Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Bungee Jump

Last week I embarked on what was by no small margin the most terrifying experience of my life. We had gone with the advanced class students to a small Chinese amusement park that offered bungee jumping. Most of the day I had no hard feelings about the fact that I was going to skip out on this particular adventure. But as I looked up at that platform in the heavens, I felt the same kind of semi-reluctant feeling we felt that time in Thailand when my friend Euan and I saw a lady pushing a cart full of grasshoppers she was selling to eat. He just looked at me and said, "Looks like we don't have a choice here." It's just the kind of thing that you have to do if it comes along.

I know what you're thinking. Under usual circumstances, I probably would never go bungee jumping in America. And when you take into consideration that everything in this country tends to be thrice as shady as back home, it kind of seals the deal. But I did my homework. I asked around, and it turns out that this place had been around for a few years, and no one has heard of anyone dying. So I figured it was safe enough for me. Besides, it was only US $10, and I'll never have that opportunity again.

So I paid my money, got my blood pressure checked, pretended I could read the Chinese waiver they gave me, and did my best to explain to the lady that we use a different system of measuring our eyeglass prescriptions in America so I can't tell you what number my eyes are rated. (The fact that the US government allows me to drive without glasses wasn't cutting it for her. She needed a number.) Next, I got weighed to make sure my big American ass wouldn't snap the bungee cord. Then it was up into the elevator with the three of us: Jamie, (by far the coolest and craziest girl at the school), myself, and another Chinese guy.

By the time we got to the top, I realized for the first time that this might actually be scary. We were hundreds of feet up, the floor was mesh, and the railing was Chinese-height. I finally understood why this was much more scary than a roller coaster. In a roller coaster, you're strapped in and you don't have to move. A machine moves for you, so when you get to the top of that first hill, you don't have to think about whether you want to go down or not. The decision is made for you - there's no backing out. With bungee jumping, you have to stand there on the edge with nothing to hang onto, and just jump.

Jamie, being absolutely fearless, volunteered. "I'll go first! I'll go first!" "Who was I to argue?" I thought. The workers at the top then gave us a few minutes of instructions while Jamie translated for me. As soon as they finished, they pointed at me, pulled me close to them, and started to attach various hooks and carabiners to me. Jamie yelled good luck to me, and I was escorted to the edge.

And oh, what an edge it was. There it was. The whole world in front of me. I could see for miles. It was at that point that they started blasting "The Final Countdown" on the loudspeakers. I was too frightened to laugh hysterically at how funny this was. As I looked down, I knew that there was absolutely no way to convince my body to jump over the edge. My instincts were too finely trained to know that jumping from hundreds of feet in the air when you can't feel anything protecting you will kill you. My legs were shaking to the point that I was worried I'd lose my balance. At that time, I had already calculated the degree of embarrassment, self-dissatisfaction, and loss of money I would face when I backed out. "Sure, some people will make fun of me, and I'll have wasted $10. But that's not really that bad..." But by then, the worker had already said, "Okay, let's go." At least three times, and was already on number two of his countdown that started at five. Perhaps it was a wild streak in me, or perhaps it was the lifelong conditioning of my brain to know that when a countdown is over something is supposed to happen, but the next thing I knew, I had blinked and jumped simultaneously.

I'll be honest. The first two bounces were too terrifying to enjoy. It took until the third bounce or so to realize how awesome it had been. As enjoyed my remaining bounces and destroyed what was left of my vocal cords, they began to lower the hook. I attached it to my belt and they raised me up. When I got on the solid platform I almost kneeled down and kissed the mesh, but I was able to restrain myself. I watched Jamie jump fearlessly and without a care in the world into the abyss. Even once on sea level, it took me about thirty minutes for my hands to stop shaking.

Props to Eric for the camera work.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Me Fail English? That's Unpossible!

Disclaimer: This collection of amazing pictures were not taken by me. Special thanks to the team of college students who lent me these pictures.

Face a guest soil special product supermarket

No lingering (or jump roping for that matter).

This sign marks the area where you can play around nuclear material, or kneel down to smell your friend's armpit.

Inhale tube. Please don't hot drinks. (You may need to enlarge this one to see it).

Remember: Civilization is from every        thing.

Sorry, kids. Keep your tops on.

Language Observations

Although I hate to admit it because it makes me feel like I should know more than I do, I've been studying Mandarin for slightly more than a year and a half now. I've absolutely loved every second of it, and really hope I can continue my studies for a long time. One thing I've learned after living abroad in two different contexts is how it really is impossible to understand a culture without understanding the language of the people, and impossible to understand a language without understanding the culture of the people. I've really been able to see how interrelated these two are. Living here in China, with at least some understanding of the language, I feel so much more a part of the culture and people than I did in Hong Kong, where I embarrassingly learned less than 30 words in Cantonese.

In addition to all of the other rewards of learning a new language and using it on a daily basis, part of the the fun of learning a new language is all the colorful and cultural items you come across.

For example, food is a huge part of Chinese culture. Everything about society revolves around food. As such, it even leaks into slang vocabulary for insults. It seems that every insult in Chinese involves food in some way*. To call someone stupid, you don't just call them stupid, you call them a 'stupid egg'. (笨蛋). Someone who eats a lot, or is just not very smart is called a rice bucket (饭桶). Another one meaning 'newbie' or just 'stupid' is a 'vegetable bird' (菜鸟). To get fired is to 'have your squid fried' (炒鱿鱼). To tell someone that they're your good friend, you can tell them 'You're my dog meat' (你是我的狗肉).

Personally, my favorite idiom I've learned is used to describe when someone stands you up on a date. You can tell them they 'released your pigeons'. Not only does this bring up the most absurd mental picture, it also sounds really funny to say. (Nǐ fāng wǒde gēzǐ! / 你放我的鸽子!) A close second place however is an idiom for sexual harrassment. If you feel a guy has stepped over the line, you can yell 'You ate my tofu!' (你吃我的豆腐!)

Every Chinese character is made up of one or more parts, called radicals. Some of the radicals help give clues about how to pronounce the word, while others may give clues about the meaning. For example, the character meaning good (好) contains two parts. The part on the left means woman (女), and the part on the right means child (子). A woman and a child together is considered good, so you can see how the radicals can sometimes give the meaning to a character. This is all background to say that I can't remember which character it is right now, but my Chinese teacher showed me how the character for marriage consists of two parts. One of the radicals is the one meaning woman, which I mentioned above. The other radical means to become dizzy. So... Woman + Dizzy = Marriage.

On another note, A woman who is too vain is called a 'stinking beauty' (臭美). If two people are on a date and someone tags along and becomes a third wheel, he's considered a 'light bulb' (灯泡). To have 'Hong Kong feet' (香港腳 ) is to have smelly feet. (Unless you actually live in Hong Kong, then you say someone has 'Singapore feet'). Of course, everyone's favorite is when someone asks you how you're doing and you want to say you're just doing okay or so-so, you can say 'Horse, horse, tiger, tiger' (马马虎虎).

It's also considered cute to call your girlfriend a pig in a loving tone of voice. I can't imagine the culture shock a Chinese man would be in for if he didn't learn not to do this with his first girlfriend upon coming to America.

While we're on the subject, as a person possessing a fair amount of Jewish blood running through his veins, I would be remiss if I failed to point out a certain 'coincidence' of the Chinese language. The word in Mandarin for pig is spelled in Pinyin (the system for writing Chinese words with roman letters) as zhu, and is pronounced phonetically as jü, which sounds exactly the same as the word Jew. Coincidence? I think not.

*This idea was originally noted by

Friday, June 01, 2007

I am a Racist

I have recently run across an extremely interesting project being done over the internet by Harvard called "Project Implicit". The project consists of a variety of tests designed to discover implicit or subconscious biases, attitudes, or preferences you may have about a certain people group.

The test I took examined your implicit preference of European Americans or African Americans. The test consisted of a two groups of words: Negative words such as failure, terrible, nasty, awful, etc., and positive words such as wonderful, happy, love, etc.. For the first section of the test, you must categorize each word as either good or bad by pressing the button corresponding to each word. (Good is on the left, bad is on the right). You must do the test as absolutely fast as you can, so it measures your automatic or implicit ideas. If you think about it too long, your data will not be accurate.

Next, the categories change. There are no longer words that you must categorize, but pictures of faces. The categories are not good/bad, but African American or European American. So you are shown a picture of an African American, and you are expected to press the button corresponding to African American. Simple enough, right?

The final section of the test is really where things get interesting. Both of the previous two tests are combined into one. The button on the left now stands for either good or African American, while the button on the right now stands for bad or European American. You're then shown either a word or a face and you must classify it accordingly. Later, they are switched so good is joined with European American and vice-versa. The idea is that (as a white person), it may subconsciously harder to associate positive words with African-Americans than European Americans.

When I finished I must admit, to my shock, I failed miserably. The pronouncement was "Your data suggest a strong automatic preference for European American compared to African American". I figured, "This can't be right." I took it again, but ended up with the same results.

I didn't want to believe it at first, but the more I thought about the study and methods used, the more I had to accept that it really did reveal some subconsciously buried things about how I view people.

I began to look around the site for more information. I was able to find a little consolation in the FAQ section of the study:

If my Black-White attitude IAT shows automatic White preference, does that mean that I'm prejudiced?

Answer: This is a very important question. Social psychologists use the word 'prejudiced' to describe people who endorse or approve of negative attitudes and discriminatory behavior toward various out-groups. Many people who show automatic White preference on the Black-White attitude IAT are not prejudiced by this definition. It is possible to show biases on the IAT that are not consciously endorsed, or are even contradictory to intentional attitudes and beliefs. People who hold egalitarian conscious attitudes in the face of automatic White preferences may able to function in non-prejudiced fashion partly by making active efforts to prevent their automatic White preference from producing discriminatory behavior. However, when they relax these active efforts, these non-prejudiced people may be likely to show discrimination in thought or behavior. The question of relation between implicit and explicit attitudes is of great interest to social psychologists, several of whom are doing research on that question for race-related attitudes.

This test has forced me to be completely honest with myself to discover that this description probably fits me very well. Most likely, I do have an "automatic White preference", but my "egalitarian conscious attitude" prevents me from "producing discriminating behavior".

The next question is, how do I change this automatic preference? Is it even possible?

I highly recommend taking the test. (Once you accept the disclaimer, choose the Race IAS near the middle of the page). It may very well tell you something you didn't know about yourself. Even if not, it will be interesting at the least.