“O” Well…

Argh! I just lost my post. From now on, I promise to always write my posts in a text editor first, so that I don’t have to scream when I lose everything. Sigh. So, here’s my re-write:

Well, as I start writing it’s 15 minutes before China plays in (for?) the World Cup. From my window, I can hear a lot more activity than normal. All but one of my roommates has dolled up and gone out. I would like to go explore or hunt down some acquaintances, but I’ve managed to put off my homework. So, here I am.

My big adventure yesterday was making my way to/from the hospital to pick up the results of my health exam. It took my forever to find the place, but because my roommate helped me locate it on my map I managed to get off at the right bus stop. I cannot express what miracle that was! From there, however, I took a couple wrong turns. There happened to be a police station right at my bus stop, so I decided to go see if I at least had my bearings. I can ASK for directions, but I cannot necessarily UNDERSTAND directions. After a lot of discussion among three of the officers, they tell me yes, yes, it’s not far, just go straight this way and you’ll see a sign. I was lost for maybe 2 hours, but happy to have a look around. There’s always something to see. I gave up at one point, realizing I was headed in the wrong direction, and flagged down a cab, but he was baffled by the hospital’s business card with its little map. I retraced my steps and found I turned too early. I found the sign (“secondary road”) and my turn. Soon enough, there it was!

Unfortunately, I arrived right in the middle of their enormously long lunch “hour” so I had to wait around for another hour and a half. I wasn’t the only one though. The lobby had a handful of other people waiting around. I suspect that’s because the office hours are listed incorrectly on the hospital’s business card. Thankfully, they opened a little early and I had no problem retrieving my documents.

In addition to reconfirming that I am HIV-negative and generally healthy, I was happy to learn that my blood type is “O” — the universal donor. Now I just have to get over my fear of needles, so that I can donate blood. The last (and only) time I tried to give blood, I instantly got light-headed and they stopped. A couple of days later, I got a “thank you” in the mail from Red Cross. I felt silly.

Today, I had a great time telling my teacher about all this. Du4 Lao3shi1 (the stern but extra attentive teacher) was very receptive when I proposed that I try to speak more by preparing a little speech for each class. I wrote a narrative about my weekend in pinyin and read it aloud. She seemed amused, and helped me correct my pronunciation, grammar, and word-choice. After that, she asked me to put everything away and have a chat. This was also good. We’ll try it again tomorrow. I also want to try to record my speaking drills. I brought my (Jeremy’s) digital recorder today, but I couldn’t get it to work. When I got home I replaced the batteries. That might fix it. I only got a minute and a half recorded today. Not enough!

I spent Sunday night drinking beer and watching the World Cup with a couple of Chinese students that are attending my same university, Yunnan Normal University. We spoke a lot of broken English and as much Chinese as I could muster, which wasn’t much. Li2Xiang4Hua2 is just about to graduate and return to his hometown to become a math teacher. He introduced me to his friend – who’s name escapes me just now – and she is in her second year majoring in tourism. Not surprisingly, her English is pretty good, but very formal. I suspect Xiang4Hua2 of trying to romance me, despite me continuously mentioning my boyfriend. He’s a little fanatical about text messaging me, so I just turned off my phone today. I think I’m just socially-challenged.

On the other hand, I’m getting better at communicating with my roommate, Mogu. I was able to make a little smalltalk today. She told me that digital cameras are very cheap here, so I shouldn’t have any trouble finding a camera to take some pictures for my mom. Last night, she let me watch a movie from her DVD collection. I decided on “the Hours” — the “ugly Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolfe” movie. My roommate thought this was a poor choice, and she managed to find the English word: “boring.” I said I think I might like the boring one. In the end I liked it alright. I read the book, and it pretty much followed it scene for scene.

Ok, I’m off to study just a little more before bed.

Yes, There is Spellcheck in China

Ok, yes, I corrected my spelling in the previous post. I won’t claim it was a typing error. (Mom, you’ve know since 3rd grade and my chronic mis-spelling of “once” — wunce? wense? — that I’m just a terrible speller.) Anyway, my trusty google spellcheck is misbehaving, so I promise to run everything through OpenOffice before publishing… Sheesh… Everybody’s a critic!

I should also respond to your questions (Mom and Jeremy’s Ma) about the way I’ve been typing Mandarin. It’s one of the romanizations of the language: pinyin with the numbers indicate tone. You also can indicate tone with different marks above the vowels. For a better explanation of the four tones, try wikipedia or this site is also a good place to start: http://www.chinese-outpost.com/language/pronunciation/

I had another productive day in China today. I wonder what I’m going to do without little missions. Well, anyway, I spent all day with my speaking teacher, Cindy/刘老师 (Liu2 Lao3shi1). After our class, we had lunch. She introduced me to “over the bridge” noodles. All of the shops translate it “cross-bridge noodles.” I heard the story last time I was in Kunming, but this was the first time giving them a try. Legend has it that a woman was puzzling over how to deliver a hot meal to her husband. Apparently he was a scholar studying for an examination and would retreat over the bridge. By the time she could arrive with his meal, it would be cold, but she discovered that a bowl of chicken broth with a layer of oil on top would insulate a pot of rice noodles. In this way, she was able to make sure he received a hot meal every day and he passed his exam! It’s a local dish. Everyone seems to think that rice noodles are even better than rice here! They say rice noodles keep you skinny… all sorts of nonsense. You get a pot of super hot broth and the ingredients are served on the side. You add the noodles, vegetables, and meat yourself and it all kind of cooks in your bowl. I’m not sure I can attest to all the hype, but maybe I’m missing something since I had it without meat. Certainly popular — the place was packed at lunch time.

After lunch 刘老师 helped me buy a phone and a calling plan. I tried for the most modest options and spent 433 RMB (~ 55 USD). It was $45 for the phone and $10 for the calling plan, which includes about 400 minutes talking time. Not so bad. Considering the tremendous variety of phones you can buy here, I thought they might be even cheaper. I can’t really complain. Of course, text messaging is the preferred method of communication here so I really need to get better at reading. You input each character phonetically, in pinyin, and then choose the correct Chinese character from a list. It’s easy if you know how to say something and also recognize the character.

刘老师 asked me to accompany her to her part-time job. A little strange, I thought, but I’m not going to turn down an invitation for an adventure so we hop on a bus and we go to her office. It’s a small company that distributes fancy tea. At this point I’m sill entirely unclear of her position or job title. When we arrive it’s a normal looking office with merchandise shelves along one wall full of all kinds of tea accessories — tea cups and tea pots and gift boxes of tea. There are several cubicles with computers. Two men are playing some computer game at one terminal. In the middle of the room is a coffee (tea) table with two black leather sofas arranged around it. A man is asleep on one of the sofas. On the tea table is a tea “bed” that stretches almost the full surface of the small table. It’s a smooth, irregularly shaped piece of dark wood with a large reclining buddha carved on the side and a very shallow basin in the middle. There is a tiny drain from the basin to a bucket placed discretely on the floor. My teacher introduces me to her co-workers then starts the elaborate process of making tea.

I didn’t get out of there until 6 p.m. The moment she started making tea the rest of the office gathered round and drank and talked. Eventually her boss arrived and several other people in the company. All the men in China seem to smoke, even in offices! So, they’re drinking and smoking and joking around. It was really exhausting. I mostly listened and when ever I could get the nerve up, I asked 刘老师 to translate what was going on. They won’t let me leave empty handed, so in spite of my protests they send me off with a brick of tea. I guess this means I have to buy their tea later on.  It really is incredible tea, so they don’t have to twist my arm.

I offered to help them translate their website into English. I don’t know if you’ll be able to pull it up, but here’s the address: http://www.tengwang.com.cn/ (You might enjoy the featured “propagandize” button.) I had some problems getting it to resolve, even here, so I didn’t explore it much. Anyway, there’s not the same kind of interest in the web like there is in the U.S. China is a more cash-in-palm kind of society. So I suspect these folks only have a website so they can print it on their business cards. It’s fancy though — lots of animation.

What else? Oh, I ate my first western meal this evening. I went to a foreigner cafe, where they serve American food. I had a veggie “burger” with fries and an enormous beer — all for 3 USD. The World Cup just started this evening, so everyone’s out and about, but the foreigner cafes were relatively quiet. (No t.v.’s.) I was bold and invited another foreigner to eat with me. It was nice to have some conversation in English. Antoinne is actually French, but he spent some of his childhood in Charleston, South Carolina so his accent is totally ambiguous. He’s an engineer in Kunming on business for the next couple of weeks. Turns out to be very well read, so we talked books and politics. How nice.
Oh, yes. I have a Chinese name: 姜丽 (Jiang1 Li4). The first and last names are reversed in Chinese — Surname then Given Name. Literally the first character is “ginger” and the second is “beautiful.” It’s a nice common name, so all my Chinese friends will remember it.

Happiness is a 26-Ring Binder

It’s raining here and just past midnight. My class is at 10 tomorrow, so I’m staying up a little later than normal to get a few things done. Actually, I procrastinated earlier by going to the “Movie Night” sponsored by my school. It was “A World without Thieves” — recommended. It’s in Mandarin. Of course I watched it with English subtitles but fun to pick out a word of the Chinese here and there.

26 rings.jpgJust starting to get really organized with my school work. I have a 26-ring binder. And you thought you only needed 3, right? Apparently this is how it’s done here. Anyway, it’s such a relief to be able to re-order my various notes. I’m doing a lot of copying, which helps with memorizing vocabulary, but I’m having a hard time practicing my speaking. Although I’m a lot less shy than I normally am, it’s still not great for making friends and things. On the other hand, my roommates make me talk. They are so patient with my slow comprehension and then full of praise when I get together a sentence.

Today was the big day, by the way. I went to the hospital with Mogu. (Yes, Lizzie, quite an adventure!) We splurged and took a cab, because we were pressed for time. This turned out to be good thing, at least on the way there… We got there just before they closed for lunch. Most offices shut down for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. Anyway, we got there in time. There were hardly any other patients! I was ready for a swarm of people, but apparently this hospital is just for foreigners and Chinese people that are about to go overseas. So, like everywhere else the bureaucracy is about 10 times more complicated than it needs to be. We go to the first window and gather paperwork. This is normal, I guess. Then we go to another teller who gathers the money and issues a receipt. Because it was about lunch time, we didn’t waste any time finding the first examination room. There turned out to be about half a dozen, I think. We zipped from one to the next: one takes my pulse; one takes my blood pressure; one checks my eyes; one gets my weight and height; there’s an ultrasound; there’s an x-ray; then there’s the urine and blood tests. Whew! I guess that’s eight. Anyway, it was fine. Of course, they drew blood last. I didn’t get light-headed or anything! I don’t suppose they had to take that much, but I didn’t watch.

After consulting with her friends, I bought Mogu a CD as a thank you — Radiohead’s Pablo Honey. Ha! Can’t really be sure that she likes it, but she seemed delighted to receive it. Mission accomplished. I have to return to the hospital on Monday to retrieve the results. I told Mogu I could go alone this time. If I take a cab it’ll be a breeze, but I’ll probably try my luck with the bus. Now that I know what it looks like, I’m more confident that I can negotiate my way there and back. We’ll see. I don’t have class on Monday, so I’m free to get lost!

Tomorrow I have another chaperoned field trip: buying a cell phone (shou3ji1 = hand machine). My super cool speech teacher Liu2 Lao3shi1 (Prof. Liu or “Cindy”… and not to be confused with Liu4 Lao3shi1) is going to take me after our lesson. She is by far the most interested of my three teachers. At our first meeting she said she made it clear that she wanted to spend most of our class just talking. So, I can prepare a topic and for the first hour we’ll discuss. She seems to try to make the second hour more structured, loosely following the textbook to introduce new vocab and practice pronunciation. She’s friends with my listening teacher Du4 Lao3shi1 (Prof. Du4). Du4 Lao3shi is a little… intense. I was afraid that she didn’t seem to like me, but despite her serious face she can be very complimentary. She’ll make me repeat something 5 or 6 times until I get it right. It’s nice to get that kind of attention. Even so, I was surprised at the end of our last class that she suggested that we try to get together along with Liu2 Lao3shi1 some time this weekend. I didn’t expect any kind of invitation from her, but there you go.

My Mushroom Friend

Thanks to everybody who’s been commenting. It’s very comforting to hear from you!

Pictures.  Yes, photos would be good.  I don’t have a real camera yet, but it’s on my wish list.  I have a web cam, but obviously that’s tethered to the laptop.  And it doesn’t offer the greatest picture.  So, I’ll try to get a camera soon so you can see all the things in my new world here.

Yesterday I spoke with a woman in the school office that thought it would be better for me to apply for a year visa. Of course, that’s what I wanted in the first place but the first woman I talked to was adament that I could only apply for a 5 month. That’s how it works around here. The bureaucracy can be very flexible if you get the right person. So anyway, this is good news, but it requires a physical exam at a certain hospital. Yes, she tells me, they will draw blood. And where is it? Oh, take the number 52 bus almost to the airport (20 minutes away) and get off at the World Market. Then she gives me a business card with a tiny map on it. I can’t read it at all, except for the hours.

I thought I was doomed (It’s just too far to go alone!), but my roommate offered to take me!  Thank you, Mogu!  That’s her nickname really.  It means mushroom.  She’s a mushroom because her hair is cut in a bob and her friends think she looks like a mushroom. So, the silly girl is going to help me out.  I’m so grateful.

We had dinner together this evening with her friend, Ting Ting.  It was my first real meal outside the cafeteria and with such pleasant company.  Between their broken English and my (very) broken Chinese we made conversation.  Ocassionally they would consult in Korean — funny how different it sounds.  They taught me some new vocab and corrected my bad pronunciation.  Likewise, they would ask me how to say things in English, and we would puzzle it out.  All in all, a success!

Well, I have so much more to say, but I really have to study.  Too much English in my head!

Wowie Zowie

Writing from my dorm room! Huzzah. (New pic above is me at my webcam!) Here’s my post that I wrote last night when I was still offline:

Today I didn’t do much, but I made myself walk around a bit. While wandering, I came across many people begging. Near the school I’m familiar with the accordian player and the occassional old woman. But further afield, along a busier stretch there are some seriously maimed children begging. Yes, seriously maimed. I’ve been pretty consistent about not ignoring the people asking for money, but I don’t even want to pause for these children. I just speed past. Contrary to my reaction, other people seem to be really interested. The more dramatic the display, the more likely people will stop — pulling their friends along, shaking their heads and dropping a little money in the metal cup. The tradition (explained to me before) is for the people begging to write their stories in chalk on the ground. They’ll keep their heads down, sometimes fully prostrating themselves on the ground. I can’t read their stories, and I don’t know if they’re real. But I have a terrible feeling that these kids don’t get to keep the money they collect. Maybe that’s just twisted of me. I don’t know.

The child that was receiving the most attention today, was maybe 4 years old. He didn’t have any hands, and wrote clutching a piece of chalk between his wrists. His story was very long and his donation cup was actually a large bowl. And it was full. Did someone do this to this poor kid? It makes me crazy either way — why are we just letting him stay there on the sidewalk? Why isn’t there a place for him to go? Is there a place he can go? I don’t know. The feeling of helplessness is really overwhelming.

As I wander the streets here in China, the phrase “sea of humanity” keeps echoing in my head. There are just so many people. It’s clearly and painfully stratified, with the least fortunate literally prostrate on the filthy streets. And we all just walk on by one another. Girls dressed in pristine white dresses and spikey heels. Men in suits. Cocky young boys get behind the wheel of shiney black cars. The sanitation workers dressed in blue uniforms pick up trash along the side of the road. Here we all are.

Obviously, in part I’m suffering from big city shock. It’s probably amplified by my foreignness, feeling isolated while surrounded by so many people. Unfortunately, it’s a familiar feeling. Ugh.

My head hurts and I can’t think what it is I need to be doing. Just going in circles about this and that. It may have just been my lack on caffeine intake this morning. I had a late start. It’s only 8:30 and I’m so tired I can’t think straight. I think it’ll be good to have class begin tomorrow. I’ve been wasting time just now in front of my computer, trying to figure out how to organize all the words and phrases that need to be put in my head. What’s the best way? I was experimenting with a database, and mail merging into a slideshow — a kind of virtual flashcard system. That would let me do all kinds of things — sort by topic, by source, randomize output. I can’t get my computer to cooperate. If I had a little more computer programing knowledge I wouldn’t have to make my software bend over backwards. I understand databases, but the output method is beyond me. I can print something nice, but it’s not really helpful for on-screen use.

Anyway, this is how my head is trying to deal. I’m also suffering from jetlag, although I think that should be subsiding shortly. What am I going to do without excuses?

Like I said, I’m not sure what the best way is to cram all this stuff in my head. And I feel like it’s rejecting what I’m trying. I tried to relax and draw both yesterday and today, but it was wholey unsuccessful. In part, it’s because I’ve never really liked to work exclusively from my imagination. I like a model. And I like people, but right now I’m kind of scared of the people around — they’re liable to ask me what I’m doing. Yesterday I sat on campus and kind of drew people walking by. I attracted some awkward attention. Nothing negative really, but I can’t help but be embarassed. While you’re drawing, it’s not always pretty — not at every stage, so when you have an audience there’s a impulse to cut corners and try to make it look good right away. Just makes a muddy mess, I assure you.

I’m not very happy with my dorm room, but my flatmates are very nice. It’s a little exhausting for them to communicate with me, and I imagine it’s not all that fufilling either. They seem to all have studied English so they’re a little embarassed that they can’t communicate more. But they’re here to learn Chinese not English. It’s a common enough response among the other (non-native english speaking) foreign students.

The dorm has bugs. Ants on my desk and mosquitoes at night. I’m not sure there’s anyway to fix either of these problems really. However, the deal breaker is that the internet isn’t working. One of my flatmates was saying that there’s a wireless network but it requires a password. She said it costs 20 RMB and I need to pay someone at the school. This certianly jives with what someone else told me — she was getting a signal but it required a password. But from here, my little computer can’t detect any signal at all. There’s also a ethernet plug, but it’s not active. The second lady tried her ethernet cable as well without any luck. So, I’ll talk to the office about that tomorrow. The hotel staff isn’t very helpful. They understood I was talking about the internet and the lady just keep talking at me and pointing to the school next door. So that’s what I’ll do.

So, how have I tried to start learning?

  1. Post-its on objects around my room.
  2. Flashcards made with pinyin/english. About 30 words.
  3. Constantly looking things up in my phrase book and sometimes my dictionary.
  4. Writing long-hand pinyin of helpful phrases.
  5. Typing pinyin, both words and phrases.
  6. Invaluable little notebook, where I record: friends’ names (and sometimes phone numbers), new vocab that comes up in conversation, and prepared vocab for potential interactions
  7. Pimslur language lessons on iPod.
  8. ChinesePod lessons on iPod.

I already feel pressure to have something else going on here. I was going to write a book about my experiences or something, but don’t really feel like my writing skills are up to par. It’s like my language brain in scrambled. Using baby talk in Chinese and broken English is so painful. Jeremy said this made him feel more creative once he sat down to express himself in his native language. I don’t know. I feel so empty.

So if not a book, then what? I guess all the conceivable alternatives involve people. Oh, jeez. I was thinking about finding some artsy people, but my creativity has kind of dried up. Maybe that’s only temporary, but last time I was here I had a very similar feeling. I was also considering website stuff. But thus far it’s been pretty difficult to work out the whole internet thing. It’s not working here in my dorm, and it’s pretty slow elsewhere. Sometimes certain pages won’t even load. I don’t really get that. Anyway, computers are time-consuming and it really complicates things to work in Chinese.

I said I was wasting time at the computer — that’s because there are so many ways to write chinese. You can write it in its many romanized forms or using simplified or traditional characters. I read very little, so I’m sticking with the pinyin. Even so sometimes you can write marks above the vowels to mark the tones, otherwise you can write a number after each syllable. This is all very tedious. English is much better suited to computers at this point — obviously that’s by design.

I should probably teach English. That would be something else. I grabbed an advert from one of the bullitein boards at a foreigner cafe. I’m kind of afraid to call. It says they want experienced teachers, but who knows. The ad was really brief. It might be smart to ask around first, but I’m having trouble asking anyone anything at this point. My courage seems to come in waves. I hope this ebb is only temporary.