Posted on May 31st, by matt_schiavenza in China. 3 comments

I live in a neighborhood full of old wooden houses so I suppose it should come as no surprise that the rat population here seems to be teeming.  Fortunately, I have never seen evidence of one inhabiting my living quarters, but I have seen a few running around the lobby of my building and in the courtyard out at front.

I don’t really mind rats if they’re outside, and in this area there are so many that most of us don’t even point them out anymore.  Inside, though, is a different story- last fall, we saw several rats running across the floor in this dingy bar we went to.  That was my big rat story of the year.

Until Monday night.  I and a friend went out to eat at a local Chinese restaurant, slightly more upscale than the average hole-in-the-wall rice house but still cheap and cheerful.  We go to this restaurant frequently- I’d say at least once a week- and the food has always been nice and the service has always been excellent.

On Monday, we had finished our food and were having an extra beer and a lazy conversation when suddenly the color drained completely from my friend’s face.  I asked her what the matter was, and she pointed to the wall and said coldly, "a rat".  I turned and suddenly it lurched forward and hid behind the air conditioner, with its long, lustrous, black tail sticking out.

A rat on the wall!  I couldn’t believe it.  What amazing creatures!  I stared at it in amazement until it, in one motion, leapt on the air conditioner and into a cupboard that I had assumed was shut.  Rats- they climb on walls and enter closed spaces with no effort.

The owner of the joint and his wife noticed our furtive glances and asked what the matter was.  I said in Chinese,  "A mouse.  A big, big mouse".  (There is no word for "rat" in Chinese, only "mouse"). 

What did they do?  They laughed.  Laughed at the terrified, soft, effete foreigners who can’t deal with having enormous rodents climbing walls just inches from their dinner table.  They then led us to another table, apologizing for the uninvited guest.  We sat there for about a minute, but we couldn’t really have a conversation as each of us shot glances to the cupboard to make sure the rat didn’t escape.  I had this brief, horrific image in my head of a rat running across our dinner table and using our sweet and sour pork as a toilet bowl.

I asked the owner if we could pay our bill, and if we could take what was left of our beers outside.  Normally, restaurants don’t allow you to carry drinks out, but in this case I think they were willing to do just about anything we asked. 

Within minutes, we were sitting on some steps near the restaurant finishing our beers and recovering from shellshock. (Drinking outside, like in Italy, Spain, and Las Vegas, is acceptable in China).  It then dawned on me that if a restaurant back at home had a big rat running around, it’d be shut down.  Swiftly.  The owner would have probably tried to bribe us into not telling anyone. 

Here, the rat provided entertainment to the amused ownership of our restaurant who have probably seen much, much more disgusting things than that in their lives.…

He’s Our Bastard

Posted on May 30th, by matt_schiavenza in China. No Comments

Via Peking Duck, a mob of Chinese students in New Zealand protested a spoofed magazine cover called "Commupolitan" showing Chairman Mao in drag.  One student went as far as to say, on the verge of tears, "Chairman Mao is like Jesus to us".  Hmm.

The Duck was surprised to read this, given the general cynical attitude toward Mao espoused by young Chinese in China’s cosmpolitan centers.  Is Mao still venerated in China? 

Well, the answer is a bit more complicated than most people realize.  Mao is regarded as the father of the modern Chinese state, and he is regarded with great respect by Chinese old enough to remember China’s shameful occupation by the Japanese.  Recall that for a century prior to Mao’s consolidation of power, China was carved up by various European powers greedily thirsting for its untapped markets and then abused on a horrifying scale by Japan.  Mao, effectively, restored full sovereignty to the Chinese and purged all of the villanious foreign influence that the Chinese hated so much.

The Chinese are not blind to the many mistakes and horrors Mao unleashed during his tenure in power.  Many have relatives that starved to death during the Great Leap Forward. Many older Chinese survived the hellish Cultural Revolution.  Nearly all Chinese recognize that their lives improved drastically when China began introducing market reforms under Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping.

Adding to that above, anyone is offended when an important symbol of their country is lampooned overseas.  I even feel uncomfortable when President Bush is insulted by foreigners, and I don’t even like him at all.  I suppose in that sense a nation is a bit like a family- you can complain about your crazy old uncle but when someone else does you give him a smack on the nose.…

Bad News For Everybody

Posted on May 30th, by matt_schiavenza in Current Affairs. 2 comments

I don’t really expect much from the San Francisco Chronicle- I really don’t.  I also don’t buy the right-wing claim that the media as a whole is hopelessly biased toward the left. 

Yet today I clicked over to the Comical Chronicle website and saw the headline: "More Bad News For Bush".  The article, written by AP, tied together both yesterday’s rioting in Afghanistan and yesterday’s deaths of three CBS employees in Iraq.

Yes, the upsurge in violence is bad news for Bush.  But it’s also bad news for the victim’s families, for the soldiers in Iraq, and for, you know, the United States as a whole

In some cases, what’s bad news for Bush is good news for the country as a whole, such as when his attempts to privatize Social Security failed or he is forced to give up the Federal Marriage Amendment push.

Yet when it comes to matters of war, and peace, the Americans should actually hope for the best in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but I think AP ought to be ashamed of its callous framing of the stories and the Chronicle should know better than to run them.…

Cindy Sheehan’s Misadventures Continue…

Posted on May 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Politics. No Comments

Cathy Seipp of National Review doesn’t particularly care for Cindy Sheehan’s new book, Dear President Bush.  Sheehan, as you recall, is the Official Grieving Mother of the Iraq war.  Her fifteen minutes began when she camped outside of President Bush’s compound in Crawford, Texas, and appears to be extending into overtime with her book and barnstorming tour.  Seipp calls her a "useful idiot" for more experienced forces in the far left, which I suppose is a reasonably accurate description.

Whatever sympathy anyone had for Sheehan must have evaporated by now as she is so plainly parlaying her grief into a lucrative career as the darling of the extreme left.  I find it ludicrous that anyone would take her ramblings on national security and the Iraq war seriously, as merely being the mother of a solider doesn’t make one an authority on war and international relations. 

There are thousands of mothers like Sheehan whose lives were torn apart by the loss of a child in Iraq.  I suspect that quite a few of them are also very critical of President Bush’s Iraq policy yet lack Sheehan’s opportunistic knack for garnering publicity.  I hope she goes gently into that great night- perhaps a less than enthusiastic reception of her book will convince her that her days as a public intellectual are numbered.  I only hope.

Anyway, read the rest of Seipp’s article.  She’s a funny writer and one of the best over at NR, even if I routinely disagree with her political opinions.…

Thank You For Pointing Out The Bleeding Obvious!

Posted on May 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Teaching. 1 Comment

Note to Chinese people:  If you are meeting a foreigner somewhere, and the foreigner happens to be late, please dispense with the terse "You are late" greeting to the foreigner.  It’s rude, silly, and pointless.  …


Posted on May 28th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. 1 Comment

Sorry for the light posting- I’ve been very busy at work preparing final exams and haven’t really had the time to sit and relax lately. Here are some of the non-school related items that have occupied me:

  • I’ve begun taking Chinese lessons again, this time with the girlfriend of my good friend Ben.  Melody (English name) speaks fluent idiomatic English and so is able to explain Chinese syntax and conversational rules in a manner that I can understand.  She also is clever at tailoring the lessons toward my weaknesses and helping improve areas of Chinese that are most relevant to my life.  In addition, the lessons are hi-tech as Mel e-mails homework and audio files so I can practice in between the lessons.  What’s more, she charges less than my other Chinese tutor- I only wish she had begun offering lessons much earlier!
  • I’m reading another travel book on China, entitled Fried Eggs & Chopsticks.  The author is an English lady named Polly Evans who has also written irreverant tomes on travel in Spain and New Zealand.  For anyone interested in knowing the nitty-gritty of Chinese travel, from the nitty-gritty of the toilets and the incessant spitting, this book is for you.  It’s light and funny and is pretty damn accurate.  I only wish I had written it myself!
  • Against my better judgment, I’ve been watching a lot of Desperate Housewives lately.  So far, I’ve gotten through all of Season 1 and most of Season 2.  The verdict?  The first few episodes are clever and funny but the show kept getting worse and worse through the rest of Season 1.  Season 2 has been pretty damn lousy- far too much pathos and not enough of the absurdist humor that characterizes the best episodes.  Some of the scenes- especially involving the Born Again Christianity of Carlos Solis’- are dull at best and nearly unwatchable.

Well- that’s me for right now.  Nothing particularly fascinating, but hey- that’s the problem with having a full-time job.

Giants Update

Posted on May 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Baseball. 1 Comment

Quite a good week for the home nine.  The Giants marched into Houston and bludgeoned the defending NL champ Astros, sweeping the series in three successive routs.  Then, back in the friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum the Giants took two of three from the A’s, only losing due to a herculean pitching effort by Danny Haren.  That’s five wins out of six, on the road, against two of baseball’s better teams, with a run differential of 44 to 8.  Quite impressive.

The hot streak is based on a resurgence of good starting pitching.  Matt Cain twirled a one-hitter in Oakland on Sunday.  Jason Schmidt has looked miles better than he did last year, nearly approaching is 2003-2004 form.  Noah Lowry is healthy and making quality starts.  Jamey Wright, an unlikely member of the rotation until the end of Spring Training, leads the team in wins with five.  Matt Morris has been the lone disappointment, although even he threw eight innings of one-run ball against the Astros last week (before looking stinko again against the Cards tonight).

The offense benefited from a hot streak by none other than Pete Happy, who proved once again that any mananger who throws him strikes should get his head checked.  Plus, managers continue to follow the opposite strategy with Barry Bonds, who managers seem to forget is a mere shell of his former self.  Note to NL managers: throw balls to Feliz, and strikes to Bonds.  Rinse and repeat.  Even with our best hitter out (Mo Alou), the Giants offense has held its own in recent games.

The lone black hole with this team has been the bullpen, which has scarcely improved despite some personnel moves.  Armando Benitez is shaky at best.  Worrell just went on the DL.  Munter’s sinkerball doesn’t, well, sink.  I shudder to imagine what’ll happen to the Giants fortunes if the starting pitching turns to crap.

Alas, the NL West remains baseball’s tighest division without any great or weak teams.  Even the traditionally inept Rockies are winning on the road and pitching competently.  Arizona is up and coming, with a slew of great young prospects.  The Dodgers look awfully good, and the Padres find themselves in last place despite a recent 13-1 run.  This division will not be the laughingstock of the league again in 2006.

Other news and notes:

  • What happened to the Angels?  I figured they’d be disappointing this year, but they look absolutely terrible.
  • The Cubs have found out just how irreplaceable Derrek Lee really was- they can’t hit a lick and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dusteroo unemployed before too long.
  • No matter how bad your team may be, there’s always the Royals to lift your spirits!  Eleven straight losses.  Sheesh.  To think that the Royals were once the most successful expansion franchise in major league history.  Now, they’re facing their third consecutive 100-loss campaign and their fourth in five years.  Amazing.
  • Meanwhile, the Tigers keep winning and have suddenly turned into a great ballclub with Jim Leyland at the helm. 
  • Albert Pujols is absolutely amazing.  Twenty-three home runs in forty-six games.  Bondsian.  To boot, I respect Pujols immensely for defending Barry Bonds…a lesser man would be crowing now about how he matches Bonds’ numbers without the chemicals.  Or is Albert hiding something?

Enough baseball. Time to go to work!…

Some Party

Posted on May 24th, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. 4 comments

Yesterday I met with one of our bosses, a woman named Tracy who is responsible for managing our academic situation at the school.  She has been pushing us to do this intensive summer IELTS course in order to prepare the Grade 3 (12th graders) for study abroad.

We agreed to do it, naturally, but like many other things in China, the conditions under which we accepted mysteriously have changed.  Our responsibilies keep expanding.  This was the last conversation:

"You need to offer an extra "games and activities" lesson in the afternoons"
"But we don’t have time"
"Well, the Communist Party Secretary wants you too".

Imagine that.  "Mr. Smith, the Repubican Party would like you to teach extra classes because, well, just because"

Ah- the joys of living in a one party state!…

A Public Service Announcement

Posted on May 21st, by matt_schiavenza in Personal. 2 comments

NBNL, as most of you know, was a heavy smoker on and off for about seven years.  Quitting is very difficult and setbacks are common.  Over the years, I’ve developed a system of ways to help make the process of quitting easier.  Here they are, in case any of my readers are smokers thinking about kicking the habit.

Note: I was (and still am) an addict, the type of heavy smoker that unconsciously stuck cigarettes in my mouth at just about any time and any place.  Other smokers are able to cut back their use and slowly phase out the habit.  I couldn’t.  Keep that in mind when reading my commentary.

1. Focus on the benefits of being a non-smoker rather than the detriments of the habit itself.  This is quite important and wasn’t something I figured out until about my fourth or fifth serious attempt at giving up.  Write down a list of ways your life will improve by not being a smoker.  These may include tangible factors such as saving money as well as non-tangible ones such as feeling cleaner and healthier.

2. Strip your environment from any vestige of your smoking past.  Clean your ashtrays and put them away.Throw or give away your lighters.  Light incense to kill the stale cigarette smell in your house.  Get your car washed and detailed.  Wash your clothes and get your coats and sweaters dry cleaned.  Clean your house thoroughly.  When smoking friends visit, don’t let them smoke in your house or in your car.  You’re a non-smoker now, so act accordingly.  (Note: there’s no reason to be an anti-smoking jihadist, or to ditch your smoking friends, but make it clear that the situation has changed and they have to respect your wish to be in a non-smoking environment.  Most of your friends will be sympathetic and may find your example inspiring).

3. Focus on one vice at a time.  Often people decide to couple their cessation of smoking with a sharp reduction in some other form of unhealthy behavior, such as drinking.  Obviously, without cigarettes you may find yourself less inclined to drink so much, but there’s no reason to make a conscious effort to cut back (at least in the short term).  The smoking habit is far harder to break than the drinking one (and exponentially harder to break than the pot-smoking one) so get that under control first before you worry about anything else.

Another argument for continuing your normal routine is that you’ll practice getting used to doing things without smoking.  At first, it might be torturous to drink a beer or a cup of coffee without a cigarette, but over time that too becomes a habit and you get used to it like anything else.

4. The best remedy for overcoming cravings is distraction.  I used to sit at my computer and play a game of Sudoko every time I wanted a cigarette, and within minutes the craving died down.  If you’re sitting in your apartment dying for a smoke, get up and go for a long walk.  Breathe in the air.  You’ll be reminded again why you quit.

Another effective method is writing down the reasons you want to be a non-smoker on index cards and keeping them handy for whenever you’re beginning to waver. 

5. If you relapse, don’t beat yourself up.  Most smokers quit at least a dozen times before they finally give it up for good.  Even if you went ages without a cigarette just think of the break you gave your lungs during that period.  Every time I quit, I feel more confident that this time will be the last.  Am I disappointed when I relapse?  Sure.  But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

The first step of course is deciding that you want to quit.  Quitting because someone else wants you to doesn’t really work, and then you’ll kick yourself later for relapsing and "letting them down".  The decision to quit, like the decision to smoke, is personal and only you can decide to do it.

I believe setting a "quit date" in advance works, though others I’ve met disagree.  If you have already set a date, a good way to prepare is to try and break all of your mini-habits while still actually being a smoker.  For example, instead of having a cigarette with your coffee as usual, wait until you finish your coffee before lighting up.  Et cetera.

In my opinion, giving up cigarettes instantly improves nearly every aspect of your life.  Truly.  You find that you don’t miss smoking, and that cigarettes were merely tangential to many of your fond memories.  You’ll still be able to make friends, survive a night out at the pub, and drive to work without sucking on tobacco sticks.

There are a million methods out there but these are the ones that have always worked for me.  Any other suggestions would be useful in the comments.…

The Death of Books?

Posted on May 20th, by matt_schiavenza in Books. No Comments

Jeff Jarvis, via whose site Buzzmachine I found the link to the Andrew Brown essay, writes that the era of the book is soon coming to a close.  I disagree, and was going to write why, but instead one of Jarvis’ commenters wrote exactly what I intended to.  Bravo.…