Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bill Cosby v. Donald Trump

Bill Cosby

Year of birth: 1937.

During high school, his talent for comedy was discovered, which would become his career. He was an athlete – captain of the baseball and track&field teams in school, and also worked various jobs before and after school to help support his family. He did not complete high school, instead working full time.

At 19 years old he enlisted in the Navy. During his 4-year enlistment as a physical therapist, he worked with disabled Korean war veterans. He also obtained his high school equivalency diploma. He then won a sports scholarship from Temple University, where he studied physical education, while still playing sports. From his experiences in the Navy and at various jobs, including the one he worked during his college years, he decided to take his talent for comedy to the stage. His first major show was at the Gaslight Cafe in New York City, in 1961.

Mr. Cosby became known not just for standup comedy but also for authoring several books and working on various television shows, including: The Cosby Show, The Cosby Mysteries, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. His shows generally portrayed characters of upstanding moral value and social consciousness. Indeed, Mr. Cosby received many honors and honorary degrees during his 55-year career, most reflecting his outstanding record of social service. Mr. Cosby has contributed both time and money to various philantropic efforts.

Bill Cosby married Camille Hanks in 1964, and is still married to her. Together they have 5 children, of which their only son, Ennis, was shot and killed while changing a tire on his car, in 1997.

Is that incident perhaps what caused him to reflect on the African American community? In his Pound Cake speech, he berated young Black men for putting more emphasis on sports, fashion and 'acting hard' than on education, self-respect and self improvement. He continued urging youths toward more moral lives, attacking the 'sag' fashion – wearing one's pants down past the hips; the current trend of mysogyny in rap music and the growing drug culture.   

Donald Trump

Year of birth: 1946

He was born into an immigrant family – his grandparents were all born outside of the U.S.. The Trump clan became wealthy through various real estate deals. Young Donald was sent to an expensive, exclusive school. However, he was expelled from there because of excessive bullying when he was thirteen. He finished his basic education at New York Military Academy. He avoided military service during his college years, using the draft deferment option offered to students. He was certified fit for military duty in 1966, but later obtained a medical deferment. Mr. Trump has never served in the military.

Prior to graduating college, Mr. Trump went to work in the family business, and ultimately took it over. He is listed as one of Forbes' top 500 billionaires, but his business dealings are considered 'sketchy' because of various bankruptcies and because the company does not trade publicly. Thus, little is known of the actual business holdings. However, much is made of his many bankruptcies, and he boasts of dodging his tax obligation through those losses.

The Donald J. Trump foundation, while bearing his name, does not receive any benefit – time, effort or money, from Mr. Trump himself. Furthermore, it is unclear what this foundation supports. Recent investigation has revealed that foundation monies have gone to finance Mr. Trump's personal whims.

Mr. Trump has married 3 times; twice to women who were not American citizens at the time of the marriage. His first marriage dissolved in part because of a sexual relationship with American actress Marla Maples, who became his second wife. He engaged in a relationship with Melania, twenty-two years his junior, while still married to (but separated from) his second wife. Melania is his third wife.

Mr. Cosby – hard-working and socially conscious; Mr. Trump – anything but socially conscious (and dead-set against immigration, even though his family and 2 of his wives were immigrants). It appears those men have only one thing in common: sexual misconduct.

As far back as 1989, Mr. Trump has been accused of rape and/or unwanted sexual contact. Since then, and especially since October of this year, when a conversation between himself and a young reporter revealed Mr. Trump stated his superstar status gave him the privilege of groping and kissing women, other women have come forward with similar stories. Mr. Trump flatly denies all allegations, further insulting the women by saying they were not attractive enough for him to want to kiss.

In 1965, just as Mr. Cosby's career was taking off (and only 4 years into his fifty-five year marriage), a woman accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting her (no charges were filed). In February 2000, another woman reported his lewd actions against her. Since then, scores of other women have come forward, claiming Mr. Cosby drugged them and had unwanted sexual contact with them. The accusations go back for decades; for almost as long as he has been in show business. Mr. Cosby does not deny having sex with the women, or even using drugs, but he states that any contact was consensual.

I am not here to judge, and I am certainly not calling those women liars, or hoping to trivialize their experience. I am just trying to understand why Mr. Cosby - Black, and with a proven record of helping society, is on trial for sexual assault; while Mr. Trump - White, with a proven record of helping himself, and repeatedly accused of the same crime, is running for president?

Besides skin color and philanthropy, one other factor distinguishes these two men: wealth. Mr. Trump was born into money and high social position. Mr. Cosby grew up Black in pre-Civil Rights America.  The Trump name is well-known the world over; the Cosby brand is restricted to the U.S. - and at that, for only certain generations. His name is now ill-reputed, with many previous admirers withdrawing their support.

True, the Republican party has withdrawn their support for Donald Trump, but the American public has not. Quite possibly the same people that condemn Mr. Cosby are avid supporters of Trump for president: the far-right conservatives who would probably string up a rapist... as long as it is not their candidate.

Doesn't all of this – Black/White, poor/rich, do-gooder/bully - make you wonder about the polarity of American society?

The Top Five

With no set curriculum to teach and no mandatory assignments to give out, I have the latitude to talk about anything that strikes our fancy in class. This is a privilege I am ever grateful for. Now, well entrenched into my 7th year of teaching, I pause to think about the Top Five most appreciated/engaging lessons that are a part of the standard teaching toolbox I have built over the years. These lessons are chosen as 'prime' based on participation and student enthusiasm.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Mental Health and Depression: (Sophomores)

Born of the tragic loss of young actor 桥任梁(Qiao Renliang), AKA Kimi due to suicide last month, and incorporating a lesson on public speaking, the students are to give a persuasive speech on mental health awareness and suicide prevention. After hearing their (limited) knowledge about depression and suicide, I thought it would be a good idea to give them some basics about clinical depression and what to watch for. 

I was taken by surprise to see most of my students sitting up and taking notes (or take pictures of the informational slides). Normally, they are not engaged when all I do is lecture. Seeing their interest in this topic convinced me they are thirsty for this type of knowledge.

NOTE: in the course of the public speaking portion of this lesson, I introduce them to Toastmasters International, an organization for those who are interested in public speaking or building their confidence, with clubs all over China. (www.toastmasters.org)

Body Image: (Freshmen)

Modified year by year to reflect the current 'thin is beautiful' craze – last year, it was the A4 paper challenge, this 'show' includes everything from cultural beauty concepts to aesthetic beauty – PHI (pronounced 'fee'), otherwise known as the golden ratio. From calculating body mass index to keeping a food diary. The necessity of body fat is emphasized, as is drinking water for health. Eating disorders are also featured.

The highlight of this presentation is when students are invited to calculate their BMI. A discussion follows about healthy eating habits and how damaging some media ideals of beauty are.  The lesson generally wraps up with 'how to keep a food diary'. 

Cooking Class: (Sophomores)

What student isn't crazy about food? And who (in China) doesn't want to know about cooking western food? Usually around Thanksgiving, I pack up my oven, implements and some food for a lesson on western cooking.

We start the class by making a fruit cobbler or some cookies, from scratch. While the aroma of baked goods wafts through the room, the students are treated to pictures of a typical western kitchen, and what cooking utensils might be found in  it. We then have a 'guess that tool' activity, in which I offer the students measuring cups/spoons, a potato masher, an egg slicer, some silicone spatulas and other tools, and they have to try to guess its use.

And then, we have an egg slicing contest, in which one student slices a hard-boiled egg with a knife, while another uses the egg slicer. Everyone is amazed at how efficient the egg slicer is, and from  there, we make egg salad, served with crackers.

I have introduced pasta salad and mashed potatoes in the past, but they got mixed reviews. The most favored dish is macaroni and cheese casserole, baked to a golden brown, with spicy chicken chunks mixed in. For dessert, we enjoy the cake or cookies that had been baking while the fun was going on.

This is, hands-down, the students' all-time favorite lesson.

This is CCTV, Channel 15 news! (Freshmen)

Depending on the size of the class, 6-8 students 'volunteer' – they have no idea what for. I send them into the hall while I tell the remaining students about the day's activity.

In groups of 2 or 3, they are: a family who will not leave their village even though the government has evacuated everyone else; the family of a kidnapped child; scientists who have discovered the Fountain of Life (drink the water and live forever!); plane crash survivors; a gang of thugs who are terrorizing the city; the country's oldest married couple; foreign teachers who have fallen in love in China;  students going to Beijing for a conference on education reform; and a famous rock group who will give a concert that night. I give each group a prompt sheet, with questions they might have to answer when interviewed.

While they rehearse their part, I visit the students in the hall. They are reporters who will interview the groups in the room. Each 'reporter' receives a prompt sheet with questions they might ask their interview subjects.

After everyone has had enough time to prepare, the game starts. The reporters and interviewees are not permitted to talk to one another until time to play...

“This is Kathy Krejados, with CCTV, channel 15 news. Today, our top story is...”

As I announce each 'story', the reporter and interviewees come to the front of the room and do their role-play. It is made more fun because I bring props, and the kids love to make use of them!

The last news story is invariably the famous rock group, and usually they will sing a little bit. With that, just as the bell rings, the news anchor signs off: “Thank you for watching CCTV channel 15 news; I'm Kathy Krejados, and we'll see you again for the 6PM newscast.”

Smiles and laughter drift out as the students leave.  

The Online Class: (Teaching Majors classes, Sophomores)

This has been, by far, my most ambitious project. Changing from our standard, lecture-style classroom, this series of 6 lessons is held in the school's computer lab. The purpose is to introduce students to resources they might not know are available to teachers.

Here I instruct on proper use of PowerPoint, introducing OpenOffice software (www.openoffice.org), a free office suite comparable to the MS (and better than WPS) office suites.

Fully 2 days are occupied with Quizlet – how to use it and how it benefits teachers and students alike, and another 2 for Wikispaces. The students' assignment is to create a study set of Chinese words for me to learn, using both of those applications (haha!)

The last week is dedicated to Camtasia, as screen-capture video capable software. Their final exam is an assignment: produce a 2-minute teaching video on any topic they choose.

Overall, this teaching gig has tested my creativity to the limits, but it has also given me free reign to explore what can be done in a classroom and how I can help these kids develop a love for learning. I believe I am lucky that I am not expected to be a traditional teacher, regurgitating the same material year after year.

I wonder if, were I to be a 'standard' teacher, if I would keep up the level of enthusiasm and energy I get to project in class? I wonder, if other teachers were to have the same latitude I have, would they deliver their lessons with more zest and zeal than my colleagues currently display?

And sometimes, I wonder: do zest and zeal actually matter when teaching?  

The Little Prince's Rose

Surely you are familiar with The Little Prince, written by Antoine de St. Exupery? Maybe, in the halcyon days of your childhood you curled up in your parent's lap and listened to the voyage undertaken by this Prince? Perhaps you read it by yourself, when you got a little older? Maybe you have seen the movie, or even heard it on the radio.

In case you haven't, let me summarize.

The Little Prince, on a voyage across the universe, happens on a pilot – an Earthling, stranded in the desert with his crashed plane.

“Please, draw me a sheep.” was the Little Prince's opening gambit.

Our aviator, very much preoccupied with earthly concerns such as his dwindling supply of water, the fear that he might not be able to repair his craft, and a snake that wends its way sinuously through the story, initially fears he might have lost his mind, for there was nothing but sand, as far as the eye could see.

“Please, draw me a sheep.”

How could the Little Prince have known, coming from far across the stars, that this aeronaut had once aspired to become  a great artist? Unfortunately, his elephant-inside-a-boa-constrictor drawings resembled hats and, persuaded by the adults in his life,  he soon gave up his dream of art. And now, this odd little man, this prince, in white breeches and a long blue coat, with his hair as fair and fine as cornsilk, wanted him to draw a sheep.

Through the various sheep presentations – that one is too sickly, that one appears old, we learn that the Little Prince's concern is less for a sheep than for what he left behind.    

The Little Prince's home is an asteroid. It has 3 volcanoes: 1 active and 2 extinct, that he cleans regularly. He gardens meticulously lest baobab trees take over his little planet. His drifting rock is so small he can witness the sunset thirty-seven times simply by moving his chair a bit.

He left his home on a quest for knowledge and has traveled far and wide, and met interesting – and some not-so-interesting people. Now, on Earth, lonely, homesick and tired of traveling, he asks for a sheep to accompany him on his long journey home.

And why would he want to go back to that churning bit of rock, when the whole universe is his to travel?  

Because his asteroid has one feature that he absolutely loves.

The Little Prince's Rose is a character onto herself. She blew onto his planet and sprouted – nearly was eradicated because our Prince thought she might be the beginning of a baobab! Avidly curious, he watched her grow and finally bloom, and he was captivated by this capricious Rose who demanded so much of him.

Did his heart break when he left her behind? I think he didn't realize how much he loved her, when he left her. Still, he had to have an inkling of his feelings to be so concerned that she might catch cold from the night air, or that a tiger might get her.

“I have my 4 thorns to protect me” Rose boasted.

Four thorns! Against tigers or chill air! What will those 4 thorns do against all manner of danger?

China reminds me of The Little Prince's rose: staunch, proud and believing that all she has – and all she is, is enough to protect her against anything, when those four thorns are not nearly enough to defend herself against all the ills of modern society. That the sheer sovereignity of being Rose is enough credibility, China believes. That her delicate beauty is reason enough to be loved, in spite of her caprices.

In another time, on another planet, four thorns might have been enough to defend itself from the world. But not today.    

Of course, beyond the enchantment of this classic tale we find that, really, his Rose is all that matters to the Little Prince. He might have continued on his journey had he not seen a garden full of roses and realized his Rose is not very different from that whole horde of bobbing, nodding roses. Still, the flower back home is special because she is his. 

And this very love for what is uniquely China enraptures the Chinese. In spite of global social advances, in spite of the bias (against the poor, against women) and hardship of traditional life, people here cling to their mores, no matter how damaging they can be.

I await the time when China will realize, as the Little Prince did, that one's singular -albeit remarkable qualities is not enough to engender unconditional acceptance. I wait for China to find its place on the global stage, no better or worse a country than any other.

But then again: I wait for other countries to adapt to not being better or worse than the rest of the nations, too.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

On A Tear

Considering the topic of my last article, the perverse desire of Chinese to hang on to inaccuracy, it might seem that my new pastime is ranting about everything I might perceive as wrong with China: the language, the customs... everything!

I assure you I am not. I am simply compiling a series of observations made over the years of living here. In no way am I intimating that I alone should be the catalyst for change in Chinese vernacular or society. I hope I am offering up food for thought, though.

Besides, with my schedule this semester, there is not much else to write about. So, here goes!

Sons, Daughters, and People of Dark Skin

In Mandarin, sons are called 儿子 (the first pictogram, 'er' meaning 'son' and the second, 'zi' also meaning 'son'). Nothing wrong with that. Daughters, however, are called 女儿 ('nü' meaning 'female' and... I already told you what 'er' means). From a purely linguistic standpoint, daughters are designated 'female sons'.

Understand the lesser social position that females have traditionally held in China – indeed, all over the world, and you might reason why girl children were called female sons. Could that tradition's stigma enshroud the 'female sons' of today?

There is evidence of that. Female children, historically and today, are not listed on family registers until they marry, and then, only their husbands' names qualify for entry. That is just one example of unspoken social disparity against females.

I am not accusing China of deliberately lessening female impact on society, nor am I suggesting that females have fewer rights (although, there is rampant discrimination against females in the workplace, something China is working very hard to eradicate).

I am aware that language is not static. It evolves. Words and phrases change meaning as the times change. Perhaps now, 'nü er' does in fact mean 'daughter' – with no lingering history of how baby girls were less desirable than male children. With no implied denigration.

The reason I pounce on this example of misused language is because there is a more balanced and fair substitute. – 'hai', the word for 'child', can be combined with – 'nan', male; or – 'nü', female, to give a less biased description of one's progeny: 我的男孩 – wo de nan hai, meaning 'my boy-child', or 我的女孩 – wo de nü hai, meaning 'my girl-child'.     

A comparable example in English would be the eradication of the word 'n i g g e r', now considered one of the most offensive words in the language, and with good reason: that is what plantation slaves were called. However, at one time, this word was not only socially acceptable, people were encouraged to use it in describing those with dark skin and kinky hair. We find examples of this word, casually bandied about in such classics as Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn novels. If you've seen the movie Twelve Years A Slave, you'll know that slaves were referred to as 'N-word' .

Another example of offensive English vocabulary, mercifully archaic these days, are the many words used to refer to women, 'broad' being perhaps the worst. Movies made as late as the 1960s refer to women as broads, a term generally accepted as being derogatory. Its meaning, 'coarse, gross, indelicate' was everything a woman was not supposed to be. Today it is chiefly used as an insult: “What a dumb broad!”

if we accept that language evolves, shouldn't we also hold that words which reflected the values of a society once upon a time should be discarded if those values have changed? Especially if a more equitable/acceptable synonym is available?

On Getting Colder

Without fail, every autumn/winter I have been in China, people have advised me of dropping temperatures, and that I should put on more clothes - as though I had no idea winter was approaching. As though I were confused about what to do when I start getting cold.

This week, the temperature dropped precipitously in Wuhan. Tina messaged: “It is cold today. Wear more clothes.” I wonder if, in her imagination I am sitting in my house, lightly clad and shivering, clueless as to what I should do. 

I know that such utterances are expressions of caring in China, but what does it really say?

I am incapable of discerning temperature changes. I have no knowledge of the concept of keeping myself warm, comfortable or healthy. I absolutely need someone to tell me what to do when the weather changes.

Compare Tina's 'wear more clothes' with 'stay warm!', a standard a standard sign-off  in English used texts and phone calls, when the weather turns cold. That phrase credits the person to whom the idiom is directed with enough brains to bundle up against the chill. 

Can you see why I find Tina's intent kind, but her message offensive? And I am not the only one: elders all over China, who get fussed and clucked at, irritably push against their well-meaning carers, who try to drape them in blankets and quilts at every slight gust of wind.

I have often written about how the elderly in China are treated. It is a hot topic for me because, apparently, I am also elderly, by Chinese standards. Never mind what abilities I demonstrate and that I am obviously in full possession of my faculties, of prime concern for everyone is my supposedly declining mental abilities – to wit, that I must be told to wear more clothes.

Again, tradition trumps common sense and decency. It is traditional for parents to sacrifice everything for their young, even food and comfort and warmth. And it is traditional for grown children to take care of their parents, gently suggesting the parents should don their clothes, rather than saving them to perhaps swaddle chilled children in. And this is accepted as caring, rather than being seen for the offense that it is.     

Well-meaning infractions, such as mentioned above, happen everywhere around the world, and on all levels of society. The trick is to recognize its intent while not bristling at its obvious insult. And, of course, to highlight that such instances are offensive and insulting. And try to bring about, or at least hope for, change.  

Do You Have an English Name?

T'is the season, again, for freshmen to hit the classrooms. Tanned from their 2-week military stint, they eagerly await their foreign teacher's dispensations: of tales from the west, of ways to learn English better, of a name they can proudly boast. One of the most common questions my freshly minted students ask: “Can you give me an English name?”

I most certainly can, but the range of names that originate in England or other English speaking nations is pretty small. Considering I have upwards of seventy students in each of my freshman classes, I would have several 'Cate's, 'Bartholomew's, and 'Winston's per group. That might get confusing.

Names in China are endowed with special power and meaning. Naming a child is a significant responsibility (and honor). Traditionally, the most venerated family member is tasked with naming the newcomer, and coming up with just the right name can take several weeks. Some families would even consult monks and fortune tellers, paying heftily for a most auspicious name because of the belief that one's name forecasts one's fortune.

Here, the story of one girl who was particularly unruly in her youth. Her behavior was puzzling because her parents had consulted a fortune teller shortly after her birth, and named her according to that mystic's suggestion. By 5 years old, she clearly wasn't living up to that name – she was so naughty! Again, they went to the temple. Another soothsayer exclaimed that she had been given the wrong name at birth and suggested another name. The girl, now 9 years old and constantly in trouble, was again dragged to the temple. Another horrified exclamation over her misnaming, and another name given.

In all, that poor child was renamed 4 times. She finally chose her own name (and her own fortune) after graduating college.

These days, with Chinese tradition melting faster than polar ice caps, parents, uncles and even family friends can author names. When I first came to China, my students revealed that their grandparents (or a monk) gave them their names; these days it is parents or uncles/aunts, and nobody claims any monk named them. Still, Chinese names have special significance. 

If names are indeed that important in China, why would the Chinese think names are any less important in the west?

They are. I am sure you have heard people correcting a speaker on how their name is said. Maybe you have done it yourself. Surely you have asked a person to spell their name, or have been asked to spell yours. It is a measure of respect to say and write someone's name correctly. Should that respect extend to that name's origin, as well?

“Do you have an English name?”

No, I don't. My name originates from Greece. In fact, most names commonly used in the west, that are called 'English names' in China, stem from Latin, Hebrew, French, German, Greek, Spanish and various countries in Africa. So, the blanket phrase 'English name' – 英文名字 (ying wen ming zi), so commonly used in China, is inaccurate.

And here is where I run into trouble.

When I point out and try to correct that inaccuracy, I am told: “'English name' is just the way we refer to all names in the west. There is nothing wrong with that.” In other words, just accept the error and move on. It is unimportant.

I beg to differ.  

Not only because names are as important in the west as they are in China, but because of pride of heritage. Just like the Chinese, westerners are proud of their origins. Quite often, their name reflects that. And because it suggests all western names are just names with no meaning or tradition attached. And because implying all western names are English names extends the misbegotten idea that 'the west' is synonymous with America – an idea that plagues most Chinese.

I can understand why foreign names are all considered English, thinking about the historic impact that English-speaking 'invaders' have had on the country: Americans settled Shanghai; British took over Hong Kong; and that today, English speaking nations are most politically impactful and English-spoken movies and TV shows are most commonly watched.

Still, other countries have had influence on China: cars from Germany and France, a flood of students from various African countries, trade partnerships with South America. 

So, why is it that China insists western names are English names? Wouldn't it be equally easy – and more correct to say: “你的西方名字叫什么?” (ni de xi fang ming zi jiao shen me?) - “what is your western name?”

If supermarkets are filled with sales people urging you to buy Spanish olive oil, Danish cookies and German chocolate; if car lots are filled with Renaults, Peugeots and Citroens (and VWs, BMWs and Audis); if entire college dormitories are filled with students from all over the world, why stick with 'English names'? Names, too, come from all over!  

C'mon, China! Let this foreign teacher do the job you hired her to do: correct misperceptions and broaden perspectives. Please don't limit yourself only to 'English names'; that denies the rest of the world and its many wonders, including meanings of exotic names like: Jasmine ('flower of the olive family', from Africa), Erica ('Honorable Ruler' in Danish) and Linda ('beautiful' in Spanish).

Hilarious Moments in Teaching

I've often expounded on the mirth, merriment and joy of teaching in China but I have never compiled a collection of such moments even though I've written individual articles about some of those times. Now seems a good time, just starting out my seventh year of leading classes, to reflect on some of the funnier (and more embarrassing) times in the classroom. I hope you will end up gasping for breath from laughing, like I did, and still do as I recall these most funny moments.

Getting to Class:

With the ink barely dry on my TESOL certificate, I set about finding my new job. In short order I was fortunate to be accepted at Wuchang Institute of Technology. I had only ever done on-the-job safety training in an industrial setting, with plenty of modern technology to aid in presenting material. Teaching an academic subject was going to be all new. 

Teaching in China was going to be all new. Only having a blackboard and a supply of white and colored chalk was going to be all new, too. Not having any materials to teach from or any other teaching aids was definitely going to be a challenge. But by far, the biggest challenge was going to be finding my classroom.

Sure, directions to my first class looked simple: teaching building 2, 6th floor. It was easy enough to find building 2; it had a big, golden '2' on it. Already anxious over how things were going to be, I followed the tide of students up the stairs. 4th floor, 5th floor... and that's where the stairs ended! How to get to the 6th floor?

I went back downstairs to ask the security guard, sitting at the desk in the lobby, how to get to the 6th floor. Even though I used my best broken Chinese – I barely spoke a few words of Mandarin when I first got here, he could not understand what I was saying. I was ready to die of embarrassment: how can I lead a class when I can't even find the room? One of my students, going to class herself, volunteered to lead me to our room... up the stairs located in the BACK of the building!

A Day at the Zoo:

I was guest lecturing in another university. As usual there was no curriculum to follow and the stress of encountering a new group and what to do with them were crushing. The way around that is to get the students to talk. “What was your first experience with a foreigner?” I asked them.

One girl timidly raised her hand, offering up her story. “I was 10 years old. My father took me to the zoo...” and that's as far as she got, because I burst into laughter In my imagination, this girl and her father went to the zoo, only instead of animals, all manner of foreigners were in the cages! Some looked bored, some looked lonely, some prowled around their cages restlessly. A few slept, while eager Chinese tapped on the bars to elicit some reaction from the caged foreigners.

As my laughter grew, so did the image in my head. Outside each cage, signs advertising what type of foreigner was inside, where they come from, what they like to eat, and their normal way of life. A few lucky zoo visitors got to witness foreigner feeding time and some excitedly drew to the big tent, where the foreigners would put on a show (as in an animal zoo). In a special building, a foreigner nursery, where baby foreigners were being cared for.

Meanwhile, this poor, brave girl looked mortified. Obviously, she thought she had done or said something wrong. All of my explanations did nothing to relieve her of her worries, especially because I couldn't quit laughing long enough to explain why I was laughing so hard!

The Exploding Students:

I am often invited to judge speech competitions. The problem is that all of the instructions and judging tally sheets are in Chinese. Usually I ask another teacher/judge to tell me what criteria I am to judge but, this time, I was the only judge! Thus it came that Felix, one of my students and president of the English club, translated that vital information for me.

“You should judge on content, fluency, time and...” he paused to check his phone... “explosions”

What??? Students are supposed to explode? I don't want to judge that contest! 

After much laughter from my imagined scenarios in which blood and gore spattered the ceiling while the audience clapped, he realized he had mistranslated 爆发力 – explosiveness.

What Did You Say?

Each team of students was to research their favorite movie, using English resources that we had explored in class, such as: IMDB, TMZ, Wikipedia and other sites. The teams were to put on a performance of their favorite movie by any means possible: song, dance, acting, PPT, pictures...

One super-confident group stole the show! Not because their performance was explosive but because of what happened.

This girl is a very competent speaker: not only comfortable with English, but so assertive that she can project her voice without the aid of a microphone. I didn't know that when I handed it to her. She stood at the podium, with her hands clasped behind her back (and the microphone in her hand), talking away...

when, suddenly, she passed gas! And, because of the microphone, the sound was amplified much louder than a bodily function should be!  

The class erupted with laughter. Our speaker, till then confidently addressing her peers, sunk into a squat behind the podium. Not sure if she was laughing or crying back there; I was too busy doing my level best to not guffaw, all while thinking that I am so glad that such a misfortune has never happened to me! 

Holy Pants!

It is an entertainer's worst fear: facing their audience while somehow being less than decently dressed. I didn't know I had ripped my pants while getting off my bike, but apparently I did it so spectacularly that it was all my class could focus on.

After class, my usual train of thought – 'this went well and that wasn't so good. Should improve...' was interrupted by a group who approached me timidly.
That's odd; they're normally effusive in their farewells.

They didn't come to thank me for a good lesson or otherwise wish me well; they wanted to tell me I was revealing more than I should. My turn to be red-faced!

And I hope your face is red from laughing so much!