Saturday, May 22, 2010

Southwest Greetings

Hi everyone! I'm in Lijiang, a beautiful city in the southwest of China. I took a few days off to see my sister and brother and friends, who are traveling here, and in a few days we will go back to Qufu.

If you want to know what we've been up to for the last two days, look up Tiger Leaping Gorge. Beautiful.

Talk to you when I get back! :)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ugly Babies and a Romantic Gesture. Party!

I have given back the students' writing assignments, so I can't give you quotes "in their own words" tonight.  However, there are a still a few stories that I want to share.

Ugly Babies

A student wrote about a recent falling-out she had with her brother-in-law.  Her sister and brother-in-law had a baby a few months ago.  She went home to see the child, and pronounced it ugly.  Her brother-in-law became angry with her, and for awhile they were on bad terms.  Later, her mother explained to her that all babies look like that, and she was surprised -- she had never seen a newborn!

A Romantic Gesture

In video class, we recently discussed the phrase "romantic gesture."  (As in, "When Bob surprised Grace with a new bike, it was a romantic gesture.")  One student wrote that he decided it was time to do a romantic gesture for his girlfriend.

He came up with the idea to surprise her with some feminine hygiene products, because he thinks doing something embarassing for a girl shows how much you care for her.  So he went to the store and waited around, pretending to look at other things until the women's aisle was free.  Then, when no one was looking, he dashed in, grabbed the first package he saw, and got the heck out of there (after paying, of course).  How romantic!


Many of the students tend to think and write about the same things in their weekly journals.  I'd say the top three topics are the future (specifically, where to go to grad school and how nervous they are for the grad school entrance exam),  their studies, and romantic relationships.

One topic that several students have written about recently is joining the Party.   There is a process of examinations and interviews, and I'm not sure exactly how it works, but apparently it is the time of year where some juniors are eligible to join.  It's a process that I would love to know more about, but because it is so sensitive, it seems better not to ask.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed "In Your Own Words" Week on the blog.  We will now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, May 14, 2010

It's been two years...

...since the May 12, 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province.  I just read an article called China's Arranged Remarriages.  The article is beautifully written and thoughtfully explains the cultural forces that lead families, officials, and even former in-laws to pressure earthquake widows and widowers to remarry as soon as possible.  Go read it.

I recently came across an interesting example of re-marriage pressure in a student journal.  She was writing about her friend's father, a divorced (or widowed?) man recently diagnosed with cancer.  Knowing that he might have only a few more months to live, his family pressured him into marrying as soon as possible so that his remaining days would be happier.  They found a woman and bullied the marriage into existence.  The only problem is that no one in the family likes the woman, least of all the the cancer-stricken husband or his college-age son.  So they live in the same house with a woman they can't stand, who lounges on the couch all day while they cook and clean.

The couples in the article I mentioned above are more fortunate.  Their marriages are mostly happy, and they are hopeful about the future.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Summer is a season for show"

After May 1, students finally started shedding jackets, long underwear, and sweaters.  People in China often choose their clothes based on the season rather than the temperature, so now apparently it's the season for lighter clothes.  Many of the girls are now walking around in skirts and shorts; some are modest, and some are extremely short with black hose underneath.  A male student commented on this phenomenon:
Summer is a season for show, the girls.  Every time I walk on campus the numerous female mini-skirts and short-shirts are flying in my eye.  Frankly speaking, I often appreciate their dressing in a silent way...
This entry was appropriately titled "Swimming in a Sea of Hotness," which is one of my favorite lines written by a student, ever.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"I rushed into library without breakfast"

The following entry highlights two aspects of Chinese college life that are totally different than American college life: obsession with exams and competition for study spaces.  Perhaps they are related -- almost all students on this campus study diligently, so the libraries and classrooms are often full.  The student writes:
I am sitting in the library and recollecting the whole course to look for seats to study this morning...
I decided to get up earlier than before to look for seats in the library yesterday.  To my surprise, I overslept this morning...  It was approximately ten to seven.  I rushed into library without breakfast.  There were so many people that I didn't find no seats at first.  I felt regret and guilt that I couldn't find a seat.  I thought they were crazy. 
Suddenly, I found there was a person leaving, so I went to there to put my book on the desk.  After a while, I met a friend there...  She told me that in the compound building there were exams.  I understood why there were so many people.  Of course, I knew that most of the people in our school were preparing for the graduate examination.  So did we.  From now on, we have to do a good preparation for it.  It is related to our future and career.  We have no other choice but to work hard to make our dream come true... 
I believe I can achieve it.  So come on, Glenda!
The "graduate examination" that she talks about here is the examination to get into grad school.  It's not like the GRE, because it's a knowledge-based test that's tailored both to your major and to the school you apply to.  This means that you first have to decide which school you think you have a chance in and which specialization you want to choose.  (For English majors, they have three possible specializations for grad school: linguistics, literature, or translation.) Then (if you're like my students) you study for 6 or 7 months for that specific test.  If you don't make the cut at that school, you're in trouble.  Another student writes about it here:
Now I'm confused.  I don't know where my future lies...  I know the most important thing now is the postgraduate examination.  But, I don't know which university I should choose.  Choosing the university is vital because it decides my following many years.  I'd like to study in Northeast Normal University, but I'm afraid I can't pass the exam, and maybe it's late for me to prepare.  I really don't know what I should do!"
If I had a nickel for every junior student writing on this topic, I could give up support-raising altogether.  Oh, my wonderful, confused, hard-working, hard-pressed students!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

"It roars like a passing train"

After a windy, sandy day earlier this month, a student wrote:
The spring wind in QuFu is scary.  It usually roars like a passing train so I'm afraid of being blew away.  We usually regard spring as a gentle girl who brings vigor to us, however she becomes a terrible monster now. 
Isn't that great imagery? 

Friday, May 7, 2010

"I'll give my parents a call and marry my girlfriend"

A student answers the question, "What would you do if you were told that the world will end in two hours?"
I think I'll give my parents a call and marry my girlfriend.  Many people will be afraid and some of them will cry because of the scare of death.  Everyone scared to death, they may think of the pain of death, then they'll shiver and they'll be crazy or become breathe hardly.  At last, they may scare to death. 
But, in my opinion, I should enjoy the last treasure 2 hours.  I can call my parents, sister, and brother that I love them.  I'll tell them we'll see each other in heaven.  Then, I will marry my girlfriend.  We'll wed on campus.  The wedding are all my classmates and teachers.  I think we can live a very romantic and happiness day.  Even though, we'll die in two hours, we can still keep the happiness to heaven.  We can be couples there. 

In Their Own Words

I hereby declare this to be "In Their Own Words Week" here at Life in the Middle Kingdom.

One of the unique privileges of being a writing teacher is getting a peek inside the minds of my students.  Sometimes in spoken conversation it's a little hard to move beyond the same old surface topics with students.  But writing allows them the time and freedom to explore a variety of topics in greater depth.

From the funny to the serious, all blogging this week will be about my students' words.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cooking with Students

I had a couple juniors offer to teach me a some Chinese dishes, so they came over for two lunches last week.

Cooking with students is a little chaotic.  They arrived at the door with bags in hand and a definite agenda of who would be cooking what.  Pretty soon they were washing, slicing, and chopping with a vengeance, as green onion stems and wayward pumpkin peels got tracked all over the kitchen floor.  Then it was time to fire up my two burners and a couple of woks.  An hour and a half after beginning, we sat down to enjoy pork with peppers, stewed pumpkin, a fried flat bread with vegetables, cabbage, and a crispy meat/garlic dish.

I *might* now remember how to make gan bian gan lan (a favorite spicy cabbage dish), but I'm afraid the rest of it has already flown out of my head.

Thanks to Tarah for this awesome shot.  Doesn't it kind of look like a promotion for a new reality TV cooking show?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Avoiding Work

Let me take you on a little spin in the Procrastination-Mobile.  This was what I cruised around in for most of my high school, college, and graduate school career.  (The one shining exception was my freshman year of college, in which the prospect of being a fully-fledged college student intimidated me into studiousness.)

On my table sit sixty writing essays which are, sadly, only half graded.  The students slacked off on this assignment and turned in some pretty awful work, which makes it that much less exciting to grade.  Suddenly I've become unusually motivated to update my blog, finish that crossword puzzle, and cook some beans for the freezer.

The Procrastination-Mobile is back in gear. 

Hmm, what to do, what to do?  Perhaps I can leave you to enjoy this unrelated, but cute, picture of a kindergarten art lesson in the park while I traipse off to the kitchen to stir the beans.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"Anatomy of a Perfect Day," or, "Biking to Ni Shan"

Want to have an awesome day in China?  Here's what you do.

1.  Invite a few students on a crazy adventure: biking 20 miles out of town to the mountain that houses the cave where Confucius was born.

2.  Pack a lunch.  At 7:45 a.m., begin biking. 

3.  Bike until 11:30.  Stop for snacks and repairs as needed.

4.  Find the reservoir and enjoy the mountain view.  Rent a boat to float out on the reservoir at lunchtime.  (Get ripped off.)

5.  Go climbing around on the low mountains skirting the water.  Take a jumping picture.

6.  Find a mysterious, dark tunnel.  Explore it.

7.  Come up over the ridge to this idyllic view of terraced farms and quiet mountains.

8.  Bike home.  Feel the burn.

We made it!  This is outside of our school gate, after our ten hour adventure (which we celebrated with a huge meal at the Sichuan restaurant on the corner).  I love these students!  What a fun day.

*Photo credit to my teammate Lisa for most of these pictures.