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谢迈克在中国 » Travels


Mike Shecket Goes To China!

Made it to Guangzhou

January 26th, 2008

My luggage didn’t.  I washed my clothes in the hotel sink and they’re hung up to dry now…I gave them a little assist with the hair dryer too.  Not bad…I used a bar of laundry soap.  The clothes smell OK and look pretty nice actually.

Flight’s canceled…

January 23rd, 2008

Stupid weather!


January 23rd, 2008

I found the one place in the Guiyang Airport where I can plug in my laptop and get on the Internet.  Good thing too…I’m going to be waiting here at least 3 hours…probably more because of the weather.

Road names in China

January 5th, 2008

I haven’t done that much traveling around the country, really, but I’ve gazed longingly at many maps in Lonely Planet, and I make the following observations:

  • This is a given to anyone who’s been here, but it’s worth mentioning for people back home and elsewhere: many roads have an East (Dong - 东) and a West (Xi - 西) segment, or a North (Bei -  北) and a South (Nan - 南) piece, but in addition, many if not most of the ones so designated also have a Central/Middle (Zhong - 中) part to them.
  • There are no one character street names, as far as I’ve seen. No equivalent of, say, “Elm Street”. Every street name I’ve seen that I can think of has at least two characters before the “road” or “street” or “avenue” or “alley” character. I got to thinking about this partly because of the next observation.
  • Which is that I haven’t seen a single Mao Road, Zedong Road, Mao Zedong Road, etc., anywhere. No Deng Xiaoping Lu, no Jiang Zemin Xiang, no Hu Jintao Dadao. What nearly every city has, though, is a Zhongshan Road. At first, I took this literally: “central/middle mountain”. But it turns out that Sun Zhongshan is the Mandarin, mainland name for the man we know in the West as Sun Yat-Sen, the father of modern China.

Maybe street naming has a different, lesser cultural significance here than it does in America. After all, most people in China still live in the country (for now), and most of the roads out there probably don’t have names. Or they do, but the names are highly local and functional. Here I yield, as I’m speculating on something that has an actual, obtainable answer for which I’m not about to do the research.

Year end wrap-up

December 30th, 2007

  • Am I glad I came here? Yes…it’s not like every day is amazing…after a while it just feels like regular old life. But I feel like I was meant to be here. I might not be making a difference versus some other guy who inevitably would have occupied my place, but I think I’m making a change in myself that is going to be reflected in my future pursuits. That is to say…my being here isn’t really changing the world, but it’s changing me, and maybe that will help me change the world later in some other way.
  • What about the teaching? I don’t know if I’m cut out to be a teacher, per se…at least I have some faults in presumably important areas. It’s really hard for me to get “fake mad”. I get mad or I don’t. If there isn’t some kind of discipline system to impartially and dispassionately enforce, then I’m kind of lost. If I have no power to get students in trouble, I’m not capable of deceiving them into thinking that I do. And if they don’t want to learn anything, I can’t bamboozle them into thinking that they do. I’m definitely better with individuals or small groups who are self-motivated and have a clear goal.
  • What about being away from home? The thing is…I feel like I’m really only in China physically a lot of the time. In my apartment, I eat Western food (or at least my personal take on it), read articles in English about the election, watch American movies and shows, listen to Western music…my mind resides on the Internet a lot of the time, just as it has for ten years or more. Physical, tangible things I miss: hugs, food from home, pets to pet, kids to play with. All in all, though, I’ve made myself quite comfortable here, although I’ve done so by passing a lot of my time in this bubble of foreignness.
  • Stay or go? The economy back home is terrible, everything is expensive, and if you get sick or get sued, you could lose everything you’ve worked for. The government goes into debt that I don’t want. My money gets taken and given to rich old people. Everybody hates us (well, not so much here in China though), we’re still doing stupid stuff, and nobody back there is paying attention. Then again, it’s my country, and maybe I need to man up and deal with it and try to help fix things. In China, I live a charmed life in many ways, but it has nothing to do with me as an individual and everything to due with circumstance of birth. I happen to have been born an English speaker, which gets me all sorts of privileges here. My individual talent or character doesn’t make a bit of difference in getting dropped right at the top of the heap, sitting on top of a vast underclass that makes life easy for me. (Needless to say, I hope and expect they won’t be poor for long, but I certainly haven’t done anything to deserve to be in such a position relative to them.) With my present knowledge, skills, and experience, I’m more or less interchangeable with any other foreigner straight off the plane. If I stayed for a few years and picked up the language, or otherwise set myself apart, maybe things would be different. To my family, though, I’m the only me they’ve got. These are things to think about when it comes to deciding going forward where I am most valued and needed.

Hainan video wrap-up

December 23rd, 2007

So I decided to go to Hainan this weekend…fly into Haikou, spend a night there, then take the bus to Sanya and spend two nights at a fairly nice beachfront hotel, then back to Haikou and the airport hotel and head back the next day.  My feelings were a little mixed about doing two three and a half hour bus rides in the middle of my trip, but I think I’ve figured out how to spread out the travel enough so that it’s not a huge deal.

One of my fellow teachers suggested that I save Hainan for when it gets really cold here…but by that time, it will pretty much be vacation time again, for like six weeks, and when that’s done, it’ll almost be March, when high temperatures are back up to 64 in Guiyang.  So.  Might as well go now.

Annoyances and disappointments

November 11th, 2007

So yesterday afternoon, the power went out in our building. I think it went out for the whole school. The internet also went off, so I couldn’t use my laptop on battery power to let my folks know what was going on. So realizing that I was soon going to be in a cold, dark apartment with no hot water and no flashlight, I decided it would be a good time to have a little adventure and check into one of the nice hotels downtown. So here I am at the Nenghui Hotel, 4-stars, a fairly classy joint. But first off, I discover once I get into the room that the Internet’s out of commission here too. So I’m looking at missing the OSU game (though it turned out to be one that I suppose I didn’t want to see anyway), and I’m still out of touch with my family.

Next up, I discover that the elevators here play only one 30-second snippet of the same tune every time you ride them. It’s like a ringtone. It’s a famous solo piano piece and I think it’s not the Moonlight Sonata. Whatever it is, I really never, ever need to hear it again.

Then I went out to dinner. I got a tip from another teacher that there was a “Western-style” restaurant just around the corner from this hotel that had filet mignon, which I had been sorely missing. This was a huge disappointment for me in particular. If there’s two things that I don’t like to eat, it’s eggs and mushrooms (among a zillion other things). Also, if there’s a manner in which I don’t like to eat meat, it’s being reminded that what I’m eating came from a particular kind of animal. So here’s the meal I got:

  • A Coke. Fine, but overpriced at 20 yuan for a can (that’s more or less three bucks).
  • Cream of mushroom soup. Didn’t touch it (came with the steak, and I didn’t know if I could pick a soup).
  • Some kind of toast absolutely swimming in oil and egg. Made a token effort to try to put a tiny morsel in my mouth. It ended up back on the plate.
  • A tiny, tiny salad with a few leaves of lettuce, one ring of onion, maybe a tomato, and then some slices of melon. I don’t really like melon, but even if I did, I don’t want it in a salad with salad dressing.
  • Chicken Satay - not bad, but not great, and they didn’t bring it out with the promised peanut sauce…they brought out the super-intense Guizhou spice combo you can dip skewers into. I can take a bit of that, but not a lot, and darnit I wanted my peanut sauce!
  • The steak. First of all, they brought out a sizzling platter, and it was covered, and I was so excited! They uncovered it revealing the following:

    • One egg, sunny side up. I hate eggs! I don’t want to eat that crap!
    • Some totally unidentified weird looking black thing sitting in the egg white, later identified as…a mushroom.
    • A piece of broccoli that I totally would have wanted to eat, except it was also swimming in egg white.
    • A baby carrot - see above.
    • The steak itself…which was cut all weird, like an “X” with another little disconnected dollop, and looked like it was sort of from the right part of the cow, but it was obviously prepared by someone who would never think of eating such a thing him- or herself. I was able to get some okay stuff off of it, but the kicker was…
    • The whole shebang was delivered on a metal platter in the shape of a cow. It had a cow head, legs, a tail, and it was like you were eating out of the cow’s guts. Not what I wanted to see.

My friends, I know I’m a picky eater. I’m ridiculous really. But I was going out of my way, and paying basically $20, which is a lot here (considering you can get a meal for less than a dollar), and my expectations were all worked up and ohhhh man, was I disappointed.Yet somehow it felt good to face this kind of disappointment, absorb it, and move on. It just reminds me that all my little preferences and hangups aren’t that important, the $20 is just money, and life goes on. Sometimes stuff happens, but it’s okay, it can be dealt with.Oh…that piano piece is Für Elise. Yes, I never, ever need to hear that one again. Makes you want to take the stairs. Arrgh…and by the way, I’m on the sixteenth floor.

The train was OK, but I’m going to fly back to Guiyang.  And I’m going to go for the gusto and fly first-class for the first time in my life (for a one hour flight, but what the heck).

October 27th, 2007

I haven’t seen kites in a long time.  I sure don’t see them in Guiyang.  Probably one reason is that it’s too hilly.  Another reason could be that it’s so congested and polluted that your kite would hit stuff or you wouldn’t be able to see it fly.

Also, there are more beggars here than in Guiyang, probably because there’s more people who can hand out money.

I miss cats.

My life here is pretty easy overall, it’s stimulating, I’m learning stuff, but I don’t feel like I’m really helping anyone.  My idealistic/egotistical side isn’t really being fed at the moment.  I have some impulse lately that what I really ought to do is come back to the U.S. and try to help fix it.  I would have to do my own thing in my own way, though, not join up with some group.

I was trying to make a list of things I like about the U.S., and I was having a hard time coming up with things that are unique to the United States.  Most of my favorite people in the world live there or are from there, though.  Then again, maybe it’s just the upper-middle class cultural elite-type people that I miss.  I find it refreshing not to have a bible in my hotel room (and FYI, there isn’t a Little Red Book or anything else like that in here either), and I figure that doesn’t put me in good stead with the majority of “mainstream America”.  I don’t fit into the mainstream there, and I certainly don’t fit in here.  I guess the real question is whether there is anywhere in the world where I would fit in better than I do in my native country.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about lately is that if I had happened to have been born in another time in history, there might not have been any nation or group on the face of the earth that I would possibly have been proud to belong to.   Am I better off looking for a niche in a highly imperfect but extremely diverse society and trying to change it from within than to look for some kind of fantasy dreamland somewhere else in the world?  That’s a skewed question, of course.  I could just as well ask: am I better off accepting the privileges handed to me by circumstances of birth or should I try to turn around and pass along my good fortune among those not so fortunate?

I have a long time to think about this stuff.  It’s now been exactly two months since I arrived, and I have eight-plus more months to go.  And oh yeah, the rest of my life.

Copyright © 2007-8 Michael H. Shecket. All rights reserved.