Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bad influence

China's cell phone culture involves much more texting than that of the US. People seldom make phone calls-- they're much more expensive. This means that I'm in charge of communication, because I can text (sort of) on the old fashioned phone we have loaned. It's tricky-- it doesn't have a qwerty keyboard like my new one.

Joe got defensive about his non-texting this morning. "Dennis doesn't text!" he said, referring to Dennis Cope, the friend who is posting this blog. Gads! this man influences people. No wonder he was chosen to be a prefect in his London secondary school.

I tried to find a picture of the Chinese cell phone online, but those sites are blocked today. The gremlins are active.

Photo: Dennis Cope center. Joe is in the foreground, and Marie Dennis'
wife is in the far left.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Remembrance of things past

This is the sixth visit we've made to China, so at this point, we have something of a shared history with those we visit. Many have been to our home when they've come to the States.

Today, Professor Liu, presented me with a flash drive containing many pictures from last year's Summer Institute on English Pedagogy at ETSU. I had no official connection with that program last year, but the participants came to our home one evening, where we served them Joe's famous chili with cornbread. After dinner, we fixed popcorn and ice cream sundaes and in honor of Joe's home state, we watched "Oklahoma" on the plasma TV. Joe wore pointy-toed boots and a bull rider's hat for the occasion. Our guests were so taken with Joe's Southwestern get-up that they asked to take pictures wearing the bull rider's hat.

I'd almost forgotten what a special gathering it was. I'd taken no pictures that night-- keeping everything organized took lots of effort.

Above: Institute Participants, 2009 gather around our table.

Below: Himself in the bull rider's hat; One of our many beautiful Chinese guests borrows it; not to be outdone, yours truly models it.

Hail, hail, the gang's all here!

Dr. Rhona Hurwitz has arrived along with the rest of Dr. Chen's and Dr. Anciewicz' group. A few nights ago, we went out to eat with Rhona and two graduates of our Masters program-- Li Songshu and Tang Yingjuan. The waitress obligingly took a picture for us, but it came out a bit out of focus.

Dangerous Reading Material

Joe and I attend Cherokee United Methodist Church, a growing congregation on the South edge of Johnson City. It's a great congregation, one that really tries to live out the United Methodist dictum "open doors, open hearts, open minds." Amy Ramsey's been emailing us our church's bulletin, "The Compass" each week, but when we tried to open it today, we got the message "This page cannot be displayed" in Chinese. Now, if you get a message like this in the States, you check your computer or figure the website address has been changed. But when you're in China and you see that particular screen, you know that it's being blocked by the government. Information control, i.e. censorship, is an industry here.

They can't block everything and maintain the illusion of a quasi-open, benevolent society, so they never block everything. I couldn't find a picture of Cherokee Church online-- all the sites where I'd find it are currently blocked. Therefore, I post our symbol and slogan, along with a picture of our pastor, The Reverend Ms. Michelle Buckles.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Good for laughs

When a people acquire a different language, they will inappropriately transfer features of their native tongue. Linguists call the phenomean interlanguage. The result can be pretty funny. Consider these texts of Chinese signs:

If you are stolen, call the police at once.


Please omnivorously put the waste in garbage can.

I challenge any English speaker who calls these examples "Chinglish" to learn Chinese. The natives find my attempted Chinese quite entertaining. Though I am understood in the dining hall, personnel find my communication hysterically funny. The food servers like me for the comic relief I provide.

On Dragon Boat Day, the cafeteria help did not allow Joe or me to pay for our food, gave us much larger portions than we had asked for, and then brought us more. We had to ask for a plastic bag to take the extra food home, and they didn't charge us 3 mao for the bag, which is the usual practice.

Photos: Student cafeteria and generous amounts of jaozi, a favorite holiday food.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Library Visit

The Chinese don't take as much time to plan things as we do. We're going to be in Jinan in a couple of weeks, a trip which was planned several months ago. But not until yesterday did a friend from Shandong Normal University invite me to give a lecture on second language acquisition.

Of course, I wanted to say yes. Even though it's a subject I know, but I couldn't prepare an academic talk off the top of my head. I need sources, references. This campus has a library, but for obvious reasons, most of the holdings are in Chinese. Sherrod Library on the ETSU campus was approximately 12,000 miles away. What's an academic to do?

Visit the library virtually, of course. The site was not blocked, thank God. I located dozens of full text articles I could use. Didn't even need to enter my password.

Such availability of information continues to astound me. When I was in college, card catalogues had cards; notes were taken in pen and ink; and the copy machine was an innovation.

Above: Books in a Chinese library
Below: Sherrod Library at ETSU

Very touching

Yesterday, we went to Beijing's rainbow market, which is a good place to shop for silk, jade, pearls, and designer purse knock-offs-- the kind of things tourists like. My Chinese tutor tells me the natives seldom shop there.

When a Westerner walks by a stand, one or more sales people, actually grab the potential shopper by the hand. "Come sir, come Madam... excellent price." Joe kind of liked being grabbed by pretty Chinese girls. I, on the other hand, felt I was being assaulted. Maybe this stimulated my aggression-- I did some excellent bargaining yesterday.

The merchants were more restrained on the uppermost floor where pearls and high quality jade are sold.

Above: women stringing pearl necklaces to order.
Call it progress

I work on Chinese every day for at least an hour and a half. My tutor, a young man named Chen, is a recent graduate of this university whose job with a video game company does not begin until July 1. We work on various things-- pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, the writing system. The language continues to be challenging.

Today, Joe needed a card for his camera, so we visited a department store where, according to Chen, the electronics is of good quality. In the popular markets, electronic merchandise is often defective. We worked on the vocabulary I'd need for the transaction. He wrote everything out in pinyin, the Romanized system, and also in characters. I asked Chen to browse unobtrusively when we got to the store, and store personnel understood what I wanted. There are no breakthroughs with this language, but with effort, one learns.

In China, there are fewer open shelves in department stores than the US. After we'd selected the card from behind a glass case, an important looking supervisor with at least a dozen keys had to be summoned. I had to pay at a different counter, and the clerk validated my receipt with a big red stamp like the one above.

Photo: After our excursion, Chen and Joe have lunch at a Japanese restaurant in the department store food court.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Three Day Holiday, Chinese Style

The Dragon Boat Holiday or duan wu jie is upon us. This holiday commemorates the politically based suicide of the Chines poet, Qu Yuan and is celebrated by dragon boat races. This year, the holiday falls on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Because we get three days off for the holiday, students and faculty were required to make up all missed classes this weekend. I taught four hours Sunday; some of my colleagues taught eight.

People kept giving us enormous bags filled with Zonzi and hard-boiled duck eggs. Zonzi are balls of sticky rice wrapped up in bamboo or willow leaves, the traditional festival foods. I'm told they are steamed-- I haven't fixed ours yet. According to legend, Zonzi were thrown in the lake Qu Yuan drowned himself in to distract hungry fish from eating the body.

Zonzi appears to be one of those festival foods which some people like and others could do without-- rather like matzoh, fruitcake, and black eye peas. The university has already given us a couple of bags of the stuff, and other faculty keep trying to unload theirs on us.

Photos:Dragon boat races; Zonzi and hard-boiled duck eggs

A characteristic of the breed

Semester exams have begun here, but the special class in English composition continues 'til Thursday. My students write essays which I send back to them with comments for revision. I do this all on computer and stay up to date on my grading. I've never thought of myself as obsessive, but Joe assures me I am, at least about this.

Well, despite their celebrated industriousness, my Chinese students maintained that I was not returning their work, and therefore they could not revise it. Reminded me of ETSU students who claim our computerized D2L grading system was "losing" their work. Sort of an e-version of "The dog ate my homework." Apparently, such claims are universal among students-- a characteristic of the st breed.

I long ago learned to back data. Not only is the corrected work on my flash drive, but my course partner, Professor Guo Tao gets a copy.

Above: A student leader making announcements in class.

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. ...