I often see at breakfast—that is, at breakfast, I often see him: I'm the one eating and seeing. And he gives me a textbook answer for my textbook question as I skim my textbook and write in my notebook, "我以前学汉语,现在学英语" (which is a lie, the order of events, I mean, or even that I've studied English at all today, and why would I study Chinese before English?). Not much else to say, so he just watches me, and because he's at the table, a woman comes up too, and they talk as fast as they can, and then someone who works at the restaurant, and the hour for Chinese is up, and—"{You're in China. Why are you practicing Korean?}" except that she uses the third tone for {Korean}, so it's not really a word (there's no way to even represent it as a character, only as a sound, /hǎnyǔ/)—it's time for Korean:

나는 식당에 가서 밥을 먹었습니다.
건물 안에서 담배를 피우지 마십시오.

And I'm embarrassed because I know better than to study in public. Because even if I'm humble, I'm not humble, because self-improvement is not a show.

I'm not really doing these things, as I type. I'm at work, but the present tenses work really well in a story sometimes, as though you were there. As you read, I'm doing something else, I'm sure. We're not at the same time, you and I.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ai Weiwei

The full text of this November/December 2007 Believer interview with Ai Weiwei just became available online.

A Range of Tenses and Their Implications 4

1 | 2 | 3

When Englishing subjunctively, one must use a tense that appears to be one step away from the time one means to talk about. We're going to use were for everybody in the present.

Why is it important to talk about counterfactual situations?

Students and Teachers

Three of my favorite people, here or anywhere: Sophia Li, Kinzie, and Bonnie Xue.

I miss teaching them.

The Most Beautiful Girl in School Draws Small Jokes

Xiàohuā huà xiǎo xiàohuà.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New Space

Hong Mei (aka Koreatown), Kaifaqu, Dalian, China

I've decided to stay another two years after this contract expires.

The Bear

The Bear comes over again. The Bear is Korean Chinese. When she's here, unless there's another English speaker, she almost never speaks English with me. The Bear is afraid of dogs and doesn't like animals in general. She says, though, I could buy her a bird. The Bear and I want to speak Korean so that nobody else can understand us. The Bear likes to dance. When I think of her, I often think of her dancing, her short hair hitting the sides of her face. She is smiling in those thoughts. The Bear's English is good. As I type this, she's interviewing for a job as an English teacher. The Bear says things like "China blocks all the best things" and "Chinese students have no personal rights." She says things like "I like foreigners' way of talking. It's direct, right? In Chinese, you always have to guess what somebody means."

Simple Past versus Present Perfect

Robert B. Lantz died, my parents reported to me a few days ago. My father: "I told somebody, 'My dad died this morning.' That's the strangest sentence I've ever said."



Monday, April 11, 2011

Even with a VPN: Hopping the Wall

For about a month, even with a VPN, I was blocked from this Web site (and many others). I couldn't post to it. I couldn't even send an e-mail with in the address like I did when I first arrived.

Fuck censorship.