Friday, March 31, 2006


I've been kind of down lately. I'm still not completely over the virus I got at the beginning of last week, so I think that is the main contributing factor. However, I've been generally unmotivated toward studying Chinese because of not being able to concentrate, and not feeling like my work is accomplishing anything.

Tonight, though, I decided to call my friend Zhengfeng in the states. We worked together at IU, and I practiced Mandarin with him during the summer. Since I hadn't talked to anyone who heard me speak Mandarin before entering this program, I thought talking to him might give me an idea of whether or not I've made any significant improvment.

After talking to him, the overwhelming feeling is that I have, in fact, made a huge improvement. That made me feel alot better about continuing my studies here. While talking to him, I remembered a little bit of what I sounded like talking during the summer, and then realized for myself, also, that I've come a long way. Of course, I still have an even longer way until I'm actually good at the language, but at least I know I'm getting somewhere now.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Spring Cleaning

...or "How I Aggravated My Dust Allergies While I Had a Virus."

I've been sick the past couple of days. Getting sick wasn't terribly surprising. The weather's been rather unpredictable of late, and most of my friends have been sick. If one thing didn't get me, something else was going to. I went to the doctor yesterday and found that I have a virus, so there isn't much I can do but rest and take things for my symptoms. I'm doing alot better today, and I thought that I'd be even better if I got some of the dust from Beijing out of my room. That stuff can't be healthy.

So I got a damp cloth and started wiping down my shelves. After only two, the cloth was almost black. I thought that was terrifying. I rinsed it off in a water basin, and the water turned black. I did some more shelves, and it was digusting. I've cleaned those things so many times. How is this possible? I went and changed the water because it was useless.

After changing the water, I went to open the window to let some "fresh" air in, and circulate the sick air out. My windowsill always has a bit of dust on it, so I decided to take the cloth to it. I don't think I've ever been so repulsed by mere dust. Actually, that's just the thing - this was no mere dust. This was what seemed to be 20 years worth of structural, sentimental dust. There is dust holding up this building. This room was not cleaned for 20 years before I came here. I wiped down the screen of my window, and there were streaks of visibility as I worked.

This wasn't just one wipe and the dust is gone kind of cleaning, either. I kept going back to the windowsill, and more dust kept coming off. I'm going after my windows next, because I bet I'll get about 20% more light in here.

Beijing is really dirty. There is dust flying around everywhere, and lately, there's sand, too. The sandstorms have begun. I had a feeling they were here other day when there were strong winds and more debris than usual in my eyes, but that was confirmed by my Beijing native friend. She said that it was a mild one, though. That's great.

Gas masks can be sent to:

Hillary Demmon
Beijing Language and Culture University
15 Xueyuan Rd
Haidian District, Beijing, PRC 100083

Saturday, March 18, 2006


A little bit ago, I decided to multi-task and run over to the bank. I've been wanting to get some running in lately, so this seemed like a good time because the bank is far enough away for a good, short run. However, after about five minutes of running, something seemed to be going wrong. I had this strange tickle in my throat. Three minutes after that, I felt like I wasn't getting enough oxygen. By the time I got to the bank, my lungs hurt.

I'm not terribly out of shape, and it hasn't been that long since I last went running, but the little bit of running I did made me feel terrible. Usually after I run, I feel refreshed and good. Right now, I feel like I have asthma. I'm still coughing. The thing is, I wasn't even tired from running. My body could have kept going, but my lungs and throat couldn't. I feel like I just smoked 80 cigarettes at once. On top of it, today was a low pollution index day. I could see the blue in the sky.

My friend Stefanie has been trying to start running lately, too, but she's been having to take hits off of her inhaler immediately upon her return. And she didn't have an inhaler before she got to Beijing.

How are the Olympics going to be held in this city?!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Filing Taxes from China

"Just e-file, it's so easy!"

This may be true for many, but it is not in my case. Granted, it is the best option I have for filing my taxes from here if I ever want my information to reach the IRS; however, I will not call it easy. Or rather, I will not call it simple. It's still pretty easy, but it's kind of time-consuming the way I have to do this.

I'm getting a refund this year, so I would like it to be directly deposited into my bank account. I live on different business hours than people in the states, so when I didn't know my routing number and didn't have any checks to reference, I thought I'd look at my bank's website and get the answers. I was quickly reminded of how useless my bank's website is, and couldn't find the routing number anywhere. Then I tried my other bank's website. Nothing. So I wrote my mother an email and waited the couple of hours it took for her to wake up for the day and write me back. Then I returned to filing my taxes.

I was almost done and ready to e-file, but then there was something about an electronic signature that was being mentioned for the first time. It's very easy, you know. You just have to get last year's tax documents, find your adjusted gross income, or AGI as the tax people call it, and put that information in with the electronic signature. Oh yeah. No problem. Let me just pull out last year's tax documents that I brought with me to China...

...oh wait. I didn't bring them. What was I thinking! Of course I need to bring last year's tax documents with me while studying abroad. After a similar sarcastic outburst in my room, I looked into the other options for getting the signature taken care of and my taxed filed. The other option was to sign a piece of paper and mail it in. However, with that option, I'm right back where I started with not being sure if it will ever get to the IRS because I'm dealing with China Post here. Also, I don't have the luxury of a convenient printer here.

I read some more fine print about the electronic signature, and I found that I can call the IRS to get my AGI. Ah, now there's some thinking. I was happy to see that TurboTax Online wasn't comprised of a bunch of hacks, and that they actually knew what they were doing. So I set up Skype, put my headphones on, and called the IRS.

"We're sorry. Due to current technical difficulties, we are unable to answer your call at this time."

At what time? Tax time? I called within your business hours, Mr. IRS. Pick up your phone.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Why I Should Be a Translator

Today we will be taking a short, visual tour of why I should be hired to do translation from Chinese into English. The first product is below.

teeth-grinding sticks

I saw this box of teeth-grinding sticks in the grocery store I frequent. Of course, seeing the name of the product, I immediately picked up the box to read about what it was. I saw the English first, and then read the Chinese. Of course, they're teething cookies for babies, but let me tell you what the side of the box said in English. (Spacing and spelling errors are intentional.).

Yantai Baby-joy Group company,which is specialized in producing babies and children's food, has rich experience more than 50 years.We add Xylitol in new teeth-grinding sticks,so the product is specially designed for growing milk-teeth babies.Grinding and protecting the teeth,the teeth will be more healthy!

Characteristics of the Baby-joy teeth-grinding sticks biscuit:

- It is suitable for growing milk-teeth baby.
- Moderate hardness makes baby's teeth comfortable,at the same time, it can temper baby's chewing ability.
- Finger-shaped stick helps to temper baby's grabbing ability.
- No pigment, no preservatives.

Eating method:

- Let baby sit on and you must be on the scene.
- Wash baby's hands, let himseld sieze teeth-grinding sticks, grinding his teeth slowly.

I am tempted to write Yantai Baby-joy Group to tell them two things: 1) I am willing to translate for them, and 2) their teeth-grinding sticks taste terrible, and they did not grind my teeth one bit.

The second thing I'd like to show is a t-shirt I bought yesterday. For this, I would like to not hire better translators. This kind of thing makes me feel like I'm in China, and the convoluted English is part of the charm.

radic shirt

If you can't see clearly what is written on the shirt, it is:


The Brilliant Environment Which Is Always Lively

Chimp & Giant

The Impact That Electrity Is Flow Away
live happily and pleasantly

Feel The Vibes
There Is Amusement Of Sincerity In The Minor World, And There Is Actual Freedom

The strangest part of this is that I feel like I understand this English. I've learned to take alot of English that is never used, and often very wrong, and understand its meaning. I'm getting a second language while living here. The back of the shirt is this:

back of radic shirt

Again, if it isn't clear, it says:


As for the world's being happy, the thing which it has many people know is desirable.

it is pleasant to say that it acts freely about this free world.

That it does. That it does.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Beat Your Kids

In my reading class today, we were reviewing the meaning of a sentence which said, "Anywhere you go, I will find you." Our teacher said that it's the kind of phrase that parents can tell they kids when they're trying to run away from a beating.

She stopped herself there, and said, "I don't know if in your country parents still hit their kids, but in China we still do. It's mostly in the rural areas where they really beat them; but regardless, that's one situation where we can use this grammar."

She went on to explain that, previously in rural areas, if you were a teacher and you didn't hit the kids, people would consider you to be a bad teacher. They would think that you didn't have control over the classroom and that the children didn't respect you. (Note, however, that they're talking about on the hand or some place similarly shocking, but not especially painful.).

Our teacher said, "I know that in places like America, if you hit your kids, they can call the police and get you in trouble, but that isn't the case here. It's part of the tradition here - parents are the authorities. They are allowed to hit their children when they don't listen."

She said that some younger parents try not to hit their children, but that when their children don't listen to them, other people say, "Why don't you hit your kids? They don't listen!"

This isn't just China, of course. Most of my non-Western classmates all agreed that it was similar in their countries. It's just a different mindset. Hitting children seems kind of awful to alot of Americans, but it's a way of instilling obdience and respect of authority in other places.

Friday, March 03, 2006


I think that I'm going to like this new level of Chinese. I am now officially an intermediate-level student. My teachers teach in such a better style than I grew accustomed to last semester. That's not to say I didn't absolutely love it every time my main teacher called me stupid, but I think these new teachers have a better grasp on how to present material and have it stick in my mind.

Let's talk about role reversal, too! Last semester, I felt like I was the dumb one in my class. This feeling was, of course, heightened by my main teacher calling me stupid constantly (yes, I am bitter about that.). However, on the first day of my reading class, my new teacher held me up as an example of what people can achieve with their speaking skills! I was so confused. I thought I spoke really, really badly. I mean, I still don't speak well, but I'm not the dumb one!

It probably seems like I'm dwelling a bit on class intelligence/success ranking, and that's because I am. I thought I got past most of that seeming important to me when I was still in the states, but coming here brought it all back. Last semester, I really struggled with this, actually. My skill set wasn't what was stressed in my classes last semester, and with the way my main teacher treated me in class, I thought it was a completely useless skill set here. I wasn't expecting to be the best person in my class here - that doesn't even exist - but I wasn't expecting to be as low as I was. For someone who gets told for a lifetime that he or she is above average/gifted/etc. and begins to take that for granted, the kind of situation I had last semester is a serious blow. I had myself convinced that I was never going to get this language because I was too stupid.

I'm not stupid, though, and I think I'm going to be able to learn really well in this new enviroment. The classes are going to be hard, and their homework is going to take up most of the hours of my day, but I think they're going to help me progress in a very noticeable way.