Friday, July 27, 2007

transformers: more than meets the ear

The air conditioner is fixed! Well, sort of. I can't touch the cord or the plug, because even a stiff breeze causes it to become un-plugged, and it takes a long time of tweaking and pushing and swearing to get it to connect again. But as long as I don't go near it, it blows cool air, and that's all that matters.
It's been a good productive week of getting things done. I had my first job interview completely in Chinese (I'm looking for some part-time teaching work to help keep me in dumplings and shoes).
Tried to go and see "Transfomers" with some friends the other night. We bought our tickets and sat through all the trailers until the start of the movie, when we discovered that it had been dubbed into Chinese! Strange thing is, those same friends had seen the same movie at the same cinema last week, and it was in English. We did some asking around and discovered that one must hurry to see English-language films right after they are released, before the dubbers have time to do their dubbing. Lesson learned. We left the theatre sheepishly, much to the amusement of everybody else.
Tomorrow I'm going to Shanghai to pick up the new group of teachers. I remember so vividly the arrival in Shanghai last year, and how overwhelmed I was by the reality of finally being in China after such a long time of reading and dreaming about it. And one year later, I still find China exciting and overwhelming, and so much of it is still brand new every day, aside from a few little things I've gotten used to. For instance, I got hit by a motorbike today and didn't even stop walking. Not a bad hit, just your everyday struck-by-a-vehicle-even-though-the-crosswalk-light-says-"walk" type of thing. Luckily neither I nor the motorbike were going very fast. Both parties came away unscathed, though I did dish out a healthy dose of what Allister calls "the hairy eyeball."
On the whole, one year after stepping off that airplane in Shanghai, I'm still very happy to be in China.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

uh...say what?

It's so great to be here in Nanjing...but the first week has been challenging to say the least. Since I don't work for a school anymore, I don't have the safety net of an English-speaking "handler" that I can call any time to take care of me. The upside of this is that I live in a real apartment, in a really cool little back alley just a few minutes from my university. As soon as I get my domicile in order, I'll take some pictures.
The downside is that this week, with my limited language capabilities, I've had to negotiate with landlords, open a bank account, pay utility bills and haggle with repairmen over a chronically broken air conditioner, all in Chinese. I think my Chinese will improve a lot this year--because it HAS to! Which is exactly why I'm here. But it sure is frustrating...even ordering drinking water is hard. Last year, I just picked up the phone and said, "Hi, this is the foreigner," and they knew exactly where to find me. This year, I am just one of 6 million people, with an address that happens to be extremely difficult to locate. Not much hope of ordering pizzas. :)
The air conditioner, by the way, is still broken. Nanjing residents boast of living in one of China's "three furnaces," the 3 hottest cities in China. I think I probably sweat about twenty times more than the average Chinese woman. I see ladies on the street pull out tissues and dab at their glistening foreheads...meanwhile, I look as if I've been dunked in a swimming pool. If I held a tissue to my forehead, it would dissolve.
So until the air conditioner gets fixed, I remain your humble sweating illiterate foreigner...S

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Care the Gap

I've landed in Nanjing and I'm loving it! It's going to take a while to adjust to city life...last year I walked through a rice paddy every day, and now I "care the gap" while getting on and off the subway.
This week is a little hectic--trying to find a place to live and get ready for the new teachers' arrival next week--photos and updates coming soon!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

2 Billion Rats Invade Hunan Province

And I thought I had it bad with 9 rats last year! Apparently my recurring nightmare about an apocalyptic rat invasion has, in fact, become reality in my former home of Hunan Province. (This article calls them "mice," but other articles tell it like it is...)
The devastating flood damages (rats included) in Hunan and other parts of central China this past summer are no laughing matter.
Way to go, Three Gorges Dam.

Excerpts from the LA Times:
Two billion voracious rodents have descended on farms in Hunan province. Villagers retaliate with clubs, traps and poison.
By Don Lee
Times Staff Writer

July 16, 2007

BEIZHOUZI, CHINA — The worst summer flooding in years has claimed more than 400 lives and wreaked billions of dollars in damage in central China. Here in the villages around Dongting Lake, rising waters have brought a plague of biblical proportions: an invasion of 2 billion mice.
..."They are like troops advancing," farmer Zhang Luo said Sunday, recounting how he whacked hundreds with a shovel. Zhang, 40, and his forebears have battled mice for 100 years in this area, but he said it had never been this bad. A stench rose from the dead rodents in his fields.
..."If the Three Gorges Dam needs to open its gate to release floodwaters again, it's possible that they might come back. That's why we have people patrol … day and night these days."
...Xu Kai, 14, recalled standing on the second-floor balcony of his house in the town of Beizhouzi and watching in horror as the green and brown slopes 150 yards away turned black. As the mice moved toward his family's farmland, Xu ran out with others and grabbed a thick piece of bamboo. He said he struck the mice until his shoulders hurt, killing three or four with each blow.
On Sunday, he and his grandmother looked out from the balcony and tallied the devastation.
Half the corn crops were destroyed. All the watermelons were lost. The mice had eaten much of the eggplant and other vegetables.
His grandmother, Chen Lianxi, 62, pointed to the thick cotton fields. She said they were a virtual cemetery for the mice the family had killed.
Chen said her family of five lived on their crops, earning about $1,200 last year. About a quarter of that went toward school tuition and expenses for Xu. Some was used to pay off a loan to neighbors for the two-story tile house that the family built 10 years ago for $6,000.
Money is one thing, she said. Chen fears for her grandson's health.
"That's what I don't know," she said. "There are dead mice everywhere."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

No more Frappuccino in Forbidden City

The controversial Starbucks in Beijing's Forbidden City was forced to shut down its espesso machines this weekend:

Apparently the solemn ambience of the 587-year-old monument was being undermined by the presence of so many half-caf skinny lattes...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Photos from Hangzhou

The countdown is on: five days until the big move to Nanjing! In the meantime, I'm here in Hangzhou, one of China's two "Heavens on Earth," helping out with a summer program in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I'm learning a lot--for instance, did you know that suction-cupping can expel heat evils from the body, and that the whites of your eyes are related to the health of your lungs? (I paid special attention to these items, living as I currently do under the hot poisonous cloud that envelops urban China in the summertime...)
Hangzhou is really lovely; the famous West Lake is ringed by low green hills, and delicious Dragon Well tea grows on the hillside terraces.
My friend Scott came out for a visit last weekend, and is also setting up a welcome BBQ for my first night in Nanjing. Then he, along with 8/9ths of the other teachers from last year (yeah, Benny, staying on for year 2!) are returning to America, and a fresh batch of teachers will arrive on the 29th. I can't wait to meet them! But I will miss my good friends.
Below is my first experiment in photo-uploading.

Scotty making sweet love to a dongpo rou (nugget of slow-cooked pork fat, a Hangzhou delicacy) while a yellow egg watches in amazement

The scenic West Lake

learning about medicinal herbs at a TCM pharmacy
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