It’s interesting, that being in China instead of the USA, I feel much safer. Walking the streets at night is not scary at all. And, of course, I’m removed from the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks on American soil. And yet, in the USA, I don’t get e-mails like this one, from the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai:
> There is a continuing threat of terrorist actions, which may target civilians and include suicide operations. This worldwide caution expires on October 31, 2002. The u.s. government has continued to receive credible indications that extremist groups and individuals are planning additional terrorist actions against u.s. interests. Such actions may be imminent and include suicide operations. We remind American citizens to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution. Terrorist groups do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. Attacks on places of worship and schools, and the murder of American citizens demonstrate that as security is increased at official u.s. facilities, terrorists and their sympathizers will seek softer targets. These may include facilities where Americans are generally known to congregate or visit, such as clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools or outdoor recreation events. Americans should increase their security awareness when they are at such locations, avoid them, or switch to other locations where Americans in large numbers generally do not congregate.
> American citizens may be targeted for kidnapping or assassination. U.S. government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or suspend public services from time to time to review their security posture and ensure its adequacy. In those instances, u.s. embassies and consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to American citizens.
Well, it’s now September 11th here in China. Pray for peace. Worldwide.
In other news, more and more teachers are showing up for the new semester. I met Nicola from Australia today. She’s about my age. Then there’s the Smith family across the hall from me (John and Cathy, plus sons Johnny, Nick, and Drew). They’re originally from Michigan. Next to them is a Chinese American couple. I haven’t met them yet. Saturday Josh and Caroline showed up from the USA, but then promptly left. Apparently they were misled as to what they should expect, and it seems their “old China hand” cousin advised them against working here. It’s really a shame; it would have been great to have them, and regardless of what their cousin thought, this is really a decent school.
In case you haven’t heard, China has blocked access to Google. Google, the search engine for the net. Not that I like it or agree with it, but it’s one thing for a government to block specific sites it considers dangerous. It’s another thing to block a frickin’ search engine!!! OK, I’ll try not to rant.
So this has taught me how much I use Google. Lately I’ve been using google.yahoo.com instead. It’s not quite as good, but it works. I recently searched my own site and came up with a new link to my site. This is actually an interesting site for those who care about what goes on in China: BrandRecon.com. There are links on there to news articles about the search engine blocking that’s going on here.
I went for a haircut today and finally got the last of the bleach blonde out of my hair. It’s nice to have a barber shop where they know me and know how I want my hair cut without me having to tell them, since it’s kind of hard for me to explain a hairstyle in Chinese still.
Two noteworthy things happened in the barber shop. First, one of the boys that works there wanted me to tell him how to say “I want to make love to you” in English. It was pretty funny. The girl shampooing my hair told me not to tell him, but I didn’t see any harm in it, so I told him. Then I could hear him practicing it in the background for the rest of the time I was getting my hair washed and my shoulders massaged.
Then, while I was getting my hair cut, the barber asked me if we had xishuai in the USA. I didn’t know that word, but based on the context I figured it was some kind of barber shop appliance thingy. Figuring Chinese barber shops don’t really have any unusual appliances that we wouldn’t have in the States, I answered yes. But then he seemed really surprised, and made me doubt whether I had guessed correctly. Finally he told one of the employees to bring one out so I could see. Someone brought out an earthenware pot about a handspan across with the lid on. They put the pot under my nose and slowly removed the lid. What was inside was… a cricket!
Apparently, not only do some Chinese people keep crickets as pets, but they actually fight them, and bet on the fights! I was really surprised to learn this, so I asked some more about it. He said guys will sometimes bet 10-20,000 RMB (US$1250-2500)!!! On a cricket. Insane.
I used the excuse of my time at home this summer being sort of a sidebar from the theme of this weblog, life in China, so I think I’m going to make the story of my three weeks in Japan sort of a sidebar too, and put it on a separate page. That page will also include links to photo albums, so check it out…
For those interested: classes here at ZUCC start Monday, September 16th. Still plenty of time to relax and prepare…
No, the journal is not dead. I know, I took a long break. But basically, nothing very related to life in China happened while I was home in the USA for the month of July. (I did seem to gain about 10 pounds in that month, though.) And then I was in Japan August 2nd – 24th. So I just got back a few days ago, and I’m slowly reorganizing. I have time; classes don’t start until the 16th of September. So far I haven’t really added much about my former life in Japan, but I’m going to put some of that stuff online, and the story of my hectic three weeks in Japan this month is coming very soon… Stay tuned!
I just had an old friend come visit me for the weekend. He flew in from out of town just to hang out before I left for Asia again. It’s stuff like that which reminds me that my friends value my friendship as I do theirs, and it just feels damn good to get that unambiguous reminder occasionally. Here’s a pic.
[Haha… It’s great to read about the language difficulties I used to have in China and know that they’re a thing of the past (well, at least on the communication level).]
> I saw my guard friend Xu on the way home from dinner with Qijue, and he invited me to the guardhouse again to hang out. I told him I’d be by later because I was waiting on a call from a friend. It felt really good, though, to know that they liked talking to me. It’s kind of hard to believe, considering that at this point my communication ability is quite limited. Xu is a really good guy, though. When the others are trying to tell me something that I’m not getting, he takes it upon himself to put it into simpler Chinese that I can understand, and say it slowly and clearly for me. Xiong (the first guard I met) is a nice guy too, but not as patient, and his accent is stronger* than Xu’s. Xiong also has the annoying habit of getting louder to “help me understand” (or so he thinks), but I think I’m weaning him of that. Xu just has a gift for phrasing Chinese in ways I can understand.
> Anyway, today we talked about a bunch of stuff, including American movie stars. Xiong kept naming movie stars (and some sports stars too) and asking me if I liked them: Schwartzeneggar, Madonna, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie. The problem was he knew them by their Chinese transliterations, which are often pretty far off from the real English. Some of them took me a few minutes and some extra explanation. Mike Tyson was easier, plus the whole ear-biting stunt makes him easy to pantomime. Madonna, though, threw me for a loop. The Chinese pronunciation of “Madonna” is very similar to the pronunciation of “McDonald’s”. I couldn’t figure out why he was talking about McDonalds in the middle of a conversation about Madonna… I got it eventually, though.
> I know I’m going to learn a lot in that guardhouse. They told me to come back tomorrow. I will.
> *Neither Xu nor Xiong are from Hangzhou, and their hometown dialect influences their pronunciation of standard Mandarin. Even people born in Hangzhou (the city) don’t pronounce Mandarin quite the same way as Beijingers. They have a Zhejiang accent. Both Xu and Xiong pronounce the “h” as “f”, which is distracting, and Xiong also pronounces “sh” like “s” (typical of the Zhejiang accent), which can be very confusing.
[This is one of my first journal entries in China. Note that I no longer live in the apartment I mention in this entry…]
> I am getting eaten alive by mosquitoes here in my own apartment! It’s ironic — I felt like I had just reached a point in the last few years in the USA where mosquitoes didn’t bother me much anymore. Now I’m in China, and I guess I’m some kind of foreign delicacy. They love me! Hopefully it won’t be a year-round problem… The worst part is that they’re really smart! I’m sitting at a table now, and the only place they bite me is on my legs and feet (mostly feet), so I can’t see them, let alone kill them. Then they bite me above the waist when I’m asleep! AAAUUUGHHH!!! I’m trying to use mosquito coils (which supposedly work really well), but with no A/C, I have to use a fan all the time, and I think that kind of reduces the effectiveness of the smoke from the coils. Grrr…
> Bus rides here are really something. Sort of a surreal experience. You know how when you’re playing a video game, or watching a crazy car chase scene in a movie, and there are always certain points at which someone — a man walking, a car, a woman with a baby on a bike — pops out in front of your vehicle, just to keep it exciting? That’s what it feels like! It’s like this bus is part of a well choreographed scheme to give all the passengers a thrillride. The bus slows down only enough to miss other cars, cyclists, and pedestrians by scant inches. I hate to think what would happen if those on the street stopped behaving exactly as the others on the street expect them to. I couldn’t believe it when a man pedaled right across the path of our bus on his bike, with a baby on back, and our bus missed his back tire by a hair. Even some of the Chinese passengers were gasping. The man and baby didn’t seemed fazed.
> Taxi rides aren’t much different from bus rides, except that taxis stop a lot faster than buses and they’re a lot more maneuverable, so the same feeling of helplessness regarding impending accidents isn’t there. One time I actually got a ride with a driver who was actually CAREFUL, and it ended up being a pretty funny experience. She just seemed so out of place, braking instead of swerving, and actually yielding to the traffic that was bearing down on her from the sides.
I haven’t been posting since I’ve been home. This journal is about China, after all. I’ve been home for 2 weeks, now, though, and I’ve found I have something to say.
It’s been 2 years since I’ve graduated, and coming home is strange now. It’s always nice to see family and friends, no doubt about that. And it’s so nice that my family is always here; I can always come home to them. I almost feel a little selfish that they can feel no such reassurance about me, with my faroff lifestyle.
What’s strange is not family, though, it’s friends. Few of my friends are here in the Tampa area. Alex is still here, for now. Dan is off in Gainesville. Illy is still in Gainesville too, but probably not for long. Hathai is in Georgia. Ari is back in Ft. Lauderdale. Dave and Christina are in New York City. Colin is in Mississippi for training. Paco is… who knows where! You get the picture. My friends here are just so scattered.
I’m set to go to Japan in August to see old friends there. The thing is, my friends there are pretty scattered too! I’ll see some in the Tokyo area, some in Kyoto, some in Osaka, some in Hiroshima, some in Fukuoka…
So I’ve come to realize that the place where I have the greatest concentration of friends is… Hangzhou! Most of them are Chinese, but some of the most important aren’t.
It’s just weird to have one’s friends scattered to the winds and then spring up behind different faces on the other side of the globe…
All right, Wilson has put the Yangshuo pics online. Do take a look; there are some good ones! Unfortunately, none from the mud pit, but oh well…
Well, I am home at last. It took me over 24 hours of traveling to get here. Yesterday when I arrived at the airport shuttle bus station they told me there were no tickets left! So I had to take a taxi. Instead of paying 20 RMB I paid 800! And I didn’t even have that much on me, so I had to pay US$50 and 400 RMB. Not exactly a deal. But there was all kinds of backup on the freeway, and my crazy driver knew all kinds of back roads (and took them at breakneck speed). Then when I got to the airport they told me since I didn’t reconfirm my flights they had all been canceled! What the heck?! I thought that whole reconfirming thing was optional. Anyway, I made it home. All is well.
It’s hard to believe that just last weekend I was vacationing in Yangshuo with Simon and Wilson. That was quite a nice escape… We flew out there for 3 nights, 4 days of fun. We spent most of our time in the town on the happening little West Street. It’s lined with Western bars and restaurants. The food was really quite good, and although it was double the price of a Chinese restaurant, it still came out cheap for us foreigners. Our hotel room (triple) on West Street was only 100 RMB per night, thanks to Simon’s bargaining skills.
Anyway, we had a blast… Mountain biking through country roads, exploring a cave full of water (and bats, and mud, and a waterfall, etc.), climbing mountains, taking a river cruise, enjoying breathtaking scenery, visiting minority villages…
Traveling is definitely a good way to get to know friends in a new way. I’d say this time it was a complete success — great memories and no regrets…
The lighting is dim. Bleached hair John in a Hawaiian shirt suddenly emerges from the doorway. Can you imagine the horror???
Amazingly, this moment was captured by John’s own digital camera, thanks to Wilson.
Wow, just found out the Computer Department of ZUCC has put together a nice little webpage: BeInCity.NET. There’s also a campus life section. Granted, it’s a little less exciting if you read no Chinese, but hey, there it is…
On June 12th we had a goodbye dinner for Len, Jo, and Ben. (Simon’s sticking around a little longer.) On Saturday, June 15th the three of them departed for Beijing, leaving their lives in Hangzhou behind. It was kind of sad. We’re already missing them…
So what’s been going on with me lately? Things have been busy as the semester winds down. Here’s a quick rundown of recent events:
29 May – 02 June :: Most of the teachers from the English department went to Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) for the semester trip. It was the second time I’d been, but we had a great time. My pics will be online soon. Until then, Wilson’s will have to suffice. 🙂
03 June :: Small surprise birthday party for Wilson as well as Japanese teacher Noriko. Not many people were there, and the whole thing was kind of thrown together at the last minute because we didn’t realize that the Huang Shan trip was going to be in the way. All things considered, though, it turned out to be an amazingly fun party. My pics are coming; some of them can be seen on Wilson’s site along with the ones he took.
05 June :: My debut on national Chinese television (CCTV4). I was a guest on a show called Travelogue. I was on the show to share my impressions (in Chinese) of a nice little town called Xitang. I got a good little bit of airtime.
06, 11, 13 June :: I’m doing English training courses for a company outside the school. The pay is decent, but 7 hours with the same people is sort of a new challenge that I’m not used to. Working on these days (which I normally have off) also means my week is much fuller.
12 June :: Sendoff party for the Australian teachers at the Shangri-La Hotel. At 98rmb (US$12.50) for a pizza dinner, we’ll be eating in style — Western style, for a change…
BIG NEWS! I’m returning home to the USA soon, and then going to Japan before heading back to China. Here’s the timetable:
– 28 June 2002 :: Shanghai -> Tampa
– 01 Aug 2002 :: Tampa -> Tokyo
– 24 Aug 2002 :: Tokyo -> Shanghai
Well, I went to Shanghai last weekend with Wilson to meet his parents and grandparents. These people know how to travel in style, and they graciously included me in their plans for Shanghai. We stayed in the Shangri La Hotel (5 stars) with a nice view of the Bund from the 18th floor. We had an EXCELLENT buffet-style Western meal, with tender steak chunks, succulent jumbo shrimp, various cheeses, juicy roast beef, real sushi, delicious desserts, etc. I was very full. That was the best meal I’ve had in I don’t know how long.
Wilson’s mom and grandparents were a lot of fun. Very energetic people — go-getters — and fun to be with. I don’t know, maybe it’s the California style… but I enjoyed it. We also hooked up with Ray (also from California) while in Shanghai, and he and Wilson finally got to meet.
Lemme say one thing about Shanghai that strikes me every time I go back: Many, many beautiful women. You need sunglasses.
Check out Wilson’s pics of the weekend here.
Things around here have been kind of crazy lately, and I’m not exactly sure why… I seem simultaneously busy and free. The classic case of lots of free time on one’s hands and not enough time to get everything done. I’m still trying to figure out this summer. Originally I wanted to go back to Japan for about a month, but it looks like I’m not going to have the funds. In any case, I’m definitely going home this summer. We’ll see what else happens.
But here’s some small news. Last Friday Wilson and I went to our new favorite barber shop to get haircuts. We also got a color change. He got a red tint and I bleached the hell out of my hair. It took five hours because they weren’t getting it as light as I wanted (and it all still only cost me US$10 total). In the end, it was still yellower than I wanted, but they said they got it as white as they could. Take a look. Anyway, if I thought I was standing out before, I really am now. I’m getting lots of reactions from my students. Lots of them are saying it’s cool, and lots are also telling me it looked better before (with remarkably little tact at times). Oh well. It’s fun for now…
Last Saturday I went with the church gang to a place in southern Hangzhou called DaQing Gu. Helene and Simon went along as well. The place was interesting because it was sort of a natural, remote location, with fresh air and lots of trees and mountain scenery, as well as tea fields. But then it also had carnival attractions like bungee jumping, target practice, games for prizes, etc. A strange combination.
Anyway, we had a great little mountain climb. It was an actual climb, instead of the typical Chinese “mountain climb” of climbing stairs up a mountain. We were actually scrambling a bit, grabbing onto roots and saplings, and ropes in places, to make it to the top. The funny thing was that a whole mixed group went, including middle-aged women, little kids, and girls who were horrified at getting dirty. There were quite a few slips resulting in dirty knees and butts, but no one got hurt, and everyone was able to make the climb, even when it got pretty steep. I don’t think the same group would have made it (or tried, anyway) had all the participants been American.
Simon and I also tried this thing called “Tan Tiao Fei Ren” (“Bullet Jump Flying Person”) in Chinese. It’s this thing where you’re strapped into a harness, and both sides of you are tied to bungee cords. You’re sort of in the pouch of a giant slingshot. Then they mechanically raise the ends of the bungee cord, and slingshot you up (it’s hard to explain clearly, but no, you don’t come back down and hit the ground!). So you can do lots of flips, suspended like that. It’s pretty fun, and was only 30 RMB (less than US$4).