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Addicted to Mediocrity: Education in China II

Several years ago, there was an American dentist who was well known in alcohol recovery circles. He was frequently invited to speak about his circuitous and hard won arrival at sobriety because he was easily one of the most entertaining speakers ever heard on any subject. One story in particular remains with me: Having been told of the death of a colleague, and to preclude public contact while “paying his respects”, he visited the grave site where his friend would be laid to rest. As he leaned over the six-foot deep hole to bid a heartfelt, albeit inebriated goodbye, he fell into the hole. Unable to extricate himself he simply laid down for a brief nap.

When mourners arrived and gathered for the lowering of the casket there was a collective gasp of horror when a figure attempted to rise up from the grave. The dentist mused, “A normal man would have been embarrassed.” But, habit had been a great deadener and he was beyond shame. It would be many years later that he actually reached a “bottom,” deeper than the aforementioned six foot resting place, that acted as a catalyst for recovery. More on this in a bit….

Two weeks ago, amidst finals, I had to quickly return to my office to retrieve a forgotten document; en-route, I passed the classroom of one of the younger Chinese teachers. The brilliant and beautiful Ph.D graduate of one of the top schools in the world was asleep at her desk while her students chattered, used cell phones, applied make-up, read books, dozed, and smoked cigarettes. It looked more like a scene out of Chalkboard Jungle, Stand and Deliver or Freedom Writers, but without hope for a happy ending. In retropsect, the most astonishing part of the experiece was my lack of surprise and concomitant emotional indifference. I guess I have seen this too many times in too many Chinese and expat led classroom–while the teacher was awake.

Students in China, unlike students in Japan, are no longer adherents of Confucian principles. Since the days of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, where teachers were shamed, beaten, jailed and even killed (1966-1976), reverence for teachers is, at best, an arguable ideal. The average Chinese college student in many schools (there are exceptions), who thinks himself respectful, would still manage to incur the wrath of most American Professors because they have not had modeled for them the manners and etiquette expected of a western scholar.

Last week the Chinese media and the Internet were alive with rumors of this incident captured on film:

Stories abounded about the perpetrators, whose names and school were quickly made public on bulletin boards nationwide, and they had to be secreted away because a bounty had been placed on them. Allegedly 100,000 RMB (about 120,000 USD or 5 years of a school teacher’s gross salary) had been offered to the person or group that would literally beat them into respectfulness. The students, who finally apologized to the teacher, reportedly are back at school and neither the school or the teacher will further comment.

What is most disturbing to me, other than the physical attack and threat of harm to the teacher, is that the scene is all too typical of what many pedants are asked to endure in China. The industrialization of education has led the spoiled offspring of one-child families (Little Emperors), especially the newly prosperous, to believe that they have a right to lord their rich consumer status over low-paid, poorly prepared, and administratively unsupported educators. Teachers are expendable, and salvaging tuition is a higher calling.

Many of us who have been here for several years manage our classrooms with strict discipline and genuine concern for student well-being. Eventually, our sincerity is believed and that, in turn, generates a certain measure of respect. This allows for a reasonably manageable classroom where the handful of students serious about language acquisition and cultural gain can actually glean something useful.

In some rural schools, where teachers might be as paid as little as $50.00 USD per month, educators sometimes resort to brutality against students in a quest for control. There are laws against such behavior, but they are not often enforced. The students, I beieve, are rebelling against a system heavily reliant on memorization, humiliation and devaluation of self. I do not absolve abuse teachers of any negligence or liability by believing that their behavior is part-and-parcel of a dysunctional system. “Chinese education has a long history of corporal punishment,” says Thomas Gold, a University of California-Berkeley sociologist who studies China. Teachers’ “social status remains low, so they may be taking out their own frustrations on laggard kids.” I could not agree more.

My last school, the one where I just resigned, caters to wealthy, underachieving children from privileged families. The school virtually sells advanced (and unaccredited) degrees to business and government leaders from the mainland; accepts known plagiarized theses from students who may or may not have attended classes; admits almost any undergraduate (these programs are accredited) with a healthy bank balance; hires raw mainland talent, looking for a foothold in teaching, at a fraction of the wages paid by government established schools, and with only ten-month teaching contracts containing no provisions for retirement; they protect a registrar who holds American and Chinese Passports and the deanship over five departments who brags about hiding his income from the IRS via a Hong Kong bank; they pad their website faculty list with professors from famous universities who are not active teachers; have investors on their board with government ties who shower the school with land and facility donations; and have a turnover rate for staff that is higher than the local McDonalds. The teachers, though better paid, feel no more self worth than those in rural environs.

It is hard for students to command respect for an education entity, such as the one I left. It is blatantly greedy and inept. But, many, many other Chinese schools, especially privatized ones, have also abandoned functional educational models in the pursuit of profit. And with only 1/3 of graduating seniors assured of work this year many students cannot muster the motivation to respect a system that does little for their future, less for their net worth and still condemns their teachers to social contempt.

It is no wonder that 40% of my former school’s Freshman class applied for transfer. And 20% of the best, brightest and ethical at the school were accepted by other institutions and thankfully will leave. Others wish they would have followed suit because they will be left behind with an even further demoralized and unruly student and faculty population. Only 40% of those students educated abroad will return to China to share the skills they will acquire. My guess is they will avoid the teaching profession if possible.

Any normal system would be embarrassed. It is necessary to examine ways to curb profiteering, improve classroom conditions and teaching methodologies by educating educators and then rewarding them accordingly. It is time to foster respect for those entrusted with educating China’s new managers.

In a country now increasingly pressured to compete globally in business–via skills and quality and not price–while tariffs, environmental concerns and increasing production fees lower profits, one would think China would sober up and ask for a ladder to be lowered to rescue a system now forty years stranded nearly six-feet under.

China Business,China Editorials,China Expats,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,Confucius Slept Here,Expats,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Macau University of Science and Technology,Teaching in China,The Internet,Videos,中国,中文

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Wishes, Lies and Schemes of Social Commitment in China, Part I

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There is a school in America that maintains an “Office of Social Commitment.” Ostensibly, the office is charged with, in part, sending bright, globally aware scholars to regions that can develop and utilize their youthful enthusiasm. Ideally this fosters the “fellows” acquisition of information about local culture and accords them skill building opportunities that can be transferred back to America or generously subsumed into future professional choices.

Here is the rub: The four fellows who come from that particular school are sent to work in two institutions: One is in Macau and the and other is in Nanjing. The former is a third-tier private, for-profit school with most students coming from well-heeled families, and the latter is an elite prep’ school. The fellows in Macau are simply handed a teaching schedule and sent off, without any preparation, to face the Great Wall of Student Silence that is built into most Chinese classrooms. Attempting to scale the Great Wall can repel veteran teachers and injure novices and journeyman alike if they are not well equipped. Chinese administrations will not help teachers to adjust as they have little time and patience for new and, well, expendible teachers. I watched two “fellows” suffer emotional melt-downs (they are somewhat fine now) because they received little or no responsible assistance to problems from their “commitment” office or their Chinese work-site. It seems that social commitment is only an external consideration and does not apply to working field staff.

Dostoevsky wrote: “As a general rule people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are too.” Sadly, that used to reflect my world view, but living in China among opportunistic and the ill-intentioned, posing as humanitarians, has altered my thinking. The head of the aforementioned social commitment office has in his website bio’ a telling metaphor: He ends his long list of organizational memberships and awards (Surely proof he is a good guy) with the announcement that he is adopting an Asian child. The child has no name, no history mentioned and upon close examination seems to be there only to add credence to the director’s bid for earthly sainthood–along with his being a “living kidney donor.”

In Nanjing the fellows are a bit better off, but are as essential to the fulfillment of ideologically meaningful goal as an i-Pod in the Gucci bag of an Orange County co-ed. This isn’t the community building your hippie dad knew in the Peace Corps of the seventies when he dug wells and irrigation ditches alongside poor farmers. The only holes that are dug in the examples mentioned are the emotional ones, like above, that once idealistic fellows will spend years extricating themselves from. The Chinese students at both of these schools, while lamenting environmental issues and social ills in the mainland, often come from families that work in government or head up companies that are part-and-parcel of troubling environmental issues and in financial charge of workers that increasingly need more attention than their designer clothed school children.

When I recommended possible educational agencies that might really benefit from the investment of a young foreign teacher, or schools where poor children may never have seen an outsider like those served by Volunteer English Teachers, I was told that it was just too much trouble to negotiate acceptable new contracts. Since when did social commitment get easy?

If you are headed here to help make sure you have the training and support you need to embark on your journey. And be sure you are not just part of your own or someone else’s need to uphold the appearance of humanitarian interests.

In the next installment I will be looking at NGOs, and Missionary Groups operating in Macau and the Mainland…

Coming:

Addicted to Mediocriy II and Dreams, Repression and Violence II….I lost many follow-ups in the server crash and am now reconstructing…

cartoons,Charity in China,China Cartoons,China Editorials,China-US Medical Foundation,Confucius Slept Here,Expats,Heartsongs,Human Rights,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Macau,Macau University of Science and Technology,Personal Notes,Teaching in China,The League of Extraordinary Chinese Women,Top Blogs,Travel in China,Yangshuo China,中国

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Continuing Education Classes for Expats in China

One thing I do miss about America is the grand amount of community and continuing education available to virtually anyone and much of it for free. I was stumbling through Illustratrator’s newest release on MAC yesterday and bemoaning the fact that even a book on the subject would be hard to come by or too expensive to ship or pick up in Hong Kong.

Coincidentally, two colleges contacted me about the possibility of low-residency Masters and Doctoral programs and Continuing Education. One school is based in the UK and one is in the US. Both have good reputations and a comprehensive offering of courses. Both asked me if I thought they could be successful in China with the expat community. I answered honestly that I hadn’t a clue, but that I would ask you.

Let me know your thoughts and please feel free to add a response or two to the poll.

{democracy:2}

Asia,China Business,China Editorials,China Expats,China web 2.0,Chinese Education,Chinese Internet,Chinese Media,Expats,Intercultural Issues,Teaching in China,The Internet,Travel in China,中国,中文

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Heartsongs: The Library Project

“Children’s books are a luxury to have in Asia, and a rarity in an orphanage.”

–from The Library Project

Guest Post by David DeGeest

Thomas Stader has a vision to build libraries for children living in orphanages and rural areas around Asia.

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Stader, is one of those rare people who come to China with big plans and a bigger heart. He came to help and began to put his plan into action in 1993. To accompany Stader’s big heart, is a well organized plan rife with several clever ideas. Instead of trying to organize all of the complex processes that would be required to build libraries, Stader uses pre-existing supply chains and forms cooperative agreements with local NGOs and corporationg for funding and logistics. These tactics, combined with the lower overhead costs in Asia, allow him to build libraries for $150-$300 USD each–without comprimising the structural quality or integrity of the libraries. Welcome to an age when quality NGO work combined with smart marketing and good business sense can transform a philanthropic daydream into a sound reality.

building a library in China

The Project has made remarkable progress. In 2006, Stader was able to create two libraries for approximately $300 USD and some help from Aston Education, JinaLive, and the Dalian Charity Federation. In 2007, The Library Project will expand to do work in Xian and Jinan. By the end of the year, the project plans to create 15 new libraries to schools and orphanages with a total project cost under $15,000 USD.

Here’s a list of the typical costs from one of the recent library projects:

Hard cover book, 100 pages: $3
Soft cover book, 100 pages: $2
Harry Potte Series: $15
Color comic book: $1
Black and white comic book: .5
Book shelf: $25
Table and chairs: $50
Plants, posters, mats: $25

children in a newly built chinese library

The Library Project plans to have 80 libraries running in China, Cambodia, and Vietnam by 2009. You can help by clicking here.

Note: all pictures featured here come from The Library Project’s site.

There will be follow-up articles on this worthy endeavor soon…..

Asia,Charity in China,China Business,China Editorials,China Humor,Heartsongs,Human Rights,Humor,In the news,Intercultural Issues,Personal Notes,Photos,Teaching in China,Vietnam,中国

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Clueless in China….

DUMB BLOGS

Many years ago, as a scoutmaster in Germany, I was privileged to direct a troop of precocious preteens. They were sons of the physicians and administrators at the hospital, where I worked as a behavioral science specialist in inpatient and outpatient psychiatry, and they had an mean IQ higher than most of my current colleagues–present compsny included.

One new “Tenderfoot” once balked at introducing himself to the entire group (he was 11) and asked me, “What should I say?” I told him that anything was fine–mind you, this was in 1978–and he quickly said: “My name is Tom and I don’t believe the Alpha Centauri system can support life.” I went home to bone up on astronomy and Tom went on to law school at Georgetown, but only after joining the chorus of collective wisdom that, in perfect pitch, generally corrected me on topics ranging from conservation to zooology with unfailing accuracy.

It was, truly without a doubt, one of the best times of my life. There is nothing a real teacher enjoys more than intellectual challenge–unless it is summer vacation, but I digress…. When a student, or group of students, puts a willing teacher to the test, well, everyone benefits.

I have a long list of moments in my life where I made Mr. Bean look like Lawrence Olivier. From declaring to a class that Sherlock Holmes was a cocaine addict only to find out later that he was fictional, accidentally shooting the hero in a professional melodrama production, and once asking America’s Cup winner Dennis Conner at the Tokyo airport “Where have we met before?, I have had my share of slapstick moments. And I would not take back one of them. I stand with Churchill who said: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

This week was no exception. I met a much revered academic and a psychology dean at a small, ambitious college that rightly aspires to great scholarship. I was applying for a job, or so I thought, as a generalist psychology professor with ancillary duties in Neuropschology . In fact, they were looking for someone well primary and well versed in neuropsychology. They had hoped during the interview to extract information from me that I assume did not make the jump from short-term to long-term memory and likely fell between the synapses somewhere during graduate school–back in the days of Peter, Paul and Pterodactyls. For the first time in an academic interview I was asked to define a series of terms. I simply had to say, “I don’t know.” to a host of questions one would likely find on a Psych’ 101 final.

As in my other days of Holmes and humility, I likely will re-read the yellowing pages of my graduate textbooks and Google myself silly as penance. In the end I am still be a teacher and pretty good at articulating what I do know. Having been a lecturer at some of the world’s top conferences and schools I don’t doubt my abilities in other areas. But, I have some work to do. And I promise I won’t nearly be like Goethe, who was taken from a library in a frothing stupor after trying to absorb all the information then transcribed in books. I”ll just add to my knowledge base and will never-the-less enthusiastically fail some other time in pursuit of other successes.

Maybe they have an opening for a lecturer in Nineteeth Century British Fiction.

Asia,cartoons,China Cartoons,China Humor,Chinese Education,Macau University of Science and Technology,Teaching in China,中国

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Confucius slept here…

Confucius Slept here

I happily recovered another older post and will revive an idea I started to develop about a a year ago:

This is the re-start of an ongoing, intermittent series about the daunting task of adapting to China and the Chinese ways of culture and business. The working title: Confucius Slept Here: Meditations on China for Western Newcomers is a series that will look at individual and business norms, mindsets, cross-cultural paradigms, language, and customs in the context of my circuitous path to acceptance in the Middle Kingdom. This will be old hat for many of you. and no doubt it will like the SEO series I have started: Some of you have travelled far beyond the material presented. For you, I hope to solicit feedback on how to better present the material that could one day, with much work, become a primer for visitors to China. It is for the neophite or would-be expat.

Long ago one of my Tae Kwon Do instructors was infamous for teaching three to four hour long classes to to black belted students. I was one of the charges that found myself doing “simple” front punching or blocking for an entire period of training. My master felt that without constant re-examination and practice of the basics that had been essential to development we could not be good teachers nor could we be good citizens in a global community of TKD practitioners at various levels of the art. We had a responsibility to keep revisiting what had brought us to the sport and we were mandated to pass on what we could to those following behind us.

It is no different for me in SEO or in life adjustment is Asia. If you can learn one thing from my stumbling or my limited success then I am happy. I am, after all, a teacher by job, vocation and calling.

I am no expert on China, but now having lived 17 years in Asia, I realize how different China is even other Asian cultures. My time as an expat has given me some sense of what is needed to survive personally and professionally.

As I said the musings will be random though I hope to pull them together at some point as a real book with a more linear structure. Note: This will concern life in the mainland and not Hong Kong and Taiwan though will include unavoidable/salient issues relating to both.

First Things First:

THINGS TO BRING TO CHINA

These are things that you may want to consider bringing and items that you do not want to carry along regardless of what your mother, or neighbor stuck in the cold war, says:

1. A camera. But, unless you are the next Ansel Adams or have a need for a fancy rig, leave the big bucks at home. Bring a digital or film camera (there are tons of places that will put your pic’s on disk for little of nothing) that will take decent pictures. Use one that you are not afraid to lose or have lifted at a train station.
2. Bring an extra battery for any of your cameras. And pop for a a 220V charger while you are here. Anything you have that is 110V is liable to fry like an egg.
3. Medical Travel and Baggage Loss Insurance. Pay the few extra bucks! I have lost my luggage three times enroute to China (the U.S. carrier lost them all) and, even with insurance, only recovered about half of my losses. Medical insurance will ensure your evacuation to the U.S. shoud it be needed.
4. No-Doz if you are a coffee addict. Coffee is incredibly expensive and often not available in restaurants. Except fot the Thai restaurants the stuff you buy in the Jiffy Marts here is not very strong. You WILL get a case of Mao’s Revenge and it will be because of withdrawal, not the water.
5. I guess that #4 means bring some anti-diarrheal medicine as well….
6. Deodorant.
7. Dental Floss. Toothpicks are available at every restaurant.
8. Aspirin, if you prefer it to Tylenol, as it is hard to come by in other than miniscule doses.
9. Yuan/RMB. Two reasons: The dollar is free-falling against the Yuan and you will wait until retirement age in line to change money at most banks.
10. English Novels, Magazines or anything you want to read to pass the time. Hong Kong is about the only place with anything. Most stuff in China that looks English will really be Chinglish or government approved news and commentary–get over it: we have spin too.
11. The phone numbers for the English speaking/Western Medicine Doctors residing in the towns you will visit. You do not have time to be hand-signaling a Chinese physician no matter how good he is. The U.S. Consulate in those areas can provide these numbers. There are plenty of them but, they charge Western rates so:
12. Bring your credit card. China is 85% a cash economy but, the physicians do take plastic.
13. The numbers for your Embassy or Consulate. If you strangle a street vendor and get arrested the U.S. State Department can pretty much only come visit you (they are worse than useless) but, you will at least get a visitor. Keep the number in case you need a document notarized or need your friends interrogated by Homeland Security, prior to a visa, if you invite them to come visit you in the U.S..
14. It is better to bring the contact email and phone numbers of your government representives. Your Embassy may act more on your behalf if you call home first. Diplomats hate extra paperwork.
15. A couple of pens. The pens here are not the ones they export.
16. A muzzle on your need to spread the word for any religious or political views. It is against the law. And you SHOULD be spending your time learning about the culture you want them to replace before you preach about yours. The climate is changing but, don’t push the river.

Forget About:

1. Toilet paper. They use it here too. BUT, do buy packs of tissue at a local store or you may be, uh, cleansing yourself with currency: most of the toilets in public areas do not have T.P..
2. Antibiotics. They sell them at local pharmacies and besides: unless you are a physician you shouldn’t be self medicating! If you do have medications that you take regularly bring plenty and bring it in the prescription or OTC container or you will need the phone number for #13 above.
3. Stationery. They are literate. And they make 90% of the cutsie stuff they sell at Walmart.
4. Mailing envelopes. And don’t do anything dumb like send valuables. The postal guys in your country will steal it because it is easy to blame on the Chinese.
5. Clothes that need Ironing or lots of clothes. They do not have dryers and you can buy anything you need here at a fraction of the cost in your homeland.
6. Any pre-concieved notions about this country. It will shock, bewilder, and wonderfully amaze you daily.

Asia,China Expats,China Humor,Confucius Slept Here,Expats,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Personal Notes,Teaching in China,Travel in China,中国

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Addicted to Mediocrity: The Educational System in China

ENGRISH TEACHERS

One of my students gave a short speech yesterday on the person who had most influenced her life. Like many others she named her mother as her personal hero. It was a great impromptu speech and I applauded her for her candor about one issue in particular: She lauded her mother for giving up a high paying managerial job to take care of her as she grew up. But she lamented that her father was “only a professor” and unable to support the family in the style to which they had become accustomed while mom was bringing in disposable income. That, and a generalized genuine lack of enthusiasm and respect for even the best teachers here caused me to ponder the problem.

First, it brought to mind the old joke: One day in heaven, God decided he would visit Earth. Walking down the road, he met a peasant who was crying. God asked the man, “Why are you crying, my son?” The man said that he was blind and had never seen a sunset. God touched the man who could then see and was happy. Later, god met another man crying and asked, “Why are you crying, my son?” The man was born unable to walk. God touched him, he could walk, and he was happy. Farther down the road, God met yet another man who was crying and asked, “Why are you crying, my son?” The man said, “God, I work for the Chinese school system.” And God sat down and cried with him.

While average salaries for a professor in the US and Japan hover around six figures, the average Chinese senior college educator can expect to nail down $800-1,200 US dollars a month. A new faculty lecturer can expect to pocket about $360-400 US dollars and will toil in conditions that inner-city teachers in America would riot against. The system is so horribly flawed that I don’t expect the students to think much differently than they do now. Government figures show over 4 million college students graduating (a 22 percent increase) while the labor market will cough up less than 2 million jobs (a 22 percent drop) this year. And salaries are falling with demand: More than 40% of new graduates will earn a monthly salary lower than $190 USD a month. A migrant worker can earn from $99-148 a month in larger cities.

Academic standards in mainland China are decidedly weak compared to the west or even Macau or Hong Kong: many teachers can begin an academic career with a bachelor’s degree and garner full professorships without advanced training. They are appointed and promoted because of longevity, party connections or friendships within the school’s hierarchy. Foreign experts, a dreadful misnomer in many cases, are often hired solely for their ability to speak English or the color of their skin. While the government has made schools aware that the “experts” are essential to teaching managers how to become more internationally competitive as prices level out worldwide, they do little to encourage recruitment and retention of qualified foreigners. Only 1/6 of University level teachers have even a few weeks of English as a Second Language (ESL) Training. And those who are qualified and want to stay here cannot. You must be at least an associate professor with five years of tax-paying residency to even apply for a green card. And even then, the US government, in the wake of 9-11, will hand out more green cards in four days to Chinese immigrants than the Chinese government will part with annually for ALL foreign nationals combined. Just ask Dr. Janice Engsberg an American who has been working in China for 15 years, teaching in the mass communication department of Xiamen University. She was recognized by the Chinese government with its pretigious annual “Friendship Award,” and still is dreaming of a day when she might get a green card.

And a new term, the “industrialization of education,” has bred manyt new universities that only profit hunt as opposed to teach any functional skills. Investors, smart businessmen with no business being in the education business, are reaping huge profits by short-changing Chinese youth. Most of the teaching staff at these new schools are so unhappy with their poor salaries, large class sizes, and fossilized administrative mechanisms in place that they save their energy for second jobs and just go through the motions of teaching. Students are rarely taught transferable skills, especially in English, and employers hiring graduates know it. The students know as well that they have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a good job upon graduation and they act accordingly. Pass by many classrooms and you will find students text messaging, sleeping, chatting or reading something other than a textbook. It is hard to blame them or the the public who has a long way to go in accepting teachers as a valuable part of societal development and social improvement.

An older article translated by EASTSOUTHWESTNORTH points up the attitudes held by those nostalgic for the days of Mao: “The rat is one of the ‘Four Pests’ in China. Today, there are ‘Four New Pests’ in China, and they are respectively: 1. Public security/procuratorate/court of law 2. National and local taxation 3. Doctors/teachers 4. Organized criminals Actually, while the organized criminals are bad, their damage is much less than that from the preceding three groups. In that bygone era, “public security/procuratorate/court of law” and “national and local taxation” were both imperfect, but they did not persecute people. In fact, public security was even a very respected occupation. Today, “public security/procuratorate/court of law” and “national and local taxation” are disaster areas for corruption. In that bygone era, “doctors and teachers” once assumed the role of victims. The synopsis of that era may be “If you have to work with a knife, you are better off being a butcher than a surgeon; if you have to manage a herd, you are better being a sheep shepherd than a school teacher.” But today, even city workers cannot afford to send their children to university, as education expenses have become a huge family burden. If you are sick, you won’t dare visit a hospital because it isn’t big news if a few days of stay cost you a few hundred thousand yuan.”

A recovered post from a few months before the crash…

Asia,China Cartoons,China Editorials,Confucius Slept Here,Intercultural Issues,past posts,Teaching in China,中国

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A Chinese New Year Resolution: Teach in China

Guest Post by David DeGeest

“In China many families live in extreme poverty. This is especially true of the mountain villages of the Guilin/Yangshuo area of Guangxi Province where many farm families live a meager existence on a bit of land. They struggle to pay the school fees for their children to go to the local elementary school.”

–from the Volunteer English Teaching Program

 

China teems with travel wonders and travel woes. I had made plans with friends to head to Vietnam for the Chinese New Year and ended up, because of visa troubles, in Yangshuo, Guanxi province, home of the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat and the unbreakable Chun Li.

Yangshuo

While the trip was a cascade of logistic mishap after mishap, the beauty of the karsts and the uniqueness of the people I met–from a Guangzhou leather factory owner to a crew of Dutch HKU students–all gave me reason to be thankful for my fiasco.

During my stay in Yangshuo, I had the good fortune to meet Laurie Mackenzie, a man who, like me, is an accidental expat: he decided to come to China on little more than a whim. A retired professor and former officer in the Canadian army, he’s been here for five years building a network of schools and volunteers to help poor villagers and children learn English skills. But he is not on a mission of religion, Americanization, or exploitation–he is on a mission of heart.

Laurie MacKenzie

Yangshuo is dense with tourists almost year-round, and its offers of spectacular scenery, excellent mountain climbing and hiking trails, and good-quality, inexpensive food and lodging draw tourists not just from China but all over the world. By offering economically diasadvantaged children and families English lessons and opportunities for sometimes-shy Chinese children and adults to interact with foreigners, MacKenzie opens up economic possibilities for these families and children. MacKenzie also works tirelessly to secure donations that allow for these students to purchase the basic resources they need for school–pens, paper, books, and other supplies. “Poor schools do not have resource materials,” says MacKenzie on the Volunteer English Teachers website. “Classroom equipment is a sheet of plywood painted black and some coloured chalk. It is often impossible for parents to buy the note books, pencils etc. that every pupil needs.” MacKenzie, his wife, and his volunteer staff of Anglophones from around the world do everything they can to help these motivated children realize their potential.

VET Chinese Child Choir

Children at the VET schools learn oral English through games, songs, and activities like choirs (as seen above). I end this article with some words from MacKenzie about why he chose to begin this work and why he continues:

“The cycle of poverty can only be broken through education. Poor peasant farmers struggle to pay the annual school fees for their children to go to primary school but very, very few can afford the higher costs of sending the children to Junior Middle School or beyond. We know that if the children can learn to be comfortable with foreign visitors and speak some English they will be able to get work. Volunteer English Teachers are committed to helping these children realize a better future. “

Asia,China Editorials,China Expats,Chinese New Year,Expats,Holidays,Personal Notes,Teaching in China,Yangshuo China,中国

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The Darren Russell Murder…

An American, a teacher displaced by an unethical recruiter in Guangzhou, China needlessly lost his life here two years ago. It will be officially Spring soon and Darren’s family will celebrate once again without their son as the season opens to the warmth and promise of a new year.

I did not personally know Darren. But, I have come to appreciate, admire and care deeply about him, albeit obliquely, through his impact on those around him. He was genuinely cared for by students, associates and of course his those related by blood and shared experiences.

It is my understanding that there is new information/developments in the case. I will report them as soon as I can. In the interim please brief yourself on the case here:

Darren’s memory is held aloft by his family and a cadre of friends who have not idealized him in his death, but have done what true friends and caring families do: they simply continue to love Darren Russell and they are fighting for justice in his case.

Visit his Site and please sign the petition that may protect other sons and daughters in China and other parts of the world should they one day need the kind of assistance that could prevent another tragedy. Click on his image to see the memorial maintained for him:

DARREN RUSSELL

Asia,China Editorials,China Expats,Expats,Homeland Security,In the news,Teaching in China,中国

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No More YouTube Blues for the China ESL Teacher…

China Internet

Via a great new find, EFL GEEK, I have solved the problem of being able to show YouTube or other Videos generally blocked in my clasroom for a multitude of reasons. The IT staff here, running the computers on bootleg software, doesn’t want “anything installed that could corrupt the system.” So, I am sans Flash and other malware (insert sarcasm here) and can really use this tool.

Anyway, EFL Geek linked me to Media Converter which will “convert anything you upload to them into almost any format. If you register with the web site you will even be able to provide links to youtube videos and the site will convert them automatically without you having to download the youtube first. Depending on the queue the files will arrive instantly or several minutes later.”

Enjoy!

Asia,China web 2.0,Chinese Internet,In the news,Teaching in China,Top China Blogs List,中国

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BONSAI AND THE CHINESE ART OF PENJING (盆景)

I volunteered last year to assist one of my students in obtaining a summer job: I told him if he landed the gig as translator for an International book on Bonsai and Penjing, that I would help him at no cost. After the first 300 pages and bits of poetry I was asking, “What the hell was I thinking?” Then after visiting a Penjing garden in Foshan and studying ther works included in the book on Gold Ribbon awarded Penjing and their creators from around the world, I was glad I had signed on.

BONSAI PEJING

At the risk of sounding prosaic I have to say: I do learn something new every day.The

book, finally finished and due out soon, led me to discover that the Japanese Bonsai artistry that we find so appealing is an ancient knock-off of the Chinese art of Penjing (pronounced PUN-JING) that dates back hundreds of years. In fact, the first potted plant known to have been used in China has an ancestry going back some 7,000 years.

Penjing is the Chinese art of creating a miniature landscape in a container. The word consists of the two characters shown on the left: “pen” – “pot” or “container”, and “jing” – “scenery”. An artist may use plant material and natural stone to build artistic compositions.

“Bonsai” literally means a “tree in a pot” (Mr. Miyagi just winced in heaven) though some of the “pots” can costs tens of thousands of dollars. The first historical records of this art form in China comes via paintings recovered from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the more elaborate creations, ones that would be prize winners even today, are found in pictures from the Song (960-1279) Dynasty.

It is assumed Japan caught the fever about the 13th century. The exact time during which Penjing reached Japanese shores is not known. In the 6th and 7th centuries, Japan sent envoys to China to study art, architecture, language, literature, philosophy and law. Chan, a form of Buddhism in which the original Indian teachings blended with Taoism was introduced to Japan a bit later and named “Zen” Buddhism. Penjing and Bonsai are Zen-like methods of achieving an active state of meditation that can reveal natural truth, beauty and harmony.

Not far from here in Foshan, Chin, where I helped with the book, the Sixth Flower Fair will take place in a couple of years. The Chinese call it the Flower Olympics as it only happens every four years and draws invited guests from over 15 countries.

One million people viewed the last exhibition in 2006. It is my guess that it will still be a while before the US National Arboretum’s National Bonsai and Penjing Museum hits that milestone.

I, and capable editor David DeGeest (who I roped into helping), are both richer for the experience, but my student owes us a couple of dinners and me a new set of reading glasses!!

American Poet in China,Asia,Bonsai,Chinese Festivals,Foshan China,Japan,past posts,Penjing,Personal Notes,Teaching in China,中国

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The Handsomest Indonesian Boy in Guangzhou

Guest post by DD

On Saturday night I met the handsomest Indonesian boy in Guangzhou at the Mansion in Guangzhou, though in this picture he is happily cruising around Macau. I guess he knows how to light up all of south China.  He works at a small, high-quality bar in downtown Guangzhou as the event manager.

handsomest indonesian boy in guangzhou

Ladies and gentlemen, leave a note if you find this. And everone mention how handsome he is!

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Zaijian

chinglish

Books have been virtually replaced by blogs. But, puns aside, many of them showcase the transformative elements Pablo Neruda* suggests as essential to written art in Ars Magnetica:
“From so much loving and journeying, books emerge.

And if they don’t contain kisses or landscapes,
if they don’t contain a woman in every drop,
hunger, desire, anger, roads,
there are no use as a shield or as a bell:
they have no eyes and won’t be able to open them….”

Here I have I have tried to smooth the stubble of memory, share poetry, attempt humor, journal my social conscience, and reconcile my longings while shoutng to you in some far-off room. I leave here absolutely bewildered that anyone, other than my long-suffering friends, ever returned to listen. I am grateful you did.
Continue Reading »

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Not the Least Bit Inferior

China Law Blog has a post up entitled, China HR: Do You Look Fat Today? It is a fun read…
BIG MOUNTAIN
One of the things you will get over VERY quickly in China is the need for validation by students or colleagues. The Chinese don’t give one another a break, so don’t expect one for yourself.

Sure, they will hand you a compliment, but…. Even with all of the fawning that goes on with a new male or young female teacher there is always an addendum.

Here are but a couple real ones with more to come….

“Your classes are less boring than the last teacher’s…”

“I will tell you the secret: many students think you are very handsome, including me. But, you have no muscle. Just do some more exercise. Do you love Tennis?”

“Here is the name of the girl who is in the hospital. It would be nice for you to call her, but don’t say anything. It might upset her.”

“Maggie, you are very pretty, but with a big bum.”

And even the the most recognizable foreigner in China, DaShan (pictured above), has his moments. From the Chinese media in Shenzhen: “…not the least bit inferior to top Chinese performers.”

Asian Humor,China Business,China Editorials,China Expats,China Humor,China Photos,Confucius Slept Here,Expats,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Teaching in China

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Golfing 101 in China

A reprint from October …I will try to insert  10  a day…CEO GOLF

Xiamen University, in the Southeast of China, is requiring law and business students to take golf lessons to prepare them for a business world where deals are made on the golf course. According to Fox News, Xiamen University in the southeastern city of Xiamen joins a growing number of Chinese schools offering golf lessons, but is unusual in making them a required class. “The aim is to help the students find good jobs,”a sports professor at the school, Chen Xiao, was quoted as saying.”Many Chinese business deals are clinched on golf courses.” Elite Peking University set off a debate over whether golf is appropriate for China, where most people still live in poverty, when it announced in August that it was building a practice green. Some students complained the sport was too elitist but supporters defended it as a healthy social activity. Some of the nicest golf courses in the world can already be found in Shenzhen and on Hainan (host to the China Masters) Island, but the price of a caddy might have just gone up. Finally, something for Japanese businessmen to do that won’t get them locked up. THE CHINA MASTERS

By Lonnie Hodge

China Business,China Cartoons,China Editorials,China Humor,China Sports,Humor,Intercultural Issues,Teaching in China

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Learn to Speak Body….

At first I thought this might be a great teaching tool. And maybe it will be, but…

This has been on YouTube for a few months now, but you may not have seen it. Mitchell Rose, the director who put this together, has several films worth a look. and they must be good because 1,500,000 folks have already peeked at this one on YouTube. I posted it here because since coming to China 1,000,000 seems small. If I visit a city with that few people in it people in it and I am suddenly in mind of a place like Spiderbreath, Montana. But I digress…

Humor,Just Plain Strange,Teaching in China,Top Blogs,Videos,中国

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