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Guest Blog: Deborah Enright

Hello from Zhangzhou

It’s 2pm and I’m sitting quietly in my apartment at the Liren Sino American Cooperative School in Zhangzhou City, Fujian Province, China. It has been a busy and enlightening six weeks and I’ve finally found an opportunity to pause and reflect on my time in this country. Things have been a bit of a whirlwind since I arrived to begin my teaching position on December 13th and some of the events and experiences I’ve had in this short time span could not have been imagined as I waited for my work permit and visa approval over the course of several months in the U.S. 

I have traveled to quite a few places in the last 35 years, but nothing can be compared to the life I am experiencing in China. Fujian province is a semi-tropical environment, similar in latitude to Key West, Florida. December can be rainy and cold. Fortunately I experienced mostly the latter. Being a New Englander, I am used to the cold.  But something that was totally unexpected was that in Zhangzhou and most towns and cities in the southeastern part of China, there is no heat in buildings or homes. Ever the adaptable and comfort-seeking American, off I went to Walmart (yes, there are Walmarts in China) with my interpreter and guide to buy a portable electric heater for my bedroom. A large enough room to set up a small living space with a desk and reading area, I quickly settled in.

The pace of life in a private Chinese school is quite different to the United States.  First of all, class sizes are much larger with an average of 60 students per room. In a way, I am very fortunate with my class size because the Sino-American, dual diploma program is brand new and not yet well known to the school population of 7,000. I have 15 sophomores who I meet with six days a week to teach all aspects of language arts, including pronunciation and English literature. Students start their day at 7am and end it at 10pm, with a two and a half hour rest break in the middle of the day. At first it seemed odd to halt the wheels of school life like this each day, but now, this too is part of my daily rhythm.

I arrived at the school gate the evening of the 13th to the warm greetings and excited faces of my students. I had conducted weekly pronunciation classes with them on Skype so I was a little familiar with their names and faces, but their presence and enthusiasm made me feel immediately welcomed, as did the staff and administration. Everyone went out of their way to make sure that I realized I was now part of the ‘school family.’ I have since come to understand and appreciate the importance the Chinese people place on the concept of family in all aspects of their daily life. Once you are a member of their community you are treated with respect, cared for and included in all important events.

And one of those important events occurred shortly after my arrival. Referred to simply as the ‘New Year’s Performance,’ I found out it was to take place in the new gymnasium/theater and I was to be part of the entertainment. I said to myself, “Oh, what the heck, why not.” Then found out I would also be addressing the entire student population of 7,000 with a New Year’s greeting in Chinese and performing alongside my students on stage over the course of two evenings. My students, being typical teenagers who love pop music, chose the songs that we would sing before I arrived. So there I was onstage, microphone in hand, choreography memorized, singing Carly Rae Jepson’s, It’s Always a Good Time. As it turned out, the performances and rehearsals were a tremendous bonding opportunity for me and my students. They saw that I wasn’t afraid to laugh at myself and to stand alongside them to be part of something very special that they cared about. And suddenly, it wasn’t so hard to get them to stand up and speak out in class. We had learned to trust each other up on that stage and that spirit has become a part of everything we do together, in class and out. 

Am I still adjusting to eating with chopsticks, avoiding the motorbikes that drive on city sidewalks and acknowledging the countless stares I get when I walk down a street? Yes. But I am also feeling like I’ve come to a very special place and am in the midst of a very special culture that has as much to teach me as I them. It was a long time coming to get here, and the administrative paperwork that needed to be completed was like nothing I had ever experienced before, but I am happy I made the decision to come to China and I know my time here will be memorable.

Deborah Enright  (En Di)

We are thrilled to welcome Deborah Enright to The Reading Room Blog. Deborah is an American teacher currently living in Fujian Province as she teaches in a dual diploma program. We will be featuring her updates as she settles into life in modern China. 

Guest Blog: Video blogging in Shanghai

Guest Blogger: Ben Wang

I had the pleasure of traveling with Suzanne and administrators from four other New England schools on a delegation to China in November. I was very excited to be there for my school (Vermont Commons School in Burlington), and I wanted to share the excitement. I made two videos that were shown at our Morning Meetings while I was still in China (I Skyped in for questions for the first one), and I showed the third one after I got home. I uploaded the videos to Tudou, a Chinese YouTube-like site, since YouTube is blocked by the government in China.

I made this first one in Shanghai, which was spectacular bordering on surreal under the influence of jetlag. The second one began with early morning scenes on the Bund in Shanghai and continued on to Hangzhou and our new sister schools. Being a teacher, interacting with Chinese students in their classrooms was a great highlight of the trip. The third and final video showed more of Shanghai, this time a bit off the tourists’ beaten path.

I made many meaning personal connections during the trip, with teachers, parents, and students, and I am deeply grateful and excited for the opportunity to build lasting relationships. The journey reaffirmed my school’s mission for global immersion for our students and my belief that increased intercultural communication engenders hope for the world.

On our recent fall delegation, we had the pleasure of taking a group of New England educators to Shanghai, Hangzhou and the greater Zhejiang region. The group included Ben Wang, Director of International Programs at Vermont Commons School. Ben is an example of an educator totally in tune with the online nature of China's new generation. He created a set of videos about the trip and then uploaded them to the school's Tudou channel. We encourage schools to capture the extensive reach that online content can afford in China. Check out the video links, and be inspired! 

Guest blog: Claudy Tu

A lot of people joined us for the second Chinese Language Roundtable in November. It was a beautiful day, sunny and a little chilly. This is typical early winter weather in mid-November. Time flies when the conversation flows. As we say in Chinese, “Huà xiá zi dǎ kāi le (话匣子打开了). The literal translation is “chatterbox open,” and the phrase actually means that the conversation was pleasant and there was so much to say.

Diàn cí lú电磁炉, Induction Cooker

One of our guests today was a teacher from Confucius Institute. He invited us to visit the upcoming USM International Food festival. He mentioned that they were still looking for a larger cooking pot to cook dumplings in the dining room, as the closest stove in the kitchen was too far, and that they would lose the opportunity to demonstrate cooking dumplings if they could not find one. Many Chinese families use Diàn cí lú电磁炉 as a substitute cooker, but he was wondering why it seemed that he could not find one here. It is similar to the induction cooking stovetop seen in some American kitchens. However, unlike a large electric cooking surface, it’s designed as a single-induction-zone cooker with a built-in digital controller for multiple cooking options that is easy to move around everywhere in the house (as long as electricity is available). You can either put it on the dining table or use it in the bedroom or a dormitory room with no kitchen. When I was a college student in Taiwan, this was a very popular cooker that everyone had in the apartment we rented. Additionally, it’s perfect for a group of people having the hot pot dinner together!

Zāi péi 栽培 vs. Péi xùn 培训, Cultivate vs. Training

The conversation then moved to the topic of learning languages and new cultures, and growing as a person. In English, we would say “train” a person or a dog while saying “cultivate” a plant. It depends on whether the object in the sentence is animate or inanimate. In Chinese, both Zāi péi and Péi xùn can mean “to train a person.” The difference is that Péi xùn is usually used to describe a short-term and intensive training process, while Zāi péi indicates a longer process of educating a person and fostering skills. 

Guà yáng tóu mài gǒu ròu挂羊头卖狗肉, Bait-and-switch

The topic of food was still in the air, and we talked about how sometimes advertising can be misleading - how sometimes a restaurant will release incredible looking photography, but you find something very different when you arrive – “bait-and-switch.” It is when one says one thing and does another. In Chinese, there is a popular phrase that has a similar meaning, guà yáng tóu mài gǒu ròu挂羊头卖狗, and it’s read as “He hangs up a sheep's head at the storefront and sells dog meat.” However, bait-and-switch is very commonly used in advertisements, and it’s more like a strategy of pushing a substitute or similar products or services while the advertised goods may still be available. When you point out that someone is doing guà yáng tóu mài gǒu ròu, it means the seller is cheating, and he/she does not provide product A but offers product B that is completely different than product A.

As 1pm arrived, and we all left the sunlit offices overlooking Congress Street, we were ready to go and feast on the amazing food choices that Portland has on offer. We hope to see you at the next roundtable, scheduled for December 6th. 

This week's blog features guest blogger, Claudy Tu, who was born in Taiwan and has lived in west Pennsylvania for several years before moving to Portland Maine in the summer of 2012.

Guest Blog: So Much Pun!

The Chinese have so many puns and play on words. Nearly every Chinese word has multiple homophones, two or multiple words that sound similar but have different meanings, like "hare" and "hair". The phrase 雙關語 shuāngguānyǔ means puns with double or multiple meanings. Chinese Roundtable made a last minute venue change to a vegan restaurant on November 1st...and the location inspired a 雙關語 shuāngguānyǔ!  A regular customer can be one who either frequently visits or has visited a long time...same pronunciation, different words and meanings, but both are regular customers, chángkè.客 (frequent customer) or 客 (long time customer) . 
 
Many puns 雙關語 shuāngguānyǔ are found in Chinese New Years customs. It didn't go particularly well with the environs of the vegan restaurant, but someone pointed out that fish is served at New Years because fish, 鱼 yú,  sounds like the word for abundance "余". Nián nián yǒu yú - 年年有余 "abundance every year" can also be 年年有鱼 "fish every year". Regions where fresh fish is not readily available, wooden fish may be displayed at the table to represent abundance for the coming year. 
 
On this day, our Roundtable became loud at times... so animated were our conversations and laughter. One married couple shared the challenges of immigration because they often travel between China and Maine. They had to prove to immigration that they had joint bank accounts and property. Because one was a US citizen and one was a Chinese citizen, they could not hold joint accounts or property in China nor here. I wonder if the Chinese have a equivalent term for "Catch 22", a situation in which a desired solution is impossible because of a set of inherently illogical rules or conditions?
 
I went online to search for Chinese puns, and found that the internet is changing Chinese wordplay. It is changing Chinese language, and is used for getting around censorship. For example, Tiananmen Square and 6/4, the date the incident occurred, are both censored online. It is now referred to as the "eight times eight incident", 8x8=64. I cannot help but be amazed at the ingenuity of humans and our capacity to out-create and circumvent rules and regulations. Do we really need to bump up against a wall to circumvent it, or can we just create and change anything at will and choice?
 
Henry Ford said, "whether you think you can, or you think you can't...you are right."  What else is possible that we have not yet considered?
 

Karen Morency was born in Taiwan, emigrating to Newfoundland at the age of 10, and then moved to Maine. Her love for the Chinese language and culture was renewed when she began teaching her children and other children in the 1990’s. Her East-meets-West personality is expressed in her alternative healing modalities, qigong, and tai chi. 

The Chinese Language Table meets at Fox Intercultural Consulting’s headquarters in Portland on the first and third Friday the month. Starting at noon, we spend the hour catching up on news and in-depth discussions in Mandarin. 

Guest Blog: Using Cultural Idioms with Awareness

 
Our first gathering after the summer hiatus took place at the new offices of Fox Intercultural overlooking Congress Street near Monument Square. We felt like China's great emperors as we looked down at the passing people of downtown Portland through floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
 
As soon as the conversation began, we were entranced with Bob Poole - a Portland resident and former Vice-President of the US-China Business Council - who carries a stack a index cards full of Chinese idioms (chéngyǔ 成语 ) wherever he goes. His way of utilizing the time spent in lines at the store or bank to learn Chinese idioms, inspired us all. 
 
His most ardent advice about using Chinese idioms?
 
Always verify the application of an idiom with a native Chinese speaker first, because you can easily misconstrue its intended meaning. He shared what happened at a talk in the United States in June 1989, just days after the Tiananmen Square incident, when reports were flying around wildly and facts were still being sorted out. In his attempt to placate the crowd, as no one was clear on what exactly happened, he said that coming to any conclusions would be like searching for fish in muddy waters or "hún shuǐ mō yú 混水摸鱼"... you can't fish out the facts since you cannot see clearly in muddy waters. After his talk, a Chinese person explained to him that the actual meaning for that idiom of "To fish in troubled water" was to "take advantage of a crisis for personal gain." Not his intended meaning at all!
 
Here are a few chéngyǔ 成语
 
四面楚歌 sì miàn chǔ gē  is literally "songs of Chu from all sides" that comes from a war strategy that when surrounding a group of Chu soldiers, the Han enemies sang Chu folk songs, sinking the Chu's into homesickness and worry... that the enemy enlisted Chu's, thus defeating and annihilating them. This idiom refers to a helpless and critical situation, surrounded by the enemy on all sides. 
 
鞍前马后 ān qián mǎ hòu  "in front of a saddle clean up after a horse," meaning to take care of things for important people, to serve them well...and sometimes, one also cleans up the mess a horse can leave behind. 
 
  guà yáng tóu , mài gǒu ròu, which means "to hang a sheep's head while selling dog meat"... false advertising.  
 
吞吞吐吐 tun tun tu tu "swallow swallow spit spit," used to describe stammering, which can also indicate an unwillingness to answer. 
 
We wondered if the younger generation use idioms (chéngyǔ 成语 ), if they are as popular as with the older generation of Chinese. In my own family life, idioms are coming out of my 90-year-old mother more and more... like her treasure trove of wisdom and experience is opening up with age and spilling over... and she is hoping that some of it sticks to me; hoping that these idioms will help me to understand human nature and behavior so I can have more peace in relationships and in my world. 
 

Karen Morency was born in Taiwan, emigrating to Newfoundland at the age of 10, and then moved to Maine. Her love for the Chinese language and culture was renewed when she began teaching her children and other children in the 1990’s. Her East-meets-West personality is expressed in her alternative healing modalities, qigong, and tai chi. 

The Chinese Language Table meets at Fox Intercultural Consulting’s headquarters in Portland on the first and third Friday the month. Starting at noon, we spend the hour catching up on news and in-depth discussions in Mandarin. 

Guest Blog: A Tangshan Adventure

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to venture to the booming industrial city of Tangshan in northeastern China. I had the pleasure of presenting to a group of more than 30 high school students about my approach for getting accepted into top-tier U.S. colleges and universities.

Upon my arrival at Hebei Tangshan Foreign Language School, I mistook it for a massive, international business complex. Imagine my surprise to learn that more than 8,000 students make it their home. Introductions with the school director were fairly brief and I was soon moved to a classroom, an environment I assumed I would be more accustomed to.

As I walked into the room, a nervous shiver shot up my spine. Fairly new to public speaking, there I was – exposed – the “Lao Wai” (foreigner) in the room. To my surprise however, I found myself soon relaxing into the talk as I noticed how amazingly engaged my audience was. With each question I asked, hands fired up. Every student was ready and attentive; a few brave souls even dared to ask me direct questions in English.

The drive I saw in these students was humbling. The more time I spent engaging the class, the more clearly their sheer work ethic became apparent. Many of these students, living hundreds of miles away from home spend six days a week, from dawn to well beyond dusk, pouring over their books. As our conversation progressed from “academic rigor” to the newly desired “well-rounded individual,” questions began popping up left and right.

As the worried expressions on their tired faces grew more and more apparent, it started to dawn on me how lucky I have been to have received a well-rounded, Maine state education. The stereotype of the brilliant, book-smart Chinese student is not far off from what I’ve seen in my experiences here in China. Yet I’ve been left to question whether or not this full-proof, tried and true method of remote memorization leads to great accomplishments beyond the “Gao Kao” (Chinese National College Entrance Exam).

The differences between ‘individualized’ American culture and the ‘collective’ thinking of the East have of course been well-documented and are clearly visible in both culture’s education systems. In my travels in China I’ve found that support in making one’s own choices, pursuing one’s own individual interests and carving out a niche for oneself early on are nurturing practices for personal growth rarely witnessed in China.

My experiences lead me to believe the lack of personal development is simply the combined result of centuries of tradition and recently growing competition. With a population of over 1.3 billion, it is no wonder China’s focus on individual growth beyond academics is seldom observed, particularly in a system where the college applicant pool has become so vast and high test scores so crucial.  Yet given the aforementioned stereotype of the “brainy” Chinese students, clearly centuries of tradition and competition does produce its own unique results. In these students I’ve witnessed a rigorous work ethic – each with a drive to better themselves and their families. With this in mind I believe there is still much we in the U.S. can learn from the degree of discipline exhibited in these students.

It is unfortunate that many of these students will struggle with their international college application process due to a lack of opportunity for extra curricular activities, and perhaps an overbearing concentration on academic rigor alone. When I advised them to get involved as much as possible, one student replied, “But we have no time for activities. How will colleges look at this?”

While I tried to console them that colleges and universities take such considerations into account, at the end of the day when all the applications have been read, the school will choose the most qualified applicant. Unfortunately, these students are stuck. Highly selective schools will not change their behavior simply because they do not have to; the supply of elite U.S. schools is much too small to satisfy an ever-growing demand, as shown by recent year’s Ivy league acceptance rates of less than 20%; some less than 10%. But having seen Chinese ambassadors visiting Bowdoin College in the past few years, I believe the wave of changes witnessed since China’s opening in the 70’s has yet to reach its peak.

The value of a liberal arts education is slowly but surely being acknowledged and adopted. Given the market for education in China, I predict as China’s economy continues to grow, more privatized schools focusing on foreign language and extra-curricular activities in addition to their school work (much like private high schools in the U.S.) will continue to quickly develop and spread to second tier cities, breeding the next generation of elite study abroad students and in the long run, globally bridging these two nation’s college applicant pools. This trend has thus far been witnessed in major eastern cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. As second tier cities like Tangshan continue to develop, student like those I met at Hebei Tangshan Foreign Language School may finally get a fair shot at a U.S. education.

To the great minds I met in Tangshan, know I was greatly impressed by your drive and motivation to succeed. I wish you all the best in your applications.-- Eric Ramsay

 

Eric Ramsay will be a senior at Bowdoin College this fall majoring in Economics with a minor in Chinese. He is proud to call himself a Mainer, raised in Aroostook County, ME where he attended the Maine School of Science and Mathematics (MSSM). He is currently working part time as a recruiting associate/product manager at Red Pagoda Resources, an executive search startup in Beijing. He is also acting as a Maine College Ambassador for the Center for New England China Exchange on behalf of Fox Intercultural Consulting.

 

Guest Blog: Old Port Conversations

One never knows where our conversations will drift to. Case in point, did you know that the American epic, "Gone with the Wind" was translated by one single Chinese word, 飄 piāo, which means "to float"? So much can either be lost in communication... or be so concise and precise that a single word punctuates its translation!
 
As we all gathered around the sun-filled conference room in the Old Port, Chi - who originally hails from Taiwan - pointed out that when two people speak a new language with their own regional accents, it can make things tricky. Speaking to be understood can be likened to shaking hands with gloves on or without gloves. One cannot "feel" as precisely or succinctly when wearing gloves.
 
A glove, "手套 shǒutào," could be your accent, whether an American with a southern drawl or a Bostonian's dropped "r's"... or an Asian who learned English as an adult who may speak with a heavier accent, or learned English as a child and can speak it without a traceable accent. When two non-native Chinese speakers talk with heavy accents it's as if each is wearing gloves! When one cannot understand nor be understood, it's like wasting one's breath "白講 báijiǎng"...l iterally, the color "white" and "speech", where "white" in this case may mean "empty", thus translating into "empty speech" fallen on deaf ears.
 
How is one's attempt to speak the foreign language in that country received? If you were in Sweden, they might wonder why you just don't speak English... since English is one of 20 official languages in the European Union. A foreigner trying to speak Chinese is usually greeted with welcoming giggles. Europeans speak multiple languages due to the closeness (in distance) of neighboring countries. Whereas in the US and China, the vast expanse between regions and cities cultivate distinct accents and sub-cultures. And don't the residents of big Chinese cities also speak multiple languages... Hong Kong is becoming a trilingual city: Mandarin, Cantonese and English.... in Shanghai it's Mandarin, Shanghainese, and English. 
 
"Is there a comparable idiom for 'go with the flow'?" "隨波逐流 suíbō zhúliú", which means "follow the wave, chase the current". The recent protest in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, in southwest China, against a planned chemical plant raised questions about how the Chinese population is protecting itself and its environment..."自我防衛 zì wǒ fáng wèi or  自(我)保(護) zì wǒ bǎohù" both phrases meaning "self protection".
 
The evolving Chinese peoples can be seen in the changes in Hong Kong since the Handover in 1997... the integration back with the mainland was supposed to take 50 years...and in just 15 years, Hong Kong has gone through dramatic cultural and political tension and upheaval. Hong Kongers were once more wealthy than mainland Chinese. Now, there are wealthy Chinese buying up Hong Kong real estate, making it difficult for Hong Kongers to afford to stay. Status seeking, status reversal... inflation & deflation... like the deflating of the "giant rubber duckie" in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor last week for the Art Basel Art Fair (that thankfully came back to life). 
 
What if change is the one constant in life? What if we can all embrace change with greater ease and joy?    
 

The Chinese Language Table meets at Fox Intercultural Consulting’s headquarters in Portland on the first and third Friday the month. Starting at noon, we spend the hour catching up on news and in-depth discussions in Mandarin. 

Karen Morency was born in Taiwan, emigrating to Newfoundland at the age of 10, and then moved to Maine. Her love for the Chinese language and culture was renewed when she began teaching her children and other children in the 1990’s. Her East-meets-West personality is expressed in her alternative healing modalities, qigong, and tai chi. 

 
 
Photo credit: Wiki Commons

 

Best Practices for International Student Coordinators

This month, I was lucky to lead a workshop series in schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut—where international student coordinators came together to sit around a table and share best practices. The workshop series began several years ago when Roberta McGuire of the Maine Central Institute came to me with a request. She reminded me of this recently:

“When I was originally hired for this position, there were not many town academies that had an international student program coordinator and I wanted to hear from other schools that did,” Roberta told me over email. “ I wanted to at least begin to build on the experiences of others. International students are very important to all town academies and we are responsible to assist and guide them while they learn English, experience our culture and succeed academically.”

That first workshop was an enormous hit—dozens of schools sent representatives, and this past month (four years into the program) we’re seeing the same interest. International students are becoming a vital factor in American education, yet the people who work with these students sometimes feel alone in this position.  The job of the International Student Coordinator includes managing the bigger issues like overall cultural adjustment, homestay challenges, weekend and vacation activities to the smallest details—like helping international students find  chargers for their phones and prom dates.

As we sat around tables in Matignon High School and Woodstock Academy, many different themes came up. We explored what a successful orientation program looks like--why student ambassadors are necessary and how to handle vacation policies and language policies. 

Equally, time management is a huge issue for Chinese students; at their schools in China they are there until 5.30 or 7.30 at night. Our schools end at 2.15pm. These students don’t necessarily understand how to join clubs so it’s essential that schools learn how to acclimatize the kids. From the American context, it seems so obvious and natural for a student to join clubs—but this is an alien concept for many students from overseas and there are layers of social cues that the coordinator needs to unravel.

One coordinator mentioned that she will physically bring students into the room and sit with them and introduce them to the kids, she has them go for 3-4 weeks and see if they like it. Another person gave an example of a student who was shy, so she suggested the chess club—which was the perfect solution. International Student Coordinators need to be aware of the cultural sensitivity around this.

Experiences were also swapped on issues like vacation policies: What policies do schools have in place for weekend travel? The form says you are visiting a family member, but in China anyone older than you is your uncle! How do you know you’re visiting your blood uncle or a kid in New York who is 21?  One of the participants explained how she was trying to organize trips to Disneyland, but many were wanting to travel on their own to see their friends and family—so she decided to not organize that again. Stories like these were swapped, and best practices discussed.

Coming away from these empowering conversations, it struck me that once all these practices are in place, there is a chance to take it one step further: and start to show the entire student body just how disorientating it can be to be on the other side of the world. By developing a sister school program, there is a chance for the American kids to broaden their perspective—and gain first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to have jet-lag, to be in a dizzying new culture and to not understand all the cultural cues.

This leads to empathy, which of course is the essential ingredient in this entire process. By understanding how international students feel and the specific challenges they face, coordinators are able to do amazing things. They are able to give students the tools they need to thrive.  Suzanne Fox

Guest Blog: Chinese Language Roundtable

When we all gathered on May 3rd, the topics (話題huà ) ranged from one student’s thesis on how environmental education is taught in moral education (思想品德 sī xiǎng pǐn dé) to complexities in communicating in Chinese or English so one can be understood.

As conversation flew around the group that included Taiwanese, mainland Chinese, a Hongkonger, American, Chinese-American and a Brit, it became clear that if you are a Chinese from China or from Taiwan, what is acceptable may be embarrassing just across the Taiwan Strait... and as cultural changes are occurring with rapidity, what was “formal” then is now too formal... and the conversation stalls.

This day, we marveled at Chinese word combinations that allow words to paint a picture. For example, the word “conflict” 冲突chōng tū includes “冲chōng” which means to rush or collide and 突 means ‘sudden’. This paints the image of rushing forward and suddenly hitting a wall... that would certainly be an apt description of “conflict”, both visually and mentally.

Often one discovers the depths of Chinese language through teaching it... and as one of our group members shared how the idiom “教学相长 jiāo xué xiāng zhǎng” suggests (教teach 学learn 相mutual 长growth). This beautifully expresses how the teacher and student learn in a collaborative way: we learn as we share our culture and our interesting points of view. Whether the glass is half empty or half full 半杯空  bàn bēi kōng or 半杯满bàn bēi mǎn depends on your point of view. 

The Chinese Language Table meets at Fox Intercultural Consulting’s headquarters in Portland on the first and third Friday the month. Starting at noon, we spend the hour catching up on news and in-depth discussions in Mandarin. 

Karen Morency was born in Taiwan, emigrating to Newfoundland at the age of 10, and then moved to Maine. Her love for the Chinese language and culture was renewed when she began teaching her children and other children in the 1990’s. Her East-meets-West personality is expressed in her alternative healing modalities, qigong, and tai chi. 

Artistic Connections Between China and Maine

I am sitting at a banquet table in the ancient city of Xi’An as glasses are raised and “gambei” is hollered by all. It’s mid-January, the week before Chinese New Year and celebration is in the air.

To my left is my good friend, the Beijing-based art critic Karen Smith—who has been at the forefront of the Chinese contemporary art scene for two decades. On my right is a young design professor from Xi’An Academy of Fine Arts (XAFA); she has a Mohawk, wears awesome sculptural earrings and is talking about her recent residency in London. On the opposite side of the circular banquet table are the big shots: He Dan, the Vice-President of XAFA and an acclaimed oil painter in his own right, flanked by the legendary art critics Peng De and Wang Lin.

The reason why I am here, apart from eating this delicious northern Chinese food, is as a representative of Fox Intercultural Consulting to forge relationships between XAFA and the Maine College of Art (MECA).  My trip is a preliminary one—to plant seeds before a formal delegation travels from Portland to China at the end of March.

My own story blends art, China and Maine in a curiously circular way. I spent a decade working in Hong Kong as an arts writer for the South China Morning Post newspaper and Time Out Magazine. My beat was the avant garde art scene that was kicking off north of the border: a tremendously lucky space to be in as a young writer.  In 2009, I moved with my Maine-born husband to Portland—and despite being on the other side of the planet, have remained connected to China’s art scene: project managing the annual Time Out Hong Kong Art Guide, editing for the Asia Art Archive and the novelist and artist, Hu Fang. A string of good fortune then brought me to work with Suzanne Fox, who pioneers educational programs between Maine and China. When we entered discussions with MECA, the stars were truly aligning.

Art is an ideal vehicle to connect Maine with China—in part because it offers such a level playing field. The U.S. has for many years been the home of the art world yet the contemporary art scene in China and Hong Kong is ablaze with growth and many of the world’s leading galleries are forging bases there. For Chinese students to spend time in the pristine air and great artistic tradition of Portland is proving to be very compelling. Equally, for American students to set off for study opportunities in the burgeoning Chinese art scene is simply stuff of the future.

Here in Xi’An, they will find a city that mixes an ancient past with a bafflingly busy present. In the North West of China, Xi’An is home to the Terracotta Warriors. It is a city of such history that large sections still don’t have underground railway lines because there are too many treasures still buried underneath. Yet, Xi’An also has a startlingly modern and dusty face: there are Rolls Royce showrooms on the streets, neon is everywhere and cranes hang atop endless new residential towers.

This March, Don Tuski the President of MECA is traveling to Hong Kong, Xi’An, Hangzhou and Shanghai with Suzanne Fox in an official delegation to create connections with art institutions and forge pathways for art students to exchange. It’s the beginning of an exciting series of programs to deepen and explore the vast cultures of China and the United States through the prism of its artists. We can’t wait to see the cross-cultural, visual art forms and conversations that will emerge.

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