Another term put to bed

JISHOU, HUNAN — Another term is past. I put in three intensive days to plow through marking my Listening Comprehension exams, and turned in my grade on Tuesday. I am a free man! This term was relatively easy. I have four sections each of Oral English and Listening Comprehension, totaling about 160 students. I designed the listening exams to be quick to mark, so plowing through them while I watched TV or listened to music wasn’t so bad. Likewise, the spoken English final assessments were already done by the time I gave the listening exams; all I needed to do was calculate their grades in Excel. So, what now? I have nearly eight weeks of vacation stretching out in front of me. For now, I’m just going to take it easy at home, as I still have some tutorials to meet. Then I’ll go travel somewhere. Haven’t made up my mind where yet. Meanwhile, I’ve been tweaking things here at Wheat-dogg’s World, and republishing the blogs I wrote about coming to China and being in China, as The China Chronicles. They’re indexed in the Pages section your right. Each chapter covers a year. I had hoped to find a WordPress ...

It’s almost the end of the term

It's almost the end of the term
JISHOU, HUNAN — Today I gave my last exams of the fall term. Classes ended last week. Once I hand in my marks next week, I’ll be free for nearly two entire months! My duties this year are teaching Listening Comprehension and Oral English to the freshmen and sophomores in our college. That’s about 160 students, so my load is much lighter than in the past. For the listening classes, we met in a lecture hall yesterday where I could meet all the frosh at once, then all the sophs at once. Judging from the groans of dismay, what I hoped to be a relatively fair exam may have been harder than I thought. More than a few students have told me they think they failed the test. Both listening exams followed the same format. Part 1: A VOA Learning English report. Announcers for these reports speak more slowly and use easier words than regular VOA readers. Parts 2 and 3: Short exercises from their textbooks. Part 4: Dictation of the first paragraph of Matilda. It seems they did OK with the VOA Special English section, but the readers on the other section spoke too quickly for the students. Granted, ...

Teaching teachers, episode 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — Saturday was a busy day for me, as I once again got to teach teachers. The last time I led such a workshop was almost three years ago, when I and another American at the Zhangjiajie campus spent a few days in a nearby small town, Yongshun, teaching middle school English teachers from the nearby counties. It seems that the local Foreign Experts office has once again realized that it could use Xiangxi prefecture’s measly foreign teacher contingent more fully, and organized a one-day workshop for teachers in Jishou city, and Fenghuang and Huayuan counties. This time, two teachers from YaSi Middle school handled the morning session, and I took the afternoon session. Not three weeks before, we were part of another, more business-oriented workshop with local government and business leaders. Whether this is part of a new effort to use us more widely, or to compensate for shutting off our part-time employment possibilities is hard for me to say. Either, we were paid for our efforts, and treated to free meals, so I won’t complain. My readers who are teachers will identify with this remark made by two of the teachers at Saturday’s session. She complained ...

China’s stricter foreign worker laws almost nailed me

JISHOU, HUNAN — So, I’ve been here six years, and during that time, I never had a problem renewing my residence permit. This time, it was different. Yesterday, Sue, our new foreign affairs officer, told me the Public Security Bureau (PSB) almost did not approve my renewal, because they were under the impression I was working at two schools, the university and a local middle school. Under the foreign worker laws, I can only legally work for the organization sponsoring my residence permit and foreign worker permit, so they believed I had broken the law. Sue spent a lot of time talking them into renewing my permits, since I was not working at the middle school on a regular basis. (I subbed for two weeks and helped with some English testing for one day.) But she’s advised me to keep a low profile if I take any extra work in the future. I was relieved I could stay another year, as we had just signed a contract to that effect, but at the same time, I got really depressed. I realized leaving here would have been really terrible. Jishou’s become my home. Just a couple of days before, I had ...

Your lazy blogger checks in

JISHOU, HUNAN — Well, I’ve lots of blog ideas swimming around in my head these last three weeks, but none of them ended up in print till now. The muse was on vacation, and just got back from Mallorca. OK, I was being lazy. So, here’s what’s new here, in the middle of the Middle Kingdom. I passed my annual health tests, which are required for all foreigners working in China. The schedule is: blood test, chest X-ray, ultrasound of abdominal area, blood pressure (135/71), height and weight. Takes about an hour to get them all done, but the testing requires a trip to the provincial capital, Changsha, to the international travel health office. Hunan citizens who will work or study abroad have to visit the same place for more extensive testing. The university pays the fees for my tests, about 500 yuan ($80 or so). Outbound Chinese pay between 800 and 1,000 yuan for their physical examinations. Cash only, by the way. Sue, the new foreign affairs officer, accompanied me and took care of the arrangements. While I was there, I met a young American working at a kindergarten. He said he’s been working in Changsha for three years ...

How NOT to teach English to first graders

How NOT to teach English to first graders
JISHOU, HUNAN — There are times when I am left speechless by some people’s ideas on how to teach kids English. Here is one of them. Many of my former students here are now working as teachers, either in regular schools or in one of China’s many English training schools. Some of these training schools are quite good, and others, frankly, are a bit dodgy. The latter kind are often opened by people with little or no teaching experience with the main idea being to make money off parents desperate to improve their children’s chances at getting into top middle schools, high schools, universities, careers. So, take a look at the text in the photo here. You should be able to guess it’s an abridged version of Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. There are no pictures. The right hand side of the book has definitions of the bolded words in the text. My student, M., tells me her boss wants her to teach this text to five- and six-year-olds. Not with pictures, or cartoons, or activities, but by having the kiddos read the text out loud. He told M. it’s the best way to learn to new words. Speechless, right? ...

Teaching, 30 years on 5

Teaching, 30 years on
JISHOU, HUNAN — Thirty years ago this month, I started teaching. It seems like an incredibly long time — nearly half my life — but at the same time, those years have slipped by quickly. In that time, I have taught more than a thousand students on three continents, in several subjects, from kindergartners to adults. And I gotta say, I still like it. As with most careers, everyday work in teaching is fairly routine, run-of-the-mill stuff. At times, it is downright boring (reading essays, grading homework, marking tests, in-service meetings — ACK!), but most times it’s one of the most rewarding occupations in the world — not in the financial sense, but in a deeper and more significant sense. I get to watch young people grow and learn, and at the same time, I grow and learn. Every teacher can list his or her success stories, I think: students who were nondescript at first, but who later achieved something, no matter ow small, that was noteworthy in some way. It’s those moments that make teaching so worthwhile. After 30 years, I have lots of stories to tell, but I will offer three examples from the last several weeks to ...

We now resume regularly scheduled programming, now in progress

JISHOU, HUNAN — Nothing like a server crash to slow down your writing projects. I had practically all of last weekend free to write, and the drive to do it, but as I said in the last post, my site was down for the count until midweek. Coincidentally, that big Bitcoin exchange in Japan, Mt. Gox, also went dark about the same time. Their situation is more dire, as they’ve “lost” more than 850,000 bitcoins somehow and have filed for bankruptcy protection. Their site remains dark. I don’t have those bitcoins. I promise. If I did, I would probably be sitting near some tropical beach now, sipping a piña colada, not sitting in my flat at Jishou University sipping green tea. Unless I were being sly. Muhahaha! In fact, my experiment with Bitcoin is doing better than I had expected. Prices are still not above the levels when I first entered Bitcoin land in early December, but Bitcoin has not tanked completely, even after the Mt. Gox fiasco. I successfully used Bitcoin last week to transfer some of my pay from China to the USA, netting $25 in the process because of changing prices and arbitrage. You can read the ...

Bitcoin donations help out an AP English teacher 4

Bitcoin donations help out an AP English teacher
JISHOU, HUNAN — An AP English teacher in Richmond, California, is seeking donations in Bitcoin for three HP Chromebook computers and fees for eight students to take the AP English Language and Composition exam. Tuyen Bui also accepts Dogecoin and PayPal. Here’s her website with the details: http://projectbui.org/ The total needed is about $1,460, which is not a lot, really. But, her high school is in a very poor section of West Contra Costa Unified School District, and there are no extra funds available to set up computer workstations in her classroom. And AP exams are pricey – $89 a pop. When I last checked, donations were only 6.2% toward that goal, so I hope my readers can boost it up some more. I’ve already sent my donation, because I’m a teacher and Ms Bui is my kind of people. Wyverns! She’s your kind of people, too. You know what I mean. I came across her project while scanning the reddit Bitcoin thread this evening. Her boyfriend created the donations website for her, and posted the link on reddit. It’s legit. I have verified where she teaches and communicated with her directly. You can help her, and most importantly, her ...

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving 2013
JISHOU, HUNAN — First, I am going to pimp my mention in NPR’s Protojournalist blog. They invited expats around the world to contribute short reports on how we were celebrating the holiday. None of my photos on Instagram got used, but you can see a few of them here. Thursday is a work day for me this term. I have morning Oral English classes till just before noon. The only Western holiday we foreign teachers have off is Christmas, and only a day at that, so all other holidays are working days for me. It’s just something you have to accept as expat. On the bright side, Chinese universities typically take four to six weeks off for winter holiday and six weeks off for the summer, plus there are other shorter holidays scattered throughout the year. After classes, I met Laura Liu for lunch. I have mentioned her in an earlier post about my students. Laura and I are close friends, but she had other plans for dinner, so we met for lunch at a place downtown that serve noodles Yunnan style. It’s one of my favorite places to eat in Jishou, and I hadn’t been there for months. The ...

Guest blog: Carla Wu — Such is life

Guest blog: Carla Wu -- Such is life
YUEYANG, HUNAN — My friend, Carla Wu {吴双), wrote this last week in her Qzone. I’ve taken the liberty of translating it (with a lot of help from Google Translate!) and reposting it here. You can see the original here. ———- Such is life. We not only cannot change the past, we cannot predict the future. Up to now, I still cannot believe, but it is already the case, and suddenly it is so. No accidents, no remorse, no discomfort, no resistance. I have it accepted all with calm, and even faint excitement. Photos of my hospitalization have been published before, and just-after-surgery photos have also, but here are a few pictures from the end of it. This one (left) should be just after recovering from chemotherapy. It had not yet finished off my hair. (Hard to keep one’s hair rooted in one’s head. This feeling is actually not a very good memory, not just one, but another one, and another one — looking at my fallen hair, I found that it was like in a horror film.) On this day, the sun was very good, I feel okay and on my own went down the corridor. Who could know? ...

Jishou U students perform ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in Tujia setting, nab runner-up prize

JISHOU, HUNAN — Chinese universities have had a Shakespeare competition for the last nine years. This year, Jishou University was first runner-up. Students from the Zhangjiajie campus adapted scenes from Romeo and Juliet to a Tujia minority setting, complete with a Tujia-style wooden home, costumes and songs. Check it out! [You will see some advertisements first. Sorry about that.] The Tujia are one of China’s ethnic minorities, and have lived in this part of China for thousands of years. Setting Shakespeare’s blank verse to traditional Tujia songs works surprisingly well. If the embedded video doesn’t play, try this direct link.
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