Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays from The Guangzhou Story

A text from my student last night, after I told her that we still have class Christmas morning:

Ok, thx. It’s just that a lot of people thought this christmas thing would be important to you guys and you’d definitely have the day off.

Yeah, you’d think.

That’s it for this year’s edition of The Guangzhou Story. We’ll be back after the holidays, but for now enjoy this special message from my Friday afternoon Oral English Class.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Trilogy by Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Vertical Integration

People in China say that papayas make your breasts grow. Want to know if it’s true? Look at my pecs. You tell me.

Yesterday I went to the fruit market to buy papaya, but the usual lady I get my papaya from wasn’t selling papaya anymore. Her stall was in the same place, and she greeted me just as cheerfully as she usually does, but instead of papayas her table was piled high with brand new bras.

On the Nose

From an advertising skit performed without any apparent irony by my students this week.

A: Who are the smartest people in the world?
B: Einstein?
C: Karl Marx?
A: No, the Jewish race!

Hard Words

Gristle was in my living room the other day wearing no pants. His underwear was very small. I gave him permission to stay at our house, but in the future I should clarify that that doesn’t automatically imply that he has permission to walk around my apartment with more than half of his buttocks on display.

He saw me looking a word up in a Chinese-English dictionary on my computer and came over and asked me whether I thought the dictionary was useful.

“Yeah,” I said, “it’s pretty good.”

“Let me test it. I’ll try a hard word,” he said. He sat down and slowly hunt-and-pecked the word 手淫 into the input box. He pressed enter and the translation — which I already knew — popped up on screen. Masturbation.

“Now this,” he pointed at the screen, “this is a good dictionary.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This Story is Dedicated to my Dentist

I recently switched toothpaste brands, and it’s got me all in a twist.

Before I came back to China this August, I went to see the dentist. Now, when Gristle went to get his teeth cleaned for the first time last year, I asked him what he thought of the experience and he replied, “Wow! So cool!” As much as I like a good polish of the old chompers, I confess that I do not generally share this opinion of trips to the dentist, even though I have an excellent dentist, a kind man who is one of the few people whose fingers I regularly have in my mouth.

“You have some staining behind your front teeth!” Dr. Hill said, framed by the bright halo of the dental lamp as he leaned over me in the chair. “How’s your brushing?”

“I’m a great brusher,” I said. “You know that.”

“Don’t play cute with me, boy,” Dr. Hill said. He removed his fingers from my mouth. “What’s next? ‘I floss daily’?”

“I do floss daily!”

“Yeah, and I’m Norman W. Kingsley. Get real.”

“I have no idea who that is.”

“Author of Treatise on Oral Deformities. Father of orthodontia.”

(I guess this is as good a time as any to say that this conversation didn’t actually happen. My dentist doesn’t talk like this at all. Sometimes he does make fun of me to my face, but he’s led me to believe that that’s a standard part of a dentist’s bedside manner.)

I shifted in my seat.

“You must be drinking a lot of tea.” He put his fingers back in my mouth. “Are you drinking a lot of tea?”

“I live in China.”

“Save it for the blog, Mr. Self-Promoter.”

He sighed, removed his fingers, and stripped off his latex gloves as he turned to make notes on my chart. When I tried to peek at what he was writing, he turned his back and boxed me out.

“How hard are your bristles?”

“My bristles are so hard right now.”

“Hey!” He spun around in his chair. “This is no time for jokes. This is dentistry. How hard are your bristles?”

“I think I’ve been using a stiff-bristled toothbrush.”

(Now here comes the part of the conversation that actually happened.)

“You should use a soft-bristled toothbrush for optimal tooth and gum health. I’ll give you a box to take back to China.”

“Oh, Dr. Hill, you don’t have to—”

“No, no, don’t mention it. Some toothpaste, too.”

So when I left for China in August, I brought with me a whole box of sample toothbrushes and toothpaste (seriously!), ready to combat the creeping threat of tea stains that Asian cultures pose towards our fresh, bright American tooth enamel.

The toothpaste tubes that Dr. Hill gave me, though, are absurdly small. Which is not surprising. He’s a dentist. He probably uses no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste at each of his four daily brushings. But for me, a red blooded American male with my fresh, bright American tooth enamel, a 0.85-ounce tube of toothpaste goes quick. I’ve got a wide mouth. There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be cleaned in there. I don’t need to apologize for being a vigorous brusher.

So anyway, a while ago, I was away on vacation and my 0.85-oz tube of toothpaste ran out (after, like, two days of use). Lucky for me and these outrageous pearl beauts in my mouth, I found another, older tube in my dopp kit. (Cannot believe I just used the phrase dopp kit. I’m fifty. I’m officially fifty.) This was no 0.85 ouncer. This was a generous, manly tube. My favorite kind.

This toothpaste lasted a long time. It saw me through thick and thin. I liked it — it was fresh and new. I squeezed from the bottom to make it last longer. I cleaned excess toothpaste off the cap. I tried to use it sparingly, but sometimes I couldn’t help myself, and I used several peas’ worth of toothpaste in one gloriously profligate bout of brushing.

Last week, though, that tube ran out. And so, conscious that I was marking the ending of something great, I grabbed another tube of Dr. Hill’s Tiny Ass Toothpaste and went to town.

And you know what?

No, I don’t really know either. It just feels weird every morning, you know? I’m not really used to it. A different flavor I guess.

That was all I was going to say. Not a huge deal.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Have No Idea What I’m About To Type

Gristle just sent me a text message and it’s unbelievably long and since I read Chinese so slowly anyway, I decided I should just translate it on the fly as I read it and see what happens. Usually when I translate things for the blog I change them a little bit, English them up, make them slightly easier to understand. But, in the interests of authenticity, this time I won’t even do that. I reserve the right to put comments in brackets if I feel like it.

So here, coming to you Live and Unrehearsed from Guangzhou, China, a text from Gristle:

Yesterday your humorous and lively explanation of the airplane neck pillow was unforgettable to me. [Yesterday he saw a neck pillow in our apartment and asked what it was and I told him. That is literally all that happened.] I never expected that you also had an amusing side. [COME ON.] If you apply rich body language to your teaching, the result will be a great addition of extraordinary splendor. [Yes, Chinese people really do talk like this all the time.] I think that beginning language learners really need emotional encouragement and exciting arousals, precise knowledge and scientific explanations are fitting for those in the research stage. Do you think this is correct?

My response is probably going to be: “Yeah, sure. Sounds fine to me.” Which is six words, compared with his four thousand. (Seriously, I just did a word count in Microsoft Office — four thousand.)

But I do not want to respond that way because I don’t want to lose my reputation as someone with an amusing side, which reputation seems paradoxically very difficult and very easy to obtain: difficult because I’ve known him for over a year and surely I’ve said something funny in that time, easy because in the end all I had to do was show him how to use a neck pillow.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Presented Without Commercial Interruption

I believe the following skit speaks for itself.

Transformer: Harry! Harry! Look at this man! He’s so ugly! His head looks like a ball. His eyes look like beans. Oh! Look at his legs! His legs look like eggplants!

Everybody except Monster: Ohh~!

Monster Gaga: What? I’m angry! I will eat all of you just like to eat a sandwich.

Harry: Well, it’s just a piece of cake. I will tell you what true music is. (Spicy Girl)

Monster Gaga is hurt.

Monster Gaga: I’m not feeling well but I won’t give in.

(Monster Gaga doing exercise)
Spider Man doing Taiji

Spider Man: You’re so rude. Look at me!

Monster Gaga: It seems that I have to show my unique skill.

All come over.

Monster Gaga: Human kind is the most powerful race!


Thursday, December 16, 2010


I saw a horror skit this week called “Shining II: Bloody Citrus.” When the students stood up to start their performance, they said it was a skit about citrus. And I don’t know if they had just learned the word citrus that morning or what but it was goddamn everywhere.

Scene 1 (“A citrus plantation in Florida”), goes for exactly four sentences without using the word “citrus”, at which point we get:

R: The citruses look good, but you should never taste them. They’re atrocious, with enmity that I can’t atone.
T: Oh. Are there any stories about them?
R: You wanna year? Those bloody citrus?
T: I…I’d kind of love to.

Things then take a confusing turn. Scene 2 (“The 50-year-ago citrus plantation”) begins:

A: Excuse me, sir. I’m Andrew Jackson. Nice to meet you. Are you the keeper of these citrus plantation?

Andrew Jackson asks the citrus owner to give him some citrus, and then he offers some to his daughter:

P: Don’t you try some? They’re extremely tasty.
R: No, dad. I don’t like citruses. They’re sour.
P: They’re not sour at all. Have a try.

Halloween costume idea: Andrew Jackson, carrying an orange, telling everyone he meets, “Hello I’m Andrew Jackson, have a try of my citrus.” I will most likely use this next Halloween, and I will most likely do it all in a “World of Hair” voice. If you don’t get that reference, I really wouldn’t worry about it. Really, really not that important.

The people who eat the citruses end up dying, and when the keeper of the citrus field announces the reason for the curse, guess what? It’s:

V: The 1830 Indian Removal Act! We Indians fought for our land in the brutal Seminole Wars for long years. This plantation was where my father, my grandfather died during the war. The citruses were nurtured by their blood of emnity, by their spirit of revenge. Haha.

Non funny interlude:

You know what’s crazy about this? As I mentioned, the skit was named after The Shining, which was one of the movies we had discussed the week before in class. It has a few references to a Danny-like shining ability in the script, but it’s really quite a different story.

So how in the world did my students stumble upon the central claim of one of the most famous critical essays ever written about The Shining? I present Bill Blakemore’s “The Family of Man”, the thesis of which is:

But The Shining is not really about the murders at the Overlook Hotel. It is about the murder of a race — the race of Native Americans — and the consequences of that murder.

So either my students are incredibly lucky, or they happen to be conversant in critical responses to film from the late 80s. This from a crowd which regularly tries to convince me that Titanic is a great film, full of feeling. I honestly have no idea how this happened.

Anyway the script ends with a chilling return to the present day:

T: Mrs. Jackson, you must be kidding. Those stories aren’t real, are they?
R: Then, would you like to try this citrus?


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ghost of Blog Posts Future

Tonight I am tired (More running! Marathon Man over here!), but I thought you should know:

Last week my students all did skits in class, and — here’s the kicker — they all had to do them in different film or TV genres. Which meant that I got to see hundreds of Chinese high school students perform five-minute musicals, tragedies, romantic comedies, and the like.

In case it’s not clear, this is very good news. For me mostly, because my “job” this past week, for which I’m earning some very small amount of cash, was just to sit and watch my students explore the reaches of human emotion in that noblest of art forms, the theat-ah. But it’s not just good for me, because here at The Guangzhou Story we practice trickle-down blogonomics, and what’s good for me and the military-industrial complex is good for you, the single mother of three.

So all this week I’ll be pulling choice excerpts from students’ performances, analyzing their intricacies and wrestling with their ambiguities, as I am wont to do with challenging and often contradictory texts.

Just so you know I’m not pulling you off, here’s an example quote, chosen at random from the page of notes I have in front of me. It’s from a tragedy:

“Poor honey, be at ease with me. I will choose you as my little kitten. You are not like my last lover, who was querulous and ugly.”

It’s going to be a great week.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why I Haven’t Posted on My “Weblog” Since Last Monday

  1. I have been running.

    Now I know I also talked about what it was like to talk about running in my last post, but back then I was running ironically and laughing about it later with my friends at the hipster bar. Now I am running “in earnest”, which is more time consuming and less popular in Brooklyn.

    Speaking of my running:

  2. Disabled people.

    Today my roommate Andy, friend Kelsey, ex-tutor Serena, and muse Gristle and I went to see part of the Para Asian Games, the second in the Pair o’ Asian Games that our fair city has hosted these few weeks.

    The opening ceremony of the Para (short, I believe for paratrooper) Asian Games was held last night, so there was a picture on the front page of the Guangzhou Daily, my perennial journalistic hobby-horse which I oft fain ride like the piece of shit it is.


    This is the climax of the ceremony: the lighting of the torch by two disabled athletes engaged what picnic or carnival organizers might jocularly term a “two-legged race”. They’re carrying the Flame of Asia (or, whatever) to the torch. Incidentally, the torch is at the top of a flight of stairs. Incidentally, they’re both missing legs.

    Apparently Guangzhou’s commitment to organizing a “barrier-free games” did not extend to the opening ceremony, which — and I’m just going off the picture here, so bear with me — appears to have possessed certain architectural features which I would term “non-accessible”. For instance, off the top of my head: instead of of a ramp with slope at most 1:12, the opening ceremony grounds appear to have 15 large stairs. Perhaps the organizers did not realize that the opening ceremony might involve people for whom climbing 20 vertical feet up a stone wall might be difficult.

    A page called Facing the Challenge from notes,

    people with physical disabilities…typically have personal challenges to contend with daily….Our challenges come in all shapes, sizes, and when least expected [, such as at the opening ceremony of a game dedicated to providing opportunities for disabled athletes].

    He continues:

    Sadly, it appears the “normal” population lacks awareness, and that society has two problems: 1) Providing services for patrons that use wheelchairs and 2) [they build huge flights of stairs and ask one-legged people to climb them for sport. They don’t even let us use prosthetic legs or anything.]

    By the way, the large Chinese characters next to the photo say “CLIMBING DREAMS”. No. False. They are not climbing dreams. They are climbing stairs. Large, precarious, uneven stairs.

    Anyway, today I et al. went to see the Para Asian Games and cheer on the noble paratrooper athletes as they tried to play games meant for normal people unscarred by the wrath of god’s arbitrary whim. We got to the stadium and there was a big to-do about tickets and scalpers and Serena called the police but despite that breathtaking summary it wasn’t very interesting overall and eventually we got into the main stadium, where a badminton match was already in full swing.

    And you know what? They weren’t even that disabled. I mean, not at all. How’s that for a buzz kill? If I go to the Para Asian Games, I expect to see blind people on the floor, man, like in goal ball, so that when I watch them I can see their tragic nobility and undaunted spirit.


    I mean, one of the ladies we saw play was missing a foot. A foot. That’s nothing. Get in the real Asian Games. You’re basically complete. There was also a competitor whom none of us could detect any problem with. She appeared to have all her legs and hands, and that’s basically it for badminton.

    Gristle’s opinion, while we were leaving: “maybe she didn’t have eyes.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Second time in recent memory that I’ve used a Raymond Carver reference as a post title, plus this one gets double points for Murakami. Should I be lucky enough to win the Blog Douchebag Awards, presented every March by a committee chaired by John Gruber and the entire staff of, I would donate the prize money to Tumblr, home for a whole new generation of Blog Douchebags, Assholes, and the like.

I think I have a pretty good chance of winning, because even the blog posts which appear to contain no references to Raymond Carver or Haruki Murakami are, in fact, chock-a-block with allusions to Thomas Pynchon, The Recognitions, David Foster Wallace’s unpublished correspondence with Don DeLillo, and seasons 1-4 of Barney Miller, before Detective Fish retired.

Below is an email I received today from a student:

Hi Jon!

I saw your photo in the internet - a running Jon!
You looked really funny~

And here is the photo that was attached.


So, when we talk about my running in a teacher’s sports meet, this is what we’re talking about.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jank My Gank

People who would like Business Flannel’s newest sketch:

  1. Sexual Health experts
  2. Fraternity brothers
  3. Edward Lear

And I bet you will, too.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Results Are In

Results, from least to most important:

  1. I am not the father of the Missouri child whose mother claims she was impregnated by Lil Wayne.
  2. My affable charm and full head of hair are likely to last my entire life, based on recently completed genetic testing.
  3. I can do more pushups in 30 seconds than all but one of the faculty members at my school.

The Teachers’ Sports Meet, which other correspondents, mostly me in various guises, have breathlessly reported on recently, finally took place this Wednesday, December 1, after weeks of excruciating calisthenic foreplay.

Since I posted about the Sports Meet quite extensively last year, and since I have to finish this post quickly so I can skype with my dad for his birthday (happy birthday, pops! Your affable charm and full head of hair are an inspiration for us all!), I offer bullet points: playful shadows, psychological accretions, touch points, touchstones, lodestones, millstones, grists.

  • I did celebrate like Usain Bolt at the end of my 100 meter race.


    On on the other hand, I did not win.

  • I clinched the pushup silver medal by doing 41 pushups in 30 seconds. I think that’s pretty good. The guy who beat me didn’t go down all the way and was bending at the waist. Judge Chen, alas, was fooled.

  • One of the men who competed in the 400 meter run was wearing black slacks and a long-sleeved dress shirt. I called him “Semiformal” and mocked him with abandon, but no one spoke English, so it was fine.

  • Last year my name on the competition schedule was “外教2” (foreign teacher 2); this year it was “Jon”. Andy’s name on the schedule was “Amby”. So even though I didn’t win my 100m race, I’m still somehow a winner.

  • Just like last year, I got a commemorative towel. This year’s has purple and gray stripes. Neither of those are school colors.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Get to Know: Jon!

Several months ago, I sat down with some hard-hitting student journalists for a no-holds-barred, Wikileaks-style tell-all. An edited version of that interview appeared in print in the school magazine today. Unfortunately, unlike this blog post, the print version of the interview did not begin with a sentence containing five hyphens. Can’t win ’em all.

Excerpts from the story appear below. Note: my students conducted the interview in person, recorded it on their cellphones, and transcribed it later. So, all errors sic! Also this is exactly how it was formatted.

[Maybe you are Jon’s current or former student, maybe you’re a fan of English corner every Wednesday]
But…Do you really know who he is?

Hobby: writing plays(comedy), reading, watching movie, making improvisational play
Fruit: papaya (木瓜)
infor: [the magazine is called “info”] (after hearing the answer) WOW~
Jon: Why?
Infor: Because papaya can………
Jon: Can make you have a bigger breast?
Infor: Yes! Why do you know that?!
Jon: Because everytime I tell chinese people my favourite fruit..they reply me like that…But anyway, that’s not the reason I like it..


Infor: What’s your feeling about GZ & our school?
Jon: I love the school. The student are great here, smart and kind. GZ is pretty good though it’s not my favorite city. My favorite city is Beijing & Shanghai. Mostly because when I go to a new country I’m often very interested in learning their culture but in GZ it’s not as strong as those in BJ & SH.


Infor: What about your high school?
Jon: Well, my high school is very different from yours. Because I went to an all-boy high school. (Wow, were you lonely?) Umm, very different experience. And no one lived in campus, we didn’t have dormitories as yours.


Jon: I’m stil young I don’t have time to think about getting married… (Actually 22 is nearly…) Are you kidding me? Not until I’m 30… (What’s the besti ieal fiancee for you?) I value communicating much. well is important to make me laugh. ( And good-looking?) Um, you know you can talk about whether someone is super attractive now, but if you wanna be married to someone ,you’re for entire life,you have to look at something deeper.Such as whether you can get along well, whether you match……

There’s an author’s note below the piece. It’s written in Chinese and describes my high school as “纷繁多彩”, which I would translate as “complex and colorful” but which my dictionary also points out could mean “flamboyant”. The jury is still out.

(Of course I hate this type of ambiguity in writing, because I value communicating much. But that’s a conversation for another day. When I have a wife.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


You should know that I do not refer to my students by their real names on this blog. I change their English names so that it is harder for their classmates to identify them, should they ever find this blog. Which has likely already happened. In fact they’re probably sitting behind me right now. The call is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE. INSIDE THE SQUAT TOILET ACROSS FROM MY BEDROOM.

So I should say that the student in this post is not actually named “Stella”. The real name still ends with an “a” and still should, by all rights, belong to a woman, even though the student in question is a boy. A boy with the moves of a man.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens outside of my window every Tuesday and Friday at 10:05 am, it’s this. I encourage you to keep your eyes on Stella, the boy in front, just to the right of the red number 8.

Now watch it again. And watch how clearly superior Stella is to his classmates.

It’s fine work like this that makes my high school the best in the province.

(Also, hey, that Sepak Takraw video I posted last week? It has over 8,000 views. That’s 5,500 more than “Family Meeting”. I think you know what to do.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

So That’s That

The Asian Games are over. Saturday night was the closing ceremony, which meant that Sunday morning’s paper had a full page photo of the previous night’s fireworks, with the headline:

很温暖 很亚洲

Which means “very warm, very Asia”, but which I would prefer to (liberally) translate as “Hot Asians”.

Subhed: “Guangzhou Asian Games: The Perfect Closing Ceremony.”

Being scientifically minded, I decided to put that claim to the test. Below are the results of my investigations.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dream Deferred, Part 2

The Guangzhou Story’s sports week continues.

You may remember that I “appropriated” the poem “Dream Deferred” for an earlier post about the Teacher’s Sports Meet (hailed by commenters as “postmodernist pastiche”, “remix culture at work”, and “laziness”) and though I admit that its inclusion didn’t make much sense in context, I promise that it makes sense now!!!!!

To review:

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

— Langston Hughes

The Teacher’s Sports Meet was originally supposed to be today, but after class, as I was changing into running shorts and a sports bra, Andy called and said that he had heard from a student that the sports meeting had been postponed.

In other words it had been deferred.

Like the poem.

It’s called “Dream Deferred”.

This situation is just like in that poem.

I hope I have made myself clear.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You Little Sportsman, Let’s Play Ball

And this time, you all get the reference! If you’re my real friend.

The past two weeks have seen me attend more international sporting events; wave more so-called “thundersticks” (also, according to Wikipedia, sometimes called “cheerstix”, “bangers”, or “bambams”, all of which manage to hit the Necker cube euphemism sweet spot (a term which I just coined but which will likely be of use to future Urban Dictionary analysts and historians) of being both plausible youth slang for a sex act and a brand of snack food); yell more cheers in Thai, Korean, and Chinese; and make more confident predictions about the outcomes of games whose rules I do not understand than at any other time in my sweet young life of 22 years up to this point.

I am speaking of course of my experience these past two weeks as a spectator in Guangzhou Asian Games. And what a specta-tacular time it was.

I have lots of photos and videos to share, but those will be coming your way in the next few days as I attempt to process my excitement/sort the dozens of photos I accidentally took of my hand. For tonight, I want to share 25 seconds of my favorite sport from the games: Sepak Takraw.

I have several things to say about Sepak Takraw:

  1. It is like volleyball, but with your feet.
  2. Thai people are very good at it.
  3. It is the craziest fucking thing I have ever seen.

In the video below, you should pay attention to a few things. You should note how high these men can kick. You should also note that some of them do complete flips as they kick the ball over the net. Any sport in which the average game contains a non-zero number of complete flips is AOK with me.

There’s also one difference between this sport and American little league, over and above the fact that it is a volleyball-like game played with one’s feet. And that is that, in American little league, laughing, pointing, and doing the “tippie-toes dance” when you score against the other team is actively discouraged. In Sepak Takraw, that does not appear to be the case, based on the performance visible at the end of this video, which happened after every. single. point.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

You know the drill

Some serious new comedy, delivered straight to your door.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gristle Speaks

Great news: The Guangzhou Story is now the number one Google search result for “gristle guangzhou”. Second place goes to a website called Invest Guangzhou, which has this to say on the Gristle Question:

Caizhilin, founded more than 200 years ago during the reign of Emperor Jia Qing (1796-1820) of the Qing Dynasty, produces 12 soup blend series in three categories - glossy ganoderma, fish maw, and shark gristle in light of Guangdong people’s fondness of “long stewed tasty soup”.

I can’t speak for all of Guagndong, but I know Gristle at least has a serious fondness for “long stewed tasty soup”. I mean that in the gayest way possible, if it wasn’t already clear.

A story, from the archives. This happened a while ago, but I didn’t get a chance to write up this story about Gristle because I’ve been busy writing up other stories about Gristle. It’s a surreal Sisyphean experience I live here.

This one’s short, though: Gristle and I were out to dinner with some friends, and since everyone there spoke English, he decided he wanted to try and speak some of his own. Of course this took a while since his English is what could jocularly be called “rusty.” So, as he pulled his English sentences bit by bit from some great linguistic lockbox inside himself, we continued to eat and talk (quietly, don’t want to be rude!) between his words and phrases.

Under these conditions, what would normally be a Gristle line to laugh about and then forget became a slow-motion master class at the Gristle School of comedy. Observe:


(“Can you pass the lamb?”)

“went to Hong Kong”

(“Oh, really?”, “Hmm”, “I see”)

“he took an…”

(“Waitress, can you bring some napkins?”)


(“Yes, that’s the right word.”)

“for training.”

(“Training! Great.” Everyone makes appreciative noises to communicate that they have heard and processed his story. And then, just as we’re about to move on to what someone else has to say…)


Gristle’s friend went to Hong Kong to take an exam because he wants to become a dolphin trainer, an anecdote that, as it turns out, becomes much, much funnier if you just take your time.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It’s worse than I imagined

This week, I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to my students about their trip to the countryside. What’s the worst thing about leaving the city? According to one student, the biggest problem with life in a country village is “too many incests.”

We had a long discussion on how to pronounce “insect”, after that.

(Don’t forget: my friends and I have been blogging up a storm over at the official Business Flannel blog. Sketch comedy videos and funny original pieces posted daily by our crack comedy team.)

News on the March

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I subscribe to the Guangzhou Daily, Guangzhou’s (Second) Best Daily Chinese Language Newspaper. (Motto: “Seeking the most remarkable news, molding the most trusted news source.” A younger me would have said that it sounds better in Chinese, but I’m tired of making excuses.)

Now, I know I’ve had some bad things to say about Chinese news outlets in the past. I know I’ve called certain papers — the China Daily, especially — some bad names: news(toilet)paper, China Gay-ly, pickle breath, ass blaster, Tryin’-a-slay-me, the Daily Princetonian. But really we shouldn’t blame the authors of these papers. After all, they get their news information from Xinhua, China’s state-run news apparatus, and they really don’t have much choice about what to put in the paper. They get their articles, they slap them into their layout, choose a headline, and push print. Bet those ass blasters don’t even do a Print Preview first.

But it’s the “choose a headline” bit that we’ll be focusing on today.

This morning, at breakfast, I’m reading the paper, like I do, and I turn to page one. Note that at the Guangzhou Daily, page one contains no articles, only headlines. All part and parcel of their unparalleled commitment to quality journalism. Top of page one, biggest font on the page:


And here’s what this headline says in English:

Wen Jiabao praises changes during inspection of Guangzhou
“It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener.”

Just in case you missed it, the pull quote they decided on for the subhed of this front page article was: “It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener.”

So China’s Premier Wen Jiabao comes to Guangzhou for the opening of the Asian games. He looks around. He comments on what he sees. But the reporters are restless: they’re looking for one sentence, one pithy, encouraging remark that could sum up his entire trip to Guangzhou and his hopes for the city’s future. And this quote has to be great because, remember, page one contains no news content of any kind, so this quote is doing all the work of attracting people not only to buy, but also to open the paper.

And then someone hears Wen Jiabao say, “It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener.” And suddenly all the reporters are laughing and shaking hands and backslapping because they got this one in the bag. And there’s probably some fresh new reporter, first day on the job, who’s like, guys, shouldn’t we wait around? Can’t we get something better than “there are more flowers? and the other reporters shake their heads and grin and say, kid, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Oh, and by the way, a longer version of the quote is used as the headline on page two: “比以前更干净,花更多,树更绿。看到这些变化很让人高兴。” Or, “It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener. Seeing these changes makes people happy.” Even better!

Other page one news: remember how the Asian games started last Friday night? How many medals do you think China has won so far? One hundred and thirty three medals. In six days. More than twice as many as Korea, their closest competitor. At some point the other countries are going to realize that when China invites you over to their house to play, they’re not trying to be neighborly, they just want to beat you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why I Should Not Seek Work as a Professional Photographer

(Above and beyond the fact that I do not have any experience photographing anything for money, I do not own camera equipment of any kind, I have no eye for composition, I never remember to bring my camera to important events, people tend to find my photographs “off-putting”, I have trouble taking pictures of people in ways that do not make them feel uncomfortable, I am unreasonably fascinated by cute Chinese babies, so much so that I tend to ignore any non-baby related content present at any particular place or time.)

A photo of the 2010 Asian Games opening ceremony, taken by professional photographer Mike Clarke for Getty Images.


A photo from the same opening ceremony, taken by me while I tried to set the self-timer on my camera.


In fact, my friends and I took or attempted to take 18 self-portraits while waiting to watch the fireworks. None were successful, despite attempts to combat my obvious photographic failings by employing crouches:

One bad picture

excessive teeth:

Yeah, there's another

and sensual seduction:


Parties interested in hiring me for weddings, birthdays, or mitzvot (bar, bat, and assorted other) are encouraged me to contact me by using the comments form below or by babygram (baby must be sent via registered mail. Please include a SASE if you wish recipient to return baby.)

Gristle Envy

I give in. Gristle’s comedic outpourings are too powerful for me. They lodge in the mind, the throat, the heart, the heart strings, the heart cockles, the heart bottom and literal butt-bottom like a volcanic stone with jagged edges of fire that says crazy shit every time I see it — and I give up! I cry uncle! Every day I sit down to write a blog post that doesn’t include Gristle and I can’t do it. I just can’t.

I’m worried that this means one thing: that I am nothing without him. Gristle is the comedian, I am a talentless hack who contents himself with collecting the beautiful bon mots Gristle drops lets casually by the way, like so many pellets from an enigmatic Chinese owl with a foot fetish. I fear he’ll become more famous than I am. It’s happened before: I bet you know who Hamlet is, but can you tell me who wrote it? See what I mean?

And then I think: what if Gristle has a blog, a blog that’s smarter, funnier, and more widely read than mine? And what if, in that blog, I’m the star? Who’s the protagonist here? I feel like I’m trapped in Pnin!

(No, I don’t. I don’t think there has ever been a time where that’s an appropriate reference. I cannot imagine a situation where someone says say “I feel like I’m trapped in Pnin!” and everyone listening says, “You know, I was going to compare it to that episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” where the clown dies, but actually Nabokov’s comic novel about a Russian émigré is much more apt,” and then everyone collapses into an orgiastic circle of postmodernist sexual maneuvers*.)

* Self-referential blowjobs, and the like.

No, even though I do not currently feel like the narrator or title character of that fun little novel, I do sometimes fear that I might be the Darth Maul in our particular master-apprentice relationship. (Highbrow to lowbrow transition: managed.)

But then, last week, he sent me his blog. It’s called “Night Rain Gradually Stops.” A recent post includes a poem containing the line “I stand in front of you but you don’t understand I love you.” At the top of the page there’s a picture of him standing in front of Sun Yat-Sen’s tomb. Would I call it a laugh riot? No, no I would not.

And it’s like times like that that I realize, you know what? I am doing some of the work around here.

Anyway, Gristle: I went on a walk with Gristle the other day. (Sometimes we do that: just two guys, getting a walk on, talking about the big issues in life.)

He said: “Jon, I know you might want to live in Germany someday.”

I admitted that, yes, I did.

He said: “Jon, you must be careful. There are old women in Germany who stand by their windows all day and wait for people to have sex on the grass outside.”

“What do they do then?”

“Oh, they just watch. It’s like a pornographic movie for them.”

“So, what are you telling me?”

“I’m saying if you’re in Germany, and you’re having sex outside, don’t do it near any windows.” He paused. “Oh, hey. How do you say 群交 in English?”


“That’s what I thought.”

And then, walk completed, we went our separate ways.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Business Flannel

This summer, some friends and I started a sketch comedy group called Business Flannel. Today, we launched our first video.

You can find it here.

If you like what you see, check us out on Facebook and Twitter! We also have a blog, where my collaborators and I post Funny Stuff on a regular basis.

Not all of the funny stuff will be business related. Lots of it will probably be flannel related, though. Great fabric.

God be with you all.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sporty Spice, c’est moi

It’s that time of year again: the famous Teacher’s Sports Meet, where I finally get the chance to take off my work clothes and show students my stuff. And I mean that one-hundred percent non-sexually. Of course I speak here only for myself: the sight of my pale white limbs whirring through the air as I pant my way to the finish line of my 100 meter “sprint” may very well be sexual for them, but we will not consider that possibility here.

But let’s save all that sexy talk for the actual sports meet, which is currently projected to take place on November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving, when I will undoubtedly have many great sports victories to give thanks for.

Today, one of the English teachers gave me a call to ask me which events I’d like to sign up for. She suggested I do one running event, so I chose the 100 meter, which, enthusiasts will remember, is the race I didn’t lose last year (thanks, Gus!). Then I asked her what other events are available.

She listed some standard track and field events, and at the end she said, “you can also do sit-ups.”

“Sit-ups?” I said. “How long do you have to do them for?”

“30 minutes,” she said.

Well, there goes that idea, I thought, italicized, to myself.

“Sorry, 30 seconds,” she said. “My mistake.”

“Great,” I said. “I’ll do that.”

See, because here’s the thing: no matter how poorly I did at the shuttle run, the pull-ups, or the (ever beguiling!) sit and reach in 6th grade, I could always perform at Presidential level in the sit-up event. If the only criterion for fitness were the ability to do 56 sit-ups in a minute while a chubby kid with a bowl cut holds your feet, I wouldn’t be here today. I’d be Doctor “Just call me ‘The Wizard of’” Oz, ’cause I’d be the fittest mother’ around, and Oprah would have me on her show every day and all her people would beg me to tell them how to get as fit as me.

By the way, while I was editing this post, I realized some of you may find the use of the phrase “her people” offensive. By “her people”, I did not mean black people, I mean women between 30 and 55 who get most of their health tips from women who periodically cry on TV.

Also, I know what you’re thinking: he edits these things?

Poetry break:

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

— Langston Hughes

So, segue, my dream of getting to do sit-ups in the sports meet was deferred (in this case, quickly shattered) because the teacher called back and said, “I’m sorry, you cannot do the sit-up event; it is for girls.”

So there goes that.

I have some parting words.

One: I realize that this post and the two preceding have all been about things that people have said to me, either in person, via text message, or over the phone. And in fact in two out of those three cases, that person has been Gristle.

This is what happens when you’re sick, when your roommate is out of town, and Gristle is the only person who doesn’t understand that “I am sick” means “Please stop calling me so I can sleep.” I haven’t really participated in a ton of outdoor activities this week. I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to Gristle. In short, I write what I know.

Two: This new blogging push is certainly working, because this morning I got my first spam comment from a Chinese source! It was a link to a Chinese website selling Japanese pornography. Say what you will about Chinese hatred for the Japanese: it does not run so deep that Chinese men are unwilling to look at pictures and video of Japanese women, naked. World peace: one step at a time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gristle’s Opinions On…the BBC!

Part 82 in an occasional series.

As you might have heard before, sometimes Gristle has opinions about things. Like, off the top of my head, ghosts, The Sound of Music, how my hair looks like a Spaniard’s.

He also has opinions on the BBC. Here’s a text he sent me this afternoon, after watching a program about American history:

BBC’s stories are very detailed, and contain as much information as a textbook. The narrative tone is very fair. On the topic of Western expansion, they praise white people. On the topic of massacring Native Americans, they criticize white people and call them demons. Our close-minded Chinese way of thinking could not accept such a thing.

Gristle: making broad cultural generalizations so I don’t have to. Since 2009. Or, 1980, which is when he was born, since he is 30 years old.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Happens when People Make Pledges

You pick up 60 seats in the House, and you also get sick.

Once again, I am sick. I am sitting in bed, as I have been all day long. I have interacted with no human beings, save my cleaning man.

Also, guess who? Gristle.

Gristle came over a few hours ago to pick up some books which he sent to my house. (One thing about Gristle? He doesn’t have an address, so whenever he orders goods online, he just has them sent to us. He gets more mail here than I do.)

Gristle came in, sat down on the couch, and said, “I knew you were going to get sick on Sunday.”

“How did you know?” I asked.

“Well, you were sneezing. How much mucus do you have right now?”

“Not a ton of mucus, no.”

“But you had some yesterday, right? What color was it? White or yellow?”


“I knew it. You have a cold.”

“I don’t think it’s a cold, Gristle.”

“Let me ask you another question: did you have a fever today?”

“Well, yes.”

“It’s because you have a cold. Fevers make you hotter. Solves a cold. Anyway,” he stood up. “I’ll be back at 10:30 or so to check up on you.”

“Please don’t do that, Gristle.”

“Just let me know!”

And then he left. It is currently 8:15, and I’m going to go to bed soon. Whether I will be awakened at 10:30 by a well-meaning Gristle: TBD.

A Pledge to America

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me be the first to say that mistakes have been made. We here at The Guangzhou Story are not going to give you a load of guff on that count. And let me also be the first to say that we’re not going to blame those mistakes on anyone but ourselves. Though you could be forgiven for thinking that things have not been one-hundred-percent our fault. Nothing is one-hundred-percent except pregnancy tests and Chilean miner rescues. Ha ha. But seriously folks.

The Guangzhou Story is more than a blog. It’s an idea for a blog. It’s an idea that’s existed in the hearts of anyone who is occasionally awakened by a Chinese man walking along the ledge outside of their second-story window. It’s an idea that’s been on the lips of anyone who has ever accidentally called cocktails “penis alcohol.” It’s an idea that’s rested gently on the pecs, lats, abs, and quads of anyone who is compared to Michael Phelps on a regular basis.

The Guangzhou Story is more than a blog. But it is also just a blog. I’m seeing some confused faces. I admit that it is slightly difficult to understand, and I welcome the chance at some later date to explain how this blog is both more than a blog and also a blog, but now I am afraid I have neither the time nor the overhead transparencies for such a discussion, as I am currently in the middle of making a pledge.

I seem to have lost my place in my prepared remarks. Excuse me.

The point is that I have traveled to city squares and churches, meat packeries, kosher delis, chop shops, quinceañeras, Algonquin round tables, combination restaurants which sell food from two different fast food restaurants, and Best Western Hotels — businesses large and small across this great nation, and the message I have been hearing is uniform: The Guangzhou Story has not been posting often enough.

In short you have lost your trust in this once great franchise. But I promise you we can make it great again.

[Pause for applause.]

But I can’t do it alone. We need your help. Let’s look at the facts.

For one thing I have only gotten 117 comments in the history of this blog. I wrote most of them myself under pseudonyms. By contrast this is my 209th post to the blog.

Posts vs. Comments

Or in other words.

Work you did

My friends, I find this trend troubling.

There’s more. Despite months of “stimulus” projects, like writing the name of my blog in bathroom stalls and renting blimps, my reader growth is stagnating. Visits are up only 6.25% over last month. At this rate, it will be difficult to build the following necessary to launch a high-paying public speaking and positivity coaching career at the end of my contract next July, and at this point this is my only plan for post-China employment.

Let’s look at these numbers more closely. This is a graph of daily readership during the month of October.


Readership dips significantly every seven days. There is only one possible explanation: a great number of my readers are being killed every week by haunted videotapes, laserdiscs, and 8-tracks in a Ring-type scenario.

My aides are telling me that this is not likely. They’re saying I should move on.

That leaves my only other guess: since the dips occur on Sunday, it is possible that many of you are spending the day at church instead of reading my blog. This seems to be a classic “clinging to your guns and your religion” situation. I respect your religious choices, and I think there’s a way for The Guangzhou Story to be a part of that. Great Talmudic scholars have often noted that prayer can take many forms, and I invite you this Sunday to feel the Holy Spirit (or the holy Talmudic spirit or whatever it’s called — not really sure on this one) moving through you as you read the blog.

Sunday is a time to rest, to spend time with family, and to count your blessings. And I hope I’m not being presumptuous when I say that The Guangzhou Story is a great blessing in your life, on par with if not more important than your husband, wife, and or children. Treasure it.

My fellow Americans, and people from Norway, Mexico, and South Korea who appear to read my blog on a regular basis: I pledge that, with our hard work, The Guangzhou Story will be restored to its former greatness. I pledge to post once a day, minus weekends and assorted Chinese holidays, for the remainder of the year.

My aides are telling me that I should dial that back. Let’s say I’ll try to do that.

In return, I ask that you continue to comment on the blog, read the blog, and tell your friends about Our Great Blog. Together, we can turn this blog around.

Also, stop going to church. That would really help my numbers.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Debate Season

Some people, who will remain nameless (but, hint: gave birth to me), sometimes complain about the fact that I, sometimes, fail to write posts on a fixed schedule. I’ll agree that this is a justifiable concern, especially coming from someone — not saying who — who had me inside her uterus for nine months. And then brought me bear upon the world one morning, one agonizing, interminable, likely very sweaty morning.

In this case, as in all cases, I have been busy with things. Minutiae. Flummery. Bagatelles, trivia, trifles, trollops, trolls. We’ve all been there.

Just popping in to say:

  1. On Sunday, my students are going to the countryside to learn about the simple, fulfilling lives of farmers. I’m going on vacation.

  2. My students did debates in class this week. I thought the debates would be funny. That’s the only reason I assign anything anymore: because I’m old, I’m grumpy, and I want to be entertained. Soon I will start refusing to teach by saying that the humidity is making my knees swell and spend the period playing Spider Solitaire while my students sit in silence.

    The debates were not as funny as I thought they’d be, so the joke was on me, since I had to listen to them all week long. I do have one moment to share. A team was debating the possibility of allowing students to date (they aren’t here), and one of the debaters noted:

    There is a big possibility for lovers to have sexy which is unlegal and bad for our physical and mental healthy.

    So that was pretty good. And hey, all you with lovers out there: be alert to the possibility of sexy; it could strike at any time.

    Also one group was talking about part time jobs (accidentally just typed “party time jobs”!!! Different thing.) for high school students, and they said that having a part time job is “a beautiful experience we will remember throughout our lives.”

    With all respect to Rep. Mike Honda and his legislative agenda, that is not really how I conceive of my time as an intern at his San Jose office.

    Plenty of bold leadership in the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, though. Can’t fault him for that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Perfect Storm

On Saturday, Typhoon Megi (Chinese: 鲇鱼, catfish) hit Mainland China. It was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded.

The day before the storm, I got an email:

Due to the typhoon, tomorrow’s electives have been cancelled. Please tell the other foreign teacher.

(There are two benefits to being the more senior fellow at this particular post. The first is that I am now the foreign teacher that the school administrator sends emails to, rather than the foreign teacher who has to get his information from the other foreign teacher. In any case she doesn’t know either of our names.

Also, I got a raise: 59 extra American dollars per month.)

The reports in the newspaper that morning were dire, too. I subscribe to the Guangzhou Daily but do not read it because I rarely have the energy to decipher anything past the headlines (which, fortunately, are set in large type and often accompany large pictures — all of which make “reading” the Chinese unnecessary, much like free speech and diapers), but in this case the headlines were all I needed: a big storm was coming, and fast.

I considered storm-proofing our windows. I had been led to believe that this is what one does when a tempest hits.

Then, the typhoon!


The streets were deserted.




Obviously I’m hoping that this never happens again.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jon and His Students Get Physical

First badminton. Now this.


This is a picture of a Chinese person being good at ping pong. I had a picture of myself being good at ping pong, but it got lost in the mail, where a dog ate it and then subsequently, for good measure, exploded.

The footage, in other words, could not be found.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of challenging my students to sports which they are genetically, nationalistically predisposed to excel at, I played ping pong with two of my students on Tuesday afternoon. And, in an act of what later generations will doubtless term “Ping Pong Diplomacy”, I graciously lost to each of them once at the beginning of the match.

But then, like a ping pong phoenix rising from the flames of severe mental deficiency, I triumphed and beat my students consistently for the rest of the afternoon.



At one point, after she failed to return one of my Screamin’ Ace Serves, my student called across the table, “Good shit!” Shot, Annie. The word is “shot”.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Grab Your Socks Because They’re About To Get Blasted



I got it in an email last week and I was, like, whatever, Big F Dealio, a smiley that blinks, seen that before. BUT WHAT’S THIS? Blinkey’s got a rosy secret. Blinkey’s got a blush finish. It’s a fucking White Zinfandel. Swirl it around, start talking tannins and shit. This asshole deserves a snifter. Do you drink Zinfandel out of a snifter? Does a grown woman use emoticons like this in non-ironic contexts? You tell me.

But yeah, a grown woman does use emoticons like this in non-ironic contexts. In this case in a middle of an email to me about her inability to find information on Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize.

So many things I do not understand.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You Little Sportsman

I had some free time this afternoon which — implausibly enough — I spent playing badminton. For the first time in 15 years.

I’m not sure if you saw this coming but I wasn’t great.

My student Annie texted me several weeks ago to invite me to play badminton with her, but we couldn’t find a time because I was pretty busy not wanting to play badminton. But, as the old saying goes, you can’t put off badminton forever, and finally we agreed on a playdate for today. So this afternoon at 2, I put on some mesh shorts, slapped on a work out v-neck, and headed to the gym to hit some shuttulecocks with the kids.

But of course it wasn’t just my student Annie, it was also all of her friends: two other girls and three guys, several of whom play for the school badminton team. After we played one demonstrated his ability to do two-finger pushups. Also they were all Chinese people. So they were pretty good at badminton.

My favorite part of the day was at lunch, before the badminton. Annie saw Andy and me at a local restaurant and sat down with us while we ate our meals. We started talking about what sports teams we were on in high school (ha!) and Annie asked me what sports I liked to play.

“I’m not really good at very many sports,” I said.

Annie immediately replied, “What, are you a fairy?”

Andy and I sat there for a moment.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Can you repeat your question?”

“What are your favorites?” she asked again.

That is definitely not what we heard the first time, Annie. Different things.

Later at the badminton court another student told me I should “swish my wrist more” if I want to get more power and control of the ball. OK, Jean, whatever you say.

Yeah that’s it. I’m exhausted from all this badminton talk. Here’s a short video about badminton. Badminton Badminton Badminton Badminton Badminton Malkovitch.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Things My Students Would Bring to a Desert Island

From a handout they completed this week in class. (Answers have been reproduced exactly as they were originally written.)

  • Suntan oil
  • Food/snakes
  • A magician
  • Vaporizer
  • A strong boy who will love me
  • A condom
  • Jon
  • Pregnant pig
  • Thousands of balloons

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mon oncle

I really hate (here we go again!) the Chinese words for familial relationships. My Chinese dictionary has 10 full pages devoted to detailing which precise appellations are appropriate in which precise situations and with which precise relations. Take the following (translated but otherwise unedited) example:

Reltionship: Father’s sister’s son or mother’s sister or brother’s son, older than oneself

Possible names: 表兄、表哥

Notes: 表兄 is rarely used to address people who are present; in general “哥”, “哥哥” and “表哥” are used instead.

But despite this profligate disdain for language economy (I can describe any relationship I want in English with sister, brother, mother, father, aunt, uncle, cousin, and bastard), I have grown fond of one name: 叔叔, shūshū, which means “uncle”. I mean, not all uncles. Only your father’s younger brother. Obviously there are other words for all the other types of uncle, which, as we know, are deeply, essentially different from this first type of uncle.

Shushu, besides being fun to say (try it! Just like the English word “Shoo!”, as if you were shooing your loser uncle away from a bowl of party trail mix), is also a term of respect used primarily by children and young adults to refer to older men (who are generally still younger than their parents). Which is why it’s part of one of my favorite moments from last year: I was on the street, making eyes at a baby I wanted to steal, when the mother raised the baby’s hand and waved at me while cooing, “say ‘Hi, Uncle!’ ‘Hi, Uncle!’” I was that baby’s uncle! I was her 叔叔! I was an older man who was nevertheless younger than her parents! I felt like I did the first time I picked up our home telephone and the person on the other end assumed I was Daniel and not Debra, when I was 17.

My favorite shushu is the one who cleans my house. My shushu (haven’t bothered to learn his name) comes every Tuesday and Friday. He does not attempt to speak to me. Nor in general does he make noise of any kind, except to knock timidly at my door when it’s time to mop my floor.

Naturally this is just how I like it.

I wanted to dedicate at least one post to my 叔叔, and to thank him for providing me a host of silent, submissive services, including but not limited to:

  • Washing the dishes I leave in the sink every Tuesday and Friday (because why do dishes when you know that the Shush is on his way?)
  • Washing the dishes I leave in the sink every Monday and Thursday (because why do dishes when you know that the Shush is on his way tomorrow?)
  • Cleaning the balcony that one time Gus said that he was considering using it as a “reading nook”.
  • Emptying the three trash cans I filled up with vomit during a violent digestive episode earlier this year.
  • Scrubbing out our refrigerator after it was infested by cockroaches.
  • Hosing down our squat toilet.

Thanks, 叔叔! I owe you one! (Probably not going to repay him in any meaningful way, though, unless you count the $13 tip I gave him last Chinese New Year!!!!!)

By the way, I was talking with some students about the baroque system of names for one’s relatives in Chinese, and my students agreed that, yes, it is a little troublesome, but “because of the One Child Policy, in a few generations no one will have brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, or cousins any more.”

Ha ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha.

Funny because it’s true.

Monday, October 11, 2010

On Patriotism

A post in pictures.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Missed Connections

A friend of mine who lives in America sent me a text message this morning: “More blog”. Thirty seconds later she followed up with: “Also hi”. To her I say, “if you want more blog then you should write your own damn blog Kate I was on vacation.” Also hi, to her and to all of you. Long time no see.

Before we had even resumed classes this afternoon, Andy got an email from a student who said that her classmate had seen Andy and me drinking at a bar in Hong Kong.

This is not true. The student did not see Andy and me drinking at a bar in Hong Kong. The student saw Andy and me drinking on a street corner in Hong Kong.

Mine’s worse.

There are no open container laws in Hong Kong so Andy, Gus, and I decided that rather than spend fifty Hong Kong dollars on a beer at an actual, you know, bar, we’d do what homeless people, Duke fraternity members, and Mickey Rourke do: we’d buy beers for five Hong Kong dollars at the 7-11 and drink them under an awning in front of a pawn shop.

It was while we were standing in front of the pawn shop next to the dark alley on a city street drinking alcoholic beverages we’d just purchased at a convenience store for 65 U.S. cents that we heard someone say, “Andy? Jon?”

We turned around, one liter bottles of 65-cent beer at our lips, and we saw this little smiling Chinese boy. He waved.

“He-y-y-y,” we said, in the way of people who have no idea who this little Chinese boy is or what he wants.

“I’m your student. Michael, I’m Michael.”

“Michael!” we said without recognizing him at all, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here traveling, with my family.”

He did not ask what we’re doing. In all likelihood he understood our general situation without having to ask, since we were standing on a street corner under an awning in the rain (did I mention it was raining?) holding half-empty bottles of beer from the 7-11 next door.

“Well OK!” I said. “Have a good one, guy!”

And then he waved at us again, and walked off to join his family, and we stayed there, in the rain, on the street, drinking beer. We had another beer, and several more after that, and eventually we went back to our hostel and asked each other trivia questions in bed until 5 am.

It was sort of a strange night.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Gristle. We all know Gristle. My sweet, sweet Gristle: he’s now on Facebook. And Gristle and I are now, officially, Facebook Friends.

I encourage all of my Facebook Friends to friend him to because, come on, who doesn’t need a little Gristle in their life? Surely not anyone who enjoys excitement, laughter, and frequently bizarre and sometimes racist non sequiturs. Surely not anyone interested in taking pictures of Chinese men in the shower. Surely not anyone who feels they would enjoy a male friend who touches their hair, massages their shoulders, or strokes their arm when the going gets tough,

Surely not all of you. SO I encourage you to friend him ASAP, because you really don’t want to miss his status updates. They haven’t started yet, but I am sure that once they do, they’ll be really really good. Probably also in Chinese, but if you’ve gotten this far in the Guangzhou Story, then presumably that is no longer a problem.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

It Is Happening Again, Part 3, “Isn’t it almost October?” Edition

I really thought we were past this.

Today I met a whole bunch of Senior 1 students whom I hadn’t met before. I normally teach Senior 2 students (that’s high school Juniors, in case that is still not clear to you), but each semester there’s one set of poor little Senior 1 students who have to sit through a weekly hour and a half of my hemming and hawing and pacing and sweating — so much sweating — as I try to teach them some serious math. (I do not know anyone who actually enjoys it. Sample student comment from a teacher’s day card I received this year: “I can still remember how your Equation Class shocked me!” This same student wrote a note on Andy’s card saying: “You seem much more easygoing than Jon.”)

Nevertheless some of them were there at the elective fair today, excited to sign up for my newest class on “Math and the Rubik’s Cube.” A lot of them seemed interested; perhaps they were under the impression that this class would be in any way fun, which, I can assure, is a serious misapprehension.

One girl came up to me and said something which I haven’t heard all year: “Are you the brother of Phelps?” Not one of my Senior 2 students has approached me and told me I look like Michael Phelps. This is a big change from last year, when celebrity comparisons were everyone’s favorite game. (Except for Rubik’s cube: that is also everyone’s favorite game, or it will be until I ruin it with math this semester.) But last year Gus and I were Harry Potter/Michael Phelps all the gosh-darn time. This year? A couple of students said that Andy looks like Samwise Gamgee. This is a step down.

But the magic is back! And by magic I mean my passing resemblance to a butter (buthis?) faced swimming star. I changed the subject, of course, but later we got around to talking about her hobbies.

“What do you do in your spare time?”

“Oh, you know,” she said, “I study a lot. And I like to paint.”

“You paint!” I said. “What do you like to paint?”

She lowered her eyes and said, “I painted a picture of Phelps once.”

She paused.

“His face is in my heart.”

I am back baby. I am so back.

(Late addendum: You know who else is back? Gristle. He came over tonight, asked if he could stay here for a few nights, and promptly told me about how he was pretty sure women couldn’t get hemorrhoids, because, you know, they have periods.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Soup

  1. There’s a soup in China, and it looks like this.


    It’s a sweet soup made out of papaya. It is served in the stewed husk of the papaya it’s made from, like a Chinese chili in a bread bowl or the brains at the end of Hannibal.

    Since arriving in China I have wanted to eat this soup.

  2. There’s a restaurant in China, and it looks like this.

    Chinese restaurant

    No it doesn’t. But believe me that there’s a Chinese restaurant near my house. I don’t know its name because we call it “The Place Above McDonalds”, because it’s above the McDonalds. They serve Cantonese food, and they have my soup.

  3. When I first saw the soup on the menu at the place above McDonalds, I immediately wanted to try it. I almost ordered it too, until I saw the name: 木瓜炖雪蛤. Stewed Papaya with Snow Clams. One of my least favorite things about China is how they ruin shit with seafood. At the milk tea place you can get gelatin cubes in your tea made out of something called 龟苓膏, which means Tortise Jelly and, according to wikipedia, is “traditionally made with the powdered plastron (shell) from the critically endangered turtle Cuora trifasciata”. According to wikipedia you can buy it in a powder and make it at home, like jello. In case you also want to ruin shit with seafood.

  4. Maybe I should have made this clearer before, but I really like papaya. I have papaya in my oatmeal every morning before school. I am looking forward to going back to America, but I’m not looking forward to ditching papaya in my oatmeal in favor of, what, raisins? A raisin isn’t a fruit, it’s trash. It’s what’s left when you forget to put a fruit back in the fridge. Also raisins make me think of race-based housing discrimination in Chicago and, come on: that’s not what breakfast is about.

    Some Chinese people make fun of me for all the papayas I eat, because here it’s mostly women who eat papayas because they’re supposed to make your breasts get bigger. They say it’s because papayas look like breasts, which does not square with my papaya or breast experience. But ok.

  5. Last year, at our goodbye dinner with Serena (yes, this one), Serena ordered my papaya soup for desert. She asked if I wanted to taste some and I said no, because of the 雪蛤, the snow clams: I figured they would probably be gross, and I didn’t want to mess up the taste of the papaya with something fishy and slimy like snow clams. So I said I didn’t like 雪蛤, and she understood.

    She confirmed that the papaya soup was good for ladies (grow those boobies!), but she also said that they 雪蛤 was good for ladies’ skin. The snow clams are white, and I guess the idea is that they’ll make your skin white too, which is your goal, if you’re in China and a lady.

  6. This past week, while I was in Changsha, I ordered the papaya soup. Andy and I were at a restaurant with our new friend Diana and our waitress bustled up to us when we arrived and asked what type of soup we’d like to have as she opened a cart with a bunch of steaming bowls. We saw the papaya and I remember thinking, yes, you know, let’s do it. Let’s get the papaya soup. It has snow clams but so what, we’re on vacation. So I told her we’d like three bowls, and she returned with three big portions of Stewed Papaya with Snow Clams — finally, the soup.

  7. The soup was fantastic — not fishy at all, not slimy even; sure, you could see the snow clams in there but they were light, and the soup was sweet and fresh tasting, and the papaya was soft and ripe and delicious. After I finished the soup I scooped out the inside of the papaya with my spoon, completing the papaya-as-bread bowl metaphor, until only the thin papaya skin remained.

    Andy, Diana, and I agreed that the soup was definitely the best part of the meal. Everything else was fine, but the soup was really delicious. I can honestly say that this was one time when I was definitely wrong about China. I thought — we all thought — that a soup with papaya would be great, but a soup with papaya and 雪蛤 would be quite a bit less great and possibly just awful. So, here’s the lesson: you might worry about eating papaya and snow clam soup, but in fact 雪蛤, those frightful Snow Clams, really aren’t that bad.

  8. No, here’s the lesson: 雪蛤 doesn’t mean Snow Clam.

    I mean it does, in that 雪 means “snow” and 蛤 means “clam.” But 雪蛤 is not a type of clam.

    I should mention at this point that China is fond of euphemisms. Of course we all know about “re-education” but a much more dangerous euphemism is 凤爪, “phoenix talon”, which sounds like some awesome Chinese fusion specialty but is actually just a euphemism for “chicken feet”, which sounds gross when you put it on a menu even though — incredibly — no one seems to have any problem with eating them.

    Anyway this is one of those times. Something was a little weird about the English translation of 木瓜炖雪蛤 on the menu. I mean, obviously it was grammatically incorrect, but this translation was way too far off. Something was really wrong. When we got back, I decided to ask Gristle: what exactly is 雪蛤?

    He confirmed what I already guessed, or knew: 雪蛤 does not mean Snow Clams.

  9. 雪蛤 are the dried fallopian tubes of frogs.

  10. 雪蛤 are the dried fallopian tubes of frogs.


  12. This is what 雪蛤 looks like before it’s added to soup. It’s the dried fallopian tubes of frogs.

    Dried fallopian tubes of frogs

  13. Each bowl of soup cost 68 yuan, which is about $10. It was by far the most expensive thing on the menu.

  14. Last week, in Changsha, Andy, Diana, and I spent 30 American dollars to eat soup made from the dried fallopian tubes of frogs.

  15. So you want to talk to me about soup? Let’s talk about soup. Last week I ate a soup made from the dried fallopian tubes of frogs.

And how was your week?

Maybe I Should Just Refrain From Naming Students Altogether

Told a student that he would henceforth be named Simon. He liked the name. Wrote it down. Liked it so much that the next week his group decided to name their team “Simon’s Room.”

Of course when they announced that name to the class they didn’t say “Simon’s Room,” they said “Semen’s Room.” Which to a non-native English speaker is I guess how it looks.

You know what they say, best laid schemes of mice and men go oft a’ jaculate, but when I name a kid Simon, I don’t expect any trouble. Same with Felicia. Same with Aurora. I clearly have no ear for what is and is not an appropriate name for a Chinese high school student. But I will add Felicia, Aurora, and Simon to the list. The only things on the list so far are Gaye, Cochburn, and Bea. Gaye and Cochburn explain themselves. Bea sounds like the Chinese word for vagina.

You now know everything I know about teaching in China. Really, not as hard as it looks.

Back from vacation! Exciting stories await! Tomorrow: a post about soup. Sounds like a joke but it’s not!

Monday, September 20, 2010

In Which Innocent Class Discussions About Marriage Come Back To Bite Me In The Ass

My handsome, American ass.

Text message from a student, out of the blue: what’s your ideal fiancee like?
[I give my standard non-answer answer, about my ideal fiancé(e) being funny, intelligent, a good listener, etc.]
Student: haha.what about her face?

Great questions all around.

Andy and I are off on vacation tomorrow to Zhangjiajie, one of the most famous natural sites in China. We are going to hike and climb and possible spelunk. I plan on seeing enough large limestone pillars to make up for a lifetime of having seen very few limestone pillars of any appreciable size. Very excited for where life is taking me.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Self Evaluation

Here’s a list of some things I did wrong this week:

  1. I gave a student the English name Aurora. Her Chinese name means “morning” and she wanted something more unusual than Dawn, so: Aurora. Which is a great name. She loved it. I’m like a wizard of naming. Throw away your baby name books, pregnant ladies. Bring those fetuses to me. I mean, Aurora? Come on. That’s smart.

    Of course as Andy pointed out later, the only consonant in “Aurora” is “r”, which is impossible for the majority of my students to pronounce. Including, most likely, Aurora herself. So there goes that idea. Now I have a student named Alola.

  2. Yesterday I gave a student the English name Felicia. Another great name. Sounds a lot like her Chinese name, and it has an auspicious meaning, which is really important to my students. Then last night she emailed me to say she’d like to change it because one of her classmates told her that “Felicia sounds like another word which means very bad thing, is it?”

    Here’s what I guess happened:

    Felicia: I’m so excited! I finally have an English name, given to me by my handsome and talented American teacher. From now on I will be known as Felicia!
    Classmate: Wait, fellatio?
    Felicia: Felicia.
    Classmate: Well your name sounds like a blowjob.

    Destroying childhoods.

  3. I told a student that I would join her student embroidery club. This was an unforced error on my part. I was hoping she’d forget, but other people have mentioned it since the initial conversation, so I might be stuck. Might be spending most of my free time doing needlepoint with Chinese high school girls.

    This is not the way I thought my life would be.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What I am doing right now

In addition to Oral English class, I also teach elective courses each semester. The first meeting of my elective is this coming Saturday, and today was the enrollment day, where all the students decide which elective class they’d like to take.

It did not go 100% as planned.

The school computer system is out. The system. The entire data and communication network on which our school functions is not currently functioning. The email servers were down last week, for example, which meant that the teacher who works in the student administration office had to send me class rosters from her personal account. Her foxmail username is Chinese for “little fishie.” Professionalism has really taken a hit.

So our students had to sign up the old pencil-and-paper way, which meant that all the teachers had to sit at desks in the courtyard with a piece of paper so that students could come around to register. This would have worked great if, like other teachers, I had had 20 - 30 students interested in taking my class, since that would have given each of them a chance to come up, ask questions, and calmly write down their enrollment information. Unfortunately I did not have 20 or 30 students interested in taking my class. Over the course of 40 minutes in the courtyard, I had 132 students sign up to take my class. This is a somewhat larger number.

What am I doing right now? I’m using a random number generator to pick 50 students (the class limit), and then I’m typing up the list of those 50 students and sending it to little fishie so she can put it in the card catalog she is using in lieu of a functioning computer network.

Luckily I get paid in stacks of cash so if this Guangzhou/Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior techno-dystopia situation continues I will still be making my moneys. Until the RMB crashes and all debts start being reckoned in gallons of gasoline, at which point my decision not to learn how to drive a car will reveal itself to have been a fundamental strategic blunder.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Asian Gamers

Starting on November 12, 2010, Guangzhou will be hosting the 16th Asian Games.

You are forgiven for having no idea that this event will be taking place. I imagine if you don’t live in Guangzhou, China it’s not really on your radar. I imagine you haven’t been thinking about it much on a day to day basis. And now that you know about it my sense is that you’re probably not all that excited about these upcoming 16th Asian Games.


Why? Well, off the top: according to Wikipedia, the official name of the 16th Asian Games is the XVI Asiad. There is a squiggly red line underneath Asiad in my text editor because Asiad is a made up word. It’s a fake word and a Roman numeral and in this sense XVI Asiad is like the Balto films (Balto, Balto II: Wolf Quest, Balto III: Wings of Change), which are uplifting movies about a dog, and a wolf, and some other animal with wings I guess. So if you liked Balto III: Wings of Change, you will probably like Asiad XVI: Guangzhou, China. (And, according to, Lady & the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure.)

Another reason to be excited: my Cantonese tutor Serena is going to be a volunteer at the XVI Asiad. She has a job as a scorer.

For bowling.


From a Google image search for “asian bowling”.

So Serena, my Serena, is going to be a scorer for bowling event at the XVI Asiad. Will she be judging toe faults? Nope, there’s a referee for that. Will she herself be counting the pins? No, because pin counting is done by machine. Will she be writing these counts down on some official notepad or scorecard of some kind? By god you can bet she’ll be writing her little Cantonese heart out.

The real exciting part (I know: there’s more excitement??) is that even though tickets are extremely limited to the bowling competition (because for some reason it’s not being held in a venue that can accommodate thousands of bowling fans), Serena’s going to do her best to get tickets for us.

I am thrilled. Andy and I were already planning on getting tickets to an event that no one else cared about. I would have watched anything (including Go, official sport at the XVI Asiad), but bowling is really beyond my wildest dreams in this department.



I mean I guess I don’t have a ton to be excited about it my daily life but surely by any objective measure the 2010 Asian Bowling Championship at the XVI Asiad must be one of the best things ever.