I wanted to get a couple things straight, on the record, to make it all real nice and googlable like.
1) Recently I was talking with a buddy about some confusing, in fact distressing, managerial actions at my school. He shrugged it off by saying, 'Well, you can't expect too much. It's Chinese, and therefore by definition illogical.' I replied, quite matter-of-factly, 'Funny you should say that. "Logic" is a borrow word, you know.' My buddy doesn't study Chinese; I do. And I learned almost as soon as I got to Taiwan that the Chinese word for 'logic' is but a phonetic translation: luójí. For me, having dealt with Chinese culture for only a few months then, the implications were curious at worst and humorous at best. For my buddy, however, who's been here around five years, this was a sheer epiphany. 'Ohhhhhhh! Of couuurrse! Logic is a borrow word! They had to take the word from English cuz they didn't have a word for it until like the nineteenth century! Everything makes sense now.'
Logic is a borrow word.
I leave it to the reader to judge the quality of my buddy's epiphany; for my part, you'll notice, I do not deny it. Moving on. Quickly.
2) Scouring through my Chinese-English dictionary a few days ago during a free period, I stumbled upon perhaps the most useful phrase a foreign teacher could know while trying to teach in Taiwan, or any other heavily Chinese setting. I was looking up the word 'fill in [a blank form]' (tiánbiǎo) and wanted to know how or when else to use tián ('fill'). Scanning down the options, my eyes stoped at the final, noticeably lengthy entry: tiányā. The first meaning is 'to overfeed and under-exercise ducks in order make their flesh more tender and sweet', presumably a technique used to create China's famous 'Peking duck' delights. The second meaning? 'To teach students any and all information needed to test (into a higher level or school).' In other words, to teach by 'stuffing the duck.'
Just as my buddy had his epiphany with luójí, so I had my epiphany with 'stuffing the duck'. No wonder my kids are unused to independent creative activites! No wonder my teaching is always at risk of being subjugated by students, parents and administrators to yield better grades on more tests! China's entire educational system -- as a matter of historical fact, even if my experience weren't probative enough -- is based on stuffing the duck! It is as if scales have fallen from my eyes, or as if The Matrix has finally been cracked and I can behold the real world, warts and all, in stark, numbing honesty. I am not a teacher.
I am here to stuff the duck.
Strangely, the fatalistic mediocrity of it is almost liberating. To all would-be teachers, I declare: Do not fear stuffing the duck; do not fight stuffing the duck; just quack (with convincing 'English noises') and all will be well.
(Of course, in the words of the inimitable Groucho, 'Why a duck?')