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Middle Kingdom Podcasts (2005-2017)

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The Language Company
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Chinese Teachers Report For Duty


Ah, what a great summer in China. I don't make much money as a University teacher you understand, so I use it carefully and wisely. Family is big deal here and to avoid relationship clashes of dynastic proportions, I shelled out roughly $200, or a third of my salary, for a round trip train ticket home.

After paying my University an exorbitant rental fee on my drab, empty apartment and electricity and water, I barely had enough left over for soggy onions, fresh spinach, tofu, rice and fruit.

Home is where, they say, the heart is. Well let me give you a little advice about that. I left my heart in San Francisco. Just a bad joke from an old song. Singing the blues, which is life's way of talking, I dutifully lugged my broken suitcase home to hearth and kin.

Whew! So much guilt, so much Duty. I am overwhelmed by the heavy burden of my family's expectations.

After fulfilling all my academic responsibilities (meaning - Pass all the students - or face the dire consequences) given to me by the University Authorities who, will for the sake of Social Stability and Harmonious Educational Reform Committees, remain faceless, nameless and totally obscure, I escaped from my prison.

It took twenty-two long, boring, tedious endless hours sitting in "hard seat" with three transfers and the stations were packed out with homeless migrants, laborers and prostitutes. People without a wing, hope or prayer. The ancient Oracle predicted this development.

Mothers and fathers formed concentric protective circles around their children to prevent thieves from stealing them. Stolen kids are a HUGE underground economy here as you may or may know. People will gladly pay large sums for a boy because they have a higher value in our NEW economy.

Human life is cheap here so Stealing, Selling and Buying children is just part of the way things work.

Speaking of work, I've gotta run because I must help mother with the cleaning, shopping and endless chores. If I don't perform my filial duties she may threaten to sell me. I'll be returning to my other life as a teacher next week after I report back for Duty and will file another report.


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Were they Open or Closed?


Now it happened one Sunday, when the streets were dead quiet, because everyone had disappeared to vote for someone special, he was waiting for some friends along the main artery. The area was filled with locked and shuttered stores; watches, clothing, money changers and stuff.

Five women in amazing, colorful, shimmering, flowing fabrics like red, green and sea blue, moved along shiny plate glass windows. They stayed close to each other like sisters. They all had dark skin, sharp noses, deep black eyes and long hidden hair inside bright head scarves dancing, reflecting silver. They jabbered in a strange tongue and he surmised they might be from Kurdistan.

Three of them gathered in front of a men's clothing store to have their picture taken with a male mannequin. The white dummy wore a dark pin stripped suit.

One tall woman stepped back and using a small point-n-shoot digital camera made an image of her friends as they laughed. One didn't smile because she was sad, serious and a long way from home.

When she finished she turned and he gestured to her asking if she wanted him to make a picture of their group.

"Yes," she said, in impeccable English. "Please."
"Ok," he said, "ask your friends to stand over here," pointing to a wide area where full trees would create a peaceful background.

She spoke to her friends and they formed a small group. Two of them were shy and tried to hide behind flowing skirts. He gently coaxed them out, into the frame and made two images.

As he handed her the camera he asked, "where are you from?"
"We are from Kabul."
"Great! Why are you here?"
"We are doctors. We have been attending seminars and will return home this week."
"Are you all from Kabul?"
"No," she said gesturing to the women hiding behind their sisters, "they are from distant provinces."

"I see. How is the medical situation now in Afghanistan? Do you have enough medicine?"
"It changes. We are fortunate to receive medicine from various international aid agencies. Our hospitals need more equipment. It's a struggle at times, especially outside the capital."

"How are the children doing in your country? Are they receiving medical care and enough food? Can they go to school?
"We are doing our best to take care of the children."
"I wish you well in the future, knowing you face large responsibilities" he said. "It was nice meeting you."
"Thank you," she replied, smiling. "Good-bye," and she rejoined her friends as they walked away, passing shops, talking.

Later, when he retold this encounter to someone she asked him, "Were they open or closed?" referring to veils.

"They were open."


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The Three Baboons

Then, one day he saw three baboons. They were part of a tribe living in his neighborhood. This is how it happened around dawn.

A blond corn-plaited hairy one stuck her head out of a 3rd short story window and spit. She watched the spittle fly past trees and SPLAT! on the pavement.

She looked around and they saw each other. She smiled. Her upper teeth were small and sharp. She started jabbering in her strange language. Her sounds, her words were questions. She wanted to know something.

Here is a rough translation.
“Where do you come from?”
"Do you have money?"
“Are you alone?”
“Do you want sex?”
She made many sounds but that’s the essence. Baboon language is simple and direct.

He just stared at her and smiled. She smiled. They smiled at each other.

She disappeared. A moment later she returned with two friends. One had dark hair, very hard eyes and big floppy breasts. She shook them side to side while speaking to him.

“Look at these watermelons,” she said.
They were heavy fruit.

Another baboon joined them. She was blond with sapphire eyes and straight hair with short spiked bangs. Her oval face smiled and she stuck out her tongue. A shiny silver post glistened from the middle. Laughing like a child, she rolled her tongue around, up and out like a little snake. Every now and then a snake needs to find a cave.  

She appeared to be the most playful one in the group.

All three stared at him and jabbered again, making suggestions and questions with their inarticulate yet clearly understood sounds.

“Where are you from?”
Blah, blah, blah.
“How old are you?”
"Do you have any money?"
“Do you want sex?”

The plaited hair one got halfway out on the narrow balcony and crouched down, opening her legs. She started riding an imaginary wild mustang. Her eyes and face assumed a state of ecstasy.

The one with hard eyes started gesturing with her hand, massaging empty space. He stared at this spectacle and smiled.
They laughed.
The power of suggestion.

The silver posted one kept smiling and flicking her tongue in and out, like breathing.

They were full of energy and wanted some action. Monkey see, monkey say, monkey do. Such amazing, funny and strange wild baboons!

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Hiring robots


My friend in China asked me to send you this, these words. They were carved on stone with her tears. This means it took years of tears. Stone and water.

She attends a private business university in Fujian. She is home now for the summer and, like millions of other students, looking for work. She needs work experience so she can get a real job in the all-too-real future. It's really tough because most employers don't want to hire part-time educated and motivated people.

They want long term exploitable cheap labor provided by the uneducated masses.
They want robots.
They want factory drones.

Her future is uncertain. This is one thing she knows and she didn't learn it in a class tomb.



Two women Turkish writers


Here is a link to an article on The Guardian featuring an interview with two Turkish women writers, Elif Shafak and Maureen Freely. Shafak is the author of "The Bastard of Istanbul" and Freely has written "Enlightenment," to be published this September.

They share their insights and personal literary life in and out of Turkey.


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Continental collisions