Sunday, June 29, 2008

Only good things to-day.

1. I had a great run on Friday, and then watched No Country For Old Men, which I liked a little more this time around.

2. Although I was running late Saturday morning and missed the good train (meaning I had to kill 2 hours at Carrefour and a delicious Japanese restaurant where I ate delicious thin-sliced salty beef covered in onions and a goopy, runny, uncooked egg), I made it into Beijing unscathed, and read the most delicious un-letter I have ever received (yes, letters can really reach me, so send them often).

3. I went to the Confucious Temple after registering at my hostel. It was lovely, most notably for the overwhelming presence of trees: the road that leads to the road that leads to the temple is populated by hundreds of incense and temple-worthy brass knick-knacks. The road that leads to the temple is shaded by a canopy of trees wrestling with one another (and, in some trunks' cases, themselves). The temple area itself is filled with old firs of many shapes and sizes. Even if I've seen this building structure tens of times before, they never cease to amaze me. I'm not even "into" the "Oriental" "aesthetic," but I'm still amazed by the architecture, the detailing, the magnificence of it all every time I visit such a site.

4. In the week leading up to Pride weekend (why did I capitalize that?), I've been feeling rather sad, since I've moved from a place where I couldn't swing a feather boa without hitting a fag (and, moreover, a place where I was a member of the majority) to a place where being queer is treated like anything but a normal way of life (and where I'm in the minority in so many ways). Forget China--even my teachers, all of whom have thick, woody Christian roots, dance around the topic (I had a pronoun-less conversation about my relationship with Theo this week. Exhausting.). Although being queer isn't something to be "proud" of, per se, it's nice to have a day in which we get to celebrate being recognized as humans who deserve the same modicum of respect and care as everyone else.

That said:

I was invited to a party that evening by my friend Eric, hosted by an elder-gay who owns a glass factory a few hours outside of Beijing (and subsequently, a massive apartment with a great outdoor patio). I had a "fabulous" time, meeting many Beijingers from Paris, Poland, Pennsylvania and beyond (and, of course, China). I even met two separate guys from Chicago, one of with whom Facebook tells me I have four "mutual friends." It was really, really, really nice to slip back into my outgoing, first-meeting-with-like-minded-people suit. I'm just glad it still fits.

5. I visited Mao's "body" this morning. After checking my bag in a separate building, waiting in line for a security check, and then in 2 other lines (one of which passed by a booth for people to buy flowers for Maoers), I finally walked briskly by China's answer to Jesus. In a small room (inside of his massive mausoleum), behind two layers of glass and a red blanket covering everything but his face lies a yellow (literally, not racist-ly) shell of what once was an incredibly powerful man. I'm fairly certain it isn't his real body, either--how could they have preserved it for this long?

6. I took a trip to Ikea to pick up a few housewares I haven't been able to find in Tianjin afterwards. Prices in China's Ikeas are apparently quite good. I bought a lamp for $2, and many other seemingly-pricey things for under $70. It's odd, because although you're thinking, "well, of COURSE everything's cheaper; there's a shorter distance between the factories and stores for these goods," most of the things I picked up were made in Eastern Europe.

7. I met up with Terna for a last farewell. One of her friends from Manchester (HINT HINT) is visiting her (HINT HINT), and the three of us went to the "silk market," which was all kinds of disastrous. Imagine: booths upon booths of women yelling "buy a purse," "I remember you," "pretty jewelry for girlfriend?" and so on. After awhile, the inherent value of these goods is tarnished by their sheer over-abundance (the market is something like 7 floors high). Terna did well, though, scoring quite a few goods for about as much as I spent on housewares.

8. As I missed the 5:17 train back to Tianjin, I decided once again to pay an extra 20RMB and take a private van back, instead of waiting for another 2+ hours for the next one. It was another hair-raising experience, with several near-misses (I, of course, was "sitting bitch" between the driver and a woman who was visibly afraid of me touching her) and no seat belts in sight. On the highway headed towards Beijing, 95% of the vehicles were enormous trucks hauling things into the city--dirt, concrete, wood, other trucks (one had a stack of 1 dozen mini-trucks as its load). I'm still highly dubious about everything being completed and shiny for the big day(s).

9. I practiced Chinese so much this weekend! I'm starting to think I'll get the hang of this crizz-azy language after all. I bargained over a street vendor for cigarettes (for a friend! of course!) successfully and animatedly; I no longer need to really think when someone tells me the price of something; I even had an 8-sentence conversation with my greengrocer-woman (who taught me the word for "banana," although now I cannot remember it). Even a few characters are getting thrown into the mix--I can recognize about 15 now? 20?

10. This will not be a week filled with good things, I know. But, at least I can reflect upon the weekend I've had as an advance consolation prize.

11. (Pictures.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yeah, so shut up.

Complain about how terrible the Chinese government all you want, but at least here, firearms of all sorts are illegal. Silly America.

Did I tell you? One of my students gave me a haircut! It looks alright, although he took "leave it a little longer in the back" too literally, so I have sort of a strange thing going on with my hair right now. But still! Fun!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Everything was going well until...

...I found out I have a motherfucking jesus christ what the fuck meeting with the PSB tomorrow morning, which is the governing body of all foreigners in China. So, I'm now once again thinking I'm getting kicked out. And just when I was beginning to get comfortable all over again. This is so fucked.

Like, my boss said, "they're going to take you into a dark room with no windows and ask you a lot of questions." WHAT?

If I weren't so drunk from the stupid, pathetic foreigner's bar, this would probably be worrying me much more than it actually is.

But srsly, jesus christ.

The thunderstorm will lull me to sleep.

UPDATE: No interview. Just a photo. I don't know why my boss would worry me like this. Does it make any sense? No.

Going away party for Terna last night. Another party on Saturday. Some sights, some shopping, some sanity before my enormously busy week next week.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Best Freudian slip ever.

(from Gchat:)

Lujan: how are your chinese lesions coming?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The first (of many).

I should also mention: I experienced my first "I'm almost calling you out for being a fag, but you're still my teacher so I won't get too specific about how I/we think you're a fag."

I was teaching about job interviews, and one of my less-than-stellar students (I take his cell phone away at least 3 times a week) said, "In China, you can't get a job if you're gay." Cue laughter and Chinese from his corner of also-dumb students (students who cannot answer simple questions like "what is good about being a teacher?").

I played it quite coolly, asking the class if this was true and writing on the board under "Job Interview Questions," "Are you gay?" This at least made the students laugh, and then I explained that job interviews usually focus on one's professional life, not their personal life, and anyways in the West we don't discriminate against people based on their sexuality or gender or color or age so shut the fuck up you crooked-toothed, orange-haired twat.

I'll surely have to deal with more of this in the future, but at least the first time is over with. I didn't even get red or anything. I'm quite proud of myself.

Oh, and I taught the phrases "It is what it is" and "shitstorm" to my upper level class, in celebration of the newly-dubbed Idiom Fridays (a carrot to get them to come to class on Fridays that has worked quite well thus far).

Roughing it.

As I was taking a shower last night, after a particularly humid run, the power went out. Sure, I was running my A/C while having a few lights on, but I didn't think I could have overloaded the fuse (is that even the proper terminology? See, this is how often things like this happen to me). I then realized that, perhaps I had run out of electricity.

"Run out of electricity," you say? "What, like one goes to a supermarket or a poorly-lit alley and buys a sack of electricity?"

No, no. Instead, in this magical land, one puts money onto a "power stick," which looks like a jump drive, and then plugs it into a power box in one's apartment to "recharge" the electricity meter. One goes to a special bank to do this. Photos to follow.

After discussing with my boss this possibility (after trying all other logical options), we decided this was probably the case. Of course, nothing could be done about it at 7:00PM on a Friday night, so I spent the evening in darkness (and at Starbucks, where I am currently for reasons which will become known below).

This morning, I picked up a new stick for my electricity box from school. But, of course, each box has its own stick, and this mysterious stick I was given belonged to someone else's box. So, that was a wasted trip for me and, later, the repair person from my school. Finally, magically, my landlady came over and gave me the real stick (after I wrote out a makeshift contract expressing that I now had possession of the stick). We put it into the box, and the power came on. Apparently the fuse had blown, and one needs to put the stick into the power box to replace the fuse or something.

I hate that I often feel like I can't be trusted with things. Like, the electricity stick for my box, so that I can have electricity after I blow a fuse. So much information has been parsed out to me sparingly and infrequently, as if knowing everything at once would either be too much for my feeble brain, or give me too much freedom to live like a normal adult.

Whatever the case, I had no electricity for 24 hours. And I'm cranky. And I've been stood up for dinner this evening. And I also have no internet right now because my modem is broken (I spent another hour on the phone with the Internet people, trying to get them to come to my house and fix it, to no avail) (and there's no information on the internet to tell me what to do to fix it).

What a waste of a weekend. Oh well--I still have 45 left or something. And I'm hanging out with my favorite students tomorrow, so it'll end on a middle note.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Giving bits of fuck.

I'm fairly certain I had never eaten a fresh cherry until yesterday. I just don't like the artificial cherry flavor, and made the logical, though incorrect, assumption that it was somehow reminiscent of the actual flavor of a cherry.

It isn't, I learned, after buying three huge handfuls of cherries at the market yesterday (for about $1). They're quite outstanding.

I had my first Chinese lesson this evening. For the last two months, I've done everything I could to avoid studying Chinese. With the impending visits of my parents and Cyndi (and everyone else pleasedeargod come visit me) I really should be able to navigate this incomparably confusing country. Perhaps if I'm paying for it ($7/hour), I'll be motivated to give a bit of a fuck about it?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Stage 1.

Is there anything wrong with maintaining my status as a Stage 1 Culture Shock "sufferer?" If there is, don't tell me.

There is just so much to see in this country--nay, this continent. I don't want to grow apathetic towards it like many of my co-workers have. I didn't move here to begin a new life, per se--I moved her to explore and see things I'll never see again and do things I'll never do again. The "new life" part will just be an additional perk, I suppose.

That said, the weekend was delightful. I got a late start on Saturday, and had some subway and hostel issues, but made it to the Temple of the Earth, Joy City Mall, the temple district (though the temples themselves close quite early), Tienanmen Square, and Japanese dinner.

I met a brilliant Israeli guy at my hostel, and we were travel buddies for Sunday, visiting the Temple of Heaven, the Drum Tower, and the Bell Tower together. Travel buddies make so much sense, as long as they aren't terrible people. Those fleeting friendships are like one-night-stands, only satisfying and not repulsive. The best things about ourselves can be unpacked in the time one spends with the average travel buddy. By the time the shadow of neuroses can be seen, and skeletons start to open the closet door, the two of you are parting ways. How ideal.

Photos should be up. Goodnight.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Remind me:

Why did I leave a city in which I could attend this on a normal Wednesday evening?

Homesickness has started to get more comfortable with me, like a new friend with whom you might only share a drink at first, then a full meal, then expanding to whole weekends spent laying on a couch watching movies in pajamas. I don't miss any one thing in particular (though Berlin has surely been on my mind regularly, as much of my running music is derived from Greg Haus's sets). Just...the life I left behind.

Making friends here has been a moderate challenge; I have honestly, truly gone out of my way to be all sorts of friendly and "hey let's go do this" and all of those things, but often it just doesn't work out. I'm not sure why, and it's certainly not encouraging me to change my curmudgeonly ways.

On the good side of things, I think this month's classes will be a delight. My students are mostly sharp, polite, and in heart with me. The key, it seems, to being a successful foreign teacher is to force your students to fall in love with you. I walk through the halls with ever-changing posses of male students (the females are generally far too shy to escort me anywhere), often eating lunch on their dole (awkward! I make twice as much as your parents!). The Chinese teachers tell me how much my classes adore me, with one noting, "you're the most popular teacher at Compass!" Even the evening class I had last month--the silent, moody group of students who made my internal organs cry--misses me desperately, and "really really really liked" me, according to their Chinese teacher.

Let's face it: my presence at school is little more than a novelty. I and my fellow foreign teachers were hired to be caged birds. We sing our odd melodies, we look pretty and Otherly (and, with one exception, white). We offer these students a taste of what many will never accomplish no matter how hard they study: the chance to become intimate with an English speaker. And that's kind of sick, no?

No, no. It's only sick to me, to us--people who are used to diversity, people who interact with funny-looking and funny-sounding people on a daily basis, people who operate under the pretense of individuality, of uniqueness, of difference-as-the-status-quo. I admire my students for yearning for change, for wanting to experience a life outside of the government-manufactured Chinese ideals, for knowing that they need some other, Other experience to fulfill them. I admire that because I can see that within myself too.

* * * * * *

I don't have to move! How joyous! I am traveling to Beijing this weekend (a day of religious sites on Saturday, followed by perhaps a trip to see The Chairman on Sunday?), and will probably stop by Ikea to collect a few random things (a clock for my bathroom, new curtains for my bedroom, some sheets). I'm really looking forward to visiting the city by myself myself--the other two times were graciously narrated my native and native-ish people. To be able to think, do, plan on my own--what a magnificent treat.

I think I will begin Chinese lessons the week after next. For only 55RMB, I can have a one-hour session with a tutor from a company who will come to my work and teach me. I've delayed learning Chinese for far too long; I should be able to tell the bus driver where I will depart the bus; I should be able to tell the lunch vendor, "please make it more spicy, and use less bing and don't charge me 1RMB extra just because I'm stupid and white."

I think that, if I start actually undertaking some of my plans here, I will maintain the happiness I have had here so far, and keep the home-yearning at bay.

Also, I don't wear deodorant anymore. How exciting! I'm totally "going native."

And on that note...

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Problem With Blogs:

Generally, when I have nice, happy thing to write about, I'm not interested in preserving them here. Thus, my weekend, which was nice and happy, won't be written about extensively. I went to a party on Friday, where I met some great foreigners and enjoyed myself immensely. Saturday, I went to KTV with some students, and actually participated in karaoke for the first time in my natural life. I'm convinced, however, that Chinese karaoke is programmed for higher voices, so I was less than wonderful. We had lunch and played in a multi-story electronics mall afterwards. Sunday I ran a few errands, ran a few Km, and rested.

Another term begins tomorrow--we'll see how this one goes. The good news is, I have evenings off now. The bad news is, all foreign teachers are hereby responsible for maintaining an 85% attendance rate in our classrooms. What?

Articles you should read:

Friday, June 6, 2008

And then.

And then one of my evening students gave me a gift: a travel set of stainless steel chopsticks. And I knew all would be well in the world.

I've just returned from a fantastic, 150Y all-you-care-to-order Japanese feast, and must head to bed to begin the last day of a rubbish school term. Otherwise, we might be able to chat more. Sorry.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


I think I can consider yesterday my first truly decent teaching day, from start to finish. True, most of my students "failed" their written tests with their Chinese teacher (the school has some money-back guarantee wherein, if you fail a class, you get to take it again for free, so many students repeat levels 2, 3, 4 times), but I feel like we had a productive, fun learning day in each of my four classes.

Yes, black tea strawberry yogurt is as delicious as it sounds.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

All is well.

I didn't move, after all--the apartment was low-ceilinged, carpeted, old-applianced, and in a weird part of town. So, I was assertive and said, "I think I'll wait for the apartment I was told I could move into in the first place."

(Now, of course, I'm contemplating staying here, because although Terna's apartment does have a fully functional kitchen, it too is small and in an enormous, funky old building. It's kitschy in ways I appreciate, and is in a good location, but I'm starting to think I've become comfortable here in this apartment. It's large, clean, and mine. I'm devising some techniques for making a kitchen-ish on the back porch.)

I then stuck to my original plan--to travel to Beijing with my teacher friend Vincent. I was running late for the train, and we missed it, but then decided to take a private car, which was only 20 yuan ($3) more for each of us. (Yes--to have someone drive us in a nice car the two-hour, white-knuckle, driving-on-highway-shoulders trip to Beijing, it cost us 60 each--about what, 9 or 10 dollars?) We went out for awhile--I think it was more my idea than his, but he complied. After staying in a way-too-expensive but two-bedroomed hotel room, we departed for the Great Wall.

I wish I had a stretch of time that would allow me to trek across the entirety of the Great Wall, because really, it's quite cool. Being in the mountain-ish-es, climbing up stairs that have been there (although replaced several times) for centuries, enjoying the fresh air and physical exertion and rewarding views--I really felt happy to be there. (Photos are up, but few in number, owing to my dead camera battery.)

I miss my sewing machine.