Monday, May 31, 2010

And Most of the Time, the DVDs Lack the Bonus Features the Packaging Promises

Today I bought the third season of Californication for fifty RMB (7.32 US). If you ask students or even the Eastern teachers, a lot of them will tell you that there aren't copyright laws in China. Course, you first have to explain what copyright means, and you also have to contextualize how important the individual is in certain cultures, to point out the myth of the single author and the insecurities around ownership. There absolutely are copyright laws in China, you'll say, but still illegal sales go on right there in the mall, in the open. If you know your shops, you can always indicate that you want to see the DVDs in the back, where they are supposedly of cheaper quality but really just come with less packaging, simple scanned images stuffed into clear envelopes, and so are a little cheaper. You'll point all this out, and your audience will say again that they don't think there are any prohibitive laws.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Or Maybe You've Been Out a Long Time

"I don't have a silly persona yet."

But if you're around children who don't understand you long enough, the silly persona becomes a way to relate, becomes a way you mostly relate.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"{Eat! Eat!}"

D., the new Western teacher downtown, seems all right. During dinner tonight, I told him that Āyí once cooked for Chairman Mao. "It's not every day you get to cook for a mass murderer," I said.

"It's not every day you get to cook for a statesman either," D. said. "You could look at it that way. It's probably easier to get a job cooking at a prison than it is at the White House."

Friday, May 28, 2010


A week from today, my new roommate will be here. The people at the corner store keep asking about {my new little brother}. The man there said tonight, "{When he gets here, bring him to the store, and I'll give him a hug.}"

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The UFO and the Moon

어제 공원에 갔다.
UFO와 달이 함께 있었다.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Upstairs Office

Almost midnight, and I'm just getting home from work. You don't fuck around here. Two other Western teachers and I have a new office, upstairs, away from the noise. My boss Maria and I spent the night cleaning out rooms to fit everybody.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Bad Romance"

Around 9 every morning for the past week, the same phone store in the middle of Kaifaqu has played Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" through huge speakers set up just outside its doors.

Seoul, Summer 2009

Sure, the cockroaches were a bit out of hand in the Seoul apartment toward the end. They crawled into every room no matter how many times the walls were bleached. The office, without a bed, was the best place to sleep. Sometimes a woman would scream for half an hour somewhere in the courtyard below. Every morning, a truck would drive around with its through-speakers voice calling attention to the computers and monitors in its bed. Ten a.m. seemed impossible. With no Korean teacher in the room, sometimes teaching was hard. Twelve six-year-olds who had no idea what you were saying. Repetition. Many people were counting down until they could leave.

Monday, May 24, 2010


유수는 썩지 않는다. If I rest, I rust.

"On Myths of the English Degree & Myths in General"

"Does it feel like it's really happening?" she wondered as she drove me to the airport.
What did she mean?

"Our lives are twelve hours behind us," said a new arrival.

"It's a novel, not a cookbook."
—Jenny, Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story

Saturday, May 22, 2010


After the teenager-filled class, my windowless room downtown stinks. If repression and badly conjugated verbs have a smell, it is that smell.

At the station, the platform I occupied over twelve hours ago looks foreign, a place I couldn't have possibly come from.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What's the Meaning?

Last night Kelly called me from Obsidian, a bar in Five Colour City. Her coworkers wanted to see me. "They miss you," she said. They apparently say this all the time, though I hung out with them only like one time before last night. I wasn't really in the mood to go out, but Kelly's friend was also in town from Korea.

It was one of those three-language nights. I pieced together the conversation from Chinese and Korean. No, to say that would be to overstate my abilities in both languages. Most everything I understood I understood only from context. The Korean I've been studying for the past few months came in handy.

Forgetting, I complimented someone on his shirt and ended up with it. This is normal behavior in Korean culture, giving somebody something after they've complimented you on it, Kelly told me.

In the karaoke room, I sang with the easy confidence that comes with singing in front of people who have no idea what any of the words mean.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

These Little Subsets

Sunny tells me again I need to practice my Chinese during lunch and dinner. I say I've been out of it lately, use the same excuse my own students give me for not practicing their English. Studying helps make me feel normal but also feeds my obsession a bit. There are so many words now I should know. Sometimes it feels like they're getting away from me. I ask Sunny to teach me the Chinese for the vocabulary we teach the youngest students. "Let's see how far we can get in the books." We say it's so I can understand the students better. We know it's also so I can have themes running through the words I'm trying to collect.

At home, just because a new roommate is coming soon, I've scattered clothes all over the place in an effort to occupy more space. I keep falling asleep in the office, which will soon be his room. At work, the other Western teachers continue debating who'll move upstairs, to the new office, because there'll be too many of us for one room soon. I say almost nothing.

These little subsets. I think about the words the students learn. Collected in their books. You don't have to overcomplicate things. You don't have to suggest other ways of talking, though don't expect anybody to respond to "What's up?" in a way that makes sense. This isn't surprising.

At home, I go through all the Korean words I'm supposed to know. Held together by a book. Only once have the authors suggested two words meaning the same thing: "bookstore." In my notebook, I've written, "time subject place verb object." For a minute, I can't remember which language this is a note to. It comes between "100,000,000 yì" and "극장에서 영화를 봐요."

Again I'm waiting for somebody, and my brother's music is stuck in my head.

The woman at the store, most likely doubting that I could possibly know the numbers in Chinese, indicates 8 with her fingers. I wonder if she knows that even that's different. Here 8 is a finger gun.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I remembered yesterday that I'd told myself I'd start looking for schools in May. So far the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa looks like the school. Not only does the English PhD program let you design your own course of study, but you can also write a creative diss, and the university has what look like good Chinese- and Korean-language programs. I want to continue studying these languages, though I admit I worry about them cutting into my writing time. Perhaps, though, they're actually contributing to my writing, even if indirectly, by slowing me down and making me think about structure more. If I study in Hawai'i, it will have been the greater part of a decade out of the continental United States.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cab Drivers' Holiday

A cab was in an accident in front of the Kaifaqu school yesterday. About seven other cabs stopped and parked around the crash site, their drivers smoking and watching the insurance company take pictures. This sort of event and rain both stop drivers. Today it's raining.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bump Head

When I told Hillary about the sign at the downtown station ("XIAO XIN PENG TOU"), she said, "They made that for expats learning Chinese. Like you. How considerate." Then she made the maniacal laugh that is her trademark.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Small Heart

In the downtown light-rail station, there's a sign next to the escalator, the standard sign put in place to keep those who are leaning over the rail from being knocked over the side by the approaching ceiling:
which translates to something like "Watch your head" (literally "small heart bump head").

Now, I appreciate the warning. Shit, in Korea, I was one of those idiots looking over the rail, and my head actually hit the sign, and I pulled away just in time not to be knocked over the side. However, why include the Pinyin? Chinese people can already read the characters. If anything else, the sign should read, "Watch your fucking head."

See also "Who's This Intended For? Code Switch."

Friday, May 14, 2010

You Are Who?

Last night I took Agnes, one of the Eastern teachers, to my favorite Korean restaurant. During dinner, she suddenly started laughing.

"What's so funny?"

She pointed to a little boy staring at us.

"That little boy just said to his father, '{What is she? She looks Chinese, but she's speaking English.}'"

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Most Chinese women, Sunny told me last week, can't swim. They're never taught. When I asked why, she shrugged and said only that such a class is never offered.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ensatio sobre a Cegueira

"What is right and what is wrong are simply different ways of understanding our relationships with the others, not that which we have with ourselves."
—José Saramago, Blindness

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Day in Bed

An unexplainable sickness today. Both stomachache, like I'm gonna puke bile, and headache. Undercooked meat at the new Korean restaurant last night? But it was the first time I've been full since arriving in Dalian.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Angels in America

Today I finished watching Angels in America, which can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube. Amazing.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bonus Text? But Who Will Read the Original?

My first article for Focus on Dalian is due tomorrow. I'll be publishing a B-side to the story here, in this online space, shortly. Perhaps this alt.version will be the only version read outside Dalian.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Usually I Want to Stay Up for Days

Last night I fell asleep as soon as I arrived home. It was the first time in months that both my body and my mind were tired.

The Lyrics My Brother Wrote

"Any time you want to see my mind, take your time, make me want to take mine."
—Ben Lantz

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Kelly told me tonight that it's common for Korean novels to be written with verbs in their infinitive forms.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


While Miles and I were out walking yesterday, we saw traffic blocked off a couple times. At one point, we decided to sit and wait to see who would come through. We watched a procession of black cars and beige vans drive by without much noise. Later I found out that Kim Jeong-Il was in town.

Monday, May 3, 2010

중국을 좋아해

Today Miles and I hiked a hill, Preston and I helped an import-store owner rearrange her products in order to better serve Western customers, and Kelly taught me the Korean past tense.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Yesterday an uncle of one of my students pointed out to me that one advantage of China was its efficient government. "And when you people in your country want to make a law, it takes a long time," he told me, "but in China, the government can make even the lowest person follow the law."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Grammar Gods without Overlap


Miles pointed out today that even though he knows Latin and can understand French and a fair amount of Chinese and I know German and am learning Korean and Chinese, there is no overlap that would allow us to talk in front of others without being understood while at the same time understanding each other.