Episode Nineteen

October 2013 – December 2013

You could subtitle this episode, working every night and day. I worked full time for the international college, outside class prep was 2-3 hours for every hour teaching. And we started our own language classes, using a classroom of Hong’s old friend who she taught with before we met. The classroom was cramped, and “rustic”. I taught every weekend and three nights. This was my schedule for the next six years. And I added extra classes for TOEFL and IELTS along the way. I helped over a dozen students prepare for overseas admissions.

Here are some photos – China Collage text after.

My first foreign teacher apartment at the university.

Imagine my surprise to see the chicken lady had released her chickens outside my classroom. In China, the apartments have a storage room, and on this campus, many of the older folks would convert them to chicken coops. There are chicken grandmas and grandpas everywhere.

Here are some photos of our kids’ classes. I worked for a major university in the US developing curriculum before moving to China, and so I wrote my own materials and put together videos, photos and activities. Each class had speaking, reading, then introduction to topics and hands-on activities. Getting ready each week required 8-16 hours. So I didn’t have a lot of free time.

And the jolly old elf found his way to our classes too 🙂

I got to teach my wife’s nephew and my step-son too. He moved in with us later.


the universality of Dat

There was some astounding news here today. The Nobel Prize for Lit went to a Chinese author for the first time. So the mainland literati are celebrating tonight. His writing is like South American magical realists – who use elements if magic and everyday life blended together.

My dad turned 88 the past weekend, and he sounds the same as always – looks timeless in a way. To me he resembles a mountain, a familiar giant oak -something that has stood tall and strong for my lifetime. I patterned my manlier characteristics after my dad and my uncles. To this day I define the scent of hard work as sweat, diesel fuel, grit and BO. In the winter, my dad would come home after the 4-Midnight shift and stand in front of the furnace. The cold winter air as he opened the back door quickly gave way to hot pungent gusts as he sat down on the old chair near the door and took off his well worn

work boots and hung his thermal socks up on the furnace to dry. He always opened the furnace door and filled a small pan of water on top, which acted as a humidifier in those days. He did this because whenever the air got too dry I would cough like the “Super Chief” – the old fast train from Chicago to St. Louis.

My old man never told me his feelings as I was growing up, but now with the fine mellowing of a long life, he reveals himself more and more, but there are no scabs to pick, no wounds to heal. I have always accepted my dad for himself and I know my kids do the same. I cannot ask for more than that I suppose. My dad was saying how happy he was to have had kids – because if not – what the hells the reason for being on earth. My sister put his birthday in the newspaper and an ancient friend from before he got married called him and said his biggest regret was he never had any kids. I think there is little else in life that I have dedicated myself to more.

And now as the pennant race is decided, I think back to the Cards games I went to with my old man and rooted for Gibson, Simmons, Brock, Torre – the smells, the tastes and the sounds. But mostly I remember my old man, with three big beers in him, wandering through the upper deck bellowing like a wounded moose at bum calls by the umps.

I talked with all three kids this week and caught up on their life of underemployment. At least they are working.

From the land of stir fried lettuce (only way to make sure its truly clean 🙂


washing out my mouth

Well there comes time in every man’s life when the good lord says to slow down and catch your breath. Mine came as I was tutoring my second group of kids for the night – all little girls 8-10. I was teaching them about American foods, and taught them how to cook a potato in a microwave – a small thing, but a miracle to these kids. So we bring a microwave, potatoes, butter, forks, plates, soapy water (for dishes) and off we go. For this group I teach without Hong, as their English is surprisingly good for tiny kids. Enjoying the teaching, but got ahead of myself as I was being bum rushed by three tikes demanding more butter, and I took a swig of the dish water (in same type of bottle as my water) but did not realize it until after the first swallow – so here I sit blowing bubbles on the inside and nursing sore throat from swiggin’ soap – I don’t recommend it.

Needless to say the potatoes were a hit, which I will had to replicate six more times this weekend. The kids had fun and I get a slow motion reverse enema. Who got the fuzzy end on this – well not so fuzzy with the detergent on the way down.


the lull

Well America’s east coast has just experienced the smack down from Mother Nature 2.0 – the reboot. How can there be any climate change denial left? Without sounding too gloomy, the tipping point has already occurred. There is no going back because there is nothing to go back to – the world changed and the planet has shifted and we, the dumbfounded specks on the surface cannot wrap our collective will around anything more complex than television talent show judging. The last straw has been tossed onto the camel’s back, and the Lorax’s last truffula tree has been felled. Perhaps it is the mixture of Hong Kong cough syrup and Tylenol Cold tablets – caught a preview of the influenza season and must prop up my consciousness before palavering this evening to my least capable group of students – class does not even begin until 7:40PM – oh the great white whale of education I will stab at thee mightily.

I will turn up the thermostat on my brain furnace and prepare to blast a room full of hot air at the shy and disinterested students. Some times I look out across the existential emptiness between the students and me, and I ponder the deeper implications of having drilled myself down through the center of the earth and popped out the other side into a theater of the absurd known as a classroom – other times I calculate down to the last minute the time when I can leave. Tonight I believe will be the latter of the two.

Take one for the Gipper and enjoy the surreal sideshow of life’s carnival of reality.


the future is just over there

I have assembled an anthology of student writing. There is no shortage of experts writing books about the global rise of modern China,, but why not let China’s young generation speak for themselves, tell the world about their lives and aspirations? It is a collection of writing and cultural observations about modern China from over 200 members of what I have termed China’s Net Generation – in Chinese Wang Dai. This generation will have a huge global impact for decades to come, but as of yet remains mostly anonymous.

Since coming to China in 2007, I have seen firsthand the incredible changes that have swept over this rapidly transforming ancient land. America’s ongoing socio-economic relationship with China is critical to not only America’s future but the world’s, but there is a great deal of misapprehension on both sides.

300 million silenced; 300 million invisible souls; 300 million unrepresented, unrecognized young Chinese are raising their voices to be heard and the world should be listening.

The older generations often view the post-80s/90s Net Generation as spoiled and egotistical calling them “strawberries” – pretty but easily bruised; many in their grandparents’ generation go so far as to call them mí làn – rotten and debauched. Over one third are supported by their parents after they graduate, and unlike earlier generations in China, the Net Generation spends money on all manner of luxuries – the latest gadgets, such as iPads and iPhones, American foods, designer clothes and more international styles in the search for their modern identity. In their own words:

We are decadent, because society never admits, what we do is well done. We feel depressed, so we choose silence. We are degenerate, because we do not know how to be accepted by society. So we choose to disintegrate…

Several years ago China’s 300 million young people silently instigated a social revolution; armed with smartphones, Weibo (China’s Twitter) Renren (China’s Facebook), QQ (China’s Instant Messaging, citizen news service and more); they are affluent, hopeful, environmentalists, with tens of billions of dollars in disposable income and have access to all levels of society but yet they remain relatively unknown. Who are they?

They are China’s Net Generation and they are increasingly raising their voices to be heard, such as in the following statement:

Our parents were cannon fodder for the revolutionary tide. Our generation is cannon fodder for the economic tide….

Each week their voices grow stronger. There is very little information available about China’s Net Generation and my book would be the first to explore the world of the youth culture of China, through their distinctive voices.

Chairman Mao died and China’s One Child Policy was initiated over a decade before they were born. They grew up after the Reform and Opening, and the tumult of the late Eighties. Their lives are integrated with the digital realms of the Information Age. China’s younger generation remains generally unknown outside China. Raising Their Voices explores the digital-native lives of China’s Eighties and Nineties Generation who will, within a decade, lead the nation. The Net Generation is anxious to mix with the western world, especially America, and their voices will ring out loud and strong. I have tried to inspire this amazing generation to find their voice and express their ideas by merging ancient literary traditions with cyberspace sensibilities, such as in the following:

We hang ourselves on a web called “www”. Social networks boom into our life. We must control it, or be controlled. We are eager to be unique, but also to assimilate. We harbor big dreams either out of ambitiousness or ignorance…

The Net Generation is a critical societal bridge between the interconnected worlds of Chinese traditional culture and westernized global culture.

Time passes soundlessly, and we have already experienced a quarter of our lives.

This is the bohemian generation, and this is the madness generation,…this is also the self-fulfilling generation. Our country, our world is suffering from difficulties and hardships, believe in our generation. We can change the world; we can create a new world.

Most of our generation’s heroes are just students. In the Yangtze River, the waves behind drive the waves that roll on before. We are the emerging power. Chinese society awaits our creativity and intelligence to continue progressing…


from the density

Hong is getting an apartment; finally her own place after her ex ripped her off in the divorce – bought off the judge. So now she has to buy a parking space, because in China they maximize all space and build out to the road. They also don’t start building until they have sold most of the apartments, and you pay for half the hallway too. Apartment is bare cement. The parking space is large enough for two cars, and has a door, so her family has talked her into renting it out (actually rent free) to younger brother; yes him again, so he can open a convenience store there. New apartment building has no small stores, and in China, the first floor of buildings facing the street are given over to commercial use – capitalism never died here, in fact it is flourishing everywhere.

Previous Table of Contents Next

%d bloggers like this: