Back

OK, so I’m back. It’s good to be back. Australia was awesome, but I didn’t enjoy being so poor for the last few days. I left the country with $1.20 Australian, and not because I went on a mad shopping spree before I left. But now I’m in China, where money is plentiful again.

As some of you know, countries outside the U.S. don’t use real money. It’s not even green. Instead they use colorful “monopoly money” which can actually be exchanged for goods and services just like real money. Australia’s bills are garishly colored plastic, and dollars are cleverly disguised coins. In China the big bill gets to be pink. I enjoy using this monopoly money and playing the game both in China and Australia, but I just have a lot more of it in China.

Regardless of my monetary limitations, I had a blast in Australia. I really have to thank Ben, without whom my trip would have been impossible. He and his girlfriend Kristy put Wilson and me up in Brisbane and were wonderful hosts, even driving us to Byron Bay (pics of this are on Ben’s site).

I forgot how many people I know here in China. Last night and this morning I was positively barraged with phone calls and SMS messages. It’s good to be back among so many friends (and potential summer employers), although it’s sad to think that I don’t know when I’ll see Ben and Kristy again, or Wilson, for that matter.

I have begun my summer job. It looks like other positions may be in the works, as well as lots of Chinese lessons. I’m getting special tutoring this summer from one of the teachers where I’ll study come fall so I can place higher in my Chinese class and learn more.

OK, that’s all the boring updates you’ll get out of me for now. I just hate seeing my blog stale for so long. And so my focus once again turns to China…

Byron Bay


Byron Beach, Queensland, Australia
John and Wilson (Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia)

Cute Kangaroo


awwwwww...

John in Oz

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…

Fighting Pollution

It’s no secret that “clean air standards” are not real high in China. Some people complain of sore throats when they first come to China, just because of air pollution alone. Dust is no longer that distant, mysterious substance that accumulates in remote places afer several weeks. Oh, you become very familiar with dust here. I find myself not opening the window at times for “fresh air” because fresh air also means fresh dust. Dust accumulates fast here.

So the air quality is pretty bad here, by Western standards. Hanghzou air is not as bad as some places (such as Beijing), but it’s also not the “pristine garden city at one with nature” that it would have you believe. That said, don’t let your imagination go completely wild on you. I mean, if the air quality was really intolerably bad I wouldn’t still be here. One reason I’m here in Hangzhou is that the air quality is pretty good, relatively.

Chinese Pollution Sucks

Hangzhou pollution

Now to my story. ZUCC is located at the north end of town, in a newly created school zone. Unfortunately, the north edge of town was formerly designated an industrial zone. (That means factories are officially allowed to pollute even more out here.) You can see smokestacks to the north of our campus. Usually the pollution doesn’t really seem any worse here than anywhere else in the city, but around the end of April/beginning of May, those smokestacks went to town. In the afternoon we frequently saw lots of thick smoke pouring out of the smokestacks, sometimes even accompanied by a raging flame atop the smokestack. Naturally, a lot of people at ZUCC became concerned.

The school made a formal complaint but was worried that it was being completely ignored, as pollution is often treated as business as usual here. Hangzhou, however, is a popular tourist destination with a reputation for natural beauty, so it has a little more to lose if the pollution gets out of hand. Still, as ZUCC “foreign teacher liaison,” I decided to act on my own with regards to this issue. Sometimes foreigners’ voices can have a special impact here. I wrote a polite letter to the mayor of Hangzhou requesting that actions be taken. 13 foreign teachers from ZUCC added their signatures to mine. The letter I wrote is below:

I am a foreign teacher of English at Zhejiang University City College, located on East Zhongshan Road in Hangzhou . In writing this letter I represent a small community of foreigners from New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States, all of whom are living and teaching here.

I write to you out of concern for my health, the health of my colleagues, and, indeed, the health of all those around me. In the past several months (April, May 2003) we have all witnessed incidents of thick smoke emitted from the smokestacks of factories to the north of our campus. Sometimes the smoke is accompanied by a large orange flame, other times it is smoke alone. When the factories emit this smoke, the air around our school becomes hazier and heavier, and a bad smell of burning permeates the area. We have photographed said smoke emissions and include the photograph with this letter. [see picture above.]

In addition to health concerns, we also feel that this pollution will harm the development of Zhejiang University City College in that foreign visitors will be given a very poor impression of the school when such heavy pollution is evident so close to the school grounds.

We know that China is working hard at developing its industry, but we believe that this is a serious case of air pollution that cannot be ignored. Our health, as well as the health of all the Chinese students and citizens around us, is at risk. We humbly ask that the government please take actions to curb such blatant air pollution in this area, and that it inform us of what actions have been taken.

Thank you very much.

It may seem silly and futile to write this letter. More than one teacher who signed felt that it would do absolutely no good, but signed anyway. That’s why it’s amazing that only a month later, I learned of the actions taken by the government.

As the author of the letter, I was invited to a meeting at ZUCC along with the college vice president of general affairs and director of human resources, a regional and a municipal representative from the Chinese Bureau of Environmental Protection, the municipal foreign affairs representative, and several representatives of the factory in question. What went down is basically this.

  1. Everyone got introduced.

  2. Everyone got tea.

  3. The Chinese EPA guy explained that during the month that the incident in question occurred, the factory actually exceeded its emissions limit and failed its inspection for the first time. As a result, it is being forced to buy and install 1,500,000 RMB (about US$183,000) particle filtering equipment. Non-compliance will result in stiff fines.

  4. An account of the history of the factory was given. It is the forging plant for a motor manufacturer. It has already moved once. Hangzhou’s industrial section is being moved to the south, across the Qiantang River toward Xiaoshan, so it’ll probably have to follow suit, although this factory is not technically completely under Hangzhou’s jurisdiction.

  5. Kind person gives John a simpler Chinese verion of what was just said, as it was really long and complicated with difficult vocabulary, and the guy giving it had horrible putonghua.

  6. Tea refills.

  7. John is asked to say something. John expresses his appreciation and pleasant surprise at having been promptly and seriously responded to.

  8. Our school’s VP gave an impassioned plea for that factory to please get the hell out of here.

  9. The factory spoke in its defense, saying zero pollution was impossible, the factory had a right to exist, and there was nowhere good for it to go right now.

  10. A few other random pollution issues were discussed.

  11. The mayor’s foreign relations representative stressed that the mayor takes environmental issues as well as foreign relations issues very seriously, and that our letter was translated and acted upon immediately after it was received.

  12. The EPA guy stressed that Hangzhou takes environmental issues very seriously, and that the matter will continue to be investigated, with proper actions taken. EPA guy also passed out his card and gave us the number for a 24-hour pollution report hotline, adding that anything reported would be investigated within 30 minutes of the call.

  13. Meeting adjourned, in less than an hour!

So, basically I’m surprised that such prompt action was taken. Were the actions sincere? Will anything change? That’s hard to say. But I’d say if serious actions were really to be taken, then the meeting I attended would probably be a part of it. I have hope.

Who is Chinese?

“Who is Chinese?” This is what I wrote on the board for my class last night. The Chinese concept of what exactly it is to be “Chinese” is really interesting. Speaking to Chinese people, you can’t help but come into contact with the issue. Over a year ago, Wilson and I were co-teaching American Society and Culture to English majors. Once I asked the class, “is Wilson Chinese?” NO! was the emphatic reply. A few even went so far as to assert that Wilson is “more American” than me. (This is to say that Wilson, the quintessential Californian, better fit their Hollywood image of what an American “should” be.)

This example aside, however, I find that Chinese people tend to be rather inclusive when deciding who is “Chinese.” I mean “inclusive” in that they often include people in this “Chinese” group that a Westerner might not expect would be included. (This contrasts sharply with the Japanese island mentality, in that not only can outsiders never be “Japanese,” but even the Japanese themselves cease to be real “Japanese” if they’re away for too long.) The Chinese tend to regard people of Chinese descent as “Chinese” even if they speak no Chinese in any form and have spent no time at all in China. Interestingly, it seems that this generous bestowment of Chineseness can be revoked when actual experience with the “Chinese” people in question comes into play. [See Flying Chair for a recent entry along similar lines.]

So after writing “Who is Chinese?” on the board, I proceeded to ask my class a series of questions. It’s significant to note that Wilson taught my class one time (for 2 1/2 hours). Here’s a paraphrase of the ensuing dialogue.

Me: All of you are Chinese. But who else is Chinese? Is Wilson Chinese? [Some confusion ensues. I force them to vote. The result is about 6:2 against.] Me: Why isn’t he Chinese? Student: He’s American. He doesn’t speak fluent Chinese, and he doesn’t have the same culture as us. Me: Oh, I see. So language and culture are the most important. So I guess DaShan is Chinese then? [Laughter] Student: Of course not! He can never be Chinese! Me: Why not? He speaks fluent Chinese and he understands your culture. I think he might even have Chinese citizenship. Student: But he doesn’t have Chinese blood! Fei XiangMe: Oh, I see, Chinese blood is also important. So how about Fei Xiang [a famous half-Chinese half-white star] then? Is he Chinese? [More confusion. A vote once again shows a split.] Me: Why isn’t he Chinese? He speaks fluent Chinese, he understands your culture, and he has Chinese blood. Student: But he only has half Chinese blood. Me: OK, so what if Fei Xiang had a child with a Chinese woman and they lived in China. Would that child be Chinese? [Those who had said no to Fei Xiang appear a bit confused, but one student is adamant.] Student: No! Me: OK, what about a person who is 7/8 Chinese? Is that person Chinese? Student: No! Me: OK, how about 31/32 Chinese? [The other students are laughing.] Student: No, he’s not pure Chinese! Me: Not even 1,048,575/1,048,576??? [More laughter. The one student is thinking. The point is finally sinking in.] Me: Do you think your Chinese heritage is that pure? If even one of your ancestors wasn’t 100% Chinese, then neither are you. [I proceed to draw a tree illustrating how many people are involved.] Me: Do you really think any of you are that Chinese? [Lots of head scratching.]

Oh yes, I love my job.

Mysteries of the A/C

It’s hot in Hangzhou now, so I’m using the air conditioning.

One way that China and Japan differ from the U.S. is that since they don’t have central air/heating, you have these little wall-mounted units that only affect one room, and they each have their own remote controls. This is convenient, I suppose, but the problem is that my A/C units often don’t read the remote control’s signal. I often have to press the button quite a few times — getting closer to the unit with every push, all the while pointing the remote directly at the sensor — to get it to work.

This isn’t a big deal, except that when you change the thermostat you never know if it really registered, because the remote registers the change in a little digital readout window regardless of whether home base received the transmission. I thought these things were supposed to give off a little beep as a “roger, we read you,” but mine never does except for when it’s turned on or off. Alas, I am in a perpetual state of agonizing room temperature uncertainty.

When I first arrived in Asia, I found the lack of central heating/air barbaric. This particularly applied to winter in Japan and summer in Hangzhou. Now, however, I can appreciate that in China I can be nice and comfortable in my air-conditioned bedroom while my other room is still sweltering. In the USA the whole house would have to be air-conditioned, and that’s a major waste of power when I’m home alone, just sitting in front of the computer.

(NOTE: If you’re really bored, check out the website of my air conditioner’s manufacturer, Midea. It’s completely ridiculous in its extravagance. Keep in mind that it’s just a home appliance company. You can even see my wall-mounted A/C unit in 3D glory! The Chinese really overuse Flash and other plugin apps.)

Hotel Zhoushan Dong Lu

The main road that runs by Zhejiang University City College is East Zhoushan Road, or “Zhoushan Dong Lu,” as the natives call it. Along this road are quite a few colleges in a comparatively small space. There’s also Shuren University, and the Broadcast/Journalism School (I really don’t know what the English name is — I usually refer to it as the “fine girl school”), and some others. The road is packed with small restaurants, (legit) barber shops*, convenience stores, and other small businesses that appeal to Chinese college students.

It is on Zhoushan Dong Lu that I regularly meet with my tutee, as my school is still being ridiculously strict about who comes and goes from its premises, despite the fact that SARS is not at all a serious threat in Hangzhou anymore. The place that we meet is a small bakery/cafe. We chose it because it’s bright and the drinks are cheap. We can get 2-3 rmb drinks and have our 2-hour session there, no problem. The sleepy staff couldn’t care less.

Anyway, because our usual spot is right in the cafe window, we have a great view of the endless student parade that ambles up and down Zhoushan Dong Lu. It just so happens that the cafe we chose is right next door to a little hotel. This hotel is special for two reasons. One, it’s the closest off-campus hotel to ZUCC. Two, it offers hourly rates.

Don’t get me wrong, this is no redlight district-type hotel. In the two hours that we chat at our table in the cafe, we see all kinds of people going in and out. Many are families. But college-aged couples clearly make up a sizeable chunk of the hotel’s clientele. I know because I’ve seen quite a few either entering or leaving. Some of my former students would probably be pretty mortified to know that I have seen them go in there at around 3pm on a Sunday afternoon with their boyfriends.

But then again, maybe not.

I think in the West, we would imagine that the Chinese are rather conservative, about sex especially. This is certainly not completely wrong, even if such broad generalizations are invalid by default. Still, with modernization and globalization, Chinese society is becoming more and more “open,” as the Chinese like to say. They mean “open” in a good way, in that they can accept new ideas and ways of doing things. They also mean “open” as in “promiscuous.” I would say that Shanghai, in its flashy modernity, is definitely leading the Chinese surge in “openness,” but Beijing and the rest of developed eastern China is trying hard to keep up. Each successive generation pushes the limit a little more.

So I was thinking about the Chinese college students going to hotels on Zhoushan Dong Lu, and comparing this to American college students’ behavior. Maybe a smaller proportion of Chinese college students are sexually active (I really have no idea what the statistics are), but the Chinese students are doing something kind of noteworthy. In the USA, privacy abounds, and intimate meetings are so easy to arrange. If students share a room, there’s usually only one roommate, who can’t be there all the time. It’s a simple matter for the girl to go to the guys dorm, as well as vice versa. A lot of American college students have apartments, which offer pretty complete privacy. Furthermore, there’s absolutely nothing shameful or embarrassing about the girl going over to the guy’s place to hang out. What then goes on behind closed doors is no one else’s business, and the couple can keep their relationship as private as they want to.

Now compare that to a Chinese couple making a visit to the hourly rate hotel. They can’t hang out in the dorms, really. Guys aren’t allowed in the girls’ dorms, and girls generally don’t like hanging out in the guys’ dorms because they’re typically a mess. Since dorm rooms usually house 4-8 students, it’s pretty unheard of to get any privacy at all there. Most Chinese college students don’t have their own apartments. So if they wanna do more than the typical make-out on the campus track after dark or on a bench by West Lake, these hotels are pretty much their only choice.

Even if they tend to serve a similar function, these hotels are not like Japanese “love hotels,” where anonymity is a high priority. There’s no rear entrance. When you go in, everyone on the street sees you go in, and when you come out, everyone on the street sees you come out. Some of these people might be classmates or teachers.

So the fact that college-aged Chinese couples go to these hotels in broad daylight without any sneaking around says something about just how conservative modern Chinese are.

It’s funny, though… in class they all pretend to be such wide-eyed innocents whenever sex comes up.

It’s never quite as simple as “conservative” or “open,” and I don’t pretend to have done more than just barely scratch the surface here…

* “non-legit barbershops” being the ones full of young women in tight clothes that do all their business after dark and don’t actually cut any hair

Messenger Plus! = EVIL

OK, this is off-topic, but I consider it an important public service announcement.

Say NO to MSGPlus!I was recently recommended Messenger Plus! (MSGPlus), a program which modifies and adds new features to MSN Messenger. The software itself is actually pretty cool. The only problem is, it also adds spyware and all kinds of annoying add-ons. The program AdAware helped me get rid of most of these, but I’m still working on the most tenacious one, the Lop.com trojan, even after uninstalling Messenger Plus!

The MSGPlus website is very attractive, and very professional-looking. Looks can be sooo deceiving. From spywareinfo.com:

Patchou, the developer of Messenger Plus, has issued a statement regarding the complaints he’s been receiving due to his new “sponsor”. To all of the people who are saying that they won’t use his program because of lop.com, he has this to say, “I don’t want to be rude but if you boycot version 2.10.36, you’re an idiot.”

Do NOT install Messenger Plus! Hopefully Microsoft will be smart and add the unique Messenger Plus features to its MSN Messenger updates. MSN Messenger 6.0 Beta is looking better already.

Inspiration

Recently I was trying to design desktop wallpaper that would remind, encourage, and inspire me to study Chinese more. In doing so, I hit upon an amusing idea. Dashan is involved. (Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as interesting if you don’t read Chinese.) It’s a new Sinosplice original.

Anyway, check out Trash Talking Dashan!

Page 158 of 171« First...102030...156157158159160...170...Last »
Sinosplice and all material found herein © 2002-2014, John Pasden. All rights reserved.
Sinosplice is happily hosted by WebFaction. Design by Dao By Design