Say Nothing, Understand Nothing

Having spent 20+ years in China, working primarily in the field of education, I witnessed first-hand the  national obsession with learning English in China. The good folks at China File have now put that obsession into pictures by translating an info-graphic that originally appeared on their Soho Business site. After citing statistic after statistic about the popularity of English in China, this is their conclusion:

Chinese people spend more time and energy learning English than any nation in the world. But for all this effort, Chinese students are still failing to achieve real proficiency. Why is this? Is the English craze actually detrimental to students?



Here are some of the more interesting stats embedded in the infographic:

  1. There are 300 million people studying English in China
  2. There are 100,000 native English speakers currently teaching in China.
  3. Chinese people spend $4.8 billion each year on English lessons.
  4. China is the world’s largest market for English as a Foreign (EFL) teaching.
  5. English is a required subject on all middle-school and high-school standard tests.
  6. In order to graduate, university students must pass the College English Test (CET).
  7. In December 2012, 9.38 million students too the CET-4 and CET-6 exams.
  8. The majority of Chinese students are studying English primarily in order to pass the tests.
  9. 56% of non-English majors spend most of their time studying English, yet less than 5% can carry on a conversation in English.

So, fellow China educators, what say ye? Is this what you see or are the conclusions of the info-graphic makers too harsh?

Please take the time to view the entire info-graphic here. It’s really quite interesting.


Be a Star! Teach English in China

Martians Speak English? 

Talenty English

(Image source: ChinaFile)




Napping in Beijing

It’s not a new story, but it’s always a fun one. In the Bejiing IKEA (and, I presume, the IKEA stores in other cities), shoppers love to “try out” the displays, settling into the living rooms or offices for hours on end. One of the favorite activities is napping on the display beds and sofas. Wander into the IKEA on a hot summer afternoon and there will be a person napping on pretty much every single bed!


The good folks at China Real Time posted a fun photo essay of IKEA nappers. Here’s part of the accompanying article:

One Getty photographer recently focused on a subspecies of the Chinese nappers: Those who like to frequent IKEA’s beds. As any visitor to a Chinese IKEA can attest, such stores have a particularly convivial feel, with locals flocking to the store to simply hang out, as well as shop–or, as the case may be, catch a few winks.

Asked about the Chinese penchant for napping in its stores, IKEA spokesman Josefin Thorell said the furniture company was fine with it. “This is a spontaneous phenomenon. Some customers who enter the Chinese stores sleep in the bed. IKEA in China does nothing to prevent nor anything to attract sleepers. But we don’t see it as a problem, we’re happy people feel at home in our stores. Certainly, it entails a little extra work for the staff, purely practically. But on the other hand, if customers try out our furniture and like it, we can sell an extra mattress or two.”

Here are two more photos (the rest can be seen here):



Related Posts: 

Rats in a Maze 

A Day at IKEA

To Shop or Sleep; That is the Question


July 4 Fireworks — Made in China

A question for my American readers — did you enjoy your local fireworks display last night? They were most likely made by hand in a small factory somewhere in China.


The Asia Society blog recently posted a series of photos from a fireworks factory in China. Here is some of the accompanying text:

Fireworks and the United States have a longstanding relationship dating back to 1777, when John Adams commissioned a fireworks show as part of the Independence Day celebrations, prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He wrote that the festivities should include “pomp and parade” but most notably, “illuminations from one End of this Continent from this time forward forever more.”
Though some may believe fireworks to be a distinctly American tradition, they are — like many things — believed to have been invented in China more than 1,300 years ago. Indeed, most of the fireworks exploding in the U.S. skies this weekend will have come from China, the world’s largest producer and exporter. And there’s no shortage of demand. In 2012, the U.S. spent roughly $1 billion on fireworks, with a staggering $645 million spent on July 4 festivities alone. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA), this number continues to grow steadily, earning the industry the title “recession-proof.”
The amount of hard work to produce these short lived light shows is eye-opening. In China, fireworks are predominantly made by hand by factory workers.

Click here to see the full collection of photos.

And in case you’re wondering, I did not go anywhere to watch the fireworks last night. This video clip showing the scene from my apartment window in Beijing during Spring Festival every year will explain why!

(if you receive this post by email and cannot see the video clip, click here)



8 Things I Love about the USA

american flags

Even though I have spent the better part of my life as an expat, I still love the patriotic American holidays and am unable to sing the national anthem without choking up.

Last week a friend and colleague from Southeast Asia and I were walking around one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. We got to talking about how, even though we love the countries that we have worked in (China, Laos, and Myanmar), we also love our home country, the United States. In fact, as a result of living overseas for so many years, there may be things we appreciate about this place that we wouldn’t otherwise.

So on this Fourth of July, here are 8 things that I really appreciate about the United States:

1. The clean air. We have virtually no pollution in the Twin Cities, something that I greatly appreciate after living so long in Beijing.

2. The traffic. When I lived in Beijing I always figured that it would take me at least one hour to get anywhere. In the Twin Cities, everything is 20 minutes away (at least inside the 694/494 loop). I spent the first several months back in town being 40 minutes early to everything,  and when my friends or family fuss about the traffic here I laugh at them with derision.

3. Public libraries. Since most of my work is of the free-lance variety, I spend a lot of my time working in the local public library. I love that I can spend the day there working, and can even bring my lunch!

4. Public toilets. Ok, this may sound strange, but I LOVE the fact that I can go anywhere and find a clean public toilet!

5. Public parks. I love the fact that the seemingly thousands of parks are open to the public for free and are well kept. No walls, gates, or ticket sellers.

6. The interstate system. A fantastic way to get around a beautiful country.

7. The National Park system. 22 down, 27 to go!

8. Our political system. Yes, I like our political system. It’s chaotic and messy and inefficient, but it still provides levels of liberty and freedom and opportunity that are unimaginable in most places. I’m definitely with Winston Churchill on this one: “It is said that democracy is the worst form of government except all others that have been tried.”

Happy Independence Day!

Make it look like a parade

Years ago I had a poster hanging in my room that said: “When you’re being run out of town, get in front and make it look like a parade.”

I thought of that this morning when I read an article in the People’s Daily (Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece) that referenced the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets of Hong Kong on July 1. It was a demonstration to demand more political autonomy from Beijing, but you’d never know that from this statement by China’s Vice-President (they have one?):

“On Tuesday, the Hong Kong government and residents held more than 200 activities to mark the return of the special administrative region to China 17 years ago, including flag-raisings and visits to the garrison of the Chinese army. Organizers estimated that 450,000 attended these activities.”

There you have it! It wasn’t a demonstration; it was a PARADE!

Here’s an amazing time-lapse video of the “parade:”

(if you receive this post by email and cannot view the video, go here)

Here’s how The New York Times reported on the demonstration:

The appeal of democratic ideas drew thousands of protesters into the streets of Hong Kong on Tuesday in a defiant but largely peaceful march advocating free and open elections for the territory’s chief executive.

A nearly solid river of protesters, most of them young, poured out of Victoria Park through the afternoon and into the evening, heading for the skyscraper-lined canyons of downtown Hong Kong, Asia’s top financial center.

The article provides an excellent overview of the historical background and issues involved, as well as a short video about one of the 17-year old organizers.

More photos of the demonstration can be found here. (Huffington Post)

Pinch and a Punch

pinch and a punch

When I was growing up, the last day of each month and the subsequent first day were always a big deal in our family. Each of us would lie in wait for the other one, trying to be the first to land the dreaded first “pinch and a punch for the last/first of the month.” My dad particularly loved the game, and was a master at beating everyone to the punch (literally).

When I attended the college where he taught, our battles grew more fierce. On the appointed days, he would lie in wait in the hallway and jump out at me as I was leaving class. Sometimes I got the better of him, sneaking into his office to get in the first pinch. At other times we could be seen dancing around as each of us tried to get to the other first. My friends and his colleagues, of course, thought we were nuts.

I don’t know where my parents learned this game, but I suspect it was in Pakistan, where they had lots of British colleagues (it’s more common there than in the US). Everyone I knew there played it, but when we moved to the States, very few knew about it.

My father passed away 13 years ago, and for some reason, this family tradition died as well. I was reminded of it again this morning when a friend posted about it on Facebook (yes, a friend from Pakistan days).

I turned to the Interwebs to see if I could find out something about the game. Here’s what has to say about it:

Originating from old England times when people thought that witches existed. People thought that salt would make a witch weak, so the pinch part is pinching of the salt, and the punch part was to banish the witch. The witch would be weak from the salt so the punch was to banish her.

In honor of my dad, I’m going to try to revive the family tradition.

Image source: Keep-calm-o-matic