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May 30, 2004

learning languages

A surprising amount of my time in China is taken up -- quite pleasantly -- with learning languages.

On the one hand, I continue to make slow progress in studying Chinese. I use multiple strategies. First, when something useful comes up in conversation, I ask the speaker to write the character and pinyin transliteration for me, so that I can record the new word or phrase in my spreadsheet. After we interviewed a prospective new employee about ten days ago, for example, one of my colleagues in Nantong recommended him, saying that he is a "laoshi" (honest person), not a "huatou" (smooth talker -- literally, slippery head). Another strategy is studying weekly with our teacher, Mr. Wang, who comes to our apartment each Wednesday evening. Another is reviewing my list of characters (which I forget if I don't constantly review). Another is listening to language CDs. Another is watching movies with Chinese soundtracks; this includes not only Chinese movies but also American movies with dubbed Chinese soundtracks. The latter are a great discovery. Many of my favorite old movies are available here with dual soundtracks. So, I watch them once with the English soundtrack, to re-familiarize myself with the plot (Terry doesn't understand why, as many times as I have seen them already), then a second time with the Chinese soundtrack. Recently, for example, I have had encore screenings of Around the World in 80 Days and Carmen Jones.

Besides studying Chinese, I have become busier and busier teaching English to local learners. As I've mentioned elsewhere in the log, I began with one middle school girl from our apartment complex. She started bring a friend to my Monday evening "beginners" class. Then, two more advanced teenagers (or, rather, their mothers on their behalf) "enrolled" for Sunday morning. (Their attendance is pretty spotty so far, though.) Next, two woman from the local government office that has helped me with business affairs -- Ms. Zhou and Ms. Zhang -- asked whether I could teach them, too. I invited them to come Monday evening, about the time the girls finish. Next, one of our vendors asked whether his granddaughter could study with me. He brought her to the apartment so I could assess her "shuiping" (level), and I decided to put her in the first Monday evening class. Next, Mr. Huang asked whether his grandson could come, too. How could I refuse? Since this class includes a meal and Terry teaches until 6:00, I am on kitchen duty Mondays. Finally, my office staff complained: "You're teaching everyone else. What about us?" As Liu Liu put it, "We're your best friends!" It's true. So, every Tuesday afternoon after work, we stay at the office for an extra hour or so and study. I found some good texts with colloquial American English in the bookstore below our office. (I need to show them to Terry, the real English teacher.) One is for advanced students like my office staff; the other is for people with good reading ability but little speaking ability, like a spouse and boyfriend who come for the last part of the class. (When I told Liu Sheng, the head of our Nanjing Office, the story, he asked -- jokingly, I think -- "What about us?")

I really am enjoying the experience. I think I've reached or at least identified my limit on both kinds of learning, though. As for Chinese language acquistion, I've concluded that I am not likely within the next two years to be able to do academic research, so I've decided to hire interpreters for that, when I need them. As for teaching English, when a second vendor asked about help for his daughter, I told him I'll have to wait and talk with him in August, when I start planning my "fall schedule." That's all for now. Terry just asked me to help with her Chinese vocabulary! -- Norty

Posted by now at 02:41 AM

a scholar's progress

As most readers of this log know, I am in a slow transition from the world of business to the world of academia.

My current academic status is "ABD," which means I have completed All requirments But my Dissertation. I have to do a couple of years of research and writing on the dissertation, when I am not working or studying Chinese. (I think the working is down from 60 to 70 hours a week.) Along the way, I am trying to get as many chapters, books, and articles published as possible. So far, the sum total is one book chapter (but soon to appear in a Chinese translation, published by China's Xinahua Press!) and one "forthcoming" article in a journal called Oral History Review. I also have three other articles I am promoting (one of which is in the promising "revise and resubmit" category).

If I didn't have a generally gratifying "day job" to keep me busy, there are times when I might slide into the Slough of Despond. After I rushed to revise the "forthcoming" article for the editor's late March schedule, for example, I didn't get any response to my emails for the next two months. (This weekend, he told me we're still "on track.")

For a brief moment several weeks ago, I was riding high. An editor at Routledge Press advsied me that a senior scholar and editor of a book series on Asian Americans had recommended my book manuscript for publication. "Congratulations!" she wrote. She just needed an abstract and my CV (curriculum vitae, the academic version of a resume). Upon receipt of those materials, however, she regretfully informed me that she couldn't publish my manuscript because I don't have a Ph.D. yet and it is not my dissertation. In other words, my work is good enough to publish, but I don't have a membership card. Well, gratified by the endorsement from the series editor, I am moving on to another publisher (my fourth try). Stay tuned. -- Norty

Posted by now at 02:13 AM

May 24, 2004

Shrimp Update

I have been told that the live shrimp dish is called "Tipsy Shrimp" because the liquid they are in is actually wine. So the poor things are drowning in alcohol before they are eaten! My Chinese friends tell me that Chinese people believe that eating live things increases your 'yang' energy. I still think it's gross!

Posted by now at 06:07 PM

May 16, 2004

Lions and shrimp

Here's a little puzzle for you:
If you check out the photo gallery, you will see pictures of the stone guardian lions that are often outside important buildings and at the gates of places like the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan. Unlike Western-style library lions, guardian lions come in pairs - male and female. Can you see the difference? Go take a look before you read the answer.

The way you can tell female guardian lions is that they always have a cub with them. The male lions have one paw on a ball. For some reason, the ball often looks like a soccer ball. (Do you think that the message here is that men play games while women look after the kids?) Another thing is that guardian lions aren't mass produced. They are individually carved, so each pair is different. The way the female and her cub are portrayed varies a lot. Sometimes the cub is very small and tucked under her paw, so it's hard to tell what you're looking at, but often, as with the lion in the photo gallery picture, the cub is quite large. Another female guardian lion I saw had her paw on the tummy of her cub, who was lying on his back playing with her claws! Very cute! I think I'm going to start a photo collection of female guardian lions. I really think they're fascinating.

Now for the shrimp story. As you may know, Chinese people are very fond of seafood, especially shrimp. And, as you may also know, they eat a lot of unusual things, often prepared in unusual ways (turtles, frogs, etc). Well, when we were having dinner with the woman from the bank and some other friends last Friday, I saw what has to be the weirdest (not to mention the grossest) thing I've seen so far. A bowl of shrimp was placed on the table. I thought the shrimp looked a little odd, since they weren't the usual bright pink. I looked more closely, and that's when I found out why. The things were STILL ALIVE!!! And that's the condition they were in when our friends ate them!!!!! I was so grossed out that I almost had to leave the table! I don't think I have ever been so weirded out by a dining experience. Fortunately, I was able to behave myself, but it took all the Zen-like detachment I could summon to refrain from barfing on the table.
Repeat after me, "Om mani padme hum. Om mani padme hum. ..."

Posted by now at 11:31 PM


Terry and I had a great time during May Day week.

This American import (though few Chinese or Americans know it) lasts a week in China. We spent the first two days in Nantong, where the local government put on a festive series of activities for all the foreign teachers in Jiangsu Province. (This province includes Nanjing, Changzhou, Wuxi, and dozens of smaller cities with foreign teachers.) Terry got a tour of an impressive middle school Friday afternoon, but I had work to do. On Saturday, we went to several of Nantong's suburbs where we visited a botanical garden, a silk carpet exhibition, and a school for deaf children (who danced for us). In the afternoon, we went to a beach on the Pacific and stomped the sand to bring clams to the surface. It's a local tradition, though Terry and I stopped short of bringing the clams back with us. The mayor and vice mayor were at a dinner that evening, but we didn't meet them. We did see my friend Mr. Cai, who has helped my company Harlan, and his boss. We ended the evening with a delightful and scenic riverboat ride circling the center of Nantong on the Hao River.

On Sunday, most of the teachers toured several local sites of interest, but Terry and I were headed for Wuhan -- our first real vacation since we moved to China. We have friends there (see Photo Gallery), who attended the University of Kansas in the late 1990s. We first took a bus to Shanghai, then took a 17-hour train to Wuhan. We bought "soft bed" tickets, and I thought we had a private compartment. We were surprised to find that our compartment had four beds, but it turned out that we shared the space with a very nice couple from Shanghai -- about our age and with professional jobs. The man is studying English and speaks better than I do Chinese, and the woman has just begun learning English, as Terry has Chinese. All in all, we had a pleasant time.

In the morning, we were able to see the hilly, green countryside near Wuhan. We very much enjoyed the view. To our surpise, Wuhan itself is a much greener, more open city than any of the others we have seen in China. Numberous lakes and parks dot the landscape. We stayed with our friend Jonathan Yi in an apartment similar to our own. He has bought a two-story apartment that is much nicer, though, but hasn't finished the interior construction. He and our other friend, David Zhang, rented a car for our visit, since taxis are scarce in Wuhan during May Day week. One day, I taught David how to parallel park, which he didn't learn while driving in Kansas. David's wife, Pam, and daughter Emily spent a lot of time with us, too, and we enjoyed getting to know them. (Lots of Chinese English speakers have "American" sounding names, as we have Chinese names.) It was great being with old friends. I am going to let Terry talk about some of the sights and sites we saw.

We flew back to Shanghai and spent the weekend there, before returning home to Nantong. In Shanghai, we went to a dental clinic that treats a lot of foreigners and has English-speaking dentists and hygienists. (Dental care isn't one of the areas where I want to learn Chinese by trial and error.) We were both very happy with our tooth cleaning, and are going to get all our dental care here for the rest of our stay in China. Next, we had dinner at an Indian restaurant (we miss that in Nantong!) with Dick Stern (an American with whom my company has some business dealings) and his Chinese girlfriend. Finally, we spent some time with Chunhua, my former Chinese teacher, and attended synagogue. (I find that once a month is about enough religion for me, though I think Terry would like to go more often.) One last treat: Just before catching the bus back to Nantong, we bought a few dozen vegetarian jiaozi (stuffed dumplings) at a shop to which another vegetarian at the synagogue introduced us. They are delicious! -- Norty

Posted by now at 08:35 AM

barber shops and restaurants

I got my second Chinese haircut this weekend.

This time the price was 15 rmb (a little under $2), compared to 20 rmb last time. At least the final tab was the same as the quote this time, but I think the fee was at least double the "local" rate. This is a small barber shop around the corner from our apartment. Before the young man who apparently owns the shop cut my hair, the young woman (maybe his wife) washed my hair and gave me a great head message. If it weren't for the loud music videos planning on the TV, I would go back. With the loud music, it was hopeless for me to try to carry on a conversation. So, I'll try another barbershop next time.

Ms. Jiang, our banker, invited our office group for dinner this past Friday evening. Our two friends from the local government, Mr. Cai and Ms. Zhou, were there, too. There are all nice people, so we enjoy these occasional outings. Also, Ms. Zhou has decided to become one of my English students. She will come every Monday evening, just as I wind up my session with a couple of young girls from the neighborhood. One especially nice thing about the dinner was that Ms. Jiang thoughtfully selected a restaurant in our neighborhood. The chef provided half a dozen tasty vegetarian dishes, and Gwen wrote down all the names for me, so that Terry and I can go back and order on our own. We have already done that at another restaurant that Ding Binbin introduced a few weeks ago for the Monday lunch to which I treat me local staff. Speaking of Ding Binbin, she and her husband invited everyone from the office to dinner in an upscale hotel Thursday evening. Wait a minute -- dinner out Thursday and Friday, then I cooked all weekend. I hope Terry doesn't forget how to cook. -- Norty

Posted by now at 07:52 AM