Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Twenty dollars can buy many peanuts

I had a short meeting at work yesterday. We went over the class schedules and some first week stuff. I was a bit confused by the workings of the schedule, but my colleague says it just takes some getting used to. The crowning moment was when I was given the key to my new office. I don't know what I'm going to do with so much space. It's meant to be shared, but there's no one to share it with. Anyway, I have a new computer and printer, three leather desk chairs, and leather sofa. Plus, plenty of storage space for the piles of papers I'm sure to accumulate from students. It even has a nice view of the library--a rather interestingly designed structure that apparently has an ample supply of technical books, but very few literary works.

While beginning my plans for classes, I realized how simple it is--all of my classes are doing the exact same thing. I really only need to make one lesson plan for each week. Of course, this will provide me with plenty of time to attempt to make class interesting and peruse all the student papers.

In the news: According to the Shenzhen Daily (and I also heard the same on "Biz China"), Tsingtao beer profits have risen significantly. Why, you ask? "[R]ising Chinese incomes boosted demand for beer." So, the income of an individual is directly proportional to his/her level of beer consumption. Sounds logical enough to me. Another interesting figure from the article includes last year's beer quantity of 351.5 hectoliters (how much is a hectoliter anyway?). For those interested, Hong Kong share prices in Tsingtao rose 45 percent in the first half of the year. Just wait 'til Olympic sponsorship really kicks in... "Let's all get drunk and play ping-pong."

Monday, August 27, 2007

No beer and no TV make a foreigner... something

I went to the foreign experts bureau today with one of the women from my new job. We had to stop at the immigration office first because they closed for lunch before her number was called in the morning. The whole process was for another foreign teacher who needs to renew his visa. And it sure did suck. They made everything difficult for this nice woman. Let me remind my readers that this was a visa renewal from the same school that this guy worked for last year and obtained using the same documents and process. The hassle began with stupid crap like, "this stamp isn't clear enough," and went to "this school is based in another city--you need to have their stamp here too." Yes, the graduate school is located here in Shenzhen, but the undergraduate university is in another city a few thousand miles away. They told her all this AFTER they had her pay for the processing. Finally, after about an hour of arguing, they took the visa application. Then we went to the foreign experts bureau to show them my original diplomas, which took a whole ten minutes and was entirely uneventful.

When I arrived home I was greeted with an email requesting me to write a paid post about another blog. For some reason, the request stipulated that I not disclose that it's a paid post. So, I had to decline the offer for ethical reasons. It's a shame, too--it would've been a decent site to review here.

The last note for the day is a link to an article for those of you who don't know much about Shenzhen. I read this just before I headed outside into the rain. It'll certainly make me think twice before forgetting my umbrella again. Enjoy:

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sometimes I wish I were illiterate in Chinese.

Yesterday I went to my new office for some paperwork for my new visa and such. It certainly wasn't a full day as I was in and out in about 20 minutes. On my way through campus back to the bus stop, I spotted a sign on the trail through the lychee trees. The sign said, "小心有蛇," which basically means, "beware of snakes." I really didn't want to have to think about the poisonous snakes that live in the area.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Literary Photography

I'll continue the literary theme for this week. This Friday photo comes from last summer's trip with my parents. We stopped over in Chengdu with its unbearable August heat. Of course, we took a walk through Du Fu's Thatched Cottage Museum. Here is a pagoda in the park that provides beautiful views of the grounds.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Lost in a translated bookstore

I guess this can go along with my previous post about Americans not reading enough... but I doubt I'll make a connection.

Jia and I went to pick up a copy of Kite Runner in Chinese at Book City. Of course, we found it in the foreign books section--which is fairly large considering how much space is dedicated to literature in general (not much). I thought it fascinating to see so many foreign titles translated into Chinese. There were a couple new Stephen King novels and loads of classics from all over Europe, as well as plenty of 20th Century titles. I really wish they had such a selection in the English-language section (instead they have poorly translated Chinese poetry and abridged English classics).

I was a little shocked by the sight of a few titles, however. I found a copy of The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce and a couple works of George Orwell (not 1984, which hasn't been translated to Chinese). I was much more surprised by On the Road by Jack Kerouac and what appeared to be a collection of the Beat's poetry. I wondered how the government censors allowed On the Road to be published due to its content. I was also a little perplexed by how they could have translated his poetry--hell, I don't understand some of his poetry and I've taken classes taught by his friends and contemporaries.

This gives me a new goal for my Chinese education. I am determined to read On the Road in Chinese. I'd also like to attempt Lolita in Chinese since I saw a while back being sold on the shelves of Wal-Mart.

On an semi-unrelated topic: I hate Norton Anti-Virus. It's making my computer slower than a retarded senator. I decided to upgrade it earlier this week since my subscription ran out, and now it's slower than ever. It took me 15 minutes to open a Word document. When I go home in February, I'm going to pick up some different software and save myself the agony of impatience.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


So it seems that America is full of functional illiterates. My perceptions of my homeland have been correct for years. I was reaffirmed by the TV news and Internet. It really makes me wonder why I desire to be a published writer when there aren't enough people who want to read anything in my native language.

According to the reports, about a quarter of all Americans didn't read a single book last year. Apparently, one of the most common reasons for this was, "Reading makes me sleepy," or some similar BS excuse. The Internet article stated that liberals read more than conservatives. Well, after looking at the figures, I don't see any significant difference--both sides seem to be at the same level of laziness.

I did notice one flaw in the "study" of reading habits. It makes no mention of what people read (i.e. fiction, non-fiction, poetry). It also leaves out newspapers and magazines. I'd like to know if those same people who don't read books happen to at least keep up with current events. But such studies will never be done because not enough people care about that statistic.

Review: Triton

Triton is my second encounter with the science-fiction work of Samuel R. Delany. The first book was Nova--a fascinating piece of work both in style and content. Triton is very similar in its style and ability to capture a reader's attention. It is complex look at the world of politics, art, and relationships.

The story of Triton revolves around Bron Helstrom, a former male prostitute from Mars who is now working on Triton as a metalogician. Bron is a sort of lonely character as he mostly shuts his own emotions off from those around him--as opposed to other characters who openly express themselves. He is outwardly unemotional until he wanders through the u-1 unlicensed sector and discovers The Spike, an actress who runs a microtheater troupe and becomes Bron's object of desire. There are also the characters of Lawrence, an older man in whom Bron confides his emotions, and Sam, a government officer whom Bron quietly admires.

Coincidences are encountered in Bron's life throughout the course of the novel--so many, in fact, that even Bron considers it fate at times. Among such moments are many chance meetings between Bron and The Spike and mutual acquaintances.

The complexities of the world that Delany creates in Triton have to deal with subjects as vast as politics and war, sexuality and relationships, and origins and customs. Triton is caught in the middle of a war between allies of Earth and allies of the moons without a side to choose--and the reasons for war are never fully explained, adding to the confusion of life on the world. Relationships on this world are primarily sexual, and in this reality it is possible to alter one's sexual preference, leading to confusions of gender and preference. And there is plenty of stereotypes to go around about people born on different planets and moons--one phrase that echoes throughout is "everyone is a type." The people all migrate to other planets and moons to encounter varying cultures (even within Triton), but still hold their own traditions and stereotypes.

Samuel R. Delany is adept at creating such spectacular science-fiction worlds with his use of language and style. Yet, he keeps to the simplest of ideals in that the science is always secondary to the plot, which gives the reader an enjoyable encounter with a world removed from reality but based in the basic emotions and concepts of life.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

More Apartment Hunting

Yesterday turned out better while helping J. search for an apartment here in Shenzhen. We told one agent exactly what to look for and he really looked around for something that would fit. He had three places lined up for us to see in the afternoon (much better than seeing one and then heading back to the real estate agency office to find another one). The first was in the same building where we saw two apartments the previous day (except this one had a terrible layout with a bathroom smaller than my closet). It was then that our real estate agent took us on a long walk. The second place was pretty good--for some reason the kitchen was open air, it appeared to have been built on the balcony. The third was much better. It was convenient, quiet, the right price, and it had a real bathroom.

This real estate agent knew a whole lot more about customer service than any of the others from the other day. He spoke a little English to compensate for our lack of Chinese skills. He was even understanding when J. said he liked the apartment but wanted to wait and look at a few more first.

My only complaint for the day is that I walked a bit too much and my knee is killing me. J.'s on his own today because I can't do much walking.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Purple Monkey Dishwasher

Sometimes people don't listen, no matter how many times you repeat a very clear and simple request.

J. came back from his break back in the States. Of course, he doesn't have a place to live yet. But, he's working with another former co-worker near me, so I volunteered to help him hunt for an apartment (what a schmuck I am). I realized yesterday that Jia and I were extremely lucky when we found our home on the first day of searching. Apparently, getting what you want in this neighborhood is impossible. We had set limits of price and the request for a bathroom large enough for someone to take a shower while NOT having to sit on the toilet to do so.

We began our journey through the Dante's Inferno... er, Nanshan at around 11 am. We spent nearly four hours talking with various real estate agents (there are about 20 agencies within a 15-minute walk) with the help of my mother-in-law. The agents showed us two apartments in those four hours--both of them were terrible. The first one had a washing machine in the bathroom (and no other location for it) while the second one had a bathroom the size of my shower. Perhaps I should mention at this time that J. is not a small man. After the second viewing, the agent pointed to the building across the street from my home and said that it was very nice and in my friend's price range (Jia and I had seen an apartment in that building). I whipped out my Chinese at this point: "Tai xiao le! Waiguoren xi huan da ce suo." (It's too small. Foreigners like big bathrooms.) This point seemed lost forever.

In 11 hours of searching apartments, we saw a total of 5. Of those 5 apartments, only two were livable spaces and both were in the same building. The first of the two we were told was 2300/month. Unfortunately, it was unfurnished and the owner decided to raise the rent by 200/month because he saw foreigners. The second we were told was 2500 and furnished. It turned out to be 2800 and the owner refused to negotiate price with foreigners.

There was also the debacle of one agency making an appointment for us at 8 pm. This was the same one agency I told about how small the bathrooms were in that particular building. Guess where they took us--to an apartment that had a bathroom smaller than my shower, equipped with a child-sized toilet with a picture of Winnie the Pooh on it. At that point I was too tired to care and refused to talk further with those agents. Jia was with us at that time and started yelling at them in Chinese. I understood a bit of what she said (mostly things about bathroom size and them not listening to what J. wanted).

While having a few late beers, we spoke with J.'s future boss. Apparently, he has started looking for apartments near his school. He had a great idea--he typed up the demands for an apartment and passed it around to agencies with the note that they were to only contact him IF they found an exact match. Maybe we'll all have better luck today--I certainly don't want to walk around for another 11 hours in this heat.

On another topic: I must thank a couple friends for a lot of help with planning for the U.S. tourist visa application for Jia. I had lunch with them Thursday and got plenty of useful information--much better than what the consulate gave me last Monday.

Frustrated Friday Photo

There's a delay on the photo Friday due to the fact that I was not home for almost the entire day (story/rant to come later). So, here's today's photo. I think this pretty much sums up my day.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A (mostly) wasted day

This post could also be titled, "My government is full of non-information."

Yesterday, I took a trip to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou for the American citizen information hour at 3 pm. It's a two-hour bus ride for 60 RMB from right outside my door. Unfortunately, the latest bus I could take that would get me there in time left at 8:15 am.

Arriving early in Guangzhou, I decided to check out a place to eat. One of my brother's clients has a friend who opened an Italian restaurant near the consulate--Danny's Bagel. They advertise that they have bagels, and I've been desperate for one for the last two years. So, I stopped in (too early again--it opens at 11:30) and ordered a bagel with cream cheese. It certainly wasn't a NY bagel, but it was pretty good for China (and much better than anything I had in Colorado and most of central PA). Where else could I get one around here? And, if I had enough money, I would have ordered some of the appetizing Italian dishes (mmm... chicken parm). But I suppose I'll have to save that for another trip. I stood around after the bagel to talk with Danny. He's a very nice guy who's been in China for quite a while. We commiserated about the lack of American sports.

I took the excessively humid walk to the consulate since I had plenty of time to kill--it was only about 30 minutes, but I was feeling a bit over-heated. I waited an hour for the session to start with my copy of Midnight's Children. When the time came to get my information, I discovered I wasted my time. Instead of being able to ask specific questions (such as I had been told by a friend who went through the process a year ago) I was greeted with a "Well, you just need to go on our Web site and find all the information there." Hell, I already knew there was information there! I wanted specific answers pertaining to my wife's situation. They don't even have copies of ANY forms for me to look over. I have to print everything out and hope that it's OK. Thank you U.S. State Department for wasting my time.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Good, bad, funny

I have found one nuisance in my neighborhood: the people who stand around all day and hand out advertisements for the gym. They can't be avoided--they're at every corner that I have to pass EVERYDAY. They don't seem to get the picture that I just don't care. They're about as bad as the Greenpeace petitioners in Boulder (they really turned me off of that organization). Jia thinks she needs to get me a t-shirt that says, "I don't care what you're selling. Leave me alone," in Chinese. I bet if I made a few thousand I could sell them to a lot of foreigners.

Last night, Jia and I headed out to check out the local bar scene--we have two bars within about a 10-minute walk. The first was a pole dancing club (but no nudity). The second was a real bar--it was huge, packed with people but not excessively loud, and had some good bands. There's also a dance club upstairs. We sat for a couple drinks and watched the bands. The second one was hilarious--the singer was dressed as an ultra-nationalist (he even sang a rather vulgar song about the Japanese that the crowd loved). The best part was, for the first few songs, he reminded me of the singer from Judas Priest (except he was Chinese)--I wished I had my camera there to take a video. With any luck I'll see the band again and I'll get that video.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Culturally Sensitive Photo Friday

I'm on time this week with the photo Friday. I decided that since I haven't resized my vacation photos, I'll just have to make do with what I have. This one comes from Bangkok. I'm always impressed by how culturally sensitive clowns can be. This particular McDonald's offered a McRice Burger--no, I didn't try it--it's a regular hamburger between two rice patties instead of a bun.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

I knew I'd enjoy this movie before I even started watching. I've been watching The Simpsons since it began so many years ago (of course, I've had to miss the last two seasons due to living in China where The Simpsons don't exist). I figured this movie would be filled with cameos and cheap gags from minor characters--I was wrong.

The story of the movie revolves around the decaying environment of Springfield (yes, there are a few political moments throughout the movie). Of course, things go horribly wrong in town because of the impulsiveness and impatience of Homer. It's impressive to see that he has the ability to construct a "pig crap" silo in his backyard. There's also a secondary storyline about a friendly relationship between Ned Flanders and Bart. It seems Bart is wising up to Homer's poor parenting, even though he enjoys the cheap laughs it provides.

It was fun to watch The Simpsons for longer than a 30-minute episode--although this one clocks in as a fairly short movie under an hour and a half (I think). Still, it's filled with the wit and humor that one would expect from the TV show.

Things I missed in the movie: Only one bit of Itchy & Scratchy?? I guess we'll have to wait for that movie. And there were a lot of characters absent aside from one-liners--Principal Skinner, Groundskeeper Willy, Smithers, to name a few. Anyway, what do you expect after all these years?

I'm rather bored at home until I start work at the end of the month. It's really cramping my creativity and making me lazy (more so than usual). At least I managed to send out some of my work to publications--I should hear back by the time I forget I submitted anything.

Last night I decided I had to get out of the apartment. Jia was working late and I had nothing else to do. I sat by my computer and opened up my HSK book from last year (the one I could barely read after using it to study for a few months). I was surprised I could read a fair amount of it. This gave me enough motivation to head out to one of the small restaurants for a beer and studying. I found a nice Sichuan restaurant just outside the gate--it's quiet and the staff was friendly even though I wasn't ordering food. They even have a nice little deal of buy three beers, get one free (that'll probably cause some problems when friends return to Shenzhen). Anyway, I can definitely say that my reading ability is now much stronger than my speaking. I can understand a decent amount of what people say to me; I just have trouble responding. However, give me something to read, and I can probably translate quite a bit of it. I now know about 300 characters and a whole lot of combinations of those. I still have a long way to go if I ever want to reach my goal of reading a Chinese newspaper. I also have to improve so that I can start translating my friend's poetry (Jia says he's a good poet).

Monday, August 06, 2007

weather report

After more than two weeks back in Shenzhen, we finally have some rain. This being the rainy season, I would have expected quite a bit more. I seem to remember last summer I never left home without my umbrella because it rained almost everyday. I think there was probably a dry spell while we were away--the patches of grass and a lot of the trees look a bit brown and dry.

On the bright side, if it doesn't rain too much I can use the pool. It would be nice if the water wasn't 80 degrees though. I kind of like to cool off in the pool.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Photo Friday is Back

Living in Shenzhen for two years has given me the opportunity to visit Hong Kong more than a few times. This is from my first visit, when I met my uncle for a weekend. Taken from the Star Ferry crossing from Kowloon to Central.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

More of the Wall

First I'll apologize for the layout of this post. Due to the censoring of Blogger by the Great Firewall of China, it's difficult to format photos and text to make posts aesthetically pleasing. Now, on with the post.

Last year we took our trip to the Great Wall at Mutianyu. This year I chose to hike Badaling even though it is the most tourist-traveled section. I decided this would be best for my parents because it would be easier to walk. It was certainly easier than Mutianyu, but it wasn't all that easy--especially once you get past the hordes of people. (Last year's Wall hike)

It was a long line just to get onto the wall--we probably waited about 15 minutes to get tickets and another 15 to get through the gate. But we pushed our way forward. We stared to the right and saw swarms of tourists flooding the way. It didn't look like the previous year with the crowds turning back after the third tower; these people kept going (take a close look at the photo above for proof). Obviously, we decided to head south instead. It was still crowded to the south, but the crowd broke much sooner than the north way.

The day was good--not too hazy and not too hot. My brother and I split from our parents so that we could go at our own pace. We allotted almost three hours to the hike. We managed to go as far as the government allowed:

We took a long rest at this point. The strangest moment came as we rested--a vendor scaled the wall and produced some cheap merchandise. We have no idea where he came from--it was almost a straight drop down the mountain on any side. How did this man get over the wall? Apparently, the Great Wall could keep invading Mongols out but it is no protection from a motivated Chinese vendor.

On our walk back through the parking lot/tourist trap village, we were harassed to no end by the hundred vendors all selling the exact same merchandise. I got fed up and lectured one vendor about why I refused to buy anything from him--I just don't like being begged to buy things I'm not interested in; if I want to buy something, I'll ask about it.

On the way back into the city, we asked the driver to drop us at the Lama Temple. My parents and I visited this amazing temple last summer, but we decided to see it again with my brother. It was well worth the extra visit and it was surprisingly uncrowded.