Monday, February 28, 2011

Business Flannel is Back

And better than ever.

Don’t forget to check out our blog,, 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) 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)

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.