Sunday, August 30, 2009

A few photos from the past couple weeks:

Photo-0003 (by Micah Sittig)
The large sanctuary of the Thanksgiving Church here in Zhangjiang.

Photo-0007 (by Micah Sittig)
Us on the subway this morning, headed to Puxi.

IMG_9609 (by Micah Sittig)
The Shezhuang 社庄庙 Temple near Sanqiao, about a five minute walk from CEIBS.

IMG_9493 (by Micah Sittig)
Charlotte checks things out at the 2009 Shanghai Book Fair.

Photo-0028 (by Micah Sittig)
People's Square subway station volunteers.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

So yeah, we were on TV on Monday night. We got a call on Friday morning from the show's staff, who had seen us on another show where we had participated as audience members a couple months back through a friend who works at SMG. We went to the TV station Friday night for an interview and planning session. On Saturday a crew came to our house and filmed for over 2 hours. Sunday we spent working on homework, as Jodi is near the end of her summer program and I'm getting ready for school next week, and practicing for the program. And Monday was taken up working/in class in the morning, and rehearsal beginning after lunch at the SMG TV station headquarters on Dongfang Rd. The dress rehearsal started at about 6:30 and the live show ran from 9:15 to 10:30. We did OK; I think we got 2nd or 3rd place. We were hoping not to win because it would have meant going back to tape on Wednesday and were just too busy for that right now. Overall, it was a nerve-wracking and very mixed experience that we probably won't repeat.

There are three things that stick out in my mind from the whole debacle:

  • It drove home for me the point that I'm far from fluent in Chinese in a way I hadn't thought of before. As part of the filming process I had to memorize a lot of Chinese and I found that I'm still missing a lot of the probabilities models that I've built up over the years in English (what words could come after "stormy"? easy in English, not so in Chinese for me). Also, during the home filming time I was often given a general idea of what I was supposed to say and asked to come up with a sentence on the spot and on camera. What I found myself doing was asking for the exact wording and trying to memorize it. It's easy for me to translate from a concept to words in English but I still struggle in Chinese, especially when under pressure and trying to be concise. Finally, during the rehearsals I found myself reacting very slowly and missing a lot of lines because I hadn't cued up the right sentence in my mind. I'm sure this is partly because I'm a slow person by nature, but there's also some sort of connection between the language I'm using the way I process non-linguistic signals that slows things down. I think the best way to get over these weaknesses is just practice. Having gone through the show made me aware of them and knowing is half the battle.
  • Chinese can't plan or coordinate. That's a horrible generalization, I know, but it proved true once again in this situation. Our routine was constantly being changed around by one director or another. We kept getting asked for or told the same information by different members of the show staff. We kept getting updated information about the show that contradicted earlier information. We couldn't find out what day we'd go on the show until the day before, and weren't told the correct time the show would start until the day of the show itself. We got calls from staff members as late as 1am when they held late-night planning meetings — they are lucky that Jodi and I are night cats (夜猫). This all could have something to do with the median age of the staff being 20-something, but the directors were middle-aged so they really have few excuses: they should be setting the tone. Also, we found them to be really inconsiderate of the guests on the show: wasting our time, keeping us in the dark, and making us feel very unwelcome at the taping of the show. Like I said above, this is a generalization and there were some staff members who were fairly competent. But this is one of the two main reasons we're never going back to do a TV show on an SMG channel without a really good reason. (Hunan TV, are you looking for contestants? Call us!)
  • Mediocre TV show directors, like mediocre reporters, will tell the story that they want and not the one that reflects reality. I think that a good TV show director would work with the guests to bring out their strong points and tell the special stories that everyone has to tell. In our case though the director was stuck on telling the story of a foreigner who came to China fated to marry the spicy Hunanese girl, and who tries ineptly to burrow into the local culture; I was willing to go along with a little of it (ask me in person why much of that story is fiction), but they were lucky they didn't ask me to dress in a Tang jacket or sing Beijing opera. I might have gone off at them. I choose my battles.

The few highlights were Charlotte getting to shake hands with a giant walking Haibao 海宝, and seeing our friends cheer us on both on stage and at home. Thanks Chris & fam, HCY & friends, and Andrew and Michael & Co! And the Liba crew! 谢谢你们的支持!我们努力了!Also, we did end up with consolation prizes: a case of 盗版王老吉 called 吉吉高 and a deluxe bottled water dispenser. Hmm...

EDIT: a heavily edited video of our appearance has been posted on Youku. It may not be worth your time to watch.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I saw some tweets about this earlier today, but I only ran into it just now myself: China Telecom injecting ads into webpages as I browse. And I mean, big honking intrusive ads. The funny thing is that they chose to put my first ad on a password-protected upload form that I use the put pictures on my server. The first picture I put up after seeing the ad? This one:

Big honking intrusive ad.

If you're into watching professional sports, you might wonder (like I did) when during the year China's professional sports teams play their games. Here in Shanghai we have three main professional sports teams: the Shanghai Eagles in baseball, the Shanghai Sharks in basketball, and Shanghai Shenhua in soccer. For my reference and yours, I've mapped their latest seasons along a timeline:

Baseball: May-June; Basketball: Nov-Mar; Soccer: Mar-Oct.

As you can see, we are nearing the end of soccer season. Shenhua's next game is at 7:45pm this Wednesday at Hongkou Stadium.

(Sources: Baseball, Basketball, Soccer.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Visible wavelength astronomers are disappointed:

Forecast: Light clouds and rain for the next week, temperatures hovering in the low 30s celsius.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I feel like I'm off to a really great start to the teaching year, mainly because of having gone through the MEd program over the past six months. First of all, I've been able to put all of my ad hoc theories and gut feelings into viable frameworks from which to build actual practices. And second, I have so many more resources in terms of teaching models and strategies to help students learn, and learn to learn.


I feel like a kid on Christmas morning, going through each toy one by one and figuring out what they do. For example, this morning I attended the Language Exchange Program introduction session. Besides getting signed up to have a language partner this year (getting back into the study habit), I got a chance to analyze some of the teaching methods that May used when she did a quick lesson on basic Chinese.

First lesson was on the importance of pre-testing. This year I know that we have an inordinately large amount of teachers who already have experience in China, and in fact some of them were here specifically to study language. So would giving them a lesson in beginning Chinese be meeting their learning needs? Instead, it would be great to start by finding out what the students actually need to learn and taking it from there. Don't teach redundant knowledge if you don't have to, it's a waste of everybody's time and can be a motivation killer. This point was also driven home to me at the Living in Shanghai/Culture Shock talk yesterday; there are so many facets to Shanghai and to Chinese culture, how do we know that we are hitting the right ones? Wouldn't it be better to have input from the learners themselves?

Second lesson was on the importance of understanding your students and how they understand the same knowledge in different ways. Myself, I'm a person who works well with rules and patterns (see the science connection?) and it would drive me crazy to be taught the way that May was doing the lesson: by repeating words from the pinyin without any explanation of the characters behind them. I am used to learning what each character/phoneme means, finding patterns, and making connections between the different words. On the other hand, I realize that there are people who aren't interested in such a thorough understanding of the backstory, and just want to buy an apple and get the correct change. Finding the analog in my physics class, I would anticipate that I have some students who need to experiment, to prove things for themselves physically, and who love to play with manipulatives. For others, the text or simple memorization is enough; as long as the lesson solves a problem or earns them points, they will be satisfied and motivated. I'm not saying that it's not good to stretch people and ask them to think about learning in new ways, but it's a process that needs to be scaffolded differently for each person.

Finally, context makes a big different in the language you use, as it does in how you talk about or carry out operations in physics. One example May gave was the shortening of 我要一杯啤酒 down to 一杯啤酒 or just 啤酒 in the context of you sitting at a table being listened to by a waiter ready to take your order. Similarly in physics, there are shortcuts to solving certain mathematical or conceptual problems that can be used in the right context, namely after the student has mastered the complete expression and it is implicit that the full operation could be carried out if the situation so demanded.

So it's really fun to play around with these ideas, and it's great to see how they carry over into both my classes and into other areas of education and communication.

I also had a very productive talk with Chris today about our syllabus for Physics 11/12, which we are teaching together. Chris is a very experienced teacher and I had always been a little intimidated talking to him but when we met today I felt so much better equipped and was delighted to find that he shares a lot of the same frustrations that I do and is gung-ho to change around some of the ways we teach and assess our students' learning. It's gearing up to be a very busy and productive year. I'm looking forward to school like I never have before.

Difficult but happy.
From James Kochalka's American Elf: Book Two.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Grandmas are great!






This is actually from earlier this month; after a blustery day I got a great shot of a sun-crowned Lujiazui.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Zhangjiang Thanksgiving Church
Photo by sayid on Flickr

Since this information isn't anywhere on the web that Google can find it, I'd like to note that English services at the Thanksgiving Church affiliated with SMIC in Zhangjiang High-Tech Park, Shanghai are held at 8:30 in the morning on Sundays in the small chapel, and that Chinese services start at 10am but you should get there early to get a seat in the main chapel or you will be part of the overflow into the small chapel.

That is all.