Archive for the ‘Getting People to Think’ Category

The Book of Mormon

July 16, 2015

I recently went to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway, and for one reason or another, I’ve been thinking about it recently. It’s about two Mormon missionaries who end up being sent to Africa to preach the word to the poor there, in the hope they’ll “save” people, The play itself is your typical “fish out of water” thing as these middle-classed white kids struggle to relate to the people they’re trying to minister too.

I know the musical was written by the people who write South Park, so I know I shouldn’t expect “fair and balanced”, but I have to say the play felt mean-spirited to Mormonism. I know their beliefs seem… different (I don’t understand the temple garments, and I’m… bemused by their origin story), but the one Mormon I knew well while living in America seemed genuinely nice, and one of the least judgemental people I met in Texas,

Incidentally, I know what what I just said  might come off as making me look prudish, but to me the musical felt… mean.

Mao Dun and the Cultural Revolution

April 11, 2015

The school I teach at had its’ Spring Trip yesterday, and we got to see the house of Mao Dun, a Chinese writer who lived in the water town of Wuzhen (which was interesting, but fits all the stereotypes of how towns in formerly powerful third world countries (like China) look).

I think I’ve discovered that the Chinese government had “got all Cultural Revolution” on Mao Dun. He’d been the longest serving Minister for Culture in Communist China’s history (16 years), but disappeared off the face of the Earth for the last 17 years of his life. I honestly cannot find anything about him, or his life as minister, here in China, or more generally, once I penetrated the “Great Firewall.”

Anyhow I got talking to the students and local teachers about Mao Dun, and they know literally nothing about him (or seem to). They weren’t sure about when he died (they all seemed to think it was the 1950s, which is about 25 years out), or what he did after 1948 (when the communists took control of the mainland), which I found interesting.

I’m probably going to do some more digging on this, because to me it’s fascinating how Mao Dun is presented. Everyone was able to tell me “Oh yes, he’s one of our most famous writers”, but what happened is something that people either know not to talk about, or has been so effectively whitewashed that people genuinely don’t know about that part of his life.

Facepalm Friday

March 21, 2015

I’m a Chemistry teacher, and I’ve started preparing my students for their exams. I get the students to do past papers, so that they can understand what’s expected.

A particular question asked the students to design an experiment that checked how solubility changed with temperature. Will more solid dissolve if the temperature goes up? How do you know? Prove it.

Anyhow, this student I teach understood they needed to pick a temperature, and add this chemical to a fixed volume of water till no more could dissolve, repeat 2 more times, then change the temperature, and repeat for this new temperature.

The scary thing was that this 18 YEAR OLD student didn’t grasp that the mass goes up when something dissolves. He genuinely asked “How will we know how much we’ve added?” I asked him to describe what we would do at a certain temperature, “We’ll dissolve a solid into a liquid till it can’t go in any more.” Then I asked about what dissolving meant. “It means the solid goes into the liquid in really small bits.”

It was at this point I waited for a sign of “Oh ah we’ll have more stuff so we can look at the mass”, but no. He looked at me as if to say “Ok… next step?” When I asked him to think about what we could measure now we know what he’s just told me, he carried on looking at me, clearly thinking “I’ve got nothing, help me out here.” I then changed tacks and asked “Is there more stuff in the test tube before or after?” and he continued to look at me as if to say “Seriously, I’ve got nothing, you’re going to have to help me out some.”

So I’m not sure who my facepalm moment is for, my student (who doesn’t realise mass goes up when some you dissolve something in a liquid), or me, who managed to get a kid to 18 (with great grades) and not know that.

Chinese vs. Western Medicine

March 17, 2013

One of the things I find infuriating is the Chinese insistence that Chinese Medicine is best, even when it patently isn’t. I’m going to set aside the whole “period pain issue” (girls here seem to think it’s virtuous to suffer without painkillers) because I’m, well, a guy, and getting into that just feels weird on a bunch of different levels.

Anyhow, returning to the main focus of this entry, I had a pop at a kid who skipped a class because he had a headache. Now I get migraines when I get stressed. They can be blinding, and always involve me “up-chucking” eventually (I earned a degree of astonished admiration from the kids at my first school by vomiting in class, and continuing with the lesson), so I asked if he had one of those.

No, he said, he didn’t. So, I countered, why didn’t you take an aspirin get yourself to school (I’m sorry, but I come from the well you’re not dead yet so get your bum to work school of thinking)? Well, he replied, “I took Chinese Medicine for the headache.” This is where my head started hurting. It always does when I have conversations like this, because I know I’m going to come up against some crazy-ass Chinese logic, which makes no sense. The rest of the conversation went like this:

“So why didn’t you come in to school after taking the Chinese medicine?”

“I was waiting for my headache to clear.”

“How long did that take?”

“12 hours.” (I’m really not kidding, he really did tell me 12 hours)

“Have you heard of aspirin?” (which I found out was pronounced asPEErin here, but that’s a whole other story)


“Have you ever taken it?”


“Did you have some?”


“How long does that take to clear you headaches?”

“2 hours”

“So why didn’t you take that?”

“Chinese Medicine is better.”

“How do you come to that conclusion?”

So we had a discussion about “evidence based medicine”, which was pretty well timed, because I was at that point of the curriculum anyway.

What I don’t understand is this dedication to a crazy idea, in the face of the evidence to the contrary. This kid know how we made aspirin, knew that it was stronger and more effective, and still chose Chinese medicine.

Incidentally, for those who think I was being a hard-arse, maybe I was, but he’s never been absent from my lesson, and he’s got the potential to better in the subject he missed. Equally, he swore up and down he wasn’t just skiving. This is China, he he couldn’t lie well if his life depended on it.