June 2005 Archives

Chinese Traffic

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Chinese traffic is one of the most insane things I've ever seen. Cab drivers don't so much as use "a" lane, as they do gently glide from side to side on the highways. People change lanes without looking, and get so close to each other that every single time we merge I'm sure we're going to hit somebody. Most of the time when I ride in a taxi I sit in the back and close my eyes. I tell the taxi driver where we're going and then I trust him to take me there. Many of the taxi drivers here are crooked, and there's always someone who doesn't have an official taxi tag that wants to take you places.

If people think that taxis in the states are a ripoff, China is their dream. Last weekend I went to a mall (which was ridiculously expensive) and the 30-35 minute taxi drive was 32 yuan, which was then split 3 ways, for a grand total of abou 1 dollar 33 cents per person. It's hard to believe that someone who works as a taxi driver in China would ever be able to afford the things in the mall we went to. Most of the western stuff (Nautica Clothes, etc.) was even way too expensive for me... meaning it was relatively priced to how expensive it is in Asia.

On the streets is where most "normal" people want to shop. People sitting infront of touristy wares yell out "Hey Lady, Look at These" in really bad english. Some have even gotten a clue and thrown in some spanish "Look here! Busca aqui!". Once you find something you like, it's pretty easy to bargain with the person. They'll type a price on a calculator, say, 150 yuan, and you will say "tai gui le" which means "too expensive". You then take the calculator, or if you trust your Chinese, respond with a price you think is fitting. For example, a buddy of mine bought a bag last weekend, and after the merchant told him 150 yuan, he said he'd pay 20 for it. They finally settled on around 70 if I remember correctly.

Anyways I just got out of class and am rambling, so I'll write more when something of interest actually happens. Oh, on a side note, if you have the chance to watch real Chinese acrobats, do so because they're amazing.

Life Imitates Crappy Blog Humor

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Hey Michael--I've given it some more thought, and the more I think about it the more I share your frustration with being put in the 1st year course. (Did you tell them you got an A+ in 1st year Mandarin at UVA?) The fact that Mandarin is a 5 hour/semester course at Columbia and a 4 hour/semester course at UVA probably means they do cover more material, besides teaching the traditional characters, but if you think you can handle the 2nd year course, tell them we feel like they did a "bait and switch" on you.

Tell them I'm not willing to pay the tuition cost for you to repeat 1st year Mandarin if you're not going to get any credit for it (and I'm sure you're right--you won't get credit for it), so if they won't put you in the 2nd year course you might just as well drop out of the program and spend the $4k traveling around China for the next 8 weeks.* Almost all the cost of the program is tuition to Columbia University; you're paying for all your food yourself and you had to provide your own transportation. How much can it cost to share a dorm room at Peking University? The only reason to pay college tuition is to get college credit.

I don't know how they'd respond if you told them you weren't willing to pay the tuition if you weren't going to get credit for the course. I'm sure Columbia would bill me anyway. Should I dare them to sue me? lol. Maybe you could drop out of the program and get a job in a fish market. Just saying.

*This would be a bluff, unless you really would rather do that.

Too long for a comment

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Michael-- this is a response to your post.

Wow, bummer about the roommate. I know you were supposed to have a single. And a Mormon. Means he doesn't drink, right? And all the rest of it. Ugh. Maybe you'd have been better off staying with a family. Just don't strangle him in his sleep; it would probably ruin the whole summer.

About the class, hm. On the one hand, you don't want to do so well on a placement test that you end up in a class you're not prepared for. On the other hand, the bit about the traditional characters is a major bummer, and having to sit through all the basics again, ugh. Well, good luck, that's all I can say.

But the whole point is to learn Chinese, right? So if the experience turns out to be good for that, none of the rest of it matters. It's typical for a student to be focused on classes and grades, but this summer is much more than that.

Remember, this isn't just a class--it's an adventure. I wouldn't have paid this much money just so you could get 8 or 10 more credit hours. You're going to have way more hours than you need to graduate. Think of the class as the price you're paying for the chance to spend 9 weeks in China. Whatever happens with the class, don't let it ruin the whole trip.

Today I flew to San Francisco, picked up a rental car, and drove to Livermore. I'm sitting in a Hilton Hotel room typing on my company laptop. During the trip there were several times when I felt relieved. I was relieved to get into Chicago in time to catch my connecting flight, I was relieved to land in San Francisco, and I was relieved when I sat down in the rental car. (I got a "complimentary upgrade"--a Ford Escape, lol. It's not yellow though, it's black.) And finally, I was relieved when I got to this room. I know that I'll feel relieved when the meetings are over, and I'll repeat all the stages of relief on the trip home. I brought my new suit, btw; I'm going to wear it tomorrow.

When I stepped out of the airport terminal in San Francisco and felt the cold San Francisco summer air, it felt so wonderful. I remembered how much I love The City and the coast north of here, and I told myself again that I'm going to move back out here when I retire.

Here's what I want you to write about: what were the times when you felt relieved on your trip? What did you feel when you stepped out of the airport terminal in Beijing? What did it look like? What did it sound like? What did it smell like? What's it like there? How different is it? Is there a McDonalds right off campus, or a noodle shop? How many people speak English? Do you wish you'd packed different clothes? I already know you regret not packing hair gel. :)

Really, really too bad about the Mormon roommate. Do not kill the roommate.

Enjoy it. Do not fret about the class. Look around you. Drink it all in. Talk to Chinese people as much as you can; find out what their lives are like.

About this yudan--cute?

Third Day of Classes

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Everything is going decently in China, could be better, could be worse. I was put into the "advanced" first year program... which basically means I don't know enough of Columbia's ciriculum to qualify for the 2nd year Columbia book (according to 1 test and a 2 minute interview). There are 6 people in my class, all of us are attempting to get into the 2nd year program because none of us think we'll receive any credit if we stay in the 1st year program. SO... that's been the biggest pain so far, having to sit through remedial lectures about very, very basic Chinese. I know most all of the vocab for the entire 1st year course already, so supposedly on Friday I'll be given another chance to enter the 2nd year course.

Oh, another reason for wanting to leave the 1st year course is that they're forcing us to use "traditional" characters as opposed to "simplified" ones. Everyone in Mainland China uses simplified characters, while in Taiwan they use traditional. My home University, UVA, only uses simplified, so if I'm forced to learn traditional characters, I'm only going to forget them through non-use.

Anyways, apart from the actual CLASS, I think I'm learning Chinese very well. Every day I have to meet with my yudan, language partner, for almost 2 hours. That probably helps me the most, since I can ask her how to say things that actually have relevance. You have NO idea how hard it is to order food when all you know how to say is beef, chicken, pork, and noodles. Yesterday she took me to a cafeteria and ordered for me, which was great. Normally I just keep ordering the same thing, or I let someone who has had more Chinese order for me. Also, if I can, I can point at pictures =D

My roomate is... a roomate. He's mormon so... yeah. It's really a shame they changed the local of the program, or I would've had a single. I had grown so used to not having to sleep in the same room as someone that it's really hard to not find everything my roomate does just a little annoying.

That's about it for now, I've got a tutoring session in like an hour so I should probably go find the building. Zaijian!

Well, it's been about six days now and still no word from the World Traveler. In the interest of keeping readers entertained while we await a post, I offer this as my prediction of what the first missive from Beijing will say:

Hey mom, sorry I haven't posted anything sooner--I wanted to wait until I had good news. I won't keep you in suspense any longer, here's the good news: the Chinese government has agreed to drop all the charges. I won't bore you with the details, I'll just say that it seems I know just enough Mandarin to get into BIG trouble--HA HA!! More good news: they're letting me stay. Columbia University was thrilled with the whole incident--NOT! They had to pull some major diplomatic strings to get me out of jail. Sooooo...I'm not in the language program anymore. But it doesn't matter, 'cause I met this really really cute girl and she's teaching me Mandarin. I love her mom, all the mystery of the Orient is in her eyes. Having to communicate without speaking much of each other's language has just deepened the bond between us.

The first night I spent with her--um, did I say that? Whoops! ;) my backpack was stolen, and you know I had all my money it in, but it's okay because she helped me get a job at a fish market. It doesn't pay much, but I get to live in a room over the market, (NO UTILITY BILLS!!) and I get to take home any fish that hasn't sold after three days. Hey, this program was supposed to be all about immersion, and boy, am I immersed!

My passport and all my ID and my plane ticket home were also in my backpack, so I don't think I'm going to be able to come home. Pet Saint for me and tell Joe he'll have to find another roommate for next year. Be happy for me, mom, you said this trip would be the experience of a lifetime and YOU WERE RIGHT!!

love, mike

P.S. Columbia is going to bill you for some lab equipment and some medical expenses. I wouldn't pay it if I were you. It was a really small fire--they're just bent out of shape and throwing a hissy fit. Dare them to sue you.

Hey Mike, coupla things...

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Haven't heard from you yet, but I figure you'll see this eventually, so...

You never gave me back my SmartCard for the metro. Is it here in the house somewhere, or are you still carrying it around in your wallet?

I took your good blazer to the cleaners. I noticed the pockets were still stitched shut--lol. Jackets come with the pockets loosely stitched shut; you have to take the stitches out, carefully. I'll do it.

Mr. T is going to put in the sod in September--it's too late in the season now; it's too hot. A couple of the guys who were working for him quit and left him in a bind. He's going to do some of the other stuff in the meantime, like taking out the barbeque and the azaleas around the patio, etc.

Well I sure hope you're having a good time; can't wait to hear from you.

love, mom :)

P.S. I created a new category for your posts: Trip to China. If you've forgotten how to log on and post, you can always leave comments.

In China O_O

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20 some odd hours later and I'm finally in Beijing. We're in temporary housing right now, which is sort of like a hotel, but with a lousier mattress. Word is that we're going to be moving out on the 20th into our permanent housing. The 20th is also when we're going to be starting our classes. Since I've only taken a year of Chinese language pretty much everyone here speaks better Chinese than I do. We took a placement test which was pretty much the hardest thing I've ever seen, and the interview afterwards wasn't any easier.

Anyways, I'll write more later, the food is amazing, and so cheap. Yesterday I paid 8 yuan for lunch, which included 3 courses. 8 yuan is just a little bit less than a dollar!! SO, food is gonna be cheap :) Today I'm planning on buying a cell-phone and some hair-gel... if I only knew the word for gel.


China is not in the back yard

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Saint here. It's pretty quiet in the house this morning; the old dame and the kid left in the middle of the night and the old dame came back alone, and now the kid is somewhere between here and China.

I know what you're thinking--I used to think "china" was something I could find in the back yard if I dug deep enough. I know better now--that was just a little joke the old dame was having at the expense of a gullible young pup. Not my idea of humor, but so long as the biscuits keep coming I'm a good sport about it. I know now that China is a place, and you don't get there by digging a hole in the back yard. You get there by flying half way around the world. The kid is going to a city called "Beijing", and it's twelve hours later there than it is here.

The kid's gonna be gone for 9 and a half weeks, studying for 8 weeks with a week off to travel around. It's all going to be new and strange. I remember how new and strange it was when I came to live here as a young pup, and I had a long talk with the kid, trying to impart a few words of wisdom.

And then we just cuddled for a while.

The old dame made the kid an author on the blog, here, so the plan is for him to find an internet cafe or a connection at the university and blog about his trip. The old dame said he made no promises as to how soon he'd get online, so we'll just have to wait and check the blog from time to time and see what pops up on the screen.

Lenscrafters is full of shit

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I owe the title of this entry to my son, Mike. I asked him for a snappy title to describe my frustration with my situation re eyeglasses, and the above title was what sprang to mind. Ahem.

I have an odd situation with my eyes--my left eye is nearsighted and my right eye is farsighted. The left eye has always been nearsighted, but the right eye has only become farsighted with age. This means I can only see up close with my left eye, and I can only see at a distance with my right. For many years I've had glasses with correction for distance in the left lens, and no correction at all in the right. This worked fine for a long time, until the progressive farsightedness in my right eye finally made it impossible for me to read anything with my right eye, no matter how far I held it out in front of me. Without my glasses I can read with my left eye, but not with them; the correction for nearsightedness works for distance only. So I had to start taking my glasses off to read. Since I could still see at a distance with the glasses off, albeit through the right eye only, I simply stopped wearing them.

Except--for my sunglasses. I developed the habit of wearing sunglasses when I was in college in Tempe, Arizona, and I'm addicted to them. Whenever I go outside, if the sun is shining, I put sunglasses on. I've worn prescription sunglasses for years with correction in the left lens but no correction in the right. Seeing at a distance with two eyes is much nicer than seeing at a distance with one; I get better perspective using two eyes, so I'd never go back to wearing non-prescription sunglasses. Two things recently prompted me to get new sunglasses: mine were very old and very scratched, and I was buying new glasses and contacts for Mike so I figured why not get new sunglasses for myself while we're here?

So, finally getting to the point, I went to Lenscrafters for new sunglasses, and they said I'd have to get an eye exam, because my prescription was six years old. So I went to the place next door that does eye exams, and I filled out a bunch of paperwork, including a questionnaire that asked, among other things, if I ever had to use a computer, and I said yes, and then it asked how many hours a day I spend in front of a computer, and I said 8.

When I saw the doctor, she seemed disturbed that I never wore my regular glasses. She asked me about driving at night, and I confessed that glasses would be helpful. She talked me into getting bifocals, which would correct the distance vision in the left eye and the near vision in the right, and then, she said, I would be able to see everything, and I should get both sunglasses and regular glasses with the same prescription, and I should wear them all the time.

In recent years it has become a serious nuisance not to be able to read with my sunglasses on. I can't look down at a map while driving; I can't dig for change in my wallet while sitting in the drivethru lane at Dunkin' Donuts. Not without taking the sunglasses off, anyway. So I took her advice and went next door to Lenscrafters with my new prescription for bifocals, and I ordered both sunglasses and regular glasses. I paid almost $600 for the two pairs, which I picked up today. I put the regular glasses on and I wore them around the mall, trying to get used to them. I could see clearly at a distance, and if I looked down my nose at things up close I could see them, too. Hurray!! All better now!! So, I'll wear these all the time, I'm thinking. We went out to the car and I took the clear glasses off and put the sunglasses on, and hey! I'm thinking, this is great. So happy. I drove home, took the sunglasses off, put the clear glasses on, changed clothes, did a few minor tasks, thinking how great these new glasses are, poured myself a glass of wine, came down stairs, sat down at the computer...

...and couldn't read the screen.

That's right, folks, I can't read the computer screen with the glasses on. The screen is an "up close" thing, and with my new bifocals on I have to look down my nose at "up close" things, and I can't look down my nose without tipping my head waaaaay back, and I can't imagine what it would do to my neck to sit with my head tipped back 8 hours a day.

So right now my expensive new glasses are perched jauntily on top of my head, and I really don't know what to do about it, except maybe go upstairs and pour myself another glass of wine.

Tell me if this sounds crazy

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Just these past coupla days I've been hatching a Plan, kinda. It's a Plan for what I'll do after Mike finishes law school and Gets A Job, which, if all goes as expected, will happen five years from now. The Plan involves buying one of these, or something like it, and me and Saint hitting the road.

It's not as ridiculous as it sounds. There's a club out there called RVing Women that provides support for women who RV alone. I found this quote about it on a different website; I don't know how old the information is: "Today, the group numbers about 5,000, ranging in age from 25 to 85 with most between 55 and 62." I'll fit right into that last group in five more years, but I'm healthy and pretty fit.

I won't be able to retire at that time, but I could take a leave of absense for six months or so. I'd start out with a short trip over to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and if everything was working out I'd head over to West Virginia. I'd go down to the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, too. I'd eventually head out west via a southern route, taking in New Orleans along the way. There are beautiful places I'd like to see all over the west; I can picture a route winding through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Eventually I'd end up on the coast in Oregon, and if I were really loving the experience I might go up into Canada, and woah, if I'm really feeling adventurous I might even go up to Alaska.

That's the Dream at the end of the Plan, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: I've wanted to see Alaska for years.

I can't wait forever. Saint will be six years old and still in his prime. I wouldn't dream of doing this without the feeling of security I'd get from knowing he'd raise the roof if anyone or anything approached the van at night. Besides, he's my buddy; I can see us taking long hikes together through national forests, but I can't see myself doing it alone.

Well, it's just a dream. Who knows, tomorrow I might forget about the whole thing. It's fun to think about, though. It's fun to Plan. I've been "becalmed" for quite a while now; it'd be nice to weigh anchor and set sail.

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