Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ordinary Stuff - Parking lot


Motorcycle Parking, to be more precise. Actually, a good three quarters or even more of the two-wheelers you see around are electric scooters of some kind or another. Just an off-the cuff guess, but I'd say, judging from the traffic that I see, that it's about evenly divided between cars, motor scooters (again, mostly electric), bikes and public transit as far as the most common means of transport.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ordinary Stuff - local sales


People selling fruit from the back of three-wheeled bikes. Everywhere, every season. (Peaches at the moment.)

Mind the Gap

Wondering what will happen to the world in 2050? Concerned about the widening gap between the world's richest and poorest countries? Or are you simply a fan of animated charts with lots of cool graphs and circles moving around? In any case, Gapminder is a site that you should know about. It's the project of Hans Rosling, a Swedish economist (?)/ professor / development specialist / information guru, and it does a great job of describing what's happening to the world in terms of population, health, and development, among other things. Consider the following:

I played this to my media class this spring because A) it's easy to understand, and B) it's one of the few projections of the world twenty years from now that's both intelligent and optimistic. And he uses Legos! What's not to like?

Oh, and here's the history of the last 200 years of world development and population growth, all explained quite clearly (and in a great Swedish accent) in under five minutes. Thank you, Hans!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ordinary Stuff - Street Sweeping

Street Sweeper, Second Ring Road, Chengdu

Go along any major highway around here for more than half an hour or so, and you're likely to see someone dressed in a blaze orange jumpsuit and a wide bamboo hat sweeping the side of the road (or possibly polishing the guardrails) with a big broom that looks like a dust mop on steroids. Sometimes, it looks like they actually are accomplishing something, and sometimes, it just looks like they are lifting a huge cloud of dust and simply moving it down the road a couple of yards. Not a job that I would enjoy, and another reminder of how soft my life has been to date compared with a large percentage of the world...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ordinary Stuff, but not as prevelant as I thought it would be


A nice example of good ol' fashioned Commie propaganda just north of downtown Chengdu, though you don't see very many billboards that are this blatant. To be fair to my host country, the billboards are fewer and farther between than in the States. (What's more propagandistic, crisply dressed military police looking brightly into the future, or a model in a bikini draped over a new Lexus?) Anyway, most of the billboards in our neck of the woods seem to be for the new apartment complexes...

Graduation blues...

End of School Year Clearance Sale, XHU

It never fails to hit me this time of year. If you're an ex-nerd (okay, probably current nerd) like me, you may remember a certain feeling of bittersweet nostalgia mixed with vague anticipation and more than a bit of melancholy that hit right as the school year was ending. For most people, that feeling peaked at around seventh grade and tapered off from there.

For many of us in the education field, however, it still lingers on and on - so now, twenty plus (!) years into adulthood, I still get a strong whiff of this feeling starting in late May and lasting till about July Fourth, when I realize that, yes, there really is a summer vacation and I better get around to enjoying it because it will be over in less than two months. (A hint of eternal adolescence, built right into the job description! Joy of Joys!)

One wave of this feeling hit me walking back from my last final this Sunday. Instead of the Noble Tradition of Taking all the Crap from Your Dorm Room and Chucking It Into the Nearest Dumpster, Chinese students seem to have a more environmentally friendly approach - drag your stuff out onto the sidewalk and see if somebody else will buy it. There's a whole section of campus that looks like a massive outdoor flea market. Here's what it looked like:

End of School Year Clearance Sale, XHU

And these pictures capture a bit more of how it felt to me:

End of School Year Clearance Sale, XHU

End of School Year Clearance Sale, XHU End of School Year Clearance Sale, XHU
(Thank you, thank you, iPhoto cheesy editing effects)

Also interesting, (and much more melancholy-inducing, I'm afraid) is this article from Newsweek, which talks about the waves upon waves of college grads living in slum conditions outside tech centers in Beijing and Shanghai. Seems like China is creating far more college grads than college level jobs at this point. The article seems to ring true from what I've seen and heard here on our campus. My sophomore students are already starting to get a bit nervous about life after graduation. Senior year is mostly spent off campus - either working an unpaid internship, or tromping around from interview to interview.

The accompanying photo essay is worth a look as well. Gives me added sympathy for the next time a Senior in my class comes up and asks (not in so many words, but this is their general question): "Um, Mister Wells, I'm going to be spending most of my time this semester looking for work. Can I skip every single one of your classes and just come in to take the final? Oh, and can you give me a decent grade as well?"

I'll consider it. Really, I will.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ordinary Stuff - A taste of Europe

Upscale Apartment Complex, Chengdu

Just your average entrance to an upscale apartment complex - this one on the northwest side of Chengdu. Reminds me that I need to pick up a couple of nymphs on my way home from work tomorrow...

Look Around You

Okay, so it was the middle of the semester, and I was showing my students all sorts of videos about perception, observation, metacognition, and generally taking a second look at the world so that you don't end up sleepwalking through it for the rest of your life. Then I thought, Wow! Look Around You! A perfect way to wrap up the lecture! Except that, of course, it wasn't - a few students got the joke of the video, but most ended up just scratching their heads and wondering what exactly it was that they saw just then. Hey, some bewilderment is good, right? It's what college is supposed to be all about...

Anyway, I cut the video out of my lesson plan for the next four classes and put it on my list of "Stuff To Put On The Blog When I Have No Ideas About What To Write About And Should Really Be Finishing Up My Finals Grading Instead". Which is why you're seeing it now. If you like it, there are many more where that came from. Otherwise, here's a picture of a scene from the video they play on public buses giving you tips on how to avoid H1N1. A win-win situation, don't you think?


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ordinary Stuff

At the risk of being one of those annoying people who are continually stating the obvious, ("Wow, Vern, things are sure different in foreign countries!") herewith, a series of photos of things of perfectly ordinary things that you can see every day, if you want to. Provided you are in Sichuan, China, that is.


For starters, the line of pedicabs at the local town square next to the bus stop.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The three videos my media students watched for the 'listening comprehension' portion of their final exam

To which I might add the following: 1) Getting a VPN so we could view YouTube unlocked was totally worth it this semester, and 2) Dang, I love my job!

Testing with Ernie (and Cookie Monster)

Pictured: One of the five classrooms full of students (about 260 altogether - thank goodness for proctors, multiple choice, and computer-scanned answer sheets) taking the test this afternoon, trying to figure out what Ernie and Cookie Monster are up to.

Chronology is overrated


But, for the record, here are a few pics of us going to pick apricots - gosh, maybe a month ago now? - that I've been meaning to post.



Not that you can tell from the pictures, but there was actually blue sky (!) that day. And mountains (!!), which were visible from just outside our home town on that particularly sunny weekend (and haven't been seen since, but I'm taking it on faith that they're still there).

IMG_3469 IMG_3492

Who needs those fold-up cardboard pretend bricks to make a fort with when you've got the real thing?

As far as regular life, not much else to report this week except that finals are indeed wrapping up, and Jane and I have been both sequestered inside this week finishing work for our classes, hoping that the kids just keep watching that Fantastic Mr. Fox video and don't kill each other so that we can get some grading done. One more week till our (heretofore undisclosed) big adventure...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

A year in Hong Kong - for free!


Well, a year's worth of armchair travel, anyway. One place I've been meaning to direct you all to is White Boy From Wisconsin, the blog that my friend Paul is writing about his family's year in Hong Kong. They are going home at the end of June, but it's worth nosing around through posts on his archives for a good look at life on this side of the globe - nice long rambling posts that are humorous, insightful, and fun to read. His post on people taking photos of his kids was especially interesting. (though I think we've got him beat on that one)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Run away!


Taken a month or so ago in Chengdu - (presumably unlicensed) fruit vendors running like heck down a side street because a patrol car just pulled up.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The card players

Card Players, Hongguang

Every time I walk out to the bus stop during lunch, I see these guys playing cards in the back of their truck. Remind me to do a "guys on their break playing cards outside" post sometimes - it happens all the time....

Someone else you should know about

Okay, if you know all about photographer Edward Burtynsky, move on ahead to the next post. But if you don't, be prepared to stay on a different planet for a while.

Burtynsky makes huge photos of all the things most of us never see (and you should click on the links to see them large, by the way) in our consumer culture. He shows us the factories, mines, and the places we throw things away, all in photos that are beautifully scary. The photos I've linked to are all from China, but he has taken pictures all around the world, from open pit mines in Australia to the Trucker's Jamboree (the only location of his that I have visited) in Walcott, Iowa.

I could go on talking about these images for a while (ask my students about that...), but I think they can also speak for themselves quite well. It's also interesting to hear him talk about his work, so I'm adding a video below. Extra credit, y'know...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I may not know what I'm driving at...


... but it does make for a good picture or two along the way.



(Banners on construction fences in the main square of our town)

Friday, June 11, 2010

My morning commute

Rush hour, XHU, Hongguang

Here's a picture from a rainy walk to work a couple of weeks ago, just after rush-hour traffic (thousands of students clogging a bridge between the old campus and the new campus during class change-over time) has died down a bit. One thing that's very nice about living here on campus is that all of my classes are about a ten minute walk away.

Last year, they were all a five minute walk away, but then they moved most of my classes to the sixth teaching building instead of the fourth. Dang them for doubling my commute! Of course, if I'm in a rush, which I'm usually not, I can always take the bike.

It's been a fairly wet, and relatively cool, summer so far. It's getting close to finals week, and I'm now giving last classes for the school year. I'm finding out that some of my students have come a long long way since last September - though it's always easy to focus on the few students that don't seem to have changed at all. Sigh.

Jane and I have been both nursing a grukky flu-like bug for the last week or so, complete with occasional achy joints, low energy, and nasty nasty persistent coughs. Here's hoping for a little sunshine to dry us out...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

China by the numbers

Since we are hovering somewhere near post number 200 (and # 100 for this year) at Slow Boat Central, I thought I'd share a few numbers from a very interesting and humbling conversation we had with one of Jane's students yesterday.

J, as I'll call him in this post, is a really great kid, from a small village that's a six-hour bus ride then a one hour walk from Chengdu. He's been helping Jane a great deal with an atlas project of the surrounding area that she's been working on with her students (one reason why you haven't been hearing from her lately). Yesterday, we invited him to stay with us for dinner, and afterward, got to talking a bit about his family. The numbers below are what we found out.

Number of rooms in J's grandfather's house, where he grew up: 14
Number of J's aunts and uncles: 8
Amount, per year, in sales of rice, corn, and pigs, that the farm can bring in: RMB 7000 (approx. $1023 US)
Number of people currently living there: 3 (J's grandparents and 6 year old little brother. A few relatives are farming nearby, but most of the adults have migrated east to work, leaving their children to be cared for by the grandparents.)
Approximate number of people at J's grandfather's house last spring festival (the time, equivalent to Thanksgiving or Christmas in the US, when everyone comes home for the holidays): 30
Number of people present at spring festival between the ages of 20 and 30: 1
Age at which people from J's home town usually get married and have children if they do not go to university: 18

Combined monthly salary that J's parents make working at a steel factory in the east of China: RMB 4000 (approx. $585 US).
Hours that they work each day: 10
Amount they pay in monthly rent for their small (approx. 12'x12') room (shared toilet, shared kitchen): RMB 180 ($26).
Amount they borrowed, and have since paid back, for J's education expenses: RMB 10,000 ($1,460)
Money for clothes, food, and other living expenses that J's parents send him every month: RMB 600 ($88)
Money that J thinks he can earn in one month if he gets a job teaching English this summer: RMB 2000 ($293)

Some figures for comparison:
Cost of a bowl of noodles at an outdoor vendor's cart: RMB 3 (44 cents)
Cost of an average entree in a local restaurant: RMB 5-15 ($ 0.75 - 2.20)
Cost of an average entree in a Western-Style restaurant in downtown Chengdu: RMB 30-100 ($4.40 - $15.00)
Typical monthly housing allowance of an American employee of a multinational company based in Chengdu: RMB 40,000 ($5,873)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kingergarten Dance Extravaganza!

Since I haven't been too family-newsy on the blog of late, here's a shot of Xander in his kindergarten class's end of the year dance performance. The school year is winding down, and the differences between Chinese school assemblies and American ones are quite revealing, enough so, that if I start writing about it now, I'll cruise past my five minutes per day and never ever get these pictures up...


Zekey rarin' to go...

Both boys dressed in their brand new matching performance clothes. (Note the summer buzz cuts. Xander in particular has the shortest hair of anyone on my side of the family since 1965...)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The spill, cont'd...

An interesting way of wrapping your mind around the oil spill - an interactive map that shows the area of the spill centered on any city in the world.

Also, another environmental crisis has been developing. (warning: contains strong language)

Mops, cleansing, and a hidden religious allegory...


Mop, Quile temple, Nanchong

Monday, June 7, 2010

In which I find myself (gasp) agreeing with Sarah Palin ... up to a point.

"Uh-oh, we're running out of gas!"
"Oh, look at all these dirty gas stations! Not for me!"
"Yeah, they're black!"
"Hey look at that gas station! It's white! With a flower on it!"
"Wow, happy whistling gas pumps are filling up our car! Now flowers are coming out of our a..., I mean, tailpipe!"
"Thanks, BP"

I've been following the oil spill off of Louisiana with a sickening lurch in my stomach for the past couple of weeks, even sharing the news with my students. It's sadly funny how the above commercial fit right into my topic that week about Environmental Marketing - okay, greenwashing - and the media.

(Haven't yet heard of greenwashing? Oh, of course you have. But the above video is still funny, even if it is a bit too close to the truth...)

And speaking of the truth...we all know who's responsible for this disaster, right? No, Not BP, Not the President. It's those environmentalists! Naturally, when I read the headline, I was intrigued, if not a little amazed at how malleable logic is in the hands of a certain ex-governor of Alaska. But then, I went on to read a few articles, and dang if she doesn't have a valid point hidden in there somewhere. (For those of you who missed it: the oil spill happened because environmentalists have blocked access to all the "safe" drilling areas in the US, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge...)

So her valid point? We ARE exporting our environmental disasters to the rest of the world. As a matter of fact, oil spills are one of our leading exports. We are quite comfortable with environmental damage, as long as it's far far away - preferably involving people who don't look like us.

Here's a view from Azerbaijan.

...and here's Bangladesh. (Both of the above photos from Ed Burtynsky, an amazing photographer well worth checking out further...)

The thing is, events like this occur all over the world, all the time. Sorry, but oil is simply dirty, and human systems are, unfortunately, prone to failure. It's only when failures happen close to our backyard that we are shocked, shocked! And outraged! Something has to change! (Until the media coverage dies down and we can keep on merrily consuming more oil, that is.) Which brings us back to Sarah, again, and her proposed solution. Just drill more on our land in Alaska! It's far away! If there are spills, only a few caribou will notice! (Oh, and polar bears. But they're dying out anyway...) Sigh. How typical, how typical. Here's an idea, Sarah, honey. Instead of us exploiting more, how about we consume less?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

One thing at a time

Buddha on the dash

An interesting article from an author who found out that, surprise, multitasking isn't as good for us as we think it is. Made me realize that I need to become much more mindful in the things I say and do every day...

Avoiding multitasking for a month.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A month and some into A-Photo-A-Day

The Semaphore Alphabet

So it's been over a month since I decided to throw caution to the wind and spend about five minutes a day posting a photo or link or video or two to the internet. I've put up pictures of what we've been up to, but also a few random things about life in China, too many shots of building construction, videos that I've been showing to my students, and the occasional random picture of a mop.

And now comes the time to ask the inevitable question: "Okay, is anyone reading this besides my Mom?" Actually, you can't hide - I've got a statistics tracker installed on the web, so I know I get around a hundred of you checking in each week to see what's up. And - a bonus - it comes with a map! Most places (Chicago, Lansing, MI; NYC area; Pueblo, CO, etc.) I can figure out. My actual question - who is visiting my blog from Romania? Or Moscow, Anstruther (Scotland), South Korea, or Quinter, Kansas?*

Also, as your dedicated internet neuron in China, any questions or things that you'd like to know about? No promises, but if I've got an answer to something that you're curious about, I'd be happy to feature it in a future deeply-thought-out five minute blog post. Just ask in the comment section, and our crack team of researchers will get right on it.

p.s. You might be interested to know that our humble blog has gotten readers from every continent but Antarctica, thanks to fellow MCCers in Columbia, Egypt, Bosnia, and Indonesia, and other friends in England, Germany, Switzerland, Hong Kong, and New Zealand. You guys rock the world, you do!

Friday, June 4, 2010

the Stars and Stripes Forever!

I've been talking about in-groups vs. out-groups, identity, and nationalism in my media classes, which (among other things) led me to this video, which (of course) I showed to my (um... I think, bewildered) students. Say all you want to about America, but in how many other countries could you create a patriotic puppet tribute sung by a giant bear, a penguin in a wig, and a demented Swedish chef chasing a singing chicken or two? Snif - kinda makes me homesick, y'know....?

Greetings from your extended nervous system

A short clip of the author William Gibson talking about the prevalence of media that I showed to my students a while back. I was particularly interested in his observations about the reach of the media - that it is very difficult to find any "non-mediated" people on the planet anymore.

I think we've been growing a sort of extended prosthetic nervous system for the last hundred years or so, and it's really starting to take, you know. It's really really starting to grow now."

Fair is fair

toy wholesalers, Chengdu

Since I posted one example of America's glorious excess yesterday, I thought it only fair to show a few things that I like about China - specifically, marketing. Yes, there are places in China that sell their wares using the quiet understated Zen philosophy, but then there's the "Everything All at Once In Your Face" school of store displays. Guess which one I like more?

Chengdu Fish Market

Balloon vendor, Pixian

Souveniers, Xi'an

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The fundamental nature of humans...

- What if our fundamental nature is to be empathetic?

Quickly posting this here before rushing off to teach a class, so I don't forget about it in the "links that I may or may not get around to sharing" bin. Well worth checking out the whole video.

World's largest shopping mall

Video Staircase, Hong Kong

If you haven't noticed, I've been thinking a lot lately about the built environment in China - and the rest of the world for that matter. More specifically, how do the things that we build affect us, for better or worse?

Now, if you're a Minnesotan, or even an ex-Minnesotan like me, you know that the world's largest shopping mall is the Mall of America in Minneapolis, right? Um, wrong. Since 2005, the world's largest mall is the South China Mall in Dongguan, China. Where? Take a video tour here, courtesy of a PBS documentary that's viewable online. Oh, and the mall is virtually abandoned, which is a phenomenon that is not unique to China.