Thursday, December 29, 2011

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

Not really though. It's 75 degrees here today so I hope everyone else is enjoying winter since we are apparently skipping it in Guangzhou. The Chinese people are still around in their jackets though. I used to think it was just that they always dressed to the season even if it was weather inappropriate, but after talking with some people I now believe that the incredible amount they overdress is due to the fact that most people still believe that physically being cold makes you sick. Which I why I see babies on the bus sweating like crazy when they are dressed for 10 below and it's in the 70's. But around here we are experiencing the upside of the incredibly hot summer. It's very pleasant when everyone else is freezing. I remember last year at this time in Alaer I had my space heater on at night despite the fact that it light up my room like a fireplace because even with the radiators and my big comforter I was still incredibly cold at night. I also remember going to Urumqi where it was so cold that walking outside felt like getting slapped. I don't think I have to worry about that cold in Vietnam either. I'll write up my full travel plans in a post soon. But besides some time in Beijing I'm staying mostly in the South. Snow on Christmas may be nice but 75 and sunny is better.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Commute from Hell

After I had finally started my classes here in Guangzhou I ran into a big problem. The school here has at least three different campuses spread out around the whole city. One campus is in a fairly downtown part of the city, this was the original campus but the city kept taking more and more of the land so they got squeezed out. The next campus, where I was living, was in the North-East of the city, it would basically be considered a suburb in the US. This campus wasn't right on a subway line, though an expansion in two years will go right by there. The area was nice, it was fairly urban with a big shopping area just outside the gate but still less crowded then the main city. Right behind the building I was living in was a small green mountain and a little lake. The school also had one more campus in the South-East of the city, on an island called the Higher Education Mega Center. This whole island was basically just different universities. Guangzhou University, a higher ranked school has a huge campus there, as does Sun Yat-sen University, one of the top schools in all of China. Guangdong University of Technology, my school, had been moving more and more of its operations to this island for years, and nearly 80% of the school was now there.

The problem was almost all my classes were there as well. I had heard that there was some possibility of a commute, with only 12 hours of classes it didn't sound so bad, but for many of the other teachers who lived in the North and taught at the Higher Education Mega Center campus the school arranged a car to drive them two and from. Because my classes took so long to start, and since I was the only one teaching there in the evening, this wasn't possible for me. Instead I had to take public transportation both ways. To begin with I had to walk to the bus stop, about a 10-15 minute walk from my apartment. Then I'd get on a bus for about nine stops until I finally got to the subway. There I had to transfer twice and go about 18 stops until I finally reached the Higher Education Mega Center stop, there were actually two stops on the island. Then it was another 10 minute walk to class. The whole thing took between 90 and 100 minutes each way. So I ended up spending more than 3 hours commuting some days.

What was worse is that on Monday and Tuesday I only had one class. So I had to commute for three hours for 90 minutes of actual class time. This basically turned my light schedule into annoying slog. I was furious at the school the first time I realized exactly how far I had to go for such a little amount of teaching. It also made it really difficult to care about the classes since I was pissed at the school every time I stepped off the metro. It was just the usual Chinese way of turning what should be something really easy into something monumentally difficult. It also didn't help that riding the subway with Chinese people is infuriating. Everyone tries to get on and off the car at the same moment, though it is sometimes satisfying to knock people out of my way when I'm getting off, and no one moves away from the door making the whole thing one big clusterfuck. At least I was usually going at off-peak hours so it wasn't as crowded as it could be.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


No one tells me anything. Sometimes I think I'm just being too conspiratorial when it comes to feeling like I'm left out of the loop, but I'm pretty sure that as long as I've been in China people have been not telling me vital pieces of information. For example David, the foreign affairs guy here, texted me a week ago asking if I wanted to go to a concert of Christmas Eve. I said yes, but when I asked him about it today he told me it was off since not enough teachers wanted to go. The thing is I don't think he was planning on telling me that unless I asked. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who doesn't know something as well. Trying to figure out when classes start next term is hard, unless I ask the students who all seem to know. There have been times at every school I've worked for when I come to class and no one is there. I find out later that all the students have a meeting or something, which is fine, it's just that no one bothered to tell me. I wonder if there's like a secret Chinese website where the school discusses all this stuff without me. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but in China you never know.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Making Pasta

I don't cook very much, this is true in both China and the US, but when I do the one thing I like to make is pasta. I made a big bowl of pasta with some vegetables and chopped up sausage tonight which was good, but it also reminded me why I so rarely cook. I try to keep my little kitchen really clean, there were roaches when I moved in but I think I got rid of them before I started putting any food in the kitchen, so it feels like it takes longer to clean up properly than to actually make or eat the food. Also I now have enough leftovers that I think I can eat nothing but pasta until Christmas. Finally, the cost for American food is out of hand. I traveled across the city to the only Wal-Mart around here and payed probably double what pasta and a little, and I do mean little I don't think I've ever seen a smaller jar, tomato sauce should cost. It came out pretty well even though despite using one and a half jars of sauce, plus adding a lot to it, there was still way to much pasta. Either way I probably won't be doing that again for a while, not that I need to with all my leftovers.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Favorite Activity

I've taught mostly Oral English in my time in China and over all the semesters teaching it I've done a lot of different activities. Some have gone over well with the students and some flopped pretty much immediately, but one stands out as my favorite by far. The idea wasn't mine originally, I got it from Dave's ESL Cafe, which has some great suggestions for TEFL class activities, even ideas I don't like from there I often adapt into something that would work with my class. I start out with having them sit next to another person in the class, usually in columns, if I have a classroom where I can move the desks I might but them in a two concentric circles. Then I have them come up with imaginary people. I tell them to come up with a name, an age, a job, a hobby, a goal, and some story about their imaginary person. I used to have them just do this in their heads but some students won't really do it so now I have them write it down. Half the class is assigned to make men and half the class women. Once they have finished I try and explain the idea of speed dating to them. I tell them that they are going to pretend to be the people they just created and go on a short "date" with the person next to them. I use my cell phone as a stopwatch and tell them to go on this "date" for four or five minutes. I'm not sure exactly why but even in class where people tend to speak too much Chinese they keep almost entirely to English for this activity. I think it might have something to do with the embarrassment factor of being on a "date" with their classmate so they feel more comfortable pretending to be there people they created and keeping that illusion up by talking in English. I usually walk around and listen to make sure that everyone is talking in English but I rarely have to correct anyone during this activity.

After the allotted time is up I make some sort of buzzer noise and tell them to switch partners, I usually tell them to move in a circle so that each "man" will eventually talk to each "woman." For the next round I slightly decrease the amount of time they have to talk to their next "date." I found that decreasing the time is really important since it keeps the game from getting dull or losing its energy. By the end they have so little time they are basically shouting at each other. I've boys run to their next partner and yell something like, "Hello, my name is Jane! Who are you?" With bigger classes, I did this yesterday with a class of 38 it take pretty much the whole 90 minutes to do all of this. Smaller classes are faster but it still takes a while. In the end the students end up talking basically nonstop for the entire class period. They also find the whole thing pretty funny and I see a lot of people laughing every time I do it. It's also is one of the easier activities for me since all I have to do is tell them to switch every few minutes. I like this activity so much I find myself saving it for later in the semester since once I've done it I don't have anything quite as good.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Buying anything in China is always an adventure especially when it comes to food. One of the most common things I buy is eggs. They're easy to cook in a bunch of different ways and stay good for a long time. But deciding what eggs to buy in the supermarket is still a challenge. They packages don't seem to have a sell by date like they would in the US. Instead there is a date on them but I assume it's when they were packaged, since the date is always a few days before when I'm actually buying them. What's really weird is that the eggs in the store are never, ever, refrigerated. They just sit there. Also they sit there for a really long time sometimes. I've gone in to buy eggs and looked at the dates, then come in a week later and eggs with the same dates were still for sale. That being said I've never gotten sick from eating them, I think it can be hard to tell in China. I usually hard boil them, though that actually reduces the shelf life of eggs. What's a more interesting question is that the little supermarkets near me only sell unmarked eggs in plastic bags. They just stack them in open containers and you take as many as you want. I don't overly trust Chinese food safety standards but it's harder when you have no idea if any standards are being followed at all. Well I guess that's China.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Your Papers Please

I don't know how to write that title in a German accent, so if you would be kind enough to just go back and read it in your best black and white Nazi movie accent I would appreciate it. I'll wait. Done? Good. This morning I heard a really soft knocking on my door. The way the apartments are positioned around here I almost always here some sort of knocking or hammering or something. I wasn't sure it was anything but I decided to go check. Just as I got to the door I looked out and saw two people in uniform heading back toward the elevator. I opened my door and they came over and started talking to me in rapid Chinese. The people were two police officers, I can't tell exactly what type, there are a lot of different uniforms around China. They kept trying to explain to me what they wanted, but I had no idea what was going on. Finally they flipped through big book with lots of sheets of paper coming to one in English and thrust it into my hands. It was pretty confusing. It seemed like some sort of survey about who lived there but included weird lines which went something like, "this is to make sure you received all the correct propaganda." I was starting to wonder if they were about to give me a big picture of Mao to hang up. They saw that I still didn't really understand what was going on and one of them called David, so they clearly were either with the school or knew a lot about the school since they knew who to call. David said they wanted a copy of my visa and passport, which I didn't have, but when they took the phone back they didn't ask about that anymore so I guess David said he'd give them one on Monday. Finally they flipped to another piece of paper and had me put down my country, but looked disappointed when I wrote it in English, and had me put down my phone number, which I "accidentally" got wrong. Finally they basically shrugged an left. I didn't see if they had been to the other two apartments on my floor before but they got into the elevator after talking to me. It might sound sort of disturbing to be visited by the police and it would have been if they weren't such a comical looking pair. It was one man and a woman. The man was half a foot shorter than me and had the bad teeth and leathery skin of a long time chain smoker. The woman was at least a foot shorter than me and he uniform was at least two sizes to small. They looked more like police from a Monty Python skit than the Gestapo. Still a very strange way to start my day.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Baby it's Cold Outside

Not really though. Today is the first day of December and also the first time I felt it was cold enough in Guangzhou to wear jeans. That's right up to this point I've been wearing shorts so far. While I hear about cold and snow in other places here it's been sunny and warm. It's still pretty warm, I was only wearing a t-shirt today, but it's a lot colder at night, I may actually have to wear a sweatshirt at some point. My students have a far different view of the weather and have been wearing pants and jackets for the better part of the last month. I guess when you live in such a perpetually hot place even a slight downturn in the temperature sends you running for warm cloths. That and a lot of Chinese people believe the old myth that being cold, at all, leads to a cold. I don't think my attempts to persuade them that it's a virus have been very successful. The only downside to all this is that there are still some mosquitoes around, though not as many as when I first got here. It's still better than Alaer where I was wearing long underwear by this time of the year.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Like Riding a Bicycle

I was worried that after such a long layoff from teaching, my last class had been in June, that I would have lost something from my ability to teach. My first classes were graduate students who had to take the class since they got bad scores on an English test they need to graduate. One class had students from a variety of majors with a fairly good command overall of English, several of the students were older than me and one in each class was married. The other class was all math majors, they were going to be primary or high school teachers, and their English was not as good. Really there wasn't much difference between teaching a class of graduate students and undergraduates when it comes to oral English. In fact, given that their test had nothing to do with oral English I was never really sure what help the class would be to them. But the class went smoothly, he old games and activities I had developed over the last several years worked for these classes as well, and mostly I was just happy to have something constructive to do.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Waiting Around (Part Two)

I've been gone for a while off my blog while I was having trouble getting my VPN to work in my new apartment, more on that in another post. I'm pretty far behind with what happened in the beginning of the semester but I'd like to catch up with that now. I've written before about how long a process it was to get to China this time, and now I want to talk about what happened when I finally got to China. Nothing, nothing at all happened. Despite my worries about being late, it was well after the semester had started by the time I showed up, the school was in absolutely no rush to give me any classes. I basically had a month off after showing up before I taught any classes. But that wasn't nearly as much fun as it sounds. First, I often didn't have my passport because of all the steps in getting a visa, and I didn't have a real visa until after I started teaching so I couldn't go to Hong Kong, or Maco, since those are both essentially international destinations.

I also didn't really know anyone at the school, there were a couple of other teachers living where I lived but they actually had classes and stuff to do. I was basically on my own with endless free time. Having some free time is great, I'll admit one of my favorite part about working in China is how much free time I have, but total unstructured free time is different. For me at least when I have nothing at all to do it becomes easier and easier just to waste day after day. After a while it gets hard to do anything. After weeks of having nothing to do I was starting to lose my mind. I really felt like I was going crazy just sitting around day after day. I lost all sense of motivation or interest in doing anything. By the time my classes actually started I was incredibly happy just to have something to do. And despite having actual work I also suddenly was able to get other things done more. While I had nothing at all to do I couldn't muster the energy to even clean my apartment, but when I finally had work cleaning it was easy. I just know that I don't want to have that much time off again.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Lights Stay On

One of the most constant annoyances in Alaer was that seemingly several times a week the power or the water would go out for most of the day. Slav even took to hording buckets full of water around his apartment at one point when a neighbor erroneously suggested that we were about to loose water for several days. At first I thought it was just an example of the usual low quality construction that permeates everything in China, I had similar problems from time to time in Changzhou as well, but in retrospect I think it was probably some sort of power or water saving measure. Given how the power never went out at night, and the water was almost never shut off in the morning, I think it was probably a brown out type situation where they just didn't have enough to go around so they shut it down to conserve. In Guangzhou this is, thankfully, not an issue. One of the advantages of living in a giant city is that the lights stay on. I haven't lost power at all, I only lost water for a few hours one night, and even the internet usually stays on, if only moving slowly. There are other nice things I could say about Guangzhou but for the moment I'm just happy to have lights, and AC.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Excessive Entertainment

There was a great article in the Times about recent crackdowns in China on there own version of blogging. As many of you know Blogspot, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and pretty much any other social media tool from the US is already banned in China, but the Chinese have there own versions of many of them, often just thinly veiled copies of the American version. The communists have been less afraid of this since being based in China they can sensor them to their hearts content. By some estimates besides the most advanced filtering and blocking software around the Chinese employ tens of thousands of people to just go around taking down content that the government might not like or posting comments favorable to the government.

They also get many of the Chinese social media sights to heavily self police by holding the implicit threat that if too much undesirable content gets posted the whole thing will be shut down. This though has not stopped the internet from still being the freest place in China. Even with the governments restrictions the internet remains anonymous enough that people still posts things critical, or at least indirectly critical, of the government. Much of it gets taken down but the ideas still spread. This has lead the government in recent months to go on a much more through jihad against any form of free expression in media. The oddest part of this by far is the censoring of TV shows with no overt or implicit political content. To quote the NYT article

"The most striking instance occurred Tuesday, when the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television ordered 34 major satellite television stations to limit themselves to no more than two 90-minute entertainment shows each per week, and collectively 10 nationwide. They are also being ordered to broadcast two hours of state-approved news every evening and to disregard audience ratings in their programming decisions."

This comes as by far the most popular thing on TV is bizarre variety shows where people compete in singing dancing and the occasional terrible magic trick. For the government of China though this represents a deep and pervasive threat to there way of life. For all the talk about modernization there is still a strong sentiment in the government here that harkens back to the Cultural Revolutions vision of an all communist party media all the time. Instead of seeming like a terrifying group of thugs some days the communists just come across as the parents from Footloose, the original not the remake. The best part of the article though was that these crazy new regulations were aimed at getting rid of "excessive entertainment and vulgar tendencies." I have watched a fair bit of Chinese TV and I can tell you that they have yet to come up with a TV show in China that is "excessively" entertaining.

The sad part about this article was how many of the people commenting from the US were wholly in support of censoring TV. I guess people really are fed up with all that reality crap. You can find the article at

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Learning to Curse in Chinese

I've never had a huge interest in learning more Chinese than I really need to get around but recently I've started to learn some Chinese curse words. Now it's not that there are so many people I want to curse at in China, though there are definitely some, it's more that I think it will be a fun thing to learn. It's a more fun thing to discuss with my Chinese friends, and it's great how many Chinese people blanch when you use any Chinese curse word. Mostly thought I want to be able to use them when I'm back in the US. I think it would be great to be able to curse at people without them understanding. Last time I was back in the US I could barley stop myself from yelling at people who were blocking up the Metro, I think I'd be much happier jut cursing at them in Chinese as I passed. As for what the actual curse words are, I don't want to get into too many of them but a good simple one is "wu cao" that's "wu" in the third tone, falling then rising, and "cao" in the fourth tone, falling. Also for those who don't speak any Chinese the c in "cao" is pronounced with a ts sound. Wu cao is basically the Chinese version of fuck, though I don't know if it has the same literal meaning. The thing I really have to learn how to say in Chinese though is, "if you don't move faster and stop blocking the sidewalk I'm going to rip off your arm and beat you to death with it," though maybe it's better that I don't know how to say that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Visa Victory

Well it's finally happened the whole family is coming to China. I've written about this before but my parents have spent the last several months in visa hell. Now they finally have word that they are actually getting their visa and are coming to China. On top of that my sister is still in Beijing and is even doing some teaching there. After getting such a long run around from the Chinese government I began to wonder if my parents ever would make it here. The weirdest part of all this for me though is the fact that I don't have a home to go back to in the US anymore, well technically I haven't had a home for a few months now, but now there's no hotel room with my parents either. It means I really have no idea if I'll be back in the US next summer of what I'll do for that matter. My mom is also doing a blog now Not by Occident, don't you just love pun titles for blogs, is over in the side bar with other friends blogs.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Are There Any Good Foreign Affairs People?

I'm pretty pissed at David, the foreign affairs guy at my school, for a number of reasons. The biggest has to do with my commute to work, but I'll post about that separately. But it's mostly that h just seems to never get anything done. My toilet still doesn't have a seat, I've been here a month. When I send him any message it's like it's going into a black hole, I have no idea if he even received it. I asked him about more water for my apartment, a pretty normal request, and I never heard back. Yes, no, maybe, tomorrow, anything would be better. I have a printer, but no idea if or where I can get ink for such an old machine. I have a refrigerator that doesn't keep anything particularly cool. It's also just frustrating to get an endless runaround for even the simplest issue. If I have to hear one more time that they can't find the right seat for the toilet I'm going to lose it. It's a toilet seat not a spaceship, pretty close is good enough. It's not just the guy at this school either. I've written before about how annoyed I was at various times with Ma Ming, Luca, and even Teddy, who was probably the best of the bunch. What makes it annoying is that it's not that there job seems especially hard. Pretty much all the problems I have could be resolved in one day with a couple of phone calls, and then for the rest of the time I don't really require anything at all from them. I spend a huge amount of time trying to get some really little problems, and the occasional big one, worked out. I just want to open my window and scream, "Why can't you people just be efficient and direct for one God damned day!" I'm sure my parents in there own private visa hell know how I feel.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Prison Toilet

My new apartment is pretty nice but there's one problem which they haven't fixed yet despite me being here for nearly a month. My toilet lacks a seat. I don't mean the cover I mean the part you sit on. If you've ever seen a prison movie it looks like one of the toilets you see in jail. I've asked David a couple of times about this but he just keeps on saying they can't find the right part. I'm starting to get pretty annoyed with that answer though as it's a toilet not a car it doesn't have to match exactly. I just need something to make it easier to sit there. It's not like I can't use the toilet as it is, it just sucks. There's little chance that they'll be able to fix it this week though since it's a holiday. At least I might actually be able to start classes next week, though I still don't have a schedule.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Finding a Place to Eat

One of the first important things when moving to a new area is finding some place good to eat. Since I don't cook much, besides making things like eggs or sandwiches, I've been looking for a good little restaurant near here. The school has a bunch of cafeterias but so far my impression is that they all stink. I don't think there are any other restaurants on campus so that leaves the main shopping area not far from here. If I walk out of the closest gate it takes me about 10 minutes to get to the shopping area. There are a ton of restaurants there. Some seem a little fancy, or I only see big groups of people, and while I'm glad there is a KFC and a McDonalds close by it's not really an every day sort of food. The best place I've found so far is a guy who sells really good baozi, a sort of bready steamed dumpling, even though he often out of the vegetable ones I like in the evening, baozi are primarily a morning food in China. There was also a Malatang place, where you pick stuff and the boil it in a big bowl, which was good, but I'm pretty sure they overcharged me. I guess I'll just have to keep looking.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Little Annoyances

I was hoping when I came to Guangzhou the internet would be faster than it had been in the other places I'd lived in China. My dad's internet in Beijing was faster than mine in Xinjiang and Guangzhou was a big modern city. Alas that isn't to be. The internet here is slow, slow, slow. I'm sure somewhere in the city there are fast internet connections but I'm forced to use the school's internet, I don't think I have the option of getting something different, which is slow even by slow Chinese standards. Some of this is a matter of degree, it now take three hours instead of one to load a short Youtube video, but I notice the difference and it's really annoying. I left my computer on overnight to try and download this 400MB program, not exactly a huge file, but when I woke up the morning the download had failed at about 30%. In the US I could have downloaded this in about 30 minutes. In Alaer maybe a few hours but not nearly so long as here. Actually despite it's remote location, and tendency for the power to randomly go out, I had a faster connection in Alaer than in Chagzhou since I didn't have to use the school's crappy internet connection. Here though even calling people in the US has become a crap shoot with it just not working sometimes. Browsing simple websites isn't that much of a problem, besides the whole Great Firewall issue, but anything else is a pain.

One other annoyance of coming to new city is that I don't know how to do any of the stuff I used to take for granted. One example is that my phone recently ran out of credit and I'm not sure how to fill it up again. I don't know how to find a store which sells the right sort of phone cards and even than it's hard to do that without someone helping, the phone menu is mostly in Chinese. Also since my phone is out of credit I can't call anyone when I'm in the store and ask them to translate.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jetting Around

One nice thing was that since I was flying through Hong Kong I had my choice of airlines, which meant I didn't have to fly on an America airline, or a Chinese one for that matter. Cathay Pacific is one of those more and more rare airlines where the service is still good and the seats comfortable. They had a couple of neat things I hadn't seen before in the economy section of a plane. First every seat had a power jack, though my laptop is way to big to use on a plane since the screen wouldn't be able to open all the way. They also had a really good selection of shows and movies on the little seat back TV. One interesting thing is that the seats didn't really lean back. Instead what happened was that your seat just sot of slid forward if you pushed a button putting you in a more vertical position. It worked great for me but I wonder if it cuts some f the leg room for really tall people. The best part though was that you never end up with someone else's head in your lap. Also for the first time ever the little pillow on the back of the seat, for when you lean your head back, was actually comfortable, something I thought was impossible. Of course for every two steps forward airlines have to take one step back so there were a few inexplicably annoying things. First The head phone jack wasn't the standard kind so I could only use the crappy headphones they gave me, not the much better ones I had brought, there is simply no reason for this. More annoying was this was one of the new planes with the seat belt airbags, pictured here. It's not a bad idea I guess but the design of it takes away some of the valuable inches from the width of the seat due to its balky and inflexible nature. I'm not against airbags but they could put them in the back of the seat in front of you, more like a car. Also if the plan goes down an airbag isn't really going to help unless its also a parachute.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Waiting Around (Part One)

After I made the decision to go to Guangzhou I knew it would be some time before I would get my visa and actually would be able to go to China, I just didn't know how long. When I first asked David, my new Foreign Affairs Department guy, the same job that Ma Ming and Teddy had at my previous two schools, when the semester would start he said something vague about the 1st of September. But in July when I asked him what was up he said that he was going on vacation soon and wouldn't be able to deal with the visa stuff until sometime in August. I would have been more worried about that but I dealt with the same dithering last year before going to Alaer. When mid-August rolled around and I hadn't heard anything from David I began to get worried. I tried e-mailing him but I didn't get any response. Finally I called him on his cell. He said that he was in his home town and he hadn't seen my e-mails because they didn't have the internet there, but that he would get back to his office in late August and could do the visa stuff then. He also entreated me to not worry about it.

When late August rolled around and still nothing I was getting worried again. My parents who are planning on moving to Beijing had rented there house from the beginning of September, though do to more Chinese visa nonsense they are still to this day in a hotel in DC, and I would have to move to a small hotel with them if I was still in the US on September 1st. On top of all that I was just bored. I didn't think that I was going to be home as long as I was and I ran out of stuff to do. I called David again he said that he was working on it but it would take some time for him to get the forms he needed form the government there. When September 1st came and went I moved into a hotel near GW with my parents. David also told me that the school didn't really start until mid-September, which is sort of true, so I shouldn't worry so much. This, of course, would have been nice to know a lot earlier. Finally in early September I got my visa papers from China, they actually had to be delivered to a family friends house since the renters were living in my parent's house.

I went down and used the papers to get an actual visa in only one day, the easiest part of the whole process, and bought a ticket for China. Unfortunately when I told David when I was arriving he said that it was a Chinese holiday so it would be tough to get someone to meet me. I was pretty annoyed but I was able to change the ticket to a few days later. The flight itself was long, DC to New York, New York to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong to Guangzhou, but I was just happy that I was finally going to China.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What's Old is New Again

Well I'm back. I've finally settled in my new home and got my internet working, mostly. A lot has happened since I last posted, too much for one post, so I'm going to take it slow. First I should start with where I am. I didn't really post anything about where I was going after I finished i Alaer since I was considering a lot of options and didn't want any group to hear about the other groups through this blog, but now that I'm settled down I can shed some light on what's been going on. When I first started looking around I doubted that I would return to China. There are a number of countries in the Middle East that hire people to teach English. The problem with these I discovered was that they usually wanted a teaching certificate, something in teaching English as a foreign language, and even with my experience I got very few responses. I was also considering the Peace Corps but the place they offered me was just too remote.

I also applied to a number of places in China, in parts of the country I hadn't been to, and when the other two things fell through that's how I ended up back in China. After spending a year in remote Xinjiang I wanted to go somewhere a little bit more cosmopolitan. Guangzhou is a city of between 13, if you just include the city, and 40, if you count all the area and cities around it, million people. It's situated very close to both Hong Kong and Maco. Actually it's more accurate to say Hong Kong and Maco are close to Guangzhou since they were both settled there for there proximity to Guangzhou not the other way around. So I'd say I got something a little more cosmopolitan. Guangzhou is an old city that used to be known as Canton, where the word Cantonese comes from. It was also one of the first cities to be opened up to more outside trade after Mao's death. Since I've only just gotten here I can't say much about the city but I'm looking forward to an eventful year.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A New Modest Proposal

Famous satirist Jonathan Swift once wrote an essay called "A Modest Proposal" wherein he suggests that the poor might sell there children as food, mocking attitudes toward the poor. Well some of the local governments in China seem to think that selling children is a great idea, just not for food. This New York Times article tells the story of how in some rural areas of China local officials are grabbing children from there parents on trumped up charges, or just because they can, and selling them for adoption. There are several things I find amazing about this. First is the just cartoonishly evil nature of what they are doing. The Chinese government does a lot of bad things but here I feel there must be some one twirling a mustache and laughing maniacly as children are ripped from the arms of there parents. This is also another interesting example of how little control the central government really has some times. In a society as autocratic as China you'd think the central government would be able to control the local governments easily but that's just not the situation. Local government seem to have a significant amount of power to ignore the national government on all but the biggest issues. With reporting of corruption also out the window, no part of the government really wants to encourage that since they're all corrupt, no one is able to do much about horrible situations like this.

I'd also like to note that my sister has started writing a blog which is included in the links to the left.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I've been traveling to a lot of countries around East Asia since I've come to China, but one I've been very interested in going to, but haven't had the chance, is Japan. Basically it's just too expensive for me to do on my China salary, I'm hoping that my parents might want to go now that they're moving to Beijing, but for me it's just too much. Going to Singapore for even a few days cost way too much and Japan might be even more expensive. I've read a few books about Japan and I'd really love to see some of the sights, Japanese culture is certainly interesting as well, but I also feel that living in China has given me a very negative view of Japanese people as a whole. China is rife with anti-Japanese sentiment, partially due to the horrible crimes Japan committed against Chinese civilians during there long war and occupation, and partially due to the fact that the communist party finds it convenient to focus people on a foreign enemy to deflect public anger away from them and raise nationalism.

When I first got to Japan I shrugged off most of this as just sour grapes. They were talking about some pretty old crimes and just couldn't seem to let it go. But the more I learned about how the Japanese treat there history today the more I agreed with the Chinese. Unlike Germany who after WWII made a huge effort to confront and apologize for what happened, Japan's attitude has always been somewhere between, "It happened a long time ago," and "You would have done it to us had you gotten the chance." Americans ted not to know as much about Japanese atrocities during WWII and German ones, but the number of people killed by the Japanese was also staggering. In China in particular they endorsed the wholesale slaughter of civilians in many occupied areas, in a mix of brutal colonialism and the sort of rape and pillage attitude armies had in the middle ages. In America this also gets downplayed somewhat do to some form of national guilt about ending the war with two atomic bombs. Finally we always tend to overlook the past wrongs of our current allies and Japan has been a strong friend of America since the end of WWII.

But in China there is still a deep resentment and some rubs off. Not only in China though is there still historical anger at the Japanese. South Korea still violently disputes some islands with Japan, oddly even North Korea can get behind the south when Japan in the enemy. And in a lot of other countries in Asia I've visited there are monuments and museums to what the Japanese did during WWII. My point here isn't so much to discuss the past but to note I was pretty suppressed when I realized how much more negative my opinion of Japan had become after living in China.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Everything's Changing

Well I'm back in the good old US of A until September, and it's nice to be back even if it's 100 degrees in Washington some days. Next semester I'll be working in Guangzhou, I'll talk more about that in my next post, but not only am I going to China my parents are as well. My dad took a posting with his paper in Beijing, he's been there for several months already, but now both he and my mom are going to be living there for about three years. They're renting there house, the places in the expat areas of Beijing are actually lot more expensive than I thought they'd be. Both my parents seem excited for the move, even my mom likes it more after seeing India it gives you a new perspective on what crazy means that makes China seem much more reasonable. My sister also is quitting her job in Madison and is going to backpack around South-East Asia. She might even end up in China for some time around, I just have to assure her that China's big enough she never has to bump into me. So coming in September the whole family might be in China. I've loved my time in China but I never thought my whole family would end up there. It's not that everyone is coming to China to live next to me, though I think my dad would be happy if I moved to Beijing, but I'm pretty sure if I hadn't been living in China everyone else wouldn't have ended up there. So that's me Daniel Davis trend setter.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

To Everything There is a Season

I've got less than two weeks left in sunny old Alaer and things are really busy. I've still got to get a train ticket, my last paycheck, change my money, pack my stuff, give and grade a lot of finals, and teach a few extra classes. The semester is ending with a bang this time instead of the usual whimper since I don't have much time and there are a few places I want to go before I go back. My flight back to DC is on the 20th of June, but before that I am going to go to Kashgar, which is an old city famous for it's ancient buildings and gigantic Mosque. I'm also coming back to Changzhou for a few days to see my friends there and go to a wedding party Sean and Sarah are throwing. I'm really looking forward to seeing all the people in Changzhou again. After I booked my plane tickets, which was only after I told the school when I was thinking of leaving, the school turns around and asks me to stay longer to teach some other class. I told them I couldn't despite there repeated begging. It's annoying to deal with people who have mostly never taken a plane in there life and don't really have the concept of planning ahead more than a day in advanced. But everything seems mostly resolved now and the biggest problem I have is that I may not be able to transfer money home so I might have to travel around for a week with five or six thousand dollars in cash which isn't great, but China's a pretty safe country. Anyways I'll be home for the summer, until either August or September, pretty soon and I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The End of Days

I've been following some funny new out of America where some crazy preacher with a radio station has been predicting the end of the world will be this Saturday the 21st at 6pm Eastern Standard Time, since God of course goes off Eastern Standard Time. The Times had a hilarious story about one family where the mom was really into this and the kids just sort of thought it was really embarrassing. No one in China has really heard of this but they all love the 2012 stuff. I don't know exactly why that's taken off so much, could be the movie, but I heard about it even before that came out. It might have something to do with there perception that there's an increase in the number of natural disasters, there really isn't people have just been paying more attention to them than normal. I think it has to do with living in a country with so little reliable information. If the government spends all it's time lying to you and censoring real information I imagine it gets hard to tell truth from fiction. In China both the truth and crazy rumors have to circulate in the dark corners of the internet or by word of mouth. In both cases the state controlled media downplays them. Maybe that's the unintended consequence of the government trying to control all media, China is now a nation of conspiracy theorists.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Computer Madness

Usually when I get up I check my e-mail and few other things before class. But yesterday when I went to start up my computer I was just met with a series of errors. No matter how well you take care of a computer sometimes things will just go wrong. I've been dealing with these sorts of computer problems since I was old enough to read, but being out here in Alaer adds another worrying dimension to the whole affair. Usually if something goes really wrong I could take my computer somewhere, even in Changzhou there were places I could have gone, or borrow another computer to help diagnose the problem, but out here in the middle of nowhere every time anything goes wrong with my computer I have this sinking feeling that I'll never be able to get it working again and have to spend the rest of my time in Alaer watching paint dry, or whatever the locals do for fun around here. I'm also worried about the effect all the endless dust in the air will have on the lifespan of my computer, but there's not much I can do about that. I was finally able to get it fixed but it took almost all day just to get it back to the way it was working the previous day and even then I lost some things. Well I guess I just have to hope that nothing more serious goes wrong, that or there's some kid here better with computers than I am.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dora is Magic

One of my better students Dora has been mentioning for some time that she is the singer for a band on campus, and yesterday she invited me to come watch them preform outside the library. It was certainly interesting to see them preform, the music was more rock than I was expecting from the usually pop loving Chinese. The only problem was the whole thing took on a bit of a children's recital atmosphere as I was told it would start around 9pm only to have Dora not go on until 11pm and then only sing one song. That's a lot a watching Chinese music I don't really care at all about. Most of the people were doing covers of Chinese, or a few English songs, one group even did a Green Day song which I thought was funny. The song Dora did was a cover also but I don't really know the original Chinese song so it's all new to me. I got a video of her singing. The quality isn't very good but she's the one in the front. There group is called Magic, or 魔术 (Móshù)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Crisp and Cool

It's been raining in the desert for part of the past two days, and its been much much cooler than it was last week. Today I'm back to wearing a light sweatshirt and jeans, instead of the shorts and t-shirt I've been rocking for the last week. But one upside to this little rain interlude is that the air is amazingly fresh. We don't have the pollution of Eastern China to foul up the air, but especially this time of year the amount of dust that is kicked up into the air is enough that after it rains, and holds down all the dust a little, I'm amazed at how fresh the air is. It gets so I don't notice the dust until it's gone, but when it is it makes a huge difference. Everything also looks much cleaner today. The bikes which turn a sort of sandy brown from all the dust are at least somewhat cleaned off by the rain, as well as the trees, grass, and buildings which all accumulate dust really quickly. I'd like it to go back to being warm out, but a few days of fresh air are nice also.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Internet is my TV

I don't have much in the way of TV or movies around here. There's no video store like in Changzhou, and while I have a TV I just don't spend much time in my living room and it only has one good channel. The end result is that I've downloaded more TV shows and movies this year then I ever have. Even with my slow connection I've downloaded probably 50 movies and dozens of season of TV. Some shows I watch only a few hours after they air on US TV. I've been keeping up with the new HBO show, Game of Thrones, which is great by the way, and the new season of Doctor Who the day they come out in the US. I always knew there was a lot of stuff on the internet but I've never been so cut off from any other way to get it before. I end up leaving my computer on a lot of nights just so I can download more stuff to watch. It can be a little weird to watch TV shows on the computer, the biggest problem is my computer screen has such a high resolution that unless I get the HDTV version of the show it doesn't look very good since I'm sitting so close. I don't know what I'd do without the internet though. I can go half way around the world, literally look at a globe, and still get all my shows.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The New Guy

When Slav left Alaer it was originally with the under sanding that he would find someone to come and finish off the term for him. He did find a friend of his in England who wasn't doing much and wanted to come to China for a while, but for some reason the visa never worked out. So when Slav left there was a period where I was the only foreigner for maybe hundreds of miles. But one of the school administrates had been in New Zealand and had met a teacher there who had worked in Japan for a number of years. When the big earth quake struck there a number of the foreign students went home and some of the teachers were out of work. This administrator, also named Ma, but not the Ma I've written about, got the teacher he met in New Zealand to come over to China to finish out this semester and stay on for the next one.

The new teacher, Colin, is from New Zealand, while his parents were originally from Scotland. He taught for almost 10 years in Japan, some of that EFL and some he taught drama at a fancy school where everyone spoke English. His language skills seem similar to mine in that he lived in Japan for so long but doesn't speak much Japanese. I was actually surprised when I saw his passport and learned he was in his 50's since he looks easily a decade younger. He seems like a nice guy, and he doesn't drink which makes the banquets with him much more pleasant, and I've hung around with him a little bit so far. It's nice to have another teacher here and while he hasn't lived anywhere like this I bet he'll do fine here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My One and Only

I've talked about this before bu there is some interesting new information out there so I wanted to briefly revisit the subject. China's one child policy, which limits most families to only having one child is something I changed my mind on a great deal since coming to China. The origin of the policy goes back to Mao, but Mao didn't want to limit the size of families he told people to go out and have as many children as possible. This resulted in something of a population explosion, expect for the times when Mao's other policies meant people were starving to death in droves. But after Mao the leaders looked around and realized that there were far too many people so in came the one child policy. Most families can only have one child, but there are some exceptions. In very rural areas, where kids are more needed to help on the farm, having two children is sometimes allowed. Also under newer rules if both of the people in a marriage are themselves only children, they are sometimes allowed a second child.

Minorities, like the Uyghurs are totally exempt from this rule, one of my students told me she was the youngest of 10 children. Also people who are really determined to have two kids can sometimes pay a fine to be allowed the second child, they are talking about expanding this section of the rules. But the enforcement of the one child policy can also be brutal. There have been countless cases of forced abortion or sterilization. In one book I read the author describes the police in some little town holding a man down while a doctor sterilized him. Also the penalties can go well beyond fines, in another book the author sees someones house being demolished for having too many kids. This policy along with a strong cultural preference for boys has also lead to a huge imbalance in the number of men and women, in the coming decades there will be 10's of millions of men who will never be able to marry. But for all that the population of China has stabilized, the newest growth numbers put the population growth at only around half a percent, well below the world average, and the number will likely keep falling. By 2050 China will probably only have around as many people as it has today.

Before I came to China I thought the one child policy was barbaric. The idea of the government going so far into peoples lives as to dictate how many children they could have is abhorrent, and it's carried out in a brutal way. But after seeing just how many people there really are here and how crowded it is, I've come to believe more and more that something had to be done. India's population continues to grow faster and faster and not only will it soon overtake China but there's no telling how high it could go. This has devastating consequences for the outlook of India, almost no matter how fast there economy grows they'll always been poor if the growth is spread out over that many more people. This doesn't mean that China's population controls are necessarily good for the economy through. There population is aging rapidly and the workforce, especially those who make the low cost goods which China is so famous for, is set to shrink. But after seeing the impact of have 1,340,000,000 people in an area only about the size of the United States, it seems impossible to allow that number to continue to grow. Even 1% growth means the population will double in about 70 years. China can barely handle 1.34 billion people how could it hold 3 billion?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Bugs are Back

One nice thing about cold winters is that they kill off all the bugs. But it's hot now and all the bugs are back. The mosquitoes are especially bad, there are so many out in the early evening that I'm afraid to go outside. I've been keeping my windows mostly shut as the screens in most of the windows are full of holes. There are also quite a few bees which I guess makes sense given how many people I see selling, what looks like, homemade honey. The dust has still been around though. For three days during the break I didn't see any direct sunlight. It wasn't as bad as the driving sand storm I saw when my dad was here but three days is a pretty long time for the sand to be blowing.

As an addendum to what I was talking about the other day I talked with one of my students about Chinese TV and she mentioned that there was a very popular show whose title translates as something like "Palace" which was about someone who went back in time. So I guess for whatever reason this recent ban on time travel TV is in direct relation to that. Also on other odd note about censorship. Just after the news broke that Bin Laden was dead the NYT story about it was blocked in China for some reason. I guess they eventually decided that it didn't really effect them, or it was just too big to block, because it was unblocked about an hour later. I'd really like to be in one of those meetings where they decide that news about Bin Laden or shows with time travel aren't the right fit for China.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Back to the Future No More

While I think a TV show where a time traveler goes back in time and smacks around Mao for all the crap he did apparently the TV sensors in China aren't quite on board. They recently banned TV shows with themes about time travel because it's somehow disrespectful to the past. I mean come on, in China only the government is allowed to rewrite history. This is one of those great 1984 moments in China where it's just so obvious that they want to control how people in China not only act but think. Recently the communists have also been hard at work altering the past, but in a good change books way, not a bad time travel way, so that the origins of the communist party now extend back into the mid 1800's. Pretty soon the communist party will be older than Marx himself, though I guess that's something for next weeks revisions.

Besides the incredibly creepy mind control aspect of these pronouncements, and the fact there the so incredibly tone def to what people will think about this, there's also the sad fact that it's just another in a long line of decisions that makes sure Chinese television is terrible. All that's on most days are the endless historical soap operas, and boring variety shows of the type that haven't been on American TV in decades. When all art has to serve the state, or at very least not offend anymore, all art becomes terrible. There are essentially no good, or even passable, movies made in China, the big ones your thinking of were made by American or Hong Kong directors and staring actors that did a vast majority of there work outside of China. But it's OK there always more billiards they can show on TV.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Taking Off My Sweatshirt

For some reason I've never figured taking of my sweatshirt creates the kind of response I would expect if some teacher in American took off there shirt entirely or maybe there pants. I used to think it was just a function of the fact that Chinese people seem to think it's better to be roasting hot then even slightly cold, so that on warm days I'll still see people in long underwear and jackets. But even when some people in the class are wearing t-shirts if I take off my sweatshirt everyone starts murmuring. Maybe it's some part of Chinese modesty I don't understand where even if it would be appropriate to wear a t-shirt somehow taking off my sweatshirt is an intimate act. I never really have understood all the rules for modesty in China. Women who would never be caught dead in skin tight clothing will walk around a train with hundreds of strangers in nothing but there long underwear. On that boat trip I took with Sean and Sarah there were men walking around in basically there boxers even in the lunch room. Well maybe there are just some things about China I'll never get.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No Beards

I learned something interesting about the rules for the Uyghur students lately. They are apparently prohibited by the school from having beards. A number of my Uyghur students have mustaches but the full beard is out. If I had known this earlier I probably would have regrown my ridiculous beard I had in China a few years ago, but it's a little late now. It's a lot harder for me to talk to the Uyghur students, even my best students don't have a ton of English, but there's an interesting tension between them and the Chinese students that always just under the surface. I was asking one person about if any of the Uyghur kids go to Chinese high schools and she said that very few do then added that the Chinese hate Uyghurs. I get the sense this feeling may be much more prevalent than I first realized it's just hard to get it out of people. It's one of those times when I really feel the language barrier. And I don't think knowing Chinese would help that much, it's still not their language. I'm not sure there's really a way around this without speaking Uyghur.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Slav's Gone

Slav went back to England this weekend. Over the break I think things got more serious with his girlfriend and he wanted to go home sooner. A friend of his was supposed to come and take his place but that fell through when his friend couldn't get a visa for some reason. Apparently Ma found some other teacher, an older guy from New Zealand, but I'm not sure when he'll be here. We had a big banquet for Slav on Saturday, which as per usual involved drinking far to much, though Slav successfully argued or beer instead of baijou. We kept drinking for quite a while after that too, we went through most of a bottle of scotch I had before we, thankfully, ran out of liquor. I had a really nasty hangover yesterday, and I think I drunk Skyped some people but I'm not 100% sure. Besides a few times I've actually drunk less this year than since any time since I was in high school. There just aren't that many people I want to drink with around here, Ma may enjoy drinking but I don't usually want to drink with him in that annoying Chinese way of constantly making toasts. Unfortunately I think I agreed to have baijou at my going away banquet at some point so that will be unpleasant. Maybe I can master that thing you see in old TV shows where the guy pretends to drink but pours it into a plant or something.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It's Finally Here

I'm declaring today to be the first real day of spring in Alaer. It's around 80 during the middle of the day now, though at night it still drops to around 50. That's living in the desert though we get really big day/night temperature swings. What's really odd is how cold my apartment still is. It's easily at least 10 degree colder inside than outside during the middle of the day. I think a lot of that has to do with my first floor apartment not getting that much direct sunlight. Even this morning when I got up I was using the heater in my computer room for a while. But it's not just the temperature that makes it feel like spring. The trees, and part of the grass is actually turning green. Some of the first bugs and birds are also slowing making there return, though I could do without the mosquitoes. I think there may be some more sand storms still to come but we haven't had one in a while now, and at least for today, the weather is perfect.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I'm an Idiot

Well the other day after losing power and water, and not having any heat despite the snow, for most of the day I managed to make things even worse for myself. I was just walking out of my apartment and patting myself down to make sure I had everything, wallet, cell, keys, when I realized I had left my keys inside. I tried to make a desperate leap back for the shutting door but it was too late. I immediately called Ma, Slav had locked self out not long before and Ma had a spare key, but for some reason Ma didn't have a spare key to my place, and it was too late to call a worker to replace the lock. Luckily Slav was a sport and let me stay in his spare bedroom, though the no mattress bed is never any fun, and in the morning Ma got Niel and a worker down there to replace my lock. At least now they have some spare keys.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Strangest Weather in the World

Sometimes I don't really remember just how far away from everything I am. The internet, and phone calls keep things a lot closer than would have been true in the past. Then there are days like today. Today is a Chinese holiday Tomb Sweeping Festival, where people traditionally would visit with their dead relatives. I don't know if it's angry ghosts or what but today has been really annoying. I woke up freezing, and rolled over turn my heater on. When I punched the button a couple of times and it wouldn't come on I figured the power was out. I went out to the hallway where the power meters for all the apartments are to make sure it wasn't just my apartment. As I was walking back I glanced out the window, and to my utter shock it was snowing. Not just a little snow either, it was coming down pretty hard and there as some on the ground. For good measure I tried the water which was off as well. So there I was no heat, no power, no water, and snow. I can't express just how strange this is. Two days ago it was near 70 in the middle of the day, yesterday was a sand storm, and today it snows. As you may have guessed from the fact that I am able to blog the power has come back, it took until well past the middle of the day, but the water remains off. I wonder if this is some unexpected side effect of all there attempts to screw with the weather in Beijing. Maybe every time they do that crazy cloud dispersal stuff to make sure it doesn't rain on some big holiday, or whenever Hu Jintao decided to golf, it causes crazy weather in Alaer, it's not like they'd care anyways.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I See the Sand Come Sailing In

Two days ago when I had dinner with Lake and Niel they both thought that there was going to be a big sand storm soon due to the recent warm, dry weather. When it gets particularly dry, I'm told, it's easier for the top layer of sand to blow off, and when it gets warm the eventual change in temperature creates a lot of wind to blow the sand off the desert. Well, low and behold, today it's really sandy out. Still not as bad as when my dad was here and we could barely open our eyes, but significant non the less. I just hope it doesn't knock out the power, there have been more small outages after the annoying long one, though thankfully none have come at night where I would have no choice but to go to bed since it would be pitch black. The biggest problem with the sand is that it takes away the nice warm middle of the day, which is mostly due to the sun shine. I'm not complaining too much through it's certainly interesting and different, and as long as I'm not caught outside during it not too much of a problem.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Risking my Life

There are many ways to risk your life in China. Just riding in a taxi involves all sorts of risks which most people in America will never be exposed to. God only knows what sort of qualification the people flying the planes have, and I doubt there's any standard for who can be a bus driver. In China cleaning a plate involves washing it for about half a second in cold water, of questionable cleanliness, and then sticking the plate, still wet, back onto a shelf. But one thing I had been avoiding, completely out of fear, until last night, was fish. We are about as far from an ocean as it is possible to get without going to the moon, and I just couldn't shake the feeling that any fish was probably brought in on the slow train from the coast. I get sick enough from the food already without risking, what I imagine to be, week old Salmon. But last night Slav invited me, Niel, and Lake, out to dinner at this place not far off campus, which was supposed to have good seafood.

I was still nervous so I asked him to limit the seafood to one dish which turned out to be some surprisingly expensive oysters. Now this is like doubling down on the seafood risk since oysters are already more risky than most seafood, and the risk is probably doubled again if you consider the poor hygiene in most Chinese restaurants. But I went for it and as of this morning I can say with some certainty that if I was going to get really sick, I'd probably be sick already so it looks like the oysters were clean. What's maybe even more surprising is that the oysters were really good. Now I'm not going to go crazy and compare them to French or Belgium cooking, but considering where I am they were easily the best food we ate that night. So while some people may talk about eating blowfish in Japan, which if not prepared correctly are deadly, I think I just survived an even greater risk, oysters in Alaer.

I don't know if I've mentioned this yet, but Slav is actually leaving sunny old Alaer in about two weeks. He wanted to go back to England and get a real job, sounds like a strange decision to me. He made a deal with Ma where he found some guy to replace him for the remainder of the semester, so hopefully I won't be left alone here, but it's too bad he's going. When I first got here I thought it would be no problem to be by myself, but after trying it for just a few weeks I realized just how big a difference it can make to have someone else around who understands what you are going through, even if it's just someone else to complain about China with.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What's Next

Well the water then heat going off isn't the end of the fun in Alaer. Yesterday, for most of the day, there was no power. There was power in the morning when I left for my first class, but almost as soon as I got back it wen out. This isn't the first time we've lost power in Alaer, it happens for a few hours about once a month, it also used to happen in Changzhou so I can't completely blame this on the remoteness. But usually when this happens it comes back on in a few hours, or once it happened at around midnight and I just went to bed. But this time it was really out. After a few hours it came back on for about 20 minutes before shutting off again. There's really not much for me to do besides read with all the power off so I mostly just sat around and did that. It was still off by the time of my afternoon class, and even after class was over it was still gone. Amazingly it came on about 5 minutes before an important international phone call I had to make, so I guess that's lucky, but it sort of kills anything I was planning to do that day when I suddenly loose power. So now that's water, heat, then power. I wonder what's next. The way things are going recently it's going to be a biblical rain of frogs or something.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Like Hell it's Spring

I was surprised this morning when the heat still wasn't back on so I texted Ma who informed me that sine it was no longer Winter the heating company had cut off the heating. To begin with it's annoying that the heating is controlled on a school wide level and only has two settings, on or off, but mostly it's annoying because it's still damn cold. It's been getting into the low 60's during the warmest part of the middle of the day, but I live in a desert and it gets down to the 40's at night. The only reason I'm not hopping mad about this is that I have my heaters, and while the school may be able to shut off my heat they are still the ones who pay my electric bill, and running at least one heater pretty much 24 hours a day can't be cheap. Also I think it would be warmer if the dust didn't block the sun so often. But I think by at most the end of April it will be pretty warm and the dust will be gone.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Water Water Everywhere

Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink. Well, not really. Shocking as this may be in the giant desert I live in, but we lose water here fairly regularly. Slav thinks its some ploy to conserve water, but I think it's just poor infrastructure. It was off most of yesterday, but it's come back on today. Unfortunately, since our heat comes from radiators when we lose water we also lose heat. This isn't as big of a problem for me since the two rooms in my apartment I spend all of my time in, the computer room and the bedroom, have there own heaters. I also finally found a heater that doesn't generate a ton of light so I can sleep with it on. Sometimes it's too hot with the space heater on in my bedroom, but with the other heat out it actually keeps it at a nice temperature. I probably won't have to put up with this too much longer, winter here is long but it will probably get warm in the next month or so, of course at that point I'll be complaining about it being to hot to sleep. I usually hate going through the day without being able to take a shower, but with all the water disruptions I've gotten more used to it. We lost water sometimes in Changzhou as well, actually the hotel rarely did but the other teachers in the little villas lost it all the time. I'd say this is just life in the desert, but its mostly just life in China.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Poor Ma

I feel bad for Ma Ming. I know I've written about him driving me crazy, and boy he does, but I still feel bad for him in this situation. Roy, an older teacher who I didn't really know that well who taught here last semester, apparently wrote a letter, which Slav has seen and I haven't, to the person in charge of all school foreign departments in China complaining about Ma Ming. Slav said the letter is on one page in crazy 5 point font and can be charitably described as a rant. Roy apparently has a long set of grievances against Ma, some more legitimate than others, he is rarely on time paying us but so was my last school and as long as I get paid all I'm owed I don't care if it's a week late. Some seemed downright conspiratorial or blamed Ma for Chinese things well beyond his control. Also it couldn't have been so bad since Roy stayed 6 months longer than he had originally planned. Ma may be a pain in the ass sometimes, and he does screw things up from time to time, but he means well. He is generally a good natured guy even if he is a little overwhelming and I feel bad that he has to deal with this. As the Chinese like to say he's a good egg, even if I want to kill him from time to time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


One student of mine who is interesting but I haven't mentioned much here yet is Eagle. Eagle is the class monitor for one of my Han Chinese Oral English classes. Being the class monitor, which I believe is an elected position, or if the students don't actually vote they pick someone by consensus, means that he's one of the better students in the class, and all the class monitors are party members, or at least will be soon. Eagle is an interesting student though because he is by far the most up on current events. Sometimes I have a chance just to chat with one or two of the students during class, we were doing a debate game and while the teams were preparing their arguments I had a few minutes to chat with the students who were acting as judges, and Eagle will always bring up current events. This time he was asking me what I thought about the air raids on Libya, not long after they started. He, of course, gave me back the standard party line about "internal affairs," though I noted that the people of Libya had asked for the attacks. He was also the student who asked dad about the Consumer Price Index. It's always interesting to see which students are more engaged with world events even out in the middle of nowhere like we are.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March Madness

I was talking to my class today and realized that none of them knew what the NCAA Tournament was. Basketball, and specifically NBA basketball, is huge in China. All the students know it at least a little, and all the guys watch it constantly. They watch the local Chinese league also, Xinjiang has one of the best teams every year, but it's really an NBA crowd. That's why I was so surprised that no one at all had heard of the tournament. In some ways it's ever bigger than the NBA finals even if college basketball as a whole isn't as popular as the NBA. I explained it to them, and I think they understood it, but they didn't seem like they were going to go out and start watching the games either. It's very odd what catches on and what doesn't from what I understand basketball being big in China is a pretty new phenomenon as well, and I wonder if it ever would have reached its current heights if not for Yao Ming.

There is one other Chinese player in the NBA Yi Jianlian who plays now for the Washington Wizards. All the students know who he is, and I get asked about him sometimes. I try not to say too much about him because he's, frankly, not any good. If you're playing for a team as bad as Washington and not starting, that's certainly saying something. I wonder if it would take some young Chinese star going to play for a good US college to get the students here interested in March Madness. Though the problem with that would be that there is so little really high level competition in China that the player would sort of have to be like Yao, someone so tall he can get by largely on that, to be taken seriously by any good US school. All I know is that the first US school to get a good Chinese player is going to sell a hell of a lot of jerseys, even if most of them are knockoffs.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tell the Truth but Tell it Slant

My literature class is the unique challenge of this semester. I've never really taught anything like this before. The book we have isn't bad, it's got a good cross section of American writers, but it tries to cover too much for students who have no real foundation in the subject. I've been spending a lot of time going over literary terms like alliteration or metaphor since it's pretty hard to discuss much without them. Moreover though the real problem is that the student's really aren't used to thinking critically, and I don't want to just stand up there and try to beat into them what I think the poems or prose mean. I decided to start with poetry since it's short so we can talk about a whole poem rather quickly instead of one of these random chapters the book has taken out from famous novels. I can teach them what an allusion is, I'm just not sure I can teach them how to critically analyze anything.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Under the Weather

I've been feeling under the weather, not the same sort of weather as yesterdays post though. My stomach has been killing me on and off for a couple of days now. On Tuesday I canceled class after I woke up in agony. On Wednesday and Thursday I felt somewhat better, even though I was still a little green. But today again I couldn't make it to my class. Stomach problems are sort of the price you have to pay to live in a place with such alien food, but it still sucks. Just because I know it will happen every once in a while doesn't make it any more pleasant when it does happen. This is why the first thing I recommend to anyone coming to China is Pepto. I'll be fine in a few days but it's just annoying. Sometimes I feel the key skill for living abroad is the ability to put up with annoyances.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Never Underestimate a Sand Storm

I was told when I first came here that the sand storms could be fearsome in the early spring. Some days when it seems cloudy or foggy outside the students insist that it's in fact dust whipped up by the strong winds off the desert, but I'm never really sure what to make of that. But when my dad was here we got a taste of what was undeniably a sand storm. It started early when we were biking around. At first it was just a dark part of the horizon, sort of like what happens after the sun sets, but this was around noon. It slowly filled up a larger and larger amount of the sky. Not long after I got a panicked call from Lake telling me to seek shelter, I didn't think much of it given that no no was exactly running off the streets. Finally when we were in a small restaurant getting a snack the sand came in earnest. When we biked back in it I feel it being blown at my eyes and in my mouth. It was annoying certainly but no real cause for alarm. After we got back though things got really strange. The sun appeared to be blue through all the sand and the whole sky was orange. I snapped one good picture of a tree just outside my apartment when things were really blowing. Later dad gave a speech to some communication students, the sand had died down significantly by then, and we went to dinner. As we were trying to get the check though I could see it get really bad outside. The whole restaurant suddenly took on this very dusty feeling and everyone who went outside was covering their faces. When we went to bike back the weather was awful. It was hard to have either eye open into the driving sand, and I'm sure it wasn't great for my lungs either. I basically alternated squinting one eye while trying to shield my face from the sand as we made a dash back. It's been days down and I still get a cloud of sand every time I tie my shoes. This may be an interesting spring.

Still having great firewall problems the first couple of times I tried to do this post it didn't work, but the stars aligned or something so here it is.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Great Firewall Bites Back

China seems to have declared a jihad against all VPNs, the main way I get around the firewall to bring you this lovely blog. I've been having a lot of trouble logging in in the past few days to do this blog. I've been trying a lot of things to get around, and as you see I'm having at least some success, but if there aren't many blog posts soon it'll be because I'm having a lot of trouble logging on. I hope I get it working more stably soon but if not there may not be many more posts.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bob and the Meaning of Life

My dad visited me all the way out in Alaer this weekend. He came to a number of my classes and the students really enjoyed getting a chance to meet him. For some part of each class I did normal class stuff so he would get a chance to see what that was like, but I also let the students ask him a bunch of questions. There was a really interesting variety of questions. There were a lot more technical questions than I thought there would be including one about inflation and the Consumer Price Index, or CPI for short. In two classes he got asked what his opinion would be of me marrying a Chinese girl, to a lot of giggles. The oddest question by far though was, "What is the meaning of life?" At first I thought I had heard the questions wrong or the student meant something different, but after a clarification it was clear she as really asking about the meaning of life. Even after this I thought it was just a fluke until he got the same question again later, and a slightly different version of it a third time. It's not that any specific question is too odd for China, I've gotten some really odd ones in my time here, it's that I've never been asked anything really like this. I wonder if it's because he's older, and this is a more common question to ask older people as if they have the answer stored away somewhere, and the only reason no one knows it is that no one has bothered to ask.

He also got to see both how nice and how annoying Chinese people can be. The school was very nice and arranged a big banquet for him and for Slav's girlfriend who was also visiting at the same time. But of course this being a banquet the baijou came out with all the cultural pressure to drink to much even when you have work early the next morning. I mostly drank wine because I had an early class, but it was still quite a bit actually. They then asked if he would give a speech to a class of communication students, which he nicely agreed to do, but of course after that they wanted to have another banquet. This time we refused since we just wanted to have dinner on are own, but even this didn't stop them. At night Lake insisted on coming by and giving him some milk and crackers, a very odd gift. It's amazing but people in China can be very sweet and completely infuriating at the same time. It's hard to tell someone to fuck off and stop calling you and stopping by when they are really trying to be nice and just don't understand how they come across to people of a different culture.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

January 4th -- Alaer, Aksu, and Urumqi

Urumqi is not a good looking city by any means. From the air, when it is visible, unlike most of Xinjiang Urumqi's location on the edge on the edge of the mountains means that it is foggy and cloudy sometimes unlike Alaer Urumqi seems to be one with smoke stacks dotting the landscape. The dry alien terrain that surrounds it, not really a desert but still devoid of most plant life, doesn't help the looks of the city any. On the ground it has all the charm of the city like Camden New Jersey in mid winter. There is some snow on the ground, though how dry it is means not much, but the cold keeps it from evaporating until it becomes a dull gray and brown. This city also suffers being both too big and too small. Urumqi is by far the biggest city in Xinjiang but in this case it is just spreading out, and has more factories and smokestacks than I've ever seen in a major city. It also too small in that it doesn't really have one concentrated central area. There are five story buildings all over the place but few real skyscrapers and not much of a downtown. The one thing it has going for it, is that unlike most Chinese cities many of the buildings are painted colors other than gray, must be the Uyghur influence.

My first flight from Aksu left at 11 in the morning which doesn't sound early until you consider that sunrise is about 10am. I didn't think any of the normal busses from Alaer would be running so early so I arranged a car to pick me up at 7am. That turned out to be so early that the roads were virtually desert and we made incredible time through the darkness. It was so dark that even with the high beams on I could barely see anything more than 100 feet in front of the car, which isn't much at 120 km/h. That was unless there was another car heading the opposite direction whose lights would then illuminate it miles out. It's a bad habit in China that since no one wears their seat belts I've gotten out of the habit. People even sometimes get offended if I put on my seat belt as if I was suggesting that they were a bad driver, which of course they are.

The Aksu airport was in what appeared to be a converted barn when I flew in August, but sometime in between they opened a gorgeous new terminal, like all airports vaguely modeled after the slopping roof of Dulles, which made me think I had come to the wrong place. Air travel in China is quite comfortable. Unlike in the US where air ravel is affordable to enough people that airports have become like crowded bus stations, only they don't grope you at the bus station, the relative expense of air travel in China, it's cheap for me but unaffordable for my students, means that it's still pretty empty and peaceful. Even the Uyghur people on the plane were wearing leather fancy leather jackets or fur coats. The flight was a little delayed but we got to Urumqi fairly quickly with little trouble.

I don't usually travel by myself. For all the traveling I do I'm still a pretty shy person. When I first got to the Urumqi airport I couldn't for the life of me find a place to get a legitimate taxi and I ended up wandering around for half an hour before I paid twice what I should have to get to my hotel. Traveling alone also effected what I ate. I tried to go to some local restaurant but they didn't speak any English and didn't try to meet me half way, i.e. I pointed to something I saw but they just shot back a lot of questions to me in really fast Chinese. I ended up eating at KFC twice, just because it was easier. The biggest problem with traveling along though, is that I have no one to make comments to. It was something like -15 degree Celsius when I arrived in Urumqi but it just wasn't the same without someone to commiserate with.

Monday, February 28, 2011

56 Days

Well I'm finally back in Alaer. If you count my trip as all the time since I've left Alaer than I've been on the road for 5 days, by far a new record for me. It's nice to get back to my apartment, even if it's still cold and the bed is still hard. I'm still pretty knocked out from all the traveling, I want a vacation from my vacation, but I start work today. My classes are mostly the same from last semester, same students, not just the same classes. The only difference is a American Literature class that I'm really excited about even though it has about 50 students in it. I did a journal, again, for most of my trip and I'm going to try and put it up in a more timely fashion then I did in previous years.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Now That's What I Call Haze

Well I'm mostly done with my big trip at this point, actually I've already gone back to the US briefly and come back, but I'm not going to post about that quite yet since I'm not at my computer and thus can't get my pictures uploaded to go with the stories. Right now I'm spending time in Beijing with my dad, who for those of you who don't know is going to be living in Beijing for at least six months. The weather here has been crazy I thought it was just fog but it turns out the huge bank of clouds that reduces visibility here to under a kilometer is actually haze. I don't know how they managed to get the pollution here to be worse than Changzhou but it's really amazing. I'm also just surprised that haze this thick doesn't make all of us choke to death. It's sort of like stepping into a dystopian version of future. I expect to see a flying car cutting through the haze any minute. The place my Dad's staying in Beijing is nice, it costs more than my whole monthly salary, which is above average for China. It's oddly hot though. Even without the heat turned on at all in the building it's been uncomfortably warm, not that it's warm outside really just inside the apartment. I haven't done much here yet besides eat some great Beijing duck at a fancy restaurant since I've been really jet lagged from all this flying back and forth from the US. Hopefully the haze will break and I'll be able to see something farther away then the end of my arm.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Jet Set

This is going to be my last post before I leave on my big trip for this year. It's going to involve something like 13 flights before I'm back in Alaer. I made a map for anyone who is curious where exactly I am going and I think it's a good last image to leave here before I get back. Well happy new year to everyone and I'll be back in March.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I recently did finals with all my classes which went more or less well. For most of my classes the final exams were just short discussions on a topic with each student. There are better and worse students at this but the only real problem comes when a student freezes up totally and won't say a single word. Luckily this only happened about four times across all my classes. In my listening class I came up with another test but I think the average score is really really low so I'm going to have to grade it on a massive curve or something. None of this was so shocking though what was really funny is that I'm pretty sure one student tried bribe me. He was the only one in my beginner class to freeze up, which isn't great but given how the school hates having us fail students I was just going to give him a minimum passing grade. He showed up again though after I was done with all the finals for his class so I thought he wanted to try again, which actually would have been great. But once again he couldn't so much as get out a single sentence, but he did try to shove a bag into my hands with some sort of "Merry Christmas," note. I know it wasn't anything like that actually since he falls asleep constantly in class, and is in general very uninterested in class. I'm 99% sure he was attempting to bribe me. I just told him no a couple of times and eventually got out of there without him following. Very odd but now at least I can say that even bribery doesn't work in my class.