Monday, December 04, 2006

wanting to break things

I've been here almost two years, yet there are still days filled with frustration. I'm talking I-want-to-scream-at-the-top-of-my-lungs-and-break-small-objects frustration. Sometimes it's after I've had a really aggrevating class and as I'm walking to the bus stop some freakin' Beijing idiot who's never seen a foreigner before decides to yell a condescending "helllloooooo!" at me. This, in turn, causes all his little homies to crack up in laughter and me to scream back "NI HAO!!!!!!!!!!!!" like a lunatic. Just to clear up any confusion, ni hao means "hello," in Chinese.

Last week was one dosy of a week (yes, I just used the word dosy and I don't even think I spelled it right). I went to the Language University to turn in my application so I can study there again next spring. I had already dropped it off several weeks ago but was informed that I was "too early" and to bring it back at a later date. So I returned last week. My intuition told me things were not going to go well. The young, female secratary ignored my presence for as long as humanly possible (even though I was the only other person in the room). I was pretty sure I wouldn't be walking out of the room with my application and 600RMB fee ($75!!!) handed in.

If you think customer service is bad in America, you really have no idea how lucky you are. . . I'm constantly at the mercy of some cashier/secretary/waitress's mood. If they are happy or like the look of me, they can be fairly efficient, even helpful. But, if they aren't haven't such a great day they want to bestow their misery on every living creature in their path. The latter is probably what happened to me and I was stupid enough to fall victim to it. She wouldn't let me hand in the application without seeing my passport, which (of course) I don't carry around with me. She would not provide me with a reason, but just simply walked away at the first sign of my distress. I'd like to say I walked out with a little dignity, but I can't. I called Zhao Ming to see if he could help me. He went into the office and I waited outside. Several minutes later some security guards came running up. I knew things went from bad to worse.

He didn't get into any fights at least. The secretary was just a little intimidated by him, and by the looks of it when I entered the room, so were the 95 lb. security guards. I convinced him we weren't getting anywhere and we might as well leave. So I'll have to go back, yet again, to turn in my application. I'm going to go in disguise though. I'm afraid if she recognizes me she'll throw my app in the garbage and pocket the $75.

What makes it hardest for me is the language barrier. Unless I'm speaking to someone with fantastic English (probability of this is extremely slim), it's difficult to get my point across. And if I'm stuck speaking Chinese, forget it. I'll probably just get myself into more trouble. Mess up one tone or miss a word and I could go from saying "I need to talk to your manager" to "Your mother is an ugly giraffe." I guess this gives me more incentive to study harder. If nothing else it is certainly testing every ounce of my patience.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Season's Greetings

It's been awhile. I haven't had much to say and on top of that I have been not in the cheeriest of moods. In the spirit of last week's Thanksgiving, I should be grateful for all that I have. But let me tell you this. . .there was not turkey. No cranberries. No, not in a country that doesn't have turkey or cranberries. In fact, the word for turkey in Chinese is "big chicken." I think the turkey is being misrepresented. . . Furthermore, there was no stuffing or gravy. I did get my hands on a sweet potato though. They sell them for 25 cents on the street during the winter months. I guess I should be grateful for that. My Thanksgiving dinner consisted of a plate full of sushi and also some raw squid (given to us as a free appetizer. . .hello, not appetizing) at a local Japanese restaurant. I have to hand it to one of my co-workers. He was more clever. He went to an Indian restuarant for his Thanksgiving meal.
There isn't much sign of Christmas in Beijing yet. I'll give you all the annoying details once there is. The Chinese don't know how to "do" the holiday season. They have some mutant strain of a holiday that hardly resembles the Christmas I know. Granted, Christmas in America has it's own issues. I personally can't bring myself to step into a mall after Thanksgiving. And I'm almost willing to listen to Linda Ronstad (the only cassette tape I own, one I listened to religiously as a little girl) in my car to avoid the Christmas songs on the radio. Now, what I wouldn't give to hear "Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer" or "Feliz Navidad." I miss the sugar buzz of cookies and chocolates. There's no Christmas trees seen through windows. No department store fist fights over the hottest toys of the season. So next time you are about to scream while scanning that radio dial, think of me.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Back on American Soil (from 11.4)

*I posted this on Blogger last week, but somehow it appears to have disappeared from my former entries??

I made it onto US soil for approximately 45 minutes yesterday. Why did I return to America for such a short time? you ask. The answer is simple, although probably not the one you wanted: to visit the local embassy. Sorry to disappoint, but I'm not actually in the good ol' U.S. of A., although I almost felt like it when I stepped into the embassy district. It's so very unBeijing. There are no high rises and very few cars. There are trees and shrubbery for as far as the eye can see. But you know you are in China because at the gate of every embassy is a tiny little Chinese man (roughly 17 years of age, 100 lbs dripping wet) in an ill fitting green uniform. These security guards are a little hard to take seriously. First of all, it looks like they borrowed their older brother's clothes and a belt ten sizes too big. Secondly, they don't carry guns. Well, neither do the police here, but at least they look like actual grown ups.

You are probably wondering what I was doing at the embassy. Well, I found that my Friday afternoon class was canceled, so I decided to take a trip over there. I haven't received any word on the status of Ming's visa. The application made it to them, as they cashed the $170 check (the first of many to come, it pains me to say) back in August. I was able to talk to a more-than-helpful lady, a luxary you don't often find in China. I really love how kind my fellow Americans can be. In spite of her best efforts, however, she couldn't tell me much. Turns out they do all the processing for his type of visa in Guangzhou, which is in South China, near Hong Kong. Fat chance I'm going to be making a trip down there, leaving us with pretty much our only option-to continue to wait. Please cross your fingers for us!

With luck on our side the whole process can take about a year, but there is a good chance we will get rejected this first time. It's better for me not to even think about it!There's not much else to report. Although I would like to note that I got drunk off of one Ultimate Mojito at Friday's restaurant yesterday. There's nothing like having lunch solo and getting drunk at one in the afternoon while in a foreign country. I don't really recommend it.

The American Dream, in China

I'm not the most conventional of people, but I must say that I am pretty cliche in my hopes for the future. A husband, a couple kids, a dog, and a modest house in the suburbs-yes, the sterotypical American Dream. I can, however, go without the picket fence and golden retreiver. If (or should I say: WHEN) I come back to America, there is a good chance of eventually making all these dreams a reality. If (this is a hypothetical "if") I were to live my life in China, the chances of this happening are slim to none. The husband and dog will happen, the two kids-maybe (I'm not sure if I have to abide by China's "One Child Policy"?). The house, fat chance in hell.

Finding a house in China is not easy. I have never, with my own two eyes, have actually seen a "house" in the American sense. I hear that they exist out in the Beijing suburbs, but I've only seen pictures in magazines. The fact is, it's better for me not to think about it. I start to feel a little bitter because I know it's something that could never be mine. Same as owning a car here. Yeah, it's great not having to rely on a vehicle, but when the option is taken away from you, you start to feel a little resentment. Generally, only taxi drivers and those with really high paying jobs have cars. Keep in mind that the average yearly income in Beijing is just over US$2000. People live off of less than $200 a month, on average! Many people survive on much less. In that sense, I am incredibly fortunate.

Clearly, having a car is out of most people's reach. Having a house is even more so. Word is that the suburbian houses cost several hundred thousand US dollars. Not only that, one can never actually own the house because it's technically on 70-year lease from the Chinese government. That's communism for ya.

But things in China are changing. You've probably heard? Fastest growing economy, blah,blah,blah. I don't know all the details, but things are developing fast and the standards of living are changing. Chinese people want more, better, faster. Does this sound framiliar? I think many Chinese are hoping to find there own American dream. But can it happen? Let's hope not. And I'll tell you why. . .

I just recently read an article (an interview of Lester Brown, a famous environmental analysist, in case you were wondering) about China's future. It is predicted that China will reach the same income level as America in 25 years. If China spends it's money in ways similar to how American spend their money, there are going to be some problems, to say the least. I'm a girl who likes statistics and simple numbers. Sure, many of them are BS, but let's just entertain ourselves with some for the time being. According to this Brown fellow, if future Chinese consumers are anything like current Ameican consumers, the Chinese will consume twice as much paper as the world currently produces. Keep in mind that China, at present, has about 1.3 billion people. America, a country similar in size, has about 280 million. So what does that mean as far as cars on the road? By 2036, it is predicted that the Chinese will drive 1.1 billion cars. That's asking for a lot of traffic jams! At the moment, there are 800 million cars driven worldwide. What does that mean for oil? 99 billion barrels of oil a day for China ALONE. The world currently produces 84 billion barrels a day. So it looks as if the American Dream is not going to do China, or the world, much good. It will be a sweet time for car manufacturers though.

I have always been, more-or-less, as environmental conscious as the next guy. I seperated my cans from my papers, but was occassionally known to throw a cigarette butt out the window of my car. Living in Beijing has made me realize how much I took for granted. There is garbage lying everywhere here, although that's the least of my concerns. The air is thick and brown most days, with little visibility. I heard that living here is like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. When will it get better? There will be a city overhaul for the Olympics, no doubt, but I'm a little nervous about Beijing's post-Olympic future. But by then I'll probably be living out my American Dream in American and blissfully clueless about life under the red flag.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

victim of a hate crime

We all have our bad days. Although most of you probably have the benefit of complaining about the world's injustices to somebody who can fluently speak English. I don't. So I will just do it here. Although the past couple of days have been better, I definitely went through a rough patch over the weekend.

Starting with Friday.Friday started pleasantly enough. I decided to take an alternate way to work (aka a different bus, that takes much longer but has much less people). One benefit, to be able to sit down instead of being crammed in between 5 people, the other benefit. . .skipping the morning roundevous with my co-worker. He and I both live near each other and teach at the same school in the mornings. This naturally leads us to taking the same bus, which leads to other things such as breakfasts at McDonald's together and a lot of chit-chat. As established in the previous post, I am not the most chatty of gals. This applies ten fold at pre-noon hours. Sometimes I just want to enjoy my hotcakes and coffee in quiet.

Despite a nice, silent breakfast, things started to go sour once I started teaching at LO. I have 4 half hour classes there. Usually the kids are ok, but at the end of the week they are wild and restless and I'm tired and impatient. Not a good combo. But I just brushed my shoulders off and moved on with my day. Grabbed a taxi to my tutoring job. There was a bit of a miscommunication between me and the driver. He went the wrong way and it's never easy to get yourself turned around once you're going the wrong way in Beijing traffic. Supposedly Beijing has the widest roads in the world. The result, my fare was double what it normally is. But looking at the bright side, I told myself, at least I'm in China. $4 vs. $2 isn't such a big loss.

After tutoring it was off to the grade school I teach at on Friday afternoons for 2 hours. I had a great lesson planned. All about Halloween: ghosts, witches, monsters-the works. I even bought a mask for the occassion and was going to have them make greeting cards. Can you imagine the excitement??? But when I got there I noticed a woman sitting in the back of the room. Who was she and what was she doing in my classroom? I asked my assistant, "Oh, she's just one of the student's mothers. She's sitting in on the class because her daughter doesn't really like your lessons." Um, ok. That made me feel a lot better. It got worse as her eyes pierced into me as I began my lesson. I can now recognize the face of pure evil. Alright, I'm exaggerating, but she really looked pissed off. Never cracked a smile, not even when I busted out the monster mask.

After fifty minutes, it was break time and I was ready for a nervous breakdown. I've never felt so on edge. I wanted her out of the room. Normally I don't care if the parents are there, but this lady was creepin' me out. Plus, they aren't suppose to be parents in the room anyway. In my defense. So I did what any logical person would do and I overreacted. I told my assistant either mommy was leaving or a I was. This may seem a little extreme, but the Chinese are big on smoothing things over. In fact, I had asked my assistant nicely first, but was given a "there-there" response of, "She'll only be here today. She won't be here next week. We're sorry that we didn't tell you first, but we didn't know she'd be here." I wanted to say "I don't give a flying F*%$ if she'll be here next week or not. I'm sick of getting the evil eye." But since there were children present and my assistant's English isn't so hot, I had to make the threat. It worked! I no longer had to face the look of death, but I was left with the guilt of having been so rude to my sweet, innocent assistant.

I made it through the rest of class and the evening without inncident, although filled with doubt. Am I a bad teacher? Am I mean? Am I ever going to get used to this place? But then Saturday morning came. A new day. A new start. But the ickiness of Friday just seaped into Saturday and I was already in a foul mood and fighting with Ming before breakfast. I had to get to work, so I left. He followed and we caught the bus. Saturday's can also be brutal, everyone is out shopping or going to work. No seats were available, leaving us standing at the back of the bus. A middle-aged woman was behind me and I kept hearing her mumbling about my "da shu bao" (big book bag). I didn't understand the rest of what she was saying, but I wanted to know what her problem was, so I asked her "What's your problem?" I'm pretty sure she couldn't understand English, but she definitely got the gyst of what I was saying. She went off on me. Then Ming went off on her. Many vicious words were exchanged (I know because I have made a point to learn these words). I was caught in between them, literally. They were screaming over my head. I was begging Ming to stop. He wouldn't, nor would the lady. The Chinese seem to live for verbal confrontation. I always see people screaming at each other in the streets. And everyone stands around to watch. This is a great, cheap form of entertainment. With nowhere to run or hide, I began to cry. If everyone on the bus wasn't already looking, they were definitely looking then.

Eventually things calmed down and the lady had to get off the bus. This seemed to be the low point of the weekend, and everything went up from there. But I'm still left wondering. . .what was this woman's problem? Was this her way of expressing hatred towards wide-eyed, fair haired foreigners? Was she having a bad day? Going through her change of life? I don't know, but I hope to not be on the receiving end of an angry 50-year-old Chinese woman ever again.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


In China, there is this little thing called "guanxi." If you look it up in the dictionary, the term means realationship. But in reality it's all about connections, or in modern-day terms: "havin da' hook up." This is a country that's all about who you know. The more guanxi you have, the better. And people are not afraid to use their guanxi. In America, there's sometimes a little shame in asking for favors or inconviencing others. Not so here. Droping names, making phone calls, haggling for half an hour just to get 10 cents knocked off a pair of socks-it's all fair game.

If I want to get copies made, Ming insists I use the copy place near his work. Sure, there is a shop right next to our apartment building, but why go there when I can get the same job done for half a cent cheaper at the place where he "knows people." If I want to go to a certain temple, he insists I go to a different one. One where his friend's sister's boyfriend works at the ticket booth. That way I can get in for free. Nevermind that it's not the place I wanted to go to in the first place.

These kind of tactics don't really suit my personality. Call me lazy, or perhaps I just value my time more than my money. Then throw in the fact that I'm a bit of an introvert. It's not my nature to have an excess of friends and acquaintances. Luckily Ming makes up in what I lack. Another person who has great guanxi is my stepmom. You need your taxes done? She knows someone. You need a deal on house paint? She knows someone. You need to find some quality dark chocolate? Oh yes, she knows someone. I, on the other hand, am not the type to mingle at parties. When standing in line at the grocery store I try to look preoccupied or grumpy. I'm not interested in making small talk with strangers.

Things are different in China though. In a country where strong relationships are vital to success, the Chinese are not much for chatting up total strangers in hopes of making friends. They don't talk to each other on the bus or when waiting in line (probably because they don't know how to form lines). However, they do seem to take a liking to me. Since I'm a foreigner, these rules need not apply. If I forget to put my MP3 player in (a great invention for the anti-social), there's usually someone who wants to chat. For those who can only speak to me in Chinese, the questions are generally simple. "Where are you from?" "Are you an English teacher?" But if they can speak English, all bets are off. There's no knowing what might come out of their mouths. From "What's your favorite Chinese food?" to "What do you think is better, socialism or capitalism?" I've heard it all.

Sometimes the Chinese want to practice their English. Sometimes they are just curious. Others might be looking for some guanxi. Whatever the case, I'm probably not the best person to talk to. Perhaps the Chinese guy who often chats with me on the bus put it best when he asked, "Aren't Americans suppose to be friendly?" I guess not this American.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

in the eye of the beholder

White is the new tan, just check out my stylish leg!

After posting my last batch of photos, I got a message from one of my friends. He advised me to hit the tanning booths. I guess you could say, I'm looking a bit pastey these days. The truth is, I couldn't be happier about it. In a country where you can't find a single tanning bed and girls hide under umbrellas whenever the sun peeks out, you can say I am proud to look like Casper. . . for once in my life. Here, white is in. Tan is unmistakably out. In fact, it's a little difficult for me to find some decent lotion here because just about everyone of them contains a 'whitener.' I thought whitening was just for the teeth! Well, it's pretty clear that I'm in no desperate need for a skin whitener. Everywhere I go I get compliments on my pale complexion. One of my 4-year-old students has decided to nickname me "White Face Rose." I'm not offended.

The standard of beauty is definitely a bit different here. Too bad for me, thin is still in. If only I could find a country that appreciates a little love handle. The Chinese are pretty harsh when it comes to weight. No one is afraid to proclaim me as "fat." In America, that's rude and hurtful, but here it's just a statement, a fact. It's not meant to cause offense, it's the truth as they see it. Saying "You're fat" is no more different than saying "You're a brunette." But it still stings when I hear it. I miss words and phrases like "big boned," "queen size," "pleasantly plump," "chubby," and even "overweight." Here I am just "fat." I have even heard a couple of my little students whisper 'da pigu' (big butt) behind my back. The thing is, I really don't consider myself all that fat by American standards, but so many of the Chinese are blessed with good metabolism and have a diet lacking in trans and saturated fats. Plus they usually don't have cars. Where I come from we eat our Big Macs while driving our cars on the way to the job where we sit on our asses all day. And then we come home and watch TV.

Another aspect of beauty is eye shape and even more importantly, eyelid type. The Chinese generally like wide eyes. This is another thing I occassionally get complimented on. The other saught after characteristic is the "Double Eyelid." It took me awhile to understood what this means. I'll do what I can to explain it. . . .If you are of European decent, you have (as far as I know) a double eyelid. Some Chinese also have double eyelids. This doesn't have anything to do with the actual shape of the eye, but how the skin is above it. If one is lacking in the Double Eyelid department, this means the skin hangs all the way down from their brow to their eye and you can't really see their eye lashes. I recently read an article about the new plastic surgeory phenomenon now hitting China. Evidently there is a procedure that allows Asians without the double lid to get it. It's the hottest thing in Asian cosmetic surgery. One young Chinese man claimed he got it done because it will improve his job opportunities. Sounds a bit crazy to me, but plenty of American girls get boob jobs for this reason. In a country with 1.3 billion people, I suppose a boy's gotta do what a boy's gotta do to outshine the competition.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

good-bye my friend

They got mine, but there's not taking his.

If you every have the chance to come to Beijing, you will certainly notice the bikes. There are probably a few million of them here. It's a great, all be it a bit dangerous, mode of transportation. The second thing you will notice is the condition of these bikes. They all appear to be about 20-years-old. They are dirty and rusty. Sometimes parts are missing. I have seen people riding bikes with flat tires. Sure, there are some people that can't afford a new bike (myself included), but certainly not everyone. The question perplexed me: Why do all these bikes look like they were picked out of a junk yard? Well, I eventually got wind of the answer. . .the uglier the bike, the less likely it is to get stolen. Some people even suggest trying to mud about your bike a bit. Make it look nice and dirty.

As for me, I took the plunge and bought my bike back in March for a cool 100 kuai (about $12). She was no beauty, but compared to her peers, I'd give her a 7 out of 10. She was silver, slightly scratched, and had a convinent little basket on the front. I wasn't too worried about someone trying to swipe her. But I guess I should of been, because today she was taken from me. Yes, she was stolen.

I guess it was just a matter of time. Pretty much everyone I know has a story of something being stolen from them. I've heard of people's purses and pockets being slashed so that everything falls out from the bottom without them knowing it. One of my classmates at BLCU had ALL her clothes taken from her dorm. Zhao Ming's mother had an unfortunate incident when someone snatched her purse and ran.

If I'm making Beijing sound like a dangerous place, it's not. While there are a lot of pickpockets and theifs out their, I can comfortably walk home late at night. I always feel safe, but I do have to keep a close eye on my purse.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

plight for sore eyes

As of a week ago, I was back to work. There's no fun in going back to work on a Sunday. I think it's just cruel that the Chinese government only gives 7 days for a holiday. Who wants to work the Saturday before vacation and the Sunday after?

To make matters worse, I managed to get sick. It was inevitable. It seems like the whole city is sick. I think the problem lies in the fact that people don't believe in covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze. I can deal with the spitting (although I'm still not accustomed to the snot rockets), but sneezing all over everyone at the bus stop is inexcusable for anyone over the age of 4.

There's not much new to report. The only odd thing that occured this past week was during my Friday afternoon class. I teach first grade at a primary school on Friday's. The poor little darlings are stuck with me for a full two hours. I find my teaching to be pretty boring (learning how to sound out letters-big time snoozer), yet most of them are attentive and smiling. This says something about their other classes. They must have REALLY boring lessons in their other subjects.

Half way through my lesson, something strange happened. Music started playing over the loud speaker. Hmm, this had never happened before. When I taught at the high school in Chengde they played similar music when the students were outside doing their morning exerices. But that wasn't the case at the grade school. The students started doing deep tissue massage on their faces! Sycronized face rubbing. . .a new national sport? A stress reliever for 7-year-olds? What was going on? The rubbed their foreheads, their temples, and around their eyes. This went on for a couple minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. What was I to do? Continue teaching or sit and watch them? I opted to watch them in bewilderment. I looked at my assistant, but she seemed unphased. Then, it ended, and I went back to droning on about how "ph" sounds like "f" and "silent e."

I asked Ming about this yesterday and I guess they did this back in his grade school days too. These exercising supposedly help they children's poor little eyes from becoming near-sighted. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be working. It seems as if about 80% of the population wears glasses. Zhao Ming was, in a sense, lucky. He was an exceptionally lazy student as a child. He claims this is why he still has such great vision today. I don't think this theory really holds up, as some of the smartest people I know (you know who you are. No, not you Adam Pittner) are blessed with good vision.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Pride of the Yankees

Today is the PRC's (People's Republic of China, that is) 57th birthday. Let me tell you, the Chinese are a pretty patriotic bunch, and they get 7 full days off to celebrate. It may sound like a pleasant idea in theory, but just imagine yourself in a country of 1.3 billion people in which practically everyone gets the same week off of work. It's a nightmare, but that's a whole other blog.

What I'm writing about today is my own country and what it means to be an American in China. It's a pretty great place to be an American, as opposed to, let's say, Europe. Many Chinese seem to admire us (although this is mostly impart to our killer b-ball skillz) and some even fear us. Just to give an example, foreigners who own cars have special black liscense plates, while Chinese people have blue plates. No policeman will dare ticket a black plated car. Being a foreigner, I do feel like I can get away with pretty much anything. And if anyone dares to yell at me I can just feign ignorance with a simple "wo ting bu dong!" (rough translation: "I hear you, but I have no idea what the hell you are saying!")

According to Ming, I am particularly powerful due to my nationality. He believes American shouldn't be afraid of anything because we come from the strongest, most influencial country in the world. I wasn't really sure how to react when he said this. Does the country we come have that much influence on who we are? Does being an American mean I should be friendly, confident, fat, blue-eyed, and rich? In my experience, most of the Chinese assume I am all of these things, although I wouldn't catagorize myself as any of them.

Ming also pointed out to me how proud and patriotic Americans are. When the National Anthem plays, everyone stops and people often put their hands over their hearts. I guess the Chinese don't do this. Maybe we just have a better anthem than them.

I asked one of my American co-workers, Michael, what he thought of all this. He, as well as other foreigners here in BJ, refer to Americans as Yankees. (I'm not sure what to make of this. . .the only Yankees I've ever known of are a baseball team in New York and a Doodle Dandle who stuck a feather in his cap and called it, of all things, "macaroni.") He believes that us Yankees shoulder a great burden, because we have the whole world looking at us. Maybe this is true, but I'm still happy to be a Yankee. While in China, I have the freedom to do and have pretty much anything what I want. And, one day (hopefully soon!) I can return to that one special place in the world where one can go through a drive-thru to get married; open a checking account; and get a tall, non-fat, triple shot latte. Yep, life as an American is pretty good.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Don't eat that!

This is pretty gross. . .so if you're weird about food, maybe you don't want to read this.

As many of you know, I've tried a lot of things I would never have considered in America. Congeled blood, cow stomach, dog, donkey, lamb kidneys, fish eggs, duck feet, chicken hearts, and this list could probably go on. Many times, it's difficult to be sure of what I'm eating. Once I went out to dinner with a group of foreign and Chinese friends. One of my American friends is a strict vegetarian, but at this particular meal she managed to eat some pig intestines. Sometimes a pig intestine looks a bit like a mushroom. It's an easy mistake to make. Take my word for it.

Anyways, my boss at EWAS (the company I work for teaching English) is Canadian. He's been living in China for a few years, and like most foreingers who have lived here for awhile, isn't too intimidated by the food. A few weeks ago he got incredibly ill and went to the hospital. He ended up there for nearly two weeks. Today he told me why. . . .

Street food is very popular food, particularly skewers. You want something, you can probably get it on a stick. They got any type of meat, vegetable, fruit, and stanky smelling tofu available to delight you. Lamb meat is one of the most popular sellers. I've had it many times and it's pretty tasty. But I will probably be avoiding it from now on.

Evidently many of these street vendors and small restaurant owners buy lamb meat from a big warehouse. At this warehouse lamb fat is mixed with cat and rat meat in a big vat. After being mixed together for awhile the cat and rat meat takes on the flavor of the lamb. If that's not gross enough, sometimes these rats have died from disease or poison. If you eat this meat, you can be infected. That's what happened to my boss and it nearly killed him. Seriously.

So I guess I can probably add cat and rat to the list of things I've eaten. Gross. China really needs an FDA.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

three letters, rhymes with rex

Last weekend, to relax, I decided to buy all 6 seasons of Sex and the City. You can get pretty much any American TV show on pirated DVD here. Ming is officially addicted to 24 because of it. He's thinking of changing his English name from Jack to Jack Bauer. Anyways, the great thing is, thanks to virtually no copyright laws, I got my Sex for a mere 20RMB ($2.50). The only downfall is that half of the second disc didn't work, but for that price I'm not complaining.

This leads me into the topic of sex, specifically sex in China. I'm not attempting to be Carrie Bradshaw here. I'm just amazed at how different China and America are when it comes to sex. Sometimes I wonder if anyone actually does it here. Besides the humping I endured on the bus that one morning, I was beginning to think that most Chinese don't have a sex drive. But the thing is, it's just repressed. The culture here is extremely conservative-Ming was a bit taken aback just watching Friends. He couldn't believe that TV shows could be allowed to talk about sex so openly. Here, there are no ads with half naked women, no sex scenes on TV, nobody trying to sneek a peak at my boobs. Nothing.

Ming and I went out for lunch today and the restaurant had a stack of magazines. One of them was Men's Health (the Chinese version). I saw the words "Sex Survey" written across the front and had to check out the results. Of course I haven't yet learned the vocabulary needed to attempt to read such an article (does "menage a trois" translate?), but Ming helped me out. I'll just share a couple of the results I found interesting. According to the only 2.3% of the Beijing men and 5.6% of the Beijing women surveyed had sex before the age of 20. It's a bit hard for me to believe, but I guess since high schoolers are busy studying 20 hours a day it's somewhat plausible. The survery also found that 57.3% of men and 77.6% of women have had sex with 5 or less people. Does that seem pretty wholesome to you?

I guess, for me, it's kind of a relief to not have to have sex thrown in my face all the time. But it also seems a bit foolish to pretend it doesn't exist. There is virtually no sex ed in China. I am still trying to convince Ming that you cannot get AIDS from kissing. He is so insistent that people can that I'm starting to question it myself. There are plenty of other examples I could cite, but I'll spare you.

So, that brings me to my final conclusion which is this: There must be an awful lot of frustration here, perhaps that explains the humping on the bus incident.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

BJ fashion

my assistant, the red pants are posh
I'm trying to write once a week, even though I'm really busy these days. Despite being busy, my life is quite boring. I did have one traumatic experience this week though. It occured on the bus. . .where else? After all, that's where I spend most of my time. I do believe that I was violated. I didn't think this occured in Chinese society, but I'm afraid I am wrong. I definitely felt a man doing some inappropriate touching. I was a bit stunned and since I'm not sure how to say "back the f*&k off b$#ch!" in Chinese, I just moved away. A couple minutes later, it happened again, and sure enough, the perpetrator was behind me. Being as crowded as it was, it was difficult to make another getaway. Luckily, he got off at the next stop. Moral of the story, I'm now scarred for life.

That's really all I have to say about myself, but I do think it's time I tell you a little bit about Beijing fashion. That is to say, it's non-existent. It's really difficult to even begin to explain it because there's really no style. Don't get me wrong, I'm not much for being trendy. Especially these days. I occasional wear brown shoes with a black shirt and I've even worn the same shirt two (OK, four) times in a row. But, in my defense, I had several co-workers who wore the same clothes for the entire duration of winter. Brand names also start to lose their meaning here, especially when you see a middle aged woman in a Winnie-the-Pooh sweater sporting a knock-off Louis Vitton purse. So let me paint a picture for you. . .

Let's start with the gentlemen. I actually noticed something today (as I was sitting on the bus), almost all men carry a bag. Sometimes it's something like a backpack, brief case, or messanger bag. In America, I would consider all these totally acceptable. But then there are those who carry shopping bags filled with their day-to-day personal items (work papers, books, cell phone, etc), there are also those with fanny packs. I had always hoped I'd never have to see one of those again, but it saddens me to say that even Zhao Ming has one. But that's not the worst of it. Many, many men carry around actual leather purses. Yes, a true man bag at its finest.

Then there are the pink shirts. Lots of men in pink shirts. Don't give me any crap about them being "salmon." It is a pink shirt! Yes, there are those men who can pull it off, my father arguably being one of them. As with women who shave their head, the people who can pull this kind of statement off are few and far between. Why take such a risk if one doesn't have to?

As for the ladies, I don't even know where to begin so I'll just provide one vexing example: In the summer, a lot of women wear ankle tights--with skirts and dresses. First comes the shoe, then the tight, then bare leg, then the dress. If there be tights, there should be no seeing of the bare leg. There really should be no tights to begin with.

The last thing I have to mention are the plethora of t-shirts sporting foreign brands and/or ridiculous English phrases. Usually they make absolutely no sense. Sometimes they do, but you can't help but wonder why a person would wear such a thing. Today I saw a shirt that proclaimed "A Watched Pot Never Boils." One of my personal favorites was a flourescent orange "Versace" shirt that had a sequined Minnie Mouse on it. Others have embarassing sexual innuendos that most (highly conservative) Chinese people wouldn't dare wear had they known the meaning.

I guess the moral of my story is that I can be totally lazy about my appearance and yet mock those around me. I'm really enjoying it.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Survival of the Fittest

Beijing seems to have 4 seasons, although they are a bit unlike Wisconsin's. Here they include: freezing one's ass off, sandstorm, sweating one's ass off, and September. Now, my favorite Beijing season is upon me. Ahh, September. It seemed the temperature dropped about 20 degrees (Fahrenheit, that is) between August 31 and September 1. Well, the change is more than welcome.

In other news, I managed to survive my first week of teaching, just barely. It started much more happily than it ended. On Friday I had to go LO (that's the code name I have created for the school, as I feel there will be a lot of future bad mouthing of it. For my own protection, I will be keeping it's true name confidential). This was the first time teaching at this school. It was not pretty. But let me backtrack a bit. . .

To start off the morning, I had to catch the 419 bus. This bus is mammoth. It's actually the size of two buses stuck together. I naively though that due to the early hour (7am) and the size of the thing, it couldn't possibly be crowded. I was wrong. People are so packed into the bus so tight that it's almost impossible to close the door. I had brought a magazine with me, but there wasn't even enough room to hold it up to my face. About 45 minutes into this hellish ride, I started to panic. I didn't know when my stop was coming and if I wasn't next to the door when it did come, there was no way I'd make it off for that stop, or even the one after it. I began to squeeze my way through the people. There's no need to be polite about it at least. No "sorries" or "excuse me's," just pushing will do. Riding the bus is survival of the fittest at its finest. MIght I also add, that when a seat becomes free, it is quite a scene. I'm surprised it doesn't more often come to blows.

I got off the bus around 8. Seriously considering taking a taxi in the future. I'm sure it's going to come to it. A taxi ride would probably cost me $5-8, which isn't bad by American standards, but the bus only costs a quarter. But really, shouldn't experierences that awful be free?

At LO, I teach 4 half-hour classes. The kids in each class were quite out of control. Several of their teachers were in the room trying to help, but it wasn't very effective. I had children out of there seats and lying sprawled across the floor. One tiny girl started shaking violently when I said "hello" to her (I seriously thought she was epileptic). I asked her teacher if something was wrong with her. "No," she said, "she's just playing around." Okkkkkk. I started the class by playing a game with the kids. It involved me throwing a ball and one child catching it. One little girl voulenteered to play. She wasn't able to catch the ball, and many of her classmates laughed. She went ballistic. She attacked one of her classmates, smacking and hitting. One of her teachers tried stopping her, but then she turned and began punching him. Finally, she ran out of the room. I know what you might be thinking, they're just kids. Kids can be crazy. But you don't understand. These are CHINESE kids. Chinese children are usually so well-behaved. Not this lot of them.

I must have to be positive. I just gotta hang in there for the next. . . 6 months.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Back to School

Well, I'm two days into the new school term. I just started yet another job teaching for a company called EWAS (English with a Smile). They trained me back in April for another job I hold, but now I officially work for them too. That brings me to a total of three jobs, bringing me to a grand total of 29 working hours a week. Not so impressive, but please consider I have to spend half my day trapsing around the city on various forms of public transport.

This week I'm teaching at only one school, Richland. Next week my schedule will fill up a bit more as the new term starts at two other schools. The children at this school are quite adorable and don't seem to be of the pants-pooping variety. All the kids are pre-school aged and are already working quite hard. The first class I teach is of 5/6-year-olds and it is at 5:20 pm. The second class is of 3/4-year-olds and I teach them from 6:15-7pm. I feel sorry that they have to study (a foreign language as annoying as English, at that) so late. But that's life here. The competition is really fierce and even in grade school the kids go to school on weekends. I guess they just instated some sort of law saying grade school kids are not allowed to attend school on Sundays. It's sad they need a law for that.

In the classroom I do have an assistant/translator. She's Chinese and very sweet. Her name is Jennifer. Her English isn't brilliant, but she gets the job done, although I can almost translate everything on my own behalf these days. It's a little difficult having a conversation with her though. For example, I asked her how to say "can" (as in "soda can") in Chinese. I always forget how to say this word and therefore must always order bottles (a word I do know) of things when I rather just have a 12 oz. Life's little dilemmas. Anyways, this simple question turned into a 10 minute discussion in which Jennifer tried to figure out what I was asking.

Jennifer: "A can? I'm sorry, I don't understand."
me: "You know, a can. It's like a bottle, but smaller. Coca-cola comes in it."
Jennifer: "Can? You mean like 'I can speak English,' that can?"
me: "Um, no." (while thinking: If you can speak English, we really wouldn't be having this conversation now, would we?)
Jennifer: "I'm sorry. I do not know. Can? C-A-N?"

This kinda thing pretty much happens on a daily basis. I'm used to struggling to communicate and I really only have myself to blame. I live in China and beyond the basics, I cannot speak Chinese. And let's also put some blame on the complexity of the English language. Here is a language in which 2 words can be written the same but sound different (read, read. live, live). Can be written different, but sound the same (right, write). Can be written the same, sound the same, but have different meanings (can, can). It's all so overwhelming. I think I need to go rest now.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Chengde and random ramblings

left: temple in Chengde
right: Chengde street

I managed to erase my previous blog. I guess I really need to commit the Chinese characters for "delete" to memory.

This past weekend I took at trip up to Chengde, my former home here in China. I haven't been there in nearly 6 months and it's amazing how much has changed in that time period. The rate of change in this country is remarkable. There are high rises were there used to be a dusty soccer field. New businesses everywhere, but they have yet to open a McDonald's, all they have is a KFC.

Here's globalization at it's finest. The breakdown. . .pretty much every city has at least one KFC. I'm sure Beijing must have 50. McDonald's follows second in popularity, but just can't seem to overcome the colonel (strange, as the Chinese find finger-licking a disgusting habit). Next on the list is Pizza Hut. But you know if a city's really made it if it has a Starbucks. Beijing, of course, has plenty. There's one right across the street from my apartment building. You ask: Is it any cheaper in China? No, it is not. I don't know who these Chinese people are who can afford a $4 cup of coffee. If you consider the average wage a Chinese person makes, it probably equates to spending (what feels like) $30 on a cup of coffee.

But I've strayed from my original point. So back to it. . .Chengde. I guess I didn't really appreciate the place while I lived there. I didn't realize how fresh the air is and how uncrowded the streets are. The people seem friendly and I feel really important there. Any foreigner gets a little bit of a celebrity status when living in a small city like Chengde. There are so few foreigners there, some of the Chinese seem to view us as an exotic species of human. In Beijing I'm just another whitey. I don't get stared at. People don't scream "hello" as I walk by. The don't try to take pictures of me on the sly. I'm a nobody.

While I was in Chengde I got to see my good friend, Apple. Laugh if you want to, but considering some of the other English names people pick (Vegetable Bird, Green Lemon, Cobra-just to name a few), Apple isn't all that peculiar. The name has actually grew on me a bit. Anyways, I really feel bad for Apple. She's a super senior at the high school I used to work at. What do I mean by "super senior?" Well, for those of you who have never achieved super senior status, a super senior is anyone who has earned the title of senior for more that one consecutive academic year. Usually this occurs in college, but in China this phenomenon also occurs as early as high school. And it happens to a lot of really smart people, such as my friend.

The problem is that going to university in China comes down to three precious days at the end of your senior year of high school. These three days inspire fear in the hearts of almost all students and their parents. These three days are known as "The National Exam." How you do on this exam determines if and where you will go to University. If the desired results aren't achieved, then the student can choose to repeat his entire senior year over again and take the test again. This is what Apple has decided to do. So for the second year in a row she will spend nearly 14 hours a day, 6 days a week in a small classroom of 70 other students. Then, she'll get to go home and study for a few hours before going to sleep for 4 or 5 hours. Luckily, I was in Chengde on Sunday, the one day students have to rest. So I actually got to see Apple!

I also was able to see mama again. It was a lot more comfortable being in her home than her being in mine. I guess I'm just a crappy hostess. But anyone is more than welcome to come visit me. . .

Sunday, August 13, 2006


I just realized I had started a blog back in March. So I'm getting back to it. Partially for your entertainment, partially for my sanity. I must say getting this set up was a bit of a challenge as the entire website is in Chinese, but I perservered. I knew those three months studying Chinese would eventially pay off.

For those of you not up to speed with recent ongoings, I must first let you know that I am living in Beijing, China. I have a lot to say about the place, but I'll save that for a later time. In this lovely, humid, crowded, smoggy place I am living with my boyfriend, Zhao Ming. Yes, as if the name didn't give it away, he is Chinese. And yes, he is actually my fiance (but that word is just too pretentiously French sounding). I currently have two jobs. Job numero uno: teaching 4-year-olds English at a daycare. Very adorable, usually fun. Job numero dos: tutoring a Korean woman English. This job is quite interesting as I certainly don't speak Korean and this woman can't speak much English past "Hello, how are you?" This leaves us communicating in (broken) Chinese.

Now that you are filled it, I can get down to business. The real reason I'm writing this is to get out of my apartment. It's a nice enough place, but currently Ming's mother (mama) is staying with us. We are on Day 3 of her visit and she is leaving tomorrow. But tomorrow just doesn't seem like soon enough.

A part of me feels bad for saying this. I'm giving you the wrong impression. It's not that she isn't a wonderful person. She is a very nice lady. Truly. But having her here puts me face to face with my Americanishness or perhaps with her Chinesishness. I'm not sure, but I'm struggling with a few issues.

First, are all fruit she brought with her from Chengde (her and Ming's hometown, which is about 110 miles northeast of Beijing). She brought three boxes of fruit. The Chinese love to bring fruit when going to visit people, it's almost like a sickness. It's not like they give a few apples just to be polite. They practically bring carts full of the stuff. I mean, how much fruit can on person eat? And I have to try and eat it just to appease her. So today, after being stuffed full from eating lunch, I have to come home to eat apples, pears, grapes, and peaches. I just prefer American traditions. Chocolates, wine, flowers, even a liter of Pepsi would beat this.

The next thing that mystifies me is how I am expected to treat her like an old lady. Ming and I take turns helping her up stairs, holding her hand, and carrying her things. You might be thinking, "Oh, that's just being helpful. It's not because she's old." But you are wrong. Ming told me outright, "Mama is old." What??? She is only 52-years-old, and not only that, she is in good health. I can't imagine treating my 82-year-old grandmother this way, let alone someone my parent's age. But I guess that's just one of the many things that seperates Americans from the Chinese. We like our independence. Also, no one wants to be old in America. Not much good comes out of getting old. But the Chinese, they embrace it. They look up to the elderly, they help the elderly. If children address an old woman they don't know, they will call her "nainai" (grandmother). If a woman is slightly older than me it is wise to call her "jiejie" (older sister), but if she is younger I should call her "meimei" (little sister). This obsession with age and position is a little exhausting for me.

The final thing I will mention (all though I could keep going) was our trip to T.G.I.Fridays restaurant. Yes, they have two of them in Beijing. They are identical to the American version minus the customers and waitstaff who are, of course, predominently Chinese. Mama has never in her 52 years has eaten at an American style restaurant. I don't think she's ever even eaten an American meal, not even the ever-so-popular KFC. She didn't know the rules. Using a fork and knife was the first obstacle. She did pretty well though. Next came the Bahama Mama. I ordered her this fruity drink so she could try some juiced down American liquor. This sweet drink was to her liking though, as she dumped a packet of sugar into it. She also dipped her brocolli in ketchup. But who am I to judge? If she thought it tasted good, I wasn't going to stop her. This was all pretty cute, until the hacking and spitting started. It's no big thing to do this kind of thing in public, I even do it now and then. I think it's the air quality here or something (at least that's my excuse). Anyways, this would be fine anyplace else, but you really can't spit on the floor at T.G.I.Fridays. I told her to do it in a napkin, which the Chinese think is revolting.

Sometimes it's amazing to me that I've been her nearly a year and a half. I thought I'd changed. Accepted these little "cultural differences." I guess you can take the girl out of America, but you can't take America out of the girl.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

5 days and counting

After over a year of saying I'd do it. . .I've jumped on the bandwagon. I'm starting a blog. Am I a loser?

Less than a week and I will be leaving the good ol' U.S. of A. As of now, I'm in Sheboygan with my very drunk friend Amy who insists on talking to me in Spanish. I do not speak Spanish, so this is a bit of a problem for me.

Anyways, tonight I went to a very hip Sheboygan pub called Mannings with Amy and Adam Gerard. Honestly, I'm not sure if "hip" and "Sheboygan" can ever go together in the same sentence. But, in any case, it was a good time. I had several vodka cranberries and played a very educational game of "Never have I ever. . ."

Since my life in America is generally not that exciting, I'm going to stop here. I will be back with some fantastic tales from the People's Republic of China. . .until then, ciao.