Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Making mistakes count

Last week I gave my sophomore class a journal assignment to write their thoughts about the Quote of the Day which was:

You might enjoy the interesting thought process Qianwen wrote in her journal entry:

We students always make mistakes, though that way, we get to know in what field we need to improve. And as a result, we go forward, step by step. This situation can also apply to the science and technology field. 
Scientists make mistakes on the way searching for the truth. However, along the way, they may break up the ubiquitous laws found by ancient giants by chance. For instance, the leaning tower of Pisa experiment, the discovery of x-ray and positive corpuscle. What impressed us is that they stick to their own opinion rather than give into the authority. 
On the contrary, if there's no mistake and just follow the curren situation , the society can not develop. We may take ancient China as an example. We have the proud "Four Great Inventions" paper-making, printing, the compass and gunpowder during the early ancient time. However, when it came to the Min-Qing Dynasty, people have been beclouded by the ubiquitous satisfaction of "Celestial Empire" which resulted in no advancement at that time. Everyone obeyed the routine and nobody made mistakes. That may be one of the reasons that China lag henid during the 1900's.
The discovery made out of mistakes may not always the truth. But it is the thought and spirit of breakthrough that count, which is much more important than the discover itself.

BTW: I learned from one student's journal entry that gunpowder was discovered while they were looking for an immortality elixir the emperor requested, for which he would give a massive reward. And it's been fireworks ever since.

Overcoming obstacles

The students in my English writing class do 10 minute Quick Writes in response to our discussion of a prompt or story.  Last week we reviewed the Cliff Young story (the 61 yr old Aussie runner) and they wrote a about the
theme of overcoming obstacles. Here are a few that might interest you:

Ma Xias wrote:
I know a friend of mine who overcame his obstacles successfully. His name is Xu Hei and he is 23 year old boy. When he was in college, he found that he was unable to speak English words clearly because of the inscientific training  during middle school He made great effort to overcome it he got up at six every morning to read English articles. When he read, he put a stone into his mouth to help to pronounce the right pronunciation. Day be day, he could speak English better and better and he even gave an impressive English lecture successfully. But the stone he put into his mouth is worn. We can see with so much efforts he eventually succeed. From him, I find determination and tenacity. We all need to make our determination and spare no efforts to achieve our goals, no matter how much pain it takes.The boy is now a successful engineer.

Shan Shan wrote:
The story I am going to tell you is about my father. he was born in a poor family, my grandpa passed away when father was only 12 years old, so my aunt and dad were brought up by grandma. When my dad was 15 years old, he went out to work and tried to support his family. He did lots of obs, such as driver, house builder, worker and so on. His life was on the line for several times, and he suffered a lot. However, my dad never gave up and sticked to his dream. He worked hard and finally became a successful businessman. He always encouraged me to keep on when I had come across some difficulties. My father's life experience taught me to be a determined person.

Wenwen wrote:
For badminton players, 32 years old may not be a golden age, especially for double-men's games. But this year in London, Chinese badmiton player, Cai Yun, achieved his goal and won the gold medal with his partner, Fu Haifeng. Before the Olympics, many people thought it would be hard for them to win even a silver medal, but in the end, they did.  Four years ago in Beijing, both Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng are very young and energetic, but because of lack of experience, they lost a very good chance. After overcoming so many difficulties and being more determined now, finally their dream came true.

Monday, September 24, 2012


We had one of those That's China experiences today. Classes started 3 weeks ago for our sophomore and junior English Writing classes. In every class the class monitor walked in with a printout of the class roster; and we were able to get everyone organized and identified on the first day. 

So, it would make sense that with 3 weeks notice & time to get ready, the university folks would have class monitors assigned and the roster lists ready today, which was the first day of class after 3 weeks of military drilling.
How silly of us to assume the university would be organized and ready for the first day of freshmen classes. Fortunately, John & I decided last week that we would extend our teaching load and team-teach all 4 of our freshmen Oral English classes. And, no one punts better than John.
We managed to teach and entertain our students just fine, thank you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"It is a fine world and worth our fighting for."

When we were first contemplating the adventure to teach English in China, we talked to previous China English teachers. Often we were assured that teaching English would be easy because the students' English was so poor. mmmm...not so much, anymore. Sure, I'm encountering lots of room for improvement, but I'm coming across more and more students like the Junior level student who wrote this entry for his journal assignment:

     "Why am I happy? It is about an encounter with an excellent teacher who teaches American Literature. I was searching the Internet last night and happened to find that one of the teachers in Shandong University is an expert in Emily Dickinson's poems. Dickinson is my favorite poet but there are few scholars who study her in China. So, I feel I am a lucky guy to meet one. Being very excited, I sent her an email and expressed my admiration  to her, asking for her reply politely. I was in such excitement that I even shook with emotion and burst into tears. It's really like the situation when fans meet their superstar.     
"Inevitably, life is constituted with weeping and smiling, and the former one occupies a larger part, But just as Ernest Hemingway put it, 'It is a fine world and worth our fighting for:'  I am prepared to struggle and fight for the smiling part.     
"Yesterday evening, when I was reciting English words, a girl come up to me. From her nervous and worried countenance i could tell she was rather upset.     
"She told me she was preparing for the post-graduate school entrance exam but was having some trouble with English. Knowing little about her exam, I could only tell her to relax for a short time.     
"Maybe you're just being too nervous," I told her. "Why not read some books about philosophy to develop your mind?" On hearing my words, her expression was beyond description.      
"You know what?" she almost shouted. "My major is just philosophy! I read Kant every day!"      
"Really?" I seldom met a girl who majored in philosophy. "That's really cool! I have interest in only two subjects: literature and philosophy."     
"Who do you read?" she asked in surprise.    
"Schopenhauer is my favorite. I also read Hietzsche, the school of Miletus, and..."     
"You know the Miletus?"     
"Yeah, Thales!"     
"Ah, Thales! How learned you are!"  I felt really flattered. That feeling was really fantastic. But I knew that was nothing important. Reading a lot of books is amazing. Yet bring out one's own idea is truly invaluable."

Watch out world. They're coming. Strong & ready.

Thoughts from our students

The things my students have experienced their first week of school are very interesting. I wish you could read some of the honest, frank, profound and well written observations. It's very interesting to read the heart thoughts of young, hopeful Chinese students.
 "When I knew I got the third place in my class last week, I was really very excited with joy. Going through all of the two-year hard work, eventually, I got God's favor that I thought I deserved. It was difficult to say clearly my complicated feelings. Then I remembered two years ago, with dreams and hope, I came onto this campus to pursue my study. Soon I realized that I didn't have any talents or specialties. However, I knew I couldn't give myself up as hopeless. That was the moment I decided to spare no efforts to study hard.    
 "Having been took hundreds of exams since I was in primary school, I would assume the good rades or bad grades mean little to me already.  Nevertheless, it was turned out to be wrong. In college, especially now that I am junior in college, I desperately need something to prove I have achieved some success to a certain extent, because my college life has been passed more than half way. I need something to show my parents that I have been always studied hard, that I will not fail their expectations.      
"Yesterday night, I knew that I didn't get the scholarship. It hurt me a little, but I could adjust mself immediately. I will carry my dreams forward."
On a lighter note, I'll share another journal entry I just came across, written by one of my junior English Writing Class students.

     "Mrs. Roslyn is a really interesting teacher. For days I have been expecting Mrs. Roslyn, our new writing teacher. Before the first writing class, there are many questions in my mind: Is she interesting? Is her teaching methods original and full of fun? And more importantly, can we really learn something useful in her class? 
     "Today I finally meet Mrs. Roslyn and I am not disappointed. She is an interesting teacher! 
 "Mrs. Roslyn is an American woman who comes to China to teach in SDU with her husband. Before this, they are both music teachers in an American university [[NO I did not tell them THAT]]. 
 "Although in her sixties, Mrs Roslyn still wears her lookup and is enthusiastic about everything, giving off the radium of youth and vigor. When we are waiting the bell for class to ring, she suddenly sings: "do do do do...." in a very clear and loud sound, just like a cheerful child. 
 "The whole class are surprised. It is hard press to imagine such a lady in her sixties can be so vigorous and still retain childlike innocence. 
     "Don't you know this famous tune? Everyone in America can sing it," she says delightedly, then sings. 
     "During the whole class time, we are again attracted by her vivid description of something that should have been boring: the seat number of every student, the homework and the news report: "Every week we will do news reports. I'll show you how you should do." 
"She ten reads a piece of news in a flat and expressless voice. 
     "Boring," she says, "but if the news is written in another way." Mrs. Roslyn suddenly changes her bored look into a cheerful one, then read another news in an exciting and thrilling tone. 
"The whole class is surprised again, we are all infected by her exciting motion and seems to have felt the excitement of the game. Mrs. Roslyn is surely an expert in toning everything up with color and life. 
     "After the class, all of my classmates speak highly of Mrs. Roslyn, Indeed, she is a really interesting and experienced teacher and I am pretty sure that we can learn a great deal in her class."
WO! The pressure is on! The stage is set to get some serious work done here. Hope we can fulfill all their expectations in this English Writing Class. Wish us luck.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lemonade from lemons

We've had a few "That's China!" experiences but one in particular stands out; not necessarily for the grandeur of it but for the ripple affect of our attitude during the 'Chinese Fire-drill' experience. A couple of weeks ago we were informed that, in addition to registering with the local police station within 24 hours of arriving in Jinan, China, we also had to register and obtain a Chinese Residency Registration permit to live in the country for a year. All the hoops it took us 6 months to jump through to apply for this teaching position now had to be jumped through again in one week...while we are stressing out with new classes and lesson plans. Fortunately, the directors of the BYU David Kennedy Center China Teachers Program had warned us to bring all our documents and paperwork with us. Assuming all was in order and following what little instructions we were given, we took one of my sophomore students as a translator on a 20-minute taxi cab trip to the Exit-Entry Administration in a very large government complex. 

Five hours later we were pretty much back where we started. Apparently without warning the government had declared that the university must also apply a precious official red stamp to a letter signifying that we were indeed a 40-year married couple (notwithstanding the inclusion of our apparently not-so-acceptable certified marriage certificate). And the big surprise of the afternoon was the 400 yen each that must be paid. The short version: 1. I was accepted but John was rejected due to the lack of the Official Red Stamp, 2. our translator was awesome, 3. the translator for another American couple took pity on our situation and gave us her Chinese credit card AND password so I could pay my 400 bucks, 4. calls were made to get a letter that had the OFFICIAL RED STAMP asap, 5. 2 more visits and SIX 20-minute cab fares later we were officially legal residents of China until July 2, 2013. 

I thought that was the end of the story, until I read my student's journal assignment entry:

     "Last Friday was a day worthy of treasuring in my life. For the first time, I worked as a translator genuinely. I, as a member of Translation and Interpretation Class, dreamed of being a translator in the future. This first attempt really blew my mind and I was smitten by the charm of being a translator.     
"After I got the assignment, doing the translation work for our foreign teacher, I indeed was excited and nervous as well. Having a close contact with foreigners was a good chance for me to put my English skills unto practice, just like a soldier with much training first came to the front in a combat. However, it was a challenge, for I knew nothing about the residence permit. I darn doubted whether I could manage the work.    
"Things was completely different when I was in the situation, I just kept my focus on the work itself instead of useless fear and worry. I'd like that the process went smoothly, but what I was really sorry for was the low efficiency of the bureau of Exit-Entry Administration, which kept them waiting for such a long time.     
"Along the day, what impressed me most was the outgoing and dynamic characteristic of Americans. They could easily make friends with others even though they were just the passer-by in the waiting room. Maybe this detail could reveal the reason why U.S. is a grandous country consist of all kind of diverse cultures. Though it was only one day for the translation work, I'd like to cherish it in my future life. And I would also keep that in my mind. Just as Roslyn and John you said: A Friend in need is a friend indeed."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"A stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet"

I gave my sophomore English writing class a journal assignment to write one page on a new experience &/or a new person they met the first week of school. Here is part of what Chen Qianhui (Julie) wrote:
"Last Thursday we first took our writing class which was given by an energetic and funny foreign teacher, Mrs. Roslyn.  She was very tall and medium in stature with big and beautiful eyes. When I first saw her standing on the platform I thought she was only in her forties but after her finished the self-introduction about her family which had 3 boys and 1 girl and many grandchildren, I even couldn't believe it. For you wouldn't see this in China!  Not only for her character in teaching but also the scale of a family. She was a person of mixed blood, too. 
"After change a seat and taking a photo, we start to have a brief understanding about this class in this semester I knew I would learn many kind of writing types which I used to confuse. It was cool! For me, I really had a sense of intuition that in the following days we would absolutely enjoyed an interesting and meaningful class."

PS - The "mixed blood" comment comes from explaining that my grandparents came from Germany and Denmark.  :))

A foodie question from our dear friend Wendy

You talked about going home after work in China to fix a meal. Are you eating American food or are you learning to cook with Chinese flavor? Is it hard to shop for groceries?

Hi Wendy,

Good Question. I really enjoy all the Chinese flavors I've experienced at various eateries but I haven't been able to duplicate those flavors at home. Nevertheless, I have incorporated the foods of China in our meals. I'm more adventurous in eateries than in my own kitchen since I'm not sure the best way to prepare most of the sea creatures and odd looking vegetables. I guess our dinner is where East meets West most of the time. BTW sea cucumbers are an expensive delicacy around this area.

You would not believe how many ways you can cook with rice. And, I'm experimenting with noodles. We buy a couple of roasted sweet potatoes from a vendor on our walk home from school. Folks here love to buy popcorn and boiled corn-on-the-cob from street vendors. There are a lot of fruit vendors, as well; and the fruit in this region is sooooo flavorful and fresh. They eat all kinds of rice porridge for breakfast with seriously funky toppings.
This past weekend I discovered what the Chinese enthusiastically call SNACKS. Anything they can fry on a stick is a snack: beetles, fried bananas w/tomato paste, fried ice cream, octopus, all manner of chicken and fish, scorpions, unknowns, etc.  I chose to merely look at the snacks this first time; my bowels are doing pretty good and I don't want to test them too far with the vendor fare. But it sure was fun walking through the crowded streets, smelling a plethora of odors and getting a glimpse of what it might have looked and smelled like in the far past in the Far East.
Grocery shopping is definitely a challenge. No matter how sure you thin you are, what's really inside the package can surprise you. I'd like to experiment with some of the things I see but I can't make heads or tails how to cook it. So, sometimes I just make up a way and wonder if what I'm eating is Chinese or Minese. But, shopping is a little frustrating, mostly because it takes so long because: 1) it takes so long to decipher labels and contents, 2) walking around trying to find what I found the last time, 3) moving through unbelievably crowded stores every time of the day or evening, 4) deciding which funky veggie or fruit I should take a chance on this week, and 5) I have to WALK to and from any where I decide to shop plus carry whatever I buy home. Oh, and, you carry your 15 eggs in a plastic mesh bag...not a carton; hence I lost 2 eggs coming home last time.  One lady keeps the package of anything that ends up tasting good so she can use it as a reference to get it again. Shopping by picture isn't as easy as it sounds.
John's favorite section of the store is the pastry and bakery area. They really make some lovely, tasty creations. The end of September is a national holiday in China and also something to do with the moon; so, there are all kinds and sizes of moon cakes...some of which have a cooked egg yolk in the center.

Hope that answers your questions a little bit.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Five Dragon Pool and Daming Lake Park

The three young ladies who accompanied us on our very first sight-seeing adventure are all graduate students.  Their itinerary was wonderful::  
For this Saturday, I make a plan for us. We start from our campus then take the bus to QUANCHENG Square, then we could take walk to visit the five most classic scenery spots that are: BAOTU Spring (Spouting Spring),Wulongtan (Five Dragon Ponds ), Heihu Spring (Black Tiger Sping), Daming Lake, and Fu Rong Jie ( Water Lily Street). Most people who come to JINAN won't miss these place. They are near to each other. Some of them are free, and the charged scenery spots are not expensive and are half price for students. And we will have lunch at FU Rong Jie which is a famous snack street and we students love it very much. Oh, by the way, A day is sufficient for all these places, since we only have  half day so we may need to skip one or two of them according to the real situation.
The one with the umbrella is June which is her English name and sounds a lot like her Chinese name. The other two girls are Hannah and Molly. They enjoyed asking me cultural questions about America and my life. We ate lunch in a hole-in-the-wall noodle restaurant along an very old street famous for its "snacks."  Snacks in China are much different from what Americans think of as snacks. Anything on a stick is
sold by a street vendor is a snack. ANYTHING. Actually, the snacks here in Jinan are tame compared to the snacks I remember seeing in pictures taken in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics.

Daming Lake and Five Dragon Pool Park(& Baotou Spring which we will see another time) are part of a larger natural spring water system that Jinan is famous for. Daming Lake Park was created a little over 200 years ago. It's an interesting piece of history and an extraordinary marvel of nature to walk through.

In 5 Dragon Pool Park I viewed a small exhibit of historic photos taken in Jinan around a hundred years ago. The only forms of transportation pictured were: walking, bicycles, and rickshaws. With all the walking I'm doing these days, I was particularly impressed with how hard it must have been to be a rickshaw operator. Not only would they have to pull the load of a person or two, but also run! I also learned that 5 Dragon Pool Park contains many memorials to a famous Chinese military leader who came from Jinan and was particularly loyal to his emperor and taught all those he lead to be loyal, friendly, kind, etc.; just like a good Boy Scout.