February 28, 2012
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After getting home from the gym on Saturday night, my clothes smelled like smoke.  Why?  Because there is a smoking lounge in the middle of the gym.  Oh, China.  I think I’ll just use up my last 4 gym tickets and hope the weather’s good enough to exercise outside by then (though, since we’re still in the negatives, it probably will still be a bit cold).

The whole smoking thing has been getting to me a lot lately.  I could deal with it being in every nightclub, I was annoyed at the fact that it was in every restaurant, but now that I realize it’s also in the gym, this has really gone to far.  I can’t go to a single establishment outside of my own home without coming back smelling like cigarettes.  I’ve been told that the best way to ask someone to stop smoking is to say you’re pregnant.  Maybe I’ll try that next time I go to the gym for a belly dancing class.  See if anyone believes me…



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February 27, 2012
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I took a jazz class on Saturday night.  Now, although the title of the class translates directly to “Jazz Dance” (爵士舞) I assure you that the content of the class was, at best, tangentially related to jazz.  It was more like a very pop-centric hip hop class.  To me, pop or hip hop is more fun than jazz anyways, so I didn’t mind.  I just wonder what the heck they do in the class that’s actually called “Hip Hop Dance” (西哈舞)。

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Proud moment

February 26, 2012

I’m part of a QQ (Chinese instant messaging) group of young teachers at my school.  Often, comics and gifs are posted to the group, and I don’t really get them.  Usually I’m missing some important vocab and/or the sense of humor to appreciate the things they send out.  For example, once they sent a series of pictures of teachers using brooms and other odd items as a pointer-sticks, which they all seemed to think was really hilarious, but using a broom as a pointer is something that I do on a regular basis in my classroom and don’t find at all strange.  But now I know why my students laugh at me…

Yesterday, however, I had a very proud moment when, for the first time ever, I completely understood and appreciated a comic they posted.  Here it is:

In this case, I understood every single word, AND the joke resonates with me.

Here’s my translation (aiming to idiomatically capture the idea rather than word for word) with slashes between the frames: “At the very beginning of class/A fly flies by/By the time I look back at the board.”

Hahahahaha.  Yes.  This brings back memories of soooo many math and physics classes.  (C.Lin, I’m especially thinking of a certain Prof best represented by the thousand miles song)

Final note: Yeah, I realize that even if you can’t read Chinese, but still remember your days of calculus-based physics classes, you would be able to understand this perfectly.  It was just really cool that I could understand all the Chinese involved, even if it wasn’t necessary to get the joke.

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Letter frequency

February 25, 2012
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When I played hangman with my students at the beginning of my first semester, I was really amazed by how poorly they understood the distribution of the frequency with which various letters occur in the English language.  I swear, a group of American kindergarteners would have been able to give these top students at this top high school a run for their money in a hangman tournament, or maybe the kindergarteners would just straight up beat them.

Every round, among my students’ first guesses were X, Y, and Z.  I tried to point out to them that these letters are not common in English words, but that was back in the day when they I could barely get anything across to them because they were all so frozen in shock at the fact that I was speaking English to them (albeit at a quarter of my average speaking speed).

Anyways… today, I pulled out my phone to send a text message to Sabrina.  S is much closer to the end of the alphabet than the beginning, so I scrolled through my list of contacts starting at the bottom.  As it turns out, in my pitifully small address book, there are 16 names farther down in the alphabet than Sabrina.  I had to scroll up past all of the Zhous and Zhangs and Xus and Yus and Yangs and Wus and Wangs before finally reaching Sabrina.

Conclusion: my ability to make very fast judgements about letter frequency distributions in a foreign language is just as bad as my students’, and if there were a Chinese version of hangman, I wouldn’t stand a chance against a group of Chinese 5 year-olds.

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February 24, 2012

Zumba is great.  I downloaded a 48 minute long Zumba video called “Cardio Party!” and it’s pretty much exactly at my speed.  Meaning I’m still tripping over myself at times, but what’s the fun of doing something if you don’t have room to improve, right?

Since we’ve been jumping around a lot lately, and I still can’t find the house slipper that flew off of my foot during our cardio party yesterday, Sabrina and I invested in matching pairs of sneakers that we’ve designated for use only when exercising in our living room.

Yup, that’s right.  They’re shiny.  And not only are they shiny, but they’re knock of Chinese Michael Jordan brand.  In the store, the lady kept telling us that they were qiaodan, and I noted that the side did indeed say “qiaodan,” but it wasn’t until I took them out of the box at home that it dawned on me.  In Chinese, Jordan becomes Qiaodan.

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About the post office

February 24, 2012
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When I have sent letters and post cards in the past, it has taken over one month for them to arrive in the recipient’s mailbox.  I’ve been sending them from the small post office in my village, which is conveniently located just across the street from school.

Well, I just heard that if I send my stuff from a post office in Xiuning proper, it will only take about 9 days!  Wow.  The more you know…

Okay, yes, I figured it would take longer from a post office in a tiny village, but not four times longer!

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杨光的快了生活(Yang Guang’s Happy Life)

February 23, 2012
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Lately, things have been a little rough.  It got freezing cold again, and I got chilblains on my hands, which means my fingers are rather swollen and itchy.  I’ve been trying to keep a hot water bottle on them constantly so that I can recover from this ASAP.  Also, I’ve been studying for the MCAT (actually, it’s kind of fun remembering all the things I learned and forgot during my freshman year of college, but try as I might, I can’t fully get rid of that feeling of impending doom and stress and “what if I don’t do well”).

However, I have discovered something that makes my days a lot more fun.  It’s a Chinese TV show that’s fully available on the Internet.  It’s called 杨光的快了生活(Yang Guang’s Happy Life).  It’s about this guy:

He has pretty bad luck with everything.

And his best friend is a goofy fruit salesman:

I’m mostly able to follow the storyline, and like all Chinese TV shows ever, it has Chinese subtitles, so I frequently pause the show and read those when I didn’t catch what someone said.

The one problem is that the show takes place somewhere in the North, where people have very strong northern accents and speech patterns.  So, I’ve been picking up a lot of really northern expressions like “这个跟我有嘛关系啊?“ (what’s that have to do with me?).  In standard Chinese, the 嘛 (ma) should be replaced with 什么 (shenme).  But it’s a lot more fun to just say 嘛。So, I’m adding some northern expressions to my current 不标准 (non-standard) Anhui country dialect.

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Vitamin D

February 19, 2012

Today, I went for a walk.  I followed the white road (visible about mid-height of the above picture) through some the small village behind our school.  I was wearing four layers of clothes, but for the first time in so long, I felt warm.  The sun felt wonderful.  In the market, a man was selling twigs with roots that he promised would become fruit trees.  If only I  had some space for tree-planting…

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February 18, 2012
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There’s a gym in the city of Tunxi (about half an hour from where my home here).  It’s right next to the grocery store that we frequently shop at, so last time we went grocery shopping, we went in to take a look at the gym.  It was actually pretty sweet.  Nice machines, plenty of trainers walking around, trying to help you (they get paid on commission), and best of all: DANCE CLASSES!

It was Wednesday that we went and checked this gym out, so on Friday, since I didn’t have to teach any classes that day, Doug and I returned.  He wanted to do a spinning class, and I wanted to do whatever dance they had that day, which happened to be belly-dance (跳肚皮舞– also literally “belly dance”).

So, I ran on a treadmill for a while, overlooking the the busy main street, lit signs, and abundant advertisements, warming up for my belly-dance class thinking, “wow! this is “rural” China?”

Well, I don’t think I’m gonna make a career of belly-dancing, but I was just as close as any of the other students in the class–if not closer–to getting the steps right. So the good news is, having started with the kind of dance furthest from anything I’ve ever tried before, I now feel free to walk into any class there and just give it a shot.  Saturday is jazz, so I might do that one next week.

One weird thing, though: apparently it’s totally customary to just leave the door open during dance classes and allow randos to walk in and observe.  I guess it makes sense, though.  In China, there is no shame in dance, even if you’re not good at it.  The old people dance with fans in the park in front of the general public, the middle aged do line dances in the public square, and now, I dance at the gym along with five or so other people, all somewhat tripping over ourselves as we awkwardly attempt our first shimmies (希米) before a crowd of other gym-goers.

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Spring cleaning

February 17, 2012
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I always knew “spring cleaning” was a thing, but only today do I finally get it.

All these years, I had assumed spring cleaning was about being excited that nature was getting green again and having a fresh start and wanting to give yourself a fresh clean house to enjoy it in.  Put another way, I just saw spring cleaning as a way humans try to imitate nature.  If it can go from being terrible and icy to being this nice outside, I guess my room can go from this disaster to being clean again.

Today, the weather was above freezing. 2 degrees Celsius.  Hallelujah.

I finally took the clothes I washed that had been hanging, wet, in my bathroom for the past three days and put them out on the line.  I had been dying to hang my thick blankets out to bake (as much as anything can bake in 2oC) in the UV sunlight.  That’s what people do here, because if you washed the blankets with water, the combination of the blanket’s thickness and the perpetual humidity would pretty much guarantee that the thing would rot before it dried.  Finally, it stopped raining for one day, and I seized the opportunity.  On really sunny days, you can barely find a place to hang a blanket because everyone and their grandma is airing their blankets out.  Oddly, today, nobody else seemed to be doing it, so I went and asked my neighbor whether today was an acceptable day for outdoor blanket hanging (我今天可不可以晒被子?). Just had to make sure there wasn’t something they all knew that I didn’t.

Having removed all of my bedding and wet laundry from my room, I opened the windows and vacuumed up the damp powdered laundry detergent I’d somehow managed to track all over when I was pacing and feeling food poisoned two nights ago.  Okay, fine, that one has nothing to do with it being spring.  But everything else does!  In a place where all serious cleaning involves sunlight and reasonably dry weather, you simply can’t clean properly in the winter.  And that, my friends, is why we have spring cleaning.

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