personal


21

Feb 2003

Random News

Man, lately I’ve been bad about responding to any e-mails, writing in my blog, and reading anyone’s blog. I also have tons of pictures from Yunnan that I want to get online. (Despite my whining, I actually took a lot of pictures, and a lot of them are decent.) But the school semester starts Monday, and my new job as ZUCC foreign teacher liaison has already begun. I’ve been running around today doing stuff for that, and I’m going to the airport tomorrow to meet one of the new teachers. In addition, there are a few other things I’m really happy about this semester: (1) I only teach 14 hours, (2) I have no classes Fridays or Tuesdays, (3) my largest class size is about 22 now, as my 30 student classes have been split in half (at my repeated urging). Same amount of class time for each student, but less students per class. That means class is easier to teach, and the students get more out of class. Having lots of foreign English teachers (12 total this semester) is a very good thing.

Alf

Alf

Alf was here in Hangzhou for a visit Tuesday and Wednesday. Unfortunately winter is not the best time of year to witness “the beauty of Hangzhou,” but we had a pretty good time anyway. It was pretty funny how whenever he told Chinese people here that he’s teaching in Henan province, they were all like, “Henan?! Why are you teaching there? It’s a dirty place full of thieves!” Alf doesn’t exactly agree, but to get one guy off his back, he explained that he came here through a program and he didn’t have a choice. “Oh,” the guy said. And then, in English, “bad luck!

Noriko, one of the Japanese teachers here, invited me over for dinner tonight. She’s really cool and sweet, and a good cook besides. What I didn’t realize was that it was an all-Japanese gathering, besides me. So my Japanese got a healthy 4-hour workout. The conversation went all over the place (and I admit I was a bit distracted at times, especially since she had, for some reason, left a movie of the stunning Norika Fujiwara running in the background), but they touched on quite a few interesting things, like wedding customs and costs, Chinese students’ obsession with insignificant features of Japanese pronunciation, and what nationality they were often taken for in China. Noriko said Chinese people were always shocked to learn she’s not Chinese (because she “looks so Chinese”), and usually make a comment like, “well, you’re definitely not Japanese, so what are you, Korean?” Apparently the Chinese often ask Japanese people if they are Korean. What I couldn’t say was that perhaps they always guess Korean because Koreans might be offended if they’re taken for Japanese (and the Chinese would be sensitive to that), while the reverse is not true.

Anyway, Yunnan photos are coming. (And e-mails, to some of you.)


18

Feb 2003

Dashan

dashan

Ray posted a nice long comment to my last entry. Unfortunately, Haloscan seems to have lost it. [Update: the “lost” comments are back.] One thing he touched on, though, was “that big dork Dashan.” Dashan is pretty much completely unknown outside of China, but almost universally known within China. This man has become a real nuisance to students of Chinese everywhere.

Dashan is a big white Canadian. The thing is, he speaks Mandarin Chinese perfectly. I mean really, really well. He basically decided, “yeah, I’ll take on Chinese,” and then just competely kicked Chinese’s ass. He has done xiangsheng for years, a kind of two-person traditional Chinese standup comedy. “Dashan” means “big mountain,” which I always thought was an incredibly stupid Chinese name, but then a Chinese friend explained to me that it’s sort of a joke, and that Chinese people like the name. Ah, Dashan… you win again, with your superior understanding of Chinese “humor” (which really is unfathomable)!

According to the chronology on Dashan’s site, he majored in Chinese studies, graduated in 1988, and has been in China ever since. He was in an independent studies program at Beijing University, and he also served as a public relations advisor at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing. The hilarious conclusion to the chronology: 1995 – Founded Dashan Incorporated and began full-time career as Dashan. OK, I don’t know whether it’s just me, or it’s a foreigner-in-china thing, but I find that very funny.

OK, so you’re probably wondering what the deal with Dashan is. Why am I bringing him up? Well, there are several reasons. First, he is the bane of caucasian students of Chinese everywhere. About 60% (yes, that’s a hard statistic!) of Chinese people you know here will ask you if you know who Dashan is, as if revealing his mere existence to us might show us the path to enlightenment. On the contrary, it’s just annoying. Yeah, so another whitey could do it — it’s still annoying!

Second, I get told I look like Dashan all the time. I do not want to look like Dashan! When I deny it, they insist, asserting that I’m handsome like he is. Okayyy…

Third, his mere existence is an enigma. What can this man really do? Speak Chinese. Yes, but what can he really do?? Speak Chinese. Really well. In the USA, immigrants get no credit for speaking perfect English, unless maybe they did it in less than 48 hours solely by watching MTV. Meanwhile, Dashan is a national celebrity. Furthermore, he’s not the only foreigner to speak perfect Chinese, but he seems to be the only one recognized. He has the monopoly on Chinese skills. I think the Chinese find it amusing and touching that a foreigner can speak such perfect Chinese, but then simultaneously find his singularity somehow comforting. It goes without saying that the hard work and bitter struggle of any Asian that becomes fluent in Chinese is hardly acknowledged.

A while back a producer of a CCTV show was trying to talk me into being on their show. It’s a sort of showcase/gameshow of foreigners that can speak good Chinese. When I mentioned Dashan, she rolled her eyes. She said Dashan is old news, too perfect, no longer interesting. That’s all well and good, but the grinning spirit of Dashan is alive and well in Chinese society.

Obviously I envy this guy. He speaks amazing Chinese. He must be very disciplined and hard-working. I have yet to really “master” any foreign language, though I’m well along the way in a few. But images and accolades of this dorky guy forced down my throat do not foster affection.

But this is China. Home of Dashan. He was here first, anyway.

Related: Sinosplice’s Derisive Dashan.


15

Feb 2003

On being a Foreigner

It’s been said before, by different people, in various ways, from multiple angles. but it’s such an inseparable part of the expat experience here that I thought I’d share again. So, from behind the Great Firewall of China without further ado, the words of Sam:

I should note that laowai is Chinese for ‘foreigner’ and heard several hundred times a day in various tones: respectful – I understand it is meant to be a respectful term; amazed – not too irritating this one; demanding: (‘hey, you, respond now.‘); amused – I hate that one, doesn’t everyone hate being laughed at?; and finally, matter-of-fact – just the word that floats to your ear in a conversation of passers by (‘oh look, there’s a foreigner!’, in the tone you might use to point out a six-foot pigeon). I’ve written loads on this on days when it’s annoyed me most but it’s back on my PC in far-away Xining. Sometimes it’s charming and friendly, don’t get me wrong, but the line between that and fists-clenching-in-the pocket shifts depending on mood, temperament and how long you’ve been here. Ironically, it’s when you’re in a bad mood, hungover or similar that you get so many more comments and “hello”s. Then you start asking yourself: “Am I here for your amusement, eh? Did I come here so you could take the piss? Eh?”

I can definitely identify.


12

Feb 2003

Strange Old Man

The other day I was wandering the streets of Kunming, and I came across a strange old man. He was walking slowly, arms raised in front of his chest, clapping a slow and steady rhythm. For no apparent reason.

I gave him a curious smile, and he tilted his head back in acknowledgement, smiling broadly as if to say, “don’t you worry — I’ve got all the random clapping under control.”

So I didn’t worry.


10

Feb 2003

I'm Being Watched…

Although this internet cafe in Kunming is amazingly cheap (1.5 yuan/hour, or $0.19/hour), they have a police force in here! There are these uniformed guards roaming around, looking at people’s screens! Most people in here are playing games, so they’re watching the handful that are actually surfing the net more closely. This is bizarre.

Hey, people in other parts of China — have you seen this before?? I’ve noticed that it’s not only in this internet cafe, but in all of them in this area (I’m in sort of an “internet cafe complex”).

Haha, little do they know that I’m reporting on their efforts at thought control even as they watch me! I’m gonna try to snap a pic on my way out. Let’s hope I make it!


10

Feb 2003

Begone, Stinkypants!

For a short time, I was Mr. Stinkypants. You see, before departing for a several day trek, I left some laundry with the Banna Hotel in Jinghong. When I came back, not having showered for 2-3 days and quite filthy, I picked up my clean laundry (or “clean,” I should say), changed clothes, and gave them the new nasty bundle to wash. I didn’t notice for a few hours that the “clean” jeans I had changed into stunk! I didn’t smell them when I was standing up or walking around, but if I sat down, vile whiffs would reach my nostrils. I guess they had put them in a plastic bag still damp or something. Seriously nasty smelling.

So I complained. They seemed to think it was funny. They wouldn’t take me up on my offer to let them smell my jeans that they had washed (so what if they were on my body at the time). They wouldn’t even give me a refund on just the jeans. Jerks. So then I brought up that despite the fact that their fine establishment offers “24 hour hot water,” every time I turn on the tap I get only drips, if that. Certainly not enough for a shower. They tried to tell me that if I let them know, they can usually take care of it. Well that’s not 24 hour hot water, now, is it?? Stupid Banna Hotel. Customer service has a long way to go in many places of China, even the highly touristed areas.

Anyway, I had to go on wearing my stinkypants for 2 days because my other pair was in the wash. I began to wonder if people I met could smell them. After all, most people in Yunnan are considerably shorter than me, so their noses are closer to my pants than mine is. I was a little nervous about meeting new people. Could they smell my stinkypants? Maybe I should just tackle the issue head-on: “Hi, I’m Stinkypants John. Don’t worry, that vile odor you smell is emanating from my jeans, not me. I’m actually very clean.” Right.

But after a horrible 18-hour bus ride, I’m now in Kunming, and the stinkypants are in the wash. I hope they have what it takes to combat that evil stench. I’m just happy I can’t smell my own pants anymore, though.


08

Feb 2003

Travel Fatigue

I’m in Jinghong (“capital” of Xishuang Banna, southern Yunnan, China). It is the day after an exhausting 40 km or so trek through some gorgeous countryside. Up and down mountains, across rivers, and through lots of minority people’s villages. I plan to go to Kunming tomorrow.

Thing is, I’m just kinda tired. Maybe I’m all travelled out. It’s been over 2 weeks. I know I’m especially tired today because yesterday was so exhausting (hiking 8am – 7pm almost nonstop, and then hitch hiking back and not arriving in Jinghong until 9pm). But maybe I made this trip a little too long. There is still a full life waiting for me back in Hangzhou, and I’m kind of eager to get back to it. Sounds crazy to say I’m tired of all this gorgeous weather and beuatiful scenery, but….

There’s still stuff to see in and around Jinghong. Yet today, I’m here in an internet cafe. I’m not even gonna write on any of the million things I’d like to write about… just not in the mood, really. That will come later. Pictures will come later too, but they’re fewer than might be expected. I’ve had a range of issues with taking pictures recently, which have been introduced to be via a range of people, and have been bouncing around in my head ever since:

Are you traveling to take pictures or to experience? Can you really do both well at the same time? Like it or not, having the camera ready at all times while traveling is a kind of multi-tasking. That camera is using up “memory” that could otherwise be spent more fully absorbing the experience with all one’s senses. This trip I’ve opted to keep the camera packed away a lot of the time, and I’m not really sorry. At least beautiful scenery will patiently wait for me to pull the camera out, most of the time.

Should I really take pictures of all these people? This is an issue that’s more sensitive with the minority groups. A lot of them don’t like you to take pictures of them. In Guilin if they caught you photographing them they’d demand money. Here they just don’t want it, and it seems sincere, and I feel like a have to respect it. I want to respect it. I wonder, though, if these people are (a) camera shy, (b) feel exploited, or (c) have some deeper “cameras steal your soul” kind of reason for not wanting to be photographed.

So I feel kinda torn. Yesterday while passing through a Dai village I saw some of the cutest children I’ve ever seen in my life. I had a great time interacting with them, and they’ll be a part of my China experiences forever. Just wish I could share, sometimes.


02

Feb 2003

On Hold, from Lijiang

I’m sitting in a guesthouse/cafe/internet cafe in Lijiang, doing my e-mail duties. In the background an entire John Denver CD runs its course. In front of me, right outside, Chinese tourists and foreign backpackers stroll the stone streets.

Colorfully dressed Naxi women are a common site here. They’re not just trying to earn a few rmb from the photo-frenzied tourists; this is their way of life, and they live here. They seem not to see all the tourists photographing them, and they don’t return the stares. It’s strange for me to be in such a remote, exotic corner of China and not be stared at, even by a people whose culture is even more different from my own than most mainland Chinese’s.

Lijiang has been really great. I’ll write more on it later. I leave for Xishuang Banna by plane later this afternoon.


27

Jan 2003

On Dali

Dali is a famous tourist spot in Yunnan (southwest China). After arriving in Kunming via airplane, I went straight to Dali by bus, where I am now. Dali is famous for its old-style city (gu cheng), which is rife with shops selling all kinds of items, all with that “South China minority” feel. There are tons of minority groups here in Yunnan, and the Bai are the main group in Dali.

The night I got here, I just checked into a hotel called the MCA Guesthouse (which I later learned is highly acclaimed in the Lonely Planet), walked around a bit, and ate. The next day I took a bike ride down to the lake and went for a few boat rides. Today I went up Cang Mountain, did some hiking, and also went on a little horseback ride.

A few observations:

  1. Dali is often raved about by foreign travellers, but I’m not super impressed. Yes, the weather is amazing — clean, clear, dry air, with barely even a wisp of a cloud daring to appear on the deep blue stage to even hint at rain. It’s cool, but not too cold. The city of Dali is nestled in between the Cang Mountain Range and Erhai Lake. The scenery is really quite nice. But I keep comparing it to Yangshuo — one of the best vacations I’ve ever had — and it just doesn’t quite measure up.
  2. It’s kind of cool how almost all the residents of Dali are in the Bai minority group. This place is not so dominated by the Han Chinese. It seems like in a lot of places, the minority villages are off alone in some mountain range, doing their thing, and then tourist groups regularly parade through and exploit them. It was that way in Thailand, and in Mexico, to some degree, and I expected to see it here, but it’s at least partly different. I don’t know, maybe it’s the Han behind the scenes, making all the big money, but the Bai seem to run tourism here.
  3. The “ski lift” that took me up Cang Shan today was manufactured by “Doppelmayr Ropeway Technology, Austria.” I hope it’s not mean to say so, but that made me feel a little more at ease. We were quite high up.
  4. The old man who took me on the horseback mountain tour today was Bai. He was quite hard to understand, as his Mandarin wasn’t super good, but I learned a lot of interesting things from him. The horses are only usable for 20-30 years, after which they are sold (and probably eaten). Bai people in Dali usually make only 200-800 rmb (US$25-$100) per month. They can live on that. (But it does seem to indicate that there’s some outsiders making the bigger bucks…) Also, the minority people are allowed to have 2 kids, instead of just one.
  5. The shopkeepers in the streets are way less pushy than they have been in other places. Being constantly assaulted by “Hello, hello, banana!” in Yangshuo comes to mind… I wonder if this is a Bai cultural quality. It may also be because the tourist season is not really underway yet. This place is bustling with backpackers at certain times of the year, but I’ve seen relatively few so far.

Overall, I like Dali, but I’m not terribly impressed. So I’m off to Lijiang tomorrow…


22

Jan 2003

For my Students:

English majors, class 5

Students, your pictures are finally online! Go look at them. To the classes that I didn’t see that week, I’m sorry I couldn’t take pictures of you guys too, but it was your decision not to come…

Those are some happy-looking students, eh? That’s even right before their final exam! It doesn’t take as much to bribe them as you might think… heh heh.

Hey students! All of you know about this blog, but none of you have ever left a comment, even once! Now that you have something that directly relates to you, how about if some of you leave some nice English comments??


22

Jan 2003

Random Stuff (toilet update!)

So there’s been some random stuff going on that I thought I’d fill you guys in on.

1. People are abandoning the school, like rats from a sinking ship. A college campus is a lonely place to be during the holidays. Wilson left early Tuesday. Helene leaves Thursday. Students finished exams today, and are heading for home en masse. And I will join the crowd Friday as I head to Shanghai to hang out with Ray before he leaves China for good (yes, the same Ray that leaves all the naughty comments). Saturday morning I head to Yunnan by plane. Yes, it’s time for my winter vacation. I’ll be there for 2-3 weeks, so I can’t say for sure how much I’ll be updating while there, but that’s the beauty of Blogger — I’ll be able to write updates anywhere with internet cafes, and China is already infested.

pipediagram

2. I know many of you are closely following my toilet situation, eagerly awaiting updates. So let me fill you in. I finally got through to them that they needed to do more than show up at my place with a mop whenever my toilet would not unclog even after 20-30 minutes of straight heavy-duty plunging with my plunger. (How they unclog a toilet with a mop is something I really don’t understand… Another aspect of Chinese mysticism, I guess.) They agreed to actually pull up the bowl and have a look-see. I had to wait another day for that, for the right guy to come, of course. Anyway, he and his friend showed up the next day with a mallet and a chisel. Great. Then they got to work destroying the cement seal around the base of the toilet. After that they pulled that bad boy up. (Fortunately there was no messy surprise waiting for them.) After the guy inspected the bottom of the toilet bowl and the hole in the bathroom floor for a while, he made the declaration I had been dreading: “mei you wenti” — “there’s no problem here.” NO PROBLEM?! Then why doesn’t my toilet work?! Fortunately, this guy was smart, and he made a few measurements after his initial proclamation. You know how most toilets have a water tank in the back of the toilet? Mine is no exception. But that tank in back limits how close to the wall the bowl can be placed. It just so happens that the hole in the floor of the bathroom is rather close to the wall as well. Because of these designs, the hole in the bottom of the bowl was not matching up right with the hole in the floor. The hole in the bottom of the bowl was too far forward. There was only like 25% overlap instead of the 100% it should be (refer to diagram at right). BIG PROBLEM. Major flow obstruction. The guy was surprised I’d managed to use it as long as I have. So they decided that they would come replace it the next day. In the meantime I couldn’t use my toilet, which was still uprooted. GREAT.

So, after 24 hours of no toilet (that really is an inconvenience!), they came back this morning and mucked around in my bathroom some more. I don’t know what they were doing for over an hour, because they simply came to the conclusion they had before: you definitely need a whole new toilet bowl unit. Unfortunately, it’s very close to the Chinese New Year, so we can’t do it right away. You’ll have to wait until next year. What about my toilet?! Human beings need to use a toilet! Oh, no problem, they’d re-cement it down so I could keep using it until they come next year to replace it. I’ll have to wait another 24 hours to actually use it of course, because the cement needs time to dry. Grrrrreeeeaat…

3. There are 3 new teachers coming here. Two guys and a girl. All under 30, I think. Should be fun.

4. I’ve noticed that Chinese women seem to think that brown and purple match. Seriously. I see this combination every day. So who’s not in the know — me or them? As I’ve said before, I’m not exactly a fashion authority. But it seems fishy to me…


18

Jan 2003

Shaq insults Chinese everywhere

It’s old news by now, but make sure you check out this story. Looks like Shaq’s feeling a little insecure… Gonna have to be sure to watch Yao Ming and Shaq square off this weekend when the Lakers meet the Rockets in Houston (Sat 9:30pm ET/Sat 8:30am China Time, ESPN).

As a follow-up to my last entry, I learned today that as a teacher, the three things you “can’t talk about in China” are religion, politics, and sex. I’ve already covered all three in class, at least once. Oops? (No, I’m not worried. That info is outdated.)

Oh, and yes, the rumors are true. The Sinosplice Weblog has gone Chinese. If you can’t read Chinese, you probably don’t care. If you can, you probably already know this, because you’re probably in China using Chinese Windows, and the old blog URL now redirects you to a new blog page in the language of your operating system. If you’re one of those rare individuals that can read Chinese but not in the 1.3 billion-strong club, you can still read the Chinese version. It’s not simply a translation (ugh, that would not be fun), it’s different material. So you have to learn Chinese if you want to know what’s in it. (Just the last little bit of motivation you needed, right? Ha!)


16

Jan 2003

Sex in the Classroom

sex

The class I teach here in China is Spoken English. I am here this term to improve the spoken English of close to 300 Chinese college students. How does one accomplish that? Well, by making them talk (harder than you think). There are many ways to do this, of course, but at least something done in class has to result in grades given out, which can be very limiting. My semester plan centers around discussions. I won’t bore you with all the details at this moment, but the last discussion we had in class this semester was about sex. It may be regular fare in Wilson’s classes, but it’s the first time I’ve done something like that. After all, this is China.

The results were extremely educational — all around — and a resounding success, if I do say so myself.

A crucial element in my classes is student involvement and initiative, and this concept extends to the discussions. While I pick the topics, the students lead the discussions and think of the discussion questions themselves. I generally just sow a few seeds to give them ideas, and they take it from there. This method can have great results.

So what happened when the topic of SEX was unleashed in the classroom? Reactions spanned the whole spectrum, ranging from the nervous fidgets of students who were clearly uncomfortable with the topic and kind of wished it would go away to the antics of students who embraced the topic with gusto and took it much further than I expected.

It all begins with the questions. Some students were clearly uncomfortable with the topic, so I told them they were free to interpret the topic how they wanted — they could talk about AIDS issues, sex education issues, or gay rights issues rather than getting down and dirty with it. One guy was so uncomfortable with the whole thing that he interpreted “sex” to mean “gender,” and all his questions were lame gender-related questions (and yes, I admit that there are good gender-related questions, but he didn’t come up with any). The squeamish were definitely in the minority, however, which made me feel that I wasn’t doing the wrong thing. I was further removed from any blame by the fact that the students were the ones that actually came up with all the questions. I merely guided and moderated.

Image created by John Pasden (c) 2003.  Sources: confucius.org, some Japanese bikini site.

Anyway, there were some interesting questions. The few discussion leaders who dared ask who in the group had had sex before got no replies. The message was clear: making it too personal was not OK. In the beginning, “do you think sex before marriage is OK?” was one of the more risque questions that got answers (and yes, some students — both male and female — were publicly answering in the affirmative to that question). One question I heard a boy pose intensely to several girls had me really laughing: “All people have sexual desire. Do you??” Based on his logic, the girls couldn’t answer no, and they didn’t disagree anyway, but they still didn’t want to admit it. The students taught me what Confucius had to say on this matter: “食色性也” (shi se xing ye) — “Sex is part of human nature.” Plenty of students got into how they would react if they learned that a friend was gay. Toward the end of the discussion hour, I was shocked to hear that one group had even ventured into the subject of bestiality! Yes, Chinese students discussing bestiality in English in my classroom. Gotta love this job. They did it on their own, I swear!

Perhaps what made the discussion such a success was bringing role play into it. I gave people roles, such as “the promiscuous American” and “Mao Zedong.” I encouraged them to be outrageous by giving hypothetical examples of my own. “I’m a promiscuous American, and I think young people should be having sex every day with multiple partners” got uproarious laughter, and, incredibly, it actually spawned more of the same. I told my students that lying in a discussion is fine as long as they’re doing it in English. Evidently that was enough to get them to them to open up.

Towards the end of class, each group of students seemed much more at ease with the topic, and they were giving straight answers if I questioned them. One group of students was discussing sex among college students. “You mean a lot of college students are having sex in China?” I asked, feigning bewilderment. “Of course!” my student responded. “It’s an open secret.” I love that line, because it beautifully captures a truth about Chinese society in all its paradoxical glory. I couldn’t have put it better myself. I was so impressed that my student had accomplished it, in English no less.

So I was pleased with how that class went. A week, later, though, I was giving oral quizzes on discussion vocabulary we had covered in class. One of them was the term “gay,” intended for the sex discussion. I guess maybe the students got a little too comfortable in class — one of my students, given the word “gay” to make a sentence, promptly replied with, “John and Wilson are gay.”

Hmmm… It seems to me there was a time when the teachings of Confucius were a little more teacher-friendly….


12

Jan 2003

Information Terrorism

wtf

Well, China has done it again. First Google, now Blogspot. Blogspot is blocked, in case you haven’t heard. The links on my China Blogs page look like they’ve been massacred, as all the blocked sites have a little icon next to them. Blocked sites on my list now constitute 23 out of 50 total. Most of those are Blogspot sites.

I don’t know what the government thinks it’s doing… I’m not going to reiterate all the good points that Leylop already made. The sad thing is, though, that most of these blogs are by foreigners living in China, dedicated to changing the way outsiders think of China. We’re out here building bridges, creating windows. And they’re getting torn down and smashed by the government of the very country we’re trying to benefit.

Stupid, stupid…

[More info]

09

Jan 2003

Destination Locked In…

milkdrop

Well, it’s 2am and I’m packing to go back to China. I leave at 8:20am. I didn’t plan on doing my usual all-nighter (which helps me sleep on the plane), but then I ran into a snag with my luggage — my good, sturdy, really big, wheeled suitcase thing. The zipper busted! I fixed it, sort of. The “fix” involved super glue. Yes, on a zipper. So I’m waiting for that to dry before I can truly be finished packing.

This was a great trip home, though. Nothing makes one appreciate being home with the whole family for Christmas like not being home for Christmas for a few years. I think I’m going to be back home in the U.S. next year, too, because my friend Dan is getting married in early January, 2004.

I have learned, though, that as long as my life is in China, it’s a little uncomfortable being home for too long. True, I love seeing my family. Yes, I love seeing all my old friends. And I love eating American food (I hit 200 lbs. for the first time while home this holiday season). But that’s really all there is for me here at this stage in my life. I feel like in China so much is happening to me. I learn Chinese. I earn money. I travel. I get all kinds of cool job offers. I date. I write my book. I design lesson plans. I make new friends all the time. I’m constantly soaking up new info about China and gaining new insights into its culture. My imagination is ablaze with all the possibilities there. While I’m in the United States, I feel like once I’ve exceeded my “visit duration” (which looks to be about 2 weeks), I’m just stagnating. I’m ready to go back.

It has been a wonderful visit, but once again, I’m China bound….

Let’s hope that super glue holds.


07

Jan 2003

Tissue Issues

tissue-san

One thing that tends to become an issue no matter what the duration of your stay in China is tissues (and various other paper product variations). Sure, in the U.S. we have a wide assortment of sanitary, disposable paper products, each created for its own particular uses. China kind of does its own thing. It goes something like this:

paperproducts

U.S.A.

1. Tissues: Used mainly to blow your nose, possibly to wipe blood or something from your skin.
2. Toilet paper: Used to wipe your bum after you use the toilet. Also used as a tissue in a pinch.
3. Paper napkin: Used to wipe one’s mouth/fingers when eating.
4. Paper towels: Used to wipe up household spills, or sometimes for cleaning. Used as a paper napkin in a pinch.

China

1. Tissues: Used to blow your nose, to wipe blood or something from your skin, to wipe your bum after you use a public toilet, to wipe one’s mouth/fingers when eating at home, to wipe up household spills, or sometimes for cleaning.
2. Toilet paper: Used to wipe your bum after you use the toilet in a private residence. Not provided in most public restrooms. Also used as napkins in low-budget restaurants everywhere.
3. Paper napkin: Available only in certain restaurants (especially McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut); used to wipe one’s mouth/fingers when eating.
4. Paper towels: Pretty much unknown in China. There is a tissue-like version that comes in individual sheets instead of a roll. This is used much like paper towels are in the U.S.

Foreigners who visit China (especially females) quickly learn to carry little packs of tissues wherever they go. You need these if you want to use a public restroom, and they come in handy when eating, because paper napkins (even toilet paper) are not always readily dispensed to customers. Another difference is that public restrooms in China often have no mirror. Public restrooms in China often serve only their one very primitive function, and they do that at only the bare minimum of functionality.

And then sometimes your own toilet even sucks, but it’s best if I stay off that topic….


04

Jan 2003

Waiting for…

I think the internet has stolen a piece of my soul. How else can I explain it?

I spend way too much time on the internet, surfing, reading, always feeling there’s something else eluding my discovery, taunting my nescience… but what?

waiting for god, by Sam Brown @ explodingdog.com

Whatever it is I want back, it’s not coming. There is no White Rabbit. I’ve tried many different tactics.

Ignoring it doesn’t work. Whatever it is I’m ignoring is far better at ignoring me.

Bribes don’t work. I try to put something out there, a kind of peace offering, “proof” of a goodwill that pleads for the return of what’s mine.

Sometimes I’m tricked into thinking that there’s hope. It appeals to my creative side, to a boulder of imagination richly laden with potential energy… if I could only dislodge it.

Can I dislodge it? I find encouragement here and there. I try. But I wonder…

When did all this begin? The very beginning is impossible to pinpoint, wisps of infuence rising all along the timeline all the way back to…?

Something happened when I got a T1 connection at UF. Then I started my own website. I started learning Flash. I started a blog. I got my own dot-com.

And still I blunder on, ever uncertain if my accumulations mean anything at all, that place forever unquenched…


02

Jan 2003

Poll Mania

As most of my readers know, a while back I had an idea about polling my students. The results have been posted here over the last few months. I also made polls into a class activity that I did with my English major students. It ended up being a great class activity. I had the students come up with their own “mini-polls” which were conducted in class with their classmates. I stressed that their questions should be interesting. I’m posting some of the results here, verbatim.

Format:
Poll results will follow the question, in parentheses and color-coded. “Yes” answers will always be first in blue, followed by “no” answers in red.

> Do you want to lead a rich boring life or a poor happy life? (3, 19)

> Do you like Chinese food or Western food? (21, 1)

> Which president do you think is better, Clinton or Bush? (22, 1)

> Do you like Chairman Mao or Deng Xiaoping? (3, 19)

> Which do you think is more important parents or lover? (23, 0)

> Which food do you prefer, KFC or McDonalds? (18, 4)

> Do you like becoming a famous person or a common person? (9, 13)

> Do you like the life at our campus? (7, 16)

> Do you think Zhou Enlai is a handsome man? (24, 0)

> If you can choose, do you like to be a great person or a common one? (12, 10)

> Do you agree that the college students marry when they are in school? (8, 15)

> Do you satisfy with your present life? (10, 12)

> Money or Friendship – which will you choose? (9, 14)

> Do you wash your teeth with cold water? (20, 8)

> Do you want your kid is a boy or a girl? (13, 12)

> If you have chance to go abroad which country will you choose, America or England? (14, 10)

> If you fall in love with your girl friend’s boyfriend, will you get him as your own boyfriend from your girl friend when the two are no longer in love? (12, 12)

> You have a favourite job but your parents ask you change another one they like. If you don’t follow them, they will be very sad. Do you follow them? (9, 15)

> If you own lots of money, you will use it up all by yourself, or present a great amount to poor people? (13, 13)

> Do you like to be a successful man who is respected by many people and has a lot of money, but only can live for 30 years? (12, 13)

> Do you want to marry a black strong boxing man/woman? (4, 20)

> Do you think Zhou Jielun will be popular for another long time? (11, 14)

> If you can choose, do you want to grow up or go back to your childhood? (16, 8)

> If you are a man, and you get into the women’s toilet, you will say sorry to the women or run away at once? (14, 11)

> If you fall in love with a person, but he is an alien, and he asks you to go with him to go back his planet, which will you choose, stay on earth or go with him? (12, 12)

> If you can choose, who would you like to be, a rich stupid man or a poor smart man? (6, 16)

> Would you live in the forest with your lover like primitive man for one year? (16, 8)

> Do you think it’s necessary to kill all the mice? [explanation here] (6, 19)

> Which marriage do you like? To marry a foreigner or a Chinese? (6, 19)

> Do you want to live once again? (13, 12)

> How often do you wash your hair? (every day – 2; 2 days – 18; 2+ days – 4)

> If you’re very tired of the life in the world, but still you’re young, which will you choose: kill yourself or go to temple as a monk/nun? (10, 15)

> Would you accept one of your friends is a bisexual? (11, 14)

> Do you want to have a boy/girlfriend on the campus? (16, 6)

> Which person do you want to marry: the person who loves you very much, or the person who you love very much? (18, 5)

> If you have a new family member, you like he/she older than you or younger than you? (17, 9)


30

Dec 2002

Observations in the USA

I’ve been home for about a week now. I’ve made some observations in that amount of time:

1. Clean air is good. Living in China, you get used to dirty air. But I’m just going to have to go out on a limb here and say it: I think the clean air here is better. It’s good to breathe, and it’s nice to be able to see into the distance without that distortion haze. The perfect Florida weather is a plus, too.

dancingsquirrel

2. American food is good. This includes even Taco Bell. Perhaps especially Taco Bell. Those chicken quesadillas are pretty amazing for $1.99. Had spaghetti for dinner tonight. Awesome. Cheesecake the other day. Incredible. Steak dinner coming soon. Yes. I’m fatter than I’ve ever been and loving it. Mmmmm….

3. American squirrels are cuter. They’re much more abundant here, too. It’s so funny to see Chinese people go gaga over a squirrel sighting, and Chinese squirrels are not even cute! The squirrels here are cute. We’re even immune to the cuteness already. Plus they dance. Look at that guy go!

4. Liquor is expensive here. 89rmb (US$11) for a bottle of Absolut Vodka at the Metro in Hangzhou. That same bottle is $18 here. D’oh!

5. Driving fast is really fun. I don’t remember enjoying driving this much last time I was home. I hope I don’t get a ticket.


28

Dec 2002

Home for Christmas, finally (part 3)

It was Paco who met me at the airport. Why Paco, and not my family? Well, as I mentioned earlier, part of this story is “shrouded in mystery.” Or, perhaps more accurately, a web of deceit. Let me explain.

I got the idea last summer to make a surprise visit home for Christmas 2002. When the Fall 2002 semester began, I asked for those 2 weeks off plenty early. It was OK’ed, but I had to make up the classes or otherwise arrange for them to be taught. Wilson and I came up with a plan to combine our classes and give a multimedia presentation (6 Friends episodes). I prepared the instructional material for the multimedia classes with PowerPoint, so it was no extra work for Wilson. I get to go home, my students get a fun class, no one has extra classes to teach or make up. Perfect.

As the departure date drew nearer and nearer, I realized that there was a flaw in my plan. If my coming was a surprise, my family would send any gifts for me to China, and I wouldn’t see them until well into 2003. Or maybe they would postpone the whole gift-giving thing until they knew they would see me again. In either scenario, I don’t get presents (no good!), and they might feel bad, since I was returning home gift-laden. Enter my scheming mind.

I contacted my friend Illy and asked for her assistance. I had a part of the plan. She fleshed it out nicely. My family could not help but be hoodwinked by our elegant web of deceit!

Illy and I used to work together at UF’s English Language Institute, where we met many a foreign student. It was during that time that Illy and I became good friends. My parents had met Illy, and they like her a lot.

The Plan. Illy called up my mom and told her that she had recently gotten back in touch with “George,” a mutual ex-ELI student friend of Illy’s and mine. Apparently George graduated from the ELI long ago, and he recently finished up his Masters in the States. It just so happens that George is Chinese, and is now ready to go home, just before Christmas. It also just so happens that George has relatives in the Tampa area, whom he wants to visit before flying home out of Tampa. Illy has long been the chauffer of poor car-less ELI and ex-ELI students, and so it’s only natural that Illy would drive George to Tampa and take him to the airport. What a wonderful coincidence, though, Illy told my mom — Illy and George could stop by on December 22nd or 23rd and visit, as well as pick up any gifts my family might want to send to me in China. Wonderful.

George is, of course, a fictional character. Illy would be taking me home to surprise my parents. Enter complications.

First I had problems with my flight. It was scheduled for Saturday night (and Illy made plans with my parents), but then it was cancelled (grrrrr!) and rescheduled for Sunday evening. Illy and George rescheduled accordingly.

During all this I learned my good friend Paco was going to be visiting from Harvard Law School. He was happy to be in on it. Originally Dan was going to pick me up from the airport, but the switch to Sunday made it impossible for him. I thought maybe Illy could do it, but during that period I was having trouble getting in touch with Illy, so Paco became my ride from the airport.

The initial surprise was on my parents. Amy and Grace weren’t home Sunday night. I originally planned to hide in Illy’s trunk, all covered up except for my face, then have Illy knock on the door and say that she needed help bringing in some gifts she had bought for them from me. We could put a gift-wrapped box lid on my face, and when they picked it up, SURPRISE! The thing is, Illy’s trunk was too small for me. I’m not small. But the back seats in her car fold down, connecting the backseat space with the trunk. So what I did was have my torso in the trunk, and my legs folded in the back seat.

Illy ended up telling my parents that she brought a heavy “piano accessory” for them, and that she needed both of them to help get it out of the trunk. (She couldn’t say something like car trouble, because then only my dad would have come outside.) My dad got a little suspicious. He had also just called my room in Hangzhou and gotten no answer. He was looking around outside for surprises. The trunk threw him off guard, though, because it was clearly too small to hold me, and the covered up form in the trunk was only big enough to be half of me. They couldn’t see how the trunk connected with the backseat space. So they were both very surprised and happy to see me when the sheet came off. Laughter all around. (I refuse to believe that my dad’s suspicion ran very deep — come on! I was in China for the past 2 Christmases. He had no basis for strong suspicion.)

Paco was hiding in the front seat, and when the surprise was sprung on my parents in all its glory, he leaped out and snapped a few shots. “Oh, hi George!” my mom said to him. (Thanks, Paco!)

Christmas Surprise

The next surprise came for Amy. She has her own apartment, but she came home Monday night. She had stored some of her stuff in my “empty” room, and when she came home, my dad sent her back there to clear some more of her things out. I was waiting behind the door, and sneaked up behind her in the dim room. When she turned around I was just standing there. It freaked the hell out of her! First she was frightened, and then overwhelmed with joy. Her face went from terror to delight over the span of a second or two. It was hilarious. She was even crying. Best reaction ever. No hard feelings or anything.

Grace’s flight came in from Germany the next night (Christmas Eve). As usual, her flight was delayed (this always happens to her — we were pretty annoyed that she had to come in on Christmas Eve). So Amy and my parents were standing in a highly visible spot to greet her and her friend Alex. I was sitting down not far away, “reading” a newspaper. After their little reunion, I ambled over to the group, still holding up the newspaper. I “bumped” into her, and acted all shocked to see her. She was pretty shocked herself. It was funny, but not anywhere near Amy funny.

So that’s the story. I had a great Christmas with my family. A lot of my friends are in town (my visit isn’t a surprise to them), and it’s great to see them too. I am sooo happy to escape Hangzhou’s cold and wet winter for even 2 weeks. It’s sunny here almost all the time, and I wore short sleeves on Christmas. And then there’s the eggnog and the food… but I think I’ll stop here.

Happy Holidays.



Page 58 of 62« First...102030...5657585960...Last »