Tag: ZUCC


27

Jun 2014

Thoughts on Scott Young’s Immersion Experiment

I recently published a guest post by Scott Young, who just spent about three months in China, attempting to stay immersed in Chinese the whole time (even while traveling with his non-Chinese friend, Vat). I didn’t comment on my own interactions with Scott, though, or my thoughts on his experiment. So I’ll do that now.

Here’s a video we took in the (then) empty office next to the AllSet Learning office. We were plagued by technical problems, but Vat’s persistence got us through.

On “No English”

I was expecting that Scott would be taking a break from his “immersion” while talking to me and talk to me in English. We had exchanged emails before we met in person, and it was all in English. But no, from the get-go, Scott spoke nothing but Chinese to me. (And Vat too.) So we talked for quite a while (before and after the video), and it was all entirely in Chinese.

I part of me finds this weird. I suppose it’s because it violates the “efficiency” principle I talk about in my language power struggle post. We both knew that we could communicate absolutely effortlessly in English.

But he was a man on a mission, with a “no English” rule, and I totally respected that. In fact, It’s becoming less and less weird for me to think of Chinese as an international language. Chinese is the language of our office, and I speak to our (non-Chinese) interns mostly in Chinese as well (as long as they’re not absolute beginners).

On Studying before You Arrive

Me, Scott, Vat

Scott mentions that he had studied Chinese for 105 hours before coming to China. Vat didn’t. I’m sure there are other factors at play, but there was a noticeable difference between Scott’s and Vat’s Chinese levels. I think Scott was also putting more time into Chinese in China (Vat also had video and architecture-related interests to pursue). But the head start undoubtedly helped Scott a lot.

This is a common thread I’ve seen in a lot of success stories, though: for China, in particular, prior study seems to help immensely. I’ve heard and discussed with friends theories about having to deal with the “triple threat” of (1) unfamiliar language, (2) tones, and (3) Chinese characters leading to higher levels of frustration when tackling Chinese. In fact, it’s a good reason to delay studying characters a bit, if it means less frustration and a stronger foundation in pinyin and pronunciation.

I had three semesters of Chinese before setting foot in China. I sure struggled when I got here, but I was essentially focusing entirely on listening and pronunciation for the first couple of months. I knew pinyin, had the grammar basics down, and knew all the characters I needed for a while. I know that focus helped me tremendously.

On Preventing Friendships

In the guest post, Scott states:

> What matters is that you are not speaking English to prevent: (1) Forming friendships with people who can’t or won’t speak Chinese….

This is key, but it seems quite harsh. Can you imagine bumping into Scott while traveling around China, trying to strike up a friendly conversation with him about areas in Yunnan he’d recommend visiting, and being totally blown off by him in Chinese? Would you be heartless enough to similarly rebuff a friendly fellow traveller? This is exactly what Scott is advocating, though: “prevent[ing] forming friendships with people who can’t or won’t speak Chinese.”

I know that Scott is right, though. I also know people that have followed less extreme versions of this policy in order to make the most of their time in China, although those people tended to have more than just three months, so a few conversations here and there weren’t a huge deal. And then there’s the “expat bubble” crowd, of course. Most of those people didn’t intentionally form the bubble; it just “kind of happened.”

When I first started teaching at my first job in China at Zhejiang University City College (ZUCC), my only co-workers were four Australians. I fully expected those guys would be my new friends, and I was excited to finally get to know some Aussies. But they cruelly brushed me off; they were a tight-knit group, and not at all interested in letting me in. So I was on my own, lonely, and motivated to learn Chinese. I hung out with my Chinese roommate a lot. I studied. I went out and practiced with random people. I made more Chinese friends. I learned Chinese. I was kind of lucky, really.

This is one of those personality things, though. I’d be curious to hear from readers who have tried this, whether successful or not, and what the results were.


01

Nov 2011

Momochitl

Over the weekend I met up with Patrick Lin, a former student of mine from ZUCC in Hangzhou. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 10 years since I first taught him English all those years ago. At the time, I was a 22-year-old kid fresh out of college, and the students in that class were 21. Now he’s married and has a kid already.

After college, Patrick went to Scotland and studied golf course design. He later moved to Beijing, where he applied what he had learned for a while, but apparently got the entrepreneur’s itch and opened a coffee shop in Beijing. (Lesson learned: don’t start with a big coffee shop.) Later he decided to open a business in Shanghai selling gourmet popcorn under his own brand called Momochitl.

Momochitl Popcorn

Anyway, this past weekend I finally made it out to Patrick’s shop and got to try some of his popcorn for myself. It’s imported American corn and ingredients, and it’s good stuff! You can even order it on Taobao if you’d like to try it.

Momochitl Popcorn

I’m proud of a former student for starting his own business in largely uncharted territory. He’s got all kinds of ideas for his business, and I’m interested to see how it grows.

One of the most interesting details for me, though, was the name: Momochitl. It starts out sounding Japanese (“momo” means “peach” in Japanese), but then “chitl” is decidedly un-Japanese and just un-Asian altogether. It sounded Aztec to me. Sure enough, Patrick’s explanation is:

> “In the 16th century, Aztec Indians would use local popcorn as decoration in worshiping their gods,” explains Momochitl owner Patrick Lin. “Momochitl is the earliest word for popcorn.”

“The earliest word for popcorn!” Nice. If you Google “momochitl,” you’ll find that Patrick’s business is already overtaking the search results, but one interesting page is simply the Wikipedia page for popcorn, in the Nahuatl language. Nahuatl is the modern term for the family of languages descended from the Aztecs.

Interestingly, Patrick is marketing his popcorn mostly under the name Momochitl, but if you insist on Chinese, it’s 蘑球 (“mushroom balls”??). If you like popcorn, give it a try!


24

Mar 2006

Field Tripping for Vengeance

Back in my first year or two of teaching at ZUCC, there were several instances where I showed up to the classroom all prepared to teach “Spoken English” (invariably they were early morning classes), only to be stood up by the entire class. No one came. Why? It was their 春游–their yearly “Spring Outing.” The “class monitor” (班长) had neglected to inform me.

What are these “Spring Outings?” They’re a very Chinese way of enjoying life’s splendid reemergence in nature. They’re an opportunity for students to bond and further develop comraderie. They’re a means for Chinese citizens to rediscover the natural beauty of their motherland. But most importantly, they are a “get out of class free” card.

You see, when a Spring Outing comes up, all you have to do is tell the teacher “we have a Spring Outing,” and class is automatically canceled, no questions asked. Matters of curriculum are petty in comparison to this wondrous rite of Spring.

Well, this year, I finally get my turn. The international center of East China Normal University has arranged a Spring Outing for its foreign students: a three-day trip to Wuyuan (婺源), Jiangxi Province. It only costs 50 rmb per student–bus fare, hotel, and basic food included! I leave today at 7am and get back late Sunday. It might be an overly touristy experience, but at least I’ll get some time to meet some more people. Plus I haven’t gone on a trip in a while, and I’m overdue. I’ll probably pick up some tea for my girlfriend’s parents (I hear they like that). Anyway, all that is only secondary, because this time I’m getting out of class and going on a Spring Outing as payback. This time I’m… field tripping for vengeance!


01

Mar 2006

Forced Healthy Eating

I first came to China when I was 22, and my metabolism was raging. I was one of those people that could eat anything, in any quantity, and remain skinny. Combined with the fact that I’m not a very picky eater, I had a grand time in my new environment. (Oil? What oil? That’s juice! [slurp!])

When I was 24 my metabolism finally decided to slow down from a full-on sprint to a slow jog. It took me some time to adapt my eating habits, so I chunked up a bit. It certainly didn’t help that I was living in a ZUCC teacher apartment, with an on-campus convenience store conveniently located right next door. Beer has never been much of a factor in my weight gain/loss, but the snack foods — like crazy Lays and anything by Glico — were plentiful, and my cupboard was always stocked. Not the healthiest.

After moving to Shanghai, supermarkets and convenience stores are nowhere near as convenient. Instead of being right downstairs, the nearest convenience store is a five minute walk away. That might not be far at all, but my laziness is almost always stronger than my attacks of the munchies (particularly in the winter). Furthermore, I don’t stock up because the supermarkets are 10-15 minute walks away–easily within walking distance. But walking to (and mainly from) the supermarket means you have to carry everything the whole way. I could take a cab back, but I’m too cheap. Consequently I buy significantly less on my trips there, especially when it comes to snack foods and drinks (which are always the heaviest).

So now when I find myself getting an attack of the munchies, I go into the kitchen and find… nothing. Leftovers from dinner in the fridge, and virtually nothing else. Drinks are generally limited to water and tea. I very rarely have food delivered because I’m cheap (Sherpa’s is expensive, dammit!) and impatient. I find myself considering raw spaghetti noodles as a snack, or speculating on how they would taste with barbecue sauce on them. I literally have nothing to snack on. Last time this happened I got so desperate I ate an orange. My snacking skills are totally slipping.

As a result, I’m pretty slim these days, even if I don’t get nearly as much exercise as I should. My weight sticks to around 200 lbs. (I’m 6’4″).

So there you have it: better health in Shanghai through laziness and cheapness.


Related: Junk Food Review, Junk Food Review 2


21

Oct 2005

The M&M

While I used to live in Hangzhou, I made the observation that Chinese people seemed to have an unreasonable fear of germs. True, China is not always the most sanitary place on earth, and there’s no question that many Chinese germs live out a blissful existence where antibacterial disenfectants are restricted to germ horror stories. Still, I felt that the germ threat was overplayed in a lot of cases. I will offer but one example.

One time before class started, I was eating a little bag of M&M’s and casually eavesdropping on my students’ conversations. I overheard an exchange about germs, and it prompted me to ask my class the following question:

“What if I were to take one of these M&Ms and allow it to drop to the ground — a place that looks clean — and then pick up that same M&M, dust it off, and eat it? What would be the chance that I would then get sick from eating that M&M?”

My students gaped in shock at the mere suggestion. They required prodding to take the question seriously enough to actually answer it. What would be the probability, from 0% to 100%?

I started getting some answers. 80%, one said. 90%. Even 99%. One or two students ventured as low as 40% or so. I couldn’t believe it.

They laughed at me when I told them I thought the chance was less than 5%. I was really tempted to drop an M&M and eat it right there in front of them to prove my point, but that didn’t seem like a very teacherly thing to do. Plus, if I did, by chance, catch a cold (it was early winter), I would never live that down.

For a nation of people that believes in Chinese medicine’s power to boost the body’s natural defenses, I would think they would have a little more faith in the human immune system.

Or maybe they just knew way better than I what had been on that floor…


21

Sep 2005

The ZUCC Chronicle

Jamie’s recent post outlined his history with China. It was a history which crossed mine. The most significant common experience was had in a college in Hangzhou we call ZUCC. (If you’re American, you say Z-U-C-C, kind of like F-B-I. If you’re Aussie or kiwi, you say “Zook,” rhyming with it “book.” I have always wondered about that little cultural linguistic difference.)

In chronicling my three years at ZUCC, I aim to do three things:

  1. Create an easy reference for myself, since I’m very forgetful.
  2. Provide a reference for friends and family with regards to ZUCC friends.
  3. Provide an idea of what kind of salary you might expect. (Yes, I’m going to disclose how much I was paid for each semester I worked at ZUCC.)

(more…)


04

Sep 2005

Greg's Departure

For the first time in two years, Greg is no longer a teacher at ZUCC in Hangzhou. His plane left Shanghai today at 12:45pm.

Greg plans to come back to China. In the meantime, he will be missed.

Alf, Greg Greg, Carl I survived ZUCC

P.S. Greg may not be living in China anymore, but he still has lots to say about his experiences here. So don’t forget to check Sinobling from time to time.


24

Aug 2005

Wedding in Changchun

I just attended my friend John’s wedding over the weekend, in Changchun, China. Changchun is pretty far north. It’s north of North Korea, and probably the farthest north I’ve ever been in China. It was a great time to be there; I got to trade Shanghai’s sweltering August heat for Changchun’s crisp early autumn weather. Not a bad deal.

The wedding was nice. It was the first Chinese-style wedding I’d been to for one of my non-Chinese friends. Despite all the horror stories of Dongbei baijiu chugging I’d been fed, the drinking really wasn’t too bad. Yeah, a few of my old ZUCC buddies were ensnared by the evil stuff, but I think they wanted to be martyrs. Or to have baijiu horror stories to tell. Or both.

I was also asked to play interpreter for John’s parents, as most of the ceremony was in Chinese. I was happy to do that, of course, although I felt a little unqualified. Interpretation is hard work! Fortunately, what I was translating into English was not too hard: the host’s good wishes for the happy couple, the bride’s father’s speech to the guests, and even John’s speech in Chinese. It was an honor to be the one translating John and his bride’s love story for his parents, but I had to choose my words carefully. The emotional effects of my every word were plainly visible on his parents’ faces.

What I wasn’t exactly prepared for was to interpret John’s father’s speech into Chinese for all the Chinese guests. Fortunately, he had it written out and let me take a look at it beforehand. It was written in a straightforward way that could be translated without loss of emotion even by an amateur like me. The crowd liked the speech. No one threw tomatoes at me.

My interpretation failure came a little later when they asked me to come up again and do some more interpretation into English. I don’t know if they were testing me or what, but when I got up there, the host just started spouting chengyu after chengyu that I had no hope of understanding, much less translating. I was utterly clueless, and yet, there I was, on stage with a mic: the interpreter. It went something like this (luanma used for chengyu I didn’t understand–I still don’t know what was really said):

> Host: 弐尗曑暪! (grinning and gesturing at the couple, then looking at me)

> Me: Ummm… “This is a happy day!” (I hear a few giggles from the crowd)

> Host: 戼枩枀毜! (grinning even bigger)

> Me: “…very happy!” (the Chinese guests are laughing now.)

> Host: 仴仺佷凷! (triumphantly)

> Me: “Ecstatic!” (at least most Chinese guests wouldn’t understand my last word!)

All in all, a very fun, interesting, educational experience.

Congratulations to the newlyweds!


04

Jul 2005

Reason for Celebration

I should be arriving in Tampa when it’s this time there. 5:30am Eastern Standard Time, not 5:30am China Time, that is. (Sorry you have to come pick me up so early, dad!)

It’s the 4th of July. Ever since living in China (and especially since having stayed at ZUCC, unofficial random meaningless fireworks capital of Zhejiang), fireworks are about as special to me as chopsticks. They’re really no big deal at all for me. And I’m normally not one to reflect much upon the meaning of “freedom” or independence from colonial rule on this day.

Still, it’s so nice to be back in a country where I can access any website I wish. Right before leaving China, there was a surge in blockings — TypePad blogs were reblocked, Blogsome (which I had recommended to potential China bloggers before) blogs were blocked, and I was having a lot of trouble accessing Micah’s blog. It seems like the shadow of the Great Firewall is getting longer and darker. (I’ll update the CBL to reflect these new blockings soon.)

The good news in these dark times is that the new Adopt a Blog is coming along. So is the new China Blog List. More news on that soon.

Happy Fourth of July.

Related: More details at Peking Duck


26

Feb 2005

Junk Food Review 2

Over the years, one of the most popular features on Sinosplice has been the Junk Food Review that Wilson and I did at ZUCC in 2002. There have been calls for an encore, but since Wilson went back to San Francisco it’s been a little hard to coordinate. Well, the trip to Taipei was a perfect opportunity. Here it is:

Junk Food Review 2

The new design is sort of an experimental “comic book feel” I came up with. The layout looks better under non-IE browsers because stupid IE doesn’t support the “position: fixed” CSS declaration. Enjoy, and feedback is welcome.


20

Feb 2005

Robbed of Hong Kong

When I bought my tickets I arranged for a day and a half in Hong Kong on the way back from Taiwan. I wanted to take in as much of that Hong Kong glitz as I could in 36 hours. To my dismay, I was totally robbed of the Hong Kong experience. Prepare yourself for some extended whining.

My last night in Taipei I must have eaten something bad. I think it was the Korean food, although it’s hard to tell because I ate three times that previous night. The next morning I promptly unloaded the contents of my stomach. Feeling horrible, I managed to make it to Hong Kong without further incident.

My original plan was to pull an all-nighter in Hong Kong since I was only there for one night, but that idea was quickly abandoned. After arriving, I went straight to the Ramada Hotel in Kowloon and slept. I had plans to meet up with several people in Hong Kong, but I was in no condition to chat with people I’d never met before. (My apologies to those people.) I did call Katherine, who was a teacher at ZUCC during the SARS semester. She has lived in Hong Kong all her life, and I already knew her. Turns out she was sick too, but agreed to try to meet up the next day.

So how was I robbed? One of Hong Kong’s biggest attractions is the food. Hong Kong cuisine is pretty universally regarded as top-notch — even the street food. I was looking forward to pigging out. But even a whiff of those delicacies sent waves of nausea through me. In my condition I was almost completely unable to eat the entire time I was in Hong Kong.

Another famous tourist destination in Hong Kong is Victoria Peak, from which a stunning view of the city can be taken in. It’s said to be especially beautiful at night, and I’ve seen the pictures to prove it. Feeling a little better, I set out around 5pm get up there and see the view. I took the Star Ferry, but sat on the wrong side (I didn’t realize at first that the boat just reverses direction when it goes back across), so I got a crap view of the harbor. What I did see, though, was that Victoria Peak was completely covered in fog. I couldn’t see it at all. The top of the IFC 2 building couldn’t be seen either. I abandoned that plan, deciding instead to walk around Hong Kong Island. Not long after, though, my intestinal condition sent me scurrying back to my hotel via subway.

Feeling worse again, I went back to sleep for a while.

When I woke up I decided to walk around Kowloon more and see more of the signature Hong Kong streets. It started raining, though, so I ducked into some little place for a massage. It was a legit establishment, but the masseuse was a bit saddistic. At first I thought she was asking “are you OK?” in order to adjust the level of pressure. Later, when I started making uncomfortable noises, she’d say, “pain?” and I’d reply “YES!” to which she’d just laugh and continue at the same pressure.

The next morning I slept in until 11:30, with some effort. I still felt pretty terrible, but the hotel maids apparently weren’t aware of the 12:00 check-out time or the meaning of “DO NOT DISTURB.”

I went to Kowloon Park. That was pretty cool… I liked the flamingoes and the aviary. Then I bought and sent some postcards in Central. I met Katherine at 2, and was able to get some food down. (Shouldn’t have eaten that delicious chocolate cake, though. I immediately regretted it. My stomach was churning viciously within an hour.)

Katherine took me to meet her boyfriend, who runs a very nice Indian clothing store called Sanskrit. Very impressive operation, and he was a cool guy.

Then I rode the “world’s longest escalator” (wow, what a thrill) and headed up Victoria Peak via tram anyway. I had time to kill before I had to be at the airport, so I figured I might as well. It was cold and wet, with bad visibility.

On the train back to the airport I talked to a rabbi from Israel. The initial conversation went something like this:

> Him: Is this the train that goes to the airport?

> Me: Yes. Are you a rabbi?

Ah, interlocutionary finesse of this caliber cannot be learned, my friends. (He really looked like a stereotypical rabbi, with the black clothing, the beard, the wide-brimmed black hat, being old etc.) His English was only so-so, but we had a decent chat. He told me that in Argentina in the 1960s someone told him that the scariest thing in the world today was “the Yellow Threat” (meaning China).

Sensing a unique opportunity, I decided to ask him about something I recently read about in The Da Vinci Code (which I finally read in Taipei). So I asked him about Shekinah, whom Dan Brown describes as the ancient female counterpart to Jehovah. I got a confusing description. He said in the Kaballah’s attempt to explain how a purely spiritual being (God) could create a physical being (Man), it developed a series of stages, one of which was Shekinah. OK. Anyway, I’ve definitely had more boring train rides. Nicest Israeli rabbi I ever met.

I didn’t take any pictures in Hong Kong because I didn’t want to bother with my temperamental camera, which only works half the time now.

The flight back to Shanghai wasn’t good either, but I can sum it up succinctly in two words: China Eastern.

Lesson learned: Don’t pin high hopes on a one-day vacation, because not only are there weather factors that can’t be controlled, but sometimes one’s own health fails as well.

I’ll try to make it back to Hong Kong in the future. It was a crazy, interesting place.


21

Jan 2005

CS and the Chinese Military

“CS” is the abbreviation Chinese teenagers use for Counter Strike (rather than the Chinese name 反恐精英), the world’s most popular FPS network computer game. When I taught college English at ZUCC in Hangzhou, there were quite a few boys in my classes that were crazy about the game and devoted almost all their free time to playing it in internet cafes. They even got Wilson (who was teaching there then) to play them.

Tian has a funny post (with pictures!) about the Chinese military using CS as training. Check it out.


01

Dec 2004

Untested Cooking Scheme

Back in the days before I had an ayi to cook for me, I taught spoken English classes at ZUCC in Hangzhou. I had a pretty nice apartment there with a full kitchen. I could have easily hired a cook there too, but never did. I rarely cooked myself, besides boiling frozen dumplings in instant soup and then dousing them with sweet and spicy sauce. Most of my meals were spent with my awesome co-workers at ZUCC.

Still, in my last semester at ZUCC I hatched a plan. It was cunning. It was brilliant. It was never put into effect. But maybe there’s still hope for some enterprising teachers in China if I share it in my blog.

OK, let me lay it out for you.

  • When I was there, the teachers at ZUCC liked home-cooked meals, but they were lazy. For some reason they were also unwilling to hire a cook.
  • The students ate in the cafeteria day after day. They longed for home-cooked food, but had no cooking facilities. Some of them were even great cooks, but had no way to share their gift.

Do you see where I’m going with this? You may think you do, but it gets better.

The process goes like this:

  1. Announce to each class that you’re holding a cooking competition in your own home. Students who wish to enter should enter in teams of 2 or 3. Have them sign up and include what evenings they’re free. Share with them your judging criteria and tell them what cooking facilities/supplies you have. Tell them they will be cooking enough food for 4-5 people.
  2. Create a schedule for the teams. There are several ways you can do it. If you have a lot of classes, you might want to assign a whole week (Monday through Friday) to each class. Each night of that week one team would come to your place and then cook and eat with you. Alternatively, you could assign a day of the week to each class, and a different team could come every week.
  3. Tell the students they have a 20rmb budget for the dinner (which is plenty). They know what they’re going to make, so they need to buy the ingredients and then show up at your place to prepare it. Unless you’re a jerk, you should reimburse the students the 20rmb. You might have to fight to make them take it, but you really should. If they spent less than 20rmb, they’ll give you the change. I really doubt any students would try to “make money” by making a super cheap meal.
  4. Stay out of the way while your students prepare the meal. Two or three people is plenty to get the job done. When the meal is done, take pictures of it with your digital camera.
  5. Around this time, the “guest judge” of the evening arrives. That’s your friend. (If you want, you can even charge him 10rmb for the meal or make him help with the dishes.)
  6. After the meal chat with the students for a while and then secretly write down your judgments.
  7. Your students will probably try to wash your dishes for you (but not in every case). Handle that how you see fit.
  8. Put the pictures online with a description. You might want to include the judges’ scores. That’s your call.

I think originally I had it all worked out to the point where I could even make money on the scheme, and everyone was happy. Perhaps it’s better that it never went into effect, though. It had all the makings of a scandal.

Sooo… who’s gonna try it?? (Let me know.)


05

May 2004

May Holiday

I’m in the middle of my “Labor Day” week of vacation, and enjoying it immensely. I am no longer sick, and have managed not to pick up any more pets. I’m working on my site and working on my book (that will be published some day!).

And now Carl and Jamie are visiting from ZUCC.

The only damper is that I have to work this weekend, and then all next week. Why? It’s the Chinese way. They still don’t get the whole “vacation” idea. (Refer to my explanation from last year.)


08

Apr 2004

ZUCC Community Photos

Wilson has returned to Hangzhou,
his trusty camera at his side.

Wherever he goes,
he leaves photo galleries in his wake.

Behold!


09

Feb 2004

Doom Cometh to Hangzhou

No, I’m not talking about Hangzhou’s recent hydrofluoric acid leak, I’m talking about the arrival of Jamie Doom (of Doom in China fame).

I finally got to meet the guy last night. He was passing through Shanghai on his way to Hangzhou, where he will soon be a teacher at ZUCC. First I’ll say that he was exactly as I expected his to be from his blog, and that’s a compliment. He was friendly, funny, up for a good time, and he looked like he does in his pictures.

I sort of did a repeat night out that I did with Amy, Carl, and Greg a few weeks ago: all you can eat and drink teppanyaki at Da Yu, followed by merriment at Excalibur Rocks. It did the trick.

I was a little disappointed by the initial lack of gusto on the parts of the eaters. When it’s all you can eat and you’re shelling out a pretty penny, I expect people to eat all they can eat. Those fools actually needed reminders! Same goes for the alcohol! It wasn’t long before Jamie was catching up with (and surpassing) me on the drinks, though, and Russell made a valiant effort too. By the time we got to Excalibur Rocks we were all pretty happy.

Highlight of the evening for me was watching Jamie do a solo dance on the floor with two hula hoops. I’m not sure if he even remembers it, but I was dying laughing at the time.

It’s always interesting to meet these bloggers. People choose what parts of themselves to expose in their blogs, but when you actually meet face to face, you get the rest. I think every blogger has tons of good stories he doesn’t want to write about on his public blog.

Anyway, good luck in Hangzhou, Jamie. We’ll meet again….

[Note: it seems that the previous night, some bloggers in Beijing had a little bash of their own.]

02

Feb 2004

First Day of Work

Today I finally started my new job in Shanghai, after over a month of vacation. I’m pretty sure that until today I haven’t gotten up at a time of day that could be considered “early” since I’ve moved here. As a result, I saw a new side of Shanghai on my walk to work.

I hit the street at 8am. The city was bustling. What struck me first was the sheer quantity of hot, hot women on Nanjing Xi Road on their way to work. Yes, it’s conclusive: women with actual jobs are way sexier than those women of leisure you see around town at hours that could only be kept by someone without a respectable job. So it looks like I now get classy eye candy on my daily walk to work.

I realized also on my way to work that I can walk through Jing An Park as a shortcut. What a great shortcut! I saw lots of old people doing morning exercises. I saw old people doing dance routines to music. I saw old people doing tai chi. I saw old people practicing with swords. I saw more hot women. But mostly I just saw lots of old people. I like how active a role the Chinese elderly seem to take in trying to keep themselves fit. They don’t look any healthier or more flexible, but they do seem to live pretty long.

I arrived at work at 8:20am, ten minutes early. Just enough time for breakfast at the restaurant next door. I paid 5rmb for 5 jian jiao (fried dumplings). That’s 5 times what I used to pay outside the gate of ZUCC. They were good, though.

Then I started work. A lot of people have asked me what, exactly, my new job is, and I haven’t been extremely forthcoming with the information. I wasn’t trying to be coy; the truth of the matter was I didn’t know the exact details myself. I still don’t. But I like what I know so far.

The company is called Melody (双美 in Chinese). It’s a Taiwanese company which creates and markets English educational materials (textbooks, tapes, CDs, VCDs, etc.) for young children. My job is a sort of trainer/consultant. I help them with the development of the materials, providing a native speaker perspective. I also train Melody’s teachers, and will go on business trips to cities all over China to hold training seminars for the teachers of other schools which buy Melody’s products.

Today, since my immediate supervisor has still not returned from vacation, I was left pretty much to just start familiarizing myself with Melody’s texts and VCDs. Holy crap. They make good stuff, but when you’re watching English language song videos for 6-year-olds all morning long, it’s pretty brain-numbing.

My co-workers all seem pretty cool. They’re nearly all female. They talk to me almost exclusively in Chinese. So it’s a good working environment.

One thing I’m not used to is the “culture shock” of talking to the Taiwanese. They say things like, “I’m originally from Taiwan, but I’ve been living in China for years.” Excuse me?? From Taiwan, moved to China. That talk seems totally cool, though. All the mainlanders are used to it and think nothing of it.

So I put in a full day of work today, and now I have to do that again for the next four days. Wow, this is way different from teaching at ZUCC. This is actually approaching the real world.


26

Jan 2004

Exorcising, Exploding, Welcoming

OK, I guess that’s not a nice way to refer to the departure of two good friends. But it’s what came to mind when I took this picture, which I have entitled exorcising the demon (sorry Carl):

exorcising the demon

Amy is still here visiting, and we’re doing lots of sightseeing still (as well as plenty of lounging). Carl and Greg’s most recent Shanghai visit, however, is already over just two days after it began. They seem to have had a good time (due largely to the neighborhood Taco Popo). My new sleeper sofa, mattress pad, and sheet set equip my guest room pretty well to accommodate guests.

Quick plug: Da Yu (Chinese name) Japanese restaurant in the Isetan building on West Nanjing Road is awesome. At 150 rmb per person it’s not cheap, but it’s all you can eat and all you can drink. Plus you order off the menu — there’s no crappy buffet bar. We left there at closing, very full and more than a little happy. (Thanks to Wilson for that recommendation!)

While they were here we also experienced the storm after the calm after the storm. I refer to the ridiculous firecracker/firework extravaganza that went on last night. The noise was deafening, and we had quite a show out my apartment window for about an hour. All kinds of fireworks explosions came from all directions, right in the middle of the city, between tall buildings. At one point a nearby building caught on fire, sending up big clouds of smoke. It was put out fairly quickly. (The next morning we went to check it out, but there was no evidence. I did notice a sign on the building which had caught fire: DANGER: GAS.)

[Related link: don’t miss this footage of the unbelievable pyrotechnic show around ZUCC on Chinese New Year’s Eve.]

Turns out that the display here last night was due to some kind of tradition of welcoming the god of wealth into one’s home for a prosperous new year. Hmmm. I suppose I should study up on this whole “Chinese culture” thing a little more.

Anyway, I’m glad Carl and Greg came up to the big city for the visit. To my other friends: come on over for a visit!

welcoming


21

Jan 2004

Hangzhou Got Shorted

My sister Amy arrived last Thursday night, which just so happened to coincide with the arrival of rain and considerably colder weather in the Shanghai area. We haven’t done much so far in Shanghai, although we did get to meet Michael of Chairman Meow and Living in China fame and his friends. Very cool group of people. Then we went to Hangzhou.

I gotta say, any decent city in China requires at least a week of touristing. I foolishly only gave us 3 days in Hangzhou, and I regret it. We saw West Lake, Nanshan Road’s bars, Ling Yin Temple, the Silk Market, In Time Department Store, “West Lake Heaven and Earth” (西湖天地), ZUCC, and snow. On Sunday the weather was horrible (even if it did snow), so we shopped all day. Ugh. Then yesterday we went to the silk market and we spent 3 hours there. I wanted to die. I was translator and haggler. I really got some good prices, but I don’t particularly enjoy that.

Amy enjoyed meeting all my ZUCC co-workers and other Hangzhou friends. They’re all really cool people. I should have some pictures of her visit up soon. Got some good ones.

Last night we made the difficult decision not to go to Beijing. It’s the wrong time of year for it (too cold, and it’s the Chinese New Year holiday now), and we just wouldn’t have enough time there. Plus, Amy wouldn’t get to see much of Shanghai even if we went to Beijing for only 3 or 4 days. You can’t see three amazing cities in two weeks.

So tonight is Chinese New Year’s Eve. We’ll be spending it with my girlfriend’s family. Happy Chinese New Year everybody!

John and Amy at Reggae Bar, Hangzhou


08

Jan 2004

Coming Soon…

Happy New Year, everybody. It’s been a while since my last entry, I know. In the meantime a lot has happened (although really, not much).

I have completely moved into my new apartment in Shanghai, and it’s awesome. My ZUCC co-worker friends were all going to help me with the final move, but they all bailed on me at the last minute for lame reasons like “no money,” except for Greg. He was a great help, and strong as an ox, that lad. Alf tried to placate me by later showing up with a potted plant for me. What a charmer.

Anyway, I don’t hold grudges, so I’ll be happy to put any of them up should they feel like coming to visit me in Shanghai. Those guys are great, and I’ll really miss them. Sometimes it’s hard for me to explain even to myself why I would voluntarily leave such a great community of people.

I also met the notorious Brad (of BradF.com) recently. Very chill guy. Much more into music than I expected (if you read Chinese, make sure you check out his ideas for his new band!). Hopefully I’ll be hanging out with him again soon.

I finally bought a new hard drive yesterday. 80 GB of Seagate goodness. Works like a champ so far. I’ve actually found that I didn’t lose as much data as I thought I did, due to my inadvertently backing important documents up in the past for various reasons. That includes my book, to my extreme relief. My publisher has just recently informed me that they’ve finally made the official decision to publish it. Cool. Only took 3 months.

Hmmm, every paragraph is beginning with the word “I”. But not this one.

My ADSL internet access will be installed tomorrow, and then I can finally quit with this internet cafe hanky panky.

I paid a huge wad of cash for my apartment on Christmas Day. My new job doesn’t start until after Chinese New Year. I was getting paid very little all last semester because I was teaching very few clases to make time for my full-time Chinese studies. That all amounts to me being pooooor. My older sister Amy is coming for a visit next Wednesday. Fortunately she’s bringing funds. Everything’s gonna be cool, I’m sure.

Things are looking good. I have lots of ideas for Sinosplice in the months to come, but I’m gonna need that internet access first. Expect more pictures. My new surroundings have imparted new inspiration to me.



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