duck rectum or meat glue? whose cuisine will reign supreme?

Posted on March 11, 2010. Filed under: American culture, chinese culture, cross cultural, cuisine | Tags: , , , , , |

My nephew, who has spent considerable time in China, mentioned that on his last trip there he ate duck rectum, and that it really wasn’t all that bad. Granted, he didn’t know what he was eating until after the fact, which, I assume, removed any cultural barrier about what’s supposed to be delicious and what’s supposed to be gross.

I know the Chinese eat many more parts of animals than Americans, who tend to eat only the meat and a few organs.  Still, I thought, “Wow. That is totally disgusting.”

But Americans, too, are eating some pretty gruesome things.  The FDA has over 3000 approved chemicals that can be added in food processing. There are  colors, preservatives, thickeners, stabilizers, emulsifiers, anti-caking agents, flavor enhancers, and antibiotics to name a few.

Thrombin, commonly known as meat glue, was just recently approved by the EU as a food additive. Recently approved? American have been eating it for years. Thombin, which was originally developed to stop bleeding during surgery, is also used to hold together chicken nuggets.

Americans have no idea  the number and quantity of the chemicals that pass through their bodies each year. At least with the duck, you know it’s a duck.

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Are some cultures more gifted than others?

Posted on March 6, 2009. Filed under: American culture, Asian culture, cross cultural, education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

My son is highly gifted in math. He is very advanced in all his subjects, but he is off the charts gifted in math. I’m not sure where this came from, although I personally believe the hand of God is involved.  I first noticed something was unusual when, as an infant, he started lining up raisins in a pattern. By kindergarten he was adding mixed fractions in his head when everyone else was counting to 10, and by 5th grade he started teaching himself calculus by downloading lessons from the Texas A&M math department website. Our school district supports gifted education and has let him accelerate 3 years in math.

Being gifted in America is a big secret, where “all children are gifted!” If he were a star athlete, or a prodigy musician, that would be fine. But America, the land of equality, really doesn’t like the idea that some people are innately smarter than others.

We attended an award ceremony at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth for the top 400 middle school children nationwide, based on SAT scores. (SATs are college entrance exams).  The children were called up alphabetically in groups to receive their awards, and when the W,X,Y,Z group was called,  an enormous amount of students stood up.  They were the Wangs, Wus, Wongs, Xias, Xies, Xins, Xus, Xues, Yans, Yangs, Yaos, Yes, Yoos, Zhangs, Zhengs, and Zhus. The most highly gifted students were overwhelmingly Asian.

This is my dilemma. I don’t believe one race is smarter than another. And I know that Asian culture highly values education and these students were there because their parents pursued this testing to identify their child’s ability. I know that, unlike in America, it’s fine to be gifted.  I’ve also read that the math systems in China, Japan and Korea are easier than English, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book Outliers. But these were Asian-American children. They were learning math in English.

These were not just good students, they were the top students in the nation. You can’t coach a 12-year-old to score a 700+ in math on the SAT. You can barely coach an adult to reach that score. These students weren’t recognized for their hard work, but for an innate ability. So given their small percentage of the general population,  I’ve got to ask–why are so many of our top math students Asian?

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Chinese teachers and American students

Posted on February 28, 2009. Filed under: American culture, Asian culture, chinese culture, cross cultural, education | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

My company ran a number of beginning Chinese conversation classes for one corporation, with locations in 5 states. While I was at first concerned about coordinating the multi-state program, what turned out to be the biggest challenge was working with Chinese teachers.

The differences in teaching styles, as well as expectations surrounding classroom management, were enormous. The instructors were not very familiar or comfortable with a communicative approach to language instruction (emphasizing interaction and real life communication; not grammar focused).  The Chinese instructors were used to top-down instruction, and were not as skilled acting as facilitators.

The American students (all adults) expected to be active participants in the class. They wanted teachers who were knowledgeable in the subject area, dynamic, creative and energetic. For the Chinese instructors, being dynamic and creative were not as important.

Our beginning level language classes use a great deal of  Total Physical Response (TPR). TPR is a fast-paced activity that helps students develop listening comprehension skills and increase their vocabulary. In TPR, students follow the teacher’s instructions to complete certain actions over and over. (think Simon Says). Commands grow in length and complexity as the course continues. Students can feel immediate success without having to produce utterances.

All of the Chinese instructors were unfamiliar with this technique, which is standard in ESL, and had to be coached. They found it very useful, but I was stunned at the lack of creativity and spontaneity. After a few class sessions, I got calls from some teachers asking if they could purchase flash cards of different pictures to use for the TPR lessons. They said they had “run out” of things to talk about. Run out!  That’s the beauty of TPR–you can’t run out. Even if you use every single noun in the room with every possible verb, you still have pronouns to run through, not to mention all those prepositions. And all of these, in an endless variety of combinations. Run out?

All of the teachers were committed professionals. They were eager to learn new teaching methods, and were willing to try out new techniques. At course completion, they all recieved excellent student evaluations. I wonder if the results would have been the same if they had not been coached in American teaching methods and student expectations?

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