Friday, December 01, 2006

Practical English

My students have taken English since elementary school. They are wonderful at grammar exercises, but have trouble using the language. So we find ways to use it. Several students came to my apartment Monday evening and showed me how to make bowdza, a delicious steamed bun with a meat or vegetable filling (above). The rule was that they had to speak English. People become much more fluent when they're doing something practical. Their English is appreciably better at the end of one of these sessions. And when I'm around the students and we do activities like this, I pick up some more Chinese words.

Too bad that with 286 students, I can only do such activities with a small fraction of those I teach.

You can get almost anything you want in an outdoor Chinese market. I picked up some wonderfully warm wool socks for two yuen (25 cents) a pair. There was all manner of produce, including 6 inch turnips and mushrooms which were 5 inches in diameter. You could purchase live scorpions (above), which are an important ingredient in Chinese medicine. A man tried to sell me a beautiful baby Labrador retriever for 20 yuen ($2.50), and I probably could have talked him down to half that. Alas! Considerations of what my cats would think, what my husband would think, and what the puppy himself would think during the weeks of quarantine, prevented me from making the purchase.

Below: James Zhang bargains for a better price on sesame seeds.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Growing Old

I don't think of myself as old. After all, I don't have tenure at ETSU yet, and being untenured is a sign of youth. Besides, I just travelled to the other side of the world from home. So of course I'm not old. My students think I'm ancient, of course. They like to take me by the arm when we walk together so they can guide me. It's both touching and annoying.

For the Chinese, women are old at 50, which is when they retire. Men retire at 55. The other day, a cab driver told me I should quit working and enjoy my money. (I'm starting to understand what the locals say to me. There was a student with me to help.) The cab driver figured I was very rich. By his standards, I suppose I am.

There's no choice about retirement here-- it is mandatory. In a nation with high unemployment, retirees do not work. People live off savings, and according to Chinese custom, children help. The ladies in this picture do the traditional fan dance every night. It's line dance, and the movements are gentle. It's supposed to keep people limber. Personally, I'd rather walk, travel and teach.

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. ...