Sunday, June 08, 2008


A friend of mine recently started working on a project called WikiStory. WikiStory is the creative writing version of wikipedia. Users can post content that can then be viewed and added to by other users. They also have the option of posting content that cannot be changed but that others can comment upon. It looks like it will become a great resource for writers as well as groups looking to collaborate. In the future, a function may be added that would allow groups to create private content that they alone could then access and collaborate upon. This would be an extremely valuable tool for students and teachers working on various projects. The site is easy to use and borrows a lot of its interface from wikipedia. Check it out and help get things started by posting some of your own work and seeing what happens.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Earthquake Update

Other the course of yesterday evening and today more news has been coming in about Monday's earthquake. When I checked the news immediately after the quake only five people had been reported dead. Those numbers have now become absolutely staggering. The death count has risen to a confirmed 10,000 but 10,000 more are still unaccounted for, making this China's largest natural disaster in a long time. Here is the latest NY Times article, as well as some pictures and maps. Several schools were also killed in the quake and a resulting landslide, leaving more than 1,000 students dead and countless others are still missing.

Minutes after the first quake occurred in Sichuan province, an additional, smaller quake occurred on the outskirts of Beijing, which is presumably what we felt yesterday. Everyone I talked to reported feeling dizzy for a few minutes during the quake. Aid efforts may be limited because of the massive amount of damage after the recent Myanmar cyclone.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Breaking News: Tremor felt in Beijing

Today I taught a first grade class for Ms. Holzheimer because she is on vacation in Guilin. Part way through the class we are getting ready to teach a nursery rhyme when I realize that the lights (which are hung from the ceiling by chains) are starting to swing violently and the building is shaking ever so slightly. We were a little skeptical but it stopped after one or two minutes and we just attributed it to a strong wind, of which Beijing never lacks.

When I got home from school today I logged onto Facebook and lo and behold, several of my Beijing friends had posted about the earthquake. I immediately checked the New York Times, and though it took a little searching (it was too soon after the quake for a regular article) I did find this headline. This wasn't any small earthquake. 5 children were killed when a school building collapsed and more than 100 were left injured in the initial 7.8 magnitude quake. The quake's epicenter was close to Chongqing, a city in Sichuan province. The USGS filed this report.

I'm sure more news will come in with the passing of time, but it is pretty stunning to have experienced my first earthquake.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

New York Times

I read the New York Times everyday, and everyday I bookmark articles to post on the blog, and everyday I don't put them on the blog. So now I'm putting them up all at once (with commentary) so that they aren't clogging up my bookmarks folder anymore.

"Yes, Running Can Make You High" - They finally proved that runner's night exists, not that I every had any doubts.

"A Death-Defying House" - The secret to eternal life apparently lies in the environment you live in.

"Scrutiny of Suit Rises as World Records Fall" - When does a swimsuit cross the line into becoming a performance-enhancer?

"Changing Speeds to Go the Distance" - Run faster.

"The College That Would Not Go Gently" - I had thought about applying to school here for a while.

"Bisphenol-A BPA" - Now I have to get a new Nalgene.

"China Says It Is ready to Meet Dalai Lama Envoys" - Big new here. Who knows if anything will come out of this, but it's better than nothing.

Now go learn new things.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I stand corrected

My blog has miraculously become unblocked in the past few minutes. YAY! I can finally see it in full. Internet here is very strange and things come and go. I don't know if it will last (it was blocked this morning) but I'm very pleased at the moment.

Annoying Mix-up

I just realized that all of the time stamps on my posts for the last two months have been wrong since I forgot to change the setting to China time after moving here. I hadn't realized that Blogger didn't automatically take the time from my computer and I didn't realize sooner because I can't actually see my blog here, only post to it. (China has blocked all blogs.) Anyway, for all intents and purposes, posts from the last two months were actually written thirteen hours later than it says they were. Sorry about that.

Theatre Review

Recently some of us went to see a production of Hamlet at the Capital Theatre. The performance was by a small British Shakespeare troupe and was thankfully in English, with Chinese translation projected on screens on the sides of the stage. I was dubious about seeing Shakespeare in China, both because I saw a mediocre production of Hamlet in the states before I left and because some of the shows we’ve seen here have been absolute technical disasters.

The tragedy was preformed with a minimalist set consisting of a single platform of exposed construction in an arch shape. This acted surprisingly well as a watchtower, throne, ship, and bedroom. The troupe consisted of seven actor-musicians who frequently moved in and out of several roles. Musicians were positioned stage left and at different points included a guitar, a ukulele, percussion, and vocals. Overall the acting was very good with some interesting decisions that I hadn’t seen in other performances. What follows are some of my random observations.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were extremely comical and were dressed as twins, even though they both played other parts throughout the play. Fortinbras was completely eliminated from the script, probably for time’s sake more than anything else. During “To be or not to be,” when Polonius and the king are spying on Hamlet, they are disguised as rocks on the beach. Hamlet is apparently considering whether or not to throw himself off a cliff. When the players are putting on their play, the actors pretend to be marionettes. This was very cleverly done and must have required quite a bit of work to figure out. Later, when the king calls for lights during the play within the play, the lights rise for intermission in the actual theatre. The director chose to have Hamlet and Ophelia go shoeless ad an indicator of their madness. When Hamlet kills Polonius he does so by very realistically breaking his neck, complete with gruesome sound effects. Unfortunately, this eliminates Polonius’ line to the effect of “I am slain.”

The clash between Chinese and Western was evident in the technical aspects of the performance, which were flawed in ways that have been common to all the Chinese performances I have seen. The Chinese consistently overdo their special effects. Hamlet’s undoing was a noisy smoke machine that whirred each time it produced a weak puff of smoke in the corner of the stage, eliciting a laugh from the audience. Additionally, the lighting was a little overly creative. The ghost was cast in a mix of orange and green light, reflecting brightly off his burial shrouds. After he disappeared, Hamlet then steps into the same area, making it very difficult to take him seriously. The fencing scenes were well choreographed, but other examples of stage fighting appeared utterly unrealistic.

In the end, I was very pleased that I decided to go see the show. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be in the audience if I didn’t speak English.

GMail Art - Google

I discovered this during computers class today, which is basically just two hours of surfing the web. The Chinese kids are supposed to be learning photoshop, but mostly they just play Counter Strike. I found the whole thing quite amusing because the school has blocked Gmail (among other things) and I was annoyed that I couldn't get around it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

It's Raining, It's Pouring

It rained today. This is excessively exciting being that we have experienced no precipitation whatsoever since being here. Unless, of course, you count sand storms. Despite the fact that it very rarely rains, everyone in Beijing is more than prepared. The city, which is completely reliant on bicycles as the backbone of its infrastructure simultaneously dons rain ponchos. And these aren't just any old rain ponchos; they're brightly colored plastic ponchos which are longer in front than in back so that they can be draped over and fastened to a bicycle's handlebars. In theory, this keeps your upper body, backpack, legs and hands dry. In practice, I'm not sure what it actually achieves because I didn't wear one. I figured better to keep a shred of my dignity and just put on my Gore-Tex raincoat.

The city was quite beautiful in the rain, with all the sounds kind of muffled and everything moving at a slightly slower pace. That was until I ran into another student on a bicycle. The bike lanes in Beijing are for two types of vehicles: bicycles and city buses. Though this seems pretty counter intuitive it works alright. As I was riding the final block towards school I was between a bus and the curb. I couldn't see around the bus and out of nowhere another student on a bicycle rides head on into the bicycle lane. This is a generally stupid thing to do as it was clear that bikes couldn't see around the bus, but native Beijingers have a very different sense of safety. In the end she just gave a little yelp, apologized and rode away. I caught myself from falling on the side of the bus, whose driver was kind enough not to run my over. And though now thoroughly wet, I still didn't have to suffer the embarrassment of wearing one of those ponchos.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tibet Conflict

The conflict between Tibetans and Han Chinese has been widely reported on in the states, but here in China, much is being covered up. Although I can't understand the Chinese news, my host parents have told me what they know from watching CCTV here. The Chinese government it reporting that around 15 people have been killed while the New York Times reports that that number is probably closer to 100. Also, until today, the Chinese government had not admitted that protests had spread from Tibet to the bordering provinces of Sichuan and Gansu. The AP update can be found here.

In other news, my host mom came home the other day saying that she had heard a rumor from a colleague that morning that schools had been closed in Hong Kong after several students dies. This had gone completely unreported in the Chinese press. I decided to double check online and the New York Times had published an article four days earlier saying the Hong Kong schools closed early for Easter break after four student deaths related to influenza. I was shocked to discover that not only had this gone unreported, but that it took four days for Chinese people to find out anything about it.

Because of the fighting in Tibet, many US news sources are currently being blocked here including YouTube, CNN, and Google News.