San huo fan—a going away meal. The pin yin tones are 4th, 3rd, 4th on the characters. Apart, these three characters translate to “To break away/Dispel,” “Companion,” “Meal.” My current Chinese teacher explained it, too.

“Chi wan fan, fen kai.” “After we eat, we separate.” She said it’s the final meal before moving on.

Last week we had our sanhuofan.

Teachers, Coworkers, None of us strangers and all of us Friends.

I don’t know if it was a traditional one or not because a week later we’re still around. I know that’ll change for many soon, but as for now, we’re still together. The school is in a rocky period of transition that has come upon the heels of news it was closing. A few months ago we were told about the imminent closing of our doors, so people did what people always do: We reacted. For most that meant seeking employment elsewhere—I was/am having meetings with a handful of training schools in the area to secure a steady position. Some of the Chinese staff has already moved on to different jobs and even the Western staff is looking ahead to an immediate future apart from the school. All of this is natural—to be expected—when you tell people the place is shuttin’ down.

As I said, though, transition. The school is not done. The owner has moved out of the country, but a new one is at the helm. Changes abound—some not so good. Customs are a tricky thing, and generally speaking, the school was always been very helpful at bridging those cultural gaps with minimal amounts of inconveniences and annoyances. I’m talking about common business practices, polite social etiquettes, creating good supervisor-employee rapport, and even simple personal boundary manners. Yes, the cultures of the East and West are often times at odds with each other, and yes, you should be sensitive to the practices of the country you’re in and give them priority (maybe), but when you’re working within a company that prides itself on blending the two’s cultures I feel it’s OK to be a little miffed when things start to deteriorate and those holding the reins aren’t listening to the solicited advice they are receiving.

In China (holds breath so as not to make an overly general, borderline insensitive statement), it seems that those in power have this idea that the people who are working for them or who are under their influence don’t have the capability to handle information without it being spun or heavily filtered (and then makes one anyway). With such an emphasis on saving face (mian zi), and a reliance on the social/political/professional benefits of relationships (guan xi), it can be terrifically difficult to get straight answers—or answers at all—from those in high positions, express genuine emotions or even practical advice (even when it’s seriously needed). Anyone who has lived here, and I hope I’m not leaning into the condescending, pedantic territory reserved for those who think they know what they’re talking about, can tell you that these things happen at all levels of employment, and to some extent, personal relationships.

Par for the course, you say? Not a golfer, says I.

But it really is. Color it the price of doing business here or whatever you want, but it does happen, and as a wai guo ren (outside country person: Foreigner), I don’t have a whole lot o’ options. The best I can hope for is that I’m partnered with an organization that is both conscious of the differences between the cultures, and willing to round out the rough edges to make the environment professional and conducive to getting things done properly. Just as a side note, previously, that’s how the school has been run. I’m still holding on to hope for this next chapter.


One year ago today, Noelle and I arrived in China.

A Night at the Movies

There’s this list. You know, the one that audiences mark off when they’re watching a movie or reading a story that has a character traveling or going on an adventure. And really, if you’re not aware of it consciously, a part of you recognizes pieces of it as the events begin to unfold. Here, I’ll prove it.

Character is in a new city (heck, could even be a jungle, doesn’t matter). He/She:

A)    Finds the destination easily because the map purchased is an up-to-date work of cartographic genius.

B)    Decides to just chill in the block around the hotel without venturing out farther (or swings from a hammock fashioned from vines hanging from the ginormous trees).

C)    Gets lost at least once, usually through some humorous fault of his/her own (and will be just one of the many times things like this happens).

Answer: C, right?


Character gets roped into hanging with friends he/she doesn’t really know all that well. He/She:

A)    Leaves the scene early and goes back to the hotel/apartment/jungle hut.

B)    Realizes there’s no one he/she has anything in common with, so consumes copious amounts of alcohol in the corner of the room…

C)    Forges a few actual, meaningful relationships because he/she is stretching, growing, and living in the moment.

C again, right? (Really, it’s just easier for me to make all the answers C)

OK…Maybe I’m not good at doing the quiz thing, but you gotta admit (maybe), there are certain staples to the traveling movie/fiction genre. Someone gets lost, sick or injured, new friends are made, self-discoveries abound, and things get stolen…

These things happen in just about every movie or book like this, ever. I’m definitely the type to romanticize things and give a little slack to my tether holding me to reality, but I’ll be honest, not all of those things are fun. In fact, there’s a good chunk of them that just suck. I’ve had kidney stones here (THAT nightmare has been documented on this blog), Noelle and I have gotten lost in Beijing, we’ve been ripped off….and now I’ve had my wallet stolen, right after I went to the ATM, I might add.

A friend from Scotland recently offered, “Congrats on you theft baptism ;)” when I posted a message stating that I’d just gotten my wallet stolen. I don’t know if that means I had it coming sooner or later, but it does seem odd that none of the people who commented after her seemed surprised.

Here’s what happened. It was Monday night and my friend and I had gone to the movies. We stayed until the credits rolled through, hoping for some extra—every movie nowadays has a little something at the end, ya know? But no, not a thing. We left, the last two from the audience. The only others in there were two ushers, cleaning.

We took the escalators down the four flights and saunter out into the humid night air, me thinking about the flick and how to express my thoughts in Chinese, and also contemplating a late dinner. The latter thought got the best of me, and when I reached into my back pocket to take a look at what remained of my funds my heart did that pause-between-beats-and-turn-to-ice-before-sinking-to-the-stomach combo. My wallet was gone.

I had no difficulty telling my friend in Chinese this particular problem. I didn’t wait for a response. I ran back to the theater, trying to keep enough attention on the placement of my sandals (the ground is super slick in some areas and my sandals are new and prone to slipperiness). This time I ascended to the fourth floor with the help of the elevator attached to the building’s outside.

I ran in, told the workers my issue, and was quickly waved toward the room I’d just spent the last two hours and forty minutes. Lights on and not a soul around, I searched to no avail. Two others helped, and then my friend joined us. And then we left, my friend taking the reins on the explanation and interrogation of the employees. They were of no help, mostly. Although at some point we all walked back in and looked around again for the fun of it.

Eventually, we called the cops. Not entirely sure why. I had no silent hope that they’d be able to get my wallet back to me…and they didn’t. They came, gave me the Eye, talked to my friend, nodded to me a few times, talked to the manager on duty, and then talked to my friend again. But this time it was like we were the ones putting them off. Seriously. They even turned to me and asked if I’d been drinking. I didn’t say anything. I just gave the cop my version of the T1000’s death stare and shook my head. After a few more minutes when it was obvious they were just wasting our time AND arguing with my friend, I stopped them by saying, “What’s wrong? If someone took my wallet there’s nothing you can do now, so why are you arguing with us?” In Chinese I’m sure a few things were a bit off, but it felt good to say it anyway.

My roommate helped me cancel my bank card, I cancelled my credit cards, but I still need to contact the BMV about my stolen, expired license. Really hoping that doesn’t come back and bite me later. I’ve since requested a new card from the bank here and for three days was getting by on money loaned by my roommate. I still can’t touch my account even by going directly to the bank, but I have enough for the essentials until next Friday (when I’ll theoretically get my bank card).

But, my point is, The Dark Knight Rises was good.