Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy New Year from RIAA

Happy New Year to you all. According to this article from the Washington Post, the RIAA is now dumber than ever. They have decided to complain about people who copy legally purchased CDs for personal use. They apparently don't like people buying CDs and copying those CDs to personal computers so that consumers can upload their favorite songs to MP3 players.

I guess the Recording Industry Association of America doesn't like me now because I copied plenty of my legally purchased CDs to my laptop before I moved to China for the simple reason that I didn't want to carry 200 CDs to the other side of the world. Would the RIAA also like to complain about how I used to pay $13-$16 for a new CD at a major retailer? Or how I wised up in high school and began purchasing all my CDs used from a local store?

Maybe if the major record companies would start finding interesting bands that actually make GOOD music for a change, instead of all the same crap they keep putting out year after year, consumers might be inclined to BUY a CD every now and again. Perhaps they should consider not charging ridiculous amounts of money for music. If I wanted to, I could find plenty of new CDs on the streets here for about $1.50 (something I haven't bothered to do since I arrived).

This new crusade against legal music consumers has got to be the dumbest idea in history. I was planning on buying some new music on my trip home, but now I've decided not to. I can live without it.

Congratulations RIAA on your award for biggest asshole in the world--you had a great last-minute run right before the end of the year. You beat out W., Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, thousands of terrorists, and all the other idiots of the world. You have now alienated ALL of your legal customers. Maybe you should pay attention to good business sense and start working on customer service.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I hate Boston

Everything was all set. The bar told me they had ESPN, and I checked to make sure the Alamo Bowl would be on. I was happy to wake up early on a Sunday to take a 20 minute bus ride to Shekou to watch Penn State for the first time in two and a half years. Of course, those stupid Patriots had to ruin everything. Why must they broadcast a game in which two teams who have their playoff spots set? Who really cares?

I've always hated the Patriots. Now I have one more reason to wish they were dead. Screw you Tom Brady! I also now harbor a hatred for Mitt Romney--and anything else from Massachusetts. That reminds me, I still hate John Kerry for being such a loser that he couldn't beat that monkey to the White House (of course, I hated him even before he ran for president).

Now I'm forced to look at updates online about the Penn State game and hope that the Patriots not only lose but also die a painful death on the field. Go to hell New England! You bastards ruined my Sunday morning.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Woohoo! Four-Day Weekend!

No, I didn't skip work like Homer selling stolen sugar. My university really gave us a four-day weekend, unlike many schools in China that make their teachers work the weekend before the New Year to "make up" for vacation days. I still remember last year I had to work two extra days to make up for the ONE day holiday.

Unfortunately, the school decided to give us the extra day with little notice. This meant that Jia and I really couldn't make travel plans. It's ok though, we decided we should save the money for our trip to the states next month. We'll be spending our little holiday around Shenzhen with friends. Tonight, we're heading out to a 5-star hotel for a nice buffet dinner. Tomorrow morning I'm waking up early to catch the Alamo Bowl at a sports bar in Shekou (Go Penn State!). We're still unsure about our plans for New Year's Eve, but we'll find something worthwhile.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chinese Non-Xmas

Yesterday was the university Christmas party. We started off with a great lunch at a very nice restaurant nearby. It was really nice to meet some of the faculty at one of the other graduate schools in the area. I did find it amusing that out of the three foreigners in attendance at lunch, none of us celebrates Christmas. We enjoyed the lunch and conversation anyway. One of the dishes had a huge carrot sculpted into an old fisherman--my co-worker wanted to take it home, but the restaurant wouldn't allow it.

Later, there was a small party in the lobby of the administration building. My co-worker didn't attend, so I was the lone "white" foreigner. Almost everyone in attendance was Chinese. The only others were the six Pakistani students. Again, there was no one who actually celebrates Christmas. I had a great time talking to the Pakistanis about their recent move to China and their work. They were really nice and happy to find someone with whom they could speak English. They also told me how disappointed they were that the library has very few English texts for them because their Chinese isn't good enough to use what the other students read.

For those of you wondering about Christmas in China, I would like to say that America has nothing on China when it comes to commercializing a holiday. All the shops are open longer on Christmas Day for the people to spend their hard-earned Renminbi. There is no religion attached to Christmas here--it is celebrated by the middle and upper classes as an international holiday. Most people here have no idea that it's one of the most important religious days (which explains why most schools make foreign teachers work today).

Well, Merry Christmas to my Christian friends out there.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Two for One Movie Review

Saturday night we watched Over the Hedge and King of California.

Over the Hedge is based on the comic strip by the same name. It's the story of how RJ the raccoon meets up with the rest of the critters whose habitat has been paved and turned into suburbia. It's a rather amusing film--especially for one coming from a comic strip (let's face it, there aren't many successes in this category). It doesn't quite have the same humor as the strip itself, but it does the best it can in under two hours. Fans of the strip probably won't enjoy the movie as much, but they might appreciate the effort. Rather than gearing it toward the readers, its focus group is the younger generation. It does a decent job of giving kids easy messages about family and friends and the dangers of suburban sprawl. I was hoping for more commentary on the lives on suburbanites, but that was only a small segment of the movie. This also features Avril Lavigne as the only pop star to not do a terrible job in a movie. Other voices include: Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, William Shatner, and Steve Carell (the voice of the hyperactive squirrel, Hammie--best character).

King of California is more of an adult film that's set in the suburbs from writer/director Mike Cahill. It follows the lives of former jazz bassist Charlie (Michael Douglas) and his teenage daughter Miranda (Evan Rachael Wood) as they go in search of lost Spanish treasure. The amusement takes place in Charlie's exploration of suburban life after his recent release from a mental hospital. You're never quite sure if the treasure hunt is real or a delusion. There's brilliant commentary on the lives of Americans and their shopping habits in McDonald's and Costco--much better than Over the Hedge's commentary. I don't want to spoil the movie for potential viewers, so I won't mention any plot points. It does remind me a bit of a Wes Anderson movie without as many jokes. The humor is definitely more subtle than any of Anderson's movies. Douglas does a terrific job of selling his mental state under the influence of prescription drugs. All of the secondary characters serve as foils for Cahill's suburban commentary.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Long, Fun Night

We were planning on having a quiet night in, but some Bao'an friends convinced us that it was a bad idea. They dragged Jia and me out to Futian to C Union. It's a great bar--looks like a large basement with booze and music. This is probably the second real bar I've been to in Shenzhen--they had pool, darts, foosball, and lots of beer. Unfortunately, the good beer was about 50 kuai, which meant I was stuck with drinking the cheap Carlsberg. This morning I remembered why I really don't like drinking Carlsberg.

The music at C Union was amazing. We arrived just in time for the first band--a foreigner who was great on guitar. He wasn't the best singer, but he had a great selection of songs--Stones, Hendrix, Zeppelin, and a whole lot more. It reminded me of all the music I forgot to load onto my laptop before I left the US. We were about to leave after that, but the next band started shortly thereafter. It was something I'd never heard before. A Kazakh playing a traditional Xinjiang two-stringed guitar-like instrument. He was accompanied by some bass and drums and it all sounded like a mix of folk, rock, and jazz. We were all in awe of the sound that this guy could get out of two strings. He said he'd probably have CDs in another two or three months, so we took down his number for future reference.

To Teach the Trees

On today's photo Friday, we'll take a walk through part of campus. Between the building housing my office and classroom and the bus stop to get me back home, is a beautiful trail through the garden of lychee trees.
Unfortunately, I'm told that during the harvest season, students and faculty are not allowed to pick any lychees to take home--somehow they're not owned by the university.
Nonetheless, it does provide me with a calming walk on my way to catch the bus.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Best Dollar Beer Yet

During the Sunday adventure at the new shopping mall and grocery store, I picked up a 500ml bottle of Asahi beer. Amazingly, the label said "hei pi" in Chinese characters. I couldn't believe that I found a dark Japanese beer. The best part was that it was only 8 kuai (so, it's slightly more expensive than US$1 at the current exchange rate). It was certainly better than paying 10 kuai for a 12 oz. Xinjiang black beer or even 9 kuai for a can of Guinness Foreign Extra (really quite bland for a Guinness). The Asahi has a good bitter flavor and no bad aftertaste--just the way a beer should taste. It's not as smooth as a stout, but fairly close to a porter. You better believe that I'll keep buying this Asahi beer until the end of the term when I get to travel home and have a Yuengling again.

Happy drinking!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Weekend Wanderings

It turned into a good weekend despite the excessive haze. Some friends from Bao'an came to visit Friday night for dinner at the Xi'an restaurant and drinks at the nearby bars. I've rarely eaten at the Xi'an restaurant, so this was quite the experience--the food was great considering how cheap it was, even with quite a few beers among us.

Saturday, we went to a really nice park about 20 minutes away, not far from Shenzhen University. The place is covered with lychee trees and plenty of other plants that I don't know the names of. It was quiet and clean, which was impressive with the throngs of people out on a warm December day. There were lots of people exercising, flying kites, and playing an assortment of instruments all around. We'll definitely go back sometime soon.

Today was the grand opening of the huge shopping mall just down the street. It's rather high class and well out of our price range for the clothing stores. But, it has a Papa John's, Bread Talk, and a variety of restaurants and coffee shops. On the third floor there's even a skating rink (with hockey nets), but it's 60 kuai for two hours without skate rentals. We were quite happy with the mall. Then we went into Jusco grocery store and decided the mall sucked.

Jusco is amazing. This is a rather large Japanese grocery store with everything we could ever want. There is no more need to visit Wal-Mart or the American stores in Shekou. I can get everything I want and more. They have freshly-ground coffee, a variety of cheese, and tons of pasta and other wonderful foods. I was a little disturbed by the chopped up alligator in the meat section though--I've eaten alligator before, I just don't like seeing a whole one chopped up. We're convinced that we need to make more money now because we'll want to buy a lot of interesting foods and beverages in the next several months. I'm also convinced that J. will go broke unless he can control his cheese and coffee habits.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Clear the Air

The air has cleared up slightly today. But it's still pretty bad. I think I need to take another vacation to northern Sichuan for some clean air. Look how nice it is in those mountains. Plus, I could ride a yak.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hazy Thursday

This certainly goes along with yesterday's post about the weather. I woke up today and had a look out the window--I couldn't see the buildings that are a little more than half a mile away. I walked outside to catch the school bus and stared directly at the sun. The sun was rather dull in the morning. Then, when I got to class, I glanced out the window. I usually see hills and mountains outside. I could see the first hill that is right outside, but couldn't see the huge mountain that's not far behind it. My throat is burning today and I'm having a little trouble breathing. I was thinking of exercising, but that would increase my rate of inhaling all the pathogenic particles in the air.

This is definitely the worst day I've seen in Shenzhen. I saw a couple really bad hazy days in Beijing, and I think this one ranks up there--possibly surpassing those days. If it still looks this bad tomorrow, I'll take a picture to post here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Weather Report

Just as I was enjoying the cool autumn-like weather of Shenzhen in December, Mother Nature decided to screw around and throw a little global warming our way. Today was significantly warmer than it has been the previous three weeks--I've actually worn a light jacket on a few occasions. I was sweating while waiting for the bus on the way home for lunch--I was only wearing my usual pants and a fairly light, long-sleeve shirt. It now feels like it did back at the end of September. I'm starting to wonder just how I'm going to handle New Jersey in February--I haven't been anywhere really cold since I lived in Colorado almost three years ago (and it really wasn't all that cold there).

From Shenzhen Daily: In the last two months there have been a total of 54 days of haze, which is the highest in recorded history for the young city. The haze in Shenzhen is being blamed on a drought. The rainfall is 70% lower than normal over the past three months, and this is considered the dry season here. I really can't remember the last time I saw rain.

Around the Schoolyard

There have been some minor turbulence lately in what has been a fairly smooth ride through the term. Fortunately, the administration has been kind enough to support me and even try to help.

In the last week, I had a slew of students show up late to class (only one offered an excuse, which was lame). I'm not talking about a couple minutes late--these students showed up 20 minutes into class and then wanted to sign the attendance sheet that had already gone around the room. To top that off, I've had quite a few classes attempt to sign absent students' names on the attendance sheet. I don't know why they'd even try--I can count to thirty pretty quickly to see if the names match the students in class.

So, with some advice from my boss, I have implemented a new policy on attendance (which was already 10% of the final grade). All of my classes are being warned that if I find more names on the sheet than students in class, I will mark the entire class absent. Also, any students showing up after the attendance is passed around will also be marked absent.

Now, I just need to figure out what to do about the numerous students who are handing in their assignments late.

I have also found a problem with lunch on the days that I have office hours and stay on campus past 11:30 am. Each day, I've been eating some form of noodles. I do enjoy noodles, but not quite this much. The problem with the cafeteria is that there is no menu or signs indicating what food is what (even if it was in Chinese, it'd be nice). I just don't want to ask, "zhe shi shenme?" twenty times a day to find out if I can eat a meal. And, I found out that it's exactly what some of my Chinese students do during lunch--sometimes they can't even tell what the food is.

It also seems that I have to keep up my English conversation hour. I was going to shut it down since no students have come since the first time I held it five weeks ago. Today, I had two students show up (only one of which was a student in my class). We had some interesting conversation at least--somehow our topics focused on food and economics.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Review: Bee Movie

I wasn't expecting much from a computer-animated kids flick starring the voice of Jerry Seinfeld, but I was quite impressed with the results. This is a fun movie, filled with decent humor and a great message for kids (and the parents who might be watching with them). It's definitely worth spending an hour and a half for this much entertainment.

The movie centers around the life of bees and their hard-working nature. Barry (Seinfeld) is the only one who questions the life and wants more than job that will work him to death. He goes on an adventure outside the hive and encounters humans--the good and the bad. He manages to befriend Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), a florist.

It's nice to see a movie with a message about working hard and not settling on one boring job for the rest of one's life. It's important to have time to yourself and question the way things are done. It's certainly a lesson many kids today could use.

There are plenty of amusing characters with voice cameos from the likes of John Goodman, Kathy Bates, Larry King (who plays himself in bee form), and Oprah Winfrey. There's also Chris Rock as the voice of a mosquito who becomes a lawyer. He has what is probably the best line: "I was already a blood-sucking parasite. I just needed a briefcase."

Friday, December 07, 2007

Language Proficiency (or how inept am I?)

Yesterday, I picked up a copy of last year's Chinese proficiency exam from the office. I was told that this test is more practical than the HSK, which is more focused on grammar. I looked through the exam last night and realized that I probably know about 75% of the characters (the most difficult part is reading the instructions). I don't know what the listening section involves, but Jia said she'd try to make up something to fit it. I think I could probably pass the exam now if I tried, but I'd rather study until May or June and try for a higher score.

One of the more difficult parts that I found was in some of the characters that I already know. One of the answers to a question was 师生 (shi sheng). I know these two characters, but I've never seen them together. I asked Jia about it. Apparently, this means teacher and student. To me, I would think of teacher and student as 老师和学生 (laoshi he xuesheng). However, it seems the Chinese enjoy shortening phrases such as this to confuse the foreigners.

This photo has absolutely nothing to do with the post. I just figured I'd continue with the whole Photo Friday thing and give you something to look at. This is a view of Songpan from a mountainside temple. We stopped for the night after a 12 hour bus ride from Chengdu on the way to Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou. It's a beautiful little town in northern Sichuan province that's known for horse trekking.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why Study?

I've been asked a rather unusual question lately--three times in the last week.

I inquired about taking the HSK exam later this year (this is the government-approved proficiency test for foreigners speaking/writing/reading Chinese). I was told that the next exam would be held in about a week--much too soon for me to prepare. I was then told that the school offered another Chinese proficiency exam, similar to HSK, every month. This means that I will attempt to pass the first level by the end of the school year.

Just after hearing the news, my boss asked, "Why do you want to learn Chinese?" I thought this was unusual coming from my Chinese boss. I explained my reasons and let the discussion pass to other topics. Then yesterday, I was asked the same question by one of the office staff at the end of our weekly meeting. I was again asked by a Korean professor later in the day.

The most confusing part of this question is that they all know I've been living in China for more than two years and that my wife is Chinese. Naturally, I'd think that those two reasons would be enough for anyone to want to learn the language.

Monday, December 03, 2007

More Norton Complaints & Some Fun

I've mentioned more than a few times that I'm disgruntled with Norton Internet Security. It just slows my computer down to the speed of a retarded tortoise on depressants.

Last week I received an e-mail from the company saying that I could upgrade to the newest version, which is supposedly faster. I figured, what the hell--I'm already paying for it. I decided it couldn't possibly be slower than the version I purchased.

I spent two hours downloading the new version. Then I let it install for another two. I noticed that nothing was happening with the install and so had to shut it down (a difficult task to accomplish). I tried to reinstall the new version and kept receiving error messages. The next day, I downloaded an uninstall program from Symantec, as per the advice of tech support and ran that. Then I rebooted and reinstalled the new version. After about an hour, it finally worked. In total, I figure I wasted a good five hours of my weekend on this piece of crap--and I don't notice my computer running any faster. I plan to switch to a different program when my subscription is up in August.

On another note, I came across a great Web page today. It has a bunch of Chinese slogans translated into English. This is why I really need to learn to read more--I see loads of banners with slogans everyday and wonder what they say. All I've come across that I can understand are the English sign in Shekou that reads, "Empty talk endangers the nation" and the sign near Phoenix mountain that translated into "Today's special: stupid chicken, duck."