Sunday, November 30, 2008

Long Weekend

Even though it's Sunday night here it doesn't really feel like the start of the week. On Mondays I usually have two classes one from 8am-10am and another from 2pm-4pm. But last week was the end of the early class. Why a class would run for such a short time, and why I didn't have to give them a test remains a mystery, but at the last meeting I asked to make sure that the class did in fact end last week. In fact there are only five weeks left in the semester counting the week at the end where I'm supposed to give some sort of test. So tomorrow I only have a class from 2-4 then on Tuesday I only have a class from 2-5 normally, plus I don't really have to do much preparation since I have things left over from what I thought up last week, so this is basically two more days I get off before I have six and five hours on Wendsday and Thursday respectively. It's nice to have some time off after traveling last weekend and being sick last week, though I was woken up at 8 this morning by some sort of construction that sounded like they were doing it five feet from my window despite the fact I'm on the 14th floor.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

To Give Thanks

Yesterday we held our Thanksgiving in China. This is now the second time I've been away from home by myself on Thanksgiving and both times I've been sad that I wasn't back in the US but glad to be with really interesting and great people. We held it Friday instead of Thursday since most of us had class Thursday and little time to prepare. Of the six Americans at the school four made it, Brian had to work, and Jason was off somewhere. We decided to do it pot luck style since we had no real ability to get most of the Thanksgiving day food and everyone had something they could make. I made my mashed potatoes, which came out pretty good even though the milk is a little odd tasting. The butter I found at Wal-Mart was Land O'Lakes, and unlike some US company stuff was clearly imported from the US since the whole packaging was in English with a Chineese label stuck over it. I bought maybe a dozen potatoes, costing about one dollar, and made a ton of mashed potatoes, there was none really left at the end though after people took some for leftovers. Dave made a sweat potato dish. Usually they sell steamed sweat potatoes out in front of the school at night but Dave couldn't wait for night so he bought some and cooked them himself. He added a topping with almonds brown pepper and something making it very sweat. Since things like this are often cooked in an oven and there seem to be no ovens in all of China he put the dish in a pan then the pan in a wok full of water so that it would heat evenly.

Ken made stove top stuffing which came out pretty well though there was almost a bit of an indecent over a confusion between a clove and a bulb of garlic that would have resulted in the stuffing pretty much tasting like pure garlic. Clark made pasta and garlic bread. I didn't even see pasta sauce but apparently they have it at Wal-Mart. We had the whole festivities at Ken's place since it's the biggest. I was waiting around there for a while so I looked around, he has two bathrooms about four empty room, some of which could be bedrooms, a huge closet area, two porches and a TV room. It's honestly a little creepy in there with all that space. Teddy and Steve's family also came to the party. Steve's wife Spring insisted on bringing some food, one things was some sort of cabbage, one was some sort of dry sausage, and another I'm not really sure what it was. We got together at Ken's place around 6 to finish cooking. Spring hung around the kitchen watching all the Americans put the final touches on there food while Dave and Teddy got another table to put together with the one in Ken's place.

Besides the food people made Ken bought some wine, one of which we couldn't get properly open so there was a good bit of cork in the bottle. Finally, since we never really found any turky Ken and Dave went to get the closest thing, two big buckets of KFC. Ken said the people had quite a look on their faces when they pointed to two of the largest size they sold. I think they probably believe that they were personally going to eat all that chicken. We had paper plates and plastic utensils that the Chinese guests used also. In the end we put all the food in the middle and past is around in true Thanksgiving style. The food wasn't all that much in Thanksgiving tradition but the style was just right. We all sat around with friends at a big table and had a good time eating to much food. It's fun to have all the same things year after year, and if I could I would have had turkey and pumpkin pie and all the other things, but it's more about the people. We even had Steve's son who wolfed down some pasta then went into the other room to watch TV proving kids are kids anywhere. It all felt more like home then I could have hoped for.

At home dad always gives a Thanksgiving toast about what he's thankful for for the past year and while I didn't really get a chance to yesterday I thought I'd put it here: I'm thankful that I finally finished college; I'm thankful that I had fun in DC before getting to go abroad; I'm thankful I'm finally in China and having such a nice time here; I'm thankful that my family is OK back home and Poppy is feeling better; I'm thankful that I met such nice people here; And I'm thankful for all the support I've received form everyone. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Video Day

Today I am still feeling not great so in my long class I decided to show a video. I wanted to show them Shakespeare in Love since it was about England, had lots of people talking in British accents and was probably the sort of sappy thing they'd like. We hit one problem after another. We were trying to watch it on a laptop but the sound was way too low, so I went up and got some speakers. Then the music was loud but the speech was inscrutable. Finally, I decided to just take them up to my room and show it to them on my TV. They got quite a kick out of that and all commented on how nice the room was, though I agree with them 100% on that. We finally got the movie started but about 15 minutes in the DVD crapped out. That's the downside of cheap DVDs some just don't work right. The students all thought 10 RMB so so expensive, they download everything from the internet, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper then $20 or whatever DVDs are going for. So I decided to switch movies and show them Elizabeth. That one worked though it was a harder movie and some got board. Rose and Sally, who are my best students, got it though and I think it at least helped them to see some British stuff and hear a British accent. Honestly, with the sort of work they've been trained to do versus the sort they'll expect form them in England added to their language difficulties I'll be surprised if anyone besides Rose actually comes back with a degree.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cold and Flu Season

It seems like its cold and flu season in China as a besides myself a bunch of my students seemed sick. In one class when there was a quiet period I could here a bunch of students sniffling and in another class one guy had a cough worse then mine. Given that I'm already sick I hope that I have whatever the kids have so I can't get it again. Feeling bad all day really made my temper pretty short with the students. There were at least two times I yelled at them where I probably wouldn't have if I felt better. It's not that they didn't deserve it but I was just in a worse mood then usual. I feel like I want to run around with one of those face masks on though I doubt that they would actually anything. It looks like were going to be doing some sort of Thanksgiving pot luck and I'm going to make mash potatoes which is fine though it takes a lot of potatoes to make mash potatoes for like 12 people.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I seem to have come down with some sort of cold or something in the last day or two. It's not that bad really, though I'm not looking forward to being on my feet teaching six hours of class tomorrow. It's just that it seems like I have one little annoying sickness after another here. In the first few weeks it was diarrhea, which still comes back sometimes, then last week I had this annoying canker sore in my mouth, now I have this cough. It's also annoying not to be able to go to a CVS and pick up some cough drops or really much else. Wal-Mart might have some stuff like that, though I haven't seen it but things for little problems are not too frequent here. Everybody does like to give medical advice though. I know some of the things they believe, like tea being good for you are really true, but they have some crazy notions. I've heard that walking and eating is bad, not eating lunch precisely between 12 and 12:30 is unhealthy, cold water with hot food is verboten. If you ask them where exactly they get this advice form it's always something like my grandmother told me this or my parents said that. I've even heard them say that walking backwards for 20-30 minutes a day is good for you, and you see some doing just that on one of the tracks. So far I've decided to drink more tea and ignore everything else.

Monday, November 24, 2008

On the Road Again

Me Ken and David set off Saturday morning for a quick trip down to Wuzhen, a river town known for its old section and for being the birthplace and setting for a famous Chinese author. Wuzhen is close enough that it's certainly possible to go on a weekend, but it's also pretty difficult. It takes maybe 7 hours door to door and you have to do that both days, so the story of this trip is basically the story of the traveling as much as the being there. We took a first but to Jiaxing which is most of the way toward our destination. This bus was your standard Greyhound type bus with maybe the exception of the nice gentlemen who sat in front of us high out of his mind sipping on some sort of opiate.

It was pretty cold out but he had his window open for some reason and his head pretty much out of it. After some people asking for him to close it got no noticeable response the bus driver actually came back moved his head inside and partially closed the window. Now it was still incredibly windy in the back so Ken tapped his should to try and motion for him to close the window but he wasn't able to figure out who had tapped his should despite looking around and went back to intensely staring at the crack in the window. Ken said he was taking sips out of some container and must be high, but I thought he had to be drunk. Eventually though I saw that the container was way too small to put any real alcohol in and contained some weird green liquid which must be some sort of opiate. Ken eventually just almost totally shut his window, I don't think he noticed.

Out bus let us off in some really random part of Jiaxing and we stopped to have some lunch. I wasn't that hungry since I had eaten a big breakfast earlier so I just wanted to order some small spring rolls I saw on the menu. The people there kept insisting that one ridiculous and I should order two. It looked in the picture like there was three to an order but I figured that it must just be one per order so I got two. When they came it was three per order so I ended up with six. They just couldn't get over that I might want something smaller then a normal sized lunch. We walked to a close by bus station and got the next ticket to Wuzhen which wasn't for two hours so we walked around for a while. Ken had something called a Flat Stanley, a cut out of a person you send some one and they take picture with it and send it back, so he was looking for some good pictures. We took one near a motor vehicle; I wouldn't call it a car that looked like a cardboard box with wheels stick out of it. The owner of it came up while we were taking the picture but thought the whole thing was pretty funny.

We finally got on a bus for Wuzhen I was surprised to find that the bus was basically an old city bus. I do mean old to some of the seat were in bad condition and the whole things smelled like fish, though in China that could mean someone was carrying fish with them. We got seats but they just kept putting people on until they had to bring out benches and stools for them to sit on so every available inch of the foot was covered in people or bags or both. This bus rumbled on for about and hour until we arrived in Wuzhen. Immediately off the bus we were surrounded by people trying to sell us rides or take us to their hotel but we just decided to walk. One really persistent woman followed us for quite a while and when we stopped in a park was talking to Dave and convinced him that she could get us a good deal on a hotel so we got in her car like device and went on with her. Here's a video of the ride:

She did eventually find us a hotel and a really good marked down price about 60 RMB each or about $8 a night. We didn't have to pay her either though I'm sure she gets a kick back from the hotel. A lot of the hotel had hourly rates so the joke was that maybe we got such a good deal since it was only for an hour and they thought we were a couple of homosexuals in for a quick romp. Our room was nice with three beds heating and a real toilet, though there were some holes in the wall covered by a page of a magazine. We put our stuff down and went to find the old section of the city. We weren’t sure where to go so we got in the bicycle rickshaws and I thought going up a small hill the old guy pulling me and Ken was going to have a heart attack. The place we were going was actually really close but by the time we got there it was already getting dark. We walked around for a while and took some pictures but soon decided to get something to eat. Ken and Dave wanted to go to the smallest most rustic looking place and soon we sat down. Here's a video about ordering dinner:

On the video I mention it would be funny if this meal was actually more expensive then the nice restaurants. In China so far everyone has been so nice to me and so honest about money that I let my guard down and didn't think to ask before hand how much everything in the meal would cost. The meal was pretty good, not great, and we figured it would be something like 45 total, they tired to charge us 120. That's really the crew the foreigner’s price. We may be new in China but we didn't just fall of the truck. We tried to argue a little but lacked the language so we called up Steve who argued with them in Chinese for a few minutes until the lowered the price to 80 which is still too much but probably as good as we were going to get. We tried to find to find someone in the town to complain to but it probably would have been to little avail since I'm not sure this place really has an address and if it does we didn't know it.

On Sunday we went back to the old section of the city and got a boat ride around. The city definitely has a nice old look to it and while there were quite a few tourists, none American, there probably would have been a ton more in season. We walked around for a while looking at the old streets and buildings. We went to the Ancient Bed Museum, but all the beds looked the same to me. We saw this old guy hanging out in a corner of the street who we think the city might pay to stand there and Ken got a picture of him holding Flat Stanley. The guy got a big kick out of it as did all the Chinese tourists. We saw some bendy impossible looking pole that people climb as a spectacle but since it was drizzling there was no show. The town itself is nice and the streets in the old sections are impossibly narrow. There was another section of the town but you had to pay again to enter and it was getting late so we decided to head back. We got aboard the old school bus back to Jiaxing. We made it about half way before smoke starting coming out of the side and we had to pull over at a gas station. Dave explains the rest:

We did eventually flag down another bus and got to Jiaxing but there were no buses to Changzhou from what we later learned was only one of two bus stations in Jiaxing. So we got a bus to Wuxi which is close to Changzhou. Once there we got another bus back arriving back at the hotel at about 6pm. I have a lot of photos up form the trip on flickr and I'm happy to have mom and dad back so someone will click on the ads, opps I'm not supposed to say that.

Friday, November 21, 2008


A lot of my students have this tendency to tell me way more about their personal lives then I want to know. In class on Wendsday I was playing a game where I put a word on the board and they wrote down the first 10 things they thought of and I asked them about it. I put marriage on the board since my students act like there 1o years old so I knew I'd get a lot of giggles and laughs. One girl put down something like conflict so I asked her why, which is basically what I asked everyone. At first she said it was a secret, but since they constantly misuse words and don't like talking I pushed for her to explain something. I basically then had to cut her off about four seconds later when I think she was about to get into how her father beats her. I have no idea what makes the students want to share this sort of personal information. I know some of it is cultural, they just don't really have the same sort of personal boundaries we do, one student asked if she could pat my belly. One student once told Dave that she thought about killing herself. Dave was pretty freaked out and told Teddy whose basic response was to shrug it off. As Dave noted if this was the US he'd basically have a responsibility to immediately tell some one about this, but here they just sort of ignore it. It's not that I'm not interested in their personal lives, I just wish they wouldn't share quite so much very personal information.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Painting Trees

Its something I've touched on in a number of other posts but I think its one of the most common feelings I've had here in China, most of the time I simply have no idea what's going on. Some of my students in the small class, the one that's going to England, asked me how I coped with traveling and learned to adapt. Basically what I do is just go with the flow and do mostly whatever the locals are doing. Today for example they were doing what looked like painting trees. There were a bunch of guys with big buckets of what looks like white paint and paint rollers going all over the lower half of the trees on campus. They weren't exactly in a big hurry since I saw them going to class and by the time two hours later I came by with a camera they had moved about 5 trees on. I knew it couldn't be paint, honestly just thinking "hmmm who would want to paint trees," isn't enough to make me believe that they don't paint trees in China, was that it smelled terrible. Half the campus reeked of this smell which was sort of a cross between wet dog and bad eggs, though leaning toward the dog side. When I came with my camera there was about one guy working while the other just sort of talked and watched him slowly work, so I guess things aren't all that different.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Other People's Stories

I remember sitting around once listening to my parents and some of their friends talk about there almost made it moment in the stock market. The time they sold right before a stock took off or right after it plummeted. No one there was exactly going to be a millionaire or be bankrupt by what happened but I just noticed that all the stories were the same. No one had the story of the time they bought that stock right before it took off, or the time they sold just at the right moment. I wondered where all the people where who were having the other conversation. Today in my small class I had my students talk about school, their high school, their middle school, their college. I noticed that all the students had some version of the same story. They weren't good students in high school or really in college. One girl talked about how she went to what was one of the best high schools in here region, but had to pay extra because her test scores didn't meet their standards. She went on to say that her whole time there she never really caught up to the other students. She said she did about 4 hours of homework a night, about 3.5 more then I did in high school, and still was always behind. Leaving aside that it was pretty remarkable how little they complain about big stuff like this or how freely they talk about it, none of my students were ever really the top people. The only boy in the class actually attend a college devoted to garden design. I don't think there is a single college in the US that focuses on that. So I wondered again where are all the students who had an easy time in high school and got top marks. As to where the people are who made just the right moves in the stock market, I eventually answered that they must be having this discussion in a bigger house somewhere. The students with the top marks they're probably sitting around discussion it in a better school. I like the school here a lot, but what we do is pretty separated form most of the school and I get the sense more and more that despite all it's size and building that this is a pretty lowly regarded school.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My Little Flowers

So if I'm supposed to be the one giving a test to my students how come they don't seem to care and I feel like I'm under the spot light? I think one of my classes is ending next week, I say I think since I'm not actually 100% sure I'll give the test then see if anyone shows up after that, so I've been trying to plan some sort of test. My original idea was to have them each come up and ask them to describe something with detail off the top of their head. In practicing this in class I saw that if that was the test no one would pass. So I gave them 11 topics and told them I'd pick on at random. I made it even easier by saying at the end I'll ask them questions that way if they are completely flummoxed I'll be able to give them some pushing in the right direction. Honestly I'm not worried about the test accurately gauging their skill honestly a three minute test is more then enough to tell how good they are. My main worry is what right do I really have to give some one a bad mark no matter how bad they are. I've had this class for maybe a grand total of 20 hours in the entire semester. They shouldn't just receive grades based on English level since I've had almost no real effect on that level.

Honestly I'm pretty sure the school expects me to pass all of them with pretty good marks, and if that's what they want I'm not really going to object. I'll probably hand out between A and C to those who come to class regularly and B to D for the others. But there is at least one students I can think of who comes to every class doesn't sleep or text or anything during class and has the English level of a 3 year old. How can I give her a bad grade when it at least appears she's trying, but how can I give her a good one when she just sucks at English. I'm just hoping that the take my lesson today to heart and basically come in with very well practiced answers to my questions. This isn't a hard test. Honestly with a week or two to study and some memorization I could probably pass this test in French, and I in no way speak French. It's just that some times the whole fly by night policy of China gets on my nerves when I feel it's been bad for the students.

Next semester I'm keeping careful records of who attends and who participates and no matter what the school wants that's going to determine most of the grade. If I worked at some sort of other job I wouldn't care as much about how exactly good I was at it, and I certainly would feel bad about not being up to snuff, but I guess I just feel like a teacher is still some what of an important job and that I have a responsibility to the little buggers. Today in class we where playing a game where I gave them a card with a job on it and they had to get the rest of the class to guess the job. I gave one student "Teacher" and she just said gardener. I stopped her thinking she had some how tipped the class off since it seemed such an unlikely connections but she explained that in Chinese gardener is a common metaphor for teacher, the class being the flowers a gardener tries to help grow. I laughed and referred to them all as flowers for the rest of the class, but I guess I just care about my little garden.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Temporary Flowers

There was a track and field sort of competition for the students and facility this weekend. Dave won the 400 and the 800 meter races, he probably could have won anything longer too since he's basically a distance runner. He said that the other people just basically sprinted out of the gates but then lost steam way before the end. The whole thing was an odd mix of formality and the usual fly by night style of China. Apparently most of the teachers who were participating had to come to the opening ceremony in suits, but the American's of course didn't have to do anything like that. Most of the events were pretty standard fare like running and high jump but there were some odd sports. First there was one mostly for fun which involved lines of twenty people each person holding the foot of one of the people behind them and then all hoping down the track. Also there was a 20x500 meter relay, that's 20 people on each relay team. I guess if you just did 2 or 4 you'd never get to all the people here. When they gave out little medals to the students they would have them stand on a small podium like thing give them flowers, take a picture, then take the flowers away to use again. All the schools competed against each other though I don't know how many of the students cared since most just treated it as a three day weekend.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Steve invited me and some of the other Americans over to his house again today, this time Dave insisted that if his wife didn't join us for dinner we are all going to leave. Steve is a pretty interesting guy. He's an English teacher, which partially explains his interest in hanging around with Americans, but it's more then that. He really makes an effort to get to know all the new Americans, and given how often people change here, that's really saying something. In a country where most people are pretty shy, he's fairly outgoing. When we play poker he seems to get very excited. The first time I thought it was because he had three beers, a lot for him, but he didn't drink as much this time and was still probably the most rowdy one at the table. English is also an interesting career choice in a country where all English is essentially taught like ESL back home. If you took a course in Spanish at a university in America it would be more about Spanish literature then how to speak Spanish. Therefore it would matter less if the teacher was a native Spanish speaker or not. But here English is taught more like ESL is taught in high school, the focus is on speaking and grammar. I'm just not sure how many non-native English speakers teach ESL in America.

Steve also isn't treated as well by the school as the foreign teachers are. If were a little late for class nothing happens, hell nothing really happens if we miss a class altogether. But Steve said he was once about three minutes late for a class and was worried the school would fine him something like a months pay. I'm sure partially because he hangs around Americans so much his English is better then pretty much anyone I know here, a fact he really enjoys when you point out. His wife has a masters degree of some sort but I've never really spoken to her much. I'm pretty sure she was the only woman Steve ever dated, which is pretty much in keeping with Chinese tradition. I've compared gender relations here to the US in the 50's and I think that's pretty close. Maybe the most interesting thing about Steve is how he acts as a mirror for us. It's always interesting to see what he think about what we are talking about. When Lynn visited me, her, Dave, and Steve were all sitting around talking. Lynn was talking about some creepy guy who was hitting on her so the conversation sort of turned toward sex. Steve out of no where asks what we thought was the correct thing to say to his son about masturbation. I was completely floored, but to Steve this conversation seemed related to talking about sex where no American ever would have made that jump. Oddly it was Lynn, who had only known Steve for about 30 minutes, who could pull herself together enough to actually give Steve anything like an answer. It just shows how many little cultural assumptions there are that we are not even aware of.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Well I promised some video from the Halloween party and here is the best of it. Me, David, Ken, and Bryan doing a impromptu performance of YMCA. We had planned to do some rehearsal but had never gotten around to it. I'm at the far end of the stage from the camera.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Big Trouble in Little China

I wonder if I cut odd one of my students heads and stuck it on a spike in the front of class would that actually be enough to make the rest of them fall in line, because right now I think they'd just shrug and go back to talking in Chinese. My small class which had been so good for the past couple of weeks was in full rebellion today. I asked them to tell me something about college life, or high school, since too many had gone to the same college undergraduate. While most seemed to think it was boring and begrudgingly did it one girl just refused. She just sat there with her arms crossed refusing to participate. I basically had a choice here I could have tossed her out of the class, or at least threatened to, or I could talk to her about what her problem is and try to resolve it. I chose the later and I'm not sure it was the right choice. I spent a good amount of time trying to understand what her problem was, more or less it was that she wanted more focus on vocabulary and role play. I know some of the other students don't want this though and I think it's a bad idea. I think that my activity where each person speaks and then everyone else asks them questions is really helpful since it gets them all talking and asking and answering questions.

I've always had some trouble punishing people in class since I don't always feel I have the authority to since I have no earthly idea what I'm doing. I feel weird laying down the hammer trying to get them to do what I want when I don't know if what I want is right. In an attempt to convince them that you could talk at length about anything I lead a 45 minute in depth discussion of a coin, it's actually a scene from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I have no idea though if any of my point got through to them, and too much of the argument of class style was conducted in Chinese But I think that sure or not, good idea or not, right or not, I just have to lay down the hammer. I said at the end of class that some of this confusion was my fault for not being strict enough with them, and they all said no they liked my temperament, but I'm not sure that isn't part of the problem. I think that I have to worry less about if they like me or the class and more about what they're learning. It was harder at first when I was struggling to keep my head above water but now I need to do more.

There are a lot of different attitudes toward teaching here. No one came to China to teach, we all taught to come to China. Some give the absolute minimum, which here is pretty little. Honestly I understand the impulse. I've never been much of a worker at some of the part time jobs I've had. I spent hours at the gift shop I worked at surfing the internet or sitting in a closet, not that it matters much when there are no customers. But here I just can't bring myself to care that little. I care a lot less about the bigger classes to be sure, but I just sort of feel as if this smaller class, the one that's going to England, needs me. Most of the time teaching feels like some weird joke, or crazy experience, but with my smaller class I starting to really care about them and feel invested like, dare I say, their teacher. It's even weirder since at least two of them are older then me. Some of the other teachers make more of an effort, but I think in the beginning I was more concerned with getting through class then how I did it. Now I'm feeling more pressure to not just teach but to be a better teacher. Next time I'm bringing a jar and anyone who talks in Chinese has to put 1 Jiao, 1/10th of a RMB. I don't know if I'm doing the absolutely best thing to prepare them, it has it's good sides despite being boring, but I need more order in this class. What did Machiavelli say it's better to be feared then loved, I'm not sure he was wrong.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Happy Birthday Brgan

No I don't know anyone names Brgan, though it does sound like a fun name, that's just how Bryan's name came out on the cake Dave got for him. Dave called me up yesterday afternoon to ask if I knew that it was Bryan's birthday. Since I don't use facebook essentially ever here, it's really annoying to go in with only about a 1 in 10 chance of it actually working, I don't get updates on whose birthday is coming up. But Dave got the message that morning and quickly found out that one section of the cafeteria sells cakes. We all gathered in Clark's apartment at around 9 and when we finally got Bryan in sang a rousing round of Happy Birthday. Bryan was actually pretty surprised by all this. As we were just about to cut the cake Steve added, "Not to be too negative, but milk crises?" We all broke out laughing. It's hard to tell what exactly to do about all the tainted milk. It won't actually kill an adult, but it could be unpleasant. Still it's been a while and we were eating cake not just downing a gallon of milk so we all had some. The Chinese can never seem to give one answer when you ask them how old they are. I remember Teddy saying something like, "30 or 31 or 32." I can see how you might have two possible answers but three is impressive. They know the way we count in America so they give us our answer, the lowest. In China though you start out as one when you are born so that adds one year, also if you were born right before the Spring Festival, Chinese New Years, they add another one at your first Spring Festival. The long and the short of it is I've just stopped asking how old people are.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The End of the World

That's right folks, this picture you see before you represents the end of the world. Sure the uninitiated among you may say, but wait what's so scary about that picture. Some may look and laugh thinking that it only resembles some sort of Chinese food, but don't be fooled. Don't let this seemingly innocent picture lull you into a false sense of complacency. Don't be tricked by the appearance of everyday things in this picture. Don't, I repeat don't, let your guard down for even a moment, for friends the unthinkable has happened. That which was never thought possible, that which seems so outlandish that even having experienced it, seems not real. Even as I right these words I doubt my own memory about what has transpired, but there it is looking back at me with it's indubitable certainty. I, Daniel Bruno Davis, acting of my own free will chose to eat a dinner tonight consisting of only vegetables and rice, and I liked it.

I've told my students that my favorite food here so far is qié zi, which is pronounced like "chea zu," which is funny for a couple of reasons. First, qié zi is the Chinese equivalent of cheese in that it's what people say when taking a picture. Second, it just doesn't fit in to their picture of Americans. We eat, McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut only as far as their concerned. I think they actually don't understand the variety of food choice we have. While they have a good bit of variety also imagine if you could only pick on ethnicity food to eat forever. You could have pasta but never a burrito, a burrito but never a hamburger, a hamburger but never a spring roll. They just don't really do multi-ethnic food in China so they sort of assume we don't either. But qié zi just doesn't fit in. Qié zi, as those of you who speak some Chinese have already figured out, is eggplant. Not exactly the worlds most sought after dish, and not exactly my favorite back home either, but here they do something to it which is out of this world. I've had it at various banquets before but I figured out that the restaurant out front can do it also. So tonight after a long conversation in broken Chinese and English, Chinglish, I was able to order the eggplant and rice you see at the top of this post. Maybe, I'm just becoming more Chinese, maybe I'm trying to eat heather, maybe I've just gotten caught up in all this "change" talk, I don't know, but I ate eggplant today and I liked it. Yes I can.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fall (For Real this Time)

Well it looks like it's fall, for real this time not like that last fake fall which lasted about 5 days, as when I woke up today it was boiling in my room because at some point they had enabled the heat and it must have been set pretty high. It's been cold outside for a few days but looking at the weather it looks like it will actually stick this time. The students have been wearing there fall cloths for a month now but the Americans have been going back and forth to shorts and T-shirts as the weather dictates. Some of the street vendors are also different. I wonder if some just decide the business will be better some place else or if some do some other job during the colder winter months. I doubt that's true though since they don't seem deterred by rain or any other weather. On top of that some has disappeared before only to return later. It's funny though, the vendors all have places they like to set up and when one leaves others move in and set up in the place they used to be in.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Chinese Hospitality

Steve called me up yesterday to invite me over, along with Dave and Ken, to his house for dinner. Steve lives not too far from the school, about a 10 minute ride on a bus. When we got there Steve stopped in at a corner store to buy some beer, he refused to take any money from any of the Americans for it, and while he was waiting I took some pictures of the surrounding buildings. A Chinese guy came up to me and started talking to me in Chinese, a situation where I can only pretty much shrug. Steve talked to him for a bit and told us that he was the security guard and he was new and curious if we lived in any of the buildings around there. We went up to Steve's apartment, which is a forth of fifth floor walk up, through an unlit stairwell. I don't think you'd ever see stairs so dark in America because people would be too worried about being mugged while going home. It actually gave me a chance to use the little flash light on the top of my phone for a second. Steve said that he usually has a flash light with him for the stairs. His home was something like 5 rooms totaling an area only slightly larger then my apartment, there may have been another floor but I think he was looking to rent that out. There are 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a main room with a table and TV. Steve's wife Spring was in the kitchen cooking most of the time and I didn't really see too much of her. In fact through out dinner she'd only appear to put some more food out on the table maybe ask if we liked it then disappear again. Ken and Dave asked if we could wait for her to join us before eating, but while I know only a very little Chinese, even I understood an emphatic no.

The dinner was great consisting of a bunch of different thing put in the middle of the table which every basically communally ate from. Steve's son Mike was also there, I think he knows a good bit of English since whenever Steve asked him if he knew what an English word meant he was able to come up with the correct equivalent in Chinese. He didn't on the other hand like talking in English at all. I'd compare him to a child whose parents insist he has piano lessons, he may know how to play but not really like to. After dinner we played a game of Monopoly which I was told Mike won at last time. It was pretty even in the beginning with no one being very near to a monopoly. About half way everyone started trading fast. I got the first two Monopolies, purple and light blue, which aren't worth so much but I had enough cash on hand to build hotels on all of them within two turns. The result was I controlled a whole side of the board and almost everyone who passed was bound to land on at least one of my properties. I was then able to absorb a huge amount of cash and force people into deal giving away a lot of there other properties to stay in until controlled almost everything. Mike played well again being the last person left before I won. Steve was really funny saying welcome every time some one landed on one of his houses. Mike was incredibly aggressive and mostly made very shrewd deals.

The we played a game that is called either Five in a Row or Gomoku. It is played on the same board as a Chinese game called Go or wéiqí. There are a number of spaces where little black or white stones can be put down with the objective being that a played puts five in a row. Mike is pretty good at it and beat Ken about 5 times went 3-1 against Dave. I won the first game lost the next two but then won two more to be 3-2. It seems really simple at first but has a lot of complexity in where you can force people to move. One of the pictures up here is of me playing Mike in the final game. After that it was about midnight and Ken and Dave had to leave on some sort of hiking trip. We got some taxis out side of Steve's apartment. It was really interesting to see where Chinese people really live and what the place looked like. Honestly it looked like a small apartment in pretty much any place. Beds, kitchen, TV, computer, all looked just like you would see in America. Probably the biggest difference was Spring spending the whole time in the kitchen. The fact that she doesn't speak English was part of it, but gender relations are just different here. I think she may be a teacher also, or at least has a masters in something, but I didn't really get to talk to her much.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Poker Night

We had a poker night last night with three American teachers and two Chinese teachers. The two Chinese teachers had never played poker before so they had to be taught how to play. We played with a buy in of about 10 RMB, about $1.50. We had to use a lot of the 1 joa coins, worth about 1.5 cents for the blinds. On the first real hand I got some pretty good cards, eventually getting a full house and went all in against one of the Chinese teachers. Dave and Ken were in hysterics as I took all 10 RMB from him on the first hand. He was a good sport about it and bought back in for more. In the end Ken won all the money, up about 50 RMB total. Steve who was there drank 3 whole beers which was a lot for him and got a little loud by the end. We actually played till about 1 am which for China is incredibly late. Steve called me up today and invited me, Ken, and Dave to his house for dinner tonight which should be interesting. Steve is definitly the teacher who makes the biggest effort to be friends with all the American teachers, which is more remarkeable when you consider how often the teachers switch here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Reading List

Despite what you might have heard this internet thing is really taking off. I am in fact not the only blogger from Changzhou. Both Ken and Dave have blogs that are pretty interesting. Sometime it's just funny to see different perspectives on stuff that's happened to you. I know they're both readers of this blog and I wanted to create a list of related blogs, which should be on the left hand side of you page blow the post list, because you should be reading my blog first. I'm also discovered this blog called Jiangsu Journal written by a guy who was in Changzhou for two years ending two years ago. He has a lot of pretty detailed posts and again it's just amazing to see that no matter how far you go there's already someone whose been there. I've been trying to contact the person who wrote it but with no luck so far so I wanted to just post a link to it with Ken and Dave's in the side bar. I remember this scene in the move The Truman Show where a young Truman, who unknown to him lives in a giant TV show about himself, tells his teacher he wants to travel and be an explorer, something the producers of the show don't want, only to have the teacher pull down a map of the world and yelling that see it's already all been discovered. It's not like I thought I was the first American into China or anything, in fact going to China seems to be the new hippy vogue, but it's amazing that in some random town I'm still competing with at least 3 other blogs.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Central

Today was the big election day. I got David to take my morning classes so that I could just get up and watch the results pour in. Of course the internet picked today to not work very well. It would work in drips and drabs so that I could connect fine some times but other moments I'd get nothing at all. In the end the election wasn't that close so I spent most of my time looking at my brackets for mom and dad's office pools of election picking. I'm doing pretty well at about 90% correct, since both are winner take all I'm just not sure if that'll be enough to win. My apartment turned into election central in the middle of the day because some unique programs I have on my computer allow me to connect to the internet better during these problems. First, Clark came in and was looking for updates, next Steve arrived looking for Dave who apparently had some appointment with him he forgot before taking my classes, when Steve learned Dave wasn't coming he hung out to see the election results. Finally, Teddy stopped by to give me some mail that was my ballot finally arriving. Since it has to be post marked by election day, and I don't think a Chinese post mark will count, I'm just not going to send it in and I'll show it to some of my students.

This does give me hope though that my backup ballot arrived in DC and that I can send and receive mail from home. Teddy is always really on the ball about getting things done. In fact a lot of time he rushes things over to us when there is no real hurry. Dave locked himself out of his apartment the other day and when Teddy showed up to give him a spare he was out of breath like he had been running across campus. Any time you need water changed he gets some one there in about 15 minutes. I have this image of a team of people waiting by a red phone to deliver water, jumping down a fire pole before peeling out across campus. Steve thought the ballot was interesting also and wanted to borrow it some time to make a copy to show his students also. I'm not 100% sure how interested the students can be, they're unpredictable on stuff like this, but It'll be interesting showing it to them, a ballot from the worlds most famous democracy in a place where they can't vote. I liked the final part of Obama's speech about the changes in the life of the 106 year old daughter of a slave who went from not being able to vote because she was black and she was a women, to voting for the fist black president. I didn't like the speech as much as everyone else did on the whole though since I was starting to wonder if he'd go the whole time without ever mentioning Martin Luther King. I know he didn't want to fixate on it, but whatever his polices the most important part of this election was that 40 years after Dr. King was assassinated a black man can become president of the United States. He'll have huge expectations for his inaugural now, though as dad said it'll be nice to have high expectations for a change.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Never Mind, Back to Summer

Well I thought we had finally shaken the summer off here in Changzhou, the other day we were even talking about skiing, but it looks like the warm weather has returned with a vengeance. From coats and sweaters the day before to a thin sweater this morning to a T-shirt and considering shorts now. Google says it's 71 degrees in sunny Changzhou and that it should be as warm tomorrow. I started off comparing the weather here to DC with the heat and the humidity, but no one can wear shorts after Halloween in DC. They insist that it does snow here, someone said that it actually snowed a lot last year, but I just don't see how when it never drops below the 60's. The elections are soon and I'm excited to get up early and watch the results come in. Since I'm 12 hours ahead of you, actually it's 13 now that you all are on daylight savings, I'll see the results come in starting at around 7am on Wendsday. Usually I have class from 8-12 but I traded with David so that I could watch the results come in. I'm actually interested to teach to his class since I get to do a sort of greatest hits of my events from previous classes. I just really want them to be asking David when that Daniel fellow is coming back. I filled out some sort of brackets for the election but my main predictions are Obama winning, big surprise now, and the Dem's getting 61 seats in the Senate, which pretty much means they win every winnable race. I think Obama will win Virginia and Florida, but not go so far as to take Georgia or North Carolina. No matter who wins the way things are going they'll be wearing a long coat during their swearing in while I'll be in shorts.

P.S. If you want to call me, and Mom and Dad have figured out how so just ask them, just remember the am pm rule it's OK to call as long as it's morning in the US just don't call if it's afternoon there as I've gotten calls at like 2am the night before classes.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Please Vomiting Here

I went with David and Lynn, who is a CIEE person visiting Changzhou, to Dinosaur Park on Saturday. When I heard that there was a place in Changzhou called Dinosaur Park what I imagined was somewhere in between the old kids show Barney and a broken down carnival, but Dinosaur Park is really something. It's not exactly Disney, but it's pretty close to on par with Six Flags. The cost of admission was 120 RMB, or about $18. That doesn't seem like a ton of money compared with the Six Flags and Disney's gorging prices, but for the Chinese that's the equivalent of about 15 dinners in the cafeteria or 24 hair cuts around campus. The Dinosaur theme started right from the front gate which had a big arch like something out of the Flintstones. Inside the first thing you see is a big pond in the middle of the park with gigantic Brontosaurus, the dinosaur with the long neck, standing in the middle of the water. You can't see the whole park clearly from any vantage but they provide Disney like maps to show you where to go. The sections of the park all have poorly translated names such as the main entrance, Happy Street, the carnival like section of the part, Funny Dinosaur Town, or the section with the bigger rides, simply called Lubura.

We went to the section closest to us which looked like a recreation of a jungle, with trees made out of what seemed to be concrete, and some Styrofoam dinosaurs. Some had simple animatronics and moved around a little. The first ride like thing was a climbing wall with hand and foot holds. We waited in what was less like a line and more like a big funnel of people, until we could climb on it. The holds were actually much tougher then they looked and I fell off into a net and had to walk around. Even though I wasn't nearly the only one to fall the guy running the section seemed angry when I did and said something I didn't understand. Next we went over to a big ride that spun you around while dropping you in sort of a pendulum motion. I didn't want ot go on it but Dave and Lynn did. While I waited for them some more kids at the park came over and wanted to get their picture taken with me. Dave told me that at the edge of the seats there was this little plastic bin with the words "Please Vomiting Here" written on it.

After that it was close to the time the park was supposed to close but we wanted to go on one more ride so we waited maybe one and a half hours for a big flume ride. Even though it was pretty cool out and the big water park section of Dino Park was closed the flume was still open. What they did was provide little cheap parkas that you could buy for 2 RMB. I got stuck in the front of the flume, ie the part that gets most wet. First the ride took us through these sort of pretend dinosaur caves with animatronics dinosaurs then up to a big section that looked like primordial earth with a big volcano and lightning. I still don't like rides that drop so I closed my eyes right when we got to the top of the final lift, but Dave said that there was a big T-rex head right before the drop. I got pretty wet as the little poncho didn't really do much and mine sort of ripped. Lynn thought it was funny that I pretty much complained the whole time on the flume.

The park was clearly made by some one familiar with how theme parks are run in America. Every big ride ends in a gift shop and all the prices are about double what you would find anywhere else in China. I didn't have my camera with me so I didn't get any pictures but I'll get some from Dave for another post. I did buy the little unlicensed version on Yoshi that you see at the top of this post. The park was still in Halloween mode also and I think I saw more things relating to Halloween there then the rest of China combined. They had fake pumpkins all over the place and were selling a ton of costumes and even had on Halloween music.