Brendan is wigging out*. Adam is pissed his bike was stolen again. Hank has recently fought off the almost overpowering urge to flee China due to a few particularly bad incidences in Huaibei. Brad has had his share of frustrations recently too.
And me? Well, I’m just great! Of course, I’ve had my unhappy moments here in China too — I’ve posted about them quite a few times. Lately, though, the only things I could find to complain about would be 1) Hangzhou in the summer is HOT, 2) My summer class contains a few students who seem to think they know more than me about how to teach Spoken English, which is just so laughable for so many reasons, and 3) I don’t have much time to blog.
[Ah, blog guilt. It’s so ridiculous, but I think a lot of bloggers out there experience it. You haven’t written in a while, so you feel guilty. Maybe part of it is a twinge of anxiety over the possibility of losing readers? I’m not sure. Although I do feel a bit of this, I think I’ll have to choose a busy social life over a frequently updated, thoughtfully written blog at this juncture. Please understand, dear readers. I will have more time to write soon.]
Despite the fact that things are going nicely for me, I had a somewhat disturbing dream last night. It’s also kind of interesting in that it was entirely in Chinese. I’ll share it here.
> I was sitting on the couch in my apartment with a Chinese friend. She needed to take a shuttle bus from Hangzhou to the Shanghai Pudong airport, and we were examining a brochure which offered this service. As were were discussing it, there was a knock at the door.
> In came a middle-aged woman with a brochure for a shuttlebus to the Pudong airport. [This is the kind of person you normally bump into when you get off a train. Why she was in my apartment building can only be explained by the fact that it was a dream.]
> She started pushing her service when my friend pointed out that we already had the same brochure and were examining it right then. Then the lady started helping to explain how it all works. My friend made a small joke over some point in the brochure, and the lady laughed. I laughed as well.
> The lady said to my friend, “Oh, the laowai is laughing too.” Implicit was that I didn’t really understand because they were talking in Chinese, but I was just laughing along for the hell of it.
> I told the lady that I could speak Chinese, but she just got flustered, saying that she couldn’t speak English. Then I lost it.
> Grabbing her shoulders, I plucked her small frame off the couch and shook her.
> “I’M SPEAKING CHINESE. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
> No response. I shook her again.
> “I’M SPEAKING CHINESE! DO YOU UNDERSTAND??”
> She was absolutely terrified. “I don’t understand you…” she was trying to say.
> “I’M SPEAKING CHINESE!!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!?”
> She got out a weak, “I don’t understand you….”
> I was livid. Still holding her in the air, a rushed to the front door, which was still ajar, and hurled her violently from my home.
I’m not a violent person, even in my dreams, normally. There really seems to be something about China that drives people to the brink of sanity. Furthermore, learning the language seems to be a catalyst rather than an antidote.
I’ll be in Australia for the next two weeks, so I won’t be updating for that time. Australia’s a big country, so I won’t try for more than a few places of interest in Queensland. For the time I’m in Brisbane, I’ll be staying with Ben, a friend and former ZUCC teacher. Wilson is meeting me at the Brisbane airport. He’s already been in Sydney for over a week.
In the meantime, you may want to check out some of the new blogs in the China Blog List. Brad F’s new blog kind of reminds me of mine. I especially like his “answers” entry.
When I get back to Hangzhou, I’ll be just teaching about 15 hours a week and hanging out, hopefully studying some Chinese in preparation for fulltime Chinese class come fall. Derrick will also be here in Hangzhou for about a month. I might be able to make it to Beijing this August, and possibly to the wedding in Kyoto of the oldest son of my Japanese homestay family. If I do that, it’ll be a boat ride from Shanghai to Osaka. Could be cool. At the end of August I’ll be busy helping the new additions to the ZUCC foreign teacher crew get settled. It’s gonna be a great new semester.
OK, I need to sleep. I leave Hangzhou for Pudong Airport at 7:30am…
A few weeks ago in class I explained to my students what a blog is, and what a powerful force blogs are becoming on the internet. I also tried to promote blogs as a means of reaching out to the world to further international understanding (and practice language skills at the same time). I wanted to start some group student blogs. I would help them set it up, and explain how everything works. I asked anyone interested to e-mail me. Well, the response was not overwhelming. I have 7 classes, and there were only 7 interested students (plus one of my former students). Still, that’s a good number for a group blog, so we forged ahead with the project. It’s been going for over a week now, and I think these 8 students are getting the hang of blogging pretty well already. Go check it out, and don’t be shy about leaving a comment!
I don’t expect this group blog to last forever as is. Rather, it will be a continually evlolving platform for raising awareness of blogs (and their high accessibility) among my students. Furthermore, I expect the more enthusiastic new bloggers to eventually break away and form their own blogs, as some of my students have already done (Chinadoll and Mole). Hopefully there will always be new curious souls to replace those who leave the group blog.
I’ve really let putting pictures online slide. (Remember those Yunnan photos I’ve been meaning to get online for over a month now?) Well, I finally did a little catching up, and further integrated Racingmix‘s photos with Sinosplice’s. The mirroring continues.
> Yunnan Photos are finally online — two pages of them. Story to follow.
> ChinaTEFL Linhai Trip Photos from last weekend are also online now.
Check out the photo album page for updated Racingmix mirror links and some Japan picture links as well. I’ll do more work on those pages at a time when I’m less lazy.
In the past I have done a little introductory mug shot page for the English-teaching foreign teachers here at ZUCC. This semester Wilson did it. It’s hosted on his site, but since his site is blocked in China and mine isn’t, it’s also mirrored on my site. Check it out! I’m sure I’ll be mentioning these people on here in the future.
During his time here, Wilson has gotten really imaginative with his photography and web design. I envy his creative eye, his Photoshop skills, his awesome camera. Even if these talents don’t rub off on me, though, at least I can enjoy his results. Don’t miss: Jade Emperor’s Hill [mirrored], Viewing Fish at Flower Pond [mirrored].
I mentioned recently that I’ll be on TV in China March 22nd. Being on TV is a pretty common occurrence for foreigners living in China. Frequent readers/commenters of this blog will be familiar with my friend Ray. He was on TV in Shanghai some months ago when he still worked there. They did a bit of a bio on him. Anyway, he sent me some vidcaps of his 10 minutes of glory, and I think they’re pretty funny, so I’m sharing them. I don’t think he’ll mind everyone having a look at his studly countenance. If he ever put up a site of his own, I’m sure he’d put these pics up.
“So I want to write a book, right? …”
(That’s mantou, a kind of Chinese bun.)
What a fascinating lesson, eh? The students are riveted!
Speaking of commenters on Sinosplice, “Prince Roy,” a rather new regular commenter here, now has his own blog too. Check it.
> You gave your life to become the person you are right now.
Was it worth it? –Richard Bach
Few quotes get me thinking these days like this one did. It’s easy to blow it off without pondering it, but I found it a very worthwhile rumination.
I found the quote in a blog called imo. Interestingly, two of the four quotes on that page are also on my quotes page. (Not the one above, though.) Good quotes.
I became familiar with Richard Bach in high school. I found Jonathan Livingston Seagull rather forgettable, but I loved Illusions: the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. Truly high-octane fuel for the imagination.
It’s often said nowadays that where creativity is concerned, China is a huge gaping void. What has China invented lately? Even books like Richard Bach’s seem to echo the philosophies of a China of lore — so distant, but certain as last night’s forgotten dream. Sure, joining the WTO is good times and fun for all, but in modern China, how can even the will of 1.3 billion parched minds revive creativity’s corpse?
It’s been said before, by different people, in various ways, from multiple angles. but it’s such an inseparable part of the expat experience here that I thought I’d share again. So, from behind the Great Firewall of China without further ado, the words of Sam:
I should note that laowai is Chinese for ‘foreigner’ and heard several hundred times a day in various tones: respectful – I understand it is meant to be a respectful term; amazed – not too irritating this one; demanding: (‘hey, you, respond now.‘); amused – I hate that one, doesn’t everyone hate being laughed at?; and finally, matter-of-fact – just the word that floats to your ear in a conversation of passers by (‘oh look, there’s a foreigner!’, in the tone you might use to point out a six-foot pigeon). I’ve written loads on this on days when it’s annoyed me most but it’s back on my PC in far-away Xining. Sometimes it’s charming and friendly, don’t get me wrong, but the line between that and fists-clenching-in-the pocket shifts depending on mood, temperament and how long you’ve been here. Ironically, it’s when you’re in a bad mood, hungover or similar that you get so many more comments and “hello”s. Then you start asking yourself: “Am I here for your amusement, eh? Did I come here so you could take the piss? Eh?”
I can definitely identify.
Leylop has her own blog! Leylop is a junior at Zhejiang University here in Hangzhou, and she’s been a regular commenter here for a little while now. I’m not sure how she found my blog, but I’m glad she did. It’s good to have a Chinese voice in the comments. (Hoping to hear more from Lily too…) Leylop is now writing her own blog (in English). I was glad to help her figure out the blogging basics. She’s also doing a little survey of foreigners living in China. If that’s you, take a few seconds to fill it out. It’s really short.
Not long ago I had an IM conversation with Alf. He’s teaching in Xinxiang, and he clearly does not have a foreign teacher community over there like I now have here. He mentioned that his friends that read his blog say that his blog is mostly just a bunch of complaints. We talked a bunch about those complaints. I post occasional complaints, but I haven’t posted many lately. I think having complaints is a natural part of living in a foreign society. I think I need to unload a few more.
First is the toilets here. The toilets ZUCC gives its foreign teachers are horrible. Yes, they are Western style. That’s not the problem. One problem is that the seat is attached with these shoddy plastic screws that break after about 4.6 seconds of actual use, resulting in a toilet seat that slides around instead of remaining respectfully fixed in place. But the real problem is the flushing. These toilets are not so good at it. There’s just no power behind the flush. It’s maddening. I feel blessed and lucky if I can go number 2 without having a big long plunge session afterwards. It wasn’t like this at first. It used to be OK (but never good), and the problem seems to have worsened over time. Now I’m plunging practically every day! I’m a teacher, dammit, not a janitor! (I would include a pic of this “toilet of the damned,” but my latest plunging efforts were a failure. I’m currently taking a break before tackling the problem with renewed vigor, and in the meantime you really do not want to see a picture of that…)
Last month the school held a special feedback session, allowing the foreign teachers to share their ideas and complaints with various departments of the school. I took it upon myself to bring up the toilet issue. They said they would handle it. Last Friday some guys came to take care of it, but after inspecting for a while they said they couldn’t do anything, that the toilets were just like that. Horrible quality. I say the school owes it to us to replace the hellspawn toilets with toilets with actual flush power. As newly appointed “foreign teacher liaison” for next semester, this will be one of the biggest items on my agenda. It will be my personal crusade. I will be the perpetual thorn in their side, quietly whispering “give us good toilets” until they either comply or go insane. I will triumph in the end.
So it’s winter now. In Hangzhou, that means it’s cold and wet. Of course, it’s not Harbin cold or anything, but many houses here don’t have heating. Also, although it rarely snows in Hangzhou, it’s so humid here that the cold penetrates. To make matters worse, a lot of Chinese people even leave the windows open in the dead of winter for “fresh” air. So how do they keep warm? They don’t. They bundle up inside as well as outside. It’s pretty horrific from a Western perspective. Fortunately, we foreign teachers have heating in our apartments, but it’s not central heating. Also, buildings are not insulated here, and leaks around windows and doors are not properly sealed. Warm air quickly leaks out if the heater is not run continuously. The Chinese way of just bundling up inside starts to make a little more sense. But we foreigners are, of course, fighting the good fight and blasting that heat for the cold nights. When you come home to a cold house and crank up the heat, it starts pouring out, but obviously, hot air rises. So as I wait for the room to heat up, I often find myself sitting at the computer, feeling the effects of an upper layer of warm air slowly pushing downward, displacing the cold air throughout the room. First my head is warm while the rest of me is still quite cold, and the border gradually moves down my torso as the rooms heats up. At first a big bedroom with a high celing seems like a great thing, but in the winter the drawbacks become chillingly apparent.
I now have a new weapon in my arsenal to combat winter here. Wilson and I recently bought heating lamps (yu ba in Chinese) for our bathroom. They pulled the ventilation fans and installed the heat lamps (which also have a built-in fan behind the heat lamp bulbs). Heat never really seems to make it into the bathroom in the winter, so these heat lamps feel like an amazing luxury.
Why can’t I access Yahoo Mail anymore? I don’t know. Even when I use a proxy server, about half the time I click on anything it can’t find the page and I have to reload. It’s really annoying. Pretty much at exactly the time this started happening, I switched over to using Outlook (I don’t like Microsoft domination, but it at least has good Asian language support, so I must succumb at last…). I randomly get these weird errors when I use Outlook. Some error with the POP connection. It’s all in Chinese and I hate it.
It’s 2002, and I’m 24. I think this is the year my metabolism finally quit. I seem to have lost the ability to eat continuously without a second’s thought of any possible consequences. I’m not as skinny as I was, and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason for it. I definitely need to exercise more, though.
See if you can guess what the deal is with this pic. Or, just be lazy and see below.
We ran into this guy in the Holiday Inn lobby. He was being interviewed, and he let me take his picture. This is how he advertises. Chuck has the (very short) story in his blog. This particular ad is for a soccer pool.
Not long ago, a page on Bokane.org reminded me of a question that’s been in the back of my mind and close to my heart for over two years now. It’s a question that I started asking in 1997, and which has become especially persistent over the past two years. Now it’s in the forefront again, running amuck and causing havoc. Oh, it’s not doing any real damage, of course. It’s tantalizing. Like the puppy in the short box, no matter how many times you push it back, it just keeps emerging. And though you may lose patience with it, it remains interesting. But what can you do other than push it back? You’ve got somewhere to go. It isn’t a part of your itinerary. Yet it won’t be ignored. And its teeth, while mostly harmless, can hurt.
I asked Wilson recently, “During all this time you’re spending in China, are you becoming more and more yourself, or more and more someone else?” I tend to hate those kinds of questions, because the person asking them usually just seems smug that they’ve thought up an annoying meaningless question to irritate someone else’s intellect with. But this time I cared about the question, and I cared about the answer. I really wanted to know what was happening with Wilson, and what he perceived of it. And, of course, whatever mysterious forces there are that have been messing with Wilson’s identity for almost a year have been doing the same to me for over two years. It was personal.
Wilson said he’s becoming more and more someone else. Someone he likes. Someone with purpose and drive.
And me? I know I’m different, but I’m not even sure I know how I’ve changed. What’s scarier is the prospect of how much change there is that I don’t recognize.
Who am I now? Is this a result of my decision to come to China, or a result of being in China?
Am I really so different?
Will they even know?
OK, I just don’t know when to quit. (Or when to sleep.)
I have added “the least technologically advanced message board ever” to the bottom of the China Blogs page. I’m hoping that people who use my China blogs links page will provide feedback on recent posts and stuff for other users. Check it.
Also, Wilson took a few picks of our stroll around West Lake (and other “adventures”) yesterday afternoon. He made a nice little photo album. Includes some excellent shots of mouth-watering Chinese Muslim noodles. Take a look.
Hmmm, it’s a new weekend already and I seem to have neglected to mention what went down last weekend. Nicola and I headed over to Shaoxing to meet up with Erin Shutty and gang. Part of that gang is Vivienne Carr, who the ZUCC gang had already met earlier in October when we went to Putuo Shan together. Erin was the connection to Vivienne, but I hadn’t actually met Erin face to face until this past weekend. (As I’ve mentioned before, I was supposed to meet both Erin and “Black Man in China” Aaron over the National Holiday vacation, but neither worked out.) Erin and I have been in pretty regular e-mail contact ever since she wrote me in the spring about teaching in China. Now she’s been here months, and we finally met up. Here’s the pics.
Oh yeah, and Erin and Vivienne are coming to Hangzhou this weekend! Erin is also bringing “the Brit,” whom we met only in passing last weekend in Shaoxing.
In the past week or so I’ve found myself drawn into a community of China bloggers (or “chloggers,” as Frank Yu of BrandRecon.com puts it). It’s sort of a strange community, “communication” often taking place in the form of blog posts or in e-mails that other members of the community are not aware of. Anyway, this community is becoming self-aware and interlinked. It was kind of cool that as soon as I put up my China Blog page, I started getting e-mails almost immediately, and my site started appearing immediately in other China blogs where it never had before. An attempt at selfless promotion of “the cause” turned out to be self-serving after all.
It’s great to see all the outsider viewpoints on China coming from within China. It’s also quite humbling to see the great logs other people are producing. You’ve got logs embroiled in politics, economics, and world affairs (China weblog and micah sittig, for example), logs chock full of great social insights (Black Man in China seems to be a community favorite), and even one in my own backyard (Hangzhou T-Salon)…. Makes me wonder why people would take the time to read mine! Apparently a few are, though. I never bothered with a counter for this site because that’s kinda beside the point. However, I’ve noted from my webhost’s stats that the visits are going up. I’ll be happy if just my friends and family are regularly checking to see what’s going on with me, but sometimes I wonder… [hint, hint, guys! The clock is now ticking. Let’s see how long it takes you to react to that statement.]
In case you haven’t heard, China has blocked access to Google. Google, the search engine for the net. Not that I like it or agree with it, but it’s one thing for a government to block specific sites it considers dangerous. It’s another thing to block a frickin’ search engine!!! OK, I’ll try not to rant.
So this has taught me how much I use Google. Lately I’ve been using google.yahoo.com instead. It’s not quite as good, but it works. I recently searched my own site and came up with a new link to my site. This is actually an interesting site for those who care about what goes on in China: BrandRecon.com. There are links on there to news articles about the search engine blocking that’s going on here.