Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Stories I need to remember before they're forgotten:
-the extortion dudes
-ljl at tian shang
-first night at the host fam
-meeting panda
-subsequent meetings with panda
-9/11 potion guy
-meeting ljl
-ting ting, her parents, brother

Thursday, September 25, 2008

club china

From being back to the US for a solid three weeks. Anyone who's been to China will know that you can't really understand what it's like until you've been. And even if you have been, there's a good chance that if you stayed in Beijing or Shanghai you'd probably not really get it.

Monday, July 14, 2008

final act

Last Friday was perhaps my final school-related activity, I was asked by the waiban to take part in a series of interviews of students affected by the May 12th WenChuan earthquake. The interviews were part of a program run by SUNY in which 150 full scholarships would be given to college students who had family members in or around the Sichuan quake area. The scholarships would be given to the students with the best English level and most genuine interest in spending a year in the United States.

There were a total of 47 interviews, of which only seven were English majors. During the interviews, a panel of 14 teachers including myself, quizzed the student on why he or she wanted to study in America, his or her goals, and what the student intended to do if chosen to go. Each interview lasted 5-10 minutes depending on how proficient the student was in English. If the student had exceptional English, the interview would last a bit longer. In the longer interviews, the panel further assessed the student's ability to explain what he or she knows about American culture or what the student planned to study with respect to his or her major. Of the 47 potential students, only ten were chosen based on a combined average score given by the panel.

A number of the interviews ended abruptly when it was determined that the student had either no real desire to go to the US to study or didn't have the confidence or language ability to sit through a university level class in English. One student came in and had absolutely no idea why she was there. She awkwardly came into the conference room, sat down in the chair facing the panel, and introduced herself. When one of the teachers asked why she wanted to go to America to study, she replied, "I didn't know this was to go to America". The teacher then answered, "OK, you're dismissed". Actually a lot of the interviews ended that way. "You're dismissed". It was very Apprentice board room style. Only the students who had no real shot and needed to be booted out were given the "You're dismissed" comment.

In all it took four hours to go through the 47 interviews. By the end, my brain was numb from listening and interpreting, then having to ask a fresh insightful question to the interviewee. It was fun though as I was given complete discretion over what questions I wanted to ask. Additionally I was more or less consulted when the other members of the panel thought it was necessary to end the interview. As I was sitted on the side of the conference table, the rest of the panel turned to me and I either nodded in agreement which perhaps prompted the "You're dismissed" or I asked a follow-up question and continued the dialogue.

I ended up asking a lot of interpretive questions about differences between China and the US. The questions could have been understood in a number of different contexts, perhaps even negatively, but I think the fact I was only asking the question and not suggesting or pointing to a response made it relatively harmless. A few students said they were interested in journalism to whom I asked what the differences between Western, specifically American media and Chinese media. Towards the end of the interviews I started to get weary, and began asking sharper questions. There was one geography major who I believe failed the interview because I asked her which continent America was on. When she didn't know the word "continent" the panel laughed and after one more question she was given a "You're dismissed".

After finishing the last interview, the teachers went into a separate conference room where we all ate lunch. Perhaps it was the heat or the exhaustion after interviewing students for four consecutive hours, but I don't think there was a single word uttered during the meal. After lunch we went back into the conference room with the 15 finalists from the original 47. The 15 finalists were then asked to give a short impromptu speech about why his or her experiences during the earthquake and what he or she could learn from traveling to the US to study. Again the panel gave a score and after another hour the field was finally narrowed down to ten.

As I left the conference room after everything was over, I stopped by the room where the remaining students were filling out forms that would allow them to enter the next round of interviews in Chengdu. I told them they should be proud of how professional they were and gave them tips about how to appeal to a group of people choosing a potential overseas student. I said the first and foremost thing to remember was confidence. I'm not sure whether this was the best advice I could have given them, but I felt that any panel review would rather choose a Chinese student who had the confidence to speak up in class, ask questions, and find a circle of friends as opposed to a student who lacked that confidence. Especially when the interviews are only 5-10 minutes, impressions are everything, and confidence can go a long way...


Sunday, June 29, 2008

little raisin

Our last party of the year finished an hour ago. The occasion was for Sarah's birthday, but it ended up being a zombie theme party, largely in part due to lots of recent talk about zombies and the undead - I've been reading a lot of the Zombie Survival Guide for one reason or the other. It's also been interesting comparing the differences between Chinese zombies and Western zombies. As if there weren't many cultural differences already present, our conceptions of zombies are also quite dissimilar. The Chinese zombie (jiang shi) has red eyes and doesn't walk but jumps upwards of five meters in order to travel, and holds its arms straight out perpindicular to the body. The word "zombie" doesn't translate that well either, as in most dictionaries its listed as "ma mu bu ren de ren" which means someone who is apathetic and uncaring, but has nothing to do with being risen from the dead. And by the way.... -> No, not all we do is party in Nanchong. And when we do party, it's a cultural exchange; the goal is not to get inebriated. We invite all the Chinese people we can. People who can't speak English are encouraged to come. No one is ever denied admission, even if they don't have a costume. At our last party we raised 400 yuan for the earthquake disaster relief. <-

Anyway, I dressed up in my old security guard outfit that I don't think I've worn since '06. Coincidentally, the first Peace Corps party thrown in Nanchong was a Halloween party that Sarah and I organized. I wore the guard outfit then as well. It's strange how it all comes full circle. Not many people came to the party unfortunately. It was organized more or less last minute, and all of my students were either busy studying for exams or had already left. Li Jia Li also had to study, but stopped by for ten minutes or so to say hello.

The previous week, I visited Xi Chong with Sarah at the request of a student of mine, Mariska. Mariska called me and asked me to find a foreigner who could teach an oral English class at her parent's summer school for one week. I told her I would try, and when I wasn't able to find one, I said I would do it, and being the super Peace Corps volunteer team we are, I invited Sarah to come along. The road leading to Xi Chong is largely unpaved and large sections of the road are under heavy construction. Traveling in Mariska's father's rickety van took more time than it should have, because going fast just meant hitting the pot holes and loose rocks with more speed. Finally Sarah and I got there after around an hour and a half of bumping up and down and were immediately escorted in through the front door of the classroom to an uproarious applause from 25 middle school students.

We hadn't really prepared much in terms of teaching content, but then again, it's much easier to teach kids than it is to teach college students. The level of English proficiency is higher at a university as opposed to a primary school. Naturally its rewarding when a teacher can have a dialogue with a student about something a tad bit more relevant than numbers or greetings. In return, however, it takes more time to create ideas for such classes, especially when the number of students exceeds 40. For me it was actually a relief as a change of pace to be able to go to a new classroom with new students and be able to use material that would not necessarily be intellectually challenging but stimulating simply because it was fun.

It was difficult getting into teaching mode after getting out of the car. I had initially expected a short walk to the school and then a brief chat with another teacher perhaps followed by lunch and then our class time. What happened was the van door was opened, Sarah and I were herded out and paraded into the classroom where the students were already waiting for us. As the classroom was one room and open to the outside street, we had barely a few seconds to murmur our plans as we stood in the front of the class. We went with "Simon Says" for our first activity, then taught and sang "If you're happy and you know it".

Mariska had said that the English level of the students was quite low, some not even knowing the ABCs, but in fact most already knew the body parts we were teaching them for Simon Says. The more difficult vocabulary we taught them were "feet" (as opposed to foot which they knew) and "eyebrow". It was a good thing Mariska was there with us because as good as Sarah and my Chinese is, it would take a long time to explain how to play Simon Says in Chinese. Mariska more or less acted as our teaching assistant/translator as Sarah and I explained directions in English and had her say them to the students.

After class was over, Sarah and I went with Mariska, her parents, and another owner of the summer school to eat lunch at an upscale restaurant nearby where we had just taught. We were offered remuneration for coming out to Xi Chong and having the class, but being Peace Corps volunteers we politely declined and explained that as volunteers we can't accept money for something like this. I suggested giving the money intended for us instead to the earthquake relief, and I can only hope that it will be used as such, but in all likelihood it probably will just be pocketed.

Mariska wanted to take us around Xi Chong city, with a population of ~600,000, and show us some "beautiful sites". Sarah and I both agreed and we walked around the enormous square, saw a local high school, and then walked to Mariska's home. It was a nice house within a primary school campus. It was actually one of the most comfortable Chinese homes I had ever been inside. Almost everything was made from wood, including the walls and cabinets. The sofas were soft and plush, and after having ganbei'd several times at lunch, it wasn't difficult at all to fall asleep and take a nap. We ended up playing many games of Dou Di Zhu before deciding to head back to Nanchong. Mariska's mother had offered us a place to stay for the night and suggested we go back to Nanchong the following morning, but we had to return (for something very important) that evening.

On the way to the bus station in Xi Chong, I managed to again leave my phone in a taxi. I now lay to rest the fourth phone I have purchased over the past two years here in China. The taxi we were all in was such shit too, the door wouldn't close, it had no rear view mirrors, and the springs were popping out of the backseat cushions. The driver was a real asshole, too, and asked Sarah and me for money, even though Mariska was paying, when he refused to give us change for a 50 kuai bill. No wonder when I left the cab and got on the bus and realized my phone was gone, it had already been turned off (presumedly by the cab driver) in order to prevent myself or a friend from calling it. Asshole... It's not even the phone that matters, it was really the phone numbers that the phone had inside. I lost a few contacts that I'll have to wait for them to get in touch with me before I can call them back.

The real problem was getting a new cell card with my old phone number. Thankfully when you lose a cell phone the thief will just sell the phone and trash the cell card. In Chile when I lost my phone and got my old number back, people continually called me thinking they were going to get in touch with whomever had stolen my phone. Because my phone card was opened by a student of mine from two years ago, I had to get in touch with her and prove that I was indeed the owner of my phone card and not a crazy foreigner who likes to steal girls' phone numbers. Forget the fact that I was able to supply the last numbers dialed from the phone and times, China Mobile required me to get the ID number of the student who opened the account for me. Also forget the fact that for some reason when I lost my phone the previous three times I never had to get in touch with the student. In the end I tracked her down and got my phone number back. All is well.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Google

Talking to some students about Bush the other day. Someone had a joke book with some good Bush jokes in it.

Wasting time on YouTube.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABli2MT3-r8&feature=related
I think is my favorite.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

formal party

The formal party was a huge success. In all we raised nearly 400 kuai for the earthquake relief efforts. I was initially worried that the party would be misinterpreted by colleagues or other Chinese people living in my building given that the previous week extracurricular activities were canceled schoolwide and three days of national mourning were in effect. We Nanchongren organized a schedule of activities for the party in which we'd be raising money and entertaining at the same time.

Here's how it went down:
7:45 - Moment of silence followed by candle lighting
8:00 - Start of sale of tickets for raffle and candy giveaway. Raffle for two CDs. Candy giveaway entailed people guessing how many candies were in a plastic bear jar. Closest person won. Raffle and candy giveaway tickets were each one yuan.
8:30 - Raffle giveaway. Loopy and Jason each won
9:00 - Candy giveaway announcement. Total number of candies was 51. The candy was split between two people, one of whom guessed 50 and the other 52. The extra candy was given to the person who guessed the furthest from the actual number, one of my students, Peggy; a guess of 140.
9:30 - Magic trick. I rocked the floating cigarette. If you're curious what the floating cigarette is, check my youtube for a practice show before I did the real thing. It's not an easy trick, and there are still some fine points I'm honing, but I think the overall reception was good. A few of my students asked me why I don't teach them this in class. Some of Durf's students were unimpressed, however.
9:35 - Fashion show. Guys and girls walk down the dance floor to music and strut their best moves. Congrats to Bo Tao and Sarah, winners of the male and female parts respectively.
10:30 - Announcement of the final money count ~ 400 yuan.
10:45 - Departure to roof to light fireworks. The blasts were so loud that car alarms on the ground floor were set off.
11:00 - Departure to Tian Shang for post party.

Great night... Oh, and who made such a cool invitation for the party? I do that for free, too. Anyone need an invitation made?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

back to school

This week was the first teaching week since the earthquake two weeks ago. It was difficult to get started again. I was tired and lethargic through the first class, and I had really no reason to be, either. I hadn't taught for nearly 13 days and for some reason in class I had to summon up my energies and get through it.

McDonald's is back open again. The last time I was downtown (last Saturday) it was at night and the McDonald's, typically open 24/7, was closing down at around 9:00.

There was an aftershock this afternoon while I was teaching class. I was staring at the class watching them do group work when all of a sudden the class erupted in a bloodcurdling shriek. Two boys jumped out the window and bolted down the street. I didn't even feel it. I took the class outside for the remainder of the class time which fortunately was only 20 minutes.

I decided to close the blog for a bit out of fear some of the posts on here might be interpreted as too controversial at a time when foreigners and negativity were heavily scrutinized. I suppose in the end I was overestimating the influence of this blog, but I can't help but think that someone within my immediate community checks this ever so often. Saying the wrong thing, or saying something that could be perceived as negative, especially during this recent period, could get me in some trouble.

More stories soon.