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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Random Empathy

The term is over, my grades are in, and I'm being deliciously lazy after a slow crawl through marking oblivion. I've been disgustingly lazy for the last few days: sleeping in, watching movies, and (now that I got another care package from home) playing the superb Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Odd how I'm on the other side of the globe, and I have my GameCube and an English version of a Japanese game; I don't think I would have done this for any other game, I just can't help myself when it comes to Zelda.

Walking around town the other day, I came upon a sight that I looked upon with newfound empathy: the sad and sloppy drunken foreigner. His name is Angel, he's some Chicano from LA, and when he's sober he's a nice enough guy. Problem is, I always see him going to or coming from a couple bottles of TsingTao, and he gets sloppy. And it's a special kind of sad, to see this guy chasing Chinese women through hair salons or just stumbling into some restaurant, barking at people in (pretty decent) Chinese.

If you saw someone acting this way in the states, you'd walk away, avoid them as some kind of crazy drunk. He just puts out that vibe. I wonder, can the Chinese pick up that vibe? I can't seem to pick up on many Eastern vibes; guys holding hands and hanging on shoulders still rings the gay bell in my head, no matter how many times I see it here. I wonder if they can see his behavior for what it is, or if they just shrug it off as the unfathomable behavior of all foreigners.

He called Nicki, Mike, Shang, and I over once as we were walking along to the bank - "gui lo," he yelled, like he'd gone native - and he was just desperate for someone to talk to. He was talking in sloppy Chinese and unfocused, vaporous English, orbiting some kind of coherence, all glass-eyed and head bobbing to some unheard music, the Chinese ladies at the salon he was drinking in asking him (translated via Shang) why his friends were so nice and pretty and why he was so fat and ugly. To annoy a Chinese to such overt hostility is a feat, so they must've been really tired of him; we excused ourselves, he tumbled back into wherever it was he was drinking, and we got on the bus.

Being abroad, away from home and friends and those you love; well, it's not easy. Yeah, everyone chooses this; it's part of the life of an expatriate, from a lowly teacher in Zhanjiang to the big shit businessman who spends most of his days and nights in Shanghai hotels. I don't know much about Angel, but when I see him tanked, wandering around some dead-end cafe or fanguan, being loud and obnoxious and trying, desperately, to communicate with someone ... I just feel really bad for the guy. He must be so lonely. Maybe he left America to come teach here because he didn't fit in, and he was looking for his place. Maybe he took to drinking then, maybe he picked it up here; but he's lonely all the same, and the way he deals with that is a couple bottles of beer and talking to whoever'll listen. I've talked to him, and will, but it's no good when he's already drunk. It's sad, and I wish I could help him.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Charmingly Ineffable.

I went to take some pictures today with some of my senior students. It's nearing the end of the fall term (no Christmas and all, so their big long holiday between terms comes in February, during the Chinese New Year), and my seniors are more or less finished with their schooling. While most of my students are majoring in English education, a fair number of them don't intend to teach at all. Some are going for their master's, some are taking the Chinese equivalents of the LSAT, GMAT, or GRE, and some are simply using their excellent English and their diploma as a springboard into some field or career unrelated to education. Regardless of their future plans, they all will spend their eighth and final semester doing their "teaching practice," that is, working off campus and at some other school to get real teaching experience.

This class of thirty-five students, I should remind you, has been taking the same classes with one another for the past four years. That means every day of class since the first day of their first year has been spent together; and when they're not in class, these students also live with one another, six to a dorm (on-campus living is mandatory, but many of the wealthier students rent out cheap one-room flats in the neighboring apartment buildings). Needless to say, they're all pretty close. And since this is the last term where they will all be together, they decided to take their graduation pictures today, and I was invited.

You can check out the photos here. The whole thing made me feel like a rock star.

I also bought my ticket for Cambodia, which is where I'll be spending two weeks of my month-long holiday. This is going to be an interesting and amazing trip, and it'll be the first time I've set out to a totally foreign land all by my lonesome. Sure, I've been managing in China on my own, but Maryknoll has been there to help when I need it; Cambodia is my own nut to crack, and I can't wait.

Getting the tickets for Cambodia was an odd microcosom of the quirks of China. I was quoted a price, and given a ballpark of departure and return dates; the price went up, down, way up then way down again, before I was given a fair price; then the travel agent had to haggle with someone else in some other office before finally delivering the tickets here himself. But I was taking pictures all morning, so I wasn't around to pay him; so the tickets were left for me and I had to place the money into the guy's account. I had to go and get the cash for these tickets - checks are frowned upon - but I can only take out 3,000RMB at once, and the tickets cost 4,450RMB! Not to fear, just go to the ATM and take out two grand at a time. That 3,000 daily limit appears to be just a suggestion. So I head back into the office, hand a thick wad of red 100RMB notes to my waiban (Foreign Affairs liaison), and was given my tickets.

And then I was called and told my power was going to be turned off from 7:30 am until 7:30 pm. I was called again and it was reconfirmed. And then much later the whole thing was canceled.

Ah, China. You're charmingly ineffable.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Great Scott!

If you're going to show a classic film to Chinese friends and/or students that more or less proves how great American films can be, may I recommend to you four simple words:

Back. To. The. Future.

... (ahem, cough) parts I, II, and III.

Really, these films are fantastic. Doc Brown has gotta be one of the best movie scientists ever, Marty McFly is a great runt of a hero, Biff is such an aggressively bad bad guy, and the DeLorean and flux capacitor and 1.21. gigwatts ("jigawatts") are still great, and then there's comedy and special effects and romantic sub-plots and skateboard/hoverboard/horse chases and time travel in-jokes ... it's got it all! The films hold up amazingly well even today (well, Part II seems a little dated since it shows a 2015 with no internet or mobile phones), and aside from a lot of "holy shit"-level swearing (but remember, any time someone learns a foreign language, they always memorize the curse words first), there's nothing to really bat an eye over. Sure, I could show Pulp Fiction or The Godfather (part one, you swine!) or The Shawshank Redemption, but they all deal with gangsters and murder and sodomy.

Back to the Future just plain rocks.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Yo La Tengo Y Tu Mama Tambien

I would like to thank my brother for directing me toward a band from New Jersey. They are called Yo La Tengo, and they are awesome. Their album "I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass," is particularly delicious.

That is all.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

And Then There Was Noise

January has been an annoyingly busy month. Between finishing classes, grading final assignments, giving and marking finals, and arguing with the administration to get the classes that I want for next term, it's all been a blur. The desire to blog has also been diminishing.

And to top it off, a bunch of little "rascals" (that is to say, bastards) have been walking around campus and dropping incredibly loud little bundles of explosives. You know, those paper-wrapped bunches of chemicals that make loud satisfying BANGS (I swear I just heard one as I typed that) when thrown at the ground? (And another.) Yeah, well, they're popular here, too, but the ones the kids use here look like small pieces of dynamite, and they sound like it too. So it's sounded like I'm in the middle of Baghdad for the past few weeks, which is always fun when I'm spending all my time grading yet another journal about the goddamn Student Sport's Day.

I was about to go up to my apartment the other day when I heard one go off right around the corner. I marched over and saw two little rascals (bastards) with a cigarette pack full of 'em. So I asked them, using sign language, broken Chinese, and some English: you mei you (do you have/not have) those (motion to throw on the ground, make explosion sound)? Yes, they say enthusiastically, and reveal the box to me and offer me one. How cute. No, no, I don't want; I don't like; Bu xihuan! Loud noise! (Hen xiang? I think that's smell, actually); hands over ears and wincing in mimed pain. They giggle. Keyi (can you?) go over there, where I'm pointing? Yes, loud noise, go there, thanks, xie xie, and they just keep laughing. I was about to go, then one quick turn, right in their face, finger over mouth: Shhh!

I was about ten steps away, around the corner, before they threw two more.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Tomato sauce makes it good

Tonight, I used some pasta sauce purchased in Hong Kong to concoct a pasta feast the likes of which Zhanjiang had never seen. Along with Nicki and Mike, we added some satueed onions and garlic to some Prego sauce, cooked up some garlic bread, and even had a nice lil' bottle of red wine. (A '99 Great Wall Dry Red ... I know, you're jealous.) We invited Liam to dine with us and we had a long, relaxed dinner, and a long and enjoyable chat about the next term, traveling, living and teaching in China and all that jazz. It was fantastic. Then I came home and got three calls in a row, all from my seniors, who want me to come be in their graduation pictures tomorrow afternoon. Now maybe this is something they offer every teacher, or maybe it's just something they wanted to invite me to. Either way, it was really nice to be invited for those pictures, and it was so great to have that meal, it was one of those many "damn this is great" moments you have here.

Oh, and Kevin (Maryknoll's GiCoMStFTATF) and his girlfriend are engaged. Congratulations, kids.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

You won't get anythin' done by plannin'

My laptop's backlight has died. Thanks for nothing, Toshiba. Four years with my old Satellite laptop, and I had no problems; less than five months with this one, and the inverter crapped out and now I can't see anything on the screen. So I've gotta send it back to the states and get it repaired while it's under warranty (they better pay for shipping, the bastards), but I'd rather try and turn it over to CompUSA and just get my money back. Five months in, and a major problem like this (that needs replacement parts), does not instill long-term confidence.

But I digress.

The Ricky Gervais Show is (... obviously) a fantastic podcast. You can hear a quick bunch of the holiday Podfather trilogy, but check out some torrent sites to download the rest of the shows.

Go see Children of Men. I got a great quality bootleg (audio is about a six or seven, visuals are a ten), and it is one of the best films I've seen in a long time. Alfonso CuarĂ³n just shot on to my radar after a stunning fall from grace as a result of the craptacular Great Expectations.

I need to buy some more Chinese New Year cards and send them out on time.

I also need to plan my trip for the February holiday. I'm thinking some traveling around some small places in China and, if I can swing it, a week in Cambodia. Angkor Wat looks simply unlike anything I have ever seen before.

I spent yesterday writing a letter to the man who is more or less my boss, telling him why one of my classes was, shall I say, unsuccessful. And now I'm plowing through a metric assload (as opposed to an English assload) of marking: journals, senior graduation papers, and so on. Lotta stuff to get through, lotta coffee to drink, and with my computer more or less unusable, I've been throwing on films instead of music for background noise. Which means I watch about as much as I mark, and I've blown through the Back to the Future trilogy with ease. Love those films.