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

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

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 ...

It’s time for the annual trek to America!

It's time for the annual trek to America!
JISHOU, HUNAN — If all goes to plan, I’ll be in the USA for another summer vacation on Monday. Now is as good a time as any to catch everyone up on what’s been happening here. The spring term basically finished for me last Friday. I gave my final exams the week before, and handed in the grades on the 6th. Since that time, I’ve basically just been cooling my heels here waiting to get my passport with a new residence permit back from the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Until then, I can’t leave town. Two years ago, the PSB almost did not renew my residence permit because they thought I had been teaching at another school, which is against regulations. My foreign affairs officer was able to persuade them to grant me my residency, though. Last year’s renewal went off without a hitch, but this year not so much. See that photo above? I visited a combined primary-secondary school in Huayuan County in May, where a graduate student friend of mine teaches English. He thought I could visit the school’s English classes to encourage the kids to learn English better. I visited three classes in the morning. It was ...

In which I recall the wise words, ‘Never assume’ 3

In which I recall the wise words, 'Never assume'
JISHOU, HUNAN — Journalists are often reminded to “never assume” they know the truth, or in fact if anyone knows the truth. Teachers need to follow the same advice, as I found out a few weeks ago in class. One of the activities in our Oral English textbook, which is published in the UK, asks the students to pair up and tell each other about a book they read as a child. Easy enough, right? Well, that’s what I assumed. In fact, it was not an easy task, because for a fair number of my students, the only books they had as kids were their textbooks in primary school. For these students hailing from the countryside, their first real chance to read a book for pleasure didn’t come until they boarded out to middle school. When I give my students this kind of assignment, I usually let them talk among themselves. If the hubbub seems to be winding down, I’ll ask a few of them to tell the class what they’d been discussing with their partner. Other times, I’ll join a group, or a student will ask me a question and I’ll stay and chat for bit. On this occasion, ...

Movie review: Batman v. Superman waits too long to show Wonder Woman

Movie review: <em>Batman v. Superman</em> waits too long to show Wonder Woman
JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve never posted a movie review here before, because there’s so many other people reviewing movies, why bother? But I went to see Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice tonight with an entirely Chinese audience, accompanied by six of my freshmen. So this review will have a different perspective than others out there. For those who have not seen the movie (or read the reviews), I’ll cut to the chase and skip all the story commentary. (1) For whatever reason, director Zack Snyder felt it necessary to provide Batman’s complete back story, though it was hardly necessary for an understanding of this movie. (2) The first half of the movie was just plain dull, despite the fight sequences. One student, Lee, said it was boring. Another, Meredith, just fell asleep. I almost did myself. I sat through the first half comparing it unfavorably to a Marvel Cinematic Universe flick, waiting for something exciting that would advance the main plot. (3) My students were all female, with no previous knowledge of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. They all really enjoyed seeing WW in uniform, kicking ass alongside the boys. They said she was cool, and powerful. And I thought, why ...

Mother Nature throws us a curveball

Mother Nature throws us a curveball
JISHOU, HUNAN, CHINA — Classes began last week, and the spring-like temperatures encouraged me to believe I had dodged most of Hunan’s winter. Wrong-o! Temperatures began to fall over the weekend, and when I woke up at 6:30, there was this white stuff falling from the sky. And it was about 33 degrees F out — just a tad colder than it was the night before. Hunan rarely gets snow, especially in March, so everyone was just a little surprised, and excited. One of my students is from southern China, and this is the first time she has seen snow. Ever wonder what happens when a stand of bamboo gets covered in wet snow? This is the road leading down from my apartment building to the main part of campus. It’s lined with stands of bamboo on either side, which usually stand straight and tall. This morning, they were arching over the road. Here’s another view. By lunchtime, most of the snow had melted, and spring-like temperatures are supposed to return tomorrow or the day after. My classes this term are the same as last, Listening Comprehension and Oral English. Not much to report that’s news there. The university has ...

The term is nearly over!

The term is nearly over!
JISHOU, HUNAN — December here is always a busy time, so I’ve been lax in posting here. Or maybe just lazy. One of those could be a typo. That’s my story, anyway. Though Christmas is not an official holiday in China, our college puts on a Christmas show every year, and invariably I am recruited to be on stage in one way or another. Fortunately, the college has given up the practice of asking me to play Father Christmas (Santa Claus), as I guess I was giving out signals that I wasn’t very keen on playing him after the first four years. Plus, I’ve lost 5 kg (11 pounds) since I first arrived here, so I’m less portly than before. This year was easy. One of our Korean exchange students is a very good singer, and he agreed to sing a song. Then, I and some of the Chinese students would come on stage to sing, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and throw candy into the audience. I wore a bright red Tang-style Chinese jacket that a group of students gave me three years ago (no Santa suit!), but we all wore Christmas hats. Foreign teachers are entitled to ...
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