Sunday, October 31, 2010

The other expats who've lived with me—they say I'm a good roommate. I'm never home.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


A guilt-free day with The Chicago Manual of Style in bed.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Notes from a Party

On my left hand: "I'm in love with so many (different kinds of) people."

On my right: "[Illegible.]"

Big complaints about folks being nice.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The number 9 (九) is lucky in Chinese because its pronunciation, /jiǔ/, is the same as that of the word for "long" (久), as in "long life." Course, it also has the same pronunciation as the word for "alcohol" (酒). And for "moxibustion" (灸).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


A guilt-free day of cartoons.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


On the last day of Creative Writing, Sophia brought in her translation of "Antarctica":

Monday, October 25, 2010

Electronic Version

The Five Colour City article has been posted here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Grammar God

Grammar god is meant to be an insult, remember.

Where would one be were one not at work? Not because one wants to be at work but because one (feels that one) must be at work. One feels that one is at work all the time anyway. You've joined me in this space. In a manner of speaking, certainly, you and I are here.

How much about language do you need to know in order to be a good teacher? Maybe know is the wrong word; maybe care is better. Like, do you need to be obsessed?

Not that I want to talk about language with others. Because they have their own ideas about language, of course, so often they want to be right. I just want to have fun. So rarely do people just want to have fun. Even when they're playing games.

Or then they refer to a proper grammar and so ask me what's absolutely right, but seldom are they happy with my arguments. "Well, but so what's the correct version?" Our Englishes may vary.

What I want from a teacher is the ability to think through a language and be jazzed by it, to find it fascinating and not a burden.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Friday, October 22, 2010

On Writing

Craig Mod

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


During lessons, Sunny teaches me insults in Chinese, and at home, she teaches Hanna insults in English, so Hanna and I spend our days insulting one another in the other's first language. That's how we know we're close.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Well-Worn Habits of Movement

One thing T.'s arrival has made me do is to finally start setting up the new place. It's bare, and quite a few workers who've been through to fix various things have commented on the fact that it looks like nobody lives in this apartment. Another person adds depth. It's nice to have these lines.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I forget sometimes that other people need normal things like plates and pots and pans in their apartment. So much emptiness I never noticed here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stay Tuned

Hi, Tiffany's mom. Thanks for reading. Your daughter has arrived safely. Updates forthcoming.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Her Way In

Preparing the new place for a new roommate. Fourth apartment, third roommate. Or fourth or fifth or sixth. Depends how you count 'em. Such is the expat life sometimes. Everybody always on the way out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I need an assistant. Problem is finding one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Stumbled on My First Dictionary this evening. Some good stuff there.

Routine Stops

This morning the Maple Leaf students were all lined up row after row. Through a loud speaker that I could hear throughout my entire apartment, a voice spoke calmly but robotically in English: "Would. You. Like. To. Come. To. My. Birthday. Party." The entire courtyard of students repeated with the same brokenness to their voices. "What. Would. You. Like. For. Your. Birthday." Then it was time for exercises and marching.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


"Language is the epitome of creative and variable behavior. Most utterances are brand-new combinations of words, never before uttered in the history of humankind."
—Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

Monday, October 11, 2010


Up on the walls today at work are signs of the character Nelson from The Simpsons, his right arm up, his finger pointing, commanding everybody, "Speak English!"

Being Taken Care Of

One of the shitty things about living here, as an expat anyway, is, you can't do things yourself. Of course, the more Chinese you learn, the more you can do on my own—for example, I know enough to be able to go to the bank and transfer money without help—but there's still so much you can't do alone. And language isn't the only barrier, of course. Who you know has a lot to do with when or even whether things get done. Emma, one of the new Eastern teachers, is, as we say, my person. She takes care of the things I need. The new apartment had a leak, and the washing machine and a connection to the Internet needed to be installed. I know the Chinese for There's water on the floor, but after that, I'm pretty useless. Emma's been coming over to help with the problems. Today, after several hours helping me, with me grasping only a few words of every conversation between her and others, she told me she'd never handled these kinds of things. She didn't know there was so much involved. "It's hard to live, huh?" she asked.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Other Names

More on Liu Xiaobo. Folks have devised ways to talk about him without using his name since it's supposed to be avoided.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Nobel Prize

Some Chinese leaders ain't so happy about Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

I spent the workday translating all the TV and DVD menus and remotes in the school from Chinese to English, dorking out between language and technology.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Not the Actual Things but Only Their Representations

The portrait on the side of Maple Leaf looks less like a boy with a maple leaf for hair and more like a boy on fire.

Outside my kitchen window is a cage with a birdhouse inside. The top of the cage is open. Maybe birds will come back.

Outside the building, fake pandas are in the middle of eating fake bamboo. In the little play area, children climb up an elephant's ass and slide down his trunk into dirty sand. Exercise equipment surrounds this meeting point. Somewhere else stiff deer are supposedly running.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On "Distraction"-Free Writing

With the talk of creating new creative environments, some folks have forgotten about
Embracing the Impossibles. Getting past […] intellectual koans by simply accepting life's innumerable and unresolvable paradoxes, hypocrisies, and impossibilities as God-given gifts of creative constraint. Rather than, say, a mimeographed page of long division problems that must be solved for a whole number, n.
  1. I just can't ever get away from this […]. For me, it's what everything inevitably comes back to.
  2. The very definition of our jobs is to solve the right problem at the right level for the right reason—based on a combination of the best info we have for now and a clear-eyed dedication to never pushing an unnecessary rock up an avoidable hill.
  3. YET, we keep force-feeding the monster that tells us to fiddle and fart and blame the Big Cruel World whenever we face work that might threaten our fragile personal mythology.
    1. "Sigh. I wish I could finally start writing My Novel….Ooooooh, if only I had a slightly nicer pen…and Zeus loved me more…."
—Merlin Mann, "'Distraction,' Simplicity, and Running toward Shitstorms"


"Never diagram a sentence when under the influence of alcohol or strong narcotics, even if it IS hilarious."
Fake AP Stylebook

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Yes, but How Would You Say This with the Formal Ending?

Before leaving the States, I bought a book called Making Out in Korean, which includes a whole bunch of stuff you'd say only if you were incredibly familiar with your listener. Toward the back of this book, the author includes the Korean for "I'm going to come," a sentence I'm sure I'd never be able to remember in that moment.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

小心滑倒 ("Slip and Fall Down Carefully"?)

In an article about Chenglish, in the new issue of Focus on Dalian, a Chinese businessman is quoted: "Most Chinese businesses do not add English to communicate with Westerners; they include it to impress Chinese. Accuracy is not important."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Conflation of Spaces

The Five Colour City article came out Thursday. It's mostly as I wrote it. I haven't been to FCC much in a long time. The fireworks going off in the middle of the streets; the bartenders hitting on you, we're sure, just to get you to buy more drinks; all the doors you've never been through—you can wander and will if you're new here, if you don't believe that this is the shady part of town, or, fuck, maybe that's why you'll go. FCC's a good place to hide out, as I propose in the article. Some of the bars in FCC seem unnecessarily large, dark spaces meant to be cuddled into. But and so, unpeopled, they are lonely places to be seen over the shoulders of those slinging beers. However, it's not unusual for me to sit in the school without anybody else in the building. Even now I'm sitting in the basement, the whole beautiful building above me, unstudented, unteachered. I go up into the classrooms and gesture with the lights off as though I were teaching, as though I were audienced. It should feel weirder. Certainly, drinking beer in a minimally occupied business feels weird, especially if on other nights, nights when the place is packed, you sit in a far-away-from-the-bar seat and try to picture again what it would be like for the place to be empty. What you notice is the strobing lights hitting a corner you never considered before. When I teach, I am conscious of walls. In both places, I'm thinking about what words to form next. At every word, now delivered more slowly, I wonder what other words I need to teach, learn.

Friday, October 1, 2010


It's National Day and therefore time for a five-day break. I've written all the lesson plans for the next couple weeks. It's time to relax. I spent most of today in the café, the school dark and empty above.