Finding myself in Wuhan brought not only the opportunity to be reacquainted with Yan Yuhua, but with Tobias and Eunice as well. Eunice was teaching in a private English school and Tobias was studying English at Wuhan University. Although 'a couple', they were forced, as so many people in China are, to live in their respective workplaces, in this case, in different schools. My college was, according to the Chinese way of grading schools, a poor school with a very small campus and was quite shabby looking, but as I always tell my students, if the students are good then the school will be good. The school supplied me with reasonably good accommodation, and a bike with flat tires. Although I never did try to get the tires inflated (you'd think you could find a bike pump just anywhere in China yes?), I did have to keep pushing the school to provide the necessary upkeep on the apartment.
I had sliding blinds on the living room window that were stuck; neither opening nor closing, and a shower that spurted a fine stream of 'cold' water from the pipes while I was showering. After my very first flush of the toilet, the flush button did not work. When finally someone was sent over to 'fix' the toilet, it flushed once and promptly died. I spent the whole two years at that school with the back cover removed from the toilet cistern, manually operating the flush. It took a year to fix the curtains and the shower. Prior to fixing the shower, I used to keep a little piece of cloth wrapped around the pipes to keep the cold water away from me while having a hot shower. After it was fixed I needed a tea towel to stem the flow.
As nice as my bathroom appeared, its appearance like so many things in China was, (as I was warned when I first arrived in China) just a facade. One day the large mirror on the wall fell down and on another, the top glass shelf. I was in the middle of a shower when I heard a strange sound. I looked up and saw the top glass shelf headed to the floor. I skitted over to the toilet - about 1 meter away - and took refuge on the sheltered side of it. Glass went everywhere. After the necessary clean up, I removed the other glass shelf (held in place only by gravity as it turned out), and stowed it away. Later in Yancheng, faced with a similar style of shelving, I removed it all on the first day.
Tobias once asked me what I meant when I wrote that everything in China is a facade. I had to explain to him that furniture and even buildings are not as solid in China as they are in the west and that one must always be careful of damaging them. In the west we like good solid equipment. In China they seem to be more interested in 'appearances'. In 2003 in Hong Hu my brother bought himself a new cabinet upon which to put his TV. When he tried to remove the beautiful cabinet that came with the apartment, it literally fell apart. How it managed to support that huge television neither of us knew.
About three months after arriving in Wuhan, I lost the ability to locate the TV stations on my TV. I surmised that I had hit an inappropriate button on the remote and that 'someone' would be able to come and fix it for me. My coordinator sent 'The TV man' to fix it. He couldn't find the problem. Eight months later my coordinator (a brilliant conversationalist), paid me a visit and brought a friend with her. As the friend's husband did not speak English he decided to watch TV. When it was explained to him that the TV was on the blink, it took him just 3 minutes to fix the damn thing. (One has to wonder how a television technician can know all about TV's except how to use them).
Another problem I had was getting bottled water supplied. In China everyone drinks bottled water which is delivered to your home in 20 liter bottles. The university had its own supply point and you had to go there and collect the bottles between 8am and midday, or from 2pm to 5pm. As I was studying at Wuhan University every morning, I had to leave home at 7am. In the afternoons I had to teach out at the Dong Hu campus and didn't get home till 6pm. Consequently I could never get the water. I learned to drink boiled water that semester. When my semester at both Wuhan University and at Dong Hu came to an end, I found myself teaching at the main campus in the building opposite my apartment. I gave up drinking boiled water.
The classrooms in the main campus of the college were like the ones at Dong Hu; dirty and disgusting. Bus as the Chinese love to say: "That is normal! It doesn't matter! Do not worry!" Teaching Students was a challenge however, because I had around 50 students per class, and in an Oral English class, the object is to have each and every student gain experience in normal conversation. As explained earlier, with so many empty classrooms in the building I was able to split classes and send half the students away to discuss assigned topics while the other half were involved in other activities. One of those activities was 'dictation'. I played a tape phrase by phrase and students had to write down what they heard. The first difficulty to be overcome in those lessons was to prevent students from cheating, which is why I would split the class. Since for the Chinese student the primary purpose of any sort of test is 'to pass', cheating was standard operating procedure. It was and is always difficult to get through to the students that the purpose of this type of exercise is not to pass a test, but to learn how to hear.
The other difficulty has to do with their varying levels of English ability. This in part is dependent upon the varying levels of competence of all the teachers that students had had in the past. By this I mean that because many students had had teachers whose pronunciation of English was poor, the students failed to learn to speak correctly and therefore they hear 'incorrectly'. It is sometimes amazing to see what students write and therefore hear. In one class I was reduced to tears when I discovered all the students had written: 'There are no sex classes in my country'. The speaker on the tape had said: 'There are no such classes in my country'. (Referring to music classes for both able and disabled students).
This type of class is straight dictation from a cassette tape without prior knowledge of the content. In other words it was not related to their textbooks. There are no questions to answer and no 'blanks' to fill in, just the tape, their ears, their writing pads and their pens. The main object is to teach students how to hear words run together in a normal conversation. Quite often students can repeat the sound of words, without knowing what it is that the sound represents. During the Teacher's Summer camp in Hong Hu, I had just begun to play a certain sentence when the bell rang for break time. As everyone headed out the door, a teacher came up and asked me what the long word was in that last short sentence. I asked him what it sounded like and he replied: 'cowsarin'. I asked him what the words preceding it and following it were. He correctly informed me that they were: 'The' and 'the field'. So the sentence was 'The - cowsarin - the field'. I kept getting him to say it slower and slower until the penny finally dropped.
Because the Chinese speak each and every word distinctly and separately from each other they often can't understand when words are run together. Phrases like: 'how long will it be', are confusing because they don't recognize the word 'willit'. To keep the students on their toes we did occasionally do 'dictation tests' and there was one girl who was constantly absent from class. Three times she claimed that I lost her test paper. One day I called her name to establish whether or not she was present. I called it three times and then asked the class if she was present. No! She wasn't! Sure enough, the following week she claimed that I had lost her paper and the whole class burst out laughing. Never trust anything a student says! That's my motto!
I had a teacher who once told me that the reason my students were so poor was because they didn't understand me when I spoke. When I countered that I always wrote my instructions on the blackboard, she said perhaps they could not understand my handwriting. When I told her that one of the boys would write my meaning in Chinese, she said perhaps they didn't understand his Chinese writing, and when I said that that boy would then read what he wrote, she said that perhaps no one understood his Chinese. There is a lesson to be learned here. You draw your own conclusions.
I once had a female student who would only speak English during an oral test, and during one test in particular, I asked her why that was so. She informed me that Chinese people should not speak English. Even the best students will sometimes conceal this attitude, and one of the best I ever encountered in Hong Hu told me that once he goes to University, he will never again speak another word of English. Many are the students who simply will not speak English, even if it is obvious that they do understand what is being said. One time in Wuhan, after semester exams, a teacher came to see me with one of my students in toe, to complain about the low mark I had given her. I was informed that the girl was the top grammar student and that I should give her another chance. I showed the teacher my records which showed that I had given her three opportunities to do her final test and showed her the remarks I had recorded; "Didn't Speak". With the passing mark set at 60%, I informed the teacher that the 62.5% I had given her was a totally undeserved courtesy.
Generally speaking I enjoyed the students at that college in Wuhan and the students enjoyed my teaching. We had lots of good discussions. It is often surprising what students will say in a discussion if given the chance and as long as they trust their classmates and teacher. Since I am not Chinese, students always felt free to openly discuss issues which would otherwise be taboo in front of Chinese teachers. Being thoroughly 'aware' of the dangers of broaching a topic that is considered 'taboo' for a foreigner to discuss with Chinese people, I would make a point of scouring the online English language Chinese news to find topics to discuss. When every so often a student would object to the topic and remind me that foreigners should not talk about such things, I would give them the link to the original article and say: "If it is OK to read it in the Chinese News then it must be Ok to discuss in Class". That usually shut such students up!
I got into trouble once for saying something like that, but there are two things to consider in what I have just written. Firstly, these events transpired seven to eight years ago and China has changed a lot since then. Secondly, as I will mention again later, the difference between the students in Hubei and those in Jiangsu where I went next, was palpable. Despite my love of Hong Hu and my enjoyment of life in Wuhan, my experiences elsewhere lead me to think that hard-line communism is more in evidence in Hubei than anywhere else I have been. Many students did not like foreigners and many were aggressively anti-western.
For the most part however I had some really nice students such as Yan Yuhua, Pan Wei , Tian Pan, Mou Jun , Chen Yufei , Ding Cheng, KeKe, and Robert Tong to name just a few, and some have remained in constant contact with me ever since. In 2009 I traveled to Hong Hu to catch up with students who had gone home for Spring Festival and in 2010 I called in to Wuhan on my way back to Australia, to visit students there. I have even had students from Hong Hu and Wuhan visit and/or stay with me in Suzhou. One student who became a good friend was 'KeKe'. KeKe belonged to a class in which there was a girl whose name I have forgotten but who reminded me of my deceased sister in that she was on the one hand hilarious and smart mouthed, and on the other, aggressive and smart mouthed. She and KeKe would sometimes have stand up rows in class. I have learned over the years to expect absolutely anything to happen in class and to always 'try to look' unfazed by it.
During his final year, KeKe often visited me at home and one night he was using the school provided computer to have an online chat with a woman in Hunan. I was sitting behind him on the sofa reading a book. At one point in their conversation the woman had to answer her cell phone and when she began talking KeKe fell into hysterics. When I asked him what was so funny, he told me that her local dialect was so unintelligible that he really didn't know if she was speaking Japanese or something else.
He asked me if I could understand anything that she was saying. I looked at the screen and focused on listening to the conversation. "She sounds fine to me" I said, "a lot better than that local dialect rubbish you speak in Xiangfan". It was in fact true. There were a number of students from Xiangfan City in my classes and they were the only ones I could never understand when they spoke. For some reason their pronunciation totally confused me, but then again I have found that many students who have grown up speaking only standard Mandarin also don't understand me when I speak Chinese.
KeKe was and is a funny guy who loved to learn and speak 'yellow' English (meaning 'blue', dirty, vulgar, or just plain swearing). I remember once we were walking through the grounds of the school, returning to my apartment from somewhere, and in the process were having a disagreement. He said something that I will never forget. In the middle of the argument he turned to me and said: 'I want to F**k you!'
I screamed: 'What? What did you say?'
When he repeated the statement, I asked what he meant by saying that and he said: 'You know! When someone disagrees with someone else, the first person says 'I want to F**k you!'
'No they don't!' I said. 'They say: 'F**k you!'
'Yes!' he replied: 'It means the same thing!'
'No it does not!' I shouted. 'And stop saying that!'
'Why?' he asked. 'No one here can understand what we are saying!'
In a university full of students studying English, he thought no one would understand what we were saying. That is Chinese! KeKe was also a student who fell afoul of the corruption in the Education system in China. He had not gotten a good enough Entrance Examination score to go to a good university, so his father paid a huge sum of 'under the table' money to another university to take him. They took the money but said that he must first do a year at our University before transferring over to their university.
At the end of the year, they informed his father that because of the Government crackdown on 'illegal practices', they could no longer take him - and then promptly kept the money that had been paid. Such is life in China!
In February of 2007 prior to my move to Suzhou, KeKe invited me to spend time with his family in Xiangfan. According to what I wrote about that trip : "Xiangfan is a historical and cultural city in the southwest of Hubei Province with an area of almost 27 thousand square kilometers and a population of 6.75 million. The central part of Xiangfan is a plain. The rest are mountains and hills. Xiangfan has a subtropical monsoon climate with an annual average temperature of 15.8C, and has 240 frost-free days. Annual rainfall averages 878 millimeters". It was a lovely place to visit and I have two particularly good memories of the trip. The first was the time I went to a public restroom while out sightseeing.
I came across an article once which listed all the things foreigners do that indicate that they have lived in China far too long, and what I experienced that day would qualify. As we were walking through a street near the city wall I told KeKe that I needed to use a restroom. At a certain point he pointed and said 'There's a WC!', and off I went. I walked past the group of people in the entrance, followed the sign into the men's section, stood at the urinal and did my business while looking up at the people on the balcony on the building next door and then left. I was about 10 feet from the restroom when it suddenly struck me that I had been in China too long. It was not until I was walking away from the toilet that it occurred to me that it must be quite unsanitary to be slicing and selling pork from the entrance of a public toilet. As I had entered, the only thing that drew my attention was the price per 500gm. That is what living in China does to you.
The other memory I have is of KeKe's mother. She was a young, happy, smiling and absolutely beautiful human being. She did not just make me feel welcome, she welcomed my presence there. Unfortunately not too much time passed before she died from some complication while being treated in hospital for a long standing illness. By January 2009, KeKe's father had remarried and his family invited me to stay with them in a place called Yunxi in a city called Shiyan. This was the family's home town.
Writers Journal Kingscalendar
2013 Social Commentary Articles
Giving the Finger to Comrade GOOGLE's brand of Communism
By Comrade R.P. BenDedek
August 26, 2013
I have come to the decision that the only thing I can do is take a page out of Comrade Google's 'Little Red Book' and say: 'Screw You!' Comrade Google didn't like the way the Communist Government of China kept changing the rules. Comrade Google would not submit to a 'totalitarian authority'. Comrade Google decided to pull up stakes and leave. Is there a lesson to be learned in that?
Pathological Blindness of Political Correctness
Aug 23, 2013
Here are excerpts from three different articles which all portray symptoms of PC induced pathological blindness. The forces pushing Islam (not to be confused with Muslims practicing Islam) have only one goal which has been stated over and over again by many people in many places at many different times: "To turn the world to Islam" (and destroy the Big Satan - The USA - in the process.)
R.P.BenDedek (pseudonym) is the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (http://www.kingscalendar.com ), and is a guest columnist and stand-in Editor at Magic City Morning Star News. He is also the Editor of the 'Writers Journal' at Kingscalendar.com. An Australian, he has been teaching Conversational English in China since 2003.
Writers Journal Kingscalendar
"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls