Thursday, July 31, 2008

Olympic Countdown: 8 days


你们好!
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Before I comment on today's topic - the air quality in Beijing - I wanted to briefly mention a sad incident that happened at 西南大学, my university, yesterday evening. Being that it is so hot in Chongqing during the day, I usually do my long runs at night at approx. 9-10pm. Unfortunately, due to a slight drizzle last night, I opted to stay in and put off running until the next night (tonight). This drizzle was a blessing in disguise, however, because yesterday evening, Teaching Building #1, the oldest teaching building on Southwest University's campus, caught fire and practically burned to the ground. I have never actually taught in this specific building, but have in the the building immediately behind it. Firefighters, from the looks of this video, seem to do a good job salvaging the building before it burned down to nothing. No word on the cause of the fire or if the school will repair or rebuild this 西南大学 historic landmark.
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The IOC (International Olympic Committee) is meeting with Chinese officials this week in a final assessment before the games beginning on August 8th. The three main topics of for discussion: Internet Censorship (see "OC:9 days"), Doping (coming soon), and today's topic, Pollution (click for an interesting article). China has 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. From some reports I have found, Chongqing, is in the top 10 (cough, cough). The worst city in China, and thus, the world: Linfen of Shanxi Province. As quoted from Time Magazine: "This soot-blackened city in China's inland Shanxi province makes Dickensian London look as pristine as a nature park." There's an educated simile for you!
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Beijing is one of the top 20 most polluted, heavily-populated metropolises in the world, with CO2 levels well above any major U.S. city. The problem is, no one really knows how bad Beijing is. I have listened to NPR reports where EPA workers have come to inspect air analysis gadgets in Beijing and found those that are placed in the most heavily polluted areas are either out-of-order or being moved to areas where readings would provide lower levels of pollution. It's been a major concern for the Communist government because, unlike international human rights violations, this problem is visible for the world to see (and smell). To give Beijing some hope for next week, I will say that from my experience in Beijing last January, I saw or experience very little pollution, but pollution in Beijing is hot/cold; it all depends on the wind and the weather.
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CNN reports how China recently announced am "emergency Olympics smog plan" to guarantee safe air for participating Olympic athletes:
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The emergency plan would close an additional 105 factories in Beijing and more than 106 others outside the city. The plan would further restrict driving by preventing vehicles from being in operation if the last digit of the license plate number corresponds with the day of the month. The plan would also institute odd/even driving days for Tianjin city. Odd/even driving days would also be put into effect in Hebei province, but only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
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But this hasn't installed much confidence in all athletes:
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Jarrod Shoemaker, a U.S. triathlete, says he has already incorporated a mask into his regimen. "This past year, I wore a mask all the way up to the race and after the race to see if it would work, and I felt perfectly normal, perfectly fine," he said. "So I definitely think it worked and that's my plan again for this year."
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Ethiopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie, an asthmatic and holder of multiple world records, pulled out of the marathon because of fears for his health.
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When I teach my "Problems of Our Countries" Lesson in my Oral English class and ask my students to tell me the top three problems in China, they never fail to include "pollution" in their response (Overpopulation, Education being the other popular answers). So, the Chinese know this is a problem; there is no debate. When I ask them to think of solutions, their answers are simple and surprisingly creative; "Walk!" is always my favorite solution, said by the student who is hesitant to ever say more than 1 word aloud. But yes, walking is powerful! Good answer!
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One of my hobbies here in China that's somewhat unrelated (but oh so relevant!) to my role as a PCV is studying American History. My increasingly favorite time period in my country's history is the Gilded Age, late nineteenth/early twentieth century. There we polluted the skies, discriminated against all different types of people, corruption ran though the streets like rainwater. But we rebounded and guided our rapid growth without destroying everything around us. China should look to American history for a model (I recently read an introduction to a Chinese History textbook by a Chinese historian who said Americans have trouble understanding Chinese history because their own is "not deep"). I animatedly disagree. I would argue that as the world's top superpower, our history is deep and vital to all over country's histories. We aren't perfect, but much can be learned (in China) from our simple (yet complex) 300+ years of history.
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But there is hope. Let's just pray that the air will be clean so the American athletes can annihilate their opponents. 哈哈 haha! j/k! Best of luck to all!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Olympic Countdown: 9 days


你们好!
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I originally wanted to discuss a HUGE Olympic issue in today's entry: The Beijing air/pollution (cough cough), but too much hit me this morning while reading CNN and The New York Times, so the air can wait (trust me, the pollution isn't going anywhere). Yesterday, I briefly touched on the "promises" China made with the IOC in exchange for being granted the 2008 Games back in 2001. One of these promises was to lift the Great Chinese Firewall for foreign journalists covering the Olympics. However, yesterday, journalists discovered they couldn't access a few websites that have just recently released controversial reports about China's human rights record, most notably Am nesty International (link not inserted purposely):
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This CNN video says it all.
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The restrictions, which closely resemble the blocks that China places on the Internet for its own citizens, undermine sweeping claims by Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, that China had agreed to provide free Web access for foreign news media during the games. Mr. Rogge has long argued that one of the main benefits of awarding the games to Beijing was that the event would make China more open.
“For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China. There will be no censorship on the Internet,” Mr. Rogge told Agence France-Presse just two weeks ago. (Source)
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The line between the Olympics being a grand, international athletic competition and a international political critique is thin. Chinese officials claim that foreign journalists (who says domestic journalists aren't interested, too!?) do not need to access these sites because they do not have any relevance with covering the Olympic athletic Games. Well, this is simply bad-thinking. If a country is hosting the largest, and claimed by China, the greatest Olympic Games celebration in history - China has spent twice as much money as Greece for the 2004 Athens Games - then they must expect that the people of the world will want to know about the country who has been granted the honor of hosting their fellow countrymen and women, both athletes and journalists. If a country (China) believes that the Olympics should not be political in any shape or form, then why do they use the Olympics to promote/propagandize the excellence and efficiently of their own political system. Two months ago, a senior Communist official condemned a certain ex iled Ti betan leader in a speech praising the Olympic Games' spirit in China. That's politicizing the Olympics for domestic consumption! I like to think the West is a little more inquisitive than the majority of the Chinese people (don't get me wrong, there are many exceptions!) and Westerners, coming from a different ideology, are slightly more in tune with the pugnaciousness of democracy. If China wants the spotlight, they must be prepared for the heat! Just ask Bill Clinton! In global relations and politics, its always better to propose solutions and do nothing than to bury the problem and hope it decomposes. Calling U.S. lawmakers "odious" is not going to help your cause. The repetitiveness of using "but what about the Olympic spirit?" as an offensive only takes a side so far in the real world...
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Since I touched on the censorship of Chinese media today, this is a wonderful collection of the Media and Visual Culture in the People's Republic of ChinaA timeline: 1978 to 2008. Did you know Deng XiaoPing was named Time's Person of the Year?
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Dosage of wacky for the day: ESPN's Rick Reilly's translation of national Anthems. My favorite: "Greece and Cyprus have the same anthem, which goes for 158 verses. Olympic officials dread Greeks or Cypriots winning gold. Last time it happened, three trombone players were hospitalized."
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Tomorrow, AIR! Actual air, not the band....
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美国加油!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Olympic Countdown: 10 days


你们好!
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As China's "coming out party" - otherwise known as the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games - approaches, and since I have (7 months in advance) booked my flight and hostel reservations to and from Beijing for the first 10 days of this international sporting 庆祝 (celebration), I think it would only be appropriate to dedicate the next 10 days or so worth of blog entries to my experiences preparing, learning, and predicting for, of, and what will happen from August 8-24th in not only 北京, but all of 中国. I realize that having only been here a year does not make me the most prominent soothsayer, but I do have an opinion and am happy to share it with you now, during the Olympics, and most importantly, as the torch begins its journey for London 2012. The issues at hand are are political, environmental, athletic, economic, those of national security and social/class struggle, and most entertaining, the wacky sh*t hundreds of thousands, if not millions of foreigners will see and experience when they touch down for the first time in the Middle Kingdom. I also hope to provide you with a lot of what both sides of the world are saying (East and West) and how an analysis of each media outlet is in direct correlation with how China will handle the aftershock of this momentous event. I have experienced, firsthand, quite a bit this year in China - deadly snowstorms, Ti beatan uprisings, the May 12th Sichuan earthquake, etc. - but all will kneel to the single thing China has placed highest on their national pedestal: The Olympics. I am confident in saying that this will be the most important event I will experience in my 2 years of service. During the next 10 days, I will do my best to explain why...
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Since this is the first post of 10 leading up to the Olympics, it's important we learn on how China (more specifically, Beijing) received the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games (NOTE: While doing research for this topic via The New York Times, almost every relevant link that was found under the search "Beijing Olympic Bid" was blocked by the Great Chinese Internet Firewall). However, I did come across the Chinese-media version of these articles, as well as consult Peter Hessler's Oracle Bones, which I must say does the best articulation of the Beijing bid for the Olympics back in 2000-1. In a nutshell, on July 13, 2001, Beijing was chosen by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to host the 2008 games, beating out Toronto and Paris with 56 votes. Celebration and Olympic fervor instantly ensued (and hasn't stopped). The interesting story, however, was this was not Beijing's first bid for the Games; in 1993, it bid for the 2000 Games (held in Sydney, Australia) but was defeated due to Beijing's lack of transparency and, to be completely honest, severe human rights violations. One year before, in 1992, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush were running for president and cited a certain incident that happened in Beijing in 1989 (which I will not expand on here), thus placing China, rightfully so, on a political blacklist. This did not look too favorably to the IOC so China was cast aside. When it was awarded the Games in 2001, there was definitely a "mixed reaction" around the world. After reading this linked article, it's quite interesting how the problems/concerns that were prophesied 7 year ago are still biting China in the rear. My students have a lot of trouble understanding one of the most important reasons Beijing was awarded the games by an International Committee (they shallowly believe the right was given to China because "China is great and deserves it! We have over 5000 years of history! We are 1/5 of the world's population! We are a harmonious people and culture!") was to urge the Chinese Comm unist Party to hold a "modern" Olympics, which is an euphemism for making an silent promise to clean up their human rights violations. Of course, you can't celebrate and propagandize a victory as well admit you have one of worst H.R. records in the world. Nearly everyone in China claims the Olympics is strictly an athletic competition and has no relevance to political issues; Bush seems to agree - you will learn in the next 10 days many feel a tad differently. More on this opinion, later...
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But bringing problems to the surface is easy; it is finding the solutions to those problems that's difficult. The real question is not "Will these Olympics be deemed a success?" I can already tell you that China will deem them a success and my students will compliantly agree. As many journalists agree, China's goals for the Olympics are domestic, not international. How will China change, hopefully for the better, after (hopefully) opening up for 3 weeks to the world's stage?
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The Olympic slogan is 同一个世界, 同一个梦想 (One world, One Dream). I hope China remembers this. I hope the West remembers too. But what exactly does it mean? Nobody's perfect, right? video 哈哈! :-)
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More tomorrow!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Chengdu Birthdays and Ping Pong Battles



你们好!
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Last night, after surviving the infmaous 成都 --> 重庆 train - 4 hours of sacks of vegetables and live poultry, sunflower seed debris everywhere, and notably, a 3-year-old boy who managed to successfully take off his pants and run through the aisle, screaming, all while his mother slept - I walked into my apartment after 5 days in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, my home 1 year ago, and hometown of my Chinese tutor, who turned 22 on Friday. I had originally hoped to spend this final week of July in Inner Mongolia, but Decaprio (my running friend/previous travel mate), who calls I.M. home, had a family conflict so some logistics needed to be rearranged. Knowing I will see Decaprio, his girlfriend Mary, and his older brother in Beijing for the Olympics (more on this soon!), I decided I should be creative/constructive with my break from teaching and take a trip to a place where there is plenty of creative/constructive things to do -
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Checklist:
口 Offer my services to PST (Pre-Service Training): The "14's" are currently working on "model school" (see my blog posts 1 year ago).
口 Celebrate 丹妹's, Chinese tutor extraordinaire, birthday and continue to slowly, but surely, study my Chinese language.
口 Visit my Chengdu host family and host them to a delicious dinner.
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丹妹(Dan Mei) had spent the last 3 weeks or so privately tutoring a select few students (these students are children between 12-14 y/o who have parents either "well-connected" or, to be frank, wealthy) in a small city just outside Chengdu called PiXian. When I asked DanMei how much she was being paid to teach English to these students, I was surprised to learn that she was doing most of her work pro bono. Why? That answer would take volumes to answer properly, but in short, its what the Chinese call guanxi, or "relationships" and thus what goes around...comes around. But, the kids were nice, a little scared of me, and full of laughs when Dan Mei would turn the English lessons into Chinese lessons and make me (try to) say different words with my terrible, terrible pronunciation.
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Since Dan Mei's hometown is Chengdu and attended university within the city, I was able to meet many of her college friends and further my understanding of "the lives of Chinese young people." I stayed in a variety of apartments during my trip, all rented cheaply (300元/month)by twentysometimes looking for a way to make a buck and get ahead; there was a moment when it reminded me of some kind of NYC Bohemia - no air conditioning (I battled a shoddy fan all night!), dirt and grime, leaky faucets, no refrigerator, exposed plywood, etc. - which was nice in a nostalgic kind of way (I lived in a moldy dump during my last year of graduate school).
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The food was also excellent; we and a few of her friends went out for Korean BBQ for her birthday and the night before I treated my host family to a very delicious Chicken Hot Pot feast. It was nice seeing my Chinese "family" again, Haohao (English name: Ray) told me he was in the top 5 in his grade (300+ students) in some ridiculous Chinese English language assessment ("Great! Fight the man!" I told him) and my host father, who had a new, lucrative job when I visited during Spring Festival this past January, returned to his former government job due to the earthquake, inspiring him to volunteer in some of the hardest hit areas on the weekends.
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But the greatest story of my trip to Chengdu was the International Ping Pong Battle of the Century. Dan Mei, who I must say is a strong, proud, but very "slender" Chinese woman, thought that it wasn't possible for an American to defeat a Chinese in the one game they call their own, as if Victory is something ingrained into Chinese genes as soon as a Zhongguoren picks up a paddle (China the most gold medals in table tennis in Olympic history). After hearing this, I not only challenged her to a do-or-die match, but assured her that I would destroy her at her country's beloved game. We wore our game faces (see pictures above) and dueled. I am proud to say, thanks to countless ping pong matches played in the Grand Island Razem Family Basement (many being on the losing end to Mike Razem), I defeated Dan Mei and thus, chalked up a point for America in the Middle Kingdom. Note: Dan Mei later beat me twice in a row, but we can forget about those matches... USA! USA! USA!
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I am home in Beibei until I head off to Beijing for the Olympics on the 7th of August. Expect many blog posts in the coming week about this upcoming, pinnacle trip!
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Picture TAG: ChengduPingPong
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fengjie Summer Project (Part 2)


你们好!
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The story continues...
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The 6 of us kept a pretty tight teaching schedule; morning and afternoon classes were separated by the standard 12-3:30pm xiuxi (Chinese for the Spanish siesta) and then an optional evening activity, which ranged from my installment of Pictionary (more on this later), Katie's Bingo, Ron's American Football, Candice's movie nights, Ryan and Matt's Frisbee and basketball, and of course our group effort in the beloved (and dreaded) English Corner. Fengjie, which Ryan and I affectionately named "the wet dog of China" due to its smell after it rained, has zero foreigners. How many? ZERO. So, we were like "panders" (the Chinese pronunciation for Pandas) in this little river town. Every Chinese was curious. Many stopped dead in their tracks when we walked by. Ryan, who speaks the best Chinese of us 6, practically scared the poop outta store owners who had never seen a foreigner, moreover heard one speak their language. It was unlike any spotlight I have ever experienced in my entire life, and I now understand why Brad and Angelina run away from photographers and bury themselves in little bungalows in France. However, after a while, we start to wonder exactly why so many people stare and more specifically, we ask ourselves, "what are they exactly thinking?" The simpleton points out the difference in physical appearance, but I like to believe that Chinese are more creative than given credit for. They dream big (at least the younger generations do) and when they see a foreigner, I think some sort of imaginary life teleportation occurs and their synapses fire without pause - "What would it be like to be this person? What do they know? How do they think?" All this is a single second, resulting in a frozen rope stare. This is not to say we, as foreigners, don't think the exact same thing when we see them; Americans are just better at not staring because we live in a much more diverse country (that's the New Yorker in me talking). The few Chinese that are not our students who have the courage to come and talk with us occasionally ask us if we know a way they can leave (or rather, escape) China and travel to America. This situation happened at the Wangba (Internet cafe) when a teenage boy approached Ryan and asked (in Chinese) if we knew any way he might be able to go to America. Ryan tried his best to explain to the boy our mission in China, but we never know what to say when people think we have all the answers....
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Speaking of creativity, that was the theme of my classes for the past 10 days. China has publicly acknowledged the problem of it's country's lack of creativity and (half-heartedly) encourages its educators to promote creativity in it's classrooms. If you regularly read my blog, you might consider me somewhat of an antagonist in China (a distinction I am proud of) so being that I believe that I should give students (and in this case, teachers) what they need, I declared war on the old, boring style of Chinese teaching (lecture x 1000) and tried my best to show how language learning can be a exercise in creativity. Some of the older teachers looked physically out-of-place when I asked them to do a few "dramatic" activities, albeit "stand up!" Students listen and teacher talk. It has been that way for thousands of years in China, and it needs to change....
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As mentioned, one simple activity I prepared for my students was Pictionary. Americans love Pictionary and I can remember watching "Win, Lose, or Draw" as a child on television. It's simple, really. You just need to visualize a word and draw a picture for it as your team shouts out what they think the word is. Ready? The word is "Queen"...GO! You might draw a woman figure with a crown, a man figure with a woman figure sitting next to him, or just a crown! These are just a few examples, but when a student was asked to draw this word, he simple drew a face, no crown, no long hair, no gender distinction. After he drew it, he looked at this team for the full 30 seconds as if they were stupid, tapping his chalk on the front board with increasing force. "Time is up!" I yelled and the crowd groaned. Of course, this is just one example, but the list of seemingly easy words they students had real trouble with goes on and on. You would think "Mao ZeDong" would be easy for a team to guess in China, but not when the drawer draws a stick figure of a man and then is perplexed as to what to draw next. Mao is on every bill of money in China for God sakes!
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And I know Pictionary is not a real assessment of creativity. Neither is my similes activity; I asked students to complete the following sentences:
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The man was as tall as _________.
The woman was as beautiful as ________.
The weather is HOT like ___________.
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At least 75% of all the students answers were as following: a tree, a flower, the sun. Ugh! "C'mon, you can do better!"
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But these students/teachers have never be asked to do such a thing before, and though had a ton of fun, I still feel many missed the point of the exercise.
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Ultimately, these 10 days taught me, or rather reaffirmed to him the importance of education in the development of a country. Since many of my teachers have never performed in a classroom, they saw us 6 Peace Corps Volunteers as the way it needs to be. Some of them will never try the methodologies we taught them, while others will never look back. I know I helped a handful of teachers during these 10 days, and I hope that handful leads China out of the stagnant puddle that is their education system.
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So much more can be written about this Fengjie Summer Project, but I don't have the time, finger-typing energy, or ability to recreate the zany events that occurred. Highlights (let your imagination run wild): Chinese television shows = Letterman's "Stupid Human Tricks" 24 hours/day, late night scalp massages, yelling at smokers in the elevator, explaining that spitting on the classroom floor is not appropriate, losing Bingo like it was my job, passing off fake money at Western food restaurants, flooding the bathroom, Ryan's late-night gas (ew!), female teachers telling me they don't really love their husbands, English Corner with more people who can't speak English than can, Olympic fervour leading to nausea, and finally, discovering Chinese believe the three main components of a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich are:
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1) Vegetables
2) Bread
3) Sausage
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Gotta love it!
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When life gets hard, its nice to take solace in the many existing joys of humanity. I believe this video captures those beautifully: The latest Internet sensation.
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Picture Tag: FengjieSummerProject
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞
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In the above picture (left to right): Matt, Katie, Ron, Candice, Phil, and Ryan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fengjie Summer Teaching (Part 1)


你们好!
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Thanks for the patience for this long-delayed entry. If you've been under a rock in relation to this blog (or perhaps I've been the hermit), I have spent the last 10 days in Fengjie, Chongqing, for my Peace Corps summer project. I would have loved to regularly update my teaching Odyssey for you, but, well, too many games of pictionary interfered, and, frankly, Chinese Internet bars are not the ideal place to contemplate profound thoughts (insert sound of 200 Chinese gamers hocking spit in their mouths and the smell of cigarette smoke, everywhere).
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But I am home via boat and bus. Fengjie County (奉节县) is a combined 8-hour journey from Beibei; a comparatively small city to Chongqing - a little over a million people, and might never be recognized as a important place in China if it weren't for its strategic location in relation to the Three Gorges Dam, the controversial massive energy supplier of Southwest China. Why controversial? Well, the Fengjie I experienced wasn't exactly Fengjie, but rather the New Fengjie, as the Old Fengjie (which supposedly can be traced back to 314 B.C.) can be found, sadly, under a few hundred meters of Yangtze River water...read the about the film inspired by the Fengjie displaced population.
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But all controversy aside (in China, controversy never really is set aside), I and 5 our PCVs (Ron, Candice, Matt, Katie, and Ryan) arrived in Fengjie to teach a total of 90 middle and high school English teachers new and creative ways to teach English in their classes, as well as promote American and Chinese friendship. I assumed this assignment was right up my ally, as I love to juxtapose the teaching methodologies of East and West, and since these were English teachers, these students would be just as high-level conversationalists as my students at Southwest University. When the first class started - smiling teachers ranging from 21 to 50+ walked in and sat down in the same desks as their students - and I did my signature "GOOD MORNING!" I knew I assumed wrong. Silence. Huh? What did he say?
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In a nutshell, I would make a rough estimate and claim that a solid 40% of these English teachers (again, I need to emphasize these students were employed as teachers) could barely speak complete sentences in English without some preparation. Sometimes I would only get completely irrelevant answers to slowly delivered, easily worded questions: "How are America and China different?" "I like to play basketball. Yao Ming, you know?" Of course, there were exceptions (a handful spoke beautiful English: young female twentysometimes that gawked over Ryan, Matt, and I; Matt being married to Katie, Ryan and I being the only single, young Americans) but a majority of the older teachers, mostly men who looked strangely similar - comb-over hair style, polo shirt tucked into slacks with the signature Chinese man-belt buckle, beer belly with rotting, cigarette stained teeth (cigarette breaks were essential) - rarely participated and when they did, it made me want to yell, "YOU ARE AN ENGLISH TEACHER!?" (Much more on this phenomena) But I was patient and tried my best to deal with first real taste of low-level students...
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Spoiler-alert! The 10 days was incredibly successful. This is "Part 1" because it's 11pm and I am exhausted from a day of traveling. Tomorrow: Part 2 with all those great stories and crazy, profound thoughts.
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Pictures (my camera; most of the best pictures were taken by Ryan, which will hopefully arrive on my electronic doorstep in the next few days) Tag: FengjieSummerProject
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞
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Interesting links:
New York Times article

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fengjie!

你们好!
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Short and sweet: Arrived in Fengjie, a comparatively small city in Chongqing Province, via 4-hour bus and 3-hour Chinese "speed boat" (25 mph approx.) along the muddy Yangtze River. I started teaching this morning and it's a world of difference from my students at Southwest University. My "students" are high school English teachers and most of them can't speak English (they can read it, and pronounce it, but can't make conversation or "improvise" at all)! So, I....have...ne...ver...spoke...Eng...lish...so...slow...ly...in...my...life. All this in 100 degree heat.
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Chinese Internet bars are filled with high school dropouts and even worse, thick clouds of cigarette smoke. So, unfortunately, I won't be updating too much in the next 10 days.
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Stay cool!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Monday, July 7, 2008

Xi'an 西安 and goodbyes...


你们好!
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Where do I begin?
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A few hours ago, I touched down in Chongqing from a whirlwind 48-hour getaway with my two lovely partners-in crime: sitemate Devon and her mother. Devon has talked about her mother's previous visit to China (last summer around this time) all year and I was excited to finally meet and travel with her. I knew if she was anything like her crazy (um, good crazy) daughter, I was in for a wild ride. I was most certainly right...
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Devon is very well-traveled in China, known for using all her allotted Peace Corps travel days during both years of service. However, there was one place Devon had not and must see. Xi'an (西安), as expressed to us by one of our guides, has recently developed into a type of Chinese cultural Mecca where old and the young Chinese must visit at least once in their lifetime. Why? Well, let's just say this wasn't the case before 1974.
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Long story short, in 1974 (note: the Cultural Revolution officially ended in 1976 when Mao Zedong died), a Xi'an farmer was searching for water underground and started to dig a well in the middle of a long, flat field. To his surprise, the ground was sudden hallow, and under his feet he found pieces of terracotta resembling human hands, faces, legs, and ancient soldier body armor. After Chinese archaeologists moved in during the next couple of years, a tunnel, then another, then another, etc. were found until upwards of 8000 (yes, 8000!) terracotta soldiers (and their terracotta horses) were discovered and slowly pieced back together after the earth caved in on them. How long were they down there? Over 2000 years, as the Qin Emerpor (210 B.C.) had this army ( 兵马俑) built to protect him in the afterlife. Some cool facts:
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~ The second air was exposed to the unearthed soldiers, archaeologists had 6 minutes to view (and capture via camera) the original colors each soldier was painted. After 6 minutes, the colors simply faded to gray.
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~ No two soldier are alike. That's right! Each face is original.
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~ There are upwards of 14,000 soldiers, but many of them will remain underground as to preserve the process of recovering them for tourists (you will see this dirt field section of the museum in my pictures).
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~The part I thought the coolest: The Qin Emperor's tomb is about 1 miles from the soldiers (between mountains and a river for good fengshui) and to this day, no one has ever entered it. Archaeologists know the second air enters the tomb, many of the fortunes expected to be inside it will instantly crumble and vanish into, well, thin air. So, China waits until the technology advances that will allow them to enter the tomb and see what exactly is inside. Devon and I joked that it is probably empty, or even more surprising, a note from Indiana Jones reading "Thanks for the cool stuff...."
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But the weekend wasn't only about exploring culture and Chinese history, but also sadly saying goodbye. A few hours ago, I helped Devon and her mother put a few large, heavy suitcases into a Beibei taxi eventually heading for home (the real home). She has some last minute Peace Corps business to take care of before that long-desired flight back to the States, but as I leave in the morning for Fengjie and my summer project, I won't ever see Devon in China again. I met her about 10 months ago right where I am typing to you now; she developed into my best Chinese friend and my real Chinese criminal accomplice; we baked, traveled, gossiped, complained, laughed, taught, and struggled as two foreigners together for almost a year. She gave me so much more than I could ever give her in return, but I know we helped each other get through some rough times and hell, I know we accomplished some really cool things than neither could have done on our own. I killed two mice in her apartment and in return, she provided me with some of the best coffee in the Middle Kingdom. Mice for coffee, and that, in a nutshell, is why she is irreplaceable. I will miss her next year, especially when I see a hungry pregnant cat (long story! haha!), our favorite 3-legged dog, the noodles being made at our favorite Muslim restaurant, and most notably, when a student comes up to and asks, "Where's Devon?" (which is bound to happen 3000 times) and I have to explain to him or her, sadly, that Devon "is now in a better place..." HAHAHA! Just as my (misinformed) students claim about Ti bet and China's relationship, Devon was, is, and always will be a part of my Chinese heart.
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Picture Tag: Xi'anandmore
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Wanzhou tomorrow (bus) and Fengjie on Wednesday (boat)...
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I love and miss you all (especially you, Devon),
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Phil
蓝麦飞
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And! Living, working, and adapting to a foreign country (that was selected for you!) for a long time is tough and frustrating (as many of these blogs proclaim) and strange and sometimes you just wanna go back to a place you call home because it seems like its the only place where people make sense. A friend sent me this video today and, I won't lie, it gave me a nearly complete rejuvenation in humanity and my mission to promote world citizenship....Click, let it load, and enjoy! I hope it inspires you like it inspired me....and maybe have a little dance wherever you call home....

Friday, July 4, 2008

美国的独立日 Happy 4th of July!


你们好!
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China is about 12 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time, so right about now a few hundred runners are waking up to take part in the Grand Island Dick Bessell Independence Day Run. This short 2.3 mile dash has always been a favorite race of mine, yet I have never actually ran it. Though I missed the last 3 Grand Island July 4th holidays due to Peace Corps and summer school teaching in New York City, I remember 2003 and 2004's race having a strange participant wearing a George W. Bush mask (identical to the one above) - complete with dollar sign-encrusted crown - and holding a sign condemning the Iraq War: "No Blood for Oil!" This runner, who was followed by a team of loyal supporters during the 2004 race, was greeted with a few cheers, even more booos, and most notably, was even called a "Communist!" by one race observer. Of all days to protest, this person chose the 2 days of 2003 and 2004 that Americans are obligated to love America - 美国的独立日, the 4th of July, American Independence Day. What an unpatriotic, terrorist-lovin' fool!
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Last night, Devon's mother came to Beibei after a few days in Hong Kong and downtown Chongqing. She is a firecracker (just like her daughter) and a master packer (the three of us just spent the afternoon at the Beibei post office sending 2000元 worth of Devon's "stuff" to America: 5 full boxes). It's wonderful to see a foreigner who hasn't adjusted to China wander though its "back allys" - China's many idiosyncrasies we now barely notice - and comment on how much different China is compared to the good red, white, and blue. We had Muslim noodles for lunch (Muslim noodles on 4th of July, that's right Fox News!) and walked her through the puddles of, well, shit, that dot XiaoChiJie (Snack Street), a popular hang-out for students who want to escape the school's cafeteria. The exciting news is tomorrow morning, the three of us will be heading off to Xi'an to visit the Terracotta Warriors and soak up as much of Central Chinese life and culture before I need to return to Chongqing and prepare for my summer project (Fengjie, CQ) from the 10th-20th of July. Many pictures will be snapped during this weekend excursion so hold on to your seats. I will post to trip's review on Sunday evening.
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In the last week, a very interesting and inspiring American gave a speech on a very important topic - Patriotism - in a little Missouri town called Independence. I've watched this speech and listened closely, as Patriotism (similar but different from Nationalism) is a very important aspect of modern-day Chinese [political] culture. As the bloggers of the world analyzed and assessed, the most popular quote from this speech came from Mark Twain:
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"Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when they deserve it."
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Hmmm. It's 2008. As the war in Iraq continues, gas prices sky-rocket, and the economy (around the world, including here in China) bottoms out, one might regret booooing that Bush mask-wearing hippie running in my hometown's 4th of July race in 2003-4. I am sure, though it doesn't make him happy (trust me!), he is laughing at all those who thought he was misguided in his public display of PATRIOTISM.
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Enjoy the fireworks!
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Yellow Watermelon!


WOW! Seriously? Yellow Watermelon? 黄西瓜! ?
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(Sometimes it's nice take a break from all these serious, political diatribes about culture and human rights and just pull out a spoon and go to town during the hot Chongqing afternoons!)
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I love and miss you all,
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Phil
蓝麦飞
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Ah! I can't resist! Read how to the Chinese military may have failed the Sichuan Earthquake victims...click!