Sunday, January 31, 2010

Holiday Fun Work

Click the pix for larger picture.
A group of parents asked me to teach their preschool kids during the holidays. No problemo. They have rented a nice preschool classroom at one of the universities here. It is well equipped and kid friendly. We do an hour a day, which is about all 4 year olds can do with their ferret like attention spans. We do about ten minutes of lesson, followed by a Sesame Street clip, more lesson, then Donald Duck, a song, a game, lesson, Betty Boop, bathroom, etc. Time flies by, and we all have fun. We went to the park this morning, which was a lot of fun without a lot of learning getting done. Sometimes fun trumps knowledge.

Monday, January 25, 2010

How To Enjoy a Foggy Morning

Click the pix for larger picture.

After finishing my last business for the semester the other morning, I headed for the park. It was foggy, a little cool, and a little deserted in the upper reaches. It's sometimes hard to believe that this place is surrounded by a city of seven million people. I could hear a man singing, accompanied by an erhu, a two stringed violin. It was coming from an old building. I wandered over there and found the pair inside the open courtyard. They let me listen and take a little video. I later came upon a man playing bamboo flute.
There are a lot of musicians that enjoy this park, and the music carries across the lake. It is wondrous. The lower portions of the park have a few kids' rides, a dance cafe frequented by seniors, and a museum. There are usually more than a few people there. In the morning the dance cafe has modern music blaring, and further down the way there are people playing traditional opera. There are also several groups of exercisers from Tai Chi to aerobics and all have their own tunes going. If you stand at just the right place, you can get a great mix of techno, Hall and Oates, and Beijing opera, with an occasional country western piece.
It's during the later morning and afternoons when the loud people have gone home, that the magic happens.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Avatar in "San D"

This was really cool. You can read whatever stuff you want, from whoever has an opinion of it, but it was a lot of fun, and was totally breathtaking. Kids were screaming when the monstrous critters were chasing the hero, and we all kept reaching out to touch stuff that seemed to float off the screen. Everybody here, Chinese and Occidental, loved it. Many have gone to see it multiple times.
This was my first in theater movie experience here since bootlegs are so prevalent, and the only thing they need to work on is what passes for popcorn. Dudes! Where is the butter and salt???? No wonder you're all so skinny!

Leizhou and The Sound of One Horn Honking

Bus stations are fun.
The Ancient Rich Guy's House Museum

Click the pix for larger picture.

Yesterday we took a day trip to the town of Leizhou to visit our friends, Mike and Feng Wen, who live there. Mike is a mega teacher at two schools there. We live on the Leizhou Peninsula, and Leizhou is a small, ancient city that is basically a farm hub.
It was drizzly, chilly and foggy, perfect travel weather! We caught a bus that should only take a little over an hour to get there. This turned out to be a Chinese hour, which like the Spring Festival that occurs in the dead of winter, and is one of those Eastern Mysteries. The road there could use a little of that government infrastructure stimulus spending that we read so much about. It's narrow and the surface is what engineers refer to as "shitty". It has everything on it from cars and trucks to ox carts. Our driver used the great time tested Chinese driving technique of blasting his air horn every 20 seconds or so, which greatly enhanced our traveling pleasure.
The scenic farm land was obscured by the fogged up windows which were the result of 85% humidity and a bus load of people who insisted on breathing. However, by constantly wiping the window I was able to enjoy the sugar cane, coconut palms, and eucalyptus groves along the way.
Eucalyptus is used for plywood veneer and naturally rolls out apparently quite easily. There are numerous mills that have the sheets laid out all around the yards, apparently curing in the mud. Sugar production is also huge. After nearly two hours we finally arrived in the crowded little city that is Leizhou. What it lacks in cars, it more than makes up for in motorcycles and oddball conveyances, and the streets, though fewer are just as chaotic as in the Big City.
We had a nice visit and lunch with our friends, followed by a nice walk in the park. There is a very old house that had belonged to some ancient scholar that has been converted into a museum that we checked out, but we needed to hurry since I had an appointment back home. There are some things we missed that I want to see next time we go there, including a massive temple complex and a museum. We took off sooner than we wanted. The trip home was a reverse of the trip out, except we were right up front and our driver was a strict adherent to preemptive honking. Any hint of something in the driver's field of vision required a warning blast, so the horn fans among the passengers were rewarded with a real treat. The Chinese Hour that it took to get home was only and hour and 45 minutes this time. I definitely want to return, but will wait for nice weather, and enough time for an overnight trip.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Moist Holidays and The Year of The Tiger

We are experiencing some damp times. The humidity is around 70 to 80 per cent and the temperature is 65 to 70 degrees. Nothing is ever quite dry, and you can get condensation on the tile surfaces inside. Pages are wilted and it takes actually wearing your clothes to get them totally dry.
School is out for me until the 22nd of next month for the Chinese New Year holidays. Chinese New Year is on the 14th of February this year. They call it the Spring Festival, but it isn’t really Spring at all, but they also have the Mid Autumn Festival, which occurs at the beginning of the Fall, so go figure. It’s going to be the Year of the Tiger, which is a lot cooler than the Year of the Cow. If you are the oversexed top golfer whose life is imploding, then it’s the Year of The Tiger Reportedly in Rehab for Bimbo Addiction.
We are already hearing firecrackers, and the vibe is getting festive. Old friends are starting to call, schools are finishing up their final tests, kids are appearing in daylight without school uniforms, women are freshly coifed, and restaurants are starting to get busier.
The city buses are getting more crowded, with migrant workers and their bad baggage on their way to bus and train stations to head back to the less prosperous hinterlands to be with family. It’s a big time for travel, which means it’s a good time to stay home.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Testing the Masses

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I had an interesting end of semester challenge, how to give an oral English exam to 2,000 students by myself. I have been basically more of a speech therapist, teaching kids who lack certain vowels in their own language to say those vowels. The English teachers most of them have had also lack those vowels, so they are actually “teachahs”, and ewen doh dese kids ah smot, dey hae newah been shown how to say de wuds colleckly.
This semester has been a fun frolic into the mysteries of the letter R. First, I needed to show them that it actually existed, which for more than a few was a big surprise. Every two weeks, I showed them how to actually make the right sounds, and to their collective credit, they mostly got it.
So, back to the challenge. How do you test the pronunciation of a class of 55 students in 40 minutes, then do that 38 times in two weeks? We are talking assembly line testing, efficiency engineering, student evaluation, and accountability all wrapped up into a neat package that can be scored and handed to their Chinese English teachers for recording.
There are easy to read words with the basic R sounds, er, ar, or, eer, and air. You have 10 words that you can grade on a scale of 5 to 10. 100 is a perfect score, perfect being that they sound like me, of course, and the worst are a category I call “Guandong Guy.” *
I handed out the tests, had them put their names and appropriate numbers on them, and gave them the instructions, “I will go to each of you with this list of words, say each word slowly 2 times, and I will grade you on your pronunciation.” I then told them to be quiet and do their homework and let me do my thing.
Of course, there were kids trying to cram, mumbling the pronunciations to their neighbors. This made it nigh impossible to hear, so I had to shut them up a few times, but most classes were happy to put a dent in their bone crushing homework load, so it became a pretty orderly process.
Most kids did well. Many got perfect scores that they would not have gotten in September. Some kids, the ones who either went to countryside schools, or didn’t care, muddled along with ahs and ohs, and a handful just kind of sucked.
I actually got to where I could test the class and get the tests scored in 40 minutes. I think I was able to get as good an evaluation of their abilities as anyone could, given the restrictions imposed, and I think I may have actually had a positive impact on most of their English skills.
And they learned the word “dude”.

*Guangdong Guy says things like, “Mistah Mahso, you my faywat teachah.”

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lady Gag

I like the way the Lady Gaga picture got cut off in the earlier post.
It's been coldish here. Most of China is getting a bit of nasty weather which translates into 50's and 60's here. That is downright balmy for this time of year in Oregon, but when the wind is out of the north, the humidity is 70%, and you live in an unheated building with concrete walls and floors, it feels coldish. I have wool socks on, long sleeves and pants and I have to wear real shoes outside. Oh the horror!
Two years ago, China was going through a really harsh winter, and their coal reserve was something like 7 days. That's a little iffy when you are trying to power your country with coal generated electricity, and 1.3 billion people are trying to stay warm. They have been moving at an accelerated pace to remedy this problem as Thomas Friedman points out here. They have noticed that they can't grow at the pace they need by using only coal power, and they are doing something about it. Meanwhile, America expends all its efforts chasing terrorists all over the world with our military and charging it on our Chinese Visa card. Our Congress will be totally dysfunctional in addressing future energy and infrastructure needs, and we will continue our downward spiral toward second rate nationhood.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Chinese Rose Bowl

I watched the Rose Bowl, or at least followed it, this morning. Previously for Duck games, I have sat in front of my laptop logged onto watching a cute little graphic football field. When a play happened, there was a little arrow that showed the progress of the play and a little text of what just happened. There is also a nice recap of all the stats next to the playing field. I followed more than a few games this way. It's a lot like having George Will describe the movie "Body Heat".
However, thanks to a childhood friend I reconnected with on Facebook, I was introduced to, which was carrying the game live. So instead spending a New Year's afternoon in a big screen TV room full of Duck fans eating nachos, brats, burritos, guacamole, pizza, leftover cheese log, nuts, fudge, Cheetos, and drinking beer and bourbon, I was quietly sitting at 6:30 am on Jan 2 with a cup of tea and a laptop with earbuds so I didn't wake anybody up.
At 6:30 am on a Saturday morning the internet is quick enough to give you a mostly uninterrupted viewing of most video stuff. However, as people wake up and get online the tubes start to clog up. By the fourth quarter, I had lots of still shots of Oregon being sad because Ohio State was just playing better, and the sound stopping and starting like a bad 8 track player.
By the time the game ended, I was back to the ESPN graphic George Will page and didn't have to endure the jubilant Buckeye (stupid name) fans and the glowing recap of their stud muffin quarterback.
Hey, it was only 9:30, I was stone cold sober and had an entire day off ahead of me!