This Sporting Life

RJ in training for being a dog owner. My friend and I had fun creating this trick photo. Xiao Gou Gou [the dog] loves it.


It’s Mid-Autumn Festival, and people’s thoughts turn to cooler weather, a week-long holiday, and Moon Cakes. I’ve eaten a couple of boxes of them, gifts from students and from the University. Moon Cakes are those funny-looking round pastries with scalloped edges and designs stamped on top, with a multitude of possible fillings. My favorite so far is walnut. Coincidentally, it’s also fresh walnut season, and the nuts are available everywhere in the city from street vendors with bicycle carts.

Moon Cake


A staff member feeds a panda a special moon cake made up of bamboo leaves, fruit and so on in the zoo of Jinan, capital of east China’s Shandong Province, Oct. 6, 2006. The staff in the zoo of Jinan made different kinds of moon cakes for varied animals according to their distinct eating habits in order to let them enjoy the Mid-autumn Day.


If you REALLY want to know more about Mid-Autumn Festival and Moon Cakes, click here:

Along with Mid-Autumn comes National Day, commemorating the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and Golden Week. The Chinese government has declared three “Golden Weeks” a year. There’s a price, however, for a whole week off: everyone has to work on the preceding Saturday and Sunday, including teachers. I had to teach a “make-up” class on Saturday. However, I’m not complaining, as I also get 10 weeks off during winter and 10 more during summer (the summer holiday isn’t paid; the winter one is). It’s been raining every day, however, so I stay inside at the computer and plan lessons, as well as edit my photos.

I finally got access to Flickr, the website where I pay for unlimited storage of my photos. Flickr has been “blocked” in China now for about 6 months, but I was able to download an extension or plug-in so that I can now view the site on Firefox. It bypasses the filter in Iran, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, China, and other banned countries and places. Hooray – I now have photo storage again! That is, until this new plug-in is blocked.


The FIFA Women’s World Cup was in Chengdu this year, and my friend and I took in a match between Canada and Australia and the Chengdu Sports Stadium. It was my first live football [soccer] match, and watching the spectators was almost as interesting as what happened on the field. The game was a tie, 2 to 2, with some exciting moments. I also got to experience my first “human wave.” Afterward, we adjourned to the Ajisen Japanese Restaurant to stuff ourselves with ramen, dumplings, fish skewers, and kimchee.

My friend took these photos at the match:

Minute Maid and matching orange entrance ticket

Canada vs. Australia at the Chengdu Sports Stadium

The Human Wave in action

Crazy fans

At the end of the match

A couple of Australian players scramble over the barrier to greet their fans

Chengdu Sports Stadium – “artistic” shot


We only had three weeks of class before the Mid-Autumn week-long holiday, just enough time to “cruise” for teachers and complete registration. My classes average 55 students, which is unwieldy for trying to teach conversation and oral skills. Registration was a mess, with students scrambling to sign up on paper rather than online, due to a shortage of computers at the new campus. In some classes, 75 students tried to squeeze into 55 slots. This too shall pass.

I was at a loss over what to do with my Thursday class this past Saturday for our holiday week “make-up” class. Since we started the semester on a Thursday, this class is now two weeks ahead of all the others. Don’t even try to figure it out.

My solution was simple yet “scathingly brilliant,” as Hayley Mills says in The Trouble with Angels [one of her better films]. Obsessed with my new classroom and its moveable furniture, I spent 30 minutes pushing all the desks to the side, and arranging the chairs in conversation circles of five. The students looked really confused on entering the room, but they dealt with it admirably.

The entire 90-minute class was free-form conversation, but within some set guidelines:

  • Students could only speak English, and each group had a monitor for this purpose.
  • Each student received 8 pre-printed slips of paper, each with a different English phrase – “be crazy about,” “get down to business,” “to be honest,” etc. Students had to use each phrase in the course of the conversation, in a complete sentence.
  • Students earned one point for each phrase correctly used. If they spoke in Chinese, the monitor would take away one point, and give them an extra phrase to use.
  • The first student and group to use all of their phrases “won” the conversation.

Within the first few minutes, each group seemed to decide on its own ground rules, and the students discussed real-life issues that were important to them. The exercise succeeded beyond my hopes: students were active, engaged, interested. They spoke only English, and everyone participated. I had a second activity planned in case interest started to waver, but I didn’t need it.

Best of all, after class the students moved all the furniture back into place, with much screeching and scraping. All in all, a successful class.


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