Wednesday, June 30, 2010

We Ourselves Don't Dance

The way the lights progress across the room onto the old man's shiny shirt makes him look as though he is continually about to stand. I'm with people who never drink, and one of them tells me, "You're the only foreigner in the whole place," a sentence I've heard a lot lately. They don't know the Chinese word for "vodka," and even when we figure it out, using "clear" and "transparent," what comes are not three fully iced glasses but is in fact a whole bottle. "He says, '{Is this what you wanted?}'" No. "He says, '{This is the only way it comes.}'" Well, this is what we'll have then. Even here—where people dance not so much with each other as much as near each other (it's certainly not the on-each-other-ness of clubs that you might be used to [except for one couple who are perhaps a few inches away from each other, the man behind the woman, they dancing like spoons, one could say, at which my friends point]), pole dancers keep most of their clothes on (although they're pretty naked compared to the rest of the place [my friends keep pointing and saying, "Wow," and, "You should really look," but I don't want to]), and old men in tacky clothes dance in a way that reminds me of the loops you see in cartoons when a whole bunch of people are in frame together—even here I'm thinking about work. I have to admit. The old man—I swear this time he's going to get up. He's watching somebody dance. I'm watching him watch. I scan the room for anybody watching me watch. The music's too loud for talking, of course, and for obvious reasons, the old trick of lip reading doesn't work. Neither does encouraging people to drink more slowly, probably because I myself am pulling directly from the bottle's lip, the vodka weak. "He asked me, '{Is he European?}' and I told him, '{No, he's American.}'" In front of the trough of a urinal, some men are pissing; others are talking in very close groups around the pissers, one man with his arm around his buddy as the latter unzips and goes. In the actual urinal, there are pictures of women you can't help but piss on. My friends lie several times before they admit they want to go.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Kelly is returning to South Korea tomorrow morning.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Part 2

Part 1

None of us can read, so we have to go to a restaurant that has pictures. A. says, "Let's stop talking about work," but we're in a high context and all together: A., M., N., R., S., and I. Collectively we order. I have to order the eggplant three times before I finally tell the waitress that I don't actually believe they have it. She assures me they do, and it comes fifteen minutes after the meal's over, and it tastes horrible. I leave it to burn on the table's flames. England's losing to Germany over A.'s and my shoulders.

Can't get away from work when the job's language. Can't stop the language machine. Thinking about all the subsets. "{I don't know how to say _____.}"

Disengage. Alone. And

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Everybody always wants somebody to be sorry. Fuck that."
—Donald Barthelme

Saturday, June 26, 2010



Friday, June 25, 2010

Actually in My Chinese-English Dictionary

飞出个未来 Fēichū ge wèilái

FuturamaThursdays 10pm / 9c
Recap-O-Rama: 5 Seasons in 7 Minutes
Futurama New EpisodesFuturama New EpisodesUgly Americans


There's trash all over the city. Yesterday I saw a police officer roll down his car window and chuck a plastic bottle onto the road.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


A skinny figure of a boy loomed over me as I finished my breakfast. He was visibly and audibly shaking: his arms, his voice. "{Hello?}" I said in Chinese.

"Hello," he answered back in English. He sat and shook worse. "Can I take your photo?" He pulled out his camera and asked a stranger to click away. Sure, sure. It happens, not often, not as often as the staring, but.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Interview with Sunny and Hanna

I: "I want to interview you guys."

Sunny: "Why?"

I: "I've been writing a lot about language and not being able to understand things, but I almost never write about you."

Hanna: "Why not?"

I: "I feel weird writing about you without asking your permission. Plus, the place where I write is blocked, so you can't read it."

Sunny: "But nobody knows us."

Hanna: "Yeah, so I think it's all right."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

With A. and D.

Yesterday A. said he needed a haircut and asked me to help him. We went to this place in Koreatown. It's like thirty yuan, less than four dollars fifty, for the basics. A woman took A. to the back to shampoo his hair and then sat him down in front of a mirror. He started motioning to her and telling me how he wanted his hair. "Can you tell her—"

"I don't know how to say all that," I told him, "and she's not the one who's cutting your hair. She's just prepping you." She put a strip of tissue tightly around his neck and then covered him with the bib.

When the stylist came over, I was surprised that I actually could translate a great deal of what A. wanted, and what I couldn't the stylist figured out easily. I watched for a little while and then sat down to read a book I'd brought.

"You ready?" A. asked a little later. I looked up. The guy had done a good job. We made for the door, but three or four people came after us, looking quite concerned.

"{What's wrong?}" I asked.

"{He doesn't want his hair shampooed?}" the stylist asked. The woman from before took A. back to the sink and washed his hair again. The employees looked confused.

"{He didn't know,}" I told them. "{In America, they don't wash your hair afterward.}"

"{But what about these little hairs?}" the stylist asked. He held up his hand, which was covered in clippings.

"{We go home and shower.}" I pointed to the sinks. "{But this is very good. I like this better.}"

Later we met up with D., who sometimes stays overnight at our place so that he can help run the summer camps Jayland's putting on. Three guys in a space that used to be occupied by only one. There's more than enough space, though. When I live by myself, I tend to occupy only one room. Because of this, the rest of the apartment is usually blank, shows no signs of life. I walk through the door into nothing that is mine, is only fixtures, and then to the little space where everything is kept in more or less a circle. Now, however, there are signs of existence in the rest of the apartment: DVD packaging spread out, wall decorations (sure, they're still on the floor, but even that they're here is significant), a nonempty fridge, dirty dishes, a cluster of shoes—these things make the apartment better.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Once again Brad Neely's Harry Potter, this time with the new Western teachers.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Kelly IMed me this morning with sad news: "사라마고가 죽었어." José Saramago died.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Now under Consideration

Will Chinese and Korean cut into my writing time?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Interview with the Cab Driver

He: "{Where are you from?}"

I: "{Korea.}"

He: "{No, you're not.}"

I: "{No. We're from America.}"

He: "{I thought so. You don't look Korean. French, maybe. Korean, no.}"

I: "{Do you know Mountain Water Flower Garden?}"

He: "{No.}"

I: "{I'll tell you how to get there.}"

We arrive.

I: "{Why are you overcharging us?}"

He: [Something I don't understand.]

I: "{But that's not what the meter says.}"

He: [Something I don't understand.]

I: "{No, no. I want the receipt. Our boss won't be happy.}"

He: [Grumble.]

He hands us the rest of our money.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dramatis Personae

—that is, people who go by names their parents didn't give them. Far easier to write about language than people. Too, it's weird writing about people in the middle of interacting with them. Too, it's weird when the writing ends up in a space they can't access. What would they feel toward my writing about them?

I was supposed to have an article published in this month's issue of Focus on Dalian, but for some reason, my story wasn't printed. What I wanted to write about, and what wasn't (won't be?) in the article, was this avoidance you can have to (with? from?) China if you really want. Perhaps some interviews are in order.


I downloaded the audiobook version of David Foster Wallace's Broom of the System today. Sixteen hours thirty-one minutes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June 16

Check out


Yesterday Kelly taught me the Korean for "to want to do something."

I taught her the all-important present subjunctive and the imperative Blow it out your ass.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


—that is, Shénme yìsi? "What does that mean?" (literally "What meaning?"), the question I hear and ask most frequently. Sometimes, especially in the younger classes, I'll be explaining what a word means when a student will turn to the Eastern teacher and whip out "什么意思?" without giving the English a chance. When I ask, "什么意思?" in public, it's usually a mistake: I don't end up with a clear explanation; I just end up with a lot more Chinese I don't understand.

Monday, June 14, 2010


the elbows and assholes of the train, its openings
a decent place to read

once a young woman speaking
Chinese quietly but switching to English to cuss, almost
a brag

where to
you are which country
person means where
are you from

does anybody expect you
to speak

Sunday, June 13, 2010


"Fluently speaking a language does not guarantee that one has any explicit knowledge of the language."
—David W. Carroll, Psychology of Language

Saturday, June 12, 2010


왜 나는 한국에서 한국어를 공부 안 했을까?

Friday, June 11, 2010


describe how to get somewhere by the landmarks that surround it
except what if the driver doesn't know
where those landmarks are
even if you speak the language
how can you convince him that you know what you're talking about
in order to get him to drive
you have to speak about something else in his language
I know I know
how to get there
but how can I convince you that I know
you don't know but that I know I'm saying it right

Thursday, June 10, 2010


"It's very humbling. One feels like a failure, yes? On the other hand, what I've noticed is, it's also good in a very profound way… I pay much more attention to people's faces and emotional cues and…much like a child, I am sensitive and attuned to things that when I'm home and immersed in English, I'm living only linguistically."
David Foster Wallace, on being in a country where you don't speak the language

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Rare Public Protest

In a taxi yesterday, the driver asked me where I was from and then listed the countries he liked. America made it. So did Japan, which surprised me; a lot of people here really hate Japan. But the driver really surprised me when Korea was at the top of the list of countries he hated. I asked him why, but he said only, "{Very not good.}" I hadn't read the news. Today everybody's talking about the killing of three Chinese people in Dandong.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Yet One More of My Favorites

I learned this morning that David Markson, author of Wittgenstein's Mistress, died last week.

Monday, June 7, 2010


"A Mexican, a German, a Chinese person, and a Vietnamese person get into a cab together."

"It's 2010."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Student's Proposal for a Television Show

One of my students told the class today that she wanted to create a weekly hour-long show pointing out the differences between Chinese and American students. The former, she said, can perform well only on paper, but the American students, she said, can perform well in real life. The purpose of the show would be to point out to Chinese students how they could find success beyond paper.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I Don't Know Which Events Other Forms of Writing Would Be in This Metaphor

For me, writing nonfiction—especially here and, as it were, in the middle of it—is like the steeplechase at a track meet. Maybe it's just trying to write about China, like folks are pissing in the water pits and moving the hurdles around, like for some reason, someone's walking backward on the track with a javelin, not watching where he's going.

Friday, June 4, 2010


A text from Maria just now. She and my new roommate are five minutes away. I told some of the Eastern teachers today that the flight from the States is horrible because it's like seventeen hours long. Sunny reminded me that the train ride to her hometown takes thirty hours.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Course Description

Creative Writing (CW)
Eastern Teacher: Agnes
Western Teacher: Tim
Classroom: New Orleans

Creative Writing is a CE-level course that will serve as an introduction to some of the methods and styles writers use to create imaginative works. We will focus on three main genres: nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. We will read works from these genres, discuss writers' choices, and talk about not only how to keep readers interested but also how to challenge them. During the course, students will create work that shows great specificity and detail. Students will also be shown how they can foster the capacity to remain surprised so that they can find interesting subjects in everyday life. Writing prompts will be given at the beginning of class, and every week students must bring in an original story or poem in English to be discussed. At the end of the course, students will translate their own favorite story or poem into English. In order to make these translations, we will explore how to present our cultures in words. The class will make an anthology of original work for each student to keep.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

To Come

Tomorrow's the last day before my new roommate gets here. I spent this morning rearranging the apartment and getting things ready. Tomorrow an āyí will clean the place while I'm at work. We haven't talked yet, the person who's about to share this space with me. I hope he's in the mood to walk around and see what the fuck's going on: parents squatting with their children as the latter pisses or shits through the their split-crotch clothing onto the street; people driving on sidewalks; older folks doing morning exercises in the park; younger folks doing morning exercises at school, the speaker there blowing out {one} through {eight} in Chinese; and Lady Gaga blasting out of every other speaker. Exhaustion that has little to do with the mind and more to do with the body just coming to a rest somewhere.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Thick Wall of White outside the Train's Windows

On the train from downtown to Kaifaqu this afternoon, Miles and I looked out and saw a great deal of steam rising from the ocean. The steam was so thick, in fact, that it looked as though something on the water had been blasted with dynamite. Smoke? A couple tall buildings looked as though they were floating in the midst of clouds. Miles suggested the possibility that a building had collapsed. We climbed the hill near my apartment to investigate but unfortunately saw nothing from there. What the hell is going on? we wondered. Nobody else seemed to notice, and it's not like you can turn on the news here and find out what happened.