Tag: personal


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…


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.


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…


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.


26

Dec 2002

Home for Christmas, finally (part 2)

Sunday, December 22nd. I get to the airport at about 8:30am. Check-in goes smoothly. Before long I’m on a plane. The only snag is that what I was told was a nonstop flight from Shanghai to Detroit was actually a flight with a stopover in Tokyo. Maybe I wouldn’t have to get off the plane, at least, and I could just sleep. I was ready for that.

On the plane I notice there are a lot of young people. Turns out there are two singing groups from universities in the U.S. which had been invited to Shanghai to perform. That includes religious Christmas songs. Kind of interesting; not interesting enough to keep me awake, however. My last thought as I drift off is, “I hope they wake me when they serve the meal….”

I awake as we’re arriving in Tokyo. I ask the girl next to me if there was a meal. “Yes, she tried to wake you. It was like you were dead to the world.” D’oh! Oh well. I was dead to the world. It’s the best way to sleep.

They make me get off the plane and wait around in the Tokyo airport for two hours. It’s strange hearing so much Japanese again so soon, when I wasn’t planning on it at all. Mostly, though, I’m just tired and hungry. I fall asleep in my chair and awake to the boarding call.

The flight starts off pleasantly enough. To my left is a silent Asian man. To my right is a large Marine, headed home from Okinawa with his family for Christmas. His family is behind us. He seems nice enough.

It isn’t long, however, before the trans-Pacific ennui sets in. I succeed in sleeping for a while. I devour a decent in-flight meal and sleep a little more. Soon, though, my Marine friend’s little 4-5 year old son “E.J.” becomes possessed. He is noisy. Then he starts this thing where he lies on his back in the seat and pummels my seat from behind with his feet. Not exactly conducive to restfulness. I can’t really complain because his parents tell him to stop. Thing is, he keeps just waiting a little while and then starting up again.

There is a mother and two nice young boys in front of me. They all love to recline their seats. I suppose that’s their right. My long cramped legs are forced into straddling the seat in front of me, my knee caps jammed up against the back of the arm rests of the seat. Then they come up with this fun game of repeatedly putting the arm rests up and down for no discernible reason. Are they doing it solely to keep painfully whacking my knee caps? Thanks.

My agony is interrupted by a new form of torture called Santa Who? — a “heart-warming” story of an amnesia-inflicted Santa who meets a selfish news reporter who needed a holiday change of heart. I watch the whole thing. I want to die.

Wait — now E.J. is pummeling me again and my friends in front of me are crushing my kneecaps with renewed vigor. Now I want to die.

There are only two good points to the flight. First, there seem to be an unusually large number of attractive women onboard. Not seated next to me, of course, but they are on the premises to give me something else to focus my attention on and help me pull through it. Thanks, ladies. Second, the airline serves ice cream after Santa Who? ends. Ice Cream! All right.

Silent Asian man is Chinese, as it turns out, and can’t figure out his immigration forms. I help him. He seems pleasantly surprised that I can help him with that in Chinese. His English doesn’t seem too hot. I found myself wondering if he always asks for Coke because he likes it, or because that’s all he can say.

Scooby Doo the Movie comes on. Vowing not to make the same mistake again, I refuse to put my earphones on. Still, my eyes stay glued to the screen, however, and I’m soon angry over the stupidity of the film. I manage to sleep a little more.

Hope comes in the form of the second in-flight meal. Not only does it satisfy my hunger, but with it comes peace to the whole plane, for a short time.

For the remaining stretch E.J. tests my patience. But I hold out. I don’t crack. We land.

Things start getting better after that, because I am actually in the U.S.A. I have just eaten, but I decide to spend some of my 3-hour layover in Detroit eating. I get chicken tacos with chips, salsa, and guacamole dip. You can not get that stuff in China! As I’m eating I notice someone else eating chilli cheese fries and I almost regret my choice of food. The discomforts of the past 13 hours quickly fade into the background as my stomach takes the spotlight. Plus there are more hot women in the Detroit airport. Hot American women. All right.

Before long I’m on my final flight, bound for Tampa. Is it just my imagination, or is the leg room shrinking with every flight?! My legs are really uncomfortable, but at least this flight is relatively short. As the plane lifts off the ground, I gaze out over the landscape. No snow. It looks like a sepia world, all in browns, tans, grays, drabs….

Despite the short travel time, my level of discomfort seems to rise proportionately. It is all I can do to keep from flipping out. I can’t sleep. I try to pass the time with the new issue of The Economist. Biotechnology in China. Hmmmm… (Ouch, my knees!)

In the end, after 24 hours of travel, I make it. As I arrive at the baggage claim, the familiar face of Paco greets me.


25

Dec 2002

Home for Christmas, finally (part 1)

My Christmas this year has been an event partially shrouded in mystery since the summer. It was then that the idea to surprise my whole family with a Christmas visit home began to formulate.

Saturday, December 21st. I had meant to get on a bus to Shanghai as early as 3pm, but it wasn’t until 5:30pm that I finally make it out the door. I have been buying lots of Christmas presents and otherwise just preparing for my two weeks’ absence from school. Wilson graciously offered to cover my classes. He had the good idea of combining all our classes and throwing them in a multimedia room at night for those 2 weeks. So all I had to do was plan the content and put it into a wonderful PowerPoint presentation, which was then burned onto a CD and left in Wilson’s hand the day I left.

So I step out the door at around 5:30pm. It’s raining, as it has been for days. The shoes which I have purposely not been wearing for the past 2 days in order to make sure they’re dry for my trip home are wet within 10 minutes of stepping out the door, despite my umbrella. The guard on the ground floor of our building says this damn rain is going to continue for another 3-4 days, at least. All I can think is I’ll be home soon….

I get out to Zhoushan Dong Road just in time to miss a taxi. And then it’s 30 minutes of trudging through a gray, wet world, my rolling suitcase reluctantly trailing behind me on this misadventure. I timed it just wrong: 6pm is when taxi drivers get off their shifts, so around 5:30 the drivers are all heading back to the station and refuse to give anyone a ride, even if the car is empty and the “vacant” light is on. It’s almost impossible to get a taxi at this time of day, but I was standing out in the rain with a heavy suitcase full of gifts and a backpack, and I was going home. Unfortunately, the taxi drivers don’t seem to realize this. Empty cab after empty cab whizzes right by my wet, frantically flailing figure, my furious curses unheard.

Eventually, someone does stop. For some reason, when drivers are getting off duty, they do this thing where they pick up a friend (?) before getting their last ride, and then drop off their friend on the way to your destination. It’s definitely not legit, but they all do it. After waiting 30 minutes in the rain, I wasn’t going to complain.

On the way to the bus station, there’s a traffic jam. All the huge construction trucks in Hangzhou seem to have congregated on the road we need to take to get to the East Bus Station. Our driver doesn’t seem to have much regard for our personal safety, or at least not for the structural integrity of his vehicle. Our windshield repeatedly comes scant inches from the lower end of the huge truck in front of us. Time wears on, and my driver quickly learns I am not in a chatty mood. I am beginning to wonder if there are still going to be buses to Shanghai by the time I get there.

So I finally arrive at the East Bus Station. I loathe that place. It’s hard to explain exactly why, but the scalpers that assail you before you’re even out of your taxi would definitely be high on the list. Shanghai, Shanghai! they yell in my face. The fact that I was actually bound for Shanghai makes them all the more annoying.

When I get to the ticket office, there is a small crowd outside, but no one inside. All the ticket windows are closed up. “They’re closed,” the scalpers gleefully announce, a grinning pack of vultures descending upon me. “Shanghai…”

Defeated, I begin reluctant negotiations with them, and 80rmb is the cheapest I’m hearing. I start following that offer, but as I trudge past the Shanghai-bound waiting room, on a whim I duck in to investigate. The girl at the front tells me I can still buy a ticket to Shanghai. I’m not getting her convoluted instructions to the last remaining open ticket window, so she kindly takes me there herself. I buy a legit 55rmb ticket to Shanghai that leaves in 10 minutes. I am ecstatic.

So I try to sleep on the bus to Shanghai, and to dry out my feet a little as well. Both efforts only meet with limited success. I am chagrined to notice that although the VCD being played is not showing up on the screens (evidently the video out isn’t working), the inane Chinese soap opera dialogue nonetheless spews on. Greeeeat….

I get to Shanghai and meet my friend. I had a good dinner. Get to see famous Hong Kong director Wong War-kai’s movie In the Mood for Love, and I gotta say, I am not impressed. Yeah, I can see the artsiness of the cinematography. I suppose it is cleverly filmed. But in my mind no movie can be forgiven for failing in its primary function: entertainment. This movie and its endless parade of qipao bores me.

Sunday, December 22nd. Probably partly due to In the Mood for Love, I fail in my effort to stay up all night. I do that so that I can be blissfully unconscious for the 20+ hour journey home to Tampa, Florida. I inadvertently get a few hours of sleep. These few hours almost make me late leaving for the airport. I leave in a rush.

My friend told me that I should ask for a 20% discount to the airport since it was so far. I was aware that in Shanghai you can sometimes negotiate cheaper taxi fares, but in my experience that only happens at night. So when I stop the first taxi I come across and tell him I want to go to the Pudong International Airport and I expect a 20% discount, the driver is a little surprised too. “In the daytime?” he says. “I’ll give you 10% off.”

“Never mind,” I say, and start walking.

A minute later my luggage and I are in the taxi. 20% off it is. It is 7:30am, and my flight leaves at 9:30am. It might be as much as an hour’s drive to the airport. I am a little nervous.


15

Dec 2002

Whingefest

Not long ago I had an IM conversation with Alf. He’s teaching in Xinxiang, and he clearly does not have a foreign teacher community over there like I now have here. He mentioned that his friends that read his blog say that his blog is mostly just a bunch of complaints. We talked a bunch about those complaints. I post occasional complaints, but I haven’t posted many lately. I think having complaints is a natural part of living in a foreign society. I think I need to unload a few more.

First is the toilets here. The toilets ZUCC gives its foreign teachers are horrible. Yes, they are Western style. That’s not the problem. One problem is that the seat is attached with these shoddy plastic screws that break after about 4.6 seconds of actual use, resulting in a toilet seat that slides around instead of remaining respectfully fixed in place. But the real problem is the flushing. These toilets are not so good at it. There’s just no power behind the flush. It’s maddening. I feel blessed and lucky if I can go number 2 without having a big long plunge session afterwards. It wasn’t like this at first. It used to be OK (but never good), and the problem seems to have worsened over time. Now I’m plunging practically every day! I’m a teacher, dammit, not a janitor! (I would include a pic of this “toilet of the damned,” but my latest plunging efforts were a failure. I’m currently taking a break before tackling the problem with renewed vigor, and in the meantime you really do not want to see a picture of that…)

Last month the school held a special feedback session, allowing the foreign teachers to share their ideas and complaints with various departments of the school. I took it upon myself to bring up the toilet issue. They said they would handle it. Last Friday some guys came to take care of it, but after inspecting for a while they said they couldn’t do anything, that the toilets were just like that. Horrible quality. I say the school owes it to us to replace the hellspawn toilets with toilets with actual flush power. As newly appointed “foreign teacher liaison” for next semester, this will be one of the biggest items on my agenda. It will be my personal crusade. I will be the perpetual thorn in their side, quietly whispering “give us good toilets” until they either comply or go insane. I will triumph in the end.

So it’s winter now. In Hangzhou, that means it’s cold and wet. Of course, it’s not Harbin cold or anything, but many houses here don’t have heating. Also, although it rarely snows in Hangzhou, it’s so humid here that the cold penetrates. To make matters worse, a lot of Chinese people even leave the windows open in the dead of winter for “fresh” air. So how do they keep warm? They don’t. They bundle up inside as well as outside. It’s pretty horrific from a Western perspective. Fortunately, we foreign teachers have heating in our apartments, but it’s not central heating. Also, buildings are not insulated here, and leaks around windows and doors are not properly sealed. Warm air quickly leaks out if the heater is not run continuously. The Chinese way of just bundling up inside starts to make a little more sense. But we foreigners are, of course, fighting the good fight and blasting that heat for the cold nights. When you come home to a cold house and crank up the heat, it starts pouring out, but obviously, hot air rises. So as I wait for the room to heat up, I often find myself sitting at the computer, feeling the effects of an upper layer of warm air slowly pushing downward, displacing the cold air throughout the room. First my head is warm while the rest of me is still quite cold, and the border gradually moves down my torso as the rooms heats up. At first a big bedroom with a high celing seems like a great thing, but in the winter the drawbacks become chillingly apparent.

浴霸

I now have a new weapon in my arsenal to combat winter here. Wilson and I recently bought heating lamps (yu ba in Chinese) for our bathroom. They pulled the ventilation fans and installed the heat lamps (which also have a built-in fan behind the heat lamp bulbs). Heat never really seems to make it into the bathroom in the winter, so these heat lamps feel like an amazing luxury.

outlook crap

Why can’t I access Yahoo Mail anymore? I don’t know. Even when I use a proxy server, about half the time I click on anything it can’t find the page and I have to reload. It’s really annoying. Pretty much at exactly the time this started happening, I switched over to using Outlook (I don’t like Microsoft domination, but it at least has good Asian language support, so I must succumb at last…). I randomly get these weird errors when I use Outlook. Some error with the POP connection. It’s all in Chinese and I hate it.

It’s 2002, and I’m 24. I think this is the year my metabolism finally quit. I seem to have lost the ability to eat continuously without a second’s thought of any possible consequences. I’m not as skinny as I was, and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason for it. I definitely need to exercise more, though.

Note: “Whinge” is an Australian word that means “complain.”


01

Dec 2002

Almost Thanksgiving

So last Thursday I celebrated Thanksgiving with 5 other foreigners at the Hangzhou Holiday Inn (yes, that’s the same Holiday Inn you’re familiar with). Four of them were American. By Chinese standards, the Western all-you-can-eat buffet was not cheap — 148 rmb (about US$18.50) — but no one regretted shelling out the cash. It was good. I taught my class last week that there are 6 “main Thanksgiving foods” that most American families eat on Thanksgiving: (1) turkey, (2) stuffing, (3) cranberries in some form, (4) pumpkin pie, (5) mashed potatoes, and (6) sweet potatoes. I also explained that every family has different traditions; the list is not definitive (so no one leave huffy comments because I wronged your Thanksgiving traditions to all of China).

My complaints about the “Thanksgiving meal” were: (1) the stuffing came out of a cookie dough-type tube! Yuck! (2) No mashed potatoes! Come on! But hey, it was still pretty good. As I told my students, food is very important on Thanksgiving, but what’s more important is being with family. So even good food couldn’t quite do the trick. Here are a few pics:

T-Day 2002


26

Nov 2002

Laowai Circus

wuzhen

Things tend to happen to me in China in clumps of weird connections. Example: my first year in Hangzhou I lived with my Chinese friend from UF’s fiancee’s dad’s boss’s son. (Didja get that?) This past Saturday I went to Wuzhen, a small, scenic, historic town (guzhen in Chinese) with a small group in order to film a travel show for the Zhejiang TV station. The trip was unpaid, but I didn’t pay for anything either — transportation, lodging, food was all paid for. And it was a good opportunity to meet young Chinese people. So how did I get that hookup? My e-mail penpal (Erin)’s co-worker (Vivienne)’s date’s co-workers were looking for a foreigner who could speak Mandarin for the show. Turns out they got two from my school. Kiwi Chris can also speak it, and so he went too.

So that was my Friday and Saturday. We were a group of only 6, and it was nice. 2 foreigners, 1 Wuzhen tourguide, a camera crew of 2, and 1 show hostess. There were times when the Chinese and foreigners would detach for separate conversations, but there was plenty of friendliness and good feeling as well. I’ve gotta say, Wuzhen was just a little bit boring, but it was cool to learn how they do some of the traditional crafts like making rice wine and weaving cloth. Check out the pictures. As far as the location, I think I still prefer the first guzhen I visited: Xitang.

I’ve been told that the show airs this Saturday (Nov. 30th) at 9:55pm on Zhejiang TV-3, then again the following Saturday (Dec. 7th) at 11am and 4pm, Zhejiang TV-3.


18

Nov 2002

Questions…

Not long ago, a page on Bokane.org reminded me of a question that’s been in the back of my mind and close to my heart for over two years now. It’s a question that I started asking in 1997, and which has become especially persistent over the past two years. Now it’s in the forefront again, running amuck and causing havoc. Oh, it’s not doing any real damage, of course. It’s tantalizing. Like the puppy in the short box, no matter how many times you push it back, it just keeps emerging. And though you may lose patience with it, it remains interesting. But what can you do other than push it back? You’ve got somewhere to go. It isn’t a part of your itinerary. Yet it won’t be ignored. And its teeth, while mostly harmless, can hurt.

I asked Wilson recently, “During all this time you’re spending in China, are you becoming more and more yourself, or more and more someone else?” I tend to hate those kinds of questions, because the person asking them usually just seems smug that they’ve thought up an annoying meaningless question to irritate someone else’s intellect with. But this time I cared about the question, and I cared about the answer. I really wanted to know what was happening with Wilson, and what he perceived of it. And, of course, whatever mysterious forces there are that have been messing with Wilson’s identity for almost a year have been doing the same to me for over two years. It was personal.

Wilson said he’s becoming more and more someone else. Someone he likes. Someone with purpose and drive.

And me? I know I’m different, but I’m not even sure I know how I’ve changed. What’s scarier is the prospect of how much change there is that I don’t recognize.

Who am I now? Is this a result of my decision to come to China, or a result of being in China?
Am I really so different?

Will they even know?


12

Nov 2002

Busy, Busy

So I’m keeping busy lately. Life just won’t slow down.

Still trying to figure out where I’ll be next semester. Many possibilities, little time to figure out which to go with. | I shut myself in all weekend this past weekend writing my book. It’ll be a nonfiction masterpiece that will rock China (in a good, PC way) when it’s released. Making good progress there. Talks for publication in progress. | I’m the new DJ on campus. (I burned an “introduction to punk” CD, complete with voiced intros to each song, all done by me. The station is supposed to start airing it this week. They want more.) | Still lots of plans for my site, to be slowly implemented over the period from now to eternity. | The internet is still fun and amazing, after all these years. Who’da thunk it?? | Still have classes to plan and teach, but all is well. Next week is song/commercial week. I have the whole Budweiser “Wazzup” series on DVD. China must witness. | I think I need to start a juggling club on campus. | Polls are in the works. | I need to reinstall Windows XP for the fourth time, thanks to Chinese pirated software. | My friend Miya was supposed to come for a visit from Japan this coming weekend, but now she can’t make it due to a family emergency. | I need to go learn some Chinese so my tutor doesn’t scold me too harshly tomorrow…


01

Nov 2002

Shaoxing Shenanigans

Hmmm, it’s a new weekend already and I seem to have neglected to mention what went down last weekend. Nicola and I headed over to Shaoxing to meet up with Erin Shutty and gang. Part of that gang is Vivienne Carr, who the ZUCC gang had already met earlier in October when we went to Putuo Shan together. Erin was the connection to Vivienne, but I hadn’t actually met Erin face to face until this past weekend. (As I’ve mentioned before, I was supposed to meet both Erin and “Black Man in China” Aaron over the National Holiday vacation, but neither worked out.) Erin and I have been in pretty regular e-mail contact ever since she wrote me in the spring about teaching in China. Now she’s been here months, and we finally met up. Here’s the pics.

Oh yeah, and Erin and Vivienne are coming to Hangzhou this weekend! Erin is also bringing “the Brit,” whom we met only in passing last weekend in Shaoxing.


08

Oct 2002

Back, with a New Computer

So the week long “National Day Holiday” is now over. I went on a school trip with some fellow teachers from ZUCC to the Zhoushan International Sand Sculpture Festival and the famous Putuo Shan Island. Fellow China blogger and friend Erin Shutty was supposed to come over from Shaoxing with her Scottish friend Vivienne, but instead she tried to devastate us by getting ridiculously sick and cancelling. But Viv still came. Of course, we missed Erin, but we had a blast somehow anyway. More on this trip soon, at a time which isn’t dangerously past my bedtime.

In other news, Wilson and I took the plunge today. We just had too much money sitting in our bank accounts, I guess. We both decided to get new desktop PCs. I thought that I wouldn’t go back to using a desktop, but notebook PCs are just too expensive now, and desktops are too cheap to refuse. My poor little P1-233 is more than ready to retire. We went down to the “computer town” and put together our new machines from our own specs. Ahhh, I will soon have a P4 1.7GHz, with 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, and a flat screen monitor. It’ll be ready Wednesday. After I get that bad boy up and running, some major updates will follow (e.g. new photo albums and other goodies).


27

Sep 2002

National Day Plans

Next week is the National Day holiday (October 1-7). That means no class, and most likely a free 2-day trip with other ZUCC foreign teachers to Zhou Shan (an island off the coast of Zhejiang Province) and Putuo Shan (another nearby island) October 2-3. I’m also probably meeting up with Black Man in China‘s Aaron Benjamin tomorrow, and Shutty.net‘s Erin Shutty next week. She might even go on the ZUCC trip too, with her co-worker “the Scot.” Later in the week I’ll probably make a trip to Shanghai. Fun stuff.


23

Sep 2002

My New Calling in Life

On Saturday I had the best tan of my life. For a very short time. And only on my face.

Yes, it finally happened… I tried my hand at modeling. Many foreigners that stay in China are approached by agents at one time or another. I have been approached 3 or 4 times in the two years I’ve been living in Hangzhou, and they always seem very enthusiastic and promise great pay, but then they never call me for a job. It’s annoying and it wastes my time. The one time I really had an opportunity for a job, it was to be an underwear model for the pics on the packages. Thanks, but uhhh… no.

So recently the guy who wanted me to do the underwear shoot called me again and said he had a non-underwear job for me. Same pay as before — one day (8 hours) of shooting, 2000rmb (US$250). Not bad for a day’s “work.” And the clothes were just men’s casual wear. No underwear, nothing skimpy. In fact, a lot of them were coats. So I said OK, all the while half expecting it never to actually happen.

But it did happen. Both the time involved and the pay was exactly as agreed upon. So let me get to the interesting tidbits.

First, they didn’t call me until like 10pm the night before with all the details! This kind of made me nervous. Then when they called, they wanted me to bring a pair of jeans, a dark-colored turtleneck, a pair of dark-colored slacks, and a pair of black leather shoes. Hey, I thought they were supposed to supply the clothes! They also wanted me to meet them downtown at 7:20am! (groan…) I didn’t have black leather shoes, so I just took my dark brown Skechers. They’re almost nice-looking, and they’re leather at least. I ended up wearing my turtleneck for almost half of the shots!

Speaking of which, the supposed fashion sense of these people in charge of the shoot was very questionable. I mean, I’m no fashion guy. I don’t read GQ and I don’t wear Structure. I like to keep the complexity of my clothing coordination down to jeans and a T-shirt, if possible. And yet, I sensed something was very wrong with some of the outfits I was putting on. Colors and style just not matching. Nothing glaringly clashing, but just because all the colors are dark doesn’t mean they necessarily go, right? And they almost had me wearing a Hawaiin-type summer shirt with a heavy jacket over it. Weird.

A lot of the clothes didn’t even fit me. Some of the jackets would have been way too tight across my chest if I had zipped them up, and the sleeves were too short on quite a few. They shot them anyway. The jacket with the shortest sleeves was pretty much unusable because it was so obvious that it was too small for me, but then I hit on a good idea. If I hiked up one sleeve high enough, I could pull down the sleeve on the other side, and then just pose so as to hide the hiked up sleeve. It worked. They shot it.

So the actual modeling was kind of annoying, but not too bad. The time actually went by pretty fast. I just got really tired of untying and retying my shoes. I learned a lot of new Chinese verbs that I would otherwise have no need for: tilt your head back, swivel your shoulders, spread out your fingers, etc.

In the very beginning, they weren’t real happy with my expression. They kept telling me to relax. I was relaxed! I realized that the problem was that when my face relaxes, I look a little pissed off. So I figured out that “relaxed” requires a hint of a smile. They also liked to shoot me with my mouth agape, for some reason. I was hesitant to do it at first, since I used to be always told to keep my mouth shut when I wasn’t using it. Memories of my grandmother asking me, “whatcha doin’, catching flies?” came back to me. But after a little while I got a feel for what they liked, figured out how to do the “intense model gaze” (or my version at least)…

The place wasn’t overrun with hot model babes, in case you’re wondering. It was just me all morning, and then a girl from the Ukraine came in from Shanghai for the afternoon. When I started talking to her, I soon realized her Chinese was better than her English. That was kind of interesting.

The photo studio was located in an unlikely run-down-looking residential area, on the third floor of a warehouse-type building. It looked plenty professional (though small-scale) on the inside, though. You’d never guess.

So I’m looking forward to a good laugh when the catalog comes out. My family is gonna love it. Wilson tells me I should put a copy on my coffee table, so when I have guests over I can pick it up and say, “Let’s take a look at this catalog… Oh wait, that’s me in all these pics, what do you know!” Hehehe…

Definitely an interesting experience. And financially rewarding as well. Good thing they never figured out that I am no model


10

Sep 2002

New ZUCC Arrivals

In other news, more and more teachers are showing up for the new semester. I met Nicola from Australia today. She’s about my age. Then there’s the Smith family across the hall from me (John and Cathy, plus sons Johnny, Nick, and Drew). They’re originally from Michigan. Next to them is a Chinese American couple. I haven’t met them yet. Saturday Josh and Caroline showed up from the USA, but then promptly left. Apparently they were misled as to what they should expect, and it seems their “old China hand” cousin advised them against working here. It’s really a shame; it would have been great to have them, and regardless of what their cousin thought, this is really a decent school.


31

Aug 2002

New Japan Pages

I used the excuse of my time at home this summer being sort of a sidebar from the theme of this weblog, life in China, so I think I’m going to make the story of my three weeks in Japan sort of a sidebar too, and put it on a separate page. That page will also include links to photo albums, so check it out

For those interested: classes here at ZUCC start Monday, September 16th. Still plenty of time to relax and prepare…


29

Aug 2002

Back from Japan

No, the journal is not dead. I know, I took a long break. But basically, nothing very related to life in China happened while I was home in the USA for the month of July. (I did seem to gain about 10 pounds in that month, though.) And then I was in Japan August 2nd – 24th. So I just got back a few days ago, and I’m slowly reorganizing. I have time; classes don’t start until the 16th of September. So far I haven’t really added much about my former life in Japan, but I’m going to put some of that stuff online, and the story of my hectic three weeks in Japan this month is coming very soon… Stay tuned!


31

Jul 2002

Colin

I just had an old friend come visit me for the weekend. He flew in from out of town just to hang out before I left for Asia again. It’s stuff like that which reminds me that my friends value my friendship as I do theirs, and it just feels damn good to get that unambiguous reminder occasionally. Here’s a pic.


15

Jul 2002

Friend Diaspora

I haven’t been posting since I’ve been home. This journal is about China, after all. I’ve been home for 2 weeks, now, though, and I’ve found I have something to say.

It’s been 2 years since I’ve graduated, and coming home is strange now. It’s always nice to see family and friends, no doubt about that. And it’s so nice that my family is always here; I can always come home to them. I almost feel a little selfish that they can feel no such reassurance about me, with my faroff lifestyle.

What’s strange is not family, though, it’s friends. Few of my friends are here in the Tampa area. Alex is still here, for now. Dan is off in Gainesville. Illy is still in Gainesville too, but probably not for long. Hathai is in Georgia. Ari is back in Ft. Lauderdale. Dave and Christina are in New York City. Colin is in Mississippi for training. Paco is… who knows where! You get the picture. My friends here are just so scattered.

I’m set to go to Japan in August to see old friends there. The thing is, my friends there are pretty scattered too! I’ll see some in the Tokyo area, some in Kyoto, some in Osaka, some in Hiroshima, some in Fukuoka…

So I’ve come to realize that the place where I have the greatest concentration of friends is… Hangzhou! Most of them are Chinese, but some of the most important aren’t.

It’s just weird to have one’s friends scattered to the winds and then spring up behind different faces on the other side of the globe…



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