Tag: society


13

Oct 2005

Offensive Laowai T-shirts

Chinawhite recently linked to some t-shirts for laowai in China.

Some of the shirts are mildly amusing. I wouldn’t wear any of them. The shirts feature such phrases (in Chinese) as:

– Here comes a laowai. There goes the laowai.
– Too expensive!
– I’m not a laowai, I’m a “foreigner.” [more on this issue] – I don’t want a watch. I don’t want DVDs. I don’t want a bag.
– I will never give you any money. [in weird grammar] – Don’t think that just because I’m a foreigner I’ll buy your stuff for 5 times the normal price.

I don’t find the shirts themselves very interesting, although I certainly understand the “inspiration” behind the shirts. What is interesting is the Chinese reaction to the shirts. There’s a fairly famous example of a foreigner causing a bit of a ruckus in Nanjing with a t-shirt listing rules for how the Chinese should interact with a foreigner. In that case “the people of Nanjing were angered because, reading between the lines of the T-shirt message, they saw a message of unwarranted arrogance and white supremacy. ” Obviously the messages above have the potential to piss off the Chinese as well.

I’m not one to wear t-shirts designed to provoke anger or outrage. Still, if you want to buy one of those shirts (mainly one of the latter three) and wear it around China, I’d be very interested to hear what kind of reaction you got.

Note: I have already posted an entry about this entitled 老外的T袖衫 in my Chinese blog, asking my Chinese readers what they think. I may write a future post about their responses.


19

Sep 2005

Transnational Life

From Ape Rifle:

> I guess that is one of the biggest downfalls of the transnational life: you meet amazing people, only to let them go as we all drift back to our respective countries or chosen corners of the world. This will be my fourth consecutive year of goodbyes, and I think that emotionally I’m getting rather tired of it. Could it be time to settle down somewhere for real? Do I need to stop being such a goddamned drifter, and realize that I can’t keeping hopping around the globe leading a disposable life without suffering the consequences once the glory of youth starts to fade?

I really identify with Patrick’s feelings.


04

Aug 2005

Locking Up My Bike

When I bought my new bike, at the forefront of my mind was “this is so going to get stolen.” Bike theft is so common here that my roommate Lenny tells me he thinks of bikes as a disposable product. I think of it more like gambling. But in this game, “winning” means having your bike stolen, and the more you gamble, the higher chances you have of winning. For this reason I always go with as cheap a bike as I can find. It just has to be fully functional and big enough for me to ride. (If I weren’t so tall, I could find bikes for much cheaper.)

When I got my new bike, I also bought bike locks. I wasn’t sure which kind to buy… I know that some of them are incredibly easy to break. The U-locks for instance, can be opened with a ballpoint pen, I understand. Not cool. No U-lock for me. So which lock is good?

The clerk was amazingly useless. She just kept recommending the expensive ones, and she couldn’t even tell me why they were better. The one that was supposedly “best” was a thick chain lock. In Hanghzou I used to rely totally on the kind of lock that is attached to the back wheel and I never once had my bike stolen. So I bought one of each of those locks. Two locks.

When it came time to park, I realized one reason why bike theft is so common in China. When I used to bike all around the campus of the University of Florida, there were bike racks everywhere. Really sturdy metal frames, set in the ground with concrete. You felt pretty secure when you locked the frame of your bike to one of those. But bike racks are relatively rare here in Shanghai. So I’m finding the chain lock I bought to be of very limited value.

One thing a lot of people do is take their bike into their building and up the elevator. Then they either keep it in the hall by their apartment door, or they actually keep it in their apartment. I don’t like that method at all. Bikes should be kept outside, thieves or no.

bike locks

My apartment complex has this underground parking garage/mosquito farm. I’m not sure how safe it keeps my bike, but it seems safe. In addition, there are locks set in the ground that can lock your bike wheel securely to the ground (above). You have to pay if you want a key to one of those “ground locks,” though.

Left Note

I noticed that a lot of them are unused. I also saw that one other biker used a chain lock to lock his bike securely to one of the empty ground locks. I decided that was a good idea, so I did that too. When I returned to my bike a day or two later, I found this hand-written note on my bike (left).

Without even reading the note, I knew why I had gotten it. But, dilligent student of Chinese that I am, I wanted to know exactly what the note said. Did it threaten me with something, or what? The handwriting was really hard for me to make out, however. I found that I could only decipher about half of it on my own. I enlisted my girlfriend’s help, and it actually took some effort for her to decipher every character.

Can you read it? Take the challenge!

When you’re ready for the answer, drag your cursor from one bracket to the other: [ 如需要 / 地桩锁 / 请到物 / 业申请! / 不要占用 / 别人的地 / 桩锁!!! ]

In English it basically means, “If you need a ground lock, please apply at the office! Do not occupy other people’s ground locks!!!”

I found a thick metal pipe I can lock my bike to instead. Let’s see how long I can keep this bike.


19

Apr 2005

Chinese ID Cards

Pretty much every Chinese person has a government-issued ID card (身份证). They serve the roles of American social security cards (and sometimes driver’s licenses, for non-driving-related ID purposes). These ID cards are necessary for all kinds of everyday procedures and thus indispensible in daily Chinese life, although in some cases the ID number on the card is all that is needed.

Recently I became interested in the structure of the ID numbers on these cards. I was trying to sign up with an online Chinese bulletin board. I ran into a problem, however, because a Chinese ID number was a mandatory part of registration. I wondered: did the number really need to be valid? Was this important?

I googled 身份证 to determine the appropriate number of digits, and then entered a random number. My application was denied. Invalid ID number. Ah, so they won’t take just any old number.

But, I reasoned, they couldn’t possibly be checking the number I input with a central database of the ID numbers of all Chinese citizens, now, could they? I figured the ID number had information encoded in it, which was checked against the other registration information I provided in my application (such as date of birth).

I googled for an image of a 身份证 and found one. Some basic analysis was all that was required to invent an ID number that the automatic form would accept. Soon after, however, I decided that an account involving a fraudulent ID number could possibly get me into real trouble, and I cancelled my application.

Just recently I came across a related entry on the excellent Chinese blog GiE: 身份证号都代表什么意思? (what do the digits of an ID number mean?). Here’s a simple summary of the information provided on GiE in Chinese:

– Chinese ID numbers are arranged left to right, composed of 17 ID digits plus 1 validation digit, for a total of 18 digits.
– The first 6 digits are the address code of the owner’s place of legal residence.
– The next 8 digits are the owner’s birthdate: year (4), month (2), day (2).
– The next 3 digits are a “sequential code” for distinguishing people of identical birthdate and birthplace. Odd numbers for males, even numbers for females.
– The final validation digit is based on a formula which, quite honestly, I don’t understand at all. (If you can read the original Chinese and explain it, I’d be very interested.)

The above system applies to new (since 2000, maybe?) 身份证. In the examples below, you can see some changes over the years:

Issued in 1994. Old-style, only 15 digits.
Issued in 1995, but with a typo in the date. Old-style, digits obscured.
Issued in 1998. Old-style, 15 digits.
Issued in 2001. Old-style, 18 digits.
Issued in 2002. Old-style, 18 digits.
Issued post-2000? Old-style and new-style side by side, digits obscured.
Issued in 2004. New-style, front and back shown, 18 digits.
Issued post-2000? New-style, digits not visible.

You’ll also notice on these ID cards that 民族 (ethnic group) is listed on the card. Most Chinese people are Han Chinese (). You may notice that in the examples above, the last guy is not (although you wouldn’t know looking at him).

I’ve always thought it would be funny to get a fake Chinese ID card (these are easy to acquire, I understand) with my real picture and Chinese name on it, that said I was 汉族 (Han Chinese). But then I doubt the PSB have much of a sense of humor about that kind of thing, so I never went through with it.

Note: I wondered briefly if it was kosher to write about this kind of thing online, but the blog entry on GiE that I linked to was public and written in Chinese, and all the 身份证 pictures I linked to were found through Baidu Image Search, which is known to wholly comply with the Chinese government.


05

Jan 2005

2004's Top Chinese Search Results

Google may be the search engine of the West, but in China it’s still trailing one called Baidu (百度). The name means “one hundred degrees.” I hear Baidu is so popular in China that the word 百度 is starting to be used as a verb in Chinese just like we now say “Google it” in English.

Baidu recently published its list of top 10 searches of 2004, and organized the data in such a way as to actually make it interesting reading. The results are really very illuminating (if you trust internet search results to reveal anything real about a culture). Readers of Chinese, I recommend you look at the original. For everyone else, here’s my select translation:

Top 10 Search Terms:

  1. MP3
  2. Pao Pao Tang (an online game: 泡泡堂)
  3. Dao Lang (a singer: 刀郎)
  4. QQ (China’s most popular IM software)
  5. BT (abbreviation for BitTorrent)
  6. “Mice Love Rice” (a song: 《老鼠爱大米》)
  7. Guo Jingjing (Olympic gold medalist 郭晶晶)
  8. House of Flying Daggers (movie: 《十面埋伏》)
  9. A Chinese-style Divorce (a TV series: 《中国式离婚》)
  10. “The Legend of Little Bing” (a novel: 《小兵传奇》)

Top 10 How To’s:

  1. How to kiss
  2. How to lose weight
  3. How to put on makeup
  4. How to use contraception
  5. How to write a thesis
  6. How to make a webpage
  7. How to protect the environment
  8. How to get pregnant
  9. How to face difficulties
  10. How to make money

Top 10 Why’s:

  1. Why am I always the one that gets hurt?
  2. Why join the Party?
  3. Why live?
  4. Why are you having an affair?
  5. Why do we need to innovate?
  6. Why do we need to pay taxes?
  7. Why do we need to go to college?
  8. Why can’t I get online?
  9. Why do we need an education?
  10. Why do we need to learn English?

Top 10 What Is’s:

  1. What is love?
  2. What is health?
  3. What is a blog (博客)?
  4. What is a computer virus?
  5. What is e-commerce?
  6. What is cloning?
  7. What is nanotechnology (纳米[技术])?
  8. What are the ‘Three Represents’?
  9. What is BitTorrent?
  10. What is corporate culture?

The other top tens I didn’t translate are:

  • Top Ten MP3 Songs
  • Top Ten Sports Stars (Michael Jordan is still #3!)
  • Top Ten TV Series
  • Top Ten Movies
  • Top Ten Online Games
  • Top Ten Tourist Destinations
  • Top Ten Male Singers
  • Top Ten Female Singers
  • Top Ten Most Photographed Men
  • Top Ten Most Photographed Women
  • Top Ten Historical Figures
  • Top Ten Authors
  • Top Ten Cell Phones
  • Top Ten ‘Mosts’
  • Top Ten History of’s

I found this link via AKEM, a Chinese blogger who has quickly become one of my favorites. She’s a college student in Hangzhou, my original “Chinese home.” If you read her entry, you can see her commentary. She also links to Google’s 2004 Top Search Results, which is kind of interesting for comparison purposes. For one thing, Google’s list is a lot duller. There are no telling “why’s” or “how to’s” “what is’s,” which were the most interesting to read of Baidu’s lists. And Google’s top 5 search terms are all over-sexed female celebrities rather than four computer entertainment-related terms and a singer. Hmmm…


04

Mar 2004

Foreign Boyfriend, Chinese Parents

I normally am not very interested in reading Chinese online. I just really can’t get interested in a lot of what’s written about. Recently, though, I found something that caught my eye. The writer is a Chinese girl with a foreign boyfriend (who is also very coincidentally named John). When she told her parents about her boyfriend, they were less than supportive. Below is a translated excerpt from the original.

> Friday, I finally mustered enough courage to tell my mom: John is my boyfriend.

> My mom was shocked, this being totally out of her realm of expectations. Without thinking she responded, “No way! Absolutely not! Your dad and I do not approve!”

> Although I had already steeled myself for her response, I never expected her attitude to be so adamant. Worriedly I asked her, “Why?”

> “He’s a foreigner. Your life backgrounds are just too different. In the future how are we supposed to communicate with him?”

> “He’s studying Chinese, so you can speak to him in Mandarin,” I said.

> My mom went on for some time, almost in tears by the end, saying, “What would you have us tell our friends? You’re not a kid anymore, why can’t you just find a nice classmate? I’m begging you!”

> I couldn’t continue the conversation with her; her words had stung me. It was as if John was her sworn enemy, who wanted to steal me from their side, never to return again.

> My mom called my dad into the room, because ever since I was little I had always listened to him the most. My mom hoped he could persuade me. Dad was calm, hoping I could consider the matter practically.

> My dad said, “You haven’t been dating John for very long at all — how can you understand him? Other than what he’s told you, you have no way of knowing about his past or his family. Westerners are too independent. Your methods of solving various problems are going to be drastically different, and your lifestyles are different. A lot of this can’t be changed over a whole lifetime. He can’t stay in China his whole life; he’ll want to leave, and he can leave any time he pleases. Then what are you going to do? There’s a whole string of problems that are going to be very hard to solve.”

> My parents love me deeply, and I’m their only child. They have put their everything into raising me, keeping me from all harm. All their hopes lie in me, and I’ve always worked hard to perfect myself. Nevertheless, their brand of subtle affection can sometimes feel suffocating. It’s like I’ve broken free from the refuge of their embrace to go explore a strange and wondrous world. I’m not my parents’ property. I should have my own life.

What strikes me most about this story, which took place in northern China, is how completely different it is from my own experience. My girlfriend’s parents’ reaction to me was not even remotely similar. They have always been warm and friendly, and talk to me like I’m a normal Chinese person. My girlfriend’s dad loves having a few beers with me. My girlfriend’s mom makes mental notes about any food I particularly like or mention liking, and next time I go to their house for dinner, it’s on the menu. I could go on and on. While I can never know how my girlfriend’s parents really feel deep down, the evidence seems to indicate that their point of view on this matter is worlds apart from the parents of this writer.

All I’m trying to say here is:

1. China is such an incredibly varied place; you get all kinds of people with all kinds of life circumstances and outlooks.
2. Shanghai is a singular phenomenon in China. There is no city like it, for so many reasons.
3. I am really incredibly lucky.

[NOTE: This excerpt has been translated and published with permission from the author. I am grateful to her for allowing me to share such a personal experience with an English-reading audience.]


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.


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.


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.


16

Jan 2003

Sex in the Classroom

sex

The class I teach here in China is Spoken English. I am here this term to improve the spoken English of close to 300 Chinese college students. How does one accomplish that? Well, by making them talk (harder than you think). There are many ways to do this, of course, but at least something done in class has to result in grades given out, which can be very limiting. My semester plan centers around discussions. I won’t bore you with all the details at this moment, but the last discussion we had in class this semester was about sex. It may be regular fare in Wilson’s classes, but it’s the first time I’ve done something like that. After all, this is China.

The results were extremely educational — all around — and a resounding success, if I do say so myself.

A crucial element in my classes is student involvement and initiative, and this concept extends to the discussions. While I pick the topics, the students lead the discussions and think of the discussion questions themselves. I generally just sow a few seeds to give them ideas, and they take it from there. This method can have great results.

So what happened when the topic of SEX was unleashed in the classroom? Reactions spanned the whole spectrum, ranging from the nervous fidgets of students who were clearly uncomfortable with the topic and kind of wished it would go away to the antics of students who embraced the topic with gusto and took it much further than I expected.

It all begins with the questions. Some students were clearly uncomfortable with the topic, so I told them they were free to interpret the topic how they wanted — they could talk about AIDS issues, sex education issues, or gay rights issues rather than getting down and dirty with it. One guy was so uncomfortable with the whole thing that he interpreted “sex” to mean “gender,” and all his questions were lame gender-related questions (and yes, I admit that there are good gender-related questions, but he didn’t come up with any). The squeamish were definitely in the minority, however, which made me feel that I wasn’t doing the wrong thing. I was further removed from any blame by the fact that the students were the ones that actually came up with all the questions. I merely guided and moderated.

Image created by John Pasden (c) 2003.  Sources: confucius.org, some Japanese bikini site.

Anyway, there were some interesting questions. The few discussion leaders who dared ask who in the group had had sex before got no replies. The message was clear: making it too personal was not OK. In the beginning, “do you think sex before marriage is OK?” was one of the more risque questions that got answers (and yes, some students — both male and female — were publicly answering in the affirmative to that question). One question I heard a boy pose intensely to several girls had me really laughing: “All people have sexual desire. Do you??” Based on his logic, the girls couldn’t answer no, and they didn’t disagree anyway, but they still didn’t want to admit it. The students taught me what Confucius had to say on this matter: “食色性也” (shi se xing ye) — “Sex is part of human nature.” Plenty of students got into how they would react if they learned that a friend was gay. Toward the end of the discussion hour, I was shocked to hear that one group had even ventured into the subject of bestiality! Yes, Chinese students discussing bestiality in English in my classroom. Gotta love this job. They did it on their own, I swear!

Perhaps what made the discussion such a success was bringing role play into it. I gave people roles, such as “the promiscuous American” and “Mao Zedong.” I encouraged them to be outrageous by giving hypothetical examples of my own. “I’m a promiscuous American, and I think young people should be having sex every day with multiple partners” got uproarious laughter, and, incredibly, it actually spawned more of the same. I told my students that lying in a discussion is fine as long as they’re doing it in English. Evidently that was enough to get them to them to open up.

Towards the end of class, each group of students seemed much more at ease with the topic, and they were giving straight answers if I questioned them. One group of students was discussing sex among college students. “You mean a lot of college students are having sex in China?” I asked, feigning bewilderment. “Of course!” my student responded. “It’s an open secret.” I love that line, because it beautifully captures a truth about Chinese society in all its paradoxical glory. I couldn’t have put it better myself. I was so impressed that my student had accomplished it, in English no less.

So I was pleased with how that class went. A week, later, though, I was giving oral quizzes on discussion vocabulary we had covered in class. One of them was the term “gay,” intended for the sex discussion. I guess maybe the students got a little too comfortable in class — one of my students, given the word “gay” to make a sentence, promptly replied with, “John and Wilson are gay.”

Hmmm… It seems to me there was a time when the teachings of Confucius were a little more teacher-friendly….


02

Jan 2003

Poll Mania

As most of my readers know, a while back I had an idea about polling my students. The results have been posted here over the last few months. I also made polls into a class activity that I did with my English major students. It ended up being a great class activity. I had the students come up with their own “mini-polls” which were conducted in class with their classmates. I stressed that their questions should be interesting. I’m posting some of the results here, verbatim.

Format:
Poll results will follow the question, in parentheses and color-coded. “Yes” answers will always be first in blue, followed by “no” answers in red.

> Do you want to lead a rich boring life or a poor happy life? (3, 19)

> Do you like Chinese food or Western food? (21, 1)

> Which president do you think is better, Clinton or Bush? (22, 1)

> Do you like Chairman Mao or Deng Xiaoping? (3, 19)

> Which do you think is more important parents or lover? (23, 0)

> Which food do you prefer, KFC or McDonalds? (18, 4)

> Do you like becoming a famous person or a common person? (9, 13)

> Do you like the life at our campus? (7, 16)

> Do you think Zhou Enlai is a handsome man? (24, 0)

> If you can choose, do you like to be a great person or a common one? (12, 10)

> Do you agree that the college students marry when they are in school? (8, 15)

> Do you satisfy with your present life? (10, 12)

> Money or Friendship – which will you choose? (9, 14)

> Do you wash your teeth with cold water? (20, 8)

> Do you want your kid is a boy or a girl? (13, 12)

> If you have chance to go abroad which country will you choose, America or England? (14, 10)

> If you fall in love with your girl friend’s boyfriend, will you get him as your own boyfriend from your girl friend when the two are no longer in love? (12, 12)

> You have a favourite job but your parents ask you change another one they like. If you don’t follow them, they will be very sad. Do you follow them? (9, 15)

> If you own lots of money, you will use it up all by yourself, or present a great amount to poor people? (13, 13)

> Do you like to be a successful man who is respected by many people and has a lot of money, but only can live for 30 years? (12, 13)

> Do you want to marry a black strong boxing man/woman? (4, 20)

> Do you think Zhou Jielun will be popular for another long time? (11, 14)

> If you can choose, do you want to grow up or go back to your childhood? (16, 8)

> If you are a man, and you get into the women’s toilet, you will say sorry to the women or run away at once? (14, 11)

> If you fall in love with a person, but he is an alien, and he asks you to go with him to go back his planet, which will you choose, stay on earth or go with him? (12, 12)

> If you can choose, who would you like to be, a rich stupid man or a poor smart man? (6, 16)

> Would you live in the forest with your lover like primitive man for one year? (16, 8)

> Do you think it’s necessary to kill all the mice? [explanation here] (6, 19)

> Which marriage do you like? To marry a foreigner or a Chinese? (6, 19)

> Do you want to live once again? (13, 12)

> How often do you wash your hair? (every day – 2; 2 days – 18; 2+ days – 4)

> If you’re very tired of the life in the world, but still you’re young, which will you choose: kill yourself or go to temple as a monk/nun? (10, 15)

> Would you accept one of your friends is a bisexual? (11, 14)

> Do you want to have a boy/girlfriend on the campus? (16, 6)

> Which person do you want to marry: the person who loves you very much, or the person who you love very much? (18, 5)

> If you have a new family member, you like he/she older than you or younger than you? (17, 9)


22

Nov 2002

Women and Children

My blog entry entitled “Ghost Alien Love” got quite a few interesting comments related to love and women in China. I have also discussed love/women issues with my Thursday night advanced conversation class, and I learned a few interesting things about Chinese law and society:

1. It is illegal for a woman to have a baby out of wedlock in China. An unmarried woman is required by law to get an abortion if she somehow gets pregnant. (But that couldn’t happen in this conservative society, now could it?) Well, until recently… (see below)

2. If a married woman is pregnant, it is illegal for her husband to divorce her until well after the delivery.

3. If a married man is found to be cheating on his wife, and the wife doesn’t want a divorce, she can force him by law to give her monetary compensation for his infidelity. (Yeah, I’m sure that gets used a lot. No colossal loss of face for the woman or anything…)

Kinda crazy, eh? But there’s this new law in Jilin province (way up north) that allows unmarried women to have a baby through a legitimate fertilization clinic. I’m wondering why?? Is there a big demand for that up there?? And it’s not like this is a democracy, so even if there was a big demand, that doesn’t guarantee results in legislation. This is still a rather conservative society on the surface, so I find this bizarre. I couldn’t find any English news on this, but here’s a Chinese link if you can handle it: [Yahoo News China, Nov. 11, 2002].

As crazy as I thought all this was, though, a Chinese friend recently told me about a female cousin in Shanghai, late twenties, who wants to have a baby on her own. And get this: not the Jilin way. She’s out looking for “Mr. Right” to do the deed and plant the seed, and then she’ll just raise the baby on her own! You may not find that outrageous, but you have to realize that an illegitimate child in China has a hard life. They can’t be properly “registered,” and so aren’t eligible for schooling. There are all kinds of headaches. Not something you choose, if you can help it.

But hey, this is China. It’s changing fast.



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