Sweet Home Chicago (personal update)

Posted in Announcements, Personal Anecdotes, Sino-US, Relations and Comparisons at 12:13 am by Benjamin Ross

Generally when blogging, I try to keep myself out of the spotlight, but it’s been a while since I’ve written a personal update, so I wanted to scribble down a few words to let readers know what I’ve been up to of late.

As most of you probably know, I moved back to the US in late August, and then moved to Chicago in late October. It is hard to believe that I have already been here 5 months. Overall, I have been extremely pleased with my decision to move to Chicago. I came here for two reasons primarily. Firstly, I wanted to live in a large cosmopolitan city, but also wanted to remain in the Midwest. Secondly, after being abroad for 3 years plus, I wanted to be close to friends whom I had rarely seen over the past few years. Coincidentally, most of the people I care about (excluding immediate family) all live in Chicago. Thus, the Windy City was the logical choice.

Chicago is an excellent city from both a cultural and a practical standpoint. With its history of immigration, Chicago, like New York City or San Francisco is a salad bowl of cultures from around the globe. On any given day, I could eat dim sum, have a conversation in Mandarin, buy chilies at a Mexican grocery store, drink Zywiec in a Polish night club, get a ride from an African cab driver who speaks 6 languages, go out for Korean BBQ, overhear a conversation in Fuzhou hua, buy tamales from a street vendor, and the list goes on. It has been reinforcing my image of what it means to live in America.

I have also been enjoying the convenience, financial freedom, and sense of ecological and social responsibility which comes along with not owning a car (something which is not possible in many American cities). Chicago’s rapid transit, while old and dilapidated, is also one of the most extensive systems in the country. I live a 7 minute walk from a subway line which in another 10 minutes takes me downtown, from which point I can get virtually anywhere in the city via the 8 different lines. Rarely is there a location within the city which I can’t reach on the train.

As for my employment, I am currently working 2 jobs. I spend my days as a medical interpreter for a company based out of Cincinnati. Several days a week they send me to different hospitals in the Chicago area where I am an interpreter between doctors and Chinese patients who can’t speak enough English to get through their appointments. In the evenings, I work 4 nights a week as an English teacher at a local training school, not so different from the ubiquitous 培训学校 in China. My students are all adults and come from a variety of backgrounds. The largest percentage of them are Polish, but I also have students from Ukraine, Bulgaria, Austria, Mongolia, Thailand, Korea, Turkey, and Benin. It has been an interesting and completely different experience from teaching Chinese students, and I plan to elaborate on this more in a future entry. Needless to say, I have learned more about Eastern Europe in the past few months than I had in my entire life.

Even though I am back in the US now, I am doing my best to keep in touch with my life in China. People often ask me if I miss China, and I my answer is “no.” This is the same answer I would give people in China when they ask if I missed my life in the US. To me, my life in China has always seemed separate from my life in the US, like an alternative universe. When I am in the US, I think about the US and when I was in China, I thought about China.

That being said, in the past few weeks I have not been able to help myself from thinking about the events which have been transpiring in China. And the more I think, the more frustrated I become, not so much with the events themselves, but with the way they are covered by the media, both Western and Chinese. While the Chinese media does its typical song and dance of selective reporting and damage control, the Western media continue to feed us the same over sensationalized, one-sided, Hollywood dribble we’ve come to expect in post 9/11 America. Neither side is lying, yet nobody is reporting the whole truth. With one side seeking to numb the masses and the other in dire need of sales and ratings, the true losers are the readers. The resulting ignorance on both sides only provides more fuel for the fire, and I fear this trend will continue throughout the impending Olympics.

With all this in mind, I am going to do my best to take a trip back to China for the festivities this summer. While plans are still up in the air, and by no means definite, it is my desire to keep current on the country I spent nearly 1/8 of my life living in, and besides, if the proverbial shit hits the fan, I plan to be there to pick up the droppings. In the interim, I’ll be in Chicago, which for now, and the foreseeable future, is home.



Daylight Savings Time in China???…没有了!

Posted in Culture Clash, Local Customs, Travel Log (Asia) at 10:48 pm by Benjamin Ross

Today was the most dreaded day of the American calendar year. Spring forward day—the one Sunday per year which lives for only 23 hours. This leads to a frequent question. “What’s the time difference between China and the US? “ It’s not an uncommon question to get asked by Chinese friends who live a metaphorical dig through the center of the earth away from us. However, for a Chinese asking an American about the 2 countries time difference, he will get an answer similarly complicated from the one an American would receive after asking a Chinese his age.

The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, there is no daylight savings time in China. If Fuzhou is 14 hours ahead of Chicago in December, then it would stand beyond all possible explanations that Fuzhou should be 14 hours ahead of Chicago in July as well. Time in China doesn’t change. The idea of daylight savings time is totally foreign to the Chinese. You never spring forward nor fall back.

The other difference is that China is on a single time zone, unlike the continental US which is on 4. Since the vast majority of China’s population lives along the east coast, which would presumably be, if China had one, the Eastern Standard Time Zone, China’s lack of time zones doesn’t bear much effect on most of the country.

A quiet alley in Kashgar’s Old City. 9:45 PM.

Where it is most noticeable is Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China’s Northwest. Going to Xinjiang in and of itself is a unique experience. With it’s rich Uighur/Muslim traditions, and Han Chinese minority (outside of the capital), it is easy to forget you are still in the Middle Kingdom.

But one of Xinjiang’s most unique features may be its time, nowhere more so than China’s westernmost city, Kashgar, which just miles from the borders of Tajikistan and Krygistan, is over 2000 miles due west of Beijing. During summer nights in Kashgar, the sky doesn’t get completely dark until nearly 11 pm. Sunrise occurs predictably late as well. This extended evening daylight, combined with the arid climate, makes Kashgar an excellent summer travel destination. You can do your sightseeing for the day, stop for meal of 抓饭 and 烤肉, (Xinjiang rice and shish-kebob), and then still have 5 hours of daylight to explore the sites.

But what about those who have more business in Xinjiang than backpacking around the region’s tourist attractions and tasting its Hallel culinary delights? What about those who live in work in Kashgar, and must keep some semblance of a reasonable time schedule?…enter Xinjiang Unofficial Time.

Since China does have only one official time, all government related operations (i.e. banks, post office, courts, etc.) run on Beijing Standard Time. To compensate for this time difference, work hours for most Xinjiang government employees begin around 9:30 or 10, rather than 8.

But for residents of Kashgar, they prefer to use “Xinjiang time,” which is 2 hours behind Beijing time. So 8 p.m. Beijing time would be 6 p.m. Xinjiang time. Since most people prefer to use Xinjiang time, but the government runs everything on Beijing time, this creates a potentially confusing situation, as “6 pm” to one person may refer to an entirely different time to another. Therefore, when making plans in Xinjiang, locals will not only agree on what time they will meet, but also what time they are using.

Person A: “What time do you want to get dinner?

Person B: “How about 6 pm?”

Person A: “Will that be Xinjiang time or Beijing time?”

Person B” “6 pm Xinjiang time.”

To me both countries’ respective systems make sense. It is quite complicated having a single country on 4 different time zones, (and I’m sure millions of other people in the Central Time Zone who have at one time set their VCR’s to 8:00, to record a program which was on at 7:00 would concur). Yet, with our population spread out along both coasts, there really isn’t much choice but to break up the time zones. With China having roughly 90% of its population fitting into an area which could conceivably fit into a single time zone, it would almost be more trouble than its worth to break it up, regardless of other subtle inferences could be drawn by breaking up the country into another regional divide. So instead they keep the country on a single time zone, and let the locals make up their own time if they so desire. As for the laowai travelers, it’s another great reason to go to Xinjiang.

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