rising from the dust of inner mongolia

contrary to popular belief, i am not currently working in a chinese work camp shearing sheep with my cell-mate named "da guoren" or in english, "big nuts mcgee". while this may serve as some resemblance of my work situation, it is not reality. the past month or so that i have been MIA has been uneventful/full of experiences that cannot fully be put into words. i will try to give some highlights of the experiences i have had during my past hiatus from writing, as well as write about my recent trip to tokyo. get excited!

i will begin from about a month ago . . . one of the foreign teachers here from providence college left and returned to england. given the lack of foreigners in tongliao, we were the logical shmucks to take up the slack. i was given two more classes of 7th graders, adding 6 more lessons per week to my schedule. while i do get paid a little extra money for the extra classes, my time now is spent entirely devoted to teaching during the week. i have become accustomed to this schedule now, but there were a couple of weeks in which i found myself lost and purposeless. let me explain . . .

with adam leaving the school, chinese teachers complaining about the way they are treated here, and students coming from relatively affluent families who expect good grades (whether truly earned or not) for the amount of money they are paying to send their children here, i began to feel a little useless and impotent. i had had all of these goals for the year. i wanted my students to speak perfect english by the time the year was over. i wanted to be a part of a progressive institution that valued education over rank in society. i wanted to open my students' minds to the world. naive? unrealistic? perhaps. but, we all know that i don't deal well in realism. during this period of time i lost motivation in all endeavors. well, things are much better now and i have realized that perhaps just by serving as a "bright spot" in these children's days that are usually filled with endless rote repetition, slave hours in the classroom, and very little play time, i can make some kind of difference, however superficial it might be. i guess it was a good lesson for me to learn. the learning just never ends here in inner mongolia.

well, during this brief period of despair i had the pleasure of eating dog with some chinese military leaders, experiencing snow in early october, and buying 2 new pairs of shoes for 150 yuan each ($18). yes, these are the highlights in my life. it was right before the end of october that i emerged from the doldrums just in time for halloween.

now, halloween proved to be quite the celebration here in tongliao thanks to us foreign teachers basically forcing it on the residents of this provincial town. from an entire week of lessons devoted to halloween (including showing the movies sleepy hollow and the cartoon version ichabod craine & mr. toad) to throwing a party with some truly inappropriate costumes, the holiday was amply observed. i was appropriately scantily clad dressed as a baby (although i don't think that any parent would let their infant leave the house looking the way i did). the party was a complete success as could be evidenced by the state of my room the next morning. see, i guess when i welcomed everyone at the beginning of the party telling them to make themselves at home, they really took that to heart. from cigarette butts, food, and spilled beer, i felt like i was cleaning up after a college party all over again. COLLEGE!!

time quickly flowed into november and i found myself getting ready for my trip to tokyo. this trip was nothing short of incredible . . .

as anyone who knows anything about me would know i have a ravenous appetite for sushi. tokyo presented me with endless options to gorge myself on fat slices of slimy, raw fish and i couldn't have been happier. to avoid a day-to-day account of my time in tokyo, i will just talk about some of the things that really stand out in my mind. i think the first thing that surprised me when i stepped off the subway car into the streets of tokyo was how silent it was. walking out of tokyo station, i was almost creeped out by how quiet it was. the cars ran quietly, there was no horn honking to be heard, and the people refrained from talking on their cell phones in public. i could hardly even make out anyone talking. there was just a quiet stillness to this completely modern and bustling city. perhaps i was more surprised having spent the past 5 months in china where constant noise is expected and welcomed but nonetheless, silence and serenity are an integral part of japanese culture. the next few days were filled with visiting various shrines, temples, and museums. i saw an exhibit of one of my favorite japanese artists - hokusai. i have missed being able to just stroll through a museum whenever i want. tongliao is not known for its cultural offerings such as museums. i think perhaps my favorite day was when i met up with a japanese friend i had met in dalian on my previous trip there. having just moved to tokyo himself, he didn't know much about the city either, so we were both experiencing it for the first time together. it was really interesting and much more meaningful to have a japanese person with me. we talked about japanese culture, my impressions, his experiences. i shared with him about how much of an impact japan has had on the world from design to electronics to cars. he shared with me those cultural nuances that could not be ascertained during a 5 day trip. even if we hadn't visited shibuya, harajuku, akihabara, asakusa, or yanakka on that day, i would have been happy to have talked with him about japanese culture for hours. it just seems that the japanese embody and value many of the things that i find myself valuing as well - respect for the natural environment, beauty, mental/spiritual health, simple design, and an ability to spend time with a close friend without having to talk the entire time. i felt "at home" among the japanese. oh yeah, and there was the usual messy night in roppongi in which all parties involved watched the sun rise over tokyo. the trip was exactly what i needed to reinvigorate my motivation and excitement for the months ahead.

ahhh, china

so nothing of real importance has happened since my last posting, but i figured that it was time to provide a little update . . .

every day is basically the same. i wake up in the morning around 7:30 after around 30 minutes worth of snooze button pressings. i then follow with making some oatmeal and letting it cool while i wash my face (no, i can't shower in the mornings, because the water is not warm yet) and get dressed. i then eat my breakfast, brush my teeth, get my things together, and go outside to pull some grass. yes, i pull grass every morning, afternoon, and night for my newly acquired guinea pigs harrington and mimi. you may ask why i have guinea pigs, so i will tell you the story . . .

so my friend liu jinpeng (james) who i have mentioned in previous posts (the one who sends me around 52 text messages daily) texted me one day and asked if i could meet him on a saturday around 5 for dinner. i didn't have anything planned as of yet, so i agreed. on that day, i hopped into the cab to take me to the city to meet james expecting a nice dinner and then to return to my apartment afterward for a night in with my foreign cohorts. well, i pulled up to the pre-arranged meeting spot and saw james holding a cage with two furry creatures scurrying around within it. i was not surprised as i often see people with an array of animals in varying degrees of life or death all over the city (including chipmunks, doves, mice on strings, etc.). well, james was grinning ear to ear as i exited the car and handed the cage to me. i looked at the guinea pigs and acknowledged that they were cute and told him that he must enjoy having pets to keep him company. well, he then proceeded to say that they were my gift since we were "best friends" and all, handing over the following letter:

dear clay,
how are you? do you like them? they are very interesting and lovely. how about your feeling with them? they like grass best. if you have not grass, the rice or millet or vegetables is ok. they have a good stomach and they eat very much. so you must give them enough food to keep them alive. if you won't let them make your room dirty, you can put a plastic bag under the cage so the dirty will on the bag. you only need to change the bag. it is very easy! put the bag like this: [detailed diagram]. best wishes for you! everything goes well!
your friend,

well, we continued on to dinner with the guinea pigs and all. i set them down on the chair next to me, as this is allowed in china, and commenced dinner. i then said that we each had to name one of the guinea pigs. he named the female mi-mi, which means beautiful and clever in chinese, and i named the male harrington as this seemed like a respectable name for a chinese guinea pig. after dinner, the guinea pigs had proceeded to "dirty" on the chair which i had to clean up. well, that is the story of harrington and mimi. not that exciting, but it has added a great deal of responsibility to my life. i now not only have kids to take care of at work, but also at home. ahhh, china.

oh, yeah, and today all of us went to lunch with our boss for no particular reason. we ended up going to a restaurant that specializes in the preparation of gou rou (or dog). so with our boss's prodding we got drunk and ate dog only to return to have to teach children. ahhh, china.

oh, yeah, and one other thing, one of my boss's secretaries called me a "dreamboat" today. ahhh, china.

from dreary to dalian

as i promised, i will post an entry about the "not quite chinese, yet not quite western" city that is dalian.

the vacation came as a great relief to me as i had been in tongliao for two months and had not left its confines since i got here. for those of you that know me, you know that i don't sit still in one place for very long and thus this momentary captivity leant to an almost claustrophobic sentiment on my part. the promise of sand and sun helped me get through that week prior to setting off for dalian. bleary-eyed, yet hopeful, myself along with a few of my other foreign counterparts boarded the train at 6:30 in the a.m. and prepared for our 12 hour journey to the coast. i, of course, passed out as soon as we got on the train and awoke a few hours later to two small beady eyes staring at me from the opposite bunk. as my eyes struggled to focus, i realized that it was a small child lying on his stomach just staring at me. i was taken aback at first, but then gave him the customary and requisite "ni hao ma?" (sort of "what's up?") and he just giggled. i obviously had gotten the tone incorrect or maybe i had some drool streaming down my chin . . . either way, this was the beginning of another train inspired friendship with a chinese child. i have about 32 pictures of just the two of us playing with my camera and him spitting at me and trying to eat my fingers, but i will spare you. the following picture is the best out of any of them. "le la" as his mother called him was very interested in my ipod - in the following picture he is listening to it. well the train ride progressed throughout the day and into the evening much the same. we listened to music, drew pictures, and drove his mother crazy . . . ahh, to be a child again.

well that night we were required to celebrate mike's birthday in the only fashion we saw fit (i.e. find some random bar and drink and dance the night away). the night began with little success and i soon began to worry that our plans would be dashed, but after walking for some time we found a place called "sky bar". it was already past 10 p.m. when most of china closes up (or at least in our experience with tongliao) and this bar was still raging, so we entered. smoke, lights, loud music, and the sight of western skin flashed before my eyes. it took me a little while to realize that i was still in china. there were tourists everywhere and nary a chinese person anywhere to be seen. the small dance floor in the middle of the bar held 4 black-clad dancers singing every song that came on and trying to get people to come up and dance. the music was familiar, the staff all spoke english, the drinks were international. i could hardly believe it. well the rest of the night is history . . . at least at that bar. after finishing a bottle of jack daniel's between us all, the voice of the night called to us once more. we walked out of "sky bar" one tambourine heavier and found another bar called "alice bar". at this point it was already 1 or 2 a.m. this bar proved to be a glamorized karaoke bar which we stayed at until 4 or so in the morning. singing and dancing among a large german man and his harem of prostitutes, this bar ended our first night in dalian.

the next morning a few of us decided to make a trek to the beach after a highly disappointing breakfast/lunch (i will have to say that the chinese food in tongliao is much better than dalian - or at least where we ate there). just an aside since i am talking about food, i did try some of the culinary delights of dalian which included everything from seahorses, scorpions, and squid to caterpillars, crab, and mealworms all on a stick. the picture below shows just a smattering of the buffet i was confronted with on the streets of dalian. okay, now back to . . . the cab ride to the beach revealed some of the most beautiful scenery i have ever seen. the driver drove through a large park that surrounded the beach which included green grass (as opposed to brown grass in tongliao), tall trees (as opposed to near dead trees in tongliao), flowers of all colors (as opposed to no flowers in tongliao), and even hills (as opposed to the monotonous flatness of tongliao). the rest of the day was spent sunbathing, sweating out all of the garlic, pepper, and oil that had inhabited my body since i arrived in china, and swimming in the water. it was exactly what i needed. despite the fat chinese men, the strangely unattractive russians, a huge pile of trash just sitting on the sand, and a naked baby that ran around screaming the ENTIRE day, the beach was beautiful and relaxing. perfection (chinese style, of course).

well that night, feeling relaxed as it was, pat, mike, and i decided to make a little trip to the all night bath house for a massage. we weren't really aware what was in store for us . . . we walked in paid for the treatment that was not the cheapest, but not the most expensive either. we were escorted into a locker room, told to strip, and then walk into a shower room to rinse off. we obediently followed. after the shower we were exfoliated by a man with a towel. lying naked on a table in front of many other people, the guy exfoliated one's ENTIRE body. this includes places that i didn't even know needed to be exfoliated. well, sleek and smooth, we then were instructed to don some see-through little pajama things and go upstairs to get the massage. mounting the stairs with a number of women just sitting around waiting for their next client, i began to question the exact nature of this bathhouse. not one to challenge culture, though, i followed my masseuse into a private room. the entire massage was completely professional (to my relief . . . and disappointment ;) ) and very rejuvenating. walking out after the hour limit, i felt the cleanest and most relaxed since i had come to china. well, on the way back to the hotel we exchanged stories about our respective massages and mike's proved to be anything but professional. let's just say that she was trying to massage other parts of his body not customarily dealt with by a masseuse. his pleads of "bu yao, xie xie" ("i don't want it, thank you") went unheard at first until it became clear to her that he was not going to have any of it. pat and i of course found this very amusing and proceeded to share it with the rest of the group. and it happened to mike of all people!!

the rest of the trip provided me with more of the same relaxation. after a few days of sun, massages, the purchase of stolen designer clothing, and hot showers, i headed back to tongliao with the sun at my back and the smell of autumn (and sewage - just to remind me we are still in china) in my nose.

a window into my life

what follows is a collection of extremely accurate and valid observations about living in china. i got it off of daveseslcafe.com (just to give credit where it is deserved). all of these events and observations i have either experienced or observed (with the exception of maybe 8 of them) in the 2 months i have been living here. this list is extensive and includes some of the more colorful aspects of life in china. it is no lie that this is and will be my life for the next year. enjoy! i will be posting another entry this weekend detailing my trip to dalian. this list just couldn't wait, though.

you know you're in china when . . .

- you forget what clean smells like.
- you know what time they burn the garbage every night.
- you barely flinch when you see a small child emptying his bowels in the street.
- you know the news you're getting isn't the REAL news.
- a cup of coffee costs more than ten times a bottle of beer.
- you find yourself crying over a menu in a western restaurant because they serve potato salad.
- you haven't eaten anything baked in months.
- you eat every kind of meat off the bone, and spit the bones on the table.
- you speak really slowly and enunciate when you're speaking English, and sometimes find it easier just to speak Chinese.
- you have to ask if the VCD is in English when you rent it.
- you know what a VCD is.
- you ride a bike. All the time. Even in the rain, and people look at you strangely if you're not wearing a poncho.
- you can expertly maneuver your bike through any traffic situation.
- you know the currency exchange between RMB and your home country but not your home country and its neighbor.
- you spend less than 10RMB on a fully satisfying lunch, but might end up eating at a table with 4 strangers.
- you carry a supply of TP with you everywhere you go.
- you know how to use a squatter.
- you know what a squatter is.
- grown men and women often say hello to you, and when you reply they run away giggling.
- you can't decide if you love or hate the country you're living in.
- you realize that the smog-o-meters they use in western countries would explode if they were brought to the colder parts of the country in the middle of winter.
- you see nothing wrong with standing on a white stripe in the middle of a highway while cars whiz past you at 90kph
- you don't slow down when you see someone standing in the middle of the highway
- you never stop for a right turn, particularly when the light is red, although you don't really understand why no one ever crashes into you
- it seems completely normal that some guy on a tricycle wants to buy your garbage
- you don't blink an eye when a complete stranger wants to take a photo of you with his family
- you actually put some thought into which live snake you want cooked for your meal
- you eat soup with chopsticks
- you use Kleenex for table napkins
- you drink warm sodas and find them refreshing
- you are accustomed to seeing people's heads popping up and down in the VCD you are watching
- you no longer use articles when you speak
- you bargain with the grocer over the cost of a head of lettuce
- you no longer question why the expiration date on the milk you just bought is two months from now
- you buy a movie that hasn't been released theatrically yet at home...
- you take cigarette breaks during dinner...
- you complain about the price of chocolate bars...
- you enjoy a glass of dusty brown wine...
- you comment the pollution "isn't really that bad..."
- when you can get ANYTHING to eat on a stick
- when a trim at the barber invloves two washes, a scalp massage, a whole lot of time, and a crowd of onlookers
- When beer is most often served cold in the winter
- When you go to a park and you can't walk on the grass
- When you go to the park and get heavily sprayed with pesticide that keeps that same untouched grass green and strong
- Where the red stamp is all powerful
- when in the case of a driver hitting a bike or pedestrian, the driver showers abuse and violence for the damages to his passat.
- when you are constantly asked if you think simple foods and beverages are delicious. "This is the best boiled water ever!" "fantastic seeds!"
- where every city is (in)famous for some kind of food
- you find yourself spitting in public places (i.e. the street, restaurant) and not thinking twice
- you speak chinese with other foreigners (even if they speak the same language) simply because it is easier
- you can access programs on computers even though there are no english prompts
- you take it in stride when you are offered beer/baijiu at lunch before going back to work
- you start wearing a face mask on windy days and wonder at the "silly foreigners" who don't do the same
- you can play charades so well that it is often not necessary to talk (due to lack of chinese when you arrive)
- people ask if they can keep some of your hair after you get it cut at the salon
- you start to believe that it isn't really a cigarette unless it leaves a yellow stain on your fingers after a night out
- an entire class looks at you with a blank face when you ask them to try and discover something on their own, rather than you just telling them the answer
- you are commonly spoken to in russian and cursed when you don't understand it (mostly in northern china when you are blond and blue eyed)
- the smell of stinky tofu doesn't faze you anymore
- your host offers you silkworms telling you that they are very good, and when you ask if they like them they reply no.
- most of the club stops dancing to watch in fear/horror when you actually start to shake your thing
- you make a scheduled trip to KFC weekly to buy them out of mashed potatoes!
- you complain about that price difference of DVDs/VCDs/CDs bought in the stores and on the streets
- you start to wonder if the chocolate ice cream you find in the store is even chocolate... sure it is brown, but it doesn't taste anything like the stuff back home!
- you are not surprised when your garbage lady answers her cell phone and keeps digging thru your trash!
- you find face lotion that actually bleachs your skin whiter....
- you deliberately block traffic on a highway zebra crossing, because you want to reach the other side safely; drivers actually stop, and some even offer a proletarian-style kowtow (touching their forehead);
- you shove the guy before you back to where he stood half a minute before in the queue, barking a loud "hou mian, hou mian, ni nongmin!"
- you come to an appointment late, fully prepared with a run-of-the-mill explanation such as: "Sorry, but I was the only person standing at the bus stop, and no bus would stop, seeing as they did that I was a foreigner...";
- you dialled the wrong number, and instead of saying "buhao y-she, wo da cuole..." you simply slam the receiver back into its cradle;
- you forget to turn off your mobile phone, and of course, your girlfriend rings right in the middle of your first lesson in the evening class; of course, you answer, and the whole class gets a titillating lesson in what Westerners in love with each other talk about;
- you address the parents of your child charges as 'xiao pengyou', because you actually think they are more childish than their own children; they laugh good-humouredly;
- you have learned to enjoy being stared at
- you stare back especially at knockout women
- almost anything can be "fixed"
- you can open and hull sunflower seeds with your tongue
- you have a jar full of "fen" at home
- you give a beggar a handfull of fen and he gives them back
- you can climb 6 flights of stairs without a rest stop
- you can buy a NEW bicycle for US $17
- people offer you a stool to sit on when you stop in front of a shop
- chairs are never tall enough for you to sit with your legs straight down
- someone hands you a pair of scissors with one of the handles snapped off and you try to use them
- long underwear is a wardrobe staple five months of the year
- you don't blink your green eyes or shake your very brunette head when someone compliments you on your blue-eyed blondness
- you have trouble sleeping when you go home for a visit because it's just too darn quiet
- Nescafe instant with edible oil product topping IS cappuccino
- you stop thinking about the big blood stain on the wall
- a 4% mortality rate seems a safe bet
- when you go shopping for clothes or shoes you often find that they don't have what you want in a size that will fit your big foreign frame. Instead they offer you something bigger and uglier and think it's a fair compromise.
- you're yelling at a kid that's throwing a chick around and you turn to his father for support and all he can say is that your Chinese is really good.
- you can stop watching tv for 2 weeks and when you start watching again they're still showing reruns of the same show.
- you have ten different responses to the question, "Do you like China?"
- you're looking forward to blending in with the crowd.
- you know ten different ways to point out a foreigner in Chinese.
- you point out foreigners to your Chinese friends even though you're foreign yourself.
- you no longer find it humourous that the bus never really stops to pick people up, it just sort of slows down.
- you find yourself asking anyone and everyone if they can make the price cheaper.
- you know which chocolate is real and which chocolate is glorified butter.
- you know words in Chinese for which you don't know the translation in English.
- your students bow and call you teacher when you enter a room.
- if the average salary is 2000 RMB/month, then why are all the apartments costing 450,000-800,000 RMB?(with 100 grand to decorate!!)
- with all the traffic jams, who owns all those cars?
- why does it seem everyone between the age of 21-25 is now either in Australia or the U.K.?
- if students are so stingy to study in Shanghai, why do they put up hundreds of thousands of RMB for overseas studies without question?
- what are all those MBA seekers going to do when they come back?
- where do all those foreign people flooding in expect to work?
- why do most foreign teachers last less than 6 months here?
- your mashed potato has squid guts and fish heads in it...and you think it tastes fine.
- you answer 'China' when people ask where you're from
- you answer 'China' when people ask where you live
- having fingers poked into your ears when you're getting a shampoo no longer makes you wonder at the cleanliness of the 100 who came before you
- you see 'Made in Australia' on products you've never even dreamed of when you lived there
- you answer 'ni hao', giggle, and run away when someone says hello to you
- your Chinese friend Faye has such poor pronunciation you tell her she's speaking feihua
- everyone assumes that if you know one word of putonghua, you know them all
- you pick your nose, burp, fart, and scratch so much even your Chinese friends get embarrassed
- you get a discount if you speak English, but you pay more for putonghua
- you no longer wonder if that guy who's up his nose to the second knuckle is drilling for oil or scratching his brain
- you start thinking that stupid questions are reasonable
- you call home and your family tell you to speak faster and stop correcting their grammar and pronunciation
- you spit on your own floor to save time treading it in on your shoes
- you think that having the runs for 2 weeks is normal
- SARS doesn't worry you; 4% chance of death is considerably lower than eating the food, breathing the air, riding a bicycle or listening to bad KTV
- you don't have any idea what something is, but you'll eat it anyway.
- if you just ate and liked it, you don't ask what it is.
- you have strict mental rules as to when you reply to a hello (ie person must be within a 20 foot semi circle radius and not with a group of men)
- you completely ignore most people who say hello to you
- you have a conversation while sidestepping feces, vomit, and mysterious green puddles on the sidewalk without blinking.
- you dodge urine streams spurting from an infant.
- you stare at dogs that are over 1 foot tall.
- you see a woman with dyed hair and trying to figure out of she's Chinese or foreign by walking fast to catch up.
- you eat cake with chopsticks
- you're afraid of toilets
- you constantly wonder if everything has been boiled long enough.
- you'll sit through a half hour of Beijing Opera on TV because there's nothing better to do.
- contemplate suicide when taking a long distance hard sleeper train.
- you know what it is and you eat it anyway
- you catch a taxi and it becomes a dutch oven
- nobody blames it on the dog
- you stop wondering why the river fish have 3 eyes
- you miss your old apartment, where the roof only collapsed once each year
- you've stopped wondering why it takes a 20 gallon flush to clear a 2 ounce pee
- the open sewer next to your school smells better than the canteen food
- the open sewer next to your school tastes better than the canteen food
- you answer 'So is mine.' when people say their English is so poor
- a family sedan is a mid-size scooter
- you think that pedicab drivers who charge you 100 times more than the trip's worth are cheats
- you think that pedicab drivers who charge you 50 times more than its worth are honest
- you think that pedicab drivers who charge you 25 times more than its worth are poor businessmen
- you think that pedicab drivers who charge you the correct fare are...(don't know - it's never happened)
- you convince yourself that it doesn't matter how dirty the cooks' hands are, cooking will fix it
- you wonder why they bother with squat boxes when everyone pisses on the floor
- you think squats are great because no one can piss on the seat
- you think bottled water is clean, safe, and is bottled by people with high moral standards who put quality before profit
- you think Yang Rei (CCTV9 'Dialogue' program) is an unbiased reporter
- you believe that the HR department of your school actually stands for Human Resources and not Hit and Run.
- you believe that anything done to you is because you're not culturally sensitive enough
- you stop wondering why they're not culturally sensitive to you, their guest
- you are becoming proficient in 4 other languages: Mandarin, local dialect, Chinglish, and gibberish
- if there are only 4 screaming children running around the classroom, you consider it a good primary class.
- if there are only 4 students sleeping, you consider it a good middle school class.
- if there are only 4 dictionary obsessed nerds, you consider it a good language center class.
- if you're only mocked in public 4 times, you consider it a good day.
- you love tofu because there's nothing to spit out and it doesn't have any taste.
- you start saying 'play computer' 'I very like' and other assorted chinglish.
- you know exactly what CS is.
- you're curiously nonplussed when children stick their finger up your bum.
- every town is famous for something or other.
- you hold hands with men and think nothing of it
- you avoid touching women like they have cooties.
- you get absolutely knackered at a 12 year old's birthday party while playing drinking games with children and munching on turtles. Can't get more Chinese than that.
- you whole-heartedly agree with things that you don't agree with.
- you can do almost anything standing on, but not actually wearing, your sneakers (ie change your pants)!!
- you've got a pre-paid ticket with a booked seat for a soft-seat train or plane, but you still run like mad to make sure you get a seat.
- the cure hurts more than the sickness
- you very like saying 'very like'
- you forget that vegetable soup is actually pesticide broth
- smoking does less harm to your lungs than breathing
- you call polluted water and preservatives wine
- living in a 'clean' city means living in one where you won't mutate. At least not immediately.
- you run substantially less risk of picking up a bug by swimming in a toilet than you do by swimming in the local pool
- going to the beach for a swim really means scrabbling over rocks to wade through sludge
- you can wear a t-shirt with a suit jacket and fresh-out-of-bed hair and feel completely normal.
- you laugh and smile when someone calls you a fat pig.
- you point over your back with your thumb when using the past tense.
- you watch TV and not know what the hell is going on but enjoy it anyway because of the women in the shampoo commercials.
- you think that America's '60 Minutes' program is 48 minutes of bullshit and 12 minutes of commercials, but you can't wait for China's '60 Minutes', which will either be 60 minutes of bullshit OR 60 minutes of commercials.
- 'investigative reporting' is either slagging off at America or toeing the Party line
- you're beginning to like fruit salad and mayonnaise
- you've stopped wondering why you only get bread if you order a chicken and mayo (mei you 'nothing') sandwich
- your Chinese friends have such revolting breath you wonder if they secretly eat turds
- you eat chocolate from home and: a/ miss the taste of salt b/ bounce off the walls from sugar overload
- you've learned that it's okay to be 3 days/weeks late for appointments because everyone else is
- you've stopped wondering why restaurants don't clean up the barf right outside their door
- you've stopped wondering why people will step over it to get into the restaurant
- you drop sliced bicycle tyre into the hotpot, tell everyone it's snake, and stifle your giggle when they tell you it's 'very delicia' (delicious)
- you've used those big toothpicks so often you now have circular gaps between your teeth
- if the gaps get any bigger you'll need chopsticks for toothpicks
- you just love it when new brethren arrive and give you their list of what they will and won't do and eat
- you've learned to enjoy the 'list of demands' from applicants who are nobodies going nowhere, but 'will consider' gracing you with their presence.
- Chinese guys think we get the girls because we're white and rich, and not because our breath doesn't smell like shit
- when people say 'You're a foreigner; what country are you from?', you answer 'Foreign'.
- how many foreigners live in Foreign? 5.5 billion less 1.3 billion = 4.2 billion
- you give your students deodorant and they eat it icon_wink.gif
- every village is different from the rest of China but all foreigners are the same
- the thing your city is 'famous' for is the most revolting thing you've ever seen/heard/smelled/tasted
- everyone wants to be your friend - all you have to do is teach them English for free
- everyone wants to teach you Chinese by speaking to you in English
- your Chinese lessons consist of 50 words your teacher wants to know the English meaning of
- you buy a new shirt and have to sew the buttons on
- when people ask if you speak English you answer (in English) 'No, I only speak French', and they believe you
- when people say 'My English is so poor', you agree
- when people say 'My English is so poor', you tell them to look up the word 'atrocious'
- you tell people you don't understand, so they write it for you - in Chinese.
- your boss thinks you're a stupid foreigner if you let him cheat you, but thinks you're a bad foreigner if you don't
- your boss speaks really good English until you ask for more money
- the grocer doesn't understand why you're pissed off at being charged 50 yuan for a chicken, but gets narky when you offer him 10 fen
- you have accumulated hundreds of notes and addresses but you can't read any of them
- you choose one that looks vaguely familiar, give it to the taxi driver, and he tells you he doesn't have 3 kilograms of potatoes, 4 carrots, and 6 tomatoes
- you tell your Chinese friend you want to go to a VCD store and he takes you to a VD Clinic
- you buy some cute little birds to keep at home and your housekeeper cooks them for you
- your doctor tells you it's not serious but you should go home and get some money. When you do, you're whisked into the operating theatre to remove your burst appendix
- the nurse jabbing the needle into you would have trouble finding a road, let alone your vein
- when he's taking the stitches out he says you might feel a little pain, then he drops hot cigarette ash on your stomach
- when you jump and shout and beat it out he says you're very strong and making a fast recovery
- fixing a cavity in one tooth requires the almost total demolition of the teeth around it
- the dentist doesn't offer you a local anaethstetic and later marvels at your ability to withstand excruciating pain
- groups of people find it fascinating to watch you buy an orange at a fruit market. Commentary is provided in case some people don't know exactly what's going on.
- you think it's pleasurable to ride your bike down the road with 10 tonne monster trucks flying past you 2 feet away.
- you have no qualms that someone who thinks you're stupid and gullable has total control over your life.
- the ugliest western man always has a beautiful Chinese girlfriend.
- at the beach women wear bulky swimsuits from the 1950's while men wear speedos
- men apparently smuggle olives in these speedos.
- a hike up a mountain calls for a plastic grocery bag full of junk food. Later you add to the scenery by littering the ground.
- there are fences around the flora in nature parks to keep people from eating it.
- you can buy snake, crab, and donkey meat in little plastic bags with a smiling blonde woman adorning the front. 'eat my brand of donkey, you sexy man.' Marketing genius. Sometimes the bags of spicy donkey meat will have a smiling, anthropomorphized donkey waving at you, beckoning you to come gnaw on his leg. It's priming people for cannibalism.
- someone with bleached white hair with pink dots and dressed like an 80's New Wave reject will laugh at the funny looking foreigners.
- you love and hate children at the same time.
- grown men think it's fucking hilarious to say hello. Hello, haha! I'm a stupid git, hellooo, haha! Me and my mentally-arrested-at-age-13 buddies like a say hellooo, haha! Foreigners go around saying hellooo in high pitched voices like me, hello, haha! I just bought a VCD of nothing but people saying hello, I wet myself laughing! Hellooo, haha!
- you walk into a bar on Friday night at 11.00pm and you are the only one there.
- you approach a bar frequented mainly by Chinese and the bouncers give you a look like you are a potential health hazard
- you walk into the supermarket and the masses part like the red sea before Moses to let the Foreigner through
- people everywhere wear masks with pores the size of 1000 viruses, and then step into a taxi without wearing a seat belt in a country where 12 000 people die per month in traffic accidents.
- the same people who are so terrified of SARS walk blindly across bustling streets as if they believe thay are immortal
- students tell you to wash your hands before you mark their book
- the locals blame every other country and race (The Thais, Hong Kongese, The Foreigners) for the SARS problem, except the one real source - China.
- the Mayor and the Health minister get fired for not telling the truth by a government that still refers to the "peaceful liberation" of Tibet, blocks web sites, bans books, imprisons Beida students for wanting a say in the country's future...
- the major exercises are:
* drinking tea (weightlifting)
* reading the newspaper (exercising biceps and triceps)
* picking your nose (eye/hand coordination)
* picking your feet (bend and stretch)
* picking your teeth (fine motor skills)
- the local teacher's timetable looks like this:
*8:05 - 11:20 drink tea and read the newspaper
*11:20 - 12:00 have lunch
*12:00 - 2:20 sleep after a solid morning's effort
*2:20 - 5:05 drink tea, read the newspaper, and prepare for tomorrow
*5:05 - 8:30 go home, drink tea, read the newspaper, have dinner, and tell everyone how hardworking you are
*8:30 - 11:00 watch TV to help you relax
*11:00 go to sleep - another big day tomorrow!
- the average employee will spend 40 hours in strenuous effort trying to avoid 10 minutes of simple work
- the more you listen to the news, the more uninformed you are
- you suspect your school wants to get rid of you because:
a/ they wrap your lunch in roadmaps
b/ they keep moving but won't tell you where they're going
- you throw your school leaders out of a boat and tell them it's how we teach people to swim
- they ask if the concrete shoes are really necessary
- you tell them the concrete hat is the difficult part
- you don't mind the crime and poverty but you really can't handle the cold
- you give names to your roaches and cry if one dies
- coffee tastes like Chinese medicine
- your neighbours 'airmail' their garbage because walking to their front door is 'tai taoyan' (too much trouble)
- you see the 9001/9002 Quality Assurance logo in the dodgiest restaurant in town
- you know that the New Year's Eve countdown must begin before 11pm or you'll be doing it alone
- you're 4th in the queue but 40th to be served
- you start thinking instant coffee tastes pretty good.
- you realize that all wild animals are to be caught and eaten and/or ground up for medicine.
- when the national news is on, your forty TV channels magically become the same channel.
- no one cares if you wear the same clothes all month.
- absolutely everything that can possibly be eaten is in some way good for your health.
- your biggest decision every morning is matching your tie colour with your face mask.
- you're from Austria or Australia, but nobody seems to know the difference.
- KTV becomes interesting.
- warm beer becomes drinkable.
- local drinking games are your most effective language learning environment.
- buying a DVD is cheaper than seeing a movie in the cinema, and it's available before the movie is released.
- you walk past a river or lake that looks like something out of the Simpsons---radioactive sludge strewn with garbage---and there are people FISHING. Alternatively, you stop at the radioactive sluge and TAKE PICTURES.
- you want to home and watch TV even though you can't understand a bloody word of it.
- you are willing to see a dentist novacaine or no novacaine.
- apples are the size of pumpkins
- the local beauty spot is a concrete eyesore
- buildings were apparently designed by the local kindergarten
- you daren't have a salad 'cause you know what it was fertilised with
- The locals think your family were monkeys living in caves while China was ruling the world.
- you eat your lunch whilst admiring the live baby rat in a cage (complete with watermelon rind for food) your friendly restaurant owner caught and is keeping for a pet.
- student assessment/placement at your school consists of evaluating the student's parents' guanxi rather than the student's level or ability
- only five minutes of prep time for a unannounced class no longer fazes you
- when you grocery shop it looks like you are panic buying to your fellow Chinese shoppers
- evaluating the contents of your shopping cart is the past-time of all the other shoppers in the store
- your housekeeper throws out the chicken breast you have marinating in garlic and olive oil but organizes your empty beer bottles and cans
- you leave your laundry hanging up for more than a day its dirtier than it was before you washed it
- you actually believe you're here to teach English
- Chinese staff from your school are shocked and mystified by the pictures you show them from brochures of the town you all live in and they swear it can't be "*#*@" because in the picture the sky is blue
- at English Corner (aka English Speaker Cornered) a person asks you how to "improve my oral English" and when you tell them the only way is to continually practice they walk away dejected and sad
- you begin to question your own pronounciation
- when children ask if you like Chinese students you reply "Yes they are very delicious." without batting an eye
- you plan to ask students questions they must form their own answers to and you bring reading material along to occupy your time during the long silence that fills the period between you asking the question and the first hand that tenatively rises
- you stare back
- dental procedures are a spectator sport (why else would the chair be in the storefront picture window)
- being served dog when you go out is no longer your greatest culinary fear
- begin giving the staff ratings on the answers they give you based on their creativity rather than their candor or truthfulness
- you no longer expect the truth

my best friend

i met him last saturday at lunch with some of my fellow english teachers and some former students of ours from the summer session that we taught at. he was quiet at first and when he did speak it was only chinese. as lunch that day progressed, he became more and more comfortable speaking . . . that was the end of any shred of shyness he had possessed. the following is an account of the text message conversations we have had over the past week. the bulk of the messages came within the past couple of days (32 in total). i am flattered by his persistence and desire to be friends, but just hope that the deluge of text messages recedes and that a respectable 1 or 2 texts per day will suffice. the following are only some of the more humorous and notable of messages received:

Message 32: September 4, 19:43
"I will need English name. Will you give me?"

Message 31: September 4, 19:47
"James, oh, James, that name is cool! Call me James when you meet me next."

Message 30: September 4, 20:10
"Let us become the best friends and our friendship will be last forever. Are you agree?"

Message 29: September 6, 12:31
"How are you. I am missing you very much. Is everything okay these days?"

Message 27: September 6, 17:58
"How can we get together before you leave?"

Message 22: September 6, 18:32
"Ok I look forward to see you. After dinner we could do everything."

Message 21: September 6, 18:39
"Everything goes well! Bye! I expect that day will be a fine day!"

Message 1: September 8, 13:14
"It is up to you I will listen to you where we go."

well, i actually had to cancel dinner with him tonight because i have a meeting that was just announced (as per usual - last minute). he was sad, but i promised that we would meet once i got back from dalian. my next blog entry will probably chronicle the four day weekend i will be spending in the coastal city of dalian . . . beach, sunshine, cocktails, warm showers . . . paradise!

"crazy english"

so the past week has not been full of the crazy and blog-worthy adventures of weeks past, but there are a few interesting tidbits i would like to relay . . .

first, during one of my regular lunches with my tailor friend (who has altered jeans, shirts, and will be making me some pants in the near future . . . i know, tough life), he showed me the book that he has been using to learn english entitled "crazy english". every lunch or dinner with him is filled with him feverishly writing down everything we say in english and him translating everything into chinese for us. well, upon looking through the book, i came across the following mantra of sorts:

i'm chinese.
i'm from the people's republic of china.
i love my country. i love my people.
our country has a history of 5000 years. i'm proud of it.
our motherland is going through changes now. i'm part of it.

i want to speak good english.
because english is an international language.
the japanese have to learn english.
the koreans have to learn english.
the french have to learn english.
the germans have to learn english.
all nations of the world are learning english now.
we chinese must learn english too.
because we need a common language to communicate!

i enjoy learning english!
i enjoy speaking english!
i enjoy making mistakes!
i enjoy losing face!

i'm crazy about speaking english.
i practice speaking english everyday.
i can speak good english!
i'm an international chinese!

i love chinese language too.
it's spoken by billions of people in the world.
it is a beautiful language!
more and more foreigners are starting to learn chinese now.
i hope to teach the whole world chinese when i grow up.
so i must study chinese well.

this is me.
a chinese high school student!
this is my dream!
to spread english throughout china and chinese throughout the world.
i want to share this dream with all of my friends all over the world.

let's make miracles together!
let's just do it!

hilarious? i think yes. from required military training to mantras about learning english, the chinese people will be well-outfitted to become the next super power both physically and psychologically. i guess it is good to know that they are "crazy about english" though. makes my job a whole lot easier.

the other little morsel just has to do with a certain student that diana named clay after yours truly. he had come into the office crying because he missed his mother. i talked to him, comforted him, and made him laugh as only an awkward funny looking american like myself can with a little chinese boy. his picture follows. he doesn't look too happy, but he carries my namesake. there will forever be a clay roaming the great land of china. with any luck, he will be speaking "crazy english" by the end of the year.

zai nar pijiu ma? (where is the beer?)

this post will incorporate a few of the most notable experiences and realizations of this past week. it will be comprehensive in nature due to the fact that far too much time has passed since my last entry and i know how cranky my readers get when there is not a posting every hour of the day. so follows some adventures involving a party, teaching, my birthday, and some b.o.

it would only be logical to relay these tales in chronological order. in this vein, i will begin with the party that rocked the p.r.c like none other before (except of course the communist party . . . yes, you can laugh) which was hosted by none other than the nine of us foreign teachers. we had noticed a lack of, well, informal social gatherings (a.k.a. keggers) among the faculty and staff here at the northeast hope international school. seeing a need for such an event (philanthropic as we all are), we decided to plan a party that would bridge the cultural gap between the west and east by incorporating some western style party activities (wine, hanging out, beirut, making fools of ourselves) into the chinese framework of dumplings, baijiu, and a much more formal definition of a party. the formalities were difficult to overcome, as we were not aware that the hosts were supposed to make a speech at the beginning of the party to welcome the guests. it became quite obvious that our guests (who were surprisingly numerous and consisted of various teachers, administrators, and the camera guy for the school television studio with his camera) were noticeably uncomfortable and unsure of how to act at the party. us, being oblivious to the formality mentioned earlier, continued drinking and trying to socialize. an hour into the party and the feeling of the room growing ever so awkward, ben was notified by bossman that no one would drink or eat until someone made a speech welcoming the guests. this duty performed by ben, the guests rushed the food tables, wine bottles, and beer bottles in a veritable feeding frenzy of chinese proportions. the rest of the night was spent talking with our co-workers, playing beirut, and eating the mountains of dumplings that i had slaved away in the kitchen making (read: opened a bag of frozen dumplings and plopped them in the steamer). it was quite a sight to see 30/40 year old chinese women, usually at the forefront of self-proclaimed sobriety, chugging cups of beer after a dirty ping pong ball had landed in it, or grown chinese men hugging each other in jubilation over the win of a beirut game. it was a perfect mix of west, east, and a few hints of college thrown into the mix. with the party a success, we were urged to plan more throughout the year. as difficult as it may be for 9 twenty-somethings to plan a party, i'm sure we can manage. that leads me to the subject of teaching . . . you know, the whole reason i am here.

so i finally began teaching full-time last week. i know, finally time, right? well as some of you may know, i have been given the pleasurable job of teaching 200 fourth graders (10/11 year olds . . . 9/10 year olds to us due to the chinese custom of declaring the newborn 1 year old at birth). now, i have a great interest in children and have worked with children of various ages before. coming to china, i was expecting the children to be extremely well-behaved and respectful. well, i guess biology varies little with culture because these children were anything but well-behaved. anxious, excited, and hopeful, i entered my first classroom. i set up my power-point presentation that introduced myself and told of my expectations for the class. i then asked each of the students to stand up and share a little about themselves. with each student unable to tell me where they were from, how old they were, or what their english name was, i grew noticeably worried that some of my students had never had english before. my fears were realized when one student, obviously the "class helper" (a.k.a. the apple polisher), stood up and explained that about half of the class consisted of new students and that many of them had never learned english before. this frustration was only exacerbated by the fact that these students felt that it was only necessary to scream, yell, throw things at each other, and hit each other on the head with blunt instruments. my voice has only as of now recovered from that first day of yelling. growing red in the face, i realized that this called for drastic measures. the rest of each class was spent giving those students without english names suitable monikers. feeling slightly down-trodden, my spirits were raised when a short, liberally proportioned boy stood up and stated that his name was "buick". the brief moment of humor cleared my mind and made me realize that these were just little kids with short attention spans and that i just needed to focus my teaching on other areas and use different strategies. the next few days proved to be very successful. it is going to be a difficult and time-consuming endeavor to teach these children a language that they hold only a cursory knowledge of, but i have always enjoyed challenges. besides, they are so cute and they like me, so it can't be that difficult, right?

with some bubbling frustrations, my birthday dinner served as a much needed respite for us all, as it fell in the middle of the week. i was worried that my birthday was going to feel a little lonely without friends and family around, but my fellow foreign teachers and chinese co-workers proved me very wrong. besides the slough of mugs, knock-off louis vuitton wallets, more mugs, and a tie, my dinner was complete with a cake bought by the president of the school and a crown that i obediently wore throughout the duration of dinner. with my crown, i ruled with an iron fist by doling out orders of songs to be sung by karaoke to me by various members of my fellow diners. it had a feeling of any birthday i would have had at home with a necessary and welcome chinese flavor.

oh and by the way, the picture of the noodle soup is part of a traditional birthday dinner. the egg signifies that life is cyclical and that everything will turn out okay eventually as life come full-circle. the noodle in the broth is actually one continuous long noodle signifying a long life. i ate all of it with a little help from my fellow diners.

now speaking of chinese flavor, or more correctly, chinese funk, i have become the possessor of just that: the chinese funk. this fact became apparent to me a few weeks ago when i opened my laundry bag in readiness to do a load of laundry and i was almost blown off my feet by the smell of one particular shirt that i had worn to a club. even after washing this shirt, there were still stains which smelled of garlic, chili powder, and my own signature stench all rolled into one. i did not think much about this at the time, as i felt that it was a mere anomaly. well, the past few weeks have proven that my body has now been taken over by the smells and fragrances wrought by the ever-flavorful food that i eat here. i have never been that smelly of a person, nor has my smell really ever been offensive to me. i wear one shirt now and grow teary-eyed when i lift it thinking i can wear it again. i wear a pair of pajama pants for bed and in the morning i feel like i must wash them. the schtank is overwhelming, but i guess it is just one more part of adapting . . . smelling like those around you.

in the end, these are all just occasions in which you just have to say, "zai nar pijiu ma?" . . .

my head "yurts"

before i go into the "adventure" that was the inner mongolian grasslands, i will paint a picture of the night before as it is somewhat important to the full understanding of the story (somewhat, i say, but in reality it is merely a humorous story that cannot go untold).

so, a few weeks ago, we were told that three americans were coming with one of their teachers to tour the school and see what it was all about. we thought this was strange as the school is literally in the middle of nowhere and difficult to get from any major airport, but, as with anything here, there is little use in asking questions as nothing really makes sense. the day came and we were all to meet these american students in the school meeting room. walking into the room where they sat, we proceeded to get to know these foreigners a little better: where were they from? what school did they go to? why the hell were they here in inner mongolia? the answers came back normal enough. they were from chicago and went to some high school in the suburbs. they were all cousins and one of their fathers had attended school with the headmaster of our school. questions answered, we bid them adieu. flash forward a few hours . . .

we all arrive at a famed mongolian restaurant downtown. the nine of us foreign teachers, the three students, bossman, and mr. wu (another high-ranking administrator) all sat down to what was going to be a delicious mongolian dinner. the nine of us were affected with a surge of happiness at the realization that we were eating out and could avoid the horrors of the dining hall back at school. orders of pijiu and baijiu dutifully ordered, we settled in for a long, enjoyable night of food, revelry, and much too much karaoke singing. as mentioned in earlier posts, any good chinese dinner begins, consists of, and ends with a succession of toasts that render the diner incapacitated at the end of the night. we expected no different from this night. it seemed, however, that our underage friends hadn't gotten the memo as they seemed to be taking "sips" (more of a guzzle) between our "sips". one of the boys in particular was making great strides in attempting to drink the restaurant dry by himself. we decided to ignore this obvious faux pas in hopes that our newcomer to the world of bachinallia would soon learn his mistake. this soon became impossible, however, as the decibel level of his voice grew to deafening levels as did his spastic laughter. one of our group decided it was necessary to kindly prod him to slow down. her kind suggestion made, she was met with a response of, "i will f-ing kill you" from the young reveler. obviously meant to be a joke, the comment was met with complete silence from the table as everyone was trying to ascertain what had happened within the past few seconds; a scene of glazed eyes filled with surprise and soy sauce stained lips gaping with confusion. apologies came from all around and the incident was soon all but forgotten. amidst pijiu inspired singing and baijiu laced laughter, a glance to the corner revealed a lone figure drowning in his embarrassment. all attempts to forget what had happened were foiled, as the sight of this lone boy put an edge on the rest of the night. this story is perhaps not as humorous to the reader as to me, but i felt it a necessary story to document, nonetheless. now, flash forward again about 3 hours . . .

after a 4am wake up and an icy cold shower i crawled to the bus that was to convey us to the fabled inner mongolian grasslands. amidst a pounding sinus headache from a cold that i had gotten a few days before (and still have), the lurching of the bus caused by a seemingly drunk bus driver, incessant bumps caused by irregularly paved roads, and the nose-piercing aroma of baijiu permeating the air originating from dirty-hand-soiled seats, i dreamed of the scene i was soon to behold. horses running free, tall grasses, yak skin covered yurts, and kind, welcoming mongolian folk were what i laboriously envisioned during the 3 hour trek.

the bus sputtered to a stop and we all filed out. to the left, cows grazing and swimming in a large pond. to the right, a cluster of yurts. beyond that, seemingly endless grasslands and rolling hills. walking to the encampment, i realized that this was anything but an authentic mongolian yurt camp. the yurts had foundations, they were covered with colorful canvas and nylon, there were karaoke systems, running water, electricity. my disappointment was allayed, however, when i glanced once again at the pristine grasslands beyond. after a short walk through the camp, a few of us decided to trek through the grass to the hills a good distance ahead. any description of this beautiful scene that i could attempt would be inadequate in the least. the pictures will do that job for me.

im sure it comes as no surprise to any of you that i am now a true mountain climber having scaled the formidable hills of inner mongolia with only a digital camera in my pocket and a sparkle in my eye. i'm the real thing. in this spirit, i descended the "mountain" in hopes of a lunch befitting a true mountain climber. entering the yurt, we were all seated around two different tables; one supposedly for baijiu drinkers and the other for pijiu drinkers. still feeling the effects of the night before as well as the dehydration of the day, i opted for the baijiu table so that i could sneak water into my glass. after a few toasts, happily sober and beginning to feel hydrated, i began to notice that my dining partners were approaching a state i like to call "housed". the rest of the meal was abundant with drunken affirmations and random bursts of uncontrollable laughter, while i hastily took shots of my "baijiu/water" so as not to be found out. this drunkeness was perhaps fueled even further by the fact that our lunch contained fatty-greased-up peices (read: slabs) of sheep meat surrounded by sheep entrail soup, sheep's blood sausage, and other unmentionable parts of a sheep's anatomy. i politely ate from the dishes that looked the least organ-like. i am not sure exactly what i ate, but that is the charm of this place - you never know what you are putting in your body or what part of the body it is from. the yurt soon resounded with giggles of drunken delight as i sat and watched the scene: diana getting kissed and wu-ed by mr. wu, mike and jacob going shot for shot with the busdriver (yes, the busdriver), and bossman insisting on everyone taking more shots despite protests from some citing lesson plans that had to be made.

lunch soon declined into a dull, hungover roar and some expressed an interest in horseback riding. ready for another "adventure" i shot out of the yurt, put my shoes back on, and hopped onto the nearest horse. the ride was tourist-fare to say the least, but my guide, noticing that i had ridden a horse before, let me ride alone. mike proceeded to flirt with his guide in broken chinese and somehow managed to purchase the vest off his back. he now had a piece of mongolia and a piece of his man. having sufficiently made our usual mark as crazy tourists, we sombered back to the bus only to find the bus driver passed out and unresponsive. unable to enter the bus, adam climbed through the driver's window and unlocked the door. a few minutes of fear were all but forgotten when a back-up busdriver appeared from the grass and our lives, saved. reclining in my sweat-stained seat, i dozed off to dream once more of my own idyllic grasslands and the many adventures . . . and quasi-adventures . . . that await me.

nose to the grindstone

so it is true. my brief respite from work has ended as has the paid "vacation" that i had expected to continue for months. it is not all too easy to adapt to a life of toil after being wined, dined, and left to your own devices. i had quite grown accustomed to waking for my morning cold shower, being greeted by my insect friends at every step, and having the daily question of whether i should "get some things done around the apartment" or "do a few errands in the city" (neither of which, mind you, were really pressing, as it was merely a self-employed ruse to make myself feel as if i had important tasks to complete). well, as i write, i sit at my desk in the office of the primary school english teachers . . .

the past three days have been exhausting with, well, let me explain. due to the fact that the primary school does not begin until august 21 (and that the textbooks to be used have not been received from the U.S. presently), the task of lesson planning is out of the question. "so what does a foreign english teacher do if there are no lessons to be planned or taught," you ask? well, it is grueling work sitting for hours on end making myself look busy with an iPod in ears, a book in lap, and an average of 6 IM windows on the computer screen. no easy task, let me tell you. you also may ask the question of why i am required to sit in said office for hours on end with nothing to do. to which i respond that not only my mind, but my body as well is owned by this school (as per previous blog entry)and whenever i am told to sell it, i must oblige. it seems that practicality, time management, and efficiency are lost on these free-wheeling chinese. "what is wrong with that", you ask? "nothing", i answer. practicality has always been lost on me, anyway. besides, it gives me time to make lists of those "things i need to get done around the apartment" and the "errands i need to run in the city" . . . it may take me a few more days to find the perfect pen and piece of paper . . .

"penny" & "judy": chinese english teachers

my relationships in china

my brief hiatus from posting may have come as a severe disappointment to many of you, as i am sure that you have been sitting at your computers; eyes wide with eager anticipation; fingers poised above the keyboard just waiting and hoping for the next update from your friend frolicking in the fields of inner mongolia. well, to satiate each of your appetites, here is another post touching on some of the relationships i have sown with my lovely apartment, a little mongolian boy, the approximately 10,438 insects and amphibians currently residing in my apartment, and the communist party secretary (i.e. the head of the communist party) of inner mongolia, respectively.

i have purposely neglected to outline the special relationship with my apartment in previous posts, as i was not yet able to pinpoint each of the idiosyncrasies that eternally bind us. the past few weeks have . . . well . . . put a strain on our bond. it all began with a refrigerator that would not refrigerate, a microwave that would not microwave, and a stove that would not sto . . . cook. this bump in the road was quickly remedied when i realized that all of the circuits had blown in the kitchen (granted this was many days after moving in). the next test of our marital bliss came when i was sitting down to enjoy a nice DVD after a long day of "recruiting" (read: sitting on my ass). i popped the disc in and ran back to the couch with remote in hand ready to press play and dive right in to someone else's world. i was naive to think that i could escape my own world and my relationship with my apartment, as the DVD player so selfishly decided to be broken on that day, neglecting my needs entirely. DVD player returned and new one acquired, this little bump was flattened. no relationship exists without constant annoyances and frustrations that one must just learn to live with and compromise as i have realized during the past three weeks. unfaltering cold showers, the lack of running water here and there, the occasional power outage, and the pungent odor of sewage seeping in through the drains are all just aspects of my significant other's personality that i will just have to learn to live with . . . and in.

someday last week i arrived at the infamous recruiting office ready for a day filled with reading, sitting, reading, and . . . sitting. i was pleasantly surprised to be accosted by a little mongolian boy who's mother also works in the office. our friendship began around the morning hour of 10:00 am with the requisite tickle and fake fighting so necessary to a friendship of this kind (i.e. one in which neither party can effectively communicate with one another). after lunch and "wu shui" (the chinese siesta), our friendship progressed to taking digital pictures of each other making faces (see pictures). this went on for most of the rest of the afternoon. from that day on i have had a friend to distract me from the rigors of work in the office. we now venture as far as the mall on the second floor of the building running through knock-off designer clothes, chinese tea sets, and jade lions. it is a very reciprocal friendship.

it came as no surprise to me that inner mongolia had the occasional insect or other small animal that would cross one's path from time to time. i had been warned about swarms of lady bugs and the need to tape-off all the windows in the apartment when the swarms came in september. well, it isn't september and i have not seen a single lady bug, but i have seen thousands upon thousands of beetles, flies (fruit, black, man-eating), praying mantises, grasshoppers, and frogs roaming the campus. when i say campus, i mean EVERY inch of the campus. inside the dining hall, inside the classrooms, inside my apartment, on my face. nowhere is safe from these buzzing, flying, hopping beasts. i could always resort to the chinese method of pest removal (i.e. throwing the insects against walls), but i have never been able to bring myself to bring about the premature death of any living organism if it was within my power to do so. so i can constantly be seen carrying handfuls of insects from my apartment to the grass outside the complex. i'm sure my neighbors think i am a few ants short of an anthill as i can be heard whispering to the insects, "go now, you are free", but i guess they thought i was a freak anyway - me with my blonde hair and light skin and everything.

not that i like to "blow my own horn" or anything, but i am kind of a big deal . . . me along with the other foreign teachers here. i have become accustomed to the incessant stares and whispering experienced as soon as i step foot outside of my apartment door and lasting the entire duration of said excursion. my rock star status has afforded me some very interesting introductions and conversations. one such introduction came the other day when we (the foreign teachers) were requested to meet the secretary of the communist party for the autonomous region of inner mongolia and the secretary of agriculture - both very important men in the province. after shaking hands and watching a highly propagandistic film about the school (all in chinese, of course), we took photos with the two men, thus ending our brief meeting. as i watched the camera crews and school officials hurrying after the two men as they headed on a tour of the campus, i though to myself how much i am growing to love china. it is not without its bumps and bruises along the way, but what relationship is? i love it all. thus is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

the tender side of china

i just wanted to include the following letter as proof that i really am teaching english over here in inner mongolia and not just riding donkey carts around fraternizing with the locals (although, some of that will be done within the year). this is from a student that we have been teaching in the "english salon" for the past 10 days. he was one of the star students and unfortunately had to miss the last lesson today. here is his apology for missing:

The Classroom of Grade 1, Class 17
Senior Middle School
Northeast Hope International School
Tongliao, China

Dear folks,

How are you now? I'm Steve. I am sorry for that, but I have to tell you. I ought to go back my hometown. I should go back and prepare for coming new term. I was so happy staying with you guys and learn from you. To talk with you was very nice. I can not forget this . This memory will be forever!

And allow to forgive me for that bad Greeting at this noon. You know. I was a little nervous and have so many words to tell you at that time. So I am sorry to you here.

Time flies! Now I write to you so! and Best wishes for you! Good luck in all your events. Instead of this Greeting "Bad Luck."

At 9th August, I will come back. See you then!

Sincerely yours,


selling my body

well, as luck would have it, my dream of selling my body for profit has come to fruition. upon accepting the offer for this job, i was unaware of the exact nature of my work, but i now understand that my physical body - my presence - is as important as my mind, if not more so. for the past few days, my job has entailed planning and teaching lessons for the "exceptional students" of the city to be taught during what the school likes to title the "english salon" (it is actually a ploy by the school to recruit more students from the city by parading the foreign teachers around = us), and then on my off days travelling into the city with some of my fellow english teachers to sit for hours on end at the recruitment office (picture a holding cell with a desk at one end, a water cooler at the other, and a tasteful plastic palm tree somewhere in between). mind you, the prospect of recruitment sounded fun and important at first mention. i imagined meeting the families of prospective students and having meaningful conversations with each, resulting in the student anxiously begging his/her parents to send him/her to this school that employed such talented english teachers as myself and the other foreign teachers. the parents would gladly write the tuition check on the spot and hand over their children to our talented and loving care . . .

so back to reality now . . . it is now the fourth hour of sitting without any sign of a family entering or even being interested in entering the dark and uninviting recruitment office. oh but wait, here is a little girl with her mother. they walk in heading straight for the desk at the far end of the room. i stand in surprise and readiness to sell the offerings of this progressive and well-outfitted establishment. i take a step toward the girl and her mother in anticipation of speaking with either . . . a few more steps . . . one, two, one . . . intercepted mid-step by one of the chinese teachers who had previously been lounging on a chair devouring crackers with ham flavored cheese spread between them (cue vomit now). she says that i "needn't talk with the families" but that i was just to serve as an "advertisement" for the school. befuddled, i sat back down on the couch, still warm from my previous four hours of sedentary boredom, and finally came to understand that i was not only here to teach these children english, but also to sell my body to all of tongliao . . . inner mongolia . . . china for that matter in an attempt by the school to attract the best and brightest of chinese children. with the northeast hope international school serving as my pimp for the next year, i will embrace my new-found whoredom . . . i mean, everyone has to get their jollies somehow.

the harem

dancing (inner) mongolians

the survival instincts of a college student (now former college student . . . weird to say) stipulate that one must "pregame" before going out to a bar or nightclub in order to place less stress on the wallet after arriving at said location. with this instinct still firmly embedded in the minds of myself and my fellow "mongolians", we began the night of friday, july 22, 2005 pregaming with the essential "pijiu" and "baijiu", hopeful that the night would bring some fun, laughter, or at the very least, a good story to report. well, i am happy to say that all of the above were very successfully achieved.

after a lengthy "pregame" session, we walked to the gates of our veritable oasis to try and hail two taxis into the city. well, as with any taxi ride in china, there is always much haggling to be had including shouting, frantic hand motions, and angry faces, only to eventually end with smiles and "shie-shie's" all around. i guess bargaining is just in the blood of the chinese and warrants no hard feelings at the end of a transaction. i am always fatigued and frustrated by the time any haggling is over, but the taxi driver acts as if nothing happened. i appreciate this custom and will strive to become a master at the taxi haggle. well, after arriving at the KFC (as this is the only landmark we know how to communicate and thus call the street KFC Boulevard), we walked with great anticipation toward a street a few blocks away teeming with neon lights suggesting some kind of nightlife activity. on the way, pat and i took a detour to an alley to relieve ourselves of the burden our bladders had so selfishly given us, when upon exiting the alley (still fastening out pants) we were greeted by two younger chinese men. while the conversation was understandably void of any real meaning, we were able to communicate our desperate desire to go to a nightclub (i say desperate because our means of communication - body movement in what could be construed as some type of dancing - had to have come across as desperate). the two men pointed to a grouping of flashing neon lights a few blocks down the road. we thanked them and hurried to tell the others of our discovery.

after checking out a few of the establishments on the busy street, which turned out to be karaoke bars all in chinese (i don't know why we thought it would be otherwise), we decided to check out the place the two young men had pointed out. waltzing in as if we were VIP's . . .

the overwhelming fragrance of cigarette smoke immediately gave me a second-hand buzz, so my report of the scene may be somewhat skewed, but i give myself artistic liberties in this case. well, the first thing that i noticed was the woman singing on the stage in the middle of the multi-level club. people were all gathered around the stage sitting on tables cheering for the glamorously-clad woman singing. we were greeted and taken to be seated on the second floor balcony. we had hoped for a nightclub to dance (or at least i had . . . you know me and dancing), but this was definitely serving as a necessary cultural experience. after the woman was done with her little ditty, a man in what can only be called a suit made from a leopard perpetually stuck in the 80's (shiny leopard pants and a shiny floor-length leopard coat) strolled out rocking huge black sunglasses. his act included various chinese pop songs, beer drinking contests, as well as a portion dedicated to making fun of us (singing "a,b,c,d" . . . then saying something in chinese and everyone laughing, except us of course, all the while looking up at us). we, of course, loved it and pretended like we didn't know that they were making fun of us. just to make ourselves look even more mock-worthy, i descended the stairs and gave the guy a beer which he proceeded to chug much to our delight. after a few more songs, we were all but ready to leave and try the karaoke bars as the club had turned out to just be a dinner theatre type venue, when . . .

women in bikinis exploded onto the stage and gave a short, yet effective, little show. the night was looking promising . . . we had no idea. just as the swimsuit show ended, the music grew louder, the lights began flashing even more rapidly and the stage that had once supported the 80's leopard guy, the glamorous woman, and the scantily clad chinese swimmers retracted and the people who had been sitting at the tables rushed the floor. looking at each other; "pijiu", "baijiu", and cigarette smoke fueling our desires, we followed the tonglians and rushed onto the floor with cheering from the crowd. crawling onto the stage (crawling was necessary in our state), trying to dance with shy chinese girls (who subsequently ran away screaming), and other antics ensued. the rest of the pictures can explain the rest. i will return with more stories of well-received awkwardness and embarrassment.

tongliao tidbits

so it has now officially been a week since i got to china and while there are some aspects that are becoming familiar (i.e. the fact that i have to get used to the fact that every meal will be an adventure in itself, the fact that i do not understand anything anyone is ever saying to me (or more commonly, at me), cold showers, the smell of manure and sewage, getting up at the ass crack of dawn, and the fact that i feel like a bumbling idiot when it comes to trying to respect cultural customs), there are still so many aspects of life here that i have not grown accustomed to, but i know that that will come in time. it is strange to think that this place, tongliao, will be my home for one year, as it is completely different form anything i am used to. so here are a few observations and experiences i have had during my first few days here in my new home.

tongliao is quickly growing as a regional center of commerce, agriculture, and development. the city itself is bustling and is much more developed than i had anticipated. while i do not know what any of the stores carry, what kinds of nightlife the city has to offer, or what kind of restaurants/bars are available as every sign in the city can be discerned as having little more meaning to me than "*#$%)@^&", i am comfortable in stating that the city is of growing importance and a burgeoning cosmopolitan center. as any foreigner will quickly realize while walking/riding through the city is the lack of stop lights present at any intersection. there is a small stool in the middle of each intersection on which a police person is to stand, but i have rarely seen one such police person and when i have, they have been doing little to lessen the confusion wrought by cars, bicycle rickshaws, mules, and pedestrians all trying to maneuver the same intersection at the same time. speaking of bicycles . . . i bought my own bicycle for the equivalent of $20 US, as i obviously enjoy the constant anxiety of wondering whether i will be hit by some speeding toyota or some out of control mule-cart. the bike, however, is conspicuously made with the sole purpose of being ridden by a chinese person who will statistically be much smaller in stature than me. needless to say, my knees come dangerously close to hitting my chin every time i ride, but i know that this paints a very humorous picture for you all, so why would i try to remedy it?

riding one's bike out of this confusion and bustle of the city for little more than ten minutes, however, and you find yourself right in the middle of miles and miles of corn fields dodging mule-drawn carts overflowing with crops and people riding on top of the harvested plants. about 30 minutes out and an oasis of sorts can be seen off to the left bearing the name of the Northeast Hope International School. this is where i work and reside. after passing through the gates (which are guarded by camouflaged "security" guards) the visitor is presented with a beautiful setting of tree-lined walkways, well-constructed buildings, and the ever-humorous fountain show complete with chinese classical music. each time i experience this spectacle i can't help but wonder how much a fountain system like this cost and where that money could have been spent elsewhere, but that is not my place, nor in my control, so i must just accept it with a smile (and a chuckle).

i will include some pictures of the facilities of the school following this paragraph, but i would just like to say that i was blown away by the modernity and scope of the resources available to students here. there are facilities here that any US school could only dream about. the TV studio (yes, a full service TV studio for high schoolers) is nicer than any i have ever been in, the planetarium (and yes, a planetarium complete with telescope and constellation/planet projector) is as nice as any museum's i have ever been to, and the physics lab has more equipment than a physics lab at any major research university. all in all, these students are very lucky . . . the tuition of the school comes at a meager RMB 12,800 (about $1500 US). i am understandably jealous of these students and excited to take part in the second year of a revolutionary school whose educational philosophy will hopefully spread to other parts of china.

i'm sure that there will be many more revelations about the city and school in the future, but let me just talk about some interesting (and anxiety-inducing) experiences that i have had just briefly. first of all, as most of you know, i have not eaten beef since seventh grade. due to the lack of protein available here, i have had to resort to eating it again but not without some complaints from my stomach. i do not like the fact that i am eating precious little cows again, but with the number that i have seen blocking traffic on the roads outside the school, i guess a few can be dispensed with. secondly, yesterday we were told that we had to go to the local hospital for a "complete physical" to receive our residence permits. the idea of a "complete physical" caused our stomachs to flip, as we were not sure exactly of what that meant (and neither was our boss, mr. zheng). with some trepidation, we arrived at the hospital which consisted of a small building bordered by filthy alleys on either side. walking into the lobby of sorts, the smell of sewage that i have grown so accustomed to stood stagnant. i may have become accustomed to the smell of sewage, but i don't think i will ever be able to ignore the smell in a HOSPITAL. well, not to go into too much detail, i was put through a battery of tests which included the usual height, weight, blood pressure . . . and the not so usual being hooked up to a machine with clamps on my ankles and wrists and electrodes on my chest (i'm not really sure what they were measuring, but i wasn't really able to ask questions) as well as a chest x-ray in which i was to step into a dark room with a strange man who moved this panel around my chest giving the strange sensation of being groped (i couldn't really see what was going on and felt strangely violated afterward, but i will just believe that it truly was a panel moving around and not some strange chinese doctor's hands). we also went to the local public pool which served as a daily reminder of how ignorant we are of local customs. supposedly we were supposed to wear swimming caps which we were very blatantly yelled at to wear by some of the patrons. "unclean", "unclean" being yelled in chinese while being pointed at is never a pleasant experience, but one that warrants laughter later in the privacy of one's home.

well that is all i have for now. i am going into the city today with some of my fellow mongolians (as we like to call ourselves) to scope out any nightclubs or bars that we could go to in order to get our requisite cultural embarrassment in for the week. i will report back about any stories that come out of attending an inner mongolian club (as i'm sure there will be many).