Monday, October 10, 2011

the best kind of company

You've all met Bartholomew. He's been my greatest comfort these past few months, because who am I kidding -- it gets lonely in such a big city. When the time difference is ridiculous and it is 4am in California, Bartholomew keeps me company. In addition to his ice cream-only diet (which is severely impacted here because of the questionable quality of Chinese dairy products) he also demands photographs with all the major landmarks of the world. Yes, I know how old I am and realize that I'm in the grown up world, but who doesn't love B? I realized last night that he deserves some recognition too -- I take him with me on my travels because he's like a piece of home. He makes strange places more familiar, is extremely photogenic and fits perfectly in my backpack. What more could you ask of a traveling companion? 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

did you know...

Some interesting things I’ve learned about China, gleaned from observation, reading the news and having conversations with my students/relatives/friends:

The imbalance of guys to girls in China is pretty widely known – about 116 boys for every 100 girls (quoting my second grand uncle, I/he could be wrong) – but there’s definitely a preference for boys over girls. Not sure if I mentioned this before, but my class of 30 students only has 5 girls. No kidding. Apparently, many parents are less willing to invest in girls and give them a higher education (past a bachelor’s degree) because they expect their daughters to marry at around 25 years old and then stay home to raise their children. Women who are around 30 and unmarried are called “shen nu ren,” which means left-over woman. Yikes.

You know how in the U.S., women still earn about 78 cents to every dollar a man makes? That doesn’t go on here – both sexes are paid equally for the same job. The U.S. needs to learn something from this. However, foreigners (say, if you are white and from America/England/France, etc.) are often paid significantly more than their Asian counterparts who do the same job.

On gender equality- I find that both sexes still aren’t really “equal” like they are in the U.S. For example, when I went camping (if you can call it that, at the Chinese military base), it was really apparent they expect all the guys to do the grunt work, but not only that, the girls are okay with it—okay with not being given the option to help out, while I was kind of offended. Another thing— I’m helping plan the annual basketball tournament for the students (about 140 students total), and there are 4 teams: all boys. When I was meeting with one of the administrative staff, she said that the girls had wanted to form a team too, but "nooo, we can’t have that." I was shocked and offended when she said that! They would have a lawsuit slapped on them quicker than anything if this was the U.S.!

Native Shanghainese are often preferred over people from outside the city (wai di ren, “outside land people,” basically people from the countryside who emigrated to Shanghai in hopes of making a better future for themselves)  for jobs such as nannying or housecleaning, because they can be trusted (aka tracked down in case anything happens). They have a reputation to uphold because all their documents are in Shanghai, whereas you don’t know if people from the wai di are trustworthy, and if they do happen to screw you over, you might not be able to track them down because they have fake papers (not that they do, but that seems to be the stereotype around here).

Guns are illegal here. No one owns one. Only a specific department of the police are allowed to have them, and they often abuse the privileges (or so I’m told). They are dispatched when there is social unrest, and well, you can probably guess the rest…

There is no minimum age for buying alcohol or cigarettes. Sure, you’re allowed to drive at 18, but when you’re 10 and want to buy some baijiu (white spirit, the stuff is disgusting, kind of like rubbing alcohol), no prob. In fact, the Chinese government owns the China Tobacco Company, whose popularity accounts for about 10% of the country’s annual revenue (read in The Economist) – so of course they’re not really going to educate their constituents in the harms of smoking!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekend in Wuxi

I spent the day fighting crowds and traffic in Wuxi -- in the cold and rain. Now I know why people stay home for the national holiday - and that's what I'm doing for the rest of the week! I'm actually kind of excited -- I'm getting a permanent wave tomorrow (besides cutting it, I've never done much with my hair, so this is BIG), and I need to do some shopping for my inappropriate winter wardrobe. I underestimated how early (or late) it would get cold, as in, not this weekend. It looks like a lightweight jacket is not going to get me through until the 20th, but no worries -- another trip to the tailor's is in order.

Anyway, Wuxi is a 2 hour's drive by car to the northeast of Shanghai, where Tai Hou, a huge lake, is located. We went and saw the lake and this huge amusement park of a Buddhist temple. I'm not kidding you -- you pay about $30 USD per person to get into this walled religious complex where there are lots of gilded buddhas, temples and places to throw money and burn incense, except unfortunately, there are no rides. You are supposed to spend more money on food, incense, and luck, namely in the form of huge fountains/pagodas/bins they strategically place around the place so  you can throw all sorts of spare change in there. The pinnacle of the experience is trekking to the top of the hill, where the huge buddha is (think the Statue of Liberty) and then you're supposed to wait an hour and a half in line so you can rub her big toe for good luck. If I didn't know any better, I'd say it was a place for the church (monastery?) to make money off tourists. And it is living proof that if you build it, they will come -- people were lining up by the hundreds, possibly thousands, to get in here. I had lunch in the most ridiculous, ostentatiously decorated building that reminded me of the Vatican. I mean, it looked nice and everything, but then you realize how much money it probably cost to build it and all the other better things they could have done with it.

It was a cold, wet and dreary day, but way better than sightseeing on a hot and humid day. I was so cold though, by the end of the day all I wanted was to go home (the one in Los Angeles), have a hot shower and curl up with my ridiculous pink fluffy robe with some hot chocolate and a puppy. Sometimes I ask myself, if I have all those wonderful things at home, what in the world am I doing here?  I need to get my head checked.

Also, I don't think I'm usually this pessimistic in my posts, but it might be the minor head cold and exhaustion from my religious pilgrimage today talking.

*note: I'll update with pictures when I get home and have access to my camera cord! I'm currently at my relative's house for the weekend.