9.26.2008

You Don't Mess with the ZOHAN


"Adam Sandler plays in the film and file members of the Israeli blitz Han, a skill he Jiao Jian Dadashasha are tired of life, intends to re-planning his career, so choose to go New York to be ahairdresser. In forging its own after the death of Johan began his hairdresser's dream, know nothing about the novice from the start, gradually practice and ultimately become a top barber."

Or at least, this was the review written on the back of the illegal DVD. For most people illegal DVDs have become just another aspect of life here. If you were to ask me where you could get a legal DVD I would probably tilt my head slightly, like a dog when it doesn't understand something.

As you can see, what's actually written on the DVD case is of minimal importance. The overall look of the packaging is the focus. Spelling the movie's name correctly is a must. Including the proper rating or accurate credits is not necessary (this was rated 'G').

My favorite DVD cases include negative reviews of the movie they are trying to sell. On one: "Horribly disappointing." On another: "A waste of your time."

DVDs go for around 8-12 yuan ($1.20-$1.80) in most places, though they are around 6-8 in Chengdu. Negotiating is acceptable for larger quantities.

9.25.2008

Oral English (07 4 Year)




After a year of Communicative English the students are starting to understand. We learn by doing. Really - we don't have to memorize long passages of English!

I can still see them on that first day. The frightened looks. Shy responses and standing to answer questions.

"May I come in?" A formal request to enter the classroom if they are late.

In April a confession: "I was afraid to talk to you this year. I didn't know if you were busy or if you would even listen to me."

The always interesting Chinese student.

I could learn things from them for years.

The Loss of Egalitarianism

The cabs pulled over to the curb where we were standing in the rain. An employee from the computer store was with Bethany and me because he wanted to help us set up the wireless internet router that Bethany had recently purchased. The first cabbie said "15," and I shook my head. I told the employee that cabs should be 10 from this part of the city, especially if they choose to avoid the meter. "Meter or 10," I always say, shaming the cab driver to the realization that I know a cab ride is 9 by the meter.

When I have knowledge of a fair price and explain that to a vendor or to service personnel, I expect to be treated reasonably.

The next cab stopped. "How much?"

"20."

Ridiculous. We prepared to take the next cab that was 15 because arguing would get us nowhere. And that's what the driver of the next cab said: "15." We climbed in the backseat and I suddenly realized how clear the conversation was. The driver was talking to the computer store employee in excellent mandarin and I understood everything.

"It's normally 10, but since there are foreigners with you it's 15."

I was livid. This kind of attitude is pretty typical of a minority of Chinese people who feel culturally superior to foreigners. These thoughts run as deep as the rampant nationalism and fervent Mao cultism that still mystifies me.

The largest factor in my anger during this kind of situation is the loss of egalitarian spirit. When someone says to your face, "It's more for you because you are a foreigner," it hurts. But one of the reasons it hurts is a lifetime of being told that we are all equal.

It's safe to say that there are many attitudes towards westerners, all of which differ across socioeconomic and geographic lines. I have found that most Chinese people are extremely hospitable and that, as a foreigner, I often feel safer in China than America; the crime rate is much lower in China. This being said, I would like to address an issue that has always lingered awkwardly in the background - a sentiment held by many Chinese that underlies the big face and warm hospitality. I am speaking of discrimination toward foreigners.

As with most sensitive topics, I usually issue a preamble to clarify and contextualize this discussion. But then, as this discussion is based solely on the rare experiences of volunteers, I don't think the information is unfair or unwarranted.

On several occasions other volunteers have complained about similar issues:

A Chinese woman is angry with another Chinese person for helping a foreigner.

The constant question: “Can you use chopsticks?” as we are in the process of using them (they can’t imagine that a foreigner would be able to do something that is so culturally significant to them).

Attitudes toward the Japanese. There is a near-universal loathing of the Japanese people that is only tempered by the fact that Japan currently plays so little of a role in their affairs.


Even the words used to label people feel harsh and have negative connotations to the American ear: "foreigner" or "outside of country person."

At first I was willing to leave this topic alone. The blatant cheating in Vietnam left me so exhausted that China looked wonderful in comparison. But this kind of cheating seems to run deeper than a desire for money. It is almost a desire for revenge.

For decades China has been closed to foreigners, yet Americans, Europeans, and Japanese have bullied their way into the Chinese market. Footholds were established in various regions, all designed to implement political pressure through military occupation or establish trade routes to cash in on untapped wealth. All of this was done against China’s wishes and the opium war in the late 1800s seemed to epitomize this persecution of China.

The additional facts that China is universally homogenous and culturally so different add to a confused national attitude of resentment, fear and admiration (yes, all at once). Of course, these attitudes are changing as China’s economy continues to grow stronger and more people shift toward individualism.

As China becomes more of a player in the global economy, individualism and globalization will affect the attitudes of people here. This will happen first on the coast where people have more access to education, decent health care, and western ideas, slowly spreading inland as the provinces accumulate capital.

It's going to be an interesting 21st century.

Cheating (2)


Today I wandered around the room, proctoring the make-up examination (the second exam) for the 5-year students. I would describe them as students who struggle to learn English, but the fact is that they have great difficulties with school. Struggle implies effort put forth to do something and these students are devious and lazy.

The 9 students slowly wrote answers to the questions and used body language that was all too familiar: something was wrong. I looked around the room. Then I walked around the room once. I sat back down at the front. Something was definitely wrong.

I was immediately upset because I knew this would involve a new level of surveillance. I was going to have to work to ensure this test was administered fairly.

The first student was obvious. She was doing a classic cheat that involves cheat-notes on the lap. I could see her eyes shifting slightly from her paper to her lap. I pretended not to notice as she looked up at me. I shifted in my seat. I took interest in someone across the room, waiting for a moment to slide over and see what was going on. Finally I turned and walked quickly to her desk. She was too late – I took two pieces of paper from inside her desk that contained several of the test answers.



This was, of course, the opening to an hour of continued crackdowns on this illicit practice. The second student was far more resourceful. She used a 1.5 x 2.5 inch card (front and back) that contained several answers to the test. This card was hidden between test sheets to avoid getting caught as I wandered around and checked their desks and laps. I turned her page to see if she was almost done with the test and there it was. An accident on my part that led to catching a cheater.



I wouldn’t have caught the next 5 students if I hadn’t seen more suspicious behavior on the part of several students. The way the test is structured, one either knows the answer or not. It does not come down to a slow process of answering questions one-by-one until finished: this test is quickly done if it is done at all. Several students were about halfway done, having completed every answer prior to the one on which they were working. Then it was clear: the students were getting the answers from another source. I cautiously checked their hands by walking around the room and looking from different angles, but there was nothing there. Sleeves were ruled out as well. Then I noticed a strange behavior. One student was using a large eraser to remove small scuffmarks from his desk. When I examined more closely I could see vague smudges of answers to the test. I checked each student and found 3 more doing the same thing. Then I investigated the desk of a girl who had completed the exam and left several minutes before: vague remnants of penned answers covered the place where her test would have been. I marked her test with a large “C” for “Cheating.”

I felt tempted to admire their aptitude for cheating, but the sadness of what this means for them and their future is overwhelming. Besides, if I caught them they couldn’t be all THAT good.

Last semester, this class suffered a large percentage of failures due to absenteeism, cheating, final examination failure, or a combination of these. The test itself was not too difficult, nor was the class. The rate of failure was around 45%, an abnormally high number.

I wrote a letter to the English department that stated a need for Chinese instructors. This class was filled with students who had poor study habits, displayed inappropriate behavior, and often failed to come to class. A foreign teacher could not solve the problems because the students don’t speak English. After some deliberation and an ultimatum, the department decided to forgo assigning foreign teachers to this class.

This semester we don’t have this class, but the students who failed the exam came to me. They asked about the make-up exam, a common practice in Chinese higher education. I would give them a make-up exam, they would pass, and everyone would be happy. Unfortunately, things don’t work like that. Generally the make-up test is designed by the Chinese teachers to be passable by a monkey on roller skates. I think differently, and the difficulty of my test changed very little. Granted, the original test was easy enough.

Cost-benefit analysis of the tests reveals some startling evidence that, had I thought about it beforehand, explains much of the behavior I saw during the make-up exam. Of the students, 78% cheated on the second exam. At first this surprised me, but further review of the situation made things clear.

A student taking a test during the first round might be embarrassed if they are caught cheating. The student is more likely to avoid this and try for a passing score by studying. After all, it is only the first test.

Students who have already failed, however, see things much differently. They have been sufficiently embarrassed by failing the first test, and now they are in an environment surrounded by other students who feel the same way. The benefit of passing the exam by cheating far outweighs the risk of being caught.

How will this situation end? Will the students end up passing the exam anyway? Were there unspoken orders to pass these students no matter how low they scored on the make-up?

It’s hard to say what will happen. I will follow the situation closely in the coming weeks.

9.23.2008

For the Dogs

I would like to give a detailed account of the dogs in Guizhou, but there is little that I know. Perhaps one could say that I know enough to be appropriately frightened, which is just the amount that the Peace Corps Medical Office wants a volunteer to know.

The first statistic we heard in Pre-service Training was the rabies vaccination rates for dogs in China (3%). As time went by and I learned more about China, I began to analyze this percentage. If the vast majority of the wealth is concentrated along the Pacific Coastline, and wealth has any correlation with owners vaccinating their dogs, then the 3% is quickly reduced to 0 in the countryside.

And so, after spending a year here, I had still never pet an animal. It was discouraging. That's why, the day I finally saw a dog wagging its tail while a little girl patted his back, I felt so happy. I strolled down to the side-street and decided to go for it. It couldn't hurt.

Now let me tell you something that I knew about dogs before coming to China. In America, the vast majority of dogs will bite when they feel threatened and a significant percentage will bite for a number of other reasons. What I'm saying is that I was well aware of the tendency for dogs to bite. Coupled with my refusal to ask the little girl whether or not I could pet her dog, my hasty attempt to pet the first animal in over a year was met with a strange smile.

That's right: the dog smiled at me. Or it seemed to for just a moment - before I realized that the teeth were fully bared and quickly approaching my knee.

People say that intense situations can cause a slow motion effect. Some report that time even stops during critical situations. I'm not sure if that happened to me. I think the truth is that some sort of epinephric fluid shot into my system and pulled my leg out of the way: I certainly didn't do it on my own.

There were political and social repercussions after this foolish incident, though not as many as there would have been if the dog had bitten me (we were at summer project, charged to the care of some Chinese college teachers). Measures would later be taken to ensure our safety by protecting us from ourselves. Questions were asked such as, "Now, you know not to walk out into the street, right?" in complete seriousness, and, generally, I felt a huge loss of face.

What I took away from the incident made it worth all of the shame. I became wary of dogs. Big dogs. Little dogs. All dogs.

This is why, when I run in the countryside, I often carry two stones - one in each fist. I have not thrown them at any dogs, but feints have proven to be an excellent deterrent. Not that I think any dogs are really going to attack me - many are tied up by the families who will later eat them.

In America a derogatory word for a police officer is "pig," but in China they use the word "dog."

When I look at the wandering, scavenging, miserable creatures along the road I feel the invisible barrier between the lives these wild animals and their American counterparts. But my moments of sympathy are always overshadowed by a deep caution.

On the Train

Recently I found myself standing on a train seat, singing a song in Chinese. Many of the other passengers had formed a circle around me, cheering me on and helping me sing.

This sounds more glamorous than it was.

It began with simple conversation. I was talking to others around me after they realized I could speak Chinese (I smiled at the right places during their conversation). We discussed the main 3 questions: Where are you from? What are you doing here? What do you think of this place?

All was usual of a train ride. I was poised to do what was necessary to promote harmony; I wore my Chinese skin. Carts rolled by with shouts of "水果,水果!“ (Fruit, fruit!) and the people who failed to purchase tickets early stood in the aisles with forlorn expressions.

The commotion began as a song.

People stood up to see. Others walked over. A crowd began to gather.

I remained in my seat and began to read my book. This will pass, I thought.

As more time passed however, the songs grew louder and more insistent. Chants rose from the animated passengers, ”再来一个!“ or, "Once more!" Curiosity turned into a conversation with myself, "I might as well find out what's going on, maybe I can learn something."

I stood up and turned around. Halfway down the car, where the revelers passed their train ride in good fun, a pair of eyes met my own. It was too late to sit down. That person had whispered to another, and so on, until all eyes were on me and everyone was yelling, ”过来,过来吧!“ (Come on over!), and suddenly I found myself standing in a circle of 20 Chinese College students and young adults, calling for a song. Despite my best efforts to convince them that I couldn't sing (this is true), they managed to learn that I knew a Chinese song (this is only partly true). And after much encouragement and coaxing, I found them ignoring my terrible voice, ignoring my wretched pronunciation, ignoring the forgotten words in the song, and, actually, singing along with me. I was an instant ”外国朋友“ (translates as "foreign friend," but I'd like to say "rock star").

By suffering the small embarrassment of my singing, I bought my way into watching that of so many others as they were cajoled, no, bullied to sing or dance or both, to the great entertainment of all.

It was one of the shortest train rides ever.

9.18.2008

Military Training - 军训


If you were raised in the western world then some of this may seem a little odd to you. Please remember that these are only my observations and thoughts; I do not mean to upset anyone.

For weeks now I have been trying to prepare a fair account of the compulsory military training that happens throughout China before students begin their college classes. Speaking to students, reading articles, and watching the training has given me a lot to think about. I remain uncertain about the true feelings and motives of the people who have orchestrated this annual welcome ceremony: the people in the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party.

I am certain about widespread student contempt for the activities based on interviews with them. When the occasional student says they enjoy the training it may be genuine and it may be meant to impress me. The student disapproval of this military drill instruction is largely due to the long hours and relentless standing and drilling, however, not because they have a fundamental disagreement in philosophy.

I have interviewed about ten students regarding the reason for military training and the answer is always a spirited, “To keep healthy and exercise.” Strangely, the military drilling includes virtually no component of exercise whatsoever. Instead of doing something that will help strengthen muscles or heart the students are constantly marching. Perhaps the “exercise,” they mean is related to the leg workout from standing for long periods of time. I have yet to see a group of students going for a long jog to improve their cardiovascular system.

So what’s the deal? I see several possibilities for the students to give this answer. The first is that they were told this throughout the training. Common in China is the pat answer for common questions.

Me: “How can we stop littering?”
Student: “Stop using disposable chopsticks.” [this is said as they are using disposable chopsticks]

Me: “Why do the Japanese have a history of attacking China?”
Student: “They are a small island country and they need to take resources from other countries.” [I have heard this more than ten times now]

Essentially Chinese students have been trained to respond to questions without having the understanding and synthesis required to make a sound argument about the issue. This is rooted in how characters are learned (memorization), and how learning is viewed (facts to be learned). Another encouraging factor is the Confucian tradition of following the group in the interest of social harmony.

Perhaps the students are embarrassed about what the military training is truly about: it’s more political than they would like to admit.

Personally I think the training is geared more towards the twofold aspect of discipline. A combination of self-governance and respect for authority (the party) is sought as students march to the beat of one drum. Self-discipline comes from enduring the training and making it, tearfully, to the end. The government sends People’s Liberation Army (PLA) officers to preside over groups of students as their trainers for the two to three weeks of drill. The time is so intense and difficult that many girls have fallen in love with their drill instructors by the end of the training, giving their phone numbers and their QQ instant message nicknames to the officers. The government recently re-wrote the guidelines to help prevent this kind of behavior from happening.

I think there is a real benefit to this training. Nobody gains much knowledge from the mind-numbing routine, but the students are prepared for a time when they would have to organize to defend their country. Nationalism runs thick in China and people are willing to make small sacrifices for this ideal. Over a decade ago this military training included trips to the countryside where students would fire guns. Though this practice is no longer in place, watching the students march in their camouflage uniforms offers little room for doubt: this is the beginning of training soldiers.

9.17.2008

"2"

The number of mosquitoes required to drag me itching and scratching from my bed in the middle of the night. (It is time to embrace my mosquito net)

The Condition of the English Building




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9.15.2008

Texting at Night

My Favorite Restaurant

Last year I mentioned my favorite restaurant in a post. Shortly thereafter the walk became too long and the flies too many. Even after months of eating in a new restaurant people continued to ask me about the people in the blog photo. "Sorry, I really don't know," I would admit, "I don't eat there anymore." I have found a new family.

The "kitchen" is located at the front of a room, with two burners and a fan running throughout the day. The husband and wife take orders, scooping ingredients from bowls on the tables behind them. There is a fridge on the side that I've never seen them open.

Their children (a 5th grade boy and high school girl) help with cleaning and cooking duties when they are home from school.

If the main restaurant (two tables) is crowded there is a room downstairs (two more tables). At the back of this room is a large curtain that covers the living space (2 beds) for the family.

When I spit inedible things on the floor of the restaurant I rarely think about the fact that this is where they live. Thinking this way is unnecessary: it will all be swept up soon enough, and this is the culturally appropriate way to get rid of used napkins, bones, or spicy peppers.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this restaurant is the view of the neighbors. This was taken from my table:

Ping Pong

The outdoor Ping Pong tables have finally been replaced. Now instead of 8 tables there are 14, inviting more people to play without having to stand in line. It has been nice to play there, but every time I went out I had to wonder: "What's with this fence?" At first it didn't seem to be a problem because the gate was wide open. Today, an official holiday in China, the gate was shut and locked. It prompts all sorts of questions:

1. Are they locking the gate to keep the tables from being stolen?
2. Are they worried that people will play too late?
3. Is there even a real reason for this?

I will pursue these questions further during this semester. It seems that stolen tables is highly unlikely, given they are bolted down. The worry that students will play too late is unfounded because there is inadequate light to support a game. The final question probably leads more to the truth. Someone, somewhere, has made a decision. Whether that decision was based on reason or not is entirely unclear. Perhaps there was some money allocated for the Ping Pong reconstruction and it was not entirely used. The extra money was then spent on a fence so that all of the money could be used. This is based on reason, though it doesn't seem very fiscally responsible.

Instead of building a fence, why not install four tall lampposts to provide light throughout the courts? I could play all night.

What do you think? Why have they installed the fence?


9.11.2008

Game Club

In an effort to take on more responsibility this year I have decided to start a game club. A game club provides opportunities for students to read and speak English, improving their overall communication skills (especially when a dispute is settled by referring to the direction booklet!). This is a chance for students to practice English in a low-stress environment, reducing their inhibitions to speak naturally.

I have a couple of chess sets and playing cards to get me started, but I need some help through donations of games. I would like to get some more "board" and "strategy" games, specifically (1) Settlers of Catan and (2) Monopoly, but any board games are welcome. Anyone willing to send games can contact me about this via email (fn0112358@gmail.com).

Also - if someone has a connection with someone who works at a game store or company and they might be able to get a deal please let me know.

Many, many thanks.


9.10.2008

广播 (Broadcast)


Perhaps you can't see what is attached to the edge of this building and that's OK because I'm going to tell you: they are loudspeakers - part of a public address (PA) system on the campus. These are used thrice daily to give news, celebrate birthdays, and make local announcements. They are useful for waking eager students up in the morning. However, they also wake not-so-eager students who don't have class until 10 a.m. They were used a week after the earthquake to project the sounds of that terrible day while students stood silent and motionless. They are probably the most normalizing aspect of my life here because they unconsciously tell me what time it is (either between 6:30 and 7:00, 12:00 and 12:30 or 6:00 and 6:30). The fact that I can barely understand the cracklings of the thin voice is ok with me, I am merely content that it plays regularly.

There has been talk that the foreign teachers will take an active role in these broadcasts. Within a few weeks we will be invited to give a short presentation in English about a topic of our choosing (I will chose "How to Study English"). After our presentation they will open a single hotline for students to ask follow-up questions. I'm already looking forward to the first phone call:

Caller: Hallo, I jab schion oregn echier - hwn you say zhat pelo, hao do you mine?
Translator: Excuse me, would you please speak Mandarin?
Caller: Oh, shahry, [more unintelligible speech]
[several minutes of back and forth]
Translator: Oh, what he wants to ask is, "How can [he] study English better?"
Me: Ummm... I just gave a presentation about that.
Translator: [Obviously confused about what to say] Oh.

And so on.

Actually, it will go much smoother than this (probably), but I am always suspect of things that have been organized in the Chinese fashion in Guizhou Province. Typically it means that either some or a lot of preparation has been done, but there are always wild cards that make one think, "Did they even begin to think about this event; where is the organization?"

I'm excited for this broadcast. My speech will have three main tenets: Practice, practice, practice.

English Lessons

In one of my most successful lessons so far, my students got the opportunity to express themselves as they were and as they are.

I broke the class into several groups and gave each group a large piece of paper and markers. On the paper they were asked to represent themselves (some groups represented the typical primary school student, some did middle/high school, and others did college). The assignment was to draw a picture of a person who represented this group and write words to express your life at the time.

The results were eye-opening. Elementary representations included a school uniform and the thoughts that everything was wonderful: many friends and much happiness. The middle/high school representations showed students loaded down by books and included such words as "studying," "homework," and "serious." The college representations included cell phones and cool clothes. Words like "friends," "chatting," and "no money," covered these posters.

One of the students came to me and asked, "How do you say it in English when you say you are poor but you really are not poor." I tried to think and couldn't come up with anything so I just said, "Maybe we would just say 'liar'." Then she noted the poster that said, "no money." She said, "They write 'no money' on their poster, but I know these boys and they have money." It was interesting how this activity became different things for different people. Their poster helped her to practice her Oral English because she was personally interested in this dissonance. The affront became something that would help connect English phrases and words in her brain.

For other students the results were different. One student continually spoke in Chinese, despite repeated warnings. It took the threat of "Kou Fen," or, taking points, to finally convince her that English would be the appropriate means for communication in this Oral English class.

It was an activity that offered many chances to communicate with one another. It was interesting to most students, mostly because it was connected to their own lives. Like all experiences in class I told my students, "It's what you make of this time that will determine how good your Oral English becomes. Those of you who try will improve."

If you have something that would help my students practice their Oral English in a fun or unique way, please let me know. I don't know exactly what that might be, but the first thing that jumps into my mind are puppets!

Cheers!

The Freshmen Arrive

These are exciting times on campus. The new students have mostly arrived, unpacked, and begun to look around at their new surroundings. The workers have been making a great effort to improve the buildings and environment of the campus. I passed the ping pong court on the way to the library yesterday and found 14 new tables in place of the 8 old ones. Happy day. The whole process reminds me of parent's weekend in college. The cafeteria only served the best foods that weekend and they even cut the grass on the quad. It's nice to see such eager faces again. Last year it was much the same until the incredible class load began to steal the life from many of my students.

Some of my students welcomed the new English Major students so they could help carry luggage. The sign says, "Foreign Language Department" or, literally, "Outside Language Department." (1)

The larger sign welcomes all students with the sentence, "Anshun College welcomes you!" (2)

The cell phone companies fought for business. It's really quite entertaining, especially when I pretend to be interested and they try to explain their calling plans. I don't even understand those in English. (3)




9.07.2008

My bookshelf

During my time here in China I have found a number of enlightening books on Chinese thought, culture, events, history and politics. The following is a list of my favorites with some information about why you might find it interesting. (* Means I really think you might like it)

If you have questions about what to read because you are interested in reading more about some aspect of China, just send me an email (fn0112358@gmail.com). There are also countless Newsweek articles in the online archive that cover a range of topics related to Chinese society and economy.

River Town*
Peter Hessler

This is the first book I read about China. I read it before I left and again since I have been here (it was two different books!). It resonates because the author was not only a Peace Corps China Volunteer, but the book specifically discusses his experiences volunteering in Sichuan.

Oracle Bones
Peter Hessler

This is somewhat a follow-up of River Town. It follows Hessler’s work while in Beijing after Peace Corps. The style is like River Town with a combination of Autobiography and Chinese History. It is very readable non-fiction about China and the history connected to Oracle Bones.

The Rape of Nanking*
Iris Chang

This is one of the most eye-opening books that helps to explain the relationship between common Chinese people today and the Japanese. This is an event that few Westerners know about; one would be wise to try and understand it better.

Individualism and Collectivism

Harry C. Triandis

This is a very well researched book about the differences between collectivist and individualist societies. It analyzes these two aspects from many different angles, though it can be a bit dry at times. This is for anyone who wants to know more about the social science of individualism and collectivism.

Encountering the Chinese*
Cornelius Grove

This is by far the most readable book about everyday aspects of modern Chinese culture. For anyone interested in basic differences between Chinese and Americans, this is a good place to begin.

Chinese Lessons*

John Pomfret

This was a wonderful autobiography about a man who studied in China. He tells the stories of his classmates, most of whom were directly influenced by the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Very readable.


China Wakes

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn
I am just finishing this book and it has been worth the read. The chapters alternate writers (they are husband and wife). This is probably the most openly critical book I have read about China. Aspects of current problems in certain *ahem* autonomous regions are also alluded to throughout the book.

China (Cambridge Illustrated History)
Patricia Buckley Ebrey

This is an illustrated history of China’s History, covering everything. As such, it treats most topics rather superficially (as a High School History textbook might), but provides amazing photographs and maps to help illustrate the location of “China” throughout the dynasties.

A Bitter Revolution
Rana Mitter

Mitter covers the modern Chinese developments beginning with the events surrounding the movement of 1919 and continuing to the present day. This is a book more about the politics of China during this period. The author spends most of his time arguing that the May 4th movement of 1919 was the defining moment for modern China (from which all things have been influenced).

Waterfall

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A Phone Call Away

If you would like to call me it's actually very easy. My phone number is on the bottom of this page. Since it's probably a local number (for you), you will only be charged the local minutes your cell phone company gives you each month. Let it ring. Really - I think it averages 20 rings to get through. Unfortunately, I cannot call you back. This is a one-way system for now.

Waterfall

This weekend I visited Huangguoshu waterfall, the largest waterfall in Asia and the 3rd largest in the world (don't ask me how they know, I have yet to get a clear answer on how it is measured). This attraction is only about an hour by bus from my city. To give you an idea about the importance of this attraction, the question, "Have you seen the waterfall," is used in approximately 90% of conversations I have. When I was at home this summer I talked to a few people in Chinese. They asked me where I lived in China, but when I said "Anshun," they looked puzzled. "Huangguoshu waterfall," I would say. That's all it took.

Funny Chinglish signs were everywhere. The sign on the bottom right inspired me to climb, considering there was no danger involved.

After leaving the waterfall we went to another place with a series of connected ponds in a heavily forested and rocky area. Birth markers were imprinted in the stones. I learned that Aron's birthday is the same as Mao Zedong's. Right on!













9.05.2008

Rantings

If I had the foresight to save every interesting or strange piece of information I found related to China then this post would actually be pretty good. Direct your attention toward the following, which I found on a website that not only gave information about Anshun, but tried to convince you that it would be a good stop on your way to... well... I mean, if you decided that you wanted...um... So the truth is that nobody comes here. To be honest this is due to marketing problems, the way the natural sites are set up, and the unwillingness of many travelers to experience an adventure. Anyway, this is what I stumbled upon:

Anshun Climate and Terrain

Anshun has a pleasant climate with an abundant of natural resources. The average temperature is around 15 centigrade. The highest elevation is 1,850 meters and the lowest is 365 meters. Mountainous area occupies 64.5% of the total area; hilly areas accounts for 27%; and dam area takes 8.5%. Within the boundary of Anshun, it is a humid subtropical monsoon climate. So people feel warm during any season.


At first sight it is a rather nice explanation of Anshun's climate and terrain. Continuing through the paragraph I came upon the last sentence: the sentence that I read, not two or three, but four times. Huddling next to a space heater throughout the last winter wasn't my idea of feeling warm during any season.

Perhaps I'm sending an email, updating my blog and I get a message on skype that says the following:

I am Kabore Mohamed from Africa; I have gold and diamond for sale. My friend have told me that I can see good market in your country, that is why I contact you for know your opinion so if not interested, please kindly help me find buyer in your country. Also, we have cashew nut and sesame for sale.

Now I don't need to rely on the Shane company to find a friend in the diamond business. An on the off chance that I were more of a cashew guy, I'm covered.

It was noted by another volunteer (AP) that the internet censorship seems to be less rigid now. I got the same feeling when websites like, say, this one, were no longer blocked. Get this: I can post information on the Internet for everyone to see without using a proxy server. Amazing, right? I can tell you what's happening without having to go through the annoying steps of surfing through a server in Europe and you can read the post before an underpaid Chinese Internet Security employee does.

On another note, I think I could dedicate an entire post to the interesting things I read in the China Daily. I'll get to work.

9.03.2008

Returning

The car was parked next to a large pile of rubble. A building that once stood, abandoned, is now gone. My attention was so focused on the change that it took several minutes of walking before I saw everything else: the deep ravine that swallowed an entire backhoe, the scaffolding surrounding the English Department, the workers using pushcarts to move furniture out of the Administration building and the man chipping away at the same building to expose the bricks underneath. All of these were signs of a college that is constantly changing. There were other signs too: The new ping pong tables stacked next to the old court, a basketball court renovation that includes new hoops, new courts and the fancy benches that surround them, and the ubiquitous marketing of cell phones and drinking water delivery services. The campus is a tent city where one cell phone company gives away free knick-knacks with the purchase of a new phone while their neighbor tries to think of another strategy.

This is a new campus; the best debris from broken buildings being moved to new construction sites off campus, business not conducted in legal zones because it’s worth the risk, considering the penalties. I would even like to make a case that I’m experiencing a microcosm of China. I don’t know why, but the contradictions seem to justify it. The new and the old stand together. The constant drive for development.

The day it took to get back proved to be an interesting transformation. On a plane with Chinese and Americans, bound for Beijing, I found the atmosphere to be a blend of English and Chinese. Most of the Chinese people on the flight also spoke English. The Chinese flight attendants spoke with near-native proficiency. On the plane from Beijing to Guiyang, however, I suspect the flight attendants were reading the English guidelines from a placard (I also had the awkward feeling that they were reading those guidelines just for me, as I was the only foreigner on the plane). While the plane taxied towards the terminal the people unfastened their seatbelts and began pulling their luggage from the overhead compartments despite the specific request not to do so. I knew, then, that I had arrived, but when I stood up and saw 10 passengers unabashedly staring at me I was absolutely certain.

The last couple of days have been a focus upon preparing for my semester. The freshmen have not yet arrived for their military training, but my sophomores are already attending classes and wondering about the upcoming year. Some students have decided to move off campus so that they can cook for themselves: a luxury not granted to dorm-dwellers. I saw students carrying a thermos, reminding me that a bar of soap, some hot water and a cloth are the only things one needs to delay a shower indefinitely. There were distant echoes of an ominous winter, but the sun blocked out all of those thoughts.

Going for a run I discovered Anshun once again. I found the many staring people sitting outside their shops (converted from their homes). The rice paddies still seem to crowd the city and not the other way around. Down a rural street, surrounded by fields, I am running. Up ahead, children are swimming in an irrigation lake to escape the heat. A child, perhaps as a joke, begins running along with me, burdened by his backpack. We speak a bit in Chinese and he invites me to swim. I decline and he waves goodbye, veering toward the small lake. I try to think about a new year.