Posted by: lklinger2013 | July 19, 2016

Teaching the Rainbow

The school year ended last week. Two days from now, I will fly to the States to visit family and friends. Despite teaching some controversial topics in the year 12 uni prep class, I am still employed by the same foreign language high school’s international center. For new readers: I teach at a residential high school for elite Chinese students who will study abroad in English-speaking countries. Uni Prep, a new course, covered cultural and practical aspects to living in an English-speaking country. I taught the US-bound students. Another teacher taught the UK-bound students.

For the formal teaching observation, which took place in May, I taught a lesson about LGBTQIA: what the letters mean, the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, and some etiquette regarding pronouns and slurs. I had students pair up to discuss gay rights. I made a PowerPoint, including a photo of Jin Xing*, a famous Chinese trans woman who is a dancer and TV show host. When I explained about asexual people, or aces, my boss called out, “Sheldon Cooper!” I told students that whatever their personal feelings about people of different sexual orientation and gender identity, they would definitely meet such people when they studied in the U.S. Some of their future classmates and professors will identify somewhere on the ever-increasing spectrum of sex and gender diversity. (I didn’t mention that, statistically speaking, at least a couple of students in that room would probably turn out to be gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or ace.)

The students cooperated, more so than they had during regular classes, when the realization that they had already gained admission to elite universities and nothing they did from now on short of burning down the school would affect their transcripts had a certain effect upon attendance. They paid attention, asked questions, and shared opinions. Nobody fell asleep. I didn’t have to confiscate any cell phones. The computer AND the projector screen worked. The only “misbehavior” that the boss noted was that the students spoke some Chinese to each other. Overall, the class was a success.

I hadn’t set out to teach a risky lesson for my observation. The class was almost over and the students needed this lesson before they went abroad. And okay, yes, I did want an interesting class.

On the final exam, I asked students what was the most surprising or shocking thing they learned about in class. Students mentioned this lesson and the unit on U.S. religions (for which I carefully obtained permission from the directors before teaching) more than any of the others. They said that they had never been taught about this subject before. They told me that no Chinese teacher would dare talk about homosexuality in class.

I received  positive feedback from the boss. On the written form, he said, “The presenting of a potentially difficult topic was handled with much professionalism and candor.” At this point, the boss** has probably figured out that I’m not exactly straight, but he hasn’t asked and I haven’t told.


*Students said that her name means “Golden Star.”

** And students– though they are too polite to ask. They haven’t even asked such basics as “How old are you?”, “Are you married?”, and “What’s wrong with your leg?”

Posted by: lklinger2013 | July 2, 2016

Why are You alone?: Furong Jie and the Temple of Confucius

Last weekend, I checked out Furong Jie (Water Lily Street) a traditional shopping street across from Parc 66 (a big shopping center in downtown Jinan). It is a loud, crowded gauntlet of shops and food stands, mostly selling fried squid, colorful drinks, and souvenirs. I bought a lemonade with basil seeds from a vampire-themed drink stand. Not bad. The seeds, black dots coated in clear jelly, looked like frog eggs. (Incidentally, those tapioca pearls in bubble tea were called “frog eggs” when they first became popular in Taiwan, but got rebranded when they came to English-speaking countries.)

I photographed wall murals and stone lions and bought traditional snacks. I tried not to breathe too deeply while walking past all the cooking squid.

Halfway down the street lies a small temple to Guandi, a mortal (Guan Yu) who, after his death, became a war god. I ducked inside for a few minutes. Not much was going on. A couple of people were looking around and taking photos. Incense burned in front of the statue of Guandi himself.

At the very end of Furong Jie is Fuxue Confucian temple. The latter is a refuge of quiet in a noisy, crowded city. It costs 10 RMB to visit. Unlike at Buddhist temples, I saw nobody kneeling or praying. Instead of gilded Buddhas and Bodhisatvas, there were colorfully painted wooden statues of Confucian scholars. When I described the place to students, they told me that it had been a place to study Confucianism.

Near the temple is a drink place with seats. I had an icy mango-coconut concoction that was perfect for a hot day. The woman working the counter (I think her family owns the place) asked to practice her English with me. She said her English name was Gromit (from the stop-motion animated show). When her husband Louis stopped by, she asked whether I thought he looked like Wallace. No, he had hair. And average-sized ears.

Gromit asked why I was alone*. I had no good answer. I looked up the word “introvert” on the English-Chinese dictionary app. She protested that I seemed friendly and was still a human being. Yes, I’m a human being but apparently not the kind that other human beings care to associate with. Yes, there are lots of other foreign teachers at my school, but not one has accepted my invitations to go with me when I explore the city.  Because reasons. They’re busy or tired or broke. They all live in faculty housing and I don’t. They’d rather watch TV. They prefer to go out drinking. They’re cool and I’m not. I admit it: the loneliness is getting to me.

Gromit and I exchanged WeChat info but that probably means nothing. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so.


*Readers, this is NOT an invitation to comment with “the reason nobody likes you.” I’ve had enough of those little speeches from so-called friends to last a lifetime.20160625_165913.jpg20160625_18255220160625_18261720160625_18314120160625_18385420160626_15030220160626_15124220160626_15263020160626_15313920160626_162247




Posted by: lklinger2013 | June 1, 2016

… and speaking of toilets

They replaced the broken toilet seat at work. One morning, a couple of days after the assistant director promised that it would be fixed, a couple of cleaning ladies enthusiastically waved me into the restroom.

I don’t know whether anyone else complained about the broken toilet, but I’m sure that the pregnant Chinese teachers and the other foreign teachers experienced relief.

The foundation that runs the school is building a new campus. I hope– but know better than to expect– that the new campus will have more accessible bathrooms.

Posted by: lklinger2013 | June 1, 2016

Venturing out to Bai Hua Park and other Places

Last weekend was busier than usual for me. Friday afternoon, I checked out the Shandong Museum of Science and Technology, which is right next to Quancheng Square and Parc 66 shopping center. Admission to the museum is free. It has elevators, escalators, vending machines, a snack bar, and one small gift shop. Some of the exhibits have bilingual signage, but others are all in Chinese. I toddled around, pressing buttons and batting at all the hands-on mechanical exhibits. I glanced at the biology displays (not the most impressive I’ve ever seen), and inadvertently skipped the main drawing point: the 3D and 4D movies. I may go back to see those. As I peered into kaleidoscopes, two giggling young women asked permission to take a selfie with me. I indulged them.

In Quancheng Square, I lingered under an overhang, admiring paintings and bronze sculptures. A loud CRACK caught my attention. Then another. And more. Three men repeatedly whipped at spinning, bullet-shaped metal tops.

Later, I went to Parc 66 for a hamburger, fruit-and-frozen yogurt dessert, and an iced latte. This charming creature welcomed me to the burger shop.


The next day, I went to Bai Hua Gonyuan (100 Flowers Park). This is also free. The end of May isn’t the best time to go: too late for cherry blossoms and too early for lotus, but I saw plenty of birds and trees. Azure-winged magpies, sparrows, and blackbirds were everywhere, though I saw few insects. Near an as-yet unfilled cement pool, music played, people danced solo and in couples, and adults and children kicked a ball around. People from a children’s hospital handed out plastic fans. I plan to go back to this park in late June or early July to see the lotus blossoms. At this time, there were pink and yellow water lilies. No dragonflies yet, but I have hopes.

Sunday, the year 12 students from my school celebrated their commencement at a fancy  convention center sort of place. A teacher from the U.S. emceed. Younger students filmed the ceremony. Four students read an original poem in Chinese and English. A video played of students singing the class song (written by a student). The principal and a parent gave speeches. Then a coordinator of programs abroad from San Francisco gave a speech. All speeches had accompanying translations projected on a large screen behind the stage. Students donated a sculpture to the school: lotus blossoms with student handprints. (Note: the lotus is the symbol of Jinan city). Parents gave flowers to the new graduates. The principal handed them diplomas and school t-shirts. The ceremony was relatively short: only an hour and a half. Students wore red robes during some parts, but not during others. The boys wore suits. Most of the girls had transformed themselves into sparkling elves and princesses, complete with satin dresses, tiaras, and make-up. One girl wore a suit and bowtie. I was happy that she was allowed to do that.

Toward the end of the ceremony, I realized I desperately needed a restroom. Surely a fancy place like this would have at least one western toilet? They did, but it was locked. Back teeth floating, I went to a service counter and begged the staff member for help with my limited Mandarin and some expressive body language. She took hold of my upper arm and walked me to the bathroom. She pointed at the squat toilets. I shook my head, saying in English, “No, I can’t do that!” and pointing at the locked stall. Finally she opened it. When I was finished, she took my arm again. I broke away before we reached the door to exit the building, telling her thank you and I was okay. I didn’t understand why that stall was locked, but at least the bus ride home would be bearable. When I told a coworker about this, he said that he had deliberately dehydrated himself* so he wouldn’t need to use a restroom.

This insistence on western toilets is not mere xenophobic squeamishness. I can’t squat. My hips won’t bend that way. Readers of this blog might think I am obsessed with toilets. I do like a poop joke as much as the next (twelve year-old) person, but it’s more than that. You try holding it in for a few hours and see how often you think about restrooms.

Most big places like parks or malls have at least one handicap stall with a toilet I can use. Sometimes, it’s locked. Or full of cleaning supplies. Concern over finding accessible toilets has made me slow to explore my new home. (Er, slower. There’s also the language barrier, my bad sense of direction, and my ignorance of the bus system.) Even so, I’m checking out more new places these days. Maybe when I have some time off I’ll even try visiting another city… as long as it has toilets.




*Many kinds of people in the U.S. routinely dehydrate themselves due to limited bathroom access: teachers and nurses (no time to go); trans and gender non-conforming people (risk of harassment or arrest for using the “wrong” bathroom); and disabled people. When I lived in the States, I was privileged in being able-bodied enough and cis-gendered enough not to worry about bathroom access. Even when I wore masculine clothing and a buzz cut, nobody bothered me in the bathroom. In the current political climate, I would be more worried about using a public bathroom in the U.S. while looking androgynous.

Posted by: lklinger2013 | May 27, 2016

Qian Fo Shan, 1000 Buddha Mountain

I didn’t count, but there were probably more than a thousand Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on Qian Fo Shan, a national park on a large hill in Jinan. I finally visited there last Sunday. I took a taxi to the park and rode a shuttle bus up and down the hill. Admission to the park cost 30 yuan. The shuttle cost 10 yuan each way. It was hop-on hop-off, stopping at different attractions like the Buddha Cave and the giant golden Buddha statue. I explored the cave, which was refreshingly cool on such a hot day. The cave had small ramps and a few benches as accomodations for people with limited mobility. There were statues all over the walls and paintings on the ceiling. Admission to the cave cost 15 yuan.

The shuttle definitely made the park more accessible for people with limited walking ability, but it was too small to accomodate even a folded wheelchair, stroller, or walker. I could just about fit with a backpack and one crutch, knees bent uncomfortably.

I didn’t climb the steps to see the big gold statue. By that time, I’d been walking around for a couple of hours. I was hot, hungry, and sore (next time, take pain killers earlier). Instead, I waited in the shuttle for five or ten minutes while a few others hurried up the steps to see and take pictures.

There were azure-winged magpies and sparrows in abundance that day. The magpies briefly alit in trees and on rocks, almost but not quite within camera range. As I approached, as stealthily as a clumsy tourist with a camera can, they flew a few feet away and landed again, looking back as if to taunt me. I stalked white butterflies in the garden areas with a similar lack of success.

I did manage to photograph two turtles, some juvenile white cicadas, and an inchworm whose purple-yellow-green coloring reminded me of tourmaline.

In the future, I would like to visit the park again, perhaps earlier in the morning. Next time, I’ll bring snacks and try the sky car.

After visiting the park, I tried to get a taxi to Parc 66, a mall where I was going to meet a friend for coffee. Two drivers refused to take me when I showed them the address (in Chinese), pointing as if to say, “it’s RIGHT THERE.” It was not right there. Walking from Qian Fo Shan to Parc 66 took more than half an hour, not counting a stop for coffee. There must be a way to get a bus from one place to the other. I will find out.


Immature white cicada (not a true cicada, but a kind of fulgorid plant hopper). Lycorma delicatula.


Inchworm, Qian Fo Shan park, Jinan, Shandong, China.


Small golden Buddha with incense and lotus kneeling pad, Qian Fo Shan.


Red-eared slider (top) and Chinese stripe-neck (also called golden thread) turtle (bottom) in a pool in front of a Kwan Yin statue, Qian Fo Shan.


Kwan Yin with incense and red wish papers.


Buddha head in Buddha Cave, Qian Fo Shan.


Buddha with electric halo, Buddha Cave, Qian Fo Shan..


Reclining Buddha, Buddha Cave, Qian Fo Shan.


Ceiling art, Buddha Cave, Qian Fo Shan.


Guardian at Buddha Cave, Qian Fo Shan.


Guardian, Qian Fo Shan.


White and purple flowers, Qian Fo Shan.


Holy man reading, Qian Fo Shan.


Holy man and feline, Qian Fo Shan.


Holy man and deer, Qian Fo Shan.


Holy man cleaning his ear, Qian Fo Shan.


Holy man stretching, Qian Fo Shan.


Posted by: lklinger2013 | April 24, 2016

A visit to Daming Lake

This morning, I finished reading Six of Crows and drained and opened a coconut with a hammer and screwdriver. Later, I went to the east side of Daming Lake, which is free to visit. At the lake, I saw a dragonfly, a crane, and a bird about the size of a wren whose name I don’t know. There were lily pads in the water, but no lilies yet. I saw yellow and purple irises, huge rosebushes with pink, white, and red flowers, also some white and yellow flowers I couldn’t identify.

A man sitting under a gazebo played some kind of traditional stringed instrument while he and a couple of other men sang in tipsy-sounding voices. Kids and parents caught minnows, tadpoles, and small transparent freshwater shrimp with nets. I peered into their buckets to see what they’d caught, remembering when I was a small kid with a net.

Adults took selfies and pictures of their kids. A man photographed a group of young women in white satin dresses and tiaras (bridesmaids?). Couples posed for photos in especially scenic spots. A woman requested (via a combination of Chinese and body language) that I allow myself to be photographed first with her son and then with her. I assented. Later, when two elderly women attempted to sneak a photo with me, I dodged, feigning incomprehension. (ASK PERMISSION, people.)

I walked around, admiring the flowers and willows, gazing in the water in the hopes of spotting a turtle (alas, I only saw one tiny turtle in someone’s bucket), and stopping in the middle of gently curving stone bridges to take photos. The park was full of people, but there weren’t any cars. It was nice to be able to amble aimlessly without fear of being run over.

I  checked out the Tower of Transcendence. It was 6 stories high and cost 40 rmb to enter, so I stayed outside. I looked in what I thought was a small museum or cultural info center but was actually an expensive art shop. There was a fat, friendly Buddha outside the shop.

Later, I went to the Parc 66 mall. I had pork rib and bamboo shoot ramen at a Japanese restaurant, a strawberry-yogurt pop at Ice Demon, and an iced latte at Starbucks. At the coffee shop, first a Chinese Muslim man engaged me in conversation. His name was Ibrahim. He had a two month old son. He wanted a nice Muslim name for the boy, but not Ismail because of the story about the sacrifice, which horrified him. He told me that three or four years ago there were not nearly so many foreigners in China. I told him about the people wanting photos with me at Daming Lake. He laughed. Then, a Japanese Jehovah’s witness attempted to talk to me in Chinese. Her English was limited, but better than either my Chinese or my Japanese. I told her I was Jewish and showed her a photo of my cat.


Daming Lake, Jinan, Shandong Province, China


Water and willows at Daming Lake


Tower of Transcendence


Friendly Buddha reflects in front of an expensive art shop

Posted by: lklinger2013 | April 19, 2016

Let My People Go: the Toilet Saga Continues

Good: I finally found that western toilet in my building that both flushes AND has an intact seat.

Awkward: one of the school cleaning ladies insisted on taking my arm, helping me up the step to the stall, and trying to come into the stall with me.

Annoying, but unsurprising: the broken-seated toilet is now seatless.

Unrelated: it’s almost Pesach. Not sure I will make it to a Seder in Beijing, as that would involve finding an affordable hotel that accepts foreigners. Not all of them are licensed to do so.


Posted by: lklinger2013 | April 15, 2016

The crack problem at work continues

I can no longer shit at work.

Two weeks ago, the seat of the only working western toilet in the bathroom near my office cracked right under my ass. I informed my supervisor, one of the assistant directors. He said that he told someone to put in a work order to fix it (I saved the 3/28 text message in which he said this). The cracks spread, pieces of the seat falling into the bowl.

Now I have to choose between sort-of-sitting on the broken seat of the upstairs commode that flushes or using the downstairs one that has an intact seat but doesn’t flush. All the other stalls have squat toilets. I cannot use those. I can’t squat. Can’t. My hip won’t bend that way.

After a bad morning that started yesterday evening, I lost my temper. I photographed the broken toilet and showed it to the person to whom my supervisor said he talked. She looked surprised. She said that no one had told her. (Maybe the message fell between the cracks.) She said she’d try to get it fixed, but she would be busy with the big important meetings today. Dangerously close to losing it, I showed my photo to the other assistant director. He promised to have it fixed tomorrow. I’ll believe that when I see it.

Despite my anger, or rather, in addition  to it, is the fear that one of the bosses will tell me that if I can’t handle the bathrooms, it’s my own problem. Maybe, they would say, I just can’t handle China. There are several teachers on campus with mobility impairment, but I don’t know whether any of them complain about broken toilets. Probably not. China is not exactly famous for being accessible to people with disabilities.

I admit it. I’m not doing so well here. This transition to a new country and a new job has been difficult. I have not learned much Chinese yet, and don’t feel motivated to do so. I can barely communicate outside of work. The school where I teach, despite having the brightest students I’ve ever had the privilege of teaching, is filthy. This is me saying it’s filthy. I used to volunteer in the reptile house at a zoo. I only clean my apartment when I lose something, smell something, or get a foot stuck to the floor. I don’t use words like “filthy” lightly.

Earlier this week, while helping students prepare to do their midterm presentations (an assignment which I was NOT aware I was supposed to give until the last minute), I taught them about Murphy’s Law and the inevitability of problems, both human and technical. Today, I watched three groups present their projects with much more grace, creativity, and substance than I would have expected given the short notice. Still, I struggled to keep my temper when a student asked me to change the group presentation schedule again. I did it, but told him that was it. “One more schedule change and I’m going to lose it.” I wasn’t shitting him. Until the toilet is fixed, I’m not shitting there at all.


Exhibit A: the broken-seated commode that is, to the best of my knowledge, the only Western toilet in my building that flushes. A coworker told me about two other alleged commodes. I looked, but could not find them. I should not have to go on a quest in order to relieve myself.

Posted by: lklinger2013 | March 24, 2016

First Spider Photos in China!

The other day, I returned from lunch to find a lively jumping spider on my desk. Here are two pictures of the frisky little arachnid.

Everyone here uses a phone app called WeChat for social media. I do mean everyone.  WeChat has one lovely function that Kakao Talk, its Korean counterpart, does not: if you press your finger on a message WeChat will translate it between Chinese and English. This is how I communicate with the landlord.

     I had to ask the landlord how to turn on the hot water, the washer, and the air conditioner, since I can’t read any of the controls. The language barrier is kicking my ass. I accidentally greeted the principal in Korean on the first day. I hope to start Chinese classes soon.
     Living in my own apartment instead of faculty housing has its trade-offs. I had to do it so I could bring Chingu. I have lots of space and privacy, and the apartment complex has several restaurants, convenience stores, and other amenities. On the other hand, I sometimes feel isolated from colleagues.
      This evening, I cooked a beef stir fry. I used a Chinese sauce that is basically soy mixed with sesame paste. Very tasty. Chingu helped by licking the bok choy. She also helps me wake up in the morning by knocking things on the floor and meowing until I feed her.
      I need to text the landlord again soon, as I have still not figured out how to get hot water in the kitchen. There is probably some obvious-to-everyone-else-but-me switch located a few feet away from the kitchen faucet. Or some magic words I have to say first.
     I still don’t really know what I’m doing at work. This is the first school that has asked teachers to submit actual lesson plans (due tomorrow). They expect a lot more of us than they did at the Korean university. I was here two weeks before I got an employee handbook, but at least I got one.
     The students at this school are all trying to go to English-speaking universities, so their English is pretty good. My students are seniors who already took their college admissions tests and, in most cases, already got accepted somewhere, so they skip class a lot. That’s annoying and makes lesson planning harder. I’m never sure who is playing hooky and who has a legitimate excuse to be absent. Some students give me the impression that my class is a waste of their time. I hope they are wrong, but can’t be sure.
     I’m teaching English and a new class called Uni Prep that is supposed to prepare them for North American Culture (another teacher is doing a British version). Today we discussed internet etiquette, such as including a subject line in an email and not hijacking a comment thread on an online discussion forum. In previous lessons, we’ve talked about stereotypes, prejudice, linguistic and behavioral taboos, and internet scams.
     I like the food pretty well, especially dumplings, hot pot, and beef noodle soup. It’s not as spicy as Korean food, and often includes celery and star anise. I avoid anything with cilantro (which I remain convinced is made out of soap), seafood, or hot peppers. So far, no stomach problems.
     At a nearby coffee shop, I met another USian, who has been introducing me to his friends. In a few weeks, I may even have a social life outside of work.
     The school provides a bus to and from our neighborhoods. The trip takes about an hour. The bus times are different on different days and almost everyone has missed the bus at least once. Our schedules alternate between short weeks (M-F) and long weeks (M-S). I have a light teaching load, but more paperwork.
     Locals have been very kind, even when I point at words on my phone dictionary. I can count to ten, ask where the toilet is, and say “hello,” “thank you,”  “ice,” and “cat.” That’s about it so far. The guy at the beef noodle soup place called his friend to translate the first time I came there. Now he knows my usual order. Someday, I will be able to say it in Putonghwa (Mandarin Chinese).
     Last Friday, a Chinese coworker took three of us to a government office to apply for our residency permits. The office will hold out passports until the end of the month. There was no line, so things went quickly.
     The weather is warming up here too. I might take a short bus trip this weekend to check out a local park or art museum.

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