Thursday, December 26, 2013

Episode Ten: Pollution and Christmas in China

Air Pollution Index: 850 (2.5 parts per million)
Campus Pollution haze
When one walks around in an Air Pollution Index of 850 (on a scale of 0-500), it is like walking around in a soup of grey mush. You strain to see and your breathing becomes shallow. After two weeks, I was beginning to wonder if the pollution would ever lift. Z had a rattle-y cough and diarrhea. Z reported that no one was allowed to go out for recess. I was limiting my running to five miles a day and wheezing after the run, feeling nauseous. Today the pollution finally lifted or blew away or whatever it does on its way to burning the ozone and melting the ice caps.

Yesterday morning at 7 a.m. the pollution index was 850; today at 7 a.m. it was 250. 250 is still “unhealthy,” but it isn’t off the charts hazardous. Today I can see details for the first time in two weeks. It is not unlike a geezer putting on her reading classes and seeing actual letters instead of a grey blur.

Two blocks of visibility
The pollution soup that permeated our lives was so bad that even inside the grocery store there was a haze. Deborah and I found some new-fangled face masks in the Muslim Quarter. They included little ear covers on them, so your ears can be warm while you are walking about in the cold pollution-filled world of Xi’an.

As a comparison, I looked at the pollution levels in the United States. The American Lung Association has a good web site. Missouri and Nebraska had virtually no pollution (under 60 on the API scale). The worst pollution I could find was Reno, Nevada: 127 API. That was the worst. Multiply that times 6 or 7 and that is what it has been like in Xi’an for the past two weeks. Even today, which seems like a crystal clear day compared to what we have been experiencing, it is still twice what is considered the worst pollution in the United States.

I kept asking people (students and Chinese friends) what the government was doing about the hazardously high air pollution. The answer: telling people to wear masks and saying that children and old people should stay inside. “No,” I said. “I mean, what is the government DOING about the pollution?” A student said, “They are running only 50% of the buses.”

How does that even make sense, limiting public transportation instead of decreasing private transportation and factory pollution? Why not tell people they can’t drive their cars and need to take public transportation? How about limiting the production of the worst polluting factories? How about telling people to work from home if they can to avoid using their cars?
Mask with ear warmers
The next time you use your cell phone or computer or buy a cheap pair of jeans or sunglasses or walk into Walmart where virtually everything is made in China, think about how you are contributing to the pollution here in Xi’an. American companies outsource to China because the goods can be made so much cheaper here (Apple is a big perpetrator of this, but most American companies do the same). The reason they can be made cheaper is because the factories are using old technologies that pollute the air and water and labor is cheap, cheap, cheap (workers live on the compounds of these manufacturing companies and parents of small children rarely see them because they are being raised by grandparents in rural areas). Because these American corporations look the other way in how the goods are produced, the pollution and labor exploitation are rampant.

What would happen if Apple and Walmart said, “Sorry. We aren’t going to contract with you to build our phones/computers/clothing/goods until you can prove to us you are doing it in a Green way and that you are paying your workers a livable wage with humane work conditions.”

Sidebar on Apple and labor conditions in China: A couple years ago there was a blip in the international news about how there had been several suicides at an Apple production plant in China. The work conditions were so bad that workers were pitching themselves off the top of the buildings and dying. Workers are not allowed to chat with their co-workers; they work elbow-to-elbow for 12-14 hours a day with no breaks. They have to live on the compound (eat, sleep, work) with a regimented work schedule and no socializing.
Christmas Day Pollution Index: 850

Apple sent a representative over to inspect the factory and talk with the workers. You can guess how that went: everything was just fine; everyone was happy; no problems. The way the Chinese managers dealt with the suicides was to build huge awnings around the tall buildings to break the fall of workers who jumped. While the Apple rep was visiting, another suicide happened. Oops.

Production continues as usual.

I asked Tiantian when she thought the government would do something about the high pollution. She said, “Probably when enough people die.” I am skeptical that the Chinese government will do anything even when people are dying (they are dying now; a student running on Xi’an university track keeled over last week: dead). It will take international pressure and loss of lucrative contracts before anything will be done.
How many things do you buy that are “made in China”?

Dumpling Day

Traditionally, the Winter Solstice (the longest night/shortest day of the year) is a day when Chinese people make and eat dumplings. If you don’t eat some dumplings on this day, your ears will get cold and fall off. Fond of my aural functioning (what is music if you can’t hear it?), however failing it is, we made sure to eat some vegetarian dumplings. In fact, several of Deborah’s students took over my kitchen and dining room to make dozens of dumplings for everyone on Dumpling Day.

The students slaved away chopping and cooking and rolling out dough from 10 a.m. until about 3 p.m. Juan came over, took one look at the table full of dough and dumplings, and said, “How many

have you made?” The students proudly responded, “At least 200!” She scoffed. “Keep going until you hit 800. Then you have made dumplings.”

A note on lucky numbers in China: Eight is a lucky number. If you make or do anything, you better do it times 8. Four is a very unlucky number. You will die if you have 4 in your phone number or on your license plate. There are no buses that run with a “4” in their number. Buildings often do not have a “fourth” floor (like some buildings in America where the 13th floor is missing).

We did not eat 8 dumplings, but we made sure we did not eat 4, either.

Commercial Shoot

One day last week we were walking home from Zephaniah’s violin lesson and a young man stopped us. “Do you want to be in a commercial?” He asked Zephaniah. Shrug. “Sure. OK. Why not?”

After several text messages back and forth, on Saturday we got in a taxi and drove across town to a swanky furniture store where the commercial was to be filmed. Zephaniah played the grandchild of Chinese grandparents (in the commercial, Z’s mother was Chinese and his father was French). The grandparents were being gifted a fabulous water purification system by their daughter and son-in-law to increase their health and longevity. I inquired as to why they wanted foreigners in the commercial. The French man said because we are seen as having more authority, so of course the “smart European father” gifting the water system to aging Chinese grandparents would be seen as having more ethos than a Chinese father doing the same.

The director wanted Zephaniah to play a girl. Zephaniah was tolerant of having his hair curled, but

put his foot down when they asked him to done a skirt. This is a child who spent every day from the age of 3-7 in a dress: Truly Scrumptious, Mary Poppins, The Wicked Witch of the West, Carmen Sandiego, Cruella DeVille, so I was surprised when he said no to the skirt. But to a nine-year-old, being seven is ancient history. Besides, the dresses had always been his idea and his mandate. Not someone else’s. So, the little girl in the commercial wore yoga pants and a striped sweater instead of a skirt.

The French Father couldn't get it right
The commercial shoot was a comedy of polyglot farce. I was speaking Arabic to Zephaniah, French to the French man. The French man was speaking English to Zephaniah, Chinese to the Chinese and French to me. The Chinese were only speaking Chinese. Although, there was one man trying out all his English phrases on me. His favorite was “Golden Flower Hotel” (fond memories, I assume?). The other was, “Long live Chairman Mao.” Whenever he said that, I would enthusiastically reply, “Mao is dead!” No, really. Mao is dead. I saw him in Beijing. Really dead. I don’t think the man ever understood what I was saying. I couldn’t figure out whether he was a daft patriot or a sarcastic, wanton revolutionary.

There were many shots of Zephaniah smiling and drinking water, smiling and handing water to the grandmother, smiling and handing the water purification system to the grandparents, smiling and dancing, smiling and sitting. Smiling. A lot of smiling. People in the commercial appeared very, very happy or almost happy in a strained and constipated way.

One particular shot involved about 30 or so takes because the French man couldn’t get a sequence down. He was supposed to take a step forward , lean in, and say (in Chinese), “For you father and mother” while handing them the purification system. He kept getting it wrong. First of all, he would step forward with his left foot instead of his right (this would NOT do; you should never lead with your left, apparently). Then he would step with his right, but forget to bring his left foot forward (also extremely problematic). Finally, he got the correct foot choreography, but then he said, “mother and father” instead of “father and mother” (in China, you always say “ba-ba” before “ma-ma”; shame, shame, shame if you don’t). He seemed like a bright enough guy, but his brain jammed up tight on these small details that would offend many Chinese watching the commercial and so . . . 30 takes. Still, everyone was smiling, but secretly they were grinding their molars in frustrated gnash.

Zephaniah received 500 yuan for his afternoon of pretending to be a girl (about $90). He was thrilled with the money, but said his face hurt from all the cheesy grins. Still, a lucrative coup for him. He is pacing himself with the money, but on the way home, we had to stop at the Muslim Quarter so he could blow the first 100 yuan on a wooden sword , a pirate gun, and an artist’s stamp for his collection (this one features a panda carved at the top).

Xmas in China

Because the Chinese do not celebrate Christmas (or “Festivas” as Deborah says), our celebrations were low key. I had to teach on Xmas day and Z had to go to school (which he protested about loudly). But after school we gathered around Deborah’s little tree and unwrapped some gifts that I had procured at the Muslim Quarter one day while Zephaniah was in school: warm gloves, some pencils, a leather bound blank book, a paint brush calligraphy set, a little pocket watch, a wooden pipe and magnifying glass (a la Sherlock Holmes).
Judy Gibson and Barbara Dibernard had mailed a care package which arrived right on Christmas Day (great timing), so we were thrilled to have that package to open. I was particularly delighted in having a box to open that didn’t include things that I had purchased: a real surprise. The contents did not disappoint: fair trade, organic chocolate and malted milk balls, a chocolate cake mix, and a Cat Lover’s Against the Bomb 2014 calendar (featuring Barbara and Judy’s cat Cady as the “cover cat”). That was the best Christmas surprise ever. I’m rationing the chocolate. And not sharing. Z is content with Chinese candy. No point in wasting the good stuff on his unrefined taste buds.

Care Package with Real Chocolate!
After the constitutive opening of gifts, we all went out to eat Indian food with Aks. Zephaniah got to ride on Aks electric scooter to the mall where the restaurant was (Deborah and I took the bus). Christmas was the API 850 day, so Z had to wear his mask, but he didn’t care. Aks said Z called out a jaunty, “Ni hoa!” to every single person they passed, so ecstatic was he to be tooling around in the scooter/bike lane.

All around, not a bad way to celebrate the holiday. I greatly preferred it to being caught up in the nonsense and over-consumption of American Christmases that begin sometime the week before Halloween. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Episode Nine: Pollution, Haircuts, and Tea

Pollution and Haircuts

The air quality has been really bad in Xian the past two days. The worst I have seen it. Standing on the pedestrian overpass outside the North Gate, I could see maybe three blocks. After that: nothing. A creepy haze hangs in the air. The skies have been grey and cloudy, so it is difficult to tell just how bad the pollution is, but it must be bad because Zephaniah reports that the children are kept inside for recess: the air is too dangerous to breathe.  I see lots of people with masks on and yesterday when I went to the Quickie Mart outside the back gate to buy some milk, there were masks laid out on the check-out counter, not unlike ice scrapers after it snows in the Midwest.

Not to miss an opportunity to accessorize, there are several kinds of masks one can purchase.

Some feature designer logos/fabric. Some are straight forward blue corduroy or sensible black and grey plaid. The functional paper surgical masks are used, but only rarely as they lack pastiche. Some masks have creative, cute appliques of little bunnies and rabbits on the front (these simply look odd to me: grown women walking around with a smirking teddy bear where her mouth and jaw should be).

Outside the front gate, there is a woman who is selling a variety of novelty masks. There are panda faces, ghastly clown smiles, fuzzy ducks, patch-eyed pirates, and jaunty polka dots. My favorite is a pair of big Angelina Jolie-like lips with a cigar protruding from them. C’est ironique, n’est pas? Covering one’s mouth to avoid inhaling pollution, but the image on the mask alludes to the idea that the mask-wearing woman is smoking a lung-cancer inducing stogie.

What makes this particular mask even more interesting is that Chinese women don’t smoke. Or at least “respectable” Chinese women don’t smoke. I have seen one young woman smoking in public, but it was in a Western-style coffee house. The idea that a woman could put on a pollution mask that portrays her as a Mae West rebel with a cigar loitering rakishly on her lips is rather amusing to me. Going rogue on bad air days.

Z couldn’t resist not buying a pollution mask (although we haven’t worn it; I tend to be of the mind that a mask is not really going to help much as the air you are breathing is seeping in the sides of the mask anyway). He chose a chick-yellow one with bunny ears and a black melodrama villain moustache. Again: odd. There are bunny ears on the mask, but no bunny face, just the wild moustache. And why would a bunny have a black moustache anyway? I mean, they don’t have any fingers with which to twirl it. if a bunny is going to try to disguise itself (Dodge the law for what? Stealing carrots? Deadbeat dad? His name on a “Wanted: Hasenpfeffer” poster?), it would choose something other than a moustache, right? I mean, a bunny in a moustache just sticks out, right? Like a target on his twitchy little nose. That’s one dumb bunny.

This week we also got haircuts. Deborah was getting her “last Chinese haircut” (she leaves on Jan. 23 after 10 years of teaching in Xian) and so we decided to make it an outing.

The young man who cut Zephaniah’s hair was OK with the “trim” (“yi xia”) that Zephaniah wanted, until I told him that Zephaniah was a boy, not a girl (the hairdresser had asked if my daughter ever pulled her hair back and if so, in what styles). After that, the “trim” turned into a major cut of about six inches.

Z was unperturbed by the change in hairstyle since he now has a haircut identical to Deborah’s (except he has bangs) and he loves all things Deborah. He was less happy when Susan and Olivia (his Chinese tutors) took one look, started laughing, and called him “mushroom head.”

As Deborah pointed out:  “The difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut is about a week.” In Z’s case, I think it is going to take a bit longer to grow back what he lost, so he is stuck with the mushroom look for a while. I think he looks like Buster Brown or Christopher Robin, but I am not sure he finds that complimentary either.

The President of China, Hu Jintao, announced this week that he is “canceling” the day before Spring Festival and instead giving people a holiday at the end of the festival. Spring Festival is the biggest holiday of the Chinese calendar. Westerners know it as “Chinese New Year.” Traditionally, New Year’s Eve is a day where people make preparations for the New Year. It is a day off of work. Not this year. The president has decided people need to work on New Year’s Eve Day.
Because the Chinese follow the lunar calendar for this particular holiday, this year Spring Festival/New Year’s Day falls on January 31 (a Friday).

I asked my students why the President would “cancel” New Year’s Eve. They were stumped. I said, “Didn’t he offer a reason as to why?” Nope. Many students ventured that he canceled New Year’s Eve Day because it is called “Dead Day” (the old year is dying) and the President’s name sounds similar to that and he is superstitious and didn’t want people singing songs and merrily greeting each other by announcing his death.

That seems a bit wonky to me, but without any other reason given, people are left to superstition and gossip . . . and if there is one thing people are bad at, it is critically thinking through several possible answers to one question. They have been taught to obey and recite, not think about various solutions to one problem. There is only one way to do something and the person in charge will tell you how to do it that way.

Can you imagine what would happen if Obama, say, were to announce, “I am canceling Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas to one and all”? End of Press Conference. Stately Exit. No backward glances. No explanation. Just the edict. The Right Wing talking heads of the Rush Limbaugh ilk would be the first ones to open their maws and start crowing: Obama is Muslim and anti-Christian. But they would not be the only voices speculating “why.” There would be a cacophony of speculations and theories. There would be as many answers to “why” as there are people who could find a camera to speak in front of it. And we would also be talking about it, you and me. We would be kvetching and kvelling and protesting, if not the idea that someone could cancel a holiday, but that the President would assume the authority to do so without a good reason.  Or without any reason.

I frustrate my students because of my demand for them to think on their own and question and come up with answers. I assign a paper. They want me to give them a “model” paper that they can use. I tell them I want them to use their own ideas and come up with their own voice, not copy a model. This response causes them to squirm in their seats, writhing in frustration. It is very difficult for many of the students to take charge, make choices, and think independently about what they want to say, do, write. I have had more than one student call out in exasperation, “Will you just tell us what to do?” I sagely respond, “The assignment sheet is detailed and it tells you WHAT to do. But I will not tell you HOW to do it. That is your work. I want you to think. I want you to figure it out. What do you want to say and how do you want to say it?”

My students sigh and hang their heads in defeat. They have been taught to obey, so they will obey me. They will write another paper where they have to think. But they don’t understand why I won’t just follow the traditional script and give them something to copy.

They don’t understand why I am so insistent that they ask and answer why.

The upside of this sort of educational system/cultural ideology is that one can manage large groups of people quite efficiently. When no one questions the teacher, things run smoothly. The other upside is that Chinese students can memorize long passages, word-for-word, without much effort. My Oral English students have to give speeches. They write out three pages of what they want to say and then they memorize it: word-for-word. I wobble between utter exasperation (“Don’t spend all that time memorizing a text! Tell me what you know! Talk to me!”) and silent awe. Word-for-word. Three pages. Not a single deviation from the script. Perfect, down to the last syllable. No need for even a note card or scribbled ink on the palm of their hand.

Americans have trouble remembering their own phone numbers. We can’t give a talk without reading from a paper or a teleprompter, no matter how short or simple.  Powerpoint presentations are our crutch. People congratulate themselves if they can remember the lyrics to The National Anthem. We’re a pathetic population popping gingko biloba and relying on spell check because we can’t even remember how to spell “definitely” and “occasionally.” Once we hit 75, we are filling up “Memory Units” in Assisted Living Centers.

It would not be a bad idea to pay more attention to memorization, the skill of “learning by heart” a poem lost to most children of the Digital Age. However, I am not saying that rote memorization is a worthwhile pedagogy if it is the only one used.

I was talking with an American woman who is sending her children to an international school in Xian. She was lamenting that her son, grade 6, had a school project he had to complete. It was a fairly typical assignment: each student was given a budget and told they had to develop some sort of plan on how to spend it. The plan needed to solve a problem of the community.  They had to account for salaries and materials to execute the plan and a way to sustain the project once the initial money was gone.

This is an assignment that no Chinese sixth grader going to public schools would ever get. In Zephaniah’s school experience, there are no (absolutely none, zero, zilch) independent assignments. Students are assigned mounds of homework every night, but they are exercises in the book, memorization and rote learning. The next day in school, the answers are checked and students who have them wrong are called out – by the class chanting “You are wrong; do it again.” No independent thinking or creative “projects.”

Consequently, to ask students (or anyone) why the president would cancel a major holiday is to ask an unanswerable question. They smile, shrug, and say, “I don’t know.” Silly American. Always wanting to know why.

A student said to me, “We don’t ask why. We just obey. That is the Chinese way.”

New Tea House on the Block

A new Tao tea house has opened outside the back gate. It is lovely, with Tibetan music playing, an altar to the Buddha (Z lit some incense and made his three bows to the deity so we would be welcome), lots of tree branches, birds’ nests, and gourds adorning the place. There is a corner with a stone waterfall and private back rooms to sip in solitude. There are also tree stump stools to sit on with millstone tables (just as small). Several stone-topped tables are set up to play Chinese chess and Go (a traditional Chinese game with pebbles).

Z and I spent an evening there this week. It was extremely relaxing, except for the fact that my wide American butt does not perch so comfortably on a tiny tree stump. I felt like a friendly giant hunched over a gnome’s table. Add to that, the tea cups were the size of contact lenses. Honestly. I could barely pick them up they were so small. And they held a mouthful of tea. Compared to American style coffee mugs, we must seem like blundering ogres with dirty nails and bad manners, slurping and spilling our beverages out of over-sized, rustic mead steins.

Z had a great time sipping tea and learning the tea ritual of pouring, straining leaves, pouring again, and finally filling an itsy-bitsy cup with a half-swallow of tea. He also got to play endless games of Chinese chess and Go with a couple of men who were smitten with the American boy, with a mushroom haircut, who could speak Chinese.

Me, I like a comfy big chair and my large mug of coffee. Free wi-fi or not, I likely won’t spend hours at the tea shop perched on a way-too-small tree stump.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Catching Up with Anita Ford, MAA 2013

Anita graduated with her M.A.A. in Written Communication (technical writing) in May of this year, and she has been working for Garmin since August. Her official title is Technical Writer in the Consumer Technical Communication department .
Anita recently was given input on renaming the department from "Consumer Technical Publications." She's happy to report that the research that she did for her master’s thesis (graduate readiness for the market) proved helpful in her transition from student to technical writer.

"The work at Garmin is complex and challenging, and I love what I do. My only complaint  is the commute, but I intend to remedy that next summer when my lease is up."

We love to hear about what our alumni are up to. Drop any faculty member a line with news to share, and we'll let everyone know.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Spanish Students Defend Theses

Early December brought some undergraduate Spanish thesis defenses. On December 3, 2013 Bryce Freeman and Sami Atieh defended their respective theses. Erin Kempt and Christy Ramirez Huges defended their respective theses on December 5, 2013. Dr. Ana Bausset-Page was the research adviser for all four projects.

Congratulations to Erin, Christy, Bryce, and Sami!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Honorary Coaches

English faculty Mike Cadden and Dana Andrews were chosen by graduating senior football players to serve as "honorary coaches" at the last home game this season. Cadden's student sponsor was Seth Morton, a wide receiver (#28) on the team and a BSE, English major set to begin student teaching in the spring.

Andrews and Cadden were a bit disappointed that the "honorary" part was so literal. Neither was consulted on blitz packages, special teams strategy, or the best way to attack the 4-3 defensive look offered by the Bearcatz. There was no Gatorade bath or a request for a rousing half-time speech, which Cadden had prepared just in case. Andrews tried to "coach up" a couple of players on the side line, but he was rebuffed.

In any case, the loss was pinned on the ten faculty coaches in Griffon News.

Congratulations to Seth on his completing his football career at Western. He'll need the skills he learned--especially blocking things and running complicated routes--in his teaching career! 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Department Changes

As fall semester 2013 ends, so does the department's identity as "English, Foreign Languages and Journalism." When spring semester 2014 begins, journalism and convergent media will become part of the new department of Communications & Journalism, and we will become English & Modern Languages (which was the department's name in the 1980s).

We still welcome news of the accomplishments of our graduates in journalism, convergent media, and public relations!  We're still your department, folks; you just have reason to pay attention to what's happening in a second one. Professors Bob Bergland, Bob Nulph, and James Carviou will become faculty of the new department of Communications & Journalism, but the newspaper and yearbook offices will remain where they are, so when you return to visit, we'll all still be on the second floor of Eder.

So ends the first post of "The English & Modern Languages Blog."

November Activities and Accomplishments


Mary Dockery and Kara Bollinger, Instructors of English, presented their own poetry at the Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, KS, November 8. Mary presented her poetry at The Writer's Place in Kansas City and read with poets Walter Bargen and DaMaris Hill.
Exhibitions/Publications/Peer Review

Mary Dockery, Instructor of English, published her second collection of poetry, One Last Cigarette, with Honest Publishing. Mary received a Pushcart Nomination from the journals Menacing Hedge and Stirring, for poems published previously this year.
Robert Nulph, Assistant Professor of Journalism, had 16 photos on exhibit at the Mitchell Park Plaza Gallery in St. Joseph the month of November with a reception held Saturday, November 9th from 3-6pm. The gallery has asked Dr. Nulph to extend his exhibit through the month of December.

Praire Lands Writing Project

Several Prairie Lands Writing Project Leaders and Teacher Consultants made presentations at the Annual Convention of the National Council of Teachers of English and at the Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project, held jointly in Boston on November 20-24. 

·         Terri McAvoy (St. Joseph School District, retired) and Christie Leigan (Hall Elementary School, St. Joseph) presented a session called “Teaching Opinion Writing: Experiencing the Possibilities.”

·         Rebecca Dierking (Truman State University) and Janet Jelavich (Maryville High School, retired) presented a High School Matters roundtable session called “'Nooking' Reluctant Readers.”

·         Valorie Stokes (Platte County High School), Michelle Irby (Orrick High School), and Lynn Tushaus (Savannah School District, retired) presented a session with the Missouri Writing Projects Network called “From ELA Teacher to Literacy Expert: Re-imagining Our Roles.”  

·         Susan Martens (MWSU) made a presentation called “When the Fantasy Teaching Bubble Breaks: ‘Outrospection’ in a Reading Methods Course” as part of a session about partnership programs between pre-service teachers and high school students.


Terri McAvoy also presented two-days of model lessons in grades 3, 4 and 5 at Pickett Elementary School in St. Joseph on Nov. 12th and 13th as part of PLWP’s SEED 2 Professional Development in a High-Need Elementary School Grant.

While at the NWP Annual Meeting, McAvoy and Prairie Lands director Susan Martens and co-directors Tom Pankiewicz (MWSU) and Christie Leigan (Hall Elementary School) participated in an NWP SEED 2 lunch during which sites shared their work this year with the grant’s control schools and met with sites beginning year-long professional development work at high-need elementary schools. 

McAvoy, Martens, Pankiewicz and Leigan attended a presentation by SRI International representatives revealing preliminary results from last year’s SEED 2 study. The results, unfortunately, are aggregated, studying the effect of the PD programs in all 44 selected schools. No site knows the impact its work had on an individual school.


Jane Frick (MWSU retired), Tom Pankiewicz (Instructor of English), Kathy Miller (West Platte School District), and Valorie Stokes attended several i3 College Ready Writers Program sessions at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting. On November 19, they participated in a conversation with leaders from other i3 sites to share their successes and challenges in offering the program. Several workshops over the next day directed related to i3 work. Pankiewicz also took part in a focus group that examined key challenges and obstacles sites face in their work.

In other i3 work, Pankiewicz and Janet Jelevich presented model lessons at Braymer High School while Kathy Miller and Lynn Tushaus presented model lessons at Breckenridge High School.

Pankiewicz, Jelavich, Tushaus, Miller, and Jane Frick developed and presented Professional Development workshops throughout the month. Two hour PD sessions were held in Braymer on November 6 and at Breckenridge and Hamilton on November 8. Pankiewicz also led a book study group at Hamilton on November 11. 


Jeanie Crain, Professor of English, is involved in a Systems Portfolio for AQIP through February.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Episode Eight: The Sister Visits with Cookies

Tour Guide Instead of Tourist

While you all were eating your way into a tryptophan- and carb-induced comas, dozing off in front of the t.v. or nodding off and dropping your book onto the floor, my sister, Dona was experiencing the highs and lows of being a tourist in China. It was my first opportunity to trot someone around what have become my stomping grounds in Xi’an.

If you ask my friend Aks (a computer science professor here) the purpose of my sister’s visit, he would say it was to bring him his new iphone. He wanted the gold one. He couldn’t get the gold one in China – at least not yet. Aks also contends that the apple products sold in China are not only of lesser quality, but hazardous to one’s health. He tells of a colleague who could register the radiation from his Chinese iphone on the science lab’s Geiger counter; when Aks held his American iphone up to the Geiger, no radiation. I guess when you have over a billion citizens, you don’t have to worry about product safety standards.

I ordered Aks the phone using my Visa card and had it delivered to my sister’s house. Aks is the kind of techno-geek who can’t stand not having the latest gadget. Before he would trust Dona as his mule, he did his research on her. He knew where she lived, where she worked, how long she had worked there, what she did in the job before that, and likely her income. He also showed me photos of her house and work place via Google.Maps. He tracked the minute-by-minute shipping of his precious phone from Hong Kong (where they are made) to China, to L.A. to Indiana, to Dona’s house. Then, as Dona was traveling here, he tracked her flight. He hardly slept the night before she (really, the phone) arrived, so excited was he about his golden apple. He was at my door at 7:30 a.m. to get it.

In other words, my sister was Aks’ mule for his Apple crack.

I, however, had no ulterior motive. Z and I were just glad she came to visit. My sister is the model house guest. First of all, she came bearing chocolate chips, good coffee, and brown sugar. Gold, frankincense and myrrh I could not care less about. But I needs me coffee and cookies. Second of all, she eases into the morning. No getting up at the crack of darkness to be the first in line or to beat the crowd or to get to the warriors before the rest of the crazy tourists.

Sidebar: Vacations are meant for no alarm clocks.

I hope Debbie and Jennifer are reading this. They tried to get my ass out of bed at 3:30 a.m. to go climb 14,000 foot mountains a couple summers ago in Colorado. I think I fell for that ridiculousness the first day. But after one day of stumbling blindly uphill on rocks, walking fast to keep warm in August, and trying to be cheerful about it, I stayed behind the next day. After they slugged off to the mountains at o-dark hundred, jangled by the wee hour, I went back to bed, got up when there was sun in the sky, had a latte, had a massage, and had a real vacation.

Also, Dona is up for an adventure and trying new things. She ordered the fish soup, for example. I think she stopped eating once she discovered the fish head bobbing along with the other parts. She did blanch when I told her I had discovered a restaurant that sold dog meat.

Dona wanted to try some traditional Chinese acupuncture. The campus “hospital” (more like a glorified M.A.S.H. clinic) has an entire section of the second floor devoted to “traditional medicine.” You have to walk through the row of people sitting in the hall hooked up to I.V.’s and past some really stinky bathrooms to get there, but once you get there, the traditional medicine area is something worth writing about.

There were people there getting acupuncture, of course. There were also a few people rendered incapacitated by some pretty archaic-looking traction devices (could be torture gear, for all I know). There were also a couple men who were holding something big and square down the front of their pants. I didn’t ask. And I tried not to stare too long. No privacy in a Chinese hospital, just a big ward with rows of cots. Some of the cots do have little curtains to pull, but they only hide half the story.

This part of the hospital smelled strongly of what we originally thought was hash. The air was thick with a haze that could rival a Grateful Dead concert. I later found the source was not marijuana, but smudge sticks. Smudge sticks are wads of sage and cedar (and other herbs/grasses/plants, depending on what you are trying to do) wrapped tightly together to form a thick stogie-like thing. The stick is lit and while it is smoking, the stick/smoke is held and waved around the offending area of the body to extract the bad energy.

Some Native American tribes use smudge sticks to purify areas before traditions and rituals. Some new-age-y people use smudges to purify houses or rooms, to get rid of bad energy. The Chinese traditional doctors use them to draw out the bad energy from the ailing body part.

There was no smudging involved in the acupuncture, but once the needles were in, the doc did attach some electrodes, which pulsed energy into the needles. The procedure lasted for about 30 minutes. Dona paid $10, but that was $10 for three treatments . . . she was told to come back two more times (with a week in-between each treatment) to rid herself of her back pain. Since she was only able to visit once, she will need to see an American acupuncturist to finish the treatment. I bet they charge her more than $3.50 for a 30 minute session.

Besides facilitating Dona getting needles poked into the small of her back, we trotted around to all the big tourist sites in Xi’an. We biked around the wall. We visited the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. We went to the Muslim Quarter. Poked around in the Great Mosque. We shopped and ate street food. We went out to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. We travelled to the local Taoist temple and burnt fake money (Z’s favorite thing to do; you can burn all kinds of things to the gods, but one of the things that Z loves to burn is the fake yuan sold outside the temple).

Some Taoists believe that if you burn something to the gods, it will end up helping your dead ancestors. On the “sweeping the tombs” day (in March) where people pay homage to their dead, people burn all kinds of items: clothes, money, phones and computers. Just to be clear: they aren’t really burning these things. They are burning paper replicas of them.

My question is, “Aren’t the gods smart enough to know that the money isn’t real?”

My next question is, “Why would a dead person need money . . . or an iphone?”

One of the tourist things my sister wanted to do was dress up in traditional Chinese clothing and get our photo taken. These “dress-up” places are at most tourist sites. On the balcony of the Bell Tower there was such a place, so we stopped. The costumes are of traditional Chinese fashion. There are far more options for females than males. Dona chose a lovely red dress and I chose a sky blue version.

Unfortunately, the people who were orchestrating the photo shoot were adamant that I could not wear a dress. Apparently, the idea of two Empresses in one photo was out of the question. No lesbians Empresses. I needed to dress up as the Emperor. No matter how many times I told them that I wanted to wear the blue dress, they insisted that I needed to put on the golden costume of the emperor.


Here I am in traditional Chinese drag. Dona and Z look great. I look like a stuffed toad. Very “emperor like,” I suppose. Z only had one costume option as well: the warrior guard. Z had a mini-battle with the woman posing us because he wanted to hold his spear a certain way and she insisted he hold it another way. Finally, she just took him out of the photo altogether. The official photo has all three of us in it, but there were several taken on Dona’s camera where the recalcitrant warrior was excluded, banished for failing to comply with protocol. Zephaniah adamantly says, “I was trying to protect you, not stab you.”


Because Dona was a first-time visitor, it was interesting to see what she found unusual . . . things that even having been here just four months, I take for granted as “normal.”

1)      American phones can’t call/text Chinese phones. The Great Fire Wall works really, really well. And although Dona was convinced she would eventually get her phone to work in China, it never happened (she could, however, text and call other American phones).

2)      Students on campus do not have hot water in their dorms. They have to go to the public hot-water spigots a couple times a day to fill their thermos for washing, tea-making, and soup-making. There is one public bath on campus so they can shower with hot water and I see students carrying their little shower caddies across campus on a regular basis, bound for the hot showers.

3)      Taxi drivers regularly drive off after hearing where you want to go. It could be they don’t want to go there, it could be it is nap time or lunch time. It could be – upon a closer look -- they don’t want you in their cab. Regardless, they regularly drive off after you tell them where you want to go. Dona was convinced they were driving off because they couldn’t understand my Chinese. Granted sometimes it took them a while to realize what I was saying, but they eventually got it . . . and then drove off: “Nali, nail!”

4)      There is pollution, but it is not so bad that you have to wear a mask. There are always a few people I see each day with masks, but likely they are folks with asthma. Neither Z nor I have suffered more/less upper respiratory junk here than back home.

5)      There are groups of dancers who gather on the public squares and dance every night. It is the night-time version of Tai Chi. You can find lots of different dancing groups: line dancers, middle-eastern style dancing, ballroom dancing, break dancing, square dancing. I haven’t seen polka . . . yet. Note to the Czechs: Visit China. Teach Dance.

6)      Many older men spit and hawk snot out their noses on a regular basis, so watch out. Zephaniah proudly announced the first time someone spit on him (it was about 6 weeks ago in the produce market while I was buying apples). Dona had heard that young women do it, too, but I have never seen a young person (male or female) clear out their nasal passages with quite the same flourish as older men do. At least the sound gives you fair warning of what it about to happen, dodge and look away.

7)      People don’t speak English. If you don’t have it written in Chinese or speak enough Chinese to communicate what you want, good luck. In the tourist areas there are usually some basic English phrases that people understand. But if you try to engage in a conversation, go off script, or venture beyond the tourist areas, you will quickly realize how difficult it is to accomplish simple tasks when language is not shared. Charades rarely works; it mostly garners odd stares: “What the hell is she doing?  Should I call a doctor? Anyone have a smudge stick?”

8)      No one tips in China. And if you try to tip, they refuse the extra money quite adamantly. It takes some getting used to for Americans. I still feel cheap for not tipping.

9)      If you are a tourist, you will be offered a “Big Nose” price (Westerners are called “big noses” for the obvious reason). You can typically get anything you want for half (or less) of the initial price, if you bargain.

10)   Miscellaneous Chinese people will come up and ask to have their picture taken with you. They will want to talk to you. They think you are exotic and interesting. I always wonder what they say when they show the photos to their friends and family: “And then I saw an American! I got my photo taken with her. Freaky, right?”

I am sure Dona could add many more things to this list. It was great to have her come visit. Good to be a tour guide instead of a tourist. Fun to show someone our corner on this side of the world. Even if she was unimpressed with my Chinese skills.