Sunday, June 26, 2011

911 Whitehouse, on the side of a Chinese car.

You need something new and beautiful. But it won't come from me. Look else where.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Chinese eat dog and bugs... and I (did) to

In China, they publicly eat cooked bugs, chicken heads, dogs and other cuisine not embraced in the Western realms.

At a restaurant I accidently ordered chicken heads once. I left them in my kitchen sink for two days because I A) didn't want to waste perfectly good chicken heads B) didn't want to eat chicken heads.

Not that I am condemning these foods 'with Chinese characteristics'. I enjoyed some rather underwhelming dog soup with a side of chicken hearts, but honestly--the roast cocoons are a little hard to get used to. They cook them like meat, spear six of them on a small metal lance, lay them down on your plate and expect you to dig in.

Of course my Chinese friends do dig in. They use their teeth to rip off the roasted cocoon and use their tongue to pull (what I can only describe as) the white, milky half formed fetus of the bug inside their mouths.

Mmmm... Mmmm.... they say. And I've been here long enough that watching my girlfriend eat a chicken head (yes, literally, a cooked chicken's head) doesn't phase me.

But Tim, my poor friend Tim. Has here only a few days and I introduced him to the extremes of Chinese dining. A normal meal of meat, veggies and insects was set down on the plate in the center of the restuarnat table. Tim, Me, and a Chinese friend. We all picked around what we want.

Me: the beef on the stick was really good
Tim: This cooked fat is delicious
Chinese friend: I'm going to eat some bugs

This made sense to me because Chinese people eat bugs where I live. This did not make sense to Tim. I watched as my Chinese friend used his tongue around the speared cocoon to pull back the outer shell.

Tim literally pushed back and away from the table.

My Chinese friend used his tongue to tug at the bug fetus inside, break it from the spear hold it, and eating. He smiled and went to eat another. He would have kept eating if I hadn't burst out in belly wrenching laugher

Tim's face of disgust is indescribable. If he had been an actor in a movie, he would have won an Oscar. Tim's lips turned down as he tightened his face. His eyes took on a focused look, almost fight-or-flight level, his eyebrows lowered and his lips parted . All of this showed his absolute shock and disgust--but also had a veneer of try to hold back his true emotions. He was thoroughly disgusted and trying not to show it.

But now I think he is better. It's a learning curve ladies and gents. Your culture isn't the same as the culture you're living in. Get ready to eat bugs and catch granny's shitting on the sidewalk. It's China.

But what are you going to do? This is 25% of the world and cocoon doesn't taste so bad.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Jenny, please rape Apple.

In class a kid said the chinese word for 'rob.' So I had them teach me it. I thought I was saying it right, but the Chinese teacher told me to stop saying it. Apparently I mispronounced it and was saying 'rape'.

Which explained the reaction the class gave me when I told one girl to rape the other girl.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wandering mind

Something strange happens when I am teaching English classes. I've pretty much got the 

act down my rote now. Introduce the words,  have the kids scream them, have the Chinese teacher 

translate the word, repeat six more times for forty-five minutes five days per week.

As I'm doing my dancing bear routine, my eyes fuzz out and my brains seems to wonder back to my 

earliest memories. Today, teaching the word Spaghetti, I found myself remembering the first time 

I saw the side of my grandmothers house where grass didn't grow.

My grandparents ran a successful business, saved some money, designed a house and had it built. I 

remember the lush green grass stretching from side to side across the house as long as the 

child's soccer pitch. 

One side--just one side--didn't have grass. It was in constant shade between the house, a fence 

and and beneath trees that showered it endlessly with pine needles. I remember the teal plastic 

siding of my grandmothers house above the brown dirt--where there should have been green lush grass--I remember having a hard time wrapping my mind around the dycotomy. My grandmother with the vaccumed floors, 

Christmas tree with evenly spaced white lights, large front door, and on the side, just outside 

the reach of the lush green grass the brown dirt.

I remember before I could write, my friend and I decided the woodshed would be our club. I 

dictated to him "No parents and no big animals. We mean BIG animals." No big animals were allowed 

because the roof of the cramped woodshed was pierced through with the nails that had the shingles 

on. The simpler time of sweat pants and wind breakers. Asking my parents to read things for me, 

because I couldn't. When the outlines and limits of my world hadn't been defined yet and 

anything--anything--seemed possible.

But that neglected dirt side of my grandmother's house, where even she didn't care whether or not 

 the grass grew. Like a different place, a different time, floating up and acorss my fuzzed out 

eyes as Chinese children yell "Spaghetti".

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Someone smashed the doors, no one knows who

Strange things afoot in my demented part of the world.

Someone broke all the locks at my school. Of seven classrooms, seven classrooms have doors that were clearly forced open--rather--kicked open, fracturing the frame but opening the door. One of the doors has it's frame laying in the class room.

All these sharp bits of metal that became exposed when someone decided to kick their way into my school's locked classrooms would normally be considered a dangerous hazard, but this is China. And if a kid slashes out his eyeball, or a teacher slicing up her arm--that's their problem, right? And it's been left this way for weeks.

My drive for answers as to why--what was either a thief, or every teacher I know being absolutely desperate to get into empty classrooms--came into the school and smashed down the doors, hasn't yielded anything.

Me: "Hey, the door is broken? The door in the classroom down the hall is broken in to. Why?"

They: "Yeah. Haha. It is broken.

Me:  "Who did it?"

They: "Haha, I don't know.

Me: "Was it a thief? Who would break down the doors?"

They: "Haha. No thief. I don't know what happened."

And that's the explanation I'm given for why every classroom door was forcefully kicked in. No more locking the doors during the class, we close them with chairs. Awesome

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Countless shrimp!

"Hey, yeah, Joe!"


"How many shrimps are in that box?"

"Um... countless shrimp. This box is filled with more shrimp than we could ever count!"

Friday, May 6, 2011

Torn up street pipes

Streets all over the city of Shenyang look this. It seems a bit hap hazard (they have safety harnesses? Is that walk way made from rusted pipes they pulled from the ground?), but also efficient. Whatever they are doing, they're getting it done.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Hamphire on Chinese TV

Yes, that is a picture of a New Hampshire, with a green arrow and a little guy who clearly needs some 'HELP!.' Why was it on TV in Shenyang, China, I don't know. The image stayed on that channel for several hours.

My theory is that someone thought that was the coast of Japan. Still doesn't explain why the image was up for several hours. In the background there were voices speaking in Chinese, but it was too quick for me to understand.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Going to a doctor, going, going, going to a doctor

At the risk of becoming another Laowai wining that thing in China aren’t as good as things in America, I’d like to relay the story of my doctor visit today.

Here is a picture of the process I went through to get some medicine/see a doctor. I made this picture. 

I went with a Chinese friend, who could translate and lead me through the halls of the hospital my company said I needed to go to.

The hospital looked like it had been built in the mid 1990s, had the drab, sagging feel of the white tiled buildings around China that are built for function and not aesthetics.

First thing I notice: no emergency room. That’s right, if you are bleeding wildly, or your broke your leg—you need to go to the appropriate wing of the hospital.

Next thing: no one was bleeding wildly, and I didn’t see any broken legs. This is a marked difference from the American hospital emergency room.

A pretty girl behind a desk in the central lobby of the hospital said I needed to go to the third floor to get help with my bulging red eyes.

At the third floor we walked to the ophthalmology wing and went to front desk. But they told us we were at the wrong front desk, we needed to go to the third floors main desk.

So we went to the third floor’s main desk and paid some money to register. After registering at the main desk we went back to the ophthalmology and my name went up on a television with a number beside it.

Finally my name is called, and I’m lead into a drab office with off-color furniture. There is a middle-aged mustached woman in a white lab coat sitting behind a desk, she looks like a secretary. There is no examination bed, just a mirror, a metal stool, and one of those machines used to test eye sight.

I assume she is a secretary and this is a waiting room, because there are still other patients in it. But no, she is my doctor, and the other patient—a 30-something-woman dressed like a teenager—is yelling into her gold colored cell phone and seems to want to stay. Finally the cell phone lady leaves and I sit down.

“Do you feel foreign bodies in your eye?” she asks in excellent English


“Does it have sticky discharge?”


"Do you know what conjunctivitis is?"


She scribbles something on an official looking pad of paper and hands it to me.

“Buy these. Come back and see me after you buy them.”

To buy the medications—these are eye medications, not controlled substances or anything you’d ever stick in your eye for fun—we first need to go to the third floor desk and wait in line. We give the third floor desk money, take a special receipt they give us and head down to the first floor where the pharmacy is.

Of course, in line to get medicine we already paid for, everyone is acting quite Mainland Chinese and pushing and jumping the queue. Yes, they are in a hurry to get medicine they already paid for and they know there is enough for everyone. Really.

I hand over my slip of paper saying I paid money, three medications and another piece of paper are given to me. The last piece of paper I need to bring back to the doctor, it has instructions for the medicines on it.
So back up to the third floor. We walk past the ophthalmology desk—apparently this time I don’t need to add my name to a list. To my chagrin, the doctor I need to see has a line waiting to see her—not any real official line, but a disorderly crowd of people hovering near her door, watching her deal with one patient and waiting for their chance to jump into the room.

I am the third to arrive. The first and second people who were before me go in to see her. Then a fourth, a lady in high heels sneaks up, the moment the second person leaves, she dashes into the doctor’s office.

In America I would say something like “What the fuck?” and maybe “Excuse me?” and perhaps poke my head into the office and wait for an explanation to be offered… before sheepishly backing away.

While we are waiting outside of the doctor’s office my friend starts explaining each medicine to me, reading the instructions. Rub this gel on the eye once per day—easy. This eye drop six times per day—I can do that. Use this one only once—OK, not hard.

What exactly is the doctor going to tell me? And as I’m thinking that, the lady in high heels waltzes out and a gaggle of Chinese men and women descend on the doctor’s door. Someone in the crowd gets into the door first and once again—I am cut.

But screw it, I say. And leave the hospital with a certain air of “fuck the system” thinking to myself, if this hospital is this messed up, I’m going to prove it: it’s dysfunction forced me to break the rules.

In the taxi, on the way home, I turn to my friend and ask: “What do you think the doctor will think when I don’t come back? After she said to come back and talk to her?”

“Oh. Well. She probably forgot about it.” 

And so it goes.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hard to soft sometimes...

When Hu Jintao said he wanted China to expand it's soft power, he said that there needed to be more focus on the Chinese arts and culture. He wanted to go soft, abroad. You know—eliminate the unsightly fact that Canada and Mexico do not seek help from China to protect it from the United States.

Yet China’s neighbors are scrambling to form alliances against the giant up north.Vietnam is not to keen on its burgeoning neighbors claims to new fishing area and casual mass arrests of its fisherman— the once hostile country has an alliance with the US. Add to the list many other counties in the area.
Many Chinese people imagine neighboring countries siding with the West as an iron ring around China, their country for nefarious reasons and undefined goals. These are the beliefs promoted by the state controlled and regulated media.

But Hu wants to go soft. He wants Chinese movies, Chinese music, Chinese pop-culture to find niches abroad. (Sorry Hu, the tweens of today and the leaders of tomorrow don’t care about Confucius).
And the pop music all sounds the same. Upbeat, peppy, similar beats rythyms--even if I can't understand all of the lyrics.

As Liu Sijia, a Shanghai rock musician said to the New York Times five years ago
“What prevails here is worse than garbage, because China emphasizes stability and harmony, the greatest utility of these pop songs is that they aren't dangerous to the system."

Monday, April 11, 2011

They gave me pills and I made this

I have always had trouble sleeping. Recently I told a Chinese pharmacy this. Results were surprising.

I took the medicine and tried to answer creative writing questions, before finally drifting off to sleep.

My answer range of the interesting and creative:

Prompt:1. You’re digging in your garden and find a fist-sized nugget of gold.
“It’s a fucking dragon’s tooth!”
“Don’t swear in front of the children,” she says curtly. She balances her lemonade in one hand, and squints in the beaming summer sun. I stand up and she handles the dragon’s tooth.
“Well, isn’t this something,” she says.
“It sure is. It’s a f—fuh, a dragons tooth.”
“John, you sound like a child when you talk about this thing.”
“Fine, give it back to me,” I say taking it from her clean, white hands with primed nails. “I’m going to go show it to Bob. He knows about these things.”
“Ok dear,” Mary says, “You want pork chops or unicorn for dinner?”
To something that is more of a recording of random synapses firing and text coming out of my fingers:

Twinkling lost teeth, beneath the frothing sun as I kissed my wife upon her still, cold lips and whispered my love.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What can you do? 怎么办?

Another day and Ai Weiwei is still locked up. As the time grows my hesitation to keep living in China grows. Not that leaving China would change anything in this—truly—wonderful country. What I do simply doesn’t matter.

The Nobel Peace prize was awarded to Liu Xiabo, a literary critic, and man who saved hundreds of lives by negotiating a peaceful exit for protestors during the Tiananmen Square massacre. In a country which denies thousands were shot to death, in public, by their own soldiers, it seems I could find things to be more deeply concerned about than one, specific, detained artist.

Not that I am a big fan of his, or that I knew who he was before I read the first stories a year ago of the authorities harassing Ai Weiwei. I am bothered because he is China’s most internationally famous artist. The blatant abandonment of any pretence of operating based on law is disturbing.

On one hand the government says China is a country based on law, on the other hand the government publically detains their most famous citizen without charge and without notifying his family—which is a violation of Chinese law.

Where is the credibility?

The argument that the Chinese must be government like this—that a heavy hand is needed to hold this country together—is absolute nonsense. The government here justifies itself by claiming the hardline tactics are justified by China’s “special situation” yet claims Hong Kong and Taiwan as part of China’s territory. Hong Kong and Taiwan are both have levels of democracy. Yes, Chinese people ruling themselves through Democracy. In China.

I asked my Chinese teacher about Ai Weiwei—she didn’t know who he was. I explained he helped design the Bird’s Nest, he is a famous artist. Oh, she said, she read something about that, but didn’t really know.
“China is often like this,” she said. “What can you do?”

“What can you do?” is an excellent question, and the strong note of hopelessness her original words had are lost in translation.

What can I do? Well, I can leave. I can stop working this job where my pay is taxed, and the taxes go to funding a government that does so many things I disagree with. A government which prosecutes those who try to help the parents of children who were poisoned by tainted milk, physically attacks, harasses and arrest anyone who dare to recognize earthquake victims, and—let’s not forget—coerces women to be sterilized.
What can I do? I can move back to America. 

At least in America my tax dollars go to hurting people who live outside of my country. At least there the money America shovels into the hands questionably moral regimes does have—at base—good intentions. By neither option sounds good or moral.
What can I do?

Monday, April 4, 2011

The hard edge of China

(Ai Weiwei, China's most famous artist, Picture from 2008)

For a country blessed with a culture as friendly and open as China, they are cursed with many other problems. I was thinking of writing a wide ranging criticism of the Chinese mainland (CCP) political policies, but I think I can settle for highlighting the idiocy of the government's treatment of artists and intellectuals. Specifically Ai Weiwei.

Yesterday, the most famous Chinese artist in the world was detained at an airport in Beijing. For those who don't know: being detained in China isn't like being detained in the West. He has had no contact for the past 24 hours with friends, family, or supporters--no one knows where he is. The Chinese police also have a reputation for cruelty and abuse.

Weiwei's main claim to fame is assisting in the design of the Beijing Bird's Nest stadium (which he later came to regret) and spectacular modern art projects that have been exhibited across the world.

When asked why Chinese mainland movies aren't popular around the world (like American or Bollywood movies) a popular director explained that the Chinese censors castrate any media within the country, and thereby all media without. 

When Hu Jintao said he wanted China to expand it's soft power, he said that there needed to be more focus on the Chinese arts, and culture. And other things that make people think you might be a pretty cool country. Apparently detaining your most famous artists fits in with Mr. Hu's view of rising, more friendly China.

For a government which claims to want "soft power" and wants to export its "wonderful culture" it sure does its best to make sure that doesn't happen. Instead of promoting this talented artist and shrugging off his (valid) criticisms, they knock down the art studio they tricked him into building, beat him until he has a brain hemorrhage, and--now--detain him. 
As I write this, the media is reporting that Ai Weiwei has been missing in the blackhole of CCP-detainment since yesterday.

Now that's how you treat your most famous artist! Show the world your softer side.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In China knife = key chain

In one of my classes yesterday a little girl had a very interesting key chain attached to her pencil case. What was it? A sharp knife, of course. Yes, every Chinese person thought it was perfectly normal.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

You know what is bad? Good things are bad. That's what.

The Taxi driver doesn't like Obama. Rolling through the narrow back streets of Shenyang, a backwater industrial city of China's north east, the taxi driver makes it very clear: he doesn't like Obama.

Why? Becuase Obama is killing people in Libya so he can get oil.

I look at the man, sigh slightly and regret that and I can't speak enough Chinese to explain to him that the situation isn't that simple. That the Chinese news he is fed is controlled by the government. Reading the English version Chinese papers and watching the Chinese news, it's clear that the media has been told to hammer home a certain point: "The United States is attacking Libya to get oil, they are killing Libyans, no one is being helped. This shows the West cannot be trusted."

For a nation which teaches it's students to be hyperbolically sensitive about criticism of thier own country, it's painfully hyprocrital that they depict my country this way and not expect a reaction from me.

I pause for a moment before telling the taxi driver, "I watch American news, I watch Chinese news. I don't know if they are right. I really don't know if they tell the truth."

The taxi driver says something along the lines of "yeah," and that's where we let it lie.

(updated via email because my blog is blocked in China...)