An American Abroad

American Music at the Movies


I’ve put together a film series for the American Corner here, a library and cultural center jointly funded by Amideast and the US State Department. The idea is to present different genres of American music through the presentation of movies that feature the music in its cultural context. The first film, Lady Sings the Blues, will be shown at 5:30 this Wednesday and all are invited.

Here’s the program for the whole series:

1. Lady Sings the Blues. 1972. Jazz. Starring Diana Ross, Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor. The story of the life and career of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday.

2. Crossroads. 1986. Blues. Starring Ralph Macchio, Joe Seneca, and Steve Vai. A young and gifted classical guitar player dreams of playing the blues.

3. Easy Rider. 1969. Rock ‘n’ roll. Starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson. Two hippie bikers ride from Los Angeles to New Orleans in search of America.

4. The Commitments. 1991. R&B. Starring Robert Arkins, Michael Aherne, and Angeline Ball. A working-class Irish band is determined to bring soul music to Dublin.

5. Walk the Line. 2005. Country. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. A chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash’s life and songs.

6. O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000. Folk. Starring George Clooney, John Turturro, John Goodman, and Holly Hunter. Escaped convicts travel across Mississippi in the 1930s trying to find a buried treasure.

7. 8 Mile. 2002. Hip hop. Starring Eminem and Kim Basinger. A young white Detroit rapper tries for his chance at fame.

Taking My Class Outside

My class of AMIDEAST twelve-year-olds is wonderful: smart, funny, informed, articulate, and spirited. As we near the end of the course, I decided to get them out of the classroom and onto the terrace to have them practice giving directions in English. One student was blindfolded and another one was deputized to tell him or her how to move (“turn left!” “go straight” “turn right!”) to get through an obstacle course of desks. It was a lot of fun.

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Classroom Conversation with a Precocious Eleven Year Old

“Where were you?” I asked one of my students in class, looking for an answer along the lines of “I was at the park.” But Paul is a fearless and precocious kid. With him it went like this:

Me: Where have you been?

Paul: I was in the sky.

Me: Why were you in the sky?

Paul: I’m a god.

Me: What were you doing in the sky?

Paul: I was in the toilet.

Me: Do gods use the toilet?

Paul: Of course.

Children’s Day

In the States we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but in China they celebrate Children’s Day. Shane English Yuxi marked the occasion by cancelling classes last Sunday and having and an offsite party.

The event was held at a hot springs park near Yuxi.

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Considering it was a highly structured event that was put together by an outside firm, I had a surprisingly good time. The games we played were fun and inventive and involved the adults as well as the kids. There was some attempt at moralizing, however, about respecting your parents and keeping yourself “clean.”

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One segment I enjoyed was the sending of wishes into the sky. Each group of a dozen people got a paper hot-air balloon and some traditional Chinese Post-It notes. We wrote our wishes on the Post-Its and stuck them to the balloon. Inside the balloon was a light metal frame, at the base of which was a small square of paraffin. When our wishes were all written, we lit the paraffin on fire. The flame warmed the air inside the balloon. After about five minutes, it was hot enough to fly and we let it go. It rose up into the sky and flew away in the breeze.

There were other people at the hot springs, including a rather ragged troop of what I assume was some kind of JROTC organization. Somehow the plastic guns and the red Converse All-Stars made the junior soldiers look less than fearsome.

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After a shaokao (barbeque) lunch, I excused myself and headed back to town. I had a plane to catch to Kuala Lumpur later that day.

Starting the Goodbyes

I have just one more month left of teaching here in China at Shane English Yuxi. I’ve already begun the process of handing off my students to other teachers. Today was my last class with some eight-year-olds I have grown very fond of. I wish them all well.

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I’ve been assisted by a wonderful TA, Angela, who really deserves most the the credit for getting these kids up to snuff.

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Memorizing Major Chinese Dynasties

Who’s she? She’s my sister.

The assignment given to my students after they finished their final exam at Shane English Yuxi was to draw a picture and write an English sentence or two on it. One of my nine-year-olds, Vicky, is a bit of an over-achiever who loves to draw. Instead of doing just one picture, she drew ten. I think her artwork and design sense is amazing, especially considering her age.

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Final Exams in Two Classes

Students in two more of my classes at Shane English Yuxi had their final exams last week — and now I have a stack of tests to grade.

My twelve-year-olds have come a long way. Months ago, this was my most challenging class because of the widely varying ability levels among the students. But on the oral test, everyone rose to the occasion. Summer, my TA in this class, deserves most of the credit for that.

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The other class I tested was a group of wonderful eight-year-olds. We have a lot of laughs in this class, but there is serious learning going on as well. Emma, my TA in this class, was just terrific and enjoyed working with these students as much as I did.

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Class Portraits

I’ve taught this primary school class for almost eight months. Many of these students were among the first I had at Shane English Yuxi. Yesterday was our last review class before the final exam, so I took a few pictures. Sad to say, once this course is completed, the class will likely be split and I will lose many of my favorite students. But while they were together, they were the class that always made me the happiest.

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Goodbye to My Favorite Class

This bunch of twelve-year-olds has been my favorite class at Shane English Yuxi.

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Tess, Michael, Windays, Jack, Ewan, Windays, Nancy and Rose are bright, funny, verbal, and hard-working. They all aced the end-of-course final exam without difficulty.

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Fortunately, I won’t have to miss my students. Most of them have enrolled in the next-level course, which I am teaching. That class will be run very differently from the drill-based courses I usually teach. It’s more of a roundtable seminar designed to get students to express themselves more confidently and fluently. It’s going to be a challenge for all of us, but one I am very much looking forward to.