March 31, 2007

Happy birthday to me...
Today's my birthday, and I'm turning another year older. It's been a long week, in more ways than one, but at least the weekend is finally here and I can live it up a bit in my little town here in China.
More about the week's activities (including a home-cooked Mexican meal!) later.

March 29, 2007

Big Issues...
I'm just going to post a little blurb now, but there are some big problems/issues/intrigue that has arrisen in the past few days. I'll post more after the meeting in a few minutes.

March 27, 2007

No Power, No Water (Again)...
I woke up to a powerless day, again. The power was out at my school for over 12 hours. At least it was warmish outside today and luckily the water was running except for a few hours in the afternoon.

March 26, 2007

Forbidden City Made Possible By...
...The American Express Company
There's nothing more enjoyable than getting away from here for an amazing weekend in Beijing, filled with real food and fun. It didn't start off too fun with train difficulties on Friday morning, but we arrived in Beijing all the same an hour or so late. After meeting with some friends of friends, and getting some food, I went to the Silk Market with Kim and Tami and did some bargaining for gifts. We were soon off to North SanLiTun, one of the bar districts in Beijing. I have been craving a real pizza for several months now and I was told about a great place there called The Tree which has real cheese, real pepperoni, and real pizza sauce! Most pizzas in China include corn/potato as a topping, don't have good cheese, and are served soggy. As soon as I stepped into the place, I knew I would have to stay and wait the hour and a half for a table. Not only was the Pepperoni pizza amazing, but I was able to get a Leffe too. The whole group of us then headed out to another couple of places and danced a bit (while some of the girls with us got poked by Chinese men, but that's another story).
The next morning I had some French toast, for the first time in 7 months, with Kim and Tami. We met up with Jodee and Stephanie from my school, as well as a bunch more people, then headed off to the Forbidden City (aka "The Palace Museum"). It was a beautiful day with amazingly blue sky and a warm breeze (the sky is rarely blue in Beijing), and the Forbidden City was pretty empty. It was actually a pleasure to walk through the huge complex, though it was odd to see at the bottom of every sign "Made Possible by the American Express Company". I was determined to find the controversial Starbucks within the compound and eventually decided on an amazing vanilla frappuccino. For dinner we headed to a great sushi place, then off to another district of Beijing for some expensive drinks by a lake to finish off the evening.
On Sunday morning I went for breakfast with Sarah and Josh at Lush, a cool place in WuDaoKou where you could hang out all day. I had my first pancakes with syrup in 7 months along three cups of amazing coffee, all for 20RMB ($3.00)! Amazing I tell you. After a real breakfast, we headed to the Capital Museum to check it out for a bit before heading to Carrefour to pick up some essentials such as pastries, chocolat milk powder, and cheese

March 23, 2007

Beijing, again...
Well I'm off to Beijing again. I'm not too sure what I'll be doing yet this weekend, but I've got three days to spend there before I have to head back to work. I'll be travelling with a few friends from here in town, so it should be fun in any case.

March 21, 2007

Blocked, again...
It seems that the Chinese government has once again blocked/banned in China. I know it's not the site itself that has problems because I can access blogs indirectly. I wonder how long they'll block blogs again this time?

March 18, 2007

Random Conversation...
Often when I walk around the track at school the students shout "Hello" at me from their dorm windows. But tonight after dinner as I was going around the track a girl shouted at me from her window:
"Hello handsome teacher!"

March 17, 2007

The 11th is Queuing Day in Beijing...
According to a headline in the wonderfully exciting, interesting, and insightful China Daily, "Beijing institutes queuing day"! Now imagine this, the government has decided that the 11th of every month will be "Queuing Day", which means that if there are two or more people waiting for something they are supposed to line up. That's right, the government has to encourage people to line up to help eliminate line-jumping before the 2008 Olympics. It seems they feel that having people line up once a month will lead to an orderly and 'civilized' Olympics.
According to the newspaper "orderly queues are a rare sight in a city which is also hard at work trying to put an end to spitting and littering and present a more "civilised" face to the world in 2008." The Capital Ethic Development Office, set up to teach manners to the people of Beijing, also hopes that Beijing residents can be "missionaries of civilisation" for the rest of China.
In an effort to encourage Beijing citizens to actually line up, slogans have been posted around town such as "It's civilised to queue, it's glorious to be polite", "Voluntarily wait in line, be polite and put other people first", and "I care about and participate in the Olympics and set an example by queuing".
I wonder if people will be able to line up during the whole period of the Olympic Games? Maybe they will have "Queuing Weeks" next year when all week long people will have to line up.

March 16, 2007

March 15th - Happy No Heat Day!
In the North of China there are two 'festivals' that aren't marked on any calendar, but which everyone except new foreigners know about. The first is on November 15th, and is "Heat Day". The second occurred yesterday, March 15th, and is called "No Heat Day". I should clarify for those who haven't lived in China for one of these festivals because there's an imaginary line separating the North and South of China which starts a bit north of Shanghai, continues west between Xi'an and Chengdu (i.e. Xi'an gets heat, Chengdu doesn't), then continues somewhere along the XinJiang/Tibet border (Lhasa gets no heating). This line only applies if you live in cities, because many villages in the North have no central heating, and can only burn coal to warm up. This imaginary line determines who gets central heating in the winter, which is OK if you live in warm Guangzhou or Hong Kong, but can make for cold and damp winters in Shanghai. Not to mention freak snow storms like when I was in Kunming, which is below the heating line.
Anyway, the general rule is that the central heating doesn't go on before November 15th, no matter how cold it gets. We were lucky this year in that the autumn was quite long! Then the heat goes off again on the 15th of March and you hope it doesn't dip below freezing again.
I call the two days festivals because everyone is quite happy when the heat goes on in November, but the mood is quite the opposite near the middle of March, and it makes for some lacklustre conversation amongst the foreigners. "Don't forget the heat goes off next week", "I woke up on the 15th without heat", "we still have heat until the evening of the 15th!", etc.
Being in a foreigner apartment helps a bit because we usually have extra heater/AC units, but they don't always keep the place warm. The other problem comes with laundry. Laundry? you think. Yes, there don't seem to be dryers in China so most clothes are hung to dry. But if it's a few degrees above freezing outside, and the central heating radiators don't work, it can take days for your clothes to dry. In the meantime you need to take you daily shower and the towel is still damp.

March 15, 2007

Random 'R' Conversation...
The North of China is know for it's 'R' accent. A lot of words from standard Mandarin don't have R's on the end, but around here there are a lot added. For example,ming2zi (名字, name) becomes mir2, and mian4tiao2 (面条, noodles) becomes mian4tiar2.
It was confusing to me at first, but now it has a unique charm and I prefer it to the accent in the south which omits the 'sh' and 'zh' sounds.
But for some reason this 'R' is sometimes transplanted into English. For example I've heard people shout at me a number of times:

March 13, 2007

Beijing Drum Tower and Food...
I left for Beijing a little later than I wanted to on Saturday, but I had to take the only (standing room) ticket available before 3PM. I made my way to the Drum and Bell Towers north of the Forbidden City and walked up the Drum Tower for a view of the surrounding hutongs and the nearby Bell Tower on the beautiful but bitterly cold afternoon. There was an underwhelming one minute long drum performance, which wasn't nearly as good as the performances at the drum and bell towers in Xi'an.
I settled into the "Excuse Cafe", a tiny place between the two towers, for coffee and a glance at a copy of McLean's left by a lady from PEI. It's been a long time since I've seen a McLean's and they had an interesting article called "How to lose your shirt in China" about how Canadians are too trusting and honest and how they constantly get ripped off when doing business in China. There was an interesting mention of how a word for honest (老实, lao3shi) is also a derogatory slang word for gullible or naive.
I met up with Sarah, who used to be a teacher in town here, and her boyfriend and we headed to Lush in WuDaoKou. They had some amazing food, stuff I haven't had since I left home, and it looks like they've got some good breakfast too. We were soon met by some other teachers from here and there, as is the case in WuDaoKou. It's a totally different world from where I'm living.
The next day we headed out for a walk through ZhongGuanCun (中关村), an area of Beijing where there are a lot of universities and high-tech developments. In the process of looking for a cafe we ran into Carrefour and picked up some pain au chocolat! We had lunch at a sushi place where you could grab the ones you wanted off a moving conveyor belt loaded with all sorts of sushi, drinks, wasabi and pickled ginger. I love sushi, and it was hard not to eat one of everything. It was great to get away for a bit, visit some old friends and meet some new ones who work in town here, and to have some amazing food. Not only was it nice to go to Beijing, but when I got back I found out that the power and water had been out at the school for the better part of the day! Needless to say it was a much needed and appreciated weekend getaway.

March 10, 2007

Going to Beijing...
I'm getting outta here for the weekend, and I'm off to Beijing in less than four hours! Not too sure what I'll be doing yet, but I'll be visiting a friend, drinking coffee, and eating cake as a bare minimum.
Asian Squat...
My dad and sister are thinking about coming to visit me in China before I leave this summer. They were worried about being in shape and keeping up with me and my backpack. I just laughed and said that what they should really be worried about are the toilets. I suggested that they practise the "Asian Squat" before they come out, as it's essential for all the toiletpaperless squatters. Here's the video I suggested they watch to help them get on the right track.

March 08, 2007

Music Furthest from the Sea...
In light of my recent lesson about World Music (I played songs from various continents and got the students to guess where they were from, it was a great success and many students asked me for the MP3's or the names of the artists), I thought I would post a bit about non-Han Chinese music from China.
I came across a free make-it-yourself CD, including songs and cover art, of Uyghur music on Who Let the Camel Loose?. If you're interested in world music then it's got some great music from the far west of China. Feel free to download it (don't worry about copywrite, we're in China) off the website.

March 07, 2007

You know it's getting warmer when...
...the toilets/bathrooms start to smell like shit again. Literally.

March 05, 2007

I realise it's been quite a while since I've actually written a personal post. It gets easy just to post funny music videos, random conversations, and a few photos here and there.
I've only got four months of teaching left before I do some travelling, then head home in the middle of the summer and start law school in September. It's made me start to wonder what I've done here, what I've accomplished, and why I should even bother staying around another four months.
My work also feels quite useless. Really, how much English can you teach a group of 60 to 70 students in 40 minutes a week? If you do the math, that's about 30 seconds of speaking time each student. I've tried the partner and group thing, but the students just talk to each other in Chinese. For one of my Senior 2 classes, which is equivalent to Grade 11, the English teacher told me that some of the students only know 20 English words and that I should just play them movies. If they only know 20 English words by Senior 2, and they don't want to learn English, then why is the school wasting my time with their class? It seems to me, and a few other teachers in the city, that the only reason there are foreigners here is for the 'prestige' of the school, so that they can tell the parents there's a foreign monkey, oops, I mean teacher.
That's not to say I'm all in the dumps. The weather is getting better, despite the yesterday's snow and lack of heat during the day, though I don't know what the sand storms will bring in a few weeks. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter every day, and the sun stays out longer too which helps.
But it's all made me wonder if I should continue studying Mandarin. In some ways it would be nice to continue because I still find the language fascinating. It's very difficult, and you basically can't speak it fluently if it's not your mother tongue (I've been told even the infamous DaShan has an accent when he speaks). Mandarin may be the most spoken language in the world, but it's basically only spoken in China -of course there's Taiwan, Singapore, and parts of Malaysia, but they're rather insignificant by comparison. Do I want to come back to China to visit? Yes. Do I want to come back to China to work? Probably not. So why learn the language? I'm wondering if I should just start studying Spanish, which will be much easier to learn since I've already got French.
In other news, I've shaved off my beard so now XinJiang people won't ask me if I'm Muslim!

March 02, 2007

Random Conversation (Imagined?)...
Seeing as I'm a foreigner in China, a lot of Chinese people like to point it out to me by shouting "laowai" or "waiguoren" when they see me. As if I didn't already notice I'm not from China! Anyway, a lot of people also like to shout or say "Heellllow" at me. Not to me, but at me. They often say hello as I walk by, or just after I've walked by, or from across the street, or when they're walking behind me, or as they whiz by on their bike, or while crossing the street, or when they want me to buy something, or...
University aged guys and girls will often say hello at my back, then burst out laughing as I don't respond. I've often wondered what they think/say. Here's one possibility:
Guy1: Hey, there's a "laowai", let's shout Hello!
Guy2: Yeah, great idea. He'll love it.
Guy1: OK, you say it.
Guy2: No, you say it.
Guy3: Not me, I've only studied English for 9 years!
Guy1: Fine, I'll shout. Heellllow!
All: Hahahahahaha
Guy3: That was hilarious!
Guy2: We'll have to shout Hello more often.
Guy1: Wasn't I brave?!