Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winter in Kaifaqu

The wind's blowing through the building, but the few people out, almost all of them without hats, don't seem cold, though even without the wind, it's only 25ºF. It's not the cold that's so bad, with the face the only thing uncovered and stinging but not too unlovely, but the fear of being about to be cold, the anticipation of it. How is it that anyone's out without a coat on? But again you're wondering, lips chapping just enough, always at this time, enough to warrant Chap Stick in the right pants pocket. Dissatisfied with the warmth of an apartment, which dissatisfaction you can't imagine out in the cold, but in the apartment, you bundle against a cold you suspect you don't yet feel, but you never really feel it. Your hands chap in their restlessness.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Not You Two Bozos

This week, because of Thanksgiving, we've been having the students write down who or what they're thankful for. Today, during a class of eight-year-olds, Sophia and I introduced the short writing assignment by saying, "You can be thankful for anyone, your mother or your father, your friends, your teachers." All like, hint, hint, you know.

One student raised her hand and asked, "How do you spell Sharon and Erika?" the names of the two teachers she had before us.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Table Etiquette

I was having a conversation with the restaurant owner about her English, which wasn't bad. I've heard her speak Korean and Japanese, and she might be able to speak German too. She'd been sitting with her two-year-old daughter at a table, both singing a song in English. Just as my meal came out, she placed the girl's head on the table and started digging out the wax from her ear. I tried to look at anything but, accidentally catching their reflection in the window several times. I finished my pizza just as she finished digging.

"{Is it my turn?}" I asked in Chinese.

She must not have understood me. "Yeah, there's a lot," she said in English. Or she was ignoring my joke.

"{Thank you guys,}" her daughter said in Chinese.

"{Me and who?}" I asked.


Although Dalian bookstores have a few Chinese-English dictionaries with Pinyin (like A New Century Chinese-English Dictionary, put out by the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press), I haven't been able to find any English-Chinese dictionaries with Pinyin. If you already know all the characters, well, OK, but if you're an English speaker wanting to go from English to Mandarin, then it's hard to communicate in speech without Pinyin. Of course, the dictionaries are designed for Chinese people, but there's a growing population of expats in the city, and it'd be nice if they could look things up. It's enough to make you wanna give up on paper.

So I'm geeking out tonight about MDBG's great offline dictionary, available for Windows and Mac. I especially like that the Mac version integrates into the OS's dictionary:

I've also been using KTdict for a while now on my iPod touch. It's the best app I have and the one I use most often.

Friday, November 25, 2011

把: The Answer to a Grammar Question I've Been Wondering about for More than a Year

"In Chinese, if we want to express the changes of something in position, relation or form through an act, we have to use a '把' sentence. The predicate of a '把' sentence (the verb) is usually followed by '在', '到', '成', '给', etc., which functions as the compliment of result…"

Ah, now that makes sense. Thinking about it requires a paradigm shift, but, shit, thanks, useful book whose name I don't know.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

DFW's syllabi

Slate has posted an article, "The Extraordinary Syllabi of David Foster Wallace," that has links to some of Wallace's syllabi.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Symptoms of Culture Shock

Reading over the symptoms of culture shock
  • depression
  • idealization of the home country
  • irritation
  • confusion
again, you remember that it can be with you for a long time. Even if part of your contract is to help people through it. The big one for a lot of people isbut it's not on your list. If anything, it's hard to get away from others, yet that is also one of the symptoms
  • an unwillingness to socialize
so, like, you gotta watch yourself. Oh, and
  • obsessive behavior
like blogging every day or getting over it and then trying to make up for all those missed days by posting much more. In Normal, you felt just as out of place, you think: there was a gas station where you bought frozen pizzas and garlic bread and felt weird about not going to an actual grocery store. You hope that's how it actually was because if your memory's not wrong, then you can relax: you've always been this way. But, Jesus, if you were like this back home, there's no escape.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011


During yesterday morning's class, I stuck out my belly in a review of tummy. A three-year-old told me, "{Teacher, you need to lose weight.}"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dajie's English

For more than a year, I've been wondering whether I should offer to teach Dajie English. She's in her late forties or early fifties, and I wasn't sure what her reaction might be. I was worried that she'd be offended, like that because the rest of us have to speak English at work all day, we expect her to too. Or, like, she would think I thought something bad about the Chinese language. Blah, blah, blah. But she asked me last week how to say, "You're welcome," in English. She already knew how to say, "Thank you," "Good morning," and "Hello."

Yesterday I finally asked her whether she wanted to learn English, and she emphatically said, in Chinese, yes. So she's going to learn three new words at every meal and have an hour class with me every Saturday. Today she learned I, she, he, you, we, and they. It's going to be a long process, but I'm really excited.

My Favorite Class

I still think it's so cool that we teach the alphabet. Here they're writing "T" for the first time.

Next on the lesson plan: "Teach the dialogue about eating body parts. Model eating the body parts by pretending to eat the children."

"Practice the dialogue again, this time with cookies."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rules for Chinglish

Warning: Contains Spoilers

I'm having one of my classes read The Catcher in the Rye. The book I'm using (ISBN 978-7-5447-0175-4) is a bilingual edition, with the Chinese translation as the first half of book and the English as the second. I was disappointed to learn that the Chinese title, 麦田里的守望者, translates to something like "The Protector in the Rye."

And then, even worse, on the back cover, which someone in the class pointed out to me, was, in English and Chinese,
And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all.
"Don't read it!" I yelled.

I mean, Christ, way to give away the most meaningful and beautiful part of the book.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Tonight was the first of several weekly meetings with Jordan, one of the newer Western teachers, to discuss writing. Man, it's so good to have somebody looking at these things again and to see what somebody else is working on and is excited about.


I've been spending so much time writing and not speaking Chinese lately that in today's class, I could barely form a sentence. How embarrassing. Felt like one of those spaced-out kids. Huh?


Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Working on a story about Richard Nixon. What would you do if you could wear a mask of your own face? Because certainly nobody would think it were you underneath.

Some of Wallace's Stories

David Foster Wallace's New Yorker stories are here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011



You can say what you want. You're forgiven. Happy fucking congratulations.

current notes
supplied by Kinzie, aka :




"That is the dirty little secret of lexicography. There's no one in charge; the lunatics are running the asylum."
Steven Pinker

Monday, November 14, 2011

Expat Rule

Always use only one language when ordering food, or you'll confuse the wait staff.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


While reviewing the dialogue
A: I'm sorry.
B: That's OK.
in tonight's class of three-year-olds, I acted out having flour dumped on me by accident. One of the students said, in Chinese, "{You really have the worst luck, Teacher.}"


"The limits of my language are the limits of my universe."
—Ludwig Wittgenstein

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The International System of Units

language geekering out over this brochure on the SI

run-on teachering

play-on sentencing

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Watching Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and drinking PBR on the other side of the world in celebration of Ben Lantz's birthday.

Go, Kid

Who says you have to feel good while writing?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tristrams, 2


Martin Rowson's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman's Tristram is in no mood for bullshit.

Active Classes

My thoughts usually go not like How can I get these students to sit down? but like How can I get these students to learn something while they're crawling on my co-teacher?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tristrams, 1

In the opening scene of Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story, Rob Brydon argues that the movie is a co-lead. In the next scene, Steve Coogan, as Tristram Shandy, argues that he is "the main character in this story, the leading role." The rivalry continues throughout the film. We don't get to see it, but Rob Brydon, as Uncle Toby, will ultimately have the larger role since both his battle scene and his time with Wadman are to be included.

Although Tristram is a constant narrator in Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, his presence as a character is almost nil. Uncle Toby is the larger.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

RHPS in the Basement of the School

I just watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time, first with the prompter ("When do I squirt my water pistol and when do I scream?" the cover copy reads) and then with the theatrical experience turned on, a recorded audience yelling lines and calling the characters names. Gotta say I liked it, especially because the people who put the DVD together were brilliant for including the alternate audio track.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Learn This Because / "No Why"

On page 124 of Chinese Express, a book for beginner students of Chinese: "The sentence with 'bǎ 把' is very popular and important in Chinese. Its structure is: Subject + bǎ 把 + Object + Verb + Other parts…"

And that's all the explanation we get for this bit of grammar. Examples using this sentence pattern follow, but they don't show us why it's used or in what context. Sadly, many of the books I've picked up so far are like this.

Friday, November 4, 2011


"we would love anyone you loved and any kids they have....boy, girl, or martian"
—Mom and Dad

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Slow Work

Last Thursday Sophia Huan took over as my Chinese teacher. Learning new words is no problem. Even the characters aren't too bad. Well, recognizing them, anyway, which is a good thing because when you type, all you gotta do is recognize the characters and select them. Handwriting's a whole nother skill, which requires serious time. Now that I've learned to talk, at least enough to embarrass myself at most occasions, which is just fine with me, it's back to the beginning again to learn all the writing that goes with the speaking. Not that I'm at the beginning, no, since I've been learning characters now for over a year, but there are certainly a lot of 'em. But, yes, it's still the grammar that kicks my ass. And the punctuation, but don't get me started on that. It would be nice to have class every day and to have tests that really pushed me to learn certain things. I get to practice all the time, and I can see improvements, but everything still feels slow, which I have to convince myself is OK.


Found Chinayouren this afternoon. Dig it.