Monday, December 06, 2004

We do writing in fourth grade on Fridays. Writing consists of filling out a predesigned form that follows a very rigid and often very dull pattern. I don't like it, the kids don't like it, but we do it because we have to. What the students often do, probably to stay awake, is use each other's names in their stories. Some of the time it's quite innocent, but much of time what they write about each other tends to get pretty nasty. The words "poop," "stink," "ugly," "kill," "yucky" and "dead" are often used liberally. As much as I think it's funny, and in my defense it does keep them interested in their work, I end up having to limit the practice. I am the grown up after all.

Last week's exercise was especially dull, so after the kids finished it, I gave them the option of writing a form paragraph, per design, or writing anything of their choosing as long as it wasn't too nasty, or too easy, ie. "My name is Jessica. I am nine years old. I live in Beijing..."

Here is the story written by Michelle. It is the first time that my name has made it into a writing exercise. I can only guess that this means I am "getting through to them," but I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

By Michelle Liu, age 9

An ant named Poop was very ugly, but he was kind too. He had no friends. He lived by himself. He wanted to marry the pretty anteater Cannon. He wanted to see her, but he was afraid that she would eat him. But he loved Cannon! At last he went to meet her. He said “Oh, my sweet, I love you. I know you will eat me, but in my life, if I can see you, even if you eat me, I will be happy!” Cannon didn’t say anything. She ate Poop. But Poop loved her until the end.

The end.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Just when you think it can't get any worse, Dubya exposes his shame to the world...

Bush, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
My friend Baron in Kona tipped me off to this photo from the AP. Will the humiliation never end?

Saturday, November 27, 2004


Acupuncture, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
Without getting too into details (a post on the whole story is forthcoming), I am laid up with a back injury. My school takes me to a Chinese doctor ever couple of days for torture massage, and on alternating days, I have an acupuncturist come to my home to treat me for the pain inflicted on me in the torture chamber. The acupuncturist is actually a white guy from Canada. I pay for or five times what a Chinese acupuncturist would charge, but the for the peace of mind that comes from a considerate Western bedside manner, as well as the being able to directly communicate my situation to someone, in the comfort of my own home, it's worth it.

Monday, November 22, 2004

What is this?

Logo, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
This image was taken from an advertisement for a Chinese plastic surgery company. The advertisement was prominently displayed on the back of EVERY SEAT on a plane. Any ideas as to what the image suggests? Please leave comment.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

I broke the news to my fourth graders this morning. For nine year olds living in a country where all of the media is tightly regulated by the government, they're fairly well informed. More than the average American, I'd say, at this point.

"But why, Ms. Cannon?!" whined Michelle. She always wears pig tails high up on her head and she's one of my brighter students. "We don't like Bush. He should let another person have a chance. He's very selfish." I couldn't respond. Bright, aptly named, threw his head back. "No! Bush likes war very much. Chinese people don't like war." Andrew, who changed his name to Jeremiah this week, was grinning. So was Ernest, a quiet boy who sits next to him. "Ernest, are you happy that Bush won?" He nodded his head and the newly dubbed Jeremiah yelled "Yeah!" I asked them why. Bright answered for him. "Because he likes wars!" Jeremiah grinned. "And what about you, Ernest, why do you like Bush?" He thought about it and quietly said "his face, I like it." I laughed. As good an answer as any, I suppose. I reckon the reasoning behind most of the people who voted ran along similar lines. Too bad Kerry couldn't have take votes from Chinese primary school children. He would've won hand over fist. Fuck Ohio.

Here are choice bits of e-mail I have received since and about the election from friends:

"It [Bush's re-election] even sent Arafat into a freakin' coma, which nothing else was able to do in, what, the last four decades."

"I'm so sorry you have to tell people you are American."

"Among the things that really should have counted against him: He can't eat a
pretzel, he can't ride a bike and he really should not be around small
animals: The guy dropped his dog! Since then, I have never seen a photo of
Barney with him."

"This is empirical proof of exactly how many people in this country
are hicks."

"The fact is that, even if Bush did lie to America about going to war, most people don't care because they like the idea that we are killing "towel-heads" and "sand niggers." This is especially true of evangelical 'christians.'"

"Kerry would have continued the war in Iraq anyway, so what's the big
deal?" However, "the big deal is that Bush will pack the court with radical
right-wingers, who may help overturn decisions like Roe v. Wade and
Lawrence v. Texas," and "it is likely that the U.S. will attempt to occupy Iran."

To sum up: "Shit."

As a comforting aside, Kevin Larocco reminded me that "no one has ever proved that rational thought is an evolutionary advantage."

Friday, October 22, 2004

Herbal Remedies

Herbal Remedies, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
It isn't only Americans who run to the pharmacist every time a sniffle or head ache comes on. However, in China, herbal treatments are commonplace and the Chinese often prefer them as cheap, safe and natural alternatives to Western medicine when it comes to regular ailments such as colds, coughs, and anything to do with irregular bowels. After three colds cured (at least two brought on by pollution) I'm a believer.

The jar in the middle is a menthol-y-sweet black syrup that's good for any cough or cold symptoms. The boxes to either side of it are packets of powder used to make tea to treat a cold, or to take at the first inkling of a cold. The small white jar is filled with small brown tablets of a licorice compound (very tasty). They work better than any cough drop I've ever tried. The pile of herbs next to the lemon is dried orange peel. You make a tea with is and it soothes coughs. The pile of herbs in front is what was given to me at the hospital. I have no idea what it all is, but there are dried flowers, twigs, nuts and black slivers of something that looks like tree bark. It has also been suggested to me that I drink the juice of half a lemon along with two tablespoons of honey in water, everyday, for general health. This new habit I enjoy.

The Mighty Larynx

My Larynx, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
I'd been sick for about a week when I started to lose my voice. On Wednesday it was fading and by Thursday I called in sick to give the voice box some rest. My boss was sympathetic to the situation, but insisted that I see a doctor and this meant a trip to the hospital.

Chinese people don't go to the doctor's office when they get sick. There aren't any of them in the way that we think of them in the States. Chinese people, when they get ill, go straight to the hospital--and with a girl from school to translate, Grace, and Young Mr. Gao, the driver, so did I.

The mother of one of the teacher's assistants at school is an emergency doctor at the hospital I was taken to. She was a small and spritely lady with a white coat and a black bowl of hair and every movement she made indicated that she had no time to spare for foibles. She met us without an appointment, filled in some forms, wrapped my tongue in cotten gauze, took a peek down the gullet and declared that I needed to be seen by someone in the Ears, Throat and Nose Department. She sprinted out and Grace pushed me along, followed by Young Mr. Gao.

Chinese hospitals look a lot like American bus stations. They're dim and have long dingy halls. The main lobby keeps receptionists behind glass stations, talking through round perforations while red digital announcements run on black boards above their heads like numbers spat out at the New York Stock Exchange. The floors are old faux stone composite worn smooth by the thousands of feet that scuffle on them each day. There were old people, young people, families, solidiers and lots of white coats and paper masks.

We took an elevator to the 6th floor and were lead into a crowded room. At the end of the room closest to the door were two brown vinyl dentist's chairs, both occupied. One held a man in a uniform hovered over by a white coat and the other supported a man, clearly in pain, with blood streaming down his face from his nose. There was a clunky metal console between the two chairs piled stacks of pincers and tongs. Wires and tubes with metal devices on their ends were hooked to the sides. People came in and out of the room and a few even seemed to had purpose there.

The guy in the uniform got up and Grace turned to me and said, "please have a seat." She nudged into the newly vacated chair that lacked a seat cover, or even parts built before 1978. A man in a white coat with a light reflector on his head came up to me and said something in Chinese. I whined for Grace who came over and told the doctor that I didn't speak Chinese. "She doesn't speak Chinese?!" he asked in Chinese. "She looks like a Xinjiangese girl!"

I retorted through my bad Chinese and hoarse voice "I am not Xinjiangese! I am American!" and without a reaction he came at me with a small metal gun and a pair of pincers, each held in bare hands.

I jerked my head to the side and edged into the corner of the chair like a little girl. The guy backed off a little looking annoyed.

"It's for the examination," Grace explained, failing to mention exactly what needed to be done and what examination I was about to undergo. "The doctor must put it in your nose," she said.

"My fucking nose?!" I yelled out in pieces. I was under the impression that a loss of voice was the result of something gone wrong in the throat area. "You've got to be joking!" but before I could say anything more, the doctor leaned in, grabbed a nostril and shot in a blast of something cold with a noisy burst of air. I jolted up and gagged. The bitter liquid slid down my throat and I hacked like a cat trying to get rid of a hairball.

"You must relax," Grace said as if I should have known better. The doctor went in for the second nostril, and then pointed for me to open my mouth. He shot my throat and I choked on the spray. I fumbled the console for something to spit into, but I couldn't find anything. I looked to Grace and then to the doctor, groaning and pointing at my mouth. The doctor pointed down but I couldn't see what he was getting at. Then Grace told me to spit into the open wastebasket next to my feet. I did making no effort to concentrate the the load. My entire mouth and throat and nose went numb.

The doctor leaned back against a table to the side and told Grace we had to go through the process again because I spat everything up.

"I can't feel my tongue," I told Grace. "It's so you won't have pain in the examination" again neglecting to mention what exactly the examination was. "We have to do it again."

I whined like a baby and the doctor looked irritated. There was an awkard pause. A crowd of onlookers had grown to include not only Grace, Young Mr. Gao the driver, but also various other random nurses and patients. I let out a pathetic whine which rolled into laughter. Everyone laughed along. The second run went without incident.

Up from the chair I was lead into a dark room with computers, wires running all over and two television monitors held up on media decks. I was told to sit on a stool in front of the screens and a man in a white coat sat next to me. He picked up a long thin black cable with a light at one end and I watched as he carefully cleaned it with cotton gauze soaked in something smelly. He dangled the cord over a computer keyboard next to him and on the television screen next to me I could see the "D" key come into focus. It was a camera.

"Grace," I said panicked "where are they going to put that?" The doctor, who spoke some English, pointed to his nose. "You must relax" he said.

I turned to Grace and pleaded. "You know, this can't be all this serious. I think I just need to go home and have some rest. Can we do that, instead? I'm sure my voice will come back on its own." As if reasoning with a child, she told me that it's the school's responsibility to look after my welfare and that the test was necessary to be sure that nothing was serious.

The doctor took the cable and told me to hold still. Very slowly he fed it into my right nostril, light end first. On the televsion screen I watched the journey into my esophagus. The anesthesia took full effect and I couldn't feel a thing. The camera moved along displaying the pink landscape of my insides. It looked like a clip from something on the Discovery Channel and it occurred to me that to the untrained eye, no matter which end they go into, once you're on the inside it all looks about the same: just pink, fleshy, and slimy with shiny fluids. The image stopped at what I assumed to be my voice box.

"Say eeeeeeeee!" the doctor commanded. "Uhhhhhh" came out. "Eeeeee!" he repeated and "uhhhhhh" came out again.

"Don't move," he said. Someone sitting at a computer next to the doctor hit a few keys. "Eeeeeee!" he instructed. "Uhhhhhh" I replied and more keys.

"Finshed," he announced and he slowly pulled the cable out.

I turned to Grace and then to Young Mr. Gao who had been peeking in from the background the entire time. We looked at the images on the screen, and not being able to make heads or tails of any of it I announced "it doesn't look so bad!" The doctor gave me a dull stare and Grace said admonishingly "I think you had better listen to the doctor's suggestion!" I didn't bother to explain that I was joking and made a move to leave. The doctor stopped me. He pulled out a gun looking device with a long silver barrel.

"Not done," he said, carefully wiping the barrel with gauze. "Jesus," I contemplated, "does that go into my mouth," He nodded. Knowing more or less what to expect, the second probing, inclusive of more "eeeeeeeing" and "uhhhhhing," took about half of the time of the first and when it was over a color printout was made of the results.

We were sent to yet another doctor who looked at the results and talked to Grace. This doctor told us that my condition wasn't serious and that I should give my voice a rest for two weeks. Then he carefully wrote out a lengthy prescription for medicine and sent us out. The first doctor, the mother of the assistant, hurried us to the pharmacy where I was told to produce the magnificent sum of about $1.25. The mother disappeared into a hall and reappeared about 10 minutes later with a brown paper sack. She handed it to Grace scurried off.

"What's that?" I asked Grace. "It's your medicine," she said as it was obvious, "you must make a tea with it." I sniffed the bag then looked inside. After all of that pinching and shooting and "eeeeeing" and "uhhhhhing" they handed me a brown paper bag filled with flowers and twigs and sent me on my way.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Flipping through the channels...

girlanddog.JPG, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
So I was flipping through the channels when I came to this: a game field with rows upon rows of men and women in satiny grey uniforms--the women's were fitted close to the body--red revolution berets, white gloves and long white boots. Lengths of shiny pink material were tacked around the waists of some of the women, forming shapeless skirts, and ALL of the people had dogs attached to their wrists by way of a lead. The rows, moving to Riefenstahl inspired music, marched across the pitch forming flowers, stars and squares. Close ups revealed arms flailing in unison and poorly, though enthusiastically, executed pirouettes. All the while dogs, of all shapes, colors and sizes sat up, sat down, rolled over and stayed. The marchers moved to make two lines running the length of the field and in the space created between them, dog trainers took turns displaying their pooches' ability to leap over fences, run along beams and in and out of piping.

Considering my lack of television viewing options, as well as the genuine entertainment value of the spectacle, I stayed on the dog show for quite some time. There was more music, more marching, more twirling, the occasional onlooker in the crowd shot, more flower formations and then there was rope jumping. That is, girls jumping rope with their dogs. It was the rope jumping that inspired a desire to share this experience with other people, hence the photos. (Please excuse the shoddy images.)

The girls eventually marched off, then the boys and feeling that television programming couldn't be topped after that, I switched off.


dogmarch.JPG, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
...then women march off


dogmarch2.JPG, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
...followed by the men...


official.JPG, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
...the proud official looks on.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


Kiholo, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
So this photo thing is really great, and like all new toys, I'm keen to abuse it before interest peaks and it gets relegated to the bottom of the chest.

This is an old photo. I took it while I was in Kona this summer. If you missed the title, this is Kiholo Bay.

The camera that took this, what I deem to be excellent, photo is the one Mom gave me after my two-month old super-cool Canon got nicked in Xi'an. It's a 2 mega-pixel Sony about the size of a bottle of hotel shampoo. The resolution ain't great, but it does the job and I can keep it in a pocket, or wear it around my neck.

P.S. Please excuse the typo in my last post (re: Catherine Zeta-Jones's). I can't manage to do any editing in Blogger at the moment.

Friday, September 24, 2004


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.


Haircut, originally uploaded by dadapunk80.
For those of you who haven't seen me in a bit: I have cut my hair. Really. I got bored one night and after watching Catherine Zeta-Jone's perky bob in Chicago, I went into the bathroom with a pair of yellow-handled scissors and hacked away.

P.S. Ain't this photo posting thing groovy?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I have landed in Beijing and all is good.

I have more or less settled into my apartment in the Southwest end of the Haidian district. I live on the 17th floor and I've got the place all to myself! The floors and many of the walls are all tiled and stark white, but the place is more than liveable, and I've got an outside bit where I can hang clothes to dry and look down into the street.

The neighborhood I live in is really quite cute and everything I need is just a block or two away. At night the street I live on becomes an outdoor restaurant and all kinds of things on sticks can be boiled or fried up for dinner.

Beijing is absolutely massive. The streets are wide, long, crowded, busy and ruler straight and I get lost most days. There's a bus or five to take you to nearly everywhere you'd want or need to be and by the trusty bus, I'm about twenty minutes to the nearest subway station. The subway system is rather limited in its coverage, but it's ultra clean, fast and cheap--a whopping 3 yuan (35 cents).

Dalian, and I know I'm pissing loyal Dalian people off by saying this, doesn't hold a candle to Beijing when it comes to culture, people and general liveability (for foreigners). There are film clubs, expat circles, Mexican restaurants, English magazines, decent bookstores and the people here don't spit THAT MUCH. It is a lot more expensive to live here, and the air isn't quite as fresh (though not that bad), but the pros outweigh the cons and I make a lot more money here.

Overall, life is good.

My new school is a private boarding school. Our department relies on the American Carden method of language teaching (actually quite good) and parents pay princely sums to have their little ones educated by us "foreigners." I teach third and fourth grade and all that is English falls into my realm of responsibility: grammar, spelling, reading, writing, etc. My boss is a Taipei-born business lady who spent 20 years in America. She's very straightforward, but very patient and, with the exception of the delivery of my new television, she is reliable and organized. There's a patient and smiling man with gold teeth who carts us around in a worn white van; he doesn't speak a word of English outside of "hello."

All of the teachers this year are new. There are six of us: three preppy, but decent guys, fresh from college, from Minnesota; a quiet, but quick and observant grandmother of three from Ohio; a writer with two masters degrees from California (who comes with an Italian fiancee) and me. The writer was in Japan for two years teaching, but aside from him, I'm the only other teacher with any experience. School starts the first and at present we are working to absorb the Carden method, in all its specialized glory, enough to look somewhat prepared and competent for the first day.

Today we went in for our medical exams. I was discovered to "overnourished" and a prescription for lozenges was written for a red throat I didn't realize I have (I blame the pollution and a long walk along a major road yesterday, though I wasn't bothered).

Other Beijing happenings:

I bought a small stack of DVDs from someone in the street and paid with a hundred. I was given one fifty yuan note and two ones in change. I went for an ice cream straight after and when I went to pay, my fifty was denied because it was fake! Pissed off beyond all belief, I went out in search of the DVD woman, but she was gone. I went back to the ice cream shop (a Baskin-Robbins, by the way) and Carol, another teacher, pointed out the woman going in the opposite direction from where I was. I ran back out with my bunk fifty, ready to knock the scheister over and thinking hard of words I could put together to effectively express the extent of my fury. Realizing that neither were going to happen, I shouted out at the woman and told her I wanted to buy more DVDs. She turned back a bit surprised. I told her that my friend, the other teacher wanted some DVDs and sent me out to get them. I went through her collection, pulled out a few, then handed over the phony bill for payment. She looked at the bill carefully, snapped it a couple of times then said "no good." I then told her it was good--it was the bill she gave me and then, miracle of miracles, she lost all of the English she knew, and it was a bit, and started rambling away in Chinese. She called another vendor over and from what I gathered, he told her to take it. With immense reluctance and frustration in her greasy eyes, she eventually took the "money" and I went off with the goods.

On the second day here, I went with the other teachers to Wangfujing, a touristy shopping street in the center of the city. The shopping was expensive and unexceptional and after a couple of hours we looked to make our way back. Between the four of us there, we didn't know enough Chinese to find our place on the map, so instead wandering I hailed down a well dressed foreign man. He turned out to be an American from Jersey and his wife, who he turned to for directions, is a Cambodian-American with family in Beijing. They offered to walk us and we chatted a bit. Then she invited us to dinner and we obliged. We had dinner in a more-elegant-than-usual food court underground and as we ate, Pekina, the woman, accompanied by all kinds of family, revealed to us that she is the granddaughter of the king of Cambodia! More and more family members arrived, all well dressed and well-to-do, and eventually the party had to move to accomodate its size. We parted ways there, but before leaving, they took my e-mail and invited us to visit the Summer Palace with them the next day. She gave me her cell phone number and when, the next morning, I determined I couldn't meet with them in time and called her to let her know. Her tone of voice at the other end was friendly, but a bit put off, and I think she was a bit relieved when I told her we couldn't make it. She said we should keep in touch via e-mail and we left it at that.

Culture bit:
The bus lines are run by different companies here and so the quality of the buses differ. Most are pretty standard, but some are old and dingy and some are plushy and air-conditioned and have cushy seats. On one of the buses I took, there was a small flat screen TV behind the driver's seat and it was showing women's singles ping pong at Athens: China versus South Korea. My fellow riders were glued. When the score got to a one point difference, in either direction, the bus went silent. Then one of the players would score a point and the entire bus, in unison, would groan "Aiyohhh!!!" if it was South Korea and "Ehhhh! Hao-le, hao-le!! (Good!)" if it was China.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Tales from China are on their way! Keep posted to read about my adventures in Chinese health care, kung fu fighting with fire displays and polar bears, and conversations with American missionaries in Xi'an!
I’m back in Kona and I’m already ill. Yesterday I felt the insidious caress of a cold coming on so I went straight home and made a vain attempt to quash it with vitamin C and herbs I picked up in China. Today I am sick and grumpy.
The best thing about Kona, and I really mean THE best thing, is that there a loads of people here who think I’m the cat’s ass (good thing). Or at least there are loads of people who act as if that’s the case. Since being back I’ve been treated to dinner (thanks, Max), told that my presence at certain outings was a main motivation for the attendance of certain individuals with better things to do and already I’ve heard disappointment expressed at my pending departure. (Take cover! Her head’s going to blow…!) I can offer little explanation for this affection, but I conclude that I’m just plain lucky to know the most awesome people here, and it’s truly a pity that I can’t stand this fucking place.
And the longer I stay here the greater the hatred grows.
My most recent gripe about this place is the exorbitant influx of people moving here. This statement is rather ironic as I am not a native myself and  I clearly see that my family’s own migration here mirrors the ill I speak of, however what is happening now, I truly, in my own ignorance, believe, is something different and great and worthy of note and criticism.
The face of Kona has gone quite pale. Wrinklies are generally accused for this change, but what I see now is something different: SUV moms and yuppies, Republican campaign banners and I-want-to-give-the-appearance-that-I-have-money-but-I’m-still-hip VWs lined up in 4 p.m. rush hour traffic between HOME DEPOT and KMART (which is located across from the Wal-Mart—we’ve gotten so big we have a choice of evils).
I’m sure there are good things that go along with gentrification, but at this point the only two that I can see are foreign films played at the Aloha Theatre and the variety of yerba mate now available at the health food store (though it’s really expensive and I get my online anyway). I suppose are other and bigger good things that can result from gentrification, but I think it’s a bit early in the game to predict which way the winds will blow and where we are now, things don’t look overly bright. Not that I predict doom for this place I habitually disown as my home town, but what I do predict is a thick blanket of mediocrity settling in with the vog.
What I see now are the seeds for a suburb. A West Coast American suburb with parent-hating rich kid “punks”, “family values,” blonde highlights and tropical fashions set by Abercrombie and Fitch. A suburb where the already effete Democratic Party gets smothered by Republicans from San Diego and the growing ice problem, along with other social problems caused by those lazy welfare people, are rectified with bake sales and sign wavings.
Yes, yes. She’s a bleeding-heart liberal. The kind that will change her mind when she has “a family and a mortgage to pay.” But it’s rather frustrating to see these changes happening so quickly and without any regard to the people who never made the decision to be here, who never had the opportunity nor the wits about them to better themselves or get away, who are now scrambling to make recently inflated rents, pissed off and not sure why and completely unable to find good solutions for improving the situation.
This is how I see the situation now, anyway. But like I said: I’m ill and grumpy and being in Kona generally makes me cynical about life.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

I make apologies for my slackage so often that I think it's no longer worth the effort to bother with them. Excuses are also tired, but here you go: Been super busy with finals and end of term stuff; this coupled with a general lack of creative inspiration. Plenty of noteworthy things have happened in the MONTH since I last wrote, and then before, but I've also been reading a lot and watching a lot of DVDs--symptoms of what I call a general "intake" phase. Writing is best done in "output" phases...or so my general laziness has convinced me of.

In any event, an entry outlining recent goingons is in order. And by the way, Tales from Xian are officially on the back burner until futher notice.

My term here at the Dalian Institute of Light Industry (Qing Gong Xue Yuan) has come to an end. I gave finals last week. All but one of my students passed (the one came to only five classes and didn't even bother to get in touch with me to take his final). I was also informed that my night class students, the ones who were preparing to go to the University of Swansea, all passed the required English exam, and all of them are headed to Wales for mid-July. Brings a tear to an English teacher's eye...

My mother also came to visit this month. She was here for a total of 10 days, but half of those days were spent in Beijing with her gentleman friend, Jim (they flew back and forth between Dalian and Beijing). While she was here, I put Mom to work in my classes. I was stunned with the results. My students LOVED her. I told them (and her) that they weren't to speak Chinese, even though they could. AND THEY DIDN'T. Mom took over the classes completely and in her usual bull in a china shop (no pun intended) tact, bullied and grilled each of them into genuine English discussion. "Mrs. Cannon (we never explained the divorce bit) what is your stance on Taiwan (we told them she was born there and she staunchly expressed her devotion "One China," much to their awe and satisfaction)? What challenges do you encounter as a Chinese in America? Why did you marry a foreigner? Do you consider Maile to be a success? How long did it take for you to speak such GOOD English? Was your father a Guomingtao solider? Do you play sports? You look very young..." The questions flowed like Qingdao beer and I sat in the corner shocked to learn that my students actually knew how to speak English. But only with other Chinese people. I brought Jim to class the following week and when confronted with a "real laowai," all the students could muster was "Do you like Chinese food? Can you use chopsticks? Do you like Dalian?"

In other news...I have accepted a job to teach in Beijing starting August 15. Carden School, my very own pre-school and kindergarten alma mater (in Orange County, Calif.), runs the English department of a private boarding school and given my, albeit brief, history with the institution, they offered me a plush gig for the academic year. Not only will I be making more money and living in Beijing, I'll be working fewer hours, with an assistant, at a school with a SWIMMING POOL!

I'm leaving Dalian Monday the 5th and I'll be in Kona until I leave for Beijing. Kona peeps, prepare yourself for a neverending run of pizza, Bale tofu sandwiches, burritos at Tacos El Unico and hours at Middle Earth...

And for those of you with the patience to check in regularly, thanks, and I promise, more is on the way.

Monday, May 31, 2004

The last post was not meant to be anything deep, provocative, or, as I gather from my comments, mystifying. All I was trying to do was share a small part of that day that I found especially amusing and demonstrative of the "little things" that make China different. (Really, when was the last time you've seen a waitress dump water on the floor next to you before handing you the cup? It didn't even faze her.) Looking back at it, I see it was poorly written and thus my point did not come across. For this I apoligize appropriately.

Tales from Xi'an are on their way. Sorry for the delay.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Moment of the day:

I went for dinner at the local ma la tang (hot soup) shop. While I was waiting for my order, a waitress came by with a tin pot of tea--minus a cup. She rushed off, then rushed back with a cup in one hand and a small stack of white paper napkins in the other. She put down the napkins, but before handing over the cup, she looked into it and, without a pause, chucked it over her shoulder sending water splashing to the floor. Not missing a beat, she set the cup down, then whisked away.

Friday, May 07, 2004

I am back from Xi'an. There is much to say about the trip, but other things are on the brain. I'd rather rant about them and as it is a blog, my blog no less, I find it only appropriate to do so. I promise to write more about Xi'an later.

Okay. Iraq.

I just saw some of those pictures that have apparently been circulating the mainstream media while I was down living it up (some might say down) in Xi'an. WHAT THE FUCK?! WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON OUT THERE?

There is the possiblity that some of the photos were staged. (By something mythical left-wing conspiracy group who's actually got their shit together and are out to get the Bush administration?) My thoughts are based on the belief that they were not. If they were staged, however, I don't think my thoughts would be much different, but there would be more questions to answer.

(Note: I started writing this in narrative form, but it got a bit out of hand. I realize lists are not very creative and do indicate a certain lack of literary ability, but this is the best I can do to keep things organized.)

Thoughts provoked by said fucked up pictures:

1. What was it like, sitting behind the eyes of the people who orchestrated the photos? (The photos I'm thinking of specifically are the series that include the girl holding a leash with the prisoner on the floor at its end and the simulated gangbang.) Where was it exactly that the current in the stream of thinking took a turn and produced the "this is a good idea" idea? And what did the "continue, this really is a good idea" idea sound like against images and sounds (as how I imagine it) of the humilated prisoners groaning and jerking while limbs were being shamlessly smacked and shoved into a sick and twisted Macy's store front.

2. Are we all, essentially, weak and capable of things like this? Is cruelty just a fundamental element repressed by "respect" and "concern" in safe and comfortable environments, only? And could I, put in the right circumstance, be so inhuman? I suppose that if I was some hick from Nebraska who hadn't seen anything taller than a wheat field before I got to boot camp, who barely made it through a rudimentary public education, who maybe had seen three non-White people before cable came in, who was thrown into the middle of the desert, in the middle of the world, convinced of a mission to do good, while being shot at by those I was sent to save, that that breadstick that kept it all together in my mind WOULD snap and I COULD look into the face of another human being and see nothing but soulless flesh.

3. There really is nothing that can be done to change things in the world, is there? I'd like to think that there are things that we, as individuals, can do to make things just a little bit better all around. It's a general goal of mine to live this way, but there is a very cynical part of me that really believes that change cannot be forced. Change will result when imbalances reach critical mass and maybe only (human?) nature dictates when that happens. (I'm still not voting for Bush, however.)

4. Is anybody (who has power and sway to make rather urgent foreign policy decisions) concerned about the country's image in the world? It seems to me that people don't usually let things like occupation and tortue slip from the mind casually. The Jews won't let go of the Holocaust (or at least many of those with power behind the camera) and more than half of my students openly hate the Japanese for violence most of their parents can't remember. Don't people think about this? As an American in the world I will have the stigma of this atrocious time attached to me for the rest of my life. Thanks Uncle Rummy.

This is an excerpt taken from an article in the Boston Globe. It also upsets me.

"The cost of Iraq -- $4.7 billion a month, according to the Pentagon -- already almost matches the $5 billion a month average spent on Vietnam in today's dollars. If Bush gets another $75 billion this year, he would close in on the halfway point of Vietnam spending in just a year and a half.

The diversion of resources and the obvious loss of opportunity for America's public school children is almost incalculable. Assuming even the conservative guess by Hagel of $50 billion in additional funds, that would make $216 billion in war appropriations. That sum is:

Nearly four times the budget of the Education Department.

Nearly double what the General Accounting Office said in the mid-1990s was needed to repair the nation's schools.

24 times what it would cost to fully fund the congressional appropriation for No Child Left Behind.

43 times what it would cost to enroll the remaining 40 percent of eligible preschoolers still not in Head Start.

848 times the cost of the Even Start family literacy program, which Bush proposed to kill.

1,800 times the appropriation for the national math-science partnership between high schools and colleges, which Bush proposed to kill.

6,352 times the cost of a program to help pay secondary school counselors, which Bush proposed to kill.

12,000 times the cost of a national writing project, which Bush proposed to kill.

19,600 times the cost of a program to support "gifted and talented" students, which Bush proposed to kill."

Any comments, especially from very old folks, or links to interesting related items, would be greatly appreciated at this point.

I will get up off the couch now. The shrink's looking bored anyway.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Okay, I concede: it’s been nearly a month since my last post. I see that the number of hits to my site has almost doubled since that last post and I reckon 95 percent of it can be attributed to Karen, Baron and my father.

This is something I started but never finished until today.


Not a single one of my students had heard of St. Patrick's Day before I introduced it to them. Only a few of them could confidently point out Ireland on a (poorly sketched) map and three confused the country for Iceland. To establish a thread of relevance to the holiday for my students, I told them the origin my own family name (this surprised them greatly as they had never before considered that I might actually have a family name), then I went on to explain that St. Patrick was, more or less, the missionary who brought Christianity to Ireland and that's why we drink green beer.

The response to this history lesson, without exception, was head scratching and window gazing. One girl asked how the beer got green. For my own interest’s sake, I told the next three classes that St. Patrick was a hero with magical powers who saved the Irish people by chasing the poisonous snakes out of Ireland and this went over much better. The students even got the idea of "tying one on" for their English teacher.

I'd been very homesick for Boston recently and I’m sure that St. Patrick’s Day had something to do with it. Going out and getting smashed on the occasion of your Irishness is the rite of every person chosen to be born Irish and there’s no better place to prove it than Boston. In fact, the holiday isn’t even necessary.

My fear of missing out on proper libations that 17th was eased when Benny called that evening around 5 o’clock to ask if I had had dinner yet. I told him I didn't and he said "come down and we'll have dinner. Right now." Getting used being expected at engagements of which I know nothing until there's someone at my door or a car waiting outside, I put on my coat and went straight out. "It's dinner for the students going to the UK," Benny told me on our way.

A handful of seniors are on their way to the UK for a year and I’ve been assigned to improve their oral English. Benny approached me about this the week prior and with the promise of a significant increase in salary, I agreed. The students must take an English entrance exam I have been selected to help them "build their confidence in speaking and listening."

"But Benny, I have an American accent," I said with concern. "Can't you do a British one?" he asked. I couldn't tell if he was serious or not. "Uh, I guess so, I mean I used to be able to do a pretty good one, uh..." I said. Then I asked, to gauge exactly what kind of accent my future students would be facing, what school they were headed to and he said "the University of Swenze." Eh? "Swenze?" I repeated. "Swenze...Sweense..." he kept trying. "Swansea?!" I asked, "Swansea? The Swansea in Wales?" He looked at me as if it was impossible that I be confused. "Yes, Swansea," he confirmed. {insert the bit where EVERYONE goes "why the fuck would students from China ever want to go to Swansea?", followed by the imagined people in Swansea asking each other "how the fuck did students from China come to Swansea?"} I looked at Benny and with all seriousness and said, "if these kids are going to Swansea, it really won't make a difference if their English teacher here has an American or British accent."

The handful headed to Swansea were seated at the table when we arrived and it was obvious that they were waiting for me (I still haven't caught the "I'm important because I'm a teacher" vibe yet). Canuck was already there and dominating the conversation. (Conversation is not quite the word as it generally describes a delivery and return of spoken information. "Interrupting silence and preventing polite chatter" is much more accurate.) I took my place next to the head of foreign affairs, Chen Yang.

The first TWO HOURS of dinner were extremely boring. Plates and plates of things I wouldn't eat came out (thankfully, Benny eventually remembered that I don't eat meat and ordered some excellent pumpkin dish) and students stood stone faced while Canuck kept talking. Most of the little talking done, not by Canuck, was in Chinese and at one point, Chen Yang insisted that each student ask a question in English. Most of the questions went to Canuck and most of them revolved around his non-foreign face. Attention came my way when one girl said to me, "I think you look a litte Chinese." I explained I was in fact half Chinese and she said, "Oooh! You have very beautiful eyes." (The Chinese lug about jugs of flattery and never hesitate to douse it on foreigners, or on each other for that matter. Just another pump to my ever inflating ego...)

Beer was served beer to the men in the group (I politely declined) and slowly, very slowly, mouths opened up. Mostly Chinese came out, but the odd "do you like Jennifer Lopez?" question was thrown my way.

Canuck and Chen Yang consumed freely and by the fifth or sixth round, the dinner party almost sounded like a dinner party. Even the women drank. But only after the urging of Mr. Chen. (I was given half a tiny glass.)

In China, beer is drunk "bottoms up" from 6 oz. glasses. Men are always expected to chug their beer when toasting and in familiar situations, women do the same.

I never feel too comfortable engaging in anything more than a casual beer with people I have to see in a daily professional setting, but when the girl who told me I had beautiful eyes toasted me (she proved herself hardier than most of the men in the group that night), I was told it would be poor form NOT to chug the beer just served to me. The toasting ritual is really more a challenge than a formality, it seems. Especially when those not involved scrutinize the ability with which the toastees can consume. As it was my first beer that evening all eyes were on me. The student, Gloria, lifted her glass, I did the same and in three gulps flat, my beer was gone. (It was a tiny glass, remember.) There were cheers all around. Benny leaned into my ear and asked if I was okay. "Of course," I said. Another round was served and this time the boys in the group toasted me. Glasses were tipped and I put them to shame. Chen Yang, unabashedly smashed himself, looked at me and announced "this is the first time I knew Maile could drink beer."

The evening continued and the students really did get to talking in English. Bottles and bottles of beer were poured and the men, like most men, I reckon, boasted about their abilities to consume. "My father taught me how to drink," proudly declared Canuck. He continued, as if revealing family secrets, "the trick is to eat a lot first, go to the toilet a lot and drink a lot of tea." I, and I think any Westerner who can drink with any confidence would argue that loading up on food before drinking and diluting the system with tea or water is flat out cheating, however, the men agreed with Canuck’s wisdom. The drinking continued. Faces reddened and trips to our private toilet (complete with a Western toilet and toilet paper--luxury!) became very frequent. After each trip I made, one of the girls would discreetly pull me aside and sincerely ask if I was okay. “Yes, I’m fine,” I said each time, not at all understanding their concern.

Chen Yang eventually left the scene and the group got rowdier and rowdier and Canuck egged on the drinkers. (I kept pace, but didn’t overinduldge. Knowing when too much is too much in the foundation of any Bostonian’s first year of college. ) Trips to the toilet became more and more regular and I soon discovered that the visitors were not only relieving their bladders, but their stomachs as well!

Collars were loosened, more bottles were ordered and through Canuck’s self requested renditions of “Old Time Rock and Roll,” the unmistakable hack of puking rang out from the toilet. No one seemed to notice, or at least make any indication that this was out of the ordinary and the only time anyone seemed overtly concerned was when I went. I assured them, consistently, that I was fine, and I was.

The drinking continued, much to my amazement, and it was in those final hours of St. Patrick’s Day that was truly proud and thankful to be Irish. While the Irish suffer the stigma of a fondness for the drink, and sometimes deservedly so, I can safely say that I, and those I know who make it through life without the assistance of AA, know that vomitting is sure fire sign that it’s time to put down the bottle and go home.

The throng eventually spilled out of the restaurant late that evening, much to the relief of a staff obviously anxious to get home. We made our “nice to meet yous” and “have a good evenings” and I started in the direction of the walk home. Benny stopped me. “Wait a moment,” he attempted to say importantly. The students left and Thomas and I stood there in the cold and waited. Five minutes later a slick black car pulled up.

“The car is for go to your apartment,” he put together slowly. “Are you joking?!” I asked. The restaurant half a block and across the street from the foreign teachers apartment building. Benny reasoned that as it was a cold night and there was much drinking had, it was more convenient to call a car for the brutal 150 yard walk. (In his defense however, I do admit that the walk involves an incline of at least 35 degrees.)

“Benny, you can see my sofa from here!” I said and pointed, hoping that, even through the alcohol haze, he could see the ridiculousness of the formality. He opened a car door for me and instead of arguing, I took off in the direction of my apartment. The effort of walking the half block home, even in the cold, was less than that of getting into the car, waiting for everyone else to get into the car, riding the 100 yards, waiting for the chit chat in the car to subside, then waiting for someone to open the door for me again; even when taking into consideration that I had already waited five minutes and the driver was probably distrurbed from a nap “for my convenience.” Benny and Canuck, seeing that I was almost home, followed suit and caught up with me.

“Aren’t you drunk?” Canuck slurred. “No, not at all,” I said. Really, I had maybe three beers when it came down to it. Three beers on top of all kinds of saucy Chinese food.

“Wow, man, you’re really something,” he congratulated me, “I’m so fucking pissed.” I fell behind the swaggering men and was careful to avoid their stumble the remaining 25 yards home.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

No, this isn't a proper post. I have just been assigned an additional 12 hours a week of classes and I'm beat. I will post something soon, but until then, here are some funny things my students have done or taught me.

1. Britney Spears is fat.
2. Eating in the wind will make you sick. This is because the cold air sneaks into your lungs when you open your mouth to take a bite.
3. The Chinese don't learn to swim because they are afraid of drowning.
4. In class we had a discussion game. The students chose ten people (famous and otherwise) to be in a hot air balloon together. The balloon suffers and tear and the students must choose who gets thrown out in what order. In one class the final decision came down to me and Chairman Mao. None of the students could bring themselves to voting me out of the balloon, but only three openly said that I should live instead of Mao. Feeling their tension, I sacrificed myself. I did win out over Bill Gates, Michael Jordan and Thomas Edison, however.
5. Clothing in China doesn't "fit;" clothing is "suitable."
6. "Famous" is pronounced "fay-murs," because the dictionary says so (Chinese-English dictionaries really do say so).
7. KFC is gourmet dining.
8. Whitney Houston is admirable because she had to "overcome the people looking down on her because is black."
9. If someone was born June 18, 1982, they are 23 years old. At birth, the Chinese are one-year-old, and another year is added at the new year (though not on the birth date). This makes me 25.
10. Although most of my students cannot differentiate "it" and "eat," all of them know the difference between "shit" and "sheet."

Saturday, March 20, 2004

**I am working on post about St. Patrick's Day that I was going to post a couple of days ago. That's not working out, so here is something a bit shorter about the city.**

The students are slowly warming up to me. In my most difficult class, the class with the three bad girls (who I've moved to the front of the class with positive results), the students have actually started to ask me personal questions. "What do you do in your free time? Where do you eat? Do you like to go shopping? Do you have any friends here? What are your plans for the weekend?" This came as a quite a surprise, and relief, as all I usually get from this class is blank stares and timid glares.

We talked about shopping and they told me that the shopkeepers are probably ripping me off because I'm a foreigner. "I know," I said gravely, then in pantomime, I illustrated how I shop. The first step, I explained, after item selection is to approach the shopkeeper and ask "Duo quan?," how much? (The students were impressed that I had come this far already.) Then the shopkeeper gives me some outrageous price, then I say "wo bu dong," I don't understand. (They laughed.) Then I gesture for the shopkeeper to write it down for me. The shopkeeper does so. I look at the outrageous price, put my hand to my chest in shock, gasp, let out a dramatic "bu hao!," no good!, then quickly walk away. (The students liked this.) Inevitably the shopkeeper calls me back, we haggle and I walk away with the desired item and less money in my pocket than I should have put out.

"I pay too much!" I lamented. "Because you are foreigner," they said as if it wasn't obvious. As I already had my students' attention, I taught them the verb "to bargain," and asked them how much I should really be paying for things. "Start at 25%" confirmed several of the girls, "only pay a little more." "25%?!" I asked. I really was paying much to much. "Yes, next time we help you," they volunteered. "My mother is very good at bargaining," I told them, "if the shopkeeper says 100 kuai, she's say 5 jiao!" (If a kuai is a dollar, 5 jiao is 50 cents) They laughed. "Because she is Chinese," the students concluded. Then one girl, one of my three bad girls, so aptly said, "all mothers are good at this."

As indicated my students' favorite pastime, capitalism is alive and well in China. You can buy almost anything here in Dalian (except corn tortillas and refried beans) and on the weekends, you can buy it in the streets. On the 10 minute walk between the bus station and Carrefour (the French supermarket) you'd be hard pressed not to trip over any of the dozens men and women hawking wares from their arms or from carts or sacks set up on the sidewalks. Peddlers flank either side of the wider sidewalks and from their plots they yell out at passerbys. On any given Sunday on any given sidewalk you can find skewered meat hot off the grill, roasted corn on the cob, dried dates sold by the ji (Chinese mass measure), apples, pineapples (peeled, with the eyes removed), socks, pantyhose, lace curtains, red bean mochi, foreign and domestic cigarettes, posters, CDs, hair pins, shoelaces, belts, lighters, shoes, rubber slippers, candied hawberries, strawberries, grape tomatoes, toilet paper, super-absorbent cleaning cloths, kitchen knives, Q-tips by the hundred, peanuts, roasted chestnuts, cast-iron kettle popped popcorn and even puppies--tiny, furry, puppies showcased from a duffle bag. (I put all of my self-control into not stopping for the puppies. If I did I know I'd have problems with the school for bringing one home.)

I made my way through pavement exchange to meet Brummie and Michael at Carrefour last night. Brummie invited me and and through me, Michael, to a laowai party. Every other the month, the foreign teachers at his school, Liaoning Normal University, get together to indulge in wine (a luxury), cheese (more of a luxury) and English and French conversation (a welcomed change from the Chinglish we normally hear).

The party was hosted by Rodney, a sharp, nearly-sixty, retired teacher from England. There were also a few French teachers, an Italian teacher and several Chinese English students. The only other American was Bob, a pasty faced face man from southern Illinois with long, stringy white hair hanging from a balding head. Bob, who looks like he left his 50s at least a couple of years ago, spent much of the night occupying the attention of the few young Chinese girls in attendance. (A note to my male pals reading this: PLEASE COME TO CHINA. Americans are few and far between and the only men the Dalianese see are dirty and old and on the prowl for a young Chinese girl to snatch up. If you guys came, at least there'd be a range--you'd be dirty, young men on the prowl for a young Chinese girl to snatch up.)

The conversations, as I can see it only appropriate when a group of teachers get together, revolved around teaching and the differences between Chinese and Western schooling. These conversations generally boiled down bitch sessions (You have overhead projectors?! I dream of overhead projectors! We still use chalk at my school!), which was good, as it seemed that everyone needed to do a bit of venting. What was interesting, though, was that the Chinese students there joined in with their own complaints and observations. This I have never seen before. The only explanation that I have for this sudden release of independent opinion and voice discontent is that, being in a group of Westerners, the students felt safe enough to do so. Not only did they gripe about their educational system and make suggestions for improvement, they also griped about their lot in life in general.

I talked with one girl, Ashley, who spoke very good English and decent French, for some time and she told me about her own early 20s crisis. She asked me why I left Los Angeles when I studied filmmaking and I told her I didn't like it and thought that it was more important to travel and study as much as you can when you're young. "Will you go back to work in the movies?" she asked. "In one way or another I would like to," I said, "but we shall see." She nodded in agreement. "I understand," she said, "I had a job after I graduated for more than a year. It made me very unhappy, very depressed. Like I was suffocating." These were her words exactly. "So I quit my job and now I study French only."

We really are all the same. I used to think that the affluence in the U.S. and the insatiable need to "keep up with the Joneses" or whoever happened to be on television that week, were, in large part, responsible for the culture that has bred the unhappy 20-something. While I'm not sure if I've changed my mind, yet, the phenomenon is obviously a lot more widespread than what my limited eyes have seen. If there was ever a group of people to develop a way to live without ever having to have a job, without a question in my mind, my generation would be it.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

What the hell is going on out there? First Haiti, and now Spain? Has the world always been fraught with such constant crisis? I am somewhat limited in my access to world news here (maybe a good thing) and much of my news comes from the BBC World Service, so I can't imagine what you are seeing on Fox News (the most played up and terrible, most likely) and CNN (somewhat accurate, we hope). There is an English station here, but I never watch because the news anchors' English is just painful to listen to. That and the news itself is poorly presented and obviously filtered. A lot of what I hear on the radio runs along the lines of "it's just a sign of the times" and "terrorism is the 21st century's plague" blah, blah, blah. Any comments?

It never ceases to amaze me that, despite the media becoming more and more of a pervasive force in our lives (as Westerners), there hasn't been much effort made to raise public awareness of how media is made. People just absorb without question. Often, anway. Just think about it how much the word "terrorism" is thrown around the media. It once had a very specific and powerful meaning and now it's used like pepper and table salt. Take a boring topic, add "terrorism," and now the story is interesting and people get scared and upset. Just like when that asshole Cheney called the teacher's union a "terrorist group"--yeah, it was a stupid thing to say and a lot of people got pissed, but I bet a greater number of people heard it, didn't think about, but felt it. And now, on a very, very, small level, but on a certain level indeed, a large number dimwits associate the word "terrorist" with "union." People are simple and the media is powerful. This is my take anyway, and I have digressed.

We have lost two of the foreign teachers. One returned to New Zealand for "family reasons" (the reason could be found at the bottom of a bottle, I reckon) and the other, a middle-aged American who is not bashful about telling anyone who will listen that many of his students remind him of his ex-girlfriend, left because he felt the students were "unteachable." The more I see the more I find that the "teaching in China" market is rampant with middle-aged men who couldn't hack it in their home country so they come here looking to pick up a young girlfriend who doesn't have the cultural wherewithal to sort out the losers from the not, or even the uglies from the not. (How lucky I am to be biracial!) The flipside of this however, is that many of these girls take to these creeps for fairly selfish reasons, anyway, namely money and the possibility of getting to leave China. So I guess it all works out. Plus, this also means that there will be more hapa-haoles in the future and that's a good thing 'cause I plan to unite them and take over the world. We are genetically superior, after all.

I digress again. Yes, two teachers are gone. One has been replaced already by the ideal laowai: blonde hair, blue eyes, big nose and the fact that she's Israeli and speaks with a heavy Hebrew accent doesn't seem to bother anyone. She and her Chinese husband moved in a few days ago AND they put her in charge of teaching AMERICAN AND BRITISH CULTURE. As the only NATIVE SPEAKING person AND the only AMERICAN here, I can't imagine why the blonde-haired, blue-eyed ISRAELI got the class, but that's China for you.

After re-reading this I find a certain negative tint to this post. Not my intention. I'm actually pretty content.

I've lightenen up on my classes, that is more music and games, and my students are slowly starting to respond. I did lay down a pop quiz last week and most of them failed it. (Several failed because I caught them cheating. "The beast" came out on quiz day. No talking, no dictionaries and no cheating. The first one I caught cheating got their paper ripped from them and crumpled in front of the class.) My pop quizzes have only five questions: three vocabulary words, one sentence to write and a throw-away, "Tell me ANYTHING else you have learned." Most of the students were baffled by the throw-away and didn't even answer it. (Independent thinking is definitely not a strong suit of the Chinese. All they expect from oral English is to memorize dialogues.) I was pretty disappointed that my students did so poorly and they were pretty embarrased for being poor students. I told them that if they bombed the next quiz I'd start loading them up on homework, which I don't like doing (more homework for them means more homework for me and I know they're already busy writing lines and lines of words like "agoraphobia"). Thankfully, I think the quiz made them take me more seriously and since I've seen more notebooks and just a little more participation. I think I might throw another quiz at them just to keep them on their toes.

I also got a haircut. It's very short and now I look like a Chinese girl. Or boy. Maybe not that short, but definitely short. Canuck took me to the hair salon, but his coiffure vocabulary proved less than helpful and I left the floor with more hair than I have on my head. But it looks alright and I'm getting used to. It will grow back after all. And I only paid 10 kuai. (That's the going rate. About $1.25. For a salon cut with shampoo. I see now why all my students look like rock stars.)

Yes, this post is boring. I will try better next time.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Yes. It has been some time since my last post. Please accept the usual excuses.

Brummie and I went out for a night on the town on Saturday. The Birmingham native (UK not Alabama) is also a Dalian teacher and blogger (you can check out his blog at and I first got in touch with him before coming to China. As it turns out, the guy is a real kick to the head (good thing).

We met at the train station and made an impromptu shopping stop at Victory Square (just a name, there's actually little square about it). The shopping center at Victory Square is actually a sprawling network of shops UNDERGROUND and anyone who enters risks never coming out again.

Brummie and I, both being film geeks, me more so, only made it as far as the DVD store closest to the entrance. We played "have you seen this? well it's not as good as his first know, the one with {name of obscure Hungarian actor here}” and then agreed that Drop Dead Fred is a good movie. About 20 minutes into our game I got the feeling someone was watching me. A well-dressed businessman in his fifties standing next to me shamelessly stared. I moved to the other side of the very small store and he followed. I made eyes at Brummie and he returned the look, acknowledging the guy's odd behavior. I looked back to the guy and half-smiled. "You speak very good English!" he yelled at me. "Yes, I do," I said, taken aback. "How?" he asked. "It's the only language I know," I said English teacher slowly, as I've learned to do with most people here. "You're British!" he concluded. (Everyone here thinks I'm British. Pear-shaped tones, Dad.) "No, I'm American," I told him. "Your parents are Chinese?" he asked. "My mother is Chinese. My father is American," I explained for the hundred and seventh time that week. "But you have black hair?!" he said as if I've really ruined his day. My hair is really brown. "All people with Chinese mothers have dark hair," I announced. Basic genetic theory is clearly amiss in Chinese education. "You don't have blue eyes and gold hair," he argued. (Blonde is not in the Chinese-English vocabulary.) "No. No one with at least one Chinese parent has blue eyes. My father has blue eyes," I offered. He stared at me some more and said, "I look you outside. I think you are Chinese woman." Realizing this guy has been watching me much longer that I thought, I got uncomfortable. Fortunately, Brummie jumped in to rescue me with "Have you see this one with Tom Hanks?" and I left the businessman to his own mental quandries.

The Chinese have taken bargaining to an art form. The skill with which my own mother can haggle someone to a half penny brings tears to my eyes. Haggling, however, requires a certain command of the language of transaction, as well as a bit of theatrics and the ability to just walk away if an agreeable price cannot be determined. I have yet to refine my haggle skills here, but I make an effort at every chance. With Brummie in tow, who speaks enough Mandarin to get by, I figured we stood a chance. We made our selections and I lumped them together for bargaining power. The sales girl told Brummie 60 kuai for the lot. I looked at our loot, then at the sales girl, pokerfaced. "Tell her 40," I ordered. He did. She looked at us with feigned exasperation. "No! No! Impossible!" she said in broken English. "Yes! Yes! Good!" I said. She looked at me realizing that I, not Brummie, was in charge of the deal. "No! Too little," she said. "Yes!" I said again. Then I grabbed my collar and said "good customers!" And then something happened that I didn't expect. She buckled. "45," she offered and I handed her the cash.

Foreigners are routinely ripped off because 1) they don't know the going rates for things, 2) they don't know how to haggle and 3) things are so cheap anyway that they'd rather just put down the asking price and not bother with the routine. The Chinese know this and milk it for what it’s worth. This was the first time I have successful haggled on my own in China and Brummie was duly impressed. "I've never been able to get them down at all," he said. "Whenever I try, they just flat out reject and then I give them more than what they asked for, just out of guilt.” We made off with our goods and a glow of a victory (immediately followed by the feeling that I should have started at 30 instead of 40).

Lonely Planet lists the Xinhua Bookstore as an English language bookstore. In my humble opinion, a copy of a Portugeuse-English dictionary, the Berlitz guide to Cuba and William Shatner’s (only, hopefully) sci-fi novel, does not an English bookstore make. There were loads of how-to-learn English books, but those don’t count. Brummie and I browsed stacks of books, just for their covers (I wonder if Winona Ryder knows she’s on the cover of the Pride and Prejudice) and split without a purchase (the first time in a long time I had been to a bookstore and not bought anything).

Dinner was had at a curry house (a nice change) and then we made our to Er Chi Square to go to a jazz bar that Brummie had been to before.

Dalian is a fairly developed city. The population of the city center is somewhere around 2 million. Different countries have occupied the port city, namely Japan and Russia, so one would think that the sight of a foreigner wouldn’t rouse more than a longish glance. Not so. I can slip through a crowd and as long as I don’t open my mouth I get pushed and shoved just as any of the 1.29 billion others. Brummie, on the other hand, has blondish hair and green eyes and wherever we went we got attention. Lots of attention.

“It’s got its perks,” said Brummie when I asked him about it. “For example, whenever I don’t know what to do, I just look lost and someone will come to my rescue. It’s how I get by,” he said proudly and that fact was only proven as the night continued.

We got to Er Chi Square by a cab driven by a man only too excited and proud to have not one, but two foreigners as passengers. Brummie did all the talking and the only part I understood was “America! England!” with a hearty thumbs up. We got out of the cab and Brummie said “this is the part where I tell you I’m not too sure where the bar is because I was drunk the last time I was there. I do remember what the front door looks like, though.” (Brummie studied philosophy at university and the comment didn’t surprise me.) We walked. In circles. And triangles. The great thing about being in a new city is that getting lost is really more an extended tour than annoyance. Even in the cold.

We eventually came close to where we started when a car beeped at a us. We looked over to see the our cab driver who asked us, I can only assume, what we were doing walking around in circles. Brummie got out his phrase book and asked for the jazz bar. Cabbie didn’t know, so he got out of his car and hailed down another cab. They had a brief discussion then made the general hand-circling-in-the-air gesture for “somewhere around here.” Second cabbie drove off and first cabbie stopped another. More hands circling in the air. First cabbie looked at us again then shrugged his shoulders.

We continued into the night until we came upon an English school. “They’ve got to have somebody there who can speak English and point us in the right direction,” I reasoned, “let’s stop in here.” He thought about it for a second, “oh yeah, right.” We marched in and said “hello” to the man behind the counter. “We’re looking for the jazz bar,” Brummie said. The man behind the counter looked at me and started rattling away in Chinese. “What’s he saying?” I asked Brummie. “I don’t know,” he said. Then I said very slowly “wo bu hui shuo putonghua,” I don’t speak Chinese. The man ran into a back room and brought out another gentleman. “Hi, we’re looking for the jazz bar,” I said. “I don’t speak English,” the second guy managed. “Isn’t this an English school?” I asked. “Yes, English school.” Brummie got out the phrase book and between the four of us we determined that the jazz bar was, in fact, somewhere in the area. A third guy came out, words were exchanged and then someone said “wait a moment.” The third guy at the English school, who also did not speak English, did know where the jazz bar and offered to take us there. Most of the way, anyway.

The jazz bar is located across the street from Augustus’s Pub (Vegas has Caesar’s Palace and Dalian has Augustus’s Pub). The bar serves imported beer and all of the waitresses are pretty and wear yellow dresses. The bar also proved to be quite the laowai hangout and Brummie and I played my new favorite game, count the fat, old, ugly white guys with the young Chinese girlfriends. Forty minutes of the game produced a total of 6 couples.

The waitresses are used to laowai and are good at small talk in English. One of the waitresses, however, was especially curious about me and kept repeating a word neither of us understood. Brummie handed her a Chinese-English dictionary and she perused it for several minutes before arriving to her meaning. She pointed to me and pointed to the word: half-breed. I laughed. “Yes, I’m a half-breed,” I told her.

Brummie and I had several imported beers, blathered about not much, spoke French to some Canadians (one of whom’s girlfriend wrote down the name of my school in Chinese so I could make it home), and got out. Brummie needed cash, so we walked to the ATM and on the way a small girl selling roses attached herself to him. Literally. She wrapped herself around one of his legs and refused to let go. Brummie dragged her for 25 yards yelling “wo bu yao” (I don’t want), but she held on fast. I stepped in to pull her off, but to no avail. Brummie shook her off and we made a run for it. “What the hell was that?” I said. “Oh, doesn’t that ever happen to you? Happens to me all the time. It’s annoying,” he said. The down-side of being a laowai.

We had a shot of Jose “Luervo” at Augustus’s Pub, then got a cab home. The cab came right up to my building on campus, then took off, leaving me in the cold (not a problem), slightly intoxicated (not a problem), to grapple with a front door chained from the inside (a problem). Shit.

I tugged on the door as if it made a difference. It didn’t. I walked around the building for an alternative entrance. No dice. I looked for an open window and found two, both barred. I yelled up into the night for the Canuck. Dust in the wind. I looked over at one of the dorms to find all kinds of activity. If worse came to worse I could knock on a door and crash there until morning. I came back to the front of the building. One window, on the third floor, was illuminated by a flashing television. Somebody was up, I reasoned. I rummaged the ground for rocks. No luck, but I did find a peach pit and a bottle cap. Good enough. I chucked both up at the window and the peach pit nailed it. I recovered both objects from the dark and tried again. I continued this shameless behavior until I lost both the peach pit and the bottle cap. I went back to the front door to see if it had undone itself while I was drunkenly lobbing small blunt objects at a window when the building manager came running out. “Dui bu chi” I said, “I’m sorry!” She returned the gesture repeatedly and let me in. Then she gestured “I heard something outside and came down to have a look and I’m glad I did because here you are and what are you doing out at this hour anyway?” “Xiexie,” I managed “thanks,” and I went to bed.

The next morning Canuck came down and I told him the story. “Why didn’t you just ring the doorbell?” he asked. “What doorbell?”

Friday, March 05, 2004

Last night I went out with Michael for dinner. I ate, he paid (much to my feigned refusal). We chatted for some time and I learned two things about him of exceptional note: 1) he is 193 centimeters tall, that is 6 feet 6 inches! and 2) he is "outstanding."

"No really, I am," he affirmed. This topic came about because he first told me that he thought I was unusual. "Very unusual. I haven't met any foreigners who like jiao zi," he said. "I love jiao zi. My mother used to make very good jiao zi," I told him. "You have some Chinese thinking," he concluded, "very unusual." I then heaped garlic and red pepper into my dipping sauce. "You like this?! Foreigners don't like spices! They like plain food only!" he said, "hm, yes, very unusual." Tired of being scrutinized, I looked at him at said, "You're very unusual, too. You are not like other Chinese people I know. And you are not like any of my students." He looked very proud of himself and that's when he declared, without the slightest trace of condescension, arrogance, or exaggeration, "Yes, I am outstanding." He works hard at it, he informed me. He went on to tell me that believeing in your own outstandingness is the only way to succeed in life (ironically, my mother says exactly the same thing and that's not Chinese--the longer I stay here the more I see that my mother is truly exceptional). Then he listed a number of other outstanding attributes including taking first prize in the schoolwide English speech contest, without proper training, AGAINST all the English majors. "I know I'm the best student in the school," he said matter-of-factly and with very good humor.

Michael is also very popular. During the course of my meal and the walk home he bumped into at least half a dozen people he knew. I mentioned it and he said, "well, yes, I'm very tall."

I'm afraid only my Boston friends would get this comparison, but if you took all the defining qualities of Myles and combined them with Komla's, take away the philosophy angle and put a Chinese face on it, Michael is what you'd end up with.

Canuck knocked on my door five minutes after I got back from dinner. "I'm fucking pissed," he declared using the British/Commonwealth meaning of the word. "No shit," I said to the staggering, head rolling man whose pores were releasing Tsingtao beer. "Today's my birthday," he announced, "let's go get a beer." We went down to the local restaurant where you can get a liter bottle of Tsingtao beer for 2 kuai (24 cents). I snacked on pumpkin fries--my new favorite--while I listened to him ramble. The beer in front of him was his fourth in two hours. "You're the only one in the restaurant who can understand me," he slurred. "I want a woman," he yelled out, "but no dogs!" The other patrons looked at us in a very polite Chinese under-my-breath kind of way, and we laughed. "See?! No one understands." We finished our beers, I headed home and Canuck went out into the night in search of a haircut. (Some of you hip to the Chinese way might catch on that more than a cut can be rendered at a hair salon, especially late at night. Canuck, however, really was looking for a haircut and I heard him go up the stairs just a few minutes after I came home, having failed in his search.)

Something I ate that evening came back to haunt me in the middle of the night and by morning I was in no mood to even attempt to teach anything to my students. My first class consisted of a writing game where each student takes out a piece of paper, writes two sentences, the beginning of a story, then folds the sheet over leaving only the second sentence in view. They pass the sheet around the room, each student adding a sentence based on the one seen and by the time it reaches the original author, a silly story is created. Little is gained from this exercise, save for a couple of giggles and lots of time wasting. The activity worked remarkably well, I did practically nothing AND it took up almost the entire class time. My second class did the same activity, which they managed to fuck up as many of the students suffer from I-know-everything-so-I-don't-have-to-listen-to-anything syndrome, and we did a listening exercise with the Beatles song "Hello, Goodbye." My intro to this activity included a bit about the band and one girl knew who John Lennon was. "What happened to him?" I asked. "Dead," she accurately stated. "How did he die?" I pressed. Whispering. "Anyone?" I pleaded. More whispering. "He got very ill," one person ventured. "Suicide," another guessed. One guy in the back who never opens his mouth made an effort to speak. "Alan?" I coaxed. "Accident," he said in a way that sounded more like "acid trip." "What?" I queried. "Accident. Car accident," he managed to let tumble. Most of the kids are my sister's age, and I know it's Communist China, but really, the Beatles are the grand pubas of the "pop" that my students are always raving about (in a way that make ME feel very old). "No, no, no," I said disappointed, "c'mon guys, this is history. John Lennon was killed by a fan. He was shot. It was a very sad day in America. You need to know this. It was December 8, 1980, to be exact." Eyes started to roll back into their more familiar housings and I started the activity for fear of losing them. Afterward I asked the class what they thought of the song. "Very boring," said one of my more eager students. "We want a love song next time."

It is in this second class that I have the three dissident girls. Each one of them came up to me at break, meekly apologized for their behavior in the previous class, and two of the three turned the "special homework" I assigned. The other girl, in lieu of said assigned "special homework," gave me a two-page hand-written letter explaining her "not politeness behavior" came from a lack of understanding "because you are foreign." (Yeah, I'm sure she'd pull this shit on one of her Chinese teachers.) There was also a thick layer of ass-kissing in the letter ("you're pronunciation is so good, just like tape," "I know you are serious teacher") and I was about to re-assign her the task, but realized she probably put more time and effort into it than the other two who both asked to learn more about Disneyland.

My new approach to lesson planning is more games, more music, more pronunciation (their pronunciation is GOD AWFUL, as Canuck put it after sitting in on one of my classes) and fuck the grammar. The students who care will make an effort and the others will leave me with more time to watch bootlegged DVDs in my palatial "foreign expert" digs. Not that I'm getting cynical, but I think that's just the way things work. No point in killing myself when good enough is just that.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

I keep my curtains drawn almost always. As my sister put it, my room is a batcave. I don’t know when I developed this habit, or why, but it has been with me for some time. The plus of living in a batcave is, on days like this when my first class isn’t until 10A, I can sleep in without interruption. When I did eventually decide to emerge this morning, I slipped on my school issued pink rubber slippers, accented with Chinese characters and soccer balls (a Dalian thing, I think), and clapped into the kitchen in search of some breakfast. My eyes adjusted to the bright light of day and lo! it was snowing out! Everthing was dusted with half an inch of the the white stuff and fluffy chunks slowly came down to make their contribution. A survival instinct, developed during my time in Boston, kicked in. IT IS SNOWING--MUST DRINK TEA. I ran downstairs for some hot water. (You can’t drink the tap water here. Everyone has a giant thermos to carry boiled water and every building has a boiler.) IT guy was downstairs. “It’s snowing!” I told him. Nothing like stating the obvious. “Yes. It’s very cold today,” he said. I heard Benny, he and IT are roommates, down the hall. “Benny! It’s snowing!” I ran over to him and he acknowledged me, but without any humor. “Yes. I’m busy. See you later.” He said something in Chinese to IT guy and they left. I looked at one of the women who keeps up the building. She doesn’t speak English, but no matter, I pointed out the window and said “Look! Snow!” She looked at me, then grabbed her elbows and said “cold.” These people don’t know how good they have it.

Today’s classes were Business Administration majors. We started the class with a warm-up exercise using “he,” “she,” “his,” “her,” something the Chinese have a huge problem with as they don’t make gender distinctions in their language. The exercise was pretty simple, I admit. The students stand up, one assigns “he,” “she,” “his,” or “her” to five people or objects in the room, passes the buck to another student then sits down and it goes until everyone is sitting. We got to the back of the room where there were three girls who hadn’t gone, but were sitting. “Why are you sitting?” I asked. Three blank stares. I repeat my question, this time very slowly (I find blank stares often mean that I am speaking too quickly) Pause. “This is too easy,” one girl explained, “we know this already.” Another goes on to say that the previous foreign teacher went over the material and they felt that they don’t need to participate because they already understand. “Are you prepared to read a text and not make any mistakes,” I asked half-threatened. More silence. The bravest of the girls said she’d probably make some mistakes. “Then what’s the problem?” I asked, “the other students are doing it.” The Chinese are very much like the Japanese in that conformity is a big deal; most will fold under peer pressure. More silence. I asked another student why she thought we were doing the exercise and she, rightly, said it was because Chinese people often make gender mistakes. By this point all eyes were on me and the three girls. The students still standing and waiting for their turn were looking nervous. I looked back at the girls. If any foreigner were ever prepared for a stare down with Chinese women, it would be me (thanks, Mom). One girl managed a weak, “it’s too easy.” Not wanting to make the situation more uncomfortable than it was, I said “Fine. If it’s too easy, it’s too easy. Fine.” I quickly finished up the warm-up.

The rest of the class went poorly, at best. Lot of sighs, yawns and praying (that is heads knocking against desks). The classes here are set up a lot like how they were in grade school. The good students sit up front while the bad students sit at the back and pick their noses. At break one of the “up front” students told me “We would have more patience for your class if you sang some songs.” What the fuck is up with the Chinese and wanting me to sing songs? Another girl chimed in, “Yes, we like songs.” “I don’t know any songs and I can’t sing,” I said definitively. “That’s okay, you can teach easy songs,” the first guy offered. “What kind of songs?” I asked. The girl said “Love songs! We like romantic songs!” I desperately scanned the are for something to affirm that I was in fact in an institute of higher learning. “Maybe,” I said.

Romantic songs girl then asked me if Chinese students were any different from American students. I looked around to see my college sophomores giddily flipping through fashion magazine and girls, with arms linked, sitting in each others’ laps (they also hold hands, and as much as I’ve seen it, it still catches me off guard). “Yes,” I said. “How?” she eagerly pressed. Not wanting to get too into it, I told her that in my experience, many college students travel great distances to go to college, far from their families, and they must become very independent. I added that in class discussion in very important. “The students always speak in class,” I said, hoping she’d catch my drift. “Oh,” she said, “what else?” I knew any other response would reveal certain frustration, so I said “they’re just different.”

The Chinese educational system revolves around rote memorization and English is taught piecemeal. On more than one occasion I have caught my students writing row after row of vocabulary words like “reconnaisance” and “contemporary,” for their other English classes. Before my hour and a half of Oral English, my class of 31 must endure another hour and a half of Business English. The class is taught by a Chinese English teacher who uses a giant textbook with lessons that revolve around things like “the affability of his rhetoric falls within the constructs of established...” They have a ten-minute break, then come to me where I grapple with convincing them that their friend Mary is a “she” and most sentences really do need verbs.

Foreign teachers are hired, almost exclusively, to teach Oral English--to be the real McCoy in sound and ear. What has happened, and I don’t if it’s because most teachers here are inexperienced and often poorly educated themselves (this is changing), or if it’s the Chinese view of Westerners, is that proper lessons have been replaced by a foreign song and dance. (I can’t imagine the students get away with all this singing and dancing with their Chinese teachers.) I was told by the other foreign teacher that for many students, Oral English is a bit of a blow-off, and given the work load from the other classes, a welcomed one. (This isn’t always they case. I have four or five students in every who really do make an effort to learn.) So the schools bring in these foreign teachers, at a pretty penny, I might add, they garner the prestige of having “foreign experts” on their faculty and very little learning actually goes on. I can only think that the school is aware of this, but I have seen no effort on their part to create an effective learning environment--as a teacher, I haven’t even seen a syllabus, a school calendar or any indication of what is expected of me and it took them a week to get me the class textbook. The book, and you can only call it that because it’s two covers with pages between them, is hated by students and teachers alike; with good cause--it’s crap. I expressed my concerns to a teacher at another school and he assured me that all of this is completely normal. “We had quite a rigorous training session before I started teaching,” he said. “Really?” I begged with a glimmer of hope in my eyes. “Yes,” he said, “it went something like ‘teach English good.” Enough said.

I pulled teeth until lunch and I felt so bad that I let the class go without any homework, EXCEPT THE GIRLS IN THE BACK. Ooooohhhs! poured from the walls. The rest of the students scampered out and I made my way to the back of the room, conscious to keep it cool. I took a very diplomatic approach to it all and in a way that bordered passive aggressiveness (I hate passive agressiveness--it is so unlike me), told them that I appreciated them expressing their opinions and that communication between students and teachers is very important. Then I told them they had special homework. I assigned them to go home and write down 20 things they wanted to learn and find more interesting than my exercises. They didn’t know what to make of it. One girl said “20? Too much.” I replied, “You’re very clever, you can come up with 20 things. Each.” Smiles all around and I let them go to lunch. We shall see what they come up with, but I swear, if I get three identical or highly similar lists, fucking-A, they will do it again!

To spin things 180 degrees, one of the three girls returns to class moments later with an extraordinarily (by Chinese standards) tall guy named Michael. “His oral English is very good. He wants to meet you,” she says. (At least she got the “his” and “he” part right.) Michael starts rambling away in very good British-tinted English. “I’m very nervous,” he said. I’m went about packing my things and he followed me around the room, out the door, down the hall and down the stairs. “I like English very much,” he announced. “Here it comes,” I think. Canuck prepared me for this: he wants English lessons.

Michael is a third year computer science major. He explained to me that he took all of the English courses available in his major. After that he was left to his own devices. “The other foreign teachers, the Australian guys (he said ‘guys’), they were good friends of mine,” he continued. So good, in fact, that one of them let Michael sit in and audit one of his classes. “But then that ‘terrible woman’ who is in charge found out and made me leave because I was not paying for the class. Now, I am not allowed in this building,” he said as we left the building. “I WANT to pay for a class, but they won’t let me.” Aside from being the tallest person I’ve seen in China, next to the little kids at the English Corner fiasco, he speaks the best English. The Chinese English teachers speak pretty well, but their listening skills are crap and they can’t follow natural conversation (too many contractions, phrasal verbs and slang). Michael, on the other hand, has a keen sense of linked sounds and uses a lot of slang himself. You can tell he’s spent a lot of time with English speakers. “The students in this building don’t care about English. They don’t want to learn. I WANT to learn.” You can’t say he isn’t observant.

We continue outside where a group of students were apparently waiting for me. A group of my better students. Skylar, who oozes “teacher’s pet” (but at this point, I need allies), apologized profusely for today’s class. “We were very boring,” she said. “No, don’t worry about it. Maybe I was just boring today.” I told them I appreciated that they worked very hard, and smiles all around, they went to lunch. Michael kept following me.

“I want to be your friend.” (I want English lessons.) “Did you come to China alone,” he asks. “Yes,” I reply. “I can be your guide!” he offers (I can exchange something for English lessons because I don’t want to pay.) “Do you speak Chinese?” he queries. “Idiar,” I make out. It means “a little.” “I can help you! he exclaims. (You need me. And I need English lessons.) We made it to the dining hall and he offered to buy me lunch (See! I’m a nice guy! Please give me free English lessons!). I beat him to the card swipe (we all have debit cards), but he bought me a manto. It was rapid fire questions all the way. “Are you a student?” he asks. “No,” I said. “You must be a recent graduate,” he concludes. “No, I graduated three years ago,” I inform. “But you’re younger than me,” he reasons. What?! “I never told you how old I was,” I retort. “The other students told me,” he said. The man had done his homework.

I told Michael I had to get back to my apartment because I had things to do. “Oh, you live on campus!” he said, “you must live in the foreign experts apartment!”

Ding! Two nights ago Canuck came down and asked me if someone had called that evening. No one unexpected had and he told me that someone he didn’t know just called and he was pissed about it. “It’s starting,” he said with a ring of paranoia. “They know where we are. Crank calls, students calling at 7A and pleas for English lessons. Goddammit.” He stomped off to find the foreign affairs liaision to ask if he had given the number out.

“Did you call the other foreign teacher the other night?” I asked. “Yes,” he said proudly, “I wanted to introduce myself, but the teacher said he was very busy and didn’t like being called by people he didn’t know. He seems very arrogant.” I explained that Canuck had taught in China for some time and he’s very protective of his time and privacy. Michael put two and two together. “So you must live in the apartment where the Australians lived! I have you’re number. Can I call you?” (Somebody should have my number. I don’t.)

So here I am trapped like a rat. How funny is it that I’m paid to teach lethargy with eyes while the one person on campus who really cares about English my is up my ass for free lessons.

“Maybe we can work out an exchange,” I offer. I’ve been meaning to get a Chinese tutor, but before I make that suggestion I ask him where he’s from to assess his accent. “This is my city. I am a Dalian boy,” he says proudly. (Michael is very different from any of the other people on campus that I’ve met--I’d go so far as to say that he has a personality. So far, the only people I’ve encountered with any kind of character are the local salesmen--but what is Michael, really?) Ding! Ding! Ding! Better than Chinese lessons, here is somebody who can get me off campus and into the real city! (This has been a goal of mine of late. The school is highly protective of me. I’ve asked them more than half a dozen times to show me where the local pool is and even for that they blow me off. The foreign affairs guy has gone as far as telling me that the buses to town stop running at 7P, when the signs on the bus say they go until 10P at least.) Furthermore, Michael is not one of my students and not a colleague--no conflict of interest and no claims of favoritism or excessive demands.

“Give me your number,” I told him. “I want to see the city. And what time does the main gate really close? I was told it was 10P.” He looks at me to gauge if I’m serious. “The gate never closes. Who told you that? I go out late to the movies all of the time,” he said. He walked me back to the apartment building, telling me about how much he likes English and how he hopes to study in England one day. Then he says, “Don’t forget. I’m Michael. Very tall. Like Michael Jordan. Easy to remember, right?”

I get back to my apartment and five minutes later Michael called. “Sorry to bother you,” he said, short of breath, “I wanted to tell you I just went down to ask the guard about the gate and he said it never closes. Also, here is your telephone number.”

Talk about yin and yang for one day. My next class went rather well. We had a discussion and talked about linked sounds which was a completely new concept to my students (they actually have had years of listening class and not a one of them knew that “was a” sounds much more like “wuza” in normal speech). You win some and you lose some.