Friday, March 27, 2009


(spring is coming)
Each of my students has one major project this semester; they have to make a five minute presentation on their plans for the ten years following their graduation. Many of them have used the opportunity to talk about big dreams, like owning their own foreign trade company, traveling all over China, or, as one girl named Ivy explained, living in a cottage in Switzerland where she and her husband can raise their two little "trouble-makers." It's great to see all of the students on the edge of their seats as they listen to their friend stand up front talk about his or her dreams. Without fail, when it's time for the presenter to answer questions, a student will stand up and ask a question like, "What qualities will you look for in a husband?" or "Tell us about your mr. right." This will guarantee a ripple of giggles throughout the room (something I can't resist joining in on). One of my favorite things about the presentations, and teaching here in general, is the mispronunciations and grammatical errors. It's inevitable for a people with such a different mother tongue to butcher English, and it tickles me every time. Charles was answering questions following his presentation when someone asked him where his love for basketball fit in with his plans for the future. Charles paused, looking for just the right word. Unfortunately, he found two right words, and just put them together,

"Basketball is my hobbit."

I was the only one to laugh.

Marina was explaining... something (admittedly, I dazed out for a moment) when I heard her say,

"I think we all need stromboli!"

Based on the context, I realized she had meant to say, "strong body," but instead she made me think of dinners at the Hatchers, courtesy of Joyce Hatcher (tell her I miss it, Ryan), and I dazed out again.

The classroom isn't the only place for English misunderstandings. Just this morning I heard Ryan carefully enunciating his email address to his student on the phone,

"...b...e...t...t...w...y...@... No, Owen, it's not two U's; it's the letter 'W', like the word, 'window'."

As I'm beginning to study Chinese, I know I make similar mistakes in their language; they're just a little more gracious than I am.


For some reason, I've gotten into the same conversation three different times with three different people in the last week about the relativity of truth. Our close friends, Robert and Vince, seem to think it's possible for truth to be completely relative. "We are all truth detectives, but no one person can know it" Robert (seen left) said. Vince used a different metaphor, one that can more easily identify with. He said he believed in a "programmer" and that we're all computers. It's up to us whether we want to buy into that software we've been programmed to use or not. "I am denying everything!" Vince exclaimed. More than whether this is true or not (notice how truth works), it's about living a life of convenience. We all tend to want to believe what is convenient for us, and we sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we're searching for truth. This is where our conversations with Robert and Vince have gotten, which is extremely exciting. I was talking with my friend, Ken, last week over KFC sundaes about what he desires in a girl. He said he doesn't really desire a girlfriend right now, but that his mother told him that "it's his duty" to find a wife (don't evey try, mom). Eventually I was able to explain why I respect my brother and his wife's relationship so much. I told him I love that they share the same goal; they encourage one another to a relationship with their creator. This led to a bigger conversation about our creator.

Things are happening here; for us it's a matter of living with purpose. We have some great friendships with students, as well as with each other. I want my relationships with my students to grow into something that resembles my relationships with my brothers, Tim, Ryan, and Cameron. And they are.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

english night

I must admit that there was a time when I didn't feel like having an English Night. But there I was last Friday night; giving high fives, leading 250 students sing "Brown Eyed Girl," and dancing my way down to the stage to "Paper Planes." And I wouldn't have had it any other way. Ryan and I had attempted to pitch an "English Club" to the administration at our school last semester, and it met unexpected opposition. Ms. Zhao, the head of the English Dept. and our boss, heard the word 'club' and immediately expected us to plan an opening ceremony for our bonafide 'club', which would include board meetings and club officers. So, we decided to re-pitch our idea under the name "English Night" a month or so later, and I can gladly say that we haven't appointed any club officers yet, and we don't plan to. Ms. Zhao loved the idea, and so did the students.

"Hey, are you coming to English Night on Friday night?"

"What is it?" one skeptical girl answered.

"Well, we're going to sing some English songs and play some games--"

Her eyes lit up. "Perfect!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands together.

Many of us in Baoding had set goals at the beginning of the semester to switch gears with our friendships. Last semester we had stretched ourselves wide among the students, taking advantage of every opportunity to get to know our students. As a result of this, we all have close friends on our campuses, many of them unexpected. This semester we decided it was time to go deep instead of wide. We have tried our best to focus on those close friendships, sometimes having forsaking others in order to do so. It has been quite a change, and extremely fruitful. And so I sat at our initial planning meeting with the other four people on our team, skeptical. We were dreaming about what songs to sing and what kind of a skit to perform, and I couldn't stay quiet any longer.

"I'm sorry; I'm all of a sudden wondering why we're doing this in the first place," I said, "I mean, if we're trying to go deep instead of wide, why do we want to host an event for hundreds of students. Isn't it a little counter-productive?"

The others were confused, rightfully.

"We aren't just getting up there singing songs and giving a lecture," answered Emily, "It's about much more than that..."

"We're proclaiming truth to hundreds of students," added Amelia.

And so I was convinced. It took about another ten minutes for me to jump back on the bandwagon, but jump I did. Especially after Tim and I were assigned the "Run-On." It had been a while since any of us had planned a Club, and we were a little rusty. But all it took was a night of planning over grilled cheese sandwhiches in my kitchen for Tim and I to create a character infusing kung fu and magic, and we were back in the groove. You should have seen Tim practicing his opening magic dance across the red tile floor, or maybe it would be better if you just watched the performance itself...

-Important Notes-

Our good friend, Vince (seen above), was responsible for the camera-work. Notice the acrobatic cinematography.

Near the end of Part 2, Emily (Rose) gives a heart-wrenching monologue where she rhetorically asks the crowd, "What should I do?" Listen closely for a girl yelling, "BEAT HER!" Apparently, by the look on her face, she wasn't kidding. It nearly broke Emily from her character.

Part 1

Part 2

The Night led to some good conversations and opportunities to get closer with our good friends. It was a success in every possible way. So many of my students have told me in class this week how much they loved it.

Be thinking about our close relationships with Robert, Vince, Jack, and Ken.