Monday, January 6, 2014

Androgyny Makes People Learn Better and Other Lessons Kids Are Taught in China

I want to begin this blog by saying that I feel that, as of late (and by late I mean October/November, as I have been extraordinarily lax about posting) my blog has been coming off as anti-Chinese and inadvertently pro-American. I want to make a couple of things absolutely clear: I am not anti-Chinese, but rather a frustrated tourist stuck in the anger phase of culture shock. I am certainly not pro-American, but rather a frustrated citizen stuck in the anger phase of citizenship. Now that that's cleared up, we may continue.

As you all know, I am teaching over here and predominately what I do is 1:1 classes in 3-hour blocks. As painful and tedious as that can be sometimes, I do learn a lot of interesting things from my students, which I am posting here. Disclaimer: while I have absolutely asked some of these questions directly, I haven't asked all of them in these words, but they have been answered indirectly via other questions. And, no, the bulleted lists aren't choices for answers but rather different answers I've received.

1. Why do all Chinese middle and high school students have short, cropped hair? 

  • Long hair sucks out your brainpower. 
  • Girls with long hair spend more time thinking about their hair and less time thinking about their school work. 
  • Girls with long hair are less attractive to boys so they don't have to worry about dating. 

2. What is beautiful? 

  • Pale skin. 
  • Big eyes. 
  • Very, very thin. 

3. Follow up question: How do you become very, very thin? 

  • You have to eat only a little meat and lots of fruits and vegetables. (To which I said, "You know, I eat no meat and lots of fruits and vegetables." And my student said-->) 
  • Drink some tea. 
  • My mom has this thing, like a hammer. You hit the bottom of your foot and it makes your leg look thinner. You know, it's not actually thinner but, wow, it works, you look thinner. But it hurts, so I just try to eat a little meat.
4. How do you fix traffic jams? (All my students say traffic jams are a big problem in their "small" city of 3-million, and most students suggest more public transportation, but one gem of a student suggested...)
  • Make the bicyclists cross only when the light is red.
5. How do you fix pollution? (Most of my students say pollution is a big problem throughout China.)
  • The big cities need to have less cars. 
  • The government should fix it. 
6. Follow up question: Is it ever an individual person's responsibility simply not to litter?
  • Yes, but that's not the real problem.
  • No. It's the government's job to clean it up.
  • Yes, but we have people who clean up.
7. How do you get tall?
  • You have to drink milk. If you drink milk you won't be tall. (Said by a student roughly my height who claimed to have drunk a lot of milk.)
8. Do animal rights exist in China? (I then explained about animal rights in America, such as dogs and cats without homes are often "taken off the street by people" who then bring them to shelters and people who abuse animals are subject to the law. Most students said no, there are no animal rights here, but one student said...)
  • Animals are taken off the street by people here, too. (Me: To shelters?) No, to eat. 


  1. Totally weird question: Are you using the Oxford Q Skills textbook?

    Also this is Maggie K. Hi!

    1. Mags,

      Negative. For our 1:1 students, we have a curriculum designed for Chinese-language learners who will be sitting IELTS or TOEFL. For our other students, we have a set of five books that guide them through the language with "real life" situations and is all based around listening, speaking, writing, and reading.

  2. Priceless. Love those answers.
    I say you don't even have to explain or clarify how things might be coming off. I taught in Iraq last year and Brazil the year before. It's so easy to sound harsh/USA-loving/anti-host country when you're venting about your students and host culture but you must vent for your mental health (maybe I'm projecting too much?) And most importantly--YOU are there and most of us are not. Also, most people have no clue what it's like to teach abroad or live abroad without the structure and built-in community of a study abroad program. Vent your heart out and clarify when you get home : P
    But seriously, thanks for sharing your experiences with us!

    1. I felt the need to clarify because I really don't want to sound arrogant and close-minded (and because if my time at Smith taught me nothing else, it taught me to talk around things rather than through them).

      No, you're not projecting too much. As you know, you have to vent. Otherwise you'll go crazy. Lucky for me, I'm here with my fiancé; I can't imagine doing what you did. You are pretty friggin amazing.

      I would love to grab some coffee sometime when I get back (in 5ish months)!