Thursday, May 28, 2009


Last weekend I made pasta for Ken, Dave, and Carrie. It was going pretty well I had already cooked some onions, though I guess they were out of season or something since they didn't have much taste, peppers, and chopped up sausage, adding it all into the tomato sauce. I boiled some water and got the bag of pasta I had bought a while ago at Wal-Mart. When I dumped the pasta into the bowl I notices a bunch of little black things that looked like poppy seeds. I looked closer at one of them letting out a big "huh," to witch Ken responded, "that's never a good sound to come from the kitchen." On closer examination the little poppy seed like things were six legged bugs that mostly seem to have been killed by dumping them into boiling water. I was so grossed out by it that I dumped the whole thing out my window into the bushes 14 stories below. Not wanting to waste all the sauce with the food in it Ken and Carrie went out and bought some dried Chinese noodles form the corner store. I wasn't sure how much to put in the water, the packets were about half the size of a usual pasta package, so I put in two. The noodles though soaked up the water at an unbelievable rate and I only ended up using one pack in the final pasta. It tasted all right in the end though the noodles were a little stickier then pasta. Carrie said she had seen that bug before and it was something that ate grains. She said during the cultural revolution people would eat them. Dave's also been having a problem with mosquitoes since some people who were fixing something in his apartment left one of his windows open for a while. Ken's even gone so far as to rig up a mosquito net. Me on the 14th floor I don't get many bugs that fly up this high so it's pretty easy. A few gnats fly near my light and die, so I have to clean the light every once and a while. There are definitly mosquitoes here but they're not that bad really. With all the water around town you'd think we'd be swimming in them, but it seems less then some places I've been.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

You're Fired

I got fired the other day. Don't worry it wasn't from my job at the University, it was from Super where I only worked two hours a week. I had been working there for a little more than half the semester. They had originally asked Dave to work on Monday and Wednesday nights but he couldn't do Wednesdays so I volunteered to take those. Teaching at Super was a very different experience from teaching at the University. My classes were constantly changing in unpredictable ways. One class started off with five people then 15 minutes into the class three more showed up than two more another ten minutes later. We took a break in the middle of the class and when I got back it was down to eight people. A few weeks into it they gave me a book to teach from but then Jack, the guy who works for Super who usually sat in on my classes thought it was too boring when I used the book and wanted me to go back to doing what I was doing before. The level in the class also varied wildly. A few students were pretty good but some just had almost no English, which necessitated some one from Super being their to translate directions. They wanted me to sign something like a contract a few weeks in which besides being unbelievably vague was riddled with typos.

I had really stopped being interested in the class so I was actually relieved when I learned I didn't have to teach there anymore. They didn't tell me I was fired though or even text message or e-mail me, they just gave my job to Brian and I only found out about it when he called asking for one of the books they had given us. In fact I wasn't even sure I was fired until I finally text messaged Jack. This wasn't the first time Super pulled something like this either. Steve brought Dave into the company and then they immediately tried to give Dave Steve's job. At least Steve realizes at this point that they will eventually do something like this to him, and the next person probably won't turn it down like Dave did. It's just so Chinese and passive aggressive to fire some one without even telling them they got fired. What did he expect to happen I'd just show up and find someone else standing in my class. Jack said it had something to do with not submitting lesson plans and that we were going to leave soon, but Dave always did lesson plans and Brian is leaving exactly when we are. This is one of those times I'd like to be inside some one else brain for a while to know what is really going on. I guess Ken and Dave were right for always calling Super terrible.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lunch Hour

We, Me, Ken Dave, Steve, and sometimes Teddy and Amy, been having lunch at the North Cafeteria every Tuesday for a while now. In one sense it's a testament to just how much free time we all have that we can sit around for two plus hours just eating lunch and talking. I have essentially nothing better to do during this time then sit and have a long lunch, and this is on one of the days when I actually have classes. I still can't get over just how well I'm being treated in China for having essentially no skills and doing almost no work. This is by far the oddest part of living in China that I just get huge benefits for no real reason. I've dissected before why exactly this happens, I think it has mostly to do with foreigners still being so rare, but that's not really what I wanted to talk about. Last semester I didn't go to the cafeteria much but recently I've been liking it more and more. They have a pretty wide variety of dishes, I been eating a lot of this pork and onion dish, and it's very convenient. Even when I can't tell if the name of the dish they are calling is for me they tend to point to me since I'm one of the only foreigners. The students eat at a fairly amazing rate. They come in put their bags down at a table, which since they're not yet sitting their eating can cause something of a space problem. They then order, wait for their food, and eat all in about 20 minutes. We often get started at about 12:10 and by 12:30 most of the place is empty. Dinner at the cafeteria is a little more spread out but it's still petty confined. The cafeteria actually has two parts one lower floor is more like what you would think of as a traditional cafeteria where you pretty much just point to food and put it on a tray. The upper floor, where we eat, has a bunch of little restaurants in it which each have slightly different food. The quality on the second floor is pretty good all things considered. In a rare move towards conservation I think most of the food waste is taken to be animal feed. The students have a habit of picking out what they don't like in their food and setting it on the table next to them, so you can see that one student didn't like onions since there will be a little pile of onions left on the table, why they couldn't order the dish without onions is a question for another day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Do The Right Thing

I've noticed quite a few T-shirts with English writing on them in China, but the odd thing is that many times the writing doesn't make any sense. It seems that people are more interested in having some English on their shirts then what it actually says. I saw one Chinese student here at the University with a Black Sabbath t-shirt on. I'm pretty sure the little 50 pound Chinese girl wasn't a big Ozzy Osbourne fan. Ken bought a hilarious coat which jut has random letters arranged around it in different colors. The funny thing is that some of the letters aren't even English I think they're from Russian. One girl has a shirt with the words "Don't Look at Me" written in big block letters. If you ask almost any of them about their t-shirt they'll just say they liked the English. There are also a bunch of t-shirts with Playboy bunnies on them, though no one knows it's related to pron, and Playboy certainly isn't making any money off these. It's not juts limited to t-shirts either there are a bunch of sweat pants I've seen people wearing that say "he WS just" on them. I can't even begin to fathom what exactly that means. Even some of the senior English students will walk around with shirts that don't mean anything. One girl had a shirt reading "But More Heroine" on it. My favorite though have to be this pair I saw recently in downtown Changzhou. One guy had a white t-shirt with big black letters all down the front saying, "Work Hard Like You Blow Me Baby." First even though it sounds vaguely pronographic it doesn't add up. Secondly, I don't think he had any idea what it meant. His friend next to him had on a blue t-shirt with "Do the Right Thing" written on it. I don't know maybe I found the only Chinese Spike Lee fan.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chinese People Say the Darndest Things

Since I've come to China I've heard people say all sorts of things that just make me stop and scratch my head. Most of the truly amazing ones come in the area of food and exercise. The first whopper I heard was that walking backwards was the key to good health, and indeed you do see kids walking around the track backwards. There is also the fact that they are deathly afraid of the sun, they know about skin cancer but underrate vitamin D deficiency. With food it gets even worse. They believe that hot food increase your body temperature and metabolism, while cold food lowers both. While hot foods obviously add some small amount of heat to your body, your internal temperature is controlled fairly precisely. Ken found a Chinese traditional medicine website which included the fact the Westerners believe food has caloric value while traditional medicine knows it effect chi balance. Well, I guess they have me there; I do believe food has caloric value. They'll say completely contradictory things like insist that all American food is unhealthy while sighting American food as the reason Dave won the teachers race during the track and field day; maybe they think it's like steroids. The most amazing one I heard was from one of Carrie's friends who when Ken asked her if she wanted to get some ice cream said no since she was on her period and believed that cold food would be bad for her. The odd thing is that ice cream may actually be good since it has calcium, which in a country that avoids most dairy may be helpful.

Hearing all this stuff got me thinking though while I hear a ton of stuff in China that makes me cringe it's not exactly that people in the US don't believe some pretty stupid things. I read the Wall Street Journal online a bunch and ever since they started adding comments I've become addicted. Sometime I have trouble not just skipping over the articles so I can get to the bat shit crazy comments. Recently there was a fossil found that scientists thought might be the sold called missing link, a connection between humans and our ape like ancestors. The comments section of the Journal lit up with people saying every dumb thing about evolution they could think of. From people saying that this skeleton looks nothing like a person, to people arguing that since monkeys still exist evolution must be false. I actually have trouble believing that the person who wrote that second one was smart enough to figure out how to work a computer. Even as I laugh at some of the odd things Chinese people believe these people make me embarrassed to be an American. Also recently was the news that Bush had crazy biblical quotes put on the top of security memos. I honestly though for a long time that Bush was just dumb enough to think that Iraq was actually a security threat, now I see that he's not dumb he's crazy. I think Bush honestly believed that god wanted him to invade Iraq. I think I can almost here Dylan's "With God on Our Side."

While I as a general rule support anything the communist party opposes, religion gives me pause. I can't remember where this is from but someone said, "When god starts talking people stop thinking." It's not that I like how in China people don't really have the freedom to make that choice, it's just that I wish they'd make a smarter choice. One person in the comments noted that there was probably more evidence for evolution then there was the George Washington existed. Now that's a religion I want to join the one that denies George Washington.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of BibleMan

For some reason the National Geographic Channel that we had just started to get in the hotel disappeared about a week ago. For a while there was just nothing on that channel until suddenly one day I turned on the TV and what had been the National Geographic Channel, and HBO before that, was replaced by a Christian TV station. I'm still not 100% sure what the name of the station is but it's definitly all religious programming all the time. I've been watching some of it being so shocked that this somehow got put on TV. I can only imagine that it was a mistake at some level. The first show I saw was in some sort of mega church and as soon as I turned it on a preacher was yelling something about soul food. They have an incredibly annoying show about bible study, honestly I think that could at least be interesting in some way but the host just can't go more than three seconds without interrupting his current thought to note how happy he is to have Jesus. There was also some cartoon type show, though I only came in at the end so I didn't really get what it was about. The best show by far though is called BibleMan. BibleMan is supposed to be some sort of super hero, as evidenced by the bizarrely colored plastic suit he is constantly wearing, but his only power seems to be to incessantly quote the bible. It doesn't matter what is happening on the show or who he is talking to he answers every damn question with a biblical quote. If Ned Flanders was a super hero this is the one he'd be.

Speaking of the Simpson's don't worry about me because I got season 1-18 of the Simpson's on DVD for less than $10. They asked me if I wasted season 19 also, but I think I'll bee good with this hundred hours of programing for a while. I also picked up the DVD of a show called Dollhouse which finished its first season on TV about a week ago. You can talk all you want about piracy what goes on in China isn't piracy it's privateering. Back when there were actual pirates, which I guess there still are some of, countries would sometimes give pirates letter authorizing them to commit piracy against some nation, so that they could act as pirates while still staying above the law in some countries. People who did this were called privateers instead of pirates. China runs one of the most authoritarian states in the world if they wanted to crack down on movie piracy it'd be gone in a flash. They not only allow but given the scale must condone the movie piracy here. These privateers of the movie world run huge well stocked shops in the hearts of major cities. Very little escapes the notice of the government and this certainly doesn't. The communists simply figure that there is no reason for them to stamp it out since they didn't have any hand in the creation of these things.

I think the onus has to be more on other countries to force China into cracking down more on this. The scale of what goes on here is simply not comparable to the US. Besides the shops the students download so many programs from the internet it puts every US college student to shame. China has gotten by claiming that like other developing countries this sort of piracy is hard to stop. But in China that's simply not true. China control the internet and people lives in a way that's essentially unparalleled. China unlike even the US could stop this if they wanted, they simply don't want to. The net result is that these people selling the bootleg movies aren't pirates they're privateers. They're doing exactly what the government wants them to do.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

This Title Has been Censored

Well it seems that Blogspot, the host for blogs like this one, has been blocked in China, was it something I said? This is I'm sure due to the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The communist party is amazingly paranoid shutting down things like Youtube and Blogspot just on the chance that someone might possibly say something they didn't approve of. Like most authoritarian governments the communists are simply terrified of the people they rule. I talked to one student who complained that US papers criticize China too much. What I pointed out was the US papers criticize the US a lot also but the US government doesn't take this as a threat to its very existence. You can't show less faith in your government then to acknowledge that if people were really allowed to talk about it they obviously wouldn't choose you. It also shows how little the communists believe in anything like the rule of law. Things change fast and on a whim around here. I wonder how that will work as China economy becomes more advanced. Business usually crave the stability that clearly defined rules bring.

Don't worry about this tech savvy writer though, as I mentioned before the Great Firewall is, much like the actual Great Wall, nice to look at but not so effective. Actually I sort of like having people in China unable to read my blog. It makes it easier to say what I want without so many people looking over my shoulder. On another note a new book is apparently about to come out. A autobiography by a former leader of the party around the time of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. He apparently was in favor of more political liberalization which got him locked up in his own house for the last 15 years of his life. To dispute claims that the book is a fake he is said to have made an audio recording of the whole thing. It's supposed to come out in Chinese and English, though I'm sure it will be instantly banned here. Of course they could always unblock it as fast as they've blocked it, in which case I'm just joking I love having all of you read.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Spring Cleaning

I just can't seem to keep my room in any sort of state of cleanliness. Maybe it's because it's too big. I've never had this much space before so I there's always room to put crap before I absolutely have to throw it out or find a better spot for it. When I see some of the other rooms of the people around here I'm just flabbergasted that they can keep it so neat. A bunch of the German teachers have made their rooms look really nice while I can't keep the garbage from piling up. I've definitly decorated it more than last semester though. I put up a bunch of maps and posters I got, including one about my speech on Sex Ed, which will be up shortly once I get the final pictures from it. I also took a bunch of the receipts and tickets and what not from various places I've been and taped them up on one wall. I was thinking of putting up a Obama poster my mother sent me but the poster is really weird looking. It's a picture of Obama composed of the front pages of papers announcing his victory in the election. The problem is that while it sort of looks like a face it doesn't have eyes or a mouth which just makes it look sort of other worldly. Frankly it's just creepy.

The weather has been all over the place recently. After three or four days of it being really hot, the temperature dropped a lot for most of last week. It's warm again today but the next four days are supposed to be cold then. I can definitly tell it's spring here though since my allergies have started acting up. Ken seems to have gotten it even worse than me though. I think the rain for the last few days has helped some though. Every time Ken sneezed at English corner I told people he had the swine flu. Apparently fears about the swine flu have depressed pork sales in China, which consumes half of the worlds pork. The government has taken to calling it by its scientific name to try to keep people eating pork. One kid at English corner asked me if I thought the US government was suppressing information on it, which is a very funny question since that's exactly what China did during the SARS outbreak, keeping it secret for months. The construction on the new library seems to be nearing completion. Some of the scaffolding has come down and what I can see looks very nice. They've also moved into high gear in terms of landscaping out around the building. I know a pond is going to go there I just hope it doesn't make it to hard to walk across campus, going from one sie

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tribe of Dream

This story is so odd that is almost can't be fully explained. I put in a earlier post that even though a lot of things around here become routine some things keep coming up that seem, even still, unendingly weird, this is one of those things. Me and Ken as part of the English Festival, or at least so we thought, had been asked to judge some contest. What contest you may at one ask, well we didn't know, the name of the contest was written in Chinese and translated roughly to Many Culture Dace Street, which it turns out was a surprisingly accurate description. It was scheduled to take place at 2 pm on a Thursday which meant that I had to cancel one of my tutoring sessions for the day. Just as I was about to leave the door I got a text message saying that it was canceled and would be rescheduled. Later that day just as I was about to leave to do some shopping I got another message saying that it was now going to take place in about an hour, forcing me to cancel another tutoring session. Of course it really would have been shocking if this even scheduled weeks in advanced would actually have gone off without some sort of change in time or location.

So I go out to the front of the library, the current one not the towering behemoth they're building, and wait for the event to begin. They are setting up by putting a number of tables in a row on three sides of a red walkway they have created, the fourth side being the stairs leading up to the library. They are also setting up a rather large and complicated speaker system that involved running such long extension cords I'm surprised they didn't burn down the library. While all this is going on the time when it was supposed to start has come and gone. One students helpful walks up to me and tells me that they are running late, as is shown by the fact that they are only beginning to assemble this make shift stage area. By the way the second texy message informing me of the new time includes the line "you will be on time," which I was, both times, while they were not. This goes on long enough that I go and get a snack and come back. When I return they have finally set up and me, Ken, and three Chinese people are sitting as judges on one side of this stage like area. We have name tags in English, mine includes my middle name while Ken's does not, and a sheet of direction all helpfully in Chinese. The judge sitting next to us is only able to explain that we are supposed to, "give score."

Ken eventually beacons over one of his students he sees in the crowd and has her translate the page which asks us to score on content, presentation, and some other things up to a total of 10. There is an introduction in which one of my students plays the violin which goes more or less smoothly though I notice at this point they aren't speaking any English. I figure it must just be the introduction nothing important is going on. Then the first group comes up. We have deduced that each group is probably representing some culture, though were not sure if they mean foreign or domestic. The first group comes up and one girl in some sort of traditional looking cloths, don't ask me what tradition, begins to play some instrument that sort of resembles a flute. A person holds a mic up to this but the mic simply broadcast static so loud it drowns out what ever noise she is making, a fact which doesn't seem to be slowing her down. As she is playing, actually for all I know she could have been faking it I couldn't hear anything, a guy reads some information in Chinese. It's at this point when I begin to realize that the whole competition is going to be all in Chinese, despite two out of five of the judges not speaking it.

Only in China would someone think of holding a competition where a couple of the judges have no idea what is happening. After the flute playing there is some traditional dancing while the guy reading the Chinese continues at some length. Then there seems to be a question and answer section where a host of some sort comes out and asks them questions, again all in Chinese. At this point me and Ken are pretty much just sitting around cracking jokes since we have no idea what is going on. Finally some one comes around to collect our judging sheets. I gave them an eight out of ten since I had no idea how to grade them. In fact I gave everyone an eight since I was so confused. Ken said that he heard that communication was 70% nonverbal so he'd grade them on that. The next group which seemed to represent Germany took about three times as long as every other group including giving us some beer, bonus, and having five guys kick around a soccar ball for ten minutes, minus. Then there was a group who we still can't tell what culture they were doing but they did what appeared to be an interpretive dance. There were other groups that continued like this.

The last group had their name written down not in Chinese character like everyone else but in English. Every other group seemed to also have a name that was about a place while the last groups name simply was "Tribe of Dream." They also had a big banner that read something like "One team one dream." They were apparently representing Japan, no small task in a country that still hates the Japanese for WWII. They did the usual stuff I couldn't understand then in the middle they came by and collected our scores while they were still going, since apparently they ahd to wrap up. It was only after that that Tribe of Dream started making hand rolled sushi for the judges and a few lucky people in the crowd. I believe that the first group won, they seemed as good as any I guess. It's just hard to explain sitting there trying to judge a competition while you have no earthly idea what is going on. I think when people ask me from now on what China is like I'm just going to say Tribe of Dream, I think that the sense of confusion this brings will be an appropriate metaphor for living in China.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Day in the Life

This post is going to be a little different. The weather recently has been really nice, except for the part when they turn off the air when I'm trying to sleep. So I've been walking around and taking pictures of everyday life around campus.

Basketball is a huge game around campus. There are at least four really big court areas and a huge number of games take place around the clock. This court in the North of the campus is the biggest and always the most packed. This week there have been some intermural games going on so besides the normal number of students playing there have been a bunch watching as well. The students also seem to have uniforms which is surprising considering how cheaply things are usually run around here.

These water bottles are a staple of life around campus. The school charges the students a bit for hot water, and showers too. They carry theses water bottles with them to lunch and dinner so they can get them filled up. The water in them stays hot for a really long time thanks to the design of the bottles. Most don't seem to have a name or many identifying marks on them so it's a wonder they're not stolen constantly.

I always wonder about vitamin D, discovered at the University of Wisconsin, deficiency among the girls as their interest in keeping white skin makes them deathly afraid of the sun. Seeing them walk around with umbrellas as if it was poring rain is a very common sight.

Weekends don't have much meaning for these workers who go at it 10+ hours a day seven days a week. These sorts of tubing can be used for a number of things including, when attached to a little motor, watering plants with rain runoff.

Quite a bit of work on this has been completed since I started teaching here. This dug out area in the back is going to make some kind of pond. When it's completed this library will loom over everything on campus not only with its size but in its much more modern look.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Great Firewall of China

Of all the things that are annoying about China number one by a long way is the so called Great Firewall of China. Actually called the Golden Shield Project, but come on who's going to call it anything but the Great Firewall in this country, it was started in 1998 as a response to a growing Democracy movement. Costing literally billions of dollars and effecting the very architecture of the internet in China the project is basically without compare in terms of internet blocking and monitoring. To make such a large monitoring and filtering system possible took designing the internet architecture so that most of the data runs through central points so that it can be more easily monitored. This combined with the actual monitoring is what makes the internet dramatically slower than in other countries. This becomes annoying in several ways. First, besides websites which you could guess would be blocked, things about Tibet etc, there are quite a few seemingly random things blocked. Sights like Youtube which may have some content they don't like, though the Communist Party never actually said what its problem with Youtube is. Even really random websites, like things referring to video games get somehow caught in the dragnet of the Great Firewall. Google image search is also heavily blocked for reasons passing understanding. It took me a while to find an unblocked picture of the actual Great Wall, and if you look for pictures for too long in assumes you are looking for porn or something and shuts off your access to Google for a while.

Even with all this money spent the blocking isn't really that effective Wikipedia website on the Great Firewall lists six different types of ways to get around it. The idea seems to be that they just want to keep most people from getting around it, though it seems that as the country becomes more technologically savvy that this would be harder and harder to maintain. It's worse for me also because the school runs a pretty bad network on top of this so that not only is all the internet in China slow but at the school here it's especially slow. Even using a pretty low bandwidth program like Skype can be almost impossible sometimes. The Great Firewall is just such a good example of the governments paranoia and attempt to be omnipresent. Even in other despotic countries the government doesn't usually try to be as everywhere as the Chinese one does. You really get the sense that the government here is terrified of its own people. It reminds me so heavily of 1984, a book I've seen for sale in China, where the TV's watch people. In China you don't just view the internet, the internet views you.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Every Breath you Take (I'll be Watching you)

It's not news to anyone who's read my blog that I get stared at a lot in China, and when I say a lot I mean a REAL lot. But I've been noticing recently that the stares can be broken down into several categories. First there's the standard stare this is someone who is walking by, or riding in an elevator who just looks over at me for a second before turning back. This is by far the most common type of look I get to the point where I almost don't notice it anymore. After that I'm not sure I could create a hierarchy of the looks I get most so the rest are presented in no particular order. There's the cascading head turn. This usually happens when I walk up behind or to the side of a group of people. Since they don't all see me walking toward them they don't all look at one time. One person will turn and see me, say something to the next person who will look, then the next and the next. I think the most I've ever gotten one after the other is five, which by the time the fifth person turned to look I was cracking up. There's the excited stare. This usually comes from children who are so interested that there mouths literally drop open some times. This can often come at the beginning of a cascading head turn since they'll excited tell their family. Even with my limited Chinese I notice that sometimes they say the wrong thing. I've heard them say to their friends, "Look a foreigner from England."

One of the most surprising is the drive by stare. It's really a testament to how much I stick out that people can see me coming from a block away to get in a good long stare as they drive by on a bus. Sometimes this one also turns into a cascade as they elbow their friends to come check out the foreigner. There reverse of this also happens where I'll be in a bus and get people staring into the bus at me. The most unnerving is the up and down stare. Sometimes when people get on elevators and see me they turn their whole body around to face me look me in the eyes then look all the way down and up my body. They actually drop their heads slightly when they get down to my feet. I guess I have a sense what it would be like to be a super model. It's by far the oddest feeling to have someone just ogle you like that, especially because it's usually the older guys who are brave enough to do it. There's also the whispering stare, which is sort of a version of the cascade but when everyone sees me at once. As soon as a group sees me they may all just start frantically whispering to one another. Finally there's the following stare which is when someone walking or riding by turns their head so much as they pass you that you'd think their about to crash into something.

If this seems hard to get used to it is. When I first got here it was a rush but that quickly wore off and it was replaces by a feeling of paranoia and annoyance. But after some months had passed I got sued to it and now I think I'd miss it if it went away. The other upside is I have no qualms about taking any picture of the Chinese I want, after all turn about is fair play.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The End of the World (of warcraft)

This is going to seem a little off topic but bare with me for a moment it comes back to China. I've been playing the game World of Warcraft for a long time. I've always played various computer and video games back to Zork on that old green screen computer we had in the basement. But I'm pretty sure I've never played a game as much or for as long a time as WoW. WoW is something of an international phenomenon to boot. It has 11 million or so subscribers, a significant chunk of whom live in China. I love the game, it easily one of the best most engrossing games ever made. For those who don't know much about it it's what's called a MMORPG, a massively multiplayer online roll playing game. Basically thousands of players get together as various Orcs and Trolls and what not and smash things. Oddly though these sort of games have always thrived on their social nature. The creator of one of the founding MMORP said he felt he had created a chat room with some nice graphics. I love the game for all the interesting things you can do in it from explore to simply fish. It also has a sense of accomplishment that goes along with achieving things in the game since you're not just measured against a game everyone beats but against millions around the world.

I play a lot, the game can display exactly how much I've played and frankly it's a little disturbing, but it's never been a problem until now. It's not that I have too little time it's that I have to much. Before I'd have other things to do which would limit how much I could play but this semester especially I just have way too much free time. I can play other games fine, but WoW has an amazing ability to suck huge amounts of time in. These sort of games inherently take a longer time since they are designed to be played over years instead of weeks. So I gave away all my in game stuff, which was surprisingly fun sort of like being an out of season Santa, and canceled my account. It's an odd life when my problem is too much free time. There's actually another odd China connection here since starting a few years ago WoW created a new sort of job in China. The currency in the game is called gold and for some things you need quite a lot of it which can take a lot of time to get and not be the most fun part of the game. So companies sprung up that payed people in China to get this gold in the game and then sold it to lazy people, this is people to lazy to even play most of a computer game, in America. The people who ran WoW never liked this but so far they've been unable to totally stamp it out. Even more interesting is that people with English skills can get upper level jobs in these companies not getting the gold, people refer to it as farming the gold, but talking in English to the people who want to buy it. So that's it, I'm all done, goodbye world (of warcraft).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

You Can Get Used to a Lot

China seems to have fundamentally changed what I'm used to. The other day coming back from a Super class my taxi driver was going pretty slow on the road in front of my school since he wasn't sure where the hotel was. This is a road that has terrible cracked paving, is only two lanes wide, though the cars treat it like four, and has no lights, so that everyone using their high beams just makes you constantly blind. But all I could think was why is he driving so damn slow. I didn't have anything to do or anywhere to go I was just annoyed that he was driving so slowly on this death defying road. When I was in Vietnam I was actually surprised when people didn't stair at me I've gotten so used to people looking at me wherever I go whether I'm doing something interesting or not. In my smaller class when the papers were largely just copied from the internet I wasn't in the least bit surprised, though that could be because I know the students. Yesterday only two students showed up for class for some reason I don't understand. Honestly every time I go to class I half expect to find that no one is there and its been canceled, and they just didn't think to tell me.

It's amazing what you can get used to just by things being that way for a long time. It no longer seems all that surprising when the drivers to insane things or the students believe things that make no sense. I wonder how long it would take for the crazy way things are here to not even be interesting anymore. Though even as I say that the number of times where things just seem bizarre never seems to diminish. It was amazing how normal it felt after a while to have classes in the freezing buildings or to never expect students to spontaneously say anything. People's worry about swine flu seems insane when I probably have just as good a chance at being killed by the apple I just bought.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Toneless Chinese

Chinese has four tones. The first doesn't really have an inflection but the pitch is higher then you'd think it'd be. The second goes up like you're asking a question, I have the habit of raising my eyebrows whenever I try to really emphasize this tone. The third goes down and up and there's really nothing like it in English. The fourth goes down sort of like your scolding a child, for this one I keep wagging my finger at some imaginary transgressor. When one of my tutors really emphasizes a tone I can hear it pretty clearly but put a whole sentence together and it all just melts away. Ken keeps talking about wanting to speak toneless Chinese the problem though is that the tones indicate which of many words you are referring to. "Shi" for example can be one of about eight of the most important words in Chinese depending on the tone. It can mean anything from the number 10, which is also used in counting some higher numbers, to the verb "to be," which is one of the most common verbs. The phrase "Excuse me, could you please speak slower," has "yi" in it three different times, which three different tones and meanings. On top of that there are also quite a few words in Chinese which simply are pronounced exactly the same. In River Town the author mentions that there is some dispute over the translation of the name of a nearby mountain since it's name in spoken Chinese could have two different meanings, and it was only recently that anyone had really written it down.

Also characters which have meanings on their own can form part of a group of characters that make up a word. The phrase from before had the character for the number one in it. To add another layer to all this There are a number of sounds in Chinese that simply don't exist in English and distinctions between things that seem exactly the same. "X" and "Sh" have some incredibly slight differentiation in their sound that is almost completely unrecognizable to me. One of the first things that's important to learn when learning Chinese is Pinyin which Chinese written with an English alphabet, actually they have that u with the two dots over it, a umlaut I think, also. Since Chinese is always written the same but spoken totally differently in different places they chose the dialect they spoke in Beijing and made it the bases for Pinyin. Using the English alphabet with modified sounds and combinations they made Pinyin a phonetic recording of this Beijing dialect. The nice thing then about Pinyin is that it's totally phonetic so if you know the word it's easy to spell, but you still have to learn what sound the letters make in Pinyin. "ao" for example makes the sound that "ou" does in English and "ou" makes a sound like "o."

Beyond all this is the challenge of learning a huge number of words, something which I am amazingly bad at. Another nice thing though is that the language is grammatically simple and often the order of words doesn't actually matter. There are a few annoying things like counting words, words that go in front of numbers that change depending on what is being counted, but if you use "ge" the most common one people get what you mean. I have a couple of tutors for this including Carrie and two of my students Winter and Olivia. Winter is a real task master and is constantly pushing me to do more. Carrie know enough English and would rather just talk in English which means that I have to be on point to get stuff done. It's also amazing that even with a lot of study when I try to actually say something simple to people out in the world, about half the time they just look at me like I'm crazy. I have no idea why the things coming out of my mouth are so different that no possible meaning can be inferred from them, but I seem to utterly confuse the Chinese.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Doing the Whole Teacher Thing

I actually had to spend most of the day getting ready for class, for comparisons sake one hour is usually more than enough preparatory time. Last week I had them do group projects where they were supposed to come up with a game or activity to teach English, most of the them are going to be teachers, and many will be English teachers. The games they came up with were essentially OK but a lot of groups had problems with either getting flustered and falling back into a lot of Chinese or having only one person do all the talking. Also I had them write me a one page paper about what they were doing half of which came out looking like they had written it on the back of a napkin. I gave two of the classes a lecture about how the presentation of work reflects on its quality, a lecture I actually remember getting in high school. But after I did all that I had to figure out their grades and record them all. That would have taken long enough but I didn't want to just call the grades out in front of the whole class, probably could have gotten away with doing that though, so I put each kids grade, including a breakdown of how it was arrived at, on a separate sheet of paper. Formatting and arranging all that took most of the day. In the end I had to give them all a pretty generous curve just to bring the average up to about 82%, it was something like 74% before.

I was also correcting some of the papers that I got from my class that is going to England. Two of them were just directly copied from another website. I'm officially done with some of these kids they put in basically no effort. They're going to completely fail when they get to England. Honestly I'll be surprised if any of them besides Carrie actually compete a degree there. At this point I expect at least one kid to get kicked out for plagiarism. If some of these kids manage to pass I think it will only mean that this school is selling degrees. Some of them have so little English and even the ones who didn't copy their papers were totally confusing. Only Carrie managed to write a clear coherent paper. I'm going to try to tell the person again that I think this will be a disaster but knowing China they'll just shrug it off.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tomb Sweeping Festival

A few weeks ago there was a holiday called Tomb Sweeping Festival. The translation isn’t great but it’s essentially about visiting the graves of your ancestors to honor them. A few days before that I learned that the freshmen students in the Education school, 90 out of maybe 180 or so are my students, were going to go down to a memorial park not that far from the school. I decided it would be fun to go with them. They all showed up in an open area in front of the north cafeteria about 20 minutes before they were supposed to leave. I had mentioned to some of my students that I was thinking of coming along but most were really surprised to see me there. To them this was just some boring thing they had to do, but I was really interested to watch.

The school doesn’t really have uniforms but each grade have what are essentially track suits with the schools initials on them. Most of them showed up wearing those. They had two big flags with them. One was a red flag with a yellow star in a circle in the upper left hand corner. This is the flag of the Communist Youth League. Most of the students are apparently members, though I don’t think you have to be. They also had a much bigger flag with the name of the school, school of education not the whole school, on it. Once most of them showed up they formed up into lines, I guess that military practice last semester came in handy, and walked off toward the park. The park was actually about 2km down the road so it was a longer walk. Not only that but this road has essentially no sidewalk.

As we walked down the street trailing the large flags in some sort of odd parade I talked to one of the other students there who wasn’t wearing the track suit. She was an older student who was apparently assigned to these students to keep track of them. She said that it was pretty much only the freshmen classes that did this. We had to stop several times as cars would cut through the middle of the line when we crossed four way intersections. We finally arrived at the park which was near a bus stop I’ve been to a lot of times. Despite having passed it a lot I’ve never seen it open. Apparently it’s a memorial for people who died for the country. Just inside the gate there is a statue of several early party members from around this area. Past that is a walkway between two buildings that both serve as museums. Finally there is a stone monument of some kind that serves as the central focus of the park.

The students had with them some sort of wreath like thing made up of paper and plastic flowers. When I started taking pictures of it I noticed a reaction from a number of the students. Worried that I was somehow being offensive I asked them what was up. They said that it was bad luck to take pictures of these since they represented death. The Chinese are really sensitive to secondary meanings and what not. Words that sound close to positive words like wealth or luck are considered good while ones that are close to death and the like and bad. I of course responded by taking as many pictures of these wreaths as possible.

The students then stood in what was essentially a line waiting for there turn to go near the big monument at the end of the park. There were groups from a lot of other schools, also in school jump suits, ahead of them. These students gawked at me more than I’m even used to since I was the only foreigner anywhere around there. They considered it so unusual that I’d want to come watch this. Each group would go to just below the monument and stand in a tight pattern while a few people would go up and read speeches. They’d then walk around the monument once before leaving for the next group.

When our school finally got to go up I wasn’t sure where to stand at first. In the beginning I just stood quietly in the back with the students. After a while though I noticed that several students were walking around taking pictures of the group so I started to do the same. One older guy I didn’t know gave a speech then Winter, one of my tutors, gave one. His was nice in that he actually talked in a loud voice and looked up at the other students. I have a video of it, but of course it’s all in Chinese. After that there was some speech where they held up the Youth League flag and the students gave a little one fist salute which was funny in a cute way.


By far my favorite thing there though was the little kid honor guards who stood in two at either side of the monument. They were kindergarten or first grade aged kids who wore white gloves and red sashes. They stood there very serious looking as everything was going on around them. They didn’t seem to have any job besides to stand there. At one point there was even a changing of the guards. Two new kids walked up, actually they got stuck behind some students but dutifully marched in place while they waited to continue, and saluted the kids standing there before taking their place. It was all so adorable that I forgot to pull out my camera until they were almost done.

After the speeches were concluded the students walked once around the big stone monument and put little pieces of tissue folded to look like flowers into some bushes nearby and then left. As we were leaving we passed a group of young school children who were coming to do the same thing. Winter and some of the other students took me to the museums which were interesting but I didn’t understand much of it since it was all in Chinese. The best part was a picture of young Mao who I didn’t recognize since he had so much hair.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Goal Number One

When Ken and Dave came to China they decided that their first goal was to be able to develop a taste for Baijou. Now about seven months later they've finally given up the ghost. It's not just that Baijou is horrible, horrible tasting stuff, but it seems to effect you weirdly. The hangovers you get from it seems worse then what you get from normal liquor. After poker night last night me and Ken sat around for a while drinking Baijou and juice, which even after two Gin and Tonics was hard to drink due to the taste, Baijou has the amazing ability to drown out the taste of whatever you mix it with. I've drank enough Baijou and Coke that whenever I try to drink Coke normally now I get afait whiff of Baijou, so I think Coke is permenantly ruined for me. After waking up today I had a splitting headache. Not that that is such an unusual result of drinking too much but it was much stronger than would make sence from the amount I drank. Even in the evening more than 18 hours since I drank Baijou I've still been fealing a little sick from it. I don't know exactly what it is but that stuff is poison. Ken's also decided that learning Chinese, a feat somewhere between unbelieveably hard and impossible, is in fact much easier than continuing to drink Baijou. I've drank a lot of wierd stuff before including something that tasted like fish in Vietnam, but nothing is as bad as Baijou.

On an interesting and somewhat related note I wanted to add a picture of Baijou here but aparently Google image search is somehow a threat to the Comunist party.