Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Long Time No See

Did you know that "long time no see" is actually a Chinglish phrase that somehow made its way into standard English? It's the only Chinglish that I know of to become so widely used that no one knows it came from Chinese. It is the word-for-word translation for this phrase: "Hao jiu bu jian le" (very long haven't seen).  It's been a long time since I've seen you here on the blog, and there's a good reason for that: I haven't had Internet. In fact, I'm typing this draft on an web-less computer and waiting for tomorrow or the next day when someone will have fixed the Internet.

I am now in my new city of Rizhao, after arriving yesterday on the night train from Beijing.  I moved into the apartment of one of my American friends from my organization, who is my new roommate (Sara). Hooray! Our apartment is filled with stuff from teachers past -- things like: overflowing boxes of extra sheets and towels, trunks of books and notes, mysterious powders and flours, rusty canned goods, and a shrink- wrapped duck egg in the fridge. These things are here because Sara,  before I moved in, had plenty of room for herself and never had to shovel through leftovers in order to make space. This is the first time I've moved into a new place where the main job was not unpacking my own stuff but sorting through other people's. It's not fun. (But we're making progress.)

Team-building meetings start tomorrow, and classes start on Monday. I'll feel more settled when I have Internet, a phone number, a bank account, a class schedule, a dresser, a desk, a lesson plan or two, and some idea how to get around. And also -- a visit to the beach.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Smoggity Smog Smog

...This has been your air quality update from Beijing, China.

(Where I arrived at midnight last night and where the weather, despite the smog, is uncharacteristically pleasant.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Somewhere Over the Ocean

This photo is from my first trip to China, back in December 2005.  It was the closest I've flown over the North Pole, although many of my subsequent flights have also made their way somewhere over the top of the earth.  Tomorrow I fly Cedar Rapids - Detroit - Beijing.  It will be the ninth time I have flown to or from China.

Here's to flirting with the 50-pound weight limit, drooling through naps in coach, plucking my eyebrows in airport bathrooms, and sipping ginger ale over Siberia.  China, here I come!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chin Up

Is it fair to say that people aren't feeling so great about the way things are going these days?  In the six weeks I've been in the U.S., there's been the debt ceiling crisis, the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating, some deadly days in the Middle East, and the beginnings of yet another loooonng campaign season.  So, fresh from Asia, I thought I'd add my perspective.

This is a great time to be an American.  

We have:

Freedom of speech (usually)
Freedom to assemble
Freedom of the press
Freedom of religion

Protection from illegal seizure of our property
Protection from cruel and unusual punishment
Protection from outside threats (by the most powerful military in the world)

The right to a trial by our peers
The right to vote
The right to organize

The ability to hold our leaders accountable
The ability to lobby or run for office

A brilliant Constitution
A free market of both goods and ideas
A system that has allowed for peaceful transfer of power every four years
A spirit of volunteerism and helping our fellow man

Some of the best colleges and universities around
Safety nets for those who can't support themselves
Abundant and beautiful natural resources from coast to coast
Top-quality medical care
A place of refuge and opportunity for immigrants
Passports that can take us almost anywhere


(Most of these items are not (yet?) true of the country I've been living in.)

So, I say it's a great time to be an American.  And if our economy gets worse, it will still be a great time to be an American.  And if we bicker our way through another ridiculous campaign season, it will still be a great time to be an American (in spite of the bickering, though; not because of it).

What we have in this country is special.  Life here is really, really good for quite a lot of people.  True, many things are broken, but still -- have we lost our faith in our ability to better our country and ourselves?  Haven't we already recovered from circumstances as dire as a Civil War, a Great Depression, and a Cold War?  Where is our optimism?

My purpose here isn't to minimize the economic, moral, educational, and global problems facing our country, nor is it to blindly trumpet, "We're the best!" (I do believe God when He says pride comes before a fall.)  However, even an objective, nuanced view of the current state of America demands not just self-critique, humility, and repentance, but also hope, joy, and gratitude.  And in that spirit, I say it's a great time to be an American and I'm very thankful that I am.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"If you dreamk it you can doit sua!"

My annual Chinglish round-up is now posted on Facebook.  Some of the photos you've seen here on the blog, but some not.  Here is the link for those of you not on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ron Who?

Any Ron Paul fans out there?  Jon Stewart puzzles over why Ron never gets any media love:

Skip to the 1:00 mark for the video to start.

9 Days

I'm back in Cedar Falls after lovely times in Iowa City, Des Moines, Kansas City, and Texas.  9 days til I fly to China!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pages: All about Qufu

Hey hey!  I decided to compile some of my favorite places and info about Qufu.  This is located on a permanent page called "Qufu: My first China Home" which you can access from the tabs above.  Check it out, scroll through the pictures, or if you so desire, ignore it. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Shanzhai = Fake

ChinaHush recently published a few photos of shanzhai (knock-off) products next to the real thing.  Knock-offs are common in China, maybe because of lax (or no?) copyright laws and also because Chinese culture is keen on copying.

Click HERE for more.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Comfort, Contentment, and Complaint

One thing I notice when I come back to America is that people are particular about things.  We like things to be a certain way.  We like to sleep in dark, quiet, places.  (And if the neighbors are noisy, we complain.) We like businesses to provide attentive, prompt customer service.  (And if we feel slighted or have to wait, we complain.)  We like other drivers to drive predictably.  (And if we see a slow dude in the fast lane, we complain.)

We seem to have a narrow range of satisfaction and comfort.  We don't want to be too hot or too cold, too cramped, too jostled, or too inconvenienced.  It is a really big deal to us if we hire a service and they don't live up to our standards or if we stay at a hotel and find it too shabby.

All of this is, in my opinion, a reflection of the high standard of living we have been blessed with.  Our lives are so comfortable and convenient compared to many countries, and this has birthed an expectation that our lives MUST be comfortable and convenient.

I would say that Chinese people don't have the luxury of this expectation.  Customer service is almost non-existent.  Many people swelter through hot summers and shiver through cold winters in unheated buildings.  The majority of Chinese travelers (especially students) are crammed onto dirty, slow trains where they may not even have a seat for train rides as long as twenty or thirty hours.  People everywhere smoke, talk loudly into cell phones, push, and cut in line.  Life is often neither comfortable nor convenient.

So here is what I propose:  What if people in China raised their expectation a little?  The average standard of living could be improved if people would come to expect (and ask for) better treatment and better conditions.  And what if people in America bit their tongues from time to time, practicing contentment instead of complaint?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dave Barry on reducing the federal deficit

One of the first things I did when arriving on U.S. soil was to buy a few newspapers and get up to speed.  As usual, most of the stories were pretty doom-and-gloom, especially regarding the debt ceiling crisis, which isn't exactly a cheery thing to come home to.

I realize a compromise has been worked out, but in case the folks in Washington need any more advice about managing the country's finances, I'm posting an excerpt from a 1990 Dave Barry column on the federal deficit.
Day after day, week after week, the top brains of Congress and the Bush administration sat in a conference room, eating prune Danish supplied by the Prune Danish Division of the Bureau of Pastries of the U.S. Department of Refreshments at a cost of $2,350 per slice.
"What should we do about this pesky budget deficit?" the leaders asked, crumbs of concern dribbling from their mouths. "How can we reduce it? If only we had an idea! If only we could think of . . . "
"SPEND LESS MONEY, YOU CRETINS!!" shouted a group of cockroaches, who had been listening from the floor and managed to figure out the solution despite the handicap of not being top political brains. Unfortunately, however, our political leadership is not responsive to cockroaches, unless of course they operate savings-and-loan institutions.
 I'm with the cockroaches on this one.