Gee, thanks

It’s that time again

See, I always have my most brilliant teaching ideas after I’ve taught the class. Take my Thanksgiving lessons. Please.

I was riding my bike home tonight from my business English class, and my head was full of teaching thoughts. I suddenly thought about the T-Day segment I taught this morning, and did a mental head slap – kinda like Homer Simpson’s “Doh!” – when it occurred to me what I hadn’t taught. Most people know about “Turkey Day.” How many English learners, though, know these expressions that I could have taught, if I’d been thinking:

Cold turkey – no, it doesn’t mean leftovers the day after Thanksgiving. It means giving up an addictive substance suddenly, as I did with both alcohol and cigarettes.

Talk turkey – to discuss a problem in a serious way with a real intention to solve it

It’s a real turkey – a failure; as in a really bad play or musical:
…Even with a turkey that you know will fold

You may be stranded out in the cold

– Irving Berlin, There’s No Business Like Show Business, from Annie Get Your Gun

Since one of the VOA Daily Download news broadcasts was about Thanksgiving, I thought, well, why not? In my Saturday and Monday classes I showed a short news digest, spoken at really fast speed (the best of my students understood about 60% of it), followed by a cloze (fill-in-the-blanks) exercise to practice vocabulary. I talked about the obligatory Pilgrims, the Wampoanog Tribe of native Americans, Puritans, and Plymouth, Massacusetts. The students seemed to enjoy it, especially the “gobble gobble” sounds of turkeys, which I even tried to imitate in one class.

I’m not usually a holiday type person. I pretty much disregard the “holiday season,” and I even cringe when I hear Christmas music in China during December. However, a holiday that’s mainly about food, now that’s my kind of holiday. The smell of turkey baking (my parents even roasted a bird over an open fire once, in the mammoth brick fireplace in our house) is imprinted in my sensory memory. So are the tense family moments during holiday “feeds,” especially when we discovered that Grandpa had taken off again to go fishing by himself, rather than risk spending time with his family. Oh yes, then there were Grandma’s famous potato rolls, which I tried but never succeeded in duplicating.

I spent my Thanksgiving afternoon hanging out at The Bookworm, a cafe / restaurant / English language library in the south part of Chengdu. It was pleasant to sit with a cup of coffee, studying Chinese, and browsing through the huge selection of books. My Thanksgiving dinner was Indian food at Namaste, where I enjoyed some chicken tikka masala, eggplant with tomato, garlic naan, and masala tea. It was dark when I rode my bicycle home, about a 45 minute ride, and it was getting chilly. Earlier in the day I’d done some cleaning and cooked up a batch of food for the dog. Tonight I watched Sideways on DVD, a charming road trip / character study movie.

I’ve been curiously on edge recently, unfocused, irritable, and stressed out. For a while I attributed it to too many teaching jobs, then I thought it was caffeine. Now I think it’s just depression. Maybe it’s SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. It also has to do with culture shock. Since I gave a pair of lectures on the subject recently (at both the old and new campuses of our university), I’ve realized that I’m still going through phases of culture shock in my third year in China. Get over it, already!

Movie Time

Frank Bigelow: I want to report a murder.

Homicide Captain: Sit down. Where was this murder committed?

Frank Bigelow: San Francisco, last night.

Homicide Captain: Who was murdered?

Frank Bigelow: I was.



That’s how D.O.A., a gripping noir film from 1949, opens.

Run for your life! Edmund O’Brien in D.O.A.


I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately. Part of the 3rd phase of culture shock is supposedly the Regression Phase, in which one tends to obsess with artifacts of one’s native culture – films and books, other English speakers, etc. However, since a portion of these films are French, I don’t know exactly where they fit into the equation. Maybe I’m reliving my first culture shock – 30 years ago – in France.

Le Doulos: Jean-Paul Belmondo

First, dig these titles that I found at the pirated DVD stall south of the campus: French films Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Resnais), Le doulos (Jean-Pierre Melville), MR73 (Olivier Marchal), and Paris (Cedric Klapisch); The new Coen Brothers movie Burn After Reading; the G.W. Pabst/Louis Brooks silent classic Pandora’s Box; the documentary Taxi to the Dark Side; and even my all-time fave movie, Anonioni’s Blow Up (1966, David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave). It’s an embarrassment of riches.

Also on the schedule have been some public-domain titles that I got off the Internet Archive at the lush but corny and mostly imaginary biopic of Jerome Kern, Till the Clouds Roll By (notable chiefly for Lena Horne’s performance of Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine from Showboat); the very weird Beat the Devil (screenplay by Truman Capote and John Huston); His Girl Friday; the noir film D.O.A., Nosferatu, M (Peter Lorre in his best role), and Zero de conduite. Whew! Makes me tired just listing all of them. Oh yes, then there was The Screaming Skull, a horrifyingly bad low-budget film that scared the #%@$$&* out of me when I was a kid. The scene where the ghost of the dead wife rises out of the greenhouse and chases the current wife across the yard gave me nightmares for weeks. It’s still actually quite scary.


Who is the murderer? M

Pandora’s Box: Louise Brooks

Till the Clouds Roll By: Finale




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