Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Once more, for old time's sake

I took this video of Gristle a long time ago, before I left Guangzhou. I edited it and was going to translate it for your pleasure, but I got bored halfway through. So if you don't speak Chinese, nothing past the first thirty seconds will be comprehensible. Nevertheless I believe that his indomitable spirit can be enjoyed by all.

The new semester at my (former) place of employment begins this week. Best wishes to Andy, zero wishes to my replacement, whose presence I'm sure only serves to remind the students of the deep sorrow they felt when they lost me. Medium wishes to my students. I'm sure you'll do fine.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

We Tell Ourselves Guangzhou Stories in Order to Live

Flight CX872, Seat 60H: Showing 1 out of 1 customer review.

Airbus, more like Amistadbus! (2 out of 5 stars)


  • inside the plane.
  • had seatbelt.
  • did not really resemble the historical Amistad.


  • One flight attendant spent the majority of our 12-hour flight flirting with a passenger standing in the galley who, the last time I passed, had just noted that he speaks “some high-school Spanish.” A request for a glass of water was met with a chirpy, “No worries!”, though she made no move to get me water or otherwise break eye contact with the hunky Hispanophone. Water took 20 minutes to arrive, was lukewarm.

  • Seat 60H is close enough to the front of the plane that you can see people in Business class getting better service than you are, but far enough back that in a LOST-type plane crash scenario, your half of the plane would break off and land in the middle of the island, no one would care when you were introduced halfway through the season, and you’d be stuck with a bunch of unrelatable characters and everyone would be rooting for you to die.

  • My mother, traveling next to me in seat 60J (seat 60I went home after being teased by its classmates for wearing 29 pairs of glasses) forwent the standard meals in favor of the “fruit plate” option which turned out to be: one small chunk each of watermelon, cantaloupe, apple, peach. Several grapes. One small, small plate of fruit. “I’m so hungry!” whispered mom, five hours outside of Hong Kong. “See if you can find me some cookies!”

    “How many packs?”


    “What’s several?”

    “Three. Four. Let’s say four.”

    Son went to galley to get cookies. (“‘¡Tengo frio!’, that sort of thing.”) Flight attendant looked up at son as he grabbed a whole handful of Snack Packs and said, concerned, “Are you sure you don’t want a sandwich or something?” Son was embarrassed, refused to get mother cookies for remainder of flight.

  • Someone vomited in one of the bathroom sinks. They tried to wash it out but you could still totally tell.

  • I had to leave Guangzhou for the last time in probably many years, possibly forever. The Guangzhou Story is also ending because I no longer live in Guangzhou. You — all of you who have read, commented, and occasionally mentioned me to friends (even negatively, or pityingly) — have been wonderful.

    Maybe if, later, I have some reflections on my Guangzhou experience, I’ll come back here and share them with you. Maybe if I ever finish subtitling a short video of Gristle I took on our May 1st vacation, I’ll post that here, too.

    For now, though, thanks for the memories. I have some plans for future web projects; if you’d like to be kept in the loop, follow me on twitter and I’ll let you know if and when I do anything, ever again.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Travels with Gristle

It’s travel blog time with Jon, Andy, and Gristle! Join these three young men as they embark on a week-long road trip through California’s wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle. Starring Paul Giamatti as “Jon”, Tomas Haden Church as “Andy”, and Sandra Oh as “Gristle”.

In search of wine. In search of women. In search of themselves.

Monday, April 11, 2011

In Which I Promise To Drink Heineken For the Remainder of my Natural Life

Just imagine: it’s Friday night! Where are you? Maybe you’re at the sports bar, or at the orthopedic surgeon’s. Maybe you’re at shul!

Here’s where I am:

Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Sister Has a Blog

My sister, who is currently studying abroad in Panama, has started a blog. She’s funny and, these days, more prolific than I am. CHECK IT:


Wednesday, March 30, 2011


It’s been a long, hard week in Guangzhou. Despite my best intentions, I still haven’t told you about the student-written play I’m starring in, Gristle’s new boots, or my attempts to find a way to say “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” in Chinese (still ongoing).

Someday I will find the time to share those stories (because I’m a story teller! We all are, each and every one of us!), but today is not that day. I’m tired. So grab a glass of wine and a comfortable snuggie — we’re going to spend the evening hearing about Funny Things Chinese People Have Recently Said. I realize this now means I’m no better than Margaret Cho. I’m so, so sorry.

  • I recently had cause to teach some first graders how to say the names of some animals and foods. Some of them are not so good at pronouncing things.

    Me: Hippo.
    Student: Poop potato.

    Me: Cake.
    Student: KKK.
    Me: Cake.
    Student: Cocaine.

    I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: you can’t win ’em all.

  • A student texted me on Sunday morning:

    Ha~ ” Home Alone ” this weekend~oh yeah~

    First, this sounds like a text message my (hypothetical) mother (not my real mother, who is a responsible and conscientious user of SMS technology) might send me, insofar as I do not know what information the sender is trying to convey, nor why they chose to share it with me.

    Second, what exactly does this message mean: is he watching “Home Alone”; is he, in fact, Home Alone; is he watching “Home Alone” while Home Alone; is he currently being attacked by Zhou Pesci and making a rueful reference to a similarly named actor and his star turn as a Wet Bandit; is he worried about an airport mixup; has he just applied aftershave? Not sure.

    I sent back a safe, non-committal response:

    Haha, don’t go too crazy!

    And he immediately replied:

    It’s already crazy enough~I watched anime (the Japanese cartoon) till late night……

    A Chinese version of Girls Gone Wild would be a very different type of video.

  • Gristle had one of those days today where he wanted to practice English. Nevertheless, he didn’t really manage to say much — today, like most days, “practicing English” meant occasionally using an English word or two which, for the record, is not the same as actually speaking English. The one complete sentence he did say was during a story about a woman he sat next to on a plane ride last week. He noted that he was sitting next to a foreign woman and then said in English, “But it’s curious, she was a black.”

    Curious indeed! The case of Gristle and the African Airline Passenger. The game is afoot!

    It’s funny because she’s black, and he has a foot fetish. Never gets old.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chinese Democracy

Yesterday was my roommate Andy’s birthday! One of his students was going to give him a present, but then it rained and she sent him a message saying that she’d have to cancel because her gift “cannot bear dampness.” Better luck next year, big guy!

Andy’s birthday wasn’t the only big news this week. The national session of the Chinese National People’s Congress concluded last Monday. I am shocked — shocked! — to report that they decided to adopt the Communist Party’s 12th five-year plan with much fanfare and mutual back-slapping.

Five-year plan

Members of the NPC, in what looks suspiciously like a stock photo that a suburban Chinese-American Business Owners Association might use at the inauguration of a new minimall.

That the NPC session was a smashing success is not surprising. What is surprising is that minority delegates to the congress attend the sessions in traditional clothing and hats:

Big hat day

Likely response from the Han contingent: it’s nice of you to come, and I recognize your hat is the size of a watermelon and made of gold, but I don’t think you’re going to make a lot of progress here. Look how many of us there are. Come on.

This recent national democracy outbreak was accompanied by a self-government flare up on a local level: my high school students spent the past week choosing their new student body president. They had an election and everything, just like in America! One difference is that rather than being elected by popular vote, the student body president is chosen by a conference of class representatives. Another thing is that all the candidates and all the class representatives have to be members of the Communist Youth League. You know what the funniest thing about China is? It’s the little differences.

(And do you know who the new president is? It’s Lily, one of my English Corner superstars (she’s the Catholic)! Cat people: your day has come.)

In the democratic spirit, I want to talk to you about the condition of my face. My “mustache” situation has not measurably improved. Nevertheless, because my continued contact with my mustache and my consequent isolation from other human beings, I believe I have developed Stockholm Hair Syndrome, described by wikipedia as a “paradoxical phenomenon” where hostages develop positive feelings towards their captors — in this case, my mustache. To put it to you bluntly: even though my mother’s surgery is over and my task completed, I still have not shaved. And so the hostage situation continues. My captor does not threaten to kill me, but it certainly does threaten to kill my chances of ever reproducing, which, emotionally speaking, is just as bad.

Here’s a picture of the mustache as it stands today:

My mustache

Patty Hearst poses with the Symbionese Liberation Army currently hanging out on her face.

I really hope that I work up the gumption to shave soon before it forces me to rob a bank.

Here’s the connection to democracy: please post your views of my mustache in the comments. The more people who tell me it look awful, the better. I really need some motivation here. Let’s get this thing out of here. Do it for the children that my mustache makes it look like I’m sexual interested in.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Various Pieces of Unsettling News

  1. You may have heard of the Great Firewall of China, a collection of various web-filtering technologies which prevents me from accessing such internet time-wasters as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and pornography. It is one of the great centerpieces of China’s information control and surveillance apparatus which hangs over all public discourse in China. It’s also a pain in my ass.

    There are, fortunately, certain technologies which can be used to circumvent the law, so that the great firewall generally presents no more difficulty to me than the real Great Wall poses to Shan Yu. (That’s the primary antagonist of Mulan, for those of you not intimately familiar with the characters of late-90’s Disney films, except for the ones voiced by Eddie Murphy, because everyone remembers him.)

    Unfortunately, China seems to have stepped up its game over the past few days, and so my access to the above websites has been as inconsistent as Captain Li Shang’s feelings towards the soldiers under his command. (See above.) I have found a fix that allows me to access my favorite American sites, but I do not know how long that will last. I only have four more months in China, but I really hope that I manage to stay one step ahead of the Chinese censors, if only because my students keep inviting me to play Crime City and I hate to disappoint them.

  2. My students seem to think that I’ve gotten dumber. That is the impression I got from their response to my attempt to write a Chinese character during class yesterday. One of the teams in a game we were playing wanted to change their name from Team 2 (heaven knows why) to Team èr, that is, the Chinese word for “two”. So I erased the numeral two and wrote 二 in it’s place. The students responded with applause.

    Now, it should be obvious to you that 二 means “two”. Obvious because 二 is literally the second-easiest character in the book (i.e. the dictionary). So, my students, some of whom have seen me speak Chinese on occasion, now believe that writing 二 is an applause-worthy feat. Perhaps they fear my brain has been addled by my moustache.

  3. I scheduled a meeting with a student for this weekend, and after confirming the location and time, she texted me, “OK! I hope it will not be disturbing!”

    I also hope not. Unless she’s planning a surreal Lynchian spectacle in place of the TOEFL prep I was anticipating, my sense is that we’ll probably be fine.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Hair-Raising Adventure

Yesterday, Justin Bieber tweeted the following:

im not shaving for a month so you all can see my mustache.. im pumped.

Here’s what I have to say about that:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Big Fish

There is a teacher at our school — the same teacher whose personal email username is “little fishie”, if you want to know — who is very, very polite.

Being polite in China is very hard work. I say the words “I’m so embarrassed” many times a day, not only because I am a 22-year-old without clear life goals who continues to regularly wear his orthodontic retainer at night because he’s usually sleeping alone, but also because the phrase “I’m so embarrassed” is the grease of social interaction in China, even more so than real grease, which is also quite prevalent. If you go to your favorite restaurant and you order a dish they’re out of, the waitress will say how embarrassed she is that they don’t have it. When you accidentally bump into someone on the subway, don’t forget to assure them how embarrassed you are about it! It’s not uncommon for entire conversations to devolve into each participant attempting to convince the other that their’s is the more embarrassing position. For example:

A: I’m so embarrassed, may I borrow your pen?
B: I’m so embarrassed, I don’t have one.
A: I’m so embarrassed.
A: No, it’s fine. I’m so embarrassed.

Because of my unfamiliarity with Chinese culture and customs, I am sure I am constantly giving offense by failing to offer the requisite amount of embarrassment at any given time. Nevertheless, since Little Fishie controls our class schedule and our electives, I figure it’s always good to be as polite as I can be with her, or, at least, as polite as she is with me.

So now I’m locked in a politeness arms race with the world’s most aggressive politeness one-upper. And things are getting worse.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Business Flannel is Back

And better than ever.

Don’t forget to check out our blog, businessflannel.com, for all sorts of goodies, delivered daily. Sometimes we also tweet. Sometimes that tweeter is me.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


To yesterday’s post on highly motivated Chinese youth:

  1. One of my students posted this on her facebook wall before school resumed last week:

    God please please don’t let school start… I want to have another day for learning inorganic chemistry…

    It starts out so normal and American, and then, shortly after the first ellipsis, things take a turn somehow.

  2. I was at the cell phone shop adding minutes the other day, and the lady behind the counter started asking me about my life. When she heard that I was a teacher, she reached out as though she was going to shake my hand but instead just ended up resting hers on top of mine, and said, “ah, the Promise of Youth!”. The she patted the top of my hand, smiled, and let me go.

    It was a very inspiring trip to the cell phone store.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Collige, virgo, rosas

A couple years ago, some people around the internet started a “meme” (a word coined by Richard Dawkens by analogy with “peen”) about the New Yorker Caption contest. Specifically, they made the following discovery:

The answer to the New Yorker caption contest is always “Christ, What an Asshole!”

(As far as I can tell, the original source is this site. It’s no longer functioning; presumably David Remnick had the owner killed when he realized his cover was blown.)

To illustrate:




The lesson of this discovery is that New Yorker readers are critical, jaded, and comfortable with casual blasphemy. Pretty much.

Anyway, I was reminded of that by this:

The Chinese College Entrance Exam, or gaokao, is a grueling test which takes place over the course of several days each June. Everyone hates it. It’s terribly difficult. It is the sole factor in Chinese college admissions. RECIPE FOR FUN JUST ADD WATER AND SELF-LOATHING.

And then this kid Wang Yunfei comes along, and writes one of his essays in Classical Chinese, a language that hasn’t been “hip” or “used” for 2,000 years. One scholar of Classical Chinese who read the essay said it contained over 40 characters he’d never seen before.

Just for context, here’s an example essay prompt from the SAT website:

Do we put too much emphasis on self-reliance and independence, and are we afraid of admitting that we need other people in our lives?

Please respond in Latin (Greek or Aramaic for half credit). Feel free to take all the time you need.

So while American students are spending 25 minutes on the SAT “thinking” about a Dr. Phil prompt about our inability to admit that we just need help, Wang Yunfei composes an 800-character essay in the ancient language of the literary elite. What does he win? Admission to a top Chinese college. Also probably 5 solid extra years of virginity. You win some you lose some.


Christ, what an asshole!

Honestly, I do find this kid’s efforts admirable in a tragically precious sort of way. Also, honestly, I’m a pretty big fan of this sentence from the China Daily article about his work:

Despite a lack of original thought or deep insight, Wang’s essay was widely circulated on the Internet over the past couple of weeks.

Silver linings!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Guangzhou Jon, Fate Tempter

In a post last week about Google’s attempts to place targeted ads on my blog, I cracked wise about kung pao chicken, saying:

Here’s the good news: these days, I can get kung pao chicken more or less 24 hours a day at any of the several fine local eateries near my apartment. I may or may not be eating kung pao chicken right now.


Some context: there’s a place near my house that I, Andy, Gus, and, I believe, David, all call “宫保鸡丁 place” (“kung pao chicken…place”). We call it that because, every single time I have eaten there, I have ordered the kung pao chicken. Every single time Gus has eaten there, he’s had the kung pao chicken. I think Andy had something other than the kung pao chicken once, but he quickly changed back to the kung pao chicken.

Humans are essentially unique in the animal kingdom for continuing to care for their children for close to two decades. (My parents, for instance, will likely care for me well into my thirties.) Most animals hold onto their children only long enough to impart certain crucial skills before letting them fly/swim/whatever it is that starfish do out of the nest and into the wider world. Their major responsibility is to teach their children where and how to get food — “here, child, here are where the most delicious worms are to be found” or “this is how you crack open a sea urchin and eat it adorably on your little otter chest.” That’s what the Kung Pao Chicken Place was to us Guangzhou fellows. My first week in Guangzhou, Gus took me down to Long Kou Dong Street, pointed to a small storefront, and said, “here, here is where we get our kung pao chicken.” And then he bought some, ate it, and vomited it into my mouth.

When I came back from my vacation, I wanted to get a quick meal, and so I headed out to a warm place where everybody’s always glad I came and where everybody knows that I’m going to order the kung pao chicken. Except the Kung Pao Chicken Place was gone. The store was deserted, and there was a For Rent sign on the door. The Kung Pao Chicken Place — the one place I thought would never, ever change — had deserted me in my hour of need, never to return.

And that’s that. This is the beginning of my Guangzhou Farewell Tour, I guess. I have four more months here, and in that time I’ll have to say goodbye to many wonderful people, places, and 11 RMB kung pao chicken meals. I just didn’t know it was all going to start so soon.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Casual Encounters

Sorry for the radio silence: it has been a very busy week. My time has been consumed by many other projects, such as trying to find housing and a job for next year (people interested in giving me money in exchange for services, I’d love to hear from you in the comments) and sitting silently by myself on Valentine’s Day (which took HOURS).

Tonight I only have time to pop in briefly. Short but sweet. Unlike my Valentine’s Day, which was long and bitter and cold.

This is our first week back in class, and as a gift to our students we’re doing something of questionable English value but unmistakable fun value: MAD LIBS. (While doing research for this post, I went to the Mad Libs website to poke around and see what was happening. Currently there is a product being advertised on the front page called the “Girls Just Wanna Have Mad Libs: Ultimate Box Set.” Valentine’s Day tip: girls don’t just wanna have mad libs. In fact most women I know would put Mad Libs fairly low on the list of things that they, ultimately, would want.)

Our Mad Libs topic was “personal ads”. Below are two results: one for a student, and one for me. If you’re interested in either of people below, send a face pic and we’ll chat. Plz no fatties.

Personal ad #1:

(Happy), (fantastic) Chinese student seeks (exciting), (bored), (beautiful) (beauty) to (swim) with. Must love (hackers), (teeth), (human beings), and (feet). I don’t like (walking) or (working), and you shouldn’t either! I am a (great) and (ugly) person who can be (embarrassed) and (loud) with the right partner. If interested, write me at (cherry)@qq.com. Signed, (Sexy) (Festival).

Personal ad #2:

(Black) Oral English Teacher who loves to (run) and (play) in his spare time looking to find the (okay), (elegant) woman of his dreams. O.E.T. wants someone to (sleep) (quickly) with while we vacation in (Australia), the home of the world’s best (bananas). O.E.T. has two pet (giraffes) named (Figo) and (Peter). Looking for someone at least (1) cm tall and who weighs less than (12) kg. RU the 1? Email me at (successful)(chair)(22)@gmail.com.

Maybe I’ll post more of these later this week. Or maybe I’ll get off my lazy ass and write a real blog post. WE’LL SEE!!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mad 人

I have a taste for the good life. A taste that includes champagne, caviar, kung pao chicken wherever I want, whenever I want — sophisticated pleasures, sure, but ain’t that the American dream?

Here’s the good news: these days, I can get kung pao chicken more or less 24 hours a day at any of the several fine local eateries near my apartment. I may or may not be eating kung pao chicken right now. I may or may not have had oatmeal for two of my three meals today. One of the preceding sentences is true.

Here’s the bad news: this situation won’t last forever. In July, I am being forced to abdicate and surrender my post to Andy, who will ascend to the rank of Senior Guangzhou Fellow. (Provided, of course, that he can overcome his debilitating speech impediment and maybe just learn a little something about friendship along the way.)

In order to prepare for this looming personal economic crisis, I am putting my fingers into literally every pot I can find. Is it easy? No. I have fat fingers, and the openings of pots are often small. But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

Every time I log into Blogger to post these (somewhat) glowingly-received updates, a thrill runs up my leg. Right there, at the top of my screen, there’s a tab that says Monetize. Monetize.

Monetize it whispers, in a voice that rustles.

It whispers to me in bed, it whispers to me in the shower, it whispers to me as I apply various lubricants to my fingers in order to squeeze them into increasingly tiny pots. For a long time, I heard the Siren Call of Cash — and yet I resisted, because I felt The Guangzhou Story was too honest and to give way to something as base as dollars and cents.

And then I said, screw this, I’ve got a hankering for kung pao chicken.

So, as you may have noticed, my blog now serves ads. It’s been going on for a while now. And I hope you find these ads useful: you see, Google chooses ads for this blog based on the topics I discuss. Topics which, presumably, are of interest to you, my loyal fans.

So, let’s take a look at some of the ads I’ve found around the blog and see what you all are interested in, ok?


The data are clear: most of the people who read this blog are women who don’t know about power toothbrushes, deodorant, or toothpaste. They are some funky-smelling females. I admit that my comments about my own dentist may have sparked some of this, but, having never discussed Secret deodorant (except to say that this blog is strong enough for a man, but made for a woman), I can’t take responsibility for that.


Google has decided that our readers would also appreciate learning about “Big John Toilet Seats” and LA-OC PortaPotties. My only comment here is that you have to be really big to require special toilet seats. Toilet seats are already quite large. They are also designed to accommodate a fair amount of buttock overhang, if you can’t manage to perch yourself up there completely. I’d like to see someone who needs a Big John toilet seat. Maybe I’d see a picture of such a person if I went to their website, but I am contractually prohibited from clicking on my own ads, SO I GUESS WE’LL NEVER KNOW.

Also, if you’re hosting a party in LA-OC: just let the guests use the pool house bathroom. Come on. Don’t be a dick about it.

And then, at one point during my ad investigation on this blog, I came across this:

View ads

So Google, with its vast network of merchants competing for ad exposure, and with its complete knowledge of the contents of this blog and (probably) the identity of its readers, has considered the people looking at The Guangzhou Story and been unable to find a product or service of any kind that they might find appealing. Google, the world’s largest advertising company, is trying to find discerning, intelligent, moneyed citizens of the web to show ads to and has decided that such people do not read this blog.

So, there you go! That’s you, according to Google. You’ve got bad B.O., you need a toilet seat built for a rhino, and — occasionally — it finds itself incapable of relating to you at all. Congrats!

Oh, you’re all laughing now*, but just wait until Google wins the 2012 US Presidential election by a landslide.

*Admittedly, this is very, very unlikely.

Oh, how much money have I made so far? In the month and a half since I started showing ads: thirteen cents.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I Can’t Believe My Eyes So Much That I’m Considering Smothering Them With a Pillow

The phrase “childlike glee” gets thrown around a lot. This is one case where I would not consider it inappropriate.

Gristle is on vacation, and he has been sending me periodic text messages and emails while he’s gone. You know, just to keep me in the loop.

A few days ago, I got the following email from him (in English):

Subject: how are you

are you happy?

how are you?

whe are you?

Police detectives and fourth grade Language Arts classes have “who, what, when, where, why”; Gristle’s more subtle and versatile approach uses only “how”, “whe”, and “are you happy”. I believe that America’s Finest should think seriously about making “are you happy” a part of every police interview as a matter of procedure. And listen, LAPD: if you do, I have just the constable you’re looking for.

(This all reminds me of one of my favorite entries in the ongoing series “English Interactions with Gristle”. I wasn’t there, but my friend Kelsey had the following conversation with him over gchat:

Kelsey: how are you?
Gristle: i am gristle)

This morning, he sent me the following, via text:


Translated as literally as possible, this means:

It’s snowing! It’s really snowing! It just started snowing right now! I had no idea! I thought that that it wouldn’t snow again this year and I would be full of regret! I had no idea God would still satisfy me! Ha ha ha ha!

Ha ha ha ha, Gristle. Ha ha ha ha, indeed. Hope the little 30 year old enjoys himself out there.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wanna Be On Top?

People who know me in real life know that I stand funny. Unlike all other non-wheelchair-bound, non-conjoined-twin persons, I do not stand with my feet shoulder-width apart, in line with my torso and head. This despite the fact that this basic “stand” is not only evolutionarily optimal but also, from a practical standpoint, useful for performing tasks such as catching a football, appearing to be more than 18 years old, and passing for heterosexual. Whenever I stand anywhere, my feet are either far too close and folded in on each other in a way that would make a prehistoric version of myself a very, very easy target for jungle predators, or otherwise asymmetrically splayed out in front of me, hips canted provocatively over my left leg, right hand resting on my waist, in a pose I like to call Michelangelo’s “David with Sass”.

I was talking to a student after class one day (see? My commitment to educational excellence extends so far that I’m willing to speak to a student after class, even when it means that I have to wait a little while longer before going home, sitting at the computer, and spending four hours refreshing my facebook newsfeed!) and I pulled out my cell phone to send a text. I always send text messages from posture number 2, above (Sassy David), so I stuck my leg out, shifted my weight, and used the hips that god gave me.

“Jon,” she said. “You stand like a model!”


Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl Recap, by Someone Who Hasn’t Watched Football Since 2003

I do not follow football. I do not live in America. I don’t even know how far a “yard” is. But this year, after 8 years of proud silence and increasingly unfulfilling feelings of smug superiority, I decided to join 106 million American fans and watch the damn Super Bowl. And let me tell you, I went the whole nine yards (which I assume to be something like 80 decimeters, give or take): I baked some nachos, filled a ice chest with wine coolers, and called up some college buddies to see if they wanted to come over and watch the game.

As it turned out, everyone was busy. They all said they had important stuff to do, like go to the DMV, iron their pants, “eat a really large sandwich.” One of them put on a British accent and said, “the number you have dialed is no longer in service.” I said, “Stop fooling, Jacob, I’d recognize that silky baritone anywhere!” Then he hung up. Classic Jacob!

So, all alone, I settled myself down on the couch, popped open a Bacardi Breezer, and settled in to watch the biggest sporting event of the year.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rachel Was Here

For the past three days, my sister Rachel has been staying with me in Guangzhou. Some things:

  1. She met Gristle. It was a difficult for them to relate, because Rachel only speaks English and Gristle only speaks crazy. During our dinner, this happened:

    Gristle (in Chinese): You and your brother have the same hands!
    Me (to Rachel): He says that our hands look the same.
    Gristle (in English): Like spiders.

  2. She met Serena. Serena did her game best to speak English to Rachel the whole time, and it actually worked pretty well. Serena, Rachel, and I went to a part of the city called Shamian Island yesterday and met up with my friend Reid for coffee and dinner. It’s lovely when friends meet friends. After our dinner, this happened:

    Serena: You know what’s miraculous? You and your sister look so much alike, but you are so handsome for a man and she’s so beautiful for a woman. Do you guys talk about this often?
    Me: Not tons, no.

  3. I went to get my haircut, and Rachel got a 洗吹, a wash and blow. As we were sitting next to each other in the salon, this happened:

    Hairdresser: This girl sitting next to you: is she your girlfriend, or your wife?

And that’s all that happened. Today we’re leaving for Vietnam, so enjoy yourselves while I’m away. Year of the Rabbit’s on its way: get excited.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bonus: at one point, she looks like she’s masturbating a team of giants

OK, I know this is the second post in a row that’s just a video, but this one, possibly unlike the last one, is really, really worth it. Especially if your favorite American subcultures are “people who like Cee-Lo Green” and “the deaf”.

Ok really, to tell you the truth, I’m just really into deaf people. Watch the video.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Is there anything we can’t do?

A mid-week surprise from the Gentlemen in Flannel:

Democracy in America

This afternoon a student asked me after class, “Jon, how do you know the American system of democracy won’t suddenly turn to chaos?”

And I turned to him, put my hand on his shoulder, and said, “Johnson, as long as we believe in the power of the ballot box, the power of argument, the power of reason, and the power of the people, America will persevere. As long as I have the ability to vote, for whatever party I choose, we, as a nation, are still ok.”

And then, this evening I checked my mail and my heart swelled with pride to see a working example of the democratic spirit in action: waiting for me was an absentee ballot, a palpable symbol of my involvement in that greatest of American institutions.

Of course, it was the second absentee ballot I received for the November election which, to recap, happened three months ago. CHAOS SCHMAOS.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Name Recognition

On Saturday, my film studies students took their final exam. Part of one of the questions asked them to name a film we had studied this semester in class. And this, dear reader, is how they responded. (Real title of the movie above, student variants below.)

Back to the Future:

  • Go Back to Tomorrow


  • Prasto’s Hat
  • Prestoe
  • Prestor
  • Puresto
  • Pasto
  • Preston
  • Presto Bunny
  • Pesto


  • Shark

Battleship Potemkin

  • The Bottle Ship Potemkin

Die Hard

  • Did Hard

Modern Times

  • The Modern Time
  • John Chaplin


  • Corps
  • Crops
  • Rops

There Will Be Blood

  • There Will No Blood

Unclear what film they were referencing

  • New Jeff

Friday, January 7, 2011

This is a post about toilets.

Our apartment adopts what I would generously call a minimalist approach to bathrooms. Minimalist in the sense that there are some things usually considered essential to the nature of bathrooms — toilets, for instance — which simply do not exist in some bathrooms in our house.

I have documented my feelings about my apartment’s bathrooms before on this blog. In fact, I mentioned my toilet in the very first post I wrote in China. In that post, I note that one of our bathrooms, in place of a toilet, has only a ghastly enameled red hole which you flush with hose and a large bucket of water placed next to the hole at all times. This, I feel, is insufficient.

Later, last February, I told you about my shower. The designers of my apartment, presumably in an attempt to ape the voguish open floor plans of contemporary American homes, did away with the customary distinction between “inside the shower” and “outside the shower” and decided to just turn the bathroom into a shower by affixing a nozzle to the wall and drilling a hole in the floor.

shower (not

Now, I know it may seem surprising, but things have taken a marked turn for the worse.

As you can see from the above photo, there is a real toilet in this bathroom. And even though it is temperamental and requires very gentle treatment, it usually does exactly what I ask of it: to carry my waste products away from me in a way that does not require my squatting over a hole in my floor.

Well, no longer! No longer does it perform this function in an acceptable manner. It continues to function as a receptacle for waste products. And, strangely enough, it still carries them away to the sewers of Guangzhou and then straight into the sea. The problem is the middle part: when I flush, the water does not flow down the pipes, but instead flows out the back of the toilet and on to the floor. But luckily, my shower is my bathroom! So then the waste water just goes down the shower drain! And everything’s fine. Except for the fact that the contents of my toilet are now all over my shower floor. Which, to recap, is also my bathroom.

As much as I enjoy this — not to put too fine a point on it — Rube Goldberg shit sandwich, I would prefer that things no longer happen this way. My guy says, since it’s Friday, it probably won’t be fixed until Monday. This really isn’t great news for me, but it is great news for my squat toilet, which, Cinderella to our normal toilet’s Ugly Stepsister, will finally get to shine at the palace ball after being neglected for all these years. “Shine”, here, meaning “be defecated into.”

All My Friends

  1. My friend, Jason O. Gilbert, is a blogging menace. Not only does he continue to post funny content on our sketch comedy website, Business Flannel, but he’s also now a featured writer on a comedy site that we’ve partnered with, Evil Chili. Check him before you wreck yourself.

  2. My friend, Clayton Raithel, has started a daily dolla billz bonanza in the form of a triva giveaway. Since I live in China, I am not eligible to participate. Since you presumably do not, you are. So go. Win your money. dailydollabillz.com.

  3. My friend, Andrew Wells, was reading my blog the other day, and he read a post where I may have mentioned, apropos of nothing, that I was colder than the prepuce of a warlock. And you know what? He went out and bought us a new heater. So now I’m not cold anymore. And — what luck! — he unknowingly heeded the advice of my mother, who, after the aforementioned post went live, emailed me to say that I should buy a heater but:

    Please don’t buy an inexpensive dangerous type of heater[…]nothing with fumes please.

    Andrew Wells and my mother: always looking out for me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


It’s January in China (hey, for you guys too? Cool!), which means that my students are knee deep in final exam preparations. (Though knee deep for Chinese student is, like, ankle deep or even instep deep, for most of the rest of the world. A short people. Short but proud.) In practice this means less fun for me. During the rest of the semester, my students are full of quips and funny observations, many of which have appeared in Reader’s Digest’s monthly “Foreigners Say the Darndest Things” column. These days, though, I spend each period explaining the final exam to my students, and they spend each period softly crying.

So thank the lord of non-native English speakers that I am still reading dozens and dozens of college application essays, which are, on the whole, so painfully earnest that I cannot bear to quote them here and invite the jeers of Reader’s Digest’s literate, worldly subscriber base. Today, though, I thought that I’d give myself a mid-week gift and let you in on my favorite typo of the year, so far. I know it’s January 5th. The bar is low. Whatever, I have a cold. I’ll take what I can get.

Today a student sent me an essay she is preparing to send to Brandeis University. In it, she discussed her interest in Brandeis, the research she’s done into Brandeis, how excited she is to experience Brandeis for herself.

Unfortunately, she persistently misspelled “Brandeis” and “Brandies”. My student managed to write a 500 word essay expressing her affection not for a liberal arts school named after one of our greatest Supreme Court Justices but instead for an after dinner spirit known for its caramel color and smooth, fruity taste.

Also, perhaps unrelatedly, she showed up for her last meeting with me in a smoking jacket. Jury’s still out, on that one.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ladies’ Night

Here’s an opening question for you all to think about while we wait for our tea to cool and for Jeanine to take the coconut squares out of the oven: what do you do to make yourself feel better on glum days? No wrong answers, now, no wrong answers.

I’ll share something, I say.

As you know, I live in Guangzhou, China. Recently, I’ve been having some glum days. For one thing, I have a cold. I am sneezing like an sneezlepuss, which as should be clear from its name is an animal that sneezes a lot, more often, even, than pandas, meercats, dogs, or monkeys: the first four animals in this 41-video youtube playlist of sneezing animals which I just found and which you ladies are welcome to look at on my iPad after the meeting. Because the animals on display there are cute and frankly terrific. I sneezed while writing that sentence.

Not only do I have a cold, I am cold, because it is cold outside and my apartment is not significantly warmer than the outside. I do not have a space heater. Last year I had a space heater, but I gave it to Andy and am subsisting on my wall-mounted air blower. The air blower claims to have a heater setting. Based on the fact that I am sitting at my desk in a coat, wearing long underwear, I trust my wall-mounted air blower about as far as I can throw it. For reference, in sixth grade I was the only person who could long jump farther than he could shot put. I could not throw my wall-mounted air blower very far.

The truth is things can sometimes get glum around here. But what to do when you’re feeling blue?

Yes, yes, says Lynette, please, get to the point.

The truth is, all of us can sometimes be glum. And all of us try the same things to feel better. For instance, while I was in Hong Kong last week, I bought a pair of jeans with a button fly. A button fly! No longer will I find myself needing to “Examine [My] Zipper, Pretty Darn Quick”, because it will be not be possible for me to leave the restroom without having joined the two sides of my pants together, since the joining-and-unjoining operation one must perform when one needs to go see a man about a horse (which involves four very tight buttons), is approximately as difficult and time consuming as bridling a horse, or securing it safely to its post in your horse trailer, or hitching that trailer to your SUV so you can drive your horse to its pasture.

(The pasture is a penis, in this metaphor.)

So that’s something worth feeling not glum about.

Sometimes even that’s not enough, though. This week, I thought I had exhausted all my glum-weather, I’ve-got-a-cold tips. I washed my hair with natural shampoo, I doodled a mouse with a mohawk on a note from a student, my roommate and I watched Home Alone, and I even rubbed my face to encourage hair growth so I might someday be able to grow a respectable beard.

Long story short, I thought everything was topsy-turvy and glum city until I was looking through the very old bookshelves in my apartment and found a photograph in one of the books, which I was kind enough to scan at the local print shop so you all could see it tonight. It looks like this:

Funny face

And when I looked at that photo, I said to myself, wow. You think you’re glum? You are not glum. Until you are sitting in that car, holding that black object, with that expression on your face, with purple blemishes on your arm and forehead (likely from poor photo storage, I suppose), but with what looks like a real-life burn on your arm and a real-life rash around your mouth, I say to you: you are not glum.

And then I look at the picture again and I laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

(TL;DR: It’s cold here. I found a funny picture in my apartment. My new jeans have a button fly.)

Monday, January 3, 2011


  1. It’s really cold inside my apartment, and so I wearing my coat indoors. The collar of my coat smells like tacos. Recent smell tests, conducted by me, reveal that only the right side of the collar smells like tacos. The left side smells like what I expect my coat to smell like, which is nothing.

    Breaking news update: a supplementary smell test has discovered more specific results, namely that my collar smells not like tacos, but rather taquitos.

    That’s all the news on that front.

  2. There’s a new Business Flannel video. I wouldn’t watch it unless you’re interested in hearing Barack Obama yell the f-word.

    I can’t embed it properly because of its width (I’ve said that before! In a sexual way!), but you can watch it on youtube here.

Happy 2011, my pretties.