Sunday, December 30, 2007

It's Snowing! (well that's what it looks like)

Beijing has an overdose addiction to cheap disposable lightweight plastic bags. Beijingers like to toss shit out: sometimes in the garbage, but often not. BJ can also be tremendously windy. Put these factors together and we sometimes get the most picturesque "snow"storms whereupon magnitudes of cute baggies fill the nether regions of the sky. It truly is a sight to behold.

In other weather news, here's a note on the "fog": It's not fog.

According to the State Environmental Protection Administration, the brown haze that descended on our fair city hit a whopping 421 on the Air Pollution Index today. To put that in perspective, on a good day it hovers between 50-150. On a bad day, we're looking at 200 or so.

In fact, today's smog is so bad that the American Environmental Protection Agency rates it as Condition Maroon - or Hazardous. They even go so far as to advise "AQI values over 300 trigger health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected." Doctors recommend not undertaking physical exercise outside, and limiting exposure to the pollution.

According to the Pollution Index, 25 is safe, and some say you shouldn't go outside if it's up to 150.

Ok ok, i know i said earlier the pollution's not as bad i thought it'd be. It's true that you do see blue skies maybe 50% of the time, and thankfully you can rarely smell or taste the "fog". So usually it's pretty livable.

Last Thursday was superduper "foggy", but you know something's up 'cause it's not moist. Did i really feel a bit dizzy or was it just my head? That day i felt particularly disturbed 'cause it struck me that the air quality of the day isn't the issue at all. Because it's not like the factories were working any harder on Wednesday than usual. In the big picture, that shit is being cranked into the air 24-7, and going indoors is a pretty pathetic solution to the problem at hand. I feel like we're all gonna deal with this in the long run.

Also note that it's a scary time and place to get knocked up, according to the stats on birth defects.

On that note, i gotta get move on. Time's running out on 2007, and i have to be all positive and optimistic to ring in the new year. HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAPY NEW YEAR!

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Shanghai is a very big city. 20 million peeps, all squeezed in nice and snug. The sidewalks are sometimes so packed with hurrying people that the entire road becomes a pedestrian walkway, and cars just avoid the area.

SH is notably more cosmo and modern than BJ. Faster paced, with consumer goods coming out of yr ass, in that classic NuSchool Chinese way.

H and i went to see some experimental electronic music act a tiny obscure venue. But after being assaulted by horrendously loud screaming and feedback for 30 minutes or so we decided we couldn't hack any more of the opening acts.

This year i completely skipped my Christmas Dinner in exchange for a nap. Heather had some crackers. Then we headed out to a couple bars, where we met up w/ a couple french dudes from the night before. We all got pretty drunk, along w/ their chinese contingent of friends.

Then it was a 10 hr ride bk to BJ on the new fast train, for a rather hung over xmas day. Shit, is this a recurring theme or something? Geez.

ps. You can't quite tell from this post, but SH is really really cool, and H and i really had a good time. Though i was a bit sad, 'cause i could tell that H liked it way better there than the outskirts of BJ.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

One Word Before Departure

Tomorrow after school, Heza and i hit the train to Shanghai. Bk teaching on boxing day. There's no room or time for xmas in my head, but i'll say Merry Xmas anyways. Just 'cause i know it's un-PC, but you can get away w/ that sorta thing in school around here. And Happy Hannukah to Eli and any other readers of the jewish faith. And i don't think i have any Kwaanza partiers in my readership.

Question: If a school w/ no jewish or african students celebrates Hannukah and Kwaanza, isn't that tantamount to cultural appropriation?

Peace and Harmony Out,

DON'T Take the Money and Run

In my defense, It's been about 15 years of drill and practice where Good Ol' Western Design has ensured that the ATM can and will not give you your desperately and impatiently awaited cash, unless and only unless you first obligingly remove your bank card (and optional receipt) from the humming slots. It's for your own good!

In China, Good Ol' Western Design hasn't caught on w/ quite the same fervour. Hence bank machines will give you what you want: cold hard cash. They will then contemplate the inequities of life for a minute or 2 before they sluggishly expectorate your card.

That's ok, except that i am still totally programmed into grabbing and dashing.

It has now been (count 'em) THREE times that i've lost my bank card in China. That's roughly losing a card every three transactions. Despite assurances to myself that i'll pay more attention the next time.

But this has been the last time. Really. I can't handle dealing with another bank employee telling me, "but we already gave you your bank card."

Anyhow, hopefully all you in the civilized world can thank GOWD and praise GOWD for the many tiny gifts you don't realize you constantly receive.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Oh Jesus, it's Christmas

Fair enough, there's xmas trees and Santa pictures all over. But the only version of christmas that's made it to the people's republic, is the one that came on barges returning from Walmart.

So all my students know is there's "the Christmas man" who gives presents, and that they get presents from their capitalist-brainwashed parents.

Seriously i was this close to teaching the kids the nativity story so at least they'd recognize that it's an unhip religious holiday, and not just the xmas xtravaganza sale of products (all made here anyways).

I do wanna teach a bit of xmas material, so i dug up an easy version of The Elves and the Shoemaker. But do you know this story? It's kinda dirty. But at least i have the chance to ask questions like these:
  1. After the shoemaker had become rich from the elves' hard work do you think that the shoemaker gives a big enough present to the elves, with a few clothes?

  1. Why do you think the elves helped the shoemaker? Why did they work for him for free, if he was rich?
Yeah, i know it's kinda smart assy, but how can i resist?

As for xmas itself, H and i are hittin' Shanghai. We got a 4 day wkend, so after school Friday, we're hoppin' on a sleeper train in search of the Christmas Spirit. And everyone says that Shanghai is great for shopping!

"Sorry: no meditation for you, buddy"

News Flash! statusq is denied entrance into a meditation course!

Drat the luck, but i guess that's what happens when you continue to believe that honesty is the best policy. when applying for Vipassana meditation courses (the by donation 10 day intensives). i've never held back when filling in my applications. i gave roughly accurate accounts of any and all substances i'd indulged with, and the list had been on the chubby side at times.

Filling in the block about Other Spiritual Practices, i didn't hesitate to mention that i once got attuned for reiki level 1, and that i do continue to use it on occasion. Just to chill out fish who are dying in the meat market aquarium, or maybe on an overused underloved photocopier.

Well this never goes over well, but i've been getting used to the serious talk they give me before a course starts, 'cause reiki and Vipassana are not happy bedmates. Reiki people can get fucked up in Vipassana courses, as their whole underlying philosophies jar.

But hell, my reiki's been next to nil since forever, and lately my Vipassana's been far from steady too (though Heza and i have started semi regular short sits).

Anyhow, over a few wks my application made it up the ranks until i was finally told no. Boy, all those courteous emails for this?

So as it stands, in Feb i'll take Heza down to the Hong Kong outskirts to drop her off for her 1st course. Then i'll take my rejected bum on the road for 10 days to see what sort of trouble i can get into. i'm surprisingly totally cool with it. It'll be good for me to have some solo time, good for H to focus more on her course, and i can also try sitting 2 hrs/day to get more balanced out myself.

Monday, December 10, 2007

BJ Bike Thefts: Totally Hot!

BJ's bikes are getting safer and safer by the minute: this year the Beijing police have cracked 329 bicycle theft gangs, nabbed 3,686 suspects, smashed 774 hide-outs and confiscated 18,825 bicycles so far this year, according to the ministry.

But i guess that's good considering that FOUR MILLION bikes get ripped off in China annually. i typed out the words for emphasis, as well as to ensure that you didn't think the last zero was a typo.

Anyhow, that makes this a good place to ride an ol' beater that doesn't get a 2nd look from anyone, right? Definitely.

Well the logic is there, but the fact is that my beloved ol' bike mysteriously went AWOL maybe 3-4 wks ago. That was a bummer, though after feeling sad and mad for a couple hrs ago, it was officially dealt with in my head and heart.

i am now the proud owner of a virtually identical bike, which i got off some other ol' dude at the morning market. It took a fair bit of TLC, but it's now a sweet ride.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Gettin' In With the Locals

Ok, enough requisite post-NaBloPoMo slacking. Just in case you wanted to hear what's up.

Here's what's up.

Yes, here, or rather, in the sentences below:

Wkend's are great. I don't even end up spending long days at school anymore. "Now that's progress!"

On Friday i hung out w/ this guy and girl in a cramped bedroom recording studio, and they helped me record guitar and vocals for a track of mine. Well the guy recorded it, and the girl translated. "It sounds really good." i said to the dude. "It'll sound a lot better when it's mixed down," he replied. I'll finally figure out how to post onto that my Myspace page that i never use, so you can chk it out later on.

Saturday i met up w/ a Sco'ish (Scottish) lad to jam. That was ok, though he's way more gung ho than me to kick start a band. i'm thinking "dude, you/we need some songs first." Um, i admit i'm a bit lackadaisical on this project, but we'll see what happens.

Saturday night we hit our 1st BJ party, as invited by the aforementioned woman above. Not that she herself planned to go, but still... H and i didn't know what to expect except that it was some some sort of Iron Chef style party.

So i called up the hostess to get directions, and she spoke decent English and was quite happy to give a perfect strangers directions to her home.

Not that directions matter much when you write 'em dn wrong, go to the wrong subway stations, walk in the wrong directions, etc etc. So 1+ hrs later we arrive (and H is unfortunately cranky by this time. Oh well, it happens).

We arrived just in time to see 2 people kissing for 30 seconds while the gang shouted the countdown. This was the climactic prize/punishment for best dish or something. (i didn't quite follow). It was way too grade 7 for me, but hell, maybe that's what happens when society is doing its damnedest to make up for time lost to Reap-Russhian and Sins-Or-Ship.

Still the gang turned out to be pretty caj. About 1/2 of the were Eng speaking foreigners. All of whom spoke an impressive amt of Mandarin. And the Chinese gang spoke impressive amts of Eng.

That was about all the socializing i could take for a wkend, so i spent Sunday feeling cranky and antisocial, but i did have a wonderful long bike ride which got almost got me into the boonies. Yay bikes.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Day30: The End. But Addicted All the Same

No, i'm not addicted to NaBloPoMo, blogging, or any chemical or herbal substances.

No, my addiction is dirty and secretive, and the only one who's known about it up to now is Heza. Funny that, since she's the one who turned me onto the sinister entity called... statcounter.

Almost daily i sneakily log on, and see what parts of the globe are reading my blog, for how long, and how they got there.

i assume that anyone reading this has gotten here thru me or Heza, so who the heck from Manitoba has been checking in?

i ain't proud of my time on statcounter, but i do recognize that part of me wants to cling onto my last life chapter, where i felt like i had it all goin' and where i was 100% stoked to be surrounded by so many great people.

And part of me feels that i should keep track of my hits so that i can see when people inevitably forget about me. (hey, i would too: 8,531 km is a long way away!)

Anyhow, they say that talking about it is the 1st step in recovery.

And aren't i allowed one small indulgence, seeing as how i made a clean break from Facebook months ago?

Re: FB, i'm pretty close to my idealized experience, where Heza is connected to lots of people i know, and i can see their pix and updates, but she should never tell me her password. Hey, Rebekah: you should hook up w/ Heza on FB!

Anyhow, sorry if this disturbing tale of dark dingy alley addictions wasn't the glowy lovey End of NaBloPoMo entry it coulda bn. So, thx to all who tuned in. We hope you enjoyed the show, and we hope to see ya again, real soon!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Day29: It's In the Bag

The title refers to a couple things.

1. Tomorrow is the last day of NaBloPoMo, and i view it w/ a tinge of sadness. It's nice having a bit of extra purpose thrown into yr life.

2. One of my gr7 classes sang the Velvet Underground's I'll Be Your Mirror in a competition at another school today, and... next we're off to the December finals! i have no idea what this means. One student told my principal that we'd be playing at Teeny Men Square, which isn't actually unlikely. Another student said we'd play at a "big house," whatever that means.

i have no idea how big this thing actually is, but the competition today was pretty sad gong show. One of my students started things out w/ a speech about why she loves learning English, and the audience was less than attentive. Then 30 seconds in, a man jumped in, saying "Time's up, you're done, you're done," to her total bewilderment.

Before long it was apparent that anyone who wasn't dazzling got the hook early. "Done. You're done. Thank-you. Time's Up." A scant few acts actually completed a song/skit/speech.

Actually i don't think anyone finished a speech. Most people barely got beyond, "Hello teachers, friends, and students. It is a great honour here today. I very hope you can-" "Time's up, thank-you. Time's up."

But every time i felt bad for the performers, and i was often the only person clapping apres. Oh, come on, folks. Put yr hands together already.

Mostly the show was a big headache due to mediocre performances, lots of them, students who were noisy, teachers who never thought of quieting them, a brutally loud super crappy sound system, etc, etc.

But hey, at least the kids are learning English. It don't get more real than the kid sneakily hollering "Shit! Shit!" into a stray mike. Good one ol' chap!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Day28: Girls Going Wild

Well, so far i've met up w/ 2 cool girls who answered my music ad. Both of whom i hope to get to know better and to hang out w/ more. One has a roommate who went to McGill. She is young and cynical and somewhat rebellious. She (not unlike myself) is ideologically opposed to the comfortable life her Calm You Knist Potty parents have set her up with, not least of all her education in international trade.

The other is a young and talented artist-photographer-keyboardist-singer who played at that killer Modern Sky Festival in October, and who's camera skills are impressive. She's tuned in to BJ i suspect, so maybe i can capitalize on that. It was cool to see her pad, which was in a shoddy old tower. In that quintessential artist way, it was dirty and fully cluttered with cool miscellanea including a lot of audio and recording stuff. She also fulfills family obligations by completing a degree in economics.

i wonder if there's a major rebellion brimming. Youth waiting to grind the pragmatic dreams of their parents underneath their knock off Adidas. i think it'll come before long, but i have no idea what it'll look like. 'cause yes there's a lot of money pummeling its way into China right now, but noone's getting any of it unless they've got their fingers in the 1st world's pockets somehow.

After watching The End of Suburbia, i think that maybe peak oil will make this whole International Trade Ticket To The Good Life into a farce. And yes, a farce which i'm capitalizing on by teaching kids The Language of International Trade.

It's true. I hold my tongue on quite a lot of subjects around here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Day27: "Chinese People Aren't Stupid"

Since arriving in BJ, it's been very interesting to talk w/ locals about politix a smidgen. Naturally you approach the subject w/ some caution, 'cause sometimes you end up talking w/ someone whose parents are Potty members, or who are ex-members themselves.

i was surprised that pretty consistently the people who i've spoken w/ had a lot more grasp of the Cult You Rail Rev Oh Loo Shun than i'd been led to expect. Now this could easily be more of a comment on the folk i happen to cross paths w/ (as has often been the case), than a statement about the enlightenment of Beijingers.

But regardless, my cousin's husband told some pretty telling tidbits from when he himself was at the Teeny Men Square Mass i Cur. Not surprisingly, he told a narrative which was far from the glover mint account, but which sure wasn't the western version Heza and i had been gobbling up before arriving here.

Briefly, the Calm You Knist potty was very adept in that when the rev oh loo shun aries started killing and goring soul jers, they ordered the soul jers not to retaliate. So many of these violent acts (many which were really atrocious) continues on much longer than they should've.

So then the Potty easily could be justified in saying: well sorry, gang. But it's come to this.

Anyhow, H and i were under the impression that the media suppression had the population believing the glowing CCTV style news. But i was politely informed that the Chinese aren't the simpletons we'd been told they are.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Day26: Developing: it's All the Rage Right Now

There's no question that BJ has chunks which seem posh and clean as a whistle, and it's fathomable that you could limit your existence to them. But there's no denying the fact that BJ and China still have a long way to go.

i saw a city worker dntn sleeping under a pile of blankets next to his shovel and hole in the asphalt. Bikes and trucks lug disastrously huge piles of goods, and people sleep under tarps in my backyard market. Yesterday, Heather and i debated with a couple stray chickens.

But in it's way, 3rd world is where it's at. Seriously, anything goes. You wanna squeeze 10 garbage bags of sweatshop socks on the bus? Noone's gonna stop you. You wanna park your car in the middle of the sidewalk? Who doesn't? Do it!

It's like it's understood that everyone's just doing the best they can, so there's a lot of tolerance to just... do shit. The doors for freedom and creativity are wide open, folks! Get in while you still can!

Oh. Except for the little fact that it's still a Calm You Knist glover-mint. So you better watch your sweet ass while yr getting all creative-like. Right, sir?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

DAY25: I'll Take The Variety Pack

Yesterday was a big montage of different places and scenes.

1st, the 3rd world market in my backyard.

Then Sappho (my singer friend)'s apartment where we played and sang. Then Heza and Sappho's roomie joined us, and we swung giant hula hoops around our waists, and drank the roomie's prized Italian coffee.

Then H and i went way out to the Lido quarter, which was quite posh and lifeless.

But we had a stellar dinner in this ultra-slick and zenned out veg restaurant. It was like Vancouver's Dharma Kitchen on steroids. We didn't order desert, but check out the oranges they brought us anyways: so gimicky, but 100% mesmerizing.

Next: the Pig and Whistle English Pub, where the drinks were steep, and the joint was packed with prostitutes. I watched the lonely looking dude absentmindedly (intentionally?) tap his wedding ring on his pint as the Lady of the Night absentmindedly brushed his thigh.

Then we went to "Super Bar Street", which was more like Mediocre Bar Street, where we got drunk in a freezing Japanese restaurant, and Heza confessed all her anxieties and stresses over life in China and beyond.

And to top everything off we hit the Afro-Arena, which felt kinda like a dead reggae night at Cafe Deux Soleil, but with more black people. i wanted to ask someone there what they're up to in BJ, but was too busy gabbin' w/ my gf.

Anyhow, i have no major problem living in my gated community, but you have to get the hell out of this place if you wanna, like, live.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Day24: Slackin' it

So sue me: it's 8:51 am, and we need to jet so H can make her TCM doctor appointment way out in Chaoyang district. Then we won't get bk til late, so it's now or nvr on the blog. But fret not, i'll do a 1/2 decent post tomorrow or the next day. Or the next day.


Um, not enough sleep tends to give me the most enjoyable swingy moods!
But at least there's a lapse in the responsibility for a bit. We're hittin' dntn for a meal and to see what rolls our way.

also i told a student today, that after work i don't want to talk to students. So my phone # is a private matter. Who knows what kind of slovenly state i could be in, as i grope for the phone?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Day22: TGTF

With any luck, Thank God Tomorrow's Friday won't become my Thursday mantra. Nothing noteworthy at school, but i feel kinda burned out, and like i'm scrambling for time.

The upcoming wkend could be interesting. Tomorrow i'm supposed to meet up w/ this girl, to see if a music project could work out. Saturday, i'll meet up w/ the singer girl from last wk to jam a bit, and to hang out. H will come out too. And the 3 of us are soon scheduled to catch one of my fave bands of the mo' Natural Curves (from Taiwan. i suspect their name is a shoddy translation). They're super indie: idiosyncratic and capital U cUte.
Natural Curves

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Day21: No Mood For Blogging

so instead, here's a link which will be a happy substitute to my cynical perspectives, largely induced by insufficient sleep.

Interesting pix from China.

And now i will go swim and sauna so i'm not a complete lump of crap.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Day20: Chinese Drivers part2

I shouldn't exactly omit the fact that since arriving i have seen 2 bikes hit by cars, and passed by a few fender benders. But it's a tiny amount of damage for all the smash 'em ups you'd expect, considering the multitudes of hairline misses you see.

Still, it all adds up.

China's a big country, and each year you get TEN MILLION people injured in auto accidents. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND fatalities in a year. The jolly joke that EVERY DAY it's like a a Boeing 747 crashes into the tarmac (400 g'bye!).

Oh well. Weirdly enough, the stats seem pretty distant as i become ever more daring, riding and sprinting through traffic. When in Rome, as they say...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Day19: Chinese Drivers

People say Chinese people make bad drivers. People see statusq support the stereotype with his well-intentioned but lousy car-handling skills and bad decision-making. But in BJ, drivers aren't bad: they're crazy. i highly doubt there's a mandarin translation for the word "tailgate," and weaving is the flavour de jour.

If you're good at Outrun or Daytona 500 you'd love a taxi ride here. i take my hat off to the BJ cabbies. They work long days and long nights, deal with me and H's lack of vocabulary, and have become accustomed to operate at 100% attentiveness. Check it:
They get up
early and drive their state-owned cabs until
overwhelmed by sleep: 12-18 hour work-days. On a good
month, they can gross 7000 yuan (roughly 870
dollars...the exchange rate is around 8 yuan to a
dollar). Good month or bad month, they must pay the
Chinese government 5000 yuan! Given that the drivers
themselves must pay for gas and maintenance, one
wonders where that 5000 goes.

So that's the life of a cabbie. And there's a LOT of other much crappier jobs to be had around BJ, that's for sure.

It's mighty weird to see so many people scrapin' it, and you use their services, and they don't expect (refusing, even) tips. I was all guilted out by one cabbie who drove H and i for 20 minutes, couldn't find our destination, and then just dropped us at another cab, and drove away before we knew what was happening, or before dropping him a few kuai.

What can you do? Be gracious. And i think that's about it.

photo snagged by Makeijan's flickr.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Day18: Getting Out There

A while ago i placed an ad stating i wanted to meet musicians to jam w/. Today i met up w/ a lovely young vocalist, who turned out to be too shy to sing, despite stating her desire to Sing Like Siren in her response.

Ah well.

We ended up having a nice afternoon shootin' the shit about a frustrating universe, growing up in a country where Pretending is the norm, the tragedy of Expectations and Obligations, the Calm You Knist Pardy, having parents in it, Teen A Min Skware Mass a Curr, cool Chinese bands, uncool mainstream Chinese bands, boring Chinese education (aka brayn washing), yadda yadda.

Good stuffs. We'll meet up next wk probably. And now i should figger out what to do w/ the backlogged dozen others who want to tap into my latent musical genius.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Day17: Hung Out To Dry On The Great Wall

It sure didn't seem like that big a deal, but H and i both over drank last night.

Then at 6:15am this Saturday morning we wake up completely unexpectedly and rather horribly hung over. After puking a little, we frantically scrap our things together to meet our coworkers for a trip to the Great Wall.

The next hour is a terribly unpleasant road trip, where i've been informed there's no easily accessible washrooms en route, thus i solemnly clench a flimsy shopping bag in my fist, praying that i won't have to fill it with bile in front of my boss and coworkers.

A conundrum. Keep my eyes open, and people could talk to me, and responding requires Herculean effort. Keep me eyes closed, and my stomach starts happily squirming ever higher up my throat.

Miraculously, we arrive. i calmly walk to the washroom, and don't spatter a drop outside of the squat-toilet.

i feel a bit better, but H is still feeling pretty low. We are far from excited to hike the great wall. Especially since 1/2 way there we learned that we weren't not going to our expected destination, but to THE most touristy section of the Great Wall.

Luckily (?) it was bitter cold and fucking early, so it wasn't hard to actually get away from folk. It was pretty cool being more or less alone for decent stretches on the wall, where we could wallow and laugh at our misery, trying to ignore the sporadic sales people. "I give you good price! 100! No? 50!"

And then i was peeved to find that a kilometer or so along, the wall ends! Well, it's blocked off anyways. Stupid wall! I considered demanding my money back.

On the way back, we took a wee detour including a quick hike down a little unofficial trail No shortage of litter, plus an inexplicable pile of bloody maxi-pads. Oh the mysteries which enshroud the Great Wall!

Well Chair Man Maow himself said that "If you haven't been to the Great Wall, you are not a real man." And this time, he actually spoke the truth.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Day16: TGINotParentTeacherInterviewsEveryday

3 hrs of translated interviews, and one crying parent later, and i'm on the couch, resigned to use gin and 7 up as the only replacement for what Vancouver offers but Beijing doesn't.

I admit, i do think about it sometimes.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day15: CCTV Goes Big and Stays Home

Well today is halfway thru November. And not only am i running out of things to say, i'm running out of ideas which i've kept in backlogged for the rainy days.

So here's another one.

CCTV is China's only source of English televised whyte-wosht newz. They provide a much needed perspective on the Happy Olympics and updates on captive pandas, but little else.

They are also building one swank building.

The new CCTV building was designed by int'l design bigwig Rem Koolhaas (architect for the Seattle Library, etc). Anyhow, the building should be pretty bloody cool when it's done. Hell, it looks cool as it is. The two angled in 1/2's are just about to make precarious contact.

Construction was delayed 'cause there was a lot of public opposition to the gov't spilling millions of RMB for a posh building when the city isn't doing enough about education, infrastructure, yadda yadda. But i can't speak to that. All I know is that the BJ skyline deserves to go from a flat-top to a fauxhawk.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Day14: Beware

From menus to school textbooks, the shitty translations are ubiquitous. Why? The lines are open now. You have the internet. You can check things! Hell, I personally know people who speak English. Call them. Fix things. Don't you know my students' grammar is vulnerable?

Until i come across the sign above and say, "Oops, sorry. Don't change a thing. Everything's perfect."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Day 13: And Finally, the Olympics

After being hyper-tuned into all the negatives of the approching Vancouver Olympics, i wondered what it would be like in BJ with even more drastic and pervasive changes taking place.

But it really is a different story here. Or lack thereof. The Calm You Knist govt effectively prevents non-happy-shiny Olympic news outta the picture. And there's not much alt-media around here. Or if there is, it ain't in English.

Also, keep this major difference in mind:

In Vancouver, the vote was like 60/40 in favour for the Olympics, after it had been VODID DOWN TWICE already.

In BJ, there was over 95% support for the Olympics to be held here.

People have the Olympic feeevah. Couples humping like camels, hoping to conceive during opening ceremonies, etc, etc.

But there are people pissed off about it too:
Mostly it's the rest of China, mad that BJ gets all the spoils, while they can't afford a water filter, and the factory upstream is pouring all the toxic leather waste chemicals into the river.

And yes, there's the same issue as Van, where people are getting displaced like crazy. (10,000 people for the new airport wing alone!) But nobody really gives a rat's ass around here. Chinese people have this sort of injustice in their bloodstream by now.

Also, the dvlpmnt is bonkers. Like Van, BJ can't hope to keep it's Olympic promises, particularly the enviro ones. The city is f'ing packed as it is, and i'm sure as hell not going to be around here when the standing long jump is going down.

Aside: I recently had a visitor from Vancouver: an engineer. He gave me the inside scoop as to why Vancouver's new "enviro-friendly" buildings are farce. Can you say "PR scam"?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Day12: House Cleaning Update

Our young maid (the new one, not the old one) comes every week. She's very nice. She cleans the apartment. She cleans the floor. She doesn't like our mop or broom. She likes to wipe everything down on her hands and knees. She cleans under and behind the furniture. She does the dishes. She takes out our garbage. She helps me throw away dead plants.

She also refuses tips. She refuses tea/juice/water. She refuses crackers and cheese.

We will pbly buy a little plant for her next wk, and we'll be horribly insulted if she refuses.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Day11: Stocking the Larder

Every weekend i go to the market (pictured above) to grab some veg for the week. If i don't talk much i hope that people might not realize i can't speak Chinese, and thus be less inclined to rip me off. Not that i've ever bn ripped off in this market, and not that it would matter much. It's pretty consistent that everytime the vendor quotes a price for my freshly cut noodles or whatever, I can only roll my eyes.

The market is literally a 3 minute walk from my building's back door. Out the door, out the gate, and then 20m later, you're in a noisy bustling market. But you gotta act quick 'cause for some STUPID reason, they only open the community gate until 10am. That doesn't bode well for me, and i've gotten locked out several times. The walk back around is pbly 30 min.

Don't ask why: It's China!

Friday, November 9, 2007


Maybe this'll up my hits.

But still, here's some commentary on the not-so-seedy side of BJ.

Well, it's been a largely porn-free stint in China for statusq. Sure, you can still dig it up online w/out much trouble, but largely i don't feel the need or inclination so much. Sex w/ H is still superb, so i don't exactly require extra sensory stimulation.

You do see occasional sex vids in stores, but they don't have any explicit pix on them, so they may be softcore only. And who wants that? i'll pbly spring the $1.40 for one later on, and call it research.

With govt restrixions on media, advertisements are notably less racy than what you get in N.A. i kinda think it's a good thing.

i work in a high school where not a single girl feels obligated to wear make-up, which is pretty rad. i do think it's healthier for women and girls to live in an environment where the pressure to be sexed out is far less pronounced. (although here the desire to be married w/ kids is the alternate norm)

On the downside, there's a lot less eye candy to be had on the city streets. Rats.

Okay. Gotta jet. It's Saturday!!!

Day9: It's Getting Hot In Here...

Unexpectedly, i had a very nice day today. Sorry for sounding so cynical as of late.

But only one event worth reporting on.

F I R E !!! (drill)

But (surprise surprise) it's not quite the same deal as in Canada.

1) Community staff "mysteriously" stationed at all the stairwells 20 minutes before the scheduled alarm

2) Kids bolting down the stairs and through halls

3) REAL smoke filling the 1st floor, choking kids and staff

4) Smiling staffers strategically positioned with cameras throughout

5) A carefully prepared show of the firecrew squirting water 50 ft into the air.

6) Kids all running away from their classes so as not to miss the show (and who could blame them?)

7) The verbiose Chinese principal pontificating through a mike about how teacher's must sacrifice their lives for the students.

Anyhow, it was all pretty entertaining, if not exactly useful in terms of saving lives.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Day8: The Good The Bad and The Gone

Last night i dreamt that i had to remove myself from the classroom before i slapped a student.

Other than that today was ok in a mediocre sort of way.

Could definitely be worse: in our partner school a teacher Disappeared after payday. No notice, nuthin'. Pretty crazy, when you've got 80+ kids following your subtle influence.

And now the coworker who's always grated against Heza is being suddenly relocated to fill in the emergency gap.

My principal kinda pissed me off today when he said, "G is leaving Beijing's cushiest position to one of the worst." Fair enough, G is walking into a hairy scoop, but i sure don't feel like my last wk or 2 can permit "cushy" to be used within a 1 km radius of me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Day7: Business As Usual.

Report cards are unofficially a fait accompli. That's good.
Heza works her butt off to make sure everything is done on time.
statusq does not take care of his 1/2 of duties (which are actually less than 1/2)
Heza gets kinda bitchy in a kinda justified way.
Things eventually get done in a reasonable way.
Heza apologizes.
statusq apologizes.
Then they drink gin and juice and smoke smokes while finishing off details.
Everyone knows sq is a space cadet, so can H realistically expect otherwise?
Tomorrow is a new day.
Such are the problems when your lover is your coworker.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Monday, November 5, 2007

Day5: Singin' In the Rain

A pretty uneventful day. So, in honour of rainy-season Vancouver, heeeere's Gene!

Gene Kelly, that is. H and i got Singin' In the Rain a while ago. H thinks it's legit, but i think it's bootlegged.

Anyhow, i was pretty disappointed in it. Sure there's some crazy tap dancing and some comical routines. But, "the greatest movie musical"? Uh we think not. Ever heard of The Sound of Music? Grease? Cabaret?

Well, for 1952, the visual effects are really impressive, and the colours are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory super-saturated.

But the characters are 2D, the acting is mediocre, the songs are hit and miss, and the final plot twist bordered on pathetic.

Anyhow. You could pbly better spend your time watching Naked Lunch or something.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Day4: the Chain Gang.

Worked almost all day.

Squeezed in a session at the rec cntr, 'cause Heza and i decided that exercise 2x/wk is better than letting our bods turn to mush.

Ok. Back to work.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Day3: The Card Is Bank

Don't lose your Chinese bank card.
Forget that in Canada you could get a new one in 15 minutes.
In China you will need to make 3 trips to the downtown branch.
You will need to submit 10 or so to be scrutinized by staff, who will ogle your crappy and inconsistent autograph.
You will piss off bank clients who think it's your fault you're taking so long.
Or that you lost yr card in the first place.
Which it was.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Day2: The Time Is Ripe For Winterlong

Two teachers came from another school to observe my gr1 math class today. Apparently they were very impressed. Yes, it was good, but hell, i taught from the text for 1/2 of it. Heza and i wonder what the heck goes on in the regular Chinese classes. People think we're the cats pajamas around here. Cool, i guess.


Did i mention i do a fair bit of music w/ some classes? So far the advanced gr 7 class has really dug the songs i taught. Some good ol' 80's schmaltz w/
Cyndi Lauper's True Colors (which i admittedly dig), but we went from kitsch to pure cool w/ the Velvet Underground's I'll Be Your Mirror. I'd love to do the VU's Sweet Jane too, but the lyrics are pretty nonsensical. Anyhow, i'm super stoked on the next track we're gonna do which'll be the Pixies version of Neil Young's Winterlong. It's 101% catchy and rockin' and the lyrics are accessible enough.

I'm totally looking for hip, not-too-fast songs which have easy and school-appropriate lyrics. Suggestions please? Maybe
Belle and Sebastian's Fox in the Snow. Hmm.

The lower level gr7 class couldn't handle that so well. i plan to start
Bingo with them next. (whoever came up with the whole format was brilliant. "Clap-clap-N-G-O!" That shit's hot!)

Pic is a rather drunk statusq singing
My Girl Wants to Party All the Time. Thanks, Eddy!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Day1: It's the crappiest time

to start a blog-fest. Heza and i filled just slightly beyond capacity by a workload of educational administrative stuffs which must be done, but offer very little satisfaction. i guess i should've clarified in my contract that "i should not execute tasks which i deem to be unworthy of my time, or are less entertaining than the Beijing Acrobats."

Today i learned to say "meiyisi" which means "no fun," as in Life Is All Work and Meiyisi."

1: i must create 6 educational docs, which are a sadly time-consuming exercise in semantics.

2: report cards, of course

3: classes, which are all being executed by my fingernails already

4: covering parent interviews which were supposed to be my coworker's

5: taking on the remedial Eng class i spearheaded, as well as starting guitar lessons for 1 or 2 students just today.

6: No 6? Naw, that would sound like complaining, and i wouldn't dare do that.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Everything You Need to Know About America

I promised the kids cartoons on Friday if they were 1/2 decent in the wk. Luckily i have a season of the Simpsons on my comp. i asked them, "who's this?" and drew a pic of Bart on the board. Nothing but blank faces and one suggestion of "It's you!"

Some things make it over the border and some don't.

In keeping w/ the times, we watched the Halloween special. All the explosions, killing, dead bodies, and comedy you could ask for in a language you may not understand. They really dug it, despite the fact that it's so completely tailored for american audiences.

As for Halloween itself... well i'm a touch sad to be missing some stellar Vancouver parties, but given the opportunity to create Hallowe'en here at school... i'll opt out.

Surely the kids would get a bang out of seeing statusq dressed up as Frankenstein, but really i just can't be bothered. That and the fact that i think it's great that the commercial version of Halloween hasn't really broken mainstream Chinese consciousness. The longer it takes, the better, i say.

Pic courtesy of Past Deadline.


Apparently PoMo isn't just re: Post Modernism. National Blog Posting Month starts in a few days, and Heza and i are on board. So for any of you readers who unfailingly check in on me to see if i have wonderful insightful news and updates, freqently to be disappointed...

Well be disapointed no more!

i swear by the holy spirit, on Mao's grave, and the graves of all Olympic gold medalists past and present, that I WILL NOT BE DETERRED. You're in for 30 consecutive days of updates, whereupon i will use my teeth to scrape some item of novelty, humour, or insight FOR YOU, readers!

-Just thought i'd warn you.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Underground BJ

BJ has 2 brand new subway lines, and another is gonna open soonish.

Also, to encourage public transport (and not the ubiquitous automobile), subway ticket prices have dropped to 30 cents from 45. Good initiatives.


In its 1st wk of operation the new #5 line had THREE MILLION passengers on it. And the # 1 and #2 lines had DOUBLE the rush hour passengers, as enticed by the new lines, and reduced rates.

There weren't exactly spare seats beforehand.

Like Japan, methinx BJ needs to hire peeps to shovel people into the cars to get the doors closed.

(disappointingly, the new line feels the same as the other lines).

pic from

Friday, October 19, 2007

Hack Hack Hack

Oh, have i mentioned that Heza has been out w/ bronchitis for the last few days? After hacking for a couple wks or so, the school shipped her off to a dirty hospital or 2 where she sat around w/ IVs plugged into her arm.

They like IVs around here.

It was ok at school, 'cause she had substitute teachers. Ie) Me.

statusq has been dosing regularly with the oil of oregano, and so far he's been ok.

Anyhow she's coughing a touch less than before, and is feeling better. Before long she won't require statusq to fetch her dinner or brew cups of tea.

Aside: she's also kicking her coffee habit! This is huge, everyone. Wish her luck.

Communications Update

Hey Georgie! Don't go meeting with relijus leaders like Dolly Llama! Cause it fucks up all the news lynx, and internet access behind the grate fire wol. (although i'd sure love to know whatever they were chitchatting about).

Also, ewe tube is no longer available here. That really stinks 'cause H and i were using it as an educational resource. Sesame street skits to intro topics, etc.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Slightly More Than Meets The Eye

My brother's friend apparently couldn't stop raving about the new Transformers flick. And i do realize that this is the guy who waited hrs in line to watch Batman on its first TWO opening nights. But hell, i was Transformaniac when i was a wee one, and the trailer looked pretty explosive in that Hollywood way.

Anyways, onto the review.

The first half hour: pretty god awful. The set up for the robots to reveal themselves, the 2D characters, yadda yadda.

Then the robots started talking and everything became so unbelievable that the movie finally started working, know what i mean? Considering how ridiculous the premise is of cars turning into robots, i thought they did an impressive job cooking up a story behind it.

There's more human characters and interaction than i expected, so that was decent, and the characters were entertaining albeit shallow. (the "highschool" badgirl w/ the unwavering makeup, and the countless sexy poses: mrow)

Anyhow, if you have no inclination to see this movie, don't. But if you're curious, i don't think you can realistically expect anything more than this.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Birthday Weekend in Beijing

1. Heza told all the grade ones it was my bday, and they all surprised me with a card, some art, and a present or two. it was very cute. Much cuter than the staff combo bday i had 2 days earlier w/ another teacher.

2. h takes me out for south china cuisine dinner at a place we both really dig: pinapple rice served in a pinapple? Fruit juice in a big stick of bamboo? Yes.

3. Then we hit the university district to chck out a packed bar with a crappy cover band playing to a drunk and enthusiastic crowd. (shit, have you ever heard of tuning your guitar before playing in public?)

4. Then we hit a packed hiphop club, where H's blonde hair got us in for free. Again, not exactly our scene, and Heza wasn't exactly enamoured w/ the white 'ho lyrics. But who could turn down tequila shots for $0.75? Not me!!!

5. Up early to go to the Terry Fox Run w/ the school, despite the fact that i don't support the Terry Fox Run. And then it's like 3 hrs of waiting around before we get to run for 20 minutes. At least they had some sexy dancing boys for entertainment.

6. I pass out in a chair when H gets massaged by a blindman.

7-13. Lots of other nice things which aren't exciting to read about.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Heza Three-Three and the Hooded Wang

Maybe we should call Heza "Heza Three Three" 'cause she's 3x3x3 years old.
And on Friday i turn 33 years old, which is fortuitous as it's a palindrome. And 33 is 3 (a prime number) times 11 (another prime number, and also a palindrome).

The amount of 3ness coming into being is f'ing insane. H and i will be in so much alignment we'll surely go BERSERK.

And H just got this environmental Jack Johnson kids' song where he sings "THREE is the magic number." (the three R's)

And i teach a class which has THREE kids in it on my 33rd birthday. And in the bank today there were THREE women w/ long blonde hair, which like never happens in China.

i can hardly handle it.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cleaning Shmeaning (Demeaning?)

There's a woman cleaning the apartment right now.

So of course you're wondering why William has a cleaning woman. And i admit it's far from my usual style. but H doesn't exactly crave dust in the corners or mold in the bathroom the way i do.

And there's no point in squabbling over $2.25/hr for someone to come in. Note that this rate is substantially more than the $1.40 that most BJ cleaning women scrape for.

Still, i admit i have to swallow some self-righteous pride to have someone else come in to clean up my shit.

And anyways our neighbours/coworkers signed up w/ the same cleaners.

But they weren't happy w/ their cleaning woman. "I won't pay $2.25 for that substandard service!"

So they got a new one in today, the same time ours comes.

I only learned of this when H asked me to be around to let in the new woman to try her out. Ok, fine.

So i let her in. And she scrubs away.

But then the old cleaning woman walks in w/ her bucket and scrubbers, only to find she's been replaced. Ha! That's what she gets for giving substandard service. Except that as far as H and i were concerned, she did a great job. And was nice. So it was completely fucking uncomfortable for me to frantically and unsuccessfully attempt communicating to her that i thought she'd been informed not to come, and that maybe she can come back next week, and maybe we can call or something or something. Fuck. i don't think she got a word of what i said but left, refusing any money from me.

[apparently her company had been informed she wasn't req'd today, but she never got the msg]

And now some other woman is now wiping behind our toilet, pbly doing a friendly, great, and underpaid job. Jesus.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Willy Got Wheels

BJ has a lot of these cool old school bikes on the streets. they could even be pre-WWII. You obviously can't get them in the stores, so i just offered some old guy 100 kwai for one, while shopping for veg in the morning market. It was a surprisingly easy deal considering i was gesticulating more than i was speaking.

My cousin thinks the ol' guy got the better end of the deal, but it was only $14, and i really dig it, and it works, and he had to walk back home to wherever he lives etc etc.

Then in the first 5 minutes of my first ride out, i almost got crunched between 2 cars. And i was informed before i arrived in China that if i wore a helmet here, everyone would think i was "special." But anyhow, so far so good. For all bikes and cars on the road, anything less than 98% attentiveness just isn't going to cut it around here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Onto and Into The Scene

Earlier on H and i had no time to consider going to the much hyped Beijing Pop Festival in Sept, which featured 9 Inch Nails and Public Enemy among other reputable bands who don't interest me much. Was that the best BJ can offer? i guess you can't expect much in the 3rd world.

But then after catching some tres hip bands in a dinky little club which coulda been in NYC, H and i learned of the 3 day Modern Sky Festival. Today was day 2 and it was killer.

i'm super happy to have gotten tossed headfirst onto the local scene, and i weirdly feel i have a decent grasp of local talent and the scene. Do check out Hedgehog and Peng Tan, 2 of my personal faves. As for the scene itself, there's lots of stuff which has quite impressed me and lots which hasn't (as in any city, many bands don't realize that i should be their target audience).

Chinese acts will often take flack for copycatting western music. But who the hell cares if they're doing it full on? If BJ's Carsick Cars are good eonugh to tour with alt-icons Sonic Youth, then something must be up. Lots of these bands sing in English, sometimes broken, sometimes not, and some sing in Mandarin, which works equally well.

Also the djs from LCD Soundsystem played, and they disproved my theory that djs can't hype me anymore. Their set was super solid, and had me and H wagging our asses full out, track after track. And H barely ever dances even! This was a very good thing, considering that all of yesterday's dj sets were numbingly repetitive, dull and sterile.

The fest headliners are NYC's Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which should be awesome, but the likelihood of H and i making it out for a 3rd day are slim to none (plans w/ my cousin to get out of BJ, plus 2 overloaded fest days already...)

Modern Sky is definitely one of the funnest music festivals i've been to. Tickets and booze, all 100% reasonably priced. 4 stages, caj crowd, lots of fun music, and tons of super hip and cute crap to buy. (a good thing, since buying shit is all H and i do around here).

Yay National Holiday. Yay bands and djs who kicked it hard. Yay Modern Sky record label and their killer festival. Yay, yay, yay.

ps. Lots of new pix on the flickr link.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Note On Prices

1 yuan is worth 14 cents. And you can spend 0.1 yuan or even 0.01 yuan. These $0.0014 CDN coins seems completely ridiculous. But hell, if you got 'em, you gotta get rid of 'em! And you thought pennies were bad.

15 cents will get you most places on the bus.
$1.75 can get me and Heza a tasty full meal with more than 1L of decent beer.
A pack of smokes for $1.40.

But we buy the deluxe Lesser Panda smokes for $3.80. And if you go to a bar, a Heineken runs for maybe $5.

A digital camera cost me a lot more than one in Canada.

Actually, anything w/ a brand name (that's not a knock off) can cost substantially more than it would in N.America. It's weird the way people blow money on that crap which is made in China anyways (ie. sneakers).

Yay cheap shit. Paving the way for off hours indulgences. Yay National Holiday. We're free!

Friday, September 28, 2007


I guess i shouldn't be surprised that there's a difference between the first and third world. But everyday i see stuff that makes me question the infrastructure that everything here is built on.

People build stuff. Then a week passes. Then they rip it up, to build in all the stuff that was omitted the first time. Oops! Seriously, this happens all the time around here. They pave the road in front of the school. Then the sic crews of workers to rip out all the manhole covers and then repave the whole street. They build walls, paint them, then send in a crew with sledgehammers to bust down the wall, then send in another crew to build it up again, and then other people to paint it all pretty-like.

One part of the equation is that the labour and materials are so cheap pbly no one gives much of a crap about the costs. The other thing is that around here knowledge is power and information is valuable. If Ling has info that Liu doesn't then Ling can justify his employment. Information is not shared, and communication is often scant. This plays into the school bureaucracy daily, much to the disgruntlement of the foreign teacher squadron (FTS, for short).

But make no mistake about it, mistakes and all, shit gets done around here. There's no avoiding it when you can afford a small army to do your dirty work. For example, the speed of the final touches of construction on the school were def impressive. They had tons of workers on the job, swarming the building from 7am to 10pm or later. The school cafeteria has as many as THIRTY kitchen staff. And there's pbly 30+ custodial staff in a space which would only employ 2 in Canada.

Of course things get done, but not well. For example, the stairwell is apparently noone's cleaning jurisdiction hence it has fruit peels on the floor, mud smears on the wall, etc. And then you come out of the stairwell to see a woman scraping dust out the corners of the windowsill with a toothpick sized chisel, or people dusting nonexistent dust. Also, our school which was so impressively hurled into shiny existence, started falling apart in the first week of class. Like doors were literally falling off their hinges. Railings mysteriously falling off or disappearing. And you'd think that someone would get more cheap labour to fix it. But they don't.

And the tile patio has been tiled, cleaned, retiled, cleaned, taken apart, and retiled, and cleaned, and retiled... it's fucking weird. Not like the workers care. They're just taking orders from someone who took orders from someone etc. Hell, you gotta make your 35 cents however you can. Times are tight, mofo!

If this is the state of things, it could be fun to check out the state of BJ a year or 2 after the Olympics. (If you thought construction was going full force in Vancouver, you were mistaken).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Approaching Exodus From The Drone

Hi gang,
Here's the latest. School continues to dominate my life and Heza's but after two full days of teaching this Saturday and Sunday, we get the 7 day National Holiday to celebrate the unity of the country under the Communist Party (or something like that). I will be sure to celebrate in the way of The People, which will pbly be to get drunk.

Actually, i'm pretty stoked on this coming wkend, since Saturday night will be my first attempt to get bk in touch w/ hipster culture. Heza and i wanna chk out some bands in the Uni district area. I wanna see Hedgehog, a cutesy guitar alt pop band, and Heza wants to see Car Sick Cars, who have a more punky feel. Both bands are from BJ. Apparently Hedgehog is one of BJs hottest bands right now, but i made sure yesterday by asking Big Sister if she knew of them, and she'd never heard the name before, in Chinese or English. Score! So that should be fun, presuming we can get in.

Then i have to wake up at 6:30am the next morning. And will pbly kill some time by teaching the grade ones Duck Duck Goose.

As for school, it is what it is. The grade ones seem to love me which is great in class, but it's kinda scary out of class, when they literally swarm me yelling Mr Wang! Hello! Mr Wang! It's pretty cute, but mostly i try and avoid walking down that hallway. i guess they like the classes, not realizing that my brilliant teaching ideas were desperately scrapped together at 9pm the night before.

Grade 7 is another story. Some of the 7s are at grade one level, but some are at 2 or 3. Grade 3 is great: you can read and talk and stuff. But some of them are so low, that you can barely do anything w/ them in class. Ok. So some kids need remedial attention badly. So i have officially started remedial classes, since i didn't expect anyone else to. But even then some of the kids are equally vacant even when the materials are accessible. i'm rackin' my brains on this gang regularly.

It's ok. Today only 3 kids showed up for remedial session, including one of my most capable students and as well as the least capable. And it's good for both of 'em.

Holiday much in need. Heza and I both recognize the need for space from one another. Last weekend we had planned some time apart which just didn't turn out to be convenient. We were both cranky and rather getting on each other's nerves. i ended up snapping at Heza in the cab coming home which was unfortunate. Oops, my first time losing my temper w/ Heza. Ah well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Things are a-ok now, though we will make a point of having a bit of solo time this wk. Hell, we've bn spending crazy #'s of hours w/ each other in the last 6 weeks, mostly awesome.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Capitalist Forces That Be

I'm afraid to say that Shop Til You Drop has gone from a fashion fantasy to a tragic necessity. Buying pants from the Astroboy store was fun, but requiring a work wardrobe asap, and all the household niceties has been a real pain in the arse. Also it's sad but true that most excursions Heza and i go on involve shopping destinations. Ok, you get some cultural exposure in the bizarro behemoth markets (6+ massive stories of haggling vendors/expensivorama name brands), but it's just capitalism in a raw and concentrated form. I can dig it, but i still get a dirty feeling from it all. Kinda like too much tv.

99% of everything is Made In China, so the western world guilt of supporting and enabling the system which underpays and overworks workers/kids etc, has been strangely alleviated. Now i can call it Supporting the Mother Land. Go China! Make shit cheaper than anyone else! We DARE you to make it cheaper! You can't! Hahahaha!

Also, pretty much everything is overpackaged, and clearly you must be partly insane to say, "No bag, thanks". In the field of enviro-consciousness, Canada is miles ahead of China. Which is a bit odd considering how the impacts of enviro degradation are pretty clear (or should i say, "hazy"), considering the air quality around here. Granted, it's not at all as bad as i'd been forewarned: most days seem pretty decent for now. But there are definitely times when you can't make anything out that's more than a few km away. For now i'm just gonna call that humidity.

Maybe people don't make the link between Consumerism and Industrialization. Or maybe people don't get it that we all contribute to enviro probs through daily choices. Or maybe the magnitude of the population makes Personal Responsibility seem like... Well, "a drop in the bucket" seems like far too generous of a metaphor, if you catch my drift Heza shakes her head at me when i do go to unnecessary lengths to recycle a bottle or something around here, and even i can appreciate that my efforts are realistically (?) inconsequential. But i can't help it. Around here I don't actually feel like i'm accomplishing anything except protecting my personal karma.

i also bet that a whole shitload of people get the links between consumerism, industrialization, and environmental degradation, but why bother thinking about it when it's obvious that the cheap labour and toxic factories have created a China which is more stable and prosperous than anything ever experienced? Also, i suspect a few of you readers may be aware of how the capitalist machine tends to self-propell. And we wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Into the Hallucination Called Work

I heard its bad etiquette to apologize about not blogging for a long time. And fuck it's only been one wk, so lay off wny don'tcha? Shee whiz! As you may have guessed, i've been pretty inundated w/ school stuffs, which are all going ok, despite my present cranky mood and disenchantment w/ one grade 7 class in particular. But who can blame them for acting up when this dude keeps talking to them in English and they can't read or anything? But then again he did just waste 15 minutes going over a sheet of classroom vocab which hosted priceless gems such as "I don't understand" and "This is too hard!"

-Ok, that was yesterday, and now is today. After not enough sleep and my worst day yet w/ the 7s, today i had a good sleep and my best day yet w/ the 7s. Such is life.

Anyhow, here's the present lowdown on the school scene. Heza carried me thru my 1st wk w/ grade 1 thank god, and that class is great. "Apple! Living! Rock! Non-living!" The kids are super nice and they really dig both of us. We teach them on alternating days. (lucky kids!)

Gr 7 is up and dn. i spent the 1st wk or so lowering and lowering and lowering the level i thought they were at. How do you explain "forget" ie. "Do not forget" to someone who doesn't even know "remember"? And you wanna figure out why Tim was punching Liu before class started? Not a chance.

The advanced 7 esl'ers are great. they do a good job, and usually can figure out what they're supposed to do. They're also quite... controlled and respectful! How weird to have students who always start and end w/ "Hello, Mr Wang, goodbye Mr Wang." and who bring you flowers and presents on Teachers Day. Seriously.

And i've also got a whopping class of three EFL'ers, kids from Canada and the states. they're also rad. i'm doing this wonky course w/ them called Explorations, which doesn't actually exist except for what i wanna throw together, so we started off w/ the China Toxic Toy Crisis, leading into Walmart: The High Price of Low Cost, and starting yoga on Friday. Later on we hope to do volunteerism, drama, writing, and music (we have a singer, a drummer, and a guitarist/violinist plus me. And the school has sound-recording studio spaces! Score!)

So school is mostly good. Sure there's been staff members crying here and there, but mostly life is good. Sure there's lots to bitch about too in a school which is brand new, lacking in resources, computers, infrastructure yadda yadda, and sure all of us teachers found out our classes days before we started teaching them. And yes it sucks when you teach to day by day since noone's figured out what their year plans are gonna look like (a major task which needs to be handled asap)... but i guess such is life in this crazy new hi-end school which is crazy nice in so many other ways.

Oh, and the apartment they've stuck us in! The conditions we're expected to deal with! Ok, i admit it's convenient being just 2 minutes walk from the school, and yes it's WAY more spacious than anything i'd expected. And yes it's in brand new condition. And yes it's styley to boot. And yes it has mirrory polished stone and hardwood floors. But still, still... uh where was i going with that one? Well let's just say that us staffers keep the conditions here hush hush lest our sister school staff find out, thus causing great upheaval.

Ok. Enough school for now. this blog is, of course, procrastination.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Countdown to Monday

School kicks in shortly. i have a barrage of planning to try and do. Heather is providing me tons of support for grade 1. I'd be completely lost w/out her. Everything school is bordering on bewildering. Please wish me luck.

On top of school, after a 2 hr line up my visa application was rejected since my passport was deemed unacceptable (too battered after going through the laundry in Van). That was annoying/disappointing/stressy. Reattempted it today, and after the angry officer told the dude in front of me to get lost, she proceeded to OK all my docs, no questions asked. Big thanks to the universe.

Happy News Happy China

Today many interesting things happened in China. People very excited and happy for Olympics. Many upstanding citizens learning English. All China and all the world will be impressed. No bad news in China. We are all very glad.

Aside: Upon getting wired, we could access BBC for maybe a day. We now must get it through the tunnneling program, which is pretty slow. But it feels good to check in with the planet (and this very country) occasionally.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Survey Says!

This may be of no interest to you or your dog, but it's huge for Heza, me, and the other 4 teachers. I now know for relative certain, that this year i'm gonna teach 2 grade 7 ESL classes, gym, IT and grade 1 .

I now know for relative certain that Heza and i will move out of our evermore cramped rez room w/ 2 single beds, into a newly reno'd 2 bdrm apt, which is apparently quite nice (minimalist, marble and wood floor, not exactly the coziest but who cares?)

The class info in particular is particularly tardy in coming. It would've been nice to have known the particulars a month or so ago. But hey, that's life in a brand new private school, with a brand new principal, brand new desks, and brand new students.

One of the teachers has just assumed the role of principal, and he's an a-ok dude, so i'm not much concerned w/ his inexperience.

Also, it turns out that 3 meals/day is included in our stint in the school. Much much better than the shit KD they served in Manitoba.

And as a side note: I should mention that yes Heza sure gets unnervingly cranky at times (no doubt compounded by the shits). And yes, my insistence at frequently bolting off in unknown directions infuriates her. And sure, our thermostats and sleep schedules can clash. But be it known that i totally LOVE Heza w/ all her foibles and she loves me and mine. It's pretty rad. Ok, now go and throw up if you want.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Climate Control

It's hot. Damn hot. but we have air con in the room. Which has spurned a battle between Heza and i about how cold it should be. It's cold. Damn cold.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

And As For the Gated Community...

30,000 people is a lot to keep all bottled up. People are free to walk in and out, though security are sure to interrogate anyone who doesn't fit the accepted profile. Vehicles all go through paper slips to get in/out.

Security guards circulate, sometimes on bike, sometimes in groups, sometimes marching in step and calling out squadron cheers/communist cheers/something.

The residents are generally very affluent, definitely by Chinese standards. There are sculpted gardens, pathways, and park areas. In fact, moreso than any other residential area in the city

On one hand, it's stifling being here, and knowing what it is. On the other hand... it's great! People really use their "public" spaces here. Late at night the streets can still be full of people playing Go or cards. Kids and cute little dogs are ubiquitous: the family vibe is really pronounced. And it's great that by the rec centre plaza, someone brings a crappy ghetto blaster and plays some sappy canto-waltz music, and couples dance away on the patio. Apparently there's swing dancing on another patio, and it doesn't seem particularly organized.

So in it's way, this place really seems like a strong Community. You could do worse, throwing some rich people together in a Vancouver suburb.

The security dudes all seem pretty nice (esp. to us foreigners?) and are always happy to open the mechanized gate to the school residence for us. I think they're happy to have something to do, since there's so many of them.

And it's not hard to get out of the place. Just outside Yihai Gardens, there's a scrappy little outdoor market which provides a sharp contrast to its neighbour. As of yet i've noticed no animosity between the scenes. Though surely the farmers ain't trying to bust into Yihai.

And Heza and i really enjoy a little eatery just outside the gates, where we can get a full meal plus beer for $1.75. It's the kind of joint where i asked where the washroom was, and the dude grabbed my arm and pulled me to the alley.

Weirdly, it feels pretty natural to walk between the 2 worlds. And i suspect many people feel the same. No doubt there's tons of people who would never slum it the way i like to, but such was life in Van too.

What a Picture's Worth

Side street vendors just off of the Nike and French Connection drag

Ok, i got a new camera, after not lasting very long in my brave attempts to Experience China Directly And Not Through A Viewfinder. Everything's up on my new Flickr page, in backwards chronology. (i'm anal about order, so you might start out on the right hand side). I'm posting highlights. Heza posts lots more on her flickr page.

Anyhow, you've got a few pix from China, and some from the recent trip to Chengde, 230km NW of BJ.

We had a gongshow of a trip out. Major issues trying to get directions to the train station from the subway. One cabbie kicks us out 'cause the trip was too short. We proceed to get lost trying to cover that short distance. We end up trying to buy tickets for the trip at the cargo side of the train tracks from a cranky woman w/ no patience for non-Mandarin speakers. Eventually a nice employee takes us behind the scenes and under the tracks since we can't figure out that where we're supposed to be. Then we find ourselves locked IN, and unable to get off the platform to the ticket sales/waiting room. We get our tix ($2.43 each!) and then later discover we are on a milk run train that takes 7 hrs to arrive. Our booked hotel turns out to be full, and we chaotically get one rebooked via the phone (and ended up in a ridiculously deluxe joint w/ a piano player in the lobby most hours). A train employee seems quite drunk and he makes "friends" with Heza and i (but mostly Heza), talking fast and loud in our faces, though it's obvious enough we comprehend little to nothing. He is eventually dragged away by coworkers twice.

As for Chengde, it's a small town of 500,000 peeps, and it houses a veritable forest of temples to check out. The largest wooden statue in the world, a 23m tall buddha, was unexpectedly awe-inspiring. (Bigger is better in buddhism? Oh, those mahayanas!). But it did feel really humbling to be in its presence.

The other temples were alright, though you get squeezed for cash every step of the way, and i did have it out w/ our tour guide who was intentionally stretching things out (can't blame a guy for making a buck, but still...) The park temples were actually created as a sort of Disney park for the Qing emperors, so they lent themselves well to tourism.

Now we're back, and (as w/ splitting Canada) are reminded how good it is to have even just a tiny bit of outside perspective.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

And As For the Great Firewall...

All i know is that the school has set Heza and I up w/ internet in our temporary residence. We are shocked, shocked i tell you that...

We still have access to CBC.

And BBC.

We still have Facebook (well, Heza does).

Dan Savage: yes. yes.

That's all great. What we don't get is Wikipedia or graphic porn (which i'm still avoiding anyways). And we can't view our blogs, though posting is fine. But via a sneaky tunnelling program, we can do pretty much all the surfing we did at home, though at a rather slower rate. Wikipedia, we love you, and your info on beijing train stations!

ps. we're heading to Chengde for a couple nights, to bust out of big city life, to small city life. 400,000+ pop. More on that later. AND... i got a camera, so i'll do some pix for y'all soon too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Heza and StatusQ in a Test of the Wills

It's not unexpected that Heza and my relationship experiences some stress now that we're overseas, in a place where we don't speak the language, and where our social circle has become just a handful of people, whom we don't even hang w/ much.

Anyhow Heza and I have been spending a lot of time together though, for sure. Toss into the mix, slightly skewed sleeping schedules (jetlag remnants?), resulting crankiness, language barrier ineptitudes and stresses, constant heat and humidity, yadda yadda, and you get the picture.

Also I've been pretty bullheaded about wanting to see as much of the city, and do as much stuff as possible, regardless of Heza's energy level, or my own. This was also an issue in Vancouver, where i liked a super busy schedule, while Heather was more of a homebody.

In a city as insanely big as this one, i feel weirdly boxed in in this massive gated community. So i go for lots of walks outside the gates, which is ok. Anyhow, this particular day we were stuck in the complex all day due to some housekeeping. So for the evening i wanted to bust out. Heza was low energy so was staying in: no problem. But first we had dinner, which finished after dusk. Afterwards my plan was to bus to the subway and to go somewhere, anywhere that looked ok. Heza felt that plan was completely stupid. But why should that matter if she's not along for the ride? We grumbled about it a while until it really was too late for me to go off. In the end we sat on the freeway curb and smoked cigarettes. Then I refused to go bk to the apartment, choosing to walk around a bit, and then run some laps on the track before crankily turning in for a long hard sleep.

I should recognize that Heza is really dealing amazingly well w/ her 1st time in a foreign developing nation.
I'm superduper happy that we're on this trip together.
I should recognize I'm not a solo traveller for the first time.
I don't feel unsafe here at all;
But I can recognize that the Unknown Quotient is def higher than in Vancouver.
And Heza admits she hasn't really felt unsafe either.
I admit that my idealized schedule is a bit bombastic.
And that Heza and I definitely have diff energy levels and sleep requirements.
Now I'm trying to ask, “what do you wanna do today/this afternoon/this evening/tomorrow” w/ a bit less insistence/frequency.
It's hard.
And Heza just wants to take things as they come.
Did you catch that role reversal? Heza's all laid-back, and I'm Mr Planner.

And the real moral of the story is:
Get the much needed 10 hr sleep before you freak out unnecessarily.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Enter Optimism

Today started out as a blank slate, and Heza went off for a massage ($10/hr). We were just about to choose the day's destination when we learned we were to go on a school tour and have lunch w/ the school admin and staff.

The school (still under construction) is shaping up to be the slickest, best equipped school i've ever laid eyes on. 5 stories, computer labs, sound proof audio/visual labs, a dance room w/ hardwood floors and wall to wall mirrors, a pool, and much much more. This is the new addition to the preexisting school which has a huge rubberized track and astroturf field, and tons of student residences. This place is too new, too big, and too fancy to compare to any schools in BC.
Not only is the school cutting edge, it also has a rep as being the most prestigious school in China for churning out students who actually make it overseas after graduation (the new school is the new satellite school of the preexisting dntn school). How the hell did i fall into this job?

After the tour we went for (yet another) feast, but this one was the biggest one yet as more and more admin, teachers, owners, and support staff had arrived in BJ. It was a very warm vibe amongst the gang, translators and all. And we all overate and downed glasses of chinese beer. It seems like everyone's pretty pumped on the upcoming year.

After lunch, us foreign teachers were told we were being taken to Hou Hai lake. Which i'd heard good things about, but i was kinda pissed off that yet once again our plans were being made for us. We had one chaperone (Big Sis #2) to show us around. Hou Hai turned out to be a super touristy but really lovely lake, filled with paddle boats, and surrounded by expensive hipster bars and people hawking souvenirs. Big Sis #2 is really nice, and i finally chilled out after i realized that i actually did want to be at Hou Hai after all. Eventually we sent Big Sis#2 on her way to have a bit of time off, and quit working her bloody long hours (not inc hrs of commuting daily).

Goodbye "Friedman". Hello Big Sister

In the interests of modesty, Friedman, Demo Crazy, Sins Or Ship, etc will be my words of choice to avoid embarassment.

News: Heza are no longer slated to work in dntn BJ, blocks away from the Forbidden City and Tiannamen Square. We have been switched to a school in South BJ. A sort of suburb. A sort of gated community. Of 50,000 or so, we've been told. It's surreal. Our apartment isn't quite ready, so until Sept, we're staying in a hotel-style room for visiting teachers. I'll post more on this, after i've had more time to process.

The school has been super helpful in helping us take care of the dirty work (such as our health tests and visas which problematically stated that we were permitted to stay for ZERO days!)
A couple lovely young women have been designated to help us with whatever needs we have, helping us get from A to B, to translating when needed, etc. That is wonderful. One of them stays in the room next door to us. She helped us set up our air con, cellphones, internet, etc, all of which would be a major pain in the arse w/ the language barrier. That is great.

But hold on just a sec. The other morning i went for a walk outside of the gates, and told Heza i'd be bk at 9:45am, as we'd arranged w/ Big Sis to get cellphones at 10. Upon my arrival, i learned that Big Sis was getting gray hairs due to the stress of me going missing! Big Sis pretty stressy when it comes to taking care of our business. This, just after i'd gotten over my initial cell phone retaliation, since i've never wanted one in the first place, and having to carry one so someone can keep tabs on me is a little frustrating. Now that we have cells, we get periodic check-ins. Yes mom, we're still out. Yes mom, we're coming home at 7. Yes mom, we're at home now.
Not that it's Big Sister's fault or anything. She seems like a very hard working young woman, surely under strict orders to keep us foreign devils safe, happy, accounted for, and out of trouble. I can only assume that this is a school responsibility passed down from the Glover Mint.
What this has meant so far is that plans and schedules are sometimes made for us, some necessary, some not. Also, it seems they like us teachers to hang out w/ the other teachers, which is great and all, except that it may be just because we're easier to keep track of that way.
Sigh... I should just mention that none of this is any huge surprise. The school's principal had told me that “they” tracked his phone calls, and always knew where he was. Sheesh, the things i get myself into.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hello China Hello

Yes, we have contact, and it's been a good and long haul thus far. Very limited internet access at this pt in time, hence the massive first entries. A novel's worth of stuff has gone dn, and here's some initial comments.

After stressing over all the shit you're definitely not supposed to bring into a county where all sorts of crap is disallowed, the customs on this side of the Pacific was literally nonexistent. They didn't look at shit-all: just a glum glance at some papers, and then a disinterested rubber stamp.

Then a friendly slap in the face from the hot dirty humidity, a crazy rush into a cab, and then we were off to downtown Beijing. Initial observations of note: practically all the buildings lining the major roads are ENORMOUS. It kinda screams Money. The air is definitely not fresh. And sure you can't see buildings more than 1km away at times, and the early evening sun is strangely red, hazy and starable. But frankly, i thought the air in London seemed filthier than this place. That may change in future months, but i'll keep you posted on that.

Anyhow, the rather confused cab driver dropped Heather and I off at what turned out to be the opposite side of the hutong of where our hotel actually was. (Language barrier and map issues). So my first experience in the homeland was getting lost in the hutong (narrow alley ways filled w/ supremely cheap hair cut places, produce being sold off of bike trailers, food vendors, bike riders, pedestrians, dogs, etc. Do note that hutong dwellers are not Chinese High Society). Anyhow, i can't help it: i love the hutong scene. So i got to run around using my terribly lacking Mandarin skills to find the hotel, drop off bag #1, and then rushing back to find Heza (my gf) staving off the tears, and feeling considerably less enamored with China than myself. Lugging 150 lbs of luggage through the hutong did nothing to improve her mood, though we did eventually come across a dude with a bike trailer who we paid to carry our stuff the rest of the way. I did haggle down his price, though it was all for naught, as we had no small bills to pay him in the end anyways. Oops.

In dealing w/ jetlag, caffeine was in order, and Heza was quite pleased to learn that we had a Starbucks just a block away. So chilling w/ a coffee and a Lesser Panda cigarette, things were feeling on the up and up. So then we explored another hutong w/ some dinky little eateries which looked pretty rad, but i thought the bigger one would be a bit safer and statusquo. we barely managed to order some beer and food, which turned out to be a simple and tasty beef noodle soup. But before the food even arrived a man approached us, laid a few polaroids on the table and started rambling loudly to us. He seemed pretty pissed off about something or other. i recognized the word Chinaman from his mouth but nothing else. I recognized the smell of rice alcohol gently spraying my face, and heavily infused in his breath. No less than 5 female servers were trying to coax him away the whole time, but it was a good 5 minutes before he would be swayed. We never found out who the man in the pictures was or what relevance he had to anything, but he did have a bit of a Mao thing going. So much for easing Heza into everything, as things had been really In Your Face thus far. But at least we did have some local help onside.

More soon: but hopefully after my internet connexion is a bit less public.