Cold weather, boiling rooms and my love for shorts

“Are you cold?” “Have you eaten today?” These aren’t just questions, but also greetings. Things weren’t always nice in China, and as far as industrialized countries go, China is a teenager… Though one in quite the growth spurt. These questions became greetings during the rougher periods of Chinese history, when food wasn’t readily available and the winter months were deadly. Being an incredibly traditional people, they still use these phrases today as a way of remembering what life had been like during extreme poverty. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that every body has Qi, or life energy, flowing through it, and its metaphorical Kryptonite just so happens to be cold… it’s not hard to guess how and when this theory might’ve started.
Fast forwarding to 2013, the Chinese people absolutely despise being cold. When I’m sweating, they’re wearing a jacket. The heat is blasting in every room, turning a room from comfortable to boiling. My students gasp when I teach them in a T-shirt, as if the fact that it’s Winter outside somehow means this class room isn’t sweltering anymore. Even when I’d taken a trip down south to the humid, 75 degree city of Guangzhou, people were still wearing track jackets, sweatshirts and pants. Exiting and entering places during the Winter months is an easy way to get heat shock, feeling as if you’d left the frigid, biting wing to step into a furnace or sauna. They only drink hot water, and I’ve scalded myself too many times drinking from a cup that a Chinese person had served me. Even if you request that your water be cold, most restaurants will still only serve it to you boiling, because if you didn’t already know, “it’s good for your healthy.” They take this ‘no chilled liquid’ thing so seriously that at some venues, even cold beer and soda aren’t unavailable!


In a country that hates the cold so much, I stick out like a sore thumb. For those of you who don’t know me, I don’t get cold very easily. I was well known around my alma mater for wearing shorts in the snow, and for several years I didn’t own a single pairs of jeans. Weird maybe, but any reaction I’d ever gotten in NY was nothing compared to the ones I’ve received in China. As the Spring begins and the weather is heating up to the mid 40s and 50s, I’ve broken out the gym and cargo shorts. Walking on the street attracts a lot of attention, their stares can be so intent that they become 180’s; stopping, turning and following me as I pass by. “Do you know it’s cold?” and “you aren’t wearing good clothing,” are pretty common responses, often with Alien or Foreigner added into them. Several people have even called me a madman. The best reaction though was when an the older gentleman grabbed my arm and asked me where my clothes were. He seemed genuinely disturbed, like he wasn’t going to let go of me until I’d explained to him why I had to go and upset his world by wearing shorts on a cold day.
As it begins to heat up, my clothing choices will become more and more socially acceptable, and I just hope that I haven’t scared too many of the Chinese before that happens. I’ll end this post with a Chinese proverb that describes how they feel about cold perfectly: “Whether it is slight cold or great cold, the end result is still ice cold.”

Studying Abroad in China: Why you should do it on your own

It’s more common-than-not now that every college you could get a 4 year degree at has some form of a study-abroad program. Out of all the options, you’ve decided to pick China. And you’re in luck, your college has a specialized partnership with a Chinese university to make it as easy as possible for you! And all it could cost you is 6 times the amount of money, and either a chunk of your GPA or all of your time for living it up in China…
Now before you leave an angry comment on my blog about this bait and switch, continue reading and thank me. It’s going to be a lot worse in real life when it happens to you.

My college will set it all up for me:
Yes, and for their troubles they’ll charge you the fee of being matriculated. You’re going to end up paying the Chinese university’s tuition along with your American college’s tuition. Any Chinese university worth studying abroad at will have its own method of applying, such as, and most will charge only a fraction of an American college’s tuition. I went to a SUNY school so I got off pretty cheap when it comes to tuition. The Chinese college, Shoushida, that I attended still only cost a third of what SUNY charges for tuition. Now take that $1500 Chinese tuition and compare it to an American private college’s tuition… paying them to do some paper work for you is suddenly highway robbery.

But my school will count the credits towards my major:
This is where applying through your university could or could not be useful, though I’m assuming as I write this article that isn’t. If you are majoring or minoring in Chinese or linguistics, then I’ve assumed wrong and it’s worth it. For the rest of you though, let me continue on the reasons why it’s smarter to do it on your own. The international programs of Shoushida and multiple other popular foreigner universities in Beijing teach one course and one course only: Chinese language. Shoushida doesn’t even teach a culture class unless you’re matriculated in their 4 year program. You’re paying triple or more what you could pay for credits that are only going to count as foreign language credits. Throw that 4 credit language requirement into an easy semester back home and save yourself some money.

12 credits would get me closer to graduating, so why not?
Because having your GPA ride on these 12 credits is going to suck. A lot. Let me start by explaining a little bit about Chinese culture. The huge population creates enormous competition for students when it comes to college admissions and getting picked for jobs. Unlike America, employers aren’t concerned with experience or extracurricular activities. It’s a numbers game and the best grade wins. This has greatly affected the school system; my English students often spend their whole weekends and vacations doing homework and studying, just so they have an edge above other students when grades come in. A student who doesn’t care about school is unheard of, and skipping class doesn’t happen. A student who does do this is seen as throwing away their future and doomed to be homeless. In the eyes of the public, they have about as much hope for success as a drug addict in western societies. Bringing it back to why this matters to you: unless you are prepared to spend around 4 hours a day doing homework and cramming word after word, you probably aren’t going to do well in the Chinese university you choose to study at. Remember the anal teacher who graded really hard and never gave partial credit that you hated? She would be a slacker here. Sure you could possibly do quite well in the courses offered, but I can guarantee you will give up a large amount of your time to do it. And you’re here to explore and have fun, not slave over books for no actual reward to your American education. You’ll find when you get here too that there is A LOT of fun to tempt you with, so even if you’re a smart enough student to do well in these courses, you may not be able to be all that studious. Do you really want to chance crippling your GPA by taking on these 12 meaningless credits? Save yourself the headaches and stress, don’t bet on this horse.

A final word on classes: Just because I am highly recommending you take the Chinese classes independently of your American education, doesn’t mean I am saying you shouldn’t be productive. At this time the great firewall doesn’t touch college websites, so if you want to take a couple online courses feel free to sign up for them. It could be an easy way to clear some GenEds that have been piling up without having to juggle your Core courses around them. Word of caution though, my friend who did this consistently missed deadlines because of the time difference. While it was humorous to watch, keep it in mind

But this experience could really help my career:
I’m sure it could. It’s the experience that matters though, not how you signed up. You can always list the semester you studied in China on your résumé, and anybody who’s reading it won’t care what program you went through, just what you did. A can of vanilla coke is a can of vanilla coke, whether you buy it down the block or you drive to the next state and pay $20 for it. Enjoy it cheap and easy.

I don’t want to miss out on anything doing it on my own:
A lot colleges boast about providing experiences for their students while they’re abroad. Tours, special events, trips, things like that. This may be true, but each of the Chinese universities you could study at have their own department set up for this as well. And if you didn’t see it coming, none of the Chinese tours cost anywhere near enough to financially justify going through your American college so you can see the sites. Also, you aren’t the only newbie in China. Shoushida had a 12 story building devoted to housing foreign students with a revolving door that emptied it out again at the end of the semester. Three quarters of the students there are like you, only in China for a short term period like a semester and they barely know anybody. Besides that, if being foreign in a country you barely know isn’t a great icebreaker for making friends, then I don’t know what is. Friendships are made quickly, and after only 2 weeks of my stay, groups of newfound friends were already planning trips to scenic spots in Beijing or backpacking the great wall. You won’t be in short supply of people to do things with or ideas for places to go. Not to mention the countless online resources for expats that can point you in a good direction. Unless you’re constantly stuck in your room studying to academically stay afloat, I wouldn’t be worried at all about having a bad time in China.

My college won’t like it:
People take time off all the time for any number of reasons; financial, personal, a mental break, to work, for an internship. It won’t be a problem, and to conclude this article with a point which should be obvious by now; you’ll have a stress-free, fun time and save quite a bit of money doing it this way. I hope my advice helped, enjoy your time abroad!


Being a white man in an Asian country, I not only stick out like a sore thumb and draw stares, but it’s also assumed that I speak fluent English. While this is true, it isn’t a fact that every foreigner does. The Turkish man I’m sitting next to on the train as I write this definitely does not. Regardless, this assumption is the reason for the popular Chinese youth pastime of yelling HELLO at foreigners. Afterwards they giggle and watch you as if they aren’t sure what’s going to happen. I doubt it’s crossed their minds they aren’t insulting me and instead just look like jackasses. I’m not really sure what their goals are by yelling it, and if they’re my age I wonder if they want to start a fight. They’re always in groups when they do it, and several times I’ve had to turn to walk in their direction and they nervously scattered. I’m guessing they don’t do it out of kindness or to be welcoming. Unless it’s been a long day it’s incredibly easy to brush off. I often wonder though how they’d react if I yelled back “Anyang” or “kounichiwa.” I’m white and they’re Asian, the irony seems fair. It has happened everywhere, when I’m eating at a restaurant, bar hopping, on a random street at any time of day, or even on the bus. It’s an occurrence I’d bet every foreigner has experienced multiple times here, or will experience. It’s harmless, laugh it off and keep walking

The Great Firewall

Living in China, one of the most common questions I’m asked is about the Great Firewall. The Great Firewall as people have named it, is China’s Internet censorship policy. Facebook, YouTube, google, gmail, blogspot, wordpress, pornography, and certain parts of Wikipedia and news websites are the most notable websites blocked. Certain keywords used in searches will also produce censored results. The goals of this censorship are to limit dissidence, problems from superstition, crime, immoral content (porn), organized protesting, and the availability and spread of information on corruption and sensitive political topics. Often it is also used to strike back at a company who isn’t cooperating with PRC policy.

Google is often a target of this, having had a very rocky relationship with the China Communist Party. Besides the many times google refused to comply with the CCP’s regulations, when I first got here there was a dispute with Japan over an island that was found to hold precious resources. When google maps listed the island as a Japanese territory, gmail and google were down for over a month. I’ve read that many Japanese websites were also blocked due to this dispute, furthering the idea of censorship being used as a weapon against opponents.

Another notable incident of censorship during the time I’ve been here was the 2012 doomsday rumor/myth/stupidity. Fear of public chaos and lawlessness stemming from the possibility of the world ending caused China to crackdown on anything promoting the idea of Doomsday. This campaign also took place off the web, where anybody distributing fliers or hanging posters was jailed. Even Doomsday theme parties and drinking events were forced to remove their posters and advertising, and change their names. Last I checked over 500 people in Beijing alone had been put in jail or fined for spreading this concept.the-internet-in-china-great-firewall-cartoon

There are a lot of misconceptions about the goals of the Great Firewall. Many see it as awful, oppressive, and a stifling of the freedom of speech. While all of these are arguably true, it isn’t as malicious as it is often seen. It’s main goals are protecting against public uprising, ethnic independence movements, and hindering activism and protest. Anything on Tibet, the Weimar people in the shinzhong province, and Tiananmen square has been pretty much blacklisted. Events outside of China have been blocked as well, such as Egypt’s uprisings and the current conflicts in Syria. Historically many social networking and instant messaging websites have been used to organize movements, as well as spread banned information, and this is one of the main reasons behind why Facebook has been blocked. Information on pollution and corruption, whether true or not, have also been blocked to limit public resentment and the possibility of problems for the state stemming from the spread of this information.

As a foreigner, the Great Firewall can be incredibly annoying, but as long as you aren’t searching for this information or participating in anything the PRC views as dangerous or a potential vulnerability, it will remain only annoying. You should know though, that you are being watched. Emails are being scanned, petitions you sign are being put in a database, and anything that you are part of on paper is known. While you’re here I think it’s better if you abstain from digging into anything. Most likely nothing will happen immediately, but it could be the reason your VISA is unexpectedly rejected when you go to renew it. Journalists should heed much more caution with what you decide to investigate, but if you’re here you know more about this than I do.
There are multiple ways to evade censorship. Many proxies are available, as well as VPN networks you pay for. The TOR network is also an option, though bridges are needed to connect to it. Most VPN sites are blocked within China, which creates a frustrating catch 22 for getting one. Many foreign businesses’ have a VPN wifi set up for their patrons, so find one or a friend if you need to set one up within China. VPN services are also often unreliable, locked in a technological arms race for access with the administrators of the Great Firewall. Don’t expect to stream anything either, you’re having an incredibly lucky day if you can watch a youtube video on your VPN without waiting 10 minutes. There are many guides on your options for a VPN, so I won’t go any further into that.

Overall, using a VPN, the Great Firewall barely affects me. One thing to remember is China isn’t a Western nation, and doesn’t have the freedom of speech. As long as you’re a guest here, it would be best to keep that in mind. Just keep your nose clean, don’t ask for trouble, and you should be fine. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and here in China, search no evil. google-china-400x309

Never underestimate how ridiculous a taxi ride can be

Having just arrived in Guangzhou, I wanted to find a place that I could use wifi at. It was after midnight, and my train was scheduled to leave at noon the next day. I figured I was probably going to need to do an all-nighter, and asked a taxi driver if he knew of an Internet cafe nearby. He said yes, and ushered me to his cab. Generally this time of night is when scams are the most common, and me walking out of the train station with a backpack on made me look like the perfect mark. I asked him multiple times if he was sure, and told him I didn’t want troubles. He assured me he knew, and when I got in the cab, he turned on his meter. I was feeling less wary at this point, and began to relax while he started to make a phone call. The phone call was on speaker phone, and I perked up when I heard him asking who he was talking to where an Internet cafe is. They laughed together about having no clue, and the cab driver made the second U turn in 5 minutes, essentially driving in a circle around the train station… A literal obvious fucking circle. He then told me there was an internet cafe across the city, and that it opens at 9am. He offered to drop me off so I could wait outside for it to open. I asked him to return me to the station, but he kept driving the same 4 blocks, circling the train station. It was then that I noticed the meter was increasing at an abnormally high rate of about 4RMB a minute. When I questioned this he said to me in English, “many many money. I want many money from you,” and laughed. I opened the door while his car was moving and told him I’d walk back. He stopped and tried to get me not to leave, even promising me he would be “a very nice man,” but I refused and paid the bill. I walked the 2 kilometers back to the train station and gave up on leaving for any reason whatsoever. My advice to foreigners in these situations: get the fuck out of them. It’s only going to get worse, the sooner you remove yourself, the better. It’s the law of sunken costs, walking 2 kilometers is better than staying in the cab and having him take you the long way back for a bill of 100RMB