Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rice wine and chrysanthemum tea

Back in Beijing, we prepare for our return to the States. Leave taking is always difficult. We have so many friends here. We plan to return next summer. Time seems to speed up as we age. Next summer does not seem far off at all.

Today, we went to the bank and closed out our account. Afterwards, a friend drove us to the Chinese Sam's club, where Joe purchased rice wine for our friend, Dennis Cope. I seldom drink, but I once took a sip of this peculiar beverage, and have no desire to repeat the experience. The connoisseurs assure us this brand is excellent,
however. The bottle is pretty, at least.

In the evening, another friend met us for tea and noodles; another visited briefly and dropped off chrysanthemum tea.

Now we go home. Reentry always takes time. Don't know how much I'll blog once I'm back-- my State side life is interesting, but I cannot write about it as freely. Ironically, I feel freer to write in this totalitarian country.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Today, it was announced on the news that Nanjing has its first documented case of swine flu. So we weren't sure Katie Litz would be allowed to teach at the Kongzi Elementary School, since it is public. Logically, there shouldn't have been a problem-- she's been here a full week, and she shows no signs of illness, but policy isn't always determined by logic.

I'm glad to say the authorities decided that Katie could teach at the school, and everyone was appreciative.

Above: some scenes from Katie's day at Kongzi.
Young Musicians

The Kongzi Elementary School where Katie taught today has an excellent music program where the kids learn to play traditional Chinese instruments. The kids do very well, their enthusiasm making up for anything they lack in technique.

Chinese music utilizes a five tone scale in contrast with the seven tone scale we use in the West. This means the holes on their flutes are calibrated differently. But flutes are flutes-- essentially they are tubes for conducting vibrating air, though the Chinese variety lacks the gizmos I'm used to on Western flutes.

Above: Young Musicians at the Kongzi Academy
Below: I borrow a bamboo flute

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Keeping Things Simple Is Very Complex

Barry Jowett's intern hopes to become an airline hostess. She has been guiding us around Nanjing. Her concern for us is genuine, and she treats us like breakable porcelain. She means well, but it drives me up the wall. Katie is more accepting.

At a restaurant, we told the intern we would be at a banquet that evening and to order a simple lunch, but she must have been concerned about our nutrition. She ordered three dishes of meat, three dishes of vegetables, a bowl of rice for each of us, two kinds of soup, tea, cola, and watermelon. Glowering at her, I told her we ought to make her eat all the leftovers. She looked at me with her big brown doe eyes, and I felt like a monster. The Chinese always over-order in

"We've just got to do the ordering ourselves," said Katie. Easier said than done when you're traveling in China, but it provided me with the necessary motivation to use my Chinese, such as it is. The next day, at a moderately priced restaurant, I asked for tea, eggplant and cabbage, and a bowl of rice for each of us. The waitress tried to persuade me to order additional dishes, but I resisted. They actually brough what I asked. I must be learning Chinese.


We match language to that of the people around us. The process is partly unconscious. It's an example of what people do when they communicate.

In China, I talk to many non-native speakers, and to my consternation, I've started sounding something like them. At times, I drop plural endings and leave off markers of tense. Sometimes I even say 'he' when I really mean 'she.' These are all common errors for Chinese users of English, reflecting their language's grammar. I find examples rereading this blog, and it does not please me. The pull toward accommodation is strong. As one who is here to teach Standard English, I just have to fight it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Putting a Face on It

It is one thing to make a policy stating that teachers newly arrived from America may not set foot in your school, because they could carry flu germs. It is very different to say this once you meet and talk with this teacher, and share a meal.

Once officials from Nanjing's Department of Education actually met Katie Litz and we all shared a meal together, everyone relaxed. Katie is a principal in addition to being a teacher, and those present hung on her words. No longer do they worry she will infect their schools with American viruses.

I think fear of foreigners had confounded with anxiety about germs. Quarantine can be appropriate strategy for containing spread of a virus. But when it comes to dispelling fear of those different, there is nothing like contact.

Above: Scenes from the banquet welcoming Katie
Customs and Precautions

People here are panicky about the swine flu. But not so panicky as to alter their dining practices. The Chinese frown on eating alone, and they like to share food. At dinners and family meals, they eat from common bowls into which they insert their chopsticks.

Sometimes at banquets, the host will use a special set of chopsticks to serve people, but this practice is ceremonial, for once things get underway, guests dips their chopsticks into the common dishes and proceed to eat.

The practice of serving meals on individual plates would be unthinkable here-- to the Chinese, it seems very cold. The Chinese would rather restrict the movements of people unlikely to carry swine flu than alter their dining customs.

Above: guests at a banquet.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brain Food

This is exam week all over China. Children and parents are tense, for a child's performance reflects on the family. In preparation for the day's demands, this child was taken to eat at the Chinese KFC, after her grandmother carefully arranged her pigtails.

Climbing the walls

Katie Litz is a student in ETSU's English as a Second Language endorsement program. A principal and veteran of 40 years in public education, she has come to Nanjing to do her internship in second language teaching. We planned to have her teach in a combination of public and private language program.
Right now, she can only teach in the private ones, for to some officials here, any newly arrived American is a potential source of deadly flu germs. The situation is workable -- Katie can do her required hours in the private academy, but I had hoped she would have a more varied experience. There were no private classes to be taught today, so after a discussion of lesson plans, we headed for the old city wall with Carmen, our tour guide (above).
Maybe in the next few days, the powers that be will become more flexible.
Below: Katie and husband Jack concentrate on eating a meal with chopsticks.

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. ...