Friday, November 30, 2007

Ancient History

A view of Ayutthaya, Thailand (Feb. 2007)--the ancient capital of Siam. It was an uncomfortable two-hour train ride from Bangkok without seats. Next time I go, I'll remember to rent a bike immediately after crossing the river.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lost Art of Translation

I've previously written about the quality of foreign books translated into Chinese that Jia and I have found here in Shenzhen (post 1 & post 2). I was quite pleased to find such worthwhile literature for Jia to read--I was looking forward to discussing these books with her to see how faithful the translations were. I also had the goal of learning enough Chinese to read Kerouac's On the Road.

The joy and astonishment has worn off here. I recently read an article (translated from Chinese) about the quality of translations in China. It seems that there are some severe problems with the modern works that have garnered critical acclaim. The ranks of Chinese translators are dwindling, and have been for some time. The article points out the obvious reason: the pay sucks. The average wage for Chinese translators is only 60 kuai for 1000 words (I'm not sure if that's per foreign word or per Chinese character). It is estimated that 1000 words is average for a translator to accomplish in ONE DAY. So, for a full-time translator of literature that comes to an average of 1800 kuai a month (assuming he/she works 30 days a month). Compare that to the minimum wage in Shenzhen, which is between 800 and 900 a month for unskilled labor.

Publishing companies could give a raise to the translators, but we all know that'll never happen. Translations just don't make money--it's the same as in the U.S. The real problem with the publishing industry in China is exactly the same as the problem with the publishing industry in the U.S.--people just aren't reading enough.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Spoiled Similarities

Over the past few weeks I have come to realize that I got the luck of the draw in classes this year. The other English teacher seems to be having quite a few serious problems with students (and this teacher was at the school last year as well without incident). I have few complaints about my students as I basically ignore the students who aren't doing their work and I focus on the ones who are in my class to learn. There are at least four or five in each class who make it worthwhile--and I truly enjoy teaching and conversing with those students.

Today during our meeting, my boss mentioned that the new class of master's and PhD students are the worst behaved out of any she's seen. Even the other professors are voicing their concerns. Unlike previous classes, this one is made up of students who graduated at the top of their undergraduate programs. These students feel superior to almost everyone and feel entitled to everything. My boss even mentioned that she's had some students entering her office to make some ridiculous requests as if they owned the place. She's obviously not happy with these students. I think she may be worried about how they'll react if/when they receive failing grades (and we already know there will be some).

The other teacher and I mentioned watching an English news program about the American generation that's entering the workplace and the similarities between them and their Chinese counterparts. The ones in our classes are mostly part of the one-child policy, and their parents probably spoiled a fair number of them--much like many American kids who are now finding their way into the workforce. I find it amazing that so many employers and educators are willing to bend over backwards for these "talented" individuals. Even J. has told me stories of some spoiled students he had to teach at his university in the U.S. He was rather disgusted at the behavior and has seen the same thing here with many of his students.

I believe that people need to pay their dues before they can show this sort of behavior. It's simply annoying and rude. These spoiled children of the world will cause more problems in the future as their sense of entitlement grows. How will they know how to handle a difficult situation when mommy and daddy aren't around to fight for them? I can only hope that the next generation will turn out better.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Chinese Thanksgiving Tale

Only a few days after my quiet birthday celebration, we all gathered around the table in J.'s apartment for this year's Thanksgiving meal. Last year I ate alone since all the other foreigners worked late. The year before I ate at a restaurant with the other Americans (I think I had fried eel and fries that year). So, this year easily topped those past Thanksgivings in quality of food.

I sent my oven over to J.'s in the afternoon so we could finish cooking for the meal. He got the new bakery to make some pumpkin pies for dessert (by some, I mean more than four). I also brought over a variation of buffalo wings (not fried, but still pretty good). And the two of us headed for RenRenLe for more food to prepare before everyone arrived.

Of course, everyone showed up late (two had to work late and one got stuck in traffic). There was supposed to be one more guest, but apparently he forgot to come (and we expected that to happen). We all made some new friends--only J. knew everyone--and stuffed ourselves stupid. We also went through a bit too much booze. While waiting for everyone to arrive, J. and I went through two beers each, then we went through three bottles of wine at dinner, and four more beers after. We finished up sometime around 1 am--I'm sure glad we didn't do this ON Thanksgiving because I would never be able to wake up for work after a night like that.

The feast certainly let me forget the Jets score--guess it's back to hoping for the top pick in the draft.

In other news: Paris Hilton visited Shanghai this week for some reason, [insert inappropriate joke here]. In a seemingly unrelated story, the government is trying to force Beijing hotels to stock condoms in all rooms to prevent the surging HIV cases, which have increased 54 percent this year.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Better Than the Last Two

One more birthday down. It doesn't really feel any different--I feel as old as ever (ouch, my back).

At least this year I get to have a semi-normal birthday (no cake though, I can live without that). I'm just going to relax at home and maybe have a couple drinks with a friend. My wife bought me the best birthday presents (even if they arrived early). Jia gave me a talking Homer Simpson and warm slippers with Colonel Homer on them. Plus, she also got me two new Chinese books that will hopefully help me learn a bit more (although that means I need to get back into a routine of studying).

Compare this to my last two birthdays in China and you can see why I'm much happier. Last year I was miserable at work--I seem to recall giving most of my classes tests just to keep them quiet for the day. The year before I was still getting used to my first three weeks in China and still didn't have a working phone due to the employer being too stupid to realize that they hadn't paid the bill and the number had been disconnected. I also never received my birthday card from my parents that year (it's somewhere in China Post's lost file center).

Anyway, happy birthday to me. This year is a whole lot better than the last two. And the sun is calling me outside to lunch.

Edit: I got another birthday gift today while at work. I received an e-mail from an editor asking where to send my free contributor copy of Asia's Best Hotels and Resorts. I was getting worried about that one--I wrote for them back in March, got paid in April, and heard nothing about the publication until now. But I'll have to wait until February to see it since I'm having it mailed to my parents.


They won? Really? No joke?

Wow, I can't believe they beat Pittsburgh. Now I have another reason to laugh at my friends from the 'Burgh.

I'm still a little shocked about that news. The Jets are 2-8 and there's still a few games left in the season. I think I can forget about them making the playoffs, but now there won't be the humiliation of sharing the worst record with the Dolphins.

Now, where did I bury my Curtis Martin jersey? I better wear it for the rest of the day.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Homer Made Me Do It

Homer: Got any of that beer that has candy floating in it? You know, Skittlebrau?
Apu: Such a beer does not exist, sir. I think you must have dreamed it.
Homer: Oh. Well, then just give me a six-pack and a couple of bags of Skittles.

Last night J. and I conducted the Chinese Skittlebrau experiment. This involved a pack of Skittles, a few bottles of Tsingtao, and a couple bottles of Kingway. We figured it couldn't be all bad--we're just bored with Chinese beer.

The conclusions of the experiments found that yellow and green Skittles are best when mixed with any Chinese beer (they all basically taste the same). Mixing flavors in the beer always results in a rather unpleasant taste. It is also best to not eat the Skittles after they've been dissolving in a glass of cold beer. This experiment also resulted in some strange glances from the Chinese.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bigfoot sighting

I haven't posted a photo on Friday in a while. So, for today, here's a giant Buddha foot from Leshan. It's just a short trip from Chengdu. If you can't get to Leshan, you could always see the miniature at Splendid China.For those of you who are interested, I have added photos to my online gallery. Just follow the link to the right to have a look. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

From the Headlines

Ever wonder what some Chinese businesspeople will do to make a quick buck? Well, come on down to Guangdong province where much of China's wealth is located. Guangzhou and Shenzhen are just behind Shanghai when it comes to wealth--but Shanghai has a bit more foreign influence.

It was reported yesterday in China Daily that there is a problem with rubber hair ties that are produced in Dongguan (a booming manufacturing city between Shenzhen and Guangzhou). It seems that some companies have decided to go green in way--it was just the wrong way. They are recycling used condoms to make said hair ties. And now there are fears that these recycled products could spread disease because they're not meant to be recycled. These tainted hair ties are being sold at local markets for about 25 fen (a quarter of a kuai). The article makes no mention of any possible government intervention and also does not mention any company/product names.

There is a possibility that this is just an urban legend and completely exaggerated--just like the cardboard in the baozi from the summer. It does seem a little outlandish. I'd be rather surprised to see the wandering recycling migrants fishing through the trash for a used condom. And how often the people actually purchase condoms would then come into question (maybe the companies are collecting from the massage parlors).

It's things like this that remind me of that great decision to cut my long hair some six years ago. I'm also glad that Jia doesn't use these sorts of hair ties.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Noodley Goodness

My lunch twice a week at school is usually noodles--except for the days that the cafeteria mysteriously runs out of flour and water. This is a necessity for me because most of the food in the cafeteria isn't labeled and I don't have the patience to ask, "这是什么?" twenty times. Besides, I happen to like spicy noodles with vegetables.

Most days, I go in near the end of lunch to avoid lines. This also means that fewer students are around when I eat. Today, I went in early with the crowd. To my surprise, a student sat with me. He's one of my few southern Chinese students (from Sichuan). I couldn't remember his name because I can't remember any of my students names--the fact that I only see them once every other week doesn't help much. I did realize that he is one of the quieter students in class. He wanted to know about my Chinese skills and how to improve his English (this is common from students). He told me that he's been studying English for 12 years, but I am his first foreign teacher.

I'm not surprised that for the early years of education he didn't have a foreign teacher, I was a bit surprised that he didn't have one in his undergraduate studies. Considering the method of teaching English in China, I think I understand why he doesn't speak much in class--he was probably never asked to do more than just repeat words and phrases as a group. I hope now he makes the effort to speak in my class and improve his confidence. From the short lunchtime conversation, I did find that his grammar was better than many of the more willing students.

Later in the day, I scheduled an supplementary English conversation hour for my willing students. Before anyone showed up, I placed my new eraser next to the board (I've had two taken from my class in the last week and it really screws with my lessons). I wrote a warning for the next day--"Don't touch the eraser. 小心外国人." (Beware of foreigner.) The guard walked in and laughed--we had a half-assed Chinese conversation about me having an extra class in the afternoon. Then two students showed up to talk for the next hour. They thought it was funny and a little impressive that I wrote in Chinese.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Worth a Dollar

I found a new beer today: Mahou Beer. Jia and I took a trip to commie Wal-Mart to replace my DVD player (I'm surprised it lasted two years for 120 kuai). We quickly found our replacement so we could watch Seinfeld and Simpsons.

On our journey through the crowds (think Xmas in an American mall every weekend), we stopped off in the liquor department to check prices on Kahlua and Captain Morgan (I think Kahlua is cheaper in the American store). I decided to check out the beer selection and found Mahou. I've never had a Spanish beer and thought it couldn't be any worse than another bottle of Tsingtao--I was expecting something similar to Mexican cerveza. I was half right. It was quite good--strong taste of hops. Mahou reminded me of a nice ale.

According to their Web site, Mahou has been brewed in Madrid, Spain since 1890. It claims to be the most famous beer in Spain. And if you're wondering about the name not sounding Spanish, that's because the founders were French.

Now I'll have to remember more Spanish so I can talk about the beer. Anyway, this is about all I can remember from three years of classes: Yo quiero mas cerveza por favor.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Pleasant Surprise

Jia got her passport and visa delivered today. We're both more than a little surprised that under "Entries" was "M." Apparently, she was issued a multiple-entry, one-year visa. We didn't even apply for this and it's supposed to be quite difficult to get. This means that not only can we visit my parents and friends for Spring Festival, but we can also travel around for the summer. I'm beginning to think I'd like to spend a couple weeks in Boulder for the summer writing program. Of course, this means that we'll have to save quite a bit of money from now until July. But, I think it will be worth it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Guangzhou Consulate Visit

Jia and I left shortly before 1pm on Tuesday for Guangzhou. There was no way to get to the U.S. consulate by 9am on Wednesday from Shenzhen. Our plan was to find a cheap place to stay nearby and then meet her friend before getting to sleep early.

Finding lodging was more difficult than we thought. The first place was run by the guy I mentioned in the previous post. He really wasn't friendly and I didn't trust him. The second guy to show us a place to stay was only slightly better. Again, we were shown a shared apartment for more than 200 a night--far too much for the quality. Then, the guy mentioned he knew of a nearby hotel that was reasonable. He handed us 100 kuai and said it was OK because he'd get the money back for referring us. This turned out to be a find.

The Jianghe Hotel was only a 7 kuai cab ride from the consulate and it looked clean. There was also an Italian place next door with great prices and food called 37°2 Bistro. There are also two other locations in Guangzhou. Jia had smoked salmon and pesto spaghetti and I had a salmon and mushroom pizza (both quite good).

After checking in, we decided to go meet Jia's friend from university, his girlfriend, and another of his friends at Danny's Bagel. I wrote about this place the last time I was in Guangzhou, but I only tried the bagel there. This time we went all out on dinner. We were there just in time for happy hour (2 for 1 half-liter Tiger beer for 25 kuai). Jia and I split a chicken parm sandwich and sun-dried tomatoes and feta pasta. Jia is still raving about the chicken parm. I have to admit, that sandwich caused my third bout of homesickness in more than two years in China--all because of a sandwich I haven't had in about four years and which costs about $5 back home.

We spent a bit of time talking with Danny about the visa appointment. He gave Jia some pointers about answering questions (which she ended up not needing) and read through our material to see if we had everything we should. We told him he should open a shop in Shenzhen, but I'm thinking we're better off without it--I'd eat there too often and get fat.

After all the material we put together (nearly 40 pages), we didn't need it. The consular officer looked over her application form, asked where she was going, what her job was, what my job was, and when our contracts expire. Apparently, the two officers on either side of Jia's were asking lots of questions. I guess we got lucky. At least now we can really start planning our vacation--I'm still trying to figure out a way of getting out to Denver/Boulder for a little while.


Jia and I made the trip to Guangzhou for her interview at the consulate to get a tourist visa for Spring Festival. After going through the trouble of finding a real hotel for a decent price, we settled in and tried to relax. The first place we went to was a family that converted apartments next to the consulate into hotel rooms. We decided against staying because it was expensive for a room with a shared toilet. We also didn't like the guy who owned the place after he told Jia to lie to the consulate because he thought they'd never give her a visa. Well, he was wrong.

This morning was the appointment. I quickly discovered that I couldn't even wait with her in the consulate office (I knew I couldn't go to the interview). So, I sat in the coffee shop nearby in the building. After about 40 minutes, I was told to buy something or get out--I sure wasn't going to spend 40 kuai on a small cup of coffee. So, I stood by the consulate exit to wait. The guard told me to wait in the coffee shop. Well, since I couldn't do that, I walked in a circle for the next twenty minutes. I was really nervous. But, it all worked out in the end. Jia's passport and visa will be mailed in a couple days and we'll book our flights to Newark just as soon as we get that.

There's a lot more to the whole story, but I'll have to write that tomorrow when I have more time.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More Translated Books

As I have mentioned previously, I have found an interesting variety of foreign literature translated into Chinese. Many of the books have been surprising (such as Lolita, Catcher in the Rye, and On the Road).

The other night, I decided to buy Jia a gift of a few books and search for a new Chinese book for myself. The first book I noticed was Jack Kerouac's Desolation Angels--a book I once picked up in English and thought it incoherent. I asked Jia to read it in Chinese, thinking it might make more sense--her response was, "Kan bu dong," "I don't understand." I guess they did a good job translating.

The next two books were much more surprising than the others I've seen. Hanif Kureishi's Buddha of Suburbia--a wonderfully comic novel that has a bit more decadence than you'd expect for anything in China. I seem to recall a bit of sex, drugs, and even divorce (things that don't go along with a "harmonious society"). The second book we got was the Ray Bradbury classic, Fahrenheit 451. I'm absolutely shocked to find a book about the dangers of government censorship in China. As J. said, "Maybe it's a ploy: Not censoring a book on censorship to make it seem there's no censorship." Anyway, we bought the books so Jia can read them and then discuss them with me to see if they've been censored.

Other news: In Skekou, due to the construction of the new subway line, a few businesses have had to close down because of a lack of customers (these include Subway and Pizza Hut, as well as some smaller restaurants and bars). The construction involved closing a road and building a wall in front of about 10 stores. According to Jia, the business owners have put up a sign criticizing the government because they were not part of the decision to put a subway stop across the street from Sea World. They're mostly unhappy because they are not being compensated for lost business. The wall blocking access to the businesses has been up for about a month.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Stuff the Mattress

To hell with the banks in China. I think my money would be safer in my mattress. This is not a joke. I have plenty of reasons for this.
  • Banks charge a fee for every month you have an account.
  • You will be charged a fee for using YOUR bank's ATM in another province or city.
  • Interest rates are low and are taxed high, rendering savings accounts worthless (also subtract the monthly bank fee).
  • Apparently, family members cannot obtain banking details for other family members, even when accompanied by said family member's ID.
  • There is a fee for obtaining banking details from the Bank of China (owned by the government). That fee is 10 kuai. That's just to print the details into a freaking book that the bank provided!
  • You're forced to take a number and wait your turn. But that number really doesn't mean anything for people who have a number that has long since been called.
  • It will take much longer than it should to do ANYTHING at the bank.
The reason I'm rather annoyed today is because Jia has to get plenty of banking details from numerous banks (because every job has to use its own bank for pay) to supply to the U.S. Consulate this week for the visa process. These are just a few problems that have come up recently.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Cheesy China

About a month ago we visited Splendid China and the Folk Culture Village here in Shenzhen. This is one of the "best" amusement parks in China and is Shenzhen's attempt at drawing tourists. Unlike other cities in China, Shenzhen is extremely young (not even 30 years old) and does not have a lot of cultural/historical significance. Therefore, there are plenty of amusement parks like this one and Window of the World just one subway stop down the line. Almost every park in the city is a replica of something else (see OCT East, Portofino, etc.).
Splendid China is home to all of China's greatest tourist attractions. How do they fit them here you ask? Of course, they're all miniature. But, they are not all built to the same scale and there is no geography (which explains why the Great Wall is so close to the Potala Palace. Many of the sites also are not constructed all that well--much like the rest of the city, it was not built to last the next hundred years. Many parts of the miniatures are damaged or missing--mostly the little people (it's not difficult to see where they once were).I never realized before how far south the Great Wall wound. It comes really close the city. Personally, I like the real thing much better. I'm still curious how many migrant workers were lost while constructing the miniature Wall.
Every wonder how the Mongols invaded China? I think it had something to do with the path the Chinese left through the Wall.
This is Du Fu's Thatched Cottage in Chengdu. Last time I was there I remember seeing much more than this. You can see for yourself.
There is also a Forbidden City, but it is missing the portrait of Chairman Mao and Tiananmen Square isn't very impressive (no mausoleum for Mao either). What is surprisingly absent from the park is anything having to do with Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan. I guess they don't view those places as "splendid" enough to be part of China.

The Folk Culture Village wasn't as cheesy as Splendid China. It was showcasing some of the 56 ethnic minorities through "cultural" shows to educate the public. Most of the shows were highly choreographed song and dance numbers performed by smiling people who mostly didn't look too enthusiastic. Almost all of the shows had to do with how the minorities choose their mates. The others were about the special skills that only those minorities possess. The Uighurs were quite nice to talk with and told us about a Xinjiang restaurant nearby that we still need to try.

I found it a little unsettling that the cultural village had this mosque. The idea of having a mosque didn't bother me--I thought they might have some religious education there. What did bother me was the fact that it was a gift shop. I didn't even bother going inside.

The best cultural show was for the Mongolians. It was a fake horse battle. There was an excessively loud announcer who narrated the story of the Mongolians invading China (I think). It was complete with sound effects provided by the voice of the announcer. I couldn't stop laughing.
Fortunately, we went on an off weekend prior to the holiday and the park wasn't crowded. There were, however, enough Chinese tourists taking photos in places they weren't supposed to be--we heard the security guards yelling at people to not touch the exhibits and watched the people ignore the commands (much like the people at the Temple of Heaven).
The last thought that I had with J. a few days after our visit was the same idea as that of another foreigner with whom we worked last year--dress up as Godzilla and go walking through Splendid China, terrorizing the little people in the miniature attractions. Does anyone know where we can get a Godzilla costume in Shenzhen or Hong Kong?