Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pearl Buck on "Interpretation of China to the West"

Here are a few quotes from the book China as I See It by Pearl Buck, who grew up in China and lived there during the first half of the 1900s. 

First she discusses "interpreting" China to those in the West:
When people ask me, "Is this true of China, do the Chinese say this, are the Chinese that?" I can only answer, "I don't know -- perhaps they do somewhere in China.  I have only seen it thus.  But China is a very huge country, full of many diverse persons and customs.  I cannot pretend to speak for China or for anyone except myself."
"In a country so vast and so varying as China, where the average person travels comparatively little he cannot be blamed for not knowing many things even about his own country.  He can and should be blamed as soon as possible for saying and thinking he knows everything."
Then she writes about cultural interpretation in general, and how people ultimately judge a person's country, culture, or religion based on who he is rather than on what he says:
So here is the only interpretation, I think, that you or I can make of our country -- to be the best our country, our civilization, can produce, and be that under all circumstances, whether people are kind or unkind, understanding or not, appreciative or not.
Finally, she gives two qualifications for being a cultural interpreter:
First and foremost, a spirit of humility and of inquiry which keeps one constantly learning at every source, constantly distrustful of one's own knowledge and ability to interpret. 
Second, the unalterable conviction that one conveys, that one interprets, far more of one's country and civilization by what one is than by what one says...  Interpretation is only another name for understanding, and before we can interpret any people to any other, we must understand and appreciate the fundamental humanity of all."
 Talk at International House, Columbia University, New York City, March 13, 1933

Monday, August 30, 2010

Second First Day in Qufu

Yesterday was my second First Day in Qufu.  My first First Day in Qufu was August 24, 2009.  My main remembrances of that day were the muddy streets (from a recent rain) and my sad, empty apartment.  I was, however, happy to have finally arrived at my destination after so many weeks of traveling and training.

My second First Day in Qufu was delightful, and I am once again happy to have arrived at my destination.  Here is what we did yesterday:

8:00:  Arrive from the night train to a foggy, cool morning at the Qufu train station.

9:00:  Driver takes us to our campus.  The place is already bustling with students getting ready for class and grandmas playing outside with their toddlers.

9:30:  Breakfast and exploring at the North Market.  I visit my egg lady and drink some hot soy milk.

10:30:  We all take much-needed showers and start rescuing our apartments from last year's disorganization and the summer's dust and rain.

12:00:  Our foreign affairs officer, Meiling, invites us to a wonderfully relaxed lunch to catch up and get acquainted with Chip and Mallary.

Top photo:  Mallary, Chip, Tarah, me, and Meiling.
Bottom photo:  Lunch included a new dish for me: A slimy, spicy, rice-based, clear pancake-noodle thing.  It wasn't bad.
1:00:  I do laundry, mop floors, and put away stuff.

4:30:  We meet with our department to figure out class schedules, textbooks, and other concerns.  This was great timing -- last year, we didn't have this meeting until after classes started, which meant that I started teaching my classes before I had ever met anyone in my department or had any clue what they expected of me.  This year was more organized, and we also had the pleasure of seeing many of our colleagues and introducing them to the new teachers.

6:00:  Supper and exploring in the East Market. 

8:00  It gets dark and our eyes get heavy.  We stay awake long enough for a short Sunday prayer time, and then I go to bed.

So ended a very nice day.  This week is all team-building and lesson prep, and then we start teaching next Monday. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Welcome Home to China"

I'm in Beijing!  I arrived after a late flight last night and was up for 7:45 training sessions this morning.  All of the China teachers meet together for a few days in Beijing before the year begins, and then tomorrow I will go to my city.

This morning was good.  We had some training stuff on staying connected to the Vine and how to help our students grow.  I met my new teammates, Chip and Mallary, and they seem cool.   There was free time this afternoon so I caught up with friends from last year and saw the Old Summer Palace, the view from the CCTV tower, and a little karaoke.  Once I go to Qufu, I won't see these friends all semester, so we're trying to pack in as much as we can.

The packet for our training sessions is entitled "Welcome Home to China."  It's good to be back.  (But I miss clean bathrooms.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I go back to China in 2 days.  I leave Wednesday, arrive Thursday night, and have my first sessions in Beijing on Friday morning.  It will be great to re-connect with friends in Beijing.  I will also meet my new teammates and we will travel together to Qufu after the weekend.

A teacher with my organization made the following video of some of his students in China.  They are not my students, but they remind me of my students.  The cute English pronunciations, giggling girls, excitement about English... Here's a glimpse of what I'm heading back to:

Diagram of a Chinese Student from Jonathan Smyth on Vimeo.

I'll write again when I'm back in China!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

China's Graduate Dilemma

An interesting mini-documentary here on the bleak job prospects facing new college grads in China.  Many of my students are planning to delay this problem by trying to test into grad school.

Young & Restless: China's Graduate Dilemma from SOOKSTV on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dancin' on the Train

First, watch this:

The video was made by a couple teachers from my organization who live up in the Northeast, which everyone seems to love even though it's colder than cold.  Awesome video.  Now I will ruin (or enhance?) it by giving you some Chinese culture notes:

1)  You usually ride in front with the cab driver -- I think I just told you that a few posts back.

2)  Chinese trains have 4 classes: Soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat, and hard seat.  If they are all sold out, never fear!  You can buy a hard seat ticket even if there are no seats, and stand for the duration of the ride.  Some students do this even for 10 or 15 hour train rides.
"The seats are sold out so we'll have to get a soft sleeper. / Let's get a standing ticket; it will be a lot cheaper."
The train featured in the video has none of these classes, because it's not a long distance train.  I think it's a city rail or something.

3)  Did you catch the correct pronunciation of "Beijing" and "Shanghai"?

4)  I love the waiting room!  It's really like that:
"Could take a seat if there were any more free, but everybody's lying down and so they're taking up three."
5)  Description of a Chinese crowd (watch out for elbows!):
"Everyone hurries just to get to the door so they can stand in line and count the time and wait some more...  pushing and shoving..."
6)  Their students are so cute.  They did a great job!

Now watch it again.  And again.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Travel Helper

You all know I couldn't find my way out of an empty room.  Because I get lost, and because my Chinese skills are not always reliable, I usually pray that the God will give me someone to help me when I travel alone.  Here’s a quick story about my helper on the way back to the U.S.

I was on the speed train from Qufu to Beijing, where I would catch a flight to Chicago the next morning.  A girl got on at Tai An and sat next to me, and we soon struck up a conversation.  She turned out to be a flight attendant with China Southern. She asked me where I was staying in Beijing and I showed her the name of the hotel (a budget place close to the airport).  “Oh,” she said, “I am staying in that same neighborhood.  But I’ve never heard of that hotel.”  So she called a friend to figure out where it was and then suggested we share a cab when we got off the train.

I was armed only with the name of the hotel and some brief directions that the hotel had texted me in Chinese.  I hoped to show these to the cab driver and get there with no problem.  However, the cabbie didn’t know where to go.  So my new friend called the hotel three times over the next 45 minutes and eventually got us there.  There’s no way my Chinese language skills could have accomplished that!  Then she walked me into the lobby and made sure all my arrangements were settled for getting to the airport the next morning.

I was most touched to realize that her own accommodations were not actually that close to my hotel.  After riding with me and helping me, she then had to call a friend to pick her up at my hotel.