Tag: Hangzhou


20

Jun 2003

Fighting Pollution

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

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

Chinese Pollution Sucks

Hangzhou pollution

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

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

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

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

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

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

> Thank you very much.

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

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

1. Everyone got introduced.

2. Everyone got tea.

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

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

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

6. Tea refills.

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

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

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

10. A few other random pollution issues were discussed.

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

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

13. Meeting adjourned, in less than an hour!

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


09

Jun 2003

Hotel Zhoushan Dong Lu

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

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

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

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

But then again, maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


04

Jun 2003

Studying Chinese in Hangzhou

As I’ve mentioned before, lately I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with my progress in Chinese. I think there are several reasons for this stagnation. One reason I can’t ignore is that I’ve really been having a good time here for the past year and a half, and I’ve just plain been lazy about studying. I can’t deny that. But there’s more to it than just laziness. My spoken Chinese has reached a sort of plateau. I know most of the words for everyday life. If linguistists’ estimate of 10,000 words for a basic vocabulary is correct, then I know those 10,000 words in Chinese, and I can use them fairly fluently in conversation. Remember, though, that’s a basic vocabulary; it is an accomplishment, but it’s nothing to be exceedingly proud about. I’ve gotta keep pushing. Basic conversation is no longer sufficient to help me learn the more sophisticated vocabulary I want to work on, and basic conversation doesn’t help me with reading or writing, two skill areas I’ve definitely been neglecting. My conclusion? I need to take formal classes.

Besides a simple desire for further progress, there’s another reason I want to start taking formal classes. I’ve decided that I need to take the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi – Chinese Proficiency test, China’s “TOEFL”) in order for my progress in Chinese to be formally recognized. I didn’t major in Chinese; I just took a few courses in college, so at this point I have no official documentation to prove that my Chinese is decent. If you throw me into China it’s pretty clear that I can handle myself, but that doesn’t readily work itself onto a resume. The HSK score will provide a recognized standard that I might need for the future.

Also, I think it’s pretty clear that I thrive on competition. (Maybe that’s part of the reason I took up the study of Chinese… It’s undoubtedly quite a challenge, and there aren’t a whole lot of Westerners that can do it, so I could realistically compete with the best if I tried hard and stuck with it.) I think classroom competition in the form of other serious classmates will be a powerful form of motivation for me to excel in my studies.

I have already announced before that I plan to study Chinese at Zhejiang University for the 2003-2004 academic year. This past semester I’ve been putting aside over two-thirds of my income every month for that express purpose. Recently, though, it has come to my attention that Zheijiang University may not be the best choice for me, especially since I plan to continue living on campus at ZUCC next semester (and teaching part-time). Below is my comparison and evaluation of the three main choices for Chinese study in Hangzhou.

Zhejiang University (Yuquan Campus)

Zheijiang University Zheijiang University

Chinese Studies Program: Good – generally considered to be the best in Hanghzou

Students: 500-900, from all over (but especially Korea)

Campus: Pretty large, attractive with lots of trees, but classrooms are a little run-down

Class Sizes: medium (20-35 students)

Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:00am

Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 30 minutes by bicycle, at least an hour by bus (requiring one transfer)

Tuition: US$1000 for the first semester; US$800 for the second semester

Evaluation: A decent program which perhaps charges a little too much because it knows it has the reputation of Zhejiang University behind it. It would be cool to be part of such a big international community of students, but I’m afraid the daily commute (which would necessitate me waking up at 6am for a grueling daily ordeal) would kill me.

Zhejiang University of Technology

Zhejiang University of Technology Zhejiang University of Technology

Chinese Studies Program: Fair – emphasizes listening and reading skills and HSK prep, but doesn’t seem to have much of a clue about conducting interesting conversation classes

Students: about 100, mostly from Korea

Campus: Pretty large, unattractive, classrooms are a little run-down

Class Sizes: small (10-15 students)

Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:55am

Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 15 minutes by bicycle, at least 30 minutes by bus

Tuition: US$780 for the first semester; US$750 for the second semester

Evaluation: I’d prefer to study at a school with a more attractive campus, but I guess that isn’t the most important thing. The school’s reputation isn’t the greatest and the classes might not be the most imaginatively planned out, but as far as what I want to study, it should get the job done. The fact that it’s very close is a huge plus.

Hangzhou Teachers College

Hangzhou Teachers College Hangzhou Teachers College

Chinese Studies Program: Fair/poor – very personal interaction, but doesn’t seem to have an established study curriculum

Students: about 30, mostly from Korea

Campus: Pretty large, nice pond in the center of campus, some attractive architecture, but classrooms are a little run-down

Class Sizes: very small (1-5 students)

Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:30am

Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 20 minutes by bicycle, at least 30 minutes by bus

Tuition: US$800 for the first semester; US$800 for the second semester

Evaluation: I really like the campus, but I don’t think the study program cuts it. First, the classes are just too small. I’m afraid I wouldn’t get the competition I’m looking for, or much of the comraderie. Second, the curriculum is just unimpressive and seems somewhat vague for advanced students.

Hangzhou University of Commerce

Hangzhou University of Commerce Hangzhou University of Commerce

Chinese Studies Program: Fair – very personal interaction, established study curriculum, but doesn’t seem to go into advanced study of Chinese (although it does offer “business Chinese”)

Students: about 50, from all over

Campus: Pretty large, not unattractive, but classrooms are a little run-down

Class Sizes: small (5-10 students)

Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:30am

Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 30 minutes by bicycle, at least 30 minutes by bus

Tuition: US$900 for the first semester; US$900 for the second semester

Evaluation: The first thing that strikes me about the program is that to study for one year it’s the same price as Zhejiang University’s, and it doesn’t seem anywhere near as comprehensive. On the plus side, it’s closer and has smaller class sizes. I worry, though, that the program is not designed for higher level students of Chinese, because an “advanced” class is not even listed in the program description.

So, it looks like my final choice is Zhejiang University of Technology. Zhejiang University’s Chinese studies program application deadline is June 15th. I think I have to count out Zhejiang University primarily because of the commute, but it will also be nice to keep the money I save. Zhejiang University of Technology is a good compromise between convenience and excellence, and it should help me accomplish my goals. I can always re-evaluate the situation after one semester if I don’t like the program.

So, after three years of working full-time at ZUCC, I’m finally going to be a student again this fall. It feels good.


21

May 2003

Voluntary Brain Rot

Any regular reader of my site knows that the regular commenters of my site tend to go off topic quite frequently. This slightly annoys a part of me, but how can I can mad when the off-topic stuff is often good stuff? For example, in my last post, “Da Xiangchang” stated:

> I’m not sure if this mass infantilization is uniquely American. I have seen nothing in China that would suggest the Chinese wouldn’t act the same way if they had the wealth and 24-hour-mass-media-saturated lifestyle Americans have.

I think that’s so true. Let me give an example. This semester (ours has another month to go) I’ve been doing a part time job teaching spoken English classes at night. Those classes have been indefinitely suspended due to SARS. The coordinator assured me, though, that after 3 weeks of no class, the classes would definitely resume this past Monday. So I showed up for class. Guess what? No students. Three showed up late, but only because one SMSed me and asked if there were classes. I told her yes. A trip in vain to the coordinator’s office and a few phone calls later, I learned what I pretty much already knew: classes were still suspended until further notice. Great.

Since we had all commuted a ways for the class, I suggested we just have some tea together and have an English/Chinese chat. They thought that was a good idea. All three of them had gone home to their respective hometowns in Zhejiang province just as the height of Hangzhou’s SARS hysteria had hit, and had recently returned to Hangzhou. I figured a good way to begin speaking English was with a fairly simple question: how had they spent their SARS vacation at home?

Their answers shocked me. They said they watched TV. Well, nothing surprising about that. But I pushed further: how many hours a day? The first student told me 12, and I was visibly startled. Every day? I asked for clarification, figuring she had misunderstood. Then she seemed a little embarrassed. No, that couldn’t be right. She did some recalculations, staring at that invisible but ever-so-helpful calculator on the ceiling, while her fingers helped keep track. No, the number was not 12, it should have been 18. Eighteen?!? I gaped. There are only 24 hours in a day! You’re telling me you spend 18 hours watching TV? That only leaves 6 hours for sleep, and no time for anything else! Yes, that’s correct, she verified. What else would she do? I suggested perhaps… reading? She laughed, thought a moment, and then confirmed — no, she hadn’t done any reading or studying.

One of the other students was less excessive, at only 10 hours a day. She also needed time to shop. The third student was down to an almost acceptably “normal” limit at 5 hours a day. But then she added that she spent about 10 hours a day online. Incredible.

I thought I spent a lot of time online, but the time I put in is nothing compared to these students’ “dedication.” The thing is, these students are not morons. They’re pretty smart, and seem fairly typical. I don’t want to suggest it, but I really think they might be somewhat representative about the current state of China’s youth. I do know that when I ask my students students in class what they plan to do in their vacation time, the most popular answer is “watch TV.” It’s frightening. The original “TV nation” is going to be beaten at its own game.


15

May 2003

SARS Media Correspondence

Recently I wrote a letter to many different media agencies using addresses I found online. (I won’t go into the spam-related ethical issues at this point…) The basic letter I sent out is below.

> To Whom It May Concern:

> I am a 25-year-old American citizen living in Hangzhou, China teaching English. I love China, and I love my life here. I find it very distressing, then, to see an abundance of hysteria- and hype-driven news stories on SARS. What I don’t understand is why the American media has not gone to one of the most authentic sources out there today – blogs. Yes, blogs (weblogs). There are many, many English-speaking foreigners living through the SARS crisis. What’s more, they are conscientiously WRITING ABOUT IT, and have been since day one. I sincerely hope that you consider adding this angle of the SARS story to your news reports.

> My China blog, Sinosplice, is at:
http://www.sinosplice.com

> I also maintain a long list of China blogs, many of which write extensively about SARS:
http://www.sinosplice.com/chinablogs.html

> The American people deserve to know a firsthand account of the truth which goes beyond hysteria.

> Thank you for understanding.

> Sincerely,
John Pasden

I received disappointingly few replies (one reporter responded apparently solely to inform me that her son is teaching in China too), but the following reply was interesting:

> Hi John,

> I’m a reporter with [a News Service] in [city], California. We are an off-beat news wire and I read how you are a proponent of blogs to tell the true story behind SARS in China. I’d like to hear more about what you have seen and how you feel they would tell the true story.

> What makes them superior than traditional media outlets? Is what is being reported inaccurate? Can you point out some mistakes the media has been making? Have you had any brushes with SARS yourself? Do other English speaking blog writers in China share your view? What are they saying about it?

> Lastly, our service provides contact information to other reporters and editors who subscribe to our news service so that they may do their own interviews with our sources. If I write an article about this subject do you mind other reporters from around the world getting in touch with you?

> Thank you for your help.

> Regards,
[Reporter Guy]

My response:

> [Reporter Guy],

> I’ll try to answer your questions as simply and directly as possible.

> I never said blogs were “superior” to traditional media outlets, but they’re certainly DIFFERENT. Sometimes the traditional media outlets sort of drop the ball, and so it’s important to remember that there are alternatives. But in some cases, what makes blogs different could possibly make them BETTER.

> We’ve all been hearing for years that a killer virus could be on the horizon for which modern science has no cure. That’s unthinkable. It’s horrific. It’s SERIOUS news. Then along comes SARS. How convenient. It’s much easier to report on SARS from the “safer” side of the Pacific, and the majority of Western investigations that I’ve read which actually go into China don’t stay for long.

> Yes, blogs are very subjective, but how subjective is going in to report with an almost predetermined conclusion? I think I trust the subjective viewpoint of someone who’s been living in China for some time, knows how things work, and at least knows what China was like BEFORE SARS.

> Hangzhou has reported very few cases of SARS. I think there really have been very few SARS cases in Hangzhou, although the government has been taking the threat extremely seriously. To my knowledge, I have not had any “near brushes” with SARS itself, but the effects have certainly reached me. My school was on lockdown* for two weeks, and remains in a state of partial lockdown**. Two of my coworkers have been quarantined in their rooms for leaving Hangzhou to go to Dalian (7 day quarantine) and Hong Kong (14 day quarantine). Even though face mask sightings have become a rarity, the city has taken on a whole new edgy feel to it. The vibrant Chinese bustle has been stifled.

> If any reporters want to get in touch with me, I’m happy to talk to them, but as I’ve said before, there are a lot of bloggers out there reporting SARS much more thoroughly than I ever care to. Their blogs are at:
http://www.sinosplice.com/chinablogs.html

> \* “lockdown” meaning no one could enter leave or leave campus without special permission.
** “partial lockdown” meaning everyone can go out, but there is a strict curfew, and only those with proper ID can enter the school.

> -John

> P.S. I’m posting this correspondence to my blog. I’ll withhold your name and organization until you give me permission to include it.

I don’t want to say anything negative prematurely, but I get the distinct impression that reporters would much rather end the “story” on China blogs about SARS with a few quotes from me, not even reading any of the China blogs in my listing.


01

May 2003

Life Under SARS

To be completely honest, I’m totally sick of SARS and don’t really feel like giving it extra attention. It’s been such a major part of daily life recently that I resented its ubiquity and didn’t want to write an entry on it. It’s creeped into my recent entries a bit, though, and I’ve gotten a few questions about it. I suppose it would be misrepresenting my life here a bit if I didn’t at least write one entry on it, though, so here goes.

SARS arrived in Hangzhou last week. There were 3 reported cases. Within 2 days, the city had gone into a mild form of hysteria. Lots of face masks on the street. That soon peaked and has been waning ever since, though. The general populace seems much calmer about it now, despite the fact that the government is taking ever stricter measures to curb its spread. There haven’t been any reports about more cases or any deaths, but there is plenty of quarantining going on. I once optimistically mentioned to a Chinese friend that Hangzhou seemed to have the situation under control, and she replied, “the media is controlled by the government. Who knows if it’s really under control or not.”

It’s interesting to see the Chinese people’s reactions because they know they are not being told the whole truth. I think American media sometimes portray the Chinese as a gullible herd, swallowing whole anything the CPC gives them. It’s just not like that. They know, but there’s nothing they can do. In times like this, when there’s a serious threat but the media isn’t being completely forthcoming, the rumors really fly. Thick. This past week I’ve heard so many rumors it’s crazy. Most of them involve new cases and deaths.

That said, I’ll now share some of the ways that SARS has impacted my life here.

Recently, it seemed like every time I pass a group of Chinese people, I hear the word fei dian. That’s the Chinese word for SARS. For a while it seemed to be the only topic of conversation, but lately people have gotten bored and complacent with the SARS presence. [Note: Originally SARS was called fei dian xing xing fei yan in Chinese. Translated literally, that’s “atypicality pneumonia.” Why they made “atypical” into a noun I can’t understand. Now most people simply refer to it by its first two characters, fei dian. That’s cutting off half of the word “typical” (dian xing), so it’s creating a new word. I noticed in the Manual of SARS Prevention they now call it fei dian xing fei yan, “atypical pneumonia.” That makes more sense to me.]

Manual of SARS Prevention

Manual of SARS Prevention

Last week there was a SARS meeting for the foreign teachers, explaining the situation. They also passed out thermometers so we could all monitor our temperatures, as well as a “Manual of SARS Prevention.” There’s another meeting this Friday.

The supermarket, cafeteria, and restaurant workers are now required to wear face masks. Recently they’ve been slacking on that a little; you’ll sometimes see the mask pulled down.

The sanitation crew around campus has been spraying some sort of chemical around campus, in classrooms, and in the halls of our apartment. I suppose maybe it’s the “0.2% – 0.5% per. per – ocyacetic acid to sprimble [sic] or 1000mg/1 disinfectant containing chlorine to sprinkle (mop)” mentioned in the manual.

spraying the halls

Public buses have been labelled as “dangerous,” so they’re emptier now then ever before.

The most drastic impact was the closing of our school gates. Students are not allowed out, and no one is allowed in without specific, official business. An outside agency under the authority of the government is in control of our front gate (although security is comparatively lax on the back gate). Teachers are bussed to and from our campus regularly, but when we foreign teachers want to walk or bike off campus, we’re now given a hard time. We’re supposed to get a letter from the Foreign Language Department with the official seal every time we want to leave campus. What a pain! I wanted to go off campus to celebrate my birthday last night, but the letters didn’t get stamped before the person went off duty, so we couldn’t get out. (We might have been able to get out the back gate, but we decided to just postpone it until tonight.) Students are getting really antsy being cooped up.

I mentioned that SARS rumors were flying like crazy. Chinese people are crazy about SMS messaging on their cell phones, and they send lots of forwards. Here are two of the more ridiculous ones I’ve received (translated from Chinese):

> From a professor at America’s Stanford University: In the morning drink soy milk. For lunch eat tomato and egg soup. At dinner have yogurt. Drink tea often. Consume more garlic. These remedies will help prevent SARS. Please send quickly to all your close friends.

> SARS Prevention: one white radish, half an orange peel, three slices of ginger, three green onion stalks, a cluster of cilantro! Make into a soup. This should prevent SARS.

I like how it says “this should prevent SARS.” Classic. Besides those kinds of forwards, there are a lot of humorous ones going on, like a parody of the Chinese song Zhishao hai you ni (“At least I still have you”) involving SARS.

Probably one of the most annoying things is Chinese people constantly telling me to be careful. Yes, it’s sweet of them to be concerned, but there’s not a whole lot we can do. I don’t go around licking doorknobs or anything.

So I guess that’s my SARS report for now. Life in China goes on, despite SARS. I really hope that they can get it under control. At least in Hangzhou, the measures to curb the spread seem to be fairly good. Still, I read some bad news on Yahoo today:

> Dr. Alfred Lam Ping Yan, Hong Kong’s deputy director of health, told Reuters… “This disease will not disappear from the world and we need to see how we can control the disease and collaborate in the longer term.”

> Symptoms of the disease include a high fever, dry cough and pneumonia, and there is no effective treatment other than good hospital care.

> In Geneva, WHO officials said the death rate from SARS, currently around six percent, is rising and could reach 10 percent.

> “We are concerned but it is not a surprise to us,” said WHO’s Mark Salter.

> “We are only six weeks into it. There are a lot of people who went into intensive care and do not seem to be getting better and unfortunately a large number of them will die,” Salter told reporters.

> He said the mortality rate appeared to be higher in places with developed health services, such as Canada or Singapore — something he could not explain.

Nevertheless, I remain optimistic. I’m not panicking, and I’m not going home. China will handle this, and learn a tough lesson in the process.


14

Mar 2003

Friends and Pics

Wilson

Wilson

In the past I have done a little introductory mug shot page for the English-teaching foreign teachers here at ZUCC. This semester Wilson did it. It’s hosted on his site, but since his site is blocked in China and mine isn’t, it’s also mirrored on my site. Check it out! I’m sure I’ll be mentioning these people on here in the future.

During his time here, Wilson has gotten really imaginative with his photography and web design. I envy his creative eye, his Photoshop skills, his awesome camera. Even if these talents don’t rub off on me, though, at least I can enjoy his results. Don’t miss: Jade Emperor’s Hill [mirrored], Viewing Fish at Flower Pond [mirrored].

I mentioned recently that I’ll be on TV in China March 22nd. Being on TV is a pretty common occurrence for foreigners living in China. Frequent readers/commenters of this blog will be familiar with my friend Ray. He was on TV in Shanghai some months ago when he still worked there. They did a bit of a bio on him. Anyway, he sent me some vidcaps of his 10 minutes of glory, and I think they’re pretty funny, so I’m sharing them. I don’t think he’ll mind everyone having a look at his studly countenance. If he ever put up a site of his own, I’m sure he’d put these pics up.

ray1

“So I want to write a book, right? …”

ray2

(That’s mantou, a kind of Chinese bun.)

ray3

What a fascinating lesson, eh? The students are riveted!

Speaking of commenters on Sinosplice, “Prince Roy,” a rather new regular commenter here, now has his own blog too. Check it.


02

Mar 2003

New semester, New music

> head like an empty sterile room, somehow I made a mess
like watching newborn babies crack from work-related stress

-Alkaline Trio, “I lied my face off”

hangzhou rain

Well, it’s the beginning of the semester, a fresh start. New students, new teachers, new lesson plans… Somehow it all seems a little “messy” though. I wonder if it’s because of the constant rain. We actually had nice weather today, but that’s a rarity. The other day I accidentally said “rain forecast” instead of “weather forecast.” Hangzhou winters are like this. Lots of time spent indoors. I’m looking forward to the spring…

Lately I can’t stop listening to this song. This one and this one aren’t bad either. I’m not exposed to a lot of new music these days, so when I find something new I like, I’m all over it. I have access to internet radio, but it usually spews the same garbage across the internet as it does across the airwaves at home. I’m happy I found Dashnine Radio. Rarely have I found a station that plays so much stuff I like. Atom and His Package, Screeching Weasel, and The Transplants, all on the same station? I’m there.

[Note: These MP3’s will be online for a limited time only, so if the links have gone dead, that’s why. To see what music I’ve got online at any given time, go to www.sinosplice.com/music/.]


25

Dec 2002

Home for Christmas, finally (part 1)

My Christmas this year has been an event partially shrouded in mystery since the summer. It was then that the idea to surprise my whole family with a Christmas visit home began to formulate.

Saturday, December 21st. I had meant to get on a bus to Shanghai as early as 3pm, but it wasn’t until 5:30pm that I finally make it out the door. I have been buying lots of Christmas presents and otherwise just preparing for my two weeks’ absence from school. Wilson graciously offered to cover my classes. He had the good idea of combining all our classes and throwing them in a multimedia room at night for those 2 weeks. So all I had to do was plan the content and put it into a wonderful PowerPoint presentation, which was then burned onto a CD and left in Wilson’s hand the day I left.

So I step out the door at around 5:30pm. It’s raining, as it has been for days. The shoes which I have purposely not been wearing for the past 2 days in order to make sure they’re dry for my trip home are wet within 10 minutes of stepping out the door, despite my umbrella. The guard on the ground floor of our building says this damn rain is going to continue for another 3-4 days, at least. All I can think is I’ll be home soon….

I get out to Zhoushan Dong Road just in time to miss a taxi. And then it’s 30 minutes of trudging through a gray, wet world, my rolling suitcase reluctantly trailing behind me on this misadventure. I timed it just wrong: 6pm is when taxi drivers get off their shifts, so around 5:30 the drivers are all heading back to the station and refuse to give anyone a ride, even if the car is empty and the “vacant” light is on. It’s almost impossible to get a taxi at this time of day, but I was standing out in the rain with a heavy suitcase full of gifts and a backpack, and I was going home. Unfortunately, the taxi drivers don’t seem to realize this. Empty cab after empty cab whizzes right by my wet, frantically flailing figure, my furious curses unheard.

Eventually, someone does stop. For some reason, when drivers are getting off duty, they do this thing where they pick up a friend (?) before getting their last ride, and then drop off their friend on the way to your destination. It’s definitely not legit, but they all do it. After waiting 30 minutes in the rain, I wasn’t going to complain.

On the way to the bus station, there’s a traffic jam. All the huge construction trucks in Hangzhou seem to have congregated on the road we need to take to get to the East Bus Station. Our driver doesn’t seem to have much regard for our personal safety, or at least not for the structural integrity of his vehicle. Our windshield repeatedly comes scant inches from the lower end of the huge truck in front of us. Time wears on, and my driver quickly learns I am not in a chatty mood. I am beginning to wonder if there are still going to be buses to Shanghai by the time I get there.

So I finally arrive at the East Bus Station. I loathe that place. It’s hard to explain exactly why, but the scalpers that assail you before you’re even out of your taxi would definitely be high on the list. Shanghai, Shanghai! they yell in my face. The fact that I was actually bound for Shanghai makes them all the more annoying.

When I get to the ticket office, there is a small crowd outside, but no one inside. All the ticket windows are closed up. “They’re closed,” the scalpers gleefully announce, a grinning pack of vultures descending upon me. “Shanghai…”

Defeated, I begin reluctant negotiations with them, and 80rmb is the cheapest I’m hearing. I start following that offer, but as I trudge past the Shanghai-bound waiting room, on a whim I duck in to investigate. The girl at the front tells me I can still buy a ticket to Shanghai. I’m not getting her convoluted instructions to the last remaining open ticket window, so she kindly takes me there herself. I buy a legit 55rmb ticket to Shanghai that leaves in 10 minutes. I am ecstatic.

So I try to sleep on the bus to Shanghai, and to dry out my feet a little as well. Both efforts only meet with limited success. I am chagrined to notice that although the VCD being played is not showing up on the screens (evidently the video out isn’t working), the inane Chinese soap opera dialogue nonetheless spews on. Greeeeat….

I get to Shanghai and meet my friend. I had a good dinner. Get to see famous Hong Kong director Wong War-kai’s movie In the Mood for Love, and I gotta say, I am not impressed. Yeah, I can see the artsiness of the cinematography. I suppose it is cleverly filmed. But in my mind no movie can be forgiven for failing in its primary function: entertainment. This movie and its endless parade of qipao bores me.

Sunday, December 22nd. Probably partly due to In the Mood for Love, I fail in my effort to stay up all night. I do that so that I can be blissfully unconscious for the 20+ hour journey home to Tampa, Florida. I inadvertently get a few hours of sleep. These few hours almost make me late leaving for the airport. I leave in a rush.

My friend told me that I should ask for a 20% discount to the airport since it was so far. I was aware that in Shanghai you can sometimes negotiate cheaper taxi fares, but in my experience that only happens at night. So when I stop the first taxi I come across and tell him I want to go to the Pudong International Airport and I expect a 20% discount, the driver is a little surprised too. “In the daytime?” he says. “I’ll give you 10% off.”

“Never mind,” I say, and start walking.

A minute later my luggage and I are in the taxi. 20% off it is. It is 7:30am, and my flight leaves at 9:30am. It might be as much as an hour’s drive to the airport. I am a little nervous.


15

Dec 2002

Whingefest

Not long ago I had an IM conversation with Alf. He’s teaching in Xinxiang, and he clearly does not have a foreign teacher community over there like I now have here. He mentioned that his friends that read his blog say that his blog is mostly just a bunch of complaints. We talked a bunch about those complaints. I post occasional complaints, but I haven’t posted many lately. I think having complaints is a natural part of living in a foreign society. I think I need to unload a few more.

First is the toilets here. The toilets ZUCC gives its foreign teachers are horrible. Yes, they are Western style. That’s not the problem. One problem is that the seat is attached with these shoddy plastic screws that break after about 4.6 seconds of actual use, resulting in a toilet seat that slides around instead of remaining respectfully fixed in place. But the real problem is the flushing. These toilets are not so good at it. There’s just no power behind the flush. It’s maddening. I feel blessed and lucky if I can go number 2 without having a big long plunge session afterwards. It wasn’t like this at first. It used to be OK (but never good), and the problem seems to have worsened over time. Now I’m plunging practically every day! I’m a teacher, dammit, not a janitor! (I would include a pic of this “toilet of the damned,” but my latest plunging efforts were a failure. I’m currently taking a break before tackling the problem with renewed vigor, and in the meantime you really do not want to see a picture of that…)

Last month the school held a special feedback session, allowing the foreign teachers to share their ideas and complaints with various departments of the school. I took it upon myself to bring up the toilet issue. They said they would handle it. Last Friday some guys came to take care of it, but after inspecting for a while they said they couldn’t do anything, that the toilets were just like that. Horrible quality. I say the school owes it to us to replace the hellspawn toilets with toilets with actual flush power. As newly appointed “foreign teacher liaison” for next semester, this will be one of the biggest items on my agenda. It will be my personal crusade. I will be the perpetual thorn in their side, quietly whispering “give us good toilets” until they either comply or go insane. I will triumph in the end.

So it’s winter now. In Hangzhou, that means it’s cold and wet. Of course, it’s not Harbin cold or anything, but many houses here don’t have heating. Also, although it rarely snows in Hangzhou, it’s so humid here that the cold penetrates. To make matters worse, a lot of Chinese people even leave the windows open in the dead of winter for “fresh” air. So how do they keep warm? They don’t. They bundle up inside as well as outside. It’s pretty horrific from a Western perspective. Fortunately, we foreign teachers have heating in our apartments, but it’s not central heating. Also, buildings are not insulated here, and leaks around windows and doors are not properly sealed. Warm air quickly leaks out if the heater is not run continuously. The Chinese way of just bundling up inside starts to make a little more sense. But we foreigners are, of course, fighting the good fight and blasting that heat for the cold nights. When you come home to a cold house and crank up the heat, it starts pouring out, but obviously, hot air rises. So as I wait for the room to heat up, I often find myself sitting at the computer, feeling the effects of an upper layer of warm air slowly pushing downward, displacing the cold air throughout the room. First my head is warm while the rest of me is still quite cold, and the border gradually moves down my torso as the rooms heats up. At first a big bedroom with a high celing seems like a great thing, but in the winter the drawbacks become chillingly apparent.

浴霸

I now have a new weapon in my arsenal to combat winter here. Wilson and I recently bought heating lamps (yu ba in Chinese) for our bathroom. They pulled the ventilation fans and installed the heat lamps (which also have a built-in fan behind the heat lamp bulbs). Heat never really seems to make it into the bathroom in the winter, so these heat lamps feel like an amazing luxury.

outlook crap

Why can’t I access Yahoo Mail anymore? I don’t know. Even when I use a proxy server, about half the time I click on anything it can’t find the page and I have to reload. It’s really annoying. Pretty much at exactly the time this started happening, I switched over to using Outlook (I don’t like Microsoft domination, but it at least has good Asian language support, so I must succumb at last…). I randomly get these weird errors when I use Outlook. Some error with the POP connection. It’s all in Chinese and I hate it.

It’s 2002, and I’m 24. I think this is the year my metabolism finally quit. I seem to have lost the ability to eat continuously without a second’s thought of any possible consequences. I’m not as skinny as I was, and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason for it. I definitely need to exercise more, though.

Note: “Whinge” is an Australian word that means “complain.”


01

Dec 2002

Almost Thanksgiving

So last Thursday I celebrated Thanksgiving with 5 other foreigners at the Hangzhou Holiday Inn (yes, that’s the same Holiday Inn you’re familiar with). Four of them were American. By Chinese standards, the Western all-you-can-eat buffet was not cheap — 148 rmb (about US$18.50) — but no one regretted shelling out the cash. It was good. I taught my class last week that there are 6 “main Thanksgiving foods” that most American families eat on Thanksgiving: (1) turkey, (2) stuffing, (3) cranberries in some form, (4) pumpkin pie, (5) mashed potatoes, and (6) sweet potatoes. I also explained that every family has different traditions; the list is not definitive (so no one leave huffy comments because I wronged your Thanksgiving traditions to all of China).

My complaints about the “Thanksgiving meal” were: (1) the stuffing came out of a cookie dough-type tube! Yuck! (2) No mashed potatoes! Come on! But hey, it was still pretty good. As I told my students, food is very important on Thanksgiving, but what’s more important is being with family. So even good food couldn’t quite do the trick. Here are a few pics:

T-Day 2002


27

Nov 2002

Harvesting Stats

Living in China has its fair share of inconveniences. The ones that immediately come to mind are being on the opposite side of the globe from most of my friends and family, and a big long list of things I can’t eat here (oh, cheesecake! I miss you!). But there are some great benefits too. The benefits are so numerous and unexpected that you can live here for years without realizing them.

One of these benefits which I discovered early on in my first semester at ZUCC was the potential for gathering information. Sure, the teacher’s up there to teach the students, and then the teacher can learn from the students as well. But I mean something far more direct. You can gather information on Chinese society straight from your students and even make it part of classwork. My first semester I taught American Society and Culture, and one of the regular assignments I gave was a one-page written response to the latest chapter’s material. I encouraged students to make comparisons between Chinese society and what they learned in the book, or what they learned from me, or what they knew of American society already. At times I cursed myself for giving those assignments because it gave me a lot to read. But what I gained! Students would often write out what they wouldn’t say in class. I learned a lot about Chinese families, government, education, etc. from those papers. More than my students learned from me, I fear.

Anyway, despite the precious info I gleaned from those papers, they were a one-semester thing. It was just too much work to read them, and I had to read them all or some of the students would plagiarize like little fiends. And I wasn’t about to let them get away with that, less because of the dishonesty factor and more because I didn’t want them to ever think for a second that they could outsmart me.

Since then, I’ve picked up this and that from miscellaneous discussions and such in class. But it’s never been such pure information downloading as it was with the papers. Recently, though, something rekindled my lust for data. I think it began when I asked my class if they shared my excitement about a new generation of leadership in the Chinese Communist Party (they very much didn’t), and a little discussion on their feelings about politics ensued. Basically, they felt that they had no control over politics, so they didn’t care. But the idea of taking polls in class took shape in my mind.

So, lately I’ve been surveying my students on various topics. I’m carefully noting the data, and I’ll report the interesting results I find. I have close to 300 students. Sure, my students typically come from upper class Chinese families, because the tuition here is quite high for a Chinese college. But that doesn’t mean the data won’t yield trends that are interesting and telling. I’m loving this. I’ve got lots of good stuff on the way. So without further ado, the results of my first poll…

Poll: Cell Phones

Is that higher than you expected? Cell phones are definitely common on the streets in Hangzhou. They’re everywhere. The ::beep:: ::beep:: of the SMS message alert permeates every nook and cranny of town. Furthermore, while Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province–a quite wealthy province–keep in mind that this is still Hangzhou, not Hong Kong, not Shanghai, not Beijing (those three places have cheesecake!). Also, the fact that so many of the students bring their cell phones to the classroom is a serious factor for the teacher. There’s little more infuriating in class than a student ignoring you because his gaze is transfixed on the LCD screen of his cell phone. They think you won’t see them if they keep the phone below the surface of the desk. Makes you wanna grab the phone, chuck it out the window, and smack the student.

Anyway, the polls have begun. And may the data collecting proliferate among the foreign teachers here in China…


26

Nov 2002

Laowai Circus

wuzhen

Things tend to happen to me in China in clumps of weird connections. Example: my first year in Hangzhou I lived with my Chinese friend from UF’s fiancee’s dad’s boss’s son. (Didja get that?) This past Saturday I went to Wuzhen, a small, scenic, historic town (guzhen in Chinese) with a small group in order to film a travel show for the Zhejiang TV station. The trip was unpaid, but I didn’t pay for anything either — transportation, lodging, food was all paid for. And it was a good opportunity to meet young Chinese people. So how did I get that hookup? My e-mail penpal (Erin)’s co-worker (Vivienne)’s date’s co-workers were looking for a foreigner who could speak Mandarin for the show. Turns out they got two from my school. Kiwi Chris can also speak it, and so he went too.

So that was my Friday and Saturday. We were a group of only 6, and it was nice. 2 foreigners, 1 Wuzhen tourguide, a camera crew of 2, and 1 show hostess. There were times when the Chinese and foreigners would detach for separate conversations, but there was plenty of friendliness and good feeling as well. I’ve gotta say, Wuzhen was just a little bit boring, but it was cool to learn how they do some of the traditional crafts like making rice wine and weaving cloth. Check out the pictures. As far as the location, I think I still prefer the first guzhen I visited: Xitang.

I’ve been told that the show airs this Saturday (Nov. 30th) at 9:55pm on Zhejiang TV-3, then again the following Saturday (Dec. 7th) at 11am and 4pm, Zhejiang TV-3.


04

Nov 2002

Be Heard (more)

OK, I just don’t know when to quit. (Or when to sleep.)

I have added “the least technologically advanced message board ever” to the bottom of the China Blogs page. I’m hoping that people who use my China blogs links page will provide feedback on recent posts and stuff for other users. Check it.

Also, Wilson took a few picks of our stroll around West Lake (and other “adventures”) yesterday afternoon. He made a nice little photo album. Includes some excellent shots of mouth-watering Chinese Muslim noodles. Take a look.


13

Oct 2002

Daily Life Q&A

I thought some people might find interesting the answers I gave to some questions my dad asked me recently by e-mail:

> You know, we hear about all the neat times that you have — & we’re glad to hear about them. I’m wondering about the day to day stuff:

Sorry… It’s sometimes hard to think of what day-to-day stuff I haven’t mentioned or what might actually be interesting to you. I’ve lost some of the outsider’s perspective.

I write for my own pleasure as well as my readers’, so I tend to go light on day-to-day stuff.

> What do you have for breakfast?

danbing

Hmmm… Maybe this is why I go light on the stuff. A lot of the answers to seemingly simple questions have to be really long because of cultural differences. A lot of the things I eat are Chinese, and not available in the U.S. I sometimes eat rolls or bread, but usually a “roubing” (fried breadish stuff with meat filling in the middle) or a “danbing” (sort of a crepe with egg and chives and sauce). I usually drink milk or juice.

> What’s a typical everyday day like?

Hmmm… I don’t think there’s a “typical” day… I usually have class in the morning. I frequently eat lunch with Wilson and/or Helene or Nicola. I have to plan for class, but only in the beginning of the week. I still study Chinese. I hang out with Wilson quite a bit. Sometimes we watch DVDs at night. I go online, read and answer e-mail quite a bit. I also post new blog entries pretty frequently. Unfortunately, I don’t spend a lot of time with Chinese friends these days. I just don’t feel really close to anyone now.

> Do you eat out most meals?

Yes.

> Do you cook for yourself?

Almost never.

> Do you guys have “pot lucks” in the dorm?

Not yet.

> Is your cooking a la Chinoise or a la Americaine?

It’s really hard to cook a lot of American things here. Examples… You can buy spaghetti, but the sauce is almost impossible to find at most stores in Hangzhou. Furthermore, just asking if they have it is difficult, because it’s not an item that Chinese people are familiar with. All pasta is referred to as “Italian noodles,” and if you translate “tomato sauce” it means “ketchup.”

The Chinese seem to be fond of lumping unfamiliar concepts together and then applying generalizations. Examples: “Foreigners are tall.” “Western food is bland and simple.” Some of the few American things I can make without too much hassle are ham and cheese sandwiches (only processed American cheese, though), tuna salad sandwiches, and egg salad sandwiches. Even those, though, require special (expensive) ingredients: sliced ham, cheese, mayonaise, canned tuna.

Maybe you’ll suggest I try this or try that, but the simple fact is that going shopping, then cooking, then cleaning up is a big hassle for one person. Coordinating groups efforts is also a hassle. When fully prepared Chinese food is so cheap and ubiquitous, it’s the way to go (except on special occasions).

> Do you go to movies?

No, I buy DVDs.

> Do you have a radio?

Yes, but I rarely use it.

> What kind of things can you listen to there?

I buy CDs (Western and Chinese) occasionally, but I mostly listen to MP3s.

> Do you use your computer to play music?

Yes.

> Do you take buses, rickshaws, taxis, private vehicles, or Shank’s Mare to get around?

Yes, no, yes, no, and HUH?

“Rickshaws” as you probably imagine them do not really exist in modern China. They were banned by Mao. Pedicabs (big cargo tricycles) are everywhere, both for human transport as well as all kinds of cargo. I rarely ever use those, though. They’re not a whole lot faster than walking, and I’m way faster on my bike.

pedicab for people (courtesy of Shutty.net) pedicab for cargo

> Is public transportation inexpensive?

Yes. 1 or 2 yuan ($0.125 or $0.25). Taxis usually range from 10-30 yuan depending on the destination.

> Do you spend all day at church on Sundays?

No.

> Are you still working w/ the kids at church?

No. One hour a week for kids so young seems to do nothing. They don’t retain anything.


09

Oct 2002

Zhoushan/Putuo Shan Trip Report

Autumn Leaves in Hangzhou

I’m a little late in reporting it, but autumn has definitely arrived in Hangzhou, and we’re enjoying the great weather. As you can see, there are indesputable signs that fall has arrived. Even the 10rmb midget potted tree on top of my refrigerator is behaving accordingly. So we’re desperately soaking up this beautiful but ephemeral weather. It’ll be dreary rainy cold before long.

So about the vacation to Zhou Shan/Putuo Shan… Our group had about 14 people in it. 5 Americans (I was the only non-Chinese American of that group), 2 Kiwis, 1 Scot, 3 Japanese, and 3 Chinese (including our driver). Plus there was Bob, our tour guide in Zhoushan. He didn’t even know his name was Bob, but it was. So decreed Helene. I don’t think the driver knew his name was Joe, either, for similar reasons.

We had our own private minibus, and we drove all morning (leaving around 6:30am!) to get across on the ferry to Zhoushan at around noon. Then we met up with Bob and ate. We soon learned that in Zhoushan you eat a LOT of seafood. Every meal. Fortunately, it was good stuff. Probably the best shrimp and fish I’ve had in China. Way better than Wenzhou. Then we checked into our hotel, which was right on the sea in an area called Shen Jia Men, and it was off to the Sand Sculpture Festival.

I was annoyed at Bob at the beginning of the trip because he would speak to me like I was retarded, speaking really slowly and exaggerating pronunciation, all the while gesticulating to get his point across. He even said to me at one point, “We can even communicate, if I speak really simply.” I wanted to smack him. You can’t stay mad at Bob, though. He’s a good guy at heart. Toward the end of the trip he was speaking more normally to me.

We were kind of disappointed when we first got to the Sand Sculpture Festival, because there were tons of people there, all seated around a distant stage. Where were the sand sculptures?? We figured out pretty quick that what was going on onstage was just typical China singing/dancing entertainment–the kind of thing that’s on TV in China all the time–and nothing that really interested us. So we migrated over to the actual sculptures. They were pretty massive, and amazing. Check out my pics.

That night we went to the seaside outdoor restaurant. It was within walking distance from our hotel, and the cook tents and tables seemed to go on forever. There was some weird food there (stewed barnacles, anyone?), but good shrimp and fish, too.

The next day we did Putuo Shan, which was sort of a bunch of temple-type stuff, all on the sea. It was nice. Huge Buddha statue and all. I can’t get too excited about this kind of thing anymore, because I’ve seen too many places like it in China. But the seaside part added something.

One of the temples was selling Xian Shui — “mystical water” — for 1rmb ($0.125) per cup. Lots of people were buying it and drinking it. I overheard another guy telling someone it was clean, safe to drink. I bought some and tried it. Tasted OK. I got Chen Yao, our trip coordinator to try it, against her better judgment. Then we met up with Bob, and he promptly informed us that “mystical water” gives you diarrhea if you drink it. Great. If that’s the “mystical” part, then a whole lot of food in China is mystical! Fortunately no one drank more than a few sips.

The trip home was looong… There was a huge traffic jam getting onto the ferry. Everyone was trying to get back. Putuo Shan is a famous vacation spot. Somehow the Chinese people on our bus convinced the police to let us go straight to the front of all the backup just because we had foreigners onboard. Amazing. We wouldn’t have made it out of there that evening if not for that trick. We somehow made it back to ZUCC that night around 11pm, pretty much on schedule, even dropping Vivienne off in Shaoxing on the way. After two packed days of travel, we were all exhausted.


01

Oct 2002

Taxi Incident

On Sunday Wilson and I made a little alcohol run to the Metro. The Metro is a big supermarket with lots of Western food and stuff. It’s one of the few places you can buy vodka in Hangzhou, and the prices are actually decent.

Anyway, we had to get our vodka and a few other goodies that are hard to find elsewhere (Hellmann’s mayonaise, French’s mustard, good bread, canned tuna…). But we were kind of in a hurry, because I was trying to get back to ZUCC to hear one of my students sing at a concert on campus. She has a really amazing voice.

The problem with the Metro is that it’s in the middle of nowhere, on the east edge of town. You have to take a taxi out there and back (unless you want to be on the bus for like an hour each way), and it’s not always easy finding a taxi back. (The other problem with the Metro is that the stingy bastards actually charge for plastic grocery bags! What’s up with that?! It’s not a normal Chinese practice.)

Anyway, we were holding our groceries, standing on the side of the road outside the inconveniently-located Metro, waiting for a cab.

5 minutes went by. A cab pulled up, and some guy further up the road from us flagged it down and got it. Was he there before us? Who knows. He got the cab.

5 more minutes went by. No cabs.

5 more minutes went by. Two guys in suits that looked to be in their thirties came from a sidestreet and stood a little further down the road from us.

5 more minutes went by. Another unoccupied cab finally appeared! Fortunately there was no one waiting further up the road to grab it this time. He approached our frantically waving figures. He kept rolling, coming to a stop by the two guys just past us, further down the road. One of the guys got in the front seat as quickly as he could.

I was pissed. I rushed over there, still holding my grocery bag in one hand and a Smirnoff Vodka bottle in the other. I got in front of the door so he couldn’t close it.

Get out,” I told him firmly, in Chinese. He stayed rooted to the seat, with the stubborn look of a kid who refuses to eat his brussel sprouts. “Get out!” I repeated, as he urged the driver to get moving. He wasn’t budging.

Meanwhile, Wilson was looking on, kind of stunned (hoping I wasn’t mad enough hit the guy with the vodka bottle, he told me later). The partner of the guy already in the cab, apparently made nervous by the tense situation, was making no move to get in the taxi.

My demand was falling on deaf ears, and the taxi finally took off, the door still open. I yelled something I probably shouldn’t have. It was English, but I’m sure he got it. The cab went about 100 meters down the road and stopped. The other guy went to go get in. Apparently angered by what I yelled, stubborn guy in the front seat pretended like he was going to get out and come fight me. I made the manly “bring it on!” gesture, and they promptly drove away.

It was all a ridiculous incident. I certainly wasn’t going to get in a fight over a taxi. It’s just too stupid. But underlying it all is an anger, not just at one guy in one particular incident, but at a whole society.

I’ve never been in a country like this, where people are so “me first!” crazy. There are no lines for buses, just a pushing hoarde. The other day in McDonalds, after I had already stood patiently in line for about 5 minutes, some woman suddenly pushed her way in from the side and placed her order right in front of me! I just stood there and let her. What am I going to do, change a society? It’s the same in banks and at ticket counters. I’ve been living with this every day for two years now.

But still, this incident was just too infuriating. I really believe that in the USA, there are few people who would quickly hop into the taxi instead of doing the civil thing and saying, “you were here first, you take it.” I think that in all the other countries I’ve been to — Japan, Mexico, Korea, Thailand — most people would do the same. What is it about this place that makes people so drivenly self-centered? Why does the concept of a “line” or of “waiting one’s turn” not seem to apply here?

I’ve heard people say China is not ready for democracy, and I think that idea has a lot of merit. China isn’t even ready for the concept of “wait your turn.”


24

Jul 2002

Flashback: Aug. 25, 2000

[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.


15

Jul 2002

Friend Diaspora

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…


06

May 2002

On Nanjing

Well, I just got back from Nanjing. I saw the city as well as my friend Ray. A lot of people have told me that Nanjing is a boring city and not worth seeing, but I still wanted to check it out. It didn’t wow me at all, but I did think it was a nice city. It’s bigger amd more modern than Hangzhou, but without some of the touristy “West Lake and surrounding green mountains” charm.

So I got to hang out with Ray and his friends Yunfei and Xiao Zhu. It was an interesting experience. We saw the place where they work, a sort of weight loss clinic. Weight loss by machine, that is. Check out the photo section for pics of some of this.

Nanjing doesn’t have a lot to see… “Purple Mountain” and Sun Yat-sen’s tomb (along with some scattered attractions of scant interest), the Ming Wall around the city, museums, The Yangtze River, and the Nanjing Massacre Memorial. This last one was of greatest interest to me, as my studies have gotten me caught up in both Chinese and Japanese culture, and the relation between the two as well. I read The Rape of Nanking a few years back, and it left a deep impression. So I got to see the memorial to the estimated 300,000 victims recently.

It was definitely shocking. The memorial was built on the excavation site of one of the mass graves where the Japanese dumped the bodies of Chinese soldiers and civilians. This excavation site is on display, the bones of the victims laid bare for all to see. You can see skeletons of 3-year-old children, decapitated skeletons, skeletons with gauges in the bones and holes in skulls from Japanese bayonets and iron nails. It was really disturbing, realizing that these are the actual bones of those poor people I was looking at. There were plenty of photos and textual documentation within the museum as well, but the skeletons in the excavation pit hit hardest.

It was very moving. The horror, the plight of the Chinese. The bravery of those that tried to help. A letter written by a Japanese schoolkid who learned about everything for the first time on a visit to Nanjing. (It was on display, and I read it, but it was all in Japanese, without even a Chinese translation!)

But in some ways it was disappointing. Although some items, like the letter mentioned above, were not translated, most displays were in Chinese, Japanese, and English. However, I couldn’t help but compare the Nanjing Massacre Memorial to the two memorials to the atomic bomb victims I have visited in Japan. I can’t name many specifics, but those Japanese memorials just left overall impressions of very well-composed memorials (even taking into account that the Japanese displays make absolutely no mention of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor or the rest of the wartime context — they’re presented like war crimes committed in a vacuum!). Perhaps part of my disappointment was linguistic; captions for Chinese exhibits have a habit of telling you how you should react emotionally to what you’re seeing, and that’s definitely distracting and tacky to Western sensibilities.

I’m not going to make a laundry list of complaints, though. Overall it was done tastefully, the smoldering animosity the Chinese feel to this day over war crimes that still have not been atoned for or even fully acknowledged was withheld from the text of any of the displays.

It makes for a very depressing and draining several hours, but I feel like it’s something I have a human obligation to see. The Nanjing Massacre Memorial is a part of my China experience that will stick with me.



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