I’ve been too busy to get homesick, but I am looking forward to my upcoming sojourn in New Jersey. I’ll be returning home for a three-week stay in late January and early February after Pat and I travel around China during my semester break.
Our China tour will include stops in Beijing and Shanghai, along with trips to see the Terracotta Warriors and Big Goose Pagoda in Xi’an, the Giant Panda Research & Breeding Base in Chengdu, and the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces near Longsheng. We’ll also make a brief stop in Zhengzhou, where I’ll show Pat my humble studio apartment, the drab campus of Henan University of Technology and the convenience store where I buy all my junk food.
Despite their primitive writing skills, my students are able to express profound thoughts and feelings in their essays. When I asked them to write about their favorite movie, TV show or book, these were some of their insights:
The Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing. No matter how difficult it is, we can’t give up the hope. Hope can give us power and help succeed us.’’
Dad, Where Are We Going?: “It’s a TV life show about five fathers and their children. In fact, it’s so difficult for fathers to take good care of their children because they are always busy in daily life. They often make mistakes, such as making wrong dress or cooking bad dinner.’’
Climbing the Great Wall. Listening to tales of human sacrifice in the Forbidden City. Guessing how many pearls in a freshwater mussel. An elaborate tea tasting. Watching people kick a shuttlecock back and forth in a park.
Those were some of the highlights of my three-day weekend in Beijing.
Though I was the target of several rip-offs (see Beijing Swindlers), it was still a worthwhile trip. If you’re a history buff like I am, it’s hard not to be enthralled by a place that was the capital of the world’s largest empire more than 200 years before Columbus discovered America.
Beijing tourists, beware: China’s capital is teeming with con men and women.
I got a stark reminder during my first 24 hours in Beijing after arriving yesterday for a three-day stay. As soon as I stepped out of the city’s cavernous West train station following a three-hour trip from Zhengzhou, I was accosted by a swarm of gypsy taxi drivers offering rides to my hotel at exorbitant prices.
In “Casabalanca,’’ foreigners covet letters of transit that allow them to travel through Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. In China, foreign teachers prize work visas and residence permits that allow them to stay in the country for at least a year.
I obtained a work visa before coming to China and then got a one-year residence permit shortly after I arrived. Many teachers aren’t so lucky. For various reasons, including age, lack of work experience and bureaucratic bungling, they come with short-term visas that must be extended during their stay.
Sometimes my Chinese students remind me of those Florida retirees who line up for blue-plate specials at 4:30 every day and are in bed by 9 every night.
Most of my students follow a similarly rigid routine when it comes to eating and sleeping, particularly in the afternoon. They eat an early lunch, usually at noon, and then go back to their dorm for a nap before resuming classes in the afternoon.
One student arrived 20 minutes late for her midterm, which started at 12:30 p.m. When I asked her why, she said, “I was eating lunch.’’ Why didn’t she eat earlier? “Because I always have lunch at noon,’’ she replied, seemingly surprised by the question.
On their midterm English exam, freshmen were asked to write sentences starting with the phrases “It upsets me when,” “I can’t stand it when’’ and “I don’t mind it when.’’ Here are some of my favorite answers:
I can’t stand it when people talk with mouse full of food.
I don’t mind it when people talk on the table.
It upsets me when people always whisper around me during my sleeping time.
I don’t mind it when someone puts their foot on my foot.
It upsets me when my lovely pet dog is dead.
I can’t stand it when a man always looks at me.
I don’t mind it when my friend breaks my vase.
I can’t stand it when someone makes big noisy.
I don’t mind it when people sing songs while I’m studying.
I can’t stand it when I see the rubbish in my room.
It upsets me when I don’t know how to go on my dream.
I don’t mind it when my friends ask mathemastic problems.
It upsets me when my parents tell me about my disadvantages.
Personally, if someone talks on the table, eats with a mouse full of food, puts their foot on my foot, breaks my vase and sings while I’m studying, I get really pissed off.
China already has more people than any other country, so why did the Communist government just announce a new policy that will increase the population?
The answer is simple: Too many old people and not enough young ones.
The demographic imbalance is the result of a longstanding policy that limited most Chinese couples to one child. The policy was enacted to slow population growth, but it now threatens to stagnate the world’s second-largest economy because of its aging workforce.
The New York Times recently reported that Bloomberg News decided not to run two investigative articles detailing how the families of Chinese leaders benefit from ties with Chinese tycoons and foreign banks. The Times also said that Bloomberg uses a special computer code to keep sensitive stories about China off its computer terminals there.
The theme is clear: Bloomberg L.P., which owns Bloomberg News, doesn’t want to further piss off China’s rulers and jeopardize sales of its expensive financial data system in the world’s most populous country.
Zhengzhou, like most major Chinese cities, has a severe air-pollution problem. And it’s about to get worse.
I’ve gotten used to the heavy smog and dirty air since arriving here in late August, though I haven’t had to use the breathing masks I brought with me as a safeguard.
That may be about to change. According to local residents, when coal plants are fired up for the winter heating season, the belching smoke creates a charcoal haze that can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing spasms.
I was going to post something on bizarre English translations of Chinese signs, but my cousin Kat Kirby beat me to it. She sent me this link, which has pictures of some wacky examples such as “Fuck Vegetables,’’ “Beware of Missing Foot,’’ “Exterior Girdle Food,’’ “Cunt Examination,’’ “Execution in Progress’’ and “Please Don’t Touch Yourself.’’
My favorite may be this stay-off-the-lawn sign: “Do Not Disturb: Tiny Grass is Dreaming.’’
Chinese students are used to sitting in class like mannequins and listening to their teachers drone on for hours. That’s the typical method of Chinese education. Teachers talk and students listen. And never the twain shall meet.
So it’s been quite a challenge to get my students to lift their heads off their desks and participate in class. I’m making progress, though, thanks to a little Yankee ingenuity.
Most iPhones are made in China, including more than a million a week at a huge Foxconn plant in Zhengzhou, so why are they more expensive here than in the U.S.?
The answer, according to the New York Times, is twofold. First, Chinese mobile companies don’t discount the cost of the phone the way U.S. carriers do when you sign a contract. Also, unlike iPhone buyers in the U.S., those in China must pay a 17 percent value-added tax.
The busy, six-lane road that runs in front of my school’s main gate is being torn up to build new bus-stop shelters, making a chaotic crossing even more hazardous.
I live across the street from the campus, so I have to cross it several times a day. There’s a traffic light near the front gate, but nobody pays much attention to it. Students walk haphazardly across the road while the light is green, and drivers whiz through red lights as if they were color blind.
In the periodical room at Henan University of Technology’s new library, you can find English versions of Sports Illustrated, Vogue and Car and Driver along with such scintillating Chinese titles as World Nonferrous Metals, Diamond & Abrasives Engineering and the Journal of Pesticide Science.
What you’ll find in the rest of the library is a lot of barren bookshelves.
Thousands of books have yet to be transferred from the school’s old libraries to the new 10-story building, which opened in September and is still not finished. Many of the shelves are half-empty, giving them the appearance of a store during a closeout sale.