Friday, May 29, 2009


Well I haven't posted in about 2 weeks, a week and a half of which is because I had nothing terribly interesting to write about, the last few days of which have been "technical" issues in accessing the blog.

Actually I still don't have much to talk about. I can't see Jean this weekend because she has gone to Harbin to see her grandmother, who is visiting from Canada. Her grandmother (her maternal grandmother) lives in Canada with Jean's aunt.

The weekend before last I made a sorry attempt at making macaroni and cheese from scratch. Basically, the cheese was not liquidy enough and it gooped together in clumps, so it did not spread evenly around the macaroni.

On the bright side though, while Jean and I were at the grocery store here in Huzhou, we were walking down the ramen aisle when Jean noticed a cheese ramen box. We bought it, made it, and ate it. It was good, but nothing special, essentially the same as boxed mac & cheese back home including the powdered cheese. The noodles were not macaroni, however, they were long, ramen-type noodles, but the principle and flavor are the same.

The big deal about that is that here in little old Huzhou I can now actually purchase easy mac if I so desire.

Also I've been in communcation with Uncle Jack and Aunt Mary about planning for their trip to China. Because the cost of domestic flights is so relatively inexpensive in China, we're going to fly from city to city. The only snag in that plan is that these domestic airlines generally do not accept a foreign Visa credit card.

This weekend is actually a holiday weekend in China. We have Thursday and Friday off. However, as these Chinese holidays often go, work resumes on Sunday to make up for Friday.

This weekend I've been fiddling with my computer, and have been toying with the idea reformatting my computer and testing out Windows 7. We'll see how that goes...

Anywhow, less than a month in this semester to go which means summer vacation and flying home for a couple weeks, which I am definitely looking forward too!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Funny New Word

I just learned a new expression today in Chinese.

Apparently, this usage is becoming less common in China, used more primarily among the older generation, but Chinese can say "hai zi ta ma" (孩子他妈) or "hai zi ta ba" (孩子他爸) to refer to their wife or husband respectively.

What makes this funny is that, "hai zi" translates to "child" and "ta ma" translates to "his mom" (while "ta ba" is "his dad").

So, "hai zi ta ma" and "hai zi ta ba" are quite LITERALLY "baby mama" and "baby daddy."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Well, my aunt and uncle and their family have their tickets ordered and they will be coming to China in July.

I also have my plane tickets set, and I was actually able to find a reasonably priced ticket ($1025) for a flight leaving near the end of June and returning 2 weeks later in July. Anything else at any other time in July or in August varied from $1650 to over $2000.

As they will definitely becoming to China now, I felt obliged to find some examples of traffic here in China so that they are not shocked and stunned on their first ride in a Chinese cab.

So, I scoured youtube and found a few good representations.

These videos are not mine, they are other videos people have taken of traffic in China.

One thing you will notice right away is the seeming messiness and randomness of traffic in China.

When riding in a taxi here, more than once you would probably just want to close your eyes. It takes some getting used to, but after a while you begin to realize that although the drivers here are perhaps a bit crazier than in the states, they are REALLY REALLY good at it. Despite this, even now, I occasionally catch myself hitting the imaginary brake pedal while riding in a taxi, but not nearly as often as at first.

For most of the drivers, the lines separating lanes are literally just suggestions. I remember saying that jokingly after my experience in Beijing in 2004, but the truth is, I'm so used to it now, that it doesn't even seem funny, rather, just the way it is, very mundane.

It's like when a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of water or 1/3 cup of milk or 20 grams of sugar, you don't sweat being too precise about it, because close enough is close enough. Now, notice my example there. It's not funny, its just ordinary and mundane. And that's how the Chinese drivers see lines on the road.

This video is a typical small but busy intersection on a busy night. In Shanghai and Beijing, most places aren't like this because most places have bigger intersections and are better organized for pedestrian traffic. But here in Huzhou (this video is from I don't know where) a scene like this on a Friday or Saturday night is typical, with cars trying to poke their way through and motorbikes, bicycles, and pedestrians just going wherever they damn well can.

I also came across this video of Nanjing Road in Shanghai. This is generally a very busy area in Shanghai. This video is titles "Crazy traffic Nanjing Road in Shanghai" However, perhaps it is just that I have gotten used to it, but this really doesn't seem all that crazy to me:

Here is another example of an ordinary taxi ride, this in Beijing:

And finally this video is a bit longer, about 2 and a half minutes, of an intersection in Harbin. This is a prime example of what happens at a busy intersection in China. While seeming scary and crazy, this is not at all unusual. FYI while this video is a bit longer, it's worth it to watch the whole way through:

Thankfully, even the worst intersection I've come across here in Huzhou isn't as bad as that last video. However, the close calls you saw in that video ARE par for the course. Another note, for those loved ones (Mom) who might worry that I ride a bike in this kind of stuff, A) It's not quite as bad in Huzhou, and 2) I have quickly learned to avoid more congested intersections by taking roads with less traffic per space, even if it means pedaling an extra half a klick. It often is faster despite this.

Oh one more. This video though, this one is crazy even by Chinese standards, especially starting at around 0:20 seconds:

Monday, May 11, 2009


Well this last weekend was Mother's Day weekend, and unfortunately I wasn't able to see my mum, but I did give her and my grandmothers a Skype call to wish them a Happy Mother's Day.

It may not officially be summer, but summer weather is HERE. Today the daytime high was around 97 degrees (Fahrenheit) and yesterday it was only a few degrees cooler, with a high around 91-92.

One big difference between here and back home is you see LOTS of girls breaking out their umbrellas as parasols, which at first glance struck me as kind of funny/silly, but then at second thought, actually makes a lot of sense. In Florida it gets hella hot and humid, but for the most part, you don't spend too much time just outside. Either you're inside, or you get in your car to go somewhere, and once you arrive, you walk maybe 20 meters into the nearest building.

The exceptions of course are if you are laying out on the beach or something like this, but then in THAT instance, you DO see people with umbrellas.

Anyway, here at school the students primarily walk everywhere, and its a half a mile walk to the nearest bus stop, its actually pretty reasonable as protection against the sun.

The good news is that the weather is supposed to cool down a bit later this week with a forecasted high tomorrow of around 89 and then Wednesday and Thursday highs of 71 and 75 respectively.

On a completely unrelated note, I was listening to the "Lingua Franca" podcast the other day, a podcast published by the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) whose episodes are each about 15 minutes long and whose subjects are always based on language. It's really quite interesting. Anyway, I listened to an episode recently that was talking about Latin and its influence, and at the end of the podcast, the host read this passage, which I found tickled my brain rather nicely:

An emeritus professor from my alma mater had been advising me to write my magnum opus. She offered to provide some bona fides for me to her publisher, but when I finally did carpe diem and write the thing, I became persona non grata with the publishers. When I tried to send them a facsimile of my masterpiece it caused a paper jam. I suggested, almost as a non-sequitur, that if I fixed their fax machine for them pro bono then, as a quid pro quo, they should publish my magnum opus et cetera. This, as my professor has since been telling me ad nauseum, was not a good idea. What I should've offered them was a mea culpa.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

One More Year

So last week I told Laura (my boss) that I would like to renew my contract and stay here at Huzhou Vocational and Technical School for one more year. There are a few reasons I decided to stay here as opposed to somewhere else.

For one, I only plan on being in China one more year, and if it's just going to be one more year, I'd prefer to be someplace that I am familiar with that I know will be a good, comfortable, safe situation. It's not that someplace else couldn't be better. But, from stories I've heard on the internet and from other foreign teachers, I got pretty lucky landing here. It seems that teaching college kids is preferable to younger kids, the hours are pretty decent, and Laura, Hebe, and Violet (the ladies who help us with any problems we have) have all been fantastic, bending over backward to assist when either Ellis or I would have any problems. In addition they've all become really good friends.

Further, the school takes care of us pretty well. The on-campus apartment they provide is not only pretty nice, it's pretty big, and, by virtue of being on campus and behind the guarded gate, it's safe. (Which is an even bigger plus for Ellis... unfortunately for her, she's been harassed by her share of creepy guys here, both Chinese and foreign.)

Also, they will still give us the airfare bonus stipulated in the previous contract, and the new contract will be effective as soon as the old one ends, meaning it will begin in July and run through next June. This means that they will even pay us in full for July and August... when there are no classes.

I have to say again, in this experience, I feel really lucky to have been connected with this school.

In other news, this last weekend I was asked to be a judge for the Huzhou city oral English competition. There were students competing at six different levels: college kids, high school kids, middle school kids, and 3 levels of elementary school kids, divided by age. It was an all day affair. It wasn't so bad, though it was a bit repetitive at times.

I was surprised to see that, to me at least, it seemed that the middle school kids had a higher level of proficiency than the high school kids. Laura said the same thing and suggested that perhaps it was because high school kids spend so much time preparing for the college entrance exam. (On that note, the college entrance exam in China, is something akin to the SAT, except longer and FAR more important. In the states, your SAT scores can vary in importance depending on your high school grades and extracurricular activities like sports or volunteer work or leadership roles. This means that the SAT, while important, counts for anywhere between 20% and 50% of your admission criteria. The Chinese college entrance exam counts for 100% of the admission criteria. They don't care what you did in school, what your extracurriculars were, the difference between going to an "ok" school vs a "good" school vs an "excellent" is ONLY your score on this exam.)

With the primary school kids we had to watch them give a minute-long presentation, after which we would ask them one question. We (the judges) were given a list of questions to ask the students. It was actually pretty rough, because after you ask a question, you hope and pray that the student says SOMETHING. Too often though, especially with the younger children, they did not, and we were just left with an awkward silence.

On the whole, however, I was very impressed with the English abilities of these kids. And even if their level wasn't fantastic at such a young age, I believe the younger you begin to learn a foreign language, the better, so more power to 'em.