Recently I updated my flickr page with pictures from my medical trip to Chengdu. Everything seems to be ok (no serious problems) and the doctor thinks it is Giardia. I had to have several tests (including an Ultrasound) and eventually took Giardia medication. The doctor extensively discussed the kinds of foods I can eat here to improve my diet and also made suggestions for exercise (something I haven't done much of for about 9 months). I've been feeling better lately. Thank you, everyone, for your support and encouragement!

Later I will add a video of the beautiful rapeseed flowers from Guiyang to Chengdu.


My Dream Last Night

Me: 你好,请问一下。
Stranger: What?
Me: 我说请问,我想问你一个问题。
Stranger: 你说什么?
Me: 听我说什么! 我说普通话。如果你也说我听的懂。
Stranger: 啊, 好了。 你从哪儿来?
Me: 我是没过人。
Stranger: 你来中国干什么?
Me: 我教英语。

It was my first dream in Chinese.


Education (Part 1 of 4)

The Education system seems to be an appropriate place to begin for several reasons: it looks a lot like the model for education in the west, I am more familiar with it since coming to China, and I think it appeals to the majority of readers.

In a linear fashion China’s education looks strikingly similar to that of America: Elementary School, Middle School, High School and then a college or university. The intricacies of the system begin to reveal themselves when discussing each level of education.

Primary or Elementary School is virtually the same as in America. The Chinese Government covers the costs of education and materials. Middle School is only slightly different. Though the tuition is covered at Middle Schools, students in the city must pay for their own books and supplies. This does not hold true for families in the countryside, which generally cannot afford to pay for these things. After Middle School the students take a test to get into High School. Paying for High School tuition is universal. The typical cost might be around $500 per year (as I was told by a high school student here), which can be incredibly expensive for some families. Since it is not a requirement, many children will go to work after Middle School. Students who are successful in High School will take the 高考 (gao(1)kao(3)), which is a college entrance examination. This test is so difficult and competition is so fierce that July, the month the examination was traditionally given, was nicknamed “black July.” The test is now given in June.

High School is a difficult time for Chinese students because the pressure to do well on the Gao Kao is so high. Typically students will get up, attend classes until lunch, then go back to have classes until dinner, and, finally, return to school for an evening of studying. In some ways it seems as if the cultures of High School and College in America and China have been swapped, with Americans seeming to be more relaxed during High School and more intent on studying in College (generally).

Students who pass the Gao Kao with a good score (all scores are relative to other students) can choose to attend better universities. Students who do not score well attend colleges or institutes or do not attend college at all. Universities have their own rank order throughout China, but, more broadly, the system of Higher Education is Four-Tiered. Universities rank at the top, though, as I have said before even they fit within a hierarchy. The next level is called Teacher’s University, which prepares students to become teachers in various fields such as Chinese, English, Physics, Chemistry, Art, Music, etc. My college is at the 3rd level, and it is known as a Teacher’s Institute. It is also a four-year school, but it is the lowest of the 4-year schools. Finally, there is another type of college that is similar to mine but offers only 3-year degrees.

A student’s name on a degree seems to mean less in China than in America. English majors must pass tests to qualify for certain jobs. The TEM 4, 6, and 8 are all difficult tests for English Majors and will determine how good of a job the students can obtain. Other fields have similar tests.



A new post!

It's been awhile since my last post and I have no excuses. I have been trying to upload another short video, but I've been experiencing some problems with it.

Lately the situation in t,1b3t has escalated to the point that we are no longer allowed to travel there. Part of the reason for the activity has been due to the upcoming Olympic Games. If you want to get a sense of how Ch1n4 feels about the situation you can check out the following link: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-03/17/content_6540366.htm

Today I missed my classes because I have been experiencing more nausea and diarrhea. I sat around my house and seriously pondered coming home for the second time since I have been in Ch1n4.

I feel that most of my blogs have maintained a positive note about everything, but living here has often been very difficult. It's hard to explain all of the factors involved; sometimes I miss home so much that it hurts.

I'm not talking about the occasional pang for home, but the deep, continuous sadness about being away (which is only increased when I feel less than useful here). In any case it has forced me to think again about why I am here in the first place, and it has helped me to consider things under a light of complete honesty. I have had to strip down detached idealism, throw away the perfectly crafted reasons for coming. I didn't expect to rethink my actions and motives with such drastic revision.

I need to go to bed now. I need the sleep. My 3rd candle is about to burn out and, although I still have the light of my computer screen, writing in the dark is just not the same.


Questions (有问题吗?)

Yesterday afternoon I was informed that my typical Egg Fried Rice lunch has gone up 25% in price, which would be alarming if my Peace Corps stipend didn't more than cover the costs of living here. Then, this morning, I found that my spicy sticky rice and potato breakfast saw a 50% increase in price (the lunch increased from 60 cents to about 75 cents, the breakfast 15 cents to 23 cents). I would ponder all of the mysteries of the trickle down effect, wondering just how many buildings must be constructed to lead us here (in addition to toying with a complex algorithm that includes many other factors), if I were not honest: I really have no idea why the price of my food is going up (exactly). The point is not to illustrate my ignorance, however, as this can be done more easily by asking me "what is the electoral college?" or "what are the basic ingredients in ice cream?"

My goal for this semester is to increase my knowledge of Chinese Culture, Society and Economy so that I can begin to become more of an "expert" on China. As I pursue this goal throughout the semester I will gladly share things I learn right here through the blog. But, as I want the readers to get the most they can from this experience, I need a little help: What questions do you have regarding China? No questions are too silly or complex. When you think of your questions, send me a brief email. This will help give me more ideas about the questions Americans have about China and help to lead me in the right direction. This will also help me better fulfill my role as a Peace Corps volunteer.



As the time for the Beijing Olympics approaches, I begin to wonder what people will see when they come to China. It is likely that most people will experience excellent hotels, restaurants and even do some sightseeing, not to mention attending the games themselves. All of this will be prepared when people arrive. The Chinese Government is working hard to be an excellent host. It is certain that the main tourist attractions are preparing for an influx of foreigners from all over the world, especially in the coastal cities.
Where I work in southwestern China is very different than the cities of Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. It is a vast region of farmland where rural communities are more firmly rooted in the traditions associated with agrarian society. I only want to remind people that there is more to China than Beijing.
When people arrive at the Beijing Olympics what will they do? Will they see the games and go home, or will they spend some time soaking up the culture of this immense country? If they travel, will they leave the coast and venture inland to see all China has to offer? If people are so bold they will learn more about China than those who remain in big cities. If they stretch themselves beyond the northwest corner, beyond the Great Wall, and into the heart of China they may be the first foreigner a child has ever seen in a rural village of Sichuan Province. People will find a better way to dig into China’s past: with their eyes. It’s likely that these travelers will see some things they never expected.
When I see Beijing on television it looks like a different world. This enormous city seems so out of the ordinary and so new. My view of this other place, this other world, is a striking reminder of how so many people in Beijing may feel about the communities in which the Peace Corps Volunteers work throughout Sichuan, Chongqing, Gansu and Guizhou Provinces. I’m excited about the opportunities people will have to see China this summer. I hope people who have the time and money will venture inland in order to, perhaps, better understand China. Although I am sure Beijing has many wonderful sights and sounds, this massive country has much more to offer than a single, bustling city.