Thursday, September 29, 2011

Photos from the last few weeks

It's been awhile since I shared any photos on here, so here we go:

Sara and student Clementina, who helped us buy storage containers at Sun City shopping area

If you've lived in China, you know exactly what this store specializes in.  Any guesses?

Random Rizhao intersection

Sara and I had KFC with her students to thank them for their help with the storage containers (which we took into the restaurant, as you see).

Robert & Clementina

Mid-Autumn Festival was a couple weeks ago.  These are mooncakes, the traditional food for the holiday.  (I think Mid-Autumn Day is kind of like our Thanksgiving; you gather with family and eat a big meal.)

Freshmen walking in university town during military training.

Tailor in Shi Jiu market

Shop selling qipaos, traditional Chinese dresses

Free talk with juniors

Freshmen during class.  I take a picture like this of every student so I can put them on photo cards and start to learn names.

Sophomore free talk

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sweet Spot

Speech!  Speech!  Speech!

For the last few days, I (and the other foreign teachers) have been receiving invitations to speak at student clubs.  Our campus has 50 or 60 student organizations, and they are now recruiting and training new members.  They want us for our foreign faces and for the chance to show off some native English to their new freshmen.

The other foreign teachers went to Qingdao for the day.  As the sole remaining foreign teacher, I agreed to speak to two student associations today.  They said to say anything, as long as it's in English.  They said to speak for a half hour.  I told them how about fifteen minutes.

So this morning I dutifully awoke early, put the finishing touches on my presentation about common pronunciation errors, donned my pearls, and walked out to meet the student who invited me.  A hundred-some students awaited me in a lecture room.  I was a little nervous, knowing my preparation was far from adequate.

As soon as I got on the podium, my nerves evaporated and I spent the next fifteen minutes explaining, encouraging, and generally enjoying myself.  Chinese students at their best are the most awesome audience in the world.  They are eager, responsive, and predictable.  I always know exactly where I'll get a collective gasp or a wave of laughter.  I love to teach; they love to learn.

So I spent part of my Friday night preparing a speech.  So I woke up at 7:00 on a weekend.  So I have to do it all again at 3:00 this afternoon.  So I'm just a token foreigner. 

Who am I kidding?  I love this stuff.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I've had my fill of Vivians.  It's a popular English name here, in spite of the fact that it sounds too old for our students and it always comes out sounding like "Wiwian."

My teammate Sara introduced me to the concept of using an "Approved English Names" list with our freshmen classes to prevent them from choosing un-names like "Sdeven" and "Vampire."  We are both in agreement about the over-use of the name "Vivian," so we cleverly deleted it from the list.

We gloated.  What a glorious thing;  I shall teach 224 students and none of them will be Wiwian.

This morning I received the following text: "Hello Alison.  My original English name is Alexis.  But now, I want to chang my English name.Finally,I decide my new English name is Vivian.Could I chang my English name?  Can you give me some advice?Thank you very mush!"

I replied, "You can change it if you want, but the reason I didn't put 'Vivian' on the name list is that it sounds like an older woman's name, and also many students mis-pronounce it."

"Can you tell me why 'Vivian' sounds like an old woman?"

"It's just not a name people commonly use anymore, so most Vivians are the age of our parents or grandparents."

"I think it does not matter,for me,it is unique.  My English name is Vivian.  But, can you tell me some advice about Shirey?  Thank you for you help."


"OK, just make sure you use your new name on your name card.  Shirey is not a name."

If I can't keep out the Vivians, I'm at least going to put my foot down on "Shirey."


Yesterday was the first really busy day of my time in Rizhao.

I started the day at 8:00 with four hours of teaching.  First I taught my writing class for juniors (yesterday's topic: pre-writing and the writing process), and then it was off to teach my first class of freshmen.  They just finished their military training and started school yesterday.

We couldn't get into the classroom right away because another class was in there.   As we were waiting in the hall, a few brave students came up to talk with me.  I asked one of the boys if he had an English name.  No.  He disappeared for about 30 seconds and then excitedly re-appeared and announced he now had an English name: Kevin.  (That was fast!) He wanted to know how to spell it.  I told him to wait and make sure no other students in the class had that name before he claimed it.

At break time, the students were all signing up for English names on my list of approved English names.  (This is to prevent the inevitable appearance of "names" like "Happy," "Moon2," "Black Sister," "Sho," "Even," and "Shmiley.")  The list also gives the names' meanings or origins.

I was standing at the podium when Kevin came bounding over.   "I found my name on the list!  Kevin!  It means handsome!"

Later, I was asking the class some get-to-know-you questions.  "How many of you are from this province?"  "How many of you are only children?"  "How many of you have visited another country?"

Kevin's hand shot up.
"Wow, which country have you visited?" I asked.
"Yes, I would very like to visit another country!"
"But have you visited another country?"
"No, not yet!"

So that about sums up my freshman class.  Eager, easily excited, a bit clueless... They're a fun bunch to teach.

I came back to my apartment for a quick lunch and was dreaming of a nap when my teammate Cathy came up.  It was her birthday and she wanted to bike down to the beach.  Hooray!  It was a beautiful day for a walk on the sand.

The rest of the afternoon was spent getting ready for Cathy's birthday dinner.  Sara made chicken and I made cake.  Then the whole team ate together, and it was great.

In the evening, I had a free talk for one of my sophomore classes, and 24 students came.  Hooray!  I totally enjoyed them, got to learn most of their names, listened to them telling (mis-telling) some random jokes in Chinese and English, and sent them on their way shortly before nine.

It was a fun, fruitful, exhausting day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Could you tell me the meaning of..."

A couple weeks ago I updated my status on RenRen (China's Facebook clone).   Here's a screenshot; read to the bottom for a good laugh.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Recent China Links

This week there have been several China items that have caught my eye on the web:

First, a couple from
  • A Chinese Student on 9/11 translates a brief interview with a Beijing student who expressed happiness over 9/11 but still wanted to study and live in America.  (My opinion: His view is offensive but partially understandable.  Also keep in mind that he would have been just a kid on 9/11/01.)
  • A Village... translates a political joke circulating on Chinese blogs.

Next, a wife speaks out about domestic abuse at the hands of her famous Chinese husband by posting pictures of her bruises on the Internet.  Articles here (Li Yang ... Accused of Domestic Abuse by Laowai Wife) and here (When a Woman Dares to Say "He Hit Me" in China).  (I suppose we can't know for sure that her claims here are legitimate, but in any case these posts highlight some concerns about un-checked domestic violence.)

Next I'll share two separate projects that are chronicling the opinions of young Chinese through photographing them with posters of their thoughts.  "What are Young Chinese Thinking About?"  includes a wide range of people and topics.  "What Chinese Youth Say About Sex" takes on a more specific topic, obviously.

Finally, this may be a good time to re-plug the weekly e-mail update that is my main source for general Chinese news: ZGBriefs, available at


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Around Campus

Have a minute?  Come along with me and my team as we explore the Rizhao campus of Qufu Normal University.

(We live in the orange-ish teacher apartments in the distance.)

Freshmen students marching in for a meeting during military training.

You can see that our campus has a red theme, which I like.  Everything is fairly new, and I can't believe how much green space there is!  The buildings you see are all classroom buildings or teacher apartments.  The students mostly live in dorms just outside the north campus gate.

Ten years from now...

... I'll be glad I went to the beach today.

I'll be glad my bike zoomed down the hill toward the shore, cutting through the gray humidity as sweat trickled down my neck.

I'll be glad the fishermen were there, mending their boxy green nets as I tried to take a photo unnoticed.

I'll be glad I paused to watch the three women sweeping trash off the sand, their long sleeves and kerchiefs offering protection from a sun that never appeared.

I'll be glad the beach was almost deserted, but not quite, as I watched fathers squat to take photos of their toddling children in the group gathered down the way.

I'll be glad for the white noise of choppy waves rolling into sand, and I'll be glad for the white mist that blurred the line between sea and sky.

Someday in the future, I will no longer live by the sea.  I will no longer live in China.  And I'll be glad for opportunities seized, for days lived fully, for open eyes and an open heart.  Someday in the future, I'll look back and be glad I went to the beach today.

(Written about a bike ride to the shore and back, Sept. 14)

At the Market

Walk for fifteen minutes north of campus and you'll come to a large fresh-foods market.  Let's have a look around.

Chicken-butchering operation just outside the main market.  She has a dead one hanging and is swinging another from the boiling water into the de-feathering machine.

My roommate Sara and me (and an onion)


In the veggie section

My teammate Jason says he always either makes kids laugh or cry when he looks at them.  Fortunately, in this case, it was laugh.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

At the Beach

We saw lots of people walking along the beach, some picking up shells.  Not many swimmers.

Tangled buoys and boardwalk

Is this a horse-riding club on an outing or a tourist venture selling horseback rides?  Beats me.

Team Rizhao hits the beach.

Some of the riders and a view of the city as it curves around the coast.  Rizhao's blue skies were sadly absent that day.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Alison Guessing Game

You may recall last year's post "Me through students' eyes" in which I introduced myself to a new class of students by bringing some objects related to me and having them write a biography based on those objects.

This year the objects I brought to my first day of writing class were:
  • A globe (love travel)
  • A Bible (love Jesus; love to read)
  • A Frisbee (like to be outside)
  • Hot peppers and chopsticks (like Chinese food)
  • A University of Iowa sweatshirt (home state; alma mater)
  • A photo of some hands making the sign for "I love you" (I like learning languages)
  • A photo or two of my family, one at my brother's recent wedding

Here are a few favorite quotes from the student bios about me:
"Our English teacher Alison is a very kindness person. She likes animals, especially her pet, a lovely dog. She likes playing flying object with him every day."

"She seems to be a british by her appearance."

"She was good at geograph when she was in her middle high school."

"Alison Lentz, a Christian, from Iowa, the United States. She's quite an interesting woman who enjoys global traveling and making friends."

"She missed her days in America, her pet, friends, and family. Back in America, she and her family used to play frisbee with their pet. Luckily, her days in China are not bad, though. She is with her husband and children. By the way, she is a huge fan of Chinese dishes, especially spicy food."

"Her hobbies are playing with her dog who loves catching a frisbee, and watching rugby games. She has pictures of rugby playing encouraging each other before a game and a wedding picture of a famous rugby player."

"Can I say you are a gourmet? You must have been to many countries, and try many kinds of delicious foods there."

"When she entered the junior high school, she joined the baseball team and got a uniform. They played and trained together as one team."

"She likes playing a game using the ..."

"She likes thrilling movies like spiderman and she has joined in a movie club and took a picture of the classical gesture with other members."
I will leave it to you to figure out which item is being referenced by each of these guesses. And apparently I've been mistaken all these years in thinking Frisbee is a game for people and not pets.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Between Holidays

It's a weekend of holidays. This year in China, Teachers' Day is September 10. Mid-Autumn Festival is September 12. But this post is concerned with the day in between: September 11.

Back in the U.S.A., you are all flooded with media memories of the day. I don't have to be there to know that the coverage of the 10th anniversary will be plastered all over newspapers, magazines, TV, and the Internet. Here in China, far from the media storm, I could very easily go through the day without even realizing what it was until I looked at the calendar.

But I did look at the calendar, and I've been watching the approach of September 11, and here's why. On September 10, 2001, we were unknowingly on the brink of a tragedy that would change life for all Americans. In little ways (airport security) and big ways (two complicated wars), America hasn't been the same since September 11. In fact, on the afternoon of September 11, 2001, I distinctly remember thinking that "everything is going to change," and in some ways, it has.

I'm typing this on September 10, 2011. Most of me thinks nothing of this, but about 1% of me thinks -- "What if we are on the brink of another game-changer? What if there's an anniversary attack?" It would be strange and sad to be 6,500 miles away if anything weird happens in America tomorrow.

And those are my thoughts on the eve of the 10th anniversary of September 11.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Freshmen Military Training

Today while I was teaching, we heard hundreds of freshmen marching into their meeting in the square outside our building.  My students and I peered out the window watching as they streamed in carrying the little stools they always march with, then sat down in formation and waited for the speechifying to begin. We're a seaside campus, so their uniforms are all the dark pants and light blue shirts of the navy.  Yes, it's that time of year; the three weeks when the drill masters roll in to teach a bunch of giggly 18-year-olds how to march, sing patriotic songs, listen to speeches, and follow orders.

After the break, I asked my students, "Do you know how long freshmen military training lasts in America?"  The guessing began.

"Two weeks"

"Two days"

"Half a year"

"One month"

(and so on)

No, no, no, no.

"Aha!  I've tricked you!" I said smugly.  "Is there freshmen military training in America?"

A ripple of understanding passed through the room.  

"No!" they yelled in unison.

Laughter and astonishment all around.

First Week in Rizhao: A Photo Review

Getting ready for classes to begin...

Enjoying Rizhao's famous blue skies (This is outside my apartment building.)

Team building! This is my new team -- two older ladies, a family of four (the kids are 17 and 11), and two younger ladies (me and my roommate Sara).

Cleaning out our apartment, filled with spices and boxes and random stuff of ages past

Checking out the beach, just a 15 minute bike ride from our homes.
So the first week went well and we're all starting to feel more settled, but I still haven't gotten out to explore very much on my own. Of course, now I'm actually at the end of my second week in Rizhao, but that's how long it took my Internet to allow me to post five photos of the first week. Ah... life in China.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On Admissions Fraud

While I was home this summer, one of my good friends asked me why I confronted my student who had plagiarized and falsified a purpose statement when applying to a French university. She disagreed with my intervention and thought it would be better to let sleeping dogs lie. I'm still inclined to think I'm glad I said something, but I would welcome opinions to the contrary. has an interesting article on the phenomenon of widespread admissions fraud coming specifically from Chinese applicants to foreign schools. The article title is a bit harsh ("Opening the door to American universities with lies"), but the content is more balanced. They discuss the problems of hiring unscrupulous agents to help with the application process, the potential discrimination faced by Chinese students because of the perception of admissions fraud, and some of the ways in which admissions fraud happens, including plagiarized essays, falsified transcripts, and exaggerated claims such as reporting a 3-month internship when it was only 3-weeks.

An interesting read: "Opening the Door to American Universities with Lies"

Post edit: Another take here: "How American Colleges can Best Serve Chinese Applicants"