Saturday, June 26, 2010

Balanced bilingual

People acquire their native language without any problem. Additional languages involve effort, lots of it.. Unless, of course one is lucky like three year old Doreen Mather, AKA Ru Yi. Her Australian father speaks to her in English; her mother speaks to her in Chinese, and she is acquiring both. Didn't take her long to figure out that Joe and I were English speakers.

Carl actually speaks some Chinese, but he and Jenny mostly use English at home. Doreen is otherwise surrounded by Chinese. What an advantage to be a native speaker of two world languages!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vegetarian Bear

I've spent a lot of my time in Beijing grading papers, but now and then we take time to do something fun. Yesterday, we went to the Beijing Zoo.

They're shifting from using cages to exhibiting animals in settings resembling their natural habitats. Of course we spent time in the panda exhibit. These beautiful black and white animals, native to Southwest China, are now an endangered species because their food supply is being destroyed as China develops. Pandas eat massive amounts of bamboo, and the forests are being cut down.

While pandas look much like bears, Chinese naturalists do not consider them as such, for they are completely vegetarian.

Close Quarters

On Sunday, our colleague Weifanchang and her husband Zhang invited us to their home for dinner. Joe was the guest of honor because it was Father's Day. The couple are newlyweds-- they waited to marry until Zhang had finished his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. He works for a government institute. Weifanchang (AKA Wendy) teaches English at NCUT.

The couple live on campus as do most university faculty. There is little privacy, which is a way of life here. I don't mind living on campus a few weeks every summer when I come here. But as a steady diet, I'd detest it. Like most Americans, I am something of a privacy freak. I even disliked parsonage living, where there was much more privacy than is afforded faculty here.

Though they are highly qualified, are Wendy and Zhang are junior faculty and don't get much space. Their apartment is about eight feet by ten feet, with a tiny bathroom and kitchen in addition. The double bed takes up most of the space. There was hardly room on the fold away table for what Wendy had cooked. They must be in love-- otherwise they'd have killed each other by now.

Photos: Wendy and Zhang; a gracious feast on a tiny table

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Slow Food

I'm sure you've encountered fast food. But this restaurant claims to serve slow food. Does this refer to leisurely dining or to the cuisine? Judging from the sign, snails figure prominently on the menu..

Practice and Competition

The Chinese organize many competitions. There are English competitions, math competitions, science competitions, teaching competitions, music competitions. I sometimes think they'd hold a sneezing competition if they could. A colleague told me this is a fairly new phenomenen, and it seems connected with the government's wish to foster constructive competition.

A number of teachers at NCUT like to perform Peking opera. We were invited to a rehearsal last week, and today was the competition between amateur music makers, opera singers and dancers who teach at various universities in Beijing. They were pretty good. As in the US, there are lots of people with moderate talent, few of whom make a living in the performing arts.

Peking opera uses the Asian music scale in which the fourth tone is raised a half step, so the music sounds odd, almost off key and it's rather screechy sounding, anyway. The female vocalist's offering was especially so. She reminded me of the emaciated off key soprano my grandmother hired to sing at my brother Kenny's Bar Mitzvah.

But the sets were beautiful, and the dancing was glorious. It's fun to watch people doing something for which they have passion.

Above: Rehearsal. Some of you will remember Mr. Guo, an NCUT English teacher, who attended the ETSU summer institute in 2007. Seated second from left, he plays a two string traditional instrument, the erhu.

Below: The performance

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. ...