Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Not Nearly Enough

The sun comes up at 4 a.m. now. I'm too tired to sleep. I can't tell the difference between what it is I really want to do and what I'm actually obsessed with. When you come down to it, hardly anybody outside house and work understands us, and to go out means to have learned at least enough.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What's Different

One of my Chinese coworkers and her husband are going to the United States, leaving tomorrow morning on that long flight. They're heading to California, and tonight they took me out to dinner to pump me for cultural information. "You are like me," she said. "If you ask me about some things in China, I don't know how to answer." But it's been so long since I've been home that—well, it's not that it's hard to remember, exactly—it's hard to reach anything resembling an all-encompassing answer. How do you talk about home with any kind of reasonable answer?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

There are no bad words, only shitty contexts.

The Chinese character in the word for "to fuck," which character isn't even available on my computer, is made up of two characters: the one for "to enter" above the one for "meat."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Try to Get Back To

The Bear and I are having an English day. She says she likes a conversation in two languages. It reminds her of home, where her parents speak to her in Korean and she answers in Chinese. I'm speaking English because I'm dreaming of teaching and overthinking my word choice, aspect, tense. It feels weird to be speaking English anywhere but work.

There are no relative clauses in Chinese.

The more you know about your students, the better you can teach. Sounds obvious.

The things that I really like: writing, reading, studying, teaching. Sounds boring, I'm sure, but these are the things I'm always trying to get back to. They're not boring. Do whatever the hell you want.

Friday, May 20, 2011



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fourth Officer

While waiting for the train this evening, a man told me, in decent English, that the train arriving would take me to Kaifaqu. I told him, in bad Chinese, that the train would be too crowded and I'd just wait for the next one. He waited too, and we ended up sitting across from one another once the next train opened its doors. He said he was the fourth officer on a naval ship and had been everywhere. His favorite place was "Spanish," and he identified Detroit as "Pistons." When I asked him whether he played basketball often, he corrected my pronunciation of often. He told the following joke:
An American, a Briton, and two Chinese men are on a plane. The American says, "America has so much money," and throws a big sum of money from the plane. The Briton says, "We have so much history," and throws a bunch of books from the plane. One of the Chinese men thinks for a minute and then calls the other Chinese man over. The first Chinese man says, "China has so many people," and pushes the second Chinese man from the plane.
Why anyone would throw anything from a plane, even if their country had it in abundance, is your guess. About the difference between foreign and Chinese cultures, he claimed that Chinese people "learn to be the officer. 'Why do you reading?' To be the officer. 'Why do you going to school?' To be the officer. Foreigners don't understand that." He said that the Chinese people would always have Chairman Mao in their hearts. "He has some good, he has some bad, but his good is more than his bad." His final bit, before I got off the train: "I know a sentence: 'You work for America, live in England, eat Chinese food, and marry Japanese girl.' That's very good." It's very weird to hear anybody talk about themself; I almost never hear it here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I'm falling asleep as I write this. If only someone could explain Chinese grammar to me. The train is one of my favorite places to be because it's the only place where once the doors are closed, I'm pretty sure the conditions of my being surrounded are in proportion to what I've already brought with me. Or perhaps I should say whom I've brought with me. I'm not making any sense as I walk down the street, but maybe that's all right. That's all right. I'm trying to be funny, if only for me, and I'm singing my brother's songs loudly. His are the songs I listen to the most often. I think of how to annotate them so that they describe living here, not that I have to identify with every sound I hear. I'm getting my tones wrong, but I'm figuring out the grammar. I'm

Monday, May 16, 2011


Vergib mir, Heim:

ich muss gehen und kann dich nicht mitnehmen.

I'm doing that thing where I don't think anybody else can understand me, only in reverse. Usually I assume nobody can understand my English, but here in this Indian restaurant with the Bear, it's all English-speaking expats, and she and I are speaking Chinese. I comment on how rude too many people are being. The waitress doesn't understand when I order a 翠鸟的啤酒. "什么啤酒?" "Kingfisher."

Hanna doesn't want to work today. She wants to play. "What are you going to do?" she asks me. It's my day off.

My father talks about his father. The latter'd been working on an autobiography: "My Anecdotal Life."

I can't tell whether I wanna go out or stay in tonight.

Ai Weiwei

news on Ai Weiwei: "China Allows Dissident Artist’s Wife to Visit Him"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Up Fire

One of my five-year-old students was twitching out during class this evening. I'd never seen her do it before, and so I was curious about it. I've had a couple twitchers in the few years I've been out here. Elmo Andrew used to twitch if you gave him too much to handle or gave him too many commands too quickly. Was this girl suffering something similar? I had my Eastern teacher ask the girl's father, who smiled and said it was nothing to worry about. Well, what is it? I wanted to know. The Eastern teacher said it was rising heat (上火, shànghuǒ, literally "up fire"), a yang imbalance. You get it, he said, from eating too much hot and not enough cold. The girl had eaten too much barbeque and not enough fruit, her father claimed. "It's Chinese medicine," my Eastern teacher said. He indicated that rising heat was also to blame for cold sores. I just stood there and didn't know what to say. It sounded like so much bullshit to me. He must have seen the look on my face because he looked like he wanted to say something more about it but then just left to go clean up our classroom. Fuck, I hear so much shit that doesn't make any sense.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Talk Myself into Sleep

I hate sleep. Here I am at the end of a long day. Bedtime is 10, is supposed to be 10, so that I can get up at 6 because there's so much I want to do before I go into work, because I know I'm pretty much useless after work. These posts—to come up with something to write (almost every day) is not always the easiest thing, and soon I'll write something, I think, about why I do it. Perhaps I'm only obsessing. Perhaps I am the teacher for the most part of the day and don't really know how to shut that off. I'm excited about tomorrow, actually, as I am every Saturday night about every Sunday day: very satisfying to teach a couple classes without using any Chinese, teaching entirely in the language the students are trying to learn. How extensive is their connectivity? Slow work. And here I am, thinking about these little kids, thinking, How are you learning? It's a question I'd love to spend all night on. Less the writer and more the teacher these days, except I don't feel like there's any difference. As hard as it is for me to write poems out here, I feel like I'm always up to it, usually in the middle of being around all these students. I'm coming to and taking a minute to appreciate how slow my work is, how silly I've been in the rushing of anything. I'm about to sleep, something I don't want to do. I want to

Thursday, May 12, 2011

For Once

please, no shop talk

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Patricia Ryan, "Don't Insist on English!"

Incriminate Us for Bruising Whoever Knows

The Planet Formerly Known as Earth posted the latest version of "Exeunt Omnes" today/yesterday.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Haggle, You Which Country Person

"[Something in Chinese I can't understand because it's too fast.]"


"You can say something in English very fast as revenge."

"Why would I do that?"

The Bear and I are walking through a building full of stalls. You have to haggle. Alone, I'd most likely be given the foreigners' discount, but the Bear should be able to get the prices down. It's been a long time since I bought new clothes, and everything at home's too big, too small, or blowing out in the crotch. I'm pissed off for some reason I can't identify. It happens. Call it a side effect of simultaneously craving and being repulsed by some time alone to study. Some days are just like that. The Chinese word for "anger" works out to something like "to give birth to air" (生气, shēngqì). I'm coming out of the feeling, though, and because the Bear can haggle for me, with me speaking as much Chinese as possible to show that I ought to know something, she and I can move through the crowds a bit easily. Then we're actually having fun with all the usual questions: "{Where are you from?}" "{How long have you been here?}" "{Do you like China?}" etc. I finally get new glasses. I want to speak Korean so we can be somewhat below understanding. "If I speak Korean," the Bear says, "they won't give me a good price." We do the trick where we use language.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Not thinking I'd actually like it, I tried taichi for the first time some—oh, I don't know how long ago. But the first half of the first lesson, I kept thinking, Oh, this is just bullshit, but I found once I loosened up and actually concentrated on the moves, I quite enjoyed it, and once I stopped rejecting it, I had an easier time remembering the moves, as though my muscles required the letting go before there could be memory. Not that there isn't a fair amount of goddamming under my breath, like when the master says looking at a certain finger is good for digestion and the other finger is good for whatever else he's been told. And pushing your tongue against the roof of your mouth while doing taichi is supposed to be good for digestion. Etc., etc. I like taichi, though, because it's relaxing and challenging at the same time, and for the most part, Hillary forgets to translate (I'm the only white boy there), so I don't have to listen to much, which is good, though what's cool about taichi, also, is you're moving with a group of people, each moving as the others do, yet I feel so far away while I'm doing it, so far away and aware of breath, which distance is hard to come by. I often want this distance, and it's weird, but I feel the farthest away when I'm with people. When I'm by myself, after I've tried to get back to all the things that I really like, I feel like everything will eventually fall in on me, invade me, and it's that feeling more than the actual moment of contact that gives me the fear. Where was I? Oh, yes, in the middle of this move, my feet and hands moving at this point together, more or less, without my conscious thought, more or less—that is, until it's time for a new move, at which point I have to rely on others again until my muscles gain their own memory. I'm rusty.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Not that I don't advocate teaching the rules. But the rules follow us.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Don't You Talk to Me about Grammar

Too many experts and how fiercely they fight over such a large territory: the language. And such a fucked way to look at it: as it should be used rather than how it actually is. But my friend and I were talking the other day about being over here and how hard it can be, and we came up with, well, you don't really know much, and so any little patch of knowledge—you want to hang on to that, become the expert, explain every aspect of it. But teaching is slow work, and the students need to know as much as they can handle. How much is that? You won't know unless you watch and listen to them, unless you listen to what the Eastern teachers have to say about the students they've been teaching for a long time. The goal of these classes: to prepare the students to be able to use the language as we would—that is, not necessarily to talk about talking. Though I don't want to discourage you from teaching the language behind the language. I'm trying to remind you only that you don't need to talk about the language in order to be able to use it well. Listen to us. I once loved talking about grammar, but the conversation's become just another thing to hold people to, some kind of standards by which to judge someone's ability to reason. The students ought to be able to have a conversation with us. I hope I'm around for when they can speak more and tell me what's going on in their heads.

Friday, May 6, 2011

English Program

Yesterday, after teaching it for over a year and a half, I gave English Program to another Western teacher. I'm going to miss the class. It was a good way for me to get close to some of the Eastern teachers. I'm involved in a lot of the other projects around school, though, including writing curriculum.

Have I written in this space that I plan to stay another two years after this current contract ends?

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Too many people wanna be right about grammar. It's interesting to watch, this overconfidence in the language of the language. And just as bad is the overconfidence about teaching styles: "What's wrong with these students?" I hate that fucking question. The goal of teaching ought to be to get the students able to understand the language implicitly, yet too often I hear questions that demand an explicit knowledge—for example, "What's the difference between the simple past and the past progressive?" It's a fair-enough question but shouldn't come instead of a whole bunch of examples, a whole bunch of practice. What words are markers for those tenses? What could I say after last year or after from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.? You can hear the anxiety of explanation. You can watch the uncomfortable face of those trying to explain again why the grammar works. The grammar works as you use it. Do you really want the students to be able to explain it all back to you, or do you want to have a conversation? Can language be a series of replacements? Why are the unreal conditionals so hard to teach in one of our high-level classes? The students don't use those kinds of sentences. Why do people talk only as though time were as simple as past, present, future? If you can figure that out, tell me what's so simple about rethinking constantly what makes up the present. The why of things can always come later, after students have the capacity for it. After all, how much do you actually know about your own language as you use it? Can you explain why you use what you use? And not just because that's how it's supposed to sound.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

At the Bear's

The Bear's nudging me awake. No, she's not here. The aspects of tenses, of work, of students' progression through my classes keep me guessing about how to be in front of people all day, at their service. Why are they learning English? At culture training, which we provide to the Western staff, we're asking them to keep in mind their life plans because some people panic out here, figure their friends back in the States are getting along at rapid paces without them. We are saying time here counts as much as time anywhere. And I'm asleep again, out for just a minute as I continue to be a catnapper of still-able-to-answer-questions proportions. Just ask. What time is it? The Bear is the only one who speaks Chinese to me and is willing to wait while I work the language out in my head before she switches to English. Most everybody else thinks I don't understand. We go hours without English. I'm waking up again, loving the first hours of the day, when I don't have to be anywhere, when I can just study. In a song my brother wrote, he sings about getting back to all the things that he really likes, a line I have stuck in my head most mornings as I enjoy looking at words and their arrangements, their collections—I feel like a collector with so big a wish. People ask whether I get the languages confused. No. They're too different from one another. If anything, I forget the English a bit here and there—couldn't remember palette the other week, for example, but it came back today. That's a big fear: that all these words will go away. Eventually but not yet.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Emphasis on the Past

An example of grammatical explanation, from 汉语交际黄金句型65 (A Handbook of Chinese Basic Forms Focused on Communication 65), page 86:
The pattern "……是……的" is to emphasize a past event. It has four semantic functions. The third one emphasizes the manner of an action. Before "是" is a noun or a personal pronoun. Between "是" and "的" are words of "manner + action" with the emphasis on manner. When used in a question form, the pattern means a guess about the manner of an action.

Though the book is supposed to be an introduction to Chinese grammar, all the examples are written in characters without any accompanying Pinyin. It's as though the authors expected the learners to already know all the words before attempting to put them together.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Contextualizing Versions of the Present

To say that the present perfect can be explained away as something that started in the past and is still continuing is simplifying the matter too much. Depending on your concept of the present, the same explanation can be given to the present progressive—the moment under consideration is defined by its present action, with no references to the past, since the past is outside the present action, even though you could have started at some time in the past (I'm writing and have been for some minutes now.)—or the simple present—habitual action obviously began in the past, or else it wouldn't yet be habitual.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


The Bear likes American porn.