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.