Friday, July 8

In Which I Recieve a Love Letter

So, I got this little beauty awhile back, and I thought I would share it with the world.  Why not, right?

Dear Jackson-
Thank you for teaching me spoken English, I like you, I like your humor and handsome, you're very cool. I have learnt many things from your class. You are kind and friendly, I always treat you as my friend. I think you will treat me as your friend, too, isn't it? Do you like me? Since the vacation is around the corner, may you have a wonderful vacation!
Merry Christmas !!! ^o^

Uhhh.... yup.

(Here is a picture that I took, randomly tacked on to the end!)

Monday, January 17

One, single flower. No more, no less.

Recently, in passing, I happened upon a rather remarkable sight.

A tree, upon which grew a single, beautiful flower.

I can't express exactly why this impressed me so, after seeing so many trees laden heavy with dozens of similar flowers; indistinguishable at casual glance.  But impress me it did.

And I couldn't help but wonder why; why should this one be different?

Perhaps he was merely the first.

Perhaps this flower simply couldn't wait any longer;
"Spring is here!" he cried, as he burst forth into an exuberant splendor, paving the way for all to follow; a child, running ahead along the path because he cannot wait to see what lies around the bend.

And maybe all the others will wait, cautious, watching to see what happens next.  And if they continue to wait, will they see him soon wither and die?  And if they do, will they themselves brave the journey?
Become a bright flash in the darkness, a speck of beauty momentarily gracing the world?

Or perhaps instead they simply say "Maybe next year", and continue on, existing, in that state of mediocrity that is hardly existing at all.  And in the end only one flower, of all the possible flowers, will have tasted freedom. Only one of many will have laid bare his soul for all to enjoy.

And perhaps that flower knows that it is worth any price,
no matter how large.

Or, maybe his friends have all already bloomed. Perhaps he is merely the last remaining of his generation, who have all wilted, and died, leaving him alone to wait out the end of his days, or hours, or minutes. He, the last of his peers, carrying with him the burden of his generation, which will, when the time comes, die along with him, lost to us forever.  I wonder, does he fear the end, or welcome it?

Or perhaps the tree is simply tired.  Year after year, producing miracles of nature, only for everyone to fly by, hardly noticing, on their own mad journeys from A to B.  Is it worth it, little tree?

Or is this your first flower?  A painstakingly crafted draft, a first novella, created with all of the bumbling love and attention that only a true novice understands?  Could it be simply that you are nervous about what others might think?  And when those around you show little appreciation, and more often than not can't be bothered to even cast a glance in your direction, will you give up?  Will your drive sputter and die, or will you press on in the face of adversity, creating your own beautiful forms for their own sake, and no more?

Or, then again, what if our friend tree is dying?  Perhaps, on the doorstep of infinity, he has only energy enough to eek out one final statement of life tor all to enjoy.  He chooses to send forth one final burst of energy, sacrificing his final moments for the sake of a single flower, that we all may have something to remember him by.

But I don't think so.

No, I choose to believe in another possibility.

For you see, I believe I have seen the most beautiful flower in the whole world.  Painstakingly crafted, at the expense of all others.  Lovingly created over the course of a season, to emerge only when the conditions are perfect.  Every molecule arranged with precision; every bit of life and breath expended for the sake of one, single flower.

...only to bloom in an out-of-the-way garden, on an out-of-the-way path, outside an out-of-the-way city, living an out-of-the-way existence.  The magnum opus of a professional flower-bearer.  The great work of an unknown artist, never to be fully appreciated as it should.

And yet, for having appreciated this secret gift, I shall count myself lucky, forever.

Thank you, little tree, for your beautiful flower.

Thursday, January 13


Let's play a game! 

It's called "Can You Spot the Covert Surveillance Vehicle in the Patch of Woods Near my Apartment?"

Yeah, neither can I.  And that's because these guys are professionals.

(Disclaimer:  I don't actually know why a car with a camouflage cover was parked in the woods outside my apartment for a few days.  It could be anything!  I hereby attest that I bear no ill will or mild disdain towards the local government, or any information-gathering techniques they may use.)

Monday, January 10

Strange Things in China, Part 2

(Surprise!  I'm still in China!  Still in Xuchang, actually.  God only knows why.)

Last summer (I know, it was a while ago) I took my dad traveling around the country for a couple weeks, and one thing that seemed to really get him laughing was a rather strange-but-common sight during the summertime here: the tendency of Chinese men to roll their shirts up above their bellies on a hot day, no matter when or where (or who) they are.

Now, I wish I had a few more nice (?) photos of this phenomenon, but at the time I was not really interested in taking them, for two main reasons: (a) I was pretty accustomed to the sight already, and (b) I felt a bit strange taking pictures of men's bellies.

The most remarkable thing about the whole style, though, is the way in which it is worn: It doesn't matter if it's a rock-hard six-pack (it almost never is) or a nice flabby cushion, it gets put out there completely unabashedly, even rather proudly.  As if I just can't get enough of watching  a bunch of middle-aged men walking around poking-out and lovingly patting their bare fat stomachs (and probably smoking and spitting, too!).

There have certainly been many who have noticed this phenomenon (edit: there was even an article in the LA Times!), and I have heard two big theories from my Chinese friends on why it is so prevalent.  The first stems from a culturally ingrained notion of one's stomach temperature being very important for one's health:  I know several Chinese people who have pretty strong feelings about regulating their tummy-temp, and most belly-bearers seem to give this as their primary motive.  (And, to add a personal anecdote, my girlfriend won't eat ice cream because she thinks it makes her stomach too cold.)

The other reason comes from a perfectly healthy, rather slim (but definitely not skinny) friend of mine, who will occasionally decry his unfortunate lack of a good, manly belly.  I'm not sure what on Earth has gotten into some people's heads around here, but apparently "you just don't really count as being a 'man' unless you have a belly".

Well, keep on rockin' it guys.  Hope it works out for you.

(In order to make up for the required picture of a fat middle-aged man at the beginning of this post, I present you with a picture of a pretty girl as well.)

Thursday, April 29

Strange Things in China, part 1

While I could certainly do a full blog about Strange Things in China, and probably manage a daily posting, I thought I would introduce one I happened to take a snapshot of during a recent trip:

Snickers bars!!  (Batteries Included).

For some reason, the Chinese tend to give really unrelated things as incentives to buy certain products, like batteries with Snickers bars.  Other examples I've personally witnessed:

- Buy one packet of biscuits, get a free teacup.

- Buy 3 packs of Oreos, get a free tote bag (which you can subsequently use to proudly carry-out your newly-purchased Oreos).

-Buy a cell phone, get a free set of glassware (guaranteed to break within 30 days or your money back).

-Buy this out-of-date Orange Juice, and get a free cheap plastic food container.

And my personal favorite so far:

- Buy this cell-phone plan for 30RMB, or by the exact same cell phone plan for 50RMB, and receive a free knife set!  Brilliant!

Hopefully, more to come on Strange Things in China.  At last, a ridiculously easy topic to write about...

(If you did not like this post, please accept this picture of this beautiful Chinese girl instead.  [Unfortunately, no, not my girlfriend, just a friend.])

(I think this picture is worth clicking on.)

Friday, April 2

"Foreigners in China!", Story at 11

In the classic style of being a westerner in a city with very few westerners, Ross and I made it into the paper the other day. Original article faithfully reprinted here:

(Translation: "Foreigner makes Tangyuan")

-记者 黄增瑞

Now, I'm not going to translate the whole thing, because it's really not all that interesting.  It essentially says "Hey look, here's some foreigners making Tangyuan; bet they've never done that before!"  But what is interesting is the general news-mentality around here:

You might not notice clearly from the picture, but myself and Ross were invited to a nice hotel to participate in this activity, which was designed entirely for our sakes.  I thought for sure this was some sort of festival or large-scale activity, but when we arrived, there were 4 or 5 chefs and a small army of bell/service staff just standing around in this room waiting for us to come and get our picture taken making these little flour-balls.  After coming upon this scene, I felt surely it was going into the paper as an advertisement for the hotel we were in, but the hotel's name isn't even mentioned in the article!  The whole thing was just a news gimmick.

And so, in summary, this newspaper set up their own news story, just so they could write about it.  And not only that, but the only thing newsworthy in the story was a picture of a couple of foreigners participating in a traditional Chinese holiday, all so that the dear readers of the newspaper can give themselves all a collective pat on the back for being so wonderfully hospitable.

And who said China isn't great?

(If you did not like this post, please accept this picture of a poorly-cropped Little Boy with a Mullet instead)

Thursday, February 25

Live from Xuchang, China

Now, you faithful readers may have to excuse me for a moment while I blow the cow (This is a funny Chinese joke! Laugh here!), but I had a fairly proud moment recently.  I'm terribly sorry about all the text with no pictures.

The Premise

So, about three weeks ago, I was contacted by a friend-of-a-friend-of-my-boss who worked for a local traffic-related radio station, and asked if I could help them with a short project.  Essentially, I was to read a few English sentences for them to record, and that would be it.  As I was on vacation, and didn't have a lot else going on at the time, I accepted, and was picked up by one of the radio hosts, "Snow" (雪冰 Xuěbīng).

When we got to the radio station, however, I found that what they instead had was a list of their program names, which they had translated into English as "Pair explosion comedy", "Story Program", and the like.  So, I first had to give their programs proper English names, and then record them so that they could announce their programs in Chinese and English.  Not because they actually have any English listeners as far as I can tell, but just because It's Cool.

The Plot Twist (*yawn*, predictable.)

I feel like interesting exploits are getting so cliché lately.  I can't walk around for two minutes without stubbing my toe on an adventure.

Anyhow, somehow during that process they figured out I could speak a little Chinese, and asked me if I wanted to be on their radio show in like 10 minutes.  Needless to say, I was terrified.  Now, I may be a bit extreme in that regard--I actually get pretty nervous whenever I go into a new restaurant to eat, and I'm still not entirely clear why--but I think most people would be pretty nervous if they were asked to go on a live radio show in a language they've only been speaking for a few months.  But, I decided a long time ago that that sort of thing shouldn't stop me (as that one woman always says, "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway"), so I went for it, and ended up doing a pretty long radio show.

The Result

Basically what this is leading up to is that you all can now listen to be blabber about nothing in Chinese!  Hooray!

The actual recorded section I have is about an hour and a half long (and that's only the last half!), so I'm obviously not going to post everything on here, but rather just a few sections, so you can have a quick listen if you like. Sorry about the poor audio quality; it was a big MP3.  Also, if you haven't studied any Chinese, well, good luck!

(12:11 - 2.8MB)

I don't have the first half of the recording, so there's no real introduction.  But the first clip is the best I could do, so I don't start talking a whole lot until about 2 minutes in.  In the first half, someone calls in to ask the usual sorts of questions, e.g.  "Where are you from?",  "Have you been anywhere besides Xuchang", "Are you fat?  I hear Americans are white and fat."  And then later we talk a lot about food, and what sorts of foods I like to eat.  Pretty much standard program for Chinese conversation.

(1:38 - 770KB)
 (Bonus! Download "On The Wing" by Owl City)
In the first half, the announcer asks me if I'm accustomed to life here, and then we introduce the next song we'll be playing.  What song you ask?  Why, of course it's "On the Wing" by Owl City.  Remember them?

(0:50 - 392KB)
(Bonus! Download 左眼皮跳跳 by 小文)
This small section is only interesting because I somehow decided it would be a good idea to sing a few bars in Chinese for the listeners.  Embarrassing.  But not too embarrassing to share with you, obviously.

 (11:10 - 2.5MB)

This is a rather long clip that involves us chatting about holidays, and their meanings and traditions.  In the beginning I discover that that particular day happened to be some obscure Chinese holiday, and then later I explain that Valentine's Day happens because St. Valentine was eaten by a lion in the Colosseum.  I have no idea if this is true or not; I'm basing it entirely on a movie adaptation of the story that I watched in elementary school.


So I figured since it's basically a traffic radio station, there probably wasn't much of anyone listening to me talk anyways, but lo and behold, not only did I get a text message half-way through from a friend saying she was listening to my program, but I've also had two taxi drivers chat away about how they heard me on the radio that one time.  Life here continues to be interesting.

I was kindof proud of myself afterwards, actually.  For three months of Chinese class three years ago, plus about 4 months working here, I think I'm doing alright.

PS - If you did not like this post, please accept this picture of an alien robot instead.  His name is Alfred and he lives in my living room.