Archive for the ‘Life In China’ Category

I’ve been watching the BBC coverage of dog meat consumption in China

June 21, 2015

I live in China, and have for almost 5 years, this after a good chunk of time in the US. When I first moved here there wasn’t a day that I didn’t think “Wait, stop, what, you do what again?” This varied from the obvious like spitting, crazy ass driving, the way people talk to each other, toilets, the smells, and public urination, to the weirder, like dog eating, and the way guys of my age, and older, are very touchy feely. The gaps between those “Wait, stop, what, you do what again?” moments are getting further apart, but I still think it’s happening every month or so.

I have made a conscious effort to be less judgemental of differing cultures, after I didn’t do myself any favours in the US by questioning things they did that I thought of as weird (it still blows my mind that Dallasites can’t see the incongruity of priding ithemselves in being part of the “moral majority”, despite being the big city with the most sex shops per capita, and having adverts for sex shops on the radio when you’re taking your kids places).

I said all that to say this. The BBC are doing a thing about dog meat consumption, and how wrong it is. I don’t eat dog meat. I never have, and never will, but can someone explain why people who eat meat have an issue with people in other countries, with differing cultures, eating dog? I could understand it if dogs were on the verge of becoming extinct (maintaining genetic diversity on the planet is good), but they aren’t so why are they hung up on it, when they eat meat themselves?

The only people who have a leg to stand on are vegetarians, for everyone else, can you explain why eating a non-endangered animal, like dog, is any more wrong than eating cows, pigs, or chickens?

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.

Slightly Interesting Read

March 26, 2015

I somehow got on to the Wikipedia page about Mao Dun (the first communist Culture Minister in China), and it made for an interesting read.

As I said, Mao Dun was the first (and still the longest serving) Minister of Culture. And then in 1964, nothing. He drops off the face of the Earth from 1964 to 1978, with absolutely nothing said as to why.

Well being honest, we know why. China got all Cultural Revolution on him, but it still looked such an odd thing to happen. I expected this at work, what with the Great Firewall and all, but the weirdest things though were the obituaries I looked for when I got home, and used a VPN. It is like he literally dropped off the face of the Earth, even in the western press. I mean sure they say “Cultural Revolution”, but beyond that, nothing.

So……. weird

I had one of those “Wait, what?” moments today.

October 15, 2014

I’m the Head of Science at a school in China. It’s a good school, and the kids are decent, but we still get some staff “churn” because we’re foreigners in a foreign land, and China is very different.

Now we’ve a new Science teacher start this term. At best, at the moment, he’s “just so so” (as our students say when their life is ho-hum), so I was worried about him passing his probationary period. My line manager felt the same, and told me that it’d be a “real feather in [my] cap” if I got him through.

So I met with him weekly, discussed what he would be teaching each week, and gave him pointers about how to structure lessons. The result was that in his most recent observation, he got another solid review. He still has a long way to go, but he’s showing signs of progress.

Anyway, after the lesson, my line manager came to see me, and told me that he’s “learning how to deliver the lessons you give him….” but that I’ve “got to step helping him, and telling him how to teach.” It was at that that I had my “Wait, what?” moment. Call me a dumbass if you will, but if you’re an HoD with failing teacher, don’t you try and give the guy the structure he needs to give him the chance to dig his way out of it?

I’m still going to claim I’m Ningbo Foreign Teacher of the year…….

April 19, 2014

At work, I’m in a strange situation. I’m employed by an Australian company to teach Chinese kids an English curriculum so that they can go to university in America. To achieve this, they place the teachers in “specialised units” within Chinese High Schools. These units only teach the foreign curriculum, and sees the staff sign 2 contracts, an official Chinese contract to keep the authorities here happy, and another contract with the firm. This puts a heck of a lot of pressure on the kids and teachers to produce good grades (there’s no Plan B for the kids, they’ll struggle to get back into the Chinese system once they’ve been through what we teach them).

I’m of an age now where I should take my career seriously, and as a result, I’ve been pretty open with the school I’ve been working about being given extra responsibility with the firm. I’ve been here 4 years. I get really good results from the kids. There aren’t many major issues within my department that I can’t deal with, and we don’t bitch, much, about the obstacles the school put in our way because they’re from a different cultural background to us (it’s us foreigners who are the cultural oddities after all, given we’re from a different background).

Anyhow, I’ve been angling for this promotion within the firm for a while now. It took me 18 months, but I finally got word I got the promotion this week. At about the same time as I started talking openly about this promotion, I was nominated for “Ningbo Foreign Teacher of the Year”. This required me to write a 1500 word essay.and generally suck up to “Da Management” to keep them sweet. After I wrote the essay and had it edited by my bosses in the firm, I submitted it to the school, along with 4 other things the school were asking for.

The school came back to me 4 times to tell (not ask) me to change things. This narked me a little, I’ll admit, because the changed/additions were a pain (I’d not even asked to be nominated), but I went along to get along, hoping to get a few brownie points with them I could bank for later, when I asked for something. Anyhow 5 minutes after my line manager told the school I was being promoted out of the school, they wrote to someone else congratulating him on his nomination. They didn’t e-mail me to give me the heads up. They didn’t tell me at all. The first thing I knew was when the new nominee asked me what was going on.

Now quite frankly it’s not the de-nomination that irritates me. I’ve got the e-mails to prove they nominated me. It’s the fact they put me to all that trouble, and didn’t think I was worth the effort of a talking to beforehand. That’s what irritates me. I’m probably the Chinese’s school’s biggest cheerleader amongst their western teachers, and they still blow me off like I really don’t count.

An interesting conversation with a student.

November 23, 2013

As I’ve said before, I teach in China. This is my fourth year here, and I like to think I’m pretty clued into the culture, the kids, and how the kids at my school think. Well, just when I was feeling comfy about all that stuff, the kids go and do something that makes me think…. wait, what, run that by me again.

Last time I checked, China was communist, so, perhaps naively given the conversation I had, I assumed they’d be familiar with notable communists of the past (most notably Lenin, Marx, Stalin, Castro, and Guevara). Anyhow, the school I work at had an art display by local artists, and I noticed the kids were looking, so I wandered over and saw them looking at a portrait of Che Guevara. I could tell the some of the students were confused as to who he was, so I asked the students who he was, and what he’d done. I got the blankest of blank stares, and admissions of cluelessness..

When I asked them who said “December 7th -a date that will live in infamy” they decided on “the President at the start of World War II” (which I’ll give credit for). I followed this up with “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for you country” and got “US President again the one who was shot” (which I’ll give credit for too). Finally I asked ” ‘Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” They got very excited by that one, and came “Black leader, he was shot too, said in Washington.” It’s been a few hours now, and I’m still surprised the kids knew more about American political leaders than notable communists.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…….

October 30, 2013

I was invigilating our mid term exams today, and during the Biology exam that our first years took, they were asked to “Draw and label the underside of the leaf.” next too a picture of a leaf.

I saw one child draw a perfect mirror image of the leaf in the question, and label it “This is the underside of the leaf on the left.” I don’t know about you, but I think they might expect a little more detail than that.


June 25, 2013

I’ve said earlier that the GaoKao is scary. It’s the exams that assess entry into Chinese universities, and the pressure on kids is huge. Areas round school go into police cordoned lock-down,  with cellphone masts being cut, and parents sending “Do well or die” vibes over the school walls.

Anyhow, the kids got their results Monday. I’m assuming that if my province is anything like what I expect, 80,000 – 100,000 here kids took the exam this year, and the school in which my centre is based got 5 of the 10 best marks in the province. That has to be remarkable doesn’t it? I mean they didn’t have 1 kid in the top 0.01% of students provincially, but 5. And that’s not a particularly good year, by all accounts they get between 5 and 7 of the to 10 every year.

I wish I could say that my students are just as talented, but I can’t. Some are clever, but they aren’t that clever. Our redeeming feature isn’t the great number of A* grades we get. It’s that we get the kids to think. The GaoKao tests how much information the students can learn by rote. We teach them the usefulness and importance of thinking. GaoKao kids can’t give you a good “Why’s that important?” answer for toffee. And that’s why I’ll always argue our kids are better than the GaoKao nerd herd. This is the 21st Century. Since when has memorisation been the best way to prepare kids in today’s environment. I mean these bright GaoKao kids can recite the textbook, but our kids will become leaders. Not because they’re cleverer, but because we’ve got them intellectually close to GaoKao kids, and given them the guts to “step up” in an argument.

On the subject of Chinese Staffing…….

June 24, 2013

Trust me when I say that when the Chinese get efficient, they’ll be scary. I say this not because of all the paperwork you have to fill in here. It’s horrendous, trust me on that, it’s still more to do with staffing.

I hopped in a car-cum-minicab recently to get into town, and he stopped off at a petrol station on the way. I won’t say it’s inefficient because they had people to fill your car working on the forecourt (I remember New Jersey having the same thing at one stage). I will say they’re inefficient though for the number they had.

This was your little 8 pump forecourt, and they had 4 fillers taking money off customers. There’s no two ways about it. That HAS to be inefficient.

Staffing In China

June 11, 2013

In the West, you hear all this stuff about China being a communist society that part of you starts to think that there must be a degree of egalitarianism here. It isn’t. I’ve been here approaching 3 years now, and it isn’t really. It might have been in the past, but I suspect that people here are becoming more self centred.

One of the issues that you do see here (which might tie into equality) is over-staffing. As an example, there are “bike parkers.” These people don’t park your mopeds for you. They aren’t valets. They’re thereto tell you where to park your scooters. At one stage last week there were 7 outside the 2 major supermarkets in the area. I kid you not, and their main job is to say where to part you bike. Even if you assume we need these people(and I suspect we don’t, even if the typical Chinese driver’s crazy), seven is too much. They needed two at the outside if they’re honest.

I wish I could say that this staffing issue was an equality issue (i.e. “Let’s give people jobs”), but it’s not. I think it’s more to do with the fact that people are seen as somewhere between cheaper and more expendable than machines, and that sort of depresses me.