Tag: SARS


14

Oct 2007

When a Fever Is Not Just a Fever

Towards the end of September, on one particularly nice Friday afternoon, I suddenly came with a fever. I went home to get some more sleep.

fever

Photo by DooogwoooD on Flickr

My wife got home and proceeded to freak out. To the Chinese, a fever is serious, much more so than a cold. Somewhere in the Chinese psyche there’s a line about “fevers kill people” and modern medicine has yet to edit that line. My wife wanted to take me to the hospital that night.

I didn’t see what the big deal was. Our honeymoon to Turkey was coming up the following week, but I felt confident I would quickly get over whatever little bug I had caught. I didn’t remember ever going to the hospital for a fever growing up, and I had a few fevers back in the day. My mom also never seemed overly concerned when it happened. To me, fevers just meant temporary discomfort. I even thought they were kind of cool, the human body’s rather “creative” way of trying to burn its invaders.

From Wikipedia:

> Theoretically, fever has been conserved during evolution because of its advantage for host defense. There are certainly some important immunological reactions that are sped up by temperature, and some pathogens with strict temperature preferences could be hindered. The overall conclusion seems to be that both aggressive treatment of fever and too little fever control can be detrimental. This depends on the clinical situation, so careful assessment is needed.

> Fevers may be useful to some extent since they allow the body to reach high temperatures. This causes an unbearable environment for some pathogens. White blood cells also rapidly proliferate due to the suitable environment and can also help fight off the harmful pathogens and microbes that invaded the body.

fever

Photo by Tinn Tian on Flickr

But when my fever didn’t go down, my wife called her mom and they started group worrying. I was afraid my mother-in-law might even come over. So to spare the womenfolk their worrying, I agreed to go to the hospital that night. Unsurprisingly, I was given an antibiotic IV, and also a shot in the butt (just below the waist, really) to make the fever go down. Over the weekend I started feeling better. I went back to work on Monday feeling like I had a normal cold.

Then Tuesday I woke up with another fever. I called in sick. My fever went back down by that evening. I felt OK Wednesday.

Thursday was the day we left for Turkey. Over the night I came down with a fever again, and had horrible fever nightmares all night. They were horrible not because they were scary, but because they were maddening, like a kind of unsolvable logic puzzle that nevertheless had to be solved. It was something about building an ever-changing machine out of steel and fur that contained all the functions necessary to allow me to get to Turkey. Every time I thought I had my furry device complete, it would change, thwarting my departure to Turkey over and over and over again.

When my wife found out I had a fever of 39.2°C/103°F (again), she flipped out. She was upset not because she was afraid we couldn’t go to Turkey that night, but because I had a fever for the third time, and it was so “high.” She thought I was dying of some mysterious disease.

I explained to her that I actually felt OK, that I had had higher fevers before and never even went to the hospital, but she wasn’t having it. Secretly, I was wondering if those heat detectors at the airport set up during the SARS scare would detect my fever. Reason told me I had better not try to get on an international flight with a fever. Curiosity wanted to just try it (yeah, curiosity can be kind of dumb sometimes).

So that afternoon I was back at the hospital, luggage in tow and plane tickets in hand, for another IV and another shot in the butt. My wife had the hilarious idea of getting my IV “to go” and doing the drip in a taxi on the way to the airport, then ditching the bag at the terminal. Unsurprisingly, the doctor didn’t go for that scheme.

My first five days in Turkey involved dutifully taking my medicine three times a day and my wife frequently feeling my skin for signs of a fever (that got interesting after I got a sunburn in Cappadocia). Still, it was an amazing trip to Turkey.

More on Turkey next post.


20

Feb 2005

Robbed of Hong Kong

When I bought my tickets I arranged for a day and a half in Hong Kong on the way back from Taiwan. I wanted to take in as much of that Hong Kong glitz as I could in 36 hours. To my dismay, I was totally robbed of the Hong Kong experience. Prepare yourself for some extended whining.

My last night in Taipei I must have eaten something bad. I think it was the Korean food, although it’s hard to tell because I ate three times that previous night. The next morning I promptly unloaded the contents of my stomach. Feeling horrible, I managed to make it to Hong Kong without further incident.

My original plan was to pull an all-nighter in Hong Kong since I was only there for one night, but that idea was quickly abandoned. After arriving, I went straight to the Ramada Hotel in Kowloon and slept. I had plans to meet up with several people in Hong Kong, but I was in no condition to chat with people I’d never met before. (My apologies to those people.) I did call Katherine, who was a teacher at ZUCC during the SARS semester. She has lived in Hong Kong all her life, and I already knew her. Turns out she was sick too, but agreed to try to meet up the next day.

So how was I robbed? One of Hong Kong’s biggest attractions is the food. Hong Kong cuisine is pretty universally regarded as top-notch — even the street food. I was looking forward to pigging out. But even a whiff of those delicacies sent waves of nausea through me. In my condition I was almost completely unable to eat the entire time I was in Hong Kong.

Another famous tourist destination in Hong Kong is Victoria Peak, from which a stunning view of the city can be taken in. It’s said to be especially beautiful at night, and I’ve seen the pictures to prove it. Feeling a little better, I set out around 5pm get up there and see the view. I took the Star Ferry, but sat on the wrong side (I didn’t realize at first that the boat just reverses direction when it goes back across), so I got a crap view of the harbor. What I did see, though, was that Victoria Peak was completely covered in fog. I couldn’t see it at all. The top of the IFC 2 building couldn’t be seen either. I abandoned that plan, deciding instead to walk around Hong Kong Island. Not long after, though, my intestinal condition sent me scurrying back to my hotel via subway.

Feeling worse again, I went back to sleep for a while.

When I woke up I decided to walk around Kowloon more and see more of the signature Hong Kong streets. It started raining, though, so I ducked into some little place for a massage. It was a legit establishment, but the masseuse was a bit saddistic. At first I thought she was asking “are you OK?” in order to adjust the level of pressure. Later, when I started making uncomfortable noises, she’d say, “pain?” and I’d reply “YES!” to which she’d just laugh and continue at the same pressure.

The next morning I slept in until 11:30, with some effort. I still felt pretty terrible, but the hotel maids apparently weren’t aware of the 12:00 check-out time or the meaning of “DO NOT DISTURB.”

I went to Kowloon Park. That was pretty cool… I liked the flamingoes and the aviary. Then I bought and sent some postcards in Central. I met Katherine at 2, and was able to get some food down. (Shouldn’t have eaten that delicious chocolate cake, though. I immediately regretted it. My stomach was churning viciously within an hour.)

Katherine took me to meet her boyfriend, who runs a very nice Indian clothing store called Sanskrit. Very impressive operation, and he was a cool guy.

Then I rode the “world’s longest escalator” (wow, what a thrill) and headed up Victoria Peak via tram anyway. I had time to kill before I had to be at the airport, so I figured I might as well. It was cold and wet, with bad visibility.

On the train back to the airport I talked to a rabbi from Israel. The initial conversation went something like this:

> Him: Is this the train that goes to the airport?

> Me: Yes. Are you a rabbi?

Ah, interlocutionary finesse of this caliber cannot be learned, my friends. (He really looked like a stereotypical rabbi, with the black clothing, the beard, the wide-brimmed black hat, being old etc.) His English was only so-so, but we had a decent chat. He told me that in Argentina in the 1960s someone told him that the scariest thing in the world today was “the Yellow Threat” (meaning China).

Sensing a unique opportunity, I decided to ask him about something I recently read about in The Da Vinci Code (which I finally read in Taipei). So I asked him about Shekinah, whom Dan Brown describes as the ancient female counterpart to Jehovah. I got a confusing description. He said in the Kaballah’s attempt to explain how a purely spiritual being (God) could create a physical being (Man), it developed a series of stages, one of which was Shekinah. OK. Anyway, I’ve definitely had more boring train rides. Nicest Israeli rabbi I ever met.

I didn’t take any pictures in Hong Kong because I didn’t want to bother with my temperamental camera, which only works half the time now.

The flight back to Shanghai wasn’t good either, but I can sum it up succinctly in two words: China Eastern.

Lesson learned: Don’t pin high hopes on a one-day vacation, because not only are there weather factors that can’t be controlled, but sometimes one’s own health fails as well.

I’ll try to make it back to Hong Kong in the future. It was a crazy, interesting place.


15

Jan 2004

Someone Listened?!

A while back, when SARS was the topic dominating the China blog neighborhood, I wrote about a letter I sent to the media. It sure seemed that nothing came of it. I have just discovered that it did produce at least one small mention in the media.


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


02

Jun 2003

The Confucius Effect

Yes, I’m back with more fun China “facts,” based on little more than what Chinese people say! Sure, maybe it’s “unscientific” to try to make one Chinese person’s opinion be representative of 1.3 billion people… Welcome to the magic of the internet!

Anyway, I just want to share what one guy said to me today. Extremely interesting, if you ask me.

You see, I have this student that I tutor on Sundays. Normally I don’t like tutoring, because there are plenty of schools around town that will pay over 100rmb an hour for teachers, but few prospective tutees are willing to shell out that kind of cash for tutoring. Even if they are, they often want to carve up tiny little pieces of your time throughout the week to meet in a place that’s inconvenient for you. With this big SARS nuisance, though, I lost my good-paying, 3-hour-block-at-a-time, convenient part-time teaching job. I’m missing the money. Then a friend introduced a motivated young Chinese man who wants to practice speaking and is willing to come to me and pay 100 per hour. So I took it.

This guy turned out to be pretty interesting. He’s not very excitable, nor does he tell great jokes. He’s interesting for what he is. He’s a single guy in his thirties, living at home. He has a cushy government job — the kind where his “work” is to show up, drink tea, and read the paper — and he’s not satisfied. He wants more. He has decided to go to England to earn an MBA. His mother has tried to dissuade him (such a cushy job is not easy to come by!), but he’s determined. He leaves China in less than a month. I admire his drive.

His English vocabulary is also quite good, and I was very surprised to discover that he has the /th/ sound down. Very few of my English major students pronounce /th/ right, and this guy — who has no business being good at English, considering his job and how he has done literally no speaking practice since college — has got it down. Unusual.

He has also turned out to be that rare kind of student that basically just wants to talk, and actually has interesting things to say. He just needs a little nudge. So once a week, I nudge him for two hours — making corrections here and there — and listen to his opinions. Today we talked mostly about child-rearing and education.

I just want to bring in a part of our discussion about Confucius. Confucius is more famous in the West than any Chinese emperor, and he’s definitely a great man in the eyes of the Chinese as well. I asked him what he thought about Confucianism’s influence on child-rearing and education in modern China. He said that Western methods have begun to displace Confucianism. I pressed him to give me some numbers (based purely on his own judgment, of course) corresponding to the years I gave him. I wanted him to make an estimation of Confucianism’s hold on Chinese child-rearing and education as a percentage. This is what he gave me:

> 1900 – 99.9%
> 1950 – 99%
> 1970 – 99.9% (Cultural Revolution)
> 1980 – 90% (enter: Deng Xiaoping)
> 1990 – 70%
> 2000 – 50%
> 2003 – 40%

He also appended that his figures applied to “big cities,” not the whole country.

The breakdown of morality in Chinese society is an old discussion (and frequently linked to Confucianism’s waning influence), but it was interesting to see numbers applied to it (which you basically just can’t really do). According to one Chinese man’s opinion, though, Confucius’s hold on Chinese society has not only weakened, but the Confucius Effect is in the midst of a very steep dive.


28

May 2003

Vacation Absurdity

In modern China, there are two national “long vacations” a year. On the academic calendar, it conveniently works out to one each semester. The length of each vacation is one week, nominally. In the Fall, it’s in celebration of the founding of the current government (国庆节), and takes place October 1st – 7th. In the Spring, it’s May 1st – 7th, beginning on May Day, the Communist “international working class holiday” (五一). This all seems well and good, but the thing is that these “week-long vacations” are something of a sham, and the Chinese don’t even realize it. (Apparently only the Western mind in its infinite wisdom can see through the treachery. Allow me to explain.)

To elucidate the issue I’ll use the ironic example of this past May Day. (It’s ironic because I, along with many other foreigners and Chinese, did not actually get a May vacation this year due to our friendly neighborhood virus SARS.) Below you will find a partial calendar containing the end of April and the begining of May, 2003. Normally, only weekends are off (these days are indicated in red).

cal-1

Now, since there is a “week-long” vacation every May (always beginning on the 1st), a Westerner would rationally expect the following (days off again indicated in red):

cal-2

Imagine the Westerner’s dismay, then, upon learning that in China, the above calendar can exist only in his fantasies. The actual calendar (copied from my school’s 2002-2003 academic calendar, in fact) looks like this:

cal-3

Inspect it carefully, now. You’ll notice that your Western God-given Sunday, April 27th and Saturday, May 10th rest days have been senselessly revoked. Must be a mistake, right? A misprint for sure. (Clearly, you’re new here.) So you go to a Chinese co-worker or boss-type and inquire about the mysterious missing weekend days. This person nonchalantly replies, “Oh yeah, we have to work those days. Because of the vacation.” Not comprehending such nonsense, you press for clarification. “Well, we have a week of vacation, so we have to make up for it,” the person explains. But that’s a weekend! you reply. We don’t work on weekends! “Yes, but we have a week of vacation, so we have to make it up,” the Chinese person calmly replies, and goes back to work. After having several more carbon copy conversations, the facts are clear. You do have to work that Saturday and Sunday. Somehow those two weekend days are crucial compensation for the 7 days “off.”

I’ve been in China almost three years now, and it wasn’t until this year that I finally understood it. That’s not to say I agree with it, mind you, but I understand it (in much the same way that we can understand the ancient Greeks’ logic behind explaining lightning as Zeus throwing down thunderbolts to smite the naughty). I should tell how my epiphany came about.

At the end of April, a SARS meeting was held at my school. We were informed that we would not get the customary May vacation this year due to SARS. We were also reassured that since we were losing the vacation, we would end the semester early so that we wouldn’t actually be working any extra. OK, so far so good. Well, in planning my forthcoming trip to Australia at the end of this semester, the school questioned my departure date. Wasn’t that a little too early? I had classes, finals, and grades to finish. I smugly reminded them that we got to end a week earlier this semester because we had missed out on our May vacation. The response? But we only end three days early because of that.

Three days early?! Oh yes, I could feel the anger rising. We were promised (by the school president, no less) that the vacation time would be made up at the end of the semester. The explanation that was to follow made no sense to me at the time, but I didn’t really care. I was going to end my semester a week early whether they liked it or not. A few days later I finally got it when my tutor explained it to me in a way that made sense.

It goes like this. The “week off” is not actually completely given. It’s partially a rearrangement of weekend days off. The Communist government, in its benevolence, is only actually giving three days off. (Come on, now, don’t be greedy! You didn’t see Mao taking it easy on the Long March, now, did you?)

cal-4

What about May 6th and 7th then?

cal-5

Well, that’s where the creative rearrangement of the “gift” of weekend days off comes in. Those days are pillaged from the surrounding weekends:

cal-6

Now you can see where the “three day” notion came from. But it still doesn’t really make any sense. There are still so many questions. For example…

> Q. Since the school week is 5 days long, and there are different classes on each day on both teachers’ and students’ schedules, what classes are held on the weekend “make-up days”?

> A. Well, since those work days were originally May 6th and 7th, you can follow the schedule for May 6th and 7th, respectively.

> Q. OK, great. That means out of one week “off,” two days are made up. How about the rest?

> A. Well, those are vacation days.

> Q. So when are they made up?

> A. They aren’t. They’re real vacation days.

> Q. But what if I teach the same class on both Wednesday and Thursday? Then one is made up and the other isn’t?

> A. Correct.

> Q. But then that means one of my classes gets an extra class, and puts those students ahead of the students in the other class. How do I account for that discrepancy?

> A. Well, just don’t teach anything important in the make-up class.

> Q. I don’t teach unimportant things in class! That’s not my job! Why don’t we just cancel the weekend make-up classes, then, if it’s all going to be unimportant content anyway?

> A. No, we can’t do that.

> Q. Why not??

> A. Because we have to make up the days we’re given for the vacation….

You get the idea. It’s pretty infuriating. I usually get out of the weekend classes anyhow. The really ironic part is that even though a “we must work hard” Communist work ethic reason is given for why vacation days need to be made up, the whole reason for the “week off” is purely capitalist. The week off is to encourage travel and spending, pumping big money into China’s tourism industry. That’s not a secret at all. The sad part is that the real workers — food servers, street sweepers, cab drivers, shopkeepers — get no vacation at all. They (or the business they represent) depend upon the revenue that they can earn during the vacation.

So there you have it. Vacation Absurdity. The October vacation works the same way as the May vacation.

cal-3

That’s China. (But my classes end a whole week early this semester. Just because I’ve been in China for three years doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what a vacation really is!)


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.


18

May 2003

For many complicated reasons

For many complicated reasons that it’s best to leave him to explain, Wilson recently decided to go back to California and stay there for the rest of the year. He might come back in 2004. Who knows. He drove off today (Monday) at 9:30am in a taxi along with all the material possessions from China that he wanted to keep.

Even though he originally planned on staying only one year and he’s already finishing up his third semester, I didn’t think Wilson would really leave China. His presence has drastically changed my life here, and it’s hard to accept that that era is suddenly coming to an end. Reflecting upon this, I realize that Wilson’s presence clearly delineates the three parts of my stay in China:

1. The Self-Study Era (Pre-Wilson) (Aug 2000 – Feb 2002)

– Lived with Siyuan off campus for most of it, taught full-time
– My life was characterized by intense self-study of Chinese and Chinese practice
– Rapid progress in Chinese
– Not too much dating, partying, drinking, or associating with other foreigners
– Very few foreign teachers at ZUCC; no real “community” to speak of

2. The Golden Era (Wilson) (Feb 2002 – May 2003)

– Lived alone on campus, taught full-time
– Chinese study experienced a slow-down, socializing increased
– Progress in Chinese slowed
– More dating, partying, drinking, socializing with foreigners
– The foreign teacher community at ZUCC was really born and blossomed
SARS marked its end

3. The Formal Study Era (Post-Wilson) (May 2003 – June 2004?)

– Expect to live alone on campus, teaching part-time
– Will be studying Chinese full-time as a foreign student at Zhejiang University
– I expect another boost in Chinese progress, vaulting well into “advanced Chinese”
– Dating, partying, drinking, and socializing with foreigners will certainly continue, but I’ll be busier
– The foreign teacher community will continue to rock on, but it will surely never be the same without Wilson’s socially catalytic presence

Certainly, Wilson’s effect on my life here was great, but it wasn’t strictly cause-effect. I didn’t study less or party more solely because Wilson was here; I put in a year and a half of hard study, and I was ready to coast for a little while on the fruits of my labor. This just happened to coincide with Wilson’s arrival. And it wasn’t that Wilson was the party animal — the sole reason the social scene picked up here. Sure, he’s a very social guy and added tremendously to the atmosphere, but when a group of friends gets along so well, the partying tends to follow naturally. Of course, Wilson was right in the middle of it, keeping it all flowing to the beat of his SF Deep House tracks.

I’m helping Wilson distribute to friends some of the stuff he couldn’t take with him. After he left, I went down to start clearing some of that stuff out. It was strange, seeing that place almost empty, when just a week ago it was oozing life and personality, exuding Wilson. It’s been more than two hours since the taxi drove off, but it hasn’t hit me that he’s gone. I expect it’ll sink in before the week is up.

ZUCC will not be the same. I guess I’d be more depressed if I weren’t sure if I’d ever see him again, but we’re meeting up in Brisbane, Australia next month. Besides, while it’s true that some people come and go in our lives, sometimes you just know when friends have become permanent.


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.


07

May 2003

Yang Rui and Dialogue

Some people say there are no certainties in life, but those people would probably admit that there are certainly very high likelihoods. For example, if you turn on the TV in China, there is a very likelihood that you’ll be tuning in to crap. Still, raised on television as we are, foreigners in China will at times find themselves watching anyway. Whether we do it “to get a feel for the propaganda machine,” or out of some kind of sick masochistic pleasure, or simply because we’re starving for a little mindless TV action, we do watch broadcast TV from time to time. I very rarely watch TV in China (or in the U.S.), but for some reason I turned on the TV while I was eating lunch in my apartment today. I actually saw something rather interesting.

Yang Rui, anchor of CCTV's DIALOGUE

Yang Rui

The show that caught my attention was CCTV’s Dialogue. This show is infamous among expats in China because it’s so often so bad. The show is in English, and often it’s a number of Chinese people discussing some serious issue in English (which is kind of weird). There are also foreign guests at times, and if the topic is a controversial one in which the foreigner represents an opposing viewpoint, the host, Yang Rui, can be extremely smug and downright condescending.

What was interesting about today’s show was the guest, Jing Jun, a Chinese professor of sociology from Qinghua University. That he was educated in the United States was made clear by Jing Jun’s fluent English. (The same cannot be said for Yang Rui.) The topic was, of course, SARS. This time the angle was “the sociological implications of SARS.” What impressed me was the frankness with which Jing Jun discussed Beijing’s handling of SARS, even on CCTV, the national television station. Jing Jun stated in no uncertain terms that Beijing lied to the people and tried to cover up SARS cases in the beginning, and was only forced to come out with the truth when the lies became too apparent to the people. This is certainly no secret to anyone (the Chinese people not excluded), but I found it impressive that such a view would be expressed from such an obviously well-educated Qinghua University professor on the national television station. After Jing Jun expressed this opinion, Yang Rui quickly changed the topic. During the interview, Jing Jun also expressed the realistic view that SARS could be controlled, but was not going to go away anytime soon.

A lot of these Dialogue transcripts are available online. In doing a little research, I came across this transcript, an interview with a professor named Wu Qing on political participation in China. I found the transcript amusing, but also very interesting. It’s not long, so I recommend you read it in full, but but here are are two excerpts:

> Y: We know that the people’s deputy ID card is a symbol of a deputy’s responsibility and power, have you ever used yours in a practical situation?

> W: Yes, one example is that I used my card to stop a car that belonged to a high-ranking army officer. The car was driving into the bicycle lane at the time. Seeing that, I used my bicycle to stop the car because I felt I had the responsibility to protect ordinary citizens. So I produced my deputy ID card and said to the driver that he should stop and back out of the lane because the lane is for cyclists. And then this driver, a young man, got out of the car and swore at me, “Are you asking for trouble or what, old woman?” Later I filed a formal complaint in which I noted down the plate number of the car and described what had happened. About a month after that I got a phone call from an army officer, presumably the owner of the car. He said he wanted to come over to apologize and he did. And then two weeks later I got a call from that driver. He came over and pleaded with me to remove that line of his swearing from my complaint saying that otherwise he would have to leave the army and go back to where he came from. I told him, “Well, young man, I can’t do that, it’s not right for you to ask me to remove that line for that would mean I was slandering you.” But I did write a letter to that officer saying that I hope this young man would not be demoted from the army as a punishment. Young people sometimes make mistakes and they need a chance to correct their mistakes.

….

> Y: Some people think American democracy is closest to what democracy really means. Do you agree? Do you think we should follow the American style of democracy?

> W: I don’t really think so. Ten people might have ten different definitions of democracy. Each country has its own culture and history. We Chinese have our own idea of freedom and democracy, and Americans have theirs. Each has some problems. That’s why we always have to improve.


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.


23

Apr 2003

Nongfu Guoyuan

Nongfu GuoyuanSo what are the latest crazes sweeping China? Well, of course, these days SARS panic has superseded all. I remember just a week ago, though, when SARS was still a pretty distant threat. At that time instead of buying face masks, everyone was buying a brand new drink called Nongfu Guoyuan, or Farmer’s Orchard. At most places you can buy the regular 600 mL (20 oz.) size for 3.5 rmb (US$0.42), or the same size with a flip-top lid for 3.8 rmb (US$0.46).

So what’s special about this drink? Well, first, it boasts at least 30% fruit juice. This might not seem like a whole lot to you, but it’s impressive to anyone who’s ever been in China for any length of time and naively bought “fruit juice” only to receive some watered down, sugary, “fruit-like” concoction with only 10% real fruit juice, if that. 30% sets a new standard, and people are responding. Second, the drink is really good! It tastes like real fruit juice! I’ve been drinking it a lot lately, even though it’s a bit more expensive than similar drinks, which tend to be in the 1-2 rmb range.

The only downside is that the drink is undeniably a shameless V8 Splash ripoff. The package design, the size, the taste, the fruit juice blend (how many fruit drinks include carrot juice??), the way that it is marketed as a healthy drink, the fact that it needs to be shaken before drinking…. Still, it’s good. I will keep drinking it.

Nongfu Guoyuan & V8 Splash