• Memoir,  Satire

    Subversions into the Green Hills of Songpan

    As a young boy, I only had two ambitions. The first was of being a cowboy in the Wild West, riding lonely mountain trails, eating peyote, consulting Navajo shamans, and pilfering forgotten ghost towns. The other was to go to China like Marco Polo exploring its wilds and cities along the Silk Road in search of the real General Tso, the great Qing Dynasty soldier-statesman made famous by Chinese takeout menus the world over. But never in my wildest, childish hallucinations could I have imagined that I would discover an amalgam of these in reality, as if a chapter in the story of my life became a chimerical tale of…

  • Traveling

    Indochina Expedition 2010: Eve of Departure

    My first semester in China as an English teacher was over.  I would leave at dawn for Vietnam on Monday, January 25, 2010.  Now it was time to go and see if I had what it takes to travel for real.  This would be the first time traveling alone in the developing world without a gun or a posse.  I not only didn’t speak the languages, but lacked any mathematical ability whatsoever.  I knew that I was poor by American standards, but in Laos, I was a millionaire. Trouble lurked ahead when I would try to calculate the cost of a soda or a room.   If I was a…

  • Teaching

    A Day in the Life of a Fake Teacher in the Real China

    One day I found myself squealing like a pig in front of children.  I pushed my nose up, grunted, and oinked.  We were playing a simplified version of charades.  It was a Sunday afternoon in the bleak of January.  And this being China, it was bleaker than bleak.  The dean of my university had loaned me out to a private high school as a “favor.” My latest rendition caught the students’ attention.  Girls stopped texting and boys ceased roughhousing long enough to look up and shout “pig!” in unison.  I asked the teacher if they’ve played this game before, adding, “They’re very confident.”  Either the blood of Shakespeare coursed through…

  • Podcasts

    Understanding Thoreau

    In this literature class I help Chinese university students decipher passages in Thoreau’s essay, “Reading,” pointing out that it may take multiple visits to his works — a journey over a span of years — to gain more understanding. I also answer a student’s question into why Thoreau thought reading the classics, preferably in the original Greek and Roman, was so important.

  • Teaching

    Back to School: Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, Boom!

    They were a tough crowd. I introduced my first two literature classes to my concept of learning as a journey. At first their faces were impenetrable masks. Then I told them, “Even in America we know about Chair Mao’s famous Long March, and the founding of the People’s Republic of China.” Their faces lit up with pride. That’s when I knew my students understood me. “So this is an honor for me to be here on the China’s 60th anniversary, and be your guide on another journey. And it is an honor to be part of your education in the beginning of the Chinese Century. Of course, this journey will…