Monthly Archives: November 2008

>Warning: water heater may burn down building if left unattended

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Camilla has an office. We were hanging out in it the other night, and she put a small, thin device into the water and plugged it into the wall.

A water heater. The exact name, I’m not sure, but it’s necessary because the water here is not safe to drink unless boiled.

As it bubbled and made strange noises, Camilla made an offhand remark.

Camilla: It’s very dangerous.

It is easy to get electrocuted using that?

Camilla: No. In Shanghai, it caught fire and burned down a dorm. We have to watch it.

This is just a laowai’s opinion, but decent water sanitation or hell, even a stove and a pot would make things a lot simpler. Again, just a dancing laowai’s opinion.

>I met Camilla’s father last night

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And I discovered a few things.

– He is very nice. A very kind man.

– He speaks no English. Being an older man from a small-town, this is not unusual. Despite the language barrier, it went well.

– It was me, Camilla, her brother, and her father. He ordered four bottles of beer. I soon discovered that both her father and brother can outdrink me.

– I also discovered that Camilla is a lightweight. Just like me.

So we’re made for each other.

>Entry XQ: TL

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I have done some reflecting on my time here. This day marks nearly three months (about two months and twenty days) since I’ve arrived. My attitude has followed the typical model for those who go abroad into a different culture, honeymoon phase and now homesickness, and if things go like last time, next month I should begin to finally settle in.

In the meantime, here are a few short pieces:

“A Disturbance at LAX”

Thanks to a change in airlines from American to Air China, I had to bypass the security checkpoint and get my tickets from the Air China booth. No one told me this. The airline official looked at my electronic tickets and shrugged and said “I don’t know”. No condolences. Not even a fucking well-wish or an educated guess. Hell, I would have been okay with a simple “good luck”.

Twas 8:15 pm PST, and no one stood behind the Air China booth. So I waited an hour, a white guy among Chinese, a minority among a majority, a prelude for the census to come. Finally they showed up to work and after another hour, I grabbed my tickets and headed back through security.

Since I had not acquired any automatic weapons or bombs during transit, I breezed through security. As I staggered towards Gate 27, my stomach overtook me and led me to the first restaurant in sight: a Burger King.

I know airport shops suffer from severe inflation. I also know the cost of living in Los Angeles is higher than say, Springfield TN, but no amount of knowledge prepared me for seeing a value meal at $10.

10 bucks for a burger, fries, and a coke. Why not include a side of crack?

Behind the counter stands a guy who looks like Carlos Mencia’s rejected twin brother. The one who lost the parental coin toss. I step up to the counter and he looks to his side and utters rather loudly, “Man my culo’s really itching.”

He starts scratching his ass.

And I don’t mean a light scratch. This isn’t one cheek or the other or both. No, his fingers plunge in deep and plumb around lower depths, a harsh wince on his face all the while.

He looks to me, a yearning for swift healing. I refrain. Others may have offered a helping hand.

I am not that altruistic. Sorry.

“Squat-down!”

For Americans, squat-toilets can be difficult to use, if not terrifying. The key to successfully using a squat toilet is to approach it with the right attitude. A “Yes I Can” attitude, and then after you succeed, be sure to tell your friends “Yes I did!”. They should demand evidence. True friends will, at any rate.

I feared squat-toilets until I figured out how to properly use one. For awhile, I was unsure of the correct squatting position for maximum efficiency. How did I find out? I won’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say an open stall door and a man yelling into a cell phone answered all my questions.

Even the ones I never asked.

“Life in this People’s Republic”

Today, Tuesday, they told me the school is organizing a trip for the foreign teachers on Saturday. I asked Camilla when they decided this.

Today. Time to clear your schedules.

On some Wednesday afternoon, Ellen (one of the Chinese-English teachers) asked me to do the English Corner. Sure thing. When?

Friday night. Time to clear your schedules.

Last week, they told me I was doing a lecture on that Tuesday. When did they tell me?

Monday night. Time to clear your schedules.

The week I arrived, they told me they were taking the foreign teachers to the local clinic for the mandatory health exam. Great. When?

Next week. That became this week. They tell me again. When? Next week. A few next weeks later, we arrived at the clinic to find an old woman sitting outside, fanning herself.

Some Chinese dialogue ensued. Camilla turns to us.

Camilla: The power is out.

At the clinic?

Camilla: Yes. We’ll come back.

When?

Next week. You get used to it here. Xia4 xue2 qi1 zai4 jian4

>Entry 9: Bend Over on Your Belly

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In the event of a fire, authorities at the local Carrefour advise you to avoid fatal smoke inhalation by bending over on your belly.

I have no idea how to do that. I’m screwed.

It is necessary to bend over on your belly because smoke is the easiest way to make dead.

Really? I always thought leaving no air holes was. Have I been wrong all these years?

I spent my Friday night at Liu Xiang, a local shopping mall where you can a Dairy Queen and a Starbucks on the first floor, cheaper Chinese restaurants on the third, and outside a massive fountain and speakers at four corners, people grooving to select hits from the Backstreet Boys or Westlife.

You may also find English translations there as well. You can determine the quality of the establishment from the quality of the English translation and vice versa. The best translators demand top prices while the lower-tier places get the lower-tier translators and what is the result?

In the event of a fire, first “know the localization of the emergency exit”.

It goes beyond sign translations, down the hall, and takes a left to the restroom. The more upscale a place, the more westernized certain features will be. For instance, The Vegetable Basket, a dining establishment of four stories or so, the school held a foreign teachers’ dinner back in September and during the meal I went to the restroom.

Now, let me say that I have a peculiar habit about restrooms. Whenever I enter one, I always read what’s written on the wall. Always. I don’t care. I read all of it. Even if a stall is occupied, I’ll gladly slip under the door, just to see your deep musings.

So, comme d’habitude, I checked out the stalls, and two emotions hit me. Horrified to see squat toilets, thrilled to see toilet paper. Usually it’s bring your own or use your hand (wearing a brown glove helps), and being upscale means more than good English translations. It means comfort when nature beeps in.

If the westernization for restaurants is access to toilet paper, then for KTV, it’s access to correct spelling.

We spent my birthday and last Friday night at two entirely different KTV Bars. One charged us $100 RMB per hour. The other charged $20. One could afford translators with a solid grip on English spelling. The other decided getting close was good enough; us native speakers could figure it out from there.

For the first KTV, we return to Liu Xiang, land of western shops and yellow mascot-creatures:

The trip out brought me, Camilla, three students (Tina, Eileen, and Louise), and Camilla’s friends. One thing about karaoke here: it is really popular. Another thing: some of these girls sang really well.

I cannot sing, but during the duet for “My Heart Will Go On”, she managed to carry me. Very generous of her.

Camilla’s roommates bought me a delicious fruit cake, and Louise bought me an ashtray. No mere novelty gift, I put it to use that night, and as I watched the English subtitles and the correct spelling and correct rendering of all lyrics, I noted the price and realized that this was a lot of money to stand around and sing. A lot of money.

For the second KTV, we went to a backstreet near this university, land of cheap food and painful noodles.

The trip brought me and Camilla to meet several of her friends.

Her friends poured some tea, bought some popcorn, nuts, and sunflower seeds, and as I watched the misspelled words, the bad grammar, and I realized they tried their best with what they had, but how did they get it? Bad education? Several students have confided in me that the reason their English is bad is due to their terrible level of their Chinese teachers.

Lack of effort? Or is money, as I described earlier? The good translators do not work pro bono.

I sang and wondered how to solve this dilemma. By the end of the song, I had developed an ingenious plan. This column does not allow me the proper space to discuss it or show you photos of my crudely sketched blueprints, so I must offer but a mere hint.

Try bending over on your belly. Past that, it all becomes clear.

>When borrowing the lane goes wrong

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Borrowing the lane refers to a an act in which a driver goes into the opposite lane and opposing traffic stops to let that person “borrow” the lane until they decide the time is right to get back in their own.

I first heard of it awhile ago, and while it drastically differs from Western driving, I believed it was legal.

Yesterday I found out differently.

There is a system of buses that takes students and staff from the South Lake Campus to the The New Campus, or the Sunshine Campus, so-called due to its lack of shade. On the bus yesterday to my afternoon classes, we approached an overpass.

The driver decided to borrow the lane beneath the overpass. Never mind the multitude of traffic. He jumped in and we slowed. Cars honked and stopped. A bus narrowly avoided us, its driver offering a few words in Chinese out his window. Even in that harsh Wuhan accent, he didn’t sound pleased.

We inched forward a bit, oncoming traffic clogged. Horn honks everywhere. We came to a stop. A black car blocked our path. The driver got off, and returned after awhile. We backed up slowly, into more traffic, and fifteen minutes later, we went about our way in the right lane.

The driver in the black car was drunk. A police officer saw the whole incident, and confiscated the license of not only the drunk driver, but the bus driver as well. It seems borrowing the lane, while common, is technically illegal.

Looks like we now have an opening for a bus driver position.