December 27, 2008 Wrap up Another Christmas
Late breaking update: I just got through to my sister Catherine in Maple Ridge B.C., and got the best Christmas news. Catherine and my cousin Belle will visit me in China in June. The plans are set. Yesssssss (pumps fist in air).
Boxing Day, I
tried calling home using Skype, but the bandwidth must have
been absorbed by the holiday, so I only managed to talk to my
mother at 11:30pm Vancouver time. Still, the call got
through on Christmas Day in Maple Ridge, B.C., so that
I can see how people get hooked on philanthropy. We spent part of Christmas Day and Boxing Day handing out money. Can't think of a better way to spend Christmas. This year, thanks to the added generosity of Reid Mitchell, we were able to help almost everybody who asked.
The money went to:
- help several students buy train or bus tickets to go home for the holidays.
- buy a father a warm coat because he works outdoors.
- buy both parents padded jackets against the cold.
- buy a mother a pair of comfortable shoes.
- provide fees for an English Translator exam, an Advanced Translation test, and an English Proficiency test.
- buy medication to help a father quit smoking. (Even if it doesn't work, the gift sends a message.)
- pay some medical bills plus end of term living expenses.
Perhaps the most touching story was from a student who has a terminally ill friend. The friend has never seen the ocean, so our applicant wants to take him to Hainan Dao to walk on the beach. At first we were a little reluctant to support this: We are not the Make a Wish Foundation. But we were moved by the fact that the applicant has already saved 2,000 yuan toward this goal, and was only asking for a small amount to make it possible.
December 25, 2008 The Christmas
Another Christmas in China almost over. This evening Ruth and
I listened to Patrick Stewart reading "A Christmas Carol", marveled
once again at the genius of Dickens, and marveled anew at the talent
of Patrick Stewart. What an inspiring use of language. What a
It's been a great day. Quiet. We started this morning at
8:00am with two back to back Christmas parties for our students in
our regularly scheduled Oral English classes. We loaded our fully
decorated fake tree, my guitar, and a big bag of candies into
my 三轮车 sān lún chē and peddled off to class. We told Christmas
stories. We sang songs. I described the process of
creating and serving a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
We Christmassed to the max, then got home in time to see
ourselves on the noon news. Wuxi News Channel 1 put on a great
clip about my bicycle helmet initiative, thanks to Simon (Wang
Tao), my self-appointed press agent.
One of the
things about leaving our own culture is the fear of medical or
dental problems. We are comfortable with the doctor and
dentist that we know. This has been a minor concern for me
since I arrived in China, and last week it came to center
stage with a thud. Late at night one of my front caps fell off
into my lap. I put it back on, and it didn't bother me
at all, except it fell off again twice in the next few days,
once at a restaurant during dinner and once in my half waking
morning sleep. Of course there are two worries with this.
One being that the tooth underneath the cap will deteriorate or rot,
and the other being that I could swallow it in my sleep.
Obviously something had to be done.
Christmas Eve - the Performance:
Ruth and I were invited to perform two songs for the students and faculty of the Department of Science, as part of an elaborate program in the large science center auditorium. We sang one Chinese song, 童年 (tóng nián -Childhood) and Ruth gave them "There is Life", a beautiful song she wrote for her father. Never was there a more receptive or supportive audience.
Our biggest culture shock here is caused by the Chinese habit of keeping doors open, no matter what the weather. We can understand not heating the buildings. But leaving the doors wide open to the great outdoors once the audience is in place and the performances have started? Incomprehensible.
December 22, 2008 Marking the News Reading Exam
It takes me 4
minutes and 54 seconds to mark each paper, and there are about
90 students in the course. So we're talking 7.5 hours of
marking. That's not counting time spent brewing coffee,
or practicing the violin, or stretching and looking out the
window, or playing with the dog. That's solid time in,
if I really motor through each paper. And that doesn't count
data entry. I'm just over three quarters of the way through it
If I had any modesty at all, I'd be blushing. And I'd feel like I was misrepresenting myself if this response were not so typical of the paragraphs the students have written. This takes the drudgery out of marking papers. If I have to sit for eight solid hours doing tedious work, it's sure nice to have an indication of success and appreciation at the end of each exam paper. No wonder I love these kids.
December 21, 2008 Accidental Helmet Sale
A couple of weeks ago, at an English class for a local company's executives, I told the story of my helmet campaign in China. I wasn't trying to sell helmets, but that's what happened. Two of my students wanted helmets for their kids. Up to this point I haven't had any children's helmets, because I've been concentrating on my students, all university age. But I added a few children's helmets to my next order from the factory. By the time they arrived, my corporate class had been cancelled. So today, Lucy and her husband brought their charming daughter, Jenny, to our home to get a helmet.
I tell ya, One television ad in China would sell a million helmets. Instantly. Hey, I wonder if they have a Shopping Channel here...
December 21 Be Prepared
"Be prepared, and be careful not to do
Today is the
deadline for applications to our Christmas Bursary Fund. We'll give
it until midnight tonight.
Last night the English Flying Bar threw a party for the foreigners. We sang Christmas songs, and shared our Christmas traditions. I told the rather bizarre story of how Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer came into the culture, via Macy's in New York and Gene Autry, "the singing cowboy". The students reciprocated with songs of their own. I think it's safe to say that a good time was had by all. I'm grateful to the students. They make us all feel so welcome and valued here, when we are all so far from home.
December 19, 2008 Only in China
December 14, 2008 Helmet Design Competition Winners
Last night the English Flying Bar presented the finalists in the first Man in China Helmet Design Competition.
Ruth and I were supposed to be two of the three judges, but we quickly realized that we couldn't understand enough of the presentations, which were mostly delivered in Chinese, to make any valid assessments. Quick thinking Panda reorganized the judging to make it a vote by all those present, which was much more fair. Here's the first prize winner.
And the other cash prize runner ups.
I'm happy with the results, though some of my favourite designs didn't win any prizes. Here are a few I really liked that didn't make the final cut.
The helmet contest was a great success from my point of view. I intended it to get the students thinking about bicycle helmets, and that it certainly did. I was very impressed with the thought, attention and art that went into the work, and I was particularly pleased to see so many Chinese cultural themes and images inspiring the designs. If the competition told me anything it's that Chinese helmet makers should wake up to marketing to their own people. It also confirmed my belief that the bicycle helmet industry is asleep with it comes to design potentials. What a rich load of ideas these kids came up with on the first run at it. Wow. (top of page)
December 13, 2008 Our Annual Christmas Bursary
Ruth and I decided that we had enough "stuff" in our lives,
and that neither of us really wanted or needed anything from the
other for Christmas, except maybe a hug and a kiss. So
we took our Christmas present money and put it into a bursary fund
for Jiangnan University students.
Among the recipients last year we gave:
-To buy a blood pressure machine for a student's father and small Christmas gift for his girl friend.
-To buy books, pay an English test fee, get a medical check-up for mother, and buy a bicycle for father.
-So that a student could go home for Spring Festival
-To pay for a student's mother to see a doctor, pay part of siblings' tuition, and buy new clothes for parents.
-To pay the fees for an Oral English test and repay a debt.
-To allow a student to focus on studying for exams instead of being forced to take a job.
-To buy a student a train ticket home and pay end of term living expenses.
None of these bursaries were huge amounts. The most we gave to any one student was 600 RMB.
Please note: we do not give to finance any business ideas.
You don't need
to be in desperate need to ask us for money, but please
consider your situation. If your family is doing okay,
compared to other students, maybe there are students more in need
Last year one of our student friends decided he liked this idea. So he and his girlfriend made a donation to the bursary fund for us to distribute. What a great thing to do! If you feel the way we do about the bounty in our lives, please feel free to contribute. We'll make sure the money is well spent. (Top of Page)
December 12, 2008 Captain of the World?
It's compulsive behavior. I can't help it. Somehow I got elected Captain of the World. Or else it's my father jumping out from inside me. This morning I tried to stop myself, but just couldn't.
After class this morning I stepped out onto the second floor balcony
and looked down on the courtyard where a group of foreigners were
talking. One of them dropped his cigarette and ground it out on the
tiles. Now, I had a choice. I could have just written him off
as one more smoking pig, and walked away feeling superior.
Or I could go and tell him what I thought of his behavior.
Guess which one I chose.
Are you students here?"
I feel bad about this. I know he isn't really sorry. Smokers are
just like that, totally oblivious to how much they stink, to how
nasty they make the restaurant air when they all light up after
dinner. When I was a smoker, I was like that myself, and there's
nothing more sanctimonious, more holier than thou, than a
reformed sinner. Walking away from the trash can, I smelled my
glove. It stank.
December 7, 2008 Ruth's Old Friends, New Friends for Me
to those who check in on The Man in China regularly. I'm not
updating as often as I used to. This isn't because nothing is
happening. More because too much is happening and I'm getting
stressed for time.
Karen came to our combined Oral English classes to field questions from the students and talk about her efforts to get Barack Obama elected. She was very active during the election campaign, including doing some door to door surveys to help "get out the vote".
This past weekend we took them to explore the nearby village, check out the "straining membrane" rest area in the wetlands park, and show them a few of the sites in Wuxi. Bruce is a fan of street food, and likes exploring the markets. We also stopped in at the big computer store, Meng Zhi Dao (Dream Island), where Ruth and I picked up some incredible 16 gigabyte flash drives and I got a 4 gigabyte flash drive the size of my thumb nail. Amazing technology, except the 16 gig flash drives don't work and will have to be returned. Arrrrrgghhhh.
Santa has arrived at the Wuxi Grand Hotel. Next we'll be hearing "All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth" in the local supermarket.
I've sold all but a few of my first order of 100 bike helmets. Time to reorder.
This time I'm including a few children's helmets, because I accidentally sold a couple (merely by telling the parents about my helmet campaign) at my evening adult class off campus.
November 27, 2008 Thankful Indeed
Face" is what greeted me when I walked into my first class this
morning. Under each "pumpkin pie" as they are called here, though
they bear no resemblance to the pies we know back home, was a
personal Post-it note. My favourite was: "Wish you
happy every day. Be stronger and healthier! Be more
handsome!" (I told them this last becomes increasingly
difficult.) Quite a few of the notes choked me right up:
"Though you can't go home, we will keep company with you. -
Wendy" or "You are such a kind hearted and optimistic man that
we love you. Thank you."
I didn't have the heart to tell them that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October, but I did call Ruth in from next door so I could dance around taunting her with "My class is better than your class. My class is better than your class." (You have to imagine this in that horrible kids singsong voice to get the full effect.)
Why So Many Comics Are Inspired by Pets:
Not hard to see why this happens. You can't really look at an animal every day without wondering what it is thinking, or putting words in its mouth.
GouGou loves her towel. She will play tug-o-war with it far beyond boredom limit.
November 24, 2008 I've Been Too Busy to Update
just gets crazy, and this past couple of weeks has been just
that. Nuts. We just got back from another incredible
weekend excursion to yet another mountain, with a couple of
ancient villages thrown in for good measure, and right now I
don't even know the names of the places we've been. I was up
until two in the morning responding to student email assignments and
prepping for this morning's eight o'clock class. I have restaurant
reviews to write and a review of Tai Hu park to get together for
Wuxi Life Magazine, both due before the end of this week . I'm
hoping to find time for a more complete post sometime soon.
There's four kilometers of this sidewalk hanging on the shear cliff face, and how they got it up there is a complete mystery to me. They didn't even disturb the vegetation. If I didn't know that the clever Chinese engineers and workers had built it, I'd say it was proof that aliens have visited earth. (And they say that no human could create a crop circle. Fah! What nonsense.)
And finally, here's the reason for all the heavy breathing. Well worth it.
Below is one picture from our boat ride through the ancient village. There are lots more pictures I can post, and will soon. But this will give you an idea.
Once again, thanks to the administration, and especially Ms. Liu, Michael Bian, Jesse and Mr. Ding for taking such good care of us and giving us such a great China adventure.
I also have more helmet sales pictures to post and an update on the sales campaign. About sixty students are now wearing helmets as I write this. It's a start.
November 12, 2008 The Pictures Say Enough:
So much of what China imports from the western culture - the private automobile, freeways, shopping malls, consumerism, gangsta rap - is questionable if not outright destructive. It feels good to encourage something that is of value. I got a letter from our friend Xiao Hua today. We met her during our first Spring Festival vacation in China, and spent a wonderful week with with family on the "small farm" (which turned out to be a 10,000 worker rubber plantation where her father is the police chief) on Hainan Dao. Since then she has married an Irishman named Patrick and moved to Ireland.
November 10, 2008 Another Man in China Contest
November 9, 2008 Opening the Door When Opportunity Knocks
This morning, Panda called me with the news that a group of students would meet at the North gate at noon to set off on a bicycle ride. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to get helmets on a whole group, so I set out for the gate, where Gu Sheng joined me. Before the bicycle group even showed up, a student stopped to buy helmet. He was on foot. He handed me ten yuan, signed the pledge, and then asked me to hold his helmet for him until he got back from lunch..
Gu Sheng reminded me that it wasn't Kevin, the boy in the coffee shop, who was the first student to get a helmet. In fact, it was Gu Sheng herself. I wasn't counting her, because she's on staff and got the helmet for free whether she really wanted it or not. But this morning she convinced me that she is completely sold on the vision, and very excited about the potential for promoting helmet use in China. She's right. She deserves to be acclaimed as the first student with a helmet.
November 8, 2008 the Helmet Sales are Happening
It's incredible. Nobody wears a bicycle helmet in China. Nobody. Yet I made my first bicycle helmet sale yesterday while sitting in the coffee shop waiting for a corporate recruiter to show up. I had three helmets with me, just to show to Ruth. But by the time she got there, there were only two left.
This evening I
went to an English corner and made my pitch for bike helmets.
It's a two pronged approach - the negative sell based on what brain
damage will do to your life and career, and the positive sell
based on the thrill you will feel twenty years from now when helmets
are commonplace, to be able to say "I was part of getting that
purchasers signed the pledge. So that should mean that, while
yesterday there were only two people on campus who were wearing
bicycle helmets (Ruth and me. We've worn helmets since we got
here.) tomorrow there should be seven. That may not seem like
many, but when you are starting from two, it's a 250%
improvement. It's going to be fun to see where this can go.
We had a wonderful visit with some friends from Nantong today, which included going for a walk. This campus is more and more impressive. I snapped this picture of a confidence building exercise. There seems to be a lot going on here that I'm barely aware of. It's an exciting place to work.
November 7, 2007, and We're in Business
Well, not actually in business, since this is only a promotion and not a money making venture. But we're away. We picked up a hundred helmets this afternoon, after a long ride in the rain.
And the quality appears to be just fine, so I'm not embarrassed about getting these out to students. Whew.
November 7, 2008 This School Treats Us Right
Yesterday the boss showed up with a van loaded with boxes of apples, pears and kiwi, personally delivering a box of each to Ruth and a box of each to me. That's six boxes in all. We are now well supplied with fresh fruit. Just one more reason why I consider this the best job I've ever had, and that's saying quite a bit given the jobs I've had. Thanks, Ms. Liu and staff.
Then, yesterday evening, we were driven to a five star hotel for a delicious feast to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jiangnan University. It's amazing. We're in our fifth year in China and they can still feed us things we have never tasted before. Another meal to remember.
Progress on Several Fronts
Imagine, a U.S. president I can respect, a man who can put two thoughts together into coherent sentences without the help of a speech writer.
And on the home front, congratulations to my son, Casey, and his beautiful partner, Desiree. And congratulations to me. I am now officially a grandfather. Welcome to planet earth, Kiri Dalen Brewer. It's a great place to visit.
Helmets in the News:
My first shipment of 100 helmets should arrive sometime today. I'm buying a "pig in a poke" with this first batch, since I haven't actually seen them. I'm hoping the quality is okay. If it isn't okay, then I'm out some cash and this company will never get another order from me. But I have faith. And I'm really looking forward to starting the My Brain is Precious Helmet Drive.
Several of my students have become quite enthusiastic about the idea, and a few have offered to help sell and promote helmets on campus. Here's an email I got from Merry, slightly edited:
Just gotta love my students. They are what this is all about, after all.
November 2, 2008 The Bike Helmet Project - frustratingly slow progress
for word about my first helmet order. Apparently the company
only wants to sell to distributors in volumes upward of 20,000 units
and the minimum orders listed on their website are... understated.
An order of a hundred is not worth their time. Of course this
is a very short sighted attitude, because a hundred helmets is
just a start.
Meanwhile, just two days ago, I watched a girl pick herself up off the pavement. Fortunately she only hurt her knee and her elbow, not her head. But one of the tragedies I see coming may have already happened. I'm hearing rumors of a girl being killed outside the North gate when she was hit by a vehicle.
Lost in Translating:
Yesterday my friend Panda and I amused ourselves by translating the old Gene Autry classic "Back in the Saddle Again" into Chinese. Here's a letter I sent to Panda this morning:
October 29, 2008 My Brain is Precious
At last I'm
making some progress with a project that's been simmering for the
past two years. (This is what getting a Chinese assistant will
do for me. Thanks, Gu Sheng.) I'm about to place an order for
100 bike helmets. Given the population of bike riders in
China, this isn't even a drop in the bucket. But I have
to start somewhere.
I have all kinds of ideas for promoting bike helmets at Jiangnan University. At the moment, Ruth and I are the only ones on campus who wear them. This will change. We start by getting helmets on the heads of as many of the most admired and respected students, the sports stars and campus leaders, as are smart enough to wear them. Other promotional ideas involve contests and giveaways. For example, I want to sponsor a contest for the Industrial Design students to come up with wacky and fun ideas for helmets designs. Currently available designs strike me as.... boring.
I'm also investigating getting a sticker for the helmets with the "My Brain is Precious" slogan on it. After all, that's what a university is all about. We'll see where this all goes in the next few months.
October 26, 2008
Stretching my birthday out to the weekend, Ruth took us to our favourite Japanese restaurant for all we could eat sushi, sashimi, grilled lamb, beef, mushrooms... grilled just about everything you can imagine. All delicious, cooked before our eyes by a chef who made a performance out of twirling his tools.
The meal began with Ruth asking the man next to her not to hold his cigarette under her nose. She would have been okay if he had turned to his friends and held his cigarette in his other hand, but holding it almost behind him while he turned away was too much. We always find that Chinese smokers are quick to comply with this request. Not only did he put out his cigarette, he didn't light up again all evening and neither did his friends. I rewarded him with a Canada pin.
That got the
conversation going. Then we discovered that the girls beside
us were Jiangnan University students studying marketing. One of them
has spent two years in Toronto as an exchange student. So we
had no shortage of convivial company. And once again,
what a small world.
Does This Hair Make me Look Fat?
I very seldom see grey hair on men in China. This is not because they all have great genes. In the country where the elderly are traditionally revered, the men are not in any hurry to join them. Just about every man dyes his hair. I've read that even Mao dyed his hair. During our shopping trip yesterday I found a hair colour kit. Here's the result:
How strange to wake up to a face in the mirror that is so completely not my own. I just hope I don't get used to looking like this. It would be a hard look to maintain, and I like my white hair a lot more. This makes me look...old. Maybe not in photographs, but in real life, definitely.
Mystery Signage of the Day: guess what this means.
October 25, 2008 The Big Box Stores of Wuxi
In case you are afraid that coming to China will deprive you of your decadent western consumer lifestyle, I'm happy to present Wuxi's own big box store, Metro, in the new district, a part of China that is indistinguishable from Richmond, B.C., Canada.
The place will be familiar to anybody who as ever shopped at a Canadian Superstore or a Costco. We hit it a couple of times a term because it's the only place I've found where I can buy coffee and scotch at good prices. Also, across the street is Decathlon, a big box sports store that actually has my size for runners and roller blades at great prices. May it ever prosper.
things we can find at our local supermarket, but this place
has everything from bikes to shoes to western chocolates and
cheeses. I'll do a whole write up on it when I get the time.
Graeme picked up a mattress to add to his bed, which in
typical Chinese tradition is as hard as the average Western floor.
He also stocked up on cleaning supplies and a coffee maker. A
life in China starter kit.
October 24, 2008 Yet Another English Corner
This one at the Technology College across the road. It doesn't have the impressive landscaping of Jiangnan University, nor the size. But it certainly has enthusiastic students. Here's Ruth being the center of attention yet again.
October 23, 2008 The Big Bike Ride through Tai Hu Park
my birthday. I had just one class in the morning, so
that left me the rest of the day to enjoy myself. We've been
meaning to check out the new Taihu Zhi Xing Park with the huge Ferris
wheel, so yesterday seemed like a good day to do it. And
we haven't been riding our bikes off campus much lately, so yesterday seemed
like a good day to do that too. What a great choice that
turned out to be.
We have seen this park from the road, but we assumed it was very small. Once we got into it, we discovered that it runs for a couple of miles, all the way from the big bridge back to the wetlands nature park just outside our university.
The part of the park near the bridge has been there for a while, but much of the rest of it is brand new, and some of it is still under construction.
It's all beautiful, and a
wonderful place to ride a bike. Unfortunately we discovered
after enjoying an extensive ride that bikes are forbidden in the
park. This seems ridiculous to us. It's a great place to
ride, and essentially deserted on a week day. But I suppose this isn't my country so I don't get
to comment on the rules.
Because it was my birthday, Ruth bought the tickets for the Ferris wheel, which was a serene delight though expensive at 60 RMB per rider.
After that we got caught by the "Shooting Dark Ride", which was like a large scale mobile video game. We took a seat on a train through a tunnel. Armed with with two rapid firing laser pistols that never run out of ammunition, one for each hand (there'd be one per rider if the ride was full), we shot monsters. Lots of monsters. Much more fun than I ever would have expected.
October 19, 2008 Goodbye Kim Chan
I just heard
from a friend in Los Angeles that my friend Kim Chan passed away on
October 5th. Kim was a great gentleman, and the world is
emptier without him in it. He was a Chinese-American movie
star. His credits, which he was always very happy to
tell you about, included playing Jerry Lewis's houseboy in
"King of Comedy", and playing the flying Chinese restaurant
proprietor in "The Fifth Element". I met him while working on "Kung
Fu the Legend Continues" in Toronto. He played Lo Si, "the
Ancient", in 61 episodes of that series.
meeting was memorable. Kim, who adored women, had
invited a gaggle of starlets from the show to have dinner with him
in a Chinese restaurant. I chanced on the group in the
hotel lobby, and since I was the new director for that
episode, Kim somewhat reluctantly invited me along. At
the restaurant he was glorying in being a movie star, and
shamelessly promoting himself to the assembly. I got a bit
tired of hearing him talk about how much the dinner would cost,
so I excused myself, found the manager, and paid for the
meal. (It came to about $1,200 but I was flush with cash from
per diems at the time. so this was no hardship.) "Don't let
that Chinese gentleman pay anything," I told him.
October 18, 2008 Feedback that Gruntles Excessively
For me, a day cannot begin better than by getting an email like this one from Amelia, who sent her reaction to my Oral English class this past week:
It's a beautiful day in Wuxi. The weather is still warm enough to be out without a jacket, but the humidity is lower now so it's very comfortable. The campus is beautiful. It's a weekend. How can life be tough?
By the way,
my spell checker is screaming about my use of the word "gruntles" in
this entry heading. Well "gruntles"is still a legitimate
word, though a trifle archaic, one of those words which now is
only used in the negative - disgruntled, like the word "ruth",
which means compassion, now only used in the negative form as
"ruthless", a condition to which I do not want to return.
Also, by the way, one of the things I enjoyed about watching my children learn to speak was their amazing creativity with the language. My son Victor invented some brilliant words - "hand lockers" for handcuffs, "not-come-off-knots" for the knot he used on his shoe laces. I really love it when my students use words like "fearness", and I find it difficult to correct them in the interests of prescriptive grammar. The whole point is to communicate, and Amelia does that very well.
As 'twas said in "Educating Rita", "assonance" is getting the rhyme wrong. We'll accept and admire it from a poet, but we want to beat these Chinese students into conformity. (Interesting. My spell checker does not balk at the word "assonance".)
And now I'm reminded of Milano Zorkin, the late owner of Zorkin Realty in Nanaimo. He spoke with a heavy middle-European accent, and wrote the same way. When his secretary corrected his letters, he made her put them back the way he had written them. Now there was a man who wasn't afraid to speak in his own voice. We should all be so brave.
October 16, 2008 The Best Week of Classes Ever
Emily's letter lamenting her shyness and my response to it inspired my best week of classes since I came to China.
The week didn't start out all that great. My first class, with my International Business students who must prepare for the IELTS test that will let them go overseas, began well enough. But soon I was losing my temper with a few passive aggressive students who either didn't get that you can't learn to speak English without speaking English or who simply don't care about passing the IELTS and going to England. I don't like losing my temper. It's not helpful.
My International Business class. I like these kids, but they do make me work too hard.
My first oral class, I asked the students if any of them were shy. No hands went up. Now I know that most of my students would call themselves shy, so the fact that no hands went up called for a lecture on participation. Again I was expressing more anger than is helpful."I've come 15,000 miles, that's 24,000 gongli (kilometers), to help you with your English. If you don't PARTICIPATE, I might as well have stayed home, and you might as well have stayed in bed this morning." After that lecture, I asked the question again and got a few hands up.
It was in the next class that I refined this with a pre-emptive strike. The students came in to find the word PARTICIPATE on the board in both English and Chinese (参加 cānjiā). I told them about losing my temper with the last class, and why. I told them why participation is important if they want to get anything out of the class. Then I asked if anybody in the class would call themselves a shy person. A few hands went up.
That lead into a lecture about emotional needs. We do everything because of our emotional needs. Every decision we make is because of an emotion. In fact, a person with brain damage that prevents them from feeling any emotion, can't make any decisions at all. So if they are calling themselves "shy", then being shy must be giving them something emotionally. What is it? I suggested that they might have a need to feel safe. A need to be hidden and private. A need to avoid criticism. And I ask them whether satisfying this need is helping them learn English.
I told them that they might find this hard to believe, but I was
once shy myself. I too needed to feel safe and to hide.
But I also have a great need for recognition and attention,
and that was in conflict with my need to be safely hidden. So
I started to push myself. And the more I pushed myself,
the easier it was to stand in front of a group of people and do
whatever needed to be done.
That lead into the next subject - what we are?
It's my belief that we are a combination of what we've been told we are, what we've told ourselves we are, and what we really are. All three of these are unknowable, because we haven't paid attention to what we have been told, or to what we've told ourselves, and what we really are is largely untested.
When I was a child in school, well meaning adults were constantly telling me that I was lazy. My teachers sent home report cards that said I was lazy. My mother would read the report cards and tell me that I was lazy. Well, what happens when you tell a child that he is lazy? If the child believes you, he acts like a lazy person. And that's what I did.
As an adult I one day realized that
I am not lazy. In fact, I'm one of the most energetic
and active people I know. Why were they telling me I was lazy
when it was so obviously not true? The problem wasn't that I
was lazy. The problem was that my teachers were
boring. They didn't want to talk to me about anything
interesting. I'd be going into the adult section of the
library to take out books on hypnotism, or natural history, or
magic. They wanted me to learn skills like spelling,
which came to me quite naturally as I read and wrote more, and
was finally made irrelevant by spell checkers.
And all of this leads into a lecture about the subconscious mind, which runs 99.9% of all our functions, including our emotions. I talked about how the subconscious is really smart, and can do things like play the piano with no conscious mind directing the fingers (once you have practiced enough), but also really stupid. The subconscious mind will believe anything you tell it. And if you are telling your subconscious mind something that will prevent you from getting what you want, your subconscious mind will make sure you never get it.
The winner personality takes limited input from others, and the superstar personality even pushes the boundaries of what he or she really is.
My students all want to be winners, if not superstars. Success is very big in China.
Of course this is all just an amalgam of personal development course material and pop psychology, Tony Robins meets Dale Carnegie. But then the class started to be fun. I asked the students who said they were shy if any of them wanted to stop being shy. A couple hesitantly put up their hands. I brought those students up to the front and got them to walk like a chicken. Walk like a duck. Bark like a dog. Crow like a rooster. They were having a great time by this point. The whole class was energized and clapping for them. I asked them how they felt, and they said they felt really good. I told them I was very proud of them, and gave them a Canada pin as a reward for their courage.
The next breakthrough for me was getting the students up and moving. I put a pie chart of the seasons on the board and told them to think about which season they like best, then told about seeing this demonstration at a Sophia Society seminar and thinking it was a pointless and dumb exercise - "Of course everybody will put their mark in the same season. There is only one season that is the best, and it's so obviously the best that nobody will choose any other season."
"I'm a smart person. I've
thought about this, and decided what the best season is.
Of course, everybody is going to think the same as I do,
and choose the same season. Right? If they don't,
well they're just wrong. Right?
I handed out three pieces of chalk, and told the students to put a mark in their favourite season and then pass the chalk on to somebody else. So now what had been a boring, static class of students sitting at desks looking half interested suddenly transformed into an active and lively scene. Much laughter as students started to get creative with the marks they put on the chart, starting with a heart instead of a check mark and progressing to Chinese characters.
By the time I had all the marks on the board, the students were more than ready to stand up and tell the class why their favourite season is the best. Like the Sophia Society group, the marks were all over the chart, with only two in Spring, a few in Summer, and an amazing number in Winter. I was very surprised to learn that the majority of my students think Winter is the best season of all. This in a country where classrooms are all unheated.
There was still time for more with this class. We got into arranging lists in order of favourites, with the students in groups trying to reach consensus on their order. But this first part was the best.
Just a great class. Now what on earth am I going to do next week? How can I ever top this?
I'll think of something.
October 12, 2008 an Email from Emily
My student, Emily sent me an email this morning, with a question that I think a lot of my students are asking. I hope they will all read my answer and take it to heart.
How Long Before I Have a Right to Be Here?
I think this is a question all foreigners must ask themselves sooner or later. How long do I have to be in China before I feel I have a right to the air I'm breathing? How long before I can push back when somebody in a lineup pushes ahead of me? How long before I can call a rule stupid, and argue with the guards at the gate about letting my taxi take me to my door?
I'm now, unbelievably, in my fifth year in China. And I'm naturally a fairly assertive person. (Okay, I can hear my friends and relatives back home saying, "Ya think?" Laugh it up, folks.) In China I've been trying to recognize that this isn't my country, and I have no right to tell people here how to behave. But when twelve students finish their dinner, order beer, and all light up cigarettes at the next table in a tiny restaurant, I'm beginning to politely protest.
When somebody pushes ahead of me in a lineup, I've been known to pull them back by their jacket collar, to the seeming approval of others in the line who are too politely Chinese to take action themselves.
The other evening in Nantong, Ruth and I were walking with a friend on the sidewalk when a young man on a scooter came up behind us and beeped his horn repeatedly in an annoyed manner to make us get out of his way. We turned on him and pointed out that we were on the sidewalk, and there was a perfectly useable road right beside us, so he was welcome to get off the sidewalk and use the road. Which he sheepishly did.
As for the guards at the gate, whether I shout at them or not seems to correlate to how much whisky I had after dinner. And that is not a good way to make social decisions in a foreign country.
I'm trying to find the balance.
October 11, 2008 Jin Bo's Book Arrives
When were were back in Canada this past summer, our liaison to the administration, Jeremy, asked us to get him a book that goes with one of his courses . Ruth ordered it, but didn't realize the promised delivery date applied only to the U.S.. Delivery to Canada was not days but weeks. She was still waiting for the book when it was time to fly back to China.
This week it finally arrived, along with a big box of Russian mints courtesy of Dave Clement at the Bhigg House who acted as forwarding agent. So good to have support people back home, and Ruth has some great ones in her "chosen family". Thanks, Dave.
A Star is Bored
On Thursday morning, my friend George (Zhu Kaining) called to say that he needed a foreigner to be an actor in a film. So Friday afternoon I found myself enduring the attention of a very cute little makeup artist, who paled down my complexion to a ghostlike pallor. Her act was followed by a couple of young men who made a meal out of styling my hair.
And there I was on set again. I've spent a lot of time on film sets. So while this was an enjoyable afternoon and a nice way to pick up some extra money, the glamorous life of an actor holds little fascination for me. George, who came along as an interpreter, quickly decided that it's not really a glamorous life.
in Chinese was a whole other experience. It was
hard not to feel like Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation".
There were a lot of bottles of water available, but no craft services table. By about five o'clock I was starting to feel hungry, but a bucket of KFC showed up to tide us over. By about seven we were finished, and the director took everybody out for a Chinese feast.
I felt a bit sad to be playing the part of a European tailor while an employee of the company, a rather handsome and impeccably dressed master tailor, stood by for technical advice and to stand in for the detailed work. Why wasn't he the star of the show? Why is the Chinese company pretending to have European tailors making their suits. Okay, they are European styled suits. Obviously the company wants a European image to sell them. Is this really what the Chinese public wants? Or is it just that the Chinese executives believe it's what the Chinese public wants? An impossible question to answer, because it's a self fulfilling prophesy that trains the consumer expectations.
A Walk in the Park
Today, George and his father arrived to whisk us off through Wuxi's new and very impressive tunnels, to Xi Hui Park. I reported being at that park on this site last year, but apparently we missed the best part of the place.
George's family met us near the entrance and we strolled through the beautiful grounds to a walled garden. Suddenly we were in another world, an ancient Chinese world of stone walls and beautiful ponds. The garden dates back to the Ming Dynasty and it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
The weather this time of year in Wuxi is quite comfortable, with a welcome reduction to the humidity and temperature but still no need for a jacket. A perfect day for our party in the park. We gathered on a private patio of an ancient tea house beside a serene little lake.
Angelina, George's nine year old cousin, danced for us. We thoroughly enjoyed the warmth of a
Chinese family tea party.
This in turn was followed by George's family treating us to a Chinese family style dinner in a very fancy traditional restaurant. As if all this wasn't enough to fill a day, we were back on campus by seven in time to take our dog to an English corner. Whew. Life is full.
October 6, 2008 Touched by his Noodly Appendage
I've been a Pastafarian and devout follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster since missionaries first introduced me to the One True God and Creator of the Universe. Now you can build your own shrine with a completely edible FSM, including edible transparent googly eyes. Check out the Evil Mad Scientist Lab for construction details.
My contract says I'm not supposed to promote religious beliefs here in China. I wonder if this counts.
October 5, 2008 Yikes. It's October already.
I think this is the longest I've gone without updating this site in the past couple of years. Truth is, I think I'm getting a bit jaded. Another fancy dinner. (Ho hum.) Another trip to an exotic city. (Yawn.) Same old same old.
In truth I continue to have just a fantastic time here. First there was the faculty dinner put on by the Foreign Languages Department. Then the dinner at a five star hotel put on by the municipality. Then, just a few weeks into the term, we had a week off for the National Day holiday. Having failed to buy tickets to Inner Mongolia or Qingdao, Ruth and I spent the week in nearby Nantong.
When I think of Nantong the words that come to mind are clean and sparkling. The city core is surrounded by a ring of river, with serenity to be found in the parks around the corner from the bustle of the shopping arcade.
For the first time we've been noticing "No Smoking" signs in
restaurants here. This is certainly welcome. Too often
we've been seated next to a table of twelve smokers, all of
whom seem programmed to light up as we start our dinner. The
size of the room makes no difference. Chinese smokers are
Tomorrow we're back to classes. But we're already making plans for the Spring holiday at the end of December. We're going to revisit Hainan Dao, this time with the specific purpose of seeing China's only python breeding facility.
Time to archive again. My how time does fly by. There's lots of good stuff buried back in those archives, friends. So please feel free to continue exploring this adventure.