Monday, June 28, 2010

Finally Cooling Off

Today the heat index here was 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

The other day it was 114 degrees Fahrenheit.

I have plans to play (outdoor) basketball with a friend in two days. I covet your prayers.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cultural Conundrum #13: T-shirts

Yesterday a thought came to my mind:  "I should buy a Chinese T-shirt." I haven't bought any clothes the entire time I've been here, and I don't necessarily need any new clothes. But I have always thought that a T-shirt with Chinese writing on it is a novel thing to have in the U.S. You don't see them very often.

Then a second thought came to my mind: "I don't recall ever seeing a Chinese person wearing a T-shirt with Chinese writing on it."

So, on my way to and back from lunch I paid attention to the T-shirts everyone was wearing. I took statistics in my head.

I counted 77 T-shirts with writing of some form or another on them. Of these, 72 were only in English, and 5 had Chinese writing on them. Of these 5 with Chinese writing on them, 2 only had the university logo on them (which is just one Chinese character); 2 others had both Chinese and English; and only 1 consisted of more than one Chinese character and no English.

After living here for a few months, this doesn't come as a surprise. Most Chinese students I've talked to here greatly envy Americans. Very, very few would turn down the opportunity to live in the U.S. At times it is frustrating talking to some of them because of the idol-like status some of them have of Americans. I would even go so far as to say that there is an obsession with America among many people here -- especially the younger generations.

One of my friends said when she was growing up she would always complain to her mom that she wasn't white. She didn't like being Chinese. 

There has been a massive infusion of American culture into this society. For example, Chinese people (or at least university students) mostly watch American movies and listen to American music. In fact, most of the people I've asked don't even like Chinese movies.

From my perspective, over half of the advertisements on billboards and posters around the city have Americans (or at least white people) on them. "America" is trendy.

And fashion is no exception. It's trendy to wear clothing with English on it. Much of the time there is some mention of "America" on it (or places in the U.S. like New York, California, etc.). Sometimes the English doesn't make sense at all, but no one knows -- or no one cares.

So, I probably won't be coming home with a Chinese T-shirt. I have yet to see people selling them. I did, however, see a T-shirt of President Obama dressed in a Chinese communist outfit. I'm not sure what they are trying to communicate through that one. I have a feeling it largely depends on whether you wear it here or in the U.S.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cultural Conundrum #12: Firearms

As I venture outside of campus, it is hard to walk for one minute without passing by a man or woman squatting on the edge of the sidewalk with a sheet spread out in front of them on which an array of carefully arranged items rest. These are what I have dubbed the "sidewalk salesmen" (or "sidewalk salespeople" for the p.c. police).

These items range from electronics, like mp3 players, to hand-made crafts, like bags, to no-one-could-possibly-ever-pay-money-for-this stuff, like used pencils (sold individually, I might add),  to hand-held accessories, like...


When I first came across people selling guns on the street two things came to mind.

1.) This is illegal.
2.) Does everyone have a gun?

As a matter of fact, guns are illegal in China. Citizens aren't allowed to possess guns. Furthermore, hunting is illegal. There are no kinds of permits that allow ordinary people to carry firearms.

What makes these scenes even more strange (and frightening) is that the guns aren't limited to small hand-helds. There are submachine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, and even sniper rifles. During my first few weeks here, every Sunday morning on my way to church I would walk across an overpass lined with people selling guns. There must have been ten different people selling them. After a couple of weeks I decided to take my camera, but they were gone. I figured they had to keep on the move so that they didn't get caught.

Call me gullible, but for over a month I thought all of this was real -- an underground gun market. Then one day I expressed my concern to one of my Chinese friends, only to be comforted by almost uncontrollable laughter. It turns out they are all fake.

At least some of them (like the ones pictured above) shoot BBs (still dangerous in my book). Though, I'm puzzled by the larger guns, such as the sniper rifles. A sniper BB rifle is a pretty hardcore BB gun. Perhaps some of them are just for show.

But one thing is certain:  they all look genuine. Not one of them is painted neon green or orange. Even more surprising is that the main consumers appear to be children. Even after discovering that the guns aren't real, it is still frightening to come across an 8-year-old boy running around with an AK-47.

Still, I can't blame them. I most certainly would have bought one (or two, or three) if I grew up here. 

This boy and his friends all bought their own guns. Actually, even more concerning, their parents probably bought the guns for them. They go on "missions" together.

I wanted to get a picture of them all together, but recently they swapped their guns for roller-blades. Maybe it was just a fad?

But the guns have their own share of adult fans, too. I really wish I had my camera with me two weeks ago. I was walking up a long, uphill street when all of a sudden a grown, 26-ish-year-old man came running full-speed down the middle of the street holding a giant sniper rifle.  China never gets boring.

But some guys think it's a bother to carry around a 4-foot-long gun. After all, they don't conceal well. That is when a glock comes in handy.

Still, I wonder. Could it be that there are legitimate guns secretly mingled with the decoys? Could this all be an underground, international conspiracy to arm the nations most dangerous criminals?

When I tried to take a picture of the guns one man was selling, he freaked out, put his hand over my camera, and started yelling at me. Since that incident, I haven't seen anyone selling guns. Everyone is gone again.

What a coincidence.

On another note, does anyone have any suggestions how to get a small rifle through airport security? Surely they'll believe me when I assure them that it's not real, right?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Five Random Blurbs

- One -

I spent five  minutes running around my room trying to kill a GIANT fly with one of my textbooks. Seriously, this fly was as big as a bumble bee. It almost never landed.

But because this fly was so big, it flew quite slow. So, my strategy was to literally bat it in the air with my textbook, then chase it to the place I knocked it to and smash it. Remarkably, the fly survived this multiple times. At one point I smashed it really hard, and when I lifted the book to see what happened to it, it was gone. Disappeared! A moment later I heard buzzing again.

But alas, it met it's match.

- Two -

I have had the classic Christmas song Winter Wonderland stuck in my head ever since I arrived here. At least three times a week I will catch myself humming/singing to it while I'm walking around campus.

I have no idea why this song originally embedded itself into my mind or why it won't get away. Wuhan is one of the "Four Furnaces" of China. The summers here are really hot. Maybe this phenomenon is a way for my body to cope with the heat.

All in all, it's not a bad song to get stuck in your head. There are much worse.

- Three -

I have seen a sudden surge in dogs recently. I've even gotten to pet a few. It's strange how some of them even look Chinese.

But along with cute, fun, people-loving dogs comes almost unbearable pangs of longing for her, my baby...

I'm coming Kiah!!! Just a little while longer. I know you've been thinking about me every day. I'll be home soon. Be strong!


- Four -

Yesterday I was eating in the cafeteria again. I was eating a bowl of three kinds of Chinese dishes mixed together. About two minutes into eating I discovered a hair in my food. I took it out...

...and kept eating. I was hungry, I didn't want to go get new food, and I'm pretty sure you can't get any disease from eating a piece of someone's hair. The heat kills the germs anyway, right?

So, I kept on eating. About two minutes later I discovered a nail in the same food. A nail! Not a fingernail. A metal, pointy, hammer-into-a-piece-of-wood nail. I took it out...

...and kept eating. This is the kind of affect China has on a person.

After about another two minutes of eating I discovered a chicken claw in my food!

...oh, wait. That's supposed to be there. Never mind.

- Five -

Kids are fun(ny).

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Home Away From Home

Monday through Friday I spend 20 hours in the classroom. That means 1/6 of my time on the weekdays are spent here:

Welcome to my desk. It has a smooth top surface for lightning-fast writing, sturdy legs that will withstand the pressure of those who prefer engraving on paper over writing (you know who you are), and a lovely shelf to hold your extra books barrier to keep anyone from comfortably using the desk.

OK, maybe I'm being a little too hard on the desk. It might be the chair's fault. But in either case, this is clearly a chair-desk combo. The chair came with the desk.

My only guess is that the chair designer at the factory and the desk designer didn't work together; thus, the chair was made too high and the desk was made too low. Or perhaps they did work together, and a third guy came along after the desk and chair were made and had the brilliant idea to add a shelf.

At first one might think that this is only a problem for really tall people. But take a closer look. The problem isn't the length of my legs – as it is trying to sit on the bus:

The problem with my desk is the gap between the seat of the chair and the bottom of the shelf. Imagine how thin your upper legs would have to be to fit between that gap.

And if you're lucky enough to have pencil-thin legs, there is a lovely shin-barrier that will keep you from scooting in too close. I might add that this barrier also keeps me from extending my legs so that they fit under the desk.

Solution? I have three.
  1. Sit "normal" and hunch over to reach the top of my desk
  2. Extend my legs sideways into the aisle
  3. Get rid of the desk altogether and do my work in my lap
And lest you pity me too much, you can rest assured I'm not in this alone. Nearly all of my class faces the same problem.

My teacher told me that there are some other desks on campus that are even worse, so I guess I should consider myself blessed. Just be prepared for me to come home with an arched back.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My New Favorite Fruit

When you find food you really like, it's hard to try something new. At home, it seems like the only time we ever try something new is when we have coupons. If we don't have coupons, then we don't want to risk buying something that we might not like when we can buy something we already know we like.

Things are no different in China. By now I know what food I like, and it is really hard to spend my money on something new. And unfortunately, I haven't found any coupons. But coupons aren't the only catalyst to exploration. Friends are, too!

When I eat with friends they often offer me their food to taste. That is when I stumbled across this:

Dynamite comes in small packages.

In Chinese, the name of this fruit is pronounced "lee-jer." When I looked up the translation online, I discovered it has the terribly unappetizing name of "lychee."

Somebody please find the man or woman who was in charge of naming this thing. I've got a bone to pick with them. It wouldn't surprise me if it's the same person in charge of naming oranges: "naval," "bloody,"  etc.

Instead, I would hire the apple guy: "red delicious," "pink lady," "golden delicious," (and the lesser-known) "seek-no-further," "strawberry parfait," "pixie crunch," and "revival." Look them up if you don't believe me.

And I must confess, I've always envied Roald Dahl for creating the "Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar." Unfortunately, he's not around anymore to consult. 

These things peal very easily. Inside, there is a translucent ball with a seed inside. The texture most resembles the inside of a grape, though it is less firm and more juicy.

And as for the taste, it is completely unique. I think this is in the fruit punch family. If you mix four parts fruit punch and one part watermelon you might be close to creating "lychee juice."

...I'm serious about finding the apple guy to change the name of this fruit.

Has anyone seen this fruit in the U.S.?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Stuffed Animals and Balls are for Babies

If you've been following my blog, you'll remember this little guy from a few days ago. This picture was taken at the same time I took the photos for my last post.

I also had a little time on my hands to do some magic with Photoshop. If I had enough time, I would spruce up my photos on every post. But I don't have enough time, so you're stuck looking at "normal" photos again (not at the expense of boredom, though -- keep reading).

In order to protect the identity of this boy, let's call him Phillip.

Actually, I have no idea who he is. I didn't ask him.

Apparently, Phillip found a fun-looking brick on the ground. Children here play a little more roughly than those in the U.S.

Suddenly, something (other than a tall, strange-looking white man squatting down awkwardly across the street while pointing a big machine at him) grabbed his attention.

At this point in the story, I'm not sure what happened. Here are my theories:
  1. Phillip saw something really interesting, and he wanted to go see it. But his brick was too fun to leave behind, so he tried to pick it up and take it with him, not realizing that the brick weighed more than him.
  2. There was a big puddle of oil under the brick from the street vendor selling deep-fried scorpions who sets up shop in that place every day (he happened to be sick this day and didn't come to work). The brick wasn't fun anymore, so Phillip tried to push off of the brick to get up, causing the brick to slide backward on the oil, making Phillip lose his balance. 
  3. A massive gust of wind blindsided him, knocking him to the ground. 
I never felt a gust of wind, so I think it's ridiculous to assume that wind did it. It must be either 1 or 2.

At this point I entered into news photographer mode. News photographers are trained not to get involved in what's happening -- no matter how serious -- but only to keep taking pictures. To my credit, I knew the mom was right beside him.

I also started saying things like "Oh no!" and "Poor guy!" and "Oh, that looks bad!" all while I kept clicking my camera. I felt like a jerk. That's pretty bad that my instinct was to keep taking pictures. Journalism has corrupted me.

The moment he lifted his head I saw the trail of blood run down.

About three seconds after he fell, a woman who I am guessing is his mother picked him up. At first she didn't notice the blood.

As soon as she saw the blood, she grabbed a tissue and held it on his head.

She ran Phillip across the street and ran into a buliding.

Upon reading the sign, I was stunned. It was a pharmacy.

Lesson learned:  If you're going to let your child play with bricks, do it in front of a pharmacy.

I saw the child a couple of days later, and he looked good. He didn't even have a bandage on his forehead. It must have looked a lot more serious than it was.

Or maybe they superglued it shut.

Oh, and this morning I went for a stroll and came across the other child from last week's post. He was playing...

...with a hammer.

He was trying to break apart a wooden chair with the back of it.

When I passed by again about 30 minutes later, his mother was holding him, and he was crying.

The pharmacy was also just across the street.

Looks like they learned their lesson.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cultural Conundrum #11: The "Bottom" Line

A couple of months ago I created a post about children here, mainly highlighting their cuteness. There's much more to them than meets the eye.

...but(t) sometimes it meets the eye. (I'm going to have a hard time not overusing puns in this post -- please "bare" with me)

Most children here have a convenient slit in the back of their pants. Based on the number of children I've seen here, I would guess that four out of five children have it. It might be different in other cities. They don't get much older than this guy.

I've been told that only the wealthy families buy diapers for their children (though many of them still have the slit while wearing diapers).

You can probably guess how it functions. In an earlier post you'll remember that Chinese people use "squatty potties" instead of a "sitting" Western-style toilet. So when children need to go, they just squat and do their business -- anywhere.

This obviously raises a lot of questions, and unfortunately I haven't done enough research to answer them all. But I'll tell you what I know (and have seen).

One day I happened to have my camera in my backpack when I saw the child pictured above. He was playing about two feet outside the entrance to his parents' shop. He was holding a toy gun. It made for a great photo.

As I started to get my camera out of my backpack, the boy squatted, pointed his toy gun straight above him, and "went" (I was seeing this all from the back). For a split second I considered taking a photo because it was so funny with the toy gun and all. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. It's just not the same as those embarrassing potty training photos (or videos) that our parents took of us when we were little. This was a bit too "exposed" if you know what I mean (but still a hilarious image in my mind).

Just as the child finished, the father came out screaming. I didn't stay to watch him clean it up.

Sometimes the parents don't clean it up, especially if it's on a street or sidewalk. Just blame it on the dog.

One time I saw a little girl walking with her friend in the middle of the street. Suddenly she stopped, did her business, and kept on walking. They are so nonchalant about it --  even if there are people all around them.

I've been told that the risk diminishes if the children are being held or if they are sitting (on a lap, in a taxi, in a chair, etc.) because they instinctively do the squatting position when they need to go. Still, I don't think I would be the first one to let that boy with the gun sit on my lap. And I'm not sure what happens when they are really small and can't squat.

This still begs the question:  What about walking around in buildings?

In all of the buildings I've been in, I've only seen parents hold their children. But I imagine they are free to walk around in the house. Perhaps carpeting isn't common? I haven't been in many houses here.

This is called a cultural conundrum for a reason. It still baffles me, and I have a lot of questions. My Chinese vocabulary just isn't good enough to ask them yet.

Stay tuned for a sad story about this little guy. Don't worry. He's OK now.