I know you’re out there….

…because now I can see where you are. Is that cool, or what? I’ve had snippets of information over the past couple of years – an email here, a blog comment there – but now, thanks to StatCounter.com, I can get daily pictures of where you are:




On Saturday afternoon, February 21, people from these countries were visiting me. What I don’t understand is the HUGE cluster of folks in the EU. Maybe it’s because most of the “traffic” to my blog comes from Google Images, so maybe they’re searching for photos of Chengdu.

As much as I love seeing myself all over the cyber-map, I also get more cool details, such as what country or city you come from.

I can understand 19 people from Chengdu, but 21 people from Reykjavik, Iceland? Farther down the list, I can start to guess who you are, in Tucson AZ (hi Kenton!) or in Los Angeles CA (is that you, Arturo?) In the middle of that European cluster is, of course, Gay Paree, where I can only hope that two of my fave Paris studs are looking at me, blog-ically speaking: is that you, David Lebovitz or brieuc75?

So, for the first time since I started this blog in 2005 (before teaching in China was even an idea), I have a counter. Goodness knows I’ve tried to install one in the past, but I could never manage to put the HTML code in the right place. As I love to tell my students, all of whom are technologically gifted, I am technologically challenged.* For example, when I was writing my most recent post, and cut and pasted word definitions from an online dictionary, I ended up in HTML Hell.

What would you do if you saw a tangled mess of codes and brackets? My solution was to KISS – that’s 12-step talk for Keep It Simple, Stupid. I took out the code and hand-typed all the information I needed to include. Then I decided to compose my blog (except for adding photos) in the HTML mode, where I can tell if any pesky code thingies are creeping in without my knowledge. A while back, Blogger went thru a period when it was very temperamental, changing line spacing, doing quirky little things, and making a nuisance of itself. Not only that, but during my first year in China, I couldn’t see my blog. I could post to it, but could only view it on occasion, when my proxy server worked (now the proxy server itself, http://www.anonymouse.org/, is blocked).

So, next time you visit me here, remember, I will see you.

Teacher anxiety

I seldom sleep well on Sunday nights. It’s a form of stage fright, anxiety about what will happen on Monday morning when I rise at 5:30 AM, do my last-minute preparation, and prepare to get on the bus at 7:20 to the new campus. I’m also drinking a LOT of coffee, which doesn’t help.

It can also be disconcerting when the first two weeks of class are the “cruising-for-teachers” period, during which time students can migrate from English class to English class and choose the foreign teacher who best suits them (do they really choose the one who has the easiest class?).

This morning I felt unprepared, as I always do on Mondays, but, even with only 4 hours sleep, I managed to thoroughly enjoy myself and, I think, teach a couple of effective classes. I came prepared with my arsenal: the DVD of Chaplin’s Modern Times, an old stand-by that the students always enjoy, my Kingston mobile storage device (to plug into the classroom computer), and that necessity in a class with no textbook or handouts, the PPT (PowerPoint presentation). Here’s a sample of my Week 1 presentation:

Today’s classes were about describing a personal memory – writing about it, talking about it with a partner, and then enlarging it. That means adding details, as any good writer or storyteller would. During my classes, I not only write on the board, but keep my notebook handy to constantly scribble notes to myself, as in this sketch of a graphic organizer or mind map:




I also drew the mind map on the board, then as an example, told the students about my initial experiences in China with culture shock – what it looked like, how it felt, what my memories were (that doesn’t mean the culture shock has stopped – it still continues). Then I had them look at their personal memory stories again, and add as much more detail as they could. I don’t know how effective it was, but one of the things I hear most often from my students is their difficulty in talking about ideas or feelings. Hence the suggestions for writing, speaking, and graphic organization.

The other thing that’s hard to do in the early classes is to judge what’s too easy or too difficult. I talked briefly about phrasal verbs today – combinations of a verb and one or two other words. I think the get expressions – get going, get up, get along, etc. – were too easy. In Class #2 I tried look expressions – look at, look into, look after, look around – then assigned one collocation to each pair of students to invent a situation or story.



Notes to myself: “Teaching Skills” or how to Be A Better Teacher:

Stop hurrying – don’t be worried that the students are bored or will tune me out;
It’s OK to take an idea and run with it – I guess that means go with the flow;
Relax more (difficult)
Don’t be intimidated by students – this is a self-confidence issue, and also means that I’m basically an introverted person, which means that being around people can be hard work for me, and emotionally draining. Still, the teacher sets the tone of the class, but Ss [students] must help.

Whew! This blog post has been a workout – my keyboard is smoking and my fingers are aching. Time to say goodbye until next time – and see you on the map!

* Speaking of technologically challenged, these people make me sound positively brilliant. Here are some stories excerpted from an article in the Wall Street Journal:

– A Dell technician advised a customer to put his troubled floppy back in the drive and close the door. The customer asked the tech to hold on, and was heard putting the phone down, getting up and crossing the room to close the door to his room.

– Another Dell customer called to say he couldn’t get his computer to fax anything. After 40 minutes of troubleshooting, the tech discovered the man was trying to fax a piece of paper by holding it in front of the monitor screen and hitting the “send” key.

– A confused caller to IBM was having troubles printing documents. He told the technician that the computer had said it “couldn’t find printer,” The user had tried turning the computer screen to face the printer, but that his computer still couldn’t “see” the printer.

Linguistically speaking

An archaeology of words: layers of posters on a New York wall, 1980
Words! Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?
Show Me, from My Fair Lady, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick LoeweA friend of mine once said of a woman we both particularly loathed: “Everything that goes through her brain comes out her mouth.” I may not seem like the type who harbors malice, but this woman truly had a case of verbal diarrhea [no, I won’tgive you the definition; it’s rather obvious if you think about it]If I ever start another blog, it’ll be called Talk to the Hand

I gotta hand it to you.
 Gimme a hand, will ya? 


Second-hand Rose.


Hand job [whoops – did I really say that?]

To be an old hand at something

You’re in good hands



If you want to know the meaning of these expressions, try the Urban Dictionary.


Then we can move down a notch: To have one’s finger in many pies, fickle finger of fate, etc. 

Since my students and I are now back in school, I feel an obligation to make my posts more, um, instructional. I inherited some of my grandmother’s love of words, so today I’m inspired by the book I’m currently reading: The Man Who Loved China, by Simon Winchester. It’s the story of Joseph Needham, the scholar who authored the multi-volume Science and Civilization in China.

Simon Winchester also wrote one of my favorite books, The Professor and the Madman, about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

All right, class, are you ready? Our two words for today come from my current reading: peripatetic and phlegmatic. With a nod to Mr. Winchester, I’ll take my definitions from the Oxford English.


1. travelling from place to place.
2. working or based in a succession of places.

Derivatives: peripatetically (adverb)

Peripatetic is often linked with monks, many of whom have wandered far and wide in pursuit of wisdom or enlightenment. One of the more famous was Chinese monk Xuanzang who, in the seventh century AD, undertook an epic journey to India and back that lasted 18 years. His quest: to study Buddhist philosophy from the Indian masters and to retrieve sacred Mahayana Buddhist texts for the benefit of his homeland. His ultimate destination in India was Nalanda, an ancient Buddhist center of learning.


unemotional and stolidly calm

Derivatives: phlegmatically

The word derives from phlegm, and supposedly phlegmatic has to do with the phlegm humor (one of the moods). That’s about all I want to know about it.

The British are generally regarded as being phlegmatic: unemotional, taking it all in stride; Simon Winchester certainly describes them that way. I guess it’s part of their national character, along with the famous stiff upper lip.

So there you have two very different words, both of which occur in one book and, now, in one blog. If you want to earn some extra credit, here are a few more “p” words to research: perspicacious, persnickety, persimmon, and parsimonious.

What? You want to leave class early? Do I look like I’m finished talking? Did you hear that sorry-ass excuse for a bell yet? You put your behind in that chair and look like you’re halfway interested in learning a language. Just for that, you will take a pop quiz right this minute!


Good news

We’re here, we’re queer….


Same-sex partners Zhang Yi (L) and Hai Bei speak to the media at Qianmen street on Valentine’s Day in Beijing February 14, 2009. For some in Beijing’s gay and lesbian community, Valentine’s Day is not just a day to celebrate loving relationships, but also a time to campaign for acceptance of homosexuality in society. [Agencies]


For Valentine’s Day, the China Daily website [in English] carried a photo feature about same-sex partners in China, focusing on one lesbian and one gay couple in Beijing. I’m tickled pink to see more open coverage of gay issues in the Chinese press. Enforced invisibility can be one of the most cruel forms of prejudice, and there is a huge social stigma associated with being openly gay in conservative Chinese society.

The press may pay lip service to gay/lesbian issues, but I wonder how much real progress there has been in the past 3 years, since the government shut down first-ever gay and lesbian cultural festival in Beijing.


more: A Hidden Life: Being Gay in Rural China

The big picture


I made a really big picture. It’s a montage, actually, of 12 overlapping photos I took of a portion of one side of 水井街 Shuijing Street in Chengdu.




East side of 水井街 Shuijing Street, Chengdu. Click on the photo to view it in a larger size on my Flickr page. You will also have the oiption to see the full-size image at 6790 x 1177 pixels.


The street pictured above is part of the historic 水井坊 Shuijingfang historic district. I have been photographing this area since 2007.



  Here’s a view of the area from Google Earth. The two yellow arrows show the location of the street view above.
Here’s a Google Maps image of Chengdu, indicating the Shuijingfang historic area.



The Shuijingfang [水 shuǐ = water, 井 jǐng = well, 坊 fāng = lane] area of Chengdu shares its name with a very old local distillery which has been excavated, and is considered very important in the history of liquor production in China. As far as I can tell, what remains of the neighborhood is the largest intact historic area in Chengdu proper. At present it exists in an uneasy alliance with the very tall Shangri La Hotel, with its surrounding upscale boutiques and restaurants. The whole area is being developed for its tourist potential, but it seems as if its core of old buildings may actually be allowed to remain. The experience of stepping from one of the dim, narrow lanes, with its intimate scale of human activity, into the wide-open and impersonal space surrounding the Shangri La is jarring, to say the least. In Chengdu, the past and present seem to exist in separate camps like armies preparing for a clash; it’s a foregone conclusion, though, who is going to lose.

I recently introduced another foreigner (British) to this area, someone who shares my love of old things. Quite by chance, a friendly couple invited us into their home to have a look. It was an old siheyuan (4-sided courtyard) house that had been subdivided, but retained some of its original splendor. In my broken Chinese I managed to ask how old the house was. About 100 years, the man replied. The house’s entrance portico has some of the most delicate wood carving in the area.

Here are a few of my favorite views of the area.





Spring is sprung

 A distant memory of spring: pigeons above Michigan Avenue, Chicago, 1978
(texture added in Photoshop)

Spring is sprung,
De grass is riz,
I wonder where dem birdies is?
De little birds is on de wing,
Ain’t dat absurd?
De little wing is on de bird!

The Land of Nursery Rhymes

Ah, the conceits of childhood. For the longest time I thought I invented that verse. It goes through my head every spring, and this year is no exception, because Spring has truly arrived in Chengdu. During my first two years in China I thought that Spring Festival – the 15-day celebration of the lunar New Year – was basically wishful thinking, especially so this year since it began January 26. That’s, like, winter, isn’t it? It certainly is where I come from.

In the past 3 days, here’s what has happened: the weather has become warm, with a hint of breeze, so I could go outside with no jacket; green buds have appeared on the bushes bordering the local streets; there are flowering shrubs and trees blossoming. Now, Chengdu has flowering plants all year, hence the sale of (plum?) blossom branches for good luck during Spring Festival. Still, it isn’t really spring until you see green (show me the money).

Autumn comes late and spring comes early here in southwest China; the gingko trees (Chengdu’s official tree) didn’t lose their leaves until December, and in mid-February Spring has sprung. In between there’s “winter:” not terribly cold but damp. A new bloom of mildew developed on some of my apartment walls, by the bed, behind the curtains. Now that I’ve starting opening the windows again, a patina of dust blankets everything. You can’t win. As a former Los Angeles resident, seasons confuse me anyway; the running joke is that L.A. has two seasons: smog and no smog; there’s also a short rainy season, mostly in January. I once waded through a rushing river of foul water in the lobby of my Hollywood apartment building, not knowing that the manager had left a water-free side entrance unlocked.

So, the seasons are different from those of my Midwestern U.S. childhood. At least last year I got to experience snow. This winter has been mild by comparison, though no one’s forgotten the crippling winter storms that paralyzed parts of China during Spring Festival 2008.

I hadn’t intended to write a treatise on the seasons, but it seemed the thing to do, what with classes starting tomorrow and the students all returning from their holiday with their families.