An Anti-Smoking Campaign and Under-achievers

Chinese Word of the Day:吸烟
(xi1 yan1 literally “suck smoke”) v. smoke (as in smoke a cigarette)

We were very gratified this evening to get an email from Roy in administration announcing a new anti-smoking campaign for North American College of Jiangnan University.  What an incredible initiative this is, and so very welcome.

There is some question about how it will be enforced, given that most of the guards and Chinese male staff members are smokers.  But just announcing the campaign is great news.

Thomas, one of my fellow teachers emailed this response:  “Not to sound cynical but do you really think this will be enforced? All the guards and cops smoke, most of the male professors smoke; half of Chinese male doctors smoke! What kind of punishment will there be?”

To which I wrote:  Things are changing in China and very quickly.  When we first came
here there was no such thing as a non-smoking restaurant.  Now they
are becoming common.  When I was in university in Canada, everybody
smoked everywhere.  Later we all smoked in business meetings and board
rooms.  Canada changed.  When I first came to China it was like Canada
in 1956, from the prices to the social attitudes.  The country is leap
frogging to first world status, and I think it will change a lot
faster than you might believe possible.

Anyway, we can hope.  The fact that the university announces a
campaign against smoking is a huge step.  I suspect that many thinking
people, even the Chinese smokers, will support the idea and do their
best to comply with new rules.

I did find the wording rather vague.  What constitutes a “public
place”.  Isn’t that the entire campus, with the exception of inside
offices and apartments?

Virtually the entire last generation of my family died from smoking
related diseases, with the exception of my non-smoking mother.  I was
a heavy smoker myself for many years, and quitting was one of the
hardest things I’ve ever done.  Now I’d like to see cigarettes go the
way of chewing tobacco and spittoons, an absolutely disgusting habit
from the past.

I vote we all just cheer them on.

Now if I could get them to announce a campaign to promote bike helmets I’d really feel a sense of accomplishment.

My Remedial English Class (Not the real class name.)

I snapped this picture of one of my students this morning.  He sits in the front row, and I think he’s actually trying to comprehend and improve.  Don’t judge him too harshly by this picture.  I imagine if I tried to concentrate on a lecture in Chinese for three hours, I’d suffer from terminal brain numbness too.

Picture:  This stident has had enough Engish for one morning.  My lecture is quite soporific.Oh the joys of teaching English in China.

Picture:  My underachievers at North American College of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaActually I enjoy this class.  A class with only eight students is such a luxury.  They are my under-achievers and they are not used to getting good marks.  During the last  course I spoke to the administration and explained that an advanced essay course is totally beyond their abilities.  They weren’t doing the assignments, and when they did the quality of work was appalling. It would be the equivalent of sending all the foreign teachers into an advanced Chinese essay writing course.  Impossible.  Administration agreed, and accepted my idea that I should turn the remaining classes into a remedial English course with no credit.

I told the students I was giving up on them, but that we could work on basic English and vocabulary, and perhaps this would help them pass TOFEL or IELTS in the future.   When they realized that they were all going to fail, they started to do the work. By then it was far too late to do all of the assignments, so I made a deal with them.  If they would do the final long essay, which would demonstrate an understanding of all the course material, I would see if I could give them a pass.  Five of them took me up on the deal, worked hard for the final three weeks of the course, and managed to pull off a 50% passing grade.

The current course is Business Communication Writing, and I’ve assured them that if they will do the work, complete the assignments on time, they can get an A.  It’s a simple course with heavy emphasis on the mechanics, and mostly depends on following instructions and using meticulous formatting.  They can do it.  And I think maybe they will.  I’ll know later this week whether they have done the first assignment as instructed.  If not, well then it’s back to the drawing board.

Dinner with the Students

Chinese Word of the Day:  东道
(dong1 dao4 literally “east road”) = host.  Why east road?  Because traditionally the host sits at the eastern place at the table.

Our students invited us to dinner this evening.  Lots of beer.  Lots of food.  Lots of laughter and loud talk.  Fun.  they collectively picked up the tab, with a contribution from one of their teachers.  They wouldn’t let us contribute at all, not even when I added to the bill by ordering 黄酒 (huang2 jiu3 yellow wine).   Sometimes the hospitality of China can be overwhelming.

Picture:  The student party.  Great fun.

I could hope for better pictures, but there was no way I could capture this event in my camera.  You had to be there.
Earlier today after class our sparkly friend Winkle came by with lobsters from her home town as a gift for us.  She’s currently preparing to go to Singapore for further studies.  I meant to take a picture of her and the lobsters, but in the rush to get to the student dinner I forgot.  I’m hoping she’s coming for lunch tomorrow to help us eat crustaceans.  That will be the time for a picture.

Stylish in China

Chinese Word of the Day:  时髦的
(shi2mao2de) = stylish

If you are wondering what the stylish young blade wears to university in China, here’s one representative sample.

Picture:  one of my more style conscious students.  Bright kid.

I’m starting to see more and more of this look around campus.  Rolled up pants showing a couple of inches of bare ankle.  Shoes with no socks.  Reminds me of some era from the past but I can’t quite nail it.

Anything like this showing up in Canada these days?


Cottage Cheese in China

Chinese Word of the Day: 晚饭
(wan3fan4 literally “evening food”) = dinner

One of the things I’d been missing here in China is cottage cheese.  Low fat cottage cheese is a wonderful substance when I’m watching my weight.  It goes great with anything, and replaces butter and any other lubricant you can think of.  But I’ve never seen it in China.  Our friend Elaine gave me a recipe for making cottage cheese, and before the summer I tried it out.  I found that Elaine’s recipe overcomplicated the situation.  There’s no need for a specifically wooden spoon, or hanging the results in cheese cloth.  The cottage cheese I make is plenty dry enough.  In fact, I usually add back some of the whey just to make it softer.

So you don’t really need a recipe.  Just take a litre or two of milk (any kind except UHT.  I usually make it with skim) and pour it into a sauce pan.  Heat the milk until it’s almost boiling, stirring constantly so as not to scorch it to the bottom of the pan if you’re not using a double boiler, then add white vinegar a table spoon at a time.  You’ll hit a point where the milk curdles.  It seems to do this all at once when you reach a certain PH level.  If you add the vinegar carefully and stop as soon as the milk curdles, the vinegar leaves no detectable flavour.

Elaine’s recipe called for using lemon juice instead of vinegar.  That works, but I don’t like the resulting lemon taste.   I’d recommend you go with the white vinegar.

Pour the results through a sieve and let the whey drain out.  We use the whey in cooking: Anything that could be cooked in water can be cooked in whey.  Dump the curds out of the sieve into a container.  Salt to taste.  I usually chop the cottage cheese up into larger curds and add some of the whey back.  I find the sieve cleans easily if I just rinse it with cold water.

Picture: Baked potato with a cottage cheese stuffing.

A little cottage cheese in the baked potato is a good substitute for butter, and far healthier.

Picture:  Salmon and squash dinner with cottage cheeseA bit of cottage cheese on the squash really adds to the dinner.  Making the cottage cheese turns out to be beyond simple, fairly quick, and very satisfying.

P.S. congratulations to Mo Yan and to China for winning the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for Literature.  Presumably they will allow this peace prize recipient to accept his award.

Frustrated Teaching

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Chinese Word of the Day:  无聊
(wu2liao2) 1. bored 2. senseless, silly, stupid

Sometimes the challenges of this job can leave me feeling desperate.  My original title for this post was “Teaching Disaster”, but that’s not correct word use.  A disaster is when people die.  Nothing like that is happening.

My first class after the mid-autumn holiday has only eight students.  Seven of them showed up this morning.  They were supposed to hand in the first draft of a five paragraph essay that will be worth 30% of their mark for the course.  None of them had done it.

Before the holiday, they were supposed to have written an outline for that essay, including 3 direct quotations taken from research material we provided for them and put online.  Only three of the eight had done that outline, and none of them had included the required quotations.  Two more handed in outlines this morning, with no quotations, and in one case with no thesis statement.  I’m fairly sure they haven’t even gone online to look at the research material.  And the three who had done outlines before the holiday had nothing to show me – no revised outlines and no first draft of their essay.

This is not an easy course.  I’m trying to teach students who can barely communicate in English how to write academic research essays complete with citations and references.  It’s not the kind of thing they can learn to do by listening to a lecture, or watching me do it.  Unless they do the work, I can give them no feedback.  I have nothing to correct and we have nothing to talk about.

Since the research material from which they will get their quotes is all online, and we have no computer and internet access in the classroom, I sent them all away to do the work.  But this doesn’t feel good.  Surely I could have given them something of value while I had them in my clutches.  I could have talked to them about paraphrasing and summarizing, the two skills they will need in addition to being able to use direct quotations.  I could have done something.  Maybe sending them away was a bad decision.  I won’t know until next class.

This is may not be an easy course for them, but really there is not all that much that I want them to understand and be able to do.  Here’s the lists:

1.  Understand essay structure (extremely simplified and standardized):  An essay starts with an introductory paragraph which begins with a topic sentence, a second sentence that elaborates on that topic, and finally a sentence which states the thesis.  Next comes three paragraphs each with one idea that supports the thesis and three points that support that idea.  Finally they need a conclusion that restates the thesis and summarizes the arguments.  How hard is that?  It’s paint by numbers writing.

2. How to format in-text citations and their purpose – pointing to a reference on the references page.

3. How order the reference information and format a separate references page.

4.  How to introduce a direct quotation from the research material.

5.  How to create a summary of ideas from the research material.

6.  How to create a paraphrase of ideas from the research material.

7. Use direct quotes, paraphrases and summaries, with citations and references, from the research sources to support ideas in the essay.

That’s it.  This isn’t rocket surgery.  And we are spoon feeding these students by providing the research material.  They don’t even have to go out and do the research.  Yet they are falling further behind with the work every class.  At this rate I’m going to have to fail them all.

I like these kids.  They are good kids.  But what do I have to do to make students out of them?  It’s a puzzle.Picture: Writing instruction calls for one-on-one feedback, but that's hard to do if there's nothing to discuss.Ruth is great at giving individual attention and feedback on the student’s writing.  I’d like to be great, but the students need to give me something to discuss.This afternoon’s class was much better.  Some students even seem to be catching on to the process.

Beautiful Autumn in Wuxi

We took GouGou to the campus island park for a romp after classes.  The weather is unbelievably beautiful, with warm clean air and clear skies.   As the sun sank slowly in the west, the basketball courts were all in use by students sucking the marrow out of the beautiful day.

Picture:  Students make full use of the last daylight on the basketball courts.



Related by Dog

Chinese word of the day:  老板
(lao3ban3) boss, business proprietor
My bike has had a flat tire every morning for the past few days.  It would hold air long enough for an hour of riding, but not overnight.  This afternoon I finally got it in to the campus bike store to get it fixed.

Picture: Bike shop on campus of Jiangnan University, Wuxi, ChinaThe boss of the bike store is the guy who gave us GouGou (pronounced Go Go and meaning Dog Dog.  Most Chinese dogs get double syllable names.), on our second day in Wuxi.  I think she was just too much of a friendly puppy to have around his shop when what he really needed was a guard dog. “Take her,” he said, when the wiggling puppy rushed up to us.  So we did, but he’s always happy to see her and calls her by her original name of Fei Fei (pronounced Fay Fay).  She seems to remember him too, though it’s hard to tell because she goes crazy over so many people. You might notice that her tail has almost disappeared in the picture below.Picture: GouGou and her first owner, always glad to see each other. Her tail has disappeared.My brakes used to squeak annoyingly if I rode  without a slight pressure on the hand grip. After patching my tire, the laoban fixed that too. I asked how much.  He said “No money”.  I said “Yes, money.” and when his back was turned I dropped ten yuan (about a dollar fifty Canadian) into his spare parts bowl.  Then I tried to get on my bike and ride away, but he caught me before I even got started and threw the money in my bike carrier, much to the amusement of onlookers.  “Next time.” he said.  I said, “This is next time,” but I let him win.

Everybody told me I’d have problems in China.  Yeah.  Some problems I can live with.

And the Holiday Rushes By

It was another quiet day today.  I went straight on to the computer this morning at nine, spending the first couple of hours revising a Chinese friend’s personal statement for an application to the Chinese University of Hong Kong.  After that I fell into computer hell trying to customize the layout of this new website format. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me just to figure out how to get my links to show up on the side bar.  (In edit mode you have to go to appearance > widgets and slide the links widget on to the sidebar menu.  Whoda thunk it.)  I didn’t get on the elliptical trainer until three in the afternoon, and still haven’t had my shower. It’s now a quarter past ten at night.  The only time I got out of the apartment was to take out the garbage when the drain under the kitchen sink let go again and got everything wet.  Older Chinese plumbing is not very… robust.  I’ve tied up the pipes so this shouldn’t happen again.  Then this evening we did our usual dog run beside the bikes and stopped by the campus fruit store for some durian and watermelon.

Picture: Jiangnan University fruit store at night.  A healthy and popular spot with the students.The fruit store is open late, until about eleven at least, and it’s very popular with the students.  It’s good to see them snacking on something healthy.  Stopping in for a durian hit is becoming a habit with us.

Picture:  Jiangnan University students in the campus fruit store late in the evening.Those are the durian chunks center frame at the bottom.  We’ve become quite fond of the stinky fruit, which tastes something like a sweet onion-garlic custard.  In the past I bought  the whole spiky fruit and wrestle the edible part out of its protective armour, but I realized recently that I can see what I’m getting if I let somebody else liberate the goods.  This also saves me a few punctures wounds, almost inevitable when opening a durian.

Change of Plans for the Weekend

We were scheduled to go to Nanjing on Saturday so that we could attend a rehearsal and televised performance, along with who knows how many other foreigners, of a patriotic Chinese song, Da Zhong Guo.  This morning I sent the television people an email and begged off, partly because it’s on the last day of the holiday and we don’t want to have to rush back for our classes, but mostly it’s because of Chinese communication.  They let us know when they would need us to arrive, but seem deaf to our question about when we would be able to leave.  And last time, when we were actually competing in the “Jiangsu’s Got Foreign Talent” contest, was a lot of fun but we’ve been there and done that.  I’m rather relieved by this decision.  We’ve had fun learning the song.  But the holiday is going by too fast, and I’d rather stay home on the weekend.

The song we were to sing, Da Zhong Guo (Big China),  begins with a verse that I find very amusing.  Translated it goes like this:

We all have a home
Name is called China
Brothers and sister all very many
Scenery also not bad.

It’s that last line, “the scenery is not bad”, that cracks me up.  It sounds so understated.  But really, in common Chinese the term “bu cuo” literally means “not bad” but is used all the time to mean “very good.”  So I’m sure it only sounds strange in translation.

You can hear “Da Zhong Guo” if you click here.  Rather stirring, don’t you think.  I actually hope they adopt this as a new national anthem.  The old one is so cold war and militaristic and isolationist, all about creating a new great wall with their own flesh and blood and marching forward into the artillery fire.  Time for something a bit more in tune with modern China and the global economy.  I mean, we’re all friends now.  Right?

As always, I love to hear from you.  So click the “leave a reply” link below and make my day, okay.

A Big Box Day

Today we arranged to meet our friend Lin and Xiao He, our favorite driver,  at the North Gate.  Off for a shopping run to Metro and Decathlon.  On the way to the gate I snapped this picture.  Usually the basketball courts are full but this was a moment of serenity.

Picture: Lovers by the almost deserted basketball courts.There were about five of the “black taxis” (unlicensed freelancers) at the North Gate when we got there.  Xiao He was waiting for us.  The other drivers can’t seem to figure out why he gets all our attention, but the last time we rode in one of the other cars it stank of cigarettes.  Besides, Xiao He speaks no English but he is always willing to help me learn Chinese.  We have great conversations.

Picture:  Outside Decathlon, a big box sports store that even carries my sizes.Decathlon is a huge sports store.  We bought our elliptical trainer here, and it’s the only place I know of that carries my shoe size at reasonable prices.

Picture:  Inside Decathlon, a big box sports store in the New District.Ruth was looking for socks.  I bought some socks, a cotton tai chi suit that actually fits me, a pair of sandals for our trip to Thailand during Spring Break, and a pair of sweat pants.  Oh yes, and another bicycle horn for both of us.

Picture:  Xiao He drives us places and waits while we shop.  Xiao He drives us places and waits while we shop.  He’s always very reasonable and we trust him to take care of us.  Today’s trip was 130RMB (about $20 Canadian) for three hours of driving and waiting and Chinese lessons, split three ways.  After a couple of years of this luxury treatment it feels like having a private chauffeur.

After Decathlon we went across the street to Metro.  In the past Metro has carried a good stock of import foods, but today was a disappointment.  My Highland Way, very cheap but tasty scotch, is no longer stocked, nor were Breezers.  Ruth couldn’t find any Muesli, and there was no Monterey Jack cheese or French bread.  I settled for a bottle of Sambuca and another of Campari, plus something mysterious in a beautiful green bottle for only 17 RMB.

When we got home again, Xiao He managed to get on campus and drive us to our door.  It’s getting more difficult and we have no idea why, but I suspect it’s because the black taxis won’t bribe the guards.

Yesterday my bike had a flat tire.  I took Ruth’s bike and headed to the post office to pick up the flash drive with the pictures George took of Catherine visiting his mother’s school.  They were supposed to get here in time for her to take them to Canada, but didn’t make it.  I’ll copy the pictures and then send the drive to her.  When I got back from the campus post office I pumped up my tire, intending to ride it to the bike store and get it fixed.  But it seems to be holding air.  So I just went and picked up tomatoes and green onions and mushrooms at the campus veggie store.

The basketball courts were jammed as I rode home.

I was up until after four in the morning last night working on various computer issues.  Ruth is now cooking salmon for dinner.  Lin is joining us.  We have a Chinese lesson at seven.  Maybe I can catch a ten minute nap.  It’s been a busy day.

I love to get your comments.  Just click on “leave a reply” below here.

Camera Loving Canal Cleaning War Ready

I bought Ruth a professional level camera for her birthday in September.  And never has a gift been more effusively appreciated.  She’s become a photography fanatic, spending almost every spare minute exploring the capabilities of her new toy.  It’s been very gratifying.  And the pictures she’s been turning out are truly spectacular.

Ruth and her new camera.  It's bringing out the artist in her.

I’ll let Ruth write the review for her new Sony camera, but so far I’ve heard nothing at all negative about it.  The flip up/flip down turn 360 degrees view screen has had her giggling on several occasions.

I’m still in computer hell with my new WordPress website format.  Spent hours today and deep into the early hours of this morning (currently it is 2:30am) trying to do simple things like set it up so clicking on my website address takes you directly to the posts, instead of to a portal which requires a click through.  I’m also still trying to figure out how to take the comments invitation off pages which don’t call for comments.  And then there are the layout issues…  I’m not going into details, but it’s been sucking up my time like I can’t quite believe.  I’ve got other things I want to do, like practice my music and edit Wang Yijing’s girlfriend’s personal statement.  Tomorrow then.

We went for a walk tonight to the fruit store and each enjoyed a lump of perfectly ripe durian.  That was at ten o’clock.  We would have been riding our bikes, but mine had a flat tire and it’s not going to get fixed until tomorrow morning.  On the way home from the fruit store we noticed they had drained the canal and were hosing the bottom down.  I’m going to guess that this is the equivalent of pool cleaning.  Why it needs to be done is not obvious, but it’s quite the operation.

Canal cleaners at work late into the night.It’s a dirty job, but somebody obviously has to do it.

This doesn't look like a fun job.My little point and shoot Sony takes amazing pictures, but nothing compared to what Ruth is getting with her new camera.  You can check out some of her pictures on her Flickr site.
Speaking of canals, here’s a sign I noticed on a wall beside the canal near Nan Chan Si. It’s important to mind your safely.

"Watch your safely" of course.  That's important.  I love Chinglish.  Makes me feel needed here.

I love Chinglish. It makes me feel needed here.

Last week I used the current emotionally charged conflict with Japan to illustrate how one develops a thesis, followed by supporting paragraphs with references to documentation and citations.  At least this is a subject my students are interested in, though it turned out they are woefully ignorant of both the current situation and the historical background. They do feel intense passionate about the issue, as indicated by this impromptu class poll.

Diaoyu island vote.  No doubt it would please the leaders.There were only six students present in this class.  One of my students in a larger class actually knew that the Diaoyu Islands were Chinese until they were stolen by Japan after the first Sino-Japanese War.  (They were supposed to be returned to China after the Second Sino-Japanese war, also known as WW II, when Japan was required to return all land taken from China by conquest, but the island slipped through the cracks in the peace negotiations, possibly because the Japanese had given it a new name, Senkaku Island.)  But none of my students in the vote above knew that the islands are uninhabited.
I hope it was a teachable moment.  I tried to impress them with the value of diplomacy, economic sanctions and appeals to the International Court.  I also tried to impress them with the fact that people my age are not so willing to give up our lives to keep an uninhabited hunk of rock in the ocean part of any granfalloon.  War should always be the last resort, and the last option one considers.
I asked my students what Japan would say if China were to offer them the islands.  Go ahead.  Take them.  But you can’t sell any Sony or Mitsubishi or Yamaha products in China.  Would the Japanese go for that deal?  Not likely.  Of course, the Chinese couldn’t afford that deal either.

This has been another excuse for violence here in China.  We haven’t seen it, but Gao Yan Ho, our summer dog sitter and current Chinese teacher, told us that a girl had been raped because she was too friendly with some Japanese.  There’s been a call for a boycott of Japanese products and angry mobs vandalizing Japanese businesses.  No doubt all participants as ignorant of the facts and history as my students or even more so.  Just looking for an excuse to vent.  I do wish they would leave international affairs to the professionals, and no doubt the leadership of China wishes the same.

Please forgive this rambling post.  Now that I’ve simplified my site, and made posting easier, I hope to post more frequently, but shorter.  Your comments are always welcome.  If you can’t see the comment field, you need to click on the little text bubble icon at the beginning of this post.  Also, if you don’t see the sidebar information, you need to click on the post header.  I don’t know why WordPress makes these things difficult, but I’m working at finding ways around them.