ZUCC: Haven of Exotic Sports

John just got his football! That means there is great fun to be had in the days to come at ZUCC. We played soccer a few times (I can’t believe they got me to play soccer — a sport which I normally can’t stand playing), but now John’s football can sweep away such foolishness.

I use the term “exotic,” of course, because American football does not exist here, and to the Chinese, its rules are still a mystery. That’s OK — I think we’d feel guilty sticking our students hard. Poor little guys. I don’t think any of them have ever played a full-contact sport. We foreign teachers will have fun hurting each other in the name of sports, though.

The other “exotic” to be introduced to ZUCC is baseball. One of the teachers has taken it upon himself to teach his English classes baseball and English baseball idioms every semester. So there’s always a day when you can look outside and see his class playing baseball for the very first time, on a makeshift “diamond.” It’s quite cute, and very amusing. The students seem to enjoy trying something new.

Unbelievable

I’ll be the first to admit that Chinese are some of the most caring, dedicated parents in the world, willing to sacrifice anything for their children. But they also go to the opposite extreme as well, from time to time. I took the picture below yesterday, on the streets of Hangzhou, while riding my bike.

(c) 2003, John Pasden

Doesn’t this lady realize that any sudden stop will send her precious baby careening into the busy street? There was actually much more traffic than it seems from this picture. She was going through busy intersections like this. Also, what you can’t see is the baby seat on the back of her bike, which she elected not to use in her infinite wisdom.

Later I felt kind of guilty for taking pictures of her but not pointing out how dangerous what she was doing was.

个人故事#1

为了读写课我用中文写了一篇文章。是我刚来中国时候的故事。有空请看看。故事的名字叫“小熊”

"Catch and Kill Bill"

I was pretty sleepy in Chinese class today. I didn’t get enough sleep last night, and the teacher’s explanations of the subtle differences between 4 different Chinese words somehow wasn’t jolting me into the desired state of consciousness. I desperately wanted to yawn, but that would be really rude to the teacher if she saw it, so I kept trying to sneak one in when she’d turn to the board to write, but then she would always turn around just a bit too soon, forcing me to clamp my mouth shut and depriving me of full yawn satisfaction at every attempt.

Kill Bill

What did wake me up, though, was the teacher’s explanation of the word (劈), meaning “to chop, to cleave.” Somehow she decided a good point of reference was Tarantino’s new movie Kill Bill, in which someone’s head is cleaved in two with a katana, apparently. I was amazed. “You’ve seen it already?” I asked her, forgetting the whole point of the reference. (This was a woman who loved Taiwan’s sappy Meteor Garden — not someone likely to be into such a violent movie.) No, she hadn’t, but she’d seen ads online, and some head-cleaving image had stuck in her mind. Then we went off on a tangent about whether you could buy a pirated copy on the streets of Hangzhou yet. (We decided you could probably find it, but not better than a camcorder copy.)

I’ve never been a Tarantino fan, but this movie sure is creating a stir. It’s even trickled into my Chinese classroom. I’m intrigued.

The English title “Kill Bill” is translated into Chinese as something like “Catch and Kill Bill.” The Chinese tend to prefer a 4-character name over a 3-character name, and since “Bill” gets transliterated into the 2-character Bi’er, the “kill” part has two characters to play with. The translators decided to add the “pursuit” concept that the plot revolves around to the 1-character “kill” word.

So I’ll be watching the streets to catch that DVD release.

Chinese Class Report

So sometime in September, when the teaching semester started, I also started studying Chinese full-time at Zhejiang University of Technology (ZUT). After talking with the administration, I was placed directly into the advanced class without having to take the placement test. Before classes started I was a little apprehensive about that decision, but I needn’t have been.

There are only four students in the advanced class. There’s a Korean guy, a Korean girl, a girl from Kyrgyzstan, and me. Everyone is in their twenties, and we all get along fine. All conversation between us, both inside and outside class, is in Chinese (with the exception of the two Koreans).

I have five classes: Intensive Reading, Reading and Writing, Conversation Topics, Survey of Chinese Society, and HSK Prep. I like my classes, and I think they’re just what I’m looking for: extensive and intensive reading practice, and extreme vocabulary acquisition. What’s a little disappointing about my classes is that, the HSK prep aside, all the classes pretty much follow the same format: (1) discuss new vocabulary, (2) read the text, (3) go over any difficult parts in the text, (4) answer the reading comprehension questions, (5) practice the vocabulary and grammar patterns highlighted by the book for that selection.

It’s a pretty typical way of examining a text, and I suppose there’s nothing glaringly wrong with it, but was it naive of me to expect four different classes to have four different class structures? The above pattern seems best fitted to Intensive Reading. So far there have only been two minor writing assignments for the Reading and Writing class. I really like my Conversation Topics teacher, but I was hoping she’d do activities to get us to talk more. Since we’re all advanced, we could really do some fun stuff. But we don’t. The teacher of Survey of Chinese Society is a learned guy with a Ph.D. in ancient Chinese lit. He’s gotten into some different material in the form of poetry and history of the Chinese writing system, but I wish he’d do it more.

The reason I’m so critical of my classes, of course, is that I’m also a teacher of a foreign language. I’ve taken theory courses on how to teach, I’ve been teaching for over five years, I’ve written a little guide on teaching English in China, and I’ve written a book on the topic which will soon be published (but no more details until it is!). So I have certain expectations of my Chinese counterparts. Unfortunately, those counterparts were products of the same educational system which begot the listless Chinese learners I’m faced with in my own classroom. It’s not that these teachers are not enthusiastic or good at what they do — it’s that their methods largely come from a system where the students are all passive note-copying machines.

So what do I do about it? Well, I’m still trying to figure out the best way to suggest some more communication-oriented classroom activities to my Conversation Topics teacher, but I will. I might just take some of my own Spoken English classroom activities and translate them into Chinese and let her take a look. I’m going to be bring in some materials for my Survey of Chinese Society teacher to discuss with us. He’s got a Ph.D. in ancient lit, so next week I’m going to ask him some questions about the Chinese in The Art of War (孙子兵法). He already said it’s OK. I’m going to be writing for my Reading and Writing class, whether or not it’s assigned. (How can she complain about having to correct one student’s compositions, only once a week?) I’m going to be trying hard to stay awake in my Intensive Reading class. One thing that I’ve learned is that even if you already know something that’s being explained, you can benefit a lot by listening carefully to the way it’s explained in Chinese. And, of course, I’m going to show these teachers with all my questions in class just what it means to have an active American in the classroom.

For clarification, I’d just like to note that I’m only studying Chinese formally for one semester, and I paid for it with my own hard-earned RMB, so I intend to get the most out of it. That explains my attitude. Also, what’s both encouraging and annoying is that even though I ask the most questions, it seems that everyone else is really eager to hear the answers as well. So I’m either asking the questions my classmates didn’t think to ask but nevertheless want to know the answers to, or I’m asking the questions that my classmates were too timid to ask. Either way, I feel confident that I’m not the “annoying student who asks too many questions.”

Finally, I’d like to say that I think I made the right decision to study at ZUT instead of the more prestigious Zhejiang University. The number one reason is convenience. I am a 20-minute (harrowing) bike ride away from ZUT, but about an hour away from Zhejiang University, either by bike or by bus. Furthermore, I like my teachers, I like my classmates, I like my class size, and I think these classes are accomplishing my goals of increasing my vocabulary, making me a better reader, and equipping me to kick ass on the HSK which is coming up in mid-December.

[Note: I'm still looking for a job in Shanghai. All leads are greatly appreciated.]

Happy Birthday Amy!

The Anti-Apple

Recently one of my students presented an interesting gift to me from her hometown, Jiaxing (¼ÎÐË). It’s a kind of “fruit” (?) called líng (Áâ) in Chinese. According to my New Age Chinese-English Dictionary, it’s called a “water caltrop” or a “ling” in English. In any case, when she kindly gave me this plant-like alien-spawn, I had no idea what the heck it was.

Below are some pictures I took of the ling.

Ling

The first thing you have to do is get the green outer skin off the ling. It seemed to me that the best way to do that would be breaking the ling in half, and then proceed to peel from the rupture. I promptly did so, which earned me a disapproving frown from my student. Oh well, it worked. (Apparently the Chinese way to start peeling is to bite into the bitter outer skin and begin at that point.)

Once you get the skin off, you’re left with this little white lump. It kind of looks like a piece of peeled apple. Then you pop it in your mouth and chew, and discover it has the exact texture and consistentcy of a crisp apple… but none of the sweetness. So instead of that tart appley flavor, you get an almost water chestnut-like eating experience. It’s rather odd.

Thanks go to my student for introducing me to a new weird food. (I suppose I should mention she’s the same student who once wrote extensively for the now defunct ZUCC Blog and now maintains her own blog.)

新的州长

最近我跟我的中国朋友谈论了施瓦辛格*当美国加州新州长的事情。她说(希望我没有搞乱她说的话):

我觉得很糟糕…… 我觉得美国真的是个什么都可以发生的地方。 如果在中国成龙也这样当了政治家你们会怎么想?

我觉得她说得好。但也许,也许施瓦辛格州长真的能够改善加州的情况。他毕竟已经当了州长,只能看他的表现。

* 哎哟,学外国人的“中文名字”真烦!

Craptacular Notes

The last performance that the ZUT foreign students will be involved in ended yesterday afternoon. One of the hostesses, Weika (I only know her by her Chinese name, 维卡) from Kyrzygstan, didn’t show. All her lines came right before mine, so they decided to just give them all to me. So not only did I have double the lines, but I no longer knew any of my cues. I did a pretty good job memorizing all my new lines quickly, but when we got onstage some of the other students started screwing up their lines and fudging them, which caused me to do the same. Overall, it came off OK, but the first performance was much more polished. Anyway, we all refused to do another performance, so that’s all behind us now.

After seeing them for the second time, I also remember which numbers were most impressive. One was a Mongolian dance. Really cool. The girl was amazingly limber, and did the whole dance with a stack of bowls on her head, which never fell. Then there was this group of three guys which did a dance number to a Michael Jackson medley. Now, I know that sounds lame, but they were really good! They had moves in perfect sync with every single grunt and squeal that Michael Jackson made. Good stuff. The last one was a dance which was supposedly inspired by a true love story set during the Communist Revolution. The Chinese name is 红色恋人 (“Red Lovers”). I’ll have to look more into that story. Anyway, their dance was really cool because the guy kept picking the girl up and flipping her around and stuff, and at one point the girl even held the guy up in the air! Nice.

Here’s an excerpt from an online chat session I had with a friend who teaches at another campus of ZUT (and didn’t realize I am a student at the same school on a different campus). It kinda relates to the whole craptacular thing:

She says: any fun plans for the weekend?

潘吉 says: yeah, like HOMEWORK and being in the 50th ANNIVERSARY CRAPTACULAR at my other school

She says: our school has a 50th anniversary too! i was not involved in the craptacular but i was a judge at the equally crappy english song competition last night

She says: two guesses for the two most popular songs that were sung?

潘吉 says: there are too many

潘吉 says: big, big world?

潘吉 says: yesterday once more?

She says: YES. and YES.

She says: damn. you are good.

潘吉 says: really? those are the two??

She says: yep!

潘吉 says: wow. Good thing I’ve been here over 3 years or I might not have gotten that!

Anyone living in China is all too familiar with the fact that the same 10 English songs are played over and over in China. Another one that I really hate is Hotel California. I didn’t like it before I came to China, and now I despise it from the depths of my being.

[Note: I'm still looking for a job in Shanghai. All leads are greatly appreciated.]

Craptaculars

Matt of the Nanjingren blog (one of the newest additions to the Sinosplice Network) came to Hangzhou this weekend with some of his classmates. Unfortunately I was only able to spend one meal with him because my schedule is rather full this weekend. It’s fuller than usual because I’ve been coerced into participating in Zhejiang University of Technology’s 50th Anniversary Craptacular.

Craptacular Hosts

I don’t pretend to invent the word “craptacular,” but I’ve noticed it’s already in common usage among foreigners in China for one simple reason: China loves the Craptacular. What do I mean by craptacular? Basically, it’s an onstage event containing a rather long lineup of acts, most of which fall into one of several categories. The defining features of the craptacular are:

Craptacular Song
  • Hosts. They always come in gleaming male-female pairs, overflowing with bubbly super-standard Mandarin and armed with smiles that make your eyes ache.
  • Songs. Solos, duos, or en masse. China loves live singing, be it in the classroom or onstage.
  • Dances. Minority dances, folk dances, solos, duos, it’s all here. Whoopee.
  • Comedy. Short skits and crosstalk (相声), a kind of Chinese two-person stand-up comedy. Comedy has a comparatively small role, song and dance hogging the spotlight.
  • Glitz. Everyone wears bright flashy costumes, the lighting is top-notch, and accompanying stage decorations are a big priority. Whenever possible, craptaculars are recorded on video.

Almost without exception, it’s mind-numbingly awful stuff from the foreigner’s perspective, even if he understands it.

Craptacular Skit

The most famous craptacular in China is the nationally televised Chinese New Year Party (春节联欢晚会). Pretty much every Chinese person I talk to agrees that it gets worse every year, ever reaching new depths of raw bore-power. Yet most Chinese households tune in faithfully every year. (This is one reason I’m not a big fan of Chinese New Year, but I won’t go into that now….) There are minor craptaculars going on all the time for various reasons (or no reason), and you can see them on TV in China all the time. If you have a masochistic streak (or if you just get unlucky as I did in ZhouShan) you can even go see them live. Sometimes universities — tools of the state patriotic entities that they are — put on their own craptaculars. Thus we have come back around to the topic of ZUT’s craptacular.

The students in the advanced Chinese class at ZUT that couldn’t come up with an air-tight excuse were forced to get involved in the foreign students’ event in the 50th Anniversary Craptacular. So, yeah, that means me. We have to put on nice clothes and get up on stage in front of a huge audience and speak Chinese into microphones. Some of us even have to try to be funny in Chinese doing skits onstage. Fortunately that’s not me. I’m just a host.

So I was not happy about this because it involves a big time commitment. Memorizing lines, rehearsing, and performing not once, but three times! So this weekend I’m pretty busy performing onstage for ZUT.

All that negative “craptacular” talk and whining aside, there were some good points about being in the performance:

Craptacular Crosstalk
  • I got to meet some of the other performers, some of whom are pretty cool people.
  • Some of the performances really are very good. In particular, I liked two of the songs and the crosstalk performance. Although the crosstalk comedy kind of wore on after a while, it was really easy to understand and quite entertaining.
  • There were so many hot girls involved. Now that’s entertainment!
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