Friday, March 26, 2004

Had an only in China moment today. Every once in awhile here things happen, and I think to myself that this would only happen in china, or some other equally foreign and isolated country. It happens to everyone who comes here, and it's happened to me several times. Today, me, two other americans, and three australians went to play rugby. It was my first time playing, but touch rugby was pretty easy to pick up, very similar to playing pickup football. the main sports field was closed for a track meet or something, so we decided to go to the main lawn, in front of the big Mao Ze Dong statue (it's huge, probably about 60ft tall) and right by the main entrance to camp. here is a pic of the statue with the field in front...i've wrote before about how he says hello to me every morning...

In america, if you have a lawn on a college campus, it is assumed that people will always be hanging out, throwing balls around, and playing sports on it. Seems like this isn't so true at least on this campus. Lots of people sit around and talk, or study on the lawn, but no one is doing anything active. So we get there, find an area big enought to play, and just start playing this sport that looks strange to me, and definitely looked even stranger to the 20 or 30 chinese people sitting on the lawn chatting. We played touch rugby for awhile and it started getting a little rough, so it turned to 3-second hold rugby (you have to hold onto somone for 3 seconds and they are down). That took about 2 minutes to turn into tackle rugby, and we started attracting a huge crowd. At that point, we had between 50 and 75 people watching us, stopping on their way home from class to gawk at these freakish foriegners beating the shit out of eat other. Every time we had a big tackle people would cheer and say all kinds of congratulatory stuff in chinese. One guy even brought out his camera, set up a tripod and took pictures of us for about 20 minutes. Almost the whole field was surrounded with people. It was weird, but really cool at the same time (as with so many things here). I thought maybe some of the people were just chilling and not really there to watch us, but as soon we stopped playing the whole crowd dispersed. Anyway, that was my "only in china" experience of the day.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Lately the weather has been pretty crappy here, which usually affects my mood a lot. By crappy, I mean I haven't seen the sun in 9 days now, and the temperature has hovered between a miserly 40 and a paltry 55 for those 9 days. There has also been a lot of accompanying drizzle and some pretty intense fog. Ahh but life has been going on...things have been alright aside from the weather. A couple interesting things have happened this week. First, I taught my class last sunday, and I actually enjoyed it for the first time in awhile. Maybe it was because I prepared a bit before the class and was in the mood for it that day. They still acted up a lot, there were about 10 minutes during the one class where I just stopped teaching and just stood there because literally not one kid was listening to me...paper balls were flying back and forth in an anarchic frenzy - I just stood there smiling - then one of the kids who started it all runs out and grabs some chinese teacher and she comes in and yells at everyone. It's amazing the infinite quanities of respect she commands compared to the abysmal crusty speck of respect that I command. It was fun though...i taught them how to say "I want to be..." but they only know about 5 jobs and none of them make a lot of money, so they had a hard time deciding. I also got a few really good pictures of i have a little runt gallery now.

This kid is one of the worst behaved kids, but always raises his hand to answer questions, usually getting it wrong, but at least he's he's one of the goofiest looking kids i've ever seen, and he bowed down to me for this picture...he's my new favorite.

This kid could be the coolest motherfucker alive...just look at him, he exudes coolness.

They literally fought each other to get into this picture

They look nice and docile here, but inside...inside they are evil.

Another interesting thing to happen this week, on two separate occasions fashion agents took my picture for possibly using me as a fashion model, or as an extra on a TV show. It wasn't just me, they took pics of most of the foreigners on the program, but it was still kind of cool. I would love to be the evil foreigner in some chinese movie or cheesy soap opera. Modelling clothes doesn't sound like too much fun, but i could probably make some decent money. Apparently china is in such demand for foreign (white) models that they would bother taking my picture. Though my chinese students did call me laoshuaige, which translates to something like "old handsome one"...they were joking but it was pretty cool at the same time.

And finally, the last interesting thing, was this artist we visited as a class. He is a friend of our history teacher, and a famous artist in China. His apartment is really pimped out, with two floors, a lot of art and sculpture, a studio, and some pretty cool interior design. One of his paintings sold for $20,000 in the US, so he's definitely the real deal. He talked to us in Chinese for about 3 hours and gave us a painting demonstration. I followed about 1/4 of his chinese, but I was extremely tired yesterday and drifted off a lot. He said some really interesting things about the difference between western and eastern art, and how that represents the greater differences between the west and the east. He specializes in painting mountains and streams...chinese painters all have a specialty in one of four categories: people, mountains and streams, flowers, and animals. He said how the colors in a scene are not neccessarily representative of the actual colors the artist sees in the scene, but have symbolic meaning. Ancient chinese painters wouldn't just sit in a spot and draw a scene, they would walk around a landscape all day long, then go home, drink some tea, and paint everything they saw all in one scene. In that same respect, there can be all 4 seasons in one painting with snowing in one area, raining in another, sunny in another, etc. Also, a lot of painters are deeply influenced by chinese poetry and philosophy, and supposedly you can see this in their paintings. He said how it is the ultimate goal of chinese painters/artists to unite man and nature. I always thought these kinds of paintings were just beautiful landscape drawings, but it was really interesting to hear about the depth they have to them. Here are a couple pics of him painting, and showing one of his paintings.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

I feel like these entries have become less and less interesting. Before in my daily life here lots of things would happen that I'd want to write about, but it's not the same now, maybe because I'm just getting used to living here. Tonight something pretty interesting happened, in the grand scheme of china it's really not too unusual, but it's fresh in my mind right now. Across the street from my dorm is a convenience store, conveniently called "Educational Market." I go to this store almost every day to buy bottled water, ice cream bars, candy, toiletries, and any other neccessities. They also strangely have a decent selection of underwear, luggage, sports equipment, expensive pens, and chinese board games. Anyway, today I went with a couple friends after dinner for some ice cream...we walk in and there is a guy with a box of live turtles selling them to customers. Now, they have all kinds of strange food in this market (think dried squid and octopus in bags), but there is nothing living. So it was quite a site to see 4 or five people buying live turtles by the pound. More so, because they were selling them in plastic bags, like the kind you get at the supermarket, and the turtles, while gasping for air, kept clawing through the bags and escaping. We just stood there and watched as these women chased turtles around on the floor, and other women started screaming. Their solution to the turtles getting through the bag? Double bag it of course...this worked for about 30 seconds, and they clawed through again. It was great entertainment. Then our thoughts went back to the fact that there were live turtles being sold at our little educational supermarket. This place, in my mind, was a bastion of western convenience, not a place for turtle farmers to peddle their insipid wares. This is a place where if you buy $10 worth of Snickers you get a free skateboard, not a salmonella infested back-alley turtle market. Plus, what were these people thinking buying turtles at 730 on a saturday night? The whole thing just doesn't quite register in my mind...did they just have a craving for some hardshell salmonella at 7, and remember that the turtle guy is due to be at the educational supermarket at 730? All of these questions are currently unresolved, but I will be investigating them further...

Well, the semester is almost half over already, and the time has really flown by. I've been thinking lately whether China is or isn't a place where i'd want to live for a long period of time. It's a hard question to answer because i've still only been to one city in China. So far the hardest part about living here has been that I am instantly recognizable as a foreigner, and definitely treated differently from Chinese people everywhere I go. The treatment is sometimes better, sometimes worse, but it is almost never the same. At the least, almost everywhere I go I get an above average amount of attention from people staring, pointing, or obviously talking about me. This isn't all bad, for instance, it makes it easier to get into random conversations with people, but some days it's a little annoying to deal with. It's also pretty easy here to almost completely surround yourself with foreigners most of the time and not really come into much contact with Chinese people. This is kind of how my life has been the last couple weeks...mostly hanging out with foreigners and mostly speaking english. My chinese hasn't really been improving, same with a lot of the other people on the program, because after the initial excitement of being in china, talking to chinese people, and practicing chinese, it's now just part of life. Most of my day is in english and it's hard to find a way out of this cycle.

Overall, life is pretty good though having a fun time, especially this past week because we didn't have class in the afternoon...played some sports and took a lot of naps. tomorrow i have to teach the little runts again...going to try to think up something interesting for them to do...

Runt Alert

Those are a couple of my runts, don't they look so runt-like? Probably the runtiest runts in China. Even in America, I've seen few runtier runts than these runty runts. Even the non-runt runts in my class are all either borderline runts, or extremely in the near future they'll probably become true runts, with all the usual runt attributes (or as I like to call them, runtributes). I can't put my finger on exactly what these runtributes are, but they are all bad...all of them. And the runtribute sub-attributes (the runtributes' runts) are even much worse...shouldn't have even mentioned it. Alright, got all the fucking runts out of my system...or not...just had an idea for tomorrow's class, maybe i'll just unceasingly assail them with runtisms...runt runt runt runt runt

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Yesterday the program went as a group to a city called Shaoxing, which is about 2 hours away. The weather wasn't good and overall it wasn't much fun. The main reason was that I didn't really see Shaoxing...maybe it isn't much of a city, but they basically just ushered us from tourist site to tourist site. No chilling at all. Mostly we just walked around famous authors' mansions. While their books may be great, their houses were pretty boring. Also went to a couple temple-like things, which were ok, but I think it would have been better to go later in the year when the flowers are blooming. Here is a picture of incense burning outside of one temple, I took it in black and white b/c it seemed appropriate, and I messed with the contrast a bit...I like it a lot. I think I'm going to start putting up a picture once a week, since I can easily upload one pic at a time.

My english class today was pretty bad again. I just didn't have the patience to deal with the kids mostly because the class started at 3pm and I hadn't eaten anything before it. They were better behaved overall, but only because they had some teachers from the school going from class to class and looking in the window or sitting there to scare them into submission. I had to teach them "always" "usually" "sometimes" and "never." I started by writing the words in english and chinese, but I realized after the first class that I had the words all mixed up. Not like they were really paying attention anyway. They can understand the concepts of the words, but they don't know enough english to really use them in a sentence. The have very little vocabulary, and the book focuses too much on grammar. In the future i'm just going to work on vocab, and stay away from the grammar (much harder to teach). The kids like me, but i think they realize i'm a horrible teacher. The two hours are incredibly tiring...I've gained a lot of respect for elementary school teachers for having to deal with this all day long. Couldn't imagine doing that. I took the job mainly because i thought it would be fun, but it's turned out to be somewhat annoying.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Saturday night I went to a karaoke bar for the first time, but didn't end up singing. Me and a friend on the program went out with a group of korean students in our dorm. We thought we were going to a normal bar, but they actually took us to a korean karaoke bar. It was a pretty good time though...they kept trying to get us to sing and after a few drinks I finally requested a song, but it turned out to be a different song with the same title as the one I thought. We left pretty soon after that, so the two americans got away without singing. Interestingly, a lot of the time i was talking to the koreans, I was speaking chinese because i think their chinese was better than their english. At other bars later on, I met a lot of other foreign students and realized that they have much much more free time than our program. Since we have two extra classes outside of language class, we have a pretty full load. I just thought about it today, and I have over 17 hours of class each week, compared to their 10 hours. So i think they go out during the week and overall have much more fun than us. Not much I can do about that though.

Teaching the english class yesterday went pretty bad. I don't have a chinese TA at all anymore the kids don't pay attention at all. The first two weeks every once in awhile the teacher would yell and they would pay attention for a few minutes, but I have no control over them now. As an example of how little control I have (and how much they realize it), I stood over and watched two girls copy each other's homework for about 2 minutes, they knew i was standing there and didn't even think twice about it. I don't really know how to reprimand in chinese, and I don't really care to reprimand them anyway. Just hopefully none of them trips and breaks any bones during their sprints around the classroom hurdling over desks and chairs. One of the kids put something that looked like blood on his lips and pretended he was really hurt...had me going for a second. I justl go around making each kid individually try to answer questions and practice, at least this way they get something out of it. Aside from the mayhem though, the kids are pretty cool and they ask me a lot of questions in chinese (and they don't really pay attention when i try to teach them how to ask it in english). Some of them are huge suck-ups too and try to answer every question and do everything i say, but it's hard not to like that when the rest of the class doesn't pay attention at all.

After the class me and shaul went to a restaurant on the way home we had never been to before. We didn't understand the menu at all, and just asked for a meat dish, some tofu dish, and she asked if we wanted a fish dish so I asked her to give us whatever she thought is the best tasting fish dish. She pointed to something on the menu and I said ok, having no idea what it was. The other dishes came and they were pretty good, then lastly my fish dish comes and it's a steamed I ate some turtle on the half-shell for dinner the other day. Better tasting than I expected.

Forgot to add this earlier, on saturday the program set all of us up with a chinese family and we are supposed to visit their house 4 times. Saturday was the first time for me, and it was pretty cool. Hung out in their apartment and talked to them for awhile about life in america and life in china. They seem middle class, apartment was small but very nicely decorated, had a big screen TV and a laptop. They fed me dinner and overall it was a great experience. Looking forward to going back there again.

I also finally uploaded pictures today, not all of them because the upload was pretty slow and I only had about an hour before class, but I put up the pictures for cambodia and vietnam. I also got the thumbnails for China up, but i didn't get to upload the full size pictures. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Had a pretty good day today...been down a bit the last few days mostly because the weather has been really cold and I haven't gone outside much. But today the weather was great and on thursdays and fridays we don't have class in the afternoon so I spent the almost whole time outside. Let me explain a little about the class schedule...I have chinese language class every morning from 8:30 am to about 10:30, which means I wake up at about 8:10, get dressed, then sprint to class on my bike (probably about a mile away), usually arriving between 1 and 5 minutes late. If, before I leave my room, I see that I'm a running a little early, I go downstairs to the cafeteria and pick up a couple steamed buns for breakfast. This usually takes up enough time so that I get to class my usual 1-5minutes late. I view the lateness as an non-violent act of protest against having class at this insane hour. Along with that, Monday through Wednesday I have an afternoon class from 3-5 on Chinese history, which is a pretty interesting class overall. I really like the book for the class, The Seach for Modern China by Jonathan Spence...if anyone reading this is interested in chinese history, it's a good one to get. The class is good, the only problem is that because we have class in the morning, and in the late afternoon, there isn't much time to do anything in the afternoon on these days. So Thursdays (such as today) and Fridays are the best days of the week (aside from the weekend) because we have all afternoon free.

Seeing as the afternoon was free, there was great weather, and the air wasn't very polluted today, me and my yuban (my assigned language partner, more on him later) along with a couple other students and their yuban decided to climb the mountain next to campus. It was a pretty steep climb, and I've fattened up on this chinese food, so it was a little hard, but definitely worth it. Here are a couple pictures from the top:

About the yuban, we all have a language partner that we're supposed to meet with two times a week and speak chinese. The program actually pays them to do this. They gave them to us at guy is alright, but his accent is different than I'm used to, he doesn't speak clearly, and he talks really fast. So I have hard time understanding him...but the more I talk to him the more I can understand him, it's probably good practice to have a someone like this though. Overall it's working out ok...just hard to think of things to talk about seeing as my vocabulary is pretty limited. Today I tried to get him to teach me some bad chinese words, but he kind of brushed it off.

After I got back to campus, I decided to go to the lake by myself and just read and chill for awhile...maybe watch the sunset. I brought my history book along and found a really great spot and just sat there are read until close to sunset. It started to get really cold and I didn't bring a jacket, so I left about 30minutes before sunset. Really relaxing though, and just what I've wanted since it's been really cold and rainy here the last 4 or 5 days. Here's a picture of where I was sitting.

Took some really great pictures today, hopefully I'll get them all up soon...been saying that for awhile, but yesterday I made all the web pages...i just need to take my laptop to an internet cafe and upload everything.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

So my english class last saturday didn't go too well. It wasn't horrible, just that the kids barely paid attention the whole time. It's hard getting them to care at all, the class is on sunday afternoon, and I think they already go to school from monday to saturday. I don't blame them for not's probably important that they learn english but probably more important that they enjoy being 11 years old and enjoy their 1 day free a week. I tried bring a tennis ball and play a game with it where they throw the ball to each other and have to ask and answer a question in english, but of course this just detioriated into the kids pelting each other with the ball. For some reason I had an image of asian/chinese kids being much better behaved in the classroom than american kids, but they're still kids, you still have to yell at them to get them to pay attention (which i'm not willing to do). Also my chinese TA who is there to help me translate instructions stopped trying to keep the kids in line about 45minutes into the first class, and talked on her cell phone for most of the time after that. Then in the second class they had already done all the lessons i had planned, so I had to wing it for an hour...which basically meant, after having them do the last excercises in the lesson, I asked them the same kinds of questions over and over, I was bored and they were definitely bored. It'll probably get better after I get more used to teaching though.

The other thing I wanted to write about is chinese food. I love it. I've gotten a few dishes that turned out bad, but overall everything is really good. Usually when I order I have no idea what is going to come...I just know what kind of meat is in it and sometimes whether it's soup or a regular dish. The hardest part about living here has been ordering food because I don't recognize most of the characters on the menu. A lot of restaurants have pictures of the dishes or a display with all the dishes under plastic because I think a lot of chinese people also don't know exactly what they're getting when they order. Or maybe it's just how they do things...but whatever, the food is really good. So far my favorite thing is xiaolongbao (pretty sure it means "little dragon bun"), which are sort of like dumplings with soup/juice cooked inside of it. You're supposed to bite a hole, suck out the juice, then eat the dumpling...i've had them at least 4 times so far at this one restaurant. I am writing this, the cleaning ladies for the dorm/hotel I live in just came in to change our sheets and clean our bathroom. I think they come about every 3 days to do this, but it's really weird to just sit on my computer while these ladies change our sheets and take our the garbage...I'm not going to say I don't like it but it's a little unneccesary.

Also, I've labelled all the pictures on my computer, and I'm going to try to upload pictures from the last month sometime this week.