Yup, that’s pretty much what that picture is. This baby was ridiculously happy all the time. He liked me too!
Yup, that’s pretty much what that picture is. This baby was ridiculously happy all the time. He liked me too!
As you read this, I am already onboard an airplane with my girlfriend bound for the USA. We left Pudong International Airport around 1pm today, flew to Seoul, and are currently bound for L.A.
Now, I’m not blogging from first class or anything so fancy-pants bourgeoise as all that. I’m using WordPress’s scheduled posting feature. It’s pretty cool! I decided I didn’t want to waste precious time at home blogging, so I put up some posts ahead of time so that my site doesn’t go un-updated for all that time.
In L.A. we have a five-hour layover before flying to Tampa, so I’m meeting up for dinner with two friends I know from China who live in L.A. One of them is none other than the infamous “Da Xiangchang.” He posts a lot of over-the-top comments here (and a lot of good ones as well), but before any of that we were friends in China. I haven’t seen him for a while.
While I’m in the States I won’t be working on my website much, but I hopefully will be doing some work on Adopt a Blog. My original page for it is being combined with the work that some other people have contributed this year and it will all soon be online at a new location. I finally found an overseas sponsor! I’ll have to save the official announcement for when it’s actually done, though.
I’ll be back in Shanghai July 18th.
…in my apartment. No more free power. They came and fixed the power meter on Wednesday.
China giveth, and China taketh away…
But having almost seven months of free power is pretty cool.
Also, Carl moves out this weekend, so I’ll be down to just one roommate. We’ll miss him, but we’re glad to see him find a good job and move forward. We’re not looking to find a new roommate… we’ll see if we can afford to have a guest room.
Somehow I’ve got a trojan on my home computer. I’m always very careful, but being caerful wasn’t enough. I’ve gotta stop doing dumb things.
I downloaded a file via BitTorrent. I scanned it with AVG, and it said the file was clean. When I opened it, my system got infected. Now AVG very helpfully reports every 5 minutes that I have this trojan in my system, but it can’t get rid of it.
The most annoying thing about this trojan is that it prevents me from going online. So I can’t even get the necessary information/fixes to get rid of it without using someone else’s computer. Today at work I’ve downloaded a bunch of trojan/worm removal software. Hopefully at least one of those programs will do the trick. In the meantime I’ll be posting a little less than usual.
I moved into my current apartment in Shanghai on December 10, 2004. That means I have been living here for over half a year. In all that time, not a single electricity bill has showed up.
At first my roommates and I didn’t mind; we figured it came every few months. As the months started to add up, however, we got nervous. The three of us used the heat a fair amount during the winter, which, with three people, could easily amount to 500 rmb or more per month. We didn’t want to get slammed with that all at once.
I told my landlord about the problem, and she told me to check with the apartment administration. They said they didn’t handle that. I relayed this to my landlord, and she said she’d handle it. More time passed.
Recently my roommate Carl has landed a new job that will necessitate his relocation to another part of Shanghai. Carl has never been one to waive any power consumption rights, so we definitely wanted to settle the matter of the electricity bill before he moved (and before the sum got too huge). So recently I asked my landlord about it again, stressing the urgency. This time she got answers.
What she told me is that the power meter has been broken all this time, and she’d have it fixed soon. Furthermore, we wouldn’t have to pay for the power we have used in the past six months!
I find it a little hard to believe. Could the power company make such a mistake? Power just doesn’t get given away for free. Could it have been my landlord’s mistake, and somehow she won’t be able to determine how much we’ve used, so she’ll have to pay the sum herself? That doesn’t seem likely, because the power company should be able to tell her the amounts.
If we really don’t have to pay those six months of power bills and the power meter has still not been fixed yet, then I think it’s time to get busy using some more free power. Somehow, though, I think this bill will find its way to us down the road. In the meantime, it’s nice to think we got six months of free power.
My entrance exams for grad school at East China Normal University are finally over. It’s hard to believe that I’d been preparing for them for eight months. I’ve been studying quite a bit harder this past month, I’ll admit. But what a weight off my shoulders!
I probably won’t find out the results until next week some time, but I feel pretty good about how I did.
Part I: Modern Chinese (2 hours)
I think I did OK. There were 10 questions, all asking for some kind of explanation, analysis, or comparison, and always with examples. (No multiple choice, no fill in the blanks.) Of the ten, eight of the questions concerned content which I pretty much fully anticipated. They weren’t tricky. A lot of regurgitation was involved for some of them. One of the unanticipated ones called for a full analysis of synonym groups. I had studied that a little and then decided that it probably wouldn’t be tested on, so I disregarded it. I probably got some partial credit there anyway, though.
I guessed correctly that there would be exactly one 修辞 (“rhetoric,” involving fancy topics like literary devices) question on the exam. That’s 10% of the exam. And yet the 修辞 section took up 100 of the textbook’s 500 pages. So I pretty much skipped it entirely, aside from briefly looking at the main terms. So I just BSed that one question on the exam. I bet I got a few points.
Overall, I think I got a B.
Part II: Composition (1 hour)
The topic was really general, like “do some comparisons of American and Chinese language and/or culture, based on your experiences.” Wow. They were obviously being nice to me. And it only had to be 700-800 characters instead of the 1000 the teacher had told me before.
Based on educated guessing, I had prepared for the topic “based on your experiences, compare and contrast the Chinese and American university systems.” So I was able to adapt that, as well as use some of the particularly well-crafted sentences and phrases that I recalled. I wrote about my experience of learning Chinese as an American, compared to the typical Chinese student’s experience learning English in China.
I’m sure there were mistakes, but my structure was solid and the conclusion is one the Chinese will like (basically 各有所长: “both have their strong points”), so I probably got a B overall.
So now I’m just waiting to be notified that I’ve been admitted to grad school and they want my tuition money.
Dear American Consulate in Shanghai:
This Thursday a Chinese girl will have an interview for a visa to visit the United States. She will explain to you that she’s my girlfriend, and she would just like to visit my family with me in Florida this summer. It’s the truth. She’ll have a mountain of evidence as to why both she and I plan to stay in Shanghai. It’s all legit. My entrance exam for grad school at East China Normal University here in Shanghai is this Friday.
Just on the off chance that you or your friends read this blog, I’d just like to let you know that I have years of entries full of reasons as to why I’ll be staying in Shanghai. “To Stay” strikes me as particularly relevant. However, my girlfriend can’t take my website in with her.
So, State Department person… just on the off chance that you see this before her interview, please don’t be cruel.
Update: She got it!
Earlier this month my girlfriend and I decided to have a mini barbecue on my balcony. I had gotten her a small grill for Christmas, but we hadn’t used it yet because it had been a bit too chilly. When the day finally came, I was the one with the free time that afternoon to buy the food, so I found myself in the supermarket shopping for grillable victuals.
I was pleased to find that the supermarket had plenty of ready-to-grill items. There were various marinated meats, and some already on a stick or in full-on kabob form with onions and peppers and everything (yes, I’m lazy when it comes to preparing food).
Realizing that not all the food came pre-kabobbled, I started looking around for little skewers. There were none to be found anywhere. Then I noticed that the girls behind the meat counter had little wooden skewers. I asked them where I could buy them. They appeared kind of flustered, looked all around, then replied, “you can’t buy them.”
“You don’t sell those?” I asked, wanting to make sure.
“Here,” one of the girls said, reaching into a bag of the little wooden sticks behind the counter, “just take these.”
“You just want to give them to me?” I asked. “Shouldn’t I pay for them?”
“Nah, just take ’em,” she said, starting to look around for a rubber band for the skewers.
“OK…” I replied, not sure what else to do. The girls were scrambling for a rubber band or something to hold the little bundle together. Then the second girl had an epiphany. In one swoop, she took an elastic ponytail holder out of her hair and slipped it onto the bundle of sticks. Smiling, she proffered the newly bound bundle of sticks to me.
I took it, smiling back and thanking them.
When I got home I discovered that I had already bought a bag of skewers back when I first bought the grill.
The bundle of sticks held together with a ponytail holder remained in my pocket for a few days. I would forget about it until I put my jacket on and shoved my hands in its pockets. I wasn’t about to use them, but somehow just throwing them away didn’t seem right.
It’s little incidents like this that stick in my memory.
It was Brendan‘s idea, and then Prince Roy actually did it. He recorded his Chinese and then put it online for everyone to hear. He got a lot of (well-deserved) praise and some possibly very helpful criticism. I said I wasn’t interested in doing that.
Check out my recording. [Note: if you left click and play it directly through your browser, you may need to replay it at least once to get it to play right.] Comments and criticism are welcome. I’m working hard on improving my pronunciation. Sorry this MP3 is so short.
P.S. I should be studying right now.
Sometimes I still ask myself, “Why have I taken my degree in Japanese and chosen to develop my career in China? Why don’t I consider going back and pursuing something in the States?”
Oh yeah, now I remember. Thanks, Monster.com, I’m not so sorry now that I still haven’t removed myself from your job update e-mail service.
Note: Of course, yes, I do love my life in China, learning every day.
Since this week I haven’t had to go to work, I’ve used it to buckle down and finish learning the material on Modern Chinese that I need to know for the exam this month. I have to display understanding of this material in order to be admitted for graduate school.
I haven’t finished it yet (working mainly on 现代汉语, a 560 page extremely dry Chinese textbook), but I’m getting there.
One thing I’ve discovered is that putting in about five hours of study a day (reading and writing) really works up an appetite!
The other night when Carl, his friend Drew, and I made spaghetti for dinner, they each had a bowl of it. I had three bowls of spaghetti plus a blowl of salad. The next day Drew and I had 饺子 (dumplings) for lunch: carrot and pork, cabbage and beef, leek and pork, and qingcai and chicken. Good stuff. We each had about 4两 of dumplings. Drew seemed to think it was a good amount of food.
That night when we went to dinner Drew said he was still fairly full from lunch, but I ended up eating way more than any of the other four people at the table. It was a Xinjiang restaurant, so we ate 馕 (Uygur bread), 羊肉串 (spicy lamb skewers), 丁丁炒面 (chopped noodles), 老虎菜 (a sort of spicy salad with tomato, cucumber, and onion), 蒜泥黄瓜 (garlic cucumber pieces), 红烧豆腐 (soy-braised tofu), 酸辣白菜 (hot and sour cabbage), and 大盘鸡 (a chicken and potato dish), washed down with Xinjiang black beer. I guess it was too much food for five people, but everyone else gave up way too fast. I kept eating for about 30 minutes after they had stopped.
If all this studying in the final stretch leading up to my exams is going to make me ravenous every day, I really can’t say I mind at all.
I recently redesigned a few pages of Sinosplice:
– The root page is now Flash-less, with tons of text links emphasizing all the non-blog content I’ve got online. (Take a look; there may be some stuff you don’t know about.)
– Chinese Study Book Reviews has been given new life. There are new reviews, more guest reviews, categories, comment function* for each review, RSS feed, etc. Such is the power of CMS technology. Inbound links are appreciated; I’m going to try to make these reviews really helpful.
– A Pictorial Guide to Life in China has been made prettier. This is a pleasant reminder of the days when I cared less about offending my hypersensitive visitors.
For now the comment function doesn’t work; I’ll try to get that working sometime next week. [Apr. 12 Update: Comments work now.]
There’s so much I want to do with my website, but that’s all going to have to go on hold for about a month. I just had a meeting with the professor at East China Normal University about how my entrance exams will be administered. Basically I need a decent grasp of everything in the 现代汉语 textbook. Too bad I had been concentrating on a different textbook in my studies until now. And I’ll have to write a timed essay for them. Now that I’ve got more specifics about the exams, I need to stop slacking (read: working on my website) and get it in gear.
* I had been using Haloscan comments before, but I found out that Haloscan deletes your comments after a certain amount of time. In every case where I had used Haloscan for adding comment functionality to a static webpage, comments disappeared after a year or so.
OK, so I thought of a good name for a China blog:
The Document Contains No Data
(Yes, the internet in Shanghai still sucks. Why does Micah have no trouble accessing sites that I can’t access, living 1.1 km away? Ah, Mystical Orient, what a cruel mistress you are….)
Rats don’t really freak me out at all. I recognize them as carriers of disease, so I certainly wouldn’t want any in my building, but I don’t get “disgusted” when I see one like some people.
I live pretty near the Zhongshan Park subway stop. When I walk to the subway, I pass by a large planter with some rather sad-looking bushes and grass (?) in it. The city’s attempt to cultivate this little green oasis inside a long expanse of concrete is mostly a failure, as there’s more dirt than anything in the planter. It is also in this location that I frequently see rats.
They’re your typical brown city rats, I guess. About the size of a good Idaho potato. They like to scurry around in that dirt. There are storm drains nearby, and the Suzhou River with its bustling garbage trafficking is not far to the north. The rats come out the most after it rains.
One day Carl and I started talking about how we always see rats in that one place. Since then I can’t help looking for rats every time I go by. It’s a sort of competition.
Today on the way home I saw three rats at once, all chilling within a few feet of each other. It hadn’t even rained very recently. Beat that, Carl!
It’s now the year of the cock. (The Chinese like that word.)
Just like last year, ridiculous “safety laws” did nothing to dissuade the Shanghainese from unleashing a hellstorm of fireworkery within my very own apartment complex. The constant dull roar coming from outside led me to believe every residential community in the area was under similar siege from 11pm until 12:30. Here’s a shot snapped from my roommate’s window which shows my balcony taking the brunt of the pyrotechnic excess, a mere 3 meters away.
I’m leaving for Taiwan shortly. Happy New Year!
I’ve been pretty active in January, but I’ve finally let this blog gather a little dust. Not much, but a little.
The reason for my recent computer problems was dust. Well, sort of. I opened up my computer because the fan was getting super noisy. That could have been because the ball bearings in the fan were going bad, but it also could have been just due to a huge dust buildup. You see, life in China comes with more than the recommended daily dosage of dust.
So I was cleaning the dust out of my computer’s innards. I used compressed air. (I didn’t know how to say that in Chinese, so I went around the computer market asking for “air in a can” (Ìý×°µÄ¿ÕÆø). I’m pretty sure I sounded like a moron, but it eventually yielded the desired result.) Even compressed air proved insufficient, though. I ended up cleaning a lot of the dust out with q-tips. Big chunks of it.
While cleaning out the dust I carelessly knocked my wireless network card loose (which I’m not even using, ironically), causing my computer woes.
I ended up getting a new power source anyway. The bearings really were going bad on the fan, and the inside was just dusty beyond help. Dust takes its toll.
Shortly after I arrived in China, I went on a trip to a park with some Chinese friends. It had been a while since I had seen grass, so I was happy to sprawl out on it, which promptly resulted in my Chinese friends’ disapproval. “It’s dirty!” they told me. I just shook my head. In a corner of the world where there’s so little nature left to enjoy, they regard what little is left as “dirty”? That’s so sad! Then, as an afterthought, I ran my hand across the grass. My palm was turned gray. Dust. From the grass.
That little incident drove home that I really didn’t know how everything worked here, even when I was so sure I had it all figured out.
I’ve learned to watch out for dust in China. It can choke your computer’s internal fans. It makes daily sweeping almost essential. Dust is even on the grass, and gets into everything if you let it. You don’t realize how much dust there really is in the air here until you experience it.
As with the rest of the dust around me, the dust on these pages will soon be dislodged and released to afflict the less diligent.
You hear it every year from your Chinese friends at about this time: “Be careful with your wallet and your bag. It’s almost Chinese New Year, and the thieves are out in force so they can take home something extra for the holiday.”
I’ve only ever had one crappy cell phone stolen from me in China, but I’m extremely paranoid. The possibility of getting pickpocketed is on my mind constantly when I use public transportation or walk in crowds. I guess that’s a good thing, because it keeps me from getting victimized. On the other hand, it makes trekking through town a lot more taxing.
I thought my wallet was lifted on a bus recently as I was distracted by the snow. I even reported my credit card stolen. Carl found my wallet for me under my bed (d’oh!).
When the credit card company sent my replacement card, I got a notice in my mailbox to go pick it up at the post office (for security reasons). It looked exactly like a regular package notice, though, and Carl is expecting a package, so he went to claim it, with his passport as proof of identity. Despite not being me and showing them the wrong passport (i.e. not mine), they still gave it to him! Unbelievable.
Then when I called in to activate my replacement Visa card, I also had to unfreeze my Mastercard card with that bank because it was frozen when my Visa was reported stolen. Hoping it would be quicker, I used the English language service. As proof of identity, they required such difficult information as my home address, home phone number, and cell phone number. I had to make them wait a few seconds while I looked up my new home phone number because I haven’t memorized it yet. (Not fishy at all, right?) They asked my current credit limit, and I got it wrong. They still re-activated my card! Unbelievable.
If this country really gets into credit cards, credit card scamming is going to be huge. Back to the thieving, though.
Micah’s bag just got stolen. It’s really stupid, because all it had in it was kindergarten English teaching materials. The bag itself was probably worth the most from that take. Bastards!
What can you do when surrounded by all this holiday thievery? Well, just be careful. And if you still fall victim? Curse the waidiren! (外地人 are Chinese people that come from out of town. The stereotype is that they all come from poor rural areas and have little or no morals. The Shanghainese are pretty bad about blaming waidiren for all the city’s evils. I enjoy the irony of pretending to join in on the scapegoatery.)
Inspiration for this post: ShenzhenRen’s post on the same topic. (Well, that and my real life experiences.)
Last week at work I had this conversation:
> A: John, you have an activity on Saturday.
> J: This Saturday? The 25th?
> A: Right.
> J: I can’t. It’s Christmas.
> A: Why can’t you?
> J: It’s Christmas. I have Christmas things to do.
> A: It’s just for an hour.
> J: No. It’s Christmas.
> A: OK, I’ll tell them.
Later I was approached by my supervisor:
> V: John, I realize it’s Christmas, but can you please work on Saturday?
> J: No.
> V: Come on, it’s just for an hour…
> J: Don’t you see something wrong with me giving up my own time on Christmas to teach little Chinese kids about why Christmas is important to Westerners?
> V: Ummm…
> J: So I won’t do it.
> V: But the company has already agreed to do it, and the kindergarten has already notified all the parents. Neither side can cancel it now without a big loss of face!
> J: Well, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still Christmas. My answer is no.
They ended up finding someone else to do it.
I had nothing specific planned, really. My girlfriend and I went out to eat with Carl and one of Carl’s Chinese friends. We all dressed up a little, and the restuarant was nice. We ate stuff Chinese people like to eat such as crab. It was good.
After dinner Carl’s friend, like many young Chinese people, it seems, wanted to celebrate Christmas Eve partying at a bar. Since no one had a better idea, we headed to Hengshan Lu, Shanghai’s nice bar street. What a mistake. It seemed like all the young people in the city had the same idea. Bars that usually charged no cover were charging cover. Bars that usually charged cover were doubling or tripling it. And yet, the bars were packed. My girlfriend and I decided to go home. We left Carl and his friend to their own pursuits.
Being in China for the holidays creates a lot of weird feelings in me that are hard to put into words. That night, though, my feelings were clear. To me, Christmas Eve is not a time to be living it up at bars. It’s a quiet night meant to be spent with loved ones.
Back at my quiet apartment, sitting in the glow of a cute little fake Christmas tree assembled with care, I started to feel better. But I could still feel a kind of pressure on me. It had something to do with my company wanting me to work on Christmas teaching about Christmas, with the throngs of young Chinese people in bars on Christmas Eve, and with the ubiquitous Christmas decorations that just seemed to try too hard — and for what?
I went to bed fairly early.
Christmas Day I got up and went to mass at Xujiahui Cathedral. The mass was pretty unmoving, and the Christmas songs came out kinda stuffy. Throughout the mass, tourists were wandering into the service to have a look at what the Christians were up to. They were probably all pretty disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed, though. I felt better.
I’m not trying to write something as cheesey as “I went to church and found the true meaning of Christmas.” That’s not it. It’s more like, “the ‘Christmas’ around me, being constantly shoved in my face, bore only a superficial resemblance to the Christmas I knew, and what lay underneath it all was scary. Getting to church confirmed that what I knew was real, and I wasn’t the one who was losing it.”
After that, Christmas was more fun. We were having some friends over to the new apartment. I just happened to find Knight Rider – Season One from a vendor in the subway on my way to the grocery store that afternoon, so I picked that up. I invented the very simple “Knight Rider drinking game” (anytime anyone says “Michael,” you drink) and we played it to the amazingly long 2-hour pilot “episode.” We had Papa John’s pizza delivered. We played the pyramid drinking game. Then, when we were all nicely happy, we played Eat Poop You Cat. Yes, it sounds lame, and there were definitely skeptics at the party before it got going, but the game won everyone over pretty quickly and we were laughing so much it hurt.
It was a weird Christmas. But it was happy.
I just discovered a cool new blog called Liuzhou Laowai (via danwei.org). I especially related to his story about how he got his power switched back on through guanxi. It reminded me of how I got my Chinese credit card, and also of the time I also had my power shut off myself (sort of).
The problem is that a lot of the utility companies in Shanghai are way too nice. One time I forgot to pay my gas bill or my water bill, and I didn’t even realize it until the next bill came. It charged me for both months. Realizing I had neglected to pay the previous month, I looked for a late fee. There was none.
Naturally, I took this as a loud and clear I can pay my bills whenever the hell I get around to it! I became very lax about paying.
Pretty soon I found out that the power company don’t play that game. When you’re late paying they send you a reminder, and if you still don’t pay, they send someone over with a notice that they’re shutting off your power in three days if you don’t pay up.
When I got that notice, I renounced my derelict ways and immediately headed over to the office to offer my monetary contrition. They reassured me that since I paid in time my power would not be shut off. I was relieved.
Day three came around. It was a Saturday. I was taking a morning shower, when the water suddenly went cold. This is not so strange, because the gas water heater for that shower is an old capricious bastard. I was used to wrestling with the thing every time I showered, dodging alternating icy and scalding blasts in my desperate dance to get clean. This time, however, the water didn’t get hot again as it usually did. Wouldn’t you know it — I was all soaped up, and now if I wanted to rinse off I had to use ice water to do it.
I got out of the shower all soapy and went to the breakers. They were all on. This could only mean one thing: they shut off my power!
I was forced to rinse off with ice water.
I figured whoever had just shut off the power was still in the building, so if I got dressed quickly, I could catch him and coax him into turning it back on. As soon as I got out the front door I saw a guy fiddling with the electricity meters. It turned out the whole buildings’ meters were decrepit and needed to be replaced, so we were all experiencing about 20 minutes of no power while the meters got swapped. My power was back on shortly.
Personal note: I have successfully moved into my new place, but the wireless network isn’t ready yet, so I still don’t have internet access at home yet.
You ever hear the stories about the alligators in the New York City sewers, or the monkeys and boa constrictors living in the wilds of the Florida Everglades? What would you say to a story of a white ferret living in the bushes surrounding an apartment complex in downtown Shanghai?
I probably wouldn’t pay much attention if I heard such a story, but I never did hear it. Rather, I’ve seen it multiple times with my own eyes, scurrying from one clump of bushes to another, always at night. Unmistakably a ferret.
I’m moving into a new place in Shanghai next weekend (there’s a post about that coming soon), and I’ve been thinking about what I’ll miss about my current place. I’ll miss its convenient downtown location. I’ll miss the view of the city lights out my bedroom window. And, I suppose I’ll miss the mysterious white ferret.