Monday, December 31, 2012

Still Here

I know it has been a long time since I updated this blog. It has been a pretty crazy semester. I took the GRE went to Japan, and Hong Kong a couple of times. And I've been applying to a ton of graduate schools. I feel bad that I haven't updated this blog more, but over the coming weeks and months I plan to try and return to once a day posting about what has been going on in my life and in China. Sorry for the absence, but I'm back now.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Difference A Day Can Make

It's been really hazy in Guangzhou recently. Usually in the summer it rains so often that the sky is pretty clear when it's not raining. The air quality is pretty good since the rain clears it out. This time of year is nice because its still warm, hot even, but it doesn't rain very much. Unfortunately that means that the pollution builds up and gets pretty hazy. My parents in Beijing don't know what I'm complaining about, a bad day here in terms of air quality is basically a good day in Beijing. I'm not sure people back home get exactly how bad it can be here so I found two pictures taken a few days apart in Beijing. What you are looking at here isn't weather it's pollution. Now that's China.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Study Study Study

Well I guess I'm finally becoming Chinese since all I do now is study. As for what I've been up to this summer, besides a brief interlude in Beijing, I've just been studying for the GRE. I've gone through basically all the books they print at this point. The books are in some regards surprisingly different from one another. The Kaplan books just want to sell you more Kaplan products. And they have an odd habit of referring everything the "Kaplan method." As in: 1 + 1 = ? Now take 1 and add it to one to get 2! Now you know the Kaplan method for addition. The funniest though is the Princeton Review book which is really angry. I'm wondering if someone from the company that makes the GRE ran over a dog belonging to the editor of the Princeton Review. For a book about preparing you for the GRE they keep criticizing how the GRE is set up, "Can you believe it's 4 hours long?!"

Of course I feel less Chinese after Joanna told me she new someone who memorized the dictionary in an attempt to study for this test. I've been doing flash cards but I'm not memorizing any dictionary. I've also definitely started to hit the point of diminishing returns. I keep getting about the same percent of questions right. Mostly now I'm just trying to shore up my math, vocab, and spelling a little and do a few more practice tests.

One of the hardest parts about the GRE is its length. You start with two 30 minute essays, then there are five sections of either verbal or math questions, being 30-35 minutes long each. That's about three hours 45 minutes before you count in breaks. Even on some shorter practice tests, the longest I did was three hours, by the end it's hard to care if you are getting the questions right or not, you just want it to be over. Well there's only a little more than two weeks left and then I'll finally be done with it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Good Internet

Man who knew that all I needed to have really fast internet in China was to be the only one on the whole schools network. Well, I doubt I'm the only one, but almost all the students are gone and my internet is flying. I can not only watch YouTube videos without waiting long for them to load, but I can watch them in high definition. I used to get something around 100 kb/s during the day now I'm getting above 300. I forgot how much more fun the internet is when you don't have to wait for everything to load. I keep my VPN on all the time and it's almost as good as being in the US. This may seem like a simple pleasure to people in the US, but trying using an old dial up connection for a while to get a sense of how incredibly slow things can get in China. Now I just hope they don't turn it off or something during the summer, though I doubt it since there are a lot of teachers who live here. But until then I'll be online watching videos of cats, really quickly.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Given how close we are to the sea and Guangzhou's long history of trading with Japan, there is a lot of sushi around. You see it not just in restaurants, but in street vendors and supermarkets. And I have to say it is awful. Like shockingly bad. The fist is tasteless, they don't put the sushi together very well and for some horrifying reason they put sweet mayonnaise on it. It is totally inedible. But this being a pretty cosmopolitan city I was sure that I could find at least some good sushi somewhere. After doing some research on the internet I found one place not to far from my favorite foreign supermarket. I was pretty skeptical about this restaurant at first also but it turned out to be fairly good. Not amazing or anything, but the fish was OK, and they didn't try to do anything crazy like but mayonnaise on it. I actually saw some Japanese people in there, and a bunch of Westerners. It wasn't great sushi, but you take what you can get.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Shy and the Not So Shy

Generally speaking people are pretty shy in China. The biggest problem I have with my class is that people  never want to be the first one to do something or to speak up. There are some students that I have never gotten to speak above a whisper. But on the other hand I meet a surprising number of people who are really outgoing. Anyone whose spent much time in China knows that sometimes when you are sitting down people will just come up to you and talk to you. America is, as a whole, a much more outgoing country than China, but if I was just sitting in a food court eating I don't think it's very likely that someone I didn't know would come up and sit across from me and strike up an conversation. But at lunch today that's just what happened. I was getting some food from a Sichuan place when one girl and her cousin came up and sat across form me asking all sorts of questions about America. It turned out that she was a student at Guangzhou University, and that her family also owned this Sichuan restaurant where I had gotten my food. The questions she asked where pretty standard, but it got me thinking about why, in a country that is for the most part extremely introverted, do I so often run into really outgoing people. I think it has something to do with the fact that foreigners are still something of a rarity in China so when the more outgoing people see them they jump at the chance. Also in any college area there are a surprisingly large number of students who are interested in English, but didn't have the chance to study it. That combined with the fact that there are just so many people in China means that even if most people are shy the ones who aren't make themselves known.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Wrist

A little while ago I manged to hurt my right wrist somehow. I think it was the combination of sleeping on it in a funny position and the fact that my desk was higher then my chair so my mouse was in a position that put a lot of pressure on my wrist. It doesn't hurt hurt, as in I can't move it or am in a lot of pain, but it gets sore whenever I use a mouse or hold something heavy in my right hand for a while. There's not that much you can do about this sort of thing besides trying to take it easy so I switched to using the mouse in my left hand, which if you've been doing it the other way your whole life takes some getting used to. I also started using the keyboard pullout with my desk so that I don't reach up to use the mouse anymore. It's actually gotten better than it was when I first hurt, but after I tried to start using the mouse with my right hand again it came back so I'm going to keep favoring my left hand for a while and hope that it gets all the way better with rest.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


My dad mentioned this daily e-mail called Sinocism to me and I wanted to mention it to the readers of my blog. Sinocism is a daily e-mail about all things China written by Bill Bishop who was one of the co-founders of CBS MarketWatch. It's a really great run down on a lot of the top news about China each day from a number of sources, both foreign media and some of the better Chinese websites. The e-mail takes the form of a brief summary and then a number of links about the top news from China. Most of the links are in English, but a few are in Chinese. It's really the best way to see what the big news out of China is each day at a glance. I'm amazed he has time to put the e-mail together each day as it's really very detailed, and must involve looking over quite a few websites. Anyways, if you ever want to get a quick look at what's going on in China on any given day I highly recommend it. You can subscribe by going to the website, if you're not in China and if you are behind the Great Firewall.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Food Options

I like the island I live on in Guangzhou. It's close to the city, but not as noisy or crowded as being right downtown. One problem though is that there aren't that many options for food around here. When I first moved to this island I ate in the cafeteria pretty regularly, but the food there is, well, awful. They have a lot of Chinese dishes I know, just really bad versions of them. The students agree that the cafeteria isn't very good but at least it's cheap. After a while I found out that there was a little village about a 20 minute walk from where I am. There are a number of restaurants in that village, though most of them make fairly similar food. I found one Muslim place I like a lot, plus they have picture on the wall which always makes it easier. For most of the semester I ate either in the cafeteria or in the village, but recently I discovered a third option.

A month or two ago I had to find a post office, there isn't really one at my school, so I could mail my taxes by express mail, so I would have some confidence they would actually get to the US. One of my tutors told me that there was a post office over at Sun Yat-sen University's campus on our island. After I managed to get my taxes mailed we went to a food court at a shopping center near Sun Yat-sen . This food court had a lot more options then anything else around. There are some sushi places, though they're not very good, there is a Sichuan place that is good if really spicy. My favorite though is a Korean food place. There people who own that stall aren't actually Korean, but they come from the North of '
China where that sort of food is really common. When I'm not working I have a lot of time so I've been going down there doing some of my studying there, just to break it up so I'm not always studying in my room. It's just nice to find some more options for food.

Friday, July 6, 2012


Amazingly enough I actually have a schedule for next semester. It is totally unprecedented to have a schedule even a few weeks out, but before the term is even technically over, shocking. Well, it would be a little more shocking if the students didn't all know about it before I did, but still giving me any advanced warning is pretty amazing. My schedule is actually pretty similar to this semesters. I have mostly the same students, and most of my classes are still in the morning, the only big difference is that I have two fewer classes. So instead of having classes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, now I have classes, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. I'm guessing they gave the other two classes to one of the other teachers since sometimes it seems like there is not enough work to go around here. This school has by far the most professional Foreign Affairs Department of any school I've ever worked for. In Changzhou Teddy was a really nice guy, but he always seemed a little bit in over his head. In Alaer Ma Ming wanted to be everyone's friend but was not always terribly competent. I had a rough start with David here with some mix-ups about when I actually needed to be in China, but now everything is super easy. He isn't trying to befriend all the foreigners like Teddy or Ma, but he just gets things done with a minimum of hassle, which in China is a refreshing quality.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Downside

I've done some bragging before about how nice it is here in the winter so I feel it's only fair to note how hot it is in the summer. The summers here are like DC in July, but July lasts from May to October. It's so hot that I've started to feel happier when it's overcast since at least that means it isn't 98 degrees out. How the students ever sleep in this heat is beyond me. The mosquitoes are also really bad. my ankles are pretty bitten up. The rain is also incredibly unpredictable, I've taken to carrying an umbrella everywhere with me because just because it's clear one minute doesn't mean it won't be raining torrentially the next. At least with all the rain the pollution isn't so bad, which is no small feat for China.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The End of the Term

Well the school year is finally over here in sunny Guangzhou. Actually the students are still around this week for finals in most of their classes, but my classes are over. I just have to type in my grades and I'll be done. But unlike most years I'm not going back to the US over the break. With my parents in Beijing it just didn't make sense for me to go all the way back to the US this time. Instead I'll go visit them in Beijing when my friend Steve, from Changzhou, and his family are also in Beijing. It'll be nice to get to see him and my parents. Besides that I've got a part time job at a language company in Guangzhou, it's not a ton of hours but they seem pretty flexible about the other stuff I want to do during the summer. I'm planning on going back to Hong Kong for a few days, as well as to Macau. I also have to study a bunch for the GRE which I'm taking this September in Hong Kong. All in all I'm sure I'll have lots to do during the Summer recesses.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Translating a Teacup

Well I spent about an hour today trying to translate a teacup. I recently bought a new teapot, and I just got a cup to go with it. I picked it up from a local supermarket because it was about the right size. On the side was a little boy saying something to a little girl and the girl was blushing. Now at the best of times translating something from Chinese involves counting the strokes in a character and then hunting through the dictionary for that character, but here it was even worse. The font used for the characters was so strange that I couldn't even tell how many strokes were in the characters or what they were really supposed to look like. I was complaining to David on g-chat that I couldn't make heads or tails of it when I had a minor breakthrough. The cup had one sentence on it with ten characters and a comma after the first four. I was having no luck with the beginning of the sentence but I realized that after the comma was three characters I knew. 我 "wo" or I, 是 "shi" or am, one more I didn't know then 的 or "de" which makes something possessive. So I had X X X X, I am X's X X.

My next clue was that the last two characters were written in a different color so they must go together to make one word. After messing around on which has a nice feature where you can try to write in the character with a little pen I figured out they were 太阳 or "tai yang" which means sun. So now I had X X X X, I am X's sun. Here I was still baffled since I couldn't figure out what the missing character from the second part of the sentence was supposed to be. Here David stepped in and suggested it was 你 or "ni" meaning you. This is a pretty common character but the writing on the cup was pretty far from normal. This made sense though. X X X X, I am your sun. Also this helped because the first character was also 你. So I had You X X X, I am your sun. I was able to use again to figure out the second character was 要 or "yao" meaning want or have. I actually thought it looked familiar again, another common character.

So now I had You have X X, I am your sun. Here David stepped up again I descried the next character as looking like the letter "i" next to the number "2" and he figured out it was 记 or "ji" which doesn't mean much on it's own but with 住 or "zhu" it means remember. So in the end the cup said 你要记住,我是你的太阳。 "Ni yao jizhu, wo shi ni de taiyang." "You have to remember, I am your sun." There was also one more character by the girl which was 羞 or "xiu" which means shy. So that's fun with translating Chinese for the day, and a big shout out to David without whom I wouldn't have figured it out.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


The last time I wrote about the weather I was complaining that it was raining for days or even weeks without a break. Now the weather in Guangzhou has changed a lot. It still rains, actually it may rain more than it did before, but it comes and goes in spurts. It will go from relatively clear, between the smog and humidity it's almost never perfectly clear, to raining in only an hour or two. The rains are also much more intense tropical affairs. The upside of this is that if the weather is bad I only have to wait a few hours for it to improve. What's harder to do is my laundry. If it's clear out with the heat everything will dry in one day. But if it rains hard and is overcast things may actually get wetter sitting out on the line. What I've taken to doing is handing things outside for a day or two then taking the inside to finish drying, with the air on it's relatively dry in my apartment. It also means that I carry my umbrella with me everywhere since even if it looks like a nice day I don't know what the weather will be like in a few hours. I guess the same could be said for China.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Everything's Harder in China (GRE Edition)

As I've mentioned briefly before I'm planning on taking the GRE late this summer. When I checked on registering for a time a few months ago nothing was available yet, but now the times are out and many have filled up. Because the available seats seem to be going fast I thought I'd just on one, but not so fast this is China we're talking about. The GRE is designed by an American company, but in China they farm it out to a Chinese company to actually run the test. The Chinese company sucks. The GRE costs about $200 and you can only register after you have deposited money into their website, but unlike every other website everywhere you can't just use a credit card. You have to use a card specifically issued by Bank of China, ICBC, or China Merchants Bank. OK I thought, well my dad will let me use his China Merchants Bank card to register and then I'll pay him back. But again there is an issue, the China Merchants Bank site where you pay is entirely in Chinese. Fine, I thought, my sister banks with ICBC, maybe she can help me out. But it turns out she has already been trying to do this for a while and can't get the ICBC website to work for her.

On top of all of this I discovered that they had my Social Security Number wrong, which could be a really big problem if I take the test but then don't have my results count. The regular GRE site has my SSN just fine it's the Chinese site which is problematic. This all leaves me thinking that I should just take the GRE in Hong Kong. I didn't see exactly how there payment process works, but there it doesn't send me to a Chinese website, the tests seems to be administered directly by the American company. And when it comes to that I have faith that the American company will actually be able to take my money. Unfortunately they haven't posted the dates I'm looking for yet, so I'm stuck waiting. There is a lot of waiting in China.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My First Chinese Sentence

I've been making a bigger effort to learn Chinese this year, and that includes Chinese characters. While I still find learning most Chinese to be like pulling teeth, I've actually enjoyed learning characters. It's like learning some sort of secret code. A secret code that only some 1.4 billion people can break. The characters look so strange and are so odd to write that I feel like they are imbued with some sort of mystical power. I actually find myself practicing writing them when ever I have a free moment, as opposed to most of my Chinese study, which I usually try to avoid. Writing characters in Chinese is hard for a number of reasons. First, obviously, they don't really look like anything. They are each there own little odd hieroglyphic picture. Second, the characters are actually much more complicated then they first appear. I you look really closely at them you'll notice that many of the lines have little twists at the end, or that some of the lines bend in ways that feel unnatural to write. Third, the stroke order, the order in which each individual stroke of the pen is written matters a lot in Chinese. It doesn't really matter how you make letters in English as long as they look right in the end, but in Chinese the stroke order can be used for inputting characters into your phone, and people will explain which character they mean to each other by tracing it out on their hand in the correct order. Stroke order is considered an integral part of Chinese and everyone can tell immediately if you aren't doing it right.

The Chinese characters are also difficult in that they often have several parts and it's important to get the parts, and the different characters to be the right size in proportion to one another, which given that some characters are much harder to write than others is no easy task. Finally, while simple characters may involve only a few strokes there are some, even some fairly common ones, that take more then 10 strokes to write. But even with all this I've found it fairly engaging so far to write these. I have piece of paper after paper with characters written over and over in an attempt to make them look mostly correct.

For my first sentence, and someday my first paragraph, I decided to write the sort of essay a little child would write. Something like, "My name is Daniel. I come form America. I have a sister and my family lives in Beijing..." After working on it for a while I was finally able to write my first sentence in Chinese: 我的名字是元帅。 "My name is Daniel." Actually it says my name is 元帅 or Marshall, but since it's my name either way I'm translating it as Daniel. This actually raises an interesting question about translation. I think most people wouldn't translate 元帅 as Daniel, but I think it works. There is a good argument that words are essentially signs pointing to a meaning. When I say "chair" you don't consider the letters or the sound but conjure a picture of a chair. So by that logic since both "Daniel" and "元帅" point to me the translation works.

I also recently completed learning my second sentence: 我从美国来。 "I am from America." So that's just about 20 characters down 5000 to go.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Give and Take

I can't stand the way they do holidays in China. Today is May Day so we theoretically have three days off, but it doesn't really work out that way. First they count weekends as a day off so one day of this three day vacation was Sunday. Also while they are giving us Monday and Tuesday off we had to have classes on Saturday so it really only works out to one day off. I don't understand why they don't just use three day weekends in this case, which would accomplish the same thing without all the odd schedule switching. This was made even odder by the fact that I had to attend a translation contest on Saturday afternoon. When I first heard they needed someone I assumed it would be the same as the other 20 English contests I've been to. I would judge some speeches for about two hours and then go home. But this one was very different. First, since it was a translation competition I, obviously, couldn't judge, not speaking Chinese. What they wanted me to do instead was to read some lines from a little skit they had written.

The contest had three parts, and each team had three members. The first member would translate several short passages from English to Chinese, the passages seemed to have been taken from Voice of America. The second person would translate a couple of short passages from Chinese to English, these seemed to be tourist information about random Chinese cities. Finally another teacher and I would go up to the stage and read lines from this skit they had written. First I would read one in English, then the last participant would translate that to Chinese. Next the Chinese teacher would read a line in Chinese and the participant would translate that to English. This would continue for a couple of minutes. Basically, they were practicing translating for a business meeting. Every team and these three parts and there were 16 teams. I took nearly five hours. On top of that they asked me to wear a suit, and it was really hot in the auditorium since, while the room was probably air conditioned, they don't turn it on unless it's 8000 degrees outside, which by the way is the normal temperature in the summer around here. So that's how I started my "holiday" standing in for a tape recorder.

Monday, April 30, 2012

My New Name

I've never really had a Chinese name I'm comfortable with. For a while I just used the Chinese transliteration of my name, but that always sounded silly to me. After I went to Chengdu with my parents I started using Da Xiong Mao, or Panda (literally big bear cat). But that's not a real name either. For example I couldn't open a bank account in China as Panda, if I could I'd probably have stuck with the name. So for a while now I've been thinking about a new name. My parents suggested I use the same family name they picked, but it's just a transliteration of Davis, ie not a real name in Chinese. I wanted something that could actually be someone's name. I've been talking to my Chinese tutors about it for a while and I was able to come up with a family name, the first character in a Chinese name. I picked Yuan or 元 which has several meanings. For one thing it means money. If you look at any Chinese note of coin 元 will be there. Also it was the name of an ancient Chinese dynasty. The Yuan dynasty was the one established after the Mongolians conquered China, the dynasty of Kublai Khan for example. But 元 is still used as a family name in Inner Mongolia, and while not one of the most common names, isn't totally bizarre.

After I picked 元 though I got stuck. I still needed a given name. A given name in Chines is one or two characters long. The problem was that people in China pick names very differently than people in the US. For example I first wanted to use something with a similar meaning to Daniel, which means something like beloved of God, but there's nothing all that close in meaning in Chinese, at least not in a name. After that I was thinking about using a name for some famous person I admired in Chinese history, but people don't really pick names for either dead relatives or famous people, in China. Chinese names are essentially picked for a characteristic. Many of the names mean things like smart, hard working, important. People also pick natural objects. My friend Steve's Chinese name is a type of tree, and Carrie's Chinese name is literally Star Star. But I had a hard time picking a characteristic for myself. It's just pretty odd to pick your own name.

This logjam was finally broken on Saturday when during class, we had classes because of the May Day holiday this week, I mentioned my name problem to the students and they offered up some suggestions. The best of was adding 帅 to my name. 帅, or Shuai, by itself means handsome, always a good place to start. But when you add shuai to yaun you get 元帅 which mean marshal, or general. Though not so common anymore 元帅 was a rank that translates as commander in chief, field marshal, or more commonly marshal. A marshal is a rank above general, usually the highest possible rank, though some armies, like the US, don't use it. In ancient China there was actually one rank above it 大元帅, or big marshal. But despite having a literal meaning, 元帅 can also be a name. So there you have it. I picked a name that can mean money, an ancient Chinese dynasty, handsome, or general. I might be a little full of myself, but I like it. It's still a little funny like Panda, but it's also a real name. So this is 元帅 thanking you for reading my blog.... dismissed.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Death and Taxes

It's definitely spring here in Guangzhou, I can tell since my nose won't stop running. I thought that the upside of living in a country devoted to destroying the environment would be less seasonal allergies, but no such luck. The worst part of it is having a soar throat since I need to talk pretty loudly when I teach, which then only makes it worse. I've also been working on my taxes. I actually haven't filed out a federal income tax in a couple of years since I make so little money in China that I'm below the reporting threshold. But I figure that it's good to get back into the habit of doing it, and it might be necessary if I ever want to get any sort of possible financial aid for graduate school. It's a lot more confusing then when I was in the US since it's not as designed for people abroad, I don't just have a W-2 from my work to plug in. I'm not going to end up owing them anything since I don't make much of anything, but I'll fill it out none the less.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Woken Up

It's pretty unusual that the students around here do anything that is too annoying, but on Sunday night at about 11:30, when I was actually in bed (I know it's a shock but with all the 8am classes I've been going to bed at around 10:30), I got a phone call from a student. Now every once in a while I'll get a phone call that only lasts one second, so little time that it's impossible to pick it up. What I've learned is that these phone calls are actually a scam where they want me to call them back and then I will be charged money for the call, like dialing a 900 number in the US. So at first I assumed that the call on Sunday night was just one of these, but when my phone kept ringing I had to answer it. On the other end was one of my students trying to explain about not coming to class during the week. I was so sleepy that it took me a while to figure out what was going on. When I finally understood I was really angry to be woken up on a Sunday night just so some student could try to explain an absence. What was even more annoying was that I don't give me number to the whole class, only to the class monitors in case there is some problem. So this student had to get my number and then still decide that 11:30 pm on a Sunday was an appropriate time to call me. I can't really imagine this. First, I never had a teachers number as a student. Second, even if I did I wouldn't call late on a weekend. Finally, I wouldn't call anyone at 11:30pm unless I knew for a fact that they were awake. I'm not sure if this is Chinese rudeness or particular to one student. As Ma Ming used to remind me you can't assume that just because one Chinese person does something rude, that all Chinese people will act like this, maybe that one person is just rude.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


One big part of wanting to go to grad school is taking the GRE. For those who don't know the GRE is like the SAT, a college entrance exam, for grad school. It's structure is pretty similar to the SAT also. There are three parts. A verbal part with sentence completion and critical reading questions, a math part, and a written part, which didn't exist when I took the SAT but is part of that now as well. I've got a while before I'll probably take it, the consensus seems to be that late summer is the most common time, but I've started studying quite a bit already. I bought a couple of GRE books and have been doing some vocab flash cards as well. I've also been working a little on my spelling, since that's my greatest concern with the essay part. Practicing the verbal questions has been useful but some of the advice they give is pretty questionable. It seems either to be incredibly obvious or exceedingly dangerous, like telling you to skim a lot. Some of the advice from the reading section seems to have been written for someone whose never read anything before. I haven't really started on the math yet, I'm going to do some more of the verbal first, but I looked through it a lot and while there is a bunch I need to practice I hadn't forgotten as much as I was worried I had. It seems like I can take the test either in Guangzhou or Hong Kong, it's all done by computers these days, but it's actually to early to register for the summer tests. It's interesting studying for something again since it has been a couple of years since I graduated, but I'm getting back into the hang of it. I definitely need a good score on the GRE since my GPA wasn't very good but I think I can do well if I study enough.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Grad School

I've mentioned this to a number of people who regularly read my blog, though I've never really posted about it here, but I've been thinking for a while about going to grad school. When I graduated from Wisconsin I didn't have any real idea what I wanted to do besides traveling, but I think that living in China has changed that. I really do enjoy teaching, not every aspect of it, but the overall experience, especially at the college level. But I don't want to do what I'm doing now forever. For one thing with making no money is OK for now, at some point I'd like to make at least a little money. Another thing is that while I like teaching, teaching English specifically isn't that interesting to me. I actually got the idea for what to do from Ken who mentioned years ago, this might have been during my first year in China actually, that he was thinking about applying to graduate school for international relations. It had never occurred to me that was something people went to graduate school for, but over time the idea has stuck with me. International relations combines my love of traveling and seeing new things with my interest in politics. Living in China for these years would definitely help me with grad school in this field, or any possible job afterwords. If I went all the way through to a PhD it would also be something I'm much more interested in both researching and teaching. So I've started looking into programs and studying for the GRE, which I would take in the late summer. That means that I'll probably spend the next year in Guangzhou, which I'm liking a lot, and then be back in the US for a few years. I'd like to even be back in DC, since there are a ton of really good program there, but who knows. I just wanted to share with you some of my plans for the future.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Sun is Gone

Well I feel like an idiot now for telling everyone how nice the weather is in Guangzhou. "It doesn't rain very much," I said. "It's been really warm recently," I said. But no, it has been cold and overcast, sometimes rainy, for about three straight weeks. I haven't seen the sun in about two weeks. This is actually worse than the 95 degree and humid days during the summer. It's weird how weather can affect your mood. I've found myself in a bad mood for no real reason for the last couple of days. When I was thinking about it I finally realized that it was the weather. It just saps the life out of you when you don't see the sun for two weeks. I was especially surprised because generally the most rain around here comes in June and July. I think the difference is that during the summer the rain comes in bigger chunks, while during the winter it is just cloudy a lot. Many of the recent days I don't think it rained at all, or if it did it was so little it barley wet the ground, but it has been one unbroken gray sky forever. Maybe I'll regret saying this in the summer, but bring on the sun.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chinese Trains

The Chinese haven't always loved trains. When they were first introduced during the last dynasty they caused a popular insurrection for fears that the trains would harm the surrounding community's feng shui. These days though, China has what is probably one of the worlds better passenger train systems: It goes basically everywhere. It's usually on time, or close enough. It's clean, by Chinese standards. And it's really really cheap. The biggest problem is that you can only get tickets a few days ahead of time, and with a few exceptions, only from the city you are currently in. But I've written about that before. When I was in Taiwan, though, I found that they also had an amazing train system. The best part was their fairly new, my guidebook was missing some of it, High Speed Rail system. There's only one line for it going from Taipei in the North to Kaohsiung, the second biggest city, in the South. I was also going to Kaohsiung so I got to ride it twice. One time I got the "local" which makes all eight or so stops between those cities, which means the ride takes about and hour and a half. But when I went back I got the "direct" train which only makes one stop. As a result, the train covers the 350km between Taipei and Kaohsiung in almost exactly an hour. To put that in perspective that would be Beijing to Shanghai in three hours. It takes more than three hours to go from DC to New York which is also only about 350km. There's a faster Maglev train in Shanghai but the track only goes about 10km and it's more of a toy than anything. That's sort of Taiwan in a nutshell, like China but better.

Monday, March 12, 2012

No DVD Shop? No Problem

I never really found a good DVD shop in Guangzhou. I'm sure there is one, or many, in a city this size, but damned if I know where it is. On the other hand this hasn't really become much of a problem. My internet connection is pretty good here, no great but better than a lot of places in China, and I can just download pretty much anything I want from the internet. I just leave my computer running most nights and watch the stuff later. I know the fact that you can download movies from the internet isn't much of a revelation, unless I mail this blog back to 1990, but what amazes me is that it still can win out over buying cheap knockoff movies. Even if I found a DVD store tomorrow I don't think I'd go there. I remember my students making fun of me back in Changzhou for spending $1 on a DVD instead of downloading it, and I've come to the conclusion that they were right. DVDs in China may only be a dollar but the price on the internet is holding firm at free.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

So That's What the Kids are Watching?

In my first class when the students are asking me questions, I always get a number of questions about various American pop stars and TV shows. While I was never that familiar with many of the people they like here, I've noticed that more and more I have no idea who or what they are talking about. Living outside the US for nearly four years now has left me sort of disconnected from pop culture. I still watch a number of American shows, mostly HBO stuff and a few comedies, but I don't watch the network shows that they like here. I only new the "Vampire Diaries" was a thing because I saw an add for it somewhere on the internet. I actually try to keep up a little with US pop culture, I read Gawker which talks a lot about that sort of nonsense. It's just weird to have someone ask me what's popular in America and I have to answer that I don't really know since its been so long since I lived there. For music it's worse, but than again I probably wouldn't know any of the popular musicians if I did live in the US so I guess that's a wash. The other thing I've learned is that if someone could find a way to sell these shows in China, instead of everyone just downloading them from the internet, they'd make a ton of money since it seems like every student wants to ask me for my opinion on some US sitcom I've never heard of.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Again and Again

I finally started my new classes. They're all freshmen English majors, despite the fact that this school is 70%+ guys my classes usually only have three or four guys in them. Even in this heavily male school English is a women's major. I like my classes, and having only one type of class, oral English, taught at only one level, freshmen, certainly makes planning easier, but it does get boring. I gave the same class eight times this week. By the last one I was forcing a chuckle or smile in all the places I had smiled the first six or so times. It doesn't help that the first class is always a little slow since they're fairly nervous around me, and I have a lot of bookkeeping things to take care of, the school never gives me a class list so I have to create one. Doing the same class a lot also makes it harder to get my energy up in the morning when I'm feeling tired. Beyond that though the classes were pretty normal. I spend some time in the beginning answering their questions about me, so I don't have to answer the same question with each student later, and I always get a bunch of uncomfortable ones like, "What do you think of Chinese girls," or "Do you want a Chinese wife." One girl was so excited to talk to a foreigner I thought she was going to hyperventilate, it took her about a minute to composer herself before she could actually get any words out. I have a hard time imagining living in society where just meeting someone from another country was considered so rare and exciting. I imagine this is how I act if I met an alien. I wonder if that's how I seem to them, like a man from Mars.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

New Classes

Well it's almost time for me to go back to work. As per usual in China it has been so long since I last taught a class I barely remember how anymore. The best thing about my classes this semester is that I don't have to commute to get to them. All my classes, every single one, is at the campus where I live. I've never been happier not to go somewhere. Even though I have more classes than I had last semester, I'll probably end up working fewer hours. I'm also teaching English majors, who are the easiest type of students, since their English is usually very good to begin with and they really want to learn more. My schedule is also very even, with four hours of classes four days a week. The only downside is that all my classes are in the morning, and I've never been much of a morning person, but at least it leaves a lot of free time in the afternoon. I had a schedule very similar to this in my third semester in Changzhou and I remember how easy it was to get stuff done since by noon everyday I was up and had already had two classes. The only downside is I remember being constantly tired for almost the whole semester as I could never quite get the hang of getting up early.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's a Chinese Miracle

I have never been so happy to be so wrong. I thought it would take at least a month to fix my water heater. I thought that the whole machine was fried and that they would have to replace it. I thought that the school would spend its time making empty promises to me while I took cold showers. But I am thrilled to say that I was wrong, enormously wrong. Yesterday David, the foreign affairs guy, told me that a repairman would stop by my apartment between 1 and 3 to take a look at the heater. At 1, which was the first positive surprise, he arrived. I showed him the place where the wall socket and plug were burned black from an electrical surge and he started looking at the machine itself. Of course he didn't speak any English so this was all accomplished through a lot of hand signs and simple Chinese words. The first good thing I noticed was that the plug that was burned black actually didn't attach directly to the water heater. There was a surge protector that was hidden just out of view. He looked at the insides of the water heater for a few minutes before trying to ask me something. I didn't understand so he called David who translated, he wanted to know if I had a bike since he had to go buy some more parts. I didn't, I've been thinking about getting one but honestly the campus isn't that big and the subway is only a 15 minute walk. He grumbled and left to get some more parts. When he got back he shut off the power in the apartment and took the wall socket out to repair it. In the US this would have taken several people, one plumber to look at the water heater and an electrician to deal with the wall socket, but he clearly knew what he was doing with both. He replaced the wall socket with a new one, and bought a new surge protector. He fiddled around with the water heater too a little bit. In the end he told me to not turn the water heater on full power anymore, and to make sure to turn it off when I wasn't using it, before it didn't have an on/off switch but he put one in. So now I have hot water. The problem is, and in China there's always a problem, that the wire that connects the water heater to the wall is warm to the touch even with the water heater on half power. So it's fixed, but I might still die in an electrical fire. God only knows what exactly is wrong with the wiring that caused this whole problem in the first place. My apartment, of course, has no smoke detectors, so I'll have to go out and buy one to reduce the chance that I wake up one morning to the whole building burning down. They say every cloud has a silver lining, but in China I feel that every silver lining has a cloud.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Die a Hero

There's a line in the most recent batman movie where batman remarks that someone can "either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." The line always reminded me of Sun Yat-sen. Sun was the founder of the Republic of China in the time between when the last empire fell apart and when the communists took over. While he was the founder of the Kuomintang, who eventually fought the communists for control of China until retreating to Taiwan, he is remembered very positively in both China and Taiwan. Long time readers of this blog will remember that in my first year in China I went to Nanjing and to Sun Yat-sen's beautiful tomb on the side of a local mountain. Well there was also a big Sun Yat-sen monument in Taipei. While the monument was fairly standard stuff, a big statue in a classical looking building and a couple of honor guards, I've always found Sun really fascinating as he bridges the Taiwan China divide. That being said I think key to his popular is that he had the good sense to die in 1925 before things got bad in China with the civil war and the Japanese. If you look at the beginning of Mao's or Chiang Kai-shek's career you see a lot of high expectations and grand promises that eventually came to nothing but death and disappointment. Sun's legacy remains more positive since he never really had the chance to really screw things up. So while both Mao and Chiang Kai-shek are noted for the atrocities they committed, at least outside their respective countries, Sun is just remembered as fighting against the old imperial system. That how he ended up with memorials in both China and Taiwan.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Place Your Bets

Well folks it's time to play test your knowledge of China. My water heater broke, the water heater that is solely responsible for me being able to take hot showers. And I mean really broke. The plug and the wall socket are both partially blackened by what looks like a really intense electrical short. At least my apartment didn't burn down, which around here with the quality of the building materials is not an insignificant concern. But now I'm taking bets on how long until they fix it, unlikely, or replace it. I already called David, my foreign affairs guy, and he said he'd call a repair man on Monday, notice he didn't promise the repair man would actually show up on Monday. So for the indefinite future it looks like cold showers for me. If this was August, or really even May around here, it would at least be hot enough out to make that somewhat bearable, but it's still cool and rainy around here. As it stands now, if any of the neighbors are listening they are going to get a chance to learn some choice English curse words with each new cold shower I have to take. So here's your challenge to test your knowledge of how things work in China, how long until I can take a hot shower in my apartment again? I'd like to believe that it will get done this week, I had a dream last night to that effect, but I doubt it. I'm putting the line at 5 1/2 weeks before I can take a real shower again. It's going to be a long cold spring.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


When I arrived in Taiwan they were just about to have parliamentary, and presidential elections. Taiwan has two main political parties the Kuomintang and the DPP. The Kuomintang is the same party that ran China before first the Japanese, then the communists took over. I'm not going to go into the whole war now, but suffice it to say that at the end of the war the losing Kuomintang fled to the island of Taiwan. With US help they were able to keep the communists from coming after them there and set up their own government. Today it is a real multiparty democracy, but for a long time it was run as a dictatorship or one party state with the Kuomintang in control. Today despite a dubious history the Kuomintang competes as just a normal political party, and oddly enough is seen as more friendly the China's government than the more independent minded DPP. The DPP ran things for a while but recently the Kuomintang have been back in control winning the last presidential election in a landslide. People said the Kuomintang were not in as good a position for this election, but given how big they won last time would probably hang on to the government. In some ways I could have almost missed that the election was going on, schools were still in secession, no one mentioned the election to a tourist like me, but in other ways it was everywhere. There were giant ads up on a lot of the buildings with smiling pictures of people running for various offices. The ads were all so similar I'm guess they must have had to follow a standard template. The most interesting thing though was these little parades they would have for some party or candidate. Parade isn't really the right word, but I can't find a better one. Every once in a while I'd hear a lot of noise and see a truck covered in ads blaring out some speech or message while smiling people road on top, maybe the candidate, and other followed behind waving little party flags. The biggest one of these I saw involved several trucks, maybe a hundred people, and a bunch of bicycles. The Taiwanese thought it was interesting that a foreigner was taking such a big interest in these little parades, but while I've seen political rallies and people handing out pamphlets before I've never seen anything quite like this. I also noticed that a majority of the participants were older people. I guess that's the same in any country, the old vote.

Friday, February 24, 2012


All you people back in the US with your lightning fast internet, you don't know how good you have it. There is nothing more frustrating in China, and that's saying a lot, than having your internet crawl along, or not work, when you really need it to. When I stayed in my parents apartment in Beijing recently I was amazed just how slow the internet there is. My internet in Guangzhou isn't anywhere near US standards, maybe 1/4 or 1/3rd as fast, but theirs is much, much slower. Of all the places I've lived I think Changzhou was the slowest. It could in part be that I just wasn't used to how slow things are here, but it was slow. Youtube videos, even using a VPN, were just impossible to load, and even things like Skype or internet radio were a 50/50 bet. In Alaer amazingly enough the internet was fairly fast. This was mostly because I could pay for my own internet plan and not be on the same shitty connection as the students. The first place I lived in Guangzhou had really slow internet as well, but in my new apartment the speed is pretty good. Since I share it with the students it slows down noticeably in the evening and on weekends. It is interesting how having a slow internet connection changes how I browse. If I see a video I usually avoid it rather than going through the hassle of waiting 45 minutes while it loads up. Websites that try to do a lot with flash and graphics I also usually avoid. It's also interesting how much faster Chinese websites are. I don't usually have much reason to go to them, as they are of course in Chinese, but when I do they load shockingly quickly. Maybe that's why these slow internet speed are bearable for Chinese people, or maybe they just don't know any better.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Everything is Nicer in Guangzhou

The single biggest difference between Guangzhou and Alaer is how nice everything here is. In Alaer everything seemed second hand, more like third or fourth hand really, but in Guangzhou everything is brand new. I can go to a foreign supermarket in Guangzhou were in Alaer an knockoff KFC, with the single worst hamburger I've ever eaten, was the extent of western food. In Alaer the power, water, or internet would sometimes just go off for days at a time, not so in Guangzhou despite all the construction. But what is really funny is that it filters down to the little things as well. The students here have military training, just like in Alaer, but here the uniforms are nicer. In Alaer the uniforms were that green camo you see people wearing all over, and they looked like they might really be surplus from the army they were so old and raggedy. Here the uniforms look brand new, they are blue and green camo, it's hard to describe but it just looks more modern, and everyone even has a hat and a belt. guess everything just is fancier in the big city.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

School's In

While I don't start for a while, the school is slowly rumbling back to life here in Guangzhou. When I fist got back there were almost no students around campus. Unlike Changzhou though the campus as a whole doesn't totally shut down since so many teachers live in the big apartment buildings around where I live. Even when there are no students there are always grandparents taking walks with their grandchildren or people playing ping-pong in the lobby. But now the students are back and most of the shops on campus are open again as well. For the past several days anytime I was on the subway or a bus I'd see people lugging around big makeshift bags, no on in China ever seems to have real suitcases, even on flights I see people with books shoved into a box that used to hold apples. It's nice to see more going on around campus, but it was really peaceful here before the students were back. Well at least there's more to do now that the school is coming back to life.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

It's Spring ... Now It's Summer ... OK Back to Winter

Well I was going to brag how great the weather here has been, we had two days of sun and 75 degrees, but now it's 60 again and overcast. But that's not all, yesterday it was 85 degrees out. It was so hot that the buses were using their air conditioning. Today's low is more than 30 degree from yesterday's high, that's a pretty big swing. That being said I think I have Guangzhou weather figured out now. It's cloudy sometimes but it actually doesn't rain too much. Basically though they have nine months of summer and three months of fall. I'm just happy I'm not in Beijing anymore where being above freezing is considered a heat wave. I've been keeping an eye on DC weather and I've seen for the most part it has been a very mild winter there as well. Well at least I have a little while longer until it back to 95 and humid every day, I'd say a week or two at least.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Public Transportation in Guangzhou is Not for the Faint of Heart

Well it may be the middle of February but it was 75 and sunny in Guangzhou today. So to celebrate I did a little tourism at an island where a lot of older colonial style buildings are supposed to be. It was definitely not in the Chinese style but it wasn't really very interesting overall. What it did though was give me a chance to stand on the metro for a good two and a half hours. I'm telling you the Guangzhou metro is not for the faint of heart. At one stop the woman in front of me was doing so badly trying to get off that we weren't going to make it. So I just put my hand on her back and shoved her out the door. I've bumped into people quite a bit on the metro before, but this was the first time I'd ever had to bodily shove someone in order to get off. Unlike the US she didn't say anything or even really react besides one quick look back to make sure I wasn't trying to steal her purse or anything. Later at one stop there were a ton of people, including me, trying to get onto a very full train. Of course this being China despite the fact that the train was full no one was letting people get off to make more room. So I suck my arm out and restrained the guy next to me, over his great protest, to allow four more people to get off so I could get on. When I did get on I stumbled over someones bag, left right across the entrance, and knocked into another person before discovering the middle of the car had plenty of room, but the assholes near the door wouldn't move in. I could learn how to say, "keep moving in" in Chinese, but the idea is so strange to people here I think they would just argue, but at least in China, no one argues when you shove them. Next time I take the metro I'm wearing football pads.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Corner's Deli

Well I'm back in Guangzhou for the moment, more on my trip later, and I found a great western supermarket. It's called "Corner's Deli" as if the person who owned its name was Corner. In Beijing my parents have a place called Jenny Lou's where they get their western food need now I have my Corner's Deli. It was oddly hard to find the shop. Google maps had it in the right location but it was basically in the basement of a fancy mall so I had to walk through what looked like a service entrance and down a set of suspicious stairs coming out in a random bookshop before I even was on the right level to find it. The shop itself was great though. I was the only customer in the small place, but there were about six people wandering around restocking a shelf every time I took on box off. I think everything in the whole store was imported. They had cheeses from all around the world, six types of mustard, and three types of maple syrup, regular, low sugar, and real Canadian maple syrup which cost about as much per ounce as solid gold. I bought some fun stuff, they had my favorite brand of pudding, but while I tired to be careful I still spent 400 RMB for not all that much. They joy and danger of a good foreign supermarket.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sweet Street Food

My hotel is located near a big night market that sells a lot of different interesting kinds of food. I've eaten street food in China before but it's different here. First while I usually can't tell the difference between regonal types of Chinese food I can tell that the food in Taiwan is different. It's much sweeter for one thing. I've been told before that food in Shnaghai is sweeter than food in other parts of China but I could never really taste the difference. And while the food in Guangzhou is definitely less spicy than most Chinese food it still tastes about the same to me. But when I have the sausages in Taiwan I can tell the difference. They are much sweeter and so is a lot of the other food. Some things are familiar to me, I've had stinky tofu, a favorite of mine, twice since I landed and noodles and always noodles. But the street food near where I'm staying is really good and very cheap. A lot of people eat it right there on the street at little tables but it just seems to cold to sit outside to me, even though I have only been wearing my sweatshirt. There is also quite a bit of other asian food around. I've seen a ton of Japanese and sushi places, I guess people got a taste for it during the nearly 50 years Japan rulled this island. I've also seen Korean and Thai food a couple of places. Of course there is a lot of western food as well. I've seen McDonalds and Pizza Hut as well as some local knock off chains. Well I'm going to end this here as all this talk of food has made me hungry. Bon appetit.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Live From Taiwan

Well it turns out it's getting pretty hard these days to find internet cafes. It seems with smart phones and free WiFi everywhere no one really needs a place to just use the net. Luckily my hotel has a little coffee shop with a computer in it I can use. The hotel is actually really nice. I found it on TripAdvisor, which I use a lot after Lonely Planet failed me on my last trip. Flying from Guangzhou to Taipei, the capital and largest city in Taiwan, was really easy. I always assumed that since China and Taiwan had such bad relations that it would be a lot harder to go directly from one to the other but it was a snap. It's also nice that as an American I don't need a visa or anything to go to Taiwan. I mentioned briefly before that Taiwan is a very touch issue in China, and I'll get more into that in another post, but it's even a political statement to call China, technically the Peoples Republic of China, China and Taiwan, technically the Republic of China, Taiwan, but I'm not typing out all that every time so I'm just going to refer to the two countries, another political statement, as China and Taiwan.

Today I spent a while trying to print out some of the pages from a Lonely Planet book I bought on the computer and had in PDF format. But the maps didn't print well and I ended up going to a bookstore and buying another copy of the book. The problem is that the book I bought is older than the one I have as a PDF, so much so in fact that the closest subway line isn't even shown in the older book. It's not a problem for everything though as the temples and museums don't really move to much. I saw some Taoist and Confucian temples today which were nice. I took some pictures but I can't really upload them from here so I'll do some sort of photo post when I get back. The Taoist temple had a number of people praying in it. Which basically just means lighting some incense and bowing a bunch. It's still nice to see and actual working temple since the ones I see in China people are rarely praying. The Confucian temple was much more minimalist without any of the statues of gods or big holders of incense. Instead there were a number of rooms filled with old Confucian sayings and some exhibits on the life of Confucius.

I was worried when I came here that I wouldn't be able to understand anyone. I know that more of the traditional characters are used, not such a problem since I'm not literate in Chinese anyway, and the the language was quite different. Well at least for the simple words I know I can still understand the people here. There is a good amount of English spoken as well, which isn't so shocking. I'm actually just down the block from some English teaching school which is very funny to see. I guess English is just everywhere now. Good.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

North and South, My Winter Trip

Well it's that time again, the time where most people go back to work but I stop working for an extended period of time. That's right it's Chinese Spring Festival. As per usual I have almost two months off and I'm planning on doing some traveling. All the traveling I get to do during these off months is easily one of the best parts about working in China. I decided this time to go to Taiwan, which I've heard described as more China than China. Taiwan for those of you who don't know if a little island off the coast of China that China claims as its own. Before the Communists took over in China China was run by a nationalist group called the Kuomintang. They were engaged in a long civil war with the Communists before the Japanese invaded. After the Japanese left the Kuomintang were weakened enough that the Communists ended up winning. The Kuomintang fled to the island of Taiwan where the established there own separate government. The US has long protected Taiwan keeping the Communists from invading, a never ending source of tension between the US and China, China gets pissed if people even suggest Taiwan is an independent country.

Unlike in China Taiwan never had a Cultural Revolution and never took a hammer to its own history so I'm told there is still quite a bit of old buildings and temples around the island. I'm going to spend most of my time in Taipei the capitol but I'll also be going to Tainan and Kaosiung in the South of the island. After Taiwan I'm going up to Beijing to spend Chinese new year with my parents, this will be the first time I'll be in China for the holiday and I'm looking forward to seeing some intense fireworks. Then my whole family is going to Vietnam. I've been to Vietnam before but it was a really interesting place and I'm excited to go back. After that I'll be back in Beijing for a while then maybe I'll go to Hong Kong with my mother before going back to Guangzhou. I made this little map of the trip and I'll try to do a few blog posts as I travel since most of the places I'm going it shouldn't be too hard to find an internet cafe.