Home for the Holidays

Culture shock’s got four stages that expats can pinball back and forth through, the experts say. That honeymoon period gives way to frustrations and annoyances faster for some and a bit slower for others. The irritations of the next stage can seem like interesting eccentricities of the culture once you’ve endured them and come to some sort of adjustment. And then, right when you think you’re about to assimilate, one of those quaint quarks sends you over the edge and you’re snuggly back in the frustration stage.

It takes years for most to get to the upper levels of the “adjustment” part, and most never actually assimilate, even if they’ve embraced the new culture.

http://www.thelandscapeoflearning.com/2013/02/culture-shock.html

All that is culture shock for ya, but there is a flip side: reverse culture shock.

I’m going home at the end of the week for the first time in two and a half years. My mother cried when I told her a few months ago about my decision to visit for the holidays, and friends have talked about meeting up whenever my schedule will allow it, but the trip is not all leisure.

When I got my wallet stolen more than a year ago, I didn’t replace my driver’s license, and then I just simply let it expire. Now I have to retake the written and driving test to get it back. I’ve also got a handful of other assorted official To-Dos while back.

All that aside, the thoughts taking up the most cognitive square-footage seem to be about simply being back. In general, I haven’t really wanted to go back home since I got here. This admission invariably invites reproach from Chinese friends, and most of them follow up their scowls with, “Don’t you miss your mother and father?” I try to explain that in our culture when the kids grow up it’s normal for them to branch out and make their way in the world without needing to tether themselves to mom and dad for support. Some respond by shaking their head and others just call me a bad son.

Now that my return is eminent, I’m just wondering what it’s going to be like. The North-East area of China, old Manchuria, has a lot of “Chinese” qualities, but Dalian also has an abundance of western perks. It’s not that I think I’m going to stick out when I walk through Wal-Mart, or that I’ll somehow forget how to order a Little Caesar’s Five dollar pizza—no, it’s actually the opposite. I’m worried that, after the rush of seeing family and friends those first few days, when they have to go back to work and I’m hanging around with no car, bus or Qinggui station to hop on, it’s all going to be…boring.

I’ve written about how common and routine life can get living abroad for extended periods, and I’ve even written about losing a bit of my objectivity concerning a lot of cultural details, but the truth is, even sitting in Starbucks becomes more interesting when you have to order in Chinese and you are having conversations with people in other languages.

Knowing everything that’s going on around me will be a nice benefit, but that lack of mystery can also lend itself to a rather lackluster outing when just walking down Hongmei street here for vegetables can be a fun and challenging experience. At this point, there are probably elements of American culture that I’ve demonized and other parts that I’ve inflated and championed way out of proportion, and truth be told, I don’t necessarily want my fantasies shaken just yet.

Don’t get me wrong; I know it’s time for me to go back. Two Christmases away is enough.

I’m probably just thinking too much about this.

Culture Shock – World Travel Syndrome

culture shock

Weekend with the guys

More than a month ago a colleague of mine, the High School Science teacher, sent out an e-mail detailing a bunch of Wikipediaed (it’s a verb, too!) info about Tianjin. The last line quoted plane tickets to the place at around 90 RMB from Dalian, one way—pretty freaking cheap.

I read it, said, “Hmm. That’s interesting,” and honestly didn’t think about it again for an entire week, until one night on the bus ride back to KFQ, another HS teacher asked me if I was heading to Tianjin with some of the guys in a few weeks. We talked it over, and, even though I went to Tibet not long ago, just purchased my tickets back to America, and was already planning a trip to Cambodia for February, I decided to head down to Tianjin with them.

This is what he sent:

Tianjin is a city in northern China and one of the five national central cities of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It is governed as one of the four direct-controlled municipalities of the PRC, and is thus under direct administration of the central government. Tianjin borders Hebei Province and Beijing Municipality, bounded to the east by the Bohai Gulf portion of the Yellow Sea. Part of the Bohai Economic Rim, it is the largest coastal city in northern China.

In terms of urban population, Tianjin is the fourth largest in China, after Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. Tianjin is a dual-core city, with its main urban area (including the old city) located along the Hai River, which connects to the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers via the Grand Canal; and Binhai, a New Area urban core located east of the old city, on the coast of Bohai Sea. As of the end of 2010, around 285 Fortune 500 companies have set up base in Binhai, which is a new growth pole in China and is a hub of advanced industry and financial activity. Since the mid-19th century, Tianjin has been a major seaport and gateway to the nation’s capital. Tianjin also has an active night club and live music scene. 

Air fare to Tianjin is as low as 90 RMB one way from Dalian.  Contact M. Baldwin for more information about this thriving metropolis.

We all grabbed different flights, and they all got delayed…

It was passed midnight by the time we touched down in Tianjin, and almost one by the time the five of us regrouped and found a club.

By 4:30 most of the group had called it a night, but I stuck around a bit longer.

There were a ton of Russians, Ukrainians, Sri Lankens, Persians, and of course Europeans at the club.  I have no clue why there were so many there, but on the second night Ryan and I caught a glimpse of some clashing of cultures.

That second day, morning came around one in the afternoon for some of us, but then the group caught up with each other and wandered for a bit until we found Hank’s Sport Bar and Grill. Hands down, best food I’ve had in a while. It’s an American-owned place, and Hank himself talked with us a while during our late lunch.

The consensus was that we’d go back to our respective hotels and nap away a few hours, and then regroup around nine to catch some live music at another club. Though I felt a bit like roadkill most of the day, I didn’t want to sleep. Instead, I wanted to go see Xiao Ming’s undergraduate university—Tianjin University.

I’d chosen my hotel because of its price and proximity to the school, and when I went off on my own I wandered around the campus a while. It’s a pretty campus, but in the evening, wind blowing like mad, there weren’t a lot of students just hanging around. Still, I managed to find myself—two times—engaged in conversation with curious Chinese kids. One girl and I talked a while about Tianjin and the school, and about Dalian. Another guy wanted to just follow me around for a bit. I’m pretty sure he wanted to follow me as I met up with the other four, but I indirectly told him to take a hike.

Day time shot from the next morning. This is in the open area of the campus
Day time shot from the next morning. This is in the open area of the campus

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We found the Italian Style Street not long after nine, and then Club 13. The place had that local hang out vibe, the interior inspired by industrial warehouses and T.G.I. Fridays. Eventually I asked the owner why she chose the name, and she reminded me that 13, in the West, is considered a bad omen, so she wanted her patrons to think it a bit dangerous as they stepped into the place. She said this all with a smirk and thick sarcasm, so I have no way of knowing if it held any truth.

When the band took a break their buddy hopped on the stage and sang a few.
When the band took a break their buddy hopped on the stage and sang a few.

The band playing—a trio of young guys—turned out to be pretty good. The lead singer, a fast-talking local, seemed to constantly exaggerate the well-known Tianjin accent just to get a rise out of the audience. Another guy, the bongo drummer, wore a Jamaican-style shirt and Sesame Street pants. The guitar player drank a lot of water and told jokes between songs. They sang songs with lyrics more than mildly anti-government. It was great.

The place had communist murals all over the walls. They looked like traditional images, but they had a sarcastic feel to them.
The place had communist murals all over the walls. They looked like traditional images, but they had a sarcastic feel to them.

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After a while it was pushing elevenish and there was a decision to call it an early night. The workers and I had been talking throughout the evening and one even bought me a drink, so before we left I asked if they knew of any other places where we could hang out. They gave me animated instructions and recommendations (and a handful of their customer-friends chimed in) and eventually we got a lead on two more clubs to check out. Before everyone left, though, we realized Ryan was missing.

The place was closing down, so there wasn’t much noise at all. What we did hear, however, was the sound of two hand-drums being played. Following the sound, we found Ryan cradling a drum between his knees and jamming right next to the drummer from the band. They sounded great. It was completely improvised, but they really had a rhythm.

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On the way out Ryan and I chatted with the workers and basically secured the opportunity to come back and actually play for the club. He gave him one of his CDs and as we all walked out of the club Ryan’s one-man-band Cronkite Satelite blared out into the Tianjin city streets as the girl played it over their system.

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A look from the balcony of Club 13
A look from the balcony of Club 13

Once the others left, Ryan and I followed the directions to a place called Helen’s, a restaurant by day and bar by night.

After taking an elevator to the third floor, we grabbed a table and ordered some food, taking in the crowd of dancers and diners. Once again, a large Sri Lankan presence could be seen, but this time things didn’t stay harmonious for long. About thirty minutes later, our conversation got interrupted as some of the sober Sri Lankans tried to help drunk ones to their tables. A Chinese guy got in the way, and then got decked, hard–twice. He sort of stood there a minute without doing much, but after his lady friend and his buddy checked on him he seemed to realize he needed to do something to exert his awesome manness. He went crazy.

Chinese and Sri Lankan alike duked it out in the restaurant while the staff and other hungry folks just ignored them—for like 15 minutes. Eventually, the Sri Lankans left, and the Chinese guy who got clocked settled. For a minute. At one point he tried to use a beer bottle as a club, but his group took it away. Somehow he managed to convince his table he had calmed enough to go out for a smoke.

About this time Ryan and I decided the show was over and also thought calling it a night sounded good. As we walked out of the building hollering and screaming reached our ears. Sure enough, the fight had migrated to the street. This time the swings were more furious and the rage a bit more entertaining. We watched a while, but when the cops showed we grabbed the nearest cab.

In China, the cops like to just collect anyone and everyone at a fight scene, even the gawkers. Often a fee exchanges hands before anyone can leave the police station. We avoided that.

The morning came quickly, and another teacher and I were on the same flight back, so we grabbed a cab and hung out till boarding time. Xiao Ming met us in Dalian, and drove us back, concluding our weekend away.

Although not a traditional tourist city, Tianjin proved a good place just to visit and get to know some of my coworkers. I’m sure we’ll go back again at some point, or maybe to another nearby city.

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Guanggun Jie

Tabao sales, Korean Pocky stick treats symbolizing one, and a full Starbucks…must be Singles’ Day in China.

If you’re a cynical person, you might call this the highly commercialized polar opposite of Valentine’s Day, or you could just focus on eating bland tasting, chocolate covered sticks and go with the flow.

11/11 every year is when singledom is celebrated like the bittersweet Warheads you used to shovel into your mouth just to say you could. Don’t know about that anology.

It started in China not long ago when a bunch of the guys looked around and said, “Crap, there sure are a lot of us with no girlfriends. Let’s buy Korean candy, go to Karaoke, and pretend to be happy about this fact.” It may also have gone a different way.

Though I have it on good authority (my Korean students, Chinese friends, and girlfriend) that Guanggun Jie, Bare Sticks Festival, is a Chinese pop culture holiday that got its kick off in the early 90s in Nanjing universities.

Speaking of students, three of my Korean middle schoolers gave me boxes of Pocky sticks today and wished me a happy “Pocky Day.” Interestingly, the three kids who gave these little sugary symbols of being a bachelor all saw me with my girlfriend yesterday at an orchestra concert. Don’t know if they’re trying to tell me anything there…

Though it’s mainly an Asian thing, Pocky Day, or Singles Day seems to be gaining momentum each year. Who’s to say by this time next year folks back home in the States won’t be opting for a fun Nov. 11 instead of that annoying Feb. 14…

Still don’t know Jack…

I’m losing perspective. I can feel this; the elusive sensation that what I believe to be is not as it is.

(Pic found: onpoint.wbur.org/2011/01/20/china-america-question)

It’s been more than two years since I’ve been home, and with my imminent return to the States for a holiday visit, I find myself trying to recall American life in its most minute details. I’ve fielded so many culture questions, answered the most absurd inquiries regarding social aspects of life for Westerners, and debated the validity of either nations being more open or conservative than the other with college students, drunk Asian businessmen, colleagues, and my girlfriend that I actually think I can’t remain objective any longer.

The fault is my own, not China’s, though there are many days I feel blaming this place is the easier route. Expats here have a tendency to be viewed as vast information repositories of the culture from which they come. People routinely ask questions and then whatever answer you provide is considered Gospel, not a biased opinion. I’d like to think I’ve never let myself be pulled in by that sort of perceived power and authority, but I have been.

I’m sure I’ve told someone things like, “We don’t ever worry about our reputation,” in response to the topic of mianzi, or “In America workplaces never have a problem with nepotism,” only to later realize I care a great deal how I’m viewed, and that classmates of mine have walked into cake jobs because of daddy’s help.

And then, when I’m on the receiving end of deep guanxi, I don’t bat my eyes at all, just smile and make a joke and accept the offered service or gift. As a rule, it is hard for someone like me to gain meaningful guanxi, but when you have close Chinese friends or a girlfriend whose uncle happens to be some sort of industrial leader, there are certain perks you can take advantage of.

Cut lines, forged documents, lowered prices—parts of China I can’t be bothered to form objective thoughts about any longer. Does that say something about me?

It’s not like I’ve been here that long—just under two and a half years.

Just when I begin to feel that China can’t faze me anymore, a ridiculous driver will decide the left lane is a good place to park, a worker will refuse to do something that fits their job description because he doesn’t know you, or a man with no scruples will make a move on a girl fully aware of his friend being her boyfriend, and I lose it. I lambast China with the worst vitriol I can conjure (which is usually a statement of comparison between it and the US, where China is degraded to a nation of imbeciles and chaos).

When I take a step back from that, I can see that I am the one who has taken all that culture and understanding I’ve gained these past few years and thrown them out the flippin’ window. The cathartic release is quite satisfying at times, but then I listen to another stubborn foreigner griping about the Chinese having no manners or traditions of nonsense and I feel like a heel.

There was one older guy I met, from Liverpool, who actually choked a man when he was cut in line. Another Englishman who’s been here for about six years—a bar fly everyone knows—routinely yells foul Chinese obscenities to people. Others come and go on 3-6 month contracts and use every opportunity they have to tell others that they know China. Some of the stories are amusing and, as far as I’ve been able to tell, true, but others are complete bull. From Chinese economics to bedding the locals, I’ve heard just about every piece of crap adage and advice the Expat community here has to offer, and I still know jack-all about the place I’ve called home since 2011.

If there is anything I’ve learned, and by extension, the point to this rant, it’s that I will never reach a moment of complete clarity or catch that concrete understanding of Chinese culture. Ever. It will bend, wiggle, snap, and break, but it will never just occur to me conclusively that I can say, with authority: I know China.

Traveling in the Rain

It’s raining as I type this, so I suppose that is only fitting.

At the end of June Xiao Ming and I traveled to Guilin and Yangshuo in the southwestern part of China. At the end of July, we traveled to Changbai Shan in the Northeast of the country. Both places seemed bent on soaking every set of clothing we brought.

Yes, Guilin and Yangshuo’s natural scenery were spectacular and truly breathtaking, but rain can be quite annoying. We ducked into Reed Cave that first day in town, just to seek shelter from the storm, had our basement level accommodations changed to the second floor on day two, and then finally just sucked it up and enjoyed an awesome half-day bike ride across Yangshuo’s countryside in the rain on the third.

The bamboo raft ride down the Li River got the ax, but the big yacht worked out all right. Moving from our first room to the next seemed irritating, until we were put up in a private room with a shower. The rainy bike ride appeared less than ideal, but then we realized the rain cooled us down when the area is usually painfully humid most times of the year. The hostel, Riverside Hostel, actually sat along the banks of the river, and the young staff, helpful and tolerant of my accented Mandarin, was fun to talk to.

Guilin. Chongqing 137

Guilin. Chongqing 157

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If you say these numbers in Chinese they sound like "I will love you forever."
If you say these numbers in Chinese they sound like “I will love you forever.”
Longji Rice Terraces.
Longji Rice Terraces.

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Guilin. Chongqing 298

Landslides in the area cleared these small villages out not long ago...
Landslides in the area cleared these small villages out not long ago…

Changbai Shan (mountain), the spiritual home of the Qing Dynasty, is an old volcano that sits along the China-N.Korean border in the Jilin province. Beautiful countryside begins just north of Dalian, and continues, interrupted only a few times by cities, until you reach the protected land of the Changbai range.

The seventeen hour train ride there through this landscape surprised me. I’d almost forgotten that most of China’s population still lived in rural areas, not the fast-developing major cities. At night the stars were beautiful.

Being the only Westerner on the train provided the usual amusements: stares, giggles, and curious children that continually walked by our car. One boy forgot to keep walking. He stopped dead in his tracks and just stared at me. I asked him in Chinese what he was doing, but he just smirked, and then ran away. He walked by once more, quickly. I saw him coming the time after that, and as he walked by I jumped out of the car and grabbed him, bearhugging him and laughing. When I released him he stepped away and said, in English, “Bad man!” He didn’t walk by again.

The rain began in a haze, then precipitated into a sprinkle until finally, dropping all pretense, the clouds released their bounty and drenched the mountain. We trekked up and down the north and west side of the mountains the first two days, taking in the scenery and clean air even though it continued to rain. Our goal was to see the famed Tian Chi, Heaven Lake, but the ubiquitous fog sabotaged that mission those first two attempts. The small town we stayed in right next to the mountain lucked out and most of the rain passed over it, leaving us free to wander about between excursions up to the lake.

Dirt roads, mobile merchant karts, and small packs of semi-wild dogs playing with filthy looking kids wearing slit-pants made up the town, Bai He, White River.

On the third day there, it stopped raining long enough for us to summit the top. We set out early, and then realized it hadn’t been early enough. Ten thousand or more (easily more) crowded around the outside and inside of the check-in building. A few thousand more packed in tight as they herded themselves through corrals that led to little shuttle busses that rocketed up the side of the mountain to another spot where the people had to queue up again…then they boarded tiny white vans that shot up the narrow road to the top of Changbai Shan. Every van sped up and down the roads, always keeping a distance of a car and a half between themselves, much like the worker bugs in a giant ant farm. We waited in lines for hours that day, and then, when we got to the top: Fog.

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The trip, while full of pretty trees and no actual emergencies, seriously teetered on becoming a complete waste if we couldn’t at least see those blue-green turquoise waters of Heaven Lake. The murky white of the fog clung thick in the air and taunted us as we gazed around at the peak. Once again, another ten-plus thousand travelers greeted us at the top, but we waded through the throngs and found a spot along the rim of the caldera.

Right as we were getting ready to throw in the towel the breeze picked up. Slowly, slowly, the fog rose from the surface of the lake, granting the faintest hint at a color other than gray. The winds continued to lift the mass of fog, revealing more and more green and blue. As one, the entire population of the summit howled and hollered, cheered, and gasped. I laughed like a mad man.

We could see Heaven Lake.

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And just two weeks ago we took a week long trip to Tibet. I’ll write about that soon enough…

A Trip before some Changes

Some big changes are underway.

Today I’m hopping on a train and heading to Changbai Shan (mountain) in the Jilin Province. I’ll be hanging out there for a few days, but when I get back my (free) time will be short.

Five months ago I accepted a position at another school, an international school in the area, and I’ll be starting there on August 5th. Gone will be the weeks of sleeping in until nine or staying up till three, of casual days full of things I want to do on a moments’ notice…To be replaced by early mornings, long days, and, once again, a 40 hour a week schedule…oh, and a much better paycheck that will allow me to pay off some student loans before I’m thirty.

A part of me is super excited by this change of pace, but then again, another part(s) of me just wants to high-tail it in the other direction. New people, new students, new responsibilities.

One of those responsibilities is this online class I’ve been taking. It’s designed around the SIOP model, which is a teaching model/strategy for ELL teachers. Very informative, and practical, the class is a useful tool for me. However, there are live sessions that take place at 4 pm Eastern time. Do you know what time it is in China when it is 4 pm in Ohio? 4 AM. Yes, I’ve had to get up at 3:30 to take part in the frikkin’ class. On the days there’s a live session I try to turn in around 7 or 8, but usually don’t get to sleep until 10. Then I just stay up after the class, usually spending and hour or so practicing Wing Chun.

This sucker is as tall as me, but heavier.
This sucker is as tall as me, but heavier.

Did I mention that I also purchased a Wing Chun Dummy a few weeks ago? Yup.

Look at it...just standing there with that cocky grin. That bastard.
Look at it…just standing there with that cocky grin. That bastard.

Women, Wives, and the Wandering Eye…

I originally thought of putting this cultural gem in the “11 Observations of Behavior in China” entry, but it is too complex a topic to simply rope in with the eleven behaviors I mentioned. It’s a bit concept with many facets, but I’m just interested in the behavior aspect of it and how I’ve encountered it in my time here.

In China, when a married man has a girlfriend she isn’t called a “home wrecker,” “Skank,” or even a “gold-digger,” no, she’s called a “Second Wife,” (Er nai or even more common lately, Xiao San “little three” because…well…third person).

The male habit of having a girl on the side is not a uniquely Chinese phenomenon by any means, but Chinese is one of the few cultures where the idea has infiltrated so many levels of society, and in some areas and for some people, has become accepted.

The practice of having a girl on the side goes back a loooong way in Chinese culture. Having a Second Wife you could take care of while also maintaining a household and all those responsibilities were badges of honor and symbols of a man’s status as one belonging to the upper echelons of society. See, it wasn’t just about carnal satisfaction, it was a demonstration of virility, influence, and …well, ok…just because the mechanics of it spoke to status enhancement, it’s hard to rule out simple, base desires as motivating factors. I mean, who goes out and says, “Ah, yes, there is a gal who could boost my image,” huh? I would bet it’s more along the lines of, “Oh, snap, she’s fiiine. Gotta have some of her lovin’.” But, you know, in Chinese.

There are two types of girls at this point: those who know the man’s married and those who do not. Either way, he pursues her somehow. Eventually she has to find out that he’s married. In which case there are also two kinds of those types: those who desire the security his position and money can bring and those who just follow their big ol’ hearts in the name of passion.

This guy will get a Xiao San in five years when he looks back and sees what his bride made him wear...
This guy will get a Xiao San in five years when he looks back and sees what his bride made him wear on their wedding day.

Even television shows and movies have gotten involved. There are a few shows that depict ancient Chinese concubines skirmishing for power, and a very popular Chinese show called Woju had the main female lead become a second wife. She had the wide-eyed innocence that most men in this culture love, but even as her plight became clearer to her, she maintained that she was in love with the guy (who happened to be a handsome, corrupt government official). SPOILER: This became a huge hit here in China, but it was eventually cancelled and the govt official died in a car wreck before he could be brought to justice, and the main girl lost her baby. So, in the end there was some sort of cosmic retribution or a concerted

Another, more recent film, Beijing Meets Seattle (Finding Mr. Right in English), is about a woman who goes to Seattle after watching “Sleepless in Seattle” too many times…well, not necessarily. She’s a pregnant second wife who wants her kid to be born in the States. While there, though, she falls for a stoic Chinese single dad. It’s sort of a boring film, but the themes and ideas in it hit on some pretty hot topics right now.

Despite his salt and pepper thing he's got going on, they both look 12 on this cover...Beijing Meets Seattle
Despite his salt and pepper thing he’s got going on, they both look 12 on this cover…Beijing Meets Seattle
Two main characters from the show Woju.
Two main characters from the show Woju.

How does this translate into reality?

Throughout Chinese history Emperors obviously had the best deal, right? I mean, there are some who had hundreds of concubines. Even the Tang emperor, Gao Zong is said to have taken pleasure in about 3,000! Like I said, mistresses, or girls on the side are nothing new, but it was actually quite frowned upon by Mao back in ’49, so the trend was wiped out.

There is a bunch of literature about this topic. You can find out all you need to know about this from any number of sources, but one recent article I read claims that economics is one of the factors that’s brought it all back in fashion. “Second Chinese Wives are Back,” writer, Olivier, says of the Chinese men who have made a buck:

Their social progress is seen by their many luxury expenses (car, travel, home etc.). But now, they consider that it is not enough. The best way to show its rank is the maintenance of young and pretty mistresses. The modern cohabitation thus comeback! This phenomenon is spreading so fast that in most major Chinese cities, there are “concubine villages”, with buildings housing luxury apartments where young women maintained their spending and gifts : jewelry, wardrobe, new technologies…

Villages, man! I know that business men in Hong Kong stick their Er Nai/lai (second wife) in the neighboring city of Shenzhen, but I wasn’t aware of villages. My girlfriend, Xiao Ming, even told me that a lot of second wives get a specific car from their sugar daddy—a BMW—and the first wife (kinda sad that we’ve gone back to numbering them like they did back in the ancient days. What are they, Mormon?) will get a bigger SUV or something like that (I guess it’s so she feels secure in the fact that if the little hussy is too much trouble she can run her over?). Some girls even use this catchy little phrase to sum up their chosen path, “I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle.” The BMW is such a common purchase for this little set up that it’s jokingly referred to as “Bao Ma” or “precious horse,” because, as Xiao Ming explained, you mount both.

The article hints at this, too:

This relationship is organized as a win-win situation. The trend of these new wives is so fashionable that luxury cars have named a segment of their range “car mistress” (often flashy sports cars).

For example, Jian, a 42 years Chinese businessman at the New York Times says “Having a mistress is like playing golf. These are two expensive hobbies”. To maintain his extramarital affair with a 20 year old student, he spends about 4,500 € per month.

He bought this for me because he admires my gumption ...
He bought this for me because he admires my gumption …

Expensive is right, but not just for the man, and not just in regards to cash. I have a friend who was a second wife for a few years while living in Shanghai. As you can imagine, when I learned of this I had a ton of questions, but I couldn’t just interview her about the relationship. Over time I got most of the story, though.

After college she met this business guy, and really liked him, so she moved to Shanghai to be with him. She dealt with her qualms about him being married by focusing on the time they spent together. He bought her jewelry, a car, clothes, etc. This went on for quite some time, but she wanted more. She lied to her family about what she did, who she dated, and it took its toll. More than anything, she wanted to be with this man “for real.” Then he wanted a baby. His wife had a health problem, and he wanted my friend to trust him. So she agreed. She became pregnant and he bought her a 2Million RMB apartment. Things looked as though they were going the way she had always dreamed, but when he disappeared for an extended period she became distraught. She suspected that he had another girl. When he did resurface, he made her get an abortion, saying that he wasn’t ready even though she had already conceived. After that, the illusion broke and so did her spirit.

Shortly after that she returned to Dalian and, with the help of her uncle’s guanxi and some forged documents, got a job. If there can be a silver lining it’s this: the man put her name on the lease of the apartment. My friend used this to her advantage. She put it up for sale and just two months ago it sold, making her quite financially comfortable.

She’s a very strong and passionate woman, but she’s cynical, angry, and hurt. You can see all of this if you take the time to get to know her. I wonder how much of the pain is from her decision to be with the man and all that transpired because of it.

Is it worth it...?
Is it worth it…?

It’s not just the uber-rich or highest level officials in big cities that have these second wives. Here in Dalian my girlfriend’s father has a brother who just asked him to help him deal with his second wife. Apparently the second wife is just causing a stir and the man needs some advice…you know, beyond the obvious. This man works in construction, and though China loves tearing up roads they have just paved, the construction market has already seen its hay day.

If you’re thinking all men are pigs, think again. Some of the wives know of the Xiao San and let the man do as he pleases as long as he’s a capable provider. Some will even take on a man of their own. The term for the wife’s boyfriend is Xiao Bai Lian, or little white face. He’s the strapping young buck who tends to the woman’s needs while she provides him with clothing and everything else so he can just have a leisurely life. Basically, the husband is paying for his second wife and her financial needs, his first wife and family’s needs, and her boyfriend’s needs.

This cultural trend is not just casually accepted by all. Of course, many women despise the practice, and the men who have a bit more integrity are frustrated over it, but it does happen. It is talked about, joked about, and parodied on the big and small screen. In ’09 some 95% of corrupt officials were reported to have had second wives, for crying out loud! Some corrective measures have been enacted, though. Government officials have been asked by Hu Jintao to curb their lust and, “…refrain from all young women temptations,” classes in HS have even been implemented to teach young girls to value themselves and have higher standards, and hell, a vice mayor of Hangzhou was executed because of corruption charges and he had more than a dozen mistresses.

...I may have had sexual relations with (those) women...
…I may have had sexual relations with (those) women…

Economics is a factor in all of this, but some people like to blame another one: Western influence. This just frustrates me to no end and makes me want to gouge eyes out with chopsticks. Take this little new trend that’s apparently catching…

Starbucks has become a place for casual pick-ups. Not like a good place to meet people, no, people come here by themselves, to find other like-minded individuals, and find somewhere to get it on. The way it’s been explained to me is like this. That dolled up, cute girl or that slightly older attractive woman sittin’ by herself playing on her phone…she’s probably scanning Weixin (a messaging system that uses texts, pics, and audio) to make new “friends” in the area so they can hook up. The guy who is glued to his phone, but looks up every time the door opens, yeah. I know women and men who have admitted to getting together this way. Some of them are single while some of them are attached and just lookin’ for something more. I asked one guy why they do this at Starbucks, and he said it’s because it’s a Western place. Granted, this is just his idea, but he didn’t hesitate to express it.

Not enough girls...let's jam.
Not enough girls…let’s jam.

I’m not judging the behavior; I’m just annoyed by the perceived motivation behind the venue. Whatever. Western men already get stereotyped as playboys and worse here. What I do get pissed off about is when guys with these cavalier attitudes directly cross my path. Four times already guys have tried to pick up Xiao Ming after knowing she was with me.

The first time was with my old landlord. Remember him? I mentioned him when it happened. He has a wife in Japan, but that didn’t stop him from telling Xiao Ming he loved her. When Xiao Ming laughed and told him she didn’t have any feeling whatsoever for him he became a dick.

Another guy was the manager at the gym on the fifth floor of An Sheng shopping center. At first he asked her the normal questions about filling out membership stuff, and then after she did, he began asking if she had a boyfriend. When she said she did he seemed excited and kept asking her to bring me along so I could join (he’d comp the first few times for me, he said). She thought he was just being a salesman. Then he kept following her around when she’d go there to work out. He’d open conversations with questions about me. What I did, all that…When he learned I was an American he asked her how we communicated. Xiao Ming has a wicked sense of humor, and responded, “Wai guo ren ye shi ren.” Foreigners are also people. He concurred, and walked away. Later, a few days after that, he sent her a text asking how long we’d been together. She exaggerated so he’d get the hint and said a year. He then responded, saying that he didn’t have a chance. That was the last communication they had. We both laughed at the lack of tact on his part, but it was annoying anyway.

The next guy hasn’t out and out asked her to be with him, but he’s a bit older and possibly more cunning, but not by much. She met him when she and her cousins and aunts went to KTV. He’s the friend of her aunt or something. Well, that night nothing happened at all. But then a week later, Xiao Ming and I run into him at a bar. The two of them chat a few minutes and I chime in here and there, but then we go our separate ways. At first I thought nothing of it, but then when he said, “Oh, I don’t want to disturb you two,” and Xiao Ming responded, “You’re not disturbing us. We’re together all the time,” I had to wonder. I asked her why she added that. Not because it wasn’t true, but because I could tell it went beyond her normal pattern of speech. She said she felt a little strange when he looked at her.

He had shown an interest in French culture, she said, and when she told me that he’d begun texting her about this I told her to watch out. He even began one line of dialogue by saying I was handsome. What the hell is that about? I explained what he was doing and she saw it, too. The guy did have a bit more tact, going at her through an intellectual route, but it wasn’t going to happen. And then a week later I had dinner with a buddy of mine and then a drink. He and I were having a good time when Xiao Ming texted me and wanted to hang out. She told me that she’d just stepped into one of our favorite places and the guy was there. She told me she thought I should head over because he was talking about using her as a translator on his next trip to America. She laughed about it, on her guard, and when I showed up the guy’s eyes got a little wide, and then sad. I walked over, made it obvious she and I were together, and then joked about him in English with her. She cracked up, and I let the two of them continue chatting for a bit. Then I started picking his brain on where he was traveling to, made some recommendations.

When he tried to tell her that he’d pay for everything, that he’d even sleep on the floor, it was my turn to crack up laughing. He spoke in Chinese, but I had understood and told him it wasn’t happening. Soon after that he and his pal left and Xiao Ming, my friend, and I all kept having a good time.

The fourth guy went about things a bit more discreetly but more explicitly, and that’s why I am still waiting for a chance to see the little bastard. I met this guy first, about a year ago in Starbucks. He and I are not close friends, but we’re at that superficial, by-you-a-round-shoot-the-breeze level. Ever since he and Xiao Ming exchanged numbers (something she only did because she felt that, as my friend, he was ok) he had a thing for her. She told me that he once made an inappropriate joke about sleeping with her and that she had shut him down rather harshly, saying that if he said it again they would never talk again. That was the end of it until recently.

He’s moving back to Shanghai this month, a move to change his boring, lonely life, he says. This has made him rather desperate, I think. One night while Xiao Ming and I were out, we met up with him and two others for a drink. We hung out a bit, but then she and I wanted some food. We told them we’d meet up later. After food, though, we just wanted to hang out on our own, so we told him we’d catch him another time. Then, as she and I were playing pool (we are two of the worst players ever) her phone is lit up with weixin messages. She’s annoyed, I could tell. Her face took on that pensive look she gets.

When I asked about it she reluctantly said I shouldn’t be angry, that he’s just lonely. Apparently he kept asking her where she was, where she’d be staying tonight, and then flat out asked her to spend the night with him. She responded to each of these with irritation and told him that she wasn’t like that, that she was with me. He said it’d be just their secret, but she refused, saying that she’d know, and that she only thought of him as a friend, and now not even as that. I was livid. Man, I wanted to deck him right in his fat face, but I let it go…for a bit. At the time I was just focusing on making her feel better because she felt pretty upset about the whole thing. She wondered what it was about her, what was she doing to get this sort of attention…

I made jokes, I soothed her, I praised her, but I couldn’t let go of one thought: it was me. It’s true, she’s a great woman, and embodies all the ideals of beauty that Chinese men seem to value, but I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that when they see her with me, a young American, some Chinese men automatically judge her based on other preconceived notions of these types of pairings. Suddenly her status is in this hectic blender that they have no right to put her in. I don’t care about the looks I get, but shit, it really irritates the life out of me when I see first hand how this crap affects her. I haven’t gotten a chance to run in to this maggot since that night, but even if I do, I’m not sure how I’ll handle it. My first instinct is to break bones and listen to the snaps, but I’m in China. I may just make it obvious that she’s told me everything, and enjoy the fear in his eyes. Xiao Ming says to leave it since she’s already taken the rest of his Face, but the Y chromosome in me wants to exact masculine vengeance.

I fear I’ve stumbled off into a digression. Please forgive me, and understand that I am not holding any of this up as a general statement of how things are here, but rather as an indication that people can be douche bags on every continent.

Link to the article I quote: http://marketingtochina.com/second-chinese-wives-are-back/

Thinking about going abroad? (My thoughts)

The other day someone asked me six different questions about being here, my work, and just what I thought….I decided to post my article on here as well.

I’ve also posted this in the “What you need to know” section of my blog because I think it fits there nicely.

My name is Jordan and I’m from Ohio, but for nearly two years I’ve been calling Dalian, China my home. I came over here with the expectation of staying for one year before returning home and getting an “adult” job. One and done, that’s what I kept telling myself, but before long that mantra became like a propaganda tactic that I really didn’t need or want to listen to. When my one year contract came to a close, I decided to stick around another six months. My coworkers were excited, and my supervisors didn’t need to replace a Western teacher (an arduous process here). So I settled back in and enjoyed the time.

I absolutely loved the training school I worked in for the first year and a half—the other teachers, the Chinese staff, the students, and even the building had a unique appeal to it that I will never forget. I enjoyed the walk into work on the nice days, and the convenience of my apartment’s central location. Dalian proper is definitely an urban setting with all the pros and cons of one. You’ve got access to just about any kind of cuisine, attractions, shopping, good public transportation, and parks. You also get great big whiffs of exhaust from all the traffic, the grit and grime of a city getting over populated, and the general chaos associated with a metropolis on the rise. But I don’t live in the actual Dalian city.

Dalian’s Development Zone, or Kaifaqu, is a twenty minute Light Rail Train ride north of the city, and has a much slower, almost quasi-urban-suburban feel to it. I love it. Everything I need is within walking distance, but for those lazy moments the ubiquitous taxi or bus is always available, too. While still technically a part of Dalian, Kaifaqu has its own aura. Seriously. Stationed so close to the coast, there’s always a sea breeze to cool you down, and though the beach is rocky, there’s plenty of swimming in the summer. When I first got here I wandered around, a lot. I took walks almost every evening, just to get a good look at the place. I walked at all hours, usually by my self even though a few coworkers chastised me for doing so at late hours. Even with their warnings, I felt safe. I still feel safer here than I did in my home town.

In the summer, when the heat is too much and you don’t want the stony beach of Kaifaqu, Golden Pebble Beach to the north is the place to go. Just a fifteen minute Light Rail Train away is the “ritzy” side of Dalian. All of Dalian has a large amount of foreigners from all around the world working with many different companies, but in Golden Pebble Beach there are a lot of North American teachers of all disciplines. Two international schools with great reputations entice them to stay a few years, but the area also has a few other cool features. There’s a nice beach, an amusement park, and it’s one of the only places you can escape the curse of one of China’s most well-known idioms—People, mountain, people, sea (ren shan ren hai). The crowds haven’t quite made it up there, but in a few years we’ll see. Plans to move Kaifaqu’s center closer to Golden Pebble Beach have been put into motion, and China loves construction.

My certification as a Secondary Integrated Language Arts teacher has come in quite handy, and is really the big reason I’ve been able to seek other employment opportunities in the area. To get here, however, you don’t necessarily need anything but a Bachelors degree. China has been making it hard to get over here for anything more than tourism, but it is possible. Get your degree, passport, and jump online and start applying. I went through Footprints Recruiting, and they worked as a liaison between me and the first school I worked at. Not only that, but their website www.footprintsrecruiting.com and their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/FootprintsRecruiting  have a wealth of information about China and other areas around the world that regularly have postings for teachers. Going through an agency like Footprints put me in contact with a trustworthy school in the smoothest way possible.

Though I hold credentials for the high school English classroom, the majority of my students the first year were under the age of twelve. At first I wondered if I had what it took to be in that age range, but after just a few classes my hesitancy fell to the wayside. Learners here are a different breed of student, and for the most part that actually works to a new teacher’s benefit. Respect for elders, the desire to earn the teacher’s praise, and their peers’ admiration are three elements I’ve noticed that sort of collude to make the classroom a politely controlled and often hassle-free space. I had to design classes around asking questions just to get them to raise their hands and let me know what they were thinking! Once they get to know you, though, it’s anybody’s guess how they’re going to behave. I have kids hug me, poke me, try to use qigong to (play) fight me, and ask me to throw them into the air between classes or when we have a break. They like to give gifts, and it was only after a few stomachaches and colds that I realized I needed to stop accepting the damp cookies and candies they were handing me with their dirty hands.

I’ve gotten to teach some memorable lessons, including one about Mexican food like tacos. At the end of the unit about Mexico, I decided to have the class make tacos for real. I readied the ingredients: lettuce, tomatoes, tortillas, cheese, olives, and I even fried up some beef. After teaching the vocabulary and the instructions for the receipt we dug in and made them. We snapped photos and the kids had a good time putting their tacos together, but not all of them grasped the concept of how to eat them. Some students nibbled on the very top of the tortilla where there’s no filling at all while others munched on the middle of the bottom. The ladder resulted in a few messes as the filling just spilled out! Still, others placed the taco on a plate and used a fork and butter knife to cut into it. I let them play around until finally I showed them the right way to eat them. After that, we all enjoyed our tacos the right way.

Seriously...one of my favorite classes I've taught here at Jayland this year.
Seriously…one of my favorite classes I’ve taught here at Jayland this year.

My time here has been filled with experiences like that, some inside the classroom and many outside. The clash of the cultures isn’t so much a clash as it is a constant blending that a lot of the times results in humorous misunderstandings and always something learned. Everyone will have a different experience, though. No two are ever the same, and the location will affect this in a multitude of ways. Depending on what province or city you’re in, China will present you with plenty of opportunities to make your own stories.

During my time here I’ve gotten to see a handful of pretty cool places. I’ve visited Beijing and seen the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors, and even Luoyang and the Longmen Grottoes. Natural sights such as sacred Hua Mountain and the beautiful scenery of Guilin and Yangshuo are fantastic, too. Even old Song Mountain where the Shaolin Temple has stood for hundreds of years is a wonderful destination. But if you’re going to live in China, I truly believe that Dalian, and even more, Kaifaqu, is one of the best places you can be. Dalian is a young city by Chinese standards, but it has an interesting history, great parks to see, a nice zoo, some beaches, a lot of job opportunities, some friendly and open people, and I would recommend this coastal city to anyone. No matter where you go, people will always want to get out, to travel. I talk with people all the time here who just want to see different areas of China. They don’t know why I like it here so much, but I tell them that one man’s back yard is another man’s adventure. And I’m still having a great time.

Getting the qualifications and choosing a destination are two big steps to moving abroad, but I would offer a few pieces of advice if you’re looking to take the plunge for an extended period. Before going to a country check out their internet set up. Is it monitored a lot? Get a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This can be the thing that saves your soul, or at the very least allows you to get accurate world news. There are plenty of options available to people for this kind of service.

My second piece of advice is, that even before you arrive, cultivate a habit of observation. Read about the country you’re going to. Do research. Then when you get there just watch and listen. A lot. Do a lot of observing with all your senses, and just try to refrain from passing judgments of any kind. This is a much harder task than you’d imagine, but I challenge you to do it. I’ve heard a ton of foreigners here complaining about one thing or another, but many of them haven’t been here more than three months. Don’t get me wrong, some of the complaints are valid, but certainly their day would improve if they spent the time trying to understand what confused them instead of immediately venting about it. The reward for this? Understanding, awareness, changed or improved perspectives, and you could quite easily make a bunch more friends by being willing to learn all the angles to this new culture in which you find yourself.

Developing and maintaining a sense of humor is paramount. Smiling when you want to curse the world is a skill not only useful for becoming a saint, but for dealing with the other seven billion people roaming around on this Earth. Laughing at an exchange that sees you shorted 50 RMB or on the wrong side of the city at an inconvenient time is, I would argue, the most versatile and practical skill you could have in your arsenal.

I didn’t come to China to get rich; I came to learn something about the world and myself. I have succeeded in ways I could never have imagined, and I know I am not an anomaly in the abroad community. Living and learning in a place that is so different from where you used to call home has a mystifying way of altering you, changing you into something new. My last piece of advice is a fun thing that you can only do when you make a big change. By moving abroad and settling into a different place you get the unique chance to reinvent yourself. That person you’ve always wanted to be? Now’s your chance.

11 Observations about Behavior in China

People like Amsterdam for a bunch of different reasons, but the legally available cannabis and Red Light District are always on the list. When you think of Spring Break, you probably think of Cancun or some place hot and steamy so you have a valid reason for imbibing ridiculous amounts of alcohol and losing articles of clothing. People visit places for a bunch of different reasons, and not least of all of those reasons is so that they can do stuff they can’t easily do at home.

China has a bunch of pretty neat things to see, as just about anyone in the world could tell you, but there are also certain behaviors or actions you can get away with here that you couldn’t back in the US or other Western countries. Here are some of the behaviors that are socially acceptable (by many, but not 100% of everybody) in China that I’ve noticed A LOT of people doing.

I’m not complaining, just stating observations…

1

Public Toilets are a thing of absolute horror in China. If you’re blind you can locate the restroom by scent more than a hundred yards away in almost all cases—even Hospitals. Most are squat toilets, which are glorified holes in the ground, with puddles and clumps of human waste seemingly everywhere but in the hole. When I had my body check in the hospital almost two years ago I had to use the restroom for a part, and I swear to God the creators of Saw got inspiration from the bathroom I was in.

Maybe it’s the downright atrocious stench associated with these places or that everyone here is just a mild exhibitionist, but when the toilet is not readily available the road, sidewalk, grass, trashcan, stairs, and even sink will do just fine. I have seen everyone from a toddler all the way to a grown man drop trout and just…pee. They do it just about anywhere. Often they will make the effort to, you know, go into an alley or stand next to something, but the parents with children who have to go—forget about it. Dear Old Mom will just pick up her little tyke so that his butt hangs out the back of his “split bottom” pants and make a “shhhhh” sound in his ear until he lets loose his flow. Where does this happen, you ask? EVERYWHERE. No joke. That list a few lines up, yeah, all of those places.

Calling them buttless chaps would be tantamount to Child abuse, right?
Calling them buttless chaps would be tantamount to Child abuse, right?

In fact, just a few days ago Xiao Ming and I were at this nice little area by a government building, where tons of people always hang out, and this six-year-old’s mom gives him the go-ahead to take a leak right in the middle of a crowd. SERIOUSLY. There were about a hundred people just milling around and no one said a damn thing. This boy, who is obviously old enough to know you do this crap in a toilet, is just spelling his name right where people are walking, in daylight. But the funniest thing, or most appalling part, is that just five minutes before we witnessed another young boy trip and face plant on the sidewalk—right where the second boy ended up peeing. Then, after the boy left, a young couple played with their jianzi, basically the Chinese version of hackey sack, right in the same spot.

Yep...there it goes...slipping and sliding right into those kites and toys he's trying to sell...
Yep…there it goes…slipping and sliding right into those kites and toys he’s trying to sell…
I wonder if she thinks it's water...
I wonder if she thinks it’s water…

And all of this is just Number 1. Number 2 requires a bit more tact, but not much more. There are times when you can hear suspicious grunts from behind bushes and trees, and on more than one occasion I’ve seen the leftovers not far off from walking paths. Yup.

So, who needs public toilets when all of the public is a toilet?

2

Don’t have a trashcan? Can’t abide dirtying your backseat? Toss it out the window.

I have seen countless acts of littering from all levels of citizens here. Taxi drivers lopping plastic bottles out the window, police officers dropping cigarette boxes, and even students throwing candy wrappers from classrooms are all annoyingly common examples of this type of behavior.

But it’s when you see the piles upon piles of garbage collected on the corners of streets or in the alleys at night being picked through by people looking for plastics and other valuable items that it becomes truly disheartening.

I have made it my mission to never litter here. Even if I must carry an empty water bottle for an hour, I won’t just discard it on the ground. When I see people doing it, I try to give them the stink eye, but it probably just looks like I have bowel problems, so I stop.

..unless you're in a hurry...
..unless you’re in a hurry…

However, knowing the option of ridding your person of the added burden of toting around trash (la ji) by simply tossing it on the ground is available to you does make life a bit easier…you’re not doing anything for the scenery, but you certainly are making your life easier.

3

I remember the Napster and Lime Wire days of my youth where I spent hours downloading tunes and—er, wait, I didn’t do much of that, either. But a whole helluva lot of other people did, and that was illegal…apparently.

Today people still have a dozen ways to get their hands (eyes, ears, etc.) on pirated or downloaded material, even in the States, but in China you don’t have to be savvy or hush-hush about it. Just go into a store and select a DVD of a movie that just came out in the theaters two weeks ago…for 12 RMB. That’s like $2. Or, better yet, just download them from torrent sites and store them on your computer…OR, even better—and quicker—just use Baidu to stream them. Baidu is the closest thing to a Chinese Youtube, but they always have full episodes of shows, and whole movies…except most of the nudity is edited out of True Blood, Game of Thrones, and other flicks.

A lot of young people are streaming American shows like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, and even Grey’s Anatomy in order to learn about Western culture and study the language with the English subtitles beneath the Chinese ones. The Vampire Diaries is also big here, along with Gossip Girl and the other ones I’ve mentioned above.

Bet you didn't know that, did you?
Bet you didn’t know that, did you?

I have picked up a habit of buying a DVD a week since coming here, sometimes more. The last few months I’ve been cooling it, but that just means I’m downloading more. The problem is I won’t be bringing any of my DVD stash back to the States with me. I’ve heard tales of people getting them through customs and all that, but I’m just not willing to test my luck…especially when getting caught smuggling one is something like 10,000 bucks. No, I’ll probably just give ‘em away or stake out a corner on the street and sell them for 10 RMB each. By the time I’m ready to come home I might be able to sell enough to pay for a flight back.

4

Gone are the days you needed to worry about an open container in public…People strut around with bottles of beer (pi jiu) in the evenings all the time. I’ve talked a little about the North Eastern “Drinking Culture” before, but this is just another tidbit.

On the downside, as a pedestrian, you need to remain ever vigilant for those reeking puddles and piles of vomit that are strewn about along sidewalks and crosswalks.

Just the other night I fell victim to one and needed to wash off my sandals. Let’s hear it, the collective ewwwwwww!

 

5

It was recently Independence Day in the US, and when I told this to Xiao Ming she asked me what I usually did on the holiday. Easy, I said: We usually get the day off and spend it near a pool, a grill, or a cooler, and surround ourselves with friends and family. Then, at night, on this special day, we watch fireworks as they are mostly legally set off.

How long does it last? she asked. One glorious, patriotic day, said I.

She kinda laughed, and I could guess why.

Here in Dalian there is tons of Korean BBQ all the time, drinking at Five Color City often enough, and yes, fireworks. I’ve told you before about how I can hear fireworks just about every single day. They light them when they have a new business opening, a floor of construction on a site is finished, weddings and funerals, and just for the fun of it. They don’t relegate them to one day, holiday, or social event; they spread the love and sulfur all around.

So don’t worry about telling the cashier you’re taking them out of state or the cops that, yes, you heard the ruckus but it was from down the street, in China you can just toss a firecracker out your apartment window and hope for the best.

6

Got something in the back of your throat and no tissue to hock it into? You got it, just lob that loogie right onto the ground. Pay no nevermind to your surroundings or whether you’re in or out of public transportation vehicles.

Now before the 2010 Beijing Olympics you could see that a concerted effort endeavored to annihilate this particular trend, but up in the NE area, especially in Kai Fa Qu, you have a healthy mix of classes and some of them…just…spit.

This hails from the Confucius (probably) belief of “better out than in,” and people, all ages of them, follow it religiously. I’m told that spitting is not actually a cultural thing in China, it’s just a nasty freakin’ habit that people have tirelessly clung to, but that doesn’t matter when you are dodging not only bile piles but also spittle puddles in the street. People will just spit right in front, beside, and behind you. No questions asked.

One of my first experiences with the spitting craze that so many are hip to came one night when a group of us were walking and a horrible sound, similar to a squirrel with asthma trying to do a Joker laugh erupted from somewhere to our right. Now the squirrel had the cover of shadows on its side, but the sound…good gawd. And the guy leading us around turns to me and, without a smile says, “And that is a little old lady.”

A quick look verified this, and her image has forever been seared into my retinas.

When we were on a long-distance bus from zhengzhou there was another woman…

I heard the coughing hack as she summoned the saliva from the back of her throat, and then the wet, puckering smack of her lips as she spat, and finally the splat as the loogie hit the floor. INSIDE THE BUS.

That one touched the ground!!!
That one touched the ground!!!

7

A fan of the bon fire, but unable to put things aflame without your neighbors calling the cops (jing cha) on you because you didn’t let the fire department know of your intentions beforehand? Come to China and light mounds of loose leaf paper on fire just to have the wind lift them into the air and down the intersection.

As I’ve noted in a previous entry, the tradition of lighting paper, or paper money (ming bi) to send to their ancestors is very common. This is usually done at intersections and on special days like holidays or their ancestor’s b-day. The money is burnt in order to pass to the spirit world, or grandpa’s Spirit Bank account. There are those who burn more than just Casper Cash, though. They burn paper objects, and whatnot.

I have sat and watched several older couples in the act of burning these papers, and every time I’m attracted to the reverence in their gestures. This is a serious ritual for them.

8

Take a look at some older photos of China and you’ll probably see the ubiquitous bicycle somewhere in the frame. Until a relatively recent time China was a bike country, then a moped country, and now, in most cities, it’s quickly transforming itself into an automobile nation. There are concurrent problems that arise when ever change happens too fast, though.

Bad drivers, subjective traffic laws, advance games of Frogger every time you cross the road, and the lack of parking places are but a few. Go to any store in China and it’s easy to see that the building or the plan for it was stenciled out with no care whatsoever about where the customers would be puttin’ their cars. Xiao Ming, who has a PhD in Urban Planning and Land Use from France, has told me that a contributing factor to this situation is the building’s investor. He’s out to make as much money as possible and parking places just aren’t where the cash is. In fact, they see parking as a free service they don’t want to be tied to when they could be adding another hundred feet to their blueprints. This is neither here nor there, but she’s told me about how city officials will hire urban planners to design a city that is efficient and modern only to ignore the suggestions in order to make a buck. That’s why you get a lot of bullcrap set ups half the time here.

So what happens? Side walk parking and driving. Yes, as you stroll down the sidewalk you are on the look out for puke and slobber, but also for the ever-present threat of being run over. I’ve dodged a few close calls already.

Can’t find a place to park at the bank or grocers? Just park it right there where everyone is walking.

9

Wish you could just get a better deal on that scarf or that necklace? Bargaining not an option back home? Come to China where just about anything is up for negotiations.

The Chinese love a good bargaining match, and those who work in this sort of profession see it as a test of skill and moral fiber when they can get a good deal or make a buck off a customer.

Of course, when I first got here I had no precedent for haggling at all, and I’m certain I’ve overpaid on a bunch of stuff, but after a while I got used to it…and now I like it. I love asking if I could get something a little cheaper and have the merchant not laugh me off or threaten to call the cops. It’s great when the final price is less than half of the original. You can negotiate everything from socks to swords, man.

I was once on the look out for some new socks, wa zi, and the merchant wanted ten for two pairs. I chatted with them for a few moments before I then added a third set and still wanted a lower price. I held my ground, and finally she relented, giving them to me for 8 RMB. This was no big win, but it was funny because after the deal the merchant’s friend, a guy who’d been there the whole time laughed and gave me the thumbs up, adding a bit too enthusiastically, that I was like a Chinese person. All because I negotiated. I probably still got ripped off, but at least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

And for my last birthday Xiao Ming bought me a katana. A genuine, full-tang katana. The thing is sweeeeet. I love swords, have since Highlander stole my imagination as a youngster, and have collected them for years. I have two swords here, both of which have been bought by Xiao Ming for me. I sometimes take the katana out and wave it around, silently whisper, “There can be only one,” just for the hell of it.

Anyway, original price was something like 2,000RMB, but she got it down to 1,200 RMB.

Negotiating is fun.

10

Don’t have any unique talents or marketable skills of your own? Do you have powerful or well-connect friends? Great, then those connections can help you with everything you need in this life.

Guan Xi, baby. It’s the Golden Ticket.

I once read that the evolution of guan xi as a means of social-political-business interaction rose to prominence due to the unreliable nature of the nation’s legal system and its enforcement. People needed ways to trust others, to know a man’s worth or his salt, or something like that.

My first thought to that is: Well, why not strengthen the laws and give the local governments incentive to enforce them instead of constantly perpetuating the double-standards?

Because you are my God-father (gan ba ba) I went from washing cars yesterday to being the Provincial Transportation Director today! Now...what's my job?
Because you are my God-father (gan ba ba) I went from washing cars yesterday to being the Provincial Transportation Director today! Now…what’s my job?

Thus, the socio-cultural concept of Guan Xi stepped forth into the world. This is usually translated into “relationship,” but I’d be remiss if I whole-heartedly endorsed that simple definition of a much more complicated series of interconnected partnerships. You can have good guan xi with someone or bad, strong or weak. Some guan xi can get you discounts at stores while other kinds can help you set up a completely illegal establishment like a store or school without any kind of certification at all.

I have an adult student who once told me about a government official’s son who his company had just hired. My student seemed annoyed, so I inquired after it. Turns out, the official’s son is a complete waste of space. He has no training or drive to do the job well, but he is in a supervisor’s role. All because of guanxi.

I asked some teenage students once how they’d feel if another job applicant got a job that they were also interviewing for. They said that’d be fine. Normal thought, right? Sure. Then I asked them how’d they feel if they knew the only reason the other guy got it was because his father had strong guan xi with the CEO. They were less ok with that, but not because they thought it was a form of cheating. They were just angry because they couldn’t get the job with their skills or their guan xi. I asked if they thought of using the connections to get stuff was a form of cheating and they said they didn’t think so. One even went as far as saying that having good guan xi is actually a skill that’s on the same level as having good engineering skills.

Unfortunately, guanxi is such an engrained part of Chinese culture that foreigners are almost entirely excluded from being active members in it. Sure, we can benefit from someone’s guan xi (I certainly have), but actually having your own guanxi in any tangible, Chinese Way is nearly impossible. If you stay a long time, learn the language, or do something truly memorable for a person who already has strong guan xi then maybe, just maybe, he’ll take you under his guanxi wing and spread the wealth, but don’t count on it.

11

I never had a fake ID growing up. In fact, the bar scene wasn’t my scene in the least, so I never needed one. I knew some folks who had them, but not many. For me, fake IDs existed mostly in TV shows with annoying pseudo-delinquents.

He helped Edward Snowden escape...
He helped Edward Snowden escape…

Here in China, though, the fake ID is just the tip of the ice berg. I know two public school teachers who did not finish high school, but instead had fake diplomas made and used their uncle’s guan xi to get their current positions. I know of training schools that have augmented dates on lincensure certificates so well that the forgery and the real McCoy are identical in every way, even down to the perforated edges.

Heck, due to a hiccup in the Real Estate/Marital Laws married couples who own two houses are forced to pay an outrageous tax, so what are they doing? Getting divorces. They’re still “together,” just not, you know, on paper. For some, going through the motions of a divorce that cost about 20RMB to save thousands is beneath them. Instead, they’d rather pay a forger more than 100RMB to get fake divorce documents.

There are even people who pass out business cards for this forgery service! Gotta love it. Not that I’m already not cynical enough, but it’s gotten to the point where any person in a position of relative power elicits two questions from me: Did you earn this job on merit? Do you have legitimate credentials?

Sure, the National Govt. is making efforts to crack down on this sort of thing, but who’s to say the guy carrying out the policy hasn’t frequented the same services?

Want a job without all that hassle of earning it? No worries.

Seems legit.
Seems legit.

Ten Things From Chinese Internet

We live in an increasingly interconnected world of high-speed downloads and uploads, of text speak and netizen culture that sometimes bleeds into the actual 3D world of reality. Here are some of those tidbits that I’ve noticed while here in China…

Ten Internet Memes or Phrases that I’ve been hearing a lot in Dalian.

  1. 给力

Gei (3) Li (4)—This expression is a relatively new one that got its start right online in Chinese forums and chats. Its two characters translate to “give” and “power,” and it basically has the same meaning: to give power, to make something interesting or impressive, awesome…”

I used this once, and my friend just laughed and wondered how I knew it. Last year I heard it more than this year, but I’m told it’s still out there. You can also hear “Jia You,” which basically means, “Good Luck,” or “You can do it.”

2) 高富帅

Gao (1) fu (4) Shuai (4)—This phrase means tall, rich, handsome, and is the pseudo-standard Chinese women use when searching for that special someone. They want a tall, handsome guy with access to cash. I hear this phrase all the time, and even in television shows. While it may not be the exact blueprint for what is desired by all, it certainly has a lot of traction, and everyone knows of it.

Every time this sort of topic comes up in conversation and I say it, the girl usually acts surprised that I know of it, and then enthusiastically nods her head in agreement.

3) 白富美

Da ge r, piaoliang, bai OR Bai, Fu, Mei—Tall, pretty, white is the phrase that is the male equivalent to “gao, fu, shuai.” The whole of Chinese culture values white, pearly skin, as a lot of the world knows, but it’s one thing to think, “Oh, Chinese like pale girls,” and it’s another thing entirely to go to the beach and see people hiding out in tents, wearing full-body suits, or wearing heaving clothing in 90 degree weather, and carrying sun-brellas around during the day.

Even if a girl has gotten the tiniest bit of sun—say an hour or two—someone close to her will notice and say, “ni zen me zhe me hei?!” How are you so black?!

We're so tall and rich that we put our wads of cash on the top shelf. Did I mention that we're so good looking we can trick short people into climbing over one another to fetch our money from those shelves?
We’re so tall and rich that we put our wads of cash on the top shelf. Did I mention that we’re so good looking we can trick short people into climbing over one another to fetch our money from those shelves?

4)

The numbers: 2, 250, and 38—er, er bai wu, san ba. The number two has taken on the meaning of “stupid, dumb,” whereas 250 describes a foolish person. 38 is actually a bit worse because if you call a man a “san ba” you’re basically calling him a bad woman or an annoying gossip, or even a “biaatch.” Not at all nice.

Merchants will go out of their way to make prices anything else but 250, just to avoid the implied meaning of calling their customer an idiot. And lately young people have added some math into the mix: 2 + 250 + 38= 290. If you hear someone calling you er bai jiu shi they’re not saying anything nice, trust me.

He gets it...
He gets it…

5) 很黄很暴力

Hen (3) huang (2) hen (3) bao (4) li (4)—This phrase means, “very yellow, very violent.” A woman who was interviewed on a Chinese news channel used the phrase to discuss violence and pornography, and people just kept it going.

In Chinese something that is “yellow” has the stigma of being explicitly sexual or dirty. You have yellow jokes, yellow movies, yellow man, yellow woman, etc. You wanna be careful because this one is used often, and everyone knows the connotative meaning of yellow here. “Bao li” means violent, which sort of goes hand-in-hand with some of the topics.

6)

囧  jiong (3) is a character or pictogram that means embarrassed. The strokes look like a face making the embarrassed look. This is used a lot online because people can see the face, although I’ve heard a few middle schoolers say this at Starbucks.

Another similar one is “Orz” because it looks like a human bowing.

7)屌丝

Diao (4) si (1)—loser or even “douchebag.” This word got its start on a Baidu discussion forum, and describes someone who is poor, ugly, short, good for nothing, a failure in life, and even prone to excessive masturbation. It has become a popular term similar to the Japanese term “otaku” and can be used to refer to both males and females.

I have only heard this one once or twice, but I think it’s used online more than in actual conversations.

8)蛋疼

Dan (4) teng (2)—Ball Pain is a phrase that, well, men use, to describe    uncomfortable situations, pain, irritations, or just annoyance. In Chinese the testicles are often referred to as “Dan” or “egg” for some reason.

This is a new one for me as I have yet to hear it, but Xiao Ming jokingly told me about it a few days ago. She’s heard locals say it a few times.

9)神马都是浮云

Shen (3) Ma (3) Dou (1) Shi (4)  Fu (2) Yun (2)—God’s Horses Are All Passing Clouds. This phrase can be translated into “nothing is permanent” and the implied meaning is that we should all just chill. This has become a popular catchphrase for the youth or the “fen qing” emotional youth.

10)草泥马

Cao (3) ni (2) ma (3) –Grass Mud Horse. The Grass Mud Horse is a Chinese “netizen” symbol of resistance against the government’s control and online surveillance. It got insanely popular in 2009, and just kept going. It’s a homophone that sounds almost exactly like the Chinese “Fuck your mother.” The phrase is ultra-negative, of course, but my friends tell me it has even more feeling than the English phrase of the same wording.

Everyone knows that the Chinese net is policed by the govt., but most in the international scene don’t know just how much. For years now young people, artists, activists, and bloggers have led a campaign to take back their right of expression (in all forms), and the Grass Mud Horse just happened to be a mascot they could rally behind.

The GMH is a species of Alpaca, apparently. There were stuffed animals made, people paraded actual alpacas around in the streets, and a song was even made.

Let's upload some social commentary on Xi Jing Ping.... Ok, then let's talk about the Diaoyu Island... Oh, good, after that let's take pictures of our muddy butts and post them on Wei bo.
Let’s upload some social commentary on Xi Jing Ping….
Ok, then let’s talk about the Diaoyu Island…
Oh, good, after that let’s take pictures of our muddy butts and post them on Wei bo.

Ai Wei Wei, an artist, made big waves because of his dissent and artwork, but he’s just one name among many.

Is that an Alpaca between your legs or are you just happy to be out of prison?
Is that an Alpaca between your legs or are you just happy to be out of prison?

I can’t even look up certain Yahoo! News articles here (I know, why would I even go to Yahoo for the news, right?). Simple things like air quality measurements to sensitive things like ANYTHING WITH POLITICS and some historical facts are all banned. I’m only on here now thanks to my VPN.

Yes, you can say that Chinese culture is still very conservative regarding a wide range of topics, but more and more, today’s young adults are pushing back and, in some cases, breaking those perceptions. Many of the people I’ve gotten to know during my time here are between the ages of 19-30, and most of them can’t stand the censorship or hypocritical nature of the government’s policy’s and officials’ behaviors.

Here the Cai Ni Ma is being confronted his arch-nemisis, the river crab (in Chinese Hexie, which sounds like
 

Here the Cai Ni Ma is being confronted his arch-nemisis, the river crab (in Chinese Hexie, which sounds like “Harmonious” in Madarin. Yes, another homophone.) Credit: Jessi Wong, image size 10x15cm, lino cut on paper 2010. Printed as part of the “Impressions” exhibition at the Australian Print Workshop.

 

But…so far, the fight is largely relegated to the virtual world where “50 Cent armies” commissioned by the govt. to perpetuate propaganda scour the web to shoot down dissenting voices, sites are shut down by agencies, keywords are monitored for sensitive topics, and the citizens are forced to use internationally-based servers just to get the news about their own nation.

And of course…the Cao Ni Ma song—

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKx1aenJK08

A good website for Westerners to stay up on some of the modern “netizen” culture in China is China Smack.

http://www.chinasmack.com/