Maria Holland

Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

A Woman By Any Other Name

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2010 at 12:31 am

I picked up my dress from the tailor today!  You have to wait until Easter for pictures, but I will say that I was quite impressed with his handiwork and will be patronizing his shop again :)

Quick story from that trip: The tailor is located on the second story of a huge fabric mall.  One of the storekeepers had quite a large open fire going in front of their shop, burning trash I think.  It was terrifying, and reminded me of the workers who would weld in the hay barn back on the farm . . .

After visiting the tailor, I had lunch with Aleid and Liz at a new restaurant.  It feels like I’ve been to every restaurant near West Gate, but it’s really just that I only notice the ones I’ve been to.  This one was . . . interesting.  Basically a manicure parlor with a hot plate out back, I think. 

This afternoon’s listening class featured a very useful text: 称呼女人真难, or Addressing Women is Really Hard.  It’s true; Chinese does not have the simple senora/senorita of Spanish or even the slightly more ambiguous Miss/Ms./Mrs. of English.  Instead, there is a staggering array of choices, each with their own connotations and applicable situations: 女生, 小妹, 小姐, 大姐, 大嫂, 姑娘, 美女, 女士, 阿姨, 太太, 大妈, 奶奶.  Sometimes 小姐 means a prostitute; 太太 can only be used if they’re married; many of the terms include family relations and are only appropriate for people you’re close to; 大妈 and 奶奶 will offend people who aren’t over 60 . . . it just goes on and on like this.  The above list doesn’t even include the gender-ambiguous terms like job titles which, while being nearly fool-proof, do tend to further complicate the situation. 

In getting ready for the events of Holy Week and the Octave of Easter, I spent some time online tracking down translations of the Regina Caeli and Divine Mercy Chaplet.  I was again struck by the serious lack of information in simplified Chinese, but at the same time there is a lot to rejoice about.  I found some amazing new resources including a nice bilingual Bible and a compilation of prayers sung in Chinese. 

Also, I recently read two articles recently that illustrate how far the cause of religious freedom has come (despite still having very far to go).  The 10th anniversary of the death of Cardinal Kung, one of the first Chinese cardinals, was just observed this month, and reading about his story reminds me of the suffering that Chinese Christians have gone through in their past.  How far do we have to go back in America’s history to find a martyr?  I was also really moved by the story of the first two priests to be ordained from one of India’s minority populations, who are now able to serve their people in their own language. 

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My Birthday Was So 茄子

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2010 at 1:00 am

In class today, we went over the third text of the lesson.  This one was completely different – as opposed to the main text, which was a story about an American coming to China and discovering how stingy he was, and the dialogue, which featured a Chinese guy who just came back from working in America and discovered that he had become stingy, the last text was about a Chinese guy who studied in America for a few years and, upon his return to China, discovered that he had become stingy.  I’ll be glad when this lesson is over . . .

We had a discussion of when AA制 (going Dutch) is used in our countries.  Apparently the moniker is deserved because the Dutch are the ‘stingiest’ as measured by the ultimate standard of how often people treat others to dinner – they even split the check on first dates!  I realized that my representation of Americans might be slightly limited because I’m a college student.  On birthdays, everyone pays for the celebrant’s meal when we go out, but in every other country the birthday girl/boy is the host and treats everyone else.  Hey, old people, how does it work after we have jobs and are making real money? 

I brought the last cake to class; now the cake is no more :(  It was great while it lasted!  My birthday, even extended across 13 time zones, had to end at some point too – 1:00 this afternoon, specifically.  It, too, was great while it lasted.

This afternoon we had HSK class.  Apparently the class is over after the April test, and we don’t have school next Monday, so our next meeting will be our last.  Since it took them two weeks to straighten out the schedule conflicts, that brings our total number of classes to 4.  The class is kind of a joke, though.  Despite being a class with the stated goal of preparing students for the HSK, the teacher never explained how, where, or when to sign up for the test.  Instead of giving us an overview of the test – which we have to take entirely in Chinese, including instructions – he launched right into grammar.  Then today he gave us a practice test . . . but it was the new revised HSK, which is quite different than the old HSK that we’ll be taking.  Good job.

I had visitors this afternoon – my friends Kristina and Maja bringing me the PowerPoint that they had been working on all weekend.  It was pretty amazing, especially for these two, who claim to know nothing about computers.  There were pictures, Slovenian trivia, ridiculous use of Chinese words and grammar structures, and liberal mentions of 茄子. 

After they left, I had an intense craving for hand-pulled noodles with egg and tomato followed by a dessert of peanut baozi, but I ran into Jimmy en route and changed my plans.  His dad just got in, so a few of us joined them for dinner.  And what a special dinner – the beer was cold, the rice came on time, and we ordered two more dishes after the first round was demolished.  Hardly a meal goes by here that doesn’t cause me to remind everyone that “We sure do eat well here.”

I just discovered a Chrome extension called Polyglot that promises to turn surfing the web into an intense – and hilarious – Chinese learning experience.  (It works for many languages, though, in case Mandarin isn’t your thing.)  It randomly chooses words in every page you load and replaces them with translations in the target language.  It’s a good brain stretch to encounter and interpret Chinese characters interspersed with English text (especially when the translations are a wee bit too literal and totally ignore context), but it’s also inordinately funny to look at.  Example:

Google executives struck 打击 for 言论自由 in China last week when they announced they were 移动 their service to Hong Kong 后 a 系列 of mounting conflicts with the 政府 over the privacy of its users and the 自由的 flow of information.

Not the best source of grammar, but I’m picking up some awesome vocabulary!

Wait, apparently it gets better – It translated someone’s facebook wall post (“Love ya”) as “Love 亚" . . . I almost cried laughing.

22了!

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2010 at 12:16 am

The particle 了 is perhaps one of the hardest parts of Chinese.  It indicates something that has already happened, unless it is indicating a new, changed situation.  Or unless it’s just there for funsies, as it often seems.  I try to mimic the way native speakers use 了, but usually end up just throwing it in my speech occasionally.  The complicated conjugation of verbs in most languages is a mixed blessing perhaps – it may be hard to produce output, but it makes interpreting input much easier, I think.

Reason for this grammar lesson?  Today is one of those precious few situations in which I know exactly how to use 了.  Yesterday I was 21, and I honestly don’t know if that requires a 了 indicating a past event.  BUT today I am 22 了, indicating a new situation.  Today I am 老 (old) 了. 

I felt a little old this morning, waking up after barely 2 hours of sleep.  I met up with Jelle, a Dutch friend who wanted to go to Mass with me, and we headed over to Gulangyu.  When we got there, the congregation was doing the Stations of the Cross before Mass, so we joined in for the end.  Today is Palm (or Passion) Sunday, when we remember Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem – greeted by disciples waving palms – shortly before his crucifixion.  Thus, before Mass started we all went out into the courtyard to receive palms, have them blessed, and process into the church.  It was interesting celebrating Palm Sunday on a tropical island; the palms were different than the imported ones we use back home!

The other special thing about Palm Sunday Mass is the Gospel, which is the complete account of Jesus’ passion, from the Last Supper to the crucifixion.  Unlike the Gospel every other Sunday, this one is read in a narrative form with a narrator, Jesus voiced by the priest, and the other parts read by the congregation.  The Passion narrative is exceptionally long (13 pages today, compared with half a page on a usual Sunday), but I really appreciate it every year.  It’s a powerful experience – yelling “Crucify him! Crucify him!”, denying three times that you know Jesus, asking Him to remember you when He comes into His kingdom – playing the roles of jealous Pharisee, unfaithful apostle, and repentant thief.  This year was like every other year, only that when I condemned Him to death, when I denied Him, and when I asked His forgiveness, I was joining the rest of the congregation in Chinese. 

In the afternoon, I joined some friends for lunch outside – like a picnic, but our food was delivered from the Caiqingjie restaurant about 20m away.  It was a little bit windy but the sun was out in full force and thus a beautiful day.

Last night’s lack of sleep caught up with me around 3 in the afternoon, when I barely got myself to my bed before passing out for a few hours.  Both yesterday’s and today’s naps were actually longer than the sleep I got last night!!

Aleid and I went out for a late dinner tonight.  It was delightful except for the Chinese guys at the next table who kept trying to buy us beer.  I have come to the conclusion that there should be an entire unit in each class on getting mad, being forceful, or refusing effectively.  This is a serious hole in my Chinese language knowledge.

Back at my dorm, I received several visitors – Carlos to eat my peanut butter cookies, and XuLei and XiaoYang bringing more presents.  Our conversations included such topics as whether or not you can turn baozi into mantou by removing the filling (which apparently you can’t); the significance of a guy asking for a girl’s number in China (possibly nothing, but in this case we think there might be something between LiXiang and DongWei); whether or not XuLei is the worst person ever at keeping track of her cell phone (a resounding yes – even worse than me!); and how to say ‘bra’ in Chinese (which they wouldn’t tell me in front of Lester).  My friends here make me smile.

Let Them Eat Cake

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Yesterday morning Kristina came over and we continued working on the graphs for her thesis on body image in Chinese and Western females.  We’ve done almost all the graphs she wants, and have found some interesting results.  One of the most striking graphs details the sources of pressure to be thin; most the items had similar numbers of respondents between the two groups, with one exception.  Almost every Westerner felt pressure from the media, but only a few Chinese agreed.  Also, I think we managed to prove that a prevalent screening test for eating disorders, the EAT-40, may not be applicable for Chinese females.  The EAT-40 consists of 40 questions that are answered on a scale of 1 to 6.  The answers are tabulated to get a total score – the higher the score, the more likely that a person has an eating disorder.  Basically, there should be a rough correlation between higher numbers on any one question and a higher total score – but for the Chinese respondents, the opposite was actually true for 8 of the 40 questions.  I thought it was neat . . .

After such an exciting morning, I passed out for a few hours and then showered and got ready for Liz and my double birthday celebration.  The evening started out with dinner at a place we call the Birthday Restaurant (site of Talia and Katrine’s birthday dinners).  It was delicious – spicy shrimp, ribs with sticky rice, skillet of beef, curry chicken, cold spicy chicken, ridiculously delicious celery, and about 5 other dishes – and, as is to be expected in China, cheap.  The entire meal, with drinks, for 21 people was about $100. 

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I had tried to spread the word that I didn’t need presents, but apparently failed.  I got:

  • Jenga (from Kristina and Maja)
  • a book described as a mystery featuring velociraptors (from Jelle)
  • Dutch treats – not really sure what they are, but they must be good because I was immediately offered 20 kuai for one by the rest of the Dutch (from Diederik)
  • Belgian chocolate (from Liz)
  • Swedish coffee (from Jimmy)
  • Kazakh and Swedish money (from Yerkin and Jimmy)
  • A collection of Toblerone (from Aleid)
  • A stone ready to cut for a seal (from LiXiang)
  • A cross stitch piece (from XuLei)
  • A wooden scroll of calligraphy (from DongWei)
  • A traditional Chinese bra, pictured below (from LiXiang)

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I also got a few birthday cards, including my first ever one in Chinese!!!!!!  (Still working on deciphering it.)  And so far I’ve received two USB drives with pictures, music, and movies (!), and have been promised one or two more :)

After dinner, we walked to Paradise Bar for drinks, pool, and – most importantly – cake.  After Sietze put a tealight on top, we even had birthday candles to blow out! 

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We polished off two of them pretty quickly, and I think the general feeling was that they were pretty good.  It was the best cake I’ve had in seven months for sure.  I might even dare say that Mom (and Aunt Mary) would be proud of me if they tasted it.  At least it tasted like a birthday! 

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(Maybe I should explain the importance of this cake.  It’s a sour cream chocolate cake with butter cream icing, a recipe handed down from my Aunt Mary and established as a family tradition by my father’s absolute preference for it over all other cakes.  We have it for every birthday.  We encountered a minor crisis when I moved down south to go to college, but my mom fixed that by mailing me a cake each year.  I know, right?  Thus, despite the best attempts of the TU mailroom to not deliver this package, I have never lacked this cake on my birthday.  With mail to China taking a bit too long for this to be practical, my parents instead brought me the ingredients and left the making up to me.) 

Around 11, we moved to The Key.  There was an insane amount of people there, which made dancing alternately really fun and feel like being given birth to.  The band sang me Happy Birthday twice (but they do this every night).  We finished off the last cake with some late-coming friends, and otherwise enjoyed the time until 3.

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The only negative note of the entire night was right near the end.  I was dancing in front of the stage while XuLei and LiXiang, my Chinese friends, were still back by our table.  Liz nudged me and said “Looks like LiXiang has made a new friend”, and I looked over to see her dancing close to the creepy man who’d been bothering every female within range all night.  By the time I squeezed my way over, she had managed to push him away, but she was clearly unhappy and kept wiping her mouth with a tissue.  I was quite angry at myself for leaving them alone, but honestly I thought they could watch out for each other.  I think most American (Western?) females have a strong sense of safety in numbers, especially around drunk men, but it did not seem like this was on their radar at all.  When I talked to XuLei about it later, it turned out that she had not noticed anything and had no idea why LiXiang had seemed upset all of a sudden.  I need to remember that while they’re older, they are still new to some experiences!

XuLei slept over because of the hassle of getting through curfew control at her dorm.  It was already past 3 and we were both incredibly tired, but the immutable law of sleepovers mandated a girl-talk session (Chinese edition).  The last time I looked at the time, it was 4:30 . . .

58.3333333% Of A Year

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 at 11:14 pm

This morning was so awesome.  Kristina came over with a stack of surveys, a spreadsheet full of data, and no idea what to do with it.  Bliss!  I calculated like a fiend, transposed rows and columns like a mad man, and created graphs like there was no tomorrow.  I even pulled out the special numerical keypad that I bought on the cheap here for intensive data-entry sessions when I return to my life as an engineering student.  It works like a charm, by the way. 

Her thesis is on body image in Chinese and Western females and the results of her survey (questions answered by 50 women from each group) are very interesting.  There’s a ton of data to look at – height, weight, BMI, body dissatisfaction, eating habits, sources of pressure, etc.  Double bar graphs, stacked bar graphs, scatter plots, and pie charts – long time no see!  I’ve missed you. 

I really enjoyed working with Kristina on this.  I knew it was a big help to her, but I also enjoyed seeing the results of her work – especially unfolding before us in real time!  I’m also a ridiculous graph snob, so I know I’ll sleep a little bit better tonight knowing I saved the world from one more poorly-labeled, confusing graph (or worse!  The main precedent Kristina’s been following used tables almost exclusively; it made me feel unwell just looking at her report).  I think I like math and science, how they’re built on such simple foundations but can be combined and derived into such complex and amazing things, but I think I’m just as passionate about communicating.  The best inventions, the most innovative conclusions, and the most promising proposals are nothing if no one understands them, and sometimes I see my calling in that.  Organizing data into an accessible form is just one manifestation, albeit one that brings me great pleasure.

The afternoon was also awesome.  After asking around last week, I found out that Dorothy, a Filipina woman from church, has an oven and allowed me to come over and bake.  I made two batches of my family’s special Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (substituting yogurt for sour cream, which is nonexistent in China) for the planned double-birthday celebrations tomorrow.  I haven’t seen a 13×9 pan in 7 months, so I ended up making 4 medium round cakes and three tiny cakes.  I hope it’s enough!

Today, as my calendar reminds me, is the 26th of March – my 7-month anniversary.  It hasn’t seemed that long since the big 6-month mark, but looking back through my journal (which is, after all, why I keep it), a lot has happened:  We started classes again – 二年下 for me, plus two challenging optional courses.  I spent two weeks visiting Lester in the hospital, and along the way became much closer to him and to a few of our mutual Chinese friends.  I learned and have nearly memorized the main texts of Night Prayer, which I now pray in a comfortable combination of English, Chinese, Spanish, and Latin.  I lucked out in stumbling upon a few things I’d hesitated to even look for here in China: Catan, confession, and pants that fit me.  I finally crossed a few things off my bucket list when we found a cheap cobbler, ordered custom-made clothes from a tailor, and visited the Xiamen Botanical Garden.  I started making travel plans for the remainder of my time here, and even looked at plane tickets home.  What with Fall 2010 registration just around the corner, it sure does seem close . . .

Language-Learning Victories

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2010 at 11:54 pm

The day started off on a relative low because of the package my parents sent me.  Just to clarify, the package itself was great; just the obstacle course I had to go through to get it was a little ridiculous.  Picking up a package here involves three signatures at three different locations, done in a specific order.  I tried to skip the middle step because it seemed worthless last time I picked up a package, but that just got me sent back to the XiaDa Post Office, without passing Go or collecting $200. 

As I retraced my step to dot my i’s and cross my t’s, I fantasized about a China with conceal and carry laws.  I think the post office staff would be much more understanding and forgiving – possibly even downright lenient – if I were packing.  At least after the first time!  I don’t think customers should fear the post office; post offices should fear their customers. 

I wonder if there’s a correlation between gun possession and red tape?  But enough, I only entertained violent thoughts for a few minutes and I don’t want to freak out my readers.  It was only a matter of time before I had the package in my hands – physically weighed down but emotionally lifted!

I basically have the best parents in the world.  This birthday/Easter package included Girl Scout cookies, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs, Hershey’s kisses, lemonade powder, Jello mix, and another bag of marshmallows!!!!  The only unawesome thing they sent was the tax paperwork I needed, which means there are no more excuses (and not much time) left. 

Today was the Solemnity of the Annunciation, which means Mass!  In Mandarin!  AND THE GLORIA, which we usually don’t sing during Lent, because it’s a solemnity!!!! I love following along with familiar readings in Chinese.  Maybe it’s part the excitement of figuring out what reading it is, and part hearing the words that must be as familiar to Chinese Catholics as the words “I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done unto me according to thy word” are to me. 

The timing of the Annunciation is cool.  (Catholic Fun Fact of the Day: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of St. Ann; the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel announced God’s plan to Mary and she said “yes”, is celebrated – 9 months before Christmas – as the day Jesus was conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.)  It’s like the real beginning of Jesus’ life on earth, and takes place in the liturgical calendar pretty close to the end, as Holy Week is fast approaching.  I say the prayer that Pope John Paul wrote for the Church in China at the end of every Mass (when the rest of the congregation prays together in Minnanhua), and found it especially fitting today:

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,
venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title "Help of Christians,"
the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.
We come before you today to implore your protection.
Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said "yes" in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God’s eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.
You willingly and generously co-operated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, Who died that we might live.
From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in His footsteps by taking up His Cross.

Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.
May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.

In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.
Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.
Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and forever. Amen!

After Mass, I went to dinner with JunCheng, my new Mass buddy.  We heard in Listening class this morning that today, March 25th, is 国际中餐节 or International Chinese Food Day.  In celebration, we dined . . . at the 24th floor Pizza Hut overlooking Gulangyu.  The pizza was great but the seats by the windows were all taken :(

Oh!  Today at Mass I helped Mrs. Zhang find the right page in the hymnal and pointed out where we were in the song.  She gave me a huge thumbs up.  You know what we call that?  A language learning victory.  I read a blog post about this just today, listing some major victories along the language-learning path; here’s my list, slightly edited and arranged in order of milestones reached:

  1. You make a phone call in your target language for a specific purpose and accomplish it. (I did this back in my time on the farm.  Unfortunately, like most of the communication that took place that summer, I attribute it more to Xiao Zhang’s super-human comprehension than to my language skills.  But now it’s a regular occurrence!)

  2. You hear someone talking about you in the target language and understand it.  (Incredibly easy, as in China this always consists of 老外 [foreigner],美国人 [American],俄罗斯人 [Russian],or some form of “They speak Chinese!”)

  3. You can’t remember what language a conversation was in.  (This also happened really early on.  I think it’s partially because sometimes I can’t believe that I was able to say/understand that much!)

  4. You no longer remember what the target language sounded like to you when you couldn’t understand it.  (This happened before I came to Xiamen, but I noticed it most when my parents came and I only vaguely remembered a time when I couldn’t duplicate the four tones and things like that.) 

  5. You send an email, SMS, or IM in your target language and are understood.  (I think my email skills are only okay, but apparently I text exactly like a Chinese college student.  Awesome?  I don’t even know how to text like an American college student!)

  6. You understand why certain words just don’t translate from the target language into English.  (From my very first week in Xiamen, when I was repeatedly asked to “play” with middle-aged men.  玩 does not translate exactly to ‘play’, okay?!?)

  7. You make a joke in the target language, and it gets a laugh.  (I don’t tell one-liners of knock-knock jokes or anything, but I make people laugh – sometimes even with me!)

  8. You befriend someone entirely in the target language.  (I’ve really never spoken English with 胡婧, and use English almost entirely with Pun and Eunjeong as well.)

  9. You remind a native speaker how to write a Chinese character that they have forgotten.  (Some guy forgot to write the ‘茄’‘ in eggplant!  You better believe I set him straight . . . It has happened more than once, but that was the most ridiculous.)

  10. You start using the body language of the target language culture unconsciously.  (When I walk with Chinese friends, we close enough that we’re basically leaning on each other.  I am also more touchy with my female friends, and bow with my hands folded in front of me during the Sign of Peace instead of attempting handshakes or hugs.)

  11. When you realize how terrible most translations are for movies, signs, etc.  (Some Chinglish is obvious, but sometimes I catch stuff that is technically good English, but just doesn’t mean what they wanted it to mean.) 

  12. When you somehow knew the meaning of a word without ever actually having learned it.  (See my post on the character 锈 for rust!)

  13. You talk to yourself in the target language, and it doesn’t feel weird.  (I mainly use words and phrases instead of whole sentences, but 那个 is definitely my new go-to pause word.)

  14. You correctly identify an accent or dialect.  (This was my addition.  I think it’s a big step because when you begin learning a second language, you can barely tell words apart, much less accents.  This skill requires you to be well-traveled and well-conversed.  It was really awesome when I heard someone say 蛮 and I pegged them as from the Shanghai area!)

  15. You watch a movie in your target language without subtitles and you have no real problems.  (I watched Mulan with no major problems, just incidental vocabulary.  But, with a familiar story and visual cues galore, how hard can it be?)

  16. You make a phone call in your target language and the person on the other end doesn’t realize you’re not a native speaker.  (Does a guy in a dark train not realizing I was a foreigner count?  Anyways, I really only make phone calls to people I know . . . )

  17. You verbally express anger in your target language.  (This was my addition.  I think it’s an important step because sometimes it’s hard to use a second language in times of high stress or pressure, and because expressing anger isn’t something we really learn how to do.) 

  18. You use a web service in your target language.  (This feels like cheating, because I’m guessing most people could use tudou, youku, google.cn/music, or qunar without any Chinese skills, just because they are nearly identical to similar English sites.  But still, I’ve done it.)
  19. You dream in the target language.  (Not that I can remember, but my mom did say I spoke Chinese in my sleep once so maybe!)

  20. You read a book in your target language.  (Not yet . . . )

It’s A Perfect Day

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2010 at 11:43 pm

I thought it might be a good day when I inexplicably had a lot of energy during this morning’s class.  We continued studying the generous Chinese/cheap Americans essay which, while it still annoys me, at least engages me in class unlike another text on Beijing’s $#%@ four seasons.  Also!  I discovered two new awesome characters – 凸 and 凹, which mean – get ready for it! – convex and concave, respectively.  Way cool, right?  I think I’m going to start a list of my favorite (and least favorite) characters, so now you have something to look forward to :)

I didn’t know it was going to be a good day, though, until I found a crumpled 1-kuai bill in my pocket on the way to the bus, which arrived just as we got to the stop.  We enjoyed a delicious lunch of malatang and were back to campus just in time for an invigorating newspaper-reading class. 

After class, a few of us went to the board game cafe, which I discovered last semester but had yet to try.  We played two rousing games of Catan, both of which I won.  Like I said, it was a good day!

I grabbed a drink on the way over, a smoothie made entirely from fresh fruit for the low price of a dollar.  I started out peeling and cutting the mangos myself; now I have other people peel, cut, and liquefy them into something I can drink through a straw . . . I think the next stop is a direct IV into my bloodstream.

We had dinner with the Dutch ‘twins’, who were adorable in their matching outfits (supposedly unintentional).

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During dinner, I had a great idea for my upcoming birthday.  I’ve asked my friends for a special gift – a CD containing pictures from our time together in Xiamen, and music from their own country.  I’m getting really excited about the results!! 

I also came up with some new slang that Kristina and I are trying to make popular.  “Qiezi” is now an adjective, describing something that everyone unanimously agrees is awesome, can’t get enough of, and likes in any incarnation.  Spread the word! 

On the way back home, we perused the merchandise on the street and spotted some truly wonderful Chinglish and otherwise ridiculous clothing.

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China would be a much sadder place without Chinglish.  There are a few things I would like to change about China, but I think that correcting all their translations would mean less smiles and furtive snickers, and I wouldn’t do that to future laowai. 

Oh!!  And Kristina has asked my help with some data analysis on the body image survey she did for her thesis.  She’s happy that she found someone to help, but I may be even more excited.  Mmmmm, graphs . . .

When I got home, I was delighted to see my name on the mail list – my parents’ package finally arrived!  I can’t pick it up until tomorrow, but I’m getting pre-excited tonight. 

I went dancing tonight and, despite an even-more-sweaty-than-usual Smelly Man, had a good time.  We did the Macarena and I was asked to teach them a few dances from America – I’m thinking the Cotton-Eyed Joe and the Electric Slide?  Also, the last song was Midnight to Moonlight, my sole contribution to the dance music. 

I’ll save my thoughts on the status of the internet in China for a slightly less-perfect day; this one shall not be sullied. 

I Can See Clearly Now, The Haze Is Gone

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2010 at 11:24 pm

I feel bad when one of my teachers is sick.  Clarification – I’m really happy when one of my teachers gets sick because then we don’t have class, but then I feel bad for being happy about it.  Our oral teacher was sick today, so we just had a short stint of 听力 (Listening) class.  A lot of my friends call it 听不懂 class, a play on words that means “don’t understand” class, a name that was unfortunately quite fitting today.

But the weather today was absolutely delicious – mid 70’s, sunny, and clear!  A few us of grabbed ice cream and drinks and headed straight for the beach. 

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I think it was mainly due to the weather, but I was almost overcome by the beauty around me today.  The glory of a blue sky cannot be exaggerated, and its beauty is only magnified by the frequent gray spells here in China.  As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder!  Same can be said for white clouds, twinkling stars, and tonight’s brilliant half-moon, all long absent from my vision. 

Campus was also exceptionally good-looking today.  On my way to dance class tonight, I stopped to sit by the lake for a while and realized an uncanny resemblance between the reflection of campus on the water and a picture I once took of a castle on the river in Prague (below):

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Dance class was fun, but hard work!  It has taken me over a semester, but I think I’ve finally figured out how to move my hips.  HuangDa said that I move my hips 非常厉害 (extremely awesomely), which was basically the highlight of my life.  It certainly made me feel better, despite the sweat and sore back muscles. 

Besides the passage of the health care bill, the other big news story is the latest development in the Google-China battle.  Google.cn no longer exists; instead users are directed to the Hong Kong-based Google.hk site.  As of now I have no additional difficulties in accessing internet sites, but of course we’re all wondering what the next step is.  Opinions on the issue obviously differ and I’m still not 100% sure what I think, but I know this overseas Chinese commenter, obviously a supporter of the government’s right to censor, is a freaking idiot:

“All Chinese, I urge you to boycott Google, and join my facebook "Chinese boycott Google" group.

Um, apparently you live in Houston so you’re a little out of touch, but facebook has been blocked in China for a few years now because they, too, refused to self-censor.  Oh, irony’s a bitch.

Learning Generosity From The Chinese?

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2010 at 12:42 am

Today’s lesson was titled 我在中国学大方 – “I Learned Generosity in China”.  Here is a slightly abridged translation:

When I arrived in China, I was pleasantly surprised by the low prices, relieved at not having to tip, and found it a little bit embarrassing when my Chinese friends paid for meals time after time.  But as my time in China grew longer, I started to become like them, caring more and more about “face”.  I also started being generous, occasionally paying for meals, and came to understand a few things: If the host says “You don’t need to”, “You don’t have to”, or “Don’t worry about it”, you should definitely not believe them.  No matter how nice the restaurant is, everyone should compete to pay.  If you buy a very expensive gift for someone, “carelessly” forget to tear off the price tag. 

In Chinese tradition, generosity is the most important standard by which people are evaluated.  Stingy people have no friends, no matter how talented they are; but generous people have a lot of friends, not matter how little talent they have.

Americans are extremely stingy.  The best place for friends to get together is a coffee shop, the most natural way of paying is to go Dutch, and the best present is a bunch of flowers or a bottle of wine.  Parents will even lend their children money, and arrange the payback schedule and interest in advance.  My Chinese friends don’t understand why Americans do things like this.

But the vast majority of rich Americans are quite generous, but usually they don’t spend a lot of money playing host (paying for dinner), instead more choose to donate their money to schools, hospitals, churches, etc.  Today, the living standard of the Chinese people is improving and as their concept changes, they frequently donate money to run schools and repair roads. 

Excuse me if I get a little animated on this subject, but I strongly disagree with the message of this text.  Like a lot of things, the cultural difference regarding generosity can be attributed greatly to the differing circles of concern.  Chinese, who care only for those within their close circle of friends, family, and associates, want to spend money in a conspicuous way in their presence, for their benefit.  Americans, on the other hand, have a way larger circle of concern and are much more likely to send money to those they don’t know personally without expectation of return.

I’m sorry, but I don’t see our actions as stingy.  The idea of Bill Gates, with his billions, of ‘generously’ treating his slightly-less-well-off friends to dinner is a little ridiculous, which the good that his foundation has done for people he has no connection to is undeniable. 

Also, I find it hard sometimes to see the actions of the Chinese as generous.  请客, in which one person plays host and pays, is really just a different way of splitting the bill.  The idea is that other people will 请客 at future dinners and over time the costs will be equally shared between all parties.  It’s not quite as precise as everyone paying for their entree and drink, or even as dividing the entire bill into x parts, but I don’t think the monetary difference is huge if the practice is observed as religiously as it is by the Chinese. 

In other matters, like presents, the payback is usually not monetary but is just as important – promotions, favors, deals, etc.  If you include 面子 (face) or 关系 (guanxi) in the calculations as alternate currencies – which they basically are – then I think the Chinese are much less generous than it appears, with expenditures often being matched by receipts.

I certainly don’t want to claim Americans are all extremely generous while the best that can be said of the Chinese is that they are calculating.  I have two caveats:

1) This would be a little biased if I didn’t acknowledge some other aspects of American generosity.  Tax-deductible donations, free advertising, buildings named after you, and even a sense of righteousness or promise of karma are some tangible and intangible benefits to the American-style of generosity. 

2) I’ve observed one exception to the rule of ‘conspicuous spending’ here in China, and in an interesting place.  When I first went to church, I tried to get an idea of how much everyone else put into the collection basket, but found it basically impossible.  They grab a bill out of the wallets, crumple it deep in their hands, and then shove their hands all the way into the basket before releasing the money.  I got a glimpse of color once or twice, but even those are hard to come by.  I wonder why this is; perhaps a conscious reverse from the secular trend, which could encourage pride or a feeling of righteousness?

 

HSK class this afternoon was much less controversial than the morning’s grammar class, but it was grueling.  I don’t think I would use that word to describe any class I’ve attended since coming to China, but today the shoe fit.  Two and a half hours of multiple choice questions requiring us to differentiate between basically synonyms, each sentence including words and characters I didn’t know. 

I’m realizing that the HSK is slightly off the path I want my Chinese studies to follow.  I love the roughness and flexibility of the Chinese language (at least the way I speak it) and, when faced with the prospect of refining it into poetry or at least proper grammar, I grow bored and slightly resentful.  This is a bad attitude, I think.  I think when they came up with the phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none”, they were foretelling the story of my life.  Examining my goals for the future, I seem to be striving for mediocrity with a strong distaste for improvement beyond that.  How inspiring . . .

 

It’s been a great opportunity for me to take a break from my engineering studies and come to China for a year to study Chinese.  And it’s been fun being a little bit different than my friends and classmates here, having a different story for “Why are you studying Chinese?” or “How long have you been studying Chinese?”.  But it’s also been a little bit lonely.  So many of my friends, products of the Chinese Department of some university, have contacts all across China – classmates and friends living or traveling over here.  They receive visitors in Xiamen, go to see their friends in other cities, and travel together on breaks. 

Before coming, I imagined that I did, too – I thought that I had a big network of contacts in Asia.  In reality, though, the ‘friends’ were more ‘distant acquaintances’ and ‘possible visitors’ and, not surprisingly, nothing much panned out.  The best success was my visit to Taiwan, in which I met up with the sister and cousin of my language partner from last summer; everything besides that can best be described as an “epic fail”.  I never made it to Japan to see the girl I met at Udall orientation; I never met up with my uncle in India; my cousin didn’t come to visit with her daughter; my former roommate’s brother didn’t call me from Shanghai like he said he would; the family friends who are adopting from Harbin never returned my emails; my closest Chinese friend from back home probably won’t be able to return to China this summer.  I’m still waiting on a response from my friend in Hong Kong but even though I consider him a legitimate friend I’m not super hopeful. 

With the exception of my parents, I have not seen a single person that I knew before August 24th, 2009 since then.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why it is so important for me to return to Jilin and see my friends there. 

A Peek Forward, A Ticket Back

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2010 at 1:02 am

The TU Schedule of Courses for Fall 2010 has been released online.  It’s like a window into another world, located in both my past and my future, but completely absent in my present.  I have to take Mechanical Control Systems and Mechanical Engineering Design next semester, and will probably take Engineering Economics and Writing for the Professions because I’m running out of semesters to put them off to.  The class titles sound about as weird right now as Chinese Newspaper Reading probably would have sounded last year! 

I have a little bit of freedom as to what else I’ll take, because the other two main courses required to complete my major aren’t offered until next spring.  There’s an economics course I’ve been interested in since last year (Resources and the Environment) and I’d like to continue studying Chinese, but I haven’t figured out what to do with those courses.  Audit, Pass/Fail, or actually take the for a grade?  I think if I take Resources and the Environment for credit, I might end up with an economics minor.  I don’t think I want a minor in economics, though – I’m scared that someone might think expect me to know things about the field. 

In fact, I’m way less into pieces of paper and the writing on them than I was last year.  None of the math courses look interesting again this semester (not surprising; I mean, how could any class match up to Calc III with O’Neil or Partial Differential Equations with Constanda?), so maybe I won’t ever take that last class to get my math minor.  I used to be disappointed that TU doesn’t have a Chinese Department that could give me a major or even minor in Chinese, but deep down I know that ability to communicate effectively is only tenuously related to a certificate or diploma, so I’m over that.  Anyways, if language learning in America is as boring as I remember it being, then I won’t want to continue studying at any rate. 

In a continuation of planning for the future, I took a look at flights home.  I’m don’t want to leave early (although apparently it’s totally fine if we skip finals) so I’m thinking of leaving the Monday after finals.  It will probably still be a while before I book the ticket.  Buying plane tickets is probably second only to getting my hair cut on the list of things I irrationally loathe.  Planes are wonderful ways of getting to other places, but at the time of purchase I can only think of them as ways of leaving the place I’m currently in.  What’s making this plane ticket exceptionally hard to buy is that, unlike usual, I don’t know when I’ll be returning to this place that I think of as ‘my island’.  Ever since my first trip to China in 2007, the next trip was practically planned before leaving, and I had a rough idea of when I would be coming back.  But I have one more year of undergrad followed, most likely, by grad school, and I don’t know when time, money, and purpose will come together in the perfect combination for me to jet on over to China.  Anyway, the country’s huge so who’s to say I would come back to Xiamen and it’s changing so fast that who’s to say I’d even recognize it?

 

This afternoon, Aleid took me over to ZhongShan Lu to a street market she had found.  We bought some fried sweet potatoes and fresh mango juice and wandered the street enjoying the characteristic smell of 臭豆腐 (literally, “Stinky Tofu”).  At the end of the street is a Uighur stand, where a few young guys in their traditional clothing rocked out to some [possibly Indian] music and flirted madly with us foreign women.  Apparently it is not just me who attracts their attention; one of them regularly tells Aleid that he loves her!  Our meal of warm flat-bread and slightly spicy lamb skewers was amazing – if I could bring one business to America, this would probably be it.

Back on campus, one of our friends was having the second meeting of her international film club.  We watched a Korean film (“Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring”) and then discussed it.  I enjoyed the movie but not the discussion, mainly due to one woman who, despite stating that she was not a Christian, seemed intent on misrepresenting every basic tenant of Christianity.  Next week – a movie from Nepal!