Monday, April 28, 2008

Throwing Bottles at Monks

“We thought Western media is very objective,” said Chou Wu, a 28-year-old working on his doctorate in material science, “and what it turned out is that Western media is even more biased than Chinese media. They’re no better, and even more, they’re against us.”

Once again, I find this hilarious. I think it's funny because of the last sentence, which I think is key to this whole thing. The perception of bias is probably based on the fact that the western media isn't saying things that these people want to hear. It's unpleasant to think that your government is shipping Han people into Tibet in order to take over culturally. It's not easy to admit that your government is cracking down on religious freedom. It's not nice for your country to be the bad guy. Trust me, as an American, I know. I don't automatically assume, however, that the European media is biased.

This is what happens when people identify too closely with their governments:

Sunday, April 27, 2008

All the ways China will kill you

So this morning, it's warm and the sun is shining, I've opened my windows and I sit drinking tea and working on a paper. I hear this strange motor noise, and my nose starts to burn. There is a strange sour chemically odor wafting in through the open windows. I lean out of the window to see what's going on and I see three men accompanying a cart that is all rigged out with hoses and a motor and big buckets of white liquid. See below:

They are spraying generous amounts of this white liquid on all the plants. I can only assume that it is some sort of pesticide.

Sometimes, when I'm biking across town through a thick fog of pollution, I think that living in China has probably shortened my life by a couple of years. Of course it's been so fascinating that it's probably worth it. I'm ok with giving up a couple of years to be able to eat 新疆炒面 and 麻辣烫。

Western Media Lies!

"The French really make Chinese people angry,"said Zhou Shuyang, a 22-year-old student. "And we don't want to be treated this way by the Western media, which lies. If we were allowed, a lot of people would join in protests, and I would as well."

I found this quote to be outrageously funny. It was in an article about the Olympic protests, I can't remember which newspaper. Maybe the Guardian or Der Spiegel. Of course the western media lies. Sometimes. But usually not intentionally, I hope. Sometimes it's horribly biased, and sometimes it only shows the stories that are marketable. But it's a whole lot better than the government controlling the content of the media. There is such a disconnect between our understandings of the role of media in our respective societies. Since the media is so tightly controlled by the government here in China, most Chinese just assume that it is that way elsewhere. My speaking partner told me the other day that the media is called the throat of the party. She also mentioned that she had recently seen an article that said that the US government was telling the US media to only show coverage of Olympic protests and to not show coverage of people supporting the Olympics. How ridiculous is that?

What I thought was especially funny about the above quote, besides the western media lies part, was the "
If we were allowed, a lot of people would join in protests" bit. It's just so ironic. Freedom to do things, like a freedom of the press, may lead to lies sometimes, but freedom of assembly would also allow you to protest those lies.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Politics and the Olympics

There have been a lot of complaints about western media and western politicians using the Olympics for political gains. The Chinese are very vociferous in their protests that the Olympics should be about athletics and competition, and friendship between countries etc. I agree, it should be about those things. What I find interesting (and irritating), is that while China doesn't want westerners (or anyone, for that matter) to use the Olympics politically, they have no problem using it for their own political purposes. They really want to use this (political) opportunity to whitewash China's image abroad.

I think this picture says it all: If you want to love the Olympics you had better love China too.

Why I hate the American Media

We have this incredible freedom, which living in China has really made me appreciate, and what do we do with it? Fear monger! Yes people, Costco limits the amount of rice a person can buy per visit to 80 pounds and all of a sudden it's time to stockpile food. It makes good financial sense! And if you look at the stories underneath:

1) loading up your pantry to lower your budget. Yes, middle America! Buy huge bags of rice and beans, which you will never eat, and then go back to your frozen pizzas and doritos! But miraculously you will lower your expenditures on groceries.

and my favorite:

2) Humanity has had brush with extinction.

Subtext: we're all going to starve to death. Especially you, if you don't get down to the nearest Sam's Club and buy a 24 pack case of canned stew and a gallon jar of jelly beans.

People are actually hungry in some places, and we are talking about loading up our pantries to lower our budgets. Listen, food should cost money. It should cost more money than it does now, and we should stop being so wasteful. That's the real way to lower your budget. Not stockpiling food and driving prices up further for the least fortunate among us.

And yahoo's webpage is total rubbish. I hope they go under soon.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Riding through a storm of fiber glass

It is now summer here. Nanjing is one of those places that turns from rainy and cold one week, to hot and summery the next. My speaking tutor, Yan Huanhuan, had been telling me recently about this stuff that the trees put off during the hot weather, and that she likes to wear a face mask when she's out and about. I had chalked it up to Chinese paranoia about health (i.e. drinking hot water, not going out with your hair wet, wearing more clothes, especially socks, etc). But yesterday I was on my bike riding across town to my gym, and the wind was blowing. And this stuff, which was in piles on the sides of the road, was floating all around. I looked down at one point, and there were all these hairs on my jacket, and I though, ew, I must have biked past a hair salon while they were sweeping the cuttings out onto the street (which is pretty gross, you can find piles of hair on the sidewalks outside of salons). But then I realized what it was. Just like she said it would, it got in my nose. But worst of all, it got into my eyes. The stuff isn't pollen, it's more like really fine hairs about half an inch long. It's like fiber glass, like the fibers of insulation. It gets everywhere and itches and burns, and makes your eyes all swollen. I'll try to get a picture of it to post here. Next time a Chinese person tells me about health tips I won't dismiss it, like I did this. But I don't really know what there is to be done about it, besides wearing a hazmat suit whenever I go outside.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Coming home late

Lately I've been spending a lot of time in my office. Mostly because I find my little apartment depressing and there is only so much time you can spend at the gym. While I'm in my office I should be working on my thesis, the deadline for which is looming in about a week and half. But instead I watch Jon Stewart and read the NYT.

But that's not what I wanted to write about. What I wanted to write about is what it's like to live in a 小区 in China. I live in what would be a considered an apartment complex in the states. But here it is walled off from the street on two sides, and from the other apartment complexes on the other two sides. There are two gates (as far as I know), one on Hankou Lu and the other on the tiny alley where Swede and Kraut is (the german restaurant) and Hong Bang (my tailor's nemesis) has his sweatshop. The gate on Hankou Lu is guarded by a family consisting of a 3 people who all live in the same room which is located right by the gate. It closes at 8:30pm and from then on you have to ride/walk around to get to the other main gate that is big enough for a car to drive through. There are no cars allowed into the 小区, unless you are moving something big and need the car to get close to the building. There is no parking inside. Only paths and bicycles and trees with people's underwear hanging on lines between them.

If you are unlucky enough to come home so late that the main gate has closed (11pm-ish) then you have to abandon your bike outside the safety of walls for the night. To get inside you have to go through a little door that leads to a tiny room where the gate guard is asleep in a bunk bed. The room reeks of gasoline because his moped is also parked inside. How he got it in there I have no idea. Then there is another little door that leads to the guardroom. Usually just a little room where during the day the gate guard and his buddies sit and drink tea and smoke cigarettes while listening to screeching old timey chinese music.

Most recently though, late at night, around 1:00am, when I get home and creep through the guards bedroom, this room has been packed with middle aged men in military uniforms smoking up a storm. It's a funny situation. I'm surprised, they're surprised, and we all try to pretend that the other isn't there.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Getting a Haircut in China

I have curly hair, so getting a haircut here in China is a bit of a crapshoot. Actually it's a little like jumping off a high cliff with a tiny pool of deep water somewhere at the bottom. So you set yourself up on the cliff edge, trying to increase your odds of hitting the water by going to a reputable looking salon, and then you just have to jump. And let the stylist cut with his own free will (after he has retrieved his cutting utensils from a huge locked suitcase.) My last haircut adventure here turned out badly, with one side turning out longer than the other. That guy seemed to be trying to cut off every bit of curl. He would cut a little, and then try to smooth it down flat, and then cut a little bit more. I had to stop him, or I would have ended up bald.

But this new guy seemed okay. And I was semi-satisfied with the result. It's still a little wonky, and he used thinning scissors (!!!!) all over my head, which isn't good for my curls. Makes them a little too wispy at the ends to look right. But it's better than last time, for sure.

Another interesting thing, haircut prices are determined by the level of complexity of the cut. I didn't know that when I first came in, so I chose the 30 yuan option. Afterwards my stylist said that my haircut should have been a 50 yuan cut, since doing the sideburn hair right was tricky and required more time. Ah well. Next time.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Recipes! Rezepte! Receitas!

Chicken Soup and Baked Apples
Black Bean Soup with Cilantro and Lime
Ginger Chicken Soup
Creamy Tomato Soup with Goat Cheese
Modified Taco Salad

Lonely Times French Toast

Sticky Date Pudding Cake
Quick Oatmeal Pancakes with Yogurt Topping
Dutch Baby German Pancakes

This is just another view of the country side. A lot of farming that is done here is called garden farming. Every bit of available land is cultivated in a very intensive manner. I read the other day that the amount of fertilizer that Chinese farmers use on their fields is twice the world average. It's a very strange sort of landscape. Nothing appears to have escaped being touched and changed by people. You can be driving along a twisty mountain road and a tiny little opening in the rock wall (a miniscule valley of sorts) will be planted with some sort of vegetable. Then you will realize that the bushes all around are not just random bushes, they are tea bushes. It's a little overwhelming.

Deep-fried Goodness

This is bits of deep-fried dough that are pressed together with sugar and oil. That's my best guess anyway. It's sort of like a rice crispie treat. But not as good.

I love big tour groups. Especially if they are wearing matching hats...or as in this case, matching rain slickers. (Sorry this isn't right side up.) The lady with the umbrella is saying something along the lines of "go in, have a look."

A Minibus, Three Province Adventure

All it takes is a minibus and a patient, Chinese, chain-smoking professional minibus driver, and you have the ingredients for an epic adventure through the Chinese countryside.

Riding a Bike in China

The trick to riding a bike safely (relatively anyways) is to keep moving, have a functioning bell, not make any sudden turns or stops, and to act predictably. And also to keep an eye out for the buses. As my friend Charlotte said, they are the only silent things here.

Riding a bike across town is like one big game of chicken. If you are determined to have your way, the other person will yield. Or you will have both slowed down enough that a collision isn't terribly painful.

Riding in a Cab

Where do you cross the street in China? Anywhere you feel like it. This was taken in a cab on my way from the Nanjing train station to my apartment. It doesn't quite convey the sense of danger that you feel when riding in cab here, but maybe it can give you a faint idea. This ride was pretty tame actually. No near death collisions to speak of. It wasn't rush hour. But the cab driver was pretty amusing. He told me that driving would be better if the population of China was "less by half". And then he reconsidered and revised his number downward, saying that 500 million would actually be plenty.

I'm in love with the ladies room in Narita airport

Not actually in China, but I wish it was.

chinese socks rock

Now these socks should really be ankle height nylons, but I was cold and I only had these in my gym bag. I love that it's possible to to dress however you like and not be able to tell if they are staring at me because of my clothes, or because I am foreign. Or maybe it's because, as I was told twice in the same conversation, my feet are too big.