June 23, 2018

Eloquent ambassador

Visiting scholar brings Chinese culture to area schools

Feb. 9, 2012

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff


Chinese teacher and scholar Tao Ye (above) is currently teaching Chinese cultural studies at Champlain Valley Union High School as part of the University of Vermont’s Asian Studies Outreach Program. She will be at Williston Central Allen Brook schools in the coming months. (Photo courtesy of Tao Ye)

The Year of the Dragon, which began on Jan. 23, is considered the luckiest year in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese lunisolar calendar.

But for 27-year-old Chinese teacher and scholar Tao Ye, her luck began last fall — during the Year of the Rabbit –—when she began her sabbatical in the Chittenden South Supervisory Union school system.

“I think I’m so lucky I can come to CVU (Champlain Valley Union High School) and come to different schools to learn, because it’s good for my teaching method,” Tao said.

Tao, who pointed out that the Year of the Dragon is deemed the most auspicious time to get married, have a baby or start a business, began teaching Chinese cultural studies at CVU in January after spending time at primary schools in Hinesburg, Charlotte and Shelburne.

A native of Lijiang, a city in the mountainous Yunnan Province of southwest China, Tao said classroom sizes are much larger at her home school — often greater than 50 students per class — and that academics in China are focused more on book learning and preparing students for standardized college entrance exams. Another difference, she said, is that the school day is longer in China.

“At school (in China), students have a long schedule every day — from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” Tao said. “Most students will have breakfast, lunch and dinner at school.”

She added that Chinese schools differ from their American counterparts in terms of a rigidly enforced set of personal conduct and appearance codes.

“In China, the schools have a lot of school rules,” she said. “Boys cannot have long hair. Girls cannot dye their hair.”

As a result, Tao observed, Chinese classrooms are less participatory and students are less assertive.

“The most impressive thing I learned from students (in Vermont) is they are very brave,” said Tao. “In China, the classroom is always very silent. Here, students are very brave. They will give you feedback.”

Tao, who will have lived with eight host families by the end of the school year, is one of several Asian instructors who have traveled to Vermont as part of the University of Vermont’s Asian Studies Outreach Program.

Since arriving in the Green Mountain State, she has instructed students in Chinese history, geography and calligraphy. She also teaches about and cooks Chinese cuisine — including Kung Pao chicken, which she has made no less than seven times for students.

“Every province has a different kind of flavor, so if you go to different parts of China you can taste different kinds of food,” said Tao. “In Lijiang, it’s almost the same as the Sichuan Province. We like spicy foods.”

Tao will remain at CVU through the end of the week and will move to Williston Central School on Feb. 13. She will finish out the school year at Allen Brook School and return to China in June.

Reflecting on her time spent thus far in the CSSU, she said she has learned as much as she hopes she has taught students.

“This is a very nice program for Asian people to come here and share something, but also they can learn lots of things from here,” Tao said. “It’s good for us to come here and learn something new and take this new way home. It’s good for our students.”

Citing the American teaching techniques of student-teacher dialogue and positive reinforcement, Tao said she hopes to incorporate these methods into her instruction style back home.

“I think after I come back (to China), I will change some teaching methods,” she said.

While she has occasionally felt homesick for her country and family — particularly during the Chinese New Year celebration — Tao said that the welcoming nature of the community and the school system has made for a natural transition.

“This is like a big family for me,” she said.

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It is what it is.


I contemplated saving approximately 805 words by simply having the above overworked phrase stand as my review of director Edward Zwick’s “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.” However, despite its relatively appropriate description of this action-thriller starring Tom Cruise as the title maverick, fear of a random audit by the American Film Critics Oversight Committee induced me to proceed with the usual study in tortured prose that follows.


In this second film based on the character developed by novelist Lee Child, the ex-military police major-turned-vigilante once again fights for truth, justice and the American way…in his very own way. Expect the usual array of Benedict Arnolds, innocent victims, hidden agendas, lots of derring-do and, of course, the most despicable of villains. He just may be as formidable a juggernaut as our knight in jeans and ubiquitous t-shirt.


But it’s the further honing of Jack’s iconoclastic, lone wolf image and the hope that we might get a peek into his enigmatic character’s soul that are the film’s primary allure. Not that we really want to know. That might spoil it. For it is a literary tradition to be entranced by the mysterious stranger…someone who must work from outside our fallible system to correct our foibles and wreak vengeance on our enemies. When, at the end of his courageous intervention, the hero rides off into the sunset, we are actually being rhetorical when we ask, “Who was that stranger?”


Still, there is an eloquent diversion from the jaded norm when Jack Reacher comes into town courtesy of a hitchhiker’s thumb that symbolizes his independence. Hmm, we fantasize….must be great…no mortgage, college loans, lying contractors or expensive car repairs and, for the most part, no obligations. That is, unless a suddenly inserted sub-plot in your life suggests that somewhere along your shadowy travels you spawned a child.


While the chief purpose of Mr. Reacher’s visit to a military base is to thank a pretty confederate, upon his arrival it becomes apparent that things aren’t only rotten in Denmark. Cobie Smulders’s Major Turner, the lady pal who helped him on his last covert foray in the name of righteousness and virtue, has been arrested on the charge of espionage. Oh, and by the way, notes the fishy commanding officer who relays that bad news, a paternity suit has been filed against Jack. Congratulations…it’s a girl.


Of course, quicker than you can say Jack Reacher, our boy seeks out the result of his alleged assignation some fifteen years ago. Doing the gumshoe thing, he follows her until, alas, the street-smart teenager ducks to the side of a convenience store and, turning the tables on him, asks why he’s stalking her. He comes clean and, courtesy of the normal amount of script contrivances, the possible daughter is soon inextricably embroiled in the possible dad’s sleuthing. So it’s Jack, Major Turner and the upstart against the unknown cabal.


Naturally, the kid takes to the gambit with alacrity, causing Jack to wonder if Samantha, astutely played by Danika Yarosh, mightn’t be a chip off the old block. He gets all paternal. Well, as paternal as a hermit righter of wrongs can be. Ooh, maybe now is the chance get a look into the inner sanctums of his psyche. The big question looms: Is this child of a dope-addicted prostitute really his offspring? As they drag it out, we have to ask, “Why don’t they just do a DNA test?” Then again, it’s not easy stopping off at the lab when the bad guys are breathing down your neck.


It’s doubly impractical if the chief heavy is someone as obsessively determined as Patrick Heusinger’s rendering of the type. Identified in the credits simply as The Hunter, he’s like the snake that keeps moving even without its head. Possessing that single-minded, zombie-like resolve, surely he’d pursue his nefarious wickedness even if he weren’t paid to do so by those greedy, conspiratorial powers that be. All of which confirms the theorem that your hero is only as great as your evildoer is vile.


Because the troika of uninspired screenwriters couldn’t avail themselves of any help from O. Henry, the story remains fairly typical of its genre, with a bunch of needless convolutions making it a long way to go for far too few surprises. Hence, even if like me you’re not good at figuring these things out, rest assured you kind of know where this is going, right down to the big showdown.

But then, unless this is your first rodeo, you don’t see this film for its artistic appeal, but rather for the daredevil action and the central figure’s pluck, both of which are present in fine fettle. In short, considerably out of grasp of a more creative screenplay, “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is what it is… more or less.

“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,” rated PG-13, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Edward Zwick and stars Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders and Danika Yarosh. Running time: 118 minutes

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