Category Archives: Adventure!


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.


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.


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.


There are four foreign teachers at the Jilin Institute of Architecture and Civil Engineering including myself. There are also four members of the Foreign Affairs and Cooperation department. This is the office I’m supposed to go to if I require assistance with any problems. Anything from legal documents to Jesus shit on my walls. One member has been marginally helpful to me, putting forth the least amount of effort required to make sure I don’t get deported. The name of that member is not Allen. Allen is pictured below.


Allen was the first person I met in Changchun, along with a student named Black Stallion, at Changchun Airport. Allen’s face looks like a pancake. During the ride to our apartments, Allen repeatedly informed Andrew and me that we would not be paid the amount stipulated in our contract for the first month. He also told us that the internet connection we were promised in our contract wasn’t working because the bill wasn’t paid yet and wouldn’t be until the real manager of the foreign teachers who he was filling in for returned from Australia. And that sweemeeng is a favorite hobby of his. I didn’t really care for Allen at this juncture.

When we arrived at my apartment Allen showed me around and flaunted his English skills by using his index finger and words like “kitchen,” “toilet,” “bed,” and “TV.” If the tour lasted two minutes, I wouldn’t have minded. Unfortunately Allen kept it going for ten minutes, naming every object in my apartment and, when his vocabulary would permit, describing the basic functions of the objects. He giggled when I expressed disapproval of the bible passages on the walls and when I lifted up the blanket on my bed to reveal a damp towel. Before leaving he told me we would have a meeting the next day at noon. He later cancelled that meeting because picking us up from the airport had driven him to exhaustion and he would rather spend the day napping or remaining otherwise motionless instead.

Allen struggles with the concept of scheduling. If he tells me on a Tuesday that we will meet Wednesday at 8 in the morning, I can expect to be woken up by a phone call from Allen at least an hour earlier instructing me to come downstairs because he’s waiting in his car. Sometimes I don’t get an advanced notice but merely a call that goes “Hello Paul? Are you beesy?” He had a knack for calling at times when the chance that I’d be beesy were slim to none, such as 7 in the morning.

Allen kept bringing up a visit we would have to make to the playstation. I eventually figured out that he was trying to say police station and the visit was a mandatory registration for foreigners who planned on not getting kicked out of the country. Although he was supposed to help us do this within 48 hours of our arrival, Allen put it off for about a week and a half. He called one day and told me he was waiting for me at the playstation. I explained that I had no idea how to get there as I’d only been in the city for a week. Allen told me to hail a cab and give the driver the phone, then he would direct the driver to the police station. Thankfully he only pulled that shit the one time. He asked if I had any photos of myself. I replied that I did not. He said “that’s okay” and hung up. When I got to the police station I met Allen, Black Stallion and my landlord, a woman named Betty. Allen asked me to present my photos. I told him I wasn’t lying when I said I didn’t have any. Allen didn’t express the surprise one would expect to come from such a miscommunication, which led me to believe that he understood perfectly well when I told him the first time. He said “that’s okay” again. We got into his car and left. I thought we were going home but we made another stop at a combination hair salon/image editing studio.

It’s popular in China for people to have photos of themselves “professionally” photoshopped. Naturally, some hair stylists figured out that by offering their clients the option to look like they’ve been dipped in a vat of hot wax right after their haircut they could pull a slightly nicer income. The photoshop department of this particular hair salon was on the second floor, consisting of two computers from the mid-90s and a bored chain-smoking Chinese man with anime hair. Allen asked me to download some digital photos of myself. I didn’t think he’d respond well to a lecture about oppressive firewalls and suppression of information so instead of delivering one I tried to access facebook and feigned surprise when it didn’t work. Allen said that perhaps he had some. He checked his e-mail and clicked on an old message sent from Journey East, the company I got my job through, and opened an attached file that contained a dozen headshots I sent to them months ago, presumably so they could pass them on to Allen so that when the time came for him to help me register with the police, he’d have the pictures he needed. Then he asked me for 10 yuan to pay for the printing. He told me he would pay me back, which he has not yet done to this day.

Instead of driving back to the police station, Allen took me home. I asked why we weren’t going back to the police station. Allen said we couldn’t register that day because the man who processes the foreigner registration papers wasn’t there.

“So when you asked me to take out my pictures while we were there, we wouldn’t have been able to use them anyway?” I asked.

“Yeah.” replied Allen.

Also of note, he had Black Stallion and Betty both put aside any plans they had for the day so they could join us on this expedition that was ultimately doomed to end in a studio of Chinese yuppie glamor shots. Black Stallion would accompany Allen and I on several other trips for the sole purpose of holding Allen’s wallet and pulling out huge wads of cash when instructed. A few days after our arrival Andrew complained to Journey East about the apartment he was originally located in, an hour drive away from the school and unfit for human occupancy. In fact, we were specifically told that if one of us was placed in that area, there was a problem and they needed to be contacted. Allen’s job was threatened and he had Black Stallion run around my apartment complex looking for a vacant place they could rent for Andrew.

During the first week of school Allen would often call me into his office for “meetings.” I’d arrive and Allen would be sitting at his desk, staring at his computer, his boss Arnold doing the same on the other side of the room. Allen would then ask me to take a seat on the couch, which has a clear view of his computer monitor. I’d watch him dick around on QQ (the Chinese equivalent of AIM or MSN) for about ten minutes or so before mentioning to him that I was hoping to do anything else at some point in the day. He’d offer me tea, cigarettes or whatever other consumables he might have to try to keep my mind off of the fact that I was in the office for a meeting that he called me there for and instead of having that meeting, he was being a lazy, inconsiderate, worthless dickhead. Eventually, whether Allen actually got around to having me fill out some paperwork or not, Arnold would get up and walk out of the office without saying a word. Seconds later Allen would tell me that “I must eat lunch now because my superior wants to You can go home, we do this other time.” Arnold has never said more than ten words to me but I like him a lot more than Allen.

The first of these meetings was the first day of school, a Monday. I arrived at Allen’s office with Andrew at 8, when the first class of the day starts. After the introductory couch and concessions buffer, Allen printed out a schedule and began going over it with me. He pointed to my first class. A class at 8 AM on Mondays. I asked if I was expected to attend this class today. He thought for a second, then said I was. I mentioned that it was 8:15. He said “yes, I show you.” So then, without any preparation whatsoever, I arrived twenty minutes late to my first class. I asked Allen if I could see my schedule. He pulled it out and stared at it. I extended my hand but he didn’t give it to me. I asked again but Allen didn’t respond. I moved my hand a little closer but Allen pulled the schedule away. I asked again if I could see my schedule and he finally handed it to me. Allen would do the same exact thing during later encounters whenever he was holding something of mine, such as my passport and contract. When I looked at the schedule, I noticed the characters “影视,” meaning “film and television.” I asked Allen if I was expected to show a movie.

“Do you have movie?” he responded.

“No. No one told me I would be teaching a film class. No one told me I would be teaching anything today.”

“That’s okay. You bring movie to next class.”

Then he left. I returned to his office after an uninspired icebreaker class and lunch with some of my students who were so enthralled by the presence of a foreigner that they insisted on buying me food. Only one of the four students has attended my class more than once since and that one student has yet to stay awake for or otherwise contribute anything of worth to the class discussions but that’s unrelated. I returned to Allen’s office to see Andrew sitting in the exact same spot on the couch as when I left. He whispered to me about how he’d been there the whole time and Allen was just dicking around on QQ and giving him tea. Then the meeting was over because he didn’t have Andrew’s textbook.

The last of these meetings happened on a day when I had no class and was woken up by an unexpected Allen call. He asked me to come in so I could sign my contract. A red flag immediately went up in my head because I had signed a contract with Journey East and then received a contract from them by e-mail that I was told was my official contract with the school. I figured it couldn’t hurt as long as nothing had changed between contracts so I grabbed the copy I printed out in case something like this happened and went off to meet Allen.

He made me wait on the couch. After several minutes, I reminded him that I was there. He grabbed two small booklets and sat down next to me. He repeated what he said on the phone about it being the official contract and that I should sign. He also suggested I sign Andrew’s copy. I pulled out my copy of the contract and told him I was just going to compare them to make sure it was all the same and as far as signing Andrew’s, I wouldn’t do that without his permission. Allen said “okay.”

I began reading my contract. For five seconds or so, it seemed like Allen understood me when I said I was going to compare the contracts. But then I caught him jolt out of the corner of my eye, like something clicked in his head. He started laughing and waving his hands in front of me saying “oh no no, it’s okay you don’t have to read can just sign. Same contract.” I said I understood but wanted to read it just in case. He wouldn’t shut the fuck up.

“Hahahaha, no it’s same contract you see? We are very honest department you can trust us hahahahaha. You can sign it, it’s official government contract.”

He pointed to the cover to indicate that the contract was a generic form regulated by the government that doesn’t vary from school to school. I tried to explain that I wasn’t reading it because I assumed he was trying to cheat me, although I did think he was, but that in America we like to read contracts we are going to sign. I called it a tradition. He said “Ah, tradition. I know tradition.” He continued to laugh nervously and repeat the same phrases about honesty and the government until he got the point that I was going to sit there and read the whole thing. He didn’t leave my side once while I was reading. He tried one more time to convince me to stop reading when I was almost at the end. And after all the fuss he made, the contracts were just about identical. The only difference was some of the wording.

I think the reason Allen got so nervous and defensive was because of face. Some people might say that face is a concept like prestige or honor, deeply rooted in Chinese culture, a longstanding tradition and impossible to translate. As far as I can tell face is people getting away with lying, avoiding accountability for mistakes and wrongdoings and a superficial image a person wants others to accept. The very fact that I wanted to read my contract made Allen feel uncomfortable because it indicated to him that I don’t trust him enough to sign anything he asks me to without checking it first. The fact that he’s tried to screw us over in other ways probably made him feel even more uncomfortable.

I signed my contract and then Allen handed me Andrew’s. I told him I would call Andrew and ask if it was okay. I could see Allen struggling to remain silent. I told Andrew about the contract and how they were both the same but he said he wanted to read it himself to be completely satisfied. I relayed the message to Allen who, instead of continuing with his giggling and nagging, sighed and said okay like a spoiled middle schooler asked to make his bed. Before stowing away the contracts in his desk drawer, he tried one more time to get me to sign Andrew’s. He turned around and confided in me.

“It’s okay, you can sign this one look.” He paused and opened Andrew’s to a page where a signature was clearly scribbled out. “I already sign it to send to government for foreign expert. I do to yours too. It’s okay, I already sign it.”

I don’t know why Allen was so worried about me causing him to lose face when he does a pretty damn good job of losing it himself. He never ended up calling Andrew to have him sign the contract either.

Take 2, Allen wasn’t satisfied with Take 1. Look at his hands

I took this picture of Allen on the school bus. I was the first to board that evening and he was the second. We were waiting to be taken home. Allen doesn’t normally ride the bus. Something was wrong that day. I feared he was trying to find me for some reason. Fortunately that wasn’t the case. Take a look at that picture. Take a look at that fucking pancake face. That’s the pancake face of the man that has been the cause of almost every problem I’ve encountered since arriving in China. And his face does look like a pancake if you stare long enough. It’s one of those things where you relax your eyes and look for the picture hidden in the blurry stuff.

Left, Commander William T. Riker looking how I felt when I first saw Allen board the bus. Right,  an Ornaran looking how I felt after conversing with Allen for over sixty seconds

Allen had been in a car accident. I asked if his car was badly damaged and how long he thought he might be riding the bus. He, having poor English listening comprehension skills and falsely assuming I expressed concern for his well-being, responded that neither he nor the other car’s occupants were injured. I said I was glad to hear that and repeated my question. He frowned a bit as he nodded his head. The car was not doing too well. How’d the accident happen? Allen explained that “the traffic light was red but I didn’t see” and just sort of drove through.

Allen asked me what bus stop I get off at. I said Lin He Jie, the street I live on. He insisted that there was a better bus stop that he would “introduce” me to. He asked what I like to eat. I started listing some stuff. He asked if I like chicken. I said yes. He told me he would “introduce” me to the best chicken restaurant in Changchun several times for the next minute. By this, I don’t mean he droned on describing the restaurant or anything. I mean he repeated the sentence “I introduce to you a new restaurant with best chicken,” varied slightly each time, for about a minute. Andrew got on the bus and made his way toward us. I noticed despair in his eyes when he saw Allen. Allen told Andrew we’d been talking about a superior bus stop and a great chicken restaurant that he would introduce us to. I asked Andrew how his classes were that day.

Allen stared ahead as Andrew began describing how difficult his freshmen have been. After about a minute Allen interrupted him.

“Yeah, they put the chicken in the pot with some vegetable.”

He continued to explain how the pot sat on an open flame to let the chicken and vegetables cook as the bus pulled away. Aside from that, he didn’t have much to say for the rest of the ride. He told us to get off the bus when we reached the stop around the corner from the one we usually get off at. It took us longer to walk back. When we got to a nondescript intersection that I can’t remember, Allen pointed into the distance and said “the restaurant is that way.” Then he left.

Luckily Allen has not played a very large role in my life as of late. When I have to deal with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation I generally speak with Summer, a woman who is slightly more pleasant than Allen. A toast of “Fuck Allen” will generally be made at some point during a night of drinking. One night Nick, Andrew and I decided the toast should be followed by subsequent toasts made to how we would kill Allen that involves him cheating us in some way.

Allen calls me and says something like “Hello Paul? Are you beesy? I have you money you come to my house and pick up.” I arrive at his home and ask for my salary. He says “Oh yeah I leave it at office I go to get it now. Look, I get new sweemeeng pool. Maybe you feel it up while I get you the money I pay you one hundred yuan more.” After Allen leaves I go around clearing out every nearby store of their ammonia products. I fill up his pool with the ammonia and rinse out a bucket so it looks like I’ve been using it to make trips from the sink to the pool. Allen pays me, neglecting the 100 yuan he promised for filling the pool. I tell him it’s no problem, I was glad I could help. Over the course of the next two years he, his wife and child soak in the ammonia whenever they wade in its poisonous waters. Allen never drains the pool because it takes too much work. And no one ever accuses anyone because then people would start losing face. But this is all just hypothetical and I would never do such a thing. I’d just bitch about it on the internet instead. Fuck Allen.