Thursday, June 26, 2008

ETSU Pride in Nanjing

In these times, educational institutions on opposite sides of the globes may form partnerships. One of the reasons I'm in China this
summer is to work on cultural collaborations between our university's Clemmer College of Education and Nanjing's Kongzi Academy. The
relevant cooperation agreement with Kongzi Academy was signed by Dr. Hal Knight, our Dean when he visited a year ago March (above).

Here, Sir Barry Jowett of Nanjing's Kongzi Academy models an ETSU T-shirt (below).
As an nth degree nerd, I've never been a great one for school spirit. But I must say, I'm proud of the many international programs ETSU has become involved with. Maybe I'll even start wearing one of those T-shirts.

Takes all kinds

China has 56 ethnic groups, though the Hans make up approximately 90 per cent of the population. To an outsider, everyone here looks Chinese, but Chinese nationals know who's who. The central government attempts to value the unique traditions of ethnic minorities; however they have not benefited from the new prosperity as much as the Hans. This makes for tension. The Tibetan conflict is as much ethnic as political.

Racism, prejudice, and xenophobia are regrettable universals in the human experience. I am told that the Chinese dislike foreigners on the whole; but I do not experience this. People treat me warmly and encourage my attempts to learn their language. Perhaps in my case, the cultural veneration of older people and teachers overides xenophobia.

There are quite a few Europeans in Nanjing; a smaller number of Africans and African Americans. Blacks have a harder time here than whites, I'm afraid. In addition to the ethnic tension, there is racial prejudice. A friend told me that certain language schools have a policy of not hiring Blacks, how ever excellent their English or French. When I reacted with horror, my friend told me to remember I wasn't in the US, and fear of Black people is part of Chinese culture. "They have so little experience with Black people. Why would they let Black people near their children?" I was outraged.
Look, I try to respect cultural differences. In China, I eat with chopstick, and present gifts to my hosts at the appropriate times. As much as possible, I speak in my developing Chinese. But where bigotry where is part of a culture, it is unacceptable. Some practices we should not respect in other nations or our own.

Above: An African lady I met at a church service.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tools of Literacy Acquisition

It's less than twenty years since we purchased our first computer, and I did not start using email until 1996. I acquired computer literacy slowly and painfully, and only because I needed digital technology to function as an academic. I still take notes with a ballpoint pen, and for years, I taught with a chalk board, until I saw how well students responded to powerpoint. I do not consider myself "techy" though I work with a spreadsheet and post to a blog.

Therefore, I did not think I would need electronic media to learn Chinese. I have some books, and Chinese is all around me. But my progress was often slow. It takes so much time to write characters, or even to use Chinese software. Then, today Joe showed me some Chinese learning software he'd found on CRI (China Radio International). It is inguistically excellent, engaging, entertaining and complete. Check it out:

I made a lot of progress at my Chinese lesson today, and the experience gave me pause. For if I, who was raised in an era of pens and notebooks find it so much easier to learn with digital technology, it must be even more important to kids growing up now. Yet schools are notoriously low tech places.

Above: A dragon. Learning Chinese is like taming one.

Not so wild a dream?

Recently, there were comments questioning the equity of using English as an international language. Well of course it's inequitable! English spread 'round the globe because of imperialism, political and economic. But what's the alternative?

These readers favor use of Esperanto, a language constructed by a Polish linguist, L.L. Zamendoff in the 1880's. With a simple grammar and regular verb system, it was designed to be easy to learn. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 2 million people know it, though no country has ever officially adopted it. There are occasional native speakers-- mostly in international families. Materials for learning Esperanto are available online for free. And at a cursory glance, folks, it is MUCH easier than Chinese.

Esperanto's proponents argue that it's more fair to use a "constructed" language like Esperanto than to rely on international English. But while Esperanto is not technically a Romance or Indo-European languages, its system is European in origin; therefore native speakers of Asian, Semitic, and African languages are at a disadvantage.

I'd like to hear what others think about this. My mind is open. I find English hegemony troubling; yet I am not convinced a constructed language can work for the human race in the long run. Check out the Esperanto website and see what you think:

Above: the Esperanto flag

Monday, June 23, 2008


Normally, I do not post to this blog directly because of unreliable connections and information control issues. I send entries to my friend Dennis Cope, and he does the posting for me.

Dennis is in Colorado this week on what sounds to be a glorious vacation. His access to the Internet is irregular. Therefore, my postings will be delayed. At the moment, I am able to post everything but pictures, but my degree of access may change.

Thank you for your attention and patience.

You Only Get One

The Chinese enjoy their cell phones. They are proud of their cars. But they cherish their children, and they only get one. It's poignant. When I walk on the square, I see parents and grandparents holding their children, watching them, enjoying them, drinking in the experience. It's different from America, though we love children, too. To alleviate overpopulation, the Chinese government limits couples to one child each. Here, you only get one.

It's hard to buck the system. There are serious penalties.One hears horror stories of families abandoning baby girls, for girls are less valued, still. But it must be rare. Children are viewed as precious in China. The one child policy applies only to Hans-- the ethnic majority. Some people regard this as a mistake, for the percentage of other groups is on the increase, and some of the Hans feel superior.But in a nation of 1.3 billion, the restriction of birth rates makes sense. It is very hard on parents and on children growing up without siblings.

Above: Grandmother and child

Lie Fallow

My husband Joe has arrived. He is tired and jet lagged, but it's wonderful to have him here.
While waiting for his plane, I prowled the Nanjing Airport. All around, there are signs in English, but not of the sort native speakers use. My favorite was a sign on an electronic game area which offered diversion to those just waiting around. It read, "Lie fallow amusement."

It is too easy to dismiss such expressions as "Chinglish." English is now international, and it is used differently in different parts of the globe. There is broad variation in pronunciation and idiomatic usage. Many of my fellow English teachers hail from England, Australia, South Africa. I sound nothing like them.

It is a wonderful thing that we have an international language. But when English is used in different parts of the globe, we may expect to hear expressions we would not at home.

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. ...