Friday, May 13, 2011

Day one

Everything went great, except for leaving my laptop with TSA in Los Angeles. Pretty heavy hit. My parents are working on helping me figure it out. Dad said he can have someone from Jacob's pick it up for me, since the airport won't ship it. If they even find it. Fortunately, my shakespeare professor has been very understanding about the assignment that I left on the laptop, and is giving me time to re-do it. Finals are never going to be over for me...
 
Chinese taxi drivers are insane. In fact, anybody that goes within 100 feet of a road is insane. There are traffic lights and lane markers and signs everywhere, but nobody follows them. People will drive into oncoming traffic to pass. It's ridiculous. On top of that, the cars don't have useable seatbelts. It's obvious why the Chinese traffic death toll rate is so high despite their comparitevely small number of cars. I took a video, if anybody knows of a way to upload it, email me.
 
Internet is harder to access than I thought, especially without my laptop. You can be randomly blocked from a website depending on your web history. For example, ye shi's network doesn't work on his spare laptop, so I have to connect to his neighbors'. These guys must be dissidents or something, because I can't get on anything. Right now, I've borrowed his PC's ethernet cable, which... "works."
 
The mentality here is interesting. All problems so far have been blamed on "too many people." Everyone I am with repeats this over and over. I catch Ye Shi saying it randomly, like an aside. Evidently it's been really ingrained into their world philosophy. I don't know if this is the fault of the government or simply self-awareness of their condition. Ningbo is packed, sure, but there isn't so much traffic that would warrant driving like madmen. I think Houston has more traffic. It is like the Chinese are unwilling to sit in a non-moving car. They will constantly pass eachother.
 
There's awareness of the problems of the government, in an interesting way. Ye Shi has complained about various things to me. After his English class, he told me about that there are poor people in China who's only concern is their next meal, unlike, he thought, the poor in America. Because of this, he said, things like Somalian piracy can happen. People who are hungry will do any crime to eat. He said that the Chinese mentality is one of making money. Success is having a high paying job. He told me that he thinks Americans are more focused on being happy, even if it means not having a rich career. The focus, he says, is on a child's education. Last night, we walked to a book store, away from the center of the city. We passed a slum area, where small families sat in little hovels, surrounded by oily scrap parts and warming themselves around a tin stove. Ye Shi described them as the "common Chinese people." "The parents will push their children to do well in school, so they can get a good job." School is intensely difficult, with huge homework loads. The focus is on route memorization rather than creative work. The schools try to shove as much information down the students' throats as they can before the enormously difficult University Entrance Exam (capitals absolutely necessary). Every person I have talked to mentioned their hatred and dread of the University Entrance Exam. The strange thing is, Ye Shi also told me that "students will choose the city, rather than the school. Many people went to Shanghai university, even though it is not that great, just because it is in Shanghai." So, I'm not quite sure what the significance about the University Entrance Exam is if students are willing to go to subpar schools anyway.
 
There are chickens outside my window.
 
Ye Shi's house is a little slice of perfect suburbia in the middle of this towering city. It is hard for me to describe, I'll get some pictures up later.
 
Chinese people like to say "OK!" to me. Also, all of them think I am extremely young looking for my age, so so much for growing out my beard. All have said to me that they perceive Americans as being very strong. I thought this was just a simple stereotype, until I saw everyone struggle with my luggage. If I have a leg up on these guys, I can only imagine how someone who is actually fit would appear to them. "Chinese like mind games, not physical games," Ye Shi said to me as he explained the most complicated card game I have ever encountered. Still, they love basketball. Yao Ming is some sort of god around these parts. The fact that he's a Rocket means that I get bonus points. It works like this:
 
American: +3 Foreigner Points
English Teacher: +2 Foreigner Points
Texan: +17 Foreigner Points
Houstonian: Candidate for next Emperor.
 
Ye Shi's English "class" was fascinating. It was a single professor in his office with several Chinese people of varying age. Two middle school girls, a highschool boy, a mother, and Ye Shi. The professor had a huge packet of words, organized by latinate roots. So, he would define a latinate root (such as spec or matri) and then incessently talk about the 7 or so words underneath it. "Speculate, to see the various options..." The man was an absolute genius. His teaching style is apparently very unique, and he is hoping to prove that it will work. "I want to show that straight memorization takes too much energy. Rather than having to remember whole words, I want to provide the tools for a student to figure out the definition of a word based on the latinate roots." He was interested to hear that we stop our study of latinate roots in America sometime in middle school. I find that I agree with his philosophy on the subject. These roots are an incredibly effective way to teach someone a language, as it allows them to trace the often multifaceted meanings of a single word. It was also effective for focused study on SAT and English entrance exam material, he said. One of his students got accepted to every Ivy League university because of her impressive score on a SAT-style test. During their break, he demonstrated to me the similar roots that the Chinese language uses in their non-phonetic alphabet. "Rather than teach you the meaning of every character, I can show you that this radical (small part of Chinese character) always means water. So, you know it has something to do with water, or flow, or gentle movement. It takes much less energy then, and you can have an inkling towards what the meaning will be for totally alien characters."  
 
Somehow, "1Q84" is an incredibly popular book here. I haven't read it, but if I recall, it is similar to "1984." I'm not sure why the government hasn't done anything about it.
 
Email is still the best method to contact me. Google chat works on my phone, but not on the laptop, so sometimes I can communicate with that.