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 ...

My student’s contribution to NPR’s #15Girls project

My student's contribution to NPR's #15Girls project
Last month, NPR’s Goats and Soda blog began its #15Girls project, inviting girls and women from around the world to tell about their lives when they were 15 years old. Contributors were asked to send photos and comments about the hardest thing they faced at age 15 via Twitter or Instagram — which are both blocked in China. Really, NPR, what were you thinking? I didn’t come across the project until late in the month, but I posted it in my Qzone 说说 (shuo shuo “say say” — which is like Facebook’s Status), and said I could relay any contributions through my Twitter account. Only one person responded: one of my students, Tina Li ShaoLi, sent me a contribution, which I posted to Twitter in a somewhat abbreviated form. You can see it here and in the screencap above. This is Tina’s original contribution: The hardest thing for being 15 is that I fell in love with a boy but however hard I tried I still couldn’t be together with him. I fell in love with him at the age of 13. However, in our country, people believe that falling in love with people at such an early age is ...

Beijing fashion comes to Jishou

Beijing fashion comes to Jishou
Over the summer, trendy Beijingers were spotted about town sporting plastic sprouts and flowers clipped to their hair. No special meaning. Just a fun thing. My first sighting of this latest fashion statement was last week, when one of my sophomores, Astrid Q (pictured), wore one to class. “Stylish!” I said. Astrid Q hails from Hengyang, the second-largest city in Hunan. Her goal is to attend graduate school, preferably in the UK or the USA. Her English is already pretty good. The Q in her name is to distinguish her from another student, Astrid R, who is from Inner Mongolia. Both Astrids came to Jishou U with their English names already chosen, and by chance, they have the same surname, Zhao, and the same first initial. Not wanting to force them into new English names, I used their second given names for their initials. I will admit to thinking of Maggie Q at the time.

An update on my former student, Carla Wu

An update on my former student, Carla Wu
JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve been holding off on posting about Carla Wu Shuang until I was sure of what was going on. And I’m sorry to say, it’s not good news. When I last posted about Carla, it was all good news. Her cancer seemed to be in remission, and she and her fiancé went ahead with their wedding plans and held the ceremonies in his hometown on January 1. They held similar festivities in Carla’s hometown of Yueyang in February, after the Chinese New Year. By then, Carla was already two months pregnant. But Carla told me in February her leg was bothering her, and she was feeling weaker than before. Last month, she consulted with her doctors. They gave her some grim news. The osteosarcoma in her thigh had returned, and there was little they could do without jeopardizing her baby. On Tuesday, she told me she was now suffering from terrible backaches, as well. Doctors this time told her the cancer had probably spread to her kidneys, and now the choice was even more grim. For her to survive, they would have to terminate the pregnancy. I have not heard from her since Tuesday, so I can’t ...

After more than a decade, we meet again … in China

After more than a decade, we meet again ... in China
CHANGSHA, HUNAN — Maybe some Cold Spring Harbor High School alums — and maybe a few Princeton ones, too — will recognize the man on the left. He’s Bill Shain, who taught American history at CSHHS in the 1970s, then went on to serve in the Princeton admissions office. And he was in Changsha (of all places) last month, as part of a whirlwind professional gig touring China. We met there, and were joined by one of my own students, Helen Xiao, who is a graduate student in Changsha, for dinner and drinks on a Sunday evening. Student, teacher and teacher’s teacher. Rather poetic, no? Bill was in China last year, traveling with representatives of the Kitebridge program, but our mutual schedules did not allow a rendezvous. This time, they passed through Changsha, which is just five hours from Jishou. So, I asked for leave from my Monday classes and took the bus there on a Sunday morning. Kitebridge arranges for Chinese junior high school students to attend one of several American private high schools. Bill consults with schools and such on the American college admissions process, so Kitebridge retained him as an expert. He says his role in China ...

Guest blogger 2: Trans Li — “To be an elite”

Guest blogger 2: Trans Li --
Our latest student blogger is another graduating senior, Li DongLing 李冬凌. Her English name is Trans, which is short for “translator,” her dream job. Her hometown is near the city of Changde, about three hours from here. She’s been my student since 2011. Trans is now interning in Shenzhen for an automotive tool-and-die factory. To be an elite The truth is, I am not an elite yet, and there is quite a long, hard journey ahead for me to reach that point, but I swear to be an elite in the future. It is a lifelong promise to myself. I am an ordinary girl without special talents, who comes from a small village. But looking back, life has never treated me as an ordinary girl since I was born. I dare not say I have been through many bitter and hard things. I only can say each thing that has happened to me has made me stronger and more mature. It is common to see people defeated by all kinds of troubles, and certainly I have met many troubles, too. The key for me surviving these troubles — even failures — is my own belief. I am an English major ...

Guest blogger: Will Tang – “Something about my family”

Guest blogger: Will Tang -
As the school term ended, I invited my students and other QQ followers to write something for this blog. The topics are theirs. All I have done is clean up their grammar and spelling. First to submit something was Will Tang XiongLue 唐雄略, who graduates in June this year. Will and I were both teachers at a friend’s kindergarten last year, and he’s also been my student for three years. Something about My Family I was born in 1991 in Yongzhou, which is located in the south of Hunan province. Until I was 7 years old, I lived in a beautiful country village named 毛坪里(Mao ping li). It’s a small place in Yongzhou. My grandfather had told me that 毛坪里 was a desolate place full of weeds a hundred years ago. (That was during Qing dynasty in China history.) Then three young brothers came there, worked the land, built houses, and married with women from the nearby villages. They are my ancestors. My father is a middle school teacher in town. Grandfather told me that he had experienced a lot of hardship and suffered lots of pain in order to attend school. When father was 9 years old (It was ...

Chance encounters, once again

JISHOU, HUNAN — Last week, one of my students told me she chose to be an English major because, as a high school student, she had been eavesdropping on a conversation I was having with a college student. It was a chance encounter that I didn’t even know had happened until she told me about it a few days ago over lunch. In 2011 I was in Yongshun, a small city within the Xiangxi Autonomous Prefecture, to help lead an English teaching workshop for area middle school teachers. While I don’t clearly remember which of my students I was with, apparently we were having some deep conversation while walking along the street. Behind us, unbeknownst to us, listening very carefully, was a high school girl — we’ll call her Jade. Jade at the time was entering her last year at Yongshun No. 1 Middle School. It’s a critical year for students, as they approach two seminal events in their lives: taking the college entrance exam (高考 gaokao) and choosing their college major. Like many high school seniors, Jade had had no clue what she wanted to study in college. That changed as she followed us around. Last week, she told ...

My friend Carla Wu gets married

My friend Carla Wu gets married
CILI, HUNAN — Here’s a happy story for the second day of 2015. My friend and former student, Carla Wu, is a cancer survivor, and celebrated her marriage in her husband’s home village near here on New Year’s Day. Carla (吴双 Wu Shuang) was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in summer 2013. After surgery to remove a tumor from her thigh and aggressive chemotherapy since then, her cancer seems to be in remission. Her hair has grown back, long enough for a pixie cut, and she’s gained some of her weight back. Her husband Mu Yanhui (牟颜辉) is a nurse. They met while both were working in Guangdong province. He is from a small village near Cili, and she is from Yueyang city, several hours away. So, that means two wedding parties! The date of the Yueyang party has not been set. In his village, the local custom is for the groom to pick up the bride in her home, and carry her by car and on his back, as the case may be, to his home. There, they pay respects to their ancestors, and serve sweetened boiled eggs to family and friends. Then, there’s a big dinner. In recent years, Chinese ...

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 ...

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? ...

Guest blog — Carla Wu: Is everything all right?

Guest blog -- Carla Wu: Is everything all right?
YUEYANG, HUNAN — Carla Wu (吴双 Wu Shuang) is a former student of mine, graduating in 2011. In August she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, had surgery to remove a tumor on her femur, and has had two rounds of chemotherapy so far. Today I am publishing a poem she put in her Qzone. We hope you like it. Is everything all right? It’s already been more than two months. As for today, in a word, it’s nice to be alive. I went home, so, that’s ok. I can sleep and be lazy every day, so, that’s ok. I eat a meal, have a drink, or on a nice day, can sit quietly in the sunshine in the courtyard, so, that’s ok. I have a lot of time to think about things every day, so, that’s ok. I can read and write every day, so, that’s ok. If I am bored, I can watch TV, so, that’s ok. On sunny afternoons, I can go out for a walk, so that’s also good. Sometimes, a lot of childhood friends come over to play cards, or to chat with me, so, that’s ok. At night I can see the limitless night sky, so, ...
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