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The Man in China Archives
September 1 through December 31, 2009

Christmas Dinner

Just to tidy up 2009, here are the last of the Christmas pictures. 

Jenny has an almost traditional Christmas dinner.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China Jenny, Panda, and Ruth at Christmas dinner at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China.

We couldn't find a turkey, but Ruth did manage to bake a couple of chickens in our little electric oven.  (Actually, Metro did have turkeys, but they were frozen and too big to fit in our oven.) I made mashed potatoes and a cheese sauce for the broccoli.  The yams were started in the microwave and finished with the chicken in the oven.  Ruth mixed up her fantastic Caesar salad, using the anchovy paste she brought from Canada.  I put on a pot of mulled wine that worked wonders for the undrinkable sherry I bought on our last visit to Metro.  Amazing the kinds of meals we can produce here with a hotplate, counter top electric oven, and a microwave.  No problem.  It was fun giving our friends Jenny and Panda an approximation of a Western Christmas dinner.

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Chinese word for the day:  圣诞节
(Shng dn ji literally birth God festival) = Christmas

I'm not getting this up until Boxing Day in China, but it's now or wait for next year.  Merry Christmas everybody.

December 26, 2009  Boxing Day Already

A picture of post-Christmas contentment.  Ruth and GouGou at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

It's been a great Christmas.  We woke up this morning to find a letter from one of the recipients of our Christmas Bursary Fund in my inbox. This student had applied for money on behalf of a room mate,  not for herself.

Dear David and Ruth,

I have just come back from a party with my heart full of joy while your e-mail added much more happiness to me that I can only express my feel through jumping and screaming! And after I told my roommates the whole story how I get the money, they all fell in totally exciting. The roommate of mine who I applied to your fund for was shocked for a long timeshe just couldnt believe it is real!

We all want to thank you from the depth of our hearts! They are very moving by what youve done for the common students of Jiangnan University! You give them chances to fulfill their dreams. You bring warm to their families or friends. The most important is you let the applicants, such as me, feel being in need, feel that we are strong enough to help others to let their dreams come true! You let us believe the power of love and dream in such a society characterized by utilitarian. Thank you again for your warm-hearted!

I will never forget this Christmas because of your answer mail to my application! I will never forget the moment that I opened my mail box and saw the mail form you how I felt! It was late and I am afraid phoning may interrupt your sleep so I write this mail to express my thankful to both of you! Wish you have had a merry Christmas and will have a happy New Year!

yours faithfully,

(A Jiangnan University Student)


Who says money can't buy happiness.  Not their happiness, of course.  Ours.  This letter really made our morning.  I told my friend Goody about it and she sent the following response:  "How wonderful.  If you do nothing else in your life - this will have been enough."  Wow.  This is like a get out of jail free card for life!

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Christmas Events - Care Package from Home

Ruth opens the big box from her housemates back home.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  I'm not worthy, folks.  But thanks.  Coffee is always welcome.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

It's all been a blur of activity, between exam preparation, developing the power point presentation for the Christmas morning culture party, marking papers, and parties life has been full indeed.  I've had no time to update until today, Boxing Day, so I'll work backwards through the events, starting with last night's Chinese corner at our place.

Chinese Corner on Christmas Evening

"Possibly the worlds most difficult puzzle." said the box.  And it appears to be true.  Our friends are stumped.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China For people who didn't give each other presents, we somehow ended up with a pile under our tree.  Thanks everybody.  We're overwhelmed.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

We served shortbread and the students went to work on a puzzle Ruth's friends sent from Canada.  Several students brought us presents.

Gifts from the Boss

A very classy Christmas card from Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

The head of our department and her assistant showed up at our door with a scarf for me, and a string of pearls for Ruth.  There's also two big boxes of apples we just picked up today.  All in all, this place treats us very well.

Gifts from Students

The kind of Christmas present I really appreciate.  Personal messages from the entire class.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

This is the best gift my students could have given me.  Something to remember them by, and thoughtful expressions of appreciation and friendship.

Detail from my Christmas card from students.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
I told my students that, with my body shape, when I get fat I look like a snake that ate a watermelon. 
Obviously the image stuck with them.

Detail from my Christmas card from students.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Being told that I'm the first foreigner a student has met never fails to give me a thrill.

The Chinese Knot Lesson and Lecture

As part of the Christmas Day celebrations, the administration laid on a lecture on tying Chinese knots.  As an old sailor, I've always loved knots, and the Chinese are masters of this decorative art form.

Chinese knot lesson, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  Chinese knot lesson, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Now, if I could just remember....Chinese knot lesson, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China   And here's the knot.  Beauty, eh?

We always appreciate this kind of effort by our administration.  After all, one of our reasons for being in China is to learn about the culture.  And something that gives us a hands on experience is always welcome.  Now, if I can only remember how that knot was tied...

The Christmas Morning Culture Party

The Christmas culture party on Christmas morning.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China The Christmas culture party on Christmas morning.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
With stories and songs we explained why Christmas is such a big deal to us.  Stories of childhood Christmas, going to buy the tree, shopping, the building anticipation.

GouGou makes friends.  The Christmas culture party on Christmas morning.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
GouGou, the friendliest dog in the world was a big hit with students.

 The history of Santa Claus.  The Christmas culture party on Christmas morning.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" was Gene Autry's big Christmas hit, second only to "White Christmas" in record sales.
The history of Santa Claus.  Alastair Sim in "A Christmas Carol. Where Rudolph came from and
how a cowboy got involved.  Amazing the number of Christmas icons.

Demonstrating the power of mistletoe.  The Christmas culture party on Christmas morning.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Ruth explains the mysterious power of mistletoe.  I'm just a prop here.

The Christmas culture party on Christmas morning.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China The Christmas culture party on Christmas morning.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
The story of the Grinch who Stole Christmas has deep resonance for Ruth.  Her father was a military man, away a lot, and when he told the story at Christmas he WAS the Grinch, complete with transformation to the loving father, reunited with the family.

Christmas Eve cocktails at Elaine's

I spent most of the party in the Kitchen enjoying my violin and supplying background music.  A great party.

  We don't see much of the other foreign teachers, so this kind of party is welcome.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China Belting out the classic Christmas songs.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
Elaine is Jewish.  Ironic that she was throwing the Christmas bash.  I played "HaTikva" in her honour. 
Love that melody.

The Christmas Dinner at a Five Star Hotel

Once again, thanks to the administration of Jiangnan University for another feast.

Exit the bus and into the five star hotel for Christmas dinner.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China Sometimes I think I see more Christmas in China than I do back home. I know they have a lot of foreign guests, but I still find the Christmas decorations a surprise.

This is only half tha hall, and half the buffet line.  Wonderful food.  All we could eat.  Christmas dinner as guests of the administration, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Ruth in front of the Christmas house.  Hu Bin (5 star) Hotel.  Wuxi, China  Christmas dinner as guests of the administration, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Dinner with our Fellow Teachers at a Japanese Restaurant

Sorry about the red eye, Elaine.  I'll try to get it out later. Dinner with foreign friends at a Japanese restaurant, Wuxi, China
Dinner with foreign friends at a Japanese restaurant, Wuxi, China

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And One Disquieting Note

Apparently China will soon prevent it's citizens from registering domain names on the Internet unless they get government approval as a business.  Coming soon: Any website that does not register with the Chinese government will be blocked in China.
     China is already blocking Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter.  This latest news is very disturbing.  How many foreign domains will bother registering with China?  How much of the window to the Western world is China going to close down?  What will be the consequences for China's relationship with the outside world?  To me it seems like more erosion of the good will created by the Olympics.  It gives ammunition to China's enemies.
     This is being presented as part of a crackdown on pornography.  I think it's safe to say that most foreigners are rather skeptical about this.  I worry that aspects of my culture - such as sex education, the Intactivist (anti-circumcision) movement, gay rights, and adult theme web comics - would be considered pornographic by some people.  I also prefer to be treated as an adult by those in power.

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Chinese word for the day: 跳伞
(tio sǎn literally "jump umbrella"  Note that sǎn, "umbrella", actually looks like one 伞) = v. o. parachute; bail out

December 20, 2009 Baseball Season Starts Early

Softball just before Christmas at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China.  Who knew?

It's quite cold here now, with temperatures near zero at night.  Yesterday riding past the sports stadium on our bikes, I was surprised to see baseball training in progress.

Apparently the placement of feet is important.  Softball coaching, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  And this is how you swing.  Softball coaching, Jiangnan University,  Wuxi, China
I'm not quite sure why this surprised me, but it's the first sign of America's national game I've seen in China.

I don't remember being taught to swing a bat, so it seems strange to me that it might need training.  Softball coaching, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

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The emperor robe and mask wall hanging


The Third Annual Christmas Bursary*

We know that many of the students here have families that are not wealthy,  and parents who are sacrificing to give their son or daughter a university education.

If you are a Jiangnan University student, send an email to David@themaninChina.com with "Christmas 2009 bursary" in the subject line and tell us (in 200 words or less) why you, or someone you know, needs some money.  Let us know what a little bit of money will do.  (Please don't forget to put your name in both Chinese characters and pinyin and your student number in your email. See the application checklist below.)

Deadline for application -  Monday,  December 18, 2009
Successful applicants will be notified Friday, December 25

*An English explanation is in order here.  A bursary is different from a scholarship.  The latter is awarded to the student with the highest marks,  the former to a student who has a demonstrated need or record of exceptional service, although that student's marks may be just average.

Note:  the deadline of December 18.  Sorry, you missed it.

Click here or scroll down for the whole story and application details..

My Tuesday Evening Special Class, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Chinese word for the day: 马上
(mǎ shng literally "horse up") = right away

December 11, 2009 "individualism", a big word for "selfishness"?

This was the only class that gave me some positive meanings for "individualist".  But still the big emphasis on the negative.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

I hope this is the last word in this site on "individualism" and "individualist".  And as usual, it isn't the Chinese who lack understanding.  The problem is on my side of the cultural divide. 
     A definition has two components - denotation and connotation.  The Chinese have the definition of "individualism" in their culture.  No problem.  They give it the same denotation as we give it - "one who thinks independently and makes up his own mind".  It's the connotation that is different.  It's as if two separate cultures both know what a car is, and give it the same definition, but one culture says it is desirable or even essential, while the other says it is selfish and destructive.
     My favorite definition of "individualism" came from one of my students.  "It's a big word for selfishness," she said.  Hopefully, after my talk this morning, she will understand that we don't see individualism as necessarily selfish, though it might be.
     It was a fun class.  How many excuses am I going to get to sing "The Draft Dodger" song, now that the sixties are ancient history.  My students are very sympathetic to the young Americans who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War. After all, they were saying that America was wrong, and they wouldn't fight the Chinese communists.  So there's an example of individualism being a good thing, even to the Chinese.

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The Chinese National Anthem

Last week Jawk, one of our visitors to our Chinese corner, brought me the music and lyrics for the Chinese national anthem, the "Volunteer Army Marching Song".  I'm proud to say that I'm now able to sing it without stumbling or blocking on the words.  This lead to the following dialogue with one of my students:

Student:  Why are you doing that?

Me: If you came to Canada, wouldn't you learn the Canadian national anthem?

Student: Of course.

Me: Then why wouldn't I learn the Chinese national anthem?

So, for all you 外国人 (wi gu rn literally outside country person = foreigner) in China, here it is: The Chinese national anthem, with pinyin pronunciation guide and translation.

田汉(1898-1968) 作词,




前进, advance

y yǒng jūn jn xng qǔhu rn mn gng h gu gu gē
tin hn (1898-1968)  zu c, 
ni ěr (1912-1935)zu qǔ

qǐ li
b yun zu n l de rn men
bǎ wǒ men de xu ru,  
zh chng wǒ men xīn de chng chng!

zhōng hu mn z do liǎo
zu wēi xiǎn de sh hu,
měi g rn bi p zhe
fā chū zu hu de hǒu shēng li!
qǐ li!

wǒ men wn zhng y xīn
mo zhe d rn de po huǒ
qin jn!
mo zhe d rn de po huǒ
qin jn !
qin jn!
qin jn jn!

Volunteer Army Marching Song
China Peoples Republic national anthem.
Tin Hn (1898-1968)  lyrics,
Ni ěr (1912-1935) music

Rise up
Not willing to be slaves
Out of our flesh and blood
Build our new Great Wall

The Chinese people at last
In most dangerous times
Every individual compelled
Send out the ultimate roar.
Rise up
Rise up
Rise up

We in complete unity
Brave the enemy artillery
Brave the enemy artillery
Advance, forward!

My translation is a little loose, not word for word.  For example, the Chinese say "blood flesh", where we would say "flesh and blood".  Also, 长城 (chng chng) can be translated as "Great Wall" or simply "impregnable barrier".  And 万众一心(wn zhng y xīn)  word for word is "ten thousand crowd one heart" through it really means "complete unity". But I think as a translation into English, mine will serve well enough.
     The melody for this anthem makes a great marching song.  The combination of melody and rhythm just makes me feel like marching into that bright future.  But for us the lyrics sound out of date, almost quaint.  To us it sounds isolationist, with the line about building a new Great Wall, and militaristically paranoid with the line about facing enemy artillery.  You'll note that Tin Hn, the man who wrote these lyrics, died in 1968.  His words reflect a different time, and a different history.  But all my students are very patriotic.  They love their country, and love China's anthem.  So I was surprised to learn that some Chinese are also saying that this anthem is out of date, and pushing to adopt 茉莉花 (m li huā, jasmine flower) as the national anthem. 
     茉莉花 (m li huā) is a beautiful melody, a musical icon of China, and perhaps China's most famous and recognizable piece of music.  Far from being a marching song, or aggressively militaristic, it goes to the other extreme, and lacks the heart thumping adrenalin inspiration of the current anthem.
     I ask my students if they like their anthem, and they all say "of course".  They are surprised to hear that I don't like my own very much.  To me the Canadian anthem also seems out of date, with it's gender bias (In all our sons' command?  What about the daughters?) and paranoia (All that standing on guard.  Just doesn't seem to fit an age of globalization.)
     I tell my Chinese students that I have learned to sing the words to their national anthem, but for me it will never have the resonance, the deep emotion, that it has for them.  For that, you need to grow up in China.

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Chinese idiom for the day: 你别瞪着鼻子上脸
(nǐ bi dng zhe b zi shng liǎn  literally "don't get nose up face" ) = don't get your nose out of joint, don't get snooty, don't get your knickers in a knot

December 10, 2009 Further Exploration of "individualism"

If 个人主义 (g rn zhǔ y)i isn't right, what about 个体主义 (g  tǐ zhǔ y).  Nope.  Also uniformly negative.  My students just think "individualism" is a bad thing.

As I posted yesterday, my students all gave me a very negative interpretation of "individualism", in response to the Chinese translation I found in my dictionary, 个人主义 (g rn zhǔ y).  Then I was told that 个人主义 (g rn zhǔ y) is just not the correct translation and it should be translated as 个体主义 (g tǐ zhǔ y), which is supposed to be neutral.  So this morning I tested 个体主义 (g tǐ zhǔ y) with my oral English class.  The result was identical to 个人主义 (g rn zhǔ y), uniformly negative.  And today the negative got even more explicit, with one student saying "It's a bad thing", and another saying "It's against our country".
     Michael in the administration office tells me that the Chinese do have the concept of somebody acting altruistically against the group, but it seems this is not the generally accepted meaning of "individualism".  If this concept is in the culture, it isn't attached to the words "individualism" or "individualist".
     I asked my students where they got their understanding of the word.  One student told me that it is just part of their culture, that they were always told that following the leader and acting in accordance with the group was good, and that independent action is bad.  Another told me that this is in their political textbooks in school.  Wherever it comes from, it is pervasive.
     Over and over I'm told that the Chinese value harmony, 和谐社会 (h xi sh hu - harmonious society, a phrase that has deep resonance for the Chinese.) above everything else.  They emphasize connection to the family, the group, the community, and the country, and do not value public discussion of decisions made by the leadership.  They see protest as destructive to their country, where we see it as essential to keeping our country healthy, strong, and on the right path.  For the Chinese it seems that argument or debate is not a process that leads to better decisions, but a process that leads to disharmony and violence.  Given the history of China, I can see their point.  But if my students are to understand my culture, they need to understand the meaning WE give to "individualism".
     This points up a very general problem with translation.  Words have a definition and a connotation.  With the definition, a translation will seldom go wrong.  If I think a car means an automobile, but it is translated into Chinese as 马 (mǎ = horse) then we have no problem saying that the translation is incorrect.  When I say car, I mean something with four wheels, not an animal with four legs.  But when it comes to the connotation on a word, things are not so easy.  Another culture might put a connotation on the word that is opposite to our understanding, or at least takes our understanding from neutral to strongly negative or positive.  We might have an identical definition for "tiger" as a large member of the cat family.  But one culture might see it as a dangerous predator that should be hunted down and killed.  Another culture might see it as an endangered example of charismatic mega fauna that must be protected. 
     It's easy to correct an interpretation that gives the wrong definition.  Connotation is something else again.

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Christmas is Upon Us Again

For me, Christmas is always bitter sweet.  It's my favorite time of year, and I love the feeling of warmth and fellowship that goes with the season.  But of course I'm far from home, and my memories of Christmas past, of family members now gone, of a magical childhood that held such excitement, all come back to me with the decorations.  I'm so thankful for my friends here in China, and of course for my wonderful fiance.  Oh yes, and our dog.  I'm grateful for all of this.  Merry Christmas everybody.

David, Ruth and GouGou preparing for Christmas.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  Decorating the tree with Panda's help.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

For Christmas Day we're planning to combine a number of our classes and have a party.  We'll tell our students about our Christmas memories, teach them some carols, and have fun.  This was great last Christmas, and it can only get better this year.  We've had practice now.

Next we'll be off to Metro to pick up some shortbread and sherry.  Maybe I'll make eggnog again this year.  I've got a great recipe.  This weekend we've been invited to Elaine's for a Hanukah celebration. I do love this time of year.


Merry Christmas

It started off as a Charlie Brown tree, but now it looks wonderful.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

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Chinese word for the day: 个体主义
(g tǐ zhǔ y literally "individual doctrine") = best candidate so far as a translation of "individualism". My dictionary translates "individualism" into 个人主义 (g rn zhǔ y literally "individual person doctrine") but that translation is always given a very negative connotation by my students, as you can see on the banner photograph at the top of this page.

December 9, 2009  Chinese understanding of "individualist"

Response from each student to the question: What is an individualist?  Uniformly negative. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

After being told last week by my student, Frank, that "individualist" and "individualism" are always given a very negative interpretation by the Chinese, I thought I would test this with my students.  So for the past three oral English classes I have started the class with a fill in the blanks question:  An individualist is ______________.
     The results were very surprising.  Every student gave a very negative interpretation, the mildest of which was "selfish", but going into such elaborations as:  doesn't work well in a group, not a team player, wants to be the leader, wants to control everybody, won't listen to anybody else but does things his own way, insists that what he thinks is right, imposes his opinions on others, a showoff, and will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
     I introduced the students to our words for such people - egocentric, sociopathic, selfish, megalomaniacal, opinionated, self centered, uncooperative.  Then I explained that our interpretation of the word "individualist" is totally neutral.  An individualist might be all the things they attribute to the word, but could also be the the most noble of human beings, the most committed to the group and the community, and the most willing to sacrifice his or her own interests for the welfare of the group.
     I gave examples: 

Examples of altruistic individualists:

A student returns to his dormitory to find all of his room mates smoking cigarettes.  They tell him that a lot of people smoke, and that it's supposed to be fun, so they've all decided to start smoking.  They push cigarettes at him and pressure him to smoke with them.
     Would you call this student selfish if he refuses to have a cigarette himself and tries to talk his room mates out of smoking, reminding them that it is bad for their health?  This takes an individualist.

An angry mob has gathered and is about to lynch a suspected rapist.  One of the people in the crowd intervenes, and risks disapproval of the group or even risks his life to demand due legal process, a proper criminal trial, for the suspect.  Would you say that he was acting in his own interests and was selfish?  This is an individualist.

What do you do when an English word is given a meaning in another language that is not the same as the meaning we give it?  The problem may be that the Chinese worldview does not hold our concept of "individualist".  The only people who are expected to act on their own beliefs are the accepted leaders.  I don't know whether this is true or not. 
     I asked my students to come up with a better Chinese word for "individualist" than 个人主义 (g rn zhǔ y) and they came up with several candidates.

以 人主义 (yǐ rn zhǔ y) using person doctrine

特例独行 (t l d xng)  special case insist on one's own way (student defined as "inventive, original")

自主 (z zhǔ) act independently (student defined as "autonomy")

自我实现 (z wǒ sh xin) self-realization; self-fulfillment (student defined as "realize individual value")

有主见的人  (yǒu zhǔ jin de rn)  know one's own mind person (student defined as someone who  has thoughts of his or her own and keeps the position unwavering. Someone who has principles in his life.)

独立 (d l) independent (student defined as "be independent")

人本主义 (rn běn zhǔ y) human-centered thinking (student defined as "humanism")

Cinderella, one of my third year English majors, told me that their translation teacher had corrected a translation of "individualism" from 个人主义 (g rn zhǔ y) to 个体主义 (g tǐ zhǔ y) which she says is neutral in moral connotation.  My dictionary doesn't list all four characters as one word, but the first two, 个体 (g tǐ), mean individual and the second two, 主义 (zhǔ y), mean doctrine.
     Possibly the real problem is simply that my dictionary has the wrong Chinese translation of the word "individualism".  So maybe it is unfair to say that the concept of individualism doesn't exist in the average Chinese worldview.  But all of this does point out the difficulty, and the dangers, of translation.

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Chinese word for the day: 分享
(fēn xiǎng literally "divide enjoy") = v. share

December 4, 2009  Culture and Language Discoveries

Our tour bus on the weekend outing to Ningbo and Yandang Shan.  One of the perks of this job at Jiangnan University in Wuxi, China

I'm always skeptical when I read some claim about language differences giving people a different world view. 
     For example, in Richard E. Nisbett's excellent and well researched "The Geography of Thought" I find this passage: "When the conversation turns to waterfowl, you can say "a duck", "the duck", or "ducks".  The last term is a generic one and the syntax tells you this.  It's normally obligatory to indicate whether you
're speaking about an object or a class of objects, though sometimes the context can do the job. But in Chinese and other Sinitic languages, contextual clues can be the only kind of cues the hearer has to go on.  The presence of a duck that has just waddled over from a pond to beg for food, for example, would indicate that it is "the duck" one is talking about, rather than "a duck" or "ducks"."
      Rather sweeping extrapolations about the way Chinese people think are then generated from this kind of language detail.  Yet the basic observation seems flawed to me.  A Chinese speaker can certainly make a distinction between "this duck", "that duck", "some ducks", "all ducks" or "ducks in general".  But one of Nisbett's observations was recently brought to my attention by one of my students, who told me that the Chinese have no translation of the words "individualist" or "individualism" that does not have negative connotations.  And here Nisbett seems to be right on the money.  The Chinese often mis-translate "individualism" into "egocentricity" or "selfishness".  They just don't seem to have the western concept in their collectivist world view. 
     Today I talked about this in my oral English class, and tried to make clear that most westerners see the words "individualist" and "individualism" as morally neutral.  I used the anti-war protests of the sixties as an illustration.  To become a "draft dodger", one had to be an individualist and practice individualism.  One had to decide that his own sense of right and wrong should take precedence over the group decision.  To an individualist, "My country right or wrong" is absurd.  If your country is wrong, it's your patriotic duty to say something, to protest. 
Many Americas saw the draft dodging anti-war protesters as "traitors" and "un-American".  But to many liberals they were the true patriots, willing to stand up for what they believed despite the very real sacrifices this would entail - separation from family and friends, flight from their home country, alienation from society, or time in prison. This can be seen as the very opposite of selfishness. 
 It seems unlikely that the Chinese will revise their understanding of  人主义 (g rn zhǔ y), which is used for "individualism",  to bring it into line with our definition of the word.  I would really like to have a Chinese word that would express what "individualist" means to me, and 人主义 (g rn zhǔ y) doesn't seem to do it.  How about 忘我人主义 (wng wǒ g rn zhǔ y), "selfless individualism"?   That's getting a bit long for the Chinese language tradition, and it doesn't preserve neutrality.  In English, an individualist may or may not be selfless.  If anyone can tell me how to express this idea in a word or two of Chinese, please let me know. 
     To understand Western culture, my students need a concept of "individualism" that does not imply selfishness.  It's one of our core ideas.

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Chinese word for the day: 自行车
(z xng chē literally "self go vehicle") = bicycle

November 30, 2009 One More Discovery in China

A white crane,  one of the icons of China, on the marge of our lake.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

When I was a kid, we never used bike locks.  I think my sister lost a bike once to a thief, but I never did.  Bike locks were a separate thing you had to remember and use.  They were an inconvenience and a pain in the neck.  Not any more.  Here's the lock on my bike here in China:

A bicycle lock, built in.  Brilliant improvement.

Isn't that marvelous.  The lock is permanently attached to the bike.  Locking or unlocking is like sticking my key in a car ignition.  Quick and painless.  I'm sure they have these now in Canada, but it's been a while since I used a bike there so I didn't know about them until I came to China. 
     So many of the details of my world have improved since I was a child.  There's the big stuff, like laser eye surgery and the Internet and GPS and TV remote control and mobile phones and more information than the old Encyclopedia Britannica on a chip I could swallow.  But the simple things really impress me too.  Bikes had been around for a long time by the time I started to ride one.  You would have thought that the best possible bike lock would have already been invented and be in common use.  Not so.  Another example of a simple thing that is so much better than what we had before. 
     Note the rust in this picture.  After three years of daily use, my bike is now a beater.  That's fine with me.  The first thing Ruth and I did when we bought our bikes was ride them through mud and scratch up the paint.  I don't want a brand new bright and shiny bike.  It would be stolen for sure.

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Chinese word for the day: 难以置信
(nn yǐ zh xn literally difficult to believe) = unbelievable

November 28, 2009 Wrasslin' with Chinglish

Some of my Oral English freshmen put their heads together.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

I spend a lot of time answering student emails.  Not that I'm complaining.  It's my favourite way to interact with students.  My young friend Jackie Grasham (so named because he admires the writing of John Grisham but entered a spelling mistake when he chose his name.  Ah, the vagaries of fate!) has been working on a composition about going for a bike ride adventure.  He sent me his first draft and asked for help. I gave suggestions for a few sentences, was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, and sent it back to him with some advice:


I really don't want you to be discouraged. You have a good mind, and you have the ability to write English very well. You need some guiding principles, and I'm afraid that much of what you have been taught steers you in the wrong direction.  
Big words are not a sign of good writing. Simplicity is. Long sentences have no value other than to show off your ability to create long sentences. Short sentences are much easier to read and understand. That is the point of writing, to convey information, to be understood.
     When you write, you should use words that you know, words that you have no doubts about. Don't expect the dictionary to help, because while it may justify a "two dollar word", it won't help you decide whether that is the right word to use. Try to use the simplest words you can think of, and please don't worry about, as you put it,  "better and more impressive". Nobody is impressed by big words, unless they are impressed by the writer's pomposity.
     So, please go through your story and continue as I started. "Autumn is not stricken by cold and heat"??? Is Autumn ever stricken by anything, or is it you who are stricken? How about: Autumn is neither too hot nor too cold. I like this season. I like the sound of dry leaves under my feet. I like the cool air, so refreshing after the pizza oven heat of summer.
     Try to paint pictures with your words. Evoke the senses. Tell the reader what you see, smell, taste, touch. and hear. Describe the colours. Give us the textures. It really isn't all that difficult.
     You'll notice that I'm not using long sentences, yet my writing does not sound like baby talk.

He sent me a second draft.  That prompted the following:

Dear Jackie:

There is too much here for me to re-write it for you as an example of how to write. Let's just start with your first sentence.

"Being too long on campus, we felt the long-missed freedom coming and never-forget nature passing while cycling."

This is a wonderful Chinglish sentence. I think I know what you are trying to say. Now, re-write it please. Try to pick out the ideas you have in this one sentence, and find simpler and more native English ways to express them. Actually, I'll list them off for you so you can see if you can put them into a sentence, or a number  of sentences:

We had been too long on campus.
We felt confined.
We were all missing the freedom we felt while cycling.
We all wanted to get out and experience a bit of nature.
We enjoy watching nature pass by us when we ride our bikes.
The beauty of nature is unforgettable.

Now, look at the words in this list. Is "campus" the right word? Are you really confined on this campus? It seems to me that the campus has lots of open spaces and plenty of beauty and nature. Don't you really mean "confined to our dormitories"? Don't you really mean "confined to our dormitories, surrounded by hard cold concrete, grey surfaces, lifeless objects"?

Does "nature pass by us" or do you "pass through nature"? Is "pass by" the best word to use?  What about "glide through"? Find your words. Find evocative words that paint pictures in my mind.

Now, re-write your sentence and send it back to me. Get this one done and we'll move on to the next sentence.

All the best


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Chinese word for the day: 正 (zhng meaning right, straight, correct) 
This one calls for a bit of explanation.   All my other words of the day have had some poetic meaning in the character combinations, or interesting way of saying something that we English speakers would never discover.  But this one is different.  I've included it because... well, you know how prisoners in movies keep track of the date by scratching lines on the cell wall.  Like this:   The Chinese use the character zhng for this purpose.  Zhng has the following stroke order:   Five strokes.  So on the cell wall would indicate fifteen days of captivity.

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Greetings from Shanghai.  When I'm coming down with a cold, heaven can be a hot scotch and a good bathtub.

November 25, 2009  No it Wasn't H1N1

The flu alert has locked down the school.  I'm told the campus hospital is full, with students cluttering up the hallways.  Starting last Wednesday evening and slowly building, something nasty hit me hard.  Monday I was too sick to get out of the apartment.  I cancelled Monday and Tuesday's classes and stayed in bed for two days,  only getting out to make it to my Special Class last night.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't H1N1, but plenty bad enough.  Now I'm definitely on the mend, but I feel like I lost two days of my life.

Shanghai Weekend

Ruth's old high school friend, Doug, travels so much on business that he has a few frequent flier points he can squander.  So when he hit Shanghai for some meetings, he offered to put us up for the weekend at the Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, a five star hotel right in the heart of the city overlooking People's Square.

Ruth admires the roses in our room, Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China An orchid in the bathroom, Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China
What makes a hotel a five star?  Fresh cut flowers in the room and an orchid in the bathroom for starters.

Once again I'll mostly let the pictures speak for themselves, though in this case my pictures do not do justice to the decadence of our weekend.  Thanks, Doug.

 Our host for the weekend.  Thanks, Doug.  It was nice to visit your lifestyle.  Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China Silence of the lamb anybody?  Delicious.  Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China  
So this is how the rich folk live?  Not too shabby. I've stayed in worse places, and it's hard to believe we're in the
heart of a Chinese city in a developing country.

Doug reflects on the workout room, Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China
I've worked out in worse places too.

 Somebody is a neat freak, and that's probably what they pay them for.  Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China Okay, we can come back later for a swim.  Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China
Before you can use a facility, you have to find it and inspect it.  So this is Ruth and Doug on the pool inspection tour. 
Plans are being made.

 Ah, sensuous indeed.  Ruth on the pool deck, Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China

The skyline view from the pool deck, Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China  People's Square view from the pool deck, Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China

Yes, that's a Subway in the background.  Not a bad sandwich, and just like home.  Shanghai, China.
Lunch was more plebian fare.  What city are we in again?  I forget.

 Night view from the bar on floor 66, Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China
That's the famous pearl tower below us.

Night view from our room on floor 29, Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China
Shanghai is a beautiful city, especially if you can rise above it like this.

  That's Ruth in the far corner doing laps.  Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China  I was hoping this would keep the cold at bay, and maybe it helped.  Exercise room at Le Royal Mridien Shanghai, China

A bicycle rack disguised as a flower planter.  Shanghai, China

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Speaking of Fitness...

As promised last year, the school now has a fitness room set up in the basement of the new foreign teachers' apartments.  We're not going to be using it much, because we bought our own elliptical trainer,  but the facility is a nice addition to the foreigners' accommodations.  We do appreciate our administration here at Jiangnan University.

Elaine gets some uh... exercise.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China   Ping pong in the new fitness room at the foreign teachers' apartments.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

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Chinese word for the day: 气喘吁吁
(q chuǎn xū xū literally "air pant puff puff") = breathe hard or pant

November 18, 2009 The Christmas Bursary Again

Two years ago,  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.
       That was two years ago.  We did the same thing last year, and Professor Reid Mitchell tossed a bit more money into the pot.  When we got back from our weekend outing to Ningbo I found this letter in my inbox, reminding me that Christmas is just around the corner.

Dear David,

First of all I would like to thank you for such an inspiring website. I have just spent the day going through it instead of preparing my week's lesson plans (now I'm going to be up until two in the morning, I just know it).

I teach at Changchun University, in Jilin province. Your bursary idea is quite interesting. Changchun University is advertised as a second-tier university, but is in fact, third-tier, and a number of my students are from quite poor families. I'd like to know what you are doing with your bursary program, how you started it, and how you choose your recipients. Also, I'd like to ask your permission to use your ideas to start a similar program here.

Christmas is coming, as is the end of this semester. I am anxious to get this program up and running and to put a smile on some less than fortunate students' faces.

Thank you in advance,

Chris Knight
Changchun University Foreign Language College

Wow,  What a letter.  Since receiving it I've had a great conversation with my new friend Chris Knight. I asked his permission to post his letter.  His response: "Of course you have my permission to mention this on your website. Maybe others will pick up on the idea and spread a little cheer themselves this Christmas."  So this was the kick I needed to post this announcement:

Please note: we do not give to finance any business ideas.

You don't need to be in desperate need to ask for money,  but please consider your situation.  If your family is doing okay, compared to other students, maybe there are students more in need than you.
     In past years we've been particularly touched by those students who asked for money, not for themselves but for a friend they knew had problems.

Application check list: (Please make sure you include the following information in your email)

Subject: Christmas 2009 Bursary

In the body of your email include:

       Your Chinese name.

       Your Chinese name in pinyin

       Your complete student number

       A mobile phone number where you can be reached

       Any other reliable contact information.

       Amount of money requested.

       Details of how you would use the money.

       A bit of information about yourself and your situation

Application Deadline:  December 18, 2009

Successful applicants will be notified by email before December 25, 2009


For the past two years, the Christmas bursary has become the most gratifying,  satisfying, and wonderful way to celebrate Christmas.  We got far more pleasure out of helping students who needed help than we ever could have had from any present.  So... we're doing it again.  There's a limit, of course, to how much we can contribute.  But if you are a student whose life, or the life of a family member or friend,  would be improved a lot by a small amount of money, please think about applying.

Among the recipients in past years year we gave:

             -To pay for a student's mother to see a doctor, pay part of siblings' tuition, and buy new
               clothes for parents.

             -To buy a blood pressure machine for a student's father and small Christmas gift for his girl 

             -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 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.

             -To help pay the air fare to allow a student to take his friend who was dying of
              cancer for a walk on the beach on Hainan Island.

None of these bursaries were huge amounts. The most we gave to any one student was 800 RMB. 

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In the new pavilion on the peninsula, Ruth enjoys the last warm weather while letting the dog run loose.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

The Weekend Outing to Ningbo and Yandang Shan

Each term (at least for the past three years) our administration has laid on an all expense paid outing to some scenic part of China, with side trips to museums to help us appreciate Chinese history and culture.  Last weekend the tour took us to Ningbo and Yandang Shan.  I think I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Ruth on the tour bus to Ningbo, China   View out the front window of Ningbo Street, China  One of several tour guides we had for the weekend, Ningbo, China

    Night cruise, Ningbo, China

Another Chinese feast. Ningbo, China    The Korean students with us on the tour to Ningbo, being cute.

I could easily get used to five star hotels.  Ningbo, China

One of the most incredible Chinese gardens we've seen so far.  Dongming Hall, Ningbo, China

One of the most incredible Chinese gardens we've seen so far.  Dongming Hall, Ningbo, China    One of the most incredible Chinese gardens we've seen so far.  Dongming Hall, Ningbo, China

Making baroque seem austere.  Dongming Hall, Ningbo, China  The ceiling of the stage, Ningbo, China

The Chinese think it's a bear, but we know it's a beaver.  There's a lot of water coming over the lip of this falls...

...but by the time it hits the bottom it's falling like heavy rain.

 The pool at the bottom of the waterfall, someplace near Ningbo, China

No, our group did not try to use this equipment.  I was tempted but... resisted.  Adventure training.  Ningbo, China  Adventure training.  Ningbo, China

Note the cigarette in the pipe shaped holder.

This temple went up three or four stories inside the mountain.  No way it would fit into a photograph.  And let me remind you that symbol predates the Nazis by a few centuries.

I felt like an intruder amidst all the devotion.  Inside the mountain temple, Yandang Shan, China

Decorated religion is a huge draw for tourists here.  Inside the mountain temple, Yandang Shan, China

These outings are always wonderful.  Just one of the many reasons we really like working at Jiangnan University.  Big thanks to Ms. Liu, Cherry, Jesse, Michael, and all the other hard working people in our administration.

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In Other News

I try to post everything I think might be of interest on this site, but there's no way I can keep up with everything.  Stuff happens. 

  • Last Friday I gave up the right of way to a group of bike riding students who were cutting the corner at a campus intersection.  I stopped.  A student coming toward me at full speed went into panic mode, jerked left on the handlebars, then right, then went for the middle and smashed right into my bike.  I just spent 50 RMB ( $7.70 Canadian) at the local bike shop to get a new wheel.  That is one of the beauties of this place.  Repairs are cheap.  But for some time now I've been thinking of putting a "rules of the road" power point presentation together for the students here.  They don't know that rules exist.  Nothing like being smashed by a bike rider for providing an incentive.

  • I've started my Special Class for the best English speakers on campus.  Already we've had two sessions, and I'm impressed with the enthusiasm.  Great bunch of people, these students.

  • Wang Yijing and I are now having regular violin practice sessions on Wednesdays after our Chinese lesson.

  • Tonight we're having dinner with Jim and Janet at their apartment.

  • I've still got class prep to do for tomorrow, and I haven't been on the exercise machine yet today. All in all, life is full.

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Sports day at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China.  The tents are for event registration and product promotion.

Chinese word for the day: 小费
(xiǎo fi literally "small fee")  = tip or gratuity

November 08, 2009 Translated Jokes Fall Flat

We had another Chinese corner last Friday.  That was exciting for us, and a good party, but maybe ho hum to write about again.  Three foreigners in attendance, plus about a dozen very helpful students.  Ruth came away feeling encouraged.  She had a couple of hours of speaking nothing but Chinese, and finds she can now communicate increasingly complicated ideas.   

For of our regulars at our Chinese corners, now a Friday evening event at our apartment, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

I came away feeling less encouraged.  My communication still feels like baby talk, and my carefully prepared translations of English jokes fell flat.  Tough audience,  bad delivery, or bad jokes.  It's hard to say which.  Probably a combination of all three.  Here's one of my jokes:

(xio hua)

他对办公室里的人说:到目前为止, 一切都很好。


A window washer falls from the one hundred and sixty-second floor of an office building.  As he passes the fortieth floor on his way down, office workers hear him call out:  "Well, so far so good."

I love this joke because it reminds me of life.  We are all falling from a very high place, and all of us are saying "Well, so far so good."  The splat is coming, but we have the ability to ignore it and be happy anyway.  The Chinese can say something the equivalent of "so far so good", but apparently it doesn't have the same resonance for them.  Or maybe my joke just isn't funny, even in English.  You tell me, okay.

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Have I Said it All Yet

There's lots going on, but I've posted most of it before.  Life settles into routines, even in China.  Studying Chinese and class prep evaporates our time, but don't seem worth documenting.  I'm spending a lot of time at this computer, preparing for my News Reading classes and putting together a power point presentation for the Special Class audition that I'll be holding on Tuesday evenings. Apparently I'm soon going to have a violin student. Nothing feels worth writing about, without long and tedious explanations. Last night we went downtown to the Blue Bar for a hamburger and a pina colada.  Same old same old.    All the stuff of a wonderful life here, but boring to share.

The Reverend Billy Graham as he appeard on TV when I was a child.   Billy Graham as he looks these days.  He's mellowed a bit, but it's the same sermon.

Okay, here's something to talk about.  With the Internet we can live in an English language bubble here in China.  The other night we watched a TED lecture.  Ruth has downloaded and saved all of them, and updates as new lectures are released each week. We watch one or two a night, just before bed, and these entertaining talks keep us informed about the cutting edge of social and scientific development.  One we watched recently featured Billy Graham.  I haven't listened to Billy Graham since I was a kid.  My mother watched his TV show religiously (so to speak).  It was a surprise to see him give a TED lecture, and he started his talk by commenting that he felt very out of place himself.  The old bible banger was as slick and charming as ever.  I actually felt some affection for him, as did the TED audience, obviously.  He is after all, now age ninety, an icon of American culture. 
     The Reverend tried to fit his sermon to the audience, and tie it in to modern technology and science, but as he warmed to his subject he gradually slipped into a very standard sermon about man and evil and the problems of this world that science, in his view, can't solve.  What struck me most was how archaic his ideas sounded to me.  I realized that the very concept of "evil" predates the relativistic world we live in now.  It's a man made concept that doesn't exist in nature.  I'm sure that to a mouse, a cat seems the epitome of evil.  To a Christian, a pagan can seem evil.  But evil and sin are not useful paradigms
     Billy Graham talked about changing man, and of course his answer to changing man is Christian faith in God and Jesus Christ.  But man has been formed by millions of years of evolution to be what he is.  The expectation that  he needs to change, or can BE changed,  is a fantasy.   It's a dangerous fantasy, that leads
into all kinds of foolishness such as the attempt to repress the sex drive, which, along with the survival instinct, is one of our strongest built in drives. Without the sex drive we wouldn't be here. With a weak sex drive, the gorilla seems doomed. Yet religious people have done their best to suppress this drive, leading to everything from genital mutilation as a cure for masturbation (Thank you, Dr. Kellogg) to the creation of pedophiles by putting men with no sexual outlet in charge of orphans. 
     I'm happy to see that science is now looking at what we are, not with the expectation that we can be changed, but to understand why we behave as we do, and to find ways to direct our behavior toward goals we see as valuable, and away from such primitive manifestations as xenophobia, racism, homophobia, sexism, tribalism, war and, yes, organized religion.  We will never get the results we want by acting against our nature. It seems to me that the organized religion that Billy Graham represents so perfectly can be seen as a huge social experiment that has proven this point.
     In another TED lecture, a neuroscientist named Jim Fallon talked about his research revealing that virtually all serial killers have damage to a certain part of their brains.  Now, which is more useful -  to talk about serial killers as morally corrupt and evil, and expect that conversion to Christianity will reform them, or to talk about them as defective organisms with brain damage?  I find it comforting to think that serial killers are not just normal people who make a bad moral choice, or strayed away from the Christian god.
     No doubt there are religious people who are altruistic because of their beliefs, but research seems to indicate that Christians are no more moral, nor more likely to be honest, than atheists.   I'm happy to see that research now focuses on telling us what we can expect of human beings, and suggesting ways we can direct our instincts toward positive goals. Let's leave guilt and sin, along with hellfire and damnation, to our primitive past.

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Between classes at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Chinese word for the day: 野餐桌
(yě cān zhuō literally "wild meal table") = picnic table

November 4, 2009 Questionable Science

In one corner we have what, until recently. has been a few maverick scientists plus big oil and coal with their unlimited budgets for lobbyists, commercials, funding "scientific" studies, hiring PR companies, and financing Astroturf organizations - all aimed at creating doubt about the role of human activity  in climate change. 

Global warming skeptics in London, England. Even a saint can be wrong and maybe his is, but  I still love the guy.

In the other corner we have legitimate scientists, wannabe scientists, people with no scientific credentials at all,  environmentalists and political activists all trying to build or defend reputations, get grant money, solicit donations, or get a share of the limited government funding for research.  There is no such thing as "pure science" untainted by human foibles.  Who do we believe?  Which way do we jump to get out of this particular frying pan?  Can we avoid the fire?  (Can this writer stop using these clichd metaphors?)
     Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth", impressed a lot of people and won him an Oscar. I became an instant and outspoken fan.  Vice President Gore has become the point man for the environmental movement.   Of course the point man is an obvious target for the other side, and shooting the messenger has always been a favourite tactic. 
      I believe that Al Gore is sincere.  I find him charming.  But I don't want to let the fact that I'm on his side blind me to the possibility that he could be wrong.  Science and government policy should not be decided by personality cults or popularity.

My friend Gary, a former teacher here, sent me the following link. 


I read it all.  Every word.  The author describes the global warming crowd (my side, by the way) as "hysterics" and "hoaxers" and their work as "junk science".  Well if my side is doing junk science, this is right wing talk radio science, spackled with name calling, vitriol, sarcasm, and smug superiority.  The problem is we can't ignore the arguments.  Maybe calling the global warming alert a hoax and comparing it to the Piltdown man is going a bit far, but what about the science?  Did Al Gore make a huge mistake, and suck most of the world along with him?  Did he get the cause confused with the effect?  Is CO2 a result of global warming, and not the cause of it?  Is CO2 not a significant greenhouse gas?  Are carbon credits and capping carbon emissions a waste of time and a misappropriation of resources?
     I went off to Wikipedia and other sources to see what scientists are actually saying now, and what facts might have recently come to light.  You can spend your life following links on this one.  I don't believe that we have been the victims of a hoax, or that Al Gore is an insincere money grabbing politician  But if big oil or anybody else is out to create doubt, they are doing a great job of it.  I'm left decidedly undecided.
     And what if?  If Al Gore is just plain wrong, what does that mean?  Everything is okay?  Business as usual?  Let's continue to rape and pillage because global warming doesn't look as bad as we were lead to believe, and isn't our fault anyway?  Are there no limits to growth?  Can we continue the way we have been going?  Even if Al Gore's alarm bell was a mistake, aren't some of the initiatives that have come out of the whole global warming issue worth pursuing for their own value - clean energy,  clean water,  clean air.  Living in China makes me think they are.

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November 1, 2009  Hallowe'en and the Emperor Walks Again

Chinese word for the day: 把玩
(bǎ wn literally "grasp" plus "play") = fondle

One thing we miss here is handing out candies to kids on Hallowe'en and seeing all the costumes.  There's a possibility that one of Ruth's friends will set up a web cam in Winnipeg to let us enjoy this vicariously next year.  That would be fun, and our students would be able to tune it too if they are interested.  This year the best I could do is take the emperor's robe off our wall and wear it to deliver some Hallowe'en candy to an English corner.

This is the day I bought the robe for.  Well, this and the potential to someday sell it to a drag queen on Ebay.
This picture was taken before the bulk of the students showed up.  It was a well attended English corner,
with over a hundred students.  We had to move to a bigger room.

As usual we had a great time talking with the students.  We also enjoyed Michael's presentation about his SCUBA adventures and NASCAR race photography.  So many of the foreigners here have really interesting backgrounds.  Which figures, I suppose.  Only the more adventurous will teach in China.

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Chinese Corner at Our Place

You wouldn't think it would be hard to practice speaking Chinese in China, but it's next to impossible.  All of our students speak excellent English, and that's the language they want to practice with us.  Their English is so much better than our Chinese that we very quickly find ourselves using an English word, and then it's game over.  The rest of the conversation is in English.
     Those locals who don't speak English usually have a dialect or accent that makes their Mandarin next to useless to us.  So despite being surrounded by Chinese people who always speak their own language among themselves, it's very hard to get any of them to talk to us in 普通话 (Pǔ tōng hu, literally "common share speech"), the standardized Mandarin of China.

Chinese corner at our apartment.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Now, thanks to the organizational initiative of our friend Fonzie (seated second from right front row), a number of students have started coming to our apartment every Friday evening to help us practice Chinese.  They are wonderful, patient teachers.  This week we even had three other 外国人 (wi gu rn - outside country person, foreigner) join us.  So maybe the Chinese Corner can become a regular event.  We try to make it a party, not a chore. 
     For this coming week I've written a little comedy dialogue, a Chinese version of "Who's on First", based on the fact that 没有 mi yǒu, meaning "not have", is the same pronunciation but different tones as 煤油 mi yu, "coal oil" or "kerosene".  To say "do you have" you say 有没有 yǒu mi yǒu, "have not have".  My skit grows out of a foreigner going into a hardware store to ask for kerosene, 你有没有煤油 nǐ yǒu mi yǒu mi yu, and the confusion that results.  Hopefully our students can help us learn to perform this with the correct tones.  Hopefully it will be funny, and fun.

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Chinese word for the day: 结果
(ji guǒ literally "form fruit")  = result

October 28, 2009  The Chinese Characters Graphics Problem

Replacing the speed bumps with a better design.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Last week I said that I wasn't going to post anything for a while because I wanted to fix some problems with my site graphics on the learning Chinese pages.  But... I've been too busy lately to get to them.  So if the graphics of Chinese characters look clipped to you, it may be because you are using Firefox or some other browser.  They look fine with Internet Explorer.  Fixing them for both browsers is going to take more time than I thought.

Congratulations to Echo and her Design Team

Echo sent me an email to explain why she missed one of my news reading classes.  She and her team went to Nanjing for a design competition. 

Entry in a mechanical design competition, Nanjing, China Entry in a mechanical design competition, Nanjing, China Entry in a mechanical design competition, Nanjing, China Entry in a mechanical design competition, Nanjing, China Entry in a mechanical design competition, Nanjing, China

Echo, truant for a good reason.  The design team in Nanjing for the competition.  Second prize winner in the  mechanical design competition, Nanjing, China

Here she is with his design team, and their design - second prize winners.  Congratulations Echo.

Small Improvements that Make a Difference

This campus is getting better and better.  For three years now I've been cursing the speed bumps.  I often have a my tin cup of tea in my carrier, and that means I have to either find the gap at the edge of the road or come to a stop to go over the bump.  Nobody in China walks on a sidewalk, and students seem to bunch together when they come to the speed bump, so that they all can go through the gap and won't have to lift their feet.  None of them spare a thought to the bike riders.  It's a petty complaint, but then all my complaints are petty. 

Workers replace the speed bumps with a more thoughtful design.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Now every speed bump on campus is being replaced with these ones with generous gaps for bikes.  It may not seem like much, but it makes a difference.

Editors at Work

One of the Chinese teachers asked me to go over the English translation of an article about the new Wuxi Water Town Eco-museum.  When I took my first pass at the document,  all fourteen pages of it, there were many sentences in the original translation that I couldn't understand at all.  Translation software has a long way to go before it works for Chinese.

Treating us to a meal was appreciated, but this was too big a job to do without a computer.  Editing the Eco-museum manuscript, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

So this turned into a collaboration between myself and Jin Bo, initially at a campus restaurant but soon back in our apartment on the computer, to find the true meaning of the Chinese, and get it accurately translated. 
I really enjoy this kind of work.  It's like solving a puzzle combined with a treasure hunt as we try to clarify the meaning and find the perfect words.

Violins in China

When I came to China, it never crossed my mind that my Chinese teacher might also be a pretty good violinist. 

David and Falcon about to make music together.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

I'm teaching Wang Yijing the old English melody, "Ash Grove" so that we can do the harmony as a duet.

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Another Birthday in China

I thought I had some pictures of the food fight that ended our party at the restaurant, but I guess I was too protective of my camera to shoot any.  A great party. Thanks folks.

Another day, another party.  The gang at the duck restaurant in Wuxi, China   Next year we'll only have to buy the three.  My birthday cake, which mostly got eaten but enough was left over to be food fight amunition.

When Overwhelmed is an Understatement

Winkle delivers live crabs and chestnuts

I only have one problem with Winkle.  We don't see her nearly enough.
The live crabs are very expensive here.  Winkle's mother brought this gift for us from her hometown,
along with a bag of chestnuts.

The ones with the large belly plates are females, and full of delicious eggs.   Later that same day...  Ruth digs into the crabs.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
The warmth, hospitality, and friendliness of our Chinese friends continues to amaze us.

Chinese word for the day: 静夜思
(jng y sī literally "silence of the night thought/longing") = nostalgia

October 17 Later in the Day, Just Had to Mention....

New construction on the left, workers' quarters on the right.  Wuxi, China, canal at night.

You know the world is getting flat when you eat Mexican food in an Australian restaurant* in Wuxi, China, while listening to Canadian singer Anne Murray cover Hank Williams classics.

And that after checking out a Colombian Boa (snake) in a local pet store.

*Ronnie's Australian Bar and Ned Kelly's Kitchen, near Nan Chan Si.  Really good Western food.  Can't tell it from home, especially with Anne Murray on the speakers.

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From one canal bridge to another.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China.

Chinese word for the day: 乡愁
(xiāng chu literally "hometown worry") = homesickness

October 17, 2009  Sorry, No New Posts for a Week or So

I've known for some time that my graphic Chinese characters do not display properly in browsers such as Firefox.  They are clipped and don't show the whole character. 
     I've finally decided to do something about this, but it's going to take a long time because there are hundreds of such graphics in the learning Chinese portion of this site, and fixing each one turns out to be a complicated procedure.  So I'm not going to update anything on the homepage unless something truly remarkable happens.  Please come back in a week or so, or wander around in my archives. They are extensive after three years of additions.

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By the way, if you see anything amiss on this site - pictures that don't display, links that don't work, or just mistakes or stupidities - please take a few seconds to click on the comment link to the blog and let me know.  It's faster than sending me an email.

Possessed by the Devil*

Since we bought the exercise machine our numbers have been steadily moving up.  At first I thought I'd never break 300 calories in a half hour workout.  Then in the attempt to break 400 I accidentally hit over 500.  My record until today was 647, so of course I've been aiming at breaking 650.  But when the timer hit 0, the calorie counter was at 666.  I think the machine is trying to tell me something.

The devil is in the machine.  But I think it's on my side.

     I only managed to set this new personal best record by stopping every five minutes and letting my breathing and heart rate get back closer to normal,  which takes about a minute.  I'm justifying this by calling it sprint training,  known to increase endurance.
*I don't believe there is any significance to this, of course.  It's just a number, and an excuse to post some whimsy..

Chinese word for the day: 绕口令
(ro kǒu lng literally "coil mouth command") n. tongue-twister
example: 四十四只石狮子  (s sh s zhǐ sh shī zi note the tones) 44 stone lions

October 15, 2009 Science in Real Life

Since we bought the exercise machine, back in February right after the Spring holiday, we've been using it every single morning that we've spent here in our Jiangnan University apartment.  I've been doing my own little science experiment.

Best investment we ever made.  David on the elliptical  trainer,  Jiangnan University,  Wuxi,  China
Double click the picture for the video

The hypothesis - if I exercise every single morning for half an hour, and really get my breathing going and work up a good sweat, I'll lose my middle age pot belly and have the body of a teenager again.  That was the theory.  The experiment was to do this, and check in on the results.
     Sad to say, the results are now in.  Burning what the machine counts as five to six hundred calories every morning has not given me the six pack I'd like to have.  Sure, Ruth and I both feel great after our showers.  We both have lots of energy.  I run up the stairs past the zombie students who have barely entered their twenties.  And who knows what kind of a bay window I'd be packing around without the morning workout. But in terms of the aesthetics of my body, I must say that this doesn't seem to be doing very much.  As my old friend and body shaping expert, Yvonne Cournoyer, told me exercise will help, but if you want to lose fat you need the right diet.
     I know what the right diet is.  I pretend to be on it most of the time, but I'm not strict enough and I know that too.  I'm fond of the Breezers (Bacardi rum alcopop, loaded with sugar) and the butter in my mashed potatoes. 
     My father used to talk about a teacher he had during his brief years in school, a man with a big red nose.  His teacher would enter the classroom, twist his nose vigorously in two directions, and announce in a loud voice:  "Boys, be stern with yourselves.  Be stern with yourself and in twenty or thirty years you will command great respect."
     My sixty-second birthday is coming up in a few days.  I'm starting to think that I just might be past my best before date.  Maybe I can talk myself into being stern with myself.  Is it too late to start? 

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Fall is coming to Wuxi.  The weather has cooled down, the humidity has dropped, and today we have a perfect temperature and clear blue skies, so rare for this part of China.  I rejoice, even as I anticipate the coming winter.  At least we have right now.  And now is wonderful.

October 10, 2009 Foreign Expert Evaluation

The entrepreneurs of China, selling everything from street food to shoes and plants, line the road to Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Yesterday I received an email from the administration requesting me to fill out an online evaluation form that includes a personality test, a world knowledge test, a written essay, and a resume. 
     I took a look at the personality evaluation test and freaked out.  It's written with a lot of Chinglish, and I can't believe it has any validity as a measure of my personality.  I protested.  I said that I am not happy putting information up on the Internet that will follow me wherever I go in China.
     Here's an administration response that went out to everybody today:

Dear all:

Sitting for the evaluation as attached is required by the China State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, the top government agency in charge of international teachers in China.

From this year on, every English-speaking international teacher working in China have to undergo this evaluation process and the evaluation result will be kept on an online file for future reference.

That is to say, wherever you go in the future, this online file will be referred to by your future employer and relevant government agencies as long as you work in China.

However, nobody except your would-be employer or relevant government agencies can have access to your personal information and evaluation results, so dont worry too much about your privacy.

Most important of all, it's a precondition for getting a new foreign expert certificate (i.e. the work permit) for the next year.

As you know, the foreign expert certificate (i.e. the work permit) is the necessity for applying for the residence permit.

The official deadline is Nov.20, but we hope it can be finished in this month. Thank you for your cooperation.

Here's my test result for the psychological evaluation.  I scored 39.  The test doesn't say whether this is 39 out of 40, or 39 out of 100, or 39 out of 500.  I'll admit that I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the questions, mostly because I have no idea what answers whoever invented the test thinks are better than the other choices.

Psychological Test

The score for Psychological Test is 39 , high scoring index is Heart Endurance, Sense of Achievement, Emotional Stability , low scoring index is Extent of Mental Health, Confidence, Inspiring Capacity, Comprehensive Analysis Ability, Response Ability .

I find it fascinating that I got a high (higher?) score for Emotional Stability, but a low score for Extent of Mental Health.  (I suppose it is possible to be emotionally very stable while at the same time being crazy.  But who makes this judgment, and based on what?) The low score for Confidence and Inspiring Capacity is also interesting.  Do I come across to my students as a guy who lacks confidence?  I'd be interested in reading student comments on this.

Ruth just read this, and came up with a completely different interpretation.  By her reading, the report isn't dividing MY test score into these categories and telling me where I excel or show a deficiency. By her reading, this is telling me that a high score indicates Heart Endurance, Sense of Achievement, Emotional Stability and a low score indicates Extent of Mental Health, Confidence, Inspiring Capacity, Comprehensive Analysis Ability, Response Ability .  But this way of reading the results makes no sense to me at all.  Does a low score indicate Confidence, or do they really mean "lack of confidence"..  I think I'll stick with my way of reading the results, but who really knows.  It's unclear to say the least.

The Chinese leadership was trying to clean up Chinglish before the Olympics. so I take it they'd like to present a professional face to the outside world, yet here's an official government homepage, directed at the English speaking community, with some very, shall we say, unconventional English in it.  This is a pity.  There must be a few native English speakers in this country who would be happy to help.

Here are my results for the Basic Knowledge Test.   

Knowledge Test

The score of Knowledge Test is 50 , high scoring index is Knowledge about Euro-American Literature , low scoring index is Mathematical Knowledge .

This doesn't surprise me because I skipped all the math questions and didn't pay a lot of attention to the other ones.  On the other hand this did surprise me because I expected a much lower score..

After class today I thought I'd see if I can take this test again,  with the intention of pulling up Google and a calculator to see if I can get a perfect score.  (There's nothing on the site that says you shouldn't do this, so I take it that it's an "open book" exam.  If you can use Google and a calculator within the time limit,  that seems fair.) No such luck.  Attempting to take the test again brought up this error message.

Basic Knowledge Test

Sorry. Last time when you took this test is 2009/10/09. You can not take the knowledge test the second time within 6 months since that.

So I'll have to wait for six months before I can repeat this test.  Be warned.  If you want to take the test seriously, do it on the first time through.

There are a number of ways to look at this evaluation.  One is that this has no meaning at all in the grand scheme of things.  Go with the flow.  Everybody has to do it, so just grit your teeth and fill in the test form.  I'm not here to criticize the government or make trouble for anybody. 
     The administration of this university has no power in this situation.  This is a requirement for getting a foreign expert certificate, and without that you won't get a visa.  So, simply understand the situation and make up your own mind.

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Go ahead.  Fill out the tests.  You can register with a temporary user name, just to see what it's all about.  Let me know what you think.  Let's hear from you, folks.

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October 9, 2009 Computer Translation - Another Threat to Language

That dog in the window is priceless.  GouGou alert for our return.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

My News Reading class had been discussing the film "Wag the Dog", and the students were to send me their opinion about whether events in the film could happen in real life.  Here's an excerpt from one email:

When really also vacation, false also really .I thought appearance wag the dog " the probability is 4.Some people thought that wag the dog " is the human who these are concerned only about profit, is wholly absorbed regarding the advantageous matter, was concerned with to oneself non-advantage's matter. But I thought that wag the dog is refers to the human only then not to be able to think, could not have achieved matter.
We live the world is by the language constitution, the real situation always has the distorted danger, this kind of danger is possibly an accident, may also be artificial intentionally. Some matters were cannot avoid.
The life so is short for several dozens years, chooses the way which one like to be excessively good each day and that's the end, periphery kindly treats each person, can hang a smiling face to give others frequently, already was very good .

This made me suspicious and prompted the following exchange:

Dear _____

I'm curious about something. Did you write this originally in Chinese and then use some kind of translation software to arrive at your English paragraph, something like Google translate?
The structures are creatively non-English. Please let me know about this. And don't worry, there are no consequences to telling me the truth.

Warmest regards


Dear David
Your curiosity is right.I have used the GOOGLE translation tool, because my English is not very good, did not know how should translate.On your elective course is wants to raise the English proficiency.But the situation is not very good .


Dear _____:

The Google translation tool may be a good place to start if you have a long passage you want to translate. But unless you go over the result carefully, and make a lot of corrections, what comes out is incomprehensible. 

I think until you are much more proficient with English you are far better off simply saying what you want to say in English using the simplest sentences you can invent. Do not start with Chinese, because the structures are too different. Also, you want to be able to understand English because you understand the meaning of the words, not the Chinese translation of the words.

Have you ever had the experience of seeing something but you can't remember what it is called, in any language.  Still, you know what it is. This is because the brain uses something that linguists call "mentalese", the language of the mind.  A thing is what it is, no matter what you call it. So once you know that horse is 马 mǎ then the word horse is simply another word for the same thing.  We often have two words for the same thing: auto, automobile, car, vehicle, beater, ride, and now, for me, 车 chē.  I don't have to translate 车 chē into English in order to understand what it means. Doing so is a waste of time and a very bad habit.

When you write in English, without even thinking about the Chinese words, you naturally will adopt English structures.  I try tell students that simple declarative sentences are the basis of communication in English.  What is a simple declarative sentence?  It's a sentence that has a subject, a verb, and an object and makes a
statement. "The boy chased the dog." "I was late getting to class." "My mother is a great cook." "I always read before I go to sleep."  Write using this structure for sentences and you can say anything.  What's more, your writing will be clear and easy to understand.

You already have a huge English vocabulary.  I'm sure you can say anything you want to say, using English.  Do not worry too much about whether you are "correct". Just try to communicate.

>I was sorry very much today only then sends the mail to you, because among
>had a mistake.

English is usually simpler than Chinese.  This is how your sentence should read:  I'm sorry I sent you an assignment that had a mistake in it.

Please try sending me your paragraph again, but this time put it in your own words, in English.  I can't correct what Google translation gave you, because I have no idea what it means.

Warmest regards


I'm reminded of something I read back during the cold war, when Americans were trying to develop a Russian translation machine.   One way to test such a machine is to input a sentence in one language, then input the translation and see how closely the result matches the original.  The sentence they input was "The spirit is strong but the flesh is weak."  What came back was "The wine will get you drunk but the meat is tasteless."

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October 7, 2009 Major Update Due and Coming Soon

We're back from our two days in Suzhou.  I'll have a report and pictures up soon.  But for now, here's a comment on the blog that deserves to be pulled up on to the front page.

Oh, David ,I really enjoy your website a lot!!!I wish I can live with passion and enthusiasm like you !!!
I like the song Childhood , and you do make good translatiions,but I notice that some lyrics are different from what I remembered.You may check on that but whatever it does not matter much, I simply want to remind you .
Here are what you write:
zuǐ lǐ de l shǐ
you translate :In mouth history lesson
but the word history should be snacks,actually the Chinese line is 嘴里的零食which means snacks in mouth.
Finally I want to tell you I really love your class!!!

Thank you so much for your kind words. As for the translation, you are not the first to suggest this correction. I'm not sure where I got the Chinese for this song, but I am sure that the version I got had 历史 lshǐ, history, not 零食 lngsh, snacks. Maybe there are two versions. But I like the idea that the child is spouting history (and I admit that I added "lessons which isn't in the Chinese at all) for the teacher, but has a comic book hidden in his history book, and really has his first love in his heart. That's what my childhood was like at least.
Thanks again for your support and attention. You are part of the reason I love teaching here.

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October 2, 2009

Chinese word for the day: 万花 筒
 (wn huā tǒng literally "thousand flowers tube") = kaleidoscope

I often find Chinese very poetic when I learn the literal meaning of words.  After all, what does "kaleidoscope" mean?  It's an invented marketing word, a nonsense word, an attempt to sound scientific, with Greek roots that are meaningless to us.  How much more descriptive is "thousand flowers tube".  Someday I'll write a poem in English but using the literal Chinese translations of our words, just to see if it comes out as poetic as I imagine it will.

Shyness, a National Affliction

The new footbridge joining the lakeside parks, with the big Japanese made Ferris wheel in the background.  Wuxi, China

Once again I return to the subject of shyness.  My students all have huge English vocabularies.  What they need is confidence and practice speaking English, and for this they are their own worst enemies.  Here's an excerpt from a student's assignment, and my response:

"In fact,I don't understand what it is talking about very well.In the first class I even don't konw what they are doing.Just looking at the screen.Though the second class was better,I can still konw a little about what was happening.
As my English is poor,sometimes I can't follow you.But I will try my best. Besides, I am a shy girl,so I am not enthusiasm in the classroom."

Dear __________:

Thanks for submitting this assignment.

I'm sorry to hear that you've had problems understanding me. but I have not noticed you making the hand signal I've told the class to use if I'm talking too fast. You will find, I'm sure, that as your brain and ear become attuned to listening to English you will understand more and more. But I can't help you unless you communicate with me. Please tell me if you don't understand something. Believe me, nobody in the class will mind. Most of them are probably having the same problem.

Also, now that you are an adult, I hope you will soon stop telling yourself "I am a shy girl." This does not serve you if you want to achieve anything in life.  Here's an English axiom for you: "Don't hide your light under a basket."

Being shy prevents you from participating and enjoying. You really should ask yourself why you are shy, and whether being shy is the way you really want to be. Do you think being shy makes you more acceptable to others? Are you afraid of the opinion of others? Do you think you are not worthy of the attention and respect that others can have? Where does this decision to be shy come from?  You realize, I hope, that it is a decision.  When you tell me, and more importantly, yourself, that you are shy, you have made a decision to BE shy.  This will not help you improve your spoken English.

Please consider changing your mind about this. Why not say something
like: "When I was a child I was very shy, but I realized that this was
not helping me get what I want out of life. So I pushed myself to
overcome this problem.  Now, as an adult, I'm not shy at all. If I
feel myself holding back and not contributing, I push myself forward.
I used to be shy, but I'm not shy any more. Now I'm the first to
volunteer an answer in class, or to take on a new challenge."

If you do this, you will find that few people criticize you, and those who do have problems of their own.  Any fears you have about attracting attention will seem silly and childish.  But you can only prove this to yourself by stepping forward.

Ask yourself:  "What's the worst that could possibly happen if I stop acting like I'm shy?"  And what is the worst that can happen?  Other students might laugh at you?  Other students might think you are too self important?  Is this really so bad?  Should the fantasy of the discomfort caused by these unlikely possibilities be allowed to stifle your abilities and sabotage your development?

Please think about this and have a great holiday.

Warmest regards


P.S. Mr. Li, the man who inspires millions with his Crazy English, also was shy.   But he pushed himself and overcame his shyness. You can too.

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On a personal note:  I set a new personal best on the exercise machine this morning.  657 calories in 30 minutes.  (MUSIC UP: the theme from "Rocky") These are probably not "real" calories, but we think they give us a good relative measure of how we do from day to day.  A few months ago, the goal was to break 400.

September 30, 2009 A Song That Bridges Cultures

Chinese word for the day: 难怪
(nn gui literally "difficult strange") = no wonder

This is the most performed of our Chinese songs.  As you can see, it has a lot of verses with few repetitions, so it was not easy to learn.  I'll tell you why it's my favorite song after you check out the lyrics.

(tng nin)

ch tng biān de rng sh shng
zhī liǎo zi shēng shēng jio zhe xia tiān
cāo chǎng biān de qiū qiān shng.
zhǐ yǒu h di tng zi shng mian
hēi bǎn shng lǎo shī de fěn bǐ hi zi pīn mng
jī jī zhā zhā xiě g b tng
děng di zhe xi k 
děng di zhe fng xu  
děng di yu x de tng nin

f l sh lǐ min shn me dōu yǒu
ji sh kǒu di lǐ mi yǒu bn mo qin
zhū gě s lng h m guǐ dǎng
do dǐ shu qiǎng do nzhī bǎo jin
g b bān de n ge nǚ hi zěn me
hi mi jīng gu wǒ de chuāng qin
zuǐ lǐ de l shǐ 
shǒu lǐ de mn hu
xīn li chū lin de tng nin


总是要等到睡觉 前
zǒng sh yo děng do shu jio qin
ci zhī do gōng k zhī zu le y diǎn diǎn
zǒng sh yo děng do kǎo sh yǐ hu
ci zhī do gāi nin de shū dōu mi yǒu nin
寸光阴一寸金 师说过
yī cn guāng yīn yī cn jīn lǎo shī shuō gu
cn jīn nn mǎi cn guāng yīn
y tiān yu y tiān
yī nin yu yī nin
m m h hu de tng nin


没有人 知道为什么
mi yǒu rn zhī do wi shn me
阳总下 到山 的那 一 
ti yng zǒng xi do shān de n y biān
mi yǒu rn nng go s wǒ
shān lǐ min yǒu mei yǒu zh zhe shn xiān
duō shǎo de r zǐ lǐ zǒng sh y g rn
min du zhe tiān kōng fā dāi
ji zh me ho q
ji zh me hun xiǎng
zh me gū dān de tng nin


yng guāng xi qīng tng fēi gu li
一片片绿 油 油 的 稻田
y pin pin lǜ yōu yōu de do tin
水彩蜡 笔和万花 筒
shuǐ cǎi l bǐ h wn huā tǒng
 hu b chū tiān biān n yī tio cǎi hng
shn me sh hu ci nng xing
gāi nin j de tng xu yǒu zhāng
成 熟与长大的脸
chng sh yǔ zhǎng d de liǎn
pn wng zhe ji qī 
pn wng zhe mng tiān
盼望长大的 童年
pn wng zhǎng d de tng nin

y tiān yu y tiān
yī nin yu yī nin
盼望长大的 童年
pn wng zhǎng d de tng nin


On the banyan tree beside the pool

The cicada sings a song of summer

On the swing beside the playground,

there's a butterfly resting.

On the blackboard the teacher's chalk

scritching scratching without stopping

Waiting for the class to end,

waiting for school to end

waiting for the games of childhood.


In the commissary all anybody has

In their pocket is not half a penny.

Those cartoon characters, in the end

who will grab the treasure sword.

That girl in the next classroom

Why hasn't she passed by my window.

In mouth history lesson

In hand comic book

In heart first love of childhood.


Always wait until just before sleeping

to realize only a little homework's been done

Always wait until after the exam

To realize the reading list wasn't read.

An inch of time is an inch of gold said the teacher

an inch of gold won't buy any time

day by day

year by year

unconscious childhood


Nobody knows why the sun always goes

down on that side of the hill

Nobody can tell me whether there are

immortals living inside the mountain

How many days will a person

always face the sky in a trance

such curiosity

such imagination

such loneliness of childhood


In the sunshine the dragonfly

skims the shimmering green field

Watercolors and a kaleidoscope

Can't paint that rainbow outside

How long before, like the senior class,

we have grown up faces

Looking forward to vacation

Looking forward to tomorrow

Looking forward  to growing up from childhood

Oh day by day

year by year

Looking forward to growing out of childhood

It's probably obvious why I like this song.  Every line in it resonates with memories of my own childhood.  I'm sure my students, especially the ones who have never talked to a foreigner before,  think that westerners are very different from "Chinese people".  So I like to sing this song for them and then let them know that we all share the same experiences, and that at the deepest level we are one and the same people.

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The Welcome Dinner 2009

Last night the Foreign Languages Department once again took us to a very fancy restaurant for a welcoming feast to celebrate mid-Autumn Festival and National Day, this time to a nearby five star hotel where the buffet was very fresh with a combination of fabulous sashimi, grilled to order western food, including a reasonable coffee, and delicious local specialties such as Wuxi Pai Gu (Wuxi style spare ribs).  It never ceases to amaze me.  Five years in China and I'm still tasting things I've never seen before.  Last night it was taro roots. The way they were presented at this buffet, you peel off the thin bark like skin and dips the starchy core in sugar. Not something I'd go out of my way to find, but interesting. 
     I'm sure everybody is getting tired of me going on and on about all the dinners we get invited to, so I'm going to just say thanks, once again, to Ms. Liu and her staff.  Dinner was, as usual, just delicious.

Another excellent meal goes under the belt.  Buffet at the Hubin Hotel, Wuxi, China   Janet and Jim, new teachers at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

     One thing I do want to mention though is something Jim, the retired Supreme Court of California judge said to me.  He remarked that this is the best job he's ever had. Now, I assume that a Supreme Court judge in California is reasonably well paid, and that the work is not without some serious social and financial perks.  So hearing him say this was a surprise. I thought I was the only person who felt this way, and lots of people have accused me of being in denial and secretly pining for a comeback in the film business.  So it was great to have Jim confirm my opinion of this gig.  It also made me feel good to hear fellow teachers talk shop with such enthusiasm.  Yep.  Best job I ever had.  You too, eh Jim.  Good on ya.

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September 29, 2009 Happy Birthday PRC

Chinese word for the Day: 看不见
(kn bu jin literally "look not see") = invisible

Performing for the VIP's at the reception to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the PRC, Wuxi, China

Last night we were treated to a reception in honor of the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.  A few speeches, mercifully short, some acrobatic and dance performances that were quite charming, and the usual delicious Chinese food.

The biggest head table I've ever seen, ready for the "big potatoes". Reception to celebrate the 60th. anniversary of the People's Republic of China, Wuxi, China.

No, I'm not going to type "Here comes the..."  Stop that.  Showing my age for sure.  Reception to celebrate the 60th. anniversary of the People's Republic of China, Wuxi, China.

Our table companions included a Chinese gentleman who has spent two years in New Zealand and completed his education in England and now works for the Foreign Affairs Office in Wuxi.  A very interesting man to talk to about China's position in the modern world, and China's attitudes to such things as the Internet and Facebook.
     We also had a chance to meet Jim and his wife Janet, two new teachers here at Jiangnan University.   Jim is a retired California Supreme Court judge.  His wife has her Masters in something, but I didn't find out what yet.  Though we teach at the same institution, we hadn't had a chance to meet because the welcoming dinner was postponed.  That dinner will happen this evening.
    So this is yet another perk of this job.  Where else in the world would I be able to talk to a Chinese diplomat about Chinese foreign policy and ask a retired Supreme Court judge about the post 9/11 changes to American law.  It was comforting to hear that, in his opinion, the alarmists are overstating the case about the dangers to the U.S. constitution and the erosion of civil rights brought on by the Homeland Security Act.  According to Jim, Habeas Corpus is not dead in America.  He should know.

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September 27, 2009 Another Legacy From Mao

Chinese word for the Day: 歌德派
(gē d pi literally "song + virtue/morality/ethics/kindness/heart + group/faction") = n. Pollyanna

It's so hard for a foreigner to really appreciate why things happen here.  National Day is coming.  This is the 60th anniversary of Communist rule in China.  The government is anticipating protest, and preparing for it. This means that the guards at our gate are more diligent.  Yesterday my driver was stopped at the North gate and told he had to go to the East gate, a mile away, to get on to the campus.  To us this seems incomprehensible.  Why on earth do they make us waste the gas when my apartment is just two blocks from the North gate.  What possible benefit could there be to restricting that beautiful wide road to one lane with their accordion barricade, and hassling everybody who goes in or out?
     We're planning a trip to Suzhou, but booking a room at the university was a problem because no visitors are being allowed.  Again, such a situation is incomprehensible to a foreigner.  What has changed?  Why is anything different from the last time we went to Suzhou?  National Day is the reason.  Something we hardly notice.

The guards stop my car at the North gate.  I'm trying to learn to be tolerant of such things. They must have their reasons, and if not they certainly have their orders. Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

What China needs, if I could presume to know,  is a period of healing and reconciliation, something akin to the process that South Africa went through, is going through, after apartheid.  But Mao poisoned the water for that kind of process.  He did what he called "inviting out the snakes".  There was a period when criticism of the administration was encouraged.  That brought out a great groundswell of constructive protest by sincere patriots who were heartbroken at what was happening to their country and their culture.  The protests were carefully controlled and contained, so that the criticism didn't spread very far.  And then Mao initiated a great purge.  Anybody who had voiced concerns, no matter how polite and respectful, about his policies,  was severely punished.  Many lost their lives.  So I don't expect any but the most disgruntled or unbalanced to get involved in protest here.
     We in the West value dissent.  We feel it makes our country stronger and keeps our government at least a little bit honest.  The Chinese value 和谐实惠 (hxi shhu, "harmonious society".  The first part, harmonious, has deep resonance for them with all kinds of implications and associations.)  We might too if we had their history.

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Another Night of Performing Waiguo

Last night we sang a couple of songs for the English Flying Bar (The club for students who want to improve their English.  Don't you just love the name?) opening party.

Ruth puts her heart into a Chinese love song while I accompany on the erhu.  The black glasses are an homage to a famous blind street musician, A Bing (Hua Yanjun 华彥君-阿炳, c. 1893-1950) and they always get a laugh.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Then we crossed the hall to drop in on the Muslim ethnic minorities party and were treated to some great Mongolian, Uighur, and Cossack dance and music.

It isn't always about me.  These guys were performing Uighur songs, and they sounded great.  Jiangnan Univerisity, Wuxi, China

Ethnic dancers from the West of China.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China  Fancy guitar work and great singing by a pair of Uighur students.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Many of these students are from Xinzhang, where the recent riots claimed many lives,  and Tibet.  We were pleased to learn that they don't hold the Han Chinese students in any way responsible for the troubles back home,  and tell us that they get along well with their Han Chinese friends.  In response to a question, "Do you think of yourself as Chinese?" the student looked very surprised.  She replied "Yes, of course."  This is comforting.

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September 27, 2009 Life in a Bubble

I responded to one blog comment from a reader yesterday with a line from a favourite Robert Burns poem, "To a Louse" - "O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!"  
     This morning I realized that this is exactly what the power of the Internet gives me.  When I splash my life up in public and invite anonymous response from the world at large, I get a hint of how the world sees me.  Sometimes the reflection that comes back is not as flattering as I might wish.
     It's a well known phenomenon for expats in China.  China burnout.  We come here all full of enthusiasm and excitement.  Everything is fresh and new.  We're treated like visiting rock stars or royalty.  We're made to feel special and loved.  We get used to it.  All too easy to turn into an insensitive, judgmental prig.  But being a visitor is very wearing.  We know that, were we on the other side of the equation, we would have all kinds of resentments of the foreigners, of their privilege and money and experience of the wider world.  We are aware of a very faint undercurrent of anger among the Chinese, which really only shows up in blog postings on expat sites.  There are some young people here who actively HATE English.  Wouldn't you if you were being told constantly that your language was not the language of power and success, but you didn't feel like you were any good at the foreign language, and couldn't really hope to get better at it?  Wouldn't you if you'd been brought up on the story of the Opium War, Japanese atrocities, and Mao's famine blamed on foreigners?  Sometimes I'm amazed that they tolerate us at all.
     When I first came to China I was determined not to become "an old China hand", defined as a bloated alcoholic with a twenty-six year old Chinese "girlfriend" who has been in China for seven years and only learned five words of Chinese.  I was determined to give a good impression of my country, Canada, and my culture, and build on the great reputation established by Dr. Norman Bethune and Da Shan (Mark Rowswell from Ontario, the most famous westerner in China).  I was determined to be of value to my students, whom I consider to be the smartest people in China and future leaders of this country, and by extension to be of value to China.  I was determined not to get trapped in the "expat ghetto", hanging out with foreigners and complaining about the way things are here.  I was determined to "go with the flow", accept whatever seems to be the cultural norm, and learn as much as I can about China and the world.  Sure, this is all pretentious vanity, but that's just who I am.
     Another blog comment said, "You've been in China forever..." and that set me back a bit.  No, it's only been five years.  I just got here.  I've only scratched the surface.  After studying Chinese for those five years, every day, I still turn on the TV and hear words, not sentences or ideas.  But I suppose, to somebody who has never been to China, or been here for a three week tour of the terra cotta warriors and the three gorges dam, five years makes me an old China hand.
     And now the question:  How long do I have to live in a country before I can feel at home?  And feeling at home means that if something annoys me I can let my feelings be known.  In a restaurant, how long before I can complain about the table full of chain smokers next to me turning the air blue?  How long before I can express disgust when somebody spits on the carpet in the hotel lobby?  How long before I can feel some righteous indignation over a mobile phone that was not what it was pretending to be?  It's a rhetorical question of course.  The answer is never.  I won't live that long.  I'm a foreigner here.  Smile.  Go with the flow.

Panda and Mr. Chen discuss the fine points of customer relations at the mobile phone store.  Wuxi, China

I'm not going to try to justify my behavior with the shop keeper over that phone.  There are two sides to the story, and I can see his very clearly.  I'm a little ashamed of getting sucked into the theater of the situation.  I'm a little ashamed of being, for that time, the ugly foreigner.  I posted the incident mainly to warn other foreigners about the knockoff products, and to let them know that they can't expect a refund if they are not happy.  (I suppose nobody but the terminally naive really needs that warning.) Part of the problem was that I didn't buy the phone on the street, from the guy selling Rolex watches.  I bought it in what appeared to be a modern department store, from a shop keeper who gave me a receipt. I would have accepted the offer of repair if the phone had been a real Nokia.  But... well, enough about that. 
     I want to thank my readers for pointing out my attitude problem.  Help me keep my balance here, folks.  Sometimes it ain't easy.

And now I actually have some real work to do.  Time to get the class prep done.

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September 26, 2009 Caveat Emptor  (Buyer Beware)

I'm back from the downtown phone store.   Did I get satisfaction?  Well, no.  Voices were raised.  Panda and I took turns playing good cop bad cop.  The booth manager was not interested in returning my money. His position was that the phone could be fixed.  My position was that I didn't want it, fixed or not.

Returning the shanzhai Nokia.  Wuxi, China  Returning the shanzhai Nokia.  Wuxi, China  Returning the shanzhai Nokia.  Wuxi, China

Mr. Chen and Panda argued with him on my behalf with endless patience.  All the while I was thinking, my time is worth more than this.  I found myself with a choice.  Walk away empty handed, or pay more money and get another phone.  I'm not feeling like I won this one, though Panda assures me that the new phone is worth the money..  I paid another 600RMB for what appears to be a real Philips, but a very basic phone.  I'm back to buttons.  It will be a while before I go for a touch screen again.

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September 26, 2009 Apologies to Nokia 不好意思

In my earlier post I ranted about the failure of my new mobile phone, and noted that I had thought Nokia was a good brand.  Well, I'm sure Nokia IS a good brand.  My phone is not a Nokia.  It's a shanzhai knockoff of Nokia.

One hint that this is a  Nokia knockoff fake.  This brand has a split down the center of the O in Nokia.  There are probably versions that don't take this precaution.

This phone looks real.  In fact, it looks perfect.  It was beautifully packaged, just like the real thing, and worked well enough for a week to have me fooled. I did wonder why it was so cheap, and now I know.  I'm taking it back this morning and looking for an O that doesn't have a split down the center.

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The Man in China Blog Policy Changes

As fast as I announce a policy, I find I have to change it.  I'm not going to approve everything that people put up on the blog.  If it doesn't relate to something I've posted, or have something interesting to say about China, it won't get approved.  Especially if the tone is aggressive and confrontational.  People can throw their cut and paste Internet junk someplace else.

September 26, 2009 Frustrations of Life in China (or anywhere)

The campus train ticket office, for once with no lineup.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

We're planning a trip to Suzhou for the coming holiday.  Two days ago I went to the campus ticket office to buy our tickets, only to be told I couldn't buy them yet.  Come back tomorrow.  This wasn't really a surprise.  It's common in China to be told you can't buy tickets until the week before the train is scheduled to roll.  Who knows why.  It's like planning ahead is a bad thing.  Sometimes I think I've been in China too long if I let this kind of thing annoy me, but today.... well, my excuse is below.

Campus train ticket office, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China.  With, believe it or not, no lineup.
This was not what it looked like when I was in line.  The lineup went back to the street.

     Today I returned, and once again waited in line, only to be told the same thing.  What's with the Chinese train system?  I could buy our tickets to go to Suzhou, on October 4.  I just couldn't buy tickets to return on October 5.  Talk about the mysteries of China, this is a big one. 
     So I bought our tickets to go to Suzhou.  I guess we'll wait in line at the train station to buy the return tickets.  Sheesh.

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The Touch Sensitive Screen That Isn't

Now my excuse for losing my usual cool:  I've got to return my new phone.  Don't you just hate it when this kind of petty hassle happens? I thought Nokia was a reliable brand, but there is nothing more frustrating than a touch sensitive screen deciding that it isn't sensitive at all.  Sheesh again. 

Touch sensitive screen, eh.  Sure.  Sensitive like Rush Limbaugh on the subject of feminism.

It was while standing in line for the second time to buy train tickets that I tried to use this phone, but the touch screen would do nothing.  In frustration I stabbed the screen a bit too hard with the stylus, and cracked it.

Now we'll see what they say when I take it back where I bought it.

This is what amplified my reaction when I was told that I couldn't buy tickets until tomorrow.  I hate to raise my voice, but today I'm afraid I lost it a bit.

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September 25, 2009 Old Dog Learns New Trick

I learned something this week, and learning it made me very aware of a tactical blunder in my teaching.  If my goal is to lead my students to a new understanding of a subject, and have them deal with information with an open mind, it's counter-productive to ask them to close their minds before my lecture.  But that's what I did.  Here's how.
    For my News Reading class,  I posted an article from Reader's Digest for my students to download and read.  It presents a "middle of the road" policy position in a middle of the road magazine, and I profoundly disagree with it.  But I thought I was being clever.  I asked my students to send me an email telling me whether they agreed with the author or not.  Predictably, they all did agree with the author, and parroted back the article's main points and conclusion.  My plan was to show them how very wrong the author was, and by implication how naive and foolish they were to agree with him.
     Then I read, in the book "Mistakes Were Made -(but not by me) - Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, about the theory of cognitive dissonance.  I realized what I had done.  It's very obvious now, and rather embarrassing.

Cognitive Dissonance

This is the term for what happens when we try to hold two conflicting ideas at the same time.  It makes us very uncomfortable.  We want to resolve the conflict in our brains.
     As an example,  suppose you think of yourself as a really nice person, a kind person, a benevolent person,  a really good guy.  Then you do something mean to somebody - belittle them, make them feel bad, hurt them in some way.  Only a mean person would do that.  So now you have cognitive dissonance.  The self image you have that says you are a nice person is in conflict with your actions. 
     There are two ways to solve this conflict. The first is to change your mind about whether you are a nice person, accept that you are not a nice person, and decide to live with this new identity.  But most people don't want to do this.  We want to believe that we are nice.  So the second way to resolve the conflict is the one we usually resort to - we justify and rationalize.  In this example, the justification goes like this: I'm a nice person, and I hated to do that.  But that other person really deserved it.  They are so horrible.  In fact, I was doing them a kindness by being mean to them.  Maybe they will learn a lesson and become a better person.  Actually, when I think about it, what I did was the kindest thing I could do for them.
     Now, the thing about cognitive dissonance is that the more committed a person is to an idea or position, the more one has adopted it as their own, the harder it is to change it when presented with new evidence.  This is why religious people can believe things that no rational person would believe for a moment.  It's part of their identity.  The more we have invested in a belief, by spending time on it or telling others about it, or just repeating it to ourselves, the harder it is to change it. 
     By asking my students to tell me whether they agree or disagree with that article, I was telling them to take a position.  Once they had taken that position, anything I said in class that refuted their position would cause cognitive dissonance.  They might change their minds, but it 's much more likely that they would refuse to hear my arguments, and would stick to their position even if they can't articulate a reason why.  And this is what I'm seeing happen with a lot of the students.
     So in future, rather than asking the students whether they agree or disagree with the author, I'm going to ask them whether they can find any flaws in the author's logic.  (There are lots of flaws in this author's logic.  In fact, his "logic" isn't logic at all. It's all statements of opinion as if they were facts, emotionally loaded rhetorical devices, and arguments by analogy that simply do not apply. The article was written in 1990 and already history has proven him wrong.) That way I'm asking them to look and think about the argument style, and inviting them to criticize the author.  I'm asking them to read critically instead of inviting them to close their minds.
     Live and learn, I guess.

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September 21, 2009 Name this Snake

I don't mean give it a name like Charlie or Fred.  We need to identify this snake. 

Snake in a Nanjing company yard.  I'm pretty sure we know what it is now.
This is not a high resolution picture, but I think we can see red stripes on this snake. 

The head of HR (Human Resoures) at a multi-national company plant in Nanjing contacted me recently.  They are finding snakes on the company property.  They want to know whether there is any danger to their staff, whether the snakes are venomous, and what to do with them. 
     My first guess is that this snake is harmless, a Chinese equivalent of our garter snakes back home.  If anybody knows different, please let me know.  And if anybody out there can identify this snake and tell me a bit about it, I'd be very grateful.
     I'm extremely pleased that simply killing the snakes is not the first option.  In fact, I've volunteered to make a trip to Nanjing to show their staff how to safely handle a snake.


Dead snake beside the road in a park in Nanjing, China.
We've seen a snake like this before in Nanjing.  In a park,  dead beside the road.

While posting this item today, I remembered that we saw a dead snake in May of 2008 in a park in Nanjing.  In response to posting it on my site, somebody named Matt sent me this email:

Appears to be either a Dinodon rufozonatum or a rosozanatum (hard to say for sure)
they are called "wolf snakes" and are harmless to humans.


Once again, thanks, Matt.

So this probably settles the issue.  I'm waiting to hear back from the HR person in Nanjing, to learn whether this looks like the same kind of snake.

September 20, 2009 My Favourite Chinese Poem

The hot snacks bar in the Qian Tang Cha Ren teahouse, Wuxi, China

Here's a poem that most people in China have memorized.  If I start to recite it in class, the whole class joins in.

      dēng gun qu lu* 
Climb Crane Pavilion
(wng zhī hun)

依山  bi r shān jn
White sun leans mountain side.

  hung h r hǎi li
Yellow river flows into the sea.

千里 y qing qiān lǐ m
Eyes want to see one thousand li**.  (In order to see a long distance.)

一层楼 gng shng yī cng lu
More up one floor (Scale new heights.)

*I've included the pinyin for those who don't have their Chinese activated in Windows.  If you are seeing little squares or question marks, you would see Chinese characters if you go to your control panel, languages, and activate your Chinese.  It's built into Winows.

** one li = half a kilometer/500 meters.

I'm not sure what resonance this poem has for Chinese people.  Aside from the vivid images (A sun leaning on the mountain is either rising or setting.  Sunset for the Chinese is symbolic of old age. But this is still a white sun.) for me it speaks to trying to see the big picture,  trying to gain understanding. To hear a reading of this poem by William, our former Chinese teacher, just click here.

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September 19. 2010 A Blog Policy Statement

I'm new to blogging.  I've had this site for years, but I always resisted sticking a blog on it.  I figured if people want to say something on the Internet they could get their own site.  Now, of course, many can say something on this Internet without getting their own site, through Facebook, which is currently blocked in China, much to the chagrin of just about everybody.  My students who were making foreign friends and practicing their English on Facebook are just as cut off as I am.
     My first comment thread was about this issue.  I approved every comment, in spite of a friend back in Canada triggering Godwin's law.

Mike Godwin, originator of Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies.
Mike Godwin, author of the eponymous law.

I intend to approve everything, even if  it's racists, sexist, or excessively rude without justification (I'm trying to keep this site family friendly, though you can find the F word on it if you look hard enough.).  I will delete a post that has a high probability of getting my site shut down and possibly getting me kicked out of the country.  But generally there's enough censorship in China without me adding to it.  Turns out I like to hear from my readers.  Bring it on, folks.

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Adventures in Dog Ownership in China

GouGou enjoys her spot in the sun after a night of crazy adventure.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

We had visitors last night, a dozen or so students who wanted to practice their English, and one who wanted to offer me a game of xiang qi. (ended in a tie after a hard battle).  When our guests left, our dog left with them.

Okay, you can see the evil lurking in the heart of this dog if you look closely enough.  GouGou at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
-Ruth Anderson photo

     Ruth didn't notice that the dog was gone for maybe five minutes.  Sometimes she (the dog, not Ruth) hides under the couch when fireworks go off or something scares her, or just when the mood strikes.  Ruth got out a flashlight to check.  We searched.  Then we expanded the search to the great outdoors.  Then I called my xiang qi partner who told me he had seen the dog run down the stairs when they left. He thought she had gone down the road toward the campus North gate.  He joined the hunt.  Ruth and I raced all over the campus on our bikes.  I was rather amazed at my level of anxiety.  Not a sign of GouGou anywhere.  My student friend called me again to say that the guards at the gate had not seen her.  I decided to see if she had gone home on her own, and yes, there she was waiting at our door.
     I suppose this is an anti-climax for my story.  And I know what some of you (in the Western world, especially my brother, Ed.) are thinking.  Well, forget it.  Our dog is licensed and tagged and implanted with a high tech chip that reads out a number if she is scanned.  Having her go astray here is no different from her going astray in Canada.  In fact, given the coyote population in B.C., she was probably safer in China.  I'm sure Sheila will agree with me on this.*

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*Sheila's wonderful little dog, Hero, a Shih Tzu I think, was lured to a horribly gory end by a pack of criminal coyotes in Peachland, B.C..

Foreign Devil* Disrespecting Historical Sites

This just in from Joe, a former teacher here at Jiangnan University.  We miss you, Joe, in spite of everything.

.... Erected during the Northern Song dynasty in 1031 for some lost and obscure reason in honour of A Yu Wang [Ashoka], an Indian king, out here in the boonies which is LianYunGang, this pagoda is far and away the oldest building I've ever been privileged to beer whiz against. This view across Da Cun Shui Ku [big village reservoir] features me and my new cell phone - an i-shoe. Not only does it take pictures, connect to the internet and only cost a week's pay in China, it fuggin stinks ...


Joe. Old enough to remember Maxwell Smart.  Not yet old enough to forget him.

*totally justified in this case, obviously.

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September 17, 2009 China Looks Bad to Foreigners. Again.

Our neighbor's daily tai chi morning exercise.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

This is the first time I have had anything even slightly critical to say about China.  But China has now done something that I don't like, and I'm sure all other foreigners feel the same.  It makes China look very bad to us, and this is a great pity. 

Looking Bad to Foreigners

As anyone who reads this website regularly will know, I am a friend, supporter, and occasionally defender of China.  Since arriving in China five years ago, I have been constantly impressed with what a dynamic, progressive, safe and well managed country the leadership of China has created.

I have no interest in telling the Chinese people  how to run things here.  This is their country, and I am a guest.  I do not have a position on Chinese politics.

Unfortunately China has done something now which affects me personally and painfully.  By blocking Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, China has cut off a major connection to my family and friends back home.  The family news that is shared on Facebook is not available to me.  My own video clips on Youtube, clips which have brought very positive attention to China, are not available to me.  And of course neither are the videos made by my family and friends back home.

I'm sure the leadership of China wouldn't do this if they didn't believe there is a threat to China's national security posed by these websites.  But how big is this threat?  How real?  And if the threat is serious and real, how effective are these measures in combating it?  Shutting down parts of the Internet has a cost.

China must care what the rest of the world thinks.  This country spent a lot of money on the Olympics, and the Olympics were a huge success.  The Olympics were a  "coming out party for China", and went a long way to change world opinion.  But when China blocks access to the family and friends of foreigners here in China, this good public relations is undone and the money spent is wasted.  The enemies of China are saying, "You see.  It's the same country it was during the Cultural Revolution. Nothing has changed."

I believe that China has changed.  I sincerely hope that China will re-think the policy that has shut down parts of the Internet here in China, and that I will  be allowed the same access to my family and friends that I enjoy in Canada.

I am no activist.  I am not out to cause problems for China.  But I do want to keep in touch with my family and friends back home. 

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September 13, 2009 The Endless Birthday Officially Over

Ruth's birthday dinner, Shi Tang Jie (village now part of Wuxi) near Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Ruth's birthdays are becoming like those Gypsy weddings that go on for a week.  Last weekend we had our private dinner at the downtown Japanese restaurant.  Last night we had a small circle of friends join us for a duck dinner at the Hundred Noodles Restaurant in Shi Tang Jie, the little village now engulfed by the urban sprawl of Wuxi, near Jiangnan University.

Ruth's birthday feast.  That's our dog under the table.  Restaurants here are much more relaxed about that kind of thing.  Shi Tang Jie, Wuxi, China

Not that I mind at all.  It's great to get together with our friends and it's fun acting like a big shot.  Just to give you some idea of the prices here, Ruth's birthday cake, from a bakery on campus, cost me 158 RMB ($24.91 Canadian), a price that surprised me and seemed very high. 

Birthday cake, costing  more than twice what I expected and maybe I was ripped off.  It's all in the presentation.  A fish dish at Hundred Noodles Restaurant, Shi Tang Jie, Wuxi, China

The dinner for eleven, with delicious duck, farm raised frog, chicken soup,  tomato fried eggs, shredded potato dish, two different tofu dishes, a beef dish, and a fancy fish dish (above right) in a private, smoke free room (until the plastic candle gadget on the cake malfunctioned and filled the place with plastic fumes), came to a total of .... wait for it.... 209 RMB ($32.95 Canadian).  Amazing.

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So Easy to Criticize China from the Outside

This morning a friend send me a notice that had been sent to her by an organization called the International Fund for Animal Welfare, protesting the culling of dogs in Qin Huang Dao, Hebei Province. 
     The language in this protest flier is emotional. Dogs are not just killed they are "slaughtered" or "beaten to death", and the link included pictures to illustrate what was described as "horrifying scenes of cruelty".  It included a request to send a protest to the Chinese Ambassador in your country, and a plea for money.   Below is my reply to this message:

Dear _________:

Thank you for this information.

This may be a report of an over-reaction by some Chinese officials, or it may be an over-reaction by Western animal lovers.

In parts of China where the poor don't register their dogs and there is no spay or neutering program, the feral dogs can be a real problem. They form packs. They may look like house pets, but they are really wild animals, and they can be just as dangerous as a pack of coyotes.

Where we are living seems to be a pretty civilized part of China. Our dog has been spayed, has an official tag, and has a high tech implant under her skin that reads out a number if she is scanned. She's also quite small, obviously friendly, and never off her leash outside. So we're confident that she's safe.

All the best


PS: China may seem brutal to Western eyes, and as reported by organizations tugging heart strings to raise money.   I'm reminded of my cousin Billy, who had to shoot his own dog because it would not stop killing chickens. That was country life in Canada when I was a kid. It's hard for modern urbanites to get their heads around such things.

To those who are quick to criticize China, please consider this:  in virtually all Western countries it is still perfectly legal to cut off part of an infant boy's penis for no medical reason.  Maybe there are things at home we should protest.

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September 11, 2009 Chinese Phrase of the Morning

鸡蛋碰石头 (jī dn png sh tou) Literally "egg meets rock".  This very descriptive idiom is used for an enterprise that is doomed to failure or a quixotic charge into futility.
The character 碰 (png) has several meanings, giving this phrase a certain richness:
 v. ①touch; knock against ②meet; encounter; run into ③take a chance; explore

September 10, 2009 Teacher's Day and it's Showtime

David and Ruth in performance. Wuxi, China

Michael picked us up at noon today to drive us to the new Municipal Hall where we waited our turn to entertain the full house audience.  We watched the main show from the sidelines, and an incredible show it was.

Ah, the joys of hanging out backstage.  Performance group at the new Municipal Hall, Wuxi, China

We sang our favorite Chinese song, "Tong Nian" (Childhood).  I'm not sure it was our best performance, but the audience seemed okay with it. 

Ruth and David on stage at the new Municipal Hall, Wuxi, China
After two hours of building adrenalin backstage, I was pretty much on autopilot for the performance. 
We weren't even aware of all the people seated behind us.

Ruth and David perform "Tong Nian" ("Childhood") at the new Municipal Hall, Wuxi, China  Our VIP audience at the new Municipal Hall, Wuxi, China

At our level of performance, it's hard to imagine having an audience of this size back in Canada.  For a guy who likes attention, China is the place to be.

Further Precautions Against H1N1

Ready to check  student temperatures.  H1N1 precautions at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China
This was the scene at the entrance to Teaching Building 1 this morning.

   Electronic thermometer at the ready. H1N1 precautions at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China      Taking a student's temperature before classes.  H1N1 precautions at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China 
I caught the tail end of the rush to classes, so I missed the mob scene.

September 09, 2009 The Woman in China Goes Online

For her birthday I bought Ruth a domain name of her choice, which turned out to be www.thewomaninchina.com . Since then she's been having a great time developing her own web presence, and has now given me permission to make this announcement.
       Ruth, my woman in China.  Click the picture to get to her new site.
    Since she's starting from scratch, with the benefit of having seen my site evolve over the past few years, her site is much more focused on the needs of her students.  I rather envy her the fresh start.  Check it out.

September 09, 2009 Military Activity on Campus

I love to see the freshmen each term.  So much energy, enthusiasm, and excitement.  They've finally made it to university, and that wasn't easy. And now they get two weeks of military training before they start classes.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Six in the morning and we wake up to blaring loud speakers and martial music.  It happens every term, as the new crop of freshmen are introduced to the Chinese military.  I rather like the music.

Look past the sea of bikes, and you see the freshmen in marching formation.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

   I've also seen them carrying rifles, though I'm not sure they get to actually fire them.  Military training, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

Freshmen all got two weeks of what seems to be mostly marching practice.  I got two weeks with a very light course load.

They also get a lot of practice listening to speeches. Freshmen military training, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China. It's very hot and humid these days, and I don't think those uniforms breath very well.  I feel sorry for these kids. I'm streaming sweat, and I'm not marching in the sun.

This university accepts students from all over China, including Tibet.  I'm pretty sure these two weeks of training are essential, if only to achieve a uniform level of personal hygiene and bed making skills.

Some of these kids would look good in a potato sack.  Freshmen at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China    Freshmen in military training, Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

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Precautions against H1N1

As I write this, there are several students in the campus hospital with confirmed cases of H1N1.  The day before yesterday, Michael, our administration connection, came to our apartment to give us face masks and thermometers.  We're not required to wear the masks, and right now we don't.  So far we haven't felt any need for the thermometers, but I do appreciate the way this university takes care of us.

Students take precautions against the H1N1 virus.  Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China

For a while there was a nurse stationed at the entrance to Teaching Building one, efficiently taking student temperatures as they came for classes.  We're not worried.  This variety of flu doesn't sound much worse than the average seasonal infection.  And older people are reported to be more resistant.  So, aside from not dipping my chopsticks into the communal food dish for a while, l live life as usual.

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Chinglish Again, with an Explanation

I love seeing signs like this one, which I found at the top of the stairs at a Japanese restaurant downtown.  Unfortunately, the staff saw me take the picture, and asked why I was interested.  So this sign will probably be replaced.

"Beware of to Meet", Chinglish sign in a restaurant, Wuxi, China

The first two Chinese characters read 小心 xiǎo xīn (literally "small heart" but meaning be careful) so I can see where the "beware" came from.  The second two, 碰头 png tu, were a mystery until I consulted my dictionary and found that together they have three meanings - ①see each other ②meet and discuss; put heads together  ③hit one's head accidentally.  Obviously the sign's translator just chose the second definition when he should have read on to the third.
     Thinking about what we would put on the sign, it too sounds like Chinglish.  How on earth can one "watch your head".
     When I see a sign like this one, I know that it isn't alone.  It's one of thousands in a production run.  So even if this one disappears, there are others in restaurants all over China.  Someday they will be priceless collector's items,  a reminder of a less sophisticated but much more charming time.

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The Big News - bowing to pressure from readers you can now make a comment about anything on this site, initiate or join in discussions, by going to my brand new, bright and shiny Man in China Forum.  Try it out.  I'd love to hear from you.  Especially if you have questions about English or life in China.

September 03, 2009 the New Mobile Phone

The mobile phone store in Wuxi, China. The place goes back a long way here.  More choices than I can cope with.

When I first came to China, five years ago, one of the first things I did was buy a cheap mobile phone.  It's been an essential lifeline in many situation, but finally the numbers have worn off the buttons and it's refusing to charge.  I think I paid about 900RMB ($146 Canadian today but much less back then.  The RMB has gained on the dollar.) for it back in 2004.  It owes me nothing.

Jenny checks out the features so she can educate me.
  Mr. Chen and Jenny help me find the right phone from the plethora of  choices.

Buying a phone here is not something I want to do without some help.  Prices range from a few hundred yuan to a few thousand.  My favourite driver, Mr. Chen, and my young graduate student friend, Jenny, took me to the ultimate phone store.  I bought a Nokia Nseries touch phone with a 3.2 megapixel camera and a Carl Zeiss lens.  Apparently it will do all kinds of things I've never asked a phone to do, like connect to the internet, record videos, and store simply gigabytes of information.  All I'm going to use it for is text messaging and phone calls.  I'm getting used to the touch screen.  The price for this miracle of technology - 850 RMB ($138 Canadian), about 50 yuan less than I paid for my basic phone back in Tai'an.

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September 1, 2009 Epiphany of the Morning

The creationists are right about one thing.  We did not descend from apes.  We ARE apes, only with big brains and special abilities. Let's see ourselves as we are. Special, but a part of the natural world.

September 1, 2009 A Letter from Catherine in Canada

I'm finding that one of the joys of this job is hearing from former students who are now out in the big wide world, experiencing life.  Here's a picture and letter that Catherine sent to Ruth.

Ruth's former student, Catherine, in Niagra Falls, Canada Hi Ruth,

I'm in Toronto now, living with my uncle. He has been in Canada for 7 years, and he help me a lot adapt to life here.

I saw a lot of wild animals here these days, like squirrels, sea- gulls, ducks, which is a rare phenomenon in people's residence areas in China.

The Chinese food here is a little bit wired, not like what I eat everyday in China. My uncle said it's because most of the cook came from Guangdong Province or Hongkong, who have very different tastes and cooking styles. But yesterday I ate my first tasty meal, also cooked by Guangdong cooks. So I guess maybe they can cook something to my taste.

And last night, I had my best sleep in Canada. I think I'm getting used to life here gradually.


Speaking of letters from Students:

Here's one from one of my students,  Tom.  I always try to answer any questions that students send me at length. Please pardon my rather pedantic response.

Dear David,
Hello,my favorate teacher.It has been a long time since I wrote my first letter .I know a lot from your class ,movies,and your answer to some questions.I really appreciate your insights.I aquired much knoeledge about Ameriacan"s medical systems.
     Recently, I have seen the Bowling for Columbia by Micheal Moore .It tells the gun issue and a sery of problems as a result of the abuse the gun.It is a tragedy that an innocent boy killed a girl of his classmate.Canada also has lots of guns,instead,there are far less lives took by guns.
     Guns are dangerous.But why Americans do not ban the use of guns like China?Can you explain it?Can you tell me sth about the gun culture in America?
     This semeser ,Ruth is our teacher.Sheis also very excellent.I really appreciate that.I have browsed your website.I really enjoy it!
Best regards!

Your student,

Dear Tom:

What a delight to get your letter. I really appreciate your kind words about my website, my teaching, and my fiance.

You asked me about the gun culture in America. This is a very complicated issue. America was created by a revolution against the British.  Because they had fought a war against tyranny, one of the things the founding fathers feared was tyranny by a corrupt government, or domination by a foreign power. So they put the "right to bear arms" into their constitution. The idea was that an American should always be able to defend himself and his family against injustice, and against criminals.

This was put into their constitution at a different period in history, when guns were all single shot muzzle loaders.  There is an argument that this constitutional right was never intended to arm individuals, but was intended to arm a citizen's militia who would be trained as soldiers, the way the American militia had organized to fight the British.  Now this is used as an argument for hunting deer with a fully automatic military assault rifle. We have gun technology now that is far beyond anything envisioned by the founders of America.  Many Americans want to restrict guns.  In many states they are already very restricted. California, for example, has a ten day waiting period before the gun can be taken from the gun store. (To quote Homer Simpson: "Ten days! But I'm mad NOW!)

Many Americans love guns. Samuel Colt, who invented the Colt revolver, the traditional Western six gun, called his weapon "the equalizer", because with it a weak man was the equal of any bully. This is very attractive to some people.
     The gun has been romanticized and glamorized in American books and movies, much the same as kung fu and swords have been romanticized and glamorized in China.  Many Americans see gun ownership as a part of their cultural heritage.  It's not hard to see how this could develop.

When I was a child, there was a hunting rifle and a shotgun in the closet at home. Of course we never had a loaded gun in the house, and ammunition had to be kept in a separate place. But it seemed normal and natural to have a gun around.
     When I was eight years old, my father bought me a single shot 22 caliber rifle for my birthday. He taught me gun safety, and took me out into the country for target practice and hunting. 
     I loved watching cowboy movies, and I loved guns. When I was a teenager, I joined a rifle club and earned my gold pin for marksmanship.  When I became an adult, I bought a western style pistol, and I joined a fast draw club. This was a club where we would meet to compete against each other at drawing our guns and breaking a balloon, using black powder blank cartridges, timed by a clock that started when we took our finger off a button and stopped when the gun fired. I could draw and fire my single action Ruger .44 magnum revolver in .28 of a second.  It takes you .15 of a second to blink your eyes. At one club competition I won a turkey.  I was not the fastest in the club, but I seldom missed the target.

Competetive fast draw.  For these guys, a gun is sports equipment.  Aluminum barrels would blow up if they fired a real bullet through them.  Thunderbird Fast Draw Club,  my old club in Burnaby, B.C., Canada

As I played with guns more and more, I came to realize that they are not romantic or glamorous at all. They are simply tools designed to throw a piece of lead through the air, to hit a target or to make a hole in an animal, or in a human body. They are no more romantic than a drill press or an electric saw. I gradually lost the desire to play with them, and now I don't like them at all.
     But many people in Canada and America still love to play with guns. In Los Angeles, almost every house has a hand gun of some kind in it. Oddly enough, I never found this situation threatening. I am as nervous around somebody with a kitchen knife, a baseball bat, or a sword as I am around somebody with a gun. And there are situations where I would really like to have a gun myself - when facing an angry grizzly bear or for example.  There aren't many bears on this campus, so I can get along just fine without being armed.

Unfortunately, having guns around means that there will be accidents and tragedies.  Some people will go crazy (Now known as "going postal" because there were several instances of employees of the postal service in America going on a murderous rampage.)  Children will get their hands on the gun and treat it like a toy.
     Ownership of a gun is much more restricted now than it was when I was a child. Back then, I could actually walk around in my home town carrying a gun and nobody would complain or be worried. Now... well, it's a different world. Now you must have a trigger lock, and a barrel lock, and a locked cabinet to store your gun, and your ammunition must be stored in another locked cabinet in another room. The days of having a gun in the hall closet are gone.

There is more personal history I could tell you about this issue. But this is enough for now.

Thanks again for writing. I really appreciate students like you.

All the best


September Already and We're Back in the Swim of Things

The weather has turned pleasantly cooler and heavy rain has cleared the humidity since we arrived.  We're back to our half hour on the exercise machine every morning, and we had our first Chinese class with Falcon yesterday afternoon, right after Ruth's first Oral English class. 
     This morning I'm off with our friend Jenny to Meng Zhidao, the big computer store downtown, to buy a new mobile phone.  The one I bought in Tai'an five years ago (yikes!) has finally given up the ghost and refuses to charge.  It doesn't owe me anything. 
     This afternoon I have my first class,  News Reading for third year English majors,  and this evening we have a performance of "Tong Nian" ("Childhood"), one of our favourite Chinese songs, for visiting officials.  Time to get at it.

Time to archive again:  So soon.  So much has happened in the past few months.  The really good stuff is in the archives,  folks.  I hate to bury it back there,  because I fear that nobody will ever click on the links.  But you should.  Really.  I promise.       

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