Habits, Happenings - and Teaching

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Robby - That Lad


His name’s Robby, and is one of the most promising English majors I’ve had the privilege to teach here in China. His personality oozes with talent, competence and confidence - I’m not sure in what order they come - probably talent first. Much must spring from his roots and upbringing in a rural environment in Guizhou Province - from close to peasant stock. He knows he’s lucky to be here - there’s no doubt about that. All of this shows in his writing; how his parents struggle to get him and keep him here at Wenzhou University. He knows, too, about hardship, loneliness, despair, being disadvantaged - he’s no stranger - and more importantly, these lessons and their resulting values have set him on the road.

I’m teaching academic writing at the Foreign Language College, and among all the students I have in the different complexity of classes, Robby’s talent shines through as one of the most competent. While many of the others are struggling, Robby seems effortlessly to be succeeding. Although not quite, because he has to use the Word spellchecker and grammar facility to help him along, so it seems a combination of know how and discrimination to detect when to be accurate - but even here it’s not a hundred per cent. Writing requires total accuracy, and this is why others are having a hard time, although most would never admit this to your face - not here - but it’s obvious in their actions and abilities.

Of course, there are drawbacks. We are all human and subject to flaws. Robby is at times lazy, can give homework assignments short-shrift, and in class, bodily and facially, betrays exasperating (well, maybe that’s too strong a word). But he is downright complacent and a bit arrogant - his attention span is rather limited towards my teaching content and presentation, not because these are flawed - far from it - but because of his ‘own agenda,’ so to speak. And this isn’t only true of him - others in his class have this same independent approach. But my job as a teacher is to PPT stuff that is standard, relevant, modeled and safe. And of course, he possesses that complex Chinese trait: bad manners, disrespect, disregard….in fact, the works.

But he’ll be smart enough to play by the rules when it comes to sitting the TEM 4 (Test for English Majors level 4) in a couple of weeks or so’s time. Even if he does bend them a bit, his writing ability won’t compromise his score - well, not that much. You see, it’s downright hard to compete against such a fellow. The ease with which I mark and enjoy reading his essays tells it all.

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That Lump of Gray Matter

Imagine one’s brain is like a car. It remains an idle storehouse, something to keep one alive, an inactive agglomeration of mush upstairs, hidden inside one’s head. A car is much the same. Unless you use it it will also remain idle, parked outside on the street or in a garage, and will continue to be so unless you start the engine and put the locomotive into gear.

The brain is much the same. It’s a machine capable of almost anything but it won’t reach its capacity unless you do something about it. It’s up to you, in other words, to make the change. No one is going to do it for you so you have to make that change yourself.

For example, your possessions are in a mess: the digs you happen to accommodate are in a pig stye; everything around you is stagnating, festering like an old moth-eaten table cloth that has lain hidden, neglected for goodness knows how long. Something needs to be done about them. You immediately set to work: putting things away, putting other things neatly and tidily; if something;s irking you, clean it. Once it’s done, your surroundings, those which you have made work for yourself, will be more fresher, more positive, more sane.

The usual cliche that most bandy about about themselves or each other is that they are either ‘bone idle’ or ‘lazy,’ or both. Yes, I’m sure character and the need to be efficient has a part to play in whether you apply the gears which your brain undoubtedly possesses.
But more subtly, it’s about more than that. It’s also about watching, focusing, finding some space to pay attention to what’s upstairs, that realistically there’s a complex dormant mass of jelly inside our skulls that needs paying attention to. Once you begin to pay attention to it, not just thinking about it nominally, but actually meditating on it, then something fresh, inspiring, extraordinary will begin to happen.

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'Bette,' Bette Davis, that is or was, fought tooth and nail to play first class, cold-hearted or conniving. bitches. She knew that to come out on top as a screen legend, she would have to work very hard, and very hard she worked in such classics as 'Jezebel, The Little Foxes, The Letter, All About Eve, etc.' She portrayed tough characters. The opening credits to some of these movies were, like her parts, powerful, stirring, sensational, emotional, with hints of the dark, the sinister, the haunting, even the macabre. Max Steiner did some fantastic music for these films, too, which richly furnished the plots that were about to be unfolded. Here is the opening of 'The Letter.'
Oh, and by the way, William Wyler who directed these movies went on to do all-time greats: “Ben Hur’ and ‘Funny Girl’ which both had stirring openings, too.

Filed under Bette Davis opening credits loud stirring music performances

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0 Plays
Soul II Soul
Universal Love

I haven’t heard this in yonks - forgetting it ever existed - but it did. A rare taste of funk soul and reggae from Jazzy B and Caron Wheeler - Soul II Soul fame. I could listen to it time and time again. Most of the stuff produced by this band is brill

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Campaign Logos and a Rare Moment

imageimageI got the sophomore classes doing something entirely out of the ordinary on Friday - creating campaign logos - which made a change from listening to the textbook segment which was all about the ‘Anti Aids Campaign.’ Actually, we spent the entire lesson, as well as the logo designing, talking about campaign and campaigning. It was the word ‘campaign’ in the segment title that did it. Anyway, it made a Pleasant change from the meaningless textbook drivel.

I started the lesson off by going out and coming back into the classroom shaking a tin with coins in it. I normally use the tin to keep tea bags in. Anyway, it was done to draw their attention to funds and/or funding. I made sure they understood the term ‘fund.’ In one of the classes the lid came off causing the coins to fall onto the floor amid roars of laughter - it generated some fun - and drew their attention to types of campaigning and I proceeded to show a video of the British Olympic team doing a street campaign for the national charity ‘Children in Need.’

During the interaction activity one group of girls in one class are extremely rude, have a stupid or is it silly attitude to foreigners and/or foreign teachers. Not only lapsing into giggles as I came around to monitor and check, but rudely imitated my voice intonation. Chinese, besides having an unpleasant attitude in this, those girls might, unwittingly, learn something about intonation since it’s an English class. Hmm…doubt it.

It’s a particularly difficult and unpleasant task teaching this class on Fridays. If insufficent energy was applied, the class would be awry or is it AWOL?
It’s additionally unfortunate that this class only has one boy in it. It was equally unfortunate after creating their logos that his was quite imaginative. I mean, some of their creativity was outstanding. As there was time in hand, I got one representative from each group to replicate their drawings on the board and Dwayne did his. I asked the entire class, of course, to vote which one they thought was the best. There were three ties - alas, not Dwayne’s. The mean crowd only gave him a three show of hands. Before I could blink my eyes, he’d stormed out of the room.

I met him in the shopping center the following morning and did a consoling trick. He was with his girlfriend which helped matters. Who says the Chinese don’t show their emotions? It was a rare moment nonetheless.

Above are two logo examples which some of the students left behind.

Filed under teaching creativity communication

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These Students are sooo Full of “Me”

imageI’ve had another interesting week here at Wenzhou Med College. Judging a speech competition on Monday evening, and just before the start of one of the classes on Fri I was politely asked, of course, if I’d like to take part in another speaking event, this time a poetry competition. I couldn’t well refuse, even though I’d be a bit jaded after three classes I do have on that day. Besides, it’s no big deal when you only live a five minute bike ride away from the teaching and admin area of the campus. And because of what turned out, I’m glad I did. I mean, what an eye-opener! You learn something everyday, surely!

Before I go on, I’d better explain that I ‘teach’ (showing and explaining to them some new English terms might be a better phrase) a class of Sophomore students on a Fri, some of whom are up-and-coming high flyers, and five of these high flyers took part in the Monday speech competition. However, only one of them made it through to the final which I shall also be a participating judge. At the start of the class I asked two of the top English students, Jane and Bonnie, how they felt. Still nursing their wounds about losing on Mon, they couldn’t help manifest frustrated expressions, even taking them out a bit on me because of being one of the judges. I unintentionally added salt to their wounds by saying “well, yes, Emma won.” Oops! Sorry girls! If this has already damaged my prospects of being invited to sign another contract here next year - something which I’m in two minds about doing anyway - too bad.

And about Emma. Given the tirade of success she has here in the English world, captain of the speech and debating class, among other stories, in which I was invited to take a couple of weeks ago, it’s a wonder she has any friends among her classmates at all. Well, yes, she does have one, Alisa, who also took part and lost on Monday. It’s incredibly complex how human beings either gravitate towards one person and not to another, don’t you think?

So, back to Friday’s competition. Chinese excel at getting organization hopelessly muddled. The event was postponed due to the room being used for a test. One girl asked me if I’d like to go and ‘play with us’ for an hour. Playing is for kids, not adults, I politely refused leaving her with her frustrations and pedalled back to my dirt-ridden rooms and the stinky smells that emanate from the bathroom sinks.

An hour later, I entered the room and who was there, ‘hail fellow well-met Allen, ‘one of my Freshman students who was all showy about me being there and cordially invited me to take a seat at the front behind one of the desks which I duly did. Goodness knows what Allen really thinks about me given the feelings I woke up with this morning. If they’re not very high….it’s too bad…it’s sooo tragic. I may be going over the top here; perhaps not. It’s difficult to guage what one’s real impression of another is.

The contestants were required to perform a presentation before reading their selected verses: say some tongue twisters, sing an English song, etc. One lad forgot the title of the song he chose, ‘Apologize’ by Justin Beiber, which drew howls of laughter from me and Angela. But even more comical was that some of the performers forgot to perform their intro content in English. This, needless to say, scuppered grading the introductory criteria accordingly and properly.

One girl, a Freshman English major, and also, needless to say, in one of my classes, paused for too long while doing her tongue twisters. A bad move,as Angela scornfully commentated: ‘why is she waiting? Goodness gracious!!’

As the contest moved on, who should be participating….wait for it: Alisa, Jane and Vida, all the failures of Monday. And not only were they participating, but were ‘all over’ the event, certainly in terms of performing and speaking their selected verses. And, as it turns out, Jane in particular. She took the stage and started by displaying a big ppt picture of herself with her arms outstretched - one, needless to say, she is particularly very fond of, and launched into a sort of “Look how good I am, and how all the hobbies I do and can excel at doing.” She, predictably, read her lines beautifully outshining all the rest. The results were as follows: Jane 1st, Alisa 2nd Vida 3rd and a girl from another major took a prize also. However, though, I think there were several runners up, given that i was invited to present them with some things as well as being asked to give a dumb speech about what fun it had all been and how well everyone had done.

Just as I was leaving the building, two girls who had failed asked me for advice about how to perform better. With Jane, obviously, in mind I gave them some tips. One of the girls, sadly, said she felt (needlessly, I may add) anxious about the result. With Jane, Alisa and co in the hot seats…why bother.

It would definitely have been more fairer to have had more than one contest so that some of those failed contestants would have had a better chance of getting a prize instead of being ‘turfed out,’ so to speak, by the outshining one’s. I mean, how could you not give th best scores to those concerned, except in the interests of fairness. This is something for the organizers of these events should think about. Will they? I somehow doubt it.

So all I can say is to all those failures who are still nursing their wounds of resentment and hurt, etc, ‘better luck next time.’

Filed under speaking competition Performances judging fairness

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One of the extraordinary things about teaching in China is that you can teach almost anything with little or no supervision - particularly if the institution one is working in is Chinese based or Chinese centered. You wouldn’t get away with this level of freedom if it was western based. The downside to this, however, is lack of guidelines or support if things go wrong or inaccuracies occur.

I’ve been covering some of the textbook curriculum these past couple of weeks which has been about the world of work: ads, job applications, the nature of employment, etc.
So, I decided to ‘liven,’ for want of a better word, things up a bit. I mean the book content is usually boring or predictable, so I thought a considerable variation would be suitable. As I’m teaching three periods to some of the classes, I’ve had plenty of time to diversify.

After we did the book, I showed a comic job interview sketch, in which an applicant started out going for a job as an accountant. It didn’t take long for things to go totally out of control as the applicant started to wind up the head of personnel interviewer by stopping her from saying the applicant was fired after she said some insulting things because the applicant kept on saying ‘I quit.’ Neither situation was at all plausible considering the applicant hadn’t been given the job or any job in the first place. I had to keep on pointing out to the students that this situation is totally out of the ordinary, incorrect and quite frankly ridiculous unless one can see the funny side to it and not to be taken seriously.

The upshot was that the applicant got a position higher than the interviewer and ended up firing her. Panicking, the wind-up ended with the interviewer asking the applicant, now her boss, what she was going to do. The interviewee, now junior vice president, asked if she had any experience as there was a position for a head of personnel. End of wind-up, back to the beginning, or square one.

I started explaining some of the vocabulary and phrasal terms being used during the interview and more important had to explain the idiom ‘wind-up’ plus the term ‘satire.’

Despite these pointers, most in the class didn’t find it at all funny, although some did. I also tried to explain why satirical wind-up situations like this are done. Precisely because job interview scenarios are among the most societal-politically correct incidents that happen and precisely because they’re predictable, usual, routine and dull affairs. I mean, you don’t go out of your way to sabotage your job prospect chances….or do you?

I can’t help feeling - with a complexity - that showing this footage lowered the tone of the class’s lesson content.

Judge for yourself by watching it.

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Chashan’s Biggest Trash Dump

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Coming back from the mountain walk last Saturday I couldn’t help noticing an extraordinary sight: an opa-air refuse collection, for want of a polite phrase, deposit area. It must be the biggest drop off dump hereabouts and a graphic illustration of the big and the unsustainable that’s afflicting China right now. It actually caught my eye as I was walking along. And what a mess!! But if a lot of things there are seriously being recycled then it’s all to the good. I remember my co-worker Jaime liked to take pics of trash sites while she was here.. She’ll find this interesting enough.

Michael, a guy from Seattle, who lives in Chiang Mai, was here for a few weeks supplementing his income by teaching nursing majors. He left for Thailand yesterday. We had a few good chin wags. His somewhat over-anxious attitude I found rather amusing. Telling him, when we first met, that the downstairs door would be locked after 10:30 caused an anxiety attack, Then he found the constant din of the motor scooter alarms being set off by the wind wafting up to this floor extremely infuriating. He complained about it to his department in which the students that have the bikes were ordered to turn off the alarms. Understandable if you’re him, not if you’re one of the inumerable Chinese that are immune to feeling that noise is a nuisance, or any Asiatic foreign student living in this block. Another thing which wafts up are the pongy whiffs that come through the sink holes in either bathroom. He bought three fragrant devices to forestall the stink. I don’t they did much good. Just make sure the flip covers are poitioned over the holes.
Then he remonstrated despairingly that multiple construction sites springing up everywhere in China just can’t go on:

"It’s totally unsustainable so is liable to crash!! You can’t go on living this way, and the water downstairs it utterly filthy!!! coupled with all the trash strewn about"
His tone, facial expression and bodily language reached crisis propoertions, making his reaction hilariously comical more than serious.

And there you have it, a trash dump example of the totally unsustainable that he was talking about. image I don’t think, however, that he’s right, or his students are, that plastic water bottles are being thrown away. He said they looked at him as though they were totally clueless.

Filed under China wenzhou chashan recycling refuse

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Is Blogging Useful or Useless?

Before the advent of the internet, blogs and blogging was unheard of. Even the name was unusual or unfamiliar. If anyone wanted to keep a record and a nucleus of thoughts and / or events, they hand wrote in diaries or kept journals, even wrote letters.

Now, with the development of websites, etc, all that has changed. Bloggs and blogging has become so commonpace that one wonders if there is any room left for originality, and why blog at all?

It may be argued that blogging may be a platform to provide practical information such how to cook a recipe, find out about some travel content, learn about a practical thing, what books are available, and so forth But so much is now available that it, if not tramping on the same ground as another blogger, so to speak, has become useless bilge.

So, if blogging might be getting useless, how does one make it useful?

Well, blogs are like internet tools, providing pedestals in which to excercise writing skills or abilities, if one has them, and to get something off one’s chest thus providing a bit of free time occupation such as what I’m doing now.

The biggest mistake, it seems to me, is the desire to get more followers and more readers, even more comments - although these seem to be like gold dust. If that’s all your interested in, beware in case you lose your following. The hits - and your popularity as a blogger - might all desert you. The best thing is not to worry, get cynical, or preoccupy oneself over this in the first place which might lead to disillusionment. What happens if you don’t have many friends or contacts?

Blogging’s OK if it’s kept in its place and proper perspective. Anything else is mere ludicrous. If you don’t get any views or followers - so what.

Are they really going to to change your life?

Filed under blogs blogging popularity the internet

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Finally, or at last, I got the chance to hike up one of the mountains hereabouts in Chashan ‘Tea Mountain’ town. I’ve been living in the Wenzhou envi for close on three years now, and I’ve never got round to doing a mountain round coupled with a resevoir combined with a golf ball (radar to you and me) visit. The weather’s been so good these past couple of days, it would have be a shame to miss this out.
And I have to take my hat off to Ajioka, one of the Japanese teachers. He lives next door and loves hiking. He’s been visiting these mountains for several weekends now. It was nice to get up high beyond the Chinese trash, filthy stagnant water, construction and get a bird’s eye view of everything; see some magnificent rock formations and even a natural lake. He took several of his students with him on the trip. The vistas were exciting if not enthralling making it difficult to believe I was in an area so close to where I’m actually living and working.
It gave me an additional chance to think and reflect on why I’m no longer doing that Saturday afternoon teaching at Dr. Mike’s. I can’t believe I was tangled up in all that shit just a few weeks ago. I’m increasingly of the persuasion through nobody that it’s a mistake to
1. Follow someone else’s technique or authority
2. Go after money that you can do without
3. Contribute to a system - parental and otherwise - which fails kids by putting them into a situation where they have to learn English without letting them find out for themselves if that’s what they want to do or not.
Believe you me, it’s bad enough teaching some (I emphasise the word ‘some’) English majors who shouldn’t be doing or following this as a career avenue in life.
And if I’d gone on at Dr. Mike’s I’d have missed out the mountain and this glorious weather.

Following one’s own path in life, it seems, has more advantages than not.