Monthly Archives: October 2008

>Entry 8: The Great Design

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Do I look like the kind of person who can read Chinese?

I ask because the other day a cute girl handed me a flyer. It looked to be for a sale. Not wanting to disappoint her faith in my Chinese skills, I pretended to read until she was out of sight where I promptly ditched it.

On the ground. That’s something I have yet to get used to. In China, if there are no trashcans around, you just throw it on the ground. No fines. No recycling maniacs will yell at you. Every morning, people with giant brooms come through and sweep it all up.

So littering creates jobs. The next time you see a “Don’t Throw Down on K-Town” trash bin, tip it over. The unemployed will thank you.

There is a huge mall down the street full of western restaurants and western shops juxtaposed with cheaper Chinese restaurants with better food and cheaper Chinese stores. It’s always packed full of people, and always you will find many people handing out flyers.

Consumerism exists here, but to what extent? Is it as bad as America? Before I came here, a friend told me that “the Chinese aren’t jaded and materialistic”. So far, that has held true.

A lot of the college kids do like to buy expensive items. For example, cell phones. When I went to buy a cell phone, Alan and Alfred suggested that I buy one that cost at least $1000 RMB. Keep in mind that is the minimum. You can go up, if you like.

I politely said ‘no’. They told me of all the features I could have. I said I preferred to simply text message and make the occasional phone call. Anything else? Unnecessary. I ended up paying 360 RMB for a black Nokia with a short battery life.

I later thought about their reasons, and I realize that they did not buy expensive cell phones to show off. They genuinely liked the extra features. Prestige and all that nonsense came second, or in their minds, didn’t exist at all. These people don’t need it to feel good. They will never take photos of themselves with the overpriced product and then place it on their Facebook page and sit hunched over the computer like a paralyzed bird of prey waiting for the validation to come rolling in. They can live without it.

In my experience, it doesn’t happen here. Most of my students have nice cell phones with cameras, full of pictures they’ve taken, but the phones, the purses, and everything else they buy are not used as status symbols.

That’s not to say it doesn’t happen here. I cannot say one way or another because I can only speak from my experience on this subject, and from my experience, I have yet to meet one Chinese person who thinks spending over $100 on a pair of sunglasses is a great idea. Sunglasses. An item meant to be worn during a certain time of day (hint: the sun is out) and during certain weather (hint: the sun is out). Sunglasses, for Christ’s sake. Sunglasses.

A lot of Americans derive pleasure from the status others attach to their possessions. Most of this happens in fashion when something is labeled ‘designer’, an absolutely idiotic label. Anything you buy was designed by somebody, so all of it is ‘designer’ one way or another.

‘Better quality’ is not a synonym for ‘designer’. Overpriced is. ‘Worthless’ is another one, as in ‘An overpriced, worthless good that will give you a brief spark of happiness that will soon fade while you frantically search for the next overpriced, worthless good that you believe will make you look better than you really are while you give your money directly to a criminal corporation who sees you as nothing more than a laborer’. That’s what you are. A ‘laborer’. No matter how many Gucci purses you cram on that credit card.

Have fun at work.

I know I’ll have fun at mine, in my $625 Alejandro Ingelmo Croc-Embossed Running Sneakers, my $185 jeans, my $75 Armani Logo Jeans Tee-shirt, my $595 Movado SE watch, and although the weather calls for cloudy skies, you better believe I’ll be sportin’ the $320 aviators.

$1800. God it feels good to be worth something.

>Aggressive Marketing

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I took a cab back from the mall last Sunday.

As we wove in and out of traffic and I clutched the “oh shit!” handle (one available for all the passengers, but not the driver), we came to a red light where people were standing in the middle of traffic. They shoved fliers on people’s windshields until red shifted to green and we blew by them.

They remained where they were, amongst oncoming traffic, awaiting the next red light.

THIS, this is how you reach people. Let’s see some groups implement this strategy in the states.

Before the cops haul them off.

>Entry 7: Begin Teaching

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Before I begin, a little perspective from a native Chinese:

“Hello! My name’s Camellia. I’m from Tianmen, a small town in Hubei Province. I came to Wuhan eight years ago for college at the prestigious and beautiful Wuhan University. I started learning English when I was thirteen years old, and I find it interesting and important. It is also necessary because if I did not pass the English Language Exam, I could not attend college. It is impossible to attend college without a proper score, and different majors require different scores. A lot of students cannot go to college because of low scores. English lets me communicate with foreigners, and I like to communicate with foreigners, and I am an assistant in the International Cooperation Department because of it. Travis told me that U.S. students do not have to pass a foreign language test to attend college, and I think because of this they have it easier. 大家好,很高兴在异国他乡有人能看到我的文字,有了你们的阅读,文字会变得更久远,谢谢!在此,衷心祝愿各位读者开心快乐每一天!”

Chinese students begin learning English early. While in the US two-years of a foreign language in high school serves as a stamp for entry to college, the Chinese students must have some level of competence before moving on to higher education.

As a foreign language teacher here, I am part of an important process. A lot of these students will end up using English in their jobs. For some of them, English-language ability will make or break their future careers.

This week I began teaching my own classes.

As I prepared for this, I reflected on what my favorite teachers did. Particularly, my French Professors. I reflected on what Dr. Essif or Dr. Levy did, and I tried to incorporate that into my lesson plan.

Of course, the lesson plan is not entirely mine. Just mostly. For a ten-week period, I teach eight different classes in a row, and for those eight, I am to focus on a given topic. From there, I pretty much have free-reign, just so long as I give them some perspective on the topic.

A lot of the students have told me that they are eager to learn, but often they are hesitant to speak. For a lot of them, the problem is not their written English but rather their spoken English. Some of the errors I frequently hear include misused prepositions (“What’s your impression to Wuhan?”), misused question words (“How do you think of China?” instead of “What do you think of China?”), and misused auxiliary verbs.

I have a choice to make when speaking. Do I speak normally, as I would to another American? Or do I speak at a certain level that is entirely understandable to them? I decided on the former, while speaking slowly and explaining certain phrases and words that they do not understand.

It contradicts their teaching system. I often pause and ask them if they understand. That is not common here in China. Chinese teachers will not ask them directly if they understand or not, so when I hear silence, I know that perhaps it’s not fear guiding them so much as it is conditioning under a different learning system.

Chinese learn by rote memorization, but most foreign teachers do not operate like that. They play games. Play movies. Speak directly to the students. This is good in that it gets them speaking English, something they need to work on. Bad in that for some classes, it puts pressure on you. They expect a performer rather than a teacher. A dancing clown. Not everyone can do that.

I prefer to be more teacher than clown

>Who knows what tomorrow will bring

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Two weeks ago they told me I would be teaching English majors, a different class each day. A single topic for those days.

One week ago they told me I would be teaching Freshmen, no English majors.

This past week, I found out that some are English majors, some are Business majors, others are Law, etc.

Today I found out that this group of students goes through a ten week English program. Then it’s new students.

They informed the other American of what he’d be teaching the day prior. After being told that I would be paid at the end of each month, three weeks here and I find my salary waiting for me in the office, in advance.

70 RMB for a health exam? More like 600, information given the day of. As in when we arrived.

And the other day, one of the Chinese English teachers told me that this current teaching program is brand-new. They’ve never done it before, and likely more reordering is on the horizon. Yay.

Things are not too structured here. Sudden changes rock the boat, but I like it. It’s fun, in its own special way. With the schedule for my Chinese language classes changed, and an unexpected demand to sign up for a China bank account, it’s a nice bit of chaos in a world otherwise gone to order.

All ordered systems are gradually moving towards disorder.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring? I eagerly anticipate the last-second changes.

>Dating here versus Dating ijn America

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I cannot fully answer this question because it is so different and there are so many aspects to it that in my short time here, I have only grasped a tiny bit.

What I can tell you is that there is a difference between city girls and village girls when it comes to dating foreigners. A city girl is more comfortable whereas a village girl is open to the idea, but fears being shunned by others.

And let’s face it: it does happen. Some of the locals will look down on a Chinese girl for dating a foreigner, and if they come from a small village there familial and community opinions mean a lot, this will heavily impact their behavior towards you. Some will not hold your hand where they know people. I heard one girl used to walk on the other side of the street. This act falls apart when they’re in a new area, but near home base, they’re looking out for their reputation first.

I have some personal experience with this, but it will have to wait. I want to see how it pans out first. Don’t worry. By next week, I will have a post about it.