Monday, June 20, 2011

In love...with China

I should be asleep. Tomorrow is my marathon day from 7:40 AM to 8:50 PM with a couple of hour long breaks for lunch and dinner, but I cannot I write:


As I delve into your ancient soil, it occurs to me that you are a hoyden.
The moon hurls its umbra into your uberous rivers, surging with fecundity.
By day, a jaded phoenix emerges in the sunlight with a vermillion dragon,
A Manchurian crane with its ruby diadem stabs around in the bullrushes for sushi,
Wukong's needle tucked behind his ear, itself full of a thousand years of enigmas
Whispered in the hutongs and verboten palaces where dynasties once reigned.
Today, your gamine only-children set out smeared with technicolor stigmas,
Proclaiming jingles their illiterate grandmother's would not have deigned;
Stuffed rabbits and monkeys poking corpus spongiosa out of vade mecum sacks,
More heavy with science tomes than Latin texts to ply their insomnious skulls.
They crowd the pedestrian byways and honk themselves down teeming highways,
Emperors of our destiny disguised as Burberry and Louis Vuitton trulls.
Still bursting with five millennia of pride as it was once and will be always.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Chinese-style funeral

This morning at 3:55 AM my alarm went off and I hurriedly donned my suit and went out the door to meet my colleagues for the funeral procession. We met at school and our cars and buses and vans all had a 68 written on them--the age of the deceased. Jack would have turned 69 this weekend.

I went in the American car of a doctor from my class of doctor's and Leader Lee, a nurse from my class, and another one of my students were in the car on the return trip.  My landlord was there and so were a dozen notable members of the local government, including the head of the health bureau and a deputy principle from the High School Attached to Northeast Normal University. Janet, the widow, did all right and her son was there, too. He looks like her.

Imagine fifteen of these (only oblong) being thrown into a fire.
If you want to learn more about Chinese customs surrounding death and burial, there is a good summary at China Culture. We each were presented with a flower on the way into the building which we lay at his head. Our hands were washed with grain alcohol on the way out. We all wore white sachets.

For me, the most appalling part was that we burned ten of fifteen 6x3 foot panels of styrofoam with plastic flowers in a big open air chimney at the conclusion of the ceremony. That will happen a couple dozen more times today. The western part of Changchun, where the private funeral home is, was home to the first car plant and was as polluted as Shenyang. The black soot issuing from the chimney as we drove away was disconcerting. There is a new train station being built very close to the funeral home. Steve, my doctor friend, told me that the municipal cremation place is on the other side of the city and that there are only two in all of Changchun--a city of 7 million or so.

How you decide to honor and deal with the bodies of 1.3 billion people is not a small matter. I remember the most fascinating Green Drinks that I attended in Concord was a couple of women who specialize in green burial practices. If you have any interest, see Green Burial - the final recycling effort.

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?