It’s hard to believe that last year at this time I was arriving home in Florida for a surprise visit. Prior to last Christmas, I had been in China two Christmases in a row. Yet this year I feel more divorced from this “Christmas” thing than ever before. This year Christmas is just that Western holiday between the HSK and my move to Shanghai.
Speaking of the HSK, I think I did “OK.” I think I’m borderline between 7 and 8. Maybe it was unrealistic to expect to be able to learn enough vocabulary in one semester to get an 8 when I don’t read literary Chinese all that often at all. In any case, I’m not getting my hopes up too high for that 8.
So now I have that huge HSK weight off my shoulders, and a whole three days between today and Christmas. But I have to give my students final exams those three days.
We have a pretty decent-sized foreign teacher community here at ZUCC, but I don’t think any of the younger crowd is celebrating Christmas in any Christmassy way. No Christmas trees, no Christmas lights, no Christmas songs, no gift exchange. And there’s sure as hell no eggnog. There’s Christmas mass even in Hangzhou, but it just doesn’t feel the same.
I might even run off to Shanghai on Christmas Day to check out my new apartment there*. My girlfriend’s mom is awesome — she found me a killer pad at an amazing price (and she also knit me a cool cap). But I have to go hurry and check it out to close the deal. As chance would have it, Christmas also happens to be one of the few days my girlfriend isn’t working. So that’s that.
The thing is, I’m not really bummed about any of this. China does not really have Christmas, it just has enough little reminders everywhere to alert you to the fact that Christmas really is going on again elsewhere in the world. So my co-workers’ attitudes, rather than seeming all bah-humbuggy to me, seem perfectly natural. Enlightened, even. Why bother to celebrate Christmas?
I guess to me, Christmas is something that happens at home. And when it happens at home and I’m actually there for it, like last year, it’s just all the more special.
So does the fact that I’m fine with there being no Christmas for me here in China mean I’m more adapted to China? Does it mean China has really become a second home for me? Or am I becoming a soulless Scrooge?
Rather than dwell on those questions too long, I think I’ll just go get me an apartment in Shanghai. Merry Christmas.
*Oh yeah, I got a good job in Shanghai — more on that later. This post is supposed to be somewhat “heavy” and “introspective.” No room for good news here!
Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and ZUCC teachers and friends had a great meal at the Holiday Inn. 148 rmb per person is pretty steep, but it was all you can eat (and all you can drink), and the food was top notch. I had at least 5 plates. I was hurting. It was all worthwhile.
There was great turkey, with gravy. There was cranberry relish. There was pumpkin pie. There almost wasn’t mashed potatoes, but Heather, having read my account of Thanksgiving at Holiday Inn last year, fixed that problem. She called ahead and requested mashed potatoes at the buffet. As a result, there were mashed potatoes, and they were good. There were tons of other non-Thanksgivingesque selections as well, such as sushi, steak, “roast beef salad,” and pasta. But we were all happy to see the Thanksgiving traditional dishes represented.
So I guess now it’s back to Chinese food every meal, every day.
Regarding the melancholy, there are a whole lot of factors contributing, and it’s a strange mix of emotions. I have already committed to a move in early January, and I’m not looking forward to leaving Hangzhou and all my good friends here behind (look at Greg’s sweet Thanksgiving post). Yet it’s time for a change. So there’s a lot of excitement and uncertainty too. I think I’ve found a great job, but it’s not quite finalized yet, so I don’t want to announce it publicly.
Also, next month I take the HSK. That’s the big Chinese “TOEFL.” I have been skipping too many classes lately and not studying nearly enough. It’s time to really buckle down. If I don’t get an 8, I’m going to be sorely disappointed and pissed at myself for not working harder. I know I can get an 8.
Also, I haven’t been blogging much lately. It’s partly because I don’t have much time for it, but also because lately I’m feeling a little unhappy about the whole deal. I’m not sure why, exactly, and it’s hard to pin down the exact emotions, but I have some vague ideas.
One of the biggest changes to the “China Blog Community” of late has been the addition of Living in China. It’s a community blog in every sense of the word, and the founders did an amazing job. The site looks awesome, and there are new posts frequently, on a wide range of topics. The site is just so professional. It deserves every hit it gets.
Still, there’s something about it that feels strange. I agree with Richard’s assessment. I suppose I really like the process of browsing blogs, and I’ve never been a fan of RSS feeds. Now it kind of feels like if you don’t have an RSS feed then you’re out in the cold. I guess the need for RSS is an inevitable development given the tremendous surge in the number of China blogs. But I still feel a little bit like the Wal-Mart of China blogs has arrived, if that makes any sense.
I’m not trying to criticize Living in China, though. What they’re doing is great, and my reaction is strictly a personal one.
Along those lines, though, it’s been disturbing to me seeing the personal, nasty side of the China blogs. Attacks on Glutter, Hailey…. Why is “who’s right” always the most important issue? Why do blogs tend to encourage raging, ruthless egos?
I guess I just miss the good old days when everything seemed so intimate and friendly. But things change, and that’s fine. For the time being, though, I’m very content with being pretty quiet. But I’ll stick around.
Water flows downhill. This is a simple fact that has been pretty well mastered by the average 8-year-old. Yet somehow it seems to elude Chinese civil engineers. I speak, of course, of the deplorable condition of drainage engineering in Hangzhou. That “the things we take for granted back home just don’t apply here” is a tired, worn-out cliche, but we’re talking about the most basic principles of physics here. Water flows downhill. Place drains in low points, and the water will “magically” drain into them. Is that hard? I don’t know, maybe it actually is. But looking at the drains around my campus, they seem to be almost randomly placed. You know something is wrong when huge puddles and big thirsty drains live side by side in perfect harmony.
Here are some good examples of uselessly placed drains:
Pictures of water on the ZUCC campus not flowing anywhere:
Granted, none of the puddles are really deep. The pavement is reasonably flat. But it doesn’t really drain. If there is an absolute deluge, then the water will find the drains. That seems to be the guiding principle, though, instead of good old “water flows downhill.”
The greatest part is how the stubborn puddles are taken care of. Grounds maintenance staff sweep them into the drains. Yes, they sweep the water. With a broom. (Sorry, I didn’t manage to get a picture of that.)
Come on, China, you’ve got a space program now, for crying out loud. Let’s see a little better display of your mastery of gravity.
When a foreigner in China talks with Chinese people, one of the major questions he will be asked about his life in China is, xi bu xiguan? — are you used to it? Annoying as it can be at times to be asked this same question over and over, when I give it any thought, I find the question still relevant after over three years here.
Of course, culture shock is certainly an issue, but I’ve always felt that I’m only minimally affected by it. The first time I went to Japan I pranced in like a wide-eyed child with no idea what to expect, rather than with a list of expectations. As a result, I wasn’t so “shocked.” The same principle applied in China, for the most part. I don’t think it’s something I’ve done consciously; it’s just the way it worked out for me.
When I first arrived in China, I stayed at a Chinese friend’s empty apartment. It was a broiling Hangzhou summer, but the apartment had no air conditioning. At night I slept on a bamboo mat with no cover. An electric fan made sleep just barely possible, and mosquito coils kept the little bloodsuckers at bay. I washed my clothes by hand and cooked most of my own meals. The toilet flush mechanism was broken and had to be flushed by dumping in a bucket of water. The hot water heater didn’t work, so showers were cold. After a week or two, I accepted that “this is China,” and I felt I had pretty much adapted to life in China.
After only a month, I was given an offer to move in with a Chinese guy about my same age. I could stay for free, and the apartment would have fully functional bathroom facilities, washing machine, and air conditioning. More than anything though, I feared the prospect of loneliness and boredom if I stayed at the first place. So I moved.
My second living arrangement turned out to be great for language study. That was the whole reason I was allowed to live there for free, but it turned out to be far from one-sided. I ate meals at school in the cafeteria for about 4 RMB ($.050 US), and at home with my roommate in another cafeteria every night for 3 RMB. The food certainly wasn’t great, but it was OK. After I showered, I used the tiny hand towels that Chinese people use to dry off. My social life was practically non-existent. I didn’t know any other foreigners, and my Chinese wasn’t good enough yet to make many Chinese friends who wanted anything more than English practice. I spent a lot of time studying Chinese and hanging out at home with my roommate. I felt I had pretty much adapted to life in China.
When my roommate decided to move to Canada to study, I moved into ZUCC’s newly finished teacher apartment. The new place not only had all the amenities of my former residence, but it was much bigger and it was all mine. I could cook on my own again. I finally bought a DVD player. No longer content with the Chinese “wash rag,” I bought a large, thick Western-style bath towel. I quickly got used to having my own place, and since I had Chinese friends by that time, it wasn’t so bad being alone. I felt I had already adapted to life in China, so small changes seemed insignificant.
The second semester of my life at ZUCC, Wilson, Helene, Simon, and Ben arrived. It was the beginning of a real foreigner community. Although my Chinese friendships continued, a big part of my free time was shifted to socializing with them. I stopped cooking, and began eating out all the time. We could all easily afford it, and the food was good. We almost always ate Chinese. I bought a desktop computer for my room and started my own website. The little changes continued.
I’ve now been in China for over three years. I’m finding a renewed interest in cooking on my own, applying a sort of fusion approach (cooking Chinese food with olive oil and balsamic vinegar — mmmmm), but I still eat out a lot. I still spend a lot of time with the other foreign teachers. Now my main contacts with the Chinese language are Chinese class and my Chinese girlfriend, although I still occasionally meet my Chinese friends as well. But I’m still adapted to life in China, right?
I find myself wondering what “adapting” really is. At what point in my stay here was I most “adapted to Chinese life”? Is it more important that I alter some part of myself to successfully fit in, or is it more important that I’ve found contentment in a foreign environment? Clearly, adaptation is a process of finding a balance between what you can accept from your new environment and what you must change about your new environment in order to be comfortable. But if that balance keeps evolving, does it mean one has still not adapted?
I guess it’s all just pointless rhetoric in the end, but I enjoy watching the new teachers undergo the process, finding wonder and revulsion in parts of life here that I barely notice anymore. It’s very easy to forget how much you’ve really adapted sometimes. I think it’s equally difficult to be aware of how one is still adapting.
This decision has been a long time in the making, but I’ve finally committed to it. Come January, I will leave my beloved ZUCC and continue my life in Shanghai. I am still looking for a job.
This is a call to all my friends and readers! In China, the best jobs are always found through connections, so if anyone can help me out, I’d be eternally grateful.
My qualifications are basically over 5 years of teaching experience, understanding of linguistics, and high level Chinese language ability. I also have experience working within a Chinese bureaucracy, as I have worked as foreign teacher liaison (and partly as recruiter) for the past year. There’s more in my resume, which is online. I really hope to find something where I can use at least some Chinese on the job.
Thanks to the information on Wang Jianshuo’s site, I had an interview with Microsoft Global Technical Engineering Center on Tuesday, which went well. Unfortunately, they would need me to start in mid-December, and the ZUCC semester runs until January. So I couldn’t take that.
I’ll probably talk about the reasons for the move, etc., later, but for now I just wanted to get it out there. I need a job! Please e-mail me.
I have thus far neglected to mention that while I was in Japan, two more twenty-something teachers arrived at ZUCC. They are John and Greg. John has his own site as well, which is morphing into something of a China blog itself. (Side note: there are now 3 Johns among the 16 foreign teachers here, one of whom also has a son named John.) Anyway, they’re great additions to the team of teachers here; the new crew is shaping up to be really good.
Speaking of new China blogs (yes, an update to the list is coming!), Carl would have a conniption if I didn’t finally mention his new site, which he daily spurns as being “the stupidest blog ever.” It’s about China, though, and it’s not nearly as bad as he claims.
In other news, three of us had a mooncake-eating contest in honor of Mid-Autumn Moon Festival the other day. I’ll leave the details for later. I plan to devote a whole page to it (kinda like the Junk Food Review) if I can ever get the photos from Carl. In the meantime, you can get a taste from the Chinese blog if you read Chinese.
I’ll end this haphazard entry with an amusing incident that happened the other night.
> [Scene: a small Chinese bar]
> Me: You should talk to her. Practice your Chinese.
> Greg: But I don’t have anything to say.
> Me: Well just say something — you need to practice!
> Greg: Actually, I learned a great Chinese sentence today.
> Me: What is it?
> Greg: [I like cake.]
> Me: OK, great, tell her that!
> Greg: What? Why should I tell her that?
> Me: Just do it! It’ll be cool.
> Greg: I’m not going to tell her that!
> Me: Why not?
> Greg: It’s stupid.
> Me: But just do it anyway. Something good will come of it.
> Greg: I’m not gonna do it.
> Me: I’m telling you, something good will come of it.
> Greg: Forget it.
> Me (to her): [He says that he likes cake.]
> Her (to Greg): [Really? My family makes cakes! I can give you some cake, no charge!]
> Greg: [I like cake.]
No, I didn’t know the girl or that her family makes cakes. But that kind of thing seems to happen in China all the time.
Recently I visited a photographer to discuss the possibility of doing some work for him. He’s a nice guy, a Hangzhou local, probably pushing 60. It didn’t take long to conclude our business, and it became clear soon thereafter that he just wanted to chat. I was happy to oblige him.
He talked for quite a while about his wife, who happened to work at the high school adjacent to ZUCC. He went on and on about how my school had taken some of the land that had originally been alotted to the high school. I wasn’t particularly interested — other than some vague curiosity about how the Chinese government zones land and allots it to private schools — but I listened.
Things suddenly got interesting again when he started talking about foreigners. The guy was funny. He had one word to sum up entire nations of people. Here are some of the ones I remember:
> Americans – undisciplined （散漫）
> Australians – lazy （懒）
> Germans – inflexible （死板）
> Japanese – cunning （狡猾）
I think he also said something about Italy being full of nothing but thieves, and New Zealand being the greatest country on earth because it not only had gorgeous scenery, but also very few people.
I didn’t take offense at any of this. I was really interested in hearing his opinions because his point of view is a rare one. Here was a man of my parents’ generation who spoke only Chinese but has nevertheless been to many foreign countries and has actually had significant contact with foreigners, both at home and abroad. Naturally, he took with him his Chinese biases wherever he went. In many ways, this guy was just like a Chinese version of so many Americans.
I like how he so matter-of-factly told me that Americans are all sloppy and undisciplined. I got a kick out of it. (I’m pretty punctual, but I guess it turned out to be very cooperative of me to arrive 5 minutes late that particular day.)
What most surprised me was what he had to say about black people. I’m pretty used to comments like, “I’ve got nothing against them, but they’re just so ugly.” It seems a lot of Chinese people discriminate against blacks solely on “aesthetic” grounds. But whatever. I’m not trying to get into that. What this guy had to say was different.
“Black people are good people. I’ve met a lot of them, and they’re really good people. The bad people are the mixed ones, who are only part black. They’re really bad.”
I asked for clarification on that: “I thought Chinese people believe mixed babies are beautiful and smart.”
His response? “Sure, mixed Asian and white babies are. But if you mix either Asians or whites with blacks, you get bad people.”
Bizarre. What can you say to that? Just smile and nod….
It was the year 2000, and I had just arrived in China. I had very few Chinese friends at that point, but I was desperate to practice my horrible Chinese. I had ideas.
I sought out people that couldn’t speak English and couldn’t escape. My first such friends were the guards at the apartment where I lived for my first month. They just sat around in the guardhouse all day handing out newspapers, occasionally demanding toughly where cars thought they were going immediately before meekly opening the gate for them. So they were happy to talk to a walking oddity like me.
I also met a pair who worked at the 1-2-3 Taiwanese burger chain. They were cool to hang out with and talk to at night. I seemed to always come as a welcome relief, since they were bored out of their minds in the shop.
Anyway, it was in the 1-2-3 shop that I got my first good look at a counterfeit bill detector. It looked like a large plastic glasses case or something, stuck half open. You run the bills through it, and the appropriate lights tell you if the bill is real or fake. Employees are supposed to check the money when they’ve got nothing else to do. They showed me fake 100’s, 50’s, 20’s, 10’s, and yes, even 5’s (that’s just over $0.50 US). Until that time I hadn’t realized how rampant counterfeiting is in China.
Last semester I was buying snacks at the on-campus grocery store. I handed the cashier a 50. She looked at it for a second and told me it was fake. I didn’t get it for a sec. You never really expect it to happen to you. She didn’t accept the money, but she let me keep it. (Some places are required to hold on to all counterfeit money that comes into their possession.)
I showed it to my friend who works at the Bank of China. She identified it easily and pointed out to me all the little telltale signs. She also told me a few stories about some of the ways people try to scam the bank. I asked her what I should do with the fake 50. “Well, if it was me,” she said, “I’d just spend it.”
I still have that 50. I’ve kept it as a little souvenir. It’s stuck to my fridge with a magnet.
Wednesday night I was at a coffee shop (OK, I’ll admit it — yes, it was Starbucks) with some friends. Wayne, one of my co-workers here at ZUCC, was late. When he SMSed that he would be arriving late he also mentioned that he had tried to use a 100 and been told it was fake. He was sure it came to him as a part of the pay for summer work teaching at Zhejiang University. When he arrived, we talked about it a little more and decided he should take it back to the people who paid him and exchange it. They also need to know their money source isn’t completely reliable.
We later ended up eating at a dim sum place. When the bill came around, Wayne suddenly asked, “should I try to use the fake 100?” Knowing that Wayne is not always the most decisive guy in the world, I seized the moment for a little nugget of excitement. “Yeah, do it, Wayne!” I encouraged him. (It is, after all, what any ordinary Chinese person does when he gets counterfeit money.)
Feeling a little nervous, Wayne did it. We were soon on our way out, Wayne leading the way. It wasn’t until our group was just out the restaurant doors that I noticed Wayne was a little bit ahead of everyone else. He was already clear across the parking lot, rounding the corner to the street. “What is Wayne doing?” we all wondered.
When we made it to the street, we saw that the gap had widened further, as Wayne had made rapid progress down Yan’an Road in the time that it took us to get across the parking lot.
“Hey Wayne!” I yelled to him. “What’s the rush? Wait up!” He did, although clearly not without a little anxiety.
Wayne was indeed doing his best to flee the scene of the crime. He kept expecting the restaurant staff to come flying around the corner at any second. The funny thing was that I had been on a long walk down that very road the day before, and Wayne had refused to exceed a “leisurely” pace. What’s more, when Wayne was already halfway down the restaurant stairs, I watched the cashier put the hundred away without a second glance. But here was Wayne, trying his best for a compromise between a mad dash and an unconcerned stroll.
We kept joking with him about hearing the search dogs catching up, but he wasn’t fully relaxed until we walked down the block, turned the corner, and got in a cab. Even then, were we really safe…?
I guess there are still those that get excited about it, but counterfeit money is really common here. So is spending it.
I’ll be in Australia for the next two weeks, so I won’t be updating for that time. Australia’s a big country, so I won’t try for more than a few places of interest in Queensland. For the time I’m in Brisbane, I’ll be staying with Ben, a friend and former ZUCC teacher. Wilson is meeting me at the Brisbane airport. He’s already been in Sydney for over a week.
In the meantime, you may want to check out some of the new blogs in the China Blog List. Brad F’s new blog kind of reminds me of mine. I especially like his “answers” entry.
When I get back to Hangzhou, I’ll be just teaching about 15 hours a week and hanging out, hopefully studying some Chinese in preparation for fulltime Chinese class come fall. Derrick will also be here in Hangzhou for about a month. I might be able to make it to Beijing this August, and possibly to the wedding in Kyoto of the oldest son of my Japanese homestay family. If I do that, it’ll be a boat ride from Shanghai to Osaka. Could be cool. At the end of August I’ll be busy helping the new additions to the ZUCC foreign teacher crew get settled. It’s gonna be a great new semester.
OK, I need to sleep. I leave Hangzhou for Pudong Airport at 7:30am…
It’s no secret that “clean air standards” are not real high in China. Some people complain of sore throats when they first come to China, just because of air pollution alone. Dust is no longer that distant, mysterious substance that accumulates in remote places afer several weeks. Oh, you become very familiar with dust here. I find myself not opening the window at times for “fresh air” because fresh air also means fresh dust. Dust accumulates fast here.
So the air quality is pretty bad here, by Western standards. Hanghzou air is not as bad as some places (such as Beijing), but it’s also not the “pristine garden city at one with nature” that it would have you believe. That said, don’t let your imagination go completely wild on you. I mean, if the air quality was really intolerably bad I wouldn’t still be here. One reason I’m here in Hangzhou is that the air quality is pretty good, relatively.
Now to my story. ZUCC is located at the north end of town, in a newly created school zone. Unfortunately, the north edge of town was formerly designated an industrial zone. (That means factories are officially allowed to pollute even more out here.) You can see smokestacks to the north of our campus. Usually the pollution doesn’t really seem any worse here than anywhere else in the city, but around the end of April/beginning of May, those smokestacks went to town. In the afternoon we frequently saw lots of thick smoke pouring out of the smokestacks, sometimes even accompanied by a raging flame atop the smokestack. Naturally, a lot of people at ZUCC became concerned.
The school made a formal complaint but was worried that it was being completely ignored, as pollution is often treated as business as usual here. Hangzhou, however, is a popular tourist destination with a reputation for natural beauty, so it has a little more to lose if the pollution gets out of hand. Still, as ZUCC “foreign teacher liaison,” I decided to act on my own with regards to this issue. Sometimes foreigners’ voices can have a special impact here. I wrote a polite letter to the mayor of Hangzhou requesting that actions be taken. 13 foreign teachers from ZUCC added their signatures to mine. The letter I wrote is below:
> I am a foreign teacher of English at Zhejiang University City College, located on East Zhongshan Road in Hangzhou . In writing this letter I represent a small community of foreigners from New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States, all of whom are living and teaching here.
> I write to you out of concern for my health, the health of my colleagues, and, indeed, the health of all those around me. In the past several months (April, May 2003) we have all witnessed incidents of thick smoke emitted from the smokestacks of factories to the north of our campus. Sometimes the smoke is accompanied by a large orange flame, other times it is smoke alone. When the factories emit this smoke, the air around our school becomes hazier and heavier, and a bad smell of burning permeates the area. We have photographed said smoke emissions and include the photograph with this letter. [see picture above.]
> In addition to health concerns, we also feel that this pollution will harm the development of Zhejiang University City College in that foreign visitors will be given a very poor impression of the school when such heavy pollution is evident so close to the school grounds.
> We know that China is working hard at developing its industry, but we believe that this is a serious case of air pollution that cannot be ignored. Our health, as well as the health of all the Chinese students and citizens around us, is at risk. We humbly ask that the government please take actions to curb such blatant air pollution in this area, and that it inform us of what actions have been taken.
> Thank you very much.
It may seem silly and futile to write this letter. More than one teacher who signed felt that it would do absolutely no good, but signed anyway. That’s why it’s amazing that only a month later, I learned of the actions taken by the government.
As the author of the letter, I was invited to a meeting at ZUCC along with the college vice president of general affairs and director of human resources, a regional and a municipal representative from the Chinese Bureau of Environmental Protection, the municipal foreign affairs representative, and several representatives of the factory in question. What went down is basically this.
1. Everyone got introduced.
2. Everyone got tea.
3. The Chinese EPA guy explained that during the month that the incident in question occurred, the factory actually exceeded its emissions limit and failed its inspection for the first time. As a result, it is being forced to buy and install 1,500,000 RMB (about US$183,000) particle filtering equipment. Non-compliance will result in stiff fines.
4. An account of the history of the factory was given. It is the forging plant for a motor manufacturer. It has already moved once. Hangzhou’s industrial section is being moved to the south, across the Qiantang River toward Xiaoshan, so it’ll probably have to follow suit, although this factory is not technically completely under Hangzhou’s jurisdiction.
5. Kind person gives John a simpler Chinese verion of what was just said, as it was really long and complicated with difficult vocabulary, and the guy giving it had horrible putonghua.
6. Tea refills.
7. John is asked to say something. John expresses his appreciation and pleasant surprise at having been promptly and seriously responded to.
8. Our school’s VP gave an impassioned plea for that factory to please get the hell out of here.
9. The factory spoke in its defense, saying zero pollution was impossible, the factory had a right to exist, and there was nowhere good for it to go right now.
10. A few other random pollution issues were discussed.
11. The mayor’s foreign relations representative stressed that the mayor takes environmental issues as well as foreign relations issues very seriously, and that our letter was translated and acted upon immediately after it was received.
12. The EPA guy stressed that Hangzhou takes environmental issues very seriously, and that the matter will continue to be investigated, with proper actions taken. EPA guy also passed out his card and gave us the number for a 24-hour pollution report hotline, adding that anything reported would be investigated within 30 minutes of the call.
13. Meeting adjourned, in less than an hour!
So, basically I’m surprised that such prompt action was taken. Were the actions sincere? Will anything change? That’s hard to say. But I’d say if serious actions were really to be taken, then the meeting I attended would probably be a part of it. I have hope.
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
As I’ve mentioned before, lately I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with my progress in Chinese. I think there are several reasons for this stagnation. One reason I can’t ignore is that I’ve really been having a good time here for the past year and a half, and I’ve just plain been lazy about studying. I can’t deny that. But there’s more to it than just laziness. My spoken Chinese has reached a sort of plateau. I know most of the words for everyday life. If linguistists’ estimate of 10,000 words for a basic vocabulary is correct, then I know those 10,000 words in Chinese, and I can use them fairly fluently in conversation. Remember, though, that’s a basic vocabulary; it is an accomplishment, but it’s nothing to be exceedingly proud about. I’ve gotta keep pushing. Basic conversation is no longer sufficient to help me learn the more sophisticated vocabulary I want to work on, and basic conversation doesn’t help me with reading or writing, two skill areas I’ve definitely been neglecting. My conclusion? I need to take formal classes.
Besides a simple desire for further progress, there’s another reason I want to start taking formal classes. I’ve decided that I need to take the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi – Chinese Proficiency test, China’s “TOEFL”) in order for my progress in Chinese to be formally recognized. I didn’t major in Chinese; I just took a few courses in college, so at this point I have no official documentation to prove that my Chinese is decent. If you throw me into China it’s pretty clear that I can handle myself, but that doesn’t readily work itself onto a resume. The HSK score will provide a recognized standard that I might need for the future.
Also, I think it’s pretty clear that I thrive on competition. (Maybe that’s part of the reason I took up the study of Chinese… It’s undoubtedly quite a challenge, and there aren’t a whole lot of Westerners that can do it, so I could realistically compete with the best if I tried hard and stuck with it.) I think classroom competition in the form of other serious classmates will be a powerful form of motivation for me to excel in my studies.
I have already announced before that I plan to study Chinese at Zhejiang University for the 2003-2004 academic year. This past semester I’ve been putting aside over two-thirds of my income every month for that express purpose. Recently, though, it has come to my attention that Zheijiang University may not be the best choice for me, especially since I plan to continue living on campus at ZUCC next semester (and teaching part-time). Below is my comparison and evaluation of the three main choices for Chinese study in Hangzhou.
Zhejiang University (Yuquan Campus)
– Chinese Studies Program: Good – generally considered to be the best in Hanghzou
– Students: 500-900, from all over (but especially Korea)
– Campus: Pretty large, attractive with lots of trees, but classrooms are a little run-down
– Class Sizes: medium (20-35 students)
– Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:00am
– Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 30 minutes by bicycle, at least an hour by bus (requiring one transfer)
– Tuition: US$1000 for the first semester; US$800 for the second semester
– Evaluation: A decent program which perhaps charges a little too much because it knows it has the reputation of Zhejiang University behind it. It would be cool to be part of such a big international community of students, but I’m afraid the daily commute (which would necessitate me waking up at 6am for a grueling daily ordeal) would kill me.
Zhejiang University of Technology
– Chinese Studies Program: Fair – emphasizes listening and reading skills and HSK prep, but doesn’t seem to have much of a clue about conducting interesting conversation classes
– Students: about 100, mostly from Korea
– Campus: Pretty large, unattractive, classrooms are a little run-down
– Class Sizes: small (10-15 students)
– Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:55am
– Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 15 minutes by bicycle, at least 30 minutes by bus
– Tuition: US$780 for the first semester; US$750 for the second semester
– Evaluation: I’d prefer to study at a school with a more attractive campus, but I guess that isn’t the most important thing. The school’s reputation isn’t the greatest and the classes might not be the most imaginatively planned out, but as far as what I want to study, it should get the job done. The fact that it’s very close is a huge plus.
Hangzhou Teachers College
– Chinese Studies Program: Fair/poor – very personal interaction, but doesn’t seem to have an established study curriculum
– Students: about 30, mostly from Korea
– Campus: Pretty large, nice pond in the center of campus, some attractive architecture, but classrooms are a little run-down
– Class Sizes: very small (1-5 students)
– Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:30am
– Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 20 minutes by bicycle, at least 30 minutes by bus
– Tuition: US$800 for the first semester; US$800 for the second semester
– Evaluation: I really like the campus, but I don’t think the study program cuts it. First, the classes are just too small. I’m afraid I wouldn’t get the competition I’m looking for, or much of the comraderie. Second, the curriculum is just unimpressive and seems somewhat vague for advanced students.
Hangzhou University of Commerce
– Chinese Studies Program: Fair – very personal interaction, established study curriculum, but doesn’t seem to go into advanced study of Chinese (although it does offer “business Chinese”)
– Students: about 50, from all over
– Campus: Pretty large, not unattractive, but classrooms are a little run-down
– Class Sizes: small (5-10 students)
– Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:30am
– Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 30 minutes by bicycle, at least 30 minutes by bus
– Tuition: US$900 for the first semester; US$900 for the second semester
– Evaluation: The first thing that strikes me about the program is that to study for one year it’s the same price as Zhejiang University’s, and it doesn’t seem anywhere near as comprehensive. On the plus side, it’s closer and has smaller class sizes. I worry, though, that the program is not designed for higher level students of Chinese, because an “advanced” class is not even listed in the program description.
So, it looks like my final choice is Zhejiang University of Technology. Zhejiang University’s Chinese studies program application deadline is June 15th. I think I have to count out Zhejiang University primarily because of the commute, but it will also be nice to keep the money I save. Zhejiang University of Technology is a good compromise between convenience and excellence, and it should help me accomplish my goals. I can always re-evaluate the situation after one semester if I don’t like the program.
So, after three years of working full-time at ZUCC, I’m finally going to be a student again this fall. It feels good.
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.
I’m here in China to get really good at Mandarin Chinese. Fortunately, I also enjoy teaching English, since I’ve been doing it for going on three years now. I’m really interested in applied linguistics, so to me teaching is more than just a source of income. It’s research. (Warning to the short of attention span: the following long post is going to be solely about teaching English in China.)
At the end of each semester, I always evaluate how the semester went. Did my students learn anything? Did I stimulate their interest as well (in other words, was class interesting)? Are they likely to remember anything I taught them that semester? Did the grades I gave really reflect the increase in their spoken English proficiency?
These are some hard questions, ones that I think many casual backpacker English teacher types don’t give a second thought to. It’s understandable, if they’re only going to be in China for one or two semesters. But I really care about these answers, personally and intellectually. To help me answer these types of questions about my classes, each semester I have my students answer an anonymous questionnaire in class. I use the results when making decisions about how to modify my class for the next semester.
Last semester class grading was mostly discussion-based, although there were only 5 iscussions. Discussions were student-led. Student discussion leaders also had the responsibility of coming up with their own thought-provoking discussion questions.
The following are the questions I asked my students and some of the answers I received (in the students’ own words, mistakes and all).
1. What did we not do enough of in class?
play more games
we should have class outside
We didn’t talk enough to you!
I was surprised that a lot of students felt that they didn’t have enough direct interaction with me. I strive not to be one of those “spoken English teachers” that just talks the whole class. If the students are to improve their speaking ability, they must do the talking in class. Maybe I overdid it though? It’s the first time I ever got that remark, and I got it from quite a few different students.
More movies and class outside are typical suggestions, but they can only be practically realized (and justified) to a very limited extent.
2. What did we do too much of in class?
We made too much jok
I think some of the discussions are very good, but some are meaningless. We can’t improve our Oral English speaking ability by discussions. We learn little things, maybe none.
The class is all about discussion, it is boring.
The last two comments are the kind I take seriously. The only problem is, from a linguistic standpoint, very often the students have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. Students who don’t like discussions often propose more one-on-one interaction with me. In a class full of students, however, that’s just not practical. I have to go by the wisdom I learned at UF’s ELI: “divide the class, multiply the talking.” That means they interact with each other more than me. But it gives them more speaking practice.
The complaint about too much discussion is just ludicrous. I think five 30-minute discussions, spread out over 16 weeks of class, hardly qualifies as overdoing it.
3. What did you like about the discussions?
They’re always interesting.
Great, wonderful, interesting.
Through the discussions, some unfamiliar classmates become familiar.
The topic is usually very interesting so most of us like it. we learn new and good ideas from others at once our English are improved. It’s helpful.
Here a problem with the questionnaires becomes apparent. The students’ feedback is often completely contradictory! When my ideas are based on sound linguistic principles and legitimate pedagogy, though, I tend to listen more to the positive feedback than the whiners.
4. What did you dislike about the discussions?
I dislike the discussions which are boring and tedious.
I don’t have enough time to talk with our dear John.
We don’t know whether our sentences are correct.
For example sex. I think it is not good for us.
We are too young to say such sexy topic.
Complaints about class being boring are typical. Many students expect foreign teachers to be singing dancing game-playing clown entertainers (and some of them do fit the bill). Compared to most of their other classes, just about any spoken English class is a nice breath of fresh air for Chinese students, but they still complain.
The sex complaint is an interesting one, because I debated myself whether I should devote a discussion to the topic of sex. It went really well, though.
5. Any other comments?
No other comments, the class is much more interesting and funny than other courses.
Actually I like your class best. Because it is very interesting. And you are a very good teacher.
The atmosphere is too serious espaciouly when we have oral quiz. You shouldn’t be so rigid on the examination and the scores.
We should not have examination.
You’re an awesome guy. : )
I think you are very handsome, also a good teacher.
John is a good teacher. warmly and kind-heart. Oral English lesson is active class. But the class time is too short.
You are the best teacher and very lively.
The class has a little boiling so I want teacher to make it more interesting. Can have class outside and play much.
On the whole, John’s classes are interesting and lively, full of excitement and joy. We have been looking forward to Friday and your classes.
You are a lively teacher, I like your style. Could you communicate with us after class, We could talk more and discuss. I think that would improve our English level greatly.
I can’t understand why you forbade us to speak Chinese you know, sometimes speak Chinese will make thing more comfortable some words we must speak Chinese to express ourselves. It is true that in English class English is the language we should speak, but Chinese is also useful. So I hope you will not forbade us to speak Chinese next term.
This course is useful and I like it very much. : )
I think the class doesn’t do much to improve my English.
Useful English, not useless playing.
I love you.
OK, so I never said I couldn’t use my own blog to boost my ego. Hehe… Sometimes students can leave harsh comments, so all the positives provide a nice balance. Again, there’s so much conflicting feedback, but I think doing questionnaires is definitely worthwhile. I highly recommend it to any TEFL teachers who are trying to improve their teaching methods.
In the past I have done a little introductory mug shot page for the English-teaching foreign teachers here at ZUCC. This semester Wilson did it. It’s hosted on his site, but since his site is blocked in China and mine isn’t, it’s also mirrored on my site. Check it out! I’m sure I’ll be mentioning these people on here in the future.
During his time here, Wilson has gotten really imaginative with his photography and web design. I envy his creative eye, his Photoshop skills, his awesome camera. Even if these talents don’t rub off on me, though, at least I can enjoy his results. Don’t miss: Jade Emperor’s Hill [mirrored], Viewing Fish at Flower Pond [mirrored].
I mentioned recently that I’ll be on TV in China March 22nd. Being on TV is a pretty common occurrence for foreigners living in China. Frequent readers/commenters of this blog will be familiar with my friend Ray. He was on TV in Shanghai some months ago when he still worked there. They did a bit of a bio on him. Anyway, he sent me some vidcaps of his 10 minutes of glory, and I think they’re pretty funny, so I’m sharing them. I don’t think he’ll mind everyone having a look at his studly countenance. If he ever put up a site of his own, I’m sure he’d put these pics up.
“So I want to write a book, right? …”
(That’s mantou, a kind of Chinese bun.)
What a fascinating lesson, eh? The students are riveted!
Speaking of commenters on Sinosplice, “Prince Roy,” a rather new regular commenter here, now has his own blog too. Check it.
Man, lately I’ve been bad about responding to any e-mails, writing in my blog, and reading anyone’s blog. I also have tons of pictures from Yunnan that I want to get online. (Despite my whining, I actually took a lot of pictures, and a lot of them are decent.) But the school semester starts Monday, and my new job as ZUCC foreign teacher liaison has already begun. I’ve been running around today doing stuff for that, and I’m going to the airport tomorrow to meet one of the new teachers. In addition, there are a few other things I’m really happy about this semester: (1) I only teach 14 hours, (2) I have no classes Fridays or Tuesdays, (3) my largest class size is about 22 now, as my 30 student classes have been split in half (at my repeated urging). Same amount of class time for each student, but less students per class. That means class is easier to teach, and the students get more out of class. Having lots of foreign English teachers (12 total this semester) is a very good thing.
Alf was here in Hangzhou for a visit Tuesday and Wednesday. Unfortunately winter is not the best time of year to witness “the beauty of Hangzhou,” but we had a pretty good time anyway. It was pretty funny how whenever he told Chinese people here that he’s teaching in Henan province, they were all like, “Henan?! Why are you teaching there? It’s a dirty place full of thieves!” Alf doesn’t exactly agree, but to get one guy off his back, he explained that he came here through a program and he didn’t have a choice. “Oh,” the guy said. And then, in English, “bad luck!”
Noriko, one of the Japanese teachers here, invited me over for dinner tonight. She’s really cool and sweet, and a good cook besides. What I didn’t realize was that it was an all-Japanese gathering, besides me. So my Japanese got a healthy 4-hour workout. The conversation went all over the place (and I admit I was a bit distracted at times, especially since she had, for some reason, left a movie of the stunning Norika Fujiwara running in the background), but they touched on quite a few interesting things, like wedding customs and costs, Chinese students’ obsession with insignificant features of Japanese pronunciation, and what nationality they were often taken for in China. Noriko said Chinese people were always shocked to learn she’s not Chinese (because she “looks so Chinese”), and usually make a comment like, “well, you’re definitely not Japanese, so what are you, Korean?” Apparently the Chinese often ask Japanese people if they are Korean. What I couldn’t say was that perhaps they always guess Korean because Koreans might be offended if they’re taken for Japanese (and the Chinese would be sensitive to that), while the reverse is not true.
Anyway, Yunnan photos are coming. (And e-mails, to some of you.)
Students, your pictures are finally online! Go look at them. To the classes that I didn’t see that week, I’m sorry I couldn’t take pictures of you guys too, but it was your decision not to come…
Those are some happy-looking students, eh? That’s even right before their final exam! It doesn’t take as much to bribe them as you might think… heh heh.
Hey students! All of you know about this blog, but none of you have ever left a comment, even once! Now that you have something that directly relates to you, how about if some of you leave some nice English comments??
So there’s been some random stuff going on that I thought I’d fill you guys in on.
1. People are abandoning the school, like rats from a sinking ship. A college campus is a lonely place to be during the holidays. Wilson left early Tuesday. Helene leaves Thursday. Students finished exams today, and are heading for home en masse. And I will join the crowd Friday as I head to Shanghai to hang out with Ray before he leaves China for good (yes, the same Ray that leaves all the naughty comments). Saturday morning I head to Yunnan by plane. Yes, it’s time for my winter vacation. I’ll be there for 2-3 weeks, so I can’t say for sure how much I’ll be updating while there, but that’s the beauty of Blogger — I’ll be able to write updates anywhere with internet cafes, and China is already infested.
2. I know many of you are closely following my toilet situation, eagerly awaiting updates. So let me fill you in. I finally got through to them that they needed to do more than show up at my place with a mop whenever my toilet would not unclog even after 20-30 minutes of straight heavy-duty plunging with my plunger. (How they unclog a toilet with a mop is something I really don’t understand… Another aspect of Chinese mysticism, I guess.) They agreed to actually pull up the bowl and have a look-see. I had to wait another day for that, for the right guy to come, of course. Anyway, he and his friend showed up the next day with a mallet and a chisel. Great. Then they got to work destroying the cement seal around the base of the toilet. After that they pulled that bad boy up. (Fortunately there was no messy surprise waiting for them.) After the guy inspected the bottom of the toilet bowl and the hole in the bathroom floor for a while, he made the declaration I had been dreading: “mei you wenti” — “there’s no problem here.” NO PROBLEM?! Then why doesn’t my toilet work?! Fortunately, this guy was smart, and he made a few measurements after his initial proclamation. You know how most toilets have a water tank in the back of the toilet? Mine is no exception. But that tank in back limits how close to the wall the bowl can be placed. It just so happens that the hole in the floor of the bathroom is rather close to the wall as well. Because of these designs, the hole in the bottom of the bowl was not matching up right with the hole in the floor. The hole in the bottom of the bowl was too far forward. There was only like 25% overlap instead of the 100% it should be (refer to diagram at right). BIG PROBLEM. Major flow obstruction. The guy was surprised I’d managed to use it as long as I have. So they decided that they would come replace it the next day. In the meantime I couldn’t use my toilet, which was still uprooted. GREAT.
So, after 24 hours of no toilet (that really is an inconvenience!), they came back this morning and mucked around in my bathroom some more. I don’t know what they were doing for over an hour, because they simply came to the conclusion they had before: you definitely need a whole new toilet bowl unit. Unfortunately, it’s very close to the Chinese New Year, so we can’t do it right away. You’ll have to wait until next year. What about my toilet?! Human beings need to use a toilet! Oh, no problem, they’d re-cement it down so I could keep using it until they come next year to replace it. I’ll have to wait another 24 hours to actually use it of course, because the cement needs time to dry. Grrrrreeeeaat…
3. There are 3 new teachers coming here. Two guys and a girl. All under 30, I think. Should be fun.
4. I’ve noticed that Chinese women seem to think that brown and purple match. Seriously. I see this combination every day. So who’s not in the know — me or them? As I’ve said before, I’m not exactly a fashion authority. But it seems fishy to me…
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.”
So last Thursday I celebrated Thanksgiving with 5 other foreigners at the Hangzhou Holiday Inn (yes, that’s the same Holiday Inn you’re familiar with). Four of them were American. By Chinese standards, the Western all-you-can-eat buffet was not cheap — 148 rmb (about US$18.50) — but no one regretted shelling out the cash. It was good. I taught my class last week that there are 6 “main Thanksgiving foods” that most American families eat on Thanksgiving: (1) turkey, (2) stuffing, (3) cranberries in some form, (4) pumpkin pie, (5) mashed potatoes, and (6) sweet potatoes. I also explained that every family has different traditions; the list is not definitive (so no one leave huffy comments because I wronged your Thanksgiving traditions to all of China).
My complaints about the “Thanksgiving meal” were: (1) the stuffing came out of a cookie dough-type tube! Yuck! (2) No mashed potatoes! Come on! But hey, it was still pretty good. As I told my students, food is very important on Thanksgiving, but what’s more important is being with family. So even good food couldn’t quite do the trick. Here are a few pics: