Thursday, October 28, 2010

Debate Season

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

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

Just popping in to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Perfect Storm

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

The day before the storm, I got an email:

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

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

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

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

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

Then, the typhoon!


The streets were deserted.




Obviously I’m hoping that this never happens again.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jon and His Students Get Physical

First badminton. Now this.


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

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

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

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



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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Grab Your Socks Because They’re About To Get Blasted



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

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

So many things I do not understand.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You Little Sportsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andy and I sat there for a moment.

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

“What are your favorites?” she asked again.

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

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

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

Friday, October 15, 2010

Things My Students Would Bring to a Desert Island

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

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mon oncle

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

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

Possible names: 表兄、表哥

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

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

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

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

Naturally this is just how I like it.

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

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

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

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

Ha ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha.

Funny because it’s true.

Monday, October 11, 2010

On Patriotism

A post in pictures.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Missed Connections

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

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

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

Mine’s worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m here traveling, with my family.”

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

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

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

It was sort of a strange night.

Friday, October 1, 2010


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

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

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