Monthly Archives: November 2011

I can’t believe I haven’t posted since last Wednesday.  What’s wrong with me?  Have I nothing of importance to say or to report?  Okay, importance is overstating things.  Is life too normal?  Do I need to be miserable to post?  Interesting questions and none that I can answer.

It’s Monday morning at 8AM.  I hate getting up early when I don’t have to but I guess my adjustment to the wakeup exercise music was short-lived.  I’m up at 6:30 and it’s annoying.  I fall asleep late morning or early afternoon (or both).  I need a good night’s sleep.

As I said last time, Shujie and I went out last Friday for me to buy some jeans.  I bought 4 pairs of jeans (2 at 2 different stores).  The total price was about $75.  The quality seems reasonable so we’ll see.  Does this make me officially Chinese if I wear Chinese clothes?  I guess I’ll have to ask some people.

The weather has been wonderful.  Today will be 22 (or about 70).  It’s the end of November.  This is crazy.  On Wednesday it appears the colder weather is coming.  It says it will be 8 (about 42) and will be staying that way for at least a few days.  I’ll freeze because I freeze here.  Today I’m buying gloves to be prepared.  I’ll need them in class and when we’re riding the motorbike.  It can be quite cold sitting on the bike while the wind rushes past.

On Saturday I went with 4 students (Eric, Brad, Sunny, and Red) to the hot springs at Tangshan.  It’s about 30 minutes from here.  They have resort hotels there too and it’s not cheap just to visit the springs.  It was about $25 a head.  The springs are outside and they are very well kept up.  You can sit in hot water, you can sit in hot water with coffee in it, you can sit in hot water with milk in it, you can sit in hot water with flowers in it, you can sit in (and it goes on and on).  The boys wanted to take me and I was happy to get out for something new.

After the springs we went to Nanjing where they wanted to eat at Pizza Hut.  It’s really the only pizza worth eating in the country and when I say, “worth eating” I’m stretching it.  I told them I was paying and no one should argue.  So when I went to the washroom before the bill came they got it and paid and wouldn’t take my money.  The culture here is if someone invites you, they pay.  I won’t get into a war over who’s paying except to say it was quite nice of them.

From there we went to a very pretty park and walked around.  Then we returned to where the car was parked (Brad, who lives in Jurong, drove his mother’s car).  We were going to eat Shao Kao but the BBQ place wasn’t there anymore.  So we went to this Japanese restaurant and left when we learned it was about $50 a head.  A little steep for an unknown quantity.  We ate at a Korean BBQ which was fine.  You order the meat, they bring it uncooked, and you cook it.  I think Eric and I were the only ones who had had Korean BBQ before.  But Brad quickly grew into it as he was getting off on cooking everything.  It was quite nice and I couldn’t pay.  They would take my money.  We’ll have to find a half-decent Chinese restaurant here to take them to.  Ah, culture.

I went into Starbucks to get an iced tea.  I asked if anyone wanted anything and only Brad said yes.  However, I couldn’t buy his drink.  He said we were going “AA”.  I had no idea what Alcoholics Anonymous had to do with paying and I didn’t try and understand.  I think AA is a common Chinese term that everyone knows that means you’re going dutch.  I learn.

We got back around 10PM so it was a full day.  It was good.  I think the boys had fun and so did I.  Eventually there will be a few pictures from the park as soon as Brad sends them to me.

Yesterday, Sunday, Shujie and I went out for coffee with Estella who we both adore.  It was quite pleasurable as she’s such a doll.  It got me to thinking about “what is a friend”.  I know it’s someone you can’t count on and will be there for you.  I know it’s someone you can talk to.  But there’s another category here.  I have these students who think we’re friends   That’s okay but are we.  I’m very fond of them but we don’t speak at the same level.  Maybe I should just relax and say they’re friends.  It’s not that I’m overloaded with friends and I should be honored that they think of me this way.

We were talking about strict teachers in class and as a joke I asked them if anyone thought I was strict.  The final tally was 139 say I’m not strict and 1 says I’m strict.  I found that humorous so I asked her why.  She said it was because I evicted her from class one time for talking.  That should be my only crime.

When there was a picture of Brad and I taken on Sunday I said to him that in 30 years he’ll look at this picture and say, “who is this white guy”.  He assured me that would never happen.  It must be nice to think the things you enjoy last forever.

Tonight is speech night.  I dread it.  I don’t want to judge and I don’t know a good way to get out of it.  They are changing the criteria for the winner which won’t be “best speech” anymore, but “best effort”.  That’s better but I don’t want to judge.  Why can’t they just have a price and pick a name out of a hat?  This topic should be boring.  I think it’s being a college student and the Internet.  Ho Hum.  I’ve been told that the next time it will be homosexuality.  If we’re going to do adult topics, I’m more interested.  If we’re sticking to baby topics I’ll have to extradite myself from this since no decent pizza and coke is being served.

We’ve been here 3 months now.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I was hopeful.  I’m not disappointed.  I’m learning and I’m meeting some really nice people.  Granted most of these nice people are 22 and younger, but they’re people too.

At the Korean restaurant on Satuday a woman came up to me and asked me in English if he daughter could speak to me.  Her daughter is a primary school student.  I just thought that was so polinte and I can’t recollect anything like that happening before.  Of course I said yes and we had a nice brief talk.  I asked her what her age was and she said “10”.  I replied that I was 10 too and she laughed.  I like when they get the simple jokes.  She wasn’t coached by her mother on what to say (I hate that).  If the kid wants to say something, I want to listen.  But if they’re just a puppet repeating things they don’t understand then I have no interest.  After a few sentences the mother took her away.  There are some fine people here with good manners who know how to behave.  I’m not sure it’s the majority of the Chinese, but I do enjoy meeting people like this.

I like my job (I didn’t really say that, did I?).  My late Thursday afternoon class is cancelled this week because there students are on cleanup patrol cleaning classrooms.  I think they should use fire and burn them to the ground.

I hope I don’t get bored before the end of the year.  I guess if I keep talking to students and learning things from them, I shouldn’t.  However, I’d love some pancakes right now.  I do make sacrifices for China.  I hope they appreciate it.


Monday’s are relaxing days.  No classes, no fuss, no muss.  We go shopping, I tutor Beata in the afternoon, we read, whatever.  I like Mondays.

I wanted to buy jeans and gloves on Monday but I want cheap jeans.  I should have brought more but I kept cutting down what I was bringing.  I don’t want to spend $40 or more on a pair of jeans.  I’m just a peasant wage earner now.  So this Friday we’ll look in some stores.  I’m sure I can get cheap jeans.  The weather is getting colder so I want gloves.  I’m always freezing.  The school has no heating.  The apartment has 2 space heaters and they’ll do.  But somehow this cold just cuts through me.  Shujie thinks it’s because I’m used to everything being heated and perhaps she’s right.  But I’m in for one tough winter if 13 degrees Celsius turns me into a shivering mass of jelly.

I made an offer a few weeks ago of sending students me reading something that they can listen to, and then they could record themselves reading the same thing.  Then by going back and forth they can hear how they sound and try to sound more like me.  Now I know no one really wants to sound like me but it would be an improvement.  Three students took me up on this offer.

So, I decided to make it mandatory.  I’m tired of straining to understand what some students are saying.  So everyone gets the MP3 of me reading the first lines of “A Tale of Two Cities” (it was the best of times, it was the worst of times).  It’s a good exercise for them.  I told them that they should practice for about 2 weeks and then I’ll listen to them.  I told them I’d know if they don’t practice.  They need to think I’m omnipotent.  But I will really know.

In class I asked them to write down their email addresses and give it to me before they left class.  In one of my classes 10 students didn’t give me email addresses.  I think they were too busy talking to their friends and just ignoring me.  This class has 40 students which are too many for a language class but there’s nothing I can do about it.  However, some days I can trim the fat.

Yesterday I asked the 10 students why they didn’t give me their email addresses.  They all told me, one by one, that they forgot.  Forgot???????  I asked them to write it down in class right away and give it to me.  I told them I wasn’t impressed.  I then told them to stand up and I opened the door to the classroom.  I told them to get out as “I forgot to teach them today”.  I am humourous.  I also told them that they needed to write me a note telling me why they are studying English before they came back to class the next day.

I have to tell you.  Thirty students is a much better number to work with than forty.  It’s doable.  The class went quite well as those useless cows weren’t there.  I don’t care if they can speak any English, I only care that they pay attention and make an effort.  I’m tired of being the police.

Today they came with their notes.  Do I believe what they wrote?  I’d say about 80% of them are liars.  I think there was a couple of sincere notes but some of them made me want to puke.  I don’t know the names of the students in this class very well since they use their Chinese names, which is fine, but it’s too difficult for me to match them with faces.  Some I can, most I can’t.

The other sad thing about these notes is that none of these students can write a proper sentence.  I tend to blame the teaching they’ve had.  I don’t think my best students can write a proper sentence.  It is depressing if you think about it, so I try not to think about it.  I’m not here to teach them how to write.  I’ve decided that I’ll be happy if I can get them to speak with confidence and speak being able to pronounce their words so anyone can understand them.

Here is one example of an insincerely lying note.  I know this because I know who this student is and she is always talking to her classmates and never pays attention.

It has a title of “Written self-criticism”.  That sounds so Maoist.  The note states:

“My name is Ju Juan Juan.  I’m sorry teacher.  I was wrong.  For not making the mailbox.  I feel very sorry.  Because of my negligence.  Cause you are very angry.  As a matter of fact.  I very hoped to master English.  You to give me lessons are particularly interesting.  Learning English can make us strengthen Language ability.  So that we can better and for foreign friends to talk.  For our future is of great help to find work.

I like you to give us lessons.  I hope you can forgive my mistakes.  I guarantee that the next time will not have such things to happen.  After I will listen to the teacher carefully.  Finish the homework.  I’m very sorry.”

That is exactly as it was written.  As you can see it’s a grammatical minefield.  What you may or may not realize is that these students are thinking in Chinese and going to their dictionaries to translate their thoughts into English.  I guarantee you that this girl does not know what the words “guarantee” or “negligence” mean.

“I like you to give lessons” is a direct suck up to me.  Yes, I’m wonderful.  Actually I know most of the students like me but the only ones I’ll believe are the ones who make an effort.  She will never listen to the teacher carefully.  I was not very angry as I was smiling and on the verge of laughter as I listened to their “excuses” and threw them out.  I never get angry.  This is a war.  If I get angry the students win.  If I stay smiling, I win.  War is hell.  This girl is a lying piece of dung.

Here is a criminal assault on the English language:

“The teacher.  I felt sorry my behavior.  I hope the teacher to forgive.  I listen to you in class in order to learn more knowledge.  expand own aspect of knowledge.  let oneself  in English to get more exercise, to learn more useful things.  After.  I will study hard to complete the teacher carefully the assignment.  the hope can throgh the basic English this course to improve their English level to gain more progress.”

Here is one that might be a little sincere:

“I in the class.  Because I want to improve my English and learn more about English.  I don’t wish my English is the worest in the class.  I also like your class.  Your class is very interesting and make me feel relax.  You don’t like other teacher.  Only teacher us the substance of book.  So I am very happy in your class.”

What’s scary is I actually understand what they’re writing.  The note above translates to:

“I’m in the class because I want to improve my English.  I don’t want my English to be the worst in the class.  I like your class as it’s very interesting and I feel comfortable and relaxed in it.  You’re not like other teachers who only teach us what’s in the textbook.  I’m very happy in your class”.

If only I had the hours and a few hundred years, what a difference I could make.

This last note I’m reproducing starts off with something I truly believe.  Maybe the rest is sincere, maybe it’s not.  I’m not going to worry about it.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I take this class.  Maybe just for the credits.  China’s education system may be reasons, some things things even if don’t like also to learn.  But in your class really very happy.  You like Chinese teacher teaching so inflexible, so learning by rote.  (That means that I’m not like the inflexible Chinese teachers.)  As for not writing email it feel very sorry, because no see the habit of mail, so there is no written.  Really sorry.”

It’s sad.  Like I said I won’t teach writing.  My goal for the year to help every student who is interested, to speak a little better than they do now, to speak with confidence, and to say the words clearly.  I don’t think I’ve set my sights too high.  I won’t help everyone.  But I know the fight isn’t hopeless because I have kids who now come to the front of the class and I throw a topic at them, and they must speak about it.  It’s not easy.  But they are doing it.  Some of them with terrible English but they are trying and you can see their wheels turning.  It makes me feel good and I hope it makes them feel good.

What they write about feeling relaxed is that there is no pressure in my class.  I never tell a student they’re wrong.  If I’m correcting pronunciation (which I don’t often do), I’ll tell them to try saying it this way and I’ll say it.  If they say something that is wrong I’ll tell them, “close but not quite, it’s more like this”.  I’m always on guard to be positive about everything they say.

I have one boy in my class who talks to me at break.  His English is the best in the class and I told him yesterday that I appreciate what a polite young man that he is.  I had to explain polite (good manners).  I know and he knows that he can answer every question, but he doesn’t.  He’ll answer once on a topic and then give other people a shot at trying.  He’s a real pleasure to have in my class but I can’t have a class full of Eric’s because they don’t know as much as him.  I tell Eric (and Shujie) that I want a class of Kobe’s.  Kobe is a student (obvious NBA fanatic) whose English is close to poor.  But he puts up his hand and tries to answer and volunteers to be one of the first to give a speech in class.  He speaks slowly (he is a fast talker in real life) because the wheels are turning while he thinks of the words.  He gets an A+ for effort and that’s what I want.  If other students look at Kobe and think, “If Kobe can do it, I can do it” then I’ll be happy.  If you look up effort in the dictionary, it’s Kobe’s picture you’ll see.

Tonight Shujie and I went out for dinner to some cheapo Chinese restaurant she found yesterday close to the apartment.  I eat pepper steak and she said they had it.  They don’t always make it but if she lets them know in advance, they’ll be prepared.  So she told them yesterday that we would come tonight.

We went.  When we walked in we were the only customers.  There were two young girls (about 20) there and Shujie says, “These are your students”.  I hate when she does that.  Sometimes she thinks that every student that looks at me is my student.  In this case these 2 girls had once or twice sat in on a class of mine.  I had no idea who they were.  But if she says they’re my students I feel like an idiot if I don’t recognize them.  She told me that it means a lot to these kids if she calls them “my students”.  The association flatters them so I will let it pass.  I don’t like it but if it puts a small smile on some kid’s face, then it’s okay.

They brought the meat and I didn’t like it, but I ate it.  I wouldn’t say anything negative there because Shujie might tell them.  I’ve tried to explain to her that I want to be invisible sometimes and not “the foreigner”.  I just want to be a regular guy, which I know is impossible.  But if I don’t like the meat, there is nothing anyone can do about it.  It’s not their fault.  It’s no one’s fault so I told her after we left.

During dinner the girls and some other people (the place was full of people who were either just hanging out or working there) were standing around our table talking to Shujie and the girls sometimes to me.  I know it’s a culture thing.  Here, it’s not rude to hover over someone in a restaurant while they’re eating.  I confirmed this with Shujie afterwards.  I can’t complain since it’s not wrong, it’s just strange to me.  And it’s uncomfortable.  But I will have to bear it because that’s how things are.  I guess I should be flattered they want to be around me (like you want to be around a gorilla at a zoo), but there’s nothing I can do and there’s no point complaining.

The girls are studying “garden art”.  What is “garden art”?  I don’t know.  Shujie doesn’t know.  Maybe it’s how to design a garden.  I have Beata and her “Tea art” which I’m starting to understand but I’m not ready for “garden art” yet.  One of the girls asked me what she has to do to get into university in Canada.  How the hell do I know?  Do I work at the registrar’s office?  Should I ask her what I have to do to be in Hu Jin Tao’s cabinet?  But I’m from Canada so that makes me know everything to do with Canada.

Then the other girl asked me if it was better to look for a job in “garden art” in China or outside of China?  Now I’m the “garden art” expert.  Shujie says that as a teacher I’m an oracle.  I figured “garden art” has to do with gardens so perhaps a climate without winter would be best so I suggested Hainan (the Hawaii of China).  Learning the culture can be a daily experience.  I’m not complaining really since I am learning so much.  My students teach me many things and as their English improves I learn more and more.

I’m learning what power I have.  I do have some power.  I don’t really with my students since no one fears me (and I don’t want them to), but other teachers are a little afraid of me (I believe) and the office too.  I’m the foreigner and they don’t really understand foreigners so they fear what they don’t understand.  The wonderful Wang Jing doesn’t fear me because she’s not an idiot.

Last night was movie night and I was showing “Fail Safe” which I was showing with Chinese subtitles so everyone could understand.  It’s a brilliant movie that depicts what might have happened 50 years ago during the Cold War.  Eric told me before class yesterday that his class couldn’t go since they had to go to a basketball game between this school and another.  I asked why they had to go and he told me that the “boss teacher” said they had to.  They would be marked on their attendance.  He didn’t want to go and I don’t think anyone in that class wanted to go.  I couldn’t believe they’d be forced to attend.  They get points if they go.  The points go towards redeeming green stamp gifts or something like that.  But I was not happy.

At the break I figured I would see if I could “flex my muscles”.  I told Eric that I was more important than the “boss teacher” and that Tuesday night was movie night and I had the students reserved for Tuesdays if they wanted to come to a movie.  Of course, I can’t leave it up to him to be stuck in the middle wondering whom he should believe.  So I called Wang Jing and told her.  Wang Jing said the kids should go to the movie and she would call the “boss teacher” and tell her.  She then called me back and said it was all taken care of.  I was a hero to the students and they know I have some power.  I felt good since it gave the students some free will.

So it’s almost 3 months here and I don’t regret it.  Yet.  Maybe I won’t regret it.  It’s been an interesting experience and I’ve met some wonderful people.  Granted these people are all about 20 except Wang Jing who’s about 33.  I’ve made friends since some of the students tell me they look at me as a friend.  I actually think I’m making a tiny impact of some lives.  Maybe I’m deluding myself but maybe I’m not.  I’ll tell you, this sure beats the hell out of designing and writing computer programs.

How’s that for an opening picture?  Eye-catching, isn’t it?  Anxious to see more?  Where the hell did he see this you’re thinking?  Shujie and I went to Tongli this weekend.  Tongli is a “water town” about 18km from Suzhou (we’ve been there).  It’s supposed to be one of the prettiest ones and by water town I think they mean it has canals and is another Venice of the East.  I’ve been to Venice and it isn’t even close.  But every country has places they compare to other places.  If you go to the province of Hainan in China, you’re going to the “Hawaii of China”.  If you go to JeJu Island in Korea you’re going to the “Hawaii of Korea”.

Tongli is worth a day trip.  It’s not worth 2 nights.  There is an old town, which is very pretty and nice to walk through.  It’s a good thing it wasn’t summer or tourists would have swallowed us.  You pay about $12 to get into the old town and for your money you can walk around and get into any of the 10 sights for your ticket.  That is except for the Chinese Sex Museum, which required an extra $3 to get in.

I’ve been very lucky and have visited many places.  I’ve been to hundreds of museums and after a while it gets to the point that if you’ve seen one museum, you’ve seen them all.  However, in Suzhou we saw a beautifully designed museum (talked about in an earlier post) and now we’ve seen the Chinese Sex Museum, which is unique.

This museum looks at 5,000 years of Chinese erotica and is filled with statues and pictures and carvings.  It is far from pornographic and I have a few other pictures that can be seen on flickr.  If you go there and search for me (mlking55) and look at the sex museum set, you’ll see them.  I would have liked to have taken more but if you search there are sites online that have lots of pictures.

We saw a combination backscratcher/dildo.  Yes, one end of this stick had a hand for scratching your back, and the other end had a penis.  It was different.  We saw chastity belts.  We saw pictures.  And we saw statues.  This museum is one of the only places in China where homosexuality is openly recognized as part of Chinese culture.

This place was truly a treat to see.  Here you can see “using penis for future generations”.  Yes, that is a penis growing out of his head topped by a turtle.  Shujie told me that the Chinese refer to the head of the penis as a “turtle”.  I think having the turtle then is overkill since you can see the head of the penis.  Maybe they thought foreigners would one day see this statue and they would need to be explicit.

This next picture I think of as a mother taking care of her family.  I don’t see the sex in it but maybe I’m just naïve.

Next we have “no hear, no look, no see for sex”.  Did they copy the “hear no evil statue” for this or was “the hear no evil statue” copied from this?

I like to think of this one as emphasizing family togetherness.  The husband is about to go off to battle so he’s making love to his wife one last time while his child exhorts him to hurry home.

And of course, beware of Chinese bearing gifts.

Here’s a canal followed by a picture of the boat we took a canal tour on as it’s about to go on the “roller coaster” as they called it.  It was a lock of a few feet.  I think roller coaster overstates it a bit.

Here are just some pictures of the local scenery.  It was pretty but 2 nights was plenty.  There were no good restaurants but a decent coffee shop where I actually had a piece of apple pie (the apple was fine but the dough needed work) and a piece of black forest cake, which wasn’t bad.

Here’s Shujie in her “crouching tiger, hidden dragon” pose followed by her getting ready to bang a gong.

The videos are of Shujie reliving the magic of T-Rex’s big hit “Bang a Gong” and some Chinese opera performers.

On Sunday morning we took the bus to Suzhou since we had to get the bus from there back to Jurong.  We scored well at the bookstore as we got Shujie 4 books.  She’s actually starting to read novels for the first time in her life.  She’s read “The Secret Daughter” and “Kite Runner” and loved them both.  I find the books (if they have an English title on them) I can recommend that I think she’ll like.  I’m thrilled by this development since I love reading and I want everyone to love it.

Yesterday when we returned we had Shao Kao (of course since it was Sunday) and then we watched Jane Eyre that was recently in theatres.  It was marvelous.  It’s nice to see a great movie that you can buy for less money than you’d rent it for in North America.  Is it a legal copy?  I really don’t know since the quality is as good as any DVD I’ve rented.  They are much better quality than the ones I bought in Korea which were obviously copies.

I’ve been a lot of things in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever been what could be considered a “cash cow”.  Well, those days are gone.  You are reading the ranting’s of a real live cash cow.

How do I know I’m a cash cow?  When I met with Julie yesterday for my tutoring session (it’s really just we sit and talk for an hour), I asked her how much it costs to go to school here.  She told me that it’s 4000RMB (about $645) a year.  That’s the normal price.  Now, if you want your child to have a real live foreign English teacher (that’s me), the cost is 10000RMB.  In dollars, that’s an additional $1,000.  So, I have 79 first year students.  That means the school pulls in an extra $79,000 for the year because of me.  I get paid about $1000 a month for 10 months (the school year) so that’s a profit of $69,000 for the school.  Okay, they pay my apartment and utilities but they are making a bundle off of me.  I thought the salary was because the schools made no money.  No sir.  It’s because they are cheap.  I could be a jerk and ask for a raise but that wouldn’t be nice.  But it is fascinating just how much revenue I bring in to the school.

What’s also amazing is that some of these students know nothing in English and will never know anything.  It’s almost like their parents believe I will lay hands on them and say, “you now know English”, and that’s it.  They are English experts.  I know the parents are trying to do for their children, but be real.  Why throw away $1000 even if you have $1000.  Give it to charity.  Give it to me.  Save it for your kid who will never get a job because they are a bit of a moron.

You can now call me Mr. Cow.  My friends can call me Cash.  This is a weird place.  I learn more and more all the time.  I’m learning the questions to ask.  I wasn’t sure I trusted what I heard from Julie (not that she would lie), but I wanted verification.  So I asked my other class today if their parents had to pay more to have a foreign English teacher.  Yes they do.  They pay an extra $1000 to have Mr. Cow as their teacher.

Generally speaking I like the kids.  I’m very fond of Wang Jing.  As far as the school as an institution of supposedly higher learning goes, I have no respect for it and feel that there are a bunch of inmates running this asylum.  Of course, I’m just a visitor here and I must realize there are cultural differences here, but something is out of whack.

Yesterday was the Exercise Match.  What it was exactly is that each class performs their morning exercises and a prize is given (some ping pong paddles and a certificate) if you win.  They all looked the same to me.  It was interesting to see what they did in the morning.  The students are amazed that they don’t do this in the West and some of them are ready to move right now.  They hate getting up and doing this.

It was very nice for me when they saw me since they were all excited to see someone come to watch them.  There were less than 100 spectators.  I felt like one of the people and not just some foreigner.  It was a very nice and warm feeling.  I explained it to Shujie (who they were also glad to see), but I didn’t try to explain it to the students.  I think you have to live the foreigner’s life to understand.  I just might be the only white guy in a city of 600,000 people.  That’s amazing.  No one looks like me.  If you give it serious thought it could blow your mind.  I had moments in Korea when I would just stop dead in my tracks and think, “I am truly alone here”.  I haven’t had any of those moments here.  Of course, having a wife helps and also having some students who I truly believe like me as a person helps too.

My suggested topic for the next round of evening speech making was rejected by the “boss teacher” as I knew it would be.  I told Eric that the topic should be “homosexuality” and the teacher didn’t think it was appropriate.  Is the teacher an idiot?  In this case, yes.  These aren’t kids (okay, they are partly kids) but don’t treat them as such.  So I am not to be asked for any topics anymore.  If this one got by the censors the next topic would have been, “Sexual Intercourse: Pre or Post Marriage”?

Here are 3 pictures, 2 of one of my classes and one of the other class.  Then there are two videos.  The first one has one of my classes and the whole presentation.  The other video has the other class and is an abridged version.  You might find it interesting.

And you will see that besides tiny army men crawling on the ground, students doing exercises will help China conquer the world.

As time goes by I learn more about this weird place.  It’s weird since it’s so different.  I’m not talking right and wrong, I’m just talking different.  I’m learning to ask better questions so I can learn more and some things just leave me scratching my head in wonder.  I hear what’s being said, my brain can process it, but I just can’t catch the logic in it.

One of my 1st year classes has me on the verge of seeing if I can trade them in on another model.  I hate giving up but they won’t ask questions.  They don’t understand and when you ask if they understand, they say nothing.  So I go around and ask a question and the answer is inevitably “I don’t know” so I ask why didn’t they ask.  They have no reply.  I’m in a culture where students asking teachers questions is not the norm, but I am making progress in my other classes but this class is good for the garbage.  I’d like to take a few of the students with me but I am seriously considering seeing if I can drop them.  They, as a class, are a waste of my time and I’m not helping them since they don’t want to be helped.  Why not slot me in where the majority of students care?  That makes sense.  That’s probably why they don’t do it.

Shujie was talking to a teacher yesterday and learned something that blew me away.  You don’t have to go to or pass high school to go here.  High school in China costs money.  If you’re kid is an idiot, why spend money?  When it comes time to look for a job no one wants to see a high school diploma.  So you can just fast forward to college (this is a business), the student can enter and probably get a diploma to show a prospective employer.  Weird stuff.  Naturally I can’t ask the students since that would be embarrassing but I’d love to know.

Monday was tutoring with Beata and my goodness, she is getting better.  I no longer get a headache trying to decipher her words.  She told me her classmates have noticed her speaking better.  She’s no Lawrence Olivier, but she’s getting better.  And in all serious, that’s a better payment than money.  I’m really glad it’s working out.

Monday night was the first of the every second week English speech contest.  They call it an “English Party”.  No pizza, no beer, what kind of party?  So I was one of the judges along with Shujie and one of my 2nd year students.  Their boss teacher whose idea this was couldn’t be a judge since she doesn’t speak English.  I give her credit for being there the whole time.  The other 2 English teachers who were supposed to be there had other engagements (maybe) so I’m the only teacher.

The topic was “My favourite thing”.  We get seasons, mothers, dogs, and so on.  One girl was talking about her mother and broke down.  I felt awful but no one moved.  I don’t know if her mother was dead and it was too late to show her mother that she’s a good daughter who loves her, or that she was just feeling guilty.  I always thought the Jews wrote the book on making their kids feel guilty but they may have stole some parts from the Chinese.

So after 29 speeches we handed in our scores.  A girl named Mandy (a very nice young lady) won.  I was selected to give her the prize.  I think it was a bottle of shampoo (the writing was in Chinese) and a gift card to something.  I asked my pal Eric (one of my students) who bought the prize.  I assumed it was the boss teacher.  Ha and Ha.  He told me David did.  David is a student.  It seems the plan is that each time we do this a student buys the prize.  How tacky and cheap and offensive and stupid.  If the boss teacher wants this (and only she does), then she should be buying the prizes.  I can’t believe they ask the students.  Weird place.

It was called an English party but there was no dancing, no beer, no pizza, and I wanted to know what the party was.  So for entertainment they got Brad Pitt and Sunny up to the front to sing.  I give them credit.  Here’s a snippet of their performance.

They want me to come up with the next topic.  I’m leaning towards homosexuality.  I figure that will get me out of the having to come up with topics part of the game.

Last night was movie night and I showed the “Unforgiven” which I love.  Of course.  One boy wanted to know if it was black and white or colour.  I told him colour so he was happy and I also told him the best movies are in black and white.  Ah, to be young again.

I think the story is reasonably able to follow although some of the language was over their heads, which was fine.  I think they enjoyed it.  I’m not getting big turnouts and I think the reason is just plain laziness.  If they come to an English movie they have to listen in English and read the English subtitles.  It will help them but so many of them are just plain lazy.  It’s absurd.

After one of my classes yesterday a student approached me to tell me that she couldn’t come to the movie that night.  I thought that was very nice since she’s a regular.  She told me she was going with 2 other women to a party but not a fun party.  I’m pretty good at Chinglish so I whipped out my dictionary and found the word I wanted and showed her in Chinese.  I was right.  She was going to a Communist Party meeting.  I guess it’s normal, but it’s weird to me.  So aside from where she was going, the other point is just how thoughtful and polite many of they can be.  I love good manners.  I think it says a lot about a person.

Before the movie started 3 boys invited me out for a day next Saturday (the 26th) to some place near Nanjing where there are hot springs.  I accepted and Brad Pitt will be driving.  He actually lives in Jurong and has a driver’s license.  I was very flattered they asked me.  I’m glad that there are students who are comfortable with me who aren’t interested in taking advantage of my kindness, but still want to learn.  It is a nice feeling.

I have no classes today because the freshman classes (which I have 2 of this afternoon) have their exercise march.  Don’t ask me what that means because I won’t understand until after I see it.  I know every class must exercise at 6:30AM twice a week and everyone exercises at 1PM every day (M-F).  They’ve been practicing and I think it’s just showing off how well they can do their exercises.  Weird stuff.  This is a weird place.

We had a visitor last night.  It was a bat.  Shujie was freaking out and we got it in the living room and closed the door.  This morning I knocked it to the floor and we bagged it and threw it out.  We don’t get many visitors but I’m not sure we really want bats as visitors.

If nothing else, it’s interesting around here.

I wrote my last post on Wednesday morning.  Wednesday afternoon I had classes.  In one of the classes a student did his “If I were King/God of China” speech.  He had 3 points to make.  The 3rd point was free health care, the 2nd point was free school (high school in China costs the parents money) but number one knocked my socks off.  He would kill all Japanese people.  There is no underestimating the hatred of many people towards the Japanese.  Now many of us know that the Japanese were just horrendous to the Chinese before and during WWII.  The depths of the cruelty was almost, but not quite, on a par with the Nazis.  The way I look at it is this happened many years ago so over 90% of those monsters are dead.  But the problem for many Chinese is that the Japanese history books and people don’t admit any cruelty towards the Chinese during those years.  The murder of millions of civilians is not mentioned.  So the resentment remains and in a way, understandably so.  It’s quite interesting the things you hear in class.

Then it came time to discuss the homework.  Two out of forty students did their homework.  You can say that I wasn’t impressed.  I was quite calm (they got me on a good day) and I told them that I was tired of wasting my time with them.  I also told them that this wasn’t the best school they could be going to (they know that) so this is their last chance to go anywhere.  If they think homework is hard, they should try working in a mine.  I told them that next year I’ll be living in Canada or teaching at another school and my life will go on.  As for them, they’re stuck here to make something of themselves (maybe advancing to University or getting a diploma here), and this is it.  If they fuck up, it’s game over.  Yes, I did use the term “fuck up”.  We call that a teaching moment.

I told them that if they wanted I could get them a Chinese English teacher to replace me.  If they wanted me they had to do what I said.  I then told them to discuss this among themselves and I was going out for 15 minutes.  I went outside for a break.

During my break one student comes out to talk to me.  He’s a really nice kid and he says that perhaps many of the students didn’t understand what the homework was.  I told him that if that was true (and I didn’t believe it was) then it was their responsibility to tell me they don’t understand.  They’re adults and not babies.  He suggested that at the end of class he could tell everyone in Chinese what the homework is.  I told him he could, but he’d be making a serious mistake if he did.  If he misunderstands me and passes that information on to the class, it’s his fault.  If he takes responsibility for telling his classmates what they are to do, then he’s not helping them learn.  I think he got my point.

I went back to the class and they enthusiastically told me they wanted me to be their teacher.  Big deal.  I like a lot of those kids but if they can’t do simple homework like reading a few paragraphs then forget it.  But I’ll give them one more chance.  I’m such a softie.  One girl who I’m very fond of told me after class that she thinks of me as her teacher and as a friend.  I was quite touched by that since I think she’s a sweetie.  She also told me that she felt I was as good a teacher as her father and I know she thinks very highly of her father.  It was hard to keep my eyes dry.  So we shall see.

Friday we went to Wuxi (pronounced Woo-she).  It’s a very clean city of about 2 million people.  The bus ride was less than 2 hours, which was good.  We were hungry and I just wanted a muffin and a coffee so we took a taxi (our hotel was out of the way) to the city center and hit the Starbucks.  Shujie went into a Chinese place to get something to eat and I got a sandwich and an iced tea from Starbucks.  When we had finished she had a DQ Blizzard for the first time ever.  It was quite tasty.  She said it was okay.  She’s not a big fan of cold things so I was quite surprised she ordered it.

After that we just walked around and found a nice looking temple whose picture is below.  I managed to record the last bit of the monks singing one of their hit songs (I think it was a cover version of “Love Me Do”).  You also get a great view of Shujie’s back.  Here’s the temple and the songs.

For dinner there was no Fridays.  It’s gone out of business.  I found 5 Western restaurant possibilities and of those 5, only 2 were still open.  We went to a bar Friday night with lots of foreigners.  I asked for a Bloody Mary but they didn’t know what that was.  So I asked for a shot of vodka and a glass of tomato juice (which they had).  I put in plenty of salt and pepper and voila, a Bloody Mary.  And it was good.  It was 3 drinks full good.  I had a cheeseburger which was okay and Shujie had a burrito (which she wasn’t crazy about).  We also got onion rings which were among the best I’ve ever had.  I’m not talking I’m in China good, but good if you’re in Canada or the U.S.  It was quite a nice time.  Shujie got drunk on 2 drinks and spent a lot of time telling me she was drunk but her mind was clear.  Yes, whatever.

On Saturday we signed up for a tour.  The highlight of the tour is Buddha World.  They have China’s tallest Buddah (I think) and lot’s of Buddah stuff.  You can see Buddha as a baby, you can see a statue of little boys crawling over Buddah (if you touch it you’re supposed to have a son).  You touch Buddha’s feet and wonder what kind of nail clippers you would need to do the job of keeping the toenails trim.  You walk around Buddha’s hand and you’re supposed to keep touching it as you walk around so you’re life will be a happy one.  You actually can’t touch it 100% of the way around since that means you’re life is full of happiness and there is no more to be had.  It’s a Buddha world, after all.

Here are some pics of Buddha World:


Now I am sharing a picture of me with a sheep since I’m from the year of the sheep.  As you can see, we’re quite tight.


We then went on a cruise and walked around an island.  As you can see from the picture below I tried my hand at running a Buddha stand but alas, it didn’t work out.

Now here are 2 shots of us at this tiny waterfall.  The sign said waterfall but it should have said, “dripping faucet”.  Oh well.


We came back today and it was Shao Kao dinner tonight.  Mmn, Mmn, good.  I think the 3 pieces of chicken was too much along with the 10 lamb skewers and the 12 potato skewers.  So I’ll cut back to 2 next time.  You can see me eating chicken and a picture of the food selection.  Also we have the master chef and his charming wife.  They are really pleasant kids and it feels good to be a “regular” there.  I’m very loyal and won’t eat elsewhere on that street.  And I also provide a small treat at the store where I buy my cold soda to drink.  The girls who manage the cash register giggle and blush when I come in.  It’s so cute.


I’m almost finished the new Stephen King novel, “11/22/63”.  I love being able to download a book and have it right away.  I would prefer the feel of a book but the immediate gratification is nice as well as the fact that I’m in China so I can get any book I want.  And I can read at night with the lights off which is nice too.

Tomorrow begins another week.  Oh wait, it’s a day off.  I’ll tutor in the afternoon and supposedly judge speeches in the evening.  I don’t want to do that but I’m a nice guy.  I’m not sure where we’ll go next week or if we’ll go anywhere, but it is really nice to get away.  Life here isn’t too bad, but I think going away helps keep it that way.

That might be a rhetorical question.  Today it says the high will be 16 but right now it’s 13.  In Toronto I could still wear a spring coat when it was 10.  Here, I’m freezing to death.  The times I’ve been in China in the winter have been hellish.  I fear the winter.  The cold cuts right through me.  And there will be no refuge in the classroom because not only are they not heated, they don’t even have portable heaters.  What might save me is that I’m usually in constant motion.  It helps keep my energy level high and keeps the students on their toes because I might leap towards them and ask a question when they’re not expecting it.

Monday was the 4th day of the weekend and I basically did nothing.  That’s not exactly true.  I spent about 4 hours reviewing “biographies” the students had written.  Most of them can’t write a sentence and if I took a red pencil to their work, it wouldn’t be readable.  I write what they wrote and then I rewrite it in proper English.  My hope is that they will look at it and learn.  I doubt it.  I hear “oh teacher, I want to learn English” so much, but no one seems to make any moves towards improving themselves.  Wait, I lied.  There are a few students.  Lisa (my friend Shujie hates) had Lisa’s friend Eleven sat in on 1 ½ of my classes yesterday.  I asked them why since I think they’re insane.  They said they just like listening to me.  I really should be paid as an Entertainer.

Beata (my tutored student) came Monday night and we taped her speaking.  I think she was a little shocked at how badly she sounded.  She told me that her classmates can’t even understand her.  But she’s a sweetie.  She took my sample reading and she says she’ll listen to it and then record herself speaking.  I tell the students that the way the mouth works in different in Chinese and English.  In English, we open our mouths wider.  Beata was a real hoot.  She would pinch her mouth open when saying some words so they would sound better.  I thought that was great.  Someone who wants to get better and is actually doing something about it.

Yesterday I just didn’t feel like teaching.  I don’t think my students really felt like learning.  My “good” class was a little nosier than usual but I let it pass.  Everyone (and every class) had a bad day now and then.  They really are a pleasure to be with.  I have one boy and I told him yesterday (although I’m not sure he understood), that he has the best manners and is the most polite student I have, and that his parents should be very proud of him.  I’m not making fun.  I’m not saying the rest are rude, but he stands head and shoulders above everyone else.

The speech topic was “If I were King/Queen/Emperor/Empress/God of China, what would I do?  One boy said he would institute a multi-party system and he wrote it on the board in Chinese so everyone would understand.  I thought that was great of him but I told him afterwards (because I’m just a dumb foreigner) that he should be careful about what he says and where he says it.  People go to jail here for thoughts like those.  Shujie says he has nothing to worry about because he’s a nobody but I would hate to see any grief come to him for thinking “normal” thoughts.

It’s sports sweater week here for me.  Yesterday I work my Leaf’s jersey and today it’s my Canadien’s jersey.  Tomorrow will either be the Dodgers or the Penguins.  My life is full of the hard decisions.

Last night we showed “Rain Man”.  I just love that film.  The turnout was disappointing.  I can’t predict how many will show up.  I think that those who were there enjoyed it.  Next week it’s blood and violence as I bring in “Reservoir Dogs”.  I love that too.  I wonder how that will go over.

We’ve booked a hotel for our big getaway this weekend.  Yes, we’re off to Wuxi (sounds like Woo-She).  It means “no tin”, so we don’t expect to find any tin there.  We’ve heard it’s a nice city and they should be enough to keep us busy for a couple of days.  Plus they have a Friday’s so it’s another cheeseburger for me.

I handed out a story from the book I bought on the weekend called “Are Teachers Too Strict”.  They have to read it and come into class with questions about what they don’t understand.  Then we’ll read it again and discuss it.  If a student doesn’t have a question, I’ll ask them what something means.  If they don’t answer me, it will be worse than the Wrath of Khan for them.  They want to discuss things to work on their English, then they must be prepared to do some work.  I know this is only college and therefore a big joke to a lot of them, but as much as I want to have fun, I want to provide some sort of service.

Every class the class monitor (whatever the hell that is) brings me a book to sign and write in what the lesson was about.  I figure no one reads it so yesterday I just wrote in “Sex”.  We’ll see if we hear anything back about that.

I got a library card for the library here (for Shujie).  First we had to go to Wang Jing for her to call the library and tell them it was okay to give the foreigner a card.  Then we went to the library where a man wrote us a letter to give to someone else.  Then we took the letter there where they collected a security deposit from us (about $14) and told us that they would call when the card was ready.  Nothing is easy here.  They work so many damn hours because they are inefficient.  So yesterday Shujie got the card and went to check out the library.  She said it was a huge disappointment.  That’s too bad.  Hopefully in Wuxi we can find some books for her.

One of my 1st year students told me his class was going to have an English public speaking competition every 2 weeks on Monday nights.  They want me to be a judge.  I’m happy to go but I don’t want to judge.  They’re my students so I don’t want to be in a position where I might say something negative.  He also told me that the speeches were to be 3 minutes.  I asked him what idiot decided that and he told me the “boss teacher” whoever that is.  It’s some moron who doesn’t speak English is all I know.  A 3-minute speech is a challenge in your native language, it’s absurd in a foreign language.

He told me last night that he told the “boss teacher” what I said and the “boss teacher” said 30 seconds or 1 minute would be fine but if you could do 3 minutes that would be great.  I have them do little speeches in my class so this is overkill.  I was told by this student (by way of the boss teacher) that if I had any ideas I should mention them.  I show movies.  I offer help to those who want it.  I prepare speaking exercises for those who want to use them (all 2 of them but the students are lazy fools who should be doing this).  I’m out of ideas.  And they should create their own unique ideas instead of stealing mine.

I do not like the whole idea of the Chinese way of teaching.  Teacher talks, students listen, questions are discouraged.  Then you leave and go memorize everything.  You don’t learn anything, you memorize.  It’s stupid.  You have to ask questions in my opinion.  But it is what it is, and that’s China.  I can’t change anything.  All I tell my students is that when they’re in my classroom they are no longer in China.  All the Chinese rules go out the window.  Hopefully in a month or two they’ll catch on.