Monday, March 17, 2008

The New Rulebook

At 6:00 pm last friday, we had yet another one of the "Foreign students - FAO" meetings.

The main purpose of this meeting was the distribution of the new Official Handbook for the Foreign Students. The book is actually called "Implementation Measures on Punishment on International Student Violated Disciplines of China Three Gorges University (Trial version)"

I guess one of the first things our "leaders" at the university did after the infamous "Nov 4th incident" was to sit together and draft out a new rulebook so that they could be prepared to counter everything that might occur in the future. It is not strange for the Chinese to have rules for everything; that's how the country works. And it looks like they've done a pretty good job.

They have thought of almost everything...
"Violations of Chinese national and local laws and regulations..." Article Eight
"The international students who were engaged in trouble-making or a fistfight" including "those who didn't hit peopple, but used insulting words...", "those who hit people but didn't hurt others", "those who hit people and caused slight injuries", "those who hit people and caused serious injuries", "those who plotted...", "those who beated others with tools", "those who provided others with tools", "those who beat others for revenge".... Article Ten
"Those who missed classes..." Article Eleven
"Those who obliterated, or tore up the proclamations such as announcements, notices and notifications...", "Those who viciously dialed emergency numbers..." Article Sixteen
"Those who didn't sleep in their dormitory at night for five times..." Article Twenty-three

Oh and did I mention that we have to take a test based on this book? The rules will come into effect from April 1st (according to Article Forty-three) and to make sure that we are all aware of what we are getting into, we have to take the test on March 31st. They have already announced cash prizes for the top ten scores. Not to worry if you can't make it the first time though; there will be retests for which we have to pay 50 yuan, and they have promised to increase the fees for every subsequent retest until everyone passes the exam.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Directly Indirect

Before I came to China, I used to think that people in this part of the world are never direct in their conversation. The idea that people from Japan and China beat around the bush a lot more than anywhere else on the planet seems to be universal. But this never prepared me for what I would encounter here.

The Chinese are quite direct in some situations - "Oh no!! What happened?? Why did you cut your hair like this??", accompanied by a small scream and a look of complete shock.

But in other cases they are quite indirect. For example, they use "cool" when they mean weird. "I saw a boy yesterday... his hair is... very cool."
"Oh you mean the guy whose hair looks like he hasn't washed it in ages?"
"Yes, yes, him!"

They also use "strong" when they mean fat. In fact, I was actually advised by a friend that calling a girl strong would not be taken as a compliment. What else am I supposed to call a girl who beats everyone at tennis with her strong smashes?
"oh... okay..."
"Clever" or "wonderful" (apparently they are synonyms in China) is supposed to be a good compliment for almost any occasion. And compliments are free.
"Oh you are wearing so few clothes in winter. You're so wonderful!" umm...thanks. I didn't feel the need to wear my sweater to come down and buy this loaf of bread, just thought the jacket would suffice.
"You really stay up after 12 and sleep whenever you like? How wonderful! Your life is so special! You are so clever!"

Having said that, even after being here for more that 3 1/2 years, I still make mistakes. Learning is a continuos process.
S : (jovial) Hey man! How was your vacation? Looks like you had a good time back home with your family. You've put on some weight too.
R : (not smiling) Another way to say it would be - you look more strong.
S : Oh... umm... okay...

Follow the Leader

In India, no one wants to be the class leader/monitor in high school. They have to work hard, cope with insubordination from everyone and have to take the blame from the teachers if anything goes wrong.

Not so in China. Perhaps it is something instilled into every child's mind in accordance with the Communist principle or perhaps it's just the way things are, but leaders are to be obeyed. And obedience here means not questioning their decisions. If your leader tells you that you have to get up at 6 am every morning and have fun doing excercises, you will have fun. If your leader tells you that you have a major test tomorrow, you don't express shock over the short notice... you just rush to the library and bury your head in your books.

Being a leader has more than it's share of perks. Other than the unquestioned authority you have over your minions, you get to talk with other leaders. Even introducing yourself as the leader of a group of five students will win you much respect and admiration from young and old alike. But the hazards are great too. If anything goes wrong they'll have your head on a platter. According to some recent news reports, if you are in a big enough position, this is a quite literal possibility. Leaders make excellent scapegoats.

Nevertheless, these leaders are everywhere; and everything has a leader. Even in our humble settings, we are constantly made aware of this fact.
There are a couple of "leaders" stationed on the ground floor of our dormitories to help us. If there is any trouble, we have a long talk with them at the end of which they say, "We'll talk to our leaders." And we say, "Oh... so you can't do anything about it? Then why can't we just directly talk to your leaders and get something done without wasting our time?"
This is probably a very un-Chinese thing to do. There are four or five levels of leaders you have to get through to, before anything gets done and each level is only supposed to speak to the level right above it.
But after all that has happened here in our university, things are changing. But there is nothing called gradual change here. I guess there is nothing gradual in any of the changes in China. Every change feels massive and radical. Perhaps that's why they need people to obey the leaders... to minimise the confusion.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Chinese Concern

The Chinese are strange. Yes, I know that everyone is not the same and a person who is not from your hometown always appears to be strange with strange culture, language and customs. But the Chinese are strange.

During early winter, when the weather is cool, we enjoy walking around in our jeans, t-shirts and sandals while the Chinese are all sweating under their double layer jackets. Realising that since it is their country and that they might have different customs, we try not to tell them that all those clothes are not essential for survival. But when they start staring at our sandals and slippers it does seem strange. It is even more so when people tell you that you must wear more clothes and definitely give up those flip-flops. It is at those moments that you are supposed to feel grateful for the thought and concern the Chinese have for their fellows and outsiders.

But there are other times when the Chinese don't seem very concerned about anything.

This happened last semester, when I was waiting for my bus back to the university from the hospital where I study.
The bus stop is on the road running behind the hospital and it gives me a good view of the back entrance to the Central Hospital of Yichang city. This road is never really busy and I had been waiting for a while by a roadside shop, sheltered from the slight drizzle. And then it happened. On the other side of the road, a motorist on his not-so-cool motorbike came off a by-lane and a car rammed into him.
The little guy fell off his machine and his little yellow Chinese helmet, the kind which cannot do anything to protect anybodys head, flew off to the middle of the road. The driver of the car, after a quick glance at the fallen bike, drove off carefully so as not to run over the motorist or his little helmet. A couple of people passing by, saw that the motorist wasn't really injured and just walked on. By this time, I was already on his side of the road and had retrieved his helmet so that the other vehicles didn't crush it as they went on their way. Our motorist was trying to untwist the handlebars of his bike and was surveying the damage, which was minimal - just a broken rear-view mirror and a missing indicator light, plus the stuff that had fallen off the back of his bike.
Picture this - It is raining and I'm standing in the middle of the road with a yellow helmet in my hand. The motorist who is limping slightly is in a hurry to start his bike. One Chinese guy is standing aside trying to see if any damage was done. People and vehicles are going by on their way. As I hand him his helmet he gives me a look that says - What a strange person, I could have done it myself.
And I walked back to the bus stop with my unopened umbrella in hand.

A Song A Week III

I realise that with my present internet connectivity options, if I keep doing the Song a Week feature, this whole blog would end up being a video music blog because I just can't get online long enough for any other blogs. So even though I won't rename this little blog, it will not be a song a week anymore... more like a fortnightly...

This week features Eminem. I don't listen to rap much but I really like Eminem, and that's probably because I can understand what he says :)
This one here is my favourite Eminem song. I personally think that the song really dosen't need this elaborate video because the words themselves tell an excellent story.

Presenting.... Stan - Eminem

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Song A Week II

Dumb - Nirvana

I started listening to to Nirvana about 5 years after they had stopped making music because of Cobain's suicide.
What I like about their songs is that carelessly lazy feel that you get when you listen to them. I think that if you try to dig deep into their lyrics, which a lot of people have done, you miss the whole point.
Some of my favourite quotes from Nirvana...
"I'm so ugly, but that's ok 'cause so are you" - Lithium
"It is now time to make it unclear, to write off lines that don't make sense, I love myself better than you, I know it's wrong so what should I do?" - On a Plain
"Who needs action when you got words" - Plateau

And here's the song...
"..I think I'm dumb or maybe just happy.."