Saturday, April 29, 2006

Vacation. Oh yeah!

My school is awesome. Since we're majority foreign teachers, the academic planning committee decided that we would not work this Saturday and Sunday, and instead make up the time by staying late on Monday and Tuesday after vacation for teacher conferences, and one Saturday for the International Fair. So we get 9 days of May Holiday, w00t.

I still get a kick out of the Chinese name for May Holiday, 国际劳动节, International Labor Day. Workers of the world, unite!

So what am I doing this vacation? So far today, sitting in the study in my boxers at 10:30 in the morning listening to Drum'n'Bass on, bathing myself in 90's Japan nostalgia reading Marxy in full-effect, and planning to deliver KFC for lunch to Jodi who has to work today, the poor thing.

In the longer term, we have to move to our new aparment on Dingxi Road, just south of Zhongshan Park. Also in the work is a day trip to Hangzhou, some wedding/honeymoon planning, and general touristing around Shanghai.

In that far-off day when I have money for a new computer, I'm definitely getting a Mac. Or, dare I say it, loading OSX onto my Linux box?

Oh, and if you haven't heard the Spanish-American national anthem yet, what are you waiting for? It's a work of pure genius.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I was gonna write up a post about our house search on Sunday, and about the clash of cultures between Jodi and myself. But then I decided it's not a topic for this weblog, so let's just say that at one point she joked with the real estate agent that I 享受贫穷, "relish destitution".

In the end we settled on a nice two-bedroom apartment in just south Zhongshan Park itself: nice neighborhood, convenient to public transportation, and close to friends. It was a little pricier than we expected, but that is OK.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

I went house-hunting today in the Shinzha Rd/People's Square/Henan Middle Road areas. Most houses are either expensive, or in poor condition, or unavailable. Highlights:

  • I peeked into a building north of Nanjing East Road and south of the Suzhou Creek, one of the ones just north of Beijing Rd that look like old colonial trading houses. There was a "guard" lady at the front, but she was watching TV, so I pretended to play with the mynah bird and then slipped up the stairs. At first I thought it looked like a mansion, but with stone sinks installed on the second floor for washing and cooking, and horribly dirty and run down. Then I went up to the third floor and turned the corner to find a long corridor, maybe 100 meters long, running off into the distance, filled with old dusty wooden furniture and doors opening off either side; sorta like a hotel. Friggin' amazing, but Chris and Alainna were waiting outside and there was an old lady using a sink halfway down, so I turned around the left.

  • I looked at a 老房子, an old-style home, in that same area, specifically on 无锡北路. It was like out of a dream: on the edge of an older neighborhood filled with mazelike alleys, but with a corner balcony overlooking the street outside. The whole "apartment" consisted of a single high-ceilinged room, like a studio, with a big make-shift loft and peeling wallpaper, a few random dark-wood cabinets lying around. Very dusty, it was clear that nobody has lived there in a while. From the ceiling hangs a fan (there is no A/C), and curtained windows line two sides of the room. A small run-down bathroom opens out of a corner of the room, and a little shack has been erected on the end of the balcony to serve as a kitchen. To get to the room, you need to climb a dingy staircase up a hallway lined with graffity and aging public service posters. It's probably a 15 minute walk from Henan Middle Road metro station. They were asking RMB 2500 a month, but even taking into account the central location, with the amount of work it would take to get the place in livable condition that asking price is a joke (we live in a 2 bedroom place with A/C and a huge kitchen now for RMB 1800). Besides the fact that we need a place we can move into immediately, I think Jodi's parents might be appalled when they come for the wedding that I took her to live in such a run-down place. And I'm not confident that I would be able to make it live-able by then. Maybe some day... (oh, and the place didn't have a bath/shower. Just use the public one!)

  • Had dinner with Joon at a Fujianese place. Good times.

  • Finally, the main reason we can't live in an older house is that most of them don't have their own kitchens or bathrooms. Generally there is a communal kitchen and public bathrooms, so who need their own? Um, Jodi and I do.

  • I don't know why I wrote this in list form, but no reason to go back and change it.

  • Still, the amount of very clean, orderly, well-maintained 龙堂 neighborhoods in Shanghai is higher than I expected. I'd seen a good example in the Shimen Yi Lu area, but today I saw several more examples.

  • We went to the pet market area (remember, Mom?) to look at houses there, and didn't have any luck with th real estate agents. But while Chris and I were eating lunch at the "2-meats-3-veggies-for-70-cents-US" (plus rice and soup) place, we started chatting with the workers and they got their boss to go check on a couple of houses in the neighborhood. I will go back on Monday to check with her on the status of one place. Actually, that seems to be the way it is with these old houses: sometimes they're just not listed, the only way to know about them is to strike up a conversation with the neighborhood guard, or with a set of old people lounging outside their house, or with one of the shopkeepers. And if nothing else, they can tell you where the nearest real estate office is; they're remarkably rare in these old neighborhoods.

  • One issue foreign-faces have to be aware of in consulting real estate agents about moving into an older style house in Shanghai is that they won't believe (the concept doesn't seem to be able to enter their heads) that you would actually want to live in an older house; to them, all expats have bottomless company expense accounts to draw from in choosing their house, and therefore would never stoop to living among the 老百姓, the common folk. I had to be real emphatic a couple of times.

In other news, I hear through the SMIC school grapevine that in the next issue of the school newspaper I am being compared to Napoleon Dynamite. I'm somewhat flattered.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Headlines from today's Metro Express, Shanghai's free commuter paper:

Chairman Hu Jintao sets out to visit five countries, including 美利坚合众国 (the USA). Did you hear about the dinner at Bill Gates' house?

LV seeks RMB 500,000 in compensation from Shanghai Carrefour over suspected sale fake LV bags.

USA's Pulitzer Prizes announced. The "article" is simply a caption for a photo that won the Feature Photography prize, one of Todd Heisler's photographs of caskets of American soldiers returning from Iraq.

Shanghai travel agents are giving the cold shoulder to Chongqing's Furong River naked bathing tourist spot in making their Golden Week travel plans.

Starting tomorrow, babies and children that qualify for discounted airline tickets will also be excused from paying the new gas price tax. Disabled veterans and police disabled in the line of duty will also enjoy a discounted tax rate.

New "twin towers" over 250 meters tall will accompany the Oriental Pearl Tower. The Shanghai subsidiary of Hong Kong's Sun Hung Kai Properties plans to build a double set of office buildings in central Lujiazui that, at 250 and 260 meters, will look up to the Pearl Tower's top 340 meter observatory and the Jinmao's 420 meters.

"Google, we'd rather call you 'Gougou'": some people on Chinese BBSs are still dissatisfied with Google's new Chinese name.

A non-Shangainese fellow (it's always the outsiders, eh?) jumped onto the Line 3 light rail track at Zhongshan Park station, at 2pm on Monday. The police were called in, and after being caught the guy explained himself by saying he was in a bad mood. He will be in jail for 10 days.

I had this great Shanghainese dinner tonight at a hole-in-the-wall on Wuyi Road. I can still taste the sweetness.

Buddha; Sasseruwa, Sri Lanka.

Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln; Mount Rushmore, USA.

Buddha; Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

10 years later, I can finally eat all the cafeteria food I want (as a kid, we were limited to something like two cafeteria meals a month) and I find it's... unsatisfying, to say the least.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Personal post:

  • The job is going well. We're in the run-up to midterms, so I have a huge pile of homework on my desk and spent all day Saturday writing up a couple of test papers. And they still have to get reviewed by the math department head, and then I have to proctor other peoples' tests and grade my own, as well as write report card comments for all 30 or so students in my three classes. I teach two sections of 6th grade math, and a statistics class which is not officially an AP class but is being taught at a level slightly higher than your average AP course. It's nice teaching in an English language environment, finally teaching something I can get excited about, and I love smacking down the line "Oh, so you teach English?" with "No, I'm a math teacher!" The students are disciplined, but one class still drives me crazy and lets me know that I have a long way to go as a teacher.

  • This Sunday, Jodi and I arrived at the 巴黎婚纱 (Paris Bride) at 7:45am and stayed until about 8pm at night. What for? Wedding photos! It's something of a Chinese tradition, at least in Shanghai it is, for the couple getting married to take "wedding" photos sometime before the wedding to display around the house and at the ceremony itself. From a more practical point of view, it's part of the bargaining process between the bride's and groom's families. But enough with the sociology, we spent 12 hours changing clothes, hairstyles, makeup and and backdrops, even shuttling over to a park by Shanghai Circus World for an outdoor shoot. Talk about exhausting! We should have results in a few weeks; for now, the best I can do is put up some cellphone pics (more coming).

  • We got a surprise call from our landlady last night. Because her son decided to live abroad long-term, she wants to sell the house earlier than she had planned. So she's asking (politely!) to break the contract, and when would be a convenient time for us to move. Due to various circumstances, that is sooner rather than later, so we'll be apartment hunting in the upcoming weeks. We're looking for someplace convenient to metro lines 1 and 2: maybe Zhongshan Park, People's Square, or Xinzha Road metro stop near Suzhou Creek. We're aiming for a two bedroom place at the RMB 1500 mark in decent condition and a nice neighborhood, but we may be dreaming.

  • Jodi is taking the train back home this Wednesday to apply for a passport. I wanted her to fly, but she was more comfortable with the train idea. It was sooooo much easier to buy a train ticket (sleeper! bottom bunk!) now than at the Chinese New Year. Hopefully the application process will go smoothly. It'll be nice that she gets to see her parents. Myself, I'll be running errands, apartment hunting, and hanging out with friends.

  • In fact, this weekend looks to be a busy one: Shanghai Weblogger Meetup on Wednesday night, possible dinner with friends on Thursday night, Shanghaiist party at Shuffle on Friday, and then running around apartment/neighborhood hunting on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

I just spent all friggin' day writing midterms for my 6th grade math class and my statistics class. Maybe I'll put some of the problems up here after this week, just so that you can get a feel. The statistics'll kill ya.

I just read in the paper this morning that authorities are cracking down on jaywalking in Shanghai. No longer will the crossing guard just yell at you, they now have policemen at their side ready to fine you RMB 50 for crossing on a red. Luckily, the paper reports that you can usually bargain them down to RMB 5 or 10. As long as the message gets across, I suppose.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Here's a blast from the past:

Stephen Curtis Chapman comes to Shanghai.

Though that wouldn't be as nostalgic as Steve Green or Michael W Smith.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Productivity post! Because I didn't get real feedback on my request for tips on budgeting tools, I went ahead and drew up that spreadsheet. Here's the first Excel worksheet:

And here's the record sheet for April:

I'm addicted to DIY.

Also, I finally accepted that I have no time to put together a website around them, so I'm just leaving my machine-translated Shanghai bus routes in a naked directory on this web server. Have at 'em. (original source: the Shanghai Transportation Authority website.)

From "Analyzing the Labor Shortage in China":

For example, says Yu Nanping, “Zhejiang Province has a very advanced textile industry and therefore is in need of a lot of female workers between the ages of 18 and 25. The city of Shaoxing, for instance, has experienced a labor shortage this year. The preference for younger workers has further restrained the labor supply.” [emphasis added]

The reality of female workers between the ages of 18 and 25 had always been lost on me, that is until I started working for my current employer. Every day as I walk the last block or two to school, I pass a line-up of dozens of these young women waiting to catch the company shuttle bus from the Living Quarters (LQ) to the semiconductor plant where I assume they sit at long tables assembling microchips.

In Shanghai. (Well, Pudong to be exact. But we'll be lenient today.)

Through the "random RSS feed headline" at the top of my GMail inbox comes "Coffee shop job: good pay, bad commute":

Canada is willing to pay top dollar so that its soldiers in Afghanistan are served the kind of coffee and treats they crave.

So well, in fact, that Brigitte Smiley, spokeswoman for the Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency, said at least 100 Canadians have applied for 15 jobs at the soon-to-open Tim Hortons Inc. coffee shop at Canada's military base at Kandahar.

Tim Hortons is an extremely popular coffee and baked goods chain in Canada.

Extremely popular? Please! According to Wikipedia:

Tim Hortons has supplanted McDonald's as Canada's largest "fast food" operator; it has nearly twice the number of Canadian outlets, and its revenues surpassed those of McDonald's Canadian operations in 2002.

Canadians love their dooonuts... eh?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The cafeteria handed out free wafer cookie-bars to students and teachers today. Their Chinese name was 实惠多多, and the English was "More boon". Some things just don't translate well.

Does anybody have a good solution for a simple and free budget-tracking tool? I have access to GnuCash and Excel. I've already sketched out a quick spreadsheet design, but if somebody could suggest something that already came pre-made with nifty features and spiffy graphics it would be just swell. I'm looking for simplicity and elegance, and the ability to do tracking of current expenses and both short-term and long-term planning.

Monday, April 10, 2006

What's up with non-profit workers and fancy restaurants?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Motivated by an ongoing discussion we're having in the math department about the role of homework and homework grades in our math courses, and a long talk I had with Jodi tonight about educating kids and what's wrong with the current Chinese system, I think I will post, translate and make a few comments on an editorial I read this morning from the inside cover of yesterday's Xinmin Evening News. (This translation is aiming for speed, so excuse the judgement calls I make.)

First, a little background. Traditionally, the college admissions process in China has been governed by the gaokao, a standardized national test of language, math, government and English whose score alone determines which college students can hope to get into. The gaokao is given once a year, and is the center of national attention on the day that it is administered: both a figurative and literal hush fall over the nation as the students spend their allotted hours filling in the answer sheets, answers which are seen as determining the course of the rest of their lives in a country that traditionally reveres schooling to a fault.

This year, two top unversities in Shanghai are experimenting with a new form of admissions. Over the last few days, they have been holding admissions interviews with prospective students, and filling spots in their freshman class with these kids. This is a big deal, and has been the subject of great public debate. The following article is a product of that debate:

2006年04月05日 14时33分 来源:文新传媒网--新民晚报







The process of college entrance test diversification has to be one of trial and error

The new independent college admissions process is an experiment that is unprecedented in the history of modern Chinese education. Finally, here we begin to see a heartening improvement: a move from one test determing a life's course, towards colleges gaining a measure of self-determination, and then an interview as the deciding factor in the admissions process. While the inherent risk of subjective judgement posed by interviews is acknowledged, it is impossible to keep people from worrying about objectivity and accuracy. For example, some people feel that an interview cannot possibly sound out the true depth of an interviewee; or that less expressive students will not be able to bring their strong points to bear on the conversation. But in judging the interview as an admissions tool we cannot simply look at potential problems, but must also consider potential benefits. The college entrance examination system, the gaokao, is a strongly entrenched habit of many years; without a revolutionary change, it will be impossible to dislodge. The abolishment of the current homogenizing entrance examination system and the institution of a diversified admissions process is an inevitable artifact of history!

The heart of the revolutionary change made by Jiaotong University and Fudan University lies in the fact that the unversity has full control over the process and decision; but the change is still limited by being localized to Shanghainese students, and restricted to the scope of university-controlled admissions. Because of this, the public should take a more tolerant stance, at least admitting the need for this trial-and-error effort. This change is a vital step forward in the system's evolution, and both a prerequisite for and basis of systematic innovation. Of course trial-and-error carries a cost, a "tuition" so to speak. If we are unwilling to pay this cost, then the revolution is nothing but emtpy words. Looking at the worst case scenario where this "ice breaking trip" is a failure, it still does not carry a large price.

Still, some foreseeable problems are worth emphasizing and guarding against. The public's greatest worry is that admission by interviews will lead to corruption infecting the admissions process. Case in point, the Russian education system executed a U-turn in this respect, first doing away with and then resurrecting the unbiased pencil-and-paper test, when it was discovered that more than a few people were taking "crooked" paths into higher education.

At the present, interviews are conducted by large numbers of experts, and organized and administered through random drawings, all for the sake of avoiding "predetermined results". In this way, as long as the interviewers are deployed in groups and randomly assigned to student interviewees, those students who hope to "enter through the back door" will find doing so extremely difficult. Of course, interviewers must be under strict supervision as well; with a clear Sword of Damacles hanging over their heads, the worst outcome can surely be avoided.

The core message of the diversification of the college entrance admissions process is the casting off of rote-memorization learning, and emphasizing of character training. It is reasonable to believe that the right amount of planning and preparation will lead not to a "zero sum game", but to a mutually beneficial "triple win" for students, colleges and education alike.

I'm all for it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Where'd the pretty colors go? No worries, it's only temporary! I'm participating in CSS Naked Day.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Jingjiang Park Pride