Saturday, July 08, 2006

Traditional Lion Mask

This is a picture of the traditional lion mask from the Nanjing Art Institute.

Silk Weaver

The ancient art of silk weaving is still practiced in China.

Kids at Play

Nanjing has some elaborate gyms and play palaces for the wealthy, but ordinary kids play on the street like these boys, whom I observe outside the shop where I buy steamed buns.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Knowing What To Look For

My friend Carl thought I might like to see the "drum tower" museum. He gave me precise instructions as to location told me to look for a tower with a bell at the top. I looked all over that vicinity and never found anything that suited the description. On the way back to the center, I got lost. I was about to call the schoolwhere I work for help when I recognized a familiar street. I had walked far out of my way, but I knew how to find my way back.

I showed my friend the day's pictures. Turns out I'd located the drum tower-- see above. I just hadn't known what it was. In a day or two, I'll go back and see the inside of the museum.

Stranger Anxiety

I'm OK around babies, but toddlers who see me start to cry. By that age, kids know how a person is supposed to look and I don't match their idea of human being. An African American colleague tells me kids here are scared of him, too. In years gone by, the rural Chinese thought people with my color skin were ghosts.

In our species, the fear of those who look different begins early. Some of us never get over it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Chinese Cakes

It's the birthday of David Woody, pastor of Unite Methodist Church. His birthday cake, no doubt, will look quite a bit different from the cakes in the photograph. The pictures are from the bakery where I buy a roll and coffee each morning.

Off my turf

Now and then, I run into a vendor who doesn't want to be bothered dealing with a foreigner. At this outdoor street corner restaurant, the woman tried to push me away when I asked her to sell merice and vegetables. I persisted and was served. After buying lunch from the open pots, one sits beside other diners either inside or outside the restaurant. Momentarily, I was stared at by those at my table. I now manage chopsticks do better than most Americans, but not as well as the Chinese. After awhile, people seemed to get used to me, and I stopped feeling conspicuous. Cost of the very generous meal: 5 reminbi-- about sixty cents.

Directions in China

It's easy to find your way around in China. Just follow the signs.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Fourth

Spending July Fourth in China feels especially weird. Here, it's just another day. I treated the crew at the office to fried chicken, courtesy of Colonel Sanders here in Nanjing. Sir Barry asked me to explain the meaning of July 4th to the office crew. I said we Americans were in a war with Sir Barry's country, and we won!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Chinese MacDonald's

I never eat in MacDonald's. The food is too greasy and fattening. But my friend Marie Cope persuaded me to visit the Chinese MacDonald's so I could give a report.
The Chinese have come to love their MacDonald's, which they associate with America. There are the familiar icons of Ronald the clown with his friends and a place for children to play. It appears that young people go there on dates.

In a brilliant marketing manuever, the corporation has altered the food slightly to appeal to the Chinese palate. The chicken sandwich I ordered came on the familiar sesame seed bun, and there was way too much mayonaise. But the chicken itself tasted different-- it was crispy fried as usual, but flavored with Asian spices, so it burnt my mouth. The Coke I ordered was just like back home. My daughter Emily, who once studied marketing, has informed me that products are modified slightly when sent abroad.

An employee asked me why I was taking pictures. When I told my purpose, he thought it was fine. Wanted to know how old I was. People here seem to think I'm ancient-- I think it's harder to guess people's age when their not your own race. An elderly Chinese man tipped his hat to me-- not a usual Asian custom-- and gave me thumbs up. People are really nice here.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Teacher Assessment

In preparation for our teaching training next week, we conducted an English assessment of the middle school teachers with whom we will be working-- part standardized test, part oral exam. Administering a standardized test in China is pretty much like giving one anywhere else. The examinees are uptight, a few glance at each other's papers and we have to get them to stop.

The official these teachers report to gave them a "pep talk" before they began the exam. I didn't understand his words, but I saw them getting more anxious.

In the oral exam, I asked the teachers about their satisfactions and frustrations. Here were their gripes: Teachers don't always receive the respect they deserve.Not everyone wants to learn, and the students who don't want to study make problems for others. When students won't study, parents blame this on teachers. Students don't want to be quiet and allow them to teach. Homework is not always well done. When test scores are low, officials say it's their fault. Chinese teachers have "merit" pay. They think when students do well, the quality of the student not the quality of the teacher makes the difference.

Those of you who teach: Does any of this sound familiar?

Pagoda climbing

I am not fond of heights. It's not that I have a phobia-- I just don't seek them out. But when I saw the Baogong Pagoda at the Ling Gu Monastery, I felt obliged to climb it, just as my son Benn feels compelled to run marathons. After all, I've come all the way to China. How could I not climb this structure? It is over 230 feet to the top up a winding stair. At the apex, there's a view of the Nanjing skyline, and misty mountains nearby. I was too exhilarated to feel any ache in my knees. It felt good. Maybe when I return to the States, I'll visit my hometown-- New York-- and climb the Statue of Liberty, which I've never done.

I fight the temptation to overwork. Here, my skills are unusual, and I could spend all my time at our center. But I'm forcing myself to get out, though by nature, I am something of a workaholic.

What does tomorrow mean? It is 5:30 pm here, but at home it’s 5:00 in the morning. I leave Weihai tomorrow and make a stop in Beijing. ...