Thursday, December 31, 2009

Watch me.

Happy New Year!  新年快乐!새해 복 많이 받으세요!  新年おめでとうございます!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Schubert's Moment Musicals: A summer? A year?

(Standing in front of Tiananmen, New Year's Eve 2008).

I recently had a Google Chat conversation with a friend at Yale. For privacy reasons, I'll call him Dough. Dough studied Chinese as a Light Fellow this past summer, and was seriously considering going to China for a longer period of time. However, he asked me for advice on when and how long he should go. This summer? After I graduate? This summer and another academic year?
Dough loves all that is China, from the characters to its bicycles, from its natural wonders to its women. He is thrilled by the idea of fending for himself and carving a new identity in a foreign environment. He read my blog (yay!) and said, "I want to have the experiences you had." I am flattered.
However, Dough admitted that he participates in many extracurricular activities on campus and has friends across the classes and faculty. How could he leave everything just to study a language? He would be leaving behind friends, advisors and organizations that will need him.

Dough raised interesting concerns. He at once wanted to leave and remain in his network. Allow me highlight some of the savory bits of our discussion:

-- "I don't want to leave my friends, my campus job, my positions, etc."
Simply put, your friends and your commitments will be waiting for you when you get back. Your friends won't desert or forget about you. After talking with other alumni who had taken leaves of absences, and experiencing for myself, I found that organizations in which you were a member will want you back because you're know more globally aware and knowledgeable. However, you'll probably want to leave them and find new activities that suit your newfound tastes. Also, by being a part of society abroad, you can pursue much more interesting junior/senior research when you're back at Yale.

-- "I want to have the experiences you had."
Sorry, but you won't. I'm not saying this with any sort of pride - rather, I say it with jealousy. Your experiences will be more exciting and awesome, guaranteed. In countries as confusing, bizarre, exciting and insane as China, Japan and Korea, you can walk down a street, talk to ten different people the same question and hear widely different responses. East Asia is changing rapidly - my blog attempted to capture, in several hundred word bits, brief moments that I found amazing. I want to go back and continue being a part of the change. If I had the choice of either finishing my Yale degree or going back and submerging myself in any of those countries for another year, I'd choose the latter in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, Yale only allows leaves of absences with a maximum length of one year. I guess I'll just have to read your blog until I graduate.

-- "I had a lot of fun during summer, studying and partying."
The academic year experience can be very different. Many of your summer drinking buddies will probably go back home, and you'll have to find new ways to keep yourself occupied. You'll probably feel homesick, alone, depressed, annoyed. You'll probably complain often. (Complaining, though, is something we have to do anyways in order to learn languages.) But think of the good things: you'll experience the other three seasons. You can use your solitude to seriously reflect about your life - assuming we all will live until we're 100, you've already lived one-fifth. How will you live out the remaining four-fifths? You can build more intimate relationships with local friends. You can visit more exhibitions, participate in club events far more interesting than the ones at Yale, attend events you'd never go to - and in the process, you can begin understanding your own passions. At Yale, most people don't really allow themselves the peace and serenity necessary to find their interests.

-- "The idea of being a foreigner excites me."
Read this piece on being foreign by The Economist.

Dough, I hope you ultimately make the decision that you won't regret.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Silent Night - 이야기

An exercise in English-Korean translation. English passage from John Welwood's Journey of the Heart, pages 25-26.

어떤 상황을 알게되는 것은 간단해도, 있는 그대로 알게 되는 것은 쉽지가않다. 우리는 현실의 식상한 견해를 유지하고 촉진하는 것들에 익숙해져있어서, 어떤 상황을 사실되로 보는 능력이 저해된다. 특별히 사랑에있어서, 우리의 한정된 희망, 두려움과 여러 선입관, 믿음및 의견들이 우리의 눈을 멀게한다.

세상은 이렇게 돌아간다” – 이런 주제의 물든 반복적인 이야기들을 통해서 세계를보는 한정된 시각들을 영속하게한다. 이런 이야기들은 사람들이 아는 체계에다가 실제적사건을 해명하고싶은 허구다. 우리는 평소에 이런 이야기가 자신의 꾸밈이라는 것을 알지 못하고 그것들이 대신 현실을 표현한다고 믿는다. 이런 이야기들은 정신의 배경에서 기계처럼 작동해서, 잠재의식을 통해서 우리에게 영향을준다. 그것들이 우리를 지배하는 것을 자각하지 못하면, 그 것들은 우리들을 식상한 행동양식에다가 더 묶여지게 만든다. 성숙한 인간관계의 제일 큰 장애물은 대개 인간관계가 어떻게 되야 된다는 이야기들이다. (누구를 사랑하면, 그를 영원히 행복하게해야한다그를 반듯이 지켜야한다자기의 화를 꼭 억 눌러야한다) 그런 이야기들은 우리의 선택과 자유를 적어지게하고 꼭막힌 상자속에 갇혀있게 만든다.

이런 믿음과 이야기들의 구성은 자연스러운 의식의 투명성과 유동성을 여과기 처럼 불투명하게한다. 이 구성이 너무 두텁고 얽혀서, 우리는 자신이 구성의 이야기를 꾸미는 것을 발견하고 간파하고, 그리고 실제로 일어나는 것을 볼수있는 간단한 기본적인 의식으로 회복하는 방법을 찾지못하고있다. 우리는 언제든지 사상에서 의식으로 옮길수 있다는것을 이해해야된다. 그러므로, 악기를 연습하면 더 아름답게 연주할수있는 것처럼, 우리는 의도적으로 자각을 연습해야 그상태를 더 쉽게 접근할수있다. 더 큰 의식을 갖으면서 우리의 행동을 제어하는 이야기들도 버리고 우리의 삶에서 더 큰 자유과 투명을 발견할수있다.

While becoming aware of what is happening is simple enough, it is of course not always easy to do. This is because we have an investment in maintaining and promoting an old familiar version of reality, and this prevents us from seeing what is actually going on. Especially in the area of love, we are blinded by conditioned hopes and fears, by cherished preconceptions, beliefs, and opinions of all kinds, both personal and collective.

We perpetuate these conditioned ways of perceiving the world through repetitive stories we tell ourselves about "the way things are." These kinds of stories are mental fabrications, judgments or interpretations that put what is happening into a familiar framework. Usually we do not recognize these stories as our own invention; instead, we believe that they represent reality. Stories often operate in the background of the mind, as part of an ongoing stream of subconscious gossip that we keep up with ourselves. The less conscious we are of how they control us, the more they keep us locked into old patterns of behavior. The greatest obstacles in relationships are often our stories about how we think relationships should be. ("If you love someone, you should always keep them should always want to be should set aside your anger.") They narrow our options and keep us stuck in very tight boxes.

This dense fabric of entrenched belief, stories, and reaction patterns acts as a filter that clouds and obscures the natural clarity and fluidity of awareness. Because this web is so thick and entangling, we need to find ways to catch ourselves in the act of constructing these stories, see through them, and return to a basic, simple awareness of what is immediately happening. We need to discover that we can, at any moment, make a shift from thought to awareness, which is the larger space in which thoughts and stories arise. So, just as practicing a musical instrument allows us to play more fluidly, we must at first intentionally practice awareness before it can flow more fluidly and reflect more accurately on its own. With greater consciousness, we can begin to dislodge the stories controlling our behavior, thus developing greater clarity and freedom in our life.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Jingle Bells: Online Resources to study East Asian Languages

This past semester, I began studying Japanese. Because I am familiar with Korean grammar and studied Chinese for a bit, learning Japanese has been a very smooth and fun experience. Occasionally, I had to learn how to write certain characters differently, or rearrange words to conform Japanese structures, but overall the language is interesting. It has been particularly interesting to find linguistic similarities and go on small etymological quests to understand the history of related words. Sometimes, I confuse pronunciations and add onomatopoeia using the wrong languages: "その車は、ちょっと。。。那个那个那个。。。비싸, no, 高いですねえ!”

I noticed that if I was aware of all the internet resources to study the East Asian languages earlier in my Yale career, I probably would have enjoyed first-year Chinese more (though, Zhou Laoshi's lectures were always fun and second to none). I'll try to compile a few sites I use to study Japanese now, including a few other sites that I use to review Korean and Chinese.

First of all, I'd like to highly recommend a blogging site called Lang-8. You can write entries and have native speakers correct them for you. The website has fairly large communities of Japanese, Chinese and Koreans. This is one of the few social networks online that I've found to actually be effective in learning languages.

nciku - Back when nciku was still in beta, there were lots of expats trying to build this site and make it as organic as possible. The result today is impressive - you can write in characters that you cannot pronounce, or write in pinyin for the characters you can't write, and find definitions quickly. The example sentences are especially helpful to understand the contexts for word usage.
zdic - All Chinese interface, for the advanced learner. This site is excellent for understanding classical definitions of characters and finding fun chengyu (成语). It uses Kangxi Zidian and Cihai (kind of like OED, but Chinese) to explain character etymologies.
wenlin - translation and dictionary software. You can copy and paste anything Chinese into the interface to find quick definitions of characters. Whenever I write essays or translate articles, I usually have this open in the background for quick cross-referencing. Wenlin also offers flashcard programs to help you memorize pesky words and difficult phrases. Unfortunately, Wenlin is not free. For a free, but not as resourceful, software similar to Wenlin, try Chinese Practice.

jisho - Pretty basic layout, with search engines for hiragana, katakana and kanji all on the main page. You can even search/translate sentences!
naver - The major Korean search engine designed this dictionary for Korean speakers learning Japanese. It allows you to write Japanese on the screen to find definitions. The example sentences are extremely helpful. If you look up grammar words, the site also offers grammar explanations written and approved by bloggers.
wakan - like the Wenlin for Chinese learners. Built-in dictionary is a bit cumbersome to use, but the translation and pronunciation features are awesome.

naver - This one is a no-brainer. This site is not just a Korean-English dictionary, but also offers Korean-Hanzi, Korean-Chinese, Korean-Japanese, H-K, C-K and J-K dictionaries. Other major Korean search engines, like Nate (originally Empas) also offer dictionary services, but they are nowhere as comprehensive as Naver's.

Hope this helps. Happy holidays!

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

legend of ashitaka: musings in the rain


Gray dabbles the sky as the rain softly falls,
but the puddles reflect white. The squirrel skitters.
I forgot my dorm key and am standing under the door rail——
I see cold but feel warm - why?

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Street Stomping: MRN

Over the past few months, I have been developing an online knowledge platform called the Migrant Resource Network. This initiative was started by Compassion for Migrant Children. While I was designing the health education program, I learned about this project and decided to contribute, knowing that it would encourage me to stay update about migrant-related issues.

The best part about this project is that I know this database is necessary, significant, and will bring change to how migrant support NGOs communicate in China. Most NGO work is fairly decentralized in China; fundraising for local non-profits is always a difficult issue; and there currently exists no core Wikipedia-like website that addresses one of China's greatest social problems. The purposes of the site include 1) facilitating NGO communication; 2) attracting more donors; 3) functioning as encyclopedia on all things migrant-related; and 4) functioning as consultancy that will aid grassroots NGOs with capacity-building.

I suppose it is something akin to what Cal Newport over at Study Hacks calls "a grand project." Even though I have a reading-intensive course load completely different from my previous studies at Yale, I have been able to work on MRN weekly by blocking out specific times from Thursday to Sunday. I've found the three to four hours after dinner and before college nightlife to be golden hours to research new material, skim over the database for technical updates and have video conferences with other team members abroad. The database is still under development, but I envision it will be ready very soon.

If anyone is interested in the website, please visit

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Friday, November 13, 2009

The Star-Spangled Banner: What do Chinese people think of Obama?

Just last year, Obama seemed as popular in China as anywhere. A survey by the U.S. embassy in Beijing late last year and reprinted in China Daily showed he was popular among 75% of Internet users who participated in the survey.

Recently, however, similar polls have signaled a steep drop. In the latest issue of Oriental Outlook, an article called “Chinese people’s view on Obama” indicates that there is plummeting support. The publication conducted informal polls and interviews, resulting in a sober prognosis. After slapping tariffs on Chinese products, the magazine found that, “In many Chinese people’s eyes, he hasn’t been able to maintain a positive image.”

“Chinese people’s view on Obama” (in Chinese)

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Monday, November 9, 2009

On Love... from the Yuan Dynasty

This poem was written over 700 years ago by the only famous female artist from the Yuan Dynasty - Guan Daosheng (管道升).








Married Love

You and I
Have so much love,
That it
Burns like a fire,

In which we bake a lump of clay
Molded into a figure of you
And a figure of me.

Then we take both of them,
And break them into pieces,
And mix the pieces with water,

And mold again a figure of you,
And a figure of me.

I am in your clay.
You are in my clay.

In life we share a single quilt,
In death we will share one coffin.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Written to the Tune of Shan Po Yang and Depression

What does clinical depression mean?

Depression ranges in seriousness from mild, temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent depression. Doctors use the term "clinical depression" to describe the more severe, persistent form of depression also known as "major depression" or "major depressive disorder." Signs and symptoms of clinical depression may include:
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Persistent sadness or feeling of emptiness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Loss of concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior
Now here's the money question: If a Western doctor was dropped in the middle of premodern CHina, how many Chinese poets would he diagnose as clinically depressed?

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Saturday, October 24, 2009







Rain falls today like a broken pearl necklace;

Trees look on naked as their red clothes take a beating.

Why must it rain on weekends?

Only the earthworms come out and play, smiling.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

嚎丧者 (Professional Mourners)










李长庚: 《送魂调》、《追魂调》、 《安魂调》、 《唤魂调》、 《辞亲调》、 《大悲》、 《小悲》、 《封禧》、 《渡亡》、 《陪葬》、 《下葬》、 《回头》、 《撕心裂肺调》、 《呜呼衷哉调》。这些调式都是前人经过千锤百练,一代代传下来的,哪高、哪低、哪哑、哪扬、哪该干嚎、哪该湿嚎,哪该全身哆嗦出不来声,都很讲究。一般的死者亲属,一见尸体就控制不住,大放悲声,没几下就坚持不了,痛极攻心,还会昏迷、休克。而我们一入情绪,就收放自如,想嚎多久就嚎多久。如果场面大,收入可观,还能临场发挥。















老威:小时候在农村,我曾听爷爷讲过吆尸人的传说,是否真有其事? 李长庚:你爷爷咋讲的?




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Sunday, September 13, 2009

创造自己的音乐 (Making your own music)

夏天时很想继续更新这个博客,可是由于工作的原因,所以没能把每个故事都写下来。现在已经回到耶鲁了,时差已经倒过来了,可是文化冲击(culture shock)实在太大了。到处都是消毒液和各种肤色的人。耶鲁本身也焕然一新了,每天在路上走路的时候可以听到改修建筑的那铿铿之声。

Sometimes we have to make the decision whether to write or live the blog. I apologize for not writing over the past few months, and will do my best to summarize.
Over the past year and a half, I have been traveling and studying in China as a Richard U. Light Fellow of Yale University. I learned of a nonprofit organization called Compassion for Migrant Children in late December 2008, and began working there in April of 2009 to develop its health initiatives. With the support of the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute, I have been able to establish a health awareness and education program and expand outreach and awareness on China's internal migration issues.
As those who do not have an identity under the current hukou (household registration) system, migrant children and their communities face many challenges, including substandard education, inadequate healthcare and unstable residency. A needs assessment survey conducted at the now-demolished Dawangjing village in late 2007 reveals that many migrant children and parents are not aware of many hygienic habits and health facts that could decrease the frequency of preventable illnesses such as diarrhea and dysentery. Negative images of migrant communities are reflected in media, even in community health stations, where doctors describe migrants to be poor and dirty, a stain on what were originally “pure” villages populated by Beijingers. Migrants realize this and simply go to unlicensed clinics in migrant neighborhoods. As one man I spoke to over a couple bowls of beef noodles related, “Any medicine that ease the aches sold without the (urbanite’s) discrimination is better than service provided with disdain.
After working with migrant teenagers, local organizations and fellow workers, I drafted the health program manual for CMC, outlining health curriculum development and implementation procedures for CMC’s core programs as well as procedures on developing healthcare projects with outside organizations.
I approached and negotiated with several organizations on providing preventative medicine workshops for migrant youth, including corporations such as SOS International, Vista Health and United Family (China’s only foreign-run hospital). However, I found my proposals heard by another Beijing-based NGO called Prevention through Education (PTE), an organization which seeks to spread HIV/AIDS prevention education throughout China. While the teachers’ primary topic of expertise was sexually transmitted infections with emphasis on HIV/AIDS, PTE’s medical representatives realized the value and importance of providing a comprehensive preventative health curriculum for migrant youth after understanding their major health concerns and needs. Today, PTE’s teachers have already developed classes to be taught to our young migrant trainees that will cover essential topics including personal hygiene, diet, drug/alcohol abuse and sex education. Because the migrant teenagers who lived at CMC’s community center were familiar with me as a teacher, I ran trial awareness seminars in Chinese on sample topics, including H1N1 flu awareness and human anatomy.
I also began discussing projects with United Family’s philanthropy director in early June to provide free immunization service for the migrant youth of the Dongba community. However, following the economic crisis, United Family’s board of directors fired the philanthropy director for engaging in projects “that do not comply with currently changing development plans (of the hospital).” The projects have not been discussed since the director’s dismissal. This was among the earliest of my several encounters in Beijing with corporate social responsibility (CSR). Though I accept the fact that many businesses today may never be socially responsible and comply with CSR for the sake of window-dressing, my work to provide health education at CMC’s community centers has taught me how to negotiate in order to leverage resources that benefit a greater social good.
Demolition mandated by district and city government officials constantly threatens CMC’s work in migrant communities. Government officials realize that migrant workers literally have built the physical infrastructure of major coastal cities and continue to create economic wealth for China. However, policymakers worry that unmanaged growth of migrant villages will result in formations of nonstate migrant power that threaten government rule. Therefore, the ultimate goal behind demolition acts is not to completely erase migrant communities, but to create regulated regimes of private capital. Without a doubt, restructuring both the physical landscape and social hierarchy in migrant communities has major consequences on the lives of migrant children and their families, but in the race for survival on urban territory, migrant workers sacrifice their health for socioeconomic security. A lack of healthcare awareness coupled with a biased healthcare system that serves only those with urban hukou discourages the typical migrant worker from investing time and money learning about local healthcare services. For the migrant worker, a couple pills of acetaminophen may mean comprehensive healthcare. To ameliorate the ill-effects of policy concerning internal migration, the nongovernmental sector in China must persevere in its efforts to provide evidence of successful alternative programs that respect the migrant individual as a human being. At the same time, players in the nongovernmental sector must learn how to rangbu, or make way, for government. Though the health program is far from complete, the foundations have been laid for greater and more meaningful projects to come. I hope to return to CMC next year to continue overseeing the development of the health program as CMC’s community centers expand, face new political obstacles and interact in new migrant communities.

Truth be told, I leave Beijing dissatisfied. I leave a program to which I dedicated the second half of my life in China, and wander around Yale from class to class, still wondering ways to alleviate China's internal migration problems. I left behind relationships in the migrant communities, friends my age who are braving the real world for less than minimum wage. For now, there are only two things that help me put this program into perspective.
The wise Charlie, the former Director of Operations at CMC (now studying at the London School of Economics), advised me, "You're not going to fix the world in five months. The program who design will guide the people who come after you - think about the work as a mission where you have allies there to support you. Interventions and short-term projects are great, but ask yourself - what is the point, and will it make a long-term irreversible positive impact?"
Second, I read a book recommended to me by the founder of CMC, Jonathan, called Pathologies of Power by Dr. Paul Farmer. In his book, Dr. Farmer says that the claim that some people are born unlucky is a fallacy - simply put, there are socioeconomic and political roots to health issues that have caused concentration of wealth and fortune in the hands of few. These problems must be addressed in order to maximize our current efforts in global health.

Indeed, after working at CMC, I realize that there are poisons in this world whose antidotes, though we possess them, are difficult to distribute. However, if we have the ability to imagine a future where, as Dr. Farmer incessantly says, Articles 25 and 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are observed, can't we also create it?

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

古琴 (Guqin) or 吉他 (Guitar) - The Chinese Language, Evolving?

About a month ago the New York Times discussed the simplification of the Chinese language and invited experts to debate the shift from traditional to simplifed characters on the mainland and the preservation of traditional characters elsewhere. Professor Eileen Chow of Harvard University acknowledges that while the simplification of the Chinese language has led to increased literacy and ease of communication, to be ignorant of traditional characters is "to close oneself off to Chinese tradition and arts before the 1950s." Professor Eugene Wang, again of Harvard University, argues that simplified characters are justified by the amount of information that needs to be absorbed everyday. After all, a week's worth of information in the NY Times today contains more information than a person would come across in lifetime during the 18th century. "The first step is efficiency, the second is for cultural refinement," Professor Wang says, “That is why every society has the division of labor between bankers and poets." A columnist for the World Journal Weekly mentions that classical philosophers "exploited the full range and expression of traditional Chinese characters" and concludes that simplified characters is merely the solution for politics, not culture.

Over a year ago, three-time Light Fellow and friend Angel Ayala wrote an opinion column for the Yale Daily News in response to an email that instructed all Chinese lectors and professors to place more emphasis on traditional characters. This column basically summarizes everything that the experts said above, but is written from a student's perspective.

As novices to the world of Chinese, we often cannot tell the difference among traditional and simplified characters in the first place, not to mention the different computer fonts that can vary stroke placement, number and order. To confirm Angel's point on newspapers in the States, I have not found one publication that is printed with simplified characters. However, I also noticed that the specialized diction and tone used in American Chinese newspapers are different from mainland newspapers, from the use of certain chengyu to the structure of the sentences themselves.

History versus Professor Chow's linguistic "utopia," elitism versus populism, traditional versus simplified characters - I find the defenses of each side of each debate strong and, frankly, I do not intend to attack any of them. Western readers new to the entire debate may associate the argument that art and culture are lost with the decline of traditional characters to George Orwell's essay on Newspeak - "It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words" - but have changed the words Newspeak and Oldspeak to simplified and traditional characters and the word "heretical" to an adjective that at once embodies "cultural, historical, artistic." I do not find the debate has distinct and dire as Orwell has written, but I do agree that the complete death of traditional characters will trigger the slow deletion of ancient Chinese history and culture. Fortunately, I believe that will never happen so long as this Earth has historians and artistic souls who look back in time and dare to reflect on past life. However, as we cannot all be fulltime professional historians, for the sake of communication and development, I suppose language does have to change its shape and form.
For the simplified character readers who suddenly find an interest for Confucian and Daoist philosophy/history but have no interest in studying traditional characters, I suppose Yu Dan's lectures will do, albeit her shallow and skewed interpretation of the texts.

For the reader who really doesn't understand the cultural and history gap between traditional and simplified characters, I decided to compare the character 藝 (艺), or yi, in this entry. In the picture to the left, the simplified yi is to the left. This character means "skill" today. In modern Chinese, 藝術 (艺术) means art. However, originally this character meant "to grow." (艺,种也。 ——《说文》)
The traditional character is a pictograph of a plant growing. On the left side, a plant (圥) in soil (土) is cared for by a hand (丸,凡). To this, grass was added (艹) and cloud was added to water the crop (云). Later this character was used by Confucius to mean "strive for, seek" (求也藝。——《論語·雍也》). The development of this character from "grow" to "strive" suggests a historical shift from agriculture to specialized craftsmanship.

The simplified form is just grass (艹) over the 乙 (yi) phonetic.

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Friday, June 12, 2009






在沙地和大海之间那固态和液态紧紧相连的汇合处,被打湿的沙子大喊:“不服!” 它们勇敢地面对大海,以自身连成一带深褐色的前线。






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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bangu (板鼓) - End of Fellowship Thoughts and Transitions

(Writer's Note: The following blog is the final part in a series of entries that will summarize my life as a student at the Inter-University Program at Tsinghua University (IUP).)

After submitting my final essays to my tutorial teachers, I felt dizzy. Shouldn't one feel free after finishing school? Shouldn't one feel at ease? Instead, I felt even more confused and lost than when I had begun studying Chinese.
Maybe my mind is trying to reflect on everything that has happened since my first day at IUP. Maybe my mind is trying to prepare to leave an environment to which it had accustomed, to leave dear teachers and friends. I gained thousands of words and lost seven pounds (in all the wrong places), made friends throughout China and lost a few memories.

In this series, I've talked of bikes, my apartment and my thoughts on education at IUP. For future Light Fellows, if you wish to save time, just read the following few grains of advice:
1. Live off campus.
2. Ride a bike.
3. Read out loud.

Besides this, I can offer no constructive advice. I can offer one deconstructive piece of advice however -

Be independent.

We are all part of the social media generation - we live in a world where are friends and family are a few clicks away. Networking has a good reputation. I'm not saying any of this is bad - friends will miss you and mothers will worry if you don't reply back to their emails and wall posts. Networking also fails if you don't respond. I'm just saying isolate yourself from the western world. There are plenty of temptations in Wudaokou to allow you to revert to your comforts - English this, English that - but if you

came to China with the intention of mastering Chinese, a year's period of seclusion will not impede your English speaking ability. Complete cultural immersion happens only when you delete AIM and download QQ, when you refuse to speak English or mother tongue and when you dare to travel independently. Find Chinese friends on your own by attending random events, meeting random people and following them to other random events. Ignore the classmates that want to complain to you in English, or passively listen to them. Travel independently as often as possible or with no more than three people. After a year of struggling to abide by this one rule, my Chinese has improved faster, my appreciation of Chinese culture and politics has deepened and my perspective of my own cultural identity has changed greatly.

Though my studies in China have concluded as a Richard U. Light Fellow, I will continue to learn and work in China. With the support of the Yale Global Health Initiative, I will work at a Beijing-based nonprofit organization called Compassion for Migrant Children (CMC). I will organize health awareness workshops and investigate the relations between community health centers and migrant workers. These workshops will be designed to help improve children's hygiene habits and correct their parents' misconceptions about various health-related topics, including breastfeeding, STDs and the role of antibiotics. I will continue blogging my experiences working with migrant children and interacting with health officials in Beijing.

I am forever in Dr. Richard Light's debt. While I'll be working this summer to understand public health in China, the opportunities that build up this summer project would not have even appeared before my eyes had I not left Yale and lived in China. I sincerely thank you.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pipa (琵琶) - Studying at IUP

(Writer's Note: The following blog is the third part in a series of entries that will summarize my life as a student at the Inter-University Program at Tsinghua University (IUP). In this entry, I will write about my Chinese language program in Beijing for Light Fellows.)

When one first crosses into the realm of IUP, one will see a work of caoshu calligraphy hung on the opposing wall. One may make out the very first character, xue, 學. The rest looks like gibberish in print. Kind of like the reflection of the tree on the Tsinghua river - colorful and vibrant, but blurry.

IUP was created originally for scholars who wanted to research Chinese art and history and for future officials who wanted to discuss policy and economics. Now, the student population at this program is diverse, accepting undergraduates, graduate students, professors, investment bankers, consultants, journalists, curators, doctors, lawyers, musicians, to name a few. The students at IUP come from very different life backgrounds - a SAIS graduate fluent in Thai and strategic studies, a Harvard Chinese philosophy postdoc interested in green energy who worked as lead cook in Kyrgyzstan, an ex-engineer-cancer-survivor planning to teach English to children in Yunnan, a filmmaker with crushes on Three Kingdoms military strategist Zhu Geliang, a public health researcher who's smoked marijuana in Burma - to describe a few. And then there's that undergraduate who's having a mid-college crisis and seeks escape in Chinese. The learning is not just in the classroom.

Class size and textbook design are the pillars of IUP. Class size is limited to three students per teacher. The textbooks are designed so that vocabulary is purposely repeated. While the ambitious student may criticize this tactic as a cheap way of repeating words, it's actually repetition that reinforces and consolidates your mastery of the language. Most intensive programs constantly list new vocabulary without allowing students adequate review time - in IUP's textbooks, review is built in. Once your Chinese language level is high enough, you can take independent tutorials, where you select your own reading material.

The teachers are at once your educators and friends. The teachers at IUP are young (relative to your average Chinese language teacher back in the United States) - most are somewhere around 25. The older ones either act unbearably young or outrageously old. They are also female (except for the one male teacher in the picture above). They are very approachable but cliquish at the same time, especially the older teachers. But don't let the way they group together intimidate you. If there's anything that psychology books and Sex and the City has taught me, women coagulate so that they can be approached. A seemingly self-defeating dilemmic answer, but true. Eat lunch with them, hang out in their offices, make random jokes - eventually they all change.

Studying for classes varies from student to student. Lots of students enjoy Wenlin, found on all computers at IUP, as well as various dictionaries in the library for the usual vocabulary search. Some students rely on flashcards and rote memorization, associating English translations of words to their Chinese counterparts. While this strategy works for maybe through third-year Chinese, I feel that to really make a leap in Chinese learning you should graduate the cards and rely only on recordings and incessant reading of the text. Chinese is learned best when learned as native Chinese students learn it - through memorization or deep familiarization of entire passages. Also, the sooner you can exclusively use Chinese-Chinese dictionaries instead of Chinese-English dictionaries, the better.

After a few modules of hard studying at IUP, I looked down at the river and saw the trees' reflection in the water. I was pleased to see the outline of the trunks and clumps of leaves and branches - an improvement from the yellow green mixture from before.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dizi (笛子) - Bikes

(Writer's Note: The following blog is the second part in a series of entries that will summarize my life as a student at the Inter-University Program at Tsinghua University (IUP). In this entry, I will talk about biking in Beijing for Light Fellows.)
Traffic is a constant in Beijing, no matter what mode of transportation you select. This means that even if you drive, you may not get to your destination faster than a pedestrian. However, as shown in the picture to the left, many people bike. Bus and subway are popular for cross-district or cross-city commute, and trains are for cross-province travel. In Beijing, getting around any where is rather arduous and time-consuming without a bike.

Even the illustrious leader of IUP, Li Yun, rides a bike to and from IUP.

A few differences between biking in Beijing and the United States:
1. No one wears a helmet. (Unless the bicyclist is very accident-prone.)
2. No one gets ticketed for not wearing a helmet.
3. Talking on the cell phone with one hand and eating ice cream with the other while cycling is not uncommon.
4. Bikers often compete with buses and horses for road supremacy. This is especially true at intersections - no sane Beijing driver will stop for a slow cycler unless said driver is a sex-deprived male and said cycler is a woman with a very short skirt. (Said driver is common. Said cycler is rare.)
5. Honking does not immediately lead to road rage in China. Rather, it's ignored by the biker.
6. Bike repair spots are ubiquitous. Repairmen vary in honesty and skill.
Old man Shang in the Dongwangzhuang neighborhood is hands down the best repairman in Beijing. The repairman near the Wudaokou station is an overcharging fart who takes a million years to change a broken basket. Old man Shang lives less than a minute from my apartment, so I just go over and talk to him about Zen and the art of bicycle maintenance. (No joke.) His Mandarin is very unstandard but musical in a Shaanxi sort-of way. He lost a couple fingers on his left hand because of an accident back in his farming days, but doesn't let that stop from reviving bikes.

For Light Fellows - learn to bike. ("Accident-prone" is a poor excuse. Get a helmet and some pads if you're that scared.) Biking may be the only form of exercise that you'll get if you're going to devote yourself to studying Chinese. If you'll be in China for a year, consider investing in a decent sturdy bike with a strong lock instead of buying the cheap 160 RMB model. For guys who can't spread their legs high enough to clear the bike frame from the back, the female models are designed so that bikes can be mounted from the front. Black, gray and dark blue bikes are less likely to be stolen than bikes of any other color. If biking really isn't right for you, get an electric bike. Beware of speeding - like I mentioned above, ticketing isn't a problem. Crashing into other cars and pedestrians is. A strong electric bike will be good enough to take you throughout Haidian district and even to Chaoyang (a 30 minute commute on local roads).

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

二胡(erhu) - Dongwangzhuang

(Writer's Note: The following blog is the first part in a series of entries that will summarize my life as a student at the Inter-University Program at Tsinghua University (IUP). In this entry, I will talk about accomodation in Beijing for Light Fellows.)

Tsinghua University offers dormitories for foreign students around the campus's northeast corner. Foreign students are still not allowed to live with Chinese students. The dormitory offers singles and doubles. I selected the single, but the living conditions were far from ideal. My single was right next to the laundry room, which forced me to bear quite a few sleepless nights listening to the washing and drying machines go off. The walls and curtains provided by the dormitory services are both thin. I wake up to small sounds and small rays of light, so I bought some dark bedsheets, punched holes in them and hung it over the curtain to block out light. After a few weeks, I realized that my ceiling was leaking water from the broken air conditioner, which after a few repair sessions still was not repaired. Eventually the damp ceiling tiles turned moldy and began to change the air quality inside my dorm.

Near the end of my summer term at IUP, I saw an ad up on the school bulletin of an apartment in Dongwangzhuang.
Dongwangzhuang (东王庄) is located east of Tsinghua University, south of the Forestry University and north of the Language and Culture University. The former resident, Wiley and Richard, wanted to keep the apartment for IUPers because it had already been passed down by IUPers for many years. After meeting up with Wiley, seeing the apartment and meeting with the landlord, I decided that looking at other apartments was a waste of time and agreed to sign the lease agreement.
Fortunately, I found a wonderful roommate, Jillian, through IUP's group email before I signed the lease to split the rent. I packed my luggage back in Tsinghua's moldy dorms, hired a "black car" (黑车, the driver who was so nice that he helped me with the luggage throughout the move and had white liquor
(erguotou 二锅头) with me), and moved in early August. A few nights later I invited IUP students for a housewarming party, wine and snacks complimentary of IUP.
Dongwangzhuang is a cute neighborhood with just the right amount of conveniences and culture. During early morning, street stands sell meat-stuffed buns, bowls of spiced tofu, strips of fried dough, seaweed soup and egg pancake sandwiches. Old ladies practice their sword or fan dances in the concrete parks while the men waddle around or play ping-pong.
During the evening, the street stands are stocked with meat and vegetable shish kabobs, boiled, grilled or roasted. A supermarket is available for people who enjoy cooking (I like to watch people cook and help peel onions). There are as of late May four fresh fruit and vegetable vendors. Back on the concrete yard, the red ornament lights and Chinese ballroom dance music are turned on. Couples young and old practice their swing, waltz and salsa at the same time. I've seen an American couple do some southern ditty to some classic Cultural Revolution tune. The old men crowd around tables smacking cards onto crude wooden tables, waddle around or play ping-pong.

Outside the neighborhood gates, Korean restaurants line the streets. Wangzhuang Street has perhaps three Chinese restaurants, total. The rest are all Korean.

For Light Fellows who will study at HBA, PiB or CET-Beijing, accomodations are provided by the programs.
Fellows who elect to study at IUP have the option of living on campus, but I strongly suggest living off-campus simply because there is much to see beyond the campus bubble. I've heard complaints from previous fellows that they haven't been able to see the cultural phenomenons described in their textbooks. I've also heard previous fellows wail that they haven't been able to really connect with the people who live in Beijing except through language partners and teachers.
They all usually say this while sitted in a coffee bar tucked away on campus.

Dongwangzhuang is by no means the only place to live in Wudaokou. The Huaqing Jiayuan apartments, the Xiwangzhuang apartments, the Dongshengyuan apartments are just a few neighborhoods in which IUPers have lived. Some students commute from districts as far as Sanlitun and Dongzhimen. Generally speaking, the apartments further from Tsinghua are cheaper and less furnished. Huaqing Jiayuan Apartments are perhaps the most expensive apartments in Wudaokou because of its central location, close distance to Tsinghua University and to all the shops, restaurants and bars on Chengfu Road.

For IUPers - Don't panic about housing. There are plenty of apartments that can be found. Many IUPers before or after finishing classes will post ads on the IUP panlist to ease your search. Some will even post gym memberships and bike offers. You can respond to ads while still in the States or another country, but I strongly recommend that you apartment-shop once you get to Beijing. You can personally observe your future housing conditions and choose among many selections rather than binding yourself to a place that does not satisfy you.

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Stravinsky's Firebird Suite - Rebirth

Winter is beautiful from a distance or when still in photographs, but burns your face and freezes your hands as you bike against its winds. Spring is beautiful up close or when dynamic in reality, but makes you sneeze and question your age as you see life renew all around you.

The beauty of that period between winter and spring when Mother Nature stops her strip dancing is perhaps more praised than autumn leaves. We'd rather see objects breathe with life than see life in its last moments - the same reason we like to hang around pediatric hospitals rather than hospices.

Nevertheless, whether spring or winter, be it leaves or snowflakes, we praise the immortal, that which never stays the same but always exists, the omnipresent.

Either everything I am writing is making sense, or I'm reading way too much classical Chinese. Damn those daydreaming philosophers - if only I had bottles of liquor and pavilions like those bearded dreamers millennia ago.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Slide - Skiing and the Ministries

A telephone call.

"Wei?" I say.
"Wei. Is this the boy that I met at the Kunming Airport a few weeks ago?" replies an old female voice.
"Oh, you must be Zhao Ayi! Thank you for calling me! Are you still in Beijing?"
"I'll be here for a little longer than I thought. In any case, will you be busy this weekend?"
"I don't think so..."
"My daughter is going up to Miyun with her husband and friends to ski. Why don't you come? I'm sure you're a good skier."
"Zhao Ayi, I've never skied in my life."

Four days later, I am waiting for Zhao Ayi to pick me up at the Shangdi subway station. While I listen to Chinese weather and traffic reports through my mp3 player, an silver SUV pulls up in front of me. The tinted windows slide down and I see a familiar face from Yunnan.
"Zhao Ayi, hao jiu bu jian," I greet her.
"ni hao ni hao, get in the car quickly!" says her daughter in the driver's seat. "The police haven't seen us yet."
I rush into the back seat. A young white man with glasses already in the back seat looks at me. "Hello."
"Huh?" I reply. I correct myself with a "hi."
"This is my husband, Mr. S, a guy I met when I was studying abroad in Canada." says the driver. "My name is Mrs. C. Nice to meet you."

For the next forty or so minutes, we all exchange life histories. Mr. S came out to China with Mrs. C because of his childhood fascination with Taoism and Chinese women. He wooed Mrs. C with deep discussions on the meanings of 有 and 無. He hasn't finished his bachelor's degree yet, but he's working on it through online classes with his college back in Quebec somewhere. His Chinese isn't good enough to converse with Zhao Ayi, but he's working on it.
"I try not to live by rules," says Mr. S, "I like to look for new ways to beat the rat race."
Zhou Ayi, a elderly woman I met at the Kunming airport, works as a high level 公務員 in Hainan. Mrs. C used to work for CCTV, but after a few years of confusion and frustration with the state of journalism in China, she decided to pursue a masters in international relations in Canada. While working at CCTV and through her mother and wealthy father's connections, she has quite a few connections in the political echelons.
"Oh, I'm bringing a few of those friends with me," Mrs. C says. "Don't worry, we'll have fun!"
"Uh huh." I nod.
"By the way, do you play Dungeons and Dragons?" asks Mr. S, "I've been looking to level up my character in Beijing...."

We pass through Miyun (密云), a growing town north of Beijing. Looking at the facial characteristics of the people walking on the street, it seems there is a mix of Han Chinese and southwestern minorities living here. In the distance, I can see outlines of the Great Wall as well a few miniature fakes. The highway is lined on both sides with leafless trees and banks of frozen snow clumps mixed with dirt. Soon, we pass by huge villas in suburban neighborhoods and chemical factories. The suburbia here looks like California's suburban towns if they were relocated to arctic regions. Arctic Irvines and Orange Counties - hmm.

We meet with Mrs. C's friends at the ski resort. After a few minutes of hellos and introductions, we head inside led by one of Mrs. C's friends, the one with the free tickets. I start chatting with one of the guys. “So what do you do?" I ask.
"Uh...I work for the Ministry of Inspection." Guy says. "Are you familiar with the Chinese government?"
"I remember reading that the Inspection Ministry is responsible for judging corrupt officials.” I reply.
"Oh good, then I don't have to explain."
"How often do you deal with corrupt officials?" I ask.
"That's classified."
"Come on, I'm foreign. Nobody's going to believe me if I share what you've said with anyone else."
"Uh...I inspect at least a hundred profiles per day."
"Cases, people."
"Just you?"
"There are a few other government workers who inspect similar cases."
"How many?"
"Around ten."
"So...that's at least a thousand profiles per day."

Apparently, when you want to slown down as you ski down a slope, you're supposed to adjust your skiboards into an arrow shape and lean into your heels. I made a V-shape instead, which while skiing downslope slid out and forced me to split my legs. My groin skied into a small kid's head.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Perpetuum Mobile: Halfway

The sun rises at 6:22 each morning, later sometimes. An old 80-something woman comes out bundled in handwoven scarf, beanie and winter jacket to perform her morning calisthenics. A late middle-aged man joins her. Another middle-aged woman comes about ten minutes later, then another. "来了," says the elderly woman. "来了,来了,I've come, I've come," the others reply. 

The magazine pile in my room is reaching a critical level, and needs to be recycled, but I'm still undecided as to whether or not toss the periodicals. Lots of underlined words and notes are scribbled and would be worth reading again later on. The bookshelves are already crowded. I'd rather be a packrat, but the walking space in my room is shrinking. 

Another two modules left at IUP. I'll be studying at the last level of Chinese designed by the program along with the second classical Chinese course. Looking back, I'm fairly pleased with my progress since I've started studying at this program. I read, speak and write at a decent level of fluency and feel a stronger sense of belonging in this country after every television program, conversation with a friend and bike ride. The occasional grammar mistake is inevitable, and I can only hope with practice I will express myself with more beauty and eloquence. 

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Silence: 玉龙雪山

Unfortunately, many Chinese tourists do not get to explore much beyond the beginnings of a nature path. The tour guides take them from one “pretty" zone to another (the number of times, as a traveler in China, that you hear “哇,太漂亮了!" or "太美了!" or my favorite "美死了!" from others will quickly exceed the sum of your toes and fingers) like dogs on leashes.
Fortunately, that leaves me much freedom on the path at the Jade Snow Mountain to do as I please - so I walk off the path. A couple miles of trekking later, I realize that I only had a dozen dumplings for breakfast and am hungry. I rummage around my backpack for leftover crackers that I bought in Beijing. After chewing for a little bit, I stop. I'm the only human being making a sound. In the distance, the white Tibetan-style temple is the size of a penny. Horses and cows make dots on neighboring hills. I hold my breath - it's too loud, even though I was only breathing in shallow gulps. My brain is talking with thoughts suddenly surfacing to fill the silence. I wonder if this is what walking in outer space is sound, the only sensation anchoring you to life your heart beat, memories reminding you that you existed, exist and will exist. 
A faint cowbell rings, the mountain exhales, ushering clouds over its head onto mine. 

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Firecrackers, Dying Chicken Sounds and Dramatic Opera : 春节, a photoblog

I was fortunate to celebrate the Spring Festival with one of the teachers at my Chinese language program, Sun Laoshi. As a foreign student, I am an explorer of culture. In textbooks, we read about customs and traditions. If the textbook is good, it may provide illustrations or pictures, but more often our Chinese textbooks are black and white and forces our imaginations to fill in the blanks. In Lijiang, I compared the images that I conjured with the actual Chunjie preparations and activities of the Sun family.

The day starts early - after a simple breakfast of tea, cheese and ant mushrooms, Auntie Sun is peeling and cutting vegetables (left). Sun and Ding Laoshi head out to the local supermarket to buy chunlian, red couplets hung on door frames (right). Everyone has something red on - Auntie has her sweater, Uncle has his shirt and socks, Sun Laoshi with her dress, Ding Laoshi with his underwear (he said).
While Sun and Ding Laoshi clean the house, Uncle Sun and I go to the backyard to prepare the chicken. "In the south, the chicken is traditionally prepared by each family on their own," explains Uncle as he sharpens the butcher knife. "The feet are especially important - we eat the feet to grab more fortune in the future. 新年抓财." He grabs the chicken's wings and feet and slits its throat, draining the blood into a bowl of water below its head. Suddenly, the chicken jolts erratically, surprising Uncle Sun to loosen his grip on its feet, which kick the blood bowl and splash its contents all over me and him. "Damn it," he says, "That was one of the best parts of the chicken!" Auntie Sun has me change into some of Uncle Sun's old military clothes to wash the blood drops off my pants. Uncle and I strip the chicken of its feathers, using hot water to make the "defeathering" easier. I nearly rip into its insides to take out particularly annoying little needle of a feather, but realize that I was slightly blinded by the blood crusted on my glasses. Uncle takes the chicken by its legs into the kitchen and tosses it around on top of the stove. The chicken's skin crackles and gets taut from the fire. Inside, Auntie is preparing the fish while Sun Laoshi is preparing a few side dishes. "Next year, I'm retiring from all of this - Sun Laoshi is going to do everything. She has to start learning now..." Sun Laoshi silently makes an expression at her mother while she lines a bowl with orange peels to make 八宝饭, or eight-treasure rice pudding. “Fish is also important - 年年有鱼,吉庆有余 - every year have fish, fortune will be abundant."
The dinner before Chunjie itself is a very important meal - to reflect and to celebrate the accomplishments of the year and to exchange wishes among family members for the new year. "Every family celebrates this meal by themselves - for the fifteen days following the new year, we will go to our relatives' houses to share meals and wishes with them," says Uncle Sun.
"And money," I add.
"Ah yes, hongbao. Fortunately, a lot of the younger ones in my family have already started to make money, so I don't have to give them red envelopes anymore."
"So Sun Laoshi has to start giving hongbao now?" I ask.
"Yes," says Sun Laoshi from the kitchen.
"On New Year's Day, we will all go to our ancestor's graves to saomu (扫墓, dust the graves) and wish for blessings from the ancestors." Uncle Sam's cell phone beeps. "Ah... the new year text messages are starting to come in, one by one..." A few minutes later, my cell phone also rings with incoming messages full of blessings and "Happy 牛 Year" lines which soon become hackneyed.
At last, dinner is prepared and set on the backyard table. Uncle Sun breaks out red wine and Auntie ladles soup to everyone. Everybody at the table warns me to eat slowly and pace myself. Every few minutes, everyone also raises their glasses to me for a toast and wish - blessings for good health and good grades, wishes for greater fortune and happiness are shared and downed with a clink and ganbei.
We get up from the table slowly - I am the last to get up after having to finish all the bits of food that Auntie put into my bowl. After clearing the table, Uncle Sun pours little cups of puer tea for everyone as Ding Laoshi shuffles cards. "Do you usually stay up until midnight like my textbook says?" I ask.
"We're all too old for that," Ding Laoshi says, "After a few hours of the New Year show on television, we'll all start to go to sleep."
At eight in the evening, we all make ourselves comfortable in the living room in front of the television. Nuts, fruit and drinks are piled on the center table to refresh ourselves over the course of the variety show. We watch, laughing and chuckling during comedy segments, taking bathroom breaks while performers sing. It seems that digesting the dinner meal is taking its toll on everybody's energy level. Auntie and Uncle Sun go off to bed two hours into the show. I try to make it to the end, but after the fifth singer trying to reach high notes ungracefully, I express thanks to my teacher and leave.
Outside on the streets, I grab a taxi back to my hotel room. At every few light poles, locals are hanging and tossing lit firecrackers, which pop and crack in a mess of white balls. Fireworks burst over my head from building roofs, the sparks and colors comparable to fourth of July fireworks. In the western world, we split celebrations by time zones, but in China everywhere is Beijing time. The view of China from outer space must be dazzling, to see the entire country blinking with white light. Scraps of red firework covers litter the streets and alleyways and the front of stores. I sure after fifteen days of fireworks, fish and chicken, the Nian monster will be scared enough and allow humans to live a peaceful year. For now, I just want a peaceful sleep without fireworks.

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