Shangrila Monistary

Moving to Blogger.

Please go to

For many reasons I've decided to move this blog to blogspot. I haven't been happy with LiveJournal for a long time. Over the past few weeks I've researched the different blogging platforms and have played around with Blogspot. I simply like how it works compared to LJ. I'm sorry if this causes any inconveniences.

For those of you living in China this means you'll need a VPN to continue reading my blogposts. If you don't already have one I recommend ExpressVPN. I've been using their service for the last two months and have seldom had a connection problem. If you do not want to pay for a VPN, I'd recommend Freegate. They work fairly well.
Shangrila Monistary

In Search of Pizza

You may recall that I've lamented before about the concept of pizza with Chinese characteristics. I had imagined Gong Bao Ji Ding or Jing Jiao Rou Si adapted to pizza toppings. What I found instead seems like random ingredients which can be found anywhere

In a city like Wuhan there are hundreds of places that make pizza. Most of these are the evil American Imperialist companies like Pizza Hut and Papa Johns. These are fair but they're not that good and the variety in a Chinese Pizza Hut much more limited than one in America. There are a few places around Wuhan that have much better pizza. There is Helen's in Wuchang. There is Geono's in Wuchang and in Han Kou. And there is a place called Pizza and Love in Guangu at the end of a dark alley around the corner from Vox. None of these are in Han Yang though so you need to leave zhuan kou and spend at least two hours on a bus to get to any of them. Consequently I'll only visit them if I'm in that area anyway. These places are good and they are arguably the best places in Wuhan but they aren't really great. Other places I've been to have had dubious pizza at best.

The first night in Beijing I went in search of food. There was a mall with in walking distance from my hotel. Many of the restaurants there looked expensive and none of them were Chinese unless you count the one which was Taiwanese and I wouldn't. Many of them looked interesting. There was Italian, Japanese, and Indian. In the end I settled on an Italian place called LaPizza.

There was a lot more variety here as far as toppings are concerned. Pizzas made up most of their menu and unlike some of the Chinese pizza places I've been to in the past the other menu items were distinctly Italian. Most impressively they had pepperoni which is what I ordered.

While I was waiting for my Pizza I noticed that across the room there was a Caucasian man in one of the uniforms leaning against a stool and talking with the other employees. He waived at me when I looked in his direction.

My pizza came. It was like no pizza that I've had in China before. The crust was thin and ladened heavily with sauce and thick gooey cheese. It was a beautiful thing. I ate half of it before I took a picture and then like a true glutton I ate the other half. It was by far the best pizza that I've had in the last three years.

On the way out I met the Caucasian man at the door and talked to him for a couple minutes. He was not the owner but a manager. He was obviously Italian from the moment he started talking. While we were talking he showed me a trophy that the restaurant had received from a news agency that said “Best Pizza in Beijing.” His Italian accent was as thick as the cheese had been on the pizza and I barely understood a word that he said.

Two weeks later when I returned to Beijing I decided to explore the other side of the same mall. I found another pizza place here called Tube Pizza. Why not go back to the same place? I almost did but I wanted to see what else I could find.

Tube Pizza had different sizes. They had some that were small and some that were obviously made for large groups. When I walked in there was a waiter carrying a pizza to one of the tables. The pizza he carried had a diameter of about three feet. It was massive. The menu was interesting if not similar to many other places until I reached the bottom where I found Lao Beijing.

Lao Beijing is a Beijing Duck pizza. Instead of pizza sauce they Beijing Duck sauce. They cover this with small chunks of duck and cheese. When it comes out of the oven they cover the pizza with shredded cucumber and green onion. When I say that I want pizza with Chinese characteristics this is what I'm talking about.

It is a bit sad, though not too surprising that both of these places are in Beijing instead of Wuhan.
Shangrila Monistary

The Foot Massage

The second hotel that I stayed in, in the first trip to Beijing,  had a massage parlor on the fourth floor. These can be questionable enterprises about as often as they are legitimate. My suspicions are that they are often both. I'd been on my feet doing a lot of walking in the past few days and I've still got the blisters to prove it. I can't say that I've ever before had a foot massage but I was not at all averse to the idea.

 One of the benefits of being a foreigner is an acceptance of ignorance. If something looks sketchy you can just smile and shrug and walk away and people will just think you're lost or that you're just looking around. The fourth floor looked legit. You can usually tell these things in a glance. There were charts on the wall showing the muscular skeletal system as well as pictures of both men and women in a display with official looking documents that are probably certifications or licenses.

They handed my a printed sheet of paper that listed off several things. It was in both Chinese and English. It was the typical English translations that are more literal than informative. About halfway down the page was listed the item, “Foot massage and step back.”

“What is this?” I asked the two people who were waiting for me to make a decision. “Does this mean they walk on your back?” It was the only thing I could think of that made any sense. The man looked at where I was pointing and as if in answer he turns and points to a sign on the wall that said “Imperial Massage.” Which was less information and not more... I figured screw it. Whatever it was couldn't be too bad.

I was led into a room in the back and left there in padded recliner chair with a cup of hot water and a bowl of cherry tomatoes. Everywhere you go, there is always a little bowl of tomatoes. If I open a bank account or purchase so USD the bank will give me a bowl of cherry tomatoes while I wait. KTV, bar, nightclub; cherry tomatoes, nuts and cherry tomatoes, watermelon and cherry tomatoes. Go for a haircut and after they've washed your head they give you a bowl of cherry tomatoes and a cup of hot water while you wait for the stylist who is usually a young, skinny guy with a pompadour.

After a short time a boy comes in and has me raise my legs while he pulls apart the leg rest of the chair. There is a small tub here which he then fills with warm water and some brown stuff out of a bottle. He then proceeds to wash my feet. At this point for reasons I can not adequately explain, I start thinking about the Foot Washing Baptist and how envious they would be of all this and I spend the next several minutes trying not to laugh. The boy leaves and I sit there with my feet soaking in the hot water which actually felt fairly good. They could have just left me there like that for a while and I would have been just fine.

A woman comes in and washes my feet some more. Again I'm trying to stifle the urge to laugh. She has me lift my legs up while she reassembles the leg rest. Then she wraps one foot and with some cream starts rubbing the other. This foot massage is probably one of the strangest things I've ever done. It is the kind of thing that feels good but hurts at the same time. She was very quiet and very methodical and very forceful. She found a few places on my feet that I had not known were in pain until she applied pressure with her knuckle. And she applied a hell of a lot of pressure. It's also a bit strange just having someone touching your feet. Every once in a while she would look up and stare at me with a slight smile. This made me feel a bit uncomfortable but there was nothing to do about it. She also noticed my blisters and she poked them a couple of times. She made a kind of awkward laugh when she did this. At the end she brought out some hot cups. These are the small glass cups which are heated from the inside with a little torch. When pressed against your skin it creates a suction as the air inside cools. Though understand that even though the air is “cooling” it's still very hot. With the hot cups she swiped the bottoms of my feet a few times then she left them hanging from the center of the bottom of each foot. After a few minutes she removed them and started rubbing my feet again.

After she works over both my feet and then washes them again she leaves me alone in the room with the TV on. I hate the TV. The Chinese seem to have caught the whole Reality TV wave and have actually managed to make this horrid concept even more annoying than it is in America. I played with the remote for a while until I found some English news. I've no interest in the news I just don't want to listen to the Chinese Reality TV. When she returns she reclines the chair all the way and I realize for the first time that it is actually a padded massage table. She sits behind me rubbing on my head for a while. As I'm lying there I notice that there are metal rails hanging from the ceiling. She makes me roll over and then she climbs up on to the table and start walking on my back. So... “Step back” is exactly what I thought it would be, though a bit more painful than I'd imagined. The amount of pressure seemed to vary at different points. I think that sometimes she was hanging from the poles on the ceiling and at other times she was just using them for balance and there were a few times when I think she was actually pushing against the poles in order to create more pressure. Obviously I don't know this for certain since I couldn't see what she was doing but that's what it felt like.

All of this was very cheap. It cost about 130 rmb.
Shangrila Monistary

Two Trips to Beijing

I headed up to Beijing twice during the month of May. Both trips were very short. The first trip I stayed two nights before returning. The second trip I didn't even stay the night and was only in the city for about seven hours. Both trips revolved around my passport. The first was for the application. The second was for picking it up. Most people have asked me why I didn't just have them mail the passport to me. The reason is that they simply no longer offer this service.

During the first trip I hadn't planned to do anything while in Beijing because I hadn't thought that I'd have time. So I just walked around for a while. What struck me as odd about the area of Beijing that I was in is that it doesn't look Chinese. It looks like a city in America. The style and layout of the buildings reminded me of Dallas. In Wuhan and most other cities I've been in there are rows in which the buildings form a long stretch. All the shops are pushed up against each other like the oldest buildings in downtown Shreveport. Everything is brick, concrete and ceramic tiles and it all looks very old even if it has been recently built. Yet in area of Beijing I explored the buildings were much taller with a lot of space in between them. They did not appear to be cheap and hastily thrown together like the buildings that I've become accustomed to in Wuhan.

The shape of the buildings was not the only difference that I noticed. The people don't look like normal Chinese people either. Well, obviously they look Chinese. More of the people in Beijing look fat. In Wuhan almost everyone is very thin. You do see fat people in Wuhan but they are by no means common. I see maybe one person in 500 who is a little heavy. In Beijing it was closer to one out of every ten or twenty.

After walking around for a few hours I hit the subway and headed to the train station. This is where I made my mistake. There are subway maps everywhere. I studied one of these just long enough to find the words Beijing Railway Station and then set off in that direction. Thirty minutes later I was in a train station that did not look at all familiar and the display showing the train schedules did not have my train listed. There are several train stations in Beijing. I was in Beijing South when I needed to be in Beijing West. My train departed while I was on the subway about two thirds of the way between the wrong station and the right station.

So one (planned) night in Beijing became two nights. Getting a new ticket didn't cost me anything. The lady at the train station simply took the old one and gave me a new one for the next day. My only extra cost was the hotel room for the second night. The second trip went much more smoothly.  

Shangrila Monistary

Visiting The US Embassy in Beijing

The hotel I had checked into was about a 12 minute walk to the Embassy. I timed this Monday night when I checked in. My appointment was for 10:00 Tuesday morning. I scheduled it for 10:00 because it sounded like a good idea to make it late enough in the morning that I wouldn't need to be in a rush to get there. When I woke up spontaneously at 6:30 I wished that I'd scheduled it earlier. And had I known then what I know now I would have just gone then.

For a strange reason that I can't really explain, standing outside the Embassy and looking at it from across the street filled me with a strange sense of foreboding. All I could imagine was marines tackling me to the ground and throwing me into a dark little room. I could hear them asking me a million little questions. One of those questions was of course; why were you standing across the street looking at the Embassy building for so long? What were you looking for?

As far as I can tell there are no marines anywhere near the embassy. There are a few soldiers but they're all Chinese which could be better or worse depending on how you look at things. All the security is Chinese and most of the employees seem to be Chinese. They're Chinese with extremely good English. They probably get an 8.5 or a 9.0 on the IELTS tests but they all have that little hint of an accent that lets you know that English isn't their first language. The whole time I was there I only glanced two Embassy employees whom I'm absolutely sure were Americans. Not too surprising I suppose.

I was standing outside about an hour before I needed to be there. There were signs posted everywhere in Chinese and English (I'm assuming this is for other nationalities who just happen to be in China). These signs were all for people who were applying for visas to enter the US. They all stated that you would not be let in until 30 minutes before your appointment. I kept looking for an obvious entrance for Americans. I figured there would be a sign somewhere but there really wasn't. The website said to go through the East gate but I couldn't really tell where the East gate was. There were a couple of places where cars could go through but only one place where I saw people walking in. I even made the block (with the imaginary marine in my head shouting “why were you casing the parameter?” as he pours coke down my nose) and I could only see one obvious entrance. So this is where I went. I got into the line at 9:20. Once I was already in line behind the rail an Embassy employee told me that it didn't really matter but I could have just gone straight in on the side.

Passed the gate everything moved really quickly. I had my passport in one hand and a black folder containing my appointment information, photos and other junk in the other. All that mattered was my passport. They barely looked at it. The only stop I had to make was at the metal detector to deposit my cellphone in a locker. The moment people saw the little dark blue book they waived me pass all the lines and straight through all the doors right to the second floor. It good seeing people standing in a line and not shoving or elbowing each other to get ahead and then to actually be able to walk pass them. I imagine similar to the feeling hot girls get when they go to a nightclub and the bouncer waives them through pass the throngs of people waiting to get in and straight to the VIP area.

The actual process was smooth. Go to this window. Sign here. Talk to this person. Give them my passport. Go to the next window. Give them money. Take receipt to another window. Talk to lady. Take passport back from her. Sign here and you're done. While waiting in line I even actually served as a witness for someone. All I had to do was sign and date something and I had nothing else to do anyway.

When I collected my cellphone from security on the way out I looked at the time. It was straight up 10:00. I had thought that this would take half a day but everything was done in maybe 30 minutes and ahead of my scheduled appointment time. And at no time did anyone pour coke down my nose which is always a good thing to not have happen to you.

I did not take any photos of the outside of the Embassy because I left my camera along with my computer in my bag with the hotel staff.
Shangrila Monistary

The Yellow Crane Tower

Thursday of last week was Tomb Sweeping Day. This is a national holiday which is set aside for remembrance of the dead and as the name implies taking care of and cleaning the tombs and cemeteries. One of the customs is to make small fires in which you burn paper money as a gesture of sending money to departed loved ones. Many stores sell paper money that is intended just for this purpose. Another teacher I know had bought some of this paper money, not knowing exactly what it was, to use in a class. He said that it was a strange class. It made the students very nervous and most of them would not touch the money.

It isn't too surprising, when you think about it, that Chinese people would want to send money to their ancestors in the afterlife. In life they are under great social pressure to take care of their parents. Many people have told me about sending money to their parents or wanting to buy their parents a car or wanting to buy them a house. I think of the small fires as a sort of continuation or extension of this cultural habit. Like any good pyramid scheme the money is always going up the chain to the people at the top even if they're dead. It makes me wonder what might have happened if in 1903 Charles Ponzi had arrived in Beijing instead of Boston.

Because Tomb Sweeping Day is a national holiday everyone in the country gets the day off. Most places close for the day. NDI does not. Since NDI doesn't close they had to stagger our extra days off. So because of the national holiday last week I had three days off this week.

It's difficult deciding what to do with an extra day in the week. I could do something practical like staying at home and cleaning but; why put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after...

The Yellow Crane Tower (YCT) is probably the most historic attraction in Wuhan and yet after two and a half years I still had not been there. I've seen most of the temples in Wuhan and many museums but never the YCT. I've had many Chinese people tell me that the YCT is not worth going to because they think it is boring and too expensive. At the same time most foreigners tell me that it's well worth the visit. This is probably a matter of perspective in that the closer to and more familiar you are to something the less impressed you are with it. A Chinese friend of mine who works at Mr. Mai's just told about a French person she knows (there's a lot of French people in Zhuan Kou) who used to live in Paris. He would see the Eiffel Tower every day as he walked to and from work and he never thought anything of it. The Eiffel Tower was nothing special to him. It was just another structure that made up the background of his daily life. Chinese people and especially people from Wuhan don't seem to care much about the YCT. It's just another structure that makes up the background of their lives.

For me it was somewhere in the middle. I thought that it was interesting but having seen two or three dozen similar structures it's not quiet as impressive as it would have been to me two years ago. It isn't really fair though to say that it is just another building. Inside the YCT park there is also the Millennium Bell and the White Ridge Pavilion. The White Ridge Pavilion is a three story structure that stands on a hill opposite from the YCT with the Bell in the middle. At the top floor of the White Ridge Pavilion you have a clear view of the YCT surrounded by trees and flanked by the modern building of the sprawling city. Behind the tower is the Yangtze River with more of the city sprawled out beyond. Looking at this scene it is hard to think of the YCT as just another building because there is nothing else around that looks even remotely like it. The YCT is probably the oldest building in the city and yet it looks like one of the newest. This might be because a good portion of the 80 kuai admission fee goes towards keeping the place presentable or it could also be that when it was built (and later rebuilt when it was moved to it's current location) it's builders intended for it to be around for a while. Most of what is built today is done very quickly and with no intention of being around far into the future.

The YCT stands apart in other ways. It is architecturally different. Most of the other buildings in view are square blocks with flat roofs; buildings that look old, dirty and crumbling. The only other exception to the scene is the 1911 Wuchang Uprising Museum. The 1911 Museum looks like an orange V laid on it's back. It looks almost futuristic. These two buildings are far enough apart that neither detracts from the view of the other but close enough that a person only has to turn to about 90 degrees look from one to the other. You can't see it in the picture below but the 1911 museum is to the left of this position. They look nothing alike and yet neither of them seems to fit in with the rest of the city. The 1911 Museum is new enough that it is still fairly impressive though I suspect that in another twenty years or so people from Wuhan will be much less impressed.


Shangrila Monistary

An English Corner

It's a large room with three walls. The wall to the right is glass windows which look out an empty building. The opposite side of the room is open leading into the halls which encircle the classrooms. There is a small dais in the front of the room where the wall is a large whiteboard. Opposite from this the wall is postered with a dozen foreign faces. Most of these are Caucasian, blue-eyed and blonde. One or two of the faces are black. None of them are Asian.

In the middle of the room there is a long white conference table. There are also about ten small round tables in the room big enough to comfortably sit four around them. Everywhere there are chairs. I sat at the head of the conference table. Around the table sat ten Chinese people. Near the end of the conference table crowded another dozen Chinese people in chairs between the round tables.

“Do you married?” asked a girl to my left. Her name was Alice.

“Are you married,” I corrected. She repeated this before I answered. “No, I'm not married.”

“Oh,” Alice said. “Why you come to China?”

“To see another part of the world,” I answered. I looked at the girl sitting next to Alice. Her name was Betty. She straightened when she saw me looking at her.

“Do you married?” Betty asked leaning forward.

“No, I'm not married.” I answered again.

“Oh,” Betty said. “Do you like Chinese food?”

“After two years, I'd be in bad shape if I didn't.” I said. Betty only blinked. Alice was frowning and knotting her eyebrows. I said, “Yes... yes I like Chinese food.” Both girls tilted their heads back and nodded smiling.

Beside Betty sat a girl named Cindy. She leaned forward and asked, “Can you use chopsticks?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Really?” Cindy looked confused.

“Yes,” I repeated. “I can use chopsticks. I've been able to since I was about twelve.”

“Really?” her look of confusion deepened.

“There are a lot of Chinese restaurants in the states.” I explained slowly. “It's easy to learn how to use them.”

“Oh,” she looked thoughtful. “Do you married?”

“No,” I said for the third time. “I'm not married.”

I looked to the right. Sitting here was a girl named Donna. She looked bored but when she saw me looking at her she leaned forward and asked, “Where you come from?”

“America,” I said.

Her eyes cut to the right and slowly she said to herself “Mei guo.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Ah,” she smiled. “Why you come to China?”

“I came to China because I like Chinese food,” I said. I heard three people laugh. This meant one of two things. Either only three people were listening or only the three people had understood me. Or maybe a little of both.

“Do you married,” Donna asked.

“Nope,” I said. “I'm still not married.”

Next to Donna was Elisa. She asked, “How old have you?'

“How old am I?”

“Ah, yes. How old are you?”

“I'm 34.” I said.

“Do you married?” Elisa asked.

“I have three wives.” I said.

“Pardon?” she blinked.

“I have three wives,” I said again.

“You have three wives?”

“That's right.”

She said something in Chinese to the others sitting there. Suddenly there was as lot of talking in Chinese. It went back and forth across the table. Several people leaned forward, even the silent ones at the other end of the table.

“Can you repeat?” asked Frank who was sitting next to Elisa.

“I have three wives,” I said. Again there was a short burst of Chinese. A few people laughed.

“I don't think so,” Frank said.

“You can't have three wives,” Elisa said.

“That's not possible,” Donna said.

“No!” said Elisa. “I don't believe you.”

“Yes, I think it's true,” said Greg laughing. Up to now he'd been sitting there silent next to Cindy. “I think it's very good.”

“No I don't think so,” Cindy said.

“Three wives,” Betty repeated.

“How do you have three wives?” asked Elisa.

“By getting married to them.”

“You have three wives in China?” Harry asked.

“You have a wife in America and one in China?” Isaac asked.

“Are your wives Chinese?” Frank asked.

“One is Chinese,” I said.

“One is Chinese and one is American?” Greg laughed.

“No, I don't like American women.”

“Why you say you don't like American women?” Jessica asked from the back.

“Because American women are too expensive,” I said. It was the first thing I could think of. “All they care about is money.”

“I think Chinese women like this,” said Kelly who was sitting next to Jessica at the end of the table.

“Yes,” Greg agreed. “Chinese women very like this.”

“Right,” I said. “That's why I can't get married in China.”

“Why you can't get married in China?” Jessica asked.

“Because in order to get married in China you have to be able to buy a house or no one will marry you.” I said.

“Yes, that's right.” Greg said. “But it's worse now. You have to buy a house and a car. Otherwise you can't get married.”

“No, that's not true.” Donna said.

“I think it's true,” Greg said. There was a burst of Chinese back and forth across the table. People were laughing.

“Are you married, Greg?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I no married.”

“Smart man,” I said.

“Yes I think it's good,” He said.

Frank looked at me and asked, “Can you use... ne ge... kuai zi?”

“Chopsticks,” I said.


I said it again. He repeated the word. Then he repeated his question.

“Of course,” I said.

“Why you say 'of course'?” Betty asked. “Many foreigners can't use chopsticks.”

“Many foreigners are stupid,” I said. Everyone laughed.

“Did your three wives teach you use chopsticks?” Lenny asked.

“No, I learned on my own.” I said. “It's not hard. I've been using chopsticks since I was twelve. All you're doing is creating opposing levers. Anyone can do it if they honestly try.”

“Yes I think you're right,” Greg said. Others looked confused which I decided was because I'd said “opposing levers,” and none of them understood the words.

“Where are your wives?” Betty asked.

“At home with the children,” I said.

“You have children?” Betty asked.

“No but my wives do.” I said.

“How many children you have?” Cindy asked.

“I have fifty children,” I told her.

“You have children?” Elisa asked. She had evidently missed something.

“No, I don't have any children.” I told her.

“How do your wives feel about each other?” Jessica asked.

“They like each other.” I said.

“All your wives like each other?” she said.

“That's right.”

“I don't think so.” she said.

“They like each other,” I insisted. “Its me they don't like.” Everyone laughed.

“Where do your wives live?” Frank asked.

“They live in an apartment,” I said.

“Your three wives live in a department with you?” Alice asked.

“Apartment,” I said. “But no. They live in an apartment together and I live in my own apartment.”

“Your three wives live in a department together?” Elisa said. “I don't think so.”

“Why not?” Greg asked.

“Three wives,” she said. “I think they would fight.”

“Yes,” Greg agreed. He was very agreeable, this one.

“They don't fight each other,” I said. “They only fight with me. That's why I have my own apartment.”

“Ah, ha. Yes,” Greg “I very like this idea.” Elisa only looked at me confused.

“They don't fight with each other,” I told her. “They only fight with me.”

“They fight with you?”

“That's right,” I said. “So they all live together in one apartment and I live alone in my own apartment.”

“Oh, you don't live with your wives.” she said.

“That's right.”

“Why you don't live with your wives?” asked Jessica.

“Because women are crazy,” I said.

“Yes, I think that's right.” Greg agreed. Some of the other men laughed but none of them said anything. There was talk in Chinese and people laughed again.

“I don't think you have three wives,” Betty said.

“Yes, I think he does.” Greg said. “I think it's very good. Have three wives.”

“I'll sell them all to you for a bowl of re gan mian,” I said. This is hot dry noodles which cost about three RMB which is less that fifty cents.

“Okay,” Greg said.

“I also have some ocean front property in Gansu province.” I said.

“What means ocean from prop-er-ty?” Greg asked.

“Ocean front,” I said. “On the ocean. A house on the beach.”

“Oh okay,” Greg said.

“In Gansu province,” I said.

“Gansu?” he repeated. “No, I don't think so. There is no beach in Gansu. There is no ocean in Gansu.”

“I know,” I said. "I'm told there is no water in Gansu."

"Yes, there is no water in Gansu," Greg agreed. "Gansu is very dry."

“Do you have a gun?” Frank asked. This question seems random but it comes up about once a month, sometimes more.

“Yes,” I said. “That's how I keep the wives in line.”

“What means in line?” Frank asked.

“You have gun?” Jessica asked.

"No, I don't have a gun." I said.

"But you are American," Frank said.

"That's right."

"You're American and you don't have a gun," Frank said.

"I've never owned a gun," I said. "Not every American does."

“How come you don't live in the same department with your three wives?” Donna asked.

“Because they don't like me,” I said.

"Why you say they don't like you?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said. "They beat me and call me names."

"What means, beat me?" Frank asked.

"Tamen da wo," Depending on the tone "da" can be hit, or big or a couple of other things. I spoke slowly and made a fist with one hand I hit the other as I said the word "da." Everyone laughed.

"Your wives hit you?" Betty asked.

"Yes," I said. "I don't mind though. I like it."

"You like be hit?" she looked confused.

"Yes," I said. "I go up to strange women every day and say, ni da wo. hao bu hao?" (You hit me. Good not good?) Everyone laughed.

"I don't believe you."

“I don't believe me either," I said. "Oh look it's time for the next class. Any questions? No? Ok, bye.”

“Okay,” Greg said. “I think is very good.”
Shangrila Monistary

Whats Your Favorite Story?

I'm making this a sticky post. For those who don't know that means it should always be at the top. (unless I change it). I was telling a "lost in China," story today to the amusement of a few of my students. Afterward I became curious about what stories people enjoyed most. Please leave a comment to this post and tell me which journal entries are your favorite. I have a suspicion that the ones in which I'm lost somewhere will rank high but maybe I'm wrong. Tell me what you liked. 
Shangrila Monistary

Spring Festival 2013; The Year of the Snake.

It is New Years day... yes in the middle of February. You can tell by the fireworks going off outside.

About a week ago it felt like it was starting to get warmer. Then the temperature dropped suddenly and on the night of the seventh it snowed. The morning of the eighth everything was white. The whole world was covered by a blanket of snow about five to six inches thick. This seemed like a lot of snow to me. But then snow that is still there after 10:00 am seems like a lot to me. The snow did melt but slowly. About half was gone before I came home that evening and all that remained this morning was a bit of dandruff at the tops of the bushes and gate posts

I've decided not to travel during Spring Festival. I made this decision in October and unlike other similar decisions I'm keeping to this one. I like traveling, of course, but what I don't like is standing shoulder to shoulder with at least three hundred other people crammed into a decaying and crumbling old building; waiting for a train to arrive forty minutes after it was supposed to be there; trying not to get pushed down as a hundred Chinese people attempt to shove their way by even though the train still isn't there because they don't seem to understand that the three hundred of us already standing there aren't really standing so close together just because we all really like each other. They also don't understand that there is, in fact, not only no room to squeeze through but really nowhere in front to go even if you could squeeze through because that space is already occupied by the people who already squeezed through two hours ago.

That may be a long sentence or two but it's no more crammed full of words than the average train station in China was crammed full of people yesterday evening. Travel is great but the peak travel seasons in China are insanity. I've decided that the two pieces of advice that I got from Chris and Joe my first year here are probably the best. Each of them gave completely separate suggestions. Both of which I now feel are perfectly valid. I recall Joe saying that if I stayed in Wuhan I would be fine. At the same time Chris offered that if I was going to travel during Spring Festival then I should get the hell out of China.

At the time I didn't understand this but I do now. Spring Festival for the Chinese is essentially Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day, and the Fourth of July; all squeezed into one and fortified with Schedule I psychedelic substances and Lance Armstrong like blood transfusions. With just a tablespoon of Chili paste and a glug of soy sauce for flavoring. Sauce will thicken on standing.

I'm sitting in my kitchen as I'm typing this. Every few seconds or so one of my neighbors sets off a battery of either firecrackers or fireworks. If I walk out onto my back porch I get to see the night sky light up a dozen different colors as the rockets fired by my neighbors illuminate the omnipresent cloud of pollution which tonight casts an iridescent glow over Wuhan's skyline. It is a terrifyingly beautiful sight punctuated by the staccato pops of firecrackers and the whistling screams of rockets and the rich smell of gunpowder.

For this past week everyone's been asking me what I would do during my five days off. They're always surprised when I tell them I have no plans and that I'm not going anywhere. Students and Student Advisers alike continuously ask me if I'm going home for Spring Festival. The idea of not going home during this time is as foreign to them as I am. I have to explain the time limitations as well as how much a plane ticket costs (and that if I did go home I wouldn't have the money to come back) and sometimes they still don't understand. Oh well. Despite all these explanations I've no doubt that when classes continue the same people will be asking me if I WENT home instead of if I'm GOING home. Though they will likely not actually use the pass tense form of the verb when they ask.

My plans for the next five days are actually fairly simple. I've spent the day at Starbuck's (amazingly they were open) studying the 100 most common Chinese radicals. These aren't whole words or even characters (well, most of them aren't) but they're little parts of words that can be squished and glued and mangled together to form a character. There are about 214 common radicals but from what I've read the first 100 are used about 90% of the time. Tomorrow I'm going to review these before starting on the 155 most common words (which the Chinese government conveniently uses for their HSK level 1 tests). Once I feel like I know these (or most of them) I'm going to try to learn how to memorize a pack of playing cards in less than five minutes because even though it's a pointless skill I actually think it would be fun to be able to do it. So that is basically my plan for the next few days. I realize that this may seem rather dull to most people but to be honest I'm just excited to have five days in which no one is going to ask me questions like "Do you married?" or "Can you... ne ge... use... ne ge... ne ge... chopsticks?"
Shangrila Monistary

The End of the Year

National Day Holiday was in October. 
I don't currently have the photos from that trip. When I have them I'll tell you about it.
The end of the year saw about a half dozen parties. Most of these were small affairs. The Zhuan Kou branch at NDI won some kind of an award. Even now I don't know what it was. The center as a hole received a small bonus which resulted in a KTV party. 

About a week before Christmas we had a small office party. A Canadian teacher instigated this. Had it not been for this individual the party would not have happened. It was his idea and it was one of the few ideas that this man has had that I was interested in going along with. For this party the foreign staff all made foods at home which we brought to the office. The idea was to treat the Chinese staff to western food which they might not otherwise get a chance to try. Part of the idea was also for each of of to make foods from our respective countries. Until this party I had not know that potato salad was “Canadian cuisine” but who am I to argue. We had potato salad from the Canadian, African rice from our teacher from Gambia and I made some chili which was enjoyed by all who like spicy food and pushed aside by those who don't. Our teacher from the Philippines, sadly, is unable to cook so she bought some cakes from a bread shop

I went to a couple of get-togethers in Wuchang with friends from the first year around this same time

The city holds a Christmas concert each year for all of the foreign teachers here. The first two years I'd had other plans so I felt like I should go this year. It was surprisingly un-Christmasy. I had expected a mix of Western performances and Chinese performances which is exactly what it was. Except I had expected the western ones to be Christmas stuff. They were not however they were very good. It was mostly classical stuff, an orchestra, a bit of opera, a lot of music that we'd all recognize from having heard it all our lives but which we might not be able to name. Then there was the Chinese stuff, most of which was good. Again there was music but there were also acrobatics and gymnastics acts. Then there was Beijing Opera

Nothing in the world can prepare someone for Beijing Opera. These are performances in which people act out old stories from Chinese legends and myths which sounds like it would be great... except it isn't... The actors, when they talk, use the highest pitch of their voices that is possible elongating every syllable into the most annoying sound you could imagine. When they are speaking they are strutting around on stage pretending to do certain actions. All this strutting is accompanied by several old men off-stage beating small cymbals and badly tuned drums creating a clamorously staccato insanity

If you want a sense of what Beijing Opera is like, just go to any daycare or preschool in which the staff lacks complete control of the children and imagine those children are all dressed up in old Chinese robes and wearing tons of makeup. You'll get the general idea and may well even enjoy it more. 

Still the show as a whole was mostly entertaining.

For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I did nothing. I was invited to a big party in Wuchang but turned it down. I learned my lesson from last year. Christmas in China is a shopping holiday. It has become essentially what Black Friday is in America, onl amplified by the quantity of people.  Stores all over the city give huge discounts in order to entice people into the stores. Because of this everyone in the damned city is trying to go somewhere. Imagine nine million people who really don't know how to drive all on the move at the same time. Traffic become horrid. Thanks for the invites but I'll stay at home

Last week NDI had it's annual meeting. This year they gave us a huge dinner at a big restaurant in Han Kuo. Most of the dishes they served I hadn't seen before, or at least I hadn't recognized them when they were served. There was plenty of beer and everything of course was free. Thankfully there was no Beijing Opera or I would have needed a lot more of the beer. There were however several performances put on by the staff of different branches. Only about half of these did Gangnam style. Much like potluck, when people don't talk to each other they all bring identical green bean casseroles. Gangnam style performances were the green bean casseroles of the night. It could have been much worse I suppose. I might have been the shrieking of a thousand cats being slowly tortured to death or something even worse, like Beijing Opera