Monday, March 29, 2010

Emergency

I can’t find my bank card. My fear here is not that someone steals all my money (yeah, enjoy all those RMBs I got rolling around in there!) but that I have to go to the bank and navigate the process of getting a new card. Talking to bank employees in any country is not really “in my wheelhouse,” as it were (things in my wheelhouse: charming Chinese high schoolers and old African-American women; nautical metaphors), and I’m especially worried about having to do all of this in another language. I think I still have a savings account from when I was 12 with like $70 in it at some bank because I’m too uncomfortable to go in and close it. This is the level of social anxiety that we’re talking here. Crippling.

Other emergencies: A while ago, Gristle sent Gus a text saying only: “我有事”. This translates literally as “I have thing,” but 我有事 sounds pretty big (to me, at least). People use it when they’re trying to get out of commitments (so it can be used in the “I have something to do” sense), but, out of context, it can be much more serious; for example, there’s a Chinese song called 《如果我有事》, which is translated into English as “If something happens to me.”

I found Gristle’s text message troubling. Gus and I both did. He’s had some health and family problems in the past, and I was worried that something terrible had happened. He doesn’t have a great support system in situations like those, as you might have guessed from the fact that he’s a 30-year-old man who spends a lot of time with two Americans in their early 20s who make fun of him on their blogs. I also thought it was possible that he was going to drop the “I’m-gay” bombshell, which bombshell I was not interested in his dropping, since it would push the sexual tension in our relationship to the breaking point and likely make our German tutoring sessions Zu Hot Zu Handle, to say nothing of the times when he has me take semi-nude pictures of him in our bathroom.

I could also imagine his “事” being something like, “my friend is moving; I volunteered you to move boxes of books for him, please head over immediately” which is a real event from my life with Gristle. (Another real-life request from Gristle: “I am looking after some Mexicans today. Can you help me?” I did not help on that occasion but Gus did and said he had a great time.)

You know what just happened? Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” just came up in iTunes. Would it be the same, Gristle, if I saw you in heaven? When your birthday comes in heaven, will you still ask for your gift to be for us to take you to the Westin hotel in Guangzhou so that you can try defecating in their fancy toilets? (This happened too.) Things I’m worried you might continue to do in heaven, based on this song: hold my hand, help me stand, know my name.

In this case Gus texted him back, “什么事?” (“What’s the 事?“) and he responded, “I just bought a really big pear. Do you want some?” The easy answer being: fine, sure.

Let it never be said that I turned away a friend who came to me in a time of crisis. Obviously this doesn’t hold when it’s something to do with emotions or moral dilemmas; I’m thinking more “I’ve got some extra fruit”-type situations.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Commercial appeal

First line of a commercial today for a standard Ikea wall clock:

This clock has a very tasteful design.

Second line:

You should buy this clock because it was in one of the buildings on September 11.

That makes buying the clock both tasteful and commemorative. Like this tank top.

9/11 tank top

Serious question: do you think anyone buys these to wear ironically? Does it work?

Incidentally I bought a tee shirt today at the annual Student Charity Sale. The real reason that I taught a lesson on advertising this week is to tie-in with the real life fact that my students are selling each other goods this week in order to raise money for charity. Really it’s just an excuse to confirm all sorts of stereotypes about Chinese merchants, which I will not dwell on here. (I don’t think that’s the official purpose of the sale, but it might as well be as far as I’m concerned; today I literally heard a student say, “We give you very good price!”)

I bought the tee shirt because my students really are good advertisers. Just like we had discussed in class, they succinctly summarized the product’s benefits: high quality, low price, also functions as a great memento of a national tragedy. And really because the students trying to sell it to me were really cute. It’s hard not to be swayed when, whenever I walked up to one of the sales booths, a student would catch sight of me and excitedly turn to her (ok yeah usually this was a girl student) classmates and say, “Jon’s here!!!” And after that I start having thoughts like, “I never listen to music as I fall asleep, and in fact it would probably make it harder for me to fall asleep, but I should probably buy this apple-shaped pillow with an iPod jack in it, just to be safe.” And so I did buy that apple shaped pillow. And a small playing card with a drawing of a man’s legs and “MOON WALK” written on it in big letters. And a large yellow clip that cost me 10 RMB but whose use still escapes me.

Anyway, we’re all done with advertisements. Other highlights were a group that claimed a small angel ornament was “the spirit of Michael Jackson”, a group that said that the gnome I discussed earlier had been owned by Hitler, and one guy who hit himself in the testicles while he was swinging a computer mouse around by the cord. That wasn’t really part of the ad. That just happened. He spent a good 30 seconds doubled over in pain while the rest of the class laughed and laughed and laughed. Ironically this was probably the ad that looked the most like one we would actually enjoy in America.

Diptych

  1. The Guangzhou mosquito situation has gotten out of control. I know that the fact that I don’t have to worry about malaria and Japanese encephalitis immediately disqualifies me from making statements like this at international cocktail parties without sounding like a huge douche, but that’s why I have a blog. And also why I don’t get invited to many international cocktail parties.

    Whatever. There are a TON of mosquitoes in my apartment. And a ton hovering in the hallway right outside my apartment which enter and leave with impunity whenever I open the door. I actually have two front doors, a real door and a metal gate in front of it, so when I go I I have to open and close both of them quickly in succession to prevent mosquito infestation. I feel like I’m trying to run a clean room facility or something. I mean, what is this, Outbreak starring Rene Russo?

    The only real weapon I have against the mosquitoes is my tennis racket of death, pictured here.

    mosquito racket

    When I press a button on the side of this devilishly creative device, lethal current (to mosquitoes, not sure about people) rushes through the wire mesh in the middle. I keep this implement of destruction near me at all times because mosquitoes love biting me. Gus has gotten a few mosquito bites this year. I’ve gotten dozens and dozens. I wake up with mosquitoes buzzing around my ears, or sitting on my face, or biting my chest stomach arms back and legs. I am beset. I am at war. I will not rest. Seriously, they wake me up almost every night. Really hard to get quality sleep time in.

  2. Today in class, a student tries to sell an old broken computer mouse:

    Student: Jon, have you used this mouse before?
    Me: Yeah.
    Student turns to class
    Student: Ladies and Gentlemen, what if I told you that you could use a mouse also used by the most handsome man on the planet. Jon used this mouse! Do you want to go to Princeton? Use this mouse! Do you want to become the teacher of me?
    Other Student: Not really.
    Student: Still, use this mouse. Be handsome! Go to Princeton! Be like Jon! Be like Obama!
    Other Student: Obama didn’t go to Princeton.
    Other Student #2: Jon’s better than Obama.

    Everybody gets an A!

  3. Fact of the day: 95% of domestically brewed Chinese beer contains formaldehyde. I think I’ll be more concerned about this once I sober up a little.

I guess I ended up with a triptych. Regular Hieronymus Bosch over here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Can’tonese

Got a great joke for you. A guy moves to Guangzhou and decided that he’s going to try to become competent in Cantonese in his two years there.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA x infinity, for ever and ever. Maybe when the Angels win the pennant.

Let me offer the following context: some of you are probably impressed that I’ve managed to learn Mandarin at all. (I am really not trying to brag here. I am reminded daily of the general inadequacy of my language skills and how far I am from being fluent after studying Chinese for 5 years, so far that nearly every day I almost decide to stop trying all together because there is too much, far too much, too far to go, years and years and years.) Some of you probably still think that, as Joe Biden put it, learning Mandarin is a big fucking deal.

Cantonese is so much harder. I thought it would be hard, sure. But Cantonese so hard I forgot to laugh. It’s hard like diamonds. It’s hard like the Madonna album Hard Candy. It’s hard like that Ellen Page movie Hard Candy. It’s hard like jolly ranchers. It’s hard like my ex-wife.

Coming to Guangzhou, you’d expect that I might pick up Cantonese on the street or “around town,” as it were, since “Canton” means “Guangzhou” and “ese” means “it’s easy!” After seven months here, here is a list of the phrases I can say in Cantonese off the top of my head:

  • Hello.
  • Good morning.
  • Goodbye.
  • You dare to say such a thing here?
  • Go die.
  • Have you eaten?
  • Yes, I have eaten.
  • No, I have not yet eaten.
  • I do not eat.
  • I do not speak Cantonese.
  • Fuck your lungs.

Our Cantonese tutor says that this last one is a real piece of Cantonese slang that people use to curse each other, but I don’t buy it any more than I buy any of the other things that she says, like, “watch this Chinese TV show; you’ll enjoy it.”

Technically I can say more than that, but not that much more. And everything else I have to think about hard before it comes out of my mouth. (Trivia: the first time I wrote that sentence, it said “comes into my mouth.” I was trying to write “comes into my head” but got distracted I guess. If The Guangzhou Story were an episode of Pop-Up Video, this is what it would be like.) And — this is a weird feeling — I can only speak Cantonese via Mandarin. So when I speak Cantonese, I translate it into Mandarin first, and then into Cantonese. Same thing in the other direction.

To improve this situation, our Cantonese tutor has tried having us watch Cantonese TV and learn Cantonese songs. The TV is incomprehensible because the subtitles are generally in traditional characters and too fast for me anyway. The Cantonese songs are slightly better because I can drill them a lot of times and there usually aren’t that many words.

Currently the only song I really know is called 《强》 (“Strong”), by an artist named 郭富城, who I guess is really popular. He probably has an English name, but my visa in China prevents me from doing any journalism so I’m not going to look it up.

The easiest way to give you a sense of what sort of performer he is is just to give you the names of his most popular songs. They are, in the order listed on the Chinese video sharing site youku.com, “Love”, “Careless”, “Fly”, “Longing”, “Star”, “Time”, “Pain”, “Tender”,and “Captivated”. His music is full of the subtlety, wit, and restraint characteristic of so many Chinese singers. The chorus to “Strong” (ok, that’s the only part of the song that I know) is equally nuanced, and essentially consists of 郭富城 telling the listener, “You’re strong! You’re awesome! Never say die” several times in a row. The video is here, if you’re interested.

OK truthfully I find this video really inspiring. I sing it to myself sometimes in the shower. Once I move back to America, if you ever see me and are having a bad day, ask me to sing 《强》 and I’ll totally do it for you. I promise that afterwards you’ll have enough confidence to drive a car, or leap over rocks, or give the camera an exaggerated, slow motion Thumbs Up.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

There's Got To Be a Better Way!

What if I told you I had an idea today that could make you literally tens of dollars? The setup is simple: take a new product that you want to sell, say it’s an iPad, and then give this product to me, let’s still say it’s an iPad, and I will then give it to some Chinese high school students I know (but only for a little bit; it’s an iPad, after all) and they will make a commercial for it. This commercial will either make the company millions of dollars, or it will make them absolutely nothing. Possibly less than nothing. On occasion, I have actively avoided products my students have recommended (pork floss, meat-flavored pastries of all kinds, lead paint).

But I could also see this working, especially if my students continue to ride the balls-to-the-wall surreality train which they rode all the way to (this metaphor is getting away from me) infomercial junction, where every morning you eat your cereal out of an EZ Crunch Bowl (real tagline: “A New Way to Eat Breakfast Cereal”) full of self loathing. Which never gets soggy in an EZ Crunch Bowl, because of its rubberized grip and unique two-level design.

EZ Crunch Bowl

See? Look how much fun those hands are having with their white walls and reflective breakfast table! I wish I had an EZ crunch bowl. Or some orange juice. Oh god I just remembered there’s a papaya in my bag. It’s been there for hours. Hold on.

With my papaya now in the fridge, my students are going to be working on advertisements all this week. The students have about half of the class period to write ad spots for objects I give them. As for the objects, I’ve chosen the most beautiful, precious things I can find around the apartment, like this candle holder Gristle gave us for Christmas.

Gnome

I think it might have actually been a birthday gift for Gus, but I want it real bad. I gave this to a group today, and after twenty minutes of preparation, they stood up, held the candle holder up to the class and said, loudly and excitedly, “Will you just look at this gnome?!” They then spent twenty to thirty seconds marvelling at the gnome and nodding vigorously to each other in silence. Then they sat down. Another group put the gnome on the desk at the front of the class and said, “Why not imagine you and your lover?” (Reason #1: I don’t want to cry in class, Reason #2…oh wait, this was rhetorical?) They then told a touching story of how a romantic dinner was saved after a power failure by a gnome statue with votive candles in his water buckets. Sounds like more than one romantic dinner I’ve had past. Mostly the water buckets. I really like waterparks. Plus most of my dates look a lot like the gnome.

The last group just said that if you bought the gnome “then you get Jon’s hug free.” Unsurprisingly, this generated a lot of interest in the class. Surprisingly, I was totally OK with the idea of my body being sold alongside a gnome’s. Expect to hear a lot about the gnome this week as more classes try to find a way to market this lovely, tasteful, Christmasy gift.

(By the way, if any of my readers actually own a gnome like this, bear in mind that I’m not criticizing your gnome. I’m sure it looks great in your house. It just doesn’t work well with our decor, which doesn’t happen to be Travelocity themed.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Psycho

Speaking of terrifying things happening in the shower, my film students watched Psycho this week. Some thoughts.

For one thing, I was excited to see that a movie made 50 years ago (Jesus, how is it already 2010? Shouldn't I have a flying car or at least a flying skateboard by now? More seriously: shouldn't I have learned to drive a car by now?) can still be terrifying. And one nice thing about teaching this movie in China is that only a few people in this high school class knew that (spoiler alert!!!!) Marion was going to be killed in the shower. But those that did know started making stabbing motions and high-pitched screeching sounds as soon as Marion started getting ready to take a shower, so that might have ruined the surprise a little bit.

Of course the fact that so few of them knew what was going to happen also meant that a lot of them found the movie really disturbing. I'm talking shell-shocked students sitting in silence after I brought the lights up after the screening. More than one student came up to me later and said, "Why would you show that to us?" I don't know, Sunny. I don't know.

So, for the record, so far in this course the only movies I've discussed are Psycho, Mulholland Dr., and the Pixar short "Presto," about a cute rabbit who just wants to eat his carrot!! I think I will continue to alternate children's movies with increasingly alienating art films. I look forward to our end-of-semester double feature of the complete works of Stan Brakhage and Space Jam. (Rejected alternatives: Salò and Operation Dumbo Drop, Hostel and Hotel for Dogs, The Amazing Panda Adventure and rotoscoped footage of poachers skinning a panda, which is a film I'm sure an MFA student has made at some point.)

Anyway, we spent today discussing the plot of the film and watching the shower scene in slow motion (Jon's film class: just when you thought it couldn't get more disturbing!). When I asked for comments about the movie at the very beginning, one girl raised her hand and she said she thought it was horrible. This is a problem I've run into before, so I spent a few minutes teaching the difference between "horror", "horrible", and "horrifying."

"So," I concluded, "did you think the movie was horrible or horrifying?"

"Horrifying," she said.

And then another student raised her hand and said, "well I thought it was horrible."

Ladies and Gentlemen, if I say I'm a fantastic teacher, you'll agree. Come to think of it, I should show There Will Be Blood. That'll teach 'em how we get things done in America.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Anfang

So Gristle has asked that I teach him German this semester. One thing we should get out of the way right now is that I don't speak German. I know enough German to read slightly edited excerpts from Kafka short stories, plus the holocaust vocabulary I learned from The Devil's Arithmetic. That's about it.

I told Gristle all of this, but he doesn't seem to mind. I know what you're thinking: Jon, Gristle did ask you to take pictures of him in the shower, and German is the language of love. Is this just a chance to get closer to you? Is he trying to make a move? To which I say: I would give this theory more credence if we didn't spend 10 minutes of our first hour-long session today talking about the color of his poop.

(I'm sorry that there have been so many poop references on this blog over the last few days. As you can see, they're all Gristle's fault. I'm just telling it like it is. This section will probably be edited out of my hit memoir, though I'm sure the Pulitzer committee will appreciate my commitment to accuracy in the face of horrific poop.)

((That's two paragraphs in a row ending in the word poop! How many of these can I do? Only time will tell poop.))

My real fear in all this, other than poop (god, it just keeps coming!), was that Gristle would be fantastic at German and we'd quickly get out of my depth. As Gus mentioned a few weeks ago, teaching Gristle is usually an agonizingly slow experience. But I thought maybe German would be different and within a couple of weeks we'd somehow already be way past Devil's Arithmetic territory, which is just yelling "Schnell!" over and over.

Really I needn't have worried. In the first hour we were together, we managed to read through the alphabet. Which is the same as the English alphabet, which he already knows. We also talked about the color of his bowel movements, some new pimples he found on his face, whether or not England has a negative view of the rest of Europe, the color of his mucus, the Fraktur typeface, China's historical relationship with Japan, the color of his mucus again, and why he doesn't like lemons.

He said that next week I should read through the list of words in the front of the book for him so he can practice pronunciation. I reminded him that I am not a German speaker and he'd really be better off listening to the CD included with the book. He replied that he would, but we should still read through the list next week because he likes listening to my voice. So, not sure what his deal is really. If this is his idea of flirting, surely there are more efficient ways than asking me to teach him a language I don't speak and talking my ear off about his feces. Like having me take pictures of him in the shower.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

World's Cutest Thing + non-cute bonus

At English corner today, we were talking about the word shopaholic.

Franny: Shopaholic means someone who really likes to shop, right?
Me: Yeah.
Franny: So you add "holic" to words to mean that you really like them, right?
Me: Yes, but we can only do it with a few words. Like chocoholic: that's someone who really loves chocolate.
Lily: That's why I was so confused by "catholic."
Me: What?
Lily: For a few years I thought it meant someone who really likes cats.


Intermission.


Here at The Guangzhou Story, we've been tracking the huge flood outside our school for some time now. I'm happy to report that it has lessened somewhat, and the smell has shifted from feces to asparagus pee. We'll keep you informed of any further changes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shoe mann

One nice thing about being a foreigner in China (hey, guys, I found another one!) is that you get to celebrate New Year's Day twice a year. Chinese people are super confused by this, by the way. Ever since the new semester started, all sorts of people (our students, the employees at the yogurt shop, the lady who shampooed my hair for a good 25 minutes before my haircut last week (seriously it was like a 3 or 4-liquid wash, shampoo + conditioner + several intermediate liquids of various viscosities and heats (cf. my nuptials))) have asked me if I went home to America to celebrate the (Chinese) new year. And each time I tell them no, actually we don't celebrate Chinese new year in America.

The most common response at this point is, "Oh, that's right, you don't celebrate the new year because you have Christmas." I mean, it is true that some people celebrate Christmas in America, but I think the main reason we don't celebrate Chinese new year is that we already have a New Year. On January 1st. Remember that time when it stopped being 2009 and started being 2010? You know, when we got what might literally be described as a "new" "year"? Yeah, that's the one.

After we described this situation to one of our friendly security guards, he asked us, "If you don't celebrate the new year, how do you know how old you are?" (Chinese people's ages roll over on the same day, shortly after new year.) We told him that we reckon our ages according to our birthdays. He laughed and said, "of course you do," as though that was the most ridiculous system in the world. ("Birthdays! Next you're going to be telling me that you use a calendar that isn't based on the phases of the moon.")

Anyway, if you didn't take the opportunity to make resolutions for Western new year (in this case "you" means "me"), but you're still the type of person who likes to make changes in their life (this "you" isn't me, but let's keep going for the sake of argument), then Chinese new year is a great time to finally lose those 10 pounds you gained at Mid-Autumn festival. (Which we don't celebrate in America. Maybe because we have Thanksgiving. I don't know. Ask a security guard.) Chinese people don't actually do the whole "resolution" thing at CNY, but they do buy new outfits and new shoes before the new year. And so my shoes, which are usually appallingly dirty, were especially out of place after school resumed a few weeks ago. Obviously they are usually fairly out of place because my feet are about as long as some of my students' forearms, but that's not important here.

Last week one of my students finally worked up the courage to tell me that I should really get new shoes, or at least "clean my shoes more often." She and I have a troubled past involving her asking me on a date last semester and my saying no because she's a 15-year-old high school girl and I am her teacher. Anyway, she decided to tell me to clean my shoes. I told her I probably won't, but whatever.

A few days after that conversation, I was standing in line at the grocery store. While I was waiting there, an employee came up to me, knelt down, and started cleaning my shoes. He was demonstrating a cleaning product which was on sale at the register, and I guess when he saw my shoes he realized that he had just hit the product demonstration jackpot. Everyone else he sees has new or at least clean shoes for the new year, and then I come up with my muddy monster boat feet, and it's like the god of dirty shoes has shined upon this Park 'N' Shop and the waters have parted and suddenly his calling is there. In that moment he was like the oxyclean salesman who finally finds someone with a combination grass/red wine/dog feces stain on their white blouse. It doesn't get any more fun than that. I mean as a cleaning product salesman; you could probably do better in another industry.

I gotta say, the cleaning product was really working on my shoes. (Water probably would have worked well too, but I really had never tried.) And I felt pretty guilty about the fact that he was kneeling down to clean my shoes while I was just waiting in line, and so I bought the cleaning product. And then I came home and I cleaned my shoes.

The problem is, I need to make sure that the student who told me to clean my shoes doesn't notice that I cleaned my shoes. I don't want her to think that I cleaned my shoes for her. Because I think in the sexually naïve world of Chinese secondary eduction, that's like second base. Maybe third base. Let's say shortstop. That's between second and third base, right? Football fans, back me up on this one. And I think cleaning your shoes for another person is like a weird already-married thing anyway. Cleaning my shoes for another person would be a big step for me.

As you can see, this is very murky territory erotically. Shoerotically. Eroticshoely. Shoesherotically.

So these are the sort of things that I have to think about during class. I do sometimes also think about my lesson plans, but only intermittently.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Weekend Update Buddy

Some things happened this weekend, which I will share with you now.

  1. Someone should email me at the beginning of each semester, right when I'm about to teach the first period of my film class, to remind me that if a student asks me what some of my favorite movies are, I should lie. In particular, the words "Mulholland Dr." should not be spoken at all. In fact, it's probably best to avoid saying "David Lynch" altogether. Because if I am not warned in advance, I will invariably mention "Mulholland Dr." in passing, and invariably an impressionable young girl will go home that night and, wanting to please her teacher, she'll decide to watch it.

    You may remember that this happened last semester, when one of my students watched Mulholland Dr. and sent me an email afterward saying that it was like a "confusing nightmare" to her. Did I learn? Are you kidding me? Did Adam learn when he went to the top of the mountain and met the cowboy who told him to jump aboard his buggy? No, I did not learn.

    And so I mentioned it again this semester. And then this Saturday after class a student came up to me and asked if I had been telling the truth the week before, and if Mulholland Dr. was actually one of my favorite movies. I admitted that it was and hesitantly asked if she had watched it.

    "Yes," she said. "I found it unacceptable."

    In summary: let's just be thankful my favorite movie isn't, say, American History X.

  2. The other night Gristle came to our house because, as he put it (in English), "I going to take shit." He had met Gus out at the school gate to pass off some tutoring materials and had invited himself up to use our bathroom. Just like that.

    The real question with Gristle is "Where does it end?" This is a man who's asked to sleep over at our house because he's scared of the ghosts at his apartment. He borrowed my digital camera for a weekend trip to Shenzhen. He took our iron. Our iron! How will we iron our clothes, Gristle? How?

    I took pictures of him in the shower. I lent him money. I helped him carry a 10 liter bottle of cooking oil halfway across the city. We had to take the subway. We changed trains twice.

    The point is that Gristle has taken a lot from me. Nevertheless, every night I went to sleep easy knowing that, whatever happened, I could always go into my bathroom and I wouldn't find Gristle in there pooping. But now that he's using our toilet with impunity, I can't even take comfort in my Gristle-poop-free bathroom. IS NOTHING SACRED?

  3. I am currently typing this post on Gus's old computer because my computer is in the shop. Why is it in the shop? Hell if I know. I was having a problem with my battery, so I took my laptop to the only authorized Apple repair place in Guangzhou. When I got there, a guy talked at me in Chinese for 15 minutes, and then I signed a form, and then he took my computer away. Is he ever going to give it back? I assume so, but based on what happened at the office I have no reason to believe that that's true. Before he accepted my computer, he did a spot check of the case and wrote up a form which (supposedly) detailed the state of my computer's exterior. He then asked me to "look over" the form, as though I have the ability to "look over" a handwritten Chinese document. It's not like I'm great at looking over forms in general. If someone asked me to look over a form in America, I'd probably just stare at it for a few seconds, verify that it didn't say "I'm going to steal your computer," and then say that it looked fine. Which is exactly what I did in the computer shop today. Minus the part about checking that it didn't authorize the man to steal my computer because, come on, it was written in Chinese.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Wong Kar-Wai Quickie (sounds like my wedding night!)

Just like last Friday when I posted a video of me trying to juggle, this Friday night also finds me not yet one hundred percent prepared for tomorrow’s lessons, so I don’t have tons of time to share the authentic Chinese experiences you’ve come to know and love.

But our Cantonese tutor did say something cute yesterday (what else is new), so I might as well share that. I was saying something about Wong Kar-Wai (what else is new), and we started talking about his movie 花样年华, which in English is translated as “In the Mood For Love,” but in Chinese actually means something like “Flowery Age” or “Time of Flowers” or, as I’ve sometimes seen it translated, “Our Glorious Years Have Passed Like Flowers,” which is as beautiful as it is inaccurate (which is to say: fairly).

Anyway we were talking about this movie with Serena in Chinese, and she decided to test out her English and said, “In English don’t you call it ‘In the Mood for Flowers’?” Which we don’t, but god we really ought to.

I’m in the mood for flowers right now. I’d love some flowers. There were some flowers blooming in Guangzhou last week, but then the weather turned cold again and killed them all. It’s going to rain this weekend, and so any flowers that are still alive will probably trampled down into the mud to drown.

And that’s the Guangzhou Story for this week. See you Monday.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Avatar Defeats Truman

I opened the China Daily the other day and was greeted by a huge picture of Kathryn Bigelow clutching her Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. And I’m thinking: calm down, Roberta Benigni! It’s so typical: a woman wins a couple of awards and suddenly she’s allowed to rub it in our faces. What is this, the LPGA? Let’s try for a little class.

The strange thing, though (other than the picture of a woman above the fold), is that the headline was “Avatar is Chinese Choice.” Which is weird because if I’m reading the front page of the paper on the day after the Academy Awards, I don’t care what the Chinese Choice was, I care who actually won the Academy Award. I know, I know: how “old media” of me right? I mean, it’s the Twitter generation! Headlines should be able to just hang out and do whatever! And I think that's a valid criticism. I’m just of the old school that says that headlines should actually report the news rather than telling me a fact I don’t care about.

After the headline and subhed (“The Hurt Locker is surprise winner as many thought 3D hit was shoo-in for best picture.” Really? Who were those “many,” and how can I get invited to their next Oscar pool?), the article starts seriously comparing Avatar and the best picture winner (whose title you wouldn’t know from the headline). The author calls The Hurt Locker “harder to decipher” and says that one Chinese news organization dismissed it as “Pentagon propaganda.” So, just a heads up for the future, guys: this is not really the way that the movie industry works in America. There are plenty of people willing to make pro-war films without any financial incentive from the Pentagon, which is a good thing because the Pentagon spends most of its propaganda money putting “military analysts” on Sunday morning talk shows.

Anyway most of the article is about how Chinese people didn’t understand the results at all (“Sandra Bullock is less appreciated here…”) except when it comes to The Cove, which has sparked “an avalanche of condemnation against the Japanese practice of killing dolphins.” Obviously this vitriol is not surprising at all, given Chinese history’s with Japan. After the release of Howl’s Moving Castle I heard there was an avalanche of condemnation against the Japanese practice of animating roving wizards in a whimsical fashion. Really appalling.

The article concludes that there is simply a “gap between Oscar voters and movie viewers in China”: “People do not want to go to the theater to watch a sharper replica of reality, but to forget about it.” I think this is true of some Chinese moviegoers, and of many American ones as well. And, seriously now, one of the reasons I’m (trying to) teach a class on Film Analysis is that I want to show my students that those are not the only two choices. But I suppose that’s neither here nor there.

Congrats, Ms. Bigelow! I hope you’re enjoying your victory. Because China's not.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Transportainment: The Future of Fun

I think everyone can agree that putting televisions in moving vehicles is the best thing to happen to the medium since Everybody Loves Raymond was cancelled. The first time I fell in love (apart from an ill-considered marriage of convenience in preschool) was when I was 8 and had to take long flights from Hong Kong back to America every summer. I spent the flights playing with my personal entertainment system while my parents were asleep. I saw so many edited-for-airplane R-rated movies and I felt like a huge badbutt. Yippee-ki-yay, Kimosabe. Winners go home and date the prom queen.

I have a long history of loving these things, in other words. And still I hate the television screens in Guangzhou taxis, buses, and subway cars. I hate them because it’s impossible not to watch them when they’re always right in front of your face, and they mostly just play ads, and Chinese TV advertisements are unbelievably bad (worse than “CBS Eye on American”? Yes.), so unbelievably bad and poorly conceived and acted that after every ride I find myself wishing that I had something merely boring to watch on my way around the city.

One good thing about the TVs in the taxis is that you can use them to play a fun game, called “Describe what’s on Chinese television to the person in the passenger seat.” So you know how everyone in American likes Japanese game shows because they’re unintelligible and full of confusing images but still somehow fun? That’s exactly what Chinese Taxi TV is like, except not still somehow fun. I find the taxi TV impossible to understand because the sound is never on and the subtitles are way too fast for me to read, so if someone is up front I end up just saying things like, “ok, there’s a picture of a palace made of ice. And then b-roll of old Chinese men drinking tea. And here’s a shot of a tiger, and then a map with an arrow pointing to Taiwan. OK, there’s a list of tomorrow’s temperatures in major US cities.” Was it a weather report? A declaration of war? A lost David Lynch film? That’s for the person in the front seat to guess! Of course there’s no way to win, because even though I was watching the TV the whole time I still have no idea.

There is at least one good ad that I see on the subway on a fairly regular basis, which is for a brand of wine distributed in Guangzhou. This ad is good for two reasons. The first is that it has people of European descent in it, which is always funny because you know that they’re in the ad because they moved to Guangzhou to teach or retire or whatever and are using their Caucasoid features to make some extra cash. The second thing is that the wine that these people are shilling for is called Golden Butterfly Face. Let that brand name sit on your tongue for a few moments.

Golden Butterfly Face. Golden. Butterfly. Face. Golden Butterfly.

Face.

The name starts out on a bright, crisp, accessible note. It’s got a strong, sassy botanical body. The finish is a little Face-y for my taste. What does it even mean in this context? Is it talking about me? Am I the Golden Butterfly Face? Is the wine the face? Will the wine’s face become my face? Will we both turn into butterflies? What’s happening here? I think we should just make a rule that body parts don’t go in the names of wines. (Sorry, Uvula Grigio, that means you.)

(Aside: The Guangzhou Story’s best of wikipedia for today: List of films featuring independent body parts)

I love watching this ad because it contains a mystery. I tried to find a video of this online, but you’re going to have to trust me on this one: at the end of the ad, the aforementioned white people file into a ballroom wearing formal attire and taste a glass of Golden Butterfly Face, and the main guy takes a sip, looks surprised, and says something. The sound has never been on, so we can’t be sure, but Gus thinks he’s saying, “actually, it’s quite good.” Which is sort of funny to have in a commercial. Actually, not awful, this stuff! Waiter, bring us another bottle of Face!

For my money, the best TV is on buses because they usually just play music videos with the sound turned all the way down. So they play videos. I guess that’s what I’m saying. I saw a music video yesterday for a song called “Yes and No”, the chorus of which is

You say no no no no no
I say yes yes yes

Then there’s the bridge which goes like this.

How can I let you know how much I love you (How can I let you know)

Dude, she knows how much you love her. Lady said no, man. Several times. And don’t just tell her you love her, be a romantic! Buy her flowers, take her to dinner, open up an expensive bottle of Face wine and baby you got yourself a stew going.

OH and Gus and I saw this on the bus a few days ago. By far my favorite video to date. It was on for like 20 minutes and made sense for 0 minutes. All video artifacts you see were in the original.

Frankly, this probably about as much sense as my English lessons make. I mean seriously, a lesson about Lost? What was I thinking?

The Mod Squad

I got back from tutoring at about 10 pm tonight, at at 10:15 pm Gristle and Serena blew into my life. (This pairing makes more sense in Chinese, because their names have the same first character and so they sound like a family of superheroes, like the Incredibles or the Baldwins.)

As I walked in the door, at approximately 10:07 pm, I sent Gristle a text message telling him that I was home. I told him this because he had texted me earlier today to ask if he could borrow our iron again. As soon as I texted him, he called me and said sorry, he was currently attending an English practice session where he had run into Serena, and that he wouldn’t be able to come until later. (Everyone should remember that, no matter what I ever say about Gristle, he does not speak English. He knows some words and some sentence patters, but that’s it. He recently told me that he got a 50% on a English entrance exam for grad school and he was sure that there had been some mistake because 50% is much too high.)

He apologized profusely and said that he wouldn’t be able to make it until 10:15 PM, and that he was really sorry. Since 10:15 was in exactly 8 minutes, I told him that would be fine. These are the sort of generous sacrifices that we make for friends, like lending them irons or taking pictures of them in the shower. Never forget.

So I’m all set to head out to the back gate to meet Gristle and give him his iron, but when I head for the door Gus says, “too late,” and I hear a knocking. (Gus’s expression is not only literally true but it also expresses perfectly the sense of doom that hangs over every impending interaction with Gristle — the sense that today might be the day where he says something so outrageous that we’d have to kick him out of our lives forever.) When I open the door, Gristle and Serena come in and make themselves right at home in our living room.

After several hours of teaching Korean students how to close read, I’m pretty tired, so I greeted their interest with mostly feigned enthusiasm. I was still holding the iron and ironing board in my hands in hopes that Gristle would just grab them and walk right back out the door and let me go to sleep. I continued to hold them and make vague attempts to hand them to Gristle as he took off his shoes and put his briefcase down on our couch. (He has a briefcase and is taking it to English practice sessions now? He’s a part-time high school tutor who can barely form an English sentence. Nothing about this makes sense.)

Gristle then told Gus and me that he had 5 stories to share. He shared them one after another, Chinese firing squad-style:

  1. He was in Nigeria Town (an African community in Guangzhou) and “Shit!” (he said in English) “There were so many Africa people!” End of story number 1.

  2. He went to a chiropractor today. “You don’t have those in America, but they’re a type of doctor who helps you without performing surgery or giving you medicine, he just moves your bones.”

    “Gristle, we have those in America.”

    “No, you don’t understand. There’s no surgery. Do you know the word surgery?” He then made a cutting motion on his arm. “No surgery.”

    “Yes, we know how to say surgery. We have chiropractors in America.”

    “Impossible,” he said.

    Evidently this chiropractor usually costs 1000 RMB, but he’s an old friend so he helped Gristle for 200. He cracked Gristle’s back, and now the heel of his foot feels much better.

  3. He was in Nigeria town eating grapes (“in a very messy, chaotic manner”) and a Africa man spoke to him in French. His guess is that the man saw his grape eating habits, saw that he was “very liberal,” and assumed he must speak French.

  4. One time, in France, a gypsy showed his friend her breasts and then pulled a knife on him and stole his wallet.

  5. He forgot the 5th story, but he promised it was really good.

Then I decided to talk to Serena instead. She was reading a book to work on her English grammar. This book.

Heart of a Wife

She asked me how to pronounce “lynched.” I obliged. Later, she saw me staring intently at the title and said that I could borrow it if I wanted. I said that it was ok, that I was just looking at the title. “Oh,” she said, “I thought you were interested in the subject matter.” No.

(The amazon reviews for “Heart of a Wife” are fairly entertaining:

This is the worst book I have read in ten years. All the wife did was complain.

You tell ‘em, “A Customer”! Wives are such a drag. It reminds me of this old joke. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

First man: My wife’s an angel.
Second man: You’re lucky! Mine’s still alive!
Pause for laughter.
First man: She was lynched.)

Then Serena pulled up videos of a Korean figure skater on the computer, and Gristle said the he had been a fan of hers until he saw a picture of how ugly she was in high school. At this point, Gristle said that it was late and that they should be going. He finally picked up our iron and ironing board and started heading out the door.

As he left, I asked when I could have our iron back and he said that he was planning on returning it at the end of the school year. In July. He said that if we needed it, we should give him a call and we could come by and pick it up. And then he and Serena left as abruptly as they arrived.

The short version of all this is that I’m going to the department store tomorrow to get a new iron.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I'm losing it

I mentioned last week that my students were all going to be watching the first five minutes of the first episode of Lost as part of a lesson on television. I was pretty sure when we planned this lesson that the show was going to be a hit in class. I say this because most things from America are hits in China, irrespective of quality. My students really like the Black Eyed Peas, for example. I promise you, Lost is better than the Black Eyed Peas. At everything. You know who’s a better rapper than will.i.am? John Locke. The Lost character, not the philosopher. Actually, you know what, John Locke the philosopher is also probably a better rapper than will.i.am. You know what sucks about the idea that our tabula rasa is shaped by experience? The fact that my experience includes having listened to the Black Eyed Peas. I have Two Treatises of Music that is Awful, and they are, in brief: 1. The Black Eyed Peas 2. Also, incidentally, that Korean song “Nobody” that everyone here seems to be crazy about.

But I digress. My students like the Black Eyed Peas. In my film class last semester, at least 10 students said that their favorite movie was Transformers or High School Musical or, in one particularly interesting case, both. The point is that the bar is low. Ludicrously low.

And yet they didn’t really like Lost. I don’t have tons of time tonight, but I do want to mention a few of my favorite comments from the week. Several students said that they show was “just like real life” and “not fantastic enough.” Is that actually what your real life is like? Seriously? Also, it being just like real life would imply that Matthew Fox’s acting is even vaguely naturalistic. So, frankly, I’m dubious. Another student said that the story was a little boring so far (again, this in a scene where a man gets sucked into a jet turbine which then explodes), but that she thought that the show would be better if they included a second plane crash. She also said that she would be interested in a hijacker storyline. I told her she should probably not watch the show. One student also asked why Americans are so obsessed with plane crashes, and I said that September 11th probably didn’t help. Then we all had a good cry.

In retrospect, that might not have been a great move, but, you know what? Don’t tell me what I can’t do. You should especially refrain from telling me I can’t go to bed, because that’s exactly what I’m doing right…now.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Why I haven't yet finished prepping tomorrow's classes

Because this week I spent my time doing this:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Make it Work

This morning I sat at my desk and ate my breakfast (peanut butter and fresh papaya sandwich; Guangzhou: come for the tropical fruit, stay for the drudgery, despair, and cheap handbags) and thought about my most important decision of the day: what to wear.

Please don’t stop reading. I promise this is not going to devolve into my asking what outfit I should wear if I want Michael to kiss me at Spring Fling. This is what girls think about, right? I’m basing this entirely on what I learned in a movie Mel Gibson made about a guy who can hear what women are thinking called The Passion of the Christ.

No, this is going to be about a much more difficult issue. (Answer to the warm-up problem: just be yourself and if Michael isn’t the guy for you then you’ll find someone better. And, frankly, it’s not your outfit, it’s your face.) This problem is called “The Shirt Scheduling Dilemma” and I believe it is NP-complete.

So here’s the deal. I moved to China is August of last year, and I could only bring so many clothes. I did end up bringing all sorts of things I didn’t need, but I was young then. The point is that I have 3 pairs of pants and about 6 acceptable collared shirts to wear to work. This is not enough. So that’s the first problem. I just don’t have enough shirts.

The second problem is that having only six shirts means that my laundry cycle syncs up all too well with my class schedule, so I’m in constant danger of wearing a shirt on the same day of the week two weeks in a row. If that were to happen then there’d be at least one class under the impression that I only own one shirt, which is five full shirts less than I actually own. Once you get over the problem of wearing the same shirt two weeks in a row, there’s still the nagging doubt about whether any day of the week has somehow managed not to see one of my shirts, or on the other hand whether one of the days sees one or two shirts much more often than the others. The point is that I want to give every student the chance to see me in my full range of upper body clothing options, and when I have only six shirt I can’t afford to give one shirt short shrift.

But there’s a third problem. This problem centers around my black and white plaid shirt. This is a picture of me in my black and white plaid shirt.

Me in plaid

I apologize for the weird face; I was caught off guard by the self timer on my own computer. But pay attention to the shirt. I like that shirt, and I’d like to wear it a lot (but of course I have to ration it so that no one gets overexposed), but, by some twist of fate, there is a student in one of my classes who has the exact same shirt. Here is an artist’s rendering of the student in his black and white plaid shirt.

Student in plaid

Even in this crude drawing, you can see that the resemblance is striking. He’s worn the shirt a couple of times this year, and on two occasions I was wearing my black and white plaid shirt as well. So that’s not great. Here’s the problem though — after the fact, I can never remember which student it is, or even what class he is in. That means that wearing my black and white plaid shirt (which, again, I really like) is always dangerous, because I never know when I’m accidentally going to be wearing the same thing as one of my 17-year-old students. I’m pretty sure he’s not in one of the Tuesday classes, so Tuesday is probably safe. But Friday is definitely not safe. And I have one clean shirt left in my closet. And it’s black and white plaid. So tomorrow I’m going to have to make a decision about how afraid I am of synchronicity, and how much I value clean shirts. It’s tough. I know what you’re thinking: what would Jesus do, right? But I don’t know. I’m not sure that really applies here, you know?

Suggestions welcome. (Mel Gibson, I’m looking at you.)

Gorillas in the Mist

During the climate change summit ealier this year, there was some grumbling in the American press about China’s continued insistence on terming itself a “developing nation” for the purpose of assigning emissions limits. There was no such grumbling in the Chinese press, possibly because the press is state owned (Hi, censors! I hope you like the blog!), but also possibly because anyone who lives in China knows that it’s a developing nation. Not because we know anything about economics, but because our surroundings are constantly, constantly under construction.

I do not think you understand what I mean. Everything is under construction in China, including things which seem non-negotiable. Like, the foundation of our school. You might think that the foundation of our shool, the literal bedrock on which our school is literally built, would not be subject to construction. But it is. I woke up to a big hole at the base of the classroom building one day a few months ago, and a week later it was gone. But it’ll probably have to be dug up again because I think that that fecal matter-scented water which floods the sidewalk in front of our school is actually bubbling up from some burst sewage pipe somewhere on our campus. That stretch of sidewalk has itself been renovated at least twice in the 6 months that I’ve been here, once to add a bike lane and once to add a row of trees. Around the corner from our school there are barracks — permanent buildings — built to house construction workers for nearby projects. There are no streets here; there are only streets being built, and streets about to be built, and streets being destroyed. There is relentless, futile, frozen progress. Nothing has time to decay.

Now, I’m no construction expert, but I did get an A- in woodworking in 7th grade, so I have some hands on experience in building bookshelves and carving small animals with a hand saw because the bandsaw was considered too advanced. In any case, my experience in construction makes me think that all of this is for nothing, because the streets look exactly the same after as they did before. Or maybe ther is no “before” and “after,” there is always just construction.

Construction’s so normal now that at first I barely noticed when I saw a man today walking down a sidewalk-in-progress wearing a hard hat and a t-shirt. Only. He was not wearing pants. For a second I thought he was naked, but it turns out he was a pair of ratty flesh-colored briefs. But zero percent pants.

I wasn’t surprised at all at first. I was so distracted by the jackhammering that when the carcinogenic congrete dust cleared it took me a minute to realize that the man before me was having a pants off dance off right there in the street, except he wasn’t dancing, he was walking briskly aroud a construction site, as though he just happened not to have pants on, like I might happen not to have my cell phone or happen not to have my shirt on while I’m flexing in front of my window. (I’d be a shame not to share a body like mine.)

All I could think of was that his day must have taken a turn somewhere and he simply hadn’t managed to get himself back on track before work. We’ve all been there. I mean, metaphorically there. I’d be surprised if any of you had been kicking around a Chinese construction site pantless, but you never know.

And then he was shot and killed by poachers. Sorry, I made the title of this post Gorillas in the Mist but didn’t get around to tying it in. Never too late.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Modern American Art: Chinese Perspectives

  1. We’re talking about TV shows in Oral English class this week. My students are describing TV shows they like, recounting scenes from TV, and pitching pilots to networks. (In this case the “network” is me. You may laugh, but at I am still more profitable than NBC.)

    To get the ball rolling, we’re showing the first 5 minutes of the first episode of Lost, which is a TV show that you’ve probably heard of. Somewhat surprisingly, many of my students have not. I’m sure I will have more to say about this by the end of the week, but at this point their reactions to the (fairly suspenseful) opening scene have ranged from tepid to asleep. One person actually fell asleep during the scene, which features a being sucked into a jet engine and it exploding. I mean, come on. This is Lost. It’s not like I’m making them watch The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years. (More like The Thorn Birds: The Missing Hours of my LIFE, am I right? Who’s with me?) I’ll have a more complete account after all of the classes have watched it, but so far they’ve found it about as exciting as Richard Chamberlain Sings.

  2. On the subway yesterday I saw a young Chinese guy wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “WILLIAM GARLOS CILLIAMS.” I hesitate to read too much into this non-native speaker’s sweatshirt, but it looks to me like a devastating critique of one of America’s most influential poets. I have no idea what it means, but on the other hand I don’t understand why you would wear that sweatshirt unless you had some serious beef with WCW. (I would wear that sweatshirt, but I also have an exquisitely developed sense of irony.) While I was on the train I considered how William Carlos Williams might have replied to this Chinese man’s unprovoked affrontery; perhaps “A poem is a machine out of words but if your face was a poem it would be a machine made out of ugly” or, more briefly:

    Spell my name
    correctly

    asshole

  3. Gristle and I were walking to a bus stop a few nights ago and he turned to me and said, “Jon, I have a secret to tell you,” which is a troubling thing to hear from anyone but especially from a man who asked you to take pictures of him in the shower a few weeks ago. There’s just a lot of different ways that statement could go.

    So I say, “OK, Gristle, what is it?”

    “Do you remember a few weeks ago when we were singing songs in your apartment with Serena?” (I’m not sure if I mentioned this on the blog, but it did happen. Another exciting night in Guangzhou.)

    “Yes.”

    “I discovered something about you that night,” he said.

    “What did you discover?”

    Then he dropped the bombshell. “I discovered that you cannot sing high notes very well.”

    A beat while I try to figure out whether I have somehow misunderstood the word for secret. “Yes, Gristle. I know that.”

    “But don’t worry, I promise I won’t tell Gus. It’ll be our secret.”

    Well that time he definitely said 秘密, and that definitely means “secret.” The only way his comments make sense is if he thinks he is such a discerning music critic that only he can detect that the Canadian accent-inspired falsetto I use when I sing along to Celine Dion karaoke (an increasingly common occurrence in Asia, I’m afraid) does not sound good. And he believes that he is doing me a favor by telling me this, because I must not know either. And then, as we boarded the bus, he decided to give me an impromptu singing lesson, which involved his demonstrating his (apparently banshee accent-inspired) falsetto on a crowded bus until the lady next to him gave him a dirty look and I promised I would practice just to get him to stop.

    The long and short of it is, for anyone who has had to hear me do my Celine Dion impression: I’m sorry. Gristle says it doesn’t sound good. I promise I won’t do it again.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Notes on a Tragedy

Good day everyone, and a happy and healthy Lantern Festival to you! Lantern Festival occurs on the 15th day of the lunar new year and marks the end of spring festival celebrations. Chinese people observe it very simply by lighting paper lanterns, eating sweet rice balls, and…oh wait, what’s this?

13 injured at Taiwan Lantern Festival:

An estimated 13 people were taken to the hospital with burns after the official Lantern Festival celebrations in Chiayi went wrong Sunday evening, media reports said…Fireworks hit some spectators and burned their hair and clothing.

Some comments:

  1. I can understand a news organization trying to remain sober and detached when tragedy strikes but OH MY GOD PEOPLE WERE HIT WITH FIREWORKS. I'm going to assume in the face. People were hit in the face with fireworks. And this was at an official celebration, so it’s more accurate to say: the government injured 13 people with fireworks in or around their face region.

    Because Chinese people originally invented fireworks (wait, you haven’t heard this? Say the word “firework” on a street in China and a passerby will tell you all about it), my assumption was always that even though it looks incredibly dangerous to hand a Roman candle to a 5-year-old on New Year’s, when Chinese people do it you shouldn’t worry because they’ve Thought This Through. But obviously they haven’t because even now, 60,000 years or whatever since Chinese people invented fireworks (and paper! Wait, you haven’t heard about paper either? Cheng Bo, come over and tell this guy about paper), it’s still sort of a ho-hum news item when people get injured at the official Lantern Festival celebration. In the face.

  2. While we’re on this official celebration thing for a second: shouldn’t we at least be able to trust that one? Can’t we at least be assured that no festive fatalities will occur when it’s like one of the biggest events of the year? It’s a tried-and-true television event. Hey, guys, the New Year’s Ball fell on Dick Clark’s head. No, because they make sure to check that he's not sitting under the ball before they drop it. That’s not going to happen.

    (Wait, it might have happened already. I don’t know. Did this happen? Is Dick Clark still even involved in the New Year’s broadcast? Who is Dick Clark?)

  3. Also, you estimate it’s 13 people? Well I guestimate it’s a million. But I’m bad with numbers. How about you pick up a phone and figure out how many people were actually admitted to the hospital.

The article goes on to remark that the Beehive Fireworks Fesitval, which it calls “harrowing” (harrowing! What is this, a lantern festival or Jeepers Creepers II?), did not lead to any injuries. I’m not really understanding the focus of this article. If there’s a harrowing fireworks festival that happens every year, isn’t that the story? Shouldn’t something be done about that? I saw season 5 of The Wire, I know all about journalism.

As for my lantern festival: no one got hit in the face with fireworks, but I did go to Gristle’s uncle’s house and spent 4 harrowing hours with him. And then I spent 4 more hours with him today because he was set on buying a cellphone with a built-in Chinese/German dictionary. If you don’t think that exists, that’s because it obviously doesn’t, but since when does Gristle listen to reason?