Thursday, August 29, 2013

Episode 2 of "Kay and Zeph go to China"

First Day of School
Zephaniah doesn’t start school until September 1. It’s a Sunday. That doesn’t matter. School always begins on Sept. 1 for primary school children, no matter what day of the week it is. University,
Zeph in his new classroom

however, began this week on Monday and I taught my first six hours of classes yesterday.
My students think I am hilarious. They laugh and laugh. I should start a career as an American Stand-Up Comic in China. All I need to do is have people write down their names and then I can try to pronounce them. Hours of entertainment in the form of tear-inducing hilarity.
I can’t pronounce Chinese names. As I was plowing through the class list, I imagined what I must be saying to get my students to laugh so. For the uninitiated, Mandarin uses four different tones to distinguish meanings of words. The word “tang,” for example, can mean soup, candy, to tell a lie, a runny nose, or hot, depending tone. Yesterday I was certain, really, really certain, that I was standing in front of a class of Chinese students, and calling out in all seriousness, “Mr. Sparkle Bottom? Is Mr. Sparkle Bottom here?” 

Embarrassed student: “No, no. It isn’t Sparkle Bottom. It’s Noble Dragon. I’m Noble Dragon.”
Me: “Oh! . . . “ (trying again) “. . . Sparkle Bottom. Is that right?”
Student: “No. No.” (gentle shaking of the head) “No. No-ble Dra-gon.”
Me: “Spark-le Bott-om? Is that right?” (clearly it isn’t). “OK. I can get it. Spar-kle Dra-gon?”
Student (brightening): “Yes! Almost! No-ble Dra-gon.”
Me: “OK. Spark-le Bott-om.”
Student (hanging his head in dismay): “Never mind. Just call me Eric.”
Me: “No! No! I want to get it! Noble Bottom? Is that right?”
The once simple activity of calling roll turned into an epic affair full of much laughter (students) and much embarrassing frustration (me). Some students had pity on me and gave me an English name to use. Others were out for the kill. They insisted I keep trying. Tried, I did. Succeed, so certain I did not.

Readers may think I am exaggerating my inability to hear tones. I assure you I am not. Just this week, in complimenting a friend, I told her she was “grotesque” rather than “kindhearted.” That is quite a big difference to a Mandarin-speaking person. To me, both words sound exactly the same. So, names like “Gentle River” become “poopy udder” with my atonal speaking; “Big Soul” becomes “magnificent turnip.” Lest you think I am a dunderhead with languages, I pride myself on being fluent in Arabic and French and, on most days, English. Because of this, I keep telling myself I will eventually learn Mandarin. After today, I believe I am entirely self-deluded. Tones are the devil.
In China, winning friends every time I open my mouth.

Because it was the first day, I thought I would give a little introduction about myself to my students about who I am. I don’t think they have had an American professor before, so perhaps they might be interested. I talked about where I was from and how I had spent my life so far. I said I had a son, but had never been married. In each class, a curious, bold student would ask, “How did you get your son if you have never been married?”

Hmmm. “Well . . . In China do you have people who donate blood?” Yes. Good. “Well, in the United States, there are men . . . who donate . . . sperm.” Confused expressions. “Do you know what sperm is?” And even as I am asking the question I am thinking to myself, “Take that back! Take that back! Why are you even asking your students, who you just met moments ago, what sperm is, you idiot!” I wasn’t about to explain the word, even if they didn’t know. Especially on my first day. A couple heads in the room nodded and, grateful and relieved, I quickly moved on to other subjects.
Nice introduction to the American English professor. Welcome, all. Our first new vocabulary word of the day is . . .

Yes, indeed. My classes were off to a great start. After my first class ended, a slip of a girl came up to me. I expected her to ask for clarification on the assignment (and not a review of new vocab). Smiling, and in halting English, she said, “I think . . . American women are . . . FAT . . . and ugly . . . .” I was assuming her remark was payback for me having called her something horrible in the attempt to pronounce her name an hour earlier. She continued, “But you aren’t!” (whew!).  Then she asked for a hug. A hug? Alright-y. Why not? This classroom already bears no resemblance to any sort of college experience I know of. Here is a big American hug, little lady, from your favorite un-fat, not-so-ugly, crazy – truly, truly crazy -- American English professor.

On my first day of being an American English professor in China, I also melted my water bottle. It was a water bottle from the Lawrence Kansas Humane Society. I loved that green, plastic water bottle enough to drag it around the world so I would have it in China. At the university there is only hot (as in really, really, who-needs-acid-when-you-have-water-this-hot, way more than scaldingly-hot) water that comes out of spigots – generally there is at least one of these spigots on each floor. There are no drinking fountains because the water out of the tap is not safe to drink; thus the microbe-killing hot water tanks. I filled up my bottle with the hot water from the spigot, walked back to my classroom, and placed it on the desk. When I turned back less than a minute later, the bottle looked like the Wicked Witch of the West, mid-melt, with a puddle of water creeping disastrously close to the computer. The water was still so hot that I burned my hands getting the bottle to the sink in the hall. Luckily, students had not yet arrived in class, so I saved myself from further student-humiliation. The universe must have decided I had already maxed out my quota of embarrassing moments for one day.
The first day was a wild ride. We will see who shows up to class next time.

I was so tired after Day One that last night I put hair conditioner on my toothbrush and didn’t even realize I was doing so until I was about a minute into brushing my teeth. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

EFLJ Picnic 2013

 The full-time faculty (including nine new teachers for 2013) gathered at Dr. Cadden's house to mourn the loss of summer and get excited for the coming academic year.
Drs. Donaher, Roberts, Goad, and Bensyl mock their colleagues bereft of a table. "Come early next time!"

New instructors Kara (second from left) and Mary (middle). Betty and Fred Sawin look on.

Lu Cadden and Tammy Bergland sit on the steps and commiserate about their husbands likely involvement with the sport of curling this fall.

New faculty Susan and Miguel wonder what they're in for.

Sitting on the periphery and telling questionable stories.

New faculty Bob Nulph (second from the left) and Hong Huang sit with Susie and Ed Hennessy

Fulbrighters Philipp (German) and Clara (Spanish) 
Clara (left) and visiting Chinese professor Jianhua Lian (right) sit with Ana

Friday, August 16, 2013

Kay and Zephaniah in China

Dr. Kay Siebler, Director of Composition, and son Zephania (boy genius) are visiting Xidian University as part of our faculty exchange agreement. Kay will teach English there for this academic year. Below is the first of a series of blog entries by Kay. 

First Solo Outing
Heat index = 105 degrees F. This is the day Z and I venture out on our own for the first time to take a Xian city bus to the Old City Wall where one can rent a tandem bicycle and pedal around the top of the wall (13.75 km to bike the four sides). Peddling lazily on the ancient bricks of the wall, high over the Old City on the right and the newer part of the city on the left, we sang heartily, “Daisy, Daisy. Give me your answer do . . . On a bicycle built for twooooo.” Gliding past the bird’s eye view of city center houses, pagodas, markets, and green spaces, we were exhilarated, despite the heat.
Zephaniah biking in the heat
Sweating mightily through every article of clothing we were wearing, we stopped at different places along the top of the wall to sit in the shade of the corner towers, eat ice cream from the carts, or drink water. Z is a minor league rock star wherever we go: “Look at his blue eyes! Look at his blue eyes!” and the minute he finds himself stationary in a throng of people, cameras come out, adults and children are positioned next to him, and photos are taken by smiling, nodding Chinese.
Regardless of the heat, it was wonderful getting away and seeing some tourist sights today. We have been settling in (buying housewares and food for the apartment, straightening out banking, going to various open markets with Chinese friends who want to show us around, getting photos for official documents) and meeting people/colleagues at Xidian University. Two of my Chinese colleagues, Juan Wang and Tian Tian Zho, have been absolutely wonderful in making our arrival and adjustment extremely easy. But today we were flying solo: finding the bus stop, waiting for the right bus, getting off at the right stop, finding the entrance to the wall, renting the bikes, eating lunch in a restaurant, finding the bus stop to go back home . . . it all felt like a grand adventure and so very much fun. Z was a bit skeptical: “Are you sure this is the right bus? Are you sure we are going the right way? How do you know? Where do we go now?”

Tian Tian was a Fulbright scholar here in 2011-12

Juan was our first exchange professor from Xidian in 2012-13
Thus far, the rhythm of our days is defined by a 6 a.m. run (for me) around the inner wall of the campus (tall trees and lots of other people walking and playing sports – a lovely respite from the cities 6 million people) and then going back to the apartment to get Z so we can go out again (for me joining whichever Tai Chi group seems to be going slow and for Z watching the various Tai Chi groups – he loves the sword Tai Chi – or striking up conversations with whoever cares to engage with a 9-year-old American boy). Each day, to this point, has revolved around an outing to square away logistics of living in China. A couple days ago I had to go to a government office for a physical exam in order to get my international resident card. Hundreds of people, mostly Chinese students planning on studying or working internationally and having to get a health exam for the government, were being shepherded through seven different “stations”: blood draw, pee in a cup, EKG, ultra sound, ENT, Xray, blood pressure. It was the most thorough physical exam I can ever remember experiencing. I was the only non-Chinese that I could see. Both the EKG tech and the blood pressure woman were independently alarmed at my low pulse/heart rate/blood pressure. I assured them it was hereditary (my mother also barely has a pulse) and also I run long distances every day. We will see whether they send me back home for being among the walking dead.

We have already found the best place to get popsicles (mango) and tofu (a small restaurant right outside the campus’ south gate). All the necessities are within walking distance (10 blocks or less) and Z has a hand-me-down unicycle with training wheels contraption from his Chinese buddy, Simon, so he often uses that. Simon is a wonderful friend. They get together to play every day (so far), Simon living a couple blocks away also on campus. Simon has introduced Z to lots of other friends and has taught Z how to play Chinese chess, and Z is thrilled to apply his love of Chess to a new venue.

Cohorts in Crime: Simon and Zeph
Yesterday was the Chinese Valentine’s Day and we were at the flower/plant/fish market with Juan, Simon and Leo when a t.v. news crew approached me and asked me if they could interview Zephaniah . . . did he speak any Chinese? Z said he was “too shy” to be interviewed, so I muddled through describing the differences between American Valentine’s Day and Chinese Valentine’s Day. Z and Simon ended the interview by smiling and saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” in Chinese.
Chinese television debut: check.

No segue: Many young women hear carry parasols to keep the sun off their skin. The parasols are lovely pastel colors and are trimmed in ornate embroidery and sometimes sequins. Z immediately wanted one. He chose a Serat-esque lavender one with scallops and sequins. “Dear Uncle Duane, With the $20 you gave me for my birthday, I exchanged it for 80 yuan and got a parasol, a Chinese chess set, and leather-bound writing pad. Love –Z.”

Yesterday I saw a butch-looking older woman riding a motor scooter wearing a red t-shirt that said, in English, “I am SO Sexy!” 

I am finding that everyone here is so kind and friendly and eager to help, even with my very poor language skills. The kind and friendly people are making our transition extremely easy and the mix of ancient culture butting up against contemporary life make China a fascinating and welcoming place.

What are you curious about? What do you want to know?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Betty Sawin is Promoted

Grandma Sawin holds promotion packet
On August 6, Betty Sawin received a promotion from regular human to Grandmother. Bryson (son to daughter Jennifer) entered the scene at 6 lb. 13 oz., which is always what we want to know about babies. That and how long they are, which we don't know--but given the genes he has inherited, he'll be tall.

No word yet on whether Bryson has inherited Grandma Sawin's knowing look, playful wit, or easy laugh, though is certain that he will be on the receiving end of those things when Grandma visits.

Congratulations to the whole family!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Bensyl Helps Develop Japan Studies Association Projects

Dr. Stacia Bensyl, Professor of English and Treasurer of Japan Studies Association, participated in a week-long site visit in Kyoto, Japan as part of a Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership grant received by Japan Studies Association in July.  The purpose of the grant is to "create the next generation of leaders for the United States and Japan, with an emphasis on educational outreach."  

Dr. Bensyl, along with four other JSA board members, met with administrators from Otani University in Kyoto to plan and develop a seven-day workshop for American college and university teachers in Kyoto in 2014.  They also met with the chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and the president of the Hiroshima Peace Institute to plan and develop a 2015 workshop in Hiroshima.  

Additionally, in fulfillment of the grant, Japan Studies Association will be conducting a workshop at Wichita State University in October 2013 and a workshop at Belmont University in April 2014 to assist other undergraduate professors at colleges and universities without Japanese Studies or Asian Studies programs infuse Japanese studies into existing curricula. 

Prairie Lands Runs Boot Camp

Prairie Lands Writing Project held an Opinion Writing Boot Camp for teachers from Mark Twain Elementary School and Pickett Elementary School at Missouri Western, July 22-24.  Christie Leigan, PLWP co-director and Hall first-grade teacher, and Mya Mikkelsen, Prairie Lands teacher consultant and instructional coach at Eugene Field and Pershing Elementary Schools, facilitated the three-day workshop for twenty-two teachers.

Prairie Lands' i3 College Ready Writers Program consultants met at Missouri Western on July 16 to plan two-day launches at Braymer for the Braymer and Breckenridge school districts faculty on August 5-6 and for the Hamilton faculty on August 12-13. These launch session will introduce the program and provide teachers from all content areas with ways to embed writing activities in their classes. Dr. Jane Frick, program manager, Kathy Miller and Tom Pankiewicz, program facilitators led the meeting. Valorie Stokes, Platte Country High School; Heidi Mick, Platte County High School; Michele Irby, Orrick High School; Amy Miller, Benton High School; Janet Jelavich, retired from Maryville High School; Sara Capra, Park Hill High School, and Lynn Tushaus, retired from Savannah Middle School participated.  Several of these teachers will also present at the two launch sessions.  Incoming director Susan Martens joined the think tank team for lunch.