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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New Video and Series!

I don't really have a whole lot to say at this point - I made another video a couple of days back trying to explain my job, give some updates, and stuff like that to my Chinese friends. It's in Chinese with no subtitles, so.....if you can't understand Chinese, you can just skip it and save yourself some time :)

Subtitles are just too much trouble at the moment hahaha

Well, actually, I think I do have a neat idea in store for a few posts. I might call it my "Map of China" series, in which I take a certain region/place I have been to or want to go to, show where it is on the map, and then talk about the region for a little bit in a video supplemented by a few thoughts in a blog post. They'll get posted on YouTube and Youku, if YouTube is blocked in your country.

I, in my un-ending geekiness about China, think that that's a freakin' sweet idea! I'd love to do that!

The Foolish Old Man Moves The Mountains

This is a Chinese folktale that I really love. It's a wonderful (and short) tale coming from the Han Dynasty. It is about Old Man Yu whose dream was to literally move mountains. Enjoy!
Once upon a time, there were two mountains that stood right beside each other. Both were more than 10,000 feet high, and together, they were four-hundred miles wide.
Facing the mountains lived Old Man Yu, who was over eighty-years-old and also known throughout the county for his foolishness. Every morning, as Old Man Yu walked to the village, his wife would shake her head as she saw him make yet another detour around the two mountains. As the years went by, he found it a great inconvenience to make these daily detours. So one day, Old Man Yu finally decided that the twin mountains would have to be moved.
He then called a family meeting and told his wife, sons, daughters, and their families of his intentions. He will move these two mountains, Old Man Yu cried, and you will all help me do it!? Old Man Yu's sons and grandsons thought it was a terrific idea. They encouraged him and gave them their unyielding support. 
Old Man Yu's wife sneered. "You are a foolish old man indeed! Just how would you go about moving those mountains? Never mind the mountains, I don't think you can even move two piles of cow manure! And even if you could move the mountains, just where would you dispose of the dirt and rocks from the mountains?"
The old man thought for a moment, and without backing down, answered that he would throw the dirt and rocks into a place far away. "I will throw them into the Bohai sea." (off the east coast of China)
Once again, Old Man Yu's sons and grandsons thought that it was a wonderful idea to throw the dirt into the sea. They cheered a second time and pledged to him their unyielding support. Even the neighbour's son, Little Turnip Boy, gave the old man his support even though he was only 8 years old. 
Old Man Yu, his three sons, his many, countless grandsons, and Little Turnip Boy went to work on removing the two mountains. It was such grueling work that in a year's time, Little Turnip Boy was only able to make one trip to the sea to dispose of the dirt and rocks. Nonetheless, no one lost their enthusiasm. They were all steadfast to Old Man Yu's dream.
On one of their trips to the sea, they met a man who lived along the Yellow River, who was known throughout the county for his cleverness and arrogance. He mocked Old Man Yu saying, "You foolish old man! I have seen you, your three sons, your many, countless grandsons, and even Little Turnip Boy making trips to the sea to dispose of the dirt and rocks from the mountains. Do you think that you can actually move two whole mountains? And you; you must be over ninety-years-old and closer to the grave as each day passes! You cannot possibly expect to move two mountains in your lifetime.
Old Man Yu looked upon the Yellow River Man with pity. 
"You are known throughout the entire country as a clever man. Yet, you are a man lacking in vision. Regarding this matter, even Little Turnip Boy has more wisdom than you.? Old Man Yu continued, you are correct in saying that I am an old man who is closer to the grave as each day passes. But I have three sons, and many, countless grandsons." 
"In time, my grandsons will bear their own children, who, in turn, will bear even more children. So in time, my dream of removing these two mountains will become a reality. As each day passes, my dream can only increase, as these two mountains can only decrease."
What a great story, huh? I thought it was pretty cool! Ancient China hummed with stories of will, determination, wisdom, and what is really foolish versus what people think is foolish. It's one of the things I love about ancient China.


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Thursday, February 23, 2012

A New Video and Future Plans

So, news! I've got a few things cooking right now, and one of them is this video I made!

It's nothing huge or anything - it took most of the day to film and edit and put subtitles on, because I'm speaking Chinese - LIKE A BOSS! hahaha

I think it turned out okay for not putting a huge amount of effort into. I only had to look up a couple of words in the dictionary, too! My Chinese friends said that my pronunciation was really good and that they had no problems understanding me, but that my sentences themeselves could use some tweaking. That's definitely true.....grammar and sentence structure has never been a strong point for me. Vocab? Please, I got it!

I've been meaning to make a video where I introduce my hometown to my Chinese friends for a while, but I had to force myself to do it after a friend asked me to do a video where I speak Chinese. 

Kill two birds with one stone, right?

"Why would you thrown stones at a bird, much less two?"

....."It's just a turn of phrase."

"How do you turn a phrase?"



So, I've been thinking about this trip to China that I'm gonna make in June, and I've been thinking over how to get the ball rolling on getting a job over there, but the reality is that I just have to DO IT. Pretty soon, I'll be on my way to getting my TESOL certificate, making some new contacts and renewing some old contacts, and trying to get my foot in the door! If I can't walk in and get a job in June, then I'll at least have gotten it started.

Not much else is going on - just life as usual. Be back soon with some more Chinese legends!


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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

WC Bob (I'm Sorry, Man)

I'm sorry to have to tell this story, but it's way too funny to keep secret anymore. I do feel bad about this, though.

Okay, so when I was in Lanzhou, I met a whole lot of people. Of course I did, China's got a ton of people, and since I was Lanzhou University of Technology's first-ever exchange student, I got a lot of attention, right? Yeah.

So, anyway, I met a bunch of dudes who were going to study abroad the next year - among them Janson and Freddy, who became my bandmates and my best friends while I was over there.

I also met Bob.

Bob was also going to study at NEIU - I didn't know him that well, and I still don't, but I liked him and still like him. Occasionally, I will still talk to him.

When I first met him, it was on L.U.T.'s West Campus, because that's where he lived. We talked, exchanged numbers, and I put him in my phone as "WC Bob" - short for "West Campus Bob", because I already had a "Bob" in my phone.

Now, here's where things get a little complicated. China has a couple of hundred years' worth of history in dealing extensively with Europeans, mainly the British and Germans. Even now, there are traces of this influence all over the country, but none more odd than the WC sign.

The WC sign is known as representative of one thing: the bathroom - public bathrooms, more often than not. It took me a long time and a lot of asking before I found out WC stood for "Water Closet," a mostly British term.

No doubt, you can see where this is going.

I had never connected the name in my phone and the sign on the streets as being the same. They were always locked away in my brain as two different things, of course. WC Bob is a cool dude, and the WC is where I go to the bathroom. I never even thought about the fact that it could be a point of embarrassment for Bob.

A few months had gone by, and I was in Guangzhou (Canton, for you historians and old-timers haha) with Bob and some of the other L.U.T. students, when we were trying to find out what Bob was up to.

Somebody's phone was dead, and I said, "Use mine, he's under WC Bob."


"WC Bob. West Campus Bob - that's where he lives, right?"

................................."Dude, WC is the toilet."

And wouldn't you know it, Bob walked in right then. Perfect timing.

"HEY, WC Bob!!! We were trying to find you!" said the other guys.

He was really confused, and once the whole story emerged, both of us were quite embarrassed - me because of my ignorance, and Bob because of his newly-found nickname. I believe it's been forgotten, but just in case it hasn't, I want to take this moment and tell Bob that I'm sorry. That was my bad, dude, and I know they gave you crap about it for a little while.

Sorry, dude.

And that's the story of Bob "WC" ****, a true tale of cultural ignorance, loss of face, and forgetfulness.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

As Life Goes On....One Year Later

This post comes in two parts - if you want to skip the language stuff, go to part two!

Part One: The Language Stuff!

So, I've been keeping up with this blog, "Life After China," and the writer has lately been posting about his going back into Chinese language classes and the struggles (or not so much, apparently) that it entails. Some stuff he's way beyond, some stuff he doesn't know, and that's life, yeah? We know and we don't know. Anyway....

I'm pretty much decided on going back to Lanzhou for a couple of weeks (or maybe longer - I've been invited to visit several people's homes We'll see how the money holds out. I've got to have some for back home, too!)

This has really spurred me on getting my language skills back up and running. The past week or so, I've been really hitting it hard, and it's been fun! I'm making a video of me speaking Chinese and introducing my hometown to my Chinese friends, which will make it up onto here once I get it done and edited.

One thing that I've just started doing that I didn't hear Marcus talk about was utilize QQ - it's a Chinese online chatting program kind of like AIM and MySpace combined, along with many other features. I get chatting with a buddy in Chinese and if I don't know a word, I use Google Translate. *cheating, I know*

DON'T STOP THERE! What I've started to do is save the conversations by pasting them onto Pages/Microsoft Word, printing them out, and translating the conversations and reading them aloud, including what I didn't know. Example of part of my conversation:

Xia Fei  22:50:48
Austin (李强)  22:51:19
Austin (李强)  22:51:24
Xia Fei  22:51:30
Xia Fei  22:51:39
Austin (李强)  22:52:13
Xia Fei  22:52:39
Austin (李强)  22:53:04
Austin (李强)  22:53:15
Xia Fei  22:53:24
Xia Fei  22:53:29
Austin (李强)  22:53:30

There's a double advantage to this - you can practice your reading and vocab, but also simulate a REAL conversation that you just had! It's not one of those stupid "Can you fix my tire" dialogues, or whatever. It's a native speaker and you talking. Sure, the "proper grammar" may or may not be present, but it's how people really talk, and that's what matters on the streets. It'll get you more comfortable talking and getting into the lingual mindset. The best part is, you'll never run out of material as long as you've got friends!

Part 2: The Other Stuff!

Today is actually my one-year anniversary of leaving the U.S. to go to China. It's been a, who knew that I'd be doing and thinking this kind of stuff a year from today? I dunno...I think I had an inkling, but only that.

As I get farther and farther away from my China experience, time-wise, the memories of small things have begun to fad - the names of my favorite restaurants, names of acquaintances, and some of the more useless Chinese haha.

But seriously, it just reminds me of one thing - life goes on. It just does. Time will pass and memories will fade. It's just the nature of life. Life is fleeting - we need to live it the best we can and not shut ourselves out of new people and experiences.

When I get back to Lanzhou this summer, I may look for a job teaching or tutoring. We'll see how it plays out - I can't wait to get back into the ever-changing, crazy, awkward, difficult, and intensely fulfilling life in China!


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Friday, February 10, 2012

Double Happiness: The Shuang Xi

First off - I've put up a cool new menu that you can browse through my various pages, such as Photos, About Me, and Links. I'll be tweaking it over the coming days, so keep checking it out!


One of the cool things about China is that over its long history, a great wealth of myths, legends, and stories exist within the fabric of everyday life. One such example is the Shuang Xi (双喜), which means "Double Happiness".

"Shuang" means "a pair" of something, and "xi" means "like" or "happiness".

The actual character looks like this: 喜喜
You'll see it a lot when people get married. They've got it up on their door, their car, the gate to their apartment building - everywhere! It's a symbol of good luck, but it has a really cool story behind it.

So, here goes:
In the Tang Dynasty, there was a student who was going to the capital to go to take the national final examinations, after which the top scorers would be selected as the ministers in the court. Unfortunately, as he passed through a mountain village on the way, he fell ill. Thanks to a herbalist doctor and his daughter, he recovered quickly due to their good care. When he had to leave, he found it hard to say good-bye to the pretty girl, and she felt the same way. They fell in love and decided to get married after his examination. The girl wrote down the right hand part of an antithetical couplet for the student to match after he finished and returned from the examination to marry her.
"Green trees against the sky in the spring rain while the sky set off the spring trees in the obscuration."
In the examination, the student won first place, and was recognized by the emperor. He was then interviewed and tested by the emperor. As luck would have it, he was asked by the emperor to finish a couplet, which needed its other half to be completed by the student. The emperor wrote:
"Red flowers dot the land in the breeze's chase while the land colored up in red after the kiss."

Suddenly, the young boy remembered what his young love had written for him. Realizing that it was perfect answer to the emperor’s couplet, he answered the emperor with her words. The emperor was more than happy with his reply, and appointed him as a minister in the court. He also permitted the boy some time to visit his hometown before assuming the office. The young boy went straight to the young girl and told her everything about the examination. 

He kept his promise to her, and they got married. On their wedding day, both of them wrote the same right half of a couplet, which had kept them together, as well as the character for happiness, 喜. This is how the double happiness character came to be. 

Now this character is used on just about everything connected with marriage, and is also used in other random ways such as Shuang Xi cigarettes and the subject of films. It's one of the things that a person living in China cannot ignore - it's simply everywhere. 

This is one of the things I love about China - you can be walking along and see something on someone's car, and say, "What's that character?" -- "Oh, that's such-and-such, it comes from a classical Chinese legend that says such-and-such, and to this day, we commemorate it in such-and-such way." That just blows me away - floors me every time. 

To have a culture so steeped in tradition, where everything hums with meaning, is something that I cannot get over. The expats and old China hands who live in the "developed" regions of China are laughing their asses off, because that's not the way it is in their part of the country. In the Northwest - in Gansu, tradition is still very much alive and well, and the tradition of China is what I fell in love with and still love to this day. 


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(from May 2011) Thoughts From Jinchang

(Oddly enough, this post has been jerked out if its place in my blog chronology to its current spot. It's from May 2011, but it somehow got moved to Feb. 2012)


Hey, it's been a while, but I thought I'd share a few things with you that I thought were pretty profound (or at least worthy of a pause).

I was in Jinchang a couple of weeks ago with my friend Charles (the video is done, but I'm having a hard time uploading it) and saw a sign that really made me think.

Basically translated into English, it meant "the earth is surrounded by your beauty". It really gave me pause, and here's why. The usual perspective on the earth and humanity seems to reflect the idea that the Earth is pure and without evil/sin/whatever you want to call it, while man is a 'fallen creature' or an evolved species that has a lot of problems.

While it is certainly true that humanity has its evil side and that we are capable of terrible things, we cannot forget the beauty that we find inside ourselves. Besides being nice to look at (some of us), humanity can do and has done a lot of beautiful things for each other - from a surprise party to treating a spouse/significant other to a romantic dinner, putting aside one's own desires to see the happiness in the face of another, the smile of a kid who has just been given a new puppy to hold....

There are so many beautiful things about life itself. Whether life arose out of chance or given to us by a Creator, we cannot ignore that fact that life is precious and what makes it beautiful is the essence of the fact that it can end at any time. I am so happy that I have had this opportunity to meet great new friends, new teachers, and see new places with their respective cultures. This trip has really given me a perspective on the sheer variety of ways people are pursuing or have found their happiness.

Like that line from "The Bucket List" - "Find the joy in your life". 

The pursuit of selflessness, willingness to help others, fit in, and truly be content may be a long journey at times, but being in that place where you are fully content with your life is worth the hardship, the struggle, the awkwardness, and the pain. I believe I have finally arrived at that place in my heart where I feel like I don't really need anything else - I really feel like I'm happy. Just content and willing to share my happiness with the world.

Find the joy in your life. Find your passion and what you care about and let others in to see it. Life is too precious and too short to keep yourself hidden. Surround the earth with your beauty.

That's what I've been thinking about these past two weeks or so. Sorry if it was cheesy or whatever, but to me it has been truly profound. I wish I could actually write well.


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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blog Tweaks, The General's Belly, and More!

Maybe you've noticed, or you haven't, but I've tweaked the page a little bit - I've moved around my Twitter feed, added some links to related posts, added a mobile version and a visitor map, and tweaked a few colors and stuff like that. Anyway, that's not terribly important, but anyway, just thought I'd let you know that I'm keeping up with maintenance.

Any suggestions for how I should change the page? Make it somehow more interactive or media friendly? Leave in comments!

Also, I finished "Fried Eggs With Chopsticks," and my verdict is that if you've never lived in China and are planning to undertake a tour kind of like hers, then this is a good book for you.

It's clever, funny, and really easy to read. Although, I have to admit, I was kind of annoyed at her during a lot of the book because it seems like she didn't prepare her language skills at all for the trip she was going to take in the interior of China by herself. You don't do that in China. It gives everybody a headache. I met a lot of people when I was in Lanzhou and in other places in China, and it annoyed me because they didn't know how things worked and weren't really bothering to try very hard to adapt to the culture and language. They were just trying to push their American ways onto the Chinese and expecting them to understand and deal with it, and getting pissed off when the Chinese people didn't understand. I was working my butt off to not do that, so it was pretty annoying to see her to that whenever she did. Anyway, rant done.

Anyway, on to the matter at hand, which is some interesting stuff I learned in the past couple of day, which include, but not limited to, the following stuff.

So, sometimes when you're walking along the street, particularly in the Northwest, I've noticed, you'll see dudes standing on the streets with their no shirts on or with shirts pulled up to just above their pudgy stomachs.

Yeah, not the prettiest picture, but I guarantee you that you will see it if you do any extensive traveling in China.

This is called The General's Belly. As you know, China has a history of famine and people going hungry, so a fat guy was pretty rare and was considered a symbol of wealth, just like in many other countries. It was a rarity in those times, but today they can be seen everywhere! Hooray!.........wait, no. It's great that fewer people are going hungry, but I don't know if I really want to be confronted with the naked pudgy truth just yet.

Another thing that I read about was that, according to the China Daily and Chinese National Bureau of Statistics, by 2006, the average person in Shanghai owned two mobile phones, 1.7 air conditioners, 1.7 color TVs, more than one fridge, and had a bigger carbon footprint than the entire UK. - from When a Billion Chinese Jump 

Talk about freaking development - if that's right, it seems like those Shanghai people are living it up more than Americans!

Next up, the world's oldest trees!

That's right, the oldest species of tree, if I am correct, is the Ginkgo, which comes from, you guessed it, China! Here's a couple of links to it: here and here.

Apparently the species has survived for something around 200 freaking million years!!! That's pretty bad*ss, if I do say so myself.

And lastly, the town of Dingxi (pron. "Deeng Shee")looks like a person!

I dunno.....I was talking to a friend of mine about her hometown of Dingxi, which is a city in central Gansu Province, and I looked it up on Wikipedia while I was chatting with her, and... 


Looks like a freaking person doing some stretch or Olympic pose or something like that.

There's nothing really deep there, I just thought I'd point it out to you.

Okay, so that's the end of the post!


- "Wait, what? That's it? A couple of freaking facts and that's it?! What a jip!! Freaking cheat!!"

 - "Okay, hold on, I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation of why.....go ahead, what's up with that? Is that really the end of the post?"

...Yeah, sorry about that. Be back soon with something better, hopefully!

"Yeah, it'd better be good! Or we're leaving!"

Geez, okay.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Look At Chinese Cities

I've been looking at my traffic sources, and it seems like a lot of people are interested in Chinese cities. Most people that end up stumbling across my blog seem to do so in search of a few answers to questions like:

"Are Chinese cities overcrowded?"

"Are Chinese cities polluted?"

"Are Chinese cities ugly?"

------Yeah, are Chinese cities ugly.....well, okay then. I'll just talk about Chinese cities in general, I guess.

A "normal Chinese city", whatever that is, is usually going to be bigger and made up of more skyscrapers and multi-story buildings than most American (or Western, if you're not American) cities.

They'll be more compact, convenient, but a little drab. Most Chinese buildings are pretty much the same dull grey concrete color, so it's kind of dull, but at night, they light up pretty good!

This is Shanghai, so it's a bit over the top, but you get what I'm saying. Most cities aren't quite this crazy, but there's considerably more neon in the average Chinese city than the their Western counterparts.

(When I talk about Western/American cities, I don't mean huge cities like Chicago/L.A./New York/D.C.. I'm talking about the average, below 1 million population cities in America)

Yeah, it's pretty crazy, but that's just the way cities in China look.

I gotta say, the night life in a mid-sized to big city in China is pretty awesome -there are night markets all over the place, karaoke bars, regular bars, clubs, and all kinds of cool stuff to do. And because of the design of the cities, they're often pretty close to each other, which brings me to my next point: the design of Chinese cities.

The Chinese have pretty much mastered the art of building megacities.

This is Lanzhou - a city of about 3.4 million people and the capital of Gansu Province. It's where I lived for 6 months.

When Americans (at least those of us who grew up in suburbia) see cities like this, we get really, really freaked out. We think "how can people live like that?? There's so many people!!"
Well, that's kind of deceptive. Yeah, there's a lot of big buildings, but you've got to understand that somewhere around 1/4 of them are apartment buildings of some kind (at least in Lanzhou). The Chinese have realized that building up is better than building out. It may look scary, but it's really not.

I noticed that the cities I've visited/lived in in China is that cities are organized into districts, with each district capable of serving itself

At one point, I noticed I had lived in Lanzhou for about 3 or 4 months and had hardly seen any of the city, because all of my needs were satisfied in the area surrounding my campus. I started to get out and about, and I noticed that that was true for the other parts of the city. You can find all you need within the different areas of the city. There are shops for everyday needs, food, snacks, and fun everywhere, so you can get pretty much everything you need in a 10 minute walk or a 10 minute bus ride.

This way of making cities is pretty green, like Jonathan Watts mentions in his book "When A Billion Chinese Jump". It encourages people to walk or take public transportation, although a lot of people do try to buy cars. Instead of 1,000 people commuting to work in 1,000 cars, 950 might take the bus or walk while 50 take their own cars. Also, you can put more people in a smaller space, which frees up more land for farming or parks or wilderness - farming is the most important one in China.

(Right: A street in Beijing close to Lishi Hutong, February 2011. Below: A Chinese-like street somewhere in America)

Besides being the slightest bit greener, it makes life really convenient and cheaper. I would trade in my car right this minute if I could have a well-developed transit system in Texas' cities. It's just so much cheaper.

However, I don't think many Texans would agree with me. Oh well.

Visiting and living in these huge, tall, closed-in Chinese cities has forever changed the way I view America's cities.

This is Dallas, Texas, where I live and work (I split my time between Tyler and Dallas). Here’s the skyline. That’s it. Just that. 

You're in and out of it in less than an hour if you take one of the main avenues. 

And that scares the crap of the small town natives of Texas.

Now compare Dallas and Beijing’s skylines. There's a freakin huge difference. 

This is just one part. You could do a 360 and see this view on every side. You're totally closed in by this monstrous city of roughly 19 million people. 

When you’re in downtown Beijing, it goes on forever and forever and forever - it takes hours to get out of Beijing’s downtown area - not because of traffic, but size. 

One thing that I never really noticed until I was back in the States was that I hardly ever got a glimpse of uninterrupted sky when I was in China. Sometimes I'd go to the top of a mountain and be able to see the uninterrupted sky, but most of the time other mountains would get in the way. It's weird to think about it, but it's true. 

Here, in Texas, especially in the Fort Worth area, I can get a full helping of sky because of the openness of the land. It's not better or worse - I'm not judging China or anything. It's just different. I had a better picture to exemplify the openness, but I can't find it at the moment. Oh, well....

That's probably the single biggest thing that has changed within me personally - I will never see cities in the same light again after living in China. America's suburban sprawl compared to China's urban skyscrapers has really changed my view of what a "big" city is. It has also changed my view on urban smog and pollution. I never really noticed smog and pollution in America before I saw the heavy urban smog of China, but that's a whole other post, and I've done that before, check it out here. My experience has made me appreciate America's small towns more and see American cities through a different lens.  

There are so many things that are different between China's cities and America's cities. It's hard, nay, nigh impossible to list all of the differences because the concept of a 'city' encompasses so many different factors. Well, this is a start, and hopefully this will satisfy some people's curiosity. We'll see! 

I'll try to be back soon with a more introspective and interesting post soon! 
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