First, the protest consisted of “several dozen foreigners.” In a city of millions of people, only “several dozen foreigners” had the balls to protest a war that pretty much all of China disagrees with?? To be fair, it’s true that the foreigners won’t get in nearly as much trouble (if any) for protesting, whereas any Chinese participants would probably face real repercussions. Still, I think it’s funny, imagining a group of foreigners protesting in Beijing. I wonder if they did it in Chinese or English… Also, it’s kind of funny that the “brief protest” was pretty much over as soon as it began. But still, I admire and support the protesters. It should be done.
Second, the protest was “organized through mobile telephone text messages.” Too funny. Anyone who’s been in Eastern China for very long knows how widespread the phenomenon is (see Wang Jianshuo’s take on it and the Sinosplice poll related to it). So of course foreigners are in on the cell phone texting too. But organizing protests by SMS? I can just imagine someone, all justly fired up over the war, angrily typing in, “5-5-5 3-3 8 1-1-1 7-7-7-7 (LET’S) 7 7-7-7 6-6-6 8 3-3 7-7-7-7 8 (PROTEST)….” You get the picture.
Last, China “has not allowed public anti-war protests for fear of harming ties with the United States.” Wow. I’m impressed by that. I’m not saying it’s good to suppress peaceful protest, obviously, but I appreciate Beijing’s commitment to good relations with the U.S. There are some prudent people in power over here. It’s a stark contrast to what’s passing for leadership on the other side of the world in certain superpower nations.
But I’ll end by saying that I support those protesters in Beijing, even if I find the story a bit comic. And while I’m not happy with the decisions made that put them there, I support the allied troops of the U.N.-defying nations who are now serving their countries on Iraqi soil.
I’m here in China to get really good at Mandarin Chinese. Fortunately, I also enjoy teaching English, since I’ve been doing it for going on three years now. I’m really interested in applied linguistics, so to me teaching is more than just a source of income. It’s research. (Warning to the short of attention span: the following long post is going to be solely about teaching English in China.)
At the end of each semester, I always evaluate how the semester went. Did my students learn anything? Did I stimulate their interest as well (in other words, was class interesting)? Are they likely to remember anything I taught them that semester? Did the grades I gave really reflect the increase in their spoken English proficiency?
These are some hard questions, ones that I think many casual backpacker English teacher types don’t give a second thought to. It’s understandable, if they’re only going to be in China for one or two semesters. But I really care about these answers, personally and intellectually. To help me answer these types of questions about my classes, each semester I have my students answer an anonymous questionnaire in class. I use the results when making decisions about how to modify my class for the next semester.
Last semester class grading was mostly discussion-based, although there were only 5 iscussions. Discussions were student-led. Student discussion leaders also had the responsibility of coming up with their own thought-provoking discussion questions.
The following are the questions I asked my students and some of the answers I received (in the students’ own words, mistakes and all).
1. What did we not do enough of in class?
play more games
we should have class outside
We didn’t talk enough to you!
I was surprised that a lot of students felt that they didn’t have enough direct interaction with me. I strive not to be one of those “spoken English teachers” that just talks the whole class. If the students are to improve their speaking ability, they must do the talking in class. Maybe I overdid it though? It’s the first time I ever got that remark, and I got it from quite a few different students.
More movies and class outside are typical suggestions, but they can only be practically realized (and justified) to a very limited extent.
2. What did we do too much of in class?
We made too much jok
I think some of the discussions are very good, but some are meaningless. We can’t improve our Oral English speaking ability by discussions. We learn little things, maybe none.
The class is all about discussion, it is boring.
The last two comments are the kind I take seriously. The only problem is, from a linguistic standpoint, very often the students have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. Students who don’t like discussions often propose more one-on-one interaction with me. In a class full of students, however, that’s just not practical. I have to go by the wisdom I learned at UF’s ELI: “divide the class, multiply the talking.” That means they interact with each other more than me. But it gives them more speaking practice.
The complaint about too much discussion is just ludicrous. I think five 30-minute discussions, spread out over 16 weeks of class, hardly qualifies as overdoing it.
3. What did you like about the discussions?
They’re always interesting.
Great, wonderful, interesting.
Through the discussions, some unfamiliar classmates become familiar.
The topic is usually very interesting so most of us like it. we learn new and good ideas from others at once our English are improved. It’s helpful.
Here a problem with the questionnaires becomes apparent. The students’ feedback is often completely contradictory! When my ideas are based on sound linguistic principles and legitimate pedagogy, though, I tend to listen more to the positive feedback than the whiners.
4. What did you dislike about the discussions?
I dislike the discussions which are boring and tedious.
I don’t have enough time to talk with our dear John.
We don’t know whether our sentences are correct.
For example sex. I think it is not good for us.
We are too young to say such sexy topic.
Complaints about class being boring are typical. Many students expect foreign teachers to be singing dancing game-playing clown entertainers (and some of them do fit the bill). Compared to most of their other classes, just about any spoken English class is a nice breath of fresh air for Chinese students, but they still complain.
The sex complaint is an interesting one, because I debated myself whether I should devote a discussion to the topic of sex. It went really well, though.
5. Any other comments?
No other comments, the class is much more interesting and funny than other courses.
Actually I like your class best. Because it is very interesting. And you are a very good teacher.
The atmosphere is too serious espaciouly when we have oral quiz. You shouldn’t be so rigid on the examination and the scores.
We should not have examination.
You’re an awesome guy. : )
I think you are very handsome, also a good teacher.
John is a good teacher. warmly and kind-heart. Oral English lesson is active class. But the class time is too short.
You are the best teacher and very lively.
The class has a little boiling so I want teacher to make it more interesting. Can have class outside and play much.
On the whole, John’s classes are interesting and lively, full of excitement and joy. We have been looking forward to Friday and your classes.
You are a lively teacher, I like your style. Could you communicate with us after class, We could talk more and discuss. I think that would improve our English level greatly.
I can’t understand why you forbade us to speak Chinese you know, sometimes speak Chinese will make thing more comfortable some words we must speak Chinese to express ourselves. It is true that in English class English is the language we should speak, but Chinese is also useful. So I hope you will not forbade us to speak Chinese next term.
This course is useful and I like it very much. : )
I think the class doesn’t do much to improve my English.
Useful English, not useless playing.
I love you.
OK, so I never said I couldn’t use my own blog to boost my ego. Hehe… Sometimes students can leave harsh comments, so all the positives provide a nice balance. Again, there’s so much conflicting feedback, but I think doing questionnaires is definitely worthwhile. I highly recommend it to any TEFL teachers who are trying to improve their teaching methods.
In the past I have done a little introductory mug shot page for the English-teaching foreign teachers here at ZUCC. This semester Wilson did it. It’s hosted on his site, but since his site is blocked in China and mine isn’t, it’s also mirrored on my site. Check it out! I’m sure I’ll be mentioning these people on here in the future.
During his time here, Wilson has gotten really imaginative with his photography and web design. I envy his creative eye, his Photoshop skills, his awesome camera. Even if these talents don’t rub off on me, though, at least I can enjoy his results. Don’t miss: Jade Emperor’s Hill [mirrored], Viewing Fish at Flower Pond [mirrored].
I mentioned recently that I’ll be on TV in China March 22nd. Being on TV is a pretty common occurrence for foreigners living in China. Frequent readers/commenters of this blog will be familiar with my friend Ray. He was on TV in Shanghai some months ago when he still worked there. They did a bit of a bio on him. Anyway, he sent me some vidcaps of his 10 minutes of glory, and I think they’re pretty funny, so I’m sharing them. I don’t think he’ll mind everyone having a look at his studly countenance. If he ever put up a site of his own, I’m sure he’d put these pics up.
“So I want to write a book, right? …”
(That’s mantou, a kind of Chinese bun.)
What a fascinating lesson, eh? The students are riveted!
Speaking of commenters on Sinosplice, “Prince Roy,” a rather new regular commenter here, now has his own blog too. Check it.
It’s often said nowadays that where creativity is concerned, China is a huge gaping void. What has China invented lately? Even books like Richard Bach’s seem to echo the philosophies of a China of lore — so distant, but certain as last night’s forgotten dream. Sure, joining the WTO is good times and fun for all, but in modern China, how can even the will of 1.3 billion parched minds revive creativity’s corpse?
Yeah, I’m not even going to try to translate this one. Rensheng AB Ju is the name of a television show here in Zhejiang. On this show the beginning of a story is told by video to the audience, then stopped, and the watchers are given two choices: A and B. Which should the person take? The three guests (usually of minor fame) are then asked by the host which choice they think is best and why. After that a few guests from the studio audience are asked their opinions. Then the story continues to the next juncture, another A/B choice is presented, and so on. (For the Chinese-inclined, here’s an introduction in Chinese.)
I bring this show up not because I like it (I’ve actually never seen it), but because I was on it. Filmed it last Tuesday. I was a little nervous about being on the show. It was all in Chinese, of course. What if I didn’t follow the story completely, or what if the discussion took a difficult turn? I’d rather not look dumb on TV, if possible. The man on my left was a psychologist (I think) and professor at Zhejiang University, and the woman on my right was an author. My sole qualification was being a foreign teacher in China. The topic was one particular woman’s extra-marital affair.
The show actually went pretty well, I think. I understood pretty much everything, and the host was very easy-going and easy to understand. The psychologist guy busted into some pretty esoteric stuff now and then, dropping all sorts of chengyu, and at those points I was always afraid they would turn to me and ask, “and what do you think about that?!” but that didn’t happen. I talked less than the other two, but that’s pretty understandable. What I did say I communicated well enough.
The show airs on the Zhejiang Satellite TV Station (Zhejiang Dianshitai Weixing Dianshi), Saturday, March 22nd, 9:45pm, and then again Sunday, March 23rd, 11:40am and 3:52pm. This is the fourth time I’ll be on TV in China, I think, and this time instead of chancing into it they came looking for me. Interesting stuff happens to you when you’re here long enough…
> head like an empty sterile room, somehow I made a mess like watching newborn babies crack from work-related stress -Alkaline Trio, “I lied my face off”
Well, it’s the beginning of the semester, a fresh start. New students, new teachers, new lesson plans… Somehow it all seems a little “messy” though. I wonder if it’s because of the constant rain. We actually had nice weather today, but that’s a rarity. The other day I accidentally said “rain forecast” instead of “weather forecast.” Hangzhou winters are like this. Lots of time spent indoors. I’m looking forward to the spring…
Lately I can’t stop listening to this song. This one and this one aren’t bad either. I’m not exposed to a lot of new music these days, so when I find something new I like, I’m all over it. I have access to internet radio, but it usually spews the same garbage across the internet as it does across the airwaves at home. I’m happy I found Dashnine Radio. Rarely have I found a station that plays so much stuff I like. Atom and His Package, Screeching Weasel, and The Transplants, all on the same station? I’m there.
[Note: These MP3’s will be online for a limited time only, so if the links have gone dead, that’s why. To see what music I’ve got online at any given time, go to www.sinosplice.com/music/.]
[Lifted from Dave’s ESL Cafe. Non-italicized, non-indented comments by me.]
So, you’re thinking of coming here to teach. Know this advance.
1) With some rare exceptions, your salary at 90% of schools will be no more that $500 US dollars a month, if that. Many schools pay far less than this. China is a poor country. Your accomodation is likely to be on par with what the Chinese themselves would have – a real shocker, by any standards.
This is mostly true. Pay is that low. Accomodations, however, can sometimes turn out to be “a real shocker” for the opposite reason. This was true for me, Wilson, and Jay Peterson (a guy I met in Yunnan).
2) Outside of the modern cities, the Chinese have disgusting personal habits and most provincial cities are filthy shitholes. The Chinese (men and women) spit everywhere and constantly. They piss on the streets and I have seen them shit behind walls. Unless you have a very strong stomach, you may find yourself throwing up. I am not making this up, by the way.
OK, this is based in truth, but it seems exaggerated. You do see public urination a few times a month if you go out, but I have yet to see public defecation.
3) By western standards, they have no ‘manners’. They push and shove. They scream ‘Hello’ at you, snigger and then run away. They stand behind you in Internet cafes – groups of them – and watch your screen. They have no concept of privacy.
Once again, based in truth, but garnished with a liberal helping of culture shock, it seems. Still, the pushing and linelessness is definitely hard to get used to.
4) North of Guanzhou (ie: 90% of China), prepare for savagely cold winters and blisteringly hot summers, untempered by humidity).
Pre-Yunnan me actually wondered if anywhere in China actually had pretty good weather year-round. Now I know.
The people are basically very kind and friendly, but not in a reserved, western way. This is a great country to experience ‘life’, but bear in mind what I’ve said. Personally, I can deal with the downside and am enjoying my experience, but many would not. Nothing personal, but my remarks are objective and I hope, helpful.
Posted: February 19, 2003
I think this is post is a good demonstration that there’s no such thing as objective remarks on China, but it’s a good read and certainly represents how a decent-sized portion of the West would view China.
Man, lately I’ve been bad about responding to any e-mails, writing in my blog, and reading anyone’s blog. I also have tons of pictures from Yunnan that I want to get online. (Despite my whining, I actually took a lot of pictures, and a lot of them are decent.) But the school semester starts Monday, and my new job as ZUCC foreign teacher liaison has already begun. I’ve been running around today doing stuff for that, and I’m going to the airport tomorrow to meet one of the new teachers. In addition, there are a few other things I’m really happy about this semester: (1) I only teach 14 hours, (2) I have no classes Fridays or Tuesdays, (3) my largest class size is about 22 now, as my 30 student classes have been split in half (at my repeated urging). Same amount of class time for each student, but less students per class. That means class is easier to teach, and the students get more out of class. Having lots of foreign English teachers (12 total this semester) is a very good thing.
Alf was here in Hangzhou for a visit Tuesday and Wednesday. Unfortunately winter is not the best time of year to witness “the beauty of Hangzhou,” but we had a pretty good time anyway. It was pretty funny how whenever he told Chinese people here that he’s teaching in Henan province, they were all like, “Henan?! Why are you teaching there? It’s a dirty place full of thieves!” Alf doesn’t exactly agree, but to get one guy off his back, he explained that he came here through a program and he didn’t have a choice. “Oh,” the guy said. And then, in English, “bad luck!”
Noriko, one of the Japanese teachers here, invited me over for dinner tonight. She’s really cool and sweet, and a good cook besides. What I didn’t realize was that it was an all-Japanese gathering, besides me. So my Japanese got a healthy 4-hour workout. The conversation went all over the place (and I admit I was a bit distracted at times, especially since she had, for some reason, left a movie of the stunning Norika Fujiwara running in the background), but they touched on quite a few interesting things, like wedding customs and costs, Chinese students’ obsession with insignificant features of Japanese pronunciation, and what nationality they were often taken for in China. Noriko said Chinese people were always shocked to learn she’s not Chinese (because she “looks so Chinese”), and usually make a comment like, “well, you’re definitely not Japanese, so what are you, Korean?” Apparently the Chinese often ask Japanese people if they are Korean. What I couldn’t say was that perhaps they always guess Korean because Koreans might be offended if they’re taken for Japanese (and the Chinese would be sensitive to that), while the reverse is not true.
Anyway, Yunnan photos are coming. (And e-mails, to some of you.)
Ray posted a nice long comment to my last entry. Unfortunately, Haloscan seems to have lost it. [Update: the “lost” comments are back.] One thing he touched on, though, was “that big dork Dashan.” Dashan is pretty much completely unknown outside of China, but almost universally known within China. This man has become a real nuisance to students of Chinese everywhere.
Dashan is a big white Canadian. The thing is, he speaks Mandarin Chinese perfectly. I mean really, really well. He basically decided, “yeah, I’ll take on Chinese,” and then just competely kicked Chinese’s ass. He has done xiangsheng for years, a kind of two-person traditional Chinese standup comedy. “Dashan” means “big mountain,” which I always thought was an incredibly stupid Chinese name, but then a Chinese friend explained to me that it’s sort of a joke, and that Chinese people like the name. Ah, Dashan… you win again, with your superior understanding of Chinese “humor” (which really is unfathomable)!
According to the chronology on Dashan’s site, he majored in Chinese studies, graduated in 1988, and has been in China ever since. He was in an independent studies program at Beijing University, and he also served as a public relations advisor at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing. The hilarious conclusion to the chronology: 1995 – Founded Dashan Incorporated and began full-time career as Dashan. OK, I don’t know whether it’s just me, or it’s a foreigner-in-china thing, but I find that very funny.
OK, so you’re probably wondering what the deal with Dashan is. Why am I bringing him up? Well, there are several reasons. First, he is the bane of caucasian students of Chinese everywhere. About 60% (yes, that’s a hard statistic!) of Chinese people you know here will ask you if you know who Dashan is, as if revealing his mere existence to us might show us the path to enlightenment. On the contrary, it’s just annoying. Yeah, so another whitey could do it — it’s still annoying!
Second, I get told I look like Dashan all the time. I do not want to look like Dashan! When I deny it, they insist, asserting that I’m handsome like he is. Okayyy…
Third, his mere existence is an enigma. What can this man really do? Speak Chinese. Yes, but what can he really do?? Speak Chinese. Really well. In the USA, immigrants get no credit for speaking perfect English, unless maybe they did it in less than 48 hours solely by watching MTV. Meanwhile, Dashan is a national celebrity. Furthermore, he’s not the only foreigner to speak perfect Chinese, but he seems to be the only one recognized. He has the monopoly on Chinese skills. I think the Chinese find it amusing and touching that a foreigner can speak such perfect Chinese, but then simultaneously find his singularity somehow comforting. It goes without saying that the hard work and bitter struggle of any Asian that becomes fluent in Chinese is hardly acknowledged.
A while back a producer of a CCTV show was trying to talk me into being on their show. It’s a sort of showcase/gameshow of foreigners that can speak good Chinese. When I mentioned Dashan, she rolled her eyes. She said Dashan is old news, too perfect, no longer interesting. That’s all well and good, but the grinning spirit of Dashan is alive and well in Chinese society.
Obviously I envy this guy. He speaks amazing Chinese. He must be very disciplined and hard-working. I have yet to really “master” any foreign language, though I’m well along the way in a few. But images and accolades of this dorky guy forced down my throat do not foster affection.
But this is China. Home of Dashan. He was here first, anyway.
It’s been said before, by different people, in various ways, from multiple angles. but it’s such an inseparable part of the expat experience here that I thought I’d share again. So, from behind the Great Firewall of China without further ado, the words of Sam:
I should note that laowai is Chinese for ‘foreigner’ and heard several hundred times a day in various tones: respectful – I understand it is meant to be a respectful term; amazed – not too irritating this one; demanding: (‘hey, you, respond now.‘); amused – I hate that one, doesn’t everyone hate being laughed at?; and finally, matter-of-fact – just the word that floats to your ear in a conversation of passers by (‘oh look, there’s a foreigner!’, in the tone you might use to point out a six-foot pigeon). I’ve written loads on this on days when it’s annoyed me most but it’s back on my PC in far-away Xining. Sometimes it’s charming and friendly, don’t get me wrong, but the line between that and fists-clenching-in-the pocket shifts depending on mood, temperament and how long you’ve been here. Ironically, it’s when you’re in a bad mood, hungover or similar that you get so many more comments and “hello”s. Then you start asking yourself: “Am I here for your amusement, eh? Did I come here so you could take the piss? Eh?”
The other day I was wandering the streets of Kunming, and I came across a strange old man. He was walking slowly, arms raised in front of his chest, clapping a slow and steady rhythm. For no apparent reason.
I gave him a curious smile, and he tilted his head back in acknowledgement, smiling broadly as if to say, “don’t you worry — I’ve got all the random clapping under control.”
Although this internet cafe in Kunming is amazingly cheap (1.5 yuan/hour, or $0.19/hour), they have a police force in here! There are these uniformed guards roaming around, looking at people’s screens! Most people in here are playing games, so they’re watching the handful that are actually surfing the net more closely. This is bizarre.
Hey, people in other parts of China — have you seen this before?? I’ve noticed that it’s not only in this internet cafe, but in all of them in this area (I’m in sort of an “internet cafe complex”).
Haha, little do they know that I’m reporting on their efforts at thought control even as they watch me! I’m gonna try to snap a pic on my way out. Let’s hope I make it!
For a short time, I was Mr. Stinkypants. You see, before departing for a several day trek, I left some laundry with the Banna Hotel in Jinghong. When I came back, not having showered for 2-3 days and quite filthy, I picked up my clean laundry (or “clean,” I should say), changed clothes, and gave them the new nasty bundle to wash. I didn’t notice for a few hours that the “clean” jeans I had changed into stunk! I didn’t smell them when I was standing up or walking around, but if I sat down, vile whiffs would reach my nostrils. I guess they had put them in a plastic bag still damp or something. Seriously nasty smelling.
So I complained. They seemed to think it was funny. They wouldn’t take me up on my offer to let them smell my jeans that they had washed (so what if they were on my body at the time). They wouldn’t even give me a refund on just the jeans. Jerks. So then I brought up that despite the fact that their fine establishment offers “24 hour hot water,” every time I turn on the tap I get only drips, if that. Certainly not enough for a shower. They tried to tell me that if I let them know, they can usually take care of it. Well that’s not 24 hour hot water, now, is it?? Stupid Banna Hotel. Customer service has a long way to go in many places of China, even the highly touristed areas.
Anyway, I had to go on wearing my stinkypants for 2 days because my other pair was in the wash. I began to wonder if people I met could smell them. After all, most people in Yunnan are considerably shorter than me, so their noses are closer to my pants than mine is. I was a little nervous about meeting new people. Could they smell my stinkypants? Maybe I should just tackle the issue head-on: “Hi, I’m Stinkypants John. Don’t worry, that vile odor you smell is emanating from my jeans, not me. I’m actually very clean.” Right.
But after a horrible 18-hour bus ride, I’m now in Kunming, and the stinkypants are in the wash. I hope they have what it takes to combat that evil stench. I’m just happy I can’t smell my own pants anymore, though.
I’m in Jinghong (“capital” of Xishuang Banna, southern Yunnan, China). It is the day after an exhausting 40 km or so trek through some gorgeous countryside. Up and down mountains, across rivers, and through lots of minority people’s villages. I plan to go to Kunming tomorrow.
Thing is, I’m just kinda tired. Maybe I’m all travelled out. It’s been over 2 weeks. I know I’m especially tired today because yesterday was so exhausting (hiking 8am – 7pm almost nonstop, and then hitch hiking back and not arriving in Jinghong until 9pm). But maybe I made this trip a little too long. There is still a full life waiting for me back in Hangzhou, and I’m kind of eager to get back to it. Sounds crazy to say I’m tired of all this gorgeous weather and beuatiful scenery, but….
There’s still stuff to see in and around Jinghong. Yet today, I’m here in an internet cafe. I’m not even gonna write on any of the million things I’d like to write about… just not in the mood, really. That will come later. Pictures will come later too, but they’re fewer than might be expected. I’ve had a range of issues with taking pictures recently, which have been introduced to be via a range of people, and have been bouncing around in my head ever since:
Are you traveling to take pictures or to experience? Can you really do both well at the same time? Like it or not, having the camera ready at all times while traveling is a kind of multi-tasking. That camera is using up “memory” that could otherwise be spent more fully absorbing the experience with all one’s senses. This trip I’ve opted to keep the camera packed away a lot of the time, and I’m not really sorry. At least beautiful scenery will patiently wait for me to pull the camera out, most of the time.
Should I really take pictures of all these people? This is an issue that’s more sensitive with the minority groups. A lot of them don’t like you to take pictures of them. In Guilin if they caught you photographing them they’d demand money. Here they just don’t want it, and it seems sincere, and I feel like a have to respect it. I want to respect it. I wonder, though, if these people are (a) camera shy, (b) feel exploited, or (c) have some deeper “cameras steal your soul” kind of reason for not wanting to be photographed.
So I feel kinda torn. Yesterday while passing through a Dai village I saw some of the cutest children I’ve ever seen in my life. I had a great time interacting with them, and they’ll be a part of my China experiences forever. Just wish I could share, sometimes.
I’m sitting in a guesthouse/cafe/internet cafe in Lijiang, doing my e-mail duties. In the background an entire John Denver CD runs its course. In front of me, right outside, Chinese tourists and foreign backpackers stroll the stone streets.
Colorfully dressed Naxi women are a common site here. They’re not just trying to earn a few rmb from the photo-frenzied tourists; this is their way of life, and they live here. They seem not to see all the tourists photographing them, and they don’t return the stares. It’s strange for me to be in such a remote, exotic corner of China and not be stared at, even by a people whose culture is even more different from my own than most mainland Chinese’s.
Lijiang has been really great. I’ll write more on it later. I leave for Xishuang Banna by plane later this afternoon.
Dali is a famous tourist spot in Yunnan (southwest China). After arriving in Kunming via airplane, I went straight to Dali by bus, where I am now. Dali is famous for its old-style city (gu cheng), which is rife with shops selling all kinds of items, all with that “South China minority” feel. There are tons of minority groups here in Yunnan, and the Bai are the main group in Dali.
The night I got here, I just checked into a hotel called the MCA Guesthouse (which I later learned is highly acclaimed in the Lonely Planet), walked around a bit, and ate. The next day I took a bike ride down to the lake and went for a few boat rides. Today I went up Cang Mountain, did some hiking, and also went on a little horseback ride.
A few observations:
Dali is often raved about by foreign travellers, but I’m not super impressed. Yes, the weather is amazing — clean, clear, dry air, with barely even a wisp of a cloud daring to appear on the deep blue stage to even hint at rain. It’s cool, but not too cold. The city of Dali is nestled in between the Cang Mountain Range and Erhai Lake. The scenery is really quite nice. But I keep comparing it to Yangshuo — one of the best vacations I’ve ever had — and it just doesn’t quite measure up.
It’s kind of cool how almost all the residents of Dali are in the Bai minority group. This place is not so dominated by the Han Chinese. It seems like in a lot of places, the minority villages are off alone in some mountain range, doing their thing, and then tourist groups regularly parade through and exploit them. It was that way in Thailand, and in Mexico, to some degree, and I expected to see it here, but it’s at least partly different. I don’t know, maybe it’s the Han behind the scenes, making all the big money, but the Bai seem to run tourism here.
The “ski lift” that took me up Cang Shan today was manufactured by “Doppelmayr Ropeway Technology, Austria.” I hope it’s not mean to say so, but that made me feel a little more at ease. We were quite high up.
The old man who took me on the horseback mountain tour today was Bai. He was quite hard to understand, as his Mandarin wasn’t super good, but I learned a lot of interesting things from him. The horses are only usable for 20-30 years, after which they are sold (and probably eaten). Bai people in Dali usually make only 200-800 rmb (US$25-$100) per month. They can live on that. (But it does seem to indicate that there’s some outsiders making the bigger bucks…) Also, the minority people are allowed to have 2 kids, instead of just one.
The shopkeepers in the streets are way less pushy than they have been in other places. Being constantly assaulted by “Hello, hello, banana!” in Yangshuo comes to mind… I wonder if this is a Bai cultural quality. It may also be because the tourist season is not really underway yet. This place is bustling with backpackers at certain times of the year, but I’ve seen relatively few so far.
Overall, I like Dali, but I’m not terribly impressed. So I’m off to Lijiang tomorrow…
Students, your pictures are finally online! Go look at them. To the classes that I didn’t see that week, I’m sorry I couldn’t take pictures of you guys too, but it was your decision not to come…
Those are some happy-looking students, eh? That’s even right before their final exam! It doesn’t take as much to bribe them as you might think… heh heh.
Hey students! All of you know about this blog, but none of you have ever left a comment, even once! Now that you have something that directly relates to you, how about if some of you leave some nice English comments??
So there’s been some random stuff going on that I thought I’d fill you guys in on.
1. People are abandoning the school, like rats from a sinking ship. A college campus is a lonely place to be during the holidays. Wilson left early Tuesday. Helene leaves Thursday. Students finished exams today, and are heading for home en masse. And I will join the crowd Friday as I head to Shanghai to hang out with Ray before he leaves China for good (yes, the same Ray that leaves all the naughty comments). Saturday morning I head to Yunnan by plane. Yes, it’s time for my winter vacation. I’ll be there for 2-3 weeks, so I can’t say for sure how much I’ll be updating while there, but that’s the beauty of Blogger — I’ll be able to write updates anywhere with internet cafes, and China is already infested.
2. I know many of you are closely following my toilet situation, eagerly awaiting updates. So let me fill you in. I finally got through to them that they needed to do more than show up at my place with a mop whenever my toilet would not unclog even after 20-30 minutes of straight heavy-duty plunging with my plunger. (How they unclog a toilet with a mop is something I really don’t understand… Another aspect of Chinese mysticism, I guess.) They agreed to actually pull up the bowl and have a look-see. I had to wait another day for that, for the right guy to come, of course. Anyway, he and his friend showed up the next day with a mallet and a chisel. Great. Then they got to work destroying the cement seal around the base of the toilet. After that they pulled that bad boy up. (Fortunately there was no messy surprise waiting for them.) After the guy inspected the bottom of the toilet bowl and the hole in the bathroom floor for a while, he made the declaration I had been dreading: “mei you wenti” — “there’s no problem here.” NO PROBLEM?! Then why doesn’t my toilet work?! Fortunately, this guy was smart, and he made a few measurements after his initial proclamation. You know how most toilets have a water tank in the back of the toilet? Mine is no exception. But that tank in back limits how close to the wall the bowl can be placed. It just so happens that the hole in the floor of the bathroom is rather close to the wall as well. Because of these designs, the hole in the bottom of the bowl was not matching up right with the hole in the floor. The hole in the bottom of the bowl was too far forward. There was only like 25% overlap instead of the 100% it should be (refer to diagram at right). BIG PROBLEM. Major flow obstruction. The guy was surprised I’d managed to use it as long as I have. So they decided that they would come replace it the next day. In the meantime I couldn’t use my toilet, which was still uprooted. GREAT.
So, after 24 hours of no toilet (that really is an inconvenience!), they came back this morning and mucked around in my bathroom some more. I don’t know what they were doing for over an hour, because they simply came to the conclusion they had before: you definitely need a whole new toilet bowl unit. Unfortunately, it’s very close to the Chinese New Year, so we can’t do it right away. You’ll have to wait until next year. What about my toilet?! Human beings need to use a toilet! Oh, no problem, they’d re-cement it down so I could keep using it until they come next year to replace it. I’ll have to wait another 24 hours to actually use it of course, because the cement needs time to dry. Grrrrreeeeaat…
3. There are 3 new teachers coming here. Two guys and a girl. All under 30, I think. Should be fun.
4. I’ve noticed that Chinese women seem to think that brown and purple match. Seriously. I see this combination every day. So who’s not in the know — me or them? As I’ve said before, I’m not exactly a fashion authority. But it seems fishy to me…
It’s old news by now, but make sure you check out this story. Looks like Shaq’s feeling a little insecure… Gonna have to be sure to watch Yao Ming and Shaq square off this weekend when the Lakers meet the Rockets in Houston (Sat 9:30pm ET/Sat 8:30am China Time, ESPN).
As a follow-up to my last entry, I learned today that as a teacher, the three things you “can’t talk about in China” are religion, politics, and sex. I’ve already covered all three in class, at least once. Oops? (No, I’m not worried. That info is outdated.)
Oh, and yes, the rumors are true. The Sinosplice Weblog has gone Chinese. If you can’t read Chinese, you probably don’t care. If you can, you probably already know this, because you’re probably in China using Chinese Windows, and the old blog URL now redirects you to a new blog page in the language of your operating system. If you’re one of those rare individuals that can read Chinese but not in the 1.3 billion-strong club, you can still read the Chinese version. It’s not simply a translation (ugh, that would not be fun), it’s different material. So you have to learn Chinese if you want to know what’s in it. (Just the last little bit of motivation you needed, right? Ha!)
The class I teach here in China is Spoken English. I am here this term to improve the spoken English of close to 300 Chinese college students. How does one accomplish that? Well, by making them talk (harder than you think). There are many ways to do this, of course, but at least something done in class has to result in grades given out, which can be very limiting. My semester plan centers around discussions. I won’t bore you with all the details at this moment, but the last discussion we had in class this semester was about sex. It may be regular fare in Wilson’s classes, but it’s the first time I’ve done something like that. After all, this is China.
The results were extremely educational — all around — and a resounding success, if I do say so myself.
A crucial element in my classes is student involvement and initiative, and this concept extends to the discussions. While I pick the topics, the students lead the discussions and think of the discussion questions themselves. I generally just sow a few seeds to give them ideas, and they take it from there. This method can have great results.
So what happened when the topic of SEX was unleashed in the classroom? Reactions spanned the whole spectrum, ranging from the nervous fidgets of students who were clearly uncomfortable with the topic and kind of wished it would go away to the antics of students who embraced the topic with gusto and took it much further than I expected.
It all begins with the questions. Some students were clearly uncomfortable with the topic, so I told them they were free to interpret the topic how they wanted — they could talk about AIDS issues, sex education issues, or gay rights issues rather than getting down and dirty with it. One guy was so uncomfortable with the whole thing that he interpreted “sex” to mean “gender,” and all his questions were lame gender-related questions (and yes, I admit that there are good gender-related questions, but he didn’t come up with any). The squeamish were definitely in the minority, however, which made me feel that I wasn’t doing the wrong thing. I was further removed from any blame by the fact that the students were the ones that actually came up with all the questions. I merely guided and moderated.
Anyway, there were some interesting questions. The few discussion leaders who dared ask who in the group had had sex before got no replies. The message was clear: making it too personal was not OK. In the beginning, “do you think sex before marriage is OK?” was one of the more risque questions that got answers (and yes, some students — both male and female — were publicly answering in the affirmative to that question). One question I heard a boy pose intensely to several girls had me really laughing: “All people have sexual desire. Do you??” Based on his logic, the girls couldn’t answer no, and they didn’t disagree anyway, but they still didn’t want to admit it. The students taught me what Confucius had to say on this matter: “食色性也” (shi se xing ye) — “Sex is part of human nature.” Plenty of students got into how they would react if they learned that a friend was gay. Toward the end of the discussion hour, I was shocked to hear that one group had even ventured into the subject of bestiality! Yes, Chinese students discussing bestiality in English in my classroom. Gotta love this job. They did it on their own, I swear!
Perhaps what made the discussion such a success was bringing role play into it. I gave people roles, such as “the promiscuous American” and “Mao Zedong.” I encouraged them to be outrageous by giving hypothetical examples of my own. “I’m a promiscuous American, and I think young people should be having sex every day with multiple partners” got uproarious laughter, and, incredibly, it actually spawned more of the same. I told my students that lying in a discussion is fine as long as they’re doing it in English. Evidently that was enough to get them to them to open up.
Towards the end of class, each group of students seemed much more at ease with the topic, and they were giving straight answers if I questioned them. One group of students was discussing sex among college students. “You mean a lot of college students are having sex in China?” I asked, feigning bewilderment. “Of course!” my student responded. “It’s an open secret.” I love that line, because it beautifully captures a truth about Chinese society in all its paradoxical glory. I couldn’t have put it better myself. I was so impressed that my student had accomplished it, in English no less.
So I was pleased with how that class went. A week, later, though, I was giving oral quizzes on discussion vocabulary we had covered in class. One of them was the term “gay,” intended for the sex discussion. I guess maybe the students got a little too comfortable in class — one of my students, given the word “gay” to make a sentence, promptly replied with, “John and Wilson are gay.”
Hmmm… It seems to me there was a time when the teachings of Confucius were a little more teacher-friendly….