Saturday, July 2, 2016

You know, I complain about the rain. And it has been raining here all day. But, the truth of the matter is that the rain falls on plexiglass, corrugated tin, wood, and cement all within feet of my front door. It's like a rain symphony. And the man on the second floor, across the lane, has a bird that sings so happily when it rains.

I did put on my boots and tromp around in the rain for a little while this afternoon I only went around the block... a double block. That is I walked up to Nanjing Lu, then turned left and walked about two blocks, then back to Beijing Lu, and then back home. So, I I walked the perimeter of four or six blocks, not just my own. But, really, who wants to be out there where it's so hot and wet? I was glad to get back home and take a shower. -- I did some exercises inside. Some days, that's enough.

The air quality has been good, though, and I've enjoyed that. Breathe it in while you can, kids... that's what I say.

I spent a good part of the afternoon Googling things relative to my essay for this week. I'll be including a link to a fascinating article about coins and the value of those 10 thousand talents of silver. It's a little geeky, but I learned a lot from it.

YES! I will be writing about Naaman, the man from Aram. It almost rhymes. There is a lot there.

For one thing I compare Naaman with Jonah... they both went down. Jonah went down to Joppa, down into the sea, and down into the belly of the fish... whale in Islam. And Naaman, a proud, nationalistic, and probably very rich fellow is going to have to come down off his high horse if he wants to get healed. That would make a nice little essay.

There is also the insider/outsider angle. Naaman was an insider, a favorite of the king! But his leprosey also made him an outsider. So, we can see right from the beginning that this is a story about bridging the chasm between the insiders and the outsiders. Also note that without the slaves and foreigners none of this story would have happened.

But the most interesting bit of the story happens in the last third... You can kind of divide the story up into thirds where there is a natural break between them. It's this last section -- it's not in the lectionary -- that interests me. I am going to have to think on it. It's getting late, of course, nearly 2 am here in China. I'd better think fast.

Love to all.

Oh, and here's a picture of me at school clowning around with some of the kids. I am teasing them about their expensive trainers. They all have several pair.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

School's out for summer!

Can I just say that again... School's out for summer!

Honestly, it's a horrible school. I do not like the students. They are just spoiled, rich kids. They don't have to learn English, they are going to be rich anyway. And I do not like my bosses. They don't know the first thing about how to put together a program, or to even run the Cambridge program which is already pretty well put together. And, well, they don't know how to handle foreigners.  We are all nice people. Really, the foreigner teachers are a great group. But, we spend most of our time really ticked off about something. I mean, I don't. Not usually. But, there's plenty to be ticked off about, that's for sure.  For my part, my pay is not going to be what I think it should be, I still don't know whether or not I'm getting a bonus, it's all messed up, as is normal. I think I'm about ready to be lied to and treated badly by people in another part of the world for awhile. Though, I plan to be back here for one more year. 

I have mainly been a big lie-about since school was out. It's been raining for most of the time. We even had thunder the other day which is pretty unusual. Anyway, when it is not raining I go out for a walk, or a juice, or bike ride. If it's past rush hour I take my bike. Between 7am and 7pm, though, I walk. 

I got my hair cut. Photo to follow.

On Sunday my friend Steven and I are going to Quibao. It's an ancient water town, actually in Shanghai. Very old. Lots of tourists go there. Since Dong Tai Road has been shut down, I am looking for a new place to go on those steamy Shanghai afternoons when I just want to walk slowly and talk to people. Dong Tai Lu was an antique/"antique" street. You can still find some legitimate antiques. I have been there a few times since it closed down and people who remember me have come out of their houses to offer me antique beads (I am a sucker for those) or whatever they have. Most of the good stuff isn't of much interest to me and/or it's out of my price range. I do love the old Chinese beads, though. They are colorful and funny. Something about them appeals to me. I've bought a lot of them over the  years. Sometimes I buy a piece of red coral if it's of exceptional quality. There used to be some very good jade down there, but I never bought any of it. I love the imperial jade, but the lesser quality jade doesn't do much for me. I enjoy talking to the people. It was a good place to take visitors because it was a way to see "real" Shanghai, and buy some souvenirs too. Also, a good place to practice Chinese speaking.  They will build an office building in its place. The one thing Shanghai does not need is another office building. For one thing Shanghai is already sinking. There are too many buildings on it already. For another thing, sea levels are rising anyway. Add that to the sinking and I think it's a poor real estate investment. I ain't no Donald Trump, of course, but I wouldn't do it. Also, Dong Tai Lu was special. Office buildings are not. I don't care how many neon lights you stick on there it's still not going to be special. Alas. But maybe I'll like Quibao!

I'm reading a new book by Joyce Carol Oates called Middle Age. It's about a bunch of middle-aged people -- quelle surprise -- and how they respond to the death of their mutual friend. It's entertaining, though I'll probably go back to non-fiction after this. I'm just not learning anything from it. 

Hope all is well. Thanks for reading the blog

Sunday, June 19, 2016

It's Father's Day. Because sperm, I guess. I never think of my father. Maybe sometimes, but not often. I do not recall any Father's Day celebrations in our home. It seems strange to think that I have a father. Of course, I must. But, it's surreal.

Other people knew my father. I never did. From them I know what he valued, what he did, things. I don't know. He lived an entire life hidden from me. As I guess mine has been from him, as much as possible anyway.


I wrote about Elijah again today. Elijah is sort of my new boyfriend. I'm a little bit obsessed with him. You can read all about it here. Early in the week I noticed the chiasmus, the two questions are the tip off, at least they were for me, but I didn't put the whole thing together until rather early this morning. It goes like this:

A - Elijah flees

          B - Eat and Drink

                    C - What are you doing here?

                              D - Got Tells E to GO and STAND

E - God passes by

                              D - E GOES and STANDS

                    C - What are you doing here?

          B - Go and Return

A - Elijah gets sent back

C - D - E was easy enough, but I got a little bogged down around B. I felt that Elijah's coming and Elijah's going were connected, but it took me awhile to put eat and drink together with go and return. It wasn't a big part of the essay, though, if you read carefully you can see that I made sort of a chiasmus in the essay itself. It's too subtle to even mention, but I rather like that part.

But what I want to talk to you about is that man in the tombs. There he is, opposite Galilee. And he is tormented. The story tells us that he was tormented by demons. Hum. In a universe of possibilities we can't rule that out. But it seems to me like something else might be going on. \

I have a small class I teach on the side. Five little girls, and they are all five years old. Four of them are a complete delight. The other one is kind of hard headed. My life as a teacher would be easier if she were more like the other children. But I see the spark of genius in her. She's a non-conforming girl living in one of the most conform-valuing societies in the world. There are times when I'd like to drive her out of the classroom for her non-conformity. Of course, I do not. We have to work with this kind of spirit, not against it. Some other teacher will probably come along and crush the spirit out of her, or beat it out. But it won't be me. When she displays her hard-headedness I do not try to overpower her, even though I easily could. I could physically force her to do what I want her to do, or I could just use the force of my will like I do with the high schoolers. She's only five, after all. But what would that achieve? She would just dig in. And when she was old enough, and strong enough, she'd break the bonds of my strength anyway. Physical and mental. And people would say that she's crazy. Maybe even demon possessed. But, she's not. She's just not a conformer.

And so I was thinking about my little hard-headed student this week in relation to the man in the tombs. Maybe the legion of "demons" were really just a million creative ideas, a thousand ways to live differently. Or, maybe, as a pal of mine suggested, he refused to conform to Roman expectations and that is what caused the others to be afraid of him.

I don't know. He is one of the many Bible characters we meet and then don't hear about again. I would like to know what happened to him.

Tomorrow is the first day of a very special week. It's the last week of school. I only have the faintest outline of a plan for my summer. Mainly I am just relieved that for eight weeks I will not have to go to that horrible place.  Hope your week is as happy as mine.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

In my essay last week I wrote about how God desires to answer our prayers and how Elijah's simple prayer for God's presence was enough. You can read it here. In my readings, though, I came upon a story that I wanted to use in the essay, but didn't. I could have used it, but then the essay would have been too long. So, whatever. I didn't use the essay, but I like this a lot:

Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, one of the great Hassidic teachers, looked forward to Seder night every year. 
One year, after the Seder was over, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak went to sleep, content. He had conducted a great Seder with all his students round the table. 
He fell into a deep sleep and dreamt a strange dream. 
In the dream, the prophet Elijah is talking with the angels, giving them an account of the Seder he saw in Jewish homes. He describes the kids' excitement as their eyes are glued to the cup for Elijah to see if he came to visit them this year. 
One of the angels asks, "But which was the most important Seder that you visited? Was it Rabbi Levi Yitzhak's?" 
"Truth be told," Elijah answers, "Rabbi Levi Yitzhak's Seder was full of interesting discussions on the Haggadah, but it cannot be compared to the Seder of Chaim the water carrier." 
At that Rabbi Levi Yitzhak woke up with a start and jumped out of bed. He had to speak to this water carrier named Chaim right away. 
He shook awake one of his students who had fallen asleep at the table and sent him to seek out Chaim. 
Eventually, the student found Chaim in a tumbledown hut at the edge of the town and brought him, dazed and barely awake, to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak's house. 
Rabbi Levi Yitzhak welcomed the puzzled man, and offered him a chair opposite him. Then he asked, "Tell me, my good Chaim, what happened last night at your Seder?" 
Ashamed, looking down at his shabby shoes, Chaim answered: 
"What kind of a Seder could an ignorant, tired fellow like me have? Yesterday, the day before Passover was a very hard day. All the houses were being cleaned, and water was in great demand. I walked backwards and forwards all day, trying to supply everyone with enough water. I slaved away with not a moment's rest. 
"At the end of the day, I arrived home, half dead from exhaustion. My wife Rachel was just lighting the candles for the festival and I asked her to let me rest a while, and I fell into a deep sleep. When I awoke it was nearly dawn. 
"Of course, I quickly woke up Rachel. There was no time now to read the whole Haggadah, so we drank the four cups of wine, and ate the matzah and some maror, and with whatever time I had left, I pleaded with God: 'Almighty, please forgive a simple ignorant man. All I know is that you delivered us in the past from the cruel hands of the Egyptians -- you have led us out of slavery to freedom. And now we are all in exile again, and I ask you with all my heart to lead us again into freedom!" 
Having finished his story of woe, the water carrier waited, sure that the great Rabbi Levi Yitzhak would reprimand him for not making a proper Seder. 
But instead, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok put his hand on Chaim's shoulder and turned to his students and said, "It is extremely important to follow the order of the Seder, but now we know why this man's Seder was the most pleasing to Elijah the Prophet." 
Judaism teaches that "Every individual has to see himself as though he himself was redeemed from Egypt." Telling over the story of going out of Egypt is not enough -- we have to connect with it ourselves. 
Chaim, a simple ignorant Jew, in his one sentence Seder, found favor in God's eyes, because of the depth of his sincerity and his commitment to do the best that he knew. "What comes out of the heart, goes into the heart.

So, once again, the humble, the poor get it right.

The story was written by Rebecca Rubinstein and you can read it at Aish.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

WARNING: This is kind of a rant
I wanted to get a new Kindle because I lost mine the last time I went to the USA. Yes, I know that you can read ebooks on your iPad. Something about that irritates me, even though you can highlight in different colors, it's just not a good reading experience for me. So I went down and got a new Kindle. I did not get the regular $80 Kindle. Nobody uses that anymore. I did not get the Papwewhite, which is what everyone uses. At about $130 US, you can't beat it. I also did not get the fancy new $280 Kindle Voyage. It's just not worth it. But, after I put my hands on it, I knew that I had to own the New $360 Kindle Oasis. And I don't regret it. I love it. But, here's the thing. After I got it home and downloaded my bazillion books I discovered that it has adverts on it! Seriously, for that kind of dough you shouldn't get bombarded with adverts. So this morning I contacted them. Three chat sessions and a phone call later somebody told me how to disable the adverts. Whew... that's great, I thought. Then, when I opened my email I discovered that they'd charged me $22.50 for it. I mean, I am not going to make a ruckus about it, but really? I just don't know what to say about such money grubbing. I almost want to give them a little more, it seems to mean so much to them. I just can't believe it. There ought to be a point at which Amazon says, "Hummm... That Linda McMillan, she's a customer. We should try to keep her!" Instead they just keep nickel and diming you. The good news is that the adverts are off my new Kindle. The other good news is that I have a new Kindle. And the other good news is that I'm not going to rant about it anymore.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Last week my pastor, or whatever... I don't even know what she is, I guess she's A pastor... not MY pastor. I don't have a pastor. I don't know what a pastor is for. Anyway, that woman who runs my church said that young families were the future of the church. That's not true. They aren't. That's just something that somebody said. Having young families in the church is no vaccination against decline and boredom. In fact, I am not sure that concentrating on young families results in anything more than a general dumbing-down and neglect of worship and study. Look, I like seeing the little ones in church too. I think it's nice to have them there, even with their child-like antics. They are children, after all.  But this near-worship of the young, nuclear, dominant-paradigm like family is sickening. They require more pastoral care, don't have as much disposable income, and less time to volunteer.  Honestly, what's there to love about them? 

There's an edge of sour grapes in there, I know, because I want people to believe that middle-aged lesbians are the future of the church, or I at least want them to want us there. But we are not in anybody's desired demographic. No pastor has ever gotten up on a Sunday morning and prayed, "Oh, dear Lard Gesus, please send us some middle-aged lesbians." That has never happened. Yet, we typically have more disposable income, more time to volunteer, and we don't require all the servicing of a young family. What's not to love about the middle-aged lesbian? We're great. 

You know who else is great? Old people. Look around at your congregation tomorrow and tell me how many heads are grey or bald and how many are more youthful. You'll probably see more grey heads than youthful ones. And that does not mean that the church is dying. It just means that the people there are old. And, yes, they will die. That's a given for pretty much all of us. But people are getting old all the time, there is an almost inexhaustible supply of old people because there are more and more all the time. Just because the people in a church are older doesn't mean it has one foot in the grave. Old people are like lesbians, they are easier to care for, have more money, and more time. Plus, there's the added advantage of them being closer to dying so they might be a little more serious about, you know, God. I love 'em! I'd go to a church full of old people.

You know who else is SUPER at doing church? Drag Queens. We are there to think about the transforming love of God, to imagine how our lives could be fabulous, to gaze upon the divine. What could be more helpful than to see a gorgeous drag queen come down the aisle? I'm not talking about trannies, I'm talking about real queens! If I were making up the rules for church we wouldn't have a procession without them! 

And we should get some trannies too because they want to be included. And they are so excited about their new sex that their enthusiasm spills out onto everything they do. So, I'd get some trannies too. But, I'd encourage them not to do too much to their bodies. It's not healthy. But just wear the kinds of clothes you want and act like you want... nobody cares. Just don't hurt yourselves. But, come in and be one of us and have a donut. I'd give everybody a whole donut. We only get half a donut in my church. 

Also, I love seeing homeless people at church. In my parish I only see them outside the gate, and I enjoy visiting with them. They are the kinds of people Jesus would have been talking too. Some of them don't have fingers or a leg. One is blind. They're all poor. But they are always happy to see me. I give them money, that's true enough, but I like to think they actually like me too. We always have a little laugh together. The homeless guys call me by name. Some of them. I bet not one person in my parish church, a church I've been attending pretty regularly for about a year, knows my name. Really, I am totally invisible. One day after church somebody saw me giving them some money and told me that I'd given them too much, and the other one said that I shouldn't encourage them. Really? Couldn't they see that it was ME who was getting encouraged? Makes you wonder who's the blind one.

Of course, the downside of single people is that they may actually have time to study the lectionary readings, to read church history, and to sort of be "with-it" in terms of what's going on. They might not be sufficiently stupid and therefore harder to control. So, I do see the wisdom of excluding single people. God knows the very last thing we want in church is people who know what's going on. 

Anyway, that's my rant about the young families. I kind of hate them. I mean, I'll try not to. But, really... 

Monday, May 9, 2016

It's a quiet and rainy night on the lane. Even the 24/7 Mah Jongg game was quieter than usual.

I ran into Timothy, Mr. Teng's son, outside the gate. There has been a big crack-down by the traffic cops lately. Mr. Teng has gotten a ticket, I've gotten two, and Timothy has gotten three. And yesterday I got pulled over for running a red light, which I did not run! I did not go through the light. But, the thing is that I was not supposed to be on that road. So, they just charged me with the wrong thing and I think that's why I didn't get another ticket. Whatever. The police were very mean about it though. Anyway, Timothy and his friend said that in three months or so things should be back to normal. I hope they are right. I do not like those men yelling at me the way they did yesterday. That is very uncomfortable. And, of course, all I can do is say, "Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir." It's like being four again!

I am on the downhill side of a bad spring cold. I was pretty well knocked out this weekend, though. Two days in the bed. Sleeping. You know I am adamant about getting my beauty rest, but two days! Gads. I am glad to be up and going again, even if a little unsteadily. I will be back to full strength soon, though. No worries about that.

I did manage to get my essay out for The Cafe and, I have to say, I actually like this one. I have been wanting to write some midrash for a long time and this just kind of came to me. Actually, I'd written something else which was OK. I'd put in some obligatory stuff that I felt was "inspirational." You know how people like reading that Jesus holds them close and feels warm and gooey... unicorns... babbling brooks... shit like that. Anyway, I had some of that in there and I felt OK with it. But then I got this idea to let the woman with a spirit speak for herself. At first it was kind of a rant about Paul casting out her spirit of divination. Without that she would have been just another slave. Nothing special. Who knows what might have happened to her! So I had to massage the spirit a little and bring in a spinster aunt, and what started out as a letter to Paul became a full-on epistle. I just love this woman. I hope she likes what did with her story. There might be others in that series. We'll see.

I enjoyed my thing on Rogation Sunday too. Mainly because every single thing I wrote is something that I just recently learned. That's why there were so many Notes Of Possible Interest. I felt happy doing that one.

But the two before that were my most important essays. I know, I know... hardly anyone clicked on LIKE. And they aren't likeable essays. The message is hard. The message is that it is those things which are closest to us, the ones that we may have the strongest feelings about, and which may have been formative for us which are holding us back! Two essays. Same message. What I wanted to say is, "If your church lacks vision, take away the sacraments and see what happens." Slaughter the sacred -- truly sacred -- cow and see if it doesn't open your eyes.  Of course I am not suggesting we actually do that. Or, am I! That's all I'm going to say.

The preaching at my little English language church continues to be in the crapper. The last sermon I heard was so bad I wondered if the guy had had a stroke or something. It was just incomprehensible. I kind of felt sorry for him. But there is a woman who preached once and I learned some things from that about Celtic spirituality. So, that was nice. To learn something. And another thing I like is we've been having creeds from other churches. Some are not very trinitarian. But, you know what? Not every creed has to address a Christological crises. It is sort of relaxing to just read a creed that is not in any way controversial. Of course, I read it carefully before we actually read it in case someone has slipped in a filioque! Gotta keep alert for that! LOL. People are so funny. Me included. -- At the Eucharist no one has called me "dear" in awhile, so I'm happy about that.  -- Sometimes I wonder if I'm not just a grumpy old church lady. But I kind of think that I am not.

Obviously, I'm feeling chatty tonight. But it's time for bed... Gotta get that beauty rest.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

It's finally tee-shirt weather in JingAn. I am glad for summer to be here, though it means I no longer have an excuse to stay in and read all day.

Here is the thing I wrote for The Cafe last week. I don't know how many people "liked" it, but I wasn't too impressed. Some are better than others. What I wanted to say, and I don't think I did a good job of it, is that as the mission was expanding geographically, it was also expanding in scope. Paul didn't fully realize that until this week when we will read about his vision. All the traif food will be lowered on a sheet from Bed Bath and Beyond and EUREKA! That's the easy point. I might have even made that point. But the point that I was interested in, and the one I think I fumbled, is the one where it turns out to be the very things which have formed him, the things he holds dear, which became his stumbling blocks. He kept the law, remained ritually pure, and those are not just legalistic requirements that people did. The mitzvot are ways of spiritualizing our lives. Paul didn't have the 613 that we have today, all organized as they are. That happened in the third century. But, he certainly had enough to go on.  He would have recognized the laws as a means of knowing and loving God. It probably seemed very good to him. But it also blinded him. That's what I wanted to say. I wonder what is blinding me. I mean, I know. I have issues, so I know some of the things that are blinding me. But, are there others? Not sure.

Anyway, I don't have anything new to say about Paul's vision. It should be clear enough to anyone with eyes to read it that God has made all things good and we shouldn't be all judg-y about what other people do or don't do.

I do have something to say about Passover, though. Some years I am able to just observe that it's Passover time, and that's all. And other years I really feel drawn into it... at least drawn into these 50 days between Pesach and Shavuot. Not to give anything away, but I'll probably write about that.

I need a new pair of trainers so I'll be off to the Crystal Galleria mall in a few minutes. There's an Adidas store there. I shopped at New Balance last night, but those are ugly shoes. I couldn't even bring myself to try on a pair. I might shop a few other places. You never know. Have a good weekend everybody.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I have a four-day weekend coming up. So that's the good news.

I think I'll write about Dorcas/Tabitha for The Cafe this week. I usually choose the gospel, but I rather like Dorcas. It's an important story because it represents an initial blending of Roman ways and Hebrew ways. Check out the way both names are used for Dorcas and for Paul too. That's a clue.

The obvious question is why people aren't raised from the dead today. I will not be addressing that  question because I do not know. But I will probably talk about community and shit like that. We'll see.

Love to all.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Chinese Students

Regarding this article in The Boston Globe:

A friend on FB wanted to know what I thought about the article in The Boston Globe. Here is what I said:

That touches on some issues. I really think someone needs to do the research and just write a book about the explosion of Chinese people seeking academic degrees. It’s a marvel to me, these people without basic thinking skills (Inference, predicting, synthesizing, etc…) or the cognitive tools to express themselves (opinions, desires, etc…) who have now obtained a credential which qualifies them to be my boss. An infuriating marvel. 

What articles like this usually leave out is the fact that many of the ss who attend overseas universities are not at all qualified to do so:   Not in English, not in Chinese, not in Klingon… there is no language in which these students are able to study at a university level or really even a mediocre high school level. They do not have the skills. They will never have the skills. They would probably be happier driving a taxi in Nanjing than pursuing their parent’s dream of a child who has studied overseas. Year after year they have been placed in classes in which they have no hope of success… and yet they pass! Money talks. Education is big business. There is nothing, including prestigious degrees, that is not for sale. That’s the key concept that westerners have to get.  

These are the ss I teach. Some have learning difficulties which are beyond the abilities of any of us to deal with, others are not smart enough, most — by far a majority — have just learned that they will pass whether they study or not. That becomes problematic when they are suddenly put in a situation in which their learning is objectively evaluated. 

One thing I do with a new class is TTT. It’s an easy way to see what they know and find out how they learn (plus, lets me know whether or not they can take a quiz without doing what westerners call cheating.) The way it works is, I have a concept I want to teach… say, plural nouns… first, I give them a quiz using questions I think will give me about a 50% pass rate. Then I teach to their weaknesses (input, worksheet, activities… easy-peasy) Then, I give another quiz using questions at the same level. I should get higher marks, right? Well, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. What I do, though, and this is the interesting part, I share the results with the class. But they do not understand why. Typically they are not able to process the fact that they have, or have not, done better on the second quiz. The most common response I get is, “Why you give so much test.” Not being able to do something, then learning about it, and acquiring the skill to do it… they don’t understand that. What they understand is that they are all going to pass.  They’ve paid the money, after all.

Money is the key. I liked the story about the guy who told his Chinese clients that there was a 40,000 (was that USD?) donation required every year. The article seemed to give the impression that he shouldn’t have done that, but I thought it was clever. It’s how things are done. He might have wanted to buy a car or get married, after all.  When I lived in Wuxi my real estate agent (because there is an agent for everything) wanted a monthly stipend for having found me the flat. What I did is I got the property owner to lower my rent by that amount, then I offered the property owner an additional 100 RMB per month to write me a fapiao for 500 RMB above what I actually paid. Thus, the agent got his stipend, I think it was 300, the property owner got an additional 100, and I got an additional 400 because I turned in a fake fapiao. I had an attack of conscience about this once and confessed to Jacky. Instead of being angry he was proud of me. He said I was really becoming Chinese. 

College admissions is a big business in China. There are companies which help ss and their families navigate what is admittedly a complex system of making application and getting accepted to ANY western school, though they would all like to go to Harvard and often do not understand why this is not possible. What articles like this one DON’T tell you is that the “help” families pay dearly for is not just with the paperwork, but also in obtaining adequate scores on IELTS and other admissions tests. Your school’s recruitment office may think they are getting students who scored a 6.5 on their IELTS, but it may very well be that they are getting a student who is closer to 4.5. (I think the USA uses TOEFL which is similar though not as widely accepted.) The scores are simply faked. This happens, and it happens a lot. I have been asked, and offered good money, to write admissions essays. I  have turned it down in the past, but I’ll probably do it next time. Why shouldn't I get a little on the side too? Though I have to be paid in cash. Do not bring me a bag of cigarettes. LOL. I’ve actually been offered that. The other thing they do is “enhance” the admissions package with volunteer activities, and creative endeavors. The current story making the rounds is about a lad whose father flew him to Tibet for the day so he could be photographed feeding poor people. It happens. When we talk about volunteering or getting a summer job my students just stare at me blankly. They are going to be rich anyway, why would they work at all, certainly not for free. 

Here’s something westerners don’t seem to understand:  Chinese people cheat. All of them cheat, and they do it pretty much all of the time. I remember a few years ago there was a photo of some Chinese students whose desks had been moved outside and separated by wide spaces as a preventative to cheating. Every single teacher I showed that photo to said, “Oh, they’re cheating.” One year in Wuxi Jacky and I were invigilating a final examination and I caught a student cheating. He had answers written on the inside of his forearm (It was pretty clear that someone had given him the test in advance because the answers were 1b, 2d, 3a, like that.) Well, I was ready to fail him on the spot and hold Nuremberg-like hearings about what was going on in the copy room (like we didn’t all already know what was gong on in the copy room… they, too, have their ways of making a little on the side.) I angrily said, “Go show Mr. Zhou.” When he showed his arm to Jacky, Jacky laughed. Thus ended my career as a war-crimes prosecutor. The thing is, it’s not a moral issue. Not at all. The far higher good is pleasing your parents and being a good Chinese. If your friends help you along the way… well, isn’t that what friends are for? If western schools hope to have any understanding of their Chinese ss they have to understand that what we call cheating is simply a way of life. There is no value attached to it. Same-same for plagiarism. The thinking is that if something has been written once why would anyone bother to write about it again? Just copy what’s already there. Anything else is duplicated effort and stupid. Believe me, your Chinese ss are copying off the Wiki. Attribution? You’ve got to be kidding. Whatever exists is there for the good of the society. It is free to use. 

Obviously, I explain these things to my ss. I don’t want them to go to the abroad, as they say, and have problems because they don’t know how to take a quiz, behave in class, or otherwise conform to western expectations. But, I gotta tell ya, they are baffled by it. I go over it over, and over, and over. I don’t tell them that one way is right and one way (their way) is wrong. But I do tell them that they will have to conform in some small ways to western culture. It’s a hard sell.

Many of my students, at least a plurality, have been in some kind of boarding situation for most of their academic life. Some didn’t start until junior high. A few are day students. Most go home at the weekend but live at school during the week. Even when they are home their parents are often absent. Just a few weeks ago one of my younger ss ran up to me and he was really excited. He breathlessly told me that his mom was coming to see him and his younger brother. He was really so thrilled, and he asked me to come and meet her. I am a softie, so I said I would. There are rooms where parents can come and visit their children and so I showed up at the room. The mother was late, causing a little anxiety. She breezed in, gave the most perfunctory kisses I’ve ever seen… I would be insulted to be kissed like that… and gave the boys presents. Nice presents. Mostly she chatted with the other adults in the room. And then she left. It was just an easy breezy, here then gone, type of thing. The boys were happy and so I was happy with them. But, honestly, I almost cried. I felt so bad. Later, the older boy, my student, did tell me he wished his mom could have stayed longer. But it is what it is for those boys. They are sweet boys. The younger one comes to my office a lot. I don’t know why. I keep candy in there. But they don’t really have an adult in their lives. Many of my ss have never had a stable adult role-model to which they can relate. Going to bed on time, personal hygiene, courtesy… these things were not modeled at all. Thus, we have a kind of Lord Of The Flies situation in which younger ss learn from older ss. Mostly, they just learn their place in the hierarchy, and how to get through. The Chinese educational system supports this with a system of class monitors who are charged with maintaining order. That’s code, btw, for ensuring that teachers don’t find out what’s really going on. Most of the real jockeying for dominance goes on outside the classroom. I have stories to tell about that, but I won’t do it here. It does, however, go a long way in explaining why Chinese students tend to group when they go overseas. They understand that society. I mean, part of it is the language. Ss leave China every day, bound for foreign unis, who don’t really understand English.  They are not going to learn it. Their parents are going to pay a lot of money and the University of New England in Armidale is going to give them as many degrees as they’ll pay for. That’s the reality. But the other side of it is that they do not want to acquire western values, and they are not interested in western culture. They create a bubble in which everybody knows their place. That’s comfortable for them. We all find a way to be comfortable, don’t expect your Chinese ss to be any different. 

That is probably more than you wanted to know. Just remember, money, money, cigarettes…. No, just kidding about the cigarettes. Not really. I pay for my scooter parking with cigarettes. Cigarettes are as good as cash, really. And it’s not bribery. it’s simply undocumented payment. I’ll tell you, the smartest thing I ever did in China was start walking around with a package of cigarettes. I don’t smoke, btw. But, it helps grease the wheels a little. 

I will leave it to the real academics to discuss how this influences the value of a bachelor degree (hint:  makes it worthless) or how best to deal wth Chinese students after they arrive. I’m doing the best I can over here, but… you know. 

I will recommend two additional resources:

This is from several years ago but is still relevant and gives some insight into the agency role in getting ss in to uni. 

The other recommendation I will make is the BBC series, “Are Our Students Tough Enough,” which documents an experiment in which some ss were taught using a British method and some were taught using a Chinese method. I won’t give away the results because it’s a good documentary, kind of exciting. 

I assume that there are some Chinese students who are bright, engaged, able to process information, and express themselves. I have not met one. But, you know, in a universe of possibilities they almost have to exist.

And now on to the far more engaging question… What will we say about Thomas this week?!

On a personal note, Jane, I've been enjoying your tree pictures. You know how I love the trees. And +Maya.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

I cut my fingernail this morning while slicing up some vegetables for a soup. That's right my fingerNAIL. Of course, I couldn't find it so I have probably stirred it into the soup and will eventually eat my own fingernail. If that's not gross enough, I now only have about 3/4 of a fingernail on one of my fingers. So, there's that.

I go to bed early, ten pm at the very latest. I usually get up in the night for an hour or two and I pray, or think, or watch the fish. And then I go back to sleep for a few hours. Yesterday when I was up in the middle of the night I heard something going on outside. At first, I thought I was just imagining things, but then it became really clear that something was going on out there. So, I went to the door and looked through the peephole, but it was too dark to see anything. But I could definitely hear something out there, and it wasn't the cat. So, I turned on the light and threw open the door all at the same time and found myself staring at some guy who took off running. Then I saw another guy running. So, I yelled after them to get off our lane. Then I went back to bed.

This morning I sent a We Chat message to Timothy, that's Mr. Teng's son who knows a little English. He said that he already knew and that everybody on the lane thinks I am very brave. So, I basically said OK, but we should all leave our lights on to keep the thieves off the lane because I'm pretty sure those are the guys who have been stealing our bikes. Later the police came to talk to me. And when I went out for my walk some people came out and were very congratulatory of me for scaring off the thieves. We assume they are thieves, anyway. So, that's the story of how I became a heroine for a day. My fifteen minutes.

I was feeling kind of down about work because I am now the only foreigner in my office with four Chinese people. We all get along well enough, but they never talk to me unless they need something. I am left out of all the office chatter, which is OK. But it would be nice to have someone to talk to once in awhile. But, on Thursday, I got a new desk in a new office with a lot of foreigners in it. So that will be better for me. And it's warm in the new office. I don't know what it is about Chinese people, but they open the windows in the dead of winter and wear their coats inside. Then they'll look at me and say, "Are you cold?" and I just want to say... Well, I'm trying not to talk like that during Lent, but it's not very nice. So, anyway, it's working out for me with the new warm office full of foreigners. There are some Chinese people in there too, but it's about half and half.

I had a long walk this afternoon. That felt good.

I realize that fear has been ruling me for about a year now, and I don't like it. So, I am making some changes. I am just not going to be fearful. Something happened that made me fearful, and that was reasonable at that time, but it's not reasonable anymore. I've still got some anxiety issues, but I am calling out fear when I see it. And I'm not giving in.

I took a break from writing the Sunday essay at The Episcopal Cafe and that was good. I used that mental space for other things for a few weeks and it was really good for me. But I am glad to be back at it. I don't think last week's essay was my best, but I got started again. I have enjoyed spending my week with Moses, Jethro, Jeremiah, and even Jesus, though I don't understand that thing with the fig tree. I've got questions about that. I really do. But what I am starting to understand is that exile is a theme running from Eden almost to the eschaton and that we'd better give it some thought. So I think my essay will be about that. 

We did have a sad event on the lane while I was away. The bird at the end of the lane died. It was a frumpy old bird, but I am sad that it died. 

My neighbors seem glad to have me back. This evening some of them asked me to sit with them for awhile, so I did. It's hard for us to talk, but we try a little. Also, we just sit. 

Mr. Teng's wife feels especially close to me now for some reason. Her mother died right before I left. On the last day before I left they burned all the mother's possessions and I was there. I was just walking by. But I didn't know what to do so I stopped. Really, I didn't know what to do. So I said a prayer. That I think was unusual, but appreciated because now they all love me. 

It surprises me how many people want me to pray for them, citing their own lack of religion. And I tell them that they can pray for themselves, that God is waiting to hear from them. But they believe this is impossible because they have no religion. But because I have religion... So there is a challenge to get people from believing in my God to believing that my God is their God too. I haven't worked that out yet. Obviously western logic isn't working. But I am floundering in how to make that possible for the Chinese mind.

So, that's kind of a catch-up.