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Let’s talk about learning

Most specifically language learning.

So let’s talk a bit about how rude it is to tell a person they must just have a knack for learning languages and it must be easier for them. I think I can explain it best through a story.

When I first went back to college I had not taken a math class in 17 years. And even 17 years earlier math was not my strongest class. I was put in the bottom level of remedial math and I had to work hard to understand it. For 2 semesters of remedial math and then on to algebra, pre-cal, and stats I spent anywhere from 2-5 hours a day in the math tutoring lab. All the tutors knew me on a first name basis. Shout out to Eddy! Love ya!

Math was so very difficult for me. I cried so much in that tutoring lab they probably all thought I was a basket case. I really, really struggled with it. But I worked and worked and worked to understand it. While my classmates would only show up in the tutoring lab an hour before class on the day of a test I was there almost everyday until they kicked me out at closing time at 10:00 and I went in to school early to study several days a week.

I ended up with an A in all my college math courses but one and in class I could almost always answer the questions because I had studied the stuff so much. All my classmates would get mad at me and say things like “you always know the answers…it’s not fair…. Math is so easy for you” I would laugh at them and explain how many hours I spent in the tutoring lab every week just to understand this stuff and how it in no way was easy for me. They always ignored what I said and just went on saying that it was unfair that they got bad grades because math was hard for them.

I feel the exact same way when people tell me that languages must come easy to me. It’s like this complete dismissal of all the hard work I put into learning a language. It’s hard. I study hard at this stuff. I went to Guatemala and worked 4 hours a day one on one with a tutor for  almost 2 whole months to learn Spanish. Let’s break down the numbers: a college 3 credit Spanish course is 45 hours in the classroom per semester. That’s 45 hours with a teacher over 15 weeks. I studied 140 hours in only 7 weeks. That is a fuck ton of work. And it’s hard fucking work. For anyone to say I must just be good with languages is completely disrespecting the work I did. In addition to the tutor I have also listened to over 120 hours of mp3 lessons and done countless hours of studying online.

Shall we even talk about Chinese? It is fucking hard for me. Learning Chinese has been more difficult for me than Organic Chemistry was in college. The first month we lived here I studied Chinese 80 hours with a tutor. For the next six months I studied 8 hours a week, for the next six months I studied 5 hours a week, for the next six months I studied 3 hours a week, and since then I have studied 1.5 hours a week. In less than 3 years I have put in over 500 hours of private one on one tutoring hours. How many credit hours is a college degree? Oh yes: 120. So I have studied Chinese for almost enough hours to have earned an entire 5 university degrees. And you want to tell me languages must be easy for me???? I have made it through books 1, 2, and 3 and I am now 25% through book 4. Not to mention the fact that almost everyone I know only speaks Chinese, no one in any shops speaks any English and I am forced to speak and understand it all day everyday. How dare you say that I must just find languages easy to learn. I must just have a knack for languages. I am “blessed” with a talent for learning languages.

No. I fucking work hard. That’s the answer. I fucking work really, really hard at it. It is not easy and for you to say it is completely disrespects all the work I have put into it.

I am sharing this story because I see people make these mistakes all the time. When an amazing musician performs people will talk about how “blessed” he/she is or how naturally the music comes to them. I assure you that person practices many hours a week. I know musicians that practice 8+ hours a day. That’s why they’re so good.

Sure are there maybe people out there that language actually is easy? Maybe. Are there people that math is easy, or music is easy, or art is easy, or whatever it is they excel at is easy for them? Maybe so but for most of us we have to work really hard to be good at what we do and ignoring our work by assuming it is easy for us is not cool. Everyone that I know that’s really good at something got there through hard work and practice.

Starting in less than a year I’ll be moving to a new country and learning yet another new language. I enjoy the challenge. I like the feeling of overcoming an obstacle and I also know that learning new languages is one of the best things we can do for our brains. But please, oh please, do not tell me that learning languages is hard for you and easy for me. I will be working a full time job in a new country where I know no one, taking extra language courses on the weekends, listening to French mp3s on the way to work and the way home, studying every extra moment I can find in the day to learn the language and be able to communicate with the people around me. I will be working hard. It will not come natural to me and for you to say it does is simply rude.

Going to the animal hospital in Xi’an

It’s funny. I have recently, very recently, been making some friends I really like here and a jazz bar opened that has live music every Saturday night. My Mandarin is finally to a point where I can make friends with Chinese people that speak no English at all and I can get around town with no trouble. For the first time in 2 years I have actually somewhat been enjoying life here and I have been thinking maybe China isn’t so bad and I might be able to enjoy my last 10 months here.

Nope. All it took was one trip to the vet to be reminded: I HATE IT HERE.

6 days ago I found a puppy on the street. For the first 3 days it seemed like a perfectly healthy puppy. I put him on social media to try and find him a home but then he became ill. At first I thought it was getting used to the dog food but after 2 days of lethargy, diarrhea and vomiting I knew it was serious. I worked in an animal hospital for 2 years and an animal shelter for 5. I am no vet but I know enough to know it was serious. mmexport1473051278131

I know a vet here. I contacted him and told him the story and that I cannot afford treatment for anything serious but I am willing to pay for euthanasia. He said okay bring him in.

When I arrived at the vet clinic the vet that I had already arranged the euthanasia with said omg this puppy is too cute to execute. They tested him and he was positive for Parvo. He said we must treat him. I was like uh… well that cost is on you then. They put loads of pressure on me to pay the full price for treatment and I stood firm. They refused euthanasia no matter what I said. I said okay then. I’m just going to throw him out on the street, get in a taxi, go home, and let him die a slow, miserable death. At first they said okay but when they realized I was serious (between you and me I could never do that) they changed their tune. At that point they agreed that if I would pay the amount the euthanasia would cost they would pay the rest of his treatment.

I have to constantly remind myself that they are so far behind in medicine and they think they are doing best, they simply don’t know any better. I DO NOT in any way believe the vet, or anyone at the clinic, is cruel or that they were only trying to get money out of me. Although several people I have told the story to do believe they were pulling a shakedown. I believe that in their own way they only wanted the best for the puppy and they thought they were doing right. I am under the impression that in China if an animal has a 5% chance of survival and the cost will be astronomical they still insist you try. The only way I think I can survive here another 10 months is believing the best in them.

It’s really weird to me since I have never encountered such a cold, impersonal culture and yet I take a very, VERY sick animal in to put it out of its misery and they refuse. They leave children that have been hit by a car to die in the street, they eat dogs, they keep polar bears in glass containers in shopping malls, in my goddamn city, just last year, med school students performed horrific experiments on dogs and left them on the roof to die, they beat their dogs severely, they

ready to be sold.
ready to be sold.

keep dogs in cupboards as if they are quite literally toys, my dog gets kicked by a random stranger on a regular basis while we are out walking but, by golly, if you take an animal to the vet YOU MUST treat it. Humane euthanasia is not an option. I do not understand.

This is not my first experience with being refused euthanasia. We brought our two cats here from America. One was 16 years old and went into kidney failure. My uncle is a vet in the US and I sent him her blood results. He said it’s over for her. There is no way she will survive this. The best thing to do for her now is to put her down.

But would the vet here listen? No. He REFUSED to put her out of her misery. He insisted we keep trying treatment after treatment. She suffered an additional 2 weeks and we paid an additional 10,000¥ ($1500) before he was finally convinced he was not going to be able to save her and he agreed to euthanize her. Now anyone that knows me knows that I love my animals as much as I love my daughter and I would do anything for them. This was not about money. This was about her quality of life. She WAS NOT going to recover from this and he simply would not do what I was requesting.

And it’s ridiculous because it’s REALLY freakin’ expensive. I mean it’s expensive for me and for them it’s nearly unbelievably expensive. The average Chinese person makes about the same amount of RMB per month as the average American makes in USD so if something here costs 5¥ I can say for them it’s like $5. We spent the equivalent of $10,000 in two weeks to treat a cat that had absolutely zero chance of surviving and today they (a different hospital) wanted more than $2000 to treat a stray puppy.

If someone walks into a clinic in the US with an 8 week old puppy she found on the street that tested positive for Parvo, For the past 2 days was lethargic, had severe diarrhea and vomiting, and hadn’t eaten the vet is going to give the option of euthanasia and would never tell you that you have no choice but to pay $2000 for treatment. Who the fuck has $2000 lying around to save the life of stray puppy? A $50 euthanasia is the kind, humane thing to do.

I do not regret coming to China. I have loved learning Mandarin. I have really enjoyed studying another culture. I have seen some amazing places, and things, and met some absolutely wonderful people but I am ready to move on. Who knows where we’ll be this time next year? Maybe I’ll hate it too! Life is one great learning adventure to me and I love it!

Why are Chinese people so nice?

I talk about the kind people I meet in China often. I have made a friend in the countryside that even invited me to his mother’s funeral because he feels so close to me.

There’s a wonderfully kind little old lady that sits in her wheel chair outside the main gate of my apartment complex every afternoon and she always smiles and waves at me when I pass. There is a nice family on the 18th floor of my building that has invited me for dumplings more than once. The first friend I ever made here has been more than kind to me in showing me around town, introducing me to his friends, and being a nonstop help with my Mandarin needs.

I’ve had little old men get up from their seats on the bus and no matter how many times I insist he remain seated he makes me take his seat. The shop owner where I buy my fruits and vegetables always compliments me on my speaking.

There’s a little boy in my complex that always runs up to me and calls me 老师(teacher) even though I’m not his teacher and I teach him at least 2 new words every time I see him. There’s a restaurant owner that every time I go in she puts her grandchild in my arms and seems the happiest woman ever to see the way I hold and play with the baby.

There’s a bar owner that knows my name, knows my drink, and is always happy to laugh and joke with me.

IMG_0505I understand why Chinese people are so kind. They are a collectivist society. The group as a whole is the most important and since we are all a part of the group we all must be kind to each other. If one member of the group falls the group cannot function properly. Being unkind to one is being unkind to the whole. Confucius wrote “Act with kindness, but do not expect gratitude.” Confucius also said “To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five things are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.”

So I’m curious. How many people are going to send me hateful messages for generalizing Chinese people today? I think probably none. No one gets upset when one generalizes in a positive way. Generalizations apparently are only a bad thing if the reader does not like them.

What kind of world are we living in if we can never point out the negatives of life? If we pretend everything is perfect and there’s nothing wrong with the world how will we ever achieve world peace? China is not a perfect place. Nor is the United States or Switzerland or Angola. If we are forced to accept, like, and even respect the very worst of every society in fear of angering others how will we ever change?

I believe that it is our job as humans to make the world a better place for the next generations. How can we make the world better if we don’t admit there’s anything wrong with it? If we have to pretend everything is perfect and we love everything around us at all times?

I can talk about how nice and kind Chinese people are all day long and never have one person call me out on generalizing but oh my god you say something bad about Chinese people and it’s immediately you’re a racist! You’re generalizing! Fuck generalizations! If you don’t like it just leave! We don’t want you anyway.

Sorry people, but generalizations go both ways. If all you want is to read about my positive experiences then you probably don’t want to read my blog because I write about the negative ones too.

This isn’t about me vs. China. This is me vs. the world. Wherever I am living or traveling I write about the good and the bad. I have loads of happy positive things to say about people and places but to leave out the negatives would not be true. For those of you that get angry with me for generalizing about negatives, but not angry with me for generalizing about positives perhaps, just perhaps, the problem lies with you and not me.

I leave with one last quote of Confusius:

“The faults of a superior person are like the sun and the moon. They have their faults, and everyone sees them; they change and everyone looks up to them.”

 

Just answer the damn question.

Here’s a sociological study for you. Chinese people do this thing where they think they’re helping you but they’re really not and I hate it. Apparently as a people they believe that if you ask them for help with something but then you end up not liking that thing they will blame you for it. So instead, what they do is try to talk you out of doing what ever it is that you asked about. It’s really, REALLY annoying and makes me never want to ask a Chinese person for help with anything ever.

****Watch for this in movies. We see it now in movies when anyone is trying to do business with a Chinese person and we go OH! That is so true!

Want some examples? Sure you do.

Example 1: I wanted to go to this big international supermarket I know of here in Xi’an. I know the name of the place in Chinese and I was feeling brave so I went out and hailed a taxi. I said the name and he asked me which one? All my hopes were crushed. I had no idea there were more than one. But oh! There’s We Chat, China’s social networking thing kind of like Facebook.

So I wrote on We Chat can anyone tell me how to say the Metro Supermarket near the TV tower? Here’s an example of how the conversation went:

Person A: Why would you go there?

Person B: It’s really far away.

Person C: You know there’s a supermarket right by your apartment.

Person D: You don’t want to go there.

Me: I DO WANT TO GO THERE. PLEASE TELL ME HOW TO SAY IT.

Person A: What do you want there?

Person B: It’s really far away.

Person C: Are you sure they don’t have it at a closer supermarket?

Person D: I wouldn’t go there if I were you.

Me: Can you please just answer my fucking question and tell me how to say the name of the place?

Person A: I still don’t get it. Why would you go that far from your apartment?

Person B: It’s really far away.

Person C: You can probably get what you want at the closer supermarket.

Person D: You don’t want to go there.

Example 2: My husband and I were tossing around the idea of buying a car here in China. We happened to meet a guy that does bank loans for car sales. We asked him about interest rates.

Husband: So what’s the interest rate on buying a car here?

Bank guy: You want to buy a car here?

Husband: We’re thinking about it. How much is the interest on a loan?

Bank guy: It’s really hard for foreigners to buy cars here.

Husband: Yes. But what is the interest rate?

Bank guy: You know it’s a lot of paperwork.

Husband: Yes. But what is the interest rate?

Bank guy: It’s really a lot of paperwork.

Husband: But what is the interest rate?

Bank guy: You’d probably need a friend to help you.

Husband: ANSWER THE QUESTION. WHAT IS THE INTEREST RATE?

Example 3: When I wanted to take a trip I needed help buying a train ticket because I can’t read the website.

Me: Can you help me buy my ticket to this place?

Her: You don’t want to go to that place.

Me: Yes I do. I have money in my hand. Can you please help me buy the ticket?

Her: It’s really far away.

Me: I know. Can you please help me buy the ticket?

Her: You’re not going to like it.

Me: Yes I will. Can you please help me by the ticket?

Her: It’s really far away.

Me: We already went over that. Will you please help me?

Her: You’ll be uncomfortable.

Me: I know. Please help me buy the ticket.

Her: You know its over 30 hours away right?

Me: Yes. I know. I want to go.

Her: I really don’t think you should go.

Me: Please buy the ticket. Here’s the money.

Her: If I were you I wouldn’t go.

Me: You’re not me. I want to go. Here’s the money. Please buy the ticket.

Her: You really don’t want to go.

Me: I’m getting angry. I want to go and I can’t do it alone. Please help me.

Her: I really wouldn’t do this.

Me: I’m REALLY getting angry. Buy the damn ticket.

Her: It’s not going to be worth it.

Me: Please leave my house.

Example 4: This one just happened today. I met a girl on a language exchange program online. She lives here in my city. She told me she is very, very friendly and she wants to make me as comfortable in Xi’an as possible. She said I could ask her anything anytime and she’d answer any questions I had. I said awesome!

Me: Can you tell me how to get to Qing Gong Market from my apartment?

Her: You don’t want to go there.

Me: And that’s why I never ask Chinese people for help.

Her: What do you mean?

Me: Chinese people say they will help but they really won’t.

Her: What?

Me: You just did it! You offered to help me. You said you would answer any question I had anytime. I asked a question and you refused to answer my question.

Her: Huh?

Me: I asked you how to get to Qing Gong Market and instead of telling me how to get there you told me I didn’t want to go there. Chinese people always do that. I ask a question and they refuse to answer it. I hate it.

Her: Offended I guess. Never responded.

So you can never get a simple answer for a simple question here. Being a new person that doesn’t speak the language it makes things very difficult. Everyone you meet that speaks a little English says they’ll help anytime you need it but dammit they won’t! I understand that in their own way they think they are helping me but they’re not. Just answer my damn question. That’s all I ask. I’ve taken to using an online service to answer all of my questions because there’s not really anyone I know that I can get straight answers from.

8th Route Army Guerrilla Warfare Theme Park

My husband, daughter, and I moved to Xi’an China a little over a year ago. Anyone that knows us knows we love to travel and we love to go to off the beaten path attractions. Oh boy! Did we find one in China!

When we arrived here we started doing online research trying to decide where to go on holidays. We found this article in The Atlantic and we knew we had to go. It’s an article about a theme park all about China and Japan during World War II. They even have laser tag where you get to dress up like Chinese or Japanese soldiers and pretend to be at war.

We were so excited! We arrived at the park and it was pretty much empty. We stayed in a hotel room inside the park and it was way nicer than we had expected and came with breakfast. For $30USD a night to be inside the park was a pretty sweet deal.

In China WWII is known as The Anti-Japanese War. Today anti-Japanese sentiments are really high. There are more anti-Japanese movies made in China every year than there are days. According to Chinese history the Chinese single handedly defeated Japan and they have more than one national holiday celebrating it.

We host on Couch Surfing and I’ve had several guests ask me why so many hosts in China say they don’t accept Japanese people so I went in and edited our profile to say we accept everyone even Japanese. My Chinese teacher refuses to teach or even speak to anyone from Japan. Polls show that anti-Japanese sentiment is higher in China for the younger generation of today than it even is of their grandparents that lived through the war.

The park is amazingly racist! Every bathroom stall has a cartoon picture of some anti-Japanese scene. In the gift shop, and I’m mad at myself for not buying one of these, they have little toys that allow you to slap a Japanese soldier either in the face or the ass anytime you want.

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We walked around a bit the first day but mostly we rested and went to bed early. The next day we were ready to fight! We couldn’t find the laser tag. I don’t know how to say laser tag IMG_20151002_095128and it wasn’t in my translator so we resorted to hand signals. We would say in Chinese “We want to play” and then act with play guns in our hands. Most people just looked at us like we were insane but finally we met an actor that understood. He told us it was far away. Huh? Far away… the Atlantic says it’s here. Were we at the wrong place?

We went to a play that was about Chinese villagers playing mean tricks on the evil, evil Japanese soldiers. The villagers gave the soldiers lots of alcohol but then it turned out it was poisoned and the soldiers all got diarrhea. Then our “favorite” part was when a Chinese woman was brought out dressed in a beautiful red dress with her head covered and a Japanese soldier tried to grab her but she ran away. He chased her for an hour trying to rape her but never caught her. In the end the joke was on him because she took her veil off and oh! It was a man! Rape jokes are so funny!

There is another play but we didn’t go because it was very violent and we didn’t want our daughter to see it.

While the play was going on I was texting with a girl that works at the park. We were using an online translator so we could communicate. I finally found out where the laser tag was and it was at a different park an hour away! The Atlantic, you lied to us!!! The girl tried fiercely to discourage us from going there. She said it was boring and we would not enjoy ourselves. I told her she did not know us, that this park was a mistake, and what we really wanted to go to was the park with the laser tag. So how do we get there?

We walked to the bus station and found a black taxi, that’s what they call illegal taxi services in China, we argued a bit on the price, finally agreed on one and he drove us there. It really was a bit over an hour away. My husband and I talked about it and I bet the reason in The Atlantic they have both parks listed as one is they never thought there would be any crazy Americans like us that actually wanted to go there.

We arrived. It was awesome! On a not sarcastic note they really did have a pretty sweet ropes course that would cost $200 to do in the US. Other than that we got fake guns to shoot Japs with as we rode a ride. Then there were tunnels to get lost in. And then the laser tag! I had never played laser tag before. I’m not much a of a gun, even toy gun, kind of gal but it was so much fun! There was another couple there with a little girl but instead of  evenly pairing us 3-3 Chinese-Japanese they made the two men Japanese and the two women and two little girls Chinese.

IMG_20151001_131248 IMG_20151001_140621

Even though there were 4 of us we still lost. I, nor the other woman, had ever used a machine gun before and my husband was in the army. We were doomed. It was so much fun though! It was my daughter’s first time to ever play guns. She had a blast.

I still can’t believe that girl tried so hard to discourage us from going! It was awesome! My husband and I both had more fun and laughed more than we have in over a year! It was by far the best time we’ve had in China.

Then we returned to the other park where our hotel was. We rode around in a miniature tank, which I think was the highlight of my husband’s entire week. We drove bumper boats where I ran into other Chinese tourists but they didn’t seem happy about it. Then my husband and daughter drove bumper cars and I took pictures. They have a smaller ropes course that children can do and my daughter loved it. She kept begging to do it over and over again. Oh! And they have airsoft guns where you’re targets are Japanese soldiers. We did that too.

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So if you want to go to either of these parks here are the real directions. Every reference I’ve found to these places online lies to you and makes it seem that they are one in the same. I think they all go back to The Atlantic original article. Anyway, it’s in Shanxi Province, not to be confused with Shaanxi Province. Take a train to Taiyuan. From Taiyuan you need to go to the south bus station. From there you take a 2.5 hour bus ride to Wuxiang. From the Wuxiang bus station you can walk to the 8th Route Army Theme Park. That’s the one with the mini-tanks, bumpers cars and boats, mini ropes course, and plays. BUT! If you want to go to the 8th Route Army Guerrilla Warfare Theme Park you still have an hour to go. Outside the bus station there will be a bunch of guys hanging around wanting to drive you somewhere. We got a round trip ride for 150¥ RMB. Apparently there is also a beautiful limestone cave you can go to in the area but we didn’t have time to do them both due to our late start. If you need more exact assistance feel free to email me.

 

 

华山西安中国。 Mount Hua adventures

My family and I went to 华山, Mount Hua, yesterday. It is about an hour and a half outside of Xi’An by train. I had read about it online before moving here and I’ve wanted to go ever since we arrived. There were a lot of stairs. Our legs are very sore today. But it was totally worth it! I got to walk on one of the world’s craziest/scariest/most dangerous hikes and I loved it! hua3

We wanted to take our daughter with us but after standing in line for quite a while we were told no children allowed so my husband was totally awesome and watched our daughter while I go to do the hike. Getting down to the plank was terrifying. Once I was firmly on the wooden platform I felt secure. I moved faster than everyone else. I made it to the end, had someone take my picture, and passed everyone up going back before most of them were even halfway across. I think I may have done a bit more adventuring in my life than the average Chinese person.

I passed one poor girl on my way to the end and on my way back. She was frozen in fear and crying. I tried to help her but to no avail. I spoke to her in my broken Chinese and offered her my hand but she wasn’t comforted in the slightest. Passing people was wild. The trail is very narrow with a 2,000ft drop and it is a two-way path. When you meet someone going the opposite way as you the two of you have to work out who’s going to hug the wall and who’s going to go on the outside. While you are strapped in it’s still pretty scary. You have two straps with 2 separate carabiners. You unhook one, reach around the person, hook it to the cable beyond them, unhook the other, do the same, then carefully pass them while hugging as tightly as you can. This is the scene looking down. Yes that is my foot. Not something you want to be whimsical of.

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This is the tiny temple at the very end of the trail.  I can say I’m one of the few people form the US that has ever seen this temple. hua4

Here is a video of me walking on the plank.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Big Daddy!

While visiting a friend in 坡头村中国 (Po tou cun China) we told he and his friend that it was my father-in-law’s birthday. The friend is the local art teacher and was very excited about the birthday. They pulled out red paper and wrote him a a birthday wish. We will send the card in the mail to America soon.

The video camera you see is not mine. One video camera is owned in the area and they pulled it out and followed us around with it all day because we are the first foreigners to have ever visited their village.