Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chinese acrobats

I think the quarantine debacle upset our hosts as much as it did the Americans. There were government guidelines which had to be followed. According to the international office, the rules were based on World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. From the beginning, International Office staff doubted that Nicole had the flu, but the rules were clear. A concern was whether the student from Southern Polytechnic would go to the hospital and be exposed to patients who actually did have the flu. Turned out she was the only patient in the isolation wing of the hospital.

The day afterwards, they treated us all like children who have been through an ordeal, putting us all in a bus, feeding us burgers and fries from the Chinese McDonald's, and taking us to see the National Chinese Acrobats.

Chinese acrobatics is an ancient art, more like ballet than circus performance. A slack wire is used rather than a tight one. Performers accomplish amazing feats such as piling on top of a bicycle fourteen at a time in flower formation. The acrobats are all very young; they train from early childhood. This is a career, and like ballet, it is an extremely short one.

If you'd like to read about the Chinese acrobats, here's a link to a wonderful educational pamphlet about them with great pictures:
Can a virus be made to carry a passport?

The quarantine here at NCUT ended on Thursday. The American graduate student involved attends Southern Polytechnic State University, not Central Michigan State as previously stated. Her name is Nicole. She is participating in a 2 week study program on China. Nicole likes to travel and has been abroad several times. On Wednesday, she awakened with swolen eyes and congestion. The allergy medicine she had on hand did not work, so she asked to consult a doctor. She had no fever, but when anyone from the US becomes ill people here become panicky.

Nicole was rushed to a hospital and placed in isolation. She was well-treated, though the standards for hospital cleanliness are different in China than the US. She saw a red spider in her room and was not allowed light in the early evening, lest it attract mosquitoes. Translators were provided. Her classmates, who had been all over campus before this, were quarantined. The medical tests were performed quickly, and the period of confinement lasted less than a day. They came back negative, which Nicole was sure they would.

"At first, I was really angry," she said. "I've never been to prison, but now I know what it's like. I just wanted to get back to the US. We would never do things this way. But then I thought: I've had an unusual experience. It makes a great story."

I admire this young woman's attitude. In such situations, I am apt to become suspicious and irritated. Truly, Nicole has the spirit that allows a person to travel the world.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Language Immersion

I am not a "quick study" when it comes to learning new languages, though I have a passion for language and what it allows human beings to do. I plod along in my effort to learn Chinese, and I'm making some progress.
Chinese is all around us. We need it when we go to the grocery store, take a taxi, or open an account at the bank. We have to use the computer in our room instead of the laptop we brought to access the Internet. Most of the screens come up in Chinese, which is challenging.
NCUT has provided us with a tutor-- a clever young undergraduate named Chen who helps us use our Chinese for practical purposes. Payday here was the day before yesterday, and we were given far too much cash for my comfort. We needed a bank account. At the Bank of China, I tried to fill out the necessary forms, but kept on making mistakes. Very sternly, the bank manager said there could be no crossings out on the paperwork. Chen did them for us.

Above: The sort of directions we see on the computer screen.
Below: At the bank.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The pandemic moves closer

A group of visitors from Central Michigan State is visiting this campus. An excursion to see Chinese acrobats had been scheduled by the Office of International Affairs. Joe and I were scheduled to attend the performance along with the Michigan guests. Bur when we arrived at the meeting place, there was no sign of the party, and I found myself getting frustrated.

We were able to reach the International Office. They apologized profusely for not informing us that the outing had been cancelled. One of the Michigan visitors turned up with flu-like symptoms. He was whisked to the hospital,and everyone else from that group is quarrantined until officials say whether this is H1N1.

I will leave it to medical people reading this blog to decide if this makes any sense. The Michigan guests have been all over campus, not just interacting with each other. Then again, they probably came to China on the same flight and would be spending lots of time together.

We thought there was something about the problem on the evening news, though neither Joe nor I is really able to understand Chinese broadcasts too well.
Technical Difficulties

People make jokes about what we call "The Great Firewall of China." Most of the time, I cannot view this blog, nor any of yours. I send posts via Dennis Cope, our good friend, who is pictured above with his wife Marie and his late dog, Maddie. I was briefly able to see the blogs today,but the system shut down when I tried to post. Google images and Gmail have also gone down.

Proxy-based software such as Freegate sometimes allows one to bypass Chinese information control. I learned about Freegate from a Chinese teenager last summer. Would it worked better.

Below: The dove, symbol of Freegate.

Campus Community

Chinese universities are communities in a different sense from their American counterparts. Most faculty and staff live on campus where they obtain housing at bargain rates. We ourselves are living in a modern faculty apartment, complete with washing machine, air conditioner, and big screen TV. There are cooking facilities, too, but everyone eats in the dining halls, at least some of the time. Often, the parents of faculty members live with their children and
take care of the grand kids.

In one section of campus, the trees are hung with blue, red and green lights-- don't ask me why. In the evenings, people come out and visit while the children play tag.

It's picturesque, but I wouldn't like living this way long term-- it would get claustrophobic to have all your colleagues as neighbors. This would be comparable to what our family experienced when Joe was in active ministry and the parsonage we lived in was right next to church. The Chinese expect far less privacy than we, though, and they take such arrangements for granted.

Above 1st: Mother, grandmother and grandchild on an evening walk
Above 2nd: An evening game of tag.
Below: Sweethearts sharing breakfast

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Pause that Refreshes

Though it's changing in some places, many Chinese workers still take a nap in the middle of the day. Many people think it is essential to maintaining one's health. When I worked in Weihai, my students were apt to scold me for my habit of eating at my desk while grading papers midday. They maintained that especially at my advanced age, I should be home sleeping, or at the very least take a snooze in my office!

Above: a Chinese worker naps atop his bicycle.
Is txtng rlly bd 4 yr spllng?

Is texting really bad for your spelling? Probably not, according to the preliminary results of a study Dr. Karin Bartoscuk and I conducted recently.
Any teacher can tell you that students have problems with spelling. And today's students text all the time-- is there a connection?Chinese students text even more than students in the US. Phone calls are much more expensive than texts over here.

To determine if texting does affect English spelling, Karin and I
compared students who habitually text with a group of community members from my church who mostly do not. Both groups were given a questionnaire about their texting practices and a 30 item spelling test consisting of words anyone with a high school education is presumed to know.

The very preliminary results: most people got 17 out of 30 items
right. There was no difference between texters and non-texters,
between men and women, between old people and young people.

Some thoughts:
1. English spelling is difficult. Even native speakers have trouble with it.
2. People probably don't have trouble spelling because they confuse the conventions of ordinary
spelling with the forms used in texting. English spelling is tricky for everyone.

These results are preliminary. Karin is visiting family in Germany
this summer, and I'm here in China. We'll do more with the data when
we get back.

Likely some of you who are reading took part in the study. Our
sincerest thanks, and we'll keep you posted.

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. ...