Category Archives: Culture


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.


On days when eating Chinese food seems less appealing than eating the ever-growing cluster of shit stains on my toilet bowl, there are few places to turn in Changchun. Two restaurants owned by the same people, named Grandma’a and Grandpa’s, take recipes and suggestions from foreigners and as a result offer passable burgers, burritos and such. When I have the cash to spare and the inclination to travel thirty or forty minutes, one of these is where I go to satisfy my lust for a Western meal. The other options are KFC and McDonald’s.

KFC’s inherent nature as a complete joke makes it the perfect contender for success in China’s fast food market. Observing the addition of delivery bicycles parked outside and makeshift playground within, one might even mistake it for a chain Chinese in origin. A student once asked me if I like Chinese food. I began to list my favorite dishes. He cut me off, asking “Kay Effur See?” I spent the next five minutes trying to convince the class that KFC was not, in fact, Chinese. I’m not sure whether or not I was successful.
Although McDonald’s doesn’t have as big a presence in Changchun as KFC, there’s always a much greater density of foreigners inside. Because of this it’s a nice place to visit both to remind yourself what the lowest quality beef on Earth tastes like and what a natural blonde looks like in real life. It’s also a great place to strike up a conversation with the jolly Dutchman a table over, exchange numbers and then days later receive a part-time job offer that he insinuates may quickly mature into gainful full-time employment.

Now, whenever I walk into or out of a room the first thing I do is take a deep, confident breath, scan the place and ask myself, “is there any way I can capitalize on this situation and turn it into a profitable business venture?” I asked myself this question as I stood before the second-level seating area of McDonald’s, two Big Mac(Donald’s hamburger)s, fries and drink in hand. I spotted a slightly overweight man with spiked hair and a leather jacket relaxing in the far corner by himself and knew the answer to my question was yes.

By carefully ignoring the man for the duration of my meal, I successfully caught his attention. “So how do you like Changchun?” he suddenly inquired. Martin, as he introduced himself to me, has been living in Changchun for about six years. He told me about a website called “Changchun Friends,” a Facebook clone for foreigners in Changchun. He has a wife here in Changchun and teaches English to the young children of Changchun. We talked about Changchun winters and Changchun roads and argued fervently over whether or not it was possible to get a real piece of steak in Changchun, which I still contend is impossible. His wife called and demanded his return home so we exchanged numbers and parted ways.

I got a call from Martin a few days later. He asked me about my current job and salary and very bluntly stated that I could make a lot more money teaching at a school called Rise. I mentioned that my contract was a year long and I’d keep it in mind. A few days after that phone call, he sent me a text message asking if I could teach for an hour on Saturdays for 120 yuan.

My contract with JIACE prohibits me from working part-time at other schools. Andrew once asked Summer why this is, to which she replied that it’s dangerous; people might take advantage of us and they wouldn’t want anyone to do that unless they too were profiting from it. I thought about my contract and how the school had violated nearly half of its terms in under a month, then gave Martin my reply that I would be happy to teach a class on Saturdays.

I showed up for an interview at Rise on a Wednesday around 5.  I had no idea what kind of school it was or what kind of classes I’d be teaching, except that I’d have around ten students. From the outside Rise looked like a second-rate indoor amusement park where children urinate in ball pits and hibernate at the top of plastic slides, kicking and biting others who try to make proper use of the recreational equipment. A giant multi-colored sign atop the entrance read “RISE: Subject English,” which didn’t entirely convince me that the place was actually a school. My suspicions only worsened when I walked in to see crowds of parents huddled around the perimeter of an enormous sandbox, watching their children shriek with pleasure and pain.

I asked a receptionist where I could find a woman named Christina. After giggling, she pointed toward a hall of cubicles. A chipper woman at the far end flagged me down when she saw me slowly making my way through the room, attempting to make eye contact with the women  to gauge whether or not one of them was expecting a confused white guy. On my way over, I noticed an area near her sectioned off by glass occupied by two foreigners.

As I approached Christina, I was under the impression that I should take my interview seriously but I quickly realized that it would progress in a manner similar to every other professional meeting I’d ever had in China. Christina spent most of the interview alt-tabbing between a spreadsheet document and a libidinous QQ conversation. The interview pertained more to my availability than my qualifications. I was asked when I could start, if I’d be available to attend their Halloween party and if I’d be able to teach more hours once the fall semester at JIACE finished, but not why I thought I was capable of holding the attention of a class full of five-year-olds for any length of time, let alone teach them anything. But if Christina didn’t see a problem with anything, why should I?

Rise employs a staff of several dozen Chinese girls in their twenties and early thirties to dress up in fuzzy pink sweatshirts and teach English to children aged 4-12. Rise employs a staff of maybe four or five foreigners to attract customers with promises of weekly foreigner fun time for their children. Christina dressed this up for me by telling me I’d be reviewing material the kids had learned every week. She told me she’d send me a class summary later that night so I could prepare a lesson.

Christina neglected to e-mail me the summary that night. She neglected to e-mail me the summary on Thursday as well until I called and reminded her that I needed it. I received the following Microsoft Word document:

Key wordsWeekdays
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
here the important part is Monday and Tuesdaykids just learn these two days by heart is ok;)
Key sentences
Today is Monday.
Today is Friday.

I spent the better part of a minute trying to come up with a passable half-hour lesson plan about seasons that somehow focuses on the days of the week, especially Monday and Tuesday. I figured since the kids were only four or five years old, they probably weren’t the most adept conversationalists and at this stage in their English careers the most important thing would be repetition and memorization. I’d been having some successful hour and a half long college classes with minimal planning, I didn’t think a half hour could be very painful.
I took a cab to Rise and got there a few minutes before class started. A tiny girl in one of the pink teacher uniforms beckoned me and led me up a few flights of stairs. Her name was Cici (pronounced Sissy) and she was Phoebe’s Teaching Assistant. She would act as disciplinarian and remind the kids not to speak Chinese while I delivered my dense course material.
As I entered the classroom, Phoebe was leading the children in a delightful sing-song chant. The room had impressive resources. Resources that dwarfed the chalk and blackboard setup at JIACE. Resources Christina deemed too insignificant to mention when explaining to me how classes worked. The classroom was fitted with a fairly modern computer hooked up to a projector. The image was projected onto a screen that connected back to the computer via what looked like a serial port.
Rise has a large bank of flash games and learning material stored on a server that teachers can access from the classrooms. The screen had a serial port because it’s a giant touchscreen, which is really an incredible teaching resource. If I had been told that there were computers in the room with Powerpoint installed, I could have made a presentation and navigated through it without making trips to the computer every ten seconds to change slides. If I had been told that there was an enormous collection of games, I could’ve bribed kids with the chance to play a game if they participated.
Phoebe immediately asked me if I prepared a powerpoint. I suddenly realized how badly this was going to go. I told her I had no idea I’d have so much at my disposal, I was under the impression that I’d just be showing up and having the children parrot me. She laughed and turned toward the class. “Gogo!” A boy who had been staring at the floor looked up solemnly. “Have a conversation with Paul!” He shook his head and looked back down.
“He’s the smartest kid in the school,” Phoebe said. “He’s acting weird today, don’t worry about him.” She then chose another student named Stephen, an ogre of a five-year-old.
Stephen happily marched up to the front of the classroom and Phoebe left to go on her break. Phoebe mentioned that in addition to the seasons and days of the week, I could talk about months and weather. With that in mind, I began my conversation with Stephen, who sounded like a jackovasaurus.
This will not be my second post without any images

“Hello Stephen,” I began.

“HELLO!” replied Stephen.

“What day is it today?”


“Great! What day was it yesterday?”


“What day was it yesterday, Stephen?”


“How is the weather today?”


“Is it cold today?”


This continued for about a minute before I asked someone else to come up. Every time a day of the week was mentioned, Stephen would chant them all from Sunday to Saturday to the tune of a slightly dissonant melody that no one else in the class seemed to be familiar with. Most of the kids stared at me in horror for the rest of the half-hour without saying a word but a few of them were happy to participate. One of them was named Superman and had a rat tail. The class wasn’t as painful as I imagined it would be, in part because it eventually came to an end. In the event that they wanted me back, I would make sure I was prepared.

Christina was busy in a meeting, something that I had a feeling could take a lot longer than I was willing to wait. I asked a guy named Bill, who I had befriended after my interview and lives in Zhonghai, if I could trust Christina to pay me the 60 yuan I earned (one and a half round trips to Rise by cab) when I cam next week. He didn’t doubt it, so I left.

I received my next call from Christina Friday evening. Not only would I teach the same class I had the previous week but another one as well. Phoebe’s new class summary seemed a bit more helpful than her last one, if only because this time around I knew Powerpoint was an option. The topic was phonics. B says B. At says at. B-at. Bat. Kay taught the other class I’d be visiting.

Time: 10:30—-1100 am. Sat.
Classroom: 3-5
Rise: RIB1
Name: Kay
Age: 6–8
Numbers of Students:13
Practice how to use verbs and adverbs.
Have kids make some sentences
Key words: verb adverbs
Run walk jump fly sleep …
Quickly slowly fast loudly…
Key sentences:
I walk quickly.
She speaks loudly.

Simple and straightforward. There wasn’t much ambiguity and the example sentences gave me a pretty good idea of what level the students were at. I also noticed that the students would be a little bit older than the ones in Phoebe’s class, part of an age group that has a reputation as hard to control. I spent the rest of my Friday night making slideshows for my classes, an effort that I hoped would pay off the next day.

I tried to wake up early enough to catch a bus downtown but I slept through my initial alarm and three or four snoozes. I split a cab with Bill and we arrived about thirty minutes before my class, so he showed me some nearby places of interest. I also got a chance to meet Richard in the foreigner office. Richard looked about twice the age of Bill and I and hails from the UK. He showed little to no interest in meeting me, however, he did also mention that friends were arriving at his place at three in the morning with fifths of liquor and he was “just going to let this happen.” An attitude I admire.

Phoebe’s class went better this time around. When I entered the room, my man Stephen interrupted a class sing-a-long by pointing at me and shouting, “PAUL IS COMING!” Phoebe agreed that I was indeed coming and ended the sing-a-long. She and Cici helped me kill about five minutes of class time by chatting with me and ignoring the kids whose parents had paid good money for me to interact with their children. Phoebe offhandedly mentioned before leaving that the words in my Powerpoint presentation were going to be easy for them but that it was okay. I started to think that maybe I shouldn’t be taking the summaries at face value anymore.

Gogo was in a good mood that day and I got to see firsthand that he actually is a brilliant kid who made insightful observations throughout the class. While we were playing an alphabet flash game he remarked that the game was too easy and we should play something else. He seemed to understand when I mentioned that not everyone had a turn yet and it wasn’t as easy for them.

After a ten minute break I had Kay’s class. I walked into the classroom and basked in the warmth of the ensuing chaos. The children were running around, screaming and throwing shit at each other. I felt that my classes, at JIACE and Rise or anywhere else, would be great as long as the students had some energy. Now I was able to put that theory to the test. The TA was calmly sitting in the back of the classroom. When she saw me she called the kids to attention and they got in their seats almost immediately. A few stragglers came in from the bathroom and I started up my presentation.

I went through a collection of images that depicted verbs and asked the kids to guess what they were. Most of the kids were jumping up and down with their arms stretched over their heads shouting out the answers. Every time one of the kids labeled a picture correctly, the TA drew a tally next to the student’s name written on a white board. When we moved on to adverbs, I incorporated a flash game. I opened up the folder that held the games and the children, recognizing it, let out a roar of approval. I was scrolling through when one of them said “OH I KNOW,” ran up to the screen and double-clicked on a game. They all cheered again.

I would then shout out a verb and call on a student to make a sentence with an adverb of their choice. If they were right, they could come up and play a round of the game. Except for the only two girls in the class, who looked like they might die of terror at any moment, everyone participated.

The object of the game was to launch a penguin into the air and keep him up as long as possible by clicking on him and collecting turbo boosts. That’s pretty fucking awesome when the mouse is your hand. The TA and I both got just as involved in the excitement as the kids. When we played the game again two weeks later she even hit the turbo boosts a couple of times when the kids failed to notice them.

I left the classroom in one of the best moods I’d been in since arriving in Changchun and headed down to the office to collect my pay. Christina asked me if I could work a trick-or-treat station at the school on Halloween. I replied that I’d be happy to.

“So what will you say after the student asks trick or treat?” she asked.

“I think we usually just give them candy.” I said.

“Do you have a costume?”

“Well… no… I–”

“Yeah, he’s got a fucking costume,” commented Richard from the foreigner office, “because he knew this would happen.” I liked Richard.

Christina said they had a good costume I could wear. She took me up to the top floor of the building into an attic. After digging through piles of things that people only keep in attics, she pulled out a witch’s hat peppered with glitter. She held it up proudly. I told her that men generally don’t wear those hats but I did take the gender-neutral cloak that accompanied the hat.

We went back down to the office and Christina grabbed a Scream mask that was sitting on top of a filing cabinet right behind her desk. It was the kind that has a pump so you can make fake blood flow down the face. I always wanted one of those masks when I was a kid. I don’t remember whether I wasn’t allowed to have one or if I just never asked for one but I always wanted it. I expressed my approval to Christina and showed her how awesome the blood-pumping mechanism was. She said the blood would be too scary for the kids and I shouldn’t do it. I promised that I wouldn’t do it in front of the kids. She either didn’t believe me or didn’t want to take the chance so instead found another mask that to be honest, was a lot more unnerving than the Scream mask.

Christina sent me my summaries for Halloween weekend. Phoebe’s class was learning about Halloween-themed stuff and Kay didn’t give her a summary so she said I should go over the same stuff as last week. Bill asked me if I wanted to take a cab again because he was bringing his dog Mika to the school dressed in a Superman dog costume. Mika is an adorable tiny dog, incapable of spreading anything but love, joy and playfulness. Everyone, save for a select few, in the Rise office called her 大狗(dagou, meaning big dog) and shot her dirty looks. People would approach Mika and stare her down as if they might have to fight for their lives without a second’s warning while she trotted around licking and nuzzling everyone. Christina and the big boss, a guy named Jeffrey who looks like he might have descended from a species of salmon, told Bill he might have to take Mika home if she scared the children.

Phoebe’s class went well, as Halloween-themed activities often do. There was a pumpkin-carving game on the server, so we spent a lot of time playing that. When I went to Kay’s classroom afterwards, the kids were running around and screaming again but Kay was still in the room. She and the TA seemed confused by my presence.

“I didn’t ask for a foreign teacher today,” Kay said.

“Okay. I’ll leave.”

“Did you receive the summary?”

“No, Christina said to do the same thing as last time.”

Kay left the room a bit annoyed. The TA smiled bashfully. She apologized a few times.

I sat in a tiny chair and let some kids try to stomp on my feet until Kay returned. She said she checked to see if she requested a foreign teacher but indeed did not. She apologized and I said it really wasn’t a problem, Christina must have just made a mistake. Kay glared at me and replied, “she always make a mistake.”

I spent the afternoon at a nearby library reading and when I came back, Bill had been asked to take Mika home. Martin was in the office as well, the first time I’d seen him since my trip to McDonald’s. I learned that he either enjoys or can’t help making people feel uncomfortable, so it was fun to talk with him. Bill convinced me to go to a restaurant and drink a few beers with him about an hour before the Halloween party started. I got a slight buzz, returned, put on my costume and was directed to a room.

I was paired with a teacher named Lily, who may or may not have exceeded three feet in stature. She explained that children and parents would be arriving in waves. Three waves of trick-or-treaters would come to our room. The kids would enter one by one, inquire as to whether they’d fall victim to a dastardly trick or acquire some sort of delightful treat, receive a bag full of candy and possibly cheap plastic shit, then continue inside the room. Each group had twenty minutes in the room before moving on to another activity. The filing in and trick-or-treating took roughly one minute. The next nineteen minutes would be devoted to foreigner interactivity time.

“You should entertain the children,” Lily suggested.

A lot of the children were sitting on their parents’ laps but some of them danced around me and stared at my mask. A few of them were clearly disturbed and confused by its repugnant nature. A tiny child dressed as a cowboy looked like he was about to cry. I lifted my mask to show him that I was just a harmless white guy and he attempted to shoot me with his fake pistols. I stumbled around groaning while the kids ran away shrieking. After a while some of them mustered up the courage to inflict imaginary harm upon me. I threw myself to the ground and feigned a melodramatic death and there was much rejoicing. They continued to assault me after I was already dead.

I resurrected myself and feigned my death repeatedly for the rest of the night. Eventually, every single kid was actively taking part in my brutal murders. The parents were all snapping pictures and cheering their kids on. As they left some of the parents shook my hand and expressed deep approval of the violence and foreigner abuse I was encouraging their kids to take part in. I did the same routine with the next two groups and achieved similar success.

There are many words in this post so far and I wouldn’t expect anyone to retain interest beyond this point. I will recount the rest of my experience with Rise some other time. But not before I post about things far more interesting and a little bit more recent.

Cocktail Party

My friend Andrew teaches a class on English for use in a business setting. He teaches two classes of graduate students either the same age as us or a little older. He was given a textbook to assist in creating lesson plans. Andrew indicated to me that this textbook has been slightly less useful than a satchel of urine in preparing for his teaching duties.

A man named Peter attended one of Andrew’s classes and talked with him afterwards. Peter teaches in the same department as Andrew and informed him that there was an upcoming cocktail party for teachers and students in said department. Since Andrew was not only a teacher in the department but also a white foreigner, they would be more than glad to have him attend. When Andrew mentioned this to me he also remarked that they would probably be some amount of glad to have me attend as well since I too, am a white foreigner. There would be free food and drink at the party. All who attended would be expected to dress formally.

Unrelated Engrish picture to break up walls of text
On the day of the party, I was planning on heading to campus to meet with a student of mine named Heky (Pronounced Hi-key, I think. The name’s supposed to be in English but I’ve found no evidence of that being the case) who asked me to help her prepare for an oral English competition. The TV network CCTV holds an annual competition for college students around China to recite a speech they’ve written. I think there’s a monetary prize involved. I figured editing Heky’s speech wouldn’t take too long so I’d have plenty of time to go to the cocktail party, although I still wasn’t entirely sure if I was actually invited.

Andrew and I headed to the bus stop, him in a suit, me in my everyday slop t-shirt and jeans. As we passed through the extensive roadwork along the way, Andrew got dirt and mud all over his pretty little pants so I gave him some tissues to clean up. I carry a pack of tissues with me everywhere I go in case of a shit emergency because most public bathrooms don’t have toilet paper, including those at the school. There’s always a chance that your shit will be a squishy mess. When taking such a shit in an eastern style toilet, you run the remote risk of staining your pants. A student of mine named Jacob who has been using eastern style toilets his entire life told me that he recently had such an accident. If this happens, tissues won’t be of much help. You can, however, use them to wipe the tears from your eyes as you spend the rest of your day walking around in public with poopoo stains on your pants, mocked and ridiculed at every turn.

We arrived at the campus and headed to our respective destinations. On the way, we ran into Peter. Andrew introduced us and Peter told me to come to the party. Delighted, I went to the cafeteria to meet with Heky, where I figured we’d go over the speech. Without going off on too long a tangent, I’ll mention that my meeting with Heky took a lot longer than it should of, involving her telling a kid to fuck off, taking me on an uncomfortable date-like outing and suggesting that I take her speech home with me to edit on my own time. If I ever write about Chinese college students tricking their foreign teachers into going on dates with them, which isn’t uncommon, I’ll be sure to include further details regarding this event.

Lots of words so far. This advertisement has something to do with abortions
When Heky suggested that I take her speech home and go over it by myself, I replied that I wasn’t very fond of that idea. We returned to the campus and went back to the cafeteria and went over the whole thing. It was about global warming. Another student of mine, self-dubbed “Snower,” came to join us. I think I’m going to talk about names in an upcoming class. When I told them I was going to the cocktail party, they insisted on bringing me to the classroom. Chinese people tend not to believe me when I tell them I’m capable of performing basic functions such as recognizing locations I visit daily by myself. We took the elevator up to the fifth floor and as soon as the doors opened, I saw a crowd of Chinese people in suits and dresses in front of me. Among them was Peter.

Peter spotted me immediately and went, “Ah. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.” He came over, grabbed my arm and whisked me away from the elevator. He led me into a large room filled with more Chinese people in suits and dresses. He continued, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” as he dragged me into the center of the room. A dozen or so students surrounded me and Peter said “Okay,” then left. One of them handed me a glass of wine. They began asking me questions.

“Where are you from?”

“Are you going to be our teacher?”

“Do you know Jackie Chan?”

“How do you like China?”

“Do you have a Chinese girlfriend?”

“Would you marry a Chinese girl?”

For the next few hours I would be given drink after drink and pinned against a wall by drunk, eager Chinese grad students. It was really fun. The pictures that follow came from, the Chinese equivalent of facebook. A bunch of students added Andrew as a friend and he managed to find a couple of photo albums.

A table of wine. The wine is a lot like Hawaiian punch in regards to both taste and alcoholic content
It’s cool that Andrew is talking to all these girls. The person who took this picture is either twice his height or standing on a chair. Possibly even a table.
Eventually the initial group around me thinned out. I had arrived pretty late and people were starting to leave. I was only swallowed into an inescapable vortex of Chinese people two more times throughout the night. The first was when I pulled out the book I’m reading, The Power Broker, to show them pictures of New York and Americans. I think the motion of opening my backpack caught a lot of people’s attention.

In this picture, I’m the second from the left in the foreground
The second time was when one of the guys, the one who looks like he’s smelling my head in the picture above, asked me if I can dance. I didn’t think there could be a wrong answer but apparently “sure” was just that. He changed the song to something remarkably similar from the one that was already playing and told me to dance. The people around me began to spread out and form a circle. I didn’t really have it in me to let down a room full of well-dressed Chinese people so I said I would as long as Andrew did too.

Andrew was opposed to the idea and cursed at me for a while. I started several chants of “dance!” both in English and Chinese. Eventually he jiggled his pecs. Everyone was astonished and several people actually screamed. Then, apparently, my dance wasn’t good enough and I was expected to jiggle my pecs as well, which I couldn’t.

Things continued to happen. One of them asked me if I knew of the show Friends. I told him that I was familiar with its existence. This caused several of them to repeatedly nod their heads at me and ask me how I was doing. This was a reference to one of the show’s characters, Joey, who asks women how they’re doing in many episodes of the show.

My arm, although clearly bent, appears to be flush against the wall
This was posted on renren as a comment regarding the previous image
The two guys in the back are mocking us
I talked about the NBA with a group of guys for about twenty minutes. I don’t know shit about the NBA but it’s one of the most popular conversation topics. It’s a really easy conversation to have. The conversation follows this pattern:

“Do you know Kevin Garnett?”


“You know Boston? Boston Celtics?”

“Yes! Yes! Boston!”


“Ah!! Garnett. Yes, he very good. Ehhh. Jamesuh.”

“Lebron James?”


“Oh yeah, he’s great.”


“Do you know Allen Iverson?”


The guy on the right rules. I didn’t speak to the guy on the left but I’m fairly confident I can say the same for him

Eventually, I checked my phone and saw that we had five minutes to catch the last bus home. A posse of students accompanied Andrew and I out of the building, fearing that we wouldn’t be capable of finding the bus we take every day. It seemed we were too late and the bus had already gone. The students then led us to the main gate and all at once started instructing a cab driver how to get to our apartment building. He wasn’t familiar with Lin He Jie but thought he had the idea after a while. We got in and sure enough he made a wrong turn. After he corrected it we decided we didn’t want to pay a fare any greater than the meter was already showing so we walked the rest of the way. We stopped once to pee on a building. I had to go pretty badly so I was glad we didn’t stay in the cab.


The English majors at the Jilin Institute of Architecture and Civil Engineering don’t get to pick what classes they want to take. A major is essentially a complete curriculum. When the kids choose their major, they are placed in a class with around twenty other students. For the next four years, these are their classmates and they take every single class together in the same room unless they need to make use of one of the school’s few garbage resources. One of the classes they are required to take is called English Film and Television and I am apparently the resident expert because every Monday I have to watch the same movie three times in a room with garbage resources.

The last movie I watched three times in one day

My first day teaching was a Monday, so I had my film classes. I took the opportunity to assess what kinds of movies the students have seen and what I should show them. Across the board, they’re used to a maturity level of roughly PG. Popular actors include Will Smith, Angelina Jolie and Tom Hanks. I didn’t have to ask them to know that social and political issues should probably be avoided.  They’re all squeamish when it comes to gore and violence and haven’t seen many horror movies. This makes me really sad. I think every child should have at least one early traumatic mature movie experience. Some of my experiences of this nature included watching The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Last Action Hero.

With that information I began looking around. I knew that once I got the internet connection I was promised, I could get ahold of movies more easily but until then I’d have to buy DVDs. Nothing I brought with me would be suitable.
I like the way you lickin’ that fetus, girl
I’ve yet to find any DVDs here that aren’t bootlegs. A lot of them are collections of 15 or 16 movies on two discs. These movies will often have something in common with one another, like the starring actor.
It’s not really blu-ray

When I found this in Ou Ya I was surprised to find that they sell collections like this for about 8 yuan (roughly a dollar and change). It’s got some good stuff like Road to Perdition, which I probably won’t be able to show them and Big, which I probably will. This is the most normal DVD I’ve found since I’ve been here.

A man sells DVDs from the back of a pickup truck across the street from me. I paid him a visit and saw a Will Smith collection similar to the Tom Hanks one I already owned. I thought it was interesting that I so easily found collections of movies with two actors that the students unanimously requested. I didn’t buy the Will Smith one yet but I intend to. In addition to many Will Smith movies, the collection also has Beverly Hills Cop 1, 2 and 3, none of which feature Will Smith.
Like I said earlier, the last movie I watched three times in one day was Home Alone. After an initial failed attempt to stream it on Youku, the Chinese equivalent of Youtube that ignores all copyright laws, I decided to show them The Wanderers off of my USB stick instead. As soon as I plugged in my flash drive it got a virus, which was fun. With the exception of four or five kids in each class, everyone fell asleep. Probably because the audio quality was bad, the characters all talk over each other and there weren’t any subtitles. I don’t consider this class to be one of my most successful ones. I decided to look for Home Alone on DVD.
Do you recognize that kid? It’s the kid from Home Alone 3. What about those people behind him? Let’s take a closer look.
Still can’t place them? The’re the cast of National Lampoon’s Dorm Daze and Dorm Daze 2, which everyone in America has both heard of and enjoyed. I mentioned before that the movies on these DVDs have something in common. See if you can guess what the common ground between Home Alone 3 and Dorm Daze is.
Other “Super Little Rascal Managing a Household” movies in the set are Casper, Surviving Christmas, Little Miss Sunshine, Jingle All the Way and Me, Myself & Irene among others. I found out that there are four films in the Home Alone series and French Stewart plays Marv, Joe Pesci’s character, in the fourth one. That’s kind of upsetting. In any case, I found Home Alone and I entered my classroom the following Monday confident that nothing could go wrong. As a bonus, the DVD had Chinese subtitles, which the students love and I’d rather have them understand the movie than struggle to follow along and lose interest. Much to my chagrin, the A/V system in the classroom decided to give me a big fuck you and stopped functioning ten minutes into the class. It worked out alright though because I got to hold my classes in the marginally superior A/V room next door where the movie played without a problem.
Pictured above: Kumar, of “Harold & Kumar” fame, with the Klumps, of “The Nutty Professor” fame
There are bootlegs in Ou Ya, there are bootlegs in the back of people’s pickup trucks and there are bootlegs in a marketplace on a downtown street called Hongqi Jie. The market is a large, underground area with rows upon rows of DVDs, CDs, weapons and plastic goofy shit. This is the place to come when you want to buy a movie for yourself. The selection is enormous. I came here with Nick about a week ago to see what it was like.
If you’re a foreigner, people shout “DVD!” and “CD! Music!” as you walk by. It doesn’t matter whose shelf you choose to look at because they’re going to sit you down on a stool and keep you there until you’ve seen every single product that they offer. If you’re a foreigner trying to buy anything that doesn’t have a price tag, you probably shouldn’t pay more than 30% of what they ask. Chinese salespersons are the best actors in the world. While we were sitting there, the lady who was helping us was nothing but pleasant. She kept complimenting me on my fledgling Chinese. I picked out 6 movies and figured I wouldn’t take anything higher than 30 yuan for all of them, 5 a piece. Nick picked out a few and then asked, “How much?” All of a sudden the woman wasn’t smiling and pulled out a calculator to display the price because my Chinese was so good and all. She showed him something like 45 for three movies and a TV show, which was way too high. I asked how much for all of mine and she showed the same.
Haggling is a process but I enjoy it. After I said “too expensive” she got really angry and started cursing us out. I said 30 a few times but she was pretending not to listen. Nick put the TV show back and I put 3 of my movies back. We asked how much for 6 between the two of us. Still 45, so we walked. Nick mentioned that he feels bad walking since they spend a lot of time taking everything out of boxes to show us. As far as I’m concerned, fuck anyone who’s knowingly trying to rip me off. Or unknowingly, incompetence is no excuse.  Sure enough, in about 20 seconds the other woman from that row came running after us and asked us to come back. We got it for 30 and that woman who was first so pleasant, then serious, then angry wore this shit-eating grin like we were still getting ripped off. A few days ago I asked a Chinese friend if 5 was a good price and he said he wouldn’t take more than 3 a movie. I hope that bitch spends the rest of eternity in Hades, removing stacks of movies from a box that never depletes. That’s a little rough, I’m sure she’s a wonderful person in other settings. In any case, this is what I spent my time fighting for.
The aliens use bows and arrows, it’s on the back of the box
Based on the popular Nintendo series, Roll is played by a man in drag and the only Asians in the movie are robots