Posts Tagged ‘Life in China’

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?

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.

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.

GaoKao always impresses me as being surreal.

June 5, 2013

The GaoKao is the Chinese university entrance examination. It’s a really intense experience for any kid who has any chance of doing (even remotely) well academically.

Put simply, the students do exams in Chinese, a foreign language (usually English it seems), Maths, Chemistry, Physics, and History over a 2 day period. This year it’s on Thursday 6th and Friday 7th of June, and the pressure on the kids is huge. The whole “One Child ” policy, combined with the fact that their lives won’t be that great if they don’t do well means they’re aware of the potential downside if they fail.

Our school is a host school for the GaoKao. This means that the students run round like crazy, trying to get the school in ship shape. The process is amusing to foreigners, because Chinese classrooms are a pigsty from about the third day of the year. The kids seem unwilling to use their lockers (the result is desks piled high with books -their heads poking up from behind them), and always smell of takeaways. In short, they’re a pigsty, and Western teachers hate how their Chinese counterparts let the kids treat the classroom. We run a constant running battle out make our rooms better (but after 9 years of “anything goes” it’s hard).

The preparation process involves the students removing every scrap of evidence that the room is a classroom (save the blackboards), nailing 2 nails into the wall (presumably for a clock, but I’m not sure, and I’m not sure why they have to do that every year), making the floors spotless, and having a man come round to check if the desks and chairs are stable, and are exactly 80cm apart (they seem to make rulers that length especially for GaoKao), and 20cm from the wall.

What gets my goat about that is if there’s even the slightest issue, the chair or desk is replaced. I wouldn’t mind but our parents pay 36x more than the parents of the “main school” kids (yes 36x more), and yet you can guarantee that our stuff won’t work, and trying to get it replaced requires a stubbornness about things that boarders on dogmatism.

On the day of the exam itself, the kids and staff are turfed out (noone’s allowed on site), the police block access to the road, cellphone masts are turned off (to prevent cheating) and parents congregate in areas round the school sending “Do well or you die” vibes to their children.

So all in all, the experience is strange, and the pressure intense. We had a child commit suicide our first year here, because of the pressure placed on him from pretty much everyone and his dog.

Crazy Chinese Driving

April 21, 2013

One of the first things you’ll notice, pretty much as soon as you step out of an airport, ferry or train station is the driving (if it isn’t the spitting, dressing boys in pink, or large amounts of male on male adult physical contact -which I know is a cultural thing, but still wigs me out…..).

You learn pretty quickly not to look out of the drivers window, as it’ll almost immediately result in you having a coronary. This’ll occur because:

1) Your driver is doing 70mph in a 50mph zone.

2) He’s trying to fit his car into a space between two lorries that’s 2mm wider than the car.

3) He isn’t breaking, for those traffic lights, even though the tanker laden with petrol (or fireworks, or explosives) in front is.

4) He isn’t indicating.

5) A woman with no crash helmet is riding down the centre lane of a dual carriageway (in the opposite direction) with her 6 month old baby thrown over one shoulder, and 150lbs of cardboard over the other.

Equally, a lot of people learn not to look out of any window, because what’s going on around them is just as bad. Sadly, that’s not a skill I’m able to learn I don’t think. I need to know where I’m, going, for my own peace of mind.

Anyway, I .said all that to say this. I caught a taxi from the city centre to where I live, and in 45 minutes, he sounded his horn 83 times. That has to be a record. I’d understand it if he was taking me home in the the middle of the day, but he wasn’t. It was approaching midnight, and for the vast majority of the journey, there was no one about.

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.

Life in China

March 11, 2013

One of the things that worried me about coming to work in China was the whole political situation here. I had visions of the “Great Firewall”, and wondered how far they’d progressed from Mao suits, waving the “Little Red Book”, bicycles, and clamping down on Tibetans.

Well, the thing is, I probably worried to much. China is backward in many ways. The paperwork (or more accurately the randomness with which it will appear) will make you think “Remind me again why I have to do it for that?” The hideous over-staffing is remarkable (they have people to tell you where to park your bikes, when people cope on their own, no problem). If they were efficient, China would be scary, trust me on thatBut they aren’t.

China is a paternalistic, top down, society. It’s not communist. Trust me on that. It just isn’t. Paternalistic? Yes. Paper hungry? Totally. Determined to know what you’re up to? Absolutely. But I’ve never been worried about what “the people in charge” think of me. Asking them to explain stuff gives me a good idea where they’re coming from, and saying “So tell me about…..?” is a good way to get people (even adults) thinking about issues.

The other thing they respond to is being open, and balanced, about stuff in your country of origin. I’ve had students ask me what people thought about Margaret Thatcher, George W. Bush, The difference between British and American government, what the difference between Christians and Catholics where, and why the Puritans left England. If you give them honest answers, they’ll respect you for it, and respond when you ask about China.

A Chinese student’s ear for English

January 3, 2013

Teaching in China is interesting. The kids, in the main are good, motivated kids, who want to do well and succeed in the future, and that makes our job easier when it comes to presenting content.

One of the things I’ve noticed, however, is the kids ear for what I call idiomatic English. To my mind, it separates the good linguists from those that try. With the new kids at school, you learn quickly that you have to speak in short simple sentences when you speak. The Chinese have really good English, but it’s obtained by drill and rote learning. As a result, they know the words, but don’t have what I call that “fingertip feel for the language” (which isn’t all that surprising when you think about it).

By the time they’re about to graduate (or come back to visit the school), you hope you can build more complex sentence structures with them, along with a love of language. They’re going to spend the next 4 years abroad, so you hope they’re getting a love for the language.

My favourite example of what I’m talking about is the question “How’s it going?” To me, that separates the really good linguists from the rest. Ask a lot of people that here, and I promise you’ll get “To the…..” as an answer. I know they heard what I said, but they seem to translate the question as “Where are you going?” I ask that question a lot as one of my indicators of how strong their English is. That allows me to adjust my English accordingly.

I’ve had a really good accurate answer to that question 4 times now, and I ask it a lot. That probably tells me that our English department probably need to work on that sort of thing.