Tuesday, October 30, 2007

exam question, sample

What’s an “upgrade”?
a) something new that you’ve never seen before
b) an improvement of something that you already have
c) a replacement
d) a hat invented in the 1600’s to prevent sunlight reaching the lips

Friday, October 26, 2007

Gas fired


What's Chinese design like?
Well it goes a little something like this:
Text goes every which way on this chinese advertising sticker, I know it's an ad for something, not any sort of official notice

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Guess I'm doing fine

If you're looking for travelogue information, it's not in this post. I'm tying up my tie as Sara walks past, it is early for us and we're heading off with an hour lead so that we can grab lunch before work. I give her a kiss, and we smile at each other.
It's the best feeling in the world, being together like this
I'm doing okay.

Monday, October 22, 2007

and we're back

so I'm going to dump some stuff here, not having a lot of time this morning but feeling guilty about not updating.

I'm getting my teeth fixed, a process both easy and affordable as long as I arrive with a chinese guide and translator.

Also I have some videos where I am snarky

not that, with bridgework and crowns going in, I'll ever chew gum again...

That GoldenEye thing was all for you, Zach. You're probably the last of my friends with a clear memory of a close render distance.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Two bags of milk

Lucky Sevens

(by the way Zach when you send new questions you really should number them continuously, otherwise we're gonna have problems)

7 How are Chinese elementary school kids?

Look for a video on this subject later this week but basically they are just like little kids everywhere. they like school, they like the teacher, they want to be bad and roll around on the floor but they also want to be good. Once again I've got forty kids in the class, so it can be a nightmare to control on a bad day, but I divide them into two groups and do a bunch of stuff like:
"team two stand up!"
"team one touch your knee!"
"team one stand up!"
"team two jump twice!"
"team one clap three times"
"okay all sit down, back to color words"
they looooove it, it's silly and it's a game (if anyone on a team doesn't do it right, the team loses a point, the team with the most points each day gets..... nothing) and it works off some energy.
The lesson's gotta be tight though, if the material is too easy they get bored, and if it's too hard they get confused.

But you asked me what the kids are like, not the class. And that's complicated. I have a student in one class who grew up in America, and it's really hard to talk to her. You see, she's got an american accent, and I can ask her questions like "how's your mom?" or "what are you doing this weekend?"

Having her there just reminds me how little connection I can have with the other 9-year-olds. They know a lot of words in english, but the conversation is still somewhat limited. And I wish we could talk a little more.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Let's listen to Badly Drawn Boy and finish answering question six

6 What are Chinese high school kids like?

I was looking at this artists attempt to pixelate a few dozen famous musicians, and I realized I didn't know who half of them were. Hence I just heard Badly Drawn Boy for the first time.

They're like kids everywhere! I teach at a magnate school, so they're all pretty good at something. Some of them don't act too well, but that's maybe five kids out of 50, so I'm not going to complain about that.

They get embarrassed, they want to seem cool but thankfully they don't think it's completely stupid to know things, and they're all into the subject, as I've said. So yeah, they don't seem that different. Every time one of them comes to talk to me in my cubicle they always bring a friend for courage. That friend rarely says anything, they're just there.

Sara took this video
it good.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Let's listen to Queen and answer question six

6 What are Chinese high school kids like? Is being a high school teacher like what I imagine based on the teachers I had in high school? I realize this question is impossible, but any attempts would be appreciated.

Short answer "no" with an if, long answer "yes" with a but. I'm a new teacher so I think my experience is more like a student imagines it. I am into the subject, and I sort of do live or die with how my kids are doing with on any particular day. I think the basic technicalities of a high school teacher are lost on a student: I teach the same class six times a week and all my students wear uniforms so it's more than a little difficult to tell the kids apart. This doesn't stop them from visiting me in my cubicle and saying "Hi mister Fee, it's me Jack!" (jack is a really common english name).

Beyond that, no, it's like teaching high school, you get obsessed with having a hot beverage, everybody lies to you, people want to cheat on tests, the smartest kids want to talk with each other.

I have the extreme advantage, however, of being tall, looking old, shouting a lot, and teaching a subject that most of the kids find more interesting than gossip.

Last week I brought in an article about harry potter. Everybody was interested, but the kids just would not shut up. I had a sore throat and they were just babbling on over everything I said. I tried to make them quiet down and participate until I realized when they were talking: they were translating difficult words. We ended up talking about how Voldemort's thinking is impaired by his lack of a complete soul.

When it's going right, you walk out of the class feeling like a million bucks.

One Two Three Four Five

5 How are everyday common manners different? For instance, it used to be that in Germany everybody was pushy and competitive in public.

I have no idea. I don't speak the language well enough and I don't know what behaviors are reactions to my foreigner status. In my own neighborhood it took a lot of getting used to: people would not only stare at me, they'd tell their friends "hey, look at that." It may be the fact that I'm a foreigner that gets me such polite, helpful treatment everywhere I go.

The first guidebooks I bought said that people would cut in front of me in line, spit on the street, burp loudly at meals, and try to charge me 10 times what they charge everyone else. So far none of this has happened. I did recently learn that the vendors at the mall I frequent really will shave 1o RMB off the price of everything, but that's closer to a 5% markup, and really what else could I expect? You wouldn't expect someone freshly arrived in the US with 200 words of english to get the best deal on a cell phone plan, why should I get an ulcer over paying three dollars extra for a DVD player?

The people are nice, they're helpful at restaurants, a lot of the teenagers have some very limited english, but most people are utterly confused by my limited vocabulary and total illiteracy. When pointing at random to a menu item, I'll often get asked a long sentence in mandarin ("I don't understand what you're saying, sorry" is a phrase I whip out every hour or so), but no one makes a fuss about it. There are often three or four people working in a five-table restaurant, and people do stare, at us as we eat, but again it's hard to see that as a cultural constant.

Oh wait I finally thought of one odd thing: some guys, I assume the more uncouth, when its hot will roll their shirts up to reveal their bellies, tucking the roll in their armpits.

That seems weird.

Question Four

4 What would it be like if you were a single guy like myself?

Geez man it's hard to say. I think the pressure to be with someone might feel pretty strong. This is a hard situation to lay out because I know if you came here it would be amazing, and totally change your perspective and whatnot, but I'd be worried about you if you flew solo.

What does coming alone mean? Coming alone and staying alone would be closer to hermitage than odyssey. But if one is inclined the prospects for a college-educated white guy with a good job are many.

The expats here all seem to be pretty wolfish in their interests, eliminating potential partners only for the gravest of offenses.

But what a window it would offer into the country if one dated someone from here!

If you're working for a company like mine, you're working with a lot of Chinese women who speak good english and may or may not be interested in meeting someone. And then there's the issue of dating someone from work.

The fact is that coming with someone isn't easy. It's more tempting to just stay in and speak English rather than go out and practice making a fool of yourself in shops. But without mastery of mandarin one's dance card will remain pretty empty for the first while, single or not.

That said, the big weird experiences available here are endless. Traveling with a romantic partner, it's hard for either of us to say "hey, let's go try this, maybe it'll be a public bath and sauna, maybe they'll try to burn our skin, let's go find out." Bravery doesn't necessarily stack, but one person's cowardice often applies to both.

Shared experiences have colored my time here a lot, so it's sort of hard to know how things would be. Without someone to go with who would Sara be videotaping here?

We know two girls, college friends, who came here together, and they've got a lot of benefit from it. They go places together, give each other sympathy, but they're also free to pursue their own stuff. I don't know if they can always draw comfort from each other, but still it's going well.

That'd be my recommendation: don't fly solo. Go on craigslist Beijing, find a roommate, have the school room you with somebody, invite one of the other n00bs out for beer the first day, do something so that you feel like you've got some context.

Maybe you can't take photos like this:

But still, you'll have someone to go with you to this:

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Two and Three

2 Are you by any chance coming to the states over the holidays?
Not really. They've got pizza here. Although pizza hut is the fanciest restaurant I've eaten at so that's weird.
3 Do they have big winter holidays in China?
Yeah we get a month off school, January I think, for Spring festival. It's when everybody goes home to see their family. But we work christmas day, in fact we have a "christmas party" at our school. People will do little sketches.
The one I'm really dreading is Thanksgiving. That was the one that really got to me when I was living on the east coast. It's not the working, that'll be okay, it's the being away from family, not cooking a big meal, all that. Thanksgiving was always my favorite.

Questions I've only been asked once but still feel like answering

1 Is teaching English hard? How does it work?

It turns out that I'm nobody's sole english teacher. In high school this makes total sense. Without mastery of Mandarin I couldn't really increase their english level, as I can't explain complex grammatical constructions. So for my 11th graders my class is a sort of coaching session. I show them something, like how presidents are elected, we talk about it, I try to get them to talk and participate, and they generally practice listening to and understanding a native speaker. I'd love it if everyone in the class got a chance to talk, but there's 50 kids in a class (video of that later)

For my primary school kids, 2nd and 3rd graders, I have a Chinese teacher throughout the class. She (for whatever reason all the Chinese teachers are women) speaks quite good english and can understand what I'm saying, and she translates some of my classroom instructions. She's also the class's regular English teacher, so she keeps the class roster and records homework as well.

The answer to your binary question is no. I have to prepare a Powerpoint presentation every week for my 11th graders, which takes some time, and it's very tiring teaching primary school kids, but basically I'm making a good salary for working 4-5 hours a day. In the elementary school I'm teaching one sentence a week (e.g. "What's for lunch?" "An apple.") and a little vocabulary. In high school I'm just talking slowly and clearly about some topic I pick.

Friday, October 5, 2007


two highly professional videos for you today on the subject of beverages and their slight differences from back home.

Oh and please leave a comment about how the video is working.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Linglong park

So about five blocks from our house, there's this park, Linglong park. Right now it's a little weird getting to it because the big set of stairs and entryway from the canal street is under construction (wish I'd photographed that.....) so the only way to get there is by going through a little hutong maze where people keep geese. Okay I guess that's pretty neat too. It's a little bit different from parks in the states, there isnt any grass to walk on. There's grass but it's all behind low fences. The main vegetation is shady trees. In a lot of other ways, though, it's just like the states. There are little pavilions where people watch their kids run around, and it's generally a place for people to come who aren't in a hurry. Also when we came there were some nerds out playing musical instruments, which was really nice.
The whole place is centered around this pagoda, which you couldn't go in to but provides a landmark wherever you are in our neighborhood.

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