Saturday, November 15, 2014

11:00 AM - No comments

Apps in China

Smartphones are as big in China as anywhere else. (Among other things, they are an integral part of the eerily Swedish-like, no-eye-contact subway-riding culture.) You won't look out of place if you've got your nose buried in your phone all the time, so seize the moment and download some particularly helpful China-specific apps.

I've already given Pleco its own post, but if you don't feel like reading it, what you need to know is that a) it's a dictionary, and b) you really need it in your life. I mean, really. You and Pleco should basically get married. I'll bring cake.

If you're planning on doing an HSK test (the standardized Chinese proficiency test), you should know that a lot of it is about knowing your vocabulary. To prepare for HSK level 3 back in Sweden, and level 4 here in China, I've been using HSK apps with flashcard-style quizzes to really help pound the words in.

AQI app
I have this installed so I can always keep an eye on what the Shanghai air quality is like. It's not an essential requirement or anything, but I kind of like knowing. It helps with paranoia. And knowing when to breathe.

This is an app that a lot of Westerners have never heard of but find themselves immediately needing the moment come to China. WeChat is a simple instant messenger, and everyone has it. It is the first go-to for staying in touch.

Apparently, there is also a Smart Shanghai app that is supposed to have a bunch of info about what is currently going on in Shanghai at any given time, but it is iPhone exclusive and as I am what they refer to as an "Android heathen" I can't offer any insight there. :(

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Royal Straight Flush?

For some reason, here in China I've ended up with a lot of cards in my hand. And no, I'm not talking about gambling.

It seems that every facet of daily life requires some kind of card. So far, I've accumulated:

  • Dorm room key
  • Consumption card (for hot water and canteen food)
  • Student ID card
  • Bank of China card
  • Student hospital card
  • Subway card
  • Library card

Add this to all the cards I still have left over from Sweden, and I've basically got the whole deck. I'm not sure why they're so big on cards here, but I suppose there are worse systems one could use.

Time to devise a fortune-telling method and rake in the only thing better than cards: cold hard cash.

pick a card, any card

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ducking awesome

Living in Sweden, you kind of get used to the fact that the rest of the world doesn't really care what people are getting up to in your little corner of the universe. Not so in Shanghai, a full-fledged world metropolis, and the global giving-a-shit-o-meter most recently went off with the arrival of...

...the Big Yellow Duck.

It is currently stationed in Shanghai's Century Park (to quote the advert, 大黄鸭真来世纪公园啦!), and will remain there until November 23.

This was one of those "whoa what the duck" moments for me, since I have seen countless pictures of the Big Yellow Duck on the internet without ever believing I would witness it with my own myopic eyes. But sometimes fun surprises are in store.

I usually don't like taking pictures of myself,
but some opportunities you just don't pass up

Monday, October 27, 2014

Your Personal Stalker

Some Chinese shops seem to have a very strange idea about customer service. As a Swede - springing from a less-talkative, chillier culture - I'm most comfortable if the clerk says hello and asks if they can help (not saying hi is rude, OK Sweden?), but lets me do my own looking once I've declined.

Here, though, entering a shop might get you hitched with a bodyguard/parasite/human surveillance camera. A staff member who does not say hello or welcome or anything at all will latch onto you and silently follow you around the store. At some point they might try forcing wares on you or informing you about deals (which, often, you won't be able to understand). But it doesn't matter whether or not you are interested: they will keep heeling you until the moment you leave. I'm not sure if this is supposed to be some sort of butler concept or if shoplifting is a big problem in China, but it makes me feel like either a wanted criminal, or someone being stalked by a restless ghost.

general tip: if your staff is giving off a slenderman vibe, you're probably doing it wrong?

In other stores, they take customer service to unprecedented heights. I visited a small shop selling hair accessories. Its two rooms could easily have been staffed by one, two, or perhaps even three people on a busy day, but there were five or six women working simultaneously. Several women would greet you as you walked in and one would follow you, anticipating what you wanted to look at as soon as you took a step or turned your head. It was extremely difficult to move around because each customer had their own attendant standing behind them - usually in another customer's (read: my) way.

A Beijing tea shop actually had two women race each other to see who could get to my friend first. The entire time we were there we had the shop assistant breathing down our necks and shoving teas in our faces for us to smell. At a clothing shop with no other customers, the girl behind the counter followed me with her eyes and proffered products to me but didn't speak a word. It's really weird. And usually makes me leave a shop prematurely, because I'm not comfortable shopping while my spine crawls.

I mean, I understand that the shop personnel are going to be extremely annoying in a fake-goods market where all that matters is being able to hawk the loudest and most insistently. But in a genuine store? Terrible idea, that drives customers away. Independence is the name of the game.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Class Time

Here, finally, is what you've all been waiting for: the big reveal of what I do in school.

[awed gasps]

I have 20 hours of class a week, meaning four class hours per day. Each class consists of two 45-minute periods, with a ten-minute break in between. Two days a week, I have two different classes on one day; the other three days are each spent with a massive four-hour stretch of the same class. For extra in-depth learning, and extra exhaustion by the end! The perfect deal.

I'm in 中等一级, or Intermediate Level 1. At this level, Chinese learning is divided into five different classes that each focus on their own aspect of the language.

Intensive Reading(精读)
This is the most straightforward class. Our textbook is split into lessons, each consisting of a text, a list of new words, and grammar exercises. We learn all the new words and read the text until we understand it completely, then do the exercises. The following week, we have a dictation where the teacher reads out a selection of the new words (and, if we're ~lucky~, sentences) that we have to write in Chinese characters. This is the most structured and familiar class. It's relatively easy to study for, and I feel like I really learn a lot each week.

Extensive Reading(阅读)
One of the more challenging classes, all the material for Extensive Reading is way too freaking hard. However, this is all deliberate, since we're not supposed to understand every single word and sentence - or in some cases, not understand anything at all. Extensive Reading teaches you how to read a text, and focuses on structure and different ways of finding relevant information. There's also some work on character radicals, morphemes, and other more linguistic aspects of Chinese, which not only gets me very excited but also proves beyond a doubt that I am a humongous dork.

My least favorite class, for a variety of reasons. Since I'm largely self-taught, I did very little listening practice and feel a bit behind in that department. But then there's also the combination of a poorly designed textbook and a lack in the teaching department: aka, a perfect recipe for disaster. One of my main beefs with the way the class is laid out is that we just listen to extremely fast texts and are then expected to answer extremely specific questions, usually hinging on one or two completely new words. This doesn't mirror what listening comprehension is like in real life, where it's more context-based and intimately involved with speaking and discussion. Oh well. I just hope I pass the exam :(

Writing class really makes me aware that we are at the intermediate level. It focuses less on what you write and more on how you write it: you get extra points for making the text varied and interesting to read. That's why I find it kind of enigmatic that the topics are still so pedestrian (daily routines, where you are from, coming to China etc). I wish we'd actively learn more sentence structures, grammar patterns, and stylistic devices. That would help a lot more than the teacher reading through five people's texts, in a row, in front of everyone, as time moves slower and slower and attention spans grow shorter and shorter.

This class is one of, if not the, most immediately useful and practical classes. Most other classes consist of listening to the teacher, taking notes, and reading in the textbook, so there's very little active participation on the part of the students. Speaking class is the complete opposite: we're there to talk. Even if it can feel awkward, it's so important just to get the ball rolling. After all, if you say something wrong, you can always correct or explain yourself. If you say nothing at all, well, no one will ever know what you're thinking. For a chatterbox like me, the choice is simple.

All the classes are taught entirely in Chinese. (I never cease to be amazed how I can understand and follow 95% of what the teachers are saying, but be completely baffled as soon as I have an encounter with an actual, out-of-classroom Chinese. Or, well, the listening class CD.) This has both good and bad sides. The main con is that the teachers will often ask questions that I know the answer to, but my Chinese just isn't good enough to express it yet. Becoming actively involved in class can be difficult when you're simply missing communicative ability. But, of course, the positive aspect of being totally immersed in Mandarin greatly outweighs this nuisance. It also gives you a goal to work towards. So on we soldier. 加油!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Suzhou story

I mentioned that during Golden Week I made a day trip to Suzhou with some other Swedes I met at Starbucks. Here's the payout: a picture-heavy post.

Train station packed with Golden Week traffic

First we visited this Buddhist temple, and climbed all the way to the top. Much taller and steeper than it looked from the outside...

Suzhou is famous for being built on canals.

Then there are the quaint streets and shops. Very touristy, geared mostly at Chinese tourists (featuring popular delicacies such as chicken feet), so we agreed we wouldn't really want to go back. Worth a day's look, though!


an interesting offer
Also found a cat café! Pretty much all of the cats were asleep, but I can cross another item off my bucket list. I would like to visit one with more sociable cats, though, and I've heard rumors of one in Shanghai's Tianzifang...

Monday, October 13, 2014

I get to stay!

So after much ado, I finally got my residence permit!!

This little sticker is my key not only for living in China, but also for traveling in and out as much as I want to. I don't know if that will be often, but I've actually booked a trip already...

That's the good news. The bad news is that my cold has gotten worse, with the added bonus of pinkeye. This did, however, let me locate the school hospital and manage an entire doctor's appointment in Chinese. We only had to use a phone to translate two words ("allergy" and "conjunctivitis" so who can blame me). Suddenly those boring textbook passages don't seem as pointless anymore.