Thursday, May 29, 2008


So apparently I am perhaps moving on Saturday to another apartment? I am so confused. I got a text from my boss: "Brian, are you free on Friday to look at an apartment?" Um, no, I am not, because I teach from 11-8 remember?, and then I am going to Beijing because I HAVE PLANS FOR THINGS TO HAPPEN IN 48 HOURS. And then I talked to the Chinese under-boss person, and she said, "yes, if you like the apartment you have to move on Saturday morning." WHAT. Please, people.

The original plan was/is for me to move into a teacher's perfectly nice apartment that is available at the end of June. I don't know why things must change now.

I know, I know: "living abroad should ease my rigidity" and all that. Still, I think it's reasonable to expect plans that have been known for awhile (I am now remembering the Chinese under-boss mentioning something about "when I move" earlier this week, but I thought she meant "to Terna's apartment in a month") to be shared with the person they affect the most.

Also, this reminds me of the day I had to immediately switch desks with my boss one afternoon at my previous job, which was really stressful and worry-inducing (although technically this should ease my mind? I don't know.)

Indian food tonight!

I also just had a dirty, dusty run, as it's quite windy today, and the construction-caused debris gets kicked up and about. So I am visibly soiled.


I was talking to one of my co-workers today: a teacher who works part-time, so we don't have many opportunities to communicate. Two years ago, he just decided to up and move from England to China. To "check things out." Um...what? How can people do that? I don't understand. Now, TWO YEARS LATER, he takes Chinese classes all day, and teaches 5 hours a week at my school. I'm no stranger to Lady Wanderlust, sure--I did move to China after all--but really. To move to a country like China--CHINA, PEOPLE--without a job or language knowledge, just to "check it out?" My OCD sense was tingling as he casually told me these things. "Many people here are running away from something, but I just decided I wanted to check it out over here."

I am thinking about being afraid of missing food, but I'm so far unable to force myself to remember how delicious a turkey sandwich from Potbelly tastes, or a chocolate cupcake from Dinkel's, or the Taxco entree at Las Mananitas, or a spinach salad with olive oil and spinach and cherry tomatoes from my kitchen.

Which is good! I don't want to remember these things!

I want to savor the weird bun filled with sweet red bean paste I have for breakfast most mornings, or the greasy pork and leek dumplings from a street vendor (15 for 2 yuan), or the sauteed spicy tofu and fluffy mushrooms from this place near my house, or the "3+2" espresso sandwich crackers I guiltily buy from time to time, or the ji ro chow bing I eat for lunch every day.

Goodnight. The weekend tiptoes to the edge of the horizon, like the sun allegedly does every morning (not that I could see it through the pollution or anything).

(Literally, in my afternoon class, I look out the windows and see a wall of dark clouds approaching some tall buildings about 2km away, and think it's going to rain. It never rains, though; it's just pollution, only 3-4% of which comes from automobiles in China.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


This is becoming some sort of "teaching blog," and I do apologize for that. Allow me to expel some thoughts on that, and then I will attempt to squeeze out something less boring.

How can some classes be so amazing and wonderful and smart and full of mutual admiration, and other classes make me feel like a horrible person because they're so fucking stupid? I don't get it. I teach two sections of the same level, and in one I could barely hold their sweaty, fidgety hands as we crossed Learning About Newspaper Sections St. It took almost 45 minutes to make them understand Editorials and Obituaries and other simple-ish concepts. Then, in another class, we finished reviewing these things so quickly that I was able to have them discuss exciting questions like, "Should the government always tell its citizens the truth?" and "Is news necessary?" and "Should we have access to the news in other countries?" It's so frustrating.

What else.

The weather here is so queer. It's been in the 90s for the last week or so, and today it was breezy and cool (70s-80s). the wind caused some sandstorms in Beijing, I hear, but otherwise it was pleasant here.

I've been running again, to compensate for the oil-and-rice-based diet I enjoy here.

I've been having odd "what do I do if I am in [insert building name, bus number, my apartment, my school] and an earthquake happens?" mental moments. But then I realize, people live in the Bay Area and experience earthquakes all the time.

Learning Chinese is not coming along well. Erin always says, semi-mockingly, "you always just do whatever it is you tell yourself to do!" And it's true--quitting smoking, running, moving to China, writing--all of these things are obstacles that daunt many and yet silly 'ol me can dangle a carrot in front of his own nose and get it done. Then, there's learning Chinese. I can think of at least 87 things more exciting to do with my time than learn Chinese. This will change, and honestly, I am recognizing more characters and learning more phrases, but not in any sort of rigid, "this is study time" sort of way. I'll eventually grow bored enough to pursue these language skills I so desperately need (after all, for how long can I eat the 15 different dishes I know how to ask for here?).

I need to figure out how to acquire a new water tank for my water cooler.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

This is what I have to deal with.

Learning to Speak Olympics

A relaxing weekend was had, and is still going on. Photos and descriptions will be posted later.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Missing the Future

And suddenly, while listening to The Black Kids and reading about someone's father's funeral, I have this weird daydream about Ravinia, which causes me to miss the summer that I won't have in Chicago this year. Weird.

The weekend! Shopping, park-ing, Indiana Jones, and running and eating and playing are all on the list.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Seriously, my days are too long. How do real teachers make it through 8-12 hour days, only to travel home and grade papers and plan lessons?

This evening's class was much improved. They were still not very chatty, but I don't feel like it was my fault. In fact, I feel like I did a lovely job of engaging them, and even if they hated it (I don't think they did; they looked like they were enjoying themselves), I did what I could.

Of course, only HALF OF THE CLASS SHOWED UP, so. Yes, half. This will be a problem. I can smell it.

In other news, Scarlett Johansson is not delicious, but No Age and The Tallest Man on Earth are.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Yes, of course.

Everything is fine, as predicted. The guest student loved the class, apparently/allegedly, and is only registering for my part of the class (foregoing the 5 hours a week with a Chinese teacher that everyone else takes). I had great classes today; sometimes I think, "wow--I've successfully swindled these people into loving me no matter what I do!" And that's a slimy, good, slimy feeling.

Is worrying less on my laundry list of goals for China? No, actually it isn't. Worrying is productive. Worrying catalyzes personal change. Worrying makes us scrutinize our behaviors, and helps us make better decisions in the future. I don't care what what Jesus would do (Luke 12:22-26): I'm all about worrying. In this world, nothing and no one is worth trusting, including yourself and your own instincts.

Plus, I think worrying keeps my metabolism up, meaning the sesame-and-red-bean-paste pastries I shovel into my stomach are incinerated like so many tons of garbage in this lovely, odd country.

(By the way, you haven't lived until you've had a sesame-and-red-bean-paste pastry. It's...well, let's just say, it made me question my undying loyalty to the Krispy Kreme donut (which (in another parenthetical aside) exists in Hong Kong (!)).)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Where's my seatbelt?

On second thought, please don't read this.

My Mondaymobile went from zero to shitty in record time. In first gear, a man sort-of hit his girlfriend in my morning class, which was oh-so lovely to deal with. Second gear was the announcement that the teachers will begin operating on an incentive/punishment program (which I am against in theory anyways--merit pay for teachers over-stretches the boundaries of a capitalist approach to the "business" of education). Third gear, you ask? Third gear was a terrible lesson with a usually terrible class (silent, tired, disinterested) which was interrupted by a prospective "customer" who surveyed the rest of class. It was just...yes, a really awful hour and ten that I probably fucked up, and now that would-have-been student will tell my boss' boss that I am the worst teacher ever and I will have to flee the country. I mean, the class literally ended with me asking, "what can I do to make this a better class?" And them telling me. Which would have been great/fine on any other day, but now this woman who came to one class has the impression that I am a terrible teacher, and she will pass it on to the "sales staff," and like a wildfire all the Chinese staff and teachers will be whispering even more than I'm sure they already do about how I am an awful teacher and I DON'T UNDERSTAND CHINESE SO THEY PROBABLY DO IT RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME ANYWAYS my god.

Thank goodness for my drug dealer, Mother Nature: without residual running-related endorphins I would have assumed the fetal position sometime around noon.

(And then I wonder if I am projecting all my anxiety about living in China on my teaching--I'm constantly worried about being fired, about being a bad teacher, about my visa. My job does not allow me to feel like sending roots into the dusty Tianjin soil is worthwhile since everything is so tenuous. But is it that, or is it some unspoken hope that I will be fired, so that I have a reason to run away from here? I cannot tell, but I think it's mostly the whole I'm-a-shitty-teacher-without-a-good-visa thing.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

From the Jin to the Jing, and back again.

I had a great weekend in Beijing, but am far too tired to describe it in great detail now. I just enjoy metropolitan patterns of consumption, is all. So. Yes. Goodnight. There are photographs and films up, if all is uploaded properly.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On culture shock.

One of my lessons I'm preparing for tomorrow addresses the phenomenon known commonly as "culture shock." My materials go so far as to suggest that it is a scientific condition, with near-identical symptoms. This is an apropos lesson, since all of my students wish to live abroad soon, and the instructor is at some stage in the process as well.

I've decided that I'm still lingering awkwardly in the "honeymoon phase" (a term I have used repeatedly without knowledge of its "scientific" origins). I'm not sure what has retarded my progress. Perhaps the Internet and the ease of connection to my past has something to do with it?

A summary:

Everything is exciting and new. You might think that the new culture is ideal, and you might think that it is much better than your own. If you are sometimes frustrated or have problems, you quickly recover. Everything is quite positive, the people in the new culture are very nice. This stage can last for months, or maybe only a couple of days. It is called the tourist stage because tourists generally do not stay in a different place long enough to have culture shock.

I am still waiting for the "shock" phase, which is next. Perhaps in June? Perhaps tomorrow? Perhaps never?

My review went somewhat well. My supervisor suggested I make a few changes (like writing on the dry erase wall and THEN talking, instead of doing both at once (which I am wont to do)), but otherwise seemed pleased. So. Good-ish!

Beijing and the many modern art galleries this weekend. And a package from home, delivered via my parents' flight attendant friend!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yes I am ok x 100.

No earthquake troubles here; I don't think anyone even felt it in Tianjin. A former student is at her uni right now, which is near the epicenter of the quake, but she's fine too.

The only thing NOT fine is the constant noise in this building in which I live. If it's not accordion or Chinese soap operas (there's a distinctive chime that plays between scenes) or my neighbor partying, it's being awoken at 7:30AM to the sound of hammers--many hammers--rat a tat tatting on walls somewhere. Don't they realize they could just use scissors on these paper-thin partitions?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Monday Monday.

And, all the anxieties of my first few teaching days have arisen from the ashes. New students, new lessons, and a supervision on Wednesday (it's a standard, all-teachers-are-watched-once-every-two-months thing). So.

I was propositioned via text and telephone to be someone's husband-ish today. So that always feels awkward.

Things are looking up otherwise! A trip to Beijing this weekend (and a package from my parents will be waiting there for me!), perhaps one again next weekend, a gallery opening here in my actual town with an artist I actually know!, and assorted other grand plans.

And since I've vowed to never again purchase chocolate-filled Oreos (or any other cookie-resembling confection), Teh Suprfatt which I have become will soon transform into a handsomely-bodied devil.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Teh Visa.

So, I'm a little worried about all of that right now. I'm legally allowed to be here through August 7 right now, which as we all should know is one day before the Olympic games. The plan created by my school is to renew my F visa and send me to HK for a work visa after the games (which seems realistic, since all flights into and around China are vastly overpriced right now, and will only get worse through August).

This NYT article suggests that this will be a challenge, though, if not an impossibility.

I'm a worrier, as we all know, but I think this is certainly something my school should be worrying about with some urgency, like, now. Either they need to tell me, "you're going to need to leave China the day before the Olympics and return afterwards (or never?)" or "we're going to work really hard to keep you here and should know what will happen in the next month (one month is certainly enough time, I think)," or "you'll need to live here illegally for a few weeks, which means you cannot do anything but go between your house and school since security will be so high."

I will be really angry if I cannot be in Beijing for even one day of the Olympics. That was, after all, one motivating factor for me choosing this school and city and country. I will also be really angry if they give me little forewarning about needing to leave China. The plan in my head is currently to find a 6-month contract position in South Korea if this happens.

I look forward to the day in which I have a work visa in my hands, and I can worry about other things.

* * * * *

I went on a food-scavenging adventure last night, purchasing an egg-and-mush crepe thing with peppers and a crunchy pig-ear looking thing, some delicious spicy noodle soup, and (accidentally two) sweet roasted chicken on the bone with mushrooms and rice. Today, I bought a drink that anyone who's anyone is drinking in China right now called Pocari Sweat. It's marketed as a Gatorade-electrolyte-something-or-other.

* * * * *

And it's Mother's Day, which makes me sad. Terna's mother is visiting her right now, and I met her on Friday and that also made me sad. But. It's only one Mother's Day that will be missed, and shouldn't every day be Mother's Day, after all? (Also, my father's birthday is this week, which is even more terrible to miss.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Water Park.

I generally hate zoos. My already-hemorrhaging heart bleeds with greater fervor when I see wild-belonging animals caged in small spaces aesthetically designed to to reflect a zoo patron's idea of a "natural habitat." And sure, veterinarians do all they can to maintain health and happiness among the animals, but still--it just seems wrong.

Imagine how I reacted to a Chinese zoo. If their children are allowed to work 60-hour weeks in Gap factories, you can guess how well they treat animals. Jenny and I went to the Water Park today, where they have a medium-sized zoo filled with bears, monkeys, peafowl (peacocks), giraffes, and panda (singular).

While the rest of the park seemed nice (photos are up), the zoo really rubbed me the wrong way. Most people have enough decorum to not scream at the animals, or feed them horrible snacks (Jenny's menu included these crunchy red bean-paste-filled crackery things that she bought specifically for the purpose of feeding the animals). Not in China! The animals all seemed pretty out of it--and I would be too if I were in prison. Ack.

Otherwise, the day was pleasant. I think I'm finally starting to get a hang of this whole "speaking Chinese" thing. I went for a run afterwards, because I am The Fat. Happy Mother's Day.

An aside.

And then some middle-aged people (man and woman) start banging on my door for about 5 minutes, until I come to the door. They talk at me in Chinese for a bit, then ask for my telephone number. I give it to them, and then think, "um...what the fuck?" I start asking them who they are, etc., and they just want my name. Then they invite my neighbor to come over (all this is happening in my house, which I did not invite anyone into exactly, which is making me very uncomfortable) and sort-of translate, and they pretend to be the police? But I make the universal "show me your badge" hand sign, they laugh, and then there's some more talk between my neighbor and them, and they all leave. My neighbor tells me that he'll tell me what they were saying later. So, jesus christ this place is fucked up.

UPDATE: My neighbor told me they were from an Olympic committee, checking the "safety" of apartments or something. I'd heard about these checks before--entire buildings being turned over by military squads (squads?) in an attempt to guarantee "safety" for the Olympic games. Also, since I am white, I am clearly an obvious target for such a search since it's us silly foreigners who think for a moment that certain regions of certain countries might perhaps be granted some semblance of autonomy but ANYWAYS.

Oh, happy coincidence.

I love being ahead of the game:

A Funhouse Floating in a Korean Spa

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Less Briefly.

A list of Seoul-related adventures:

1. Seeing Cyndi. I think (not to start this on a low note) it was perhaps too early for me to see someone from my American life? In the film Away From Her/story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro, Grant cannot visit his Alzheimer's-addled wife Fiona in the nursing home for 30 days, to "let her adjust to her new surroundings." I saw Cyndi after a mere 27 days here, and perhaps it was too soon? I became very almost-weepy on the boat trip to China, but then arrived here and felt like I was somehow "at home" again.

2. Seoul. Seoul is a perfect city. It is a great blend of Korean culture and Western consumption. I didn't realize how much I missed things like coffee until there was a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner. I didn't realize how much I missed donuts until I ate about 2 dozen Krispy Kremes during my time there. Korean ony has 24 characters, and, while an ugly-sounding language, seems easy to learn (not that anyone does). There are bountiful numbers of foreigners (even gay ones!). It is beautifully carved into green mountains. Korean teachers make more than double what I currently make. The porcelain ballerina of Seoul has been dancing in the jewelry box of my head since I stepped foot onto its bustling streets, and I can't quite get it to stop.

3. Lantern Festival. Since next Monday is Buddha's birthday, the largest Buddhist temple in Seoul was having a lantern festival that C and I just happened to stumble upon. It was truly an amazing sight--a ceiling of small lanterns, elaborate parade floats made of wire, paper, and lightbulbs, and many practitioners performing various acts of celebration. It was so unbelievably beautiful; the photos do not, unfortunately, effectively convey how great this event was.

4. Jjimjilbang. Because of the holiday weekend (Children's Day (?)), all guest houses were booked for Saturday evening. So, Cyndi suggested we stay at a jjimjilbang, which is a bath house/dormitory that would only cost 8500 won ($8). We tentatively committed to this idea, locking our belongings in a locker in a subway station near the one we were planning on maybe staying at.

After a long, perfect day of running around Seoul, we were dining on sauteed meats and kim chee and other delicious things when I looked at my watch. It was 12:15, and the subwas closed at 12:30, meaning our locker full of our clothes and toiletries would be behind fences now. We went to the station anyways, just in case, but to no avail: our locker (#13, natch) taunted us from inside the station.

So, we went and became very drunk on beer and soju and stumbled to the jjimjilbang at around 4:00AM, at which point we were handed sleeping clothes and locker keys. There were obvs. separate bathing areas for men and women, but we regrouped to sleep on the wooden floor and wooden "pillows" of the dormitory floor. I am still nursing bruises from this experience; whole regions of my body were numb when I would periodically wake up. But! It was only $8. So.

5. Sights. We viewed two palaces, Seoul Tower (but did not ascend), the Buddhist temple, and many many many streets of shopping. It would have been great if it weren't so expensive: in Zara, the Korean prices were just stickered on over the price in Euros, and it was, in most cases, three times as expensive. So. I did not buy much--a pair of pants on super-sale, a hoodie, and a few t-shirts.

6. Food. Korean food is fantastic. There was not a single missed note in the spicy symphonies that entered my mouth. I wish I could live on the stuff.

7. Jinchon. The ship trip was quite hip. It was not "nice," but much "nicer" than I expected: there were two restaurants, a bar, a cafe, some stores, and plenty of ambling space. My bed was reasonably comfortable. I spent most of the trip to Seoul reading and writing, and most of the trip back chatting with two North American teachers who were going on months-long excursions around the Asian continent now that their contracts were over. All in all, I would highly recommend this mode of transportation, and I'm now trying to figure out where else I could go via ferry. It's only around $300 round trip to sail to Kobe, Japan...

(Actually, this trip was super-expensive, so I'm not planning any elaborate excursions for awhile. I'm thinking I'll just do some weekend excursions around China for the next few months, and then save up for my month-long trek from Beijing to New Delhi after my contract is up.)

Overall, I'm glad to be back, but I was even gladder to be in the company of Cyndi and Seoul.

(NB: I hear a lawnmower outside, and it is a very odd, home-think-y sound.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Seoul was simply amazing, in a variety ways. I have so many memories, stories, bruises, coughs, fat rolls, and donuts to take away from it. Some of which I will share with all of you soon (not the coughs; don't worry, hypochondriac). But for now, I must recharge myself for another day of work. Goodnight and goodbye and Annyeonghe Kaseyo.

(There are new pictures and perhaps films available.)