A Dearth of Posts

16 Jul

Dear reader! I announce my joyous return to you! The dearth of posts from this last semester is due in large part to internet restrictions in China. WordPress and thus my blog are both blocked in China and this past semester, the VPN I use to get around those restrictions was not reliable enough for me to upload pictures. Eventually the blogging habit died. =(

But I have returned to the US (or “the land of freedom” as one friend welcomed me) and have been steeling myself for a walk down the not-too-distant past.



Lissette visited from Japan for Christmas!


Intrepid Fellows went on independent sojourns.


Went to the Great Wall again. Much stress. Very wall. New Year’s Eve.


Bienvenido, Barney Mexico and Big Brother Rusty China.


I went to Indonesia.


That’s right. This is a real place, and I was there.


I spent Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) with a friend in Zhengzhou, Henan.

Not pictured: Fellows in Wedding Dresses. But don’t worry–those pictures will be featured.


Happy Holidays!

25 Dec

Christmas Photo Shoot 2013 006

Happy holidays dear reader, from our cozy home in Taigu (no snow) to yours, wherever it may be.

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All the Single Ladies

16 Oct

It’s that time again. The cycle. Students hand in work. I read, I mark, I return. Students (maybe? hopefully?) learn from the marks.

All my classes have the same first assignment; choose an English name, tell me about it’s meaning and/or the reason you chose it, and tell me three special or interesting things about yourself.

There are always some gems, but Flower gives the best response I think I’ve received to date.


“My English name is flower, because most girls like flowers, and I do not have girlfriend, I hope I can attract them like flower, The flowers are very beautiful…”


“So I ask you to introduce a foreign girlfriend for me, please, Thank you.”

There are some great questions…



“Don’t be shy, in fact I’m a lady too.”

and some great responses…


“Sam is short for ‘such alive man.’ We all know U.S. is short for Uncle Sam.”


“I think the most difficult part about English is vocabulary, which is like a pretty girl what I want to deal with but can not touch even a bottom of a trouser leg.”

And then there’s Floyd Truman.

Floyd Truman wrote three pages full of the music he listens to (Neo-classical, Darkwave and Triphops) and the books he likes (Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Marx) and added Latin at the bottom. He’s done this for every single piece of writing after the class learned that I studied Latin.


“Alas…you may call me an agnostic or nihilist and even…’existentialist’? As you like…Lmao.”

I have now learned that hamartia is a hero/heroine’s tragic flaw (thanks Floyd!)

The Latin translates to “God is very annoying, right?”

“Ius” however, means right as in human rights or laws, and is the word from which English derives “justice.”

The Triumphant Return

15 Sep

After a long summer, the details of which will eventually be filled in for you, dear reader, I returned to Taigu. Our poor maomi had been both neutered and spayed while we were gone. Quite understandably, maomi was not happy with the stitches that went along maomis stomach. 


Zenme ban (What can we do)?


If you haven’t seen the movie “Up” then perhaps I should show you the cone of shame. The vet didn’t provide any cone of shame


So my intrepid co-fellow made one out of cardboard.


This was the face that greeted me in my triumphant return.


Maomi was pretty confused at not being able to fit into the food bowl, under my desk or why maomi needed to give table corners a wider berth that before.


And yes, I did say that maomi was both neutered and spayed (you may also notice my avoidance of gender-specific pronouns)–rest assured that story is forthcoming.


First Year Narrative

11 Jul

Most of my students try very, very hard to follow proper decorum. Unfortunately, what they believe is flattering and proper is often different from what I find flattering and proper. An example: my male graduate students standing up in class to announce that they find their foreign teacher “so beautiful and white” or writing in their homework about their “sexy teacher.” I’ve started cringing at the word “beautiful”—it’s  lost its meaning because so many students, hoping to make a good impression, want to tell me how the class all agrees that I am beautiful.

Sometimes I get frustrated with my students. They tell me that they love me and then play on their phones for every class, in its entirety. They regularly  show up without paper or pencil but won’t ask to borrow any until I’ve noticed that after 10 minutes, they still aren’t writing. I assign them to keep a diary for a week, and they all hand in the exact same diary, which I later found online (with the exception of one student who handed in the first paragraph of the Harvard Wikipedia page). One class refused to complete an essay assignment—“List two weaknesses and three strengths that you have”—because “it is more harmonious.”

Sometimes I get very frustrated with my students. They disappear for a semester but call me every day for a week to take the final exam. They show up at my house and ask for better grades because they “love me.” Sometimes they bring friends to speak for them. Sometimes I don’t understand why my students think their behavior is acceptable; the lack of homework, the lack of effort, the plagiarism, sleeping in class over and over, etc.

My graduate students are all in their first year. My students did not choose their college or major. They had to spend their high school time inside studying, memorizing enormous amounts of facts. Many are from small farming villages, the first in their family to attend college, strapped for money, under enormous pressure to get married very soon. Their majors are Clinical and Preventive Veterinary Medicine, Botany, Ecology, Biology, Food Science, Agricultural Development and Rural Planning and Grassland Science. They have been studying written English for many years but most have never had a class that required them to speak. Most have never met a native English speaker (or any foreigner), and often their previous English classes were taught almost completely in Chinese.

Passing my Spoken English class is required for their degree, along with a standardized English test. The test is unrelated to my class and students who cannot speak simple sentences pass this test regularly. They are required to memorize and use incorrect grammar and phrases (and textbooks) to pass this test and their other English classes, otherwise they cannot move on to a career studying plants.

Early in the year, the big question popped up. How on earth can I give this class a purpose? Many of my students will not speak more than 5 sentences of English after my class; most of them have trouble speaking 5 sentences out loud now.

The semester exam was a 5-minute conversation with me, either individually or with a partner. To my surprise, almost every grad student wanted an individual conversation. Some of them gave me monologues about the Chinese Spring Festival, but some of them went a little deeper. They talked about stress, and feeling like they had no support. They talked about the pressure of having to be married in the next two years (which require a house, a car and a good job) and supporting their parents. They talked about being too busy in school, missing their homes and family. One student who I thought had next to no English poured out how heartbroken he was over learning another girl in our class had a boyfriend in another school.

I decided, like a total Obie, that I wanted to make my class into a safe space for students. It’s a common frustration among the foreign teachers that often the students are very repetitive. They take special care to make all their responses exactly the same, especially for subjective questions (I’d guess because their English learning heretofore has focused on tests that have distinct right and wrong answers.) Every essay, no matter how specific or weird I make the prompt, deals with one of two topics: 1. How much they love their families, or 2. How they are to work hard and improve themselves. Whatever my topic or question, nearly every essay somehow winds it’s way to these topics.

I’ve been very surprised at the depth of feeling my students are willing to share with me in their exam conversations. Being less than happy in front of other people, particularly getting angry can be a huge loss of face in China. I have definitely lost some face by showing frustration.

The lesson that I feel was most successful was the poetry lesson. I’d had my students read and watch a slam poem for homework.

Homework: Choose one of the following 4 poems:

  1. What Teachers Make, by Taylor Mali

  2. Dive, by Andrea Gibson

  3. If I Should Have a Daughter, by Sarah Kay

  4. Hurling Crowbirds at Mockingbars, by Buddy Wakefield

Read the words and watch a video of your poem (provided by Veronica). What is this poem about? Do you like the poem (why/why not)? How does the author feel about his/her subject? It is okay if you do not understand the entire poem.

When they arrived in class, we talked about what the poems meant, what the students liked/disliked/didn’t understand. I asked them to find the person in the class they knew the least and sit next to that person (by this time I knew which students were friends and who never spoke.) I passed out a set of questions and asked my students to answer 15 of the questions with their partners. The most important aspect was honesty; I was hoping that enough of my students would truly want to answer and share, since so many of them seemed to have serious things that they rarely shared with others.

Part 1.

  • Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

  • Would you like to be famous? In what way?

  • Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

  • What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

  • When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

  • If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

  • Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

  • For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

Part 2.

  • If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

  • Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

  • If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

  • If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?

  • Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

  • What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Part 3.

  • What do you value most in a friendship?

  • What is your most treasured memory?

  • What is your most terrible memory?

  • If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

  • What does friendship mean to you?

  • What roles do love and affection play in your life?

  • How close is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

  • How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

  • Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…”

  • If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

  • Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

  • Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

  • When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

  • What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

  • If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

  • Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

  • Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

  • Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it.

This set of questions, for the record, is from a study on how people form close relationships (Arthur Aron, The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness, 1997). I can’t tell you about the science, but I thought the idea was interesting: is it possible to make close relationships form in a fast and formulaic way. The questions are divided into different sections based on how personal each question is. My students love talking in pairs, and I love seeing their energy when they’re having fun. They started out with vim and vigor although not completely in English, an unavoidable hazard of a non-lecture class. After they had clearly blazed through Part 1, their conversations changed. Each student was listening more intently, solemnly to his/her partner explain. Their voices got a little softer, their cadence more forceful.

I wrote up four questions on the board, for my students to ponder silently when they finished:

  1. What’s the biggest disappointment you’ve experienced so far?

  2. What’s your honest opinion of yourself? Have you shared this opinion with anyone?

  3. What do you want more than anything else in life?

  4. What are your three best qualities?

The class waited in silence for further directions. This is of course, highly unusual in any classroom, so I hoped the silence meant people were having some feelings. I wrote on the board for the students to write a poem—“Your poem must be honest and about yourself. Do not talk about nature and do not write any moral lessons. Try to be as specific as you can.”

As a class we’d agreed that many people find poetry a good way to deal with messy or difficult situations more elegantly. My students have a tendency to write grandiose statements—“I hope everyone in the world will be happy every day!” “We must all work hard to achieve our dreams!” “I will never give up and will work harder to improve!” Their prose is flowery and uses many comparisons to spring, snow, rain, mountains, birds and ants, but I wanted my students to talk about something important.

That class was the longest amount of time that my students have ever voluntarily stayed silent. I can’t tell you whether I affected them or if my class was to them what I hoped. I did, however, get what I  wanted  for myself from that lesson—my students wrote incredible poems. I felt like I was hearing my students for the first time. They wrote down their actual thoughts and feelings, instead of what they thought I wanted to hear. I was surprised at what they were willing to share with me. Even if that lesson was no big deal to my students, I got schooled that day.

Here are some examples of what my students wrote.

Ice Knight

When you love someone,

You will feel loneliness.

Whatever what I do,

You don’t pay attention to me

Whatever what I said

You don’t respond.

Whatever what I think

You will love me.

When I see you,

I will make a vow, you will be health.

When I think you,

I will dream you can understand me.

When I meet you,

I will smile, you are my angel.


I honestly think I accomplished nothing

I honestly at sea

I do consider I’m getting old

I can’t see tomorrow

I don’t know what I can do

Maybe I am only ordinary

Genuine, self-confident, and contemptible

This is me

Sometimes I believe that I can rule the world

Sometimes I find that I can just wash the dishes

Alice: Silence is Golden

The wind at night is cold and cold

Now I am looking back on the past alone

In the past I was filled with anger

False accusations and blame made me unable to calm down

The reaction to the rumors was quite intense

I have understood thoroughly and no longer self-trapped

No longer so stupid like the past

Wiping tears and smiling to go

The mistake can never be right, and the truth is the truth forever.

Whatever you say, I will be dutiful all the way

Always believe that silence is golden

Will: I Wanna Be a Billionaire (inspired by the Bruno Mars’ song “Billionaire”)

If Baby Jesus gives me a choice

I wanna be a billionaire

which is so wonderful

and changes my life radically.

If I am a billionaire

I will travel to Hawaii with my parents

unlike now they still work hard for the family

without enjoying life.

I will buy the coolest Ferrari

to flaunt in front of the dudes

to cover their flames for revenge.

If I am a billionaire

I will help my friends

so that I will never be powerless

when facing their desires.


You should have refused me

Don’t let me chase you

I’m just an interlude for you

Why don’t you tell me?

Now I am deep in love with you

This feeling becomes a habit.

I know it’s impossible

But I can’t escape from your world.

Amanda M: My Mother

When I grow up

You are old

You used your youth to water my future

But the years of time gray your head

On the way of growth

Others only care about whether or not I fly high

But you care for me whether or not I tried

You used your youth to sow sunshine around me

I’ll use my future to shield you from the rain.


There are many romantic things.

However in my present life

the most romantic is to meet with you.

The most beautiful encounter of me is you

I had imagined many times meeting you in dreams

I had imagined countless enjoying this life with you

Even if beauty lives in a instant and moments

the moment is good enough for me.

Teresa: I’m Not Yours

Slightly spring

the grass cuts a striking figure

You stood opposite me

looked at my eyes with shyness

Scorching summer

all trees grow vigorously

You sat beside me

held my hand

eyes were full of heat

Autumn wind blowing

all around is golden yellow

I’m on your back

relying on your shoulders

eyes filled with joy but slightly sad

The wind fluttering

snow gleams

you stood in front of me

looked at my eyes

filled with frustration and reluctance

I will remember your good.

Mike: Life is Not Easy

Time flies like an arrow

my mood is very depressed

Life is not easy

In addition go to class

and surf the Internet in library.

In fact,

I don’t know what to do

I feel those things have no meaning

I have classes only as a task.

In fact,

I hate it.


I even doubt the meaning of life

Like a plane without engine.

I more hope someone can understand me

Life is not easy.

I crawl like an animal

but I don’t know where to go.

Life is not easy.

I want to sleep quietly

wake up when the world has changed.


I can’t breathe

my best friend

the boy I have loved for three years

he never knew

now he is get married

I do not say “I love you”

I give him a blessing

I wish him happiness in my heart

I continue to search for what I really want

A love that is truly mine


I got three full marks in my childhood

I was so excited to share happiness with my father,

because he promise to buy roller skates for me

but to my surprise

he said there was nothing

he didn’t want to buy them for me.

Yes, he didn’t.

I felt sad.

Yes, and so disappointed.

I don’t want to be this when I become a father,

I can feel the disappointed mood of the child,

Even though my father loves me so much,

he does lots for me, and he is a good father,

but I want to do more.

I want to be a good father who can feel the mood of a child.

Charles: Sincere Heart

We got to know each other,

Just on face to face knowing,

Pass from person to person,

How many times I look back,

to be encouraging.

How many times speaking insincerely,

Make my heart hurt,

Joke in others’ eyes,

In my heart

there is a sweet fragrant,

I live in

my created happiness and yearning,

Encourage yourself,

Make yourself strong.

We flew out in a circle,

Go to another circle,

As usual

we are acquainted with each other,

Regardless of your left and right,

Regardless of my front and back.

Heart not changed by things,

Heart not moved by feelings,

to be the rock in each other’s heart,

in the heart

is true love forever.

James (from a later class when we revisited “no nature” and “no moralizing”)

Oh dear teacher,

I am going crazy!

I write three poems but you say they are not okay.

This is my true feeling.


It is okay?

I hope you like.

Nikita: I have to accept

I know I dislike my major

I know I want to go away and look for my dream

But I cannot

Because my parents are proud of my marks

Because my family needs me with a good job in years later

I have to accept

I have to learn knowledge and have classes everyday

which are not my interest.

I have to do it well and have a good performance

In this way I will have a good education.

Others maybe admire it very much

But in my eye

It is a paper, just a paper

In my dream

I always have a bad and buy a train ticket

Go to the place that I want to go

Enjoy the scenery, listen others’ life stories

And make money by myself

Maybe it is hard

But I am really very happy

When the sun rise

It is just like yesterday

After my confusion, my complain, my cry

I know I have to accept.

Winner: Love Letter

One year ago

The distance between us is a time zone

You are at 7 o’clock

I am at 8 o’clock

Five months ago

The distance between us is a seat

You sit on my left


The distance between us is a second

I try to look for topics

You reply me in a second

We are getting closer

In fact

the distance has been:

You see I write a love letter

But you don’t know it is for you.

Poems: Mother’s Day

13 May

I did a poetry lesson with my students, to be expounded on in a later post. Usually it’s like pulling teeth to get them to tone down their rhetoric, because they have a serious penchant for the florid and grandiose. While very annoying in essays–“I have been waiting my whole life up til now to see this movie. I think it is an excellent movie, and every person should watch this movie. It taught me to continuously pursue my dream. I will never stop until it comes true” on 50 essays–this turns out absolutely beautiful poems.

In honor of Mother’s Day, here are some poems by my grad students.

My Mother, by Amanda M.

When I grow up
You are old
You used your youth to water my future
But the years of time gray your head
On the way of growth
Others only care about whether or not I fly high
But you care for me whether or not I tried.
You used your youth to sow the sunshine to me.
I’ll use my future to shield you from the rain.
Mom, I love you.

Give my mother, by Daniel

Sit for a long time——
Push the window watching the rain!
All thoughts are given to the sky!
The old trees in the rain outside the window remained unmoved,
Only the salsa noise inside the raindrops falling on the leaves.Rainy night——
How deep it is?
Through the clouds, without any clear light.

In this night, I’m watching the sky,
The bird can hide into its nest;
In this night, I’m watching the sky,
I just want to hide in your arms.

In the other city, where a helpless I?
with rain in the night, where is lonely me?
Impetuous era, let me abandon!
I only miss you!

At this moment, I only opened the window,
Let the rain soak my hands;
Let the wind blow my mind;
Let the rain and the wind bring my care to my mother!

The creator —
If in a permanent life,
Only have a blissful promise,
I would like to sincerely request:
I wish I can stay in my mother’s arms!

Good Night, by Monica

My grandmother
Now we live in different worlds.
I wonder [about] your situation, please tell me.
Could you eat watermelon in summer like before,
is there any pain in your leg?
I miss you
You often appeared in my dream,
you were so kind like before
I miss you
I feel you have become a star in the sky,
coruscate your eyes,
see me, guard me
I am not picky now
I am also a college student,
as you desired for me

Your hope is my driving force.
I will worker harder
I will take care my mother, and myself
I hope you will

My grandmother passed away when I [was] in the senior [grade] 3. At that time I thought I would breakdown. As my parents are busy, my grandmother looked after me when I were born. For me, she is not only my grandmother but also my friend. I [felt] my world is dark. In addition [in] that period of time I must faced many tests. But I cannot calm down. I cannot concentrate attention in the class. So my grades fall down. My teacher thought I lack persistion. They thought I can’t suffered the stress. They have no time and no energy to help me to adjust to the bad time. In fact I can suffer any bad time, it was even worse for my grandma, for my parents.

Untitled, by Victoria

You leave me without any words
I can’t believe it is truth.
I want to tell you I am not a brave girl
I am afraid of being alone
I want to tell you I want to sing to you
Your disappearance made me unable to calm down.

The Cake is a Lie

27 Mar

A new bakery stand popped up oncampus. It’s amazing how quickly new structures get built; new plastic and metal sheet stands selling lao bing and bean smoothies get built and become operational in the space of a day. One day last week, as I went for coffee (hot milk in a bag with a pack of instant Nescafe, 3 kuai; instant GENIUS) I noticed one such new structure.


This structure was different. This structure was shiny. This structure had sparkly glass display cases, with egg tarts, egg tarts with purple jelly stuff, raisin cinnamon bread-like something, chocolate cake, pink cake (possibly strawberry, but it’s China, so no promises), and purply puffs made of crunchy pastry something. I’m not a pastry connoisseur of any sort, but my roommate got me a piece of cake anyway. I’m the first foreigner in Taigu to have cake from this bakery stand.



There are 2 types of people reading this: those who have had cake in China, and those who haven’t. Those in the former set are probably laughing while they cringe, and I explain why to those of you in the latter set. There’s no butter in China.


No, really. I’m sure you can purchase butter at Jenny Lu’s in Beijing on the edge of the Little America Suburb, or near foreigner hotspots like Sanlitunr and Wudaokou but when you’re in rural China, butter doesn’t exist, and you definitely can’t expect it in any dish or confection. We usually make our own ice cream cakes when we have celebrations.


Dico’s vanilla and chocolate ice cream, two kinds of wafers, and Skittles.

So what is the cake made of? And the icing??? Hearsay, and no science, has told me that the cake is made from a pre-purchased and pre-mixed batter, and the icing is also pre-purchased whipped topping.

The humorous lining here is that the cakes are beautiful. The coolest cake I’ve ever seen in America holds not a candle (ba dum chsh!) to any cake here, and so I always need just one bite–just one–to really believe the cake is as bad as, well, all the other Chinese cakes I’ve tasted.


That half was not eaten by me.


Claire’s birthday cake from last year.

The devoted reader may remember my birthday cake.


birthday cake

The most beautiful pale pink, tiny silver beads (edible!), icing roses, etc. I have never seen a more gorgeous cake. We did not eat it.



Yet, even with the armaments of so many negative experiences with Chinese cake–which has never once been tasty–I still had to try this piece of cake.

So I did.


“I ate the cake and am ashamed; do not look at me!”

In the words of one freshman student: “The we see appearance that is not always sincere heart inside.”


But I finished it anyway, which is the very first time I’ve ever finished a piece of Chinese cake.