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…
So what’s been going on with me lately? Things have been busy as the semester winds down. Here’s a quick rundown of recent events:
29 May – 02 June :: Most of the teachers from the English department went to Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) for the semester trip. It was the second time I’d been, but we had a great time. My pics will be online soon. Until then, Wilson’s will have to suffice. 🙂
03 June :: Small surprise birthday party for Wilson as well as Japanese teacher Noriko. Not many people were there, and the whole thing was kind of thrown together at the last minute because we didn’t realize that the Huang Shan trip was going to be in the way. All things considered, though, it turned out to be an amazingly fun party. My pics are coming; some of them can be seen on Wilson’s site along with the ones he took.
05 June :: My debut on national Chinese television (CCTV4). I was a guest on a show called Travelogue. I was on the show to share my impressions (in Chinese) of a nice little town called Xitang. I got a good little bit of airtime.
06, 11, 13 June :: I’m doing English training courses for a company outside the school. The pay is decent, but 7 hours with the same people is sort of a new challenge that I’m not used to. Working on these days (which I normally have off) also means my week is much fuller.
12 June :: Sendoff party for the Australian teachers at the Shangri-La Hotel. At 98rmb (US$12.50) for a pizza dinner, we’ll be eating in style — Western style, for a change…
BIG NEWS! I’m returning home to the USA soon, and then going to Japan before heading back to China. Here’s the timetable:
– 28 June 2002 :: Shanghai -> Tampa
– 01 Aug 2002 :: Tampa -> Tokyo
– 24 Aug 2002 :: Tokyo -> Shanghai
Well, I went to Shanghai last weekend with Wilson to meet his parents and grandparents. These people know how to travel in style, and they graciously included me in their plans for Shanghai. We stayed in the Shangri La Hotel (5 stars) with a nice view of the Bund from the 18th floor. We had an EXCELLENT buffet-style Western meal, with tender steak chunks, succulent jumbo shrimp, various cheeses, juicy roast beef, real sushi, delicious desserts, etc. I was very full. That was the best meal I’ve had in I don’t know how long.
Wilson’s mom and grandparents were a lot of fun. Very energetic people — go-getters — and fun to be with. I don’t know, maybe it’s the California style… but I enjoyed it. We also hooked up with Ray (also from California) while in Shanghai, and he and Wilson finally got to meet.
Lemme say one thing about Shanghai that strikes me every time I go back: Many, many beautiful women. You need sunglasses.
Check out Wilson’s pics of the weekend here.
Things around here have been kind of crazy lately, and I’m not exactly sure why… I seem simultaneously busy and free. The classic case of lots of free time on one’s hands and not enough time to get everything done. I’m still trying to figure out this summer. Originally I wanted to go back to Japan for about a month, but it looks like I’m not going to have the funds. In any case, I’m definitely going home this summer. We’ll see what else happens.
But here’s some small news. Last Friday Wilson and I went to our new favorite barber shop to get haircuts. We also got a color change. He got a red tint and I bleached the hell out of my hair. It took five hours because they weren’t getting it as light as I wanted (and it all still only cost me US$10 total). In the end, it was still yellower than I wanted, but they said they got it as white as they could. Take a look. Anyway, if I thought I was standing out before, I really am now. I’m getting lots of reactions from my students. Lots of them are saying it’s cool, and lots are also telling me it looked better before (with remarkably little tact at times). Oh well. It’s fun for now…
Last Saturday I went with the church gang to a place in southern Hangzhou called DaQing Gu. Helene and Simon went along as well. The place was interesting because it was sort of a natural, remote location, with fresh air and lots of trees and mountain scenery, as well as tea fields. But then it also had carnival attractions like bungee jumping, target practice, games for prizes, etc. A strange combination.
Anyway, we had a great little mountain climb. It was an actual climb, instead of the typical Chinese “mountain climb” of climbing stairs up a mountain. We were actually scrambling a bit, grabbing onto roots and saplings, and ropes in places, to make it to the top. The funny thing was that a whole mixed group went, including middle-aged women, little kids, and girls who were horrified at getting dirty. There were quite a few slips resulting in dirty knees and butts, but no one got hurt, and everyone was able to make the climb, even when it got pretty steep. I don’t think the same group would have made it (or tried, anyway) had all the participants been American.
Simon and I also tried this thing called “Tan Tiao Fei Ren” (“Bullet Jump Flying Person”) in Chinese. It’s this thing where you’re strapped into a harness, and both sides of you are tied to bungee cords. You’re sort of in the pouch of a giant slingshot. Then they mechanically raise the ends of the bungee cord, and slingshot you up (it’s hard to explain clearly, but no, you don’t come back down and hit the ground!). So you can do lots of flips, suspended like that. It’s pretty fun, and was only 30 RMB (less than US$4).
Haha, I had to share this description of a city in southern China. It’s from a Dave’s ESL Cafe discussion board post again, by “oscar tame” this time. This guy’s evidently been in China a while (maybe too long?)…
Zhuhai – suspiciously pleasant climate, disturbingly broad visual spectrum, the ground unnervingly free of people and phlegm. the atmosphere mundane in the extreme, no swimming through and inhaling the interesting coal-and-diesel-fume soup air substitute that has been so conscientiously and considerately concocted for the inhabitants of many other cities. grim. on the plus side hong kong is very close, so one is able to quickly and conveniently unburden oneself of any excess and embarrassing money within the space of just a few hours when necessary.
I did some skits in class today. They were supposed to use some of the slang I had taught them, and I told them to make them love stories. (Nothing excites Chinese college kids like romance.) The following is a telephone dialogue from one of their skits:
> BOY: Hello, may I speak to Angel?
> GIRL: This is Angel.
> BOY: Angel, I need to talk to you.
> GIRL: What is it?
> BOY: I need to tell you that I think we should break up.
> GIRL: OK, see ya.
> BOY: …because I found another girlfriend who is more beautiful and nice.
> GIRL: OK, see ya.
> BOY: Bye.
I guess it’s a lot funnier to see the real thing… The girl’s apathy was hilarious.
Sometimes when you’re overseas you find yourself wondering why you did it. I got this from a post on a Dave’s ESL Cafe message board. I can really relate.
> Posted By: tomas
> Date: Sunday, 5 May 2002, at 4:21 p.m.
> In Response To: Is there freedom overseas? (jaj)
> Remember Janice Joplin’s words: “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. Freedom from the known is the real freedom, to lose complacancy and see things with new eyes. You (we) decided to take the road less traveled perhaps because we needed the freedom from all the noise that goes on in one’s head when involved in the aggressive business of acquiring wealth and status.
> Enjoy your humble but damn interesting life while you can, you might just end up back in the rat race. Stay alert, be here now, and stop questioning your decisions.
Well, I just got back from Nanjing. I saw the city as well as my friend Ray. A lot of people have told me that Nanjing is a boring city and not worth seeing, but I still wanted to check it out. It didn’t wow me at all, but I did think it was a nice city. It’s bigger amd more modern than Hangzhou, but without some of the touristy “West Lake and surrounding green mountains” charm.
So I got to hang out with Ray and his friends Yunfei and Xiao Zhu. It was an interesting experience. We saw the place where they work, a sort of weight loss clinic. Weight loss by machine, that is. Check out the photo section for pics of some of this.
Nanjing doesn’t have a lot to see… “Purple Mountain” and Sun Yat-sen’s tomb (along with some scattered attractions of scant interest), the Ming Wall around the city, museums, The Yangtze River, and the Nanjing Massacre Memorial. This last one was of greatest interest to me, as my studies have gotten me caught up in both Chinese and Japanese culture, and the relation between the two as well. I read The Rape of Nanking a few years back, and it left a deep impression. So I got to see the memorial to the estimated 300,000 victims recently.
It was definitely shocking. The memorial was built on the excavation site of one of the mass graves where the Japanese dumped the bodies of Chinese soldiers and civilians. This excavation site is on display, the bones of the victims laid bare for all to see. You can see skeletons of 3-year-old children, decapitated skeletons, skeletons with gauges in the bones and holes in skulls from Japanese bayonets and iron nails. It was really disturbing, realizing that these are the actual bones of those poor people I was looking at. There were plenty of photos and textual documentation within the museum as well, but the skeletons in the excavation pit hit hardest.
It was very moving. The horror, the plight of the Chinese. The bravery of those that tried to help. A letter written by a Japanese schoolkid who learned about everything for the first time on a visit to Nanjing. (It was on display, and I read it, but it was all in Japanese, without even a Chinese translation!)
But in some ways it was disappointing. Although some items, like the letter mentioned above, were not translated, most displays were in Chinese, Japanese, and English. However, I couldn’t help but compare the Nanjing Massacre Memorial to the two memorials to the atomic bomb victims I have visited in Japan. I can’t name many specifics, but those Japanese memorials just left overall impressions of very well-composed memorials (even taking into account that the Japanese displays make absolutely no mention of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor or the rest of the wartime context — they’re presented like war crimes committed in a vacuum!). Perhaps part of my disappointment was linguistic; captions for Chinese exhibits have a habit of telling you how you should react emotionally to what you’re seeing, and that’s definitely distracting and tacky to Western sensibilities.
I’m not going to make a laundry list of complaints, though. Overall it was done tastefully, the smoldering animosity the Chinese feel to this day over war crimes that still have not been atoned for or even fully acknowledged was withheld from the text of any of the displays.
It makes for a very depressing and draining several hours, but I feel like it’s something I have a human obligation to see. The Nanjing Massacre Memorial is a part of my China experience that will stick with me.
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…
I have been keeping a private electronic journal of my experiences here in Hangzhou, China since day one. Of course I’m not going to share everything here, but I would like to put some of it out there. I’ll start posting about what’s going on now, and later add some selections from the beginning of my stay here.