Jun 272007

When my friend was in Pingyao, a small ancient city in central shanxi province, he met three professional photographers from the West who came purposely to the city for taking photos. Two of them, father and son, are from Germany. They planned to publish a photo album about Pingyao upon return to Germany.

Pingyao is a beautiful town preserving the architectural aesthetics of Chinese traditional buildings. It is distinguished from other places in China in that it has well preserved its architecture and urban landscape of China’s Ming and Qing dynasties, earning it a place on the UNESCO world heritage list. Because it is relatively unknown, the city is not swamped with tourists yet and the local government has done a good job in preserving the 2,700-year old city – it is the best preserved wall-city in China.

My friend likes the city very much. For one thing, the people there are very friendly and “they smile a lot”, my friend said. In the morning, the locals will pour out on the street to dance a local dance. It was very funny and interesting, he said.

And, there is one more reason to keep him in such a small town for two weeks – most tourists make a day trip to Pingyao from Beijing, or stop by it on the way to Xi’an, a much more famous wall-city known for its heritage of terracotta soldiers. I will write in the following post why.

 Posted by at 5:33 pm
Jun 262007

In case you don’t know, in China, when the leadership makes a speech, clapping hands in support of the points they make, from time to time, is common practice. But how can the people know when they should applaud? Easy, the leadership will raise the tone at places intended to be applauded, and then the public will know and acknowledge by clapping hands.

I was watching news yesterday on TV and could not help hold Hong Kong’s chief executive Donald Tsang in awe. Gosh, he was so good in imitating the Chinese leadership when making a speech to the Hong Kong-based Chinese army (PLA, People’s Liberation Army). Where he praised the army for its professionalism and friendliness, he skillfully raised the tone at the end of the sentence, and immediately the audience of the soldiers exploded in applauding. I found it both funny and pathetic.

Well, there must be reasons why Mr Tsang can be HK’s chief executive, and the above episode demonstrates why: You have to behave and think like you boss does.

It is saddening for HK, whose people have worked so hard to build the port city into a world renowned city, only to see they have no say in who with what attributes to lead them, and are told economic prosperity is the only thing they treasure. Their voice is fabricated and not heard.

When the government is spending a great deal of money to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of HK’s return to China, I find myself indifferent to all the fanfare.

 Posted by at 12:07 am
Jun 132007

The school housing provided by the Wuhu Chinese language school is unbelievably cheap, costing RMB280 per week only – you have your own room, and share a common room, kitchen, toilet with other people. The school has apartments onsite in the school in the city, and those away from the school in the suburbs. My friend stayed in the apartments in the suburbs, about 10-minute taxi ride from the city, costing RMB7. The apartment is very new and spacious, my friend added.

The School offers free lunch to its teachers. If you are students, you pay RMB3 for the lunch. The School hires a cook to prepare lunch for students and teachers.

If you look for some night life in Wuhu, that will be hard. The whole city probably has only one KTV, one bar and one club. And if you want to experience some cultural things, that is even harder.

Recently the city has built a very modern shopping mall featuring some national famous brands. My friend said he was shocked that the whole shopping mall was almost empty throughout the day. The possible explanation is that the local residents still can’t afford the high price that comes with famous brands and up-scale products. On the other hand, the WalMart nearby draws many of the residents for its wide choice of low price groceries and produce.

Wuhu is not a colorful and rich China city like Shanghai or Beijing, but if you want to have a taste of the life in an average China city that is friendly and has a well-run Chinese language school, then this is it.

 Posted by at 1:11 pm
Jun 122007

June 4, the day China’s student democracy movement was suppresed, is a sensitive day for Mainland authority. On this past day, the press organizations in HK received an urgent press invitation from the Liaison Office of the China Central Government in Hong Kong, the highest China authority in the city. This must be something very big and important to cover, the press reckoned, given that it is on June 4 and the invitation is marked urgent. 

The press organizations sent out strong teams to the event venue, only to find that the “big and important” event was China Premier Wen Jiabao had written to a Hong Kong primary school pupil. The premier wrote in clear writing so that the pupil could identify the characters, and he encouraged the pupil to study hard and love her country and Hong Kong, the press was told.

The following day, this urgent event was reported in a small corner of the non pro-China press.

For the China press, anything that the leadership says and does is important, and invariably becomes a headline story. With little knowledge about Hong Kong and its people, the China authority in Hong Kong attempted to apply that principal to Hong Kong’s press, only to see dismal results.

The sad thing is, the China authority in Hong Kong has refused to see the reality and the truth of the world, despite their ten years in Hong Kong, after the city’s handover in 1997. And it is these people who can influence Hong Kong’s future.

 Posted by at 11:34 am
Jun 072007

Wuhu has a Chinese language school called “Aston Language Center”. It has a very familial atmosphere. Most of the students there are English teachers employed by the school to teach in schools in the surrounding area, or Chery Automobile, a fast growing domestic auto company. They are given free Chinese lessons as part of their work package.

There are foreign students going there just to Mandarin, but they are in the minority. When a friend of mine was there, only three such students were there, including one Polish and one American. So there was just one group class for beginners. If you are not at the beginner level and want to join a group class, this school may not suit you.

The teachers are “very nice, clever and ambitious but lack experience”, my friend said. Most of the teachers are very young, 18 or 19, still studying in the university. Some of them come from the countryside, who make a living as a teacher for 1000RMB per month only.

Generally speaking, my friend said, the teaching method and material is far from satisfactory. But he said he was quite happy with the school. He was taking one-on-one lessons and could have say in what and how he wanted to learn. Therefore, teachers’ experience did not matter that much. Since different teachers took turn to give him lessons, some of the teachers were actually quite good, he said. He was unhappy with the first teacher the School assigned, and he made a complaint. The School assigned other teachers to him afterward.

My friend planned to enroll in the school for a week and he ended up studying there for two weeks. He paid 60RMB per hour for one-on-one lessons. The School was wonderful and offered him opportunity to join the beginner group class for free.

The School was run by a female director who speaks excellent English.  It occupies a whole floor on 5/F in a building without an elevator (yeah, can see that Wuhu is not a modern and rich city). You have to climb 100 steps to reach the school. On the same floor, there are classrooms, facilities and reception area at one end, and student apartments at the other.

Near the school, there is a lake and a park. When my friend was there, some teachers lived in the student apartment with students. They went out together for Tai Chi in the park before class.

I will talk more about accommodation and living in Wuhu soon.

 Posted by at 4:20 pm