At Starbucks

Yesterday after a few hours of waiting around to submit paperwork for my visa, I stopped by Starbucks for a semi-quiet place to read my Library class homework. I chose a corner table and seat.

From the time I got in line, I noticed an older woman with a very proud face taking pictures of a young woman in a purple shirt. She followed this girl around the café so I thought the girl was her daughter. The girl left and the woman returned to a seat in front of my table. She looked very artsy and youthful, but it was weird that she was taking so many pictures of people. You can do that on the street, but not inside a business or private venue without permission. She started to really irritate the customers.

At one point she grabbed a bag of coffee bean and started yelling questions to the baristas. They responded politely, but did look apprehensive.

A young couple sat on the other side of me. The woman started photographing them, particularly the woman, who immediately told her to stop. Then the photographer got angry. She did seem to be itching for a fight and she got one. She started yelling at the woman near me and showing her National I.D. card. The guy with the young woman started defending her. He then turned to me and said in English, that the photographer was crazy. I asked what she was saying and he said she’s telling everyone that she’s a college professor.

The argument escalated till the photographer threw her tumbler, which was full of milk, at the couple’s table. No one was hurt, but glass shattered everywhere and the milk splattered all over the place.

The manager came forward while the security guards were called. When a young, skinny guard, a young Chinese Don Knotts, arrived he just peered through the window. Eventually, two managers of the security company appeared and began talking with the photographer and the girl who was her target.

Two police officers came. The young one held a camera to record the interaction. The photographer became extra gracious and offered them seats at her table. The declined the offer and stood. There was some arguing back and forth and the older officer wrote some notes. New customers came in and gawked while lining up for their Frappuccino’s and cheesecake. Amidst all this yelling and attempts to deescalate the tension, I’m pretending to do homework and wishing I spoke Chinese.

Pretty soon, the photographer was asked to leave. I was surprised that the police just let her go. She was clearly mentally disturbed, still very angry, still able to take photos to annoy people and within walking range of at least a dozen coffee shops. I expected them to take her in to let her cool down and assess her story. She didn’t just take photos of people. She threw an object that she knew could hurt someone. That was her intention.

Word of the Week

waywiser, n. [‘ An instrument for measuring and indicating distance travelled, esp. by road; spec. a pedometer or odometer. Now hist.’]
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈweɪˌwʌɪzə/, U.S. /ˈweɪˌwɑɪzər/
Forms: 16– waywiser, 17–18 waywizer.

Origin:Formed within English, by derivation. Etymons: way n.1, wise v.1, -er suffix1.
Etymology: < way n.1 + wise v.1 + -er suffix1, although the semantic motivation in sense 1 is unclear.

In sense 2 probably after German Wegweiser (Middle High German wegewīser); compare Dutch wegwijzer (Middle Dutch wechwiser), and also Swedish vägvisare (18th cent. or earlier), Danish vejviser (Old Danish weye wiisser), all denoting a person or object that shows the way (literally or figuratively); compare earlier way-post n. at way n.1 and int.1 Compounds 3.

1. An instrument for measuring and indicating distance travelled, esp. by road; spec. a pedometer or odometer. Now hist.
In quot. 1801: fig.

1651 R. Child Large Let. in S. Hartlib Legacie 80, I say 20. Ingenuities have been found even in our dayes, as Watches, Clocks, Way-wisers, [etc.].

1801 Monthly Mag. 12 98 It is with the spying-glass of conjecture, not with the way-wiser of record, that the bearing of their sources must be made out.

1802 Port Folio (Philadelphia) 17 July 223/2 The improved pedometer, or waywiser, which when worn in the pocket, ascertains the distance the wearer walks.

1969 G. E. Evans Farm & Village xiv. 148 This device works on the same principle as the measuring wheel used by the old road surveyors—a trundle wheel or way-wiser.

2011 B. Johnson Johnson’s Life of London 97 He [sc. Robert Hooke] was to be a familiar figure, striding around the ruins with his ‘waywiser’, his own invention for measuring distances.

Our Little Sister

The Japanese film Our Little Sister is about three sisters, whose half sister comes to live with them after he dies. The older sisters are all out of school and working. The eldest, Sachi, is a nurse and the mother hen. She seems the most upright, but she’s got a secret romance with a married doctor. Next is the more sociable Yoshino, who works at a bank and has romance after romance. She’s the sort who gets too involved to fast. The third of the sisters is Chika, who’s very whimsical and happy go lucky. She’s all sunshine and smiles and she works at a store selling athletic shoes.

At their father’s funeral, the trio decides to bring Suzu, their half sister who’s in middle school to their family home. Suzu’s mother has died and her stepmother is really a non-entity. The film is a slice of life about the four sisters and the first three’s mother who deserted them but comes back to town briefly for her mother’s ceremony for the anniversary of her death. Along the way we get a natural look at a family that’s had plenty of difficulties and still has some struggles, but they manage to survive and thrive. The house is charming as the the warmth between these characters.

Watching the film feels like floating down a river. The pace is just right. The characters are insightful and perceptive. I loved my time with this family.

Silent Sunday


Back in China

I got back to Jinan on Tuesday night and the next day taught six hours and then the next another six. Yes, it’s tiring, but since I’ve done this before, and in the beginning of the semester students need to learn about my expectations, background and procedures I didn’t need to do lots of planning.

I can’t believe how after several years here I still get shocked by the mores and pace of change. Today’s a holiday and after my morning online library class I came downtown to buy train tickets. I was walking down the street and saw a little girl walking with her grandparents. She needed to go to the bathroom (they must not use that euphemism here) so the grandparents stopped, pulled up her dress and had her pee down the street drain. I had to look away. I know that’s the custom, but it’s one I’ll never get used to. Bathroom behavior must be hard-wired into my consciousness.

Also, I forget how fast things change and how information just isn’t shared. After class on Tuesday I needed to make copies. I walked over to the usual copy office and instead of seeing the door to the copy office, I see two windows. The sidewalk has been demolished and the corner of this building was transformed. Why? Goodness knows because I’ve learned that the former rooms are now empty. I went to the Foreign Affairs Office and learned that “Oh, yeah. That office is now on the first floor of this building.” Okay, but how ’bout informing the teachers.

Also, no one will tell me the names of the new teachers. I emailed our point person to find out who’s already here and new. I know the English teacher, who’ll arrive tonight, but haven’t seen the names of any of the new business teachers. The woman in charge replied that she’s waiting for all the teachers to arrive before emailing us this information. Does that make sense or save effort? The man in charge of the business teachers (there’s only one IT teacher because they couldn’t find anyone to teach the other two IT classes. The previous teacher wanted to — but just if the stint was 9 weeks as it was last year. The Chinese school wanted someone for 14 weeks. Clark waited till the end of August when the tried and true teacher was committed elsewhere to see if she was free and offering to negotiate with the Chinese for 9 weeks. Now the students don’t get two classes that they’ve paid a premium for. Not sure what the plan is to make it up to them.) Anyway, I try to provide some hospitality and orientation to teachers even if they’re not in my department because I know their’ lead teacher won’t. He’s always gone for the weekend. I should at least know their phone numbers and they mine in case there’s a problem this Mid-Autumn Festival holiday when the school’s closed.

The big bombshell is that I’ve learned that some of the students who’ve gone to the US cheated on the English proficiency tests so they’re taking classes in their major though they barely speak English. The honest students are furious. They report that these students paid a service to have impostors take the TOEFL test for them, which is fraud. I just don’t get used to the level of dishonesty. It puts the cheaters in an impossible position as even those with good English are sure to struggle in a challenging American college course. I think they have to take at least 12 credit hours and keeping up and learning when you don’t speak the language of instruction is impossible so they’ll probably cheat more to get through. I’d love to probe the situation and get more information to make a solid report.

Don’t get me wrong being back is nice. While all my students are new to me and I miss the class I taught last semester who’re now in English 2, I’m sure the new kids are sweet. I get to go to a conference in Korea in a month and am looking forward to that. When I finish the semester, I hope to travel to Australia, where I’ve never gone. So there’s plenty of good on the horizon.

Word of the Week

I’d never heard of this before, but a colleague taught me it as he feels it aptly describes the management of our program. I can’t disagree, I can only make suggestions on how to survive.

Mushroom Effect: n. a management approach where you keep people in the dark and feed them crap.

Have you ever worked for a person or group that used the Mushroom Effect. Sadly, it’s probably not that rare.

Silent Sunday



I’m supposed to get my passport and visa tomorrow. I had emailed my supervisor asking to get Sunday delivery for my passport if it came today. I proposed that if my passport arrived on Saturday, I could get the airline ticket to China and get reimbursed. That way I could arrive on Monday and teach Tuesday and Wednesday so I wouldn’t have to make up so many classes (twelve hours). That part of my email was ignored in the first response.

I have been busy today rather than just sitting at home waiting to go to China. After a trip to the bank, yoga and lunch with a friend, I got home and saw another response to my email that said the supervisor, who’s very strict Monday-Friday in his hours would book my travel on Monday. Ugh. I’d leave on Tuesday and now there are no seats available on direct flights. So I’m looking at a 45 hour journey via Korea, Taiwan or Western China (Chengdu).

None of these options are inviting. By Monday there will be less options.

At least there’s an end insight to this saga.

What will I do?

Well, like Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is known to have said, “Just watch me.”


More Art


By Edward Hopper


Entertainment in the 1930’s


1930s Dystopia visions

Poem of the Week

love is more thinker than forget

by e.e. cummings

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail
it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea
love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive
it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

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