cheating in China

I’m not sure if it only happens in the foreign teacher classes, but my colleagues and I have been having a hell of a time stopping students from cheating on our finals. Out of the twenty classes I teach, there were only three where I didn’t catch cheating. I had students blatantly turning in their seats to tell friends the test answers, girls switching papers and taking the test for their friends, boys looking at answer sheets in desks, and even one student going through my folders for the answer sheet and writing them down on a note.

(My final test is not hard. It’s vocabulary that we’ve been studying for the past six weeks. Multiple choice. Arranged in three sections. Very, very, laughably easy.)

I’m not an expert on China by any means, just a casual observer casually observing a culture of cheating and wondering where it comes from.

One of my Chinese friends has impeccable English. Her part-time job for a few months was to collect a fake ID card, go to another Chinese city, pretend to be a student and take the SATs or TEFL for her student client. Underground businesses like these — selling test-takers — aren’t rare by any means; she says that every time she’s taken a test like this, she’s known several other professional test-takers in the room with her.

These tests determine if the Chinese students have the English skills to get into a college in the US, UK, Australia, etc. (My friend relishes the fact that once the cheating students get there, they will likely have to drop out because they can’t pay off anyone to speak English for them in daily life…) Coincidentally, her American boyfriend was on the other side of the issue: When he attended college in the States, many Chinese students went over to study abroad with high TEFL scores, yet a number of them couldn’t speak past a middle school level. He worked in the school cafeteria where all study abroad students automatically were offered a job; many of the Chinese students with high TEFL scores were relegated to kitchen duties because they couldn’t communicate with the diners.

There’s also the issue of plagiarism on the college level, and not just students, but professors. A simple Google search brings up plenty of blogs about the issue. It’s kind of a joke between the expats in Nanjing that a Chinese diploma isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on because the standards of education are somewhat low. Most expat students study Chinese — the one subject that is, obviously, worth while — or stay for one semester of easy As and cheap beer.

Though I wonder if these kids cheating in my class are actually pretty clever; with the amount of bribery that goes on in the adult world in China, they may just be getting some practice. The thing that gets me, though, is that a lot of the times the kids I caught cheating were intelligent ones who would have passed easily anyway. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t fly in my classroom and a few unhappy students got their first zero grade ever. Hopefully it’ll be their last…


Pets in Nanjing, China

Just some photos and a little food for thought. CNN recently did a story about live animals sold as keychains in Beijing. It’s not limited to the capital city, however; you can buy these keychains in Nanjing as well.



These keychains were in the Confucius Temple market in Nanjing. There are also several pet stores were animals are sometimes crammed into cages. Some are more fortunate and have space, but turtles and smaller animals seem to be particularly unlucky.





I had the misfortune of seeing a deceased bunny tossed into the garbage. No lunch was eaten that day by yours truly.

Also, once spring rolls around rabbits and gerbils go on sale, typically outside of elementary and high schools for the kids alongside comic books and candy. These rabbits were driven to school by motorcycle, then the seller waits outside. My friend bought a rabbit last week for 20 RMB, or $3 US. Inbreeding is fairly common; the rabbit my friend bought is blind, much to his surprise. I used to have a blind cat and was able to tell pretty quickly with the aid of a pen light.


But, as for the people buying the pets, I can say that dogs and birds are usually treated very well by their owners. Dogs are the pets of choice, and enjoy long walks around town usually without a leash. Men buy birds and have clubs outside in parks where they show them off, talking about the best type of seed. Usually if a pet can survive the actual pet store, it seems like they’ll have a good life afterwards.

Anyway. It’s tough resisting buying all of the turtles and setting them free in a lake, regardless…

matchmaker market

Springtime is upon us and love is in the air, especially alongside West Beijing Road where an open-air matchmaker market has sprung up.


Hopefuls compile short biographies about themselves (date of birth, job, height, etc.) and a list of what they’re looking for in a mate. Then the info is printed onto signs, pink for women and blue for men, and hung like laundry out to dry. Find someone you like? Leave your phone number on the placard.

Interestingly enough, most of the attendees to the markets are parents with thick journals, copying down phone numbers and bios for their daughters and sons. A friend even suggested to me that many of the bios are actually written by parents—which explains why some of them require a potential mate to be respectful to their own parents. Who wants a daughter- or son-in-law that isnt’?


About 90% of the female signs say that they want a mate who has his own apartment or house. Unfortunately, Nanjing is pretty notorious for expensive apartments, leading to a lack of individuals who actually own one. The apartment system is pretty interesting; people don’t really rent apartments, instead they buy them. But you don’t really ‘own’ the apartment after you buy it, so you can’t leave it to your children in a will. This is done—supposedly–because of the high population in China; everyone gets a fair chance at an apartment instead of them being left in one family through generations.

The male signs with the most phone numbers—like this one below—are written by men who have their own living accommodations and work for the government, earning a nice steady paycheck.


This sign says that he’s looking for someone who was born in the year of the rabbit, but tigers are okay too.


Another good way to get phone numbers is to be a lone foreign girl, presumably perusing the signs looking for love.

Woman: Hey! Hey, what are you looking for?
Me: What?
Woman: What kind of man are you looking for?
Me: Er, no, I have a boyfriend, he’s standing over there–
Woman: Then do you have a cousin? Or a sister in Nanjing?
Me: I… need to go…


Have another intriguing discussion said behind my back at the matchmaker market:

Man: Hey, why do foreign girls have such a nice curvy-cut figure?
Another man: Don’t you know? It’s because their diet is different from Chinese girls. The foreigners eat raw beef.

I don’t eat raw beef, just for the record.

Earthquake in Japan

As I’m sure everyone’s aware of… Japan was hit by a huge 8.9 quake, followed by a series of tsunami waves that decimated many towns around Tokyo. And there’s the issue of radiation as well. Luckily, all of my friends there are okay for now and will hopefully be safe in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, in Nanjing…

We’re pretty far away, so we didn’t even feel the quake here. I still have the awful expat tendency to live in a bubble and missed the news about the quake until a friend phoned me about in two hours later. China has sent aid to Japan in the form of a rescue team.

The majority of people I’ve talked to here have been keeping Japan in their thoughts, worried about the lives lost and long term damage. On the internet especially, people have been voicing praise about how orderly Japanese civilians have been during the chaos. Unfortunately, there are a few people (Particularly some of the younger kids that can’t quite explain why they hate Japan) who are cheering for Japan’s misfortune; Nanjing and Japan have a pretty sketchy history, in case you didn’t know. But the most heartening thing is that for every person who has reveled in the destruction, many more have told him or her to more or less shut up and grow a heart.

However, there has been some fear going around the city in regards to the radiation, particularly between tech-savvy 20somethings. A text message went around today about not going outside in the ‘acid’ rain without a rain coat, lest you get radiation poisoning.

Allow me to give you the rundown I gave some Chinese pals today:

1) ‘Acid rain’ comes from the use of coal, not radiation.
2) Regardless, a rain coat won’t protect you from the amount of radiation that you’d want to evacuate a city from anyway.
3) If people in Tokyo aren’t being evacuated, surely Nanjing is okay.
4) Weather usually hits China BEFORE Japan and moves in a west-east motion anyway.

We’re too far away to feel tremors, but for the most part everyone is keeping an eye on the news.

Xuanwu Lake

Xuanwu Lake is situated about ten minutes from where I live in Nanjing, just outside the ancient city wall. Islands and bridges dot the lake, and you can easily take two hours to explore all of them and then get lost and end up crawling through a fence to get to a bus stop. Regardless of fence crawling, it’s a beautiful spot. There are small paddle boats for rent, little vendors with food–some of which, on the outskirts of the park are of the Uighir minority and not really supposed to be there. But their sweet potatoes smell so good that the average citizen doesn’t seem to mind.







Note the odd effect the mix of evening and smog has on China’s sky…



Thanksgiving in China

So China does not actually celebrate Thanksgiving–as I’m sure you’ve gathered–but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Since turkey (or ‘fire chicken’ as it’s called here) is hard to come by, let alone cook in our tiny kitchen, buckets of KFC were substituted. Everyone prepared a dish or brought out the wine and we were able to expose a few curious Chinese friends and bemused British ones to an American Thanksgiving in our building’s computer room.

Pictures stolen from Cassie and Thomas, whose blog you should check out for more adventures in Nanjing ♥

Also, my students were genuinely impressed by my mad hand-turkey drawing skills. Finally, my elementary school education is coming in… handy.


Lake Mochou


There’s a lake nearby that is tied to a legend of a woman from days bygone. My students tell me she was a princess, friends tell me she was a peasant, some say she was blind… But like most Chinese stories (at least the ones I’ve heard) she falls in love, her lover dies, and she pines for him. My students tell me she cried so much she jumped into a lake of her own tears–Lake Mochou.

And now kids play in that lake in giant plastic hamster balls.
















Christmas in Nanjing

Nanjing has a pretty strong western community, plus a lot of folks who love shopping. Christmas Eve is a big date night, with people selling flowers and balloons that say ‘I love you’ on the side. Also, the center of the city is incredibly crowded and reminds you more of New Years Eve than Christmas. There are Christmas lights up here and there, and any mall hoping to attract shoppers has a tree or dancing Santa in the lobby.


Church services are usually pretty packed. This is a picture of Sacred Heart in the middle of Nanjing; I was told that it was founded a few hundred years ago by the French and is the only Catholic church in Nanjing recognized in Rome.


In any case, Christmas in Nanjing is–for most people–just another day, but with more lights and an excuse to go have a party and wear a Santa hat while shopping. Then again, that’s true for some people back home too. Merry Christmas!