Wednesday, October 28, 2009

All kinds of Lazy...

Furniture Market, Chengdu, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)
Found on the internet - chock full o-stereotypes, but still worth thinking about.

“There are different species of laziness: Eastern and Western. The Eastern style is like the one practised in India. It consists of hanging out all day in the sun, doing nothing, avoiding any kind of work or useful activity, drinking cups of tea, listening to Hindi film music blaring on the radio, and gossiping with friends. Western laziness is quite different. It consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so there is no time at all to confront the real issues. This form of laziness lies in our failure to choose worthwhile applications for our energy.”

– Sogyal Rinpiche

Monday, October 26, 2009

Introducing our water heater

IMG_4950, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)

Hi everyone - This is our water heater. (Water heater, this is everyone) Our water heater is our friend, even if it sounds like a small Saturn V rocket going off in the corner of our kitchen every time you turn on the faucet. Notice the lack of a tank, by the way - that's because, like most of the world, it only heats the water on demand, as you need it.

Well, usually heats, I should say. This weekend, our water heater had a little time off. Not because it wasn't working, but simply because there was no water to heat. Because of (local construction? a water main break? a visiting herd of elephants all taking a shower at the same time?), we had zero water from about ten on Saturday morning to sometime around nine Sunday night. Not enough to make life utterly impossible, but enough to make it interesting in a way we wouldn't have chosen ourselves, especially since our country director was visiting at the time.

Fortunately, the water was running in the public restrooms of the building next door, so we schlepped a big bucket of water up our five flights of stairs, which worked to wash hands and flush the toilet. And Kathi, our MCC country director, has been living in China for many years, so she was quite unfazed by the whole thing, and we had a very pleasant and informative visit with her.

Still, there is nothing like a big nasty growing dirty pile of Every Single Eating Utensil In the House Covered With Food by the Sink to make you appreciate the everyday miracle of hot running water that most of us take for granted. So, everyone, as you take your piping hot showers this winter, stop and turn off the water every once in a while as you soap up, and count your blessings, gol darn it. Who knows, it could even turn into a habit...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thingzi on my mind...

IMG_4901, originally uploaded by zawelski.

I don’t know if you knew this, but China is in the midst of a serious word shortage. At least that’s how it appears to this humble reporter trying to learn the language. Consider the example of the character “zi” (pronounced “zuh”). The character itself means “child”, but added to another syllable, it usually means “thing”. Or, “hey, this word’s a noun, in case you didn’t notice...”

Herewith, for your edification as well as mine,
a list of all of the words I know (and some that I looked up) ending with “zi”. Read it and weep...

baozi (bag thing) - steamed bread with filling
beizi - glass
chazi - fork
chongzi - bug
daizi - bag
erzi (child thing) - son
guazi - pumpkin seeds
huzi - (reckless or barbarian thing) - beard
houzi - monkey
jiazi - shelf
jiaozi - boiled dumpling
kuzi - pants
lizi - plum. (Or is it chair?)
luzi - pomelo, grapefruit
haozi - mouse or rat (more on that later)
juzi - orange
kuaizi - chopsticks
maozi - hat, cap
qunzi - skirt, dress
shaozi - spoon
shizi - lion
shuzi - comb
tanzi - blanket
tuzi - rabbit
wazi - socks
xiazi - shrimp
xiezi - shoes
yezi - leaves
zhuozi - table

Friday, October 23, 2009

Photographic Proof...

Anlong township, Sichuan, originally uploaded by zawelski.

... that people here are serious about their chili paste. This picture from an open house and organic farm tour that we went to last Sunday. The pot in question is about the size of your average American kitchen sink, and I'd guess there's about 40 pounds of ground red chili in it. Over 100 people showed up for the event, which also included a humungous lunch for everyone in the courtyard of one of the farmer's houses. That's a lot of forehead sweat!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

From the “probably not funny to anyone else but me” department:

IMG_5396, originally uploaded by zawelski.

Found on the internet, the Zombie Protest Chant, as follows:

“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”

Another find (not having anything to do with zombies, btw) - the ever popular “baby in a bucket” home swimming pool. (Baby sold separately...)


Friday, October 16, 2009

A guaranteed morale booster

IMG_4895, originally uploaded by zawelski.

(posted by Dave)

Take a class of around 42 Chinese college sophomores. Add the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four” (with printed lyrics).
Play song, encourage everyone to sing along loudly.

(Oh, and guess which song will be going through my head for the next month or so...?)

My Ankleodyssey

(posted by Dave)


(Image: One of my acupuncture sessions, complete with burning coals on the ends of each needle, mid-August or thereabouts)

Those who have seen me since mid-June may know that I’ve had chronic pain in my right ankle. I’ve come up with various theories about the cause. Bruised achilles tendon? Stress from carrying Ysa in a poorly adjusted backpack carrier? Bad shoes? Wearing my flip flops too much?

I’ve likewise tried various remedies to fix it, from ice to acupuncture to elevation to traditional Chinese medicine, but nothing seemed to work long-term. Just recently, thanks to the help of two large two-by-fours that fell crashing onto my right toe, I decided to stop procrastinating and finally get an x-ray or two.

While my toe is just bruised, the x-rays confirmed what I had started to suspect: I have a new little friend - a bone spur on my ankle, somewhere near my achilles tendon. Think of the achilles tendon as being about the same width as the hair on the bow of a violin. If you then put nerve endings in the bow, and rub it back and forth repeatedly over a small pointy rock, you’ve got some idea of what’s been going on with my ankle lately. Not that I’m complaining, but - oh, wait. Yep, I am complaining. It really stinks. In the spirit of sharing my misery with the world at large, following are some insights I have gained from my experience.

Acupuncture doesn’t hurt, because the needles are super thin. Unless of course, you have some swelling in the part of the body you are treating. Then it hurts like crazy when the needles go in, and then changes to a strange dull throbbing that gradually calms down to a relieved numbness that changes back to a sharp pain if you move your foot more than a sixteenth of an inch. Oh, and then another sharp sharp pain when the needles get yanked out. Later your foot feels better. (Maybe because there are no longer needles stuck in it?)

Chinese doctors can and will laugh at you, especially if you present your own theory of the cause of your problem. Bone spur? Ha ha, heavens no. Silly foreigner - your heel joint was dislocated. I fixed it! Just walk around for a bit, you’ll see. To be fair, the doctor in question did entirely eliminate all traces of pain from my heel with three or four precisely timed sharp and painful tugs on my foot. (“Tugs” meaning that she grabbed onto each side of my heel and pulled backwards at approximately 94 mph with all her body weight.) The pain in my ankle soon returned, as did soreness in my arch, but the pain in the heel took off running and hasn’t been heard from since.

You can get X-rays in China for RMB 100 (approx $14.61) apiece. For that price, they’ll throw in a couple of long waits in line, receipts that show you’ve paid for your appointment, receipts that show you’ve paid to get your X-ray, receipts that show that you have an appointment to interpret your X-ray, and receipts for your prescription. You also get staff that are helpful and courteous, plenty of scuffs and streaks and just plain dirt on the waiting room walls, and scary looking lead-lined doors in X-ray room that slide ominously closed and remind you of the scene in the Watchmen where Dr. Manhattan gets every atom in his body pulverized. Oh, and a nifty plastic bag with all sorts of Chinese writing on it that contains the only copies of your X-rays. Don’t lose these.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A quick long rambling update...

(posted by Dave)

Rock photo-op

...along with photographic proof that we still exist. We’re just winding down on a fairly activity filled 10-day break for National Day and the Mid-Autumn festival. Here’s a slightly condensed version of what we’ve been up to, in several horribly bloated run-on sentences:

-Watched a full mechanized military parade (insert shudder here) on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, both at home and in a campus plaza with about 500 students.

-Spent a day at our friend Joy’s parent’s house and garden plot just outside the nearby town of Pixian. Picked pomelos (a kind of big mega-grapefruit) off their tree, sat around making and eating dumplings, and watched the kids run around and play with several local kids at a park by the river that featured (drumroll please) a huge stretch of lawn to run around on!

-Went on a two-night three day mini road trip with our friend ZhouJin, a grad student in English and Jane’s running partner. One night’s stay at a temple on top of Quinchengshan, an extremely crowded holy Taoist mountain and pilgrimage site complete with winding thousand year old stairs, meditative music piped from speakers hidden in rocks, a chairlift that softly glided over palm trees, and approximately 14,652 people telling us how cute our kids are.

-Next evening of the road trip spent in Hongkou, a much more peaceful wide spot in the road in a valley up in the mountains. Watched kids play on rocks by the river. Ate fresh salmon. Repeated cycle the next morning. For more, see our photos and Jane’s comments on our Flickr site here:

-Got treated to a lazy day at a Chinese “country club” with all of the foreign teachers and the staff of the foreign affairs department. A country club here is a walled compound with formal gardens, courtyards with tables to sit around at and drink tea and chat, many private rooms for banqueting and card playing, a ping pong table or two, and in this case, a real playground complete with fenced in trampoline that our kids loved loved loved.

-Spent an afternoon at Jinsha, an archeological site and museum in Chengdu featuring artifacts from around 800 CE (that’s AD for all you non-archeological types). We then met our friend and former tutor Wang Tong and her son Charlie for a trip to another local park and savored the cheapo kiddie rides section until closing time, followed by a wonderful home-cooked meal prepared by Wang Tong’s mother at her house. Jane developed a nasty sneezy cold, and fell soundly asleep on the ride home after taking a combo of some traditional Chinese medicine and something similar to Contac.

-Had a lazy day at home on Friday, at least until two massive boards that had been propped up against a wardrobe fell directly onto my (already sore since June) foot. Got an involuntary tour, with the help of our intrepid Luo Bo, of a Chinese orthopedic hospital, where I spent the afternoon waiting in various lines for X-rays. Good news: my toe isn’t broken, just purple and bruised. Bad news: the ankle that has been sore since June is sore due to a bone spur, as I had started to suspect. No surgery necessary, but no badminton or long hikes with Ysa on my back until the swelling goes down. (and yes, I will give more details in a later post.)

-Saturday morning at home also. We finally figured out how to get Skype to work! Jane chatted on video for two and a half hours with her folks - it cost us a grand total of five RMB (about 80 cents) for the bandwidth! Niiiice! I then had to teach two “make-up classes” in the afternoon. Told my students that where I come from, a vacation is a vacation and that I therefore hadn’t planned anything. Had fun anyway.

Which brings us up to today, which will be a morning trip to a local toy store owned by a friend of a friend in nearby Xipu. I’m then off to Chengdu for a discussion group that Jane and I have been attending, and will get back home this evening just in time to shuffle and sort papers for my classes tomorrow, when it’s back to the routine. Incidentally, I don’t think we’ve mentioned much about what our routine exactly is, but that’s the subject of another post...

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Difference Between Two Places
(posted by Jane)

Qingcheng Shan

Crazy teeming
stairs and questions
no one knows
line as long as our Six Flags

Ah – on a boat.

Walking, climbing, raining
running, trying, asking
where to stay

Ah – our room.

Raindrops falling
cards called Uno
eating breezy vegetables

Cozy blankets wired warm
three beds in a room
100 quai

Steps descending
skinny aisles
painful shoulders with my bags

Mayhem, madness
cranky sadness
snacks to ward off tempers foul

People stopping on
the stairways, oh so
many, many stairs

Ah – a musical rock

Fighting, plastic, bags
of snacks, the masses of humanity
All have come for holiday to savor green

Ah – nature?


Truly a beauty place
Free and fast flowing
Walking through water
The whites never slowing

Salmon we saved for
We watched the chop fall
Skin, soup, sashimi
We closed out the hall!

Stay at the peasant home
Across the street
Shared our beds shared our books
A child’s nightly treat

Noodles for breakfast there
Sour, spicy or with eggs
Sun shining brightly
Water again on our legs!

Truly a beauty place
The sun on the east
Sweet pure fun playing
And the perfect amount of heat.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hope nobody was listening...

(posted by Dave)


A conversation as we watched the coverage of Beijing’s massive 60th anniversary National Day parade on TV a couple of days ago...

Xander: So who’s that guy?
Me: That’s Chairman Mao. He was the leader of China for a long time.
X: Hmmm. He doesn’t look German...
Me: What was that?
X: Oh, I thought you said German Mao!
Me: No, that’s CHAIRman Mao.
X: So he sat down a lot...?

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Child's Garden of Chinglish, or "Honey, have you seen the forfex?"

(posted by Dave)


China, as you may well know, is chock full of Chinglish - weird hybrid poorly translated bits of English that make absolutely No Sense Whatsoever. Since my spoken Chinese isn’t even at the kindergarten level yet, to say nothing for my written language skills, I’ve refrained so far from posting any examples. Learning a new language is tough enough, let alone having to write an advertisement, menu item, public sign, etc. in it.

However, I think I can safely make an exception in this case. This is a scan from a kid’s picture book, designed to teach the little tots a few words in English. In this case, our budding young scholars are treated to words like “ball”, “satchel”, “feeding-bottle”, and “pram”, all with large happy photographs of the vocabulary in question. Oh, and also “forfex”, “houselet”, and “backresk”.

Now, I could see giving up on “HamiGua” and calling it a “Hami Melon” instead of a cantaloupe. I don’t even know how to spell cantaloupe. (thanks, spell check!) And “houselet” for dollhouse is a touch of genius. But “forfex”? Someone was most definitely asleep at the switch...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Alice (by Jane)

I am most affected today by the situation of one of my students, Alice. She is a second-year student here, and she attends first Dave’s class on Monday mornings, then my class just for kicks on Monday afternoons. We bumped into her at today’s big-screen, outside viewing on campus of the parade in Beijing celebrating “new China’s” 60th anniversary. She was trying to interview people about the day, for the university’s on-line newspaper. Instead, she told me her story.

Alice told me the story of where she comes from and where her family is right now. She comes from the mountainous northeast part of Sichuan province, a 10-hour bus ride from here. She comes from a farm, where her parents don’t have a car, or a computer, which would be, as she put it, “totally useless for them.” Some of the people in her village have an automatic washing machine and televisions. They all have basic electricity.

The people in her village work as farmers. Alice’s parents did, too. But Alice has a brother – actually more than half of my students have a brother or sister, indicating their quite rural status – who will be entering university next year. Their parents cannot support the university tuition for the two of them on a farming income.

Alice’s parents moved to a different province, Fujian, about 1.5 years ago. They moved to work in a factory for the higher wages. Her dad is an experienced worker, so he earns the most, rmb 3,000 per month, which is about $428. Alice hasn’t seen her parents in this year-and-a-half. Last Spring Festival, she went back home, and stayed with her father’s brother, where Alice’s brother now lives. But her parents couldn’t afford the time off work nor the cost to travel there. They put all their money into the education of their children.

Alice looks forward to next year’s Spring Festival, when she will travel outside of Sichuan province for the first time. She will travel to Fujian to see her parents for the first time in almost 2 years. She is 20 years old and hasn’t seen her parents in a very long time. I wonder what she will think of the migrant-worker conditions her parents surely live in.

As she told me of her parents, her demeanor became very serious. I sensed she was holding back greater emotions and tears. She spoke of her need to study very hard so that she can support her parents once she gets a good job. She wants them to be able to return to their hometown, and farm if they want to, just for pleasure.

Alice was the one wandering around today, looking for an article to write. I was the one who walked away inspired to write, inspired by her studiousness, humbled by the story of her and her family.