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.