A birthday surprise — because it’s not my birthday

A birthday surprise -- because it's not my birthday
JISHOU, HUNAN — On Friday I told my freshmen that I would not be returning to teach them English in the fall. By way of explanation, I said I was now 61, one year over the mandatory “retirement” age for foreign teachers here. Well, I guess some of my students took that to mean I had just had a birthday, so two of them today went to a DIY cake shop and made me a small birthday cake (photo above). My birthday is in January, but no matter! They were showing their affection and care for me, so I just went along with it. Charissa and Jackie (pictured below) arrived after dinner with the cake, candles, paper plates and forks. They sang “Happy Birthday,” I made a wish, and blew out the candles. Though the decoration was a bit over the top, the cake tasted great, and it was a very nice surprise. The freshmen are now in some kind of special classes — I suspect a test run of some computer-based learning system. So, my last classes with them were a week ago. I’m an evaluator of their progress in the special classes, so I still will see them ...

Big news: some bad, some good 1

Big news: some bad, some good
JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve been quiet here for the last two weeks, because I have been very, very busy, and not just for the usual end-of-the-term onslaught of activities. I learned on June 2 that I had “aged out” of my job here in Hunan, and would need to leave China no later than June 30. That’s the bad news — a forced separation from this place and the people I’ve grown to love. While I can still visit, I can no longer teach in Jishou on a work visa, because in April Hunan province enacted a new rule — 60 is the maximum age for a work visa. I’m now 61. Now for the good news. Within a few days of posting my resume on Dave’s ESL Café I was offered a job at the Henan University of Technology in Zhengzhou. There, the maximum age is 64 (I asked several times to be sure), so conceivably I can work there another three years if I like — or as long as the province or the city doesn’t abruptly change the rules to screw over the foreigners again. In fact, several English language schools in China sent me offers, but ...

This term’s schedule

This term's schedule
JISHOU, HUNAN — Rather than blather on about Bitcoins and Ripple, this post is about teaching — y’know, my job. Last term, I had 10 sessions of teaching the freshmen and sophomores, plus a biweekly session with five Ph.D. candidates needing practice in speaking English. Each session is 100 minutes long, including a 10-minute break. This term I have only eight sessions, because another teacher (actually, the associate dean of the college) has taken the two sophomore Listening Comprehension sections. Whether this has anything to do with nine of those 75 students failing my final exam last fall, I cannot say, but the lighter course load is a nice relief. So, this term I meet the two sophomore sections on Mondays for Oral English. The end of the week is much busier, with Listening Comp with the three freshmen sections on Thursdays, and Oral English the day after. Each term, I settle into a new work routine. Saturdays and Tuesdays are what I call goof-off days, meaning I use them for non-teaching activities, like laundry or writing on this blog. Sundays and Wednesdays are class-prep days. I give the freshmen a listening quiz each week, so that means I have ...

Cherry blossom time

Cherry blossom time
JISHOU, HUNAN — These are from two weeks ago, when the blossoms were just coming out. Sorry for the delay. (Taken with with my cellphone.) ——— Tipjars:

Epilogue to my Bitcoin dilemma: I got my money back

Epilogue to my Bitcoin dilemma: I got my money back
JISHOU, HUNAN — So, after three telephone calls and four chat sessions on Huobi’s customer service chat window, I finally got my 500 yuan ($73) deposit back two weeks after I sent it. All is well now. I won’t bother you with all the details, but bank-to-bank transfers in China are persnickety affairs. The sender has to specify the exact bank branch at which the recipient opened his or her account. And my branch at the university is a sub-branch of another branch, so the system was not allowing the transfer to go through. Or something. Anyway, I got my money back. I am still unable to bind my bank card at Huobi without a national ID number, so obtaining Bitcoin using Huobi or BTCChina, despite my previous relationships with them, is impossible for the foreseeable future. In education news, I am spending this weekend recreating my lesson plans and syllabi for courses I taught in 2014-15 to submit to the college. Why, you ask? Well, the college needs to get accreditation (if that’s what it’s called here) from the provincial education bureau. To get it, each instructor has to provide detailed lesson plans and syllabi for courses taught in ...

Living your dream sometimes has unforeseen consequences

Living your dream sometimes has unforeseen consequences
JISHOU, HUNAN — Here’s a bittersweet anecdote from the world of teaching. Last week, I was looking for a TED talk about careers to show my students and found one by a dynamic guy named Scott Dinsmore, who founded an organization called Live Your Legend. Since TED speakers talk a mile a minute, courtesy of the 18-minute time limit, I included the English subtitles to help with their comprehension. The freshmen liked it, so this morning I shared it with the sophomores. During the break, I decided to visit Dinsmore’s website to check it out. Since China blocks YouTube and Vimeo, we couldn’t see the video on the main page in class. When I watched it after coming back to my flat, I got an unpleasant surprise. Scott Dinsmore was killed in a rockslide on Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 2015. Everyone else in the climbing party, including his wife, survived. He was 33. Now, if TED had bothered to note Dinsmore had died, I might have chosen a different video. As it is, I should tell my students that living your dream sometimes has unfortunate consequences, but that they should never hesitate to take risks. His message, which is ...

A teacher grades Donald Trump’s remarks about Black History Month, gives speech an F 1

A teacher grades Donald Trump's remarks about Black History Month, gives speech an F
HIROSHIMA, JAPAN — Donald Trump (R-Blowhard) made some remarks Wednesday about Black History Month and (the bust of) Martin Luther King Jr. that have left many puzzled. For one thing, Trump appeared to believe Frederick Douglass (at left) was still alive, though he died 122 years ago. Less puzzling was the extent to which Trump took the opportunity to talk about himself and his campaign. In a speech of less than 800 words, he managed to address the topic of Black History Month and notable African-Americans less than half the time. To demonstrate what I mean, I’ve highlighted in red anything pertinent to the subject of Black History Month and struck out anything relating to Trump and his campaign and election. If this had been a homework assignment for a class of mine, I would have failed it, and required the student to rewrite it. It barely addresses the topic at hand, and the general tone is so casual and flip that it would lead one to believe the speaker not only knows very little about black history but that he doesn’t even care to. In my professional judgment, Trump barely spent five minutes preparing this talk. “Just a few ...

Winter holiday is here, and I’m in Japan! 4

Winter holiday is here, and I'm in Japan!
TOKYO, JAPAN — This year’s winter escapade is not to a warm, sunny location like Malaysia, but to the more wintry Japan — a joint effort by my son and me. He had some comp time available, and wanted to visit me in Jishou, but as I had planned to travel outside China during the Spring Festival, we settled on two weeks in Japan. Fun fact: this year, the Chinese New Year falls on my birthday. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which day that is. I gave my exams on Dec. 30, and spent the rest of the week reading them and calculating grades for my 150 students. I discovered two disturbing things: at least two of my sophomores had cheated on their exam and hardly any of the sophs had improved their listening comprehension marks over the last three terms. The cheaters flunked their exams, and the term. They will need to take a new test next term. I also get to read their classmates the riot act, as I suspect those two were just the unlucky ones who got caught. The sophomores’ failure to improve their skills much since they were freshmen is a bigger ...

A very late ‘preview’ of my term 1

A very late 'preview' of my term
JISHOU, HUNAN — In September, I had planned to write about my new term. Now it’s almost December, and I’m finally getting around to it. Yeah, I was busy. I’ll go with that excuse. This term I have 20 classes a week (that’s 10 100-minute sessions), plus every other week I meet with five Ph.D. students for another session of oral English practice. This is a big change from the last few years, when I was loafing around with only 12 or 16 classes each week and scads of free time. Plus, we’ve switched to new textbooks. While much better than the previous ones, teachers reading this will already know that a new textbook means new class preps. So, I can’t rely on the lessons I had in the bag, so to speak, from the last four years of Listening Comprehension and Oral English. They’ve either been modified or tossed out completely. In addition, we’ve decided to combine the separate courses of Listening Comprehension and Oral English into one course. Effectively, there’s not much change, though. For each section of students, we meet two classes in the language lab (for listening) and two classes in the newly furnished seminar room ...

America safe for Chinese visitors now? I had no convincing answer 2

America safe for Chinese visitors now? I had no convincing answer
JISHOU, HUNAN — Yesterday we had English Corner, a regular event to give students a chance to practice their spoken English. During a lull in the activities, one student came over to ask me questions about the election of Donald Trump (R-Blowhard) as president. I’ll start with the last one, which floored me. “You know, I would like to study in the United States after I graduate. Will I as a Chinese be safe there?” Before Tuesday, I could answer this fairly confidently, “Yes, of course.” For the most part, students asking that question were not worried about prejudice against Asians, but about Americans toting guns everywhere. This time, though, the reason for the question was different, and not easy to address. Since Trump won, there have been scores of reports from across the USA about whites deliberately attacking African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, immigrants — anyone not obviously a white “American” — and telling them to die or leave. The worst incidents end up on the news, and that news finds it way around the world. Once perceived as a country of tolerance which welcomed people from all over the world, the United States now is perceived as a dangerous ...

The summer States sojourn saga

The summer States sojourn saga
JISHOU, HUNAN — As promised, here’s a summary of this year’s sojourn in the USA, accompanied by a few photos to document the adventure. Before I get started, I’d like to welcome Medium readers to Wheat-dogg’s World. Today I discovered there was a WordPress plugin to post to Medium automatically. If all goes well, this post will be the first to appear on my Medium feed. For new readers, I should explain that I’m an American teaching English in Hunan, China. Every year, my university pays for a round-trip ticket to the USA, and I usually go back in the summertime for about four weeks to visit my family and friends, and sometimes even work in some touristy things, like visiting Pikes Peak. (See photo above.) As I live in what you could call flyover country in China, traveling abroad requires a trip to a regional airport and a flight to an international hub, like Shanghai or Beijing. If you factor in all the taxi, bus, subway and plane segments, it takes about a day to get from Jishou to where any member of my family lives in the USA. (As yet, no one lives near an international hub airport.) ...

Passport in hand, I’m ready to travel! 3

Passport in hand, I'm ready to travel!
JISHOU, HUNAN — In the eight years since I came here, the city has grown in leaps and bounds. Previously, the Public Security Bureau (PSB) was near the central business district, about 20 minutes from campus. But Jishou is included in the national development of western China (that is, west of the Beijing-Shanghai-Hong Kong corridor), so many of the government offices have moved or will move to brand spanking new quarters in QianZhou, south of Jishou proper. Really, to be completely accurate, I should say QianZhou has grown in leaps and bounds. While Jishou expanded some, it’s constrained by natural borders: a river running west to east and mountains roughly perpendicular to the river. Tearing down the CBD and erecting new buildings is not feasible, especially when it’s easier to build on land to the south. So, the PSB moved to new spacious — no, cavernous — offices on the southern perimeter of QianZhou, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from campus, roughly twice as far away as the old facilities. The area is so new that taxi drivers don’t even know where it is. I had to help him find it, since I’ve been there twice already. My passport was all ...
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