Category Archives: Education

2014 07 15 CHN

Teaching Beijing’s Most Internationalised District English (Previous Version)

The Chinese government can at times be one of more difficult “group of students” to talk to, and it’s here in China, more than anywhere else, where a solid track record and years, if not decades, of experience, will probably be much more in your favour than anywhere else. Having solid (but also legal!… as in “non-corrupt”) relations somewhere in the system will also work in your favour.

It took me over 10 years of Chinglish-gazing around the country to be shown the right people to that one classroom in the Foreign Affairs Office of Beijing’s most internationalised district, Chaoyang, where people came in the evening hours of 15 July 2014, to listen to me speak about Chinglish — and how to fix it. For around an hour, I briefed around 20 people, most of them quite visibly enthusiastic, on how these mistakes were made, where they were often made, and how they could be best corrected. To ensure learners were best versed into the English language, even the introduction by the district’s foreign office itself was in English.

This was my first go at teaching an “all-government” audience, but if you could hold a microphone in front of thousands of unknown faces, you could do the same in front of 20 mandarins without a mic. I was happy to have helped the district of Chaoyang, home to many expats and embassies, improve their English in the run-up to hosting the APEC summit later that year.

The Chinese Problem with Striking It Rich

The Swiss are known for being as low-key as possible about money. It’s considered extremely offensive to ask how much you earn (whereas in China, it’s part of the small talk for all — locals and expats). In China, people are admired for showing off their money prowess. In Switzerland, people are admired for conformity and integration (or something like that)…

Under Mao, no Chinese had a dream of “striking it rich”. Mao-style communism basically meant that the guy that lived next to you was just as rich / poor as you were, so thefts were very rare. People slept at night with their compound gates unlocked, because they knew that it wasn’t worth all the trouble sneaking an extra pen from the guy next door. A fine back then would have costed you a bike, which back then was as big-ticket an item as a Ferrari in this present day. Under Mao, people were poor, but at least they were more “economically reliable”.

Fast forward to Deng’s reforms. They were needed by all means, but they also meant that people were, basically, showered with cash all of a sudden. Totally unconscious about where that money could be used, most spent it on luxuries instead of storing it away (back then the interest rate for savings was so high that something like CNY 50.— would earn you an interest of CNY 1.02 in just three months’ time or so, if I remembered my passbook records right!). Add increasing deregulation to the mix, and suddenly, you could throw your money anywhere — and as long as you were the first in an up-and-coming industry, you were made a __llionaire overnight.

So why is First Class in China full of Shanxi coal miners (well, that’s what they stereotypically believe to be…) farting and spitting at will? The Chinese nouveau riche have the wealth of a Bill Gates wannabe, but their manners are worlds apart. While their cash may be a fair bit PhD-ish, their manners are still kindergarten-ish. I’m not blindly bashing at random: I have seen my fair share of folks who made it rich — who still managed to keep their amazing habit of farting at will firmly intact. Heaven forbid how many mistresses they have…!

Both “private” people (as in non-gov folks) and “public” people (you know whom!) are candidates for getting it rich. For “private” folks, it’s legal as long as you play by the rules. For “public” folks, if you’re too rich, you get the electric chair! But many “public” folks are more like — To bloody hell with the rules — and they’ve decided to get rich at the expense of the taxpayers. Even folks who’ve made an effort to make China a zippier place to live — like former rail boss Liu Zhijun — got nixed because he helped himself to an excess of public money.

Whilst the rich and the powerful “fight it all out” in the next super big attempt to get as many Bentleys in the car, the rest of us are left wondering just what the heck is up. Worse, education — mannerism — is left in the dark. That stench from First Class is still there because China’s edu system hasn’t, apparently, been too successful in teaching folks (rich and poor) not to fart while on trains (or to play an excess of iFart “tunes”!). China’s edu system needs a major overhaul.

We the Swiss pride ourselves in our neutrality, and I, quite coincidentally as a fellow citizen of this country (turning 721 tomorrow) have the same point of view in other matters, too — especially when it comes to politics and religion; neutrality, but respect without involvements. I have had people from all walks of life — not the least “fortune tellers” and “religious people” — help themselves to their version of a cross-examination of myself — and whatever they say, be it from a superior being or from their own (civilian) two pence — the result is always the same: You should be in the classroom, teaching the kids of tomorrow. That PhD diploma I have should have better things to do than being a makeshift tissue when the house gets flooded in one of these amazingly frequent floods in Beijing these days. I think if I prepared the kids of tomorrow going to New South Wales better for at least what happens after you step off the plane in Sydney Airport, they’ll probably enjoy a smoother trip. And if I continue down this train of thought (operated either by me, CRH or Swiss Federal Railways — I know, odd joke), I think I might just land myself a life in teaching the folks of tomorrow.

Eventually, if one of my future students tweets me back saying The customs officer was so happy that I said Grüezi to him!, I’d be happier than if I just won the aggregate jackpots of the Swiss Lotto, Toto, and Toto-X. (It’s too bad the latter two lotteries went away in 2009…)

A Firm Vow to Educate and to Inspire

Just about two hours ago at the spa, two men entered the changing room — one smoking — and unleashed some pretty tough and foul language upon clients that they didn’t like dealing with. My first thought that flashed through me: these guys are biz people.

Biz people aren’t evil, I swear. My Dad majored in economics, and he had some super cool academics guide him through his “econ work”, as was referred to by my teachers in high school. As long as you realise that money isn’t everything, then it’s no sin to do biz.

But what’s most fearful about these people is that some care only about the cash. Worse, there are horror stories that a “successful man” today must be one with not “just” one million in the bank, but also more than one wife. This has been a huge problem in especially East Asia, and more so in the Sinosphere. Worse still, talent these days are either flowing overseas (throw money at, say, Canada, and you’ll get naturalised!) or going into huge “biz things” where the only thing that’s of concern is the bottom line. There’s also a bit of money to be made — albeit illegally — in government: corruption is nothing new here in China, but lately, it has just gotten far worse. Former rail minister Liu Zhijun’s corruption is but the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, it’s about the money, be the involvement more .com or more .gov.

Very few people actually care to educate and inspire the kids of the future. China’s population peak has yet to be reached: there’ll be more kids out on the streets. They’ll sadly come out with perverted and twisted views — such as “Money, Money Über Alles” — or that infidelity is OK. Unless education makes a major abrupt-turn and kids are told what is correctly correct, this country with five millennia of civilisation is headed at high speeds on tracks leading it to an ultimately painful collision with a moral and civics iceberg — and then it might really hurt.

As of late, for those of you who’ve been keeping tabs on social media, something pretty unpleasant has happened my end, but that’s not enough to get me out of “edu mode”. My firm vow to educate and to inspire the kids of the future will continue no matter what happens. It’s not just China that needs a fixer-upper of sorts to get people away from Money, Money, Money. Look at the London Olympics. It’s a disaster right now just days before it’s underway. It’s about the Games being totally commercialised (Barcelona 1992 was the last “good” Olympics). Look at the US, now in Deep Doo-Doo Mode because of that 1980s quip — “Greed is Good”. Even Switzerland’s in it now. The country’s no longer the one that I could spend a lifetime in since the unsightly 2009 institution of the anti-humanity “minaret ban”. It’s not about putting on ice a mere religious symbol. It’s the latent danger that this restriction on your conscience (religion’s a big thing!) could spread to your other liberties. Imagine if you got arrested in Bern (out of all places!) just because you tweeted stuff like BLOODY GOVERNMENT NEVER CONSULTS WITH THE CITIZENRY BEFORE MAKING DUMB DECISIONS. It’s a slippery slope that could very well happen!

The only way to save all of this from happening is to inform and educate the masses. I don’t know what my next edu gig will be, but I’m confident that it’s going to be in the edu world. I’m sold that I can do my bit to save us from this sad state of affairs. There’s no more time for inaction. It’s time to be in action.

David’s English Lessons: DON’T CALL ME “TEACHER”!

Worse: DON’T CALL ME “DOCTOR FENG!”… I have not yet been “christened” a “Doctor” since I have still got to get my final dissertation done right… a la KFC (“We do chicken right!” and stuff like that)…

DON’T CALL ME “TEACHER”, EITHER! In China, every last soul calls a teacher — well, “teacher” (老師). That don’t work out fine for your David here. He prefers folks to straight-out address him as David. Buck naked, we are all the same: we can all eat, drink, go to the toilet and take time off in bed. We’re the same be our skins black, white or yellow. So I don’t for a split second buy the fact that “a teacher is ‘superior’ to a student”. I don’t buy it.

I look up very well to the Western world, where you call a teacher by his family name, plus “Mr” or “Ms”. I look up even better to the world of “personal communications” (so to speak in jargon-ese), where David Feng is just simply “David”. Hence my preference for my students to outright call me David. I don’t want for a second to be referred to as Doctor Feng. It just confines me to that Ivory Tower I never wanted to be in at all. It’s un-Mensch, as Guy Kawasaki might say. A Mensch of a teacher realizes he’s an equal amongst all the other students.

I sure hope my fellow students can nick away some knowledge he or she will put to use one of these days, but I hope even more that chez my lessons, students and teachers can act as equals. In this long stroll in the Edu Trail, it’s much better if the head of the team doesn’t put off airs and acts more like a guy in the midst of a group than an absolute dictator leading it. That’s just my way of doing lessons: I don’t do titles, I do outright human language