Leaving Chengdu

I’m leaving Chengdu, after 8 years, to move to Suzhou in the east of China. At least that’s the plan. I’ve been offered a job as an English Tutor at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University (西交利物浦大学 or XLTLU for short), a partnership between the two universities that began in 2006, and that grants degrees recognized both in China and in the UK.

I’m tentative about the proposition because I’ve been through 2 months of visa hell – turns out that Suzhou has one of the strictest policies for granting Z working visas in China. The dreaded Certificate of No Criminal Conviction (CNCC) has been the sticking point, and getting this document from the Public Security Bureau in Chengdu ranges from difficult to impossible. My particilar hell involved 3 weeks of negotiation between the PSB and the SW University for Nationalities, where I studied Chinese for the past year and a half, which was required to provide documents in support of my application for the certificate.

As a backup plan, I applied for a second non-criminal document, this one from the FBI in Washington DC, just to be on the safe side. All I had to do was to go to a private security company, pay them 800 RMP for a set of fingerprints, and mail them of with the application to the USA. Then wait for 6 weeks. That document has not arrived as of this writing.


Chengdu to Suzhou

Driving from 成都 Chengdu to 苏州 Suzhou – 1376 miles (2215 km), about 20 hours


I’ll be writing a separate post about the criminal certificate process. Apart from that, my preparations seem to be going smoothly. On Friday July 11 I will fly from Chendgu to Shanghai, then take the express train to Suzhou. I’ll spend 3 days in Suzhou, looking at apartments and aquainting myself with the XJTLU campus.

On July 15 – the very last day of my current Chinese visa – I’ll fly nostop Shanghai to Chicago, where I’ll spend a couple of weeks visiting my brother Kenton. Once my visa documents arrive from Suzhou by express mail, I’ll be able to bet my new visa at the Chinese consulate in Chicago.

At first I was resistant to the requirement that I return to my home country for the new visa, but now I’m looking forward to it. I was in Chicago in 2011, but only for 4 days, so this time I’ve compiled a much longer list of restaurants to visit for vegetarian Indian food, Mexican food, pizza, Thai food, and whatever else strikes my fancy. I may even shop for a new camera while I’m there. I will also be able to buy clothing and shoes in American sizes, something that’s been very difficult to do in China.

I will return to China around the first of August, and complete the move from Chengdu to Suzhou, hence the above map. I will hire a driver and vehicle to move me and the dog, along with our luggage and boxes, two days across China. I don’t want to subject the dog to airline procedures, baggage handlers, and carrying cages. It will be my first long-distance road trip in China, although the route above isn’t accurate; I will go in a more southerly direction through Wuhan and Nanjing.

Now that I’ve finished my classes and exams, I can enjoy my final 2 days in Chengdu. My belonings are packed, there’s a bit of cleaning left to do, and on Friday the dog-sitter arrives prior to my departure.



  Suzhou by _chrisUK on Flickr


build a tower

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while; as usual, however, life got in the way and it was delayed. I’ve now done this team-building activity with two different classes, and it proved to be a lot of fun.



TED2010 Talk



The Marshmallow Challenge was created by Tom Wujec, and he describes the activity in a TED2010 Talk [click photo above to view video]. The object of the activity is to enhance group and cooperative learning skills through creativity, planning, trial & error, and problem-solving as a part of a team. It involves building a tower using dry spaghetti, tape, string, and marshmallows. As a bonus, the extra marshmallows provided snacks for instant energy.




Here are some of the photos from my English for Academic Purposes class as they constructed their towers. As it turned out, the students fell in love with the red clothesline string I provided, and used way too much of it. Oh well, I’m not one for strictly following instructions anyway. A few of the students also chose to snack on the spaghetti (uncooked) afterwards, which I didn’t recommend.




After the towers were completed, a committee of judges used a tape measure to determine which one was tallest. Prizes were awarded for height and creativity – one tower was shaped like the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai. During the activity I played a mixture of pop, disco, and 70s R&B music for inspiration. If you try this activity with your class, I also recommend allowing about 10 minutes at the end for clean-up ( a lot of tape gets stuck to desks and spaghetti pieces litter the floor).



 great group work, but a little too much string.



 the crowning touch – marshmallow with a heart.


 Marshmallow Challenge title Slide

 Click here to open/download the PowerPoint 2010 instructions for the activity



weekend in Chongqing 1

I spent a long weekend in Chongqing, working as an IELTS examiner. I left on Friday evening, taking the express train, so that I could arrive early and not have to go directly from the train station to the testing center on Saturday.


chengdu-eastThe express train leaves from the new Chengdu East Railway Station, almost the size of an airport terminal.


anglesBlurred reflections at the railway station.


crossing-the-jialing-riverCrossing the Jialing River on the #3 Metro line in Chongqing.


learning curve


Students in my class concentrate on their study book activity, identifying and sharing their personal skills.


We’re now in the sixth week of the new semester, and what a ride it’s been.

I’m performing a juggling act between my regular job of teaching 16 class periods a week, and being an IELTS examiner three weekends a month. I work pretty much all the time; in February I had a total of two days off. I barely had time for a healing massage, a trip to the grocery story, and a couple of trips to the gym.

Another challenge is teaching two new programs: reading class for the Singapore study abroad program, and English for Academic Purposes for the Victoria University program in Australia. The Singapore class is reading Madame Doubtfire; this provides some opportunities for levity, as when we role-played a talk show and I was Madame Doubtfire, the cross-dressing housekeeper (no, I didn’t dress the part). I had to respond to a question about which toilet I would use, men’s or women’s, and I said “Well, dear, I’m not exactly sure.” I’m slowly trying to build my students’ confidence to give dramatic readings, a challenge in a foreign language. Reading shouldn’t be just another boring class.

The EAP class is full of creative students, even if a few of them seem only to find creative ways to sleep in class. I’m teaching study skills, which consists mostly of student-directed group activities, such as exploring your personal skills and study habits. The class’s extracurricular project is a dramatic presentation of Murder on the Orient Express. They haven’t decided yet whether it will be a musical. It’s also becoming increasingly obvious to them that adapting one medium to another is full of unique challenges – you can’t just open a book and make it a drama.

I became a minor celebrity (in my own mind) when  a couple of students came into my class the other day to film a video segment of me talking about the EAP program. As always, I improvised beautifully, and looked both casual and professional at the same time. My class then joked about asking for my autograph. A rather paranoid teacher in the next classroom, however, had a minor panic attack when he saw the cameras approaching, and imagining that he was next, swiftly moved his class to the 5th floor and locked the doors.

In addition to learning how to teach two new subjects (reading and study skills), I’m teaching my usual Going Abroad classes, for university teachers preparing to be Visiting Scholars in English-speaking countries. I round out my schedule with a Four Skills class (speaking module) composed of students from mixed backgrounds and abilities. We have fun together, and a group of them took me to lunch the other day.

I still find time, barely, for my guitar study and for photography. Speaking of fashion, something extraordinary is happening on campus: just in the past year or so, Chinese students with money to spend on fashion have created their own unique look, loosely based on Western fashion, but with color combinations and personal flair that is unique to China.  It makes American college campuses look like an ocean of dull conformity; in China, even the jeans-and-T-shirt combo is impeccably cleaned and pressed, always new, never old and ratty, and combined with athletic shoes in day-glo colors or bold patterns.  I’m planning to do a local equivalent of what NY fashion photographer Bill Cunningham does in the documentary Bill Cunningham’s New York – follow the local fashion icons with my camera and make a photo essay/documentary on the phenomenon.

Finally, I’ve taken on a minor supervisory role in the Going Abroad program, coordinating the foreign teachers who teach speaking classes.  All in all, it’s a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes, in the evening when it’s all over and I’ve heard enough different versions to English to make me catatonic, I ask “What’s next?” The next day, inevitably, will bring another surprise.

tweeted, and a bad cough

My favorite GIF animation this week:


Thanks to one of my favorite blogs, Black and White Cat, for publishing this image. Thanks also to its author for a great line for an insult:

Glenn Beck is very, very low-hanging fruit. We should all just ignore him and hope he goes away.

 I’m battling a bad allergy attack and a horrendous cough.  There’s no relief in sight, but fortunately I’m giving speaking exams this week, so all I do is sit there and listen to students talk (while I cough).  It’s been rather eventful, nonetheless.

My presentation Tibet-Nepal-India part 1 made the front page of slideshare.net, getting the most tweets [on Twitter] of any presentation.  Slideshare.net is a site for sharing PowerPoint presentations, documents, videos, and e-books, and it’s a great source of information as well as teaching material. As of today the presentation has had over 800 views!

I’m “featured” on the front page of slideshare.net!



New pages on my blog:

Teaching – lesson plans, downloadable documents, and links to PowerPoint presentations.  It includes a link to my Culture Shock presentation I gave last week.


Also visit me at: 

Visit my page at slideshare.net [chinateacher1].