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Fishing with my Chinese Father-in-Law

Warning: This story does not have a happy ending.

Many westerners who marry into a Chinese family often bond with their father-in-law over a Qingdao beer or a couple shots of strong Chinese alcohol.  Me?  I fish with my Chinese father-in-law.

Fishing with my Chinese father in law2

In early October we went up to a lake in Western Massachusetts to go fishing, both of us lacking a fishing license.  I’ve never been able to explain to him that in the land of the free you still need to register with the government to catch a fish. I’ve never been good at fishing and frankly I’ve never enjoyed fishing.  But last year when my Chinese mother-in-law was in America I took her fishing on a day where it seemed that all the fish had death wishes.  My Chinese mother-in-law and I caught so many fish that one day that we couldn’t keep them all, though she desperately wanted to.  If I couldn’t explain to them the concept of a fishing license I certainly failed in attempting to explain the concept of “catch and release.”  To the both of them there is only “catch” and never “release.”  This concept is as foreign to them as the Chinese concept of postpartum recovery is to Americans.  So my name went into the annals of my new extended family as a “good fisherman who really knows how to fish” which couldn’t be further from the truth.


When my Chinese father-in-law arrived he was eager for a repeat trip and to catch as many if not more fish with the same wishes.  Summer turned into autumn and finally by mid-October we made the trip.  He was prepared a week earlier when he moved a few stumps and rocks in our yard to reveal worms that my son and him gleefully collected.  He even kept some raw meat scraps from some unmentionable part of an animal and put it into a snack baggie to bring along to entice the piranhas in the lake.  Faced with a 65 year old Chinese man who lived through the Cultural Revolution, I thought the least I could do is to bring him fishing.  My suggestion was to get up early which is the time I’ve always gone fishing in my life.  This idea was roundly rejected by him and roundly accepted by me as I turned over with a smile in bed.  When we did finally get out to the canoe with our fishing poles I found that none of them were equipped with just a hook and bobber which to me is the easiest way to fish.  No, in fact they were all equipped with massive six-hooked lures that had the potential of catching the elusive sasquatch fish of the lake.  Of course, he doesn’t know the concept of saltwater lures and fresh water lures and plus I forgot the word for lure in Chinese anyway, so I did what I hate most, clip lures off and attempt to tie a hook on.


The contraption at the end of the fishing pole was laughable but the best I could do without a fishing expert with me who knew how and what we would catch on such a cold morning or whether we even had a prayer.  We went out and I did a few casts because my Chinese father-in-law has never gotten the hang of casting a fishing pole.  Though I’ve never gotten the hang of his beautiful Chinese calligraphy so I guess we all have abilities that come natural to us.  So after about 30 minutes on the water without coffee I explained to him that I needed to go back and have my breakfast and that it seems like the fish are too deep.  Disappointed because I know I let him down, I paddled back as he untangled fishing lines and unhooked lures from ropes.


Some Western guys who marry Chinese girls often bond with their father-in-law by drinking strong alcohol.  I fish.  After a day like this though, I think I might try the beer with him next time.

MandMx #China Twitter Tweets of the Week for 2012-10-16

  • New post: MandMx #China Twitter Tweets of the Week for 2012-10-09 #learnchinese #
  • Our 4y/o helped MX prepare our 75 day old's milk powder drink. After helping he said, “你看,一点都没有掉在外面! Look, not even a bit spilled outside." #
  • Classic MandMx: : Mitt Romney In Chinese Characters #china #

MandMx #China Twitter Tweets of the Week for 2012-10-09

  • New post: MandMx #China Twitter Tweets of the Week for 2012-10-02 #learnchinese #
  • Tonight's dinner: 宫保鸡丁 Gōng bǎo jī dīng Kung Pao Chicken. Our 4y/o ran around yelling, "宫保鸡丁! 宫保鸡丁! Kung Pao Chicken! Kung Pao Chicken!" #
  • Anyone wanna learn economics for free during your lunch break? I'm loving the @Mercatus Center's Marginal Revolution University #MRUDevEcon #
  • FUNNY! Mao on KFC logo. from "Hold The Mao: 8 Revolutionary Revised Chairman Mao Posters" #
  • Classic MandMx: : American Economy Is Really Bad #china #
  • Preparing for my Chinese Zodiac lesson, MX fed our 69 day old and our 4y/o is getting ready for the big 奥巴马/罗姆尼 Obama/Romney debate! #
  • Classic MandMx: : Fake Birth Certificate Part 1 #china #
  • Our 4y/o asked for 3 words in Chinese tonight from Mx: staring 盯着 dīngzhe dump truck 翻斗卡车 Fāndǒu kǎchē and full 满 mǎn. #
  • Classic MandMx: : Unemployment In China Is Bad #china #
  • Chinese father-in-law: Our 4y/o observed a door lock then grabbed a pencil and wrote a full page of letters like a 科学家 kēxuéjiā scientist. #
  • This documentary is fascinating. So much history but is it true? "1421: The Year China Discovered America Part 1 & 2" #
  • Classic MandMx: : Say Hello To The Teacher #china #
  • My Chinese father-in-law boiled down our 4y/o's favorite show, Thomas the Tank Engine, as "那个火车节目 Nàgè huǒchē jiémù that train program." #
  • The classic 1968 Children's story Corduroy in Chinese! via 开心网 #
  • Classic MandMx: : Christmas Trees And Gold Medals #china #
  • Our 4y/o asked Mx why my students called me MR. "Ask Daddy later. 下午问爸爸吧." He then replied, "Daddy will say 'that's a good question, son.'" #
  • New post: Columbus Day Or Zheng He Day? #learnchinese #
  • Would US be a hot topic if China had elections? "US Political Ads about China: Collins, Obama/Romney & Analysis" #
  • ChinaSmack: Have you ever seen the Great Wall of China FULL of people? Shocking photo! #
  • Classic MandMx: : The Story Of Yang Jun Part 1 #china #
  • After yard work: our 4y/o asked why he should lock the shed. "Our wheelbarrow might be stolen!" He replied, "There's no 坏蛋 "bad egg" here." #
  • Anybody read these? "Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu Books Reissued: The Mask, the Mystery, the Hand, the Daughter and more." #
  • Can you make out the Chinese song on the whiteboard? "Learning Chinese at the St. Louis Language Imm #
  • Classic MandMx: : US Presidential Inauguration 2009 #china #

MandMx #China Twitter Tweets of the Week for 2012-10-02

  • 50 Chinese Children's Songs That Help Your Baby Learn to Speak – 开心网 #
  • Tonight after his shower, our 4y/o explained how to comb his hair 梳头 Shūtóu to my Chinese father-in-law. "这样子,公公。 Like this Grandpa." #
  • Non China Related: My 1st ever full fledge digital downloaded music album. Ben Folds Five! First album in a long time! #
  • Classic MandMx: : "I Have A Dream" In Chinese #china #
  • Our 4y/o was accused of dropping a pitcher's lid on the floor. He defended himself in Chinese. "不是这样,是公公!Not like that, it was Grandpa." #
  • If current growth rates continue, by 2015 Chinese will overtake English as the internet's language. @ChinaStories #
  • Differences between China (red) and the US (blue). "Drinks when you have a stomach ache." #
  • Classic MandMx: : Teaching English In China #china #
  • Our 4y/o is prepping drawings for 2 cousins for Saturday when we'll eat Chinese food with his 小姑父 Xiǎo gūfu Uncle who'll hand deliver them. #
  • Another unbelievably informative and useful infographic from @illuminantceo What gifts to get the Chinese in your life #
  • Classic MandMx: : Fruit Cake In China #china #
  • So cool! "4 Ads Featuring Chinese or Asian Women and Caucasian Men: Heineken, Ruffles, Chevy and Apple." #
  • Our 4y/o talked about Calvin & Hobbes with my Chinese father-in-law. "…Spaceman Spiff 的手枪 de shǒuqiāng. Spaceman Spiff's blaster…." #
  • That is one ugly EVIL KUNG FU PANDA from China Digital Times and artist "Sinking Stone" #
  • Classic MandMx: : Wise Child Foolish Child #china #
  • Our 4y/o is flying his toy plane around the house and announced, "中国人到中国去! 美国人到美国去! Chinese going to China. Americans going to America!" #
  • Mx taught me a new word today describing my brother-in-law. 腼腆 miǎntiǎn which is translated as "bashful" but I prefer a positive "quiet." #
  • Classic MandMx: : English Pronunciation Cigarette Or Secret #china #
  • Don't Judge a Book: Watch a Homely Chinese Girl Belt Out Adele's Song on China's "THE VOICE 中国好声音" h/t @ChinaStories #
  • Classic MandMx: : How To Scare A Foreigner In China #china #
  • Our 4y/o lost his faith in the Patriots yesterday too early! He loves watching 橄榄球 Gǎnlǎnqiú American football and those Patriots! #
  • Our 67 day old little one is fun when she's fed and changed. But when she's hungry 怎么凶 so fierce/nasty! Watch out, she can be cranky! #
  • Classic MandMx: : Kites In China #china #

MandMx #China Twitter Tweets of the Week for 2012-09-25

  • New post: MandMx #China Twitter Tweets of the Week for 2012-09-18 #learnchinese #
  • New post: Scene From A Chinese Restaurant In China #learnchinese #
  • We had an argument on what our 53 day old's 1st words will be. I said 爸爸 Bàba, Mx said 妈妈 Māmā and our 4y/o said it would be 哥哥 Gēgē. #
  • Classic MandMx: : Moon Cakes And Security #china #
  • 先做学生,后做先生。Xiān zuò xuéshēng, hòu zuò xiānshēng. "1 must learn something well before 1 can teach it to others." #
  • New post: From Teaching English in China to Teaching Chinese in America: Completing the Circle #learnchinese #
  • Every time our 4y/o wants to get my Chinese father-in-law's attention he always says 公…公…公…公… Gōng… Gōng… Gōng… Gōng… #
  • Classic MandMx: : Ask Mr Tea #china #
  • Class Question: Why do many Chinese not like the Japanese? Various Answers: different religions, different languages, a war? #
  • Classic MandMx: : Teaching English About Overweight And Fat #china #
  • Trying to explain the whole digestive tract to our 4y/o after dinner in English I kept using 肚子 dùzi the Chinese for stomach. #
  • Classic MandMx: : Chinese Chicken Soup #china #
  • Our 4y/o said "爸爸已经起来了,妹妹已经起来了,公公已经起来了,妈妈已经起来了,哥哥已经起来了, Daddy, sister, grandpa, momma and old brother already woke up!" #
  • Our 57 day old little one has been smiling at us so much lately. She can certainly recognize us and smiles. MX says, "好玩好玩! So fun So fun!" #
  • This can't be good. "Chinese protesters surround U.S. ambassador car, Ai Wei Wei says it's fake" #
  • Classic MandMx: : Bin Laden Is Dead: Chinese Reactions #china #
  • Just found @JassaDeen on Youtube Will definitely show some of her videos in my Chinese class. How inspiring for some of my students! #
  • New post: 7 Lesser Known Sichuan Spicy Things #learnchinese #
  • Classic MandMx: : Chinese Exam 004: What Is A Horse Opera? #china #
  • I love how our 4y/o has introduced Richard Scarry's books to my Chinese father-in-law in Chinese! "公公,你看,玉米车! Grandpa look! A corn car." #
  • Reading 1st Hardy Boys (侦探 zhēntàn detectives) book to our 4y/o. We're reading "Secret Agent on Flight 101" Loves it! #
  • Classic MandMx: : American Opinions Of The Chinese Through The Decades #china #
  • Wouldn't catch me on those things! "3 Hilarious Chinese Amusement Park Rides Videos: Chengdu, Beijing and Shanghai" #

From Teaching English in China to Teaching Chinese in America: Completing the Circle

“Mr. Mr. Curse me out in Chinese and I’ll curse you out in Portuguese!”


That should give you a glimpse into my new world: Teaching Chinese to middle schoolers in an urban Magnet School in Western Massachusetts.  Twelve years ago when I embarked on my 5 year stint in China, I never thought that I needed to take notes on the culture, the people and the language because I would be teaching this stuff in the future.  I took notes, doodles, journals and diaries along with scrapbooks etc but little did I know that I would do the opposite of what I was doing in China (teaching English) in my hometown in the coming future.  I would have the chance to teach Chinese in America.
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The student who asked me to curse him out is a kind of odd duck in my classes where his parents’ native language is Portuguese in a city where it seems like the mother tongue is Spanish not English.  The student body is 80% poverty and the school is awash in money from the Federal Government.  I haven’t asked for much of anything in terms of new purchases for books or equipment, but I do chop down a tree or two on a daily basis getting their Chinese character worksheets copied.


But teaching Chinese has been an interesting time so far as it has strengthened my foundational knowledge in tones, characters and pronunciation.  I’ve had to reevaluate my feelings for the Chinese language and I’ve come to the conclusion that I do love speaking the language, learning the language and now teaching the language.


And sooner or later I might teach that Portuguese-American student a few bad words in Mandarin!

Keep reading for more blog updates on my teaching experiences and maybe a comic or two thrown in.