Tag: personal

The Chaos Run


Jun 2006

The Chaos Run

On the cusp of 2000, I made my first trip to New York City with my friend Alex. We wanted to be in the most exciting place when the ball dropped in Times Square. Some people gave us dire warnings of terrorist threats or Y2K mayhem, but we weren’t worried about that. There was something alluring about the year 2000, and we were two twenty-one-year-olds that would not be stuck in Tampa for it.

For part of our adventure in New York City, we stayed with my friend Dave, a crazy budding director I had befriended in Japan. Dave was a guy that was always excited about something, that loved the 80s, that was fascinated by new toys, and that infected you with his enthusiasm as he leapt from topic to unimaginable topic. He was just the kind of person Alex and I wanted to hang out with in New York.

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal

Our actual New Year’s Eve was a wild ride, but one of the most memorable incidents for me happened well before December 31st, in Grand Central Terminal. Dave led Alex and me into the station during rush hour. The main lobby was magnificent, and it was swarming with commuters. It was at this point that Dave told us about his game.

“This is how you play,” he told us. “Just run, and don’t stop. Keep changing directions so that you don’t hit anyone. It’s a blast!”

“Wait, what?” I started. But Dave had already shot off straight into the crowd. Alex and I quickly followed suit.

We had no time to even notice the reactions of the people around us. There were so many, all melting into a blurry wall, and it was all we could do to avoid collisions as we dodged, weaved, reversed direction, and sidestepped ourselves into exhaustion. Finally we all ended up against a wall, panting and laughing. The masses continued their milling beside us.

This is the kind of thing kids do. Adults reason that it’s silly, that someone could get hurt, that it’s a waste of time. But presented with the idea in the right way, a kid will just try it. And damn, what a thrill.

The way I feel about China is much the same way. This country is like one big Grand Central Terminal. Society is milling about as it always does, but here there are a lot of people doing the chaos run. Some are natives, some are foreigners. Some of them just like the thrill, but many are out for big profits. There is no question that on this scale, the game is very dangerous. Innocent people get knocked down and bowled over. Others run themselves headfirst into walls. And yet, China’s powers of seduction remain unshaken. There’s something about this place that keeps me in a near-perpetual state of excitement. I know there are risks and sacrifices I must face for living in China long-term, and maybe I can’t do it forever, but damn, what a thrill!


May 2006

The Experts

An entry on The 88s entitled America’s China “Experts” has asked:

> Just who are America’s China “experts?” And the question we all really want answered: do any of them actually speak Chinese?

To my dismay, the second question (emphasis mine) was not answered, but it’s an interesting list nonetheless. Well, interesting to me personally in that after some consideration I found that I really didn’t care who most of those people were. But maybe I should? Maybe you could convince me to care? Maybe.

I’ll never be a sinologist.


Apr 2006

Successful Beer Bartering


satellite dish = beer

Thanks to Dan of Shanghaiist who spread word of my “satellite TV for beer” deal, yesterday I successfully traded a satellite dish with box for 4 cases (96 bottles) of Sol beer. Lenny and John B can verify that the Sol is much tastier than the satellite dish could ever be. Thanks also to Peter for his generous bid.

I’m leaving for the States tomorrow for a two week visit. Will there be any beer left when I get back? Hmmm…

This visit home is a first in a way because of the awesome deal I got on my plane ticket. It’s the first time I have paid less than 8000 rmb for a round-trip plane ticket to Tampa–I only paid 5600 rmb! It’s also the first time I’ll have less than two connecting flights. This is the simplest (best) route I’ve ever taken: Shanghai – Chicago – Tampa. The American Airlines direct flight from Shanghai to Chicago just started.

Anyway, if posts are light, it’s because I’m busy trying to gain 10 pounds in 2 weeks.


Apr 2006

Satellite TV for Beer

Do you live in Shanghai? Do you want satellite TV? Well, here’s your chance to get a satellite dish with the box. All you have to do is come over and pick it up. But you have to leave beer.

The satellite dish and box once belonged to a co-worker of my roommate Lenny. The guy left Shanghai, and left his working satellite dish and box with Lenny. The thing is, neither Lenny nor I watch much TV, so neither of us is interested in installing it or dealing with the descrambling card hassle.

But if you like satellite TV and you have some beer to donate, this is your lucky day.

Here’s the deal: e-mail me before Friday night telling me the type and quantity of beer you want to offer us for the satellite dish (please don’t let it be Bud), along with your contact info. Whoever makes us the best offer gets to come and pick it up on Saturday.

Sorry, no pic… but I won’t demand a picture of the beer either.


Apr 2006

ChinesePod and me

ChinesePod has been generating buzz online for some time among those of us who are interested in new methods of studying Mandarin Chinese, and yet you haven’t heard a peep out of me about it (OK, maybe one peep). There’s a reason, so let me explain.

When I first discovered ChinesePod months ago, I thought, “that’s kinda cool, but a podcast a day? Let’s see how long they can keep that up.” Well, they did keep it up, and the buzz grew.

Then I got an offer to join the ChinesePod affiliate program (a form of advertising that pays only when people sign up). I was interested, but I also didn’t want to throw my support behind ChinesePod just yet. I already had Google ads in my archives, but because those are targeted to content, you’re not actually endorsing any particular product. With ChinesePod it would be different, so I wanted to be sure I really liked the product. I wasn’t personally interested in the content because the intermediate lessons were too easy and there were no advanced lessons then. I was a little too busy to check out the service at that point.

Well, at about the time ChinesePod started producing advanced lessons, they also contacted me and asked if I would be interested in working with them. It sounded like a cool opportunity, so I met up with ChinesePod for a chat. I was quickly sold.

The product as it stands now naturally has its shortcomings, but the team is well aware and is working hard to improve it. Virtually all my initial criticisms of the site are already being dealt with, and in fresh, innovative ways. Furthermore, the company is so open to criticism and feedback it’s scary. It even cares about theoretical linguistic foundations. I know I sound like a cheesey commercial, but the ChinesePod team and plan just impressed me that much.

Anyway, now that I have joined the ChinesePod team and will play a part in influencing its development, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t fully support it. It’s good stuff, and rapidly getting better.

So, yeah. ChinesePod and me.


Mar 2006

Karaoke Notes

I’d been telling my girlfriend that we’d do karaoke sometime soon ever since Valentine’s Day, and last night I finally made good on that promise. We showed up at “PartyWorld” (AKA 錢櫃) at 11:45pm, and, thrifty young souls that we are, waited around for fifteen minutes for the hourly rate to drop from 158rmb to 58rmb.

I, of course, abhor karaoke. I can’t sing, and I don’t particular enjoy proving that to the world, even when “the world” in Asian style karaoke means only the other people in the private karaoke box with you. My girlfriend is a good singer, though, and she doesn’t like much crappy pop, so I don’t mind going to karaoke with just her. She sings, I eat. (If drinking happens to be on the agenda, I sometimes end up singing.)

So I’ll just mention here a few songs I found noteworthy. Most of them are not new at all.

嘻唰唰 by 花儿乐队 (Flowers) (click for Baidu MP3 search). I’ve written about this poppy punky band before, but they’ve caught my attention again. The title of this song could be another entry in the onomatopeia vocabulary list, and the fun immaturity of the song reminds me of Leather Jacket by Screeching Weasel (but not nearly as punk). In keeping with the sound suggested by the song’s title, the band was dressed as window washers in the video. This song is currently one of the most popular titles at PartyWorld.

完美的一天 by 孙燕姿 (Stephanie Sun) (click for Baidu MP3 search). This song really reminded me of a lot of Japanese pop I’ve heard, maybe a little like something by Chara. I guess it’s largely the rhythm that makes it seem like a nice change from a lot of Chinese pop. The video also struck me as Japanese-esque, with the singer being pushed through a supermarket in a shopping cart, and later hanging out with a giant inflatable leaning Astro Boy on the beach.

Phonebook by 林凡. 林凡 is a decent singer I guess. I wasn’t totally paying attention, but I think in this song she’s brooding about friends and lovers from the past, and she has found an old notebook with names and numbers of those people. The thing is, she calls this book a “phonebook.” So while she’s earnestly crooning about these former relationships, she suddenly busts out with the English line, “IT’S AN OLD PHONEBOOK” (which is in all caps on the screen, of course). So amidst all this mushy nostaglia, I get this image of an old phonebook like the one we used to keep next to the microwave in the kitchen shoved in my face. Awesome.

I’m still no fan of (sober) karaoke, but I gotta say, it’s a lot more tolerable when it’s just the two of us and I have some veto power. It was also a refreshing musical smack in the face, considering all I’ve been listening to for the past few days is I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.

Related: Using Baidu MP3 Search


Feb 2006

Riding with Strangers in Yunnan

It was 2003, and I was spending my Chinese New Year vacation in Yunnan. I headed out there with a Chinese friend, but after hanging out in Dali (大理) and Lijiang (丽江) some, we soon found our vacation mindsets quite different, and we went our separate ways. I was more than happy to be wandering wild crazy Yunnan on my own. I headed to Jinghong (景洪), the starting point for most “treks” in the southern Xishuangbanna (西双版纳) area of Yunnan Province.

I won’t go into the details of the trek in this post, but it was a 40 km trek. It was supposed to take two whole days, but since I was doing it alone, I figured I’d start early, walk a little faster (at 6’4″ I have long legs), and do it in one day. The night before the trek I stayed in a pretty miserable little town and slept in a dirty little bed that was overpriced at 40rmb. I was off at dawn.

As the sun was setting, I had made it to the end of the almost 14-hour trek. I found myself walking through some little town, but evidently I was still a ways off from the bus stop that takes you to Jinghong. After walking through that town for about half an hour with blistered feet, I asked and determined that I was still 10km away from the bus station, so I caught a ride. I arrived at the station just in time to see a bus pulling away. Guess which one it was? Yes, it was the last bus to Jinghong.

At that point I had to make a decision. I had already paid for that night at my hotel in Jinghong. It wasn’t really a lot of money, but it seemed stupid to spend the night where I was. Although I really enjoyed the trek, there was no disguising the squalor of the villages. The people there understandably saw foreigners as money-making opportunities, which didn’t allow for many meaningful interactions. I was sort of getting into a “get there, understand, get out” mentality. I really felt I didn’t belong, and I was ready to go. Maybe I was experiencing the onset of travel fatigue.

If I didn’t want to spend the night in that village, though, what options did I have? The last bus was already gone. Seeing a fairly nice car coming down the road the bus had just left on, I did something impulsive. I went over to the car and asked the two men inside if they were going to Jinghong. They were. I asked if I could get a ride with them.

I have to explain here that I’m not the type of person that hitchhikes all the time. I’ve certainly done a fair bit of hitchhiking around Japan, from Tokyo to Fukuoka, but that’s Japan. That’s pretty much the only place I feel hitchhiking is really safe (at least for a big male foreigner like me). Yet that night in Yunnan, a sort of desperation came over me. I felt I just had to get out of there. I imagine it’s the same sort of feeling China as a whole gives some foreigners. We all have our own thresholds. Anyway, catching a ride in Yunnan with two men I didn’t know really didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time. They looked like decent guys.

So I got in their car, and we started chatting. They had driven down for the day on business. They had to collect gambling money for the boss or something like that. It was soon pretty obvious that these guys were some kind of gangsters. I had hitched a ride at night with gangsters in China’s drug capital.

It was really dark. There are a lot of remote roads in Yunnan, and not enough public funding for street lights. I really had no idea where we were going. I just knew that the two guys had said they were going to Jinghong when I asked. I tried not to think about it. It was well into the trip, when we were driving down a desolate tree-lined road that one of the guys turned to me and asked, “do you know where we’re going?”

“Jinghong,” I told him, trying to disguise a rising feeling of alarm.

“Jinghong, huh?” he replied, smiling. He gestured to the road ahead and the spookily lit trees, cradling the dark road like claws. “Does this look like the road to Jinghong?

I don’t even remember how I replied. The two were looking at each other and laughing. I wasn’t sure what to think or what to do. The guy didn’t say much after that.

As more time passed, it became clear that we were almost to Jinghong. The guy had been joking with me. He and his friend’s chatter about drinking, gambling, and whoring hadn’t exactly assuaged my fears that these guys were dangerous, but at least they really did intend to take me all the way to my hotel as they promised. They tried to get me to go drinking and whoring with them, but those invitations were easy enough to deflect. I slept really well that night.

Yeah, I have to say, hitchhiking in China isn’t the best idea. I’m lucky all I got was a scare. I don’t remember what the guys looked like, but I very clearly remember that dark road, and the guy asking me, “Does this look like the road to Jinghong?”

That trip to Yunnan was pretty awesome.

Related Link: Yunnan photo album (2003)


Dec 2005

Farewell to Ayi

Shortly after I moved to Shanghai in early 2004 I decided to hire an ayi (housekeeper/maid) to do some cooking and cleaning. (Her last name was Zhou, so I’ll call her “Zhou Ayi.”) I really enjoyed having a cook, and I wasn’t shy about expressing my great satisfaction with Zhou Ayi. Things were great for a while.

Over time, our relationship worsened. I find it difficult to explain exactly how or why, but I’ll try.



Dec 2005


She was tallying up my purchases. I saw that she had written 42. I pulled out a hundred RMB bill and two 1-RMB coins. I placed them on the counter.

“Do you have 6 jiao?” she said. “It’s 42.6.”

“Oh, 42.6!” I repeated. I had missed the amount after the decimal. I found that I didn’t have 6 jiao. So I gave her an extra 1-RMB coin and a 1-jiao coin.

She gave me a confused look. “What’s this for?” she asked, pushing back the one-jiao coin.

“Trust me,” I replied, pushing it back to her. “This way you can give me 60.5 in change.” (I don’t like carrying around the 1-jiao coins. I much prefer to have 5-jiao coins if I can.)

She didn’t think I knew what I was talking about. She started tapping away on her calculator. The figure 60.5 appeared.

“Wow!” she said. “You’re smart.”

“You haven’t been doing this job long, have you?” I asked. “Do it a while longer, and you’ll be thinking like this too.”

“But I always just use the calculator,” she told me.

“Well, maybe you could use your head more,” I replied.

She nodded and handed me my change: six 10-RMB bills and five 1-jiao coins.


Dec 2005

Spitting, Peeing, Snot Rockets, and Me (part 2)

My time in China has exposed me to my fair share of public spitting, peeing, and snot rocketing. Thoughtful fellow that I am, this makes me all introspective. What are the effects of five years of phlegm? How potent is the power that all that pissing poses to me, personally? Let us examine.


I hope I’m not disappointing anyone, but I’m not going to tell stories about Chinese people spitting on the floor or peeing in the living room. This is about me. And I don’t pee in the living room. (I don’t know any Chinese people that pee in the living room either, fortunately.)

This is actually about shower behavior.


Back home in the States I somehow got in the habit of swallowing a fair amount of water while showering. I’m not sure why I did it, but it seemed like a fine idea at the time.

When I got to China, it was clear that this habit would not work. If I didn’t cut it out, I’d be getting diarrhea from every shower, and that’s not cool! Still, habits are hard to break. As a result, I find that I frequently get water in my mouth while I shower, realize what I’m doing, and then have to spit it out. If I want to get as much water as possible out of mouth, though, I have to be fairly enthusiastic in my spitting.

As a result, I find that I spit in the shower quite a bit in China. There’s no phlegm or anything, though, so I don’t see it as gross in any way.


OK, I’ll admit it. I pee in the shower from time to time. Some online research confirms what I suspected: a lot of people pee in the shower. Some people are even of the opinion that everyone does it. Furthermore, if you’re not peeing on the shower curtain or on someone else, I don’t see how it could be considered dirty. You just aim for the drain.

From Wikipedia:

> Although urine is commonly believed to be ‘dirty’ this is not actually the case. In cases of kidney or urinary tract infection (UTI) the urine will contain bacteria, but otherwise urine is virtually sterile and nearly odorless when it leaves the body. However, after that, bacteria that contaminate the urine will convert chemicals in the urine into smelling chemicals that are responsible for the distinctive odor of stale urine; in particular, ammonia is produced from urea.

I can’t be sure, but I suspect I harbored some emotional resistance to the idea of peeing in the shower while back in the States, but I don’t anymore. I still don’t do this regularly, just when necessary. (And I never pee on the shower curtain.)

Snot Rockets

OK, now we’re getting down to the real meat of the entry. This is the question that inspired this whole two-part entry.

Let me give you a scenario. You have a really bad cold. You’re taking a shower. Suddenly your nose starts to run something awful. It seems like sniffling is the only thing you can do, but it doesn’t solve anything and it’s only getting water up your nose. You have to do something.

You have two choices: (1) Stop your shower and dry off a bit to blow your nose, then continue your shower. There is no guarantee that you won’t need to blow your nose again almost immediately. (2) Do a snot rocket into the drain.

Last week I found myself in this desperate situation. I actually remember being in this same situation back in the USA once, and I stopped my shower to blow my nose. I felt there was nothing else I could do. Not this last time, though. I have been influenced by my surroundings. I chose the snot rocket. Everything seemed to get washed down the drain immediately.

Immediately afterward, though, I had to ask myself: was that just completely disgusting? It brought up lots of other questions:

– Do other people do this?
– Will my friends still like me if they know I’ve done snot rockets in my shower?
– Is mucus water soluble? (it’s gotta be, considering it’s mostly water)
– If I had a really nasty infection (which I didn’t), could doing that clog the drain?

OK, I think that’s about all the “introspection” you readers can handle for a little while….


Dec 2005

Signs of Winter in Shanghai

Winter has arrived in Shanghai, but it’s not yet in full swing.

My checklist would go something like this:

  • ☑ Leaving the water heating function on the water cooler on yet?
  • ☑ Using your warm fuzzy blanket in addition to your comforter yet?
  • ☑ Wearing a heavy coat yet?
  • ☐ Wearing your warm fuzzy slippers instead of the open-toed rubber slippers yet?
  • ☐ Wearing long underwear yet?
  • ☐ Using the heat at night yet?
  • ☐ Using the heat during the day yet?

Hmmm, I might just have to check a few more of these off after today.

2005/12/04 Update: Yeah, this was the weekend that winter finally arrived in Shanghai. It’s way colder now.

This has been a Micah-esque entry. For more HTML symbols (like ☐ and ☑), check out Character Entity Reference HTML 4.


Oct 2005


When I visited Yunnan in February 2003, I was, of course, interested in seeing something of the lives of the minority people that live there. I didn’t want to participate in exploitation, but I wanted to satisfy my own curiosity and learn something about their ways of life.

A unique opportunity presented itself when I had dinner with my Japanese friend at a local restaurant in Jinghong (景洪). It was one of those minority-themed restaurants you might expect to find in an area with a large minority population: the servers are of the minority, wearing traditional dress, serving traditional minority dishes (undoubtedly modified to suit Han Chinese palates). They even had minority music and did minority dances. The complete minority entertainment package designed to satisfy the Han tourist.

My friend and I arrived as the entertainment was ending. Everyone else, it seemed, was in the restaurant because that was where and when their tour group dictated they would be getting their dose of evening cultural and culinary nourishment. At the appropriate time, they all filed out. At about that time, our food was served. As we ate, the staff cleared all the other tables. We exchanged some friendly small talk.

On the way out, we passed a table where the entire staff was gathered, eating their own dinner. I noticed it was a little different from what they had been serving everyone. They explained that it was the real thing, and they invited us to join them. We had just eaten, of course, but we were delighted by their friendliness and sat down for a chat.

The next day my friend left Xishuangbanna. I had some time to kill in that area, so I found myself showing up at that restaurant at their dinnertime for several more chats. I can’t say I learned about their way of life in a way that no other tourist did; I merely talked with them on a few occasions. But they seemed to appreciate my sincere interest, and I ate up a pure friendliness unmotivated by the desire to sell me anything.

My last day in their town, I stopped by the restaurant one more time. I wanted to get a picture with them. On previous visits I had felt that it was somehow exploitative to want to take pictures of them, but I felt it was entirely harmless to take a picture with them before I left. They agreed, with an expression I couldn’t quite interpret.

After I took the picture, they asked if I would send the picture to them. I said I would. “Really?” they asked, apparently unconvinced. “Many other travellers have taken our pictures before and promised to send them to us. But they never do.” What assholes those other travellers are, I thought.

“Yes,” I told them. “I will send you the picture.”


I moved from Hangzhou to Shanghai in January, 2004. I gathered a lot of papers in my stay in Hangzhou, and it all had to be sorted through before the move. On one such afternoon of tedious sorting, a tattered pink slip of paper caught my eye. Opening it up, I realized it was the address of the restaurant in Jinghong. I had carelessly misplaced it upon returning to Hangzhou, which meant I had been unable to send the photograph. But here it was!

I was about to move to Shanghai. I had a million things to do in the next 48 hours. Yet, this pink slip of paper represented an unfulfilled obligation that really bothered me. It would not be ignored or further postponed. Its time had come.

I looked at the pice of paper and remembered what the girl had said. Many other travellers have taken our pictures before and promised to send them to us. But they never do.

What assholes…

I slowly crumpled up the pink slip of paper and dropped it into the garbage bag, paused for moment, then hurriedly continuing my urgent sorting.


Sep 2005

Tiny Chinese Food

Check out my new refrigerator magnets!

chinese food refrigerator magnets

Here are some pictures of actual Chinese food that the magnets resemble:

I got the magnets from a vendor set up right outside the Pizza Hut next to Zhongshan Park. He told me they were 2 RMB each. I knew full well they weren’t worth that, but sometimes you really don’t feel like haggling over a couple RMB. I offered him 5 RMB for all three, which he accepted immediately.


Aug 2005

Travel and Moving

The other day I had this IM conversation with a friend:

> 没有空: you got plans for [the October holiday] week?

> John: I was thinking of going to Beijing

> 没有空: 哦。 [Oh.]

> John: You ever do any traveling around China? No interest?

> 没有空: 我反对旅游。太费力,太费钱,太麻烦。 [I’m against travel. It’s a waste of energy and money, and it’s too much hassle.]

> John: you sure you belong outside the USA?

> 没有空: there’s a difference between moving someplace and staying for a while, which I’ve done many times, and short term travelling.

> John: Yeah. Travelling is fun. Moving is difficult and stressful.

> 没有空: 切 [as if!]

> 没有空: moving is purposeful and noble. travelling is useless and ignoble.

> John: How is moving noble??? It’s just necessary. That doesn’t impart any nobility. Travelling is much more noble because it represents a voluntary effort to become more familiar with an unfamiliar place — to better understand the world you live in.

> 没有空: and waste time and money and disrupt the work you should be doing.

> 没有空: 只有超级英雄喜欢搬家!只有流浪痞棍喜欢旅游哼! [Only superheroes like moving! Only vagrant scoundrels like traveling!]

> John: work is not life. Any life of your own outside the workplace is a disruption of work.

> 没有空: not workplace work. One’s own work. Travelling, like drinking, is a way to hide from one’s responsibilities.

> 没有空: how can you 为人民服务 [serve the people] if you are traipsing around tourist sites?

> 没有空: nice 吹ing牛 [bullshitting] with you but I got to get to work…

While it’s true that my friend doesn’t really like travelling, I know he was partly just being facetious. I can’t really fathom how people can dislike travel, though.

I want to travel more.

P.S. I should be arriving back in Shanghai this afternoon, completing a 27-hour train from Changchun. Mission accomplished! (sort of)


Aug 2005

Science (something) Sect

I hate celebrity gossip. I think it’s the stupidest thing. Why should we care about that stuff?? What bugs me the most is when I realize I am actually somewhat following it. I don’t want to, I don’t mean to… how does it happen?? I find it even more ludicrous that Chinese people sometimes also follow the celebrity gossip of Hollywood stars. Yeah, I shouldn’t be surprised, in this age of international media… but still. It’s ridiculous.

Last night I accidentally got involved in a celebrity gossip chat with my girlfriend. Argh! (Disclaimer: neither of us really knows what we’re talking about here, so if we’re wrong… ummm… so what??)

> Me: So you wanna watch a DVD tonight?

> Her: What DVD were you thinking?

> Me: How about Mr. and Mrs. Smith?

> Her: (wrinkles her nose)

> Me: Oh yeah, you saw that already… You didn’t like it, right?

> Her: Right. I just can’t believe he would do that to his girlfriend. I feel so sorry for her…

> Me: Huh?

> Her: You know, how he left her for that other woman…

> Me: (realizing what she’s talking about) Oh! You mean…

> Her: Yeah! Peter!

> Me: Haha… Not “Peter”… It’s “Pitt!” Brad Pitt!

> Her: Right… he left that one girl for the woman in this movie.

> Me: Oh, right. He left his wife Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie.

> Her: Right. Because of this movie!

> Me: So you don’t like it because you don’t like him.

> Her: Right.

> Me: OK, I guess that decides that…

> Her: Which one would you choose if you were Brad Pitt?

> Me: (suddenly sensing very dangerous ground) Ummm…

> Her: I think I would choose Angelina Jolie. She’s younger and sexier.

> Me: (relieved) Yeah, me too.

> Her: Men always go for the younger woman. Like Tom Cruise.

> Me: Yeah.

> Her: I think they’re kind of a cute couple.

> Me: What?? Why don’t you hate Tom Cruise? He did the same thing that Brad Pitt did. He was married to Nicole Kidman, and then he did a movie with Penelope Cruz and divorced his wife. And he didn’t even stay with Penelope Cruz long!

> Her: Oh, really?

> Me: Yeah! And plus he’s crazy!

> Her: He is?

> Me: Yeah, you haven’t heard?

> Her: I heard that he and his girlfriend are having some troubles. One reason is that it’s Tom Cruise’s third wedding and he wants to keep it small and simple, but his girlfriend would like her wedding to be a big affair.

> Me: Hmmm.

> Her: The other is that her family is Catholic, and one time when Tom Cruise was talking to her father, he got in a big argument with him over religion. It almost came to blows! You know, because Tom Cruise is in that one religion… science something sect… [科学-什么-派]

> Me: Oh yeah… [“Scientology”]. (I had no idea what that was in Chinese)

> Her: So Tom Cruise is really crazy?

> Me: So it seems. There are all sorts of clips documenting it on the internet. Wanna see?

> Her: OK.

Celebrity Names in Chinese (absolutely worthless — don’t learn these!):

– Brad Pitt: 布莱德·彼特/皮特 (His last name in Chinese sounds like a transliteration of the English name “Peter,” so he gets called “Peter” a lot by the Chinese.)
– Tom Cruise: 汤姆·克鲁斯
– Angelina Jolie: 安吉利娜·茱丽 (Characters vary somewhat. Why didn’t they just use 周丽 for her last name??)
– Jennifer Aniston: 珍妮佛·安妮斯顿
– Katie Holmes: 凯蒂·霍尔姆斯 (This one was slightly harder to find.)

Scientology” in Chinese (could potentially result in some interesting conversations and/or jokes!): 科学论派 (literally: “science theory sect”)


Aug 2005

Officially a Student

I think I’m officially a student of ECNU/华师大 now. On Wednesday I did two important things: I paid one year’s tuition out of my hard-earned Shanghai savings (21,777 rmbouch!) and I put through my student visa paperwork.

Unfortunately, they say they still can’t tell me how many classes/credits I’ll have my first semester, or which ones. I have to wait until registration on September 5th to learn that. I can’t even talk to my new adviser about it because he’s still on vacation. Classes start Sepember 12th.

My passport with new student visa will be delivered to my doorstep on August 17th. That’s gonna cost me 850 rmb, I believe (400 rmb for each semester, plus a ripoff 50 rmb for delivery). I’ll need that two days later to fly to Changchun, where I’ll be attending John B‘s wedding on the 20th. (Congrats to him!) I’ll be doing the overnight train thing back, leaving on the 21st and arriving in Shanghai on the 22nd.


Aug 2005

X-Net is here!

That’s right: X-Net! If it sounds futuristic and vaguely badass, it’s because it is!

Behold X-Net:


The vigilant observer might spot me astride this sweet piece of one-speed fury on the streets of Shanghai. I may be utilizing its convenient front basket, or ringing the bike bell to warn the unwary pedestrians in my path. I won’t be taking too many sharp turns, though, because that would involve smacking my knee with the handle bars, but that’s neither here nor there. The bike is big enough for me to ride.

<serious>Walking around Shanghai, I often feel like I’m in a bubble of foreignness, always a bit apart from my environs. When I ride my bike, however, the bubble seems to disappear. I don’t know what it is… Maybe part of it is that when I ride a bike no one can tell that I’m 194cm tall. But in Shanghai I don’t get stared at too much anyway, so that’s probably not it. Regardless, really being part of the traffic flow makes me feel like I’m a part of the city in a way that nothing else does.</serious>

Thanks, X-Net!

P.S. Dear bike thieves in China: Don’t steal this bike, regardless of how awesome I just said it is!


Jul 2005

Courage and Fear

Over the weekend I watched the movie Donnie Darko for the first time. I loved it. It reminded me a lot of a Murakami Haruki book, and a little bit of Slaughterhouse Five. It’s one of those pleasantly confusing stories, at once entertaining you and enriching your for the mental struggle it puts you through.

Completely by coincidence, I ended up reading The Courage to Live Consciously later the same night. I found the advice there vaguely reminiscent of Jim Cunningham‘s philosophy, only much more useful.

I found the two sources’ takes on courage and fear to be equally valid.

The Courage to Live Consciously–and this quote in particular–got me thinking about the decision to come live and work in China:

>Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.

–Erica Jong

When I was visiting the States I got to thinking about how easy and comfortable it would be to just stay in Tampa, where my friends and family are close, and just find some job to do. But that would be totally betraying my passions and my potential.

Some say moving to China to work takes a lot of courage. Numerous times, Americans from back home have told me that they admire my courage for doing what I do. But does what I do take any courage, really? I don’t see it that way.

To me, learning foreign languages and coming to China is simply a matter of doing what I like to do. I really enjoy studying Chinese, and helping other foreigners learn Chinese is something I genuinely like doing. I don’t think I deserve any special credit for doing what I like doing. If I’m hungry and I have a hamburger in front of me, am I courageous for eating it? No. That’s the way I see it.

That said, I do know that some people are living out what they feel are boring lives in the USA, Canada, or elsewhere, and they’d love to be able to move overseas and try out a new life. They see the hamburger, but they have a million reasons why they can’t eat it. Or maybe they’re afraid of what the hamburger has in it. I can’t be sure, because I’m not one of those people. I just eat the damn hamburger. I don’t think it’s courage.

Related? Those Who Dare.


Jul 2005

On American Food

From July 4th to July 16th, my girlfriend stayed with my family in a suburb of Tampa, Florida called Brandon. We had a great time, and they all loved her (of course). I’ll probably be writing about that visit a few times, but first I just want to talk about her reaction to American food.

She has to travel to other countries for her job, so my girlfriend is no stranger to Western food. She likes cheese and pizza — she’s not one of those Chinese people that can’t get used to a lot of Western foods. (She’s a Shanghainese girl!) She was excited to be able to discover what kind of food my family ate, as the American homes she had eaten in before had all been families of Chinese immigrants in L.A., and they ate mostly Chinese food. In the end, there were a few things she couldn’t get used to in two weeks’ time.

The first day, my mom gave us beef and barley soup with cold cuts sandwiches for lunch. She loved that stuff. She didn’t know Americans could make such a good soup (good job, mom!).

One night we had a make-up Thanksgiving Dinner, with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry orange relish (a family specialty)… the whole thing. I don’t think my girlfriend is too crazy about turkey, and she didn’t get into the gravy much (mmm, gravy…), but she enjoyed that meal. She just felt like it was so much food. She told me my appetite seemed to increase when I got home. Damn right it did!

She liked the chilli my mom made. And she definitely liked my sister Amy’s Asian fusion stir fry. Those two nights, though, when the dinner consisted of mainly one big dish, gave her a mistaken impression about American food. She thought that was the norm because we really didn’t have that many dinners at home. I had to explain to her that (in my family, at least) there are usually at least three or four dishes, but occasionally one dish will dominate the meal.

She enjoyed the meals less on the nights we ate out. The food she got at the Akershus “Princess Palace” at Norway in Disney’s EPCOT Center wasn’t that great. My food was good, though. What made that place amusing was the five Disney princesses that came out and chatted with you and took pictures while you ate. The five princesses of the day were Cinderella, Ariel, Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty, and Belle. Sitting there, I realized that the dining epxerience was meant for five-year-old girls. Whatever, though — Jasmine was hot!

We learned from our experience at Busch Gardens that meal portions at the fast food-type restaurants are way too big, and we were better off sharing one entree and getting a few side dishes. That worked well for lunch at SeaWorld. The pasta dish she ordered at Sharks Underwater Grill was a little rich, and the immensity of the appetizer shocked her. The jumbo shrimp I had there were the best shrimp I’ve had in a looong time, though. Chinese restaurants take great pride in having only the freshest seafood, but why is it so rare for me to eat such tasty and succulent shrimp in China for a reasonable price? OK, rambling.

The night we made dumplings (饺子) dinner was good, of course. We made so many we had to freeze half of them. (You guys better remember to eat those!) Unfortunately I earned extreme contempt from my girlfriend for my creative ing efforts. I tried all kinds of cool new 包 techniques. No one was impressed. Oh well, they still taste the same when they look ugly.

Oh, and fresh, crisp American corn on the cob was well appreciated. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get her to smother it with butter (the way it should be eaten).

12 nights of dinners, and I’m having trouble recalling many of them. Anyway, my girlfriend wasn’t crazy about stuff with rich creamy or buttery sauces, but she liked most stuff. The one meal she really couldn’t stomach, though, was one of my favorite meals of the entire visit. It was the bagel brunch.

The morning of the 16th my mom went and bought fresh-basked New York-style bagels at Brandon Bagel. According to my neighbor, it is the only source for delicious authentic bagels in Brandon. So, with my neighbor, my mom got the everything bagels, the pumpernickel bagels, the salt bagels, the honey wheat bagels, etc. They got cream cheese with chives, veggie cream cheese, cream cheese with lox, and some kind of cinnamon cream cheese. We also had fresh sliced tomatoes and onions for additional toppings. I was in heaven. Normally I have little appetitite in the morning so I eat only one bagel for breakfast, but I had three bagels (six different halves) that morning.

But my poor girlfriend didn’t like them. She felt the bagel bread was too dense and the cream cheese was just too much for a breakfast item. I pity her. Thinking back, though, I used to be unable to stomach a lot of fried Chinese breakfast items, like 煎饺.

So that’s the end of that report. I imagine my family will be a little surprised to realize that the bagel brunch was my girlfriend’s least favorite meal, as she was very polite and ate an entire half bagel before begging off. Oh well. That just left more for the bagel lovers. (And I did eat her second bagel: everything bagel with chives cream cheese, tomato, and onion! Yummm…)


Jul 2005

Seoul to Shanghai and stuff

I am finally back in Shanghai today. It has been a very full past two weeks.

I like the Seoul airport. It has good food, and a nice internet cafe (or “Internet Plaza,” as they call it) for US$3 per hour. I used that one on the way to the USA, but this time on the way back my girlfriend and I found the transit lounge (it’s up one floor), which offers free internet access. Nice computers, too.

I also experienced Korea’s most beloved of televised competitions: the Starcraft competition. Pretty crazy. I remember when I first arrived in China in 2000 Starcraft was still pretty popular, but I don’t see it on many screens in the wangba these days (although, admittedly, I don’t find myself in Chinese wangba much anymore). China has moved onto other games, like WoW (speaking of which, check this ad out). Korea is not nearly as fickle as China; it has remained steadfast in its obsession despite the fact that Starcraft is already 7 years old.

I have always liked Starcraft, and I still play a round from time to time. I think it’s my favorite computer game ever. But I still don’t think I would cry on national television if I lost a Starcraft competition. I guess I just don’t understand Korea.

Page 4 of 10« First...23456...10...Last »