Bathroom Bliss

A while back I was whining pretty hardcore (not once, but twice) about the toilet in my apartment at ZUCC.
click for full sizeI guess it’s the classic case of complaining when something goes wrong but not saying anything when something good happens, but I neglected to mention that the toilet did get fixed. Daily plungings are a thing of the past, I’m pleased to announce. The fix was pretty primitive (chiseling a path through the concrete floor to clear the obstruction) but effective.

Then this past month the new shower modifications were finished. For over a year, the foreign teachers at ZUCC have all been living without shower curtains or anything, really, to keep water from spraying all over the bathroom when we take our showers. (This is fairly typical in China.) I didn’t mind because it meant my toilet was getting cleaned while I showered, and even though the floor was soaked after every shower, it kept the floor clean. I adjusted my routine so I never had to go back into the bathroom for a few hours after I used the shower. The other teachers didn’t like the soaked floor too much, though. The mild grumblings eventually turned to outright demands for shower curtains. Since I’m the foreign teacher liaison, I was right in the middle of it all. Human Resources said they’d handle it, but they had to deal with the ineptitide of General Affairs, which was in charge of the actual labor. Ahhh, Chinese bureaucracy. Meanwhile, I’m daily hearing, “where are our shower curtains?” from the teachers. Although Human Resources initially promised we’d have shower curtains within two weeks , the process dragged on for weeks longer (to Wilson’s outrage). I lost count of how many times they came in and measured my bathroom.

But, it finally got done. And not even curtains, but rather a whole fancy glass case thing with sliding doors. These new showers are great.

Sinosplice 2.0

This is Sinosplice 2.0, the culmination of about a week or so of hard work. It corresponds nicely with the SARS shut-in we’ve got going on here at school.

I’ve never used style sheets so much, so there are a few weird things going on. See how this paragraph is indented? WHY??? I really don’t get it. Also, my tables aren’t being very obedient. I tell it 800 pixels wide (to accomodate lower-res viewers), and it ends up 830 or something. So annoying. If anyone could explain this stuff to me, that would be great.

There’s new stuff online. Sinosplice is getting closer and closer to what I originally envisioned when I started the site. Please have a look around. Also, reporting bad links or other errors would be greatly appreciated.

Nongfu Guoyuan

Nongfu GuoyuanSo what are the latest crazes sweeping China? Well, of course, these days SARS panic has superseded all. I remember just a week ago, though, when SARS was still a pretty distant threat. At that time instead of buying face masks, everyone was buying a brand new drink called Nongfu Guoyuan, or Farmer’s Orchard. At most places you can buy the regular 600 mL (20 oz.) size for 3.5 rmb (US$0.42), or the same size with a flip-top lid for 3.8 rmb (US$0.46).

So what’s special about this drink? Well, first, it boasts at least 30% fruit juice. This might not seem like a whole lot to you, but it’s impressive to anyone who’s ever been in China for any length of time and naively bought “fruit juice” only to receive some watered down, sugary, “fruit-like” concoction with only 10% real fruit juice, if that. 30% sets a new standard, and people are responding. Second, the drink is really good! It tastes like real fruit juice! I’ve been drinking it a lot lately, even though it’s a bit more expensive than similar drinks, which tend to be in the 1-2 rmb range.

The only downside is that the drink is undeniably a shameless V8 Splash ripoff. The package design, the size, the taste, the fruit juice blend (how many fruit drinks include carrot juice??), the way that it is marketed as a healthy drink, the fact that it needs to be shaken before drinking…. Still, it’s good. I will keep drinking it.

Nongfu Guoyuan & V8 Splash

Evil Empire

Apparently, as a foreigner in China it is one of my duties to listen to Chinese people’s opinions about my country, its government, and the various entanglements into which it gets its military. Fortunately, this can be interesting.

Back when the war in Iraq first started (and many Chinese people actually sort of cared), a lot of Chinese people would ask my opinion. I think some of them were looking for a debate, but they generally seemed pleased that I was mostly against the war. I talked about it with my classes, and a few of these discussions turned up some very interesting information. Did you know that some people in China are saying that after Iraq comes North Korea, and then China itself? Our military sure is ambitious. It’s funny, though, how we see our government as often reckless, and our military as high-tech but not 100% competent, but the Chinese see the whole package as a brooding viper, just seething treachery.

Then today I heard something else. I was on a taxi ride home from my night class. Attendance was low due to the SARS scare reaching town, and I was just tired altogether. The taxi driver seemed friendly enough and tried to make conversation, but I sort of brushed him off with minimal replies. As school drew nearer, though, I started to feel bad for not talking to the guy a little, so I asked him if he was scared about SARS. “Of course I’m afraid!” he replied. He then went on talk about the new cases popping up, and to tell me how there was speculation that SARS is an engineered virus created by the USA to attack China! That floored me. The paranoia knows no bounds.

He also asked about the Iraq war, and if I had friends over there fighting. I told him no (although I do have a cousin there). He asked if I would fight for my country. I told him I would certainly defend my country, but I wouldn’t be too keen to fight in a war I saw as unjust. But then the taxi stopped. I had arrived at the school gate. I paid and got out.

As I walked away from the taxi, he got in one last line before he drove away. He almost sounded as if he were asking me for a personal favor.

“Bu yao da zhongguo!” Don’t attack China….

Sinosplice is back up

Most of you probably didn’t notice its absence, but Sinosplice was down for the past 4 days (April 16-19). This is because my one-year hosting plan was due to expire and I decided it was time to shop around for a new webhost. Here’s my list of grievances for my last host, iPowerweb.com (those bastards won’t get a link from me!):

  • Customer support is basically nonexistent. Can you really be said to offer customer support when you only reply to 1 out of 10 e-mails (if that), and the replies are not necessarily even helpful?? Oh, you want to call the support hotline? Plan on waiting on hold for an HOUR.
  • Wilson tried to sign up with them because they’re unblocked and pretty fast, and they would never even reply to his new account application! Unbelievable. He was trying to give them money and they ignored him.
  • iPowerweb claimed I used 120 MB of my 150 MB of online space, but after uploading to my new host I see it was really only about 70 MB. What’s up with that??
  • the site was down for 4 days because iPowerweb wouldn’t make the DNS switchover I requested. During that time I was just waiting for them to read their customer support e-mail and make the simple change.
  • Way limited control options and value when compared to Webmasters.

Anyway, I have a new host. I hope the site remains fast and unblocked in China. Let me know if you notice any differences (good or bad). I’ve got big plans for Sinosplice, which go way beyond just this blog. Expect a complete relaunch of the site this summer.

Oh yeah, and HAPPY EASTER!

English only, please — this is China

SPEAK BOY!

This is one of my favorite cartoons of all time… Multi-lingual, pro-individuals’ clean air rights, anti-animal abuse — all the while taking a jab at linguistic imperialism.

So what’s the China connection? Those who have not had the privilege of coming to China may expect me to decry some foreigners’ attitudes here. Far from it. Rather than foreigners in China expecting to be spoken to in English more than they are, it is the Chinese who expect to be spoken to in English more than they are.

Sure, there are plenty of people here that don’t speak English and have no interest in it, but many Chinese people — especially college-aged — are reluctant to talk to foreigners in any language but English. Your good-natured attempts at the language are returned with a laugh and English only. I don’t want to make it seem like there are no college-aged students that are willing to talk to foreigners in Chinese. That simply wouldn’t be true. But the proportion is heavily skewed in the opposite direction, or at least much more strongly than I had ever imagined before coming here.

As crazy as it sounds, it’s true. I’m not sure, but I think this is a unique set of circumstances in the world today. The Japanese are not like that. It may be partly because the poor Japanese have a bit of a linguistic inferiority complex, but the Japanese usually seem relieved to be able to speak Japanese with a foreigner instead of having to use English. In Thailand I sure couldn’t speak much Thai, but the people were so friendly that I had a ball with my mangled phrasebook command of the language. And there are a lot of Thai people that speak good English. In my experience, Mexicans don’t feel the need to always bring it back to English either… and they know when you’re American. I’ve never been there, but in Europe English seems to be an oft-resented obligatory linguistic routine. So what’s going on in China?

The answer seems to be that the Chinese people have an intense longing to come up in the world. The government — despite its severely flawed English education system — has recognized the importance of English in our increasingly globalized, capitalistic earthly existence, and has instilled a sense of urgency in the young to learn English. True, some are trying to get out of the country, but others just want to learn it. It is because of these very circumstances that I and many others are able to easily find work in China at a university level and live comfortably here.

And yet, the whole situation can be very frustrating. People who come all the way to China to learn Chinese do not appreciate being repeatedly forced to speak English. Yes, English is now the international language, but shouldn’t Mandarin be the default language here? Also, there is sort of a natural linguistic principle which dictates that when two speakers of different languages communicate, the mode of communication settled upon will be the language that both people speak best. This means that if a Frenchman and a Spaniard meet, and the Frenchman’s Spanish is not so hot, but neither is the Spaniard’s French, but both speak English decently, communication will be conducted in English. Natural, right? Similarly, if a Chinese and an American meet, and the Chinese person speaks pretty bad English but the American speaks decent Chinese, the conversation should proceed in Chinese. Why, then, in China, is this so often not the case? At times it amounts to linguistic bullying, and it becomes clear that communication is not really the desired end.

Again, let me stress that this is not always the case, but I’d like to list two of the ruder experiences I’ve had here, which are not isolated incidents, but rather categories of incidents which occasionally are repeated:

  • I was speaking with a Chinese friend in Chinese in a public place. My friend didn’t speak English. A Chinese man I didn’t know approached me and engaged me in coversation in English. He refused to switch over to Chinese, even though my friend couldn’t follow the conversation. My friend and I had to leave to get away from the guy.

  • I was speaking to two Chinese people who approached me in English. I spoke to them in English, and then added in some Chinese. One of the people got a strange expression on his face and told me he didn’t understand. The other was like, “what do you mean you don’t understand? He said that totally clearly.” The other became flustered because his friend didn’t catch onto his fake miscomprehension trick.

In all fairness, I should bring up the idea of the “psychological block” to communication in Asia. I have had this experience in both Japan and China. Sometimes you’ll speak to a person in near-perfect (if not perfect) Chinese or Japanese, and all you’ll get is a shaking of the head and a “I don’t speak English.” These people will not listen to you at all, because when they see a white face they become absolutely convinced in their minds that communication is impossible. Often it’s the old that suffer from these psychological blocks. In one case a nearby Chinese person, incredulous, told the guy that I was speaking to him in Chinese, but the man still refused to even listen to me. Incredible. That said, I’d like to say that the second example above is not one of those cases. It was a deliberate attempt to block communication in Chinese.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m willing to speak to Chinese people in English. I also understand that the average Chinese person gets very very few opportunities to practice “real English,” and I’m always happy to speak to my students in English. It can also be very refreshing to speak to a Chinese person in English when the person speaks good English. But I certainly resent being deprived of my right to speak Chinese in China.

New DVDs

Made a little DVD run today. We buy pirated DVDs for 7rmb each (less than US$1). I bought pretty much only Chinese and Japanese stuff. The Chinese movies are mostly fluff. The Japanese movies were several of Miyazaki Hayao‘s classic animated films. Two of the Chinese movies I got mostly because the covers made me laugh. Keep in mind that since these movies are pirated — and in many cases released before the real DVD has even been released — the pirating companies have to design their own covers. Usually they just steal images from advertisements, but occasionally you see something original or weird, and you see a lot of bad English. I picked up two DVDs that I’d like to mention, although I haven’t watched them yet.

Flowers of Shanghai

Flowers of Shanghai (海上花).
This one is apparently critically acclaimed. What caught my eye was a line at the top of the cover: PROSTITUTE MOVIE COLLECTION (Chinese: 青楼名妓电影系列). I know there are some movies about prostitution, but there’s a prostitute movie collection?! Kinda funny. The movie is about the late 19th century Shanghai brothel business.

Looking for Mister Perfect

Looking for Mister Perfect (奇逢敌手).
I don’t have high expectations for this movie. I’m thinking it’ll be popular because it’s one of Shu Qi’s new ones. The graphic the pirates used for the cover design is such an obvious ripoff of the The Fast and the Furious design that it’s embarrassing. What was funny was the English description on the back. Here it is, verbatim:

The bright and red-blooded woman fucks the small of earnes t to work, however lack the confidence to love.Although have to warmly pursue, however dream of to launch the love with white dress man of in a dream.A time an d outside swim consumedly horse insid e,small The white dress man, of the to p in a dream however is the evil-foreb oding dream’s beginning.Advertise co mpany Chen to living, and superficia lly is aMissile that wet businessma n, carry on the back the to howev er make with big Poon to navigat e the electronics spare parts to def end the system bargain.Check the b lack dragon spy of this case the Alex, and mistake small for the party, at a the round pursueThe empress, small c ooper ates with hims, and the Poon fina ly catch.Two people with each other living the cordiality… the…

OK, I know it ends in an ellipsis, but that’s really the whole thing. Amazing, is it not? It left me speechless.

Shu Qi
Shu Qi, as I mentioned above, was probably a big draw for the viewers of Looking for Mister Perfect. She is really popular in China right now. She’s in ads everywhere (red bean soup in a can, shampoo, long underwear… you name it!), and stars in movie after movie. One of her most recent big hits was So Close.

She’s obviously popular for her good looks, but what’s interesting is that she got her start in the soft porn industry. Predictably, a lot of Chinese girls hate her. Meanwhile, guys everywhere go gaga.

I got some comments on Looking for Mister Perfect from a Chinese discussion board. Interestingly, they’re bilingual. Excuse my hasty translation.

adult (2003-4-10 5:58:01): shu qi is very sexy, I saw her early nude movie, she is good.

输棋 (2003-4-4 8:49:07): 真不明白,怎么这么多人喜欢她?不过既然有人会如此捧林青霞,答案也就很明显了,输棋不好看,但还比林青霞好 [I really don't get it -- how can so many people like her? But there are also people that are similarly crazy over Lin Qingxia -- the answer is obvious. Shu Qi isn't good looking, but better than Lin Qingxia.]

agree (2003-4-3 10:44:03): yes, I share the same view with su qi, and I would love to slap those who thinks 舒淇 [Shu Qi] has the looks, 舒淇 [Shu Qi] is as attractive as a toaster.

su qi (2003-4-3 9:16:33): I do not understand the popularity of shu qi. She plays the exact same role in every one of her movies.

If I had to choose an actress that’s been in some of the more erotic-type movies, I’d go with Christy Chung (钟丽缇). I’ve seen I’ve heard about some some pretty racy flicks of hers, like Jan Dara (晚娘), a twisted tale of a Thai family’s ruin, and Samsara, a story of Tibetan monk’s bout with temptation.

Another April Fools' Day

yurenjie

Another April Fools’ Day has come and gone…. Yes, April Fools’ Day is celebrated in China, but in a somewhat different way. In the USA, it seems like pranks are the most popular way of celebrating the holiday, but in China college students just seem to like to fool their classmates. Some of the more common tricks include:

  • Calling up a friend and confessing your love for him/her. A variation of this may be telling a friend that another mutual friend has a secret crush on them.
  • Calling up a friend by cell phone and telling him you have come to visit and are at the school gate, so the friend should come out and meet you immediately.

Notice that I didn’t mention the classic “loose salt shaker top trick” or “whoopee cushion.” It seems that plain old lies are the way to go here (although you can actually buy whoopee cushions here, for cheap!).

I didn’t really do anything for April Fools’ Day. I guess I’m getting old. I didn’t have class that day, so I slept in. I woke up to the sound of an SMS message arriving on my cell phone. It was from a student saying that his class couldn’t have class the next day because they had their “Spring Outing” (a Chinese college freshman tradition; chun you — 春游 — in Chinese). Well, having just woken up, I was in my usual morning state of dopiness. I had no idea what day it was. So I fell for that. Oh well.

Some news for China April 1st was the death of celebrity Leslie Cheung (Zhang Guorong — 张国荣). He was famous for playing gay roles in movies, such as Chen Kaige’s Farewell my Concubine and Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together (Ray‘s favorite). Apparently he was gay in real life, too, and committed suicide over love problems. Sad. At first I thought it was a fake April Fools’ Day “news” story, but it’s real.

Does the world know that there are openly gay stars in China? If you have a class discussion on homosexuality here, these names will come up. I think the gay celebrities are mostly confined to Hong Kong, though. (I’m no authority on Chinese celebrities — I’m lucky if I can keep my Chinese friends’ names straight, much less the celebrities’!) It’s pretty clear, though, that for most of mainland China, being gay is still not OK.

Outfit Streaks

I overheard a comment from a female student to a male student before class last week: “Hey, you finally changed clothes!” I didn’t want to laugh, but I was just totally cracking up inside. It was one of those “totally China” moments.

So what’s the deal? Put simply, Chinese people often wear the same outfit for several days in a row. At first I found it strange, but before long, I was adapting to this aspect of culture. Allow me to demonstrate pictorially:

clothinginchina

Clearly, this is not a cleanliness issue. Americans frequently wear an outfit for one day, then put it away, “clean,” ready to wear again some day in the undefined, not-overly-soon future. Why can’t we just keep wearing the same outift? Cultural programming. If we wear the same outfit for several days in a row, people might think that we don’t actually have a huge wardrobe. People might think we’re poor! Even if we were to have only 5 outfits, we would cycle them meticulously.

But in China you can wear the same thing for several days in a row, and it’s cool. No one will really look down on you for it (although they might comment if you overdo it).

I kinda like this, being free of a cultural chain that, until China, bound me without my knowledge….

Pictures, pictures, pictures…

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.

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