Questions

It was the thing Steve Jobs dreamed of: first graders in China Skyping a farmer in America. My friend Fran agreed to be my Show and Tell exhibit and answer questions about her farm in Indiana over eight thousand miles away. Thanks to the tech guys, Fran showed up Thursday morning without a VISA yet.

The first graders had written questions earlier in the week to ask Franny Farmer. I suggested asking about her donkey that eats candy, her llama named Obama, her horse, cats or even the kitten she once had that broke its tail.

So what question did all of the students ask?

“We think the donkey stepped on it.” Fran smiled.

Next question.

Hi, I’m Pedro and I’m six and I’m from Brazil (he’s the kid who licks the glue sticks). How did your kitten break its tail?”

Fran smiled. “I just answered that.”

That was followed by ten other first graders who asked the same thing, except for Arthur. He wanted to know if Fran had a robot horse.

It’s funny the things that are so important for a first grader to know. How a kitten broke its tail. Who runs the fastest. Who’s the tallest. Who has seen a panda bear.

Questions from third graders are harder to answer.

Erika, a bubbly Russian version of Pippi Long-stocking is moving away. The rest of use made a surprise farewell movie. Here’s Steve the Oreo cookie (the class mascot) saying goodbye:

After watching the movie, Jared, the class’s top speller, had a question “Mrs. Mac, why did that movie make me so sad?”

A bit harder to answer.

Later that week, I was hit with another question. This time, a real doozy from David, a senior. When he was my student in 2011, David could barely understand how to make a peanut butter sandwich. Now he’s applying to Ivy League schools. I can’t look at him without imagining a bit of Skippy on his face.

“Mrs. Mac, can I ask you a question for my world view class?”

“Sure.”

“What is the purpose of God?”

The question about how the kitten broke its tail was a lot easier. “I’ve never been asked that.” If God were to have a purpose means God is a creation, not a Creator. It fell in the category of questions such as: can God could create a mountain so big He can’t move it?

I tried rattling off a quick answer before the lunch bell rang.“You stumped me, David. But I do believe in God because to believe in God is to believe in the power of the imagination…that anything is possible…including a ten year old boy not knowing a lick of English now applying at Ivy League Schools.

“Thanks, Mrs. Mac.”

I went home feeling good. All of my students’ questions were answered yet I had a few of my own. Who decided the order of the alphabet? Can you cry underwater? Do penguins have knees? Why is the cereal called Grape Nuts if it contains neither grapes or nuts? Where does love go when it leaves a relationship? Does it turn into hate or is it recycled like glass bottles? The same with the fat that you lose: does someone else find it? And did Jesus ever learn how to swim and if so, why? Finally, the hardest question of all:

Where to find Jell-o in Kunming, China for Thanksgiving?

JelloInChina

Answer?

At Carrefour next to the Russian cheesecake mix and gluttonous noodles.

Questions are good, even if they can’t be answered.

 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29

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Old World Meets High Tech

When I went to a Chinese Wet market today, I stood out. It wasn’t because I was a dà bí zi 大鼻子, big nose American, but because I didn’t use my phone to pay. No one uses cash anymore.

The Peanut-butter lady couldn’t make change, so I had to wait until there was another cash carrying shopper. The blue sign under the Stonehenge Peanut grinder is what you scan with your phone. The black stuff next to the peanuts is ground black sesame seeds.

This girl was making the Chinese version of Rice Krispies treats and took payments with App! Crackle! Pop!


The line for noodles (Mixian) would have been twice as slow if they didn’t accept payments with phones.

Luckily, the potato chip maker still took cash, unlike the Vegetable Man behind him. (You can see his little green sign).

There’s a few of us left in China who still use cash.


What’s WeChat? It’s the Chinese Facebook with a payment application that is accepted in more places than American Express. About a billion more.

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K.I.A-cademy Awards

I’ve tried a lot of things to get my 7th grade ESL students to use their vocabulary. These native Chinese speakers would rather memorize the longest sentence in a novel, from William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom (over 1200 words), than lose face mispronouncing a word. And yes, some want to take on that challenge.

However, my middle schoolers got excited making movie posters and trailers based on historical events of their choice. The five nominees are:

The Bombing of Dresden, a heartbreaking drama

The Great Casualties, starring Taylor Swift

 The Irate Holy Cow (no animals were killed during the production)

The Inevitable Tragedy on the Titanic featuring Mr. Bean and Zombies

And the Irate Fighting on the Titanic, the untold story 

Now for their award winning performances… 

Students might have taken creative license with their ideas. But hey, it’s a vocabulary class, not world history. And I bet you can spot some of the words.  The KI-Academy wants to thank these websites for making these projects possible:

FreeSound.org , the ultimate source for free easy-to-download sound effects.

BigHugeLabs.com  a free website to create movie posters, magazine covers and other fun projects

And a special thanks to Ben Bin, the IT guy who installed  software on the student laptops and Ding Ding, in the art department, for making an Oscar out of an old Christmas ornament, spray paint and water bottle. 

Please cast your vote below!

 

Hanoi: Fast and Furious

 

Hanoi is like that coworker who drank one too many cups of coffee.

 

Chaotic, noisy, highly caffeinated with French frou-frou around the fringes with an old Asian soul.

I went to Hanoi to unwind which is was impossible as going to the Willy Wonka Chocolate factory to lose weight.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Hanoi from the dark roast in espresso sized cups to the insane traffic on the maze of narrow streets.

I hopped around different sights starting with the Hoa Lo Prison affectionately called the Hanoi Hilton by the American POWs who stayed there, Senator John McCain being one of them. I’m not a big war history buff but the Vietnam War made a big impression on me as a kid.

My father would light up a Kent and sit me down to watch Walter Cronkite while waiting for my Mattel thing maker to heat up to make creepy crawlers.

“This is important,” he’d say followed by, “Now don’t electrocute yourself.”

Then, at the County Fait, there was a free exhibit about the Vietnam  War in a small trailer next to the candy apple cart. They used GI Joe dolls to reenact scenes in dioramas, demonstrating  the booby traps and underground tunnels.

This isn’t Jesus’ tomb. It’s a sewer tunnel that a few brave souls crawled through in an escape attempt. Just like Shaw Shank Redemption.

Anyway, I wrote Senator McCain a long overdue thank you letter. His sense of humor kept  other inmates going. I hope he can read my handwriting.

The other thing I wanted to see in Hanoi was the Ho Chi Minh Mausoelum.

 

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoelum is the Mecca of Vietnam. All citizens will make a Pilgrimage to this place, just like when you grow up in Michigan yo  visit the Kellogg’s factory. The crowds are massive so there are  two lines to view the body. One is for the Vietnamese. It rivals the lines for the good rides at Disneyworld, filled with crumpled over war survivors and elementary students in matching T-shirts who are more interested in the hot dogs at the end of the tour than what they are seeing.


Then there is the line for tourists. It is shorter, just sixteen minutes according to my Huawei phone timer. I waited in line next to a double of Yao Min (the Chinese Michael Jordan) who had to yank his shorts down to make them cover his knees. There is a dress code for most temples and sacred sites in Asia.

We entered the dark memorial for a quick glance at a waxy body glowing under bullet proof glass guarded by four soldiers in Man from Glad white uniforms. It was creepy cool.

No talking, no pictures and no gum. And one more “no” at the viewing:

No Vietnamese.

My over active imagination went into overdrive.  Were there two lines and two entrances to the mausoleum because there were actually two viewing rooms, one for the nationals with the real body while the rest of us saw a Madam Tussaud’s replica? It could have been a trick box like a David Copperfield magic shows, but on a large scale. I sound a bit like Carrie Mathison on Homeland but who knows.

That was the all of the Hanoi culture I could handle. I wandered around and ate and window shopped and discovered those big jugs with the kitty aren’t water but Vietnamese moonshine.

I also passed up a trim at the Hanoi City Clippers.

As usual, I was enamored with the trees. Gnarly roots that crack through the sidewalks, the stories of what they have witnessed through the years making them stronger.

The same holds true with street food. If it doesn’t kill you…



So Hanoi is a lot like Parisian bistros but with plastic stools instead of wicker chairs and fried chicken heads instead of stinky cheese.

And darn good coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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