>Punctuality: what the hell is that?

>Molly’s toilet broke.

That’s okay, I told her. My window lock fell off when I touched it. My little oven does not close all the way. And my closet is not big enough to hold that body so the door just won’t close all the way. It’s okay.

But it did break, so she told [administrative person], who said someone would come over at 2 that afternoon.

Molly had plans that day, a life to live, but since [administrative person] told her they would be there at 2 to fix her toilet, she waited.

And waited.

And waited.

From 1:30 that Friday until 1:30 today, she has waited for them to come. No one has shown up. And no one from the office has said a word to her either.

Perhaps this is just a little lesson in self-reliance.

>All your overtime are belong to us


[Administrative person] sent an email the other day. I won’t quote the full email here, as I don’t dislike her, but her decision (if it is in fact her decision) boils down to this:

Our overtime will now come at the end of the semester.

This is a contract job. We agree to work a set number of hours each month for a basic salary. Any hours above that number are over the time we specified (overtime? Hmmm) and we receive a special hourly pay rate. Normally, this is tallied and added on to the basic salary the month following.

For example, I work 70 hours the month of March. 64 of those hours net me 4000 RMB. In February, I worked 76 hours, 12 over the set number. Multiply it by the overtime rate, add it on to March’s basic salary, and BAM, I can now afford large coffees with several espresso shots.

Seems simple? She doesn’t think so, which brings me to her reason: unknown.

She said she has trouble adding it up each month, and doing this will make it easy for her. For her. As random as it seemed, there might be a good reason for it.

One that’s as closely guarded as the end of the semester. As all information here is.

>Entry 20: The Anticlimax

>Plastic surgery on your nose is a nose job. So what’s plastic surgery on your hand?

And so concludes columns Mom and Dad can be proud of.

I don’t know when I’ll leave China, but the columns end before that indefinite future date. I suppose this means I should offer some sort of closure. I will, later, but first, I have exciting news.

Let’s go back to September when I first arrived. In September, I had a conversation with our foreign affairs office.

Me: When will you hook up the cable TV?

Them: Next week.

On April 21, 2009, they hooked up the cable.

If you’re coming here to teach, you will learn patience, if you don’t already know it.

Chinese bureaucracy runs like a great red grapevine. The senior official decides on Monday afternoon, so he tells the guy below him. That guy tells the guy below him on Tuesday afternoon, who tells the guy below him on Wednesday morning, all in time for the woman working the office to tell you about an event that weekend. On Wednesday afternoon.

Notices seem last minute because they are — both for you and the woman giving it to you. Friends may do this too, for the same reason. One afternoon around 3:30 p.m., I asked June what she was doing for dinner. The usual, let’s meet at 5 p.m. Cool.

Shortly after 4 p.m., she called me to tell me her uncle is in town, and we’re having dinner with him and her brother. When we got to the restaurant, her brother suddenly had to leave and meet his classmates. Jesus rang, 100 minutes later, and asked me to join him for a big, special dinner. Something going on with him and the disciples. I politely declined, but such is the dance.

Another thing to be aware of: student loans. Whether you went in debt to finance a degree with job prospects or a humanities degree, it is unlikely that you will make enough in China to start paying back. That’s if you want to pay it back.

Attentive readers may be wondering where that closure is. Okay then.

Since this column appears at the end of the spring semester, I want to address all you new graduates.

Many of you believe you have your lives set. Some will start careers. Others will go on to professional school, law school, medical school, pharmacy school or graduate school. Among this group, there are a select few who actually want to go, with a clear idea of what they want to do and what their purpose is. Much fewer than you imagine.

And then there are others who will go simply because they have nothing else to do or their parents expect them to. While taking on a six-figure debt so Mommy and Daddy will have something to brag about isn’t the wisest choice, I can understand it all the same. I know full well what your parents want. They don’t want you to be what you want to be. They want you to be what they never were, and if they’re not open about it, then they secretly harbor this feeling, and it will come out in subtle ways.

I wish I could give you some great advice, but I can’t. Sorry. Everyone’s paths are different, but I can tell you part of what led me here. I had just finished a great semester one year ago. I was supposed to go to France and teach English for seven months, vastly improving my French language skills and then return to a great graduate program in the States.

It didn’t work out. I was devastated.

Now? I’m in a far better position. I do not regret not going to France, and I do not regret coming to China. If you’re looking for some kind of closure, then you’ll have to be satisfied with that.

I do not regret it.

>Mianzi, Lian, and Guanxi

>Here are the distinctions as I know them.

Mianzi is face, in the realm of social prestige.

We were at Lu Xiang, a local mall, me, June, and her brother. As her brother left, June shouted at him to meet us in Starbucks. Everyone within earshot looked over at us. We can afford to go drink coffee at what is, for the Chinese, an expensive, perhaps higher class establishment.

Smoking is socially acceptable in China, and a teacher related a story of how one of his rich students noticed the brand he was smoking and made a suggestion. No, not to quit. Why the hell would you do that? Chinese cigarettes have no warning labels, unlike those vile Western smokes.

He suggested that the teacher ought to be smoking a brand that reflects his income. His social status. China has the highest number of smokers in the world, and a pack of cigarettes can cost anywhere from 5 RMB to 70 RMB. People who can afford the 70 RMB pack buy it and display it prominently to others or use it as an offering when meeting others.

Men, of course. They associate women who smoke with prostitution.

Lian is also face, but in the realm of your moral character.

It reflects how moral society views you. This can mean different things, but let’s concentrate on traditional Chinese women, as they’re the ones I’ve had experience with.

One teacher remarked that a woman’s purpose in traditional China was babymaking and housecleaning. Not quite.

He forgot obedience. To the husband and his family.

One girl told me she must remain a virgin until marriage. When I asked what might happen if she did not, she said that her family would not speak to her for many years and any future husbands would not treat her well.

Right or wrong, it is related to lian—how society views her moral character. A breech of their expectations would be a serious hit in face not only to her, but her family as well. Talk about pressure. Lian.

Both connect to guanxi, a type of social relationship between two people that can transcend social status. You can call upon someone for a favor or be expected to do a favor for them, that is, consider them in your future plans and make sure they aren’t hurt by your actions.

Mianzi is of particular interest to the foreign teacher because it can lead to your Chinese colleagues engaging in “face-giving”. In other words, flattering you in front of others in order to give you ‘face’, even if it’s a complete lie told to give you face, which in their eyes may not be a ‘lie’ at all. Get it? Me neither, but I try.

However, it’s not always a lie. A female Chinese teacher will tell a foreigner that he looks handsome today. It could very well be true. The laowai certainly thinks so, especially if said teacher is rather cute.

But then he overhears her saying the same thing to the 100 lb overweight chain smoker with rotten teeth. That’s about when the honeymoon phase ends.

>It’s because they care

>Handy tip: poking someone you just met in the stomach and asking them if they’re pregnant probably isn’t the best way to start a friendship.

Unless they’re pregnant.

I met June and a couple students on the backstreet for lunch. While I was eating, I felt a sharp jab against my stomach. I look up and a girl asks me, “What is wrong with your belly? Are you pregnant?”

I did not know how to react. In China, it’s normal for people to comment on others’ appearances. Hey, you look fat! Okay, thanks for caring.

Keyword: caring. Compassion, if you will. They’ll tell you you’re an obese pig, but it’s only because they care. Don’t believe me? Still seeing this through an American lens? Then consider:

In January I helped a guy with his oral English test. Being from the countryside, his English was terrible, and I tried to help him satisfy this silly national requirement as best I could.

I had recently quit smoking and gained a little weight. On his way out, with no warning, he patted my stomach. “You are…” He paused. “I do not know the word.”


I quietly showed him out. He capped off the whole experience with a most practical solution.

“You need to exercise.”

Xie xie.