Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sad China News

It seems there has been lots of sad news in China in the past week or two, including a serious drought in the southwest, a flooded mine in the north, and the stabbing of 8 children in the southeast.

The latest sobering news happened in Jining this week, which is the larger municipal area that includes Qufu (my town).  The bodies of 21 infants were found washing up on the riverbank, apparently discarded by Jining hospital after they had died from abortion or illness.  It's a strange and saddening story, one that I can't understand and don't want to.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Bike OK

My bike got stolen.

I left my spiffy blue and white Giant bike outside over the winter holiday, and returned in February to find that it had vanished (in spite of my double locks). Of course, this is not a terrible tragedy, but I was sad to lose it because: 1) I loved that bike. 2) The weather is finally warming up. 3) I've been bored. Sometimes I think about my bike and wonder how it's doing -- is it lightheartedly zipping along some country road? Hanging out with a couple hundred other bikes outside some apartment building? Languishing in some far-away place and missing its former owner?

In any case, it's gone and I needed another.

Jessica, another English teacher, left unexpectedly after the first semester. She left behind a hand-me-down bike that has been passed down among the foreign teachers for several years. It finally occurred to my teammates that there was no reason I couldn't just take her bike. (After all, she's not using it in Boston.) So we talked to Mr. Chen, a maintenance guy in the foreigners' complex, about cutting off the lock. He chuckled and nodded and said he'd do it the next day. We made some small talk and he smiled and chuckled some more. I love the middle-aged-Chinese-man chuckle; it's so agreeable and friendly. Mr. Chen also agreed to fix my teammate Tarah's bike.

Yesterday, we came home from class and saw the cardboard signs in our bike baskets: "The Bike OK."


Thanks, Mr. Chen! I washed off three months of grime and biked to my office for the first time today.   The brakes are a little iffy, but I agree -- the bike OK.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hawking Linguaphone in Wuhan

On my first trip to China I spent an afternoon outside a mall helping to promote Linguaphone English schools.

As I recall, our main job that afternoon was to look American and approach passersby asking, "English? English?" while giving them an invitation to an upcoming Linguaphone open house.

I was with a group of fourteen college students from my fellowship in Iowa City, and we were in China for three reasons: To learn about sharing our Hope cross-culturally, to visit a year-long team of teachers from Iowa, and to provide conversation practice for Linguaphone's English students.  It was a perfect arrangement because we got to stay at the university with our American friends and then spend all day talking with our new Chinese friends at the school.

We really enjoyed our week working with Linguaphone, and we hoped that our presence provided the added business boost they needed at the time.  We said our goodbyes by performing the song and dance of "Joyful Joyful" from Sister Act.

(Those of you who know me well can imagine the fear that struck my heart at the thought of dancing in public.)

Anyway, I hadn't thought about Linguaphone in awhile until I ran across this article yesterday at www.danwei.orgBankrupt Schools and their Fleeing Foreign Bosses.  The article talks about how four large English language companies have closed their doors in the last year as a result of poor management and economic hard times.  Linguaphone was one of them. 

To be honest, I don't have a strong opinion about Linguaphone's exit from China.  I just wanted to share some memories from my first time in China and direct you to that interesting piece of reporting about doing business in the Middle Kingdom.  Enjoy!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fourth Floor Soundtrack

It's 8:50 on a Saturday night and I'm sitting at the table with my laptop and some Dove chocolates (thanks, Mom!).  Four freshman girls (all roommates) came over for dinner.  At one point, one of them asked me if many Americans date while they are in college, and what do I think of this problem?

The girls left about an hour ago, and now my apartment is the only quiet one on the floor.  Strains of music are coming from Tarah's apartment next door.  First, it was Tarah on the keyboard leading a group of students in a rendition of "When you Believe."  That gave way to a string of several off-key karaoke favorites, including the ever-popular "Take me to your Heart."  Each song was followed by enthusiastic applause and cheering, which is a standard response in China no matter how ear-shattering the performance.

Lisa's apartment is by far the liveliest tonight.  She invited all of the sophomore English major boys for a hamburger and movie night.  I'm not sure what they're doing now, but every few seconds another wave of loud laughter explodes through the fourth floor.

A Two-Package Day

I went to my mailbox, when what should I see
But two chubby packages waiting for me!

One morning, Two packages?  The stars have aligned
To bring joy to Qufu and call home to mind.

My thanks to my roommates (who live in AK)
And to my great family. You've made my day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

An American Wedding in a Chinese Classroom

"Marriage is a holy and scared institution."

So said the officiant at the "wedding" in my teammate Lisa's culture class last week.  (He said it twice and I giggled both times.)  Every year during the marriage unit in culture class, Lisa has her sophomores re-enact an American style wedding.  I went to watch one and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The whole class got into the spirit of the day by decorating the room and writing a huge "Happy Wedding!" on the board.  They rearranged the classroom into rows with an aisle down the middle.  Then Lisa assigned parts: officiant, bride, groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, and parents of the couple.  Because the class had over 30 girls and only 5 boys, a few of the groomsmen were actually women. 

Once parts were assigned, the girls descended on the bride and decked her out in a full-coverage veil wrapped with plastic red flowers.  It looked like a religious head covering gone terribly, tackily wrong.  The wedding party gathered outside the classroom and walked in to the strains of Lisa's ipod.

The actual ceremony was based on a script from a real wedding in the U.S.  Many of the classmates were taking pictures and video-ing the ceremony on their cell phones as the embarassed bride and groom said their "vows."

They were triumphantly declared Mr. and Mrs. and then walked down the aisle, straight into the reception.  Lisa had gotten a big, flowery cake mounded with giant frosting flowers.  The bride and groom cut the cake.  True to American wedding form, the bride mischeviously smeared cake on the groom's cheek (as the best man physically restrained him so he couldn't fight back.  Ever seen that at an American wedding?).  Pretty soon cake was everywhere, and it wasn't long before even the minister had a frosting beard. 

Overall, I'd say the wedding was a smashing success.

Lisa assigning roles

The ceremony

Monday, March 22, 2010

Healthcare, Media, and a Panther Victory

I was dismayed to see that the federal government has undertaken a large health care plan without the support of a large majority of the people.  Now that I've disclosed my bias, let's begin today's topic: getting the news while living abroad.

While cruising Facebook, a few days ago, I noticed a few friends wishing the UNI Panthers luck in their upcoming basketball game.  Then the trickle became a flood of EXCITED STATUS MESSAGES FILLED WITH CAPSLOCK AND EXCLAMATION POINTS BECAUSE UNI UPSET KANSAS!!!!!  HOLY COW!!!!!   IT'S A GOOD DAY TO BE A PANTHER!!!!!

And then I realized:  This is how I get my news.  If not for Facebook, I don't think I would have even noticed that March madness had begun.  It seems I first find out about most major happenings in Iowa and the US by noticing a bunch of people writing about them on Facebook or blogs and then, if it looks like a major story, I check out US News or some other website.

The same thing happened with the passing of the healthcare bill.  All of a sudden, half the people on the web were talking about the same thing.  Some Facebook statuses were a little cryptic, like "be careful what you wish for."  But others were plenty direct, either in their joy over "happy health care reform" or their conviction that the "'reform' bill has no hope of providing any meaningful reform to the health care system."  One status even mentioned the phenomenon I'm commenting on today: "I'm gone for a week and come back to find out via people's facebook messages that the government's now going to control 1/6 of the economy with healthcare."

I don't think it's necessarily a good thing that I get my news from blogs and Facebook, but it's interesting to think of the strange little ways that the Internet has changed how we do things.  How has social media changed your life?

(And congrats to my hometown team. Go Panthers!)

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Yesterday, an uncharacteristically dusty wind blew through Qufu.  I've been hearing of dust storms and droughts in other parts of the country, so perhaps we're getting some of the secondary effects.  One of my students sent me a text to warn me of the dusty conditions: "What a dismal weather we have today!  All my body smells great dirt.  Yours, Jed."  (I think his meaning is that he can smell the dust, although the wording is a little ambiguous!)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Grocery Shopping

In the last two weeks, pineapples have started appearing in the North Market.  I'm not sure if it's a new fad or if it's just pineapple season somewhere near Shandong province, but I'm not complaining.  The fruit sellers cut out all the seeds (or whatever inedible bits pineapples have), so I all I have to do is slice and eat.

Excellent.  I believe I've purchased seven of these in the last week.  (They've been great for feeding freshmen.)

Speaking of freshmen, I had a group come over on Thursday night for spaghetti and meatballs.  Some of you may remember one of my early China cooking follies, in which I attempted to make spaghetti sauce by substituting ketchup for tomato paste.  I fared better this time, as our campus grocery store has recently started stocking tomato sauce:

In my opinion, the best thing here is that the tomato sauce was concocted by the "Tianjin Seasoning Research Institute of China."  Also, can anyone tell what food is depicted on the package?

I buy almost all my food at the campus grocery store or the markets just outside the gates.  However, there are a few items (like Ziploc bags, paper towels, and beef) that I like to get at the bigger stores downtown.  A new grocery store opened over break, and let me tell you:  It is great.  It's one of the least crowded stores I've shopped in in China.  It's big, open, clean, new, and well-stocked.  Lisa and I agreed: we almost felt like we were in a Wal-Mart.

As if these delights were not enough, today was a good day for Chinglish in the grocery store.  First I found a "subtle iron wok."  A little bit later, we spotted some packages of sweets individually wrapped in squares of foil.  They resembled chocolate, but they turned out to be chocolate-flavored beef jerky bites.  What??

The best find of the day, however, happened in the sugar aisle.  I was browsing the brown sugar, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but this:

Yes.  "A woman in childbirth brown sugar."

I have absolutely no explanation for the name, but I could not resist purchasing the sugar.  It will make me smile for days to come.

Post Edit: I tried out Woman in Childbirth sugar for some muffins yesterday and thought it was about half as good as normal brown sugar, in spite of being twice as expensive.  I'm still puzzling about the name.  Maybe it has a special ingredient to help women through labor?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Stopping by the Tree on a Breezy Evening

While walking home today, I saw that the tree's beautiful ivory buds have now swelled into blossoms.  Spring?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

From the Archives: Superhero Skits

With nothing terribly exciting happening around here this week, I thought I'd dig back and share a few photos from last semester.  In my freshman oral English class, we did a short unit on heroes.  First we discussed national heroes (Abraham Lincoln, Deng Xiaoping, etc.), then we discussed personal heroes (my grandparents, their parents, etc.), and finally... superheroes!

Each group of students had to create a short skit in which a superhero saved the day.  Because they were required to use our class vocabulary about character traits and personality traits, we had some wonderfully unnatural bits of dialogue:  "Wow, Master Panda, you are so brave and responsible!" 

Most of the students used familiar Chinese characters like the Monkey King and several others I now forget.  This wasn't exactly what they were supposed to do, but hey -- I learned a bit about some common Chinese story lines.  Although, I could never quite tell if they were saying "Master" or "Monster," so I often was surprised to learn halfway through the skit that the character I thought was the villain was actually the superhero.  I digress.  Here are some photos.

Aren't they precious?  *Sigh*  I love teaching freshmen.

Eating my Words

I recently sent out an e-mail update which included "ridiculous things
my students have said to me recently." These included things like
"Cutting a child's hair will make her grow taller" and "Drinking milk
will make your skin pale." I find it part amusing and part
frustrating that my students seem to say and believe almost anything
without actually reasoning through it or looking it up. (In my
writing class, critical thinking is one of the areas in which my
students need the most help.)


A few people wrote back and gently reminded me that we all say
ridiculous things too. So, in an exercise in cultural humility on my
part, I thought I would even the playing field and present some of the
ridiculous statements that Americans say without actually reasoning
through them or looking them up:

Carrots make your eyesight better.

Playing Mozart to your unborn baby makes him smarter.

Columbus discovered America.

Coffee cures a hangover.

Any others?

Saturday, March 13, 2010


I spent two years at a little school in Iowa called Wartburg College.  Once a year, on the last nice day of summer, the whole campus would be awakened by students running through the hall, pounding on doors, and screaming, "Outfly!!!"  Then you'd stumble out to the victory bell and join the whole college for a surprise day off.

Sadly, Qufu Normal University does not have Outfly.  But I just got something almost as good: a surprise week off!  The freshmen just informed me that they do not have classes next week because they are doing "manual labor" for the college.  Apparently, they will be cleaning their classrooms and dorms.  (Need something done cheap?  Round up some students; they work for free!)

Since I'm only teaching freshmen at the moment, next week is class-free for me, too.  And that is why I am updating my blog instead of polishing up my lesson plan for Monday.  Happy sort-of-spring-break to me!

Friday, March 12, 2010


Two years ago this week I was finishing my first outplacement, taking comprehensive exams, and going to interview at the hospital for my first job.  I can still see myself sitting in the clinic lounge trying to remember all the cranial nerves and cursing myself for never having properly learned developmental language milestones.  Finishing comps was one of the happiest feelings I ever experienced as a student. 

Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Center student lounge

Now I live in China and sometimes forget that I ever was a speech pathologist. 


Two years from now, I might very well be back in the U.S. thinking about cranial nerves and language milestones once again.  Or I might not.  Who knows what the future will bring?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

China is Complex and I'm a Newbie: A reminder to take everything I say with a huge grain of salt

“There is no such thing as a Western ‘expert’ on China, only varying degrees of ignorance.”
– Sir Alan Donald (UK Ambassador to China, 1988 to 1991)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Funny (Clean) Laugh from The Onion

This article made me giggle out loud: Out-of-Control Group Yields Little Usable Data.  Wish I would have thought of that back in my Wendell Johnsonion days.

More money for heat, less money for banquets, please.

Today's high is 0°C and the wind could bite your ears off, yet the university hasn't provided heat in the classrooms or dorms since last semester.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Is this a hint?

A student text from today: "Happy Women's Day!  Wish you a happier and prettier life!  Cannot wait to see you!"

(What you sayin bout my looks?)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Gypsy Soup

 Today for team lunch I made gypsy soup, combining the joys of sweet potatoes, savory seasonings, and the ability to be made in China.  Thanks,!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

6 Things I Saw on my Walk Today

Old guys playing cards

A line of bored-looking, tourist-carting horses

Confucius's front door (sort of)

Chickens awaiting slaughter

A boy and his kite

My wonderful students

Friday, March 5, 2010

Perceived Cold Makes me a Hermit

My windows are tinted blue, making the outside world appear
perpetually dreary. I've spent the afternoon in my apartment writing
letters and drinking hot water. Coincidence?

A Writing Challenge in Honor of Being 26

I like Abraham Piper's 22-word posts at, so I'm trying my hand at short posting.  All posts this week will be 26 words, starting yesterday.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Kids Say the Darndest Things

Yesterday, my student walked into the office and saw my teammate, who is fresh from sunny Southeast Asia.

"Lisa!" she exclaimed, "You've changed your skin color!"

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lantern Festival

Lantern Festival was Sunday.  It sounded a lot like this:

BOOM crack crackle pop pop boom BoOm!

We (BOOM!) ate a lovely meal with our friend Helen and her family. (crackity crack car alarm bang boom!)

The rain outside (pop pop flash bang poppity popple) did not deter her brother (BANG!) from setting off firecrackers on the very balcony of their apartment.


Helen's niece was a properly padded, roly-poly Chinese cutie and the dumplings were (snapper snappity pop bang) delicious.

In conclusion, Boom.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Schoolhouse Rock

We're back to school!  I taught my first class yesterday morning: freshman oral English with the topic of "Spring Festival and Food."  It was good to be back in the classroom -- I missed this sight:


Things won't get busy quite as soon as I'd like, however.  Because I work at a teachers' college, all junior students have a required one-month teaching practicum in March.  For me, this means I won't resume teaching junior writing and junior video for a few more weeks.  For them, it means three weeks of observation followed by one week of hands-on teaching experience.  (I think that's all they get -- seems a little paltry.)

In the meantime, I'll be planning lessons, reconnecting with students, giving a few culture lectures for the department, and studying Chinese. 

Now that school has begun, I will no longer be blogging about winter holiday.  So you will have to live without seeing such wonders as seaweed donuts, foot-eating fishes, bowl boats, short ceilings, and elephants in the streets.






I'm sorry to deprive you, but that's just the way it's gotta be.  Back to lesson planning!