Wednesday, April 19, 2006

More about Sandstorms

Apparently there's worldwide coverage of this year's sandstorms. I can see why. They're pretty bad. I forgot to mention before some hearsay I heard: on the first night of the sandstorms, a train traveling in China had its windows blown out. The passengers all huddled together waiting for the storm to stop. I bet that was completely terrifying.

Today, I read a bit from a Yahoo news article my dad sent me. Joe McDonald writes:

BEIJING - Beijing will use artificial rainmaking to clear the air after a choking dust storm coated China's capital and beyond with yellow grit, prompting a health warning to keep children indoors, state media said Tuesday.

Read more here.

I'm without a doubt wearing my sick mask now. I'd say about half of the people I see on the street have them on now, too. I'm reminded of another time when a massive amount of people were wearing sick masks in Beijing. That time is the time of SARS. I hadn't thought about SARS in a while, but today in the building I have grammar class, I looked at announcements behind a glass window. I found a particularly interesting one from 2003. The basic gist of it was that 4 deaths from SARS had occured in Beijing thus far, but everyone could be assured that the campus of BLCU was safe and sanitized. What a time it would have been to be here. All I have to deal with is sandstorms.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Spring Arrival

According to my reading comprehension teacher, spring has officially arrived in Beijing. The trees are flowering, the little patches of grass that there are have grown back and are green, and the birds of prey are flying around again. These reasons, however, have nothing to do with why my teacher made her declaration. The sandstorms have arrived.

campus in spring

The color in this photo is not wrong. This is what it looks like outside. The ground is covered with sand. When I went outside yesterday morning to head to class, I was disoriented by the overpowering amount of yellow I saw everywhere. I didn't know what had happened, but in my still sleepy state, I figured that it had just rained dirt the night before. That may sound strange to you, but I've come to not be shocked by strange things in Beijing now. If it had rained dirt, I probably would have just accepted it.


There's a good covering of sand on almost every surface outside. Getting on a bicycle that didn't have the seat covered with a plastic bag before the sandstorm can't be too fun right now.

Beijing is probably in the most ridiculous location for a city that I can think of. Okay, well, that's not fair. There's always Atlantis. All day today, I've been expecting to see tumbleweeds coming down the street. The outside brooms of Beijing are probably the closest thing I'm going to get, though. The brooms are huge and constructed of a bunch of tiny sticks tied together. The workers around campus used them to sweep leaves into piles during autumn. Now, however, they've decided to sweep the sand about. That, of course, has resulted in even more sand in the air, and parades of gagging students before and after class.

spring survival gear

I have this solution - sunglasses and a surgical/sick mask. I hope this makes it so I can see and breathe with a little more ease. I'm even coughing in my room because the air seals on my windows are nonexistent, and the sand has come in here. There is no escaping it.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Excuse Me, Sir.

Yesterday my teachers announced that our schedules were going to be changed for today. Instead of our normal 10 minute break in the first class, we were going straight through (8.30 - 9.50). After that class, we would have a 20 minute break, then attend our next class. Our next class would conclude at 12, instead of the usual 12.30. None of them were really sure why we were having the schedule change.

The first class today was a little agonizing. I realized that I really need that 10 minute break to bring myself back to sanity during class. During the 20 minute break, everyone I talked to was a little loopy. That break flew by quickly, and I arrived to my next class in the process of my teacher calling attendance. I knew I was late because no one was in the hallway. She didn't seem too mad about it, though, and she started class as usual.

I was unclear as to whether or not we were getting a break in the second class, but our teacher gave us one anyway around 11.00. I was the only person to get up and go outside. As I walked through the door, I saw that there was a huge group of people in black suits in my way. I politely walked through them, nodding and slightly bowing the entire time. I noticed that there were people with cameras (still and video) and microphones. I had no idea what was going on, but I'm not one to stand and gawk.

I proceeded to the stairs nearest my classroom. There I met with a worker in pink, guarding the door. "Excuse me, please use the stairway down the hall. You're not allowed to use this one." I gave her a weird look, but conceded. I've had weirder things happen to me in China, I really wanted to have time to get water, and so I didn't argue with her. I proceeeded to the next stairway.

There I was met with two workers in pink. "Where are you going?" one asked. "I'm going downstairs."

"To do what?"

"Um, to buy water."

"You can't take this stairway. Go down the hall."

At this point, I started to get a little irritated. I knew that the reason I couldn't take these two stairways had something to do with the people in the suits, but it was ridiculous nevertheless. This was the only day the workers were working, too. Nevertheless, I was very thirsty, so I headed further down the hallway.

Halfway to the next stairwell, I was met by an official-looking woman from my school. "Where are you going?" she asked. "I'm going downstairs. I want water. I am very, very thirsty. Which stairwell am I allowed to take?"

"The one furthest down the hall."

I thanked her for the information and walked the rest of the way down the hallway. I went downstairs, purchased water, and then stood overlooking the empty rest area. "Why is no one on break right now?" I wondered. I started to wonder if my teacher didn't really intend to let us go, and that I had misheard her; so, I went back upstairs via the stairway furthest from my classroom.

On my way back to the classroom, walking past the two-worker station I mentioned above, the last woman who interrogated me stopped me. "Where are you going? You're not allowed to be up here."

"Um, I'm..."

"Are you going back to class?"


"What room are you in?" she asked gruffly.

"Um... Eight hundred... eight hundred... two," I said, struggling in Chinese because I was getting nervous.

"Alright, hurry along."

Well, excuse me, crazy lady. You saw me come from class. I can't help that your memory is failing you. I headed back toward me classroom, and thus back toward the hoard of suits.

I reached the group of people, and started politely maneuvering my way through them again. All of the sudden, a man walked out of the classroom neighboring mine, and almost straight into me. We both stopped abruptly before running into each other. "Sorry," I said, bowing slightly and looking at the ground. I nodded in apology to the other people, and made my way to my class. In those few seconds, though, I realized that the man who nearly plowed into me looked a little familiar. I had no idea why. I think that alot about people, though, so I disregarded it.

When I got back into my classroom, I asked if anyone knew why all those people were out there. The Singporean woman who sits next to me in class said, "Oh, it's a delegation from Singapore. The former Prime Minister of Singapore is here."

And then I realized who the man was. I had seen pictures of him in my Government and Business in East Asia course with Professor Kennedy. It was the former Prime Minister of Singapore.

Only in China, I say. This place is so surreal sometimes.

Friday, April 07, 2006

"You are an Italian, non-student..."

Spring is here, and that means that the advertisers are here, too. They are all over the campus when it's warm, looking for foreigners. Some of my friends have recently taken modeling jobs, and other some television commercial jobs. Since I've been in China, I've been of the opinion that the most prized form of advertising here must be blatantly lying, because products definitely do not do what they report to do, nor could they ever realistically do those things. Now, however, I have confirmation of the lies.

My friend Pablo recently took an in-store modeling job with a French student from here. They were modeling suits by an Italian designer based in China and handing out/receiving business cards to/from patrons. Part of their job, however, was to pretend that they were Italian, and not students. That went fine for a while, until the designer came. He didn't know that they weren't Italian, and so he started talking to them in front of everyone. Pablo did a mix of Spanish and fake-Italian, and told him that he couldn't speak Italian because just his mother was Italian. Lucky escape.

Donny is going to be in a commercial soon, and he has to pretend to be French. There are tons of examples like this floating around my campus. Part of your job when advertising is to lie your face off. Look at this ad I found yesterday on local entertainment magazine That's Beijing Online:

Ad No. 68878
Comfortable job, high wage,occidental wanted.

Ad Number: 68878
Ad placer: miltongang
American,Canidian occidental wanted.
If you are a male/female, who shrewd-looking capable and experience,personable,diplomatic,please contact us. We provide
foreign model of commercial for companies when they hold cocktail party,or celebration. You task are dressily,giving an
address or playing an role of one stuff of the company.

Comfortable job, high wage. If you are the one that described above, do please send your cv with photo to
Our website:

Times viewed: 159

Am I shrewd-looking? Because I would really like to go see what kinds of lies they'd have me propagate for a night.

All of this brings up another issue in my mind, though. In the states, I often heard my East Asian or Asian-American classmates complaining about the tendency of Americans to group the people from the countries of their origin all together and say that they all look the same, and consequently assume that they are the same. I certainly can understand how that would be irritating. I've definitely seen the occurrence of someone in states obnoxiously saying "Ni hao," - in a terrible accent, at that - to a Japanese person, and then getting mad when the Japanese person doesn't understand. That's ridiculous.

A similar thing happens here, too. I have increasingly noticed a feeling that, "All white people look the same," partly because of things like I noted above, and partly because of just how some people have acted toward me. People fairly frequently speak languages to me that I don't understand, and then question me angrily about why I don't understand later. But they're not speaking Chinese at first! How am I supposed to know what they're saying? I'm an English and Chinese speaker. Do I really look Russian? And my teachers lump Americans and Europeans together when talking about Western countries - we're not all the same. And what about Canadians and Mexicans? Or do they just not count?

So, really, this is a criticism of everyone. Take the time to get to know the people you're talking about and to. If there's something I can't stand, it's people asserting that things are a certain way when they are uninformed. There are many different cultures in East Asia, and there are many different cultures in the US and Europe. Certainly, there are similarities, too, but it's important know what those are.

I don't mind if someone mistakes me for being from somewhere I'm not, but it is irritating if they start insisting that I must act a certain way based on an uninformed assumption they're making about me. That only further adds to the feeling of displacement that I feel here sometimes. I understand even more now what the international students at my university must be feeling like.

Educate yourself about other people. It's important. You would want them to do the same for you.