Monday, May 31, 2010

Open Exchange of Ideas

“You know,” Gristle said during lunch last week, “I’ve figured out the secret of the Arabs.”

He paused to spit out a duck bone.

“The secret of the Arabs is that they seem like they’re really conservative, because of what their women wear, but actually the women are always having affairs with people while their husbands are trading goods along the Silk Road.”

I stopped him right there because, chances are, things were about to get either way more offensive or way more anachronistic, possibly both. After a brief pause, I asked him where he learned this secret.

“I’ve been reading One Thousand and One Nights. It’s all in the book,” he said. “You should read it.”

So, sorry I’ve been all Elena Kagan over here (read: “out of touch”, definitely not a lesbian) over the past few days, but I’ve been spending my time reading One Thousand and One Nights, figuring out the Arabs and their ways, and having an affair with someone named “My Students Are Taking the June 5th SAT And Are Freaking The Hell Out” while my husband (Sanity) is out of town. But I’m thinking of cutting it off because the sex isn’t great and this jilbaab is starting to chafe.

I have some things to tell you about. Right now I will tell you about how on Saturday a kid handed Gus a piece of paper addressed to 魏德忠老师 (Teacher Wei Dezhong — hey, that’s me!) inviting me to be a 嘉宾评委 at the 辩论赛决赛, which — oh wait, sorry, you don’t speak Chinese, let me walk you through this and give you a sense of what it felt like to read this for the first time — inviting me to be an honored guest judge (uh oh) at the finals of the debate competition (aw, shit my ass!) this Thursday, June 3rd, at 4:40 pm (for the love of god mister mistoffelees peanut butter jelly time prince of persia sands of time in theatres now seriously JESUS WHY ME).

So, to recap: I was asked to judge a debate, which will take place this Thursday. Or perhaps I should say 周四, which is Thursday in a language which I do not really speak after five years but which is nevertheless the language which will be used in the debate I have been called upon to judge.

They included a copy of the judging form, for my reference:

The form and me

There’s a lot of Chinese on this form. As you can see I am concerned. There’s a whole section which gives me information about when I’m supposed to take off points for errors of “inelegant language” (“If the language is too flashy, take off 4 points, if the speaker exaggerates or engages in name-calling, take off 8 pointes”) — all of this written as though I have the ability to to comprehend a Chinese sentence. For the record, I had to look up that bit about “engages in name-calling”, because the Chinese sentence is 乱扣帽子, which, and I’m 100% serious, looks to me like it’s saying “indiscriminately discount hats.” But it turns out that 扣帽子 menas to call someone names. I don’t understand how they thought I was qualified for this. I do not know the difference between name-calling and markdowns on headwear. I’m a haberdasher’s nightmare. I mean, come on.

Presumably these kids care deeply about this competition, so it is a mystery to me why they’d ever ask me to judge it, unless they believe that I’m easier to hoodwink than a native Chinese speaker. This is absolutely true.

Anyway, I realized this morning that I have to teach class at 4:40 pm on Thursday, so I texted the student listed on the form and told him that I won’t be able to attend, and he texted me back that he was really, really disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to make it, and at the end he said 你的中文果真很好~, which means “It’s true: your Chinese is excellent.” It’s true? Who the hell has been telling this kid that I have good Chinese? (Mom? Is this your fault?) Not only is it wrong but it’s a huge pain in the ass. He also said that he hopes I can participate next year (Haha! Can’t wait for that!) and, as you can see, he ended his message with a tilde, which is every Chinese person’s favorite punctuation mark, even though, sorry, don’t want to nitpick, but it’s not a real punctuation mark.

So there’s that.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dispatches from SAT Land

In which Chinese political repression comes face-to-face with freewheeling American values:

(while discussing a critical reading passage containing the word “protest”)

Student: I actually don’t know what protest means.

Me: Well, it’s when people disagree with an authority, and they want to show publicly that they disagree.

Student: But how do you do it?

Me: Well, you go on the street, hold signs, that sort of thing.


Student: Is it the same thing as a parade?

Me: No, parades are fun, you protest against something.

(Longer beat.)

Student: So, it’s an angry parade.

So, how are the kids?

Last week I spent 20 minutes in each of 11 classes — a total of almost four hours — hitting on high school students like it was my goddamn job.

In a fit of roguishness brought on by Guangzhou’s increasingly unconscionable weather (how many thunderstorms must we have in a week, really? Can we keep it to under 10? Is that possible?) and my increasingly acute olfactory hallucinations (calling them hallucinations means not having to face the only other possibility, that someone has been violently and repeatedly peeing in our stairwell), I suggested to Gus that we make the theme of this week’s lesson “Cocktail Parties.” This is better than most of the lesson plans that I come up with in my head and never share with anyone, like (all true examples, seriously): a lesson about minced oaths, a lesson based on Dungeons & Dragons, a lesson where we start out saying everything in French and give a prize to the first student who calls us out on the fact that we’re not speaking English. I don’t really know what the goal of the last one was supposed to be, but Gus can confirm it’s real, because one day I was, like, wouldn’t it be crazy if we did this thing, but actually I was thinking, we should do this thing.

The cocktail idea is like this: we teach our students how to make small talk in English, and then in the last part of class we have a mock cocktail party where everyone pretends to hold drinks and tries to convincingly chit-chat.


Jon: What do you think of the party?
Student: I really like the music. Do you? (There is, of course, no music — we are Acting.)
Jon: Yeah! Actually, these guys are having a concert this weekend. If you’re into them, we should go.

For future reference, for anyone who comes to China with an improv background, there are, in fact, some times when you should not “Yes, and”. Talking with students at fake cocktail parties is one of those times. What ends up happening is that your instincts kick in and next thing you know you’ve made out with like 4 ladies at your VIP pad in the back of the classroom. That reminds me — you should not do this activity if the only exposure you’ve had to cocktail parties in the past 6 months is watching old episodes of The Pick-Up Artist on Chinese video sharing websites. This is not good practice for trying to teach your students how to make small talk, because what you end up teaching them is how to make small talk like a guy who goes into a bar wearing a boa.

When I first introduced this activity, my male students really started talking up their game. In two different classes, attractive alpha-male types used the group work time at the beginning of the lesson to offer impromptu seminars to their deskmates on the fine art of picking up women. These groups of boys then spent the entire mock cocktail party talking to each other. (I tried to tell them that the key to flirting effectively with a girl is not to be romantically interested in her in any way, but none of them seemed to get the message.) I guess they find women intimidating. Or maybe they just didn’t want to compete with me, which I can totally understand.

Moral of the story is that their final exam is two weeks away and rather than having them practice essential communication skills I’m having them walk around and talk about nothing while pretending to drink alcohol. Great day for learning.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Spoiler alert: this post contains no spoilers for the series finale of ABC’s only popular TV show. (That is until the premier of my new mash-up show “View Jimmy Kimmel Wipeout!”, which is just Joy Behar repeatedly punching Jimmy Kimmel in the face.)

I had such big plans to post about last week’s lesson tonight, but then I had to watch the Lost series finale and that ate up about six retroactive years of my time. And now here I am, 12:36 AM on a school night.

So, what do you guys want to talk about? Sorry, I got nothing. The dog ate my blog post. Feel free to say whatever you want in the comments. Promising material will be pitched to the writing staff at “View Jimmy Kimmel Wipeout!” I’m told they’ll fast track anything that involves Elisabeth Hasselbeck being dropped into pit full of mud.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day of Silence

This blog will continue to remain essentially silent for the next few days to commemorate:

  • The failure of traditional marriage to Get Its Shit Together and defeat the gay menace in Portugal. I bet God is all, like, “Jesus Christ! How many terrifying volcanoes will it take for you guys to realize that this man lying with another man stuff is not OK? That was not a rhetorical question. JESUS, don’t you ever listen?”

  • The 30 year anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption. A spokesman for God confirmed that this was a preemptive strike against dude-on-dude action.

  • The recent death of John Shepherd-Barron, inventor of the ATM. His death was retaliation for his name, which is a little bit homosexual, in a British way.

  • My general day-to-day busyness, virtually none of which is gay-related or -themed.

See you soon unless homosexuals destroy all global communication links, which I hear is what they’re planning on doing next, right after the Tonys.

Monday, May 17, 2010

It’s Hot in the Poor Places Tonight

Specifically, I’m hot, in my poor place, my room, my apartment, Guangzhou, China — right here.

There’s not much more to be said on that one. I officially made the winter to summer transition when I replaced the space heater next to my desk with a fan. Democrats, John Muir’s ghost, and otters everywhere will be glad to hear that this marks the end of my How Much Energy Can I Waste On Temperature Control game. The rules of this game are simple: turn on your air conditioner full blast, but also turn on the space heater under your desk so that your toes don’t get cold. It’s a game I used to play for hours at a time, and with surprisingly little self-loathing.

More good news: despite no longer having my space heater, my toes will not be cold, because two girls sold me socks on the street yesterday. They were doing some sort of fundraising drive and they had two items for sale: socks and bracelet charms which said I LOVE YOU. I didn’t ask any questions. I needed some socks, so I bought a pair. (I needed socks because I’m also playing a game of How Long Can I Go Without Doing A Load Laundry, which is still in progress.)

The tag says that they are NIKE EXECUTIVE SOCKS. I would accept nothing less, and I refuse to buy socks from any street-corner sock-and-bracelet merchant unless they are of the highest quality.

Really, though, they’re not great. They make my feet sweat, and that’s a deal breaker for an executive.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

It’s lateral thinking week in Oral English class! Lateral thinking puzzles, for those of you who didn’t have to kill time on long Boy Scout backpacking trips between 1997 and 2004, are riddles where the guessers have to use yes/no questions to figure out the hidden information in a confusing situation. Sounds like my wedding night! (No, seriously, very confusing. Lots of questions from all involved.)

Do you have any examples, Jon? Sure do!

Bob and Jane are found dead in a puddle of water, surrounded by broken glass. What happened?

Before I give the answer, a thought: I like these puzzles a lot, even though they are sort of dumb — they lack a unique solution, and there’s no objective guarantee that the questioner hasn’t posed a problem with an impossibly difficult solution, or even a problem she herself doesn’t know how to solve. The only guarantee that the questioner is playing fair is the elegance of the solution: only if it’s clever, pleasing, and uses all the given information in an unexpected way can the guessers be sure that the questioner knew the answer all along. But that’s it. Playing these games requires a lot of trust. And — since no one likes looking like a fool, especially at Boy Scout camp, the least foolish place of all — huge balls.

Answer: (Do you trust me? Do you trust that I have huge balls?)

Bob and Jane are goldfish.

See, wasn’t that fun? Let’s try another!

A man leaves home, turns left three times, and comes home, where he’s stopped by a man wearing a mask. What happened?

In one class, a girl raised her hand and said, “is the man in the mask…making facial to the other man?” I think she meant “making faces at”, but, either way, the answer’s still no. Real answer at the end of the post.

My students were really good at this game. You know that old puzzle about the dad and the son in a car accident and the son goes to the hospital and the doctor says, I can’t operate on this boy; he’s my son? And then it turns out to be the boy’s mother is the doctor? (I know, crazy, right?) Yeah, they got that one right away. They were probably better at this because they are competitive and focused in ways that I was not, at their age, and also because they’re really interested in pleasing me, because they trust me, and they trust my balls. I am proud of all of them, except for one guy, and he knows exactly what he did wrong.

Some other things.

Today I found myself reading the preface to the classic Conway-Sloane monograph Sphere Packings, Lattices and Groups. (If you think this makes me sound “uncool”, don’t worry — I spent the rest of the day riding around on my dirt bike and growing mustaches, dozens and dozens of mustaches.) There’s a reference to a paper called “A proof of the dodecahedral conjecture,” written by an “S. McLaughlin.” Fun fact: this is Canadian pop legend Sarah McLaughlin! This paper was published in 1998, so it sits squarely between her immersive 1997 album Surfacing and the climactic 2003 follow-up, Afterglow. As it stands, I believe it lies among her finest works. Conway and Stone praise it for its tender, bittersweet evocation of the dodecahedron, long considered the most lesbian of the platonic solids. And I just like that smooth jazz feel.

If you’re planning on commenting to say that her name is actually spelled Sarah McLachlan, then I don’t want to hear it. It’s like when St. Vincent made fun of Lilith Fair — if you can’t say anything nice about a celebration of women in music, don’t say anything at all.

Hey, also, the security guards at my school have changed from their winter uniforms to their lighter, most comfortable summer uniforms. You know what that means! Cue the music, Ronaldo!


They’re playing baseball.

How big are your balls right now? Like melons? Mine are like melons.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ok for real this time

The Brazilian restaurant we went to last night was actually more like this.

Full Brazilian

Tonight Gus and I went to one of those Brazilian buffet restaurants where they serve you great chunks of beef, pork, and lamb from big skewers carried around the dining room by Chinese men in cowboy hats. Yeah, it was weird for me too. I have so much protein in me right now, you have no idea. I am full up. I haven’t eaten this much meat since punchline.

If you’ve never been to one of these restaurants, by the way, make no mistake: meat is the name of the game. Here, here’s the first Google image search result for “brazilian restaurant”:


It was exactly like that. The restaurant had a buffet with some (a few, a smattering of) vegetables (right side of picture) and big tootsie-rolls of meat, brought right to your table (left side of picture). Slightly less than half of the restaurant was on fire. The people were nice too. The Chinese maître d’ was really into practicing his English. He came up to our table at one point with a plate of huge terrifying shrimp things that looked like this:

Terrifying shrimp

He held the plate up to me and said, “Will you eat shellfishes?” I told him that no, I will not. Gus was up at the buffet this whole time, by the way, so all this shellfish talk was just me, the man, and shrimps the size of my face.

By the way, that Brazilian restaurant image is from a post on entitled “Why You Need to Visit Boizao Steakhouse Tampa Florida.” I am not used to being told in such stark terms about what I need to do when it comes to South American cuisine. But it is realtor Marc Vitorillo’s favorite steak restaurant in the Tampa Bay area, so what do you have to lose?

Based on what this meat is probably going to do/already doing to my digestive system, heart, lungs, waistline, and all-around e. coli situation, you have so, so much to lose.

But you do have a 50% off coupon. For Memorial Day weekend. But only Friday and Saturday. In 2008.

Really you just probably shouldn't go.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I had a whole post sort of written up about Dean’s Date, which is the day at Princeton University when all academic work for the semester is due, but then I scrapped it because the only people who might have found it funny have been awake for 44 hours and would laugh at anything, including my idea for a Tom Wolfe parody sketch called The Bonfire of the Manatees. I’ve pitched this idea to like 10 people and no one else has ever laughed. Just wait, one day I’ll write it and you’ll all see just how hilarious marine satire can be. Spoiler alert: main character will be named Merman McCoy.

Other funny things: today’s Garfield.


The fact that the ball of spaghetti looks like a ball of yarn (note: is this the setup of a joke of some sort?) seems like it’s something that should be the cartoonist’s fault. Because I can tell yarn and spaghetti apart, like, really easily, and I’m not even a lonely man middle-aged man who talks to a cat. Yet.

A post about Dean’s Date would also lack broad appeal. Speaking of an appealing broad (I AM FULL OF JOKES), I’m a pretty big fan of this picture from today’s The New York Times, specifically the facial expressions on both parties:

Karzai and Clinton

Karzai’s got a little smile like he just farted or is excited about his cape or something, and Clinton’s smiling like, “Oh, you,” but also thinking, “Wait, is it just me or is my chair made of snakes?”

Monday, May 10, 2010

What's the Weather Like?



(The only people who might understand that reference: Callie, Jason, Gus. All three hundred of my students. I’m hoping they don’t read the blog.)

My power has been out intermittently all day, so who knows if I’ll ever be able to post this, or if we’ll ever get power back at all. No one else in the building seems to be all that worried about the situation. I overheard a woman telling her coworker that she heard that they stopped the power because they had to “change” it. I mean, the phrase she used literally means “change the electricity”, but I think it usually means “change batteries”, so maybe our building is battery powered. Like a Furby. With people inside. But if not, what does it mean to change the electricity? And how long will it take? And what voltage will the new electricity be? Can I still use my hair dryer? And if Gristle hadn’t stolen my iron, could I still use that?

Oop, power’s back. Who knows for how long. I would be worried about the stuff in our fridge spoiling if the outage continues, but all we have in there is half a papaya, three apples, and a jar of fermented bean curd. It’s like some Twilight Zone version of a bachelor pad, where instead of beer and old pizza you have tropical fruit and soybean cubes soaking in brine.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Funny Because It’s True

Remember when I joked about showing a Brakhage movie in my film seminar? Turns out that’s pretty much real life: tomorrow, my students and I will be watching the 1943 experimental film “Meshes of the Afternoon”. (There’s a copy online if you want to watch it yourself.) In my defense: it’s Maya Deren’s first film, and it’s possibly the most famous and influential experimental American films of all time. In my prosecution: “Meshes” is one of David Lynch’s big cinematic influences, and we all know that my students’ previous encounters with Lynch have not gone well.

If you haven’t seen it, I’ll just tell you that Wikipedia says it has a “dreamlike (or nightmarish) atmosphere.” See how they hid the much more terrifying option in a parenthetical so that you can sort of ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist? Here, let me try: I hope my students find the movie stimulating and challenging (rather than so psychologically damaging that they complain to the administration and get me fired).

Anyway, you know how in the movie Sphere there’s a big sphere which has the power to physically manifest your thoughts and subconscious desires? I think my blog is like that. Things I write here come true. This means that my body will end up looking like the bodybuilder picture frame that Gristle got me for my birthday, but it also means that, you know that thing I wrote a few minutes ago about my getting fired? Yeah, that’ll happen too.

I guess I should’ve written something at the top of this post about how you shouldn’t read any further if you’ve spent the last 12 years trying to avoid spoilers for the Dustin Hoffman sci-fi thriller Sphere. Sorry. And if that sentence describes you, I suggest you take a long hard look at your life and your choices.

Let’s Play Boys Chase Girls

Or, My Life in China, given the appropriate definition of “play”. (From the Oxford American Dictionary, “amuse oneself by engaging in imaginative pretense.”)

Boys Chase Girls:

English Corner star Lily (of catholic fame) asked me yesterday whether she could ask me a personal question.

“Sure,” I responded.

“Well.” She paused. “When you were fourteen, did your parents let you hang out with girls?”

I told her that yes, they did. I think it would be a shock to her what sort of things fourteen-year-old Americans girls do with fourteen-year-old American boys. Not like I’d know — just because my parents let me hang out with girls didn’t mean that they were super into hanging out with me. I have seen the movie Thirteen, though, and I presume things at fourteen are even worse, with even more dramatic shouting and crying.

Boys Chase Boys:

Transcript from my most recent tutoring session with Gristle:

He: You’re so smart, Jon.
I: [Polite smile.]
He: And your hair is like a Spaniard’s.

Facebook’s Thoughts on the whole Chasing Girls/Chasing Boys situation:

The ads next to my Facebook profile have recently become unspeakably gay.

For those of you who aren’t on the Face’, a brief overview: every page that you view on Facebook is accompanied by a set of ads. Advertisers buy ad space and specify the demographic profile of their target consumer. Facebook matches these data with your interests and delivers ads that it thinks you’re likely to click on. The intended effect is that you buy a lot of products after seeing ads on Facebook, the actual effect is that the ad sidebar is a surreal and somewhat discomfiting place where you get to see what sort of things companies assume about people who, say, list Gravity’s Rainbow as one their favorite novels. Turns out very few companies are aiming their marketing specifically at Pynchon fans, and the ones that are are selling some pretty weird shit.

This isn’t about that. This is about homosexuality.

First off, there’s a Facebook profile field called “Interested In” where you can indicate whether you’re looking for men, women, or both. I don’t have anything marked in that section, so Facebook has no a priori reason to assume I’m gay. Whatever information they have about my sexual orientation comes from social media magic (like Google Buzz, which has certainly revolutionized my life!), though it’s possible that they also have a guy whose job it is to look at profile pictures all day and try to find the gays who are hiding in plain sight.

Who cares how they do it: Facebook’s made its decision. It’s decided that I am gay. I’m basing this on three ads I’ve gotten over and over again over the past week or so. Number one:


You can tell it’s gay because they use the letter z to spell Boyz, which is something only gay people and M.I.A. do.

Finding Mr.  Wright

You can tell it’s gay because at the end it says it’s a Gay Comedy. I know you’re thinking that the idea of a serious-minded talent manager at wilderness therapy sounds hackneyed, as does the “Mr. Wright” romantic subplot, but what if I told you that everyone in the movie is, wait for it, homosexual? Including the “serious-minded” guy who is going to be suuuuper cute but not in, like, a gay way, you know? Don’t worry you’ll love it, it’ll be just like La Cage aux Folles.

My zazzle store

You can tell it’s gay because the store is named “zazzle”, and the logo is a huge ass rainbow. REALLY big.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy Cinco de Mayo

Go ahead, celebrate. Give your rabbit a serape. He deserves it.

Rabbit in a serape

Wikipedia says that piñatas may come from China. I have no reason to believe that this is true. You don’t either. For all you know, I may have just added that piece of information to the page myself. It does not matter: “facts” will not stop me from celebrating my noble Central-American heritage on this, the High Frijole Day of Mexican Pride. China-related blogging resumes tomorrow, once I'm done strutting and stamping around my apartment in the baile folklórico costume that I pull out for special occasions.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sacred Mysteries

Our Cantonese tutor Serena called Gus last week with a problem.

“Can I come over? I have some questions about The Passion of the Christ.

Our response: we all have questions about The Passion of the Christ, Serena. But sure, come over, we’ll see what we can do.

So Serena came over and shared her issues and concerns. From these discussions, I’ve come to the conclusion that The Passion of the Christ is not a particularly effective evangelical tool for people who have never really heard Jesus’ story before, because it omits all sorts of important background information about the characters, fails to explain their motivations, and makes unjustified narrative leaps. (This may be a problem with the source material, though; I hear it’s based on a book?)

Serena had some basic factual questions about who was who and what was what. There was some confusion about why Judas denied Jesus three times. I told her that that wasn’t Judas, that was another guy with a beard, whose name is Peter. Got it, she said, so Peter and Judas are both bad guys. Nope. But I can understand how that would be confusing, given the beards.

Serena also asked why the crowds at Jesus’ sentencing were calling for his death. She said the impression she got from the movie was that the Jews wanted to kill Jesus because a) he was not Jewish and b) they are evil. Yes, I told her, and: they are easily seduced by money. Also, fancy robes, and promises of political authority. This is another case where my cultural background allowed me to read the subtext more deftly than she could. From a pedagogical standpoint, it was definitely a good move for Mel Gibson to use clear Jewish characteristics (greed, malice, general big-nosery) to represent the villains — it’s helpful for non-Westerners who might otherwise be unsure about who was behind that whole Crucifixion mess.

Also, just for you: a tip if you ever need to describe Jesus’ final days in Chinese: don’t say 最后晚会 for the Last Supper, as I did in a moment of carelessness, because that means the Last Party. Serena laughed and laughed at that one. Yeah, whatever. Jesus’ final thirsty Thursday! Pregame’s in Bartholomew’s room (PLEASE try not to make too much of a mess! I think we all remember last Sunday lol), RSVP to James, son of Zebedee.

Another free Chinese tip: today I was making a flashcard on my computer and intended to type a sentence which started with the phrase “通过大家的努力”, which means, essentially, “Thanks to everyone’s hard work,” as in, “Thanks to everyone’s hard work, we made $300 at this Sunday’s Passion of the Christ bake sale. (Thanks especially to Sally for her “Eggy Homo” custard pastries — YUM!!)”

Unfortunately, when I typed it, I accidentally wrote 奴隶 instead of 努力 (the two words have different tones, but are otherwise pronounced the same), so that my sentence actually read “通过大家的奴隶” — “Thanks to everyone’s slaves.”

Not. The. Same. Well, sometimes the same, but rarely in modern cultures outside, like, sweat-shoppy contexts, but those aren’t fun to think about, so I ignore them.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Guangzhou News Flash

If you were to ask me what my favorite mode of communication is (come on! Do it! This will be a fun game, I promise!), I would say that it’s a tie between passive-aggressive Facebook wall posts and love letters, straight from my heart. You know what a love letter is? It’s a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker. You receive a love letter from me, and you’re fucked forever.

(Theory #23 for why I’m still single: all my love letters either contain extended quotations from Blue Velvet, or they are bullets from fucking guns.)

I apologize for the repeated use of the “f words” (fucking, fucker, fucked forever). I’ve been away from the blog for a while and I’m still getting into the swing of things.

If you were to ask a Chinese person what their favorite mode of communication is (unlikely to be a fun game, unless you a) speak Chinese and b) really want to hear about how China invented both movable type and woodblock printing), they would most likely say the text message. Email is still not all that popular here, so if you are, say, my boss, and you want to let me know that I have a week-long vacation starting in three days (as he did two weeks ago), you don’t send me an email, and you also don’t send me a text message, you send Gus a text message saying that we have a vacation, starting in three days, please let Jon know as well.

So I get text messages all the time from all sorts of people, like airline companies, my mobile service provider, and Gristle. Usually I ignore them because, duh, they’re in Chinese. Living in China is hard enough — if you expect me to read a Chinese text message about your latest offer on direct flights to Nairobi, Kenya Airways, then you are fooling yourself in so many ways.

A few weeks ago, I started getting text messages from China Mobile 4-8 times a day. They come in a few forms: some of them are labeled “手机报” (cell phone newspapers) and some are “生活播报” (Lifestyle Broadcasts — this one is full of human interest stories, stock quotes, and contests, and needless to say does not really fit into or complement my lifestyle). I also get “营养百科” (Nutrition Encyclopedia) texts about once a day.

They come every morning starting at about 8 AM. They don’t let up until past dinner. I cannot be sure about when they started, because I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t interrupted every single hour of my day, in class, at lunch, on the toilet, by Nutrition Encyclopedia texts like:

Mixing No-nos

Have you ever drunk milk tea made from milk mixed with brewed hot tea? Drinking that sort of milk tea can easily harm your digestion! That’s because the protein in milk mixed with the tannins in tea leaves turns into a substance that’s hard to digest. Actually, drinking milk or tea alone is much better for your health!

Magical Upgrade

If you let used tea leaves dry in the sun and then light them on fire during the summer, they have the miraculous ability to repel mosquitoes!

As I was typing this, just this minute, I got another Nutrition Encyclopedia text telling me that if you get too drunk you can sober up by drinking soup made out of chicken skin.

I don’t want to get these text messages anymore. They’re like email spam, except that when these messages say “Magical Upgrade,” they’re not talking about gaining inches on my penis to satisfy my woman, they’re talking about getting me to put piles of dried leaves around my house and setting them on fire. I want to go back to a world where getting a text message is fun and exciting, or, if it’s from Gristle, confusing and possibly offensive — but the one thing I do not want is a text message which offers Magical Upgrades and cannot even deliver Vioxx straight to my door. I want to unsubscribe more than anything. But I can’t. You receive a Nutrition Encyclopedia text from China Mobile, and you’re fucked forever.

Step one was to type the phrase 取消手机报 (unsubscribe from cell phone newspaper) into Google and see what happens. I followed the directions, and I got a text message back which said, “Respected customer: sorry, the text message service office system is momentarily busy, please wait a moment and try again.”

So I tried again. And again. On various days. At various times of day. Sometimes I tried to sneak up on the system by sending it several text messages in a row after waiting for 36 hours without sending a single thing. I tried in the morning, after class, in the middle of the night. I tried sending the messages from Hong Kong. Nothing. The response was always the same. I guess I was happy that they still respected me, but things were getting a little hard to take.

Last Friday I went to the China Mobile office near our house. I told the people there, in no uncertain terms (who am I kidding? It was in Chinese, I was uncertain about all the terms), that I want to cancel the 手机报. The guy asked if I tried the way that they said to do it on the internet. I told him that I had. He then took my phone, made a call, and told the person on the other end to cancel the 手机报. Then he listened for a few moments, said thank you, and hung up.

“You can’t cancel it.”


“Your phone was automatically signed up through July. There’s no way to cancel it until after July.”

“But I don’t want it anymore!”

“Sorry,” the man said. “You’ve just got to wait it out. These things take time.”

To recap: the official response is that there is no way that I can unsubscribe from the newspaper. It will come to my phone every day, 4-8 times a day, until at least July. At which time I can call and cancel.

Of course, I’m going to be in the United States for July and August, so when I come back in September and turn on my phone again, I may well have 300+ text messages waiting for me, full of magical upgrades that don't make a lick of sense. And, with my luck, it may have automatically renewed itself by that time, and I’ll be signed up for another few months. Or another few years. I don't know. (OH MY GOD, I JUST GOT ANOTHER ONE, RIGHT NOW AS I'M TYPING.) I am considering destroying my phone and changing numbers so that the nightmare will end. I cannot tell anymore whether the messages are real or imagined. Perhaps my best years are gone, when there was a chance of happiness. I can’t go on. Slowly, slowly, they are killing me.

Hey, by the way, I lost my tennis racket of death, and now the mosquitoes are back. Not sure what to do about them. If anyone has any suggestions for how to keep them away, PLEASE let me know via email or text.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Back from vacation. The Guangzhou Story returns soon.

My god, it’s already May.