Other Bloggers On Visa Changes

A post on the awesome OneManBandwidth blog says goodbye to many expat friends, and mentions an unexpected side effect of the inability to get and keep a legit working visa in education:

Teachers were affected about a year ago when the government stopped processing visa renewals and work permits regionally. Now, all education hires must be processed outside of mainland China. In Guangzhou, a highly qualified business visa holder could once have lectured at a college or university and bypass myriad education ministry rituals meant to ensure teacher quality with their “foreign expert” certification requirements. But the police searched records this year and several local colleges were forced to let go of instructors, some in the middle of their teaching semesters. Ironically, the new rules have not upped the standards, but have driven institutions scramble and they solicit anyone (anyone white) and with a pulse for positions. And because institutions know that the new teachers won’t be around for long, especially now, the foreigners are generally saddled with mind-numbing oral English classes even if they hold credentials or have experience that qualify them for other jobs.

He also says:

And this week I volunteered my time to a new NGO that asked me not to recruit too many expats. They expressed concern that if too many foreigners became a part of the relief efforts in Sichuan that the government might revoke their politically fragile charter.

It is really rough that visa difficulties are affecting expats like Lonnie Hodge and company.  Lonnie’s worked for children’s libraries in China and for earthquake relief, and given so much time and effort and love to China.

Michael of The Opposite End of China is having his own troubles on his visa vacation:

I went into New York yesterday to drop off my application and paperwork for a Z (working) visa and was completely and utterly rejected. Seems that my working permit indicates that I’ll be living in China for purposes of employment, while my invitation letter says I’ll be participating in a vague-sounding “exchange program”.

My employer ensures me that this is the same phrasing they’ve used to obtain Z visas for other foreign experts in the past… but as you all know, what used to be good enough isn’t cutting the mustard these days. A new invitation letter is on the way, but since it’s issued by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs there’s no telling how long it’ll take. My flight back to Beijing on July 17 is in serious jeopardy.

Michael has lived and worked in Xinjiang for a couple years, and has volunteered there, and has brought the world of Uighur music and culture to the ‘net, and just been an amazing travel blogger. (I seem to remember you were on a Korla documentary, as well?)

China was kind of due for a cleanup, any expat will tell you about the fly-by-night “language centers” and  “English teachers” who’d be completely unemployable back home. But why toss out the folks who’ve really invested into China?

Flotsam of the Chamber of Ten Thousand Flowers has a good theory on the new visa restrictions:

To speak to a native Beijinger a reporter will probably need an interpreter, and the native Beijinger will probably already know what he must [and not] say to foreign reporters. To speak to a foreign resident would not be quite so irksome – and finding foreigners is remarkably easy, just stand in the high street of any large city and see how easy it is to spot the laowai amongst the surrounding sea of jet black hair and tanned faces – and if the questions became too probing who knows what might be said and then reported? Do you now begin to see the danger? So, to present the world with a picture of an unflawed harmonious society the way ahead is to make sure that the only people available on the streets are re-educated natives and first time tourists, that way there will be no embarrassing stories to deal with.

Time will tell.

Graffiti With Chinese Characteristics

I’ve noticed that Beijing is really low on graffiti. There are exceptions — names and dates scratched into the Great Wall or dust-signatures on cars — but there are almost no spray-painted tags or the type of graffiti I’d expect in a large city. TikiChris has noticed the same thing about Shanghai graffiti:

Generally speaking, graffiti in Shanghai is an extremely rare sight. Buildings come and go at such a rapid pace that, even if an intrepid artist had touched up a particular wall, there’s a good chance that said wall would have been demolished soon after …

In Shanghai’s art district, though, it seems that every available wall is decorated. TikiChris has some awesome examples of tags with Chinese characteristics here.


Last night, Stick predicted that I wouldn’t get paid on time, because the new shift in the state holiday calendar has led to an increase in mei you frustration. The holidays were rearranged to break up the long Golden Week holiday and give out more 3-day weekends throughout the year, which is actually a nice thought. I don’t know how this works in other fields, but for teachers, that means you need to make up an extra day’s worth of classes in your free time, because you have Monday off because Sunday is a holiday.

Anyway, I’m supposed to be paid on the tenth of every month, so I went to the financial office today to pick up my pay. It wasn’t there. A bunch of different reasons were discussed, I think it had something to do with someone along the way not submitting their timesheets to the school’s general payroll in time, apparently the deadline changed due to the holiday.

I went back to my boss and mentioned that today is payday, and I’d like to get paid. I was first told that there was no problem, then told that nobody else’s pay is ready, either.

Now, I don’t know what everyone else’s contracts promise, or whether everyone else would like to be paid on payday. But telling me that everyone else is also screwed doesn’t pay me OR increase my confidence in my school’s ability to solve this matter.

Also, there’s something my mom used to tell me about what everybody else is doing. Something about everybody else and jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge…

I argued with different people in different offices for a while, which started to make me feel like a demanding, entitled foreigner, until I remembered that I was arguing to get paid my agreed-on salary on my contract-specified date.

Then it was pointed out to me that it’s actually the tenth of the month all day long, so I really haven’t been screwed until the close of business today. And maybe if I wait, they’ll have it all straightened out by this afternoon. Maybe.

Related: Dragon Boat Day two years ago in Yantai

Take Care Knock Heads

In Beijing, it’s hard to get away from the Olympic improvements. I think the changes are somewhere between using the good china for company, and completely reinventing your wardrobe, habits and personality to attract some guy from history class. (Not that I ever did that) I’m seeing more and more English around town, and English-language menus, maps and information are supposed to be readily available in Beijing before the Olympics. Unfortunately, I’m afraid these Chinglish attempts will cause more confusion.

There are a lot of factors leading to Chinglish disasters. First, in many cases, a literal translation just won’t do. Common signs like Take Care Knock Head and Already Broken still crack me up. But no longer thinking of a direct 1:1 ratio between English and Chinese words has really helped in my language learning.

The new English signs and menu are prone to other problems, like the typos of normal human error, rush-job spelling mistakes, confusion between similar letters and words, and so forth. At times, it’s literally easier for me to decipher the Chinese. (Which either means that I rock, or that I’ve memorized the collection of dishes we usually order. You decide.)

Not to mention the obscure English vocabulary brought back to life by electronic translators. Stick and I went to see an apartment recently because the landlady promised us a bathroom containing a lavabo and close stool. That’s a sink and a toilet to those of you without SCA membership. I don’t know if ad and pamphet translators agree with my students, and feel that the longest semi-synonym provided by the dictionary is the most impressive, and therefore the best choice. But you can easily imagine the humor of these BabelFish translations.

The plan is great. A few words of English — even broken English — have helped me out many times. But in practice, there is an East-meets-West problem.  The Chinese praise even the clumsiest attempts at Mandarin and will probably be expecting the same in reverse. They’ll be expecting thanks and praise for their English accommodations. They’re adding English to places they expect foreigners to visit, with the convenience of foreign visitors (or at least the tourists’ wallets) in mind.

But Western visitors of all sorts will be giggling and snapping pictures of Crap Salad or Bland Kitty, which are just too funny not to be shared with folks back home. The offended Chinese will wonder why Westerners have not only failed to thank them for their English translations, but are actually criticizing them, failing to respect the effort that went into creating an English-language menu just for foreigners (even if it was plugged into Babelfish and then printed off).

But I’m worried that this attempt at hospitality is doomed create more international bad blood. Negative comments in the Western press about any aspect of China, are often seen as proof that the Western media is biased against China. I’m sure this will be a general problem with all the foreign reporters and visitors at the Olympics, someone’s going to have something negative to say, but it’s especially rough in this situation. I’m worried that this will feed the Western stereotype of the Chinese producing worthless garbage, and the Chinese stereotype of rude, anti-Chinese foreigners.

Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader

I was on World Have Your Say again last night (if you’re my mom, you can download the show). The discussion was about Susan Jacoby’s new book The Age of American Unreason, which claims that Americans are getting dumber and dumber. Most of what she had to say was an attack on “video culture”, essentially saying that Americans watch too much TV, which leads us to swallow information in smaller soundbytes with less critical thinking, which leads to a dumbed-down knowledge of the world, which leads to uniformed decisions.

The problem is, when someone — even someone I generally agree with — throws out a shock statistic like “99.99% of adults haven’t opened a single book this year,” you have to wonder about the data collection methods behind the statistic. Swallowing the numbers without knowing where they came from is participating in the dumbing-down. One might even say that throwing out such shock stats is helping to dumb down America.

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Blog Housekeeping

Looks like the blue background makes people want to comment. Thanks! Great to hear from you! Except for the one guy who keeps telling me how to buy discount drugs from Canadian pharmacies, I don’t think he realizes I haven’t got those parts. Moving on.

If you’re reading this in a feedreader (ie if you’re in China) then not only are you missing my lovely new background, but the feed’s been pretty troublesome. It seems when I go back to a published post and fix typos improve my deathless prose, old posts reappear as new, making new posts easy to miss and causing general feed-reader havoc. Sorry! Not sure what to do about this one, maybe I should just quit spelling things wrong.

Finally, I installed Google Analytics a while back, which (among other things) lets you see what people were looking for when they came to my site. The most common search terms are variations on Violet Eclipse and my name, closely followed by people searching for shower photos. This misunderstanding is entirely my fault, but honestly, guys, they’re just pictures of the water heater.

Google China

Just something we passed the other night in Haidian… it’s bizarre to see a physical Google entity.
Edit 1/17/10: After mysterious hackers attempted to break into the GMail accounts of Chinese activists, Google seems to be sick of the Great Firewall and general doubletalk.  Google.cn is disappearing, and local Google-lovers have left flowers and candles, as if it were a funeral for a beloved friend, at the Google building in China. Just another disconnect between Chinese law and average people, but I’m sad to see it.

Never A Dull Moment

I have more pictures to post, both from this weekend and school pictures, but just haven’t had time. I had to wing some lessons in my deskless classroom, and then on break we had a surprise meeting about our roles as the foreign teachers! (I suppose I should be grateful that is was a surprise meeting and not a surprise observation, since my unplanned lessons resembled second-rate daycare more than ESL.)

The meeting was pretty basic, to be honest the disappearing desks are my only problem with the school. The kids are great. My TAs are both nice, and so what if they occasionally misrepresent their English as better than it is? Sometimes, when people speak Chinese to me, I understand some of the words and then guess what they’re saying, so it really shouldn’t bother me when my TAs do it.

The school supplies are fine too. If I ask for paper, most of the time I can get it. I even get blank A1-size paper sometimes. Once I got it BEFORE the start of class AND it was enough for all 25 students! I can also get markers and magnets for the board and colored paper and a ball.

It’s a good school in general, it’s just the “Surprise! Invent 40 minutes of games for 5-year-olds! Go!” that bothers me. I don’t want to be the foreign dancing monkey, I’m a real teacher. I actually do have ideas about effective education, and Pop-Up and Alien Abduction on the fly are not part of it.

The highlight of the meeting was when we were told that we should submit the week’s lesson plans to the TAs before Monday. If we want to print out the lessons, we need to submit them to the printing office a few days in advance of that day, so about a week in advance of actually teaching the material.

I suggested that it might be easier to plan lessons if we were told in advance when the desks would be removed in the middle of the night.

China is never boring.

English-Language China Bloggers

Humanaught posted the other day on the lack of ladies on English-language China blogs. I think it has something to do with the lack of female expats in China.

I read the adventures of Anna Zhan in Taiwan. (I would say that’s my favorite blog on mt girls-in-China list but it’s a list of one) China Dirt is also female-written, but it’s more of a general rant about ex-pat men and pushy dates.

Even with the ones Humanaught recommends, it’s not quite enough to make a Gorgeous Ladies Of The China Blogosphere calendar.

Weird, Weird, Weird

It’s weird weird weird to have my parents in Yantai. The adult-daughter (or is it adult/daughter?) thing is still new to me, and being the navigator, planner, translater and responsible party is just so weird.

I need new vocabulary to have my parents here. I don’t know how to say “diet Coke” because I never drink it. Sure, I can get coffees, iced tea, find bathrooms, take taxis, buy tickets, and generally get myself around, but it’s weird to have my parents relying on me, and my (extremely limited) Chinese skills. It’s also weird to explain strange methods to my parents, and try to make them comfortable in China.

And I need new vocabulary to continue this post without saying “weird, weird, weird”.

One Month Until Stick Visits!

To be totally honest, I’m a lot more worried about Stick’s arrival than I am about his absence. I haven’t seen the boy in 5 months — it’ll be 6 by the time he arrives — and a lot can happen in 6 months. I mean, I can get through entire relationships in that time!

I’m so excited about Stick coming to see me! I really want him to like China in general and Yantai in particular. I want him to like the Hemingway-as-a-foreign-correspondant part of expat life, and not get too caught up in the Margaret-Mead-in-Samoa part of Chinese life. I hope he’ll like what the guys here call the Wild West aspect, but I’m afraid that he’ll get distracted by the public spitting and urination, by the sweaty bodies crammed into a bus, by the filth, the noise and the constant touching of the foreigners.

Also, a lot of my adjustment to China has involved me becoming less squeamish about things like personal space, pollution, bodily functions and exactly what constitutes food. I think all of these adjustments are making my life easier, but what if it turns out that Stick is partial to girls with table manners?

The Anti-China

My new boss, “Will,” is the anti-China. I don’t mean his dislikes our host country, but he takes responsibility in a land where no one knows anything about that and no one knows when someone who does know will be in the office, which puts him at odds with the rest of the PRC. It’s always rare and always good to have an effective boss, but even more so when you live in Dante’s DMV, full of employees who have simoultaneously never heard of a license and just sold the last license.

Will’s also extremely well-informed about the school, which is probably because he has this uncanny ability to ask about how classes are going in a chatty way that’s totally-not-checking-up way. Plus we all plan lessons in a small office so we ALL know exactly what’s going on in each other’s lives. And Will

— I have to interrupt my discussions about how freakishly-well informed Will is because he just came in (I’m at the KFC drinking the ambrosial ice cream coffee to which I am addicted), said hi, and asked if I were writing another movie review.

“Huh? Writing a what?” was my chracteristically witty response. Will showed up before I could tell you he’s also pretty good-looking, but you already know my inability to form sentences when handsome guys are around. I fully expect to greet Stick at the airport with a string of vowel sounds and some pointing.

“What was it, Amityville Horror?” he asked.

I accused him of google-stalking, but I was secretly glad that he’s bothered to check up on me. That puts this school lightyears ahead of the usual system that requires English teachers to be both white and breathing.

Like I said, he’s the anti-China.

Ji, what were you thinking?

Last week my boss Ji took my class of Demon Children when I went out with Fresca. The Demon Children, and not the homesickness or lack of hot water, brought me closest to going back to the states. I am not qualified to teach nor am I particularly interested in teaching the under-12 crowd, but while my contract promises me work teaching my desired 13-18 range, it doesn’t actually forbid teaching a bizarre assortment of 4 to 11 years olds, whose English level bears no relation to their age. Tim knows all of his colors that start with R and end with ED. Rebecca wants to know if she can play with my daughter when I have one, or if she’ll be old enough to babysit.

Paul repeats everything I say with prefect pronunciation and almost no understanding. I have to say almost because after hearing each classroom instruction repeated back to me, with zero comprehension, I tried to get him to say “I am the very model of a modern major general” but he must have caught on somehow.

But Apple is probably the bane of my Chinese existence. Her hobbies are climbing on the desks, howling, and taking her clothes off. All three at once, if I’m not quick enough. I’ve asked to have her removed from the class, but her father has something to do with business licensing, and this is China. We usually make it through attendance before she attempts bodily harm on one of her classmates and I send her to the office to be someone else’s problem. I feel a little bad for the receptionist, but not bad enough to keep Apple in class.

When I explained to Ji that the little monsters were driving me insane, she told me how easy the small classes are, that I am not trying hard enough, and she offered to teach one lesson and let me observe. Let the record show that the student-inflicted bruises did NOT happen on my watch.

Since then, Ji and I have an armed truce. On occasion, she will ask me how we are progressing though the textbook or she’ll ask what the homework is. When that happens, I remind her of her verbal promise to hire a new teacher and her contractual obligation to provide a bilingual assistant. I make a vocab coloring sheet each week. I praise and encourage the kids who complete it, while I keep the others harmlessly shredding their handouts. If they remember the new words next week, great, but I’m content if they don’t color on their clothes or stick crayons up their noses. [Ok, so a small marker incident happened when I was meant to be teaching, but in my defense, destroying one’s outfit is fast and silent.]

Anyway, these are the monsters Ji got stuck with last week. The words she taught them were, and I quote:

cell phone
sweet potato

What? Where did she come up with those? Were they playing I, Spy on Waikiki?

I never laugh at girl students, no matter what they say. It makes them think I’m mocking their English and then they’ll never speak in class again. But in class today, after some surprisingly good behavior, Rebecca was elected class spokeswoman, and after a long nervous lead-in, and she told me they would be very, very good, and could I please not punish them again by sending Ji back again? I practically choked myself trying not to let a giggle out. It was so cute, I almost felt guilty for considering them demons sent from a hell-dimension to drive me insane.


I’ve Got A Theory…

I have a theory who R.A.B. is. He’s mentioned at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince… oh yeah, spoiler alert. Anyway, it’s Regulus Black. He’s the younger brother of Sirius who joined the Death Eaters, left the Death Eaters and was offed in some as-yet-unmentioned manner by Voldermort or “on Voldemort’s orders, more likely” (pg 112 in OOTP).

1) The initials. We don’t know his middle name, yet, but two out of three is pretty good.

2) He was murdered by Voldemort just after trying to leave the Death eaters which implies he was high up in the evil-doers’ chain of command. If he was close to Voldemort, he could have known about the Horcruxes and that would have made it easier for him to find the locket.

3) Sirius, and all the rest of the Black family, actually, is dead so they can’t give any info on Regulus. Sidenote to JK Rowling, who I’m sure is an avid reader of my blog: No more Pensieve scenes unless they involve Harry’s parents meeting and falling in love, ok? They’re starting to feel like page-count increasers and plot cop-outs.

4) There is a “heavy locket that none of them could open” (pg 116 in OOTP and I promise I’ll stop footnoting now) in a dresser at 12 Grimmauld Place. Coincidence?

5) Unfortunately, Mundungus Fletcher swiped a bunch of the Black family silver and pawned it in THBP, so the locket could be anywhere. Hence, the seventh book.

6) Rowling is really into the classicist-friendly foreshadowing. Some of it’s a bit much, like Sirius becoming a dog and Remus Lupin becoming a wolf.

And Regulus is the name of a Roman general who was taken prisoner by the Carthaginians in the 2nd Punic War. He was given an opportunity to return to Rome to a peace treaty, which he did, then he told the Roman senate not to accept them (even though those terms made provision for his life + return to Rome) because the terms sucked for the OotP, I mean, for Rome as a whole. He went back to Carthage with the answer, instead of running away which he totally could have gotten away with,, and then Voldemort, I mean, the Carthaginians, killed him.

Your tuition dollars at work, Mom and Dad.