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谢迈克在中国 » Travels


Mike Shecket Goes To China!

Goin’ back

August 5th, 2008

I wonder if when I get back to the US I’ll detect some kind of change in the zeitgeist that I couldn’t know just from following the course of events from a few thousand miles away.  A lot has happened in a year, and I’ve read about it, and I’ve talked to people back there about it, but I haven’t lived in the reality of August 2008 in the USA, and I wonder how different it will feel at a gut level from August 2007.

For starters, it’ll be interesting to see the bumper stickers.  A lot of them will make me fume, but it’ll be interesting.  That and maybe people’s T-shirts.

A radical decision

July 31st, 2008

He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man.

Mao Zedong

I’m coming pretty close to deciding to skip the Great Wall.  I have a number of good reasons to not go, and a few bad reasons to go.  First off, who is Mao to tell me whether or not I’m a man?  He’s dead, among other things.  Next, it’s at least an hour and a half on the bus each way, depending which section to go to.  My general rule of thumb is that I want to spend at least as long at the place I’m going as it takes to get there and back.  And what am I going to do at the Great Wall for three hours with all the heat and humidity?

Next up, I’m not really into old stuff.  There’s a lot of relatively old stuff in the US that I could have seen.  There’s stuff from native cultures too that’s even older.  But it’s just not what I’m into.  I like new stuff…contemporary culture, art, music, architecture, technology.  If I’m just going to go somewhere and see something just because it’s famous, the sort of place that keeps coming to mind for me that I’d want to see would be Abbey Road Studios in London.  Go back fifty years and it basically has little or no significance, but it’s enormously significant in modern culture.

Probably the biggest thing is that I feel like from Mao to the guidebooks, I’m being pressured to do something that I might not otherwise want to do.  To be told it’s a “must see”, or that going there determines my worth as a human being, kind of inspries a kind of “Oh yeah?! See if I care!” attitude.  It almost seems like an opportunity to assert my uniqueness.

Lastly, I imagine that when I tell people that I went to China, they’ll always ask if I went to the Great Wall, and I’ll have to explain why I didn’t.  But I’m going to have to explain to people why I was in Beijing in the summer of 2008 and didn’t stay for the Olympics.  Not to mention why I decided to uproot myself from the US and live here almost a whole year.  So if people want an explanation, who cares?  I can give them one or not.  It’s not, in itself, worth the time, expense and inconvenience to do something that might not even be fun.

I came to China to get to know the language and the people, and I’ve done that.  I didn’t really come here to look at walls.


July 28th, 2008

I feel bad for the people who are trying to get this under control, and hope they succeed, but if I still can’t see the sun after a week of half the cars off the road (although not really, since many people will just substitute their travel that they would have taken one day to the other day), then I don’t know how it can really get any better in the next 10 days.

The smog doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the heat and humidity…I really don’t feel like going out without an air-conditioned car to immediately get into.  It makes me realize just how to used to that lifestyle I am, even though I haven’t driven a car for nearly a year.

And I haven’t seen any data to support this, but nowhere in China have I experienced pollution even close to that in central Guiyang.  It was absolutely oppressive.  It made me feel like there just wasn’t even enough good air to breathe.  In Beijing, it’s clearly not that bad.  It looks bad, but you can breathe, at least if you’re not running around.

Clearing the air in Beijing

July 18th, 2008

Starting Sunday, only half of the city’s cars will be allowed to be on the road each day, based on the last digit of your license plate. Tip of the hat to the first person who can explain why this certainly won’t work quite as intended.

July 15th, 2008

Today, I saw Dead Chairman Mao (still dead) and the Big Old Empty Place…once again, I have been forced to contemplate which I dislike more: sunburn or sunscreen.  Meanwhile, I have completed two-thirds of my Beijing-area tourist Duty.  I never have to do those things again unless I really want to.

As usual, after I’ve had a blog for a while, it tends to become a chore instead of a diversion…especially when there’s a lot of monotonous steps involved turning cool and interesting photos and videos into something that can be seen online (cropping, resizing, file conversions, uploads…ugh).

Generally speaking, however, I have done the following things lately:

  • Seen the pandas in Chengdu and Great Buddha in Leshan
  • Climbed up and down a lot of stairs and went–that’s right–ice skating in Chongqing (actually, I think you can go ice skating other places in China…Beijing for sure…but it still blew my mind)
  • Arrived in Beijing, got set up in an apartment
  • Managed to figure out the neighborhood and the subway system
  • Found an Indian restaurant and took a walk around Beida (北大), also known as Peking University

Maybe I should have set my camera to take web-size photos (except I want the big ones for archival purposes), or maybe I should have bought a camera that makes videos that properly upload directly to YouTube (although again, I wanted to also be able to make DVD-quality video).

Meanwhile, I’m gearing up for the big kickoff of my test prep business for when I get back…my non-compete agreement is finally up as of about two weeks ago, and so I’m getting my website, craigslist postings and Google ads ready.

It’s just a tad over 48 hours before I celebrate my first birthday outside of the USA.  I’ve had my birthday in Chicago before, and I was in Argentina on Christmas in 2005 (not that I do Christmas), but this is new.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to be far from family and friends on my birthday; it’s just part of the overall deal that allows me to come here and have this experience.  I can’t really think of anything so wonderful about it…it’s not like I get to experience special Chinese customs related to Mike Shecket’s birthday, in particular.

I don’t think birthdays are a big deal in this culture…I was telling the students about the different US presidential candidates in one class, and I showed them their birthdays and asked them to tell me how old the candidates were…they consistently neglected to take into account that none of the candidates’ birthdays had yet rolled around this year, and instead they calculated by just subtracting the birth year from 2008, as if everybody is counted as one year older on New Year’s Day.

May 13th, 2008

When I wrote yesterday, I didn’t know the extent of the loss of life and damage…although I should have guessed.  I suppose I didn’t want to think about it.

I had been planning on going to Chengdu for a long time…almost went middle of last month, and almost went over the May 1st holiday.  Now, who knows if I’ll get the chance at all?  But of course, that’s of basically no importance.

It’s upsetting to see people who are so poor and vulnerable all the time.  In the city, I see plenty of people just scraping by, and in the countryside, it’s much worse, although I’ve seen little or none of rural China.

I think the overall effect of recent events is that I really can’t get that worked up about disasters in western countries…I can assure you that as rotten as it was, people in Burma would have been really happy to have a Superdome.

Three interactions

March 9th, 2008

  1. I was on a crowded subway in Shanghai. On the plane from Guiyang, I had listened to a ChinesePod lesson that explained how to really, really politely offer your seat to someone. So, when I was about to get off the train, I noticed that there was an older gentleman, not elderly, but distinguished, who was standing right in front of me. So as I stood up to get off the train, I gestured to him and said “nín zuò (您坐)”, which just means “you sit”, but with the formal “you”. The guy was absolutely delighted. He smiled and put his hands on my shoulders and repeated back to me as I stood up, “nín zuò!” Then, in English, “thank you!”

  2. One night I was at the expat hangout bar, South Park, and there were these sort of hip-hop dudes hanging out. I don’t know why, but I think this guy I bumped into might have been Japanese. But anyway, I was headed for the outhouse/hole in the ground that passes for a restroom at this place, and in somewhat broken English this guy said “where are you from?” And I said “America”. (You tend to say “America” here more than “the US”, “the States”, “the USA”, and so on because “America” sounds more like the Chinese word for America.) And he responded with this whole thing, it was like…”Yeah, American dream, East Side, West Side, one love” and he made these sort of hip-hop gestures. Amused, but totally out of my element, I thought for a moment, and then I gave him the V-sign and said “Peace.”

  3. The other day, I went shopping with one of the other teachers. We bought a whole bunch of stuff, and took the cart down to the street to try to catch a cab which either of us could usually do without too much trouble. But for whatever reason, we weren’t getting a lot of them to stop, and when we did, they were not very receptive to negotiating what we thought was a fair rate. So there was this security guard guy working for the store who observed our pitiable attempts, and he came over and asked us where we were going. We also indicated to him how much we were looking to pay. He flags down a cab, and starts a rather vigorous discussion with the driver, which is soon joined by another fellow working for the store. We just stand back and let them do their thing. Finally, the guard nods to us that it’s OK, and the driver pops the trunk. Just as we’re about to load our groceries, I see the guard slip the cabbie 10 yuan. That’s a lot of money for somebody with that job in this town! So we finish loading up, I pull out my wallet, and I fish for a 10 of my own. But as soon as the guy sees me doing this, he runs up the drive back towards the store. I burst out laughing, and later, in the taxi, my fellow teacher and I concluded that it was probably well worth the money for him in terms of face to help out (show up?) the laowai.

Hong Kong…swoon

February 2nd, 2008

WOW. I love Hong Kong. I went over to Luohu, the district of Shenzhen near the HK border, had lunch, and then figured I might as well take a look at the border if nothing else. Well, I had my passport with me, one thing led to another, and I went down to Kowloon.

First of all, there are all kinds of people there. All kinds of food and clothes from different places for sale. Different languages on signs, but a lot of English for sure.

It’s super busy, but everything is so well organized…there are signs everywhere to get you to the next place, and there are usually four or five ways to get between any two points (e.g. bus, cab, subway, walk underground, walk at ground level, walk above ground level, take a boat, etc. etc.).

Hong Kong may have the greatest skyline in the world. It’s not just the buildings in it, but the view you have from across the harbor. It’s really mind-blowing. After dark, there’s a sound and light show on an unbelievable scale. If you consider the sheer volume of space that’s part of the “stage”, it’s probably at least a square mile times a few thousand feet into the air.

Finally, while I was randomly walking around, I came upon a little somebody who I had been dying to meet for months…I found a sweet, friendly little cat who was willing to hang around with me for a while and be petted. She lived in sort of a little colony of quite healthy-looking cats near the Avenue of Stars on the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade…I counted seven, but there could have been more hanging around I didn’t see. Somebody must take care of these kitties, because they looked vastly healthier than any cat I’ve seen in the mainland.

I felt bad at first for my new little friend, particularly because there was a little bit of one of her ears missing. But eventually I noticed that several of the other cats in the group had the same thing…and I would bet that it’s a marker for a spay/neuter-and-release program. They seem to have it pretty good, really…they play with each other, they have great trees to scratch, and people must be fairly nice to them, because they’re pretty approachable.

I probably spent an hour just sitting there hanging out and giving her pets and scratches. I missed kitties so much.

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