A spinoff in proper "Rhoda" style of my patented e-mail blastograms, this blog was created with the intention of keeping friends and family updated on and amused by my life.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Hi all and welcome to the new home of my old blog Fun Facts for wHeNeVeR! I got tired of always having my blog "cloaked" by the Chinese government, so I thought I'd skip adresses and lose them. Due to complications with the way I was posting pictures though I've decided to remake my old blog as Fun Fotos for wHeNeVeR where I will continue posting my daily pictures. This one, on the other hand, will be more focused on my long, boring, pictureless diatribes :o). Enjoy!


Monday, November 15, 2004


Well, I just got back from my weekend in Shanghai and therefore thought it only appropriate to jump straight to Reflection Point #8: Shanghaied!

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.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

What to do?!

Not that I'm particularly trusting voting right now, but since I like getting other people’s opinions, I also thought I’d include a little poll so you could vote for what I should do next year (not that I will necessarily listen :o) ), but if you do choose to vote, I ask that you at least glimpse at the long version of the choice!

What should Jeff do with himself next year?
”Yunjoy” life at Yunnan University in Kunming
Go somewhere else in China
Head off to Taiwan
Experience Japan via the JET Program
Try teaching in France
Pursue options with UNESCO
Hit the streets of Madrid
Go to grad school

Free polls from Pollhost.com


Crisis at Hand

Well, while I’m at it, and since I already have it written, I thought I’d go ahead and move back to Reflection Point #3- Crisis at Hand: Midlife in the 21st Century.

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.


Election Day Doldrums

Well, I think that I’ve been avoiding posting to the blog for the last week as kind of way to deny that anything has actually happened in the last week, but alas I must relent—I’m just now making it to the stage where I can say that Bush won the election. Four more years, aaaaaaah! Now, I’m sure that there is somebody out there who will eventually read this who voted for/supports Bush, and I’m just going to apologize for offending you in advance and say you’re forewarned.

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

Laowai and Proud

Well, I know I’m all out of order again, but recent events have made talking about this subject seem more appropriate. So, here’s my Reflection Point #4: Laowai and Proud.

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!


Happy Halloween!!

Well, so I know I’m skipping ahead, and that Election Day hasn’t even happened, but I wanted to go ahead and recount my Halloween tales while they were still somewhat pertinent. Thus, with no further ado, I humbly submit my Reflection Point 6, Part I: Scary Days: All Hallow’s Eve for your approval. Also, you must check out the photos from the various events!

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.