Maria Holland

Posts Tagged ‘media’

Studying Hard or Hardly Studying?

In Uncategorized on August 20, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I may be enjoying the longest summer ever (four-and-a-half months!) but that does not mean my days have been completely void of intellectual value.  I have taken advantage of the down time to resume my Chinese studies (which had definitely taken a back seat to graduating for most of senior year). 

It took me 9 hours, but I did all of the reading flashcards that had piled up in that time, and am making slow [painful] progress on the writing reviews. 

One thing that enabled me to do all that reviewing (and that I’m hoping will help me maintain it when I get to graduate school) is my new phone.  I bought my brother’s old HTC Evo, a super slick Android phone, and immediately installed AnkiDroid on it.  It’s a mobile app of Anki, the Spaced Repetition flashcard program that I use on my computer (and that I wrote about here).  With my flashcards always on me (and no games installed on my phone, purposefully!), I made quick progress and have been able to keep it up.  The two programs sync almost effortlessly, and generally just make my life easier. 

I’ve spent more time on QQ talking to XuLei, and corresponding with other Chinese friends via email and letters.  (I still have a ton of Chinese postcards, by the way . . .) 

And I’ve been watching Chinese movies!  Based on recent experiences, I present the Top Five Reasons to Buy Sketchy Chinese Movies:

5. Value: You can’t beat the cost ($1-ish) – except for free, I suppose, but illegal downloads don’t come in disc form, and I like to have the option to watch things on TV.

4. Early Release: How awesome is it to be able to pick up a copy of the movie you just watched in theaters?  (Although the quality of those movies is usually inferior.)

3. Entertainment Density: 4 seasons of Psych on 4 DVDs?  Yes, please.  I carry all of my movies and TV shows around in a large CD organizer, and I don’t have room for 16-CD sets.  Go ahead and compress that data, make my day.

2. Region-free: A huge drawback of buying DVDs in other countries is that they may be locked to play only on DVD players of a certain region.  Some of the more expensive (possibly even legal?!) DVDs that I bought in China only play on my laptop, not on our TV.  Sketchy ones don’t have this problem. 

1. Chinese content: My copy of Hero is in the original Mandarin; my copy of Monk has Chinese subtitles available.  No better way to justify watching!

I’ve roped my parents into watching a few of the movies with me – Hero, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Message – in Chinese with English subtitles.  I’ve watched some of them again, with Chinese subtitles, so that I could learn the new words.  I highly recommend The Message and Hero!!  They’re both very good movies, although the Chinese in Hero is very formal and difficult for me to understand (not that this is a problem for the subtitle-reading set). 

So yes, movies have been part of my studies.  If it seems too good to be true – watching TV instead of studying – that’s probably because it is.  It turns out to be kind of hard work . . . Frequent pausing, writing down unfamiliar words, looking up unknown characters, etc.  This sort of movie watching is to the normal entertainment variety as driving a car is to being a passenger. 

I think that this sort of activity could have been highly effective in a class.  In fact, it’s on my list of Chinese Classes That Should Be Offered, along with:

  1. TV/movie watching: In addition to vocabulary and listening practice, watching popular media would give students things to talk about with Chinese people!  Websites would also be good. 
  2. Getting mad: We only learned pleasant words in class; I’m not saying that we should have studied profanity or anything, but I wish I had been able to convince that woman at the Entry Exit office with my words instead of just by bursting into tears
  3. Reading handwriting: Chinese handwriting – not to mention calligraphy – adds another level of complexity on to reading, which isn’t exactly easy to start with.  I literally had to have XuLei help me read some of my birthday cards, and had no idea what we were doing in Shanghai because Mangu wrote our itinerary by hand.  I don’t even know how I caught the plane!
  4. Writing like a Chinese person: My nicest Chinese handwriting looks like a 2nd grader, but when I attempt to imitate their “sloppy-looking” handwriting, it just looks . . . well, sloppy.  I want to be able to write without everyone knowing I’m a foreigner!
  5. "Spelling" characters: Because of all those darn homonyms, it’s sometimes difficult to tell which character a speaker is using.  So there’s a way of “spelling” the characters by describing them.  I did this with friends before I knew that actual Chinese people do it, but it turns out that there’s a relatively standard way of doing it.  I know a few terms (which never fail to surprise and impress when I use them!) but I definitely once had to find a different hotel because I didn’t know how to “spell” the name of the street that it was on. 

Well, enough of this – back to studying!  The last half of The Message isn’t going to watch itself!

Biding Time

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Nothing important happens until tonight.

So I watched 非诚勿扰 again, this time with English subtitles.  It’s even funnier when you pick up the 20% I missed last time around in Chinese!  Dear friends back home – prepare to watch this when I get back!

The movie begins with a man writing a personal ad.  It basically sets the tone of the rest of the movie:

“Looking for hot guys?  Don’t bother.  No gold-diggers either, to avoid mutual disappointment.  PhD’s need not reply, women entrepreneurs need not reply (tradeswomen and peddlers excepted). 

Perfect men like Andy Lau and Tom Cruise won’t be seeking you here, nor do I expect to find Julia Roberts.  Even if you were a goddess, I couldn’t accept you.  I’m not expecting a cover-girl to blow me away, just a sane, healthy woman, modern on the outside, traditional on the inside.  Slightly demure would be ideal.  Don’t be too complicated, don’t be too young. 

Proficiency in folding laundry a plus, preferably pressed and folded like they just came off the store shelf.  Am I being too specific?  Let me introduce myself. 

I’m no longer young, solidly middle-class.  I smoke but don’t drink.  I went abroad to study, and lived overseas for a decade.  Never really studied much; I slacked and learned a few survival skills.  I’ve returned without accomplishment.  Truthfully, I’m what they call a “three strikes” returnee: no company, no stocks, no degree. 

Morally, I’m about 50-50.  I’m no angel, jut too cowardly to do wrong.  All in all, I would classify myself as a constructive member of society. 

If interested, please call. 

I hope you’re the one. 

Please Close the Door Behind You

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2010 at 10:47 pm

I was so tired in class today.  It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have any energy – more like I had never had any energy, ever.  I sat in class and, as much as I wanted to return to my bed, dreaded the thought of the three flights of stairs I had to descend, the 100 meters I had to walk, and the three flights of stairs I had to ascend in order to get there.  The very idea exhausted me.

It might have been the heat.  The classroom was alright, but outside was oppressively hot and muggy in that special way that only Xiamen (and, I suppose, particularly warm saunas) can be.  I could feel my internal heat trying to escape from my body, only to find out that outside was even worse and return to me.  In this way, the several inches around my skin seemed even hotter than ambient air, occupied as it was with these comings and goings.

I managed to get myself back to my room, where I collapsed on my bed and slept for four hours.  It was magnificent.

The only thing that could get me to go back outside was our dinner plans.  We went to a restaurant serving food from China’s northwestern Xinjiang province, which has the distinction of being my favorite place in China that I’ve never been to.  If you ever eat their food, it will be yours, too!  Yerkin, our Kazakh buddy, was our guide through dinner.  Their food is apparently quite similar, which makes me even more determined to go visit him after we all go home.  Basically, each dish is some combination of meat, bread, and onions, occasionally with other veggies thrown in for color, often doused in flavorful sauce.  We started with a huge plate of chicken and onions in sauce, then had a huge plate of meat and bread and onions, then a huge plate of meat and bread and veggies in sauce.  Then a basket of bread, some bread stuffed with meat, and some other bread stuffed with other meat.  Amazing. 

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The staff at the restaurant are mostly Uighur, one of China’s ethnic minorities, and with some of them Yerkin’s Russian was actually of more use than our Mandarin.  Our waitress was a super cute young woman who said everything in the singsongy voice that we all used when we were just starting to learn Chinese.  There was a note of accomplishment in her voice each time she said something, as if “Shay-shay!” was an amazing triumph instead of the word for “thank you”.  But, you know, when you’re just starting to learn this language, it is an amazing triumph, so I guess she wasn’t that far off at all. 

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Despite Diederik’s constant fretting, we made it back to campus in plenty of time to stake out the best spots in del Mar for the football match.  The game started at 10, Netherlands vs. Brazil in the quarterfinals.  I watched Brazil’s first goal but by halftime was feeling so tired and weak (see first paragraph) that I had to go home.  This, unfortunately, meant I missed the second half – the fall of the Brazilian Empire, basically – in which one of their players scored an own goal and Wesley Sneijder, that lovable Dutch striker who stands shorter than me, scored on a header.  (Seriously, though, I do really like Sneijder.  He was the third player whose name I learned, he’s both good and good-looking, and he’s Catholic!) 

I saw the final score online but by that time I was already in bed.  I watched the new Karate Kid as I went to bed.  I thought it was pretty good but had a little bit of a hard time believing the aggressive young Chinese boys.  If Chinese kids are anything like the guys I see in their 20’s, there’s no way on earth that a gang of them would have confronted a young foreign boy for talking to a girl.

Also, I’m getting a little tired of the “China is so green” idea.  Jackie Chan shows Jaden Smith how the Chinese only heat water when they want to take a shower, slipping a comment in there about how “this saves the planet”.  That’s fine, but can we acknowledge two things?  First of all, 80% of the time complimenting China on how “green” it is, is like complimenting starving African children on how thin they are.  It’s not what they want, and they would change it in a heartbeat if they could.  Wow, isn’t that amazing how everyone takes public transportation?  Look how small their homes are, how high they’re stacked!  In fact, ‘as the living standards of Chinese have improved’ (which must be, by the way, one of the most-written sentences in the Chinese language), these “green” habits are going out the window

Secondly, I have a hard time drooling over the low carbon footprint of the average Chinese because I can feel wasted energy seeping through cracks and gushing through open doors.  Yeah, I think it’s probably a good idea to just air condition the classrooms and leave the hallways open to the outside – but if you’re planning on leaving the classroom door open, then any benefit is totally negated.  I like walking down a street and shopping, being able to buy things without having to go inside, but while the blasts of cold air may feel good physically, I actually feel sick when they hit my skin. 

It’s everywhere here.  Small restaurants are usually fairly good about keeping their cool air inside, and I guard the seals of my dorm like Gestapo, but everyone else seems to think they can combat global warming by air-conditioning the world.  Man, the Laws of Thermodynamics are a bitch, aren’t they?  I think the more energy wasted, the higher class or more expensive an establishment is; it’s gotten to the point that I know when we’re walking by they jewelry store on Zhongshan Lu just by the piercing 16°C air that billows around me.  (This store, as with many others, has no doors at all.) 

I hate it so much.  In America, I go around opening doors for people.  In China, I wait for them to go through and then I close the doors behind them.

Hand on the Plow

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2010 at 5:14 am

Said goodbye to Kristina this morning.  There are no more Slovenians now, not until I go visit them.  It is a sad day for Xiamen.

I felt much worse this morning, so I spent the day in my room.  I finally finished a Chinese movie I’ve been working on, 非诚勿扰 (If You Are the One).  I can tell it’s funny (about a guy looking for a wife) but it’s much harder than the other trashy movies I’ve been watching, so I only pick up a third or so of the actual words. 

Today is my 10-month anniversary in Xiamen, but I didn’t do much in the way of celebrating.  Still, 10 months is a long time, isn’t it?  Most study abroad programs are for a semester – and a short one at that – so as far as study abroad goes, this year has been a marathon.  I’ve been in Xiamen longer than any of last year’s freshman have been at TU!

I did manage to get to Mass this evening, although the single apple I had eaten left me so weak I thought I was going to faint as I genuflected.  Today’s Gospel ended with “手扶着梨儿向后看的,不适于天主的国”, or “He who looks back while his hand is on the plow is not fit for the kingdom of God.”  Sweet, I learned the word for ‘plow’!  I also caught most of Bishop Cai’s homily and what he said really caused me to think about the things in my life that accompany me on the straight and narrow, and the things that try to make me turn back. 

After Mass, I got a mango fruit juice from my favorite juice stand.  It had been 5 days since I had tasted something so deliciously flavorful!  My stomach felt fine afterwards – but even if not, I decided it was about time my mouth felt good. 

I went dancing only because Lester leaves on Tuesday and it was my last chance to dance with him.  We did the cha-cha, it was good.  I also danced three other songs and didn’t even pass out or anything.

Now I’m back in my room.  I ate a banana and apparently not all fruit is okay with my stomach . . . Also, there’s a cockroach in my room and I’m afraid to go to the bathroom because he’s over there.  Seriously, though, I’ve seen smaller cats!  I considered calling a friend to help me but I don’t like to think of myself as that kind of girl and would hate for others to.  So I will just hold it in, I guess, and sleep with eyes open and mouth shut.

The Uruguay-Korea game just finished, 2:1 with Uruguay continuing on.  Great way to start off the final round, because that’s exactly the score I predicted!  I’m currently 5th out of 10 in the standings of our pool – while it’s true that four of them have been lax in submitting their brackets, I am legitimately beating Diederik.  Will wonders never cease?


Update: I woke up at 3:47 a.m., an hour and a half after my alarm was supposed to go off.  The US-Ghana game started at 2:30, but my alarm didn’t work and only the faint cheering on TV finally roused me.  It was looking like a typical American game – Ghana had scored first, but Donovan’s goal (which caused the cheering) tied the game.

No worries about missing the first hour of the game.  I got to watch the last half hour and, when it was still tied, got to experience my first ever overtime football match.  It’s kind of intense – they add 30 minutes to the game, which is 1/3 of the original length again!

They worked hard, but lost 2-1 and we’re out of the tournament.  I would like to extend a thank you to “the guys”, though: Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Bocanegra, Bradley, and guy-with-the-long-name.  You’re the first American football (well, American soccer?) players I knew and in fact, I learned your names right around the time I found out who Maradona and Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were.  You played well, keeping me invested through four long (one really long!) games, cheering for you all the way.  Thanks for your hard work, and maybe I’ll see you on the field in the future? 

Especially you, Donovan – you’re cute. 

Tell Me How You Really Feel

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2010 at 12:11 am

I felt so much better this morning that I broke my 24-hour yogurt fast in the afternoon to eat a cookie.  It was a mistake, apparently.

But I still had a good time this afternoon.  I played two games of Catan with Aleid, Jelle, and Carlos, and won them both.  After Carlos dominated last time, things are back to how they should be. 

I went to see Toy Story 3 afterwards, which was everything everyone said it would be.  I really loved watching it in a theater full of young Chinese, hearing them exclaim “so amazing!” when Buzz flew across the room, and “so cute!” whenever the baby was on the screen. 

I’m out of sorts, though, perhaps an example of my mind mirroring my stomach.  Seriously, what happened to those six capsules of charcoal I ate??  I’ve been anxious all day, worried as if I was running late to something important.  But my pressing social engagements today were Catan, Toy Story, and a football game that I ended up skipping, so I don’t know what the big deal was. 

I guess XuLei got me a little bit down today, too.  I love the girl, really, and think she is one of the most caring people I know.  For example, as we were walking down ZhongShan Road she stopped to talk to a handicapped man who does calligraphy with his feet; when I asked how she knew him, she said that she just stopped to talk to him one day and gave him her phone number in case he ever needed anything.  After walking a bit further, we passed a man doing calligraphy with his mouth – he didn’t have arms either – and she said she knew him, too.

But she’s kind in a Chinese way.  While I know that she would never do anything to hurt me on purpose, sometimes it’s not enough to know intellectually that this brutal honesty is not considered rude in China.  Today was much worse than usual, with her asking me “Why is your face thin, but your stomach fat?” and “What’s with the black area under your eyes, didn’t you wear makeup today?”.  (I did wear makeup today . . . and this is why I don’t ever wear contacts in China anymore, because people constantly worry that I’m on the verge of death from sleep deprivation or something.) 

Another note on an aspect of Chinese culture that continually stuns me – bus etiquette.  I’ve gotten used to the shoving during the boarding process and the way that guys will take seats that leave girls standing while everyone will immediately give up their spot for a pregnant woman or old person.  But lately I’ve been shocked on a regular basis by what I can’t help but see as incredible self-centeredness. 

Two people get on the bus and head for the back, which has rows of four seats, separated into 2 and 2 by an aisle.  There are only two adjacent seats left.  In America, the first person would sit down and scoot over, allowing the other person to sit down on the aisle.  In China, the first person plops down in the first seat (obviously, because it’s the most convenient) and sits there expressionless while the second person awkwardly climbs over them to the window seat.  This is of course hampered by the proximity of the chairs (not enough room for me to sit straight) and the horrible bus design that puts some seats flat on the ground.

Aaah!  I can think of no circumstances under which this would be okay in America.  Even if you were already sitting in the aisle, if someone wants/needs to sit next to you, social convention dictates that you either move over or stand up to allow them to get to their seat easily. 

I wonder, what customs do we have that other people think are rude?  The habit of splitting the check, I know, but what else?

Why Don’t I Drink Beer? Because It’s Bad For You

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2010 at 2:44 am

I was feeling better this morning – went to class this afternoon and dinner with Shawn tonight.  But dinner was probably a bad idea, as I was feeling worse before and the decline continued afterwards.  There was a going-away dinner for Kristina – of course, because the motto of my life right now is “Another night, Another goodbye” – but I went only to put an appearance.  (And to eat a single mantou.  Because life’s not worth living if you can’t eat grilled manto.) 

I’ve barely been eating anything these last three days – my expenditures on yogurt have far outstripped expenditures on non-yogurt foods – but apparently that’s not enough.  I’m snacking on charcoal like it’s candy tonight and tomorrow I’m only eating yogurt.  Dear stomach – whatever’s bothering you will be out by tomorrow if I have anything to say about it. 

But I really resent these wasted few days.  In addition to not doing much, I haven’t been eating much – and with less than 30 days left in Xiamen I don’t want to be taking days off.  There are mangos to eat (and drink), bowls of malatang to savor, favorite dishes to enjoy again and again, and the girls at Coco who undoubtedly miss my daily visits.  It’s just not fair.

I wanted to do this last night but was up late enough as it was – so tonight I will share some of the Chinese songs that I discovered yesterday at KTV!  Feel free to check them out on Youku links provided!


今天你要嫁给我 – “Today You Will Marry Me”.  Besides an adorable music video, this one is great for the rapped version of the wedding vows at the end:

“Listen to the church bells ringing / We are here in front of God, friends, and family to witness / This man and woman want to become husband and wife / Let us not forget how sacred this is / Are you willing to be with her forever, in life and death, sorrow and happiness / to love her, respect her, comfort her, and protect her / While the two of you begin your family? / Are you willing to do this? / Yes, I do.

听着礼堂的钟声 / 我们在上帝和亲友面前见证 / 这对男女生就要结为夫妻 / 不要忘了这一切是多么的神圣 / 你愿意生死苦乐永远和她在一起 / 爱惜她尊重她安慰她保护着她 / 两人同时建立起美满的家庭 / 你愿意这样做吗 / Yes, I do

简单爱 – “Simple Love”.  Yeah, it’s a little creepy that the object of his affection is a young girl who appears to be 11, but the song is kind of sweet. 

The wind from the river blows your hair around / Holding your hand I have an indescribable feeling / I want to take you to my grandma’s house / Watch the sunset together / until we both fall asleep. / I want to hold your hand like this and not let go / Can love never have sadness? / I want to take you to ride bikes / I want to watch baseball with you / This way, there are no worries / Singing as we go.

河边的风在吹着头发飘动 /牵着你的手一阵莫名感动 / 我想带你回我的外婆家 / 一起看着日落 / 一直到我们都睡着 / 我想就这样牵着你的手不放开 / 爱能不能够永远单纯没有悲哀 / 我-想带你骑单车 / 我-想和你看棒球 / 想这样没担忧 / 唱着歌 一直走

听妈妈的话 – “Listen to Mom”.  Notable because it is probably the cleanest rap song you will ever hear.  I haven’t spent too much time on these lyrics, but here’s how it opens:

Little guy, you have a lot of questions, don’t you? / Why do other people read comics / while I study drawing / and speak to my piano? / Other people play games but I lean against this wall and memorize my ABC’s / I want a big plane but all I have is an old radio / Why do I have to listen to mom? / After you grow up you’ll start to understand this advice.

小朋友 你是否有很多问号 / 为什么 别人在那看漫画 / 我却在学画画 / 对这钢琴说话 / 别人在玩游戏我却靠在墙壁背我的ABC / 我说我要一架大大的飞机 / 我却得到一台旧旧录音机 / 为什么要听妈妈的话 / 长大后你就会开始懂得这段话

牛仔很忙 – “Cowboys Are Busy”.  Best song of its kind since “Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy”.  Seriously.

Although I’m a cowboy / I only drink milk when I go to bars / Why don’t I drink beer? / Because it’s bad for your health

我虽然是个牛仔 / 在酒吧只点牛奶 / 为什么不喝啤酒 / 因为啤酒伤身体

Don’t bother me, don’t bother me, don’t bother me, don’t bother me, don’t bother me / I have to rush because every day I have a duel, the audience is tired and the hero is tired too / don’t bother me, don’t bother me, the refrain isn’t long but there’s a couple / justice is calling me, the ladies all want me, cowboys are really busy

不用麻烦了,不用麻烦了,不用麻烦,不用麻烦了,不用麻烦了 / 你们一起上,我在赶时间,每天决斗,观众都累了,英雄也累了 / 不用麻烦了,不用麻烦了,副歌不长你们有几个,一起上好了 / 正义呼唤我,美女需要我,牛仔很忙的

对面的女孩看过来 – “Girl Over There, Look Over Here”.  A classic.  Learn left, right, up and down while you’re at it!

Girl over there, look over here / look over here, look over here / The performance here is quite fantastic / please don’t pretend not to notice

对面的女孩看过来 / 看过来,看过来 / 这里的表演很精彩 / 请不要假装不理不睬

I look left, I look right, I look up, I look down / Girls really aren’t simple / I think and think, guess and guess / Girls’ minds are really strange

我左看右看,上看下看 / 原来每个女孩都不简单 / 我想了又想,我猜了又猜 / 女孩们的心事还真奇怪

桃花朵朵开 – “All The Peach Blossoms Open”.  I smile at the thought of this song stuck in your head, as it surely will be. 

I am waiting here for you to come back / waiting for you to come back to see the peach blossoms open / I am waiting here for you to come back / waiting for you to come back to pluck the peach blossoms

我在这儿等着你回来 / 等着你回来 / 看那桃花开 / 我在这儿等着你回来 / 等着你回来 / 把那花儿采

Oh, oh / You’re even more beautiful than flowers / I can’t forget you / Oh, oh / fall has gone and spring has come / Remember our love. 

啊哟啊哟 / 你比花还美妙 / 叫我忘不了 / 啊哟啊哟 / 秋又去春又来 / 记得我的爱

And The Cowbell Wins

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 2:36 am

I now remember what August and September were like in Xiamen.  The heat isn’t quite here yet – we’re barely reaching 25°C – but the humidity is back in full force.  Nothing ever dries and everything smells moldy.  There’s mold on our balcony walls, in the grooves of my cutting board, and even in a pair of shoes that I was then forced to throw out.  It’s no longer sufficient to shower once a day – no, now you have to shower each time you venture out. 

So I went out this afternoon to run some errands and buy food, then came back to my air-conditioned oasis to refresh and recoup.  I watched two Chinese movies, 杜拉拉升职记 (Go Lala Go) and 非常完美 (Sophie’s Revenge), which is kind of a compromise between studying and doing nothing.  I’m getting better at understanding even as I realize that really none of the Chinese movies I’ve watched have been legitimately good (with the possible exception of Mulan). 

I waited til the sun went down to go out again, meeting some friends for dinner before Spain’s World Cup debut.  Ever since I started paying attention to soccer (so, Friday), I’d been hearing about the beauty of Spain’s game.  Even my Chinese friends said “看到西班牙的足球,才看到真正的足球”- you haven’t seen real soccer until you’ve seen Spain play.  Expectations were, to say the least, kind of high.


I will say, they know how to control the ball.  To my inexperienced eyes, it looked like a bunch of guys in red shirts kicking a ball around while the guys in the white shirts just kind of stood there.  But, I must also say that my inexperienced eyes could tell that the Swiss defense was basically a wall.  Every time the red-shirted guys got near the goal on the right, they either fell down or the ball bounced right back to them. 

There are others who do sports commentary so much better than me, though.  I really appreciated today’s play-by-play in the NYT, because the writer was delightfully sarcastic:

Minute 9: Possession for this match probably won’t end up 99.9 percent for Spain. It only appears that way. That said, the Swiss have just challenged the lonely blades of grass in the Spanish end and have a corner.

Minute 28: The Swiss defense reminding us all how defenses around the world, and in all sports, often serve as killjoys of brilliance

Minute 45: This has resembled the Brazil-North Korea match in the sense of a juggernaut spending the first half trying to solve a stubborn underling which rudely has prevented the world from witnessing goals of flair. Defenses can be so impolite.

The first half was even more boring than the first half of the Netherlands-Denmark game, but it also became exciting in the second half with an unexpected goal – a Swiss one.  Yeah, even I was surprised.  I seriously love this sports writer at the NYT:

Minute 52: He scores after Casillas challenges a counterattack and leaves the goal mouth empty. Astonishingly, Switzerland leads 1-0, and life remains unfair.

Minute 74: Goodness. As Derdiyok corralled the ball on the right side of the box and sent Spanish defenders flailing about, Derdiyok pushed a bid for an outright 2-0 shock into the right post, as merely a billion or so fans around the globe wonder what on earth is going on here.

Minute 82: As everyone was saying before the match, Spain really must be careful with that Swiss attack. Actually, no one on earth said that.

It was pretty crazy.  Until the Spaniards started going insane trying to figure out what had happened to the easy game they were expecting, they totally controlled the ball.  I was a little pleased because I picked up on this stuff, like the fact that Spain outshot Switzerland by a ton.

I’m still surprised to hear myself say intelligent (maybe?) things about soccer, because old habits die hard.  Of today’s 96 minutes of play, I probably spent 8 minutes amused by the presumption of the player who goes only by the name “Pedro” (in Spain!); another 6 staring at the long curly locks of Puyol and thinking of Guernsey; and at least 12 minutes complaining to YongZhi about how uncomfortable the bar stools.

But yeah, I’m making progress.  A commercial came on before the game and I reached over to get Carlos’ attention, saying “That’s Lionel Messi, he plays for Barcelona, and he’s from Italy!”  Loud groans followed from everyone – as he’s apparently from Argentina?  I still think 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

Speaking of “not bad”, that’s exactly how I’m doing in the World Cup pool I entered.  I have 29 points, which places me ahead of two people, tied with another, and only 1 point behind Carlos and Diederik!  This, my friends, is the definition of dumb luck.


[Note: The title is from an inside joke with the 2008 SENEA travel team.

Question: If you were in a fight and had a choice of weapons, which would you choose: pliers or fillet knife?

Answer: Neither.  Go with the cowbell.

Because, seriously, have you seen the size of those cowbells the Swiss fans were ringing?  I am convinced that this is the source of their power.]

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand, Six Hundred Minutes

In Uncategorized on June 6, 2010 at 11:00 pm

I saw Iron Man 2 today!  It was wonderful.  Jelle and I have an idea for a new movie – 90 minutes of Robert Downey Jr. reading the phonebook; you would go see it, right?  But seriously, I especially love his character.  He’s good-looking, funny, intelligent – and he can WELD.  I want you, I need you, oh baby, oh baby.  I either want to marry him, or be him. 

Interesting story: I first saw Iron Man in China.  We bought the DVD at Mob Boss’ store and watched it on my laptop.  That summer I was even more out of touch than I am this year, and had never heard of it before someone picked it out.  We watched it in English, of course, but our copy was so sketchy that random words were dubbed in Chinese.  It was barely noticeable until the very last scene.  Tony Stark was at a press conference addressed a crowd of reporters, when he finally admitted: “The truth is . . . 我是钢铁侠.”  It was hysterical. 

After the movie, I took Jelle to the secret DVD shop where I bought Iron Man 1 & 2.  I also happened upon 杀人漫画2 – the second part of the horrible movie we watched on Friday – and you know I bought that.  Can’t wait to see if we get any resolution after this one!  For dinner, I took him to the Dongbei restaurant where I introduced him to the delicious mushu pork :) 


While we were over on Zhongshan Lu, I bought sweet potato wedges and the lady complimented my Chinese.  She asked how long I’ve been in China (they always ask this instead of how long you’ve been studying, which is interesting, no?) and, after a second’s pause, I answered: one year. 

In fact, it is one year as of today.  I came to Xiamen on August 26th, but overall this is the 365th day that I have spent in China.  (Yes I counted; don’t even go there.)  Today is also, incidentally, exactly four years after my high school graduation.  (Yes, we graduated on 6/6/06, but things have been going pretty well for me so far.) 

So, putting these two things together, it means that I have spent a quarter of my life since high school in China!  This is kind of crazy because if, on graduation day, you had asked me to make a list of 20 countries I might go to in college, I’m fairly certain China would not have been on there. 

It also means that, since high school, I have spent more time in China than I have at home in Coon Rapids.  Another reason why the concept of ‘home’ is so fluid for me . . .

My time in China is still nowhere near as long as my time at TU, but it has been more constant.  I’ve changed housing every year of college, and even once during winter break.  I think on average, I basically moved every four months or so.  Here, on the other hand, I’ve lived in the same room with the same roommate, spent 80% of my time here, and have not been gone longer than two consecutive weeks. 

Manga That Kills People

In Uncategorized on June 5, 2010 at 2:21 am

Class today was moderately interesting, despite a deadly boring text.  We’re talking about – surprise, surprise – research!  And it’s about health!  Specifically, sleeping!  Add this to the list of most-discussed topics in Chinese language classes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sleep – but I’d rather do it than talk about it.

Also, it just kind of bothers me the way they talk about sleep schedules.  You should sleep after lunch, and between the hours of 10 and 2 at night, but 1 a.m. is the optimum super-duper best-ever time to sleep. 

Baloney, hogwash and poppycock.  You cannot name an ideal time for sleeping based on the clock when your entire country (which spans the area of FIVE time zones) is constrained to operate on Beijing Time.  The clock is meaningless here – “time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.”  If my talk of 3 a.m. sunrises in the northeast wasn’t enough, how about this?  My friend Shawn from Sichuan (mid-West China) said that instead of saying 晚饭 for dinner, they say 下午饭 (‘afternoon meal’) because it just seems strange to call it ‘night meal’ when it’s still bright outside. 

But at the end of the class we played a game and I was happy.  It wasn’t even a fun game, really – we just started with a word and had to come up with another word that began with the same character the other one ended with. 

午睡 – 睡觉 – 觉得 – 得到 – 到底 – 底下 – 下课 – 课文 – 文学 – 学校 – 校长 – 长大 – 大家 – 家里 – 里面 – 面前- 前天 – 天气 – 气温 – 温暖 – 暖和 – 和平 – 平时 – 时间 – 间接 – 接受 – 受伤 – 伤心 – 心情 – 情节 – 节日 – 日本 – 本来 – 来自 – 自然 – 然后 – 后天 – 天空 – 空调 – 调查

Afternoon nap – sleep – to think/judge – finally – to drop – class is over – literature – school – principal – grow up – everyone – at home – inside – the day before yesterday – weather – temperature – warm – warm – peace – usually – time – indirect – accept – to be injured – sad – mood – holiday – Japan – originally – to come from – natural – the day after tomorrow – the sky – air conditioning – a survey

We got stuck on 调查 because nothing starts with 查 . . .


This afternoon, while studying in my room, a little box popped up in the corner of my computer.  I use Google’s pinyin input software to type Chinese, which was kind of an adventure to install because it’s only available in (wait for it) Chinese.  So every now and then when boxes pop up I click OK or something that looks like it and hope for the best.  But I’m more and more able to read and understand, which is exciting.  A few months ago I realized that these pop-ups were Google’s way of telling me that it had added new words to its software.  See, when you type in pinyin, there are like a bajillion possible characters that you could have meant – because Chinese is evil like that.  So good software, like Google’s, tries to figure out what you probably meant and put those options first.  Thus, when you type ‘zhongguoren’ you get 中国人 (Chinese person) instead of 忠掴任 (I literally just chose random characters and have no idea what this means.  Probably nothing).  But what happens when a new word comes into usage?  For instance, when Alice in Wonderland comes out and everyone is QQ-ing about it?  No worries, Google just added 爱丽丝梦游仙境 so you’re good!  I like watching those pop-ups now that I know what they are, because they’re a window into the buzzwords of the Chinese internet.  Today included 火车哥, or Brother Train – and the link is worth checking out. 


This evening, I had plans with Carlos and YongZhi.  We went to dinner first, paid for by Carlos because we compared and his news (getting a scholarship for his Masters’ degree in China) was the best.  Then we went to the movie theater.  We had planned on seeing Iron Man 2, but were a little bit late so we just bought tickets to 杀人漫画 instead.  Japanese horror film with a name that means Manga That Kills People – what could possibly not be good about this plan? 

First of all, the theater was super sketch; I guess when you pay $1.50 per ticket you should expect beat-up couches and a screen the size of a PowerPoint projection?  Then the movie started, and we realized that while it was in Japanese with Chinese subtitles as expected . . . the subtitles were in traditional characters.  Aaaaaah my most of me . . . I studied traditional characters in America but only like 700 of them, and that was almost a year ago.  Also, it’s not like I read at talking-speed even in simplified characters.  As it was, 90% of the movie had passed before I realized that 發生 meant 发生 (to happen) and 當然 meant 当然 (of course).

So I can’t say for sure that the movie was stupid, but I’m pretty confident it was.  It centered around a manga book that told the reader what would happen to them.  At first it was always good things – mainly finding lost wallets or stealing them, but one girl became beautiful and got an even more beautiful (and more feminine) boyfriend.  But then at some point thing got really f-ed up and this ghost appeared and made them sew themselves in awkward positions with red thread.  Also, one girl jumped off a building; we’re not sure how she avoided the needle and thread destiny the others suffered.  The jumper was the first to die, and her two best friends and older sister tried to figure out what caused her to kill herself.  They somehow found the manga shop and even the right cubicle and finally heard talk of this manga that makes things come true . . .

And then the movie ended.  No resolution, not even close.  It was hilariously bad, and I couldn’t stop laughing for at least 10 minutes.  Honestly, the whole thing was so overdone that it wasn’t scary at all.  Unless you count the boyfriend who, in some other universe might have been considered hot but actually just looked like Michael Jackson, only more female.  Or unless you’re talking about the girlfriend who was clingy and needy and dramatic like no other.  The sounds – picture needle piercing flesh and thread passing through, magnified 1,000x and played over and over and over – were exceedingly disgusting, but other than that there was nothing scary in it.


We walked back from the movie theater, making a prolonged stop at Paradise Bar for a friend’s birthday celebration.  It was a wonderful leisurely start to my first weekend at home in a while, marred only by one thing: a text message from Zhang Lei.

I heard you and your boyfriend broke up, and you’re looking for a boyfriend in China, is this true?

Some Notes On Money

In Uncategorized on June 2, 2010 at 12:22 am

I went to the tailor this morning to pick up my latest order – a qipao top custom made for me out of beautiful red embroidered silk for $16.  I was considering ordering a full-length qipao as well, but have pretty much decided not to.  It’s not so much what the tailor would charge (certainly not more than $40), but more the associated costs of transporting it home and finding shoes to wear with it.  Also, this is a sort of gamble – me betting that I’ll be back in China some day with less luggage and more occasions to wear a qipao :)


While walking back from the bus stop at West Gate, I stopped at the DVD cart and bought 松花江上.  It’s a Chinese TV show, a historical series set after the Japanese surrender concerning the Communists vs. the KMT.  I don’t know that it’s the pinnacle of Chinese television (a peak that doesn’t seem to be that high, anyway) but I watched a couple episodes with Xiao Zhang and Xiao Li so it has a special place in my heart.  I have a hard time telling apart the Japanese/Communist/KMT characters (which meant I was continually asking “Are they a good guy or a bad guy?”), but their accents are good and they’re easy to understand.  The entire show cost me $2, but when it turned out to only be on two discs instead of three, I got a refund of 70 cents.  Buying Chinese DVDs are possibly the most guilt-free purchase to make here, as they are a) incredibly cheap, b) unavailable in America, c) small and easily transportable, and d) both entertaining and educational. 


I bought tickets this afternoon to Hangzhou at the beginning of July for $130.  It’s a trip to a part of China I don’t want to go to (Shanghai), and during a week when I don’t want to be traveling (last week of classes before finals and goodbyes).  So why am I going?  A friend of mine is going to be there.  We aren’t best friends, but we went to elementary, middle, and high school together and have kept in touch sporadically since then.  I’ve probably only seen him twice since we graduated, one of those times being a chance meeting at Caribou Coffee, but I guess this is a good example of how facebook can actually be used to actually keep in touch with actual people who you actually know.  I know, right?  I saw he was taking a tour through Europe and Asia and knew that I had to try to meet up with him.  I kind of promised myself when I came to China this year that if someone I knew came to Asia (especially China), I would do my best to see them.  Hence the spur-of-the-moment trip to Guangzhou to see the family friends who came to adopt a son, the repeated postponing of my trip to Jilin, and now this.  I am really excited to see Matt and catch up, and have been moderately successful at mitigating the parts of the trip I’m not excited about.  I’ll be flying in and out of Hangzhou, completely avoiding the insanity of Shanghai and the Expo, and scheduled the trip during the week (missing class) so as to be in Xiamen for the all-important Fourth of July and last weekend. 


I also resumed searching for tickets home two weeks later – and it turns out that they all suck.  The cheapest flight available from Xiamen to Minneapolis is $1,052 but most of the cheap stuff involves 4 legs (and sometimes 4 countries) or ridiculously long times between flights.  Yes, I’d like to visit the Philippines but an 11-hour layover wasn’t what I had in mind.  The price isn’t of utmost importance as I have a scholarship to cover it, but is it too much to ask for an journey home that starts in the afternoon, lasts under 24 hours, and is preferably through either Delta or Cathay Pacific?  Apparently.  Nevertheless, it must be done – don’t worry, I firmly intend to return home. 


I took a look at my records and calculated that my 10-day trip to Jilin cost just under $500 total.  40% of that was the plane tickets, a third was food, and the remainder was other transportation.  I was so lucky to not have to pay for a place to stay!  I spent $120 treating people to dinner, but (besides that fact that this is a drop in the bucket compared with what they’ve given me) it’s still less than I would have spent otherwise – on lodging for 10 nights and for food on the occasions that they treated me to dinner!  The only disappointment (again) was that final day in Jilin, which cost $50.  That’s a tenth of the total cost, and a full third of my transportation costs, in one day!