A few weeks ago in class I explained to my students what a blog is, and what a powerful force blogs are becoming on the internet. I also tried to promote blogs as a means of reaching out to the world to further international understanding (and practice language skills at the same time). I wanted to start some group student blogs. I would help them set it up, and explain how everything works. I asked anyone interested to e-mail me. Well, the response was not overwhelming. I have 7 classes, and there were only 7 interested students (plus one of my former students). Still, that’s a good number for a group blog, so we forged ahead with the project. It’s been going for over a week now, and I think these 8 students are getting the hang of blogging pretty well already. Go check it out, and don’t be shy about leaving a comment!
I don’t expect this group blog to last forever as is. Rather, it will be a continually evlolving platform for raising awareness of blogs (and their high accessibility) among my students. Furthermore, I expect the more enthusiastic new bloggers to eventually break away and form their own blogs, as some of my students have already done (Chinadoll and Mole). Hopefully there will always be new curious souls to replace those who leave the group blog.
最近我在看Ziboy很精彩的照片的时候，偶然看了一下“miumiu”的blog。我一看到一个全是汉字的网页，一下子就想跑回去很舒服的英文网页（很懒吧！）。miumiu的网页也一样，但吸引我的是她网站的音乐！是我第一次听“徐若?u – 她他”， 感觉非常好。我一般不喜欢中国流行音乐，但它给我的悲惨感觉很经典。听了以后就想下载。下载了以后再听了几次。听了几次就想看歌词。歌词蛮动人，我很喜 欢。看了歌词以后我又去看miumiu的网站，听了更多音乐（我也喜欢Chara）。听完了以后我才去认真地看她的blog。
他和她 爱很美 浪漫就像玫瑰花
他和她 爱很难 很小心也不一定留得住它
他和她 人随时也可能没有明天 不要害怕
他和她 爱很美 浪漫就像玫瑰花
他和她 爱很难 很小心也不一定留得住它
他他送她rose and guitar
Any regular reader of my site knows that the regular commenters of my site tend to go off topic quite frequently. This slightly annoys a part of me, but how can I can mad when the off-topic stuff is often good stuff? For example, in my last post, “Da Xiangchang” stated:
> I’m not sure if this mass infantilization is uniquely American. I have seen nothing in China that would suggest the Chinese wouldn’t act the same way if they had the wealth and 24-hour-mass-media-saturated lifestyle Americans have.
I think that’s so true. Let me give an example. This semester (ours has another month to go) I’ve been doing a part time job teaching spoken English classes at night. Those classes have been indefinitely suspended due to SARS. The coordinator assured me, though, that after 3 weeks of no class, the classes would definitely resume this past Monday. So I showed up for class. Guess what? No students. Three showed up late, but only because one SMSed me and asked if there were classes. I told her yes. A trip in vain to the coordinator’s office and a few phone calls later, I learned what I pretty much already knew: classes were still suspended until further notice. Great.
Since we had all commuted a ways for the class, I suggested we just have some tea together and have an English/Chinese chat. They thought that was a good idea. All three of them had gone home to their respective hometowns in Zhejiang province just as the height of Hangzhou’s SARS hysteria had hit, and had recently returned to Hangzhou. I figured a good way to begin speaking English was with a fairly simple question: how had they spent their SARS vacation at home?
Their answers shocked me. They said they watched TV. Well, nothing surprising about that. But I pushed further: how many hours a day? The first student told me 12, and I was visibly startled. Every day? I asked for clarification, figuring she had misunderstood. Then she seemed a little embarrassed. No, that couldn’t be right. She did some recalculations, staring at that invisible but ever-so-helpful calculator on the ceiling, while her fingers helped keep track. No, the number was not 12, it should have been 18. Eighteen?!? I gaped. There are only 24 hours in a day! You’re telling me you spend 18 hours watching TV? That only leaves 6 hours for sleep, and no time for anything else! Yes, that’s correct, she verified. What else would she do? I suggested perhaps… reading? She laughed, thought a moment, and then confirmed — no, she hadn’t done any reading or studying.
One of the other students was less excessive, at only 10 hours a day. She also needed time to shop. The third student was down to an almost acceptably “normal” limit at 5 hours a day. But then she added that she spent about 10 hours a day online. Incredible.
I thought I spent a lot of time online, but the time I put in is nothing compared to these students’ “dedication.” The thing is, these students are not morons. They’re pretty smart, and seem fairly typical. I don’t want to suggest it, but I really think they might be somewhat representative about the current state of China’s youth. I do know that when I ask my students students in class what they plan to do in their vacation time, the most popular answer is “watch TV.” It’s frightening. The original “TV nation” is going to be beaten at its own game.
For many complicated reasons that it’s best to leave him to explain, Wilson recently decided to go back to California and stay there for the rest of the year. He might come back in 2004. Who knows. He drove off today (Monday) at 9:30am in a taxi along with all the material possessions from China that he wanted to keep.
Even though he originally planned on staying only one year and he’s already finishing up his third semester, I didn’t think Wilson would really leave China. His presence has drastically changed my life here, and it’s hard to accept that that era is suddenly coming to an end. Reflecting upon this, I realize that Wilson’s presence clearly delineates the three parts of my stay in China:
1. The Self-Study Era (Pre-Wilson) (Aug 2000 – Feb 2002)
– Lived with Siyuan off campus for most of it, taught full-time
– My life was characterized by intense self-study of Chinese and Chinese practice
– Rapid progress in Chinese
– Not too much dating, partying, drinking, or associating with other foreigners
– Very few foreign teachers at ZUCC; no real “community” to speak of
2. The Golden Era (Wilson) (Feb 2002 – May 2003)
– Lived alone on campus, taught full-time
– Chinese study experienced a slow-down, socializing increased
– Progress in Chinese slowed
– More dating, partying, drinking, socializing with foreigners
– The foreign teacher community at ZUCC was really born and blossomed
– SARS marked its end
3. The Formal Study Era (Post-Wilson) (May 2003 – June 2004?)
– Expect to live alone on campus, teaching part-time
– Will be studying Chinese full-time as a foreign student at Zhejiang University
– I expect another boost in Chinese progress, vaulting well into “advanced Chinese”
– Dating, partying, drinking, and socializing with foreigners will certainly continue, but I’ll be busier
– The foreign teacher community will continue to rock on, but it will surely never be the same without Wilson’s socially catalytic presence
Certainly, Wilson’s effect on my life here was great, but it wasn’t strictly cause-effect. I didn’t study less or party more solely because Wilson was here; I put in a year and a half of hard study, and I was ready to coast for a little while on the fruits of my labor. This just happened to coincide with Wilson’s arrival. And it wasn’t that Wilson was the party animal — the sole reason the social scene picked up here. Sure, he’s a very social guy and added tremendously to the atmosphere, but when a group of friends gets along so well, the partying tends to follow naturally. Of course, Wilson was right in the middle of it, keeping it all flowing to the beat of his SF Deep House tracks.
I’m helping Wilson distribute to friends some of the stuff he couldn’t take with him. After he left, I went down to start clearing some of that stuff out. It was strange, seeing that place almost empty, when just a week ago it was oozing life and personality, exuding Wilson. It’s been more than two hours since the taxi drove off, but it hasn’t hit me that he’s gone. I expect it’ll sink in before the week is up.
ZUCC will not be the same. I guess I’d be more depressed if I weren’t sure if I’d ever see him again, but we’re meeting up in Brisbane, Australia next month. Besides, while it’s true that some people come and go in our lives, sometimes you just know when friends have become permanent.
Recently I wrote a letter to many different media agencies using addresses I found online. (I won’t go into the spam-related ethical issues at this point…) The basic letter I sent out is below.
> To Whom It May Concern:
> I am a 25-year-old American citizen living in Hangzhou, China teaching English. I love China, and I love my life here. I find it very distressing, then, to see an abundance of hysteria- and hype-driven news stories on SARS. What I don’t understand is why the American media has not gone to one of the most authentic sources out there today – blogs. Yes, blogs (weblogs). There are many, many English-speaking foreigners living through the SARS crisis. What’s more, they are conscientiously WRITING ABOUT IT, and have been since day one. I sincerely hope that you consider adding this angle of the SARS story to your news reports.
> My China blog, Sinosplice, is at:
> I also maintain a long list of China blogs, many of which write extensively about SARS:
> The American people deserve to know a firsthand account of the truth which goes beyond hysteria.
> Thank you for understanding.
I received disappointingly few replies (one reporter responded apparently solely to inform me that her son is teaching in China too), but the following reply was interesting:
> Hi John,
> I’m a reporter with [a News Service] in [city], California. We are an off-beat news wire and I read how you are a proponent of blogs to tell the true story behind SARS in China. I’d like to hear more about what you have seen and how you feel they would tell the true story.
> What makes them superior than traditional media outlets? Is what is being reported inaccurate? Can you point out some mistakes the media has been making? Have you had any brushes with SARS yourself? Do other English speaking blog writers in China share your view? What are they saying about it?
> Lastly, our service provides contact information to other reporters and editors who subscribe to our news service so that they may do their own interviews with our sources. If I write an article about this subject do you mind other reporters from around the world getting in touch with you?
> Thank you for your help.
> [Reporter Guy],
> I’ll try to answer your questions as simply and directly as possible.
> I never said blogs were “superior” to traditional media outlets, but they’re certainly DIFFERENT. Sometimes the traditional media outlets sort of drop the ball, and so it’s important to remember that there are alternatives. But in some cases, what makes blogs different could possibly make them BETTER.
> We’ve all been hearing for years that a killer virus could be on the horizon for which modern science has no cure. That’s unthinkable. It’s horrific. It’s SERIOUS news. Then along comes SARS. How convenient. It’s much easier to report on SARS from the “safer” side of the Pacific, and the majority of Western investigations that I’ve read which actually go into China don’t stay for long.
> Yes, blogs are very subjective, but how subjective is going in to report with an almost predetermined conclusion? I think I trust the subjective viewpoint of someone who’s been living in China for some time, knows how things work, and at least knows what China was like BEFORE SARS.
> Hangzhou has reported very few cases of SARS. I think there really have been very few SARS cases in Hangzhou, although the government has been taking the threat extremely seriously. To my knowledge, I have not had any “near brushes” with SARS itself, but the effects have certainly reached me. My school was on lockdown* for two weeks, and remains in a state of partial lockdown**. Two of my coworkers have been quarantined in their rooms for leaving Hangzhou to go to Dalian (7 day quarantine) and Hong Kong (14 day quarantine). Even though face mask sightings have become a rarity, the city has taken on a whole new edgy feel to it. The vibrant Chinese bustle has been stifled.
> If any reporters want to get in touch with me, I’m happy to talk to them, but as I’ve said before, there are a lot of bloggers out there reporting SARS much more thoroughly than I ever care to. Their blogs are at:
> \* “lockdown” meaning no one could enter leave or leave campus without special permission.
** “partial lockdown” meaning everyone can go out, but there is a strict curfew, and only those with proper ID can enter the school.
> P.S. I’m posting this correspondence to my blog. I’ll withhold your name and organization until you give me permission to include it.
I don’t want to say anything negative prematurely, but I get the distinct impression that reporters would much rather end the “story” on China blogs about SARS with a few quotes from me, not even reading any of the China blogs in my listing.
Recently I was given a really cool birthday present: Selected Stories of Lu Xun. It’s got the Chinese on the left side and the English on the right. I tend to read in English first and then go back and study the Chinese later. Lu Xun (鲁迅) is simply the most famous modern author in China. Lu Xun’s writings predate Communism by a bit, and reflect the great turbulence China was experiencing in the early 1900’s.
Anyway, the first short story in the book is A Madman’s Diary. It’s really a fascinating little piece of literature. I’ll confess, I’ve been out of the literary analysis loop for some time, and my understanding of Chinese culture and history still has a ways to go, so I didn’t fully get the story right away. It’s frustrating to have one’s intellect blunted by disuse. Still, I knew there was a lot to it. I had a talk with my tutor about the story, though. He’s a big fan of Lu Xun. So I understand and appreciate it a lot better now. [ literary analysis ]
The story deals with cannibalism. The madman narrator believes that the people of his town are plotting to kill and eat him. What’s interesting is that the story refers to the fact that China has a long history of incidents of cannibalism. Under feudalism, when hard times hit, the peasants got hit hardest. Famines were common. And, as the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. One reference in the story I didn’t quite understand. It referred to the practice of “exchang[ing] sons to eat” (yi zi er shi — 易子而食). So I asked my tutor about it. I was completely shocked. In ancient China, when famine hit, there was a practice of two households exchanging a child, and then each household killing and eating that child. (You can’t eat your own child, right? That would be uncivilized.) It’s absolutely mind boggling to what extremes famine can drive human beings. My tutor told me there were also incidents of people being so hungry that they would eat mud and die from it.
It was just a little difficult to talk about this with my tutor. He answers my questions well (sometimes too well — and the guy talks fast with a really good vocabulary), and he’s committed to helping me learn more about Chinese culture. But the topic was cannibalism in Chinese history, and Chinese people have a tendency to be kind of sensitive about that which portrays China in a bad light.
I expressed total shock about the “exchange sons to eat” thing, and I think he was a little surprised. He told me he thought Western history contained incidents that are just as bad. I didn’t really doubt that, but I asked for an example. He thought for a few seconds and then brought up Roman gladiators. Not only were humans forced to battle beasts and each other in front of a live audience, but the audience actually got off on the carnage. Granted, that is pretty heinous. But the difference, I felt, was that in most cases of extreme human cruelty, the recipient is dehumanized in the eyes of the offender. It seems like that would be a little harder to do in an even exchange of children with a neighbor.
This conversation prompted me to do a bit of my own research. If cannibalism is a known part of Chinese history, I wondered just how well documented it is in English. I’m not very familiar with the scholarly resources of sinologists, so I just used Google. I found one page with information, but coming from a Japanese source it seems kind of suspect (notice that the information is even in a directory labeled “nanjing”). I also uncovered a plethora of other pages. I’m not going to list them here, because I can’t tell if those pages report the truth, or whether it’s simply some kind of sensationalist China-bashing. (If you want to see them, just do a Google search for “china cannibalism.”) I found one page debunking the claims of another page. Regardless, it’s all an information/misinformation mess, and I found very little referring to the historical incidents that I was looking for.
Some people say there are no certainties in life, but those people would probably admit that there are certainly very high likelihoods. For example, if you turn on the TV in China, there is a very likelihood that you’ll be tuning in to crap. Still, raised on television as we are, foreigners in China will at times find themselves watching anyway. Whether we do it “to get a feel for the propaganda machine,” or out of some kind of sick masochistic pleasure, or simply because we’re starving for a little mindless TV action, we do watch broadcast TV from time to time. I very rarely watch TV in China (or in the U.S.), but for some reason I turned on the TV while I was eating lunch in my apartment today. I actually saw something rather interesting.
The show that caught my attention was CCTV’s Dialogue. This show is infamous among expats in China because it’s so often so bad. The show is in English, and often it’s a number of Chinese people discussing some serious issue in English (which is kind of weird). There are also foreign guests at times, and if the topic is a controversial one in which the foreigner represents an opposing viewpoint, the host, Yang Rui, can be extremely smug and downright condescending.
What was interesting about today’s show was the guest, Jing Jun, a Chinese professor of sociology from Qinghua University. That he was educated in the United States was made clear by Jing Jun’s fluent English. (The same cannot be said for Yang Rui.) The topic was, of course, SARS. This time the angle was “the sociological implications of SARS.” What impressed me was the frankness with which Jing Jun discussed Beijing’s handling of SARS, even on CCTV, the national television station. Jing Jun stated in no uncertain terms that Beijing lied to the people and tried to cover up SARS cases in the beginning, and was only forced to come out with the truth when the lies became too apparent to the people. This is certainly no secret to anyone (the Chinese people not excluded), but I found it impressive that such a view would be expressed from such an obviously well-educated Qinghua University professor on the national television station. After Jing Jun expressed this opinion, Yang Rui quickly changed the topic. During the interview, Jing Jun also expressed the realistic view that SARS could be controlled, but was not going to go away anytime soon.
A lot of these Dialogue transcripts are available online. In doing a little research, I came across this transcript, an interview with a professor named Wu Qing on political participation in China. I found the transcript amusing, but also very interesting. It’s not long, so I recommend you read it in full, but but here are are two excerpts:
> Y: We know that the people’s deputy ID card is a symbol of a deputy’s responsibility and power, have you ever used yours in a practical situation?
> W: Yes, one example is that I used my card to stop a car that belonged to a high-ranking army officer. The car was driving into the bicycle lane at the time. Seeing that, I used my bicycle to stop the car because I felt I had the responsibility to protect ordinary citizens. So I produced my deputy ID card and said to the driver that he should stop and back out of the lane because the lane is for cyclists. And then this driver, a young man, got out of the car and swore at me, “Are you asking for trouble or what, old woman?” Later I filed a formal complaint in which I noted down the plate number of the car and described what had happened. About a month after that I got a phone call from an army officer, presumably the owner of the car. He said he wanted to come over to apologize and he did. And then two weeks later I got a call from that driver. He came over and pleaded with me to remove that line of his swearing from my complaint saying that otherwise he would have to leave the army and go back to where he came from. I told him, “Well, young man, I can’t do that, it’s not right for you to ask me to remove that line for that would mean I was slandering you.” But I did write a letter to that officer saying that I hope this young man would not be demoted from the army as a punishment. Young people sometimes make mistakes and they need a chance to correct their mistakes.
> Y: Some people think American democracy is closest to what democracy really means. Do you agree? Do you think we should follow the American style of democracy?
> W: I don’t really think so. Ten people might have ten different definitions of democracy. Each country has its own culture and history. We Chinese have our own idea of freedom and democracy, and Americans have theirs. Each has some problems. That’s why we always have to improve.
I periodically do Google News searches for stories related to both China and Japan, since I’m interested in both countries. This week something interesting turned up which has some bearing on my own life. The topic is not extemely captivating — and it’s not life-threatening like SARS — but it’s relevant to China’s future. Japan is invading again. I’m talking about convenience stores, people.
For some time, Japan and the USA have had a tradition of small, brightly lit, immaculate, 24-hour convenience stores. China does not. Instead, there are just lots of tiny family-run shops everywhere. Usually, the storefront is also the family’s home’s front porch. When no one is buying, they’re typically in there watching TV. The stores are not 24 hours, but they’re often open late because the store stays open as long as the family is awake. Buying from these places is a more personal experience; there’s no big corporation involved, and you can feel it. Lately, however, this seems to be changing.
In the USA (as well as in quite a few places all over the world) it seems that 7 Eleven and Circle K reign supreme, but it is not so in Hangzhou. (I don’t know enough to speak for all of China. I think that maybe these American chain stores have a foothold in China’s biggest cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong.) The convenience stores that have begun to appear are ones like “C-Store,” a chain of indeterminate origin. This store has opened shop right on Zhoushan Dong Lu, outside ZUCC, on the north side of Hangzhou. Another similar 24-hour convenience store is opening this week right down the road from C-Store. These convenience stores are great because they’re 24 hours, they’re very clean, and they offer imported products that can sometimes be hard to find. At the C-store just down the road from ZUCC, we can now buy Corona beer and Japanese onigiri (rice ball wrapped in seaweed) — two products that are still impossible to find even at a lot of the larger grocery stores in Hangzhou.
I spoke of another Japanese invasion. Anyone who has spent any time in Japan will know these two convenience store chain giants: FamilyMart and Lawson. I have bought from both stores in Japan many times. My Japanese homestay brother Shingo used to work at FamilyMart. Their reach in Japan is pervasive. Now both companies have set their sights on China. [Story: FamilyMart. Story: Lawson.]
It’s going to start soon. Judging by the Chinese consumer reactions I’ve seen so far, I predict a victory for Japan this time.
To be completely honest, I’m totally sick of SARS and don’t really feel like giving it extra attention. It’s been such a major part of daily life recently that I resented its ubiquity and didn’t want to write an entry on it. It’s creeped into my recent entries a bit, though, and I’ve gotten a few questions about it. I suppose it would be misrepresenting my life here a bit if I didn’t at least write one entry on it, though, so here goes.
SARS arrived in Hangzhou last week. There were 3 reported cases. Within 2 days, the city had gone into a mild form of hysteria. Lots of face masks on the street. That soon peaked and has been waning ever since, though. The general populace seems much calmer about it now, despite the fact that the government is taking ever stricter measures to curb its spread. There haven’t been any reports about more cases or any deaths, but there is plenty of quarantining going on. I once optimistically mentioned to a Chinese friend that Hangzhou seemed to have the situation under control, and she replied, “the media is controlled by the government. Who knows if it’s really under control or not.”
It’s interesting to see the Chinese people’s reactions because they know they are not being told the whole truth. I think American media sometimes portray the Chinese as a gullible herd, swallowing whole anything the CPC gives them. It’s just not like that. They know, but there’s nothing they can do. In times like this, when there’s a serious threat but the media isn’t being completely forthcoming, the rumors really fly. Thick. This past week I’ve heard so many rumors it’s crazy. Most of them involve new cases and deaths.
That said, I’ll now share some of the ways that SARS has impacted my life here.
Recently, it seemed like every time I pass a group of Chinese people, I hear the word fei dian. That’s the Chinese word for SARS. For a while it seemed to be the only topic of conversation, but lately people have gotten bored and complacent with the SARS presence. [Note: Originally SARS was called fei dian xing xing fei yan in Chinese. Translated literally, that’s “atypicality pneumonia.” Why they made “atypical” into a noun I can’t understand. Now most people simply refer to it by its first two characters, fei dian. That’s cutting off half of the word “typical” (dian xing), so it’s creating a new word. I noticed in the Manual of SARS Prevention they now call it fei dian xing fei yan, “atypical pneumonia.” That makes more sense to me.]
Last week there was a SARS meeting for the foreign teachers, explaining the situation. They also passed out thermometers so we could all monitor our temperatures, as well as a “Manual of SARS Prevention.” There’s another meeting this Friday.
The supermarket, cafeteria, and restaurant workers are now required to wear face masks. Recently they’ve been slacking on that a little; you’ll sometimes see the mask pulled down.
The sanitation crew around campus has been spraying some sort of chemical around campus, in classrooms, and in the halls of our apartment. I suppose maybe it’s the “0.2% – 0.5% per. per – ocyacetic acid to sprimble [sic] or 1000mg/1 disinfectant containing chlorine to sprinkle (mop)” mentioned in the manual.
Public buses have been labelled as “dangerous,” so they’re emptier now then ever before.
The most drastic impact was the closing of our school gates. Students are not allowed out, and no one is allowed in without specific, official business. An outside agency under the authority of the government is in control of our front gate (although security is comparatively lax on the back gate). Teachers are bussed to and from our campus regularly, but when we foreign teachers want to walk or bike off campus, we’re now given a hard time. We’re supposed to get a letter from the Foreign Language Department with the official seal every time we want to leave campus. What a pain! I wanted to go off campus to celebrate my birthday last night, but the letters didn’t get stamped before the person went off duty, so we couldn’t get out. (We might have been able to get out the back gate, but we decided to just postpone it until tonight.) Students are getting really antsy being cooped up.
I mentioned that SARS rumors were flying like crazy. Chinese people are crazy about SMS messaging on their cell phones, and they send lots of forwards. Here are two of the more ridiculous ones I’ve received (translated from Chinese):
> From a professor at America’s Stanford University: In the morning drink soy milk. For lunch eat tomato and egg soup. At dinner have yogurt. Drink tea often. Consume more garlic. These remedies will help prevent SARS. Please send quickly to all your close friends.
> SARS Prevention: one white radish, half an orange peel, three slices of ginger, three green onion stalks, a cluster of cilantro! Make into a soup. This should prevent SARS.
I like how it says “this should prevent SARS.” Classic. Besides those kinds of forwards, there are a lot of humorous ones going on, like a parody of the Chinese song Zhishao hai you ni (“At least I still have you”) involving SARS.
Probably one of the most annoying things is Chinese people constantly telling me to be careful. Yes, it’s sweet of them to be concerned, but there’s not a whole lot we can do. I don’t go around licking doorknobs or anything.
So I guess that’s my SARS report for now. Life in China goes on, despite SARS. I really hope that they can get it under control. At least in Hangzhou, the measures to curb the spread seem to be fairly good. Still, I read some bad news on Yahoo today:
> Dr. Alfred Lam Ping Yan, Hong Kong’s deputy director of health, told Reuters… “This disease will not disappear from the world and we need to see how we can control the disease and collaborate in the longer term.”
> Symptoms of the disease include a high fever, dry cough and pneumonia, and there is no effective treatment other than good hospital care.
> In Geneva, WHO officials said the death rate from SARS, currently around six percent, is rising and could reach 10 percent.
> “We are concerned but it is not a surprise to us,” said WHO’s Mark Salter.
> “We are only six weeks into it. There are a lot of people who went into intensive care and do not seem to be getting better and unfortunately a large number of them will die,” Salter told reporters.
> He said the mortality rate appeared to be higher in places with developed health services, such as Canada or Singapore — something he could not explain.
Nevertheless, I remain optimistic. I’m not panicking, and I’m not going home. China will handle this, and learn a tough lesson in the process.
A while back I was whining pretty hardcore (not once, but twice) about the toilet in my apartment at ZUCC.
I guess it’s the classic case of complaining when something goes wrong but not saying anything when something good happens, but I neglected to mention that the toilet did get fixed. Daily plungings are a thing of the past, I’m pleased to announce. The fix was pretty primitive (chiseling a path through the concrete floor to clear the obstruction) but effective.
Then this past month the new shower modifications were finished. For over a year, the foreign teachers at ZUCC have all been living without shower curtains or anything, really, to keep water from spraying all over the bathroom when we take our showers. (This is fairly typical in China.) I didn’t mind because it meant my toilet was getting cleaned while I showered, and even though the floor was soaked after every shower, it kept the floor clean. I adjusted my routine so I never had to go back into the bathroom for a few hours after I used the shower. The other teachers didn’t like the soaked floor too much, though. The mild grumblings eventually turned to outright demands for shower curtains. Since I’m the foreign teacher liaison, I was right in the middle of it all. Human Resources said they’d handle it, but they had to deal with the ineptitide of General Affairs, which was in charge of the actual labor. Ahhh, Chinese bureaucracy. Meanwhile, I’m daily hearing, “where are our shower curtains?” from the teachers. Although Human Resources initially promised we’d have shower curtains within two weeks , the process dragged on for weeks longer (to Wilson’s outrage). I lost count of how many times they came in and measured my bathroom.
But, it finally got done. And not even curtains, but rather a whole fancy glass case thing with sliding doors. These new showers are great.
This is Sinosplice 2.0, the culmination of about a week or so of hard work. It corresponds nicely with the SARS shut-in we’ve got going on here at school.
I’ve never used style sheets so much, so there are a few weird things going on. See how this paragraph is indented? WHY??? I really don’t get it. Also, my tables aren’t being very obedient. I tell it 800 pixels wide (to accomodate lower-res viewers), and it ends up 830 or something. So annoying. If anyone could explain this stuff to me, that would be great.
There’s new stuff online. Sinosplice is getting closer and closer to what I originally envisioned when I started the site. Please have a look around. Also, reporting bad links or other errors would be greatly appreciated.
So what are the latest crazes sweeping China? Well, of course, these days SARS panic has superseded all. I remember just a week ago, though, when SARS was still a pretty distant threat. At that time instead of buying face masks, everyone was buying a brand new drink called Nongfu Guoyuan, or Farmer’s Orchard. At most places you can buy the regular 600 mL (20 oz.) size for 3.5 rmb (US$0.42), or the same size with a flip-top lid for 3.8 rmb (US$0.46).
So what’s special about this drink? Well, first, it boasts at least 30% fruit juice. This might not seem like a whole lot to you, but it’s impressive to anyone who’s ever been in China for any length of time and naively bought “fruit juice” only to receive some watered down, sugary, “fruit-like” concoction with only 10% real fruit juice, if that. 30% sets a new standard, and people are responding. Second, the drink is really good! It tastes like real fruit juice! I’ve been drinking it a lot lately, even though it’s a bit more expensive than similar drinks, which tend to be in the 1-2 rmb range.
The only downside is that the drink is undeniably a shameless V8 Splash ripoff. The package design, the size, the taste, the fruit juice blend (how many fruit drinks include carrot juice??), the way that it is marketed as a healthy drink, the fact that it needs to be shaken before drinking…. Still, it’s good. I will keep drinking it.
Apparently, as a foreigner in China it is one of my duties to listen to Chinese people’s opinions about my country, its government, and the various entanglements into which it gets its military. Fortunately, this can be interesting.
Back when the war in Iraq first started (and many Chinese people actually sort of cared), a lot of Chinese people would ask my opinion. I think some of them were looking for a debate, but they generally seemed pleased that I was mostly against the war. I talked about it with my classes, and a few of these discussions turned up some very interesting information. Did you know that some people in China are saying that after Iraq comes North Korea, and then China itself? Our military sure is ambitious. It’s funny, though, how we see our government as often reckless, and our military as high-tech but not 100% competent, but the Chinese see the whole package as a brooding viper, just seething treachery.
Then today I heard something else. I was on a taxi ride home from my night class. Attendance was low due to the SARS scare reaching town, and I was just tired altogether. The taxi driver seemed friendly enough and tried to make conversation, but I sort of brushed him off with minimal replies. As school drew nearer, though, I started to feel bad for not talking to the guy a little, so I asked him if he was scared about SARS. “Of course I’m afraid!” he replied. He then went on talk about the new cases popping up, and to tell me how there was speculation that SARS is an engineered virus created by the USA to attack China! That floored me. The paranoia knows no bounds.
He also asked about the Iraq war, and if I had friends over there fighting. I told him no (although I do have a cousin there). He asked if I would fight for my country. I told him I would certainly defend my country, but I wouldn’t be too keen to fight in a war I saw as unjust. But then the taxi stopped. I had arrived at the school gate. I paid and got out.
As I walked away from the taxi, he got in one last line before he drove away. He almost sounded as if he were asking me for a personal favor.
“Bu yao da zhongguo!”
Don’t attack China….
Most of you probably didn’t notice its absence, but Sinosplice was down for the past 4 days (April 16-19). This is because my one-year hosting plan was due to expire and I decided it was time to shop around for a new webhost. Here’s my list of grievances for my last host, iPowerweb.com (those bastards won’t get a link from me!):
- Customer support is basically nonexistent. Can you really be said to offer customer support when you only reply to 1 out of 10 e-mails (if that), and the replies are not necessarily even helpful?? Oh, you want to call the support hotline? Plan on waiting on hold for an HOUR.
- Wilson tried to sign up with them because they’re unblocked and pretty fast, and they would never even reply to his new account application! Unbelievable. He was trying to give them money and they ignored him.
- iPowerweb claimed I used 120 MB of my 150 MB of online space, but after uploading to my new host I see it was really only about 70 MB. What’s up with that??
- the site was down for 4 days because iPowerweb wouldn’t make the DNS switchover I requested. During that time I was just waiting for them to read their customer support e-mail and make the simple change.
- Way limited control options and value when compared to Webmasters.
Anyway, I have a new host. I hope the site remains fast and unblocked in China. Let me know if you notice any differences (good or bad). I’ve got big plans for Sinosplice, which go way beyond just this blog. Expect a complete relaunch of the site this summer.
Oh yeah, and HAPPY EASTER!
This is one of my favorite cartoons of all time… Multi-lingual, pro-individuals’ clean air rights, anti-animal abuse — all the while taking a jab at linguistic imperialism.
So what’s the China connection? Those who have not had the privilege of coming to China may expect me to decry some foreigners’ attitudes here. Far from it. Rather than foreigners in China expecting to be spoken to in English more than they are, it is the Chinese who expect to be spoken to in English more than they are.
Sure, there are plenty of people here that don’t speak English and have no interest in it, but many Chinese people — especially college-aged — are reluctant to talk to foreigners in any language but English. Your good-natured attempts at the language are returned with a laugh and English only. I don’t want to make it seem like there are no college-aged students that are willing to talk to foreigners in Chinese. That simply wouldn’t be true. But the proportion is heavily skewed in the opposite direction, or at least much more strongly than I had ever imagined before coming here.
As crazy as it sounds, it’s true. I’m not sure, but I think this is a unique set of circumstances in the world today. The Japanese are not like that. It may be partly because the poor Japanese have a bit of a linguistic inferiority complex, but the Japanese usually seem relieved to be able to speak Japanese with a foreigner instead of having to use English. In Thailand I sure couldn’t speak much Thai, but the people were so friendly that I had a ball with my mangled phrasebook command of the language. And there are a lot of Thai people that speak good English. In my experience, Mexicans don’t feel the need to always bring it back to English either… and they know when you’re American. I’ve never been there, but in Europe English seems to be an oft-resented obligatory linguistic routine. So what’s going on in China?
The answer seems to be that the Chinese people have an intense longing to come up in the world. The government — despite its severely flawed English education system — has recognized the importance of English in our increasingly globalized, capitalistic earthly existence, and has instilled a sense of urgency in the young to learn English. True, some are trying to get out of the country, but others just want to learn it. It is because of these very circumstances that I and many others are able to easily find work in China at a university level and live comfortably here.
And yet, the whole situation can be very frustrating. People who come all the way to China to learn Chinese do not appreciate being repeatedly forced to speak English. Yes, English is now the international language, but shouldn’t Mandarin be the default language here? Also, there is sort of a natural linguistic principle which dictates that when two speakers of different languages communicate, the mode of communication settled upon will be the language that both people speak best. This means that if a Frenchman and a Spaniard meet, and the Frenchman’s Spanish is not so hot, but neither is the Spaniard’s French, but both speak English decently, communication will be conducted in English. Natural, right? Similarly, if a Chinese and an American meet, and the Chinese person speaks pretty bad English but the American speaks decent Chinese, the conversation should proceed in Chinese. Why, then, in China, is this so often not the case? At times it amounts to linguistic bullying, and it becomes clear that communication is not really the desired end.
Again, let me stress that this is not always the case, but I’d like to list two of the ruder experiences I’ve had here, which are not isolated incidents, but rather categories of incidents which occasionally are repeated:
I was speaking with a Chinese friend in Chinese in a public place. My friend didn’t speak English. A Chinese man I didn’t know approached me and engaged me in coversation in English. He refused to switch over to Chinese, even though my friend couldn’t follow the conversation. My friend and I had to leave to get away from the guy.
I was speaking to two Chinese people who approached me in English. I spoke to them in English, and then added in some Chinese. One of the people got a strange expression on his face and told me he didn’t understand. The other was like, “what do you mean you don’t understand? He said that totally clearly.” The other became flustered because his friend didn’t catch onto his fake miscomprehension trick.
In all fairness, I should bring up the idea of the “psychological block” to communication in Asia. I have had this experience in both Japan and China. Sometimes you’ll speak to a person in near-perfect (if not perfect) Chinese or Japanese, and all you’ll get is a shaking of the head and a “I don’t speak English.” These people will not listen to you at all, because when they see a white face they become absolutely convinced in their minds that communication is impossible. Often it’s the old that suffer from these psychological blocks. In one case a nearby Chinese person, incredulous, told the guy that I was speaking to him in Chinese, but the man still refused to even listen to me. Incredible. That said, I’d like to say that the second example above is not one of those cases. It was a deliberate attempt to block communication in Chinese.
Don’t get me wrong… I’m willing to speak to Chinese people in English. I also understand that the average Chinese person gets very very few opportunities to practice “real English,” and I’m always happy to speak to my students in English. It can also be very refreshing to speak to a Chinese person in English when the person speaks good English. But I certainly resent being deprived of my right to speak Chinese in China.
Made a little DVD run today. We buy pirated DVDs for 7rmb each (less than US$1). I bought pretty much only Chinese and Japanese stuff. The Chinese movies are mostly fluff. The Japanese movies were several of Miyazaki Hayao‘s classic animated films. Two of the Chinese movies I got mostly because the covers made me laugh. Keep in mind that since these movies are pirated — and in many cases released before the real DVD has even been released — the pirating companies have to design their own covers. Usually they just steal images from advertisements, but occasionally you see something original or weird, and you see a lot of bad English. I picked up two DVDs that I’d like to mention, although I haven’t watched them yet.
Flowers of Shanghai (海上花).
This one is apparently critically acclaimed. What caught my eye was a line at the top of the cover: PROSTITUTE MOVIE COLLECTION (Chinese: 青楼名妓电影系列). I know there are some movies about prostitution, but there’s a prostitute movie collection?! Kinda funny. The movie is about the late 19th century Shanghai brothel business.
Looking for Mister Perfect (奇逢敌手).
I don’t have high expectations for this movie. I’m thinking it’ll be popular because it’s one of Shu Qi’s new ones. The graphic the pirates used for the cover design is such an obvious ripoff of the The Fast and the Furious design that it’s embarrassing. What was funny was the English description on the back. Here it is, verbatim:
> The bright and red-blooded woman fucks the small of earnes t to work, however lack the confidence to love.Although have to warmly pursue, however dream of to launch the love with white dress man of in a dream.A time an d outside swim consumedly horse insid e,small The white dress man, of the to p in a dream however is the evil-foreb oding dream’s beginning.Advertise co mpany Chen to living, and superficia lly is aMissile that wet businessma n, carry on the back the to howev er make with big Poon to navigat e the electronics spare parts to def end the system bargain.Check the b lack dragon spy of this case the Alex, and mistake small for the party, at a the round pursueThe empress, small c ooper ates with hims, and the Poon fina ly catch.Two people with each other living the cordiality… the…
OK, I know it ends in an ellipsis, but that’s really the whole thing. Amazing, is it not? It left me speechless.
Shu Qi, as I mentioned above, was probably a big draw for the viewers of Looking for Mister Perfect. She is really popular in China right now. She’s in ads everywhere (red bean soup in a can, shampoo, long underwear… you name it!), and stars in movie after movie. One of her most recent big hits was So Close.
She’s obviously popular for her good looks, but what’s interesting is that she got her start in the soft porn industry. Predictably, a lot of Chinese girls hate her. Meanwhile, guys everywhere go gaga.
I got some comments on Looking for Mister Perfect from a Chinese discussion board. Interestingly, they’re bilingual. Excuse my hasty translation.
> adult (2003-4-10 5:58:01): shu qi is very sexy, I saw her early nude movie, she is good.
> 输棋 (2003-4-4 8:49:07): 真不明白，怎么这么多人喜欢她？不过既然有人会如此捧林青霞，答案也就很明显了，输棋不好看，但还比林青霞好 [I really don’t get it — how can so many people like her? But there are also people that are similarly crazy over Lin Qingxia — the answer is obvious. Shu Qi isn’t good looking, but better than Lin Qingxia.]
> agree (2003-4-3 10:44:03): yes, I share the same view with su qi, and I would love to slap those who thinks 舒淇 [Shu Qi] has the looks, 舒淇 [Shu Qi] is as attractive as a toaster.
> su qi (2003-4-3 9:16:33): I do not understand the popularity of shu qi. She plays the exact same role in every one of her movies.
If I had to choose an actress that’s been in some of the more erotic-type movies, I’d go with Christy Chung (钟丽缇).
I’ve seen I’ve heard about some some pretty racy flicks of hers, like Jan Dara (晚娘), a twisted tale of a Thai family’s ruin, and Samsara, a story of Tibetan monk’s bout with temptation.
Another April Fools’ Day has come and gone…. Yes, April Fools’ Day is celebrated in China, but in a somewhat different way. In the USA, it seems like pranks are the most popular way of celebrating the holiday, but in China college students just seem to like to fool their classmates. Some of the more common tricks include:
- Calling up a friend and confessing your love for him/her. A variation of this may be telling a friend that another mutual friend has a secret crush on them.
- Calling up a friend by cell phone and telling him you have come to visit and are at the school gate, so the friend should come out and meet you immediately.
Notice that I didn’t mention the classic “loose salt shaker top trick” or “whoopee cushion.” It seems that plain old lies are the way to go here (although you can actually buy whoopee cushions here, for cheap!).
I didn’t really do anything for April Fools’ Day. I guess I’m getting old. I didn’t have class that day, so I slept in. I woke up to the sound of an SMS message arriving on my cell phone. It was from a student saying that his class couldn’t have class the next day because they had their “Spring Outing” (a Chinese college freshman tradition; chun you — 春游 — in Chinese). Well, having just woken up, I was in my usual morning state of dopiness. I had no idea what day it was. So I fell for that. Oh well.
Some news for China April 1st was the death of celebrity Leslie Cheung (Zhang Guorong — 张国荣). He was famous for playing gay roles in movies, such as Chen Kaige’s Farewell my Concubine and Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together (Ray‘s favorite). Apparently he was gay in real life, too, and committed suicide over love problems. Sad. At first I thought it was a fake April Fools’ Day “news” story, but it’s real.
Does the world know that there are openly gay stars in China? If you have a class discussion on homosexuality here, these names will come up. I think the gay celebrities are mostly confined to Hong Kong, though. (I’m no authority on Chinese celebrities — I’m lucky if I can keep my Chinese friends’ names straight, much less the celebrities’!) It’s pretty clear, though, that for most of mainland China, being gay is still not OK.
I overheard a comment from a female student to a male student before class last week: “Hey, you finally changed clothes!” I didn’t want to laugh, but I was just totally cracking up inside. It was one of those “totally China” moments.
So what’s the deal? Put simply, Chinese people often wear the same outfit for several days in a row. At first I found it strange, but before long, I was adapting to this aspect of culture. Allow me to demonstrate pictorially:
Clearly, this is not a cleanliness issue. Americans frequently wear an outfit for one day, then put it away, “clean,” ready to wear again some day in the undefined, not-overly-soon future. Why can’t we just keep wearing the same outift? Cultural programming. If we wear the same outfit for several days in a row, people might think that we don’t actually have a huge wardrobe. People might think we’re poor! Even if we were to have only 5 outfits, we would cycle them meticulously.
But in China you can wear the same thing for several days in a row, and it’s cool. No one will really look down on you for it (although they might comment if you overdo it).
I kinda like this, being free of a cultural chain that, until China, bound me without my knowledge….
I’ve really let putting pictures online slide. (Remember those Yunnan photos I’ve been meaning to get online for over a month now?) Well, I finally did a little catching up, and further integrated Racingmix‘s photos with Sinosplice’s. The mirroring continues.
> Yunnan Photos are finally online — two pages of them. Story to follow.
> ChinaTEFL Linhai Trip Photos from last weekend are also online now.
Check out the photo album page for updated Racingmix mirror links and some Japan picture links as well. I’ll do more work on those pages at a time when I’m less lazy.