I Hope We Passed the Audition

Posted on March 30th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. 1 Comment

SO YOU CAN imagine our surprise, last week, when we were asked to perform a song at the 4th annual English Festival at our school.  After all, none of the foreign teachers are known for their singing talent.  But, after a bit of hemming and hawing, we finally agreed to do one. 

We decided on singing "Here Comes The Sun", because everyone knew it, the lyrics were easy to remember, and we had the tape with us in the office.  Unfortunately, the version on the tape isn’t the Beatles one, but it was reasonably similar so we were able to mimic it well.

Yesterday, after a cursory rehearsal, we had to perform.  We were seventh on the schedule, following several dance routines, songs, rock bands, and impromptu plays.  All of the other acts appeared extremely well-rehearsed and choreographed.  This was not good.

We marched onto the stage to thunderous applause by the 1,500 or so students assembled.  I was standing off to one side, being mercifully the tallest.  The six of us shared three microphones, and I held one between Regan and myself as we sang.

The tape began to play, and suddenly it was time.  We began singing, and actually, it wasn’t too bad.  I’d have been extremely nervous if I were alone, but with six of us, nobody’s voice really stood out.    Everything would have gone smoothly, but the tape…..stopped…..working.

We each gave a panicked look toward the tech squad, positioned near the stage.  Fortunately, we were able to keep singing, but it sounded muuuuuuch better when we had professionals to back us up. 

Finally, the song ended, and the students applauded and cheered.  Alan (our team leader) yelled "Thank you Fuzhou!" in true rock star fashion, and just like that, we were done.

PS- I’d like to say that we were the most popular act,  but not long after we finished, a group of about ten young, female faculty members performed a sexy hip-hop dance routine wearing skin-tight red halter tops and red leotards (like good Communists!).  I would have done an obnoxious wolf whistle had I been able to pick up my tongue from the ground.

PPS- Like an idiot, I forgot my camera.  So no photos to share, unless someone tries to blackmail me in future years……

The Walls Have Ears

Posted on March 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Teaching. 1 Comment

THERE ARE THREE subjects one is not to broach in a Chinese classroom: Tiananmen Square, Tibet, and Taiwan.  Each topic is still quite sensitive in China and expressing an opinion contrary to the position of the Chinese Communist Party may land a foreigner in some trouble.

Of course, most of us are discreet.  Before coming to China, we realize that freedom of speech is not guaranteed in China, and that the state does not tolerate dissent.  Our grumbling about the Orwellian nature of the Chinese government remains confined to private conversation and perhaps the stray blog.  "Glad this doesn’t happen in my country," foreigners are heard to say while shaking their heads.

Which is why news that a teacher in Indiana lost her job over innocuous remarks about the then-pending Iraq war in 2003 gives me chills.  The Mother Jones blog relates this teacher’s sad tale:

In early 2003, Deb Mayer, a teacher at Clear Creek Elementary School
in Bloomington, Indiana, led a class discussion based on an issue of Time for Kids, which included an article about planned peace marches against the upcoming war in Iraq. Discussing Time for Kids
articles was part of the school’s regular curriculum. A student asked
Mayer if she would ever particpate in a peace march, and she replied:
"When I drive past the courthouse square and the demonstrators are
picketing, I honk my horn for peace because their signs say, ‘Honk for
peace.’" She said she thought "it was important for people to seek out
peaceful solutions to problems before going to war and that we train
kids to be mediators on the playground so that they can seek out
peaceful solutions to their own problems."

That turned out to be a big mistake.
According to Mayer, one of her students told her parents that she was
encouraging people to protest the war. The girl’s father, calling Mayer
unpatriotic, called the school and complained. A conference was held,
and the father yelled at Mayer, "What if you had a child in the
service?" It turns out Mayer had a son in Afghanistan, but that did not
settle the matter. The father insisted that Mayer not mention peace in
the classeroom again, and the principal agreed to make sure she did not.

The principal then cancelled Clear Creek Elementary’s Peace Month,
and sent a letter to Mayer, telling her to refrain from expressing her
political views. At the end of the semester, the school did not renew
Mayers’ contract. Affidavits were allegedly gathered from parents which
criticized Mayers’ teaching style, and an accusation, which Mayers
denies, was made that she continued to talk about peace after being
told not to.

Mayer sued the school, claiming wrongful termination, but earlier this month a judge dismissed her case.  The school, ruled the judge, was within its rights to terminate her contract.  Mayer’s life has been effectively ruined.

Scary, isn’t it?  As a teacher, you have to be able to relate to your students, and it’s difficult to do this if any opinions you express could cost you your job.   Obviously, if Mayer spewed rubbish to her students, then the school would have a respectable case against her.  But re-read what she said.  Any intelligent, thoughtful person would find her opinion prudent, even if they didn’t agree. 

What a travesty, and far beneath the standards of a country that bills itself as the "world’s leading democracy".…


Posted on March 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. 1 Comment

I’d like to thank everyone who wished me a happy birthday this year- it’s nice to know y’all remember me!  Last night I was treated by several friends to a nice Chinese meal, followed by spirited renditions of Rolling Stones songs at Paul’s apartments and several bottles of medicinal wine.  That I wasn’t entirely in the mood to teach today may qualify as the understatement of the year.…

Fuzhou Video Podcasts

Posted on March 24th, by matt_schiavenza in China. No Comments

Please do check out these two video podcasts made by Ron, a friend of mine here in Fuzhou.  Ron first investigates whether a Chinese barber can cut black hair, and then takes a street-food tour down Student Street, a busy shopping area in my neighborhood.  Note to Michael Moewe- he consumes stinky tofu! The casts feature Ben and Clarence, both pals of mine, who help Ron out along the way.  For those of you wondering what barbershops and street food look like in a typical Chinese city, this is your chance.

Tech note:  you’ll need either iTunes or Quicktime to play these podcasts.…

I Can Now Rent A Car…

Posted on March 23rd, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. 3 comments

….and am no longer eligible for the draft.  Yes, I am 25 today.  …

Nanny State Blues

Posted on March 20th, by matt_schiavenza in US Affairs. No Comments

James Joyner flagged an interesting story in The Washington Post detailing the establishment of a "smoker’s bar" in Chicago, designed to circumvent the city’s new prohibition on public smoking.  If a certain percentage of a bar’s products are tobacco-related, smoking is permitted. Clever, no?  As Joyner writes:

This actually seems like the perfect solution: Public restaurants and
bars are smoke free so that the majority of the public that is
non-smoking can enjoy those places without contamination and yet those
who wish to get together and smoke have an inviting place in which to
do so. Why would anyone object to that?

Ah, but they do.  An anti-smoking activist said in response to the law that it is an "equal opportunity killer".  To which Joyner replies:

But it isn’t. It imposes whatever health risk it imposes only on those
adults who choose to be there. While that’s technically true of smoking
in regular bars and restaurants as well, it forces non-smokers to
choose between social isolation or being subjected to nasty tobacco
smoke. The sole purpose of this lounge, on the other hand, is to sell
and facilitate the consumption of tobacco. Non-smokers would have zero
interest in going there.

Amen.  I don’t smoke (anymore), and if such a thing existed in China, I would frequent non-smoking bars.  But I agree fully with Joyner here.  Smoking is a choice.  Most people who smoke are fully aware of its health risks and choose to do it anyway.  If they choose to smoke, and no non-smokers are present, then why should anyone complain about that?

Such sanctimonious anti-smoking jihadists are about the only people on Earth who can make me feel sympathetic toward R.J Reynolds. 

Hong Kong Photos

Posted on March 18th, by matt_schiavenza in Photography. 1 Comment

My Hong Kong photos- some of them- have been uploaded onto my Flickr site.  I’m still trying to figure out why all of them didn’t go on, but right now I’ve had it and am going to get a haircut instead of doing that.  So if you’re dying to see some uncaptioned photos of Hong Kong, take a gander here.…

What’s Next, Kingpin Donuts?

Posted on March 17th, by matt_schiavenza in China. 6 comments

Piracy in China isn’t just limited to DVDs.  In Fuzhou, one of the most popular hang-out spots is SPR Coffee, a coffee shop whose green sign and logo conspicuously resemble that of a well-known international chain we all know.  In Lianyungang, I once ate at a restaurant called Wanlifa, whose "W" sign was simply McDonalds’ golden arches turned upside down.

Now, it shouldn’t be too surprising that someone wanted to capitalize on the international brand success of Starbucks or McDonalds.  But Dan Washburn of Shanghaiist stumbled across a new hot-dog restaurant in Shanghai borrowing its logo directly from none other than Top Dog, that venerable Berkeley institution.


(click on thumbnail for larger photo)

Top Dog is a repository for legions of youths needing a bit of cheap, delicious grub at very late hours.   Dan relays this explanation of how the hot-dog stand emigrated from Berkeley to Shanghai:

I asked a lady who works there about the place. She was very friendly,
and said her husband worked at a Top Dog for half a year, and wanted to
bring back the hot dogs because they don’t have them in China. I
pointed out that hot dogs are common, which they are, and she replied
that they’re too expensive. A strange comment, as $.90 cents for a hot
dog is definitely expensive by Shanghai standards. On the other hand,
I’m sure those other hot dogs aren’t nearly as good. The hot dog I got
(Garlic Sausage – Pork) was right tasty, although the bun was a little
too substantial and could still use some work.

So there you have it.  I ought to stop by myself next time I’m in Shanghai.…

Sore Loser

Posted on March 16th, by matt_schiavenza in Film. 1 Comment

Upon reading The Shipping News in 10th grade English class (called "Literature with a capital L" by my exultant teacher), I determined that Annie Proulx has unique a gift for writing pointless, dull stories.  It’s nice to know that she’s also a sour bitch:

The people connected with Brokeback Mountain, including me, hoped that,
having been nominated for eight Academy awards, it would get Best
Picture as it had at the funny, lively Independent Spirit awards the
day before. (If you are looking for smart judging based on merit, skip
the Academy Awards next year and pay attention to the Independent
Spirit choices.) We should have known conservative heffalump academy
voters would have rather different ideas of what was stirring
contemporary culture. Roughly 6,000 film industry voters, most in the
Los Angeles area, many living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron
gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting
larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but
also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films
are good. And rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy
voters with DVD copies of Trash – excuse me – Crash a few weeks before
the ballot deadline
. Next year we can look to the awards for
controversial themes on the punishment of adulterers with a branding
iron in the shape of the letter A, runaway slaves, and the debate over
free silver. (emphasis added)

Meow!  Now, I am no fan of Crash, and agree with her that Brokeback Mountain was a better film.  But really, Annie.  Neither film was all that great. There have been far worse travesties in Academy Award voting history, like Forrest Gump somehow rising above Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, and The Shawshank Redemption in 1995. As far as I know, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Redford, and Stephen King didn’t publish sniffy sour-grapes pieces in internationally known newspapers. 

So get over it!  And stop writing such dreadful books, while you’re at it.

Pre-Season Thoughts

Posted on March 15th, by matt_schiavenza in Baseball. 1 Comment

Ah, here comes my annual predictions about the upcoming baseball seasons.  Before we get to anything specific that I can be held accountable for, here are some general comments to make on the eve of the 2006 season:

  • The balance of power has definitely shifted to the American League.  There are four teams (New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and Oakland) that are better than the best NL team (St. Louis).  Maybe their consistent wins in the All-Star Game are more than just flukes.
  • I don’t expect the two Florida teams to be any good this year, but both have exciting rookies who are worth keeping an eye on: Marlins RF Jeremy Hermida and Devil Rays RF Delmon Young.  Expect the D-Rays to deal Aubrey Huff to a contending team sometime around mid-season to make room for the studly younger brother of Dmitri.
  • Don’t count out the Braves just yet.  I still like their balance of offense and pitching better than the resurgent Mets.  New York has a number of great players in their lineup: Delgado, Wright, and Beltran come to mind- but beyond the increasingly fragile Pedro Martinez their starting rotation is frighteningly thin.  If the Braves do falter, the absence of underrated SS Rafael Furcal will likely be the culprit.
  • My sleeper pick to win 90?  Milwaukee.  The Brewers have the makings of a very good team.  2B Rickie Weeks, 1B Prince Fielder, and SS J.J. Hardy will be that much better.  Carlos Lee can still hit a ton.  If Ben Sheets can stay healthy, then the Brewers have a solid rotation.  Don’t be surprised if they vault past the Cubs and Astros into second place in the weakened NL Central.
  • The NL West was famously inept last year- but should be better this year.  I predict a two-team race between- who else?- the Giants and Dodgers.  For the Giants to win the division, they need at least 120 games from Barry Bonds, and a revival from Jason Schmidt.  The Dodgers have an interesting ballclub, and a healthy J.D. Drew would give them one of the better lineups in the league.  Their starting pitching is questionable, unless Brad Penny fulfills his enormous potential and Derek Lowe pitches like it’s 2001 again. 
  • The Angels have a solid rotation and a loaded farm system, but probably won’t be able to score enough runs to defend their division title.   The A’s are better and could be great if they keep the combative Milton Bradley and the mopey Frank Thomas happy.
  • The best team in the majors?  White Sox.  Second?  Yankees, with the best offense by far.  The Red Sox have taken a step back, and might be passed by the Blue Jays this year.  The Indians should be primed for a Wild-Card run but lack the pitching to compete with their division rivals. 
  • No- hope division:  Kansas City, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Colorado, Cincinnati, Florida, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Seattle, and Washington.

So here are the predictions:

NL West: 1) Giants 2) Dodgers 3) Padres 4) Diamondbacks 5) Rockies
NL Central: 1) Cardinals 2) Brewers 3) Astros 4) Cubs 5) Pirates 6) Reds
NL East: 1) Braves 2) Mets 3) Phillies 4) Nationals 5) Marlins
AL West: 1) A’s 2) Angels 3) Rangers 4) Mariners
AL Central: 1) White Sox 2) Indians 3) Twins 4) Tigers 5) Royals
AL East: 1) Yankees 2) Blue Jays 3) Red Sox 4) Orioles 5) Devil Rays

NL Wild Card- Mets
AL Wild Card- Indians

Anyone think I’m out of my mind?…