Sunday, December 13

临行之前的看法 : Thoughts upon Leaving China

In a little less than one hour I will be checking out of the hotel, in 3 I will be heading off to Beijing International Airport and in 6 hours and 20 minutes my plane will be taking off.

China has been an interesting experience. I spent most of my time in Harbin complaining about the food at the cafeteria, the unkempt-ness of the city, the ignorance of the people, the lack of real Chinese culture and the coldness of the weather. But upon arriving in Beijing, I feel like I've been exposed to the kind of China I've been longing for: clean streets, large buildings, relatively friendly people, with a touch of Westernization.

As I said earlier, Harbin was a let down and I plan on making a pact with myself to never go back to that city, but Beijing has given made me more excited about the prospect of coming back here and I'm glad that I got to end my study abroad experience this way.

Now, just 24 hours and I will be in Newark airport praying my parents don't forget to pick me up.

Beijing's Second Impression

When my plane landed in Beijing it was smoggy and cloudy and gray. I thought it had been raining but it was just the humidity of the city mixed with severe pollution, topped with my disappointment. Now, however, it might be the anxiousness of sitting in Beijing International Airport 24 hours from now or the clarity that you get from studying for a semester in China and coming to the realization that both you and your cab driver understand each other, but while I'm in Beijing I'm liking it more and more.

I was not happy while I was in Harbin but I have no regrets about studying abroad there I have tried not to let that influence my entire impression of China. But, upon leaving Harbin, I thought that I would not be able to live here at any point in my life. But so far, a light is beginning to shine again on that possibility, though only in Beijing (and Shanghai). At the very least, I will try to come back here if I have the chance.

When I get back to the US I know I will have lots of people asking me what I thought of my time abroad and I still haven't decided if I will lie about whether I liked it more not, but coming to Beijing and having this time to contemplate being in China has allowed me to begin to pick out the good moments of this experience.

Tuesday, December 8

Classes are Over!

After 15 weeks of whining, moaning, fighting through what seemed like an army's worth of Chinese students/random old people digging through garbage cans for bottles, and baring temperatures up to -20 degrees Fahrenheit (or should I say down to, it just doesn't seem to have the same ring), I am done with classes.

There is something satisfying in be able to say that I'm done with classes, but I was really hoping more for a sense of closure and the feeling that the end is near. But in all honesty, I don't see what at this point should be an extremely bright light at the end of the tunnel. So for now I'll just lower my head and push through the last barrier, 2 finals tomorrow, 1 final Thursday, and 1 final Friday.

It's also hard to imagine myself a week from now waking up 7000 miles away from this place. And that is a little unfortunate because it's thoughts like that that have gotten me through this semester.

Hopefully, upon completing my finals, I can get, and should get, the kind of closure about the program really being over that I can't get through posting on a blog. For now I'll just revel in this temporary joy.

Saturday, December 5

9 Days and Counting...

After finishing my last full week of classes I figure it is time to begin reflecting on my semester her at CET Harbin.

Academically, I am satisfied with the program and I feel like the rigor of the classes, without any overwhelming sense of stress or anxiety, along with the benefits of studying standard Mandarin in Northeast China has gotten my Chinese to a level that it would not have been able to reach by studying in the States alone. I think it's also important to keep in mind that upon coming here I had a good Chinese language foundation thanks to Georgetown having a good Chinese department as well as relatively good study skills and personal motivation and those were also factors in my improvement.

Administratively, the program is lacking and I am currently working on a letter to send to CET headquarters in DC. The resident director, Li Laoshi, and that guy that was always in her office and for some reason was on CET payroll, Xuan Laoshi, and the resident advisor, Connie, are all nice people. Unfortunately, they are also utterly ineffective, unreachable and opaque in terms of what it is that they do, if it is the case that they are doing anything. Basically, I think that there needs to be a trimming down of resident staff, more responsibility on them to plan more cultural events for us, and for them to be a visible, transparently-operating, knowledgeable contact who not only lets us reach out to them but makes an effort to reach out to us.

In terms of Harbin, this is a terrible city. Whoever did the city planning must have been on crack, the infrastructure is in terrible condition, and for a place called the "ice city" there is not one plow in the city. They just let it snow, let people walk all over it and pack it down, wait a day or two for it to completely freeze over, then hit it with a shovel and scratch at the ground til they get it up and throw it into a truck so they can ship all of the frozen snow out of the city. And then the process happens again the next time it snows. And it snows a lot here. And I think this instance is a good analogy for not just how Harbin handles things, but how China handles things. They let the problem exist and watch the situation compress under the stress of a billion people until they have to deal with it and then scrape away at it and cart it out of the city, only for it to be followed by another issue.

As far as the end of the semester, I have "classes" on Monday and Tuesday but they are more review sessions and are kind of half-assed so that is not an issues. Then two finals Wednesday, one Thursday (incidentally my 20th birthday), and one on Friday (Jarrett's, a Georgetown classmate here in Harbin, 21st Birthday). Then Saturday is graduation/train to Beijing, chill on Sunday, then a Monday evening, Beijing time, flight to Chicago, followed by a Monday evening, freedom/eastern standard time, flight to Newark.

Lots to look forward to, as in looking forward to getting out of this place.

Saturday, November 21

Blogger and Youtube are now unblocked in China

After realizing that my VPN wasn't working this morning I've been grappling with the idea that I might have to deal with restricted internet for the next 3 weeks. But today's great surprise is that China has unblocked youtube and blogger. Hopefully this will be inspiration to do some more blogging before I'm back in the states. I guess we'll see.

Sunday, November 15

Nothing is Free-flowing in China

From democracy to trade to toilet water, nothing flows freely in China.

They shut down the water in the dorm. And it is one thing to shut it down, but with out any 通知 lining the walls to inform us of this, they do it randomly in the middle of a Sunday, preventing me from taking a shower and taking away the ability of one of my suite-mates to flush down whatever is festering in the toilet right now.

Enjoy that image, for now I'm going to hunt down the crazy ai-yi and bitch her out until I can drown my sorrows in a 15 minute shower (the longest shower you can take before the hot water heater is completely drained.

Wednesday, November 11

Single Person Festival

Today is 光棍儿节 in China. 光棍儿节, pronounced "gwang gur ge-ay" is the official anti-valentine's-day day in China. Literally translated it means "bachelor's day" btu it isn't restricted to the millions of men that will not find a wife due to the millions of baby girls being killed off each year in a very 21st century 重男清女 ("strong man, light woman") fashion. Chinese society manages to reconcile this 男女不平等的问题 ("the problem of inequality between men and women") by allowing the millions of women that some how manage not to find a husband in this bachelor-dominated society nor escape into the arms of a blond-haired blue-eyed foreigner to celebrate as well.

Naturally the Chinese have found a way to trivialize dates. They first point out that on November Eleventh the date happens to be 11/11, and then they have to take it that much further by being like, oh four ones in a row imply that on this day the single people must gather together and support each other in their loneliness.

And so, in an authentically Chinese manner, they manage to ruin something that I didn't think they had the capacity to ruin: a random date in the middle of November.

Future Posts to look out for:

How I Told the Dorm Aid to Take my Temperature by "[Doing] my Milk House"
Bromance and Girl-on-Girl: The Evolution of Friendship in China
Lao Wai: How to go from Being Judged to Being the Judge

Tuesday, November 3

37 Days, 39 days, 41 days - Doesn't Matter Which One As Long as I'm Counting Down

37 days until the start of finals. 39 days until the end of finals. 41 days until I fly out of Beijing and into Chicago/Newark. (Thank you time zones for allowing me to fly out of China and Land in the US on, technically, the same day.) These numbers, which thankfully get smaller with each passing day, are the bulk of the conversations that I have with people nowadays.

It seems sad that at this point what is characterizing my experience in China is the extreme desire to be home. Every day it feels like a struggle to get out the door each day and deal with the things that make me not like this place. And the fact that as a foreigner it is entirely impossible to assimilate into the culture and way of life here, not just because it is completely foreign but because the people have the inability to allow non-Chinese people to fully experience China, it makes it hard to adjust to life in China. The fact is I don't really like Harbin and I'm completely unapologetic about it.

I feel as though if I were in a different city in China and in a different capacity it would be a very different experience. Of course I chose my first China experience to be that of a Chinese student deep in dongbei (northeast/ghetto) China at an intensive language program. And that has scarred my experience here. But I try to keep an open mind and recognize that when I come back to China it will be a good experience. But at this point I just want to be home.

Monday, October 19

The First Snow of Harbin

It is currently snowing in Harbin. At least the bare minimum of what passes for snow. More like a rainy-snowy mess of weather. But I think it is fair to say that winter is quickly approaching. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure the weather report is calling for 60 degrees on Saturday and Sunday so it seems like the weather might be milder here than it is in the Northeast US. Or maybe just schizophrenic...

Sunday, October 18

'Force-feeding Duck Style' Teaching Method

In my second year and second semester of Chinese at Georgetown we learned a vocabulary word meaning 'force-feeding duck style', the teaching method that defines China's educational system. The lesson text consisted of critiques on both China and the United States educational system, but we just passed it off as another one of China's, and our textbook's, quirks. However, now that I've come to China I've been able to experience a little bit of that 有中国特色的教育体制, educational system with Chinese characteristics. The work load and demands of the teachers are high and the expectation is to stuff vocabulary and grammar points and dialogues down our throats so that when they stick a piece of paper in front of us we can regurgitate all of that information back up onto that sheet.

The point of this blog post, however, is not to write my own scathing critique of this method but rather to bring to attention that this force-feeding has made me very full. The only thing that keeps me going as I prepare for my midterms, which includes a presentation of an essay followed by answering questions (kinda like a super mini Chinese-language thesis), is the thought that once I throw all of this knowledge up that's that. It's an unfortunate part of education in China in that they don't encourage any long term use or practical application of the things you learn while in school, but at this point my main goal is to keep my sanity, hopefully through lots of dove chocolate and cap'n crunch therapy (thanks mom!). So for now, see you on the other side, or maybe whenever I just get frustrated with studying.

Wednesday, October 14

Back from Hiatus

After a trip to the Chinese-North Korean border, a two week vacation due to the 60th Anniversary of the PRC/Mid-Autumn Festival/Preventing-the-Spread-of-Swine-Flu Measures, and after getting fed up with free proxies not working buying a VPN (Strong VPN has saved my Chinese internet experience), I'm back to blogging.

Unfortunately a 60th Anniversary/Mid-Autumn Festival/Swine Flu 2 week vacation/cancellation of classes isn't the most inspired time for blogging and next week I have midterms so my time is also somewhat limited. But I plan to get back to my regularly scheduled blogging as soon as my regularly scheduled life resumes.

We did take a trip to Lafashan (Lafa Mountain) and Hongyegu (Red Leaf Valley) over the weekend so I'll attach some pictures from that.

The Chinese guy who tried to kidnap me at Lafashan. No, I'm not kidding. And might I add that this picture severely over-represents his height.

View from the top of Lafashan (which took us about 3 1/2 hours to climb, might I add)

Red-leafed Tree in the Red Leaf Valley

Jarrett and I (check out Jarrett's Blog!!!)

Wednesday, September 30

North Korea Impressions and the Ghetto of Rural-Ethnic-Minority China

Over this weekend some of our teachers accompanied us on a trip to Dandong, China. The appeal of Dandong is that it is a city on the Yalu River, a river that makes up the border between China and North Korea. And despite the close relations between the two countries (China is North Korea's biggest trade partner and provides pretty much all the food in that country), it is hilarious to see that China plays up that juxtaposition of immense development on it's side of the bank against the drab buildings and bare land on the North Korean side. And just to top it off there is a rotating building shooting out a green laser-like light at night circling, not only Dandong, but also spilling across the border into North Korea.

Despite this, the appeal of Dandong is questionable. It is a developing city, much more so than Harbin, but it doesn't seem to have an aim in it's development like other large cities apart from pissing off the North Koreans as they wallow in their miserable poverty and help stoke the Chinese sense of superiority (which is really just a facade based on a weakening foundation of power projection).

As far as ethnic minorities in China go, it is a huge joke that they think they can convince foreigners that China is a multi-ethnic society. China's 55 other races (non-Han Chinese), are a shadow of their former selves and have been so assimilated into Han culture that it seems shameless to begin to mention them. Even Han Chinese say that Man Chinese, a race considered large in China (3rd largest) coming in at around 10.2 million people, are virtually indistinguishable from their Han counterparts.

My challenge for China is to stop hiding behind the facade of an ethnically diverse and harmonious society while also claiming that you are less racist than the US because you don't have minorities to discriminate against. Frankly, there seems to be a lot of 自相矛盾 (self contradiction) that becomes more and more obvious the longer that I am here.

Also, sorry about the recent lack in posting. October 1 is National Day in China and this year is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China and I think that is rendering the proxies I use to get onto blogger and facebook useless. Hopefully in a week it should be better.

And enjoy some pictures of North Korea.

Saturday, September 19

中国任何外国人的爱恨交织 - The Love Hate Relationship of Chinese People and Foreigners

China had had a pitiable/interesting relationship with foreigners, most importantly in the period from the 1840s to the present. The "Hundred Years Humiliation" is still fresh on the lips of 10-year-olds who would have to be more like 60 to maybe have seen the tail end of the kind of occupation that China was subject to by England, France, Japan and the United States. The worse relationship was that between England and China. England, unable to let go of it's immensely successful entry into China's opium market decide it would need to use force in order to show China who the barbarians really were, leading to the Opium War, the second Opium War, the succession of ports to Western nations and Japan and probably the reason for why China has such harsh drug laws today.

Then, on October 1, 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), fresh from running the Guomindang (GMD/KMT) out of the mainland and to Taiwan, declared the creation of the People's Republic of China under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and with the support of China's 老百姓 - China's masses, China's everyday people.

Since 1979, China has been implementing Reform and Opening policies, allowing for preferential policies for businesses in cities on the Eastern coastal cities, and the aim of advancing technology and infrastructure in provincial capitals and the developing infrastructure, economic growth and job creation for ethnic minorities in the West. And with this opening up, Western companies with the foresight to see the potential of the Chinese market flocked and began investment projects in cities like Hong Kong (returned to the Chinese in 1999), Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Dalian, Shenyang. Of course all this foreign investment made the quick, and probably unsustainable growth of the Chinese market possible. Which means Chinese should love foreigners, right?

Chinese are a people of grudges and generational hate. You can ask any Chinese person our age what their feelings about the Japanese are and odds are they hate Japanese for their occupation of Manchuria, their militarism (although Japan currently has no military for their actions during WWII) and their attempt at hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region, and probably the world. You can ask any American our age if we hate the Japanese for their bombing of Pearl Harbor and odds are we don't care because Japan has robots and that is so freaking cool. It's not because most Americans don't remember/know the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but because we Americans learn to forgive and to forget.

Chinese are also a people of gross stereotypes. While looking at exhibits in the Jewish Synagogue, Jarrett's roommate told me about how all Chinese people think Jews are so good at business and they make so much money because they are the smartest people in the world. Shocked and trying to suppress laughter I told him about how there were some Americans that shared the same point of view as the Chinese. Luckily there were enough stupid Jews in the world to keep those stereotypes at bay.

So when you look at the history and the current state of Chinese people in regards to their relationship with foreigners you can see why they would be appreciative of the foreign existence in China however, due to generational hate against foreigners, particularly Japanese/Westerners there is a gross lack of understanding and that void is filled with stereotypes that would get all the windows in your car knocked out if you based your opinion of someone based on them in the states.

And where do I fit into this? I am just a confused Westerner who spends most of her time giving dirty looks to the people pointing at me and laughing at the sight of me from behind my back or right in front of my face, not realizing that I can completely understand what they are saying. But upon entering and leaving St. Sophia's Cathedral I encountered a different kind of response: Chinese that were so completely happy to see a Westerner that they just had to get a picture with her, while interested Chinese that realized the Black girl was actually a nice person and not going to bite them in the face gathered round to get pictures and just enjoy the spectacle. I'm not sure whether this goes under the ignorance category or the acceptance category, but it was pretty freaking funny.

(Pictures Coming Soon.)

Friday, September 18

The Day I Ate Dog and Chicken Hearts

One of the punchlines I constantly heard over the summer in response to hearing of my impending trip to China was "So, are you going to eat dog?" As some people know, I have been begging a certain someone for a puppy for a long time, so the thought of taking a precious animal out back, killing it, slicing it up and serving it to people barbeque-style was, and still is, stomach turning. Just a point to make, they usually cook the big, ugly dogs that look almost like small bears (puppies or other dogs don't have enough meat on them to make it worth the kill). But it's still like taking the-cute-dog-with-floppy-ears' uncle out back and shooting him, hence it all traces back to the cute ones, making it a sick, sick idea.

But how does this trace back to me eating a dog? A week ago I took a trip to Yagou (see post below) and since they weren't going to provide lunch so a couple of us decided to get baozi (big balls of bread with meat and vegetables inside). My friend Jarrett and I decided to get the second one on the list. I asked him what was in it and he said he thought it was pork (the standard answer in China if you don't actually know what it is as it is most likely pork). The name was something like "香菇...包子". The first two characters mean something like fragrant mushroom. However, what made me nervous hours later and stopped me from eating any more after the one in the morning before the bus ride to the mountains was the fact that the Chinese like to shorten names of things a lot, meaning 香菇 would be lengthened to 香肉蘑菇 meaning fragrant meat (the unsuspecting and unassuming codeword for dog meat) and mushroom. (I won't even get into the implications of calling dog meat fragrant meat.) After making my case to several friends I, unfortunately, got several responses. Jarrett seemed unsure and was just glad that he ended up not eating any. Laura told me I didn't eat dog meat and to stop worrying. Andrew told me he thought it was a type of mushroom and to now worry. Charlie seemed to think it was sadly funny and that I had eaten dog.

But then later that night, after a long hike up the mountains, they took us to a German-themed, Brazilian steakhouse-style Chinese restaurant (As weird as it sounds). One of the guys with spears of meat came around and pulled off 3 small pieces of I didn't know what but looked like very small, burnt sausage. My roommate leaned over and asked if I knew it was chicken hearts. I gave her one of my over-the-top of my glasses looks and thanked her and let her know that if she hadn't told me I would have eaten it. "They make you healthy since it's a heart," she told me. And then I did what I didn't expect. I covered it with some Chinese barbeque sauce and ate one. And then I ate another. And then I told her I couldn't eat the third. But I felt something change at that moment. I'd spent so much time fearing what I had eaten to even care about the fact that for them this is life. They eat dog, they eat chicken hearts and they don't care. So why should I? I don't have to like it but I should at least respect it and not feel so disgusted when I'm put in a situation where there is simply the possibility of something a little less than kosher could end up on my plate.

Since I've been here I've spent more time complaining about this place than embracing it. And it's not that I want to be bitter. The Chinese, in their prideful arrogance, malice laced with a lack of proper education, and ridiculously impolite and frankly disgusting habits make it very easy for a person to become disillusioned with this whole environment and want to jump the next plane back to the West. And all of these bad habits combined with simple ignorance diminishes their ability to accept and understand other cultures. And that is the reason why people stare. That is the reason why when you are speaking perfectly understandable Chinese they will turned glassy-eyed and pretend that they don't comprehend. That is why you will innocently be walking down the street and if the one old lady walking in the opposite direction doesn't cross the street to avoid passing you, the two walking behind you will burst into laughter at the thought of foreigners casually walking in front of them. It seems that it will take a while for the 老百姓, regular Chinese people, to learn to do their part in any genuine sense of a cultural exchange/dialogue. But that doesn't mean I can't do mine, because, while the people of China may not be invested in the world beyond copying all the other products made in every other part of the world, the people of the world are invested in China. Even if it means they have to eat the occasional dog and chicken heart.

Thursday, September 17

The Humbling Experience of Hand-washing Clothing

It seems almost comical that all of the washing machines here seem to rip your clothing apart while dryers are simply nonexistent. The first time I washed my clothes I enjoyed the first 10 minutes. I haven't been exercising since I got to China so it felt good to do something even remotely related to physical activity. Unfortunately, after that 10 minute mark, the romanticism and old country flavor a hand-washing clothes disappears and it becomes an annoying, messy process.

Steps for Hand-washing Clothing
Step 1: Fill a large, plastic basin with water and tide powder (they still make powder for washing clothes???) or pull out your tide detergent bar (a soap bar for washing clothes??? Only in China). Don't forget to put your pretty, yellow, plastic gloves.
Step 2: After filing the basic with soapy, bubbly water, place your clothes in the water and allow to soak for 5-20 minutes (the tougher the stain, the longer the soaking period).

Step 3: Fill a separate basin with clean water, pull out an article of clothing from the soaking basin and scrub it in the clean water
Step 4: Rinse the article of clothing with clean water until the water runs clear, wring out excess water and hang to dry.
*Repeat steps 3-4 until you are looking at an empty basin and a bathroom full of your clothes hanging on what in America would be a shower curtain, but what in China is purely decoration; in it's most practical sense a place to hang clothes.

When I get back to America I promise never to take for granted amazing technology, like washing machines and, even more so, dryers. I will also slap the first person in front of me who complains about the laundry services at Georgetown. Because, laundry, much like many things we take for granted, should learn to be appreciated and it shouldn't take a semester in Ghetto, Harbin, China to figure that out.

Saturday, September 12

Yagou:We Have a Meeting With Shangdi (上帝 ) at the Top of that Mountain

Yesterday morning and afternoon (based on China Standard Time), my group took a trip to Yagou, a town in the mountains about an hour and a half outside of Harbin. IT was fun, scenic and made up for the fact that I haven't exercised since I got to China almost 3 weeks ago.

When we first made it to Yagou we were welcome by a scenic lake with picturesque mountains lining the background. "那么漂亮," "how beautiful" was something to be heard for the rest of the afternoon, particulary as we began to ascend the mountain and get an amazing view of the the surrounding area and the coal-powered factories in the distance.

We first spent about 45 minutes climbing to the top of a smaller mountain to look at a rockcarving of a man and a woman who I'm sure used to actually exist but instead our leaders pointed to a wet spot on the rock and told us that she was in that vicinity. When we climbed back down we hoped back on the buses for a 3 minute ride and then were kicked off again in the front of what I assumed to be a house on the edge of this lake with donkeys, cows and two rabid-looking dogs.

The climb was long and sweaty and for the majority of it were were pretty sure that they had no idea where the trail was and in fact, at one point when we had made it to the top of one mountain they turned to another mountain across the way, pointed and said "那时我们的目的," "that is our target."I'm pretty sure those words struck fear into the hearts of every Chinese roommate as the guys were having their own trouble (brought on my being pretty much the antithesis of a macho man) so imagine how the girls were doing. Luckily my roommate is a good sport and I think she enjoyed the hike. But I digress... (when you look at the picture you'll see a tiny, little thing sticking up out of the mountains in the middle. That was our "目的" and it was really far away.)
Unfortunately you can't even see it in this picture (it's that far away) so here is a closeup.

So after forging our own trail through the countryside, and hilariously running into some of the locals, we made it to our target, the top of that mountain. The air was light and crisp, not like the heavy, coal laced air of the city, and the weather was to die for. I'm pretty sure when we made it up there we met Shangdi (上帝, God) and gave us the privilege of a spectacular view of the real China.

And now for some assorted pictures from the trip.

1. Me and my roommate, Song Yang 宋洋
2. Chinese motorcyclist in the mountains
3. Puppies! Their parents were a little camera shy and too busy growling at us to go and away and looking emaciated.
4. View of cornfields while descending the mountain

Friday, September 11

First Week of Class Review

(The changing around of my schedule, both voluntary and involuntary makes this title a little less than accurate.)

I'm currently signed up for 4 classes, totaling what would be about 20 credits at Georgetown (though they only think this is worth 15 credits toward graduation and my degree). My 4 classes are Business Chinese, Conversation, One on Two Drill, and One on One Tutorial. I also attended one day of Composition and can give some remarks concerning my short-lived time in that class.

Composition (写作): This class is only useful if you are planning on going to grad school for East Asian Studies or Chinese and you need to do lots of writing in Chinese. For the most part, punctuation is the same as English, not counting one unusual comma. Otherwise, its practical application for the average student ends with the class.

Business Chinese (商业): This is a relatively easy class with a manageable level of vocab and grammar patterns each week. The teacher is also very sweet and invested in making sure everyone understands a concept before we move on, even if it's just the Chinese name of a company (Windows -> 微软, Apple -> 苹果, literally apple). What annoys me about the class is that with each chapter she gives us a supplementary list of vocab, just using the words from the book but putting them into phrases that we have to have memorized. The problem is that, while in the scope of the chapter these words go together, there are also other words that are suitable and appropriate and it's annoying that we have to limit ourselves to the answers that she likes/thinks are correct. Otherwise, I think it's a useful course and have some capacity for practical application. We also get to have some interesting dialogue: Do you think the Chinese Government's reform and opening policy in the West is destroying the lives of the ethnic minorities?

Conversation (口语): Very useful class. I think that most Chinese students would agree that speaking Chinese is a little bit easier than writing Chinese. But then they open their mouths and you wonder if there are a 5th or 6th or 10th tone that no one every taught you (Mandarin Chinese has 4 tones). That is where this class is helpful. We read a lesson text then spend two days discussing it and learning relevant grammar patterns. It's great for vocab and also for learning to pay attention to the way a question asked and then formulating how you respond to it. The teacher is very nice and so far I'm enjoying this class.

One on Two Drill (一对二): My easiest class. I already feel like my tones and pronunciation are already pretty good so my teacher is relatively easy on me, unfortunately at the expense of reminding my classmate how unprepared he is for class. But even if you're tone deaf and you can't seem to get yourself to pronounce that ubiquitous u with an umlat, just show up and look like you're trying hard and I'm sure you can expect to see an A+ on your transcript when you're back in the states.

One on One Tutorial (一对一): This is easily my most interesting class. My topic is China-US Relations and over 12 weeks we will cover the three communiques, Taiwan, Economic/Trade Relations, Ethnic Minorities, Security and U.S.-China's Role in Leading World Organizations. I like my teacher and I feel like he enjoys coming to teach me and hearing about my life back in the states and my other opinions on things, like health care reform or the importance of Congress. And these materials he gives me are interesting. Such as how Congress took advantage of the Tiananmen "event" to punish China by imposing sanctions. I'm sure that this is only the tip of iceberg of Chinese perspective on important events and topics within China-US relations.

And those are my classes for this semester. This morning we are going on a day trip to Yagou for a hike and some BBQ so I'll have some pictures from that when I get back. Also look forward to a post on hand-washing clothing. All coming soon!

Thursday, September 10

Language Pledge, also known as how to make study abroad a legitimate learning experience

Some people study abroad looking for a chance to see the world, add perspective to their studies, or experience new culture. Then there are the contemptible few who look at study abroad as a chance to extend their summer vacations, taking trips to private beaches and eating sumptuous, multi-course meals as the rest of the country's people starve themselves, or jet setting to nearby countries with beautiful women. Then there are the valiant few who are willing to cast themselves in the far reaches of a foreign country, denying themselves proper bathrooms, clean water or the convenience of English, in order to have a truly foreign experience from anything that one could come in contact with while in the states (unless you happened to drive through West Virginia or upstate New York).

I don't mean to entirely de-legitimize other peoples' reasons for study nor the other places people choose for their study abroad experience. I personally hold the opinion that study abroad best lends its usefulness to people looking for an authentic environment to learn a language. But there are even those who take advantage of larger, more Westernized cities (for example, the students in Beijing or Shanghai) so that they don't have to worry about the shock of being in an environment where a little bit of English will set you further back from where you started. Thus, I propose for all study abroad programs to adopt an environment that does not let students treat it like an extended vacation where grades don't count toward your GPA. This can be done through the language pledge.

At CET Harbin, the day before classes start we recite and sign a language pledge stating that for the length of the program we will only speak in Chinese. They mention listening to English language music with headphones and even go so far as to suggest reducing the frequency by which we contact family and friends in the US, as the slightest utterance of English could corrupt the precious language environment for our fellow students. While this seems extreme, I think that in the week and a half that the pledge has been in effect, my Chinese has already improved. I'm excited to see the point that I'm at by the time October rolls around.

CET Harbin is a tough program. I probably spend about 8 hours every day looking up characters, writing oral reports, which our teachers seem to assign daily, memorizing dialogues and vocabulary and grammar patterns, and trying to do readings on Chinese-US relations that are entirely in Chinese and don't have an English version or a convenient list of vocabulary words in the back. But despite the enormity of my work, if we had not had a language pledge, I most likely wouldn't wake up every morning wanting to bang my head against the wall (unfortunately that would wake my roommate and every other person in this dorm). The work load would be tough but manageable and it would be easier to explain the ridiculous run-ins I have with the real Chinese out on the streets of Harbin. But then it wouldn't really be studying abroad. It would be like I was displaced from Georgetown and the registrar has mistakenly put me into four Chinese classes (something I'm sure that Georgetown could manage to do).

I think the most important part of study abroad is adopting the environment that you are in and allowing yourself to become a part of it. And in this case it means that you need to take on all the difficulties of the language and the language pledge and start defining yourself and your experiences within it and through it.

To me, this is a legitimate study abroad experience.

Tuesday, September 8

Why Bathrooms at Elite Colleges are Still Worse than the Ones You Come Across in the Ghetto

(Unfortunately I couldn't get a picture of a ghetto bathroom because China decided that my search for "bathrooms ghetto" on Google images was probably subversive toward the central government)

Everyone knows that China has a rather large population, in fact I think it might be fair to call it a problem. Its One-Child policy is ubiquitously known throughout the West, though many fail to recognize that it only applies to Han Chinese living in cities, particularly the overpopulated cities that dot across East China. This lends it hand to a large pool of college applicants every year, some going so far as to avoid such petty luxuries like food and sleep for a month in order to test well on the gaokao (Chinese university entrance exams), often times undermined by their richer more well connected counterpoints who can steal their records and enter university on another student's credentials, but that topic is for another time. You would think that the level of competition and the amount of prestige that surrounds China's top universities would encourage adminstration to put a little effort into having as good living facilities as lab facilities, but instead the students live in the same squalor as that of the lab rats which they perform tests on.

My point is that the bathrooms are ghetto as hell. It's such that I would be more comfortable in Southeast DC than in Northeast China. The bathroom set up seems to defy not only feng shui but also Western/Modern (I can't help but use these words interchangeably in this respect) health standards.

The bathroom is a rectangle and looking into it from one of the shorter side you can see the awkward water heater, placed somewhat close to the ceiling (which is not very high) jutting out of the opposite wall beckoning you to slam your head into it. Unfortunately, this is not difficult to do as the awkward placement of the fairly large sink and relatively long counter top right across from the shower head cuts down the area of shower space to what feels like one square foot. Then you have to find a way to keep all of the water from the shower head within your square foot of showering space, out of your mouth and away from the toilet area.

It literally is a toilet area. Basically what the Chinese did was take that rectangle/bathroom and put the toilet (one that you best not flush toilet paper down) on the shorter side of the rectangle/bathroom, right against the wall.

Not only will you invariably miss the drain, the one that is half closed/clogged, placed against the opposite wall from the shower in between the shower space and the toilet space and underneath the sink (I know it's awkward), but you will come to accept that any and all of your attempts to keep that water within your one square foot of space are in vain. So water that should go down that curiously-placed drain will instead flow freely across the floor of your bathroom for the next 3 hours. And let's not forget the wonderful mildew-y smell that can result if you don't realize that the small white box on the wall with the string hanging from it is the ventilator.

China is a curious place with curious customs and curious bathrooms. And it is curious how they think that they can be the world's most powerful nation with bathrooms that, in my opinion, rival those of the 1900s America and fall far behind those in 2009 Compton.

Also, the mirror in the bathroom is too low so I can only see the bottom part of my face. It's annoying.

Friday, September 4

Initial Reactions and Future Outlook

Since I have been in China for about 9 days, have had a language pledge for 5 1/2 days and finished my first week of class yesterday afternoon, I think it might be time for an initial reactions post.

China is China. That's really the best way to describe it. Because it doesn't completely suck, but it's not completely awesome. The best way to describe China is to just say China because only on its own does it totally embody its idiosyncracies and cultural schizophrenia.

As far as the people are concerned, they are shameless in their staring, they love meat and they drink me under the table. Some people stare for so long, as you are walking toward them and pass them you see their heads turn around to get the last fleeting glance of the "laowai" walking down the street. Or, if you are just enjoying a meal with a couple of people at a restaurant, an entire table will shift its attention from whatever they were discussing before to looking at the "laowai" ordering their food, eating and enjoying a couple of bottles of Harbin Beer.
Speaking of Harbin Beer, the Chinese are very proud of this brewery. It's the oldest one in China, opened by a Russian man who wanted to be able to liquor up all the Russians living in Harbin while working on the Railway leading to the Northern Manchuria Railway. It's good and it's cheap (3 kuai for a 500 mL bottle). That seems to be the trend as far as food is concerned in China, and I'm not complaining.

Right now we have the opportunity to sign up to return for the second semester. I have to make that decision by the 14th but as of right now I can confidently say that I won't be returning to CET Haerbin in the spring. I definitely don't see myself regretting the decision to come here but it takes a special kind of person to be able to spend an entire year away from friends and family and any sense of comfort, and it takes an even more special kind of person to spend that year in Northeastern China. I thought I was that kind of person but certain things have made me realize that I might be more of a homebody than I thought I was.

As for what to look forward to over the next week or two:

Language Pledge, also known as how to make study abroad a legitimate learning experience

Why Bathrooms at Elite Colleges in China are still Worse than What You Come Across in the Ghetto

First week of class review!!! (Changed my schedule slightly so it has to be postponed to the end of the second week of classes)

"Lao Wai!", How to go from Being Judged to Being the Judge

Tuesday, September 1

Mini Blog Post

I just experienced my first taste of good, old-fashioned Chinese censorship over the internet. I was doing some research for my one-on-one topic with a Chinese professor out of the government and history departments (let me add that my topic is US-China Relations from 1979-2009, including the contentions period in mid 1989 that we Americans like to call the Tiananmen Square Massacre) and after a minute I realized that I was staring at a blank page. I pressed F5 a couple of times, thinking my browser was just acting stupid. Then I looked at the url and saw ""

I also want to share the story of how I had to sign up for internet because I feel like it will make any web proxy that exists impotent. First you go to a building to sign up to use the internet on one of their computers. Then you stand in line so they can look up your application, make sure you filled it out correctly and then have you pay for opening an account and getting access for a certain number of months. If you application was filled out incorrectly in anyway, as mine was, you will have to wait for a computer to open up so you can fill out the form, again, then stand in line, again. When you get past hurdle #2 you have to go back to those computers and register again for internet using a special password they give you. Then you return back to your room, hope someone you know has software called "ruijie" that you install on your computer (they call it a support program, but it's just extra censorship support for the government), then you put in your id and the password that you chose when doing the initial application. And when that's all said and done, you have internet! I think an interesting point to make is that most of the censorship technology used in China comes out of Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT), so you better not send me anything subversive to the government or they'll find me and look me up. And who honestly wants to be locked up in a Chinese prison...

Btw, pictures coming soon!

Sunday, August 30

Inaugural Post, 8/31/2009 – 学期开始 - 开学 (The Semester Begins – Classes Begin)

I have now been in China for about 6 days and all I can say is that it’s been one experience after another. I always knew that it would be something completely foreign from the way I’ve lived in the United States, but it is almost impossible to understand the degree of otherness which has characterized my time in China so far. The (shameless) stares, the (loud) sounds, the (bad) smells, the (disgusting) hocking of spit into the street, it’s as though they have taken every bad habit that could manifest itself in a person and multiplied it by 1.4 billion. Then they took 5 million of those people and put them into a city where you have to wear a light jacket during the day in late August, let alone what you have to wear in the dead of winter. But despite all these things, you can find something to enjoy in Harbin, such as eating for less than a dollar; being able to enjoy a big bottle of hapi (Harbin Beer) with a big plate of dumplings and baozi or ma la mian; or also explaining to the Chinese that even though she is White and I’m Black we are both still American and yes, my entire family is American.

I’m looking forward to the start of classes today. These past six days have made me feel a little bit useless, as we’ve been moving from city to city and from hotel to hotel, eating out in big groups and walking aimlessly around the city to pass the time. However, given the fact that I can’t speak any English, I’m a little nervous. Even just starting the pledge last night I felt myself fading fast from all of the entra energy I had to expend just to get myself to have a five-year old level conversation with my classmates. It is frustrating when you can’t figure out how to express yourself or understand what your teacher or your roommate or the people on the street are trying to say to you, and when you don’t have English as a safety net you lose any remaining sense of comfort that you somehow would have retained despite being on the opposite side of the world from everything that you’ve known. But I took a pledge and I’m stuck with it until December 12 when I complete all of my exams. I figured that if I work hard for the next two weeks my Chinese will improve to the extent that I won’t get so tired just from trying to have a semidecent conversation with my roommate or my classmates. As for the professor that I have to do research with, I just hope that I can somehow understand him and slap something together to present to the teachers by the end of the semester.

Saturday, August 22

3 days and counting...

I really can't believe that I'm going to be in China in 3 days. It is utterly nerve wracking and overwhelming and, frankly, I don't like thinking about it. I'm not nervous about the normal aspects of traveling to another country, particularly one as foreign as the Middle Kingdom, like exchanging money or worrying about food and the possibility of contracting crazy diseases that could only originate in China. I'm very nervous about my placement test. I'm nervous about the Chinese people adjusting to me, rather than me adjusting to the Chinese people and their culture. I'm nervous about just being able to communicate in general when I get there (we can only speak in Chinese because of the language pledge we take a couple of days after arriving in Harbin). It's a little disheartening. I'm going to be there with 24 other CET Harbin students, 4 of which are Georgetown students, 2 of which I am good friends with, not to mention the 1.3 billion plus people that live in China. Yet I feel like being there, surrounded by all of these people, could still be very lonely. But regardless of my trepidations, unfounded or not, I will still be taking off from Newark at about 8:40 on Tuesday morning, heading for what will be one of the most momentous experiences of my life.

Monday, August 3

Crass Injustice and Inhumanity Continues in China

Anyone who takes a brief glance at the paper has probably seen the coverage of the Chinese Government crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang province, bringing the already tense relations between the Uighur ethnic minorities in China and the Han majority to a fever pitch. In the wake of all of this unrest, twitter and blogger have been banned, joining youtube on the Great Firewall of China's black list. I leave for Harbin, China in 21 days and a handful of hours meaning these posts will be my final opportunities to easily access blogger and write a post that is somewhat subversive in the paranoiac eyes of Beijing and it's keepers in the government.

Human rights have never been the strong suit of the PRC but these recent events in Xinjiang surely bring tears to the eyes of even the most hardened Republicans who would rather toss human rights issues to the side in order to continue to pursue persistent economic dialogue with the CCP. What some fail to recognize is that the human rights violations in these parts seem to go hand in hand with Han racism toward its ethnic minorities, particularly Uighur Muslims, which the Han Chinese often believe are synonymous with Anti-China separatists. But what we have seen in Xinjiang are really just race riots that the Chinese government has manipulated to project to the international community that the government is cracking down on Uighur separatists and their subversive protests. Race riots between the majority and disenfranchised minority or mass arrests and persecutions of the disenfranchised minority. Neither reflect well on the PRC but as they have seen, there are many in the US who are able to look the other way in order to maintain a working relationship between the two countries that promotes any kind of economic partnership.

So, perhaps rather than insisting on a dialogue in terms of human rights with China, the US needs to look at its own legacy of racism and apply that in how it helps the PRC to come to terms with its ethnic makeup and allow for a rapproachment between its 54 minority nationalities and the Han majority nationality.

Here is a piece in the New York Times about how the PRC can learn from the US and its history of race riots.

A Full Night's Sleep May Not Be the Right Kind

I am not a sound sleeper. I am prone to waking up one to three times a night. A couple of nights ago I woke around 1:30 and found a friend was still on gchat. This friend went on to tell me that I was probably suffering from a sleep disorder and I should see a sleep specialist. I was hesitant, not only because these kinds of sleeping habits are common on my father's side, but also because I've spent a ton on co-pays and vaccinations and prescriptions already.

While browsing through my google reader, catching up on news headlines from the morning, when I came across this little tidbit on sleeping habits of the modern day versus sleeping habits of the past. In an article on NPR, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr explains that there are historical records of people sleeping in two shifts. "They called the first bout dead sleep, and the second bout was called morning sleep. The wakeful period in between was referred to as watch or watching." I think it legitimates my sleeping habits. Maybe my body wants to reconcile the two sleeps of my ancestor with the streamlined efficient sleep model of modern day. Or maybe I am just a weird sleeper.

Monday, July 27

Words from the Woman Who Lives Down the Street

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I was slight unnerved by the long silence from the woman who made the call into 911 after seeing Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his cab driver struggling with Gates' front door. However, she has finally voiced her reaction to the situation and thoughts on what has turned into a virulent debate on racial profiling in what many wish to be a post-racial America. Unfortunately this whole situation may reveal that the only people living in a post-racial America reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Sunday, July 26

Racial Profiling in a Post Racial America

Last week Henry Louis Gates Jr., a distinguished African American scholar who heads the W.E.B Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, returned from a trip in China working on his documentary. When he got home his door had jammed and he asked his cab driver, an African American, to help him with the door. A white woman who lived down the street saw two men struggling with the door and, thinking that they were trying to break in, called the police. When Sgt. James Crowley had arrived Gates was already in his home. Sgt. Crowley requested that Gates show identification and Gates grudingly obliged, after an initial exchange of heated words. However Gates was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Since Obama commented on the situation, calling the arrest "stupid" (he has since apoligized for maligning the Cambridge police and said that he should have waited to hear all the facts before commenting; he also extended an invitation to both parties to come to the White House and resolve the situation over a beer), this situation has exploded into a debate on racial profiling in America and whether it's possible that America has not become the Post-racial America that Obama dreams about. I believe that the situation was escalated due to a misunderstanding between the two parties, created by generations of hatred between the Black community and law enforcement. Moreoever, I've been a little disturbed by the fact that no one has commented on the fact that this White woman who saw the two Black men struggling with the door assumed that it was a break in. Perhaps that is a different debate, as to the movement of Blacks into White communities and how they deal with that demographical phenomenon.

When Gates saw the police officer approach him the first thing that went through his mind wasn't "Shit, I'm a Black man and that police officer is going to tear my Black ass up and get away with it." He was thinking, "I'm an educated intellectual and a major faculty member at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. This man can't say shit to me. And if he does, Imma call him a racist." There is a sense of entitlement that I believe he feels in that he doesn't have to deal with law enforcement in the way that every day citizens have to. He believes that because he has accomplished so much, that should be his bail. And his sense of entitlement may be even more so by virtue of the fact that he is an African American who has climbed to such a high status in academia. I feel that this experience humbled him and his ego, because while it is impossible to ignore the racial undertones of the situation, much of it was precipitated by a clash of ego and authority.

Here is a great opinion piece in the Kansas City Star that does a better job at iterating the idea of classism as the main cause of the conflict between Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley.

Summary of my views on the situation (typed to mike over skype)
[2:44:14 PM] Cortne Edmonds: because I think the issue of racism is moreso concetrated in the part of the story in which the white woman down the street saw two black men on the doorstoop and assumed it was a breakin
[2:45:08 PM] Cortne Edmonds: I think he was offended in that he felt he was entitled to better treatment as a scholar, and he was able to just apply a thin veneer of racism to hide that sense of entitlement

Wednesday, July 15

A Recent Lapse In Blogging

I know it's been a while since I've posted and I'm sure it pains my faithful readers so. Last monday I started a full time job in NY and have dived head first into my preparations for leaving for China in August. I can't promise that I'll be blogging more from now on but I can promise that when I leave for China it will get better. And, frankly speaking, blogging may be the only way that I can keep my English up to par.

So keep checking. I promise I will post soon!

Friday, July 3

Sarah Palin, Future Former Governor

This afternoon Sarah Palin announced that she would be resigning from her position as the Governor of the State of Alaska on July 26, 2009. One of her excuses choosing to resign was the fact that she did not wish to assume "conventional lame duck status" now that her term was coming to an end (it ends in 2010), as this was one of the many things that constitutes "politics as usual," something that apparently the McCain-Palin campaign fought against last year. I'm assuming she ignored the fact that by excusing herself from completing the job that the Alaskan people elected her to do undermines the decision of the people and the capacity that they have to ensure that their chosen leaders lead. And also she would just be replaced with a "lame duck" lieutenant governor who would have to finish the rest of her term.

It could just be that she is wary of the nosedive that her popularity figures in Alaska have taken since the particularly partisan presidential elections last year. Last July, before the nomination, she has an approval rating of 80%. The latest poll numbers have her at 59.8%. And many speculate that she'll use her new-found free time to begin formulating a possible run for the presidency in 2012. My guess is this isn't the last we've heard of Sarah Palin.

BTW: Did anyone read the profile they did of her in Runners' World? You know, the one where she talks about being able to run circles around Obama?

Thursday, June 25

Moral Conflicts in the Party of Family and Moral Values

I know I've taken a recent hiatus from blogging, mostly due to getting complacent after losing internet in my house for over a week. But I feel like recent events deserve some more attention. Not to mention, is there a better way to spend the last couple of minutes of my internship writing a post that no one will read?

In less than two weeks, John Ensign, a G.O.P. senator, and Mark Sanford, a G.O.P republican, have admitted to committing adultery. Has Social Conservatism hit rock bottom, and if so, what does that mean for a political party that has largely tied its successes to that very idea? Infidelity transcends the divides of political parties but Republicans should expect more criticism because they portray themselves as the party protecting family values and marriage.

Lucky for Mr. Sanford, the death of Michael Jackson has taken up all the space of every major network and with the recess of Congress for July 4th next weekend, will the recent affairs lose the limelight that they should be getting?

Tuesday, June 16

The Asian Fro?

I was looking up some hair conditioners this morning as I woke up at 6 in the morning and I had nothing better to do. While reading some posts in a forum I came across this little gold mine. Apparently the "Afro Perm" (please click on this link as it brings you to a salon that performs this treatment and shows a lot a lot of pictures of Asians with goofy-ass afros, the other hair styles are good too) is a popular hair style among Asian people in which Asian men and women chemically process their hair so that they can have a hair texture similar to those with curly, kinky, nappy hair, generally those of African descent.

This blog post I found shows a bunch of pictures of men and women with their new hair and there are a lot of comments, particularly on the huge presence of Chinese and Taiwanese people in the Caribbean (something I discovered when my dad came back with Chinese take out on a trip to Jamaica). Here is a post on a forum where African Americans discuss this phenomenon.

I won't lie. I got excited when I read this thinking, "I won't be the only one in China with a fro." But apparently while the "Afro Perm" is hugely popular in Japan and Korea, this is one disease that has not spread to China. So I guess I'll just have a lot of Chinese people putting their hands into my hair asking me "how do you get your hair like this?" while all the Japanese and Korean exchange students saying "well I can make my hair do that too..." What is this world coming to?

Saturday, June 13

The Internet Crisis Ends

I have internet again. But I'm too lazy to do a real post. Here are some links I've been perusing for the last hour if any of you are interested or just bored.

Adam Lambert is Gay (?)

Luis Castillo, the "Amazin' Disgrace" - Dropped Ball Loses the Game

A Study on The Perfect Running Pace for Men and Women

Common Myths about the Female Body

Top-10 Sex Statistics

Fittest Cities in America (D.C. is #1! Twin Cities are #2!)

Different Brain Types Determine How Social You Are

Oh and apparently 1 in 5 Americans admitted to peeing in a swimming pool. Have a nice summer.

Wednesday, June 10

Internet Crisis Continues

Hey all, I know it's been a while since my last post. While the Recession is rearing it's ugly head all over the place (look at the unemployment numbers for May) we're experiencing the Great Depression in my household. OK, maybe I'm being a little melodramatic but if you had NO INTERNET for a week I think you would be pretty upset as well. So to all my faithful readers (I know there are a couple out there), just hold tight. I'll be sure to do a blog post every time I'm at work, Dunkin Donuts or Atlanta Bread Company as those are the only places right now that I can get internet access for free.

In other news, I've started running again. Sophomore year of high school I got really into running with my friend, Fan, but after a change of priorities I never got to build on what I had started. Currently, I've been doing 2-3 miles a day, 3 days a week. This week I'm planning on up-ing that number to 4 days a week and hopefully be doing 5-6 runs by the end of the month and maybe doing a longer run, 4+ miles, and some interval training (something I enjoyed from conditioning in other sports) once a week. My summer has been pretty boring rather unstimulating, so rather than sulk I figured I would take up running as a way to stay in shape and destress a little bit. I'm hoping to find a race to do toward the end of the summer (preferably a 5K but I'd be up to a longer distance), just so I could feel more like I'm working toward something tangible. But even more than that I think it's just another thing in my life that I can feel in control about as I try to figure everything else out.

BTW: It's 10:05 AM and I'm still the only one in the office...

Wednesday, June 3

It's National Running Day...and what?

Today, June 3, 2009, is National Running Day. So what does that mean to you? It means that the second you finish reading this post you should get outside and get the exercise your body is craving (yes, your body is craving exercise and it is wrong to deny it).

The goal of this joyous, and sweaty, occasion is to encourage people to give up a rather sedentary lifestyle that characterizes the lives of most Americans and promote running as a healthy, easy and accessible form of exercise.
Here are the seven reasons to run according to the National Running Day website.

Because of changes in diet and lifestyle, Americans are increasingly at risk for diseases that can significantly diminish the quality, productivity, and length of their lives. The time to act is now.

1. Nationwide, the annual medical expense for juvenile obesity is more than $127 million annually.

Health-care expenses and productivity losses related to obesity problems cost Americans more than $100 billion annually.

3. Currently, obesity-related illnesses cause some 300,000 deaths a year. Inactivity and poor diet will soon overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

4. Overweight youth ages 10 to 15 have an 80% chance of becoming obese adults by age 25.

5. Only one in four kids gets at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Kids and teens obesity rates have doubled in the past 20 years.

6. According to the American Sports Data 2007 Superstudy of Sports Participation, 39.5 million people in the United States ran or jogged at least once, and 11.7 million ran more than 100 days/year.

7. In 2008, according to Running USA, there were 9.2 million finishers in road races (ranging in distance from the 5K to the Marathon), a 4 percent increase from the 8.8 million finishers in 2007.

It's not necessary to register at the website or join any running clubs for a run today. It might even be better if you go out on your own and try out running. Even if you can't go out and run for 30 minutes straight, try breaking up the run by walking for a minute or two then running anywhere from 1 to 10 minutes, depending on your level of fitness. The point is to motivate people to start running and initiate an active and healthier lifestyle.

By the way, if anyone wants to run a 5K in August, I believe Jonathan Jacobs would be interested in throwing goo on us at the halfway point. Any takers?

Tuesday, June 2

Obama's Challenge for Us All

While doing my research on US, UK, Nigerian and Jamaican trade mark processes and conventions I stumbled across The President's Challenge website. I'm sure you all remember the presidential fitness tests that were given to us in physical education classes in grade school. Well it looks like the Obama adminstration has remixed that and created the Presidential Challenge, a way to promote activity in the daily lives of Americans. The National President's Challenge began on May 1st and continues until July 24 and I think it is a great way to provide some motivation for people who are looking to begin a healthier lifestyle by providing support at the federal level as well as connecting people at the grassroots with local groups and communities.
According to the standings right now New Jersey is in 49th place (not out of 50 as the list includes D.C., The U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Is. and Guam). So I'll be registering just to ensure that we place ahead of Connecticut, currently in 38th place.

Sunday, May 31

Classical + Jazz + Hip-Hop = Black Violin

(Jonathan, you will probably be interested in this)

As a Black violinist, this is something that strikes me as interesting because African-American musicians who were classically trained are few and far between. I feel like this group, Black Violin, is on the verge of another classical music revolution led by Black classically-trained musicians, similar to the one almost a decade ago led by Regina Carter, where she travelled to Italy to play jazz violin on an instrument formerly owned by Niccolo Paganini. I'm just going to copy the biography from their website, because it speaks volumes for this group and the types of musical genres that they have shifted and molded to create this new sound.

To most people, jazz, hip-hop, funk, and classical are musical genres. But to revolutionary music group Black Violin, they're nothing but ingredients.

Combining a daunting array of musical styles and influences to produce a signature sound that is not quite maestro, not quite emcee, this group of two classically trained violinists and their DJ is redefining the music world-one string at a time. With influences ranging from Shostakovich and Bach to Nas and Jay-Z, Black Violin breaks all the rules, blending the classical with the modern to create something rare-a sound that nobody has ever heard, but that everybody wants to feel.

When the members of Black Violin first learned to play their signature instruments-Wil B at the viola 14 years old and Kev Marcus the violin at the tender age of 9-neither could have foreseen that it would become their livelihood, though it was already becoming their passion. The two Florida natives first met while attending the Dillard High School of Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, a school whose exceptional music programs served to nurture their already budding talents.

But it was not until the two were exposed to the work of legendary violinist Stuff Smith that the seeds that would one day become Black Violin were truly planted. Smith, born in Portsmouth, Ohio in 1909, was one of preeminent jazz violinists of the swing era, who went onto perform with names like Alphonse Trent, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Sun Ra throughout a long and storied career. His final album and most soulful, entitled "Black Violin," so inspired and influenced the young Kev Marcus and Wil B that they would eventually name their band in honor of the man who had shown them that there were no limits to what the violin could do.

After graduating from high school, both Wil and Kev were granted full music scholarships to college, Florida State and Florida International University respectively. It was at FIU that Kev first encountered the group's future manager, Sam G, with whom he and Wil soon formed a production company: DKNEX. Now they had a platform for their dream, and the talent and inspiration to back it up. Black Violin was born.

Once formed, the group wasted no time in making a name for itself, starting with the rigorous touring that would become a trademark of the group. Black Violin was making ripples in the music industry, but it wasn't long before these ripples became waves. In 2004, the group joined superstar Alicia Keys on stage at the Billboard Music awards, delivering a performance that made the tastemakers and music enthusiasts of America sit up and take notice. Not long after, in 2005, the group was awarded the coveted title of Apollo Legend by the esteemed Apollo theatre in Harlem, effectively confirming what many were beginning to suspect-Black Violin was on its way to the top.

The next step in BV's journey came in the form of Mike Shinoda, lead singer of legendary rock act Linkin Park, who had had his eye on the two virtuosos for a while. Impressed by their imaginative composition and finely tuned musicianship, he invited them along on a world tour with his hip-hop side project, Fort Minor. Finally granted the worldwide platform their talents deserved, the members of Black Violin now introduced their own brand of genius to audiences across the globe. In addition to Shinoda, BV has worked with musicians as diverse as P.Diddy, Kanye West, Fifty Cent, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, Aretha Franklin and the Eagles-among many others.

But Black Violin is only getting started. The group recently released its eponymous debut album-a record whose top notch production and musical cohesion make it feel like the work of seasoned veterans rather than industry upstarts, as many patrons of the iTunes store and are discovering for themselves. The group continues to tour far and wide, opening for hip hop mainstays like Fat Joe, Akon, and the Wu-Tang Clan in locations as diverse, as Prague, Dubai, and South Africa. The group's rising fame has also made it a highly desired act for celebrity events-Black Violin just recently provided the music at both Minister Lois Farrakhan's 75th birthday and at NFL star Santana Moss's wedding.

But beyond all the glitz and glamour, the members of Black Violin just want to give children the same opportunities that they had. With school music programs being culled all across the country, Kev and Wil are concerned that urban youth will not have the benefit of music as a positive alternative to other, more destructive pursuits. With this in mind, they have embarked upon a campaign of social change-using youth orchestras and reinvigorated music programs to show children and teens that they are capable of expressing themselves in ways they have never dreamed.

In an age where music is coming to be more and more defined by the labels given to it, Black Violin shows that music does not exist within a box, but rather exists in another space-one as open and unrestrained as the minds that produce it.

Saturday, May 30

School over the Summer?

While cleaning out my bookmarks I rediscovered Academic Earth, a website that provides lectures from world renowned professors covering diverse subject matter, ranging from Astronomy to Entrepreneurship to Religion. So if any of you are feeling a little lost in your summers now that you don't have those 75 minute lectures to look forward to everyday, this maybe a good way to pass an hour or two of your time.

Some Interesting Lectures:

Mixed Strategies in Baseball, Dating and Paying Your Taxes - Benjamin Polak

Shaping China's Choices - Thomas Christensen

The World is Flat 3.0 - Thomas Friedman

Raising the Flag of the Minnesota Twins Nation

(If your name is Jonathan you might want to stop reading now)

I was born in Manhattan close to the end of 1989. From there I proceeded to live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (2nd St and Avenue A) and in the Bronx (off of the Henry Hudson Parkway around 236th st) until August of 1997, when my Dad decided to close his law practice and attend Princeton Theological Seminary. Both my parents were from New York, which would give us an inherent imperative to support all New York teams. Although my mom is rather nonchalant when it comes to sports, it might be fair to say that my Dad's first love was baseball. He was raised in the Lower East Side of Manhattan and used to shine shoes outside of Yankees stadium so that he could get enough money to buy a ticket to get inside the stadium and watch a game. My dad is a Yankees fan for life. And it was these experiences that defined my life as a sports fan and my identity as a Yankees fan. Until Michael Drost.

Mike is a die-hard Minnesota Twins fan. Issue: Mike was born in Vermont and raised in Connecticut.


Both places are a ways away from the twin cities (rougly a 23 hour trip driving according to Google Maps. (see image below for reference)

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How do we reconcile this issue with the fact of the matter? Well, Mike is an identical twin and with his twin he formulated this cute idea that as twins what better team would there be to support besides the Twins? And so two Twins fans were born. From then on they made an oath to switch as many people over to be Twins fans as much as possible. And at this point I would like to say that Mike has succeeded in switching me over.

It really began a couple of weeks ago when the Twins were playing the Nationals in DC. Because Mike and I go to school in DC and he had cable he was very excited about being able to watch the games live instead of on MLB Gameday. Being the obliging girlfriend I watched all of the games with him. I was raised as a Yankees fan, but since I come from a baseball family watching the game was exciting in itself, but I didn't want to admit this. Since then I've gone from mocking every Twins loss to watching MLB Gameday on my own with MLB Network on TV in the background, getting offended by every bad call and upset with every bad Twins at bat or fielding error. Then today I was at Bank of America opening a checking account and when you get a check card they let you personalize it with anything you want. And one of the options was MLB teams. They also had Georgetown and that was tempting as well. It came down to deciding between a Minnesota Twins vanity card or a Georgetown University vanity card. When the woman helping me told me that with the Keep the Change process the bank offers I would get more money matched by the bank with the Twins card it was a done deal.

While there was the added incentive of the Twins card being able to get me more money, I think it speaks volumes about how my opinion of this team has changed since Mike first made me even consider their existence back in freshman year. And I think that I can honestly say that I am a Twins fan now.

Friday, May 29

The Rise of China = Fall of the World Economy?

Nowadays it is almost impossible to talk about rapid modernization and economic growth without one uttering the words "rise" and "China". The rise of China this and the rise of China that. Everyone is quick to credit China for it's remarkable modernization and economic development and how its integration with the world has been nothing but positive. Yet the only person who was willing to dish out some of the blame for the financial crisis was Geithner and he was given a slap on the hand not just from Chinese officials but also from China-friendly US officials. Four months later NPR has stepped up to the plate and presented a brief and concise analysis of why China is partly to blame for the current world financial crisis.

It's an interesting piece and I'm happy to see that someone is willing to stick to China and at least dish out some blame even if they aren't going to take it at the expense of "losing face" and some legitimacy in the eyes of their people. However, I'm not sure if NPR's case about the culpability of China can come close to years of shortsightedness in terms of America import-export imbalance that has forced us to borrow ignorantly and endlessly to pay for these products as well as continuously print dollar bills while ignoring the fact that inflation will imminently get the best of us.

H1N1 is soooo last month

Guess the Chinese didn't get the memo that Swine Flu is soooo last month (Right, Mike!). First it was the Mexicans, which I briefly discussed in an earlier post, now they're quarantining American middleschoolers. When will the madness end?

Thursday, May 28

Liberalism, Conservatism and Your Morality

Nicholas Kristof published an interesting column this morning in the New York Times describing the differences in the thought process between the politically left and the politically right, particularly in terms of one's moral calculus. Apparently Conservatives tend to be disgusted by things ranging from what is physically disgusting (dirty faucets) to what is social threatening (whatever behavior they deem that to be). Liberals, on the other hand, are much more casual about authority and more apt to derive conceptions of morality based on fairness and prevention of harm toward others.

Here are some quizzes to see how you weigh moral factors. Maybe it will give you a little more insight into your political leaning as well. Or it could just be something to pass the time when you should be working *cough*...

Tuesday, May 26

The Second Coming of Baby Jesus?

Here's an interesting interview on Baseball Today with Joe Mauer, also known as Baby Jesus, of the Minnesota Twins. He's a phenomenal catcher and hitter and has really caught my attention after coming into the season a month after the rest of the team and hitting a home run at his first at bat (that's right, Mike, even I'm impressed).

For more Twins related news and knowledgeable insight check out Twins on Twins.

As far as race relations goes, there is nothing more inquisitive than a young, impressionable child (though I bet Mike could give one a run for his/her money). Here's an article about how a mother "learned" about race relations when her child visited her at work and asked why one of her coworker's face was brown. It's not so much an issue of a child asking an honest question than some unfortunate situation on the part of the parents that allowed the child to only be exposed to other fair-skinned people like himself rather than being exposed to a diverse group of people. Or maybe I should just put my race card back into my wallet?


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