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Useful resources for learning about contemporary China:

 English language Sinica Podcast

James Fallows - not always China-related, but always interesting

What's going on in Beijing:

TimeOut Beijing

The Beijinger

China Daily's Beijing Weekend 

Beijing Weather - Weather Underground

 

Useful language learning tools

Chinesepod podcast - free beginners' podcasts

Popup Chinese podcast - another very good podcast series

Hacking Chinese - interesting ideas on learning Chinese efficiently

Skritter character-learning tool for iPad/iPhone - really fun app

Sinosplice - John Pasden's site on many interesting aspects of China and the Chinese language

 

 

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Entries by Kai Cortina (19)

Wednesday
Apr232014

recycling and unrecycling

All over the BNU campus there are blue and yellow trash cans. The blue is for recycling, the yellow for other trash - you would think. But not according to the English translation: the yellow trash can is for "unrecyling". I wonder what would go into this bin if the label were accurate. Old egg cartons (made from recylced paper) which then get unrecycled. But to what? Old scrap paper and used cardboard boxes? I was told the Chinese label is correct so I have to scold the Chinese students; they don't seem to read the labels at all and throw the trash indiscriminately in both bin. Consistently so, since the bins are officially emptied regularly into ONE big trash cart - one-stream recylcing like in Ann Arbor? Probably not.

There is a sad part to this story: Sorting the trash is not really necessary because every trash bin on campus is checked out daily by elderly people on old tricycles for anything remotely recyclable or beer bottles with redeemable deposit (right picture). Yes, the dark side of capitalisms has arrived in communist China and it is a little painful to see that poverty clearly affects older people in particular who have worked hard all their life.

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Apr222014

campus cafeteria

One of my favorite places on campus is the student cafeteria. It is fun to watch how efficient the system works. Even at peak hours, you rarely wait more than a minute to be served. I usually take the longest line to see (and eat) what is popular among students. I observe what the last three students in front of me ordered and get two or three of the same items (by pointing at them). I rarely pay more the 4 Yuan (about 65 cents) which is ridiculous given the quality of the food. If I am not sure how to each what I ordered with chopsticks I find a seat in close proximity to a student who got the same dish and surrepticiously copy the master. It helps that in a student cafeteria people are not really obsessed with eating etiquette. 

Today for lunch, I went to the third floor where the "expensive" dishes are served. I got lucky: they had baked fish. I know from past years that many US students balk at the idea of having an "intact" fish on the plate instead of filet. This is too bad because fish is one of the highlights in Chinese kitchen. So don't be fooled by the picture, the fish was so fantastic that I went back and bought a second one - for another whopping 7 Yuan :)

The vegetable dish I chose to go with my fish because it looked so green was another story: It turned out to be bitter cucumber and the name says it all. When you buy fresh cucumber at a farmers market the ends sometimes are bitter and you discard them. Picture that taste multiplied by 3 and you get an idea of the flavor. Even for me an acquired taste. But of course I finished it - would be a shame to waste 1 Yuan 50, right? I got my vegetable fix on my way back to the office in form of a mung bean popsicle - very delish!

Monday
Apr212014

Olympic games 2008

Beijing hosted the 2008 summer olympics. While it is always controversial whether hosting the olympics is money well spent, Beijing might be an exception. Sure, as it happened in other cities the major venue of the olympic is underused and the famous "bird's nest" stadium looks better on pictures than close-up where it shows serious signs of dilapation after only six years. 

But for the olympics, Beijing got one of the best subway systems in the world that takes you reliably everywhere in the city. Less known but at least as important is the fact that the city also fixed a completely outdated sewer system in many areas of the city years before the visitors arrived. It makes you look at sewer lids differently, doesn't it?

Sunday
Apr202014

Durian

I am teaching in the evenings so I have time to stroll through a near Hutong where people sell fresh produce on the street. I do not buy anything except occasionally fruits that can be washed and peeled like pears or lychee, my absolute favorite which is not yet in season but will be mid May. Perhaps the most fascinating fruit curently offered is durian (see picture below) which is grown all over South East Asia and very popular also in northern parts of China (like here in Beijing). The reason why this fruit - dubbed in many Asian languages the "king of fruit" - will never make it to your local grocery store in the US is simple: As soon as the head-size fruit matures and opens, it exudes a characteristic but unpleasantly pungent odor which is very different from the flavor when you eat it - a phenomenon comparable perhaps to mature cheeses in the western hemishpere. The stench becomes revolting when the fruit starts to rot which is the reason why the durian is banned from hotels or subways in many countries in Asia. But the fruit is very rich and nutritious so I encourage you to try it. Just make sure not to discard leftovers in a trashcan near my hotel room :)

 

 

Sunday
Apr202014

Beijing at 7am

In Beijing, the morning belongs to the elderly who, it seems to me at least, enjoy more respect in China than in the US. As of sunrise they practice T'ai chi  or other rhythmic exercises. There seems to be no age limit and when watching them you can't help but hope that you will still be as nimble when you are that old...