Friday, November 25, 2005

Disturbing News for Nigerians

Disclaimer: The following statements may be construed as nothing more than hearsay. All information has been provided via second- and third-hand accounts, and all involved parties' views are not represented. The following information is provided solely for interest purposes.

A few days ago, I found out that a friend of an acquaintance was being detained in Chinese prison. My acquaintance's friend, who I will call Person X for reasons of anonymity, was arrested last weekend by the Chinese authorities.

I've just recently in light of this event become somewhat familiar with the tensions between China and Nigeria. From what I've gathered so far, China is having a difficult time entering the Nigerian market, and Nigerians are having trouble getting their visas renewed while in China. There is no official prohibition of the renewal of visas for Nigerian passports on record in China. However, those Nigerians detained and those speaking on their behalf suggest that the practice of denying visa renewal is in place, and is linked to the market struggles China is having with Nigeria.

According to my acquaintance, who talked to Person X after his arrest, Person X recently attempted to renew his visa, and was denied the renewal. Last weekend, Person X was in the home of his host family when Chinese authorities arrived. Person X's host family allegedly locked Person X into the house while awaiting the arrival of the authorities. According to my acquaintance, Person X alleges that he was beaten, strip searched, and arrested.

Person X was given one phone call, and he used it to call my acquantance. He explained the situation to my acquaintance, and told her to call a man named Mr. Wu for information on his release. My acquaintance called Mr. Wu, and he explained that if he was given 2000 USD, Person X could be released.

Calls have been made to the Nigerian embassy, to Person X's family, and again to Mr. Wu. So far, nothing has been done to expedite his release. My acquaintance explained that there is a good chance that Person X will have to spend up to 3 months in prison if the money is not raised.

The arrest was allegedly for the violation of visa laws. As far as my sources know, Person X has committed no other crimes. Nigerian friends of Person X are outraged, and according to my acquaintance, also fearing the same fate as Person X. To view a discussion forum of similar incidents, click here.

A Thanksgiving Story

thanksgiving dinner

I feared that this Thanksgiving would be a terribly sad one, with no family and no big dinners. Good friends make missing home a little easier to bear, though.

A Thanksgiving Story

an american, eating not mashed potatoes

It was a sad Thanksgiving, indeed. An American in Beijing - the only American in her class - had to attend 4 hours of Chinese instruction on Thanksgiving morning. Her classmates and teachers commented on how sad she looked. "It's Thanksgiving in America," she said.

She had Chinese food for breakfast, and Japanese food for lunch. She had a snack of a sesame bun filled with red bean paste. "What are these things?" she wondered. These are not mashed potatoes! This sign is not in English. For one day, I want to be home."

an american, eating not turkey

The Americans in Beijing were sad this day. There were so few of them, and so few turkeys available in the restaurants. The only turkeys were the 400 imported from America by one restaurant owner, and those were all reserved by greedy expatriates with excellent foresight.

The Americans roamed the streets of Beijing, searching for something to remind them of home. They were on a pilgrimage.

construction worker, carving not turkey

Everyone around the sad Americans was oblivious to the sadness they felt. People went to work, construction continued, and vendors remained true to their daily shouts of, "Hey! Friend! Come here and you look!"

What a lonely state it was indeed.

sweet mana!

But hope was not lost for the young Americans! On their pilgrimage, they collected savory ingredients for a humble feast: potatoes, garlic, chives, yoghurt, and spices. They also gathered the tools for preparing the feast: two wooden spoons, two knives, and a large bowl.

preparations for the humble feast

The Americans washed the potatoes with care and cut them for the boiling. They peeled garlic while discussing the land they left behind.

an american, toiling

And how the Americans did toil in preparation for the feast. Using rudimentary tools found in their still strange new land, they adapted and worked to create a food that could comfort both their stomachs and hearts.

mashed potatoes

At last, after much toiling, the Americans achieved the mashed potatoes. There was much rejoicing and tasting of the goods.

rejoicing pilgrim, eating mashed potatoes

And Sister Hillary did rejoice and eat the mashed potatoes.

rejoicing pilgrims, eating mashed potatoes

And Brother Donny and Brother Gene did rejoice and eat the mashed potatoes.

And the pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving in a new land. They were greatly contented by their feast, and spread joy and fellowship to all they encountered.

The End

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Recent Lack of Posts

I offer my apologies for the recent lack of posts. I've partially not felt like mentioning anything lately, partially not had time to mention anything, and partially not had the energy to mention anything.

For a short recap of missed events:

Thursday: I went with Donny and Gene to BLCU's annual beauty pageant. We seemed to be the only foreigners there. My language partner told me about it. It was funny to see that instead of falling back on "world peace" as an answer during the interview round, the girls instead used the 2008 Olympics to cover their blunders.


Friday: I got food poisoning from a dented can of milk tea. I realized all of this after the fact when I thought about what I ate during the day. You can say, "Why did you buy a dented can? What were you thinking?" I can tell you that I was thinking that alot of things are dented when you buy them here, that's what. I didn't realize it was milk tea until halfway through drinking it, anyway.

I also went out to dinner with my classmates Friday. I only ate a bowl of rice because of the food poisoning; it would have been impolite for me to not go at all. I got to witness how quickly just a little bit of alcohol affected one of my Thai classmates after a few toasts. I got use new vocabulary for this occasion, actually. "Ganqing you, cha dang jiu," which means, roughly, "Please let me substitute tea for alcohol for this toast."

korean food

I went to sleep around 10pm Friday, and then...

Saturday: I woke up finally at 5.30pm. I was pretty sure the food poisoning was through, so I kept my appointment with Donny, Gene, and Yuko to go out for a while around 10pm.

yuko and donny

I've been feeling sick off and on lately. That's a big part of why I haven't been updating. I know I don't have bird flu, though, because I'm a vegetarian. I'll try to get better, and then get better about keeping this thing updated.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Visa Information

I think that this is awesome. I'm considered an alien resident of China. Do you know what that means? Northwest Airlines visa information does.

"National U.S.A. (US)
Residence CHINA (PEOPLE'S REP.) (CN)
Embarkation U.S.A. (US)
Destination CHINA (PEOPLE'S REP.) (CN)


Passport required.

Visa not required if holding residence permit.

Validity of the residence permit ranges from 1 to 5 years,
provided passport is not expired."

That's right. I get in with just my passport. I wonder if they'll let me go through the Chinese line at border control. That would be so cool. Really, this is kind of awesome for me. I feel like I almost have dual citizenship. I'm going to have to try to be an alien resident of other places my whole life.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Back to My Childhood Roots

I bought a novel today while at a bookstore nearby. It's become my project to read it. I know it's too difficult for my current comprehension level, but I still want to try. I recall doing this same thing with a T.S. Eliot book when I was young. I just kept reading, and even though I'm sure I didn't understand much of it, I think it probably helped me in the long run. I'm hoping the same thing for this book.

I Got to Use Chinese for Something Useful!

I've been trying to track down plane tickets to the states for my winter break. Originally, I was not going to come home for the whole year, but I recently decided that I really want to visit. So I searched on an amazing website ( for fares originated in Beijing. I was shocked at what I found: roundtrips to Chicago for roughly 700 USD. I couldn't believe it. Andrew was searching from the states, and the best he could find was about 900 USD. The myth of cheap plane tickets in China was true!

The deal with the fare was that either I or a travel agent had to contact Northwest to purchase the tickets. I tried, but the only fare they'd give me was 925 USD. Then I called a travel agent. She still hasn't gotten back to me. So today I decided that since I had some free time I'd look on my own again. I took a chance on Northwest's Chinese site. I searched in Chinese, read fare rules in Chinese, found my itinerary in Chinese, and started the purchasing process in Chinese. I understood everything. I couldn't believe it.

I also didn't really trust myself, so I was planning to have either Jenny or James look it over for me. I had to get it done quickly, though, because I saw in the fare rules that this fare was ending at midnight tonight. Then I saw at the top of the page that there was an English version of the site. That option wasn't available on the main page, I don't think. So I clicked and double-checked to make sure I understood everything. It turns out that I was right about everything; so, I bought the ticket.

I'm going to be in the states from February 8 until the morning of February 24. I'm excited! Not only do I get to visit home, but I just had confirmed that I know alot more Chinese than I thought I did.

Upcoming Construction

I walked into the utility area of my floor's bathroom tonight - the part with the nonfunctional washer and the utility sink - and heard water running or dripping. I couldn't tell which it really was. So I looked at all of the faucets, and none of them had water coming out. I looked more carefully and saw that there was water all over the mirror above the sink. I looked further up and saw that there was water rushing from the ceiling. That thing is about to cave under all of the water pressure, and it isn't going to be pretty. I bet it will be fixed quickly, though. The rate at which construction is completed here puts the best companies in the states to shame, as long as you're not focusing on things like building codes at the standards of those in the states.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Translation Difficulties

I've been freaking out for the past 15 minutes. Some people from IU requested my attendance at some kind of reception in Beijing tonight. I asked them to send me the characters for the hotel's name so I could properly communicate with the cab driver. They, however, only sent me the pinyin, without tones. This is essentially like sending a word scramble to someone as a reply to an email; it's not helpful, and it's going to take alot of guesswork to get things right.

Well, I don't have time for guesswork right now. I need to shower, get dressed, and get myself in a cab early to hunt this place down. I, of course, turned to the internet to help me in my search. They told me the name of my destination is the Capital Hotel on East Qianmen Street. They didn't tell me the district, but the street is helpful. I searched for the Capital Hotel on google, and I had many hits. The problem, however, was that all of the sites were geared toward English-speaking foreigners, meaning that there were no characters to be found on the sites.

I got to the last page and found a pixelated version of the hotel's logo. The characters I thought I was seeing matched the pinyin I was sent in the email, so I searched with those characters in google. Lo and behold, it was the correct hotel. So the issue here is that the names are different in the two languages.

English - Capital Hotel
Chinese- Capital Big Alcohol Store

This is going to be a strange night. I already know it. If there's baijiu, I'm out of there.

I looked up "jiudian" in the dictionary, by the way, and it means hotel. Jiudian could also be alcohol store, but I was just unaware of the other meaning. Even still, it made for a comical search.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Unattainable Beauty Standards

this makes me angry

I bought this today specifically for the purpose of being able to photograph it and put it here. Cameras aren't allowed in the store.

Anyway, this little mask set is what i have been looking for to sum up the possibly irrational anger I have about the idealization of being white that I have encountered. Chinese, Korean, and Japanese girls compliment me on my skin all the time because I'm really pale, and that's apparently beautiful to them. There are whitening creams sold to dye people's skin lighter tints. When you combine this with the surgery to get the eyelid folds, it's enough to make me want to start bashing heads in.

It's all to "make you more perfect," just as this box says. Why is "perfect" some ethnic ideal? Why, after I look at a product in a store, do Chinese girls go right to it and look at it, too? Why are people not content with who they are?

This is something that's really bothering me.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

119! Fire Precautions!

A man who I assume works in my dorm came to my door today to give me a paper about fire prevention. While it's a good idea to have everyone aware of danger, perhaps they could not hang long, flammable curtains that hang onto the radiators in our rooms. Anyway, the English version of what he handed me went as follows:

Dear interational students,
The winter is coming and it is becoming less rainy, and drier, therefore a little carelessness may cause first. December 9th is the legal day in China for fire precaustion, so we call your attention to the following:
1. To use the qualified wires, plugs, and sockets, and high-powered electric appliance is not allowed in the dormitory. do remember to tru noff the power before leaving the room;
2. No depositing the flammable, explosive and virulent substances in the dormitory;
3. Take care when smoking or lighting candles;
4. No destroying or moving the fire facilities.
Best wishes!
-Department of International Students

So, how big of a problem are fires here? This is something I've been wondering for a while now. I lie in my bed and wonder what I'm going to do when my curtains catch fire. What would I take? The obvious answer is my computer. The computer is my photo album, and I'm definitely a person who would grab that first in a fire. I guess if I had time, I'd probably grab my passport, too. Who am I kidding? I'd probably go for my camera first.

P.S. The 119 in the title is the phone number for emergencies.

Monday, November 07, 2005

More Cultural Notes

Today I ran into a guy from the states that I met in the first few days here, and he asked me about how my teacher is presenting our book's materials. We continued talking, and got on the topic of how we speak foreigner Chinese. We're both a bit frustrated with the fact that neither of us knows enough about idioms to be able to speak like a native.

Idioms are really important in this language, I'm finding. I'm sure my teachers have stressed this in the past, but living here has really driven the point home for me. The idioms reveal alot about the culture, I think. The one I learned today is one that you can use while at a restaurant. Let's say you've ordered some soup. The server brings you soup, but no bowls, and no spoons. What you would say in that situation (translated) is:

"You married me, but you didn't give me any children."

With every text I read for class and every thing like the above I hear, I understand more and more the amount of pressure there is to get married and have children. It's not just something that parents and relatives nag people about; it's a pervasive social expectation. I think it's probably there in the states, too, but I'm much more oblivious to it there.

I learn alot from reading my lesson texts. When my teachers actually expound upon the lessons' content, things get even more interesting. Today, for instance, we learned the word for "betray." Someone in class made a mention of Yuan Shikai, and my teacher had a short rant about him. She said it with such bitterness, too.

"We say that Yuan Shikai was far too happy to be the leader. He laughed and laughed about it, and then he laughed himself right to death. Yuan Shikai betrayed China."

This is the kind of stuff I feel like I could never learn in the states, and that's a big reason why I'm so grateful to be studying here for a long time.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Wu Yue Tian! (Mayday!)

Tonight Donny, Gene, Sammi, and I went to see Wu Yue Tian on their Final Home Tour at Beijing Worker's Stadium. Wu Yue Tian is a really popular band from Taiwan, and their name in English is Mayday. I was most excited to be attending this concert not to see the band, but rather to watch the audience. I didn't know this band's music very well ahead of time, and about half of the songs I heard were in Taiwanese, so I couldn't have understood them anyway. I just really want to see what Beijing concert-goers were going to be like.

group and audience
(Photo credit: Donny Newman)

The audience showed its enthusiasm in the form of thousands of glowsticks distributed amongst the stadium. Instead of dancing, people waved the glowsticks in the air to the beat. The glowsticks added to the already overstimulating display of lights around the stage. Don't get me wrong, I mean overstimulating in a good way here. It was great to look at everything, but I'd be lying if I said that it couldn't give someone seizure. The stage had three screens on the backdrop; one was to show the people on stage, and the other two were mainly present for the purpose of putting the words on the screen. It looked a bit like karaoke with a live band from this standpoint.

sparkle fanfare
(Photo credit: Gene Young)

There were a few things about the concert that didn't register quite right with me. With one exception, I got over those things quickly after I realized that I was incorrect in expecting something cohesive. There were three or four costume changes for the entire band. Also, during one song, two lions, five or so nurses, and three fifties-styled dancers came on stage to do some choreography. I understand that Benq was sponsoring the concert, but I don't know why they sent out lions with their company's name written on their bellies to dance. I expected ads, but not like that. Also, the audience didn't clap. There was screaming and banging of glow sticks, but not really any clapping. And the screaming died down almost immediately after songs ended.

benq lion
(Photo credit: Donny Newman)

Furthermore, there were about five heartfelt speeches interspersed throughout the concert. One of them was the drummer asking his girlfriend to marry him. Then, the one about the singer's dead grandmother made the entire stadium cry, except for the three foreigners who looked at each other incredulously. The guy started talking about how his grandmother had reached her final home, and when he talked about the different family members who were there to watch the concert, he mentioned that he was pretty sure his grandmother was there, too.

All of the sudden, the scene shifted for me, and I got an entirely different view of the situation I was in. There was soft piano music in the background while one man with a spotlight on him talked about his dead grandmother. There had been screens up with words on them so everyone could sing along to their songs. People had their open hands in the air and were crying. I was in what US News once described as a "mega church." I've been to a few of those services, and it looked just like a huge scale one. Keep in mind, however, that it only looked like one; the spoken content had no religious context.

end of show
(Photo credit: Gene Young)

I think that for a large number of the people at that concert, seeing Wu Yue Tian was an intensely spiritual experience. Watching this all unfold before me with the church service idea in my head, the reasoning behind the CCP's keeping missionaries out of the country became increasingly clear to me. The government views huge religious groups as a threat to maintaining power and stability. If a huge group of evangelical Christian missionaries came here with services similar to that concert, I think people would be really apt to going to the services. That kind of service could attract a huge number of people. Whether or not you agree with what the government's position is, you certainly can acknowledge their insight in this situation.

All told, I think this was a really interesting experience.

Friday, November 04, 2005


I just finished my last exam of midterm week. It's difficult for me to guess how I did on them. They weren't as difficult as I was expecting them to be, but I still know that I made alot of mistakes. The good thing, I suppose, is that I know what alot of them were, and I know what the answers should have been.

Granted, knowing my mistakes after the fact doesn't remove the damage to my final grade, but it does help my overall learning. I just hope the damage wasn't too great. These exams were 40% of my final grade. The other 60% comes from the final. I'm just happy that I'm in a level that still gives midterms. A couple of my friends in the higher levels take only one test at the end for their entire grade. That would have me nervous.

The first test was the one for my general language class, the one I have every day. I think that one was fairly straightforward. There were sections for choosing correct words for sentences, free responses with given grammar patterns, filling words in the blanks of a story, and writing dialogues based on a few paragraphs of information. I think there were a few more, too, but that test was on Wednesday and I can't remember anymore. The section that usually is the most difficult for me on homework was also the most difficult on the test. That section is the fill-in-the-blank story section. It wasn't bad in the states because we had a word bank for vocabulary. Here, however, we just had to know what should go there.

The second test was the listening test. The speaking speed on the tape was slower than what we're used to, so that made only getting one chance to listen to everything a little easier. There were sections for listening to single sentences, dialogues, a full paragraph, and several paragraphs. The answer sections had multiple choice, true/false, and free responses.

The third test was reading comprehension. It looked alot like the general class test, but with more huge blocks of text. This test had a special part, though, and by "special" I mean "horribly intimidating." Before the main part of the test, we had a 15-minute quick-reading. So given that amount of time, we had to read two different texts that were three or four paragraphs long each, and then answer questions about them. Some of the questions were free response. In preparing for the test, I thought about how long that would take me if I were just doing it for homework, and the answer was that it might take 40 minutes. So for the days before the test, I made myself tear through a bunch of readings. I think it helped.

The final test was my speaking test. This test had three sections. The first was reading a block of text out loud to our teacher. The second was answering questions about any text we had read for class up to that point. Finally, the third was free talking on a topic that we could select out of two listed on the paper we selected at the beginning of the test. I was fine and ready for the test in the five minutes I was given to prepare. However, when it came time to actually talk to my teacher, I got nervous and screwed up the fluidity in my speech to a large extent. She was probably expecting that, but I wanted to do better because I know I can.

We should be finding out the results of the test early next week.

Only in MacGyver's Wildest Dreams

I did laundry yesterday, and this time I did alot more than previous times. Because, as I've mentioned before, I have no access to dryers, I hang dry my clothing. This posed more of a problem than usual yesterday, however, because of the huge number of socks that I had to dry. I used all of my hangers and all of laundry clips already, and still had all the socks left. There was no room on the curtain rod or the hooks around my room.

I looked at two hooks on the two closets in my room. I looked at my desk. I had a solution.

Dental floss.

MacGyver could only dream of this

I fashioned a two-tiered, stable drying rack out the dental floss. Pay no mind to the fact that the entrance/exit to/from my room is blocked. That just gives me more time to study (read: play on the internet). I think all that time I spent building huge spiderwebs out of yarn in my basement as a child finally came into use. I barely had to think about how to do this. As an added bonus, all of my socks are going to have a minty stripe on them.

In other news, the light in my room burned out tonight when I returned from dinner. I am not looking forward to talking to the desk people about this tomorrow. I'm guessing they're going to want to charge me for the light. I'm also predicting that the man who tried to sell me the remote control when I first got here is going to be the one I deal with. So we meet again, my friend. Well, let's see whose Chinese has improved in past two months, shall we?

The question will become, however, do I know how to say "my light bulb is burnt out." It's a tough call, really. I know how to literally translate it, and I know a few ways other than that, but I don't know what the true phrasing for it is. I say, if nothing else works, saying that my light is dead, in the sense that a person or animal is dead, will get my meaning across, and then I can ask what the real phrase is. That's such a fun game to play in Chinese.

In other news still, my friend Ryan passed along an invitation to me and Donny tonight at dinner to an event this weekend. Paraphasing will not do this justice. I think what he said really speaks for itself.

"So, I'm supposed to tell you guys that Pao and a bunch of the Latinos heard about this bungee jumping place about an hour and a half outside the city, and they're planning to go this weekend. It's only 150 kuai."

Donny and I reacted violently, as I hope you can imagine. The idea of bungee jumping anywhere in China seems incredibly unsafe to me. Furthermore, if it only costs 150 kuai (roughly 17 USD), there's no chance that I can believe it's reuptable. And even furthermore, if it's an hour and a half out of the city, it's that much further away from the advanced - I use that term loosely - hospitals in Beijing when everyone dislocates vertebrae and breaks legs. Oh, what a mess that will be. We both basically yelled, "Don't go!" at Ryan.

And finally, tomorrow is my last day of midterm exams. I will touch upon this later. The exams are my reason for not posting in the last few days, however, so I thought it would be best to mention them.