Sunday, 27 May 2012
Back (Without Vengeance)

So my semester ended two days ago, although for most students it hasn't officially ended as the exams are not over. For me however, it's just one last essay (and no exams!) that's due in about two weeks, so I'm pretty darn relaxed right now.

As promised, I wanted to write about my experience living in Shanghai more, and so today I thought I'd write about the English. As I wrote previously, while the Shanghai people have a relatively higher proficiency in English, it's still nowhere near what you can get in Malaysia (thumbs up to Malaysians!). Within the CBD, though, I have to say more city-folk speak English. The moment I left the CBD, it was quite hard to find anyone who could speak English.

It was worse when I visited Nanjing- had a case of food poisoning, but thought it was just indigestion at first, and the pharmacy did not understand English, so when I said indigestion they didn't know what I was saying, and I didn't know what indigestion is in Mandarin, either! So I resorted to saying very bad stomach ache (in Mandarin).

I wasn't expecting much in terms of English, either, although I did expect that the company that I would be interning at would have more people speaking English, as it is owned by an Indonesian and all my correspondence with them were in English.

So imagine how uncomfortable I was the first day at work- I was left in an environment where Mandarin is the main language, and most of them didn't speak English. I knew what went through my mind then- what am I going to do for six weeks? Luckily, being placed in such a situation puts you in survival mode- My Mandarin dramatically improved in just that day alone. And it also helped that I met some Indonesian coworkers, so we just conversed in English (such a lifesaver!).

The day I joined Facebook

Throughout my six weeks in the office, it was indeed funny at times communicating with them in Mandarin- sometimes I understood them, other times I don't and would guess at what they're saying based on the context of the situation we're in and their body language. It was entertaining at times, but by the third week I could understand about 90% of what they were saying.

Then there was English in public. Like I said, the Chinese have this perception that learning English is something that will make them more Western, or at least that's how I perceived it. Once, a boy probably my age approached me while I was waiting for the train, and asked me in Mandarin if I wanted to learn English. I was, to say the least, thoroughly amused. Unfortunately it happened too suddenly that all I could muster was muttering 'I can speak English' in Mandarin. If I had more time I would've replied in English. The next few times I went to that station I positioned myself close to the same person, but unfortunately he never did approach me after that- what a shame.

Pimple soup anyone?

Then there was this incident when I was walking in the station with one Indonesian colleague. You should've seen the speed at which the two people in front of us turned the moment they heard us speaking in English. It's as if a bomb exploded or something. But no, it's just two people conversing in English.

Those were the instances that I saw as them being transfixed by anything English. There were others, too, but it would take too long to list everything.

I'm sure many of you would know by now that the Chinese English accent is quite hard to understand. I had a colleague there who could speak English, but I struggled to understand her as her accent was so heavy. For example, they would call a colleague by the name of James as 'Jame-suh'. I don't know where the 'uh' came from, as it's not existent in Mandarin, to the best of my knowledge. And 'thinking' became 'sinking', as did all other 'th-'s. 'Thought', 'that', became 'sought' and 'sat', which is actually very, very funny. I know it's extremely rude to be making fun of a person's accent, but that just reminded me of this ad:

You have to admit, it is hilarious!

And you should see one of the comments made on the video:

Not to take anything away from the strides in English on the part of the Chinese- their CCTV English channels have presenters that spoke excellent English. It's just that for the majority of the population, they could work on their English.

Or not, as it provides me and a lot of people with laughter and entertainment.
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Thursday, 17 May 2012
Crunch Time

Remember when I expressed my surprise at how quickly my first semester of uni went by? Well, my penultimate semester has passed by equally quickly, I've but one more week in uni, and after the winter break I shall return to (gasp!) my final semester in uni. Ever.

Honestly, I dread it a little. While I am tired of uni life and can't wait to graduate, my uni life has been fulfilling and I don't think I'm ready to step into the never-ending cycle of work.

But as next week's my final week and I have a test as well as a research thesis to hand in, blog updating can wait!

A friend of mine recently wrote about how my uni days are ending while his is just beginning, but this is what I think about it: it doesn't matter, just enjoy it while it lasts! I didn't in the beginning, but I've come to see the light of day and enjoy the journey in itself!
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Thursday, 10 May 2012
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So, I've seen The Hunger Games. Just yesterday I finished reading the books as well.

And what do I think about it?

Surprisingly good- A really interesting story, that is probably reflective of what is happening in the real world.

So to recap, in case you didn't know, The Hunger Games is a trilogy set in a post-apocalyptic world where there is only one nation (to the best of my knowledge) called Panem, and it is split into twelve districts, ruled by the Capitol. And by ruled I mean colonised- the districts are basically slaves; they live in poverty and barely make a living while those in the Capitol are living on all the wealth and resources of their district-slaves.

And every year, there is the Hunger Games, when one boy and girl (boy and girl being under 18) is selected from each of the twelve districts to participate in the Games, which is basically you enter with the other contestants, and kill as many people as you can. If you are the last one standing, you live, and become the 'victor' of that year's Hunger Games.

So The Hunger Games revolves around this girl called Katniss, who volunteers as a 'tribute' (basically, the participants of a Games) to take her sister's place.

When I first watched the movie, I was intrigued, because it was exactly how I expect a reality television series to work in real life- where stars of the show play to the cameras, pretend to be someone they're not. They form relationships with other stars that is just played to what the audience wants to see. It's about creating your on-screen persona.

Take Survivor, for instance. There are similarities- it's a zero sum game where there's only one winner, and you need to backstab and do things you're not proud of in order to advance. And the relationships you form with people... we viewers do not know if it's even real!

So after watching the movie, I mulled on buying the books before finally deciding to go for it. And I was wowed.

While the language could've been more sophisticated (there was a slight hint of shallowness in the writing, methinks), the descriptions and storyline was good. I was hooked, and found that I could not stop reading it. I just continued reading the books, and kept going on until I finished it.

The cast of the Hunger Games.

And I definitely liked how the story left the characters damaged at the end- throughout the story, I felt as if anyone (except Katniss) was up for grabs; the author would not hesitate to kill off any characters. It was a little bit like Harry Potter at the end, when J.K. Rowling started killing off many characters, except it was a tad bit more intense because I liked the characters who died (there are other reasons but that would spoil the story!)

I can understand why this story has received such a huge following after the movie, though (sadly, I'm one of those converts)- It has all the aspects of what a good franchise has: a hero (in this case heroine), sacrifice, innate talents and of course, romance.

So, if you haven't read the books yet, I would say that I do recommend it. It's well worth your money!

P.S. My schedule's packing up, so the updates will unfortunately have to slow down once again.
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Friday, 4 May 2012
More Shanghai

As you may recall, I lived in Shanghai for six weeks last December, and I previously wrote about how I was unaccustomed to the spitting that the locals did not seem to have a problem with.

But of course, there are other aspects of life in China.

Before arriving, I was aware that while China is rapidly developing, and that Shanghai is the wealthiest state, I also read that Shanghai is a city that balances the mega-rich and modern with more traditional aspects of Chinese life. But I suppose when you mention Shanghai, you think about the skyscrapers, the modern technological advances.

I was awed the first time I was on that elevated roundabout- it was SO high up, and yet SO big and round! 

But there's also certain areas that brought forth other impressions of China. There are underdeveloped areas in Shanghai, and some where it's just Chinese- you don't see tall buildings, you don't see modern constructions, just busy streets and lots of people. I came across many such places during my stay there, but it never occurred to me to take pictures, and I can't seem to find any online, either.

And the people are also dramatically different.

In the city, you have wealthy people who use every opportunity possible to flaunt their money, be it on clothes, gadgets, or accessories. But on the other hand, you do have people who struggle to make ends meet, who still buy clothes that are not designer brands.

I found it easier to communicate with the rich, too- they're more likely to have received English classes. And I suspect they also saw it as a 'cool' thing, that being able to speak English makes them more Western, modernised and cool. Of course, I still laugh at their English because it still sounds horrendous to me.

Robert Pattinson's wax figure in Madame Tussauds Shanghai

The Shanghai people are really busy, too. In case you didn't know, I went there on an internship, and so worked in the marketing department of an F&B company. It was the peak time to sell their products (Chinese New Year), and I saw pitifully how the employees there basically work non-stop- day in and day out, they just... worked. Many in the team even got sick while I was there, and I myself had a fever once, then a terrible cold that lasted weeks.

I just couldn't believe how these people could do this constantly. I knew immediately that Shanghai will never be a place that I will work or live in. There is no work-life balance there and they demand so much from you. I can only hope this is reflected in the salary.

And the one thing that I hated the most was the lack of heating. Over here in Australia, you can be assured of being warm indoors. There, with the weather being even colder than Australia, you would think that they would have better heating, but no, they simply used the air-con heating, which blows hot air out but is otherwise useless in heating a room up- after awhile you just feel like you're burning up, and if you step away from the heater you're freezing again. It's quite unlike the heaters here, which I prefer. And the people there seem to be able to tolerate it- to them, wearing winter jackets indoors is normal.

My company there were a few Indonesians who were of Chinese origin, and through talking to them I gathered that they all enjoyed life in China and do want to work there. This I couldn't understand, because having been in Australia, I find that life here is so much better. Heck, even life in Malaysia seems less demanding and stressful than Shanghai. But they actually liked it there, and one who have been to Melbourne think it's boring.

Singing Communist songs (I'm assuming it praises the Communist Party of China)

Most things were expensive, too. It's just so hard to find decent items that are reasonably priced, everything was just expensive and I had to constantly think about price.

There are nicer facets of life in Shanghai, too. The public transport was ultra-efficient. I never had to look at a timetable, because a train is always just minutes away, and I could just hop on (or squeeze in). Taxis were everywhere and you can get one easily. And best of all, taxi drivers knew every single road in Shanghai. I never had to show them a map, I just needed to tell them a road, or a landmark, and they could bring me there. Another upside is that taxis are one of the few things that are cheap!

Perhaps I'll write more about Shanghai soon. I've a couple of ideas, so we'll see how that turns out!
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