Monthly Archives: February 2009

>Entry 15: Diligent Students

>I was walking with a girl on the backstreet. We passed a tall building and standing near it a man yelled something at us. When we passed, I asked what he said.

“20 yuan for a room.”

That’s pretty cheap.

She blushed a little. What?

“It is for the couples.”

It took a minute or so to click. For the couples. It’s a love hotel. Or sex hotel, it’s the same thing, a place where a couple can rent a room and have sex. In America, that’d be pretty much any hotel. The main lobby also works well between the hours of 1 and 2 am. Or so I’ve heard.

But in America it’s not the practical necessity it is here. Let’s look at the picture. Students who live in dormitories have three or more roommates. And some students live with their family and possibly extended family. The guy who lives below me has a girlfriend. He also lives with his parents and three year old sister.

These hotels are very useful for student couples who wish to express their love. Just look at the setup. Undergraduate students are required to live in dormitories that have an 11 o’clock curfew. At 11:30, they cut the electricity. And they regularly have three to four roommates. What does this mean? Picking up someone and bringing them back to your dorm is out of the question. Go to the hotel. It’s only 20 yuan. Total privacy. Plus, you get free electric. I don’t know about HBO.

Is the above rule widely enforced? I don’t know. I know that some local students live at home, but ‘officially’, as in ‘housing payment’, they live ‘on campus’. Graduate students have the option of living off campus, and if you have been to these dormitories, you may understand why they’d choose it.

No air conditioning. No heat. The lack of AC might not pose much problem if you have an adequate number of fans going. The lack of heat is hard to cure by simply buying a heater, as according to students I’ve spoken with, a heater will short out the electricity.

Some people I’ve told this to are horrified. How do I feel? I could never do it, but the students seem to bear it pretty well. I’ve never heard them openly complaining about it. How do they bear it? They wear heavy clothes and wrap themselves in blankets.

It’s kind of useful to wear the same clothes inside and outside. Being the pampered Westerner, I get two devices that function as air conditioners and heaters. I am used to having a defense against the weather.

And a defense against mosquitos too.

Back in September, a student invited me to her apartment to have dinner. No heat. Just weak fans and while she cooked, there were plenty of mosquitos to keep me company. And conversely, for Spring Festival, I returned to someone’s hometown to find their home lacking heat and lacking insulation in a bitter winter, an air so cold that birds drop dead from hypothermia.

I wrapped myself in blankets and tried to tough it out.

I lasted two days. I ended up returning to her home for Spring Festival, but I could not bear it for too long. She could. So could other Chinese, who are used to these conditions. I just could not do it.

It is quite easy to take for granted many of the comforts we have in the West. Air conditioning, heat, insulation, clothes on our back, roofs over our heads, money in our pockets, these are things we come to expect. Anyone in college has these. Many in America do not.

Many more around the world don’t either. My perspective has changed. Last week, a friend and I went to her cousin’s apartment. We went down an alley and on the way there we saw a single room. A frail woman sleeping on a hammock, garbage piled up on the wall, clothes hanging from a loose wire. Concrete walls. No insulation.

Nothing but the bare essentials, if that. She earns money from collecting recyclables. I see people pawing through garbage all the time, the only way they can earn a living, and when I remember all the times I saw someone flaunt their $1000 cell phone or some other overpriced gizmo, I feel disgusted.

Sure, they might trade places with you, but you would never dare trade places with them. Nor would you trade places with a Chinese student. They don’t expect to get an ‘A’ by virtue of showing up and breathing.

They come to college, study, and bear what they cannot change. I admire their diligence.

>Mianzi, Lian, and Guanxi

>Here are some distinctions I’ve picked up:

Mianzi:

Tonight at Lu Xiang, Camilla’s brother left us to hem his pants. We were headed to Starbucks, and she shouted this across the store. Everyone turned and looked at us.

Everyone knew we were headed to Starbucks.

Everyone knew we could afford it.

Mianzi is related to the idea of ‘face’. You can ‘save face’ in different ways. One way is to go to a place like Starbucks or be seen smoking an expensive brand of cigarettes. This displays your high social status in the eyes of others.

This gives you mianzi…I think.

Lian:

I think lian is a type of moral face. Take for instance a traditional Chinese girl from a small town whose parents have instructed her to be chaste until marriage. She disobeys, and the rumor spreads around her town and brings shame on her and her family.

Guanxi:

I don’t fully understand this one, but here is what I think it is.

A type of social networking. I believe that it works irregardless of social status in that one person can call upon a favor from another person. For example, someone getting a job they are not necessarily qualified for.

There will be more in-depth posts on these in the future.

>Hypercorrection Strikes Again

>Hypercorrection strikes again

Hypercorrection occurs when a learner of a foreign language applies a rule to such an extreme that they ignore perfectly normal grammar rules or change unfamiliar words into words they know.

June is a pro at this. For her, Sprite became ‘Spirit’. ‘Proctor’ became ‘Protector’, though if you think about (and stretch) it, ‘protector’ does make sense. And best of all, this exchange:

Me: Where is your cousin’s apartment?

June: Next to Wal-Market.

She calls it Wal-Market because Wal-Mart is an unfamiliar, nonstandard word. Ditto for Sprite. And proctor is just unfamiliar. In all three cases, her mind switches to the familiar (and in the context of the conversation, incorrect) words.

>China’s Road Hierarchy

>if you plan on coming to the Middle Kingdom, you should be aware of this. In descending order:

1) Buses
2) Taxis
3) Automobiles
4) Mopeds
5) Bicycles
6) Pedestrians

One can divide Pedestrians into Jaywalking and Regular, in which case it extends to 7, as follows:

6) Pedestrians Regular
7) Pedestrians Jaywalking

I prefer the first hierarchy, but the distinction is there, if you choose to acknowledge it.

Buses – they go everywhere but the sidewalk. At least, I’ve yet to see one go on the sidewalk.

Taxis – they go everywhere, including the sidewalk. No regard for speed limits. No regard for pedestrian safety or traffic laws either. It’s fun to ride in a taxi that makes a left turn on red and nearly collides head on with an oncoming car. You get an exhilarating rush not found elsewhere.

Especially when it’s an oncoming bus.

Automobiles – when they’re not dodging buses and taxis, they’re dodging each other. Note that I left out pedestrians. That’s because they don’t. Pedestrians dodge them. Big difference.

Moped – I have almost gotten run over by these three times.

Bicycles – see above.

Pedestrians – some people cross at crosswalks. Some jaywalk. And others stand in the middle of a busy intersection, handing fliers to drivers at red lights. Extreme marketing, you definitely won’t find that in the States.