Monday, June 13, 2011

Jack Murray, May He Rest in Peace


The school that Jack founded will continue to grow and expand, offering a wide variety of challenging, fun English learning opportunities for students of all ages and walks of life. I am not able to offer many more details at this time, but will keep you posted.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chinglish Reducks: T-shirts, Real Estate Ads, and more

Sorry for my quackery in the title of this post, but I thought it was time to share a little bit more hard evidence of the bastardization of the King's English here in the Mediocre Kingdom. T-shirts are the funniest. A friend of mine met me for a walk in Peony Park a couple weeks ago wearing a T-shirt that said (across her bosom) something like, "I would prefer that you did not look at this." When I asked her if she understood her T-shirt, she said that she had not read it and was mortified. There are a large number of women (and some men) wandering around China in a similar predicament...or if they have read their Chinglish T-shirts, one is left wondering why they would not rather go topless. The turns of phrase and mixed metaphors on some are much more "yellow" (the Chinese expression for X-rated) than bare breasts.

Most of the T-shirts just don't make sense. You hardly ever see one in Chinese, though. English writing on T-shirts is in vogue. There was one in a window near here a couple days ago that said, "Two Typhoons Make a Zeitgeist."

2nd to T-Shirts in compleat and udder disreguard of speling or grammer is real estate ads. I hate to think what the kontract wood look like at one of these play says.

poly charming land, elegance from gentlefokl
Charming lanD
Next, eating establishments and supermarkets dice, chop, and burn the language. There is the "Glazed Fruid" stand at WalMart (why does a company that size not have quality control for its signage?) and my friend, who is German (er, Geman), was rather happy to shoot this photograph:

One rather hopes, but does not imagine, that the "sign painter" dipped his ink cartridge in toner on the way up from the cellar.

WalMart: Look out for the pieces of glass in the glazed fruid! No, not really, but food safety is a hot topic here. (This picture was posted previously.)

Finally, my friend snapped this one:


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Shenyang in Two Days

If my tale of two days in Shenyang reads like an abridged version of the four pages in Lonely Planet-China, it is because the four pages of that guidebook were the basis for our trip. I could write so much about all of my pictures, which are in an album on Facebook, but I would bore you stiff.

Perhaps a bit more Oz-looking than imperial?
"What are all of these Chinese people doing on Sunday
wandering around my palace?" Li Zhe
Andy and I bought hard-seat train tickets on Saturday and left on Sunday with help from the indefatigable Catherine of Perfect English's Operations Department. Andy reserved a room at the Railway Hotel, which is by the Shenyang North Railway Station. We, unfortunately, detrained (if deplaned is a word, why isn't detrained?) at Shenyang South Railway Station. This gave us the opportunity on Sunday morning to take a cab ride across the city in a northeasterly direction. We checked in early and left our bags (mine with a computer and travel Scrabble game, as well as Dickens' Great Expectations) in the hotel.

Back in the outdoor air (fresh would be a mis-characterization) and 90-degree weather, we hailed a cab and went immediately to the area of the Imperial City. We wandered around there for a couple hours and each had our pictures taken (yes, very touristy) as Qing Dynasty Emperors.

After the Imperial Palace tour, we went to lunch and had a good meal. Then we hailed another cab and were taken to the museum commemorating the Japanese invasion of September 18, 1931. There is nothing subtle about this museum. In its contents are some of the most treacherous looking torture devices that I have ever seen, including a round cage with spikes on the inside into which a person could be lowered and then the cage tipped over and rolled around so as to make the spikes chew the flesh of the victim.

The only thing more depressing than the exhibit's contents, including a macabre life-size diorama of the place where they experimented on human beings, replete with a bleeding wound, was the signage. I have multiple pictures of signs on Facebook that demonstrate the animosity that still exists. See signage.

I was smiling before I went in and weary when I left. "Man's humanity to man" is oft overwhelming.

The entry to the museum is beautiful. It gets progressively darker--literally and proverbially--as you proceed down the ramp into the bowels of this monument.
Chinese beheaded by Japanese.

The next thing we did was the best part of the trip. I will go back, if at all possible. We went to the World Expo Gardens, which lie a fair distance outside of the city. I encourage you to see my pictures on Facebook. The next day we went to the provincial museum and Beiling Park which is home to the North Tomb. This is also worth another visit. Well, gotta run.

China's Troubled Neighbors

HONG KONG — Appropriately, the meeting straddled the anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen massacre. Defense ministers and top brass from the United States, China and a host of lesser regional powers were in Singapore for meetings known as the Shangri-La Dialogue. Just as June 4 in Beijing ended many illusions about the nature of the Communist Party of China, so events of the past year have stripped away many illusions about the country’s “peaceful rise.” (Read the rest of this op-ed...)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Sleeping Elephant: Will The Dragon Wake Up?

The youth of China are asleep. As a teacher, I see it everyday: children asleep at their desks; taking cat-naps between classes, cutting into their equally scarce social time. I talk to people my age and they say it has been this way for a long time and there is always talk, but no action when it comes to addressing it.

I spoke with some girls last evening who live in one of middle school dormitories. (Middle schoolers here are more like high school age.) They have study rooms with lights on until midnight. The light does not go out in their rooms (each with six or eight tenants) until eleven o'clock. They have to be at school at 7:20 AM.

Concern about sleep deprivation rises perennially at the end of the school year, when academic and college entrance exams are looming. Widely celebrated and discussed here, International Children's Day (June 1) is a time to reflect on the health of children. Officially, things are good for China's children: Report shows healthy outlook for China's children. However, if you read this article from the state newspaper you realize that:
The sleep hours of the elementary and middle school students in China have continually declined in recent years. Nearly 80 percent of respondents did not have enough sleep.

According to the survey conducted in 2010, the elementary and middle school students slept an average of 7 hours and 37 minutes per weekday, 1 hour and 22 minutes fewer than in 2005 and 1 hour and 23 minutes fewer than the minimum national standard. More than 78 percent of respondents slept fewer than nine hours per weekday in 2010, increasing by 32 percent from 2005.

The respondents slept an average of 7 hours and 49 minutes on a weekend day in 2010, 1 hour and 47 minutes less than in 2005, and 1 hour and 11 minutes less than the minimum national standard. Nearly 72 percent of respondents slept less than 9 hours per day on weekends in 2010, up nearly 42 percent from 2005.

"Heavy schoolwork, bad study habits and long commuting times have all contributed to their sleep shortage," said Deng Xiquan, a researcher at the China Youth and Children Research Center.

Another article (Private education a relief for overburdened students), which cited the above report, says that some families are retreating to private schools--an elite option available to only a fraction of the 1.3 billion people here. The article mentions concrete steps being taken by the government:

Reacting to the criticism, China formulated a 10-year national education plan (from 2010 to 2020) last July, pledging to build an assignment-burden monitoring and reporting mechanism to lessen the pressure on primary and secondary school students.
It is hard to see how assignment-burden monitoring is going to make a dent in the real problem, which is a ridiculously long school day. I work part of the time at the Middle School Attached to Northeast Normal University. These students don't leave school until 7:10 PM. One of my students told me it is the best school in Jilin Province ("Of course!" she added). This same student brought me a couple short essays, of her own accord, to mark with red pen. Her writing ability in English is excellent, but I wonder how she comes to my optional TOEFL class from 7:20 PM to 8:50 PM and still maintains her cheery disposition.

This cartoon appeared in China Daily yesterday:

This cartoon by Hao Yanping depicts a child carrying a heavily loaded school bag, looking enviously at retirees exercising in a playground. A number of surveys have found that children are unhappy due to long school hours and growing pressure from parents to study hard.

China's adults are asleep at the wheel on this one. Jane Brody's article in the New York Times this week provides a myriad of reasons not to cheat yourself on sleep. "Its benefits include improvements in concentration, short-term memory, productivity, mood, sensitivity to pain and immune function, " she reports.

Will the grown-ups please do something?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Language Learning: An Update

My job is going well. I am quite in love with the English language, as those of you who know me can attest. I love puns, idioms, and other rhetorical devices; I love etymology and homonyms; and I am a stickler for grammar and spelling (recognizing that the latter does not matter and is often "sloppy" because of dyslexia or some other fairly adequate excuse).  I have made my way through a serious chunk of the heavy tome that I lugged to Asia--Rod Ellis's The Study of Second Language Acquisition. A WISC test long ago identified me as a 139 on verbal, I believe, but it is a number so I may be wrong, because I did considerably worse on the quantitative portion of said exam. (I frequently cannot remember a phone number all the way from the phone book to the phone.) Some might assume that I have all the motivation, knowledge, and mental facility to learn a second language, but it is going very slowly. I will get to that in a second, but first I want to spend a couple more minutes on English and the butchery of it here, especially by the police. Pardon the digression.

Shake Your Dragon Tail

A recent New York Times piece (not in the humor section of the paper) told of a banner unfurled at The Forbidden City in Beijing where some poor sheikh (pronoucned "shake") of the police tribes made a grave error. In the Chinese equivalent of a spelling mistake (they don't really spell words here, they "characterize" them), the banner glorified the successful return of stolen artifacts through diligent police work, “To shake the great strength and prosperity of the motherland and to safeguard the stability of the capital.”

“The pronunciation of the word for “shake” — han, with a falling tone — is exactly the same as that for “guard,” even though the written characters are different," reports the Times. While I cannot affirm this declaration--my vocab and dictionary skills being insufficient--my favorite Chinese dictionary website does not back up this claim. The word Han means, in a usage that I am familiar with, Chinese man of the Han race (all ethnic Chinese except the 56 minorities) and, in a usage which I am only now coming to be familiar with, it can mean "sweat." It can also mean South Korea, simply "man", or be a surname. With a rising tone, it can mean cold, poor or tremble with fear or, if you use a different character, to hold, contain or " the mouth." 

Rosetta Stone vs. Kyle

Zongzi is the traditional food of the
Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on
June 6th this year.
Kyle (or Fan Xin) is my tutor, who brought me Zongzi last week and who tells me every time that I see him (twice a week at my home) that he considers me not just a student, but a friend.  He has brought me a tea set and some jasmine tea. While the odd assortment of words that he has presented on his tidy, one-page lesson follow-up sheets might make you think he has neither rhyme nor reason to his pedagogy, this is not true. Most of the words in any one lesson use the same tone or the same convention as the others. In other words, he is carefully teaching me proper pronunciation through drilling words that are similar in sound and tone. He does not stop there, though. He is intent on making sure that Andy--one of my favorite colleagues here--and I learn "practical" things like how to introduce ourselves, how to order in a restaurant, and how to say things like, "Help!" or "I am allergic to wheat and dairy." This week, Kyle and I will, I hope, play Go (or weiqi), which is one of my college adviser's favorite pastimes.

Rosetta Stone is an over-priced, annoying piece of software, reputedly used by the FBI, CIA, NSA and other government agencies that don't have time to send staff to Middlebury College or the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Those of you who follow my Facebook posts know already about some of my complaints. They are petty, but when one spends 500 US dollars, you hope for something flawless.  

First of all, Rosetta Stone takes forever to load all the extra games and things. There is no community to speak of, despite this advertised advantage. There have been problems with my mouse not lining up with what I am clicking on so it thinks I am choosing the wrong answer. It is interminably slow on start-up if I decide to operate it without being connected to Internet...which is a real pain in China where Internet connectivity is intermittent. My newest set of problems include getting it to advance from one lesson to the next and not repeat. I have spent a fair amount of time wrestling with their technical support staff to get it working smoothly.

For all of the bad things that I have said so far, it is a great program. The methodical, carefully researched program is top-notch. Once I overcome my desire to blame its shortcomings for my own, I am sure that I will gain some proficiency with the language. (That said, if I am asked to repeat nü ren one more time into the headset, I think I might turn into a misogynist.)

NanHu Park
If I felt like sitting down for half an hour more in front of this computer every day, I would be much further along with my Chinese. That is both my laziness, as somebody who is working a heavy schedule, shining through and an inherent flaw with the program: Language is for communicating with and between people. Learning it from a non-responsive, inanimate machine is a hard thing to motivate yourself to do when the sun is shining and it is 88 degrees Farenheit, which is why my friend and I blew off studying yesterday and dropped ¥99 (or $15.25) on tea and green-tea flavored pumpkin seeds at an authentic tea house after a one hour walk around NanHu Park and a "pricey" lunch at a restaurant, where we ate duck and pork with rice and vegetables for a whopping 39 RMB (or $6.01).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Electricity and Water Crises Are Related

"In a little-noticed milestone, the latest data from Beijing and Washington shows that China passed the United States last year as the world’s largest consumer of electricity," reports the New York Times, in an article that is much more interesting for what it does notice: a growing restlessness in the utility industry about the government's price-setting practices.

It is scary to watch the plethora of tornadoes sweeping death and destruction across my own country. Iceland is erupting and Taiwan had an earthquake. The prognostications about the Judgment Day may be wrong, but one cannot help but wonder how humanity can long endure in the face of so much chaos and extreme weather. 

Most of the environmental news right now is about the drought that is affecting the nation--it is the worst in fifty years. There could be a lot of hungry people this year. "Between January and April, the Yangtze River basin received 40 percent less rainfall than the average level of the past 50 years." As China Daily (English), the official newspaper, admits in the caption to this picture, the drought is partly responsible for the electric supply shortfalls:

A worker at a railway station in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province, unloads coal from a cargo train on Tuesday. Railway authorities in the province are accelerating coal transportation to coastal regions that have been facing power shortages partially caused by severe drought.

The major changes to the Yangtze caused by Three Gorges are a double-edges sword. The project is likely the root cause of the drought, but it does, at the same time, allow bureaucrats to open sluices and control where the water goes a bit better. "The Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters asked the Three Gorges Dam to increase water discharges to up to 12,000 cubic meter per second (about 3,000 cu m per second more than the water flowing in) from May 25 to June 10, in order to raise the water level in the middle and lower reaches."

Please keep the people of these provinces in your thoughts and prayers.  Government policies here will be less effective than prayer, I am afraid. "China’s 700 million rural residents have been on a two-year buying spree of electric devices, purchasing hundreds of millions of air-conditioners and other energy-hungry appliances with government subsidies aimed at narrowing the gap in living standards between cities and rural areas." [my emphasis] One cannot really ask: How many lives have been saved as a result of air-conditioning? One cannot really ask, Why do country people need to have the same amenities as city people or why do the city people set the standard for what we all need? One, certainly, cannot assert that the Chinese should not be permitted to have air-conditioners or drying racks if Europeans and Americans do.