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.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Typical American

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Un Mégot

Yesterday evening, the rays of the moon pierced me with a profound coldness—a coldness of the heart, the soul, and especially the body. It was an ephemeral trespass, but I shivered nevertheless.

Yesterday was the Mid-Autumn Festival according to the Chinese calendar. It’s the day when people gather to share moon cakes and gaze longingly at the moon, for it’s only on this day that the immortal Chang’E can escape her home on the moon (where she lives with a rabbit) to reunite with her husband Hou Yi. Legend has it that, originally, there were 10 suns that took turns orbiting the Earth. One day they all came out at once, and the Earth became scorched and parched. The Emperor commissioned the most famous archer of the time, Hou Yi, to shoot down nine of the ten suns, which he handily accomplished. He became famous and subsequently drunk with power. He lusted for immortality, and so he coerced a god into giving him a magic potion. Chang’E, not wanting Hou Yi’s cruel ways to endure eternally snuck the potion and floated up to the moon.

But a night of reunion, for me, tonight was not.

It smelled like autumn out. The crispness of the air accentuated t the pungent leaves that had already started falling to the ground. And I had made the mistake of going to see Alan Cumming in Bent—a play about the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust. I went for Alan Cumming, an absolutely amazing actor who you might remember as the Emperor from the movie version of Titus or from a host of other movies and Broadway shows. I certainly wasn’t expecting a lighthearted tale of resistance in concentration camps from Cumming, so I ostensibly knew what I was getting into. But, as the person next to me put it: “it’s quite draining…more than I expected.”

At intermission, just after our main character arrives at a concentration camp after having beaten his former lover to death to prove that he wasn’t “bent,” I needed to escape. An important pastime for Londoners during intermission is going outside and chain smoking a couple of cigarettes to tide them over for the next act. Therefore, the remains of cigarettes litter the sidewalks outside most theatres here. I was one of the first ones out the front door, and I was there just in time to catch a scene the made me shiver.

A chic, 30-something woman came striding down the street. She was dressed with a pink scarf over her head like a Russian babushka, a short beige skirt and black leather boots up to her knees. Her left hand was swinging shopping bags as she marched down the street, head down. Right in front of me, she bent down and picked up a mégot (smoking is so foreign a concept to me that I seem to only know the French terminology—the end of a cigarette. Would we just call it the butt?) that was laying on the ground. She casually tucked it into her jacket pocket and continued on her way.

That’s when I shivered.

The play was draining me, and the strongest association I had with someone picking up a cigarette butt came from a book I just finished reading: Balzac et la Petit Tailleuse chinoise (Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress) by Dai SiJie. The book is set on the Mountain of the Eternal Phoenix in the rural SiChuan province of China during the Cultural Revolution. Two young boys, sons of “enemies of the people,” are sent to the mountain to be re-educated by the proletariat. At first, the boys follow the village chief around, glued to his back, scrounging to pick up the leftover mégots that he wantonly leaves behind.

In the book, it seemed to me the final act of desperation, of clinging on to the remains of normalcy (that is, until they discover the books of Balzac). It was something I could just as easily imagine those in the German concentration camps doing.

I burst from the doors of the theatre trying to escape the feelings of ultimate desperation. But there, on the street in front of me I was once again directly confronted with that reality, juxtaposed by the woman’s neat appearance. I felt trapped, and cold. I looked up to the full moon enveloped in a cloudy shroud but saw only ice.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

American Anecdotes, Part III

Every morning at around 7:30 an old man in a powder blue cardigan goes for a walk near my work. We usually cross paths somewhere near the front entrance to my office building.

I couldn't tell you how old he is (I've never been good at guessing people's ages), but everyday I see him I'm afraid it will be the last that I do. He walks with a four-footed cane for extra balance. His hunchback is larger than that of Quasimodo. When he stands "upright," his back forces him so far forward that it looks like he's bending over trying to touch his shoes.

This morning ritual is clearly not easy for him. He shuffles along at a snail's pace, leaning heavily on his cane as he trundles down the uneven sidewalk. When I pass him I can hear him breathing heavily, panting even. Sometimes he'll take a break on the steps of the neighboring building, sitting there trying to catch his breath as he watches the city wake up.

One block over, there is an apartment building run by Lutheran Family Services, and I assume that's where he lives. There aren't many other houses in the immediate vicinity.

But where is he headed and why?

The first time I saw him, I thought maybe he was on his way to an appointment. I imagined him in the same situation I had seen too many times when I was working with Volunteer Chore Services in Walla Walla--and older person abandoned by his family to live out the rest of his days in poverty fending for himself.

I wanted to help him get wherever he was going, but I was on foot myself, and didn't know how I could. A little guiltily, I continued on.

And in retrospect, I'm almost glad that I didn't offer to help that first day. Yes, there is a possibility that has some daily appointment, but as the days (and weeks) went by, I began to realize that the reason for his daily excursion was the excursion.

There's a certain spirituality to walking: it's liberating in that it shows us what we can achieve on our own, using are own two feet. It's also connecting, for it gives us the chance to interact closely with the world and those who share it.

And for this man, it's his daily demonstration that he is alive and able to participate. It's a show of strength and determination and a will to carry on, screw the world for making it so difficult.

It's his reason to get up in the morning, and being able to bear witness to it has become one of mine.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.”

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Where is the love?!

Well, first let me wish you all a happy Valentine's Day! I hope that you all find your own way to celebrate appropriately. Me, I spent the day downtown with Chesa, Marie-Liesse and Chesa's grandma. We went to see "Meet the Fockers" at a mall in downtown Manila. After the show we ate frosties at Wendy's (God bless America!), and wandered around a bit. We got in the car at the mall at around 7:15PM and slowly worked our way through traffic back home. We got there around 7:50PM.

After chatting for a bit, Chesa's dad (who works in security) called from his office to check if we were okay. He informed us that a bomb had just exploded in downtown Manila and that we should turn on the news. Reports are still a bit sketchy but they said that the bomb went off in a bus parked under an MRT station at Ayala Avenue and EDSA (don't ask me what that stands for). The mall we left from just half an hour prior is about two blocks away. Currently the information is still fairly vague in the international press, but for more information you can check out either:


MSNBC doesn't seem to be so quick on the uptake. I don't know how much y'all know about the situation of the Philippines but here's a quick summary:

A long time ago there were indiginous tribes living here somewhat related to Polynesia. Then came Suluyman ddup through Indonesia to convert everybody to Islam. In the early 1500's the Spanish set foot on the island, tried negotians and burnt down the city of Manila two days later, deciding the patron saint of the Philippines would thenceforthe be St. James Killer of Muslims. The church then controlled the Philippines for centuries until the turn of the 19th century, when at the same time as the Spanish-American War the Philippinos were fighting for independence. The Spanish, realizing they'd lost the Philippines and the Spanish-American War ended the war and gave both Cuba and the Philippines to the US. It is for this that it is often said here that the Philippines spent 400 years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood. At which point WWII started, MacArthur underestimating the Japanese, quickly lost it to them saying "I shall return," (eat that Schwartzenager), which he did en force, making Manila the second most destroyed city in WWII after Warsaw. There were around 100,000 civilian deaths in Manila alone. Then the US helped them rebuild and dgain independence. Shortly thereafter a dictator surnamed Marcos took control of things. He fell in the end of the 80s I believe, and they've been under the flag of democracy ever since.

What all this means, besides the fact that everybody is confused (I didn't even mention the enormous influence of the Chinese traders), is that there is a huge mixture of cultures here with tenuous relations. The southern island of Mindinao, close to Indonesia, is Muslim while the rest of the country is uber-Catholic. Led by Abu Sayyaf there has been an independence war for a while which has recently flared up.

The group has claimed responsibility for the most recent bombings. I have to admit that half an hour is the closest I've ever come to one, and the only thing that I can ask is, where IS the love? (to quote Black Ey'd Peas whose lead singer is Philippino by the by!)

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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!

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