Archive for November, 2008

Arm & Hatchet

We’ve gotten so used to fake products, I have to admit a moment of hesitation when confronted with genuine Arm and Hammer Baking Soda today.  Now I realize that baking soda is hardly worth writing an entry about – but I wanted to show you how close, yet how far, are most copied products lining the shelves of Chinese stores (and being exported abroad).

Take a look at these two boxes closely.  The hammer & hatchet pictures are almost the same – the box shape, color, design are clearly copied.  But I wonder who they are trying to trick into purchasing this product?  Except for import stores, Chinese shoppers do not have an image of baking soda necessarily coming in an orange box.  So, is it the foreigners that the marketing team at Arm & Hatchet are after?  Will we feel better buying a box that is nearly the same as what we expected (actually, we do) – but CLEARLY not the real thing?

The top of the San He Si Pin (Arm & Hatchet) box is also revealing (double click on the image to enlarge):

It’s these little puzzles that keep life in China so very interesting.


East Meets West: Education

Last week,  16 students from a local university visited Tianjin International School (TIS).  They were English and education majors, studying the differences in western and Chinese education styles.

As the public relations liaison for TIS, it was my great pleasure to give the students a tour, and to discuss these differences.  The first thing the students noticed were the colors – on the walls, in classrooms and recreation areas, on bulletin boards, even on the student’s clothes.  In China, schools are typically painted gray or industrial light green.  Classrooms are quite basic – chairs, teacher’s desk, chalkboard.  Students wear polyester sport suit uniforms.  Classrooms in China are also full: easily 50 or 60 students to each teacher – even in primary school.  Students are required to speak only when called on – otherwise, a strict posture (hands tucked neatly behind backs) is maintained when the teacher is lecturing.  Our TIS visitors weren’t sure what to think of the 1:7 ratio, or if the students were being naughty when they actively participated in each activity.

We also talked about philosophical differences.  Whereas western education emphasizes competition of the individual against him or herself (by applying myself and trying my best, can I improve my scores), Chinese education strongly focuses on competition against one’s peers.  Chinese education focuses students on concrete, memorization based disciplines like Chinese language and character studies, geography, history, mathematics, science, politics and morality (which stress love of the motherland, love of the party, and love of the people (and previously love of Chairman Mao).  A foreign language, often English, is introduced in about the third grade. Chinese and mathematics account for about 60 percent of the scheduled class time; natural science and social science account for about 8 percent.**

In the west, education strives to produce well-rounded students who develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.  If you work in an international industry, you probably see this difference played out all the time in the kinds of tasks that western educated people perform well vs the ones where our eastern educated friends excel.

Chinese school days are also longer, and many students attend school on Saturdays as well.  Because school time is dedicated to academics, additional tutoring in language, the arts, sports and other subjects is often required after school by parents who want their child to compete well against their peers.  A six day school week, from 7 am to 7 pm, plus additional tutoring time is quite common in our city. I try to remind our kids of this when they don’t want to get out of bed for school!

The student’s relationship with his or her teacher is also quite different.  Teachers must maintain strict discipline – and do so through firmness and shaming.  They are not your friend – they command, and many earn, the respect of their students by preparing pupils to score well on standardized tests.

Curriculum is also set by the national government – to include uniform textbooks and testing throughout the country.  It’s fascinating to talk to university students about what they’ve learned about the West, which books they’ve read, etc.  They all read and were taught the same thing – and were also instructed about the patriotic way to respond to what they learn about these subjects.

With the “opening up” reforms of the 1990’s and widespread use of the internet, the education system is struggling to keep up.  Problem solving and team work based learning is becoming more fashionable, especially at the high school and university levels, but a language that requires a student to memorize 4,000 characters to read a simple newspaper, not to mention 5,000 years of mind-numbing history, will probably always lean toward rote memorization and strict, party affirmed lecture style presentations.

I thoroughly enjoyed this afternoon with our university friends.  They taught me a great deal – about the discipline and perseverance of Chinese students and the excitement one should feel when learning something new about another culture for the first time.

** taken from Wikipedia


Ba Ba Doo Ba Ba

QUESTION:  What do you get when you take:

  • 1 international school in China
  • 9 kindergartners from Korea, America, Taiwan and Holland
  • 1 Australian teacher, and
  • 1 Chinese teacher?

ANSWER:  Probably the cutest video on You Tube.

Tianjin International School’s kindergarten class takes the stage at the annual International Day celebration. After a 1:40 minute intro from their teacher, they perform an Australian kid’s song that takes directly from Isaiah 53:6. It includes 5 year olds from around the world singing the phrase “the iniquity of us all”.

– Dan