My student’s contribution to NPR’s #15Girls project

My student's contribution to NPR's #15Girls project
Last month, NPR’s Goats and Soda blog began its #15Girls project, inviting girls and women from around the world to tell about their lives when they were 15 years old. Contributors were asked to send photos and comments about the hardest thing they faced at age 15 via Twitter or Instagram — which are both blocked in China. Really, NPR, what were you thinking? I didn’t come across the project until late in the month, but I posted it in my Qzone 说说 (shuo shuo “say say” — which is like Facebook’s Status), and said I could relay any contributions through my Twitter account. Only one person responded: one of my students, Tina Li ShaoLi, sent me a contribution, which I posted to Twitter in a somewhat abbreviated form. You can see it here and in the screencap above. This is Tina’s original contribution: The hardest thing for being 15 is that I fell in love with a boy but however hard I tried I still couldn’t be together with him. I fell in love with him at the age of 13. However, in our country, people believe that falling in love with people at such an early age is ...

VIDEO: The 1960s-style cartoon promo for China’s latest 5-year plan

So, either someone with a wry sense of humor, or with no sense of cultural relevance, produced this English-language cartoon to promote China’s latest five-year economic plan (十三五 shisanwu, the Thirteenth Five-Year Plan). Here it is on YouKu.com. Here it is on YouTube. As Shanghaiist points out, no groovy cartoon can make any five-year economic plan at all interesting, especially to teenage bands cruising a Peter Max China on top of VW Combis.

VIDEO: Why do Chinese students come to American colleges, universities?

The BBC posted this video in June. Chinese students at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign explain why they prefer to study in the USA. The main reason: they can study what they want. In China, your major is pre-selected for you, based on your performance on the college entrance exam (gaokao). High school students list five preferred majors on their exams, and the exam section with the highest score determines which of the five possibilities is assigned. So, this is why I’ve had students who prefer physics and math, but ended up being Business English majors. Their gaokao scores on the physics and math sections were too low. Parents are also fed up with the Chinese gaokao system. If they have enough money, they will send their children abroad for their university education, sparing those kids three years of intense, high pressure preparation for the gaokao. You can read more at the BBC.

Beijing fashion comes to Jishou

Beijing fashion comes to Jishou
Over the summer, trendy Beijingers were spotted about town sporting plastic sprouts and flowers clipped to their hair. No special meaning. Just a fun thing. My first sighting of this latest fashion statement was last week, when one of my sophomores, Astrid Q (pictured), wore one to class. “Stylish!” I said. Astrid Q hails from Hengyang, the second-largest city in Hunan. Her goal is to attend graduate school, preferably in the UK or the USA. Her English is already pretty good. The Q in her name is to distinguish her from another student, Astrid R, who is from Inner Mongolia. Both Astrids came to Jishou U with their English names already chosen, and by chance, they have the same surname, Zhao, and the same first initial. Not wanting to force them into new English names, I used their second given names for their initials. I will admit to thinking of Maggie Q at the time.

Making a scale model of the solar system (video)

Some of my American students may recall our attempt at drawing the solar system to scale along Broadway in front of SFHS. It’s not easy to get both the size of the planets and the distances between them to scale. This video explores that question.

Mongolian aunties come to my rescue in Changsha

Mongolian aunties come to my rescue in Changsha
CHANGSHA, HUNAN — I’ve rarely had trouble getting a hotel room in China, but this one hotel in Changsha was the exception. It happened in July, before my trip to the States. After spending a few days in Zhangjiajie for a friend’s wedding party, I took the bus to Changsha, planning to spend the night there before boarding the train to Xi’an. Using Ctrip.com, a Chinese-based travel site, I had already booked and prepaid for a room in the Hepingli Hotel, just about a block from the ChangZhuTan bus station. I had stayed there once before two months earlier, and liked the hotel and the location. (Its boxed breakfast leaves much to be desired, though.) Anyway, the bus ride from Zhangjiajie takes about five hours. I arrived at the hotel around 10 pm, more than ready to have a quick bite and a nice rest. I suspected something was wrong when the head clerk, a very officious young woman, waited on a Chinese man before me, even though I had arrived first. He paid for his room with a credit card. Remember this detail. Chinese hotels are required to make a copy of your passport, because they have to report ...

BBC travel correspondent visits Fenghuang (video)

JISHOU, HUNAN — I get excited when I see familiar scenes from my “neighborhood” on the Internet. Fenghuang is about 45 minutes from here, and has become a very popular stop for tourists looking for picturesque views of ancient China. Here’s the link to the page in case the video isn’t working. The young lady he’s talking to, Wu Ling, is dressed in the traditional wedding garb of the Miao minority. It’s for tourism reasons. Miao girls don’t ordinarily walk around with five pounds of silver on their heads.

How China’s “harmonizing” of the Internet works

How China's
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY — The Huffington Post media mavens did this hilarious mashup of Donald Trump saying the word “China” over and over again. He really seems to be obsessed with it. CHI-NA! It’s HUUUGGE! Anyway, I thought I’d share the video with friends in China. So I grabbed the video off YouTube and uploaded it to Youku.com, China’s homegrown version of YouTube. The upload was successful, but it was not made public. Here’s the message that comes up on my user page. Has been shielded, according to the provisions of audio-visual management 已屏蔽,根据视听管理规定处理 Putting it more bluntly, “Your video was too political and we nuked it.” In China, this is euphemistically called “being harmonized,” a reference to the previous president’s deeply held wish that Chinese people live in a “harmonious society.” Or, in other words, in a society where people don’t make waves. My timing was probably off, as the current leadership prepares for a gala celebration of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Japanese Occupation. China’s net nannies typically go into full swing before any major national event, including holidays and anniversaries they’d prefer to forget, like the June 4, 1989, suppression of Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests. ...

What I miss about the USA when I’m in China 2

What I miss about the USA when I'm in China
DENVER, COLORADO — People in China often ask me if I miss the USA and my family. Of course, I say yes, but despite that I manage to cope. Usually, I’m too busy to feel homesick, and the Internet helps to eliminate any such feelings. But I have to admit, there are some specific American things that I realized on this junket home that I really appreciate. Here they are in no special order, and I hope I don’t offend any of my Chinese readers by my bluntness. In the USA, I can drink the tap water without worrying about being sick later. The restrooms are generally clean and sanitary — or at least don’t stink — and there is usually toilet paper, sinks, soap and some way to dry your hands. Also, there are stalls with doors. Every restaurant has a restroom. Restaurants always provide napkins. People know how to stand in line and wait their turn. I can eat raw vegetables and fruit and not worry about getting sick later. I can access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, The New York Times and a host of other websites and services without any problem. The streets and sidewalks are generally ...

Summer holiday 2015

Summer holiday 2015
JISHOU, HUNAN — Classes and exams ended over a week ago, but I was obliged to stay in town until the Public Security Bureau returned my passport, complete with a new residence permit. I was luckier than Ai WeiWei. I only had to wait three weeks to get my passport back. He waited four years, for entirely different reasons, of course. In the meantime, I booked my tickets to, around and from the USA, got invited to a wedding this Saturday, and settled where I’d go between the wedding and my departure for the US on Aug. 3. Xi’an. I’ve been talking about visiting Xi’an and the Terracotta Soldiers for a few years now, but till now hadn’t gotten around to going. It’s about time, I guess. So, here’s my itinerary for the next few weeks. July 24 (Friday): Zhangjiajie, Hunan, to attend a wedding party July 26: Changsha, Hunan, overnight stay July 27: High speed rail to Xi’an,Sha’anxi (travel time 6 hours) July 31: High speed rail to Hengyang, Hunan, to visit a friend (travel time 7 hours) Aug. 2: Return to Changsha, overnight stay Aug. 3: fly to Shanghai, onward to Chicago and Cedar Rapids Aug. 13: Amtrak ...

Dissident artist Ai WeiWei gets his passport back after 4 years

Dissident artist Ai WeiWei gets his passport back after 4 years
Chinese authorities returned artist Ai WeiWei’s passport this week, four years after they confiscated it for unspecified reasons. Ai is an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, which has responded by harassing him in various ways. In April 2011 authorities seized the passport as Ai was on his way to Hong Kong, and detained him for 81 days for alleged tax evasion and financial misconduct. He was released on probation for those charges, then later was charged with trafficking in pornography after exhibiting photographs of himself in the nude. Security police also closely monitor his movements within Beijing, where he is essentially under house arrest. Plus, his studios outside Shanghai were bulldozed down, supposedly because he had failed to get proper permits and pay taxes on the property. This week, also for unspecified reasons, authorities gave him a new passport. Ai posted a photo of it in his Instagram account @aww. This is China. More details at CNN.

Chinese entrepreneurs create Uniqlo sex video T-shirts

Chinese entrepreneurs create Uniqlo sex video T-shirts
[UPDATE Dec. 5, 2016: Google AdSense flagged the images I included in this report as violations of AdSense policy, though none of them are particularly objectionable as they have appeared on a Chinese shopping site. Whatever. I’ve removed the photos but left the links up. Click at your own peril.] T-shirt 1 In a move sure to upset both Uniqlo’s PR department and China’s overanxious censors, several entrepreneurs are selling T-shirts commemorating the now-famous Uniqlo sex video. The video, which was shot by a young couple in a Beijing clothing store fitting room, hit the Internet last week and has sent China’s censors scrambling to wipe it off the Internet and Uniqlo spokesmen to deny the company had any part in the activity. Beijing police have arrested five people, including the couple, they say were involved in the video. The couple are both university students, although it remains to be seen how long that status will last. Following up on something I read in The Guardian, I visited www.taobao.com and found several merchants marketing T-shirts ranging in price from 28.80 RMB ($4.60) — shown at left — to a princely 85.00 RMB ($13.78) for one with a hand drawn picture. ...
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