Last Days

On a plane 9 hours from Chicago: I still smell like Hong Kong… speed and street smells, raw ambition and sweat.

The past five months were a blurry, pork-induced nightmare (I swear, I’ve eaten at least an entire pig farm from all the pork I’ve had in China).

It was hard in China. I hated it, but I’m glad I was there. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back, but it was what I needed. To see it… to experience what it is now, what it is becoming. To fear it and hate it, to try and love it, to want to understand it. To fail utterly and be able to tell the tale.

And now I’m going back, with some valuable and much needed perspective and a fire to build a beautiful life. Have at you, sinners. Be well.

Parting glances, Parting blows

The grinning, plantation – fed face of the colonel greets me as I step off the plane in Shenzhen, harbinger of all things capitalism.

US 1950s: (fuck democracy … a refrigerator and a washing machine is all we want.)

Empty everything on the taxi ride to my friend’s place. Cranes stretched over the landscape, ripping new skylines over what used to be ocean.

Part of me sees me witnessing the end. Part of me sees me reaching for a new way. Part of me feels like both are gone.

Kaili 新一中 School Profile

Had to write a profile for my school… in case you were wondering… at the hum-drum writing and lack of swear words.

 

School Profile:  Kaili #1 Middle School 

 

凯里一中

 

 

Inline image 1

Kaili City, Qiandongnan, Guizhou Province

Inline image 2

The City

Located three hours train ride from the capital of Guiyang (贵阳), Kaili is a county-level city under the Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous prefecture in China’s Southeastern Guizhou province.

Kaili City is average in size for a county-level city, 478,642 in population according to the 2010 census.  In the past four years, it’s grown to just over half a million.  As a result of its size and relatively remote location, there are not many foreigners living in the city.  As of this writing, I am one of about 7 living in the city.  

 

Inline image 3

The local dialect is a form of Southwestern Mandarin, very similar to Standard Mandarin, although there are some variations in the tones.  The Miao language, also spoken in this region, is unlike Mandarin in its construction, but is usually only used among that ethnic group.

People speak some English, but the level of fluency is generally low.  Guizhou is one of the poorest provinces in China, but the surrounding villages and nature offer some of the most spectacular views and hiking opportunities in the country.  

 

Inline image 4

 

Zhenyuan is only an hour train ride away (left), and offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and a pleasant river-walk that is lit-up at night (below).

Inline image 5

Xijiang is an ethnic Miao village, providing Chinese and foreign tourists with a glimpse of traditional crafts, cuisine and dance (pictured below).

Inline image 6

Inline image 7

 

The climate is generally cool and overcast, with summers reaching an average high of 30.5 °C (86.9 °F), and winters an average low of 2.1 °C (35.8 °F).  It rains frequently in the spring, almost daily April through July.

 

Inline image 8

The apartment in Kaili is conveniently located near Century Shopping Center, a three-story shopping mall which has a movie theater, several restaurants, and a supermarket inside.  

Inline image 9

The city center, Dà Shí Zì (大十字) is a 20 minute walk from the apartment and has lots of shopping and dining options.  There are not many foreign options, except for pizza and pasta (圣杰士 Jazzy Pizza) and Japanese (Century Shopping Center).

Inline image 10

The School

 

 

Kaili No. 1 Middle School is a large boarding high school of about 5000 students.  It’s one of the more prestigious schools in the area; students from many of the surrounding cities and villages send their children here in order to better compete for access to universities.

 

Located just outside of the city, teachers are housed in dormitories at the new high-school (新一中), with another two-bedroom apartment located in the old middle school(老一中) inside the city.  Taxis are about 30-40 RMB from the city, 10 RMB from the school, although the number 13 and number 1 bus will take you back to the old middle school for 1 RMB each.

Inline image 11

Classes are generally 40 minutes in length and are scheduled in the morning, usually finishing before 1pm.  Classes are equipped with computers and smart-boards, as well as a traditional chalk-board.  The computers aren’t connected to the internet, however, and sometimes will not read from USB drives.

 

Students range in proficiency from low-beginner to high-intermediate.  Classes usually have at least 60 students and are spread out through the five floors and four main buildings of the school.  Make sure you have a good map made for you by your FAO, as the class numbers are sometimes different from the ones on the door.

 

Meals are served in the cafeteria four times a day, early morning around 6:30, lunchtime at 11:40, dinner around 17:00, and a late meal at 22:20.  The food is adequate, but may take some getting used to.  Each meal is 5-8 RMB and is a very cheap and filling option.  The dorms do not have cooking surfaces in them, but the school or Buckland may be willing to provide one.

Inline image 12

There is a convenience store on campus that has basic supplies for the students, fresh fruit and snacks, and beverages.  It’s generally open the same time that meals are served, but check the hours posted to be sure.

There is a school shuttle for teachers and students between the new school and the old school that leaves regularly several times a day.  While teaching, I spent most weeknights at the school, living in the apartment only on the weekends.  Internet is provided at both locations, although it’s generally faster at the new school.

2014 年 06 月 

Apartment Photos

Inline image 13

Kitchen and Washing Machine

Inline image 14

Bathroom

Campus Dorm

Inline image 15

The Best Goddamn Invention in China

This thing is tits.

I spent 20 RMB ($3.21 USD) on this reusable calligraphy scroll that makes plain water look like black ink on it’s surface. I haven’t stopped playing with it since.

The great thing about it is that it let’s me practice my brushwork without wasting a lot of paper, or getting chingos of ink everywhere. Which is dope because I’m all about saving resources and keeping things clean.

Okay, it’s more like I’m lazy and cheap, but, you know… same same.

It takes a little bit for it to dry, but that’s really a minor drawback. It’s light and fairly portable, and it works incredibly well for simulating the look of ink on rice paper.

With a little bit of effort and creative photo shopping, lines can be removed to create clean, open images.

…and for $99.99 US, you can have your very own. Hand-delivered by your very own Ben, but only if I’m planning on seeing you anyway. Paypal up front, suckaz…

Unbridled Optimism in China

Despite mounting and overwhelming evidence, there ARE things that I like about this country.

The kids are fucking adoraballz. I mean, part of it is that I’m totally baby-crazy, we know this. But seriously, this country has some cute kids. Also, they don’t chop the tips off of little-boy penises so, foreskin daps.

While I’m being perfectly shallow, the people are pretty, too. i find myself thinking, "I’d hit that…" multiple times a day on a regular basis, which, in all fairness, is true in almost every country I’ve lived in. But here I’d take lots of pictures and put them on FetLife. Okay, also par for the course.

The people are also extremely generous; if I’m invited out, the host pretty much pays for everything; going Dutch is something foreigners do. (Fucking cheap bastids.)

Food is cheap, filling and delicious . Every region has a staple dish, and slight variations on common dishes. Chongqing, for example has a type of 凉面 that’s basically like these big, rectangular udon noodles.

Travel is cheap; the train network is pretty extensive and most trains run on time… ish. Decent rooms can be had for 100 RMB (about 16 USD) or less, especially if you book in advance.

Public transportation is also pretty reliable in all the bigger cities. Even Kaili, which is not huge, has a comprehensive bus system. And it’s also very cheap. Cabs are too, but you usually have to haggle.

My coworkers are all very nice and extremely helpful. There’s also a lot of support and positively which is refreshing. Although, who knows, they might be talking mad shit in Chinese.

What else? Um, I guess fashion is pretty decent. I mean I’m not an expert, my closet will support that statement, but, being the manufacturer for pretty much everything in the world, they get a lot of styles from all over. They where them, and they wear them well.

Aside from the writing, the language is much easier than most people would have you believe. It took me two months when I first got to Korea to get an even halfway-intelligible approximation of how the language is pronounced. Here, people pretty much understand what I’m trying to say, even though I don’t make a huge effort to reproduce the tones faithfully in spoken conversation.

zOMG, quick sidenote, "bi" (pronounced like that thing that stings you, not like that thing that all the cool people are) can mean bi 笔 "pen" or bi 屄 "vaginal oriface " depending on the tone. I haven’t had the chance or motivation to ask to borrow one of my coworkers’ vaginas… mostly because I always have a pen on me, and I think they know.

The writing is also not as hard as it looks. It does take a lot of practice and study, but that’s true of all languages.

I’ve given serious thought and consideration to the idea that I might come back for another semester, or even a full year. Definitely in a larger city, but despite numerous annoyances and frustrations, China isn’t that bad.

I know, my optimism is overwhelming. I promise not to make a habit of it. 😀

A Day in the Life

Too tired to sleep and so I figured I’d write that post I’ve been putting off.

Right now it’s midnight, and I should be sleeping seeing as how, regardless of when my first class is, I’m usually up by 6:30 in the morning to eat breakfast. Generally, I wake up an hour earlier or so just because my circadian rhythms have never fully adjusted to the time difference here.

Most weekdays, I stay on campus. Some of the teachers live in dorms on campus, which is a somewhat common arrangement in China; employers will sometimes provide temporary or permanent housing for employees, even at construction sites.

Because the food on campus is cheap and convenient, and because I don’t really have access to a kitchen, I eat most of my meals here. Breakfast is served between 6:30 and 7:20, roughly, so even if I don’t teach until 8:50, I’m usually up around then.

My classes are 40 minutes each, and usually start at 8. Depending on the day, I teach either two or three classes and then I’m done. Sometimes they’ll be a few periods apart, but that’ll give me time to check email, dick around on the interwebz… whatever.

And then I’m done with work. Usually the rest of my time is spent reading, playing music, doing yoga, studying Chinese… whatever I feel like, really. Today, I tried for, like, the sixth or seventh time to install Ubuntu on my work computer. It’s not really essential; I’m just trying to find an alternative to the crufty, spy-ware laden Chinese knock-off edition of XP that I’m using.

I’m also taking an online course… hung out with a friend, got some dinner.

Ideally I’d be asleep by now, but I’m up with all the possibilities of what was and what will and maybe never will be. Also, I think I ate something that didn’t agree with me. Ballz.

Ethnocentrism in China Pt. 2

Riding a slow train three hours to Guiyang, the provincial capital, before boarding another 10 hour train to Chongqing (one of the fastest growing business capitals in the west) I feel like I’m regarded with fear, apathy, disgust, curiosity… usually a heady mixture of all of the above.

The feeling is more than mutual.

Before I go into some of the ridiculous things I’ve heard foreigners say about the Chinese, full disclosure: I had a really hard time adjusting to the people and culture. Still do, in all honesty.

The only country I can remember being so difficult to adjust to was Mali, and maybe India on some of its worse days. But the major difference is that I was bolstered by India’s (and to some degree, Mali’s) social and economic growth and autonomy, and the richness and vibrence of it’s culture. There were problems, injustices, frustrations. But there was also beauty and hope. At first China, on the other hand, just left me feeling sick, literally and figuratively.

baday_zps0814ffa6.jpg

Sick from pollution and development. Sick from injustice. Sick from unabashed and unadulterated human greed. Sick of getting ripped off and stared at. Sick of being discriminated against, I mean worse than in the States.

White people just don’t know… until they come here. And believe me, they’re still treated better than people of color.

That said, I had many days where I felt like the best thing that could be done would be for the U.S. to nuke this country into oblivion. I mean, I don’t mean that, but some days I felt like I did.

Apologists for this country are forever lamenting the "China that was" ten, maybe fifteen, maybe twenty five years ago. People weren’t as rich. This place was cheaper and even more of a shit-hole. Life expectancy and quality was probably much shorter and lower.

3586_THUMB_IPAD.jpg

Now, infrastructure is being built and improved upon at an unimaginable rate. Cost of food in my region (one of the poorest in China) has doubled in the past five or ten years, according to locals. Nobody is quite sure where it’s going or what they’re going to do, but they want that fucking golden ring. They want to be the world’s top super-power.

I’m not going to lie; I have a problem with that vision. I’ve got no love for the U.S. or it’s foreign policy. But based on what I’ve seen here, I’d prefer that to the eternal pissing contests that Japan, the Koreas and China all seem bent on having with each other.

I won’t go so far to call it a powder keg, but imagine a full-blown grab for resources and territorial control between China, Russia, the E.U., the Middle East and the U.S? (I say that assuming we’ve kept allegiances with the rest of the Americas, should there be an uprising, they might be too busy or otherwise inclined to give support.)

The general attitude from the Chinese I’ve spoken to is that the country is too big and too unwieldy to be completely or even marginally more democratic. Rich politicians would just buy votes. Like, even more directly than in the U.S. It’s part of the reason that the U.S. is usually deadlocked in indecision and disagreement; we like to think of ourselves as having a representative government. We don’t, of course, but we like to think we do.

gnr_chinese_democracy_by_Satansgoalie.jpg

And, too be fair, we’re not entrenched in even deeper golden conflict, as I’m almost positive we would’ve been if there had been a different president the last two terms. But fuck-all if I’d say we’re on the right path.

Anyway, back to shit here in China. Foreigners seem to be of two camps; apologists and haters. Apologists are trying to see the good in a sure-as-shit shit-show of a situation, socially, politically, and morally. And in their defense, it’s understandable that they’d want to give the Chinese a break; this country has been pretty fucked for the past, well, since the fall of the last dynasty, really.

So, for four or five solid generations, they’ve been shit on by the rest of the world; the British (those Limey fuckers!), the Japanese (vicious dogs!), the US and Russia (keep it to yourself, homos!) And then Mao. Fucking Mao.

mao-leather.jpg

I might have to check my numbers, but I’m pretty sure Mao did more to destroy this country, it’s people, it’s history, or it’s culture than any foreign power.

And yet here we are, just a fifth of the way through the century. And this country is kicking serious economic, some would say political and military ass. Now, is it unfair they’re doing it by devaluing their currency, working their people to death in an unhealthy and unsustainable manufacturing industry, essentially becoming a polluted machine-country of sick and unhappy automatons? Willing, working, shopping slaves?

Wait, didn’t Chomsky say something like that about the U.S.?

Apologists would say that people are trying here; there are protests everyday. People do want change. But those people are silenced. And even though it usually isn’t by force, they’re being silenced in the U.S as well. Only in some ways apathy is much more deadly.

I admit, I’m a hater, but not because I think China shouldn’t be where they are, (they’ve earned it, if you want to put it in a completely fucked up, Darwinian perspective). What I hate is that the game that the world is playing is fundamentally flawed. And it’s fucking everything up. For everyone.

Ethnocentrism in China Pt. 1

It happens both ways, believe me.

So China, being the most populous country, is also weirdly one of the most diverse-yet-homogenic. It has over 55 ‘minority ethnic groups’, Han making up the majority of the population (about 91.59%). Given that each have their own distinct culture, language (more or less) and dress, you think they’d have an open mind about foreigners.

Not really.

Now granted, I don’t support or agree with everything that this article says, but this one passage sticks out in particular:

…native Chinese, as opposed to Americans, are more sensitive to the context in which an object is embedded, and so focus greater attention on that object when it’s in an inconsistent context, says Park. Most recently, a study by Park’s group, in press in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience demonstrated that Westerners process human faces more actively than East Asians, consistent with the Western focus on individuality.

– Your Brain on Culture, Beth Azar

Okay,so No. 1: "focus greater attention on that object when it’s in an inconsistent context"… yes Virginia, I am that object. Depending on where you are in China, foreigners are celebrated, despised, ignored, cheated… sometimes, actually, USUALLY all of the above. Add that to the fact that I’m darker and hairier (and fatter, don’t worry, I’ll go into that in a later post) than the ones they see in movies, and I’m treated like the abominable snow-monkey.

No. 2: ‘process human faces more actively than East Asians, consistent with the Western focus on individuality.‘ The sublimation of individual identity is feels perhaps more pronounced than when I was in Korea or Japan, or Thailand, Cambodia, Laos or the Philippines, for that matter. Here, there’s an importance given to your 关系, the relationships and connections you have. It exists in other cultures, and I miss the one I had back in Chicago, but here identity is derived more from who your mother, father, tailor, butcher, sister, teacher etc. is than in the states.

I mean, I haven’t seen it directly… more sensed it. Also, everyone speaks Chinese all the time…

More about the foreigner side of it later…

Zhenyuan

Spent the weekend in 镇远, what a co-worker called the Venice of China. I mean, it has gondolas, and a river, and bridges… but, there were no Italians. Although, that would’ve been cool.

I will say this; it was really pretty at night. And the people smiled at me, more than any place I’ve been in China so far.

The pictures don’t do it justice… but, you know, they give you an idea.

What I really enjoyed was meeting, hands down, the coolest Chinese person I’ve met so far; a 24-year old hostel proprieter who had traveled and played decent guitar, and had a similar attitude about life:

That it’s best experienced raw.

I never would’ve gone there if it weren’t for a Ukranian actress who used to work in Chinese TV and films, now teaching English. By chance, she celebrated her birthday in Kaili, and invited me out to see her place in Zhenyuan.

 

And I’m glad I did. Her place, much nicer than mine, ended up being in a neat little corner of China. The three of us ended up having a ridiculous night drinking at his hostel and talking about the finer points of international travel and misadventures.

My last day there, we had delicious 鸳鸯锅 (yuānyangguō) or “Affectionate Couple Pot” (my translation; they’re not banging… at least I didn’t see them bang). Even though it looks like “Yinyang” symbol, the 汉字 for yin yang (阴阳, Traditional: 陰陽) is much different.