I took a trip to Shanghai over my two month Spring Festival vacation. I spent most of my time wandering around the city, admiring architecture and eating at Carl’s Jr. I couldn’t leave without going to at least one tourist trap though, so I went to the Museum of Science and Technology with Andrew. At a glance, the museum seemed like it might actually be home to exhibits and displays related to science and technology but upon closer inspection it was apparent that this museum is scientific in the same way that the Insane Clown Posse’s smash hit “Miracles” is scientific.

The stuff science is made of

Fucking snowmobiles, how do they work?

These are animals that live in snow. This is what they look like. Ecology.

The cold hard facts about global warming

The last caption was a pun. Did you get it? I'm sorry.

What we thought would be a relaxing and informative day at a legitimate museum was quickly turning into a surreal journey to the bottom of the chasm that is Chinese edutainment.

They'll suck the life out of these poor kids in fifteen years.

Children enjoying the interactive white devil exhibit

After roaming the lobby for a bit we made our way upstairs. We entered an enormous dark room, somewhat ironically named “Light of Wisodm.” The room featured a large collection of interactive displays that appeal to the same sensibilities as coin-squashing machines and Chicago’s beloved “Bean,” that uncontrollable, visceral compulsion to mess with shiny things and bright lights. (On an unrelated note, The Bean is probably the single greatest photobombing spot on the planet.) All in all, Light of Wisdom had more to do with science than any of the other exhibits, which is a shame.

It's said that if you stare into the light long enough infinite wisdom will be yours

The object here is to talk to your friend through the metal coil, like a glorified tin can telephone

Intricate science tubes

The light of wisdom

Without a doubt, the most impressive Light of Wisdom display was a looping animation at the end, a sort of finale.

We continued.

The working title was Cradle 2 the Design

The Cradle of Design was home to miniature models of vehicles, fake schematics and horrifying faceless mannequins. Of all the rooms, this is the one we spent the least amount of time in.

The mannequins are meant to accurately represent automotive engineers, who often work naked.

The next leg of the journey took us through a room of exhibits that focused mainly on how badly we’ve screwed up the planet.

When I was nine I knew this kid at sleep away camp who didn't know his address so his parents wrote it down for him to look at when he sent them postcards. Sometimes I wonder if he still doesn't know his address.

There were two notable items in this area.

Ecological Disasters Theater

One was Ecological Disasters Theater. Ecological Disasters Theater. Ecological Disasters Theater. Ecological Disasters Theater.

The other notable item was an unfortunate attempt at virtual reality gaming. Keeping in line with the theme of humans are destroying the planet, the object of the game was to sort anthropomorphic garbage into flying receptacles.

Andrew and I both tried the game. I will not be posting the video of myself playing due to Andrew’s incessant heckling and I will not be posting the video of Andrew playing due to him faring much better than I did. The controls were unresponsive, the graphics failed to achieve the retro look the dev team was clearly going for and there was just no real incentive to make progress. I’m going to have to give this one a 0/10 and claim that the only video game worth playing ever to be released was Snowboard Kids for the Nintendo 64.

The third floor of the museum was a lot like a low-budget amusement park. We followed a huge hallway from ride to ride. Some of them were definitely astronaut-themed. The best one was a spinning contraption in which you sit across from a friend in a yellow ball turret. You both have targets nearby and fire at those targets, acting as a centripetal force and accelerating the platform you’re both connected on. The staff didn’t actually tell us how it worked, opting instead to stare at us hesitantly and let us figure it out for ourselves. There was no line so we spent about ten minutes shooting at each other and spinning in a circle.

Further down there was an archery range. Here, the object was to shoot a bow and arrow at an array of targets shaped like robots. Again, there was no line but the staff member in charge refused to let us shoot more than four arrows each.

Finally, in the last room, there was an astronaut-themed ride carefully supervised by a staff member. I think space camp is probably a lot like this ride except instead of doing it one time for a minute, you do it thousands of times and it costs thousands of dollars.

If I ever got the chance to go back to Shanghai, I would go back to the Museum of Science and Technology in a heartbeat.



pretty creepy

Please take a moment to look over the above Google Maps snapshot. To the northwest of this river lies a small Chinese city. The roads and points of interest are labeled in standard fashion. To the southeast of the river, there appears to be absolutely nothing. There are, however, things there. It is a country ruled by the largest Hennessey customer in the world, who once ate an attempt to overcome national famine at his birthday feast. Because of this man, who some refer to as “Dear Leader,” most people in the world will never be able to see the country he governs and the things in it. When my friend Rich visited Changchun a few weeks ago, we made an impromptu trip to the border of that most mysterious of nations. We stood and looked upon it and its things.

Rich and I decided we wanted to see North Korea months before he’d even arrived but we hadn’t actually taken any steps to make looking at the most secretive, oppressive and foreboding country in the world a reality. I knew it was possible because of a chapter in Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler. The book is one of the best I’ve read about China. Hessler focuses more on everyday life and the experiences of individuals rather than jumping on the popular “1001 more reasons China is going to take over the world and sell us poisonous milk powder” bandwagon. Hessler went to a border town to write a news story. While he was there he looked at North Korea. Then he paid for a boat ride and looked at it some more from the middle of a river.  I didn’t expect to have the good fortune to stumble upon a North Korean border boat tour, but knowing that I could possibly see the tiniest bit of NK was a thrilling prospect.

For Rich’s first week in Changchun, we tried to take advantage of all the city has to offer in the ways of entertainment. We at Sichuan and Korean food for just about every meal. We tried barbecued chicken fetus on a stick. It looked like a fully developed baby chick and is as one might expect, curled in the fetal position. It actually tasted okay but it was a little disconcerting to take a bite and feel its spine come loose from the rest of the body. It also looked like the fetuses were frowning. We wandered around Changchun’s many t-shirt shops looking for the best Engrish. Off the top of my head, “I’m hatin’ it,” “I am a significant emotional event” and “Kill all the golfers” were pretty good. We played Starcraft and Red Alert 2 at an internet cafe and went to a gigantic electronics superstore where Rich got to talk with an authentic overeager Chinese young adult studying English at a local university.

Rich came to my Monday and Wednesday classes to talk with my juniors who, although not overeager, did study English at a local university. On Monday we did an anonymous question box, which went well in both classes. The Wednesday morning class did not care much for the idea. After being relocated to a big lecture hall so Andrew’s students could join in on the foreigner fun, their enthusiasm petered out. I asked them to write down questions and they responded by saying they didn’t bring any pens or paper. I told them to ask questions verbally and one girl suggested Rich ask them questions instead. After the third one-word response we settled into a conversation with a girl named Angel while the rest did homework or talked amongst themselves, which is about par for the course.

Pictured above: Rich and an overeager student

I don’t blame them for their disinterest. They specify on their college entrance exams what university they want to go to and what they want to study. My students, hoping to major in subjects like engineering and architecture, applied to a school that caters to that sort of thing. The school reviewed their tests and accepted them under the condition that they major in English, because their English scores were a cut above the other applicants’ and they’ve got a perfectly good English department sitting around collecting dust that they’d like to make use of. Despite this, there are always one or two students in every class, like Angel, who have learned to make the most of their situation and give it their all. In Angel’s case, giving it her all meant tolerating a half hour’s worth of Kim Jong Il rumors and providing us with directions to the NK border.

Angel’s hometown is Tonghua, a prefecture-level city an hour away from a smaller county-level city called Ji’an. Yalu River, the border between China and NK, runs along the edge of Ji’an. She suggested we go there. Our other option was to visit the Broken Bridge that once connected the two countries in Dandong, but apparently the view isn’t quite as good as in Ji’an. She gave us the name of Changchun’s bus station and the departure times of two buses leaving for Ji’an on Friday. One was at 5 pm and the other was too early to be relevant. We planned to get to the station two hours early to buy tickets.

When we got to the bus station we approached the ticket vendors with plans to ask one of them for two tickets to Ji’an. The vendor would then tell us how much the tickets cost and we would give the vendor that amount of money in exchange for the tickets. There was also the possibility that I would not have the exact amount of money that the tickets cost in my wallet, so I would give the vendor a little bit more money instead, in which case the vendor would then not only give us our tickets but an appropriate amount of change as well. Before we got to the ticket window to perform this simple but important feat, a woman intercepted us.

This woman, who may or may not have been a bus station employee, asked us where we were going, when we wanted to leave and what not. I initially thought she was standing in line but then realized she was just kind of hanging out in the area with several other middle-aged women who discussed our travle plans. The consensus was that there weren’t any more tickets to Ji’an. We could, however, catch a bus to Tonghua and stay the night, then continue to Ji’an in the morning. We decided to go for it but only so the women didn’t feel like they wasted their time helping us.

The ride to Tonghua was about five hours. Our seats were all the way in the back corner. They fill seats numerically and we got the last two available tickets. We arrived in Tonghua at about 8 pm and stepped off the bus to be greeted by a herd of excited cabbies. I told one of them we wanted to go to the nearest, cheapest hotel. Instead of taking us the guy called the others over for a cabbie huddle, after which a different guy told us to follow him. A little wary, I prepared to deal with some weaselly cabbie shenanigans. My suspicions that we were being – incoming pun – taken for a ride grew when he didn’t flip the meter. I asked why and he replied that it was broken. Nice try cabbies.

“How much will this cost?” I asked, making sure we weren’t going to get charged an outrageous amount. In Changchun, the base charge for a ride is five yuan.

“Four yuan,” he replied. Couldn’t do much better. He held his fist up while he said it, which I interpreted to mean “I promise.” The ride lasted about forty seconds. We took two turns and drove half a block. I didn’t feel like I’d gotten cheated though, I didn’t really have any way of knowing that a hotel would be so close. I took four yuan out of my wallet and handed it to the guy.

“Four yuan!” he said emphatically, holding his fist up again. I struggled to understand where there had been a miscommunication. Then I realized the problem was that this guy’s Chinese sucked.

In standard Mandarin, four is pronounced “si,” and ten is pronounced “shi.” Some people switch these sounds. Then I remembered that in China raising a fist is the gesture for “ten.” I let my rage silently fizzle out and gave the guy his ten. Looking back, I do remember hearing people say that Changchun has the lowest base cab fare in all of China and the cabbies there are actually pretty pissed about that, so ten might actually be a legitimate base price in Tonghua. Still though, half a block away. What a dick.

The hotel was exactly what we wanted. It really was the cheapeast option, a little over a hundred for a room with two beds, more comfortable than my actual apartment. Checking in seemed to be going fine until the woman behind the desk mentioned something that I didn’t understand. She seemed to think it was pretty important. It sounded like “hu zhao.” I couldn’t place the word. A picture of some kind maybe? I tried to use context to figure it out. She had just told me that the room had hot water, so perhaps she was now telling me that the room did or didn’t have hu zhao.

“Is there hu zhao in the room?” I asked, trying to clarify.

“No hu zhao?” she replied, with a question to my question.

“I don’t think we need hu zhao.”

“You need hu zhao or else you can’t stay here.”

“No it’s really okay, we’ll be fine, we’re only staying for one night.”

At this point an older guy who had been sitting on a nearby couch came over and seemed to have a big problem with the lack of hu zhao. The lady talked with him for a bit but he was adamant about us not staying. She argued that we were only staying for one night and he reluctantly backed off. She told us to go upstairs and someone would show us to our room.

Right as we got to the top of the stairs a door across the hall opened and another woman came out with a walkie-talkie. She brought us to the room. As I set my bag down, she asked me about hu zhao, pointing to a picture ID card pinned on her jacket in one final desperate attempt to convey that they wanted to see our passports and I finally got it, but soon wished I hadn’t.

We went back downstairs and I apologized profusely for the misunderstanding. The older guy got happy real fast and asked for my passport. I gave it to him and he started to leave the hotel. I asked where he was going, probably in a more aggressive tone than the guy expected, and he said something I couldn’t quite understand, taken aback. I started to babble a little about how important my passport was and how I didn’t want him taking it anywhere. He didn’t really seem to understand why we cared so much about our passports but he smirked and beckoned us to follow him, like our anxiety was amusing.

He led us across the street and towards a nondescript door wedged between an internet bar and a convenience store. We followed him inside to a poorly lit staircase. He still found our reluctance amusing. We walked up a flight and I was getting ready to tackle this old man. To my surprise we were being led to a police station. We approached the desk and woke up two cops who had been napping. They called into the back room and woke up two others. One of the guys in the back was in charge and asked what all this was about, making sure we knew that we had disturbed his precious slumber. The old dude, who was still holding my passport, explained that they didn’t know how to process foreigners at the hotel. The cop sighed and accompanied us back across the street.

The cop told us we could wait in our room while they processed our passports and like the old guy, was amused by our unwillingness to do so. We sat on the couch while it took him fifteen minutes to decipher our names, nationalities and dates of birth. After he left, the confused receptionist asked me to repeat the information. The old guy, now keen to the fact that we didn’t like people snatching our livelihood, informed us we had to go back to the police office to photocopy the passports, so we made one more trip. All in all, a shining example of Chinese bureaucracy at work.

With the paperwork out of the way, we were finally free to enjoy Tonghua. We bought some beer and walked around the block, then bought more beer and some pop rocks and walked back to the hotel. We spent the rest of the night watching TV. At its worst, Chinese TV is a black hole swirling with vacuous reality shows that fuse all the most despicable aspects of American pop culture with all the most embarrassing aspects of Chinese pop culture. At its best, which isn’t much better, it’s a propaganda engine churning out hours of historical dramas in which the historical events are depicted in a, let’s say, factually liberal manner. After a few hours of the former, we called it a night.

We woke up the next morning a little after six, checked out and headed over to the bus station. A little wiser in the ways of navigation, we made the journey on foot. We got there just in time to catch a bus at seven and once again got the last two available tickets. From Changchun to Tonghua there wasn’t much to look at; identical farms and villages separated by the occasional billboard dominated the landscape. From Tonghua to Ji’an, however, thickly forested mountains and hills surrounded us for the better part of a two hour ride. It was only during the last leg that off in the distance we spotted what Rich dubbed Mount Doom: a group of mountains almost completely bereft of plant life and slightly obscured by a gigantic smokestack.

“That’s NK,” he proclaimed with total confidence.

For some reason I doubted Rich’s intuition, as if it couldn’t possibly be so obvious, but there weren’t any other eerie geographical anomalies around so he was probably right. The bus entered the city, which was really more like a town and made a few stops before arriving at the bus station. As soon as we got off a dude in a jacket pulled out a map and started waving it frantically and trying unsuccessfully to catch our attention. He followed us across the street and into the station and waited patiently while we bought our tickets back to Changchun in advance, this time avoiding repetition of the pattern in which we luck out at the last minute with the last two available seats.

We walked with determination in the direction of Mount Doom. The map guy kept with us for several blocks, insisting that we buy a map. I tried to explain that we only wanted to see one thing and it was really obvious where we had to go to see that one thing. He finally got the message and left after I said “we don’t want that” a dozen or so times.


Onward to Mount Doom

Ji’an was exceptionally beautiful, a stark contrast to what we were about to see. It even seemed like the city planners made an attempt to make Ji’an as appealing as possible along the border, as if to gloat to the poor souls across the river or goad them into making an escape attempt. They put the government building only a block or so away from Yalu River, complete with surrounding park and ongoing wedding.

We put balloons on the car so everyone knows we're having a good time

Foreground: Chinese Wedding Party Background: Mount Doom

Looks a little like Maine or something like that

Foreground: Wedding Party Background: luscious greenery

Still concerned that Mount Doom might not actually be North Korea, I stopped to asked someone. He had difficulty understanding my pronunciation of Yalu River so I showed him the characters on my cell phone. He laughed and pointed in the direction we were heading. So Rich, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I doubted your internal NK compass, which is clearly far superior to my own.


The edge of the world

After all the hype and anticipation we had finally made it to the border. We gazed upon this bleak and ominous land in nearly silent contemplation save for the occasional “fucking NK, dude.” I assumed we wouldn’t actually see much on the other side besides the odd patrolling guard but to my surprise, there was a small farming community. We experienced an immense sensation of excitement and there was much rejoicing.

It's a hidden treasure

Rich chilling in front of the homes of people who will probably never know what it feels like to chill for as long as they live

North Korea is where I'm pointing to across the river

I'm pointing at North Korea, it's across the river

It's over there. North Korea is over there.

North Korea is over there where he's pointing.

Much rejoicing

Honk if you love misguided farming attempts

Those large, abnormal patches of brown on the mountains are farms. There was something very unsettling about those patches. Watching the North Koreans hunched over, hard at work, and knowing that their country is suffering one of the worst famines in history was pretty depressing. To add insult to injury, there was a Chinese guy under the boardwalk tending to a thriving personal farm with a trusty dog by his side and his wife washing clothes in the river. It seemed like his patch was more productive than all of the mountains across the river combined.

We walked along the boardwalk and passed Chinese tourists doing the same thing we were. There were some unattended carnival game stands and outdoor restaurants. A little further in the distance – a small fleet of motorboats adorned with small Chinese flags. My heart skipped a beat. North Korean border motorboat rides. For 100 yuan, the driver would take us down the river towards the smoke stack and back. Naturally, we took the ride.

We waved  to everyone we saw. Chinese tourists on boats waved back happily. North Koreans farming and trudging along a dirt path did not. In any case, I felt like I got the full NK border experience, having ridden on a boat. I suppose a more full experience would have involved the driver selling us as slaves to guards across the way but I don’t regret that not happening.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Ji’an and made one additional trip to the river before leaving. Two thoughts kept crossing my mind on the bus ride back to Changchun. One was how badly I wanted to get a visa to actually get inside NK, which is possible, even as an American. The other was how good NK makes China look.

Rich told me a refugee’s story that he’d seen in a documentary. The guy was born in a prison camp and he’d only eaten meat on the occasions when he’d had the good fortune to catch a rat and consume it raw. There were rumors in the camp of a place called China, where you could eat any time you wanted to. And you could eat meat. He only had a vague concept of what the world was, or what a country was for that matter, but he knew he wanted to get the hell out of where he was and find China.

One night, he and a friend made an escape attempt. His friend tried to scale an electric fence and got fried. He succeeded by climbing over his friend’s corpse. He made it to the place he had heard so much about. Sure enough, he was able to eat meat and he was able to eat it whenever he wanted. He met some other North Korean refugees who also eat meat and eat it whenever they want. They often talk about food and how great it is. When asked what they think of China, they respond that it’s heaven.


I’ve moved to WordPress, which I’ve been wanting to do since my first or second post but neglected to do until now. It wasn’t that difficult. A lot of the posts probably have alignment problems from importing so please let me know if you find any that need to be straightened out and I’ll give them a firm talking to.


To say that I spend much of my free time playing video games would be an understatement. Although I haven’t quite joined the elite ranks of pro gamers or poopsockers, one of the two seemed like a distinct possibility at one point in my life. Some gamers tend to have a specific genre or game that they devote all their time and energy to, which is why they either become so good that others actually enjoy watching them play or they become so consumed that they cast aside all conventional hygienic practices in favor of a full set of planar gear. I tend to go through short-lived phases of obsession. I recently overcame one such obsession with Street Fighter IV.

Gaming is big in China. Changchun is no exception. Before I had an internet connection in my apartment, I would spend about an hour every day checking e-mail and news at an internet cafe on my street. Most of the other customers were malnourished Chinese males in their teens and twenties on day-long World of Warcraft, Defense of the Ancients or Counterstrike benders. I had a Chinese professor who used to tell our class how much he hated the internet cafes in China because he thought they were destroying China’s youth. Although online gaming dominates the youth-destruction market, there’s still a healthy arcade culture here.

I believe arcades provide a physical enhancement to video games that gets lost through network cables. Winning a fighting game is satisfying. Winning a fighting game and listening to the guy you just beat yell and shake the machine is one of the greatest joys life has to offer. I spent a lot of time in arcades as a little kid yelling and shaking machines. Deep down I’m sure I felt pretty good for the asshole next to me. By the time I got old enough to actually understand the finer points of fighting games, there weren’t a lot of arcades around.

After I discovered that I could once again waste hours of my time in an arcade playing fighting games, I developed a routine to do so. First I’d a forty minute bus ride to Hongqi Street, a commercial hub of Changchun. Then I’d walk a few blocks to a gigantic mall named Wanda Plaza. I’d resist temptations to stray towards such iconic fashion vendors as Plory and Hotwind on my way to the “Super Player Park” nested comfortably in the back of the mall. Finally, I’d buy ten tokens and hope that I didn’t lose ten times in a row.

There are two Street Fighter IV machines in the back of the Super Player Park surrounded by endless rows of every game in the King of Fighters series, by far the most popular fighting game series in China. The machine’s design is a thing of brilliance. Rather than stand adjacent to you, your opponent stands on the opposite side of the bulky apparatus. This means that you have no idea who’s landing seemingly impossible combos and winning every match unless you take a very intentional step around the side to peek, which of course results in thoughts like, “Hey, this guy actually looks like a pretty cool dude. I’m glad he won.”

If someone is already at the Street Fighter machines when I arrive, I don’t put my token in immediately. I wait until right before the guy wins his match against the CPU, hoping that the “Here comes a new challenger!” announcement throws him off and annoys him. This is about the full extent of my psychological game. The only thing I can do from here on out is pick Balrog and hope for the best.

Balrog vs. Generic Projectile-Spin Kick-Uppercut Guy

I’ve fought against a Zangief player on a few separate occasions. I’ve never won a single round against him. It’s okay that he wins though because I just love the game and it’s an honor to watch someone who really knows the ins and outs of his character go to work. I watch in awe as I lose half of my health to one ultra combo. The way Gief is totally unapproachable from the air and easily counters my own ultra combo attempts constantly reminds me of what a fun time I’m having. I guess I’d have to say he’s the most talented player I’ve gone up against.

All too familiar

After dinner with my friends Bill and Luke in Wanda one night, I told them my crippling addiction to video games would cause me great pain if I didn’t play a few rounds of Street Fighter. They agreed to accompany me. When I got to the machines, a guy around my age was already there. He played Ken. I beat him without much difficulty. He kept putting in tokens and at one point, stopped playing Ken and began hopping around from character to character. His skill level seemed to take a nosedive. At one point, Luke walked around the machine to see if I was fighting the same guy, which I wasn’t.

“It’s like, a kid who’s nine years old,” he said.

My friend Bill suggested letting him win a round. I considered the suggestion. Would that really have done the kid any good? If he wasn’t having fun he would’ve stopped pumping tokens into the machine. He could’ve moved to the adjacent machine and play against the CPU. Deep down, I’m sure he felt pretty good for the asshole across from him. I know I felt pretty good. I was straight up kicking his ass. In any case, he was probably the least talented player I’ve gone up against.

There was a delay between one of my victories and the next “new challenger” announcement. Luke took another peek around the side and said there was a new guy playing now who looked pretty confident. He picked Blanka. He beat me three times in a row. I would have been crushed, if not for a mysterious onlooker who entertained me by bothering Luke with bizarre questions, like whether or not I hate my opponents.

Spectating is an incredibly popular activity at the Super Player Park. Perhaps even more popular than playing video games. Pouting girlfriends and creepy middle-aged loners excel at it. Sometimes a gamer will bring along a posse of several friends to assist with the duties of holding a plastic cup full of tokens and leering around the side of the machine so the gamer doesn’t have to. Of all the spectators I’ve seen, two have stood out.

My second-favorite spectator gets paid to spectate. He struts around the arcade armed with a microphone, announcing games he deems worthy of his talents. He spends most of his time pacing back and forth between a wildly popular Dance Dance Revolution clone and the fighting game nook. The first time I saw him, I thought I’d interrupted a Street Fighter tournament but when I saw him week after week, I realized he’d been intrigued by my presence the first time I went and hung around the Street Fighter area for an inordinate amount of time, then gradually lost interest when he began to recognize me. He generally wears a suit but on the day that I brought my camera, I was pleased to discover that this was not the case.


I almost didn’t like my favorite spectator when I first met him. I was fighting a guy who played Dan and lost a bunch of times, then switched over to Ken. He got better real fast; we were about even. Just as I was getting immersed in the game, a guy sat down next to me and stared vacantly at the screen. He asked me a barrage of questions in a thick northeastern accent that I couldn’t understand, which irritated me. Every now and then he would slam his fist down on the buttons of the machine he was sitting at, which annoyed me further. As he continued to ask questions with complete disregard for my unresponsiveness, I decided to ask him to leave. As I turned to face him, I realized that would have been a terrible mistake. The same mysterious onlooker who had bothered Luke several weeks prior was now bothering me.

Do you hate your opponents?

My win streak had poisoned me with hubris. I neglected he who brought me comfort in a time when I got my ass handed to me. I tried not to view his incessant questioning as a nuisance so much as a charming quirk. It did still piss me off when he bashed the buttons on the pad though. Fighting pads command respectful and responsible use. Please don’t needlessly destroy them. After a while, the guy brandished a knife and either threatened me with it or asked me questions about it. I told him several times that it was a great knife. This seemed to please him and he continued to watch me play without producing any further weapons.

I’m only going to ask you one more time. Do you hate your opponents?

I was really enjoying my matches against the Ken player. So much so that when I ran out of tokens I decided to give him a friendly wave on my way out of the arcade. He had a companion with him who held his token cup. After I waved, they excitedly waved back. The companion extended his arm and rattled the cup at me. I declined. The Ken player nodded emphatically and grabbed a fistful of tokens, presenting them to me. I figured he probably wanted to play me more than the CPU and took one, which lasted a few more games.

I gave the guy another friendly wave as I got up again to leave. I actually did leave that time. I haven’t been back to Wanda since. Perhaps it’s because our shared experience left such an impact on me. Although we could only communicate to a slight degree verbally, so much was said without any words. Damn. Although our cultures are so radically different, we both felt equally passionate about something most people would consider so trival. Shoot. More likely, it’s because Bill picked up Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and I’ve been playing a lot of that.


There’s a Chinese named Samuel who teaches English at JIACE. I first spoke to Samuel in a room with a couch that I like to take naps on. The fact that my first encounter with him happened when I would’ve rather been sleeping kind of set the tone for most of our future meetings. Samuel was assigned the duty of hosting an English competition, which was taking place that day. The winner of the competition would go on to compete in another competition against students from other schools in the city.

Samuel occasionally asked me to weigh in on some things that were bothering him, like the color scheme of his one-slide Powerpoint presentation, pronunciation of certain words and what kind of things I would say if I was hosting such an event. At one point, I left to go to the bathroom. As I was finishing up, I saw Samuel standing by the door. He looked like a child lost at the zoo. He asked me if I thought his outfit was okay. I said it looked fine. He was wearing a pretty standard suit and button-down shirt combo.

“It’s wet,” he said.

“It looks okay,” I replied.

“What should I do?”

“I honestly think it looks fine, don’t worry about it.”

Samuel stared at me as I left. I like to imagine he spent the next few minutes gazing at his blurred reflection in the wall tiles, since there are no mirrors in JIACE bathrooms, pondering his misfortune. I didn’t get to see how Samuel fared at the competition but both Andrew and Nick were judges. From what Nick told me, it seems like his nerves got the better of him; his introductory speech ended abruptly and awkwardly but nobody really seemed to notice or care and from that point on the event moved forward without a hitch.

I began to see a lot more of Samuel after that. He started coming to the bus stop almost every morning. Out of curiosity, I asked why I hadn’t seen him there for the first month of the semester. He stated quite bluntly that even though it was less convenient for him to wait for the bus at our stop, he wanted to take the opportunity to talk with us foreigners to improve his English. That seemed reasonable enough.

One morning as Andrew, Nick, Wayne and I were having a conversation, Samuel arrived and did this thing he likes to do where he opens his arms wide and pats the two people closest to him firmly on the shoulder. I’m almost certain he learned this maneuver from a sitcom. Without wasting any time, Samuel pulled out a textbook and engaged Andrew in conversation. Their conversation lasted the entire twenty minute bus ride.

Upon our arrival, Samuel thanked Andrew for his assistance. He said it was “necessary” that Andrew help him. As we walked toward the classroom building, Andrew mentioned that apparently, Samuel had no class that day and took the bus to school for the sole purpose of asking him for help. I thought that was kind of weird.

The following Friday I saw Samuel in the couch room. He asked me for some help with a “lost and found” lesson plan, namely how one would go about finding teaching materials for such a lesson plan online. I suggested googling “lost and found esl,” which comes up with a handful of pertinent results. I thought that would be the end of it but Samuel summoned me to his computer about an hour later.

Samuel explained that he couldn’t find anything suitable. I glanced at the monitor, which displayed what seemed to be a perfectly good lost and found dialogue.

“This seems to be a perfectly good lost and found dialogue,” I said.

Samuel shook his head. He wanted to find a video; text wasn’t good enough. I told him I haven’t shown a single video in my classes since the classrooms I teach in are equipped with no more than a blackboard and chalk. He was shocked. I tried to convince him that text would be fine but he still seemed hesitant. He didn’t think it was a good conversation because the object in question was a key and they didn’t describe it well. I read the conversation again. They described the shit out of that key.

“They do not mention color,” Samuel explained. “Maybe you can look for me?”

He rolled his chair away from the desk. To make room for me. So I could use for him.

I assessed his request and decided that this was not a language problem so much as a severe incompetence problem and told him he was on his own.

Andrew finished class the same time as me. When I told him about my run-in with Samuel he looked at me in disbelief. “Lost and found” was the exact same topic that Samuel had approached Andrew for help with a week prior. I wondered what it was exactly that went on in Samuel’s classes that week besides uncomfortable silence, trembling and stuttering for an hour and a half.

In the midst of our discussion, Samuel’s head popped into view as he got on the bus. He waved to us but instead of making his way over and sitting across the aisle as I feared he would, he sat a few rows ahead of us. I felt a short-lived sense of relief until he got up and approached us after setting his bag down.

“When I make the poster for the lost item, is it important that I include the time?” he inquired.

I thought about that for a second.

“You mean the last time you saw the lost item?”

“No,” he replied, “the time that I put up the poster.”

This was not a language problem.


My next real conversation with Samuel also took place on the bus. This time he was looking for teaching advice in general. I made sure he knew I only had about four months of teaching experience under my belt. He asked me to give him advice anyway, so I did.

I come up with a one-word theme for my lesson and make a list, about a paragraph in length, of vocabulary words generated by word-association. The planning process takes about three to five minutes. I try to spend as long as possible on each word in class, teaching related words that come to mind on the spot and telling stories or going on tangents.

He didn’t express any sort of interest in the effectiveness of my lessons. He merely asked if the students laugh at my stories. I made the mistake of saying that they do sometimes, which led Samuel to essentially ask me how to connect with other human beings on a basic level. It occurred to me that I’d never actually heard Samuel attempt to make a humorous comment or laugh at anything. I told him to tell stories about his grandfather because most people have or once had grandfathers and grandfathers generally do funny things.

He responded by reminiscing about his grandfather in a Morgan Freeman voice-over styled narrative. His grandfather recently passed away and he talked about how sad that made him feel. He talked about what a kind man his grandfather was and how he often made Samuel laugh when he was a child. This was not a language problem.

For the rest of the fall semester, I managed to avoid long, confusing and depressing conversations with Samuel. I saw him for the first time since vacation last week in the couch room. He sat down next to me. I asked him how his vacation was. He said it was good but didn’t really elaborate. We sat in silence for a bit.

“So what are some of your hobbies?” he asked.

I reminded myself that I’ve known Samuel for about half a year before responding. I told him about my experience diving at the YMCA, which I explained stands for the Young Men’s Christian Association.

“Are you Christian?” he asked.

“No, but everyone’s allowed to go.” I replied.

I went on, bringing up NAMBLA, which I explained stands for the North American Man/Boy Love Association, whose pools are better than those at the YMCAs, so I would go there whenever I could but they weren’t in as widespread as YMCA.

“Oh, so it’s another association,” observed Samuel.

I went on to relate my experience as an amateur cartographer, drawing maps that highlight my favorite places of interest in my city of residence. Restaurants, friends’ apartments, scenic spots and anything else that catches my eye are all fair game to be marked down on a piece of paper in a spatially realistic manner.

Samuel asked if I like Friends. I love Friends, of course. I made sure he understood that I don’t love it just because it’s a hilarious laugh riot but also because I like to pretend that the characters in the show are my actual friends and the episodes are wonderful memories that we shared together and I can just revisit them any time by popping in a DVD. I recommended Sex and the City, which is like Friends but even better because with Friends I only have three friends that are girls but when I watch Sex and the City I have four friends that are girls.

Samuel asked what my plans are for the near future. I admitted that I’m seriously considering pursuing a career in freelance cartography and Beijing has a pretty good scene for it, so I’d probably head over there in the near future. I offered to teach him some cartography techniques some time, which seemed to interest him.

I think this was the best conversation I ever had with Samuel. Earlier tonight I drew Samuel a personalized map that I plan to give him the next time we meet.


5/27/11 – Some of the pictures and all of the videos on this post are fucked up beyond the point that I’m willing to exert the energy to figure out how to fix them, so if you want to read this post read it here where it’s nice and tidy:

If you happen to wander around one of Changchun’s Ou Ya supermarkets in late December, don’t panic. What you hear is merely a cover of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” only the vocals have been slowed down about 400% while the musical accompaniment plays at normal speed. The song will be played on loop and you’ll wonder why no one else seems to notice the frightening cacophony that’s raping your ears.

Andrew told me his department was going to have a party on Christmas Day. Peter, the department head, asked if we would perform a few Christmas songs. Peter was thoughtful enough to give us almost three months’ notice. Forgetting, as I often do, that plans made more than a week in advance eventually happen, I agreed to participate. I made use of the ample preparation time Peter afforded us by occasionally saying things to Andrew like “dude, it would be so funny if we did an acoustic version of Total Eclipse of the Heart,” or “dude, it would be so awesome if we did an acoustic Cannibal Corpse set.” With about a week to go before the Christmas party, we decided to get serious. We settled on the alleged Christmas classic “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” with “Necropedophile” as a close runner-up.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation was also going to hold a Christmas party. Theirs would be on Christmas Eve. Summer asked us, in a manner that seemed more informative than inquisitive, to perform. She was thoughtless enough to give us about three days’ notice. I convinced Andrew it would be a really good idea to perform “Oh, Hanukah” and see if anyone says something. Although we didn’t begin to prepare for either party until the last minute, we thought it only proper to devote far less time and energy toward Summer’s, which really shone through in our performance.

You may associate the Christmas classic “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” with fond childhood memories, or perhaps the general warmth and comfort of Christmastime. If you wish to retain such associations, stay away from Changchun’s “Rottibun” any time between November and January. At this otherwise pleasant coffee shop, you will be subjected to a Christmas mix CD that includes a rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” as performed by either a Chinese woman approximately 20-35 years of age or an infant, trapped under the wheel of a truck, wailing with agony in its final moments. Unless that sound appeals to you.

My last two classes for the semester fell on Christmas Eve. I had originally intended to take half of the week off, explaining to my students that I would be celebrating Christmas for five days. This made perfect sense to them even though I told them several times throughout the semester that I, as a Jew, don’t celebrate Christmas. Although my failure to convince them that Christmas is not an “American festival” ended up working to my advantage, it seemed I’d soon be presented with a better option.

Lily, Dean of the English department, neglected to inform me that the students would have January 3rd off for New Year’s, the day I was planning on holding our film final. This bumped her “letting me know about vacations and days off” track record from 0 for 3 to 0 for 4. I came to the logical conclusion that she gave absolutely no shit about me or my classes and I was free to end the semester whenever I wanted. So my last two classes for the semester fell on Christmas Eve.

One of the students in my last class asked me if I could simply tell everyone their grades instead of first making them talk to me for five minutes. I thought she presented a pretty airtight case and agreed. I learned while giving a girl named Magician her grade that they wanted to leave as early as possible to throw a birthday party for Nature, another girl in the class. Magician invited me to come have dinner with them and then go to KTV (generic term for karaoke bars). I told her my presence at a Christmas party was required so the school’s administrators could pretend they have a functioning relationship with the foreigners. She insisted I call when the party ended so I took her number. The prospect of seeing my students outside a classroom environment — possibly drunk, definitely singing — intrigued me.

Class ended about an hour early. A few students stayed in the classroom. For four years they have every class with the same people in the same room every day, so it only seems reasonable that they decorate it and make it something of their own during those four years. Most of the students stayed at their desks and opened up books. A girl named Dola, who has a tendency to ask random but amusing questions in rapid succession, began interrogating me. At first she stuck mostly to topics like how to improve English and Spring Festival plans but eventually it seemed like something was troubling her.

Dola thought she may have unintentionally offended a foreigner friend. She asked me if Americans consider it rude to arrive at a party too early. In this case, too early was fifteen minutes. Upon arriving, Dola called her friend, who then scolded Dola. Dola expressed concern that she may have effectively ended their friendship. Then it came out that her friend was a Christian missionary of sorts and the party wasn’t so much a party as a forum for her to aggressively promulgate the virtues of her religion on others.

Dola isn’t the first student who has approached me about a foreigner friend’s confusing behavior. A freshman named Eric asked me if he should continue paying fifty yuan a week to go to a party where an elderly couple criticize his way of life and explain bible passages to him. A local shopkeeper named Jack asked me if I, like his old friend Sean, work for God and also believe that anyone who doesn’t will be denied entry into Heaven. I don’t think the problem is Christianity itself so much as a number of self-assured jackasses who use the institution as a moralistic crutch to validate their righteousness and claim superiority over anyone who deviates from their way of life. The problem affects me directly when I live in a city full of those who deviate from that way of life, have no reason to adapt that way of life and wonder if the self-assured jackasses are representative of all Westerners.

I didn’t present this perspective to Dola but I did try to stress how unusual I thought her friend’s behavior was. She seemed relieved and we then talked about conversations between foreigners and Chinese, which was pretty meta. Since she opened up and presented me with one of her foreigner-related grievances, I thought it only fair to present her with one of my China-related grievances. I mentioned that most Chinese didn’t really seem to have any interest in talking to me beyond learning my ethnicity, job and opinion on the weather or local cuisine. In turn, I’d become somewhat less motivated to continue studying Chinese. She suggested that some people might be afraid they won’t have anything in common with foreigners so instead of risking potential embarrassment, stick to small talk. She included herself in that category of “some people.” I told her to bring up a hobby or interest at random the next time she meets a new foreigner and see what happens, which she agreed to try.

I got up to leave for the Christmas party and Dola offered to guide me to the classroom. Accepting the fact that I will never be able to convince any of my students that I have the slightest navigational prowess, I accepted her offer and invited her to come to the party. Although she initially declined, she changed her mind when I talked about the weird museum exhibit treatment I was expecting to receive based on my experience at the cocktail party earlier in the semester. She refused to believe that I was going to be swarmed by hordes of students, all of them shouting questions over each other, offering me drinks and taking pictures with me. As we approached the room Black Stallion, perched outside the door, spotted me and came running over. “Let’s go, let’s go!” He led me inside. For whatever reason, people were worried that I was late. I turned to Dola and said “here it comes,” confident that my predictions for the evening were correct. Not so.

“Jingle Bells,” known to some as “Ding Ding Dang,” is without a doubt one of the most widely-recorded songs of all time. I know what you’re thinking. Is there any way I can listen to every known recording of the song at the same time? The Walmart on Lin He Jie is well-equipped to handle the task. As you walk down the halls of the mammoth establishment, you’ll experience sensory overload to a moderately disorienting effect. As jazz ensembles blend with children’s choruses and string quartets, you’ll wonder why you didn’t spend upward of $1,000 for a flight to China just to get in on the Changchun Walmart Christmas fun earlier. Five out of five, would try again.

The first thing I noticed when I entered the designated party parlour was that everyone was sitting. Furthermore, they were sitting in silence. Only one person was making any noise at all and that person was standing behind a podium, speaking into a microphone. Black Stallion led me around the perimeter of the room and showed me to a seat at the end of a long table where Andrew, Wayne and people who looked a lot more important than us were sitting. We all had name placards. Baskets of fruit had been placed between every other person. I looked around but couldn’t find Dola. I assumed she wisely made an escape. The room was decorated with pink and purple balloons, presumably in the spirit of Christmas. Some pink balloons had been arranged into the shape of a heart, also presumably in the spirit of Christmas.

The woman speaking was Sophie, head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. I’ve never heard a kind word spoken about her. From personal experience I know that she refuses to learn or speak English despite being in charge of the well-being of the foreigners at the school, benefits greatly from spending as little money as possible on us and talks about me in Chinese to other people while I’m standing right in front of her.

Once Sophie concluded her speech, Allen got up to deliver a few inspired words. Summer, who had been sitting next to Wayne, noticed that I had no access to the peanut and sunflower seed tray so she came over and dumped gratuitous amounts of each in front of me. She then did the same for Andrew before returning to her seat. Andrew made a funny comment about birds. Chinese people devour sunflower seeds. My students bring enormous bags of them to my film class and litter their desks and the floor with shells. They open them in seconds with their front teeth using a method I have not yet begun to comprehend, let alone master. I stuck to the peanuts. Allen’s mouth stopped moving and some real punk rock types took the stage.
Haha, Allen what are you still doing up there, you’re done bro.

But we forgot to do this thing!
Wait till you see what the flannel shirt guy does later

Then that was over with and the new wave/dark ambient/progressive players took the stage once more. Members of the crowd immediately started talking amongst themselves.

Cannibal Corpse’s Tomb of the Mutilated is hailed by death metal fans as one of the band’s greatest efforts and one of the genre’s quintessential albums. Play your loved ones track after crushing track of unrelenting brutal death metal and make this Christmas celebration one they won’t soon forget! They’ll get the chilling lyrics to songs like “Necropedophile” and “Addicted to Vaginal Skin” stuck in their head! Forever.

The guitar work on the album conveys a sense of frenzy and mayhem. The ultra fast riffs never get old. Before you can even faimliarize yourself with one, another is thrown in your face. The album’s high energy never tapers off and you may even find it infectious, thrashing your body around not out of choice but necessity.

Chris Barnes’ distinct, visceral growl compliments the nature of his lyrics perfectly. Deep, demonic grunts seem best suited to relay sickening tales of murder and necrophilia. Whether you find the horror film imagery of the lyrics provocative or reprehensible, it’s undeniable that the subject matter leaves an impact. Facilitate a discussion under the Christmas tree between the maternal and paternal sides of the family: Does Barnes write lyrics as a sardonic observer of the world’s horrors or as a seriously tormented individual who longs to commit the heinous acts he depicts?


The opening act was a hit. As part of a long-running Christmas tradition we’re all familiar with, a few girls in the audience presented the band members with balloons. The guitarist kept looking at me so I gave him the metal horns, which seemed to fill him with bashful joy.

“You Raise Me Up” is a ballad of the inspirational variety. You may have heard Josh Groban cover it, or possibly hundreds of other popular recording artists. But the only time it was really done right was at the Jilin Institute of Architecture and Civil Engineering’s Christmas Bonanza as hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. Two men with pipes like a plumbing system wailed their way through the inspirational ballad like no one has before. Earring Bro’s soft, angelic voice tempers the bold vibrato of Glasses Guy to soothing effect, as if bringing to life the song’s theme of giving a dear friend everlasting support.

I noticed Dola had not actually left the party and was staring at the door unenthusiastically. Feeling guilty for inviting her to this train wreck of an event, I invited her over to the VIP table and told her to have at my sunflower seeds, which I was having trouble enjoying due to my shell-cracking ineptitude. Dola then called up two of the girls in one of my other classes and said something like “yo, get up on this motherfucking sunflower seed shit,” and they came forthwith.

Left: Black Stallion
Black Stallion and several other students performed a short skit in English. It was supposed to be comedy but it played out as more of a tense melodrama. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand much of the dialogue due to both pronunciation issues and the increasing volume of audience chatter. I think I still pieced it together.

Left-center: Black Stallion
Two men were lying on the ground, completely immobile. Black Stallion and two other onlookers acknowledged that this was a problem but seemed emotionally disconnected from whatever incident took place. A woman came running by, crying, arms flailing. She was yelling about her son, singular, so one of the two victims may not have had anybody in the world to care for his misfortune. She repeatedly threatened to kill Black Stallion but he managed to calm her down time and time again. This continued for several minutes without any further development until the actors left the stage.

Pictured: Black Stallion and a mysterious onlooker
The audience did not respond well to the skit. Most of them were probably novice English speakers at best and even then, the English spoken didn’t resemble English that much at all. Clearly embarrassed, the performers who put in a lot of time and effort to prepare left the stage. But Black Stallion would not leave in shame that night, for seconds after the skit ended he would be granted a shot at redemption. He took that shot all over Redemption’s slutty face.

Black Stallion hosted a mock version of a popular Chinese TV talent show. This skit was well-received by the audience, as it was in Chinese and thus understandable. I asked my students to give me rough translations of lines that got big laughs, which proved unnecessary as most of the gags were visual and they preferred narrating actions over translating words.

Return of the mysterious onlooker
Merry Christmas

When it came time for the foreigners to hit the stage, the audience chatter came to a halt. I felt bad because they thought their preconceived notions that foreigners are talented singers who love to perform were going to be fulfilled and they were about to get let down hard. Hard like the horse boner with which Black Stallion shot a load onto Redemption’s face.

I have never in my ENTIRE LIFE seen such a sickening performance of “Oh Hanukah.” I own seven recordings of the song: four in Yiddish, three in English. I’ve seen it performed live in ten countries and twelve US states. These two jerks were BY FAR the lousiest of the lot. They averted eye contact with the audience, instead looking at each other to confirm that they weren’t screwing up the words, WHICH THEY WERE. And the little one kept trying to put his hand in his pocket unsuccessfully. Very unprofessional.

The evening stagnated a bit. More pop music. More balloons. Some extraordinary dancers with ankhs painted on their heads. It picked right back up when this guy hit the stage:

When the party finally came to an end, Sophie made us white folk take pictures with just about everyone. Summer told us the department was going to take us out to a nice dinner. Andrew, Wayne and I got a ride with Allen. “Milkshake” was playing in his car when we got in, which is notably superior to every other song I’ve heard on Chinese radio. I called Magician as promised and told her what was happening. Apparently they were finishing up dinner and heading to KTV, so I figured I might be able to catch them there later.

The restaurant was in a hotel, which usually means it’s fancy business. A hostess led us to a private lounge area where a few well-dressed Chinese men were chain-smoking and drinking tea. One of those men was Arnold, the only member of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation who has my utmost respect.

Arnold technically answers to Sophie, but if she has a problem with something Arnold’s done, she won’t say shit. Arnold is the only member of the department who treats me like a person rather than a product. He also seems to realize what a joke the foreign teacher job is. When we were called in to have a meeting about teaching methods, which turned into Allen spewing permutations of the sentence “maybe you can teach in some American style, such as games,” multiple times, Arnold sat in the corner making phone calls and looking otherwise disinterested in the proceedings. When he had enough, he interrupted Sophie with a declarative “Okay?” We all laughed and the meeting was over. Thank you Arnold.

The dinner was pleasant. Toasts were made regularly, I believe in show of appreciation for our presence at the school. Wayne made one on behalf of us showing our appreciation in return. One of the Chinese guests delegated himself the task of filling up everyone’s glass with beer when needed. At one point, Sophie gagged dramatically and spat a piece of food onto her plate. She got up and power walked out of the room, accompanied by Allen.

During one of the toasts, someone shouted “bottoms up!” One of Arnold’s guys was intrigued and asked for an explanation. Allen began to explain the expression and in doing so, turned over a bottle, not quite empty, and spilled beer all over his soup bowl and place setting. He didn’t react to this. 

As we departed, Allen offered a ride to one of the other guys in addition to Wayne, Andrew and I. I noticed we were going a steady five miles per hour, gently swerving from side to side. I mentioned to Wayne and Andrew that I saw Allen spill beer and not seem to notice or care. As soon as I spoke, Allen remarked to his friend that he was too drunk and pulled over. We got out of the car and Allen apologized to us, explaining that he didn’t want to get arrested and lose his license. Andrew and I were only about a block away but Wayne had a walk ahead of him. As we departed the scene of the face loss, I looked back to see Allen make a pathetically slow u-turn, half-expecting to see the car suddenly erupt in flames as it rounded the apex of the maneuver.

I called Magician once more but received no answer. I later receieved a text message from her while in the middle of some screen-watching. Unfortunately, I neglected to add the contents to funnychinesetexts.odt so I can’t quote it directly but the gist was that another girl named Dream got drunk to the point that Magician had to take her home. Apparently my students went a little apeshit at KTV, which I regrettably missed out on.

I spent Christmas Day watching TNG until Andrew called and suggested we practice our set, which considering the previous night, was wise. We spent an hour or so doing that, then went to the school. We found our way to the room. Lo and behold, it was another “party.” The room itself was a lecture hall and once again, all the students were sitting. I recognized two teachers sitting in the third row, Peter and a guy named David who catches the bus at the same stop as us. David likes to make dichotomous comparisons between America and China of dubious validity such as “in China, [public] squares are named for their shape but in America, they are named for their purpose.” One thing I must admit, however, is that as far as I can tell, he’s right about public squares in China all being square-shaped.

The lecture hall was decorated with Christmas trees and lights. Santa hats rested on every seat, generous gifts for those who attended. I started to worry that this event might actually be completely faithful to the spirit of Christmas but I was assuaged of that fear as soon as the first act went on.

Green Day often receives praise as a band whose members cast aside conventional songwriting in favor of more daring, experimental pursuits. American Idiot was criticized by some as inaccessible and elitist, while others praised the band for their technical mastery, complex and challenging melodies and deconstructionist approach to genre. Bill Joe Armstrongs himself says of the album: “yeah we were just sitting around, kicking it, listening to some ancient Greek wedding hymns and I was like, we totally need to just get at the core of this stuff, you know, and play around with it. Maybe we were, haha, maybe we were, you know, smoking that green stuff, smoking some weed cigarettes and kicking the ball around you know? Haha, but yeah I said we need to really go back to the beginning and juxtapose those hymns with modern sounds, and we have to use a vibraphone, and I think it’s probably the album I’m most proud of to date.”

Most of the acts were musical performances. Some of the students performed an English translation of a Chinese drama. They made use of slapstick humor quite frequently, which seemed to keep those who couldn’t understand at bay. I checked the program frequently. One act in particular, entitled “Friends,” caught my eye. I knew for some time that Chinese people love the TV show Friends, but could it possibly be that I was going to witness a staged performance inspired by the sitcom?

Personally, I think it’s better than the actual show. Andrew and I did our set, marginally more successful than we had been the night prior. The finale was a grand Christmas chorus featuring all the performers except us.

Again, we were asked to take pictures with large groups of people. Peter offered us a ride home, along with David. On the way to the car David asked us questions about Christmas. First he asked Andrew how he celebrates and then me. I gave him my standard refrain. He suddenly got very excited. He told me I’m the first Jew he ever met. Instead of the normal stereotypes, it seemed that David was actually fascinated with Jewish history, the topic that ended up dominating the conversation during our car ride home. He told me his favorite movie is The Prince of Egypt, which I had to admit I didn’t see. He talked about King David and the prophets and a whole lot of stuff I never really expected to hear come out of a Chinese guy’s mouth. It made me wonder what other weird topics he knew about. I made a mental note to have more conversations with David.


I was under the impression when turning in my students’ final grades that I wasn’t allowed to fail any of them. That’s not entirely true. Failing them would have caused a lot more suffering for me than it would have for them. Instead of failing the small number of students who never came to my conversational classes, I gave them 60’s.

Any student who receives a grade below 60 is allowed to take a make-up exam. Someone from the school who I’ve probably never met before calls and informs me that I need to come in during my vacation time and administer the test. I turn in the revised grades. Any student who receives a grade lower than a 60 is allowed to take a make-up exam. Someone from the school who I’ve probably only spoken to once before calls and informs me that I need to come in during my vacation time and administer the test. I turn in the revised grades. Any student who receives a grade lower than a 60 is allowed to take a make-up exam.

I based conversational class grades solely on attendance and participation. I had each student talk to me about anything they wanted for five minutes as a formality so I could tell anyone who might give a shit, which no one did, that I actually held a final. Those unfortunates who skipped class regularly received 60s. Some of them knew what was coming and just kind of nodded complacently. They didn’t have a problem with a 60 and we both knew “see you after the break” was probably a lie. But for some, I felt like I was scolding kindergarteners as they shuffled their feet, apologizing half-heartedly, assuring me that they understood the err of their ways. One kid had the audacity to try to convince me that he had a math class at the same time. I shouldn’t even be calling him kid, he’s a fucking year younger than me.

Film class was different. I was planning on making a multiple-choice test that focused mostly on plots, vocabulary words like “satire” and “cameo,” the names of actors and quotes that I deemed significant. (Frankly, I find the very idea of a bug that thinks offensive!) Here’s a practice problem I presented my students with when they began fretting about the exam:

Kevin, the main character in Home Alone, had to protect his house from:

A) His parents.
B) His older brother.
C) Two burglars.
D) Himself.

Most of them got it. Some of them were probably too crippled by face and reserve to say anything but still knew the answer. Some of them, regrettably, probably had no idea. I thought about it and decided that I didn’t care whether or not they knew the answer to this question or any other such insignificant trivia factoids. So the test ended up looking like this:

Write down three thoughts that you have about movies. Each one has to be at least a sentence long. If you discuss the movies we watched in class you will get a better grade.
I would like to share some of my favorite responses with grammar, punctuation and spelling preserved in original form.
Note: They call horror movies “horrible” movies, but they mean horror. I’ve tried to put an end to this several times without success.
Home Alone
The boy, in movie of “Home Alone”, caputured two thieves who were adults that was radiculous in real world.
I like to think that instead of misspelling ridiculous, he was actually combining it with radical.
The child in Home Alone was cute but now became ugly. Terrible!
I like the boy in “Home Alone”. The boy is so clever and lovely. I hope I can have a son as lovely as him.
I guess you missed the first thirty minutes where he just acts like a spoiled little asshole.
I think Home Lonely is an interesting movie. It tells us a lot. Home Lonely tells us we should do our best to defeat bad person.
I think it tells use we should do our best not to neglect our children but whatever. Interesting x 1
The child in Home Alone is so interesting. I am so admire the wisdom of the child.
Interesting x 2
Home Alone is not only a funny movie, but also this movie has some significance.
Go on…

Meet the Parents

Meet parents is funny and interesting. It can be the best fiml film of Ben’s. LoL.
Heavy Weights was actually his best film. This student received a better grade for having the gall to write LoL on an English exam. Interesting x 3

Meet the Parents is also a comedy. One of the actors is Greg Focker.
One of the actors is Greg Focker.
I like “Meet the parents”. The father is very interesting. And the name of the hero is also very interesting. When I watched it, I couldn’t stop laughing.
Interesting x 4 Interesting x 5 Double Interesting
Then I also wanna talk about the actor of “Meet the parents”, He’s kind of funny, naive and fool. He is treated teased by Pam’s father and always at a loss as to what to say, even when he wants to make love with Pam, How embarrassed! The film reflects the things in life, but a little exaggerate.
Cradle 2 The Grave also reflects the things in life, but a little exaggerate. And I hear DMX doesn’t really know what to say when he wants to make love with women either. He just shouts X GON GIVE IT TO YA over and over again. I guess in that respect he knows exactly what to say.
In the film “Meet the Parents”, Robert De Niro who acts as the father of Greg’s girlfriend is possibly the most famous American actor of all time and is often in movies with Joe Pesci, such as Goodfellas.
Glad to see someone’s paying attention when I talk about the stuff that matters.
Meet the parents is also a very interesting movie, and the Hero’s name is very interesting. Now, When we will often use his name to make joke of others.
Interesting x 6 Interesting x 7
Meet Parents, no needless to say, it’s very amusing, and also makes us relax.
The best part is that you don’t even need a prescription.
The father in “Meet the Parents” is severe stern. The boy made so many efforts to let the father accept him. I hope my father will not be so strick to my boyfriend.
That boy done been strick by lightnin’.


“Big.” is one of the most famous American actors of all time. Famous saying “Be careful what you wish for. I tl The movie is very interesting. I like it very much.
To clear up any confusion, his name is Tom Hanks. Interesting x 8
Big .is a film acted by Tom Hanks, The nicest guy in Hollywood. In It talk about a young boy who wish to be an adult, and he realise his dream at an amusement park. When he become an big guy. he miss his childhood. and he return to himself and live a happy life at last. There is a famous say that is be careful what you wish for the moral of “Big”.
Thanks for paying attention when I speak. This one is basically a better version of the previous comment.
Big describes a boy wants to become adult I enjoy it very much.
Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine: Each member of the family has its their own charactristcs charaters. Though the little girl didn’t win in the end, she had shown herself to the others bravely.
Well put.
The Little Sunshine: To be honest, I don’t really understand the movie, I mean the subject of the movie. But I guess the movie wanna express a attitude toward the life. There’s no loser in the society, as long as we strive hard and be ourselves and do whatever we want within the legal range, it’s OK.
One of the most commonly used grammatical constructs in Chinese is “as long as… within the legal range.”
“Little Miss Sunshine”  .   I really love this film, I bet its beginning is different with others and I love this style. The grandpa in this film is a special character I bet, he likes to watch read blue magazines, he drugs, but and he fa teaches his granddaughter to dance like a hooker. The family seems so unharmony and actually it is not harmony, but for the little girl, the get together to drive to the contest place, it’s love’s strength.
Harmony is something of a buzzword here. The government likes to use words like harmony, cooperation and progress to describe everything.
Several episodes of South Park

I like cartoon, all kinds of cartoon. So I love “South Park” very much, even if some parts are disgusting. There is a character I forget his name. He is dead often He’s often dead for laughing. It’s too funny.
I got really happy every time someone made a positive comment about South Park.
I think the South Park is more suitable for Chinese adult. For it tells adult’s stories through children’s mouths. However, it’s wonderful in spite of the hero speaks too fast.
Fair enough.
South Park tells the truth that others do not. I appreciate it.
Hell yeah.
Independence Day

Independence Day is the end of the world as we know it. But there is a problem in it, only American deal with it not everywhere.
That R.E.M. song plays in the beginning of the movie. I told them it was significant. Then I went on a rant about movies that should involve people all over the world but just focus on Americans. Solid answer.
I really love the UFOs in the movie “Independence Day” , they’re really great inventions, if I can drive one some day, I must be very famous.
Infallible logic.
The Independence Day. It is a goo perfect film about the fight between the earth and other plane in the space. Human win the war and protected themselves. It was an new beginning. In this film, it also reflected the important of family.
Good just isn’t strong enough a word.
I like the movie “Independence Day” It is an American movie. It impressed me very much, The movie is directed by Roland Emmerich. The acters played very well in the movie. For example, Will Smith played the role of Captain Steven “Steve” Hiller. He is a very famous actor. and Bull Bill Pullman played the role of President. The people all over the American fight for peace, and they fight for victory, protecting them from the defence of eli alien people.
No bullshit, no fuss. Just the facts, plain and simple.
The movie Independence Day is an action movie or science fiction. I love the movie very much. Many actors attract my attention, such as Bill Pullman, Will Smith, Vivica A. Fox. And I remember Will Smith says, “Welcome to earth.” He’s cool, I’d like to say, Meanwhile, the words said by the president are meaning.
It’s pronounced Earf.
The president of Independence Day had ever made a moving speech before the fighting planes started crush the UFO.
There’s something about Bill Pullman that just makes people gravitate toward him! Haahhahaahaha!!!1
Independence Day is awesome. Welcome to earth! But I hope the alien will never come to earth. Our planet is too crowded.
It’s pronounced Earf. And it is indeed too crowded.
I like what Will Smith act in Independence Day. He is full of responsibility and he must be a qualified husband and father.
Spoken like a true Confucian.
I like the action movie     ,so I really like the Independence day      ,”Well Welcome to the earth.”
Stupid played out joke about vernacular pronunciation that I was tempted to repeat aside, I really want a shirt that says “Well Welcome to the earth.”
Starship Troopers

Starship Trooper may be the most “disgusting” movie I’ve watched. I dare not watch again even though I’ve watch for more than 4 times.
Four times? Guess what scrub, I’ve seen Starship Troopers at least twenty times. Flip three six hole! Cyrano! Go bug mom Cyrano! Zegema Beach! The enemy cannot push a button if you disable his hand! Welcome to the roughnecks. RICO’S ROUGHNECKS! It’s afraid… It’s afraid! Would you like to know more?
I like the movie which involves the action and romance such as Starship Troopers.
Cool. I like it a lot more than you. I have the special edition DVD and there are some awesome featurettes about how they created the bugs. When they talk about the brain bug, the guy who was in charge of the design tells a great story where he asked Paul Verhoeven what he was looking for and Paul Verhoeven, like a boss, says “Maybe it should look like an anus. Maybe it should look like a vagina. But I don’t know.” Oh, he knew. And from then on the crew affectionately referred to it as the “Poogina.”
Although Star Ship trooper is very exiting, some scenes of film are too disgusting, and I can’t bear it.
I can never pick a favorite scene. How do you compare Captain Deladier getting severed in half by a malfunctioning door on her recently destroyed vessel to Johnny Rico using his space football techniques to stabilize himself on the back of a tanker bug, cracking a hole through its shell with bullets and blowing it up with a grenade? The only logical conclusion is that they’re both God tier moments that provide the viewer with equal amounts of pleasure. And there are so many others like it.
The movie about space war is a little disgusting sometimes.
I love the role Denise Richards plays during the football game. Obviously we want to believe that she’s totally devoted to Johnny and it’s just in her nature to be flirtatious when she helps Zander up and makes small talk with him. Then when Johnny scores the winning touchdown and she bolts onto the field to embrace him, there’s a split-second of pure genius. She’s running toward Johnny with this beaming smile on her face and she hugs him, then looks at Zander, only for a second, still smiling, as if to silently say “fuck you bro,” then turns back to Johnny and they make out.
“Starship troopers” It’s cruel, but we beat it at last, human’s strength is hugh huge!
It’s a satire.
I still don’t think Brad Pitt is hot. I thought he has not done a good job in the movie The Curious of Benjamin Button.
I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in theaters because my mom made me see it with our family. There’s a part where an old lady is sitting in a rocking chair and it looks like she’s sleeping but everyone in the audience knows she’s dead. Brad Pitt asks her if she wants to go to the store and she doesn’t respond because she’s dead. I shouted out “guess not,” but to my dismay no one else thought it was a funny riff.
Movies can reflect many thoughts of people’s happiness, saddness, successful feeling, depression and so on.
Just like a mirror, or a pond.
I don’t like horrible movies, especially the sounds and the images of them.
I don’t like cantaloupe, especially the way it smells and tastes.
Movies are based on our real life, so through watching movies, people could understand many things which in the real life they can’t understand.
Some movies, like Kids in the Sandbox, BME Pain Olympics, and 27 Dresses, raise more questions than answers.
I wish we also can see see some horrible movies, I think the whole class get together to see horrible movie must be very funny and interesting and exciting.
Interesting x 9
I have seen Lost for aabout a year    ,   until now I still feel a little confused. I’m wondering if I will continue.
It’s purgatory.
Adventure is the common human personality. And many movie producers makes full use of thist this point to produce nice and classic works.
Nice? Interesting x 10
I like American movies very much, especially the American funny movie which the romantic story happened in the campus between the handsome guy and a pretty lady.
I’m also a pretty big fan of “Coeds Need Cash.”

The responses above were taken from the tests of students who received average grades. Their tests usually had one or two completely thoughtless and unprovocative statements accompanied by one or two amusing or somewhat insightful statements. A few students did very well. A few students would have done better if they hadn’t written anything at all. Either way, their exams are worth reading in their entirety.
Hat Tricks

1. “Home Alone” is very interesting. I’ve seen the impressive movie in my Junior Middle School. The little boy’s performance is excellent. It seems that in the western countries there are many children who are famous in the movie industry, but in China, there’re not.
2. “Little Miss Sunshine” is very unique. Grandfather is so funny that he teaches his granddaughter to dance like that. What is most moving is their relationships in family. I think parents are the most important part in my life.
3. “South Park” is a wonderful TV series because I’ve not seen such ironic TV in China. Usually, these kind of movies are forbidden to broadcast here. I think it is good for the movie maker to make some movies that can reflect the reality, that’s striking and impressive.
Home Alone is the most interesting story film that I have ever seen.
I hope this class can be more interesting.
I’d like to see more films that reflect the daily life of American.
1. The blizzard that hit Southern part is really large
2. Love never means ya you are sorry
3. You are such a disease
1. Films produced by Hollywood are excellent and attractive.
2. I don’t approve people go to cinemas to watch film foreign movies to give our money to a aliens.
3. In recent years, Indian movies are developing faster and faster, many of them are very good.
I like the romatic movie very much.         Titanic
I like the action-comedy movie like Mr and Mrs Smith
I like the Independence Day   , the human beings unite together
1. I’m sorry that I can’t remember the English names of the movies we saw, but I do remember the Chinese names. For instance, the first film we saw is called 《小鬼当家》,the Little boy in it is so cute and smart. And it can be defined as a comedy, because the tricks and strategies in it are so funny.
2. (We watched Beverly Hills Cop but I told the students they didn’t have to worry about it since I never officially talked about it) The film we saw last time is quite funny, too. The hero, the intelligent policeman is a perfect policeman in my mind. Different with other police guys, he is not so odd. I do hope that the policemen in our real life can be that kind.
3. The films about the strange creatures or I can call them monsters are really horrible. In my opinion, It’s more like a scary movies. But I really like it, because it draws my attention and the soilders are so brave that every girl will fall in love with them.
To sum up, among all kinds of films, except for documentaries, I like all of them. But absolutely, besides the boring ones.
Little miss Sunshine: “Am I pretty?”
Starship Troopers: we beat it
meet the parents: Are you “Fucker”?
                           where is my cat?
1. Movie can teach me a lot. When I sad or happy I can stay with movie and it will help me to get happiness.
2. Such as “Prison Break”, in some aspects, it was my support in my life, because in that period I was wandering and boring, and this that movie helps me found my goal.
3. Movie is the most amazing thing I have ever met. It is my best friend in my spare time.
1. I like “Starship Troopers” very much. It told us that united can win the war.
2. “Starship Troopers” showed advanced technology.
3. “Starship Troopers” is a movie that show us the power of military is very important.
1. I like the action movies, expecially acted by Julie
2. I also like some movies about vampires, and sometimes, I really w dream of changing to a vampire.
3. When I feel boring, or sad, I’ll see some funny movies, when I see that, I’ll laugh happily, then I’ll have a good day.
1. “Little Ms Sunshine”  Am I pretty?
2. “Home Alone”  Take care of yourself
3. “Give Olive a Hug”  Give Olive a hug!
“Meeting Parents”
1. This is one of the funniest movie I’ve ever watched. It is about a man-nurse Mr. Forker went to meet his girlfriend’s parents. And there are something fun were happened.
2. It is clearly seemed that his girlfriend’s father didn’t like him. Father liked his daughter’s former boyfriend. So Mr. Forker did so many things to make her parents like him.
3. The scene of this movie which I like is that, one day her parents lost his cat, its his love cat, so Mr. Forker decided to look for his cat, but he had no idea, so finally he got another cat and spay on its tail.
1. The movie “Starship Troopers is one of my favorite movies.
2. We boys got very excited about South Park.
3. Movies bring us a lot. Sometimes We get much more than leisure. Sometimes we laugh with tears. Even, we feel ourselves are the actors. We can In a whole we get a lot from movies.
1. Action movie
2. Comedy movie
3. Tra Disaster movie
After “Action movie Comedy movie Disaster movie,” there’s really nothing more to be said. I am going to try to update again as soon as possible. Next time more than half of the content will actually be written by me. The post is going to be about Christmas and Christmas looks like this: