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05

Dec 2002

More Polls…

These two questions are pretty unscientific, I know. The students’ answers are very subjective. Before the questions, I made sure they understood what I meant by “care.” Still, interesting results. A trend is uncovered.

Poll: Do you care about Chinese politics?

Poll: Do you care about World News?

Obviously, the word “care” is crucial, because what does that mean? One can easily say one cares, but then that “caring” doesn’t actually manifest itself in any actions.

Also, this is not secret ballot. When students declare they don’t care, they do so publicly in front of the whole class as I count hands. There’s less of the “herd mentality” than you would think, however. You do get one or two people defying the rest of the class and voting how they really feel at times.


03

Dec 2002

Earth-shattering Poll Results!

So many people have been writing me begging for the results of the next poll that I couldn’t wait any longer to post them. (Yeah, riiiiight…) Anyway, I find the results of the latest poll very interesting. Maybe at least one other person out there will too. My latest poll had three parts. I’ve got the data all tabulated and represented prettily in nice graphics, but I’ll just release one result today (ooh! Suspense!). But worry not — it is definitely the most significant poll thus far.

The question was: “Who is the greatest person in 5,000 years of Chinese history?” These college kids have to study a lot of Chinese history throughout their educations. They’ve learned about many a historical figure. They’ve also been subject to quite a bit of propaganda. Given these points (particularly the last one), I fully
expected a landslide victory for Mao Zedong. The guy is still a national hero. He’s still talked about. He’s on every bill now (100, 50, 20, 10, 5) except for the one. (Seems kinda insecure of the government to go that far in promoting the guy, doesn’t it?) He seems the natural choice. In asking this question, I didn’t feed them any answers. I let them come up with the list of people to choose from before I started counting votes. I left the qualifications for being
“great” completely up to them. Anyway, without further ado, here are the results:

Earth-shattering Poll Results

For those of you that don’t know, Qin Shihuang was the first emperor of China. He united China but was a completely ruthless bastard to do it. He’s credited with the Great Wall project and the Terracotta Warriors were made for his tomb. Li Shimin was a great emperor of Tang Dynasty China — China at the height of its ancient glory. Wu Zetian was also a leader from the Tang Dynasty, but she was an empress. I noticed she only got girls’ votes. A vote for her is a vote for Chinese feminism, maybe? Anyway, I’ll let you all draw your own conclusions. If you know who these people are, then I’m sure you’re very capable of that. Post your comments…


01

Dec 2002

Almost Thanksgiving

So last Thursday I celebrated Thanksgiving with 5 other foreigners at the Hangzhou Holiday Inn (yes, that’s the same Holiday Inn you’re familiar with). Four of them were American. By Chinese standards, the Western all-you-can-eat buffet was not cheap — 148 rmb (about US$18.50) — but no one regretted shelling out the cash. It was good. I taught my class last week that there are 6 “main Thanksgiving foods” that most American families eat on Thanksgiving: (1) turkey, (2) stuffing, (3) cranberries in some form, (4) pumpkin pie, (5) mashed potatoes, and (6) sweet potatoes. I also explained that every family has different traditions; the list is not definitive (so no one leave huffy comments because I wronged your Thanksgiving traditions to all of China).

My complaints about the “Thanksgiving meal” were: (1) the stuffing came out of a cookie dough-type tube! Yuck! (2) No mashed potatoes! Come on! But hey, it was still pretty good. As I told my students, food is very important on Thanksgiving, but what’s more important is being with family. So even good food couldn’t quite do the trick. Here are a few pics:

T-Day 2002


01

Dec 2002

Zi Head

See if you can guess what the deal is with this pic. Or, just be lazy and see below.

字-head

We ran into this guy in the Holiday Inn lobby. He was being interviewed, and he let me take his picture. This is how he advertises. Chuck has the (very short) story in his blog. This particular ad is for a soccer pool.


27

Nov 2002

Harvesting Stats

Living in China has its fair share of inconveniences. The ones that immediately come to mind are being on the opposite side of the globe from most of my friends and family, and a big long list of things I can’t eat here (oh, cheesecake! I miss you!). But there are some great benefits too. The benefits are so numerous and unexpected that you can live here for years without realizing them.

One of these benefits which I discovered early on in my first semester at ZUCC was the potential for gathering information. Sure, the teacher’s up there to teach the students, and then the teacher can learn from the students as well. But I mean something far more direct. You can gather information on Chinese society straight from your students and even make it part of classwork. My first semester I taught American Society and Culture, and one of the regular assignments I gave was a one-page written response to the latest chapter’s material. I encouraged students to make comparisons between Chinese society and what they learned in the book, or what they learned from me, or what they knew of American society already. At times I cursed myself for giving those assignments because it gave me a lot to read. But what I gained! Students would often write out what they wouldn’t say in class. I learned a lot about Chinese families, government, education, etc. from those papers. More than my students learned from me, I fear.

Anyway, despite the precious info I gleaned from those papers, they were a one-semester thing. It was just too much work to read them, and I had to read them all or some of the students would plagiarize like little fiends. And I wasn’t about to let them get away with that, less because of the dishonesty factor and more because I didn’t want them to ever think for a second that they could outsmart me.

Since then, I’ve picked up this and that from miscellaneous discussions and such in class. But it’s never been such pure information downloading as it was with the papers. Recently, though, something rekindled my lust for data. I think it began when I asked my class if they shared my excitement about a new generation of leadership in the Chinese Communist Party (they very much didn’t), and a little discussion on their feelings about politics ensued. Basically, they felt that they had no control over politics, so they didn’t care. But the idea of taking polls in class took shape in my mind.

So, lately I’ve been surveying my students on various topics. I’m carefully noting the data, and I’ll report the interesting results I find. I have close to 300 students. Sure, my students typically come from upper class Chinese families, because the tuition here is quite high for a Chinese college. But that doesn’t mean the data won’t yield trends that are interesting and telling. I’m loving this. I’ve got lots of good stuff on the way. So without further ado, the results of my first poll…

Poll: Cell Phones

Is that higher than you expected? Cell phones are definitely common on the streets in Hangzhou. They’re everywhere. The ::beep:: ::beep:: of the SMS message alert permeates every nook and cranny of town. Furthermore, while Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province–a quite wealthy province–keep in mind that this is still Hangzhou, not Hong Kong, not Shanghai, not Beijing (those three places have cheesecake!). Also, the fact that so many of the students bring their cell phones to the classroom is a serious factor for the teacher. There’s little more infuriating in class than a student ignoring you because his gaze is transfixed on the LCD screen of his cell phone. They think you won’t see them if they keep the phone below the surface of the desk. Makes you wanna grab the phone, chuck it out the window, and smack the student.

Anyway, the polls have begun. And may the data collecting proliferate among the foreign teachers here in China…


26

Nov 2002

Laowai Circus

wuzhen

Things tend to happen to me in China in clumps of weird connections. Example: my first year in Hangzhou I lived with my Chinese friend from UF’s fiancee’s dad’s boss’s son. (Didja get that?) This past Saturday I went to Wuzhen, a small, scenic, historic town (guzhen in Chinese) with a small group in order to film a travel show for the Zhejiang TV station. The trip was unpaid, but I didn’t pay for anything either — transportation, lodging, food was all paid for. And it was a good opportunity to meet young Chinese people. So how did I get that hookup? My e-mail penpal (Erin)’s co-worker (Vivienne)’s date’s co-workers were looking for a foreigner who could speak Mandarin for the show. Turns out they got two from my school. Kiwi Chris can also speak it, and so he went too.

So that was my Friday and Saturday. We were a group of only 6, and it was nice. 2 foreigners, 1 Wuzhen tourguide, a camera crew of 2, and 1 show hostess. There were times when the Chinese and foreigners would detach for separate conversations, but there was plenty of friendliness and good feeling as well. I’ve gotta say, Wuzhen was just a little bit boring, but it was cool to learn how they do some of the traditional crafts like making rice wine and weaving cloth. Check out the pictures. As far as the location, I think I still prefer the first guzhen I visited: Xitang.

I’ve been told that the show airs this Saturday (Nov. 30th) at 9:55pm on Zhejiang TV-3, then again the following Saturday (Dec. 7th) at 11am and 4pm, Zhejiang TV-3.


22

Nov 2002

Women and Children

My blog entry entitled “Ghost Alien Love” got quite a few interesting comments related to love and women in China. I have also discussed love/women issues with my Thursday night advanced conversation class, and I learned a few interesting things about Chinese law and society:

1. It is illegal for a woman to have a baby out of wedlock in China. An unmarried woman is required by law to get an abortion if she somehow gets pregnant. (But that couldn’t happen in this conservative society, now could it?) Well, until recently… (see below)

2. If a married woman is pregnant, it is illegal for her husband to divorce her until well after the delivery.

3. If a married man is found to be cheating on his wife, and the wife doesn’t want a divorce, she can force him by law to give her monetary compensation for his infidelity. (Yeah, I’m sure that gets used a lot. No colossal loss of face for the woman or anything…)

Kinda crazy, eh? But there’s this new law in Jilin province (way up north) that allows unmarried women to have a baby through a legitimate fertilization clinic. I’m wondering why?? Is there a big demand for that up there?? And it’s not like this is a democracy, so even if there was a big demand, that doesn’t guarantee results in legislation. This is still a rather conservative society on the surface, so I find this bizarre. I couldn’t find any English news on this, but here’s a Chinese link if you can handle it: [Yahoo News China, Nov. 11, 2002].

As crazy as I thought all this was, though, a Chinese friend recently told me about a female cousin in Shanghai, late twenties, who wants to have a baby on her own. And get this: not the Jilin way. She’s out looking for “Mr. Right” to do the deed and plant the seed, and then she’ll just raise the baby on her own! You may not find that outrageous, but you have to realize that an illegitimate child in China has a hard life. They can’t be properly “registered,” and so aren’t eligible for schooling. There are all kinds of headaches. Not something you choose, if you can help it.

But hey, this is China. It’s changing fast.


18

Nov 2002

Questions…

Not long ago, a page on Bokane.org reminded me of a question that’s been in the back of my mind and close to my heart for over two years now. It’s a question that I started asking in 1997, and which has become especially persistent over the past two years. Now it’s in the forefront again, running amuck and causing havoc. Oh, it’s not doing any real damage, of course. It’s tantalizing. Like the puppy in the short box, no matter how many times you push it back, it just keeps emerging. And though you may lose patience with it, it remains interesting. But what can you do other than push it back? You’ve got somewhere to go. It isn’t a part of your itinerary. Yet it won’t be ignored. And its teeth, while mostly harmless, can hurt.

I asked Wilson recently, “During all this time you’re spending in China, are you becoming more and more yourself, or more and more someone else?” I tend to hate those kinds of questions, because the person asking them usually just seems smug that they’ve thought up an annoying meaningless question to irritate someone else’s intellect with. But this time I cared about the question, and I cared about the answer. I really wanted to know what was happening with Wilson, and what he perceived of it. And, of course, whatever mysterious forces there are that have been messing with Wilson’s identity for almost a year have been doing the same to me for over two years. It was personal.

Wilson said he’s becoming more and more someone else. Someone he likes. Someone with purpose and drive.

And me? I know I’m different, but I’m not even sure I know how I’ve changed. What’s scarier is the prospect of how much change there is that I don’t recognize.

Who am I now? Is this a result of my decision to come to China, or a result of being in China?
Am I really so different?

Will they even know?


12

Nov 2002

Busy, Busy

So I’m keeping busy lately. Life just won’t slow down.

Still trying to figure out where I’ll be next semester. Many possibilities, little time to figure out which to go with. | I shut myself in all weekend this past weekend writing my book. It’ll be a nonfiction masterpiece that will rock China (in a good, PC way) when it’s released. Making good progress there. Talks for publication in progress. | I’m the new DJ on campus. (I burned an “introduction to punk” CD, complete with voiced intros to each song, all done by me. The station is supposed to start airing it this week. They want more.) | Still lots of plans for my site, to be slowly implemented over the period from now to eternity. | The internet is still fun and amazing, after all these years. Who’da thunk it?? | Still have classes to plan and teach, but all is well. Next week is song/commercial week. I have the whole Budweiser “Wazzup” series on DVD. China must witness. | I think I need to start a juggling club on campus. | Polls are in the works. | I need to reinstall Windows XP for the fourth time, thanks to Chinese pirated software. | My friend Miya was supposed to come for a visit from Japan this coming weekend, but now she can’t make it due to a family emergency. | I need to go learn some Chinese so my tutor doesn’t scold me too harshly tomorrow…


07

Nov 2002

Selective Search Blocking

A while back I wrote about how China blocked Google and it was driving me crazy. Later, it was unblocked, but it was widely reported that China has some very sophisticated technology in place that causes you to lose connection if you run certain seaches. This morning I was doing a search for a picture of a famous Chinese leader. At first it was fine, but soon the links to the pics stopped working, and then Google itself became inaccessible, and then nothing would load. Fortunately everything works fine now. But internet censorship is very much in effect here still.

Related to the above is the fact that tomorrow the CCP convenes for its 16th party congress. Now, I’m well aware how boring politics is for many of us, but this meeting is significant. There have been only three main leaders of Communist China: Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and you-know-who*. Tomorrow it is widely believed that you-know-who will step down, and a new guy will take his place. In the past, each new leader has represented a new direction for China. So it’s an exciting time.

You may find it hard to get excited about Chinese politics. I don’t blame you. Still, you should read this article. It got me excited. China is in for big changes, and I really believe it’s for the better. Communism in China is probably not what you think it is. And it’s becoming even less so. Get ready.

* I don’t want to invite the possibility of censorship, so I’m avoiding the specific, currently very sensitive name.


05

Nov 2002

Ghost Alien Love

In class this week, as a follow-up to last week’s Halloween activities, we had a discussion on Ghosts and Aliens. Last week I provided vocabulary such as ghost, alien, UFO, abduct, monster, egg a house, TP a yard, Flaming Bag of Dog Poo, etc. I also had to give some cultural background about simple things we take for granted. For example, when I asked the class where ghosts come from, most people answered “hell.” I had to explain to them that according to Western tradition, ghosts are the souls of dead people that have not yet gone on to heaven or hell. Angels are what come from heaven to earth, and devils and demons are what come from hell to earth. They seemed interested. They also liked the “trick-or-treating” at the end of class (sans costumes and door to knock on).

Anyway, this week we discussed Ghosts and Aliens. At the beginning of the semester I eased into the discussions with a practice discussion to allow them to practice the discussion techiques I had taught them, and to give them feedback on their technique before any grading began. The practice discussion topic was Internet Romance. The first real discussion was Age Difference in Love Relationships. One of the students commented that the discussions were all about love, and why couldn’t they discuss something else. So this week was their big chance to discuss “something else.” Here are some of the discussion questions that students prepared on the new topic:

Which would you choose as a lover: a ghost or an alien?

If you fell in love with someone and later found out that person was a ghost, what would you do?

If you fell in love with an alien and the alien wanted to take you back to its homeworld, would you go?

I rest my case. I think I’ve stumbled upon an axiom for teaching college-level English in China: Chinese college students love to talk about love. I think this axiom ranks right up there with “Germans love David Hasselhoff.” Those first two discussion topics are tried and true.

One more interesting thing I learned from the discussion is that most of my students don’t believe in ghosts (though some do). Most of them seem to think of it as superstitious, and lump believing in ghosts together with believing in religion. (And, given the topic Ghosts and Aliens, in their discussion preparation homework some students even included questions such as “do you believe in Buddhism?”) However, the matter of aliens is different. Not only do over half believe that aliens exist and visit Earth, but about 5% of my students even claim to have seen UFOs with their own eyes! Interesting stuff.


04

Nov 2002

Be Heard (more)

OK, I just don’t know when to quit. (Or when to sleep.)

I have added “the least technologically advanced message board ever” to the bottom of the China Blogs page. I’m hoping that people who use my China blogs links page will provide feedback on recent posts and stuff for other users. Check it.

Also, Wilson took a few picks of our stroll around West Lake (and other “adventures”) yesterday afternoon. He made a nice little photo album. Includes some excellent shots of mouth-watering Chinese Muslim noodles. Take a look.


04

Nov 2002

Be Heard!

OK, so I finally got a commenting system for my weblog! (The “comments” link is at the bottom right of each post.) We’ll say this is part of the upgrade to 1.2 also. It’s through Haloscan, and I think for the most part, it’s pretty good. It would be better if I had my own, but I’m too lazy for that at this moment in time. This one works well enough, and it’s even customizable. It’s the Blogger for commenting.

I would have added it much sooner, were it not for my silly erroneous assumption that two different script tags in the header referring to external javascript files would conflict and screw my javascripts all up. Such a silly, wrong fool I was. WAS! Thanks to buddy Chun-shek for setting me straight.

So, I’m hoping to see a little commenting, particularly from family members. (Hint, hint! That’s you guys!) And from friends would be nice too. And of course anyone that wants to comment.

And so it begins…


01

Nov 2002

Shaoxing Shenanigans

Hmmm, it’s a new weekend already and I seem to have neglected to mention what went down last weekend. Nicola and I headed over to Shaoxing to meet up with Erin Shutty and gang. Part of that gang is Vivienne Carr, who the ZUCC gang had already met earlier in October when we went to Putuo Shan together. Erin was the connection to Vivienne, but I hadn’t actually met Erin face to face until this past weekend. (As I’ve mentioned before, I was supposed to meet both Erin and “Black Man in China” Aaron over the National Holiday vacation, but neither worked out.) Erin and I have been in pretty regular e-mail contact ever since she wrote me in the spring about teaching in China. Now she’s been here months, and we finally met up. Here’s the pics.

Oh yeah, and Erin and Vivienne are coming to Hangzhou this weekend! Erin is also bringing “the Brit,” whom we met only in passing last weekend in Shaoxing.


31

Oct 2002

Version 1.2

Do you ever wonder how software developers decide on version numbers? I do. I mean, what is the difference between Photoshop 6.0 and 7.0? Sure, you can read out a list of new features, but who decides that those particular features equal one full point on the upgrade scale? It’s beyond me.

And yet I myself am caught up in this game. Six months since its release, Sinosplice is up to version 1.2, baby! It gets the extra 0.1 because now it’s got two language versions for the front page. The site autodetects your system’s language and directs you to the appropriate page. Snazzy. This should please my Chinese audience a little. (Version 1.1 was simply adding the “log” button to the nav bar.)

Next comes CSS. Maybe. (How many upgrade points is that worth…?)


29

Oct 2002

Police, Schmolice

I don’t want to get stuck on the whole taxi thing, but I’ve got another little story. And it begins with me riding in a taxi. This time the driver was a woman.

Female taxi drivers are not so common. This driver, however, was top-notch. I mean that in the Chinese sense. When she takes you somewhere, she takes you in a hurry. That means not only serious speed, but also lots of passing and swerving — above all, not stopping. We saw three accidents on the way back to my school. Fortunately we weren’t involved in any.

We chatted on the way to East Zhou Shan Road. We passed a billboard which featured a woman who I thought was the famous Chinese Olympic diver Fu Mingxia. She thought it was too, at first, but then decided it wasn’t. We then started talking about the likelihood of Fu Mingxia participating in the next Olympics. My driver thought it pretty unlikely, since the pretty star is now married to a 50-something rich Hong Kong big shot. A child is probably in her near future, opined my driver. And after having a kid, your body will never be the same, she assured me. She went on to talk about her own 6-year-old son, and how he looooves to eat KFC.

We were close to the home stretch — the turn to East Zhou Shan Road was just ahead. Bearing down on us fast from the opposite direction was a big 4WD police vehicle. My driver made a bold turn directly into the path of the police car, forcing it to brake fast. It really was quite close. As we squeezed through the opening, I must have let out a gasp. Turning to me, she offered this explanation: “I’m trying to earn money here. They’re not doing anything — they can take their time.”

The police, of course, just continued on their way, not taking any more notice of the offending taxi than was required to avoid a collision. This is China.


25

Oct 2002

Taxi Tale Interpretation

Not long ago I got pissed off about a little episode involving a Chinese man and a taxi and I made a little entry about it.

I got one response on it from one John B. He’s a guy who taught in China for a short time, and I happened to get in contact with him through some really odd coincidences.

John B. suggested in his e-mail that “the ‘me first’ attitude comes from simple competition for resources. With 1.2 billion other folks to compete with to get everything, I guess you learn to take any opportunity you can get.”

That explanation makes sense, and I might accept it, were it not for my experiences in Japan. China may have the world’s largest population, but the population density of Japan is, for the most part, higher. I can’t quote any statistics on this, but I’ve lived extensively in both places now, and I can assure you that’s the case. So in Japan there should be higher competition for resources.

You might answer that China is poorer, whereas Japan is now a land of plenty (despite the current economic slump), which curbs the “me first” competitive drive in Japan. Recall, though, that after WWII Japan was a third world nation. China may be newer to modernity, but the pre-WWII generation is still around in Japan as well. Both societies have undergone monumental changes in the past 50 years, but China has come out of it seeming much less civil. Why?

My adult Chinese students at the English Department recently offered a compelling explanation. Since they are still young themselves, the students drew mainly upon anecdotes from their parents and grandparents to offer this explanation.

Before Communist China, China was at war. War with Japan, civil war, war with Western imperialism. It was chaos. Out of this chaos came Communist China. Early Communist China was actually Communist. It was communal. People cooperated. People shared. As the U.S. quaked in fear and rage at the global spread of Communism, Chinese people felt a national spirit of goodwill and just plain human goodness that surpassed anything that the nation had experienced in a long, long time. You might dismiss such warm fuzzy good feeling descriptions of early Communist China as propaganda, but I’ve heard a lot of stories. Regardless of certain realities (e.g. the failure of efforts such as the Great Leap Forward*), a lot of Chinese people felt really good. It was a golden time.

That era was followed by the Cultural Revolution*, of course. Cooperation, goodwill, and social progress were replaced by backstabbing, malice, and social disintegration as co-workers, friends, and even family members betrayed each other in the madness of the times. All sense of brotherhood was obliterated by the absolute necessity to look out for number one. One’s reputation, livelihood, or possibly even life depended on it.

The effects of the Cultural Revolution were profound. They linger. Furthermore, Capitalism has long since had its foot in the door, and the Party is looking the other way as the entire leg sexily slides its way in. I’m thinking Capitalist consumerism probably doesn’t help the situation either, right?

And so jerks steal my taxi in China.

They’re still not excused.

* This site on Chinese history, maintained by the Chaos Group at the University of Maryland, is cool because it contains the Chinese (traditional characters) for a lot of the important names and events mentioned.


16

Oct 2002

Tutor Update / River Story / Mr. Manners

A while back I listed a bunch of requirements for the tutor I was looking for. Well, with the help of someone in the Foreign Language Department, I have found him. He’s an awesome tutor. He’s critical. He tells me when my pronunciation is a little off, he tells me how it’s off, and he tells me how, phonologically, to correct it. He speaks to me all in Chinese. He speaks fast, and with good vocab. He’s well-read, and knows Chinese history well. He speaks standard Mandarin. He brings his own materials and demands that I learn this or that. It’s great to have a tutor with definite ideas of what I should be learning. He brings me 12 new chengyu (Chinese idioms) to study every class. He requires me to read from a standard Mandarin pronunciation class textbook, and criticizes my pronunciation, and then makes me read again, and again, and again… He also records his own readings onto my computer so that I can practice on my own for the next class.

After each two-hour session, I am exhausted. He’s a good teacher. I can feel the now unfamiliar soreness of progress once again.

Last Thursday I had my advanced English discussion class at the English Department. Those students are just great. Their English is so good, and the people just have such personality. I thought college students were great for those reasons, but these adult students take it to a whole new level.

Last week we did the “River Romance Story” (for lack of a better name), which I’ve already made famous at this school. It’s pretty famous already anyway, so I’m kind of afraid to use it, always expecting my students to be familiar with it already. But last Thursday none of my students were. Good.

Before I give an account of the discussion, I should tell the story. Here goes.

Long, long ago, in the time of kings and queens, there lived a Man and a Lady, deeply in love. It was true love. The Man was a high-ranking servant of the king, often sent off to new posts to solve problems. Where the Man went to work, the Lady followed. Then the Man was assigned to a faroff village that was only reachable by way of a treacherous river. On the river, a storm suddenly sprang up. The boat was run into rocks, and everyone thrown overboard. The Man was the only passenger that could swim, and he managed to save himself, all the while looking fervently for the Lady. He couldn’t find her. Not a single body turned up; all were lost in the swift current. After searching for days, grief-stricken, the Man was forced to accept the unimagniable. The Lady was gone. With heavy heart, he headed off to the village to fulfill his post.

As fate would have it, however, the Lady didn’t die. She was rescued by an inhabitant on the other side of the river and nursed back to health over a series of weeks from the brink of death. As soon as she could walk, she set about trying to get back to the Man. However, the river was uncrossable. There was no bridge. There was only one way of crossing: by way of the Boatman. He was the only one with enough skill to ferry people from one side to the other. He charged 10 gold pieces each way for his service.

By the time the Lady reached the Boatman, he had long since heard of her. When she asked his price, he told her 100 gold pieces. She had only 10. No matter how she begged and pleaded, he would not bring the price down or even let her pay after crossing and finding the Man. It was 100 or nothing.

The Lady soon met another man, however, named Sam. Sam was a landowner with a good deal off money, but he was a bit of a womanizer. The Lady was beautiful, and he took to her immediately. She made it clear that she wished only to return to her Man, though. Magnanimous man that he was, Sam said he could help her — on one condition. The Lady must sleep with Sam for a night.

The Lady was outraged at this request, and stormed off. She soon sank into despair, however, and quickly came to the conclusion that her life there, on the wrong side of the river was meaningless, and there was only one way out. She would sleep with Sam.

So the Lady slept with Sam. She received 100 gold pieces. She paid the Boatman and crossed the river. She made her way into the village and found the Man. They were reunited at last, and their joy was boundless. Yet, at the back of the woman’s heart gnawed the question: should I tell him? She decided to leave it be for the time being.

After arriving, the Lady met the Man’s new Friend, who also worked in the village. This Friend left the next day for the other side of the river to do business. His business was with Sam, and Sam liked to talk. He had a tendency to brag about his womanizing exploits, but he was known to always tell the truth. Sam told the Friend about his night with the Lady.

The Friend was now in a hard position. Should he tell the Man? He didn’t know all the circumstances of the incident in question, but he could be sure what Sam said was the truth. Finally, he decided that the Man should know the truth, and told him.

The Man was angered by this information, calling the Friend a liar. Still, doubt overtook him, and he brought the “outrageous rumor” up to the Lady. She immediately burst into tears, admitting it was the truth.

The Man was in total shock. Never had he felt so betrayed. He had vowed never to love again when he lost the Lady, but how could he forgive this? In the end, he couldn’t. He parted ways with the Lady.

They never saw each other again.

So that’s the story. The task is then to rank the people, 1-5, from “best” to “worst.” Then discuss. This always yields great discussion. I love it.

After discussing that, you can reveal what each person is supposed to symbolize: Lady – Love, Boatman – Business, Friend – Friendship, Sam – Sex, Man – Morality. Then we discuss whether the activity actually reveals our priorities in life.

Anyway, last Thursday my class got so into this discussion. It was incredible. They were funny, too — when I mentioned in the beginning how in love the Man and Lady were, one of my students said, “what’s the use?” Later, when they were guessing what each character symbolizes, this same girl said the Lady represents weakness! Funny stuff.

Anyway, we had a long discussion on morality. This example really brings out the differences and similarities between Western and Eastern morality. Eastern is much more relativistic. I taught them phrases from Western thought like, “the truth will set you free,” “the ends doesn’t justify the means,” and “ignorance is bliss.”

Chinese girls seem to love to say the Lady is the best (and even that she did nothing wrong), and the Man is the worst for not forgiving the Lady. Some of them also say the Boatman is worse than Sam, because the whole mess was started by him, even if he was ignorant of the drama he set in motion.

So I thought of all kinds of hypothetical situations to test their stances. Unsurprisingly, the girls became quite similar to the Man when I posed the situation of their husband sleeping with his female boss to get a promotion and provide better for his family (which was struggling to make ends meet and had no hope of properly educating the child).

What blew my mind, though, was two girls’ answer to this question: “Would you rather have a husband who was completely faithful to you and made you happy, or a husband who was not faithful, but you didn’t know about it, and so were still happy?” The answer? “Either one is fine, as long as I never find out he’s cheating.” Either one is fine! Incredible.

That class was a blast. I learned so much. It’s classes like that that remind me how much I’m still learning here, and how my life is totally on track.

This past week I also started a third teaching job. It’s for a large department store, only teaching three times, for two hours each time. It pays very well. My job is to provide training for some of the department store employees so that they can do a little job-related communication with foreigners when necessary. I was also asked to give a short lecture, in Chinese, on “how not to offend foreigners.” My first lecture in Chinese. Awesome. I was excited.

The lecture went pretty well. I held their interest with humor well, and they learned a lot. Here’s what they learned:

1. Foreigners value hygiene highly. Do not cough, yawn, or sneeze without covering appropriate orifices. Don’t spit. Don’t pick your nose or ear in public. Don’t scratch. Don’t fart. Don’t have a runny nose (or at least don’t blow a snot rocket!).

2. Be careful with questions. Don’t ask age or salary. Don’t assume people are American or any nationality.

3. Be careful in your actions. Don’t fidget. Don’t yell for any reason. Be patient. Smile. Never litter, anywhere.

4. When eating… Eat slowly, with small bites. There should be no noises coming from your mouth. Sit up straight, never hunch. Put one hand on your lap, with your napkin. Don’t spit out anything if it can be avoided.

5. When communicating… Maintain eye contact, but don’t stare. Don’t be too self-deprecatory. Don’t comment on physical appearance.

Some of these may seem unnecessary, but I personally made this list, and my reason for adding each item comes from my own real-life experiences with people in Chinese society….



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