Thursday, December 14, 2006

You want me to do what with the bean curd?

I know this blog has been a bit light on text lately. The Christmas season here is extremely busy, and I my family will be coming to visit me tomorrow. I promise after the holidays I will have many-a-stories to tell.

Perhaps you're not complaining, but I've tried to make up with it with pictures lately. As such, I promise today, I will not disappoint. I must warn you, the material which follows could be taken as offensive. So if you are offended by certain strong words, I would like to apologize, suggest you don't scroll downwards, and urge you to loosen up.

For the rest of you, I will continue. I was talking with the head of the school here about all the funny English signs I've seen here. While I thought I had a few good ones, he showed me that after 8 years here, he had found the absolute greatest mistranslation of English. It turns out that the word for 'dry' or 'dried' (干) can also be slang for 'sexual intercourse'. It turns out, one particular restaurant owner translated the word for 'dried tofu' in the most unfortunate way possible.

What followed was this picture that he took of the menu:


I'm sure whatever foreigners saw this were laughing too hard and enjoying it too much to correct the restaurant's owner. They would feel terrible robbing hundreds of more tourists from seeing this gem.

Friday, December 08, 2006

At Least We Didn't Eat the Wool...

Last friday I accepted an invitation to join some students going out to eat lamb hot pot. For those of you who may unfamiliar with hot pot, it's a popular way of eating in China where there is a small stove with a pot of hot soup on it in the middle of every table. You order several pieces of raw meat or raw vegetables, and you put each piece into the broth to cook it. When it's ready, you reach into the soup with your chopsticks to grab your piece of cooked food.

Now, I have become accustomed to many of the odd things people eat here in China, and I've actually come to like a lot of them. But I completely forgot that when my students asked me to eat lamb, they meant eat the whole lamb. Usually, when people eat animals here, they eat every single part. In the true Native American style of "Waste Not, Want Not", any part of the lamb that can't be sheared off goes into the pot.

I want to take a brief tangent to say that I was never the least bit concerned about environmental issues until I first visited China last year. However, after only 8 days in Beijing, I had become (or at least started on my way to becoming) an environmentalist. After 15 minutes out of the train station, I had a headache. You could barely see 100 yards in front of you due to the smog. The streets were covered in garbage. It was kind of liked a look into the future: "This is what the world will be like if you ignore environmental issues". I still tell people in America that if you're not an environmentalist, take a visit to China. I guarrentee you'll change your mind about a few things.

Here's where a bit of inner conflict comes in. As a newly-found enviromentalist, I understand the wastefulness of eating meat and how it affects world hunger, so I must applaud the wastelessness of the Chinese people. However, as a cozy, pampered American, even after eating lamb skin, liver, intenstines, marrow, brain, stomach, and other unmentionables many times, I still severly dislike consuming them.

So as I was saying, all of this slipped my mind until when we sat down at the table and the waitress brought us our first three dishes to put in the hot pot: a plate of blood, a plate of tripe (stomach), and a plate of liver. Now, I detest tripe and liver, but blood is the one thing I absolutely refuse to eat. (It's not a big bowl of liquid blood. The blood that they eat here has coagulated/congeled into a semi-solid resembling opaque maroon jello). The Big Guy upstairs (and I don't mean Joe Darling) must have been listening to me yelling, because somehow there wasn't room on the table for the blood. Our waitress set the blood down for a minute on the table next to us, but everyone immediately forgot about it and never put it in the pot!

There's a couple more things you should know about eating in China. Everything is eaten family style (no one has their own food, it's all communal). Also, in order to show respect, before you take any food for yourself, you should always serve others (usually elders or respected people like teachers). So this means that because I'm their teacher, every time a student reaches for more food, they find the biggest and best piece of stomach and put it on my plate. I smile and say thank you.

Eating stomach is nearly impossible. I have a jaw problem and I clench my teeth at night, so my teeth have been worn quite dull. Stomach and intestines are the chewiest parts of the animal. Also, keep in mind there are no knives at the Chinese table. (Confucious does not approve.) So this means that I have to throw the huge wad of unmasticatable organs into my mouth, bounce it around my teeth for a while, then assisted with a big gulp of tea, swallow the chunk whole. It felt like after I swallowed the 4th or 5th piece of unchewed food, my stomach began to notice that I had neglected the usual practice of chewing and became angry at me. "Why won't you chew your food? We had a deal. You chew, I digest!" It was only after I had so angered my stomach that I began hiding the occassional chunk of stomach under the rice in my bowl when no one was looking.

Finally, the next course came which contained some real meat. It was mostly skin, but occasionally you would find a big chunk of fatty meat attached to the bone. It wasn't great, but not worthy of hiding under my rice. Luckily, this course also came with lots of pickled vegetables, so I slowly ate them as to not arouse suspicion that I thought the meal was terrible.

I returned home still hungry, and with my stomach still cursing at me a bit about the indigestible materials I sent it. I filled up on some fruit and felt fine later. In all, I still had a great time, and it taught me more lessons on how to 'grin and bear' things.

The Beautiful Jew

Is this becoming a picture-only blog? I certainly hope not. I've just been busy lately. But not too busy to pick up some more gems. Take a look.

Let's see now, "BNA YICON SLAKE PUKE". I think my favorite thing about this shirt is that the only world that means anything is "Puke".

This hotel is right next to the school, but I think the real beautiful jew lives a few houses down from this hotel. (Although it might be obvious to some, people have asked what it was supposed to say. It's supposed to say "View".)

Sidewalk Dentist Photo

Previously I wrote about the sidewalk dentist and promised a picture. I took a picture today of one of the most upscale one in town. This one actually has a door, and looks somewhat clean. Keep in mind, I'm standing in the street when I took this picture.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Purificatory Soft Cake Unique Technical

More posts coming soon. I've been quite busy. Until then, enjoy this bit of delightful wording. I bought these cakes only for the packaging. They were absolutely terrible to eat.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Unintended Treasures Inside the Cave

Last week, some friends and I went to a nearby cave. It was beautiful, but also ripe with Chinglish. Enjoy!

I'm guessing that this one means "Don't Touch", but who knows...


This was on a garbage can. I'm trying to remember if I've ever heard a trashcan referred to as a dustbin before. It sounds vaguely familiar, but I still love the capitalization of DUStbin.


No walking, perhaps? It almost looks like a guy skateboarding.


Maybe this one isn't that funny, but "Down Steps" just caught me as odd.


Okay, so my photography skills are pretty bad inside a cave. But I did get the best part. Not only does "Don't Turn Over" not make sense, but the person printing the sign accidentally read it as "Don't tumover". Non-English speaking sign makers are the creators of some of the best Chinglish.


I think this one takes the cake. At least the others made sense. If I knew how to stop walting, believe me, I would.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Lift Your Skinny Heads Like Antennas To Heaven

This town really is beautiful. Let me rephrase that. This town was probably beautiful ten or twenty years ago, but like many cities in China, rapid development has led to loud, dirty, and overcrowded streets, polluted air, and the byproducts of unrestrained capitalism (the desperately poor hanging onto the heels of the desperately wealthy). Don't get me wrong, I believe the streets here are beautiful, but in an 'alive and intriguing' way, not in a 'majestic' way. But as you walk down the streets day after day, it's easy to let these things get you down.

At the same time, the natural beauty of this place creeps behind every building in the sky. The town is covered in some of the most beautiful mountains you've ever seen. Just above the line of the hotels and businesses, you can see mountains in every direction. If the weight of the world as you look ahead at 0° is getting you down, all you have to do is tilt your head up 30° to see the real beauty of this place.

A teacher friend and I were talking about this a few weeks ago. He said he gets so bogged down in the day-to-day things, he forgets about the beauty that surrounds him. "I always forget that all I have to do is look up", he said.

I know it's easy to get lost in the mindless routine of everyday life, the depressing job, disappointing relationships, and the ugliness of a fallen world. But please, never forget to look up.

Honk, honk, gas. Brake, gas, honk.

The public transportation here is a far cry from the gloriously convenient, fast, and inexpensive public transit I enjoyed in Hong Kong. There's no subway, and no public busses. There really are only private busses, taxis, and motorcycle taxis. (I guess now that I think of it, if they're private it's not really public transportation.)

Now, as I wrote before, the uncivilized nature of the roads here are more of an amusement and adventure than a nuisance to me. But there's one part of traffic here that I somehow inexplicably forgot to include. Horns. Those damned horns. They are incessant, violent, and excruciatingly loud.

I live three blocks away from the main road where people use their horns, but every morning starting around 5:00 am, I can hear the horns echo down the streets, bounce of the mountain in which my bedroom window is facing, and enter my room. The pitch these horns are calibrated at are as such that for the first two weeks, every time a bus honked it's horn, I thought my phone was ringing in the other room. It's that loud.

If you are ever walking next to the front of a bus when it honks it's horn, you will know how painful sound can be. It's not just painful in your ears or your head, you actually feel it all over your body. After the encounter, it takes a good minute for my heart to return to it's normal pace and feeling to return to my fingertips.

Although I have no proof other than empirical evidence, I believe the number one selling point of horns for vehicles in this country is volume. The louder, the better. In my mind, I picture hundreds of scientists in a lab, pondering and conducting experiments trying to find the most efficient way to propel massive amounts of air through a narrow passage in order to create the greatest vibration of air molecules. These men simply have no respect for the fragility of the human ear drum.

So besides the amplitude of the horn and frequency with which they are used, my other compliant lies in the unnecessary usage of the horn. People here need no excuse to use their horn. I'm actually interested to test drive a motorcycle here, because I don't think the driver has control over the horn. I could be wrong, but my hypothesis is that any time the vehicle accelerates, brakes, or turns the wheel slightly, the horn fires automatically.

For example, last week I was riding my bike down a trail in the middle of the rice fields. We were in the middle of nowhere, and there wasn't a single person in sight. A man on a motorcycle came the opposite direction, and I watched him coming for about thirty seconds. About one second after he roared past me with his loud engine, he honked his horn! There's no way I could have missed him. The only thing I could guess his horn honking meant was "Just in case you didn't see me there, you should watch out, because I just passed you!"

Alas, I have now become hypocritical as I have just purchased a bell for my bike this week. It just wasn't safe on the roads without it. I do try to use it sparingly, but every time I do, I feel like I'm just adding to the clatter that wakes me up reaching incorrectly for the phone every morning.

On Measures and Measurements

There's a verse from a quite excellent book that reads, "...And with the measure use, it will be measured to you." While I still believe this is true, I can't help but wonder if my experiences here in China really do reflect this passage. Am I really using that small of a measure?

Like most developing countries, everything you buy here must be bargained for. Besides large department stores, nothing has price tags on it. If there's no price tag, the price is negotiable.

Let me break it down for you a little bit. There are many different levels of pricing here, it all depends on who you are. Going from smallest to largest, there's the local friend or family price, the local price, the Chinese tourist price, the foreigner friend price, the foreigner who can speak fluent Chinese price, the foreigner price, and lastly the clueless rich foreigner price.

I can just imagine Americans, with their silly ideas of 'equality', up in arms about how rampant discrimination is here. It's actually an integral part of every day life here. I guess to be fair, it's not really racial, as someone from 2 towns down the road will still pay twice as much as a local person.

To give you an idea of the range that the price can swing, a nice souvenir could go for $1 to a local Chinese friend or it could go for $20 to the clueless, rich foreigner. The widest swing is in souvenirs, but other consumables vary quite a bit as well. For example, I have not noticed it here in the city I'm in now, but in Beijing I noticed that restaurants typically have two menus. One in Chinese, at Chinese prices, and one in English at two to ten times the amount. (It's actually exciting now that I can read Chinese, I'm still waiting for the opportunity to call someone out on it when I encounter it.)

The worst abuses are in the markets. Because everything is sold by the pound, if perchance they agree to an acceptable price, there's no way of knowing that they are using their hand-held scales fairly. Most Chinese people tell me not to bother bargaining in the market. Usually, if they play nice and bring their price down 25%, they'll just give you 25% less food.

The thing is, I'm not necessarily interested in getting the absolute lowest price out of them. I'm not interested or willing to stand there and haggle for an extra $0.15. I just don't want to be taken complete advantage of, or be made the fool. To be honest, I really do want to help these people out. I don't mind paying extra just so I know these poor farmers' children get to eat today. But I do not want to give a free hand-out to a dishonest person who tries to take advantage of me just to make a profit. When I know what the price is supposed to be and they vehemently deny it and charge me triple the amount, or when I ask for a pound and they measure out 10 ounces for me, I get annoyed. It wouldn't be so bad once in a while, but the endlessness of it all wears on me a bit.

The majority of the time I find it easier to pretend I live in a utopian society where everyone is honest and caring of others, and I do not blink at the price they give me. I just keep thinking about that verse, reminding myself that the measures that He was speaking about aren't weighed in pounds or ounces.

One in a Million

There's a saying here that goes, "When you're one in a million, there's 1,300 other people in the country just like you". It really puts things in perspective, doesn't it? (Both the population problem of this country and the value placed on an individual's life here.)

But what if you're not one in a million? I think most people feel special if they're one in
a hundred (with 13,000,000 people just like you), or one in ten (with 130,000,000 people just like you). Would you still feel special then?

Orange Picking

Yesterday, we took the beginner class to the countryside to go tangerine picking. This wasn't really the classic American 'U-Pick' that my mom put my siblings and I to slave labor for when I was little. A friend of the school had an tangerine farm, but couldn't afford the labor to pick them before they rotted. So we figured this could be a fun service project for the students and staff.

As I side note, I would like to take the opportunity to express my fondness of the fruit here. It's really amazing. This place is like a citrus wonderland. The tangerines are the freshest, tastiest, most easy to peel oranges I've ever had. (Not to mention, they're only $0.15 a pound! When I buy fruit here, I've found I need to buy at least two pounds at a time because I'll usually finish one pound the first day.) I understand why they're referred to as Mandarin oranges now. My other new friend is the Kumquat, which is like an orange the size of a huge grape. The peel is quite thin, so to eat them you just pop the whole thing in your mouth. The peel is strong tasting, sweet, and sour, and the inside tastes like an orange. Afterwards, your mouth feels clean and incredibly fresh due to the intenseness of the peel.

The village was about an hour's bike ride away, so headed off first to rent some bikes. As we finally hopped on our bikes, it started raining. Undaunted, we put on some cheap poncho's (they were pretty much just a trash bag with rubber bands on the sleeves), and headed off.

Five minutes into the soggy journey, I was pretty cold, wet and miserable. Well, miserable feeling, but still having a great time. After a half hour into the ride, when it was raining so hard we could barely see, we pulled over to some shelter. When the rain let up a little, I expected the students to offer to turn back, but they hopped back on their bikes and pressed on.

When we got to the village, we met the family we were to be helping, and one of the girls took us out to the grove. As we walked through the village, the girl pointed out to us that about half of the buildings were over 250 years old! When we got to the trees we would pick, we were all given scissors to cut the stems and a bag to put the fruit in.

It was still raining when we began, so it wasn't exactly pleasant standing in three inches of mud cutting cold, wet oranges. Cutting each one disturbed the entire trees' branches, which poured even more water onto us. After only about twenty minutes, I had filled four bags and I was told that we were leaving. When we got back to the village, amidst the confusion of everyone speaking Chinese, I was finally informed that you can't pick oranges in the rain because they'll all rot quickly if they're not stored dry. So it turned out that they couldn't keep any of the oranges we picked, but they didn't want to tell us we couldn't help after coming all that way. We then just paid for all the oranges we picked, and had to carry them home on our bikes. This meant that each of us had to carry about 5-10 pounds of oranges for an hour on our bikes!

The whole thing felt a bit anti-climatic to me to be honest. I felt bad that we went all that ways and couldn't really help. The whole situation was masked behind the wall of being spoken in Chinese, but it seemed like when we got there we found out that we weren't necessarily doing them a favor by picking the oranges, but it was just a fun thing to do. Although it was fun getting to pick the oranges, I was kind of let down that we weren't really helping anyone out.

We then somehow strapped over 50 pounds of oranges to about 10 bikes, and made our way home. The rain had finally stopped, but I was still completely soaked. The students took a lot of the oranges home, but as I got into a warm shower back at the school, I wondered what in the world we were going to do with 30 pounds of oranges.

Poor, Little, Beatiful Moths

For the most part, I leave the screened window to my room open at all times. I've never really understood how even if the window is sealed completely, bugs much larger than the little holes in the screen manage to squeeze their way into my room and dance around the ceiling light. Perhaps there's a few holes that have been ripped, or maybe they squeeze their way through cracks in the openings of the sides of the window. Nevertheless, these bugs are small, so I'm not extraordinarily surprised when they weasel their way in.

What does baffle me is that lately, enormous moths have made their way into my room while I'm sleeping. They'll actually wake me up due to their incessant beating of their wings against the walls of my room. (I don't know how they can be so loud!) They really are quite large, about four inches in wingspan.

So three times since I've been here, I've had to wake up to try to get rid of the moth somehow. I'll turn on the light, and see the most beautiful, colorful moth hopelessly lost in my room. I'll open the window and try to shoo them out. But for some reason, they absolutely will not go. I stumble around my room with newspaper, batting around trying to get it to be free, but after five or six minutes, I give up. I'll try go back to sleep, but it will keep slapping it's wings against the wall, keeping me up.

So I have to get up once more, and make a difficult decision. Do I try for another 10 minutes to get the moth out the window, or do I have to kill it? As it's come down to it, I've had to kill the moth two times. It's actually pretty sad. It's not like the gratitude you get from killing a parricidic mosquito or bothersome, ugly fly. It's the guilt of destroying something beautiful and harmless, like smashing a butterfly or snapping a cute little bunny's neck (sorry, Joe).

Monday, October 30, 2006

Barbecued Sparrows

Last week, the other teachers and I ate dinner with the some esteemed guests. It was basically kind of a wine and dine to keep this particular party happy. We wanted to make sure we impressed them, so we gave them free reign of the menu. They ordered some fresh yogurt to drink, which was quite a treat as fresh milk is extremely hard to find here and quite expensive. (I want to point out here an interesting note that 'yogurt' in Chinese is '酸奶' which literally means 'sour milk'. I actually told my students why it's important to always say 'yogurt' and not 'sour milk' when asking for it in English.) They then ordered some great food, including fresh cuttlefish, spicy river snails, chicken feet, and my new personal favorite: barbecued sparrows.

The best thing about them, (besides the taste, and the fact that they were
barbecued sparrows), was that they were actually served to us in a birdcage, each one perched symmetrically on their perches. As I expected, no one in our party made a sudden lunge for them when they were placed on the table. But they were just too interesting to me not to dig in.

I put one on my plate, kind of looked at it, then asked our guests "这个怎么吃?" ("How do you eat this?") They explained to me you can just eat the entire bird whole. The bones were small and soft from being cooked, so you can just throw the whole thing down your mouth, head and all.


So I gave it a shot, and cracked right through the bones to the little meat that was there. To those of you 'never try things, knock it before you tried its', it wasn't just not bad, it was definitely the highlight of the meal! It was cooked with this really sweet and tasty barbeque sauce. I ended up finishing two of them, but on the second one I just couldn't bring myself to eat the poor little guy's skull. I just left his long neck and beaked face on my plate smiling at me.

I actually have pictures this time, check it out:



This is how they came presented to us.


We took them out of the cage and onto a plate for easy access.

Banned

I just thought it might be interesting to you to know that my blog has now been blocked in China. When I started this blog, I went to blogger.com just because I had blogged there before, but I was pretty sure that this site was blocked. To my surprise, I could access everything in all it's uncensored glory.

However, this week all of a sudden, I went to look at my blog and found out it had been blocked by the government here. Just to make sure it wasn't anything I said, I checked a friend's blog here at blogspot. It was blocked too, and I'm pretty sure he's never mentioned China on his site. I could log into my account and make new posts at www.blogger.com, but I could not view it at www.simonlesser.blogspot.com.

After looking through the message boards on the site, I've discovered that Blogspot actually was, and always has been blocked here. Google just recently changed the IP address of the the site a couple of weeks before I got here, which unblocked the site. It just took the government a couple months to catch up and block it at the new IP address. Nothing to fear though, I've already found a work-around that I can view my blog. (God bless hackers.)

But I do find this a bit creepy. As I am currently reading a book about the history of genocide, I have been thinking a lot lately about the power of information as a prevention against evil and salvation from poverty. But as I took a break from reading my book tonight to come down here and write a new post, I am reminded of just how real and alive these forces still are today.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Adventures in Chinglish: Volume I

Cleverly marketed cultural misunderstandings are really great. Like the storefront in Japan a friend of mine told me about that had Santa Claus hanging on the cross during Christmas season. While these misunderstandings really are a delight to witness, I fear they are becoming less and less common as they once were, due to the saturation of Western culture throughout the world. However, what is still rampant, and almost as funny, is the gratuitously inaccurate use of the English language*.

One of my favorite hobbies here is sign hunting. I'll just take a walk around the city and try to find the most hilarious misspelling or nonsensical English phrase on signs, products, or advertisements I can find. I've included some examples of the ones that came to my mind at the moment or I had pictures of, but the best ones are yet to come.

A sign at one particularly delectible ice cream shop reads, "Fresh Sheam" and "Home Make Ice Cream". Mmm...just thinking about it makes me want two extra large scoops of some fresh, homemake sheam. Maybe someone wanted to say "Shaving Cream", but said it too fast.

I bought a notebook yesterday that was too good to pass up. Each had a motivational, philosophical phrase in English on the front. I purchased my favorite, which reads:

"To everyone, he has an option in the direction of struggle."

This almost sounds deep. I actually double-checked it on Google just to make sure that this isn't a famous quote that I'm supposed to know.

I'll be the first to admit that my vocabulary is lacking, but I really was surprised to find out that 'Leisureliness' is a word.


I found this book in a bookstore here and grabbed a quick shot of it before the security guard gave me another nasty look. (Sorry for the glare).


Did the publishers of this book really think no one would notice that this is not in fact a picture of Peter Pan, as the title would have you believe, but of Star Wars Episode I? I'm cursing myself for being too cheap to buy it.

This is a tourist map hanging in a travel agency in town:


Choosing my favorite here is tough. "Jade Bamboo Shoot World" is pretty great, and "Nine Horse in the house" reminds me of a board game like "Hungry, Hungry Hippos", but the mental picture that "Camel flow love in the river" creates is just too colorful to not be my favorite. I really must visit this place.

This really is just the tip of the iceberg. I'll be sure to put some of the really good ones up soon.


*I'm fully aware that this goes both ways, and as Americans we're certainly not one to talk. As we speak, some clueless American girl is getting what she believes is the Chinese character for "Love" tattooed on her arm, until the waiter at the Chinese restaurant informs her that it really says, "Mustache".

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The sidewalk doctor

After writing about the sidewalk destist here in China, I feel that it would be one-sided and overly positive of me for not mentioning the much less funny, and quite sad, sidewalk doctor.

Much like the sidewalk dentist, these are small little shops, maybe the size of a large dorm room, on the side of the road. In the front of the room, nearest the street, are about four chairs where the patients wait. In the back of the room, there is a curtain in front of the doctor's office, obstructing the view of people walking by. If you look carefully though, the wall can be seen above the curtain, showing that the 'office' is really only big enough for an examining table and a place for the doctor to stand. Sitting in the waiting 'room' are poor, sick farmers, who probably must forfeit a great deal of their wages to not only make it to town (which would be expensive enough for them), but also pay for this grossly inadequate health service.

Reflecting back on my post about the dentist, I can laugh and think about how absurd the whole situation is. Perhaps it's because of the lack of severity of getting your teeth cleaned compared to a urgent medical need or illness. When I walk by these shops around town, looking into the waiting room, I only wish the situation wasn't as incredibly sad as it is. I only wish I could laugh as I do when I pass the dentist.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Karaoke at KTV

Last night I was invited to go to karaoke with some of my students. We had just finished watching a movie about the first black college basketball team in the south, and the racial prejudices they had to endure. About an hour after I had explained to my Chinese students what the KKK was, we were in sitting in our own private karaoke room. I looked up at one of the massive speakers, which branded a logo that stated its brand name as KKKaraoke. I so dearly wished I had brought my camera.

There were about eight of us in the room filled with some (gasp) padded couches, a couple tv's, and some tables for drinks and snacks. It was probably the most posh room I've been in since coming here. Almost like a classy, mafia looking place from the 70's with a lot of red curtains and couches. You had to walk through a dark, narrow hallway past other sealed off karaoke rooms to get to your room, which added to the whole shady, retro-mafia vibe the place had going.

From when I first walked into the room until we all left for the night, I don't think I stopped smiling or laughing. I'm sure I can't do the music videos on the screen justice by trying to explain them, but there were some parts that were so funny I wanted to bust out laughing, but no one else in the room would get the joke. The music, styles, and production qualities of the videos were all stuck right around 1995. This along with the many misunderstandings of trying to immitate Western pop culture led to some of the cheesiest, most hilarious music and music videos. The best ones have the random English words thrown into the middle of them. Maybe if I can find a few of the funnier ones on the internet I'll put up a link.

But even with the absurdities of Chinese pop culture aside, it was really a great time with my friends here. Experiences like these make me look back at my life in Fort Wayne and wonder why I ever thought I might be content living such a mundane life working at Aon.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Welcome

For those of you just joining the story, I recommend starting at the bottom, and working your way up (chronologically).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

你不明白这说什么

Last night I ate at a 四川餐馆 (Sichuan Restaurant). (Sichuan is a region in China that is known for its extremely spicy food.) It was a bold move for me. It was the first time I went by myself into a restaurant that did not have an English menu or anyone who worked there that could understand English. I knew I was absolutely on my own. Maybe it was because it was a Sichuan restaurant it had different dishes than I had ever seen before, but I actually had a lot more trouble reading the menu than I anticipated. For most of the dishes, I could read maybe 1/2 of the characters, but that wasn't really enough to know what the dish was.

I ended up ordering 麻婆豆腐 (Ma Po Tofu). It was different than I had ever had before. It was extremely spicy, but not uncomfortable at all. I couldn't really define the feeling at all. It felt as if my mouth had fallen asleep. My tongue and lips were tingling like they had pins and needles. It actually felt quite pleasant, but incredibly spicy at the same time. It was a pretty crazy feeling.

I talked to my language teacher later that night. He said that the first word, 麻 ('Ma'), means 'numb'. There's a certain kind of spicy pepper that they use that achieves this feeling. It's absolutely bizarre, but the food was incredible.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

No fakes

I bought some new sandals today. They cost $1.30. It was worth it, because I'm absolutely positive they're real Pmua's.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Progress

It's a beautiful day in China. Today, Wikipedia is officially unblocked. There is hope. I believe in the power that information can have for the world.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

In Hong Kong, hot dogs were translated as 'Sausages'.

I tried dog today. It's not bad. My friend Greg knew that I had wanted to try it, so when we went to eat noodles tonight he suggested we eat some hot dog. I really like eating with Greg or other Chinese nationals. I'm always up for trying something new, but usually I never venture to do so by myself. Usually, I wait to try it when it is offered to me. After that, if I like it, (and often times I do), I'll be able to order it myself. But that first step is still difficult to make on my own.

Dog meat is pretty popular in this part of China. People here say that really good friends will get together and eat dog meat together as an act of friendship. You can refer to a good friend as your 'dog meat friend', meaning that you eat dog together often. I guess it's some sort bonding experience.

I had walked by the restaurant that sells dog meat here many times. I always recognized the sign that said 狗肉 (dog meat). So when Greg took me there, I was kind of excited. We got our steaming pile of noodles with Lassie chunks scattered around the plate. All the meat is left on the bone, and dog meat is extremely chewy. This, along with the fact that my front 6 teeth don't line up with each other makes it difficult to eat. Nevertheless, I've figured out a way to eat it. Just throw the whole chunk in your mouth, separate the meat from the bone in your mouth, then spit the bones onto the table or under the floor. It kind of reminds me of the movies about the middle ages when you see some fat king rip some flesh off the bone and then throw it onto the nasty pile of chicken skeletons on the floor.

Anyway, I've eaten some pretty sick stuff since being here, but I've never really felt queasy while eating it. I've found the taste or texture to be appalling, but I never actually felt squeamish. But for some reason, when I was eating the dog meat, I felt a bit of nagging going on in my stomach. I think for some reason, I had an uneasy feeling about taking a bite of Old Yeller. As I was eating this, I was asking myself why this was. Why do I feel a bit worse about eating dog than pig? There really shouldn't be any good reason. Aren't pigs a lot dirtier than dogs anyway? I can't explain it, but I just didn't feel right chewing on lil' Snoopy.

In all, dog meat is pretty good. Chewy, but not bad. That said, I'll still probably order pork next time.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Just a checkup

I have got to take a picture of it sometime, but there is an amazing phenomenon here: The sidewalk dentist. I'm not sure I can describe it much better than that. It's a shop, just like any other. No door, just an open gate. About 5 feet in the gate is a dentist's chair, with a dentist working on a patient's mouth. That's right, just 5 feet away from the street, with no door, is a man extracting teeth from a patient. I could be walking by, maybe eating some ice cream, and take a stop right outside the door and check out what's going on. Maybe take a few feet forward and get a front row view of a root canal.

This leaves me with with some curious questions. How much does it cost? Do you need a license to do this? Do the dentists have licenses? How clean' is it? Do you need an appointment, or do you just jump into the chair? Many other questions scream for their hilarious answer, but I think you get the picture.

I feel like the answer to these questions are all obvious, but I'm still dying to confirm them. If I were really an adventurous person, I'd seek an answer to these questions by getting my teeth cleaned. C'mon! Joe would do it. What happened Simon, you've changed. You used to be cool.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Comfort

One of the teachers here made a comment last week that I never really thought of. He said that nothing here is designed for comfort. I never really realized it, but he's totally right.

My 'couch' is wood, with a half-centimeter thick pillow that sits on top of it. At many restaurants, they sit on stools that are 6 inches from the ground and don't fit half their ass. The beds are as hard as the floors. The toilets are a hole in the ground that you must squat over. No furniture is ever padded.

Tonight I saw the first couch with padding in it. All other ones are just wood. People here must have asses of steel. My butt hurts by the end of the day from sitting on wood.

He said he doesn't think the word comfort doesn't even come to mind to most Chinese people. This is the way it's always been. Comfort isn't a luxury they're familiar with how to use. Only recently the very rich are starting to think about how it might be nice to be comfortable once in a while. Maybe to sit down on the toilet, or relax on a couch that actually feels good to sit on.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A bike ride to remember

Tonight, my language teacher, Geoff and I hung out almost all night. We went biking at 6:00 at night, and we just got home at 10:30. He took me around the countryside. It was beautiful as always. He took me to one of the other rivers nearby. It was about an hour's bike ride into the country.

There's a place where you can cross the river on a very narrow bridge. The bridge is made of wood, and only about 3 or 4 feet wide with no sides or guard rails. We biked to the middle of the bridge and just stared into the mountains. Directly in front of us was the beautiful, calm river, above it the rice fields and farm houses, the village could be seen just above this, with the mountains towering over everything. The sun was setting and passing right behind the mountains as we looked out. It was like a postcard, but better.

On the shore, I heard some people jumping into the river to have a swim. It looked so fun. Next to them swimmers were a nearby 'restaurant'. It was just a little tent that was the kitchen, with three tables that were on top of rafts, floating on the edge of the river. By the time we were finished admiring the view, it was already dark, and we had an hour's bike ride home. Geoff suggested that we should eat at the restaurant, and I was delighted to do so.

I was really excited first of all for being where we were, with the amazing view. Secondly, because he took me to a place I would not normally get to go to. I don't think they even had a menu there. He just asked them what their best dishes are. So many times in China, I see what looks like a really cool place, but I know I can't really eat there because I can't speak Chinese or read the menu. Lastly, I was excited because it was an adventure. It was dark, and we were in the middle of nowhere, eating on a raft on river. I knew that meant that we had to bike back home in the pitch black. This was the kind of adventure I had been craving when I was sitting at my desk at Aon. Wow, I can't even remember how bored I was. I feel so far removed from that part of my life already.

So Geoff talked with the one worker there. He asked me if I wanted to try this kind of river fish. I said sure! He said it's kind of like an eel. I said sure. He walked over to a big bucket of what looked like a cross between leeches, eels, and snakes to show me. I said sure. The leelkes as I'll call them, were actually quite delicious. They had one bone right in the middle of it, which reminded me of duck tongue, but wasn't bad at all. It was spicy and very tasty. We ordered another green vegetable and the best egg and tomato dish I've ever had. It was just so good.

Our table was actually floating on a raft in the river. The mountains and river were all around us. We were sitting in the middle of the rice fields at some farmer's house/restaurant. Amazing.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A near-beautiful scene

I'm looking across the river now. The tide is very low, so the other side very near to me. It looks almost like a huge sandbar, because it normally should be covered in water. It's always been pretty low, but I don't remember being able to see this much land before. On the sandbar/shore, there are about 8 horses just roaming free, a few people on bikes, a group sitting on the ground while a dog sits nearby. A van sits in the middle of the land, bringing up all kinds of question on how it got there and it's purpose for being there. Scattered throughout the shore is thousands upon thousands of pieces of litter. All multicolored and spread evenly like sprinkles on a cupcake. It'd almost be beautiful if it weren't so depressing.

I see a glimmer of hope for a minute though. There's two old women with bags picking up the garbage. There is hope in the world. But then another thought hits me, which is probably correct. I can't really tell, but I'm guessing they are not doing an incredibly thorough job. They pick up the pieces of garbage that they can recycle and turn in for money, and leave the rest. There's a few women on our block that thoroughly inspect our garbage several times a day for this reason. They take what they want, and leave the rest.

They don't have a good spirit, or working for someone who does, or even working for the city that wants to clean up the river. They are just the amazing force that is the invisible hand. God Bless Capitalism.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

As long as a bus isn't spewing black smoke in your face, the air here is quite fresh. Although there is definitely a problem with smog, the air doesn't taste or smell like it. You're always reminded though when you look across the river and can barely see the mountains which are enveloped in white, cloudy chemicals.

I'm sitting outside a restaurant looking through the lights into the sillouette of the omnipresent mountains. I ordered some watermellon juice. It's amazingly fresh. I think they just ran a watermelon in a blender a couple of minutes ago and poured it into a glass. I forgot to say 我不要冰块 (I don't want ice cubes), so I'm kind of scared to drink much, but it's just so good.

I ordered ginger duck that has just as much ginger as duck. It came with bamboo shoots, but it's dark, and I can't tell what's ginger and what's bamboo until I put it in my mouth. I think I must have eaten 1/4 cup of ginger.

Fishing the inhumane way

I'm sitting down here by the river as I write this. There's these two old Chinese men here that stand and hold these poles horizontally. They're definitely from the village, and look almost like they're out of a really old kung fu movie. On each side of the pole is pelican perching. They're incredibly tame, and wouldn't dream of leaving it's master. It's pretty beautiful. They charge 25 cents to hold the bar and take a picture with them.

When they're not selling photo opportunities, they use the pelicans to fish. They tie a rope around it's throat so that they cannot swallow anything. Then they send the birds out to grab a fish. The birds return with a fish in their pouch, and the men reach down their beak and steal the fish from them. It's pretty exploitive and inhumane, but a creative idea I have to admit.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Human Nature

I was walking to dinner tonight when I saw a man running towards me. A couple were chasing after him. The man finally caught up to him and pushed him into a sign, a table, and some chairs. They all went flying as he fell over each one after another. The man fell to the ground, but got back up. The man chasing him finally got a hold of him and tried to wrestle him to the ground using the absolute worst moves I've ever seen. Has this man ever seen a tackle before in his life? I wanted to yell, 'Go for his legs!' Finally another man ran up and helped. They worked him to the ground in a half-nelson. They then removed the stolen purse from his possession.

But unfortunately, that wasn't all. Like all too many people, these men were sure that two wrongs definitely did make a right. They held him to the ground and a few people took punches at him. They yelled what I'm sure were horrible things at him. By now, a huge crowd of rubberneckers had joined me in my rubbernecking. They then proceeded to remove his belt. I had no idea what they were doing, but I thought it couldn't be good. Were they going to strip him nude for embarrassment? Would they beat him with his belt?

As I cringed at the thought of what they would do next, a man came from behind. He wound up, and gave him a swift kick to the back of the head. You could hear the knock of his boot against his hard skull, and see his neck bounce. This is when I started to get upset. I was more shocked and scared until this point (this all happened just a few feet from me by the way). But I just wanted to yell at them to leave him alone.

Violence is so hard for me to both understand and watch. They moved his arm behind his back, and twisted into the position in which if they moved it another few degrees, it would snap. It was too painful to watch. I had to leave.

The cops had been called a few minutes ago, and I wanted to stay until they got there so I could at least pretend in my mind that the man would not be tortured anymore. Of course the police would beat him much worse, but if I could see him removed from this crowd, it would calm me down a little. But I couldn't stand to watch anymore.

As I left, I saw the man's face. It was blank. He didn't say a word. He had nothing to say. His face did not look angry, or sad, or in pain. He had accepted what will happen to him. He made one bad decision, and now his whole world is ending. He was the product of an unfair, cruel world that our greed had created, and made a confused, but understandable action. As I walked away, I was able to make eye contact. I looked at him in a way that said "I'm so sorry". I hope he understood.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

我喜欢菜的很辣

I ate probably one of the most uncomfortable meals of my life tonight. I went to this stir-fry place just down the road from my place. There's a lady standing at a wok in the front of the restaurant, with a bunch of plates with different meats and vegetables. You walk up to the table, and take a very small dish, and put one piece of everything you want in the stir-fry and then hand your dish to the lady. It's kind of like Flattop Grill in the sense that they make you a custom-made stir-fry with the ingredients you want. It's kind of not like Flattop Grill in the sense that it's pretty filthy and just a hole in the wall. It's only about 60 cents for a great, quick meal, so I usually go there about three times a week.

So as I selected my items for my stir-fry, I put some chillis in my bowl like I usually do, and sat in the back of the restaurant where there was no breeze and no fan. (The weather here is still pretty hot and humid). They brought me my steaming hot bowl of rice and plate of fried vegetables. Most of the time, they make my food here pretty spicy, but it's always good. But today, when I looked at my plate of stir-fry, it was mostly chillies.

It was one of the most painful meals ever. Having just come from the wok, the food was so hot my mouth burned from temperature and from spice. I sweat from the heat. I sweat more from the food. No fan. I was eating stringy vegetables, so it was difficult not to get some sauce on my lips, chin, and mouth. My face was on fire. My nose was running. My eyes began to water. Tears, snot, sweat. I was a mess. No napkins, no water.

I got the waitresses attention. I spoke in the clearest Chinese ever: "请问小姐你们这里有没有开水?" ('Excuse me miss, do you have bottled water at this restaurant?'). I had asked this question millions of times and I've never really had any problem with someone understanding me, but she had no idea what I was saying. So I tried simplifying it: "我要一个瓶水"。(I want a bottle of water). No clue. "水" (water) I said. Nothing. Finally she said, "一杯子?“ ("A glass?") "我不要一杯我要一瓶” (No, not a glass, a bottle). Nothing. She finally picked up a dirty glass and filled it with water from a strange kettle on the floor.

There was no way I was going to drink that water. But I didn't want to embarass myself by talking for 3 minutes asking for a glass of water, and then leaving it full on the table. I wanted to dispose of the water somehow. So there I was in the back of the restaurant: Sweaty, red faced, leaking all kinds of bodily fluids, no napkins, no beverages, and a glass of water that I needed to dispose of without causing a scene or drinking it.

While no one was looking I would slowly pour some of the water onto the floor in the corner. I was righ there in the back of a dark restaurant. The place was convered in filth anyway. Who would notice? I kept doing this until I had a half of a glass and the floor was soaked. I thought, this is the best I can do. I made another attempt to force the food down my throat without touching my face, tongue, or throat. I paid the bill and left.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Amoebic dysentery

Last Thursday I woke up with horrible abdominal cramping. I knew that getting sick here was a when not an if. But I didn't expect to get something in my first two weeks here! I'll spare you the unpleasant details which I'm sure you can predict, but it lasted for much longer than the typical spell goes for. After a week of intestinal agony, I decided this might be something worse. I called my sister, and she assisted prescribing some drugs to take. As it turns out I had a few million amoebas hanging out in my intestines, maybe kicking back a few and enjoying the never-ending supply of free food that kept coming through.

One nice thing about developing countries without many health and safety rules is that prescription drugs are incredibly easy to get. Once I had found the names of the medications in Chinese characters, I just went across the street and showed the paper to the pharmacist. I paid her $1.30 for the medicine, and I was on my way.

It's sure nice having a loving sister as a doctor, because by the next morning I already felt much better. I felt like yelling at my intestines, taunting and laughing at my parasites about horrible death that they would soon experience. They had made me suffer horribly for a couple weeks, and the vengeful, violent part my mind was enjoying the retribution I paid to it when I took my pills.

I now feel much better, and am able to function and live normally again. I really do wonder what caused this though. The unfortunate thing I guess is that it really could be anything here. There isn't really anything I can eat that is what consider 'safe'. None of the restaurants are close to being clean. A lot of them don't wash their dishes. Some restaurants will put a tag (like a piece of tape) on each bowl to show that it has been washed. You're supposed to rip off the tag when you get it.

The food you buy at the market is no safer. You have to soak all produce in a water/bleach solution after washing it thoroughly before you can eat it. Even then, it's safest to peal it first. And you of course can't drink the water here. I could have even gotten sick if in the shower I swallowed a few drops of water that got into my mouth. It really could be anything, so if you think about it, it could be scary. So we just make sure we talk to the boss before every meal.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Just what I needed

This place has kind of been just a big chill pill for me. My stress levels has really gone done a ton. I called my brother, Josh today. He said could tell in my voice. I think I can tell too. This place has been really great for me. The pace of life here is pretty slow. Expectations are lower here, and workload is light.

Most people take a siesta after lunch here too, so a lot of businesses don't have hours from 11-2 or so. One of the teachers here actually visited a business here in one of the bigger cities. At 1:00, they turned most of the lights off and employees took a blanket and pillow out of their desk, and sprawled out onto the floor for corporate nap time. This really needs to happen in the states.

I've become much less time-conscience, and I have enough time to do anything I want or need to. I really have not incurred any stress to think of since coming here. I still keep myself pretty motivated here, studying Chinese, reading, writing, and playing music. But I've taken a much less hectic approach to these things. I'm really wondering what effect it will have on me when I come back. Will I return to my old ways, or is this a new Simon who is more patient and laid-back?

Friday, September 15, 2006

People in their right minds

I found out tonight that there aren't any left-handed people in China. It's a cultural no-no, and looked at as a disability. Left-handed children are repressed from expressing the freedom to use their more nimble hand. Mothers will actually slap their babies for grabbing their pencil or chopsticks with their left hands!

We had just purchased new desks for the classroom and were putting them together. I asked Nate if I should make any desks with the table part on the opposite side for lefties. He said not to worry about it because there were no left-handed people in this country. Unbelievable! 1.3 billion people, and not a single lefty.

He said that many of them are still left-handed, but just repress it most of the time. They would never write or do most things with their left hand. One of the Chinese nationals that works at the school here is left-handed. He writes with his right hand, but shoots basketball with this left.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dried, flattened rats are food

There's a parking lot by the school that cuts off about 5 minutes walking if I cut through it. During the day, it's just a parking lot. But at night, street vendors set up shop. Most of the parking lot is full of fold up chairs and tables, with a portable tent set up above it. There's only a narrow alley you can walk through the street vendors on either side.

They're all stif-frying with enormous flames. Smoke is everywhere. There's so much oil in the air, it stings your eyes and burns your lungs as you walk by. In front of the stir-fryers are all of their ingredients, which are basically at your feet as you stumble through them. On the table next to them is all of the vegetables and sauces. There's a cutting board up there where they chop vegetables or huge bloody chunks of meat.

In the front of the table is many meat items. There's mounds of pork of course, but next to the pork is a pile of intestines, dried, flattened rats (oh yes), ox tails, whole chickens and ducks, snails, and more.

On the ground by your feet is the good stuff: The live stuff. There's a big tub of enormous fish in shallow water. (The first day I was there, one flipped out of the water 10 feet away from me, and came lunging towards me. It landed about a foot behind me. It was almost as if it had seen me coming and was yelling, 'Pick Me!' Another tub was full of live crawfish. A bucket of live snakes, a chicken with a basket over it, a mesh bag of toads jumping around...so much more that I can't recall at the moment. It's really quite a sight. All of these items are ready for you to point at, and they get thrown in the wok.

I'm sure the time will come when all previously mentioned animals and animal parts will make it into the wok that will feed me. I can't wait.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Stay away from the pink lights

So tonight marks the first time I was offered a prostitute by a small chinese man in a nice brown coat. I was walking through one of the touristy streets here, not really that late at night. He had this creepy look in his eyes, as he walked up to me. "Ma-saj-jee?" he said. "No, thank you." He tapped me on the shoulder as I walked away. I turned back out of instinct, "Ma-saj-jee?" he said with the same disgusting look in his eyes. I looked down at his hands. They were making a gesture which consisted of an 'OK' symbol with his left hand, while he moved his index finger on his right hand back and forth through the loop he made with his left-hand thumb and finger. He looked up at me again, laughing, with this yellow-toothed grin as if to say, Heh, heh...c'mon...you know what I mean...heh heh." I was upset for turning back when he tapped me. I was so appalled, I kind of wanted to throw up.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A visit to the market

One thing I love about the food here is that everything is incredibly fresh. The meat at the market was just slaughtered that morning. (You should buy it in the morning so you can refrigerate it asap). Then you have to use it within two days, or freeze it! Nothing at the market has preservatives or additives in it. The farmers bring their produce in everyday. Everything is seasonal, so you can only get certain fruits and vegetables certain times of the year. They don't really ship things in here. Chances are, that the meat you buy in the market was alive that morning, and the produce was just picked yesterday. All the restaurants buy their food at the market that morning too.

Up until last year, there was not even a grocery store in town. That meant that anything you bought to eat had to be purchased at the market. Even still, the grocery store here is about the same size as neighborhood grocery store in a very small town in America. The grocery store really doesn't even have any packaged or pre-made meals like in the states, so even when you don't shop at the market, all your food is pretty fresh. I think America could learn a lot from how China eats.

So later today I went to the market with one of the other teachers. I was much less grossed out this time than in Hong Kong. Maybe I was just better prepared for it this time, and also because I knew I would have to buy all my food here. We walked into the meat part first. We walked by the bloody tables with stacks of meat dripping on them. The workers were chopping away at the hunks with their butcher's knives. Big chops, like they were swinging an axe. And when they hit the meat, it would make a thud. I thought that maybe there might be some meat debris flying out every time they chopped, much like wood chips at the swing of an axe. Out of about 30 tables, 28 were pork she said. There's only two beef tables, and a few cages full of chickens and rabbits, so this might give you a picture of what kind of meat they eat most here.

In the back corner of the market I could see 'doggy corner', where they burn the hair off of the dogs with a blowtorch. Seriously, a blowtorch with about a foot-long flame. On the other side of the market I could see the dogs that were ready to buy, hanging upside-down and inside-out, in halves on hooks.

She helped me learn how to look for the right chops of meat. Some with some fat, but not too much. You had to bring the meat home and wash it good, because it's just sitting on the bloody table all day. I wasn't ready for this yet. Maybe when I'm a bit more comfortable. I bought some vegetables, noodles, and rice though.

The food at the market was remarkably cheap. Usually most things were around 25 cents per pound. Later that day when we got a big bowl of noodles, it was 30 cents. My breakfast this morning was so many dumplings I could barely finish. They were 25 cents. So even though the market is so cheap, eating out at restaurants is extraordinarily cheap too and tastes a lot better than my cooking, so I tend to eat most of my meals out. I've still yet to spend more than $4 for a meal here. It was a pretty extravagant meal. Most restaurants here are just hole-in-the wall places. They're pretty much just three tables and a 'kitchen' in a dirty room on the side of the road. These places are usually under 60 cents for a pretty decent meals. The other kind of restaurants resemble more of the idea we think of as restaurants. They have a menu, waiters, and a kitchen in a separate room. Sometimes they even wash the bowls and plates! These places are pretty pricey though. Most meals cost around $2.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Street Life

This place reminds me a lot of the places we drove by on the train in Thailand, but never got to see firsthand. Ever since I saw those places, I wanted to jump out of the train and really explore them. The city is pretty poor, but not desperately poor. For China, and not being in the big city, this place isn't doing that bad.

The streets here are definitely interesting. There are motorcycles everywhere. Maybe even more so than in Thailand when I was there. I guess it's like that everywhere in Asia, but I had never seen it in China. Beijing was realy only busses, taxis, and bikes. I'd venture to say that there's more motorcylces than non-motor bikes, and definately more than cars. My guess would be that the make-up of the vehicles on the road are 40% motorcycles, 25% bikes, 15% buses, 10% trucks, and maybe 10% cars/taxis.

Like most developing countries, the traffic "laws" or more of traffic "suggestions". There's really no rules, which makes it interesting for crossing the road. I think some of the other teachers (especially the ones with kids) are having a difficult time adjusting to this. I kind of love it. It's just more exciting. I keep telling the other teachers they should abide by the strategy that all other people here take on the roads. If you start crossing the road, don't stop. Just keep walking at an even pace. No one ever expects someone to stop, so if you do, it throws the entire flow of traffic off. Just step right in front of that bus going 40 miles an hour. It'll stop. If you hesitate, or let it go ahead of you, I think you're more likely to cause an accident. I sometimes say that I've observed only one rule on the roads here. If a vehicle or person is at a particular place at a particular time, you cannot be in that exact place at that exact time. Anything goes other than that.

There's really no idea of what should and shouldn't happen on the streets and sidewalks either. There's always construction going on here, so if they need to build something, they do it in the middle of the street or sidewalk. For example, down the street the school is on, they're building a new hotel. When they built the front desk, chairs, signs, and other items that will be placed inside the building, they just build it in the middle of the street. There they were, with cars and motorcycles going by, sawing huge pieces of wood, varnishing others, nailing boards, etc.

Another hotel being built next to the school is in the process of demolishing the old building. They do everything by hand here without machines, so it's just a bunch of people with sledgehammers, banging the hell out of the brick walls a few stories up. The building is about 5 feet from the street, but they just let the bricks go falling down onto the road. There's no such thing as a 'hard hat area', so if you see construction happening you have to walk on the other side of the street. The dust it creates is pretty horrendous too.

Last night I saw people welding without goggles at night in the middle of the sidewalk. Turns out, this is actually a welding shop, and they do all their welding everyday on the sidewalk right in front of their store. It was possibly the brightest thing I've ever seen, but so beautiful.

On the next block, I saw a little girl, not all that little - maybe 6, walk out of a store she was in and into the middle of the busy sidewalk. She took her pants and underwear completely off, and peed. Then she began to redress as I stepped around the stream that was coming my way.

When it rains here, it's hard to go out because there's not much shelter besides inside buildings, and just about everyone walks or rides motorcycles here. Like a lot of sub-tropical places, the rain comes down hard, but for short intervals. The gutters here are placed very interestingly. After collecting the water in the gutter at the bottom of the roof, instead of the water running down a pipe that goes down the side of the house, the gutter is just open on the side of the top of the roof. So that there's a pipe shooting water out 60 feet above your head onto the street. It's like there's a firehose at the end of every rooftop here! Good place for a shower, I guess.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Dog Hair Alley

Today, on the way to one of the teacher's apartment, we took a back route through a lot of alleys and such. We walked through an alley on the side of market. There was a chair and a mirror where a barber was giving flattops for 35 cents. (I seems that if you are a Chinese man over 30, the only respectable haircut here is the flattop. It's hilarious.) We took a left at the end of this street, so we were now in the alley behind the market. This alley was extremely dirty, with all the windows were literally covered in cobwebs.

There was a small little ramp going down into a the building throught what looked like an open basement door or something. Nate explained that this was where they would bring the dogs into the market to be slaughtered. They would actually kill them back here in this alley, then burn off all the hair right on that ramp looking thing, and then bring them into the market to be chopped up.

The smell was absolutely atrocious. Let me put this in perspective. There are many colorful smells all over China, especially in the markets. Everywhere you go, there's usually some kind of smell, that you just have to pause, regain your composure, and think "Wow... I've never smelled that before." But those smells never bother the nationals. But back in this alley, locals would cover their noses with their shirts and shreik in agony as they ran by.

I had a friend in college that loved to walk into someone's dorm room, pluck a few 'lower hemisphere body hairs' and set them on fire, just to make that person's room smell terrible for a few hours (God bless you, Buck, wherever you are). But that was usually just 3 or 4 individual hairs. This was an entire dog (or dogs).

Oh yeah...by the way, they eat dog here.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Arrival

The journey started at the airport in Chicago. My previous flight to Hong Kong was a very pleasant experience. We flew out on New Years Day, so the plane was almost empty. Cat and I were able to spread out over 4 seats, and only had one 60 minute layover. So this time, I was really looking forward to flying again.

Unfortunately, I can't say my experience was nearly as pleasant. I decided to bring a friend's acoustic guitar, so that counted as one of my pieces of checked luggage. My other bag was filled only with clothes and was exactly at the maximum. That meant that I had 12 books, 3 pairs of shoes, and my computer that had to be carried-on in my pack. This made my 6 hours worth of layovers quite a chore.

One quite strange note: In one of the airports in China that I had a layover in, while I waited for my flight I noticed a free magazine for passengers. If I recall, there was a scantily clad woman on the front. I thought this was a little odd, such a risque cover on a free magazine here in China. Nevertheless, I decided to see what of the magazine I could read. It looked like any other general purpose type free magazine. And like other magazines of this type, there were many scantily clad women throughout the magazine. But what was even more surprising than this, were the 5 or 6 women that were nonchalantly wearing no shirt at all! It was presented in a way like it was no big deal. I couldn't believe it! I was in a public place, reading a free magazine that the airport gives to all passengers, in an extremely sexually conservative country. I was, and still remain baffled by this. I put the magazine back on the rack and got on the plane.

One of the teachers was at the airport to meet me. On the hour and a half long taxi ride, I was pretty distracted looking at the amazing scenery. I really did try to have a conversation with him, but this place was blowing my mind. The pictures cannot even come close to doing this place justice. You really just have to see it to believe it. The mountains are not just one place, they're everywhere for a 100 mile radius. Going through the towns were incredibly interesting too. There was more happening, so it was even more distracting than the mountains. It looked like the places and shanty towns we saw in Thailand from the train, but were never able to get close to.

At this point, I feel like I should have been dead, but I was actually pretty awake. The plane left at what would be 7:00pm Indiana time. I had 20 hours on a plane, 6 hours of layovers, and a 2 hour taxi ride. I figured I had been awake for almost 40 hours. Luckily, it was only 11:00 am at that time in China and I had at least another 9 hours to go before I could let myself go to bed.

I met the rest of the team here later that day. They're all really great people. This was already quite a huge relief for me. Not getting along with the team here was my biggest worry about coming. I've had so many bad experiences with people who are like-minded in this regard, but I could tell within just a few hours with the team that this would not be a problem. It was such a load off my back.

One new dynamic that I guess I knew ahead of time, but it never really sunk in, was the fact that there are kids coming out of every orifice here. Between two of the families, there are a total of six kids. I guess, I was warned before by others, "I hope you like kids...". I remember hearing them tell me this, but I think I totally forgot. I guess I figured I'd be pretty removed from them and could handle the kids in small doses. I didn't realize they would be pretty much everywhere all of the time. But I don't think any of this is a bad thing. Truth be told, I've never really experienced being around kids before. I don't even know if I like kids! I've never had the chance. I think this will be quite good for me.