and yet another week in Changping....

Publié le par chrislzh

Monday lunchtime:


“Life is what you make of it.” That’s the first thing I wrote on the blackboard today. I asked the students how their weekends were, but only one could answer, and all he told me was that he just did the same old boring shit: Sleep through Saturday, then go to the classroom to study on Sunday. After much blood, sweat and tears I managed to convince another student to answer what should have been a simple question. He told me that their weekends are always very dull ‘cos they just do the same old shit: Sit in their dorms watching TV, sleep, maybe surf the ‘net. Very boring, he said. Two things, I said, One: you could have just told me that when I first asked the question, which would’ve saved a lot of trouble. Two: Life is what you make of it. So then I gave them homework. Next weekend they have to do something interesting, then they have to tell me about their interesting weekends next Monday.


And to drive the point home, I made them tell me some of the things that could be done in Beijing on a summer weekend. Boy, that was painful. But eventually we got a few ideas on the blackboard. I mean, really, I don’t understand anybody living in Beijing claiming to be bored. There’s shitloads of stuff to do here. Even out here in Changping I manage to keep myself amused for the four days a week I’m here.


Or look at Taiyuan: That is a boring city. It’s really only useful as a source for coal and a jumping-off point for all the historic sites in Shanxi. There really is bugger all to do in Taiyuan. But I can’t say I was ever bored there. It’s just a matter of getting off your arse and making something happen.


Still, the worst I’ve had to deal with is a class I taught at Di Da. They were hopeless. They were complaining to me about how boring life at Di Da was. I pointed out that all they had to do was cross the road and go into the Beiyu campus where they would find cafes and bars and restaurants and all sorts of weird and crazy people doing all kinds of weird and crazy stuff. And if that wasn’t their scene, it wasn’t hard to get on a bus and go somewhere fun. And if they wanted to stay on campus there was still plenty of stuff to do. They could play sports, read books, hang out with friends, whatever. But no, they insisted, life is boring.


Both that class at Di Da and this class this morning want to make me scream out loud:


BORING PEOPLE HAVE BORING LIVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


But some strange sense of professionalism stopped me. I don’t know why. So instead I take the more constructive approach: “Life is what you make of it (you pack of losers).”


My noodles must be just about ready. Excuse me.


Monday afternoon:


Weird. I just phoned the water delivery person to get a new bottle for the machine so that I have drinking water. I told the guy who and where I was and then there was silence. About 30 seconds of silence with me saying “Wei? Wei? Wei?!” then he hung up. Oh well, I guess I’ll just wait, either he’ll call me back or he’ll bring me water or I’ll call him back and try again later.


And so, about an hour later, the water man phones me back, says the signal before was crap so he wasn’t sure who or where I was, so I explained it over again and hopefully there is now water on the way. Water is kind of useful, sometimes, especially the kind of water that can be safely drunk.


Now all I have to do is stay awake long enough to get my water. I don’t know why I feel so tired today.


And within ten minutes of that phone call the water is delivered. Excellent.


Maybe my tiredness today has something to do with last night. We’d just finished eating when a mate called.

       “Where are you?” he says.

       “At home.”

       “We’re in Wudaokou.”


       “Yeah. You want a beer?”

       “Sure (like you need to ask).”

Well, he said he’d heard there was a beer garden behind the hotel on the corner of Chengfu Lu and Xueyuan Lu. I said I didn’t know anything about that. We arranged to meet at my gate. I got to my gate, but he wasn’t there, so I started wandering towards where he was coming from, and as I was passing the hotel in question I saw a big neon sign glaring “啤酒花园”. Well, that couldn’t be any clearer a sign. So that’s where we went. It was weird. About half the tables were empty. They still had all their World Cup stuff up, even the big screen and the match schedule. The place was lit with none-too-pleasant flood lights. We found a table in a bit of shade (it’s odd when you need to find a table in the shade at night, but there you go) and away from the second-hand smoke drifting from other patrons and got some drinks. Yanjing Draft for 4 kuai, that’ll do me. So that’s what we got. Three each, and I was home just after 10, not a big night out. But this morning was rough in the way only cheap Chinese draft beer can rough up a morning. That beer must’ve been sitting there since before the World Cup began.


Speaking of the World Cup, I’m still pissed off that fucking won. They totally didn’t deserve it and shouldn’t have ever got to the finals, what with their blatant fucking cheating in the match against Aussie. Bastards. The ANZACs should invade in the first step in the War Against Bad Sportsmanship, and once is pacified, we should declare war on professional cycling followed by all the other dirty sports out there. We’ll work our way through all the dirty and bad sports, totally destroying those, like golf and snooker, that are clearly the work of the Devil and cleaning up others, like football, which although they’re generally played by pansies and girls’ blouses, are decent enough sports that got sucked into that vicious cycle of drugs and cheating when they were still at a young, tender, impressionable age, until eventually we invade America and force them to convert to rugby. We’ll let them keep ice hockey, that’s a real sport, but the entire NBA will be confined to Hollywood, as it really is just show business with only the flimsiest relationship to sport, and baseball will be replaced with cricket. Then maybe will finally become a civilised country.


And then to crown our achievements, we’ll dump all the world’s nuclear weapons, along with the neo-cons and their counterparts around the world, on the moon with a single Scrabble set that has no letter Q, a 3 hour supply of oxygen, and a psychotic hamster. Then the world’s oil supplies will have run out, and the world’s economy will be based on sheep, so will use its new-found might to invade and steal all their sheep. Then, through a cunning and sophisticated campaign of psychological warfare we’ll bamboozle into firing all their grenade-tipped harpoons into , and the world will be OURS! ALL OURS! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Oops, I don’t think I was supposed to give this all away.


Monday evening:


Just got back from the supermarket. If ever I needed confirmation Changping is a dump, well, I just got it.


I decided that I needed to make sure I got some real food when I’m in Changping, even if it is only one fresh-cooked meal per day. See, I’ve given up on the local restaurants, and so last week I wound up living on frozen jiaozi and instant noodles. And last week I constantly felt run-down, tired, lacking in anything approaching energy. So I thought if I paid a bit more attention to making sure I get something approaching proper nutrition, maybe I might feel a little happier and healthier. So I’ll stick with the usual quick and simple breakfasts, jiaozi and instant noodles are ok for lunch when I have less time, but in the evenings, when I have time, I’ll fry up a few veges and try and get some proper vitamins into me.


So the nearest supermarket is of a reasonable size and seemed to be as well-stocked as any other, but then I found myself at the fresh veges section. The fresh vegetables, for the most part, weren’t. Some of them were starting to look decidedly more fungus than vegetable. And the two supermarkets outside my school gate in Taiyuan had a greater range. I looked around the frozen foods as well. Most of the frozens were frozen, and probably safer than most of the veges, but still, bugger all selection. The same went for the various kinds of processed or preserved foods. Well, eventually I managed to pick out a few veges that did actually look edible and augmented that with a few canned things (not exactly fresh, but I didn’t have much choice), got some oil and spices and soy sauce and stuff, paid, and left feeling kinda deflated. Oh well, now I have something approaching fresh food to cook.


But the weird thing was this supermarket had quite a big range of imported olive oils. They can’t get fresh veges from the local farmers, but the can get extra virgin olive oil from and ? There’s something fundamentally wrong with that.


So it’s official: Changping is a dump.


Over the last couple of days I’ve noticed people walking around with a certain slogan printed on the back of their shirts. The first I saw down in the Haidian campus, then I saw two more today up here in Changping campus. The slogan is: 语言就是力量. I couldn’t agree more.


Tuesday lunchtime:


I talked about with the students this morning. Last week I had a go at one of the pipeline classes for not being active enough. One of the students said he wanted to talk about , as it’s been in the news a bit recently. The class, though, wanted the more fun activity I had planned, so I said, alright, fun today, but your homework is to find out about . So that class was first this morning, and we had such a good, interesting discussion that I decided to spring it on the second class. Only that first pipeline class had been told to prepare.


Well, the second class couldn’t tell me anywhere near as much about the current conflict in Lebanon, just the basic stuff they could remember from the news, but never mind, they did well enough.


One student in the first class suggested the whole thing was a proxy war, with and the puppet-masters and and Hezbollah the puppets. Well, it’s an idea that has some merit, and both stand to gain from the conflict. draws attention from the nuke issue, draws attention from the fiasco, and they both get to give each other bloody noses by proxy. It’s a familiar pattern we saw repeated countless times during the Cold War.


But one thing I noticed is that even the students who had done their research seemed to be pretty ignorant of the historical context for this conflict. I mean, Ehud Olmert didn’t just wake up one morning and decide a war with might be fun. Nor did Ahmedinejad and Bush suddenly decide that a little proxy war in would be interesting. And even if they did, I seriously doubt would agree to go blowing the shit out of , thereby risking it’s own soldiers lives. And besides, opening up a second front isn’t necessarily a good idea. Lots of armies that have found themselves fighting on more than one front have found themselves very quickly in very serious shit. in both world wars provides a perfect example, and, like , finds itself surrounded by enemies or potential enemies. Hezbollah certainly didn’t kidnap those two soldiers just ‘cos they were drunk and thought it’d be a great joke. No, this conflict came from somewhere and has a goal.


Obviously Hezbollah are still pissed off about the Israeli occupation of the Shebaa Farms. That’s the primary reason for them to keep fighting . After all, Hezbollah was created precisely to fight after the Israeli invasion of in 1982 (or thereabouts) and they have said several times that they’ll stop shooting off their silly little rockets when the last Israeli soldier leaves Lebanese territory. And the reasons for and to support Hezbollah are plainly obvious.


But it’s really hard to fathom why would respond with such ridiculously over-whelming force to the kidnapping of two soldiers. What does gain from this? They certainly didn’t do this just ‘cos big brother Bush ordered it. One can see the twisted logic behind the Gaza conflict fairly easily: never accepted a Hamas government and doesn’t really want an independent Palestine, especially one run by Hamas. But ? Sure, cutting off the highways to is obvious: Cut Hezbollah’s supply lines, eventually they’ll run out of food and ammunition. That much is common sense. But at first said they only wanted to destroy Hezbollah. And then they went about re-establishing a security buffer zone in the south. And then they started talking about the Litani River. And they’re doing a lot more than cutting Hezbollah’s supply lines. The whole of is under siege and the civilian infrastructure is being systematically destroyed. This is a rather expensive and unnecessarily dangerous way of warning to behave, and besides, has always been very direct, so that can’t be the reason.


I read one article this weekend on Asia Times Online (, weird organisation, that one) that pointed out that one third of Israel’s fresh water comes from the Golan Heights and then went on to argue that Israel wanted control of the Litani River and its water resources. Interesting idea, but this really is a very expensive and risky way to go about securing water resources.


Anyway, with both classes this morning I ran through a very brief history of Israel, Lebanon, Hezbollah and their various conflicts to try and put the current troubles in a bit more of an historical context. It’s amazing how long it takes them to figure out that maybe the Holocaust had something to do with the founding of the State of Israel. It’s also amazing how long it takes them to identify the countries on a sketch-map of the Middle East. And that sketch-map was limited to and its immediate neighbours. Note to my students: most certainly sure as shit does not border . Nor does , for that matter.


But even though they are adults and relatively better informed than the average Chinese high school or university student, they are still typical Chinese students. Note to self: Nothing of any importance has ever occurred outside .


Some students last week said that the English and Japanese both have an “island mentality”. I really wanted to point out that Chinese people tend to have a far more insular mentality than anybody from any island country I’ve ever met. But I decided my own personal safety and sanity were far more important than venting.


Very late Tuesday evening (almost Wednesday morning, in fact):


This afternoon was interesting and completely unplanned. The first class got me into the alcohol rant again. I’m really getting sick of the “白酒 in English is baijiu” rant, but too many of them are not paying any attention ever. The same class turned up two of the more motivated students asking me if I can speak Chinese. Really. How long does it take these people to notice that I am listening in on and fully understanding their conversations and occasionally correcting their crappy-arse translations of what I just said? And these are not the brain-dead dumbarses whose sole purpose in life is to keep seats warm for more intelligent life-forms.


Well, apart from that obvious irritation, class was pretty good and totally student-driven. I didn’t have to draw on anything I had prepared at all. We somehow wound up talking about the advantages has over and the serious problems it faces. That happened because somehow one of the students asking me if I planned to stay in China a long time prompted me to write on the board “Why should I leave China?”, then ask them for all the reasons, then joyfully debunk all the bullshit reasons for me to leave China that they came up with- basically, I enjoy a better standard of living here than I ever had in New Zealand, and would not gain anything by going home or any other country; history and culture are reasons to stay, not leave; the salary may be low, but I earn more than most Chinese and thanks to the foreign teacher benefits have a bit more disposable income than most Chinese on a similar salary; and that the future is here- then admitted that the environment is one reason why I should go home. Then I pointed out that leaves winning 4-1. If that were a football game, would be most embarrassed. Obviously, I should not leave . And then somehow the conversation turned to .


See, it’s all cool, because even with the dumbarseness that reared its ugly head in that first lesson this afternoon, I still wound up basically not working because the conversation was entirely student-driven. All their classes are some kind of English class, but they only see a foreign teacher twice a week, and that is very specifically for oral English. So my role is to give them a chance to practice and polish their spoken English, which is better done when they’re driving the conversation and all I do is fill in the blanks and re-align their statements so that they make more sense. Well, that’s my lazy-arse excuse for just hanging out with the students.


Four people showed up for the second lesson, two of them an hour early thanks to some idiot telling them some complete bullshit about this afternoon’s two classes being combined. Two of them make the stupid, stupid mistake of asking me some question on the origin or nature of the English language. I can’t even remember what the question was, but all of a sudden we’re onto a topic that can keep me going for hours on end, and these two just keep feeding it. We don’t just stick with English, either, but we discuss a whole range of linguistic issues. The other two, unfortunately, weren’t as interested, and spent more time asleep than listening and only piped up to ask a question or make a statement maybe once or twice in the two hours. Anyway, it was a good time and an interesting discussion. And this class is rapidly becoming one of my favouritist ever. Everybody who shows up for class is motivated, interested, and interesting, and regardless of the topic they always have a lot to contribute.


I told a friend on the weekend that some of my students show about as much personality as a plastic table. This is, unfortunately, true. I also told him that some of my students are pretty cool. The second class today is definitely one of the two coolest. Lessons with them really don’t feel like work; it’s more like I’m getting paid to hang out and shoot the breeze with cool, interesting people. I mean, one of them has worked in the , for fuck’s sake. How cool is that?


Speaking of the , I met a guy in Loup Chante one night who claimed to work in the Sudanese embassy. That was back before I was tamed by the 非常厉害 lzh. Tamed, but not entirely domesticated, so don’t worry. Anyway, this guy I met in Loup Chante that night claimed to work in the Sudanese embassy. I’m not saying he didn’t, I’m just saying this is a city where you meet a lot of bullshitters. We were the last customers to leave that night, as I remember, because we were solving all the world’s problems, and, most notably, making eternal peace between Islam and Christianity, all over a few too many Tsingtaos in the wee small hours in what was at the time the best pub in Beijing.


I am beginning to suspect that Loup Chante will go down in history as the best pub that ever existed in Beijing. But, having been well and truly tamed by She Who Is Most 厉害, I’m not really in a position to be making such a sweeping statement. And it is getting kind of late.


But this Tsingtao is so cool and inviting. And I feel so much better now that this evening’s thunderstorm has cut the edge off that oppressive, suffocating humidity we’ve been smothered with the last couple of days. But, there’s no sign of wind outside, which makes me worry about tomorrow.


Wednesday lunchtime:


Wednesday is definitely the sweetest day up here. Start at 10, so I can sleep in a little. First class is the Xinjiang class, which is one of the two best classes. They’re motivated, interested, interesting. They can easily take over the lesson and drive it in whichever direction they want. So I get to do my lazy-arse hanging out with the students supplying vocab or straightened out sentence structures where necessary. Then this afternoon it’s the two Liaohe classes, same as yesterday afternoon. Even though Liaohe 2’s English isn’t that great, they’ve still got the personality necessary to turn things in interesting directions. Besides, I never know who or how many people will be there, usually only 2 or 3, so they’re just about impossible to prepare for. Liaohe 1, though, has both the personality and the English level to make life very sweet for me.


Thursday’s good ‘cos it’s the last day and I finish at 4 and have two spare hours to pack up my stuff, relax, and drink a beer or two before I go home, but Thursday’s classes are all my teeth-pulling classes. They can take a bit more work.


But I should have only one more week here. Hopefully. I guess I should start asking the students when their courses end.


The foreign teacher who comes out here on Thursdays is organising a good-bye party for the students on the weekend. He’s going to crank up the barbeque and teach the students how to make real American hot dogs and hamburgers. He wants me to bring something typically Kiwi. But if the barbeque is going, what am I supposed to bring? Steaks? A crate of beer? Good ideas, but hardly uniquely Kiwi. I can’t make a pav. I never learned how, and besides, I don’t have an oven. And the Scarfie recipe (go to the supermarket, buy a pav, take it home, put it in the oven. When your friends arrive, pull it out and say “Look what I made!”, then decorate appropriately) is obviously out of the question. And even if supermarkets here sold pavs, the only pav worth eating is homemade. Really. Store-bought pavs are just large meringues, and rather bland meringues at that. A proper homemade pav is much softer and fluffier and tastier.


Why does Word, even after it has been convinced to switch to New Zealand English, refuse to recognise words like ‘pav’ or ‘Otago’? And every Maori word (except the word ‘Maori’) has a squiggly red line under it. Microsoft is truly useless. Still, I have been assured that the various non-Microsoft alternatives are equally useless. It’s about time some Kiwi made a word-processor that recognises every Kiwi word, be it Maori or Pakeha (there’s that squiggly red line again), and marks every American spelling and all American place names derived from Native American names (with the exception of Hawaiian- they’re Polynesian, too, so they’re cool) as wrong. This kind of thing will be necessary when takes over the world, so we might as well start making it all now so that we can iron out the kinks before we establish our empire.


Wednesday evening:


Yep, Wednesday definitely is the sweetest day up here. The last class this afternoon was Liaohe 2, whose English is a bit weaker than the others. But nevertheless the students directed everything. I can’t remember what they started talking about, but by break time suddenly the talk had turned to prostitution. They insisted on continuing with that topic afterwards, and the talk turned to HIV/AIDS, from there somehow on to education, until with about 10 minutes left of class a student suddenly asked me if I had any idols in . So I told them a bit about Rewi Alley. About halfway through my Rewi Alley spiel the same student then interrupted to begin telling me how great Chairman Mao was. I said, “Hang on hang on hang on, let me finish. Chairman Mao was a friend of Rewi Alley’s. So was Zhou Enlai.” Well, that may be stretching things a little, but it impressed them, and I got to finish telling them about Rewi Alley. And then class was over.


lzh’s boss and his family are in town from . They don’t speak Chinese, so lzh has been on tour guide and translator duty for the last couple of weeks. Today she took them to Badaling, and then, spotting an opportunity to go home, she took them to meet her family. And so these Aussies got to experience a little of rural and eat good, home-cooked, northern Chinese country food. Apparently all went well. And apparently our puppy Zaizai is getting less and less puppy-like. Well, he’s been a reasonably-sized dog for quite a while now, but lzh tells me he’s even fatter now. And he used to be really full of beans and often quite naughty when he was little, but he’s mellowed a lot as he’s grown up. Now lzh tells me he’s even more than before. How should be translated? Well-behaved, I guess.


But wait, how can mean well-behaved or clever, shrewd or alert, or, in a bizarre twist, perverse, contrary to reason, irregular or abnormal?


Whatever, the older Zaizai gets the better behaved and more obedient he is. And he keeps getting fatter, too.


Thursday lunchtime:


One more class.


I asked one class this morning what they wanted to talk about on Tuesday. The class decided they wanted to talk about the “China Threat” Theory. So that’s what they have to research over the weekend. I told them they should get on line and search for articles in English. Not all of them looked happy with that suggestion. Hopefully they won’t come back with a bunch of People’s Daily editorials.


Thursday afternoon:




So one class chose the “China Threat” Theory to talk about on Tuesday. The other chose Sino-American Relations. Looks like I’m going to have an interesting Tuesday morning. Bring on the People’s Daily editorials.


I’ve been re-reading Michael Palin’s ‘Himalaya’. It seems to be the perfectly sized book for four days in Changping. I’ve got a couple of hours to wait for the car back to the world, and only the last few chapters of the book to read.


I’ve got to get some new books.

Publié dans chrislzh

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