Thursday, April 30, 2009

Picture of a Chinese Job Fair in Nanjing (borrowed from another China blog)

China might not be be facing as much of an economic crisis as the US is in some areas; however, they are facing an employment crisis. I'm slightly worried about having to look for a job when I get back to the States, but I'm very thankful I'm not a recent Chinese college student looking for a job! I pray that my students can find good jobs. Imagine the frustration of being one of the first from your family or village to attend and graduate from college only to find that the jobs available to you aren't much better than if you didn't have a degree since there are so many college graduates in the Chinese job market.

Here's a link to the original blog where I saw the photo with an article from the Wall St. Journal and the blogger's comments.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Characters with Character

I have Chinese lessons twice a week with Katie and, this semester, we're really enjoying our teacher. Her name is Nong Fei and she's about our age with a fun personality and good teaching style. Nong Fei has a passion for the Chinese language, especially the characters. The more I learn, the more I'm amazed at the complexity, intricacy, and depth of meaning wrapped up in each Chinese character (especially as you learn to break them down into their component parts). Nong Fei likes to tell us folk stories and proverbs in class too which always produces interesting vocabulary and sheds light on many cultural aspects.

I thought I'd share a few words, phrases and sayings that I've learned recently that I thought were funny, insightful, poignant, or especially picturesque. I figure this is a good way to review, too. I hope the Chinese characters show up on your computer!

(I'll write them out characters, pronunciation, literal translation, idiomatic meaning)

找不着北 zhăo bù zháo bĕi = Can't find north = Unable to find direction in life

被炒鱿鱼 bèi chăo yóu yú = Have your squid fried = to get fired

白马王子 bái mă wáng zi = White horse prince = Prince Charming, Mr. Right

旧的不去,新的不来 jiù de bù qǜ, xīn de bù lái = If the old doesn't go, how can the new come? (said as a way of comfort/support when a friend loses something)

种瓜得瓜,种豆得豆 zhòng guā de guā, zhòng dòu de dòu = Plant melon, get melon; plant beans, get beans = You reap what you sow

白眼 bái yăn = the white of the eye = a disdainful look, look down on someone

水蛇腰 shǔi shé yào = water snake waist = a thin waist, hour-glass figure (curvy like a snake is the idea)

水桶 shǔi tǒng = water bucket = pear-shaped figure, overweight (slang, as a joke)

伤脑筋 shàng nǎo jīn = injure one's brain = trying and troublesome

凹凸 āo tū = concave/sunken and convex/protruding (these characters are about a pictographic as you can get . . . They look like Legos to me. Makes me laugh that they're real characters!)

kū = cry (can you see the two empty eye and the tear drop?)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easter Eggs!

Every year that I've been in China, coloring Easter eggs with students has always been one of the highlights. The kids are always so creative and, without fail, we have a blast. Thanks Carma for the egg dying kits!

A Chinese poem on an Easter egg
This egg had a round crack in it so I decided to try to help it out.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Good Read (if you're interested)

I just finished reading a book called "The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently . . . and Why?" (thanks to Dave for introducing me to it) by Richard E. Nisbett. If you're interested in philosophy, cross-cultural studies, social psychology, or if you just want to challenge your brain with words like epistemology, dialectical, cognition, dichotomy, decontextualization, etc. then I recommend tackling this interesting study.

Spending just a short time in China, reveals that there's a marked difference in how Chinese and Americans think and how they perceive the world. For anyone planning to live abroad or work in a cross-cultural setting, this is important fact to keep in mind, especially Americans dealing with East Asians (Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese) since that's where the philosophical spectrum is at its widest. Americans often come to China, get exasperated with the apparent lack of logic and organization, and turn into ethnocentric, egotistical, "China bashers" who complain about everything and everyone (I always look at those people and think to myself, "just go home then and live among your 'own kind' if living abroad makes you that annoyed!")

In this book, the author traces the roots of our modern thinking back to the Greeks (for Westerners) and the Chinese (for Easterners). Ancient Greeks were concerned with personal agency--the sense that they were in charge of their own lives and free to act as they chose. This fundamental idea resulted in the Greeks have a strong sense of individual identity which fueled the Greeks' interest in debate, scientific discovery, and acquiring knowledge for it's own sake. The Greeks had a curiosity about the world around them and wanted to categorize and classify and then logically study what they saw. The ancient Chinese on the other hand were more focused on what their place in the world was and where they fit into society and focused on harmonizing relationships. Although the Chinese were in many ways more technologically advanced than the ancient Greeks, their lack of curiosity resulted in less scientific discoveries.

Building on that principal, this book reports on numerous studies that show how that historical background results in a different thinking by Easterners and Westerners today. One of the author's main findings in that, "Westerners attend primarily to the focal object or person and Asians attend more broadly to the field and to the relations between the object and the field. Westerns tend to assume that events are caused by the object and Asians are inclined to assign greater importance to the context." The author also shows how Americans tend to have an "either/or" mentality and Chinese people tend to have a "both/and" approach to contradictions. Some of the more interesting studies show pointed out in the book show that children in Western countries learn nouns more quickly while Eastern children learn more verbs; that Westerns see object whereas Easterners see substance (for example, Americans see a wall but Chinese people see concrete); and that Easterners expect and can deal with change better than Westerns can.

The author's conclusion seems to be that the Greek thought pattern was useful for science and technology but he finds it limited and sometimes even detrimental when it comes to social settings in modern day. The author seems to favor the Eastern mentality, but still employs Western logical methods to come to his conclusions. For my part, I agree that both Western and Eastern mentalities have their strong points but can leave big holes in some areas which I see played out a lot in my dealings with Chinese people and American people. But, as is obviously the point of such a study, it is important to realize your own cultural and philosophical biases when dealing with people of other countries on an everyday basis. While you can probably see how your viewpoint is right in a certain areas, you probably can't see in what areas your viewpoint might be flawed.

There's a lot more to this book; I'm oversimplifying its content and its conclusions. But it was insightful and is worth a read if you're going to find yourself in cross-cultural setting, especially with Americans and Chinese.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hair Survival

Generally, now, I'm comfortable in China and can do things on my own. Getting my hair cut, however, remains the one activity that I dread and am completely intimidated by and still feel like I need to take someone to translate for me. I have a hard enough time explaining how I want my hair cut when I'm speaking English--trying to convey a hair style in Chinese is next to impossible for me. And, most of the places in Mengzi (as was the case in Yichang) have never cut a Western person's hair. Chinese hair stylists tend to want to show off their expertise by coming up with their own ideas for how to cut your hair. Sometimes it's hard to get them to listen and pay attention to what you want. What the Chinese find to be a stylish haircut is usually not what I'm thinking I'd like for my hair at all (they like lots of swooping bangs, wispy frayed ends, and they love using the thinning scissors) and they don't know much about dealing with naturally wavy hair. Plus whenever I go to Chinese hair salons, I end up being a kind of attraction for every to watch and it makes me feel so self conscious. That's one of the reasons I've let my grow longer since being in China; I don't want to have to keep with a shorter style.

Back in November, I went to a Korean-run hair salon in Kunming that Victoria recommended and got my hair trimmed and highlighted. It was less painful than some experiences, but took forever (that's another thing about getting your hair cut in China, plan on it taking several hours no matter what you want done to your hair) and while I was happy with the highlights, the cut was just ok. Katie and I had realized that is was desperately past time to get our hair cut again, so, yesterday I went with Katie and one of our Chinese friends to try a place in Mengzi. Thankfully the friend understood what we wanted and when she translated it to the guy who was going to cut our hair, he did seem to listen. All I wanted was the ends trimmed off and the layers re-cut. Thankfully, it went ok and while my hair doesn't look dramatically different, I can tell it's healthier already having the split ends cut off.

On my way to class this afternoon, one of the hotel workers who sometimes helps takes care of things in our apartments, told me she really liked my hair today! She had no idea that I'd just gone through the ordeal of getting it cut, so that really boosted my confidence!

So, I'm celebrating that I survived a Chinese haircut and I think (unless something strange happens) I probably won't have to get it cut again until I get home in June. I've already commissioned my sister to help me find a new style for when I get home. I'll be really happy to be able to talk to the person who's cutting my hair in my own language again!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

About Time

Growing up in Indiana, we never observed Daylight Saving's Time. I was actually rather confused what DST meant until I was in my late teens; the first time I ever changed a clock was when I was a college student in South Carolina. Since IN didn't observe DST, instead of changing our clocks, we ended up changing time zones. Half of the year we were on Eastern time and the other half of the year we were on Central time. To make it more confusing, some of the counties in the southeastern part of the state wanted consistently to be on the same time as Cincinnati so they did observe DST and were always on Eastern time; while some of the counties near Chicago in the northwest of the state wanted to consistently be on Central time. (In one of my favorite episodes of the West Wing, Josh, Toby and Donna, who work for the president and are campaigning in Indiana, get stranded in a corn field and end up missing the flight back to D.C. on Air Force One because they crossed a county line in IN and were then in a different time zone.) Finally, a few years ago, after a good amount of local debate about which time zone we Hoosiers were better suited for, Indiana did adopt DST and is on Eastern time year-round (although a few counties by Chicago stay on CST). I've always thought the subject of time zones was rather intriguing. For one of my freshman English papers in college, I wrote a persuasive essay supposedly directed to the governor of IN trying to persuade him to use DST. As a personal side note, once I drove home from South Carolina back to Indiana on the weekend of the time change and since we didn't change time at home, I "gained" an hour going home, but never "lost" it going back . . . does that somehow mean I cheated time and got a free hour?

So after dealing with Indiana time zone schizophrenia my whole life, I moved to China and got another interesting take on time-zones. Just to travel from the U.S. to China, you cross 12 time zones and, upon arrival, force your body to completely rewind its biological clock. The entire country of China, which is bigger than the U.S. and could possibly fall into 5 time zones, operates on the same time--Beijing Standard Time. So whether you're on the east coast or out in Tibet, it's always the same time (thank the Great Helmsman). So, why make such a large country operate on the same time? Probably ostensibly to promote unity, but more likely a subtle reminder of who's in control.

The area of China where the time zone problem is most pronounced is in Xin Jiang province in the far northwest. Xin Jiang, China's largest province, is made up of an ethnic group of Muslims called the Uighers. Over the last few decades, however, Han Chinese have been flooding into Xin Jiang slowly edging out the local population (Xin Jiang, like Tibet, is an "autonomous" region of China and has, at times, made attempts at independence. But, with the absence of a Dalai Lama-type figure, Xin Jiang and the Uighers don't quite get as much international attention as the Tibetans do). Xin Jiang is forced to operate on Beijing Standard Time even though in doing so the sun sometimes doesn't rise until almost 10:00 a.m. or doesn't set until nearly 11:00. The local population has set up its own time which is two hours earlier than Beijing time.

This interesting article highlights some of the problems and results that come from people operating on two different times in the same place.

Clock Square Off in China's Far West

Here are a few excerpts from the article (but you should read the whole thing!):

"Uighurs, the dominant minority in China's northwestern Xinjiang province, balked at running their lives on Beijing time, which would have them getting up in the pitch dark and going to sleep at sunset."

"The separate time zones are in fact a metaphor for the chasm between the Uighurs and Han Chinese living in uneasy proximity in Xinjiang. Since 1949, the ethnic Chinese have grown from 9% to more than 40% of the province's population, and Uighurs accuse the Chinese government of suppressing their culture and faith."

"Schools, government offices, post offices all use Beijing time. So do the airports and railroad stations. Some bus lines use Xinjiang time and others Beijing time. Local people have strangely adjusted. Ali Tash, a 28-year-old tour guide, said it's really quite simple. Pointing at empty sofas in a hotel lobby, he explained how he would set up a hypothetical meeting with a Chinese friend and a Uighur friend. "So I say to the Chinese guy, come at 4 o'clock, and to the Uighur guy, come at 2 o'clock, and then everybody will be there the same time. No problem."

"Unofficially, the Chinese themselves have skewed their working hours, so most schools and many businesses don't actually open until 10 a.m. Beijing time. Abdul Hakim, a Uighur watchmaker in the Kashgar market, said he used to stock a watch that displayed two different times, but nobody bought it. 'People use one time or the other, not both. The Chinese use Beijing time. The Uighurs use our time," he said. "But if somebody buys a watch from me, I'll set it however they like.'"

I visited Xin Jiang back in 2006. The flight home at the end of my trip left at 11:00 a.m. Katie and I wanted to get some breakfast before we flew out. Even though it was 9:00 a.m. when we were leaving to go to the airport, we couldn't buy any breakfast because the people who sold food were just getting up. Too bad we couldn't have had breakfast delivered from Beijing, since people there were obviously awake and open for business.

Maybe Hoosiers and Uighers have a chronological commonality--two time zones, one state.