Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Heating Up

It's still February, right? 

Yesterday was a rather hot and humid day at 29 degrees Celcius (84 Fahrenheit) in Shenzhen. The forecast is for more of the same today. 
I recall not having weather this warm until at least the end of March. Most places don't turn on the air conditioning until the end of April or start of May.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Return to Campus

Yesterday I headed back to campus to drop off some graded exams and do a little more administrative work before I leave. My boss was on the bus to the university in the morning and we chatted briefly, but mostly I stared out the window at the daily routine of the last year and half. A bit of it had changed over the five weeks since the last term ended--new construction and colors on the trees lining the streets. It was mostly stuff I rarely noticed at 8 in the morning.

I spent the morning talking with the office staff and giving them small gifts I brought back from Bali. They asked me about plans and when I was leaving China. For lunch I went out with the new teacher to the Lanzhou noodle restaurant--he was impressed that I could read the menu.

Later in the day, one of my co-workers came to talk to me as I was in the other teacher's office. She said that they wanted to take Jia and me out for dinner this weekend. Of course I accepted the invitation.

Having co-workers like this makes me feel bad about leaving--it's rare to have such a wonderful work environment. Now I'm still searching for jobs all over the US and hoping that I find something that can match my experience at the university.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

School Days

I've heard plenty of horror stories about teaching in China. While I was a bit miserable at my first school here, it pales in comparison to the two in the news.

The first case is of a 15-year-old girl who is being told to leave her school because she's too fat. Judging by the name of the institution, it is most likely a private school that focuses on money and student/parent satisfaction rather than actual education and discipline. There's no mention of other fat students at the school (I saw plenty when I taught in a private school). Maybe next year the school will post a notice that reads, "No fat chicks!"

The second portrays the pressure on university students in China. A student was kicked out of university for poor grades (not uncommon in the better universities around China), and further shamed by his father. So, he tried to kill the first teacher he came across and then attempted suicide. Fortunately, he also failed at murder and suicide.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Economic Wonders

From the Shanghai Daily comes the tale of a woman who drove a car off a cliff, killing her and injuring five others. And the reason was oddly connected to the economy.

It seems the young woman was one of five mistresses to a married businessman. Due to the economic climate, he was forced to lay off these expensive ladies, but decided he could at least afford to keep one. This brought about a contest to see who was the best mistress (not too many details as to what this contest involved, though appearance and drinking skills were up there).

This whole ordeal should serve as a lesson to everyone to avoid getting in the car with the loser of a best mistress contest behind the wheel.

UPDATE: The original article was found to be fabricated and plagiarized. Supposedly, a similar incident occurred elsewhere in China and a lazy reporter changed the location and details.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine Lights

I learned some new Chinese last night (it's amazing that I can actually learn something from my wife). I mentioned seeing a lot of third wheels on Valentine's Day. Jia didn't understand that phrase and I had to explain it. She told me in Chinese it's 电灯泡 (dian(4) deng(1) pao(4)), or light bulb. I thought about for a minute to wonder why they'd use this, and I realized it was a very amusing way to describe the situation. No matter where the lovers go, the light is always on because of the 电灯泡.

Feelin' Fishy

Last night Jia and I headed out for Valentine's dinner. We figured we could find something at Coastal City (海岸城) and the surrounding area (and if all else failed, we could walk over to Seattle Cafe behind the Holiday Inn Donghua). Giving Jia the choice of restaurants, she decided we should have Japanese. There are three sushi restaurants and one Japanese noodle restaurant on the food street in the middle of Coastal City--we settled on the one in the back, Sushifu Sushi, as it appeared to be the least crowded.

I knew this was a good restaurant because some friends have been there before. It was less crowded than the others because it was further from the entrance and slightly hidden around a corner. We only had to wait about 15 minutes for a seat. 

We went all out on ordering (though we skipped the sake)--the medium sushi platter, the small set meal, and a bowl of spicy seafood noodle soup (which for some reason also had meat). Most of the sushi was really good--the salmon was better than most places I've tried around Shenzhen. There was the piece that tasted like a rubber fish, and I'm not a big fan of the fruit-filled dessert roll. The set included a large bowl of salmon fried rice (excellent), a salmon hand roll, tuna sushi, and a grilled fish for 68 RMB. The seafood noodle soup was nothing special, but it would make a good lunch for the price.

It wasn't the quiet dinner out we were hoping for, but we would have never found a place like that last night in our area. Sushifu would definitely be a better restaurant for a larger group to share in the variety.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Review: Changeling

While not as entertaining as Slumdog Millionaire, Changeling is an interesting film to watch...if you have the patience. Clocking in at 141 minutes (still shorter than Benjamin Button), Changeling is a lengthy depiction of Los Angeles in the late 1920s. Based on real events, it is a worthwhile piece of historical fiction.

The film follows three plot lines that intersect--the disappearance of nine-year-old Walter Collins, the corruption and ineptitude of the LAPD, and the gruesome crimes committed by Gordon Northcott. Angelina Jolie gives an excellent performance as Christine Collins, the distressed single mother of Walter. Director Clint Eastwood does a better job in Changeling than he did with Million Dollar Baby, which I found predictable and dull.

Had Eastwood or writer J. Michael Straczynski cut some of the mundane dialogue from the script, this film would have been twenty minutes shorter and more entertaining.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On Writing

I've come to the conclusion that I can't write at home (at least nothing more than blog posts or articles). This is nothing new, I just have to remind myself of this every now and then.

Last week I went out for a long walk around the neighborhood--I've discovered that I'm bored with this area--and took an extended rest at the Xinjiang restaurant. I managed to start writing a new story within minutes of sitting down and ordering a beer. And this same thing happened last night (although it was poetry rather than a story).

This certainly dates back to my time in Boulder, CO, and the time I spent working on my creative dissertation at the sake bar. I quickly discovered that this habit only worked if I had one or two drinks--anything more turned my writing to garbage.

With my discovery (OK, it's just a reminder to myself) I will most likely spend the better part of my last four weeks in this city taking short walks that will end at the Xinjiang restaurant with a bottle of Tsingtao.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

No Significant Differences

Every time I look at the differences between China and the US, I realize that there really aren't any. While we all derided the behavior of Sanlu and other dairy companies for killing babies with Melamine-tainted milk powder we were also criticizing the Chinese government for not doing its job to ensure the safety of its people. Everyone, Chinese citizens included, was rightfully outraged.

Now, the same thing is happening in the US. Nine people are dead and 600 are ill with salmonella because a greedy bastard at a peanut factory didn't give a damn about the public and his responsibility as an executive. He has pleaded the fifth during Congressional hearings, thus implying his own guilt.

We should thank Stewart Parnell for showing the world that the US is no better than China when it comes to food safety. Now Parnell can take his place along with the Sanlu executives. Maybe the US should consider throwing him in a Chinese prison with those assholes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review: Red Gold

In Nazi-occupied Paris, the people attempt to survive any way they can--some cooperating with the Germans and others resisting. Alan Furst's work of historical fiction, Red Gold, takes place between September 18, 1941, and April 8, 1942. It follows the life of former film producer Jean-Claude Casson who is a fugitive after escaping from a Gestapo prison. 

Casson, who has taken on the identity of Jean Marin with the assistance of fake papers, lives day to day in Paris on what little money he can make. He finds opportunity in working for the French resistence through connections in his former life. The former French military wants to form an alliance with the communists who have begun to resist the German occupation since they broke their treaty with Stalin. Casson joins in the operations because he feels he has nothing else to lose.

Red Gold reads like a 1950s film noir, but it's more interesting than that. The details of Paris and the history of World War II that Furst includes makes this novel more intriguing to readers. Other than Casson, the characters seem like nothing more than silhouettes on the background of history--their only purpose is to move Casson through each day, either in a helpful manner or by creating a greater burden on his life.

While Red Gold is not on the list of great books that I've read in recent years, it is entertaining. It's a pleasant leisurely read that provides an interesting perspective of history.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Light the Way

Today is the Lantern Festival (元宵节, yuan xiao jie), which signals the end of Spring Festival. We'll be having dinner at Jia's taichi teacher's home. Should be interesting foodwise since she's Taiwanese and she spent quite a bit of time in Singapore before moving to Shenzhen. 

I'm hoping that after tonight the fireworks will finally stop. It's been 15 days and I've heard enough fireworks in the middle of the night.

This is an old photo from a previous Lantern Festival. I'll try to get a new one tonight.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

On the Ocean

I had my first glimpse of the Indian Ocean on the first day in Bali. The waves were huge, crashing against the coast at Tanah Lot. The name of this Hindu temple means land in the middle of the sea--very appropriate for the island temple. The site is supposedly about 400 years old.

This stop on the tour was the highlight as it was one of only three cultural sites we visited until our final day, which we used for a private tour of more interesting things. Like Uluwatu, Tanah Lot is must-see for visitors to Bali. The sunset can be wonderful. However, the views can be a bit more crowded than those at Uluwatu, making photos a bit more difficult to come by. There is also a shopping area there for touristy souvenirs at lower prices than at the market in Ubud.

If you look closely at the bottom right of the photo, there's someone swimming.

We were told that only Hindu worshippers could enter the main temple, which is only accessible at low tide. I have not confirmed this, it may have just been a ploy by our guide to ensure that we didn't spend too much time there when we could've been spending money for him to make a commission. He did, however, neglect to inform us that poisonous snakes guard the temple, which might be a reason to not attempt to enter.

A sign near the temple says that the Japanese government has been involved in restoration and preservation work at Tanah Lot.

On the way out to our tour bus, we found a field with empty coconut shells neatly set.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Slumming It

Slumdog Millionaire is worthy of the acclaim it has received. The story, acting, and directing of the film are all well executed. Aside from a few scenes in which the audience really needs to suspend its belief in reality, the film does an exellent job of entertaining the public as well as portraying the life of poverty in India.

The film follows the story of Jamal (Dev Patel), an 18-year-old from the slums of Mumbai, as he tries to reunite with his lost love from childhood, Latika (Freida Pinto). To find a connection with her, he manages to get on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? because he knows she'll watch it. The story is told in flashbacks in relation to how an uneducated young man like Jamal knows the answers to the questions.

Director Danny Boyle and co-director Loveleen Tandan do an excellent job of showing the horrors of life as child beggars under the control of a man exploiting their situation. Fortunately, they also add in some comic relief to lighten to mood a depressing life in the slums.

Slumdog Millionaire is definitely Oscar-worthy. While Benjamin Button may be a wonder film, this one is better and should win for best picture.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Super Morning

I woke up bright and early (OK, it wasn't bright at 6am) to catch the Super Bowl. I figured I'd watch most of the first half online and then head to Shekou to meet a friend at a bar for the rest. 

I went to the site I used for the Rose Bowl last month since it was a success (the broadcast, not the game that I'm still grumbling about). To my horror, the Web address was being re-routed to a .cn domain, which means the channels I potentially want to watch are censored. With that I checked the good ol' TV, which had ESPN (I had no idea I got that). As it was prior to the game, they were showing women's billiards. 

Off I went to Shekou. I arrived just in time for kick-off. Unfortunately, they had the British feed of ESPN--it lacked the most important part of any Super Bowl: the commercials. But, it was still nice to talk with my friend, and the game turned into a good one by the fourth quarter.

In other news, stupidity runs rampant in Fujian province. That should've been the headline. It seems a group of brain-dead baijiu swillers decided to celebrate a friend's birthday by setting off fireworks from their table in a bar. At least seven of said morons are still alive and in police custody. But, 17 people did die in the resulting blaze.

And closer to home, authorities are asking people to not send up balloons or sky laterns near the airport as it could cause a plane to crash. People think that the authorities are exaggerating. Vendors near the airport see nothing wrong with selling these products to people who have no concern for safety.