Hold it in for the Motherland

In preparation for the big military parade in Beijing on October 1, thousands of PLA troops have been practicing and drilling for months (maybe years). The photo below is taken at one of the training bases near Beijing.  The sign on the wall is in classic Communist literary style–a four part slogan in exact parallel structure.

The slogan roughly translates as this:

Sit for four hours and don’t move;

Stand for four hours and don’t fall.

Blow for four hours and don’t get tired.

Hold for four hours and don’t urinate.

For the glory of the Motherland, don’t pee!

source: Shanghaiist


Getting Ready to Party

Beijing is preparing for a birthday party.  A BIG birthday party.  The mother of all birthday parties!  On October 1, China will turn 60.  But wait, you say…..doesn't China have a long and glorious history of 5000 years?  How can a country that's 5000 years old be celebrating her 60th birthday?  Remember…nothing is as it seems. China as a civilization is indeed 5000 years old, but the modern nation-state called The People's Republic of China only dates back to October 1, 1949.  This is what the county is celebrating.

By all accounts they are planning a party in Beijing that will dwarf the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in scope and glitz.  The climax of the festivities will be a giant parade through the heart of Beijing, down Chang An Avenue past Tiananmen Square, that will feature tanks, rockets, singers, dancers, "happy ethnics," and goose-stepping soldiers in blue mini-skirts. Ten years ago these female soldiers were dressed in red mini-skirts, and were the definite hit of the parade. One report I read said there will be 200,000 participants.

Just because it is celebrating the founding of a People's Republic doesn't mean that ordinary people are involved or welcome to watch the parade, or even come to Beijing.  They've thrown a security cordon around town making that has effectively turned it into an armed fortress.  Armed soldiers are on patrol, Marxist Mamas have been re-deputized, and flying things (kites, birds) have been banned. Only invited guests (high level government and party officials( will be allowed to actually view the parade.  Everyone else has to stay home and watch it on TV.

This weekend they will be conducting the third full dress rehearsal for the parade, and to ensure secrecy have ordered everyone living in the neighborhood near the staging area to leave for the day or stay away from their windows.  I have a friend who lives along the route of the parade, and they've already received a long list of new regulations for the next 2 weeks (no visitors, no peeking out windows, no taking pictures).

One of my favorite websites, The Big Picture, has compiled a fantastic collection of recent photographs of preparations and rehearsals for the big party.  Click away and be amazed.

Will I be going, you might wonder?  Actually, no.  I'm in Minnesota for 3 weeks and will be enjoying the fall colors along the north shore of Lake Superior.  Sorry, China, but the red maples of Lutsen beat waving red flags any day.  I'll buy the DVD when I get back.

How does the Chinese Education System Work Anyway?

The bulk of my career in China has been spent in the field of education.  My first job was as an English teacher at a provincial level College of Education (Teachers College) way back in 1984.  In the 90's I studied Chinese at a major Normal University (Teachers University), and stayed on there to direct a program for Americans studying Chinese. The past ten years, while not directly teaching in a Chinese university, I have been helping to train Americans to teach in Chinese universities. 

You will understand my interest, then, in a blog post I stumbled across today titled 25 Surprising Facts About China's Education System.  Facts 1 and 3 are particularly interesting:

Before 1949, 80% of the Chinese population was illiterate: Before the People’s Republic of China was founded, nearly 80% of the
500 million people living in China were illiterate.

Chinese youth have a 99% literacy rate. UNICEF reports that from 2000-2007, Chinese youth ages 15-24 years old enjoyed a 99% literacy rate.

That's really quite amazing.

What’s in a Name?

A friend in Shanghai recently blogged about the importance of foreigners in China choosing appropriate Chinese names.

Chinese names are beautiful, rich in symbolism and possess a sense
of history that places the bearer securely within the culture. Finding
an appropriate Chinese name for a foreigner is, perhaps, even more
difficult than it is for the native-born. Many opt for the easy way out
– simply translating the sound of their name into Chinese phonemes. Of
course, that means the Chinese characters are devoid of meaning. Most
foreigners don’t mind, but if you want to belong then you should find a
“real” name. So if you want to make sure you have a good Chinese name, you’ve got
to approach the situation not unlike your China business strategy – you
need to take some control and work with people you trust. My Chinese
name was chosen many years ago by a committee formed by my closest
Chinese friends. Their mission: to find a name that matched my
personality. However, the most appropriate, “Donkey-Face-Monkey-Boy’”,
does not translate well in Chinese……..

As they say, read the whole thing.  

My Chinese name is 周宁 (Zhou Ning).  Zhou is a common surname (as in Zhou En-lai, China's first premier) that also means to surround.  Ning means peace, serenity. Come on now, stifle that laugh.  This has been my Chinese name since I began my language study in 1990.  I was a student at a university in Changchun at the time, and on the first day of class I asked my teacher to help me find an appropriate Chinese name.  I had four requirements.  First, the surname (which comes first in a Chinese name) must be Zhou, which sounds like my first name Jo.  Second, I wanted a 2-character name (most names are made up of 3 characters). Third, the name had to be relatively easy to say (I wanted to stay away from the praticularly troublesome sounds of Chinese, of which there a legion).  Fourth, the name had to be easy to write (not a lot of strokes in each character). 周宁 is what my teacher came up with, and it has stuck. 

Nineteen years later I am as much 周宁 as I am Jo.

Be a Star! Teach English in China!

China is probably the only country in the world where English teachers can rise to 'rock star' status.  Great Britain's Independent newspaper recently published a great article explaining this phenomenon, titled Crazy English: How China's Language Teachers Became Big Celebraties:

Chinese people are becoming more and more obsessed
with speaking English, and efforts to improve their proficiency mean
that at some stage this year, the world's most populous nation will
become the world's largest English-speaking country. Two billion people
are learning English worldwide, and a huge proportion of them are in

And sometimes it seems like most of
these eager students are learning from Li Yang, who is the true folk
hero of the English-language-training business. Li founded the "Crazy
English" movement, which now involves him visiting a dozen cities a
month and lecturing in English to crowds of up to 30,000 people. His
books sell in the millions…

English-language training in China is an industry worth around 15
billion yuan a year, or about £1.3bn, and there are more than 50,000
English-training organisations in China. In Beijing alone, some 200,000
people took English classes last year.

As they say, read the whole thing.

While I have not risen to star status (maybe because it's been 20 years since I actually TAUGHT English here—or maybe not), a former teammate of mine has, and I recently got to see this in action.  He now works for an English teaching company in Taiwan that produces programs that are shown on TV here. Last week he was in Beijing on business so we met for dinner.  Afterward, on the subway, I noticed a couple of girls pointing at him and giggling.  Finally, one of them got up her nerve to come and ask him if he was Mr. XXX of the English program.  He said he was and they jumped up and down and squealed with joy.  When the subway reached their stop, they asked us to get off too so they could take photos of them with the English Teacher Rock Star. 

It was all quite amusing.