Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Grad school as I expected does involve loads of reading and while I could give a long description of everything I have read thus far, that is not my intention now.

The reading I am talking about is just something basic. I am taking this stats class, and we are given homework and exams. Thus far, on my first homework assignment, I managed to skip half of a problem from not carefully reading the questions.

Then on the first exam, I managed to misread a question and give the wrong answer because of it. Fortunately, I have a kind instructor who only marked the question half wrong.

Again, on the take home exam, I did the same kind of mistake with two questions. I wrote the program correctly, but told it to do the wrong thing. Fortunately, I have a kind instructor who allowed me to correct the mistake and resubmit the work for this exam.

From this experience, I reflect on some of the work I have done in the past few years. I cannot count the number of exam where students have answered a different question from what was asked. I always wondered how they could be so stupid (now I bet they at one time wondered that exact same thing--that is, how could they have made such a stupid mistake). I also know that when I came across these kind of mistakes I was never ever tolerant of them. I just marked the answer wrong and thought why can't these students be bothered to read the darn questions.

In marking the IELTS exam, it would also often be the case that someone misinterpreted the topic or it felt from reading their response that they did not read the question. I always gave the advice to students to read the questions several times to make sure you understand what the question is asking.

In fact, there was one question on the exam where I was looking for some information to tell me the way to put my variables (which one goes in the row and which in the column). I could not figure out what to do, so I just picked one way hoping it was the right way. When I first looked at it the numbers made sense, and I put it out of my mind until the day before the exam was due when I realized my mistake and found that the information I was looking for was in the question as it should have been. I felt so stupid and wondered why I could not find that information the first time and second and third times I read that question.

I am reminded of my own advice. Read the question. Make sure the answer you gave is to the question that was asked. Now I feel it is important to add... even if you checked once, check it again.

Looking back, I realize I probably graded quite harsh while I was in China. On one hand, I could say that I wanted to have a high standard or a reasonable standard, but on the other hand, I now wonder if at times I did not have enough understanding of my students. After all, on my tests they were also using their second language.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Liu Xiaobo--a Follow UP

One of the lessons I taught my students in the reading magazines and newspapers class in China was the value of reading stories about the same topic from different countries. I first heard of this story from a former student of mine who is currently still in China. She wondered if I had heard about this story and what I thought and she mentioned it would have made an excellent topic for my newspaper class. She was exactly right.
One of the first sources of information I check regarding what is going on in China is EastSouthWestNorth by Roland Soong in Hong Kong. I have found his blog to consistently take a middle line response to many of the issues that occur with China.
I also checked ChinaSMACK, and found that this topic was not a post although it was commented on in the comments section. This shows me that this is not a topic being discussed in China currently. I also consulted with Danwei (a blog which is generally blocked in China.
The next source for me to consider was the news in the US. For the most part the response of American newspapers was expected. Yeah, a dissident from China got the award! Oh look, China is not happy about it! Yeah! Ha Ha! Just as we always suspected China is back to her ways of censorship again!
I then looked at some articles from an English language newspaper in Norway. There were several articles, but the article announcing the news mainly just gave some details about Liu Xiaobo and explained the significance of the prize.
To me, I wish China could trust her people to come to their own conclusions on some controversial issues. I wish that there could be room for a public discussion and that the country would not need to block the news from her citizens. I wish China could have greater faith in her people to not believe all that the West stands for. I wish the Chinese people could see through western hegemony and present a counter view of the world events that serves to challenge the west. I wish China were truly able to engage in that dialogue. As a country that is developing economically and is being called to take on more social responsibility, I wish that this could be taken on her own terms. In order to engage with the west, I do think that reforms will need to take place. I also have some trust that China is aware of this and that these reforms should come on her own terms. Chinese reform should not be initiated through western pressure. Western pressure on this issue to some extent is a lack of respect for China. It is also wrong of the West to think that China will only change if she is pressured to do so by the west.
I also feel some disappointment in my own country for her predictable response. The news people in the United States want to hear about China all relates to dissent. American journalists love to report on protests or attempts to challenge Chinese communist rule. Few stories talk about the humanistic side of China. The majority of stories we are told about China serve to reconfirm the idea that Chinese people do not have freedom or human rights. And yet, for the most part, this is not actually the case. We can easily point to many isolated incidents where China does seem to not value human rights. The one Child policy, the forced relocations... the list goes on. However, there is always the equally valid moral justification that supports for the good of the people it is ok to sacrifice the rights of a few. In most cases, the United States places too much value on individual rights. I take the ownership of guns as an example here.
In short, I do believe we can learn a lot by looking at how different countries approach the news from different viewpoints. I also believe that few people in any country take the initiative to do so. Without the consideration of the viewpoints of other nations we also never learn how other nations see us, and it is often through their outside perspective that we can begin to see both the strong and weak points we possess. I believe it isn't just China who needs to do this. I would further like to add that this is what I gained from living overseas. When I hear something, I have learned not to take it immediately at face value. There are multiple perspectives and until these are also considered, it is not reasonable to come to a conclusion. Being critical also means learning to challenge the responses that come predictably by many.

A list of articles relating to Liu Xiao Bo from a variety of sources:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Congrats China

This morning I was chatting with a former student of mine, and she asked if I knew about who won the Nobel Prize this year. Given who was asking, my first guess was a Chinese person. During the six years I lived in China, one of the sorest spots among educated Chinese is that they have not been the winners of a Nobel Prize. In my mind, Chinese people believe that winning the Nobel Prize would be a sign that China was truly taking an leading role on the world stage. Just as hosting the Olympics was a huge deal to the Chinese people so to was winning a Nobel Prize.
However, this prize was awarded to a person who is in jail. His name is Liu Xiaobo. From what I understand he was a student who did take part in the Tiananmen Square protests and he recently wrote something called Charter 8 which calls for greater freedoms for the Chinese people (including open elections, judiciary reforms, and human rights guarantees).
In classes, we have been talking about multiple layers of meanings and struggles countries go through to decide whose story gets told. In the case of Japan, there is still a struggle over what is taught about war atrocities during the Asia Pacific War and namely the Nanjing Massacre, comfort women, and other incidents. In Taiwan, there was debate over curriculum that emphasizes nationalist or nativist sentiments. There is a constant struggle in politics, on a legal front, and in the court of public opinion as to what becomes the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
Now with the spreading of globalization, countries are no longer in isolation. Injustice that is carried out within the borders of one country may be challenged by the international community in ways that could not have been imagined just decades ago.
I told my colleague today about the Chinese Nobel Prize winner, and it was the first she had heard of it. Her reaction was one of great surprise and I could see the sense of pride she felt and then I told her he was in jail and the reasons for this and there was also some shock. My husband's sister also did not hear of this news. It seems the Great Firewall of China has been at great work to keep this under wraps. Just now, she reported that as she was watching CNN and they were about to mention something about Liu Xiaobo, the CNN signal was suddenly unclear.
As China was preparing for the torch relay, Tibetan protests abounded. The moment of glory was somewhat tainted by others. Now standing in what also should be a moment of glory for China, it too comes tainted but from within. During the Olympics, China wanted to put her best foot forward and give the world a wonderful impression of her developing greatness. However, I hope the world is watching China now. I am truly curious how she will respond to this prestigious, but somewhat unwelcome award. The world should watch at the same time, because it is right now that China can make a decision to shine, however I feel it is unlikely to happen.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Who needs cable? I got internet!

I am a big fan of the Big Bang Theory which airs on Thursday nights. However, I am not able to watch it on Thursday night because I refuse to spend around $60 for cable every month. Instead, I rely on catching shows on the internet.

In the US, some networks also put their own shows on line (ABC, CW, are ones I have checked). You can watch those shows from the websites quite conveniently.

However, in China, the majority of these networks do not allow their shows to be accessed from the international IP, so that wasn't a choice. I eventually discovered that it was possible to catch some shows on the Chinese website Tudou. Youku is another option, but for some reasons I always preferred Tudou. In the past I had just bought the DVDs when they came out (i.e. 10 seasons for friends could be purchased for less than $10, and one season of any show would be about $1.50). I was a great cheap form of wasting time. Now this is not such an option either.

Now that I am back in the states, I continue to use Tudou. Big Bang Theory aired in the US last night. It was able to be accessed on Tudou from 5AM this morning. To me this is a huge feat because not only has the show been uploaded to the internet, it has also passed through the censors AND it has been subtitled in both English and Chinese. In addition, for the most part, the people who are doing these subtitles are not being paid. They just do it for fun. As of now, it also already has 5000 views.

I am waiting for it to download and I will soon too begin my enjoyment of watching it!