Saturday, October 30, 2010


There are a lot of things I could get in Changzhou that I can't get out in Alaer. That includes a lot more Chinese things than I would have thought as well. But there are a few things that I can get in Alaer which I never really saw in Changzhou. I've written before about the bagels but recently I found a great popcorn place. Slav noticed the place originally but the problem was that they only did that weird sweat popcorn that people in China seem to like. I've gotten sort of used to it but it's far from ideal. I noticed two things about this place though. One, they had actual butter. It took a while to find out where we could get some but we now have honest to god butter. Second, I thought that since they were just making it sweat by adding a spoonful of sugar couldn't we ask them to use salt instead. We finally did and they actually had some salt around and obliged us and made regular popcorn. With real butter and slat it actually came out great. So there's something interesting. I couldn't usually get real popcorn in Changzhou but in Alaer it's right down the street.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


It's 4am I'm sitting in the dark listening to the Yankees and thinking about my grandfather. In his life the Yankees won a World Series almost every three years on average, and while he was only two the first time I feel he probably heard that one as well. He sold insurance to one of the players on some of the great Yankee teams and had a ball signed by the 1961 Yankees, the same year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs. I don't know how many games he watched in an average year but if someone told me it was more than 100 I wouldn't be surprised.

I also think that in all his years watching baseball he never once found a game, a player, or a coach, he entirely agreed with. If the batter swung he should of held up, if he held up he was too cautious, and if he hit a home run he should have listened earlier. I think he would have made a great sports columnist since he could find fault with any baseball decisions. Watching a game with him I didn't need any of the TV commentators since he would tell you exactly what should be happening and why. Telling this to other people may have been superfluous as well.

I am thinking of him because I was going to call him this morning to chat about the game, and hear what the Yanks could be doing better, but last night he died. Listening to the games it can be easy for me to feel like I'm right back in American in the stadium, but when this happens China might as well be on the moon. E-mail, cell phones, video chat bring me right back home, but not really. I'm told he passed away soon after last night's game, and it was a good one. The Yankees were down five runs almost immediately and their pitching seemed erratic. But somehow they held on, the bullpen didn't give up anymore runs, and in the 8th they scored five to go ahead and win in dramatic fashion.

I know it sounds like this is all about baseball, but it's not at all. I don't know how to describe my grandfather. He was married for more than 50 years, he was a veteran, he was a school teacher, I think he like that I was teaching in China, he had four kids, and nine grandchildren, he was a good person, and he liked baseball.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I've finally gotten most of my classes down but my beginner Oral English class is giving me nightmares. I tried to do a game I thought was pretty easy. I broke them into groups and asked them a few basic questions all about sports, we'd talked about sports in a few classes. It was going OK not great but mostly people were trying to talk and were giving some sort of answer when called on. Then I got to the last question, "Is it better to be fast or strong?" I don't think this question is particularly difficult especially as I spent some time making sure people understand that the students understood what "strong" and "fast" meant. But when I asked people for their opinion one answer was simply, "Tiger." I'm not sure what exact lack of understanding confused them enough that tiger seemed like an appropriate answer but I'm sort of at a loss for what to do. Slav joked was that at least they were thinking outside the box, the problem is we as a class can't seem to locate the box.

The listening class with them is going better since it's more structured but this class is more free form which makes it a lot harder. In another class with them I tried to have them write dialogues, something they understood but it was just hell trying to keep people focused on task and working. And I'm worried that since we ran out of time half the groups will not have their dialogues with them next week when they are supposed to perform them even though I tried to stress that. The class has really three different compounding problems. First, despite being college aged they have about as much English training as some Chinese students get in primary school or middle school. Second, honestly they just aren't great students the number of people trying to surreptitiously look at their cell phones or sleep is higher than any class I've ever had, and I just don't have that much practice enforcing much stickier discipline. I got annoyed when I was trying to take role one day and everyone was just talking so I couldn't here who was there. I ended up having the class sit quietly for four minutes to practice "being quiet." Finally, it's a really big class 41 student is a lot when trying to get people to pay attention and make sure people are on task. Well mostly I just needed to rant. I wasn't sure what to expect when coming out to Alaer but having the most trouble with classes really wasn't it. I feel like all this focus on classes is making it harder to really see how Alaer is different from Changzhou which is really why I came out here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

For I Have Known Them All Already

I know over the course of my years here I've talked about this a lot but I think it's one of the most common, most annoying, most different, and most uniquely Chinese things. I, of course, am talking about things changing at the last minute. After that whole big thing yesterday about classes changing and having to work all weekend, today Fish comes up and asks if I can be a question master during the competition. He said it wouldn't add on any more time so I say sure. But not two hours later I get a call form him telling me that they no longer need me to do anything. I have no idea why this is happening, and no explanation was offered. It's just China where plans made one second can be unmade one second later. I'm reminded of T.S. Elliot's line "In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will revise." Also I have no idea if there will be an English corner tonight or where it might be. I actually felt bad when one students asked me and I had no idea.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I'm Not in Changzhou Anymore

I always knew that the hours I worked in Changzhou were crazily low even for teaching in China, but I've been a lot more busy than I thought here. This week was odd since after the end of the holiday last Thursday I worked Friday and then the weekend. My schedule started out as 17 hours a week, with more on some weeks and less on others, but after taking another class at the request of Fish I was up to 19 hours on average. This week I also agreed to judge some contest, I don't really understand what it is, later today for an hour, and speak to one of the other teacher's classes for an hour tomorrow. Lake came to my apartment yesterday and asked me if I would judge some really big contest they had this weekend. He offered some extra pay for it but I really didn't want to since next week I have 22 hours of class, and I need to get a bunch of lesson planning done over the weekend, and I've agreed to do a bunch of extra things for the school already. I especially was ready to refuse when it conflicted with a Yankees game on Saturday. Finally he offered to have me judge half, which is still about six hours on Saturday and Sunday, and said I could take off Monday and Tuesday next week as compensation. This doesn't result in less classes since I end up doing 20 periods with each class no matter what but I finally agreed. I just hope the school remembers how far I'm going out of my way for them. I think they basically just don't ask Roy and Olga since they jut say no.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chess with Ersen

During one of my first classes I asked students to tell me something interesting about themselves. A lot of students didn't really know what to say and I just got a bunch of the same stuff about where they were from but one student Ersen in my beginner Uyghur class mentioned that he played chess. I though at first he meant the Chinese version of chess which I see so many older people sitting around playing but he said that no he played western chess. After I got my schedule more figured out I arranged to meet him to play a little chess. I've never been very good at chess but I've been learning some based on a computer chess program which has a really nice learning program. I don't have a chess set here but Ersen had one and we met at my apartment to play.

Ersen is a nice guy and he tries in class but just trying to have a conversation with him showed just how little English he has. We could talk a little about chess pieces and the words for them in English. I learned that he had learned chess from his family and that a lot of people where he was from played chess. People often ask me a lot of questions about the Uyghur students but with many of my Uyghur students have so little English it can be hard just to talk to them. I won the first game against Ersen with pretty much one good attack when I was in a tough position he won the next two games without too much trouble though so I think he's definitely a better player than me but at least we're close enough to make it interesting.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's All About Timing

Things in China have a habit of breaking at the worst possible moment. I know there is a tendency for people to ignore any time something works and just remember the times it doesn't but it seems amazing how often the only thing I need doesn't work. We got cable recently but the school told us it was only temporary and if we wanted more we would have to pay for it. Well I get up at dawn this morning to watch the first Yankee playoff game and low and behold the cable isn't working any more. I asked Ma Ming to get it working again but god only knows how long that will take. Of course it was working just fine last night, but now nothing. Well at least the Yanks won. Tomorrow's game is at 6am and I don't have much hope of getting the TV working by then.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Apartment

I've been meaning to do this one for a while actually so today I'm going to post a series of pictures of my apartment and make some comments under each picture. This is a little bit of a different format for me so please bear with me.

The first picture above is the area in between my bathroom, on the right, my kitchen, straight ahead, and my computer room and living room, behind the picture. There's a microwave and a refrigerator, but besides walking through here I don't use this room much.

This is the half of my bathroom with a sink and a washing machine. The bathroom has a sliding door as a whole and there is also a sliding door between the two sections.

This is the toilet and the shower. As you can see there is no division between them so when I shower the whole room get really wet. I usually just shut the door between the rooms after and open the window on the far side which helps dry it out. The hot water comes from the water heater near the top of the picture and isn't available in the sink. The shower head also doesn't really go anywhere so I have to hold it when I shower. This is probably my least favorite downgrade from Changzhou.

My kitchen is a long thin room so this is only half of it with the cabinets and the dishes. I don't really use it much.

This is the other half of the kitchen with a sink and a gas stove. There is a big propane tank just off picture here.

This is where I spend most of my time. The desk is nice but a little high. That's the famous chair that caused so much difficulty. Behind the chair is the heater I use sometimes in the morning and night. The light in this room is really weak so I have to desk lamps to help out.

This is my living room with the TV. The couch and the chairs and quite comfortable and as you can see I've already made a mess in there. On the middle table is a bunch of fruit that some students brought over that's going bad before I can eat all of it.

This is my second bedroom which I don't really use. I use the bed as a hamper. That bed doesn't have a mattress it's just a blanket over wood. The small room beyond that is where I hand my cloths. Given the hanging racks attached to the ceiling I think that was the intended purpose of that room.

This is another room I just don't use at all. I guess if two people were living here each person could have a computer room. It's just where I store some stuff.

Last but not least this is my bedroom. There's a dresser off camera. I used the fan when it was still hot out but now it just sits there. There is a mattress but it's pretty tough. The blanket is warm though which helps on the cold nights. Well I hope you enjoyed my little virtual tour of my apartment.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What Do You Want to Know?

Well I've been on a big posting kick recently but what I'm really curious about is what you want to know more about. Sometimes when I'm talking to people in the US they'll have questions that I just never thought of or ask about stuff that has become somewhat common place to me but is still interesting if you're not here all the time. So I'm asking for some comments on this blog item to tell me what sort of things you'd be interested in hearing more about. If you've never commented before, and I know by what I hear and what I see on my trackers that there are some people who never comment, it's really quite easy since I have anonymous comments turned on, just go down and post a questions or an area you want to know about, and I promise to get to it soon.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Yellow Card

So the other day me and Slav were talking about keeping discipline in a class. This isn't something I've actually had a lot of experience with. When I first came to China I thought I would be something of a hard ass as a teacher. I'd seen for myself in high school how a class could literally devour a teacher who couldn't keep control. But in China all the students are so nice and well behaved I never really got in the habit of cracking down hard on behavior I didn't like, talking Chinese being the best example. I didn't exactly allow it but I could tell when I substituted for one of Dave's or Ken's classes how much less Chinese was being spoken since they were much stricter about it. This semester though with my Uyghur classes there's not only a language deficit but somewhat of an academic deficit as well. There are just too many students talking in Uyghur and Chinese, and way too many people trying to whisper to each other when I'm talking or taking role or something.

Slav jokingly suggested that I pull out a yellow and red card like a soccer referee and after thinking about it seriously for a while I think that is exactly what I'll do. I already got a whistle and I can find some red and yellow paper. I think this will help a lot since it draws a lot of attention to the infraction, while, I think, not putting to much pressure on the students since it's done in a somewhat humorous way. I think the punishment for getting a yellow card will be extra homework while a red card will be that I read your homework to the whole class. I think this will help keep some more order especially in my more unruly classes.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Moon Cakes

About a week ago it was a different Chinese holiday, Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival. During this time the traditional gift and food are called moon cakes. Moon cakes are a desert, a round pastry stuffed with semi-sweet filling. Despite receiving these pretty much every year, from either students or the school, I've never really liked them. They just aren't sweet enough. They just seem like their missing something when you bight into one expecting a desert and instead come away with something that's like a cross between a cake and just a doughy piece of bread. I know the Chinese think I'm crazy for not liking them but I can just never get over the taste. Here's a picture of the box I got from the school this year, I manged to give most of them away so they didn't go to waste.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Searchers

Today is the weekend, and day two of the seven days I get off for Chinese National Day. I wanted to get another heater for my room since the real heaters haven't come on yet, about another month I think, but it's still pretty cold at night. One student who I knew lived to far away to go home for the holiday agreed to come with me to look for one. We biked down to a big bizarre about two kilometers from the school. We looked in a number of shops there but couldn't find anything. We eventually found one heater but it was far too big and expensive. While we struck out on the heater I got him to show me where the biggest supermarket in town is and they had peanut butter and jelly. Slav had shown me a little restaurant/bakery where I knew they had something like western bread so we biked over there and picked some up so I can now make PB&J sandwiches.

While we were there I treated him to a burger and fries since he said he'd never had American food before. He's a nice kid and while we were eating he told me some interesting things. His girlfriend, who is in another one of my classes, is spending the break picking cotton to make extra money. She gets paid one RMB for each kilogram of cotton she picks. He said that yesterday she made about 50 RMB in about 8 hours. That by the way is about half of what I could make in one hour working for private company in Changzhou. I suggested that he probably shouldn't mention to her that he spent the day eating hamburgers, which cost about 25 RMB wih fires and a drink while she worked in the fields. While we were discussing how in America no one ever uses the word peasant for a farmer he told me that his grandfather had been a low level official with the Kuomintang, the people who ran the government and fought against the communists before '49.

He was essentially the mayor of their village as I understand it and probably a property owner. I asked if he went to Taiwan when the rest of the Kuomintang did but he said that his grandfather was at far too low a level for that. He was though executed when the communists finally took over their town. This also meant that his father couldn't get an education, or probably any opportunities. He said his father only taught himself to read later in life. He expressed a lot of support for Deng Xiaoping who ended a lot of these policies and opened China up. It's amazing in China how fast you can go from the normal, looking for a heater, to the truly remarkable, stories of family struggle and world changing events.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Don't Drink Baijou

This post is a little old actually the banquet I will describe here is actually from before the most recent two banquets. For the first several weeks here I was pretty much the only westerner. There were Roy and Olga around somewhere but they seem mostly concerned with there own things and are a lot older than me, though they seem like nice people. It was much harder than I thought it would be though to go so long without talking to other foreigners. There comes a point where you see something crazy, or amazing, or even just really unique to China and I very much want to turn to someone and say "you saw that too right?" Ma Ming had told me a long time ago that there was going to be another foreign teacher around my age in Alaer but there were some issues with his visa so even a week or so before he came it looked like he might not be able to come. But finally in the middle of September Ma Ming announced he would be arriving really soon. I was never exactly sure how to pronounce his name, I'm still not 100% on it but he just asked people to call him Slav.

Just as I thought when I looked his name up it is Polish in origin, though he's British. He's actually taught in China for a couple of years going back to Britain in between to get a masters in Ancient Chinese History. I asked him why he came all the way out here and he said that it had a lot to do with studying a version of Manchu, the language spoken in the last Empire, that was still used in some remote parts of Xinjiang. He seems like a nice guy overall and it's just nice to have someone else around who I can talk to. He actually hasn't started classes yet since most of his students are freshmen who have been doing military training. As soon as he arrived there was a banquet for him, which he was a little tired for having just flow from England via Russia. It was around noon and even though it was the middle of the day Ma Ming insisted on us drinking Baijou. It's not that I had a ton of stuff to do that day, or even that compared to later we drank that much Baijou, it's just as soon as you start drinking Baijou the rest of the day is ruined. I had to go take a nap after, even though I don't like naps I just couldn't stay awake and by the time I got up it was almost time to go to bed again.