Sunday, November 28, 2010

Peace Corps

As some of you know I'm pretty far along in applying to the Peace Crops. I don't have an exact date yet but I'm supposed to have a phone, or Skype as the case may be, interview some time in early December. The process is already surprisingly long. Besides a huge application and several essays I needed a number of letters of recommendation, thanks again to everyone who did them. Recently they also mailed my a card where I had to get my fingerprints taken and then mail it back to the US, all this for something that wouldn't happen before late summer at the earliest. This isn't nearly the end either. Even if they say yes the medical forms are famously complicated. When I first came to China the Peace Corps wasn't really on the list of things I was interested in but my opinion changed over time. Partially it was how similar a lot of the Peace Corps stuff was to what I was already doing, actually I wouldn't be too surprised if a Peace Corps person turned up in Alaer some day. Also Ken and Dave are both now in the Peace Corps, Dave is in Kazakhstan and Ken is in Costa Rica. I put down that I wanted to go to Africa on my form, though they aren't big on letting you pick. All in all it definitely seems interesting and something worth applying to.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Test Time

Since two of my classes end on Monday I've been working up tests for them. For the oral classes there's not really much of an option besides an oral test. Like I've done in previous years I gave them a list of questions and allowed them to cross off some and I'll pick one of the remaining ones. This might be a little too hard for the Uyghur class so I'm going to try t grade more easily than I usually do as long as they seem to be giving it a good go. Mostly I'm worried they won't be able to talk for the full three minutes, but we'll see how it goes. What I really hate about that test is how long in takes to go through the whole class. Sitting their listening to one after the other can get really draining before the end. In my listening class I divided the class into two parts, since trying to make sure 40 students aren't cheating is really hard. The test will have some of the grammar we've done, mostly basic parts of speech, and then their will be a video, actually I'm just using a class video we haven't watched yet, which I hinted to in the last class for anyone paying close attention, and a few questions about what is happening in that video. Also I'm going to play an easy song and have them do some fill in the blank. I've never given a test in a listening class before so we'll see how that goes.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Beginning of the End

Net week about half my classes end. Unlike my last school which sent an ending week on classes this school just told me how many times I had to have each class. The standard number is 20. Now that's more than the usual number of weeks in a semester but for two of my classes I've been having them twice a week. So next week will be the end of my listening class and one of my Uyghur oral English classes. My schedule was really full for a while so it will be nice to have a little more room. Having a set number of classes makes me feel a little differently about some things. The other day I wasn't feeling very well, but I wasn't so sick that I would have canceled classes in Changzhou. There it just becomes a giant hassle since I have to reschedule them some other time. But in Alaer I just basically push the end back a week. Also the school told me they want me to submit my grades in two numbers, the 30% which is supposed to be for in class work, and the 70% that is supposed to be for a final. But making the final worth 70% is just crazy to me for an oral English class so I'm now going to have to do more work to make sure the numbers I give them match up with the grade I actually think the student should be getting.

I'd also like to direct you over to Ken's blog for a great post

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Do You Do When This Happens?

Yesterday I was supposed to have two classes, one was going to be a final exam where I had scheduled each student a specific time to come in for their oral exam. The other class was going to be the last one before the final where we would review and I would discuss the final in more details. Neither class happened. I showed up to the first class, where we were supposed to have the final, to find the whole class sitting there. Now since had told them, quite a few times to make sure they understood, that they should only come during their times I was pretty confused. At first I thought I had my dates confused and that I was actually supposed to give the final on Wednesday, but after reviewing my notes I saw that yesterday in fact was supposed to be the final. I asked the class what was going on.

They said that a number of the students were absent since they still hadn't come back from the break, one also said something about a big Chinese test the other day. Now if they had brought this up last time it would have been fine I just would have had the final a class later but no one mentioned it, despite the fact that this should have been something they would know. I was left trying to figure out what to do. Rather than have the whole thing piecemeal I decided to wait a week for the final but I wasn't happy about it. Since this was supposed to be the last class I just sent them home because I hadn't prepared anything besides the final exam.

In the afternoon class, which was supposed to be the last class before the final. I showed up to find only six out of 42 students there. What's more they seemed really surprised to see me. I eventually figured out that they had only come to the classroom to watch a movie and the whole class thought that there would be no class today and the final on Wednesday. While I had planned on giving the final on Wednesday I still hadn't told them an important detail so I have to delay the final until next Monday. This one at least seemed like an honest miscommunication but now next Monday I'm going to be giving finals all day which is not pleasant.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fa Piao

I've been wondering about these pretty much as long as I've been in China. When you go to a restaurant or store, make that a nice restaurant or store, you get this little receipt for your purchase, a "fa piao" in Chinese, that has a scratch off part where you can win money. This always seemed like a strange practice to me. I got some partial explanations about it, people said it had something to do with taxes, but I never really understood. I was never that interested in the fa piao since you almost never won anything. Ken liked them a lot more and was really excited when he won 5 Rmb at a Pizza Hut once. But recently I stumbled upon this article which clear the whole thing up, Yes, it talks about Taiwan but the same must be true here. Basically it says that in an effort to get businesses to actually report their sales taxes they make them give out little receipts which verify that there was a purchase made. The idea is that the businesses would have to give them out since the customers would want their chance to win.

True to form when I ate with someone more assertive like Qin Chen she would always make sure we got our fa piao, which the restaurant wouldn't always give at first. She once even got us a discount when the restaurant said they were out of fa piao. This may seem like a small thing to those of you back in America but I've been wondering about these things for years. Interestingly for whatever reason I've yet to see a single one in Xinjiang but then again they don't have Pizza Hut here. With this mystery solved now I'm just left wondering what is up with the "China Welfare Lottery," and yes that is an accurate translation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Unlike Changzhou where it seemed to stay warm forever it got cold here pretty quickly. For quite a while, or at least it felt that way, they didn't turn on any of the heat either. I had one heater in my apartment, and I bought another, the problem with them though is that they don't have a fan attachment and they make a lot of light so they don't really work in my bedroom when I'm trying to sleep, unless I want a night light, and they don't heat the biggest room in my apartment very well. Finally they decided to turn on the radiators there are a ton of them in my apartment, but they don't produce exactly a lot of heat. Often in my small computer room I shut the door and turn on my little heater which helps. Also I've just taken to almost always wearing my shoes indoors. I don't feel as cold as I did in the beginning though, I think that's partially because I've just gotten more adjusted to it being colder indoors than I usually like. I know it gets down right cold here in the winter so I hope they turn it up some, that or I'm not against buying about 10 heaters and just making my own heat, hell I don't even pay the electric bill around here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Every society has classes, while Americans always like to downplay the role of class the American dream is more about class mobility than a classless society, but in China it's much more obvious than it is in America. Most Americans know that even people who have it not as well off in America have it better than people in large parts of the world, but it's one thing to know that and another to experience it. I've written about this before but I instantly went from another random college graduate in America to a upper middle class professional in China. My students sometimes ask what I make here, that's not a rude question in China, and while they are very impressed with my salary I'm not sure if I should tell them that it would put me way below the poverty line in America. But it's not just my sudden change in status it's also how much clearer class lines are in China.

This is a country that still calls most of it's farmers peasants, and where the term "worker" suggests a pretty crappy job. The people at the low end of Chinese society, and there are a lot of them, work on extremely poor farms, a number are basically subsistence farmers, or in really low paying factory jobs, jobs the government purposely keeps low paying through currency manipulation. You can tell these people just by looking at them most of the time. They are shorter, especially in the older generations, their cloths are almost always somewhat dirty, and their skin and hands are hardened from years of hard work. The next class is the emerging middle class. This is basically where all my students fall. There is a big difference between students in the little town here and in Changzhou, which is in the richest part of the country, but they all fall roughly into the middle class. They know they'll be able to get some job that is broadly white collar, and have enough money to own at least an apartment. They dress better than the workers, and they avoid spending too much time in the sun least they be mistaken for peasants. Finally there are the rich. Fancy cars, drivers, suits, and the way they boss around everyone in a ten foot radius makes them pretty easy to spot. Around here you don't see as many but in Changzhou their kids were easy to pick out as well with American fashions and electronics they don't even sell in China. It just makes me much more conscious about class living in a society where it is so constantly on display.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I've talked about Lake before but I think he deserves his own post. Lake is, in addition to being a teacher, in change of assigning classes and everything teaching related when it comes of the foreigners. Steve had a job similar to this back in C-zhou. To increase the Steve parallels Lake has a young son he often brings with him, I don't think his son has an English name, or I just can't remember it, but I suggest Pond. When I fist saw Lake I thought, "oh he must be a big shot he wears a suit and a jacket all the time." It actually turns out that his one suit may be the only cloths he owns. When I first saw him on a weekend and he was still wearing the same suit, it's not that he has two similar ones either, I asked him if he was working or doing something important that day and he just said that no he really just wears the suit all the time. Now I have this image of him sleeping in it. Lake is really into traditional medicine and remedies. When my stomach was bothering me he told me this story about how his grandfather used to put a brick in the fire then wrap it up and tie it to his stomach when he slept.

Lake has also told me that I should never have my bare feet on the floor as it's bad for my chi. Lake's a nice guy, I genuinely like talking to him but he has a problem with going on for a long time once I already understand him. Words like "OK," "sure," or even "I understand," don't derail his sentences. Besides classes he also in charge of English corner which is more interest than I saw any teacher take in the two years I was at JSTU. Lake was also the one who organized the day people came over and made dumplings, more on that in another post. He is one of the few men in China who cook, since his wife is a graduate student and really busy, and he is always on me to cook more.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Two Sons

Of all the difference between Changzhou and Alaer the biggest is easily the presence of the Uyghur students. I teach two classes of Uyghur students but their English is on a lower level so it can be hard to just chat with them. One day though I ran out of stuff to do a little early so I just tried to ask them some basic questions about Uyghur people which they were happy to answer. I first asked about the scarfs that some of the girls wear on their heads. They said it was a Muslim thing, which is what I thought, but I was also interested why not all of them wore it. They said it had something to do with family and tradition, which I interpreted to mean it basically depended on how religious your family was. The scarfs were also many different colors, from mostly black to bright yellow, which the students told me was just a matter of personal taste. Also unlike some religious Jews the head covering had nothing to do with being married or not. Also I find it interesting that unlike what I see in pictures of some other Muslim societies the girls don't seem t worried about some hair showing around the edges or of taking them off and adjusting them in class.

I asked a number of other questions about religion. Sometimes the answers I got were a little contradictory, especially when I asked both classes but I tried to figure out exactly what they meant. I don't think there is a mosque in Alaer, or if there is it's not anywhere near the school. I did read online though that Aksu has the second biggest mosque in China. The girls said that women don't usually attend mosque as it was mostly for the men. What was really interesting though was that they said that students weren't allowed to attend mosque, and I think that holds true even during breaks. They gave me the impression that once they were done being students the men would attend mosque. I also wasn't sure if this was only in college or all through out their student careers. This was especially surprising to me as I know a lot of the students didn't eat during the day during the month of Ramadan, and that they all follow the Muslim dietary restrictions, the biggest being no pork. There are separate cafeterias for the Muslim students due to the dietary restrictions and they say that sometimes the Han students eat in their cafeteria but they never eat in the Han ones.

I've been to a few cafeterias at the school. One older Uyghur one was really run down and crowded. The older Han one was old but not in as bad shape. There was also a brand new cafeteria with one floor for the Han students and one floor for the Uyghurs which was sparkling and new. I also found out that the Uyghur students like Bollywood movies and were quite impressed I knew of so many of the big stars and had been to India. One interesting thing was that the class wasn't entirely Uyghur it was about 70% Uyghur with most of the rest of the students being ethnically Kazakhy. In one class one girl was Uzbeky as well. They said that they all lived in the same dorms, which were seperate from Han dorms. They also said that it was common for Uyghur and Kazakhy people to intermarry but that they almost never married Han people. The last thing I found out recently is that there is a big holiday on the 17th, not that the school felt the need to tell me. It's called something like Eid al-Adha and celebrates when Abraham also sacrificed his son but instead sacrificed a goat. They said they really liked the holiday because it involved a big lamb dinner with friends and family, traditionally the lamb is a sacrifice. One last interesting note is that the story of Abraham differs slightly between the Christian and Jewish version and the Muslim version. In the Christian and Jewish version Abraham almost sacrifices his son Isaac, who is later considered the father of the Jewish and later Christian people. In Islam Abraham also sacrifices his son Ishmael who is traditionally thought of as the father of the Arab people.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shooting the Moon

Changzhou had a lot of western food. Obviously not as much as home but it had a number of pizza places, a couple of McDonalds, and even a Subway. Alaer has none of that but it does have bagels and after asking my friends in Changzhou to send me a toaster, as Alaer has none of those either I now can eat toasted bagels. To make it even better Slav was able to find butter recently. So now I'm sitting in my apartment eating a bagel with butter. That's certainly not something I was able to do in Changzhou. Hell most places in America it's hard to get a decent bagel. It seems the father I go from home, and this is about as far as it gets, the more stuff I'm able to find. With this logic I just need to randomly wander into the desert and I'll find a guy with creme cheese and locks.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What's the Frequency Kenneth

Well I finally have my cable TV. After bugging Ma Ming for a long time to get it set up I got it just in time to watch one playoff game before the Yanks were eliminated. That's slightly better than my prediction of getting it the day after the playoffs end though. The problem now is that the three channels I have basically suck. I have the normal CCTV, state run, channels including the sports channel CCTV 5 where I can watch all the pool I've ever wanted to see, and the English channel CCTV 9 where I can see a round robin discussion about just how imperialistic the US is, somewhat or very. I also get three more normal channels. I get international ESPN which was great during baseball but now seems to show soccer 22 hours a day. I get something called Star Movies which has every B horror movie, and C action movie ever made. I never new Steven Seagal made so many movies, and I feel bad for Cuba Gooding Jr. who must have made some deal with the devil to win that Oscar that now he has to be in so many truly bad movies. Finally I get the National Geographic Channel which is OK but has way to many programs that basically involve people talking about fish. So I got what I wanted but I didn't really want what I got.