Saturday, April 26, 2008

Whirlwind tour

Apparently some of you don't appreciate it when I say things like "Beijing so far" and then don't post anything else. Almost as if "Beijing so far" implies there will be more later. Alright, well I'm finally back to post more. But Michael's already on his way home now, so I guess it has been too long since my last post, after all.

We had a pretty good time in Beijing. We didn't get the train I wanted coming back to Shiyan, so we arrived at the station at 1:30 and had to rush home for my class that started at 2:10. Thanks to no line waiting for taxis and a good driver, I made it with time to spare. I just had the one class on Monday, but then Tuesday I had class from 10 to 5:30 except for lunch. Of course, lunch is 2 1/2 hours here, so it's not quite as bad as it sounds at first. Then the rest of the week I had off due to the fact that some old classes ended and the new ones that began were all on Tuesday. Yay! Lucky me. Basically the whole time Michael was here I was whisking him around from one park or mountain to another. He made a comment about wishing he had a step counter to count the number of stairs he walked up here.

There's a lot to write about, but I'm dead tired from spending 19 of the last 24 hours on a train taking Michael to the airport and then coming back home. Every train I got on with Michael, we seemed to get stuck next to some guys who sounded like they had chainsaws stuck in their throats all night long. I think if there was a snoring event at the Olympics, China would be taking home an extra gold medal this year. Anyhoo, I'll fill in the details and pictures tomorrow. Right now I just want everyone to know that Michael was dropped off at the Wuhan airport this morning and should be somewhere over Russia on his way back to Newark as I type this. Hopefully he'll sleep well on the plane and be ready to greet the American day when he lands. That's all for now, I'm off to bed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Beijing so far

Well, both Michael and I made it to Beijing. It was a little bit of an adventure getting together and getting to the hostel. My train got in about one hour before Michael's plane was supposed to land, so I got outside and hopped on a bus toward the airport. A guy working the newspaper stand told me that if I took a certain bus to a certain stop then I could get off and find the airport shuttle bus. That matched up with what I had read in my guidebook (it was just helpful to hear it from a real person instead of reading it in a book possibly 2 years out of date) so I hopped on the bus. I opted for the bus because I could save over 100 yuan compared to taking a taxi and still get to the airport before Michael got through customs. Well, apparently 1pm is the time for every car in Beijing to come out and park on that particular road in the largest traffic jam ever. It took quite a while just to go the 5 stops to where I wanted to get off. Of course, once I got off I had no idea where the airport shuttle bus was and I was feeling pressed for time. I finally just hopped in a taxi and off we went, into yet another slowly moving river of cars.

We got to the airport at 2:30, about 35 minutes after Michael's ETA. I wasn't TOO worried because 1) I'd told Michael this might happen and he should just find a seat and wait for me if I'm not already there waiting for him, and 2) Sometimes it takes an hour or more to get through customs. Well, there we were arriving at the airport, me being not too worried. I ended up only saving about 9 yuan by taking a bus before getting in the taxi, so that part didn't work out as planned. But the taxi took me to the new Terminal 3, which is a good 15-20 minute ride away from the other 2 terminals if you have to go through the loading area to get back to the road. Well, the driver got out and asked for me if this was the right terminal and he told me it was, so I ran inside to find Michael. After 20 or 30 minutes of asking around, pacing back and forth in front of the arrivals gate, and looking at different screens with flights on them, I finally realized that Michael's flight was coming in at Terminal 2. At that point I was more worried. It was after 3 and I figured Michael had been sitting around for about an hour already. I found the shuttle to the next terminal, had to wait about 7 minutes for the driver to decide it was time to leave, sat through the 10-15 minute ride, and then rushed through the departures area to find the escalator down to Arrivals. As soon as I got off I saw Michael sitting in the seating area. Apparently it took almost no time at all to get through customs, so he'd been waiting about an hour and a half for me to get there. He didn't mind too much, I think jetlag had muddied his brain activity a bit.

We took the airport shuttle into town and then walked past Tiananmen Square and up a few blocks to get to where we're staying. It was about twice as far as we thought because Beijing is hugemongous and things are just further than you think. On Friday we climbed the Great Wall and hunted up the Bird's Nest and Bubble, two of the venues for the Olympics. Today we toured the Forbidden City and Tiananmen. Tonight we're planning to go back to the Bubble and watch some freestyle swimming events that are being held. It'll be pretty cool to be able to go inside and watch some world-class athletes. And without the crowds of the Olympics. We hope.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

City of Brotherly Love

This afternoon I'm off to the City of Brotherly Love. No, I'm not going to Philadelphia, I'm just going to Beijing. But I'm going to meet Michael, my oldest brother! I may have only mentioned it once or twice in my blog, so if you missed it then I want to tell you that my brother is coming to visit. I'm pretty excited about it. My mom came to visit my first year here and it felt good to have a piece of home come visit me in China. It's also nice to have someone in the States who can identify with me a little when I'm talking about China. At the current rate of visitors, I only need to stay here another 4 years to get Billy and Jennifer to visit. I think I'll have to stay about a million years before my grandmother would get on a plane, so I guess I better not test that one out. Michael and I will be staying in a hostel across the street (or down the street) from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. On Friday or Saturday we'll make a trip to the Great Wall and hopefully we'll be able to see a few Olympic venues as well. Then Sunday afternoon we'll head back to Shiyan for 5 days of local flavor before I take him to Wuhan to catch a flight home. I'll keep everyone posted on our status. I hope I didn't forget to pack anything!

P.S. - I'd like to give a special shout out to Angelyn, the greatest friend a guy could ever wish for. She's covering my classes while I'm gone to Beijing. You're the greatest!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Pseudomamma of the foot. Pseudo as in fake. Mamma as in nipple. Ew. Ew. Ew.


I was perusing a site that I often peruse, Sinosplice, and came across an interesting blog entry. Sinosplice is a website put together by a linguistics major and includes various things like pronunciation guides, a blog of funny culture happenings, and reviews of strange snacks from the supermarket. Well, this particular blog entry was about the translation of the theme song from the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) movie. I took the liberty of completely ripping off Sinosplice and just copied it straight to my blog. But I'm crediting them, so it's okay. Right? Is that good enough? Let's hope so. I didn't include the introduction about why he started translating the theme song from this movie in the first place, but you can still enjoy the results. In case you get confused, it's got the line from the movie, the Chinese, the translation, and then commentary.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

[Teenage mutant ninja supernatural turtles]

Whoa, did someone sneak an extra word in there? Mostly an exact literal translation, except that the Chinese prefer to call the turtles supernatural turtles (神龟), or “god-turtles,” for the more literal-minded. Thinking this particular phrase might have some root in China’s rich cultural heritage, I did a Baidu image search. Hmmm. Lots of TMNT. No legends involving Guanyin and a massive turtle or something? I guess it’s not as important as TMNT. You know… the god-turtles.

Heroes in a half-shell
[Heroes draped in hard armor]

Hmmm… dramatic, but decidedly less turtley.

Turtle power!
[Turtle power!]


They’re the world’s most fearsome fighting team
[They take on the world’s fearsome challenges]

Hmmm, so these “challenges” the translator made up are fearsome, but the turtles are not? Maybe it’s because they’re god-like.

We’re really hip!
[We’re the greatest!]

This is actually less humorous than a ridiculous cartoon character from the 80’s saying “we’re really hip.”

They’re heroes in a half-shell and they’re green
[They are green heroes draped in hard armor]

Wow. Nice dramatic effect.

Hey - get a grip!
[Hey, catch up!]

Hey, a turtle is telling you to catch up! That is so cool but crude.

When the evil Shredder attacks,
[When bad egg Shredder comes to make trouble,]

“Evil”… “bad egg”… more or less the same right? Yes! …in Chinese.

These Turtle boys don’t cut him no slack!
[The supernatural turtle guys will not give him an easy time]

Now I see why they’re not referred to as “fearsome.”

Splinter taught them to be ninja teens
[Teacher Splinter taught them to become ninja youths]

And here you have the translator correcting the original lyricist’s mistake of not giving Master Splinter proper respect.

He’s a radical rat!
[He is a rat brimming with passion]

Ah yes, “brimming with passion,” the little-known synonym for “radical.”

Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines
[Leonardo is the leader, Donatello is a genius inventor]

This line has lost the ambiguity of “does machines,” but I guess we won’t miss that.

That’s a fact, Jack!
[This all is true, man]

Props for not using “杰克” (Jack).

Raphael is cool but crude
[Raphael is cool, but he’s a bit crude]

Nice! They even toned it down to just “a bit crude” to save him some face.

Gimme a break!
[Forgive me!]

Yes, he is less crude in Chinese.

Michaelangelo is a party dude
[Michaelangelo is a mack daddy]

Well, it’s debatable whether 万人迷 means “mack daddy” or “ten-thousand men love,” but the real question is where’d the “party” go?


Ah, there it is.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

April on the move

Since it's active April, we're always on the lookout for things to do. This year China changed their May holiday from 5 weekdays + the weekend to 2 weekdays + the weekend. Those other weekdays have been used to make other traditional holidays longer. For example, Qing Ming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Festival. This is the day when people go visit the graves of their ancestors, clean them off, burn paper replicas of all the things they want their ancestors to have in the afterlife, and shoot firecrackers to scare away bad spirits. Before this year, people didn't get off work for this. Yesterday was Qing Ming day, and thanks to the new holiday schedule, school was canceled and most people got off work for a long weekend to celebrate. Jessica and I celebrated by climbing a mountain with some students. It was quite an undertaking, involving hours and hours of walking up a road, with the occasional foray onto a shortcut trail. We left at 9 in the morning and got back at just after 5, so it took up the whole day and left us worn out and wanting to chop our feet off to ease the pain. But spring has come so there were flowers all over the place, the weather was great, and it was just great to be outside. I even remembered to take my hat, so the top of my head isn't hot pink today. We saw a few tombs on the side of the mountain as we went up, one bearing signs that someone had lit some firecrackers there that morning or the day before. I imagine they also burned a paper house so their ancestors would have a house in the afterlife, along with a paper car, some (fake) paper money, and maybe a even a paper yacht. I'm just glad I have more to look forward to than paper. I've been promised gold.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Accidental Revolution

Tuesday morning I had class with my sophomore English majors. We were trying to find a solution to their problem of having no one to practice English with. Something I've learned in my studies is that if you have a relationship based in one language, it's really tough and awkward to switch to another language. So these kids who have class together all day everyday find it hard to practice English together outside of class. I understand why that is, but I still have to tell them they need to suck it up and do it.
In class we were brainstorming ideas on how to help things along. I suggested they designate a day each week as an "English only" day, but they said they've tried it in the past and it didn't go well. Classmates would slack off and refuse to speak English, friends who weren't taking part would make fun of them for speaking English all day, and they would end up getting discouraged and quit after the first day. So then I thought, why not try it again, only you can speak Chinese with people not in class. They'd only be required to speak English with their classmates. That would avoid people outside of class making fun of them. But if your only choice for practicing English is the same group of classmates all the time, you get tired of talking to them. So I expanded the idea, why not invite the other English major classes? Then we'd have around 200 or more students taking part in English Day each week. Then I thought, why not invite anyone and everyone to participate? So many students complain that they have no one to speak English with, and we foreign teachers often complain that students only target us to practice their English.
Well, at this point things got exciting. In my mind, anyway. At first the idea only involved the 35 students in my class, then grew to include 70 students, then 200. Now the possibilities were enormous. We could get 500, 700, or even (dare I dream) 1,000 students involved in this! Now the problem was how to know who's participating in English Day. You don't want to have to go around every Tuesday asking people if they prefer English or Chinese. I told my students that before class on Thursday they need to come up with some ideas of something everyone could wear as a sign of participation. Something cheap and plentiful. Today a student told me it's possible to get something you can write on and pin on your shirt. Very easy, very cheap. I think they plan to start this next week, so sometime this week we have to go out and find a few hundred of these pins and some markers to write on them.
When I was telling Angelyn and Jessica about this on our way to lunch Tuesday, we were all getting really excited. One of them commented that we could be starting a revolution and we all got more excited. It feels weird to say we're starting any sort of revolution in China, but at least it's a revolution in getting students to practice their English. I'm sure there are some types of revolutions that wouldn't be so welcome. This was really all quite accidental and sudden. I don't know why it took so long for this idea to form itself in any of our brains, but I'm glad it did. It seems to me that at the very least our English majors can take advantage of this to get in more practice and form the habit of speaking without their teachers looming over them, forcing them to speak English. If some students got into that habit, it would definitely revolutionize the classroom environment. I'm tired of having to practically flog my students to get out more than one sentence. I look forward to the day I can leave my whip at home when I leave for class.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The tightest budget I'll ever live on.

I just went an entire month and only spent 169 yuan. That's $24 and some change. That's crazy. I have never been in true need in my life, and it seems likely that I never will. Trying to live on the budget of someone on welfare has broadened my view immensely. When I explain the concept of Meager March to my students, they all claim it's impossible, but I tell them that it's NOT impossible. Here are some things that happened this month.

1) We cooked more. Vegetables in China are extremely cheap and usually fresh out of the ground. We can buy one dish in a restaurant for 5 yuan or we can buy enough vegetables to cook 5 dishes and cook them ourselves for the same price. I cooked a few dishes that got better each time I tried, and Angelyn and Jessica provided a plethora of dishes, fried rice, and soups. Of course, dirty dishes are from the devil.

2) I lost weight. I didn't know I'd lost weight until a week ago, but apparently I lost about 8 pounds. Probably due to the fact that I only drank 3 cokes the whole month, we walked 90% of the time instead of taking the bus, and I pretty much only ate meat once a week at most. I feel good, though!

3) I had a birthday. I don't know how I didn't blog about this earlier, but I turned 27 back on the 11th. It was a pretty great day. Angelyn and Jessica got some of my students to dress up as the Olympic Mascots and recite a poem for me. Then they brought out a spice cake with cream cheese icing! It was the most amazing experience of my life. Apparently I got the cake mix and icing in the mail from my mom (thanks, mom!) back in October and Angelyn stashed it away secretly after she heard me exclaim that it's my favorite. I totally forgot about it and had no idea where she had acquired the cake nor how she knew it's my favorite. Praise God for good friends! It's hard to beat a birthday with great friends and great icing on your cake.

4) I meditated. No, I wasn't sitting in some weird position in my living room, hovering over the floor. I just spent a lot of time thinking about... well, just about everything there is to think about. For one thing, I often thought about the poor who we were trying to imitate. Almost every day people would offer to pay for me to do something so that I wouldn't go without, so that I would be able to have fun with them, or because they thought it was crazy for me to walk an hour and a half across town when I could just ride the bus. I would always ask myself if people who are actually on welfare in China get this kind of treatment. I imagine many of them might beg and receive money from strangers, but they don't usually seem to have a band of friends about them offering to pay for everything. I think this past month was made much easier due to the support and assistance of many friends, and that seriously makes me want to know more about others and whether they have this same type of support. I have a much different view of how much a small bit of money can help a poor person on the street. Or a large amount. I also meditated about many many other things that I'll have to address later.

This list is far from all-inclusive of the things I learned and did this past month, but it's all I can think to write at the moment. April is being billed as Active April, so we're doing different activities and actively pursuing certain goals that we have set for ourselves this month. It should be a fun month. I'll write more tomorrow, especially since one of my goals is to actively blog. Thanks for being patient, I hope you enjoy my return to blogging!