Friday, April 19, 2013 0 comments


Negativity...and those who give the rest of us a bad name. 

It seems like everywhere I look today on the internet, there are stories of people who claim to be Christians acting completely un-Christlike. I read a long article about an (extreme) fundamentalist group that adopted orphans from Liberia in large numbers, although most of the parents weren't prepared to parent children from tragic backgrounds.  Many of these adoptions failed or ended up in bad situations, some in child abuse.  To add to it, the adoption agencies they used were mostly ones capitalizing on the sudden spike in interest--and using questionably legal practices.

There was a guy whose public picture shows him with a bumper sticker "Christian and Democrat" who is mentally disturbed and sent poisoned letters to the president and some senator.  

I read about "homes for troubled teens" run by a fundamentalist group (I need to go back and check the articles and see if it was the same one that was involved in the adoption craziness) that, in the name of "submission" and "obedience" abused and imprisoned young girls.  

One of my favorite websites when I need a laugh is; this site and its sister sights are a collection of anecdotes people have sent in.  The original site tells stories about times the customer is not always right--and I've learned that there are a lot of crazy people out there and some especially ignorant people.  But lately it seems there's been several stories about customers who spot a gay person or couple and start screaming insults at them and insist that they are thrown out of the store for being an abomination and sinful and that God hates them...usually, it ends up with the screamer being thrown out instead, and rightfully so.  People like this give the rest of us a bad name... They believe that homosexuality is a sin, but apparently they didn't read the rest of the book--hate, filthy language, treating others badly, anger...these are also sins.   Do they honestly think screaming at someone or treating them like filthy animals is going to change them? 

I read somewhere--and I don't remember exactly where, so I can't go back and check how credible it was while writing this-- that Westboro Baptist or whatever they are called--you know the ones, they picket soldier's funerals and such--said that the Boston bombing was God's punishment on wicked people, and that they might plan a demonstration soon to that effect...

  I was on my favorite quiz site, Sporcle, and I was playing some games in the "religion" section (I usually spend more time in the geography and literature sections) and read the comments--why do people who are antagonistic towards religion even bother going to that part of the site?  And why do they have to leave posts insulting believers?  They do get voted down for being insulting..but anyone who expresses their faith gets voted down, too.  The only way to win popular approval is to be neutral. 

And party because of such things, there is a constant flow of derision towards religion in general. Not only towards Christians--the hateful, ignorant, and mean-spirited things people say to and about Muslims makes me sick as well.  But I think that because Muslim fundamentalists are seen as crazy terrorists, then Christian fundamentalists must also be crazy extremists, then all Christians, then I see things like "religions cause hate"...where does it end?  

 I just keep reminding myself of 1 Corinthians 1--that there will always be people who think what others believe is stupid. God's wisdom is higher than those who are wise according to public opinion in our generation.  As a person who wants to be thought of as intelligent, being thought stupid is a challenge for me. I know this stuff is out there every day, but I just seem to be overwhelmed by the negativity today.
Sunday, April 14, 2013 0 comments

Opportunities from Above

I love it in my work (teaching about the Book) when opportunites just jump into your lap. Three in the last 24 hours: a teacher who has an American husband who I just happened to sit two tables over from in a restaurant and struck up a conversation with wants to join us in our group next Sunday morning; a grad student asked if I knew this song she had on her phone and really likes--a song called "Grace" by Laura Story; and, an undergraduate student I had last semester but hadn't talked to since just chatted with me on qq to ask if we had any meeting she could come to and she's going to go with us next Sunday, too. Please be 'thinking' about all these things...
Saturday, April 13, 2013 0 comments

Spring in Wuhan

We're having a beautiful spring here in Wuhan—which is unusual, according to my students.  Most years it goes from chilly, damp winter to meltingly hot summer almost overnight.  This year, though, it thankfully has been in the 60s or 70s more days than not for the past month, and not even quite as much rain as usual.  Today is the first day it's really felt hot at all—I haven't seen the weather report, but it feels like it's probably in the low 80s. I stayed in nearly all day yesterday  cleaning, so I decided I really ought to get outside while I can before the Wuhanese summer (they don't call this city "one of the three furnaces of China" for nothing) sets in. I was going to just take a walk after lunch, but then I thought—I have a laptop for a reason. So, here I am—sitting on a park bench by the south lake, across the road from my campus.  Such a pleasant day to sit in the shade.  Also, hopefully I will get more work done out here where I have my laptop but not the internet. 

As I was leaving, I saw a couple getting their wedding pictures made near the lake, so I got a couple of stalker zoom pretty. :)   


Pretty flowers!

The girls last night brought me some flowers as a hostess gift since I invited them over.  I wish they hadn't gone to the trouble--I tell my students not to bring stuff, but they never listen.  The flowers smells so good, though--my whole living room smells like roses. 

And sorry about the yellow high-lighting on my last post--valuable lesson learned; erase spell-check stuff from the email before sending it. :)  

English Party #1 with my Grad Students

From left to right: Jennifer, Summer, Annie, Mickey, Jessie, Angeline, and Jessie

Last night, I had the first of the groups from my graduate classes over.  I wasn't sure how it would go—they're a few years older than the students I've had over in the past, so maybe they wouldn't be as easily impressed, and also Micah and I don't share graduate students, so I was on my own. Sometimes I run out of things to talk about and nervously sip my drink during awkward pauses when I have to entertain a small group on my own (weird—as a teacher, it doesn't make me nervous at all to stand up and lecture for two hours in front of a whole class full of students, but one on one or with a small group I sometimes struggle to keep a conversation going.).  Micah helps with that when we've had our parties together, because he always tells jokes and picks out somebody to tease and give a hard time to. 

Fortunately, it turned out to be one of the most fun groups I've had yet—a few years older turned out the be good, because it meant that they're that much closer to my age and so we have more in common than I do with my younger students, and also they are less intimidated by me as the teacher.  I set out the normal snacks—popcorn (with salt—always a shock to them!  Popcorn here is always sweet; movie theaters serve something closer to Cracker Jacks than the buttery popcorn we're used to), chips ahoy, oreos, sunflower seeds, etc.  Last semester, I made jello for most of my groups, but I'm kind of bored with that, and besides, I've been craving another strawberry cobbler since I made one a couple of weeks ago.  This was the perfect opportunity to make one in a situation in which I'd get some but not eat the whole thing. 

I was running a bit late getting ready; I had everything done except the strawberry cobbler and mixing up the lemonade (thanks, Carrie, for leaving behind eleventy billion packets of lemonade kool-aid!  My students love it!). Actually, that turned out well too—food is a great common denominator across cultures, and several were interested in seeing how a westerner cooks.  Sunny Summer (she always wanted the English name Summer since that's what her name means in Chinese, but she didn't know if was acceptable as a name in English.  Once I told her it was, she decided she's going to start using that.  As if learning 140 names in a semester wasn't bad enough, somebody always has to change! You know, if she thought Summer probably wouldn't work, why did she think sunny would?) washed the strawberries, Annie filled the pitcher with water for the lemonade, Lily was there and did something but I don't remember what.  Annie stayed to watch the whole process as I melted the butter and mixed in the sugar, flour, and milk. 

We spent over an hour eating and talking.  The cobbler turned out well, except maybe a little sweet.  The sugar here comes in bigger grains that that I'm used to using in the U.S., so maybe I should use a little less of it.  And there were no awkward pauses in conversation—not with Sunny Summer around.  She always has a question.  If she doesn't, Angeline is always good for a story.  We then played a couple of games of Uno—Angeline had played once before, so she helped explain the rules.  I usually that once someone goes out, everyone else keeps playing until there's only one person left, rather than bothering with keeping score and rounds and all.  The first game, Summer ended up being the last one.  Now, for most of us Americans, we would just say, "Rotten luck!" or some such to the loser and that would be the end of it.  Here, though, it's not a good game unless there's a "punishment" for the loser.  For lack of creativity, it's usually to sing a song (not as embarrassing here, where karaoke is so popular, as it would be for many Ameicans…).  And so it was that Summer performed a dramatic version of "My Heart will Go On" from Titanic.  She sang so seriously that Annie, Jessie, and me were falling out of our chairs laughing silently, trying not to laugh out loud.  Finally in the chorus she added in dramatic hand gestures, and we all gave up and giggled through the rest of the song.  

The second round, it came down to Annie and me, and we kept getting stuck and having to draw more and more cards—would it ever end?  Finally, Annie came out on top.  So, my turn to sing a song (I'm used to it by now—I usually sing "I'll Fly Away" or some such—I keep meaning to learn to words to Adele's Someone Like You because that's what they usually want me to sing, but I can't ever remember both the words and the tune at the same time).  Before I could start, Jennifer (not the same Jennifer I've talked about before—I have three students named Jennifer) asked if I knew a song called "Grace." 

"Amazing Grace, maybe?"

"No, just 'Grace.' Hold on, I have it here on my phone."

I hummed the tune of "Amazing Grace" while she was looking for it, and Summer hummed along with me—most of my students are familiar with at least the tune of that one because it's in so many movies, especially funeral scenes.  But that wasn't it.

"Here—listen."  It turned out to be a gospel song by Laura Story, who I hadn't heard of before.  The words were good, though.  Unfortunately, I couldn't sing that, since I hadn't heard it before. However, it's interesting that she likes it enough to have on her phone.  After they left, I looked up the lyrics.  I'm going to find it and listen to it so that I can bring it up again to start a conversation with her later.  Always nice to have little opportunities for conversation starters. 

We chatted a bit more before they left—they seemed to genuinely enjoy the evening more than any other group I've had; I hope my next few groups go as well!  I really like these girls, and I hope I get the chance to spend more time with them.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013 0 comments

Writing, Week 1

The spring semester officially began on February 25th, and I was thrown into it immediately, as I have an 8:00 am class on Mondays.  (That ought to be illegal.)  I have another right after at 10:00, but by then both I and they are waking up.  

Two of my writing classes are the same as last semester, so we just picked up right where we left off.  With 1105, the class that was Micah's last semester, I did take about twenty minutes at the beginning of class to do introductions and let them know who I was a bit.  I find that, while it seems a bit narcissistic and not actually accomplishing any teaching goals, telling them about myself is helpful in the long run.  Many of the students feel a bit intimidated by foreign teachers, or they lack the confidence to speak out much.  If they feel like they know me, that I want to be friends with them, they are a lot more comfortable speaking in class and less hesitant to ask questions.  Turns out, the students in 1105 are pretty comfortable anyhow, introductions or no.  

There was, of course, one first-week kerfluffle (fun word!); my schedule had an error: it said that my 10:00 students would be coming to the same classroom as my 8:00 class, but theirs had them in a classroom two floors down and two doors over.  I was excited to meet my new class, had everything set up and ready to go.  And no one came in...well, maybe their first class is far away.  Two minutes to the bell.  Something's not right...the bell rings and I haven't seen anyone except one startled-looking upperclassman ducking his head in to see if the classroom was empty to be used for a study hall, then retreating quickly when he saw me.  I texted my Chinese colleage, Anna.  Fortunately, she didn't have a class right then, and she rushed to the computer to check the schedules and quickly got it sorted out.  So, I gathered up all my teaching paraphernelia and scuttled downstairs.  And there they were, sitting expectantly in A203, as their schedules said.  Anyhow, we just lost five minutes, and teacher and students were reunited at last.  

Last semester, we did a lot of exercises with the mechanics of writing: diction, sentences, paragraphs of every sort you can imagine and probably a few you can't.  This semester, the focus is essays.  We had a staff meeting the Friday before (before classes started Monday--they don't do planning ahead real well around here) and worked out the basic syllabus.  First, the writing process, then a short overview of descriptive and narrative essays, and then most of the semester split between expository (explaining) essays and argumentative/persuasive essays, as the last two are more useful for future classes and tests they will have.  

So, week 1: thesis sentences.  I know it seems basic for a college-level class, but the writing style in Chinese is, apparently, vastly different, and so they way we English-speakers are used to organizing our thoughts is something that takes a bit more practice for my students.  The thesis sentence is the most important sentence in the essay; if I can get them to get this right, the organization of the rest of the essay will be easy.  So, over and over, I emphasize--your thesis sentence should tell me the topic, the purpose/position you are taking, and give me an idea as to the organization of your essay (list of reasons/details that will become the body paragraphs).  Formulaic, I know, but clarity and good organization are much bigger goals right now than originality.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 0 comments

Another 1105 Party

A few more students from class 1105 came over on Friday night, March 22nd: Laura, Zoe, Arjen, Monkey, and Lucas.  And yes, Monkey knows that is a ridiculous "name."  The boys hadn't eaten dinner yet, so they brought a ton of street food with them, so combined with all the usual snacks, we had a quite a feast.  I had forgotten how much boys that age can eat...

Lucas had to leave early, but the other four stayed and we taught them to play dominoes.  We've been teaching Uno at most parties, but to tell you the truth, I think both Micah and I are thoroughly sick of that one.  The students the last couple of times have caught on to dominoes pretty quickly, and I'm happy to finally get some use out of the dominoes set that Mom sent me for Christmas. :)  

So, three parties down.  I'm taking a little break for a couple of weeks, and then I need to figure out inviting over my oral English classes, which will probably take another eight parties, at least.  It's a bit tiring sometimes, but it really helps in getting to know the students to see them outside of class in a small group.  

Me: 1 Students: 1

April Fool's Update:  I intended to play some sort of joke on my students, but they beat me to it!  I showed up for my 8:00 class empty classroom.  It's Monday, right? I know this is the right classroom; I even checked the schedule by the door.  Did someone forget to pass on the message that class was canceled for some reason?  I'm going to be mad...I got up at the crack of dawn (Okay, 7, but I am not a morning person) for this and slogged all the way over here for nothing...I tried calling two students in the class, but they aren't answering their phones...  

And then Sharon poked her head around the back door to the classroom. They'd all been hanging out in an empty classroom down the hall waiting to April Fool's me. They all trooped in and we got started with only the normal technical difficulties. :)

My second class, however, didn't think of doing anything.  I couldn't resist..after I called role, I announce a pop quiz, get out a sheet of paper, etc...their looks of horror and panic for about thirty seconds were priceless.  Then they realized I was struggling to keep a straight face, and we never have quizzes, and we all had a good laugh.  That's part of the fun of teaching in another culture--"the oldest trick in the book" is new again.  

So, one for me, one for the students...actually, I think they win; class 1103 got me much better than I got class 1105!