Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interesting Pictures

Last weekend in Hangzhou, while Jean and I were in the mall, they had an art exhibit of sorts, one of which was a bust of "Abraham Obama".

Someone had combined the likenesses of Lincoln and Obama and made a bust of it:

In the same area, they had this for some unknown and unexplained reason, but I thought it photo worthy anyhow:

Today, I was headed toward a restaurant to get a quick dinner when I came across this:

Apparently somebody busted a water main. In any case, this eruption created a river in the street, so I would've been unable to get to that restaurant without getting my shoes and socks totally soaked, so I ended up eating eslewhere.

Ridin the Bike

My bike is nothing special. Just a $60 one-speed.

I of course get passed by cars and motorcycles all the time.

The electric scooters they have an awful lot of here pass me sometimes, it depends if it's a fast one or a slow one, but I'd say I pass about 60% of them.

But, since being in China, I have NEVER been passed by another bicycle. And I intend never to let that happen.

On an unrelated note, I hope this swine flu deal back West turns out to not be as serious as the news reports make it seem now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jean's Sister

Since Jean's sister lives and works in Japan, she doesn't get a chance to see her sister often. However, this last week, her sister came to Shanghai on business. As such, they of course took advantage of this opportunity to hangout.

Jean also wanted me to meet her sister, but Saturday they were doing things in Shanghai, and I was in Changzhou. Sunday I was free, but they had plans to just go shopping all day in Hangzhou, so Jean suggested I meet them in Shaoxing on Monday, another city here in Zhejiang province.

Come Sunday night, Jean called me and told me they were really tired, and to just meet them in Hangzhou, which was not a problem.

So I met up with them, and we went out to West Lake. Now, Jean's sister has been living and working in Japan for 10 years, so she can speak Japanese fluently. However, she knows little English, and my Chinese, while not terrible, is far from complete, and not quite conversational. So, unfortunately for Jean, the brunt of communcation was either directly between she and I or she and her sister, with smatterings of translations when I didn't catch something important.

By the time we got to West Lake, it was about 11:30, and I was starving because I had eaten at 6am, and then only a bowl of cereal and an apple. The times Jean and I had gone out to West Lake before, I had noticed this bar/restaurant called "Borassa" which seemed fairly nice and had some outside tables with a nice view of West Lake. We decided to try that place for lunch. However, once inside and looking at a menu, Jean's countenance saddened and she said disappointedly, "This is a Chinese restaurant, not a Western restaurant." It's not that anyone dislikes Chinese food, it's that they were looking forward to having something a bit different, and the decor and style of this place screams foreign, and yet, they served Chinese food. So we ended up just ordering some beers and french fries and talked about where to go for lunch.

I originally suggested a German restaurant: it's certainly different enough from the norm, yet still tasty, and not too bizarre. However, after a quick internet search, it seemed Hangzhou lacked a German restaurant. We finally decided on Papa John's which was about one block away. After a nice thin crust pizza and some ribs as an appetizer, we grabbed a Blizzard from DQ, and went for a stroll around West Lake to help all of our stuffed bellies feel a bit better.

We walked around, chatted, rested, took turns sneezing (all 3 of us seemed to be sneezing that day, I'm not sure why, maybe a high pollen count), and took a few pictures when the opportunity seemed appropriate. Later, we headed back toward downtown as the girls wanted to get a little bit more shopping in. At about 5 o'clock, I boarded a bus back to the Hangzhou North Bus Station, because I had to return to Huzhou that day for a class on Tuesday.

Jean's sister seems like a very cool chica, and when the two are together they are constantly laughing. She also invited us to come visit her in Japan this summer, so I may get to go to Japan after all!

Tuesday, Jean accompanied her sister back to the airport in Shanghai and said goodbye. After Jean left the airport in Shanghai, she got on a bus to the Shanghai South Train Station, waited 30 minutes, boarded a train for Hangzhou, and from there took the late night (and often crowded) bus back to her apartment.

The worst part for Jean is, after all that, when she finally arrived back at her place, her sister had at the same time just arrived back at her home in Japan. In the time it took Jean to get to the airport in Shanghai back to her apartment in Hangzhou, her sister hopped an international flight and was fetched from airport to her home. This says two things: A) Japan isn't all that far from Shanghai, and 2) Traffic in China, especially buses, is a pain the ass.

Update: Jean tells me they weren't shopping in Hangzhou on Sunday, but instead were in Haining, where they sell lots of leather goods.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dinosaur Land

A few weeks ago, some of my students told me that they had decided to take a class trip to 常州恐龙园 (Changzhou Konglong Yuan, Changzhou Dinosaur Park). They asked me if I would like to go, to which I told them, "Yes, I would! I love dinosaurs!" (Later, a few of the students, worried I had misunderstood them, explained to me that they didn't have "real" dinosaurs, hahaha.)

By the way, maybe no one will think this is interesting, but "dinosaur" in English comes from Greek "deinos" meaning "terrible" and "sauros" meaning "lizard." In Chinese, its very close: 恐, "kong", meaning "fearful" (close to terrible), and 龙, "long", meaning "dragon." In English slang, dinosaur can refer to a person stuck in old ways and methods, refusing to use modern ones, or to an outdated machine like a car or computer. In Chinese slang, 恐龙,dinosaur refers to an ugly girl.

So this last Saturday morning, April 18, I and about 100 students (of which only about 30 were my students) boarded 2 buses at 6am and headed toward Changzhou, a city that is a 2-and-a-half hour bus ride away. I brought my DS and had a freshly downloaded movie (Requiem For A Dream) loaded onto my iPod, so I was able to stave boredom on the ride.

The park itself is actually a dinosaur-themed amusement park with a dinosaur museum also inside the park. The museum is only a small part of the park, but they did have some fairly impressive and complete fossils. (Just so everyone is aware, if you can't see things very clearly, you can click on the picture to load the larger image of it.)

Sichuanosaurus. Why? Because it was found in Sichuan province.

The plaque called it "Tuojiangosaurus," but I think of him as ol' stego.

I know the lighting in this picture is very bad, but I tried to take this picture from many angles to no avail. Anyhow it was too huge and complete and impressive to not include. This brontosaurus looking fella is called Mamenchisaurus.

This is a miniature of what the above might have looked like when he was alive.

Classic Triceratops

Now, why they had mechanical bulls INSIDE the dinosaur museum I'll never know. But I wasn't gonna pass up that opportunity.

There was some interesting scenery in the park with dinosaur statues strewn about, the most impressive of which, I thought, were the apatasaurus-like constructions inside the lake that had moving parts and made noise.

Trusty Cretaceous Steed

Ah, its the friendly, neighborhood mail-velociraptor!

A family of apatasaurs taking a dip.

There's not a lot of room for these horny guys to fight.

This was actually a reasonably cool looking T-Rex. Unfortunately, due to the position of the sun, this was the best lit angle I could take.

The apatosaurs had moving heads and roared. Therefore, they must be real dinosaurs. (The entire image doesn't display in this window, please click to see the entire image. By splicing two images from slightly different angles together, this "maybe" creates a slight 3D effect.)

In terms of thrill rides, there were actually several, maybe a couple dozen rides, only one of which was a roller coaster. However, the roller coaster was more of a "children's" roller coaster. Despite that, the other thrill rides were still pretty fun.

Saw this while waiting in line. The hamburgler would not be welcome. Admittedly this warning is not incorrect, I just think the use of the word "burgling" was funny.

The only major problem we faced that day was the same problem you'd face at any major theme park on a weekend... large crowds and long lines. Other than that, it was actually a pretty fun time. The park itself, in terms of quality, design, decoration, cleanliness, theme, and all those metrics that you'd use to describe a theme park, I would say were on par with Busch Gardens minus the zoo and roller coasters, so a pretty solid enterprise.

Finally, I saw this as we were leaving, and I don't know why, but I think it's funny.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Internet Video in China

Ok, well, it's been a couple weeks now and youtube.com is still down.

I think I've finally found out why.

Up until recently China's SARFT (State Administration of Radio Film and Television) only required that video sharing websites hold a license to be able to air their content in China.

Well recently, they have introduced some new regulations. From http://illuminantpartners.com/blog/index.php/tag/internet-china-chinese-online-video-sharing-sarft-law-regulation-intellectualproperty-ip-ipr/
"Under the new rules, all films, TV series, cartoons and documentaries must obtain offline broadcasting licenses before being transmitted via internet media"

Essentially, this is in an effort to stamp out pirated materials from being shown online. However, there is an exception in the "haven rule" which essentially says that for user-generated content (meaning stuff that individual people upload, not businesses) each piece of copyright-violating content will be removed upon notification.

Anyhow, because the youtube servers are not located in China, and thus they cannot enforce these rules, it seems perhaps the Chinese government is using it as an excuse to block youtube.

In any case, it means I will have to find some other way to get to see youtube content.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Never Fails

So this actually happened back in February, but I forgot to add it to the blog until now.

I was getting dressed in the locker room at the gym one day, and a man came up to me and asked, in English, "Are you American?" to which I responded, "Yes I am."

Then he asked me in English, "How long you in China?"

At that point I responded to him in Chinese, "Wo shi qu nian shi yue lai de" ("I arrived last year in October")

However, after I said this, he looked like he didn't understand me, which made me start worrying: Did I say a wrong word? Did I use the wrong tone?

Anyways, I said it again, in Chinese, a bit more slowly and deliberately, to make sure that I said it correctly, but he still didn't seem to understand me.

At that point I asked him, "Wo shuo cuo le ma?" meaning "Did I say it incorrectly?"

He looked as if he still didn't understand me, and when I was about to say something again, he said to me in English, "I don't know much Chinese, I am Japanese."

Apparently he was just a Japanese businessman doing business in Huzhou. :$

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Family Feud

So this week I have been playing the "Family Feud" with my classes. I was able to find many questions and their answers from an FAQ on "The Family Feud" video game for the Super Nintendo.

The FAQ listed all 1400 questions and answers from the game. One issue was, however, that these surveys were done among Americans, and as such, some of the questions were so steeped in American culture that the kids would have no idea. For example:
"Name something mothers wear while driving their kids to school"
-Chinese, by and large, don't drive

"Name a public place where women sometimes put on makeup"
-I have not once seen a Chinese woman apply makeup in public that I can remember. I'm not going to count the washroom because that may very well be the only place, and a one answer Family Feud question doesn't work.

"Name something people often say to each other but really don't mean"
-I'm sure the phrases themselves vary by language, and irony and sarcasm also DO vary by culture.
"Name a holiday that ends in the work "Day""

However, there were still several hundred questions, and I didn't even need that many, so there certainly were categories where things worked out fine:
"Name things women find hard to resist"
-Answers: Shopping, Candy/Chocolate, Men, Jewelry, Clothes, Gossip, Money

"Name the smartest animal"

"What's the first thing you do after waking up from a nap?"

There were some other questions, however, where the question was really good, but a few of the answers were too American for the kids to guess. In this case, I would often either just remove an answer, or replace an answer with a more Chinese answer. For example:
"Name something you buy that is almost always white"
-The problem here was a lack of the answer "rice", which frankly is an excellent answer, and the inclusion of the answer "eggs." Eggs in China are all brown, not white. In fact, most of the kids were surprised to hear that all the eggs in the USA are white.

"Name something you do when you wake up"
-Here, "coffee" was an answer that Chinese would never use, and to my surprise, the kids were surprised to see "shower" on the list. They said that they take showers at night instead.

"Name something you use every day"
-In this question, "car" is not as appropriate a response in China as would be "bus" or "bicycle". As a result, if the students said "car" or "bus" or "bicycle" I gave them credit for this answer.

Finally, there was one other problem with some of these questions that could be relatively easily corrected by removing or adding some responses. The problem was this: These questions were all from "Family Feud" on the Super Nintendo... meaning that the questions would be appropriate to 1992/1993 culture. Some examples:

"Name something you might forget in a restaurant"
-While all the answers given in this question still worked today, "purse", "coat", "leave a tip" (which the Chinese kids never guess), "hat", "umbrella", "keys", "glasses", and "take home bag", there was a GLARING absence of "cell phone"

"Name an occupation whose workers deal mostly with strangers"
-I had to remove "telephone operator".

All in all though, the game worked well, and the kids liked it. By the way, the idea for doing this came from Ellis (the other teacher here) wanting to play an April Fool's prank on her students. So we got together to try and plan something together for our classes. We thought of the Family Feud idea and picked out the questions. In class, we combined our classes and had them compete against each other. Then near the end, we pretended to have an argument about something, and were yelling at each other until Ellis finally stormed out of the room. The kids were shocked, haha. Ellis returned 30 seconds later and we shouted "April Fool's!" and gave the kids candy. In retrospect, 30 seconds was a bit long and very awkward. Some of her students started to follow her out to find out what was wrong, and my students were asking me, "What did you do?" In the end, I think that was about the best practical joke we could've done with the students on such short notice without it being either too lame, too obvious, or too terrible.