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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Final Exams & Christmas

Sweating students and many, many cool gifts!!!

So last time I told you I was preparing all the exams, this time I tell you that they are all done and over with. I even graded everything :-) Just in time because tomorrow my parents will arrive in Kunming! Giving the final exams wasn't a big deal, just distribute them and watch them for two hours, checking that they do not cheat (or at least try to do so...). Most of them did very well on their finals. On average I only had to fail about 4 students per class of approx. 40 students.

All in all I had a really nice first semester. At first I really had to get used to it, but it got easier by the week! I really like most of my students and I am glad that I will have my 3rd year students again next semester. The picture below is from me and Amy, probably the tiniest students I have. For most of the students at Yangpu I am that tall, white teacher that comes to school by bike... lol.
And of course this week we also celebrated Christmas!! We organized a small party at our place which included Secret Santa, White Elephant and a Potluck. Everyone did as "ordered", so we ended up with a big pile of presents and lots of good food. As I understood it Secret Santa was what we in Holland call: "surprises". I picked Collin and since he likes mountain climbing I decided to build a miniature Mount Everest and hide the presents in there. Of course I also made a poem (as good, old Dutch custom requires you to do...) and I have to admit that it sounded pretty good (this is of course all due to my "excellent" English rhyming skills... haha!!!).

Tomorrow morning at 10.20 my parents will arrive at the train station. I am going to pick them up and then I can show them the city their son has been living for more than 8 months now. Really looking forward to this!!!

In case I don't "talk" to you before the 31st:
Happy New Year!!!

Ruudje & Shos

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Banquet, wholesale & exams

Drinking and eating with Chinese people and preparing exams for my students in the sun.

The last two weeks I finally found out why they call Kunming the "city of eternal spring"!! Temperatures during the day are between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius and at night it still is about 10-12 degrees. And the best part is that is doesn't rain! It has been dry almost the entire time. So even though it is almost Christmas, it really feels like spring here :-)
Besides enjoying the weather I finished my last full week of teaching. This week I will be giving reviews of all the material and on Thursday the first final exams start. So at this time I am busy preparing all of the final exams. Which is harder than expected. One part of me wants the exam to really test their knowledge of how to use what we studied, so let them explain why things happen. But if I would do that probably 70% of the students would fail or barely pass. Why? Well most Chinese exams they test on "how-well-can-you-learn-stuff-by-heart". So even if you have no clue what you are writing down you can still pass with a prefect grade. "When you are good at memorizing, you deserve high grades" seems to be the motto of many Chinese teachers. Too bad, but that's the way it is. So my other part wants to be nice to them and give them a fair shot at passing, so I am also including quite a few memorization questions.

Last Friday Shos was invited to a banquet for all her Ph.D. students and I was allowed to join. It was a nice, really Chinese events. Some speeches (way too loud), and lots of food and drinks. And of course they all tried to get Shos and me drunk in which they succeeded pretty well :-) Drinking a lot of jinjiu (a kind of Chinese Jägermeister) and toasting with the students resulted in us singing, dancing and playing around with a hoola hoop :-)
Yesterday we went to the wholesale market in Kunming. And we were so amazed by the size, chaos and shit ton of things that we didn't buy anything... But it is a great place to stroll around and amaze yourself about all the things Chinese buy and sell, ranging from the most hideous clothing ever seen, to big bags of balloons and jewelry. The thing they had the most of... Chinese people! ;-)
That's it. I am going on with making my exams. And my parents will leave for China in just 3 days, so mam and dad: Enjoy!!!

Bis schnell,
Ruud B.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Longest time abroad & moving

More than 7 months and 24 days living abroad! My new record!!!

On Monday we really started packing. We had to put everything into boxes and bags because on Thursday we would leave the Yunda Binguan and move into our new apartment. On Wednesday we had the goodbye dinner of Sander and Susan and we took this opportunity to already move some of the boxes. However the majority needed to be moved on Thursday. Luckily there was a Sports Day at Yunnan University which meant that I had bot Thursday and Friday off!! They couldn't have planned a better moment!

We borrowed a "bakfiets" (a bike with a space to transport stuff) from Salvador's Coffee House to transport our stuff. After having a flat tire fixed by some guy on the street, we loaded a lot of our stuff (in hindsight way too much) on the little bike and took off. Through the university campus, over two big roads towards "the bridge" where our new apartment is situated. The first trip was horrible mainly because we immensely overloaded the poor bike and it was extremely difficult to handle. All the Chinese people kept staring and laughing at me, little kids encouraged me to keep going when I had to go uphill and cars were being a pain in the ass as usual.

However, we managed and after the second trip I felt so comfortable with the little bike that I decided to do the final, third run by bike as well. Nothing has ever made me feel more Chinese than this. Loading a ton of shit on a bike and then trying to get it to another place; it felt great!!!
It was definitely one of the most fun things I have done in China so far! Besides that, yesterday was also the the day that I have been abroad for the longest period of time ever!!! The previous record of 7 months and 24 days was set while being on Curaçao, but I broke that yesterday. And many more days will follow, so the new record will probably stand for a pretty long time :-)
Being abroad in less developed countries made me realize that I am definitely among the lucky "few" of this planet. I've got a good life: no worries, enough money to do what I want, a great girlfriend and nothing but positive expectations for the future. Even though we were complaining a little when we were moving, China showed us that we have absolutely nothing to complain about. And I think the picture below describes exactly how lucky we are...
Today and tomorrow we will continue unpacking and make the apartment feel like ours. When we're done, I'll post some pictures of our new crib...

If you feel like sending me/us a card or anything else, the address is:
Ruud Batta
Jiang Bin Xi Lu
San hao yuan # 605
650021, Kunming
P.R. China

or in Chinese (copy-paste and print it on the envelope or download this picture with the address on it and print that on the envelope):
Ruud Batta
三号圆 605 号
中国 / P.R. China

Dhr. Ruud

Monday, December 03, 2007

Champagne & Sinterklaas!!!

Two extremely great evenings and nights, but nonetheless a "sad" weekend...

Why sad..? Well, this was the last weekend sander and Susan were in Kunming. So from now on we will have to party without those Dutchies :-( I will miss them!!! But we tried hard and managed to overcome our sadness and made sure we had a blast this last weekend! On Friday we organized a "Black & White Champagne Party" at Sander and Susan's apartment (which will be Shos' and my in a few days...). Everyone was supposed to bring a bottle of champagne and too our "surprise" most people did!! And everyone we invited was there, so at one moment the apartment was literally too small to fit everyone! But it was great, everyone getting tipsy on the champagne and getting ready to go out. Which we actually had to do because at around midnight the police came and told us that there were too many people making too much noise... So we went to Kundu where we partied till the sun came up!
(too bad I do not have pictures from this evening...)

The next day I did nothing except sleeping and watching movies. But that evening was also our (early) Sinterklaas party!!! Of course Sinterklaas was present as well and he brought candy and a bunch of gifts.

We piled all the gifts in the middle of the room and after a few rounds of picking and unwrapping gifts we played a dice game with which you could swap, win and loose gifts. Of course some gifts were the favorites and it resulted in a big battle for the chocolate pie, a miniature Dutch sex house and a blow-up piggy :-)

Today we packed a bunch of our stuff and paid the rent for the apartment. Getting the money at the bank was a little harder than I hoped... I decided to put all my Chinese skills into practice and full of confidence I told the bank lady: "Wo yao shi wu qian kuai" (I want 15 thousand RMB)... and looked at me like I was speaking Dutch to her! Writing down 15.000 RMB on a note did not help and only when I wrote down 150 x 100 RMB I got my money. As you guessed my Chinese skills were not good enough since supposedly Chinese do not say fifteen thousand but "yi wan wu qian" (meaning: one ten-thousand five thousand)!!
Same same but different :-)

That's all for now. Wednesday we have a goodbye dinner for Sander and Suus and on Thursday we move into our new place. Exciting and sad!


Monday, November 26, 2007

A Pirate Thankgiving

What have pirates and Thanksgiving to do with each other..? Read on and you will find out :-)

This week I have been teaching (as usual), getting and getting rid of a cold, cooked for Thanksgiving and celebrated it as well!! On Saturday a big group of people came together at Katie and Annelise's place to eat our Thanksgiving dinner (my second one...). Everyone brought food and/or drinks, we ordered a turkey at a local place and then the feast could begin. The food was delicious! There was way too much food, but that is quite common supposedly! But I must say that I really enjoyed eating "normal" Western food again and that the evening was great. We also planned to watch "A Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving", but due to some copy issues, the sound and images were off, creating an extremely funny cartoon :-)

After all the food and drinks and an attempt to digest it, we decided to go out to The Hump where a Latin Party was going on. Now to understand the following you should realize that the apartment we were at is in a building complex that has a pond in the middle with a "pirate" ship in it. Slightly intoxicated as I was, I decided to play pirate and climb up one of the rope ladders. That worked just fine and I was enjoying myself up there. But then I also had to climb down again... And of course you can all guess what happened next!?! My foot got caught in the ropes, I fell into the sail, the sail wasn't strong enough to hold me, I stumbled towards the edge of the ship and finally I fell over the edge into the pond... Luckily the pond was only about 40cm deep, but that did not make the water any less wet, cold or nasty!! Oh well, took a shower, changed clothes, washed clothes and now it seems like it never happened, except for the evidence that still exists (see the pics below).

Now I have to go on with preparing classes for this week, grade a test and study a little Chinese. Next Friday we will have a Black & White Champagne Party to say goodbye to Sander and Susan who will be going back to Holland and to welcome myself and Shos into our new apartment (where we will move into in about two weeks!!).

"Talk" to you later!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dutch (fast)food: Krokets & Bitterballs!!!

We call it fastfood, but it takes quite a while to make...

A few weeks ago I decided I was going to make a Dutch dish called kroketten. Not knowing exactly how to do it I did a little research online, found a recipe and started hunting for the ingredients. Everything was easy to get except for breadcrumbs, but Shoshannah managed to lay her hands them! So I made a bouillon, chopped the meat, made a roux, mixed everything together and the stuffing was done!
On Friday Shos and I rolled the stuffing through the flour, egg and breadcrumbs and put them back in the fridge to harden a little. Later that night Sander, Susan and Collin came over to try them. And guess what..? I succeeded!!! They were great! I am also going to make the "kroketten en bitterballen" for Thanksgiving, trying to get those Americans acquainted to real food... ;-)

After our delicious dinner we went out for some bowling. First a game with our regular hand (Sander was by far the best in this, although we were not sure whether he just is good or had a lucky evening...) and then one with our "bad" hand... You should have seen our moves, simply inimitable :-)
Now some totally different and unrelated things, that nevertheless are very Chinese. First of all there is the amazing story of Chinese companies recycling used to condoms into hair ties, causing people/kids to get infected with diseases as Herpes because they put them in their mouth... Mwahaha, things like this only happen in China!!! Read the full article!
Second, one of the very best things about China: Chinglish!!! The picture below is the backside of the packaging of a bra strap... read and laugh!

No other news at this moment!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Drag show and rock festival

Transvestites and punkers

Last Friday we were invited to a Chinese drag queen performance in a gay club in Kunming. Don't ask how we got that invitation, but I am glad we did because it was great fun! After a couple of really cool performances and a "pop-quiz" on AIDS/HIV prevention/awareness we took off to Kundu to party with some of the gay guys. We spent a couple of hours in a club called House and ended up in the car of one of the guys who was kind enough to give us a ride "home" a.k.a the SpeakEasy. Few more beers there and then we called it the night.

The next day I went to a Chinese rock "festival", some 30 kilometers outside Kunming in Taiping. It was really great to see and hear all these Chinese rock, punk and jazz bands. It was a small and "cosy" party with lots of very nice people. Too bad that I got a little drunk and lost my camera (or it got stolen...) and due to the darkness and lack of light there was no way to recover it :-( But I was not the only one that lost something, others lost their cell phone or even an entire backpack, which leads me to believe that some Chinese persons took the opportunity to acquire some "new" Western items... So at this point no pictures. Hopefully it did not get stolen and someone found it and is now looking for me to return it. Otherwise I'll have to go shopping for a new one.

Now back to grading all the exams I gave last week and preparing classes for this week!

Tot snel,

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V

The love for copy-paste of Chinese students...

This time an entry about my teaching experiences in China. Although I still really enjoy it very much, there are times that my students frustrate the hell out of me!! The main two skills many of them lack are: 1) Participation, and 2) Creativity.
Even though they all know that 20% of their final grade will be determined by how well they participate in class, it doesn't seem to have an effect on them. Which, I think, is strange because most of them are very keen on high grades. However this kind of behavior can be explained relatively easily by looking at cultural differences. Asian countries score high on collectivism, so being the one that actually participates and doesn't stare into space is regarded as not done since it makes you stand out of the group. This is entirely contrary to what I was used to at Maastricht University, where it was harder to get students to finally shut up than to make them talk... Luckily for me there are a few students in every class that don't care about this cultural habit, but do ask and answer questions :-)

It is harder to find an obvious reason for the lack of creativity, but we (the foreign teachers in Kunming) were still able to come up with one: The educational system! Chinese teachers teach as little dictators; they stand/sit in front of class and shout out the stuff the students have to know. They eagerly write down what they hear, since the exam will just ask them to write down exact copies of what the teacher said in class. There is no reason to question what the teacher says or to use it in a practical or creative way, since they will not be tested on it. My classes are different and my most common reactions on a student's answer are: "Okay, that is what is in your notes, but WHY is that what happens?", and "Can you explain your answer?". And then there usually is a long silence or they look surprised to their neighbour in the hope that (s)he knows...
This week I received homework from my students and while grading the first six of them I found that five of them simply copy-pasted complete answers from the Internet. They didn't even take the effort to change the font to make it seem that they did it themselves. Just plain plagiarism and no thinking at all. Frustrating, especially since I warned them beforehand not to copy things directly, but to describe things in their own words.

A topic that my students have very strong feelings about is the Chinese government. They all love China and believe that, no matter what, China will be the new superpower on this planet. Of course there is a very reasonable chance this will happen, but I just cannot believe how indoctrinated their minds are with the "fact" that everything the Chinese government does is great. Simple example: There is a shortage of electricity in China and one of the government policies to deal with this problem is to cut off power supply during the nights in certain cities/districts. According to some of my (economics) students this causes the demand curve to shift, since people want less power... To my knowledge these measures creates limited supply (and thus a vertical supply curve), but of course I can be wrong... I think it is great that the opinions of me and my students differ sometimes because it is a good reason to start a nice discussion. However they really seem to feel offended when I make statements that I think that not everything the government does is good. I, for example, do not believe in any positive effects of the Golden Shield Project (a.k.a. The Great Firewall)...

Oh well, this is just one of the many big differences between the Netherlands and China. When you learn to accept them, life here is very enjoyable!!! To end with, two more funny pictures from our Halloween Pub Crawl (also because I didn't take any new pictures and posts without pictures are so boring...)!

Meester Rudolf

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Halloween Pub Crawl

Lanterns, cave girls, hot doctors, ladyboys and so on...
A couple of weeks ago Shoshannah had the idea of doing a Halloween Pub Crawl here in Kunming. But since Halloween is on a Wednesday this year we decided to move the party forward a couple of days. So this week was spent shopping for costumes and attributes and I must say: we all did a great job!!! None of us knew exactly what the others were going to be, but that made the surprise even bigger. The plan was to visit five bars and do some silly games at each of them. We prepared a boat race, an egg run, the apple-on-a-string game and a round of mummification. The team leaders (Shos, Marc, Sander and me) were armed with waterguns filled with sangria and the use of these led to very diverse reactions... No more talking, just look at the pictures and decide for yourself whether we had a good night ;-)

My first Halloween: One Big Success!!!

Ruudje "Chinese Lantern" Batta

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

With Maastricht University in Beijing

Kunming and Beijing are both Chinese cities but they couldn't be more different!

Last Friday after class it was time to leave for Beijing. Some of my students arranged one of those "private" taxis for me and I was at the airport in no time. A decent flight, a busy airport, a long bus ride and a ride in the subway I arrived at my hostel. The next morning it was time for the Education Fair. Got there in time and had to deal with the standard disorganization that is common for fairs, but luckily I am a foreigner and could walk through everything without the need of a badge (which weren't ready yet...).

The EHEF itself was set up nicely and there was a huge crowd of Chinese (prospective) students, all looking for information in one way or the other. Some took their time to check the brochure and ask questions while others just seemed to be hunting for "old" paper... The most common questions were: what are the requirements to get accepted?, how much does it cost?, do you have any scholarships?. Some of them were genuinely looking for a place to study in the Netherlands while others had absolutely no clue what they were looking for. What you get is the following:
"Hello, can I help you?"
"I want to study."
"What would you like to study?"
"Ehh, maybe biology or business..."
But overall it was a good way for the people of the UM to get to know the Chinese student population. And of course there was also some time for fun! I took the UM people out to hotpot and for a beer at Houhai. On Sunday there was a big dinner for all Maastricht Alumni in Beijing and several deans from the UM. Met some very nice people and we ended up in the Sanlitun bar area in the Q-Bar. I am sure I will see several of the alumni again in the near future.

On Monday I planned to go to the Great Wall, but I was too tired and couldn't be bothered and went to the Temple of Heaven Park instead. Nice place, but definitely not the highlight of Beijing. Later that night again back to the hotpot restaurant with a Canadian and an English couple I met and to Houhai for a "couple" of beers... It got pretty late and drunk, but it was the perfect closing night of a great weekend in Beijing!

Before I end this post I just have to show you this group of Chinese women I came across while I was walking around in the immense Temple of Heaven Park. It seems like they are prepping for a rugby match against the New Zealand All Blacks and want an even better "warrior song"...

That's all. I am going to pack my stuff and head back to Kunming!

Monday, October 15, 2007

No news is good news

Just another very normal week...

This is going to be a very short post since nothing really happened. We planned to do our cycling trip on Saturday, but due to lousy weather decided to postpone it. And the rest of the week was just working, watching some movies, grabbing dinner with friends and going out on Saturday night. That's about it... So I won't bother you with a lot of nonsense :-)

This Friday I leave for Beijing. I got all the materials that should prepare me for what I have to do there. At least the entire Saturday and Sunday are filled with the fair. The Monday I will spend either going to the Great Wall (again) and/or preparing stuff for when my parents come to China at the end of this year!


Sunday, October 07, 2007

National Holiday Week

Didn't go anywhere! Boring... ;-)

Oh well, not everything was boring of course! I had a really hard time getting to work, so most of the time I just was slacking off and doing some random surfing, playing games, watching movies... But there were also good things: I went cycling quite a few times and did some really amazing trips, we went out with friends, visited the Yunnan Wild Animal Park and went bowling!

So the start of the week consisted of cycling. A 60km trip near the airport, a 125km trip to the hotsprings in Anning and back via Haikou and a spectacular 60km trip with Mark north of Kunming. The scenery of the last trip was so amazing that we took up the plan to get more people out with us to do that trip. The "problem" is that most of them usually don't cycle and after the first 11km there is a 14km uphill stretch, poor people ;-) But it is worth it (see picture below for an example of the views you get)!! On Thursday (4 October) it was exactly one year ago that Shos and I met, so we planned to go out and celebrate that in Haigen Park, but the weather gods prevented us from going (instead we went there on Saturday). On Friday we made a trip to the Yunnan Wild Animal Park, a kind of really big zoo. It was very nice to be out and the animals seemed to be enjoying themselves. Lots of funny signs and "crazy" Chinese people trying to feed the animals were enough for us to have an excellent time there. It is really worth a visit, but you do need 4-5 hours to see everything!

Later that night we went bowling with a bunch of people and had a lot of fun. The lane didn't work properly, they told us they only had five beers (and we were with seven people) and we were just in a crazy mood... It was bowling with a Chinese touch! :-)

And one final piece of really cool news: I am going to Beijing for the weekend in two weeks!! Maastricht University is present at the European Higer Education Fair (EHEF) in Beijing and were looking for Alumni to represent the UM. I told them I was interested and this week I got the confirmation that I am invited :-)Looking forward to that!!

That's all for now folks!!!

De Mazzel,

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Chinese wine and dine...

Many, many, many excellent (free) dinners :-)

Last Tuesday I had the very best Chinese dinner ever. Collin was invited by a professor from Beijing University (who is visiting Yunnan University) to have dinner. And Collin asked me to join him. After the obligatory exchange of gifts (we gave mooncakes and wine and got Moutai and Pu'er tea back) we went to the restaurant. We found out that the professor on his turn was invited by the owner of a chain of restaurants and asked us to come along. Lucky us!!!
The restaurant was a pretty luxurious one, specialized in serving abalone (in Dutch: zee-oor). Abalone is an exclusive kind of seafood and cost in China approximately 1000RMB (€100) per serving... It was delicious. Served with an excellent sauce and a sea cucumber we had an amazing starter. After this the table was filled with more great Chinese food and we didn't do anything else but toasting all night long! Superb experience!!!
On Wednesday Shos and I decided to invite some people over to do some home-style hotpot and drink the Moutai I got as a gift (which costs around €55 for 0,5 liter; nice gift...). Once again we enjoyed our food, although it was extremely spicy. We also drank the bottle of Moutai and we all concluded that it was not worth the money, but then again... We didn't pay for it ;-)
And on Friday we (Shos, Aaron, Sophie, I and some other "foreign experts") were invited to join Yunnan University (a.k.a. Yunda) to the Provincial Government banquet to celebrate the 58th National Day of China. Once again a lot of food and drinks, this time in a five-star hotel just outside the city. Lots of important people present such as the consular-generals of Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Fancy, but the food could not match the Tuesday dinner or our own hotpot! But it was nice to be there and witness how Chinese celebrate events like this.

I also had to teach quite a bit this week and weekend, but everything went just fine. Also gave my first "exams" to my students and graded them. Really funny to read the answers some of them come up with. I will collect some of the funniest ones and dedicate a separate post to them sometime soon.

Now, vacation. A week of no teaching, but relaxing and doing some preparation for the coming weeks!

Meester Rudi