Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Couple of Staccatos

The Northeast Blackout of 2003

China's Cyber-Militia

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

An Off-Broadway Show: A Place to Live.

April 7th : Ms. Jia, the housing assistant at IUP, sent a short email with a long attachment. With Tsinghua University Foreign Student Affairs Office’s lack of immediate response on the availability of dorms for IUP students, Ms. Jia urged all students to find off-campus housing as soon as possible. The attachment, The Renter’s Handbook, reads like Moses’ commandments - “When negotiating with the landlord, thou shall demand accompaniment to the police office to file for the residency permit” - “Thou shall demand the landlord to operate all appliances to ensure proper usage.” While I was still at school, I didn’t have time to find an apartment, so as soon as I got home I went through one housing site after another, my Chinese electronic dictionary in one hand, the mouse in the other, searching for an affordable place. The Olympics hype cranked up rent rates up to twice the usual rates at most places.

I found an apartment in the Huaqing Jiayuan complex, not ten minutes from my university campus. Fully furnished, safe, close to the market and school - for twice the price of the university dorm (6500RMB per month). Considering that it was the lowest price tag I had found within such close proximity to my Chinese program, I sent an email to the landlord, agreeing that I will live in her apartment for a year and requesting wire transfer information as well as the lease agreement, on which I would send her a scanned copy of my signature. I informed the Light Fellowship Director and asked for a increase on my summer housing budget.

May 20th: Ms. Jia sends another email: “DORMITORIES AVAILABLE! Reserve quickly!”


The next few emails I exchanged with the landlord to cancel the lease, at least the ones she sent me, weren’t pretty. A Chinese neighbor told me that the first affirmative email I sent was as good as the lease agreement or any red Chinese print seal. I was lucky, the neighbor said, to not have been demanded some fee for canceling everything that I had negotiated.

As much as I enjoyed exchanging letters with the landlord in Chinese, the days of this pleasant-culturally-ignorant-and-naïve-American-student-studying-Chinese personality ended. I feel as though the landlord let me go not just out of her kindness but because I didn’t know the subtle formalities in Chinese business.
Chinese business lesson #1: Know the customs.

On a brighter note, my visa just came today. The visa company even gave me a plastic cover for my passport.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Nocturne: Mothers

At the beginning of my sophomore year, I secretly planned to stay at school until the dorms closed. After a couple weeks of hanging around with the family, I couldn’t accustom myself to the slow pace of home. College was moving, exciting. Funny how I ended up being the first person back home out of all my suitemates.

If we decided to wage a war against our moms, moms would win without using nuclear bombs or using unmanned surveillance technology. No, their strategy is much more fundamental – it attacks basic needs. Cut off the homemade food supply, let the mundane college food collect its toll. Keep communications to a minimum during exams so that your child doesn’t know how you are and cannot use you as a source of procrastination.

Surrendering wasn’t hard. No one can live without food and love.

That’s my mom – reeling me in with 돼지보쌈, 된장찌개, and the latest gossip on the antics of Korean housewives she meets at her English school (the gossip is worthy of a blog entry – stay tuned). With mouthfuls of 김치 and the assortment of 반찬 that she has prepared, all I can do is nod to her sarcastic criticisms of Korean mothers. Defeat is tasteful and enjoyable.

I found this rather touching article about single mothers in China dealing with their own set of hardships.

“When we argue that a woman owns the uterus, and it’s her right to decide whether to deliver the baby or not, people won’t buy it,” said Yuan Xin, director of psychology at the Consulting Center of Nankai University. “If you are a woman, your personal choice is monitored and supervised by a lot of others, and they expect you to do what everyone else does.”

How frustrating it must be to be a strong woman in China. If you’re trying to make yourself into a 职业女性,society calls you 女强人 or 三八。 We can all remind ourselves through the lyrical genius of Oveous Maximus:
“Picture 270 days – 270 days where bones lift and organs shift to make room in the womb for you and I the future generation ‘cuz when you’re born it’s appreciation…‘don’t cut off the hand that feeds you,’ but we do when we oppress women on so many levels, our perceptions of them less than equal…a woman’s leche is pure…pure like my mother for raising two boys single with two jobs trying to make singles just to put food on the table…the way I see it, this will always be a man’s world, under a woman’s supervision.”

Some suggestions to all Light Fellows and travelers: Get a webcam. Set up Skype for your mother and teach her how to use it so that you she can worry less about you while you’re in China. Hug her…and eat her food while you can.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Allegro: Farewells

I thought I had reading and finals weeks scheduled perfectly. Hours of studying punctuated by meals with friends and occasional daydreaming in the Sterling Memorial Library courtyard, daily packing of some luggage as I take my finals.

The problem is, one meal is not enough.

Scenario: We meet. Surprisingly, we both arrive on time, not on Yale time. At salad, we'd start to remember random, recent memories of us together. At roast chicken or some New Haven-fied Lo Mein, we move further into the past, reflecting on how we first met and ridiculous first impressions. At dessert, we're so deep into memories we hardly have to time to say goodbye. Hastily, we promise each other to meet at the next Harvard-Yale tailgate, or that he/she'd visit me while I'm abroad. After a handshake or a hug, we each take what farewells and wishes we can offer and walk away.

Half an hour into my physics and environmental politics notes, a text vibrates my cell phone. The friend wants to meet for coffee before I leave.

Honestly, I don't know when I'll get the chance to meet all the juniors and seniors I've grown close to since my freshman year. All I have is a one-way ticket to Beijing, return date unknown.

Maybe I'm overexaggerating.

I find adopting Athabaskan language near the conclusion of every year useful. Athabaskan is a language spoken by Natie American tribes in parts of Canada, Alaska, Oregon and California. After most conversations, closing remarks are exchanged with a final "goodbye." Athabaskans, however, feel no obligation to say "goodbye," or any closing remark. In fact, Athabaskan languages have no word that means "goodbye."
Mary TallMountain is more eloquent than I am to express my thoughts:

What do you say in Athabaskan
when you leave each other?
What is the word
for goodbye?...
We always think you're coming back,
but if you don't,
we'll see you some place else.
You understand.
There is no word for goodbye.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Ode to Smoke-free Joy

Yesterday marked the first of a hundred days before the Olympics festivities begin, but today BBC World News reported something even more joyous. China will ban smoking in Beijing in most public buildings. The government authorities say that they want to present China as a healthy, modern and clean city, but ironically the ban still allows smoking in restaurants and bars. Oh well – at least non-smoking areas are mandatory in cafés now. Although a sunless gray white sky will depress me, at least I won’t have to worry about environmental tobacco smoke clogging my lungs and arteries.

“For every three cigarettes lit worldwide, one is smoked in China.”

Although the ban gives me reason to anticipate China even more, something tells me that people will still smoke in public areas, paying off the enforcers 1 yuan at a time or something. 毕竟,关系扮演重要的角色。Let’s hope that 100,000 enforcement members are enough to lower ambient nicotine levels in Beijing. I also hope that Beijing will maintain this ban after the Olympics, but I doubt that the Chinese tobacco industry will stay quiet…

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