Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays from The Guangzhou Story

A text from my student last night, after I told her that we still have class Christmas morning:

Ok, thx. It’s just that a lot of people thought this christmas thing would be important to you guys and you’d definitely have the day off.

Yeah, you’d think.

That’s it for this year’s edition of The Guangzhou Story. We’ll be back after the holidays, but for now enjoy this special message from my Friday afternoon Oral English Class.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Trilogy by Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Vertical Integration

People in China say that papayas make your breasts grow. Want to know if it’s true? Look at my pecs. You tell me.

Yesterday I went to the fruit market to buy papaya, but the usual lady I get my papaya from wasn’t selling papaya anymore. Her stall was in the same place, and she greeted me just as cheerfully as she usually does, but instead of papayas her table was piled high with brand new bras.

On the Nose

From an advertising skit performed without any apparent irony by my students this week.

A: Who are the smartest people in the world?
B: Einstein?
C: Karl Marx?
A: No, the Jewish race!

Hard Words

Gristle was in my living room the other day wearing no pants. His underwear was very small. I gave him permission to stay at our house, but in the future I should clarify that that doesn’t automatically imply that he has permission to walk around my apartment with more than half of his buttocks on display.

He saw me looking a word up in a Chinese-English dictionary on my computer and came over and asked me whether I thought the dictionary was useful.

“Yeah,” I said, “it’s pretty good.”

“Let me test it. I’ll try a hard word,” he said. He sat down and slowly hunt-and-pecked the word 手淫 into the input box. He pressed enter and the translation — which I already knew — popped up on screen. Masturbation.

“Now this,” he pointed at the screen, “this is a good dictionary.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

This Story is Dedicated to my Dentist

I recently switched toothpaste brands, and it’s got me all in a twist.

Before I came back to China this August, I went to see the dentist. Now, when Gristle went to get his teeth cleaned for the first time last year, I asked him what he thought of the experience and he replied, “Wow! So cool!” As much as I like a good polish of the old chompers, I confess that I do not generally share this opinion of trips to the dentist, even though I have an excellent dentist, a kind man who is one of the few people whose fingers I regularly have in my mouth.

“You have some staining behind your front teeth!” Dr. Hill said, framed by the bright halo of the dental lamp as he leaned over me in the chair. “How’s your brushing?”

“I’m a great brusher,” I said. “You know that.”

“Don’t play cute with me, boy,” Dr. Hill said. He removed his fingers from my mouth. “What’s next? ‘I floss daily’?”

“I do floss daily!”

“Yeah, and I’m Norman W. Kingsley. Get real.”

“I have no idea who that is.”

“Author of Treatise on Oral Deformities. Father of orthodontia.”

(I guess this is as good a time as any to say that this conversation didn’t actually happen. My dentist doesn’t talk like this at all. Sometimes he does make fun of me to my face, but he’s led me to believe that that’s a standard part of a dentist’s bedside manner.)

I shifted in my seat.

“You must be drinking a lot of tea.” He put his fingers back in my mouth. “Are you drinking a lot of tea?”

“I live in China.”

“Save it for the blog, Mr. Self-Promoter.”

He sighed, removed his fingers, and stripped off his latex gloves as he turned to make notes on my chart. When I tried to peek at what he was writing, he turned his back and boxed me out.

“How hard are your bristles?”

“My bristles are so hard right now.”

“Hey!” He spun around in his chair. “This is no time for jokes. This is dentistry. How hard are your bristles?”

“I think I’ve been using a stiff-bristled toothbrush.”

(Now here comes the part of the conversation that actually happened.)

“You should use a soft-bristled toothbrush for optimal tooth and gum health. I’ll give you a box to take back to China.”

“Oh, Dr. Hill, you don’t have to—”

“No, no, don’t mention it. Some toothpaste, too.”

So when I left for China in August, I brought with me a whole box of sample toothbrushes and toothpaste (seriously!), ready to combat the creeping threat of tea stains that Asian cultures pose towards our fresh, bright American tooth enamel.

The toothpaste tubes that Dr. Hill gave me, though, are absurdly small. Which is not surprising. He’s a dentist. He probably uses no more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste at each of his four daily brushings. But for me, a red blooded American male with my fresh, bright American tooth enamel, a 0.85-ounce tube of toothpaste goes quick. I’ve got a wide mouth. There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be cleaned in there. I don’t need to apologize for being a vigorous brusher.

So anyway, a while ago, I was away on vacation and my 0.85-oz tube of toothpaste ran out (after, like, two days of use). Lucky for me and these outrageous pearl beauts in my mouth, I found another, older tube in my dopp kit. (Cannot believe I just used the phrase dopp kit. I’m fifty. I’m officially fifty.) This was no 0.85 ouncer. This was a generous, manly tube. My favorite kind.

This toothpaste lasted a long time. It saw me through thick and thin. I liked it — it was fresh and new. I squeezed from the bottom to make it last longer. I cleaned excess toothpaste off the cap. I tried to use it sparingly, but sometimes I couldn’t help myself, and I used several peas’ worth of toothpaste in one gloriously profligate bout of brushing.

Last week, though, that tube ran out. And so, conscious that I was marking the ending of something great, I grabbed another tube of Dr. Hill’s Tiny Ass Toothpaste and went to town.

And you know what?

No, I don’t really know either. It just feels weird every morning, you know? I’m not really used to it. A different flavor I guess.

That was all I was going to say. Not a huge deal.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Have No Idea What I’m About To Type

Gristle just sent me a text message and it’s unbelievably long and since I read Chinese so slowly anyway, I decided I should just translate it on the fly as I read it and see what happens. Usually when I translate things for the blog I change them a little bit, English them up, make them slightly easier to understand. But, in the interests of authenticity, this time I won’t even do that. I reserve the right to put comments in brackets if I feel like it.

So here, coming to you Live and Unrehearsed from Guangzhou, China, a text from Gristle:

Yesterday your humorous and lively explanation of the airplane neck pillow was unforgettable to me. [Yesterday he saw a neck pillow in our apartment and asked what it was and I told him. That is literally all that happened.] I never expected that you also had an amusing side. [COME ON.] If you apply rich body language to your teaching, the result will be a great addition of extraordinary splendor. [Yes, Chinese people really do talk like this all the time.] I think that beginning language learners really need emotional encouragement and exciting arousals, precise knowledge and scientific explanations are fitting for those in the research stage. Do you think this is correct?

My response is probably going to be: “Yeah, sure. Sounds fine to me.” Which is six words, compared with his four thousand. (Seriously, I just did a word count in Microsoft Office — four thousand.)

But I do not want to respond that way because I don’t want to lose my reputation as someone with an amusing side, which reputation seems paradoxically very difficult and very easy to obtain: difficult because I’ve known him for over a year and surely I’ve said something funny in that time, easy because in the end all I had to do was show him how to use a neck pillow.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Presented Without Commercial Interruption

I believe the following skit speaks for itself.

Transformer: Harry! Harry! Look at this man! He’s so ugly! His head looks like a ball. His eyes look like beans. Oh! Look at his legs! His legs look like eggplants!

Everybody except Monster: Ohh~!

Monster Gaga: What? I’m angry! I will eat all of you just like to eat a sandwich.
(Nobody.)

Harry: Well, it’s just a piece of cake. I will tell you what true music is. (Spicy Girl)

Monster Gaga is hurt.

Monster Gaga: I’m not feeling well but I won’t give in.

(Monster Gaga doing exercise)
Spider Man doing Taiji

Spider Man: You’re so rude. Look at me!

Monster Gaga: It seems that I have to show my unique skill.

All come over.

Monster Gaga: Human kind is the most powerful race!

End.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Citrus

I saw a horror skit this week called “Shining II: Bloody Citrus.” When the students stood up to start their performance, they said it was a skit about citrus. And I don’t know if they had just learned the word citrus that morning or what but it was goddamn everywhere.

Scene 1 (“A citrus plantation in Florida”), goes for exactly four sentences without using the word “citrus”, at which point we get:

R: The citruses look good, but you should never taste them. They’re atrocious, with enmity that I can’t atone.
T: Oh. Are there any stories about them?
R: You wanna year? Those bloody citrus?
T: I…I’d kind of love to.

Things then take a confusing turn. Scene 2 (“The 50-year-ago citrus plantation”) begins:

A: Excuse me, sir. I’m Andrew Jackson. Nice to meet you. Are you the keeper of these citrus plantation?

Andrew Jackson asks the citrus owner to give him some citrus, and then he offers some to his daughter:

P: Don’t you try some? They’re extremely tasty.
R: No, dad. I don’t like citruses. They’re sour.
P: They’re not sour at all. Have a try.

Halloween costume idea: Andrew Jackson, carrying an orange, telling everyone he meets, “Hello I’m Andrew Jackson, have a try of my citrus.” I will most likely use this next Halloween, and I will most likely do it all in a “World of Hair” voice. If you don’t get that reference, I really wouldn’t worry about it. Really, really not that important.

The people who eat the citruses end up dying, and when the keeper of the citrus field announces the reason for the curse, guess what? It’s:

V: The 1830 Indian Removal Act! We Indians fought for our land in the brutal Seminole Wars for long years. This plantation was where my father, my grandfather died during the war. The citruses were nurtured by their blood of emnity, by their spirit of revenge. Haha.

Non funny interlude:

You know what’s crazy about this? As I mentioned, the skit was named after The Shining, which was one of the movies we had discussed the week before in class. It has a few references to a Danny-like shining ability in the script, but it’s really quite a different story.

So how in the world did my students stumble upon the central claim of one of the most famous critical essays ever written about The Shining? I present Bill Blakemore’s “The Family of Man”, the thesis of which is:

But The Shining is not really about the murders at the Overlook Hotel. It is about the murder of a race — the race of Native Americans — and the consequences of that murder.

So either my students are incredibly lucky, or they happen to be conversant in critical responses to film from the late 80s. This from a crowd which regularly tries to convince me that Titanic is a great film, full of feeling. I honestly have no idea how this happened.

Anyway the script ends with a chilling return to the present day:

T: Mrs. Jackson, you must be kidding. Those stories aren’t real, are they?
R: Then, would you like to try this citrus?

Chilling.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ghost of Blog Posts Future

Tonight I am tired (More running! Marathon Man over here!), but I thought you should know:

Last week my students all did skits in class, and — here’s the kicker — they all had to do them in different film or TV genres. Which meant that I got to see hundreds of Chinese high school students perform five-minute musicals, tragedies, romantic comedies, and the like.

In case it’s not clear, this is very good news. For me mostly, because my “job” this past week, for which I’m earning some very small amount of cash, was just to sit and watch my students explore the reaches of human emotion in that noblest of art forms, the theat-ah. But it’s not just good for me, because here at The Guangzhou Story we practice trickle-down blogonomics, and what’s good for me and the military-industrial complex is good for you, the single mother of three.

So all this week I’ll be pulling choice excerpts from students’ performances, analyzing their intricacies and wrestling with their ambiguities, as I am wont to do with challenging and often contradictory texts.

Just so you know I’m not pulling you off, here’s an example quote, chosen at random from the page of notes I have in front of me. It’s from a tragedy:

“Poor honey, be at ease with me. I will choose you as my little kitten. You are not like my last lover, who was querulous and ugly.”

It’s going to be a great week.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Why I Haven’t Posted on My “Weblog” Since Last Monday

  1. I have been running.

    Now I know I also talked about what it was like to talk about running in my last post, but back then I was running ironically and laughing about it later with my friends at the hipster bar. Now I am running “in earnest”, which is more time consuming and less popular in Brooklyn.

    Speaking of my running:

  2. Disabled people.

    Today my roommate Andy, friend Kelsey, ex-tutor Serena, and muse Gristle and I went to see part of the Para Asian Games, the second in the Pair o’ Asian Games that our fair city has hosted these few weeks.

    The opening ceremony of the Para (short, I believe for paratrooper) Asian Games was held last night, so there was a picture on the front page of the Guangzhou Daily, my perennial journalistic hobby-horse which I oft fain ride like the piece of shit it is.

    CLIMBING
DREAMS

    This is the climax of the ceremony: the lighting of the torch by two disabled athletes engaged what picnic or carnival organizers might jocularly term a “two-legged race”. They’re carrying the Flame of Asia (or, whatever) to the torch. Incidentally, the torch is at the top of a flight of stairs. Incidentally, they’re both missing legs.

    Apparently Guangzhou’s commitment to organizing a “barrier-free games” did not extend to the opening ceremony, which — and I’m just going off the picture here, so bear with me — appears to have possessed certain architectural features which I would term “non-accessible”. For instance, off the top of my head: instead of of a ramp with slope at most 1:12, the opening ceremony grounds appear to have 15 large stairs. Perhaps the organizers did not realize that the opening ceremony might involve people for whom climbing 20 vertical feet up a stone wall might be difficult.

    A page called Facing the Challenge from wheelmeon.org notes,

    people with physical disabilities…typically have personal challenges to contend with daily….Our challenges come in all shapes, sizes, and when least expected [, such as at the opening ceremony of a game dedicated to providing opportunities for disabled athletes].

    He continues:

    Sadly, it appears the “normal” population lacks awareness, and that society has two problems: 1) Providing services for patrons that use wheelchairs and 2) [they build huge flights of stairs and ask one-legged people to climb them for sport. They don’t even let us use prosthetic legs or anything.]

    By the way, the large Chinese characters next to the photo say “CLIMBING DREAMS”. No. False. They are not climbing dreams. They are climbing stairs. Large, precarious, uneven stairs.

    Anyway, today I et al. went to see the Para Asian Games and cheer on the noble paratrooper athletes as they tried to play games meant for normal people unscarred by the wrath of god’s arbitrary whim. We got to the stadium and there was a big to-do about tickets and scalpers and Serena called the police but despite that breathtaking summary it wasn’t very interesting overall and eventually we got into the main stadium, where a badminton match was already in full swing.

    And you know what? They weren’t even that disabled. I mean, not at all. How’s that for a buzz kill? If I go to the Para Asian Games, I expect to see blind people on the floor, man, like in goal ball, so that when I watch them I can see their tragic nobility and undaunted spirit.

    Goal
ball

    I mean, one of the ladies we saw play was missing a foot. A foot. That’s nothing. Get in the real Asian Games. You’re basically complete. There was also a competitor whom none of us could detect any problem with. She appeared to have all her legs and hands, and that’s basically it for badminton.

    Gristle’s opinion, while we were leaving: “maybe she didn’t have eyes.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Second time in recent memory that I’ve used a Raymond Carver reference as a post title, plus this one gets double points for Murakami. Should I be lucky enough to win the Blog Douchebag Awards, presented every March by a committee chaired by John Gruber and the entire staff of boingboing.net, I would donate the prize money to Tumblr, home for a whole new generation of Blog Douchebags, Assholes, and the like.

I think I have a pretty good chance of winning, because even the blog posts which appear to contain no references to Raymond Carver or Haruki Murakami are, in fact, chock-a-block with allusions to Thomas Pynchon, The Recognitions, David Foster Wallace’s unpublished correspondence with Don DeLillo, and seasons 1-4 of Barney Miller, before Detective Fish retired.

Below is an email I received today from a student:

Hi Jon!

I saw your photo in the internet - a running Jon!
You looked really funny~

And here is the photo that was attached.

Me,
running

So, when we talk about my running in a teacher’s sports meet, this is what we’re talking about.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jank My Gank

People who would like Business Flannel’s newest sketch:

  1. Sexual Health experts
  2. Fraternity brothers
  3. Edward Lear

And I bet you will, too.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Results Are In

Results, from least to most important:

  1. I am not the father of the Missouri child whose mother claims she was impregnated by Lil Wayne.
  2. My affable charm and full head of hair are likely to last my entire life, based on recently completed genetic testing.
  3. I can do more pushups in 30 seconds than all but one of the faculty members at my school.

The Teachers’ Sports Meet, which other correspondents, mostly me in various guises, have breathlessly reported on recently, finally took place this Wednesday, December 1, after weeks of excruciating calisthenic foreplay.

Since I posted about the Sports Meet quite extensively last year, and since I have to finish this post quickly so I can skype with my dad for his birthday (happy birthday, pops! Your affable charm and full head of hair are an inspiration for us all!), I offer bullet points: playful shadows, psychological accretions, touch points, touchstones, lodestones, millstones, grists.

  • I did celebrate like Usain Bolt at the end of my 100 meter race.

    Usain
Bolt

    On on the other hand, I did not win.

  • I clinched the pushup silver medal by doing 41 pushups in 30 seconds. I think that’s pretty good. The guy who beat me didn’t go down all the way and was bending at the waist. Judge Chen, alas, was fooled.

  • One of the men who competed in the 400 meter run was wearing black slacks and a long-sleeved dress shirt. I called him “Semiformal” and mocked him with abandon, but no one spoke English, so it was fine.

  • Last year my name on the competition schedule was “外教2” (foreign teacher 2); this year it was “Jon”. Andy’s name on the schedule was “Amby”. So even though I didn’t win my 100m race, I’m still somehow a winner.

  • Just like last year, I got a commemorative towel. This year’s has purple and gray stripes. Neither of those are school colors.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Get to Know: Jon!

Several months ago, I sat down with some hard-hitting student journalists for a no-holds-barred, Wikileaks-style tell-all. An edited version of that interview appeared in print in the school magazine today. Unfortunately, unlike this blog post, the print version of the interview did not begin with a sentence containing five hyphens. Can’t win ’em all.

Excerpts from the story appear below. Note: my students conducted the interview in person, recorded it on their cellphones, and transcribed it later. So, all errors sic! Also this is exactly how it was formatted.

也许你是Jon现在或曾经的学生,也许你是每周三英语角的积极分子
[Maybe you are Jon’s current or former student, maybe you’re a fan of English corner every Wednesday]
But…Do you really know who he is?

Hobby: writing plays(comedy), reading, watching movie, making improvisational play
Fruit: papaya (木瓜)
infor: [the magazine is called “info”] (after hearing the answer) WOW~
Jon: Why?
Infor: Because papaya can………
Jon: Can make you have a bigger breast?
Infor: Yes! Why do you know that?!
Jon: Because everytime I tell chinese people my favourite fruit..they reply me like that…But anyway, that’s not the reason I like it..

[…]

Infor: What’s your feeling about GZ & our school?
Jon: I love the school. The student are great here, smart and kind. GZ is pretty good though it’s not my favorite city. My favorite city is Beijing & Shanghai. Mostly because when I go to a new country I’m often very interested in learning their culture but in GZ it’s not as strong as those in BJ & SH.

[…]

Infor: What about your high school?
Jon: Well, my high school is very different from yours. Because I went to an all-boy high school. (Wow, were you lonely?) Umm, very different experience. And no one lived in campus, we didn’t have dormitories as yours.

[…]

I DO NOT HAVE A GIRLFRIEND!
Jon: I’m stil young I don’t have time to think about getting married… (Actually 22 is nearly…) Are you kidding me? Not until I’m 30… (What’s the besti ieal fiancee for you?) I value communicating much. well is important to make me laugh. ( And good-looking?) Um, you know you can talk about whether someone is super attractive now, but if you wanna be married to someone ,you’re for entire life,you have to look at something deeper.Such as whether you can get along well, whether you match……

There’s an author’s note below the piece. It’s written in Chinese and describes my high school as “纷繁多彩”, which I would translate as “complex and colorful” but which my dictionary also points out could mean “flamboyant”. The jury is still out.

(Of course I hate this type of ambiguity in writing, because I value communicating much. But that’s a conversation for another day. When I have a wife.)