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.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Ok, call me immature, but sometimes Chinglish just gets the best of me. I was watching the Amazing Race on tudou.com, a Chinese video sharing site, and I got the following ad:

Couldn't help but laugh. I wonder where I can find me some virgin oil...

And so we can class up this post a bit, here's an interesting IHT article on Hinglish coming into its own that you might find worthwhile.

Labels: ,

Sunday, September 30, 2007

More on Myanmar

Some various responses to my last post:

It's weird--the Denver Post (an AP outlet) has nothing about Myanmar on their front page, but I noticed some headlines about it on their news ticker when I was downtown. If you go to the World news page, 2 stories about Myanmar are in the "Top News Stories" box, which makes the absence from the front page even weirder. It looks like the AP is covering the events there, just not...making any attempt to draw peoples' notice to them? Very strange. Article here.

I've been trying to keep up with the news about what's happening in Myanmar (formerly Burma, I believe), and can report that the Corvallis Gazette-Times has had articles regarding the riots, etc, almost every day, although the articles are back on the 4th or 5th page of the main section.

Apparently, you missed that George Bush made extensive comments on your blog issue today.

Just wanted to pipe in that the top story on the NYT website last night when I looked at it hoping for a Myanmar update was a YANKEES GAME. Yes, the coverage has been terrible over here.

Thanks for the references, Jeff. You’ll be relieved to know that NPR (Morning Edition and All Things Considered) is covering the activity. Unfortunately, the news coming out of Myanmar is suddenly being clamped down. Sending prayers for those within…

CNN? USA Today? Those of us who live in the US and are savvy listen to NPR - and let me tell you, Myanmar/Burma is the top story at every news break. It is also a top story at the New York Times. It just depends on where you go for news.

In general it sounds like coverage of what's happening in Burma is out there, but it requires a little digging. While I am reassured that it is at least out there, I continue to be frustrated with the fact that it is not more prominently located. The only way to put international pressure on the junta in Myanmar is to build awareness.

Of course, as one of my readers notices, after the government crackdowns started last Thursday, news and images from the inside has slowed somewhat. Which is why an article on Discovery News caught my attention: Satellite Images Show Myanmar Abuses.

Howard French has also offered an interesting view of the conflict from China in: Letter from China: Myanmar crackdown sheds light on Beijing's aspirations. To quote selectively:
Myanmar is a highly repressive state that has been run into the ground by incompetent leaders who have been partially enabled by China. It is, moreover, a country whose people are now risking their lives peacefully for freedom. This must very nearly be something like a bad dream for Beijing's foreign policy establishment.

Indeed, as French also points out, the Chinese government is between a rock and a hard place. It will be interesting to see how much longer their policy of non-interference with the internal affairs of other states will be a stragtegy they will be able to maintain.

Because of this, French hints, coverage of what is going on in Burma is limited at best in China, and so I would like to re-pose the same question as before to my readers in China (I konw you're out there!). It seems like there is never much of the important stuff that can be found in the media, but what's the word on the street, especially in nearby Kunming? Is there an awareness or reaction to what is happening there?

Rather ironically, I just saw an article on the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television's (SARFT) recent drive to clean up Chinese media before the 17th Party Congress. Sexy sounds and ads for push-up bras are out, good wholesome socialist fun is in. The Deputy Head of SARFT, Tian Jin said, "Every television advertisement management bureau and television station must strengthen their political consciousness and responsibility toward society." Funny, it seems to me that the responsible thing for society would be to report about the atrocities happening right next door...

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

苦菜酥红豆 (Kucai su Hongdou)

In Kunming, one of my favorite dishes was the 苦菜酥红豆 (Kucai su Hongdou) or Flakey Red Beans with Bitter Vegetable (sowthistle, if we are to believe Google’s translation services). After a couple of experiments, I’ve come up with my own version of the dish, which goes a long way to help staunch those cravings for delicious Yunnan food! If you’re looking for an interesting new dish, I’d highly recommend giving this one a try. It’s not your ‘typical’ westernized Chinese food!


1 can (15ish ounces/400ish grams) kidney beans (alternately, soaked and boiled beans, same amounts)
1 cup kale roughly cut into 1cm strips
½ cup flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ‘chicken seasoning’ (alternately, a ½ tsp cayenne pepper)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 dried red chillies cut in half
1/3 cup peanut/cooking oil

After opening the can of beans, drain juice and rinse with water. In a medium-sized sealable container, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and chicken seasoning. Add beans and shake well until beans are coated in flour mixture.

Add oil to wok, and then garlic and chillies when at heat. Then add the coated beans to the oil stirring infrequently from the bottom and lifting careful so as not to break the beans. Don’t press down on the beans or you’ll mash them! Add more oil if wok is dry at this point—the beans will absorb a lot of oil at the beginning. After about one minute, add the strips of kale to the beans. Continue to stir fry until the beans move from oily/mushy to brown and crispy and the kale is wilted. Serve with rice and other delicious Yunnan dishes (more recipes to follow!). Let me know if you try it and if so what you think!


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Soilent Green?

I have to admit, that when I saw this article, Why is Chinese Mountain Painted Green?, I was baffled by Chinese logic. In Fumin, a county in the Yunnan Province (read, one of my homes away from home) a local leader decided that an old rock quarry on a mountain behind his village was unsightly and messing with his fengshui (this part I understand). His solution was less explicable: he decided to hire workers to paint the old quarry green (please see the pictures of the newly re-decorated mountain for your viewing pleasure/horror below).

When asked in a Chinese news website why he decided to do this, Du said:

Which in English would be: "Originally, I contracted for the stone quarry and earned some money. Then I decided to build a house and settle here, the entrance looking out onto the barren red rock. Later, my life and career were really unlucky. The fengshui master (geomancer?) said that the barrenness of the quarry's red rock was interrupting my fengshui, so I hired some workers to paint the red rock green right away."

Right, obvious answer. Let's forget about the huge environmental impact that covering a mountain in synthetic paint has, and paint it an iridescent color that looks horribly unnatural. That makes things better. In the IHT article, they claim that over 470,000RMB was spent on the painting, though the man in the Chinese article says he only paid about 10,000RMB (about UD$1,250). In either case, for that amount of money, this guy could have made a real postive impact on the environment by working to reclaim the area with plants etc.

No, I'm just not following the logic there. But then, I don't think the Chinese are either, which is why it's in the news there. The international press has taken it up as some kind of a look-how-weird-the-Chinese-are kind of an article, which I can't say I approve of either.

Well, happy Valentine's Day anyway. Anybody want to paint something red to profess their love for me?

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Inebriated Foreigners Beware

I just saw this article in The People's Daily Online and the same story from a foreigner's point of view on Go Kunming about a brand new and exciting service offered by the local authorities in Kunming: a drunk tank for foreigners. The drunk tank is administered out of the ICU of the People's First Provincial Hospital and is a unique way of foreigner gouging in Kunming. I have personally spent WAY too much time in that hospital's ICU (not because I was drunk) and think that being taken there would not have the calming effect the Chinese authorities seem to be hoping for. Also, that there will be English speaking staff on-hand to deal with these drunk foreigners I find laughable. The English spoken at that hospital is beyond pathetic--hell, half the time we couldn't convince the doctors to speak in standard Mandarin instead of the local Kunming dialect. These nurses don't have any clue what they're in for!

Last year, there were rumors going around that two body builders in town (speculation is that they were also taking steroids, which probably didn't help the situation) went on a drunken rampage, causing a lot of property damage on their way home. They were caught by a bank security camera, and were fined heavily. Imagining these two in the drunk tank is going to be my new favorite past time.

It's also an interesting case of perception--both articles mention that of the 50,000 foreign visitors to Kunming last year, they had roughly 19 alcohol-related incidents. And while there are certainly some foreigners with drinking problems in Kunming (note the incident above), I can't imagine that it is any more so than the local population. Where's their drunk tank, huh? Well, maybe I shouldn't complain, it's probably a dank cell in their local police station.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Holy Random, Batman!

I'm in a random mood, and I'm listening to Nat King Cole sing Spanish ballads, so I thought I'd post...cause why not really?

Saw two articles that I found uber interesting and did have to share about China. As a student of culture, I found China establishes initial database for intangible cultural heritage an interesting discussion of culture in China. And also, from the IHT, we have a great article about free cabbage. Seriously, check it out.

Other random thoughts: I'm now addicted to mince pies. Damn you England! Also, Casino Royale, thumbs down!! Bond like barely even has an English accent, and what good is Bond sans suaveness?!?!?! Facebook is fun, even if I am just a recent convert.

Oh, and happy holidays!

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 03, 2006

Speaking of...

Speaking of Asian politics, Taiwan's first lady indicted on corruption charges.

My Taiwanese friend, YMC, called the Taiwanese governmental corruption scandal to my attention a couple of months ago now. Indeed, I would direct you to his blog for an interesting Taiwanese perspective on the issue.

But the situation seems to have come to a new breaking point with the most recent round of indictments. Taiwan is prone to political protests, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the square outside of the CKS Memorial packed with people in the following weeks calling for Chen Shui-Bian (the current President) to resign.

It’s a scene that we’ve seen several times across SE Asia of late. In the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has faced corruption charges of her own (though they had to do with vote rigging, not fiscal matters), and as such has faced five different coup attempts within the last year. In Thailand, Thaksin, who has facing corruption charges of a fiscal nature, was overthrown by a military coup in September.

But for Taiwan, the stakes are bigger. If their government loses its power of rule, the whole sovereignty of the “nation” is called into question. How would Beijing react to a destabilized Taiwanese government? Would they see it as the opportunity they’ve been waiting for? Beijing would love to see the Nationalist party (which is a strong believer in reunification with the mainland) come back into power in Taiwan, and they might just wait for that eventuality and try to influence things in that direction. Or they might be more overt.

In any case, the ruling DPP seems to have lost whatever credibility they still had in Taiwan, and that is a sad state of affairs.

I watch with baited breath.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hakuna Matata?

With the China-Africa Forum on in Beijing at the moment the news is flush with commentary on Sino-African relations, and the subtitle of one of the IHT’s lead articles, China aims to increase its clout in Africa, Unsaid goal: Redraw world's strategic map, says a lot about how it’s being talked about.

Is China trying to become Africa’s next imperial ruler, or are they truly trying to promote universal development (see The allure of the Chinese model)? And what are the ramifications of China’s involvement in Africa? Should the US and Europe be worried that there is a new player in the game?

I’ve written several times before about China’s policy of non-interference in the “internal affairs” of other countries, especially pointing to an excellent article by Howard French back in May entitled Letter from China: A growing power lets a growing crisis fester. That article was a scathing critique of China’s approach to the Sudan, but The perils of Beijing's Africa strategy takes an even broader picture of the ramifications of non-interference.

And if you’re looking for an even larger view, the article that my friend Even pointed me towards, China paves way to Myanmar riches, talks about China’s growing influence in the junta-state of Myanmar (formally Burma, which borders the Yunnan province where I was for the last two years). Essentially the Chinese are trying to open up routes through Myanmar to get to Africa.

As for my opinion: is China trying to spread its influence outside of the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries? Absolutely. Is it doing it in an irresponsible way? Possibly. I’m not an expert on African studies (Aaliyah, I’d be curious about your analysis), but supporting corrupt governments with atrocious human-rights records for personal gain hardly seems the responsible thing to do.

On the other hand, if the US wasn’t so obsessed with promoting its ideologies throughout the world, we might not be in such the quagmire we face today.

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hug Me Not!

I just saw this article on CNN: Chinese slow to embrace 'free hugs' campaign, and clearly had to share. I like the idea of giving out hugs to strangers, and I might just have to incorporate it into my new plan of going about London and chalking hop-scotch. We shall see, we shall see.


我真的爱的就是你… (True Love)

Wow, that last post seemed to have hit on a nerve, and has probably produced more responses than even the caparinha post. Some of them were sent as private emails, and I’m asking for permission to post them as comments on my actual blog, so if you’re wondering what I’m reacting to in the following post, wait a day and check the comments of my last post, Typical American.

我真的爱的就是你… (The One I Truly Love is You)

Within a minute of entering the dark karaoke room, I was already off and singing Wang Leehom (one of my favorite American-born Taiwanese, Chinese super-stars). It was test. Well really, the whole evening was a test.

Upon arriving at the LSE, I made a point of signing up for seventy-five billion clubs. I, of course, joined the capoeira club, and then it was on to cultural clubs. I’m an official member of the Chinese Student Scholars Association, the Chinese Society (deceivingly named as it’s actually the Hong Kong Society), the Taiwanese Society, the French society, and the Arabic society. I couldn’t find the American society’s table, though I’m not sure I’m missing anything there.

The LSE is crowded with Chinese students, and so I wanted to take advantage of that fact to keep up with my Chinese (official classes start this week, yay!), but also because I’m really missing China at the moment. Kunming was my home for two years, and it’s an experience I can’t easily forget.

After I lived for a year in France, I was changed. I was no longer American, I had missed too much. I wasn’t exactly French, but I had certainly accepted a French world-view into my psyche. Doubly so after two years in China.

But in France, I could pass as French. Indeed, a wonderful Lebanese LSE student started talking with me the other week and thought I was French. I was flattered.

In China, I was always the 老外 (foreigner), for there, the perception is fairly simple (and this is using Chinese language, I apologize if it doesn’t sound politically correct to the Western ear): yellow skin=Chinese, any other colored skin=not Chinese. So, as my Hong Kongese-American friend, YKC, alluded to, he is considered Chinese because he looks Chinese. He’s also, therefore, expected to speak Chinese (which he happens to be able to do quite well, now, and being raised speaking Cantonese certainly was helpful in that regard, but he is American and his English is perfect). On the other hand, I’m a white guy, so I’m not supposed to understand any Chinese.

I had Chinese-American friends in Kunming who spoke better Chinese than I did, and while I was praised for my amazing Chinese, they were scolded for not being able to. However, it would drive me crazy when I would start speaking Chinese in a group because I could, and the Chinese would ignore me and try to speak to the Chinese-looking person who couldn’t speak Chinese.

My point is, and I think I said this best when I was talking with my dad last week: “I’ll never be Chinese enough for the Chinese.”

And if I wasn’t Chinese enough for the Chinese in China, trying to be Chinese enough to participate in the Chinese diaspora here in London is even more challenging.

As I walked into the CSSA’s Mid-Autumn Festival, one guy asked, “are you sure you’re in the right place?” And yet, I felt so at home there—the party was exactly like any party one could find on a Chinese campus.

When I was in Chinatown on one of my first night’s in town, I was trying to order really spicy food. The waitress replied in broken English, “I don’t know what you mean by spicy.” And so in frustration, I said “我要你们最辣的.” The entire restaurant went silent, and suddenly people from the different tables started shouting questions at me, as if I was some bizarre spectacle they had never witnessed before.

Step right up, step right up for the amazing white guy who speaks Mandarin.

I just felt awkward.

And so last night, I went karaoke-ing with the LSE Taiwanese society. I called the president because I was running late, and he gave me directions in Chinese. I have a hard enough time finding things in London in English, so getting there with Chinese directions was a task. But I made it. Test number 1, passed.

Then the attendants wouldn’t let me in at first. I broke into my Chinese and insisted that I was here to meet friends. They eventually coughed up the room number and I went down to join the rest of the LSErs. Test number 2, passed.

I walked in the room, and they sat me down in front of the computer to order a song. I did, they jumped it in the queue, and suddenly I was there singing before them in Chinese to prove that I belonged. Test number 3, passed…more or less.

But why this need for tests? I suppose that my relations to Taiwan are a bit more tenuous, as I only lived there for three months, but I really do miss it so! Shouldn’t that be good enough of a reason to let me join in club activities?!

When my friend Aaliyah (an American that I know from Kunming) came to the door of the bar, the staff wouldn’t actually let her in. What is this protectionism?

I guess though, that if my Whittie friend, YMC, who is Taiwanese-American isn’t Taiwanese enough for the Taiwanese (and he’s even in the middle of his required civil service stint!) then I have no hope!

Labels: ,

Friday, September 29, 2006

Dressing Ethnic and the Spirit of Winning

Nope, I lied. I just saw this article, Ethnic games tainted by cross-dressing cheats and couldn't help but laugh and share it with everybody.

As if minority games aren't bad enough, cross-dressing Han people pretending to be minorities to win games is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of.

I miss China.


Kunming Mafia

Ok, this is just too bizarre. A friend from Kunming sent me this link to a Chinese cop show, asking "recognize anybody?" The short answer is, yes, like every single laowai (foreigner) in the show. It's so weird seeing them in a totally different context!


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Asian Times

Two big news stories are coming out of Asia today: the coup in Thailand, and Shinzo Abe being selected to lead the Japanese Liberal Democrat Party (effectively making him the next prime minister). Both of these events worry me. On the other hand, yesterday China agreed to send 1,000 troops to Lebanon, and this should be recognized as the landmark event that it is.

I have been following Thai politics for the last year and a half not only because I went there but also because they are really quite fascinating. I’ve ranted on several occasions before about Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s former prime minister. He won the election a year and a half ago in a landslide—mostly because he coerced farmers in the countryside to vote for him either by closely monitoring their votes, or by offering free cell phones (he became rich and famous in Thailand for owning one of the biggest telecommunication firms). I just chalked that up to Thai politics, and was at least mildly satisfied with the knowledge that he had fairly progressive rural reforms that were helping the poorer farmers properly establish themselves and earn better livings.

Then, several months ago, things started to go horribly wrong. Thaksin was exposed as the corrupt official that he is, having sold his telecommunications empire to the Singaporean government for US$1.9 billion tax free after having conveniently changed a few laws around so that he could avoid the taxes. $1.9 billion is a lot of money in any country, but in Thailand, where a meal could cost as little as 50 cents, it’s an extremely large sum. And so, protests blocked the streets of Bangkok.

Long story short, the protestors forced Thaksin to dissolve the parliament and have new elections, but they boycotted those, so the results from that election (which Thaksin won, again in a landslide) were annulled. Thaksin stepped down as prime minister (likely because the King, who was having his golden jubilee, asked him to) and said he would be a “caretaker prime minister” until new elections were held this November.

Given the fragility of the Thai democracy, this coup worries me a great deal. Will they be able to re-establish democracy like they say they will? Will they pull a Bush, and declare war on the Muslim terrorists in the south of Thailand and say they can’t leave? Will the Philippines follow the Thai lead and create a successful coup attempt (there have been four or five in the last year) to overthrow Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, further destabilizing the region? Or is this the only way to get a new Thai government without Thaksin? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, China’s reaction: it is internal Thai politics, and we will not interfere. Give me a break.

On the Japanese front, the effective selection of Abe as the next prime minister is also of great concern. He is more nationalistic than even his predecessor, having come into my field of vision on July 4th, when the North Koreans test-launched their missiles (failure or not). At that time, Abe suggested that a pre-emptive strike on North Korea would be in Japan’s best interest. Born after WWII, I’m afraid he missed the impact that had on generations. He supports the annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine (which holds the remains of several Japanese military officials who were later charged with war crimes during WWII), and textbooks that downplay the Japanese-caused atrocities of WWII, both of which are certain to rifle Chinese feathers.

One of my friends in China sent me an email just the other day saying that it was the 60th (or something like that) anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (certainly not something the Chinese would be celebrating). In commemoration, air-raid sirens rang through the air, followed by the Chinese national anthem broadcast over loudspeakers. One of her co-workers shouted out: “fight the Japanese.”

An even more hawkish Japanese prime minister is only going to further a great divide in Asia that would inevitably cause the US to take sides. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States (and maybe Australia) against China, North Korea, and maybe Vietnam. I’m afraid it’s not a pretty picture that doesn’t require much imagination to come up with.

And on a final note, I would like to call attention to the fact that just yesterday, the Chinese announced that they would be sending 1,000 troops to Lebanon. This is big! China loves to take the position of not interfering in the “internal politics of other nations,” for it would be hypocritical not to. They claim that the “Taiwanese issue” is a matter of their internal affairs, and should not be interfered in by other countries (read, the US). This means that they support the Sudanese government by buying oil ignoring the fact that the Sudanese government is committing genocide because it is the “internal affairs” of Sudan.

Indeed, when the tsunami struck almost two years ago, Thailand looked to its big brother, China, for support. Where Japan, Australia, the US, and the EU sent millions of dollars of aid, China sent a pittance and eight specialists. And at some level this is understandable; China has enough internal problems that it should be focused on before trying to help others.

But my argument always has been that if China wants to become a dominant player in the world, it has to start acting like a leader. That means helping other countries out when they are in difficult situations, and not covering up when their government screws up (like they did with the most recent typhoon, Saomei was the name I believe).

Well, now they have, committing a significant number of troops to the Lebanese peace-keeping mission, something the US can’t even claim to have done (because we’re busy maintaining “peace” in Afghanistan and Iraq of course). My kudos to the Chinese government for doing something morally correct for a change. At the same time, this could be a first step in a shifting world dynamic which has a jingoistic China on the ascendant.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Latest New from China

Police crack down on striptease funerals...

And it didn't even appear in the People's Daily, I'm amazed. This is usually what passes for news with them.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The World Cup of Football: The Invisible Killer

Right now the whole world is viberating with the hot World Cup of Football. Although the every-four-year competitions between excellent teams are exciting and valuable, it's actually an invisible killer threating people's lifes because it resets people's time skedules unscientifically, traggers bloody conflicts, and moreover, it causes dangerous diseases.

The tournament's skedule disrupts people's oridinary work and rest, especially for foreign countries. People have to stay up late at night to watch the match, but they won't have energy to keeping awake in working and studying.

Second, the matches may lead to the increasing violent conflicts between fans. Many fans can't control their emotion when their team fails, they often rely on violence such as beating other fans or wifes.

Third, the exciting matches greatly deteroate people's heath condition. The old people and who have heart attack may easily affected by it. The newspaper says there have been 6 Chinese died suddenly due to the World Cup.

It is clear to conclude that the World Cup is a killer can be easily overlooked, it has affected our life skedule, caused violence, and even killed people. All of us should watch it with a clear mind rather than go crazy to lose in it.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Leaving Haiku

I just love posting work from my students. I like posting good things people say about me even better (yay for shameless self-promotion!). And, one can never miss with haiku. So, posting haiku (which I taught my students how to write last week) about me written by my lovey students was just about a no-brainer! So here it goes:

Jeff with a mild smile
Gets along with us as friends
Sad to say farewell

Years ago you came
Now you're leaving for your home
We wish you good luck

Jeff Knezovich
Who loves his dog very much
Is full of knowledge

American boy
Conscientious, kind-hearted
Popular teacher

Quietly you came
Englightening as winter sun
Quietly you go

Jeff Knezovich
Tall, handsome, even-tempered
Always kind to us

Silently you come
Just like you will leave
Miss you forever

Our English teacher
Two years in China will leave
Please come back again

Jeff, a sexy guy
Always attracts beauties' eye
Bachelors' rival

Jeff Knezovich
Will live with us forever
A patient teacher

Jeff, we will miss you
Although you are in England
Best wishes to you

Sweet smile, witty words
Make difficulties easy
Pity--Jeff leaves us

A humorous guy
Jeff likes playing jokes with us
Is making face now

Tall, strong, handsome Jeff
Talks like a running river
Humourous and kind

Jeff moans in the room
Looks out through the window pane
Say nothing but cry

The man with big smile
Is our benign, clever Jeff
Best wishes to you

Humorous man Jeff
With imaginative head
What a good teacher!

Your bright shinning [sic] smile
Give me the sunshin [sic] of life
Oh, the kindly Jeff!

Beloved Jeff has gone
His image is in our hearts
Miss him forever

And a cinquain to finish it off:

Benign, beloved
Came, taught, went
As dedicated as a candle

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Chewing Gum as Metaphor...or Simile...or Whatever

Well, I'm on my way home to the US for my cousin's wedding this weekend (it's a super-crazy trip, and I think I'll spend more time in the air than on the ground--I fly Kunming to Shenzhen, bus/ferry to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Taibei, Taibei to San Francisco, overnight there, then continue San Francisco to Denver, Denver to Fort Collins--but I'm looking forward to seeing all the family.), and have a few minutes to kill at the Hong Kong Airport, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to post my thoughts about a funny experience I had this morning.

Today started off on kind of a bad note. I stayed up way late packing, as I had been avoiding it all yesterday...I did manage to get the rest of the 7th season of the West Wing in before bed though. Bad Jeff! Anyway, what the meant was that instead of waking up at 630 to get to the bus to the far-away campus at 730, I woke to another teacher calling me at 726 wondering where the heck I was. I rushed to change my clothes, then had to get a taxi out to the other campus for 40 yuan (US$5!).

Despite my best efforts, I dropped off my luggage at my friend's classroom (it was closer to the main gate than mine) and make it to class on time. Today's topic: essays, but more specifically conclusions of essays.

I explained that a conclusion generally has three parts: a summary of main idea(s), a transition, and a lead out--the job of the lead out being to explain how the essay itself is important and how it fit into the grand scheme of things, to identify the broader implications of the essay. I stressed that the lead out is probably the most difficult part of an essay (at least for me) because there is a thin line between going beyond the essay and introducing a new idea entirely.

I was trying to help my students visualize this, so I thought of three different pictures I could draw--three metaphors for the essay. They were as follows:

1. An essay is like a flowing river. The job of the introduction is to focus a side stream that narrows into the flow of one thought. The conclusion helps us find where our side stream goes back into the flow of the main consciousness. The author is the island in the middle. They liked my picture of a river, but I'm not sure they quite got it.

2. I drew a grid on the bord and said that it represented "the grand scheme of things" (which is an interesting expression that is obviously rooted in the Judaeo-Christian belief system, something I had never thought about before), or "everything." I drew a dot on the grid, and said that represented the idea of the essay. The job of the conclusion was to link the essay to the blocks around it. This seemed to make more sense.

3. My personal favorite was when I decided the chewing gum stuck to the bottom of one's shoe best represented the essay. The ground represents all human thought. The body represents their beliefs and ideas, the shoe a specific part. The essay then was gum--it is attached to a large "splotch" at the shoe and the ground, where it is tied in to many ideas, but the middle is strectched thin, down to one idea. Of course, if it's stretched too thin, it breaks, just like an essay.

Needless to say, I was very proud of myself--I mean, I figured out a way to call my students' essays pieces of gum stuck to the bottom of their shoes without making it sound insulting at all... :o)

Now, we're off to Taibei. Wish me luck!

Labels: , ,

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Boring ol' International Economics

Ok, well you'd think that I just spend all my time reading the International Herald Tribune or something, but actually it's only like half my time...the other half I spend in video arcades playing taiko drum games. Seriously though.

Nevertheless, I'd like to share an interesting article with y'all, Globilization a la carte, which is an interesting analysis of (mostly) France's new global economic perspective. The article also talks about the US and China, so I could hardly resist considering my three most familiar countries are all included in one article. Honestly though, if you could care less about economics or globalization, this article probably isn't for you.

Labels: ,

Perspective on China

I highly recommend that people read the following NYT/IHT article by Howard French about China's involvement in Sudan. It's a scathing, but beautifully written critique of the current situation.

Letter from China: A Growing Power lets a growing crisis fester

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 14, 2006


The Chinese love any chance to send cheesy text messages, and so I thought I'd share one Chris got from one of his students...that and I did want to wish me mum a happy mother's day!

What does family mean?

F- Father
A- And
M- Mother
I- I
L- Love
Y- You

Hope everyone have a family full of love! Happy mother's day! best wishes to your mother!


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My Future

While I was in the US, a fellow teacher at Yunda, Kristina, subbed for me and had my students predict my future using the classic junior high school game: MASH. I thought I'd share some of the choicest results, as some of these are REALLY funny!

According to the outcome of MASH, you will live in a house in Beijing where you may suffer from the dust storm. You will live there with your wife, Witch, also your lover Eve. You are so lucky. You will be a contract killer and you have four children. How terrible. You will die at the age of 90 because of a flood. You will walk to Rome for you summer vocation.

According to outcome of MASH, you will live in Las Angeles, and you will have wonderful vacation in Hawaii, you will have a beautiful equipage, cool! You will marry with Suffi Maso (a famous Franch star, I'm not sure I got the correct spell of her name [I'm guessing Sophie Marceau]), she is very beautiful woman, congratulations! OW! Your also have a beautiful lover, Zhang Ziyi, but, you have 30 children. You leave China, you will become proffessor, you will die at 70 year old, because disease. In a word, you will have wonderful experience. Good luck!

According to the outcome of MASH, You will live in an apartment in the beautiful city of Sanfrancisco. You will live with your wife Uma Thurman and you 3 children. You will have your vocation in your summer home in Paris. by train. You will be a professor in the future due to a disease. Almost forget. You have a lover named Lisa.

According to the outcome of MASH, you will live in Bagdad (bad place) with your African wife, you will have 4 children and you will become an acter. You'll cheat your wife because you will have Zhang Ziyi as your lover. However, you will spend your summer holiday in Alps and you will go there on foot. Then, you will be shotted to death at your age of 110. That's not too bad. You wil have a good life. Congratuation!

According to the outcome of the MASH. In your future life, you will live in Kunming with your wife who is a begger now. You will go to Paris for your summer holidays this year. I can’t believe that you will go to Paris on foot. You will be an old man in the future for you will die when you are 85 years old. Unfortunately, you will die of cancer. You are a teacher now, but you will be a potato seller in the future. Your lover is Kristina now, but you will not marry her, Your wife and you will have three children. I’m very sorry about that your future life is like that.

I think you have a good time now. But I have some thing to tell you. According to the outcome of The MASH, you will live in house in the terrible city Bagdad, but Britney [Spears, I assume] will be your wife and you couple will own 2 children. What’s the most amazing is that movie star Nico Kitman [Nicole Kidman] will be your lover. In Bagdad, you will serve your sexy Britney as a househusband. In summer holiday, you can tremp [tramp?] to Sahara Desert to enjoy such a cool holiday. With such a happy life, you will die at the age of 100. But unfortunately, you will be eaten by a fierce shark when you are swimming in Atlantic Ocea. Wish you lucky.

According to the outcome of the MASH, you will live in a small room with just a chickenwire ceiling and plywood wall in New York. During your vacation, you might have a good time in Cape Town, but you just can get there by subway. To my surprise, you can live till you are 108 years old. Unfortunately, you will be slaughtered by some terrists. You will be a beggar with only one child who will attend and hold your funeral. But, what makes you happy is that you have a beautiful wife whose name is Liu Yifei. And, You will keep a good relationship with a famous Chinese movie star, Zhang Manyu. We can’t control the fate that God arranges to us. But where is a will, where is way. Just do it. Keep your life wonderful.

According to the outcome of MASH, you’ll live in a shack in Tokyo with your wife Geogre W. Bush and your 3 kids….. you’ll take plane to your summer villa in Toronto with your lover—your sister. You’ll not die until you’re 356 years old bitten by a crazy dog, so please be careful about dogs. You’re going to be a movie star in Kunming. Congratulations. To be frank, your future life is not so splendid as I wished at the beginning of the game. Anyway, I hope everything goes smoothly with you.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

In Memorium

I still remember the first day Jean and I met. We were going to a banquet sponsored by the Waiban to introduce all the new foreign teachers to the staff and to each other. Her smile attracted me, and we ended up sitting together on the bus to the restaurant. I found in Jean a kindred soul who understood America’s West, who loved literature, who appreciated nature, and most importantly, who laughed at my stupid jokes.

Working in the same department, we became close friends. In a way, Jean was a mother figure for me. Mother figure, mentor, but ultimately friend, for she was simultaneously young at heart and wise with experience. We challenged each other, and because of that we both grew.

I remember for New Year’s Eve 2005 we took her out to the Speakeasy Bar, easily the grimiest, skuzziest joint in town, but that’s why we love it. She went grudgingly but with an open mind. She sat in the corner and observed: the look of sheer terror on her face as she watched our scandalous dancing remains clear in my memory. I smiled to myself with the knowledge that she was pushing her boundaries, and that, in the end, she was enjoying herself.

Jean was a tenacious, strong-willed woman who fought to the end. Often she found herself in impossible situations, though she never failed to persevere. I have always admired her for this. She told me once of one of her trips to Saudi Arabia. She had gone back to the US to give birth to her second son, Lindsey, but was returning to her husband who was working as a doctor in Riyadh. With her new born in arms, she got stuck in Paris when her passport was lost. With only a few years of high school French under her belt, she managed to live in Paris for a month, alone, taking care of Lindsey, and sorting out her new passport and visa. She always considered that a defining moment in her life, and she always remembered the kindness of the French—strangers sympathetic to her situation who helped her find a place to stay, helped her buy diapers, and helped her with the complicated phone system. Everyday basics we take for granted.

And if there is one lesson that we can take from Jean’s life, from Jean’s most recent struggle especially, it’s an appreciation for the generosity of humanity. Jean was lucky in friends and family, but luckier in strangers. The people who have gathered here today are a testament to this. Kindness and sincerity, but also hate and fear come around. Let us remember that and approach life and those around us with an open mind and an open heart, something Jean did everyday.

Anais Nin once said that, "people living deeply have no fear of death." Though Jean’s life was cut tragically short, she made it clear that she was not afraid of death. Her dedication to constantly learning and opening herself to new situations was her way of living life to its fullest. Through her experiences she blossomed into a beautiful human being and mature soul. Her recent hardships and ultimate passing are but further steps along this path of self-development and enlightenment. A soul whose sagacity has outstripped its mortal constraints must not be held back.

And so, though it is difficult to lose a friend, a mentor, and a mother, we can be comforted in the knowledge that Jean was loved not by a small few, but by a great many. We can be assuaged by the notion that Jean lives today in our memories. And we can rest contented in the beauty of nature and the pursuit of knowledge. And we can celebrate not the end of a mortal life, but a new beginning for our beloved Bonnie Jean McConnell. Thank you.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Gods Must Be Crazy II

Life is irony. At least that’s what last week taught me.

I arrived back in Kunming early on April 6th after delivering Jean to the US. I was exhausted but tried desperately to sleep on the plane because I knew I had to hit the ground running. I had to teach on Thursday, make up a class on Friday, and there were two fundraisers for Jean that weekend. On Friday there was a “Foreigner’s Ball” at a Chinese bar in town, and on Saturday a Pub Crawl. The Foreigner’s Ball was designed as a show put on by westerners for a Chinese audience, whereas the Pub Crawl was mostly for foreigners at ex-pat bars to go drink.

One of my (and Jean’s) friends Jen was organizing the Foreigner’s Ball, another friend Aaliyah the Pub Crawl. Jen had been running around all week getting acts together for the show, finding people for the date auction, fitting clothes for the fashion show, and drinking with the male strippers until they agreed to the show. It’s a tough life, I know.

Friday night came around, and my roll was selling myself in the date auction, so I decided to go through my standard Friday routine. That meant going to capoeira from 6:30-8:30PM and then to a friend’s house in the neighborhood to shower and change.

The group that I had gone to capoeira with and I arrived late at the actual event, 9:30ish for a performance that was to start at 10. To our surprise, we arrived before the event planner/coordinator, Jen. She did arrive shortly after us, but it was obvious she was in a bad way. We heard from one of her co-workers at the bar that she had been out drinking late the previous night, and we were infuriated at the thought that she was too hung over to run the show.

As she lay on the couch, little sympathy was sent in her direction, as we were too worried about getting through the show, and saw her as dropping the ball. Not having much else to do, I tried to coordinate the behind-the-scenes work as best I could with absolutely no preparation to do so.

We muddled through the show, and all in all, things went ok. The worst part was a horribly long break in the middle as the Italian band took forever to set up (whoops!). We ended up going much longer than we had hoped for, and the date auction, which had been scheduled for the end wasn’t exactly the success we had been hoping for.

The next morning, my anger and frustration at Jen melted to guilt as I got a call from Aaliyah saying she had helped Jen to the hospital, and she was currently in the ER. Aaliyah needed to go finish prepping the Pub Crawl, so I volunteered to take over for her as Jen’s advocate at the hospital. I dragged my friend Matt (who works at an AIDS-prevention NGO and was thus more conversant in medical Chinese than I) along with, and thank the gods I did!

We arrived to chaos in the ER. Jen was writhing in pain, hand clutched on her stomach. They had performed an ultrasound, but still weren’t sure what was going on. Aaliyah was still convinced that it was just Jen being hung over, so she didn’t seem to be treating it too seriously. Also, her Chinese is not bad, but medical Chinese is a whole new realm, and Chinese hospitals are hell. Aaliyah was alone and overwhelmed. We weren’t much better, but we were reinforcements, and we knew who to call.

After Aaliyah left, Matt and I took over. I called Ben (Jean’s boyfriend who is also a Chinese doctor who was at work in Eastern China), who called his “friends” in the ICU to come take a look at Jen. Matt called a Chinese co-worker who could help us translate and work the system.

The fact of the matter, though, is that Chinese hospitals are infuriating (and I’m being generous). It is set up so that you MUST have at least one other person with you (if not two) in order to get anything done. Treatment is withheld until payment is received, damned if procedure is an actual emergency! That means that if they want to do a blood test, for example, they give you a piece of paper, you run to the rows of cashiers on the other side of the building, and bring back the receipt before they ever stick the patient with the needle. Matt became the designated receipt runner.

I was there to try to comfort Jen as best I could while Ms. Yu became our quasi-guide. Next to Jen was a man who obviously had a broken neck and was hurting profusely. Ever couple of minutes he would let out a long, loud, ghostly moan that made me shutter every time. By Jen’s feet was a young child with the skin scraped or burned off his belly. When the nurse would go to given him a shot he would start shrieking. His mother spanked him to shut him up. That was the first time I almost lost it that day.

Jen’s pain became more intense but the doctors refused to give her any pain medicine. It is vaguely logical to not give someone pain medication until s/he has been diagnosed, but it’s hard to watch. Each new doctor (including the “friends” from the ICU who I recognized immediately…you know something is wrong when you recognize your local ICU staff) would ask her what hurt, then press her stomach just to make sure. We took her for a CT scan and once they heard she had been drinking the night before, they were convinced that Jen had pancreatitis (an inflammation of the pancreas caused almost only by heavy drinking where the amylase and lipase, digestive proteins produced in the pancreas, are activated before they leave the pancreas). The CT showed liquid around the pancreas that supported such a conclusion, but they did not find increased levels of amylase in her blood samples. A disconnect.

Since there is no real cure for pancreatits they decided to move her from the ER to the In-Patient Building for further treatment. Matt and I scoped out our two In-Patient options, and decided that the “old one” for 30 yuan per night (US$3.75) was just too shoddy compared to the new one at 40 yuan per night (US$5). They still refused to give her pain killers until she was moved there (so that doctor could poke her in the stomach three times…). Of course, they said it would take about half an hour since there weren’t any free beds (never mind we had just seen them), and when that time did finally roll around they decided that it was shift change and that we had to wait another half an hour. The volume of Jen’s screams only increased.

We finally got the go ahead, and wheeled her away, heading to the In-Patient Building. We went in the door to the gods-forsaken ICU that I knew too well because of Jean, and I assumed we were going up the back elevator that I had used once before to the In-Patient Building. When they wheeled her into the same spot in the ICU as Jean had been in, I was simultaneously furious at the doctors for moving her to the over-expensive ICU (I still hold they just wanted the foreigner’s money) and just about lost it for the second time that day. It had been bad enough the night before when Matt, our emcee for the evening, kept on confusing Jean and Jen’s names on stage.

An American doctor friend who had been helping with Jean came after Jen arrived in the ICU. He talked with the doctors, who were still firmly convinced it was pancreatitis, and pointed out that without increased levels of amylase, it simply could not be. The diagnosis changed to pancreatitis or appendicitis, with blood tests to be done through the night.

The next morning we were back, and they discovered that she had an increased white blood cell count, so they suspected it was appendicitis. She was thus scheduled for an appendectomy that afternoon. We came back for the surgery, and waited for several hours without hearing anything until finally the surgeon came out with her appendix in a ziplock bag and gave it to us (weird!!!). We just stood there wondering where in the heck Jen was…

Jen came out eventually, and we helped her settle in as an in patient in the Digestive Problems Ward. Under heavy medication she threatened to “kick you ni**as” as I tried to get her to breathe with me and take deeper, longer breaths. I just rolled my eyes and backed off a bit.

As opposed to Jean, Jen has been recovering slowly. The hospital, which is a teaching hospital, was torture in that the doctors kept on trying to show off the laowai in a very degrading manner. Besides one doctor first asking Jen if she still hurt the day after the surgery and then announcing that it was because he had had to cut so deep because she was so fat (talk about bedside manner), she had another doctor who tried to show off her privates to his students on several occasions. God damn China! I’ve seen foreigners treated as animals before, but that just crossed the line in my mind.

Her condition continued to improve, but on Sunday we found out that Jean had passed away in the US earlier that morning. Jen was alone in the hospital when she found out. Her reaction was something like: “I can’t believe it. It can’t fucking be true! What makes ME so fucking special that I survived this death-trap and not her? What is this, just fucking LUCK? Chinese roulette? I AM SO ANGRY! What a waste of a beautiful, sweet, loving life!”

I couldn’t agree with her last statement more.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 15, 2006

My Life in Texto

The following are text messages I've saved on my cell phone inbox. I would have included more messages from my new cell phone stalker, but I've had to delete those 20 messages a day so I have room for anything else! China, or at least Kunming, is F*CKED up! I'm not going to attribute the various authors here, as they might not appreciate that, but some are more obvious than others.

My life in texto:

"Why life is so cruel? I feel so painful now? When can I see my sweetheart again? When will the fucking God get me?"

"Do I have ALL your keys?"

"Good night, huh? Where r u?"

"No, today it was "look at the fat lazy foreigner's shaved pussy, everyone!" I swear I will rape and murder that doctor as soon as I can get out of here."

"Thanks everyone for helping Jean and me. We will miss all of u!"

"Hey, being violated has become part of my morning routine here. Kindof like breakfast. Don't worry, I screamed "fuck you" at him in front of all his precious proteges when he tried to take my hand away from covering myself. "class" was over at that point. I think some of his students understood."

"You rudeness makes me attract!"

"They will take off the respirator the last time tomorrow morning. Please pary for her with me. PLEASE!"

"Can u help me to find someone who can take care of Boris and patty or put them down? Can u pack Jean's staff and deliver to US? Just throw my staff away. Thanks!"

"I don't know. I don't want to know! I won't go back Kunming so please help us!"

"I love life! That is all."

[Professor Kang (that's me). I have returned. But I am going to get married. I have had trouble accepting this emotionally. I need to think about many things. I cannot come anymore. Sorry, Professor Kang.]

And finally a rough translation from memory of a recent text from my stalker:
"We're walking along the beach at sunset. The waves are lapping at the shore. A breeze is blowing, and we walk up to the highest rock. And you fall into the ocean!"

Labels: ,

The Gods Must Be Crazy

I haven't been posting to my blog of late because I've frankly been very busy pissing off the gods. I don't know what I've done to anger them, but apparently something really bad, otherwise how does one explain how shit my last two months have been?

Since I haven't posted it a while, let me first update y'all as to my friend Jean's condition. After she slipped back into a coma towards the beginning of February, some of her other friends and I worked hard to get her transferred out of her horrible hospital here in Kunming. We originally were trying to get her to Thailand as the medical facilities there are close, cheap, and on par with US standards. I will remind you that Jean had no medical or evacuation insurance which made this a tricky situation. We got a bid from SOS to get her to Thailand that was over US$50,000. Luckily we started talking with a Bangkok hospital directly who does their own medical evacuations--their quoted price was only about US$34,000. We tried desperately to scrape the money together. I spent a day with the head of the Foreign Affairs Office at our university trying to convince them to loan us the money and to negotiate terms of the loan. Of course, that whole plan came crashing down when the university came back saying they would only loan us about US$20,000—not an insignificant amount, but not enough for us to get her out of here.

Meanwhile, Jean festered in the ICU. Her condition remained stable, but it was obvious she was in a deeper coma this time than before. Jean's boyfriend, Ben, works for the Clinton Foundation, and they agreed to send some of their doctors to take a look at Jean. I stood there in the room as they performed the reaction tests to see how deep of a coma she was in. Watching them scrape a q-tip across her eye and seeing absolutely no reaction was one of the hardest things I've witnessed in these last months. Given her incredibly limited responsiveness, those doctors feared that she had serious brain damage but couldn't be sure without an EEG, a CT scan with contrast, and an MRI. There was also a concern that she was in status epilepticus (a constant state of seizure) without motor response (in other words, she wasn’t shaking). Of course, the hospital couldn't perform a bedside EEG (so they couldn't confirm or deny if she was seizing), the MRI couldn't be done because we didn't have a portable respirator (which meant we had to use a handbag attached to a metal oxygen canister. No metal is allowed in the MRI room because it works based on magnetism.), which meant that we had to try for the CT scan. We had been asking for a CT with contrast for over a month and a half, but the doctors kept refusing because the contrast, which I assume is some sort of radioactive isotope, could potentially cause kidney failure (her kidneys were just starting to recover as it was). But, with lots of pressure we convinced them to do it.

The CT scan found four potential abscesses in her abdomen (something likely caused by her original disease) and a potential thrombosis (blood clot that travelled from somewhere else) in her brain. It was not good news, but at least we couldn't see any structural damage at that point. The severity of the case convinced the Clinton Foundation doctors that she did indeed need to get out of Kunming, and so they started talking with their principle financier to see if he could help with a loan. Meanwhile, the decision was made to have Jean evacuated to the US instead of Thailand. It was a risky move due to the length of transit, but in terms of long-term expenses, we hoped it would be better. Now that she potentially needed brain surgery, going to Thailand, where we would have to pay all medical expenses, was no longer an option. In the US she would qualify for Medicaid, so we decided to take her back to Albuquerque in her home state.

I started contacting medevac companies again and got a quote from SOS of almost US$190k! Luckily we were able to shop around and found a company that would do it for only US$120k (still an enormous sum). We secured funding through the Clinton Foundation (for which we are eternally grateful. Vote Hillary 2008! :o) ), and the evac was set for the 28th of March. I would be accompanying her.

Of course, I got a call that morning saying the plane had technical difficulties, and that they were sending a new plane, but there would be a further delay of about 24 hours. It was a bigger plane though, a Hawker 800 as opposed to a Lear Jet, which meant that Chesa could come along as well. We arrived at the hospital at about 4:30 in the afternoon on the 29th. The medevac team arrived and the Chinese staff jumped to life, there was an energy, an almost grotesque festivity, in the ICU as they wheeled her to the ambulance. Because the Chinese doctors from the hospital wanted to see the plane, there was no room in the ambulance for Chesa or me. We were "banished" to follow behind in a taxi. As we got in the taxi, I stressed the importance of following the ambulance to the airport very closely, as otherwise we wouldn't be able to get in to the airport. Of course, the first instant the ambulance did something "illegal," like driving in the bus lane, the taxi driver stopped following closely. I started to yell at him, but it was too late. He was caught behind another car, and the ambulance ran a red light in front of us. I sat there yelling at the driver as the ambulance siren's blare died away. I apparently put the fear of God in him, as he finally started driving at full speeds with reckless abandon to rush us to the airport. We actually arrived before the ambulance, which amused me to no end, and I tipped the taxi driver well.

At that point, the Chinese doctors were kicked out of the ambulance, and the airport doctors took over. We drove to the side entrance of the airfield only to be stopped short. The guard wouldn't let us in because we needed to pass through security. The airport doctors were trying to assure them that security was waiting for us at the plane. He wouldn't let us pass, so we just sat there for almost twenty minutes as the calls got made and he finally let us through so that we could get to security that was indeed waiting for us by the plane. Ben had to leave us as we entered the airport as he would not be accompanying us on our trip, so Chesa and I became the official translators between the American evacuation crew and the Chinese doctors, security personnel, etc. We lifted Jean on to the plane, loaded supplies...and sat there for another hour waiting for clearance from Japan. Due to the long distance, we needed to make three stops during our journey: Osaka, Japan, Petropavlovsk, Russia, and Anchorage, Alaska. Japan is very strict about its landing policy and we couldn't take off because they hadn't cleared us for landing. We departed about two hours behind schedule, but due to a 215mph tailwind (the fastest our pilot had ever seen) we arrived in Osaka just about on time in a mere 3.5 hours.

The rest of the journey was mostly uneventful. Arriving in Petropavlovsk, a city tucked away in far-eastern Siberia, was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. We arrived just around dawn, so the sun cast a rosy hue over the snow covered hills that broke from the barren Siberian plane. As we landed we circled around the city and got a fabulous view of the nearby active volcano puffing steam into the morning haze. Petropavlovsk being next to water, we also caught a glimpse of the jig-saw of ice blocks as they freed themselves from the shore.

The landing itself was a bit bumpy as the airport was originally a military base converted for public use. We taxied past several MIGs and were presented with a most stereotypical picture of Russia. We were greeted with large, beefy military types with shaved heads and large coats shouting at us for oxygen tubes and passports. Our “handler” sauntered over in her fur-lined parka to escort us to a Communist-era bus not unlike some I’ve seen in China which made it’s way carefully over the icy ground to the “terminal,” and toilets without lids/seats (though they were not squat pots) and paper that disintegrated when you touched it. I loved it so much, and can’t wait until I have the opportunity to actually visit Siberia. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my life.

Then it was on to Anchorage and finally Albuquerque. Again, there was not enough room in the ambulance for either Chesa or me, but luckily there was a wonderful man who worked at the private terminal for the Albuquerque airport who drove us to the hospital. We, again, arrived before the ambulance, and made our way to the ER. Of course, they didn’t know anything about it and were under lock-down due to a security breech, so we waited there for a bit until they told us Jean was being taken up to the ICU.

That is where she has remained ever since. They effectively started from scratch trying to diagnose and treat her. We finally got the much-needed EEG and discovered that she had indeed been in status epilepticus for probably a long period of time. Suffice it to say that this was not really good news, as it indicated massive brain damage again. She got a CT scan, an MRI, a lumbar puncture (to see if she had an infection of the spinal fluid), and a whole battery of tests. We had to wear masks, gloves, and scrubs to go in and see her, which I can understand, but which I thought ridiculous at that point considering I had been in an enclosed space with her for almost 24 hours, and had seen on countless occasions before when she was in the ICU in Kunming without taking such precautions.

They think they discovered an e-coli infection more serious than they had ever seen in the US before, and have been giving her experimental drugs to help control that. But really, that’s not the problem with her. The doctors in the US strongly think that she has diffuse brain damage caused by the hypoglycemic shock that the stupid, incompetent nurses here in Kunming accidentally sent her into when they stopped her food but not her insulin. To think there is basically no likelihood for repercussion for such an abhorrent mistake makes me sick.

In the end, the doctors have decided that there is effectively no chance for a meaningful recovery given the severity of her brain damage. Her family thus made the difficult, but necessary, decision to step her off the respirator last week. She has mostly been breathing by herself, but goes through short periods when she stops breathing. This is likely either caused by a) the brain damage itself, or b) the anti-convulsant medication that she must take to stop her seizures. They spent this week building up her strength for yesterday when they took her off the respirator for the last time. At this point, if she stops breathing, that will be the end. And so, now begins the waiting.

As for me, after we dropped her off in Albuquerque, and assured a smooth transition, got her son to come visit her in the hospital, and whatnot, we left for Colorado. We left Alburquerque around 1:30AM one morning and a friend’s mother (who had also just gotten back from Kunming the weekend prior) insisted that no matter what time we were there, that we must stop at her house in Santa Fe for chili, which we did at 2:30 that morning. It was good chili, and an interesting conversation—I learned for the first time about Germans who think they are Native Americans and spend their lives recreating the Native American way of life there. I mean, after all Sioux are Aryan too…

We made it fairly uneventfully to my hometown of Fort Collins, where I got to see my half-demolished house (we’re in the process of renovating the kitchen and dining room), got to see family and even surprise one of my best friends for her birthday. The next day it was off to the Bay Area to visit my mother who has recently moved there for work. We spent Monday eating sushi and wandering the Union Square area shopping. Yay for H&M! I even found some really good clothes which I was in desperate need of. Then my mom and I met up with Chesa and her mom and family for dinner at a lovely Moroccon restaurant.

I got back to Kunming early Thursday morning, just in time to… take another friend to the hospital (the topic of my next post, considering the length of this one). Seriously, what’d I do to deserve this?!

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

She Was Like Family

There was a report the other day on Jean’s condition in the Chengdu Economic Daily that I thought I’d try to share with you all. For those of you who can read Chinese, you can go directly to the article or read below. Otherwise, here’s my (rather poor) translation:

An American-Born Professor Critically Ill, Sichuan University Students Raise Funds
Chengdu Economic Daily

A 58 year-old American Ph.D. traveled a long distance to teach at Sichuan University. Her promotion of environmental protection and her mindfulness and generosity towards those around her deeply moved her students and those who knew her. However, a sudden illness made this much beloved American-born teacher fall into a deep coma. After learning this news, more than ten of her former students who had already left Sichuan University’s Foreign Training Center for various fields throughout society began soliciting donations.

The Scene: Students Raise Funds for Critically Ill Teacher

Yesterday at eight in the morning, in front of Sichuan University’s Foreign Training Center, several 20-something male and female students were stationed with a donations box. “We really want to save her life.” Sitting beside the donations box was Mr. Wang, once a student of Jean’s. Tears cluing to his face. He told reporters that after arriving in February of 2002 Jean came to teach at Sichuan University’s Foreign Training Center as a professor of English and IELTS Examiner. In September of 2004, Jean left Sichuan to teach at Yunnan University. During January of this year, Jean suddenly fell ill and was taken to a hospital to receive medical treatment. Doctors determined she had multi-organ failure, though the cause was uncertain. Currently, Jean remains in a deep coma. In the coming days it is possible that she will be moved to Bangkok, Thailand to receive medical care.

“The transfer fee and medical expenses are enormous.” The Foreign Affairs Secretary for the Training Center, Professor Xiong, said that, upon hearing of Jean’s critical medical condition, they immediately contacted Jean’s former students and even began raising funds.

Yesterday alone, they had already raised more than 2000 yuan. One woman carrying her daughter immediately donated 100 yuan, saying that she had heard how kind-hearted Jean was from friends. “I wish her a speedy recovery,” she said. One young man donning a security guard uniform slipped a coin in the slot of the donations box, saying “I don’t earn much, but I want to express my gratitude.” He said that, although he had never officially met Jean, they exchanged pleasantries every day at work. “Her generosity earned my respect.”

Narrative: She Was Like Family

“She was like family to us.” Mr. Wang recounted that once, he had casually mentioned to Jean that he wanted to by some teaching materials published by Oxford, but that he couldn’t find them anywhere in China. In 2004, already having graduated, he received a package sent by Jean on his birthday. Inside were the materials he had been thinking about for a long time. “She had asked her son to purchase them for me.” Mr. Wang also said that he was by no means the only student to receive such special gifts. “Her salary was certainly not high,” said Ms. Mao, another of Jean’s former students, but as they witnessed, whenever there was a student in need, she generously contributed two or three hundred yuan.

“Jean’s desire to protect the environment was very strong,” said Professor Xiong. During the two years that she knew Jean, Jean always used her own personal behavior to influence those around her to help protect the environment.

Internship Reporters Deng Peiguang and Yu WenLong

美籍女教师病危 川大学子募捐




“我们真的好想留住她的生命。”坐在募捐箱旁的汪先生曾是Jean的学生,他的脸上还挂着泪珠。他告诉记者,Jean2002年2月来到中国后,便在四川大学出国人员培训中心担任英语老师和雅思考官,2004年9月,Jean离开四川到云南大学任教。今年1月中旬,Jean忽然发病,被送入昆明市一家医院接受治疗。医生判断她多脏器衰竭,原因不确定。目前Jean仍然深度昏迷。近期她可能被转送到泰国曼谷治疗。 “转院和治疗费用是一笔巨大支出。”该培训中心外事秘书熊老师说,得知Jean身患重病的消息后,他们立即与Jean原来的学生取得联系并发起了募捐.



“她对我们像亲人朋友一样。”汪先生说,他曾无意间向Jean说起他想买一本牛津大学的教材,却苦于国内没有地方卖。2004年,已经毕业的他在生日那天却突然收到了Jean寄给他的包裹,里面正是他想了很久的那本教材,“那是她托她在美国工作的儿子为我购买的。”汪先生说,收到Jean的这种特别礼物的同学远远不只他一个人。   “她平时的工资并不高。”Jean的另一名学生毛小姐说,他们看到,每次为失学儿童募捐时,Jean总会大方地捐助两三百元!


实习记者 邓旆光 余文龙


Tuesday, March 14, 2006


China is trying to kick me while I'm down, but they underestimate me! But then, nobody ever expects the Spanish Inquestition!!

Today we woke to discover google.com and gmail.com on the new list of unaccessible sites on our home internet. Presumably, we should be using google.com.cn in order to do our searching from now on...it being censored and all. Well, so, I played their game. I went to google.com.cn, googled "proxy servers out of China" and got a link that directed me to many public proxy servers that help me scoot around China's firewall!

Take that Chinese government!

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Just one of those weeks…

Nothing seemed to go right yesterday, or really much at all this week. I suppose it’s inevitable to have weeks (months? Please not!) like this, but knowing that doesn’t seem to make things any better.

Yesterday my friend slipped back into a rather deep coma here in Kunming. We’re really unsure as to what caused this most recent relapse (heck, we’re still trying to figure out what caused her last downturn…oh wait, we still don’t even know for sure what caused her original problem!), and it could be anything. One of the potential causes could have been the fact that the Chinese nurses last night stopped feeding her due to bad diarrhea but forgot to stop giving her insulin…in case she didn’t have enough problems, they thought sending her into hypoglycemic shock might be fun apparently. Unfortunately, if this were the only cause, she should have pulled back out of a coma as her blood sugar levels increased to normal levels. This did not happen.

Regardless of whether that was the cause, it seems like the only realistic option at this point if we want to keep her alive is to get her out of this poor facility (the best hospital in the province, btw). That meant that yesterday was spent for me mainly on the phone with people anywhere and everywhere. I talked with her family back in the US, called hospitals in the US and Thailand, talked with the evacuation service, etc, etc. Thank goodness for Skype!

After that, it was off to the hospital to actually see how she is doing. She looked like she was sleeping peacefully, and I remember when seeing her in this state seemed like an improvement, but she was so active on Sunday and Monday. We had not just smiles, but full facial expressions including raised eyebrows. Seeing her so good and suddenly so bad is, to use and already over-used cliché, quite the roller coaster ride! I feel like there should be a point where she just gets better, but we’re clearly not there yet.

After the hospital, I came home and tried going to my local pub for a happy hour, 5 元 (US$0.75) Gin and Tonic. As I ordered, I thought to myself, ‘wouldn’t it be just about right if for some reason this wasn’t on special today like it has been for the last year?’ I turned to pay, handed them a fifty and got forty back. “Shouldn’t it be 45元?” I questioned. “Oh, normally it is, but because Dali beer is on special today, nothing else is. Sorry I forgot to tell you…”

So now we sit, wait, and grumble through. SOS (the evacuation company) is supposed to be contacting us with a plan soon, so there isn’t much we can do until then. Let me tell you though, this has been a logistical and financial nightmare. If there is any lesson I get from this experience, it’s that you MUST MUST MUST get insurance! Seriously! Get it if you don’t have it!

Labels: ,

Monday, March 06, 2006


I just watched some of the Oscars on CCTV (Chinese Central Television), as I love the show and wouldn’t miss it for the world. I was also waiting particularly to see what happened if (when, because we all knew he was going to when it) Ang Lee (李安) won for Best Director. CCTV had managed to edit the four+ hour show down to about two-and-a-half hours, so obvious cuts had been made to both filler and even some speeches, and though I they hadn’t been cutting the major awards, I had a feeling that if Lee (who is Taiwanese) won, there might be some edits.

Indeed there were. After listening to the broadcast, I went on-line to see what I missed. According to Oscar.com, the speech went something like this:

Wow. I wish I knew how to quit you. First of all, i want to thank two people who don't even exist. Or I should say, they do exist, because of the imagination of Annie Proulx and the artistry of Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. Their names are Ennis and Jack. And they taught all of us who made "Brokeback Mountain" so much about not just all the gay men and women whose love is denied by society, but just as important, the greatness of love itself. Thank you. Thank you members of the Academy for this tremendous honor. And to everyone at Focus Features, in particular, David Linde, James Schamus, thank you for your love and support. To Bill Pohlad, Tory Metzger, Ira Schreck , Joe Dapello, many thanks, and a special thanks to David Lee. And thanks to my wife, Jane Lin, and my boys, Han and Mason. I love you. On "Brokeback Mountain," I felt you with me every day. I just did this movie after my father passed away. More than any other, I made this for him. And finally, to my mother and family, and everybody in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Thank you.

The first thing missing: the whole first part! The censoring bureau has actually banned Brokeback Mountain from showing in movie theatres (though it’s available in all the illegal DVD stores) due to its “questionable” content. Thus, all those references to homosexuality were gone. In other words, what the Chinese saw started from “Thank you. Thank you members of the Academy…” We stopped after “Han and Mason,” and cut back in as he said “谢谢大…关系.” The first part means “thank you everybody.” The last part was clearly bad editing as it doesn’t make any sense in Chinese. Unfortunately, what is found in the above transcript doesn’t have what he said in Chinese, because I’d quite frankly be interested to know what it was. I’ll have to try to find a recording, or I can hope we get it past the censors when we watch the un-cut version on StarWorld on Wednesday.

In any case, besides cutting out references to homosexuality, the other thing that was clearly cut was references to Taiwan and Hong Kong…of course, since they are both parts of China, why would he need to mention them separately?! Well, at least that’s the Chinese mindset.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 27, 2006

Is it normal…

Is it normal to have your life feel like a TV drama? Usually, I feel like my life is too boring to really have anybody but me and a maybe a few close friends care about. But somehow, Kunming in the last few months has managed to pull my normally hum-drum life into something deserving of a spectacle.

In my last (substantive) post, I believe I was somewhere in India—roaming around the spice plantations of Goa sounds about right. After that Chesa and I went down to Bangalore, which qualifies as the IT capital of India. Chances are good that if you’ve ever called customer service within the last five years that you’ve placed a call here. Unfortunately, beyond being a liberal bastion of a conservative state, and there being lots of conspicuous wealth, there did not seem to be much of substance in the city. What’s worse, due to train schedules, we were stuck there for several days more than we had originally planned.

To be fair to Bangalore, I kind of lost my motivation to explore when we discovered the TV in our hotel had cable with access to BBC World, CNN, and StarWorld. I haven’t seen such open media since I was back in the US, and being able to turn on the tele and watch real news was fun. Though, I had happily forgotten how the US media runs takes one story and runs it into the ground. All we could hear about was cartoon controversy this, cartoon controversy that. I swear there was more news on their ticker bar than in the actual program itself!

We did have a wonderful time meeting with a friend of mine from the states who is living in Bangalore—her husband is currently a visiting professor at the Tata Institute, a very famous graduate institution in India located in Bangalore. She showed us around campus, and we even got to swim in their newly cleaned pool. The sheer amount of shrubbery and wildness amazed me in comparison to the neat, controlled, and heavily cemented Chinese campuses. We also met up with an Indian friend of Chesa’s who showed us a bit of the local nightlife.

Though we were there longer than planned, it turned out well that we were stuck in Bangalore for so long. The night before we were to leave at just about 9:45PM we decided that since it had been a couple of days we should check our e-mail. We finally found an internet place, and, with fifteen minutes to close, discovered that one of the other foreign teachers, and a close friend at that, was severely ill in hospital. She had eaten something bad and had refused to go to the hospital (because me, Chinese hospitals are to be avoided at all costs). Finally her boyfriend (who is a Chinese doctor) convinced her to go. Unfortunately, by that point she was horribly dehydrated and went into septic shock. That is to say, she lost heart, lung, and kidney function and was in a coma.

Chesa and I were stunned, then paralyzed. The internet café shut down, and though we were able to make a quick phone call back to Kunming to hear the most recent update, we were unable to do anything because EVERYTHING was closed in the damn town (and it was a Friday night!). We went home and tried to distract ourselves from feeling helpless.

The next day was spent making decisions and arrangements. We still had almost two weeks left of our trip in India, and we weren’t sure how effective we’d be back in Kunming. Chesa, whose whole point in going to India was to visit Madurai (our next destination) decided to keep on with the trip, while I decided I needed to be back to help in whatever way I could. I think it was the right decision, and because of that, the universe stepped in to help.

After discovering that Cathay Pacific had no available seats until our reserved date two weeks later, I decided to drop the return portion of that trip and see what else I could find. Things weren’t looking good until Chesa casually suggested I try JetStarAsia, a discount Asian carrier based in Singapore. As it turned out, one of their two ports of call in India was Bangalore. I booked the way cheap 4:30AM flight for the next morning, and thus started the fun adventure of getting home.

I dropped Chesa off at the train station at nine that night, and dawdled there reading until I was chased away by people with big hoses getting ready to clean the platform. Then I waited for forever in the airport (one of the nicer ones in India from what I can tell, though it’s nothing to write home about), until I squeezed onto the plane and sat down in front of a screaming baby. Luckily, the baby scared off the other passengers from my row and I was able to stretch out for my trip to Singapore.

The problem was, I had no confirmed onward booking from there. I couldn’t get in touch with Singapore’s China Eastern office, so I couldn’t check the price of the direct flight back from Singapore to Kunming. I, therefore, hedged my bets and bolted that afternoon to Hong Kong, again on JetStar. I spent the night in Kowloon, hopped the ferry the next morning to ShenZhen, and successfully changed my flight back to Kunming. It was a long trip.

I arrived that night to find my friend’s boyfriend at a bar in quite the state of despair. I’m generally a good listener, but I frankly don’t know what to tell this man when he says that he doesn’t want to be a doctor anymore because he can’t do anything to save the person he loves. I know less what to say when he insists that he wants to “go with her.”

The next day I went to the hospital to visit her for the first time. She was still in a coma, her face swollen from a buildup of bodily fluids due to her non-functioning kidneys. Her eyes were crusty and half open. Her head jerked the respirator tube every time she breathed. It was a hard sight, and the other friend I was with who was also just back in town broke down in tears. She, or so we were told, was looking much better.

Now, Chinese hospitals are different from American hospitals. Though she has had a team of three American doctors working on her in addition to another three Chinese doctors, things just never seem quite right. As one of the American doctors assessed the situation, “the nurses are doing the big things, but there is more that could be done to make her more comfortable.”

The docs didn’t (and still don’t) know exactly what infection she had, but they were hoping to run blood tests while she got her first dialysis. The hospital kindly refused to perform the tests Sunday night at 10PM until the money that the university had promised they would give them THE NEXT MORNING when the banks opened was in their possession.

When walking into the ICU, visitors are required to don slippers and scrubs. Of course, everyone must share the limited selection of jackets (that the Chinese toss casually on the floor), and given the number of stains on them, I’d guess they haven’t been washed in years. Great germ protection I feel. Maybe I shouldn’t mention the blood-stained bed cum waiting room seats that we must wait on before going to the ICU as it’s the only thing available to sit on in the wind-tunnel (I keep trying to figure out how to say ‘vestibule’ in Chinese so I can suggest it to the doctors there…) of an entrance hall.

Right now our friend is doing better. She actually woke up last week, and has been able to since respond to yes/no questions, but she still has a long way to come. Today she seemed to relapse a bit, but we’re still hopeful.

And this, my friends, is but one of the many sub-plots of my current life.


Friday, January 06, 2006

A Year in Review

I honestly can’t remember the last time I wrote a New Year’s letter to everybody—in fact, it’s quite possible that I have never done so before. And yet, this year I feel strangely compelled. Perhaps it’s the peer pressure (I’ve gotten over five such letters in the last week), or perhaps it’s just because I’ve had that interesting of a year. Whatever the reasoning behind it, I hope you enjoy! Also, please note that I have linked to relevant blog entries if you feel so inclined as to find out more about a particular topic.

This year started rather quietly for me, celebrating New Year’s with a few close friends at my former Chinese teacher’s house here in Kunming. They have an amazing flat, and it was enjoyable to pamper myself just a little bit here. We then absconded with one of our, ummmm, older friends, and took her to one of the skuzziest ex-pat bars to be found in Kunming: The Speak Easy. She was appropriately scandalized, and it was decided that all in all, it was a good start to a new year.

After arguing with several Chinese service attendants at banks and other places, and after a sleep-deprived week to finish grading all my finals, I was off with two friends, Chesa and Marie-Liesse, to enjoy the splendors of SE Asia. In all, we visited five countries: Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines (where we narrowly escaped the Valentine’s Day bombings that blanketed the country that day). Though each of these countries has their own strong and weak points, I think that overall, Laos was my favorite country by far. It is just such a contrast to the rest of SE Asia! Whereas Kunming has a population of over five million if you include surrounding suburbs, the entire country of Laos has only a population of six million—it’s a difference one notices immediately upon entering the “backwater burg” of Vientiane (the capital).

After almost six weeks of travelling, it was back to good old Kunming for a new semester. It was almost too relaxing at some points, but I lumped enough on my plate in the end, that I seemed to never stop going.
First, I got a new dog named XiaoXiong (小熊), or Little Bear. He also has the Franglish name of Maurice, but hardly anybody calls him that. He’s a cute little Lhasa Apso in serious need of braces as his under-bite is quite pronounced. I think it makes him just that much cuter, but my friends seem to think that it makes him look evil. :o(

As if raising a puppy wasn’t enough, I took the HSK (the standardized Chinese Level Test), and failed brilliantly. It’s somewhat disconcerting to study a language for almost four years and still be considered of the elementary beginning level! In addition, I took the Foreign Service Written Exam, and again, failed brilliantly. Well, actually, I don’t know how well I did, but not good enough to enter the service.

My lovely mother, her boss, and her coworker also came through China for a three-week visit in May. We spent some lovely time along China’s eastern front, visiting such cities as Shanghai, Hangzhou (and its famous Western Lake), Suzhou, and the quaint canal village of Zhouzhuang. Then it was down to my neck of the woods to experience my everyday life here in Kunming as well as the normal tourist track of Dali, Lijiang (whose old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and Zhongdian (AKA Shangri-la). I think my mom had her eyes opened to a whole new part of the world, and so, besides having a good time seeing her, I also enjoyed introducing her to new things.

At the end of May, while sitting in one of my favorite restaurants in Kunming that serves XinJiang food, I decided to take advantage of my students’ labour week and head west—far west—to XinJiang, China’s hinterland. I travelled by myself, and had an absolutely amazing time. The scenery there is gorgeous, and upon arrival in Urumqi (the capital of Xinjiang), I felt right at home. Urumqi is situated on a arid plain right next to the TianShan mountain range, just like the Front Range of Colorado.
Upon my return home, I decided to stay in Kunming for another year, and re-upped at Yunnan University. It meant a mad rush to change apartments (XiaoXiong wasn’t exactly welcomed in the foreigner’s compound), but it was worth it. I quite enjoy my new apartment, as well as the new roommates!

Enter next traveler: Robin, my old housemate from Whitman and fellow Fort Collinsite. She arrived to break in the new apartment (we had fun figuring out the washing machine), and then it was off for a two week journey across China. We hit Dali, Lijiang, and Zhongdian, but then continued through the serious back country of Sichuan province, spending several days in LiTang, a Tibetan town located at a mere 15,000+ ft. I loved every minute of it, though not speaking Tibetan made it a bit difficult to communicate sometimes. From there it was down through Kangding and Chengdu, only to fly to Xi’an (for the Terracotta Soldiers of course) and finally to Beijing. She insisted on seeing the Great Wall, so we made an excursion.

Then it was time for some serious reverse-culture shock, as I headed back to the US for almost six weeks. I enjoyed thoroughly getting to see all of my friends and family back home, but the US remains a very crazy place (not that China isn’t). I stocked up on good wine, good food, good salad, avocados, good chocolate, good desserts, and a good ten pounds…luckily I have been able to take them off (and more) during this semester in Kunming.

I returned to my new apartment only to find the bustling road on which I presently live, Wenlin Jie demolished. They were redoing the sewer system and enlarging the road, but all it looked like to me was piles of mud dangerous crevices filled with raw sewage. Yummy! After about a month of construction, it was mostly finished, and I couldn’t have been happier! Like I always say though, if you’re not about to die in China, then you’re doing something wrong! (NOTE: I don’t advocate actual dieing.)

I have truly felt that coming back to Kunming was the right decision for this year, but I think I’ll be ready to continue my adventures elsewhere next year. I took on an aggressive teaching schedule—22 hours per week, plus three hours of tutoring, plus Chinese class. I nearly drove myself crazy—losing my voice at the end of almost each week. It made it hard for me to carry on my favorite past time, KTV (Karaoke TV), and so I have resolved not to do so next semester. My favorite class was probably American Culture and Society, where I got to discuss substantive issues for a change, and I feel like I really made an impact on some of these kids’ lives.

The holiday season this year was generally good, and I got my fill of sushi so I really can’t complain. This time around, a band of teachers here at Yunnan University as well as one of our other friends performed at a local, Scandinavian-run tea house/café/gallery called Nordica. They were simply amazing, and I’m constantly amazed at the caliber of talented people I find around me here. I was also asked to carry out a Swedish tradition of toasting all the girls in the room (a couple of girls also harassed, I mean toasted, the boys). It was fun to participate, but then it was home for an early night to finish my Personal Statement as my graduate school applications were due on the thirty-first. Thank goodness for a 13-plus-hour time difference!

And with that, we have made it to present more or less. For those of you my age (that is to say, born in 1982), this year should be especially auspicious. It is once again the Year of the Dog, and thus, I hope you are able to make the most of it! I will be travelling to India starting on January 18th to pass the Chinese New Year. So, I wish myself “一路顺风” (Safe journeys, literally, “one road with the wind”), and if you’re interested in keeping up-to-date on my boring life on the other side of the world, check out my blog at http://www.knezzy.com/FunFacts!

Labels: ,

Friday, December 23, 2005

Lay the egg quickly!

As far as I ever experienced, textoing (sending short messages) has never been popular in the United States. I’m sure it’s because calling people is just so inexpensive in the United States that there is no point spending all that time keying in a short message when otherwise all you have to do is press the dial button. It is in this fact that the US is quite unique. In all the other countries I’ve ever experienced (with perhaps the exception of Canada?), textoing is an essential part of everyday life. However, it’s the Chinese who have taken the texto to a new level.

I need to count how many SMS’s I send in one day, but I’m sure that I probably average somewhere around 30-50—it’s like all I do all day (besides teaching that is!). I think it’s partially a function of the fact that, for some reason, voice messaging is unheard of in China. If you call somebody and they don’t answer, the only way to leave a message is via text.

Because of this prevalence of textos everywhere, I feel like the Chinese have refined them to an art and even a cultural practice. Never before have I gotten so many messages to remind me that the weather is getting colder (which it is—reached 0 degrees Celsius on Thursday morning), and so I should “多穿衣服,” which means to “wear more clothes.”

Also, on every holiday, the number of messages sent seems to jump exponentially. Everybody must wish everybody else a happy Mid-Autumn festival, a thoughtful Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, etc. Of course, they don’t just send simple messages like “Merry Christmas.” Rather, I often get elaborate poems, or riddles, or jokes that I have difficulty following. They then get sent around from one person to the next, and so you end up with the same message from about five to ten people. My favorite Christmas one so far is as follows:


And here we go having to translate things again. I’ve mentioned before that I think translation is stupid, and that humor doesn’t usually translate well before, right? If not, consider yourself warned.

“Christmas day is almost here. Remember to hang a stocking on your headboard. That way, I’m sure that Santa Claus (literally Old Christmas Person) will give you a male chicken and a female chicken. This is because the male chicken will say “Lay an egg! Lay an egg!” while the hen will say “Hold your horses! Hold your horses!” I wish you a speedy egg.”

“What in the?!” you might be asking yourself right about now. But the reason this makes any sense at all is that, in Chinese, Christmas is “圣诞节,” pronounced “shèngdànjīe.” To lay an egg is “生蛋,” pronounced “shēngdàn.” To say the equivalent of “Happy [name of holiday]” in Chinese, one would simply add a “快乐”(kuaile), which literally means “fast happy” at the end. So, to say Merry Christmas, one would say “圣诞快乐,” pronounced (shengdankuaile). The confusion here lies in the fact that “快了” (note that the second character is different) means something like quickly, speedy, or something is about to happen soon.

And so, in a show of respect for Chinese puns, let me wish that everybody can lay an egg quickly!


Sunday, December 18, 2005


It was destined. The first time that my friend played this song for me, the only thing I could think was, “Oy, turn it off! It’s only the beginning of November, Christmas season won’t start for a while.”

“This song might have reference to Christmas,” my friend argued, “but that’s not what it’s about. Listen to the lyrics!”

And so I did, and so I have, and so it has become the song that, ironically enough, has come to epitomize this Christmas season for me. And so I share it with you all: “圣诞节,” or “Christmas.”

If you care to listen to the song, you can do so here.

#Merry, merry Christmas
Lonely, lonely Christmas
Lonely, lonely Christmas
Merry, merry Christmas
repeat *#
repeat ##

Which, since it is the lyrics that I want to share with you all, would translate as follows (note, this is my translation, and therefore might be inaccurate. I still don’t have lots and lots of practice with translating Chinese to English. If any of you Chinese speakers out there who read my blog—yes, I know you’re out there—want to offer any suggestions, please do. I’m especially confused by the “眼眶的泪温热冻结望著电视里的无聊节目” line.):

It never snows in the city I live in.
However, I can’t remember ever feeling so cold.
I miss the neon and crowds of people swept along the street by the busy season,
Taking happiness far away.

*Lovers who suddenly find themselves alone are most scared of holidays.
They can only celebrate alone by getting as drunk as possible.
Of all of the people I’ve loved, not one remains by my side.
Only loneliness accompanies me tonight.

#Merry, merry Christmas,
Lonely, lonely Christmas.
To whom can I send the Christmas cards I’ve written?
A heart shattered like the scraps of paper on the street.

I’m not answering the phone so that others won’t realize that I’ve spent the whole night locked in my room.
A gush of laughter sounds like grief’s music.
The warm tears streaming from my eyes are frozen by the senseless TV program.
I’m paralyzed on the sofa having become a non-feeling plant.

Who will come celebrate Christmas with me?

Now, having shared that, please don’t worry about me. Holidays are always the hardest time of the year when living abroad. One finds oneself in a battle of cultures where, even if there is some understanding of the fact that this is an important time of the year to most Westerners, life is supposed to continue like normal. Classes this week. Finals next. We must wait for Chinese New Year to truly celebrate.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Now, as far as search engines go, I feel like Google generally does a good job sorting out the relevant pages from the riffraff. Yahoo, on the other hand, needs some more help. Recently, one of my blog entries has been receiving hundreds of hits. Which one? Well, the one that was effectively my first real post on this new website: Thanksgiving Madness. Why? Because it is coming in on the Top 10 for the search “Thanksgiving Fun Facts” (number 5) as well as “Fun Thanksgiving Facts” (number 8). Unfortunately for those unsuspecting surfers, that page has absolutely nothing to do with the history of Thanksgiving at all, unless you consider what I did last year to celebrate Turkey Day history. Now, I don’t mind the traffic, but I feel a little guilty that it has absolutely no relevance, so I just decided to edit the post to include the outline of my lesson plan for Thanksgiving. At least there’s some actual information in there. Also, I just found this website from the US Census Bureau, with some very interesting Thanksgiving Facts that I thought I'd share :o) .

But actually, this isn’t the first time I’ve had issues with search engines. For many years, I was one of the web’s leading experts on druidism. Yep, that’s right, druidism. When I was in NINTH GRADE I did my history report on druidism. At that time I was also exploring how to create webpages, and so, not having much else to post, I posted my report. It became popular in the neo-pagan circles as a good introduction to druidism. I actually took the page down years ago, and yet I’ve found it copied elsewhere, without credit mind you, and thus share with you the link. If this isn’t a lesson in using the Internet as a credible source, I don’t know what is!

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bushie Comes to Town

The MSNBC/AP spin:

Bush brings human rights message to China
President attends church before meeting with leadership

Putting human rights atop his agenda, President Bush promoted religious freedom in this communist nation Sunday by attending church services before meeting top leaders.

Bush tried to send a visible message about human rights across this land of 1.3 billion people by worshipping at the Gangwashi Church, one of five officially recognized Protestant churches in Beijing. On a chilly morning, the president arrived at the church with his wife, Laura.

In the church’s guest book, Bush wrote “May God bless the Christians of China.”

Under the president’s inscription, the first lady wrote: “And with love and respect, Laura Bush.”

The State Department cited China this month as one of eight countries of “particular concern” for denying religious freedom. The White House urged China’s state-controlled media not to censor news of Bush’s visit.

The China Daily, the official English language newspaper in China, spin:

Bush's visit symbolic but still important

Anti-terrorism co-operation, nuclear stand-off on the Korean Peninsula and Iran, the Taiwan question, trade deficit, intellectual property rights protection, and bird flu.

The wide range of topics on the agenda during US President George W. Bush's visit to China shows that Washington and Beijing share more and more common interests, according to analysts.

This fact, they predict, will prompt Bush to sound a more positive note while outlining his administration's China policy in Beijing.

Now, I'm willing to give the China Daily the benefit of the doubt for now, I mean it is a daily newspaper, and this visit to church did just happen, but something tells me that the Chinese people are going to miss any comments Bush has to make about China's human rights...we shall see.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Well, once again it seems like it’s been ages since I’ve posted to my blog for real—posting someone else’s comic, not matter how perfect I think it is, hardly counts. My problem is not that I don’t have anything to write, but rather, that I have too much to write. The last three weeks have been so full of intrigue that it’s hard to figure out where to start. However, a lot of it revolves around a new friend, Y.L., so I suppose we can start there.

When did I become an embittered expat?

At the end of October, a friend who I had met several months earlier returned to Kunming from a trip to Japan. Originally from Singapore, Y.L. went to university in the US, and thus is both fluent in Chinese and English (he also studied in Paris, so we share French too actually). He had originally come to Kunming last spring (though I didn’t meet him at that time) as part of an art exhibition and to take part in a workshop at one of the art institutes here in Kunming. After a very successful workshop, they asked him to return this year as a digital media professor. Unfortunately, they really screwed up his visa…twice. “Typically Chinese,” I said to him one night over dinner.

The weekend before that was Halloween. That Friday I had decided to throw a big party for all of my students as well as the students of the other teachers at Yunda. This was probably my fourth or fifth big party I’ve organized here, so I felt fairly certain that I had things under control. I had reserved the cafeteria in the foreign students’ complex, I had spent an entire afternoon running around Kunming looking for round pumpkins (which I never was able to find, btw, with the exception of one for 400¥ [about $50], or about the average monthly salary in China…couldn’t help but get the feeling I was being cheated.), bought all the food and decorations, and had even found a costume. Despite the difficulties with the pumpkins, things were coming together.

That is, until 7 o’clock the night of the party (the party started at eight). I was just about to head out the door, decorations in hand, when Clara, the poor woman in charge of taking care of all the foreign teachers, gives me a call. “There’s a problem,” she says. I brace for impact. “Although I reserved the cafeteria on Monday from the managers of the compound, there is now a large group of Vietnamese students there having their own party…apparently when they asked on Thursday the managers thought they were part of our group. They told me this morning.” It was all I could do not to scream (although it was the first thing I did after I hung up the phone).

I explained as calmly as I could given the circumstances that, “I have spent over 500¥ organizing this party, have spent the better part of the last two days preparing for it, and have invited over 150 people. I’m not going to cancel it forty-five minutes before it starts!” And then we tried to come up with some solutions. My favorite idea included sending Chesa, who was dressed up as a soldier with a b-b gun to boot, into the cafeteria and scare all of the Vietnamese out. I would then follow up in my cowboy costume and lasso. We settled on sharing the space, though I was incredibly unhappy about it. Generally things went okay, but the Vietnamese insisted on spraying EVERYBODY with beer, even while we were attempting the limbo, and managed to spray Aaliyah in so doing. Now, I would mention that Aaliyah is a quite devout Muslim who doesn’t drink, and so being sprayed with a bunch of beer was quite an affront. Moreover, at that time we were still in the middle of Ramadan. When she got angry, they just laughed.

Needless to say, I was entirely frustrated with the entire situation, and couldn’t help but exclaim at several different occasions something to the effect of: “What kind of f*ckwit managers run this place?! This is so typically Chinese, and it’s not the first time they’ve screwed up. That foreigners’ compound is so mismanaged. Nobody checked with anybody, and even Clara, who knew about it since this morning failed to tell me until the event was about to start. If she had mentioned it earlier, we probably could have worked out a solution. But no, Chinese just have to avoid confrontation. It’s so irrational and so typical.”

“You know, these are the kind of things that frustrate Chinese people too,” responded several different Chinese people to whom I recounted this story. I was too absorbed thinking, ‘yeah, well, of course,’ to really notice what they were saying.

But YL pointed out to me at that same dinner how harsh I was being towards the Chinese as an entire people. He noted that not all Chinese are like that, and emphasized again that such situations also bother Chinese people. It was at that point that it hit me: I have become that bitter complainy foreigner without even noticing. I’m glad I had this realization though, for the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Of course, a couple of days later, YL turned around and said that all Americans are self-centered and he can’t understand why they have this urge, no this need, to make it known what kind of a person they are by form of short (or worse, long) declarations without real conversation. So, I guess it goes both ways.

And, that was a long enough story, so just know that I owe you the following posts:
Stereotypes in China
Fall in Kunming
Xiao Xiong’s GI


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

America the Great

I feel like this says it all!


Monday, November 14, 2005

In a word...

Found this description of me on a friend's blog and couldn't help but wonder if I could put it on my resume :o) :

Jeff: A lovable, sociable, and occasionally caustic man with glasses and a beard that make him look like a real professor. 23. Teaching for 2nd year at 雲南大學.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Truth (with Jokes)

Well, I was just reading this morning about a new book out by Al Franken called nothing other than The Truth (with Jokes). Now, I never read Lies, so I guess I don’t have any clue how his new book is, but I will admit that political satire is up my alley. In any case, I think it’s the book my students are looking for…

Yesterday, while teaching about the Civil War, I got into an interesting conversation with my students. Last week in my American Culture and Society class, we had a guest speaker—another Yunnan University professor, Aaliyah—to teach us about African American History and Culture. During her lecture, she mentioned briefly the Civil War, focusing mainly on the emancipation of the slaves. One of my more curious and bold students asked her why the slaves were freed. Aaliyah said something to the effect of “I like to think that it came from a general consensus that slavery was wrong.” Wishful thinking in my opinion.

So, yesterday, I decided to add some more information about the Civil War, including a discussion of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Now, most Chinese people know who Abe Lincoln is, and they also know that he ended slavery. Telling them that the Emancipation Proclamation actually only freed the slaves in the South (where he didn’t even have power) was a new one for them. I suggested that at the time, the more immediate reason for him freeing the slaves was more to create chaos than because he disliked slavery. “What a smart man!” they said.

Then I asked if there were any questions. One of my students seemed confused. “How can Aaliyah give us one reason and you another? Isn’t there like a book or something that you can just go to that tells you the right answer?” I was taken aback. How could I even begin to respond to that question?!

Americans are taught from a young age a) to always be critical, always, and b) that there is no such thing as Truth with a capital T. Everyone is biased in some way, so to some extent, anything that anybody says must be taken with a grain of salt. The Chinese, on the other hand, are not taught critical thinking until graduate school (and this is not an exaggeration!!!!). For the Chinese, learning equals memorization. The government also plays a large role in directing the curriculum, and so there are official books on many subjects—it’s a convenient way to keep China’s large population under control and keep the Communist Party in power.

Seriously though, in China, history is so black and white. Take for example the historical treatment of Chairman Mao. Deng XiaoPing, a party official who started China on the path of glasnost and economic reform declared that, “Mao was 70% right, and 30% wrong.” I triple-dog dare you to try telling a Chinese person that Mao was 75% right and see what happens.

My next thought, then, is ‘how do I express this without openly criticizing the Chinese government in front of my students?’ The best I could do after recovering from my original shock was “cultural differences.” “In the US,” I said, “we believe that there are usually many reasons, and that one person may say one thing, and somebody else might say something else, and that’s okay. Each of them are probably right in their own little way, and the truth is probably somewhere in between.”

They weren’t biting.

“Okay, let’s take the Nanjing Massacre for example.” I hoped I wasn’t getting into too dangerous territory, but I wanted an example they could all understand. “In Japan,” I explained, “some, NOT ALL, but some government-approved textbooks downplay or even ignore war atrocities committed during WWII. But, does that mean that Nanjing didn’t happen.”

A resounding “NO!”

“Okay, so the Chinese say that it happened, and that a certain number of people died. The Japanese might admit that it happened, but they admit to their own number of deaths. The Americans, who had reporters there, had there own death toll. Which one is right?”

“The Chinese number.”

“Then why are there three different numbers? If one is right, shouldn’t they all be the same then? The point is, we don’t know which one is right, and the fact of the matter is, none of them probably are, although some guesses are better than others.”

There were looks of sudden realization on several faces. It was probably one of the most satisfying moments I’ve had as a teacher.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Swing Cabs

Wow, it’s been 21 days (three whole weeks?!) since my last post. I simultaneously find that hard to believe and not so hard to believe. I guess I’ve just been so busy plugging along I hadn’t noticed the time passing away. But I’m here now—the only problem is that I can’t seem to remember what happened three weeks ago.

So, I suppose we can start with last last Monday (that is to say the 10th of October), as that is when things got interesting. Mondays are my longest days out at the YangPu campus—I teach for four hours in the morning and then two hours in the afternoon. The catch is that the two hours in the afternoon are from 4:30-6:30PM. This means that between 12:30-4:30PM I don’t really have anything to do. Well, I try to grade, I guess, but sometimes I am more successful at that than other times.

That is especially true now that the university is providing me a dorm room to stay in for the four hours during the afternoon. They say that the siesta is so ingrained into Mexican culture that it cost Santa Ana the Mexican-American War (they had apparently surrounded a large part of the American army, but instead of going in to finish the job, they took a siesta and the army escaped, regrouped, and captured Santa Ana), but it’s also an important part of the Chinese tradition. Believe me, you only call once at 1:30PM before you learn that lesson. I actually really appreciate having the break though, and I think it’s cool that the university actually provides me a bed because they think it is so important. I also find it refreshing to be in the dorms there. They are actually quite nice, and designed for only four people in a room, so it reminds me very much of my life in Taiwan which I enjoyed very much.

But I have surprisingly digressed. That Monday was the first day I got to go sleep at YangPu, but it turned out that I needn’t really have stayed there that afternoon. In fact, the first years had a basketball tournament organized for that afternoon starting at 5:30PM in which about half of my afternoon class was participating. Basically, when I asked who was staying for class, one girl raised her hand, so I said fine, taught them an English cheer (it is my Oral English class after all), and I made them all go to the tournament and do the cheer. Unfortunately, our department’s team lost fairly thoroughly, but I also got to see some of my students from last year who are now in other majors so I don’t see anymore. That made me happy.

Well, one of those students happens to be the president of the Foreign Languages Association, one of the largest clubs on campus. His English name is Sean, and you might or might not remember him from one of my posts last December A Week to be Reckoned With--to summarize, he’s one of my students who I would consider a friend. We chatted for a bit, and I gave him my new phone number. Lo and behold, Thursday rolls around and I get a call from none other than Sean asking if I wanted to go to lunch with him as he was on the main campus. I accepted thinking we would just be catching up or some such thing. I should have been more wary.

After ordering our food at a cute little Thai place on Culture Alley, pretty much the first thing out of his mouth was, “I came to the main campus on an urgent mission.” I braced as I knew he was about to ask me for a favor. Turns out that the next day the university was having what was essentially an activities fair for the clubs on campus with an accompanying performance. The Foreign Languages Association had prepared a performance, but it was entirely with students from the YangPu campus. The leader of the YangPu campus had called him that morning to inform him that, in the end, they would not be allowing those students to go into the main campus the next day, and that if they did try to go, they would all get demerits! There was apparently no reasoning with the leadership, and is just another example of how arbitrary decisions in China are. They had previously said that it wouldn’t be a problem.

So, it’s the day before the performance (which turned out to be a competition), and his group was without a performance. This is where I came in. He basically asked me what I could put together in 24 hours, nevermind I had four hours of class that afternoon/evening. I nevertheless told him I could help, as he seemed to be in a real pickle. So, that afternoon I spent calling friends, and I finally got Chesa to agree to do a swing dance with me. Sean, in turn, called around and found us backup dancers.

That night I felt like Hermione Granger with the clock thing because I somehow managed to be in three places at once. At 7:30PM I put on a movie for my students (My Big Fat Greek Wedding :o) ), and went downstairs to go teach my backup dancers how to swing. Of course, Chesa was actually teaching at the time, so she could only practice during her breaks. So, at 8:50PM we went up to her classroom and decided to perform for her students. I then raced back downstairs with my students to reclaim our practice room and hurried upstairs to my class to find the movie just ending. I then led a fifteen minute discussion on the movie before returning downstairs to finish practice with the backup dancers. It was a crazy night, but it made me feel powerful in that “I am omnipotent and can bend time to my will” sort of a way.

The next day the performance went surprisingly well, and in the end, it turned out that we won the competition if you can believe it. Now, I think that it was probably just because we were laowai that we won, but at least I enjoyed myself. The backup dancers also want me to start a swing club on campus. Yikes! The three funny things about the day were a) one of the backup dancers went up to Aaliyah (another foreign teacher here at Yunda from DC who happens to be African American) and asked, “how do you make your hair?” b) On several occasions I had different Chinese people come up to me and say “I’ve only ever seen that dance in the movies!” And c) in the program our performance was listed as “Swing Cabs.” I had told Sean over the phone that it was supposed to be “Swing Kids” (à la the movie of the same name). It makes you wonder exactly what movies they’ve seen swing in, as it apparently wasn’t that one ;o).

That night we went to dinner, and in continuing my tradition with Sean, had a truly, ahem, unique dinner. No pig brain this time, but we did have pig stomach (Surprisingly good. I actually think I prefer it over the intestines), and pig feet (again, surprisingly good). The ensuing conversation about weird foodstuffs, however, was slightly disconcerting, and believe me, you don’t even want to know.

As we won, we did the performance again this week on the YangPu campus. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as well, but at least we had fun!

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Scenes from an ATM

The Automatic Teller Machine machine, as people are so fond of calling it (ATM machine), is something Americans take for granted. In the US they’re ubiquitous to the point of absurdity. Case in point: drive-up ATMs have Braille for the sight impaired. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think I’d want to be in that car!

China is, of course, a different story. Not only are ATMs less abundant, but people are also less exposed to them. Fewer machines and four times the population of the US, you do the math. Of course, this results in fun times for Jeff at the ATM, and stories for you. So maybe it’s worth it.

A few weeks ago I was a little short on cash, so I decided to head over to my local Bank of China to ameliorate that situation. When I arrived at the little ATM in front of the bank I faced a short line of people. Now, given the lack of ATMs around, this isn’t so surprising in and of itself. Except for the fact that lines themselves are a rarity in China. Mobs are the norm, with people vying to keep their position at all costs, even if it is ultimately lost to the vicious old ladies who are a force to be reckoned with. So, I guess you could say that I was happy with the line, except that it a) meant waiting, and b) was formed so the next person was just to your side and easily able to look at your Personal Identification Number Number, or PIN number (which is six digits in China, FYI). Baby steps, baby steps.

Being the third or fourth person in line (I couldn’t tell if two girls standing talking together were both going to use the machine, or if one was just along for moral support), I wasn’t expecting a long wait. But then, it’s China. The man that was using the ATM as I arrived was busy taking out thousands of RMB from several accounts. He would stick in his card, enter his PIN, check the balance, take out the limit of 2000 yuan (about US$250), get the money, look side to side then stuff it hastily into his wallet, decide if he wanted a receipt, figure out he didn’t, and finally removed the card. He did this with two cards while I was there, and I think that he had already been at it a while when I first arrived. All I can say is, China is still a cash economy, and he’s probably going out to make some big purchase and needed all the money. He did look a little paranoid though.

Then it was time for the two girls. They looked like they were probably college-aged, or thereabouts, and in any case, had that wide-eyed-deer-in-a-headlight look so common among college first years worldwide. It turned out only one needed to withdraw cash, and that the other WAS there for moral support…and believe me, the first girl needed it. It was when she walked up to the machine and carefully tried to stick her card in the money slot that I realized this was going to take a while. After that was unsuccessful, she tried the receipt slot, and finally the card slot. Alas, she had put it in backwards and so the machine rejected it. She turned to her friend in desperation. The friend walked over embarrassedly though you could tell she was laughing on the inside. She took the card from her friend and very authoritatively put the card in the receipt slot. I rolled my eyes. Now they were both desperate. Turning around only to be faced with a dreaded laowai, the friend hurried quickly around me asking the Chinese behind me if they could help. They gave careful instructions to no avail. Sensing that they were getting nowhere, I went up to the machine and asked if I could help, turned the card the correct way and put it in the card slot, problem solved.

Or not. She managed to make it through the next step, which is choosing either Chinese or English, but hit a dead end at her PIN number. She tried a number. It wasn’t right. She tried it again. Still didn’t work. In vain she took out her cell phone and called, and I’m guessing here, home trying to figure it out. Having heard the same PIN from the other end of the line, and insisting that she was trying that exact number, she hung up dejectedly and took out her card. With bright red cheeks, she turned away from the ATM, apologizing to everyone with a “不好意思” (bu hao yi si, or, I’m so embarrassed).

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Thought for the Day

Ohio's official state beverage (yeah, I didn't know there was such a thing either) is: tomato juice.


Queueing it Up

My friend Afton, who just recently left the fair country of China to pursue interests in the middle of nowhere US just sent me this very interesting NY Times article on queueing in the newly opened Disneyland Hong Kong. Who knew that the Chinese actually knew how to line up. I know I'm amazed!

The Ultimate Body Language: How You Line Up for Mickey


Monday, September 19, 2005

Fêtes galore

Well, it’s been almost two weeks since my last post, and it therefore time to try it again. The main theme this time: celebrations, for these past couple weeks seem to have been full of them.

I guess it all started on my birthday (which was the seventh, FYI), which started out less than exciting, but ended quite well. As it was a Wednesday this year, I had to go out to YangPu (the far away campus) to teach from 8:30-12:30. This meant being on the 7:30AM bus…meh. While teaching, it started raining quite heavily, and it hadn’t let up by the time class was over. Having accidentally left my umbrella in a different classroom on the main campus the day prior, I had to walk about 10 minutes through the rain to get to the cafeteria sans umbrella (though with big head…sorry, reference is to a Chinese nursery rhyme). At said cafeteria, the server proceeded to drop my lunch, although he quickly apologized and got it for me again.

The evening, although getting off to a rough start, proved much better. After the restaurant at which I wanted to dine couldn’t guarantee us a reservation, before I taught my afternoon class, I went to a restaurant near my home and was able to reserve a whole room for the 23ish of us. The Chinese banquet we had there was exquisite, and I quite enjoyed myself. I’m not usually in the position to have a large group of friends together for my birthday, as I’m usually just arriving in a new place, so I was really quite happy. After that, it was out to our local pub (the Speakeasy), and to top off the evening, a trip to Windsor for some hardcore karaokeing until the wee hours of the morning. All in all, a good birthday.

The tenth was Teachers Day in China, which would have been nice, except not a single one of my students even wished me a happy teachers’ day…We did have dinner over at a friend/other teacher’s house, so we did at least celebrate appropriately amongst ourselves.

The eleventh was our next opportunity for celebration. That morning I woke up and turned on the TV only to find that about 75% of the stations were covering a THREE HOUR speech given by Hu Jintao in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the end of the War Against Japanese Aggression (AKA, WWII). I watched some of it, finding the dramatics interesting. My favorite part: an elderly, uniform-clad man sitting in the audience with his fist on firmly planted on table in front of him and visibly asleep.

That evening was also another of my friends, Jen’s, birthday. Sucky day for a birthday, ay? Anyway, we went out to a Portuguese restaurant in Kundu (the party area) of town, and drama aside, had a good time. Being us, we then went to a club in the area called Top One, and again, rounded out the evening with a trip to the karaoke joint. We’re so predictable.

And most recently, the eighteenth this year was one of the two major holidays in China—the Mid-Autumn Festival. The day started at 10AM with about 10 straight minutes of air raid sirens. I might have been worried except that I had read an announcement posted at the entry gate to our apartment building saying that we would be celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the end of the War Against Japanese Aggression again this week with a minute of silence... How Chinese is it that the minute of silence was punctuated by screeching sirens? At the very least, they managed to make sure everybody was up at the time.

As you might know or be able to guess, the moon plays an important role in celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival which is also known as the Moon Festival. Thus, I didn’t do much anything exciting until the evening. Normally, if I were actually Chinese, I’d be headed to a family meal (much like the way we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US), but as I’m not actually Chinese (you’re surprised, aren’t you?), we ended up just having dinner with some Chinese friends, and then walking around Cuihu (Green Lake) park accompanied by 小熊 (Maurice, my dog). It was über crowded even though the pervading clouds obscured the moon for most of the evening. Luckily, there were enough little electronic lanterns playing “Happy birthday” that we could find our way through the night…

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I’m Alive, I Swear!

Okay, so the last time I posted I was sitting in my dad’s car at a Seattle ferry terminal using my brand new wireless connection to post. This time I’m sitting in Chapter One, a cafe below my house in Kunming listening to “Tragedy” by the Bee Gees(?) and other disco favorites and posting yet again. I can’t believe it’s been so long!

To recap briefly, my last month or so has been good, if not crazy/busy (are we noticing a trend). Shortly after my last post I went to some Whitman friends’ wedding reception on the beautiful island of Bainbridge. It was great times and I got to see some people I hadn’t seen in quite some time. But my grand US adventure did not end there, oh no. In fact, it was only beginning.

After spending several days on Bainbridge, seeing a David Gray concert in Seattle with my sister in the meanwhile, I traveled in a whirlwind-like fashion down to Portland, Coos Bay (which is almost in California for reference), Philomath (podunkier than Walla Walla and Greeley combined), and back to Portland. Again, I spent lots of good times with friends and family, ate and drank too much. After that, it was a race up to Seattle to pick my dad up at the airport, which I even managed to do on time :o). After several good days in Seattle, including some Salsa-ing, it was up for a quick visit to Mt. Vernon and beyond, passing through the US/Canada border sans problème/without any problem.

The Vancouver to Beijing flight went pretty well, and I was even able to sleep (which is abnormal for me on planes, although I can do it basically every where else you’ve ever wanted to—just as I’m about to fall asleep I always feel like I’m falling). As Air China has wont to do, my bags arrived about an hour after touchdown in Beijing broken…at least it gave me something to take care of during my four hour layover there.

I arrived in Kunming to the sight of my two new roommates for the year: Chris and Andrew. Both of them are Whitties over here on the same program I was on last year. When we pulled (almost) up to our apartment, I discovered a 文林街 (WenLin Jie, or Culture Forest street) with less Wen and even less Lin—it is currently undergoing a major overall/widening. So, trudging up a dirt path that looked like it could be in the middle of nowhere rather than the middle of a city, I arrived home.

And boy has the construction been fun…or something. Andrew was busy buying furniture for the first few days he was here, and as if carrying a wardrobe up 8 flights of stairs isn’t difficult enough, getting it through the construction site was. It took four of us to carry it over a pile of small stones, down a small dirt path bordered by none other than the troughs they were digging to put in new sewage lines, over a manhole covered with a plank of plywood that we had to jump a foot down to get on and then finally inside. Talk about an obstacle course. But, as I like to say, if you’re not about to die while you’re in China, you must be doing something wrong.

Classes started last week, and have been going well so far. I’m taking Chinese classes in the morning (except for Mondays and Wednesdays when I teach at the campus 45 minutes out of town) and teach in the afternoons. Put all the hours together and it’s like having a full time job, and who does that?! But I really do enjoy my classes. I’m teaching American Culture and Society in addition to my English Composition and Oral English courses, so that’s really fun.

In the end, I’m happy I’m back. People have asked if I feel like I made the right decision to come back to Kunming, and all I can say is that I’m happy to be here. Does it mean I wouldn’t have been happy in Taiwan, absolutely not. But already knowing people makes life so much easier, and I do really like my apartment. So, what's there to complain about?


Thursday, July 21, 2005


Well, I've made it to the end of this adventure. 15 days since I've left Kunming, and thousands of kilometers travelled. We've taken trains, buses (of every class), boats, horse carts, taxis, private cars, cable cars, planes, and even a taboggen, not to mention all the walking we've done, since we began. It's been fun, we've seen the extremes of China, and I've carried a lot of it with me :o). It's just so hard to pass up souvenir shopping here, I mean what's US$2 in the grand scheme of things?

Our time in Beijing has been mostly good. We had some problems finding a place to stay, which was mainly a problem because we had so much stuff, but we did succeed in the end. Yesterday we saw the Forbidden City, and today, continuing on our tour of overly touristy things to see in and around Beijing we went to the Great Wall. It's my second time. In case you were worried, it's still there, and there are still lots of vendors selling over-priced water. Some things never change. Tonight we're going to try to find some Peking duck, cause what else are you supposed to eat in Beijing?

Then we head to the airport tomorrow, which is supposed to take somewhere between 2-3 hours. Bleh. Luckily, we found the most recent edition of Harry Potter at the book store yesterday, and I've been holding myself from finishing it before tomorrow, so at least I'll have something to do. Let's just hope that the bus has AC--it's been deathly hot here (but maybe you're tired of hearing me complain about that?). Now I'm just aprhensive about returning to the US. I've been gone for almost 14 months now, and have always had more trouble with reverse culture shock than culture shock--believe it or not, America's just that weird :o). At this point, I think just seeing so many white people, or rather a real mix of people is going to be an experience. I'll keep you posted on my reactions.

Meanwhile, if you're in CO or the Pacific NW during the next month or so, I'd probably love to see you (assuming I know you ;o)), so drop me a line, and we'll try to hook up!


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I'm Impulsive

Okay, so, if buying Maurice wasn't a strong enough sign of this to begin with, it has now been 100% proven that I am an impulse buyer. Bad Jeff, bad Jeff. What got me this time? Well, a set of three two-and-a-half feet tall terra cotta soldier replicas. I think they weight about 6 pounds each (about 3 kilos was the exact guestimate) and are made of clay. They look cool, but I'm not sure what I was thinking buying them, except that they were less than US$2 each...at least I drive a hard bargain, right? I mean, most tourists pay about US$20 for one from what I can establish...Now it's just a question of getting them all the way back to Colorado.

Actually, we're on the last leg of our journey, so it shouldn't be TOO big of a problem. In case you haven't yet been able to determine my current location, my friend Robin and I are in the capital of the Sha'anxi province, Xi'an--the ancient Tang Dynasty capital and pretty much the furthest west you can get in China that "people" still consider "civilised." Note, Xi'an is in pretty much the center of the country, so that should tell you something.

It's a pretty interesting, bustling city. It's definitely a big shock from Litang in more ways than one. First, it's freaking hot! I keep reminiscing to just a few days ago in Litang when I was freezing my pants, all three layers, off. But also, it's just crazy how developed it is here. It is also a fairly compact city with a population of over 6 million, so it just feels crowded.

It's probably a good transition point though, for we are leaving for Beijing tonight, which is bigger, more polluted, more populated, and hotter. I blame Robin for making me go there--I generally avoid it like the plague. Of course, I hear many people like it, so I suppose that I should give it another chance. I was there about three years ago at about the same time of year and spent my time rushing from air conditioned hotel to air conditioned car to air conditioned anything I could get my hands on. We'll see how it is this time.

Now we're off to explore the city wall. Hopefully we won't pass out from heat exhaustion!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Higher than Ever

Well, I know it's been a good long while since I last updated, but I've been busy...and in remote places. As we speak, actually, I'm at the highest elevation I think I've ever been outside of an airplane. My friend from the US, Robin, and I are currently sitting in LiTang in the Western half of the SiChuan province right near Tibet. How high are we? Well the high mountain park (which is mountain terminology for a high valley in the mountains, aka South Park, which does NOT refer to a public park!!!) is situated at about 4680m, or roughly 15,354ft! And this is just cruising altitude. If we want to go up into the mountains (the Himalayas) it's only up from here!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. :o) I guess it's been like a month since I last updated. That's because getting out of town was just crazy! Between judging an English competition that lasted 3 rounds (four nights total!), grading homework, making finals, giving finals, grading finals, finding a new apartment, moving apartments, and planning my summer, it's been busy!

As some of you know, or may have guessed from that last paragraph, I've decided to stay in Kunming next year. It was a tough decision between staying and going to Taiwan, but the university suddenly caved to my requests, so I decided to stay. One of them was the ability to move off campus with a living stipend. The university was quite generous, so I went off apartment hunting the next day.

In China, and I didn't realize this when I started, the real estate agencies charge a full month's rent to the renter for their help in finding a new place. I didn't have any other idea about how to go about it, so I used them, and when I found a place (which is really cool!) I had to bargain them down a lot! The negotiations for the apartment were lots of fun too. The rent started at 1800Y, but we got it down to 1508Y per month. Why fifteen hundred and EIGHT? Because the landlord kept insisting that 8 is a lucky number (which it is in China), so she wanted that in there. She wouldn't go down in either the 12 or 14 hundreds though because both 13 and 4 are unlucky numbers (four in Chinese sounds like the word death). Granted the apartment number is 804...guess having the eight cancels out the four or something. It's a walkup, which will be trecherous, but it's worth it for the view. Overall, I'm really happy about the place!!

To celebrate the new place, and also to bid farewell to some of the teachers, I had a big house-warming party on the 29th of June. I just barely pulled it off, as it was on that day that I moved into the house, and I was delayed by the fact that I couldn't get a bike/cart guy to help me move for a couple hours, and when I finally managed to find one, it started POURING (I'm not talking just rain here, I mean it was just gushing water!). But with the help of my friends Jean and Chesa, and the fact that nobody was very punctual, it all came together.

On the 3rd of July, my friend from both Fort Collins and Whitman, Robin, arrived in town. I wasn't quite done grading or moving, but with her help, we took care of it fairly quickly. On Wednesday I barely managed to get all the grading finished, and then we headed out of town on the night train to Dali. Our basic plan is to go from Kunming NW through Yunnan to Dali, Lijiang, and Zhongdian, then pass up north into Sichuan to XiangCheng, Litang (where we currently are), Yagong Grasslands, Kangding, and back to the capital of Sichuan, Chengdu. From there, it's trains to Xi'an in the center of the country, then on to Beijing.

It's a crazy long trip, but it's been fun so far. I've been to Dali, Lijiang, and Zhongdian several times, but this is my first time up into this part of Sichuan. We had good times there, including a great hike down Tiger Leaping Gorge, and connecting with a group of two Frenchies, to Japanese and a Chinese to go see Emerald Pagoda Lake outside of Zhongdian (where we walked the 8km's out trough beautiful scenery, though I got REALLY muddy). But, it's good to see something new, though I must admit that the bus ride between Zhongdian and XiangCheng was downright scary. We were on a cobbled/dirt road climbing through mountain passes in the fog and rain. Once we arrived and found a hotel, we grabbed some noodles and wontons for dinner, then hiked up the mountain a bit to go to a newly constructed Tibetan Buddhist temple. It was just awe-inspiring--I actually had to hold back tears at one point. The craftsmanship is excellent, and since it's new, it still in great condition. It was great. Then today, we made the 5 hour trek to Litang. In the Lonely Planet, they described it as the Wild West of Sichuan...it really is. We were walking down the street this afternoon and were just astonished at how much it felt like we were walking down the street in a set of a Western movie...though the architecture is a bit different. It's really cold up here (I'm wearing like 5 layers and I'm still cold), but it's worth it.

And now that I'm caught up, I'm going to go explore!

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Smoking in China

My friend sent me a link to this article about smoking in China, and I thought I'd share it with all of you. It's, unfortunately, a very real description of the current situation of smoking in China. The truth of the matter is, cigarette factories are a state-owned business that makes the government TONS of money. The government doesn't provide healthcare, so they don't have to worry about that. And, it helps with population control (sorry if that's too blunt, but it's the case). So, the government encourages smoking. As if the air here wasn't bad enough...

Anyway, you can check out the article, In China, cigarettes are a kind of miracle drug by following that link.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Time Warp Baby

As you might recall, since I did mention it on this site a while back, my mother and two of her friends (who also happen to be colleagues) came and visited here in China. My mom was here for almost three full weeks. One of her friends, Sherry, for two, and her other, Ever, for just under one. It was a good trip, of course, and I really enjoyed introducing different parts of China to them.

Much to my mother's chagrin, the only thing that I really posted about the trip on my blog was that I was relieved it was over. Now, I know that she took it in the way I meant it, that I was relieved to be able to relax after being "on" for three weeks, and not that I was either a) happy she was gone, or b) didn't enjoy the trip. But nevertheless, I felt it is only right to add some more about our trip on my blog.

Rather conveniently, at about the same time I decided this, Sherry e-mailed me a great PowerPoint presentation of her/our (we weren't together the whole time) trip to Asia. I think it's well worth sharing, and I think it's particularly interesting to have "fresh eyes" on China (actually, that was one of my favorite parts about having my mom and friends here, is that I got to see China for the first time again). And so, I'm happy to invite a "guest blogger" to my blog to help me describe my mom's China trip. I hope you enjoy!

I have linked to the presentation here for a download. Note that it's a fairly large file, and will therefore take a while to download. You might not want to risk it if you're not on high speed, unless it's really worth it to ya!

Labels: , ,

Vignettes a la Haiku

Okay, so the last post was less of a vignette, and more of a, well, diatribe I guess. So, in order to make it shorter and more vignette-like, and also because I'm currently teaching poetry to my students, I thought I would share some Kahsgari haikus for your reading pleasure.

Vignette #2: Outside Kashgar

Poplars line dirt roads
A dry wind rustles the leaves
The mosque stands empty

Vignette #3: On the Abakh Hoja Mauseleum

Hojas of the past
Engulfed in the cool marble
Holy sepulcher

Sun beats green tiled domes
Seventy-eight rest in peace
Dryness permeates

Vignette #4: On the People's Square

The packed square surges
With vigor of vibrant youth
Happy Children’s Day

Vignette #5: At a Restaurant

My Lonely Planet
Held by a Uighur waitress
New understanding

Vignette #6: The Bazaar

Grabbed by forceful hands
A vendor peddles his wares
Chotchkies overwhelm

Labels: , ,

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Vignette #1: The Plane

Well, I’m back in one piece…amazing, I know. And an interesting journey it has been! It’s really unfortunate that I was not able to connect to the internet again during my time in the “Wild West of the Orient” (okay, so I just made that up, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?) because there is just sooooo much to talk about. So, since I can’t keep a train of thought for more than, say, two minutes, I thought I would take a vignette approach to this post. They’re not in any particular order (especially not chronological), but I think you’ll appreciate them anyway. We’ll see how it goes.

Vignette #1- The Plane from Kashgar back to Urumqi

It’s 8:20AM in the morning. Well, rather, it’s 6:20AM in the morning XinJiang Time, 8:30AM Beijing Time. The sun is already high in the sky, but the air has not yet absorbed any of its warming rays. After having checked out from my hotel in the former Russian Embassy, I decide that I have some time before my flight, so I go searching in vein for XinJiang-style bagels, but not before I check on how to get to the airport via public bus. After walking for twenty minutes without finding bagels (it was still too early really), I hop the bus to the airport. It being China, the bus didn’t go quite all the way to the airport (too logical), so I had to trek in the last little bit to the terminal. Of course, nothing was clearly marked there, so I couldn’t tell which door to go in, and once inside I couldn’t find the check-in counter. Eventually though, I found it, though I was running late. They had already closed the computer for my flight (of course there were still like ten people to follow after me, so it was a good thing they closed the computer down so early!), so they issued me a ticket by hand, and told me to rush up the stairs for the security screening.

There, the guard, afraid to talk to the foreigner (probably because he doesn’t think he can speak English), grunts at me to get me to finish my security screening (I had already passed through the metal detector, he was wanding me). Wand. Grunt. I give him a weird look. Grunt. I turn around. Meaner grunt—apparently that wasn’t what he wanted. I turn back around. Grunt and nod of head. I fish the Peptol Bismol chew tabs out of my pocket and wonder to myself if he’s happy now. Approving grunt. Hand pushes me. I figure that means turn around. Wand, wand, grunt. Assuming that means I’m done, I step down from the platform and collect my things.

It frustrates me so much here how often Chinese people refuse to even try speaking with me!! Am I really that intimidating?!

In any case, I make through security and am ushered out the door. I run down the steps and across the tarmac, wind ruffling my hair, to the waiting plane that is already mostly full. Upon boarding, I find I am seated in the same row (though across the aisle) of a family travelling with two small children. The balding, slightly comical father is having an argument with the stewardess about having to stow one of his bags in the overhead compartment instead of in front of him. “It’s convenient for you, miss, but it’s not convenient for us. Isn’t that so?” he inquires to the overhead compartment while stuffing in his bag.

A few minutes later as the stewardesses are walking by, one of the kids decides that she wants to be held by one of them. The stewardess picks her up and the kid seems happy. The father asks the stewardess if she would like to be their new nanny (note that the old nanny is sitting next to the mother in the same row holding the other child), and the whole back half of the plane has a laugh.

Directly in front of this family is another foreigner, a tall blonde who looks like a young Allison Janning (C.J. on “The West Wing” if that helps.)

I peer out the window to see a group of about five people running across the tarmac. Bringing up the rear is a somewhat portly Uighur/Pakistani/Ethnically Arabic woman in full head gear and high heels carrying a fake Gucci. I must add that this hijab isn’t just the wrap around kind where the eyes are open to the environment. No, this was a thick brown mesh (I’m assuming, I mean, how else could she see through it?) cloth just draped over her head. She looked like a brown ghost flittering over the tarmac towards the plane, the wind trying its best to blow her scarf off. She finally made it.

Among that group, one woman sits next to the other foreign woman in the row in front of me. With henna-died, red hair, glittery nails, and a fake leopard print shirt on, she looks like she’s trying to hard. Suddenly, she starts sobbing uncontrollably and rambling in Uighur. The foreign woman tries to comfort her, but doesn’t really know what to do, especially since she doesn’t speak Uighur. She tries coaxing her to speak Mandarin, but she’s too far gone.

Again, I look across the tarmac to see more passengers arriving. This time it’s special though. They’re not coming from the same security checkpoint as everybody else did. Rather, it’s an older man pushing a middle-aged man in pajamas on a wheel chair. The man on the wheel chair is clearly unconscious, or at least his head is lolling to the side in a way I’ve never seen a conscious person’s do. They hurry across the tarmac as best they can, but when they arrive at the plane, they face a new problem: stairs. Armed guards run out from the airport to assist, and a group of about five men carry him up the stairs on board the airplane. I tear up. The next I see of them, the old man is carrying the sick one on his back to his seat, where he promptly lays down.

He is not the only person in hospital garb aboard the plane, there is also an elderly man who is also in a bad way wrapped in blankets a few rows behind the new arrival. Even though he’s sick, he’s still wearing his white embroidered cap that marks him as a Uighur.

We take off, flying right over downtown Kashgar. I got some GREAT pictures (see my other blog Fun Fotos for wHeNeVeR to see some.). As we level off, the guy next to me, who has been in what I would refer to as my personal space for the entire take off procedure turns to me and asks me to trade seats. As I want to take pictures out the window, I try to find an excuse not to. “It’s too troublesome,” I tell him.

He tries to start up a conversation. He has a thick accent so I have a lot of difficulty understanding him. He clearly starts mocking me for it to the person sitting to his other side. He keeps trying though, obviously adhering to the belief that the louder he speaks, the better I will be able to understand him. All the while his elbow in my arm. “In China, the personal space bubble is smaller than in the US,” I say to myself, trying to ignore it. As he’s talking, spittle slips out between the gap of his front teeth. I try not to cringe as it lands on my arm.

I politely fall asleep. Tap tap tap. “What’s the temperature in Urumqi?” he asks.

I ask him how I’m supposed to know if he doesn’t? Again, I feign sleep, thinking it probably a bit too impolite to simply stick my earphones in. He starts up a conversation with the woman on his other side. We both notice as he pulls out his cell phone to check the time. The lady to his right gasps “Shouldn’t that be turned off during the flight?”

“Oh no, it’s fine to leave it on, you just can’t make calls during the flight,” he assures her.

“Well, the stewardess said to turn off all cell phones,” she replies.

“No really, it’s okay, isn’t it.” He turns to me for back up.

I roll my eyes and don’t really say anything. I once again try feigning sleep.

Tap tap tap. “Where’s that foreigner from across the aisle?”

“I do not know. I don’t know her,” I assure him. He persists.

“She’s from America like you.”

“Oh, how do you know that?”

“Because she’s a foreigner.”

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

到了! (I'm Here!)

Well, after a full 24 hours of travelling, I have finally reached my final destination for this week's journey: Kashgar, Xinjiang, PRC. Kashgar is the westernmost city (I emphasize city here, for there are other smaller towns and villages) in China. To put it in perspective, if I decided to walk directly south from here, I would end up in Delhi, India. And so, it has been a long trip.

I left last night from Kunming at 10:45PM, a mere forty-five minutes late. Upon arriving in Xi'an at about 12:30AM, I took the bus from the airport into town (a 37 kilometer distance!) and then a taxi to Northwest Polytechnical Institute to meet my friend Aftron, another Whittie, who is currently teaching there. We stayed up till like 4 in the morning chatting, and we had to be back up at 8AM so I could get back to the airport for my noon o'clock flight to Urumqi, a three-and-a-half-hour flight. Arriving in Urumqi gave me my first record for the day (the second being at the furthest west city in China): at 2,250km, it is the city the furthest away from the ocean in the entire world. Good thing I'm a mountain person.

And actually, it's high plains, so I was feeling right at home. It was hot (over 30 degrees), but at least it was as dry as Colorado, a welcome change. I had a four hour layover there, so I wandered around the "neighborhood" the airport was in trying to avoid the taxis who were desperately honking at me (apparently they were convinced I needed a ride to somewhere and couldn't just be exploring around the airport). I actually stumbled across a cute little park, so I parked myself there in the shade enjoying the dry air.

Then it was on to Kashgar. I arrived at about 9:45PM, but since this area should technically be like five time zones behind Beijing, it was essentially only treated like 7:45PM. I guess I'm going to have to get used to it for the time I'm here, but it's very Chinese that officially they all run on Beijing time, but actually that's just a facade. From what I understand, businesses don't open til like 10AM Bejing time, lunch isn't served until 2PM Beijing time, etc.

As for first impressions, in Urumqi, I was not able to see much of the actual city, but from what I could tell, the Uighur influence, at least in terms of architecture, is not very big. Whereas here, it does really feel like a whole 'nother country (Texas watch out). At the same time, it's typically Chinese, which just confuses my head.

I had an amazingly delicious bagel (first one in who knows how long) while exploring the streets this evening. The vendor didn't speak any Chinese, which meant we resulted to the pointing to different bills game. I was expecting that since we are technically in China that people would speak more Chinese than they seem to. Looks like I'll need to learn Arabic next (after Spanish of course).

And so far, I've only had "Hey, you American war monger" shouted at me once, so I consider that a good day. And now I'm ready for bed!

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 29, 2005

China Map

Here's a map that shows essentially my proposed routes for next week's trip. I still haven't decided between going to Kashgar (Kashi or Gashi in Chinese) or Turpan yet, so I decided to mark both.

Labels: ,


I mentioned on a forum the other day that essentially, the goal of life in mainland China is figuring out how to work around governmental restrictions, and the more I think about it the more I think it’s true. At the very least, two experiences I’ve had this week have brought it to the forefront of my mind.

Event A- The School Bus

As some of you are aware, Yunnan University just this year opened a second campus about a 45-minute drive outside of town in an area called YangPu. It’s really a lovely campus, it being all new and such, but there are still many kinks that must be worked out with regard to its new operation. I guess this is normal, but in China the bureaucracy makes change slow. Of course, the decision to move out to YangPu was not, from what I’ve heard, entirely thought through and was just part of a work-around solution that the provincial government is trying whereby it’s moving all government facilities out of the city to the YangPu area so as to alleviate traffic (…everywhere except for on the already crowded, newly constructed highway that connects the two cities that is already undergoing expansion in preparation for the future move), but I digress (we’re surprised).

Anyway, one of the rather large kinks that still hasn’t been worked out has to do with the bussing situation from the main campus to the YangPu campus. Every Monday morning, I get up at 6:45AM to trudge down to the bus stop at 7:25AM to catch the 7:30AM bus to be able to teach out at YangPu at 8:30AM. It’s an early morning, and I’m, quite frankly, not willing to make it any earlier. Last semester, they had a bus that left at 7:20AM, a bus that left at 7:30AM, and a bus that left at 7:40AM. You could get on the 7:40AM bus and get there with enough time to prepare for class. Well, this semester they decided to have a bus at 7:30AM. Not only is this earlier than preferred for sleepy heads like me, but there are no where near enough seats to go around when you go from 3 buses down to 1. This is even more true on Monday mornings when an influx of students is headed back to campus after having spent the weekend at home.

This means that I sometimes have problems, and it has come to a head twice now—once about a month ago, and once last Monday. A month ago I arrived at about 7:25AM to get the bus, but alas there were no seats. After a reassuring (not) “等一下” (literal translation, “wait a moment,” actual translation “wait until the Earth enters its next ice age”), we were forced to sit in the cold waiting a half an hour for a minivan to come collect the fifteen stranded teachers. We were therefore about half an hour late to class, as traffic is worse at this period of time. I screamed bloody murder, and the university SEEMED to take action. The next week the minivan was ready and waiting next to the other 7:30AM bus.

Well, as time progressed, people found out about this and apparently stopped taking the 7:15AM (or something like that) bus in favor of the 7:30AM bus, so the university was forced to upgrade to two full buses on busy days. Two weeks ago, I’m down at 7:25AM and both the big bus and the little bus were full, so we migrated to an empty large bus. Last week, again arriving around 7:25AM, as I think I’ve shown I have wont to do, and finding the big bus previously departed, and the small bus full, the obvious solution to the driver was to put a sack of dirty towels on the floor for me to sit on. I grudgingly accept (but am not so happy about it as I was feeling very sick at that point and was on about one and a half hours of sleep at that point). Then two more teachers come running up to the over-full bus. The solution: go to the empty big bus next to us? No. Put oil-stained towels in the stairwell for these two nicely dressed female teachers to sit on? Yes. At that point I point-blank asked the driver if he was kidding and got off the bus to go to bed and sent a texto to the office saying that I refused to go to the YangPu campus until the bus situation was resolved. I made the mistake, however, of telling them that I was sick, and that’s kind of what they heard as the key part of my story.

In any event, the School of Foreign Languages seems to be taking this situation somewhat seriously, as they called both me and M-L (the French teacher) into a meeting with the head of the school (aka high muckity-muck). They have passed my complaint on to the transportation department, but seem to not expect much of a result. Therefore their solution was: have the secretary of the English department go to the bus at 7:15AM and save me a seat. If the bus is too full, then they will pay for a taxi to take me to the campus. I told them that this solved nothing, as my point was not that I shouldn’t have to sit on the floor, but rather that nobody should be forced to sit on the floor. Especially since the solution is not hard—on Monday mornings take two big buses at 7:30AM. I mean, if they are going to force teachers to go out to that bloody campus, the least they can do is make sure that everybody has a seat! The thing is that I know that the uni couldn’t care less about its own teachers, but when it comes to us foreign “treasures” I figured they’d listen. And actually, I’ve since heard that the party has become concerned about the situation and that I am to write an official report on the matter. We’ll see if that gets us anything!

Situation B- The Import and Export of Dogs

This is a long story that I will save for another post, as I’ve already gone on for like 1,000 words, and I don’t know about you other ADHD and ADD folk out there, but that’s a lot.


This week is Labour Week for my sophomores. As far as I can tell this is a holdover from the commie reeducation camps of the Cultural Revolution whereby the university rotates all the schools through one week of forced labour cleaning classrooms and toilets and whatnot. Fun for them, but even more fun for me, as it means that I essentially have a week of vacation.

So, another teacher suggested we take a little trip in Yunnan this weekend as she had a long weekend. But since I have from Monday afternoon till the following Monday off, that I would take a longer trip and maybe visit some friends in Xi’an (middle of China). Then I was in this XinJiang-style restaurant eating dinner one night, and I was like: “Hey, why not go there and eat the real food?!” So, I texto my travel agent while eating dinner and arrange tickets to Urumqi for this week. Yay for spontaneity!

So tomorrow night I’m off to Xi’an for a one night layover (which, rather conveniently means that I will have time to visit friends there), then the next day I fly from Xi’an to Urumqi. You have to understand that XinJiang is in the FAR northwest of China. The majority population there is actually Uighur, not Han, so I’m expecting it to have a more of a Turkish feel (the Uighurs are Muslim). If I’m lucky I’ll be able to follow the Silk Road as far as Kashgar (really close to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan) which is supposedly the capital of the bazaar (somewhere between 50 and 150 thousand people come to the town for the Sunday Market even from the surrounding countries). I’m expecting it to feel somewhat like Fez, Morocco, but who knows! I’ll keep you posted from the Middle Orient (that’s a term, right?)

I’ll also try to post a map for your reference! ;o)

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Through the Wilderness

For you observant types, you may have noticed that I have not posted in quite some time. Actually, looking back at things here, it appears to have been over a month! I actually had a post for 20 April 2005 as a Columbine Memorial as well as short discussion on hate (in China at that time relations with Japan were at an all time low and it was showing), but due to technical difficulties, it never made it up. Maybe it’s for the better.

But that was still almost a full month ago!! Where have I been, you ask? Idly lazing by the pool sipping margaritas of course…er, or so I wish. Actually, it’s been an extremely busy month of flying all around tarnation (which is a word, right?). It all started on the 21st when I flew to Shanghai (we’re keeping in mind that the distance from Kunming to Shanghai is roughly that of San Francisco to at least Chicago if not Cleveland). I spent a few days there making final preparations for the Foreign Service Written Exam before actually taking it on Saturday morning, April 21st. The test went well enough, though I’m not really expecting anything. When it came down to choosing the mission statement of the World Bank in one section only to find another question asking me to identify the mission statement of the IMF later, I just couldn’t help thinking if there wasn’t something else I could be doing with my time.

After that, it was time to check in to a new hotel, then head out to the international airport in Shanghai to pick up my mother who has been visiting for the last three weeks or so (she’s back home now :o( ). In brief, we picked up one of her friends arriving from Taiwan the next day, then visited Hangzhou (known for its beautiful West Lake), Suzhou (has famous gardens. My mom bought embroidery), and Zhouzhuang (a little canal town just outside of Shanghai), before returning to Shanghai to visit the tailor. Then it was off to the Yunnan Province to see Kunming, Dali (home of the Bai ethnic minority. There’s a big lake there. And a mountain. And marble. And we bought some), Lijiang (home of the Naxi ethnic minority, who has a fairly famous orchestra who has preserved ancient Han music of all things), and Zhongdian (AKA Shangri-la, where I got the rockingest cowboy hat in the West…of China), not to mention Kunming. It was really good to see both my mom and her friends that came to visit, but it was lots of coordination, bargaining, and translating for one month, so I’m kind of glad to have a small chance to rest now.

After my mom left, and one trip back to Shanghai to see her off later, I came back to Kunming to do a demonstration class for a school at which I am applying for a job next year. Don’t know if I really need the job due to several reasons, but it meant that I could have fun with the demonstration. To me, that meant that I dressed up as a cowboy, à la Simpsons, and got to try the Mr. Goldstein (or whatever his name was) routine. I had a really good time, and I look hot in a cowboy hat. Who knew?!

It also helped me establish an interesting Chinese fact: after class I was walking down the street in complete cowboy attire (we’re talking hat, shirt, jeans, and boots), and I noticed something. Not only were people not staring at me any more than normal (which for Kunming is still an “important” number of people to use a French word), but I actually got less attention dressed as ostentatiously as I was. Do the Chinese just expect Americans to dress like cowboys and when we’re wearing normal clothing it freaks them out? I honestly cannot tell, but I think I’m going out dressed as a cowboy more often just to see if it’s true, even if it’s something I’d never do in the US. In social research it’s what we would call a breeching experiment (which is to say experiments wherein standard social norms are broken and/or taken to the extreme), but like I said before, maybe this is what is expected of me so I’m not breeching squat. We shall see. We shall see.

Anyway, the next day was the HSK (Chinese Level Exam), which I somehow managed to survive, though I’m sure I did not do well on it. I don’t think there was a single question on it where I was like, “oh duh, clearly it’s this one.” It didn’t help that the reading comprehension was bout Toni Morrison and texts that are just better left in English…at least I could figure out who “Tuo ni * mo li sen” was!

But now I am free at last, free at last! And that means that I get to sleep for a change. For example, on Monday I fell asleep at around 2:30PM after class, and didn’t get up until almost 7PM! Boy was that a little disorienting. But at least I had an interesting dream!


Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Okay, so an update is way past overdue, this I realize, but I once again find myself not knowing exactly what to write about. Lots of stuff is happening, and China is continuing to be China, which doesn’t help me narrow things down at all!

But to pick a topic, and I realize I keep complaining about this, but I’ve just been feeling very busy of late. It shocks me every time I say it, but it’s true. Take yesterday for example:

I got up at 7, and entered grades into the computer before I quickly got ready for class. Then I taught four hours of class, came home, ate lunch, and cleaned house. After that, I took Maurice to the park (which was a bad idea because there was a performance in the square there which meant the lawn Nazis were on patrol. They kept insisting that people not go on the grass, including Maurice. I kept insisting Maurice go on the grass. It was fun. That is, until he started bothering some of the Chinese performers who proceeded to swat him and kick him away. There is a serious love hate relationship with dogs in China!!!). After rescuing him from the crowd and taking him home, I walked to a travel agent and basically planned my mom’s entire trip while she’s here. From there, I went to a Wal*Mart in that part of town (which I might add is nowhere near as good as Carrefour. I went for like four specific things, only one of which they had, and when I was checking out it wouldn’t scan and they said a price check would take like 15 minutes so I just left without it), took a taxi home (which took over half an hour because it was rush hour!!! So unreasonable for a town this small!), then went to dinner at a friends before coming home and doing more grading and going to bed.

Tell me that’s not a busy day! And what’s worse is that things are just going to keep that way for like the next month. Since I’m missing a week of school while my mom is here, I’m making up the classes over this next week and a half, which is a pain. Not to mention the fact that the 11 students whose theses I’m directing have their first draft due this Friday. I guess though, that in the end I prefer being busy to doing absolutely nothing. I get bored too easily!

On the China being China front, last Friday morning at 10 AM, I was called by the university and told that there was an American official from the consulate in ChengDu down visiting the university, and they’d like for the American teachers to go to lunch with her at 11 that day. I was interested since I’m taking the Foreign Service exam in a couple of weeks, but talk about short notice! At that lunch, I found out that the Waiban (International Exchange Office of the University that looks after us) had bought tickets for all the foreign teachers to go to the opening ceremonies of the “China Kunming International Cultriam [sic] Festival” (based on the Chinese, that should read the “Kunming, China International Culture and Tourism Festival,” do not ask me where Cultriam came from!) the next evening.

We didn’t know what to expect, but Chesa and I had just the week before gone to a performance of Dynamic Yunnan (which you can read an article about in the New York Times), which was actually a pretty good performance of some ethnic minority dances (Yunnan is the home to 26 of the 45 nationally recognized ethnic minorities in China), so we had some idea of what to expect. And actually, we weren’t too far off once we got used to our surroundings. The event took place in a football (read soccer for you blasted Americans :o) ) field in town, and we were all placed on STOOLS in the middle of the field. They provided us with little pink and blue blow up hand things adorned with flying Picachus saying “How are you?” to wave at appropriate times. In a typically Chinese move, we were placed in the second row in what was effectively the foreigners section, cause hey, it’s not a good show unless you can prove that foreigners were there. It also meant that during several occasions we had camera people standing right in front of us putting the camera directly in our faces and just standing there filming for two to three minute intervals. Also, as with everything else in China, the sound system was exactly two decibels above bearable, which meant that we basically had to plug our ears at all times.

The performance itself had its stronger points and its weaker ones. For example, there was a really cool choreographed gongfu fighting scene which I really liked. There was also a very unique Polynesian looking dance that I enjoyed, but I’m not exactly sure why it was there. For the most part, the dances were an endless parade of ethnic minorities. In fact, it was so endless that I am very convinced that they were just plain making up some of the minorities. The one in shiny silver costumes for example. Unless they came from Mars, they were certainly not an ethnic minority! There was also a fake Riverdance-type performance with an American and his backup dancers, the “Heidi-in-really-short-shorts 组 (zu),” or the “Heidi-in-really-short-shorts minority.” That one was a little surreal in terms of the dances. They also had such great songs as: “Yunnan is a great place. It’s really really fun. Yunnan is a great place. It’s really really fun.” Oh China! Upon leaving this performance I turned to the other teachers and said “That is the epitomiest Chinese thing I’ve ever experienced!” But really, it was a good time.

My main concern really is that the tourism route that the Yunnan Province seems to be pushing is focused almost entirely on the ethnic minorities. Although I suppose it helps the minorities who might not have any other jobs keep some of their traditions, it’s just turning them into a spectacle. They live in fake villages, in downtown Kuming, make up costumes, and invent extra traditions to make them seem more exotic. Sure these people have traditional dances, but what we’re seeing ain’t them! And besides, Yunnan has some of the most spectacular scenery and weather in China. For them to be ignoring those as major selling points seems like a big mistake to me!


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.

Labels: ,

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!

Labels: , , ,

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!

Labels: , ,

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!

Labels: , , ,

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!

Labels: , ,

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Jiaozi Movie

This is kind of a random post, but this is a practice movie I made several months ago before I left travelling about how to make 锅贴饺子 (guotiejiaozi), or pot stickers based off things I recorded from my cooking class here in Kunming. I'm hoping to do a movie/slide show thang about my trip, which is what made me realize that I had this movie to share with y'all. Let me know what you think (besideds the fact that there's a weird skipping in the audio towards the beginning. That I already knew about!).

It is a quite large file, so it might take some time to download depending on what kind of connection that you have. If you're using dial-up, it might not be worth it to be quite honest.

This movie is in QuickTime format. Download
the QuickTime plugin.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 25, 2005

Home on the Range

Well, after almost six weeks of travel, and five countries later (one of which, Thailand, I can now say I've been to three times!), I'm back home to the beautiful weather and more diverse wardrobe of Kunming. It feels like it's been a while, but finally I'm not dying of heat exhaustion (okay only almost died once in Phnom Penh from heat exhaustion but Thailand and the Philippines were still damn hot!) or being opressed by the humidity or pollution. Yay for mountains!

And really, I'm finding it a) nice to be home, and b) that it really does feel like home. I actually had the pleasure of checking the "return home" box on the Chinese Immigration Form under reasons for visit.

It's amazing how much mindset matters. Just yesterday I was sitting with my friends at a table at a local restaurant sipping on my LanCang Beer (which actually isn't very good compared to some of the other local specialities) and thinking: "Man, I can't imagine living in the US." I don't know why it struck me at that particular point, but the thought surprised me. It just really is starting to feel like it's been a while since I've been there, and I might have even recently crossed the mark for the longest single period I've been outside of the US in my life. On March 5th it will have been 9 full months. I think I only stayed in France for 8 and a half months.

Actually, to emphasize this point, I had a funny experience leaving Bangkok to go to Manila that I don't think I wrote about. At passport control the "controller" (does that word exist in English?) looked at my passport and said "From Colorado? Going home, eh?" I stared at him with a dumb look on my face trying to process what he had just said. "Sorry?" "Going home?" Finally I was able to gather my wits enough to blurt out "No, Manila." "Then home?" Again I had to think for a minute before: "No, back to Bangkok then up to Kunming where I LIVE." "Kunming, huh?" "Yeah." The thud of the stamp against the thick stack of papers shook me out of it. "Thanks," I said, walking away musing on the fact that what seemed like a normal and perfectly reasonable question came at me out of left field. In my mind it wasn't possible to be heading back to the US, not yet at least. I think it's going to be one of those things that I'm going to have to work up to :o).

On Monday I start classes again, and am trying to get prepared for all that. My schedule only has me teaching Monday-Wednesday mornings, ending at 10AM Wednesday at that. I think I'm going to have to try to find something to do so that I don't go crazy with boredom! I also got paid some money due to me from last semester and so was able to go out and buy new glasses to replace the ones that broke in Thailand, a new SIM card for my mobile (my old one wont work anymore because I left it with no credits on it for too long), and get a new shoulder bag to replace one that was horribly fallen apart (shortest lifespan yet, only like a month. Usually they last me around three :o) ).

Also, I've started doing my daily photos again at my Fun Fotos for wHeNeVeR blog as I now have tons of interesting photos from my trip to share with all y'all, so check it out!


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

新年快乐!(Happy New Year!)

As effort number three-hundred and seventy-six to procrastinate grading more papers—but also because I love you all, of course—I thought I would take some time to wish everyone a happy new year. It’s been a rough start for some over on this side of the globe, and I hope that we can keep that fact in the back of our minds as we march blindly into the future. I know it may seem far away, and isn’t that always the problem, but death on such a mass scale cannot, should not, be ignored. May the unfortunate losses here help us all reflect more clearly upon our lives and help guide us throughout this new year.

As many (some?) of you know, I’ll be spending this winter break (I get like almost two months off!) travelling around South-East Asia. Right now the plan is to spend about one week in Vietnam (mainly in the north), one week in Laos (in Vientiane, the capital, and Luang Prabang further north), a little over a week in Thailand (ChiangMai in the north, Bangkok, and perhaps further south if we can help out in some of the effected areas), a few days in Cambodia (mainly to see Angkor Wat, the big temple seen in the movie Tomb Raider if that helps), and several weeks in the Philippines. I’m excited beyond belief. Although I enjoy travelling, I never actually expected to visit many of these countries. But I think it’s more fun that way—less expectations.

As I will be travelling soon to Thailand, it has been on my radar for a while, which is perhaps why the tsunami really seems to have struck me. I hope that we can help when we get there. Right now the main calls for help seem to be with donating blood, answering phones at international call centers, and KEEPING travel plans. Looking at Thailand’s entry in the CIA’s World Factbook, one notes that it is a highly service oriented economy. A full 46% of its GDP is based on services. Tourism is listed as its primary industry. They don’t tend to mention the other main service, but I digress. My point is that most of the tourism websites that I’ve been reading from Thailand say that the biggest way you can help Thailand is to keep travel plans. They need the money or their economy will tank. Seems like a good enough argument to me, but I don’t know that I can bring myself to sun myself on the beaches of Phuket island while relief efforts happen around me. We’ll see.

I was going to have an entry of things I learned in 2004 to really close it out (and maybe I still will if I have enough time before I leave, but I think that a better idea might be to share with you an answer that one of my students wrote on his final exam to the question: What is the best present you ever received? Sometimes my students surprise me with their insight. I hope it gives you warm fuzzies like it did me. Though Christmas is not a traditionally Chinese holiday, they seem to understand the spirit well (even if their idea of a good way to celebrate Christmas means donning pointy, shiny birthday/clown hats, spraying people with silly string, and going out to bars and drinking the night away…). The names have been changed to protect the innocent. I’ve also left the mistakes because that just makes it even cuter.

I have got my best present on last Christmas Day. Had it not been the very night, I would not have got it. Though it was Christmas Day, I could hardly felt happy becaust my girlfriend said goodbye to me just that very night. I was in a desperate state that I wished to die soon. It was Oliver, my best fellow, that stayed with me all that night, and tried his best to comfort me. His words came to me as the spring wind, and made me better. As you know, it was reasonable for anyone to enjoy himself on such a night. Yet he chose to stay with me and shared my sadness without any gift. Though I havn’t get any gift that night, I have just jot the best present in my life—friendship.

PS: Sorry I haven’t been good about updating my photoblog. I’ve been having problems with the program I use to upload my pics. I’ll try to get it resolved soon. Or, well, maybe after I get back from my grand adventure. :o)

Labels: , ,

Monday, December 27, 2004


Yesterday at about 15:40 local time I was sitting in my apartment working on a crossword puzzle from a book that I had gotten from Christmas when I noticed that the back of the sofa I was sitting on was tapping lightly the wall behind me. I noticed that the curtains were swinging slightly and realized that, well, yes, the building seemed to be shaking slightly. My first earthquake that I remember clearly. I thought I was probably just imagining it, but I logged the time and thought I'd ask others the next day. Then I got online.

As I normally do, I headed over to MSNBC and found this article More than 11,350 die as tidal waves sweep across Asia and realized that I was certainly not making things up. I couldn't believe it when I saw such a high number! What I had felt was only an aftershock (I was very passed out when the big one struck in the morning), and I was quite far away from the epicenter in the Indian Ocean, so I couldn't even begin to imagine the gravity of the situation. I can only send my condolences to the many many many thousands of families who have lost loved ones during this tragic event. I was planning on visiting some of these areas (mainly Thailand) next month, but I guess we'll see now. Maybe there will be sort of international relief efforts that we can help with. For now, I highly encourage all of you in this time of giving to help by donating funds to the Red Cross or to other organizations who are currently sending aid in that direction!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Results

Alright, well, me, being my clever sociologist self, did come up with a few ways to measure at least my results as a teacher. It’s not like teacher evals are a new thing (although they are to some of my Chinese colleagues, one of whom is going to take my idea), but at least being a sociologist I knew how to make my own and get some interesting results.

I only have information from my sophomores, but 75% of them said that overall they enjoyed my class, while nobody said they didn’t enjoy it (some were ambivalent, obviously). 90% said that I was a good teacher—a full 35% thought very much so—and again, there was nobody who thought I was a bad teacher. 70% found the class interesting, while 10% put it on the boring side of the spectrum (although nobody found it extremely boring). Just about 80% said that I explained things clearly and made them easy to understand, although I apparently talk too fast and have a weird accent (in high school they learned British English, although they all have American accents). Around 60% said that my class had helped them work towards English goals, and about the same said it had helped their English writing improve (it was an English Comp course).

So, I guess overall I’m happy with results like that. I think, though, that social research has probably got to be a bit different in China, and I’m afraid that even in anonymous surveys students might hesitate to say anything negative, even if they didn’t like the class at all, out of respect for the teacher. I’m going to venture that some of those who were supposedly “on the fence” about the class and my teaching were probably leaning more towards the negative side but didn’t dare say so. Also, there’s always the question of whether or not they understood the questions (they were in English). I used one of the sociologist tricks where you reverse the flow of responses so the person can’t just go down the list checking 5, 5, 5, 4, 5, 4, 5 without actually reading the questions, and I was able to catch one person doing that. But who knows how many I’ve missed.

And like any social research, the more open-ended questions are funny because they are often contradictory—which just proves you can’t please everyone. For some people the Portfolio Projects that I had them do were their least favorite part of the class. For many others though it was their favorite. The one consistent part of the class that seemed to be people’s favorite though was when I was howling like a dog to demonstrate what a howl was…in one of my classes I even got a dog from outside to howl back! It seemed like a cheap trick to get them to pay attention, but sometimes cheap tricks work!


Sunday, December 19, 2004

A Week to be Reckoned With

I sit here on the Sunday afternoon before my first round of finals emotionally drained. Not absolutely ecstatic, not exactly depressed, but pensive and in many ways fulfilled. A dichotomy, I realize, being simultaneously drained and fulfilled, but I find myself this way often—learning and growing just takes so much energy! But it’s that end state, the settled, sated, contented state that makes it all worth while. As I recently discovered while reading excerpts of Carl Phillips' Coin of the Realm, “departure, dislocation: these are two possible translations for the Greek ekstasis—from which our own word, ecstasy, is derived,” and I think that it might be apt.

Part of the reason I’m quite as emotionally drained as I am is because I just got finished reading River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler. I cannot begin to describe how much this book resonated with me. It’s about a Peace Corps volunteer who spent his two year term north-east of where I am now in a small village in the SiChuan province called FuLing. Obviously, there are many things about our experiences that differ vastly, yet his stories and experiences resonated with me. From the frustrations (skirting the government regulations), to the things that always make me smile (a boy student named Rebecca), this book describes the Chinese experience in a way I can only hope to convey to you in my blog entries. Thus, I know it’s not exactly my story, but I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in what it’s like to be here teaching in China!

But beyond being dragged through the emotional spectrum by books, reality has been quite accommodating of late. In reflecting upon this past week, I cannot think of a single day where something interesting, exciting, or growth-inducing hasn’t happened (with perhaps the exception of Monday which was mainly dedicated to grading). Since this semester is coming to a close, and it is also the holiday season, I decided to throw holiday parties for my students. For my first years it was on Wednesday evening. For my sophomores it was Saturday evening. Most of my stories of this week revolve around these events.

On Tuesday it all began. After having a lively class with my sophomores and finishing writing their final exam, the afternoon was dedicated to party prep for the following day. That meant mainly shopping, and in order to get everything, I needed a helper. Thus, one of my freshman, Sean, came into town from the YangPu campus (which I’ll remind you is roughly 45 minutes outside of town) to help. He’s a native Kunmingois (Kunminger?) and shopping is, with perhaps the exception of singing karaoke, his favorite pastime, so it seemed like the right choice for helpers. Also his English is above par, which is always helpful. But actually, that was one of the best parts of the day—the fact that I was able to hold my own in Chinese with him. It finally made me feel like I belonged. Don’t get me wrong, we got a fair number of stares in the Carrefour, but that’s just a part of China. A foreigner speaking in Chinese, no matter how badly, draws a crowd wherever as usually the Chinese are expected to be speaking in English with the foreigner. The fitting in was more a result of finally really feeling like I could connect with an actual Chinese person as opposed to just other foreigners.

We spent over five hours shopping (granted some of that was transit time), and due to that my student missed the last bus back to campus. Luckily though, several of his friends, including another one of my students, Shakira :o), had driven into town (a big deal I might add, actually having a car) and were doing some shopping of their own. We met up for dinner, which we had at what can only be described as a Chinese food court. We grabbed little dishes from many different restaurants, and thus my meal consisted of something like: rice and milk paste (which is traditionally a baby food, but one that is becoming more and more popular among nostalgic teens as a snack), 烧烤(shaokao, Muslim barbequed kebabs that are really quite spicy. We had squid, zuchinni, lotus root, and some sort of fish), 饺子(jiaozi, or dumplings, which were absolutely delicious! I really am going to have to become a dumpling maker in my spare time or something so that I can keep eating them outside of China), a kiwi smoothie served in a bamboo cup (and complete with chunks of some other fruits and what can best be described as gummy worms), and the very traditional 猪脑 (pig brain which was surprisingly tender!).

It was a good meal, and I could figure out generally what they were talking about as long as they didn’t revert into Kunminghua (Kunming dialect). We had some good conversations, during we discovered that I was only one year older than Sean (well, I already knew that, but he thought I was much older). It was gratifying to know that the Chinese have as much trouble telling the age of 老外 laowais as we do telling their ages. And yet, after that discussion we were on our way out and decided to stop at a video arcade when one of them asked Sean “does he know what video games are?” I tried not to roll my eyes too much. The games in and of themselves were quite amusing, and I got my first try at playing a game where you were supposed to beat a big drum. My first reaction was something like “how is this fun again?” but it grew on me. All in all, it was one of my best nights in China so far! It was really my first time just chilling with Chinese, and I loved it. Of course, it got me into a bit of trouble for I didn’t get my grading finished. Then again, I think my students are getting used to that. I’m turning into a miniature Keith Farrington!!! :o)

The party itself was quite enjoyable. I made three pumpkin pies, two chocolate pies, and something that was in between ginger snaps and gingerbread people (basically it was gingerbread dough, but I didn’t have the time or patience to roll it out so I just scooped little balls onto the cookie sheet). The other grand culinary adventure of the evening was the mashed potatoes that I ended up making (although I had tried to beg out of it, they wouldn’t have any of it). Those we made at the YangPu campus, and they weren’t bad, although they weren’t spectacular either. I have my suspicions that my students were thinking something like “this is just like old grandma potatoes (a regional specialty) without the flavour.” The freshman, who are not allowed to get drunk on punishment of being expelled, put back a full two cases of beer which definitely got the party going. One of my favorite parts of the evening was teaching them “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” where I had exactly the right number of students to have one person sing the partridge part, two people for the turtle doves, three French hens, and so on. Also, I went there with another foreign teacher and we did a swing performance to “Jump, Jive and Wail.” We then had to teach them how to do it, and some of them weren’t bad. The funny part, and this is typical of Chinese, especially ones who just recently entered university, is that the girls danced with the girls and the boys with the boys. Too adorable!

Several events punctuated Thursday. One thing is that I’m almost positive that I found one of my towels from my childhood in the possession of the 服务员(fuwuyuan, maids). I’d like to get this corroborated by the ‘rents, but when I was little, I had a towel (or maybe it was my sister’s) that had a brontosaurus on it. I think that when I came here last time, and stayed in the exact same place, I must have brought the towel, and then left it here so that I could actually close my suitcase. So guys, do we still have that towel at home, or could it really be mine? The other two big events included the second meeting of the book club that several of our teachers started, which was interesting. The topic of the readings was travel, and thus we all had a lot to say. Afterwards, we attended a charity pub crawl (as if we needed an excuse to go drinking at our local pubs), which, needless to say, left me quite drunk and in the end I made a small scene, but by then it was already like 3:30 in the morning, so not many people noticed (and if they did they were totally drunk and it didn't matter). In any case, yay for no Friday classes!

Speaking of Friday, it was party time again, but this time it was one of the other foreign teachers that was holding it for her kids. I recall mentioning this before, but Chinese parties are a bit different than American (dare I say Western?) parties in that they need an emcee and require performances and organized games. I helped animate (to use the French term for it), which included a Sebillana (a type of Flamenco dance that I don’t think I spelled correctly) with the hostess, a swing with another friend, and the most rousing rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” we had this week. It was quite enjoyable, though I was exhausted in the end!

This didn’t exactly bode well for the party of the next day, which was actually for my students, but I was able to tough it out. I went shopping with different students (again at Carrefour, but a different one), and I treated them to McDo’s for lunch, which I think they enjoyed. I haven’t eaten there for reals since I had the shrimp wonton meal in Hong Kong, and before that I couldn’t actually tell you it’s been so long. I found a teriyaki chicken triangle wrap (do they have those in the US?) which was not too bad. The party itself was good, and I think my students enjoyed themselves, though not as many showed up as I had been expecting. It just really made me start thinking about the fact that this semester was coming to an end, and hoping beyond hope that I’ve actually touched these students in some way. That maybe they’ve actually learned something. We’ll see how the final goes.

After that it was out to the local pub to celebrate a Chinese friend’s birthday. From what I understand, before I arrived he kept asking for me and kept asking for me, and he was obviously elated when I did come. He’s a cute little student at the Minorities University down the street whose nickname is 小猴子XiaoHouzi, or little monkey. His girlfriend was there, and she had brought her mom along, which impressed me. He then got overly drunk and started throwing up, which was less impressive. But again, it just made me feel like I belonged here. That somebody was waiting for/expecting me was just a really nice feeling that gave me warm fuzzies. I was then taught a new Chinese drinking game called 7-8-9, which is the devil! It takes two dice, and if you roll a seven you can add as much alcohol to the communal cup as you want (note that in China this tends to be shots of beer as their drinking games go fast!), an eight means you have to drink half of whatever was in the cup(s), and a nine is the whole shebang. Of course, if you roll one of those numbers, you have to continue until you roll something else. I had a streak of like 4 8s and 9s in a row which got me sufficiently toasted and made me quit drinking for the rest of the night. And actually, after this weekend, methinks its time for a good long break from the drinking. Of course Christmas and New Years are not likely to elicit this kind of behavior.

So, three pages later and I’m even more drained. I guess that in the end, what’s important is that I made an impact on the lives of my students, and really feeling tied to this community. It begs the question, how do you even begin to measure that?

Labels: ,

Friday, December 17, 2004

The CCP and ME

Well, it’s been a good long while since I’ve posted anything to my blog, so it’s really about time. Although I’ve had a lot of really interesting experiences of the last couple of weeks, the problem is that I’m not sure that I can find a logical string to tie them together nicely with one exception. Thus, I first present you with one topic for discussion, followed by some vignettes of events that have taken place over the last few weeks (which I think will just be some future posts cause this turned out to be long enough already).

I would guess that doing things like this is exactly the kind of thing that that’s getting me in trouble, but recently I’ve started to actually feel the weight of the Chinese government on my head. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve encountered a few problems with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) that made me realize that I’m maybe not as free as I had thought here, and that I probably have a file somewhere keeping track of me (although this has no basis in fact, it’s pure speculation).

My first major upset was when my new website, www.knezzy.com got censored. I’m not sure how targeted this is, for many of my host’s IPs are banned in China, but it REALLY pissed me off. Also, it’s not like there are a lot of pages that I find are actually censored here, so it felt like they were just picking on me! One of the main reasons that I moved over to the new website was that I was getting annoyed that the government blocked all access to blogspot pages, and I wanted to see my blog. I also wanted to work on my City Insights Project which I will use next semester with my students. This turned into only a minor annoyance, for I just had my hosting provider help me change IP addresses to a number under the block blocked by the Chinese government. So, right now I’m flying under the radar and am hoping to continue to be able to do so!

My other censoring incident happened on my final exam. This one was actually my fault—it was a kind-of-stupid-I-knew-I-shouldn’t-have-done-it-but-was-trying-to-push-the-limits-anyway kind of a thing. For my writing class, one of the writing questions on their final was “Write a paragraph arguing whether or not Taiwan should remain a part of China. Remember to use good logical order, and NOT to include any logical fallacies.” Yes, I had explained to them what logical fallacies were. I was thinking of wording the question as “Write a paragraph arguing why Taiwan should remain a part of China…” but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Heck, I had a hard enough time phrasing it as a “remain part of China,” which is already somewhat of a leading question. I thought I could get away with it with that wording though.

I asked because I was truly interested to know why my students even cared about Taiwan and to see if they could come up with some good reasons. In class I had also used it quickly as an example of a persuasive paragraph that one could write, and inevitably when I asked for one supporting argument for it, the students all said “Well, historically it’s been part of China.” Later in class we started discussing logical fallacies. I presented them with the fallacy of “appeal to tradition” whereby one argues that something should be one way because that’s the way it’s always been. I managed to slip in there that their main argument for why Taiwan should remain part of China was thus a logical fallacy of the aforementioned type. I don’t think made them particularly happy, but no one said anything and I think it got them thinking. In the end, although my final passed inspection by another (Chinese) colleague and the head of the English department, the local Party Secretary said that question was too much of a hot topic right now to be included on my final exam and that I had to change it.

The changing is actually also a funny, typically Chinese, story. Because of their love of bureaucracy (it reminds me so much of France in that way), first I had to submit my final to the department for review. But beyond that, I actually had to submit two versions of my final, a and b. Apparently all teachers must submit two versions of their final exam papers, but it was kind of a shock for me. The way it was presented to me was something like: “Okay, so in the end you have to submit two versions of you exam, a and b. But don’t spend too much time on b because we never use it.” Of course, since they had to change my question, they were just going to fall back on the same writing question from paper b, but that was also about a governmental policy (forcing all students to learn English), so I decided to change it entirely to talking about famous movie stars which I’m sure they’ll like a lot.

I guess the moral of the story is that I need to learn when to sit down and shut up (which doesn’t come easily to me), but I guess that’s just a part of China that will take some getting used to!

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Thanksgiving Madness!


Well, I know this might be old news to those of you who have been checking out my photoblog (Fun Fotos for wHeNeVeR), but to those who were concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find things to do for Thanksgiving here in Omaha, China (ok, Kunming, China but I think I’ve figured out the city in the US that is most comparable to Kunming: Omaha, Nebraska…or at least that’s my new theory), you may assuage your fears. I was actually able to celebrate it two nights in a row, which is probably actually more than those of you in the US can say—and it was generally sunny and mild on both days. Take that Mr. 9-inches-of-snow-in-Chicago-stuck-in-the-airport-for-hours-upon-hours!

On Thanksgiving Day itself it was off to another American friend’s apartment to celebrate. There were thirty odd people there (okay, only like 20 were odd, the other 10 or so were fairly normal—myself not included of course) which made for a good time although I don’t know that we would have fit had it not been for her huge balcony. But surprisingly enough, I digress. It was really quite a fun evening with Thanksgiving à la “Nueva Latina” (not that such a cuisine exists…except maybe in California). The hostess, who is actually from Cali, had her parents visiting for the week, and they helped out quite a bit. Her father quite enjoys cooking and recently came from a cooking class somewhere in the Yucatan Peninsula which meant that we had some wild stuffing. I really can’t complain—I think it was the first time I’ve eaten turkey in I think four years or so, and it was a wonderfully good way to start.

I, as I have wont to do, decided to go against the trend of “Latin” food and brought a HUGE plate of veggie sushi. I cannot begin to tell you how spectacular this plate of sushi was. It was really a work of art to the extent I don’t think I’ve managed in food preparation before (and that is saying somewhat a lot I think). One roll was actually three tiny rolls stuffed inside a bigger one. It looked a little bit like a panda I was told. That being the point, I was pleased. Now I realize that the Japanese are still much more jozu (or skilled) at the sushi making than I am, but it was definitely my best sushi effort to date. I also made a pumpkin pie as practice, for I said I would make some for the following evening as well and I hadn’t ever really made them myself. Not to mention the fact that I always screw up crusts. It actually turned out halfway decent, which I wasn’t expecting since I had burnt the pumpkin while boiling it (it’s a long story, and I blame it entirely upon Whoopi Goldberg). It was a bit heavy on the cloves (it was masking the burnt), but at least cloves don’t taste bad!

Besides the food, the party itself was also quite enjoyable. All the other English teachers from the compound were there as well as various other friends from around town. We talked, we danced, and of course, we shared what we were thankful for. By that point I was slightly inebriated which made for, well, an interesting speech.

T-day Numero Dos was celebrated at the brand-spanking-new apartment of my Chinese teacher and her husband. I’ve actually known this woman for quite some time as she was also my Chinese teacher at Whitman. Her husband, Hong Kongese by birth, has lived in the US (L.A. and Walla Walla) for the last thirty some years and just retired with his new wife to China at the beginning of this summer. Let me just say that retiring to China is a good plan—your money really goes a lot further here! Their apartment is super-posh and I was really excited to see it. It’s in the suburbs a bit, so it’s kind of far away, but it’s well worth the long bus or taxi ride. Their complex is brand new and simply astonishing. The apartment itself is a two-story penthouse with patio roof access. There is a view of another development with a wonderful fountain, garden, swimming pool (!), and tennis courts—most of which are rarities in China (it was actually the first pool I’d seen in the mainland). Originally a six bedroom apartment, it now (only) has four and is quite well decorated. The TV in the living room is actually a big screen projector that comes down from the ceiling!

The party itself was not bad. The guest list mainly included people from Yunnan University that were somehow associated with Whitman, two Whitties who came down from Beijing for the occasion, a family from Wazu (which they were happy to remind us is now officially called Washington State University), the husband’s son (who had his 50th birthday on Thanksgiving but actually looks 27) and some of his friends. The food was good (though more Chinese than the previous night) and best of all we had actual French wine. I won some hearts with some homemade biscuits (originally the Chinese planners of the event were not planning any bread type things so I had to step in), though my friend Aaliyah, who is another teacher here really deserves the credit for a great recipe. A Bordeaux to be specific. The craziest part was the desserts, for I had brought two pumpkin pies, the Whitties from Beijing had made 4 apple pies, AND the Chinese had bought a birthday cake. I really do think that I’m not going to be able to fit out the door the way these holidays are going!

Saturday the same group from the night before took a van the two hours out to visit the Stone Forest. It hasn’t changed much in the last two years (shock, surprise, amazement), but it was cool to see again. I’m sure though that it won’t be my last. Sunday I spent showing the parents of the Thursday night hostess around Kunming with another friend, which was actually quite enjoyable. I particularly liked watching them argue at the flower market. Made me miss home :o).

Anyway, this is a terribly long entry, so I shall end it here with a few fun facts (I mean, could I really start my new Fun Facts blog without them?). Once again, I wish you all a most wonderful Thanksgiving and a happy December (aaack! Time marches on!).

  • www.knezzy.com- The web address of my new website!

  • 2- The number of times that the carving of the words “Stone Forest” was carved into the rocks there after the first carving was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution…obviously it was much to offensive of propaganda for the Commie’s tastes.

  • 8 & 11- The story that each of the penthouse apartments were on. I’ll tell you what though, 8 flights is a lot to climb, especially when you’re carrying 25kilos (about 50 lbs) of coal. Don’t ask.

  • 1936- The year there was a great earthquake at the Stone Forest that made several stones fall down. One is now wedged precariously in between two stones making a somewhat dangerous arch. Legend has it that as long as you haven’t committed any sins recently it wont fall on you as you’re walking underneath.

  • 16- The number of yuan (about $2) it cost for me to by Windows XP Professional SP2, Microsoft Office XP SP3, Microsoft SQL, Adobe Illustrator CS11, and Adobe Photoshop CS8.01 at my local DVD store. Of course they’re in Chinese, but these countries wonder why their not making any money here…

  • PS: Look closer at that Mao print (originally done by Andy Warhol of course). :o)

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: ,

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.


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

*Blink Blink*

Looking back at my blog (and believe me that’s a somewhat difficult task given that the Chinese government has censored it) I can’t help but notice that my last post was just about twenty days ago—it’s been too long. Now, it would be easy to jump to conclusions and assume that I’ve just been lazy. Rest assured my friend that this is not the case…at least not entirely.

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

I’m baaaack!

That’s right, I’m back from my five or so day vacation to the SiChuan (pronounced something like se-chwan) province, and I’ve made it back relatively unscathed. Actually, we were golden until the train ride home, but that’s a different story.

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!

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

It’s been a long week…

Really, it has. I just feel exhausted and I don’t really know why. Part of it is that I got sick over the weekend which is never good. Actually, I don’t technically remember the last time I was sick—I think it was right after I turned in my thesis though, or something like that I think—so I guess it was time. Deserved or not, it has done a good job at sucking all my energy.

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."

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Two Little Bumble Bees

A weird name for a drinking game, but one nevertheless—at least in China. It goes something like this: Two little bumble bees/flying in a garden./Fly to the left./Fly to the right./ Fly ah! During this little chant, two people (who are preferably facing each other) have their hands like spirit fingers flying around, especially to the left and to the right when appropriate. This, however, is just the intro. The actual fun part comes with a version of Ro-sham-bo (also known as rock, paper, scissors) where both players throw at that last “fly ah.” If the two players throw the same thing, then they do a little French distance air kiss complete with a little “moi moi” sound effect. If, on the other hand, one person wins then the winner gets to fake smack the loser while saying “pia pia.” The correct response from the loser would, of course, be “ah ah.” If all of that went down smoothly, then they would throw again and continue until somebody screws up (which believe me gets really easy to do the more you have to drink). If you screw up, you drink. It’s officially my new favorite drinking game (yes Nick, it even beats the Japanese “pi pi pi pi pi pi pi, do do do do do do do” :o) ).

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

ITS happening to I

BECAUSE I’ve been in a Chinese speaking country for so long, SO my English is starting to become Chinglified. ALTHOUGH I try hard to keep my proper English by reading lots and being a stickler for using appropriate vocabulary AND SO ON, BUT it’s hard to maintain American English while being so far removed from it. IN A WORD, HOW TO speak English correctly REALLY is becoming more difficult.

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


The cloaking device has been reinstated. Just when I thought the Chinese government was losing its mind....

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

Unpossible but True!

I've been uninvisified!

Just when I was getting used to the cross and everything...the Chinese government is no fun whatsoever.


It's official

I'm a big dork. That's right, I just got done reading a grammar book...FOR FUN! What is this world coming to?! Speaking of which, did you know that the grammatical symbol '?!' is known as the interrobang and was invented in the 1960s? Bet you didn't. I think the lowest point was when I actually laughed at grammar jokes. The name of the book is, in fact, Eats, Shoots and Leaves--which is the punchline of a joke. With the extra comma there, it becomes a list, and therefore is about panda bears that walk into a bar, eats a meal, shoots the waiter, and takes off. uggh!

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:


Labels: ,

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Dear Friends, No1

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...


Dear Friends,

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

New and *Improved Invisiblog

Hi everybody, and welcome to my new and improved Invisiblog! That’s right, with a little help from the Chinese government, I’ve managed to improve it by sending it into stealth mode within the border of China. Maybe the US should work on getting this technology for their spy planes…

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!!