包弫 Jennifer Ball

Jennifer has taught 453 Soochow University students English (and so much more!) in Suzhou, China from 2013-2018.

Making Mobiüs strips
while practicing English.

Writing on balloons, learning about US culture, all while speaking and listening to English.

I learn all my students’ English names and call them by name in class. I let them know that I know them personally.
A former student, now in a Ph.D. program, helps with class.
We make paper dolls, snowflakes, test the student’s water (you can’t drink the tap water in China, so everything must be boiled or filtered), go to karaoke, visit local gardens, do improv, play Simone/Simon Says and Musical Chairs, plus I hire former students to be my Teacher’s Assistants...
We also go on field trips to the school’s bathrooms and leave antibacterial soap and signs that say “Please wash your hands with soap” because in many bathrooms in China there is no hot water, soap, or paper towels. Hygiene is important in a country of 1.4 billion.
My last term read and discussed my novel 催化剂/Catalyst (translated by Maggie Li 李琪).

Jennifer has had two novels published in the US: Higher Math (Faber, 1991) and Catalyst (Faber, 1997).

催化剂/Catalyst was published by Soochow University in 2017.

Jennifer has also written a book on digital typography.

I care about learning and safety! Anyone who promises to wear a helmet gets a free one.

Jennifer has given out more than 400 free helmets. Her students and former students help her.

I give out helmets during class and also during special campus giveaways. (Students often take pics to show me they’re wearing the helmets. This is a funny one.)
Former students came to our special helmet event.
Our poster, made by a student.

Jennifer has taken all her students to dinner (in small groups). It costs them nothing. It is part of the learning experience.

I have also taken about 400 students and others through Lin Biao’s 林彪 的 bunker at Nan Yuan Bin Guan 南园宾馆, Chiang Kai Chek’s 蒋介石的 old home (the man who started Taiwan), which is now a hotel and where I lived for 1.5 years.
I have taken many students to Master of Nets Garden 网师园. It’s my favorite. 这个是我的最爱。

At dinner, students get to socialize in a way not usually done in China: with their teacher and some of their classmates. English gets practiced as well as politeness, manners, and critical thinking.

In China I met some Nigerian Soochow students studying Chinese, so I invited them to dinner because diversity is a good thing. Their Chinese was impressive.

Jennifer has also taken numerous students to 做陶艺 “throw pots,” which means to make ceramic pottery. Creating something is one of the biggest joys in life.

Jennifer also teaches swimming.

Being comfortable in the water is important when learning to swim. I take as many students as I safely can (5 or 6, depending upon their previous swimming experience) to Suzhou’s Intercontinental hotel because it has the largest jacuzzi with warm water.
I have also brought a total of 15 students to the US (for approximately 2 weeks to a month) where they practice swimming in my swimming pool. Those students all know how to swim now.

Several are currently in graduate school in the US.

I have taken 5 students to Spain for a week, where I hired a swim instructor to teach them.

Swimming is a lifesaving skill.

Jennifer has lived two years in China and studied Chinese for more than eight years as well as created a website devoted to language research:


Jennifer has played French horn, trumpet, keyboards, and sung in a rock band for 33 years with her husband.

Fingerpuppets at A Grape In the Fog wine bar, 2018.

Jennifer has been married to a guitar-playing chemist for 32 years. They met in 1978 at UCLA and married in 1986. This picture was their wedding announcement, now made into a business card for 催化剂/Catalyst.

Jennifer and her husband now play in a rock band called Fingerpuppets. They throw fingerpuppets at drunk people. (The puppets are hand knit from Peru; Jennifer buys them in bulk.)

Mike and Jennifer 2012, Pacifica.

Jennifer and Mike, 1986, NYC.

We were both 28.

Chemists look at things structurally. When a writer marries a chemist, a writer starts looking at words structurally. For example, Latin has a structure: it is Legos with words.

In learning Chinese, I realized that there are graphic structural patterns that could facilitate the learning of Chinese and perhaps all written languages, but we are not currently harnessing this pattern-seeking strategy. For example:

Jennifer and a former student, Xu Chao, have formed HanziFinder, a company based around a software that will allow a user to find all Hanzi characters that share similar sub-components. For example:

Fly; fly; flap wings; dance; gas; not (opposite); old man; sick.
We see many representations of wings and flying in Chinese characters. By heightening one’s sensitivity to character shape, dancing 跳 is a kind of flying 习. Structurally we see a representative wing that is similar, not just to flying and dancing, but also to sickness 病. When you’re sick, you may soon leave the world—hopefully in the form of an angel (there’s those wings again!), which is not dissimilar to an old man 翁 who is also on borrowed time. Gas/air 气 and wind 风 both share a substructure with flying 飞.
And “not, (opposite)” 非, though structurally different than the other characters that represent wings, still represents the impossibility of flying by contributing to words that carry a metaphorical meaning of “soaring high”: caffeine 咖啡, morphine 吗啡, methamphetamine 甲基安非他命, endorphin 内啡素, a virility drug 西地那非, and “to let one’s mind run wild” 想入非非.

Chinese character substructure analysis facilitates English substructure analysis. When looking at the alphabet, a relationship between the above “winged” characters and the letter “F” can be seen. One might even suspect that capital “F” and lower case “f” are both symbolic feathers. “F” also starts “fly,” “feather,” “fairy,” “falcon,” “fall,” “flight,” “flip,” “flick,” “float,” “flee,” “flea”: All words that have an association with being airborne.

Words with multiple “F’s” have an association with being full of air, resembling something that is full of air, or just related to air: “buff,” fluff,” “guff,” “luff,” “puff,” “sniff,” “stiff,” “whiff,” “waffle,” “baffle,” “taffy,” etc.

Besides being a language researcher, a mother, a ceramicist, and an experienced home remodeler, Jennifer has lived many other lives. She was the San Diego Reader music editor for 7.5 years; she taught computer graphics at Platt Technical College for 5 years, and she owned a pig for 4 years...

Jennifer was also on several TV game shows in LA because they are a way to win money and get television exposure. (Jennifer majored in theater at UCLA and got an MFA in Creative Writing at SDSU). Jennifer was featured on a BBC documentary about game shows. Jennifer even worked for “Love Connection” and the BBC for awhile.

The Stars: Betty White, Tom Kennedy, Ed Begley, Jr., and BBC’s late Barry Norman.

Jennifer would love to come to your university or company and open people’s minds about language. She will also bring fingerpuppets for everyone because she is trying to civilize the world one fingerpuppet at a time.

Civilizing the world one fingerpuppet at a time.

Jennifer is happy to bring copies of her novel to sell for a nominal fee. She will also bring Fingerpuppets bags (see above) to give away for free because she believes that kindness is the new competitive edge.

For more info and booking, contact Maggie, my translator, collaborator, and scheduler: cell & Wechat: 18862141081 Email:18862141081@163.com.

Created By
Jennifer Ball

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