English Listening practice, CQ middle school test

ashley and I were THE english voice actors in cq for a year

this session was for a practice exam for the province-wide high school placement test

skip around a bit and listen to different sections; listening to the whole thing all the way through might drive you insane… “linda wants onions!”

somehow, the lighting in back makes it look like ashley might not have a nose – she does.


Susie’s Pizza in Chongqing, with token laowai

the latest in my “huge in china” series…

the BEST pizza in all of chongqing, with cq’s favorite laowai – jason & emma!

skip ahead to 9:50, unless you wanna learn how to make a delicious “two pepper fish”

in defense of our awkwardness, the hosts and “aunties” treated us VERY much like laowai and we were not impressed. but susie, as usual, was lovely

man I love that woman.

hi emma 😛

also, this was filmed in early march shortly after returning from kyryzstan, so forgive/DIG the beard 🙂

I’d better start updating my imdb profile…

…cause I’m practically a star over here.

here’s a commercial shot last fall for a chongqing news site and it’s mobile app. see how fun it is to live in chongqing? and how convenient? this really is a dream of a city….. you should probably come visit

…also I’m willing to bet jason mraz has little to no idea he’s backing it up. sorry, man.

kyrgyzstan to china… or, ‘the video death diary’

every year during spring festival, all 1.3 billion chinese head home to be with family and celebrate the new year.  at the same time, all of china’s ‘foreign friends’ pack a bag and travel for however long they have off.  for me it was a solid month and a half

and during that time, I had a few adventures.  I visited a tibetan region of gansu, spent some time in kashgar, and visited some peace corps kids in neighboring kyrgyzstan.

and, strangely enough, perhaps the most exciting part of that whole trip was getting back into china from the kyrgyz republic

I’m not going to say that there were times we thought we were going to die, but I will say that it wasn’t always easy going.  to that end, we began what we affectionately started calling ‘the video death diary’

see if we were gonna go out while traversing the snow & ice-covered mountains that separate the two countries in the dead of winter, we wanted to make sure there was some kind of record of our attempt.

so, I present to you, all 8 installments of our 2013 kyrgyzstan to china video death diary

yay travel.

*it would appear that installment 7 is missing and, perhaps, for my mother’s sanity, that is for the best*

Labrang Monastery

this was no doubt one of the coolest trips I’ve taken in china thus far.

labrang prayer hall

labrang monastery is located in a tibetan region of gansu province in north-central china, in a town called xiahe, just hours away from the capital city of lanzhou.  it’s home to over 1500 tibetan buddhist monks, has an incredible history (especially exciting as of late), and is exactly how you’d imagine a buddhist monastery in the hills of the tibetan plateau to be

it’s monks wear those red robes, with the more learned ones sometimes donning a yellow hat that very much resembles a mohawk.  being the case, this particular sect of buddhism is often known as the ‘yellow hat’ sect (the official name is gelug)

I’d been looking forward to the trip for a while, but was very on edge about whether or not the chinese government would let me go.  this is because up until very recently, the whole town of xiahe has been closed to foreign travelers due to a self-immolation in 2011 and a violent riot in 2008, all protesting chinese rule over tibet

fortunately, it was opened again at the time of my trip, although it may have been closed again as I just read there was another self-immolation there THE DAY I left

I’m not going to say much on this subject, except that the town was absolutely crawling with chinese riot police (I didn’t dare take a photo) and I spoke to a number of tibetans and monks there who expressed extreme frustration with their presence in the region; you could feel the tension in the air.  for more information, dig this article and it’s attached links

I spent almost a week here; there was so much to see and take in.  I did several koras or, basically, laps of the compound.  the outside is lined with prayer wheels – thousands of them – and it takes 3 or 4 hours to complete one lap.  pilgrims and monks alike work on their good juju by racking up koras during the day.  you walk, pray, think, stop to rest, and spin as many of the prayer wheels as you can on your way.  at least, the armatures walk.  the real pros prostrate their way around, falling to the ground, stretching themselves out as far as they can, getting up again, and walking to where their fingers touched.  then they fall to the ground and do it all over again.

I spoke to one of these pro-pilgrims, very very few spoke chinese, who said that it usually took him a couple days to complete a lap.  the REAL pros, he said, do the prostrating facing the walls of the compound.  this means they only walk as far as the width of their body (what, maybe a foot and a half?) before dropping down and prostrating themselves again

I saw all kinds of people attempting this, old and young, all bundled up in an incredible amount of layers, and armed with knee, elbow, and hand pads to protect themselves from the rocky ground

but, the best thing I saw there, in my opinion, was the chanting and prayer hall meditations.

every morning, as far as I could tell, the more learned monks began to gather on the steps outside the main prayer hall.  one by one they came, cloaked in red and carrying their yellow mohawk hat, settled themselves on the steps outside the the hall, donned the hat, and began to chant.

they sat on the ground, wearing only their robes and cloaks, apparently unconcerned by the single digit temperatures.

it was incredible to watch.  at first there was just one.  then two.  then another appeared, out of nowhere, and there were three.  then seven.  twelve.  and by the end at least forty or fifty.  all sitting on the ground, rocking slightly, and chanting.  dig this video.  you see the monks appearing one-by-one and, about halfway through, I cut to half an hour later when, by then, thirty to forty monks had appeared

after the chanting session had ended they all filed into the hall, along with at least 2-300 younger monks, followed by a few of the more devout onlookers and pilgrims.  I joined them and, what I saw inside cannot be described.  I’m not even going to attempt it.  my jaw was on the floor for the bulk of the hour-long service and meal.  it was wild.

I walked around, I ate amazing tibetan dumplings, I drank alot of tea, and chatted with young monks.  it was a really really interesting trip and, if you have the chance, I very much recommend going.  a few photos below… (admittedly a bunch of them are from instagram.  don’t follow me already?  you should.  search for ‘jthal’)

labrang prayer hall IMG_1341 IMG_1343 IMG_1347 IMG_1358 IMG_1372 IMG_1376 IMG_1382 IMG_1386 IMG_1395 IMG_1405 IMG_1408 DSC_0020 DSC_0034 DSC_0048 DSC_0060 DSC_0084 DSC_0108

my head hurts

and it’s because I’ve started living in chinese

last semester I lived in the foreign student dormitory on campus, which was fun, but there was a problem.  see, it was filled with students from all over the place – russia, korea, belgium, japan, spain, germany, kazakhstan – and it was really interesting hanging out with people from such a diverse group of countries, but the problem was that because our chinese levels varied so greatly, english was the common language we all used

I spoke chinese in class, and at my favorite teahouse, but I spoke english whenever I was home hanging out which, while fun, started to get old.  I mean, my english is already pretty stellar, I don’t need the practice

so at the very end of the semester, I found and rented a room in an apartment nearby.  the apartment has three bedrooms and is really really basic – my share being 400 yuan (well under $100) a month – with exposed water pipes running all over the kitchen and bathroom, and typically has a rat running down the concrete steps when you enter the five story, open-air building

I live in one of the bedrooms, and the other two are each occupied by chinese couples.   a college student and her boyfriend in one, and a young married couple in the other.  and what makes this really interesting is that the young married couple just had a baby

so I currently live in an apartment with 5 chinese roommates, one of which is a newborn.  exciting, right?

but admittedly, I haven’t seen the newborn yet.  it’s chinese tradition to go have your baby in your hometown and spend a month (A MONTH) in bed after the birth, resting.  so she’s in some town in sichuan right now resting and I imagine she’ll (they’ll) be back in a few weeks.

so the reason my head hurts isn’t the incessant newborn cries that I’m about to be exposed to, but rather the fact that I’ve never heard and spoken so much continuous chinese in my life.  I’m exhausted!

everything is in chinese!  I get up in the morning, I speak chinese, I leave for lunch (of course that happens in chinese) and come back, more chinese, I read a book and have to explain the plot in chinese, I talk about dinner plans in chinese, mop the floor in chinese, I get up to pee in the middle of the night, knock the mop over in the dark, and have to explain that it’s no big deal, go back to sleep, IN CHINESE

and I’ve only lived there for a total of about 7 days so far!  GAH!  at least while I was in peace corps I lived by myself and could turn off the chinese once I entered my apartment

it is a good idea though, a great opportunity to improve my language, and no doubt fodder for stories and all sorts of interesting conversations (especially once this baby shows up), but it’s going to take some time for my brain to adjust

so that’s my current situation. 

Chinese National Day… or, The Chicken Story

National Day celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.  But don’t let the singularity of “day” fool you; National Day is typically a week long, and is sometimes referred to as “golden week.”  It’s one of the two times Chinese workers have 7 straight days of holiday to go home and visit their families.  It’s a time for fireworks and Chinese sight-seeing.
And the Chinese are serious about their sight-seeing.  Bummed out about the line to get into the Washington Monument?  Upset about the wait for Space Mountain?  Those have NOTHING on Chinese tourist attractions during Golden Week.  For real.  Just see this photo of a shopping street in Beijing taken during this past year’s holiday.

see?  want to see more?  take a look at this cool little gallery of ‘golden week crowd insanity’ put together by the shanghaiist.

now, I say all this by way of explaining why I spent my national day on the roof of my buddy’s apartment slaughtering a chicken.

I mean, we weren’t about to go into the city!  it’s crowded!  there’s a lot of people and, I mean, you saw that photo!  forget it.

so we did the next best thing.  it’s actually something we’d talked about for a while.  I mean, I spent two years in the peace corps and never killed anything bigger than a cockroach (granted, I must have killed thousands of them, but still…).  And it’s really easy to pop by the local market and bring home a live chicken, duck, quail, etc.  I even saw a guy on a motorcycle once, with a freshly slaughtered pig draped over the seat behind him.  so why not, right?  it’s a good experience.

or at least I thought it would be.  I mean, no, it was.  definitely.  and I’m glad I did it.  but it was a lot harder than I thought.

so first we had to do our homework.  there were three of us, my peace corps buddy, his new sitemate who had just arrived in china a little over 3 months prior, and myself.  and none of us had ever done this before.  the sitemate grew up on a farm, and claims to have seen it done several times, but had never actually wielded the knife.. or hatchet.. or, geez, how DO you kill a chicken?

so we logged onto youtube.  I’d had a good chicken/youtube experience in portland when my roommate and I learned how to clip a wing from a little 2-minute tutorial, so why not?

and youtube came through.  there are all KINDS of how to slaughter a chicken videos, and we walked away with two methods.

first, you could nail two nails into a board, just wide enough for a chicken neck to sit between, stretch the bird across the length of the board, and use an ax of some kind to chop the head off (if you’re interested, check out THIS character from northwest ontario).  option b includes hanging the bird upside-down from his feet, and slicing the jugular vein open in the neck with a knife.

both methods, you’re assured, are humane, quick, and easy.  and we didn’t have nails or an ax, so we opted for plan b.

but first we needed to buy a chicken.  the only real challenge here was first choosing the bird (“I mean, we’ll take that one I guess?”) and then stopping the woman before she killed it first.

I can communicate most things in chinese without tooo much of an issue, but what I can’t do yet is be subtle.  so after a short laugh and a look of either respect or extreme suspicion, she handed over the bird alive.

we also needed a large chicken-sized pot.  youtube told us that it’s easier to pluck the feathers out if you dunk the thing in boiling water for a second to loosen everything up.

so we put the live bird in the pot and carried it home.

once home, we tied the thing up with a rope we’d found outside and hung it from a beam on the roof of his apartment building.

this was the second issue we ran into.  I see people going home with live ducks and chickens all the time.  a day you don’t ride a bus next to a duck in a bag is a strange one.  but what I hadn’t really considered is that while I see the birds being taken home all the time, I never see them killed.  so where do they do this?  in the street?  presumably not, I’d never seen it.  so, inside?  surely no.  so the roof of his 11-story apartment building seemed like our best option there.  I mean we didn’t want people to see us and think we were weird or something..

so then I get handed the knife.  I’m still not completely sure how it became my job, but everyone seemed pretty convinced.

which was fine.  but, if you’ve ever seen me do anything I’m scared or unsure of, I can, admittedly, be a touch hesitant.

and I was definitely scared.  I mean, I saw the youtube video, but still felt like I had no idea what I was doing.  and I really didn’t wanna mess it up.  and, I mean, it was killing something, and that’s weird.

soooo I might have hesitated a little.  seriously, it was absurd.  I must have walked up to the bird, taken a deep breath, and then backed out at least 30 times.

“jason, you ready this time?”

“yeah *exhale* I’m ready.  hold the thing still.  *deep breath* ok, one, two–ok wait! are we sure this is where I should cut??!  there are so many feathers.  I don’t know guys..”

went on for hours.  finally I get my stuff together.

something that youtube didn’t emphasize, or perhaps something we didn’t really absorb, is the importance of a really really really sharp knife.  cause I took three tries with the sharpest kitchen knife we had and got no where.  the third time I nicked him and we decided that something needed to be done.

so we took him down while someone ran to get a cutting board and butchers knife.  after another minute or two of getting my act together, I held the chicken’s head in my hand just off the edge of the board, my buddy stretched it’s body out over the length of the thing, and I came down as hard as I could with the knife.

and it worked!  a giant pool of blood formed on the board and after one more whack the head was clean off.

there’s a photo of this too, but I’m gonna leave it at the end of the post, as it’s a bit graphic.  so instead, here’s a picture of how thrilled I was at finally having succeeded.  kinda say it all, doesn’t it.

with that part done, we hung the thing back up to let the rest of the blood drain out and went downstairs to start boiling the water.

luckily no one from the building happened to pop by the roof at all during this whole process.  THAT would have been weird.

it turned out that the water wasn’t really necessary for most of the bird.  the feathers came out pretty easily until we got to the wings.  we dipped it into the water a bit and the rest came out.

next was gutting it.  again, we turned to youtube for this too, and it more or less worked.

we cut a hole toward the bottom of the bird, broke through the skin and this clear lining that seems to hold everything in, and then started grabbing and (gently) pulling.  some of it came out easily, some of it you really had to pull, and eventually the thing was empty.

from this point we turned the naked, empty bird over to the fourth member of our team.  the college my buddy teaches at happens to be a culinary school, and there’s a foreign student from peru who studies chinese cuisine.  we gave him a call and wished him good luck.

we started cutting vegetables while he took it back to his apartment and turned it into cuts of meat that we were familiar with.  he was back in half an hour and had even saved the feet

we made a chicken curry, an egg and veggie dish, and our friend made kung pao chicken.  it was all really really good.

granted, perhaps because of all my hesitation, it was going on 11pm or so by the time we sat down to eat, so we were hungry.  but there was definitely a feeling of accomplishment in the room; we were proud!  had there been any food left, we might have taken some back to the chicken lady at the market and showed off our victory.  or even snapped a photo or two of the meal.  but we were all too hungry..

and there you go.  that’s basically it.  that’s the time I killed and ate a chicken in china.  happy national day, everyone

…once it was finally done:

I’m back!

in fact, I’ve been back in chongqing for a month.  I’m waay overdue for some updates here, and they’re coming, I promise.. I’ve just been busy settling into my new school and memorizing about a zillion new chinese characters every night.

so, to bide you over until the next update… enjoy two photos from recent outings.  more to come soon.  and no setting your fool on the grass!


so you wanna get something done…

I just stumbled across this really interesting blog by a woman by the name of tricia wang.  she’s an american sociologist, ethnographer, and researcher studying how people in edge communities use communication technology in big cities.  she’s currently doing research/making cool observations in china, and she shares little snapshots of what she discovers in this blog she calls bytes of china

at any rate, shortly after moving to china, she published a post titled  “some things that I learned about my new home in china – settling in takes time!” and the observations she makes made me laugh out-loud, so I want to share them…

want to try getting anything official done in western china?  this is your new bible:

  • You need a lot of stamps for anything official, and if one person isn’t there, you’re screwed. There is not alternative person to stamp your card, you need to wait until they return.
  • In Wuhan, the entire city stops between 12pm and 2pm, and for anything related to the police office and the university, the break starts at 11am and doesn’t end until 2:30pm.
  • The 2-3 hour break in Wuhan is equivalent to the Spanish siesta. People sleep at work, eat lunch, run errands like shop for clothes and food, and go online. Although I have found out that a good portion of people use the time to gamble or play games. I have spent time watching what these city officials or administrators do during their break, and most of them who were publicly sight-able were playing mahjong, card games, or games on their cellphones.
  • Do not interrupt policeman or any administrator at any time of the day when they are at their computers watching an online viral video of traffic accidents or anything silly. They will not answer you and will become very upset if you disrupt their viewing time.
  • Though you can definitely interrupt them if they are doing their work – they are more than capable of stopping their work or multitasking to help you.
  • Do not be secure for one moment if you are the first person in line or are already speaking to an administrator that another person won’t just cut in front of you, push you aside, or shove their paperwork over your head. You must be prepared to be ousted from your position at all times. So this means that you must speak quickly and be prepared to push someone aside if they try to cut in. Be on the defensive. People are pushy here and will scream at you.
  • If you are cutting it close to their mid-day break, if people care about getting your work paperwork done they will stay until 11:15am, but if they don’t, then you have to come back at 2:30pm.
  • Take 30 passport photos of yourself at a mall or photoshop before you take care of any bureaucratic paperwork. Each place will want 4-6 photos. If you don’t do it ahead of time, you end up having to pay 3x’s the costs and you have to spend additional time in line taking the photo, which then could delay your entire day. RISK
  • Do not trust what anyone tells you, even if it’s a policeman telling you info about the police station or a university administrator telling you about how to register at the university.
  • Always say thank you and hello with a smile, even if you never hear anyone else say it. I still believe that a genuine thank you and hello can go a long way – you always will be surprised at who actually smiles back when you smile at them.

and these are dead-on.  I started walking around with a stack of passport-sized photos pretty early on, and know now that you need to get your elbows ready when in line for anything important; even the old ladies will knock you down.

so there you have it.  need a visa?  visiting the doctor?  want a bowl of noodles?  chances are most of these will apply, and there will probably be at least 3 different official stamps involved.  godspeed.

the great firewall

check out the latest TED talk from

the description from the site is as follows:

“Michael Anti (aka Jing Zhao) has been blogging from China for 12 years. Despite the control the central government has over the Internet — “All the servers are in Beijing” — he says that hundreds of millions of microbloggers are in fact creating the first national public sphere in the country’s history, and shifting the balance of power in unexpected ways.

Michael Anti (Zhao Jing), a key figure in China’s new journalism, explores the growing power of the Chinese internet.”

there is still no facbeook in china.  and the government bans the public from posting about political leaders or hot-button topics of the day.

imagine an internet where it was forbidden to talk about eric holder or the ‘fast and furious’ scandal, or an internet where twitter was state-controlled and government-run.  that’s china today, but it’s beginning to change