Monday, October 12, 2015

China, High School, and Democracy in Disasters

I had some interesting conversations with some Chinese students about food and displays of affection. They had no idea about kids' menus in restaurants and picky eaters, so I told them about the problem of "latchkey" kids who come home to an empty house and pretty much make their own dinner and take care of themselves. This leads to them growing up on frozen food and things they can easily make on their own, like mac n cheese and spaghettios and breaded chicken nuggets. Or they get fast food several times a week and don't tolerate anything not on that kind of menu. The conversation arose as I was asking what kind of food a young Chinese child was being introduced to and she said it was the same things the parents were eating, like rice and such. I showed her some examples of kids' menus online so she could see what I was talking about. I also learned that the words tea and tofu originated in China. Regarding displays of affection, apparently it is not common for parents to hug/kiss their kids. The society is a lot more conservative than others, and the students said that they find it unusual how much affection is shown between families on Western tv and movies. As I reflect more on it, what is on tv and movies isn't necessarily the norm for a lot of Western families either, but it is the image we project to the rest of the world and how they think we all behave.

I spent two mornings as a tutor for high school students who were attending a week-long school camp at a nice resort called Living Springs over the Port Hills from Christchurch. It was very disappointing discovering that everything I've learned about the NCEA education system was largely true, with predigested assignments given to students without context or connection and no incentives for doing any better than the bare minimum to pass. Most of them could not even articulate basic ideas like what subjects they enjoy or do more than give plot summaries. I enjoyed teaching the 5-paragraph essay structure and helping out with talking through assignment guidelines and arguments. What was ridiculous was that the NCEA worksheets (which should be given to teachers, not students, because it has hard-to-decipher learning outcomes and policy things like the number of credits all printed right on the front) had errors themselves. You really shouldn't give students examples of things that have spelling and punctuation errors on them. Who created these materials anyway?

The Living Springs camp is nestled up in these hills

The view from Living Springs

The view coming down the road to go home
I substituted as a note-taker in a class on New Zealand politics, and it was really interesting to hear about the lack of democracy in disaster areas. Basically, politicians and governments use disasters to enact emergency powers and shut down discussion and debate. We watched a clip from Naomi Klein about her idea of "shock doctrine", where politicians quickly pass legislation that might be unpopular while people are still recovering from the shock of a disaster, either human-caused or natural. In Christchurch, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) was created after the 2011 earthquake to handle the recovery process, and it has a lot of power and is not elected, so people here are still living in an area with a suspended democracy. It was supposed to return power within a certain timeframe, but that seems to keep getting delayed.

There was an interesting lecture on China as a Great Polar Power, but it is based on unpublished research so we aren't allowed to discuss it. Suffice it to say, I didn't know about the recent Chinese movements near the Aleutian Islands and we might want to be concerned.

I can't understand why people are okay with sausages being served in white bread slices instead of buns. It's just not the same.

There were massive winds unlike even the worst ones we've experienced so far. Weather reports said there were gusts of 150-160 km/hr (90-100 m/hr). The glass in the window panes was shaking and it sounded like a massive storm. All kinds of things were blowing down the street.

We prepared and planted the garden with new seeds and are hoping for another successful year. I bought more strawberry plants to add to the existing bed, but everything else is starting from seed.

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