Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year Celebration

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

This is Monday

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Little Snow (Not in Shenzhen)

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holidays Upon Us

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

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

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

Some things about Christmas in China:

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

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

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

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Was That Really Bond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 19, 2008

For the Children

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

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

This Old House

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Community Development

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bad Badminton

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2008

RIP Detroit

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

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

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

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

The Great Mosque

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 08, 2008

Where's the Design?

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

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

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

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Shamless Self-Promotion

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

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

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

To the Root

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

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

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

Monday, December 01, 2008

Blinding Reality

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

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

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

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