Uh, fluorescent lights...

Hey all,
I’m having a really, really tough time accessing and maintaining a consistent connection to social media, this blog, and occasionally, gmail.

So, I am off Facebook for a while. I’ve spent a lot of time, waaaaaay too much, with proxies, VPNs, and chasing secure connections—folks, I’ve only so many hours in a day, week, month, year, life, and I’d like to spend as many of those away from a computer screen, away from troubleshooting, untangling, re-installing, and re-booting. Never mind my often, painfully slow internet connection. Because all of this is so tenuous, I cannot promise weekly updates or even every-other-week updates.

What’s more, I want to write and share my experiences, not because I feel some sort of pressure to maintain brand Josephine Johnson, indie-singer-songwriter, but because I want to write. I want to enjoy writing, without feeling as if I have to have something witty, novel, and keenly engaging uploaded every week. I can’t live like that. So, this is what I do and how I do it: I write frequently—both music and prose—and I’ll share them as often as I can to give you a window into my thoughts—presuming you are interested—so as to minimize the amount of frustration I experience in both doing and sharing these things.

Can you understand?

If I have not alienated you, or made you feel bad for your love of endless hours spent in front of a screen, read on. I have much to share, but it will be in fits and bursts and on my own terms and not according to some social networking-based, e-marketing strategy, or some plan to become the next big internet sensation. *Unless, of course, you enjoy what I have to say/sing, and you would like to help me become the next big internet sensation; in that case, yes, help me get the word out about my blog and adventures by sharing them with your friends on Facebook/Twitter/Whatever. It would would be greatly appreciated—I just can’t do it right now.

If I have email access, I will make every effort to let you know of a new post—provided hackers have not turned my gmail into a direct line for wholesale Viagra distribution.

If you’ve stayed with me this far, thank you.

old ways beside the new


In this funsie, I attempt to reconcile beer, nature, music, teaching—float or fly, < 2 min. Cheers!

“Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of cultural sign processes, analogy, metaphor, signification and communication, signs and symbols” Wikipedia

In teaching English to first-year Chinese college students, I have heinously underestimated how much time it takes to prepare lectures, devise assignments, and provide timely feedback. It ‘s one thing to teach first-year composition to American, English-speaking 18, 19, 20-year-olds, but it’s a different beast entirely teaching English to first-year Chinese students. I’m finding that increasingly late nights, early mornings, lunch breaks, and dinners are committed to class prep and student papers.

students passing between classes

The kind of feedback I’m accustomed to giving American students must now be given to my Chinese students in simpler terms and run though a sort of cultural filter to make sure I’m maximizing my ability to reach them.

The reading text I use (what the department selected), Signs of Life, takes a cultural studies-perspective to examine American pop culture in critical essays by folks like Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Friedman, Eric Schlosser, Gloria Steinem, and other lefty progressives. The articles are complex, analytical, and rife with academic language, constructs, and concepts these young people have never, ever encountered. (Recall, Gladwell writes for the New Yorker.) Before we dug into the anthology, we spent a week untangling the meanings of ‘cultural studies’ and ‘semiotics’— tough enough for first-year American college students. Can you imagine my students’ confused faces when I first tried explaining these very western concepts in English?

on campus mushroom = broadcast speaker

To “get it,” we spend a lot of time going over new words. And sometimes, I think I see that light turn on above their heads that they understand how all the concepts, words, and meanings are interrelated. Like when we worked through the definition of ‘profit margin’ by drawing a large Starbucks (yep, Bigbuck$ has infiltrated China) cup on the chalkboard and brainstormed to fill it with business expenses (rent, bills, taxes, employee pay—my students generated these costs!) until the slim, un-chalked bit remaining at the top represented what the business actually made after all expenses were taken into account, the profit margin. Other times, I know they’re lost…and they hate me. But at the very least they do stay awake, answer vocabulary questions, and read aloud when I put them on the spot. I put them on the spot—Yeah, I’d hate me, too.

But because my teachers and professors never let me slide and always demanded my best, I now pay forward that gift, and curse, to my students.

Right now, we’re working on Gladwell’s, “The Science of Shopping.” It has some serious vocabulary, for example, ‘urban geographer’, ‘retail anthropologist’, ‘treacherous’, ‘Decompression Zone’, ‘profit margin’, ‘Invariant Right’, ‘theoretician’, ‘empiricist’, ‘parlance’, ‘frivolity, humility’—but a few from the long list I’ve culled from the reading. These students really like shopping, and with China’s rapid consumer culture growth, I think it important they understand how they’re being marketed to, or manipulated, as blossoming consumers. The Gladwell article discusses how market researchers have videotaped and monitored American consumer behavior since the 1970s when baby boomers (‘baby boomer’ was one of our words last week) began coming into wealth and needed more stuff to spend money on.

village, small farms across from new campus

My students are not jaded when it comes to economic growth and consumerism. (In the West, especially Humboldt County, we understand the dark side of economic growth, how it does not benefit everyone equally and how it frequently harms and destroys natural resources. My students do not yet see a link between economic growth and its attendant environmental degradation and diminished opportunity among the poorest. *I hope this is not too broad but explains better what I’m I trying get at with respect to my students’ perspective of economic growth.) In reading their personal essays, which address how where they grew up influences who they are today, many consider the rapid growth in their hometowns or cities as overwhelmingly positive. Most speak of how their home cities have been improved with development and commercial shopping centers; they cite how cities are better, now, because they have “many more tall buildings” than they did when they were children.

One student was so painfully uncomfortable writing about the coal-mining town where he grew up that he instead wanted to write about the city where he and his family moved where he was eleven years old. He wanted to write about how he and his family could do so many more things in the city like go shopping with his family and go singing with his friends at KTV (KTV is comparable to American Karaoke—KTV and singing, in general, are huge in China). For my students, it would seem that shopping and participating China’s emerging consumer culture is a mark of honor if not outright national obligation.

new campus built at the edge of Xi'an

After defining ‘semiotics,’ and ‘cultural studies’ and after reading articles by Gladwell and Schlosser, I asked my students to go ‘shopping’ for their homework assignment. They are not required to spend any money; instead, I want them to go to their favorite shopping centers, and in terms of the Gladwell and Schlosser articles, observe where merchandise is placed. I want them to examine whether the Decompression Zone and the Invariant Right principles hold true for their favorite places to shop. I want to know what they see when they first walk into a store—what kind of merchandise is on the right? What’s on the left? Are the aisles narrow or wide? Are there sale items, if so where are they located? How far inside, in terms of paces, do you have to walk before you encounter merchandise? Who is shopping in this store—men, women, children? Describe the shoppers.

From these observations, we will begin the first stages of our cross-cultural, thesis-driven argumentative paper. This will be heavy stuff, I think. I hope I can trick ‘em with shopping, get them interested in critical analysis by first going to the mall…oh, they will hate me.

private students, Sunday afternoons

********I do have a creative writing assignment that you might like to read—my students have said it’s ok to share with you, really:
“Hello, Josephine

This is our group (Flora, Carrie, Ainder, Tiny, Yuki). It’s totally OK for you to share our creative

writing story with your friends, we are happy about that.”

—-Flora, Carrie, Ainder, Tiny, Yuki

Thanks, ladies!

creative writing stuff


*They have revised this story twice, and though there are still some minor grammar/ mechanics issues, I think they’ve done a great job—see if you can spot the required elements: dialog, bracelet/jewelry, chapstick, feathers, $2 dollar bill. Enjoy!

Yuki and her fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Yuki who lived in the forest with her parents. The only friends she had were the animals – deer, rabbits, and birds. Though life in the forest was very comfortable, playing with her friends, picking fruits from the tree……she still wanted to have a look at the world outside. When she was 16, she got her parents’ permission and decided to go out of the forest. After a long walk, she arrived at a town near the forest. She did not know where to go, so she followed the crowd, and then she saw many people getting together reading a bulletin on the wall. She walked closer, and saw that it reads:

Tonight the prince of our country will hold a dance ball to find a suitable girl that will be his wife in the future. Any girl in this country can join in it.

“Oh, I want to go there and meet the prince!”
She couldn’t hold her excitement and said it loudly. She had heard from the birds in the forest that the prince was very kind and handsome. Though she had never fallen in love, as she grew up to be a big girl, the desire of finding a romantic love was becoming bigger and bigger in her heart. But to her sadness, the only two things she had with her are a 2 dollars’ cash, which she picked up in the forest after two travelers had left it carelessly on the ground, and a feather, which was her parents’ birthday present to wish her good luck.

She stood in the crowd and a feeling of great loss occupied her mind.

“Look at me, I don’t have nice clothes on me, how can I get the prince’s attention? And where can I find the carriage to take me to the prince’s palace downtown?”

When thinking of this, she became very upset, and walked along the street without purpose. But then, someone near her caught her attention. It was an old lady in worn-out clothes, crouching in the corner. Many people walked past her, but no one paid any attention to her.

“What a poor lady! She must be very hungry and cold. I must do something to help her!” She went to the lady, and gave her all the money she had – two dollars. The old lady looked at her, eyes filled with appreciation, “Good girl, you are so kind!” Suddenly, a light appeared around her, and the woman turned into a witch with a magic wand.
“You’ve seen who I am. Speak out your wish, and I will realize it for your good deed!”

“The lucky goddess has come to me!” Yuki shed tears excitedly and said:“I want to go to the dance ball! Please help me!”

Before the sound of her voice died away, she found herself transformed into another person and from head to toe, she looked brand-new. A big and delicate carriage stood in front of them, and it seemed that only they could see all that happened. She is so beautiful in that golden dress, with precious jewelry sparkling on her neck and wrist.

“Oh my god! Is this me? I can’t believe my eyes!”

“Wait! There is one thing left!” The witch waves her hand again and a chapstick appeared in Yuki’s hand,“Wipe this stick on, and you will be the most beautiful girl tonight.”

“Thank you! I don’t know how I can show my gratitude to you……”

“Don’t thank me, it is your kind heart and that magic feather on you that brought you luck.”
That night, Yuki attracted everyone’s attention, especially, the prince’s. And the ending, like every fairytale, is self-evident!