My love affair with TED

Lately I’ve gotten back into watching TED videos and I had a few I wanted to share. Despite being a humanities major, I have an unquenchable love of science, and these two lectures do a great job at explaining cutting edge science, and how it informs our human experience.

The first video is a lecture a primatologist gave at Stanford University about what makes humans unique from other animals, and he is both inspiring and entertaining. (skip the intro and start about 5 minutes in).

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The second video is from a neurobiologist, who talks about some of the most interesting breakthroughs in the understanding of the human brain, and how the study of the mind is teaching us more and more how connected people really are.

I love both these speakers so much, because they are both humble about how little humanity differs from other animals, but also reverent of the infinite potential we have in that small margin of difference. Their message is that we are all connected, and though we may feel we can’t individually make a difference in the world, we are morally convicted to try. Watch and be inspired!


Today I finally found out my score on the HSK Chinese proficiency test, which I have been freaking out about for two months because I wasn’t sure I passed.

Jeff forced me to go down to the HSK office and face the music today, and he was very smug when I found out I scored a 10 out of 11. Sweet!

New semester, same over-commitment addiction

Although I’m entering my last semester of college, it almost feels like I’m already out of school. I only need to complete two units in order to graduate from UC Davis, and my major and minor are complete.

Oddly enough, because of my high language ability, most of my classmates are in a similar situation. They are mostly graduating seniors, so this semester the bulk of their academic energy will be focused on completing their senior thesis papers. Accordingly, classes are lighter this semester, leaving me with an easily fillable “hole.” In case you don’t know me well, hole is written as “hole” because of my over-commitment addiction, since any normal person would probably be perfectly happy to settle for a lighter classload and more time to absorb material and relax.

Despite my promises to the contrary last semester, I’ve again taken on quite a load this semester.

I’m planning to take advanced writing, contemporary literature, investigation current topics, advanced Chinese reading and maybe a Chinese idiom class.

I’ll be studying for the HSK test, which will be vital to me in finding work. The HSK measures your Chinese language ability with multiple choice, essay, interview and listening comprehension. I’ve heard that Koreans start studying for it in elementary school. I’m. so. scared.

I’m currently reviewing a book for my old publishing house, Berrett-Koehler, which I LOVE and puts out really great books on business, current affairs and self-help topics. I can’t really tell you what the current book I’m reading for them is, but I think it would be very interesting to many of my readers. I previously worked a bit on B-K books The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, Crunch (my personal favorite), Prescription for Survival and Flight Plan.

I also just got a freelance job through one of my professors out of the blue. I’m correcting textbooks designed to teach Americans to speak Mandarin. So far it’s pretty interesting, and the company seems like a great work environment. Plus, I get to work from home, which is perfect with my schedule.

I will also be starting an internship soon at The Beijinger, which is a well-known expat magazine in Beijing. It sounds like it will be a lot of fun, and of course a lot of work I’m guessing.

And finally, I’m hoping to find time to do some volunteering at NGOs in Beijing.

Yup. I think I’m going to be really bored this semester.

A lapse in contentment

This week I’ve been in a rather sour mood.

I’m tired from work. I’m tired from school. I have insomnia born from boredom and apathy, which contributes more to my discontent with work and school.

I have a starving feeling, and I just realized what it is.

I haven’t done much intellectual for a few months now.

It’s weird — I came to China to get a better education, but I’m finding that the education here is not up to my standards. It’s all about memorization, there’s no creativity, and most of my teachers expect students to be lazy, so they have no standards. I’m bored already. Back home I was delving into complex literary theory and discussing the intricacies of word placement in classical Chinese texts. Here I’m memorizing vocabulary.

The most valuable learning I’ve done here has been outside the classroom, in markets and on trains and atop mountains.

I think I’ll crack open a English book tonight and take a run tomorrow. Both my mind and body feel sludgey and undefined.

Yeah, I’m a nerd

I am taking six classes: advanced Chinese, basics of writing, Classical Chinese, classical Chinese literature, modern Chinese literature, contemporary Chinese literature. All of these classes have a lot of new vocabulary and the teachers tend to speak quickly during lectures, so the pace of learning new material is pretty fast.

I’m not really into technology, and I normally kind of like using my beat up little pocket paperback dictionary. However, everyone else in my class has an electronic dictionary, and after the past few days boy do I know why! It’s really hard to keep up just using a paperback dictionary, because to look up a Chinese word you don’t know takes several steps.

Last night I finally bought an electronic dictionary, and I am in love. First of all, it was on sale and was way less than any other dictionary I’ve seen here. But it has more than enough features for me. From what I could tell it was way less money than the others because it doesn’t have a color screen. Oh no! How will I ever learn without colored dictionary entries?!

The saleswoman did make a very convincing pitch for the updated model from the same company; that dictionary could translate whole sentences. She showed it off by writing 我现在在物美, which came out in English as “I am thing pretty.” It should have said, “I am at WuMei right now.” Needless to say, I had little faith in it’s sentence translation to begin with, and had even less after a demonstration. That dictionary was about 500 kuai more expensive, so after long deliberation, I went with the cheapy.

It comes with several different dictionaries in it, including a Chinese idiom dictionary and a CLASSICAL CHINESE dictionary!!! Yeah, in case you can’t tell, I’m really stoked about that. Having an easier way to look up classical Chinese words will cut my homework time down by a lot, and it will make reading classical Chinese for fun much closer within reach. It also has a bunch of stuff I’ll never use like games and calendars and whatnot.

One of the coolest things is that it comes with a stylus, so I can write a character and it will look it up for me. This is really useful when I have no clue how a character is pronounced and I don’t want to go through a multi-step process to look it up. Anyway, I used it a bunch in class today and was very pleased with it.

High school dramz

Sometimes I feel like I’m the new kid in high school. There are school bells that tell you when to start and end class. Everyone in the same grade level has all their classes together. We don’t really get to pick our classes or class times. We get up ridiculously early. The teachers don’t expect too much. There are cliques.

The other day, I went to a new class. When I got there the room was mostly full of students who already knew each other and were talking rowdily. Being the somewhat shy girl I am, I went to a nice looking girl and asked if I could sit next to her. Without so much as a hint of charity, she said “seat’s taken,” a la Forest Gump. Not to be deterred, I sat nearby, only to watch that seat remain empty throughout the entire 90-minute class.

On Friday, I tried to go to my 8 a.m. class. First I went to the room I thought it was in, but another class was in there. Realizing I had written the wrong room number down, I ran to the department office and checked the bulletin board. To my surprise, it said the same room as the room with the wrong class in it. Realizing something was awry, and that nobody was working at that hour who could help me, I trooped home and took a nap. When I asked some classmates about it in the next class, they all sort of laughed and explained that the room had been switched, and nobody had corrected the posted room number.

It’s strange. I don’t feel bummed out by these high school snubs and mishaps. I kinda think it’s funny.

Bass Ackwards Education

While talking to some of my new foreign friends from school, I learned something truly mystifying. If you are an undergraduate foreign student at BNU, you are subject to many rules about which classes you can take, when you can take them, and so on. This seems pretty logical, after all, they want to make sure that the foreign students go to the right level of classes and get a fair shot at a good learning experience.

However, one of the rules is that you must take three years of classes within the school for foreign students. You see, foreign students usually cannot take classes with regular university students. Instead, they take language classes, of which there are more or less four years’ worth. Now, when you get to the university, everyone takes a placement test and starts classes accordingly. You’d think that placing very highly would ultimately be good. In my mind, if you placed highly enough, you could skip out on the language classes, which are kind of boring, and start off taking real university courses. And wouldn’t that be a great way to really get fluent?

That’s where the three-year rule rears it’s nasty head. If you place too highly, you run out of foreign student courses before three years is up. In order to fulfill the requirement, you have to take classes from a lower level. Again.

That’s right.

One girl in my fourth-year class is in this situation. Next year she’ll be taking second-year Chinese.

Ok, so I know that really, when it comes to languages, reviewing can only help. But a whole year in a lower-level class seems like torture. I can’t understand why they have such inflexible rules, and why they seem to try as hard as possible to keep foreign students from taking classes within the other university departments.

Luckily, I am an exchange student, so I can do as I jolly well please since I’ll only be a pain to them for one year. Life just isn’t fair, is it?

Shaping young, privleged minds

I started my teaching job on Saturday. Yes, I work the weekends, which I’m not so pleased about. BUT, it’s a really good opportunity. I’m teaching elective conversational English classes at the Experimental School attached to BNU, which is among the top middle and high schools in China.

My Saturday class starts at 8:50 a.m. (oof) and is an hour-and-a-half long. It has three students, three girls and a boy who are all between 11 and 13. My Sunday class is from 10:30 to noon and has six students — four girls and two boys — who are all about 12 except for one tiny nine-year-old girl. Every single student is very smart and their English is pretty advanced. I’m not supposed to speak Chinese during class and they do a very good job following along even when the whole lesson is in English. The students are actually so bright that it’s challenging thinking of games and activities to keep them busy — just following the book doesn’t cut it.

I also have two classes during the week from 5:30 to 7 p.m. with one student. I start that class tomorrow, and I expect it to be intense. I heard that my student plans to go abroad to the US for high school, so he must be quite smart and motivated to work hard and fast, so I don’t know what to expect yet from him.

The job can be challenging, but I think it will be a good experience. I’ve never had to teach children — or really deal with children — before.

The daily grind

Today was my first day back from the national holiday break, which for the record was a week off from school one week into the school year. It was a little weird.I decided that I couldn’t stand being in the easy classes any more, so today I went to the next level up, which is pretty dang near the top of what they offer for foreign students. The class I went to today was a “basic” writing class which is actually pretty challenging, as it requires writing about two essays per class period, one in class and one for homework. I really want to get my writing up to snuff, so it seems like a good fit. I’m also planning on taking two classical Chinese classes, one modern literature and one contemporary literature class. Everything will hopefully work out and I have until Wednesday to figure it out and decide for sure. Wish me luck!

The academic masochism begins

Today I more or less settled my class schedule with seven classes. All the classes I’ve been to so far have fewer than 10 people, and more people are thinking of switching out of the class, so I may have a really good chance of setting the pace for the classes I’m in. I’m taking an advanced conversation class, advanced reading and writing, classical Chinese, modern Chinese literature, classical Chinese poetry, linguistics of Chinese and newspaper reading. It’s a lot, but I decided to stay in a level that might be a little bit below my level so that I could handle more breadth. The reading and writing class seems a little easy, and the classical Chinese class will be relatively easy, but it’s still classical Chinese, which is hard no matter what. I’m almost out of advanced classes to take anyway, so I figured I might as well take these lower level classes this quarter, get the material down really well, and then just take university classes next quarter.


I also might (very likely) have an English teaching job at the prestigious middle school associated with BNU. It’s nice having everything fall into place, but I’m (as always) going to be a busy bee this semester.