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21

Jan 2003

可爱的妈咪

虽然我觉得我对中文的观察非常有意思,非常机敏,但是某些人曾经说过上一篇“不好笑!一点都不好笑!嘎~不好笑!”好象还有一些人跟她同意了。我很可怜吧。

我星期天买了三本书:英汉赠言精粹,一个西方人眼中的中国,和魔戒(前传):藿比特人。从英汉赠言精粹中来的引文:
当一位真正的天才出现在世上,你可根据一种现象认识他,那就是蠢材们都联合起来反对他。 –J•斯威夫特
哈哈!有道理吧!:P

魔戒(前传):藿比特人(书名原文:The Hobbit)是指环王的三本书的前传。我看过英文版,觉得这种小说特别特别难 翻成中文,所以我很想看看李尧怎么翻译了。我去年在看指环王的时候我一直在想,“这些书会非常难翻译。”我回中国以后一个学生请我借给他指环王的第一本 (英文版)。我觉得他很认真,但这本书并不容易。我不知道他勉强看了几页。现在他可以看中文版了。

今天一个朋友对我说中国人一般不会说自己的妈妈很可爱。她说中国人会选“温柔,”“伟大,”这种单词来形容。是吗?我却觉得我妈妈很可爱。我姐妹也同意。我妈妈是有一点胖,但胖的有时候也是可爱的,像小宝宝和玩具熊。我妈妈也是!(还好她看不懂我在写什么!呵呵)

我能理解中国人的看法,但我觉得有时候中国人真的太romantic。我用这个英语单词因为我不知道怎么用中文表达我的意思。这个romantic不是“浪漫”的意思,而是贬义词。字典说:“不切实际,空想的。”当然,我也觉得我妈妈很温柔,也对我来说可以说是伟大的。但不可能每个妈妈都是伟大的。“伟大”的人一定少,要不然就是普通的!如果说我妈妈是最伟大的妈妈因为她是我的妈妈,那有多臭美啊!所以说中国人有时候很romantic。而且好象很多中国女孩在等她们的白马王子。浪漫是浪漫,但有时候她们好傻哦…

糟了!好象我的读者大部分都是中国女的。我去躲藏!


19

Jan 2003

可爱的中文

从外国人的角度,某些中文单词真有趣。这些单词如果一个字一个字翻成英语,挺好笑。可能是因为这样看这些词好象让它们幼稚一点,可爱一点。中国人可能没法懂我的感觉。我来打一些例子:

飞盘 – “flying dish.” 我们说 “frisbee”。我们才不会扔盘子呢!
大学 – “big study.” 学习有大小吗?
面包车 – “bread car.” 听起来像它要卖面包!我们说 “mini-van”。
热狗 – “hot dog.” 我们也说 “hot dog”,但这个好笑因为没想到你们会这样直接翻译!
松鼠 – “pine rat.” 我们说 “squirrel”。对我们来说,老鼠和松鼠是完全不一样的动物。当然,是有一点类似,但是我们的概念就是老鼠很脏,很烦,会破坏东西。但是松鼠很可爱,无害的。
仓鼠 – “storage rat.” 我们说 “hamster”。
袋鼠 – “bag rat.” 哈哈,我第一次听到这个词就哈哈大笑了。我们说”kangaroo”。
MP3 – “MP三.” 有意思的是西方国家先发明了这个技术,我们叫它 “MP three”。中国人听到这个次觉得很搞笑,但这是它原来的名字,”MP三”才好笑!
太阳很大 哈哈,这个时候太阳会大起来吗?这句话特别可爱,像孩子会说的。
你比我大 难道年龄就是大小吗?有意思。
看书 – “look at a book.” 如果用英语说 “look at a book”,你不一定打开了它,也不一定在读。对我们来说,看是看,读是读。
星期一,二,三… 不知道为什么我们的七天有名字,而不是数字,但没有名字就感觉很奇怪。但中国制度非常好学!
猕猴桃 – “Chinese monkey peach.” 呵呵,这个真好笑。我们说 “kiwi(fruit)”。

这些词其中大部分很奇怪因为英文有一个不能分开(比如:大•学)的词,也不能分开词的概念。对我们来说这些单词就是一个概念。因此,感觉太奇怪了,就觉得可笑。但我越学中文,我发现我觉得好笑的生词越少。

本来中国没有洋葱,没有土豆,但有葱,有芋艿。本来西方没有葱,没有芋艿,但有洋葱,有土豆。
中国: 1. 葱, 2. 洋葱
西方: 1. onion (洋葱), 2. green onion (“绿葱”就是葱)
中国: 1. 芋艿, 2. 洋芋
西方: 1. potato (洋芋), 2. taro (芋艿–这个不是很陪)

如果蔬菜的名字是这样,我们国家的文化其他的方面会怎么影响我们对国外的东西的印象?


19

Jan 2003

"Dialects" in China

[Here’s something I wrote way back in 2000, shortly after coming to China. I still think it’s pretty accurate.]

The linguistic situation in China is truly mind-blowing. Most people with a basic knowledge of China know that Mandarin is the official language, though quite a lot of people also speak Cantonese (in the south, in areas like Hong Kong and Guangzhou). Those people might also know that there are many more languages in China, spoken by various minority groups. All this is true, but this assessment barely even scratches the surface.

In reality, almost every person in Eastern China (developed China, not the countryside) is at least bilingual. China is a vast patchwork of languages, with every single town speaking its own brand of Chinese. Chinese people call these “dailects”, but it’s not actually that simple. When Americans think of dialects, we might think of black English, or the English of the American South, or of England. Though there might be some communication difficulty (with certain dialects in particular), communication between speakers of different dialects can generally proceed.

Chinese “dialects” are not so. This is largely because tones are a vital part of the Chinese language, and tones (as well as other sounds) vary from “dialect” to “dialect”. Neighboring towns tend to speak varieties of Chinese which can be mutually understood, but if you go just a little further away to another town, communication often breaks down completely. Since mutual intelligibility is generally accepted as the basic dividing line between dialect and language, these “dialects” are actually separate languages. Thus, this means that every town in China speaks a separate language! Since most people in China speak their hometown language as well as Mandarin, that means almost everyone is bilingual! Furthermore, many people who have moved from city to city can speak or at least understand more than one local language (and can understand the closely related ones as well).

So what we have here is a vast lingual patchwork with countless patches, and where one patch ends and the next begins is unclear. In addition, Mandarin is laid on top of that patchwork, lending cohesion to the linguistic mess. This is not to say that Mandarin is completely standard (or even necessarily often spoken) throughout the nation. It’s not (though much more so in northern China). This is where the true dialects come in — the local languages of different regions affect the way Mandarin is pronounced and used, but mutual intelligibility is preserved. Thus, the Mandarin of Beijing, of Shanghai, and of Taiwan are not the same. They each have their own dialect of Mandarin. In some parts of China like Guangzhou and Hong Kong, Cantonese is spoken more often than Mandarin.

Thus, China is a land of countless languages, united under one government. Calling the separate languages merely “dialects” and downplaying the linguistic disparity (and individuality) actually serves to help unify the country. It’s easier to consider people your fellow countrymen when they are merely speaking a “dialect” of the same language instead of a separate language. Even more unifying than the government’s psychological manipulation through words, though, is the Chinese written language. Despite the differences in the great array of languages — the differences in word pronunciation, in tone (sometimes even in number of tones), in grammatical usage, etc. — they all use the same Chinese characters in written form, with the exception of some minority languages. Any literate person in China (with the exception of some minorities) can read a Chinese newspaper aloud, character for character, in his native tongue, and it will be understood by native listeners, but not by most people from other regions of China. Read aloud in Mandarin, the official language of China, it will be understood by most people throughout China.

Because China is such a multilingual country, the use of Chinese characters and of Mandarin as the official language of China were crucial prerequisities to China’s modernization. Chinese characters have of course been around for thousands of years, but the adoption of one official language for the country did not take place until the beginning of the 20th century! It is perhaps one reason why China got a slow start on modernization. In selecting one language as the standard for the entire country, China was actually following Japan’s example. Japan underwent the same process as a precursor to its modernization. Perhaps because of its vastness, or maybe also because of its particular linguistic situation, China to this day does not have the linguistic cohesion that Japan does. Japan cannot be said to be a country of many languages (although in addition to Japanese it does have the the language of the Ainu, the aboriginal Japanese). To be sure, each part of Japan speaks a distinct variety of Japanese, but these are merely dialectual differences, and do not depart from mutual intelligibility for the most part.


18

Jan 2003

Shaq insults Chinese everywhere

It’s old news by now, but make sure you check out this story. Looks like Shaq’s feeling a little insecure… Gonna have to be sure to watch Yao Ming and Shaq square off this weekend when the Lakers meet the Rockets in Houston (Sat 9:30pm ET/Sat 8:30am China Time, ESPN).

As a follow-up to my last entry, I learned today that as a teacher, the three things you “can’t talk about in China” are religion, politics, and sex. I’ve already covered all three in class, at least once. Oops? (No, I’m not worried. That info is outdated.)

Oh, and yes, the rumors are true. The Sinosplice Weblog has gone Chinese. If you can’t read Chinese, you probably don’t care. If you can, you probably already know this, because you’re probably in China using Chinese Windows, and the old blog URL now redirects you to a new blog page in the language of your operating system. If you’re one of those rare individuals that can read Chinese but not in the 1.3 billion-strong club, you can still read the Chinese version. It’s not simply a translation (ugh, that would not be fun), it’s different material. So you have to learn Chinese if you want to know what’s in it. (Just the last little bit of motivation you needed, right? Ha!)


17

Jan 2003

中国电视

我本来对中国电视就没有兴趣。我觉得大部分的电视节目都非常傻。没意思。我知道中国有很多电视迷。对我来说,这真是不可思议!电视这么无聊,还有人可以整天不断地看!?真可怜。

我看过一个比较有意思的栏目叫《同乐五洲》。 这个栏目关于在中国的老外。上同乐五洲的外国人都说中文说得非常好。看他们讲话可让我自卑!他们的中文都比我的好得多!在电视上,他们都要答一些问题,讲 一些有趣的故事,然后表演。他们表演都是跟中国文化有关系的,比如武术啊,少数民族舞稻啊,传统乐器之类的。我很喜欢看外国人讲非常地道的中文因为我的水 平还没有到那么高的程度,看他们说得那么好会让我更努力。

中国电视文化肯定会继续发展。我相信以后会更好。但其实我也不是很喜欢看英文电视,怪不得我不喜欢中国电视…


16

Jan 2003

起初老外创造了一个blog…

我去年就想开始写中文blog但有一些理由我到现在才开始写。第一,我的中文还不是很好,怕我没法用中文表达我的意思。我知道这个理由不是很好。学 语言总是个过程,只能继续努力。第二,我想我自己算是个完美主义者,所以如果我知道我写的会有错误,会有不清楚不自然的地方,我宁可不写。这个态度也不 好。第三,我喜欢Blogger,但好象它不太支持中文的blog。还是有一些问题。第四,本来我根本不知道该写些什么!这个blog是我中文学习的一种 工具,也是一种方式跟中国人分享我各种各样的意见。但我已经想好了。这个blog就是为了让中国人知道外国人会怎么看中国社会,中国人,中国文化,中文。 好象没有别的老外写这样的blog。希望你不介意我烂的中文…


16

Jan 2003

Sex in the Classroom

sex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


12

Jan 2003

Information Terrorism

wtf

Well, China has done it again. First Google, now Blogspot. Blogspot is blocked, in case you haven’t heard. The links on my China Blogs page look like they’ve been massacred, as all the blocked sites have a little icon next to them. Blocked sites on my list now constitute 23 out of 50 total. Most of those are Blogspot sites.

I don’t know what the government thinks it’s doing… I’m not going to reiterate all the good points that Leylop already made. The sad thing is, though, that most of these blogs are by foreigners living in China, dedicated to changing the way outsiders think of China. We’re out here building bridges, creating windows. And they’re getting torn down and smashed by the government of the very country we’re trying to benefit.

Stupid, stupid…

[More info]

09

Jan 2003

Destination Locked In…

milkdrop

Well, it’s 2am and I’m packing to go back to China. I leave at 8:20am. I didn’t plan on doing my usual all-nighter (which helps me sleep on the plane), but then I ran into a snag with my luggage — my good, sturdy, really big, wheeled suitcase thing. The zipper busted! I fixed it, sort of. The “fix” involved super glue. Yes, on a zipper. So I’m waiting for that to dry before I can truly be finished packing.

This was a great trip home, though. Nothing makes one appreciate being home with the whole family for Christmas like not being home for Christmas for a few years. I think I’m going to be back home in the U.S. next year, too, because my friend Dan is getting married in early January, 2004.

I have learned, though, that as long as my life is in China, it’s a little uncomfortable being home for too long. True, I love seeing my family. Yes, I love seeing all my old friends. And I love eating American food (I hit 200 lbs. for the first time while home this holiday season). But that’s really all there is for me here at this stage in my life. I feel like in China so much is happening to me. I learn Chinese. I earn money. I travel. I get all kinds of cool job offers. I date. I write my book. I design lesson plans. I make new friends all the time. I’m constantly soaking up new info about China and gaining new insights into its culture. My imagination is ablaze with all the possibilities there. While I’m in the United States, I feel like once I’ve exceeded my “visit duration” (which looks to be about 2 weeks), I’m just stagnating. I’m ready to go back.

It has been a wonderful visit, but once again, I’m China bound….

Let’s hope that super glue holds.


07

Jan 2003

Tissue Issues

tissue-san

One thing that tends to become an issue no matter what the duration of your stay in China is tissues (and various other paper product variations). Sure, in the U.S. we have a wide assortment of sanitary, disposable paper products, each created for its own particular uses. China kind of does its own thing. It goes something like this:

paperproducts

U.S.A.

1. Tissues: Used mainly to blow your nose, possibly to wipe blood or something from your skin.
2. Toilet paper: Used to wipe your bum after you use the toilet. Also used as a tissue in a pinch.
3. Paper napkin: Used to wipe one’s mouth/fingers when eating.
4. Paper towels: Used to wipe up household spills, or sometimes for cleaning. Used as a paper napkin in a pinch.

China

1. Tissues: Used to blow your nose, to wipe blood or something from your skin, to wipe your bum after you use a public toilet, to wipe one’s mouth/fingers when eating at home, to wipe up household spills, or sometimes for cleaning.
2. Toilet paper: Used to wipe your bum after you use the toilet in a private residence. Not provided in most public restrooms. Also used as napkins in low-budget restaurants everywhere.
3. Paper napkin: Available only in certain restaurants (especially McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut); used to wipe one’s mouth/fingers when eating.
4. Paper towels: Pretty much unknown in China. There is a tissue-like version that comes in individual sheets instead of a roll. This is used much like paper towels are in the U.S.

Foreigners who visit China (especially females) quickly learn to carry little packs of tissues wherever they go. You need these if you want to use a public restroom, and they come in handy when eating, because paper napkins (even toilet paper) are not always readily dispensed to customers. Another difference is that public restrooms in China often have no mirror. Public restrooms in China often serve only their one very primitive function, and they do that at only the bare minimum of functionality.

And then sometimes your own toilet even sucks, but it’s best if I stay off that topic….


04

Jan 2003

Waiting for…

I think the internet has stolen a piece of my soul. How else can I explain it?

I spend way too much time on the internet, surfing, reading, always feeling there’s something else eluding my discovery, taunting my nescience… but what?

waiting for god, by Sam Brown @ explodingdog.com

Whatever it is I want back, it’s not coming. There is no White Rabbit. I’ve tried many different tactics.

Ignoring it doesn’t work. Whatever it is I’m ignoring is far better at ignoring me.

Bribes don’t work. I try to put something out there, a kind of peace offering, “proof” of a goodwill that pleads for the return of what’s mine.

Sometimes I’m tricked into thinking that there’s hope. It appeals to my creative side, to a boulder of imagination richly laden with potential energy… if I could only dislodge it.

Can I dislodge it? I find encouragement here and there. I try. But I wonder…

When did all this begin? The very beginning is impossible to pinpoint, wisps of infuence rising all along the timeline all the way back to…?

Something happened when I got a T1 connection at UF. Then I started my own website. I started learning Flash. I started a blog. I got my own dot-com.

And still I blunder on, ever uncertain if my accumulations mean anything at all, that place forever unquenched…


02

Jan 2003

Poll Mania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


30

Dec 2002

Observations in the USA

I’ve been home for about a week now. I’ve made some observations in that amount of time:

1. Clean air is good. Living in China, you get used to dirty air. But I’m just going to have to go out on a limb here and say it: I think the clean air here is better. It’s good to breathe, and it’s nice to be able to see into the distance without that distortion haze. The perfect Florida weather is a plus, too.

dancingsquirrel

2. American food is good. This includes even Taco Bell. Perhaps especially Taco Bell. Those chicken quesadillas are pretty amazing for $1.99. Had spaghetti for dinner tonight. Awesome. Cheesecake the other day. Incredible. Steak dinner coming soon. Yes. I’m fatter than I’ve ever been and loving it. Mmmmm….

3. American squirrels are cuter. They’re much more abundant here, too. It’s so funny to see Chinese people go gaga over a squirrel sighting, and Chinese squirrels are not even cute! The squirrels here are cute. We’re even immune to the cuteness already. Plus they dance. Look at that guy go!

4. Liquor is expensive here. 89rmb (US$11) for a bottle of Absolut Vodka at the Metro in Hangzhou. That same bottle is $18 here. D’oh!

5. Driving fast is really fun. I don’t remember enjoying driving this much last time I was home. I hope I don’t get a ticket.


28

Dec 2002

Home for Christmas, finally (part 3)

It was Paco who met me at the airport. Why Paco, and not my family? Well, as I mentioned earlier, part of this story is “shrouded in mystery.” Or, perhaps more accurately, a web of deceit. Let me explain.

I got the idea last summer to make a surprise visit home for Christmas 2002. When the Fall 2002 semester began, I asked for those 2 weeks off plenty early. It was OK’ed, but I had to make up the classes or otherwise arrange for them to be taught. Wilson and I came up with a plan to combine our classes and give a multimedia presentation (6 Friends episodes). I prepared the instructional material for the multimedia classes with PowerPoint, so it was no extra work for Wilson. I get to go home, my students get a fun class, no one has extra classes to teach or make up. Perfect.

As the departure date drew nearer and nearer, I realized that there was a flaw in my plan. If my coming was a surprise, my family would send any gifts for me to China, and I wouldn’t see them until well into 2003. Or maybe they would postpone the whole gift-giving thing until they knew they would see me again. In either scenario, I don’t get presents (no good!), and they might feel bad, since I was returning home gift-laden. Enter my scheming mind.

I contacted my friend Illy and asked for her assistance. I had a part of the plan. She fleshed it out nicely. My family could not help but be hoodwinked by our elegant web of deceit!

Illy and I used to work together at UF’s English Language Institute, where we met many a foreign student. It was during that time that Illy and I became good friends. My parents had met Illy, and they like her a lot.

The Plan. Illy called up my mom and told her that she had recently gotten back in touch with “George,” a mutual ex-ELI student friend of Illy’s and mine. Apparently George graduated from the ELI long ago, and he recently finished up his Masters in the States. It just so happens that George is Chinese, and is now ready to go home, just before Christmas. It also just so happens that George has relatives in the Tampa area, whom he wants to visit before flying home out of Tampa. Illy has long been the chauffer of poor car-less ELI and ex-ELI students, and so it’s only natural that Illy would drive George to Tampa and take him to the airport. What a wonderful coincidence, though, Illy told my mom — Illy and George could stop by on December 22nd or 23rd and visit, as well as pick up any gifts my family might want to send to me in China. Wonderful.

George is, of course, a fictional character. Illy would be taking me home to surprise my parents. Enter complications.

First I had problems with my flight. It was scheduled for Saturday night (and Illy made plans with my parents), but then it was cancelled (grrrrr!) and rescheduled for Sunday evening. Illy and George rescheduled accordingly.

During all this I learned my good friend Paco was going to be visiting from Harvard Law School. He was happy to be in on it. Originally Dan was going to pick me up from the airport, but the switch to Sunday made it impossible for him. I thought maybe Illy could do it, but during that period I was having trouble getting in touch with Illy, so Paco became my ride from the airport.

The initial surprise was on my parents. Amy and Grace weren’t home Sunday night. I originally planned to hide in Illy’s trunk, all covered up except for my face, then have Illy knock on the door and say that she needed help bringing in some gifts she had bought for them from me. We could put a gift-wrapped box lid on my face, and when they picked it up, SURPRISE! The thing is, Illy’s trunk was too small for me. I’m not small. But the back seats in her car fold down, connecting the backseat space with the trunk. So what I did was have my torso in the trunk, and my legs folded in the back seat.

Illy ended up telling my parents that she brought a heavy “piano accessory” for them, and that she needed both of them to help get it out of the trunk. (She couldn’t say something like car trouble, because then only my dad would have come outside.) My dad got a little suspicious. He had also just called my room in Hangzhou and gotten no answer. He was looking around outside for surprises. The trunk threw him off guard, though, because it was clearly too small to hold me, and the covered up form in the trunk was only big enough to be half of me. They couldn’t see how the trunk connected with the backseat space. So they were both very surprised and happy to see me when the sheet came off. Laughter all around. (I refuse to believe that my dad’s suspicion ran very deep — come on! I was in China for the past 2 Christmases. He had no basis for strong suspicion.)

Paco was hiding in the front seat, and when the surprise was sprung on my parents in all its glory, he leaped out and snapped a few shots. “Oh, hi George!” my mom said to him. (Thanks, Paco!)

Christmas Surprise

The next surprise came for Amy. She has her own apartment, but she came home Monday night. She had stored some of her stuff in my “empty” room, and when she came home, my dad sent her back there to clear some more of her things out. I was waiting behind the door, and sneaked up behind her in the dim room. When she turned around I was just standing there. It freaked the hell out of her! First she was frightened, and then overwhelmed with joy. Her face went from terror to delight over the span of a second or two. It was hilarious. She was even crying. Best reaction ever. No hard feelings or anything.

Grace’s flight came in from Germany the next night (Christmas Eve). As usual, her flight was delayed (this always happens to her — we were pretty annoyed that she had to come in on Christmas Eve). So Amy and my parents were standing in a highly visible spot to greet her and her friend Alex. I was sitting down not far away, “reading” a newspaper. After their little reunion, I ambled over to the group, still holding up the newspaper. I “bumped” into her, and acted all shocked to see her. She was pretty shocked herself. It was funny, but not anywhere near Amy funny.

So that’s the story. I had a great Christmas with my family. A lot of my friends are in town (my visit isn’t a surprise to them), and it’s great to see them too. I am sooo happy to escape Hangzhou’s cold and wet winter for even 2 weeks. It’s sunny here almost all the time, and I wore short sleeves on Christmas. And then there’s the eggnog and the food… but I think I’ll stop here.

Happy Holidays.


26

Dec 2002

Home for Christmas, finally (part 2)

Sunday, December 22nd. I get to the airport at about 8:30am. Check-in goes smoothly. Before long I’m on a plane. The only snag is that what I was told was a nonstop flight from Shanghai to Detroit was actually a flight with a stopover in Tokyo. Maybe I wouldn’t have to get off the plane, at least, and I could just sleep. I was ready for that.

On the plane I notice there are a lot of young people. Turns out there are two singing groups from universities in the U.S. which had been invited to Shanghai to perform. That includes religious Christmas songs. Kind of interesting; not interesting enough to keep me awake, however. My last thought as I drift off is, “I hope they wake me when they serve the meal….”

I awake as we’re arriving in Tokyo. I ask the girl next to me if there was a meal. “Yes, she tried to wake you. It was like you were dead to the world.” D’oh! Oh well. I was dead to the world. It’s the best way to sleep.

They make me get off the plane and wait around in the Tokyo airport for two hours. It’s strange hearing so much Japanese again so soon, when I wasn’t planning on it at all. Mostly, though, I’m just tired and hungry. I fall asleep in my chair and awake to the boarding call.

The flight starts off pleasantly enough. To my left is a silent Asian man. To my right is a large Marine, headed home from Okinawa with his family for Christmas. His family is behind us. He seems nice enough.

It isn’t long, however, before the trans-Pacific ennui sets in. I succeed in sleeping for a while. I devour a decent in-flight meal and sleep a little more. Soon, though, my Marine friend’s little 4-5 year old son “E.J.” becomes possessed. He is noisy. Then he starts this thing where he lies on his back in the seat and pummels my seat from behind with his feet. Not exactly conducive to restfulness. I can’t really complain because his parents tell him to stop. Thing is, he keeps just waiting a little while and then starting up again.

There is a mother and two nice young boys in front of me. They all love to recline their seats. I suppose that’s their right. My long cramped legs are forced into straddling the seat in front of me, my knee caps jammed up against the back of the arm rests of the seat. Then they come up with this fun game of repeatedly putting the arm rests up and down for no discernible reason. Are they doing it solely to keep painfully whacking my knee caps? Thanks.

My agony is interrupted by a new form of torture called Santa Who? — a “heart-warming” story of an amnesia-inflicted Santa who meets a selfish news reporter who needed a holiday change of heart. I watch the whole thing. I want to die.

Wait — now E.J. is pummeling me again and my friends in front of me are crushing my kneecaps with renewed vigor. Now I want to die.

There are only two good points to the flight. First, there seem to be an unusually large number of attractive women onboard. Not seated next to me, of course, but they are on the premises to give me something else to focus my attention on and help me pull through it. Thanks, ladies. Second, the airline serves ice cream after Santa Who? ends. Ice Cream! All right.

Silent Asian man is Chinese, as it turns out, and can’t figure out his immigration forms. I help him. He seems pleasantly surprised that I can help him with that in Chinese. His English doesn’t seem too hot. I found myself wondering if he always asks for Coke because he likes it, or because that’s all he can say.

Scooby Doo the Movie comes on. Vowing not to make the same mistake again, I refuse to put my earphones on. Still, my eyes stay glued to the screen, however, and I’m soon angry over the stupidity of the film. I manage to sleep a little more.

Hope comes in the form of the second in-flight meal. Not only does it satisfy my hunger, but with it comes peace to the whole plane, for a short time.

For the remaining stretch E.J. tests my patience. But I hold out. I don’t crack. We land.

Things start getting better after that, because I am actually in the U.S.A. I have just eaten, but I decide to spend some of my 3-hour layover in Detroit eating. I get chicken tacos with chips, salsa, and guacamole dip. You can not get that stuff in China! As I’m eating I notice someone else eating chilli cheese fries and I almost regret my choice of food. The discomforts of the past 13 hours quickly fade into the background as my stomach takes the spotlight. Plus there are more hot women in the Detroit airport. Hot American women. All right.

Before long I’m on my final flight, bound for Tampa. Is it just my imagination, or is the leg room shrinking with every flight?! My legs are really uncomfortable, but at least this flight is relatively short. As the plane lifts off the ground, I gaze out over the landscape. No snow. It looks like a sepia world, all in browns, tans, grays, drabs….

Despite the short travel time, my level of discomfort seems to rise proportionately. It is all I can do to keep from flipping out. I can’t sleep. I try to pass the time with the new issue of The Economist. Biotechnology in China. Hmmmm… (Ouch, my knees!)

In the end, after 24 hours of travel, I make it. As I arrive at the baggage claim, the familiar face of Paco greets me.


25

Dec 2002

Home for Christmas, finally (part 1)

My Christmas this year has been an event partially shrouded in mystery since the summer. It was then that the idea to surprise my whole family with a Christmas visit home began to formulate.

Saturday, December 21st. I had meant to get on a bus to Shanghai as early as 3pm, but it wasn’t until 5:30pm that I finally make it out the door. I have been buying lots of Christmas presents and otherwise just preparing for my two weeks’ absence from school. Wilson graciously offered to cover my classes. He had the good idea of combining all our classes and throwing them in a multimedia room at night for those 2 weeks. So all I had to do was plan the content and put it into a wonderful PowerPoint presentation, which was then burned onto a CD and left in Wilson’s hand the day I left.

So I step out the door at around 5:30pm. It’s raining, as it has been for days. The shoes which I have purposely not been wearing for the past 2 days in order to make sure they’re dry for my trip home are wet within 10 minutes of stepping out the door, despite my umbrella. The guard on the ground floor of our building says this damn rain is going to continue for another 3-4 days, at least. All I can think is I’ll be home soon….

I get out to Zhoushan Dong Road just in time to miss a taxi. And then it’s 30 minutes of trudging through a gray, wet world, my rolling suitcase reluctantly trailing behind me on this misadventure. I timed it just wrong: 6pm is when taxi drivers get off their shifts, so around 5:30 the drivers are all heading back to the station and refuse to give anyone a ride, even if the car is empty and the “vacant” light is on. It’s almost impossible to get a taxi at this time of day, but I was standing out in the rain with a heavy suitcase full of gifts and a backpack, and I was going home. Unfortunately, the taxi drivers don’t seem to realize this. Empty cab after empty cab whizzes right by my wet, frantically flailing figure, my furious curses unheard.

Eventually, someone does stop. For some reason, when drivers are getting off duty, they do this thing where they pick up a friend (?) before getting their last ride, and then drop off their friend on the way to your destination. It’s definitely not legit, but they all do it. After waiting 30 minutes in the rain, I wasn’t going to complain.

On the way to the bus station, there’s a traffic jam. All the huge construction trucks in Hangzhou seem to have congregated on the road we need to take to get to the East Bus Station. Our driver doesn’t seem to have much regard for our personal safety, or at least not for the structural integrity of his vehicle. Our windshield repeatedly comes scant inches from the lower end of the huge truck in front of us. Time wears on, and my driver quickly learns I am not in a chatty mood. I am beginning to wonder if there are still going to be buses to Shanghai by the time I get there.

So I finally arrive at the East Bus Station. I loathe that place. It’s hard to explain exactly why, but the scalpers that assail you before you’re even out of your taxi would definitely be high on the list. Shanghai, Shanghai! they yell in my face. The fact that I was actually bound for Shanghai makes them all the more annoying.

When I get to the ticket office, there is a small crowd outside, but no one inside. All the ticket windows are closed up. “They’re closed,” the scalpers gleefully announce, a grinning pack of vultures descending upon me. “Shanghai…”

Defeated, I begin reluctant negotiations with them, and 80rmb is the cheapest I’m hearing. I start following that offer, but as I trudge past the Shanghai-bound waiting room, on a whim I duck in to investigate. The girl at the front tells me I can still buy a ticket to Shanghai. I’m not getting her convoluted instructions to the last remaining open ticket window, so she kindly takes me there herself. I buy a legit 55rmb ticket to Shanghai that leaves in 10 minutes. I am ecstatic.

So I try to sleep on the bus to Shanghai, and to dry out my feet a little as well. Both efforts only meet with limited success. I am chagrined to notice that although the VCD being played is not showing up on the screens (evidently the video out isn’t working), the inane Chinese soap opera dialogue nonetheless spews on. Greeeeat….

I get to Shanghai and meet my friend. I had a good dinner. Get to see famous Hong Kong director Wong War-kai’s movie In the Mood for Love, and I gotta say, I am not impressed. Yeah, I can see the artsiness of the cinematography. I suppose it is cleverly filmed. But in my mind no movie can be forgiven for failing in its primary function: entertainment. This movie and its endless parade of qipao bores me.

Sunday, December 22nd. Probably partly due to In the Mood for Love, I fail in my effort to stay up all night. I do that so that I can be blissfully unconscious for the 20+ hour journey home to Tampa, Florida. I inadvertently get a few hours of sleep. These few hours almost make me late leaving for the airport. I leave in a rush.

My friend told me that I should ask for a 20% discount to the airport since it was so far. I was aware that in Shanghai you can sometimes negotiate cheaper taxi fares, but in my experience that only happens at night. So when I stop the first taxi I come across and tell him I want to go to the Pudong International Airport and I expect a 20% discount, the driver is a little surprised too. “In the daytime?” he says. “I’ll give you 10% off.”

“Never mind,” I say, and start walking.

A minute later my luggage and I are in the taxi. 20% off it is. It is 7:30am, and my flight leaves at 9:30am. It might be as much as an hour’s drive to the airport. I am a little nervous.


20

Dec 2002

Bicycle, Swim, Car Poll

Poll: Can you swim/ride a bike/drive a car?

Note: In most cases, those who claimed they could drive did not actually have a driver’s license.


19

Dec 2002

Leylop has her own blog!

Leylop has her own blog! Leylop is a junior at Zhejiang University here in Hangzhou, and she’s been a regular commenter here for a little while now. I’m not sure how she found my blog, but I’m glad she did. It’s good to have a Chinese voice in the comments. (Hoping to hear more from Lily too…) Leylop is now writing her own blog (in English). I was glad to help her figure out the blogging basics. She’s also doing a little survey of foreigners living in China. If that’s you, take a few seconds to fill it out. It’s really short.


17

Dec 2002

Frames and Tunes

frames

Check out those 3.5″ X 5″ real wood picture frames. Note the smooth, graceful curves of the frame on the left and the timeless straight lines of the frame on the right. Classic backing design. All three frames just 10rmb!

No, this is not a catalog. But can you believe that?! Only 10rmb (US$1.25) for all three frames. I don’t know who decided that in the USA frames are allowed to be expensive, but it’s not right!

Speaking of frames, let me change the subject to music. Recently I was investigating what music is currently popular in the States. You know, I’ve been in China for some time now, but I still maintain a scholarly interest in the evolution of contemporary American pop culture. (Ha! Actually, I was starving for new music…) I’ve been meaning to check out more Gorillaz songs off the first album (besides Clint Eastwood), so I snagged a few of those. I also saw that a new band which calls itself The Transplants has gained some popularity in the past few months, and I caught their tune Diamonds and Guns through Shoutcast.com. Man, I can’t get enough of this song! Their other songs are good too! Admittedly, I’m a Rancid fan, but this stuff is different, and good. The punk/hiphop/rap/metal fusion style reminds me a little of Gorillaz. I just wish that it wasn’t so hard for me here to come across new bands like this.


17

Dec 2002

Race, Schmace

Race Not Reflected in Genes, Study Finds:

“There is wide agreement among anthropologists and human geneticists that, from a biological standpoint, human races do not exist,” Sergio Pena and colleagues at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerias in Brazil and the University of Porto in Portugal wrote in their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Yet races do exist as social constructs,” they said.

I remember learning in my Japanese anthropology class about how scientifically, race is nonexistent. Here’s the same idea again.

It’s funny–the United States is regarded by all sorts of countries (including Asian ones) as a country with race problems–and yet racism thrives here. It’s just very hush-hush. I remember reading something a Chinese person said, as quoted in the China Lonely Planet: “There is no racism in China because there are no black people in China.”

If you ask a Chinese student, probably over 90% will tell you that there is no racism in China. Yet if you force them to answer the question, there is definitely a sort of “heirarchy of acceptability” for marriage: Chinese first, then Korean, Japanese, Caucasian, African. Why? “No reason,” they say. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Chinese people say they don’t like black people even when though most of them have never even met one.

Japan has serious problems as well. Many Japanese people seem uncomfortable acknowledging that a lot of their genes are shared with the Ainu minority people and the Koreans. Scientists work hard to disprove these theories to maintain ridiculous concepts of “racial purity.”

Asians tend to keep their mouths shut when they have something disagreeable to say, and they don’t go burning crosses or anything like that. But make no mistake about it, no matter what they tell you. Racism is well established here.



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