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Podcast 2019
Middle Kingdom Podcasts (2005-2017)

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The Language Company
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edit the monster

A week of absence make the heart grow fonder. 

What have you been doing, asked Elf.

I've been red-lining a manuscript, said Orphan. I printed it out and did a line-by-line edit.

Been spilling red ink like blood for a week.

How short is it?

550 pages. If I had more time I'd make it shorter.

Rewriting is the party. Dance like nobody's looking.

"We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art." - Henry James 


Cold Turkey

Yes, it's true, said a free spirit in a free world. You have to break down before you break through.

The difference between the sense of hearing and the skill of listening is attention. Good lesson, said a listener. 

Tell us a story about Cold Turkey.

It may interest you to know Turkey has the highest number of journalists in JAIL or PRISONS than any country in the world. More than China or Iran.

Sounds like a great place to speak your mind without fear.

Yeah, fear is a great motivator.

Yeah, free speech is cold in Turkey.

Colder than leftovers.

What happened to open your head, open your heart and open your mouth?

Speaking free has it's risks. You can say that again. Censorship is alive and well. Best served cold.

Who cares? We can always go shopping.

Amnesty International.


nothing behind. everything in front.

He went to Turkey for 51 moments.

He explored a 4,000 year old Roman city on the Black Sea. Citizens were hospitable. Strangers came and went.

He wandered to Sumela, a Greek monastery (386 A.D.) in the mountains. Murals covered fall changing colors.

It reminded him of Mesa Verde (600 A.D.) in Colorado. Cliff dwellings. Isolated. Peaceful.



He returned to Trap A Zone, photographed street life and attended an English teacher training class.

You have to complete a unit in 53 minutes, said the female administrator. Ryhmes with see you later alligator and procrastinator.

The economic fact she did not enunciate was the language school's objective:


We enroll them, take their money, give them a textbook with a fancy CD and their class time. Your job is to push them through. One class means finishing 3 units in 3 hours.

After nine weeks, presto! they complete one level, we take their money and they advance toward a higher standard of living filled with past continuous verbs, fresh tomatoes and black olives garnished with hazelnuts.

Does Hazel have nuts? To be evaluated. 

A native speaker from O-Zone asked a question. Are students all the same level?

Close enough, she said. They know grammar rules like nobody's business. They lack vocabulary. They are afraid to speak. They are robotic victims of the educational system well trained to keep their mouth shut, read and memorize. You have no freedom to create fun, interesting, student-directed activities.

Just do the book. Everyone's happy, especially the accountant.

Thank you for your attention.


the walnut story

A Zen monk related a story.

“Before becoming a monk I was an English teacher in an Experimental High School near Chengdu in Southwestern China. One day I held up a walnut.

“What is this?”

They answered in Chinese.

I wrote “walnut” and “metaphor” on the board.

“This walnut is like a person I know, very hard on the outside. They are very safe and secure inside their shell. Nothing can happen to them. What is inside this shell?”

“Some food,” said a boy.

“How do you know?”

“My mother told me.”

“Do you believe everything your mother tells you?”

“Yes, my mother always tells the truth.”



“Well, that’s good, but I wonder if mothers always tell their children the truth. Why? Because mothers and fathers like to protect their children and keep them safe. Especially young children. Now you are in high school and developing as a more complete and mature human being. It’s good to question things and find out the truth for yourself. Do you understand?”

Some said “yes,” others nodded passively.

“This walnut is a metaphor for the self. A symbol. The self that is afraid to take risks because they are “protected” by their shell. Maybe the reality is that the shell is empty. How do we really know what is inside.”

“It’s a mystery,” said another boy.

“That’s right, it’s a mystery. How will we find out what’s inside?”

“You have to break it open,” said a boy with poetic aspirations.

“Yes, you or I will have to break open the shell, our shell, break free from the shell to know what is inside. That can be a little scary when we are conditioned and comfortable carrying around the shell every day isn’t it?”

“It’s our self,” whispered a girl in the front row.

“Very good. Exactly. It’s our self, this shell and the mystery. We have to take risks and know nothing terrible is going to happen, like trying to speak English in class.”

“If we don’t break the shell we’ll never feel anything,” said another boy.

A girl in the back of the room said, “it means it’s hard to open our heart. It’s hard to know another person and what they are thinking, how they are feeling.”

“You got it,” I said. “We’ll never experience all the feelings of joy, love, pain, sorrow, or friendship and miss out on life.”

This idea floated around the room as I juggled the shell in my hand.

“I know people who grow very tired every day from putting on their shell before they leave home. It gets heavier and heavier, day by day. Some even carry their shell into adulthood. They look alive but inside they are dead. But eventually, maybe, something important happens to them at the heart-mind level and they decide to break free from their shell and see what’s inside. They say to themselves, ‘This shell is getting really heavy and I’m so tired of putting it on and carrying it around. I’m going to risk it.’”

I smashed the shell on the table with my hand. It splintered into pieces. Students jumped with shock.

“There, I’ve done it! I smashed my shell. Can it be put back together?”

“No,” they said.

“Right, it’s changed forever. The shell is gone.”

I fingered small pieces of shell, removing them from the nut.

“See, it’s ok. Wow! Now it’s just an old useless shell. It doesn’t exist anymore. It’s history. I know it will take time to remove pieces of my old shell. Maybe it’s fair and accurate to say the old parts represent my old habits, behaviors, and attitudes. It happened and now I will make choices using my free will accepting responsibility for my actions and behavior. And, I know nothing terrible will happen to me. I feel lighter. Now I can be real.

“That’s the walnut story.”


push them through teol school

One of the tyrannies of formal education, said Orphan, is how it takes 12 tedious ominous years to beat creative curiosity out of a child. It's a tortuous Byzantine procedure of endless suffering.

I agree with you, Elf said in simple English. Take Turkey for example. It's all dumbed down grammar text-based learning dulling the mind. By the book. Keep your mouth shut, warn teachers conditioned by the machine using fear to control and manipulate.

Yeah, they know the grammar RULES for taking exams. That's it. Past simple, present continuous and NO SPEAK.

Yeah, said, Orphan. They love RULES.

They need vocabulary and the confidence to use it. Open head, heart and mouth. Risk.

I eat my sorrow with fresh yogurt, said a woman opening her creative notebook to a blank page. She wrote. She drew. She danced colors, dreams, rainbows, the Black Sea, caricatures of friends, flowers, gardens and butterflies.

I feel free, she laughed.

Use it or lose it, said a silver spoon dancing around brown tea leaves dissolving a white sugar cube. 

Clink, clink, clink.

Do you want a verb to get going, asked a tea man.

On the side please with fresh tomatoes, kasher cheese and black olives at Hagia Sophia in Trebazon.