Saturday, January 16, 2010

Up Up and Away

Well I'm off again to Thailand until the 30th. While I'm there I might head over to Cambodia for a short time just to see Angkor Wat, a huge ancient temple that's supposed to be amazing. I've got a few changes of cloths packed, but not too many, and I'll be off to Shanghai. My biggest problem with packing was that I'm going to a really hot place but I have to spend some time in freezing Shanghai first so I'll have a sweatshirt even though I'll never even come close to wearing it in Thailand. I loaded up my Kindle with enough new books that should my plain be delayed until the end of time I'll still have more than enough. My flight is early in the morning so I'm going down to Shanghai ahead of time since it takes a while to get all the way out to the airport from Changzhou. I think they're are some OK priced hotels near the airport and if it seems too expensive I can always just sleep in the Burger King at the airport like me and Ken did before we went to Korea. I excited to finally be off again as I was getting pretty bored of sitting around all the time. Well until I get back if you need to reach me the best ways are to either e-mail me or you might be able to call Ken's cell phone in Thailand which is 0883213063 but I have no idea what else you would need for country code or what not.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Empty Backpack

I was watching a recent movie called Up in the Air, which is basically about a guy who spends almost every single day of the year traveling, and something in it got me thinking. The main character, played by George Clooney gave a speech in which he compared life to an empty backpack. He talked about imagine putting all the things you own in your backpack. Putting in your knick knacks, your TV, your computer, your books, your couch, and eventually even your house. The idea was that with so much stuff it was impossible to move, that people were rooted in place by what they own. He than said to imagine that you set it on fire, what would you grab? The idea was that people have a huge amount of things that they don't need, and that it keeps them from moving around, it was also a metaphor for the characters incredibly bleak world view. But it got me thinking since I do something pretty much exactly like that. When I came to China I had to fit in everything I wanted to take in two bags. It was really an adventure in seeing what was important to me. It wasn't only the practical things I took either I managed to put my whole huge xbox in those bags. But the other day I was looking around my place here and once again I was struck with just how much stuff I have.

I have all the stuff that I brought with me plus all the stuff people have sent me from the US, plus all the stuff I've bought here. But when I leave once again I'll only be able to bring so much with me. It really raises good questions about what's actually important and what's just taking up space. Even more relevant in some ways is what I take with me when I travel. There I know that I have to carry anything I take quite a bit, and since my plans are always so uncertain I may have to spend a whole day, or several days with my backpack on my back not in some hotel. This makes both weight and space a really precious commodity. I take cloths, but not really that many as they tend to take up the most space. It's really not so bad to wear each shirt and what not for three or four days. Actually seeing the students do it in the best of times makes me less worried about doing it. I also take toiletries, though again I take the smallest toothpaste I can find and while I bring a razor I don't take shaving creme with me. I also usually have to take some cloths for various weather. Even going to always muggy Thailand I'll have jeans and a sweatshirt with me since going through Shanghai in a t-shirt and shorts I might freeze to death. Finally I'll have my electronics. My camera, my kindle, which save a lot of weight in books, and a few chargers for them.

Even with as little as that it still takes up a surprising amount of room but less than what most people use. Even those people with the big travel around Europe size backpacks seem to have to much as they can barley move in those things. But what about you? How much are you really packing and what is really necessary?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Me Spel Bad Engrish?

As has been pointed out by more than a few reader of this blog, and my mother in the comments of my last post, my spelling, and my grammar too for that manor, leave something to be desired. I've never really had particularly good spelling, I remember once in 10 grade testing on a fourth grade level for spelling, and in class here my students will find mistakes in things I write on the board, I should really start telling them that spotting the mistakes is some sort of contest or game. I could blame the computer and it's always accessible spell check, which is why most of the mistakes have to do with homonyms, but frankly I just don't care. Stuides heve shoun that it's posible to red sentnces wth a huge numbar of jambled leters so long as the firrst and last are coreect. I don't even really run the things I write here though a proper spell check, my browser has a built in one witch catches the most egregious errors. Honestly I'm just waiting for the point when technology gets good enough to not just correct all my spelling but fix all the grammar mistakes as well. The grammar checks in most word processors aren't great yet, the rules of grammar are far more difficult than the rules of spelling, but I bet one day some competitor of Microsoft will make a more concerted effort to build a better spell check and sort most of this out once and for all. Until that day though I guess I'll just have to live with my bad speling.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Snow or Get Off the Pot

It's gotten cold hear recently. Not Madison in the winter cold but pretty close to what it usually was in DC. It' s been around freezing during the day and below at night, and this close to the Winter Solstice the days are pretty short. What really annoys me about the winter here though is that it doesn't ever seem to snow. A year before I got here they had that big snow storm that shut down half the country, but on a regular biases there just doesn't seem to be any of it. I would understand if this was some place like Australia where it's always hot. But it's pretty cold out right now so as long as it's going to be that cold they weather might at least do me the favor of snowing. The government is all about messing with the weather in Beijing, can't they send some of those people down here and whip us up some snow. I never really liked winter that much, but snow is always so much fun. I would have a good time just going outside anywhere and hucking snowballs at students, or if it snowed a lot building snow men. So weather listen up either snow or get off the pot.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Track and Field Day

Besides my Western Society classes I also had two regular oral English classes. One of these classes I'd also had in my first semester at the school, it wasn't originally going to be that way but I traded one class with Peter to make my schedule work better. But since I'd already had this class once they were a little harder to handle and I had to have some new stuff to do with them. Most of the new stuff wasn't a problem as I had done really different stuff in my second semester than in my first, but some times I'd find myself running short on ideas. That's why on one particularly nice early fall day I decided to have sort of a track and field day. I wanted to do something outside the classroom and try to introduce the students to some more American games. There were a few games we tried to play but a number of them were a little to hard to explain. Kickball it would seem is pretty damn hard to explain to people who don't know anything about baseball. We did play some capture the flag which also proved harder to explain then I was hoping for. I was trying to play a freeze tag version but it just ended up with people pulling at the flag and sort of making a scrum. I got the flags from some the school had put out when the new students showed up that, how should I say it, I reappropriated for my class. I also played some 500 with them which was sort of a problem since the girls, 90% of the class, don't really like actually catching the ball.

I finally had more luck with some outdoors games that the students actually knew. I can't remember what the Chinese name for it is but all the students know Duck, Duck, Goose. We had a lot of people so it was a bunch of fun to play in a big circle. Even as slow as I am I was able to outrun some of the girls as long as I picked one who had ignored my advice to wear sneakers. Finally I asked them about some Chinese outdoor games. The girls knew of this game, video below that was called something like chicken. Basically all the kids but one formed a big line and the one who was not in the line had to try to get around and tag the person in the very back of the line. So the person in the front, and those in the middle, would try and move in such a way that they would block this person from getting around to the back. In reality though it usually just meant that as soon as the person got around the line all the girls would break apart and the whole thing would have to start over. I'm not sure if I would do it again since the whole class was a little light on the educational content, but it was fun to try out something new.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

How Do You Say "Shut Up" in Chinese?

Me, Peter, Sean, and Sarah went to see the new 3-D James Camron movie Avatar the other day. Peter discovered that there was a theater in Changzhou that was showing it in 3-D and that they had an English showing as well. The theater was right down near Wal-Mart, though I've never gone to it before because it costs 55 RMB to see a movie there and no more than 10 to get a DVD. We got there about 20 minutes early but almost all the tickets were sold out. They have assigned seating and we had to sit pretty near the front. The screen was a bit back through so our seats weren't too bad. People showed up only right before it was to begin, I guess since they already knew where they where sitting. The 3-D for this movie isn't the old red and blue glasses type, but it still requires some glasses. I guess the glasses technology isn't as advanced in China sine whereas in the US you get clear 3-D glasses in this theater they were more like 3-D sun glasses which didn't do anything good for the nighttime scenes in the movie. The 3-D effects in the movie were good and a few times it was really stunning how life like some of the things looked. That being said I'm not really sold on this 3-D thing.

Besides having to wear the annoying glasses it's not really all that 3-D. It's more like there are two screens one in the background where the real screen is and one closer to the audience. There's no middle ground at all. Something is either flat in the background of flat in the foreground it's not really in both. What was truly bad about the movie though was that a great director like James Camron seems to have gone the Michael Bay route and abandoned storytelling for special effects. The story was awful. There wasn't one twist or turn in the whole thing, the bad guys were so laughably evil that I expected them to cackle during every speech, and the whole thing was just a mediocre version of Pocahontas. It just felt like no one even bothered to try to make a story to go with the 3-D. We also had a few Chinese interruptions to the movie. The whole thing takes place on an alien world and a number of times the aliens are speaking some weird language. Now in theory this would be subtitled, and it was, only into Chinese, though with a movie so predictable I could always guess what they were saying. Also during the movie I got another great example of how there is no place in China where you can't answer your cell phone. People didn't just let them ring either they would answer them and then have a conversation as the movie was going. I probably would have been more annoyed if the movie wasn't so boring. Finally when the movie ended they turned on the light. I don't mean after the credits had started, or when people began to get up. They turned on the lights the very moment the final shot faded to black, and then started telling people to get out. They must have had someone with a timer and their finger on the switch to make it so exact. So I guess what I'm saying is don't see Avatar, and if you do have to see it don't see it in China.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What's so Special About Mauritius?

I had to go down to Shanghai the other day to get my Visa for India. The Indian visa service place was some outsourced thing so the whole place was just Chinese people giving visas to other Chinese people. I was the only person there who wasn't Chinese in fact. I got the three month single entry visa, since that's all I really need, but Ken told me after that when he was there the person he talked to told him that all the visas were the same price so he got a six month multy entry visa instead. I tried to ask the person there what the difference between the visas was but she seemed a little confused by my question. The visa was expensive, unlike Thailand which doesn't require a visa, but there was a really funny list of a couple of countries that got free visas including such travel mainstays as North Korea, the south didn't get it, and Mauritius which is a couple of islands off the coast of Madagascar whose only claim to fame is that it was once the home to the Dodo bird. I don't know why exactly these countries get free visas but I bet it's simply because they give Indian people coming to there country free visas. The whole visas system is so much about reciprocity. That's why Americans end up paying so much in a lot of places sine we charge a lot for our visas. Around Asia the only countries that can be counted on to give us free visas are the ones we either saved of conquered, as Americans don't need visas for Japan, Korea, or Taiwan. The funniest visas situation though has to be Hong Kong which Americans can go to without any visa but Chinese people need a visa, a not so easy to get one at that, to go there. But remember there's only one China.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Too Much Time

I think I actually have too much time on my hands these days. I've never been a big fan of working around the clock but with school completely done, and all the banquets as well, I've started to get really bored. I still have about two weeks until I go to Thailand, and then not long after that to India, but for now I've got nothing to do. I do some stuff, I write, I read, I go for walks, and I mess around on the computer, but it's starting to get a little old. I'm happy for the time too. Even with my pretty light schedule I was getting tired of my classes and it's nice to have a rest before I start them again. Also when I bored now it makes it easier for me to go do all this traveling soon. I travel a lot but before being gone so long, Thailand and India will be about 40 days total, it still makes me nervious. I love to travel. I remember something I read once where the author noted how every day has a million possibilities but we fail to notice them because we are stuck in routines and don't notice all the things we could be doing. I think what's great about travel is that with no routine you can't help but take each day as it is and find new things. That being said I'm still someone who likes routines, the word seems to imply something negative but routines can be a source of strength as well something good your used to doing, exercise, reading, becomes second nature, and giving up all my routines for the unknown can be disquieting. But for now I have little to do but read and finish up my grading and I'm bored, especially with my xbox broken. But I have been getting a lot more reading done.