We were at the office today during Typhoon Day (hey, the last one was a total false alarm!), and one of my employees was late because the subway was running extra slow during the typhoon. She handed me this 致歉信 (letter of apology):
This was interesting to me, because I’d never seen something like this before. It’s pretty standard at many Chinese companies to require an official doctor’s note if you ever call in sick. But I wasn’t aware that there was a way to make the old “subway breakdown” excuse official. (Note that there is a serial number, a date stamp, and a hotline to call for verification. Super official!)
From a pragmatics standpoint, it’s interesting to me that it’s called a “Letter of Apology” when it’s clearly meant as an official form of “work tardiness excuse validation.” Now, if there were only a “my bus was late” letter of apology, we’d really be in business…
Tonight I went out to pick up a few items. I wanted to get some drinks and a bug zapper light. (Summer is slowly seeping into Shanghai in all its steamy unpleasantness, and with it comes the skeeters.)
The grocery store was already closed, so I turned to one of the little hardware/general shops that line the road.
> Me: 有杀蚊子的灯吗？ (Do you have lights that kills mosquitoes?)
The word doesn’t have the refined feel of the word for mosquito coil, 蚊香 [literally, “mosquito incense”], but at at least it’s easy to understand. Literally, 灭蚊灯 means “extinguish mosquitoes light.”
So I didn’t get my bug zapper light, but I got a new word. Armed with the new vocabulary, I quickly asked three other shops. None of them had any “extinguish mosquitoes lights” either. I failed my mission, but I had a new word cemented in my memory.
It made me nostalgic… I used to learn so many new vocabulary words that way, but I only just realized how long it’s been. Carrefour just isn’t as fun.
Note: If you’re reading this via RSS feed, then my experimental “fuzzy response” CSS effect (on the shopkeeper’s initial reply) probably didn’t carry over. Visit the site to see what you’re supposed to.
A: They all have the Chinese name 黄雪, which in English means “Yellow Snow.” (Comedic gold, this is!) The surname Huang is fairly common, and it’s not unusual for girls’ names to include the character 雪.
If you want to see more Chinese yellow snow, you can do a Baidu search for 黄雪. Unfortunately, the term more often seems to refer to snow in northern China (and Korea) that mixes with the yellow dust. Not as funny.
Thanks to John B for bringing this Chinese name to my attention!
Yesterday as I rode in a taxi through Xujiahui I was glad that I was not one of the many people trying in vain to hail a cab. It can be extremely hard to find a taxi when it rains. Sometimes it’s completely impossible.
A thought struck me, so I asked the driver:
> Me: Master*, do you like rainy days better or non-rainy days better? On rainy days you get more business, right?
> Driver: With traffic like this, the rain doesn’t do that much for business. I can only get a few fares anyway, with all the traffic I have to sit in.
> Me: Well what about rainy days when the traffic isn’t bad?
> Driver: The traffic’s bad even when it doesn’t rain. When it rains it’s even worse.
> Me: Well what about late at night when it rains?
> Driver: Yeah, I guess business is a little better than usual then.
> * In China, drivers (and many other blue collar workers) are addressed as shifu, which is the same way students address their kung fu masters. I always get a little kick out of calling a taxi driver or a plumber a word that can be translated as “master.”
The typhoon is upon us here in Shanghai. What an auspicious sign for my first week of classes. This week I don’t actually have my first class until Thursday, though.
The typhoon passed through Shanghai over a week ago, leaving behind lots of water and more than a few toppled trees. Fortunately, it also left a few of us with some great photographs. Check out Shanghai Sky‘s typhoon set on Flickr: Train Station. (Hey, better late than never, right??)
> head like an empty sterile room, somehow I made a mess like watching newborn babies crack from work-related stress -Alkaline Trio, “I lied my face off”
Well, it’s the beginning of the semester, a fresh start. New students, new teachers, new lesson plans… Somehow it all seems a little “messy” though. I wonder if it’s because of the constant rain. We actually had nice weather today, but that’s a rarity. The other day I accidentally said “rain forecast” instead of “weather forecast.” Hangzhou winters are like this. Lots of time spent indoors. I’m looking forward to the spring…
Lately I can’t stop listening to this song. This one and this one aren’t bad either. I’m not exposed to a lot of new music these days, so when I find something new I like, I’m all over it. I have access to internet radio, but it usually spews the same garbage across the internet as it does across the airwaves at home. I’m happy I found Dashnine Radio. Rarely have I found a station that plays so much stuff I like. Atom and His Package, Screeching Weasel, and The Transplants, all on the same station? I’m there.
[Note: These MP3’s will be online for a limited time only, so if the links have gone dead, that’s why. To see what music I’ve got online at any given time, go to www.sinosplice.com/music/.]
Not long ago I had an IM conversation with Alf. He’s teaching in Xinxiang, and he clearly does not have a foreign teacher community over there like I now have here. He mentioned that his friends that read his blog say that his blog is mostly just a bunch of complaints. We talked a bunch about those complaints. I post occasional complaints, but I haven’t posted many lately. I think having complaints is a natural part of living in a foreign society. I think I need to unload a few more.
First is the toilets here. The toilets ZUCC gives its foreign teachers are horrible. Yes, they are Western style. That’s not the problem. One problem is that the seat is attached with these shoddy plastic screws that break after about 4.6 seconds of actual use, resulting in a toilet seat that slides around instead of remaining respectfully fixed in place. But the real problem is the flushing. These toilets are not so good at it. There’s just no power behind the flush. It’s maddening. I feel blessed and lucky if I can go number 2 without having a big long plunge session afterwards. It wasn’t like this at first. It used to be OK (but never good), and the problem seems to have worsened over time. Now I’m plunging practically every day! I’m a teacher, dammit, not a janitor! (I would include a pic of this “toilet of the damned,” but my latest plunging efforts were a failure. I’m currently taking a break before tackling the problem with renewed vigor, and in the meantime you really do not want to see a picture of that…)
Last month the school held a special feedback session, allowing the foreign teachers to share their ideas and complaints with various departments of the school. I took it upon myself to bring up the toilet issue. They said they would handle it. Last Friday some guys came to take care of it, but after inspecting for a while they said they couldn’t do anything, that the toilets were just like that. Horrible quality. I say the school owes it to us to replace the hellspawn toilets with toilets with actual flush power. As newly appointed “foreign teacher liaison” for next semester, this will be one of the biggest items on my agenda. It will be my personal crusade. I will be the perpetual thorn in their side, quietly whispering “give us good toilets” until they either comply or go insane. I will triumph in the end.
So it’s winter now. In Hangzhou, that means it’s cold and wet. Of course, it’s not Harbin cold or anything, but many houses here don’t have heating. Also, although it rarely snows in Hangzhou, it’s so humid here that the cold penetrates. To make matters worse, a lot of Chinese people even leave the windows open in the dead of winter for “fresh” air. So how do they keep warm? They don’t. They bundle up inside as well as outside. It’s pretty horrific from a Western perspective. Fortunately, we foreign teachers have heating in our apartments, but it’s not central heating. Also, buildings are not insulated here, and leaks around windows and doors are not properly sealed. Warm air quickly leaks out if the heater is not run continuously. The Chinese way of just bundling up inside starts to make a little more sense. But we foreigners are, of course, fighting the good fight and blasting that heat for the cold nights. When you come home to a cold house and crank up the heat, it starts pouring out, but obviously, hot air rises. So as I wait for the room to heat up, I often find myself sitting at the computer, feeling the effects of an upper layer of warm air slowly pushing downward, displacing the cold air throughout the room. First my head is warm while the rest of me is still quite cold, and the border gradually moves down my torso as the rooms heats up. At first a big bedroom with a high celing seems like a great thing, but in the winter the drawbacks become chillingly apparent.
I now have a new weapon in my arsenal to combat winter here. Wilson and I recently bought heating lamps (yu ba in Chinese) for our bathroom. They pulled the ventilation fans and installed the heat lamps (which also have a built-in fan behind the heat lamp bulbs). Heat never really seems to make it into the bathroom in the winter, so these heat lamps feel like an amazing luxury.
Why can’t I access Yahoo Mail anymore? I don’t know. Even when I use a proxy server, about half the time I click on anything it can’t find the page and I have to reload. It’s really annoying. Pretty much at exactly the time this started happening, I switched over to using Outlook (I don’t like Microsoft domination, but it at least has good Asian language support, so I must succumb at last…). I randomly get these weird errors when I use Outlook. Some error with the POP connection. It’s all in Chinese and I hate it.
It’s 2002, and I’m 24. I think this is the year my metabolism finally quit. I seem to have lost the ability to eat continuously without a second’s thought of any possible consequences. I’m not as skinny as I was, and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason for it. I definitely need to exercise more, though.
Note: “Whinge” is an Australian word that means “complain.”
I’m a little late in reporting it, but autumn has definitely arrived in Hangzhou, and we’re enjoying the great weather. As you can see, there are indesputable signs that fall has arrived. Even the 10rmb midget potted tree on top of my refrigerator is behaving accordingly. So we’re desperately soaking up this beautiful but ephemeral weather. It’ll be dreary rainy cold before long.
So about the vacation to Zhou Shan/Putuo Shan… Our group had about 14 people in it. 5 Americans (I was the only non-Chinese American of that group), 2 Kiwis, 1 Scot, 3 Japanese, and 3 Chinese (including our driver). Plus there was Bob, our tour guide in Zhoushan. He didn’t even know his name was Bob, but it was. So decreed Helene. I don’t think the driver knew his name was Joe, either, for similar reasons.
We had our own private minibus, and we drove all morning (leaving around 6:30am!) to get across on the ferry to Zhoushan at around noon. Then we met up with Bob and ate. We soon learned that in Zhoushan you eat a LOT of seafood. Every meal. Fortunately, it was good stuff. Probably the best shrimp and fish I’ve had in China. Way better than Wenzhou. Then we checked into our hotel, which was right on the sea in an area called Shen Jia Men, and it was off to the Sand Sculpture Festival.
I was annoyed at Bob at the beginning of the trip because he would speak to me like I was retarded, speaking really slowly and exaggerating pronunciation, all the while gesticulating to get his point across. He even said to me at one point, “We can even communicate, if I speak really simply.” I wanted to smack him. You can’t stay mad at Bob, though. He’s a good guy at heart. Toward the end of the trip he was speaking more normally to me.
We were kind of disappointed when we first got to the Sand Sculpture Festival, because there were tons of people there, all seated around a distant stage. Where were the sand sculptures?? We figured out pretty quick that what was going on onstage was just typical China singing/dancing entertainment–the kind of thing that’s on TV in China all the time–and nothing that really interested us. So we migrated over to the actual sculptures. They were pretty massive, and amazing. Check out my pics.
That night we went to the seaside outdoor restaurant. It was within walking distance from our hotel, and the cook tents and tables seemed to go on forever. There was some weird food there (stewed barnacles, anyone?), but good shrimp and fish, too.
The next day we did Putuo Shan, which was sort of a bunch of temple-type stuff, all on the sea. It was nice. Huge Buddha statue and all. I can’t get too excited about this kind of thing anymore, because I’ve seen too many places like it in China. But the seaside part added something.
One of the temples was selling Xian Shui — “mystical water” — for 1rmb ($0.125) per cup. Lots of people were buying it and drinking it. I overheard another guy telling someone it was clean, safe to drink. I bought some and tried it. Tasted OK. I got Chen Yao, our trip coordinator to try it, against her better judgment. Then we met up with Bob, and he promptly informed us that “mystical water” gives you diarrhea if you drink it. Great. If that’s the “mystical” part, then a whole lot of food in China is mystical! Fortunately no one drank more than a few sips.
The trip home was looong… There was a huge traffic jam getting onto the ferry. Everyone was trying to get back. Putuo Shan is a famous vacation spot. Somehow the Chinese people on our bus convinced the police to let us go straight to the front of all the backup just because we had foreigners onboard. Amazing. We wouldn’t have made it out of there that evening if not for that trick. We somehow made it back to ZUCC that night around 11pm, pretty much on schedule, even dropping Vivienne off in Shaoxing on the way. After two packed days of travel, we were all exhausted.
It’s been raining for days. That’s one of the drawbacks of living here in Hangzhou — the weather is not always great. There are times in the fall and spring when it rains for weeks, practically nonstop. Well, no sunshine anyway. That can really get you down. Fortunately, for the past 2 weeks or so I’ve been really busy trying to get my site finished, and now all the guys here are getting (back) into Starcraft, so we have stuff to do indoors. Now if only they didn’t kick us out of the office at 10pm every night…