Asiafirst‘s recent post on City Weekend reminded me of an interesting topic… diarrhea.
Now, since you’re most likely of the Western tradition, you probably squirmed a little when you saw that word. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. In Asia, they treat diarrhea like a cold — a temporary, uncomfortable condition. Meanwhile, in the United States it’s an unmentionable dark secret. No one wants to hear about your diarrhea, as if just the word in itself is some kind of plot to make us visualize something disgusting.
It took me some time in Japan and China, when I was in a position requiring someone else’s help, to be able to just tell people, “yo, I’ve got diarrhea, help me out here.” In the U.S. we’d be much less direct about that kind of thing. As your hints about your condition zero in on the unspeakable, the listener gets your drift and tactfully pledges assistance and then immediately changes the topic. On the other hand, if you mention it to your Chinese friend while you’re at the store, he just replies matter-of-factly, “Oh, you’ve got diarrhea??” and then, loudly, to the clerk across the store, “hey, my foreign friend here has diarrhea! Where’ s the medicine for that?” You get the picture.
Just one of those little differences…
Oh, and as long as I’m on this taboo topic, a word to the wise: if you come to China, bring some immodium.
Ah, love of linguistics… both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that it’s just fascinating, and I’ve somehow been let in on that little secret. It’s a curse because the fact that it’s interesting is either withheld from or is being actively denied by the rest of the world. It’s really shocking to me how linguistics bores most people to tears.
So I picked up a few books on linguistics at the friendly neighborhood foreign bookstore. Evidently Oxford University Press and the Cambridge Books for Language Teachers series have deals with Chinese publishers. The result is that quality educational material cames to China unaltered (?) except that a Chinese title is slapped onto the cover and a Chinese introduction is inserted. The best part, of course, is that the prices are also Chinese, and they are very good. Check these out: Pragmatics by George Yule (8.80rmb; roughly US$1), Psycholinguistics by Thomas Scovel (8.80rmb), Second Language Acquisition by Rod Ellis (9.20rmb), Psychology for Language Teachers by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden (23.90rmb, roughly US$3), and — the best buy in terms of immediate application — Lessons from Nothing by Bruce Marsland (8.90rmb). That last one is a great buy for any TEFL teacher.
I also picked up Hong Lou Meng (“Dream of Red Chambers”), Chinese edition. Anyone familiar with this Chinese classic should be thinking I’m crazy right about now, as it’s volumes and volumes long. However, I cleverly side-stepped the length issue by picking up the children’s verison. It’s a good level; it’s almost 300 pages long and it doesn’t have the pinyin for all the characters like really low-level children’s books, but it has parenthetical pinyin for the really tough characters. (That will save me a lot of time looking up characters by radical!) The rest of the characters are not too hard. I can read this thing!
Finally, I got a book called “100 Chinese Two-Part Allegorical Sayings.” I suppose there’s no really good translation for “xiehouyu,” but nevertheless, I hope the guy that came up with “Two-Part Allegorical Sayings” is not too proud of himself. The idea is that you deliver the first line, which seems kind of strange, but then you deliver the second line, and the meaning of the first line becomes clear. They’re usually pretty clever or funny, and sometimes involve puns. I first heard about these a while ago from my friend Andrew, but this is my first time actually studying them. Here are a few of the interesting ones:
> Putting make-up on before entering the coffin — saving face even when dying.
> Boiling dumplings in a teapot — no way to get them out.
> Killing a mosquito with a cannon — making a mountain out of a molehill.
In the past week or so I’ve found myself drawn into a community of China bloggers (or “chloggers,” as Frank Yu of BrandRecon.com puts it). It’s sort of a strange community, “communication” often taking place in the form of blog posts or in e-mails that other members of the community are not aware of. Anyway, this community is becoming self-aware and interlinked. It was kind of cool that as soon as I put up my China Blog page, I started getting e-mails almost immediately, and my site started appearing immediately in other China blogs where it never had before. An attempt at selfless promotion of “the cause” turned out to be self-serving after all.
It’s great to see all the outsider viewpoints on China coming from within China. It’s also quite humbling to see the great logs other people are producing. You’ve got logs embroiled in politics, economics, and world affairs (China weblog and micah sittig, for example), logs chock full of great social insights (Black Man in China seems to be a community favorite), and even one in my own backyard (Hangzhou T-Salon)…. Makes me wonder why people would take the time to read mine! Apparently a few are, though. I never bothered with a counter for this site because that’s kinda beside the point. However, I’ve noted from my webhost’s stats that the visits are going up. I’ll be happy if just my friends and family are regularly checking to see what’s going on with me, but sometimes I wonder… [hint, hint, guys! The clock is now ticking. Let’s see how long it takes you to react to that statement.]
OK, school-related news…
So on Tuesday I finally got my schedule for this coming semester. A whopping six days in advance. It’s just the way things get done around here. Anyway, they decided not to let me teach my former English major students. I worked pretty hard at learning all 120 of their names, too! I’m only teaching 3 classes of English majors this semester, and they’re the new freshmen. Plus 2 classes of International Business majors, and 2 of Tourism Management majors. But it’s all the same class: “Spoken English.” “American Society and Culture” has been handed off to someone else this semester.
The bad news is that the international business major classes and the tourism management classes all have 45 or 47 students each! That is insane! The 30 I’ve been having is really pushing it, but 45 is just impossible. So I told them I’m splitting the class into two, and the students will each get one hour per week instead of two. I told them it was that or nothing. They OK’d it. It means I only have to plan one hour of lessons per week for those students, but it means doubling the repitition factor of the lesson. That’ll get monotonous.
The other bad news is that I have over 270 new students to teach. That’s over 270 new names to learn. I’m done for…
The good news is that I got Mondays off. And it’s still just 14 hours per week, leaving plenty of time for other projects. Very cool…
It’s interesting, that being in China instead of the USA, I feel much safer. Walking the streets at night is not scary at all. And, of course, I’m removed from the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks on American soil. And yet, in the USA, I don’t get e-mails like this one, from the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai:
> There is a continuing threat of terrorist actions, which may target civilians and include suicide operations. This worldwide caution expires on October 31, 2002. The u.s. government has continued to receive credible indications that extremist groups and individuals are planning additional terrorist actions against u.s. interests. Such actions may be imminent and include suicide operations. We remind American citizens to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution. Terrorist groups do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. Attacks on places of worship and schools, and the murder of American citizens demonstrate that as security is increased at official u.s. facilities, terrorists and their sympathizers will seek softer targets. These may include facilities where Americans are generally known to congregate or visit, such as clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools or outdoor recreation events. Americans should increase their security awareness when they are at such locations, avoid them, or switch to other locations where Americans in large numbers generally do not congregate.
> American citizens may be targeted for kidnapping or assassination. U.S. government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or suspend public services from time to time to review their security posture and ensure its adequacy. In those instances, u.s. embassies and consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to American citizens.
Well, it’s now September 11th here in China. Pray for peace. Worldwide.
In other news, more and more teachers are showing up for the new semester. I met Nicola from Australia today. She’s about my age. Then there’s the Smith family across the hall from me (John and Cathy, plus sons Johnny, Nick, and Drew). They’re originally from Michigan. Next to them is a Chinese American couple. I haven’t met them yet. Saturday Josh and Caroline showed up from the USA, but then promptly left. Apparently they were misled as to what they should expect, and it seems their “old China hand” cousin advised them against working here. It’s really a shame; it would have been great to have them, and regardless of what their cousin thought, this is really a decent school.
In case you haven’t heard, China has blocked access to Google. Google, the search engine for the net. Not that I like it or agree with it, but it’s one thing for a government to block specific sites it considers dangerous. It’s another thing to block a frickin’ search engine!!! OK, I’ll try not to rant.
So this has taught me how much I use Google. Lately I’ve been using google.yahoo.com instead. It’s not quite as good, but it works. I recently searched my own site and came up with a new link to my site. This is actually an interesting site for those who care about what goes on in China: BrandRecon.com. There are links on there to news articles about the search engine blocking that’s going on here.
I went for a haircut today and finally got the last of the bleach blonde out of my hair. It’s nice to have a barber shop where they know me and know how I want my hair cut without me having to tell them, since it’s kind of hard for me to explain a hairstyle in Chinese still.
Two noteworthy things happened in the barber shop. First, one of the boys that works there wanted me to tell him how to say “I want to make love to you” in English. It was pretty funny. The girl shampooing my hair told me not to tell him, but I didn’t see any harm in it, so I told him. Then I could hear him practicing it in the background for the rest of the time I was getting my hair washed and my shoulders massaged.
Then, while I was getting my hair cut, the barber asked me if we had xishuai in the USA. I didn’t know that word, but based on the context I figured it was some kind of barber shop appliance thingy. Figuring Chinese barber shops don’t really have any unusual appliances that we wouldn’t have in the States, I answered yes. But then he seemed really surprised, and made me doubt whether I had guessed correctly. Finally he told one of the employees to bring one out so I could see. Someone brought out an earthenware pot about a handspan across with the lid on. They put the pot under my nose and slowly removed the lid. What was inside was… a cricket!
Apparently, not only do some Chinese people keep crickets as pets, but they actually fight them, and bet on the fights! I was really surprised to learn this, so I asked some more about it. He said guys will sometimes bet 10-20,000 RMB (US$1250-2500)!!! On a cricket. Insane.
I used the excuse of my time at home this summer being sort of a sidebar from the theme of this weblog, life in China, so I think I’m going to make the story of my three weeks in Japan sort of a sidebar too, and put it on a separate page. That page will also include links to photo albums, so check it out…
For those interested: classes here at ZUCC start Monday, September 16th. Still plenty of time to relax and prepare…
No, the journal is not dead. I know, I took a long break. But basically, nothing very related to life in China happened while I was home in the USA for the month of July. (I did seem to gain about 10 pounds in that month, though.) And then I was in Japan August 2nd – 24th. So I just got back a few days ago, and I’m slowly reorganizing. I have time; classes don’t start until the 16th of September. So far I haven’t really added much about my former life in Japan, but I’m going to put some of that stuff online, and the story of my hectic three weeks in Japan this month is coming very soon… Stay tuned!
I just had an old friend come visit me for the weekend. He flew in from out of town just to hang out before I left for Asia again. It’s stuff like that which reminds me that my friends value my friendship as I do theirs, and it just feels damn good to get that unambiguous reminder occasionally. Here’s a pic.
> I saw my guard friend Xu on the way home from dinner with Qijue, and he invited me to the guardhouse again to hang out. I told him I’d be by later because I was waiting on a call from a friend. It felt really good, though, to know that they liked talking to me. It’s kind of hard to believe, considering that at this point my communication ability is quite limited. Xu is a really good guy, though. When the others are trying to tell me something that I’m not getting, he takes it upon himself to put it into simpler Chinese that I can understand, and say it slowly and clearly for me. Xiong (the first guard I met) is a nice guy too, but not as patient, and his accent is stronger* than Xu’s. Xiong also has the annoying habit of getting louder to “help me understand” (or so he thinks), but I think I’m weaning him of that. Xu just has a gift for phrasing Chinese in ways I can understand.
> Anyway, today we talked about a bunch of stuff, including American movie stars. Xiong kept naming movie stars (and some sports stars too) and asking me if I liked them: Schwartzeneggar, Madonna, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie. The problem was he knew them by their Chinese transliterations, which are often pretty far off from the real English. Some of them took me a few minutes and some extra explanation. Mike Tyson was easier, plus the whole ear-biting stunt makes him easy to pantomime. Madonna, though, threw me for a loop. The Chinese pronunciation of “Madonna” is very similar to the pronunciation of “McDonald’s”. I couldn’t figure out why he was talking about McDonalds in the middle of a conversation about Madonna… I got it eventually, though.
> I know I’m going to learn a lot in that guardhouse. They told me to come back tomorrow. I will.
> *Neither Xu nor Xiong are from Hangzhou, and their hometown dialect influences their pronunciation of standard Mandarin. Even people born in Hangzhou (the city) don’t pronounce Mandarin quite the same way as Beijingers. They have a Zhejiang accent. Both Xu and Xiong pronounce the “h” as “f”, which is distracting, and Xiong also pronounces “sh” like “s” (typical of the Zhejiang accent), which can be very confusing.
> I am getting eaten alive by mosquitoes here in my own apartment! It’s ironic — I felt like I had just reached a point in the last few years in the USA where mosquitoes didn’t bother me much anymore. Now I’m in China, and I guess I’m some kind of foreign delicacy. They love me! Hopefully it won’t be a year-round problem… The worst part is that they’re really smart! I’m sitting at a table now, and the only place they bite me is on my legs and feet (mostly feet), so I can’t see them, let alone kill them. Then they bite me above the waist when I’m asleep! AAAUUUGHHH!!! I’m trying to use mosquito coils (which supposedly work really well), but with no A/C, I have to use a fan all the time, and I think that kind of reduces the effectiveness of the smoke from the coils. Grrr…
> Bus rides here are really something. Sort of a surreal experience. You know how when you’re playing a video game, or watching a crazy car chase scene in a movie, and there are always certain points at which someone — a man walking, a car, a woman with a baby on a bike — pops out in front of your vehicle, just to keep it exciting? That’s what it feels like! It’s like this bus is part of a well choreographed scheme to give all the passengers a thrillride. The bus slows down only enough to miss other cars, cyclists, and pedestrians by scant inches. I hate to think what would happen if those on the street stopped behaving exactly as the others on the street expect them to. I couldn’t believe it when a man pedaled right across the path of our bus on his bike, with a baby on back, and our bus missed his back tire by a hair. Even some of the Chinese passengers were gasping. The man and baby didn’t seemed fazed.
> Taxi rides aren’t much different from bus rides, except that taxis stop a lot faster than buses and they’re a lot more maneuverable, so the same feeling of helplessness regarding impending accidents isn’t there. One time I actually got a ride with a driver who was actually CAREFUL, and it ended up being a pretty funny experience. She just seemed so out of place, braking instead of swerving, and actually yielding to the traffic that was bearing down on her from the sides.
I haven’t been posting since I’ve been home. This journal is about China, after all. I’ve been home for 2 weeks, now, though, and I’ve found I have something to say.
It’s been 2 years since I’ve graduated, and coming home is strange now. It’s always nice to see family and friends, no doubt about that. And it’s so nice that my family is always here; I can always come home to them. I almost feel a little selfish that they can feel no such reassurance about me, with my faroff lifestyle.
What’s strange is not family, though, it’s friends. Few of my friends are here in the Tampa area. Alex is still here, for now. Dan is off in Gainesville. Illy is still in Gainesville too, but probably not for long. Hathai is in Georgia. Ari is back in Ft. Lauderdale. Dave and Christina are in New York City. Colin is in Mississippi for training. Paco is… who knows where! You get the picture. My friends here are just so scattered.
I’m set to go to Japan in August to see old friends there. The thing is, my friends there are pretty scattered too! I’ll see some in the Tokyo area, some in Kyoto, some in Osaka, some in Hiroshima, some in Fukuoka…
So I’ve come to realize that the place where I have the greatest concentration of friends is… Hangzhou! Most of them are Chinese, but some of the most important aren’t.
It’s just weird to have one’s friends scattered to the winds and then spring up behind different faces on the other side of the globe…
All right, Wilson has put the Yangshuo pics online. Do take a look; there are some good ones! Unfortunately, none from the mud pit, but oh well…
Well, I am
It’s hard to believe that just last weekend I was vacationing in Yangshuo with Simon and Wilson. That was quite a nice escape… We flew out there for 3 nights, 4 days of fun. We spent most of our time in the town on the happening little West Street. It’s lined with Western bars and restaurants. The food was really quite good, and although it was double the price of a Chinese restaurant, it still came out cheap for us foreigners. Our hotel room (triple) on West Street was only 100 RMB per night, thanks to Simon’s bargaining skills.
Anyway, we had a blast… Mountain biking through country roads, exploring a cave full of water (and bats, and mud, and a waterfall, etc.), climbing mountains, taking a river cruise, enjoying breathtaking scenery, visiting minority villages…
Traveling is definitely a good way to get to know friends in a new way. I’d say this time it was a complete success — great memories and no regrets…
The lighting is dim. Bleached hair John in a Hawaiian shirt suddenly emerges from the doorway. Can you imagine the horror???
Amazingly, this moment was captured by John’s own digital camera, thanks to Wilson.
Wow, just found out the Computer Department of ZUCC has put together a nice little webpage: BeInCity.NET. There’s also a campus life section. Granted, it’s a little less exciting if you read no Chinese, but hey, there it is…
On June 12th we had a goodbye dinner for Len, Jo, and Ben. (Simon’s sticking around a little longer.) On Saturday, June 15th the three of them departed for Beijing, leaving their lives in Hangzhou behind. It was kind of sad. We’re already missing them…