Friday, March 28, 2014

Why Kunming?????

A lot of people always ask my why on earth I am always going to Kunming, a city so far removed from the economic hotspots along the coast. To be honest little attracts me to these places currently, because I feel in order to really understand cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong one first has to understand the base on which all that was built on. 
Kunming and Yunnan are this base that I am currently trying to understand. Otherwise I think there is just too much superficial knowledge, which really doesn't give understanding to the issues happening in this country currently. 

IES (the program with which I am here) asked me to answer some questions about why I chose Kunming. Maybe some of you find them interesting. 


Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Story of the Mantou

Today, I went to my host family's home to eat. My host dad is an amazing cook and my host mom is the most loving person I know in China. They have a daughter, but after studying like nothing I have ever seen for 4 years she was admitted to one of the best universities in China and is no studying in Hefei. So its just me and her parents. 

Before dinner, my host dad showed me a plate of oddly looking meat and he told me that its not normal meat. I asked him what it was and he replied it was pig head. This really did not surprise me after most Chinese I know love to eat dog (they say it is addictive and really delicious, better than any other meat) and I usually see women slapping severed pig heads on markets in the rural countryside.
My host dad was probably expecting me to be disgusted by it, but I have accepted that meat is meat. If you are starving you don't care on which part of the animal the meat grew. You just eat what you can. We just get spoiled by being able to choose and the thought that I disliked to eat meat on the bone before I first came to China really embarrasses me now. 
After I told my host dad this he just looked at me and told me THE best sentence you can be told : 你说得对 (ni shuo de dui). It means something like 'what you say is true', but it has something way more rewarding to it than just that. This short sentence basically says everything great. Something like: 'Theresa, what you said makes a lot of sense and not only was your grammar use correct, but you also used good words in order to express your feelings. I am proud of everything you are doing and I am sure you will go great places.' 
No joke- that's what the four characters mean to me. 

Anyway, after dinner my host dad usually drives me back to my dorm and they usually give me a ton of food, which always includes these amazing Mantous. Now, if you have been to China you know what I mean, but it is basically just the simplest form of bread. If you buy it on a street it will look something like a snowball: way too white and just not that appealing looking. 
BUT my host dad makes THE best Mantou. He gets the corn flour from my host mom's mother, who plants the corn herself and grinds it herself. With that come the freshest eggs (also from his home village) and what you get is this heavenly slice of yellowish goodness in my hands. 
While he drove me back to my dorm he initiated the conversation, which really does not happen often. I stop dreaming about eating the Mantou and listen to what he tells me: 

"You know when I was your age I went to a really poor village in Yunnan to volunteer as a teacher. They had no meat there and only rarely any other vegetables than potato. We would eat corn flour soup and potatoes everyday and I was constantly hungry for over half a year. Then one day I was able to go to the next restaurant and I ate everything I could, but I threw it all up again after dinner, because my stomach was not used to all the oil anymore." 

My Chinese teacher has told me a similar thing before, when he attended highschool in the 90s there was no meat and the only thing he could eat was rice with pig oil. 

My host dad continues: "I think what you said about the meat is true, because when I was a child I never had a lot to eat, but pig head was the one meat I was given and I loved every bit of it. So when I eat it now it makes me very happy. We got two changes of clothing per year and we never were allowed to waste anything. My clothes were so dirty sometimes, but there was nothing my mother could do, because we couldn't get new clothing." 

This is all late 80s and 90s. Development came late to Yunnan province, but hearing these stories always makes me think a lot. I obviously have no idea what it is like to never be able to eat meat and to only get one vegetable to eat. I was living like an emperor compared to that. 

But, as I looked out of the car window at all these huge construction sites where in 10 years there will be 20 new high risers, I just can't believe what this country has achieved in 20 years.  

When I eat my Mantou now I think of all that and it tastes even more amazing. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

My Poor Stomach, Pregnancy and my Name

Many know that my head and my heart is fascinated by China. However, my stomach utterly disapproves of this relationship. There is not much I can do about it except ignore it for the majority of the time.
It so happens though that 8 days ago my stomach told me in a very loud voice "enough!". Having symptoms that mainly were nausea, I was told by the first clinic I went to, that I was pregnant. Even after reassuring the nurse that there is no way that this could be possible she would not change her mind. Her slight hint of judgment in her eyes grew to a full on glare and she just told me to go buy a pregnancy test. Out of spite she pressed her stethoscope against different limbs of my body (not even asking me to take my jacket off) and gave me proudly her judgment on this fascinating case: "You are pregnant." She gave me some brown powder and let me go. 
So obviously that wasn't really helpful. 

After many more days with nausea and increasing pains at the top of my stomach I figured to go to an actual hospital with an american doctor (he was the only one among a full Chinese staff). He advised me to do an ultra sound and they took some blood to check. This process was so Chinese in itself. When my RA booked the appointment there was a mix up with my name in the system. They had spelled my name Teresa Jacopsp and when the doctor who drew my blood tried to find me in the data base he couldn't. 
Now- I might need to explain for a second: When I tell Chinese people my name their eyes fill with horror, because it is pretty far from anything Chinese and there is no way they can remember it. This is why most foreigners get a Chinese name. Mine is 杨瑞心 (Yang Rui Xin). Yang is my family name and Rui Xin is my name name. It means Swiss heart even though the character 瑞 is a very good one so when I tell someone my Chinese name I usually get a very approving look from them. The authenticity of your name gives you the approval stamp. (Same thing happens the other way around by the way: Most Chinese coming to the Western world get an English name, because the horror for Westerners to remember a Chinese name is the same, if not greater) 
Anyway, lets go back to the hospital: After a couple minutes he disappeared in the back room where the laboratory was and I could hear him ask for help. Now there were two men in front of the computer trying to find me. They didn't. The nurse asked me to write down my name on a piece of paper and  instantly I could see that hint of horror when he looked at it. At this point 10 minutes had passed. The receptionist was now also with us explaining that my name was spelled incorrectly. She wrote down their version of my name and now they were trying to figure out where the difference was between my version of my name and theirs. 
I could hear them spell out my name in Chinese: 
"No! Its not a p. Its a b!"
"But here it says it's a p!"
"But p is wrong!" 
"So its with a b?"
"One or two bs?" 
At this point the other nurses in the lab had heard the argument and all had come to my room to look at the screen and give their valuable input. I tried to help them, but they were pretty set on fixing his issue on their own. All together it took 30 minutes to print out my stickers for the little bottle things. I mean imagine a Chinese woman would go to a Swiss clinic with her Chinese characters. It would probably cause a similar chaos. 
So my blood count was fine - I head no internal bleeding, which up to this point I wasn't even aware was an option. But this seemed to be an important result of the tests, because I was told this many times. 

So I left that day with some medication, but no real answer to my question. I put myself on an extremely dull diet of oatmeal and bread. Yesterday I really had enough of my constant odd symptoms and made an appointment to get a gastroscopy. I really had no idea what this was, but when I saw the long tube they would put into me I was extremely happy I chose general anesthesia. I signed forms and in less then 10 minutes after stepping into the hospital I was lying on a bed with an IV in my arm ready to get knocked out. Last thing I remember is thinking that the curtain was attacking the doctor. 
20 minutes later I woke up, felt really dizzy and rested for 10 minutes more. I was told nothing was found and that I most likely have an infect. I was given a note with some medication on it. "It is Swiss!" my doctor was really enthusiastic about it. Too enthusiastic for my, because I was trying to figure out what on earth was going on. 

I left the hospital and went back to my dorm. Everything that happened this past week was summed up on a sheet of paper I was holding in my hand showing me pictures of the inside of my body. cool. 
Another thing I can scratch of my bucket list. 

I guess what I am trying to say with this is: I first need to get better and then I will post more. But thankfully everything you do in China comes with a great story like this one. I could literally walk to the fruit store on the corner and come back with a great story. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Viewpoint On The Pollution Problems

Starting Wednesday China's 3000 top officials met to discuss some serious economic changes. Li Keqiang (China's premier) announced in his speech that the government would declare war on pollution. This is a major milestone, because the government finally is willing to recognize that there truly is a crisis. The international newspapers mainly like to report on the air pollution, but the problems are actually far more deep rooted: Water is China's main worry. 
The country is already facing some serious shortages and pollution levels of water in China are steadily rising. Most of the ground water around major urban areas is grade 4 or higher. (Unsuitable for human contact) 
The major contribution to this problem is chemical fertilizer used in agriculture. China's farmers use up to 3 times the amount used on average in European countries and this is mainly because the biological matter in the soil is extremely low in most areas in China. 
Farmer's are often ignorant towards how dangerous the overuse of chemical fertilizer can be. The runoff not only will end in the vegetables and fruit you eat, but also in the water systems. 

Kunming is situated right next to a huge lake: Dianchi. Dianchi lake is very big, but on average it is only 5 meters deep. There are no major currents entering or leaving the lake so it takes extremely long for water to run through the lake. 
In the late 1990's the lake was so polluted that you could drop an egg into the lake and it would dissolve in 30 seconds or less. The major issue was that factories were built along the lake and were simply dumping all of its waste into the lake. (all of the cities sewage included)
Since then, the government has poured billions of dollars into cleaning up the lake and has achieved some moderate success. 20 years and billions of dollars have apparently managed to get all of the heavy metals out of the lake, but the lake water still has grade 5 (hazardous for human contact). 
The main reason (that no one wants to talk about) is that farmers surrounding the lake for hundreds of kilometer are overusing fertilizer, which will run off into the lake and will not only kill most of the biological matter in the lake, but also cause blue algae to bloom like crazy. This will then suck out all the oxygen in the water, ...... and so on and so on. I am sure you get the point. 

(borrowed from: http://www.chinadiscover.net)

(Dianchi lake algae problem)  

Li Keqiang also promises to address the issue of chemical fertilizer, which is more than great, because around 8 million acres are already too polluted from heavy metals to grow vegetables on. (Chicago Tribune
All together it sounds like there will be some major changes, but the one question sitting in the back of my head was: how? 
Apparently China promised to close down smaller coal burning and steel manufacturing plants (apparently a number amounting to Italy's annual output, which is only 2% of China's output), but that would cause a lot unemployment and even though I am sure the government has a plan for this problem it all sounded too good to be true. 

When I woke up this morning and checked the news it seemed Bloomberg had also picked up on that and has now started reporting on something I really hoped would not happen: 
The government might just move its plants further inland to more isolated provinces where the media attention does not really go. (Bloomberg: China’s Air Pollution Heads West)
You might think this is not a real thing, but this has been happening for a long time now. China has removed its most polluting industries from the coastal areas and has simply moved them to impoverished counties, where people neither have the resources nor the power to sue the government. (If you want more detailed and better sourced information let me know and I will send you my thesis on the agricultural crisis in China) 
However, we can't solely blame the Chinese government with this: It has been happening all over the world for much longer and was probably started by the West. The US outsources its polluting factories to poorer countries and Japan did the same thing with China in the 20th century. Its is an ongoing cycle, but I really hoped that China would break it. 

I really do not want to point any fingers or blame anyone in specific, because every country has faced big pollution problems in the quest to modernization. Think London during the industrial revolution (thousands of people died due to the terrible air pollution), Ohio's Cuyahoga River, which caught on fire, because its water was so polluted, and many more. The worst one in my opinion was the Love Canal Incident, where a chemical factory buried its toxic waste in the ground and then sold the property to the school board without really telling them that they had buried 21000 tons of chemical waste without treating it. (Love Canal Scandal) It caused an emergency after kids had dug out the waste and played with it during recess. 
Imagine this would happen in China today: they would be penalized so much for it, but yet I am sure none (or few of you) were aware of this scandal in the US. 

(Londons Smog during Industrial Revolution) 

(Cuyahoga River on fire)

(Love Canal Scandal)

What I am trying to say here is that we really have no ground to stand on to criticize China. If we had the internet and such good media attention on environmental issues during the industrial revolution in London I am sure that we just as much would have criticized them. 
Also there is no reason for China to pollute their environment just because we did it. That is not how the world should work, but we just have to put everything into perspective I guess. 

In the end we can't and shouldn't forget that China is not even 100 years old and that we can't and should not compare China to Europe or/and the US. It is a developing country facing many of the issues some of the poorest countries in the world do. It just so happens that a lot of that gets ignored based on the image we get from Shanghai, Beijing and any other modern cities on the coast. 
Remember: 600 Million people in China still live in the countryside and many million (approximately 60 million) of them lack the simplest things such as running water and electricity. 

Okay that's it! Now you know my opinions on the matter. 

Putting Chinese into Context

So some of you might want to know what it is like to study Chinese. I really can't explain it well, because it is the single must frustrating thing I have done in my life. Just today I was reading out loud a text in my one-on-one and my teacher continuously corrects me on every second or third character, because I can't get the tones right. (Chinese has four and they are very crucial, even though I like to ignore their importance for the majority of my studies). 
When I read out loud in front of my teacher its particularly frustrating, because its basically like being told straight into my face every third character that I have accomplished little to nothing in the past 3 years. 

Learning Chinese is filled with these moments. It really is like a frustrating relationship: you hate it so much, but always find yourself coming back. 
Just yesterday I went to a chicken farm (600 000 chickens are being raised there) and I was given a 2.5 hours long presentation all about raising chickens. (Actually really fascinating!) I went there with my part time job that I am doing on Wednesdays. (i have been meaning to write more about them) I understood so much and I was incredibly proud of myself. Afterwards I had lunch with the manager and we continued talking (in Chinese of course), but I am always weary, because I know that moments of euphoria are quickly leveled out by frustration. 

When I learn character I usually don't write them out all the time, but have picked up the famous Chinese habit to write out the characters with my finger on the palm of my hand. I like to think that it saves the environment, but four weeks ago I started practicing all my characters that are due for homework on paper. What you see in the picture is 4 weeks worth of practicing characters. I spent some time adding everything up and all together there are roughly 3500 characters on that wall right now. 

Thats what learning Chinese is like: writing out 3500 characters in 4 weeks and hearing your teacher correct you every second along the way about your pronunciation. Chinese is also the exact opposite of the frustration I face in front of a desk. That is probably why I keep on studying it. People really respect you here if you know the language. 

Putting accomplishments into perspective really helps with the whole motivational aspect. 

That's all! 

I am sorry I haven't been 1.) good about replying to personal emails and 2.) about posting things frequently.... I have so much to do!!! I will try my best to post a couple things this weekend maybe. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

I am Fine

For anyone worried about my well being: I am totally fine. 
The attacks happened in the train station, which is far away from my dorm. However, this does not make the issue less worrying. The victims' testimonies are terrifying and I can't imagine what triggered such a horrendous attack. 

For anyone interested here the article on the attacks: