Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy New Year from RIAA

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I hate Boston

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

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

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

Friday, December 28, 2007

Woohoo! Four-Day Weekend!

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

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

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chinese Non-Xmas

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

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

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

Well, Merry Christmas to my Christian friends out there.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Two for One Movie Review

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

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2007

Long, Fun Night

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

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

To Teach the Trees

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Best Dollar Beer Yet

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

Happy drinking!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Weekend Wanderings

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2007

Clear the Air

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

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hazy Thursday

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

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Weather Report

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

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

Around the Schoolyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Review: Bee Movie

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 07, 2007

Language Proficiency (or how inept am I?)

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why Study?

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 03, 2007

More Norton Complaints & Some Fun

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 30, 2007

Ancient History

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lost Art of Translation

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Spoiled Similarities

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Chinese Thanksgiving Tale

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

Better Than the Last Two

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

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

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

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

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


They won? Really? No joke?

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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Homer Made Me Do It

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bigfoot sighting

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

From the Headlines

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

Noodley Goodness

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Worth a Dollar

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 09, 2007

Pleasant Surprise

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Guangzhou Consulate Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More Translated Books

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Stuff the Mattress

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

Friday, November 02, 2007

Cheesy China

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


I tried two different topics with my classes this week. After my Tuesday class I decided not to continue using the second topic. According to the news here, an increasing number of students feel that a master's degree isn't worthwhile. I wanted to see if my students were satisfied with the educational value of the degree that they had recently begun. I think I made them depressed with the news of other students around China. I tried to explain to them that what matters is that they take the opportunities that they are provided and use them to their advantage.

One of the questions I asked was, "How many classes do you take and how many of those classes do you think will be useful for the future?" The response was that they take 16 classes and only three would be useful. (I'm not entirely sure if they understood my question because 16 classes seems like far too many to take in one semester. I know they have a lot of classes, but that number sounds too high.)

My other topic for the week was much more fun. I decided to find out how much my students know about the U.S. A big reason for this is that I have heard many misconceptions from people in China (i.e. everyone owns a gun, everyone celebrates Christmas, all Americans are rich). I tried explaining that while the exchange rate of Renminbi to dollars is about 7.5 to 1, the standard of living is far different. The standard of living is closer to 2 to 1 (for every dollar I spend in the U.S. I could spend 2RMB here). J. gave me a great example that he's used: a bottle of Coke was about $1.50 for him at home; it costs about 3RMB here. That example did work well in class.

On language: (1) At the end of class today, a student came up to explain why some students were absent. Unfortunately, he forgot what language to use and began speaking quickly in Chinese--I understood part of it, but the important vocabulary was beyond my comprehension. He noticed my confusion and tried to think of how to say it in English. (2) The cafeteria was out of the good noodles today and the rest of the food has no labels and it's too noisy to ask "What's this?" for every dish. I found a little shop across the street with an English-speaking owner. He was very nice and almost too helpful. For a simple meal, I might start going there for a little variety at lunch. (3) From playing with for vocabulary, I realized how educational The Simpsons really is. The word was "zebu" and the only other time I've seen that word was on an early episode in which Bart saves Mr. Burns' life and the family is rewarded with a giant Omec Indian head.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Feeding Vocabulary

Thanks to some friendly links on some online forums, I discovered an interesting site. FreeRice. This site is set up to help provide rice to impoverished nations through a vocabulary game. It is a sister site of

The way it works (as explained in the FAQ) is each time you click an answer, the site earns money from advertisers on the bottom of the page. Through the advertisers, the organization purchases rice to be handed out by the United Nations World Food Program.

So, get out there and start earning rice for the world. I'm planning on advertising this site to my students--I can hope it'll improve their vocabulary.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Beer Scare

I wish this news story didn't exist. Read original article.

It seems the price of hops, as well as other costs, are increasing a bit in the beer industry. The estimate is that beer prices will rise 10%.

It might also mean that some brews will lose their flavor (I hope it doesn't affect Victory Hop Devil, that stuff is great). I doubt this will have much affect on Chinese beer as most of it has very little flavor and seems to use a minimum of hops.

If this is an effect of global warming, we really must act quickly to reverse it. Save the environment! Save the beer!

Friday, October 26, 2007

One night in Bao'an....

J. was justing getting over his cold and suggested we head out to the old neighborhood for Wave Pizza (cheaper and a whole lot better than Pizza Hut). We still need to convince them to open a store in Nanshan... or at least deliver to us.

During our late pizza dinner, Jia got a message from Mr. Tian about the 6th anniversary of his bar, which we used to frequent before moving. We decided we'd stop by and at least say hello. It wasn't a far walk from Wave--but it was interesting. We found a small sex toy shop along the way and had a good laugh. Jia also had the best commentary of the night as we passed a "massage" parlor: "Oh, such a fat prostitute."

Before we arrived at New Face (also known as Face Alive), Jia called our friend Xiao. While the conversation was in Chinese, I joked with J. about what was being said on the other end. "I bet Xiao is saying, 'Where are you? We've been waiting for you.'" Sure enough, I was right.

It was fun being back at New Face. Mr. Tian and Xiao were so happy to see us, they treated us to a few drinks. We were surprised by the number of foreigners there--I think I counted six others (usually we were the only ones). We headed out early and quickly found an appropriate cab to take us back to the Special Economic Zone. Great driver for once who actually knew the best roads to take. The ride only cost us 32 kuai. If we can get that kind of ride back every time, it's worthwhile to head out there for cheaper beer at a bar. (Note: the cheaper Bao'an taxi to our home last year usually cost 20 kuai. The SEZ cabs have a much higher rate.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Things I Didn't Expect

The other day I was walking about and was rather shocked by a sight. I saw the first diaper in China (well, first that I've ever seen). Of course, it was on a dog.

Now for some student answers to my classroom questions:
I mentioned the 17th Communist Party Congress to my students. I wanted them to come up with ideas of what they thought the government should do for the future of China. Monday's class looked a little confused so I asked, "Why is this meeting important?" One student responded, "I don't think it's important. They just want people to sit and raise their hands when they say to."

Saturday, October 20, 2007


We went to a couple restaurants this weekend with friends. Friday, we went to Amigos Tex-Mex in Shekou. I was there last year for my birthday and enjoyed it--the food is pricey, but it's worth it here in China. This time, however, it wasn't quite worth it. The service from the staff was absolutely awful. They tried giving us the wrong meals a few times and then we had to remind them of parts of the meals (for the couple of the group that ordered a set meal). Not only that, but they charged an extra 8 kuai for a little bowl (and I mean little) of salsa. Keep in mind, this is homemade salsa that probably costs about 8 kuai for a bucket. At the end of dinner, we had an argument with the staff about the 10 percent "service fee" that we had to pay. We explained that we would gladly pay it IF they had provided any sort of service. They waived the fee after about 10 minutes of arguing.

Saturday, we found a nice little restaurant in Overseas Chinese Town that got a little write-up in That's PRD. Grey Wolf is a very pleasant restaurant that serves Northern Chinese food (supposedly Xinjiang, but it was missing a lot of the usual dishes). We ordered some spicy lamb kebabs (yang rou chuan) for 3 kuai each and a variety of other meat and vegetable dishes. They even had Xinjiang Black Beer for 18 kuai. Everything tasted great and it was reasonably priced at about 50 kuai per person (much better service than Amigos, too).

The decoration is certainly worth noting at Grey Wolf. It is designed as a prehistoric cave, complete with cave paintings (some of which are rather amusing, like a stick-figure girl in a skirt walking a dog). There are also many framed portraits and historic Chinese scenes on the walls. On the way in, there is a prominent chalk sign forbidden entrance to Japanese. On the wall near the door, they proudly proclaim that they were the first establishment in Shenzhen to deny service to Japanese. Of course, when you look at the portraits on the walls, Hitler shares the same space as Elvis and Charlie Chaplin. It certainly makes for interesting dinner conversation.

Friday, October 19, 2007

China is a sleeping dragon

I couldn't resist that stupid cliché of a title--every Western publication uses that metaphor and it's getting out of hand. But here is the Friday photo from a journey through Guangzhou almost two years ago. This was the dinner plate dragon that wound around a small section of Xiu Park. I think this angle from the foot is the best one I took.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Variety of Travels

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Fart Jokes Anyone?

Alright, I'll admit I don't really have any fart jokes. But I do have some interesting news some people may have missed.

First, there's an article about a new toilet that will convert your bodily waste into fuel and fertilizer. That's fantastic news. Jia told me they have some of these toilets in Chinese villages. My question is, why not have them in cities too? I'll leave that one to government logic.

But that wasn't what really interested me about the article. I was more interested in the World Toilet Summit. I can't believe that this exists. Actually, I can't believe it HAS existed for seven years and I hadn't heard about it. Why wasn't I in the loop on this one? I have to find out how I can attend next year's summit.

The second article I found amusing was about 800 drivers in Beijing who are upset because they've been issued license plates with the letters "WC." Of course, WC is one of the few English "words" that all Chinese know--the others being "hello," "OK," and "bye." I suppose the people complaining are afraid that someone will mistake their new cars for toilets. I have to say, I've been tempted to urinate on a few cars for various reasons (none of which is alcohol related). I brought up this subject in class today and all of my students agreed with the drivers. I told them it could be worse, the license plates could read, "BS."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lunch time

Our welcome lunch was delayed for a variety of reasons. Today, we finally had it. It was well worth the wait.

My boss took us (two foreigner teachers and four Chinese office staff) to lunch at a nearby restaurant. Apparently, this restaurant is next to a hospital where government officials go when they need real medical treatment. The place was very nice--semi-outdoor lobby and large private rooms. Our room had a view of a little lake with some wetland birds flying about (maybe they escaped from the Shenzhen zoo). Of course, the food was also quite good. We had a nice variety of meats and vegetables. Unlike other meals I've had in China, this one didn't involve any organ meats.

Now I can sit back and relax in my office until it's time to go home or until a student comes in to talk (which is usually later in the day).

Saturday, October 13, 2007


I enjoy tracking things related to my blog. Probably not as much as a computer geek, but it's still nice to see what content drives traffic here. I get to see where people are coming from and how much time they spend browsing the pages.

Occasionally, I find some amusing things when checking this out. Most of the amusement comes from the keywords that people use. I'm not quite sure how these keywords manage to bring people to my blog, however. Today, I noticed that someone found me using the following: "Chengdu prostitute massage cheap". I know I've written about Chengdu and massages and many cheap things in China. But, how did "prostitute" get involved in any of that? Well, I suppose it really isn't my place to judge people for what they really want to find in the Middle Kingdom.

Probably my favorite has been: "ride a walrus". This one refers to a great Homer Simpson quote, "The streets are paved with water. I could ride a walrus to work." However, I'm still confused by why someone would use this as a search term.

Also, I'd like to note that I really do appreciate it when I notice that people find me through links from other blogs. Unfortunately, most of the blogs that link to me are on servers that are blocked in China, which prevents me from reading them more frequently (proxy servers are too slow for someone as impatient as me).

Friday, October 12, 2007

Another Friday Photo

I'm just a bit tired this week. It hasn't been difficult or bad, just a bit exhausting. I keep thinking that I really want to go out and travel--get some adventure.

The best trip I took was to Jiuzhaigou. I doubt anything will top that (maybe Tibet, if we get there this summer). It was a beautiful sight. I found this photo interesting--the longda decaying outside of Shuzheng Village. There's beauty in those old prayer flags that the Tibetans place everywhere they go.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Transit Breakdown

As if transportation in this city weren't bad enough--it's already the most expensive in China.

Jia bought a metro card for me just before the national holiday last week. It was easier to buy it at 7-11, which meant that the 40 kuai deposit is non-refundable (as opposed to the refundable 40 kuai card you can only buy at some office). Anyway, the card had 50 kuai on it for use on the buses and subway. I have managed to use it five times up until today (total journey price: 12.5 kuai). I got on the bus this afternoon and the card didn't work. I kept getting no response.

The bus driver was saying something to me that I didn't understand because it was way to fast to comprehend. So, I decided I had better pay in cash. Of course, my smallest bill was a twenty. I turned around and asked the first person sitting if he had any change (in Chinese, of course). He looked through his wallet and shook he head. To my surprise, four others around him began looking at their funds. Finally, a high school girl came up to me with change and I thanked her. Of course, it still meant that I had to pay double the fair and try to get the other half from a boarding passenger (that's difficult when I don't know how to say, "I already paid, please give your money to me"). Fortunately, it all ended well.

Sometimes when things go wrong I find the best people around here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Barber Shop

I needed a haircut. It was definitely getting a little too long. Jia and I wandered the neighborhood in search of a reasonably priced barber. This led to the discovery that a simple haircut can cost anywhere from 35 kuai to 95 kuai within less than a square mile. Of course, the nearest shop told us 50, but the guards of our complex said they only paid 25 at the same place.

Obviously, I went with the cheapest I could find. It's a haircut, nothing special. Besides, very few barbers around here have any idea what to do with curly hair.

The conversation around the barber was amusing--all questions were directed at Jia and he made absolutely no attempt to even see if I understood a word of Chinese. Of course, he asked the usual question, "Does he curl his hair?" He was shocked when he found out this kind of hair natural (they don't realize that men outside China do not curl their hair). He proceeded to make attempts at getting more money out of the foreigner. He suggested that I should get a membership card (300 kuai, but gets a 5 kuai discount on all haircuts). He also wanted me to dye my hair. I'm sure he could've thought of plenty more ways to try to earn a few extra kuai, but I would never agree to it. I am of the belief that the ugliest hairstyles in China are on the heads of barbers and, therefore, don't trust their opinions.

Fortunately, this haircut turned out much better than the previous:

Saturday, October 06, 2007

All That Jazz

Jia and I went for a walk around the neighborhood. We first headed over to a nice area with a lot of empty storefronts--a situation that doesn't seem to make sense as it looks like a high-traffic area. What we found was a nice coffee shop and a little restaurant. We'll go to the coffee shop today since we didn't eat there last night (no dinner food). The restaurant was alright--nothing really special, but it was good for the price. Still, I think if we want Western food we'll continue to go to the Seattle Cafe--the food there was excellent.

We walked past the construction area, near the new Carrefour and mall, and found some great places. There's Amber, another coffee shop/restaurant with a nice selection on the menu, and the Athens Cafe, with a hilarious Chinglish menu ("Various Types" and "American digs up the pomfret" plus many more). The best find though was the Musibase Cafe (another branch of Musibase Bar). This one is a very quiet jazz bar and restaurant. The music was pretty good and it had a relaxing atmosphere. Unfortunately, the prices are the same as the other branch nearby, which aren't all that appealing for frequent visits. Nonetheless, we'll be heading there every so often to enjoy a relaxing night out.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A little luck

I took a day in Macau yesterday. I needed to get out of Shenzhen for a little while to relax and make me feel like I'm really having a holiday. Of course, it required me waking up early to take the bus to the ferry port in Shekou, but it was worth it. The last time I went to Macau, Jia and I went through Zhuhai. This time I spent a few extra kuai to take the ferry directly to the outer harbor port.

I guess it was a great choice--it certainly saved time on the border crossing and the port was only about a 10-minute walk from Senado Square. I was also surprised with the customs officers on both sides--they were really polite and even spoke a little (the officer on the mainland side even wished me a good trip). I thought it might be a good omen if I decided to gamble a little. Of course, the other omen was sitting on the ferry reading Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead--the whole opening scene about probability couldn't be a good sign.

I decided to have a look at the new Grand Lisboa, billed as the largest casino in the world. It is an impressive structure that looks like an ode to excess. I like the architecture of the old one across the street much more. The building isn't complete--the top floors are still under construction. The casino is split into a lot of smaller rooms that are rather quiet, probably because the crowd is split into different areas of the hotel.

After wandering around the gaming areas (one sign was "gameing") of the Grand Lisboa, I headed across the way to the Wynn. I was much more impressed. It had more of a hotel feel than a casino. The staff was also more friendly--the Grand Lisboa didn't even acknowledge my existence (except when walking through security to the casino rooms).

Other than those casinos, I wandered around the city. I had no particular destination set, but I found some cool buildings (mostly Portuguese designs) and parks. I also had an interesting time conversing with some shopkeepers (I think I managed to find everyone in Macau who didn't speak English or Mandarin, only Cantonese). For my early dinner, I found a new restaurant near Senado Square--I asked if one of the dishes had pork. The answer was, "It's not spicy." So, I asked in Chinese and the answer was, "meiyou." Sure enough, it had pork. I also went to buy some smoked, dried beef. I asked how much it cost and the shopkeeper pointed to a red blob on a sign. When I pointed out that I couldn't read it, he pointed to another sign that had a red blob. I walked away and went to another store that had clear prices.

The best part of the trip was definitely finding the grocery store with the great coffee. They raised their prices since last year (last year it was 20 kuai a pound, this year 40), but it's cheaper than most coffee in Shenzhen. I still bought a pound of mocha to enjoy. At least the woman working there spoke Mandarin Chinese, even though I didn't understand when she asked if I wanted the coffee ground (vocabulary I don't know).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Day in the Neighborhood

I took some photos some weeks ago around my neighborhood. As I've said before, there are a lot of grocery stores and restaurants around, as well as a few dozen 7-11s. As with the rest of Shenzhen, this neighborhood is still under construction. There's a huge footbridge being built above the major intersection (it's going up quickly and looking nice). There are a lot of new apartment complexes in the area with loads of empty storefronts. I'm hoping that those will fill up as soon as the major construction projects are complete (which shouldn't be too long).

Just down the street--less than a ten-minute walk out the back gate--they are building a new shopping mall next to a new Carrefour, which will be next to a new cultural center. I don't care much for shopping malls--I didn't enjoy them back home in Jersey, and I certainly don't like them here with the enormous crowds they attract. But, I do really want Carrefour to move in quickly--Commie-Mart is a long walk/short bus ride away, and I never did care for them much either. Plus, Carrefour tends to have a better selection (and better prices) of foreign products. I just have to hope they carry cheese.

The photos below are what will be the cultural center. Assuming they hold events there, I might be inclined to visit every now and again.

Monday, October 01, 2007

National Day

It's nice to have a full week off--seven days of rest and writing (and maybe a little traveling). Although, I found out that I didn't need to reschedule my classes for Saturday and Sunday--I could've done that some other time. I could've had a full nine days for my break. Oh well, at least I got the scheduling headache out of the way. Plus, the classes went quite well.

I forgot to post a photo on Friday because we went out to dinner with Mr. W. He treated us to some Beijing roast duck and a little karaoke. We got home late after meeting some more friends in Shekou for a little bit. Also, last night J. convinced us to go out for Wave Pizza--it was great. Aside from the toppings, it's pretty much a real pizza. It comes close to being the best I've had in China (that honor still goes to the Pass By Restaurant's Hutong pizza).

Here's a photo from my journey/wandering home Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

In the Office

Monday, I went into the supply room at the office to get some red pens to correct my students' essays. I discovered that one of the women who works there is trying to learn English. So, whenever I go in to ask for supplies she asks, "Zenme shuo yingyu?" (How do you say in English?) I find this useful since I need to learn the words for things like binder, photocopies, and anything else I may need for class.

Today, I had to sign for the supplies that I received. I noticed the Chinese above the column for my signature, but didn't know two of them. I asked the other woman in the supply room what it said and discovered that I guessed one of the two correctly. She asked me if I could read Chinese I said, "Yi dian dian." (A little bit.) I then told her that I know about 300 characters, to which she responded, "Not enough." Usually when I say I know 300 characters people are impressed. This is the first time I got an honest response about my level of Chinese.

If you don't believe the rarity of hearing an honest response to the language ability, I have examples. I have had plenty of experiences with people telling me I speak Chinese very well after hearing me say, "Ni hao," and "Xie xie." Knowing only a few words and phrases does not mean I know much of a language.

Also while in the supply room, I received a call from someone I didn't know and who didn't speak English (that's a sign that I don't want to answer the call). After refusing to answer the first two times, I finally picked up the phone. I answered with, "I don't speak Chinese." The women in the office thought this was really funny considering I was talking to them in Chinese.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mid-Autumn Festival

According to the lunar calendar, today is the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhong qiu jie), also known as the Moon Festival. Everyone tells me it's the second most important day on the Chinese calendar (the first being Spring Festival). My students offered an English greeting for today and were quite pleased to hear me respond with the Chinese version. I even received one moon cake from a student at the end of class. They all seemed a little disappointed to have classes today--they even said they wouldn't have time later in the day to celebrate with their friends and classmates because there's too much work to do (and I didn't assign any of it this week). I told them their homework was to call their parents tonight.

I was also informed that my office will give the staff some moon cake today (but they have to give it at the end of the day because it needs to be refrigerated). I'm really thinking that they're spoiling me here.

For those who don't know what moon cakes are, they are a kind of pastry that sits in your stomach for about a week while you try to digest it. OK, I'm exaggerating a bit. Most don't taste all that bad, but they really do make you slow after eating one.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Happily Cheesey

It was a full weekend. Fasted Saturday for Yom Kippur and had a nice dinner and conversations. A few of us went out for a drink after dinner. I even found that my Spanish is a little better than I remember--I was understood quite a bit of the conversations around me. I think that after I learn enough Chinese to effectively communicate with people, I'll go back and re-learn Spanish.

Sunday, Jia, her mom, and I went to Splendid China and the Folk Culture Village. It sure was a trip. I was not disappointed by the cheesiness. I'll post a full story with photos soon.

I need to correct a small error from a previous post: The No-Car Day was Saturday. And the Shenzhen Daily headline today read, "Traffic jams plague No-Car Day." I even have a first-hand account from my boss who took a trip up to Guangzhou on Saturday. She said it took her more than three hours to get there from Shenzhen. This is really bad considering the bus from my apartment took less than two hours during the week last month. No-Car Day was highly unsuccessful around China.

According to another news report that was passed along to me by my wife, Shenzhen is the least happy city in China. Kunming and Chengdu were at the top of list for happiest cities. This gave me a great discussion topic for my students today. I was pleasantly surprised to hear them say that they would be happy with "enough money to live." I like not having greedy students. Very few of them admitted to being happy here--most wanted to go home after they finish their degrees. The best answer today to "What do you need to be happy?" was "Food," which was given by a few students.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fasting on Photo Friday

Shana tova, everyone. For Yom Kippur, I present to you a view of the Western Wall in Jerusalem from the summer of 2005. Unfortunately, all my photos from my trip to Israel were on an older camera, which means I only have a few scanned copies. I really wish I had my digital camera then.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Quick Shock

I don't believe my students are human. At least not my Tuesday and Wednesday classes. I gave them until Thursday afternoon to hand in their assignments and they've all handed them in early. And most of the them look good (I haven't marked any yet, just browsed through). Since when do graduate students hand in assignments early? Anyway, it's quite a pleasant shock.

I've also managed to get some conversations started in those classes. We discussed the car-free week here in China. Supposedly 108 cities are participating and forcing government employees to take public transportation to work. There's also going to be a private-vehicle ban on all major roads for twelve hours on Friday. So far, while waiting for the school bus in the morning, I haven't noticed any changes in traffic (has anyone noticed a difference?). I am curious about how long it'll take to get to work on Friday without as many cars, although I think the ban will only be on a couple roads that the bus takes.

Some of the more interesting student responses to "Why would people rather drive a car?": "They have a lot of pride in their car." "They'll lose face if they don't drive." While the wording of the responses sound culturally significant, I can't help thinking that they're very similar to American views.

Other class-related story: I had a visitor to my office hours yesterday. He just wanted to talk and improve his English level. He asked if I had any problems with getting cheated while traveling in China (he needed a little help phrasing the question). I said, "Sometimes. It's worse when my wife isn't around." He proceeded to say that he thought people in Shenzhen tend to cheat others more often. He also told me about his friends getting ripped off in Guangzhou. He compared southern Chinese to northern (where he's from)--he seems to perceive southerners as less honest and less polite as those in his home region.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hutong Wandering

The following is an installment from the summer journey.

A while back, my parents mailed a short article to me (they often send news clippings about travel in Asia and events back home). This particular article was about side streets in Beijing--I found it just before moving and traveling to Beijing to meet my parents and brother. I figured it'd provide at least a few hours of something different from the previous year's trip through the capital.

I studied my map and found that the street in the article (Nan Luoguxiang) was not too far from the Drum and Bell Towers--it turned out to be about a 15-minute walk east along the main street. It sounded like there was enough to check out for the afternoon--it was either try this or find a taxi to somewhere else. We were pleasantly surprised.

Nan Luoguxiang is a quiet hutong neighborhood in the process of remodeling that is home to quite a few small bars, restaurants, and arts shops that are difficult to find elsewhere in the city. We discovered a small foot massage parlor (38RMB for one hour) and let my mom and brother take up the two available spots. My father and I walked along the street to find a snack and settled on the Pass By. There are two along the street and we chose the one further from the main road. They actually served spring rolls (anyone who lives in China knows that these are a rarity). There's also a great "hutong pizza," which is cheese covering spicy chunks of barbecued lamb.

The artistic shops have quite a few unique items. There are a couple of really nice T-shirt shops, but the prices are set and they are in the range of what you'd expect to pay in the U.S. My favorite shop was Grifted. They had some amusing shirts and other items. I ended up with a waving Chairman Mao doll and Jia got a shirt with a cartoon of Buddha looking like a tourist. They also had a shirt with a cartoon Chinese guy, shirtless with a beer and yelling "Ni hao!" Next to the shop was a small photo gallery chronicling the progress of reconstructing the neighborhood--the photos were beautiful.

On a few nights we stopped in the bars. These places are mostly small and quiet. We found the newly-opened Catcher in the Rye and we were the only customers. For those seeking a cheap night out, there's always the 10 RMB Bar--and there are others that have similar prices. Most bars have a decent selection of imported beers for travelers who are tired of Tsingtao (it was really nice to have a Newcastle).

At the moment, this narrow hutong street is fairly unknown to tourists, although it is getting more press and will probably be quite crowded by the time the Olympics arrive. So far, there is no Starbucks located there, but you can buy coffee at the restaurants and bars. After two trips through Beijing, I have to say that this is my favorite part of the city.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Which way to Hanoi?

It's been a busy week here. It was rather tiring, but it went well. I met some really interesting people who are new to Shenzhen (some staying here, some just passing through) at dinner and lunch for Rosh Hashanah. I also got confused in a variety of languages ranging from Hebrew, French, Spanish, and others (I can't remember where a few of the people are from). Of course, I made my pathetic attempts to speak Spanish with H. from Colombia. It really makes me wish I hadn't half-assed Spanish class in high school and college.

To go along with the mixture of language, I present a slightly delayed Friday photo from my wife's hometown in Xinjiang province. Please note that the two characters 河内 can mean "inside the river" as well as a city of Vietnam. Seeing as we were in the northwest of China, I think they chose the wrong translation.

Monday, September 10, 2007

This is not a recall

Jia thought she lost her MP3 the other day. Yesterday she found it... in the pocket of her skirt after it had been through the washing machine. Somehow it still works fine. If anyone is curious, it was fairly inexpensive. I think the brand was So Good. Guess we have to recommend that one for durability.

On to airline news. Shenzhen Airlines is planning to be the first Chinese carrier to allow cellphones to be used during flights. I personally don't care how they're going to accomplish this goal. In fact, I will now boycott the airline for this move. I don't want to sit with 100 people shouting on their phones during a three-hour flight around China. I don't even like riding the bus with people talking on their phones. When I fly, all I want is for everyone to be quiet so that I can make my futile attempt to fall asleep.

Finally, I would like to make a plea for donations to my football fund. That's right, I'm asking for money so that I can watch/listen to football online. I tried to wake up early Sunday to catch the Penn State-Notre Dame game only to find out that I'd have to pay just to listen to the game. Anyway, GO PSU!