his trusty camera at his side.
Wherever he goes,
he leaves photo galleries in his wake.
Wherever he goes,
he leaves photo galleries in his wake.
I won’t be posting for a little while because I’m going to Hangzhou for the weekend. I had worked 11 days straight (including a nice business trip to Wuxi), so I took off today, giving myself a 3-day weekend. Wilson arrived for a visit Tuesday, so we gotta return to our old stomping grounds. Also, a new club in Hangzhou called Lava is having a big bash tonight (Friday, April 2) organized by my friends in Hangzhou [more info].
I also expect to be devoting a fair amount of time when I come back to the Adopt a Blog project. I’m very pleased that it seems to be taking off. Please, get involved!
(Taiwan Schmaiwan! It’s no secret that I’m not into politics, but in addition to 95% of the China bloggers covering the election, the mainstream media is too.)
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but what about spite? Does it fit into the invention family somewhere?
I have this great idea for a new invention. It’s this box that attaches to the wall or ceiling of one’s apartment. The box emits sound exclusively in the direction of the surface to which it is attached, which is then amplified by conduction. Sound selections might include “Deafening Pounding,” “Metal Scraping Broken Glass,” and
“Jungle Beast Armageddon.” It would come with a remote control for ease of use, which would also feature volume control and a timer function, so that the sounds could be programmed to play at any time of the day or night. The sounds could be played when the owner is not even home (but his neighbor is).
I can see the conversation now… “Oh, is my noise bothering you? Sorry about that, I’ve been doing some remodeling lately. It should only last a few more weeks. You were remodeling too, recently, weren’t you? I think I remember hearing it every single day, really early in the morning. Anyway, gotta get back to remodeling. Nice talking to you, bye!”
I have been walking to and from work for the past two weeks. I need to be at my workplace at 8:30am. I get off work at 5:30pm. The walk is about 20 minutes. Routine.
On day one, as I waded into the flow of pedestrians, I started reflecting about all these people and all these routines. Shanghai has a huge population, but how many people are on West Nanjing Road every morning from 8:00 to 8:30? And for how many of those people is it a routine? If their routine overlaps mine, I’m liable to see the same people again and again, depending on the degree and consistency of overlap between our routines.
It wasn’t long before I had an answer to my question. On day two I saw a familiar face. Over two weeks, I have only been able to identify three definites:
Japanese-looking Girl. Japanese-looking Girl looks Japanese. That’s not to say she is; there are Chinese-looking Koreans, Thai-looking Japanese, etc. But she has a dye job and a perm, as well as a certain sense of style that strikes me as Japanese-looking. She was the one I recognized on day two, and I see her almost every single day because a long stretch of our routines, running in opposite directions along West Nanjing Road, overlap. I like Japanese-looking girl because she has a kind face, and she always wears a thoughtful expression.
F4 Reject. This guy bears a striking resemblance to a member of the Taiwanese boy band F4, which used to be all the rage in the PRC. He’s got the long hair, and seems to be going for the “casually stylish” look. He always wears jeans, frequently wears black shirts. Differences are his looks are not boy band caliber, he wears glasses, and he has the unattractive habit of walking around with his mouth agape. He seems to always be in a stupor, plodding determinedly ahead.
Aryan Duo. Only one of the two has blond hair, but I just liked that name. They appear to be a couple, they’re tall, they both wear black trenchcoats, and they walk fast. They look very unfriendly, as if Shanghai is holding them captive. They may be just as shackled to their routines, because I only see them if I can get out the door around 8:00am (which isn’t often). I don’t miss them.
Why mention these people at all? Well, what strikes me as interesting is that as quick as I was to identify them as fixtures in my routine, I imagine they should have begun to recognize me by now. At around 6’5″, I’m not a foreigner that is often overlooked in China. And yet day after day, their eyes show absolutely no recognition. So that’s my challenge. These people are going to recognize me.
I tried to smile at Japanese-looking Girl, but that’s kinda tricky, because I don’t want her to think I’m coming onto her. I’m sure she’ll crack eventually if I just make a small friendly smile as we pass (every single fricking day!). I wonder how she would react if I commented on a change in her hairstyle as I passed her.
There’s little hope for F4 Reject. The guy seems half-catatonic sometimes. (I bet he’d noticed me if I jacked him in the jaw!) His open mouth reminds me of myself as a kid, because I once had this bad habit myself. My grandma would say to me, “whatcha doin’ there, catchin’ flies?” I bet F4 Reject has caught a few.
I don’t plan on seeing the Aryan Duo again. Why leave the house in the morning before 8:05 if I don’t have to?
I finally got to meet the guy last night. He was passing through Shanghai on his way to Hangzhou, where he will soon be a teacher at ZUCC. First I’ll say that he was exactly as I expected his to be from his blog, and that’s a compliment. He was friendly, funny, up for a good time, and he looked like he does in his pictures.
I sort of did a repeat night out that I did with Amy, Carl, and Greg a few weeks ago: all you can eat and drink teppanyaki at Da Yu, followed by merriment at Excalibur Rocks. It did the trick.
I was a little disappointed by the initial lack of gusto on the parts of the eaters. When it’s all you can eat and you’re shelling out a pretty penny, I expect people to eat all they can eat. Those fools actually needed reminders! Same goes for the alcohol! It wasn’t long before Jamie was catching up with (and surpassing) me on the drinks, though, and Russell made a valiant effort too. By the time we got to Excalibur Rocks we were all pretty happy.
Highlight of the evening for me was watching Jamie do a solo dance on the floor with two hula hoops. I’m not sure if he even remembers it, but I was dying laughing at the time.
It’s always interesting to meet these bloggers. People choose what parts of themselves to expose in their blogs, but when you actually meet face to face, you get the rest. I think every blogger has tons of good stories he doesn’t want to write about on his public blog.
Anyway, good luck in Hangzhou, Jamie. We’ll meet again….[Note: it seems that the previous night, some bloggers in Beijing had a little bash of their own.]
My sister Amy went back home to the USA today (yesterday) after a 2-week visit. I was left with a fresh slab of that particular kind of emptiness, separated once again from my entire family by that big expanse of water. And yet, a twinge of relief. I once again have some time to myself. Won’t be long before I’m very tired of all this time to myself, I expect.
Amy has agreed to write a guest entry or two to share some of her experiences in China. Should be interesting. She’s not much like me.
On the subject of women writing, check out the 21st Street Diary. Some guy found on anonymous woman’s diary from the 70’s, and he’s putting images of the actual pages online. It seems promising.
OK, I guess that’s not a nice way to refer to the departure of two good friends. But it’s what came to mind when I took this picture, which I have entitled exorcising the demon (sorry Carl):
Amy is still here visiting, and we’re doing lots of sightseeing still (as well as plenty of lounging). Carl and Greg’s most recent Shanghai visit, however, is already over just two days after it began. They seem to have had a good time (due largely to the neighborhood Taco Popo). My new sleeper sofa, mattress pad, and sheet set equip my guest room pretty well to accommodate guests.
Quick plug: Da Yu (Chinese name) Japanese restaurant in the Isetan building on West Nanjing Road is awesome. At 150 rmb per person it’s not cheap, but it’s all you can eat and all you can drink. Plus you order off the menu — there’s no crappy buffet bar. We left there at closing, very full and more than a little happy. (Thanks to Wilson for that recommendation!)
While they were here we also experienced the storm after the calm after the storm. I refer to the ridiculous firecracker/firework extravaganza that went on last night. The noise was deafening, and we had quite a show out my apartment window for about an hour. All kinds of fireworks explosions came from all directions, right in the middle of the city, between tall buildings. At one point a nearby building caught on fire, sending up big clouds of smoke. It was put out fairly quickly. (The next morning we went to check it out, but there was no evidence. I did notice a sign on the building which had caught fire: DANGER: GAS.)[Related link: don’t miss this footage of the unbelievable pyrotechnic show around ZUCC on Chinese New Year’s Eve.]
Turns out that the display here last night was due to some kind of tradition of welcoming the god of wealth into one’s home for a prosperous new year. Hmmm. I suppose I should study up on this whole “Chinese culture” thing a little more.
Anyway, I’m glad Carl and Greg came up to the big city for the visit. To my other friends: come on over for a visit!
My sister Amy arrived last Thursday night, which just so happened to coincide with the arrival of rain and considerably colder weather in the Shanghai area. We haven’t done much so far in Shanghai, although we did get to meet Michael of Chairman Meow and Living in China fame and his friends. Very cool group of people. Then we went to Hangzhou.
I gotta say, any decent city in China requires at least a week of touristing. I foolishly only gave us 3 days in Hangzhou, and I regret it. We saw West Lake, Nanshan Road’s bars, Ling Yin Temple, the Silk Market, In Time Department Store, “West Lake Heaven and Earth” (西湖天地), ZUCC, and snow. On Sunday the weather was horrible (even if it did snow), so we shopped all day. Ugh. Then yesterday we went to the silk market and we spent 3 hours there. I wanted to die. I was translator and haggler. I really got some good prices, but I don’t particularly enjoy that.
Amy enjoyed meeting all my ZUCC co-workers and other Hangzhou friends. They’re all really cool people. I should have some pictures of her visit up soon. Got some good ones.
Last night we made the difficult decision not to go to Beijing. It’s the wrong time of year for it (too cold, and it’s the Chinese New Year holiday now), and we just wouldn’t have enough time there. Plus, Amy wouldn’t get to see much of Shanghai even if we went to Beijing for only 3 or 4 days. You can’t see three amazing cities in two weeks.
So tonight is Chinese New Year’s Eve. We’ll be spending it with my girlfriend’s family. Happy Chinese New Year everybody!
Jocelyn at Speaking of China recently painted a rather dismal picture of life in Shanghai:
> I think of those 10 or so months I’d spent in Shanghai. Somehow staying in that “booming metropolis” had swiftly beaten much of the spontaneity out of my life. There’s something inextricably stifling about Shanghai. The people hardly smile at you. The shopkeepers at times seem reluctant to utter “Welcome” as you walk in the door. Most entertainment options offer little for those interested in something non-conventional. Oh, there is a multitude of cultural activities around the city, from traditional opera to music and theatre. But there are few “scenes” in the city that bring together a group of people with similar interests. I believe I grew tired of the little available and the difficulty of making friends there. I chose to become a “hermit” of sorts, finding pleasure instead in the small subtleties of everyday life. It satisfied me nevertheless.
(She wrote this in the context of a comparison of Shanghai to Taipei. Check it out, it’s good reading.)
Reading something like that, I can’t help but feel a little bit anxious about my new life here in Shanghai. But then I think, HA! I’m going to kick Shanghai’s sorry big ass. I am going to have a damn good time here, I’m going to continue to improve my Chinese, and I’m going to make more Chinese friends here than I ever had in Hanghzou. And they’re going to be cool.
One of my secrets for accomplishing this will be in learning Shanghai dialect. Comprehension at the very least. I made friends on the bus yesterday with a Shanghainese guy. I was reading my book on the Shanghainese dialect, and he started talking to me about it. It’s really complex. The subject of me teaching him English for free never even came up. Anyway, I got his number. BOOM, new friend! It was almost as easy as getting a Chinese girl’s number. (hehe)
Then later that day my girlfriend’s mom gave me a lesson in Shanghainese. My Chinese name in Shanghainese sounds like “Poogie.” Haha! Awesome.
And my sister Amy arrives later today (wow, I need to go to sleep!). It’s gonna be a great 2 weeks!
A lot of people have asked me why I decided to move to Shanghai. A few years ago I would have laughed at the idea of myself making a home here. But, things have a funny way of working out…. Some of you might be wondering the converse, though — why not Shanghai?
When I first came to China, I chose Hangzhou (over Shanghai) for a number of reasons.
For the reasons above, as well as the fact that I never felt like a “city person,” I chose Hangzhou over Shanghai. It was an excellent choice. My number one goal here in China is attainment of a high degree of fluency in Mandarin, and Hangzhou has been a great place to pursue that dream. As my language proficiency pushes into the “advanced stage,” though, I have had to re-evaluate the situation.
As a university English teacher in China, I can’t justifiy the use of Chinese in the classroom, so my job (with the exception of the minor “foreign teacher liaison position”) was conducted entirely in English.
I’ve never been good at befriending my students, and I always found the language issue problematic. They want to practice English, I want to practice Chinese.
As my Chinese got better and better, I just felt that if my aim was mastery of Chinese, the most logical way to further my goal was to find a job where I could use Chinese on the job, all the time.
Thus Shanghai. Hangzhou has very little call for foreigners that speak Chinese. The fact that jobs in Shanghai pay way better is a small added bonus, but far from a driving factor for me.
Often in jest, expats in China sometimes refer to foreigners living in Shanghai as having “sold out.” I’m sure many do come here for the pay. You can earn a Western salary here (if you’re lucky). And I remember when I first came to Hangzhou and met other expats who had been here longer, I learned about the phenomenon of foreigners abandoning Hangzhou in favor of Shanghai after they’d been in China a while. And I remember thinking to myself, “Not me! Hangzhou is the city for me.” Whatever “the real China” may be, Shanghai is most definitely not it. So I can’t help but ask myself, “have I sold out?”
The answer is, of course, NO. But I have to make sure I keep focused on my goals. I wouldn’t be the first disillusioned Westerner to embrace the mystic, ascetic East for whatever reason, in all its third world charm, merely to get caught up in this new red capitalism. I wanted out of the rat race, not merely into a new “race.”
So I guess that about sums it up. Yes, my girlfriend also lives in Shanghai. And yes, that was also a factor (and a catalyst). But of course it wasn’t that simple. And I will definitely miss living in Hangzhou.
So I finally got my ADSL access today. I am proper satisfied. It’s very fast, and I can even upgrade to twice this speed for a mere extra 10 rmb per month (I currently have to pay 130).
So now I can get back on top of my e-mail. Still, if you sent me any e-mails these past few months, there’s a good chance they were lost in my hard drive crash, so please e-mail me again. I’m using Thunderbird as my mail client now, instead of Microsoft Outlook. John B tells me it’s better for Asian language support. Hopefully it’ll work out.
Just in case you were looking for something China-related that goes even beyond my own existence here, I got something for ya. So tell me, do you know the difference between a Chinaman and a chink? Go find out.
Related note: Ever hear of the Chink Bros?
Happy New Year, everybody. It’s been a while since my last entry, I know. In the meantime a lot has happened (although really, not much).
I have completely moved into my new apartment in Shanghai, and it’s awesome. My ZUCC co-worker friends were all going to help me with the final move, but they all bailed on me at the last minute for lame reasons like “no money,” except for Greg. He was a great help, and strong as an ox, that lad. Alf tried to placate me by later showing up with a potted plant for me. What a charmer.
Anyway, I don’t hold grudges, so I’ll be happy to put any of them up should they feel like coming to visit me in Shanghai. Those guys are great, and I’ll really miss them. Sometimes it’s hard for me to explain even to myself why I would voluntarily leave such a great community of people.
I also met the notorious Brad (of BradF.com) recently. Very chill guy. Much more into music than I expected (if you read Chinese, make sure you check out his ideas for his new band!). Hopefully I’ll be hanging out with him again soon.
I finally bought a new hard drive yesterday. 80 GB of Seagate goodness. Works like a champ so far. I’ve actually found that I didn’t lose as much data as I thought I did, due to my inadvertently backing important documents up in the past for various reasons. That includes my book, to my extreme relief. My publisher has just recently informed me that they’ve finally made the official decision to publish it. Cool. Only took 3 months.
Hmmm, every paragraph is beginning with the word “I”. But not this one.
My ADSL internet access will be installed tomorrow, and then I can finally quit with this internet cafe hanky panky.
I paid a huge wad of cash for my apartment on Christmas Day. My new job doesn’t start until after Chinese New Year. I was getting paid very little all last semester because I was teaching very few clases to make time for my full-time Chinese studies. That all amounts to me being pooooor. My older sister Amy is coming for a visit next Wednesday. Fortunately she’s bringing funds. Everything’s gonna be cool, I’m sure.
Things are looking good. I have lots of ideas for Sinosplice in the months to come, but I’m gonna need that internet access first. Expect more pictures. My new surroundings have imparted new inspiration to me.
Oh man, I am pissed. I know I should have been backing up my hard drive all along, but I’ve got remarkably good luck with computers. But John B and Carl convinced me to reinstall Windows using XP Corporate edition in English, since the language support is all there anyway. I also wanted Office XP. I also wanted to reformat my hard drive and get off of the FAT32 file system. So I had to back everything up.
Well, wouldn’t you know it… right when I’m starting to back everything up, the hard drive dies. I’m not a hardware expert, but hard drives have these little thingies inside them that spin around at very high speeds. They must spin. It seems some of mine have fused together. So instead of doing its job, my hard drive makes a sad clicking noise, and my CPU fails to recognize any hard drive at all.
Besides losing my entire addressbook AGAIN, I’ve lost a bunch of pictures, which really bums me. I can try to recover data from the crashed HD, but I’ve been advised not to get my hopes up too high.
I had to take Carl back to the computer market today to swap out his motherboard for a working one. My original plan was to buy a new hard drive immediately, but I had a fateful telephone conversation with my girlfriend last night.
Why is it that girls pretend to be strangers to logic most of their lives, blithely prancing about their affairs of shopping and gossip, but then can cruelly whip it out at the opportune moment and spear a vulnerable man with it?
“Why don’t you wait until after you move to Shanghai to buy a new hard drive? That way if anything goes wrong, it’s a lot easier to return it?”
I can’t argue with that. So I’ll be without a computer for a while. The final move is scheduled for January 4th.
So another Christmas has come and gone. Despite my feeling that “Christmas just doesn’t exist this year” I still tried to celebrate it somehow. I knew I’d be in Shanghai on Christmas Day forking over the first three months’ rent to my new landlord, so I wanted to celebrate Christmas Eve with my ZUCC co-worker buddies. It was my idea to go to Banana Leaf, a relatively new addition to Hangzhou’s restaurant scene.
Banana Leaf is a chain, but it rules. I first had the pleasure of dining at this lively Thai establishment in Shanghai, and I absolutely loved the food. Banana Leaf is very much going for atmosphere, though, so they don’t stop at just good food. The place is decorated to look kind of tropical jungly, and there’s a singing dancing staff doing roving performances throughout the restaurant in Chinese, English, and even Spanish (“La Bamba” is the one that I recall most readily).
Anyway, that’s the place I chose for all my co-workers to eat on Christmas Eve. Not everyone made it, though. It was Carl, Greg, Russell, Wayne, Alf, two Chinese friends, and me. Since it was Christmas, the performing staff were all dressed up in Santa suits, and one of them even had the full beard going. Thai Santa Claus. They were amazingly enthusiastic and bubbly the whole time, singing dancing, going by in congo lines. What really kept us amused was how one of the guys kept poking Russell in a flirtacious way. Some of the other guys were making eyes at us. These are all Thai (?)* guys dressed up in Santa suits, mind you. So it was pretty damn amusing.
Everyone liked the food, even if Greg was a little disappointed that the half a roast pig never showed up. They ran out.
After that it was a bit of an adventure getting a taxi. Who’da thunk all of Hangzhou would be out for a night on the town on Christmas Eve? I guess Chinese people are getting into it. It’s a good enough excuse to go out, anyway.
Then we were off to Reggae Bar (which was inexplicably left off of Greg’s Brief Overview of Hangzhou’s Nightspots, to my dismay). Reggae Bar was all decked up Christmas-like, with a full-on Christmas tree and Christmas lights strung throughout the bar. It was also packed. Standing room only. A good mix of foreigners and Chinese, as usual.
Lenny tried to entice me with the bottle of vodka he had bought, but I stuck to beer all night. There was much dancing and merriment. I had a pretty good amount of alcohol, I think. At one point I wouldn’t let Alf stop dancing. The funny thing is it actually worked; he kept on dancing as if somehow compelled by me insisting and blocking the exit.
Surprise, surprise, I missed my 9am train the next morning. I had already bought the ticket and everything. I was awakened just after 9 by an international phone call from my good friend Paco. So I zoomed off to the bus station and caught a bus to Xu Jia Hui that was leaving in 10 minutes. It all worked out.
My new Shanghai apartment is pretty badass. It’s on Nanyang Road (南阳路), right behind the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel on West Nanjing Road. So I’ve got a Taco Popo (decent Mexican food in China!) right around the corner, as well as a pizza delivery joint, and a Starbucks, and several bars, and lotsa Chinese restaurants, including a cozy little Guilin joint that sells rice noodle dishes for 5-6 rmb! Jing An Temple is a 5 minute walk away. I’m loving it.
OK, that’s all for now. I still have lots of moving to do. Ugh.
*I think many of them may have been Filipino.
P.S. Happy Birthday, Illy!
Not long ago I announced the first party organized by a group of young people in Hangzhou determined to make some positive changes in Hangzhou’s dance music scene. Well, it turns out the first party was quite a success! The bar was pretty packed. There were lots of foreigners, but lots of Chinese as well (and even a good number of cute girls). Ever since the first party, people have been showing up at the bar where it was held asking when the next event would be. So let me tell you when the next event is gonna be. This Saturday, December 13th, 9pm – 2am at the Sacred Chrees Pub (I wish that were a typo, but it’s not), same as last time, near the corner of Yan’an Road and West Lake Boulevard. It’s the bar with the big dragon head and suit of armor out front. Kinda hard to miss.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and ZUCC teachers and friends had a great meal at the Holiday Inn. 148 rmb per person is pretty steep, but it was all you can eat (and all you can drink), and the food was top notch. I had at least 5 plates. I was hurting. It was all worthwhile.
There was great turkey, with gravy. There was cranberry relish. There was pumpkin pie. There almost wasn’t mashed potatoes, but Heather, having read my account of Thanksgiving at Holiday Inn last year, fixed that problem. She called ahead and requested mashed potatoes at the buffet. As a result, there were mashed potatoes, and they were good. There were tons of other non-Thanksgivingesque selections as well, such as sushi, steak, “roast beef salad,” and pasta. But we were all happy to see the Thanksgiving traditional dishes represented.
So I guess now it’s back to Chinese food every meal, every day.
Regarding the melancholy, there are a whole lot of factors contributing, and it’s a strange mix of emotions. I have already committed to a move in early January, and I’m not looking forward to leaving Hangzhou and all my good friends here behind (look at Greg’s sweet Thanksgiving post). Yet it’s time for a change. So there’s a lot of excitement and uncertainty too. I think I’ve found a great job, but it’s not quite finalized yet, so I don’t want to announce it publicly.
Also, next month I take the HSK. That’s the big Chinese “TOEFL.” I have been skipping too many classes lately and not studying nearly enough. It’s time to really buckle down. If I don’t get an 8, I’m going to be sorely disappointed and pissed at myself for not working harder. I know I can get an 8.
Also, I haven’t been blogging much lately. It’s partly because I don’t have much time for it, but also because lately I’m feeling a little unhappy about the whole deal. I’m not sure why, exactly, and it’s hard to pin down the exact emotions, but I have some vague ideas.
One of the biggest changes to the “China Blog Community” of late has been the addition of Living in China. It’s a community blog in every sense of the word, and the founders did an amazing job. The site looks awesome, and there are new posts frequently, on a wide range of topics. The site is just so professional. It deserves every hit it gets.
Still, there’s something about it that feels strange. I agree with Richard’s assessment. I suppose I really like the process of browsing blogs, and I’ve never been a fan of RSS feeds. Now it kind of feels like if you don’t have an RSS feed then you’re out in the cold. I guess the need for RSS is an inevitable development given the tremendous surge in the number of China blogs. But I still feel a little bit like the Wal-Mart of China blogs has arrived, if that makes any sense.
I’m not trying to criticize Living in China, though. What they’re doing is great, and my reaction is strictly a personal one.
Along those lines, though, it’s been disturbing to me seeing the personal, nasty side of the China blogs. Attacks on Glutter, Hailey…. Why is “who’s right” always the most important issue? Why do blogs tend to encourage raging, ruthless egos?
I guess I just miss the good old days when everything seemed so intimate and friendly. But things change, and that’s fine. For the time being, though, I’m very content with being pretty quiet. But I’ll stick around.
You gotta admire people who see a problem and then actually do something about it. I’m not talking about just words, I’m talking actions. I try to adhere to this philosophy in my own life (hey, the Sinosplice Network!), and I applaud it when I see it.
One of the things foreigners quickly recognize as very wrong in China is the horrible dance music played in clubs. It’s really bad. You really need a good dose of alcohol to withstand it for any decent length of time.
When Wilson was here, he tried to bring some better music to Chinese clubbers by DJing at two different clubs in Hangzhou. Now some friends of mine are taking a slightly different approach. They’re renting out a club, hiring their own DJs, playing good music, and charging a small admission. They’re even keeping beer prices low somehow. This could be the start of something big. Definitely check it out if you’re in Hangzhou Saturday, November 29th. It’s all going down at “Sacred Chrees Pub” on Ding An Road by West Lake Boulevard.
I was thinking of writing about Muzimei, since I’ve been reading her for a few weeks and all Chinese people know about her, but I guess it’s too late. Jeremy at Danwei covered it a while ago, and so did Andrea more recently over at Living in China.
“Muzimei” is a Chinese girl who got really famous on the internet by writing all about her sex life, including the identities of her partners. It’s kind of funny to me that someone can get so famous in China just by writing about sex. That trick is kind of played out in the West already.
But I’m not writing about Muzimei. I’m whining about my cold. It’s Day Two. Today I slumbered blissfully through my morning Chinese classes to get more rest, sucked in over 6 liters of water, and pounded vitamins too. Take that. Stupid cold.
When a foreigner in China talks with Chinese people, one of the major questions he will be asked about his life in China is, xi bu xiguan? — are you used to it? Annoying as it can be at times to be asked this same question over and over, when I give it any thought, I find the question still relevant after over three years here.
Of course, culture shock is certainly an issue, but I’ve always felt that I’m only minimally affected by it. The first time I went to Japan I pranced in like a wide-eyed child with no idea what to expect, rather than with a list of expectations. As a result, I wasn’t so “shocked.” The same principle applied in China, for the most part. I don’t think it’s something I’ve done consciously; it’s just the way it worked out for me.
When I first arrived in China, I stayed at a Chinese friend’s empty apartment. It was a broiling Hangzhou summer, but the apartment had no air conditioning. At night I slept on a bamboo mat with no cover. An electric fan made sleep just barely possible, and mosquito coils kept the little bloodsuckers at bay. I washed my clothes by hand and cooked most of my own meals. The toilet flush mechanism was broken and had to be flushed by dumping in a bucket of water. The hot water heater didn’t work, so showers were cold. After a week or two, I accepted that “this is China,” and I felt I had pretty much adapted to life in China.
After only a month, I was given an offer to move in with a Chinese guy about my same age. I could stay for free, and the apartment would have fully functional bathroom facilities, washing machine, and air conditioning. More than anything though, I feared the prospect of loneliness and boredom if I stayed at the first place. So I moved.
My second living arrangement turned out to be great for language study. That was the whole reason I was allowed to live there for free, but it turned out to be far from one-sided. I ate meals at school in the cafeteria for about 4 RMB ($.050 US), and at home with my roommate in another cafeteria every night for 3 RMB. The food certainly wasn’t great, but it was OK. After I showered, I used the tiny hand towels that Chinese people use to dry off. My social life was practically non-existent. I didn’t know any other foreigners, and my Chinese wasn’t good enough yet to make many Chinese friends who wanted anything more than English practice. I spent a lot of time studying Chinese and hanging out at home with my roommate. I felt I had pretty much adapted to life in China.
When my roommate decided to move to Canada to study, I moved into ZUCC’s newly finished teacher apartment. The new place not only had all the amenities of my former residence, but it was much bigger and it was all mine. I could cook on my own again. I finally bought a DVD player. No longer content with the Chinese “wash rag,” I bought a large, thick Western-style bath towel. I quickly got used to having my own place, and since I had Chinese friends by that time, it wasn’t so bad being alone. I felt I had already adapted to life in China, so small changes seemed insignificant.
The second semester of my life at ZUCC, Wilson, Helene, Simon, and Ben arrived. It was the beginning of a real foreigner community. Although my Chinese friendships continued, a big part of my free time was shifted to socializing with them. I stopped cooking, and began eating out all the time. We could all easily afford it, and the food was good. We almost always ate Chinese. I bought a desktop computer for my room and started my own website. The little changes continued.
I’ve now been in China for over three years. I’m finding a renewed interest in cooking on my own, applying a sort of fusion approach (cooking Chinese food with olive oil and balsamic vinegar — mmmmm), but I still eat out a lot. I still spend a lot of time with the other foreign teachers. Now my main contacts with the Chinese language are Chinese class and my Chinese girlfriend, although I still occasionally meet my Chinese friends as well. But I’m still adapted to life in China, right?
I find myself wondering what “adapting” really is. At what point in my stay here was I most “adapted to Chinese life”? Is it more important that I alter some part of myself to successfully fit in, or is it more important that I’ve found contentment in a foreign environment? Clearly, adaptation is a process of finding a balance between what you can accept from your new environment and what you must change about your new environment in order to be comfortable. But if that balance keeps evolving, does it mean one has still not adapted?
I guess it’s all just pointless rhetoric in the end, but I enjoy watching the new teachers undergo the process, finding wonder and revulsion in parts of life here that I barely notice anymore. It’s very easy to forget how much you’ve really adapted sometimes. I think it’s equally difficult to be aware of how one is still adapting.