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.