I’ve been posting and getting excited about the Chinese version of Twitter (Weibo, 微博) I had previously downloaded and then deleted it three times because my Chinese reading ability was simply too low for me to read even one or two of the blogs in my weibo stream. After a semester and a half of Chinese classes I’m able to read for meaning and its certainly a much better alternative to Subway Surfer.
I was at the studio for a show on police attack dogs, and met a model who I had seen on another show. She recognised me and we spoke for a while. Third time I met her I asked her if she uses weibo, and how I am learning Chinese from reading weibo. I had previously been talking to her about salaries (not that uncommon on a first meeting). I told her that I almost have ten friends now on there. And she said she could be my 11th. I really didn’t think she was that famous, but turns out I was wrong:
That’s right, 26 thousand people are signed up to read her updates. She is a big star. I had a look at some of the photos:
Its a photo of her wearing the shirt of 孟达, a famous basketball player from the Jiangsu Dragons.
Wow! Her name is 赵丹丹 her weibo is here:: http://weibo.com/zhaodandan16
My Weibo is at http://weibo.com/2716806935/ ＠罗大澳大利亚
Weixin (微信 in Chinese, renamed WeChat in 2011), is the social platform which is the most commonly used method of communication here in China. I was already using this in Melbourne before coming here, and at that stage I wasn’t sure whether or not it was just what tech-savvy young people used, but when I met a new director last week the major questions were: how old are you, how tall are you, what is your weixin. He didn’t ask for my phone number or email, he may never ask for them, I’m not sure.
What does Weixin Do?
Weixin allows you to send free text and voice messages to people that you know. If you save friends phone numbers in your contacts list, Weixin will link them. It allows you to add people through their ID, phone number, QQ account (used to be big), you can also ‘shake’ your phone at the same time as the person just near you, or you can ‘look around’. Look around is a function which allows you to just browse the men and women around you which are already using the function, and each time you use it, its common for people to just random say hello to you. Obviously its totally normal to ignore those messages, but its an interesting function all the same.
What about email?
Email is only used when there are a lot of links to websites which are really only accessible from a desktop. Very few people here watch videos on their phone from Youku or Tudou, and its very uncommon for people to send each other links on weixin, because once you get the link, you have to copy out the whole address by hand on your computer. If it is a news article it’s possible, but still seems to be uncommon.
How does this compare to Facebook?
Because this app is only used on smart phones, it has been designed purely for this use. Weixin gives you no updates other than messages you have recieved from other people, and people wanting to add you. There is a ‘wall’ called ‘moments’, but this is a secondary function, you mainly remain in your inbox. If you want to see the photos of people that you know though, you can find and load photos very quickly. Facebook needs a lot of features to keep people on a desktop computer, but the end result is a very very slow mobile platform, which frustration or users when they want all of the same functions which they have on a computer. Weixin on the other hand promises less in terms of apps etc, but delivers extremely well on what it does offer.
For anyone who is not already on this, “The Conversation” is a daily email digest of some of the most thoughtful and well researched articles available online. I wanted to share this piece from the 13 December which I felt strongly about at the time. The full article is here Test Shock: is our education system failing students?
The key question which arises from the paper centers around the fact that:
the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) test showed Australia now ranks 27th out of 48 countries in reading, and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) showed Australian children’s performance in maths has largely stagnated since 1995.
Is this the result of a lack of funding, teacher training, or curriculum design?
There is a gross misunderstanding of what ‘public’ and private’ have come to mean in the context of schools funding in Australia. Forty-four per cent of our students are in private schools, and these private schools receive unprecedented amounts of public funding. The article highlights Geelong Grammar and Melbourne Grammar as two examples.
Geelong Grammar received $5.2 million in Federal Government funding in 2012 plus about $1 million from the Victorian Government. In 2010, it recorded a profit of $10.7 million, the biggest of any private school in Australia. Similarly, Melbourne Grammar made $8.2 million profit after receiving $4.5 million government funding in 2011.
The reason why we don’t do better in international standardised tests such as PIRLS is because there is a disparity in funding for high income and low income schools. Having visited numerous schools during Footbag 4 Fun as well as Oaktree volunteering, I saw a huge difference in the resources available to primarily inner city and regional schools. Private schools which are recording profits shouldn’t be able to apply for public funding. If we were to subtract the 6.2 million Geelong Grammar took from Federal and State Governments, they would have still recorded an operating profit of 4.5 million.
Private schools are welcome to operate at a profit, they provide a superior educational experience and they can charge accordingly. What isn’t acceptable is that the same public money which should be going to disadvantaged schools, particularly in rural areas, is going towards helping rich private schools. If governments provided public funds purely to public schools, as might be reasonably expected, then our scores across the board would almost certainly improve dramatically.
The monetary rewards for teaching English in China are high, but it is unlikely to lead me anywhere else. The other job I do is working for TV, but how does that work out in the game of survival?
Positives of Working on TV
The major positives are that I am able to continue to work on my Chinese and that Chinese people have more respect for me. The major downside is the pay. Originally, I promised myself I would accept all TV work, when ever I do it, I am surrounded by opportunities to listen, speak and often read Chinese. It is all focused toward real team goals and what I do is important and attracts both negative and positive feedback. I also am learning a lot about Chinese humour, and the majority of the programs are directly about Chinese culture and all of them obviously make references to Chinese history, personalities, hobbies, art, music etc. Certain jobs will ask you to be available for the whole program in case they need you, and if they don’t need you, you still get paid. This is perfect because its easy to study during this time, but its difficult to disturb people who work there for long periods of time. I’ve also made real friendships with coworkers, I was invited to the end of year party at 江苏综艺 and I see people from 江苏国际 regularly for drinks.
Negatives of Working on TV
I thought I would always accept everything, when a channel asked me to film outside of Nanjing for free, and refused to specify the exact hours, I felt that they just wanted to use me. The problem was that the same station had booked me to come for six hours for 200 kuai (AU$33, and I get the same for just over an hour of teaching English). Other times 200 had been the amount which people had gone with, in fact almost regardless of the time, location nature of the task, it seems like all of the stations’ start the conversation with 200 kuai. I am okay with this, but the problem was that they tried to mislead me about the total hours.
Me: How long will will you need me ?
Interviewer: 3-4 hours for filming?
Me: So it is 3-4 hours in total?
Me: Do you need me to come early for make up etc?
Interviewer: Yes, 1-2 hours.
Me: Okay so in total 5-6 hours?
So when they called me the next day to ask me to do a free job I just felt like they want to get whatever they can from me on the cheap. Other stations give me 500 for the day, or 300 for 3-4 hours. The only problem is that the work is not consistent, but it will be in a couple of months. The stations which offer me less, are less popular, and are asking me to do more linguistically involved things. I had an offer to go for two days outside of Nanjing to host a program about Jade, which would have involved me interviewing people, learning to make Jade made ornaments and getting a lot of the history and symbolic relevance of the material. I had to so no because I had classes on both days, but I still regret it. More opportunities will come, but I guess its a fine line between opportunity and getting ripped off.
Intermittently over the last few months I’ve been appearing on a TV show called E Zhan Duo Bao (E站夺宝） It’s a game show with trivia and people get knocked out when they get the questions wrong. My job is to hum a Chinese song which I have never heard before, and the contestants have to guess what I’m trying (hopelessly) to hum.
e战夺宝 130121 (36mins)
The best thing about the job is that it isn’t clear whether they will need me or not, it depends entirely on whether or not they need a tiebreaker. This is actually my best paying job, despite the fact it requires the least from me in time or skill. It regularly happens that I come into the studio, study Chinese, have a coffee, talk to friends on the phone, and in the end they say (in Chinese) ‘No worries Luodan, see you next time’. I’m happy, because I’ve been paid well, and they are happy too because the filming for the day is very very close to finished once they realise they won’t need me.
This is a new show which includes a panel, half Chinese and half international. There were five internationals, I was from Australia, there was an American, a Korean, a Frenchman and a Kenyan. The hosts introduced a video about Jiangsu food, a rare collection of sculptures or an interesting building. The concept was that we would interact with eachother, share ideas and that it would be both interesting and funny. On the contrary, the Chinese mainly spoke about how amazed and impressed they were about their own culture and left very little time for the non-Chinese to speak. For me it was seven ours of filming, a lot of listening practice, and 200 renminbi. It was a good experience, but working for AU$5 per hour and feeling like you are being disrespected isn’t easy. On the plus side they really liked my contributions and want me to come back. They were also interested in my feedback and may or may not have taken it on board.
While our nationalities were supposed to be forgrounded, the hosts didn’t know which countries we were from, and when they addressed individuals it was like “Oh, what do foreigners think? In foreign countries do you have this?’ It was up to us to keep repeating that where we were from so that Chinese can make distinctions between waiguo (‘foreign’) countries, rather than amalgamating all of them under the one umbrella. For example, I was asked ‘In waiguo is it expensive to buy a house’. I responded that in Australia it is expensive for young people to buy houses, but that in other countries it might be easy. The hosts also refered to us as ‘laowai’ which is a slang expression meaning foreigner which is perceived as racist by many people (see what Dashan says here), but even if you don’t mind the word in casual conversations, for presenters to use it on a TV show about cultural interaction and sensitivity is an extremely poor effort.
Like most attempts that China makes to interact with the world outside it, the premise of the show is that ‘foriegners’ simultaneously have no knowledge of China and its culture, and are also utterly impressed, and were generally unable to make any more insight than ‘China and the rest of the world are different’. They kept asking us to react more to the videos to show more interest. But very little was interesting.