November 30, 2006

Tea Change Time...
I was reading a recent article in The China Daily (the Chinese government's national English daily newspaper) this morning and came across an interesting article called "Expats must learn to go with the flow".
The article was some advice from a TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) doctor about how we should prepare for the coming winter season. First we should switch from drinking Wulong tea to drinking Pu'er tea. Apparently there are different teas for different seasons:
-in summer drink green tea
-in autumn drink wulong tea
-in winter drink pu'er tea
-in spring drink jasmine tea
The next thing the doctor says is that "Westerners usually have more yang factors in the body, but not enough yin factors". Too much yang leads to hardness but that allows us to warm up, thus enduring the cold winters of northern China. Excessive yang also means that foreigners aren't as patient or flexible as Chinese. To correct this, we should nurture our qi and avoid drinking cold water or eating cold foods.
I guess I need to buy some pu'er tea.

November 29, 2006

Aljazeera Watching...
After 6 weeks I've finally got cable again! Granted I don't understand most of the stations, but it's nice to watch some Chinese or Pakistani music videos from time to time. My satellite television feed includes 10 Hindi channels, 10 Arabic channels (though the Sudanese and Khyber feeds don't seem to work), and 15 Chinese channels. For some reason I can't get either French or English CCTV, though I do get Bloomberg's 24 hour stock market channel. My English language channels are limited to Pakistani MTV, a Singaporean station, NOW TV, and Aljazeera's English "Living Asia".
I must admit that Aljazeera's new English language channel is shaping up well, and I'm sure it'll provide some interesting TV watching in the months to come. The focus is of course on the Middle East and Asia, but they cover world events too. This afternoon I watched a few spots -one about freedom (or lack thereof) of press in Morocco, another about the overuse of photos of children in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and another about the Pope's current visit to Turkey. From the little I've seen, it seems quite open and shows both sides of any story. I'll have to keep watching to see if it stays that way.

November 27, 2006

Wash Scrub Scrub...
Another one of those songs you can't get out of your head. The group is called "Huar YueDui" or "Flower Band", and the song is "Xi Shua Shua" (嘻唰唰). The name sounds a lot like "Wash Scrub Scrub", but it's different characters. The first character actually means laugh. They play with the fact that the characters sound like wash scrub scrub, as you'll see when they dance with scrub brushes.

If you want to sing along, all you need to know is "Xi shua shua".
I decided to update things a bit, and modernize my blog. I had the old format for over three years, so I know it might be a bit hard to adapt! One of the new features are the tags at the bottom of each post. It'll pull up past posts that have similarly themed content.
I'm still trying to work things out, so I might add/take away bits and pieces over the next week or so. Comments and suggestions are welcome!

November 26, 2006

Lost in Translation, Revisited...
When I first watched Lost in Translation in Canada a couple years back, I'll admit that I didn't really like it. I know that it got some great reviews but I honestly found it a bit boring.
I bought a copy of Lost in Translation the other day and the back cover seemed a bit lost in translation itself. The DVD features "Longuoges: Englis & Fransais" as well as "Subtitoes:Ftanssis,Espainol" [sic]. I finally had a chance to watch it on Friday, and must say that I loved the movie. It's quite insightful and very funny at the same time.
The two main characters, Bob and Charlotte, are both sleepless, lonely, and totally lost. Lost in the world, lost in love, lost in life. Totally lost. Sure the setting is 'exotic' Tokyo, but it could take place anywhere. People trying to find themselves in the world.
It doesn't sound all the exciting, but it's incredibly funny. Some of the comments they make, things that happen -maybe part of it is that I can relate to it a certain degree, being in a place with a totally different language, culture, food, customs, etc. The times when you just sit there looking out the window, looking at everything and nothing. The times when you wonder how things will work out. The times when you try to hard to figure it out.
If you're lost in some way, you'll probably find yourself in this movie for at least the 102 minutes that it runs.

November 24, 2006

Gurgle Gurgle...
...go the empty water pipes. You'd be surprised how noisy empty water pipes can be.
My school had no water for 24hours (almost exactly), from Wednesday evening until Thursday evening when it started to snow. It's a good thing the water came back too, since the buildings are heated by hot water radiators. The high temperature of the day was a balmy 4C, and as soon as the sun went down it started to snow. Imagine no heating.
Of course, no water also means no toilet flushing and no hand washing. Please don't imagine the smell. Luckily I noticed the drop in water pressure on Wednesday night so I got a kettle and a bucket full of water for tea and hand washing.
Nobody knew why there was no water, nor how long it would take to be restored. It was quite odd though that the sprinklers at the front of the building were able to water the clover for 5hours.

November 22, 2006

Flu Shot...
I got a flu shot this morning, which will hopefully reduce the amount I'm sick this winter. I definitely don't want to have a cold and a flu at the same time. So far my arm isn't sore, so hopefully it won't react weirdly!

November 20, 2006

Chinese Mosquitos...
There aren't so many mosquitos now that it's the middle of November but there's still the odd few flying around my room. Now you might be under the impression that a mosquito anywhere is just a mosquito, but I can assure you that Chinese mosquitos are something special. Something that I have never encountered before. First of all, I've never noticed that there was so much variation in mosquitos -different sizes, colours, wing contours, leg shapes, etc.
Normally it's not too hard to kill a mosquito. You see it on the wall and hit it -it's dead and there's a spot of blood on the wall. But in China after you hit a mosquito on the wall it flies away. That is if you can even manage to get close to it before it flies away. Once it flies away you can try to catch it in your hand and squish it, but that probably won't work either. You see, I've noticed that mosquitos do this clever diving trick. They pretend to be dead and fall out of your hand when you open it, but then they fly away. There's also the disappearing mosquito trick, where you think you have the mosquito in your hand because you didn't see it fly away, but you open your hand and it's gone.
When you lay in bed you can hear them swarming towards your head and buzzing in your ear, but as soon as you turn on the light they disappear. You know there are more then one, because you've heard them crash into each other (no joke!). There's no doubt the next day they were there either as you have many red spots, of different sizes and 'itchiness', from the mosquito's buffet the previous night.
Maybe it's due to generations of people trying to kill all the mosquitos, but it seems only to have bred smarter and faster mosquitos.
One night in September I killed between 40 and 50 mosquitos in my room, I was counting, before I realised that there were just as many waiting for me to turn out the light before they started feasting on my flesh again. I tried the mosquito repellent I brought from Canada, which only seemed to attract more mosquitos. It was like a signal saying "human trying to hide from us, attack!". Needless to say I didn't sleep much that night, even though I ended up switching rooms and sleeping on the couch.

November 18, 2006

Today's Chinese word of the day is pa2shou3 (扒手) or "Pickpocket". I learned today about how skillful Chinese pickpockets are, as one deftly lifted my digital camera out of my pocket. I like the Chinese characters for a pickpocket -"snatch hand". It's quite fitting really.
I had just bought some pistachios, and walked across to street. Buy the time I got to the next corner I realised my camera was gone. It must have been someone in the crowd crossing the street, or just on the other side of the road. I can't believe I was so stupid. On the bright side I guess that means I have to buy a new camera. Luckily though I didn't loose too many photos, just a few from a Korean dinner a few nights ago.
Of course everyone says that it must have been a kid from XinJiang (a large Muslim province in the northwest of China), but the XinJiang Autonomous region is still part of China, isn't it? Quite interesting if you know/think about the politics of that for a second.

November 17, 2006

Blooming Peach Blossom...
There are a lot of songs that I hear over and over and over again here in China. You hear the same few songs everywhere -cell phone ring tones, in the grocery store, outside a music shop, in the train station, on the radio, in the bus, etc. I finally decided to look up a few of the music videos and here's one for a song that I hear all the time. The song is called "TaoHua DuoDuo Kai" (Blooming Peach Blossom) by "A Niu" (Ah Cow).
In case you want to do some KTV, here's the first few lines of lyrics in PinYin:
-Wo zai zher deng zhe ni huilai
deng zhe ni huilai
kan na taohua kai
wo zai zher deng zhe ni huilai
deng zhe ni huilai
ba na hua er cai

If you're interested in more current/popular Chinese music videos, let me know and I can post a few more.

November 16, 2006

School of Centenary Prestige...
Today was the 100 year anniversary celebration at my middle school. Yup, my school was founded in 1906 during the Qing Dynasty as a women's middle school. Sometime during the Cultural Revolution it became a mixed school, and in 1996 it became a foreign language school.
The whole school has been fixed up, repainted, and cleaned, which included sending hoards of students behind the dorms to pick up the garbage they throw out their windows into the bushes below! Now I don't have to look at yogurt bags and dirty underwear in the morning (at least for another week).
The ceremony itself was fairly short, only 2 hours with speeches by dignitaries and alumni, a song by the teachers, and a poem recital. They also published a short, glossy book for the anniversary with the photos they took of me a few weeks back in it.
The students had the rest of today and Friday to go home, so there's hardly anyone left here. Because they get a day off school, the Senior 3 students (last year at highschool) must make up missed classes on Saturday and Sunday, while the rest of the students only have to make up classes on Sunday. Which means... I have to teach classes this Sunday.

November 13, 2006

Beijing, Again...
I went up to Beijing again this past weekend for some shopping, coffee, and sightseeing with five foreign friends from the university. We left Baoding on Friday afternoon, and arrived at the Jade Hostel after dinner time so we ate at the first restaurant we came to, Beijing Roast Duck (北京烤鸭)! After wandering WangFuJing a bit, we headed back to call it a night.
We decided to visit the Great Wall at Mutianyu (慕田峪长城) on Saturday morning. After leaving less early than we expected due to coffee and pastries, we made it to Dongzhimen Bus Station to start looking for a way there. We ended up getting a private van, which costed about as much as the bus/minibus combo, but without stopping every 5 minutes at a bus stop. The guy had a cute little 1 month old puppy with him. It whimpered quite a bit so the guy asked us if we wanted him to throw it out the window. No joke! We said no, the dog was OK.
The wall itself was amazing. We took a cable-car to the top, and a toboggan ride down. The photo above is posted right when you get onto the cart thing - TEST THE BRAKE - so I made sure to test the brake. We had to buy 1Yuan ($0.15) insurance with the entrance ticket, so you can imagine the insurance jokes! I've still got my insurance papers, just in case...
Back in Beijing we had dinner at Mr. Pizza, the first pizza I've had in two months, and the first time I've used a fork and knife in two months! I thought it was pretty good, but then I haven't really had much to compare it to recently. After a few hours of shopping, the others headed back home while I stuck around the big city for another day.
I decided to make Sunday a relaxing day so I headed first to JingShan Park (景山公园), right behind the Forbidden City (故宫). There's a big hill in the park made from the dirt pulled up from the moat around the Forbidden City, from where you can see over the roofs of the old palace. It's quite impressive, although there was too much fog/smog to see much. The photo to the left is where the last Ming emperor hung himself in 1644AD, after it was clear that Li Zicheng would capture Beijing, ending the Ming Dynasty.
Next I wandered over to BeiHai Park (北海公园), just across the street and north of the Forbidden City. It was another gorgeous park. The park used to be the site of Kublai Khan's (1300's) palace, but all that's left is a giant jade bowl that is thought to have been used to hold wine for large banquets. It's also home to the Nine Dragon Screen built in 1771, and a giant White Dagoba built in 1651 for a visit by the Dalai Lama. There are also a number of temples and gardens where the emperors used to sit and read. The history is just amazing -even some of the trees have their own history ("This tree was planted by Emperor XZY", "The famous poet ABC wrote a poem about this tree, which is where it's name comes from", etc).
After some snack food I wandered to Tian'anmen Square, before hitting up a Starbucks on WangFuJing DaJie. I decided to splurge and get the most expensive coffee on the menu -a grande caramel machiatto for 30Yuan. Sure it's about the same price as everywhere else, but in China 30Yuan can buy you 1.5months of cell phone time, 5 DVDs, 8 bowls of duck fried rice at the cafeteria, 12 bubble/milk teas, 34 packets of Nescafe instant coffee, or 100 bowls of rice porridge (zhou1). I enjoyed every drop of it.

November 10, 2006

Disappearing DVDs...
I had better not say anything incriminating, but everyone knows there is a healthy market for cheap DVDs in China, and in many other countries in this part of the world. It's quite easy to get a DVD soon after the movie is released in theatres (though of varying quality, sometimes with someone's head as they get up for more popcorn). Anyway, a few days ago all the cheap DVDs were cleared out of a shop that I have visited on occasion. Apparently this happens from time to time as the police do their job, but in a week or two the DVDs should be back and members of the police force, not in uniform of course, will be back buying DVDs with the rest of us.

November 09, 2006

French Night Out of Rice?
It's been quite a while since I've spoken any French really, and I've been missing it, so I decided to get together all the French speakers in the city for dinner last night. We were five in total -a newly arrived Francaise from the Paris region teaching here, an Italienne from Turino studying Chinese before she translates a book for her masters, a Francais/Canadien born in Laos, a Quebecoise who's here studying Mandarin for a year, and me the anglo. We had a great time with lots of laughs, and of course the requisite comparisons between Canadian and Parisian French (Marrant? What did you say?), and the comparison of stereotypes (it's vast and cold there, non?). The meal wasn't half bad either, although they didn't have enough rice! We ordered five bowls, but the waitress came back and said they only had four bowls of rice left. Things were made better at the end of the meal though when the waitress gave us all fuzzy animal things to put on our cell phones or onto our key chains.

November 06, 2006

Cold, again...
I've fallen ill with another cold. I'm not exactly sure, but I think it's the 3rd or 4th cold that I've gotten in my two months here so far. I've tried to take care of myself -oranges/apples everyday, keeping as warm as possible (although there's no heat until Nov. 15th), lots of hand washing, vitamin pills everyday, enough sleep, and a balanced diet, etc. The only thing I can think of is that there are more strains of cold here than I've ever been exposed to in Canada, and it'll take some time to build up immunity. Of course it doesn't help that the level of hygiene is lower in China than in Canada -spitting everywhere, one nostril nose blowing (although I'm impressed, because I know I'd end up with snot all over me), the lady who picks her nose then makes your noodles, and the lack of soap if hand washing occurs.
Talking to other foreigners who've been here for more than a year, they all said they got sick quite often the first year for the same reasons. At least I'll have a good immunity when I go back.

November 04, 2006

The Token Foreigner...
My school is turning 100 this month so they're putting on a big celebration in a few weeks time. They've also decided to put together a glossy brochure to promote the school. Seeing as it's a foreign language school, they need pictures of the foreign teachers at work. So this morning a group of students and I held hands and walked across the field while the photographer took photos. We then had another photo shoot, where I was pretending to teach a small group of students something outside (if you look closely, I was teaching them from their chemistry texts). We'll see how the photos turns out. In the example photos the photographer had from another school, I saw two other foreign teachers that I met earlier this year. I wonder if they ever saw the photos?