personal


12

Jun 2004

Sinosplice is in Trouble

Readers in China may have noticed that recently Sinosplice has suffered a major slowdown. The phenomenon is not limited only to this site, however; other friends in China have supported my observation that there seems to be an overall slowdown in traffic from international sites. Unipeak, a free proxy service that has recently become popular, has been shut down shortly after adding a Chinese version (which was stupid).

The problem is that Sinosplice has gotten so bad for me that server requests frequently time out. Using webmail and the hosting service’s control panel has become frustrating. My FTP connection is now so tenuous as to be rendered useless.

My hosting service, Webmasters, has been a pretty great host (especially when compared with iPowerWeb, “host of the damned”), but there’s nothing they can do about a problem that only exists on the China side. Dammit.

So my options are: (1) wait it out, and do very little with my site in the meantime, or (2) find a new host. I don’t want to go through the hassle of finding a new host, but I certainly have no reason to believe that Webmasters’ servers are going to get any faster in China. Also, probably now more than ever before, I have lots of cool (non-blog) features that I want to implement, which makes the timing particularly maddening. So I’m looking into option #2. This option is actually feasible because Webmasters will refund any unused portion of the year’s payment. Sweet.

Dreamhost, a host I discovered through the truly awesome, musically ingenious Songs to Wear Pants To (go there now!), has a really good package. I have yet to determine how good the speed in China is.

So I think Sinosplice has some rough waters ahead, and possibly even more downtime. Any hosting recommendations or other solutions are greatly appreciated.


10

Jun 2004

The World Star Gazette

Ever heard of The World Star Gazette? Sounds kinda like a tabloid. I was looking through my referrals and found one from the World Star Gazette. So I checked it out to see what it was. At first I thought I was looking at a cheap imitation of The Onion. Then I got to my own entry and I finally understood what it’s about.

The World Star Gazette is riding on the tide of blog syndication popularity. Much like the Living in China aggregator, it uses the feeds of various blogs to collect links and excerpts which it then places together on one page. Besides the front page, it also has different sections such as “politics,” “religion,” and “travel.” The creative part is that the World Star Gazette makes up its own humorous headlines for the blog entries, and usually does a pretty good job (although some people may not be pleased with the modifications). It currently has two of my entries listed as After Four Years in China, America’s Diversity, Fatties and Free Refills Are Shockers and China’s Urkel Actually Canadian (Haha, they’re calling Dashan China’s Urkel!).

I’m finding the new site a refreshing way of checking out some new blogs outside of my usual reading circle.


09

Jun 2004

Qipao Parade

qipao

I’m still getting over jetlag and don’t feel like writing much. Instead, I’ll share this little qipao gallery of some of China’s famous female stars. (Note that there are 4 pages in all; the links to the other pages are at the bottom of the pages.) Notably absent is Gong Li. Also, page one is not the best of the lot.

I don’t explore these Chinese portals very much, but I was kinda surprised by some of the content put online when the media are “controlled” and the government tries to always keep a wholesome image. Some of the ones I’m talking about are the “leisure” section’s Christy Chung feature (quite bizarre, and revealing), the creative bust cover-up feature, and the Maxim gallery (gee, I wonder if Maxim’s getting those royalties…).

What’s the strategy here? Give people just enough of what they’re looking for on Chinese sites so they don’t go elsewhere and discover the immense wealth of information (AKA “porn”) out there on non-Chinese sites?

Seems to be.

Update: Micah in the comments has pointed out a similar gallery which has better, higher res images. Very nice.


06

Jun 2004

Trip Labels

Today my friend Dan became the happy husband of a beautiful girl named Mya. It was a nice ceremony full of great people. I was a groomsman. It was the first time since high school prom that I wore a tux. Someone remarked to me that I probably wouldn’t be wearing one again until *I* get married. That may very well be true.

I’ve noticed that every time I come home, there’s often a different atmosphere that blankets the nation, and it gives my visit a theme. This time I came home for these specific dates because I wanted to attend Dan’s wedding, but there were larger forces at work coloring my stay. Pop culture and marketing forces. This visit was the Low Carb visit.

This is not to say, of course, that my eating habits were at all low carb. Far from it. I value each and every meal at home too much to be more than just remotely concerned about petty “health” issues. Besides, I was looking to gain a few pounds. So no “low carb Doritos” for me (although I did try the new guacomole flavor — yum!).

So the themes went something like this:

  • Summer 2001: The first visit back. The country wasn’t significantly different from what I remembered yet, and the focus was “so how’s china?”* and “how long do you think you’re going to stay?”**
  • Summer 2002: The Post-9/11 visit. Quite a bit of time had passed since the actual terrorist act that rocked the nation, but its effects were still quite evident to someone who had not been in the U.S. when the attacks occurred and was not there for the subsequent aftermath.
  • Winter 2002: The Surprise Christmas Visit. The country was basically the same as during the Post-9/11 visit, so I concentrated on the surprise element to spend Christmas with my family.
  • Spring/Summer 2004: The Low Carb Visit.

So now that the latest visit is over, I return to Shanghai. I think I started to miss China a little at the 12-day mark. Or maybe I just miss my “mission” and life there. In any case, I’m headed back and will write more frequently once in Shanghai.

* Probably the single most frequent and annoying question I get. I believe that it is usually asked out of genuine interest, but the question is just too big!

** This is a question that won’t go away, but I finally have more definite answers. I’ll be writing more about this very soon.

wedding monkeys

P.S. My site was down for about half of yesterday because the hard drive on which my site was hosted crashed. All data has been recovered, and now I expect no more down time ever again. Ever!


01

Jun 2004

America Revisited

This past weekend I helped my sister Grace move into her new apartment in Atlanta. Atlanta seems like a cool city, and the area she’s living in really impressed me as being so green. Trees and grass galore. The really bad part about life in Atlanta seems to be the horrible traffic.

———-

I hear from different people about “reverse culture shock,” a phenomenon experienced after one acclimates to a foreign culture and then returns to one’s home country. Since I’m not home to stay, but only visiting, I don’t think reverse culture shock applies in this case. But after spending almost four years in China, there are certainly aspects to life in the US of A that stand out.

There are two big ones that slam me in the face as soon as I arrive at the airport, and they can be summed up in a word each. Diversity and Obesity.

America: strength in diversity. When I taught a college-level American Society and Culture class in Hangzhou, I used to emphasize the role of diversity in American culture. It really is pervasive. It explains much of our mindset and behavior, and I think it’s something that’s hard to understand if you live in a mostly homogeneous society such as China’s. China’s “56 ethnic groups” really pale in comparison to a society built by people from all over the world.

And yet when I return to the United States and see all the different skin colors and body types, when I hear four different languages spoken within a span of five minutes and it’s nothing unusual, it doesn’t cause me to reflect upon the various achievements of such a diverse population. It just makes me feel warm and cozy inside. Because America is like that — it’s diverse — and diversity is good.

America: land of the obese. This is a topic that’s been discussed to death, but I find it so fascinating to revisit it again and again because it’s so complex. It’s about our advertising industry, our food culture, our image as a nation, our societal subcoscious. Every time I come back to the United States, I’m confronted physically by the same old question: Why the hell are Americans so damn FAT?? There’s no simple answer.

Today in the car on the way back from Atlanta, I was listening to some comedy on tape. The comedian was talking about diet programs, and one in particular that he’d like to market. It was called the “Stop Eating, You Fat Bastard” program. I have to admit, that’s largely the way I feel about the issue after having lived in China for so long.

Besides those two staples, I’ve had some other minor observations. All the greenery in Atlanta was one of them. It was so refreshing.

I am also very unused to strangers greeting me. You know, the random guy you pass on the sidewalk that looks you in the eye, and for no reason at all just gives you a “how’s it going.” In America, strangers say hi to you for no reason at all. Crazy.

And then I was eating in a deli-style restaurant with Grace on Saturday. I was almost done with my drink when I stopped to ask her, “are there free refills?”

Looking at me like I was a bit simple, she responded with, “why wouldn’t there be?” Ah, America, Land of the Free Refill, I have missed thee…

After that meal I got chastised by Grace for leaving my tray on the table. Oops.

In a week I’ll be back in a country where restaurant staff are bewildered by customers who clear their own tables.

But I don’t quite miss it… yet.


25

May 2004

Heading Home (after a year and a half)

Last time I went home was Christmas, 2002. It seems like a really long time ago because, well, it sort of was. For me. And yet at the same time I feel like I’ve got so much going on here in Shanghai that I’m not ready to go back home yet. But I am.

I’m headed home again today in a few more hours. Not sure if I’ll have much time to write during the two weeks that I’m home or what I’d write about if I did.

My good friend Dan is getting married. My family is looking forward to seeing its most inaccessible member. And lots of food awaits eating.


23

May 2004

Yangmei are back!

I’m not too keen on some of Asia’s “exotic fruits,” such as durian and lychee. There is one, however, that I love. It’s called yangmei. According to both Wenlin and my big fat awesome New Age Chinese-English Dictionary, the English name is “red bayberry.” Does that help you any? Because it tell me nothing. The New Age dictionary also tells me its scientific name: Myrica rubra. Since most of us aren’t botanists, I better supply a picture.

Yangmei


Yangmei make great finger food.


When in groups, yangmei are not afraid of heights.

Yangmei are about the size of a grape, and somewhat resemble a raspberry on the outside. The taste is similar to a strawberry, I think. Some are sweeter, some are sourer. The fruit is pulpier than a strawberry, and there’s a pit in the middle about the size of a cherry pit. Good stuff.

Can you buy these overseas? I’m not sure. But if you’re in China, be sure to try them if you haven’t yet. It’s once again yangmei season, and it’ll only last for the summer.


20

May 2004

Preparing for the Cook

Recently I decided to hire a housecleaning ayi in Shanghai. I used to hire one every two weeks or so in Hangzhou to do a thorough cleaning job of my apartment to supplement my own occasional half-hearted attempts at sanitation. It cost 8 RMB ($1) per hour, and they would usually stay for two or three hours each visit.

I’ve talked to some foreign friends in China before who feel bad about hiring someone to clean up after them in their own home, and for such a low wage. I, on the other hand, feel great about it. I don’t feel like I have a lot of spare time these days, so it’s a great way to give myself some more free time without even spending much money. Plus I’m giving someone some honest work. I don’t set the labor prices in China, and it’s not a slave wage. (For comparison, McDonalds in China only pays 3 RMB an hour to start.) Those that engage in housecleaning are usually people from other poorer parts of China who really need work. I’m nice to them and I chat with them, and I usually tidy up along with them as they clean. I see no problem with it. Win-win.

Anyway, I recently had an epiphany. I decided to hire an ayi not only to clean, but to cook for me regularly. She will come every weekday evening for 2 hours and cook a meal and clean up a bit. I will pay her 250 RMB per month, plus the cost of the meals’ ingredients.

My new ayi came tonight for the first time and cooked an awesome simple meal. Stir-fried pork strips and jiaobai (茭白: Wenlin translates this white Chinese vegetable as “water-oat shoots,” whatever that means), garlic mixi (a vegetable which is like pink-pigmented spinach; ayi said it’s written 米西), egg and tomato soup, and rice. It was really good! Not too salty, not too oily. This woman is a genius. She’s from Hubei Province. That meal was 6.2 RMB in ingredients. This new plan of mine is not only going to keep my place a lot cleaner, but I’m going to eat better and save a lot of money!

OK, so I admit I was completely lazy up until now. I never cooked at home. That means yesterday I had to buy all the ingredients for my ayi so that she could cook most dishes. In the USA, you would need to have milk, butter, salt, flour, oil, etc. So what do you need in China? This is what I bought:

  • vegetable oil (very important!!!)
  • soy sauce
  • MSG
  • salt
  • sugar
  • rice (a nice 10kg bag for 41 RMB)
  • rice vinegar

Those things are all pretty much indispensable in Chinese cooking (note: no milk or butter in that list). In addition, I also picked up:

  • black pepper
  • hot sauce
  • ketchup (the Chinese actually use it a fair amount for certain dishes)
  • jiang (some kind of soy paste)
  • starch

I also gave my ayi a list of things I hate eating so she could easily avoid them. My list was:

  • xiangcai (the vile weed cilantro)
  • animal organs
  • chicken feet
  • fish with a million harpoon-like tiny bones in them
  • thousand-year-old eggs
  • stinky tofu

Note that in each case, I determined that I didn’t like the above items after I tried them. Some of them, such as stinky tofu and cilantro, have been given many, many chances but fail miserably to meet my high standards of delectability each and every time.

Anyway, this ayi deal is looking mighty sweet.


16

May 2004

Rejected!

I think I’m a really atypical American. I’ve never owned a car. I’ve never used a credit card in my life. I’ve used a debit card with a Mastercard seal on it, and I’ve owned a credit card, but the credit card was eventually cancelled because I never once used it. Well, despite my personal history, I recently applied for a credit card at a major Shanghai bank.

Traditionally, Asia has been slow to catch on to the credit card trend, preferring cash. I remember that the first “credit cards” sporting Visa and Mastercard logos in Japan were not actually true credit cards at all, but rather debit cards which could automatically exchange currencies to make overseas payments more convenient. Early Chinese “credit cards” strayed even further from the model, since not only were they only debit cards, but RMB were not even freely exchangeable on the international market, so they could only be used within China.

Well, all that seems to be changing. This new credit card I applied for is not only a real credit card in that you can buy first and pay later, but it also allows for international purchases through automatic RMB-US Dollar exchanges. Cool!

So I applied. I had to provide a letter stating my monthly pay, stamped with my danwei‘s (my company’s) offical seal. That was sure not to be a problem, as I was making easily twice as much as some other Shanghainese people that have this kind of credit card.

The thing is, I got rejected! I was really shocked. I can’t know for sure why I was rejected, but it’s probably because I seem like a risk. I could easily run up a debt and then leave China.

It’s interesting to be discriminated against in a way that actually matters. This isn’t people maniacally yelling “hello” at me on the street, this is a financial issue. I can’t really be angry, because I understand the bank’s viewpoint. I’m sure that there really are quite a few unscrupulous laowai in Shanghai that would, indeed, rack up a huge debt and then flee.

But now I can’t get my credit card. Bummer.


09

May 2004

Derisive Dashan, RIP

Did you ever take a look at my Derisive Dashan? Mainly because Dashan’s image is squeaky clean and all-around nice, it’s funny to see him get “belligerent” in Chinese on the page.

Well, I just got an e-mail from Dashan. I never intended for Dashan to see the page (or my blog entry about him, which isn’t completely complimentary). I didn’t realize, though, that because of Derisive Dashan Sinosplice had taken over the #2 spot in the Google search for “dashan,” second only to Dashan’s official site.

Anyway, apparently Dashan has been aware of the page for some time. He presented his case, asking if I could take it down now. I’m a reasonable man, and deep down I know that Dashan really is a good guy. It’s not his fault that Chinese people are always comparing other foreigners to him. So I took it down.

I guess it wasn’t really a good idea to publicly target a specific person for ridicule. I’m not normally the type of person to do that, but Dashan definitely feels more like an institution than a person. Until he sent me an e-mail.

Sorry about that, big guy.


08

May 2004

Sitemeter, Hair

Is it my imagination, or is Sitemeter now blocked in China? That is just downright annoying. If it is now permanently blocked, I need to get it off all my templates, because it’s slowing my page load way down.

In other news, I recently shaved my head again (I do that from time to time) and I’m growing my beard again. So I look something like a convict. I look a lot like I do in this picture from a few years back. I’m too lazy to take a new one.

Brad, Carl, Jamie, and I recently made a trip to the barber shop supply section of town. Apparently that’s the only place to get clippers for shaving one’s head. We also picked up some of that temporary spray-on hair dye. I tried white hair out Thursday. I’m really not sure how the so-called “temporary hair dye” differed from spray paint. It had the little marble in it and everything. That’s what we get for 8rmb ($1) a can.

So I had a spray-painted head for most of Thursday. My hair was stiff like a wire brush. Brad tried it out too, but then aborted because his hair is too short and he realized he was just spray painting his head. As far as I know, Carl and Jamie completely wussed out. They skipped town rather than following through on their promise to be badass crusty spray-painted hair brothers on Friday.

UPDATE:
From the Sitemeter site:

SM5 Server Status

Friday, May 7th

Dear Valued Customer:

Today the hard drive of the SM5 Site Meter server, where your account
is located, failed. When we attempted to restart the server, the hard
drive in it would not boot.

We have setup a new server and are currently working to recover the
files from the old server and will have it back up as soon as possible.

Thank you for your patience during this process.

We appreciate your business.

Well, crap. I guess that explains it, though. (I should really stop being so quick to suspect a blocking every time a site goes down temporarily…)


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.)


03

May 2004

Archives at Last!

I installed Movable Type way back in November, 2003, but it wasn’t until this week that I finally got my archives all in order. Let me tell you, it’s a nightmare to take 200+ old posts that had been formatted for Blogger, reformat them individually (MT can only do so much when it imports them), and assign categories to each. I even fixed my old internal links so that they point to the correct new MT entry instead of the old Blogger entry. Ugh. But it’s all done, will never need to be done again, and I really like the results.

Please check out the newly revamped Sinosplice Archives. They’re very browsable now. In reorganizing them I spent a lot of time reading old entries, and I was surprised at how many good ones I wrote back in the day. If you’re a relatively new reader and like what you see here, take a look.

Many thanks to John B of zerodispance for the MT tag free handout. I really like the way he set up his archives, and it saved me a lot of trouble because I didn’t have to figure everything out on my own.


01

May 2004

Rabbits

I had been resisting naming my rabbits. I guess it was because I never really expected them to live long. But as the end of week one rolled around, I decided I should name them. The vendor said they were a male/female pair, so I figured I should name them as a pair. They’re Chinese rabbits and I’m in China, so Chinese names seemed appropriate. I named the girl Tai Tai (台台) and the boy Bo Bo (伯伯). (These names may seem a little strange, but they have their roots in Chinese culture — anyone get them?)

Here are some pictures I took to emphasize their smallness:

rabbits

Yesterday my rabbits presented me with my first “birthday surprise.” I came out of my bedroom and took a look at their cage. The first thing that came into my head was, “that’s a funny way to sleep.” Suddenly realizing that the rabbit could be dead, I examined her more closely. She was alive, but seemed completely unable to move. And I had to rush out the door because a had an activity with a client kindergarten to get to. I had no choice but to leave my little rabbit to die.

When I got home, she was, indeed, dead. The other one was just fine. The worst part was that there was no good way to dispose of her little body. I could only wrap it up and chuck it in the trash. I felt bad about that.

To be honest, I couldn’t be sure that it was Tai Tai that died and not Bo Bo. Rabbits are not easy to sex when they’re that young. But I liked the name Bo Bo better, so I decided Bo Bo was the survivor. If I was wrong about which one it was, I could confront my mistake down the road and just hope that my little rabbit wasn’t left with too much of a gender identitity crisis.

(Incidentally, Bo Bo was also the name of a girl I went on one date with in Hangzhou years ago. We met on the internet. I remember that date very clearly because (1) she took a good picture of me that I used on this site’s main page for two years, and (2) we ended up talking about her mother’s death a year previous. Very heavy for a first date. I never saw her again. She was a nice enough girl, but I could never go for a girl with a moustache.)

Last night I had fun playing with Bo Bo. It was good to see that he was healthy at least.

This morning I got to sleep in because it was day one of my week-long May Day vacation. No work for seven days. When I came out of my bedroom, I saw that little Bo Bo was sleeping in too. Only he wasn’t ever waking up.

Part of me is relieved because I no longer have the responsibility of trying to raise rabbits in a city apartment. Now I’m glad I really did my best to keep them healthy, but I’m baffled as to what did them in, when they seemed so healthy but then deteriorated so rapidly without warning or apparent cause.

No more pets for a while.

Expect more (less depressing) site updates this first week of May. I finally updated the About Page recently and the picture in the upper right of this page to reflect my new home. More to come. Also, Adopt a Blog is not dead, just stalled.


30

Apr 2004

Shelley in Xishuang Banna

My friend and (previously) co-worker Shelley is currently making a long trip through the parts of China he hasn’t seen yet. I’ve posted about Shelley before, because I think he’s a really good guy with a lot of appreciation for Chinese culture as well as an impressive level of Chinese attained in only two years, and with no formal classes. Anyway, Shelley recently sent out an e-mail about his experiences and reactions to Xishuang Banna in Yunnan province. I’m posting an excerpt with his permission.

> I reached the village of Manpo (Bulang ethnicity) by early afternoon on Monday and had intended to push on. But while resting in a sort of community area I struck up a conversation with a man who could speak strained Mandarin. He was busily shaving his 4-year-old son’s head as he insisted I spend the night in his home. At first I politely declined since staying in Manpo would necessitate a second night in the region, but then I wasn’t quite sure if I’d be able to find lodging elsewhere by nightfall. So I followed this man, named Ai Zhai Xiang, up to his house. (The name of every man in the village begins with “Ai”, and every woman’s name begins with “Ni.” So I’ll just refer to him as Mr. Zhai from now on.)

> Before I go on I need to mention that Americans are very well-liked in the village because the recently built school (a cement-and-white-tile eyesore on the edge of the village) was built with 70,000 RMB from an American living in Kunming. Thanks to him and the (so far) polite travelers who have passed through, Americans have an outstanding reputation in the village of Manpo. The school, like all others in China, isn’t free though. It costs 5 RMB per student per day of instruction. It’s a large asking price for these villagers but there’s no cheaper way to get a Chinese teacher out to the village. I learned from another villager that their expenses usually only total 10 RMB per month because they make everything else they need. I never learned how much they make from selling their crops.

> My first impressions of Mr. Zhai and his life were pretty heart-wrenching. Mr. Zhai introduced himself as a farmer and told me a little about the work he does. He was shirtless the whole time I was there, displaying a few scars plus a significant oblong bump the size of a pill in the center of his chest. He explained that this is some sort of tablet with his name inscribed on it that his father inserted into his chest when he was very young. This is apparently not a village-wide custom, and in fact I never quite understood why he had this tablet other than it might have something to do with being raise to be a monk. (He said he “graduated” after a few years.) Mr. Zhai also sighed about how old he was, already having a 4-year-old son and a 4-month-old daughter. I figured him to be around 30. He corrected me, “23.” Almost nonchalantly in conversation he mentioned that his children are actually his 2nd and 4th; the 1st and 3rd passed away. I also learned that the woman he introduced as his mother was actually his step-mother; his real mother passed away when he was 4. He prepared a dinner (his wife went to eat with friends) of spicy fish, scrambled eggs with a weed-like vegetable, and a coarse “red rice.” He explained it was rice from his own field, the kind that Han Chinese don’t like to eat. “They like to turn it into white rice, but I like it better this way.” We also drank this sort of clear whiskey, like Chinese baijiu, but much more foul tasting. Still we toasted with smiles. He then rolled out a mat for me to sleep on that night.

> The second wave of impressions hit me like this: Mr. Zhai said that a few nights ago 4 American women had stayed at his home for two nights. He was encouraging me to stay longer but I explained that I had to move on. He also said that he had seen me on the road earlier when he rode past on his motorcycle. First thought, “Oh that was you?” Second thought, “Oh you have a motorcycle?” Then his younger sister came in with her friends; she had just returned from “the big city” (Damenglong, not actually that big) with some new clothes and was showing them off. She and her friends could speak very clear and standard Mandarin; they study at the new school. I started to realize that Mr. Zhai, a simple farmer, was branching out into the hotel industry. I wondered if the details of his life were mentioned to invoke sympathy and a charitable donation. They may still very well be true, but he might not have otherwise mentioned them.

> These two opposing waves of impressions crashed together to leave me with the following conclusions: I’m glad that Mr. Zhai makes money from tourists. I’m even glad that in a year or two the road through Manpo and the region will likely bring loads of tourists who by that time will be greeted with gaudy hotels, souvenir kitsch, and staged ethnic dances. Sure, there’s a part of me that regrets this quiet rural village being turned into a tourist trap, but that part is the selfish traveler in me. Because life in Manpo and much of Xishuangbanna sucks, a lot. Besides the beautiful natural scenery, there wasn’t one thing there that made me want to stay longer than I had to. I didn’t find it quaint to visit poor villages, see smiling, filthy children, or meet brightly adorned, old women (who were probably only 30) bent under a load of vegetables. Because for me this was a vacation but for them it’s just life, every single day, until they die at around 50 or 60 years old. I’d rather see Manpo as a tourist hellhole instead of an impoverished one. Some might say that tourism will ruin the Bulang culture, and they’re probably right. But if adding a hospital to the village and teaching some basic hygiene (such as, after you cut up that raw chicken be sure to wash the knife before using it on those vegetables) ruins their culture then so be it. Others might say that I’m too set in my ways as a rich westerner to appreciate the simple tranquility of village life, and they would be right too. I couldn’t handle living in Manpo for the rest of my life, but it’s not because they lack a McDonalds. I really don’t know if I could work a field with only my hands and some basic tools, then live for the rest of the year off its yield. But I do know that I really don’t want to. So I was grateful for every swig of my bottled water, every photo taken with my digital camera, and especially for the seat on the bus that took me from Bulangshan (21 miles from Manpo) to the city of Jinghong. And by the way, I paid 10 RMB for the night and two meals at Mr. Zhai’s home.

Shelley will soon be moving to Shandong province where he will be the director (?) of a new English school there. He’s looking for teachers. Watch Sinosplice Jobs for more info soon.

Related: Sinosplice Yunnan pictures (including Xishuang Banna)


28

Apr 2004

Sickness and Pets

About two weeks ago, I took a walk on a sunny day following some days of rain. I came upon a manhole cover sunken in the sidewalk, holding an inch or two of water. In that little bit of water, I was amazed to discover some 40 to 50 tadpoles swimming sluggishly around. Right on the sidewalk!

I had recently discovered that in China, it’s a common childhood thing to keep some tadpoles as pets and watch them develop. When I was younger, I had had rabbits, mice, dogs, lizards, fish, and even a snake. But never a tadpole.

The water in the manhole depression was slowly but surely evaporating, and there already wasn’t much left. I decided to rescue some of them.

I managed to get about 20 out of the depression using a spoon and a plastic bowl. I bought a little glass fishbowl and some fish food (for 7rmb total). When I fed them, they gobbled up the food greedily. Up to that point, they had been cannibalizing the weak.

Keeping the tadpoles alive proved to be harder than I expected. I’m not sure whether the water got a little too dirty or what, but they were slowly dying off.


Then last Friday I got sick. I woke up early with a case of diarrhea that was completely painless but utterly sincere. I was rushing to the toilet every 5 minutes, it seemed, and I was losing a lot of water. I had to call in sick to work. By evening I had a fever, and my girlfriend insisted I go to the hospital. So I did. It was 10:30pm.

It took forever to get treated because I had taken an anti-diarrheal and thus couldn’t supply the sample they wanted. Eventually they took blood. The Chinese medical solution to virtual any malady seems to be an IV, and this was no exception. It was midnight before I finally had the IV in me, supplying my bloodstream with vitamins and antibiotics.

For this IV treatment I was seated in the emergency room. My girlfriend kept me company for a while, but she had class in the morning, so had to leave. Being right in the emergency room, I saw all kinds of people come in. Most of them ended up with IVs.

One guy was almost catatonic, brought in on one of the cargo tricycles used all over China to transport goods. His family must have been pretty poor, not wanting to resort to hospital treatment unless absolutely necessary. About an hour later, the awful sound of a woman’s wailing came from the back of the hospital. “Someone died,” the people around me whispered.

Another woman was brought in writhing, and laid out on a gurney. She was there on an IV nearly the entire time I was, and never seemed to get much better. Eventually her husband took her away.

One guy was brought in completely unconscious by some friends. Alcohol poisoning. Baijiu, his friends said. The vile white rice wine. I’m not sure what happened to him, but his friends wondered around the room drunkenly for hours.

For a while an old man was seated next to me for his IV. At one point, he had to go to the bathroom, so the people with him unzipped him, stood him up, and had him go into a plastic bag right there.

Around 3am it started to get cold in the room, because inconsiderate people would leave the main door open. Around that time two women arrived with a man. The girls look like the type that sing at karaoke bars. Very pretty. Only one of them had been battered badly across the face. Her face was all black and blue, her eyes swollen shut. Later, hearing her talk to her friend, my suspicions were confirmed — some man had done that to her. Two of the guys in the room tried badly to hide smirks when she came in. Why, I can’t imagine. But I wanted to punch them. The girl got an IV too.

Soon thereafter, more loud sobbing seemed to indicate that someone else had died.

According to the doctor, my IV (2 bottles) was supposed to last 3 hours. They ended up lasting 5. I couldn’t sleep and had nothing to do but watch sick people. I got home at 5am. The hospital bill was 150rmb (under $20). No medications were prescribed.


I had decided to release my remaining tadpoles into the pond in Jing An Park. It seemed like a good day to do it. I waited for my girlfriend to arrive first. When she showed up, she surprised me with a gift of two cute little white rabbits.

It was a nice surprise, but also an impulisve, irresponsible purchase. I was not in the best position to care for rabbits, and I did not want to be responsible for their deaths. The vendors that sell rabbits and other little animals don’t tend to sell them in the healthiest condition to begin with.

Still, she had bought them and given them to me, so they were my responsiblity. The remaining tadpoles (less than 10) were freed. But now I had rabbits.

I was stunned by some of the “advice” I was given by various Chinese people on how to care for rabbits. Some of the things I was told: “Rabbits can’t be given water. It’ll give them diarrhea and they’ll die.” “Don’t give them vegetables, or they’ll get diarrhea and die. Give them bread.” “Don’t let them eat much grass or they’ll get diarrhea and die.”

Exactly how do these people think rabbits live in nature?! Unbelievable. Anyway, under my care, two sluggish little rabbits have become lively. They actually have both solid and liquid waste now, too, which didn’t happen for about two days, owing to their previous diet. The new diet: grass and water.


Yesterday, the evil diarrhea come back at 5am. I couldn’t go to work again. I returned to the hospital, but not the emergency room. This time I went to the part of the hospital “for foreigners.” The hospital has one big building devoted to plastic surgery. One floor deals with ordinary medical cases like mine.

To make a long story short, I was not given any clear explanation as to why I was sick. It wasn’t food poisoning. But the hospital was much cleaner and more orderly. Everyone was friendly and spoke English (until they realized they didn’t have to). I was given an IV again, which took five hours for two bottles again, but this time I was in a bed the whole time. I walked away with 4 different kinds of medication to take. The total bill was 850rmb (over $100).


So I’m feeling better now. And I have rabbits. I wonder how those tadpoles are doing…

Related entry: Verbal Horror


28

Apr 2004

Back Online

Sinosplice was down for about 3 days, but it’s all been sorted out. I had renewed for another year with my host (Webmasters.com), but what I didn’t know was that after the first year, the domain name registration is not included. So my domain name registration had expired and had to be renewed. That’s done now.

A big thanks to my dad, for taking care of all that. More news soon.


23

Apr 2004

Cartoon Voice Debut

I mentioned recently that I’ve done the voice of an animated pig for a series of short educational cartoons at my company. Well, the first cartoon is done, and online already. If you’re interested, go to the Melody homepage, and then under “What’s New” at the left, click on the first link (“MELODY样片”). The voices of both the pig character and the unseen native speaker are mine.


21

Apr 2004

When Culture Lets Go

For this month of April, Wilson has been visiting me, staying at my place. As with any close friend, he’s more than just fun to hang out with; he provides me with new ideas to think over. He inspires me. Our conversations cover a broad range of topics, but they usually center on China. On us, and why we’re here. And on where all this is going.

After staying in Hangzhou, China for a year and a half, Wilson returned to an America he has discovered he’s pretty unsatisfied with. There’s one sentence he keeps repeating. America is culturally bankrupt.

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Wilson

In our many discussions, when Wilson refers to characteristics of life in the States, I can’t help but think that what he really means is life in California. California has a distinct subculture of its own, one that I associate especially closely with materialism and narcissism. But then, I’ve never really spent any time in California, and to be honest, I haven’t spent enough time in the United States in the past four years to be any real authority on current cultural trends. Regardless, one thing is clear: the lives we imagine ourselves living back in the United States right now are unfulfilling.

If it’s merely materialism we’re shunning, however, you’d think that Shanghai would be the last place either of us would want to settle. The scramble for wealth in all its forms here is nauseatingly apparent. But we don’t feel such a steely grip on our souls here. Why?

You could say that living in China has been sort of an “out of culture experience.” We have left our cultural bodies back home to float over here for a look. The result is that not only do we gain an outsider’s perspective on what’s going on in China, but we can view much more objectively what’s going on back home, and how we’re enveloped in it.

Change is unavoidable in any society. In China, it’s coming in a raging torrent, but we actually feel like we can be part of what’s directing the flow. That’s exciting. In the United States, the change feels much more sluggish, but it nevertheless seems to sweep us all away along with it, like drowning rats.

Living outside of one’s home culture just feels empowering to us. We feel much more capable of rejecting the values with which we disagree, both those from back home as well as those from China.

In spite of all these feelings, we can’t deny that it is American culture that shaped us. And we’re grateful for that. But there comes a time when you have to gather what you’ve gained and spread your wings. I like where I’ve come to rest. Like I said, the view is great.

NOTE: Those that like reading about cultural issues regarding Americans and Chinese should definitely take a look at an excellent new blog called Zai Mei Guo. It deals especially with stereotypes.



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