social commentary

As of Late

As of late I’ve been getting up in the middle of the night. Don’t ask why as there might be a plethora of reasons. I might say that I only need a few hours of sleep each night. I might say that all the caffeine consumed throughout the day has kept me awake. It may be that I’m a light sleeper and my child has kicked me back into consciousness at 2am. It also may be that I have tasks to do such as international calling. Maybe waking up in the middle of the night is just natural.

Anywho… if it gives me a chance to write a little bit, all the better.

On Calligraphy

Yesterday a student asked me if I wanted to participate in her Calligraphy club. I mused aloud how my handwriting must be so beautiful. Was this a low blow to the teacher? I do not have legible handwriting… what gives? She mentioned that last year we learned cursive together and that I might be interested. What a thoughtful student! The club held a competition the previous year- didn’t know it existed, let alone the competitions. It seems that it was an online thing. One plus was that the competition allowed for both Chinese and English calligraphy submissions! Hopefully in the future the will be some updates worth posting and sharing…

On 90 seconds of ‘fame’

So the fam’ was on television yesterday. Nothing primetime, just the local television station (…considering the population of the ‘city’ is 8.23 million, I’m sure a few people watched). It’s funny because one sees oneself in a different light in that situation. Totally unprepared and unrehearsed, my ‘performance’ was very ordinary 😉 I also noted that I have aged and almost remind myself of my grandparents though not nearly as aged.

la gente

Sometimes I wonder if people ‘get it’. I include myself in this, but lately it’s more other people who don’t register. The ability to divine what’s going on, the ability to pick up on the EQ of others is no small task, but one is within reason to expect people around you to be switched on or at least care…

The ol’ noggin hurts lately and there is much consternation around every corner as my basis for reality continues to be redefined by surprise turns and twists of events.

In the words of a Mexican teenage sage, wise beyond his years and undetected by the masses:

la gente…

The Ultimate Revolution

Delving into the third speech/interview I have seen with Aldous Huxley, this gem stuck out and seems to be very pertinent to today’s situation. The talk is on developments in science/technology that allow the controlling of the masses in ways that are not as blunt, and potentially more effective than those historically. Transcript of the speech here.

Quite clearly, if everybody were extremely unsuggestible organized society would be quite impossible, and if everybody were extremely suggestible then a dictatorship would be absolutely inevitable. I mean it’s very fortunate that we have people who are moderately suggestible in the majority and who therefore preserve us from dictatorship but do permit organized society to be formed. But, once given the fact that there are these 20% of highly suggestible people, it becomes quite clear that this is a matter of enormous political importance, for example, any demagogue who is able to get hold of a large number of these 20% of suggestible people and to organize them is really in a position to overthrow any government in any country.

Aldous Huxley – The Ultimate Revolution (Berkeley Speech 1962)


Despite all the tasks I have listed to do today, here comes a drop of rain after a long drought. Add to it the fact that I’ve decided to ‘write a novel’ in November (more on that another day) which requires something to the effect of 1000+ words per day. Here I am barely breaking 100 for an unrelated task…


camouflageMidway through my self-inflicted hour-long walk to work this morning which began shortly after 6am, I noticed a person rummaging through the rubbish bin; noticed them collect something- if memory serves it was a plastic bottle which at one point might have held at least 500ml but surely less than 1L of some diabetes abetting liquid; noticed them upon completing their survey of the bin continue on towards the intersection; and noticed them commence the fording of light traffic to eventually arrive at the other side of the street.

I never did see the person reach the other side of the street for as they began the first few footsteps onto the cold hard concrete my attention was drawn to the projectile that left their hand and landed smack dab on a stripe of the futile attempt to control the urban zebra.

I could go tangent about the fascinating complex mechanisms of ‘waste’ collection here in the Middle Kingdom- but I wont. Equally probable on my part would be a digression, nay an exploration of the habits of a random sample of citizens and their nonchalant attitude toward polluting the surrounding environment. Something else worth reflecting on but perhaps not expanding on at this moment is my own haughty perspective and hypocritical inaction of right-ing ‘a wrong’ (I did not put this plastic in its place…and don’t get me started thinking about the fact that it’s existence has not changed merely by placing it in the designated bin rather than on the street surface…!)

All plastic is not treated equal. This thought led me to action and it was as simple as that. To be willing to dig through the rubbish bin to collect a plastic bottle and in nearly the same moment in time to discard a plastic bag of sorts blatantly without disregard in the middle (ok, near the curb) of the street was intriguing, enough to document and write about 16 hours later.

Okay, I lied. I may digress a little because hell, all things are connected. I don’t have the mental energy at the moment to ‘research’ about the ethical treatment of plastics in all the bio? diversity. It does remind me of an hour-long podcast compilation about the toxic nature of the world we live in, one part focusing on plastics.

“Plastic is a term that we give to hundreds of different materials…”

…anyway (it is now about at least an hour later and I somehow have sidetracked myself into lesson planning and arranging media for class later this week…)

A proposed class

Next class will be themed under cultural diversity. It seems that as of late, I happen to be coming across multiple sources that coincide with what we are studying in class:

I’m hoping to do something different in class with this material. One student’s comments/complaints/criticisms/observations is that class time is inefficient as far as time is concerned. Teachers are taking an hour to do what students can supposedly do in 20 minutes of self-study or revision. If this is the case, perhaps s/he has point. If strictly conveying knowledge is best done individually and books/other inanimate material can manage to facilitate this process in an effective way (students are able to understand and then retain that knowledge) perhaps classtime is better spent on higher order manipulation of the ‘content’. Hopefully some of that is happening in class already, and hopefully teachers are not underestimating their students’ abilities insomuch as teachers become living conduits of information…


I’m into that reading mode at the moment, very eclectic, devouring much of anything at a great rate. This again comes after a relative drought. Perhaps it is the seasons that have prompted this change in behavior- the cold rain, the weather the shift in habit.

Bookshelf at the moment (though a little outdated):

My book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (currently-reading shelf)

2:11AM Ending

As much as my little engine that could would like to go on it can’t. Or rather it will migrate to a softer surface, lay out horizontally and read a book until unconsciousness is met… hello Mr. Sandman… hello. The last little bit left is to update the ol’ wordcount for my ‘novel’ which is slightly cheating but anything that gets me writing, whether it be a blog or a book, is a positive step forward…


Internet articles read today:

too much thinking

Each week, my students get a 21st Century newspaper. Seldom do I get my hands on an English language newspaper, so I usually indulge. A quick flip through the paper nets me a handful of articles worthy of a read. It’s actually a great tool for the students- I wish there was something similar for myself as a self-study Chinese language student.

But back to the topic of today’s post: Too Much Thinking.

The article in the paper hit the the nail on the head. I snapped a photo of a paragraph (seen above) that contains a gem of truth: “… they have to worry about students who complain about being made to think too much.” They being the professors, of course, the students university students.

I suppose that students have always been complaining. That probably hasn’t changed much over the course of history. But what did you expect when you enrolled in, and paid for university classes? My generation expected to ‘think’ when they went to class, not surf the net, check Facebook, or watch Youtube videos of people doing rather [adj.] things. And we were expected to think outside of class too, at least some of the time 😉

Higher education, from what I’ve read (sorry, I should give you some links but well, it’s 5am…), wasn’t intended or designed for everyone, not intended for mass consumption, not intended for people who object to thinking, and thinking critically. This might explain some of the objection to the mental exercise.

I’d also wager that there has been an education inflation taking place, due to the deflated value of the degree. Simply put: when teachers don’t have to placate their students, quality will be higher; when teachers have to kowtow to students ‘needs’, quality may drop.

Perhaps my view is influenced by having sat through boring lectures with nothing to do but listen. Maybe I’m jealous not having had mind-numbing entertainment just fingertips away while attending mind-numbing education. But maybe what I’m getting at is that if it comes too easy, what is it worth? If you show up to class, don’t pay attention, don’t think about it, don’t find it difficult yet still ace the class you’re either a genius or not learning anything you didn’t know before. If the latter, you’ve been bamboozled out of both money and an education…

The article I read seemed to be referring to students in the US but in my experience, it may as well be applicable here in China. Also, I find the title of the article humorous. The part about inspiration might be useful: who doesn’t like an inspiring, charismatic educator? I’m all for that. But “Profs who inspire and challenge students”? Sounds like the challenge is sitting still, focusing, and thinking.

Heaven forbid we would have to think…



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?



from Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

October. This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks in. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February.
-Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.
-Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

Behold, the fool saith, “Put not all thine eggs in the one basket”- which is but a manner of saying, “Scatter your money and your attention”; but the wise man saith, “Put all your eggs in the one basket and- WATCH THAT BASKET.”
-Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

July 4. Statistics show that we lose more fools on this day than in all the other days of the year put together. This proves, by the number left in stock, that one Fourth of July per year is now inadequate, the country has grown so.
-Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

He is useless on top of the ground; he ought to be under it, inspiring the cabbages.
-Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.
-Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

It is often the case that the man who can’t tell a lie thinks he is the best judge of one.
-Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.
-Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed down-stairs a step at a time.
-Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? Is it because we are not the person involved.
-Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

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.