Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What's in a name?

I just learned from a student's journal entry that Mo Yan (the Chinese winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature) was born to a family of poor farmers and that his name means "don't speak".  My student wrote, 

"The name comes from a warning from his father and mother not to speak his mind while outside because of China's revolutionary political situation from the 1950s."  
 His pen outlasted Mao's sword.  Mo Yan was born in 1955 in a very small village in Shandong Province, the same province as the city in which we are living.

Nobel Prize for Literature

All of China is excited about Mo Yan being awarded the the Nobel Prize for literature. His books are flying off the shell. In fact, there is a copyright war going on now while various publishers are clamoring to make money from this good news. I find it interesting that all the mucky-mucks are so proud of this honor for China when in fact he wrote about the down-an-out area of his hometown that officialdom forgot.

One of my students is also from Mo Yan's hometown and this is what he had to say in his journal entry on the subject:

    "When I heard that Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for literature I felt a little disappointed.  I am not joking.  Mo Yan and I lived in the same town called Gaomi.  Many of my classmates who also came from Gaomi excitedly declared, "Mo Yan is my fellow villager!"  Well, it never came to their mind that Mo Yan has already made full use of our hometown.  He has wringed every legend, myth, folklore and story out of this land.  If someone else wants to become a novelist, what else can he write?
     "Honestly speaking, Mo Yan is a really clever writer,  When he began to write, he had great trouble finding out the material.  He tried to compose a novel about his life in the army, with which he was not familiar.  He dared to do that because he believed in his imagination.  Of course, Mo Yan failed.  Puzzled and disappointed, he began to suspect himself.  Then he came across William Faulkner's Sound and Fury, and the Muses began to come to him from then on  It dawned upon Mo Yan that one could become a great writer by drawing upon the stories from his hometown, even though it was 'as small a a stamp'.
    "After reading some of his works, I have to admit that Mo is really an excellent writer.  He has the qualification to be 'king of literature; in Gaomi.  Mo Yan is a man of keen observation.  He saw frogs, he heard the rain, he smelled the air.  I saw, I heard and I smelled them, too, but I never cared or admired the beauty in them.
    "However, I don't feel inferior to him because I believe in Emerson's teachings. 'There is a God in every soul' and 'Trust yourself.'  But still, I show great respect to Mo Yan and there is a great deal I can learn from him."

The People On The Bus

I have to take a 40 minute bus ride to get to church on Sunday. It's an interesting adventure. Most of the time I must stand the whole ride in a very crowded bus. Other times a young person will stand up and offer me a seat. You see this happen all the time, but maybe not as much as it use to. It's very refreshing to watch young men and young women stand up and give their bus seats to an elderly passenger who just got on the bus. I guess I don't look too elderly because it doesn't happen that often to me. Thank you very much.

Yesterday was an good bus ride. I got a rare seat for most of the ride. And I got to see some people who profoundly affected me.

First was a woman, probably in her late 50's or early 60's who looked like she worked hard for a living and had such a kind, accepting face with an unusual feature: a slight smile. This is rare enough on the bus and even rarer in China. You could almost see into her soul, and it was beautiful.

Then, an elderly couple got on, and, as luck would have it, there were two seats available right across from me. The gentleman had a full head of white hair and the humblest eyes that were generally in a downward glancing position, however he did look up and around enough to let me  look into his eyes. It struck me that this very gentle man had seen quite a lot of the horrific history and changes in China and it was reflected in his demeanor. His wife was with him and she seemed to be the go-to person in the relationship, albeit slow and deliberate. He was wearing an overcoat which seemed to protect him from the outside world. He face was not withered and worn, but quite smooth for someone his age. However,  his eyes were worn. He had obviously seen a lot, maybe too much of the human condition; and change had taken a toll on him.

My heart goes out to the good people of China. They're not all dog-eat-dog, king-o-the-hill, dodge ball aggressors. They seek a harmonious life. There was harmony in the faces of these fellow bus riders and I got to experience it

Monday, October 29, 2012


Last week we gave a Free Write journal assignment. For the first time in two months our students could select whatever topic they liked to write about rather than write on an assigned topic. After reading about 40 journal entries so far, I am surprised to see how many college students chose to write about happiness; what it is and isn't and how much it depends on money and material things. This seems to be weighing on their minds what the uncertainties they are facing in the future and the general difficulty finding employment in China right now.

They all have interesting things to say on this subject and each student defines happiness differently. But one thing seems to be a common thread is that happiness is a state of contentment rather than the acquisition of wealth.
Here is what one student wrote:

      "Living in the world, I think the most important thing is that you feel happy from the bottom of your heart. The problem is that, how do we define happiness?  For the patients who have long been tortured by the illness, health is happiness. For the poor who are always starving to death, a delicious meal is happiness. For the people who are wanted, a peaceful life is happiness. The definition of happiness varies from person to person. 
      "Many people have good health, eat delicious food and live a peaceful life, but they don't feel happy because they always want for more.  A famous philosopher once said: 'Nothing is bigger than a man's desire.'  It does make sense.  It seems that we can never be satisfied and happiness is always waving to us at a distance. Seldom do we know that happiness is around us, like air.  Our happiness lies in others' eyes, but we can't feel it.  While others are envying us, we are complaining about our life.  Until one day, when we lose one of the most important things we have always possessed such as good health, we will start to realize how happy we were, and begin to miss the old days and sink in sorrow. 
      "Man is always foolish.  we wish ourselves to be happy but we never allow us to feel happy.  Think of what we already have: good health, a harmonious family, a good university to study in, some close friends.  We are truely one of the happiest person in the world. On the way to pursue our dreams, never forget to bring a contented heart!"


Over the past few years I became aware that I was a member of a minority of folks who still wear glasses. Contact lenses and lasik eye surgery seem to have put eye glasses on the shelf....but not in China. Glasses are a serious fashion statement in China. I have been surprised to see the number of young people wearing very stylish frames...with NO lens; just open space. Go figure. And the plethora of frame styles is eye popping (pun intended). I only saw a lot of people wearing sunglasses a lot on the "money" side of town.

Young gals wear funky, lens-less eye glass frames as an accessory much like belts, scarves and jewelry  I've even seen a few guys who are into this kind of fashion statement.  Makes people watching even more interesting.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Squat Stats

0 and 0      

Blessed avoidance.  Wouldn't mind it if there was toilet paper which there isn't (or soap or paper towels). It's strictly BYOTP in China, especially on campus. And the TP ain't flush-able. So you can only imagine the odoriferous experience as one passes by the WC. All hail the western throne.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

When It Rains It Pours

We got a call Tuesday afternoon from our Chinese co-teacher. The Foreign Language Department is starting 2 new English Writing classes for seniors next week...in the middle of the semester... and has asked us if we would teach them until the end of this semester. There will be 30 students in each class, which means 60 more Journals and 60 more Quick Writes to read and correct each week. They want us to use the lesson plans we've already created.  We've never met anyone in charge and they've never met us, but for some reason there's a hole that needs filling and "they" think we're the ones to fill it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Feeling Like a Rock Star

I recently discovered that all the hours and effort we have been putting into our work is paying off...big time!  Last week we assigned a journal prompt based on PRIME the PUMP, an idiom we presented the first week of class showing 10 ways students could augment their exposure to English and enhance their English skills. 

I'll let them "tell" you:

Seven said:
    "First, I want to say I am honored to have such a wonderful foreign teacher. This is not flattering, it true. Every time when my journal was handed back, I found its mistakes were all pointed out and corrected. I can see the enthusiasm and passion you've put into my work. I really appreciate it. After getting my journal I looked through it again and again, especially focusing on my mistakes. I try to bear them in my mind and avoid repeating them again. I love committing mistakes. Writing becomes easier. It is not so boring any more. I'm making progress."

Vicky wrote:    "In the past I was always afraid of writing in English. Writing seems difficult to me because I often don't know how to express my ideas and feelings exactly. But this semester, with the help of Mrs. Kuzmich and writing class, my attitude toward writing has been improved a lot. 

    "Though I major in English translation in university, I was upset to find we didn't have any course related to translation and interpretation. The school dean finally realized this problem and set the course - English Writing for us sophomores. To my excitement, the teacher has an unusual, extraordinary teaching style which inspire the enthusiasm in the whole room.........Fortunately, the teacher helped us to distinguish the "a" and the "an" in terms of pronunciation of nouns, which mad it much easier to remember it, though it's still a very big problem......By the way, students in English major often showoff when writing, writing long and complicated sentences to indicate they are expert in English. However, that makes English native speakers confused to understand. After learning 'how to make your sentence *Better', I have learned to get rid of rambling  sentence and make it clearly.....Reading journals from my classmates helps me to pat attention....The teacher has taught many idioms and famous sayings which makes writing colorful...I am very excited to find that I fall in love with pondering English writing and keep writing fluently. I owe my happiness to Mrs. Roslyn. p.s. I love your smile."

Cola wrote:
    "At the TEM-4 (Test for English Major grade 4) last semester, the writing part accounted for 25 point and I only got 17 points. That's such a poor grade I knew that to write a good composition, I still have a long way to go. Luckily, this semester we have a really excellent English Writing teacher. She works hard and teaches very well. I really appreciate her help. In addition, I prime the pump after class in order to improve my writing skills."

Dora wrote:
    "I can well remember that last year when I prepared for CCTV Cup English speech contest.....My teacher helped me with that and told me that when I became a sophomore, we could have a new course, WRITING, where I could learn how to write article systematically. Now, one year later, I have taken this course for nearly two months and I really learned so much from our writing course.....Three days ago, I wrote two article entitled: 'Australia With my Eyes" and My View on Social Networking" which both gained high praise from my teachers who said that my writing skills had improved quite a lot. I know that it is what I've learned from writing class."

Indigo wrote:
    "Thanks to the constant writing practice, now I am able to express myself and write down my own words freely. Beside, 'mistakes are the portals of discovery'.**  When I write, there are still some mistake, but now I am much more confident to accept my mistakes and correct them. To some extent, this may well be one of the most important improvements.....Two English websites our teacher gives us help me a lot."

Susan wrote:
    "I had been always satisfied with my English Writing skills sine I learned English as a foreign language, for my composition had been read and appreciated among my classmates. But this changed after I took English Writing class this semester. Though I felt frustrated when my mistakes were picked up by my teacher, I realize that my composition needed to be better and then best."

* I taught them how to write good - Better - BEST sentences. They actually listen and apply !!
** This was one of the quotes I presented, we discussed and then used as a journal prompt the first week.

All the time reading and correcting every journal entry and every quick write is worth the effort when you see the dramatic improvement in their writing in just 2 months.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Speech Contest Judges

John and I were asked to be part of a panel of 6 judges for the 18th China Daily "21st Century Coca-Cola Cup" National English Speaking Competition. This was the qualifying round held on the old campus of Shandong University. The theme this year is "My view on social networking."  The 16 speakers took about 3 hours to compete.

Each speaker had to give a 3 minute prepared speech...then give an impromptu speech for 2 minutes on a random topic given to them on stage...and then give some kind of performance in English for no longer than 3 minutes which included singing, film dubbing or poetry reading.
We were asked to judge the speakers on speech content, language quality and general impression for a maximum of 100 points.


These freshmen, sophomores and juniors put their whole heart and soul into their incredible efforts. I was blown away.

Afterward we had a chance to meet some of the students. One was a sophomore who switched her major from philosophy to law and now, as a sophomore, must catch up with the other law students so she is taking 20 classes. Her speech was strong and but so was her accent, lacking the necessary linking, pauses and inflections common in English speech. In spite of her herculean effort she did not place among the winners and had a polite brave mask over her disappointment. As she walked away I had the strongest feeling to call after her and invite her to dinner with us and Dongxin, another of the judges. 


Note to self: ALWAYS follow that voice!  What a delightful and profound encounter. I wish you could meet a Jing Ming: humble, confident, extremely hardworking, interesting to talk to and she's got to have an IQ close to 160. She was one of those high school students who tested high enough to be accepted into a top high school which required that she live in a dormitory because it was too far from her home. Also, the course work in this particular high school was so demanding that those students never had summer of winter breaks off to be home with family.

BTW I found out later this evening that the grand prize winner was one of my sophomore writing students.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Can't pull anything past this teacher!

I have 2 Oral English classes and John has 2 Oral English classes. But, John and I have decided to team-teach all four of our Oral English classes since none of them conflict with each other. This way we can give the students a "stereo" English experience. It makes more work for both of us but so what. The students get a chuckle out of our repartee. 

Our Oral English classes are all freshmen level and each class has a student monitor for whom the class voted. The monitors are very helpful especially the first few class sessions when there are still bugs to work out. They help us establish a seating chart for each class so we can get to know each student better. 
In one class we have 3 young men who are fast friends and one is the class monitor. To get students seated in their assigned seats, I numbered the alphabetized class list and told the class monitor to call out their names while I showed them their seat and gave them an information card to fill out. Things were going smoothly until they weren't and in my confusion I asked the monitor for the list he was holding. Snakeola! Those 3 boys had "adjusted" the alphabetized list so that they were all sitting together. OMGosh! They were actuallysurprised? to see the push-over, old American lady take control of the list, and set things right...with "fireworks."  
A momentary diversion. 'Twas brillig.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Back to work

Whew! time is flying by and we just finished "climbing" a mountain of work we created for ourselves. Our trip along the ancient Silk Road was so refreshing and informative. I almost canceled going on the trip because of all the work we had to do. That would have been a BIG mistake. As it was, I ended up taking several hundred pieces of paper to grade tests, quick writes and homework. That's what I did on the bus trips and plane rides.
Last week some Chinese plumbers did a lot of very noisy work on the plumbing in our apartment building. The water was shut off for 2 days.

I happened to be home on the day they began work but I had NO idea who they were or what they wanted to do. I had to laugh when one man realized I couldn't understand anything he said no matter how many different ways he said it; so he got a piece of paper and WROTE IT IN CHINESE so I could better understand what he was trying to say!  Most Chinese workers I've meet have not had much interaction with anyone who doesn't speak their language, so they continue speaking to me figuring that maybe I'll understand them if they reword what they just said. Very helpful of them.