Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pac Man City

Wan Chai, Hong Kong
In the interest of getting into the habit of posting on the blog again, I'm going to put up a photo a day - each for no particular reason other than I like them in some way. This one is from a recent visa run to Hong Kong, just down the street from the Asteroids massage parlor and across from the Missile Command cafe.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Beginning Chapter Two (already in progress)

Chengdu, chapter two: out our back window

Ah, a lazy Sunday afternoon, with Jane at a seminar at the school up the road for new Waldorf parents, sounds of Zekey humming off in the spare bedroom, Ysa educating to her dolls (in Chinese), and Xander reading a big fat cartoon joke book. I've opened the editor for this blog several times in the past weeks, but then got sucked down the rabbit hole of the internet. This time, there's an article on the top five tips for reading Moby Dick (Why? There is no why. It's the internet!) waiting in another browser tab, but I can't start it till I hit the "publish" button.

Blogging for our China 2.0 experience is much more intimidating that writing blog was the first time around. Not too many "oh, wow, look at this different thing that I've discovered" posts to write, and the discoveries that remain, while interesting and amazing, also require a bit more unpacking. Chronology and events are likewise more involved, personal occurrences are more personal, and even the summaries are sometimes hard to summarize. So there have been many false starts, which have crashed and burned because, well, they weren't all that interesting to me, let alone some poor stranger on the internet somewhere.

But we know that blogging is all about navel gazing anyway, right?

And showing pretty pictures, like this one:

Sha Tin, Hong Kong

And (from the grandmother placation department), this:

First day of school, chapter two

...But...if you're reading this, chances are you've read this blog already, and you know what you've signed up for, right?

Let the Randomness Resume!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Announcing our family theme song

We had a massively huge going away party last Sunday evening, and since it had been raining a steady drizzle from Friday onward, we decided to have the party indoors.  Which meant a heck of a lot of cleaning house. Whose stuff? The kids' stuff, mostly. Piles of papers and school tests and drawings on the backs of old student handouts that had become geological in nature.

And who best to clean up kids' stuff? Kids, of course... which means that a certain level of motivation was required. For some reason, this motivation came in the form of China Pop. Specifically, the song covered* in the video above. Over and over (and over and over) again. So now I have the mixed blessing of A) having my kids insert a singsongy brain worm into my head, which B) I have no almost no clue what it means.  On the other hand, it could be C) much much worse. [Have you read all my posts going on and on about what amazing popular music they have here in China?  No?  There's a very good reason for that...].

And D) at least they're all singing along in Chinese. I just really really hope lyrics of the song are age-appropriate. Although the image of our kids singing a catchy, cute, and utterly graphically obscene song in fluent Mandarin as we go through customs in the airport does have its own certain charm, don't you think?

*A curatorial note:  We have the real version of this song, sung by, by... um, some female vocalist that's popular with them kids these days.  The version above, judging from the position of the steering wheel, is by a high school physics teacher from Taiwan who moonlights as a truck driver.  Or the assistant manager of a Radio Shack.  Whatever - at least he's making enough money to buy his students those cool white jumpsuits...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Music for moving (and staying)

Found this during a brief bit of distraction research the other day, and showed it to the kids this afternoon.  Ysa was especially entranced, watching it four times while I made dinner.

Y:  Is this a real place, Daddy?
Me:  Yep, it is.
Y:  Is this a real real place or a for fake real place?
Me:  You mean are they acting?  No, this is a real real place.
Y:  Daddy, I want to go there sometime!
Me:  Me too!

(...although I think we'll wait a couple of years, eh?)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Whoo-Hoo, Chapter Two!


Remember that job opportunity I was hinting at?  Well, it's now switched from the realm of opportunity into the world of next September.  Yep, I've got a new job!  It's at the Chengdu Waldorf School, where I'll be teaching English to a much younger audience, indeed - first through third graders.  I will probably go on in greater detail at some point, but for now, enough to say that it fits my teaching style, there's a really great community to work with, and a lot of what both Jane and I like.  In China!

In the last three or four weeks, I've been heading over there a lot, but have been spending my time interviewing, observing classes, and teaching sample lessons.  I've not, however, taken many pictures, so for now you'll have to satisfy yourselves with the above view of X on a swing, and a brief glimpse of the primary school's courtyard, taken from just outside the third grade classroom.  Stay tuned for a slightly more detailed tour in the fall!


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lookin' Back...


Spotted on our local side street outside the university gate a week or so ago, which started me thinking on how much can happen in three or so years.  For example, when we first came to China, this lil' guy wasn't even born yet... 

Asia in a second a day

Speaking of reasons why we don't feel like we're done with Asia yet...

Kevin Kelly, one of my favorite thinkers on the internet, was in Asia for the last couple of months.  While here, he took a one second video each day, except for a few times when he cheated and added an extra second here and there.  It starts with China and moves through Southeast Asia and onward to India - amazing how well his eye has captured the amazing mix of Everything that's in this part of the world.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lotsa Reasons


I mentioned yesterday that we're hoping to land a job in Chengdu for the fall (wish us luck, everyone!).  All through this spring, there's been this feeling that we're not quite done with Asia yet.  Above and below, a few of the reasons for us wanting to stay here.

These pictures were taken at Jane's birthday party back in May, which we celebrated out at our friend's organic farm in the countryside about an hour away from our house.  I never got around to posting them on the blog at the time (you weren't expecting anything chronological anyway, were you?), but they seem quite appropriate to post now.  I could caption them, (short version: the party Rocked!) but I think the pictures tell most of the story...

IMG_5415  IMG_5404


IMG_5333  IMG_5325


IMG_5324  IMG_5312


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sign O' The Times

Near Jingtian Donglu, Chengdu

At the risk of jinxing anything, or sounding a bit foolish or strange, a little Life Situation update may be in order.  A good percentage of our last couple of weeks here at Xihua University has been devoted not to finding closure with friends (although we've been doing plenty of that), or doing favorite things for the Last Time (ditto on that), or even (heaven forbid!) packing.  Instead, we've been following up on a job opportunity, here in Chengdu!  I don't think I'll say much here about it, except that it is A) exciting and promising, B) fits our values in so so many ways, and C) came alone so late in the game that it's, ummm..., still undecided.  As in we may get a job and a visa to be here in the fall, and .. we may not.

So, not for the first time, we find ourselves still living in a strange land of limbo, between two places, with nothing concrete at either end.  If a decision gets made to hire us, we're here in China - if not, we're back in the States.  So, much like Schrödinger's cat, (if you were paying attention in your physics class) we find ourselves occupying two separate realities simultaneously. Except that no cats will be killed in this thought experiment, only made homeless.  (More on that in an upcoming post...)

The funny thing about it?  It should make me feel utterly beside myself crazy, right?!  But somehow, it doesn't.  Well most of the time, anyway.  I could view it as being out of control of my life, but it doesn't feel like that.  After all, I'm not a victim of anything here, unless I'm the victim of a great opportunity that I just barely caught.  It feels more like, hmmm, waiting?  Floating?  Surfing.  Skiing.   Making decisions, then letting gravity do the rest of the work.  Channeling my inner Pat Morita from Karate Kid.  (Note to self: maybe I should actually get around to watching that movie soon) 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Things I wish I'd had the camera for

Over the weekend, I had a chance to make a solo overnight trip up Qingcheng Shan, a mountain complex of Taoist temples that's actually not too far from here - a twenty minute ride on the fast train, and a half hour bus after that.  We had gone there as a family about a month after we first arrived at Xihua, and I wanted to go back for a bit of personal closure and meditation time.

What a difference three years makes!  (And a national holiday, traveling solo, language proficiency, and a side of a mountain)  When we first went, we went on National Day, along with 15,000+ other people who had the same idea, and who all seemed to want to take our picture.  At the temple where we overnighted up at the top of the mountain, there was an island of calm and tranquility, but coming up and coming down resembled a ride at Disneyland more than an experience of nature for most of the trip.  Having paparazzi swarms of photographers clumping around our sore-footed kids every time we took a rest break didn't help matters, either.

This time, there were still overzealous photographers, but only around fifteen or so, and I was able to sail past with a polite "no thank you", and continue on up the mountain.  This time, I went up the back of the mountain, which had only one temple at the top, and had much fewer crowds.  I had a hat, a small shoulder bag, and a journal and sketchbook, but no camera.  The camera, I left at home on purpose to stay more focused on the moment, but the photo junkie in me was saddened several times as I hiked past several great photos, just waiting for a device to record them.  I did have a pen, so following, for your (imaginary) viewing pleasure, copied straight from my notebook, a list of the snapshots I (kinda sorta) wish I'd taken.

  •  Pathways and stairways and walkways twisting through narrow river gorges in every configuration imaginable.  Snaking through caves, over waterfalls, under caves formed by massive house sized boulders of chunky conglomerate.  In the rock, fist-sized cobbles, covered in green moss.
  • Stone sculptures on bridge posts, worn and funky-looking.  All of the Chinese Zodiac animals, minus a cow, I think.  Also a chunky frog or two, an elephant, some peaches that looked more like naked butts, and even a cat or two.  All mossy and worn, looking like they'd each been carved by a different sculptor, or found in a secondhand store somewhere.
  • Designs drawn into the concrete steps.  Geometric patterns, mostly, but with Chinese characters here and there, drawings of animals, or once, a row of six handprints and the names of the builders underneath.  Some very recent, some cracked down the middle from the earthquake four years ago.
  • Earthquake-damaged buildings near the summit, and piles of rubble around.  Porters carrying building supplies in baskets on their backs for the three hour hike up the mountain -  the only way to bring any material to the top.
  • Several wild lily plants, all near waterfalls.  White trumpet shaped flowers lined with reddish purple.
  • Tiny little black-headed birds, with white flashed wing feathers.  Flitting up and down along rock worn smooth by the rushing water.
  • The reddish towers of the gondola car rising up level with a path built out alont the edge of a cliff, even with the tops of the trees.
  • The grotto leading up to BaiYun (White Cloud) temple, towards the top of the mountain.  Stairs winding up about two stories through a narrow cave-like gap in the cliff, walls lined with hundreds of Buddha figures sitting in carved stone niches.
  • BaiYun temple itself, which was a smallish pavilion after the grotto atop at the end of a long straight stairway.  Skinny young monks who I could talk to this time around. A statue of Guanyin, the goddess of compassion with her thousand arms, an eye in the center of each of her hands.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The mulberry connection

One advantage of having a kid or two in kindergarten in a place where mulberry leaves are common is that every spring, a shoebox comes home with five or six grey-white creepy silkworms, like so:


That was back in April sometime, as the last two silkworms were still munching away.  The white oval objects are silkworm cocoons, which we could, in theory, steam or boil or something to unravel them and get silk thread.  Another 1,994 of them, and we'd have enough silk to make a dress!

Silkworm on mulberry leaf
A closeup of one of the dudes, about five inches long.

Silkworm beginning to spin a cocoon
Another worm beginning to spin his/her/its cocoon.

Silkworm moth and cocoon

And now, more than a month later, one of the last of the silkworm moths that emerged.  Silkworm moths all seem to share the interesting habit of emerging from their cocoon, laying some eggs, not eating, and dying a day or two later.  Honest truth.  Probably one reason why you never see any job openings for silkworm moths on Craigslist...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An invocation for beginnings

Back when I was working in technology education land, Ze Frank was a sometimes distractor of mine. For a year or two, he made "The Show", a sometimes-annoying-but-sometimes-incredibly-brilliant daily five minute discussion / diatribe / rant / stand-up routine, punctuated by the antics of his ego and his facial expressions in full-face closeup video.

Now he's back, in a show more modestly titled "A Show". I must confess that I haven't watched more that a couple of his new episodes (I'm picking and choosing my distractions a bit more deliberately these days), but his first episode? Yep, definitely applies. Hit it, Ze! 

(oh, and warning, the video does contain some strong language.  But I trust all of you to get the message anyway...)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Let the Games Begin!


And... another return to the Boat after an absence from blogging. One problem with blog posts is that they seem to be designed to make a snappy summary of an event or idea. Which is fine, when you're experiencing new things in sequence, or talking about a new idea that you've run across somewhere. But when you're trying to summarize a long event, a long series of ideas, or, well, the end of three years living in China...? Hmmm. More complicated. Add to that my natural tendency to try to generalize and classify events, and it means that the perfect blog post(s) about the last months of our stay here are going to be a long time coming.

In the meantime, our time teaching here and now is coming quickly to a close, with my Very Last Class coming up tomorrow, and final exams and presentations coming the week after that. And we have plane tickets back to Chicago! (not to divulge too much information over the internet, but the date happens to coincide with a certain national festival in the US)

Since our organization sends people all over the world to learn things, adapt to other cultures, undergo tremendous personal change, and then come back to their home countries slightly confused and jobless, they do know a little bit about what happens to people making a transition back to their home culture. The word is "Re-entry", and a couple of months ago, the only image that flashed through my mind upon hearing it was the belly of the Space Shuttle or the bottom of an Apollo capsule, glowing red as it heated up in the atmosphere. Exciting, exhilarating, but also out of the ordinary, a once in a lifetime event, and more than a little bit dangerous.

Now that the end of our time is coming, getting back to the States seems less like a fiery plunge through the atmosphere and more like a really tall roller coaster. There's this bit of a gut wrenching moment as the car engages with the chain and is pulled lurching up a huge steep slope, and my mind races with all the fear-reflex worry, and -- hey, wait a minute! I like roller coasters! Love them, in fact - they're my favorite ride. And I've done them over and over again, and each time I want to go back for more.

Ah, never underestimate the power of cheesy metaphors. I'll leave you now, before the soundtrack starts to kick in...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ah, so THAT's what I've been doing here...!

The Big Picture

It's resume time here at Slow Boat Central, and that, combined with the approaching end of our time at Xihua University, means that I've been a bit more self-reflective than usual.  In times of transition, I'm prone to try to sum things up more than necessary, and to attach a bit too much meaning onto what really are quite ordinary events and experiences.  And don't get me started on the "wow, this is the last time I'll probably ever be doing ______" syndrome.  Blogging in such an environment can get to be downright maudlin, so be thankful that I haven't hit "publish" on some of my more sappy drafts as of late.

In the middle of this all, staring me in the face, was my resume, which of course, lists out all of my tasks and responsibilities and accomplishments associated with every place that I've worked.  Specifically, under the "ESL Instructor, Xihua University" heading were three or four lonely bullet points describing my responsibilities as a classroom teacher.  Taught classes.  Developed curriculum.  Interacted with students.  Et Cetera.

Not bad in themselves, but compared to what I've done elsewhere as a teacher, technology coordinator, and creator at jobs where I've worn upwards of 36 different hats at once, it just seemed a little, well... lacking.  Related to this, in describing what I've been doing here to others, I've sometimes had to stop myself from inserting the words "just" or "only" into conversations - as in, "I've just been teaching basic English conversation courses to college freshmen."  "I've only been teaching seven classes this semester."  You'd think by now, I'd know better, right...?

And there have been a couple of job openings that have popped up lately that are of the "Oh, wow, this job description fits me exactly!" variety.  Which means, yeah, time to get serious with the resume bit.  So yesterday, I got to work, rolled up my figurative sleeves, fired up the laptop, and took the next logical step - finding someone with a clear second perspective to collaborate with.  Fortunately, this time around, Jane happened to be free for part of the morning, so together, we sat down at the computer and put some serious thought into answering the question, "what have we been doing here, anyway?"  After about thirty minutes of talking and suggesting and counter-suggesting, here's what we came up with:
  • Taught Oral English and Culture and the Media classes to between 250-350 students (a mixture of first and second year English majors and interdisciplinary honors students) weekly.
  • Challenged students to become aware of higher level thinking skills. Used various multimodal teaching strategies, and helped students to adapt and learn from teaching methods previously foreign to them.
  • Developed independent curriculum for classes. Topics include intercultural communication, issues in the media, global awareness, environmental issues, mapping, and storytelling.
  • Led students on observational field trips to the areas surrounding campus, developing their awareness of English as a tool for everyday communication. Helped students develop final projects to communicate what they had learned.
  • Facilitated international email partnerships between my students and other students in Indonesia and the U.S.
  • Designed curriculum to help students challenge themselves on issues of stereotyping and racism.
  • Mentored students and teachers. Developed reciprocal relationships where one-on-one mutual learning could take place. Solved cross-cultural communication issues by engagement and dialogue.
  • Began a lifelong study of Mandarin Chinese, both spoken and written.
  • Challenged my own assumptions about education and learned about another worldview by empathizing with students and fellow teachers. Used my own journey as a Chinese language learner to engage students.
  • Supported my 3 children as they studied in local schools, struggled with and eventually became fluent in Chinese, and immersed themselves in the local culture. Became familiar with some of the issues, challenges, and joys faced by immigrant parents.
  • Traveled within China and in Southeast Asia.  Got to know people from all walks of life, from urban to rural, rich to poor.  Observed firsthand many of the effects of rapid societal change brought on by globalization.
  • Blogged extensively to communicate my observations and questions to an international audience. (ca. 500 pageviews/week)
I hate to toot my own horn here, but ...  Okay, yeah, I am tooting my own horn.  And happy to do so, at this particular moment.  Looks like I have been doing something after all, haven't I? 

(If you know anyone who's hiring, better tell them to hurry up and get in touch with me before someone else snatches me up...)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Choosing your princesses wisely

This morning while getting ready for school, Ysa made a beeline for her fancy white short sleeve dress. Which would have been fine, except that we've had an unseasonable return of March in the last two days, and it's been cold, rainy, drizzly, and muddy. So no white dress.

"But Dad, I want to be like BaiXue GongZhu!"

"And who is BaiXue GongZu?"

"BaiXue GongZHU, Daddy!" (yes, my Chinese is still at the level where my four year old routinely corrects my pronunciation) "She's a princess!" The TV has been on a lot, because, um... we've been lazy parents?... >ahem< I mean, it's been helping our kids improve their Chinese tremendously. So princesses have been on her mind a great deal as of late.

As we continued getting ready, Ysa told me more about BaiXue GongZu (白雪公主), the White Snow Princess, who, as her name suggests, dresses only in white. And then something clicks - hey, she's talking about Snow White! Or at least a Chinese version thereof. Which got me thinking a little bit more about princesses, both Western and Chinese, and what both versions have in common - namely, hefty tie-ins to promotional marketing campaigns and a heavy reliance on princes.

So that was the inspiration to head off to YouTube, and follow through on my weeks-old promise to tell her all about Atalanta, the fastest and smartest princess around. The version below comes straight from my seventies childhood, via Free to Be, You and Me. (Thanks, Mom!) And it has Alan Alda doing the male voices - who knew?

After that, what more is there to say? When I picked her up from kindergarten, she told me that she wanted black hair and clothes like Atalanta's. I told her that it was a very old story, and that nobody knew exactly what color Atalanta's hair was really. And as far as clothes go, Atalanta wears whatever she wants, right? That seemed to satisfy her, so I allowed myself to savor a small moment of smug parental self-congratulation as I watched her run on ahead of me. As fast as she possibly could, with her hair streaming behind her.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Caine's Arcade

Caine's Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.

A video about a kid in East LA who built a cardboard arcade in the back of his dad's used auto parts store.  I'd seen this referenced around the internet a lot this week, and finally got around to watching.  It's well worth the ten minutes to see the whole movie, not just for the portrait of Caine (who is an awesome kid, by the way), but what happened when it hit the internet, and the arcade was mobbed with hundreds of visitors.  Looking at the movie's web site today, Caine has had upwards of $38,000 donated to his college fund, and climbing!  Go, internet!

I'll be showing this video to a class or two this semester - will keep you posted on the reactions in China...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hanging Out

For all its high speed trains and new construction, a large part of China is still a very farm-based country.  Walking around our campus, it's very easy to see how even our fairly citified part of town still maintains a connection to its agricultural roots.  Now is the springtime harvest of all things green-like, and everywhere you look, big bunches of leafy things are hanging out to dry, to be put into earthenware crocks for pao cai - pickled vegetables.

Hanging Greens, Hongguang

They're everywhere - outside of window ledges, on banisters, clothes lines, clothes hangers, and trees.  Makes the campus look a bit Doctor Suessian, no?

Hanging Greens, Hongguang  Hanging Greens, Hongguang

Hanging Greens, Hongguang  Greens on the newspaper kiosk, Hongguang

Also hanging out on top of the - I don't know the exact word for these - "newspaper reading kiosks", maybe?  - which are themselves a relic of an earlier time when posting the Party newspaper behind glass was the only form of information that people got about goings on elsewhere.

Greens drying on the newspaper kiosk, Hongguang

And then there were these huge strips of seaweed all stretched out the other day.  Don't know what the story is behind those, as we're quite far away from the nearest ocean last time I checked.  Bet they'll end up being pretty tasty, regardless.

Hanging the seaweed, Hongguang

Hanging the seaweed, Hongguang

Hot enough for ya?

Drying the chilis, Hongguang

Drying chilis, Hongguang

Some red chilis set out to dry that I saw while taking Ysa to kindergarten sometime last month.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What's big in the world of pens right now...

copyright infringement pens, Yangshuo

... and in the world of kids' trends in general, summed up by a big batch of pens for sale in the tourist / backpacker town of Yangshuo.  Featuring prominently are characters from Plants vs. Zombies and Angry Birds, both video games with massive followings over here (at least if my kids and their friends, as well as massive merchandising are any indication).  You can also see that Sponge Bob Squarepants is starting to make inroads.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Awesome Power of Words

A few examples of extraordinary typography seen in the last few months of our travels, each amazing in their own particular ways...

Guest house advertisement on styrofoam cooler lid, Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong


Internet-Linked Library of Science, Childrens' Day Temple Fair, Koh Kut

Happy Memorial Time

Monday, March 19, 2012

Birthday Solo

Speaking of solo adventures, Xander had one of his own back in Thailand for his ninth birthday, albeit a little bit warmer and slower than the ski jump from the previous post.

X solo kayaking, Koh Kut

Our guest house was right on a mangrove-lined estuary, with a convenient dock and three kayaks to rent.  So, for his birthday, Xander took off up the river a bit, and came back about a half hour later.

X goes solo, Koh Kut

X solo kayaking, Koh Kut

Sunday, March 18, 2012

What education should be, part 1

This video of a fourth grade girl working up the courage to attempt a longer ski jump has been circulating a lot around the internet lately, but I think that it's pretty appropriate to the topic at hand.  Make sure you have the sound on!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Goin' on a job hunt...

Okay, internet, time to do your stuff!  As you can guess from the slide show above, I'm getting my job search started up.  It's a bit tricky to do via the internet, but not impossible.  I'm thinking that the more information that people can learn about me online the better, right? 

These pictures, therefore, will soon be the introduction pages to my personal web site - which will also have my resume, a video or two, links, sample lesson plans, and all sorts of other good stuff.  In the meantime, I figure that it can't hurt to do a small bit of (shameless) self-promotion on this blog, too.  Interested?  Get in touch via the email in the slide show, leave a comment, or simply pass along this link to all your friends and neighbors:

Thanks for your help, everyone!  Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Some Cityscapey Bits from Hong Kong

From Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

You wouldn't know it from these pictures, but Hong Kong isn't really that big of a place.  I think it's total population is something like seven million or so, which compares roughly to Chicago, and is miniscule compared to cities of comparable import in the rest of China.  It looks that much bigger because everything is all scrunched up into a much smaller space.  To me, it seems like someone took a city like Chicago, then pushed most the people into the middle, leaving the outside for green space and mountains.  Not a bad way to have a city, that...

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Hong Kong