One of the reasons why I enjoy teaching…

Students are amazingly wonderful people. I gave them an access code to join Schoology as a supplement to our in-class ‘live’ interactions. A few students were slow to sign up, so as one does, I reminded them.

It seems I’m not giving enough homework if they have enough ‘free’ time to do this…


Dunno who the culprit is, but I have some clues. Not sure whether it is appropriate or not in the current political climate so I didn’t make a big announcement about this… but in all honesty, I thought it clever and quite amusing.

Surely I can’t publically condone this sort of behavior but keep it coming Mr. Former President!


On a side-note, it looks like today’s writing is up to maybe 200 words if I really stretch out this paragraph. Considering yesterday’s writing session was too short, and today’s is grossly inadequate, I’ll have some serious catching up to do. However, if one looks on the bright side, at least something is being writing. Two days in a row- woohoo!



I did a lesson on symbolism this week for all my classes, both high school and university. There’s nothing like watching the same music video over one hundred times to make your week complete.

But to be honest, the more I watched it, the more details I enjoyed, much of what I was trying to get the students to notice. The music is not bad, the storyline in the video is dramatic and scandalous but what can we expect in our day and age right? But the symbolism is unbeatable and there is nuance aplenty!

Several years ago I found an awesome blog called No Fat Clips which reviewed short clips, music videos, indie productions and the like. It was an amazing teaching resource with high quality download links to the videos (in multiple formats even!) And as a lot of the productions were indie, the themes and topics were more, how do I say it? … interesting. Very good for the learning environment.

The sad part of the story is that the blogger stopped updating his blog. I’ve pretty much gone through all the posts and snatched anything I might conceivably use in class. I may try emailing an inspirational email to convince him to start back up. Sounds like his computer crashed… but by now it ought be fixed, right?



Tiger Moms

There has been a lot in the news recently about so-called ‘tiger moms’. I recently saw one in the wild and would like to say they are a force to be reckoned with.

In my winter phonics camp, one class of students- let’s just say they would be on Santa Claus’ naughty list and would not be getting any presents at Christmas time. My assistant actually happened to be a teacher as a profession, as well as a mother (by nature?).

Until about three days before the ‘exam’ she seemed calm and controlled. Then she just went berserk. Apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back was in fact a bundle of straws: several students were unable to read the text. On top of this fact, several students had also either lost or had left their books at home. Enter the tiger.

Nice calm, collected Chinese teacher and mother becomes queen of the jungle. I fearfully watched as she began her diatribe. The Chinese phrases were flung in short, powerful bursts. First came a description of the situation. Then pause. Not a one or two second pause, we’re talking a good 10-20 seconds that let the gravity of the situation settle in. Then rhetorical questions by no means answerable by any student wishing to remain alive.

And at first I couldn’t quite interpret what was going on. I wasn’t sure how to gauge the teacher’s actions. At one point I thought the teacher was on the verge of tears. At the next, I was about ready to step in and lighten a situation, that at the end of the day, was not worth getting this worked up about. But where and when to intervene. Was my lack of intervention making it worse, pause after critical outburst stuck in a repetitive cycle.

The under-performing group of students were lined up and ordered to read. Now at this point the chief offender began the reading and was fiercely corrected at each error. The nine year old boy had not burst into tears so far but it wasn’t out of the question. His quivering voice matched his trembling hands. He managed to get through a paragraph and was rewarded with a reduced sentence, a ever-slightly reduced scolding.

I somehow managed to interject myself into the situation, though I don’t exactly remember how. For the most part I tried to do things diplomatically without undermining the tigress’ effects. The ‘good’ readers were dismissed for a rest, and fearing the worst, I stayed in the classroom with the delinquents just in case. I couldn’t in good conscious leave them with a ‘Tiger Mom’. Plus I wanted to document what happened, my curiosity getting the best of me.

No one died, the proverbial, as well as the literal face was still intact and we were all the wiser from the situation. To be honest, it may have been a bit too much of harsh reality for these kids. After all they hardly have mastered one language and here they are forced to uptake another.

The tactics were severe and not for the faint of heart. It was a roller coaster for me and I’m a grown man (well, almost). Effective? The jury’s still out. Check back in ten years from now. Only then can we gauge how well this slightly traumatic encounter with a tiger mom truly succeeded.

Rubber Stamp

photo source
In an effort to clear my thoughts, I’ll attempt to blog a bit each night before bed. Perhaps this may help alleviate life’s stresses and prepare me for a good night’s rest.

Ah, the rubber stamp. Today’s title is labeled as such. My friend Big Mike knows all to well what I’m referring too. (He also knows, in all honesty, that I had the higher grade and he only toppled me because of “Binkey”.)

Grading papers suck. Grading one paper is fine. Grading several papers is also reasonable. Grading a plethora of papers- I repeat- sucks.

Suffice it to say I have only now come to the realization that it may have been better to space out the travail several each day instead of sitting down and doing enormous batches at a time. Slow and steady takes discipline and unfortunately, like my running, I’m more of an undisciplined sprinter.
Guilt sets in when I feel I should be spending more time on each paper rather than verifying whether or not the students successfully follow the assignment as they were instructed. As I power through, I notice a few gems here and there which only makes my angst worse. What, god forbid, should happen if a brilliant writer slips by unnoticed and is not given the nurturing s/he needs? Granted this most likely won’t happen but I’d hate to underestimate anyone…

All which in turn lead to the realization that we influence each other quite a bit. I often forget how fragile my own life and experiences are, let alone others that are intrinsically linked by association.

Strive to be better, if not for your own sake, then for those around you.

Note: The picture came from a graphic artist’s web-page in Jordan. His blog, Sha3teely seems pretty cool, despite me being unable to read Arabic. Some posts are in English.

TSM (2/15) & (1/5)


Alls well that ends well. I lived to tell my story. Here it is.

The first day of school is always trying. How do I look? Am I going to make a good impression? Are my clothes clean? Did I bring everything I will need? Am I going to miss the bus and be late? These thoughts and others flittered through my brain at an ever increasing speed. I won’t recount all the answers to all the questions but I will venture that it could have been worse.

The bus did not leave me behind. I actually found a seat (while others did stand for a bit due to the ‘there’s always room for one more’ policy). A local hippy (local as in from my neck of the Californian woods) was reencountered on the bus after random sightings here and there around Nanjing over the past three years. It turns out that our paths would cross again, probably every Friday on the bus. Getting there- half the battle- was a piece of cake.

As I meandered around the campus, I found my classroom already sequestered by a few early students. We didn’t exchange much in greetings and I awkwardly waited for the rest of the class to slowly stream in. Observing the wall and room schedule wasn’t the best way to pass the time but it sufficed. As the computer was locked in the cabinet, and as the monitor hadn’t yet arrived, I was forced to anxiously not prepare for the upcoming lesson. Eventually, everyone arrived, including the class monitor, and with a swift turn on the key and an opening of the cabinet, the class was on its way.

Writing classes are not usually this oral. In the spirit of interaction, our first class was a combination of people moving around, answering questions (a ‘quiz’ about yours truly) and learning about what we would learn in the weeks to come. The students were less timid than I expected and, that being so, it comes as a pleasant surprise. The second half of our class everyone except me wrote until the end of the period; my job would be to read them the following week.

The Guide to English Speaking Countries class also went well, though by this time, my voice was nearly extinguished. It followed the same pattern except that instead of writing, I had the students find, and group themselves into the countries we will study this semester. It went off without a hitch- and with more of a twist. Two students insisted that Africa was a place that spoke English, which I concur, though no country exists named Africa. We came to the arrangement that the two students would represent South Africa (which later joined the timid New Zealand group that uttered not a word). Time ran out before we completed our tasks but we did at least list on the blackboard some of our current knowledge for each of the countries represented.

The commute home was a flashback to Los Angeles, 2004. Traffic was a mess but at least I wasn’t driving. It took an hour and a half to get the 20km home. Considering it was Friday at 5pm we made good time. It wasn’t until Monday that I would have to do it all over again…


Monday wasn’t nearly as hectic as was Friday. Out of the three oral English classes I was to give, most people attended the first class. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, just a freak misunderstanding of the schedule. Half of two different classes were to come to the period but instead all of one class and half of another came. I hadn’t planned for this but we managed.

The second period which was after lunch- only three students showed up, the only students that had managed to follow directions. At first we agreed that they would come back and attend the third and final period since there were only three of them. It was fine by me… They left and I began recounting my Friday (see above) when they returned along with one of their friends who happened to be a Japanese major. I stopped writing (until today) and we had a chit-chat until the next class began. My students were quite pleasant and the Japanese major spoke more than my students who were English majors. We talked about all kinds of things one normally does during first encounters. I found out that they had transferred from a school out in the countryside, from a college predominantly attended by soldiers. The regimen was fairly strict as they had to abide by military customs (wearing uniforms, rising early, etc) and thus they were happy to be at our current school. A more pleasant and probably more productive session for those involved than would have been with a full classroom.

The last period of the day my students came- but late. Their previous class was located on a far away and distant part of the campus accessible by school shuttle bus. By the time they arrived, we were 20 minutes into the period already. We made a quick and animated substitute of the lesson plan, and in the end, I was quite pleased with the results. Credited much to my teaching style (or lack there of), two students passing in the hall joined in our class discussion and lesson (I have a tendency to be a little over the top, to act the ham, and break any kind of stiff tension that might exist. Perhaps I’m not taken serious, but for the most part, I like to encourage the students not to be timid about speaking or making mistakes. This involves jumping around, and involving passing students who gawk through the windows as they pass the hall. Non-conventional but it keeps everyone on their toes). Because of the strange occurrences on Monday I was less fatigued at the end of the day and also still in possession of my voice.

The first week is over and it was well as it ended well. I’m looking forward to the classes, conversations and writings to come.

The Seventh Month (1/30)

Yesterday was the last day of my buddy’s month [hyperlink here]. It was also the first day I visited the campus where I will be teaching.

The campus is located outside the city accessible to me by school shuttle bus. The ride didn’t take much time, most of it being spent in the morning rush hour lined city streets; once we hit the open highway it took only minutes to reach our destination. Part of our travels mirrored a route I had taken before when tutoring a manager of an international electronics company plant also located in another district outside the city. As several options are available to reach these areas, I was delighted in discovering our driver opted for the scenic, tree-lined back roads for a significant portion of the journey. In much less time than I estimated we had arrived.

Twice a week I’ll visit this campus. Twice a week I’ll find peace in the natural surrounding. There the spaces are wide and open. Traffic is minimal. Rolling hills bound the edges of the sprawling campus. It’s a pity most of my time there will be spent inside learning (teachers learn too, right?) with the students rather than outside absorbing everything else.

The campus wasn’t bustling with excitement, wasn’t bustling with movement, wasn’t bustling with bustlers. But it wasn’t inert either. Signs of a brewing storm to come were present, manifested in students loitering at the school shuttle stops. Even the strange class bells modeled bizarrely after the likes of a mobile phone ringtone, or perhaps a slightly aggressive, angry and moving classical piece, failed to stir any wave in this placid pond of tranquility. I expect to witness another account, perhaps an antithesis, come my next visit on the fourth day of the seventh month.

Yesterday continued along. Two other foreign teachers and I received a tour of the campus by two seniors. They pointed out our teaching buildings and shared a bit of their gained knowledge. Their tour, despite its brevity, will thankfully provide some semblance of a smoother transition to an otherwise nonexistent introduction. Three cheers for those two!

Also on the day before today the instrument currently known as mine was pulled out of its pristine casing and saw some sunshine (perhaps since it was overcast, perhaps since the ‘fog’ was thick, perhaps because of these and other circumstances, one last one being that my inanimate accordion has no eyes to see with, either literally or metaphorically, the instrument in fact ‘saw [not] some sunshine’). Though blind, the sound producing mechanism I am so loosely associated with did develop a following. Through the embarrassing circumstances, mirroring my voice and what happened once before in another land far away, flat mates heard noises through the walls and came a’ listenin’. Demands were waged and doors were flung open. Thus a fan base of the accordion, not of me mind you, was expanded exponentially by two.

But on to aujourd’hui… Why dwell in the past? Today is in the process of being spent mostly:

  • Showering. Exciting when you have a deodorant, lotion for dry skin, Q-tips (or cotton swabs for those anti-establishment) and other toiletries probably unnecessary to primitive man yet a required luxury nowadays.
  • Laundering. A pile as large as Mount Everest is in the process of being siphoned into appropriate accounts to be washed clear and clean of any conspicuous stains or spots. We are talking about clothes right?
  • Reading. More on this later. I’ve finally picked up a book recommended to me by a friend well over a year or two ago. Non-fiction is my genre of persuasion and it’s not for the faint of heart. I’m waiting for the end before my mental diet can be fully digested. Sometimes while reading a book I get an anxious feeling inside. Perhaps that it’s I’m conflicted: Consciously I want to go on reading and subconsciously I’d like to pause and think and expand upon what I just swallowed. Hence the heasy-queasy feeling.
  • Drinking Imbibing. Don’t be mistaken. A change in wording seems appropriate. I’ve come to discover that I enjoy partaking in the process of drinking liquid. Obviously I’m talking about non-alcoholic beverages; to do otherwise would risk damaging my health. No, I speak mainly of water, tea, and coffee. Good ol’ H2O is hard to beat. Tea is my main delight, though I’m not at all satisfied with my latest purchase of yerba mate. Coffee I indulge from time to time, though I’m trying to kick that deliciousness that I love to hate and hate to love.

That’s it to date. Just laundered another, now to see and wait what happens. Sip some tea, sip some music and listen to the cicadas chirp. Think some thoughts, prepare to be unprepared and just be.


not too much sleep last night. thinking about things, mostly relationships and direction in life in general. top it off i also had a nightmare. didn’t eat breakfast. had two fast food chicken sandwiches from a side shop for 10 kuai at 10am. didn’t eat until now. sat in frozen classrooms all morning giving tests. lifted weights when i should have rested. just now ate dinner at 5pm. considering everything, i’m going to bed. i’m just not feeling it today. not a bit…


Numero Uno

As this is the first post of 2009, it will hence forth be named ‘Numeral Uno’.

WORK: Yesterday [next week I actually begin] I began my vacation. My work vacation. Instead of traveling like many people do, instead of spending their time with family like many people do, I decided to buck up and not do anything [leisurely]. Granted, I will continue to enjoy the air, the scenery, the culture, the people here in my small confines of the southern capital. Don’t get me wrong. But I won’t be idling by aimlessly. No, I will be speaking a mixture of English and Chinese with 7-8 y/o Chinese children in the hopes their English skills will be accelerated like subatomic nuclei in a particle accelerator [minus the high speed collision]. The ‘winter’ camp has not yet started, but I teach two classes once a week on Sundays at the same place. I have my fingers crossed that this will go off with[out] a hitch. Three hours a day [not so bad] for ten days straight [not too bad either] should pass without event. My fingers are crossed. The Sunday classes are interesting because in my first class only one student shows up and it is more of a one on one tutoring. All’s well that ends well but sometimes it makes me chuckle. Kids are cute, even more so when they spew 8 y/o Chinese at me faster than I can digest. I can’t help but laugh because they don’t understand that I’m not fluent. The incident involved me being a basketball hoop. It went well but I decided I wanted to play too. I fashioned a non-living hoop from a chair and then drew the throw line on the floor. Apparently it was further away than before and I ended up getting chewed out by an 8 y/o little girl in Chinese. Ah…

It’s double plus good [Newspeak]: I am able to earn money during vacation, while also not having time to spend it. Anyway…. On the first day he rested. But during the first month he worked…

RANDOM: Top Ramen, Cup-O-Noodle, Nissin Noodles… ah, the good ol’ days. I swore them off completely. That is until I came to China. So yesterday in between classes I came home and made some instant noodles. It’s quick and easy. In order to spice things up a bit, to add some extra protein, to experiment and satisfy my insatiable curiosity I added an egg. Two. Or I tried to. One egg didn’t make it. In preparation, I put the egg on the counter. As a counter is above the ground, the incredible force of gravity may act upon it. It started rolling, and I adjusted the egg’s position. I was satisfied that it wasn’t going to roll off again. I mean really. A good two second glance. But alas, the forces of friction were not enough to over come the forces of gravity and well, you know… humpty dumpty. It was annoying to have to clean up a splattered egg, when I specifically willed it to stay put. I swear we had a non-verbal agreement that I would put the egg on the counter, and the egg wouldn’t try to run away…

Mankind vs Everything Else Natural
Humans once revered the sun as something sacred and supernatural. Now they seem less enthralled and blot it out with their societies’ excrement. The lush, ubiquitous forests of an older age have been thinned to nothing more than a few filaments of their previous luster. Even these few remaining battle hardened survivors may be doomed, for they too struggle in the shadows of self-tribute, of mankind’s miraculous monoliths. Though the scales may seem unbalanced, the natural order of things will again come to pass. The day mankind actualizes its fervent obsession to conquer all, it must realize that it is a part of the whole, neither above it nor below it, and that to conquer all entails conquering itself.

TODAY: This morning when I went to get my breakfast of a baozi, I ran into a mass of parents at the front gate. The mass was more a mob, and while I wasn’t particularly unhappy [or happy] it was interesting to note how much these parents value their children/their children’s education. I can’t imagine the practicality of all of them standing right outside of the gate waiting for the children to come out. There’s already as little room as necessary here for all the people… it just blocks the entrance for those who are allowed in and out. Their presence also blocks traffic in the bicycle and car lanes, not to mention whatever is left for your typical pedestrian. Any who… I went to the roof [8th floor I suppose] and took a photo graph. The trees block most of the view and it doesn’t do it justice. Another day another picture I guess…

As this post is a bit of a hodge-podge of time, space and thought, nothing could be more appropriate than an ending as such:


do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about

What’s new? As of late I’ve been up to a lot. or so it seems. my cold is much like the economy these days… in a recession…
grandma’s 80th was the other day. i connected up over the net with a video conference call (well one way at least). I can only assume that the party was rocking. I’m sure it was a lot of fun. I also had a video conference with my buddy in S.D. It was nice to catch up with him, especially before he heads off to the N. to the Z. 
Yay for technology, go Google!
The dance we prepared in under two weeks went off pretty well. Though we all made some minor mistakes, it wasn’t bad considering… ‘Twas fun practicing only a handful of times before performing before a crowd of several thousand students… twice. Granted we didn’t invent the dance ourselves, but we did perfect one part. You’ll see… the hand part- A shout out and a thanks to the man behind the scenes, our dance coordinator and alternate, Kevin. Check out the original routine first, performed by the Tianjin Postal Service:
and then give ours a whirl:
I think the students enjoyed it. I enjoyed most of what I could understand of theirs. My students did a skit, the Merchant of Venice (in Chinese of course). Back stage, they looked at me questioningly and asked about their costumes- not convinced that lawyers looked the way they were dressed up. 
It was a bit more difficult to recognize students without their glasses and with all their make-up.
Here we were backstage:

(I think our fans say ‘Kung Fu fans’)
Yeah… it was a long weekend.
Ah… I can’t wait for the Christmas activities…

the week i wrote off

this week, from the start, i wrote off as a week without a chance.

last weekend i caught a cold among other things and hadu no energy whatsoever.
some of my classes really got into the activity we were doing the week before last. it was supposed to overflow into this week, but I didn’t tally their points and create the next chapter in the simulation. so what would have been a sure fire successful lesson turned into an apathetic gesture of passing the time. don’t get me wrong- some classes actually took to the dictionary/fictionary(bolderdash)/pictionary combo i threw at them. and how can one not like two short clips from Disney’s Pixar company? the words were great, the clips were funny (one even included a moral) but in the end my energy was gone.
we’re also working on a performance for the art festival at the school. it’s a ridiculous dance. and we’re correographed to boot. energy, see you later…
wednesday, oh wednesday. the afternoon kills me. they have to be into it otherwise there’s no chance. some of the students came in late (no reason) and i made them use the back entrance to class not to disturb my *wonderful* lesson. one of them decided to throw a fit and slam the door so i told him to leave and come back in five minutes. on his way out he flipped me off. my calm zen center boiled but the pot didn’t explode. i had a civil talk with him outside. two years ago my students here in China would have never been so crash. now, sadly, they are much like their American counterparts… what is happening in the world!?!
on the upside: i bought paints for a project i’ve decided to work on. i saw something beautiful one day when i was living in Los Angeles. i finally drew a sketch. the next stop is paint on canvas. i bought one small piece of canvas to begin with as i haven’t painted in a while. the next one should be several feet wide in the shape of, yep, a rectangle. hopefully it pans out. also have another idea in mind as well…
i’ve been thinking of writing a piece for a newspaper here. actually been thinking about writing for several months. got the topic. just need the know-how. pays pretty good i guess, so need to get over the nervousness and just try it out. can’t fail if i never start right?
the accordion might be on the way. i haven’t decided. i think i should get it this weekend if i do. actually i should get it. i haven’t been in the mood to travel since i got back to china. it’s okay i guess. i’ll be working this month holiday, doing a 6,7,8,9 y/o English camp, two weeks, making a little extra money. well actually decent money i guess. that will take up three hours of my day. i think since it’ll be so cold, playing music will lighten my heart and warm me up (physically).
my ping pong skills are getting better, been going with another guy pretty regularly. we hit the ball, talk about the world, and hit the ball. my paddle make is ‘rambo’. it’s pretty much like the movie. ha ha ha. not funny.
the real reason i’m writing now? i’m bored. not bored, just drained. empty. thoughtless. i want food but don’t want to leave my room. it’s cold outside. i’ll eat alone.
tomorrow is the performance, two times, once in the morning (830am start) and once in the evening. i guess i have to tutor after that, just found out today. o! killjoy. it gives purpose i guess. i learned the Chinese measure words for house, computer and a bunch of other random words. self study is going okay. i think the kids pay more attention if i throw out some chinese hear and there. they are sometimes surprised i can understand them and speak. i mean, come on… chinese isn’t that hard… it’s basically a lot of memorization… maybe i don’t know what i’m talking about… but it’s not that amazing.
i should have a silly video in a day or two, perhaps some pictures. this post is a little dry, but that’s how i’m feeling.
adios for now……………..
ok, sorry not quite. so i was looking at the tags for the blog post. i saw ‘computer’ and made me think about something. so the kids in my classes are somewhat unruly. they break everything I dont’ know how they get away with it. Chairs, glass, doors, mirrors, everything. it’s ridiculous. Noone stands up for the public property. It’s sad. The computers are a wreck! They are saturated with virii. I plug my flash drive into the school computer. get a virus. put it on my laptop, clean the virus. next class, lather, rinse, repeat. Then, i try typing on some of them, and half of the letters don’t work. Or the projector is broken. Or the screen won’t come down. It’s really a sad state of affairs. It makes me want to cry. No respect for anyone or anything. It’s like a jungle. Ah!!!!!!
That being said, they do have more tests than i want to ever take, they are going threw puberty, the have family pressure, school pressure, teacher pressure, environmental pressure, the works. You name it, they’ve got it. I wouldn’t want to be them. But I swear it wasn’t like this two years ago… 
Ah… ok. So I’m done. Christmas is coming up. It’s sure to be lonely. Not that i’m into presents really. Okay, maybe the family and the food.
A couple of us teachers will get together and have an xmas countdown. One of my buddies made a music playlist… well here is our movie playlist, counting down the twelve days until Xmas….:
  1. Jack Frost (Dec. 14th)
  2. Scrooged (Dec. 15th)
  3. Elf (Dec. 16th)
  4. Jingle All the Way (Dec. 17th)
  5. Die Hard (Dec. 18th)
  6. Christmas Vacation (Dec. 19th)
  7. Love Actually (Dec. 20th)
  8. A Christmas Story (Dec. 21th)
  9. Home Alone (Dec. 22nd)
  10. Muppets – A Christmas Carol (Dec. 23rd)
  11. It’s a Wonderful Life (Dec. 24th)
  12. Cartoon Day feat. Chralie Brown, the Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty and South Park (Dec. 25th)
Hmmm… Maybe we should throw in some Chinese films… dunno…
Ok. Really off to get some food. Starving…