Sunday, January 18, 2009

Four months

Been here four months. Notable accomplishment: I can speak a little chinese (still illiterate).

I made a list of chinese words that I know's the picture to the right. Pretty crazy how much of this alien language I've figured out. The best I can do these days is say VERY basic sentences. Most of the words on this list were written because I know the chinese character for them, but I wrote a few down so that I could practice recognizing the characters that are more complex. It's kinda funny...there are a few characters that I do recognize, but don't know the chinese word for. For example, the character for "entrance" looks like a box. Also note that all of these words that you see have a tone associated with each syllable. This is not indicated on the words to the right, I'm not sure how to write that on a computer yet.

As of yesterday, my vacation officially started. It took so long to finish grading all of the exams. There were 43 students, each with 9 total pages of tests to correct. Then there was the oral portion of the exam, and the essay part of the exam. The oral part was about an 8 minute session with each student, asking them simple questions where they'd have to use their brain to come up with a logical response to a question. I felt like a blade runner, asking ridiculous hypothetical questions to determine if my students were robots or humans. The written part was a 100 word paragraph about a basic topic. This shouldn't have been that hard, and for some it wasn't, but still. For some it was awful. UGH.

I caught three students cheating. They honestly must think I'm an idiot. Their tests were identical. Even the questions that asked for a short answer had word-for-word identical responses. They definitely weren't the only ones cheating either, just the most obvious. I guess it's unfair that because they were the suckiest cheaters, they get the shaft. When they come back, they're gettin a "stern talking to" by Mr. Jenkins. I have no idea how to address this problem. I really don't want to lose the friendly ambience I think my classroom has, but at the same time, this cheating crap is an insult. Sometimes I feel like my job is the ultimate fatherhood training job. Sidenote: only about 1/3 of my students answered the following question correctly: "What is a sentence?"

Enough about work. Right now in China is the Spring Festival. The Spring Festival is the equivalent of our Christmas break; people go home to their families and have big dinners to celebrate the coming of spring and the new year. By the way, the Chinese new year is in a little more than a week. Not sure what I'm doing yet, but I'll let you know. I don't have any plans for the break yet. I was going to go to Xi'an, because I really want to see the terra cotta warriors of qin shi huang di's tomb... but I need to go with someone who can speak chinese. I don't think I have enough of a rapport with anyone here yet to ask if they want to go somewhere like that.

It's ok. Wuhan is a kickass place that I want to explore a little more. Check out this place I found the other day. Nerd alert. I also haven't seen Huang He Lou, which is basically the symbol of Wuhan. I mean, the highest price and therefore best cigarettes are called "Huanghelou." There is also a theory going around that, because the number of unemployed migrant workers is increasing, there's a greater danger to people traveling around China (especially white people who are rich as hell). Right now is obviously a busy travel season, so I guess it makes sense. By now though, most people are home with their folks, eating big dinners and whatnot. Pretty funny that, two weeks ago during the Christmas break, everyone was throwing down in karaoke bars and nightclubs.

Only six months left. Still not really sure what my story is.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Miscellaneous pictures

I added a few more photos to my google picture sharing account. Here's the link: [ pictures ]

First, if you eat one of these....

Welcome to hell. I researched these, and they're called "Sichuan peppercorns," a necessary ingredient for any sichuan style food. Basically, any time you go to a market and get a rice dish, expect to find these in your food. The amount you see in this photo is the amount that an average rice dish with sichuan style food will have in it. The flavor these little things add is pretty unique...It's like a spicy, tingly, borderline numbing flavor. The first month here, I'd eat one of these during every meal by accident. Once you eat one, you immediately know it, and there's nothing you can do to change what'll happen next. You sense a "numbing hotness" from the spot where you made contact with the peppercorn, and the sensation slowly invades the rest of your mouth. The pain stays with you for hours. I've been told that in ancient China, they used to use these peppercorns whenever doctors were performing oral surgery. I usually cure my frustrations with....

YOU ZI! I'm still obsessed with these.

That last picture makes me want to get up and buy one immediately.

And here are some more pictures of my university:

I walk by this alley every day. One of my favorite views!

It's hard to tell...but these bushes are really beautiful. They're trimmed to about shin-high.

When I first saw this walkway from afar, I was convinced that someone was walking on water. In fact, they were walking on this thing.

Wuda's famous old library. Insanely beautiful.

The girl's dormitories, right in front of the old library. Mind-blowingly gorgeous.

Street level view of the girl's dorms. I won't use another combination of hyperbole and a synonym for beautiful, but you get the idea.

When the snow starts sticking, I'll take more photos. The first snow was only a few days ago.

New Year's with pictures

For the last three or so years, I've spent New Year's at a friend's house and we just played poker all night until about 15 minutes until the last moments of the year. That's definitely my idea of a fun way to spend New Year's Eve. This time around was also entertaining, but obviously different than the norm. I took a ton of photos this night because of the lack of photos taken during X-mas week. Here's the cast of characters:

Left to right: Han Jie (aka Ms. Han), me, Michael, his girlfriend, and Ms. Ding

Not too many details.
  • Michael did his thing; talked about hangin out with the Eagles (the band), the books he wrote, conversations he's had with Milton Friedman, and so forth. Ms. Han innocently made fun of him the whole time, it was pretty funny.
  • The best quote of the night was some totally jerk thing she said. Before we made New Year's resolutions, Michael and I were having a fascinating "conversation" (which is pretty one-way if you know what I mean) about the property he owned. Anyway to change the subject, I asked everyone what their New Year's resolutions were. So everyone explained what they intended to do that year... When we got to Michael, I asked him, "What's your New Year's resolution, Michael?"
    Then Ms. Han immediately interrupts sarcastically, "Maybe you can buy another house!" Everyone lost it.. he wasn't a fan of hers that night I think.
  • What was my New Year's resolution? Get into better shape, even though I think that's my resolution every year.
  • There were frickin cheese and crackers! Michael found a place that sells cheddar, so this was the first time since I arrived here that I ate some. I savored the hell out of this.

  • We tried to watch a DVD, but only one worked: The Eagles - live in concert. I guess it was better than watching Hu Jintao giving some official address to the nation about the coming year.
  • I wore my Penguins jersey as a gesture of hope for a better year (especially given their performance in recent weeks). Plus it looks cool, and I haven't worn it in a while.

  • And here's a few more general pictures from the night:

Friday, January 2, 2009

X-mas week (part 3)

'Twas the fight before Christmas....what was Tim Allen thinking. Don't worry I'm not gonna start off with a similar play on words with that poem. Its become a bit trite these days, don't you think?

Thursday (25th) -- Christmas Day. A creature was stirring in the morning, namely me (Didn't see that one coming did ya!) I didn't have to work, but I did need to play the role of Santa. I put the presents in a bag, grabbed it and the mini bamboo plant that I had bought on Christmas Eve, and headed out the door. 8:30 am. On the way to the office, I bought a newspaper and a small role of tape for wrapping purposes. I had only had a limited amount of time to shop (due to the "illness" I suffered over the last few days), but I was able to get a few good presents for my bosses. I gave the plant to Steven and a foreign bottle of wine to Mr. Dong. All I was able to buy for Han Jie was a box of foreign chocolates and a few DVDs. I wanted to get more, but I told myself I'd get something else later in the day. I met Han Jie at around 9:30 so that I could get the presents into the office, and then made plans to have dinner with her later that night. The plan wasn't set, but I wanted to make her something delicious (I make good sandwiches), have a bottle of decent wine, and watch a DVD that we could both understand (i.e. something American with Chinese subtitles).

11 am. I had taken a taxi back home and was back in my bed. Four hours later, I woke up. I had to clean the place, buy food, and maybe buy another nice present for the babe coming over. I cleaned the place a little bit before I left.

4 pm. I headed over to the DVD store to buy something appropriate. While I was looking around, the phone rang. Han Jie. She was calling to tell me that she had invited her friend and her friend's sister to come over. Sick! ... So, new plan, I had to buy a ton more food, and clean up the place way more than I'd originally thought. I bought another Will Smith movie, "the pursuit of happyness," cuz it seemed like a good chic flick and the dude at the DVD store recommended it for the situation that I explained to him in very broken Chinese but expertly executed body language.

Now I was in the supermarket buying food for the get together. I scrapped the idea of getting her another present cuz I wasn't really pleased about the surprise party she just pulled on me. You might be wondering why I'm explaining all of this. She called me again. She explained that her friend actually wasn't coming, so instead it was now just her that was coming over. Why do chics do this.

So, back to the original plan. The only problem is that the original plan needed a lot more time than I had to work with, time which had been cut into thanks to her skullduggery. I bought potatoes and sandwich stuff, went home, and started prepping everything. I was definitely not pleased with the whole situation.

8 pm. She arrived, it took me about five minutes to get over it. Btw, she loves the sandwiches and fries I make. You can't really go wrong with bacon and cheese in a sandwich. We opened up the bottle of wine, and then watched, yeah, "Brokeback Mountain." I mean, it was the only movie I had which was enough of a balance of chic flick and understandability. I also didn't really need to translate much; the movie isn't exactly centered around dialogue. I'm not sure how good of a job I did translating though, she still insists that Jack Swift (Jake Gyllenhall's character) is straight. Sidenote: Anne Hathaway slept with someone to be in that movie. Overall though, a fun way to spend Christmas Day. It was the last day we could hang out for a few days; she had weekend plans, and I had plans for Friday.

Friday (26th) -- Had to teach again. It went ok...I showed them the Simpsons Christmas episode I was in the middle of downloading when I had to leave my place on Christmas Eve.. you know, the one I was originally planning on showing them instead of Toy Story. Anyway, I showed them the episode, we went over a few vocabulary words that popped up during the episode, and then we practiced speaking a little more. Afterwards, I went home and slept. I had plans for the evening.

Remember Justin from Canada? I had gotten a text from him on Wednesday, before I went to the KTV, asking if I wanted to hang out on Friday night. I was down. It's not often that I get to speak English at the normal rate, and he also seemed like a cool guy. I woke up from my nap at around 3 pm and told him I could meet him in Hankou district, which is far as hell away.

Hankou is across the Yangtze river, which is a big ass river. Thus, there's a big ass bridge that was built to cross it. As you might imagine, traffic gets nuts on this bridge because, uhh, there's like 9 million people living here. As a result, the government issued a rule to control the traffic on the bridge. If your license plate number ends in an odd number, you can cross on, say, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of that week. If it's even, then you can cross on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I'm not sure about the exact days, but the day you can cross it depends on your license plate number. So when I was trying to meet Justin in Hankou, I had to find a cab with an even license plate number. In Wuchang, the district I live in, it was a rare commodity to find an unoccupied cab that could cross the bridge. At 5:30 pm, I started trying to find a cab, and I got one at 7 pm with an incredible stroke of luck.

I was dropped off in Hankou at 7:30 pm. Hankou district is the place to go for the good parties, bars, restaurants, and so forth in Wuhan. The taxi left me at the base of a large, commercial-looking, glass building. Justin met me at the door and took me up to whatever we were doing. I realized quickly that I had no idea what was going on, so I asked, "So, what's going on?"
"It wouldn't be fair if I told you."

The music became louder as we approached a dimly lit room. There was a lot of light coming from the right side of the room, and we headed through a sea of people towards it. I looked into the room. It was a fairly small theater, probably only meant for private parties or small shows. A dance crew was dancing on the stage to a very, very loud track. The place was filled to the brim. Justin yelled as loud as he could but I could barely hear him, "Wait here, I'm going to see if I can find seats since we got here a little late." He walked ahead while I watched the performance from an obstructed view. A little later, he waved me on.

We started walking to the other side of the room, but we crossed over the front row. Then he sat down in a seat, "OK here we are." I sat down in a seat, and then I leaned forward and touched the stage with my hand. He laughed, "See, it wouldn't have been fair if I told you." The show was a holiday talent show put on by his ex-employers, a private ESL training company, and he was a special guest. I guess he just wanted to freak me out a little. The performers actually were a mix of staff, faculty, and students. For example, the dancers were the girls that worked at the reception desk. It's a job which hires based on a few qualities, most notably appearance. They were hot.

In the middle of the show, they were going to select two tickets from a box to give a prize to. Guess who the special guests to choose the prize were? I went onto the stage and captured the audiences' hearts with a grab bag selection so dramatic it reduced many audience members to tears. "200438." Screams, followed by Chinese gibberish from the MC. Apparently, my hand guided an audience member's fate towards good health, as I won her a one year membership to the gym downstairs.

After the show, I met people! Three guys from the US, one from Australia, and one from New Zealand, all teachers at the ESL place that was hosting the show. We went to dinner at a kickass expat restaurant. The owner is a jolly but also very dangerous looking man from Maastricht, Belgium. After the meal, Justin, Louanne, the owner and I talked over a shot of Jenever. That took a while to finish. I was over the sickness from the hangover, but the after effects had lingered longer than normal. I still had trouble eating food and drinking alcohol like normal. I was already knee deep in a glass of Duvel, a famous Belgian beer with about double the alcohol of a normal beer, so my brain was already pulsating.

We talked for a while. He told a bunch of hilarious stories, like the Belgian version of Santa Claus, St. Nicklas, who beats children if they're bad. The best was about the shot of Jenever that we were "enjoying." His Grandmother drank a shot every night before bed for thirty years. He also said that in Belgium, if someone comes over to your house, you must offer them a drink. Usually it's Jenever. So, when it was payday in Belgium, if you wanted your mail to be delivered earlier, you'd offer the mailman several shots before you sent him on his way. The more shots you offered, the earlier he'd come. You can guess how that story ends.

At the end of the day, I'd made five new friends, saw a crazy Chinese talent show, gave someone a free one year gym membership, and had a new favorite restaurant. On the taxi ride back, I was able to find out more about the people I'd just met. I had explained the whole Michael situation, so we talked a little about Michael. The guy from New Zealand asked, "What's his story?"
"Well, come on. Everybody's got a story." What a thing to say. It'd never really occured to me to ask it, but thinking back, it was pretty obvious. What was his story, indeed... Suddenly, I felt a little more at home than I had before.