In Memory of Michael Sutherland

This is a sad story that filtered through the expat community a week and a half ago.

A longtime expat in Kunming, Michael Sutherland, died in a rafting accident August 26, 2007. At least two other people, including his girlfriend, also died in the accident. Everyone was wearing safety gear, but they capsized in a dangerous stretch of the river. It’s very likely that he died trying to save his girlfriend.

Today I found an article from Michael’s hometown newspaper in Wisconsin. This is the only written account of the story that I’ve been able to find. Other stories have made the rounds here through word-of-mouth. Nothing has appeared in the Chinese press.

Appleton Post-Crest: Former Appleton resident dies in Chinese rafting accident (September 8, 2007)

Ease on Down

I have a new niece! But because certain family members are paranoid about stalkers, I can’t release anymore information about her existence. Anyway, I’m very excited and I hope the mom recovers soon.

thewiz.jpgI watched the 1978 vintage classic The Wiz last night. There was a lot more singing than I remember and a lot less story. And a lot of references I didn’t get last time — the (Jim) Crows, taxis that don’t stop for you, New York stuff. And wow is Michael Jackson ever awesome as the scarecrow.

It really is a miracle that kind of quality entertainment is available for less than 1USD on the streets of Kunming, China. Who knew?

Do you speak more Mandarin than 34% of China’s population?

product-pth.jpgIt can be frustrating studying Chinese, a.k.a. “Mandarin” or “Mandarin Chinese.” Inside China, the language we study is called 普通话 (pǔ tōng huà) or “the common language.” Before I came to China, I didn’t realize — or fully appreciate it anyway — that every region has a local dialect. People here in Kunming speak the Kunming dialect. It is the language you are most likely to hear on the streets — in restaurants, vegetable markets, and the corner stores. On the university and college campuses, signs are posted for students to please speak and write Mandarin. Presumably this is because the government needs to make sure educated people can speak it. It is also worth noting that classes are (supposed to be) taught in Mandarin, and furthermore the students come from a variety of places and often truly don’t share a common dialect… hence the need for Mandarin, the COMMON (i.e. SHARED) language.

According to an article in the Shanghai Daily, the Chinese government reports that “only 45.1 percent of rural residents could speak Mandarin, compared to 66 percent of urban residents.”

This article is actually about how dialects isolate migrant communities in China. It’s an interesting and worthwhile subject that shares a lot of characteristics with the situation in the U.S. with the Spanish-speaking migrants.

However, I what really surprised were these numbers! If they’re accurate, that means less than 66% of China’s total population speaks Mandarin, less than 66% of Chinese people speak (what we call) Chinese. Weird!

Does that mean I speak more Mandarin than 34% of China’s population?

PHOTO: This t-shirt is brought to you via Sinosplice and it reads: “请讲普通话” which means “please speak Mandarin.”

Clean is Happy

Yes, yes, yes, I know: I haven’t posted in quite some time. I seem to have lost all of August! There was traveling and Jeremy’s birthday (thanks for helping me with that one!) and then someone made me join facebook and… well, you understand. I’ve been distracted.

Elizabeth Jenkins' Facebook profile

School has started again. It’s great. I’m back at Dong Fang (东方) and I lucked out with a wonderful teacher: 赵红 (Zhao4 Hong2). She is probably the most experienced Chinese teacher I’ve had so far. In the past, most of my teachers have been relatively young, uninterested women — not interested in teaching, not interested in learning. Anyway, this is our second week and I’m still happy. I’m also taking a morning class twice a week for speaking (口语) and listening (听力). The teacher for that class is also pretty good. She has a good knack for keeping everyone participating. Pretty remarkable.

These are my books:

First Year Chinese Course, Level 3, Vol. 2 [ISBN: 7-5619-1672-8]
汉语教程第三册下 (fancy new edition! 第十四课到第二十六课)

Short-term Spoken Chinese 3 [ISBN:7-5619-0705-2]
马箭飞 (2004)。汉语口语速成:提高篇。北京:北京语言文化大学出版社。

I’ve already studied the first six chapters of the second book, but I don’t think that will make me suffer too much. We’ll see.

Also, lucked out with some good 同学 (classmates). They seem really cool. Hard to say exactly who will register for the class, but I think for the most part people really like the teacher and they’ll stick around.

On an unrelated and random note… I was reading a thing on just now when I was distracted by an ad. Now this is a good ad campaign! Check it out:


I feel cleaner and happier just looking at their website!