Travel Fatigue

I’m in Jinghong (“capital” of Xishuang Banna, southern Yunnan, China). It is the day after an exhausting 40 km or so trek through some gorgeous countryside. Up and down mountains, across rivers, and through lots of minority people’s villages. I plan to go to Kunming tomorrow.

Thing is, I’m just kinda tired. Maybe I’m all travelled out. It’s been over 2 weeks. I know I’m especially tired today because yesterday was so exhausting (hiking 8am – 7pm almost nonstop, and then hitch hiking back and not arriving in Jinghong until 9pm). But maybe I made this trip a little too long. There is still a full life waiting for me back in Hangzhou, and I’m kind of eager to get back to it. Sounds crazy to say I’m tired of all this gorgeous weather and beuatiful scenery, but….

There’s still stuff to see in and around Jinghong. Yet today, I’m here in an internet cafe. I’m not even gonna write on any of the million things I’d like to write about… just not in the mood, really. That will come later. Pictures will come later too, but they’re fewer than might be expected. I’ve had a range of issues with taking pictures recently, which have been introduced to be via a range of people, and have been bouncing around in my head ever since:

Are you traveling to take pictures or to experience? Can you really do both well at the same time? Like it or not, having the camera ready at all times while traveling is a kind of multi-tasking. That camera is using up “memory” that could otherwise be spent more fully absorbing the experience with all one’s senses. This trip I’ve opted to keep the camera packed away a lot of the time, and I’m not really sorry. At least beautiful scenery will patiently wait for me to pull the camera out, most of the time.

Should I really take pictures of all these people? This is an issue that’s more sensitive with the minority groups. A lot of them don’t like you to take pictures of them. In Guilin if they caught you photographing them they’d demand money. Here they just don’t want it, and it seems sincere, and I feel like a have to respect it. I want to respect it. I wonder, though, if these people are (a) camera shy, (b) feel exploited, or (c) have some deeper “cameras steal your soul” kind of reason for not wanting to be photographed.

So I feel kinda torn. Yesterday while passing through a Dai village I saw some of the cutest children I’ve ever seen in my life. I had a great time interacting with them, and they’ll be a part of my China experiences forever. Just wish I could share, sometimes.

On Hold, from Lijiang

I’m sitting in a guesthouse/cafe/internet cafe in Lijiang, doing my e-mail duties. In the background an entire John Denver CD runs its course. In front of me, right outside, Chinese tourists and foreign backpackers stroll the stone streets.

Colorfully dressed Naxi women are a common site here. They’re not just trying to earn a few rmb from the photo-frenzied tourists; this is their way of life, and they live here. They seem not to see all the tourists photographing them, and they don’t return the stares. It’s strange for me to be in such a remote, exotic corner of China and not be stared at, even by a people whose culture is even more different from my own than most mainland Chinese’s.

Lijiang has been really great. I’ll write more on it later. I leave for Xishuang Banna by plane later this afternoon.

On Dali

Dali is a famous tourist spot in Yunnan (southwest China). After arriving in Kunming via airplane, I went straight to Dali by bus, where I am now. Dali is famous for its old-style city (gu cheng), which is rife with shops selling all kinds of items, all with that “South China minority” feel. There are tons of minority groups here in Yunnan, and the Bai are the main group in Dali.

The night I got here, I just checked into a hotel called the MCA Guesthouse (which I later learned is highly acclaimed in the Lonely Planet), walked around a bit, and ate. The next day I took a bike ride down to the lake and went for a few boat rides. Today I went up Cang Mountain, did some hiking, and also went on a little horseback ride.

A few observations:

  1. Dali is often raved about by foreign travellers, but I’m not super impressed. Yes, the weather is amazing — clean, clear, dry air, with barely even a wisp of a cloud daring to appear on the deep blue stage to even hint at rain. It’s cool, but not too cold. The city of Dali is nestled in between the Cang Mountain Range and Erhai Lake. The scenery is really quite nice. But I keep comparing it to Yangshuo — one of the best vacations I’ve ever had — and it just doesn’t quite measure up.
  2. It’s kind of cool how almost all the residents of Dali are in the Bai minority group. This place is not so dominated by the Han Chinese. It seems like in a lot of places, the minority villages are off alone in some mountain range, doing their thing, and then tourist groups regularly parade through and exploit them. It was that way in Thailand, and in Mexico, to some degree, and I expected to see it here, but it’s at least partly different. I don’t know, maybe it’s the Han behind the scenes, making all the big money, but the Bai seem to run tourism here.
  3. The “ski lift” that took me up Cang Shan today was manufactured by “Doppelmayr Ropeway Technology, Austria.” I hope it’s not mean to say so, but that made me feel a little more at ease. We were quite high up.
  4. The old man who took me on the horseback mountain tour today was Bai. He was quite hard to understand, as his Mandarin wasn’t super good, but I learned a lot of interesting things from him. The horses are only usable for 20-30 years, after which they are sold (and probably eaten). Bai people in Dali usually make only 200-800 rmb (US$25-$100) per month. They can live on that. (But it does seem to indicate that there’s some outsiders making the bigger bucks…) Also, the minority people are allowed to have 2 kids, instead of just one.
  5. The shopkeepers in the streets are way less pushy than they have been in other places. Being constantly assaulted by “Hello, hello, banana!” in Yangshuo comes to mind… I wonder if this is a Bai cultural quality. It may also be because the tourist season is not really underway yet. This place is bustling with backpackers at certain times of the year, but I’ve seen relatively few so far.

Overall, I like Dali, but I’m not terribly impressed. So I’m off to Lijiang tomorrow…

For my Students:

English majors, class 5

Students, your pictures are finally online! Go look at them. To the classes that I didn’t see that week, I’m sorry I couldn’t take pictures of you guys too, but it was your decision not to come…

Those are some happy-looking students, eh? That’s even right before their final exam! It doesn’t take as much to bribe them as you might think… heh heh.

Hey students! All of you know about this blog, but none of you have ever left a comment, even once! Now that you have something that directly relates to you, how about if some of you leave some nice English comments??

Random Stuff (toilet update!)

So there’s been some random stuff going on that I thought I’d fill you guys in on.

1. People are abandoning the school, like rats from a sinking ship. A college campus is a lonely place to be during the holidays. Wilson left early Tuesday. Helene leaves Thursday. Students finished exams today, and are heading for home en masse. And I will join the crowd Friday as I head to Shanghai to hang out with Ray before he leaves China for good (yes, the same Ray that leaves all the naughty comments). Saturday morning I head to Yunnan by plane. Yes, it’s time for my winter vacation. I’ll be there for 2-3 weeks, so I can’t say for sure how much I’ll be updating while there, but that’s the beauty of Blogger — I’ll be able to write updates anywhere with internet cafes, and China is already infested.


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2. I know many of you are closely following my toilet situation, eagerly awaiting updates. So let me fill you in. I finally got through to them that they needed to do more than show up at my place with a mop whenever my toilet would not unclog even after 20-30 minutes of straight heavy-duty plunging with my plunger. (How they unclog a toilet with a mop is something I really don’t understand… Another aspect of Chinese mysticism, I guess.) They agreed to actually pull up the bowl and have a look-see. I had to wait another day for that, for the right guy to come, of course. Anyway, he and his friend showed up the next day with a mallet and a chisel. Great. Then they got to work destroying the cement seal around the base of the toilet. After that they pulled that bad boy up. (Fortunately there was no messy surprise waiting for them.) After the guy inspected the bottom of the toilet bowl and the hole in the bathroom floor for a while, he made the declaration I had been dreading: “mei you wenti” — “there’s no problem here.” NO PROBLEM?! Then why doesn’t my toilet work?! Fortunately, this guy was smart, and he made a few measurements after his initial proclamation. You know how most toilets have a water tank in the back of the toilet? Mine is no exception. But that tank in back limits how close to the wall the bowl can be placed. It just so happens that the hole in the floor of the bathroom is rather close to the wall as well. Because of these designs, the hole in the bottom of the bowl was not matching up right with the hole in the floor. The hole in the bottom of the bowl was too far forward. There was only like 25% overlap instead of the 100% it should be (refer to diagram at right). BIG PROBLEM. Major flow obstruction. The guy was surprised I’d managed to use it as long as I have. So they decided that they would come replace it the next day. In the meantime I couldn’t use my toilet, which was still uprooted. GREAT.

So, after 24 hours of no toilet (that really is an inconvenience!), they came back this morning and mucked around in my bathroom some more. I don’t know what they were doing for over an hour, because they simply came to the conclusion they had before: you definitely need a whole new toilet bowl unit. Unfortunately, it’s very close to the Chinese New Year, so we can’t do it right away. You’ll have to wait until next year. What about my toilet?! Human beings need to use a toilet! Oh, no problem, they’d re-cement it down so I could keep using it until they come next year to replace it. I’ll have to wait another 24 hours to actually use it of course, because the cement needs time to dry. Grrrrreeeeaat…

3. There are 3 new teachers coming here. Two guys and a girl. All under 30, I think. Should be fun.

4. I’ve noticed that Chinese women seem to think that brown and purple match. Seriously. I see this combination every day. So who’s not in the know — me or them? As I’ve said before, I’m not exactly a fashion authority. But it seems fishy to me…



我星期天买了三本书:英汉赠言精粹,一个西方人眼中的中国,和魔戒(前传):藿比特人。从英汉赠言精粹中来的引文: 当一位真正的天才出现在世上,你可根据一种现象认识他,那就是蠢材们都联合起来反对他。 –J•斯威夫特 哈哈!有道理吧!:P

魔戒(前传):藿比特人(书名原文:The Hobbit)是指环王的三本书的前传。我看过英文版,觉得这种小说特别特别难 翻成中文,所以我很想看看李尧怎么翻译了。我去年在看指环王的时候我一直在想,“这些书会非常难翻译。”我回中国以后一个学生请我借给他指环王的第一本 (英文版)。我觉得他很认真,但这本书并不容易。我不知道他勉强看了几页。现在他可以看中文版了。






飞盘 – “flying dish.” 我们说 “frisbee”。我们才不会扔盘子呢! 大学 – “big study.” 学习有大小吗? 面包车 – “bread car.” 听起来像它要卖面包!我们说 “mini-van”。 热狗 – “hot dog.” 我们也说 “hot dog”,但这个好笑因为没想到你们会这样直接翻译! 松鼠 – “pine rat.” 我们说 “squirrel”。对我们来说,老鼠和松鼠是完全不一样的动物。当然,是有一点类似,但是我们的概念就是老鼠很脏,很烦,会破坏东西。但是松鼠很可爱,无害的。 仓鼠 – “storage rat.” 我们说 “hamster”。 袋鼠 – “bag rat.” 哈哈,我第一次听到这个词就哈哈大笑了。我们说”kangaroo”。 MP3 – “MP三.” 有意思的是西方国家先发明了这个技术,我们叫它 “MP three”。中国人听到这个次觉得很搞笑,但这是它原来的名字,”MP三”才好笑! 太阳很大 哈哈,这个时候太阳会大起来吗?这句话特别可爱,像孩子会说的。 你比我大 难道年龄就是大小吗?有意思。 看书 – “look at a book.” 如果用英语说 “look at a book”,你不一定打开了它,也不一定在读。对我们来说,看是看,读是读。 星期一,二,三… 不知道为什么我们的七天有名字,而不是数字,但没有名字就感觉很奇怪。但中国制度非常好学! 猕猴桃 – “Chinese monkey peach.” 呵呵,这个真好笑。我们说 “kiwi(fruit)”。


本来中国没有洋葱,没有土豆,但有葱,有芋艿。本来西方没有葱,没有芋艿,但有洋葱,有土豆。 中国: 1. 葱, 2. 洋葱 西方: 1. onion (洋葱), 2. green onion (“绿葱”就是葱) 中国: 1. 芋艿, 2. 洋芋 西方: 1. potato (洋芋), 2. taro (芋艿–这个不是很陪)


"Dialects" in China

[Here's something I wrote way back in 2000, shortly after coming to China. I still think it's pretty accurate.]

The linguistic situation in China is truly mind-blowing. Most people with a basic knowledge of China know that Mandarin is the official language, though quite a lot of people also speak Cantonese (in the south, in areas like Hong Kong and Guangzhou). Those people might also know that there are many more languages in China, spoken by various minority groups. All this is true, but this assessment barely even scratches the surface.

In reality, almost every person in Eastern China (developed China, not the countryside) is at least bilingual. China is a vast patchwork of languages, with every single town speaking its own brand of Chinese. Chinese people call these “dailects”, but it’s not actually that simple. When Americans think of dialects, we might think of black English, or the English of the American South, or of England. Though there might be some communication difficulty (with certain dialects in particular), communication between speakers of different dialects can generally proceed.

Chinese “dialects” are not so. This is largely because tones are a vital part of the Chinese language, and tones (as well as other sounds) vary from “dialect” to “dialect”. Neighboring towns tend to speak varieties of Chinese which can be mutually understood, but if you go just a little further away to another town, communication often breaks down completely. Since mutual intelligibility is generally accepted as the basic dividing line between dialect and language, these “dialects” are actually separate languages. Thus, this means that every town in China speaks a separate language! Since most people in China speak their hometown language as well as Mandarin, that means almost everyone is bilingual! Furthermore, many people who have moved from city to city can speak or at least understand more than one local language (and can understand the closely related ones as well).

So what we have here is a vast lingual patchwork with countless patches, and where one patch ends and the next begins is unclear. In addition, Mandarin is laid on top of that patchwork, lending cohesion to the linguistic mess. This is not to say that Mandarin is completely standard (or even necessarily often spoken) throughout the nation. It’s not (though much more so in northern China). This is where the true dialects come in — the local languages of different regions affect the way Mandarin is pronounced and used, but mutual intelligibility is preserved. Thus, the Mandarin of Beijing, of Shanghai, and of Taiwan are not the same. They each have their own dialect of Mandarin. In some parts of China like Guangzhou and Hong Kong, Cantonese is spoken more often than Mandarin.

Thus, China is a land of countless languages, united under one government. Calling the separate languages merely “dialects” and downplaying the linguistic disparity (and individuality) actually serves to help unify the country. It’s easier to consider people your fellow countrymen when they are merely speaking a “dialect” of the same language instead of a separate language. Even more unifying than the government’s psychological manipulation through words, though, is the Chinese written language. Despite the differences in the great array of languages — the differences in word pronunciation, in tone (sometimes even in number of tones), in grammatical usage, etc. — they all use the same Chinese characters in written form, with the exception of some minority languages. Any literate person in China (with the exception of some minorities) can read a Chinese newspaper aloud, character for character, in his native tongue, and it will be understood by native listeners, but not by most people from other regions of China. Read aloud in Mandarin, the official language of China, it will be understood by most people throughout China.

Because China is such a multilingual country, the use of Chinese characters and of Mandarin as the official language of China were crucial prerequisities to China’s modernization. Chinese characters have of course been around for thousands of years, but the adoption of one official language for the country did not take place until the beginning of the 20th century! It is perhaps one reason why China got a slow start on modernization. In selecting one language as the standard for the entire country, China was actually following Japan’s example. Japan underwent the same process as a precursor to its modernization. Perhaps because of its vastness, or maybe also because of its particular linguistic situation, China to this day does not have the linguistic cohesion that Japan does. Japan cannot be said to be a country of many languages (although in addition to Japanese it does have the the language of the Ainu, the aboriginal Japanese). To be sure, each part of Japan speaks a distinct variety of Japanese, but these are merely dialectual differences, and do not depart from mutual intelligibility for the most part.

Shaq insults Chinese everywhere

It’s old news by now, but make sure you check out this story. Looks like Shaq’s feeling a little insecure… Gonna have to be sure to watch Yao Ming and Shaq square off this weekend when the Lakers meet the Rockets in Houston (Sat 9:30pm ET/Sat 8:30am China Time, ESPN).

As a follow-up to my last entry, I learned today that as a teacher, the three things you “can’t talk about in China” are religion, politics, and sex. I’ve already covered all three in class, at least once. Oops? (No, I’m not worried. That info is outdated.)

Oh, and yes, the rumors are true. The Sinosplice Weblog has gone Chinese. If you can’t read Chinese, you probably don’t care. If you can, you probably already know this, because you’re probably in China using Chinese Windows, and the old blog URL now redirects you to a new blog page in the language of your operating system. If you’re one of those rare individuals that can read Chinese but not in the 1.3 billion-strong club, you can still read the Chinese version. It’s not simply a translation (ugh, that would not be fun), it’s different material. So you have to learn Chinese if you want to know what’s in it. (Just the last little bit of motivation you needed, right? Ha!)



我看过一个比较有意思的栏目叫《同乐五洲》。 这个栏目关于在中国的老外。上同乐五洲的外国人都说中文说得非常好。看他们讲话可让我自卑!他们的中文都比我的好得多!在电视上,他们都要答一些问题,讲 一些有趣的故事,然后表演。他们表演都是跟中国文化有关系的,比如武术啊,少数民族舞稻啊,传统乐器之类的。我很喜欢看外国人讲非常地道的中文因为我的水 平还没有到那么高的程度,看他们说得那么好会让我更努力。


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