Friday, February 26, 2010

I always ended up on all fours, like a cat

I think it should be clear by now that I'm really cool. I’m not trying to brag; I’m just saying that if I were a teacher in an American high school television dramedy, my students would call me Jon or Mr. W instead of my last name. I would call on students by tossing them a nerf football. Sometimes my essay prompts would contains curse words. That sort of thing.

So if you know me, and you know how cool I am, what happened in class today should not be at all surprising.

I need to give some quick background: the Senior 2 students are divided into 11 classes, each of which has 60 students. 60 students is way too many for an Oral English class, so I take half and Gus takes half. Last semester, the way it worked is that I taught the students in their actual classroom, and the other half went to the Language Lab to see Gus. This semester, we switched positions so that I do my teaching in the language lab.

The two things that you need to know about the language lab are:

  1. It’s an unfamiliar space, so I’m still sort of getting my bearings up on the lecture platform.

  2. Since it’s a high tech language lab, it contains a lot of very expensive electronic equipment.

Again, if you know me, and you know how cool I am, you know this can only end one way, viz., coolly.

I’m in the middle of lecture. My computer is on the desk, hooked up to the projector. Next to it is a Nalgene bottle full of water. The top is off.

I ask a student a question about the picture on the projector, and my plan is to take a drink of water while she’s answering the question. So in the middle of asking her about the difference between luge and skeleton, I reach across to my water bottle while keeping my eyes on her (basketball fans: this is the high school teacher’s version of the no-look pass, and just as impressive) and, cool as you please, casually knock the water bottle over.

Water starts spilling everywhere and one of the students in the front row screams. I tell the student to keep answering the question while I pick up my computer, which is sitting right in a puddle of the water. I can’t put the computer on the ground because the projector cord isn’t long enough, so I have to rest it on my right shoulder. At this point I believe it is still possible to salvage my cool teacher vibe. (“No worries, guys, Mr. W’s got this shit covered. Who’s got the nerf?”) But then I see that the water is on its way toward the big electronic terminal that controls the recording software that the language lab uses, and so with the hand not balancing my computer on my shoulder I grab the only paper I have available, which is a copy of the class roster, and use it to furiously wipe the tsunami (Too soon? Phuket.) away from the electronics and onto the floor.

At this point I’m feeling pretty cool so I toss the roster into the trashcan 4 feet away (swish!), make a luge-related joke, and then reach up with my left hand to advance the powerpoint while the computer is still resting on my shoulder. But it begins to fall. The student in the front row screams again. I manage to grab it and end up balancing it on top of the still dry electronics panel.

And then it seems like everything’s fine, until I start to hear a weird sound. I look down and the water from the table is dripping onto the floor, right onto the power strip that everything in the room is connected to. I remember thinking, well, that’s probably not good. And then the power goes out.

Not the lights, but the air conditioning, the projector, and all of the little lights on the table in front of me. This is a troubling development. I think the studets have begun to feel sorry for me. One student in the front row (next to the screamer) takes out a pocket pack of tissues and places it gingerly on the desk in front of me and gives a little grimace-smile that says, I used to think you were cool, Mr. W, but not anymore.

This means that for the rest of the class I have to narrate my powerpoint like a storybook by holding my laptop out in front of me and slowly rotating it from side to side so that everyone in the class can see. By the end of the period my arms really hurt and I do not think my students have managed to retain any new Olympics-related vocabulary. After the bell rings the front row student comes up to my desk. He says, “I’m goign to take these back now,” and grabs his pocket tissues and walks out the door.

After class I talked to one of the people in the control/surveillance room. (Yes, we have a surveillance room at our school. China!) He got me a new power strip (which I still don’t know how to say in Chinese) and then had to reset the main power supply for that cluster of language classrooms, but in the end there was no lasting damage, except to my fragile, fragile ego. But that was already wounded when, during a discussion of ice hockey earlier in the day, one student asked me, “Jon, have you ever played ice hockey?” Another student immediately answered, “Of course not! To play ice hockey you must be strong.”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A difference of opinion

A student walked into my classroom this morning while I was setting up. He is actually Gus’s student, but he likes asking questions and I guess Gus was busy or something because he came to me.

He walked up to the board and wrote the word “oasis.”

“Yes?” I said.

“Bond Jim?”

“James Bond?”

“No,” he said.

“Is it a person?”

“No. Bund Jom.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

He tried again.

Band. Gym.

“Gym Class Heroes? Are you talking about the Gym Class Heroes? I think you’re thinking of the Gym Class Heroes.”

“No.” He took up the pen and wrote Band Jam.

“Oh!” I said. “Jam band!”

“Sorry, yes. Jam band. Oasis is…jam band, yes?”

“No,” I said.

“I think it is,” he said.

“OK,” I replied.

And then he left.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I'm so wet

For those of you who have never lived in China, I want to say something about showers. In America, when we take showers, we do so in something that we call “a shower.” We also have showers in China, and actually the shower in my apartment is significantly bigger than the shower I had back in America.

Chinese shower

You will note that there seems to be a toilet in my shower. And it’s true. There’s a toilet in my shower. Because my shower is the entire bathroom. There is no distinction between shower and non-shower space. My bathroom happens to have a showerhead in it and happens to have a drain in the floor. Or, equivalently, my shower happens to have a bathroom in it. In fact, were in not for the very very small lip on the bathroom door, you could make a plausible case for my shower containing my entire apartment.

[I should tell you, I lied. That’s not a picture of the shower in my apartment, but it basically looks just like that. I am so lazy and the internet is so convenient that it was easier to do a google search for Chinese Shower than walk 20 feet to take a picture of my own bathroom.

Incidentally, I wouldn’t do a google image search for “Chinese Shower” if I were you, unless you want your third search result to be a naked picture of a Vietnamese/Chinese prostitute in Massachusetts. Her website says she “aims to please.” Given that she puts naked pictures of herself on the internet and posts her rates for housecalls, I’m inclined to take her at her word.]

When you take a shower, usually all the surfaces of the shower get wet, and the same is true for me, except, again, my shower contains a sink, a counter, a mirror, and a toilet. Also, my towel. Since my shower is my bathroom, I have no choice but for my towel also to be inside my shower. Normally this is not too much of a problem. But it is currently incredibly humid in Guangzhou. Combined with the not-too-warm temperatures, this means that nothing ever dries. My shower (bathroom) has become a swamp.

Those of you who live in reasonable climes probably can’t understand what it’s like for a room in your house to be wet 24 hours a day. I have to put on protective footwear to enter my bathroom. It’s like a gross 70° sauna attached to our guest room. On the subject of sauna traditions, I quote Wikipedia:

Saunatonttu, literally translated the sauna elf, is a little gnome that was believed to live in the sauna. He was always treated with respect, otherwise he might cause much trouble for people. It was customary to warm up the sauna just for the gnome every now and then, or to leave some food outside for him. It is said that he warned the people if a fire was threatening the sauna, or punished people who behaved improperly in it – for example slept, or played games, argued, were generally noisy or behaved otherwise “immorally” there.

Well sorry, Saunatottu, I don’t know what’s normally considered immoral behavior, but I go there to poop.

This problem does not just apply to our bathroom, by the way. All of the floors in our apartment complex and in our classroom building are covered in slick stone tiles, and every morning the maids wipe these surfaces down with mops. These also never ever dry. So walking to class requires sliding carefully over wet stone in shoes that don’t even have arch support, much less the ability to grip smooth lubricated surfaces. I have almost slipped numerous times. Gus fell down the stairs. Even leaving the house is treacherous.

By the way, do you remember when I told you about the huge daily flood outside the gates of our school? Still happening. Sidewalk also never dries. Some enterprising citizen put out large bricks like stones across a river so that you can walk down the sidewalk without getting your feet wet.

And tonight Gus opened a box of chocolates in our living room and they were covered in condensation. We sacrificed them to Saunatonttu just to be safe.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Best Week Ever

Guangzhou weather forcast

There’s a storm gathering. The clouds are dark and the winds are strong and I am afraid. I’m a Guangzhou teacher who must choose between my faith and my job, where by “faith” I mean my (apparently unfounded) belief that it should not be 23 degrees (that’s 73 degress Fahrenheit for all you wippersnappers, now get off my lawn) and raining in the middle of winter. And by “job” I mean teaching Chinese high schoolers the difference between bobsleigh, skeleton, and luge, which is exactly what I’m doing this week.

Some of the Olympic fever from the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing must have spilled over into this year’s Games, because my students are surprisingly conversent on winter olympics topics. Some of them have even watched a winter olympics broadcast, which is totally foreign to me. Perhaps it are so popular among my students because the winter olympics nicely complement Chinese national values like competition, and constantly being in second place to a more powerful olympics, and ice dancing. Whatever the cause, they are much more informed about winter sports than I am. But I’m the native English speaker, so I’m the one who gets to spend 40 minutes at the front of the class telling them things they already know. You’re welcome, kids!

One area I actually can be helpful in is telling them the English names for the sports and the sports equiptment that the athletes use. But even there I don’t really have much to offer since most of the sports either have totally transparent names (“They put on skis and try to jump the farthest. It’s called ski jump.”) or ones which I can’t explain at all. Why is it called Nordic combined? I don’t know. Because it’s a meaningless sport that no one cares about except Nordic people. (Then why don’t they call them the Nordic Olympics, am I right???) I also cannot explain the names of skeleton or curling, except to say that they are also sports that they will never encouter if they come to America, except possibly in Canadian-friendly standup routines.

Really in retrospect I can’t really think of any essential information that I gave my students today. I did teach them the word “argyle” and show them a picture of the Norwegian curling team, though, so I guess not a total loss. Unlike the Winter Olympics.

Thai Time

When I was in Thailand a few weeks ago, I was able to conduct some important sociological research into the differences between Chiang Mai and Guangzhou. (I hope it's not too gauche to say that it's attracted a lot of interest at the prestigious Second Tier Asian Cities Quarterly, forthcoming from Chicago University Press.) What follows is a summary of my results.

  1. Jason and I got a massage. Sorry, that makes it sound like we got a joint massage. What I mean is that we both got massages. Concurrently. In the same room. We had a curtain separating us from the torso down, but luckily we could still look into each other's eyes.

    We found the massage parlor by walking essentially aimlessly around a section of central Chiang Mai until we found a small shop with MASSAGE stenciled on the front window. Shops like this make me nervous. Afficianados will recall that when people offer you massages in China, they usually actually want to sell you sex. And everyone knows that Thailand is full of prostitutes eager to find American men before they're evacuated by helecopter.

    That might just have been Miss Saigon.

    I ended up getting a massage in the name of science, but I chose the "Back, Neck, and Head", which seemed like the least sexy option. Did this woman try to seduce me? Let's just say that things really took a turn after she massaged my back and neck.

    By which I mean she told me to put my clothes on and served me tea. She didn't massage my head or do anything head related at all. Just a case of faulty advertising. A better name for the experience would have been "Back, Neck, Feet, Hand, and Thigh Massage, plus I'll pull on your arms a little bit." There was absolutely no sexy content in the massage at all, though when she was doing my thighs her hands did get a little close to the ol' reclining buddha. I let it go.

    What's shocking is that the hot oil massage that Jason ordered was also not sexy. In fact, his masseuse took like 6 calls in the hour it took to rub him down. Lady, a white man just walked into your place of business, handed you 200 Baht, and told you to work hot oil into his body. Come on. Get it together. Fulfil some stereotypes already.

  2. Jason and I sang karaoke. Now, Chinese people really like karaoke (or as they call it, 卡拉OK (how can you tell it's fun? Because it has OK right in the name!)), but I think Thai people may like it even more. They, are at least, more creative. Quick quiz: if you wanted to sing karaoke, where would you like to sing it? Would you like to sing in a dark room with couches and a table and a comfortable, lounge-like atmosphere, like Chinese people do?

    Naw, man.

    You want to really sing karaoke? GRAVEYARD!

    "Sure," you're thinking, "I could sing in a graveyard and enact some sick Haunted Mansion fantasy, but what if I also want to see some vaguely nautical netting?"

    Also, above the TV there is a ghoul. Based on the theme rooms at this karaoke establishment, other accpetable places to sing karaoke are: Prison, Erotic, Space.

  3. I got to sit in on one of Jason's classes. He promised that his students would be cute and energetic, and boy was he right as Rama IX. We played a question and answer game together (premise: they ask me questions; I answer them), and at the end Jason had them make acrostics out of my name.

    Jason's friend
    Oh! My! God!
    Nice to meet you.

    White skin
    E-mail [Yes, I do know what email is; thanks for asking.]
    Excellent
    Delight

    As you can see, very, very sweet. The second one was more laconic, and also more confusing.

    Journals [yes, this is a word that begins with J]
    Oriental teacher [I'm putting that on my business cards]
    Neat

    Wisdom
    Elegant
    Excellent
    Darling

    Very sweet as well. Just a swell bunch of kids, overall. A+ Teacher Jason!

And then I came home from Thailand, and since then not a single person has given me a massage, invited me to a graveyard, or said that I was wisdom. I should really just go back, because it's obviously the place for me.

Friday, February 12, 2010

On Friendship

(I was planning on having this post up earlier tonight, but then I spent 2 hours alone in my room watching high school students' lipdubs on youtube. It happens.)

So I just got back from a great trip to Thailand where I visited my best bud/fellow noise pop advocate J-Gil (hold the cream cheese), and I plan on posting about that trip as soon as I manage to wash off all the scented oils that I had rubbed/poured onto me during my time there. But today I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about Gristle.

Gristle and I have a complicated relationship. I wouldn't call us "friends", really, because I would never, ever tell him anything personal or go to him in a time of need. And it's not like I really enjoy hanging out with him. But, on the other hand, if we're not friends, why did he ask me to take a picture of him in the shower this morning?

Let me back up.

Several weeks ago, Gristle came over to our apartment because he said he wanted to learn how to iron clothes. By now this sort of request doesn't seem strange at all from him. Several months ago he texted me to ask me to research American real estate prices because he has several hundred thousand American dollars lying around and wants to buy an apartment somewhere in the midwest. I don't know which is weirder, the idea that he would make up such a ridiculous story, or the idea that he actually has this money and someday he'll live in America, and I'll bring my children to visit his house and play with his chickens or whatever. In any case, I've become fairly desensitized to his text message communiques.

Pause for a second to note that he just texted me to say that the temperature is going to drop in Guangzhou tomorrow. Thanks, Gristle! You and my dashboard weather widget have got me covered.

So Gristle "learned to iron", which actually involved his sitting and talking in our living room while Gus ironed some shirts. He then borrowed our iron and ironing board, and walked out of my life for a few weeks because he was exceptionally busy with tutoring jobs in the lead up to Chinese New Year.

Two days ago Gristle and I went out to lunch, and I asked if we could have our ironing board back because I had some clothes to iron. He said he would bring it over to our apartment the next day, and he asked if he could also take a shower at our place. He said that he was out of natural gas at his apartment and he didn't want to buy more for the month, since he was about to go home for new year. Fine. He then said that maybe I could iron some of his clothes for him while he was in the shower. I told him that wasn't going to happen.

So yesterday he was supposed to come over at 9 am so he could drop off the iron and shower, but 9 am rolls around and he doesn't show. I text him at 10 to see if he is alive, not because I'm worried about him, but because I'm trying to plan my day around a 30-year-old man who is coming to our apartment to shower because he doesn't want to pay his utilities. He did just put in an offer on a condo in Kansas, though, so I guess money's a little tight right now. Still no word from Gristle. At 11:30 I text him again to say that I'm going to go to lunch, and that he can still come over in the afternoon if he wants, but he should text me beforehand because I might not be home. I don't hear from him. He finally texted me at about 4 pm to say that he had had a headache when he got up that morning and that he offered 120,000 apologies (十二万分抱歉!) for having missed our appointment. It's ok, Gristle. Don't need that many apologies.

Then, this morning at 7:58 am, while I was still sleeping, I got a text from Gristle: "起床没有?" ("Are you up?") Yes, Gristle. Now I am up. And then he said that I should come over to his place to help him move things.

So it's 8 am and Gristle woke me up to help me carry things from his apartment. I got a feeling that today's gonna be a good day! Guangzhou: let's live it up. I get in the shower and then go over to Gristle's apartment (the one in China, not the one he's buying in America), where he gave me my iron, ironing board, and a gallon container of cooking oil to carry back to my apartment. When we got back, he said that he wanted to take a shower quickly before lunch. I gave him a towel, and then he said, "oh, Jon, do you have a camera?"

"Why do you want a camera, Gristle?"

"I want to take pictures of myself while I'm showering."

"What?"

"Just from the waist up!"

"No," I said. Because if I let Gristle use my digital camera in the shower he would certainly drop it or get it wet or actually use it to take a picture of his penis.

"OK," he said, "just leave it outside the door and I will take pictures afterwards."

I did not really want him taking pictures at all with my camera, but I couldn't refuse him this small request after everything he's done for me (footage not found), so I said OK.

After his shower, he took some pictures and then called me and asked me to take pictures of him in the bathroom. I did not want to do this. But I went into the bathroom, and there I found Gristle wearing a towel (thank god), doing what he called his "Playboy" pose.

And I took pictures of him. 19 of them. They're on my computer right now. They all basically look like this.


Then he put clothes on and took me out to lunch. And that, Jason, is true friendship.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Time When I Abetted a Yangshuo Prostitution Ring

After a few days in Guilin, Gus and I left in a small bamboo boat and travelled downstream to Yangshuo, a market town turned tourist attraction on the banks of the Li River.

The small bamboo boat was one of three possible watercraft options for the trip to Yangshuo. When we went into the travel office, the woman said that a boat cruise to Yangshuo would cost 430 RMB.

"But the sign behind you says that the trip is only 220 RMB," I said.

"Actually," Gus interjected, "the sign also says that it's cheaper during the winter. So it should only be 200 RMB."

"That's a different boat," said the lady. "You don't want that boat."

"Why don't we want that boat?"

"It doesn't have an English tour guide; you'll be confused."

"Obviously we don't need an English tour guide," we said to her. In Chinese. Like the whole conversation has been in Chinese.

"Haha, yes, of course you don't." She smiled.

"OK, so we'd like to book tickets for tomorrow."

"Great. That'll be 860 RMB."

"We don't need an English tour guide."

"Well, you're not Chinese people, so you should take the boat for foreigners." She smiled again.

And then we left. In protest, we went to our hotel and asked the lady if there was a cheaper boat option, and she suggested the bamboo boat. She said it might get a little cold. "We'll take it!" we said.

Cut to me the next day, wearing essentially every piece of clothing I had packed while I sat on freezing a bamboo boat for three hours listening to the wind whistle through the karst.

Now, if there's one person who benefits from from the discomfort of the bamboo raft experience, it's a prostitute living in Yangshuo, because she can count on tourists feeling cold and isolated, what with the wind and the karst.

And, let me tell you, there were some serious prostitutes in Yangshuo. I never actually saw any prostitutes there, but lots of old women on the street offered me massages and then, when I turned them down, said, "you want sex?" I do not think these old ladies were planning on having sex with me themselves (but if they were, then you go girls!), and presumably the sex would not have been free, so my bet is that there are young women who are selling their bodies to foreign tourists via a network of madams who solicit nightly on the streets of Yangshuo.

Now, I find this situation with the prostitutes reprehensible and disgusting for a number of reasons, which is why it is surprising that, while in Yangshuo, I provided translation services for prostitutes.

I was walking with my friend (not Gus; I do have other friends) down the main pedestrian avenue of Yangshuo when a woman approached us and said, in English, "massage?", though with a certain prostitute-y twinkle in her eye which told me that this woman was in fact willing to sell me a (hopefully younger) woman who would offer me a massage and also perform various sexual acts about my person.

I told her no, and we kept walking but she caught up to me and slipped her arm in my arm and asked me if I wanted some sex. This is where one has to really start hoping that what she is asking is actually, "do you want some sex with someone who is 30 years younger than me?", but I wasn't interested in any case, so I got a little angry and said, in Chinese, "stop bothering us!"

Now this got a reaction. The woman pulled back and said, "hey, do you want to fight?" And I did what any person with my body type would do when a 60 year old woman asks to fight, which is I said, "Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean anything by it."

Then she said that it was OK, and she shook my hand and complimented me on my Chinese. Then I said that my Chinese wasn't very good at all, and she complimented me on my modesty, and shook my hand again, and then said that I was her foreign brother.

And then we got to talking. She told me about how rudely most people rejected her advances, when all she was doing was trying to sell massages ("and women's bodies", I wanted to add, but it didn't seem like a good time). She was trying to learn English on her own, but she said it was very hard. Then she asked me if I could teach her some English phrases.

So I helped the woman on her pronunciation of the word "massage" and then I taught her how to say "room with air conditioning" and "you look stressed, do you want to relax?" in English. She thanked me profusely, and gave me her business card, and asked with a wink what I thought of Chinese girls. I told her they seemed like very nice people, and then I said that I should probably go.

At the very end she said that this would help her a lot in her business. So there you go: I may have caused a demonstrable increase in an exploitative sex trade centered around Yangshuo. How do I sleep at night? With prostitutes.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Some Things That "Happened" (More or Less) While I Was in Guilin

1. Karst (SEE, GEOLOGISTS?? I PROMISED!)

There's a famous saying about Guilin: "Guilin has the best scenery under heaven". It's really an stupid saying. It's not memorable or creative at all, and anyway it's probably false. It just sounds like something a guy said once. San Jose is a pretty nice place. There you go, San Jose. That's your new city motto. You can ditch "The Capital of Silicon Valley", which you absolutely should because you're not the capital of Silicon Valley, because Silicon Valley is not a governmentally recognized geographic area. I'm not sure if that's actually our city motto or not, but it's on our garbage cans so close enough.

"Guilin has the best scenery under heaven" is on garbage cans in Guilin. It's also carved into the side of Duxiu peak:



("Guilin has the best scenery under heaven" (桂林山水甲天下) is the first seven characters of the third column from the left)

Well it turns out that Guilin has great scenery. Whatever, Wan Zhengong, I regret nothing: your aphorism still blows.

The defining characteristic of Guilin scenery is, indeed, the karst (again, this is limestone eroded by dissolution). The karst is strange because it's everywhere and in places you wouldn't expect -- spires of weathered rock seem to explode out of flat farmland, and in the cities buildings and roads abut steep limestone formations hundreds of feet tall. It's surreal and totally unlike hilly places in the states, which I guess were formed by plates pushing against each other or whatever it is that makes mountains. The geologists in the room know what I'm talking about.

According to my travel book, the karst is a "tourist phenomenon" today but historically it has been a huge problem, because it's a barrier to transportation, communication, and agriculture, which led to underdevelopment and eventually to a century of civil conflict and ethnic strife. But that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make in exchange for pleasant limestone outcroppings. They really are quite nice.

Naturally, while we were in Guilin, Gus and I saw (and, in some cases, climbed) a fair amount of karst, including a very famous formation called Camel Mountain.

DSCF0273

Eh, it looks like a camel. See, Wan Zhengong? I didn't feel the need to carve that observation into the side of a mountain. Get that "best scenery under heaven" stuff out of my face.

2. Non-Karst

So, other than the karst, Guilin is a little boring. My travel guild calls it "an attractive place to spend a day." I was there for 3 nights. My non-karst time was spent wandering the city and stopping at coffee shops, most of which are named after places other than Guilin, so drinking coffee there felt like traveling to places less boring than Guilin. Sichuan! Italy! The Shire!

DSCF0271

Maybe it's called Shire Hobbiton because Guilin's karst is supposed to be reminiscent of the craggy vistas of Middle Earth, but that's obviously crazy because Guilin was used for location shooting for the Wookie planet of Kashyyyk in Star Wars III, and so it's clearly got a totally different topography from Middle Earth. The nerds in the room know what I'm talking about.

We also saw a gay bar in Guilin, which was surprising because the Chinese government isn't really into the idea of "gay" "people". I sort of wanted to check it out just to see what it would be like, but we weren't really sure whether it was open or not. In the end, I popped my head in, but I decided against going all the way in because I was too tired.

After Guilin we went to Yangshuo, which is beyond the scope of this post. More info TK.

Monday, February 1, 2010

In this world nothing is certain except death and karst

I spent my week in Guangxi staring at limestone that has been eroded by dissolution, otherwise known as karst.


If you find karst ugly or boring, then 1) you should not read this blog for the next few days, because summarizing my vacation will require regular discussions of karst and its properties 2) you should never, ever, ever go to Guangxi province.

But before we get to karst talk (don't worry, geologists in the audience, we're getting there!), I should say that I seem to have picked an unusually busy week to take a vacation. For instance, I was surprised to hear that J.D. Salinger, in a break from his decades-long retreat from the limelight, died last Wednesday. I was also surprised to hear that Howard Zinn died, but not surprised in an "oh my god I can't believe Howard Zinn died!" sort of way, but more in a "Huh." and then I go back to living my life sort of way.

There should be a website where you can input the dates of your vacation and then when you come back it'll just send you an email with the important people who died. Because I had to figure out these people died by going to facebook and clicking "Read More" at the bottom of the newsfeed a bunch of times. If you're wondering who got more attention on facebook, J.D. Salinger or Howard Zinn, the answer is "the iPad." There were also some posts about football, but I haven't really been following football since the Knicks got eliminated in December. I heard nothing on facebook about the state of the union, so I will assume Barack Obama does not exist.

Anyway, I'll tell you about Guangxi over the next few days. I still have to tell you about the diaolou, but we'll start with karst, because start and karst are spelled almost exactly the same

Minus the k.

Plus another t.

Also, you have to rearrange the letters. Whatever, we're going to start with the karst and that's final.