Tuesday, November 30, 2010

STELLA!

You should know that I do not refer to my students by their real names on this blog. I change their English names so that it is harder for their classmates to identify them, should they ever find this blog. Which has likely already happened. In fact they’re probably sitting behind me right now. The call is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE. INSIDE THE SQUAT TOILET ACROSS FROM MY BEDROOM.

So I should say that the student in this post is not actually named “Stella”. The real name still ends with an “a” and still should, by all rights, belong to a woman, even though the student in question is a boy. A boy with the moves of a man.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens outside of my window every Tuesday and Friday at 10:05 am, it’s this. I encourage you to keep your eyes on Stella, the boy in front, just to the right of the red number 8.

Now watch it again. And watch how clearly superior Stella is to his classmates.

It’s fine work like this that makes my high school the best in the province.

(Also, hey, that Sepak Takraw video I posted last week? It has over 8,000 views. That’s 5,500 more than “Family Meeting”. I think you know what to do.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

So That’s That

The Asian Games are over. Saturday night was the closing ceremony, which meant that Sunday morning’s paper had a full page photo of the previous night’s fireworks, with the headline:

很温暖 很亚洲

Which means “very warm, very Asia”, but which I would prefer to (liberally) translate as “Hot Asians”.

Subhed: “Guangzhou Asian Games: The Perfect Closing Ceremony.”

Being scientifically minded, I decided to put that claim to the test. Below are the results of my investigations.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dream Deferred, Part 2

The Guangzhou Story’s sports week continues.

You may remember that I “appropriated” the poem “Dream Deferred” for an earlier post about the Teacher’s Sports Meet (hailed by commenters as “postmodernist pastiche”, “remix culture at work”, and “laziness”) and though I admit that its inclusion didn’t make much sense in context, I promise that it makes sense now!!!!!

To review:

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

— Langston Hughes

The Teacher’s Sports Meet was originally supposed to be today, but after class, as I was changing into running shorts and a sports bra, Andy called and said that he had heard from a student that the sports meeting had been postponed.

In other words it had been deferred.

Like the poem.

It’s called “Dream Deferred”.

This situation is just like in that poem.

I hope I have made myself clear.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You Little Sportsman, Let’s Play Ball

And this time, you all get the reference! If you’re my real friend.

The past two weeks have seen me attend more international sporting events; wave more so-called “thundersticks” (also, according to Wikipedia, sometimes called “cheerstix”, “bangers”, or “bambams”, all of which manage to hit the Necker cube euphemism sweet spot (a term which I just coined but which will likely be of use to future Urban Dictionary analysts and historians) of being both plausible youth slang for a sex act and a brand of snack food); yell more cheers in Thai, Korean, and Chinese; and make more confident predictions about the outcomes of games whose rules I do not understand than at any other time in my sweet young life of 22 years up to this point.

I am speaking of course of my experience these past two weeks as a spectator in Guangzhou Asian Games. And what a specta-tacular time it was.

I have lots of photos and videos to share, but those will be coming your way in the next few days as I attempt to process my excitement/sort the dozens of photos I accidentally took of my hand. For tonight, I want to share 25 seconds of my favorite sport from the games: Sepak Takraw.

I have several things to say about Sepak Takraw:

  1. It is like volleyball, but with your feet.
  2. Thai people are very good at it.
  3. It is the craziest fucking thing I have ever seen.

In the video below, you should pay attention to a few things. You should note how high these men can kick. You should also note that some of them do complete flips as they kick the ball over the net. Any sport in which the average game contains a non-zero number of complete flips is AOK with me.

There’s also one difference between this sport and American little league, over and above the fact that it is a volleyball-like game played with one’s feet. And that is that, in American little league, laughing, pointing, and doing the “tippie-toes dance” when you score against the other team is actively discouraged. In Sepak Takraw, that does not appear to be the case, based on the performance visible at the end of this video, which happened after every. single. point.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

You know the drill

Some serious new comedy, delivered straight to your door.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gristle Speaks

Great news: The Guangzhou Story is now the number one Google search result for “gristle guangzhou”. Second place goes to a website called Invest Guangzhou, which has this to say on the Gristle Question:

Caizhilin, founded more than 200 years ago during the reign of Emperor Jia Qing (1796-1820) of the Qing Dynasty, produces 12 soup blend series in three categories - glossy ganoderma, fish maw, and shark gristle in light of Guangdong people’s fondness of “long stewed tasty soup”.

I can’t speak for all of Guagndong, but I know Gristle at least has a serious fondness for “long stewed tasty soup”. I mean that in the gayest way possible, if it wasn’t already clear.

A story, from the archives. This happened a while ago, but I didn’t get a chance to write up this story about Gristle because I’ve been busy writing up other stories about Gristle. It’s a surreal Sisyphean experience I live here.

This one’s short, though: Gristle and I were out to dinner with some friends, and since everyone there spoke English, he decided he wanted to try and speak some of his own. Of course this took a while since his English is what could jocularly be called “rusty.” So, as he pulled his English sentences bit by bit from some great linguistic lockbox inside himself, we continued to eat and talk (quietly, don’t want to be rude!) between his words and phrases.

Under these conditions, what would normally be a Gristle line to laugh about and then forget became a slow-motion master class at the Gristle School of comedy. Observe:

“My…friend?”

(“Can you pass the lamb?”)

“went to Hong Kong”

(“Oh, really?”, “Hmm”, “I see”)

“he took an…”

(“Waitress, can you bring some napkins?”)

“exam?”

(“Yes, that’s the right word.”)

“for training.”

(“Training! Great.” Everyone makes appreciative noises to communicate that they have heard and processed his story. And then, just as we’re about to move on to what someone else has to say…)

“Dolphins.”

Gristle’s friend went to Hong Kong to take an exam because he wants to become a dolphin trainer, an anecdote that, as it turns out, becomes much, much funnier if you just take your time.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It’s worse than I imagined

This week, I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to my students about their trip to the countryside. What’s the worst thing about leaving the city? According to one student, the biggest problem with life in a country village is “too many incests.”

We had a long discussion on how to pronounce “insect”, after that.

(Don’t forget: my friends and I have been blogging up a storm over at the official Business Flannel blog. Sketch comedy videos and funny original pieces posted daily by our crack comedy team.)

News on the March

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I subscribe to the Guangzhou Daily, Guangzhou’s (Second) Best Daily Chinese Language Newspaper. (Motto: “Seeking the most remarkable news, molding the most trusted news source.” A younger me would have said that it sounds better in Chinese, but I’m tired of making excuses.)

Now, I know I’ve had some bad things to say about Chinese news outlets in the past. I know I’ve called certain papers — the China Daily, especially — some bad names: news(toilet)paper, China Gay-ly, pickle breath, ass blaster, Tryin’-a-slay-me, the Daily Princetonian. But really we shouldn’t blame the authors of these papers. After all, they get their news information from Xinhua, China’s state-run news apparatus, and they really don’t have much choice about what to put in the paper. They get their articles, they slap them into their layout, choose a headline, and push print. Bet those ass blasters don’t even do a Print Preview first.

But it’s the “choose a headline” bit that we’ll be focusing on today.

This morning, at breakfast, I’m reading the paper, like I do, and I turn to page one. Note that at the Guangzhou Daily, page one contains no articles, only headlines. All part and parcel of their unparalleled commitment to quality journalism. Top of page one, biggest font on the page:

温家宝考察广州赞变化
“比以前更干净,花更多,树更绿”

And here’s what this headline says in English:

Wen Jiabao praises changes during inspection of Guangzhou
“It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener.”

Just in case you missed it, the pull quote they decided on for the subhed of this front page article was: “It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener.”

So China’s Premier Wen Jiabao comes to Guangzhou for the opening of the Asian games. He looks around. He comments on what he sees. But the reporters are restless: they’re looking for one sentence, one pithy, encouraging remark that could sum up his entire trip to Guangzhou and his hopes for the city’s future. And this quote has to be great because, remember, page one contains no news content of any kind, so this quote is doing all the work of attracting people not only to buy, but also to open the paper.

And then someone hears Wen Jiabao say, “It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener.” And suddenly all the reporters are laughing and shaking hands and backslapping because they got this one in the bag. And there’s probably some fresh new reporter, first day on the job, who’s like, guys, shouldn’t we wait around? Can’t we get something better than “there are more flowers? and the other reporters shake their heads and grin and say, kid, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Oh, and by the way, a longer version of the quote is used as the headline on page two: “比以前更干净,花更多,树更绿。看到这些变化很让人高兴。” Or, “It’s cleaner than it was before, there are more flowers, the trees are greener. Seeing these changes makes people happy.” Even better!

Other page one news: remember how the Asian games started last Friday night? How many medals do you think China has won so far? One hundred and thirty three medals. In six days. More than twice as many as Korea, their closest competitor. At some point the other countries are going to realize that when China invites you over to their house to play, they’re not trying to be neighborly, they just want to beat you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why I Should Not Seek Work as a Professional Photographer

(Above and beyond the fact that I do not have any experience photographing anything for money, I do not own camera equipment of any kind, I have no eye for composition, I never remember to bring my camera to important events, people tend to find my photographs “off-putting”, I have trouble taking pictures of people in ways that do not make them feel uncomfortable, I am unreasonably fascinated by cute Chinese babies, so much so that I tend to ignore any non-baby related content present at any particular place or time.)

A photo of the 2010 Asian Games opening ceremony, taken by professional photographer Mike Clarke for Getty Images.

Professional

A photo from the same opening ceremony, taken by me while I tried to set the self-timer on my camera.

Amateur

In fact, my friends and I took or attempted to take 18 self-portraits while waiting to watch the fireworks. None were successful, despite attempts to combat my obvious photographic failings by employing crouches:

One bad picture

excessive teeth:

Yeah, there's another

and sensual seduction:

MAKE IT STOP

Parties interested in hiring me for weddings, birthdays, or mitzvot (bar, bat, and assorted other) are encouraged me to contact me by using the comments form below or by babygram (baby must be sent via registered mail. Please include a SASE if you wish recipient to return baby.)

Gristle Envy

I give in. Gristle’s comedic outpourings are too powerful for me. They lodge in the mind, the throat, the heart, the heart strings, the heart cockles, the heart bottom and literal butt-bottom like a volcanic stone with jagged edges of fire that says crazy shit every time I see it — and I give up! I cry uncle! Every day I sit down to write a blog post that doesn’t include Gristle and I can’t do it. I just can’t.

I’m worried that this means one thing: that I am nothing without him. Gristle is the comedian, I am a talentless hack who contents himself with collecting the beautiful bon mots Gristle drops lets casually by the way, like so many pellets from an enigmatic Chinese owl with a foot fetish. I fear he’ll become more famous than I am. It’s happened before: I bet you know who Hamlet is, but can you tell me who wrote it? See what I mean?

And then I think: what if Gristle has a blog, a blog that’s smarter, funnier, and more widely read than mine? And what if, in that blog, I’m the star? Who’s the protagonist here? I feel like I’m trapped in Pnin!

(No, I don’t. I don’t think there has ever been a time where that’s an appropriate reference. I cannot imagine a situation where someone says say “I feel like I’m trapped in Pnin!” and everyone listening says, “You know, I was going to compare it to that episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” where the clown dies, but actually Nabokov’s comic novel about a Russian émigré is much more apt,” and then everyone collapses into an orgiastic circle of postmodernist sexual maneuvers*.)

* Self-referential blowjobs, and the like.

No, even though I do not currently feel like the narrator or title character of that fun little novel, I do sometimes fear that I might be the Darth Maul in our particular master-apprentice relationship. (Highbrow to lowbrow transition: managed.)

But then, last week, he sent me his blog. It’s called “Night Rain Gradually Stops.” A recent post includes a poem containing the line “I stand in front of you but you don’t understand I love you.” At the top of the page there’s a picture of him standing in front of Sun Yat-Sen’s tomb. Would I call it a laugh riot? No, no I would not.

And it’s like times like that that I realize, you know what? I am doing some of the work around here.

Anyway, Gristle: I went on a walk with Gristle the other day. (Sometimes we do that: just two guys, getting a walk on, talking about the big issues in life.)

He said: “Jon, I know you might want to live in Germany someday.”

I admitted that, yes, I did.

He said: “Jon, you must be careful. There are old women in Germany who stand by their windows all day and wait for people to have sex on the grass outside.”

“What do they do then?”

“Oh, they just watch. It’s like a pornographic movie for them.”

“So, what are you telling me?”

“I’m saying if you’re in Germany, and you’re having sex outside, don’t do it near any windows.” He paused. “Oh, hey. How do you say 群交 in English?”

“Orgy.”

“That’s what I thought.”

And then, walk completed, we went our separate ways.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Business Flannel

This summer, some friends and I started a sketch comedy group called Business Flannel. Today, we launched our first video.

You can find it here.

If you like what you see, check us out on Facebook and Twitter! We also have a blog, where my collaborators and I post Funny Stuff on a regular basis.

Not all of the funny stuff will be business related. Lots of it will probably be flannel related, though. Great fabric.

God be with you all.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sporty Spice, c’est moi

It’s that time of year again: the famous Teacher’s Sports Meet, where I finally get the chance to take off my work clothes and show students my stuff. And I mean that one-hundred percent non-sexually. Of course I speak here only for myself: the sight of my pale white limbs whirring through the air as I pant my way to the finish line of my 100 meter “sprint” may very well be sexual for them, but we will not consider that possibility here.

But let’s save all that sexy talk for the actual sports meet, which is currently projected to take place on November 24th, the day before Thanksgiving, when I will undoubtedly have many great sports victories to give thanks for.

Today, one of the English teachers gave me a call to ask me which events I’d like to sign up for. She suggested I do one running event, so I chose the 100 meter, which, enthusiasts will remember, is the race I didn’t lose last year (thanks, Gus!). Then I asked her what other events are available.

She listed some standard track and field events, and at the end she said, “you can also do sit-ups.”

“Sit-ups?” I said. “How long do you have to do them for?”

“30 minutes,” she said.

Well, there goes that idea, I thought, italicized, to myself.

“Sorry, 30 seconds,” she said. “My mistake.”

“Great,” I said. “I’ll do that.”

See, because here’s the thing: no matter how poorly I did at the shuttle run, the pull-ups, or the (ever beguiling!) sit and reach in 6th grade, I could always perform at Presidential level in the sit-up event. If the only criterion for fitness were the ability to do 56 sit-ups in a minute while a chubby kid with a bowl cut holds your feet, I wouldn’t be here today. I’d be Doctor “Just call me ‘The Wizard of’” Oz, ’cause I’d be the fittest mother’ around, and Oprah would have me on her show every day and all her people would beg me to tell them how to get as fit as me.

By the way, while I was editing this post, I realized some of you may find the use of the phrase “her people” offensive. By “her people”, I did not mean black people, I mean women between 30 and 55 who get most of their health tips from women who periodically cry on TV.

Also, I know what you’re thinking: he edits these things?

Poetry break:

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

— Langston Hughes

So, segue, my dream of getting to do sit-ups in the sports meet was deferred (in this case, quickly shattered) because the teacher called back and said, “I’m sorry, you cannot do the sit-up event; it is for girls.”

So there goes that.

I have some parting words.

One: I realize that this post and the two preceding have all been about things that people have said to me, either in person, via text message, or over the phone. And in fact in two out of those three cases, that person has been Gristle.

This is what happens when you’re sick, when your roommate is out of town, and Gristle is the only person who doesn’t understand that “I am sick” means “Please stop calling me so I can sleep.” I haven’t really participated in a ton of outdoor activities this week. I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to Gristle. In short, I write what I know.

Two: This new blogging push is certainly working, because this morning I got my first spam comment from a Chinese source! It was a link to a Chinese website selling Japanese pornography. Say what you will about Chinese hatred for the Japanese: it does not run so deep that Chinese men are unwilling to look at pictures and video of Japanese women, naked. World peace: one step at a time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gristle’s Opinions On…the BBC!

Part 82 in an occasional series.

As you might have heard before, sometimes Gristle has opinions about things. Like, off the top of my head, ghosts, The Sound of Music, how my hair looks like a Spaniard’s.

He also has opinions on the BBC. Here’s a text he sent me this afternoon, after watching a program about American history:

BBC’s stories are very detailed, and contain as much information as a textbook. The narrative tone is very fair. On the topic of Western expansion, they praise white people. On the topic of massacring Native Americans, they criticize white people and call them demons. Our close-minded Chinese way of thinking could not accept such a thing.

Gristle: making broad cultural generalizations so I don’t have to. Since 2009. Or, 1980, which is when he was born, since he is 30 years old.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Happens when People Make Pledges

You pick up 60 seats in the House, and you also get sick.

Once again, I am sick. I am sitting in bed, as I have been all day long. I have interacted with no human beings, save my cleaning man.

Also, guess who? Gristle.

Gristle came over a few hours ago to pick up some books which he sent to my house. (One thing about Gristle? He doesn’t have an address, so whenever he orders goods online, he just has them sent to us. He gets more mail here than I do.)

Gristle came in, sat down on the couch, and said, “I knew you were going to get sick on Sunday.”

“How did you know?” I asked.

“Well, you were sneezing. How much mucus do you have right now?”

“Not a ton of mucus, no.”

“But you had some yesterday, right? What color was it? White or yellow?”

“White.”

“I knew it. You have a cold.”

“I don’t think it’s a cold, Gristle.”

“Let me ask you another question: did you have a fever today?”

“Well, yes.”

“It’s because you have a cold. Fevers make you hotter. Solves a cold. Anyway,” he stood up. “I’ll be back at 10:30 or so to check up on you.”

“Please don’t do that, Gristle.”

“Just let me know!”

And then he left. It is currently 8:15, and I’m going to go to bed soon. Whether I will be awakened at 10:30 by a well-meaning Gristle: TBD.

A Pledge to America

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Let me be the first to say that mistakes have been made. We here at The Guangzhou Story are not going to give you a load of guff on that count. And let me also be the first to say that we’re not going to blame those mistakes on anyone but ourselves. Though you could be forgiven for thinking that things have not been one-hundred-percent our fault. Nothing is one-hundred-percent except pregnancy tests and Chilean miner rescues. Ha ha. But seriously folks.

The Guangzhou Story is more than a blog. It’s an idea for a blog. It’s an idea that’s existed in the hearts of anyone who is occasionally awakened by a Chinese man walking along the ledge outside of their second-story window. It’s an idea that’s been on the lips of anyone who has ever accidentally called cocktails “penis alcohol.” It’s an idea that’s rested gently on the pecs, lats, abs, and quads of anyone who is compared to Michael Phelps on a regular basis.

The Guangzhou Story is more than a blog. But it is also just a blog. I’m seeing some confused faces. I admit that it is slightly difficult to understand, and I welcome the chance at some later date to explain how this blog is both more than a blog and also a blog, but now I am afraid I have neither the time nor the overhead transparencies for such a discussion, as I am currently in the middle of making a pledge.

I seem to have lost my place in my prepared remarks. Excuse me.

The point is that I have traveled to city squares and churches, meat packeries, kosher delis, chop shops, quinceañeras, Algonquin round tables, combination restaurants which sell food from two different fast food restaurants, and Best Western Hotels — businesses large and small across this great nation, and the message I have been hearing is uniform: The Guangzhou Story has not been posting often enough.

In short you have lost your trust in this once great franchise. But I promise you we can make it great again.

[Pause for applause.]

But I can’t do it alone. We need your help. Let’s look at the facts.

For one thing I have only gotten 117 comments in the history of this blog. I wrote most of them myself under pseudonyms. By contrast this is my 209th post to the blog.

Posts vs. Comments

Or in other words.

Work you did

My friends, I find this trend troubling.

There’s more. Despite months of “stimulus” projects, like writing the name of my blog in bathroom stalls and renting blimps, my reader growth is stagnating. Visits are up only 6.25% over last month. At this rate, it will be difficult to build the following necessary to launch a high-paying public speaking and positivity coaching career at the end of my contract next July, and at this point this is my only plan for post-China employment.

Let’s look at these numbers more closely. This is a graph of daily readership during the month of October.

October
readership

Readership dips significantly every seven days. There is only one possible explanation: a great number of my readers are being killed every week by haunted videotapes, laserdiscs, and 8-tracks in a Ring-type scenario.

My aides are telling me that this is not likely. They’re saying I should move on.

That leaves my only other guess: since the dips occur on Sunday, it is possible that many of you are spending the day at church instead of reading my blog. This seems to be a classic “clinging to your guns and your religion” situation. I respect your religious choices, and I think there’s a way for The Guangzhou Story to be a part of that. Great Talmudic scholars have often noted that prayer can take many forms, and I invite you this Sunday to feel the Holy Spirit (or the holy Talmudic spirit or whatever it’s called — not really sure on this one) moving through you as you read the blog.

Sunday is a time to rest, to spend time with family, and to count your blessings. And I hope I’m not being presumptuous when I say that The Guangzhou Story is a great blessing in your life, on par with if not more important than your husband, wife, and or children. Treasure it.

My fellow Americans, and people from Norway, Mexico, and South Korea who appear to read my blog on a regular basis: I pledge that, with our hard work, The Guangzhou Story will be restored to its former greatness. I pledge to post once a day, minus weekends and assorted Chinese holidays, for the remainder of the year.

My aides are telling me that I should dial that back. Let’s say I’ll try to do that.

In return, I ask that you continue to comment on the blog, read the blog, and tell your friends about Our Great Blog. Together, we can turn this blog around.

Also, stop going to church. That would really help my numbers.