Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha

The party last night was so nuts, and I was bust for so much of it that I don't have that many pictures or videos. I'll try to post the video from the English club once I get it. I first came to the gym where we were going to have the party at about 4. The party was scheduled to start at about 6:30 and go until a little before 9. I got there before Ken or David or who had done more of the planning so I wasn't really sure what to do when I showed up. The gym was filled with a bunch of people playing basketball and a ton of people playing badminton which made it pretty difficult to set up. Eventually we got them all to leave, and by eventually I mean that I think the last basketball game stopped at 6:15. We had paid for and reserved the gym for 6:30 but apparently the guy in change of the gym wanted to play basketball so it took the student in change of English club about half an hour of arguing with him until he finally got anyone out. When Ken arrived we carried stuff from his house to the gym. We had about 150 masks, some more stuff for mask making, two large tubs and 200 apples, about 700 RMB worth of candy, that's enough to fill 5 big bags, about 400 balloons, and a bunch of poster boards. We had the students start blowing up balloons in one corner of the gym where they weren't playing a game and then having them stick them up everywhere. Other students started getting the stuff ready for the games we were going to have. There was basically this chaos of students coming and going and people trying to get ready until just before the party started. I'm usually OK with the Chinese laid back attitude but when trying to get something this big going it just made me crazy.

Finally it was a little after 6 and were were getting things into good shape for the party. Some of the student volunteers came to run the games and a bunch of people were setting up the huge speakers and AV system that the English club got us. A little before the party began we put out the masks on some of the tables set up near the entrance to the gym. I'd say it took about 30 seconds before a swarm of students had taken all the masks. Students had been filing in for some time before 6:30 and there were already hundreds in the gym when we were ready to start. David had me put out the candy on the table. I basically spread a few bags worth of candy on the table then got out of the way before I was trampled. I think that if this was the US people would walk by and maybe take a piece or two here they took all of the candy in about 45 seconds. That's about 15 RMB worth of candy a second.

The first thing we had on was some street preforms who had agreed to so some dances at the beginning of the event. That took a few minutes then David called all the Americans onto stage. We were going to practices before hand but we never really got a chance so we just started right in on lip singing and dancing to YMCA. I don't think the students had any idea what was going on but they loved it taking about a million pictures from the crowd of hundreds huddled around the stage. A few students got into it by the end and made the YMCA hand gestures, but most just watched. We danced around for a while and tried to improvise some stuff I tried to slide along the stage but it wasn't really slick enough so I just scraped my knee. After the song David told the kids there were games in the back and you could just see about 200 people peeling off and going for the back. I didn't see what happened at the games until later but it must have been something. In less then an hour they had gone through about 20 rolls of toilet paper, for a mummy rap, almost 200 apples and everything resembling food or a prize we had. It looked like a swarm of locusts had descended and just devoured everything. I thought there was no way we'd go through 200 apples for apple boobing, but we could have done 500.

A ton of people showed up for the party, besides the students a few teachers and various older Chinese people showed up. Also a guy named Jeff who apparently teaches at a nearby school heard about the party from one of his students and came. It was just crazy. I spent most of the time walking around talking to some people and taking pictures. I dressed up like a rock star, wearing blue jeans, a white shirt, and my brown leather jacket. I also had my guitar hero guitar guitar slung around my back and a pair of sunglasses on. I was actually sweating pretty much the whole time I was in there. There were some Chinese people dressed up but I think they were performers of some kind since they all seemed to be in a group. Most of the rest of the party was occupied by various dances. Some times we'd try to teach them some American song or dance, the Chinese students seem really unwilling to do anything that's not a group dance. After a while though the DJ just played more Chinese songs they liked and they showed us some strange dances that involve hopping around like a bunny.

Besides the candy and masks the students took everything that wasn't nailed down. They took all the balloons off the wall in about 20 minutes and I even posed for one picture with a girl who was holding a Jack O'lantern that she had taken from outside. At about 8:30 we told them the party was over. I've never seen people leave a party in such a neat and organized way. They simply announced that the party was over and asked if they could take some trash off the floor with them as they left. If you'd say this in America people would probably make more of a mess, but here they just all grabbed some trash and quietly left. The English club, with us helping a little, did the remainder of the cleaning in there with some brooms, We didn't need to worry about the balloons which had long since disappeared. We carried out everything left and that was pretty much it. All in all it was incredibly fast and crazy. Even with the money we spent and the preparation we were in no way ready for that intensity. It was though a lot of fun, and there may be more parties like it in the future.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Party Post Mortem

We just completed the Halloween party and it was really crazy. I'm going to post more about it in the next day or so. I've got a lot of stuff to upload and someone from the English club was making a video that I want. While I'll go into what happened later I want to touch on one factor of the party I thought was really crazy. As people who know me know, especially those related to me, I don't really like to be in pictures. I've had students take pictures of me before, especially on the first day of class, but nothing like this. I think if you add up all the pictures taken of me throughout my entire life, from ultrasounds in the womb to anything just before I came to China, there would still be less pictures of me then were taken today. It's not so much even that I know how a celebrity feels, though for some reason one of the students asked me to autograph a balloon, it's more like I know how those street performers who spend there whole day being photographed feel. I smiled in so may pictures that I think me cheeks hurt. Anywhere you looked around the room you could see a clump of students forming around any foreign person and taking just a ludicrous amount of pictures. The students also really like the little blond haired daughter of one of the German teachers, who seems to handle the pretty crazy amount of attention pretty well for such a little kid, but her mom hates it. It was partially that all the Americans were wearing costumes, but once someone started asking to take pictures with us it was like a cascade effect until I took a picture with everyone in the whole place.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Air Raids and Pumpkin Carving

The morning was one of the greyist morning I've ever seen. Even at 7:30 when the sun had, I presume, full come up it was so dark that I had to turn on the lights in my room to see. I think it was a combination of tire fires, which I'm told are currently happening, the incredibly thick fog that comes with all the humidity here, and the general overcast nature of the day. The effect was that even standing outside in the middle of the day you couldn't possibly tell where the sun was in the sky. My classes went pretty much as normal with the exception of the sirens that kept going off through my first class. They sounded something like air raid warnings that you see in old movies, or the noon whistle in Athens. I asked my students what they were and they didn't really know or seem worried. One of Bryan's students said that they were some sort of alarm but she didn't know what. With the constant fireworks and their complete disregard for anything approaching a warning I think that Changzhou could be bombed for hours before anyone noticed. In fact I think if the kids saw a building explode they would just think it was faulty construction. I never did really find out what was up with those sirens.

After class, and I had 6 hours today, I agreed to meet up with Dave and Ken to do some work for the Halloween party tomorrow. They have invited basically every student on campus so I have this image of a thousand students trying to cram into this room and absolutely nothing happening. We needed more apples for the bobbing for apples thing so we went to the closest store and bought basically every apple we saw, totaling about 80. We took these back to Ken's apartment and then went back and did it again. After that we did it for a third time. The people in the store were getting a big kick out of seeing a bunch of crazy Americans just buying up every apple that they could get there hands on. About 200 apples came to about 200 RMB which is about $30. That means we paid about 15 cents per apple. Not only that, despite not looking that great the apples here are delicious. They're probably right off the farm or something. David told me that when they had been buying candy for the party they went into a store and just basically put all the candy on the shelves into bags, much to the amazement of onlooking children. I just know that there are now a bunch of kids who will grow up with this image of America as some magical place where it just rains candy. Well at least that would explain the weight problem.

Next we went to a big supermarket slash department store to get even more things for the party. We picked up a bunch of cookies, again to the amazement of all around us. The funniest thing was when we were trying to pick a fruit of neck passing, when one person holds it in between his chin and neck and another person tries to take it without using his hands. We were just standing around trying to pass various fruit from the neck of one person to another. All the time Ken was dressed up like a cowboy, his Halloween costume. I wonder if they thought it was odd or just wrote it off as an American thing. While we were there David saw a good price on a bike, about 25 dollers and decided to buy it and ride it home. We also bought a couple of pumpkins, though they were the size of the small one you see in displays in store windows. Finally, after dinner we all got together with one Chinese student and carved the pumpkins. It took a while since we only had 2 knives and 1 spoon. We made some pretty good faces on our little pumpkins and I hope the students are really impressed to see them tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obamania strikes China

When talking about the US election to people in China it becomes very clear that the Chinese will be very surprised if McCain wins. Not because Obama has a 8 point lead in the polls, but because the Chinese have no idea who John McCain is. They know who Obama is or at least they see his picture in the papers, but there's no presence of McCain here. Maybe it's because Obama is more of a celebrity in his own right and is sort of cool, and the Chinese are obsessed with all things cool in America. America's influence here, more then the usual chain of McDonalds or Wall-Marts is the perception that America defines cool. I've even met one student here who wears baggy cloths likes rap and just generally wants to be a gangster. Most of the students don't really know or care about American politics, in fact it's pretty hard to find out how much they care about Chinese politics. That's the thing about living in what is essentially a repressive state it's hard to find out what people really think. It's not like you see the effects of the government everywhere here, there aren't exactly stormtroopers marching down the street, but nether are there political rallies or associations, I suppose there's one political association but I think they pretty much run things.

I finally decided who I was going to vote for after a long period of fence sitting. I've always liked John McCain, in fact he's still by far my favorite politician. He's stood up to his own party in ways that are just much braver then you usually see. He's a pragmatist who seems to be the only person left in Congress actually concerned with the deficit, and I just trust him more to lead the country during a war. On the other hand I'm sick to death of Bush and everything like Bush, and while McCain certainly isn't Bush, I'm just not sure he's enough of a change. On top of that I probably agree with Obama on slightly more issues and I hope that with a huge Democratic majority they can actually get something done. As a rule I generally like a congress of one party and a president of another so they do as little as possible, but things have gotten out of hand in the last 8 years. So I was pretty much on the fence about it for a long time. I finally decided the other day to vote for Obama breaking the tie essentially with DC voting. I've always been amazed that people can just sit by while DC residents are denied there basic rights and that the people of DC never seemed particularly disturbed by it either. I think with a Democratic president and congress there might finally be some change. Honestly who knows if my vote will count I had to send in a federal backup ballot since my absentee ballot still isn't here. And even if it does count it's not like Obama is taking DC by 1 vote. But living in a place where there are no elections at all it seems a real shame not to vote, and besides I never really liked fence sitters.

Monday, October 27, 2008


So since I went through my lesson planing process yesterday I thought that I might describe a lesson in a little more detail today. My first class is in many ways atypical of most of my classes since the students are a year older and because of the school having some classes on a weekend before the last holiday it's not always on the same schedule as my other classes. Today about 14 of 30 or so students showed up. The first time this happened I was pretty surprised and a little pissed but I talked to some of the other teachers and they say only part of the class showing up is pretty much par for the course, I guess they're even more like US college students then I had realized. Once the bell for the start of class rang, which for some reason rings at 2 minutes after 8 in this building, I started by telling them about the Halloween party that was going to happen on Thursday. I know that most of the students probably won't dress up and Ken and Dave have made some preparations accordingly, like having masks and things for them to wear, but to encourage my students to come and wear something I had them try and think of costumes they could wear. It took a minute or two to explain what a costume was, but eventually they began writing down some things. Some of my classes try but don't come up with much, this class doesn't so much like to try. Despite my repeated urging only about half of them remember to bring anything fancy like paper.

I gave them maybe 15 minutes to think and write while I walked around and prompted them to try to think of not just a costume but how they could make it. Finally I called on them and got some pretty dry responses that showed that they had no idea or interest in making a costume. After that I went to another event I had worked out where I had them come to the front of the room and hold a card to their head saying a celebrities name. They would then ask the class questions about the person until they guessed whose name was on their head. It took a little bit for them to get used to the event but they had a lot of fun doing it. Some of the names I thought would be pretty famous, but they had trouble with. They knew who Madona was but didn't know anything about her, and to my great surprise they had absolutely no idea who Oprah was. I've read articles about Oprah being big in Iran, so I thought she must at least be known here, but they had no clue. There was a ten minute break in the middle of class, which is honestly an necessary for me as it is for them. The final event we did was having them think up excuses if they can't come to a party, or they forget their homework etc. I tried to make it a little more interesting by having them come up with funny excuses but they're just not that funny. Unprompted in another one of my classes a student came up with a really clever one for forgetting homework, saying that since so many students copied her homework it was just better if she didn't do it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lesson Planning

Since a number of my readers are teachers or former teachers I thought you all might be interested in how I do my lesson planning. I pretty much start off every time with panic. I'm convinced that I can't think of anything new to do with my students and that every class will be a disaster of me standing there staring blankly down at the students. It's about this time when I begin to troll around various websites looking for ideas. My favorite by far is Dave's ESL Cafe which must have 500 different little activities and games. I look at these for a while essentially rejecting every one I see. Then I pull up my lesson plan from the last week and look over it. I start by cannibalizing things that I didn't use in the previous week and adding them to either the schedule for next week or the list of back up activities I keep in case something I had planned works really poorly. I then think if there are any activities that had been on the back up list that I want to promote and use first in class next week. Finally, I begin to figure out ways to essentially change around things I saw on the internet until they'll work in my classes. For example there was one idea of assigning all the students to be celebrities and talk to one another only they wouldn't know who they were and would have to ask questions to find out. I didn't really want to do this event since I think they would all just speak to each other in Chinese and I would have chaos on my hands. What I ended up deciding to do is to write the name of a famous person on a piece of paper and have one student come up and hold it to his foreheads. He'll then ask the class questions about who he is until he figures it out. This doesn't get as many people talking all at once but it keeps things more organized plus it makes them practice speaking to a group which they're sorely lacking at. Once I come up with about four activities I organize them all and print it out. I also keep last weeks lesson plan with me so I can remember exactly what I did for each class.

Friday, October 24, 2008

First Day of Fall

Yesterday the weather finally started to get cold. Actually it got a little cold once before but then it just returned to summer weather in like 3 days. But Looking at the forecast on Google it looks like it will be remaining mostly cold from here on out. At least on up side of this is that I'll finally be able to sleep. The way they had been doing the air conditioning, on in the days off at night, basically meant that as soon as I wanted to sleep it was too hot to. It's also not really an option to keep my window open much as even at night there's a ton of background light from the school including one light from the library under construction that must be basically pointed at this building. For some reason my room seem to retain a ton of heat. Even though it was pretty cold out today by the time I got up at 11 my bedroom was pretty warm and my living room was down right hot. The students didn't wait for it to get cold before dressing for winter. As soon as the temperature dipped down slightly they pulled out the pants and jackets and haven't shied off them since. Even when it got really hot again I didn't see any wearing shorts. In fact in one of my classes a student asked how come I was wearing summer cloths in October, all I could think of is that it's hot out. The other thing I find really amazing is that to find the weather I just type in "weather" and "changzhou" into Google. Nothing about that is amazing on its own I guess, that's pretty much exactly how I'd find the weather in DC, but I'm not in DC. I'm half way around the world, almost literally here I think if you drilled a hole from Changzhou through the middle of the earth you'd come out somewhere in the Atlantic, and I still just pull up Google to find out what the forecast is. No matter how different things may seem there are just a lot of little similarities between life here and life back home. Though to be fair there's probably some one some where in Beijing keeping a record of how many people Google the weather.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mom and Pop

Over the last week or so I asked all of my students what jobs they wanted to have, and while I wrote here already about the pretty low expectations of most of them I was most curious to see what my smaller class would say. After all these weren't the normal students. In a country where all of them say they want to travel but they also know just how difficult that would be for them, these are students who are going to England before too long. I imagined to begin with that the group must be self selecting for those who have, or their parents have money, and I was definitly right. While given their limited English my understanding of their situations is still not completely clear I did learn some interesting things. One of the students, the only guy in the class, also the one who was just previously in Germany, has a father who must be pretty well to do. For a job he mentioned maybe starting his own business, not an uncommon theme, but then mentioned that he might work for and inherit some sort of business that his father runs. Another student, my only student who I'm pretty sure is older then me, has worked for a number of years so I'm pretty sure she has saved up some money to do all this. She gave an interesting response about a job basically saying that she had no idea, actually she was the only one who suggested that there was a value in a job besides money like free time. In fact only I think one student in the class had any real idea how going to England would actually help at all in their future. The most interesting response came from probably my best student who basically said she was going because her parents wanted her to study international business, which she had no interest in, and she was basically just planning to do something different eventually or just get married. In fact several of the students basically admitted that the only reason they were going was because there parents made them. In all my classes it became obvious how much influence the parents had over basically picking what they would study. They asked me if my parents wanted me to go to China, and I actually had a hard time explain supporting without forcing. Even the guy in my small class who father owns some sort of business admitted that if it was totally up to him he'd be some sort of academic.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Flock of Seagulls

I'm not sure if many people know the band who're pictured to the left. They had basically one hit and an unusual hairdo. I only bring it up because I think China might be the only country where you can still find people with this hair style, well at least one person. After class yesterday I decided that my hair had gotten way too long and got one of my Chinese students to bring me to a barber. I've never been sure how much to rely on the students to get things done for you, Joanna laughed at me using my students as interpreters. But they seem to like it, I only asked one person but another guy found out and came along just because. I didn't know where to go really so I just asked the student what placed they liked and had them bring me there. The place it's self was not too far from campus and looked pretty much like and barber shop in America, a couple of chairs and some bored barbers. They asked me if I wanted a shampoo first, but I've never really liked getting my hair cut and I was especially nervious that it was going to come out horrible so I just wanted to get on with it. The whole hair cut probably only took 15 minutes which I suppose is about what it always takes. At the end they asked me again if I wanted my hair washed but I didn't really want it. My hair cut came out great, it looks exactly the same as it does in the US which is a big relief. There were only basically two differences from getting a hair cut in the US. First, the guy cutting my hair was sporting what I can only describe as some version of the Flock of Seagulls do that you see above. And Second, that the hair cut cost about 80 cents. Now there are lots of ways to describe standard of living here versus in the US but in DC a hair cut costs me about $18 after tip and here it cost 80 cents. And I have to say that was the best 80 cent hair cut I've ever had.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Princess and Seven Small Men

It may seem like an exaggeration to say that I spend about 20% of every class just trying to understand what it is that the students are saying, but it's no lie. Just to start things off they mumble, look at the floor while they talk, and seem dead set against repeating them selves under any circumstance, but that's not the worst of it. The two biggest factors limiting my communication with them is their accents and their unwillingness to explain themselves. To begin with it feels like I miss one out of every five words because I can't hear it through their accent. There are actually times when I'm about to correct them for using Chinese when I realize they're just talking in garbled English. The problem with their accent is that they like to run over consonants sounds like R and V and some T's. On top of that they love to make three of four syllable words into one long mess Ferrari is pretty hard to understand said all at once with weak R's. On top of that they hate to stop and think of other words to explain something. If they say a movie title and I don't understand it it takes forever to get them to give me some sense of what the movie is about. Today was just the perfect example of that phenomenon. I had them come up with examples of things that were fiction and things that were nonfiction, since they didn't really seem to understand the concept. Besides a few snags like one girl insisting that Superman was in some way nonfiction things were going fine. Some of the students would come up with Chinese novels as examples of fiction, which was fine as long as they tried to explain what it was about a little. One student near the back of the room came up with The Princess and Seven Small Men. Now there are plenty of Chinese books I don't know so I was about to ask what it was about when one of the more advanced students blurted out the real name, if you haven't guessed it yet take a moment and think about it, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

In Between

I think some one at the hotel is playing games with me. After about a week of colder weather here it's just gotten hotter and hotter every day. After a few days of this they finally started turning the air conditioning back on in the hotel so it wasn't 90 degrees in all the rooms. But here's the fun part, while they keep the air on during the day they shut it off at about 10 or 11 o'clock every night. So that by the time I want to go to bed it gets nice and warm inside my room. I can open the windows but the air outside isn't really any cooler. There's also the fact that Changzhou seems to never, ever, get to less then 80% humidity. Also despite the fact that I'm on the 14th floor it actually get quite loud out there in the morning so I can't sleep with my window open. The Chinese students sleep on basically mats on top of wood and don't have air, heating, or window shades, so they pretty much get up at 6 no matter what. Some asked me what time I went to bed and I gave the pretty conservative estimate of 12 or 1 and they were all shocked that I could stay up so late. But my whining about hotel aside the weather is really remarkable here. For a place where I think it snows occasionally it's about 85 degrees every day in the middle of October. The students on the other hand dress pretty much like it is cold with jackets in the morning and long pants every day. Even the shops, a lot of which have air, don't really turn it on meaning that it was really stuffy in Wal-mart today. I did my usualy Saturday shopping to get more American things including shaving cream, which I think they don't use here considering how hard it is to find. I finally found it but it ended up being RMB 48 which is really expensive for here. I think I spent more money on 2 bottles of shaving cream then on 2 bottles of ketchup, 2 bottle of jelly, 1 jar of peanut butter, 4 packs of popcorn, and 2 loafs of bread combined.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Only in China

I judged an English speech competition today and the manor in which I was asked and how the contest was carried out I think exemplify they way things work in China better then almost anything so far. I was asked by Grace, who works for Baker the head of the English department, if I could judge an English speech competition today instead of going to English corner. Honestly I don't care much for English corner so I said what the hell. Now mind you I wasn't actually asked by Grace in person, or even called on the phone, I got a text message yesterday which, along with several grammatical mistakes, asked me to do this. Now the text didn't contain any fancy details like place or exact time those wouldn't come until today about 2 hours before it was supposed to begin. This time I was told it was at 7 and on the 4th floor of the library. Great, except I had no idea which one of the many identical building was the library. I texted Grace back asking and luckily she answered with at least an hour to spare. So I went to the library and walked up to the 4th floor to a big auditorium like room that I wasn't sure was correct until some one pointed me to my seat with a little plaque on it. We were given a sheet with spaces for points in various categories that totaled 100. The speeches began soon after with no mention of how to score it or what the expected range was, or exactly what the difference is between pronunciation and intonation anyways, plus how do you score for dress? The competition consisted of 40 students reciting, mostly from memory, prepared speeches of about 2 minutes long on the topic, "1+1=2?" which as topics go is fine because it forces them to move out of the box slightly. The problem was the all moved out of the box to the exact same place. After about the 6th speech on how two people working together were more then two my eyes just sort of glazed over. Now the topic was given out before hand, so about one fourth of the students spoke on some completely different topic. We heard one on love which was just missing her breaking out into a round of Love is All You Need. Another speech actually contained the line, "life is like a box of choclates," and one person just quoted an Adidas add. The best by far was the person who for no clear reason just gave an excerpt from Dr. King's I Have a Dream speech. It took me a while to figure out what he was doing, plus I haven't head the word negro in a long time. By the time I fianlly had it Ken who was also judging scribbled on a piece of paper to me, "Only in China!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Low Expectations

Low expectations are something I've been seeing a lot in China. There's a pretty low expectation on what we exactly can do as foreign teachers. There's not much expectation of exactly what the school can provide for the kids. Today when I asked my students basically what they wanted to do once they were done with school there expectations of what they could do were so low as to in some cases border on the comical. I'm remember a 30 Rock bit where one character is coaching a inner city baseball team and asks them what they want to do with there lives and they all say things like, "I'm going to be a talkative doorman with a drinking problem." The most common response that seemed to indicate some hope for the future was businessman. The thing was almost none of them had any real idea what sort of business they wanted to be in. I suppose if I asked at the Engineering school their answers would have made a little more sense, but it's not just that one or two didn't know what sort of business they wanted to go into not one could come up with a coherent answer. The most constructive answer that I got is that a number of them want to be Home school or lower level English teachers. Another group wanted to be translator, almost without fail the worst students. I think one day one of these kids is going to start a war or economic collapse by grossly mistranslating some important document. Then there were the response which begged the question of why they were in college in the first place: there was the kid who wanted to be a cook, the ones who wanted to be doctors but had no idea there are things like medical school to go through, there are was a sizable group who wanted to be secretaries and simply hoped there bosses would be smart, finally there were the ones who I think were essentially hoping to marry some one rich. It's just that at the end of the day I got the sense that this is not where the future leaders of China are made.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Morning in China

Today and yesterday the sky was, I almost don't want to say it because I think I'll jinx it, a little blue. Even when it is blue though there's this permanent haze that settles around the edges. I'm actually starting to enjoy my longer class more then my others, not because it's easier or even because the students are better, but just because it's different. I'm already bored of my lesson plan for this week and I have to do it three more times tomorrow. By the last class I'm really just half asleep as I go through it. I know exactly what I'll say and what the students will do, and while I guess boredom is a more pleasant emotion then terror, that's only marginally true. Tomorrow for example I'll go in and have them play a version of the old game show $64,000 Pyramid. I'll have them get up and try to get there various groups to say a few words I have written on some paper by describing them. Some students will be good at it, others will barley be able to stand up there and will need constant prodding, while others will just point to a piece of papers instead of trying to say something like, "what you write on." Then I'll have them try to come up with words in certain categories without repeating themselves, not a bad vocabulary game, for some reason the category "things you use in school" works while the category, "things you find in a city" doesn't. Then they'll be a break followed by a spelling bee type event and maybe having some of them tell me what they want to do when they finish school. Then I'll go do that twice more that day and again Thursday morning. One thing I really like about this job is that I can still sort of keep student hours, not the students here mind you who consider 9am to be sleeping in, but US student hours. Only three days a week do I have to actually get up before 7am and go do some work. I used to skip a lot of classes in the mornings at school. I'd always mean to go but it was just too easy to flip over and hit snooze. But I had no idea how much harder it is to teach a class at 8am then it is to take one.

Monday, October 13, 2008


It's pretty odd to find out that something I ate might have been recalled. What's even more odd was the way I found out about it. First it's not like the make this information so available, if there wasn't so much coverage of the recall in the US papers I'm not sure what I would know about it. But I thought I was playing it pretty safe. What happened was some farmers under pressure to up the quality of there milk starting putting illegal chemicals in it that make it appears to contain more iron but the chemicals also have some nasty effects on the kidney. In babies some of these effects have been fatal. In adults there hasn't been anything like that for several reasons. First, adults eat and drink a lot of things while small babies just pretty much drink milk. Second, the adult immune system is stronger, apparently the worst thing an adult can get from this is pretty much kidney stones. And it's not as if I've been downing milk by the gallon I just didn't realize that some of the chocolate I've been eating may have been recalled. If this was a US recall they'd have the exact product numbers of everything that's been recalled, and everything even similar pulled from shelves. But here that's not so much the case. I though that this chocolate would contain little milk and that the recall was mostly limited to baby formula. The way I found out different is pretty strange in it's own right. I logged into flickr the other day to manage some of my pictures from the opening ceremony thing only to discover that I had a message. Apparently some thing called Now Public, which as far as I can tell is some sort of citizen run media outlet has been maintaining a list of products recalled. What's more they wanted to add pictures so somehow using the power of the internet found the picture I took, at the top of this post now, of the Dove chocolate. I thought when i first saw the message that he wanted my picture of the milk in Wal-mart it wasn't until I looked through the story that I realized that there is a recall of "DOVE MILK CHOCOLATE" which is pretty damn unspecific since there are probably a hundred Dove chocolate products, also technically what I bought was dark chocolate. I wonder if my preference for dark chocolate saved me?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Rock Star

Yesterday I went to what was described to me as some sort of opening ceremony for some sort of sporting meet to be held in Changzhou. I basically figured it was like the expo I had gone to some weeks earlier and they wanted some foreigners to be in the crowd to make it more international or something. What I didn't expect was that I would be part of the opening ceremony. Me and a few of the other foreigner teachers had lunch with Teddy at the hotel before taking a bus to near the big stadium that the city of Changzhou recently built. The stadium has curved round sides and looks something like a cross between the Birds Nest in Beijing and a alien space ship. Once we got out of our ride we then immediately got on another bus which took us about 15 feet to some sort of staging area. Walking around were all sorts of people wearing matching color codded uniforms. There were what looked like city maintenance workers wearing orange, police wearing green, and nurses wearing pink. Next to all this was an small rabble of foreigners wearing whatever they had on. I'm told there are about 2,000 registered foreigners in the Changzhou area, making us about 1 in 1,000, I think most of those who actually lived in the city were here. They gave us little flags with our home countries colors on them so you could identify who was from where by sight. I got to talking to the people and there was quite an interesting mix. Besides the business men in suits, and there children mulling around there were quite a few people about my age. I meet Lee the Australian guy who has TB, and a couple of other Australian people who were working as engineers. I meet some more people from Germany also. The most interesting group was a couple from New Zealand, we had a big debate if there flag was Australia or New Zealand since they look so similar, both have the Union Jack and the Southern Cross, though Australians Southern Cross has 6 stars and they are white. This older couple weren't teachers by training but they had been in China for a few years teaching English. It reminded me of an article someone sent me about retired people using teaching English to fund retirement travels.

After a while they tried to organize us into lines. All the Chinese people where neatly standing in lines and marching around, but despite there best efforts we just sort of mulled around in a giant mob. As we approached the stadium it became clear that we were going to walk around the track inside this giant stadium while everyone looked at us. We waited our turn then walked into this huge mostly full stadium to thunderous applause. Everything always seems crazy in China but I certainly wasn't expecting to be treated like an athlete at the start of the Olympics. We just sort of slowly walked around this huge track while we waved and a lot of us took videos. I'm not sure I can really describe the feel of having thousands of people clap and wave at you, but it's pretty unnerving. The video to the left is of me first walking in. The voice you can sometimes hear saying things like "Oh my God," is that of the older New Zealand gentlemen. After we marched around waving, taking pictures and holding out flags we stopped in the middle of the stadium with all the other groups. It was sort of hard to see what was going on but there were some speeches given while we stood and looked around. The other groups stood at attention looking froward but we just mulled about and turned any which way. That part wasn't quite so unnerving since I was lost in a big crowd in the middle of this stadium.

After the speeches were done we walked up to our seats, which were basically in the VIP section next to where all the speeches had been given from. What went on then was the largest display of showmanship I've ever seen first hand. Group after group of performers spilled out on to the field and gave one carefully choreographed performance after another for about an hour. The Chinese are really great at mass organization and besides having maybe 2,000 performers they had a huge section of people to hold up cards to make pictures who changes and moved to animate the picture. The video here is of one of those performances. All the performances were to a loud set of music that was blasted over the stadiums speaker system. Instead of clapping people used these little noise making toys which actually produced a ton more sound then clapping would have. The performances included a set of hot air balloons dropping confetti, a series of balloons and doves being released and a set of incredibly loud and close fireworks at the end. I can only imagine how spectacular the opening ceremony of the Olympics must have been if the Changzhou opening ceremony was this amazing. There are a ton more pictures on flickr and I've changed the link so you now just see the more recent pictures, but they're all still there if you click around. I'd comment more on how overwhelming this all was but it just seems to be one in a long line of completely unexpected and remarkable things I've had happen to me in China, I never thought I'd get to be a rock star.

Turns out the Dove chocolate I bought the other day may have been recalled, the recall actually isn't that specific but I'm throwing the rest out just in case.

Friday, October 10, 2008


CCTV 9 is the Chinese TV channel, all the channels are pretty much names CCTV 1 through whatever, that is broadcast in English. The channel is apparently broadcast around the world on various cable packages. Despite this the anchors on the channel don't seem to have such a great command of English. Now I'm not say there exactly bad at it, they certainly have functional speaking ability, you'd just think they would be really good at if they were the face of Chinese news to the world. During the show I was watching Dialogue the anchor seemed to be constantly struggling to come up with the right word. Despite the use of some English idioms like referring to people as hawkish, his command was certainly less then perfect. In fact some of the Chinese people I know at this school seem to be better then he is. What was also interesting was some of the language they used on the show. The main topic was about an American arms sale to Taiwan. While I'm sure there's a lot of editorial control over what they say the format is that of a news program. For example they did not condemn the sale so much as the talked about the governments response. They even interview a former Taiwanese legislator, though one who clearly favored joining China. What I thought was most interesting was the way they referred to China itself. Since they consider Taiwan a part of China they can't talk about Tawianees Chineese realationships, as that implies that they are seperate. So what they talk about instead is Taiwans relationship with the "main land."

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Well I hate to brag but Yom Kippur is already over here in China and I finally had some dinner. My classes actually didn't go that badly considering that by the end of the day I was a little light headed whenever I stood up. The Chinese people I meet didn't really seem particularly interested that it was some holiday they had never heard of. I was actually pretty surprised by this given there fascination with all things western. Maybe they are just taught that it is uniportant or something or maybe unlike pretty much everything else American they just don't think its cool. I had an odd day also because in my Thursday morning class, which is probably the strongest of all my short classes, a bunch of the girls came up to me during the break asking for English names. I knew before I came here that a number of Chinese took English names when dealing with westerners, Jackie Chan is known as Chéng Lóng here, but I was never sure how I felt about the whole thing. There's just something sort of insulting about insisting that people should take on new names for your convenience. Renaming was used as a tactic of missionaries to demean the cultures of those they were preaching too including in America where Native American children were forced to go to special schools and renounce there old names. So I was always pretty touchy about what some teachers do which is essentially assign English names to the students. On the other hand quite frankly all Chinese names sort of sound alike to me. I know how that sounds but for a person like me who already has a problem with names to be bombarded by a hundred names which seem only to use slightly separate combination of like four or five sounds I become totally lost. So basically what I have done is just to call people by there English names if they give on to me and not exactly tell anyone to have one. I have something like 160 students in my classes and I see them about once a week, I wasn't going to remember their names anyways.

But today a couple of the girls just decided they wanted me to give them names. Naming I've always thought is a pretty important thing. Since it's Yom Kippur, or at least it was, I've been thinking a little about the bible. It's a pretty big deal when God gives Adam the power to name everything. For me even when I have to name a character in a video game it seems to take me 15 minutes, so trying to name the girls in about 20 seconds was a little rough. The first one who asked I named Lizzy because I have been watching the Showtime show The Tudors, about Henry VIII, and the name Elizabeth, his daughter, was on my mind. After that was Emily since I had been talking about the Brontes with someone. Then Jessica since it seems to be such a popular name now. And finally Mary another biblical name, I also seem to like -y names. It's just so odd to casually hand down something that seems as important as names or to be unable to even give a good explanation as to how I came up with it. Though next time I'm naming people after flowers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Repeat After Me

I had three classes today and one of the hardest parts about it was to try to keep caring after repeating the same thing to each class. Every class goes about the same so when I get to the last one I just don't really care what they have to say anymore. On top of that it's still like pulling teeth to get them to say anything. I really feel like sometimes when I up there asking one of them a question it would be easier if I was trying to pull out a molar with a pair of pliers. I know sometimes maybe the activity is too hard for them but sometimes they really don't seem to be trying. One girl who insists on sitting in the back of the room talks in basically a whisper. I stopped her like five times to try to get her just to speak up. Never mind that what she's saying is only tangentially related to what I asked her, I just want her to say it in a audible voice. I just don't understand how after imploring her to speak up that many times she can't seem to raise the decibel even a little. I've seen American students asked to speak up get louder for a second then go back to normal, but she doesn't even give me that it's just a constant whisper. Sometimes I just say "fine, good" when I have no idea what they just said just to move it along to students I can hear. Also students seem completely unwilling to repeat themselves when I can't here them and will just stand there looking at the floor. I had an activity today that involved them coming up to the front of the class to talk about a celebrity who the rest of the class would try to guess. Some of them would basically run up mumble something to the floor then try to run back before anyone could take a guess. The effect of doing this three times in one day gives me feeling of being Sisyphus endlessly rolling the bolder up the hill.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Chinese Democracy

Chinese Democracy is the name of a long awaited never released album by the 80's rock band Guns N' Roses, the theoretical album cover is pictured to the left. But I also thought it was a good title today for the things I wanted to talk about. I sent my request in yesterday for an absentee ballot for the Presidential Election. I have no idea if they'll actually be able to send it to me here but what the hell it didn't' take long. There's actually something sort of inspiring about voting in a country where the people can't and if they actually send me a ballot I'm going to show it to my classes. On the other hand there is the usual lack of inspiring that comes from voting in a state who's electoral votes are already decided. I received my first piece of mail today which was partially a test if an address written in English characters would get far in China. I put the address in an earlier post I think but here it is again:

Jiangsu Teachers University of Technology
International Office
1801 Zhongwu RD, Changzhou 213001
Jiangsu, China


You don't have to have the Chinese characters but I think if you wanted to print them out and use them also it wouldn't hurt. Note that if you can't see the characters you probably need to update the browser you are using to see the internet.

The other interesting experience I had was in mistakenly mentioning Taiwan. I had my students tell me something about people in Chinese history and one wanted to tell me about Chiang Kai-shek, he is called by a different name in Chinese, who was general who opposed Mao and lead Taiwan until his death. My students have a tendency to mumble made all the worse by the fact that they like to look at the floor when they talk and that they hate to repeat themselves for some reason. The student, who is probably the best in her class started by asking me if I knew what Taiwan was, only she mumbled Taiwan so I had to keep asking her what she was saying. Finally I figured it out blurting out, "you mean Taiwan, like the country?" Which immediately got a small gasp the student shooting back "the country?!" and a couple of laughs at my embarrassment. I waved it off saying "whatever you call it just go on," but it's an odd feeling to wonder if you'll get in trouble with the government over what you say. It won't actually be any problem unless you go around looking for trouble there pretty laid back here. You would think it would be really noticeable to live in a country with such limited freedoms, but really there little noticeable difference. Even if you won't get in trouble with the government there are plenty of things people don't talk about in America and it's really no different here. Maybe the thing I notice most is how it's not really possible to follow Chinese politics since you can't trust a word written about it in the papers. People rise and fall in the party but there's no really good source of information on it. The sort of political restriction they have here just seem to more or less stay out of everyday life.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Some Video Blogging

Well it may be a day late and a dollar short, but here is the video I took of one of the street vendors making me some dinner. I've gone to this vendor a lot since he make more dinner sort of food instead of snacks and now I get a big "Hello!" every time I walk over to him which is pretty much the only word of English he knows.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Street Food

I'd thought I'd tell you a little today about some of the more interesting food that they have for sale out in front of the school at night. It changes pretty regularly actually, I wonder if some of the people think that maybe certain times of the year are better for their foods or if they are just looking for some area with higher foot traffic. Maybe the oddest thing you see at night are actually the same stands you see during the day, which are fruit stands. They don't have a huge selection of different fruits but it's just not the thing you think that people are likely to buy at 10 o'clock at night, a couple bananas or some watermelon. You also see quite a few stands selling various meats on sticks. It's pretty much anything you can think of put on a stick. To keep it from being cold, people in China hate nothing more then any sort of cold food, McDonalds here seems to be most known for ice cream simply because cold food seems to western, the vendors have their food uncooked and they have little grills going behind them where they cook the food once you order it. This isn't necessarily the most sanitary situation since they pretty much put everything together so that there is definitly some mix between cooked and uncooked meat. There is also this interesting place where they sell various sort of flat breads. These breads are amde right there on a flat round hot stove from batter and have various little coatings put on them. Again this is all pretty much done by hand, literally, so again sterility is not exactly the priority. Some places have other things besides meat on a stick. One place I like has fired chicken something, I say something because I can't really say what part of the chicken it is but it's put into strips battered and deep fired to order. Finally a place I just discovered does a sort of dumping soup. The dumplings are just raw meat put into a little pocket of dough, by hand again. When you go to order it they take six or seven dumpling and boil them for a few minutes. While they're boiling the guy takes a bowl and puts a little plastic bag into it. Into the bag he puts various spices, again with his hand, and then pours some hot water. The dumplings come out and go into this. The bag is tied up in the bowl and then the bag and bowl are put into another bag so I can carry them home without it spilling. It's sort of an ingenious system, I just hope he occasionally washes his hands.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

This is not Gumby

The more jaded of you might say hey, wait a minute, that looks an awful lot like Gumby. But no that blue figure waving so happily is not Gumby and I'll have you know there are in fact several key differences. For one thing Gumby is a copyrighted cartoon character and our blue friend is the symbol the Shanghai expo. A big event, apparently, that is scheduled to take place in like two years. For another thing he's blue. Another difference is, well actually that's pretty much all the differences. Not that I would be so crass as to accuse the good people of the Shanghai expo of stealing Gumby entirely and trying to hide this by slapping a blue coat of paint on him, but if he has a talking horse as a friend I'm going to alert the authorities. I saw our good friend Cumby (Chinese Gumby) down near Wal-Mart. When I was in Wal-Mart today I started to notice some interesting differences between our America Wal-Mart and this one. Now a lot of these had not really occurred to me before for two reasons. One, I don't think I've ever been to a Wal-Mart in America. It's not that I look down on Wal-Mart thinking for example that it's for hicks or that any place that has its own brand of wine and shotguns shouldn't be allowed anywhere near me, it's mainly that I'm a Target person. Two, I go to Wal-Mart here mostly looking for American things so I don't notice the Chinese things as much.

The first thing that caught my attention was this alrge stack of powdered milk that for some reason was on steep discount. Interestingly despite the Chinese predilection for saving money I don't think I even saw a Chinese person look directly at it. The next odd thing I noticed was the behind the food counters where in America you might see cold cuts of vegetables, or since we are talking about Wal-Mart chicken fried stake, I instead saw pot after pot of I don't know what. I don't mean to say that I wasn't quite sure what was in them, I mean that if someone came up to me with a gun and told me he'd shoot me if I couldn't correctly identify even one of the food items, I would go ahead and tell him to shoot. Going farther into the Wal-Mart I saw a fruit that sort of looked like what I imagine a porcupine would look like if it were a fruit. It was greenish brown and seemed to be entirely made up of sharp corners. Finally, I think my favorite thing was the raw fish and squid that was just sitting in the middle of the isle on a display table with no bags or anything near it. I'm sure you're supposed to ask someone for help but I'm also pretty sure I could have gotten away with just shoving a fish in my little blue basket and flopping it down on the check out counter. Honestly I'm sort of curious what they would have done.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

No 4th of July

Well National Day in China is certainly no 4th of July. If it wasn't for the fact that there was no school it would feel exactly like any other day, and given how little school I've taught it sort of does. There were at least some fireworks tonight, though to be fair they have fireworks if they open a 7-11 so I can't be sure those had anything to do with the holiday. The biggest display of fireworks I saw was right in the frost of the hotel, but those were for a wedding. There must have been a wedding reception in the hotel because at about 3 pm there was a limo and two big buses pulling up and they started setting of a ton of little fireworks outside the hotel. They may have been more impressive if it wasn't the middle of the day since you could barely see them. They didn't get all that high either since I was about on eye level with them on the 14th floor. What they did do was create a ton of noise. It sounded sort of like some one had built a shooting range right in front of the hotel. I looked out my window, which faces the back to see what all the fuss was about. Despite the loud noises not one of the students I saw walking around even looked in the general direction of the noise. I guess that fireworks are so common in China that it's not even really worth looking at when it happens right in front of you. National Day seems to be basically a nothing holiday that's only notable for getting time off. The amount of extra celebration for the lunar festival, which only gave one day off, was ten times greater. I know form reading about it that there is at least some celebration of National Day in Beijing, but for a country that is in many ways as fiercely patriotic and proud of itself as China it just strikes me as strange that this holiday isn't a lot bigger.