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.”
This article is great. Clearly, I have a special interest, my studies taking me deep into both Japanese and Chinese culture. But seriously, the Japanese are just so cute sometimes. All this and insight into their culture as well. You gotta love it. I’d love to see more articles like this. Thanks to Addicted to Life for finding this and sharing.
On a related note, a new poll shows that the Chinese still don’t like the Japanese. Big surprise. Sorry, the article is from the People’s Daily, so it doesn’t make for the best reading. (And they even included in the article one of my Chinglish pet peeves: the Chinese can’t use the word “so so” without adding “just” in front of it! Grrrr…)
OK, I know this has absolutely nothing to do with China, but I can’t resist. I love this game, and I must share it with the world. It’s called Alien Hominid. You’re this alien that crash lands near the FBI headquarters. You know the American government — they immediately get all violent and come out guns blazing. So it’s a fight for survival, you against the FBI dudes.
The animation style is really great, so even though it’s kind of graphic (you can bite the FBI guys’ heads off! Cool!), it’s a lot of fun. It’s by a really talented 23-year-old animator who calls himself Synj. It’s sponsored by NewGrounds.com, which is a great site for Flash stuff. Check it out.
These two questions are pretty unscientific, I know. The students’ answers are very subjective. Before the questions, I made sure they understood what I meant by “care.” Still, interesting results. A trend is uncovered.
Obviously, the word “care” is crucial, because what does that mean? One can easily say one cares, but then that “caring” doesn’t actually manifest itself in any actions.
Also, this is not secret ballot. When students declare they don’t care, they do so publicly in front of the whole class as I count hands. There’s less of the “herd mentality” than you would think, however. You do get one or two people defying the rest of the class and voting how they really feel at times.
So many people have been writing me begging for the results of the next poll that I couldn’t wait any longer to post them. (Yeah, riiiiight…) Anyway, I find the results of the latest poll very interesting. Maybe at least one other person out there will too. My latest poll had three parts. I’ve got the data all tabulated and represented prettily in nice graphics, but I’ll just release one result today (ooh! Suspense!). But worry not — it is definitely the most significant poll thus far.
The question was: “Who is the greatest person in 5,000 years of Chinese history?” These college kids have to study a lot of Chinese history throughout their educations. They’ve learned about many a historical figure. They’ve also been subject to quite a bit of propaganda. Given these points (particularly the last one), I fully
expected a landslide victory for Mao Zedong. The guy is still a national hero. He’s still talked about. He’s on every bill now (100, 50, 20, 10, 5) except for the one. (Seems kinda insecure of the government to go that far in promoting the guy, doesn’t it?) He seems the natural choice. In asking this question, I didn’t feed them any answers. I let them come up with the list of people to choose from before I started counting votes. I left the qualifications for being
“great” completely up to them. Anyway, without further ado, here are the results:
For those of you that don’t know, Qin Shihuang was the first emperor of China. He united China but was a completely ruthless bastard to do it. He’s credited with the Great Wall project and the Terracotta Warriors were made for his tomb. Li Shimin was a great emperor of Tang Dynasty China — China at the height of its ancient glory. Wu Zetian was also a leader from the Tang Dynasty, but she was an empress. I noticed she only got girls’ votes. A vote for her is a vote for Chinese feminism, maybe? Anyway, I’ll let you all draw your own conclusions. If you know who these people are, then I’m sure you’re very capable of that. Post your comments…
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:
See if you can guess what the deal is with this pic. Or, just be lazy and see below.
We ran into this guy in the Holiday Inn lobby. He was being interviewed, and he let me take his picture. This is how he advertises. Chuck has the (very short) story in his blog. This particular ad is for a soccer pool.
Living in China has its fair share of inconveniences. The ones that immediately come to mind are being on the opposite side of the globe from most of my friends and family, and a big long list of things I can’t eat here (oh, cheesecake! I miss you!). But there are some great benefits too. The benefits are so numerous and unexpected that you can live here for years without realizing them.
One of these benefits which I discovered early on in my first semester at ZUCC was the potential for gathering information. Sure, the teacher’s up there to teach the students, and then the teacher can learn from the students as well. But I mean something far more direct. You can gather information on Chinese society straight from your students and even make it part of classwork. My first semester I taught American Society and Culture, and one of the regular assignments I gave was a one-page written response to the latest chapter’s material. I encouraged students to make comparisons between Chinese society and what they learned in the book, or what they learned from me, or what they knew of American society already. At times I cursed myself for giving those assignments because it gave me a lot to read. But what I gained! Students would often write out what they wouldn’t say in class. I learned a lot about Chinese families, government, education, etc. from those papers. More than my students learned from me, I fear.
Anyway, despite the precious info I gleaned from those papers, they were a one-semester thing. It was just too much work to read them, and I had to read them all or some of the students would plagiarize like little fiends. And I wasn’t about to let them get away with that, less because of the dishonesty factor and more because I didn’t want them to ever think for a second that they could outsmart me.
Since then, I’ve picked up this and that from miscellaneous discussions and such in class. But it’s never been such pure information downloading as it was with the papers. Recently, though, something rekindled my lust for data. I think it began when I asked my class if they shared my excitement about a new generation of leadership in the Chinese Communist Party (they very much didn’t), and a little discussion on their feelings about politics ensued. Basically, they felt that they had no control over politics, so they didn’t care. But the idea of taking polls in class took shape in my mind.
So, lately I’ve been surveying my students on various topics. I’m carefully noting the data, and I’ll report the interesting results I find. I have close to 300 students. Sure, my students typically come from upper class Chinese families, because the tuition here is quite high for a Chinese college. But that doesn’t mean the data won’t yield trends that are interesting and telling. I’m loving this. I’ve got lots of good stuff on the way. So without further ado, the results of my first poll…
Is that higher than you expected? Cell phones are definitely common on the streets in Hangzhou. They’re everywhere. The ::beep:: ::beep:: of the SMS message alert permeates every nook and cranny of town. Furthermore, while Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province–a quite wealthy province–keep in mind that this is still Hangzhou, not Hong Kong, not Shanghai, not Beijing (those three places have cheesecake!). Also, the fact that so many of the students bring their cell phones to the classroom is a serious factor for the teacher. There’s little more infuriating in class than a student ignoring you because his gaze is transfixed on the LCD screen of his cell phone. They think you won’t see them if they keep the phone below the surface of the desk. Makes you wanna grab the phone, chuck it out the window, and smack the student.
Anyway, the polls have begun. And may the data collecting proliferate among the foreign teachers here in China…
Things tend to happen to me in China in clumps of weird connections. Example: my first year in Hangzhou I lived with my Chinese friend from UF’s fiancee’s dad’s boss’s son. (Didja get that?) This past Saturday I went to Wuzhen, a small, scenic, historic town (guzhen in Chinese) with a small group in order to film a travel show for the Zhejiang TV station. The trip was unpaid, but I didn’t pay for anything either — transportation, lodging, food was all paid for. And it was a good opportunity to meet young Chinese people. So how did I get that hookup? My e-mail penpal (Erin)’s co-worker (Vivienne)’s date’s co-workers were looking for a foreigner who could speak Mandarin for the show. Turns out they got two from my school. Kiwi Chris can also speak it, and so he went too.
So that was my Friday and Saturday. We were a group of only 6, and it was nice. 2 foreigners, 1 Wuzhen tourguide, a camera crew of 2, and 1 show hostess. There were times when the Chinese and foreigners would detach for separate conversations, but there was plenty of friendliness and good feeling as well. I’ve gotta say, Wuzhen was just a little bit boring, but it was cool to learn how they do some of the traditional crafts like making rice wine and weaving cloth. Check out the pictures. As far as the location, I think I still prefer the first guzhen I visited: Xitang.
I’ve been told that the show airs this Saturday (Nov. 30th) at 9:55pm on Zhejiang TV-3, then again the following Saturday (Dec. 7th) at 11am and 4pm, Zhejiang TV-3.
My blog entry entitled “Ghost Alien Love” got quite a few interesting comments related to love and women in China. I have also discussed love/women issues with my Thursday night advanced conversation class, and I learned a few interesting things about Chinese law and society:
1. It is illegal for a woman to have a baby out of wedlock in China. An unmarried woman is required by law to get an abortion if she somehow gets pregnant. (But that couldn’t happen in this conservative society, now could it?) Well, until recently… (see below)
2. If a married woman is pregnant, it is illegal for her husband to divorce her until well after the delivery.
3. If a married man is found to be cheating on his wife, and the wife doesn’t want a divorce, she can force him by law to give her monetary compensation for his infidelity. (Yeah, I’m sure that gets used a lot. No colossal loss of face for the woman or anything…)
Kinda crazy, eh? But there’s this new law in Jilin province (way up north) that allows unmarried women to have a baby through a legitimate fertilization clinic. I’m wondering why?? Is there a big demand for that up there?? And it’s not like this is a democracy, so even if there was a big demand, that doesn’t guarantee results in legislation. This is still a rather conservative society on the surface, so I find this bizarre. I couldn’t find any English news on this, but here’s a Chinese link if you can handle it: [Yahoo News China, Nov. 11, 2002].
As crazy as I thought all this was, though, a Chinese friend recently told me about a female cousin in Shanghai, late twenties, who wants to have a baby on her own. And get this: not the Jilin way. She’s out looking for “Mr. Right” to do the deed and plant the seed, and then she’ll just raise the baby on her own! You may not find that outrageous, but you have to realize that an illegitimate child in China has a hard life. They can’t be properly “registered,” and so aren’t eligible for schooling. There are all kinds of headaches. Not something you choose, if you can help it.
But hey, this is China. It’s changing fast.
Not long ago, a page on Bokane.org reminded me of a question that’s been in the back of my mind and close to my heart for over two years now. It’s a question that I started asking in 1997, and which has become especially persistent over the past two years. Now it’s in the forefront again, running amuck and causing havoc. Oh, it’s not doing any real damage, of course. It’s tantalizing. Like the puppy in the short box, no matter how many times you push it back, it just keeps emerging. And though you may lose patience with it, it remains interesting. But what can you do other than push it back? You’ve got somewhere to go. It isn’t a part of your itinerary. Yet it won’t be ignored. And its teeth, while mostly harmless, can hurt.
I asked Wilson recently, “During all this time you’re spending in China, are you becoming more and more yourself, or more and more someone else?” I tend to hate those kinds of questions, because the person asking them usually just seems smug that they’ve thought up an annoying meaningless question to irritate someone else’s intellect with. But this time I cared about the question, and I cared about the answer. I really wanted to know what was happening with Wilson, and what he perceived of it. And, of course, whatever mysterious forces there are that have been messing with Wilson’s identity for almost a year have been doing the same to me for over two years. It was personal.
Wilson said he’s becoming more and more someone else. Someone he likes. Someone with purpose and drive.
And me? I know I’m different, but I’m not even sure I know how I’ve changed. What’s scarier is the prospect of how much change there is that I don’t recognize.
Who am I now? Is this a result of my decision to come to China, or a result of being in China?
Am I really so different?
Will they even know?
So I’m keeping busy lately. Life just won’t slow down.
Still trying to figure out where I’ll be next semester. Many possibilities, little time to figure out which to go with. | I shut myself in all weekend this past weekend writing my book. It’ll be a nonfiction masterpiece that will rock China (in a good, PC way) when it’s released. Making good progress there. Talks for publication in progress. | I’m the new DJ on campus. (I burned an “introduction to punk” CD, complete with voiced intros to each song, all done by me. The station is supposed to start airing it this week. They want more.) | Still lots of plans for my site, to be slowly implemented over the period from now to eternity. | The internet is still fun and amazing, after all these years. Who’da thunk it?? | Still have classes to plan and teach, but all is well. Next week is song/commercial week. I have the whole Budweiser “Wazzup” series on DVD. China must witness. | I think I need to start a juggling club on campus. | Polls are in the works. | I need to reinstall Windows XP for the fourth time, thanks to Chinese pirated software. | My friend Miya was supposed to come for a visit from Japan this coming weekend, but now she can’t make it due to a family emergency. | I need to go learn some Chinese so my tutor doesn’t scold me too harshly tomorrow…
A while back I wrote about how China blocked Google and it was driving me crazy. Later, it was unblocked, but it was widely reported that China has some very sophisticated technology in place that causes you to lose connection if you run certain seaches. This morning I was doing a search for a picture of a famous Chinese leader. At first it was fine, but soon the links to the pics stopped working, and then Google itself became inaccessible, and then nothing would load. Fortunately everything works fine now. But internet censorship is very much in effect here still.
Related to the above is the fact that tomorrow the CCP convenes for its 16th party congress. Now, I’m well aware how boring politics is for many of us, but this meeting is significant. There have been only three main leaders of Communist China: Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and you-know-who*. Tomorrow it is widely believed that you-know-who will step down, and a new guy will take his place. In the past, each new leader has represented a new direction for China. So it’s an exciting time.
You may find it hard to get excited about Chinese politics. I don’t blame you. Still, you should read this article. It got me excited. China is in for big changes, and I really believe it’s for the better. Communism in China is probably not what you think it is. And it’s becoming even less so. Get ready.
* I don’t want to invite the possibility of censorship, so I’m avoiding the specific, currently very sensitive name.
In class this week, as a follow-up to last week’s Halloween activities, we had a discussion on Ghosts and Aliens. Last week I provided vocabulary such as ghost, alien, UFO, abduct, monster, egg a house, TP a yard, Flaming Bag of Dog Poo, etc. I also had to give some cultural background about simple things we take for granted. For example, when I asked the class where ghosts come from, most people answered “hell.” I had to explain to them that according to Western tradition, ghosts are the souls of dead people that have not yet gone on to heaven or hell. Angels are what come from heaven to earth, and devils and demons are what come from hell to earth. They seemed interested. They also liked the “trick-or-treating” at the end of class (sans costumes and door to knock on).
Anyway, this week we discussed Ghosts and Aliens. At the beginning of the semester I eased into the discussions with a practice discussion to allow them to practice the discussion techiques I had taught them, and to give them feedback on their technique before any grading began. The practice discussion topic was Internet Romance. The first real discussion was Age Difference in Love Relationships. One of the students commented that the discussions were all about love, and why couldn’t they discuss something else. So this week was their big chance to discuss “something else.” Here are some of the discussion questions that students prepared on the new topic:
Which would you choose as a lover: a ghost or an alien?
If you fell in love with someone and later found out that person was a ghost, what would you do?
If you fell in love with an alien and the alien wanted to take you back to its homeworld, would you go?
I rest my case. I think I’ve stumbled upon an axiom for teaching college-level English in China: Chinese college students love to talk about love. I think this axiom ranks right up there with “Germans love David Hasselhoff.” Those first two discussion topics are tried and true.
One more interesting thing I learned from the discussion is that most of my students don’t believe in ghosts (though some do). Most of them seem to think of it as superstitious, and lump believing in ghosts together with believing in religion. (And, given the topic Ghosts and Aliens, in their discussion preparation homework some students even included questions such as “do you believe in Buddhism?”) However, the matter of aliens is different. Not only do over half believe that aliens exist and visit Earth, but about 5% of my students even claim to have seen UFOs with their own eyes! Interesting stuff.
OK, I just don’t know when to quit. (Or when to sleep.)
I have added “the least technologically advanced message board ever” to the bottom of the China Blogs page. I’m hoping that people who use my China blogs links page will provide feedback on recent posts and stuff for other users. Check it.
Also, Wilson took a few picks of our stroll around West Lake (and other “adventures”) yesterday afternoon. He made a nice little photo album. Includes some excellent shots of mouth-watering Chinese Muslim noodles. Take a look.
OK, so I finally got a commenting system for my weblog! (The “comments” link is at the bottom right of each post.) We’ll say this is part of the upgrade to 1.2 also. It’s through Haloscan, and I think for the most part, it’s pretty good. It would be better if I had my own, but I’m too lazy for that at this moment in time. This one works well enough, and it’s even customizable. It’s the Blogger for commenting.
So, I’m hoping to see a little commenting, particularly from family members. (Hint, hint! That’s you guys!) And from friends would be nice too. And of course anyone that wants to comment.
And so it begins…
Hmmm, it’s a new weekend already and I seem to have neglected to mention what went down last weekend. Nicola and I headed over to Shaoxing to meet up with Erin Shutty and gang. Part of that gang is Vivienne Carr, who the ZUCC gang had already met earlier in October when we went to Putuo Shan together. Erin was the connection to Vivienne, but I hadn’t actually met Erin face to face until this past weekend. (As I’ve mentioned before, I was supposed to meet both Erin and “Black Man in China” Aaron over the National Holiday vacation, but neither worked out.) Erin and I have been in pretty regular e-mail contact ever since she wrote me in the spring about teaching in China. Now she’s been here months, and we finally met up. Here’s the pics.
Oh yeah, and Erin and Vivienne are coming to Hangzhou this weekend! Erin is also bringing “the Brit,” whom we met only in passing last weekend in Shaoxing.
Do you ever wonder how software developers decide on version numbers? I do. I mean, what is the difference between Photoshop 6.0 and 7.0? Sure, you can read out a list of new features, but who decides that those particular features equal one full point on the upgrade scale? It’s beyond me.
And yet I myself am caught up in this game. Six months since its release, Sinosplice is up to version 1.2, baby! It gets the extra 0.1 because now it’s got two language versions for the front page. The site autodetects your system’s language and directs you to the appropriate page. Snazzy. This should please my Chinese audience a little. (Version 1.1 was simply adding the “log” button to the nav bar.)
Next comes CSS. Maybe. (How many upgrade points is that worth…?)