Archive for July, 2011

Each day, at the beginning of class, I give the students a riddle to solve.  Not only are riddles fun, they are great for teaching about the nuance of language.  At the heart of riddles there is often some obscure, less-than-obvious meaning of a word.  Riddles tend to involve idioms fairly often too.

I’m amazed at how creatively my students think when it comes to riddles.  Many of their answers actually solve the riddle very well, even if their answers are not the “correct” one I’m looking for.

Here’s one example:

What can you keep after you’ve given it to someone?

Student A’s answer:  a name

Student B’s answer: a thought

“correct” answer:  your word
I think the students’ answers fit the riddle just fine, and they show that the students understand the figurative nature of the language.    Very impressive.

Just for kicks, I’m including a the riddles powerpoint that I use in class.  Can you solve them?



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Because no visit to Wuhan is complete without a trip to the Hubei Province Museum and the Yellow Crane Tower . . .  we went.

Rather than type a bunch of text, I’ll let the pictures do the talking on this post.  In class, I’ve been teaching my students the saying – “A picture is worth a thousand words”.   I think these shots encapsulate that idea nicely.  What’s more, I’m sure there are some even more profound ways to express this same idea in Chinese.


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What does it mean to become “truly White”?  How can we begin conceive of it?  In a pyschosocial sense, I suppose one would have to consume, interpret and then perform selected aspects of  cultural “whiteness”.   But let’s put cultural understandings of “whiteness” aside for a second in order to look at the matter of becoming physically white.

In keeping with many of my experiences in China, this question confronted me completely by surprise. On a trip to the grocery store, I was looking for some lotion.  When I stumbled upon an aisle full of small, lotion-like bottles, I figured I had found what I was looking for.  What I found, though, was not lotion. It was skin whitening cream.  In fact, the aisle was filled with these lil lotion imposters. It was overwhelming . . . daunting . . . exhausting.

In several discussions about beauty with students, I’ve been told that mass mediated notions of beauty tend to revolve around features like big eyes, a thin physique and very white skin.  No one I spoke with claimed to be a user of these products, but their popularity is evident by the sheer volume of whitening creams that engulf the beauty aisles of some local stores.  I snapped a couple of pictures of some familiar brands – Garnier’s “True White” (as opposed to fake white???)  and Nivea’s “Silk White”.

In one of our music theme lessons, we ask students the question “What can music reflect about a society?”   Similarly, my trip to the grocery store begs the question “What do our beauty aisles reflect about our society?” Certainly, tastes and orientations toward standards of beauty vary in any society, including Chinese society.   Not everyone is a fan of skin whitening.  I am interested in learning more about who consumes these products in Chinese society and for what reasons (or perceived reasons)?

On the other hand, these dominant criteria play an important role in evaluating physical beauty, and even drawing boundaries around who is allowed to be considered Chinese.  The story of the young Shanghainese girl, Luo Jing (娄婧), comes to mind.  Luo Jing’s father was an African-American who was involved in an extramarital affair with her mother, a native Shanghainese woman.  Luo Jing speaks fluent Mandarin, and soared in a local singing competition.  The controversy surrounding her legitimacy as a Chinese girl grew in proportion to her success on the show.  I think her story is an important one because it disrupts common notions of Chinese beauty.  Put another way, the uproar surrounding Luo Jing’s claim to fame, glory and a Chinese identity highlights the staunch conflation of lighter skin and “true” Chinese beauty. An acknowledgment of this forces local and global societies to reflect on the value we give to skin color and why.  How can one be “truly white” or “truly Chinese”?

I’m including some of Luo Jing’s beautiful pictures in this post as well as a link to an English-language website that pulls selected news and comments from Chinese-language sites.  Please take this with a grain of salt as it represents  a narrow yet potent subset of views –  Luo Jing.

Oh, and in the end, I decided that I’d rather not buy any lotion.

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For the past few years, the college students in the Wuhan program have been offered a chance to participate in a poetry workshop, hitherto led by the venerable Don Yorty.  This year, I took over the workshop, and decided to extend it to include rap.   In this post, I’ll discuss session 1 – Literary Poetry.

In this session, I borrowed many of Don’s wonderful ideas (thanks, Don!!). We started with a brainstorming warm up called “Poetry Is . . . “.   I challenged the students to describe poetry in one word.  We kept the warm up going with a group (chain) poetry exercise.  Later, we moved on to our main exercise, which focused intently on metaphor. To illustrate this concept, I used a few lines from Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

We bypassed the interesting metrical and (half) rhyme features of this poem to really dig into how the metaphor was constructed.  The students quickly identified Dickinson’s bird metaphor.  We also used these lines to focus on imagery and appeal to human senses.

The students were then given the task of finding a metaphor for “love”.   I’m convinced that many of the Wuhan students are born poets.  The effort they dedicated to this task is beyond commendable.  During session 3, the students will revise and rehearse their poems in preparation for our closing ceremony.  I’d like to share a few of my favorites from session 1:

Love is a flower,
Beautiful yet weak
Water it with trust and patience
You will be rewarded with its fruits

Love is like the snow,
Clean and bright
Dancing in the sky of the soul
When it falls
It becomes the first present of Christmas

Love is a blue umbrella,
Blooming in the soft rain like a flower
The direction will be told by the water
It falls with one being loved
And the other left with a wet shoulder

The next session I will cover is our rap workshop, which includes moments when the Wuhan students became MCs.  Coming soon . . .

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Finding hip-hop in Shanghai was relatively easy compared to finding it in Wuhan.  After chasing a couple of leads, I was just about ready to give up.  As resourceful as my students are, they are not big hip-hop fans.  Some of them didn’t even think that Wuhan had hip-hop.  This made it hard for them to help me in my persistent (and probably annoying) requests for someone to please help me find local hip-hop.   Angela Steele’s incredible work on hip-hop around China was the assurance I needed to know that hip-hop MUST exist in Wuhan.  Right???

On last Thursday evening, I was chillin in my PJs when I get a call from one of my students – “Hey, there’s a hip-hop benefit concert tonight.  Do you wanna go?”   After I got past my initial bafflement over how she could have possibly gotten my phone number, I savored this good news and accepted the invitation.

Let me say that my decision to go to this show was among the best I’d ever made.  Flows, camaraderie, energy and rhythmic delight stand out as memorable aspects of the performances.  In addition to the veteran, MC Big Dog, Wuhan has produced a new and energetic pair of rap crews – Deep Fire and Free Warz.  One thing is for sure, all parties involved are dedicated to the craft and know how to deliver a quality show.  Hospitality is also another one of their strong suits.  Shortly after we walked in, my student, Flora, initiated a chain of friendly introductions that felt more like meeting up with old friends rather than strangers.  My only regret was not bringing my better camera.

More to come (including video) from the Wuhan show.

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For the kids . .

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Last time I visited China, I was with my kiddo.  From what I could tell, most people that approached us (yes, approached!!) seemed to be mainly interested in her braids, her English skills, etc.  This time I’m traveling solo, and before arriving to China, I’m thinking “I’m sure nobody will care this time since I don’t have a cute lil 5 year old at my side”.    WRONG!!

It’s no secret that as a 6-foot tall Black woman wearing a sky high braided dread hairdo, I look a lot different than many people in China.  So far people have come up and asked to take pictures at least a few dozen times.  Others refuse to ask.  I just find them shamelessly surrounding me, snapping photos.  Sometimes I pull out my camera and return the favor.  Because it’s guaranteed to happen every single time I leave the hotel, it can be flattering and annoying at the same time.  Without a doubt, I’ll probably end up on renren.com (人人网)  – the Chinese version of Facebook.

Depending on my mood, sometimes I’m down for the picture-taking festival.  Other times, I just straight up gesture in a way that communicates a solid “no”.    Then, people started sending their kids to me.  I miss my own kids a lot, which makes it very hard to say no to all the little cuties who asked for pictures (some willingly and others coerced by parents).   It’s all good tho.  Anything for the kids . . .

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