Tag Archives: whining and complaining

Meditations on Snow

10 Feb

ImageOne of my neighbors has this lovely Buddha at the head of their driveway. I feel like the Buddha is dealing with the weather much better than I am. (Why yes, it snowed even more last night, why do you ask?)


Chengdu: A Retrospective

15 Jun

I leave Chengdu tomorrow. My bags are (mostly) packed, my train ticket bought, and I leave with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.

It’s been a long year here. I don’t think it’s any big secret that I was rather disappointed and depressed during my time here. While I met a lot of really cool people and learned a lot of new things, it never quite balanced out the miserable weather and Kafka-esque graduate program.

The scholarship that brought me here was a really nice opportunity, but it didn’t quite pan out the way I had hoped. Instead of this being the first year of a masters, I spent a whole lot of time knitting. My classes were a joke, and it’s hard to motivate yourself to learn another insane language when you feel no real pressure to. My progress in Chinese stalled out and then plummeted. The only real bright spots were hanging out with an awesome group of kids, forays out of Chengdu proper, and watching a ton of DVDs.

I am grateful, in my own little way, that I got to come back over to China. This year off gave me the perspective necessary to realize that, no, I really don’t want to go to grad school right now. I really don’t want to continue living in China. And I really don’t want to continue with Chinese.

It sucks, since that’s what I got my degree in, but hey. Now I know and I can move on and do something different.

Life is all about the journey, right? You gotta take the good with the bad. This year wasn’t ideal, sure, but that’s life. And hey – I got to see baby pandas, Sydney, Jiuzhaigou, Bangkok, Leshan, and a whole bunch more of China than this time last year. So it wasn’t all terrible.

I don’t want to leave this on a downer note, so here are some random highlights from my last year here in Chengdu.



So long, Chengdu.



Life in the Dorms

13 Mar


Well, I hope you all enjoyed the travel posts about Sydney and Bangkok. It was a nice diversion from the craziness going on here in China. But now that we’re done with the travelogues, let’s dig in, shall we?  Due to some High Drama (re: fine print’s a bitch, ain’t it?), I am still in the dorms. I have complaints. Oh do I have complaints. But dammit, I’m not going to let the bastards win. (And there goes the PG rating within the first paragraph.) Three points of interest:

My wireless internet cuts out at random points. They give you a handy timer, to track how long you’ve been logged on, and for the longest time I was cut off at precisely 37 minutes. Then, yesterday, the China Mobile gods give me two whole uninterrupted hours. Today I haven’t managed to keep a connection for longer than ten minutes. I don’t know what sorts of offerings these gods desire, but I’m imagining a little shrine with a tiny cell phone tower and a router, with those “rollover minutes” from those ATT commercials as the sacrifice. Coincidentally, China does not believe in rollover minutes.

The humidity is making my laundry mold as it takes four or five days to dry out. Seriously. I’ve got blooms of yellow on some of my clothes and it is gross. What isn’t molding has that sour mildewy smell. I don’t know what else to do except spend some quality time re-creating a desert-like environment with my cheap hair dryer and my laundry rack. China also does not believe in dryers. You should be able to hang your clothes out to dry and let nature take care of the rest, even though I haven’t seen the sun in three weeks and the humidity is at about a hundred-twenty percent with a nice chilly drizzle..

Food Deserts? You want to see a food desert, look at where I’m at. Nothing within a ten minute walk. Within fifteen sure, but you’re eating out and possibly at the expensive places. Grr. On the upside, I now have a much shorter drunken stumble back from Bar Street and Mooney’s. Eh, let’s call this one a draw.

Also, the majority of the fuyuan* here are annoying and knock on the door all the freaking time for no good reason.

Pictures will go up when I have access to a better internet connection, since mine has been pretty unstable recently. Sorry folks.



*Written as fuwuyuan, it’s usually shortened to fuyuan, and means waitress / maid. Almost exclusively feminine. In this case, it means the five or so ladies who man the front desk, deal with paperwork, and keep tabs on us for the Chinese government.

Moving On Down

17 Feb



So. I wanted to talk about the food in Sydney on this post, but due to unforeseen circumstances, today I am moving from my very comfortable room here at the International Student Dorms to the East Dorms. Details are thin on the ground and we exchange students are prone to hyperbole, but from all accounts we are definitely being downgraded.

The word “squat toilet” is being thrown around. As is “public shower”.

I am Not A Happy Cabbage.

Right now I’m packing up all my stuff and trying not to freak out. I’m looking at rooms to rent in the Chengdu area and I have a lead on an apartment-share not too far from campus. In the meantime, a farewell to room 111, which has served me faithfully these past six months.

UPDATE: I have moved into the new dorm room. The scholarship rooms were everything we had feared and more: a small double, no bathroom, public squat toilets (without doors on stalls, mind you, so anyone walking down the hall could watch you), and locker room showers of similar “privacy”. To what should be absolutely no one’s surprise, I said no to this* and upgraded to a single room with a tiny en-suite toilet and shower**. No internet though, and I have to pay for electricity. It’s not exactly a bargain, so I’m still in the market for a cheap alternative, although there is something to be said about not lugging my stuff around again.

*Actually, what I said is completely unfit for print.

**Yes, I realize I’m an absolute prima donna about this as compared to what the Chinese students on campus deal with, but frankly, unless I’m camping in the woods or backpacking, I expect a certain minimum standard of living. I’m a middle-class American girl and I have my limits, okay?

It’s Like Windows95 All Over Again

9 Jan

I lost two days of work on my translation this weekend. LibreOffice, the open source alternative to Microsoft Word, has a recognized bug where it will crash every time you hit save after futzing around with columns. It crashed and lost two days worth of translating. I was almost done. I had two fucking paragraphs left.

Look, LibreOffice, I get that you’re open source. I appreciate you trying to give people an alternative to Microsoft Word or whatever the hell Linux users write with. But this only works if you work. And Ubuntu? You’re not off the hook, either. You launched Natty and Oneiric with a known fuckup. TWO DAYS OF WORK. That’s not a minor bug, ladies and gentleman. There’s a fix, but gosh, wouldn’t it have been lovely if one of those pesky Updates that you send every three days had included one for this? And the temp backup only works if it comes preselected. You guys promised it would be better on Ubuntu than Windows, but I’m freezing/crashing at the same rate, I can’t play any of my Steam games, and for some freaking reason, I have data recovery issues? What gives? I’m not a coder, I barely make the Terminal work. Give me some guidance here.

As usual, XKCD gets exactly what I mean.

Christmas Abroad

21 Dec

Shockingly, China doesn’t really celebrate Christmas. I’ve been told that Chengdu only started Christmas about five years ago, which kind of a funny thought. It seems someone decided that they needed to get on the end of the year economy-boost gravy train too and started marketing Christmas here. Their best efforts means there a few half-hearted fake trees here and there.

So far, the best display of crass merchantilism is just outside of the Shangri-la Hotel/ Lan Kwai Fong shopping district. No pictures, sorry, but it involves a giant snowman and wrapped gifts ranged in height from three to six feet. There’s nothing quite like being shorter than a gift, which begs the question of what exactly is in there, anyways? Chunxi Lu gets an honorable mention as well, what with being the luxury shopping district downtown. I haven’t passed through Tianfu Square to see if they’ve put a Santa hat on the giant Mao statue, but I’m guessing that’s a big no. Mostly though, there are little fake Christmas trees in random businesses. It’s not beginning to feel a lot like Christmas at all.

Personally, I’ve decorated Cicero, my not-yet-dead cactus with an ornament and have a small stocking next to it. All courtesy of Michelle, who is awesome and need more recognition of being as such. There’s a package of gifts from home, which miraculously made it to my room yesterday after a long adventure in the Chinese postal system. (Thanks, Mom!)

This is my third Christmas abroad and frankly, I don’t recommend it. Maybe if you were in a country that celebrated Christmas or with family, but China? Not so much. I’m not religious at all, but even I get nostalgic for midnight Mass. I’m going to be hanging out with my friends here, which will be nice, but it’s not home. Mostly I’m just pissy because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything important here. If my advisor had been clear about this break in classes instead of trying to get me to “volunteer” at her daughter’s school, I would have been on a flight to NY rather than bum around in Chengdu. I’ve talked to other people about this: something about Chengdu makes the people here fundamentally opposed to concrete schedules. Maybe it’s the “relaxed living style” they love so much.

Bah humbug.


8 Sep

“Someone once said that learning Chinese is “a five-year lesson in humility”. I used to think this meant that at the end of five years you will have mastered Chinese and learned humility along the way. However, now having studied Chinese for over six years, I have concluded that actually the phrase means that after five years your Chinese will still be abysmal, but at least you will have thoroughly learned humility.”  —- David Moser

Every time that someone has said, “oh, your Chinese must be so good”, I’ve cringed. Prevaricated. Tried to deflect what seemed like honest praise. It’s not modesty.

Yes, I know Chinese. Some Chinese. In that “pidgin-language” sort of way. Yes, I can get around, order dinner, and hold conversation on a limited number of topics. But there’s a lot I don’t know. It’s frankly embarrassing, seeing as I’ve given it five years of my life. (Four in college and one in high school.) I am routinely blanking on basic words, and have developed a pathological fear of speaking Chinese in public in recent years. I fluster easily over basic stuff and give off the impression that I’m mildly retarded.

There’s a beautiful essay out there on the interwebs called “Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard”. I love that man with the passion of a thousand suns. Go read it, if you have fifteen minutes to kill.  It’s a very good look at learning second languages and Chinese in general from someone still in the trenches.

All of this is a round-about way of my explaining why today sucked. I got a phone call from one of my teachers. (Jiang laoshi is good people, even if her directions suck.) It was impressed on me that I should show up at a certain building around 3pm to meet another of my professors. Sort of. I got the gist, but not the crucial bits of information, like which teacher and which building.

I spent two hours walking around a tiny area, looking in vain for one building. Eventually, in defeat, I returned to my dorm, whereupon Jiang laoshi called again, saying, I will *walk* you to the building in question.

I had passed it five times not realizing that the “Jiang shui lou”, River Water building, was in fact “Zang xue lou”, Tibetan Research Building. (This is not as dumb as a mistake as it seems. Our campus is called the Wang Jiang campus, and we’re right next to a freaking river.)

I lost face again today. I lost my temper several times in my Quixotic search, and frankly, had a major case of Fraud Syndrome.

(Fraud Syndrome is the seventh-grade low-self-esteem equivalent for scholars. Basically, “why am I here, there are better people out there more qualified for this job/scholarship/position, I am useless, I am not as good as they think I am, etc. Fun times.)

Today, I did not acquit myself well. I’m tired of that feeling.