Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shénme yìsi?

People talk to me as though I understood them. I almost never respond in English. Today, however, I was the only person besides the new dàjiě in the school. I was in the middle of interviewing somebody, and suddenly men came down into the basement and started yelling. I followed them up when I finished the interview. One of them spoke very fast at me. "{I don't understand,}" I told him. "{You're talking too fast.}" Which wasn't the problem, of course. I often say, "{Could you say that again?}" as though a repetition will suddenly make me fluent. This dude today, though—he just kept speaking faster and faster. Finally I busted out the English to discourage him: "Man, you keep talking to me like I know. I don't understand anything you're saying." He turned on all the faucets in the entire school. I called out for a translation.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The new place is in an neighborhood called Cuì Zhú Nán Lǐ ("Green Bamboo South Neighborhood"), right behind the school.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Symbols and Exercise

The new apartment is across the street from Maple Leaf, a school that supposedly prepares its students for life in Canada. Yesterday the Canadian national anthem tinned through speakers. Then students marched into the building.

Have somehow associated the idea of taking up only a little bit of the apartment with the idea of Pessoa. Imagine him sleeping at his desk if he could, if he were alone. He'd like to sleep where he worked, wouldn't see the point in occupying another room when everything he wanted to be surrounded by was already collected around him. Still, each room has its function, its obligation, though you'll most likely eat in every room, live in every room.

In Chinese, living room is kètīng, literally "guest room." You'll be a guest in your own place. The gulf between where I'm supposed to do one thing and where I'm supposed to do another. Obligated by the name of a room. How do you occupy so much space?

The smaller the space, the better, but even then you have your definitions. Even then you have to figure out what each room is for. From now until I move, I will do only this here. So rigid. And but you feel guilty doing this other thing in a space clearly not intended for it. Even if they are your intentions and definitions. You're not being loyal to yourself.

That's where it's easy to break down. You see only faintly that you've been the cause of your work, your obsessions. These rooms mean nothing on their own. By extension, then, you fill them with your own dimensions—for example, home can't be special if you're used to it even after two years away.

That's what's scary: home won't be special; it'll be just another thing you're used to. Most of your days have been spent in English, so why should hearing English all day every day come as a shock? Why should being around people you understand be weird? Don't think about home.

Even that last sentence evokes home. Don't think it.

우리가 같이 무엇을 할까요?

Miles McFall is on the other side of the world, in Pennsylvania, surrounded by books in English. It's remarkable still that we can have a conversation, one that is happening in China and the US at the same time even though he is twelve hours behind me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Green Bamboo Southern District

My landlord lives in Japan. Today his proxies got a new water heater hooked up and opened up the gas. The air conditioner works. A new washing machine's coming tomorrow. The kitchen is the farthest room from the door. The living room feels like another obligation. Who's expected to fill up all the space?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Versions Of

Yesterday was National Punctuation Day in the States. Thus in so many online feeds links to places that said English was dying or dead.

Most of my days, but not their entireties, spent in Englishes.

One of the new teachers and I were talking about how Mao wanted to get rid of characters and just use Pinyin. The new teacher said he'd heard that Stalin talked Mao into keeping the characters. Tradition, you know.

Part of my job is to talk to an Eastern staff about Western society and to talk to a Western staff about Eastern society. Lots of room to talk in absolutes. Who said, "The time to make up your mind about people is never"?

Spent in Englishes. You might say Chenglish. In versions between English and Chinese. Between?

Kelly's studying Korean. She says she misuses Korean, that most Koreans do. How? She uses honorifics wrong.

Students don't learn tenses till a certain level. How do they conceptualize time? How do they think of completed action?

These imagined enemies.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Minor Flooding

Nobody's lived in the new place for the past four years. Last night I turned the water heater on so I could have a shower. A minute later I heard a loud crack. In the kitchen, water was spurting everywhere. The heater had exploded a bit. A new one's supposed to come Saturday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Digs

I'm about to finish moving. This will by the fourth apartment I've lived in since moving to China.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Such a weird thing to learn to read and write again. So fascinating to recognize something, even if it's only one character in a series of fifty.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Far Away And


why are you sorry

he was a _____

and, and

I don't understand family

Friday, September 17, 2010

Harold Winslow Gower

Harold Winslow Gower, my great-grandfather, died yesterday. He was ninety-six years old.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


If I know the context, I can usually understand most of the conversation, but if I don't know the context, I can't even pick out words I know well.

Monday, September 13, 2010

FCC Research and Epigraph

Tonight, aided by Miles, I'm going to do some research for the Five Colour City article. Though I know it will most definitely be cut, I want to have the beginning of The Mars Volta's "Cassandra Gemini" as the epigraph:
There was a frail syrup dripping off His lap danced lapel, punctuated by her Decrepit prowl she washed down the hatching Gizzard soft as a mane of needles His orifice icicles hemorrhaged By combing her torso to a pile Perspired the trophy shelves made room for his collapse She was a mink handjob in sarcophagus heels

Sunday, September 12, 2010

There Are Plenty of People I

Kelly quotes T. in a Pessoan moment: "I miss situations, not people."

"Liu Xiang Is One of the Famous Players in the World"

"I just want to know if the grammar is correct."

"It's fine grammatically, but contextually it might not be."

"Just tell me if the sentence is right."


Friday, September 10, 2010

Exactly Right

"You look like you're having so much fun while you teach."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Due Soon

Received notice that there will be no advertising involved with the Five Colour City article. Therefore received also permission to write with full autonomy, the only way to cover FCC. Rumor has it that downtown expats think FCC is some kind of mythical place. More like several buildings failing to be a funhouse.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How Many People Understand You?

Today: a woman walking around Kaifaqu with a shirt that read, "Who do I have to BLOW to get a drink in this place?"

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pretty Much SOP for FCC

Passing through Five Colour City after getting off the light rail this afternoon, I heard music blasting through huge speakers. At first, I didn't recognize the words as English. Then I realized that the lyrics were something like "If you wanna be my girl, put my dick in your mouth. Move it left. Move it right." Then "If you want to be my man, lick my clit." About fifty meters away, there was a roped-off section where a kid was riding a fake horse. He made it move by bouncing up and down on top.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fourth Apartment

Word is, I have to move again soon, like maybe tomorrow. Three new Western teachers are coming in, and they need a place to live.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

You Give Me a Corpse

During a warm-up, the students and teachers each write down three things about themselves and then exchange the information so that somebody else in the class has to guess who's written what.

"'I hate the Japanese,'" reads a student.

OK, which student needs to be talked to? But the Eastern teacher is grinning, and the students right away guess him. My coteacher has announced to the teenagers his hatred.

Later a different Eastern teacher needs help finding the Chinese translation for a couple words, including condominium. "We often call it just a condo," I say.

She looks it up.

"That's a bad word," she reports. She's looked up condom. She's a recent graduate of college, and she's saying that condom is a bad word.

"Condo," I stress.

She looks it up again, again with the m.

Later I end up playing Rock Band and then Lego Rock Band in another expat's house. I forget I'm in China. I drink a margarita and then sangria. I don't really forget I'm in China. My name sounds weird in others' mouths.

Friday, September 3, 2010

To Describe

When describing the person, Sunny says, it's important for students to go in a certain order: first height, then weight, then features from head to toe. Don't describe the socks, though. Big eyes are a good thing to praise. So's a big—"high," her word—nose. If these adjectives don't appropriately describe the subject, don't list the eyes or the nose at all, even if the person won't hear you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Someone stopped me and asked for directions this morning. I understood her Chinese completely, but I still didn't know where the restaurant she wanted was. She complained about my not knowing.

About the same time yesterday, I was sprayed a little in the face with herbicide being hosed over the fence of the local university. "{Be careful,}" I told someone else and pointed at the hose. He looked, saw the hose, and then turned to stare at me.

A small student, not in any of my classes, told me this afternoon, "{You're a foreigner.}"

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In Sleep

NPR did a profile on Deborah Fallows, author of Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language.

Ex: Pat

on the inadvertent username, over at HTMLGIANT