Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Stupid Yahoo

I hate the new yahoo photos. I've been using their system for a couple years now and they just redesigned it to look flashier and more user friendly. The problem is that it is now slower because of all the new junk that has to load. To top that off, the last two times I have tried to upload photos, not all the photos upload on the first try AND I get duplicates of the ones that do upload. I don't mean that I get two of every photo--in some cases I have only seen one copy and others I have three. The ironic part is, whenever you select an option for the photos it gives a message that says, "Please wait whilst our hamsters process your request." I really wouldn't be surprised if hamsters were running their stupid company. This is yet another reason why Google is killing them.
I really would like to move my photos to somewhere else, but I have more than 650 to move.

Monday, December 25, 2006

More sad news

I'm sorry to say, the godfather of soul has passed away at the age of 73.
If anyone needs me, I'll be sitting at Green with a beer and my MP3 player repeating "I'm black and I'm proud."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's a little late to note, but in case you missed it, Joe Barbara died at the age of 95. This is worth mentioning here because I once met the man when I was 13. I was interested in collecting cartoon art, even though I didn't have enough money to buy much. But a gallery in New Jersey hosted a signing with Barbara and my parents took me to meet him. I couldn't afford to purchase any of the art at the time, but my parents graceously bought a Hannah-Barbara book for me that I got signed. I was fascinated to meet the co-creator of some of my favorite cartoon characters.

And an update from the previous post: no problems. Apparently, my boss was informed of class cancellations, but the Chinese staff was not. I've given up on thinking logically when it comes to business and education around here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Thursday I was told that all my classes for the following week would be cancelled. I was also told that I would have some project to do for the school in lieu of teaching. This morning, I was e-mailed a small project that required the use of my Internet connection at home (the school's Internet and computers are slow, inefficient, and rarely working). I worked on the project all morning (from about 7, when I awoke, until after noon). After lunch, I received a message from a colleague asking why I didn't show up to class this morning. I was a little perplexed and asked what he was talking about. Apparently, the oral English classes had class without me. My boss won't be in until 3 this afternoon, so I suppose I'll ask him about it then.
Stay tuned for updates on bureaucracy in Chinese schools.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hiking the Wall

We began the day at a section of the Great Wall to the west of Beijing. It was far enough out of the way from the Badaling section that it wasn’t crowded, but it was still touristy enough to be well kept over the years.

Our sorry excuse for a tour guide told us that we’d have ample time to climb the wall and capture the views. An hour and a half was what she gave us. I began thinking it would’ve been better if my parents and I had taken the city bus to walk the Wall ourselves--we would’ve learned just as much history from a travel office brochure as the girl speaking Chinglish gave us.

Mom and Dad didn’t look pleased staring up at the steep steps of the Wall. I knew they wouldn’t make it far before turning back. I took the bare necessities (my camera and wallet) and sped off ahead of the group. Unfortunately, I left behind my water bottle with my parents. That mistake cost me six kuai about half and hour later.

At the third tower along the Wall was a shop that sold certificates stating, “I climbed the Great Wall,” and an engraved name and date for about 80 kuai. It seemed that almost everyone stopped here for a breather and to head back down the mountain. I gazed up toward the peak and noticed the crowd dwindle with each step--that was where I wanted to be.

At the fifth tower, I was sweating profusely and a cool breeze was blowing past me. I stopped to re-hydrate with an over-priced bottle of water. I conversed with a European couple attempting to purchase a T-shirt. The gentleman didn’t realize that Chinese sizes run much larger. I explained that in the U.S. I wore a medium size, but in China my size ranged from XXL to XXXL. They laughed and purchased their enormous, foreign-sized souvenir shirt, thanked me for my help, and headed back down the steps.

At the sixth tower, I was exhausted. I met a nice university student from Fujian Province with limited English skills to match my Chinese. He graciously took a photo for me and I returned the favor. I was tempted to head back in exhaustion, but the student coaxed me into going further with him and his companions.

I took another short break at the seventh tower and began climbing to the eighth—the last tower I was convinced I would make considering it was at the peak. After a couple steps up, I glanced at my watch. I had only a half hour to make my way back down the mountain. I grudgingly turned back and hurried my steps.

Back at the second tower, I was confronted by an older Indian tourist who asked, "How much further is it?" "Depends how far you want to go," I responded. His son found this answer much more amusing than he did. I elaborated, "Well, most people buy their souvenirs and head back after the next tower. But I made my way up to the seventh." The older man didn’t appear to want to trek that far up the mountain.

I arrived at the bus just in time for our scheduled departure only to discover that we would be delayed by another half hour--enough time for me to have gone all the way to that elusive eighth tower.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

the source

I think I might've found the source of my problems for the term. As you know, I haven't been to happy with my job so far, and this is my second year at the same school.
Tuesday night was when I made the discovery. Most of the foreign staff works late afternoon to early evening. I work mornings. Well, they got off early at 6pm. We went to the See You Tomorrow restaurant. I had a great time with my fellow teachers and forgot any problems I had--I don't think I even mentioned anything about my job this year.
That's what's been bothering me. I haven't had the opportunity to socialize with my colleagues and blow off steam every now and then. This has led me to blow off steam in the classroom and office and forced me to agitate my Chinese co-workers. Last year I was able to have dinner with the other teachers about twice a week. There was even the opportunity for lunches. But no more of that.
I suppose now with the oral English classes I'll have enough time to vent through writing that the problem might get solved in a new fashion. Here's hoping.

slight return

It was a strange feeling heading back to the old department office on Tuesday. I was uncertain how I would be received should I run into any colleagues or students. I decided to head over at the tail end of the lunch break to grab my belongings that were no longer necessary from my desk.

My colleagues, the two who were in the office at the time, wanted to know how I was doing with the oral English classes. I told them I was bored. They'd missed me the last day and a half in the department. I promised that they could still call me and we could have dinner sometime. I even committed to playing basketball on Fridays with the Chinese staff.

It was then that two of my students came in. One wanted to return the books I had loaned to her. I asked if she had finished Michael Ondaatje, and she replied. "No." I told her to keep it and pass it along to another foriegn teacher when she finished.

The two seemed disappointed that I had left them. I assured them that it was not my decision to leave the section. I would much rather teach their classes. They sort of understood and expressed their distaste for the school administration (things I had heard quite a few times from different students). Even the girl who resisted my lessons on numerous ocassions seemed disappointed about my departure. I guess she must've learned something from me (probably that you can't always get your way with a teacher).

It seemed I had left an impression of sorts on a few students. It did make me feel that my job there wasn’t in vain. But then I thought that unless my replacement continued some of my lessons, it would be useless.

I suppose I should take solace in that some of the tough students who resist my model of education can come away with something.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Yeah, that's the word I'm looking for. That's what it's like to be a Jets fan. Just when the team was looking good on the field and approaching a playoff spot, they blew it. Well, there are a few more weeks before I can officially say they blew it, but this is pretty close. Hell, the New England cheaters got shut out by the Fish sticks. And the Jets couldn't capitalize on that! They've been playing well for the past few weeks and they blew it against Buffalo?? Someone needs to give the team a swift kick in the ass.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Careful what you wish for

Yup, sure learned my lesson this week.
Two weeks ago I was reprimanded for a laundry list of complaints stemming from my dissatisfaction with administration and the ways in which they handle matters of education. I mentioned at the end of my probationary evaluation that I would be happier back teaching similar classes as last year. I was told this would probably not be possible. So, I went back to my teaching ways and was doing a bit better with my classes and avoiding administrative confrontations.
Friday rolled around and I had another meeting that was scheduled less than a day in advance. I was told that no, it was not possible to switch me back to my previous duties. But instead I would be placed in the oral English section for the rest of the term. "But I don't want that. I'd be happier where I am," was my response. Sorry, too late. Well, now I have fewer classes and I'm finished at noon everyday. As much as I don't want to teach oral English classes everyday, I think it may provide me with more time to write. And my lack of serious writing since September had been my sore spot and reason for lack of enthusiasm and happiness. I suppose if this new situation works out and write more, I may be persuaded into finishing my contract through July.
On another note to the situation, I was again the last to hear about this. My Chinese co-workers all knew about this at least five hours prior to my notice. Communication between Chinese employers and foreign staff is usually pretty bad all around (not just at my job). But for some reason I have always been the last to know, even out of the foreign teachers.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I'm a giant

I had the adventure of finding a new cool weather jacket for the mild Shenzhen winter. Last May holiday I forgot my fleece on the bus home. So, I went to downtown Bao'an for a look. We first stopped at the Rainbow department store across from Commie-Mart. They have a huge floor of men's clothes and a half-decent selection. The only problem is, nothing fits. I'm not a big guy... 5'9" and certainly not fat. Back home I usually bought medium-sized clothes. Yesterday was a different story. I had to try on jackets that were size XXXL. AND THEY DIDN'T FIT!
By some miracle, I found exactly what I was looking for (a new fleece) in Commie-Mart for about US$8. I was quite happy. To top it off, as we were walking through the store, a kid who was about 10 years old looked up at me and turned to his parents and said something in Chinese. I found out that he apparently said, "Hey, that guy is from Thailand." I really think the kid needs glasses.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I shouldn't be surprised

Check out this blog for some great information on how the Chinese are learning English. If I can find a set of these children's blocks, I will buy a set (maybe multiple sets). Even with some of the bad Chinglish here, I think some of my students could learn something... maybe they'd at least be able to recognize a couple words here and there.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

My spirits were lifted a little this morning. I received an e-mail accepting some poetry for publication. It doesn't pay, but it's still a credit to my work. So, look out for Ink Collective issue #4 sometime in mid-December. I can honestly say that it's not one of my favorite poems, but at least I know that someone likes it.
As for yesterday, I sort of went on a hike with the Professor and my girlfriend and her mom. We kept walking around, looking for Nanhua Shan (North Flower Mountain). It's a nice place, but we got there too late in the day and it was far too humid. We made it halfway up before turning back down the steep steps. We were tired from walking around for more than a half-hour before finding the trail. We found a nice development in Shekou that was surrounded by forest. We tried hiking through that as we thought it was the mountain. The first set of stairs led us to a locked gate. The second led us to a notice to beware of vipers.
Friday was a fun time in Guangzhou. I went to the Guangdong Tourism Festival opening ceremony for the second year in a row. Jackie Chan sang again this year. The show wasn't as good as last year (not as many dragons and crazy acrobats this year). On the way to Guangzhou, we had to leave the school after third period classes to catch the van for the stadium to take the bus. We got there an hour before we were supposed to. Then the bus sat around for another hour or so before getting on the road. On the ride back, we sat in the bus too long again late at night. We asked to be dropped off in Bao'an to save us two hours travel time (one hour to Futian and another back). So, they dropped us off on the highway. We had to walk through the toll gate to meet the school van to drive us home at about 1:30 am. But at least I got out of Shenzhen for a few hours of enjoyment.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

another year

Another birthday has passed...
Saturday I celebrated early. We went out to Shekou for lunch at Amigos tex-mex restaurant. It was really good, but a bit pricey even for Shekou. We walked around for a little while and I broke down and bought cheese at the American store because commie-mart no longer carries blocks of cheese for some reason. That night, a group of us went to Face Alive down Qianjin Lu. It's still a nice place to go. We were treated to the surprise appearance of the big Jamaican guy and his band (and they opened with La Bamba). I was thoroughly amused and quite drunk. For some strange reason we ordered three buckets of 12 beers and there were only three of us drinking beer. I left sometime after 2:30. As far as I know, I didn't make a complete ass of myself. There were some great stories afterward about my friends who left later to go for massages (I won't retell it because it's not my story).
The highlight of the night was watching the videos on the projection TV. The DJ was playing completely different music than what was being shown. But the videos were the funniest things I've ever seen. The best was the one with the hot girl singing in sexy underwear while laying on her back. There were also parachuting babies dropping down on her. One of the babys' eyes turn into milk bottles as he looks at the hot girl. I wish I knew what song it was so that I could direct everyone to go see this video. I will forever be on a quest to find it.
On another note, work still sucks and I want a new job. Anyone want to offer me something related to writing and editing? I just don't want to teach anymore because the system here is broken. We had a meeting about it. One of the teachers was pretty quiet. Afterward we went to dinner and he said he couldn't say anything specific because everything was wrong and he knew nothing would be done to change it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

I have a lot to write about lately.
First, I spent the weekend in Hong Kong with my uncle. It was a nice, relaxing time for me to get out of Shenzhen and stay in luxury for a couple days. For some reason, there were more tourists than usual in Hong Kong--the Star Ferry was packed Saturday. We could barely get a seat on the ferry on the way to Central. And these tourists must have been some country hicks or something. They were taking the dumbest photos I've ever seen.
"Hey, take a picture of me standing in front of this English advertisement that I don't understand." "Oh, I want one with the 'No Smoking' sign."
It really was that stupid. I almost shoved a few out of the way so that I could move. Note to tourists: please refrain from taking photos in overly crowded areas that people need to use. If you must do so, please hurry the hell up!
I also finished my book "Anil's Ghost" by Michael Ondaatje on the ride home. It is a terrific book about civil war in Sri Lanka. It follows the lives of a few characters who are loosely connected and are brought together by their jobs associated with the conflict. It depicts the atrocities that were committed (and what is probably happening again now). I was thinking of writing more, but I'm not that ambitious today. My recommendation is: READ IT!

Monday, November 06, 2006

I should've stayed in HK

I took a short trip this weekend to Hong Kong. It was a fun time and it's always nice to get out of Bao'an district. But I shoudn't have come back. This is getting ridiculous. I really do hate my job. Where the hell is the communication that is supposed to happen in Tsinghua Experimental School in Shenzhen?

I'm talking about why they haven't informed me of anything. Last month we had a week of vacation. They neglected to inform me that I should be back in the office on Sunday following the vacation for classes. I was informed by another foreign teacher after the vacation had started. That was strike one.

Today, I was informed at 10 am (the time I arrive for my first class on Mondays) that I should put together an exam for my grade 10/11 class for either today or tomorrow. Well, considering their class was in an hour, I said I'd do it tomorrow. Then at lunch, I received a phone call explaining that I should create another listening/oral exam for my years 5/6, 7/8, and 9 by the end of today to be included in their midterm exams for later in the week. These exams that I should create should be worth 30% of the grade and take about 30 minutes. How the hell am I supposed to put together three more exams by 3:20 this afternoon (when I have my last few classes of the day)?

Why do I tolerate this? I insist on being told important information at least a week in advance. Is that asking too much?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Today at the tail-end of lunch, a group of Chinese women knocked at my door. I could easily guess what they wanted. They wanted to see my apartment. They always do. This is the 5th time this term that they have stopped by. The problem is, they're not allowed in the building. Of course, the security gates are all broken and have been broken since the summer. These damn people never bother the Chinese and they know exactly where the foreigners live.
I finally got fed up with this group. I told them they aren't allowed in the building and I asked one if she understood and she nodded. But she also started giggling about the situation. I told her this was no joke and I'd call the police next time. Then I told them, "Get the fuck out of my building!" and slammed the door in their faces.
Something better get done about the gates or these idiot realtors. This is amounting to harassment and I'm really sick of it. To top it off, it is the school's responsibility to ensure the teachers' safety in the building. And I'm still not sold on the security. The most they've ever done is stop a kiwi on his way to Hong Kong with his posessions.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The censors are after me...

Well not really. It seems China decided to block access to blogger again. I can still post, I just can't view. I hope this is only temporary. I can't post photos with my ramblings if I can't view the layout.
On another note...
It's a damn big beer. The other night, on my way home I spotted a big inflatable Kingway bottle (weighted so it never falls over). I inquired if I could purchase said beer. The answer was, it's free. But I have to now eat and drink at the restaurant every now and then. I just had lunch there yesterday and it's quite good. Plus I don't mind spending a little time there since the nice Kingway girl who helped me with my Chinese studies works there now.
Here's to gigantic beers I can't drink. Ganbei!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Postal Frustration

I decided to take a trip to a different China Post office today during lunch. I had to mail a card for my grandmother's 92nd birthday and thought it was a good excuse to get motivated and write a few other postcards for friends and family.
I arrived at the post office and there were only a couple customers. They all stared at the foreigner as usual. The guy behind the counter looked at me and took my postcards. He stared awkwardly at them; attempting to read them. "Meiguo," I said and pointed to the cards. He nodded and kept looking at the cards to figure out what they said. After a couple minutes he finally took out some stamps. He stuck 6-jiao stamps on each and asked for pay. I was a little surprised. I've sent many a postcard in China and they always cost 4.5 kuai, not an 1/8 the price as he was charging me. I looked at him and repeated, "Meiguo," and added, "feiji." (Translation: America, airplane.) I thought that would get the point across. He picked up the postcards and tried to read them again. He handed them to a girl standing nearby and she tried to read them as well. He showed me one of them and pointed to "USA" in my handwriting. I slowly and deliberately repeated, "Meiguo." He still didn't understand. He just went looking through a book for prices of some sort. I sent a message to my girlfriend and asked her for the words for air mail. It was then that the man found a bunch of 2 kuai stamps to add to the 6 jiao that was already there. He couldn't figure out what to do with the new stamps now that he used up some of the space with worthless, oversized stamps. I sent another message stating that this guy was an idiot. I received a reply of some Chinese characters followed by "show this to the idiot."
It was too late, he stuck all the stamps on the cards and asked for money. After paying him, he continued to try to read.
Next time, I'm using an envelope and writing instructions for the idiots behind the counter.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Just to add to depression...
I was walking home tonight after having a few beers and studying Chinese. I ran into the old Kingway girl and had a half-assed conversation in Chinglish. But it was nice. As I entered the complex of Tao Yuan Ju I realized that six months ago I could see the stars in the sky. Due to construction, this is no longer possible until probably 3 or 4 am.
There are a great many things wrong around here. This is a minute detail.

Bad Wine

They were selling wine in Tao Yuan Ju today. I stopped by on the way back from buying some fruit. I thought it was Great Wall wine, but it was just an imitation with labels that resembled it. The girls offered me a taste. I made a disgusting face and said, "Bu xihuan." They were impressed that I knew Chinese. They started asking me questions and all I caught was "Why don't you like it." I didn't know how to explain it to them. It was a dry red wine that was absolutely tasteless. It was like drinking red yeast. I was just terrible. I wouldn't even use that crap for cooking.
As a side note: the wine is Eastern Pearl. I'm guessing it probably uses water from the Pearl River (one of the most polluted in the world). I'll probably die in the next 48 hours from some sort of poisoning.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Homer Simpson voice: mmm...beer.
Yes, I found something different for once. I'm really getting sick of Chinese beer. My choices are Tsingtao and Kingway. Or if I want even lower quality, Snow. Or if I want to spend twice as much and travel 20 minutes on the bus, Xin Jiang Black Beer. But yesterday I took a trip to commie-mart. I guess they're emptying the stock, because it was cheaper than Pabst. Grolsch for 3.80 kuai. I don't even really like Grolsch, but it tastes different. For some reason that was the price for a 12 oz bottle while the big bottles were 14 kuai. I'll never understand the pricing here. But I do believe that when something goes on sale, it means they will never sell it again. If I'm lucky, they'll keep a few bottles of this on the shelves until I make it back to bring home a case.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

We were walking through Commie Wal-Mart the other day and saw an unlikely sight. Through the book section we perused, even though we can't read much Chinese. We came across copies of Nabakov's Lolita on the shelves. Not only is it a shock to see this book is not banned in China, it is also not banned in Wal-mart. There is no way in hell that Lolita would ever grace the shelves of an American Wal-mart store.
I was tempted to buy a copy in Chinese in the hopes that one day I could read it and discover if it's censored. My friends and I were tempted to stand by it and tell the Chinese customers, "Ni yao zhe ge shu."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I was walking to school today along the same route as always. I was just in time to see the primary school students performing their poorly-choreographed morning exercises that resembled emotionless automatons dancing in a marching style. Usually I find this quite dull. However, today I was listening to my mp3 player just as James Brown came on...I think the song was Good Foot. It was amusing to see the children exercising in time with the Godfather of Soul.

Monday, October 09, 2006

That was not exactly the response I was expecting.
I have a class of non-Chinese students (a mix of various Asians but mostly Koreans). I decided that I would teach a little current events after reading the news about DPRK's nuclear testing. I was quite surprised to find that, for once, my students knew what had happened before I even told them. Even more surprising was one of my students' reactions. I had put up a big photo of Kim Jung Il on the TV screen (and it's a huge TV). This girl came in and flipped him off. Not only that, she actually said, "Fuck you!" I've never heard her curse... or even speak so much during one class. All four of my Korean students had comments about situation and not a single one of them liked Mr. Pompador.

On another note, I just happened to glance at a little brochure from the famous Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant. The last photo on the back is that of the funny little man preparing to choose his duck for dinner.
I should note that the other three photos are of Henry Kissinger, George HW Bush, and Toshiki Kaifu (former PM of Japan).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Zhaoqing & Moon Festival

The vacation is too short. Of course, I had to work last Saturday before the start of the week vacation. Then it wasn't until after the start of the break that I was informed I must work the Sunday on the tail end. So nice of management to care enough to inform me. Perhaps I should've taken the extra day and come back with the complaint that I was not explicitely informed of the vacation days. Anyway, that's the gripe for the school at this time.
I did manage to get away for a few days in Zhaoqing, not far from Guangzhou. It's a nice little city with some scenery to admire. Of course, after seeing so much of China already, it was not impressive. Still, it's always good to get out of Shenzhen for sanity's sake.
If nothing else, it was interesting to see a different city. There are things in Zhaoqing that I haven't seen before--like motorcycle riders wearing helmets (except for children). I also had the experience of being lost in Chinese. I can do that on my own, but my girlfriend had difficulties. She kept claiming that the residents' Putonghua was terrible and she couldn't understand Cantonese. There were a few times I heard her ask the same question five or six times before someone else would come along and translate. I guess this is what I have to look forward to when I take her to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos (maybe not all of them, but at least Thailand).
As the final note, Happy Moon Festival to all. I returned just too late to witness the performances in the neighborhood. But I did enjoy the dinner, moon cake, mahjong, and beer.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fate likes to throw curveballs...recently anyway.
Monday was one of the worst days I've had in China. Most of my classes just sucked (general term there). And of course, my worst class didn't disappoint. I've tried being nice, I've tried being mean. Now I just don't care and they can sit in silence for the rest of the year. Bunch of spoiled rich brats whose parents sent them far away for school because they don't want to deal with them.
Anyway, as you figured out, I was quite angry. I drowned my sorrows with gong bao ji ding and Kingway. I was later accompanied by some other teachers. To top this all off, I asked around for good news or even for someone to give me a reason to stay and was greeted with only commiseration. That's not what I wanted.
I awoke Tuesday and checked my e-mail. There in my inbox was a letter stating that this woman had read my work on ThingsAsian.com and really liked it. She wanted to offer me a travel writing job for a major travel guide. I was happy again.
One glitch. I replied to the e-mail and was greeted with an auto-response from hotmail saying that it was undeliverable.
So, now I must find this woman. I have the address of the main editor for the publication, but I can't find any names. I just have to hope that if I e-mail the editor with the situation, I will finally be greeted with kindness and a reason to leave the hell that is teaching rich brats.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Rosh Hashanah & Motion Sickness

Ok, so this post has two completely unrelated themes... so sue me. I dare you. I'm in China, so there's nothing you can do! hahahaha.
Anyway, first I'd like to wish everyone a happy Rosh Hashanah. I had a joyous experience with Chabad today and yesterday in Shekou. More showed up today though (about 30 people). It's nice to have this community around (they're also helpful if I need any advice or business connections as many have been here quite a long time). It's also a bit surreal. Hearing the rabbi read from the Torah and looking up at the Chinese decorations is not something I ever thought I'd see.

On to motion sickness. At least I think that's what's going on. China is motion sickness hell. Just get in a taxi or bus and you'll understand.
On my ride home late this afternoon, I experienced the usual sight on a bus (well, usual for me). The young woman who sat beside me looked healthy enough. But twenty minutes into the ride, she didn't seem so well. Fortunately, she had the foresight to get a plastic bag in which to vomit. This is a much more pleasant experience compared with the past.
Once on a ride home from Dongmen, I was lucky enough to sit next to a man who vomited directly on the floor of a crowded bus only half an hour into the two-hour trip. And yes, I was sitting right beside him.
If anyone has any other theories as to the why the Chinese enjoy puking next me, please let me know. I'm fairly certain that I'm not THAT repulsive.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Who says the Chinese can't drink?
I think this guy came pretty close to the coveted Darwin Award for the year. I'm impressed that he even made it to the zoo and was capable of paying admission after that much beer. My guess is, he probably even drove himself to the zoo after his drinking time at the restaurant.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Follow the rules

I forgot I had this photo. It's a sign in the ecological park in Shekou District, Shenzhen. For anyone wanting a pleasant day away from the noise of the city, this park is beautiful with views of downtown Shenzhen. There usually aren't too many people, so it's not too difficult to find a peaceful spot to relax, read, write, draw, etc.
However, please obey the rules of the park. Pay particular attention to number 6.
I'm still scratching my head, wondering how exactly one would practice feudalism in a public park. Would someone build a castle and then rent the public land to some peasants?
I've been thinking of getting a group of friends together and holding a medieval picnic. Everyone can dress as lords and serfs. Of course, the serfs would have to give half their food to the lords who would arrive with nothing because the serfs would pay for everything. It can be a fun day for the whole family. Abuse the peasants and eat their food!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

According to a short news blurb, Hong Kong had an earthquake. This is supposed to be a rare occurance. As you may know, Shenzhen is very close to Hong Kong. All I have to say is, "There was an earthquake?" Was that what I felt sitting, watching TV? Nothing fell, nothing broke. After an earthquake, I'm surprised the buildings in this area of the city are still standing considering they look ready to fall apart after five years of existence.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I was clicking through the news tonight (morning for those in USA), and I came across some articles about the primary elections around the country. Some were interesting as I got to know some candidates from states in which I've never lived.
But one article struck me as a little odd. I had to read the headline three times to understand that Captain Obvious was most definitely working in the newroom today. (Note to editors and writers: don't be this stupid when writing headlines.)
The headline read: "Arizona GOP Primary Won by Conservative"
Really? I was expecting a liberal to win the Republican nomination.

Monday, September 11, 2006

China Lotto

It was a long day today. After my late class, we had beginner Chinese lessons with the non-native speaking students of the international section. Damn, it was difficult. The first thing we had was in characters, Pinyin, English, and Korean. But then we got to the book and it was all characters. Our teacher only spoke Putonghua and the CD we used was quite fast. I understood very little and managed to get one out of six questions correct.
After that I went with Winnipeg to dinner at Green. We sat to eat and drink and discuss our classes and such. His girlfriend came by, as she works a few doors down at the lottery office. She spoke with Winnipeg about business and the new game she bought that was selling well. He gave her 10 kuai for ten tickets. He didn't win on any. I figured this was my opportunity to cash in. I gave her 2 kuai. I won 1 kuai. So I got another ticket. I won another 1 kuai. So I got another ticket. I won another 1 kuai. (Can you guess what happens here?) On the sixth ticket, I lost all my money. It wasn't all bad. Six tickets for 2 kuai is pretty good and pointless. I supposed I could've kept that money and spent it on a bus ride to Commie-Mart.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

myspace is good for something

I decided to go on myspace to check on my state-side friends.
On the main page they had the preview for the season premiere of The Simpsons. I was in heaven for five minutes. There is no Simpsons on TV in China! I just want to watch it in Chinese... I'm certain it'll help me learn. Alas, all I have is season 8 on the bootleg DVD. It's a good cure for homesickness. I'm just disappointed the Aussie girl left after last term... she had seasons 1-12. At least I got to borrow that set for a few weeks. Maybe one of these days I'll come across more sets of Simpsons on DVD.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


That wasn't the best news to wake up to.
Yesterday I was tempted to get my ass out of bed at 3:30 am to listen to the Penn State-Notre Dame game online. I rethought that plan after spending time talking and drinking with friends and our Irish ex-coworker. Sometime around midnight as I left the apartment, I decided I'd rather sleep. I'm probably better off not having listened to the poor performance of my Nittany Lions.

And to make things worse, Florida State came back late in the 4th to avoid the upset. But everyone knows that Joe Paterno is still the better coach.

With this loss, PSU really needs to beat Ohio State and Michigan this season. Those are the only contenders for the Big Ten. OSU will definitely be the tougher of the two after they proved they really are that good with their win over Texas.

Come on Morelli, lead the team!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Chinese musical experience

Last night we went out to New Face Pub in Bao'an District (not far from where I live). We had to walk there from the club that we thought we'd check out (that place was far too loud and wanted 60 kuai for the three of us to sit there on top of the price of drinks). Anyway, the first band there played a couple English songs for us. The first being some Green Day song. There was something else that I don't know the name or singer of. And lastly, they played Bon Jovi's "It's my life." I don't like the songs they played, but I must admit they sounded quite good.
The second band was a lot funnier. It was a three man band--a big Jamaican guy and two Chinese guys. They played some boy band song in a hard rock style... I couldn't stop laughing. And to top it all off, they played "It's my life."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

They can talk! But they can't sing.
My year 9 students had a productive day. I almost threatened them in a way. I told them that I taught little kids last year and I'd be more than willing to treat them as such if they didn't start talking or at least trying. I was about to have listen and repeat time with them. But I guess I won't have to as some of them are responding. And all of them at responded with a nod or some minor movement of the head.
It's better than a blank stare.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Where's my classroom?
I think I should have that printed on a sign and hang it around my neck. Yesterday was the first day of classes for me. I got to share the other teachers' classrooms. It was OK considering there were no scheduling conflicts.
Today was a little different. My first class went terribly. I asked about my class. "You don't have a classroom?" "No, I wasn't given one." This led to me going to the head office and being shown a closet with chairs. No, I can't have class in a closet--there's no blackboard. I was then taken to a large conference room. As I was getting set up in the conference room, I was told by my boss (the nearest boss anyway) that this would not be my classroom. I can just go to the class homeroom. Well, where is that??
By the time I arrived and the students arrived, we had a whole ten minutes of introductions. Fun times.
It didn't end there either. I had four more classes that were delayed by trying to find a suitable classroom. And that wasn't even the worst of the problems...
My grade 9s. What is wrong with these kids? I can't get a sound out of them. Not in English or Chinese. I had my Chinese co-teacher in the room today. She told me I was talking too fast for them. But I continually asked the question, "Do you understand? Yes, no, maybe?" I never got a response...not even a nod or shake of the head. These kids are lifeless. I've decided to baby them until they talk. I'm going to treat them like my year 1 students last year. I will hold up flashcards and word cards and have them listen and repeat as a class. And if they complain, maybe they'll start talking. I even wrote on the board today: "This is a speaking class. If you don't talk, you will fail!" That didn't get any response either. I'm so glad I have other classes with students who can communicate in some ways.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

It seems I'm having more difficulty studying Chinese these days. I was doing great during last term and through the summer. But it's not so good anymore.
I used to go down to my favorite restaurant, Lao Chongqing, for a couple beers and read my Chinese notes. This was quite effective. First, Liu is quite helpful, especially considering he wants to improve his English. Fortunately, he's not leaving the restaurant, but is quite busy most nights and cannot help me too much.
There was the Kingway beer girl. She was very nice and helpful. She obviously likes the foreign teachers because we consume a lot of beer and she gets paid based on how much of her beer is sold. She would always come over to me and help me study by asking questions that she thought I could answer. She understood my level of Chinese was equivalent to a retarded parrot. She tried to correct my mistakes and understood my nonsensical gibberish. Unfortunately, she has moved to the Red restaurant down the way and we really don't like that place because their service just plain sucks. (Case in point: Friday lunch, we were given three dishes we know we didn't order and they wouldn't take them back.)
Just before I left for my long vacation with the parents, there was a very kind young waitress who helped me almost as much as the Kingway girl. Two days before I left, she asked if I would teach her some English. I agreed, thinking that she would also help with my Chinese. As with all good things around here, it ended. When I returned from vacation she was no longer working at Lao Chongqing. There goes a nice student who could've helped me.
It also seems that some of the new staff have taken a great liking to the restaurant. The problem is, they go around the time I enjoyed most for studying. This interrupts my studies slightly with a distraction.
I suppose I could convince my girlfriend to return to our Chinese/English lessons again. She's always happy to teach me more. And maybe this coming week I'll get to take Chinese class with the Korean students. But I know that class will be difficult. I hope I don't slack off.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

I made an interesting discovery today on a walk around the neighborhood with one of the new teachers.
We were specifically searching for small items that could be used to decorate classrooms. On the way back we stopped off in the local art gallery. I had never been inside, but I knew that the gallery provided art classes to residents.
After looking at the back wall of student work that was quite impressive, we heard a call from upstairs.
"Hello. Where are you from?"
"Wo men lai zi Meiguo," I responded.
The man walked down the steps and spoke with us. He was the owner and artist of the gallery.
He explained that this is only a branch gallery--his main gallery is in Vancouver. He's even a Canadian citizen.
We proceeded to talk about art and where we've been. He showed us articles and photos about his work and galleries around the world. I must admit, his work is quite impressive. If it wasn't so large, I might consider purchasing some. But what would I do with a painting that big? And how would I ever get it back to the U.S.?
Anyway, I've now discovered that there is a very friendly artist who is in the area part of the year. The fact that his English is quite good helps as well. The only other artist I know doesn't speak any English, so communication is difficult.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

I just returned from another new experience in my life in China. Huo guan. That's the Chinese name for hot bottle treatment from a trained Chinese medical physician.

This afternoon I consulted my girlfriend about the treatment. Fortunately, her mother is a qualified professional. However, that did not relieve my nervous behavior that comes with attempting new medical treatments (or any other new activity, such as eating, in China).

Huo guan is supposed to help with general health in some ways (I'm not certain of the translations at this time) and, in particular, it is good for muscular health. A trained professional is supposed to be able to recognize problem areas of the back by the color of the skin after a short time of treatment. The deeper the color change of the skin, the more unhealthy it is. The hot bottle can alleviate such problems through continuous treatment. I'm not sure if I believe all this, but I'll go along with it for now.

So, it appears that my upper back is more unhealthy than my lower back--probably due to the continued use of my computer. This is pointed out by the purplish color my skin acquired around my shoulders and the gradually lighter shades of red lower down.

As the spheric bottles are heated and placed on my back, it's an interesting sensation. It's certainly nothing I've ever felt before. The first few are place along my spine. The next are around the sides of my back and shoulders. They are left on my back for about 10-15 minutes. During this time it feels like the skin on my back is being stretched in every direction at once. It doesn't hurt, but it's certainly not comfortable.

The hot bottles are slowly taken off my back and I am given a medical massage. Chinese medical massages, if done correctly, feel a little like a beating. So, my girlfriend's mom beat me up for a good 20 mintues. But this is nothing new.

The beating... I mean massage, is followed by another series of hot bottles places around my shoulders. These hurt significantly more than the ones on my back. I guess it has something to do with the back fat and lack of such fat in my shoulders.

When it's all over, there is a burning sensation and bit of an itch in my upper back. I don't know what this means, but I'm sure the answer I'll get from my girlfriend and her mom is, "Huo guan."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Lost in Translation

Last night I watched Lost in Translation with my girlfriend. I have to say, it's a great movie. Really entertaining.
Too much of that movie rings true for me. I was laughing uncontrolably at many moments throughout the film. I kept thinking, "Yeah, that's how I feel sometimes." I especially liked the scene in the hospital with the doctor babbling on in Japanese even though the characters don't understand a word--I've had that happen to me. Even Bill Murray's character, Bob Harris, trying to communicate with people without the use of much language is brilliant. Most foreigners go through these situations.
I had to turn to my girlfriend and say, "See, this is how I feel most of the time. Now you understand." She just laughed. But I know she also feels this way around me sometimes, which is why I always have my Chinese-English dictionary handy for those times when she doesn't know how to express herself in English and I can't figure out the word she's searching for.

Farewell Naguib

Naguib Mahfouz passed away at the age of 94. He was the first Arab writer awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988.
A few years ago, when I was fresh out of college and working for the New Jersey Law Journal as assistant editor, a co-worker passed along a copy of Palace Walk--part of the series of novels that afforded Mahfouz his Nobel. I struggled to read through it while still working, but put it down in favor of other works even though I was enjoying his work. I just didn't have the patience or desire to read anything of any importance at the time.
I came across his obit today online. And I thought about the books I brought with me to China. One among the few I carried aboard the cross-hemisphere flight was the very same copy of Palace Walk. I suppose as I finish reading a passed along copy of Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje I should pick up Mahfouz.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Wrong numbers

I've had a cell phone in China for the last five months. I tried to not get one, but it is an evil necessity sometimes.
The problem with cell phones in China is that they recycle numbers rather quickly if a consumer doesn't pay the fees to keep said number. It seems all phones are just pay as you go. This leads to far too many wrong numbers (or maybe sales calls, I'm not sure).
I speak a little Chinese, but I'm not very good. I never quite know what to say when people call constantly. I used to just not answer, but that led to continued dialing from the other party. Then I tried just hanging up. It usually got the point across. But I get tired of it all.
I answer my phone in English with a "Hello" or "Yes." This is followed by the other party babbling beyond my comprehension in Chinese. It is at this time that I usually say politely, "I don't speak Chinese." And the other party continues to talk. I repeat, they talk. Finally, I get fed up and shout into the tiny electronic phone that never seems to work properly, "I DON'T SPEAK CHINESE!" And the other party hangs up immediately.
Now, I just wish it were that easy to get rid of the persistent shopkeepers who harass everyone with the same knock-off product as every other shop in the market.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Things are looking better today. After going off about not being provided with necessities in my apartment, the problem has been rectified. It took the efforts of not just my complaint, but that of another returning teacher. At least everything is improved. Although I still don't believe anything told to me unless I am given the same answer five times (and I have a few instances of this if you need to hear them). Even last night at 11pm, I was told to be at the office at 8:30 am for a meeting. That was the first I had heard of a meeting. There is no belief in giving 24 hours notice.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Traveling Photographer

I returned last week from my three-week vacation around China with my parents. We visited Beijing, Urumqi, Chengdu, Leshan, and Xi'an. It was far too hot--I'm still sweating. I took about 650 photos along the way. I will write some reviews and other articles about the journey. Check back for updates. I'll try to include some photos with the articles here. As an aside: If I know and like you, I will give you the address of the photos online as I sort through the massive pile and resize them all for human consumption.

Wrong Foot

This was not how I imagined the beginning of the new year of teaching at Tsinghua Experimental School in Shenzhen in China.
At the beginning of summer vacation, I was told that there would only be one apartment available for continuing staff. Fortunately, I was the only one staying for the summer. I took over a friend's apartment because he had Internet access that I could use. At the end of the summer I was supposed to move to room 617. As it turns out, there's a problem: the room smells like a sewage dump. So, I get 615. More problems there. Now I'm told I will not get a larger fridge to store all my food for cooking. Not only that, I don't get bed sheets or a quilt. Why? Well, they neglected to tell me to keep the sheets and quilt that I was provided last year. That was all I'm supposed to get. Thanks for telling me--I could've used that memo two months ago! Now I'm in the battle to get the school to pay for my new sheets because, as I see it, it was due to their own negligence that I don't have any. Until they pay for this necessity, I will call as often as possible with any little problem I have that I may be able to fix myself.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

China's Poetic Holy Site: Du Fu's Thatched Cottage

When journeying into China's Sichuan Province, the common stop for tourists in Chengdu, the provincial capital. Chengdu is primarily a stopover on the way to Tibet or Tibetan regions in the Northwest of the province. There are quite a few tourist sites in the city as well as throughout the province. With a history dating back approximately 3600 years, there is plenty to do in Chengdu. Primarily, there are some beautiful Buddhist and Taoist temples scattered among the expanse of the city.

One of the main attractions of Chengdu is Du Fu's Thatched Cottage Museum--a relatively short, 10RMB bicycle taxi ride from Qing Yang Gong Taoist temple. It is possible to walk and stop along in the stores and markets, but it is a long trek on a hot day. In between the temple and museum is a large antiquities market--a traveler should go early if the market is a desired stop.

It is well worth the time and 60RMB to walk through Du Fu's Thatched Cottage Museum. Even for someone who does not know the work of the Henan Province poet Du Fu or isn't interested in poetry, this is a wonderful walk around the park. There are many tree-lined, winding trails through the immense park that lead to bridges, sculptures, rivers, lakes, pagodas, and other sites. Of particular note are the many sculptures of the poet himself in different styles throughout the grounds.

The main attraction is supposed to be the believed remains of the original thatched cottage, which was unearthed in 1991. It was there that Du Fu and his family dwelled during their exile of four years to flee the rebellion of An-Shi. This is also the area where Du Fu wrote 240 of his famous poems--quite a few of which are about the dwelling he built. There is a replica of the thatched cottage according to Du Fu's poetic descriptions that was erected in 1997. It is a very simple hut with a few rooms and replicated furnishings. It was during the Northern Song Dynasty that a temple was established to commemorate the great poet.

If a visitor has knowledge of Chinese, there are many explanations of the grounds and other renowned poets who have lived in the area. It's also a good idea to use the map that is included with the ticket as the grounds can be confusing to navigate. It takes a few hours to walk through the park and museum and will take longer if you have difficulty finding the exits. During hotter weather, the grounds are well shaded from the sun, but there is still significant humidity. It is advisable to bring mosquito repellent as the ponds and creeks are breeding grounds for the pests.


Still Forbidden

Beijing's Forbidden City is still forbidden. Thanks in large part to the upcoming Summer Olympics in 2008, the major attractions are closed to the public. Everything that a tourist would possibly want to see there is shrouded by scaffolding--this includes the Palace Museum, which is quite possibly the most recognizable structure in all of Beijing.
It's not all bad news though. With the closing of the great spaces of tourism, the public is able to view other buildings within the walls of the Forbidden City that they would not otherwise wander upon. Of course, these buildings hold nothing of importance and have locked doors. They are also the structures that are in dire need of repair.
With the immense crowd of tourists wandering the grounds and the excessive heat of the Chinese summer, the Forbidden City became a waste of time and energy. Seeing as I don't plan to travel back to Beijing, as I feel it is the city with the rudest population in all of China, I was quite disappointed with the opening of my summer travel experience. As would later discover, the Forbidden City is not the only major tourist attraction that is being renovated--the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Beihai, hutong neighborhoods, and other sites were inaccessible.
My advice: don't visit Beijing until after the 2008 Summer Games. Maybe by then China can take down the welcome sign that reads, "Under construction since the Ming Dynasty."

Chinese Toilet Adventures

I have had many adventures, if that could possibly be the correct term, involving toilets in China. I know most people have similar tales, mostly involving the squatters.

One of my first experiences with public toilets was on my trip last May to the north of Sichuan Province. It was an excruciatingly long bus ride that included a few stops to use the roadside toilets. At all such stops, patrons were required to pay five jiao for the privilege of using these necessary facilities. I thought I was prepared for all of them, with their foul odors and lack of hygiene. I paid my money and entered the wooden shack. To my amazement there was a view in the toilet--and it wasn't a window. I peered into the missing slat in wood floor to realize that I had to urinate directly onto the steep cliff below. I looked around and wondered if the floor would hold my weight during the time required to relieve myself. Fortunately, it did.

On my recent journey through Beijing, I was out on the town with my new friend Ren Ke and his girlfriend. They wanted me to experience the drinking life of China's youth. This includes late night snacks and the less appealing establishments. I was told that the hot pot at this particular hole in the wall was the best, and I must admit that it was quite good. However, it required a stop in the restroom outside. I have never smelled anything so rancid in my life. I think the last time this restroom was cleaned Mao Zedong was still alive. I tried my best to hold my breath and not vomit on myself or others--although, vomit might be an improvement in odor. As we sat back at the table, Ren Ke tried to find the word to describe the horrific smell of the toilet. I had to teach him the English phrase, "That place reeked."

Quite possibly the worst experience I have had was a few months back when I was afflicted with the horrible intestinal illness that most foreigners succumb to during their prolonged stay in the Middle Kingdom. I grudgingly asked to be taken to the hospital as I felt like dying in my own comfortable bathroom. I was given the usual IVs of water, saline, baijiu, berries, roots, scorpions, and seaweed. To make my unsanitary hospital stay more uncomfortable, I had to run to the toilet. It was not pleasant. Squatting over a hole with an IV in my arm and little energy in my body ranks as my worst experience in nine months of living in China. It will take a real tragedy to outrank that one.

When I Was Cool by Sam Kashner

pp. 318; published by Perennial; copyright 2004

One would think that Sam Kashner's memoir as the first student of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University (then Naropa Institute) would be an entertaining and inspiring view of the Beat writers and their teachings. One would also expect Kashner to be a master of the written word--to write poetic prose as he was taught by writers like Allen Ginsburg and Gregory Corso. Well, one would be wrong.

Kashner has little command of the language in his retelling of experiences in Boulder, CO, in the early 1970s. Everything he writes is drawn out. One could attribute this to his focus in poetry during his time at the school. But he is a nonfiction writer. And his copies of poetry written during his studies are nothing to speak of.

In his acknowledgements he writes, "How good of Diane Reverand to let me grow up and write this book…and of Jeff Kellogg to adopt it after Diane's departure….Jeff gave shape to this book and saved it from drowning, more than once." I say, Jeff should have let it drown. Or the least he could've done was cut about 100 pages to save a tree. Kashner is beyond wordy. Most readers of this book would have some knowledge of the Beats and their work, but Kashner insists on explaining every detail, leaving nothing for the reader to do when finished. Most writers would tell you that you should write as if your words cost money; if that's the case, then this book was expensive. On the bright side, it is quick to read--but it's still painful.

His shining moments in literary achievements only come when he is directly quoting the men and women he admired so much in his youth. Most of the brilliance of the work comes straight from the mouth of Gregory Corso. Occasionally, there are insights into the mind and work of Allen Ginsburg, but you'd expect a bit more coming from his assistant.

Obviously, Kashner missed the target on his title. From the sound of him, he was never cool in Colorado. He was more like a whiner who only wanted to bask in the decaying glow of his mentors as they neared the end of their lives.

Review: Tsotsi

Tsotsi is a grim reminder of what life is still like in the slums of South Africa from writer/director Gavin Hood. This inspiring film shows the beauty and horror of the townships in what the viewer can only assume is Johannesburg. It is based on a novel by Athol Fugard.

It's a film filled with contradiction. It opens with the young gangster Tsotsi (played by Presley Chweneyagae) leading his gang of four into the train station to rob a wealthy man. They end up killing the man and letting him fall as the train car empties. This leads to Boston (Mothusi Magano) questioning why they kill the people they rob--he is obviously shaken by this when he begins vomiting. Boston is the only educated one of the group and asks Tsotsi many questions about his family. Tsotsi doesn't answer anything and only stares harshly at his cohort before beating him senseless in front of the crowd of the local bar.

Attitudes change quickly in this relatively short film as Tsotsi goes out on his own to carjack a wealthy woman's car. He shoots her in the stomach in front of her house gate and drives off in her car only to find it occupied by a baby. He becomes scared and grabs everything from the car, including the baby, puts it in a shopping bag and runs off through the fields toward his home in the township.

For reasons that the viewer doesn't quite see, Tsotsi tries to care for the baby even though he has no clue as to how. He seeks out help and even tries to leave his life of crime. He even attempts to sever ties with his gang while still taking care of them as friends and surrogate family. As much as he tries to change, his past deeds follow him through to the end.

This is not a film for anyone seeking a summer Hollywood blockbuster. This is social commentary more than entertainment. It is occasionally disturbing to see the injustices that occur at the hands of gangs and police. The moral lines are blurred and every action by a character is a reaction to the immediate situation and, sometimes, past situations.

Tsotsi was the winner of the 2006 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It is in urban slang of South Africa with English subtitles. The running time of the film is slightly under an hour and a half. It is rated R for language and violence.

I'm back... I think

I just checked another blog on blogspot today and realized I could view it. So, I decided to check my own and found that I could view it as well. I was shocked. So, now I suppose I will begin posting here every now and again. I hope I have a few readers who will take notice of this. I also hope that Chinese Internet will allow me to continue viewing my own blog.
Look forward to more posts.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Long Time Gone

Sorry folks. I just haven't been able to keep this blog going. It's not that it hasn't been fun or anything. It's that the Chinese censors won't allow me to view my finished product. Which also means I cannot view any comments left by visitors.
So, for now, I'm departing this blog. I have many other spaces online that you can view. You can find me at www.gather.com (I'm on there somewhere). And you can join that site too... it's actually a pretty nice site.
And for some reason, I joined another site that has promised to give me a few dollars for my writing that I don't care to publish in any reputable places... you can see some more stuff there at: http://www.associatedcontent.com/user/11276/matthew_lubin.html
Anyway, I'm staying in China for another year at least. Sticking with the same school. And perhaps when I obtain Internet access in my apartment, I will find a way to fix all my technical difficulties with the blog (as well as other sites).

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"A World Without Thieves" Review

“A World Without Thieves” (Chinese title: Tian Xia Wu Zei), a film from writer/director Feng Xiaogang based on the original novel by Zhao Benfu, tells the story of a con couple facing a moral dilemma while traveling by train through the mountains of China. The Wangs’ trouble begins soon after the opening in which they blackmail a businessman in order to extort his BMW. On their way through Tibet, Wang Li (played by Rene Liu) mysteriously calls it quits from her life of crime, claiming that there’s nothing but money between her and Wang Bo (played by Andy Lau). In her journey outside the car, she encounters the young and naïve carpenter, only known as Dumbo (played by Wang Baoqiang). Dumbo has just decided to take the 60,000 Yuan he has earned working in the town back to his unnamed village so that he can buy a house and find a wife. Their encounter is brief and friendly, yet profound. They meet again the following day at the train station along with Wang Bo. In his trusting and naïve manner, Dumbo is speaking loudly about the money he is carrying with him and shouts, “Which one of you is a thief.” The irony of his question is that his entire journey is surrounded by a consortium of thieves led by Uncle Li (played by You Ge).

The film is very entertaining from the beginning. There is humor and drama almost instantly. However, this doesn’t last long enough. The only dynamic characters to exist in this world are Li and Bo—everyone else is a basic two-dimensional character with predictable roles and motives.
This is a far cry from an artistic film. It does manage to have a few beautiful scenic clips of the Tibetan landscape as the train rolls through the vast countryside. Feng tends to over use the slight-of-hand, slow-motion images of thieves dueling with razor blades. It’s a nice touch when watching them steal wallets and small electronics from worshippers at a Buddhist temple, but it gets old after that.

It seems that the premise of the film is simply that there are three kinds of people in the world: the naïve, the thieves, and the cops. It is filled with escapism in all forms—from figurative to literal escapes involving moral and physical dilemmas.

There are quite a few truths to be found in the course of the movie. Dumbo proclaims that “People can’t be worse than wolves.” In his innocence, he believes that if a wolf won’t harm him, why should another human. Another truth to be told is, “This century’s most expensive commodity is talent.” Although it was said in reference to finding good thieves to join Uncle Li’s gang, it hold true for many other aspects of life.

There is nothing wrong with spending nearly two hours with “A World Without Thieves”. It’s a fine piece of entertainment and enjoyable. It even contains a decent amount of humor. Just don’t expect anything more than that.

On a side note: the subtitles are very good (unlike many films I’ve seen on television in China) and the film was nominated for Best Asian Film at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2005.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The piracy of Hollywood

Today I saw a news blurb that said the American film industry is backing a lawsuit by the WTO against Chinese film piracy. I have two views on this issue.

The first view is that product piracy is rampant in China. There are knock-off products everywhere in this country. They even have forged artwork of Chinese artists. This is nothing new around here. And China has been stepping up efforts to reduce pirated and forged products. However, this is very difficult in such a large country with enormous cities and secluded rural communities. At least the government here is making an effort.
On the issue of movies...

Go ahead an try to find a real copy of a Hollywood film. I dare you. It's almost impossible. And if you do find one, it'll cost a week's pay for an average Chinese citizen. Hollywood needs an economics lesson. First, China could be the world's largest market for films, if the industry understood the country. Second, there isn't a lot of money to go around among the average citizen. There are plenty of menial jobs here that only pay about 1000RMB per month. The minimum wage is about 850RMB/month. The conversion rate is approximately 8RMB to one U.S. dollar. Going to the movies in China costs about the same as going to the movies in the U.S. In Shanghai, the theater costs 80RMB. Now think of the cost of a pirated DVD. It costs on average 10RMB for one DVD. And many of those DVDs are of high quality. Here is the simple economics. $10 to a person in the U.S. isn't that much to spend on a movie. Sure it seems like it, but when you're making $30,000 a year it's not so bad. Think about a person making 30,000RMB a year (which is pretty good by Chinese standards) and paying 80RMB for one movie. That's a big difference percentage-wise. If Hollywood wants to make money in the Chinese market, it must rethink it's economics. You can't charge people the same price in different regions when the standards of living vary so greatly. I can guarantee that if Hollywood charged 15-20RMB for a movie in China, the piracy would lessen significantly and theater attendance would increase. All of this would mean large profits for studios.

And that is today's economics lesson.

Monday, April 03, 2006

idiots and rants and apologies

First the apologies:
I am very sorry I haven't been keeping up with this blog. I will have some movie reviews soon... I promise. I have been seeing some in China. I will probably try to write a couple short ones of "Good night, and good luck" and "Walk the line". Here's the preview: positive.
Also, if anyone is interested in seeing photos of China (I have been to Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Guilin, Yangshuo, Shanghai, and Zhouzhuang), let me know and I'll send you a link or something.
On the rant end:
I recently received this anonymous e-mail about my blog. I think this refers to my little observance of a performance in Shenzhen catering to foreigners and the terrible translations that we were provided. The person who sent the e-mail must be more of a pompous jackass than I am without a sense of humor. All I have to say is, "the sauce explodes the chicken rabbit." (Credit must be given to the Yangshuo dumpling restaurant for that one.) And I have a few dozen other really funny translations for you... some others weren't even put into English--like the sign that said, in Chinese, something about selling "stupid chicken and duck".
This is unedited from the e-mail.
Re: your blog, Dec. 27 The English program made no sense? Have you ever considered that English is a foreign language in China? You should be thankful that the event organizers even made an attempt to use English. They didn't have to. An attempt was made to communicate with you and you critiized it. You're not in Kansas anymore. Should the world bow down to you and your language. Are you that important?