Friday, April 16, 2010

Today: Brought to you by boobies

The other day I had reason to look up the word 留恋 (liúliàn), which my dictionary says means “be reluctant to leave (a place); can’t bear to part (from somebody or with something); recall with nostalgia.”

Example: 我十分留恋大学生活。
Trans: I deeply miss my college life.

The dictionary then says “参见“流连”的提示”, which means “See the note at 流连 (liúlián)”. So I go to 流连 (which, as you can see, is pronounced almost exactly like 留恋, and, incidentally, exactly like the word for “durian fruit”) and see that it means “be reluctant to leave; linger on.”

Tthe note explains that 流连 refers to things that you want to linger on like scenic views and beautiful environments, in particular those which bring communal pleasure. So it can’t be used interchangeably with 留恋. It then gives a sentence to illustrate the proper usage:

Example: 他瞥了一眼她,黑色眼眸似乎流连在她的胸上。
Trans: He glanced at her, his dark eyes seeming to linger on her breasts.

So there you go. 留恋 is for things you miss, like your hometown, alma mater, or relatives, and 流连 is for things that bring pleasure to everyone, like women’s breasts.

Speaking of being reluctant to leave, I’m going to be away from the blog all next week while I’m in Hong Kong, where I’ll be having a long-awaited reunion with some friends I’ve been 留恋ing for a long time. See you in two weeks.

Breast

Something to remind you of the good old days.

Gimme the Loot

It was my birthday earlier this week. Just in case any of my students are reading this blog, we’ll say that it was my 45th. I’m not too sensitive about my age, but I am getting anxious about my decreased sex drive, though that may be a side effect from my hair growth medication.

But good news: my body image issues are over, because Gristle’s birthday present to me was this:

Novelty photo holder

Just so we’re all on the same page, this is a bodybuilder’s body with a space on top where you can insert a picture of your face. It’s great. No time to work out? Just print out a picture of your face, put it on a doll, take a picture of the doll, post it on an online singles website, and then use all the new responses you get to bolster your self esteem. Simple solutions for my busy lifestyle. And if anyone asks me why my torso is a radically different color than my face, I’ll say it was a problem with my sunscreen, or an accident involving acid , or that I spend most of my day with my head in a burlap sack. I’d do a lot for those abs.

Speaking of my kicking bod, I was walking down the street with Gristle the other day and he turned to me and said, “Oh, Jon, I’ve realized you have a very well-developed chest.”

If you consider this comment alongside his birthday gift, it seems clear that Gristle and I are moving into the stage of our friendship where he pays me unrealistic compliments about my physical appearance. As long as all this involves is his giving me bodybuilding dolls and saying good things about my chest, I’m happy to stay in this stage of our friendship.

On an unrelated note, the following exchange appeared in my Cantonese textbook today:

“Doctor, I have diarrhea!”
“How long have you had it?”
“Three or four days. It’s quite watery. I only have to go about once a day, but it’s very uncomfortable.”
The sound of a breaking harp-string.

I should say that this follows a pattern I’ve been noticing for a while, namely that Chinese language textbooks (Mandarin ones mostly, but I guess Cantonese ones too) introduce the word for diarrhea ludicrously early. I studied French for a couple years in college and never ran across diarrhée in any of the excerpts from Madame Bovary we had to read, but here I am, still unable to convincingly carry on a conversation in Cantonese about anything except the weather, food, or family relationships, learning how to tell a physician (who for some reason doesn’t speak Mandarin) that I have watery stool.

We all know that the real reason I’m learning Cantonese is to give me some extra points on my online dating profile, but it’s hard to see how the diarrhea dialog would be useful. I also learned how to say “injection in the buttocks” this week, which I’d like to say seems a little more sexy, but frankly that’s a reach.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fermi Problem

I had a two hour German tutoring session with Gristle today. Of those two hours, estimate how much time was spent watching clips from the movie Something’s Gotta Give.

If you guessed thirty minutes, congrats! You’re correct! Your prize is that you never have to watch Something’s Gotta Give with Gristle.

In the other hour and a half, we learned the phrases “Guten Tag!”, “Tchüss!”, and “Wie geht’s?” So the German is going really great also.

One thing from yesterday: we were walking back from lunch and I made a dumb, obvious joke about one of the teachers in our school. Gristle laughed and then turned to Gus and said, “you know, I think Jon’s getting funnier.”

So there’s that. Obviously I take this praise (?) with a grain of salt since it comes from the man who believes Something’s Gotta Give is hilarious and Keanu Reeves is charming. His words.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Celebration, Guangzhou

Recently our school held its annual English Festival, a two-week long fun fair where students and teachers alike celebrate English in all its variety and splendor. It was quite a show.

As part of that festival I judged the Movie Dubbing contest, which involved me sitting in a movie theatre watching a silent video clips while students used microphones to redub scenes from their favorite American movies (classics like Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa and Peyton Reed’s The Break-Up (though this one was pretty good — Jon’s rule of Comedy #1 is that hearing a little Chinese girl scream “You’re a prick!” is much funnier than hearing it from Jennifer Aniston)). It’s like Mystery Science Theater where instead of riffing the robots just say the lines from the original movie and also happen to be non-native English speakers.

Before I go any further and you get the idea that I’m planning on making fun of the students who participated in this or any other contest, let me tell you: that is not my intention.

OK it is a little bit my intention, but really only the slightest bit. Because the commitment that these students showed to a two-week long contest devoted to a language which is not their own but happens to be the most widely-used language in the international community was really exemplary and humbling. I applaud all of them, and you should too. As one of the hosts said at the end of his introduction to the dubbing contest, “Give up your ladies and gentlemen!” (This is either a mangled version of “Give it up, ladies and gentlemen!” or an incongruous and polite call for the release of political prisoners — either way, I agree.)

Last night was the crowning moment of the English Festival, where all the winning acts from the dubbing, drama, speaking, and singing competitions got to perform in front of the whole school. And what made this night different from all other nights? On this night, Gus and Jon, the two resident native English speaking foreign assholes, got up, ate some bitter herbs, and performed with the students.

But first, the headmaster gave a speech in English. His English was not great, but, again, think about how extraordinary this is. Imagine if a university president in America (say, just for the sake of argument, Baylor’s Ken Starr. Go Bears!) were to stand up and give a few remarks in Chinese. I don’t care how poorly it’s pronounced, Ken Starr, I tell you here and now that I start telling everyone that you are lord among lawyers if you ever say anything in a language other than English at any official university function. I give our headmaster tons of credit, even though his speech was not perfect. He ended by saying, “I have song for you. I hope you lick it.”

And then he sang “Edelweiss”.

(Ken Starr I swear to you, sing a song in Chinese and I will name my first son Kenneth and swaddle him in the Starr Report and posters saying in no uncertain terms that Jesus Has Never Been “4” Bong Hits And Is Quite Frankly Surprised That You’d Think He Was.)

And then Gus and I got up and performed Monty Python’s “The Argument Clinic.” I had to wear a fake beard for part of it because we only had two actors and you really need at least three to make it work. This was the least of our challenges, most of which were conceptual.

Earlier in the day we gave our Cantonese tutor Serena a private performance, and at the end she clapped and said, “It was very funny! Do they actually have such businesses in America?” In response to the video; another Chinese friend said, “My only question is: why would a man pay to have an argument?” I found these questions troubling. You ask why a man would pay to have an argument but don’t question the fact that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn continue to live in the same condo after breaking up or the fact that a hippo has the same voice as will.i.am? These seem to be the questions we should actually be considering, from a comedic standpoint.

Anyway, after last night, I am now prepared to offer the following data:

Things Chinese people find really funny:

  • Me in sunglasses on stage
  • Me in a fake beard on stage
  • Me, my existence, in general
  • Edelweiss

Things Chinese people find mildly funny:

  • The comedy of Monty Python

Things Chinese people do not find funny:

  • Tibet (I know this not from last night, just from in general)

So yeah, in summary. They laughed. They clapped. We put it together in about an hour and had to change a shitload of words. I’m happy.

We’re not winning any big comedy awards here, but neither did Ayn Rand, and people still considered her a great teacher, according to a google search I just did for “famous teachers”. I see a lot of myself in her. I think it’s the hair.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Quick, Honest Question

During class today, a student told me that the Gettysburg Address is an example of capitalist brainwashing.

Can anyone — and I’m asking seriously and humbly, here — tell me how such a claim could reasonably be true?

I would have forced him to clarify, but the discussion ended up going in a different direction; plus, he was too busy studying a book of GRE vocab words. I’d prefer that he not read in class, but it’s difficult for me to bring myself to force him to participate when that means asking him to put his very advanced English book away and focus on filling out a Fun Worksheet called “What Would You Do If You Were A Superhero?”. I feel like this is the sort of classroom management problem I should ask my Teach for America colleagues about, since they’re far better trained than I am. I’m sure they often have to deal with the problem of kids reading the Analects of Confucius instead of paying attention in class.

Anyway really I don’t make him stop reading because I’m just hoping he’ll go easy on me when he is my boss in 3 years.

Hey, speaking of how much we all hate America: I hate it when people invite me to become fans of things on facebook. I promise you I am never going to become a fan of “Whoa, did you know you could do THIS with your iPod?”, which is a real fan page which I’ve really been invited to (twice!). It is full of posts like this:

YOU COPY AND PASTE THIS TO NINE PEOPLES STATUS’S IN THE NEXT 20 MINUTES YOU WILL GET KISSED AND OR ASKED OUT BY YOUR CRUSH TOMORROW! AND IF YOU BREAK THIS CHAIN YOU WILL HAVE BAD LUCK FOR THE NEXT SEVEN YEARS , AND WILL BE HAUNTED BY A LITTLE DEAD GIRL THAT BROKE THIS CHAIN SEVEN YEARS AGO. THIS IS SO SCARY CAUSE IT ACUTALLY WORKS. YOUR TIME STARTS NOW!

We’ll see if this thing acutally works. I figure by posting this to my blog it counts for at least nine readers, so I’ll let you know if I see Portia de Rossi, Anna Paquin (circa Fly Away Home), or Greg from Season 2 of VH1's "The Pickup Artist" in Guangzhou, China sometime in the next 24 hours.

Also that thing about the dead girl is, like, the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More at 11

I think I’m going to start posting Gristle’s test messages without any context or commentary so that you can know what it feels like when I get them. From this morning:

I know where to find the best skin doctor in Guangzhou! I’ll tell you tomorrow.

We’ve never talked about skin doctors before, ever. So who knows where this is coming from. I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Poop-en-abîme

Today I saw a bathroom which gave me a vision of what bathrooms will be like in The Future. I do not mean the future future, as in, you know, what’s going to happen, where we all have iPads and I am a happy, wealthy, deeply fulfilled Chippendale dancer; I mean The Future where we wear shiny space goggles and take pills to keep us from seeing colors and having sex.

I should begin by saying that I do not have pictures of this bathroom, because there was another person in the bathroom with me and Chinese people have this weird thing where they don’t like people taking photos of them while they urinate. But I promise that this bathroom exists in Favorview Palace (汇景新城) in Guangzhou, China. (I see from their website that their slogan is “SPARKING EAMILY HERITAGE TO LIFE,” which if you squint sort of looks like Sparkling Eamily Heritage Toilet; the point is that these guys spent way more money on their bathrooms than they did on their English ad campaign.)

Anyway so the first thing about this bathroom is that the urinals are right next to the door, in the direction that the doors open, urinals without sideguards, so anyone standing outside in the surrounding courtyard gets an eagle-eye view right straight at someone’s big old Chilean Sea Bass whenever the door is opened. Then after you use the urinal you turn right around and use the faucet which is directly behind you and which the overlords of The Future provide for your convenience. Expert tip: you should not get too excited about the way of the future and turn around before you put your penis back in your pants, as this correspondent almost did, but not before he locked eyes with a cleaning lady in the courtyard outside as the door swung open and slowly back shut.

And then — oh my god — the stalls. In the stalls, both of the walls are mirrored, so not only can you stare at yourself in the eyes as you defecate, but you can stare at yourself staring at yourself pooping and pooping, forever, off into infinity. I do not know how to account for this choice on the part of the designers. This seems like the sort of thing that someone would have raised a question about, at some point down the line. Or maybe no one did because they knew that they were making a monument, something huge, bigger and deeper than them — something that would endure.

It also smelled vaguely of cigarettes, had a nice air-dry blower, and an attractive plant next to the faucets. Good value and experience overall. Would pee again.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The xx

Warning to people related to me: this post includes sexy words and pictures. Anyone who reads further than this gives up their right to send me scolding emails or make vaguely disappointed or critical comments at Thanksgiving.

Two months ago, a friend of mine told me something interesting. He said that a professional theater company was going to perform a play called《阴道独白》in Shenzhen at the end of March. I decided then and there that I was going to go see it, even though Shenzhen is far away, because 《阴道独白》means Vagina Monologues, which means loads of sex-positive feminists, and if there’s one thing I’m positive about it’s that I want to have sex with feminists.

Enough with the joshing, guys: I have no idea why I wanted to take a bus two hours each way to see a play in a language I don’t understand. About vaginas. Also, not a huge fan of the monologue as a dramatic device, in general. What I do know was that this was a unique cultural experience that I will not soon forget, not least because it’s not every day that you get to hear a middle-aged Chinese woman pause a speech in Chinese to pronounce, clearly, if not entirely fluently, the word “punani.”

(See? The sexy talk is starting already! Also, you have no idea how much incriminating googling I had to do to figure out the standard spelling of that word. If I’m deported, let the record show that it was vagina-related.)

So I did actually go see The Vagina Monologues in China, and now I know how to say a whole host of words that I didn’t know how to say before (moan, clitoris, speculum), and I had an enjoyable evening of theatre to boot. (In college slang, this can mean “to vomit,” which, incidentally, I almost did, because I’m not sure if you were aware of this but there’s a ton of vagina talk in that thing.) By the way, anyone who has read this far but doesn’t think they can continue reading a blog post that uses the word “vagina” this often (can I keep it up? yes.) is encouraged to read Gus’s far more mature treatment of the subject on his blog, though to be fair he does use the words “cunt” and “pussy” in the first two paragraphs. There’s really no way around this one.

As Gus explains, this was a sort of special production: it’s really the first time that any version of VM has been presented to the public in China, which is a pretty exciting milestone. I am totally serious — I think that’s cool. And even though it was a production in a fairly large official theater, it still felt underground somehow. They couldn’t advertise in Guangzhou because you’re not allowed to write the word 阴道 (vagina, though more on this below) on posters or flyers or anything, so for a while they were sending text messages about the XX独白 instead (take a moment to think about how beautiful and how apt censorship can be). Moral of the story is that you should all be impressed by my indie cred, street smarts, and general all-around derring-do, because this was a serious act of rebellion.

And, as we shall soon see, with a dash of intrigue! Turns out that you can’t reserve tickets online unless you’re travelling with a group, so Gus and I signed up to go with a group of people from Guangzhou. We get there and the organizers give us name tags and tell us to write our names, and I was fool enough to believe them.

Nametagged arm

Sexy pix

(Chinese speakers should excuse the last character, which is supposed to be 忠; I was writing on a slant.)

So we get on the bus and I pull out my book hoping that the lady at the front who passed out the name tags and collected our money and seems generally to be In Charge, that this lady won’t make us participate in crazy bus games of any kind on our way to Shenzhen. (I was of course dreading a game that would require us to talk about Deep Vaginal Feelings, but frankly I wasn’t interested doing much of anything, since I assumed that even the Chinese version of 99 Bottles of Beer would be alienating and potentially obscene.)

She then stood up and said that we should all introduce ourselves, which was fine and non-threatening, until people started to stand up and introduce themselves as “Big Leaf”, “Cat”, and “Natural” — buckle up, ‘cause you’re riding the obvious pseudonym bus, direct service to Vagina City, population: young Chinese people on the bus who’ve decided to use their internet screen names rather than their real names because they’d rather not have their real names associated with a subversive or sensitive event and you, young foreign rube.

We were near the front of the bus, so the lesson didn’t have time to sink in before we introduced ourselves with our full (Chinese) names, and said where we were from and where we worked. Zero other people on the bus gave this amount of information. So not only are we the only two Caucasians on this entire trip, and in the entire theater, but we’ve given everyone enough information to track us down, if they wanted to. I am doing google searches for “punani,” and I attended a semi-subversive event and told everyone there exactly where to find me.

I’m sure it won’t be a problem, though. It’s China, what’s the worst that could happen?

Once we got to the performance I ended up feeling very empowered and radically feminized. There were some weird quirks to the performance, like how there’s a line at the beginning where one of the actresses says that the word vagina “sounds like a disease”, which is funny because that’s not how it sounds at all in Chinese. The Chinese word for vagina is 阴道 (yīndào, for language learners), where 阴 is “yin”, the feminine half of yin and yang, which has all sorts of dark and negative associations and is a part of various genitalia-related words, and 道 means channel or road. So to me this word sounds not like a disease but instead like a Shadow Passage, a Hidden Road, or the Path of the Moon. In other words this is a place where I expect there to be equal parts magic and spiders, and possibly lembas bread. And maybe this high-pitched schizophrenic voice that just won’t stop nagging. (Guys: am I right or am I right??)

All of my super healthy attitudes about female sexuality were changed over the course of the night, especially during the climactic monologue which liberated once and for all the Chinese word for “cunt”, which sounds exactly like the English word “bee.” You can try screaming that alone in your room right now if you like, just to see what it feels like. And I swear that monologue was perfect: the most powerful piece of theater I’ve seen since who knows when, because to me it didn’t feel like anything: just an audience full of people screaming “bee,” over and over, but all around me people were laughing and cheering and feeling free.

And then we came home, and so far the police haven’t picked me up, so, you know, so far so

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy April Fools'!

The jig’s up!: I don’t live in China. I’ve been staying in a cardboard box shantytown in central Jersey since August. Gristle is actually the name of a marmot I’ve befriended to whom I’ve attributed the characteristics of various drifters and song-and-dance men who’ve passed through over the last 7 months. Gus is a volleyball. I grew a beard. Very excited about where life is taking me!

Things have been a little slow around here because I’ve been spending more time with Gristle, trying to teach him German, house train him, and protect him from marmot poachers, who would kill him for his pelt and sweetbreads (a common additive in lipstick, hair conditioner, and marmot musk perfume). Actually, April fools!, Gristle is a person, but, not April fools!, I really have been spending a fair amount of time with him this week. I have a couple of posts kicking around in the hopper out back, behind the cardboard city and bindle collection, so Guangzhou Story posting should resume shortly. Thanks for waiting.

To tide you over, a text message I got today from Gristle:

你说过的恋脚癖英文单词怎么拼写?
Trans: How do you spell “foot fetish”?

I don’t know why he wanted to know. Somewhere out there, right now, even as you read this, perhaps, there is an English speaking man or woman reading something that Gristle wrote about foot fetishism, and you should be glad it’s not you — or, if it is you, you should ask yourself what you’re doing, why you’re there, and how you feel about the life choices that brought you to this (you can try asking him, but he won’t answer you; he’s a marmot).