Year-end thoughts

Abstract trees, Zhaojue Temple

Cleaning, spiritual and otherwise

Today was cleaning day. I swept up almost enough dog hair from the living room floor to make a whole new dog. I don’t know how he does it, because when I bathe Xiao Gou Gou and then brush him, almost no extra hair comes off at all. It’s one of Nature’s mysteries.

. . .
It’s that time of year when I think about my life, take stock of the situation, and reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going. Think of it as spiritual cleansing. Needless to say, this often leads to deep despair. Too much thinking is dangerous. However, some holiday wishes from students got me thinking, as the A.A. 12th Step says, that it’s all about “the joy of living.” “I wish you a life full of laughter and singing,” said one student’s holiday card. Another group of students made me an end-of-semester video. I’ll try to post part of it here, but here’s the group’s photo.
The “Summer” Group, on UESTC’s new campus

The semester is now officially over for me, but that’s not counting the time I’ll put in assigning final grades to 350 students. Wednesday morning, my last class gave their final oral presentations. Suddenly my quiet students grew wings and became actors, full of speaking skills, hidden talent, and vocal projection that I’d never heard before in class. In a dramatic presentation, a woman left one man to run off with another, because he claimed to be good at kung fu (all 3 parts were played by female students). Her former lover caught up with her and confronted the pair; of course, the new lover’s claim was false and he ran away.

The old lover, who had vowed to kill the one who betrayed him, announced, “All right, now it’s up to the class to decide: do I let her live or kill her?” The class responded in unison: “KILL HER! KILL HER!”

She killed her. That’s the way it goes sometimes, I guess.

. . .

I’ve been offered a one-week teaching gig by Crazy English, in late Jan.-early Feb. at a local Chengdu high school. The offices of the English school are hard to find – the building’s entrance is down a narrow alley in the rear, which led to a series of mishaps and comic situations in my hour-long search to find them. I was offered a contract before I’d even taken out my resume, making me wonder if “qualified” is even in the employee-search vocabulary of some schools. I guess I gave off an aura of teacherliness (is that a word?) Nevertheless, my only concern is the requirement that teachers live at the school facility for the week – I told them I would at least need to return home once a day to care for the dog. I’ll make my decision in a couple of days.

Arch, Wenshu Monastery

Inspect THIS

Speaking of “qualified,” UESTC had its official government inspection a couple of weeks ago. I gather that this happens every 5 years, and that the school’s last rating left something to be desired. The new campus, which in September was a wasteland of building debris, upturned soil, and mud, was transformed with astonishing speed to an oasis of learning in a green, wooded wonderland. Truck after truck hauled full-grown trees to line the drives, as armies of workers worked the soil and planted grass. Potted flowers and green-leafed shrubs were inserted, a three-tiered fountain spouted water, and a decorative rock-lined river, complete with waterfall and fish, magically appeared. Was this the same campus as three months ago? Long red banners welcoming the government inspectors stretched from tree to tree. Students and teachers were given explicit instructions on correct demeanor during the inspection (some of my student groups lampooned the “inspection” process in their skits for their class).

It was a welcome change, but all of this work and expense was done for just one day of inspection. It wasn’t done for the students’ benefit, although they now have a more livable environment. The cost must have been staggering; each large tree purportedly cost 10,000 RMB – roughly twice the monthly salary of many Foreign Teachers. Some of the fancy “bonsai” trees cost many times that. The trees, which have virtually no roots – they’re cut off just below the ground for ease in transportation – are propped up for the first few years by sturdy wooden poles.

As one of my students remarked, it’s all about appearance, not substance.

I’m Beat

To honor the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Democracy Now! interviewed poet, publisher, activist, and City Lights Bookstore founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti, now 88. The interview is interesting, and you can listen to it here

Ferlinghetti’s current book, Poetry as Insurgent Art, illuminates the current state of America thus:

(After Khalil Gibran)

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerers
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!

“Brainwashed Poet”
He dropped his pencil
And picked up a bomb
And the pencil writing backward
Came to a point
And exploded as if it were loaded
With something worse than verse
And he was the first poet
To have his pencil shots
Ring through the night
And such a success was he
That they named him
National Poet of the Plutocracy
Destroying our democracy

2008 – Rat, anyone?

Oh yes, in case I don’t write another post in the next few days –

Happy New Year!


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