Take Me Out to the Ball Game


Last night I joined some family members for a mid-summer baseball game at Target Field, home to the Minnesota Twins. I’m not that interested in baseball unless the Twins are winning, which they are definitely NOT doing this year, but I really wanted to see the new stadium.


The stadium is fantastic–love that Minneapolis skyline in the background–but the game was ever-so-slow. And of course we lost.


Never mind. A good time was had by all.


Loving the clean air of Minnesota….but it’s back to the Beijing smog next week.



An Interview

A former student and blooger has posted an interview that he did with me about my book "Survival Chinese Lessons". The entire post can be found here, but following is the interview portion:

MandMx: How long have you lived in China?

Joanne Pittman: That depends on how you count. I taught English in Zhengzhou, Henan from 1984 to 1986. Then, from 1990 to present, I have worked here most of the time, with a few periods of time out of the country for further education or family. So from start to present, it’s 27 years!

MandMx: Where did you learn Chinese?

Joanne Pittman: I studied Chinese full time for a year (90-91) at Northeast Normal University in Changchun, Jilin Province. After that I worked with a tutor ten hours per week for 4-5 years while directing a program for North Americans studying Chinese.

MandMx: Do you know Characters as well?

Joanne Pittman: My character reading is OK, but unfortunately my character writing is very 差 (lacking).

MandMx: Why did you write your book? What were your goals?

Joanne Pittman:I originally put the material together back in the 1990’s for a summer language program that I directed for English Language Institute/China (ELIC). It has since been used by ELIC’s incoming teachers. The response internally has been very positive, so last fall I decided to publish the material. I know that survival-type Chinese language books are a dime-a-dozen, but my ‘beef’ with them is that they often try to teach too much at the ‘super-beginning’ level.  The result is that learners often get discouraged and give up. My goal with this book was to produce something that would keep learners going by teaching small, bite-sized chunks in each chapter, with very simple explanations. And because I believe that listening is the foundation to second lounge learning, the book includes an audio (mp3) CD that includes the Pinyin Sound Chart, and vocabulary and dialogs from each of the chapters.

MandMx: How has the response been to the book? What are people saying?

Joanne Pittman: Better than I expected, to be honest.  It has sold really well among folks travelling to China as tourists and those going to China on sort-term volunteer projects. It’s also been well-received among newly arrived expats in China, who want something simple to help them get started.

MandMx: What do you think about more Westerners studying Chinese today?

Joanne Pittman: The more the better. Given China’s emergence onto the world stage, I think it’s important that there be more westerners who are proficient in not only the Chinese language, but also Chinese culture.

MandMx: If you didn’t come to China, what do you think you would’ve done all your life?

Joanne Pittman: I probably would have gone to grad school and ended up teaching at a college somewhere.

MandMx: What is your favorite China website? China Newsite?

Joanne Pittman: Well, I enjoy YOUR website! For China news and analysis, I like China Digital Times (www.chinadigitaltimes.net), BBC, and The China Beat (www.thechinabeat.org). As for general information/blogs, I like World of Chinese (www.worldofchinese.com), Danwei (www.danwei.com), and China Media Project (www.cmp.hku.hk).

MandMx: What is your favorite Chinese movie?

Joanne Pittman: Shower.  It’s ten years old now, but it’s a great about generational relationships in a changing Beijing.

MandMx: What is your favorite China book? or book about China?

Joanne Pittman: My current favorite China book is China Road Interview with the Author of Survival Chinese Lessons 生存汉语 @jkpittman by Rob Gifford.  I also like River Town Interview with the Author of Survival Chinese Lessons 生存汉语 @jkpittman and Country Driving Interview with the Author of Survival Chinese Lessons 生存汉语 @jkpittman by Peter Hessler. And To Change China Interview with the Author of Survival Chinese Lessons 生存汉语 @jkpittman by Jonathan Spence.

MandMx: What’s your favorite motivational saying in Chinese?

Joanne Pittman: I’m not sure how motivational this saying is, but it’s one of the most useful ones in helping us foreigners make our way in Chinese society:  jihua meiyou bianhua kuai.  Plans can’t keep up with changes.  计划没有变化快。

MandMx: In only three words each please tell us what comes to your mind when I say:

(Example: I say Baseball: you say “Boston Red Sox.” OR “Boring but fun.” see only 3 words.)

MandMx: Bejing                            Joanne Pittman: my adopted hometown
MandMx: Shanghai                      Joanne Pittman: Different from 1984
MandMx: Chopsticks                  Joanne Pittman: What’s so difficult?
MandMx: Chinese food              Joanne Pittman: rice and peanuts
MandMx: Chinese literature    Joanne Pittman: Over my head
MandMx: Sina Weibo                  Joanne Pittman: an alternate universe
MandMx: Twitter                          Joanne Pittman: bursts of communication
MandMx: Sand storms               Joanne Pittman: Spring is here!
MandMx: Summer                       Joanne Pittman: Drip, drip, drip
MandMx: Great Wall                  Joanne Pittman:  What’s the point?
MandMx: winter                          Joanne Pittman:  Where’s the humidity?

Please visit his site www.mandmx.com to read the entire post.

Cultural Revolution Tea

I have long been a student of Chinese history, with a particular interest in the now 62 years of The People’s Republic of China. Compared with China’s dynasties, which often lasted 300-400 years, this one is just getting going. Yet, during the relatively short time of its existence, the PRC has had more than it’s fair share of ‘turbulence.’


A particularly turbulent time was The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966 to 1976. Often referred to as ‘the ten-year chaos,’ The Cultural Revolution was a mass political movement ostensibly designed to give a new generation the experience of revolution. In fact, it was an outcome of a power struggle between Chairman Mao and the leadership of the Communist Party. For ten years, the country’s economic, social, and intellectual life came to a halt as people engaged in mass political campaigns, the schools and colleges were closed, and intellectuals were persecuted. This, of course, is a very brief, and general, description of the era, but it will suffice for this blog post.


Today, when one thinks of The Cultural Revolution, images that come to mind are Red Guards, socialist operas, and propaganda posters.  We don’t generally think of tea.


That changed for me a month ago when I was at a teahouse in Beijing run by a close friend of mine. It’s a great place to hang out on Sunday afternoons, chatting with Ms. M and her two nieces who help her in the shop. Since she is from Yunnan Province, her specialty is Pu’er Tea, so whenever I am there, that’s pretty much what we drink.


Pu’er tea is one of the only teas which, like wine, improves in taste and value with age. Whenever she makes a pot of tea she is careful to tell me what year it was harvested in. The older the better. And when she gives me a “cake” or “ball” of tea (dried, in patties or small balls), she tells me to throw it in a closet and forget about it for 5 years, something I rarely do.


Anyway, last month a colleague from the US was in town, so I decided to take him to the teahouse. He’s been in Beijing dozens of times and wanted to do something different. She was particularly excited to see me that day because she had a new tea (well, it was actually really old) she wanted me to try. “What’s it called?” I asked her. “Its’ Cultural Revolution Tea.”


Come again??


What she was making for us was a pot of tea from a “Cultural Revolution Brick” (the shape/form of the dried tea). She told us that it was a brick of tea dating back to the late 1970’s, and was a collector’s item — very expensive. She was serving it this day to teach her teahouse assistants about it.


Graciously she shared it with us, and I will say that it was one of the best cups of tea I’ve ever had.



Oh, and yes, it is available in the US….from Amazon….where else?