Friday, May 30, 2008

On Tour with Buddha

We chose to visit Leshan on my second journey through Chengdu in August of 2006. We booked a tour through the Wenjunlou Hotel--a private car and guide for a full day outside the city.

Maggie, our guide, met us at the hotel early in the morning to arrive at the Giant Buddha (乐山大佛) before the vacationing crowds. There was already quite a crowd by the time we got there, but it only got worse as the day went on. Unlike our two tours in Beijing a week prior, our guide this time spoke English quite well and didn't pressure us to rush through the sites or purchase any tourist junk.

The Giant Buddha was carved out of the mountain beginning in the 8th century under the supervision of a monk named Hai Tong. The Buddha overlooks the meeting of three rivers to protect ships that pass through (prior to this time, many ships were lost in the river). Hai Tong lived in a cave in the mountain during the sculpting and never saw the completed work because he supposedly gouged his eyes out when faced with officials trying to extort money from the project.

As we entered the park and walked along the trails through the mountain that is home to this enormous seated Buddha, Maggie provided us with bits of history and other conversation unrelated to our day of sightseeing. She pointed us to the line that led to steps down to Buddha's feet--we decided we should get in line before it grew any longer. From this point we could only see the top of Buddha's head.

The line was slow, but fortunately well shaded. August in this part of situation is also unbearably hot and humid--it was actually worse than Shenzhen. Along the steps down the mountain, we met a friendly woman with her daughter. She was surprised to hear that we had come to Sichuan after visiting Xinjiang, which happened to be her home province. I sent Jia a text message about meeting someone from Xinjiang in Leshan. Jia sent a message back from the train to Shenzhen saying that she just met someone from New Jersey. Strange timing for a coincidence.

As we greeted Buddha's feet, we realized just how immense this statue carved out of the mountain really was. Buddha is 71 meters tall--and figures and photos don't even come close to the feeling one gets from seeing this statue up close.

The area surrounding the Giant Buddha is beautiful, with many trails and small sites. With the heat and humidity, however, we didn't have the energy to see anything else that day. On our ride back to Chengdu, Maggie offered to take us to places we hadn't yet visited. As this was our last day in Chengdu, we thanked her and said we had seen everything we wanted.
Supposedly, the statue was not damaged during the recent earthquake.


Monday, May 26, 2008

I'm a Doppelganger

I got used to being told I look like people, but it wasn't until I moved to China that I was told I resembled anyone famous. Is it considered a compliment when they choose to say I look like Vladamir Lenin or Karl Marx? I've encountered this a few times now.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Return to Photo Friday

I'm trying to remember to keep it simple for photo Fridays. Unfortunately, I'm having a difficult time remembering what photos I've used on this blog in the past few years.

This is the Bell Tower in Xi'an in August 2006. It was one of the friendliest cities I've visited in China. Just around the corner is the Muslim Quarter, where I met a nice shopkeeper who tried to converse with me in Chinese (although my ability was quite lacking at the time). I've also heard similar stories from other foreigners in China about how friendly the people of Xi'an can be.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mixed Bag

The past few days have been pretty good. There's been a wide variety of positive actions going on around me.

Yesterday, I had a PhD student from last term stop by my office. He wanted to thank me for helping him with his writing last term. He asked me to edit his article because it had been rejected by some publication, but his writing wasn't good enough to find and correct the mistakes. It turns out, he just got published. I congratulated him and asked him to bring by a copy of the journal for me to read. He also gave me some really nice iron Buddha tea--apparently it's from a well-known brand around here.

On my way home, I got on the bus with one of the Pakistani students. I had met him briefly in December, but didn't remember much about him. We spent the next half hour on the bus having some very pleasant conversation. At least now I can remember his name for the next time I run into him.

And today, on the school bus home, I shocked a couple people by asking the driver if he could stop further up the street (a more complicated sentence than you'd think) because I didn't want to walk through the construction site. After agreeing, the driver said a few kind words about my Chinese. I also had a short conversation with one of the Chinese professors before stepping off the bus. I really should find more excuses to talk with these people--they're not comfortable speaking English, and they're always excited when I speak a little Chinese.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Kingdom for a Paper Clip

I never realized how complicated a paper clip could be. A while back, I asked a coworker how to say paper clip in Chinese. Rather than tell me, she said she'd go to the copy room to get some for me. They didn't have any, but they'd get them soon, I was told. I forgot about it until today.

I spoke to my coworker on the phone and asked how to say it again. It took a while to get an answer. Wen zhen jia, I was told after the wait. With this knowledge on a scrap of paper, I headed over to the copy room. I memorized the word and asked for it--the woman in the copy room appeared to understand. Then she held up plastic folders to give to me. I said, "No, wen zhen jia." She explained that it was. I was lost.

Fortunately, another professor was in the room. She spoke English and tried to help. I explained what I wanted, but she too looked confused. Finally, I found a binder clip and showed her. I now had my small box of binder clips to help organize my students' assignments.

The professor explained that wen zhen jia is a formal word in Chinese and has many meanings. It can be used for binder clips, binders, folders, staples, and paper clips (there might also be some other things in there). Apparently, you have to use this word AND explain what kind you'd like. This was later confirmed by my coworkers who listened to my story of confusion.

Unfortunately, after all that, I still have no clue how to properly ask for a paper clip.


Friday, May 16, 2008

More on Sichuan

A view of Sichuan on the road south to Chengdu.

Today I was relieved to hear from my only Sichuanese student. I asked if his family was safe, and he said they were fine but they couldn't return to their home. He also thanked me for caring enough to ask.

I also found that about a quarter of my class wanted to get out to Sichuan to help in relief efforts. This made me feel much better about my group of students. This also happens to be one of my more enjoyable classes--they tend to put in more effort than some of the others.

For any of you out there who wants to read a great article, Peter Hessler (author of Oracle Bones) has written about the earthquake in The New Yorker. It's interesting to hear Hessler's comments on Chinese culture in times of disasters. He also has excerpts of letters from his former students in Sichuan province.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Moment for Sichuan

There isn't much I can do for the earthquake victims while I sit at home doing work for school. I'll ask Jia later if there is any way to donate some clothes to Red Cross in Shenzhen (assuming they have an office here).

I thought I'd share a photo from one of my two trips to Sichuan province--this is from Chengdu, one of my favorite places to visit. The sites were beautiful, the culture was wonderful, and the people were friendly. I'm fairly certain this was a tea performance on Qingtai Lu. (Another Sichuan post here.)
For anyone interested in helping the relief effort, you can donate online to the Red Cross Society of China:
If the link doesn't work (it hasn't been working for a lot of people lately), check out the American Red Cross and choose where to donate your money (you can also donate to help the people of Myanmar).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Non-Earthquake Stuff

Everyone blogging in China is writing about the earthquakes in Sichuan. So everyone knows, we're fine here in Shenzhen--didn't feel a thing, which is surprising considering I'm pretty sure we're closer to the epicenter than Beijing.

While the others keep you up to date on the relief situation, I have other things to think about here. Later today, I have a going away party for four friends. One is getting transferred back to the states against his will, one is leaving for greener pastures (not sure where), and two are leaving because they can't get working visas because they are not native English speakers, even though they speak better than most English teachers I've met.

As they all go back home (or close to it), I'm staying here thinking about home a bit. I received quite a few emails asking if I was OK after the earthquake (mostly because people don't know where everything is in China). It reminds me that I have caring friends and family to return to when the time comes for me to leave China.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Capitalism Comes to China

My friend from Beijing stayed with us a while back. He brought Monopoly--the China edition. I love the irony of the capitalist board game in a communist country. The only difference between the China edition and the regular one is that all the Atlantic City names are changed to Chinese cities. Plus they added a zero to all the prices and money (inflation).

Absent from the Chinese cities on the board are Taipei, Lhasa, Hong Kong, and Macau. But they did keep Urumqi on it. I was disappointed that Mao's face doesn't appear anywhere--nor does Deng Xiaoping.

We're trying to make the game more fun and thinking of ways to make it more Chinese (or at least communist). We'll do our best to rewrite the community chest and chance cards. We'll certainly begin our new rules with returning property to the bank after 70 rounds.

If you have suggestions for rules, let me know.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Olympic Communications

Last year I had the opportunity to teach English to 40 police officers in Bao'an district. This was the entire foreign affairs department of the district's public security bureau. The training center's staff was instructed to teach from Olympic Security English by Wang Sheng'an. This is apparently the official handbook for China's police to learn English.

The small textbook covers topics ranging from lost tourists and missing property to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, I found it rather lacking.

The book is filled with out-dated English and rather dull dialogues. One of the major problems I found was that all the foreigners in the situations were extremely honest idiots--they easily broke down and confessed their crimes.

One of my favorites is the chapter on "How to Stop Illegal New Coverage". You can make your own judgments about press freedom. Here's the dialogue (pages 20-22):

Police: Excuse me, sir. Stop, please.
Reporter: Why?
Police: Are you gathering news here?
Reporter: Yes.
Police: About what?
Reporter: About Falungong.
Police: Show me your press card and reporter's permit.
Reporter: Here you are.
Police: What news are you permitted to cover?
Reporter: The Olympic Games.
Police: But Falungong has nothing to do with the games.
Reporter: What does that matter?
Police: It's beyond the permit.
Reporter: What permit?
Police: You're a sports reporter. You should only cover the games.
Reporter: But I'm interested in Falungong.
Police: It's beyond the limit of your coverage and illegal. As a foreign reporter in China, you should obey China law and do nothing against your status.
Reporter: Oh, I see. May I go now?
Police: No. Come with us (to the Administration Division of Entry and Exit of Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau).
Reporter: What for?
Police: To clear up this matter.

Read part 2.
Part 3


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Olympic Chances Missed

The torch relay went by my apartment this morning on its way through Shenzhen. I missed it because I had to work. Almost half of my first class skipped out to watch. I really didn't care to watch someone jog a few feet with a torch, surrounded by crowds.

What I did miss was my chance at some Beijing Olympic memorabilia. A few days ago they put up some flags and banners along the relay route. I was tempted to swipe them, but decided it would be better to at least wait until after the whole hoopla. When I arrived home around 5:30, I discovered that the flags and banners were already gone. At first I thought the crowds might have taken them home. Then I noticed that the garbage cans were filled. All those nice flags are now in the trash and covered in filth.

I guess now I'll have to continue with my dream of owning the largest collection of Olympic knock-offs. I now have some metal key chains, baby toys, a shirt, a misspelled pen, and a bunch of other little pieces of junk that cost about 25 cents. I'm still searching for more misspelled items to include in my collection.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Finally, Culture in Shenzhen

Saturday, we took a long bus ride out to Longgang district to visit the Hakkas Custom Museum. It took more than two hours to get there from Nanshan.

Hakka people are Han Chinese, but have different customs than the rest of China. The migrated from the north and settled south--there are many photos of Hakka villages from Fujian province.

The Crane Lake Villa was turned into a museum by the city in 1996. Prior that, it belonged to a single family--the Luo family, which began building the home during the Qing Dynasty. It is not the circular structure-style Hakka village that is shown in most pictures, but rather a trapezoid-shaped structure.

There isn't much in the way of exhibits at the museum. It appears that most of it is being renovated. Many of the 300 original rooms are inaccessible at this time. Most of the exhibits pertain to this specific Hakka village, with original tools and stories of the family. Other exhibits include stories of famous Hakka people, including Sun Yat-Sen. Unfortunately, they do not explain much about the customs and traditions of the Hakka people.

There is also some rather confusing propaganda set as an exhibit. It seems some Hakka villages were mistaken as secret nuclear sites. Apparently, this is a true story. However, the way it's written makes it much more difficult to comprehend or believe. I particularly like the last line about Reagan.

The neighborhood surrounding the museum isn't the most pleasant in Shenzhen. It's filled with numerous small shops selling cheap products and knock-offs. We came across a two yuan store that sold fake Crest toothpaste (the Chinese was the same, but the product was called Cvozt.

If you plan to go, I suggest stopping in at the nearby Jusco down the street for some food--there isn't much near the Hakka museum.


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Holiday Musings

Quite a bit has gone on around here during the short holiday weekend. First, a warning to all who pass through the Nantou checkpoint between Bao'an district and Nanshan: bring your passport. Our friend A. was not allowed to pass through to the Special Economic Zone using a photocopy. Foreigners and Chinese used to be able to pass through easily even without ID, but it looks like those days are over.

Friday, we celebrated another friend's birthday in Shekou. We went to the Seagull restaurant near Sea World. The food looked good (I ate earlier), but was a little pricey. The beer was cheap though--40 kuai for a pitcher of Tsingtao is a bargain in that area. After a few of those, we met up with some people at The Terrace who had already been drinking there. It was crowded and no tables were available for us. We were harassed to buy drinks after five minutes of entering and dancing.

Given time, we might have purchased drinks (even though they're expensive at The Terrace), but we decided to leave with our money instead. I'm reminded of my last time there--at the end of my first year in China. I was with Jia and the bar was empty. The service was slow even though we sat at the bar. This is just another reason to avoid ever going back to The Terrace.

Yesterday, we headed out to Longgang district to visit the Hakka house/museum. I'll post a photo essay with information later.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Was That a Protest?

I'm beginning to think I really do live among the apathetic community in China. May 1 was supposed to be the big protest/boycott of Carrefour and all things French. I think there may have been some talk about boycotts against American, German, and Japanese stuff as well, but I don't have confirmation yet.

Anyway, we went to Carrefour today to see the protest. There wasn't any. Worst protest ever.

We saw a few people going in the opposite direction with their shopping bags. We saw plenty of shoppers stocking up on deals around the store. Granted, being a holiday today, it should've looked like a mall at Christmas. Instead, there were maybe a hundred people. Guess I have nothing to worry about when it comes to safety around here... just have to watch out for the cars on the sidewalk.