Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Creative Insight

Leo, Senior 2 Changzhou High School, commenting on the title of “And of Clay Are We Made” by Isabel Allende:

The title: Clay can’t stand up to stress and pressure. It is easy to break. Like the life of the girl, it is easy for her to die. [Some believe] God creates people with clay. The clay can mean us or any human being. All human beings are easy to break too. Our life needs be protected by ourselves and those who love us. This means we are born from earth and die or return into the clay and mud.

White Cloth

"An infant travels through adulthood like a piece of white cloth, so once dyers thoroughly tint it they can not make other major changes."

Armstrong Li, Senior 2 AP English Essay - "Childhood Memory"
Did I mention that I love my students? : )

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Flowers of War in Changzhou

I saw Flowers of War in Changzhou, a city that is about an hour by train from Nanjing, on Christmas Eve-afternoon. It was a more emotional experience seeing the film in China rather than seeing it in the States because I am so near the museum commemorating the victims of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre. The memory of visiting that museum in August 2011 and touching the notebooks filled with transcribed interviews from survivors of the massacre- oral history fresh and raw in the Chinese memory- shapes my perception of the event in a way that would have never happened had I remained in America.

My students at the Changzhou High School of Jiangsu Province and I have discussed issues of censorship and art in our Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition class. We also discussed the credibility of one of my senior 3 students to critique the film in the context of the rhetorical triangle- her ethos.

Read what the director, Zhang Yimou, had to say about the making of the film in this L.A. Times article.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

We live in time -- it holds us and moulds us -- but I've never felt I understood it very well. And I'm not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time's malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing -- until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.

The Sense of an Ending by J. Barnes

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Yellow Ostrich

Alex Schaaf, singing Sharon Van Etten's "Love More" from her album epic

When I was in Congo, I heard my students say that when an elder died, a library burned down. This Yellow Ostrich song callled "Libraries Burn Fast" reflects the speed of knowledge production and the murkiness of memory in the information age of wi-fi and world news in a minute.

The Yellow Ostrich Website


Let me take your words from you today
Tell me what you’ve always yearned to say
Sing about the trials you have known

‘Cause there will be a fire here today
All you see will slowly fade away
Into ashes, shadows and the mist

Make it quick, don’t try to understand
Trucks and hoses soon will be at hand
Tell all that you know before you go

And I will write it down here in my book
I promise you that I will never look
Until the day has come when the fire starts

Libraries burn fast
When they’re in the past
Once you leave all your stories will be gone
Libraries burn fast
They weren’t built to last
Flames of memory burn brighter than the rest

Libraries are burning
Should we try to save them? What will we be missing?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Banana Flower Toting Santa

I bought this stuffed monkey at the Taihu Electronic Music Festival in the Joyland Amusement Park in Changzhou, China on October 28, 2011. It was a misty night, and I remember two amorous robot dancers in their red blinking body suits circling each other lustily on the outdoor stage. My monkey is having dreams of space and fantasy journeys to lands where stuffed animals frolic free.

International Women's Tea Santa Claus
Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Writers on Writing: Students on Writing

My student in senior 3, Sun Yi, reminded me to slow the pace of my life. She recommends an unhurried and deliberate approach to the day. Working closely with her on the editing process, I recognized her philosophy of creating art emerging in this piece.

In Sun Yi's words, "The hot pot slowly reveals its attractive fragrance under the fire. The hot pot needs to be persistently and patiently cooked so that it becomes the symbol for the creativity and culture over thousands of years. I am also the cook, in the kitchen, in my life, slowly absorbing the knowledge, constantly putting effort into my pursuits and gradually displaying my talent. I bring happiness to other
s’ stomachs and hearts."

All art, therefore, appeals primarily to the senses, and the artistic aim when expressing itself in written words must also make its appeal through the senses, if its high desire is to reach the secret spring of responsive emotion. - Joseph Conrad

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Grow With Why

Sun Yi wrote this brief application essay for entrance into Tufts University, bringing a delightful new insight to the word WHY.

Why, Why, Why, Why, Why...

This word in my existence keeps annoying my parents, and later in school sometimes makes my teachers confused. Scientists try to fill the mystery behind this word. Philosophers and sociologists devote their life to this word, formulating various interpretations, but never reaching an agreement.

This word, combining both simplicity and complexity, is important in every culture and for every individual. It doesn’t matter in Chinese, English or other languages; this word can be used as a single word or added into any situation.

That is my dear “why”.

I never stop asking:

Why does a rainbow have seven different colors?

Why can’t fish close their eyes?

Why does this or that happen?

“Why” is the essence of my education and the key to my achievement. “Why” forms my habits of acutely observing, constantly questioning, widely searching, carefully testing and logically analyzing. “Why” gives me energy to study days and nights and never lose my strong curiosity. “Why” shapes my determination to study abroad, to pursue my dream as a diplomat regardless of all the challenges, and today, to apply to Tufts.

I grow with “why”.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

All of our family acquaintances have followed the same path: their youth spent trying to make the most of their intelligence, squeezing their studies like a lemon to make sure they'd secure a spot among the elite, then the rest of their lives wondering with a flabbergasted look on their faces why all that hopefulness had led to such a vain existence. People aim for the stars, and they just end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right away from the start that life is absurd.

- Muriel Barbery

Weekend QQ News from Yixing

A Penguin Waddles In Yixing

principally due to our wonderful co-hosts, Jon and Mark, one of whom was recently referred to as my BF- boyfriend. That's weird.

Who decides when and if someone becomes a BF or BG? In this case, it was a friend I was chatting with online. My friend and I were talking about our romantic prospects at Thanksgiving. He was going to spend the holiday with a woman he had met in the Peace Corps in Niger, and I was spending the weekend with Jon. A few days after the holiday, my friend and I picked up the thread of our previous turkey day conversation, and that is when he referred to Jon as my BF.

Despite labels, Jon is Jon, and he gave me a plush gift on Saturday- a QQ stuffed penguin joining the friendship circle of my fuzzy teddy bear and pudgy monkey. May he be a happy QQ penguin in their midst.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Hand warm feet warm sleep! Impulse Buy

electrothermal water bag pillow for heating my hands and feet
photo shot with my Mac cam

It was a crazy-sort of impractical (but also practical because I need the heat) impulse buy when I was in the grocery store today. The product is a "utility model hand heater electrothermal water bag for heating hydrothermal body heat" according to the description on the box. What this means is that it's a plastic pillow with a gelatinous substance inside that heats up to boiling in about 4 minutes. The company, Meilu Electrical Appliance Factory, makes similar designs of the same pillow, which you can see on the company website.

Three of the seven characteristics to enhance the quality of this product include:

1. Hand warm feet warm sleep;

2. the use of simple easy to carry;

3. and, ideal for heating is a new generation.

I just hope it doesn't burn down the house!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top Five Regrets of the Dying

By Bronnie Ware

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks...

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one.

Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice.

They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

One of these things is not like the other!


Tianning Temple November 26, 2011

Tom's Crystal Clear Whiskey Glasses

Temple Wall
Tianning Temple in Changzhou on November 26, 2011

Beijing Temple Stairs on November 19, 2011

Thoughts, thoughts like crazy rushes of the November breeze stirring my autumn imagination and generating questions about why I am where I am... of all places, China.

At a random bus stop in Changzhou, I look down at the sidewalk and small intimate piles of phlegm and blood cling stickily to the concrete. One man is squatting, unknowingly I suppose, over the red human stain looking as if the shiny fluid underneath him is being excreted from his rectum.

I finished reading Haruki Murakami's short story "On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning" and felt like weeping because humans are doubters, always questioning happiness and equipped with only a faulty sense of fuzzy memory.

The faintest gleam of their lost memories glimmered for the briefest moment in their hearts. Each felt a rumbling in the chest. And they knew:

She is the 100% perfect girl for me.
He is the 100% perfect boy for me.

Without a word, they passed eachother, disappearing in the crowd. Forever.

A sad story, don't you think?

To preserve his anonymity, I will refer to him as: The Man I Am Dating or TMIAD. I saw this man off at the bus station Sunday afternoon. He helped me tidy the kitchen after we had eaten breakfast on Saturday morning, and he sprinted to the bus station Friday evening so he would make the last bus that dropped him in Changzhou at 7:30. That's backwards. We spent the weekend together and found some not-too-sweet Chinese white wine. We drank it in bed from Tom's crystal clear whiskey glasses. He's a vegetarian, TMIAD, not Tom- which is a bragging point on his behalf. He introduced me to vegetable dumplings at the dumpling fast food chain Wu Da Niang Dumpling.

I am full of 12 vegetable dumplings and one green tea and red bean smoothie. The weather reminds me of a tropical summer's day and there are banana plants in the park.

I would take a nap if I could. But I shouldn't.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nanjing South

SAT Identity

My students in senior 3 wrote an essay on their midterm exam addressing the power differential in relationships between themselves and important people in their lives such as college counselors, teachers, mothers and fathers. Alyson's essay struck me as typical of the American college entrance experience for many Chinese high school students. My students are competing for places in the top universities in America, which only compounds the pressure.

Alyson's Analysis

The conflict in the essay I write is about the conflict between counselor (college) and me. My counselor insists that "I should put all my energy and time on improving my SAT score," and my hobbies or interests should be put off to the side. She wants the outcome (of a higher SAT score) and she takes charge of the talk.

I want my conversation in the essay to appear as a conversation between a busy business woman and her poor client. She makes me feel that I am working for her because she is condescending.

Alyson's Essay

When I talk to you, look at me. OK? Show your respect. Shen Zhoutian, are you listening? Give some reply, OK? Are you listening at all? Look at people's eyes when they talk to you, OK? Mind your manners. I don't know, but I think your eyes make people feel you are flippant. I am worrying about you. You are certainly not going to pass the college interview with the admissions officer. If I were the college admissions officer, the least person I would want to accept is you. I tell you, you are doomed if the college requires an interview. Mind you with your eyes, OK? Do you have any research? The college application requires you to write about research that you have conducted before. OK- that-eh-eh... stop, stop here. Do you even know what research is? I can't understand what you're writing. And what are you talking about? I can't understand and the admissions officers cannot understand either. So don't tell every step of your so-called research. Do you really have no other to write about? Are you sure? Just remember what I tell you. You should write it down, you know, in case your forget about it when you write. We have a tight schedule here, and time is limited. There are 5 students waiting for me. So how's your test preparation going? What! You are learning Spanish now? Don't joke. Look at what time it is. You are applying for colleges. Now focus on your SAT, OK? Promise me. Are you a serious girl? Your friend takes the SAT course, and she has a score of 2,300. You are way behind her level. The most urgent thing you need to do now is improve your SAT score. Do you have confidence in yourself? OK, I see. Send me your college essays before this Sunday. I have a really tight schedule.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

American Girl: Dating Game


I never thought I would date in China.

I had given up the search assuming that most Western men wanted only to experience the female Chinese partner. Dating a Chinese man seemed like a cavernous cultural divide both incomprehensible and inaccessible. I was dreading the lack of intimacy when... I wasn't alone anymore.

to be

photo caption: The school bought me a new mattress- a comfortable highlight of my day on November 14, 2011.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Yixing, China - November 12 and 13

Shanjuan Caves in Yixing
The Lovely Snail Woman

Bride Beautiful... groom too

Friday, November 11, 2011

Stealing Ice Cream in Changzhou

Sophie Ren

Professor LJ the Raingirl

AP 2 English

11 November 2011

The Ice Cream Thief

Changzhou, China always has a hot summer. I hate summer because it’s so hot. I just want to stay in my room with the air-conditioning on, but on the other hand, I love summer too. I don’t have to wear a lot of heavy clothes like I do in the winter. I don’t feel cold any more, and I love sunshine, although sometimes it’s too bright. But the most important thing is that I can enjoy my favorite ice cream at any time.

Last summer, I was living in my grandfather’s factory. I bought a huge supply of ice cream and put it in the chest freezer. The chest freezer was sitting in a small room on the first floor of one of the buildings at the factory and other people knew I had my delicious ice cream there. When I felt like eating some creamy and cool ice cream, I would go and get one from the freezer.

Time passed. Suddenly, one day I discovered that it seemed the number of ice cream treats was not correct. I counted them carefully and then left. The next day, I opened the freezer and checked again. To my surprise, I had lost one of my delectable ice cream treats. When the count did not add up to the correct number, the smile disappeared from my face. Several days later, I lost two more, which made me think I should investigate the situation. I was going to catch the thief.

There is CCTV in the factory, but I did not want to watch a minute-by-minute video record of the entire time period my ice cream had been disappearing. It was too long. I was not sure when the thief took the ice cream, so I gave up on that plan after watching only a small part of the video. I didn’t find anyone in the video, except me.

Second Step: I checked on all the trash cans outside the building. I finally found some wrappers from the ice cream in the garbage; however, I proved that they were bought by the workers. I failed again.

I changed my tactics after getting nowhere with first two strategies. I decided to warn the thief rather than catch him. I wrote a letter with the words, “Don’t steal my ice cream! I am always watching you through CCTV!” on it and stuck the letter on the chest freezer so that anyone who opened it would see it. I didn’t lose my ice cream anymore. The thief got the message.

Later in September, I was told that it was my cousin who ate my ice cream. I realized I was like a little stupid child doing all these petty tricks to catch a thief. I felt like a 5 year-old again who cared more for her ice cream than her cousin. I knew now that I shouldn’t have worried so much about a few ice cream treats that disappeared from the freezer. I relaxed and chose to ignore small things which don’t matter. The world then became a better place.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Midterm Exams

I am lucky enough to have the academic freedom to write my own midterm exam for my senior 3 class in Changzhou. I can't wait to read their original essays about the rules and regulations that direct and shape their lives here in China. Excerpts from their papers will be posted here. My students' intellectual light- I'm going to help it shine!

“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid – AP 3 Midterm Exam – Part Two

STUDENT ESSAY: This story is a great example of literature's ability to leap across cultural boundaries. Kincaid is from Antigua (in the Caribbean) and it seems the story is set there. But it transcends this setting, too; it's a timeless, universal story about the generation gap. Parents will always try desperately to pass their own values on to their children — their lifetime's worth of learning and wisdom — and children will also try desperately to discover their own values and gain their own wisdom.


Brainstorm Services

Directions: Write an essay in a similar style about rules and regulations that control your life in China. Use specific examples from your own life like Jamaica Kincaid did in her essay “Girl”. Set the tone and mood of your essay with those specific examples. Decide from what point of view you will write your essay: (Teacher-Student, Father-Son, Mother-Daughter, Elder-Teenager, another, et cetera). This essay does not have a traditional plot structure. Decide how you want to organize your essay in a creative manner so that the organization is clear and meaningful to your reader. Is there conflict in your essay? What is the theme? Are there important rules that you want to stress when you narrow and focus your topic? What kinds of relationships exist among the characters? Think about all these things when you write.

1. 1. 1. Write your essay.

2. 2. 2. Write a short literary analysis of your essay. Answer the questions above. Add more information if it is relevant and necessary. I leave that to your discretion, which means good judgment.

Dragon Breath

too colorful

too loud

in synch but never rhythm,

‘cause rhythm requires heart and hips

memorize the dance steps

and copy the other kids

perky red dragon breath

censored lukewarm

can’t ignite a fire

exercise with me

for health and well being

lockstep together

pity the individual who

tap dances to the left

when the group mentality

is twirling to the right.

(The video that accompanies the poem was shot in Hangzhou, China on November 6, 2011 at an outdoor fun fair for kids.)

HangZhou November 6-8, 2011 #2

Returning To ChangZhou

A framed Obama message/poster that was on the front desk at the Wushanyi International Youth Hostel in Hangzhou, China on November 8, 2011.

Hangzhou November 6-8, 2011

A rainy mist embraced West Lake spreading its flat, gray light over the causeways and pagodas. Live jazz, a flightless kite, and big brain conversations blended splashes of color into an ashy autumn landscape!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Arboreal Locomotion

I want to win an Intrepid trip to Borneo. I entered to win, and here was my reason why:

I have always admired gingers of the world. Red hair is dynamite. Orangutans- smart vegetarians swinging in the trees- Can I go to Borneo please?

Inside Joke

No explanation is needed.

just a personal memory of some chairs

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Moon Cakes Philosophy: Tasty Enjoy

The mission statement on my moon cakes reads as follows in all CAPS:




EST 1996

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bond, as in James Bond

and my student Bond, who selected his name to reflect his respect for the well known globe trotting spy, had this to say in his obituary.

Bond Sun, President of the People's Republic of China, Dies


April 11, 2100

Also, Mr. Sun showed great hatred toward the old-fashioned Chinese education system, which deprived students of their interest in pursuing study and coerced them to value test most. He thought education should be pleasant and provocative- pleasant in students' obtaining knowledge while at the same time keeping their fun; provocative in students' treating education as their obligation and continuing to pursue their personal development. He was the first president in China to abolish the unreasonable test system used to judge a student by evaluating the student's achievement in answering several test papers. He wanted students to feel their own mission to help establish a powerful country in the world. He wanted young people to put their well-being of their home country in the first place and obtained knowledge to help contribute to its further development.

"Young people are supposed to have some huge dreams which become impulses to drive them to build their own achievements in their lives." Sun used his sincere words and earnest wishes to inspire young people to show courage in dreaming and realizing dreams.

Home Sick With Student Obituaries

I am home sick today reading my students' obituaries. That sounds strange perhaps, but part of their assignment for the short story The Lottery was to write their own obituary because they were the lucky winners. If you haven't read The Lottery, the winner was stoned to death by his or her fellow community members. I also thought it was a nice companion assignment to the college application essay process- as they examine their future aspirations in these college essays, reflect upon a life well lived in their obituaries.

Here are some experts from their work. All are unedited.


Christina Hu-- An Inspiration, A Legacy, A Hero, A Legend-- Deprives Us

By CNN, Sep 4, 2086

Christina Hu, the great socialist and environmentalist, died for natural eldering in Africa at 2.00 a.m. yesterday (Sep 3, 2086) at an age of 93. She devoted over half of her life to the World Bank and then a NGO (None Government Organization) called Lovelife. With her active participation and caring heartboth organizations entered into an new era to be highly valued in the world, spreading the idea that society is responsible for all people’s well being.

After graduating from Changzhou Senior High School in China, Christina Hu began her college life in Cornell University in 2012. There she won Bachelor Degree of both mathematics and economics. Despite her majors, Hu continued showing her interest in environmental protection and community services. She kept in touch with the Green-life Organization in China, an organization that has been working on planting trees in desert for twenty years. Later she prolonged her study in environmental research in Yale University, where she focused mainly in global warming and got Ph.D of environmental science.

Although she spent most time living in the United States, Hu constantly thought about her motherland China. She saved her own money and in 2040 set up a large school also called Lovelife in Changzhou, her hometown. Teachers fostered students’ habits of caring about environments and respecting others from the beginning of Grade One throughout the next twelve years in school. She often contacted with school leaders and student representatives by Skype and visited the school once or twice a year until she retired and found another person to continue the mission. Hu said during an interview that, “Those students are like my children. I love them and want them to transmit the love to others. They should be grateful for the creatures on earth, and feel strongly responsible for China’s future, and the world’s future.”

Hu died during her sleep last morning with a smile on her face. According to her testament, all her money left will be donated to Lovelife School in Changzhou and some public benefit organizations, and her bone ash will be scattered into the Yangzi River. What she left for her children and all human beings is her sipirit of fighting for the earth’s well-being.

“Thank life; love life.”

Christina Hu, Aug 6, 1993 - Sep 3, 2086

August 21, 2044


Alyson Shen, the City Hunter, Passes Away

Special to Time

Ten days ago on August 11th, world-famous cardiologist and ex-member of City Hunter Agency (CHA), Alyson Shen passed away on her 50th birthday in a village of Amazon rainforests. This message was not sent out until yesterday—apparently Alyson did not want her dying of heart attack to smirch her professionalism.

The whole world did not get acquainted with Alyson until the day she smashed the base of terrorists in Mideast, and simultaneously succeeded in operating on the hostage who was suffering from aortic aneurysm in 2040. When everyone started calling Alyson the name of her favorite Japanese animation character, city hunter, few knew where her incredible courage and superlative skills as a city hunter originated from. Before the infamous, disastrous terrorism on 2036, she was actually “Alyson in the wonderland”, as described in her manuscript.

After graduating from the medical school of Johns Hopkins University, Alyson worked as an assiduous surgeon. Screen play was her favorite pastime. Her enthusiastic part contrary to her composure beside the operation table was fully displayed. “Drama Queen” was what her classmates in high school and friends later called her. Alyson’s adventure in her wonderland has just begun when she was selected into the first generation of CHA, a global organization aiming for the disbandment of all terrorisms through either violent, secret or peaceful ways. There she met her Mr. Right—Legolas Wu. Also a cardiologist, he was five years older than her. Alyson and Legolas cooperated in the medical squadron of the agency. Although they were very busy, Alyson and Legolas often imagined their leisure life after they retired. During the mission in 2036, Alyson was kidnapped by terrorists. Legolas exchanged himself with her to make sure she was safe outside, while he himself was abused and killed in a week. Alyson was very grieved. Then she realized this shock had given her trouble with heart disease. She turned to be another woman in a night and committed the terminal mission in 2040. She then quitted, disappeared from the public’s sight.

Alyson's life-long friend Janet Qu when paid the last visit to her in 2044. As designated before her death, the hundred-page unfinished manuscript written in her native language Chinese was delivered over to Janet, who edited and published the manuscript, the world-known bestseller “Alyson in Her Wonderland”. Alyson’s diary of her surgeon life was donated to Johns Hopkins University medical school. Although her parents always wanted her to have a few children, she had no chance to have any. As the godmother of her friend Janet’s son and daughter

“Alyson is always the epitome of an ideal person. Her energy, her industry, and her wisdom superior to her age startle me sometimes. How I wish she would exist longer in my life.” Janet Qu told the press in Alyson’s funeral.

About Me

My photo

What do I do? That’s a question with more depth than the deceiving three-word construction would lead us to believe.

I live on planet earth with other folks, and I’m involved in the field of education and learning. I’m a life-long learner with a passion for knowledge and the process of bending bits of ideas into new constructions of beauty.