Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year Celebration

It's New Year's Eve and my last day of teaching in China. I had my final class of the term, which is also the last of my career in China (for the foreseeable future at any rate).

It certainly has been quite an experience to teach the graduate students for the past year and a half. I've come across some wonderful students, as well as some I'd rather forget. There were some days that I truly enjoyed teaching and others that were downright miserable, but the good outweighed the bad on those days.

Now I'll wait for the exam on January 4, so I can begin grading for the term. Fortunately, I only have to finish the PhD candidates' grades by January 16 while the rest can wait until the end of February (it takes a long time to grade 300 essays).

As for Jia and me, we're heading off to Bali for a week after the term ends. It'll be our last holiday before we move to the US.

Monday, December 29, 2008

This is Monday

This Monday morning came with a few surprises--some welcome, some not.

I began with the regular Monday meeting at the university. We discussed some ideas I had for changing the PhD course slightly. My colleague also had a few suggestions to add. Unlike other schools in China, our recommendations were met with enthusiasm. My boss is looking to make these changes for the spring term, which I won't be around for. Still, it's nice to have my input considered and accepted.

My boss also asked if I was still having second thoughts about returning to the states in March. I admitted that I was as there aren't many publishing jobs out there and I may have to try teaching at a private school to support my family. I also mentioned that if things don't work out, Jia and I may return to China next fall. My boss' reply was that she'd find a job for me with the university if I came back to Shenzhen. Again, it's always great to feel welcome at work.

Finally, Jia called me about the package we tried shipping yesterday. Turns out, there were some items that can't be shipped from Shenzhen to Hong Kong and on to the US. We got a refund, but we have to repack and rethink.

The items that could not be shipped and reasons given:
  1. Chinese version of Monopoly purchased in Hong Kong because the dice and Monopoly money could be used for gambling in Hong Kong.
  2. A Buddhist cloth and texts because religion can't be exported.
  3. Some miniature replica terracotta warriors because they might be valuable antiques and thus the property of the People's Republic of China.
  4. A Chinese name stamp (no reason given for why that can't be shipped).
  5. A miniature Statue of Liberty purchased at Chen's College Folk Art Museum in Guangzhou (again, no reason given).

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Little Snow (Not in Shenzhen)

I know I shouldn't mention this because many of my friends and family will hate me for it, but this is the closest I've come to seeing snow in China in the last three years (and it wasn't even winter).
These were the mountains on our second day in Jiuzhaigou--new snow on top when we awoke in the Tibetan village. The first day we couldn't even see the mountains behind all the clouds.

Today in Shenzhen it was mid-20s (that's Celsius to you Americans--it's fairly temperate). However, the gray skies didn't make it feel too warm.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holidays Upon Us

I remember being shocked by the Christmas commerialism my first year in Shenzhen--I really didn't expect such an embrace of a Western religious holiday (granted, most of it was centered around the Bao'an district Wal-mart). I didn't realize then that China just enjoyed Christmas sans Christ.

This year looks like more people in my area have taken to celebrating Christmas. My current apartment building has decorations and a tree up, as does my old complex (I don't remember that last year). All of the small shops along my street are filled with cheap Christmas decorations that the children are grabbing up.

Considering orders from factories are well below levels of previous years, I have to wonder if instead of exporting the decorations and such that the factories are just selling the products to local vendors. I don't know this for sure, but it does seem like a logical possibility.

Some things about Christmas in China:

Last time I went to Carrefour, they were playing a dance remix of "Jingle Bells" with Chinese lyrics. I may not like it, but I'd rather listen to the original version as it does sound less annoying.

My co-worker said that Chinese enjoy celebrating all Western holidays. I pointed out that they didn't celebrate Hanukkah. I'm going to try to educate them on Festivus (I have a Seinfeld DVD).

Tomorrow (Christmas Day), I'm going out to dinner with a friend and his visiting parents. We're going to have a Jewish Christmas dinner at a Muslim-Chinese restaurant. Jia and I will probably then watch another classic James Bond movie.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Was That Really Bond?

James Bond is back in the new film Quantum of Solace. Unfortunately, they forgot to tell the writers and director about this.

I love the 007 series--they're fun, exciting, and usually a little humorous. Quantum of Solace was none of those. I like Daniel Craig as James Bond--he fits into the part quite nicely and provides a bit of change from the usual actors who fill the roll. Unfortunately, there were major problems with this film.

The central story of the film--a nefarious group of elite citizens manipulating global politics and business--was intriguing and could have provided an interesting movie. Somehow the writers and director neglected to develop any of that. The villain (I can't remember his name and don't care at this point) was poorly developed, as were all of the supporting villains.

The artistry of the camera work looked like a 10-year-old with a serious attention span problem was calling the shots. Marc Forster should be ashamed of himself, and I honestly hope he never directs another movie as long as I live. The obligatory opening action sequence was dreadful--I had no idea what was going on because of the camera angle cuts every second. It was the same with every other action scene throughout the film. It was enough to put someone into an epileptic shock. Note to Marc Forster: There are some people in this world with attention spans longer than that of a gnat.

I understand that the producers wanted a different Bond movie that didn't conform to everyone's expectations, but this just didn't work. It could have worked with a better script and director who actually understood the art of film, but they didn't go with that. This wasn't just a bad James Bond movie, it was a terrible movie all around.

Marc Forster is now added to the list of people who owe me two hours of my life. He joins quite a list with Joe Eszterhas for Jade and John Travolta for Battlefield Earth. Now, excuse me while I go out to find copies of Goldfinger and Octopussy.

Friday, December 19, 2008

For the Children

Last night Jia and I stopped in one the stationary/toy shops to see if we could find anything amusing that would make nice gifts for friends back home. I didn't find gifts, but I found something amusing for the kids.
This pack of candy cigarettes with its copyright infringement sells for 5 jiao (a few cents to you Americans). The photo isn't clear enough to see the bottom, but it says, "Good flavor every day." That's such a great message to give the kids when more than 300 million people in China smoke. Also, on the side of the pack is a government quality product seal (fake, of course). They also had some packs that were knock-offs of Chinese brands, like 888 cigarettes.

And no, I don't plan to try the sugar sticks that look like rancid cigarettes. I'm sure there's plenty of Melamine or other chemicals in these things.

This Old House

No, I'm not using this photo as a metaphor for the world's economic problems. I just thought this old, dilapidated house in the Fujian countryside was interesting enough for a photo. This was definitely not in the touristy area, although there were a couple of the wonderful Hakka tulou nearby. In the opposite direction there was also a beautiful view of the rice fields and mountains.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Community Development

Nothing brings neighbors together better than an unscrupulous business trying to skirt the community regulations.

For the past couple months, an old business has emptied out on the ground floor of my building, making way for new businesses. They're opening up a high-class tea house and language training center (neither of which are quite what most people back home would expect). A few weeks ago, there was a notice posted at the entrance to the building scolding the tea house for not obtaining approval for some of its construction, namely some new gas pipes for its kitchen.

The business was kind enough to poll every resident in the building (24 floors with five units per floor) on whether they should be allowed to construct new gas pipes in the building. It was a unanimous "no."

Yesterday, there appeared to be an argument outside when I arrived home. Jia later asked a guard about it. It seems the tea house doesn't care about our opinions (what a surprise), and is going ahead with construction. The building management is rather peeved, as are many residents.

This morning on my way out, I noticed half a dozen new security guards in military fatigues in the lobby. Not sure if the management or business hired them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bad Badminton

This weekend began with a trip to Futian district for participation in the badminton "Friendship Cup" that was organized by Shenzhen's foreign affairs department. I was told that this was going to be a fun event for foreigners. I'd like to state for the record that I was misinformed.

The group from my university included myself, one Chinese staff member, and three PhD candidates from Pakistan. There were 10 other foreigners in the competition--mostly from Shenzhen University. Not a single one of us won a game. It's not that we were all poor badminton players (OK, I'll admit I sucked, but some of the other foreigners were good), it had more to do with the large number of Chinese who were involved in the competition. We were grossly outnumbered by a group of people who appeared to spend all their free time playing badminton. They looked like they were in training for the national team.

Probably because they felt bad for us, all the losers got a prize--some cheap sweat bands that are made in Shanghai (I couldn't believe they didn't find a brand made in Shenzhen). To really make us feel better, they ensured that the sweat bands had the initials "LP", which we guessed stood Loser Prize.

Aside from the humiliation of being thoroughly defeated by the Chinese teams, we had a nice time meeting some of the students from Shenzhen University. It was also nice to talk with the Pakistani students--they're a great group to talk with, and I don't get to see them on campus much.

Friday, December 12, 2008

RIP Detroit

Although I'm on the other side of the world, I still pay attention to the economic news of America. In fact, the Chinese news is filled with economic news from that capitalist society I call home. And I get to hear all about how ridiculous the auto industry in Detroit can be. Even the executives' decision to fly private jets to DC the first time around to plead poverty made its way into the Chinese broadcast.

Now, after I've read the reasons why the bailout plan failed in the Senate, I can say this: Let the "Big 3" fail. They've had thirty years to reinvent themselves and fix their problems and they have failed miserably. I'm sure some companies in other countries will buy up some parts of their operations and turn a profit in the future.

As for the United Auto Workers, I think they're a bunch of idiots. The companies they work for are going bankrupt and they don't help them gain public funding by refusing to take a pay cut so that they would make the same amount of money that other auto workers make at Japanese companies that operate in the US. If I was given the choice between a pay cut and losing my job, I'd probably take the pay cut. The UAW is just as stupid as the executives that run the auto industry. You people deserve to fail.

Yes, I realize this is going to have a tremendously negative effect on the economy as a whole, but it's worth the lesson in basic business sense. The government does not have the responsibility to help every private company that took too many risks or made too many poor decisions. The American auto industry dug its own grave a long time ago.

The Great Mosque

This week's Friday photo is in honor of Eid Al-Adha (also called Corban Festival), the Muslim holiday of sacrifice that is celebrated by millions of Chinese citizens (thanks to Far West China and xiaoerjing for educating me about this one). The holiday was celebrated on Tuesday.
These photos are from the Great Mosque in Xi'an--just around the corner from the Bell Tower at the center of the city and surrounded by a really nice market that mostly caters to tourists. During my first summer I went through Xi'an with my parents. The Great Mosque is supposedly the oldest in China and is very well maintained.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


As the term winds down (we have a few more weeks before exams), students tend to act a bit different than they did in first weeks when they were new to their surroundings. It really isn't any different from last year--I just seem to notice it more.

There's a lack of enthusiasm during class and a lack of effort when it comes to assignments. There's also the common occurrence of students showing up late to class--which is amazing considering they live five minutes away from the classroom. Even with these habits they can't seem to grasp the idea that it could have negative effects on their grades.

I don't believe this is just a problem here in China--I've heard plenty of stories from the US that sound similar. However, I do think there is a problem here as it pertains to English classes for non-majors. Many of these students have experienced an education system that forced English classes upon them for the past 10 years. That same education system also told many of these students that English is "fun" and doesn't require any work. This has led to the phenomenon of the dancing monkey backpacker who comes to China to do nothing more than play games and sing songs with minimal educational value. It also doesn't help when institutions will ensure that every student passes the English class and moves up to the next level despite the fact that a student doesn't do any work for the class. And this leads to a mentality that every student will pass every English class at every level of education.

Unfortunately for the these students, it is possible to fail at this university. You can ask one of my students from last year who is in my class again this year. He asked why he failed. Turns out he neglected to hand in some assignments and did very poorly on his exams. He is putting forth a bit more effort this year.

There are still those who show up 25 minutes late and wonder why I count them as absent, and then laugh when I tell them they will probably fail the course. I have to laugh because it's the same students that don't hand in assignments, don't have books, and don't take notes. I can already count 10 students who will more than likely receive a failing grade (not bad when you consider that I have 300 students).

Fortunately for me, there are some students that take the class seriously and make an effort to do the work well. Surprisingly, this Wednesday's class, which has some of the lower English levels of my classes, has been doing quite well. Even if they can't understand everything or provide the correct answer, at least they try--and I appreciate that more than they probably think.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Where's the Design?

Shenzhen Daily reported that the city was named a UNESCO City of Design, becoming the sixth city to be honored.

After reading through the article, I have to wonder why it's just being announced today when Shenzhen was bestowed the distinction on November 19. I've also been wondering what this means. The article claims that Shenzhen "holds a solid position in the design sector...and reputation for novel practices in packaging design." Where did UNESCO get this information? Do they realize this city is the outsourcing center for the world and produces other companies' designs? This is the capital of counterfeit. Where is the innovation they claim to have seen? Maybe they were talking about the architecture--like the imitation European towns or foreign-designed buildings.

In the same day, Shenzhen Daily also reported that the city is the 9th most expensive city in the world for expatriates. However, I doubt the validity of the survey that determined this because Beijing is ranked 5th and I didn't think it was more expensive on my visits. Shenzhen is certainly one of the most expensive cities in China, and the standard of living is higher than many other places in the world, but I haven't found it to be prohibitively expensive. What are the 125 consumer goods that the survey looked at to determine this? If cheese and coffee were included, then yes, Shenzhen is quite pricey.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Shamless Self-Promotion

You can vote for me in Chinalyst's China Blog Awards.
I know this is shameless self-promotion, but it's fun. The award doesn't actually mean a whole lot aside from bragging rights--though I don't know to whom I'd brag. Just follow the link embedded in the award photo and click the plus sign on the left.

I'd also like to promote a few blogs I enjoy on a regular basis for your voting consideration (because I can be a nice guy every now and again). -- The blog from author Xujun Eberlein -- Another foreigner lost in China--though he's way out in Xinjiang.
EastSouthNorthWest -- Great news site.

And there are plenty more good blogs out there. Just browse through the listings at Chinalyst to find more.

To the Root

It's been a painful week here in south China. First, I've had a cold since about Thanksgiving--I'm almost recovered, but it's just lingering. And that lingering feeling tends to be quite common among what would otherwise be common ailments in China.

To top off my uncomfortable situation, Jia is in even more pain. Over the last year, she has had problems with her wisdom teeth, which haven't fully grown in. Today she decided to have one of them pulled--the other three will be extracted in the coming weeks. I have no idea what the painkillers are that they gave her, but it doesn't look like the codeine they gave me for a minor ear infection a while back.

On the lighter side of things, I have begun a new Web site on a domain I purchased a couple months back and have hosted on a friend's server. I will post an update on it and its contents when I can get the design down a bit better. Until then, you'll have to wonder what it could be (and no, it's not just a new host for this blog).

Monday, December 01, 2008

Blinding Reality

I was reminded by a post at Mutant Palm about the eyesight problem that plagues students today.

Saturday, Jia and I were walking around Coastal City before heading back to Thai Kitchen for dinner (their prawn lemon grass soup is really good), when she decided to try out some of the eye goggles. These things are sold to correct the poor vision around China. Of course, I don't believe any of it and neither does my wife--she just thought the massage mechanism of the goggles would help her relax.

As Jia experienced the feeling of eye pressure, I was handed a booklet about the product in English. The claims of the product are outrageous. It will supposedly correct the "false near-sightedness" of students--I guess that means all the students are faking it. My favorite line from the brochure was, "for people who work with eyes used most of the time." Well, that's great--I use my eyes everyday. So, unless you're job requires you to sleep, this product is for you.

And there's a nice video on Shanghaiist about the eye exercises that students are required to do everyday in school (teachers are fined if students don't do it properly).

Friday, November 28, 2008

In Between

In between the protests that have been going on for some time, I traveled with my parents to Bangkok for the second time in August. We were there just in time for Queen Sirikit's birthday.

It was interesting to see the Thai public's reverence for the royal family--though I already encountered some of that during my first trip to Thailand.

On a day I took to myself to sleep in while my parents toured the Grand Palace and some other sights I already enjoyed, I found myself in the midst of the celebration. On the way to Dusit Park there was a street fair with food, souvenir vendors, a band, and some minor political activity. Unfortunately, I got caught in the rain without an umbrella on the walk back to the hotel.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Brother, Can You Spare a Kuai?

China has been getting hit hard by the US financial crisis and the outlook continues to look grim. Jobs, particularly in southern China, are being lost rapidly. Economic growth estimates have been revised numerous times over the past couple months--the prediction has gone from about 10% to 7%, and could decline further. And, amidst it all, the government is taking action.

Beijing's economic stimulus plan as well as its rhetoric has raised the level of optimism among the some of the public. But, is the plan enough to keep the population employed and complacent? A little over a month ago, a major toy manufacturer closed its doors without warning, owing back wages and causing a furor throughout the country. Another in Dongguan has now closed, sparking a riot of infuriated ex-employees. I have read estimates that millions will be out of work in a year in the Pearl River Delta.

I have heard plenty of predictions as to China's future and economic downfall since arriving here. There were also pessimistic predictions concerning the Summer Olympics. So far, China has proved the naysayers wrong. And it may continue to do so.

This economic crisis poses an incredible challenge to China that it may not recover from in the near future. However, this same crisis may be just what the country needs to take the next step in its development.

Beijing is pushing ahead with infrastructure projects to improve the quality of life and to maintain employment among the growing migrant population. The central bank has also slashed interest rates in an effort to increase investment (though that is more of a short-term fix). Most surprisingly, the government is pumping 350 billion Yuan (more than $50 billion) into environmental protection--though no word yet on what this will include.

The hope is that the difficult times ahead will change businesses. The manufacturers are the ones will get hit hardest unless they adapt. I've heard a lot of preaching from the government about the need for technological advancements, but not much has been developed thus far. This could bring the innovation that is seriously lacking to the businesses on the mainland.

The entire 4 trillion Yuan economic package could change the Chinese economy for the better. Or, it may simply help the manufacturers stay in business long enough to ride out the recession and continue with business as usual in a few years, which won't bring about any long-term benefits for the public.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Menacing Copyright

Last week, Mr. W. gave us some delicious dried yak he brought back from his trip to Tibet. I was enjoying eating it when I took a closer look at the package. Was that Dennis the Menace in the top left corner? Were they using an American icon as their logo?

Yes, it appears that a little dried yak company from Tibet is infringing on the copyright of our dear friend Dennis the Menace, who is not in the public domain yet. Does Dennis really help sell dried yak in China? Does anyone in China know who he is or is he just another foreign kid to them?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Out for Thai

We celebrated my birthday with friends on Friday night. After our experience at Focaccino the previous night, Jia and I decided we should give the nearby Thai Kitchen a go. Their sign offered 50% off on almost everything on the menu (except beer, of course).

Just like at Focaccino, there were a few people in the restaurant when we arrived, but no one else came in besides our table of 10. Half of us had been to Thailand and were prepared for the Chinese version of Thai food, which meant we weren't expecting anything spectacular. We ordered some typical Thai dishes in the hopes that it would satisfy our dining desire.

We were impressed by the quality of the meal--it was very close to authentic Thai cuisine. The green curry chicken and red curry duck were excellent--though not too spicy. In fact, most of the food wasn't all that spicy (I might not be the best judge of this because I love really spicy food). There wasn't anything that we ordered that anyone didn't enjoy--we chose our dishes quite successfully.

Most impressive was the price for the evening. With five beers costing a total 60 RMB, our total bill was only 380 RMB. We were satisfied and had no desire to order more, but we were shocked that it was only 38 per person.

To put that price in perspective, we headed downstairs to 3D Bar on bar street. Their best deal is buy two half-liter Tiger Beers, get one free (each costs 30RMB, which is also the cheapest beer they have). And the bars on that street are wondering why business sucks.

I say skip the over-priced bars, but don't miss out on some quality Thai food in Nanshan on the 3rd floor of the Poly Center (AKA World Food Street).

Saturday, November 22, 2008


For the third time since I moved to China, some schmuck has been mauled by a panda at the zoo. Unlike the previous occasions, this was not the same panda at the Beijing zoo--this time it was in Guilin.

Let's review our vicious panda moments: in 2006 a drunk wanted to get closer and hopped the fence. The following year a 15-year-old migrant (presumably sober) wanted to pet the same panda--guess he didn't read the newspaper the year before. This year it was a 20-year-old university student--he was supposed to be one of the educated people in this country. The student claimed that he "just wanted to cuddle [the panda]." I think this kid needs a girlfriend.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Going Italian in Nanshan

Last night Jia and I went out to Coastal City and the surrounding area for dinner. We walked around the World Food Street behind the Poly Theater. This area is mostly inhabited by Bar Street--a group of empty bars that have mostly closed. The whole area is relatively deserted--it's still under construction and has been poorly advertised to the public.

The restaurants on the third floor seem to have the right idea to attract customers--special deals and lower prices. This is something the bars have yet to figure out (they like to charge 50RMB for a beer and offer few, if any, specials).

We chose to eat at Focaccino Ristorante, which has another location in Coco Park in Futian. Their current special is 152RMB (service charge included) for two glasses of wine, two soups, a large salad, two entrees, dessert, and coffee. It's a limited selection, but it is well worth the price.

Jia and I were the only patrons (one couple left as we sat down) and were given great service (which is why I didn't mind paying the service charge) to go along with our quiet dining experience. The wine was quite good for house wine--although it's not often I get to drink non-Chinese wine, so I might be biased. The caeser salad was wonderful considering I haven't had one in at least three years.

For the main course, we had spaghetti with chicken and herbs and a pepperoni, green pepper, and mushroom pizza. Both were great (and the pizza made a good cold breakfast this morning). And the freshly-ground coffee was a relaxing way to end our evening. The dessert was the only disappointed part of the meal--but I'm not much on desserts and we were both full by the time it arrived.

We'll more than likely return to Focaccino for a meal or coffee. The regular prices are reasonable and the specials make it even better. I'm tempted to try their lunches--there's a little more variety in the specials then.

A Little Birthday Ditty

I'm another year older and none the wiser.

My birthday began as usual with work and such. The only problem was that I was told I would have to take part in the recording of a video for the university--on the one day in more than a year that I decided to wear jeans to work. They rewrote the lyrics from the Olympic song "北京欢迎你" (Beijing Welcomes You) to fit with the school. And they expected me to sing.

There's are two problems with the situation: I don't sing and I can't read all the characters for the Chinese they want me to sing. My office never got the memo that I sing worse than a dying cat on morphine. Fortunately, they let me be part of the inaudible background. But I did get to lip-sync like a star in the opening ceremony of the Olympics for the video.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Review: The Last Castle

I don't recall ever hearing about The Last Castle, which was apparently released in 2001, but I couldn't pass up the chance to watch James Gandolfini and Robert Redford in a movie.

From director Rob Lurie and writer David Scarpa, The Last Castle depicts a military prison run by Col. Winter (Gandolfini). Three-star General Irwin (Redford) is sentenced to the prison for failure to follow an executive order that led to the death of his soldiers. Irwin unintentionally humiliates Winter, who looks up to the general, by pointing out that the colonel has never been to war. He then takes his time to evaluate the conditions of the prison.

From watching the other inmates, Irwin discovers that Winter is responsible for the mistreatment of the men. He gradually finds ways to irritate Col. Winter and disobey the rules of the prison. His actions culminate in Irwin's organization of the court-martialed soldiers in an uprising to take over the prison.

The Last Castle is an entertaining movie with a great pace to the story. The action isn't over the top like in most movies coming out of Hollywood. However, it still could've been better. There was an attempt to develop the characters, but it didn't go far enough. There was very little back story revealed about the characters, creating a lack of interest in many of them. The progression of the story was also a bit predictable.

Still, it's not a bad way to spend a few hours. It has enough talented actors to make it worthwhile.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The End Is Near

I told my boss I resigned. Though it won't actually be until March that I leave--I gave some reassurances.

As some of my readers know, Jia was given an immigrant visa for the US last month. The visa is only valid for six months, so she has to travel to my hometown before mid-April. This was a bit of a surprise as we just began the application process at the end of July (the consulate Web site said to expect the process to take up to a year). I signed a new contract with the university last summer because I didn't expect my wife to get her visa until next summer, when my contract would end.

Fortunately, my boss is taking it well and understands the situation. I've even offered to help as much as I can in finding a replacement. I find it slightly depressing that I'll leave a job that has treated me so well--I doubt I'll have such luck finding another boss as nice as this one.

After three years in China, I can finally say that I know when I'm going home--and it feels awkward. Aside from my hometown, this is the longest I've stayed in one place. I may not like Shenzhen, but it is still my home of the past three years and there is a strange connection that I have made with it.

Now I have to face the difficulty of moving to the US and finding work in the midst of a recession, while helping my wife cope with a new life (though I think she's better prepared than I am). I have confidence that Jia can find work as a teacher; I'm still busy finding the best city to improve my chances of gainful employment.

I'm looking forward to seeing my friends and family again, but I will miss the friends and pseudo-family I have here. Until I leave, I'll have to seek out some new adventures in the city I will leave behind.
Farewell my private office.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spilled Milk

What would you do with tons of Melamine-tainted milk? Guangzhou is purportedly looking into using the "milk" to make bricks. Details are not given as to how this would work, or even if the bricks would be of adequate quality. However, this does provide an alternative to dumping the milk into the rivers and giving the fish kidney stones.

Who says there's a lack of innovation in China?

I'm still looking for The Simpsons reference to Chinese having the same word for crisis as they do for opportunity. Until I find it, I'll stick with how Homer put it, "Crisitunity."

Monday, November 10, 2008

In a Blur

There is a serious vision problem in China. I thought I wouldn't have to deal with it after I was finished teaching children.

Apparently, many parents won't buy glasses for children because they think the kids' eyesight will deteriorate more. This created a problem in the classroom as I had students running up to the board to squint at what was written, then scurry back to their seats to write it on their paper. At least I was told about this prior to my first class.

Now I have the problem at the graduate level. Last year I had students who refused to answer questions, and when pressed to answer would reply that they forgot their glasses. This year, I have students who say they can't see the board or projection screen clearly and, therefore, cannot answer the question.

The irony of this situation now is that I write in large letters on the board and use 18-20 point font for my lectures. I can see everything clearly from the back wall, which is ten feet behind the last seat. Not only that, but there are usually three rows of tables that can sit three students each at the front of the room.

It pains me to think that I might have to fail a student or three simply because he or she isn't responsible enough to get new glasses or sit closer to the front of the class.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Dragons on the Wall

Two years ago, Jia and I spent part of our October holiday in Zhaoqing, not far from Guangzhou. This photo is from one of the few sights in the city, Dinghu Park.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

View from the People

With the election officially over and having watched the re-broadcast of the Daily Show's election coverage, I headed out to Carrefour for food (a necessity for most people).

On my way home, I stopped to buy corn from the sidewalk vendor across the street from the supermarket. His first question as I poked through the corn to find the best ears was, "What country are you from?" When I responded that I'm from the US, he congratulated me on the election of Obama. I was rather surprised that the common, unlicensed street vendor in China knew the election result only a few hours after it was officially announced (there aren't any TVs near this street corner).

The vendor then asked if I liked Obama. My response was he was OK and I liked him more than McCain. I wanted to say more, but I have no idea what the Chinese word is for "politician." My intended phrase would've been, "I don't like any politicians."

This should be a note to Obama that China is watching. For now, they actually like him. Who knows how long that will last.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Wake Me When It's Over

Tomorrow after work, I will return home and follow the US Presidential election until there is a clear winner. At such time, I will be sure to go drink a few beers to forget that this election ever happened. It's not that I'm disappointed in the candidates (I hate all politicians equally), I just don't like long, drawn-out elections. This thing should've been over months ago.

Looking at the economy and the price tag for this election year (how many years has it been going on?). While poverty levels and foreclosures are rising, our elected officials are spending billions of dollars on campaigns aimed at people who have mostly made their decisions months ago. It's still hard to believe that two people can spend more than $300 billion on a single election. To put this in perspective, the federal government is spending about $100 billion this year on education.

I urge everyone who is eligible to vote--I don't care who you vote for. But, I do encourage everyone to support election reform for the future because the current process has gotten out of hand. My proposal is simple: shorten the allotted time for campaigning to two months and eliminate all TV and radio ads from the political parties and independent organizations. There should also be weekly debates in the two months prior to the election. This plan will save billions of dollars, cut down on the headaches from stupid advertising, and force politicians to actually work instead of taking a year off for campaigning.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Halloween News

On Halloween, Shenzhen Daily picked up a few of my blog posts about my trip to Fujian. They also had some kind introductory words about me. Now I just need to start selling more articles for publication.

After that nice piece of news, Jia and I met up with some friends at Focaccino at Coco Park for a Halloween party. It was a nice deal: 100RMB for men, 50RMB for women, all-you-can-eat snack (including pizza) and plenty of Tsingtao. Not sure if we ate and drank our money's worth, but it was fun. My T-shirt was a hit, but since the beer was free, I didn't make any money. The best costume of the evening belonged to a foreigner dressed as Santa with an AIG undershirt--guess even Santa is having trouble with insurance now.

Friday, October 31, 2008

On the Island

The last day of trip to Fujian province was spent in Xiamen. Jia pointed out that there were a few nice tourist spots to venture through while we made our way to the city. It's a very pleasant city with European architecture that reminds me of Malacca--and some sections are being completely rebuilt in the same style, which is a rarity in any city. Unfortunately, the sites we headed for were overcrowded with National Day tourists--the Buddhist temple was packed with noisey people throwing garbage everywhere.
We decided to escape the crowds and take a ferry to Gulangyu, an island that is officially part Xiamen. The island was also packed with noisey tourists. After our time in the quiet fields and Hakka villages, we weren't ready to see such swarms of people. We were highly disappointed.
Wherever we went, we chose the streets that didn't appear to have more than a dozen people. We were ocassionaly successful, but it was too much effort.
Gulangyu is a beautiful island with winding roads and European-style mansions. There are quite a few museums and parks, but there is an entrance fee for all of them--so, we skipped them. It certainly seemed like a place I'd enjoy at any time that isn't a national holiday in China.
For anyone interested in staying on Gulangyu, I would recommend it. There are a few guesthouses and small hotels scattered around the island. Unlike in the countryside, the restaurants on Gulangyu have menus.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Blackballing Windows

As a follow-up on the outrage in China over Microsoft's anti-piracy campaign that blacked-out screens across China, comes today's Shenzhen Daily article.

It seems that some in the government are not content with threats of criminal cases labeling Microsoft's actions hacking. The lawyer who first suggested the criminal charges has now petitioned the State Administration for Industry and Commerce to impose a US$1 billion fine against the company. And the government agency in charge of copyrights in China believes that Microsoft should consider the price of its product when considering actions against the public that uses pirated software.

Both of these actions are ridiculous. Microsoft's actions only cause a minor inconvenience to users who are using illegal copies of the software. Why should they not punish the users? The users knowingly purchase pirated copies and, therefore, are responsible. And condemning the actions is also in rather poor judgment considering China's track record in dealing with international intellectual property cases.

I agree that Microsoft products are expensive. I have never had to purchase any because it has always come with my computer. China doesn't seem to realize that it's not just in China that Microsoft products are extremely pricey. On the Microsoft Web site, the basic home version of Windows Vista costs $99.95 to download (more if you want a copy in your hand). Not only that, but just a few weeks ago, the company had a promotion in China to sell its products at significantly discounted prices--a copy of Home Office had its price slashed from 699RMB to 199.

China also fails to realize that most illegal copies of Microsoft products are being used in Internet cafes and businesses. Home computers are very expensive, especially when considering the standard of living. This means that the people who own personal computers have quite a lot of money to spend to real software.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Real Difference

I've often had students ask about the differences between the US and China. I usually tell them, the more I look at the differences, the more I realize how similar everything is...and that's not always a good thing. Well, last night I found a real difference.

Mr. W. took us out to a hot pot restaurant for lamb hot pot. I was worried because the sign on the door advertised dog and cat. It was a decent meal, though most of the lamb was skin, fat, and bone. At the end of the meal we decided to take the remaining broth and meat home--there was a significant amount left over. My mother-in-law wasn't satisfied with the quality of the take-away containers (I still don't know why), and asked if they had anything else. This was met with the usual response of meiyou. Mr. W. jokingly said that we'd take the pot home. Turns out, we did. For a little extra on the bill, they gave us the pot and added a lid.

I found this amazing. I doubt any restaurant in the US would ever do something like this, even if offered the full cost of the pot. Sometimes service in China far surpasses that of the US (and you don't have to tip here either).

On the topic of service, there was a fat loudmouth at a table near us who was absolutely rude to the staff (and rather obnoxious upon seeing a foreigner in the restaurant). He called for the waitress and when she didn't immediately come running to the table he shouted, "What's the matter? Are you deaf?" And then proceeded to use a crude profanity that involved the waitress' mother. I hope the staff spit in his food; he deserved much worse.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tale of Two Temples

A wonderful site that we discovered on our journey through Penang was a street with adjacent Buddhist temples--one Thai, the other Burmese. Considering the long history of war between the two nations, I found it intriguing that these temples' gates would be directly opposite one another.

Dharmikarama Burmese Temple was our first stop, only because the taxi dropped us off on that side of the street. There are two main temples--the first had a long hallway with paintings depicting the story of Buddha, translated into English, and the second had a large standing Buddha. There were a few Burmese monks who blessed the visitors and tied braided yellow stings around their wrists.
The grounds around the temple contained more statues of Buddhist deities, such as Geruda, Naga, and Panca-Rupa. There was a set of bowls that rotated in the center of a fountain for visitors to throw coins in--each bowl was for a different prayer (fortune, health, happiness, etc.), my father and Jia both hit a few bowls.

Across the street was Wat Chaiyamangalarm. This temple had beautiful painted ironwork for the gate (also surrounding the Buddha inside). We didn't walk around much of the grounds because we were rather tired (and our next stop was Thailand and its temples). We entered the main temple, which had its guardians around the door. Inside was a reclining Buddha, much like the one in Wat Pho, only much smaller. Underneath the Buddha was a shrine for the remains of monks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Frivolous Litigation

It's been a while since China launched a pointless international lawsuit. The last one was against Jack Cafferty and CNN. This time it's against Microsoft Corp.

It seems that Microsoft has decided to take the law into its own hands to fight piracy in China. For those who are unaware, there are millions of illegal copies of Windows and Microsoft programs throughout China (I think the previous teacher at my university installed a bootlegged copy of Windows on the office computer). The new weapon in this fight against piracy is the automatic update--that little process Windows uses to ensure your programs run without too many bugs. This update checks the copy of Windows for the authentication code, and, if none is found, will change the personal settings--for the most part simply changing the background to black.

A Chinese lawyer wants to charge Microsoft for hacking into people's computers and violating privacy--a criminal offense in China. He claims that it's OK to go after the manufacturers of pirated software, but not the users. Of courses, millions of computer users across China also have their panties in a bunch over the loss of customizable functions in Windows. Even with the loss of some functions, Microsoft has not completely inhibited the use of the illegal products.

The question that arises is whether or not knowledge of using an illegal copy is considered complicity in the crime of piracy.

With an ongoing economic crisis and looming business closures throughout the country, one has to wonder what effect this will have on foreign technology companies' investments in China.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spousal Education

During my time in grad school, teachers and visiting writers preached about the value of learning a second or third language. They often joked about a line spoken by a few writers in the past, "The best way to learn a language is in bed."

After more than a year of marriage, and two prior years together, I can assure you that this theory does not work. Jia is a great Chinese teacher--her students say so--but I haven't learned much from her. She has tried to teach me Chinese, I just couldn't retain it (unless it was humorous, pointless, or slightly crude). However, there have been a few times I've asked questions and remembered what Jia told me. Still, it's rare that I learn anything from my wife.

Now it's her turn. Jia wants to improve her English. Her spoken English is fairly good; it's the writing and reading skills that need work. I've given her a few books to review at home, but I haven't even attempted to give her any sort of lessons. I figure it works the same way for her as it does for me.

I've met plenty of people who have lived in China longer than I have and have the same problem with learning Chinese. They also seem to have similar problems with spouses. I have to wonder, is it possible to learn from a spouse?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Country Living

One of the great things about taking a trip to the countryside, besides relaxing in nature, is watching the way of life. For the Hakka people in Fujian, it's not much different from years past. Many in the tourist-friendly villages now have satellite dishes, TVs, and other modern amenities, but they still have a lot of traditional ways, especially when it comes to farming.

Many of the tulou in Fujian had older tools and machinery around--some of it was for the tourists' benefit, but others were still in use. Unfortunately, the ones I took pictures of were not being used at the time, so I'm not entirely sure what they're for. I would guess most of their tools would be used for rice, as it takes up more than half their farm land.
I thought this shot was interesting because of the generations all together preparing the tea leaves.

Since most of the Hakka diets consist of rice, vegetables, eggs, and chicken, there is little meat in their food. Only some villages have land that can support water buffalo or other anmials--many of the villages are on mountainsides. At the first village we entered, there was a man on a motorcycle delivering pork to the families. He cut the meat on a wood board on the back of the motorcycle and weighed it with a rather old measuring tool. With the customers surrounding him, this was the best picture I could get.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Learning Curve Part II

After the miserable difficulties of early last week, I managed to end the week on a high note.

I had to teach two MS classes Friday because one was rescheduled from the previous day that I spent in Guangzhou at the US Consulate. Teaching the same lesson twice for an hour and a half each can be frustrating, but these two groups of students made it bearable.

In the second class, I had a few students whose English abilities are far superior to the vast majority at the university. Not only that, but these students actually read newspapers and understand the topics that I provide for discussion (this week was the economic crisis). This was much better than other classes that tell me they don't read any news, in English or Chinese.

The highlight of the classes on Friday was the fact that students asked questions. Some of them weren't embarrassed to admit that they didn't understand something. And, I was more than happy to simplify the points I was trying to make in the lesson.

Now I just need to hope that my other nine classes will do the same.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Assembling Food at IKEA

I've never been to IKEA or even bought any of their products. Until I went to Guangzhou with Jia.

Jia was in Guangzhou two days before me, and kept calling and saying how great IKEA was. I figured I'd check it out since I had some time to kill.

I'm not about to buy any furniture, seeing as my apartment (and every one I've rented in China) is already furnished. But, they had food. IKEA sold real coffee at a significantly lower price than Jusco (almost the same price as the big tub of Maxwell House I've been buying in Shekou). Not only that, they had blocks of cheese and smoked salmon at reasonable prices. I'm hoping the store in Shenzhen has the same stuff.

Jia also got a membership card (it was free), which entitles us to free coffee at the cafeteria. Note to IKEA: I plan on drinking a lot of free coffee in your stores. I don't plan on buying much else.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Learning Curve

Students are amazing creatures. Over the past year I've had some interesting encounters with mine--including a PhD candidate who originally thought the class was worthless because his English was good enough, but stayed in class because he found it useful (and his English ability was impressive). But, for every student that impresses me, there will be some that disappoint.

I only failed two students last year--one didn't show up to the last few classes or the final exam and the other just didn't do the work. The latter is in my class again this year. Thus far, he has slept during most of the class and neglected to hand in the first assignment (second assignment is due Friday). And at the beginning of the year he asked why he failed--I can think of a few reasons.

Then there is the case of the elitist students. Three PhD students who have not done much of anything in class except talk in Chinese. One of them left class to take a phone call for half an hour. I was going to make a sweeping statement about how it's rude to speak during a teacher's lecture, but they decided to talk through that. And so, I singled them out, thus making them lose face in front of their classmates. I went back to my office to look over assignments and found the three students whose assignments are of very poor quality--they didn't follow simple instructions.

A note to inconsiderate students: If you're going to be rude, you better have the ability to impress the instructor with your work. Otherwise, you'll probably fail.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Inner Circle

Fujian tulouSome of the tulou in Fujian have unique architectural characteristics. This was one of the last ones we visited on our trip, and probably the most impressive. At the center is a family shrine, surrounded by concentric circles of rooms (mostly for storage and livestock). There are various paths to go between the concentric circles, but only one path that leads directly to the outer structure--it was almost like a maze to walk through. I would not suggest this one for anyone who is claustrophobic.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Soiled Relationship

This is not a good week for Sino-US relations.

It began with the US signing a $6.4 billion arms sale agreement with Taiwan, which is never a pleasant topic in China. Even with pledges from the US to adhere to the "One China Policy," and whatever other propaganda slogans the Chinese government makes trade partners agree to in some manner, it still makes deals with Taiwan every so often (dating back to the 1970s, I believe). My opinion is that this deal doesn't even make a dent in the $700 billion the government just blew on the economy. I think we need to ask Taiwan for more money on this deal.

And today, a US judge ordered the release of 17 Chinese Muslims from Guantanamo. The 17 Guantanamo detainees are Uyghers from Xinjiang. China claims that they are from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement--an organization that wants Xinjiang to be independent from China. The court ruled that they are not enemy combatants and should be released--possibly into the US. China wants these 17 Uyghers repatriated so that it can imprison them upon return. These detainees claimed that they were in Afghanistan to escape persecution in China, and are now seeking political asylum in the US (not all that uncommon for some Uyhgurs). However, there's also a possibility that the US will seek asylum for them in other countries rather than repatriate them. I have no opinion on this issue, because I don't have all the information.

Just have to wonder what restrictions will arise for Americans and American businesses in China in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

To Roost in Shenzhen

The countryside must've followed me back to Shenzhen. This morning I heard an unfamiliar sound just about the time my alarm went off. From the 16th floor of my building, with windows closed, I heard the rooster. It sounded like it came from the floor above me.

After my shower, I heard the rooster at it again. Shortly thereafter, I heard the sound of someone strangling it. Guess they had to prepare breakfast.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Into the Tulou

We stayed in a cheap hotel in Shuyang (书洋), which wasn't the best decision, but we didn't know before heading out. We should've stayed in a guesthouse or converted tulou in Taxia (塔下) village. Taxia is probably the largest village in the area and is quite picturesque (it looked like at least one restaurant even had a menu). Overlooking the village is the Zhang ancestral temple, which is surrounded by dragon poles built to honor successful family members and provide aspirations for the younger generations.
I probably could've spent a couple days in Taxia, staring at the architecture and the mountains, but we had the day planned for visiting all the sites. There are quite a few tulou that tourist stop at for one reason or other--the largest, the oldest, slightly different architecture, etc. There were a few that were definitely worth stopping in, like the oldest at Yuchang.
Of course, after visiting so many tulou in Fujian in a day, it's easy to get tired. It's a good idea to take some time and wander off on the paths through the villages that aren't inhabited by tourists and watch the residents harvest rice and tea crops. And occasionally, a few water buffalo will stroll nearby.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

What's in a Menu?

The greatest difficulty Jia and I had on our trip to Fujian province was the food. We can always find food to eat, but it wasn't quite so easy in the countryside. None of the restaurants we tried had a menu. We were both dumbfounded--they expected us to go to the cooler, pick out what we wanted and tell them how to cook it. Now, we're not experts on Hakka (ke jia) food, so we couldn't just tell the staff what dishes we wanted. We ended up with some fairly bland dishes on those days.

At the first restaurant we stopped in, Jia looked in the cooler and hastily made the decision to leave. "It's all wild animals," she said. Apparently the animals in the cooler were cut up in any way, and sat atop all the vegetables. I'm just glad I didn't have a look.

Looking back, we should have consulted Mr. W about food as he is Guangdong Hakka and enjoys the food. Had we been prepared, we might have enjoyed eating a bit more. Instead we suffered.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Fujian Field Notes

The Fujian countryside is one of the best destinations of my three years in China (others include Jiuzhaigou and Xinjiang). I knew I'd be impressed by the unique Hakka architecture of the region, but I still wasn't prepared for what I saw.

Though it was a bit hazy during the morning of our journey, the air was certainly cleaner than almost anywhere I've visited in China. The Hakka tulou (土楼 earth houses) were more prominent in the scenery than I had expected--I thought there were just a few of these. These structures made of rock, mud, and wood were amazing to see from outside and inside. Best of all, the people were friendly and, even in the more touristy areas, not pushy when it came to selling souvenirs.

We avoided most of the crowds at the tulou as we departed early in the morning in a private car through the mountain roads. We weren't so lucky when we got back to Xiamen, where the streets were packed with noisy tourists for the Golden Week.My only regret was that I didn't change my camera settings and ended up with the stupid time stamp (with the wrong date) on all my photos. On some of them, I can crop out the date.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Another Holiday

It's time for the annual October holiday known as National Day. As everyone who works in China knows, we generally have to work the weekend before the seven-day holiday to make up for the time lost to time off of work. If you're confused by this explanation, you're not alone.

A couple years ago, I remember doing the math on the New Year's holiday. We had three days off in the middle of the week, but to make up for those three days off we had to work the prior weekend. So, really, we gave them time--we worked the two days we should usually have off in exchange for one extra day. I guess they were using the new math.

This year for National Day, Jia and I have decided to take a few days to tour around Fujian Province. We have a private guide and we'll get to stay in a Hakka village. I've been interested in seeing these Hakka Tulou homes for quite some time. This wasn't our original plan, but flights to Bali were a bit expensive for this week. I think Fujian will be a great substitute.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oh, the Irony

Jia has told me some stories about her education here in China. Usually, it comes up when she asks questions about America. Recalling the days of China's schools teaching the evils of the capitalist pigs on the other side of the world, she has mentioned some fairly amusing stories. One came up last year about how dairy farmers would pour fresh milk into the streets because they couldn't get enough money and the government would pay them to waste rather than have them sell at a loss. This was the story students were told upon seeing a protest photo from years ago.

A few days ago, I was watching the Chinese news and saw dairy farmers pouring out fresh milk. Jia said they were doing this because no one trusts the milk in China since the melamine scandal started. It didn't matter that this milk was supposedly melamine-free. She forgot about the history lesson from last year. I guess the irony is lost on China.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rainforest Rendezvous

Penang National ForestDuring our time in Penang, we took a day to walk through Penang National Forest, known locally as Tolek Bahang Forest. This is a small rainforest on the edge of the island with trails that go around. The signs at the entrance to the park do not accurately indicate distance or time it will take to walk through--we chose to walk to Monkey Beach, which is supposedly 45 minutes (but everyone else said an hour and a half).

We took our time to wander along--the first part of the trail is fairly easy, it got more difficult a bit before we reached a beach with a university that was a little more than midway to Monkey Beach. From there is was difficult to find the trail again, but we managed.

Until arriving at Monkey Beach, we only met one couple that was returning from the interior of the forest. Quite a few tourists take a boat to and from the beach and spend the day on jet skis.

The only downside to the hike was that we were not adequately prepared. It was, of course, hot and humid, without any rain to cool us off. We also should've brought something other than water--something with a little sugar in it to keep us going. But we did make it.

Rather than return the way we came, we paid 70 Ringgits to take the boat back to the park entrance and our ride to Georgetown. Ramli, the boat driver, immediately knew that we weren't walking back after seeing us soaked in sweat and downing whatever cold drinks were on offer on the beach.
Penang boat driver
I still think the highlight of the trip was watching the monkeys steal all the food from a scooter left on the trail, not far from the entrance. They did manage to break open the plastic containers to eat what was not meant for them.monkeys scooter

Monday, September 22, 2008

Buying the Nation

While the US is in the grips of a financial crisis and the government is busy with a poorly-thought-out bail-out plan, one has to wonder where the money is coming from. Of course, most of the money is coming from the taxpayers who are defaulting on their mortgages. The rest of the country, it seems, it owned by part of Asia.

According to China Daily, China is the second largest holder of US government bonds with a total of $518.7 billion, just a few billion behind Japan. Maybe the government should consider coaxing more of the American public into purchasing some of the debt it's creating to balance out what it owes foreign countries.

I'm just waiting to see who will buy the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe I'll print up some deeds and try to sell it around Shenzhen.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wish I Had a Golden Parachute

I am thoroughly disgusted by the financial crisis in the US. The financial institutions screwed up beyond belief. How can such companies be so stupid with money? I didn't study finance, accounting, or economics in college, but even I know what they did was inappropriate for any business that wants to stay afloat.

I am even more disgusted by my own government for bailing out these failed companies. I've read a few articles about this from liberal and conservative analysts, and they all think this is a bad idea. I concur. Why should the government reward a failure with billions of taxpayer dollars? An even better question is why would the government reward the failure of a CEO with a multi-million dollar golden parachute? In theory, if you fail, you get nothing. If I opened up a small business and failed, the government wouldn't help me. Why is it different for a CEO of a major corporation?

With an estimated cost of more than half a trillion dollars, Americans are left wondering what happens to them. How will the average American benefit from this buy out? They will be rewarded with a bill. And higher cost of living. And inflation. And...and...and...nothing. Now, if the government was a little more intelligent (please hold your laughter, I know it's wishful thinking), it could've used that money to repay all the poor Americans who are losing out. If that money was divided among every man, woman, and child in the country, we would all receive approximately $1600. That would be a nice gift to help pay mortgages, grocery bills, education costs, etc.

Who is the government really helping? Is this really a government for the people?

And no, I will not endorse either Barack Obama or John McCain. I doubt either will really fix the problem. In the words of Kang, "It doesn't matter which candidate you choose, either way your country is doomed, doomed, doomed!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lost Suggestions

Jia showed me a short Chinese music video today because it had some beautiful scenes from Inner Mongolia. My wife's comment was that she thought we should visit the northern countryside because she liked the plains and mountains.

I agreed with Jia's suggestion--I do want to visit Inner Mongolia (or even the country, Mongolia). In fact, I mentioned traveling there when we were contemplating our options for the summer holiday. Her opinion of the region at that time was that there was nothing there and it would be boring.

Funny how my ideas don't mean anything until my wife expresses the very same without any recognition of my previous mention.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mid-Autumn Follow-up

We're back to work following the three-day weekend for Mid-Autumn Festival. I was given a moon cake in class today--it's sitting in my office, where it will probably stay until next Mid-Autumn Festival.

For great commentary on the moon cakes and their brick-like resemblance, you can check out this post at GwaiLoDown. Very amusing site.

Moon Cake Break

It's Mid-Autumn/Full Moon Festival in China. Last year the government implemented a public holiday change to give workers the day off for OCTEastTeasuch traditional holidays. Of course, it fell on a Sunday, but I still get today off from work. I have only eaten one moon cake this year, which my office gave me--it was small and didn't feel like a brick when it hit my stomach, so it was pretty good.

Yesterday, we went to OCT East in Yantian district, near Dameisha, with Shenzhen Daily and a group of foreigners (and a few Chinese). We even got our picture in the paper today. The event was meant to bring some interest in the park, and we were given a tour of mostly the tea village--in part because it's hosting a tea festival.

OCT East is definitely not as cheesy as Splendid China, but it does have its moments. It contains a reproduction of the town of Interlacken, Switzerland, with Chinese characteristics (in other words, with Chinese writing and restaurants). There's also a wetland park, a bamboo forest, spa, and tea gardens. I think there's also a golf course.The grounds at OCT East are quite beautiful, providing a pleasant and peaceful day for visitors to walk around. Unfortunately for us, it was unbearably hot and humid, which made it difficult to walk around for extended periods.

OCTEastInterlakenThe Shenzhen Daily tour gave us a really nice lunch in the park, a little tea production demonstration that wasn't all that interesting, and a tea performance. Parts of the performance were really nice. Other parts included tea pots performing Riverdance and some aliens. I'm not sure what aliens have to do with Chinese tea culture and history.

It was still nice to get out of the house and see something different in Shenzhen.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Antiques Are Quite Modern

We were very confused at the sight of a few shops across from our hotel in Malacca. Unfortunately, we passed by when the shops were closed so we couldn't find out exactly what they sold. How exactly is an antique modern?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Long-overdue Review

I have finally finished reading the 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel by Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children. In the time I've read this novel, I've read at least five others. That's not to say that this isn't a good book, it's just that I constantly got sidetracked. I have previously read Rushdie's Fury, which was also enjoyable.

The novel is a narrative memoir of Saleem Sinai, a child born on the stroke of midnight at the time of India's independence from England--an event that binds him to history and to the other children born during that same midnight hour. The event of his birth not only binds Saleem to the history of India in a magical sense, but it also provides him with powers to pursue what he claims is his destiny.

The novel begins in a conversational tone, with Saleem almost unwilling to reveal the truth of his existence. He continues into the past generations of his family in Kashmir that affected his life's course prior to birth. He progresses into tales of childhood, including the discovery of midnight's power and the other children to whom Saleem is connected.

Rushdie writes a terrific novel that is culturally enlightening and entertaining. He incorporates a bit of dark humor to lighten the serious tone of much of the narrative.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Shaking in Shenzhen

According to today's Shenzhen Daily, Longgang has experienced 10 earthquakes in the past 19 days. The epicenter of these quakes is about a two-hour bus ride from my apartment, but I haven't felt anything unusual. Fortunately, all of these quakes have been less than 5.0 on the Richter scale. Does seem strange that I haven't felt anything like I did during the minor quakes a few years ago. The last one disrupted the Internet connection throughout China.

The hope is that none of these earthquakes become major ones like the one Sichuan (or even close to that magnitude) because I highly doubt many buildings in Shenzhen are built to code.

Monday, September 08, 2008

No Soup for You

I arrived home Friday afternoon to my mother-in-law introducing me to two turtles that were inhabiting my bathroom floor. I was definitely a bit surprised. Later, my wife translated the reasoning--my mother-in-law was told by a monk* on the street that he would take the turtles to a pond at a Buddhist temple if she bought them. I was quite relieved to hear she wasn't planning on cooking them (though I doubted that when I first saw the turtles).

As of Monday, we have a little fish tank for the two reptiles sitting on the balcony. I'm not sure if my mother-in-law is still looking for that monk. Jia says she found a local Buddhist organization that would take care of the turtles, but I haven't heard anything about that since Friday.
I just hope that they end up in a pond that's clean and not overcrowded like the one in Guangxiao Temple in Guangzhou. It looks like the monks are practicing turtle stacking there.

*There are quite a few fake monks in Shenzhen that go around asking people for money for their temples. Usually these "monks" are seen talking on cell phones and wearing sneakers. We've even seen a few eating meat.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Pimp My Royal Ride, Thailand

While in Bangkok this August, we stopped off at the Royal Carriages Museum near Vinanmek Palace. Most of the carriages were not all that impressive or fancy, which seems odd considering the King Rama IX of Thailand is the wealthiest monarch in the world. However, this one vehicle caught my eye--it's the royal tuk-tuk. Riding in a tuk-tuk is a very Thai experience, but it just doesn't have that royal appeal.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Dream of Blue Mansions

CheongFattTzePenangIn Penang, we stayed across the street from Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, an old Chinese-style mansion that has been converted into a hotel. We intended to stay at the mansion during our trip, but there were no rooms available due to the filming of a Singaporean movie.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion has been renovated in the last decade or so after years of neglect. It is a World Heritage Site, as is much of Georgetown. Since it's renovation and conversion into a hotel, tours are offered to visitors for a small fee.
Unfortunately, the owners of Cheong Fatt Tze do not allow photos inside (mostly so they can sell postcards and books at inflated prices). The tour itself was worthwhile because it traced the family history of the house as well as quite a bit of Chinese culture. It was the best explanation of Chinese culture that I received since arriving in China (it's too bad I had to travel to Malaysia to get it).
We also were told that there is still another Cheong Fatt Tze mansion in Taipu, Guangdong--not too far from Shenzhen. Jia and I have planned to take a weekend trip at some point to find it.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Review: A Million Little Pieces

I did not have high expectations when I picked up the copy of A Million Little Pieces by James Frey that my friend gave me a couple years ago. Those expectations were exceeded only slightly.

James Frey's A Million Little Pieces follows the author's recovery from severe drug addiction while in a rehabilitation center.

It's not that I have a problem with claims of lying in a memoir--I looked at this as a piece of entertainment rather than a true story. The problem I have is with the actual writing. Frey's work reads like a repetitive grocery list. And the format (lacking indentation and quotation marks) makes an editor want to throw a style manual at the author.

Style and format aside, A Million Little Pieces isn't all bad. There is an interesting story in the mess with characters that are slightly sympathetic for recovering drug addicts. However, readers don't necessarily need every single detail about the author's time in rehab. I really didn't care what he had to eat at every meal.

The book could easily be cut down by about 150 pages without losing any significant points of the story. Of course, seeing as it is a quick read, losing those pages would also save readers about two hours.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

New School Year Cometh

Tomorrow is the beginning of my second year teaching academic writing to graduate students here in Shenzhen. For the next two weeks, I get to have an introductory class (because my classes only meet once every other week). This means everyday for two weeks I get to walk into my classroom and say, "Hello, my name is Matt. I am here to teach you English writing." Or something similar. It's basically the same speech I've had to give at all my other classes over the years (including numerous demo lessons at the training center).

Of course, this year my extended speech will include quite a few classroom rules and hints in the hopes that I can correct the mistakes from the previous year (i.e. plagiarism, ringing cell phones, and other annoyances).

I have been preparing since the end of July for this school year. I know how I'm going to change my teaching methods and tweek my lesson plans in an effort to better educate my students and cut down on my own boredom. I will not, however, take up the recommendation from the previous 600 MSc students that wanted to play more games in class. It's graduate school, there are no classroom games. With any luck, this year will go much smoother than the last.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Betting on Portugal

Before we left for Malaysia, Jia and I spent a day in Macau--still one of my favorite places to visit, even though I don't gamble.
Casino Lisboa NightThis is the Casino Lisboa, the oldest casino in Macau. Because of recent competition from major Las Vegas companies, such as Wynn and Sands, the Lisboa built one of the largest casinos in the world right across the street from the original. I still think this one has more class than the new one.