Sunday, June 08, 2008
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
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
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
"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
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.
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
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
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.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Today I encountered this again when I went to the post office. I wanted to mail a letter home to my sister and needed to buy postage and an envelope. I walked in to the post office next door to my building and waited in line. It is not a very Beijing thing to do to wait in line, but there were only two people and when a man who came in after me tried to cut in line, I shoved him out of the way. This was not at all rude and would be completely expected out of a Beijinger. People often think they can cut the waiguoren but are never offended when I act like I'm Chinese. Anyway, I successfully mailed my letter, despite the fact that the man who had tried to cut me repeated everything I said in Chinese to the postal worker after I said it. I was shocked to see her using an abacus to calculate the prices of different packages. I knew that abacuses were a Chinese invention but I didn't think they were in use anymore.
Speaking of acting like I'm Chinese, I seem to be picking up many of the Chinese tendencies since moving here. I wear long underwear under my pants and then take off my outer pants and jacket when I come inside so that the house won't get dirty from the dust outside. I drink hot water, a distinctly Chinese tendency that results from many Chinese people believing that cold food and drinks interfere with digestion. I think that's just an old wives' tale, but hot water seems to do a better job of clearing the dust from the back of my throat. I shove people when I want to get on and off the subway or bus, which is the only way to counteract being shoved myself. My sense of style has even changed since I came to China, represented by a pair of overly colorful sneakers I bought for the equivalent of eleven US dollars yesterday.
Yet despite all these things, I am still most definitely a waiguoren. People often don't realize that I am speaking Chinese when I try to talk to them and tell me that they don't speak English. My accent is undoubtedly horrible and people don't expect me to be able to speak Chinese. Will and I play Frisbee during recess most days and a few brave students will come to talk with us or ask to learn how to play. Recently we also started playing the Chinese version of hackey-sack which is incredibly fun and doesn't require as much space of Frisbee. We were tossing a disk the other day and one of the elementary schoolers was just staring at us. Like many of the small kids he had a bean bag to play with. They like to play this game where they lob the bean bags at each other and then run away. He was just standing with his bean bag and staring so we asked him if he wanted to play with us. He said no and ran away. Later, he came back to watch again and Jasmine motioned him over to come talk with us. Again he ran away, but she followed and brought him back. He asked her what we were playing and she told him it was a Frisbee. (This was in Chinese of course. Most of the elementary schoolers can't speak any English.) She asked him if she could introduce him to Will and me, and he replied that he was afraid of foreigners. This would be unheard of in the US, but here everybody looks the same, and many children have never talked to a foreigner before. Eventually, he came over and shook Will and my hands' before running away. The entire interaction was exceedingly cute, especially seeing 6' 3" Will bending down to shake hands with a first grader. I can only imagine how scared the kid must have been of the blond haired, blue eyed, foreign giant.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Anyway, things seem to be working better now, at least for the time being, so I should be back and posting more regularly. Not much new is happening here. We did a presentation to the seventh grade about American culture that turned out to be a big hit. We were afraid that they wouldn't pay much attention because the whole thing was in English, but we showed lots of pictures which helped. They were especially interested in food and music. For a break we taught them how to do the wave which they seemed to really like. We left a little bit of time for Q & A at the end, not expecting them to willingly raise their hands, but they had tons of questions. It was a nice change from the high schoolers we are in class with who won't do anything other than stare down at their desks.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Monday, February 25, 2008
The day is scheduled so that we have five classes in the morning, with morning exercises between the third and fourth classes. Then we get an hour break for lunch and recess, after which we have two more classes. My exchange group has extra classes after school many days because we can't understand the regular classes. Some of the classes satisfy requirements for our high school and others are just to enrich our experience. Overall, it's a really good set up. Problem is, the extra classes don't start until our second week of school, so we got very bored during the day. Couple that with the stress of not knowing what to do during gym class and morning exercises and I was very tired by the end of the day. There's nothing like making a mistake in which was to turn when you are marching with the entire school, every student standing in straight lines in full uniform.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
We've been back about a week now from our superb vacation in Yunnan province and school will be starting tomorrow morning. I'm going to post the itinerary with some comments but there's almost too much to talk about.
February 9: We flew from Beijing to Kunming.
February 10: Sightseeing at the Golden Temple and the Stone Forest. The Stone Forest was one of the more spectacular things I have seen in my life. It was literally miles and miles of towering rock formations unique only to China.
February 11: Sightseeing at Western Hills (took cable cars), Dian Chi Lake, and Daguan Lou Pavillion. The end of the day was probably the highlight when we went to the Dr. Tea teahouse and tried lots of different teas. It was, of course, a retail opportunity, as if practically everything we have done in China. We also went to the model village which was very interesting. The government built a town specifically for show. They legitimized it by saying the money came from a workshop that exported the local womens' embroidery. Now the guy who owns the workshop teaches all the village children English and French. It's pretty much a win-win except for the surrounding villages that are dirt poor.
February 12: Fly from Kunming to Li Jiang.
February 13: Sightseeing at Black Dragon Pool Park and Dragon Well Village. The only exciting thing from this day was that Christian fell asleep on a bench in the village and no one noticed so there was a bit of a panic. Mr. G and Bob found him no problem and after a piece of chocolate he was feeling better.
February 14: This was probably the highlight of the trip. We did a six hour hike up to nearly 11,000 feet at Tiger Leaping Gorge. It was one of the most intense things I had ever done and the views of the Yangtze from the top of the gorge were mind-blowing. We ate our best meal in a village unreachable by car halfway to the top. The hike ended with 28 switchbacks at an altitude where we could literally walk about 5 steps before needing to catch our breath.
February 15: We just chilled in Li Jiang because everyone was sore and tired from the hike. That night Suzannah got sick with food poisoning.
February 16: Around 3 am it was decided that Suz needed to be taken to the hospital. Jasmine and Ms. Holzheimer went with her. We spent the day sleeping and waiting for her to be released and then once she was we took turns staying with her so Jaz could get some sleep.
February 17: We flew from Li Jiang to Kunming, had a seven hour layover, and then flew from Kunming back to Beijing. On the second flight Caroline got really sick and was taken to the hospital as soon as we landed. The last few days ended up being way more eventful than we'd hoped.
Overall, it was an awesome trip despite two people getting sick. It was really good to have some warm weather and fresh air. The scenery was quite incredible and we were literally hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Everyone has been asking me a lit of questions about what daily life is like here so I figured I would post up some pictures of the apartment. We live in Dong Si, which is a fairly central part of China. Our apartment is fairly nice, and very convenient. There are three bedrooms, a bathroom, a living/dining room, and a kitchen. There are also two sun porches. One is for hanging laundry and the other is for food preparation and storage. The bathroom also has the laundry machine and the shower is over the sink. There's no shower stall or tub, just a drain in the floor.
The last couple of days have been spent exploring the city. We went to Silk Road which is this huge building with lots of stalls that sell everything and you can bargain for the prices. Everything is pretty much a knock-off, but the whole thing is kind or cool. Some of the other kids bought some stuff, but it was fun to walk around. My host mother walked me to the subway stop so I would know where it was. The subway is extremely convenient and allows me to go pretty much everywhere. The day after I went to Wang Fu Jin Street with a friend. The street is essentially the equivalent of Newbury Street or Fifth Avenue. We walked around a bit, went to the international bookstore, and then went to a cafe to have baozi. They had some good vegetarian ones which I enjoyed.
Tomorrow is New Year's Eve which is a really big deal. We'll feast in the evening and then stay up all night watching the New Year's special on TV and then watching the fireworks at midnight. The next day we are going to a hotel for the night so we can swim and play sports. My host father told me last night that the night after we might go see a performance of Swan Lake.
Monday, February 04, 2008
I've been getting settled in with my new family in Beijing and exploring the city a little bit. Thought I would post up some pictures for everyone to see. So far we've been to Tiananmen Square and also out to do some shopping. Yesterday I managed to take the subway all by myself and met up with some friends to go to the free markets where we could bargain. Afterward we walked over to the area where most of the foreigners are to eat lunch.