Saturday, September 30, 2006

A week's vacation?

In China, everyone takes a vacation the same time-- the first week in October and the first week in May. The Fall holiday runs from October 1st through the 7th. Seven days. Except for essential service personnel, everyone is off at that time.
But workers cannot be allowed too much idleness. So the Saturday before the holiday and the Sunday after, all of us work to make up some of the lost time. Here at the university, we teach extra classes. So the time off is actually five days.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Outside The Box

While my students work hard, they don't think creatively. Their ideas are unoriginal, their writing full of cliches. In a system like this, it's no wonder. From earliest childhood, they conform to the demands of a rigid society, which despite reforms, is still totalitarian. Chinese children become literate and numerate; they memorize vast amounts of information. Their school day has breaks built in, and when these end, they scurry to their classrooms, anxious not to be tardy. The kids seem used to the regimentation and don't seem unhappy.
By the time they get to university, students have lost the creativity they were born with. But now and then, I find a student who thinks divergentally, i.e. "outside the box." One such student, who was arguing with me about standards of correctness, went through piles of English text to prove our authors sometimes use sentence fragments and violate parallel structure. Impressive! I wonder how anyone retains independence of thought in a society like this one. Such students are a treasure and a source of hope for this nation.
Above: primary students leaving their classroom on break.
A Nation of Nerds

The word 'nerd' was coined in the 1950's but was not in popular use until much later. When I was in high school, those who studied hard were 'squares.' I was a square. Today, I would be called a nerd.'
In a Chinese university, everyone is a "nerd." Studying hard is part of the campus culture. Not all students like to study, nor are they all equally good at all subjects, but they work at it. Someone who did not study hard would feel out of place. At any hour of the day hour, you'll see groups of kids sitting around on campus, totally silent as they pour over books. Impressive.

Freedom of Information

The Chinese believe in information control. They even offer degrees in this area. "This page cannot be displayed" pops up much more than at home. Sites with certain keywords are likely to be blocked: Political, God and Bible, to name a few. I'm told it's also hard to find online pornography, but I haven't checked this out.

You know that since I've come here, I've begun to identify with Paddington Bear, a furry creature who is perpetually dependent on the good will of strangers. Recently, my good friend Marie Cope sent me a miniature Paddington Bear, about 7" tall, complete with boots and red coat. Very cute.
Thing is about living here-- daily tasks are so complex and daunting, you don't feel in control.It's in my classroom that I'm most sure I know what I'm doing. The system is very unfamiliar. For example, the Communist Party has many offices around campus, whose goal is the promotion of "ideological purity" among the students. There's one in the department where I teach.
In this unfamiliar place, I feel more dependent on God than ever before. Joe teases me about the corny hymns I listen to such as "One More Step" by Sydney Carter. Joe claims it sounds like something out of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.
Mostly I agree. This music is extremely corny And the house church I attend is crawling with fundamentalists. Oddly, I find both church and the corny music sustaining. Joe comments, "When you're hungry enough, you'll eat anything." I'm away from Cherokee Church, and I guess I'm famished. Above: the office of the Communist Party, a few doors down from the room where I
teach. Below: Joe poses in front of a red sculpture symbolizing a battle ship in the Chinese navy.

Finding the Nyo-Nai

Since last January, I've been trying to learn Chinese. I had about given up. But, even if you don't know the language here, you have to live. Joe and I are hosting the meeting of the house church this Sunday.
Our first task was finding the market, said to be only two blocks from the downtown Bank of China where we can use our AAA money cards. The place was called Da fu-yuen. I think it means big market. Suddenly, I saw the character, 'Da' on a building not far away. Turned out to be the right place. I was beginning to read.
Inside, with the aid of the phrase book, I said "zai nar nyo-nai?" (Where is the milk?). In similar fashion, I requested towels (mao-jin). The store clerks understood me! What had happened?
ESL theorists believe that when people acquire a foreign language in a so-called "immersion environment," there is a predictable "silent period" during which people say nothing comprehensible in the "target language" and appear to be making little progress. Some months afterwards, theybegin using the new language more effectively. Maybe that's starting to happen. Hope so.
Above: two containers of nyo-nai, beside Joe's favorite beverage, kafe.

Joe is here. And I'm delighted. Nevertheless, I will acknowledge that he and I have very different approaches to difficult situations. And China is nth degree difficult.
I took a taxi to the airport, when I went to collect my husband. This cost 90 yuen (about 11 bucks). So I became agitated when, on the return trip, the cabbie drove circuitously through Weihai and the meter approached 150 yuen. "Don't say anything, Roz," counselled my husband, "we can afford it. It's not a big deal." Joe hates scenes. But I hate getting ripped off, and I conveyed my displeasure to the cabbie, in English. He, in turn, conveyed in Chinese, that he would cheerfully deposit us in the isolated area through which we were driving. Using my Chinese cell phone, I called a bi-lingual Chinese friend, who counselled me not to give this driver any more than 100 yuen. I handed my phone to the driver. Don't know what my friend said, but we were at the university gates in short order.
The driver was not pleased with the 100 yuen I gave him, and squacked at me in Chinese. We exited the cab. Using gestures, he conveyed that he would not remove Joe's suitcase from the trunk unless he received more money. I tapped the trunk. He shook his head. Then, I sensed we were being watched. There stood several representatives of the "People's Police," who know me by sight, now. I'd never seen them do anything but wave red flags at traffic. They had never seen me do anything but wave and say "Ni hao." They approached a step closer. Right away, the cabbie opened the trunk and handed us Joe's suitcase, with a big scowl. First time I've enlisted the help of Chinese police.
Joe was still displeased. As I say, he doesn't like scenes. But I think he's over it now. Above, Joe on campus. Below, a Wehai taxi.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Necessities of life

Joe arrives tomorrow. In preparation, I have purchased extra hangers and mopped the floor-- and you all know how often I clean house. Moreover, I have purchased a state of the art coffee maker and a large can of Nescafe for Joe. My husband needs his coffee. This beverage is a luxury here, but is available at a price. Unfortunately, I won't be able to fix him any when he arrives. The electricity will be off tomorrow. Yesterday, the water was off for twelve hours. That was the third time the water was off. Odd thing, you start getting used to these disruptions
of the routine..

Monday, September 25, 2006

Green Oranges

China, as I keep saying, is the other side of the world. I keep encountering things I consider weird. Like the green oranges my friend offered me the other day. Why would an orange be GREEN? It's called an ORANGE for heaven's sake!
While one sees many independent shops, the big supermarkets and department stores are run by the government. Their profits go to the People's Republic of China. We've all read about Communism, but it's still weird to walk into a department store, buy something and realize the profits are going to the Chinese government-- kind of like tolls and taxes.
Above: Green oranges.
Below: The Liquin Market, where many of us shop, owned by the People's Republic.

Church and State

According to the government, there is now religious liberty in China. Chinese citizen have a choice of three religions: Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam. The official church is run by the state, but there are also many "underground" house churches. To attend the official church, a Chinese person must register. A registered Christian is barred from certain occupations, such as K-12 and university teaching. This is because people in high profile positions are supposed to be aligned with the Communist Party's positions, which include atheism.
The government regulates the content of religious services to some extent-- Communists like to regulate things. No preaching from the book of Revelation; the government thinks it's dangerous. The Lord's Prayer and Apostle's Creed must be recited at every service. A Chinese person may not receive communion until he or she has been a registered Christian for at least a year.
Not only is this offensive-- it's weird. Why should a government care which prayer or which creed you use in a service? Makes you really value the separation of church and state.
Above: The door of the Weihai Church
Below: Weihai Church, English Speaking service.

What does tomorrow mean? It is 5:30 pm here, but at home it’s 5:00 in the morning. I leave Weihai tomorrow and make a stop in Beijing. ...