On the way back from that class, I had an interesting taxi driver. We were doing the typical cab chat (where I’m from, how long I’ve been here, etc.), when he asked what I thought of China. I said I thought it was great, and that it’s much more developed than most Americans realize. He liked hearing this kind of talk about China, and I added, “just think where China would be today if not for the Cultural Revolution.” After that he got kind of quiet, and I wondered if I had said something wrong. I didn’t worry about it too much, though. I was pretty tired, and if I had hurt his feelings somehow and killed the conversation, so be it.
Well, that little silence was the calm before the storm. He wasn’t mad or upset, he just had a lot to say on the subject after collecting his thoughts. And I do mean a lot. He started by saying that it was wrong to think that the Cultural Revolution was a complete mistake, and that a lot of good came out of it. He also said that a lot of older people nowadays think of that time as one of China’s greatest times. I tried to point out that Chinese education suffered huge setbacks because of the Cultural Revolution, but by that time he had already launched into Mao’s great accomplishments and how he’s still considered the greatest man in Chinese history by most Chinese, etc. etc. It really was interesting to hear his point of view, and he’s been one of the more vocal but friendly advocants of that school of thought that I’ve talked with. The problem was that I really was quite tired, and his Mandarin was so bad that it took full concentration to understand it. So the experiential acquisition of an interesting perspective was reduced to me just nodding and now and then, mumbling “uh-huh,” looking out the window in a daze….
I’ve now got 14 hours of class per week at ZUCC, but that’s going to increase after the holiday next week. The school decided that the 14 hours the foreign languages department had decided to give us was not enough; we should be teaching the full amount that is specified in the contract (16), since there are still more students that “want to study” spoken English. Hmf. And I teach 3 hours Thursday nights now for my friend Tim at his school, now called The English Department.
This past Thursday night teaching was a lot of fun. All the classes at Tim’s school are very small, and my classes there have only had 3-4 people so far. The students are all young adults and speak good English. Last class, we covered a number of topics, and the subject of “superstition” came up a few times. One of the students informed me that the Chinese custom of wearing red every day on your ben ming nian (the anniversary of your Chinese zodiac birth year, which occurs once every 12 years), as well as the custom of planning weddings and other official events according to what are regarded as “lucky days” and “unlucky days” are both traditions, not superstitions. (“Superstitions” such as “religions” are officially frowned upon by the Chinese Communist Party, and yet so many practices somehow slip through the cracks….) Nice save. I don’t buy it. Chinese try to be slick like that.
On Saturday I had the best tan of my life. For a very short time. And only on my face.
Yes, it finally happened… I tried my hand at modeling. Many foreigners that stay in China are approached by agents at one time or another. I have been approached 3 or 4 times in the two years I’ve been living in Hangzhou, and they always seem very enthusiastic and promise great pay, but then they never call me for a job. It’s annoying and it wastes my time. The one time I really had an opportunity for a job, it was to be an underwear model for the pics on the packages. Thanks, but uhhh… no.
So recently the guy who wanted me to do the underwear shoot called me again and said he had a non-underwear job for me. Same pay as before — one day (8 hours) of shooting, 2000rmb (US$250). Not bad for a day’s “work.” And the clothes were just men’s casual wear. No underwear, nothing skimpy. In fact, a lot of them were coats. So I said OK, all the while half expecting it never to actually happen.
But it did happen. Both the time involved and the pay was exactly as agreed upon. So let me get to the interesting tidbits.
First, they didn’t call me until like 10pm the night before with all the details! This kind of made me nervous. Then when they called, they wanted me to bring a pair of jeans, a dark-colored turtleneck, a pair of dark-colored slacks, and a pair of black leather shoes. Hey, I thought they were supposed to supply the clothes! They also wanted me to meet them downtown at 7:20am! (groan…) I didn’t have black leather shoes, so I just took my dark brown Skechers. They’re almost nice-looking, and they’re leather at least. I ended up wearing my turtleneck for almost half of the shots!
Speaking of which, the supposed fashion sense of these people in charge of the shoot was very questionable. I mean, I’m no fashion guy. I don’t read GQ and I don’t wear Structure. I like to keep the complexity of my clothing coordination down to jeans and a T-shirt, if possible. And yet, I sensed something was very wrong with some of the outfits I was putting on. Colors and style just not matching. Nothing glaringly clashing, but just because all the colors are dark doesn’t mean they necessarily go, right? And they almost had me wearing a Hawaiin-type summer shirt with a heavy jacket over it. Weird.
A lot of the clothes didn’t even fit me. Some of the jackets would have been way too tight across my chest if I had zipped them up, and the sleeves were too short on quite a few. They shot them anyway. The jacket with the shortest sleeves was pretty much unusable because it was so obvious that it was too small for me, but then I hit on a good idea. If I hiked up one sleeve high enough, I could pull down the sleeve on the other side, and then just pose so as to hide the hiked up sleeve. It worked. They shot it.
So the actual modeling was kind of annoying, but not too bad. The time actually went by pretty fast. I just got really tired of untying and retying my shoes. I learned a lot of new Chinese verbs that I would otherwise have no need for: tilt your head back, swivel your shoulders, spread out your fingers, etc.
In the very beginning, they weren’t real happy with my expression. They kept telling me to relax. I was relaxed! I realized that the problem was that when my face relaxes, I look a little pissed off. So I figured out that “relaxed” requires a hint of a smile. They also liked to shoot me with my mouth agape, for some reason. I was hesitant to do it at first, since I used to be always told to keep my mouth shut when I wasn’t using it. Memories of my grandmother asking me, “whatcha doin’, catching flies?” came back to me. But after a little while I got a feel for what they liked, figured out how to do the “intense model gaze” (or my version at least)…
The place wasn’t overrun with hot model babes, in case you’re wondering. It was just me all morning, and then a girl from the Ukraine came in from Shanghai for the afternoon. When I started talking to her, I soon realized her Chinese was better than her English. That was kind of interesting.
The photo studio was located in an unlikely run-down-looking residential area, on the third floor of a warehouse-type building. It looked plenty professional (though small-scale) on the inside, though. You’d never guess.
So I’m looking forward to a good laugh when the catalog comes out. My family is gonna love it. Wilson tells me I should put a copy on my coffee table, so when I have guests over I can pick it up and say, “Let’s take a look at this catalog… Oh wait, that’s me in all these pics, what do you know!” Hehehe…
Definitely an interesting experience. And financially rewarding as well. Good thing they never figured out that I am no model…
The other day I had to catch a taxi into town, and pulling off of ZhouShan Dong Road traffic was somewhat congested. As we were slowed to a crawl, the driver frantically looking for a hole in traffic he could dart through, my gaze fell on two women on a bike. One was pedalling, the other was sitting on the rack in back, facing the road. I couldn’t hear her, but when she saw me I could easily read the words her lips spoke to her friend: “There’s a laowai over there.” A foreigner.
Of course, this kind of incident is a daily occurrence. I caught her eyes and raised my eyebrows, communicating, “Yes, I am a laowai, and I understood what you just said.” She blushed, covered her mouth, and tucked her head behind her friend, no doubt recounting this shocking development. I’m getting better at that look.
To live in China is to be constantly reminded that you are a foreigner, that you are different, and that you don’t really belong here. When I say we foreigners don’t “belong” here, I’m not saying we’re unwelcome. Sometimes we are very welcome. It’s just that we don’t belong.
This idea is communicated in many different ways. One way is that it’s difficult to have conversations with new people that aren’t centered on where I’m from, why I’m here, how long I’ve been here, how much I make, if I’m used to Chinese food, etc. If you’re a foreigner, that’s simply what everyone wants to talk to you about. Every now and then I’ll meet someone new and have an entirely normal conversation that is completely unconnected to the fact that I’m a foreigner. When that happens, it’s so refreshing, and I just feel so grateful for being treated not just as a foreigner, but just as a person. And it’s absurd that I should have those feelings. I guess you could say I’m finally understanding what it’s like to be a minority, and that minorities in the USA have similar experiences, but I still think it’s different.
Of course, the other way the idea is communicated is a little more bluntly. The stares. People yelling, “Hello!” and then laughing if you turn to look. People feeling the need to alert everyone in the vicinity that a laowai has entered the scene. People talking about you right next to you on the bus, assuming you understand nothing.
This is all part of life in China, and it must be accepted. But what’s really hard to accept is the fact that China will continue on like this, no matter how good my Chinese gets. I don’t know, I guess it’s stupid, but I know that one day I’m going to be speaking more than good Chinese–I’m going to be speaking kickass Chinese–and that in return for that accomplishment I should get treated normally. That if enough time passes, Chinese people should get used to me. It’s absurd, but somewhere in the back of my mind, there’s a part of me that’s looking forward to that day. And that day is simply never going to come.
Asiafirst‘s recent post on City Weekend reminded me of an interesting topic… diarrhea.
Now, since you’re most likely of the Western tradition, you probably squirmed a little when you saw that word. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. In Asia, they treat diarrhea like a cold — a temporary, uncomfortable condition. Meanwhile, in the United States it’s an unmentionable dark secret. No one wants to hear about your diarrhea, as if just the word in itself is some kind of plot to make us visualize something disgusting.
It took me some time in Japan and China, when I was in a position requiring someone else’s help, to be able to just tell people, “yo, I’ve got diarrhea, help me out here.” In the U.S. we’d be much less direct about that kind of thing. As your hints about your condition zero in on the unspeakable, the listener gets your drift and tactfully pledges assistance and then immediately changes the topic. On the other hand, if you mention it to your Chinese friend while you’re at the store, he just replies matter-of-factly, “Oh, you’ve got diarrhea??” and then, loudly, to the clerk across the store, “hey, my foreign friend here has diarrhea! Where’ s the medicine for that?” You get the picture.
Just one of those little differences…
Oh, and as long as I’m on this taboo topic, a word to the wise: if you come to China, bring some immodium.
Ah, love of linguistics… both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that it’s just fascinating, and I’ve somehow been let in on that little secret. It’s a curse because the fact that it’s interesting is either withheld from or is being actively denied by the rest of the world. It’s really shocking to me how linguistics bores most people to tears.
So I picked up a few books on linguistics at the friendly neighborhood foreign bookstore. Evidently Oxford University Press and the Cambridge Books for Language Teachers series have deals with Chinese publishers. The result is that quality educational material cames to China unaltered (?) except that a Chinese title is slapped onto the cover and a Chinese introduction is inserted. The best part, of course, is that the prices are also Chinese, and they are very good. Check these out: Pragmatics by George Yule (8.80rmb; roughly US$1), Psycholinguistics by Thomas Scovel (8.80rmb), Second Language Acquisition by Rod Ellis (9.20rmb), Psychology for Language Teachers by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden (23.90rmb, roughly US$3), and — the best buy in terms of immediate application — Lessons from Nothing by Bruce Marsland (8.90rmb). That last one is a great buy for any TEFL teacher.
I also picked up Hong Lou Meng (“Dream of Red Chambers”), Chinese edition. Anyone familiar with this Chinese classic should be thinking I’m crazy right about now, as it’s volumes and volumes long. However, I cleverly side-stepped the length issue by picking up the children’s verison. It’s a good level; it’s almost 300 pages long and it doesn’t have the pinyin for all the characters like really low-level children’s books, but it has parenthetical pinyin for the really tough characters. (That will save me a lot of time looking up characters by radical!) The rest of the characters are not too hard. I can read this thing!
Finally, I got a book called “100 Chinese Two-Part Allegorical Sayings.” I suppose there’s no really good translation for “xiehouyu,” but nevertheless, I hope the guy that came up with “Two-Part Allegorical Sayings” is not too proud of himself. The idea is that you deliver the first line, which seems kind of strange, but then you deliver the second line, and the meaning of the first line becomes clear. They’re usually pretty clever or funny, and sometimes involve puns. I first heard about these a while ago from my friend Andrew, but this is my first time actually studying them. Here are a few of the interesting ones:
> Putting make-up on before entering the coffin — saving face even when dying.
> Boiling dumplings in a teapot — no way to get them out.
> Killing a mosquito with a cannon — making a mountain out of a molehill.
In the past week or so I’ve found myself drawn into a community of China bloggers (or “chloggers,” as Frank Yu of BrandRecon.com puts it). It’s sort of a strange community, “communication” often taking place in the form of blog posts or in e-mails that other members of the community are not aware of. Anyway, this community is becoming self-aware and interlinked. It was kind of cool that as soon as I put up my China Blog page, I started getting e-mails almost immediately, and my site started appearing immediately in other China blogs where it never had before. An attempt at selfless promotion of “the cause” turned out to be self-serving after all.
It’s great to see all the outsider viewpoints on China coming from within China. It’s also quite humbling to see the great logs other people are producing. You’ve got logs embroiled in politics, economics, and world affairs (China weblog and micah sittig, for example), logs chock full of great social insights (Black Man in China seems to be a community favorite), and even one in my own backyard (Hangzhou T-Salon)…. Makes me wonder why people would take the time to read mine! Apparently a few are, though. I never bothered with a counter for this site because that’s kinda beside the point. However, I’ve noted from my webhost’s stats that the visits are going up. I’ll be happy if just my friends and family are regularly checking to see what’s going on with me, but sometimes I wonder… [hint, hint, guys! The clock is now ticking. Let’s see how long it takes you to react to that statement.]
OK, school-related news…
So on Tuesday I finally got my schedule for this coming semester. A whopping six days in advance. It’s just the way things get done around here. Anyway, they decided not to let me teach my former English major students. I worked pretty hard at learning all 120 of their names, too! I’m only teaching 3 classes of English majors this semester, and they’re the new freshmen. Plus 2 classes of International Business majors, and 2 of Tourism Management majors. But it’s all the same class: “Spoken English.” “American Society and Culture” has been handed off to someone else this semester.
The bad news is that the international business major classes and the tourism management classes all have 45 or 47 students each! That is insane! The 30 I’ve been having is really pushing it, but 45 is just impossible. So I told them I’m splitting the class into two, and the students will each get one hour per week instead of two. I told them it was that or nothing. They OK’d it. It means I only have to plan one hour of lessons per week for those students, but it means doubling the repitition factor of the lesson. That’ll get monotonous.
The other bad news is that I have over 270 new students to teach. That’s over 270 new names to learn. I’m done for…
The good news is that I got Mondays off. And it’s still just 14 hours per week, leaving plenty of time for other projects. Very cool…
It’s interesting, that being in China instead of the USA, I feel much safer. Walking the streets at night is not scary at all. And, of course, I’m removed from the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks on American soil. And yet, in the USA, I don’t get e-mails like this one, from the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai:
> There is a continuing threat of terrorist actions, which may target civilians and include suicide operations. This worldwide caution expires on October 31, 2002. The u.s. government has continued to receive credible indications that extremist groups and individuals are planning additional terrorist actions against u.s. interests. Such actions may be imminent and include suicide operations. We remind American citizens to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution. Terrorist groups do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. Attacks on places of worship and schools, and the murder of American citizens demonstrate that as security is increased at official u.s. facilities, terrorists and their sympathizers will seek softer targets. These may include facilities where Americans are generally known to congregate or visit, such as clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools or outdoor recreation events. Americans should increase their security awareness when they are at such locations, avoid them, or switch to other locations where Americans in large numbers generally do not congregate.
> American citizens may be targeted for kidnapping or assassination. U.S. government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or suspend public services from time to time to review their security posture and ensure its adequacy. In those instances, u.s. embassies and consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to American citizens.
Well, it’s now September 11th here in China. Pray for peace. Worldwide.
In other news, more and more teachers are showing up for the new semester. I met Nicola from Australia today. She’s about my age. Then there’s the Smith family across the hall from me (John and Cathy, plus sons Johnny, Nick, and Drew). They’re originally from Michigan. Next to them is a Chinese American couple. I haven’t met them yet. Saturday Josh and Caroline showed up from the USA, but then promptly left. Apparently they were misled as to what they should expect, and it seems their “old China hand” cousin advised them against working here. It’s really a shame; it would have been great to have them, and regardless of what their cousin thought, this is really a decent school.
In case you haven’t heard, China has blocked access to Google. Google, the search engine for the net. Not that I like it or agree with it, but it’s one thing for a government to block specific sites it considers dangerous. It’s another thing to block a frickin’ search engine!!! OK, I’ll try not to rant.
So this has taught me how much I use Google. Lately I’ve been using google.yahoo.com instead. It’s not quite as good, but it works. I recently searched my own site and came up with a new link to my site. This is actually an interesting site for those who care about what goes on in China: BrandRecon.com. There are links on there to news articles about the search engine blocking that’s going on here.
I went for a haircut today and finally got the last of the bleach blonde out of my hair. It’s nice to have a barber shop where they know me and know how I want my hair cut without me having to tell them, since it’s kind of hard for me to explain a hairstyle in Chinese still.
Two noteworthy things happened in the barber shop. First, one of the boys that works there wanted me to tell him how to say “I want to make love to you” in English. It was pretty funny. The girl shampooing my hair told me not to tell him, but I didn’t see any harm in it, so I told him. Then I could hear him practicing it in the background for the rest of the time I was getting my hair washed and my shoulders massaged.
Then, while I was getting my hair cut, the barber asked me if we had xishuai in the USA. I didn’t know that word, but based on the context I figured it was some kind of barber shop appliance thingy. Figuring Chinese barber shops don’t really have any unusual appliances that we wouldn’t have in the States, I answered yes. But then he seemed really surprised, and made me doubt whether I had guessed correctly. Finally he told one of the employees to bring one out so I could see. Someone brought out an earthenware pot about a handspan across with the lid on. They put the pot under my nose and slowly removed the lid. What was inside was… a cricket!
Apparently, not only do some Chinese people keep crickets as pets, but they actually fight them, and bet on the fights! I was really surprised to learn this, so I asked some more about it. He said guys will sometimes bet 10-20,000 RMB (US$1250-2500)!!! On a cricket. Insane.
I used the excuse of my time at home this summer being sort of a sidebar from the theme of this weblog, life in China, so I think I’m going to make the story of my three weeks in Japan sort of a sidebar too, and put it on a separate page. That page will also include links to photo albums, so check it out…
For those interested: classes here at ZUCC start Monday, September 16th. Still plenty of time to relax and prepare…
No, the journal is not dead. I know, I took a long break. But basically, nothing very related to life in China happened while I was home in the USA for the month of July. (I did seem to gain about 10 pounds in that month, though.) And then I was in Japan August 2nd – 24th. So I just got back a few days ago, and I’m slowly reorganizing. I have time; classes don’t start until the 16th of September. So far I haven’t really added much about my former life in Japan, but I’m going to put some of that stuff online, and the story of my hectic three weeks in Japan this month is coming very soon… Stay tuned!
I just had an old friend come visit me for the weekend. He flew in from out of town just to hang out before I left for Asia again. It’s stuff like that which reminds me that my friends value my friendship as I do theirs, and it just feels damn good to get that unambiguous reminder occasionally. Here’s a pic.
> I saw my guard friend Xu on the way home from dinner with Qijue, and he invited me to the guardhouse again to hang out. I told him I’d be by later because I was waiting on a call from a friend. It felt really good, though, to know that they liked talking to me. It’s kind of hard to believe, considering that at this point my communication ability is quite limited. Xu is a really good guy, though. When the others are trying to tell me something that I’m not getting, he takes it upon himself to put it into simpler Chinese that I can understand, and say it slowly and clearly for me. Xiong (the first guard I met) is a nice guy too, but not as patient, and his accent is stronger* than Xu’s. Xiong also has the annoying habit of getting louder to “help me understand” (or so he thinks), but I think I’m weaning him of that. Xu just has a gift for phrasing Chinese in ways I can understand.
> Anyway, today we talked about a bunch of stuff, including American movie stars. Xiong kept naming movie stars (and some sports stars too) and asking me if I liked them: Schwartzeneggar, Madonna, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie. The problem was he knew them by their Chinese transliterations, which are often pretty far off from the real English. Some of them took me a few minutes and some extra explanation. Mike Tyson was easier, plus the whole ear-biting stunt makes him easy to pantomime. Madonna, though, threw me for a loop. The Chinese pronunciation of “Madonna” is very similar to the pronunciation of “McDonald’s”. I couldn’t figure out why he was talking about McDonalds in the middle of a conversation about Madonna… I got it eventually, though.
> I know I’m going to learn a lot in that guardhouse. They told me to come back tomorrow. I will.
> *Neither Xu nor Xiong are from Hangzhou, and their hometown dialect influences their pronunciation of standard Mandarin. Even people born in Hangzhou (the city) don’t pronounce Mandarin quite the same way as Beijingers. They have a Zhejiang accent. Both Xu and Xiong pronounce the “h” as “f”, which is distracting, and Xiong also pronounces “sh” like “s” (typical of the Zhejiang accent), which can be very confusing.
> I am getting eaten alive by mosquitoes here in my own apartment! It’s ironic — I felt like I had just reached a point in the last few years in the USA where mosquitoes didn’t bother me much anymore. Now I’m in China, and I guess I’m some kind of foreign delicacy. They love me! Hopefully it won’t be a year-round problem… The worst part is that they’re really smart! I’m sitting at a table now, and the only place they bite me is on my legs and feet (mostly feet), so I can’t see them, let alone kill them. Then they bite me above the waist when I’m asleep! AAAUUUGHHH!!! I’m trying to use mosquito coils (which supposedly work really well), but with no A/C, I have to use a fan all the time, and I think that kind of reduces the effectiveness of the smoke from the coils. Grrr…
> Bus rides here are really something. Sort of a surreal experience. You know how when you’re playing a video game, or watching a crazy car chase scene in a movie, and there are always certain points at which someone — a man walking, a car, a woman with a baby on a bike — pops out in front of your vehicle, just to keep it exciting? That’s what it feels like! It’s like this bus is part of a well choreographed scheme to give all the passengers a thrillride. The bus slows down only enough to miss other cars, cyclists, and pedestrians by scant inches. I hate to think what would happen if those on the street stopped behaving exactly as the others on the street expect them to. I couldn’t believe it when a man pedaled right across the path of our bus on his bike, with a baby on back, and our bus missed his back tire by a hair. Even some of the Chinese passengers were gasping. The man and baby didn’t seemed fazed.
> Taxi rides aren’t much different from bus rides, except that taxis stop a lot faster than buses and they’re a lot more maneuverable, so the same feeling of helplessness regarding impending accidents isn’t there. One time I actually got a ride with a driver who was actually CAREFUL, and it ended up being a pretty funny experience. She just seemed so out of place, braking instead of swerving, and actually yielding to the traffic that was bearing down on her from the sides.
I haven’t been posting since I’ve been home. This journal is about China, after all. I’ve been home for 2 weeks, now, though, and I’ve found I have something to say.
It’s been 2 years since I’ve graduated, and coming home is strange now. It’s always nice to see family and friends, no doubt about that. And it’s so nice that my family is always here; I can always come home to them. I almost feel a little selfish that they can feel no such reassurance about me, with my faroff lifestyle.
What’s strange is not family, though, it’s friends. Few of my friends are here in the Tampa area. Alex is still here, for now. Dan is off in Gainesville. Illy is still in Gainesville too, but probably not for long. Hathai is in Georgia. Ari is back in Ft. Lauderdale. Dave and Christina are in New York City. Colin is in Mississippi for training. Paco is… who knows where! You get the picture. My friends here are just so scattered.
I’m set to go to Japan in August to see old friends there. The thing is, my friends there are pretty scattered too! I’ll see some in the Tokyo area, some in Kyoto, some in Osaka, some in Hiroshima, some in Fukuoka…
So I’ve come to realize that the place where I have the greatest concentration of friends is… Hangzhou! Most of them are Chinese, but some of the most important aren’t.
It’s just weird to have one’s friends scattered to the winds and then spring up behind different faces on the other side of the globe…
All right, Wilson has put the Yangshuo pics online. Do take a look; there are some good ones! Unfortunately, none from the mud pit, but oh well…