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.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Ramblings

Well, it’s kinda hard for me to pick out a real thread to write about this week other than that it seemed really busy. I don’t know, I thought that with only teaching 10 hours per week, I would not feel busy, and yet somehow I’m managing to do so. I think I mainly feel like that when I have lots of grading to do, as was the case this week, but also it seems like there has just been a lot of stuff going on. Between studying for two tests (the Foreign Service Written Examination, FSWE and the 汉语水平考试, Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, HSK, Chinese Level Test), trying to sort what I’m going to do next year, looking after Maurice, planning my mother’s trip to China in late April, and keeping up with various social engagements, it makes for a full week!

I started seriously studying for the FSWE this week. I downloaded the study guide, and I’ve been doing some outside research as what I saw in the study guide scared me a little bit. It actually looks like an interesting test, but the job knowledge section is just so incredibly broad that it’s just plain intimidating. One question you’re asked to whom such and such a bureau reports, and the next one is about the pampas of Peru and you just sit there wondering ‘where did that one come from?’ There are some bright spots though, as the English usage section is pretty much a snap. Little did I know that being an English teacher actually had practical applications in the world! And because of my studies, I now know the difference between GDP and GNP, which I’m probably too excited about, but I never knew before.

In other news, Maurice and I are getting along swimmingly. I’ve more or less got him paper trained, which I’m happy about, and he understands “guolai” (which is Chinese for “come”) when he wants to (which is most of the time). Next we’re going to have to work on sit and stay because I can barely get the food in his dish before he’s all over it. We’ve been visiting Cuihu (Green Lake) a lot, and he seems to enjoy himself there. He’s found a best friend called DuoDuo with whom he plays often. He’s getting a lot more self-confident than before, and now actually fights back whereas before he would just rollover when another dog approached. Of course, on the flip side, that means that he took on a husky puppy the other day which was totally out of his league, but that’s a detail. My other favorite part is that he still has yet to figure out that his hind end is attached to his front end, which means that he still tends to fall off things like curbs and couches on a fairly frequent basis. Hopefully he’ll find his balance soon. :o)

Yesterday evening we all went out karaokeing (how in the world might one spell that word?) which is quickly becoming one of my favorite pastimes, and is always an experience. The thing that kept frustrating me last night is that workers at the KTV joint kept on turning to my friends “Australian Geoff” (whose parents are both of Chinese origin) and Salvador (who is Mexican, and really looks more Lao than Chinese) and talking with them quickly in Chinese because they look remotely Chinese. Of course, neither of them can really speak Chinese. I guess it’s a normal reaction to assume that in a group of foreigners, the people who look Chinese are maybe actually Chinese acting as guides, but you’d think that if that were the case they would actually approach the staff and start talking and not one of the laowai. The one time that really frustrated me though, was when we were walking in and they started talking to me because I was the first person in the door, and the second Geoff walked in they stopped talking to me and turned to him instead and I had to explain that “No, in fact he doesn’t speak Chinese, talk with me.” I mean, we were in the middle of a conversation for Pete’s sake!

As for today, after getting home from karaokeing at like 2AM and spending another hour in my room eating popcorn, we decided upon an 11:30AM brunch in celebration of Easter. People managed to drag themselves out of bed in time, and we actually had a very large turnout and had a quite enjoyable brunch spurned on by good weather (as opposed to the rest of the week which has been quite cold and gray :o( ).

I guess that’s it for this week. Sorry it’s a touch disorganized and doesn’t necessarily flow that well, but it’s just been one of those kinds of weeks! Happy Easter everybody.

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

The China Daily

Well, I know that this is already perhaps a beleaguered point, but I just wanted to let you all see for yourself what kind of a newspaper the China Daily is by presenting for your approval some articles out of their Friday, 18 March 2005 edition.

The way it works is that they have a whole page dedicated to news from around China, dividing it into 5 regions: Central, North, East, West, and South. Today’s top story from the central region with illustration and everything? “Mother hen cares for ‘adopted’ pups,” and it goes something like this:

“Motherly instincts know no boundaries in the animal kingdom, it seems.
“And a hen clucking away has decided that one mother dog’s neglect for her puppies shouldn’t cause the young dogs to go without motherly care this winter.
“So she ‘adopted’ five pups are her own, while the indifferent dog who gave birth to them stands idly by, the Beijing Morning Post reports.
“The touching story began at a farmer’s house in a suburban area of Changsha in Hunan Province. When the maternally gifted chicken noticed the mama dog leaving her babies unattended in the wintry chill, she decided to take over.
“Leaving her eggs behind on her daily search for food, she leads the little canines outside to take in some sunshine. She clicks and preens their fur with her beak. And, she sometimes warms them under her outspread wings.
“Interestingly, the mother dog remains a disinterested party, calmly watching all the activity from the mother hen as if she has simply found a babysitter, free of charge.”

Other interesting headlines include: “Girl slices hands to avoid piano,” “Dowplaying education helps find true love?” (about a woman with a PhD who had to fake her credentials when filling out a form at a matchmaking agency in order to find potential mates), “Offered: Unlimited adoration and pride” (about an old woman whose children did not want to have a child, so she placed an add in the paper offering her services as a grandmother. She got over 200 replies.), “Rebellious pedestrians get re-educated” (about 10,000 people in Wuhan being forced to watch videos about safe street-crossing practices), and it just continues on like that.

Granted, we can learn a lot about Chinese society from some of these articles. The one about the girl cutting her hands so that she wouldn’t have to play the piano anymore shows how much pressure parents put on their children to study hard in this country. Of course, you don’t want to study too hard if you’re a woman, or men will be too intimidated to approach you as is exemplified by the second article. Or the importance of family, with the grandmother looking for any way to have a grand child ($20 says she opted for a family with a little boy.). Or even the average Chinese’s complete disregard for laws, especially jaywalking laws.

But when that’s mostly all you’ve got as news, it’s a little discouraging. It can be almost as humorous as reading the crime report from the Bainbridge Island newspaper though :o).

To be fair, this IS only one page of the newspaper, but when discussing real news, such as the US House’s issuance of a resolution expressing “grave concern” over China’s new anti-cession policy, the party line is sufficiently towed (is that the right tow?). Maintaining its neutrality on the issue, the headline for the article I just mentioned reads “‘Groundless’ US resolution firmly opposed.”

Yeah, this newspaper is about as fair and balanced as Fox News (or my blog for that matter). :o)

Did I mention they censor their own Premier? Read the New York Times article!

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Most Selfish and Irresponsible Thing I've Done EVER

I took him home with me:

But damned if he wasn't worth it!

I know, I know. Before y'all start yelling at me, I just want to let you know that it looks like I'll be staying here for another year, and I already have a potential host family lined up for after that. So maybe I'm not as horribly irresponsible as I feel.

His English name is Maurice, his Chinese name 小熊 or Xiao Xiong, which means Little Bear.

I got him last Sunday at the Bird and Flower Market in downtown Kunming. I often go there and am usually am emotionally prepared to walk by the dog vendors, but this time was different. I had just witnessed the police chasing down the "illegal" vendors (illegal in that they haven't bought exorbitantly priced permits that they can't afford) and confiscating their goods. One was an older woman, obviously a peasant, with a baby on her back pushing a cart of cabbages. She couldn't run fast enough with the baby, so she got caught. It made me want to cry (although I've heard worse stories). Anyway, directly after that we walked by a dog stand, and this one and I just sort of bonded. I left and went to Carrefour for like an hour and a half before deciding to run back and get him.

The first week has been pretty good. He no longer whines at night when he's not sleeping on the bed with me. We've also managed to get rid of his fleas. One unexpected benefit is that he's a real ice breaker! When we're out for walks, Chinese will come up to me and start talking about him, and that's just great. I've spoken more Chinese because of him than I would have ever thought. And he's just so cute and cuddly. We've fallen asleep together on the couch several times.

And in case getting a dog wasn't impulsive enough for one week, I've also managed to sign myself up for the Foreign Service Written Examination in Shanghai for late April. I also just got a new job at Mars Corp. (like the candy maker) here in Kunming teaching some of their employees English for quite good pay. It's been quite a week!

And in other news, I did want to wish Becca a very happy birthday, even if I am a little late (it was on Monday).

Also, some people (read my mom) didn’t appreciate some of my editorial comments in my last post. Although I agree with her to some extent, I just would like to defend my position on why the China Daily is unworthy of the title of newspaper by directing your attention to an article in the New York Times regarding how the China Propaganda Office May Be Censoring the Premier. Oh, so Chinese!

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Surveys and Soapboxes

Well, for a change, I found an interesting article in a Chinese newspaper. It didn't actually just feel like a bunch of fluff, which is honestly what the papers here usually are--at least the ones translated into English.

This one, Sino-US relations in the eyes of Chinese: Survey, I found in the People's Daily (and all this time I was only reading the sorry excuse for a newspaper known as the China Daily!). It's a rather poor (shhh, don't tell anyone I said that :o) ) translation of an article written in Chinese summarizing the results of a recent study on the perceptions of Chinese about the United States and US-Sino Relations.

If I may de-Chinglicize (wOOt, über-useful neologisms! This is soooo what I do every day with my students!) the article a bit and summarize the salient points:

First, the survey basics for those of y’all who care about that scientificy (wOOt wOOt, two neologisms in two paragraphs!) stuff. The survey was conducted on 27 February 2005 in five geographically-diverse major cities across China, including: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan and Chongqing (yeah, I don’t know where Wuhan is either…). It was conducted via a random sample with “follow-up interviews” (although it is unclear what about, as the survey results only give statistics!).

In any case, some of the important numbers: People who “liked Americans” (which includes people who both “somewhat like Americans” and “really like Americans” accounted for a slight majority of people at 66.1%. Note that that’s about 44% of the URBAN population that doesn’t like Americans, and that of those 66.1% who do, it was only 13.2% of all polled who responded that they “really like Americans” sans caveats. Of the 66.1% of respondents who said that they like Americans, about 80% said that it was only somewhat (or as the article puts it “not particularly”)! No wonder I always get looks and am called “laowai” when I’m out on the streets!

As for politics, 49.2% of respondents indicated that they considered the United States to be China’s rival, with 56.7% believing that the US was “containing China.” The action taken by the US government that seemed to most concern these urban Chinese was the sale of arms to Taiwan (37.6% selected it), and in fact, 60.5% of those surveyed thought that the Taiwan question was going to be the main issue to shape Sino-American relations.

But despite not necessarily agreeing with American foreign policy, this seems to have little effect on consumers. American companies will be happy to note that almost half of respondents (49.8%) said they did not discriminate between Chinese and American products in the Chinese market. 25.5% even welcomed American products specifically, though they also noted that they didn’t necessarily meld with their daily life.

The most important part of the survey, as far as I’m concerned was where these urban Chinese said they learned about Americans and American culture. “62.7 percent of Chinese urban residents understood the US through mass media. Another 20.7 percent got their impression of the US mainly through American movies. Only 3.7 percent learned of the US through direct contact with the Americans.”

So in summary: Chinese seem split on how best to consider America and her citizens. Almost half of the respondents treat her more like a rival than anything else. And what’s at the top of the list for why this might be the case? Taiwan.

The thing that most concerns me is that only 3.7% of URBAN Chinese have some sort of direct interaction with Americans, and that a heavy majority of people are relying on TV, newspapers, and American movies to form their judgments about us. In fact, I had a student just the other day tell me that he spent his Winter Break watching Sex in the City, and was wondering if all Americans were like that…yeah, I’m Carrie Bradshaw in the flesh. Granted we are a little bit more open about sex than the somewhat repressed Chinese…

My question is where in TV we’ve been talking so much about Taiwan. It seems to be the one issue that has really shaped how the Chinese view us. The irony, of course, is that the average American probably couldn’t tell you the difference between Taiwan and Thailand. And although I do agree that Taiwan should be independent from the mainland (Chinese government take me now!), it has nothing to do with any of the reasons for which the American government wanted/s it—to think that we supported the dictatorship of Chiang KaiShek and his KuoMingTan because he ruled under the GUISE of democracy (the country was under martial law until 1987 or so)! It wasn’t any more of a democracy in its day than Marcos’ rule in the Philippines, or even Mao’s heavy-handedness on the mainland. To get an introduction to the 2-28 incident and ensuing “white terror,” for example, check out a recent China Post article. CKS didn’t have the mass starvation, which is a point in his corner, but I’ll tell you that when the Japanese during WWII start looking like the good guys, something is most definitely wrong!

Rather, I think it should be its own country because it is in almost every sense of the term already. They have their own currency. They have their own “rogue” consulates that you need to see if you want a visa to get in there. They operate under a different style of government (some would argue). They might share a common language, but there are serious cultural differences that would impede upon working towards a mutual destiny! A big one might be that the Taiwanese don’t hate the Japanese, but also the style and quality of life is better, its development is above par, and its health system is light years ahead of the mainland’s! It would really be a step back for Taiwan to reintegrate with China. And as far as I’m concerned, if we give China Taiwan, we might as well give them Vietnam: that’s about how far removed Taiwan is from China.

But look at me digress (like I ever have wont to do that!). My point is that most Americans could care less about Taiwan, and it’s the main defining feature of urban Chinese’s perception of Americans. Talk about misrepresentation or misunderstanding or miscommunication or something!

I keep on stressing that this poll was conducted of urban Chinese. These are people that I think are going to be the most knowledgeable about things foreign. And even there, so few have based their impressions on actual first-hand contact with other Americans. I can’t help but wonder what peasants in the countryside must think about Americans!

Of course, I’d love to see a survey about Americans’ perceptions of China. I’m sure I’d be just as rattled. After all, our favorite U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently called China "a country we hope and pray enters the civilized world in an orderly way."

Don’t get me started!

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Friday, March 04, 2005

Hey Look, It’s Snowing!

Somehow I can never get the image out of my head of when I was in fourth grade (if I’m not mistaken) and in the choir and we sang an arrangement of two festive pieces combined together. One of which was “Let it Snow.” The other one escapes my memory. In any case, I will never forget how it started, with different people gleefully calling out “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!” and right before we started to sing, one of my good friends shouting out at the top of her lungs “Hey look, it’s snowing!!” Honestly, from that day, every time I see snow, I can’t help but think “Hey look, it’s snowing!” and chuckle to myself.

Well, today was no exception. I finally arose this morning after refusing to get out of bed for roughly an hour because it was too cold out. Finally I motivated enough to make the dash for my green velour robe, the heater in my living room, and a steaming cup of coffee and hot porridge. Throwing back the curtains I saw a gray, drizzly day—or rather a gray, sleety day. The kids in the classrooms across the square didn’t look so happy taking a smoke break while hiding under drab umbrellas. I started to think twice about how important it really was for me to do my errands.

However, the night before I had discussed with Joelle having a gathering at my place during the afternoon, as all the teachers have Friday afternoons off. Noting the cold from the previous day, we thought that it would be best to have a snuggly warm hot cocoa and card party. Joelle remarked “it’ll be just like having a snow day at home!” The invitations were out, but we needed cocoa and some basic ingredients for treats that afternoon. So grudgingly, I changed into my clothes (huddling next to the heater while so doing), and walked out the door with my umbrella, ready for the worst.

Miracle of miracles, as I stepped out the door I noticed that, in fact, it was not sleet, but snow! Without fail, my first thoughts were “Hey look, it’s snowing!” Smiling, I went about my errands without umbrella, giddy enough to skip, but I thought better of it—I was already getting enough strange looks for not using my umbrella like all the Chinese were. It feels like such a long time since I’ve actually seen snow, and having been in the tropics during January and February, I was sure that I had missed my snow opportunities for this season. A pleasant surprise I must say, for I have always maintained that it’s no use getting cold if it’s not going to snow!

The party itself was warm and fragrant (to use an expression which our Chinese students seem to like to use. It’s obviously a direct translation of a Chinese expression. We’ve been told it means something like “cozy.”), which continued to brighten the day. I had my first go at making pineapple upside down cake (as pineapples, despite the very recent cold snap, seem to be in season), and churros to accompany the hot chocolate. The pineapple cake was quite good (almost too sweet in my opinion), so good so that Ben, a Chinese friend of another teacher here, actually enjoyed it so much he ate two and a half pieces! I know that might not sound amazing to you, but you have to realize that this was a great leap forward! Chinese don’t tend to eat really sweet things, so finding an actual dessert that one of them likes, and likes a lot, is truly a marvel. So as to assert his Chineseness though, he did accompany it with beer; the world isn’t coming to an end after all!

The conversation was also good, as it was the first time that some of the teachers had seen each other since the return from vacation. We also broke out Uno, and I got to find out that behind some calm exteriors, there are some ferociously competitive Unoers here! I never did win a round, though I don’t think I ever lost one either, so I was happy.

And as a happy ending to a happy day, Ben decided to clean up for me in the kitchen, bless his heart! Talk about a keeper!

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