Dezhou 2

Paji looooi!” the vendors cried as I stepped from the train. Hazy memories from almost a year ago quickly came back into focus. I was in Dezhou again.

My company had sent me for the second time to the mid-sized Shandong city for a day of teacher training. It’s a 14 hour train ride to Dezhou, and the train leaves Shanghai at 8pm, which puts arrival at 10am. The only problem was the training was scheduled to begin at 8am. The solution? I arrived a whole day early. I originally thought I’d be either taken sightseeing or allowed time to myself to study. That was really overly optimistic of me.

I was given a soft sleeper ticket, which meant a nicer bed and a more private sleeping chamber. Unfortunately I wound up with three men who snored like banshees. (“Banshee” may seem like a strange choice of words, but you really should have heard them. One seemed to have some weird lung condition, and another was really more moaning than snoring. It was very creepy.) Still, I managed to pass 13 of the 14 hours prone in my bunk, never coming down once. Time passes by much faster when you’re as good at sleeping as I am.

The afternoon of the first day was spent making last-minute trips to random kindergartens. It scored our agent gratitude from the schools, as most of the children had never seen a real live foreigner before. My task? “Teach them something.” “Play with them.” It didn’t really matter what I did anyway. My victory was ensured by my mere presence. Still, we had a good time, and I daresay the kids may have learned something from me.

I think the hardest part about company trips is the dinners. Almost every night it’s another big formal event at a fancy-schmancy restaurant with multiple guests of honor. Of course, I have to talk to these people, tell them “no, my Chinese is really quite terrible,” how long I’ve been in China, that I like Chinese food, and what the difference is between China and the USA. I’m supposed to flatter them shamelessly, but I never do that. I just play my foreigner card (read: different culture, incomplete mastery of the language) and try not to gag as everyone fawns all over each other.

And then there’s the liquor. There are always many, many toasts. You can’t start eating until the first toast has been made, and the last toast signals the end of the meal. If I’m lucky the alcohol is beer or red wine, but every now and then I’m forced to drink the vile baijiu. Shandong is one place where the people are especially insistent about the baijiu imbibing.

The first night I managed to talk my way out of baijiu (they get more forgiving when you’re willing to down a cup of beer for every sip of baijiu they take), but I thought I was going to lose it when one guy brought up the issue of Japan. He was obviously looking for a “yeah, we hate those Japanese bastards!” out of everyone, but before he could get it, one of my co-workers helpfully offered, “hey, you know John speaks Japanese. He even studied there for a year.” Then all eyes were on me. Great.

“You studied in Japan?” he asked me.


“So, what do you think of the Japanese? No, wait… What do you think of Japan as compared to China?”

“Well, do you mean the countries or the people?”

“The people.”

I hesitated slightly. “They’re both good.”

He leaned forward, intense. “They’re both good?


He looked around incredulously at his audience. They all seemed ready to change the topic. Before giving up on his hatefest, though, he just had to make a comment about how he was teaching his nephew to hate the Japanese because they’re an evil race.

That night I went to bed fairly early. One of the last things I noticed before going to bed was the sticker on the telephone: Please remember to inform your family of your safe arrival! Cute. What a nice hotel.

I was awakened briefly at midnight when they called to ask if I needed a girl to service me.

The next morning found me at the hotel’s free breakfast buffet. I’ve never had much appetite for breakfast in general, and never been a fan of Chinese breakfast in particular. I typically just have an egg or something. I’m glad I did a full tour of the dishes offered, however. Whoever translated the Chinese dishes’ names into English decided to chuck tradition out the window and make the dishes’ names into complete sentences. I discovered “It is hot to fry the white flower” (À±³´°×²Ë) and “The green pepper fries the meat” (Çཷ³´Èâ).

Training went fine. I was surprised that Mr. Japanese-hater showed up. He wasn’t a teacher, but he had been invited the night before (merely out of politeness, I thought), and he actually showed.

That evening I was taken to a middle school as a favor for one of the agents who taught there. Although they had been studying English for three years already, none of those kids had ever spoken to a foreigner.

First on the agenda were two short English plays put on by the students. The girls did one about shopping that didn’t seem to have any intelligible plot. The boys, however, decided to do a version of “Stone Soup.” Their take? It took place in post-war Vietnam with a stranded American soldier the guy who made the stone soup. Yeah… I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean either.

After fielding the usual questions, I was expected to play some sort of game with them. I was amazed and delighted that the kids had never played hangman. I had to explain the game to them, but then they got really into it. Their first guy got hanged, but the second one survived. My two phrases? The East is Red and The truth will set you free. I’m rather sure my choices were entirely lost on them.

That night in my hotel room when I went through the hotel’s informational brochure I discovered an interesting special service. “Please dial 50118 and ask the front desk for help you to avoid disturbing the telephone. Have a good time!

A quick scan of the Chinese revealed what this message meant: “Please dial 50118 and tell the front desk if you do not want to be disturbed by phone calls.

In plain English, they meant: “Please dial 50118 and tell the front desk if you won’t be needing us to solicit you for sex by phone.” There’s never any direct mention of such hotel services.

I noticed a new, smaller sticker on the telephone as I went to bed that night. It was a telephone number for “health entertainment” (¿µÓé). I guess that’s about as overt as they’re willing to be.

I wasn’t able to leave until the next evening because an extra morning of training had been tacked on to the first day’s. I was promised the afternoon off, though.

At noon I had to schmooze with more “important people” over lunch. Apparently this one guy was super important. I was told flat-out that I should kiss up to him. I managed a “I think you look like a Chinese Tom Cruise” (he actually kinda did). Everyone loved that one. Mr. Important liked me so much that he talked the agents into letting him borrow me for several hours. That’s how I wound up at another school that afternoon for more unprepared “Teach them something” and “Play with them.”

Before getting on the train I had one last dinner in Dezhou. Mr. Japanese-hater insisted on treating me, the agents, and the Chinese trainer to a meal.

He didn’t beat around the bush much. He brought up Japan almost right away. I cut him off to tell him, “Look, I don’t like the Japanese government either. But I don’t believe any race of people is ‘bad.'” He smiled, nodded, and said no more. He was able to meet me halfway on that. So then the beers started rolling in. Big bottles of cold Yanjing. If I hadn’t been pressed for time, I’m sure I would have gotten pretty wasted.

Something weird happened that meal. I actually started to like the guy. He was an interesting character for sure, but what really struck me had nothing to do with politics or prejudices. He was sincere. He was quite possibly the only part of my trip that was 100% real.

Mr. Japanese-hater insisted on seeing me off to the train station along with the agents. I kind of wished I had more time to understand the guy a little better. As I stepped on the train, the last thing I heard out of Dezhou was “Paji looooi!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. John, I loved your description of your trip. I think one of the reasons I like it so much is because I can actually hear the way you would say some of the things you write.
    I’m reading this at work, so I had some trouble not laughing out loud at some parts 🙂

  2. Da Xiangchang Says: April 22, 2005 at 6:38 am

    I’m fascinated by the level of “hatred” the Chinese have against the Japanese. I don’t hate the Japanese at all; I admire them. And I have every reason to hate the Japanese since my mom’s family is from Nanjing, and a lot of her family (MY family) was wiped out in the massacre. But come on, that was 70 years ago. Of course, it’s not cool that some Japanese don’t acknowledge WWII atrocities, but most people haven’t either.

    I suspect the reason behind the protests isn’t hatred but rather jealousy. The Chinese hate the Japanese for being more infinitely more successful than they are. Additionally, the Chinese feel impotent within their own country; they can’t protest against their own government so might as well protest against the Japanese (or the Americans in 1999 when NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade). In this instance, I have nothing but greatest contempt for these protesters. They protest against someone who can’t do anything to them. If they were really brave, they would protesting against you know who. These Chinese protesters are cowards and should be ashamed of themselves.

  3. I really like your descriptions of that Mr. Japanese-hater. I believe he’s a typical Japanese-hater — to hate without a good reason.

    As an ethic Chinese, I don’t hate Japanese at all. I just hope that they will come to admit that something terrible had indeed happened.

  4. Anonymous Says: April 22, 2005 at 7:15 am

    Whatever it is that motivates these protestors to take to the streets, I don’t think it’s likely to be jealousy. Heck, they’re complete nationalists who think that China is going to overtake Japan anyway, and they’re kind of right. It’s the people who recognize the better aspects of Japan who admire it and don’t take part in this insanity. Some protestors genuinely hate Japan, and others just wanted to join the fun.

  5. schtickyrice Says: April 22, 2005 at 8:53 am

    So did you actually have some of that famous Dezhou paji?

  6. Da Xiangchang Says: April 22, 2005 at 10:09 am

    Well, I’m not sure if it’s pure jealousy that triggered the protests, but it’s definitely part of it. After all, you always are more pissed off at people more successful than you. That’s why there were millions of people in the streets protesting America’s “atrocities” in Iraq, and almost nobody protesting, say, Saddam Hussein’s.

    I mean, let’s get real. Why are the Chinese so pissed off? A stupid textbook that downplays WWII atrocities?! Annoying, yes, but get real. I’ve heard countless stories of today’s Germans praising Hitler, but you don’t see Israelis getting all worked up.

    Japan wanting to be a Security-Council permanent member? Dude, I have no problem with that. The Security Council is seriously antiquated already–what the hell did France do to earn its seat?!! I’m all for adding Japan, Germany, India, and Brazil. It’s just the Chinese public feeling bored and powerless so they’re “protesting.” Protesting here, of course, means throwing paint at Japanese embassies, consulates, and stores–where Chinese people work and get paid. It’s stupidity on a grand level! I hate the mob, and I hate them for giving the Chinese a bad name.

  7. I found it humorous how you actually experienced the whole “midnight hotel phone call ‘solicitation'” which the Outrageous Chinese book referrences. I scrounged that book up from my statewide Ohio library network just because of your review of it. My girlfriend (from Dalian) has actually learned new words and concepts from that gem. Thanks, John! 😉

  8. I enjoyed this post very much.

    By the way–whatever they’re paying you, it’s not enough.

  9. I got roped into an anti-Japanese discussion last week with some Tsinghua law students. One guy had a scorching hatred of Japan and is looking forward to the day China finally starts dropping bombs. But when I asked why he didn’t take part in the protests downtown he said that they were engineered by the government – to give them an outlet for those indignant and bitter feelings, but direct them at an easy (and politically safe) outlet. Let them get it out of their system protesting against Japan rather than government corruption, unpaid wages, etc. Good point. As for him personally, I think he didn’t want the purity of his hatred to be tainted by any political manipulation.

  10. Chinese may be jealous of lots of things and lots of peoples, but Not Japanese! nonono. the protests r definitely nothing to do with the jealousy.

    John, this is a very good post.

  11. Da Xiangchang: I posted the previous comment (forgot the name, sorry).

    Individual Germans may praise Hitler, and there’s nothing people can do about it–there are oddballs in every society. But if there are people who are trying to preach that the Holocaust never existed in Germany, the government actually punishes them. It’s against the law to deny the Holocaust in Germany. On the other hand, Japanese “intellectuals” may deny that the Nanjing Massacre never existed and face impunity. If the German government allows a textbook to be published that whitewashes the Holocaust, then, yes, I’d expect Jews to be outraged. Numerous comparisons show that Germany faced up to its WWII past much better than Japan. For example, Germany commemorates the Holocaust every year and pays its respects to only the victims. But Japanese government officials visit shrines that venerate even class-A war criminals. If the German chancellor visited a cemetary with Hitler’s name in it every year, there’d be an international outcry.

    People can protest against rich democratic countries without being jealous of them because they can demand more from them. If Sadam Hussein committes atrocities, protests aren’t going to do a hell of a lot. Would Saddam possibly feel guilty about making a lot of people unhappy? But if America, the world’s foremost advocate of democracy and human rights, committes atrocities in Iraq, it’s ironic and protests are meant to shame them away from it.

    I think that if Japan were a poorer country trying to whitewash its history, Chinese people would mock Japan even more because they have the upper hand. I think that what you perceive as “jealousy” actually holds more people back from Japan-bashing. Some Chinese people actually feel that they have no right to criticize Japan when it’s got China beat in so many areas. There’s a surge in anti-Japanese sentiment because Chinese people are getting pretty confident about themselves lately and deride Japan because they feel superior to the Japanese. The people who have so much spare time on their hands that they’d go around throwing eggs and rocks at Japanese property probably aren’t too bad off. It’ll be a dark day for Japan when China becomes a superpower.

    It’s not news if China distorts history; you can’t expect much out of a communist dictatorship. But Japan is a democracy, and when a democracy allows these injustices to occur, it just signifies the intentions of the people. And Japan as a nation is trying to make itself feel less shameful about its history, which I profusely object to. For being so insensitive to its neighbours’ feelings and recklessly damaging relations for no good cause, it’s definitely Japan’s fault. Would it hurt them much by appearing a little more apologetic and less arrogant? It certainly would mend a lot of fences, yet Japan refuses to do it. Japan should eventually get a seat on the UN security council because it’s too important to be left out, but there’s nothing wrong with demanding it to behave more like a responsible democracy first.

    I don’t agree with the violent protests inspired by irrational anger at all. You’re right that it just makes Chinese people look bad in the world, and I’m Chinese too. Funny that Chinese people living in China hardly realize it.

  12. Love this post! Especially the hotel phone “health entertainment” stickers…it’s a great slice of life narrative.

  13. I would prefer just about anything to chinese-produced red wine. No wonder some people mix it with lemonade — lemonade is less sweet.

  14. I unwillingly got into similar discussions when other people found out that I was 1) an American who 2) taught in Taiwan.

    When I visited this one former classmate in Shaoshan, Hunan, we out to dinner with her boss and colleagues. Before I could say anything, she said, “This is Wayne, one of my classmates from Nanjing. You know, he’s a teacher in Taiwan?”

    Well, fuck me. The first thing out of this guy’s mouth was, “Do you believe that there’s only one China and that Taiwan is an inseperable part of Taiwan” and it went downhill from there. Of course, the whole time I’m just nodding my head and agreeing with whatever he said, whether it’s about how much George Bush loves to go to war or when he favorably compared Osama bin Laden with Mao Zedong. “Yeah, yeah. But how about that NBA? I wonder if the Rockets have a chance this year.”

  15. Da Xiangchang Says: April 23, 2005 at 1:31 am

    Well, I’ve never talked to a Japanese person about WWII. Maybe some do whitewash it–but how many? What percentage of the Japanese population would deny the Nanjing Massacre? I’m curious to see the percentage.

    But seriously, in a democracy, you can do whatever you want. The government shouldn’t “punish” or not “allow” its citizens to do whatever. For example, “Mein Kampf” is banned in Germany. But its banning doesn’t show German democracy’s strength but rather its weakness. If Germany was real secure about its people, it would allow them to read Hitler’s book. In a democracy, people should be allowed to do what they want, even if they behave badly. If some Japanese lawmakers deny WWII atrocities, so what? They have every right to be bastards. In the end, Chinese protests tell me A LOT more about Chinese insecurity and immaturity than deficiencies in Japanese democracy.

    Besides, I have a very hard time taking seriously anyone who protests anything foreign when he lives in a totalitarian state. I mean, protesting against the Japanese government when you live in China is like bitching about the kid who slapped you a year ago when your own dad is kicking your ass everynight. If the guy’s brave, he’ll bitch about his dad, not the kid. It’s all cowardice, plain and simple.

  16. Anonymous Says: April 23, 2005 at 3:41 am

    Very interesting post. Like reading a novel. China seems different when reading it from this post. But I know it is real. Just the “exotic” description makes it extra fun.

  17. I know it’s Sinosplice when I find Da Xiangchang up on his soapbox again.

    Nice read John, captures the Foreign teacher in China experience nicely in just one post.

  18. A very pleasant post, I do enjoy reading this type of posting. That late night call waking me up so rudely, asking if I want a massage. I think to myself, I should unplug the telephone next time, but they will probably bang on my door telling me that my telephone is out of order.

    Concerning the anti-Japanese feeling here in China, I tend to agree with Da Xiangchang; although rather than labeling it as jealousy, I would call it envy, as there is some indication that envy is hardwired into our genetic structure. Various Chinese individuals have told me, not by debate but just in conversation, that they hate “Taiwan people”, or “overseas Chinese people”, etc. I have not seen much displeasure toward Koreans and I suspect this is because the Korean government tends to act in a proper tributary fashion toward the Chinese government (as the Chinese would view it) and the others do not, acting as if they were equal (or better) than China. Why, I wonder, should it be a “dark day” for Japan when China becomes a superpower, why is it necessary for one country to bully another when it becomes powerful? Perhaps power is corrupting. I am not a “multi-culturalist”, but I can sympathise with many aspect of “multi-culturalism”, I am not “poliical correct”, but I can sympathise with the intentions of “political correctness”, and I am not a “pacifist”, but I can sympathise with “pacifism”.

  19. John,

    I have been reading the May issue of Esquire this past week, cover to cover. I finally finished last night, about two articles and the mandatory images of women in lingerie or Q&A’s about fashion. The whole reason I’m stating this, is that this is an article you read in such a mag, a compact focused and real story.

    Now, to my own opinion on your observations and experience in Dezhou, let me get this straight here:

    1) Your presense is, in essence, all that is needed to do your job
    2) You flatter host and shoot the shit, and then you receive big meals/drinks provided by host
    3) People are absolutely amazed that you can speak Chinese/Japanese and ask many questions about yourself
    4) You are the center of attention almost 100% of the time
    5) You get calls from girls asking if you’d like to be serviced while laying in your hotel bed

    Dude, it sounds like a not so distant dream. As the Chinese say, “Enjoy it!”

  20. Japan has apologised a number of times, yesterday being the most recent:,7369,1466514,00.html

    The virulent anti-Japanese sentiments as currently expressed here in China do this country’s international image no good whatsoever. Japanese students here, who are China’s best hope for future cooperation and reconciliation with Japan are becoming frightened of the host country. Western observers just view it as yet another example of irrationality.

  21. Kikko Man Says: April 23, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    Great entry. You are quite the decent story teller. Chinese fancy dinners are funny. Hating all of Japan is funny too. Yes Japan particularly f-d with China, but most of the rest of Asia that also had to deal with massacres, comfort women, and general tyranical subjigation has learned to deal with Japan’s inability to “admit to its wrongs”. Preachin to the choir will get me no where though.

  22. This was not an entry about China-Japan relations. I’m glad some people enjoyed it for what it is. 🙂

  23. Hey, I just noticed that when I hold my cursor over the Hanzi in your site, it gives me the Pinyin – how cool is that, and how the heck did you manage it?!

  24. Other Lisa,

    I’ve written a little tutorial on how to do those pinyin tooltips:

    Glad you find them useful.

  25. Da Xiangchang: Even though my interpretation is a bit different, your view that jealousy is a part of it is legitimate.
    I guess Chinese people do kind of hate overseas Chinese who do better than they do. I think it comes from anger and insecurity at being deprived of something that they think rightfully belongs to them. It’s probably a duo superiority-inferiority complex. After all, China is much bigger, they’re supposed to be the “big brother,” right? Thinking about how rich Taiwanese and Japanese are compared to them probably gets them a bit peeved. With China’s rise on the horizon, no doubt power will be a bit corrupting.

    The whole mentality is just irrational, no other way to put it.

    On the other hand, though, when I visited China my cousin and some of her school friends were studying Japanese. At least not everyone is insane. I really hope that the Japanese students in China will get some comfort from their friends. I do know that Japanese is the most popular language to learn in China next to English though, so maybe that says something.

    Chinese dinner parties are rather fun, I think. There’s so much drinking and rowdiness.

    John: Wakarimashita. I’ll stop going on about China-Japan relations. I really enjoyed this post, although I’m a relative newcomer here. Could the length of this post possibly have anything to do with the fact that your site was down for a few days, I wonder?

  26. I’ve manages to deal with most questions on the lines of “What do you think of the Japanese” by answering that I think China should ban all imports from Japan. Starting with Karaoke.

    That usually baffles them long enought to give me the chance to change the subject.

  27. John, thanks much. My Hanzi pretty much suck, which is exacerbated by my increasingly poor eyesight – if they are at all small, I really have problems.

    Looking forward to the next travelogue…

  28. Yuu,

    Not a big deal. I’m glad to see a new commenter providing thoughtful insight. Da Xiangchang is a particularly egregious (repeat) offender when it comes to derailing topics, so my comment was largely directed at him.

    The entry might have been a little longer due to recent downtime, but I was mostly just trying to get everything in. To me, all the parts feel like a cohesive whole.

  29. I like your article after reading it, I like the way you described the food and the Japanese hater. I think the Chinese are jealous of the Japanese. All what they are doing is waste of time cuz there is nothing they can do to Japan.
    For the Chinese food they just fry anything and give a name to it, they also need to improve on their food and reduce the use of sugar and salt. Anything they produce must have a good quantity of salt or sugar why? But you forgot to describe the stinking atmosphere didn’t you get it. The Chinese people need to improve on their sewage system, it is horrible.
    Chinese people like to look at foreigners allot not only looking but laughs why should they laugh when they see a foreigner isn’t that primitive and ridiculous?
    The Chinese are brain washed with lies and they all believe it. If Chinese wants to learn English they should not be prejudice cuz they feel the blacks don’t know English but I tell them they’ll never reach where the blacks are as concerns English. They should put everyone in a test before rejecting or accepting the person as a teacher. I wonder still if the level of reasoning lies in colour or mentality.

  30. [quote]Japan has apologised a number of times, yesterday being the most recent:[/quote]

    So? Everytime it apologizes, it follows up a few months later with a Koizumi visit to Yasukuni. It’s like having a man alternate between “I’m sorry” and “F*** you”. The stupid Chinese nationalists should get their act together, however. If they focus only on the actions of the current recidivist LDP government, they have a better and more internationally palatable argument. But spread it to the 2nd Sino-Japanese War and provocations by hard-liners, and they just look stupid.

    They can’t do anything about Taiwan, however; a more measured and rational stance on the ROC is anti-CCP. This would involve something like “Taiwan is a part of China, but there is no reason to change the Taiwanese government”, but the “there is no reason to change the Taiwanese government” aspect must admit the failings of the CCP, and would thus get these moderates arrested or blackballed as dissidents.

  31. Edit: When I say rational, I mean it seems to fit the facts better. It does not follow that disagreeing with me declares your irrationality.

  32. Yuu posted:
    “It’ll be a dark day for Japan when China becomes a superpower.”
    Hahahaha, I’ve lived here in China for the last 5 years and I can tell you that China will never, ever become a superpower. The idea is laughable. The next leaders of the CCP will all be buisnessmen and China will become a “factory” for the rest of the world with substandard living, working and wage conditions in order to keep costs down and profits high. This is because Chinese people do not know how to deal with money and only have 5-10 years experience in “capitalism”. They are incapable of looking long-term and are only interested in the “quick-buck”.
    90% of the Chinese people I have met have been extremely nice, curteous and gracious hosts, but, the business underbelly is an horrific mix of the ridiculous guanxi and mianzi which sound the death knell for China ever becoming more than a third-world production factory for the rest of the world. Greed and corruption here are worse than any other country on the planet and the amazing thing is that it is all accepted by the people as “thats the way it has always been”.
    I truly feel sorry for the genuine Chinese people I have met and am disgusted by the “new-wave” of idiotic, patroitic young students who are brainwashed into believeing China is the best country in the world.

    Anyways, an excellent post John and thanks for sharing your experiences.

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