Friday, December 24, 2004
Well, I know this isn't the greatest of pictures, but it does have a Chinese Santa Claus in it, so I thought it was at least in the right spirit. Last night our department treated us to a lovely dinner at what is probably the nicest hotel in town (a room there per night costs half my monthly salary, and I get paid a lot by Chinese standards). It came complete with Santa, whose English actually wasn't that bad. Anyway, happy holidays to you all!
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Alright, this might be a touch dark, but here's another pic from my party--my friend Aaliyah and I dancing a Sevillana (a type of Flamenco) as a performance. It worked out okay, but our styles were a little different, so I think it looked a touch funny. That and I still can't hear the damn Sevillana rhythm!
Sunday, December 19, 2004
This pic is also from the party. It's me losing in musical chairs in the very last round. Actually it was better that way, it's never fun when the teacher wins. At least I got to be competative though. As for yesterday's post, sorry for the typos. I posted it at like four in the morning, so I wasn't exactly all pulled together. I'm actually a little surprised it had so few :o). Hope all is well!
Okay, so I'm terribly behind with photos, but it has been becuase I have accidently left my camera at home during several good photo ops. This one, however, is one of my sophomore-level classes during a party that we had at the cafeteria of my foreigners's compound this evening. All in all, it was a good party, though I think I prefered the one I had with my freshman earlier this week--they went through two cases of beer and were fairly uninhibited, my sophomores went through only four bottles, one of which was given to a foreigner if I recall, and took some incouragement. But yay for fun times!
Sunday, December 12, 2004
He He. Well, it's Christmas time here in Kunming too, but sometimes the decorations just scare me, like this one. Hello, what is Santa up to? He looks like he's scared and screaming or something. That's one way to freak out little children though I guess.
Saturday, December 11, 2004
Much to my shock, surprise, and horror, I just realized that I have forgotten to post pictures for the last couple of days! Aaaah. My apologies for my forgetfulness, but I never promised that I would actually be able to keep up that pic a day. Anyway, this one is me hiding under a phoenix (in case it wasn't obvious). I was really having much to much fun that day with the pics...
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
This is a pic of one of my favorite things to do at temples: drop money in fountains. But you see, in China they make it more interesting than the US, they usually put a bowl or something inside the fountain (actually it's usually a ceramic frog or a fish or something with an open mouth), and your wish will only come true if you get it inside. I'm actually rather skilled at it (who'd a thunk!), so since this bowl was so big I made it more interesting by dropping the coin from a story up. I still made it in 2 out of 3 times if I recall correctly. Cool, ay?
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
Monday, December 06, 2004
You know, sometimes you just need corn. Luckily, in China there are people boiling and grilling it all over the place so it's a good snack...although it could use at least some flavouring! I stopped half way through with this corn just because it was soooo bland.
Sunday, December 05, 2004
Saturday, December 04, 2004
This is a picture of the official first tastetest of Chesa's (the one on the left) creation of a kimchee and peanut butter sandwich. I have to admit that it was good stuff, really! Like it's something that I could eat for lunch. I guess I wouldn't recommend it for the faint of heart, but add some taro chips and I think we've got a best seller!
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Okay, I'm thinking this will be the last of the Stone Forest pictures (but you never know). Here we are feeding the fish. Well, here they are feeding the fish. Personally I had a traumatic episode feeding fish when I was little and find the sight of swarms of fish ready to attack a bit unnerving...
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Monday, November 29, 2004
Sunday, November 28, 2004
Saturday, November 27, 2004
Today we got up early to take the long ride out to the stone forest. It was my second time going there, although I haven't been in over 2 years. I must admit that I much prefer the finished highway that gets us there! Last time it was so bumpy it was all I could do not to get car sick. Anyway, this is a picture of me with my tutoree Yang YiFan. He also happens to be the son of my Chinese teacher with whose family we went to the stone forest in the first place. Yay rocks!
Friday, November 26, 2004
Hi all. Well it was Thanksgiving again here in Kunming which meant more hours baking pumpkin pies! But it was all worth it for we went to the house of a friend who just retired to Kunming that was totally posh--especially for China. It is an 11th story penthouse with an amazing view and is quite well decorated. I must say that I was impressed. This picture is of my friend Salvador looking suave. In case you were wondering the things on his feet were chenille shoe covers so you wouldn't track dirt into the house. I think they also help dust/sweep the floor, but that's a different story. Does anybody else remember Pippy Longstockings cleaning the floor by putting brushes on her feet? Anyway, happy Thanksgiving (again) everybody!
First I just want to wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving! I enjoyed myself with a large group of other Americans at a friend's house. And tomorrow it's Thanksgiving dinner Number 2, so there is certainly no lack of turkey or anything like that on this end. This is a picture of all of the sushi that I made for this evening's dinner in honor of the veggie sushi I made for T-day my sophomore year at Whitman. Memories! Now all I need to make Thanksgiving complete is watching the Kenneth Branaugh version of Hamlet and playing a drinking game to it...
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Today's Pic o' the Day comes from our nearby YuanTong Temple. I'm not exactly sure if this fish carving has a purpose other than looking cool, although it looks like it could be used to ring a large bell. Anyway, it looks cool, which is why I share it with you!
Monday, November 22, 2004
Today's photo is a picture of a crazy vegetable that I found at a veggie market the other month. In Chinese it's called "dabao cai" (dah-bow tsai) or big tower vegetable. I've never seen it before in the US (or anywhere else for that matter) but it seems closely related to cauliflower!
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Since I've finally found a good way to post pictures to my blog, I thought I'd start a "photo of the day" sort of a section (although don't sue me if I don't actually post a new one every day!). So, in order to really kick my Fun Facts for wHeNeVeR Photo of the Day, I give you this picture of a dog wearing goggles. There was a vendor up at Western Hill (a touristy site on a hill west of Kunming...how'd you guess?) using it as a way to attract attention. Boy did that work!
On Monday and Thursday mornings I get up at 6:45AM so that I can be on a bus by 7:30AM in order to get to my 8:30AM class—it takes a while to go beyond where the sidewalk ends.
Actually, if we were being technical, it would be beyond where the road ends, but I figured an allusion to Silverstein is always appropriate. You see, on Mondays and Thursdays I teach Oral English to the first years at Yunnan University’s Yang Pu (pronounced yawng poo) campus (check out my Yang Pu photo album for pics). The Yang Pu campus is located about a 45-minute’s drive outside of Kunming in a suburb surprisingly enough called Yang Pu. Feeling a crunch for space in the middle of town, Yunnan University has recently decided to create an entirely new campus out in the middle-of-nowhere China that will eventually house all of the university’s undergraduate programs. Currently it’s where the first years and the Computer Science majors have been relegated to.
Although it’s a pain to get up quite so early to get out there in time (not to mention the fact that by the time I do actually arrive my coffee high has already worn off), I actually do enjoy teaching out there. Partially it’s because of the students—they’re all still naïve little first years (although they’re getting less and less so as the semester progresses), which means that they really listen to me and do what I tell them. They really are a contrast to my sophomores who are already somewhat jaded about this whole learning thing. I also think part of the reason I enjoy it is because of the campus itself. It’s brand new, which I do appreciate believe you me, but it’s more than that. The location of the campus is actually quite spectacular. From my classrooms I can see the hills surrounding Kunming as well as into downtown a bit (that’s assuming it’s not too smoggy). Actually, the thing that makes it quite surreal is the fact that the distance does always seem to be obscured by smog, and the sun rising through the morning mist really makes it feel like the campus is set on top of clouds.
I must admit though, that my favorite part of campus is a street that I’ve dubbed Memory Lane…I love making up English names for different places here, but that’s another story. Anyway, the Chinese teaching method strongly emphasizes rote memorization of most anything. That means that in the mornings before classes I see usually around 20-30 students lining that particular street reciting into memory their various dialogues for their classes. I should take a video of it just because it is so funny! It sounds something like: “I am a, I am a, I am a, I am a, se-tu-den-te. Stu-den-te. Stu-den-te. I am a stu-den-te.” And it just keeps going on like that. I do feel a bit guilty about this, but sometimes I just walk by and when I can’t understand a word that they’re saying even though it’s in English, I just laugh inside and try my hardest not to sit down with them and try to correct their pronunciation and whatnot. It’s just that it sounds so funny, and only makes me believe that memorization like that is not effective—it’s communicative language production that is important!
Of course, the students view it as somewhat of a gulag. They have to have passes to get on the buses to go back into the city during the week (otherwise there’s not enough room for all the teachers). Also, their internet access out there is SUPER slow. That’s something they’re going to have to fix if they ever expect to move everybody out to that campus. The students also aren’t allowed to drink on campus, which they’re not big fans of. On the other hand though, much like Whitman being in the middle of nowhere, it really does create a strong community there. Another side effect of the separation is that I’m one of three Westerners on the campus which makes me somewhat of a celebrity. I gave somewhat of an impromptu motivational speech about speaking English the other day for a club that invited me to speak there, and the day after when I had classes I had people recognize me and say hi in the cafeteria. China certainly is not the place to come if you don’t like being the center of attention! Luckily I’m full enough of myself that I don’t mind too much ;o).
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Monday, November 15, 2004
thought it only appropriate to jump straight to Reflection Point
Not since visiting my sister on the East Coast and going to New York
City have I felt so much like I was a hick from the sticks coming in
to see the big city as I did last weekend in Shanghai. Even after
much reflection (I don't call them reflection points for nothing :o) )
I'm not exactly sure why going to Shanghai was such a shock, though I
do have my ideas. First, even though I was told that Shanghai was a
truly cosmopolitan city I don't think I really believed it until this
Since I have already been to Shanghai before, I already had in my mind
what to expect from Shanghai. The thing is that it was the first city
I ever saw in China so I originally had nothing else to compare it to.
Also, it meant that we didn't really explore it much since we were
still young, innocent, sheltered, non-Chinese speaking tourists being
shuttled around town by our Chinese teacher. Also, and this might be
obvious, but the things we saw last time greatly influenced my idea of
what Shanghai wasâwe went to the Shanghai Museum (which is full of
very interesting Chinese artifacts), had our meals in Chinese
restaurants, and saw the Bund (the main river that runs through town)
and the Oriental Pearl (the communist TV tower which has effectively
become the Eiffel Tower of Shanghai check out my HREF="http://www.hpphoto.com/servlet
album for a picture of it). Those experiences combined to make me
think of Shanghai as a very typical Chinese city.
Even the things that I associated with the West that I knew existed in
Shanghai, like Pizza Hut (a fancy upscale version mind you) I can now
find in downtown Kunming, and this I think was the real problemâI was
tricked into thinking that Kunming was a cosmopolitan city now
because, unlike when I was here before, it now has things like
McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and most importantly Carrefour, things that I
had associated with Shanghai before. Of course, what I had failed to
consider was that Shanghai was probably continuing to develop over the
two years since I've been there too!
In any case, my version of what Shanghai is was completely shattered
this weekend. First, I couldn't believe how big it really is. I know
I only had a chance to explore small parts of it last time, but I
didn't even begin to understand how much I was missing. The first
night we eventually managed to get to the Cotton Club where a live
band (that was half made up of ex-pats) was performing Bob Marley and
whatnot. The music and atmosphere were great, and I even was able to
find a real honest-to-goodness frozen margarita (which I had been
craving for ages. Neither Kunming or Taibei understand what frozen
means). Also, I think in that bar I saw more foreigners than I had in
the entire last month here in Kunming, and I live in the foreigners
compound here! Finally, I must admit that I spent the weekend getting
my fix of non-Chinese foods. We went to a great Indian restaurant, a
Brazilian restaurant (that had salad!), a Turkish restaurant, a Korean
restaurant (although we've got our share of decent Korean food here in
Kunming), and even a Mexican restaurant. It was spectacular.
Also, I think it was the little differences that struck me most. In
Kunming we only have hot water from about 7PM to 12PM. In Shanghai we
could take showers whenever we wanted because there was hot (and by
hot I mean really really hot, hotter than we get in Kunming) water
24/7. And like other big cities, the people were actually quite rude.
The first night, we had a streak of only interacting with really rude
Chinese people. The guy who checked us into our rooms for example was
a complete jerkâso much so that one of my friends, Aaliyah, wanted to
just leave. I think the real problem was that we made him put away
his calligraphy and actually have to do workâ¦this guy was actually so
lazy that when we paid him he essentially told us to give him round
numbers of money so that he wouldn't have to make change, and that we
could get the change upon checking out (when he wouldn't be dealing
with it!). Getting taxi drivers to stop was even a problem for us.
They just didn't want to have to deal with foreigners, and we got
several drivers who waved us away as we were approaching their empty
cabs! This was so surprising because in Kunming, and most other
cities in China, if a taxi driver sees a laowai walking down the
street they slow down and sometimes stop for you even if you don't
Now that I've rambled on for some 800 words, I suppose I should
actually tell you what I was doing in Shanghai. Whitman sponsored all
of the Whitman in China teachers to go to a conference held by the
China Teachers Consortium about teaching English in China. Our other
Kunming friends here that are teachers from Oberlin also went. It was
interesting meeting lots of other teachers from around China and
hearing some about others experiences, but overall I was disappointed
with the conference. Only about a quarter of the presentations we had
were actually good, which also was a surprise. I guess I expected
professional conferences to be worth my time. I guess you learn a lot
during your first year as a professional. My general feeling was "why
should I take advice from people that can't even teach themselves?"
So, oh well. At least I got to see Shanghai.
As for the one really touristy thing that I did there, it was to go to
the Shanghai Art Museum. Generally speaking it's an okay art
museumâmostly has modern art. I certainly preferred the Tate Modern
in London, but there was one exhibit that made it very worthwhile.
Basically, there was a field of belts hanging from what looked like
small fans on the ceiling. They were hanging at about waist height,
and were in a loop parallel to the floor, so it looked like there was
just a bunch of invisible people there. The really cool part though
was that they were all attached to some sort of sensors and all turned
so that the belt buckle was facing you. It was SOOOO creepy to move
and have a field of belts all turn and face you! Take a look at the
so that this kind of makes sense.
And finally, I know that this was a good long entry, but I'll leave
you with some Meaningful Morsels for Monday about the grand Shanghai:
1.5 million- The number of people that Shanghai plans to move out of
its downtown area by the year 2010.
600,000- The number of foreigners that currently live in Shanghai.
0- The number of times somebody dazedly looked at me and said "Look, laowai!"
1- The number of times I went karaokeing in Shanghai
10,000- The number of Jews that took the Chinese government up on the
offer of immigration without official travel documents during WWII and
moved to Shanghai.
45 yuan- The cost of my most precious frozen margarita. That's about
$5.60, or a little bit less than what I make an hour.
Not since visiting my sister on the East Coast and going to New York City have I felt so much like I was a hick from the sticks coming in to see the big city as I did last weekend in Shanghai. Even after much reflection (I don’t call them reflection points for nothing :o) ) I’m not exactly sure why going to Shanghai was such a shock, though I do have my ideas. First, even though I was told that Shanghai was a truly cosmopolitan city I don’t think I really believed it until this weekend.
Since I have already been to Shanghai before, I already had in my mind what to expect from Shanghai. The thing is that it was the first city I ever saw in China so I originally had nothing else to compare it to. Also, it meant that we didn’t really explore it much since we were still young, innocent, sheltered, non-Chinese speaking tourists being shuttled around town by our Chinese teacher. Also, and this might be obvious, but the things we saw last time greatly influenced my idea of what Shanghai was—we went to the Shanghai Museum (which is full of very interesting Chinese artifacts), had our meals in Chinese restaurants, and saw the Bund (the main river that runs through town) and the Oriental Pearl (the communist TV tower which has effectively become the Eiffel Tower of Shanghai check out my photo album for a picture of it). Those experiences combined to make me think of Shanghai as a very typical Chinese city.
Even the things that I associated with the West that I knew existed in Shanghai, like Pizza Hut (a fancy upscale version mind you) I can now find in downtown Kunming, and this I think was the real problem—I was tricked into thinking that Kunming was a cosmopolitan city now because, unlike when I was here before, it now has things like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and most importantly Carrefour, things that I had associated with Shanghai before. Of course, what I had failed to consider was that Shanghai was probably continuing to develop over the two years since I’ve been there too!
In any case, my version of what Shanghai is was completely shattered this weekend. First, I couldn’t believe how big it really is. I know I only had a chance to explore small parts of it last time, but I didn’t even begin to understand how much I was missing. The first night we eventually managed to get to the Cotton Club where a live band (that was half made up of ex-pats) was performing Bob Marley and whatnot. The music and atmosphere were great, and I even was able to find a real honest-to-goodness frozen margarita (which I had been craving for ages. Kunming doesn’t understand what frozen means). Also, I think in that bar I saw more foreigners than I had in the entire last month here in Kunming, and I live in the foreigners compound here! Finally, I must admit that I spent the weekend getting my fix of non-Chinese foods. We went to a great Indian restaurant, a Brazilian restaurant (that had salad!), a Turkish restaurant, a Korean restaurant (although we’ve got our share of decent Korean food here in Kunming), and even a Mexican restaurant. It was spectacular.
Also, I think it was the little differences that struck me most. In Kunming we only have hot water from about 7PM to 12PM. In Shanghai we could take showers whenever we wanted because there was hot (and by hot I mean really really hot, hotter than we get in Kunming) water 24/7. And like other big cities, the people were actually quite rude. The first night, we had a streak of only interacting with really rude Chinese people. The guy who checked us into our rooms for example was a complete jerk—so much so that one of my friends, Aaliyah, wanted to just leave. I think the real problem was that we made him put away his calligraphy and actually have to do work…this guy was actually so lazy that when we paid him he essentially told us to give him round numbers of money so that he wouldn’t have to make change, and that we could get the change upon checking out (when he wouldn’t be dealing with it!). Getting taxi drivers to stop was even a problem for us. They just didn’t want to have to deal with foreigners, and we got several drivers who waved us away as we were approaching their empty cabs! This was so surprising because in Kunming, and most other cities in China, if a taxi driver sees a laowai walking down the street they slow down and sometimes stop for you even if you don’t want them.
Now that I’ve rambled on for some 800 words, I suppose I should actually tell you what I was doing in Shanghai. Whitman sponsored all of the Whitman in China teachers to go to a conference held by the China Teachers Consortium about teaching English in China. Our other Kunming friends here that are teachers from Oberlin also went. It was interesting meeting lots of other teachers from around China and hearing some about others experiences, but overall I was disappointed with the conference. Only about a quarter of the presentations we had were actually good, which also was a surprise. I guess I expected professional conferences to be worth my time. I guess you learn a lot during your first year as a professional. My general feeling was “why should I take advice from people that can’t even teach themselves?” So, oh well. At least I got to see Shanghai.
As for the one really touristy thing that I did there, it was to go to the Shanghai Art Museum. Generally speaking it’s an okay art museum—mostly has modern art. I certainly preferred the Tate Modern in London, but there was one exhibit that made it very worthwhile. Basically, there was a field of belts hanging from what looked like small fans on the ceiling. They were hanging at about waist height, and were in a loop parallel to the floor, so it looked like there was just a bunch of invisible people there. The really cool part though was that they were all attached to some sort of sensors and all turned so that the belt buckle was facing you. It was SOOOO creepy to move and have a field of belts all turn and face you! Take a look at the picture so that this kind of makes sense.
And finally, I know that this was a good long entry, but I’ll leave you with some Meaningful Morsels for Monday about the grand Shanghai:
1.5 million- The number of people that Shanghai plans to move out of its downtown area by the year 2010.
600,000- The number of foreigners that currently live in Shanghai.
0- The number of times somebody dazedly looked at me and said “Look, laowai!”
1- The number of times I went karaokeing in Shanghai
10,000- The number of Jews that took the Chinese government up on the offer of immigration without official travel documents during WWII and moved to Shanghai.
45 yuan- The cost of my most precious frozen margarita. That’s about $5.60, or a little bit less than what I make an hour.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
The short version: I can’t decide what I should do next year: stay here, go somewhere else in China, go to Taiwan, go to Japan, go to France, go to London, or go to grad school.
The long version:
Plan A) Stay here for another year if I can convince them that they
want to hire me again. It's practical, as I have already established
a life here, but I don't know if it's ultimately in my best interest.
I like China, but if I'm going to be here I think I want to be
focusing on studying Chinese, not teaching English. As it is now, the
focuses are reversed. I suppose one option would just be registering
for courses here next year and figuring out if there is other work I
could do to support myself.
Plan B) Go somewhere else in China/head back to Taiwan. I could
easily head back to Taibei and enroll at Chinese classes at the same
university I was at last summer, and then try to find some way to
support myself while I'm there. This route would put the emphasis on
really shoring up my Chinese, which begs the question: should I
bother? I feel like Chinese is only ever going to be an uphill battle
for me, as I can't "fake it" like I feel like I can with French. If I
don't know a French word, I can at least look at it and pronounce it
and take an educated guess. I see a Chinese word that I don't know
and I can't even pronounce it. It's frustrating, and makes me think
that I'll never develop beyond an intermediate level in my Chinese.
Plan C) Go teach in another country. In this case I would need to
try to decide between France, Japan, or on a whim, Spain. I miss
France more than I thought I would, and having Lucy back there writing
about all the things she's doing makes me entirely jealous. Instead of teaching in France, I’m also looking into getting a job at UNESCO which is headquartered in Paris. Anybody have any other suggestions like that?
Japan honestly seems like the best plan to me at the moment. A) The
JET Program is internationally recognized as a great program, and I'd
actually be making enough money that I wouldn't technically be living
under the poverty line in the US for a change... B) I really like
Japan and it's culture. Although there's a lot that I don't know
about it, that would be the interesting part. C) It would give me
the opportunity to learn the basics of the Japanese language and also
maybe learn more about their current political situation. This could
help long term if I were to decide to join the Foreign Service. I
think I'm afraid that if I get into the Foreign Service they'd lock me
into a position in China, and I'm not sure that's what I'd want.
On the other hand, the Japanese language is just as difficult as
Chinese, and studying it now would probably ultimately impair my
ability to speak the latter. Also, as languages go, Spanish was
actually next on my list. I perceive that Spanish would be easier to
learn than just about any other language I could choose due to my
experience with French. Also, Spanish is a practical language for the
US, not to mention the second most spoken language (I think) in the
world as a first language. This would be where Spain would come in,
but to be honest I don't really know what I would do there. I'm sure
that there are teaching programs there though or something like that.
Of course maybe they might actually want someone that speaks Spanish,
and again we could easily run into the trouble of focusing on teaching
and not language study. This, of course, could also be a problem in
Plan D) Go to grad school. The question would then become where and
in what. Assuming something in, say, International Relations, schools
that I have been looking into in the US (including Johns Hopkins,
Georgetown, and others) generally suggest two years between undergrad
and graduate studies for professional development. The University of
London has a program that could be interesting and only lasts a year.
The question would then become if a European degree would even be
worth it. On that same note, I'd love to go back to France, although
I don't know how feasible/worth it it would be to pursue graduate
studies there either. It would give me a good reason to be there
though, which would be nice. Ultimately I'm planning on going to grad
school, the question is when.
Actually, it’s not going to be much of a rant, but mainly that’s because I’ve already gotten a lot of that off my chest over the last week. It’s just that I a) don’t understand how it happened, and b) am ashamed. For the last four years I have been justifying Bush’s presidency by telling myself that, “It was really a freak accident. Bush won on a technicality. Actually, it was Gore that won.” Now I just have no justification! However, I am starting to hear snippets of investigations into voter fraud which I find quite interesting. Before it seemed to just be rumors floating around Whitman’s student listserv, but now even MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann has picked up the story, so maybe this is real. You can check out his blog at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6210240/ for the skinny. Maybe there is some hope!
Anyway, having essentially resigned myself to Bush as the next president, I’ve suddenly become much keener on enjoying my time here in China with the thought that maybe I’ll just have to stay. I’m not saying that China is heaven or anything, but it’s always a good idea to enjoy the present, right? On Election Day (which was actually Wednesday the 3rd for us here in China) we had a party over at some friends’ apartment to watch the returns. We started just after lunch and kept watching until about 5 or 6 when it was rather apparent that it was Bush that was going to carry it. Needless to say several of us (myself more than included) were sufficiently toasted. We ended the night at a bar with some Italians, Australians, a Polack, a Spaniard, a Frenchie, and a Quebecoise. Being the inebriated despondent self that I was that evening I think I stuck my foot in my mouth more than once. My personal favorite quote of the evening, by me of course, was something to the effect of “Italy, screwed up! I mean, what’s up with Burlesconi? Poland, screwed up! Australia, screwed up! US, screwed up royally! France. Your last election was a joke too! Canada. Well, you’re only on my bad list because of Celine Dion. So that leaves us with Spain which is the only country not on my bad list!” If you’re ever curious how to win friends and influence people, do be sure to talk with me :o).
On a completely unrelated note, this weekend I also went to the Golden Temple and the Western Hills with friends. I had a really good time at both places, as they’re simply spectacular. I will put up photos when I get a chance—especially some before and after shots of the Western Hill comparing it with today and three summers ago when I was here last. Remarkably enough there was less pollution then!
I’m off to Shanghai on Thursday, which I’m really excited about. So my next post will probably not be until after my return next week. So have a great weekend everybody!
Monday, November 01, 2004
First, I should probably explain what a laowai (pronounced lao-why) is. Literally, lao means old and wai means outside. It actually is a semi-diminutive name for foreigners. Although I’m almost positive that it can be used to refer to any foreigner in China, I think it’s usually applied to people that are obviously not from China such as those of either European or African descent. I haven’t really heard of Koreans being referred to as laowai.
Second, I should bring up a recent happening here in grand old China. In the Henan Province, which is in mid-north-eastern China (see the map), and is in any case quite far away from where I am in the south-west, martial law has been imposed in a town in order to quell ethnically motivated rioting between the Han majority and Hui Muslim minority. You can check out the New York Times article about it at http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/international/AP-China-Rioting.html. I just want to point out again that Henan is nowhere near Yunnan, and that martial law has not been imposed throughout the country, but only in the Langchenggang region, so don’t worry about me! Also, from the sounds of it, it’s probably better that there be the marshal law there protecting the citizens (as long as there are no abuses of the power of course).
I bet most of you have never thought about it before, I know I hadn’t before I came here, but there are 55 nationally recognized minorities in China…granted 90% of the population is actually of the Han majority. They’ve got everything from the Uighurs of Mongolia and Xinjiang (northwest China), to the Tibetans, to the Dai people (who are closely related to the Thai), the Bai (which means white—they wear a lot of white clothing), the Naxi, and even three aboriginal groups in Taiwan (and I will add my normal disclaimer here of: if you consider Taiwan to be part of China that is). Yunnan, the province that I’m staying in is actually home to a whopping 47 of the 55 minorities, and thus I believe makes it among the most diverse places I’ve ever lived (yeah Walla Walla… and Fort Collins… and Nantes).
I think that it makes things easier to have so many different minorities all in the same area because people here are more used to seeing people different from them, but that doesn’t mean that people are necessarily friendly, warm, or accepting to others. All I mean to say is that I think that Yunnan is probably the most open-minded place in China with regards to ethnic differences, which is actually kind of a sad state of affairs if I may be so bold as to express my humble, half-informed opinion. Nevertheless, I definitely think that it makes it a better place to be a laowai than a lot of other places in China (maybe excluding the big cities along the eastern seaboard like Beijing, Shanghai, or especially Hong Kong, but who would want to live in those smog holes?).
I have one American friend who tells tales of her experiences in ChongQing (which is just north of Yunnan in the SiChuan province) as a laowai. She describes it as unbearable. People would glare, some would shout, and the result was that she became quite depressed by the end of her stay there. She was pretty much the only thing they had in the way of foreigners in the city, and after her experiences there she has no doubt why.
Not that it’s much better here sometimes. I have one African American friend here that tries to go out as little as possible, and in any case tries to avoid big crowds (which is quite the feat in China, believe you me). I’ve personally witnessed her getting stared at, cursed out, and poked. Not that it happens all the time, but it quickly starts grating on the nerves. But even for me the stares are so omnipresent that I’ve started to not notice them anymore. What still gets me is when I’m walking down the street and I hear something like, “Look, there’s a laowai!” and they start staring at me and talking about me assuming I don’t understand. I’ve gotten to the point where I turn around and say something to the effect of, “Yeah, I’m a laowai, is there a problem?”
I’m afraid I sound like I’m complaining, or that I’m making it sound like it’s worse than it actually is, neither of which are my intent. Rather, I was just trying to explain one of what Emile Durkheim called social facts of China. I must also add that for every one person that stares or shouts or whatnot there are probably 50 more that don’t—it’s unfortunate that it’s the ones that stare that stick out in the memory. I might also add that my Chinese teacher has made the point that, and this is especially true the more rural one gets, there is still a large part of the population that has never seen a real live westerner in their entire lives, and so they’re just staring out of sheer amazement/curiosity. I think deep down I know that most of them don’t intend any harm, but it’s just as weird to have somebody stare at you with contempt as it is to have someone stare at you with undeserved awe.
All of this got me thinking about something my dad said a few weeks ago. He insisted that I try to stay in China as long as possible to become as acculturated as possible. Really though, it seems quite futile given what I just said, that the Chinese will never accept me as one of their own no matter how hard I try, and that, in any case, I don’t think that I would ever want to become truly Chinese. It’s not the reason I’m here, which I think was probably an important self-discovery! In France I could often pass as a Frenchie, or at the least European. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked in disbelief, “You’re American?!” Here I can’t even get out of the starting gate. Also, it’s not like I ever became French. I’ll always be an American, but I did become part French in the process, and I’ll imagine that I’ll become part Chinese too by the time all is said and done. And really I think that is my goal is to transcend borders and become un homme du monde.
Back to Chinese culture, I love the food. I appreciate how cheap some things are here. I can deal with the guanxi (connections/relationships, pronounced guan-she), and the face giving, the ordered chaos of millions upon millions of people, but there are some things that, although I can live just fine with someone else doing, I will never be comfortable doing, nor do I have the desire to do so. Their sanitation system frightens me at times. I resent some Chinese’s total disregard for the environment while blindly following America’s lead. It bothers me that outright cheating, lying, and embezzlement are accepted parts of daily life even though it makes complete sense to me how it fits into the culture. And, of course, I don’t want to become as xenophobic as some Chinese are (Is it ironic that I’m saying that while simultaneously making overbroad generalizations about a group of people?).
I think that I will close this with a final disclaimer that I know that, of course, not everybody is the same. In fact I’ve met environmentalist Chinese, not to mention others who are more generous and kind towards foreigners than most of the French that I met were to me there. It’s just that when acting like a sociologist and analyzing groups of people it’s hard not to make generalizations, and accounting for individual idiosyncrasies is among the next big challenges that the discipline of sociology must face. Also, I’d like to make it clear that I do indeed appreciate the Chinese and their longstanding culture And with that, I should probably stop before I stick my foot in my mouth too many times, but it was something that I had to get off my chest.
Oh, and as a last reminder, GO VOTE, I did!
Although I never thought it possible, I think I might be partied out. Amazing no? It’s just that it seems to me that partying is pretty much all that we’ve done this weekend. As a matter of fact we’ve managed to figure out a different party for each night. Friday night my apartment was invaded by knife-wielding maniacs ready to impale the flesh of innocent pumpkins. Saturday was the big Halloween Costume Fiesta complete with dancing, the limbo, musical chairs, and the well-loved all-important bobbing for apples. And finally, this evening, on the actual eve of the day of hallows, we decided to take it easy with a film fest.
For Friday evening we were planning a somewhat tame preparatory event for the following evening’s grand fête: pumpkin carving at my house. After searching the entire city for appropriate carving pumpkins to no avail, someone finally tipped us off to the fact that they had such jack-o-ready pumpkins at none other than Carrefour. I swear, sometimes there’s nothing you can’t find there. So, after a few arguments with a produce clerk about what constituted Halloween pumpkins (most pumpkins in China tend to be more gourd/squash-like in shape) and several trips to the back of the store we were able to get a total of seven respectable pumpkins for that evening thinking that maybe there would be around fifteen people so we could all share at two to a pumpkin…imagine my shock at the twenty-some-odd people who arrived at my door later that night (and that doesn’t count the neighbors and fuwuyuan [service attendants] who came to supervise and to offer us smokes!). Let’s just say that I was somewhat underprepared for that large a number of people in my smallish apartment. After several chair runs, stealing a desk from a nearby classroom, a beer run, and a chocolate run we had things under control. I was on team Jeff/Japan (JJ for short) with two Japanese acquaintances (check out the photo of team JJ at my online photo album), and we ended up taking third in the pumpkin carving competition. All in all I think we managed to pull off a fun evening. Even the French were smiling in the end (it helped that I made them stick their hands in pumpkin guts).
Saturday evening was the dance party to which we invited many many people. We were able to convince the fuwuyuan to let us use the cafeteria in our compound for the party, which was a good thing since otherwise it would have been in Joelle and Salvador’s apartment, and I don’t think it could have quite held everybody. Anyway, the planners, who were obviously all American, were expecting an American-style party with dancing and drinking and whatnot. What we had forgotten was that we were in China. We finally realized that just dancing wasn’t really going to work when one of the Chinese guests asked another American guest “So, how many performances will there be tonight?” Now, performances, particularly singing and dancing, are fairly typical events at Chinese parties, but we had managed to forget to plan anything like that. Instead we decided that organized games were in order. We started with a rousing rendition of musical chairs, moved on to the limbo (which the Chinese are surprisingly good at I might add, I think it helps that they’re kind of short to begin with), tried to dance a little with the YMCA and Aseraje (aka the Las Ketchup song), had a costume competition (I didn’t win but, as Michael Jackson, I was a finalist for the best overall costume), and rounded it out with bobbing for apples (I went 1 and 1). Again, I think we were able to pull it off fairly well, we just weren’t expecting to have to do quite as much handholding as we ended up doing. So much for being on auto pilot when hosting parties like I normally am in the US! I ended up being the deejay and emcee at various points during the evening. Again, go see pictures!
After clean up we headed over to the grand reopening/Halloween party at a bar nearby called the Speakeasy. I think our group had the best costumes, but there were some other interesting ones there too. I actually spent most of my time there chatting with some French girls that I had met earlier that night at our party. It was really good to practice my French, but I just keep thinking: aack, my French is getting worse by the day! In any case, it ended up being a strange mix of people there, so we left within fairly short order (only stayed until 3:30AM or something like that, but we didn’t get there ‘til like 1AM).
Finally, today we gathered in another friend’s apartment for scary movies. I also watched one myself earlier today called Jiaozi, which is Chinese for Dumplings. I was generally aware that the plot had something to do with a woman who killed people and put them into dumplings, but I wasn’t quite expecting a Chinese abortion doctor who served the aborted fetuses to people in order to make them look younger and more attractive. Needless to say it was more disturbing than scary. This evening, however, we watched the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, which was quite intriguing and vaguely suspenseful, although again, not very scary. I had never seen it and really just enjoyed the dialogue. There were some scenes that were incredibly racy and all they were doing was talking! Of course then they got on to the entire face smush kiss, and that was a total turn off.
So, all in all, I had a good Halloween weekend, and am looking forward to the next scary day on Tuesday. I’ve already faxed in my ballot, and want to take this time to remind you yet again to VOTE ON TUESDAY!!! YOU GUYS HAVE IT EASY ACTUALLY BEING IN THE COUNTRY, SO VOTE! We’ll be over here watching episodes of the West Wing and drinking beer on Wednesday morning waiting for the final tally (cause we didn’t party enough this weekend…).
Anyway, let me leave you with some Halloween Fun Facts (which may or may not be actually related to Halloween):
2- The number of cases of beer that we bought for Saturday that did not get drunk at the party.
1- The number of people at the Saturday night party who called me a lush for having about three Dixie cups of beer.
5 yuan- The average amount for our Chinese crazy pumpkins (about equal to $0.65)
4- The number of complete seasons of the West Wing that I have watched in the last two weeks.
5.5-6- The number of months old for the most nutritious aborted fetus according to the movie Dumplings. Also, babies resulting from incest are also apparently more potent but cause a fishy smell. Like I said, the movie was quite disturbing.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Actually, I’ve just been in a pensive mood of late. That’s not to say that I’ve been depressed exactly, it just means that after two months here in Kunming and five months in China/Asia (depending on whether or not you feel like considering Taiwan to be part of China) the stars have aligned themselves in such a way that I seem to be constantly on the edge of some great revelation about how my experiences here come together and make sense. Alas, it never comes, and it makes actually organizing one’s thoughts more difficult and time intensive than maybe it should be, which should explain the delay in posting. Let me attempt to share some thoughts with you all anyway. I mean, what’s the point of a blog if you can’t pour your heart and soul out to nobody in particular?
Point for Reflection #1: One of my classes has its final exam this Friday. It’s over. It’s done. There’s nothing more that I’m going to teach these students, and if that’s not a scary thought, I don’t know what is (okay, not true, I would consider four more years of Bush to be a scary thought). It’s my first class, and although I didn’t have them for the entire semester, in fact I only got them for the last two months, I’m still left with the feeling that it’s somehow one of those life changing moments. Although I’ve had jobs before where I’ve had some semblance of authority over one or more persons, for the first time I feel directly responsible for the fate of other people’s lives.
It’s a thought that really hit home to me last week when I was talking with my students about the final exam, an exam that will make up more than a significant portion of their final grade for this class. First, I must explain that this class is a class of adult professionals who earned the opportunity to take this intensive English training course by working hard at their Electrical Power Company. It’s a class offered to people that the company is hoping to promote up to its higher echelons, but whose English is maybe not quite up to par. In any case, last Friday we were talking and the students seemed incredibly worried about the final. I told them not to worry too much, but they kept insisting—they even went to the point of siccing (sp?) another teacher on me to air their concerns. Finally the other shoe dropped and they made clear why they were so worried: if they didn’t pass the class, they would be required to pay the roughly ￥4000 (around $500) tuition for the course instead of their company. It seemed a lot to me, but not the end of the world. Then one of the students mentioned that ￥4000 is somewhere around three or four months of their salary.
Now, how can I in good conscience, regardless of the student’s performance, fail any of these students? And anyway, how did I suddenly get the right to decide between whether a person gets to live a comfortable life (in China that $500 goes a long way) or live in destitution. I’m more than likely making too big of a deal out of this, but I couldn’t help but wonder when I signed up for this.
Preview of Coming Attractions: Well, as this already seems long enough (yeah, I know the attention span you people have), I thought that I would go ahead and leave Reflection Points 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 for a later date. But before signing off, just to tantalize your taste buds I thought I’d at least give you the titles of future discussion points. Reflection Point 2 is intriguingly entitled “Beyond Where the Sidewalk Ends” and will be a discussion of my personal Never Never Land known as the YangPu Campus. Reflection Point 3 will consider ”Crisis at Hand: Midlife in the 21st Century?” Reflection Point 4 turns to reflections about the Chinese experience and is entitled “LaoWai and Proud.” Reflection Point 5 is perhaps more fun and will include a diatribe on the topic: “Why Karaoke is Fun.” “Scary Days” is the title for Reflection Point 6, and will obviously be a recounting of my Halloween and Election Day experiences in China. PSA: ROCK THE VOTE ON NOVEMEBER 2ND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Finally Reflective Point 7 will perhaps be less reflective and more focused on my experiences at a teachers conference which I will be attending in Shanghai from November 12-14th, and is tentatively entitled “Shanghaied.”
I know you’re all excited for the next installment now!
Thursday, October 07, 2004
What I ended up doing was taking a good long (19 hours!..and the person that bought the tickets for us thought it would only be 9!!!) train ride up from Kunming to the capital of SiChuan province, ChengDu (pronounced more like ch-ung-doo) to meet two other Whitman in China folk who are teaching in Xi’an (pronounced she-on). During the train ride I got to play the main attraction for a number of Chinese youngsters who thought that seeing a foreigner was just about the coolest thing they could imagine. It was exhausting, but at least they were pretty cute, and I even taught one how to sing “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Anyway, despite my longer-than-expected train ride, we all arrived in ChengDu at about the same time, so it worked out.
After a night wandering around ChengDu and getting thoroughly lost, we got up early the next morning to catch a bus to KangDing (pronounced k-awng-ding), a small town up in Western SiChuan. It was an eight-hour ride, but at least the scenery was gorgeous. The town itself lies at about 13,200 feet and has a large Tibetan population as it is actually not very far from Tibet. Since the new highway from ChengDu to KangDing is mainly finished, KangDing has suddenly become quite the tourist spot for the Chinese themselves. The problem is that KangDing is a pretty small town that isn’t really used to seeing so many visitors, so they weren’t exactly ready for all the people. What that meant was that we could not find a hotel room for the life of us. While wandering from hotel to hotel we happened to run across a Danish couple from Copenhagen that was in the same situation. So, working together we were able to get one hotel to clear out a room in a neighboring tea house of its mahjong table and they laid some mats on the floor for us. Actually, the mats were probably the most comfortable thing that I’ve slept on since my arrival in China; for some reason the Chinese prefer their mattresses hard.
Having secured a place to stay, we went exploring. The town was quite interesting, and the surroundings beautiful. We had some good meals, took a hike up to a Tibetan “stupa” (although I think stupas are actually Indian things, I don’t know what else to call it—it’s essentially a big statue/temple with no opening designed to hold relics…check out my photo album for a better idea of what I’m talking about.), relaxed in some hot springs, and traded drinking games with our new Danish friends.
Our bus ride back down to ChengDu turned out to be about 10 hours…a few more than expected. The problem was that we got stuck behind a construction zone. As we found out when we finally got to go through, the zone itself that was blocked off took us 45 minutes to get through. What this meant was that since it took so long to get through, they blocked off the road for about FOUR HOURS at a time!!! Yep, we got to just sit there for about 3 hours and 45 minutes. I couldn’t believe it! Alas, it’s the Chinese way.
Back in ChengDu we decided to take a trip out to ChengDu’s famous Panda Breeding and Research Station. It was great getting to see so many pandas up close and personal. I can’t figure out why they are so cute, but I think it must be the black circles around their eyes. They really make them look like they’re just looking at you with those big, round, puppy dog eyes.
Anyway, after all that fun and excitement, it was back to Kunming for me. Coming back I didn’t get mobbed by children (although they did try once), but it was mainly because I wasn’t feeling so well. Then, right as I was going to bed, it hit me. I ran to the bathroom and threw up dinner and maybe even lunch. It continued that way about every two hours or so. At least after the second time it was mainly just dry heaves. I’m assuming I caught some sort of stomach thing, but I’m not exactly sure where I got it from. It has meant that I’ve been awfully tired though because I haven’t really been able to eat anything (although I was able to keep down crackers this morning for lunch, so hopefully that means I’m on the mend). I start teaching tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll be feeling even better by then.
Anyway, here’re some fun facts for Thursday:
0- The number of pandas that were born in captivity outside of China that have survived.
40- The percent of time I spent in a train or bus on my vacation.
2- The number of weeks it’s been since I last did laundry. The fuwuyuan (worker people) here said my laundry basket was particularly heavy today.
<1000- The number of calories I've consumed in the last 48 hours I think.
9- The number of new photos I have up in my photo album, so go check it out!
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
It doesn’t help that my students haven’t exactly been in a hard-working kind of mood. Yesterday was the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival and Friday is National Day. I’m still not entirely positive what one is supposed to do to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival outside of eating moon cakes and staring at the full moon. However, given some of the hung-over students I had today… I remember reading about the Mid-Autumn Festival one day in my Chinese class last year and was like “yeah, like people really just sit there and stare at the moon.” But lo and behold, people were out en force yesterday to look at the full moon.
For National Day we get a seven-day vacation. Well, actually we get a five day vacation and they’ve moved the following weekend to butt up against it. You’ll love this schedule: National Day (October 1st—Mao founded the P.R.C. on October 1, 1949 which would make us 55 years old this year) is on Friday, so we get Friday through next Tuesday off. Then they moved the weekend from Saturday and Sunday to Wednesday and Thursday. We then pick up on Friday the 8th with our Friday classes. Saturday and Sunday then become Wednesday and Thursday. Crazy, huh?!
Anyway, for vacation I will be meeting up with Afton and Erin (two other Whitties who have been teaching up at Xi’an) in Chengdu (the capital city of the Sichuan province). After we get there we’re hoping to travel around Sichuan a little bit. It’s apparently a horrible time to travel, but it should be an adventure at the least. Actually, I’m excited because it will be the first time that I will actually go traveling independently in China (unless, of course, one considers Taiwan as part of China).
Now I just have to make it to this Friday!
Also, I have signed up for one of those help me remember your birthday services, so pop over to Birthday Alert and enter your birthday, and if you’re really lucky, I’ll remember to send you something!
And finally, I just got my computer back from the repair shop this afternoon, so I have some photos of my apartment and whatnot to share with y’all. Just head over to: HPphoto, and click on the album "Kunming 1."
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
And that’s just one of three others that I learned last Saturday. It was a fun night. A group of other English teachers and company went out dancing and drinking. It was actually my first time out on the town in Kunming this go around, and I really had a blast. I needed to get some dancing out! It was especially fun doing it at a Chinese disco where I stand out to say the least—the Chinese are, on a whole, worse dancers than the French (no offense Jean-Luc, but you know it’s true). I actually got several people just staring at me trying to copy some of my dance moves, which I’m particularly proud of given that behind me but up on the platform there were various gogo dancers (both men and women). The disco should’ve paid me…
In random other news, I got a new digital camera and a toaster oven today. I took a video of my friends doing the bumble bees game, so once I figure out how to make everything work, I’ll be sure to post it. Meanwhile, my friend has some good pictures up on her online photo album, so let me direct you there. As for the toaster oven, I made chocolate peanut butter cookies this evening and invited everybody up to my apartment for cookies and milk. A grand success as I found another flamenco enthusiast by chance.
And, to bring back the fun facts, I just heard this one tonight:
36,000 – The average number of cookies consumed by an American during her/his lifetime! I think I only have like 1,000 to go :o).
Monday, September 20, 2004
I realized that this was actually becoming a problem while walking home this afternoon after teaching a class; I said to myself “Because it’s such a nice day outside, so I decided to walk home” without thinking much of it. “Because…so…” (along with “although…, but…”) are both typical Chinicisms (ooh, yay for neologisms) and are actually just direct translation from the Chinese grammatical construction. But that’s not all that worries me.
Last night, while looking for a list of common errors of Chinese learners of English I came across a website Common English errors in Chinese, which is a list discussion by different English teachers about problems that they’ve found with their own Chinese students. As I was reading some of the items brought up by other teachers I kept on thinking to myself “Huh, that’s not correct?”
Case in point: “My city is a beautiful city!” It’s the way most any Chinese will describe her/his hometown when probed on the subject. Now, either I’ve been living with the Chinese for too long, or there is nothing wrong with describing a city as ‘beautiful.’ The poster’s argument was that he wouldn’t describe Detroit as a beautiful city…and I think I can agree with him on that point* (*DISCLAIMER- My only knowledge about the city of Detroit comes from Eminem’s masterpiece 8 Mile. For all I know it could be a lovely city.) However, I might reconsider on, say, Dunkirk (a town in northern France best-known for the famous French retreat at the beginning of WWII where English fisherman were rowing across the Channel to help bring French and British forces across), or Dubrovnik (so I’m told, and I’ll back up if it’s anything like Split and the rest of southern Croatia), or Dali (a smaller city in the Yunnan province—read only like 1 million people—and the capital of the Bai minority), or even maybe Denver (the mile-high city famous for the worst NBA team in the league :ob ). Am I just completely out of touch?
In that same vein, there’s also apparently a problem with saying “It’s REALLY a beautiful city” instead of “It’s a REALLY beautiful city.” I’ll admit that the meaning is a bit different, but, in my mind, they’re both correct sentences.
The one thing that I could agree on was one poster’s comment that “[he]'d like to get [his] hands on the person who first suggested the use of ‘and so on’ to [his] students!” If he could find that person, I’d be right there along with him. I think it’s a direct translation problem because in Chinese, when you’re making a list, you would end it with a “shenme de.” That would best be translated as “and so on,” but literally means something more like “and what else.” The problem is that they just don’t use the expression correctly. As far as I’m concerned, when you use the expression “and so on” in English, you need to be talking about a very specific category of things so that the listener/reader can quickly get a picture of what the “so on” might be. For example, if you like eating fruits, you might say that, “I really like eating fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and so on.” Obviously the point here was that you meant you like eating berries—of course you could have just said so in the first place. The Chinese usage is something more like “My favorite hobbies are reading, swimming, and so on.” To what, pray tell (is that the right ‘pray’ there?), is that “so on” referring?! Shooting small children with pellet guns?
And while we’re on misused expressions: “in a word” is, in a word, an offender. I suppose that technically there’s nothing wrong with it, but I don’t think that it’s used all the commonly in America. Plus, I’ve decided that they’re using it all wrong. The Chinese version: “In a word, I really like my hometown and would like to be your guide if you could come to visit.” It’s essentially used in China to mean something like “in summary” or “in conclusion” as the beginning of a concluding paragraph or sentence. I honestly have no idea if that’s correct at all, but I decided to make a new rule for my students: if you use “in a word” in a sentence, you only get one word to follow it.
In a word, it hasn’t worked yet. :o)
Thursday, September 16, 2004
Nothing much new to report on the Chinese front, except for maybe that I'm also offcially a Carrefour (think French version of a super-Walmart, and you're on the right track) addict. My friends here make fun of me for how often I go, which they have every right to do. Yesterday I bought a cleaver (for Chinese cooking!!) there yesterday, which was exciting. Now I can actually cut my squashes!
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
To make up for it, I watched almost 5 hours of the television program 24 today. That should kill enough brain cells to make up for all that knowledge gained while reading the book I hope.
Also, I finally have my photos up from Hong Kong, the official most pedestrian unfriendly city in the world. My digital camera was (and still is) brokeded. Sad! But it means that I have some good photos that I took with my real actual manual old-fashioned camera on film (b&w film even). They can be found at the following address:
Sunday, September 12, 2004
For my program, I have to send back "dear friends" letters every once in a while. Since it is similar to things I would post on a blog, I thought I'd go ahead and post it, even though it's not all that different from my last post...
It’s hard for me to believe it, but I’m already well into my third week here in Kunming. Besides enjoying the cooler weather (I was in hot and humid Taibei, Taiwan for the summer), I am also enjoying getting reacquainted with the place (I came here three summers ago with the Whitman Summer Studies in China Program).
It amazes me a bit how much has actually changed, and how much is just the same as well. I do not remember rush hours before in Kunming (despite the fact that it is a town of well over 2.65 million people) – people just didn’t have enough money to have their own personal cars. But now! The bike lanes are emptier and emptier, and the streets are cram packed with automobiles. A taxi ride that I can normally do in about 10 minutes or less has been known to jump to almost half an hour if I hit the wrong time! And the worst part? I heard one statistic that said that there are 200 new personal cars hitting the streets of Kunming each week (it might have been day, but that sounds like a lot…I’ll work on checking my facts).
I’m living, again, in what I like to call the “foreigners compound.” Don’t worry, it’s actually a very nice place – one of the buildings is even newly remodeled – but I just can’t think of a better word to describe it. There is one main gate/door to the first building that you can walk through to get through to the main courtyard. The courtyard has an additional three buildings that can only be accessed from within the walls. It’s a nice place to live because it’s easier to meet other foreigners. At the same time, it does a good job of separating us from the Chinese. I live in a quite big apartment that has more storage than I think I’ll ever know what to do with (except for in the bathroom for some odd reason, where there is only a little ledge.).
I’ve had two full weeks of teaching so far. Right now I teach 6 hours of Sophomore Composition in the English Department of Yunda, as well as 4 hours of English Composition at an associated university (I think…) for adults that seems to be run either by or for an electric company. The students there are all employed, and are essentially there for an English (and maybe managerial) boot camp that lasts three months. Speaking of boot camps, after the freshman get done with their month-long required political/army training, I will start up 8 more hours of Freshman Oral English.
There have already been some successes and some failures in my classes so far; like they say, teaching is trial by fire! I really like the students in my classes, and have found them quite respectful for the most part. Last Friday was Teachers’ Day, so one of my classes gave me a card upon which they drew a little apple. Too cute!
I would say that the biggest “failure” has probably been trying to teach my sophomores about what I call self-guided learning. At this point, all that means is to have the students self-evaluate their English writing strengths and weaknesses, and create personal goals to work towards this semester based on this personal insight. I, of course, have been trying to help them understand this concept, as it is COMPLETELY foreign to the Chinese, but some students are still a little confused. I asked for three goals as homework this week, and got some about, for example, how one student “wants to travel around the world with my husband when I turn 60.” A lovely goal, but not exactly what I was looking for… The second step of the goal was to write a concrete way of knowing that they have made significant progress towards achieving that goal. A majority of students said something to the effect of: “After you have taught us and this course is over.” I’m going to try again this week to explain it a little more clearly.
Outside of teaching, I’ve also been pleased to find some outside job opportunities already. In fact, the four hours at the Electric Company School, is one of those. In addition, they asked me to make a three hour lecture to one of their classes last week for extra pay. And my new favorite one is that sometime this week I’ll be filming a promotional video for one of the best hotels in town. They needed a western-businessman-looking person to be filmed using their facilities. Should be fun.
Also, if anyone is interested, I’m maintaining a blog during my stay here in China. It can be found at http://juntis.blogspot.com . It is actually what I’m calling an Invisiblog, as the Chinese government has apparently decided to censor all blogs on blogspot.com… but I can still post to it, so you should check it out! Right now it’s mainly about my summer in Taiwan, but it’ll be more about China has time moves forward!
I hope that all is well in Walla Walla, and that the beginning of the school year is not too much of a shock for people!
Thursday, September 09, 2004
I hate to give China a bad rap on the whole “freedom of speech” thing, because things aren’t probably as serious as you might imagine them in the US (or elsewhere), but this is my first time coming up against actual censorship on the net! I can’t see a damn thing that has blogspot as part of its domain name. Interesting, no? At the very least, I can still post to it. So, assuming that you all can still read it, I thought I’d update you all as to my current situation in China.
In case you missed it, I made it here safely. I arrived exactly two weeks ago now (crazy!), and am really starting to get into the swing of things. It was a bit lonely at first, but I’ve met lots of new people this week, so there seems to be no lack of social engagements. In fact, within the last week, I’ve been treated to three lovely (large) dinners, including one huge welcome banquet (which they held on my birthday, so they even had a birthday cake, and I got to sit next to the head of the International Exchange Program at the “important people’s table).
I have only one more class on Friday morning, and then I will be done with my second week of classes. So far, things are going pretty well. Since I’ve now met with all of my classes at least twice, I’m starting to get a good feel for each of them. I have six hours of Sophomore Composition, which has been interesting. I tried to introduce them to the topic of self-guided learning (a style which has students make goals to work towards during the semester) with mild success. I just got their goals back this week, and some of them are about how they want to travel around the world after they’re retired…apparently they missed something. I also teach four hours per week at a school for working adults that seems to be associated with some electric company of some sort. I think it’s something like a continuing education type thing where they come to learn about English and about management. Starting the week of the 20th, I will also have eight hours of Freshman Oral English. We’ll see how that goes.
Besides teaching, I’m even making some extra money on the side. I was asked to give a three hour lecture on Monday (yikes!) to an oral English class. I think it was only over about half of their heads :o). I have also been asked to be in a promotional video for the Harbor Plaza Hotel (for those of you who this means something to, that’s the restaurant with the revolving bar and the good Japanese restaurant) along with one of the other English teachers. I get to wear a fancy suit and everything. We’ll see how that one turns out.
Alright, this seems like quite the long post, so I’ll leave it hear for now. If you’re here reading this, then I probably miss you, and you should drop me a line!
Oh, and before I leave, let’s not forget the Titillating Tidbits for Thursday (it’s past midnight here):
26- The number of different dishes served at “my birthday” banquet.
4- The number of flights of stairs I have to climb to get to my room…which is actually much less than I it was for my dorm in Taiwan!
BaBaoFan “Pizza” (I think I might actually call it a BaBaoFan Gratin)- My newest favorite fusion food. Babaofan, or Eight Treasure Rice, is rice that has 8 different types of candied fruits in it.
5- The number of hours I spent grading papers yesterday! I swear those things just start spontaneously replicating!!
Saturday, August 21, 2004
I am also actually looking forward to, if not a little nervous about, starting my first real actual job too as English Professor at Yunnan University in Kunming. I leave tomorrow for Hong Kong to get my visa, then on Wednesday (assuming everything has gone according to plan), I will leave for Kunming.
I’ve been preparing a bit for my new job, and have managed to create a website that I hope that I will eventually be able to use over there. You can check it out at http://students.whitman.edu/~knezovjb/CIP/. It’s called the City Insights Project, and its designed to help introduce my Chinese students to American culture by looking at various jobs in the US. I’ll also e-mail you all my new contact information shortly. I already have my address, but maybe I’ll hold out on sending the information to everybody until I know my new phone and cell phone numbers….
These past weeks have actually been quite busy in and of themselves. Since I’m technically leaving a week before the semester here ends, I’ve had to spend most of this week with my nose in the books, learning an extra chapter that the rest of the class will be tackling next week, as well as taking the final and all that jazz. But now I’m done with class for a while, and that is, once again, a nice feeling. Of course, it’s back to it once I hit Kunming.
As for exciting events that have taken place since last I posted, several weekends ago, Nick, Kenta (a Japanese students who was the native Japanese speaker at Whitman the year I was in France who happened to be visiting Taiwan), and two of my Korean friends from here went to Hua Lian on Taiwan’s eastern coast to visit the beautiful Tailuge (Taroko) Gorge. It was really quite beautiful. It’s all marble, and the sheer number of boulders that the river has brought down with it over the years is impressive.
The first night that we got there we decided to go to some hot-springs that were about 2km up the road from where we were staying. Since we didn’t have a car or anything, we started out by walking, but eventually just hitchhiked up there. The hot springs were fun—the first I’ve been to since I was really young (I only every remember going to hot springs in Wyoming and South Dakota of all places). However, they were really hot, which meant that we often had to go down in the river to cool down. Well, at one point the to Korean girls and us three guys got separated: they were in the river and we were in the hot springs. We didn’t think much of it, but then, when we were ready to go, we started actually looking for the girls, but couldn’t find them. We called and called but got no response (keep in mind that it’s pitch black out. I actually haven’t seen as many stars in my life besides maybe in the Sahara or up in the Rockies). So then we borrowed somebody’s flashlight and looked more. Nothing. At this point we were starting to get worried that they had slipped down the river, so we took the light and started looking down the river a bit. Still nothing. Panic ensues. I mean, the place isn’t very large, where could they have gone?
So, we run up the path back out of the gorge to the road hoping we’d spot them. Nick took their clothes to “let them know that we’ve gone…” They were nowhere along the path, including the bathroom, which is where we thought they’d be. So, we start running the 2km down the hill to the little town where we’re staying. The creepiest part of that was running through a tunnel that was absolutely and completely pitch black. You couldn’t see a thing, and it made the sounds bounce around a bit. I think I would have been more creeped out if I wasn’t on such an adrenaline high, but it’s certainly an experience I’m not going to forget.
Anyway, we eventually find someone to take us the rest of the way down the hill to the police station. There we were confronted with one very nice policeman, and one who was rather apathetic towards the situation—he was rather large, sitting in a nice big leather chair, smoking, and watching a soap opera. Once we finally convinced them that there was a problem, and that Kenta, despite being Asian, had worse Chinese than us, they finally motivated enough to take us out to the car and drive us up to the springs. Right as we got there I looked out the window, and lo and behold, there were our two Koreans walking down the road in their swimsuits. The cops honked, and they freaked, thinking it was somebody…ummmm…soliciting them.
As it turns out, they were sitting behind a boulder that absolutely obscured our view of them in the river chatting the whole time. They thought that the people shining the flashlights all over the place were very kind to show them what the other side of the river looked like… Since Nick had stolen all their clothes and everything, they ended up taking other people’s shoes to walk up the path back up to the road, thinking it was a practical joke and trying to figure out ways to get us back. So, it turned out to be a lot of fuss for nothing. BUT, to be fair, we went back the next day, and since it was crowded wandered down the river a bit to have to peace and quiet. While we were down there wading around a woman started coming down the river and couldn’t stop. I ended up helping her out (thank goodness we were downstream!). So I guess our fears were actually justified.
The rest of the trip wasn’t quite as exciting, but it was fun. Learned a fun Japanese drinking song from Kenta… My alcohol tolerance (not to mention my waistline) has certainly decreased over these past few months. While we were in the gorge, it only took me 2.5 beers to get pretty well toasted.
And, to sign off from Taiwan, let me finish with a few last fun facts from Taiwan:
Christian- The religion it is assumed all white people are. Also, the Taiwanese seem to think that Christianity and Catholicism are the same thing…
English- The language it is assumed all white people speak, much to the chagrin of my Byelorussian friend.
2- The number of typhoons we’ve had this week in Taiwan.