This past week was bountiful in many ways. There were small things, such as the new Moka Express coffee maker, the hot chocolate experience, and the grilled peanut butter sandwich. Then, this evening there was the homemade split pea soup, simmered for hours on low heat in the rice cooker. On top of these things, though, I’ve been unusually happy. I’m not just saying that because I increased my antidepressant medication, although I’m sure that helped.

I’ve also spent most of the past two or three days on a blissful caffeine high. The Mexico Altura coffee was good, but the Ethiopia Yirgachaffe today sent me rocketing skyward. It’s strange, because after I brought it home last night after a frustrating day of teaching, opened it, and brewed some, it sucked. Royally. I don’t use the word suck lightly, but this stuff was bitter, sharp, loaded with caffeine, and acidic enough to give me stomach pains. Something changed overnight, for when I brewed it today (twice – morning and afternoon) and adjusted the ratio of water to coffee, it was divine. It was heady, aromatic, deep, rich, and left me feeling really, well, caffeinated. Go figure. These were coffees that weren’t exactly fresh; from what I could decipher from the date stamps, they were packaged sometime in August. I can only imagine what I’ll be like with truly exceptional coffee.

Birthday dinner

A birthday dinner with my friend on Thursday evening was both enjoyable and delicious. We ate at Cacaja, an Indian restaurant facing the river, between two luxury hotels in central Chengdu. It was a busy, festive place, and we ate chicken and vegetable curries, vegetable pakora, vegetable naan, and mushroom fried rice. Earlier in the day we’d watched Bridget Jones’s Diary, and after dinner it was freezing cold, so we both hurried to go our separate ways on separate buses.

My newest mania has been educating myself about espresso. It’s been an eye-opening experience, and I made an eye-opening trip to a couple of great coffee-ware stores. Forget the expensive downtown shops and coffee boutiques, and head to the east side of Chengdu, past the 2nd Ring Road, to what I’ll call the restaurant supply and housewares district. In Chengdu, different products are sold in specific districts of the city: there’s the cell phone street, the light fixture district, the computer and camera district, the bicycle street, etc. Arranged in a depot-like design, with rows of stores facing each other across long, narrow cross-streets, the restaurant and housewares market can outfit your new restaurant, sell you a serving platter shaped like a Chinese bridge or a sailing ship, or indulge your coffee and tea-making fantasies. I ended up buying a cheap wooden tea/coffee tray, and some white ceramic, restaurant-style coffee and espresso cups and saucers. I passed on the coffee beans, since I don’t yet own a coffee grinder, but someday….


I had a moment of culture shock this week, while teaching a small class. I say “culture shock” because I can find no other way to think of the students’ behavior. In an email discussion list to which I subscribe, one teacher described disruptive or rude student behavior as a signal to him that his lesson was boring. Another teacher countered that we shouldn’t see everything that happens in class as a reflection of our teaching ability; some behaviors are simply personality traits or, through long and uncorrected practice, have become ingrained, and thus “acceptable.” Here is my laundry list:

coming to class late
eating food while I’m asking students to speak
leaving class to answer mobile phone calls
talking in Chinese when teacher is talking
disappearing during break
listening to MP4
doing other teacher’s homework
reading other books
loud yawning

Most of these things happened during one recent class. I got tired of saying “no eating,” “quiet please,” and “Who plugged their cell phone into the computer power strip and made the sound on my video clip stop working?” It was appalling. For the first time ever, I had to take a short “bathroom break” (cooling off period) from class.

Part of learning to be a teacher is learning how to demand what I – as opposed to my students – need in class: respect, quiet, attentiveness, participation, honest feedback, and civilized behavior. Anything less is unacceptable, so why do I still accept it? Maybe it sometimes seems like too much of an uphill battle.

The write stuff

Now that I’ve vented, I want to talk about writing for a moment. I’ve been stressing the importance of a good topic sentence, as a general introduction and a “teaser” to arouse the reader. A really, really good topic sentence can be damned difficult, and I’ve seen students struggle bravely to achieve one. Here, then, are what I consider some very individualistic, and unforgettable, topic sentences from some of my past students:

I think here are a lot of broken hearts in Casablanca and I know I have never been to Casablanca.

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times was an old and silent movie.

If you choose to go outdoors I think it is necessary for you to buy a sleeping bag.

Since long, action-adventure is always an activity full of dispute.

There are many things for me to say about learning english.

5 responses to “Bounty

  1. Nice blog. I’ve been reading up on your Chengdu experiences. Would you trade Chengdu for anyplace else? It seems like a nice spot. My Wife and I are thinking of Chengdu for English Teaching. We live in Cairo now but want to make the move for a change of people and languages.I’m curious about your opinion of the current state of the economy and any effect it might have on English Teaching jobs.Anyway, you’re writing is good and interesting. Regards

  2. Thanx for the compliment. Would I trade Chengdu for anyplace else? It’s hard to answer, since this is the only city I’ve lived in in China.Let me give you some “pluses” for Chengdu: it’s big (12 million) but relatively compact and easy to navigate; the people are friendly, outgoing, and laid-back; it’s a rather slow-moving and leisurely place; the cost of living here is lower than coastal cities, Beijing, or Shanghai; it’s close to Tibet (and the Tibetan regions of western Sichuan); the food is delicious. If you like tea, it’s the only major Chinese city that’s preserved its teahouse culture.Best of luck in your decision. I would like to hear about your teaching experiences in Cairo!Roger

  3. Thank you Rodger. It sounds pretty nice really. I’m not teaching here, but installing a Ductile Iron Pipe Factory. I’ve been doing this type of work long enough. We thought about making a move into your field to gain a little extra time in our days. Now I work about 12 hour days and most of it is beating my head into the wall. but we have a blog too:www.poodlesandpyramids.wordpress.comWill

  4. Oh, and Rodger, is there any noticeable effect on the economy thus far, and is there a forseen effect on english teachers with potential budget cuts in the future?

  5. The Chinese economy is of course affected, and this is bad news for some of my students who are now searching for jobs after graduation. However, I can’t see it affecting the demand for English teachers in China, at least in the near future.

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