Tag Archives: teaching


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

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

“It’s wet,” he said.

“It looks okay,” I replied.

“What should I do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thought about that for a second.

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

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

This was not a language problem.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you Christian?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



5/27/11 – Some of the pictures and all of the videos on this post are fucked up beyond the point that I’m willing to exert the energy to figure out how to fix them, so if you want to read this post read it here where it’s nice and tidy:  http://firsterplance.blogspot.com/2011/01/merriment.html

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.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.” replied Allen.

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

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

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

“Do you have movie?” he responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 renren.com, 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