Wednesday, September 29, 2004

It’s been a long week…

Really, it has. I just feel exhausted and I don’t really know why. Part of it is that I got sick over the weekend which is never good. Actually, I don’t technically remember the last time I was sick—I think it was right after I turned in my thesis though, or something like that I think—so I guess it was time. Deserved or not, it has done a good job at sucking all my energy.

It doesn’t help that my students haven’t exactly been in a hard-working kind of mood. Yesterday was the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival and Friday is National Day. I’m still not entirely positive what one is supposed to do to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival outside of eating moon cakes and staring at the full moon. However, given some of the hung-over students I had today… I remember reading about the Mid-Autumn Festival one day in my Chinese class last year and was like “yeah, like people really just sit there and stare at the moon.” But lo and behold, people were out en force yesterday to look at the full moon.

For National Day we get a seven-day vacation. Well, actually we get a five day vacation and they’ve moved the following weekend to butt up against it. You’ll love this schedule: National Day (October 1st—Mao founded the P.R.C. on October 1, 1949 which would make us 55 years old this year) is on Friday, so we get Friday through next Tuesday off. Then they moved the weekend from Saturday and Sunday to Wednesday and Thursday. We then pick up on Friday the 8th with our Friday classes. Saturday and Sunday then become Wednesday and Thursday. Crazy, huh?!

Anyway, for vacation I will be meeting up with Afton and Erin (two other Whitties who have been teaching up at Xi’an) in Chengdu (the capital city of the Sichuan province). After we get there we’re hoping to travel around Sichuan a little bit. It’s apparently a horrible time to travel, but it should be an adventure at the least. Actually, I’m excited because it will be the first time that I will actually go traveling independently in China (unless, of course, one considers Taiwan as part of China).

Now I just have to make it to this Friday!

Also, I have signed up for one of those help me remember your birthday services, so pop over to Birthday Alert and enter your birthday, and if you’re really lucky, I’ll remember to send you something!

And finally, I just got my computer back from the repair shop this afternoon, so I have some photos of my apartment and whatnot to share with y’all. Just head over to: HPphoto, and click on the album "Kunming 1."

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Two Little Bumble Bees

A weird name for a drinking game, but one nevertheless—at least in China. It goes something like this: Two little bumble bees/flying in a garden./Fly to the left./Fly to the right./ Fly ah! During this little chant, two people (who are preferably facing each other) have their hands like spirit fingers flying around, especially to the left and to the right when appropriate. This, however, is just the intro. The actual fun part comes with a version of Ro-sham-bo (also known as rock, paper, scissors) where both players throw at that last “fly ah.” If the two players throw the same thing, then they do a little French distance air kiss complete with a little “moi moi” sound effect. If, on the other hand, one person wins then the winner gets to fake smack the loser while saying “pia pia.” The correct response from the loser would, of course, be “ah ah.” If all of that went down smoothly, then they would throw again and continue until somebody screws up (which believe me gets really easy to do the more you have to drink). If you screw up, you drink. It’s officially my new favorite drinking game (yes Nick, it even beats the Japanese “pi pi pi pi pi pi pi, do do do do do do do” :o) ).

And that’s just one of three others that I learned last Saturday. It was a fun night. A group of other English teachers and company went out dancing and drinking. It was actually my first time out on the town in Kunming this go around, and I really had a blast. I needed to get some dancing out! It was especially fun doing it at a Chinese disco where I stand out to say the least—the Chinese are, on a whole, worse dancers than the French (no offense Jean-Luc, but you know it’s true). I actually got several people just staring at me trying to copy some of my dance moves, which I’m particularly proud of given that behind me but up on the platform there were various gogo dancers (both men and women). The disco should’ve paid me…

In random other news, I got a new digital camera and a toaster oven today. I took a video of my friends doing the bumble bees game, so once I figure out how to make everything work, I’ll be sure to post it. Meanwhile, my friend has some good pictures up on her online photo album, so let me direct you there. As for the toaster oven, I made chocolate peanut butter cookies this evening and invited everybody up to my apartment for cookies and milk. A grand success as I found another flamenco enthusiast by chance.

And, to bring back the fun facts, I just heard this one tonight:

36,000 – The average number of cookies consumed by an American during her/his lifetime! I think I only have like 1,000 to go :o).

Monday, September 20, 2004

ITS happening to I

BECAUSE I’ve been in a Chinese speaking country for so long, SO my English is starting to become Chinglified. ALTHOUGH I try hard to keep my proper English by reading lots and being a stickler for using appropriate vocabulary AND SO ON, BUT it’s hard to maintain American English while being so far removed from it. IN A WORD, HOW TO speak English correctly REALLY is becoming more difficult.

I realized that this was actually becoming a problem while walking home this afternoon after teaching a class; I said to myself “Because it’s such a nice day outside, so I decided to walk home” without thinking much of it. “Because…so…” (along with “although…, but…”) are both typical Chinicisms (ooh, yay for neologisms) and are actually just direct translation from the Chinese grammatical construction. But that’s not all that worries me.

Last night, while looking for a list of common errors of Chinese learners of English I came across a website Common English errors in Chinese, which is a list discussion by different English teachers about problems that they’ve found with their own Chinese students. As I was reading some of the items brought up by other teachers I kept on thinking to myself “Huh, that’s not correct?”

Case in point: “My city is a beautiful city!” It’s the way most any Chinese will describe her/his hometown when probed on the subject. Now, either I’ve been living with the Chinese for too long, or there is nothing wrong with describing a city as ‘beautiful.’ The poster’s argument was that he wouldn’t describe Detroit as a beautiful city…and I think I can agree with him on that point* (*DISCLAIMER- My only knowledge about the city of Detroit comes from Eminem’s masterpiece 8 Mile. For all I know it could be a lovely city.) However, I might reconsider on, say, Dunkirk (a town in northern France best-known for the famous French retreat at the beginning of WWII where English fisherman were rowing across the Channel to help bring French and British forces across), or Dubrovnik (so I’m told, and I’ll back up if it’s anything like Split and the rest of southern Croatia), or Dali (a smaller city in the Yunnan province—read only like 1 million people—and the capital of the Bai minority), or even maybe Denver (the mile-high city famous for the worst NBA team in the league :ob ). Am I just completely out of touch?

In that same vein, there’s also apparently a problem with saying “It’s REALLY a beautiful city” instead of “It’s a REALLY beautiful city.” I’ll admit that the meaning is a bit different, but, in my mind, they’re both correct sentences.

The one thing that I could agree on was one poster’s comment that “[he]'d like to get [his] hands on the person who first suggested the use of ‘and so on’ to [his] students!” If he could find that person, I’d be right there along with him. I think it’s a direct translation problem because in Chinese, when you’re making a list, you would end it with a “shenme de.” That would best be translated as “and so on,” but literally means something more like “and what else.” The problem is that they just don’t use the expression correctly. As far as I’m concerned, when you use the expression “and so on” in English, you need to be talking about a very specific category of things so that the listener/reader can quickly get a picture of what the “so on” might be. For example, if you like eating fruits, you might say that, “I really like eating fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and so on.” Obviously the point here was that you meant you like eating berries—of course you could have just said so in the first place. The Chinese usage is something more like “My favorite hobbies are reading, swimming, and so on.” To what, pray tell (is that the right ‘pray’ there?), is that “so on” referring?! Shooting small children with pellet guns?

And while we’re on misused expressions: “in a word” is, in a word, an offender. I suppose that technically there’s nothing wrong with it, but I don’t think that it’s used all the commonly in America. Plus, I’ve decided that they’re using it all wrong. The Chinese version: “In a word, I really like my hometown and would like to be your guide if you could come to visit.” It’s essentially used in China to mean something like “in summary” or “in conclusion” as the beginning of a concluding paragraph or sentence. I honestly have no idea if that’s correct at all, but I decided to make a new rule for my students: if you use “in a word” in a sentence, you only get one word to follow it.

In a word, it hasn’t worked yet. :o)

Thursday, September 16, 2004


The cloaking device has been reinstated. Just when I thought the Chinese government was losing its mind....

Nothing much new to report on the Chinese front, except for maybe that I'm also offcially a Carrefour (think French version of a super-Walmart, and you're on the right track) addict. My friends here make fun of me for how often I go, which they have every right to do. Yesterday I bought a cleaver (for Chinese cooking!!) there yesterday, which was exciting. Now I can actually cut my squashes!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Unpossible but true!

I've been uninvisified!

Just when I was getting used to the cross and everything...the Chinese government is no fun whatsoever.

It's official

I'm a big dork. That's right, I just got done reading a grammar book...FOR FUN! What is this world coming to?! Speaking of which, did you know that the grammatical symbol '?!' is known as the interrobang and was invented in the 1960s? Bet you didn't. I think the lowest point was when I actually laughed at grammar jokes. The name of the book is, in fact, Eats, Shoots and Leaves--which is the punchline of a joke. With the extra comma there, it becomes a list, and therefore is about panda bears that walk into a bar, eats a meal, shoots the waiter, and takes off. uggh!

To make up for it, I watched almost 5 hours of the television program 24 today. That should kill enough brain cells to make up for all that knowledge gained while reading the book I hope.

Also, I finally have my photos up from Hong Kong, the official most pedestrian unfriendly city in the world. My digital camera was (and still is) brokeded. Sad! But it means that I have some good photos that I took with my real actual manual old-fashioned camera on film (b&w film even). They can be found at the following address:

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Dear Friends, No1

For my program, I have to send back "dear friends" letters every once in a while. Since it is similar to things I would post on a blog, I thought I'd go ahead and post it, even though it's not all that different from my last post...


Dear Friends,

It’s hard for me to believe it, but I’m already well into my third week here in Kunming. Besides enjoying the cooler weather (I was in hot and humid Taibei, Taiwan for the summer), I am also enjoying getting reacquainted with the place (I came here three summers ago with the Whitman Summer Studies in China Program).

It amazes me a bit how much has actually changed, and how much is just the same as well. I do not remember rush hours before in Kunming (despite the fact that it is a town of well over 2.65 million people) – people just didn’t have enough money to have their own personal cars. But now! The bike lanes are emptier and emptier, and the streets are cram packed with automobiles. A taxi ride that I can normally do in about 10 minutes or less has been known to jump to almost half an hour if I hit the wrong time! And the worst part? I heard one statistic that said that there are 200 new personal cars hitting the streets of Kunming each week (it might have been day, but that sounds like a lot…I’ll work on checking my facts).

I’m living, again, in what I like to call the “foreigners compound.” Don’t worry, it’s actually a very nice place – one of the buildings is even newly remodeled – but I just can’t think of a better word to describe it. There is one main gate/door to the first building that you can walk through to get through to the main courtyard. The courtyard has an additional three buildings that can only be accessed from within the walls. It’s a nice place to live because it’s easier to meet other foreigners. At the same time, it does a good job of separating us from the Chinese. I live in a quite big apartment that has more storage than I think I’ll ever know what to do with (except for in the bathroom for some odd reason, where there is only a little ledge.).

I’ve had two full weeks of teaching so far. Right now I teach 6 hours of Sophomore Composition in the English Department of Yunda, as well as 4 hours of English Composition at an associated university (I think…) for adults that seems to be run either by or for an electric company. The students there are all employed, and are essentially there for an English (and maybe managerial) boot camp that lasts three months. Speaking of boot camps, after the freshman get done with their month-long required political/army training, I will start up 8 more hours of Freshman Oral English.

There have already been some successes and some failures in my classes so far; like they say, teaching is trial by fire! I really like the students in my classes, and have found them quite respectful for the most part. Last Friday was Teachers’ Day, so one of my classes gave me a card upon which they drew a little apple. Too cute!

I would say that the biggest “failure” has probably been trying to teach my sophomores about what I call self-guided learning. At this point, all that means is to have the students self-evaluate their English writing strengths and weaknesses, and create personal goals to work towards this semester based on this personal insight. I, of course, have been trying to help them understand this concept, as it is COMPLETELY foreign to the Chinese, but some students are still a little confused. I asked for three goals as homework this week, and got some about, for example, how one student “wants to travel around the world with my husband when I turn 60.” A lovely goal, but not exactly what I was looking for… The second step of the goal was to write a concrete way of knowing that they have made significant progress towards achieving that goal. A majority of students said something to the effect of: “After you have taught us and this course is over.” I’m going to try again this week to explain it a little more clearly.

Outside of teaching, I’ve also been pleased to find some outside job opportunities already. In fact, the four hours at the Electric Company School, is one of those. In addition, they asked me to make a three hour lecture to one of their classes last week for extra pay. And my new favorite one is that sometime this week I’ll be filming a promotional video for one of the best hotels in town. They needed a western-businessman-looking person to be filmed using their facilities. Should be fun.

Also, if anyone is interested, I’m maintaining a blog during my stay here in China. It can be found at . It is actually what I’m calling an Invisiblog, as the Chinese government has apparently decided to censor all blogs on… but I can still post to it, so you should check it out! Right now it’s mainly about my summer in Taiwan, but it’ll be more about China has time moves forward!

I hope that all is well in Walla Walla, and that the beginning of the school year is not too much of a shock for people!

Thursday, September 09, 2004

New and *Improved Invisiblog

Hi everybody, and welcome to my new and improved Invisiblog! That’s right, with a little help from the Chinese government, I’ve managed to improve it by sending it into stealth mode within the border of China. Maybe the US should work on getting this technology for their spy planes…

I hate to give China a bad rap on the whole “freedom of speech” thing, because things aren’t probably as serious as you might imagine them in the US (or elsewhere), but this is my first time coming up against actual censorship on the net! I can’t see a damn thing that has blogspot as part of its domain name. Interesting, no? At the very least, I can still post to it. So, assuming that you all can still read it, I thought I’d update you all as to my current situation in China.

In case you missed it, I made it here safely. I arrived exactly two weeks ago now (crazy!), and am really starting to get into the swing of things. It was a bit lonely at first, but I’ve met lots of new people this week, so there seems to be no lack of social engagements. In fact, within the last week, I’ve been treated to three lovely (large) dinners, including one huge welcome banquet (which they held on my birthday, so they even had a birthday cake, and I got to sit next to the head of the International Exchange Program at the “important people’s table).

I have only one more class on Friday morning, and then I will be done with my second week of classes. So far, things are going pretty well. Since I’ve now met with all of my classes at least twice, I’m starting to get a good feel for each of them. I have six hours of Sophomore Composition, which has been interesting. I tried to introduce them to the topic of self-guided learning (a style which has students make goals to work towards during the semester) with mild success. I just got their goals back this week, and some of them are about how they want to travel around the world after they’re retired…apparently they missed something. I also teach four hours per week at a school for working adults that seems to be associated with some electric company of some sort. I think it’s something like a continuing education type thing where they come to learn about English and about management. Starting the week of the 20th, I will also have eight hours of Freshman Oral English. We’ll see how that goes.

Besides teaching, I’m even making some extra money on the side. I was asked to give a three hour lecture on Monday (yikes!) to an oral English class. I think it was only over about half of their heads :o). I have also been asked to be in a promotional video for the Harbor Plaza Hotel (for those of you who this means something to, that’s the restaurant with the revolving bar and the good Japanese restaurant) along with one of the other English teachers. I get to wear a fancy suit and everything. We’ll see how that one turns out.

Alright, this seems like quite the long post, so I’ll leave it hear for now. If you’re here reading this, then I probably miss you, and you should drop me a line!

Oh, and before I leave, let’s not forget the Titillating Tidbits for Thursday (it’s past midnight here):

26- The number of different dishes served at “my birthday” banquet.
4- The number of flights of stairs I have to climb to get to my room…which is actually much less than I it was for my dorm in Taiwan!
BaBaoFan “Pizza” (I think I might actually call it a BaBaoFan Gratin)- My newest favorite fusion food. Babaofan, or Eight Treasure Rice, is rice that has 8 different types of candied fruits in it.
5- The number of hours I spent grading papers yesterday! I swear those things just start spontaneously replicating!!