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, ...

Young Chinese author’s novelette short-listed for Hugo Award

Young Chinese author's novelette short-listed for Hugo Award
JISHOU, HUNAN — A dystopian novelette, Folding Beijing (北京折叠 běijīngzhédié) by Tianjin native Hǎo Jǐngfāng (郝景芳), 32, has been nominated as best novelette for the 2016 Hugo Awards. The novelette features a love story set in a future Beijing divided into zones, with each zone restricted to a certain social class. The city’s zones are physically moved around every 24 hours to give each space access to the outside world. A Third Space sanitation worker is hired by a student in the Second Space to bring a love letter to a girl in the First Space — the upper class. To achieve his quest, and get paid a handsome sum, Lao Dao must navigate the Change — the compaction and rotation of the city’s spaces. Uncanny Magazine published an English translation of Hao’s story by Ken Liu, who also translated The Three-Body Problem, a first-contact novel by Chinese author Liú Cíxīn 刘慈欣 which won a Hugo award last year. The Chinese text of Folding Beijing is available online, as well. Hao, who has been writing fiction since she was a teenager, has a bachelors degree in physics and a doctoral degree in economics and management from Beijing’s Tsinghua University. She’s ...

Chinese children’s book author #CaoWenXuan wins world book prize

Chinese children's book author #CaoWenXuan wins world book prize
JISHOU, HUNAN — Beijing author and literature professor Cao Wenxuan 曹文轩 has won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen book award for children’s literature. Cao, 62, has written many children’s books, including Bronze and Sunflower (above), all of which have become beloved classics for two generations of readers. Cao is a professor of literature at Peking University 北京大学。 Born to a poor family in rural Jiangsu Province, Cao spent most of childhood barely having enough to eat, but he retains fond memories of country life. Many of his books are set in the countryside during the 1950s and 1960s. Bronze and Sunflower tells the story of a girl, Sunflower, during the Cultural Revolution. Her father is compelled to leave his job in the city to work in the countryside, and Sunflower accompanies him. When her father dies, Sunflower is taken in by the family of her friend, Bronze. Bronze is mute and illiterate, and Sunflower teaches the boy how to read and write. The process opens up a whole new world for Bronze as the two children become like brother and sister. Cao has already won several book prizes in China. This is his first international award. Details at BBC News. ...

The many roles of a teacher

This is the quote I was seeking from my Facebook friends several weeks ago. Turns out I had it on my computer all along. In the high school classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counselor, a dress-code enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw. — Frank McCourt, Teacher Man: A Memoir, Scribner, 2006 Frank McCourt is the author of Angela’s Ashes, among other books. He taught high school English for 30 years in the New York City public schools before becoming a writer. Teacher Man is a memoir of his teaching career. Here’s the squib about him from Amazon.com. Frank McCourt (1930-2009) was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Irish immigrant parents, grew up in Limerick, Ireland, and returned to America in 1949. For thirty years he taught in New York City high schools. His first book, “Angela’s Ashes,” won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the L.A. ...

Reading the world, one country at a time

JISHOU, HUNAN — Now here’s an idea I wish I had had: choose a book from each of the world’s nations (plus a few extra locations), read it, and write a short review. That’s what Ann Morgan of the UK just finished doing. Since she is literate only in English, French and German, Morgan asked help from readers of her blog to find English translations. One contributor even wrote a book for her blog, to fulfill the mission. I wish I had that kind of time, to just sit and read. Color me green with envy. The Atlantic has an interview with Morgan, and here is a Public Radio International report. I was curious to see which books she read from countries I’ve lived in, or have an interest in. So, here’s what I found. From China, she read Banished!, by Han Dong, rather than a work by Nobel Prizewinner Yan Mo. Han’s novel is about the Tao family, who are forced to leave Nanjing during the Cultural Revolution. As for Yan, I’d recommend Red Sorghum, his first novel, which was also turned into a film. But I have to confess, I have only seen the movie version as yet. ...

One for you bibliophiles, and English teachers, too

JISHOU, HUNAN — My quietest oral English class surprised me last Thursday. They went totally ga-ga over the paperback novels I brought into class. And I fell in love. I had a shelf full of used paperbacks I and my friend Janice have picked up at thrift stores. Looking at them, I figured it was high time to hand a few out, because they were gathering dust sitting in my office. So I picked four that I thought would be appropriate in terms of reading level, and brought them to my sophomore oral English class. This is the all-girl class: 40 English education majors who as a group are the quietest English majors I have had so far. (There are signs of this situation changing, however.) So, I walked into class and plunked the books down on the lectern. Since we are having an in-class English speech contest soon, the students thought the books were the prizes. I said, no, I just brought these in to share with some of you. Pandemonium. Hands flew into the air. Some girls got out of their seats advancing toward the lectern, still with their hands in the air. I had a brief feeling ...

Literary daydreaming, and other such bookishness 3

JISHOU, HUNAN — Like a lot of other writers, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a book. So far, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with the notion, though, so don’t hold your breath waiting for the first Wheat-dogg bestseller. It’s still in the preconceptual stage. Certainly, there is fodder for a book from my experiences as a foreigner teaching English in China. Many ex-pats end up writing books or ebooks about their lives abroad. Having read a few as market research, these books (and for that matter, blogs) fall into a few main categories: My life abroad was wonderful, life-changing! You should give it a try. My life abroad has made me an expert in all things abroad. Read my book! My life abroad was a crappy experience, but I am going to write a funny book about it anyway. My life abroad showed me that America is the bestest place evah in the whole world. My life abroad showed me that America is traveling down the road to ruin, but my chosen living place is a virtual paradise. (By the way, I’ve got some land to sell you if you wanna come here.) I want to write ...

Proof Obama is the socialist overlord 3

Proof Obama is the socialist overlord
You know that headline is a joke, right? Seriously, the Chinese regard Obama’s oratory highly. A few of my students listen to his speeches (especially his acceptance speech and the one in Shanghai’s Fudan University) to improve their spoken English. Bookstores also have speeches by other famous Americans in compilations, even a few by George W. Bush. He did make one or two reasonably good ones.

Give me your tired (books) … yearning to be free

JISHOU, HUNAN — This post is an appeal to book lovers with too many books on their hands. I want those books. Honestly, I don’t need them for myself. I want them for our college here at Jishou University and for the university library. Jishou U is not a rich school, and students in our college express their frustration at finding only worn and tattered English-language books on the library shelves. As at most Chinese universities, the English language section leans heavily toward the classics: Shakespeare, Dickens, Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Twain, and (in translation) Stendhal, Tolstoy, and Flaubert, among others. All great writers, but their English prose is difficult for ESL students and furthermore is somewhat out of style. I’d love to show my students works by Saul Bellow, John Barth, Agatha Christie — really any author of the 20th century. Fiction and non-fiction books would be welcome, but books that touch on sensitive political matters (Tibet, Taiwan, the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protest, etc.) or that are overtly anti-communist or anti-Chinese could get me in a world of trouble. If you are so inclined to send any books my way, be forewarned that postage to China is outrageously ...

En Colombia, un profesor y dos “biblioburros”

Luis Soriano is a primary school teacher in the little town of La Gloria, Colombia. Every weekend, Soriano loads a selection of books from a 4,800-item collection onto his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto, and heads into the hills to deliver books to remote villages. He has broken a leg falling off his mount and been stopped by bandits, but Soriano keeps his voluntary Biblioburro service running despite his woes. “This began as a necessity, then it became an obligation, and after that a custom,” he explained, squinting at the hills undulating into the horizon. “Now,” he said, “it is an institution.” — International Herald Tribune The project started small, with 70 books, but his letter to a famous author and radio personality brought a deluge of donated books, which Soriano has stacked floor-to-ceiling in the house he shares with his wife and three daughters. An adjacent library is awaiting additional funding to be completed. It’s a great story of how one teacher can make a difference. Click the IHT link above for the whole story.
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