Saturday, July 31, 2004

happy birthday to mom

there is a 36-second movie clip avilable online [with audio] of my class and i singing Happy Birthday to mom at a dumplings restaurant last night--in chinese and english!! it is a very special video and i hope you get a chance to see it. the file is huge though [12MB], so make sure you've got a few minutes [and cable/broadband] before even trying. and once you download it, watch it a few times and just try to pay attention to the face of each person...their kind faces are bathed in expressions of pure joy.

my homepage, where i will soon post the video clip.......

another friday night banquet

well, it's saturday morning and i'm in a lot better shape today than i was at this point last week. last week, my homeroom class took me out for spicy-spicy hot pot (which was GREAT but left my stomach in knots), but this week, i took them out for dumplings. we obviously ate more than dumplings--there was the "1000-year-egg" and tofu dish, spicy tripe, pork joints in broth, and marinated cucumber strips...but the feature was the dumplings. four kinds: pork, beef, fish, and veggie. excellent stuff and the servers kept bringing bowl after bowl to our table. i have no idea how many we ate. there were 25 of us: me, all 22 members of my homeroom class, our chinese TA, and another teacher (my friend Frank)--and i am guessing we had about 450-500 dumplings. i know i ate around 35 and the beautiful thing about a banquet with these students is that they EAT. ravenously.

after class, we took the city bus as close as possible to the restaurant. but first, we walked to the bus. this was enough to have me completely soaked with sweat. for some reason--i know, the less clothes i get dirty the better--i didn't have an undershirt on, and my light green shirt was now dark green in the shoulders, stomach, chest, nearly everywhere. fortunately, this is the way the Wuhanese go through their entire summer so they are used to it. eventually, we get to the bus. but not without a lot of animated chatter between the monitor and the woman who seems like she must have been passed over for the job, about which bus to take. we settle for #602. it doesn't come for about 15 minutes. more time to stand outside and sweat. then we cram onto the bus. i was given a little debit card to flash in front of a card-reader, probably because the students didn't think i could manage to drop the 2 coins in the fare-box. their excuse was that i didn't have any coins. they had handfuls, but instead of giving me any, gave me the privilege of using the fare-card. we wedged onto the bus--a NICE, new one, air-condidtioned and very comfortable--for a 15-minute ride through the city. we got off at a point not necessarily proximate to the restaurant though. it was another 10 minutes of walking [and sweating] before we were met at the doors of the restaurant--this is customary, and feels very welcoming--and ushered into our own room in the back. then there were more animated conversations about the seating. we were able to string together a few tables into one long one and put all 25 of us around it. me, frank, and Lucia [the TA] sat in the middle. frank and lucia across from me and the monitor, and the other students stretching in either direction out from us. clearly it would be Ada's job again to do all the ordering and make sure everything went perfectly. this was a job she takes seriously--not sternly--but it is her job. it lasted for 3 hours last night, until one of the other students caught me hiding a yawn, pulled Ada aside and told her, then Ada sent us home. it's borderline ridiculous how she stage-manages the entire event, but it is also unbelievably comforting to have a "handler" the way a politician or any esteemed guest would have. she is also the one who utters to me in hushed tones what the other students names are when i get confused [after all, i've only seen my homeroom class 4 times [over the course of 3 weeks!] and they aren't sitting in the same seats anymore the way they did the first two days. she also makes sure my tea cup is always full, and when the boys start in with the drinking, she glares at them, GLARES at them, until they stop.

so, soon came the food. the other stuff first i guess, to nibble on while we anticipated the dumplings. then they started coming and they didn't stop for over an hour. straight. and towards the end of the dumplings came the beer. i had told them at the beginning that the beer would come later. the boys were disappointed--especially the 12 year-old-looking one who sat next to me. but of course Ada understood what i wanted--i would not prevent it, i just wanted to hold-off--and ordered everyone a canned coconut-milk drink to shut them up. it was cute to see david [ie/the 12 year-old] sucking his milk from a can through a straw, after he had protested so much about not starting directly with the beer. he would eventually be drinking many other unusual things too, before the night was over.

so, as the food wound down, the drinking got started. there were the same toasts as last week: we miss our families, you must miss your family, we should drink to our families, etc. but along with the drinking came the singing...we drank to ohio state and sang Carmen Ohio, which i had taught them earlier in the day. [we will sing it at the closing ceremony]. then we did something very special--we gathered at one end of the table, and sang happy birthday to my mom in both chinese and english [same tune, different words]. we had tried to call her, hoping to sing it over the phone, but instead we had frank take video/audio with his camera. it was great. i have the file here and am trying to send it home. it's *huge*--12 MB--so we might not get to watch the 36-second clip until i return. it is amazing to watch it...i must have seen it a dozen times last night--the looks of pure joy on the students faces, as they sing happy birthday to someone they don't know and won't probably ever meet, are precious. frank did an incredible job panning back-and-forth throughout the song--i can be seen in the back reading the one single repeated chinese sentence from a sheet--and the students look happy in a way i've almost never seen before. just from singing and clapping their way through such a simple song.

after the singing came their game-playing. it took frank and i a minute to figure it out, but it was a truth-or-dare game. about half of them, at the raucous end of the table, would count 1-2-3 and then hold out 1 or 2 chopticks. the number of chopsticks was tallied, and then starting from the previous "loser" they would count out who would be the current victim. first it was jade. she had to go out into the main hall of the restaurant and shout [in chinese, naturally] to everyone there MY NAME IS JADE I AM A STUDENT AT WUHAN UNIVERSITY AND I AM LOOKING FOR A MAN TO SUPPORT ME. poor jade is painfully shy, and can barely make it through class without some sort of dramatics when she is expected to give her speech, or simply answer a question. then one of the guys (Ada reminded me of his name but i've already forgotten!!) lost, and took the "truth" option...he was asked--by jade--"of all the pretty girls in the class, which one would you pick for your girlfriend." he blushed, repeatedly, for a while, then to his credit, he offered up a name. melody. it was a great choice. she wasn't someone anyone would say was striking, but when she smiled, it was clear he was very perceptive. she was a very pretty young woman. the boys then took one of table flowers out of the vase and pressured him to walk all the way over to her [of course, at the quiet end of the table] and give it to her, which he did. it was all very sweet. then, for the next round...Cynthia was the one who lost. she didn't want the "truth" so she got the dare: to stand on a chair and say in three different languages, my name is cynthia and i am a little piggy.

the thing is, none of this was happening so simply. there were over 20 of us gawking, yelling, and otherwise cajoling whoever was on the spot and all of this was the cause of uproarious laughter. there was also of course much craning of the necks from the other people at the restaurant--that is, when we didn't project our silliness into their sphere--and there was even some talk [in chinese of course so i didn't know exactly what was being said] that we were being too loud and should quiet ourselves. but at this point, we were a runaway train. and it wasn't until Gloria--sitting also at the quiet end of the table--caught me as i yawned, that the train slowed down. i knew i was in trouble too, because she immediately got up, walked over to Ada, and whispered in her ear. the next thing i knew, Ada got up and pronounced: BOB IS TIRED SO WE MUST ALL GO HOME NOW. it was abrupt, to be sure, but i can't say i was disappointed. it was a long day and i was tired. my belly was full--beyond full really, with dumplings and more than a little beer--and i was ready for bed. it had been an exhausting week--6 hours each day in front of a class--and even the evening bad been exhausting. the walk to the bus, the walk to the restaurant, even the eating itself was like work. good work to be sure, but work. then the drinking, the toasting, and the singing. it had been a good night though--just like last friday. it was a night i couldn't have ever imagined before i came here, and a night i am not likely to soon forget.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

deep thinking

a student of mine showed me this speech she is working on...each student must present a formal prepared speech at the end of the 5-week program. she gave me permission to post it here. i find it quite impressive, how she has thought so much about her country, and has pride in china, but not too much:

[text of her entire speech]

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I am April.
Today, my topic is, the costs of economic growth in China.
Now, think it over. It is the best of times. It is the worst of times…
We are having better food, but worse nutrition;
We are having bigger houses, but smaller families;
We are having taller skyscrapers, but shorter temperaments;
We are having wider highways, but more narrow outlooks;
We are having forward technology, but backward psychology…

No one would argue that China is today world’s most promising country. In the past 25 years, China's economy has been able to attain a high 9.4% annual growth rate of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. During the past three years China has accounted for one-third of global economic growth, twice as much as America. The per capita net income last year was US$1090, with a real growth rate of 9.8% year-on-year. Obviously, Chinese people are a lot richer now. With the tremendous wealth they have created, they are leading a higher standard of living than ever before. In big cites, more and more people start buying their private cars. Personal computers, mobile phones, all kinds of modernized products can be found everywhere. Sometimes, people are so surprised by the rapid changing around them that they even do not believe it. They are saying that we are so lucky to live within this best period of all times.

But are we really that lucky? Are we gaining that rapid growth of economy without losing anything else? What has been sacrificed?
The answer is, our environment and culture.

First, let’s draw some concerns on the environmental cost behind the scenes.
Here are some examples of pollution and ecosystem destruction impose direct costs on China's economy:
- Fishermen in Hebei Province filed suit in November 2000 claiming wastewater from upstream paper mills in Henan Province killed US$ 3 million worth of fish. Sources indicate perhaps a thousand such incidents occur nationally each year.
- Red tides brought by marine pollution caused more than US$ 120 million in losses to the fishing industry in the Bohai, Yellow and South China seas in the spring of 1999, according to Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.
- Erosion claims about 5 billion tons of China's topsoil each year, washing away nutrients equivalent to 54 million tons of chemical fertilizer twice what China produces in a year.
Pollution costs the Chinese economy anywhere from 3 to 8 percent of GDP each year, according to estimates of various Chinese and Western scholars. Ecological damage potentially costs another 5 to 14 percent. Even at the low end of these estimates, environmental damage is roughly equivalent to annual economic growth meaning that the economy is producing little or no new net national wealth. However, in addition to the above-listed direct impacts, environmental degradation imposes other important indirect costs, for instance, our health is being threatened. Statistics show that chronic obstructive lung disease is the leading cause of death in China; one-eighth of total deaths in the country were attributable to air pollution between 1990 and 1995.

Our blue sky is greying, our clear rivers and lakes are mudding, our green grassland is desertificating…Is the economy growth really worth it?

Besides serious environmental degradation, another challenge we are facing, brought by the globalization, is the gradual eliminating of our culture.

As we all know, in the history of mankind, there appeared the Mesopotamian civilization in West Asia, the ancient Egyptian civilization along the Nile in North Africa, the ancient Greek-Roman civilization along the northern bank of the Mediterranean, the ancient Indian civilization in the Indus River Valley in South Asia, and the Chinese civilization originating in the Yellow and Yangtze river valleys. Yet as time flows by, due to either natural disasters or human conflicts, some of these ancient civilizations withered away, some were destroyed and others became assimilated into other civilizations. Only the Chinese civilization, with its strong cohesive power and inexhaustible appeal, has survived 5,000 years to the modern time. Every Chinese should be very proud of that and try best to preserve it.

But the truth is, we are losing them now. Under the overwhelming rush of western cultures, our own traditions are on a weak defense. It seems that the more we open to the world, the less we keep for ourselves. You go hanging out with friends, both of you wearing Nike shoes, walking along streets under new ad-stands of Coca-cola. After watching a movie named “Spider Man 2,” you go and eat hamburgers in McDonald’s, then buy a newly released record of Britney Spears. Hoops, are you in New York? No, you are in Wuhan, a city thousands miles away from United States, but you are doing exactly the same thing American teenagers are doing. Why? Because those western business giants push you to. They not only sell their products, but their way of life as well.

We are adapting to the world quickly, that’s good and necessary, but we should not throw our traditions and customs back. We need Valentine’s Day, but we also need Spring Festivals. We need identical modern skyscrapers, but we also need creative, unique folk houses. We need Broadway shows and Hollywood movies, but we also need our own folk art, like paper-cutting, needle-working, shadow-playing and hundreds of others. We are so fortunate to inherit such a splendid culture from our ancestors, we are highly responsible to keep it alive and hand it down to next generations.

We Chinese are so prestigious. We occupy one of the most beautiful lands on earth, and we possess one of the most brilliant cultures of all. And now, we have the fastest growing economy in the world. But the gods sell all things at a fair price. If we only seek for economic increases but ignore the environmental and cultural impacts, the growth in GDP just doesn’t worth the all the costs we actually pay. We are having the best of all times, but do not make it the worst of all times.

Thank you!

i bought some shoes

not something i would usually write to the general public about, buying shoes. but here, it was a challenge. i went in dozens of shoe stores...once i learned my size [two-hundred-and-eighty somethings] the clerks would literally LAUGH at me. they would smile, laugh, look down at my feet and shake their head, then giggle as i walked out the door. it was borderline humiliating. i was the freak with the enormous american feet that they had never seen before. i went so far in my quest for shoes as to pull aside the students who were my size or taller and ask them where they got their shoes. they said they got their shoes anywhere--not even they had big feet. so yesterday, i went in a HUGE department store. maybe 6-7 floors built around a generous atrium. the shoe sellers on the first floor directed me to the third floor. i got there, and there must have been 20 different brands of shoes, each with 20 different models, all in their own little area. i went down the row and one-by-one flashed each clerk the number--280--written on the palm of my hand. more laughs, more giggles, more shaking of the head. then one woman smiled, but it didn't morph into laughter...she simply hurried awaym and left me standing there. i waited because where else did i have to go? she came back with a dusty cardboard box, with crushed corners, that might have been years old. she opened it, and there was a pair of shoes: dark blue, athletic but not specifically for running or basketball. i tried them on and i'm not sure who was happier--me for finding them or she for unloading them. clearly, they were going to be written off the inventory in the next cycle. but not so. i got my shoes, wore them home in fact, and threw my grungy size-12 american running shoes in the trash by the door as i left the store.

riding bikes

i wrote before that china is a country in motion. this is best exemplified by the bicyclists. they are always moving, forward. they don't ever look behind them. [not that the cars do either...nobody looks behind them, everything is a steady parade foward]. in america, i have a rear-view mirror on my bicycle--i want to know, no, i *need* to know what is coming up behind me. but not here. the bicyclists never bother looking behind them when they turn, merge, or pull over, mainly because they know the cars and other bikes are looking out for them. here, it is the responsibility of the vehicle in the rear to allow the person in front of them [regardless of that person's slooooow speed] to continue moving in exactly the path they chose...

you might think this would feel unsafe. maybe the first time i rode my bike--home from the store--i was wishing i had a mirror. not so anymore. i love it that what concerns me is what is in front of me, which is often more than enough to keep my mind occupied: buses in the bus/bike lane, taxis pulling into our protected lane for pick-ups and drop-offs, myriad pedestrians, other bikers, men pulling huge carts stacked with cardboard and other recyclables....the list is endless. but riding here is fun--like being in a video game when i am always moving forward and i had smooth sailing unless i begin to consider what is coming behind me. that means trouble, because the car that might have otherwise passed narrowly behind me, but also without breaking stride, also must brake, if i, as long as i continue to move forward, along with the rest of the chinese, i can be assured that they will look out for me from behind and all i have to do is look out for what is coming in front of me........

Sunday, July 25, 2004

i had the hot pot

on friday, i was back in the classroom with my "homeroom" group. i had taught them for the first two days of the first week--the orientation half-day, then the first real day of our teaching. after that, they shuffled into 8 other classrooms before coming back to mine. from now on, i will have them each friday. on these days, we are establishing some continuity with them, and walking them through the process of preparing and delivering a formal speech. [usually, each day in each class with the revolving groups, all the students simply do 1 or 2-minute impromptu speeches.]

so, on friday, group #10 returned to me. it was a wonderful reunion--they were happy to feel comfortable with a teacher they already knew, and i was happy not to have to quickly read 20+ new personalities and faces. after our initial greetings, Ada, my class monitor [the position is a throwback to the time when the communist party had a larger presence in the educational she is just in charge of opening the AV cabinets and having everything turned on when i walk into the room] stood up and was talking [not in english] to the chinese english teacher observer who sits in the back of my room, and then Ada turned to me and said: YES, WE THINK WE SHALL TAKE YOU TO DINNER TONITE. there was exultation from the class, and of course i agreed. i told them it would be my honor to take them to dinner and they laughed in my face. this was not the plan, Ada said, smiling, for me, to take them. they were taking me.

after a full-day with them--4 hours in the morning, and 2 hours in the afternoon--at 4:30, we went to a restaurant near campus for hot pot. but first, since it was so early, there was the singing. singing seems to be part of almost every activity. and most restaurants have karaoke rooms in the back. so we went into one--it was about 90 degrees up in that place, but they were undaunted--and the women, mainly, started singing english songs. not necessarily american songs--i had never heard any of these--but songs in english. and you know what? all of a sudden their pronunciation and rhythm to their speech was impeccable. it made me think how we should be encouraging them to be more lyrical in their daily dialogues. now i just need to figure out how to do that.

as far as the singing goes, of course there was strong encouragement for me to sing. i should have declined, obviously. not only am i not a strong singer, but my voice has been shot since the program started. i'm not used to teaching for 6 hours/day, every day, and doing so much of the talking in class. i tried to sing American Pie. but this isn't your standard don mcclean version of american pie over here. no, this is a teased-out, play-the-crowd, live techno-concert duet version of uniquely chinese origination. so, combining all this--the sweltering heat in the room, my lack of natural talent, the ailing throat, the surreal arrangement of the song, and i was honestly so BAD that i think the students collectively decided they would just try to pretend i wasn't singing and save all of us the embarrassment. normally, when someone sings, there is near rapt attention on them, but when i was singing, i noticed that they were all carrying on animated conversations and when i finished they just smiled and resumed with their own songs. maybe this will work in my favor though, i doubt they will beg me to sing again next time.

after the singing, at about 6 o'clock, after other class members had trickled in [21 of the 23 were there by this point--another had a flute lesson and i forget what #23 was doing], we settled down for the hot pot. we squeezed in around 5 tables, each with its own sunken cauldron of boiling broth. and each pot had a spicy half and a flavorful-but-not-spicy side. there was a propane tank fueling the fire, directly underneath. i sat in the middle of the long table, on the "female" half [13 of them, and only 8 guys], with at least a one-woman buffer between me and the exuberant guys who were constantly parading around in front of me at the table and making toasts, after which i was of course obliged to finish my little plastic 4-oz. cup of beer. first, about the food. the monitor again took charge. she ordered plates and plates of thinly-sliced meats [beef, lamb, fish], and then veggies [lotus roots, potatoes, bean sprouts], and there was also tofu, noodles, and too many other things to list. it was a frenzy of food. not unlike when i eat it in the States. in fact, it was almost exactly the same and because i had eaten this style a few times back home, the students were amazed that i knew what everything was, knew what it was all about, and most importantly, could use chopsticks!

so that was the food part. then there was the drinking. there is obviously not a drinking age in china. this is a country that doesn't even use stop-lights [or roundabouts] to control the traffic. there is an anything-goes attitude, and i have grown to appreciate it. many times in columbus i've felt like a pavlovian dog waiting for a red light to turn green so i could GO, but not here. people are trusted. so the guys--who amazingly look even younger than american first/second-year college students, started in with the beer. and keep in mind, i haven't had more than a sip of beer in over 10 years. but i knew before i came to china this would be inevitable. what could i do. they were hosting me--they were paying the fiddler so they were calling the tune. so i drank with them...just a little, obviously. i knew enough to refuse when the class-drinking-king, Fox, wanted me to down an entire 20-oz. bottle with him, but other than that, there was little harm done in raising more than a few of those 4-oz. beer "shots"... one by one, as the eating portion wound down, the guys each presented themselves in front of me and made their toast. for a hot sweaty sloppy affair, they lent an air of formality to it that was fresh to me. it was really rather adorable. i looked at these young men and saw their fathers and grandfathers in them. as hard as it was to imagine that one day they would be older, i knew that they were practicing for the part. ultimately, one young guy, David, who literally looks like he's 14 at the most, raised the last glass: bob, we are most happy you are here in china. but you MUST be missing your family. WE, away at college, miss our, let us DRINK to our families. it was a sweet sentiment indeed.

as it all wound down, Ada-the-monitor went into action. she had already orchestrated everything about the night. covered the karaoke from her own pocket, ordered all the food for the entire table, sent a couple of the guys to a store down on the street for 2-liter bottles of pop [for the female students], and now she was negotiating with the restaurant staff and then started collecting 20 yuan from each person. they were all happy to pay--money started flying around the table. but again, they wouldn't let me help out at all. [i couldn't believe it--in 10 years, TEN, of teaching at OSU, i don't think a student has ever bought me so much as a coke or a candy bar.] at first i thought maybe the students were simply being polite, refusing a few times, but then it became clear: it just wasn't going to happen. i insisted enough to get them to agree to one concession though: next time we did this--next friday i imagine--they would allow me to treat them. we'll see if they stay true to their word though, otherwise if they resist, i may have to sneak away from the table towards the end of the meal and stuff some of my monopoly money into the server's pocket.

after we left the restaurant, our group began to disassemble. first, half of them headed south to the off-campus dorms as the rest of us went north towards campus. then we got to the campus gate, and another half-dozen headed to their quad as i and 3 others started up Lou Jia Shan. finally, it was just 4 of us. next, halfway up the hill, Cynthia and Jade, whose families live in wuhan caught the bus to their neighborhood, and then it was just Vincent walking me up to the hotel. he's a neat guy--a software major from hunan province--and as we walked, we were making arrangements to go on a bike-shopping adventure the next day, looking for the famous Wuhan cymbals that so many american musicians use. ultimately though, we got to the hotel, and after being enveloped in the warmth of this large family of students all day, i was on my own and able to think--as i collapsed into my bed after a cold shower--about the overwhelming kindness that came so naturally to the students from group #10.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

the money

in china they use the RMB. i forget what it stands for, but it's only rarely that anyone other than me calls it RMB. [i say it because RMB is so tones to mispronounce!] but me saying RMB is like someone in america saying, formally, "how much is that in US CURRENCY?" instead of using the more common term "dollars" [chinese equivalent: yuan] or the slang "bucks" [quay]. as for conversions, 8 yuan = 1 dollar. and it's not like in other countries where the exchange rate changes every day. it was 8:1 years ago, and it will be 8:1 for years to come.

anyway, the minimum-wage worker in china makes roughly 500 yuan/month. and prices here are low enough that they could live on that...they don't have big families, you know. however, we are paid 1500 yuan/week, which seems exorbitant. i would gladly do this teaching for free. and that salary doesn't even include living in this nice hotel and the 3 meals/day we get during the week. so this whole experience is somewhat of a boondoggle, even though by american standards, our weekly salary is low--less than 200$, which is obviously not a lot for full-time teaching.

but getting back to the prices: stuff simply costs less here. a good example is the bike accessories i bought. [the new mountain bike was 35$, also a good example]. a nice lock: 10 yuan. baskets for each side of the bike: also 10 yuan. a helmet: 45. the bell: 6. these are fractions of the prices we would pay in the States. also one interesting example [because why do these cost 2-3$ *each* in the States?]: a 4-pack of Colgate toothbrushes: 10 yuan. a huge fresh chinese pastry/bun, filled with creme: 1 yuan. sandals: 20. shorts: 30. korean dinner: 30. japanese: 30.

i am telling you all of this because i have been thinking a lot about american prices...wondering why things cost what they do, especially when the sale-price doesn't seem to be remotely related to the production or delivery cost. i think i like it here, where things seem to cost not only what i want them to cost, but what they should cost!!


ps. this isn't to say that everything is being "given away"...there are always a few stores on each street or in the mall that sell items such as Nike or Adidas, at what i would call "western prices"...these are radically unaffordable for the minimum-wage worker, but then again, this is true in america too. hmmmm.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

this is how every day starts

every morning at 7:45, there is a bus waiting for the GREAT AMERICAN TEACHERS WHO CAME FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GLOBE. it waits, diesel fumes pouring out, right outside our hotel. we board the bus, like we're the new york yankees or something, heading to yankee stadium, and it rides us down the hill. it would be about a 10-minute walk...downhill, all the way. mind you, it is in fact sorta hot even at this time of the day. so, i must admit it is nice to walk out of the air-conditioned hotel, take a few steps outside, and then duck back into air-conditioned comfort. but still, this is an outrageous extravagance. we didn't have this treatment the first week, then someone dreamt it up, and it started monday. i tell the other teachers: this is all part of the production, all part of the drama. it is all part of flying in THE GREAT AMERICAN TEACHERS WHO CAME FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GLOBE to be the first americans to teach at Wuhan University.

and the number one supporting actor, in the great play about the great american teachers, is the bus driver. this guy could honestly just coast us down the hill. he could cut the engine, ride the brakes, and it would take maybe 3 or 4 minutes. instead, he guns it down there, honking and honking and honking. everyone must get out of the way. some of the teachers walk down, taking a short-cut through an otherwise serene, peaceful, pedestrian road, and they say they can hear the bus leaving the hotel, and trace every inch of its progress, because of this incessant horn. at first we thought this driver was crazy. we thought he was just plain nuts. but then this morning it dawned on me: he is undoubtedly the best driver they've got, if he's in charge of THE GREAT AMERICAN TEACHERS. and he knows this. and he knows he has the most precious cargo, which COMES FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GLOBE.

and it's really our final approach to Building #5 that is most impressive. there is a wide sidewalk in front of our building. nearly every one of the 450 students we teach every day must walk along it to get inside. they are arriving at roughly the same time we are. but every morning, at 7:47am, the great-america-teacher-bus charges through this sidewalk, again, horn blaring. in fact he lays on the doesn't stop. we may as well be playing Ride of the Valkyries. it is a most auspicious way to start the day, but it is all part of the way we are treated, all part of the way Wuhan University feels it must honor, and in fact celebrate, the presence of the GREAT AMERICAN TEACHERS WHO HAVE COME FROM ACROSS THE GLOBE.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

i got my bike today!!

after seeing the new bikes at the department store last sunday, and talking about doing it all week, frank and i, and our friend heather, went to Carrefour today and bought some new wheels. i am very happy with what we purchased. we could have opted for the no-gear 25$ ones, but instead we bought what would be called american-style "mountain" bikes with a triple chain-ring in the front and 6 or 7 gears in the back. 35$. plus 5$ for a helmet and a few dollars more for a lock, a bell, and some racks on either side for the back that collapse when not in use. all in all it's a pretty nice set-up and we rode them home from the store along the East Lake, right to the gate of the campus. it was great to have that freedom. i will have to post a picture or two tomorrow. right now the bikes are in our rooms, safe and sound.

about biking in general. as we have always heard, biking is big in china. so far i've seen thousands of bikes, at least. and not just people like us using them for recreation or transportation. it is almost like the way i saw boats being used in venice--for everything. so far, i've seen a bike delivering 5 5-gallon jugs of water, a bike with multiple propane tanks [think, space shuttle, with the big tanks on each side], bikes with 55-gallon drum on each side, and bikes completely loaded with hundreds of pounds of flattened cardboard, being pushed by 2 or 3 people. like everything else in china, it seems like their problem-solving process is: how can we accomplish this using one of the 7 simple machines [lever, pulley, wheel, etc]...instead of like us in america: how can we involve an internal combustion engine in this process. ha!


ps. for those of you wondering about what we will do with the bikes at the end of the summer, i guess we will give them away to a favorite student, or have a raffle during the closing program on the last day...something like that...

Saturday, July 17, 2004

end of week 1

so the first week is over. it was a good one, really. it started on monday for a half-day with my "homeroom" class, with me mainly doing the talking, explaining about the program. i think i had them do their self-introductions that day. most of them in each class don't really know each other. i started the morning with a poem by maya angelou, On the Pulse Of favorite poem. this is the way i start every class at OSU as well, so it gave me some continuity and a feeling of: i've done this before, it's just teaching, etc. however, i hadn't learned how to use the AC units in my class yet--upright, in the corners, and free-standing--so i literally had sweat dripping off my brow. so that was unfortunate, but i think the students were able to focus on the poem, and not me :]

the next day, our first full day of teaching, i had my homeroom class again. nothing worked quite right--my VHS tapes of a baseball game and my friends talking about their pets hadn't been digitized yet--and i struggled with the technology--there is one master control panel, and of course most the buttons are in chinese. i have since figured this out, but i felt like a bumbler this day, that's for sure. as for my homeroom students, interestingly, 7 of the 23 were law students. it is an undergraduate degree here. also, 2 of the students are only 17 years old...and they only recently turned 17!! i've had students this young before, but usually not ones who have already finished a year of college and are still that young. in general, the students seem very very young, but also very very engaged. they are definitely critical thinkers, and one thing they have thought a LOT about is america. they know about our history, about the amazing personal freedoms in our country, but also about the legacy of struggle for african americans [they say "negroes" still] and women.

after day 2, the revolving door started. i saw three more unique groups the rest of the week, and there are 16 more to come. the interesting thing is, each day there is the gamut of emotions a teacher feels every quarter, or every semester: nervous anticipation about the new people behind the door when you first walk in, but also a feeling of loss at the end of the "term"...each day, i say goodbye to another group of students who i have connected with and gotten to know and like. so in that regard it is hard. i tell them to say "hi bob" when they see me around the building or campus, and they generally do. also, i give them the address to a hotmail account at the end of the day, and tell them they can write to me. some of them have--all of them nice messages expressing thanks and genuine appreciation. also, they all offer to explain things about china to me. they obviously realize i might have a lot of questions, and they want me to learn as much as they can about china.

another note about the students: they have all been studying english for close to 10 years. they start when they are 8-10. some of them start sooner, 2-4 years old. but usually, in the 8-10 range. however, even after studying a language for 10 years, for most of them [like my homeroom class] i was the first American they ever heard speak the language in person. consider that. it blows me away. these students have struggled hard to learn our language since they were SO young, but always from a chinese person. and now that they have a *real* american in front of them, they are sometimes overwhelmed. none of them have "locked-up" during their short 1 or 2-minute improvisational speeches--they are quite prepared and capable of speaking just fine--but they aren't confident about their pronounciation and intonation, because they acknowledge the limitations of learning from non-native speakers. [i have met plenty of the chinese english teachers--and they have great vocabularies and speak understandably, but their pronounciation isn't quite right...not unlike the french teachers i had in high school, i realized yesterday when i was thinking about this].

okay, this is all for this posting. it should update you about my school-life. i've done the baseball/animals talk 4 times now, and it seems to be working well. they are wonderfully engaged in figuring the rules of baseball [not as easy as "when they hit it i catch it and when they throw it i hit it"...who said that?]--they each get a scoresheet and we watch a game, so that helps them organize their minds about the batting order and defensive positions--and they are also thinking hard about the lives of animals. i can't stress enough what kind of "thinkers" these students are. they are incredibly trained in that precious skill.............blob

Thursday, July 15, 2004

china is a country in motion

i don't mean this metaphorically. i mean this literally. one of the first things i noticed in beijing, at the top of the alleyway that our hotel was located down [a "hutong"] was an adult playground. there were brightly-colored swinging-stepper machines, machines to stand on and twist the hips, and nordic track-type skiing machines. and when i got out of bed at 5am the next morning and took a walk around the awakening city, i noticed there were many people, old people, using the machines. other people were riding their bikes to work, or home from work. since then though, now that we are in wuhan, there is an athletic field near our hotel and i go there every day. i was there last night, and there were no less than 150 people--men women children toddlers grandparents etc--simply doing things. walking around the track. running around the track, in skirts and blouses sometimes, carrying a purse. doing gymnastics on public sets of parallel bars. young couples shooting baskets with each other. she in nice pants and shirt, he shirtless. hitting a badminton birdie back and forth. playing short-field soccer. volleyball. pull-ups on the pull-up bars. everyone was in motion. there was one older man, 62 he told me, simply walking around the grass, who would say one thing to me each time he passed. where from? how old? good sport [in reference to my frisbee-playing, something no one here has ever seen]. the last thing he said was: "outdoor exercise is good for the health." he was right, and it made me think about the *health clubs* i had exercised in while in america. mainly stinky places, rank with years of sweat. fungus growing in the showers, even at the nice clubs. recirculated sweaty breathy air. definitely not outdoor exercise. and the most beautiful thing about the cultural scene of the athletic field last night--other than the majestic beauty of the field and natural surroundings itself--is that it was all free. provided by the country, because it places a value on healthy people. a people on the move, literally, and figuratively.

time for breakfast, and to teach about american baseball again this morning......blob

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

first full day of teaching

well, the first day is over. it went very well i think. i had a good time with my students. i taught for the first 2 hours about baseball, trying to teach them the rules and explaining all the different defensive positions and their role. then i asked them to give a one-minute impromptu speech with three reasons why they wanted to play a particular position. most of them picked pitcher, but a couple picked catcher [astutely, because that player can see all the other players in front of him], and one wisely picked first-base because she said she didn't run very fast and wouldn't make a good outfielder.

after baseball class, we had break, and then did the dialog class. it was talking about pets with friends. i played them the video of my friend mike and his dog loki, and of my friend dan and his three cats. loki's tricks were especially well-received [especially "bang-bang"] as was dan's ode to bucky: "i saw bucky in the kitchen he was eating some food...]. then i passed out the beanie babies i had collected before i came and had them partner-up and talk to each other about their "pets."

then came listening class. we listened to part of a baseball game and i taught them how to listen for the starting lineups and set-up a baseball scorecard, which i had printed up for them. the thing was, i had a tape of the Reds' announcers--marty and joe--and joe is slurring many of his words now...he has horrible pronounciation.

we had a 2.5-hour lunch break after that, and then i did my pets class. i mainly talked a lot about the vocabulary necessary to understand americans talking about their pets [humane society, breeder, neuter, spay, "fix," etc] then talked about why americans have pets and whether the word pets is a word that minimizes the sentient nature of what some people are now calling companion animals. i also worked through a moral dilemma with them: if your dog whom you love and your worst enemy are in a burning house, and you can save only one, who would you save? most said the human, but i was happy that some said their dog!

after teaching, some of us went down to the athletic field. it is a larger-than-full-size track, with open space in the middle, that is carved into the hill we are on. a very traditional and majestic building sits perched above the field. it makes me feel like i am doing something important, and that the chinese value fitness, to be creating such an unbelievable public facility for it. and there are always people of all ages out there simply exercising. there are also basketball courts, some gymnastic equipment, pull-up bars, and volleyball nets. also, people just come with their friend and play badminton with each other. they are outside, being active, in a public way. and not in a gym or health-club. i took my baseball gloves there, and while some of the other teachers played a basketball game, i approached 4 young men and offered a glove to one of them. he was initially bashful, but then his friends goaded him into accepting it. he honestly didn't really know how to put it on, and certainly didn't know how to catch with it at first. but he picked it up, and his friend would cheer him on ["good job good job good job"] when he caught the ball. then they each took turns. they were fascinated with this new sport. not unlike my students, who were also fascinated and played a little bit of catch in the classroom during our break. the people i have met here so far are people who will try things. it is a healthy curiousity and i appreciate seeing it.

after exercising, we came back to the hotel and had dinner. it is now buffet-style each meal, and there is a good variety ranging from plain tofu to spicy dishes. and my friend frank has managed to get the two of us some hot sauce to use with each meal. tonite we had breaded lotus roots, lo mein, a shrimp/celery dish, and a few others that i can't remember. the food is quite good again, and i'm glad that in the 4 days we've been here, we are back to eating traditional dishes.

oh, on the playground, when i was messing around on some gymnastics equipment [parallel bars if you really want to know], i was approached by an older gentleman in long pants and no shirt. he was quite a character and he had a little girl, seemingly his grand-daughter with him. after he was around for a minute or two, he asked about me in english. then he said he was an english teacher here himself. he had been a student here in the early-60s, and was hired to be a teacher after he graduated, but the university shut down during the cultural revolution until 1970, and that is when he officially started teaching. the little girl meanwhile, had also jumped up onto the parallel bars by now and was looking right at me. figuring that her grandfather was giving her a lot of tutorials in english, i asked her her name. she said very sweetly: my name is tina, T-I-N-A. then i asked her age. i am six years old. i started talking to the father again, and then Tina said something to him in chinese...he turned to me and said "she has some things she wants to tell you about her family." "my father is very tall. my mother is very ba-yoot-iful. my father has big eyes. he has a big nose. he has a big mouth. my father is very croo-el. my mother has big eyes. she has a big nose. she has a big mouth. my mother is very ba-yoot-iful." it was all incredibly precious, and i dismissed the cruel part after her grandfather laughed when she said that--i confirmed with him, did she say cruel or cool?--mainly because i figure the mother might have been putting those thoughts in her head :] after this, grandpa and tina said goodbye and walked away, and i got to thinking, this child was very lucky. she was learning english at 6 years old!! would that any americans were learning chinese at that age...she will learn so much about an important country and culture.

that's all for tonite. i'm exhausted. and oh, about the weather. it has been hot, but i don't think any hotter [maybe 90 degrees] that a hot summer back in ohio. we have had good rain and cloud-cover every day since i got here, so i hope that continues. ha!

keep in touch, blob

Monday, July 12, 2004

first day of teaching

today was the first day of teaching, sort of. we got to meet our "homeroom" class and introduce ourselves to each other. i was genuinely impressed by them. i simply can't imagine so many americans participating in a program like this about the chinese language. from what i can tell, almost every chinese student [other than those in the most rural villages] starts learning english, and japanese, at about 10 years old.

as for the nuts-and-bolts, i asked them to introduce themselves, tell their age-major-hometown, and whether they had ever had any pets or knew anything about baseball. they all rose to the front of the room and did at least an adequate job. a couple of them were outstanding. after this, i introduced the curriculum, then since we were ahead of schedule [the welcome group meeting that was charted to take 2+hours only took one hour] i simply answered questions about america. i thought some of them showed that they had thoguht about their own culture enough to wonder if other cultures were different: do you have a close emotional relationship with your parents? who is your idol? how many countries have you been to? how many languages do you speak? there were also simple questions: do you have your own apartment? what are your hobbies? it was nice to tell them about america, not because it is a perfect country, but because i could see they were thinking critically about it...something perhaps not that many americans themselves do.

when i was talking with my class today, i was almost ashamed at the lack of language-learning that we do in america. seems to me that learning language is so much more than learning simply how to speak. learning language is learning culture. and that is what the chinese and so many other people are doing. they start early, they learn more than one foreign language, and they genuinely seemed intrigued and interested in other cultures. when i told them that foreign language learning in america generally didn't start until high school and then it was only for 2-3 years, they were incredulous. i am not sure if they were disappointed because they held america in high esteem, or if i was confirming their suspicions that america was insular and self-absorbed. one perceptive student prefaced a follow-up question with "but america is a very young country..." which at least shows she is thinking about issues with a historical perspective. i have heard this same sentiment in europe. maybe we as a country are in our "terrible twos"...after finishing two centuries of relatively tolerable/understandable behavior, we have now grown to be demanding and assertive and offensive.

more nuts-and-bolts: we are eating all our meals in the hotel dining room. this system is great for me since i am used to living above a restaurant and having easy access to food. ha! however, the cooks are still negotiating to figure out how best to serve us. sadly, the first day we were here, they bombarded us with way too much food, and some of the more timid members of the group started to rebel against the sauces and lack of plain, bland food [which they are apparently used to eating back home]. now we are getting too little food, and it is boring. dishes like plain tofu. not that there isn't always at least a dish or two at each meal which has good flavor, but we have gone from one extreme to the other. i am sure the pendulum will swing back to the middle soon. i am not getting involved though i have made a passive aggressive comment in small-group situations that maybe we should have one of the two 10-person tables be for people who want plain, bland, american-style food, and the other table for people who came to china to eat the way chinese do.

that's all for now. i will try to get some photos back to mom soon and if you want to see them you can ask, instead of receiving photos you may not want :]


day 2 in wuhan

we spent another day getting ready today. more meetings, more discussion, etc. the best part was seeing our classrooms. they aren't pretty--kinda like the rooms i've always taught in at OSU--but they have huge wide-screen TVs in them that are hooked up to computers, DVD players, and opaque projectors. really great equipment. the desks are bolted to the floor, in rows. i will try to make a photo available sometime soon.

as for the weather, it has rained for both days we've been here. the temps have probably been in the high-80s, making the air outside kinda soupy. no complaints though--i spend a lot of my time holed up in the hotel. we eat all three meals here in a dining room around big tables with a lazy-susan that the attendants are constantly putting dishes of food onto, and also our program's computer lounge is set-up here. however, after dinner tonite a couple friends and i actually made it down the hill part of the way, to a nearby athletic field, and threw a frisbee i brought.i would also like to show you a photo of the field we played on, with a big track around it. it is sunken into the mountain [hill] a little, and there is an unbelievably majestic traditional-style building perched overlooking it. it is quite dramatic and impressive. the chinese seem to pay particular attention to landscapes and creating powerful visual effects.

tomorrow we meet our students for the first time. everything the last 5 days [5 or 6 weeks really] has been leading up to this moment. it has been easy to forget the last few days--as we toured the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square--that we are in fact here for one purpose mainly: to teach. but now, it is upon us and it is time to show the Wuhan University that we are worthy. i sure hope it goes well. i know i will try to put on a great day over-and-over again for the students who come through my class.

i hope everyone is well and i would love to hear from you. i know there is a Comments feature on the blog, but i am having some technical difficulties and it's hard enough to get my posts up there so i can't really manage to check those yet. so if you can, please email me because it helps me feel connected and not halfway around the world.


Saturday, July 10, 2004

Day 3, arriving in Wuhan

we took the night train in from Beijing and arrived this morning. it was great. the folks at wuhan university are really taking care of us. we had sleeper cars [i may post a photo later] and simply boarded at 8:30, had a snack in the dining car, watched movies on our TVs, and woke up outside wuhan around 6:30am. it was already HOT and muggy here...our camera lenses fogged up when we tried to use them to take a picture of the train.

we were met at the train by helpers from WU and taken by bus straight to our hotel. it is also very nice. i have sent a couple photos to some of you, but you can get them from my mom if you want. she would be more than happy to send them to you!!

i will write more later. i should say that i am having trouble accessing the blog-software though...i know that some of you have posted comments on there, but i can't see them. i'd love to hear from you so email me if you can until i get this all figured out :]


Friday, July 09, 2004

on the way to Wuhan

hey folks...........went to the great wall yesterday. i have already sent photos back home. if you want to see them, please write to my mom []. the great wall was all it was billed to be--great. there were lots of tourists there, mainly chinese, which was nice to
see. i am glad the place wasn't over-run with americans. after the trip to the great wall--the part we went to was about 60 km from the downtown--we went for lunch and then to the Ming Tombs. this was kinda morbid. it was an area of 40 with 13 humungous areas for each emperor's tomb. sorta like university
buildings around a quad. but a cemetery of a quad. i was glad to leave, though i must admit with the mountains all around and the cedar trees, it was quite an appealing location otherwise.

today we go to the forbidden city and then to tianamen square. i am not sure what to expect out of either of those other than i've heard there's a starbucks infringing on the gates of the forbidden city [which had to be asked to remove its sign, well, probably not *asked*] and i think there will be a small insignificant memorial to the presumably hundreds of young chinese students who were slaughtered at tianamen square in 1989.

after our sightseeing today, we will board an overnight train to wuhan at 7:30. i guess we will have sleepers and simply wake up in wuhan. we have had an excellent time in beijing, mainly because wuhan university set us up with an incredible guide and tour bus. everything is completely orchestrated for our comfort, oh yeah, even the side-trip to the jade factory on the way to the wall. [very touristy, i have a feeling the tour company got a little kickback of what we spent].

so, we will check into our university hotel tomorrow morning. internet access should be easier there--many of the folks brought laptops and supposedly we have ports in our i can reply to the great emails i've been receiving from many of you. thanks a lot for those and keep them coming!!!!!!!!!!!


Thursday, July 08, 2004


hey we're here.....just getting ready to go to sleep......the flights were surprisingly manageable and we were met at the airport and put on a bus to dinner, then straight to the hotel. it is a traditional chinese hotel..........more tomorrow, time for bed....blob

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

leaving in the morning

alright, it's time for bed and i have a 7:15 flight to catch...first to atlanta, then san fran, then to beijing...we arrive there at 5:15pm the following day [wednesday]...hopefully i'll find a place in beijing to get online and let everyone know that i arrived safely!! blob

Sunday, July 04, 2004

teaching plans for china

i just updated the Teaching page on my website, so that you can see the teaching plans for the classes i'll teach each day. i have two topics in american culture--baseball and animals--and teach 2-hour lessons for each of those. of course the lesson is only an hour, culminating in a 3-5 minute formal speech...and then the second hour is reserved for students to either create their own impromptu speeches based on a portion of my lesson, or to simply deliver the same speech i did. the other teaching plans are for my one-hour dialog class and one-hour listening comprehension class. so the day shapes up like this:

8-10am topic #1: American Baseball
10-11am dialog class: Talking about "pets" with friends
11-noon listening class: Watching and listening to American Baseball
12-2:30pm lunch/break
2:30-4:30 topic #2: Animal Rights and Americans and their pets

so, that will be my usual day in Wuhan, as far as i can tell........blob

Saturday, July 03, 2004

three more daze!

still getting excited, still collecting more materials to use on the trip. last night i added a handful of stuffed animals from [this isn't as complicated as it sounds] my sister's boyfriend's 10 year-old daughter abby. i will use this for my one-hour dialog class, "Talking about pets with friends." i will pair up the 20 students and give each pair an animal and they will have a conversation about it, as if it were a pet for one of them and the other was trying to learn as much as possible. then we'll switch animals and the other person will ask questions. sounds like fun, huh? i'm not really sure. we'll just have to wait and see how it goes :]


photos of Wuhan

i am still trying to figure out if i am going to be able to upload photos to my the meantime, some of you may want to check out these photos which are available on the web:

Wuhan photos

actually, i found this link and it is also very good [probably better]:

more Wuhan photos

more later, blob

purpose of the blog

i think i can handle this blog is idiot-proof...whoever designed should be applauded......the purpose of my blog will be a journal of a teaching trip i am taking to china. i will be teaching at Wuhan University in an intensive spoken english program for five weeks...the two topics which i will teach--every day, to revolving groups of 20 students--are "baseball in american culture" and "americans and their pets and animal rights in america"...i hope to have easy internet access so i can post daily entries and maybe even some photos........that's all for now, blob

just getting started

hey this is the first time i've ever experimented with blogs. i only read one for the first time a couple daze ago and now i am starting my own!! sincerely, blob

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