Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Achoo At You!

Peter has a condition called the Photic Sneeze Reflex, which means he usually sneezes when he's first exposed to bright light, especially sunlight.  It also apparently damages his memory since, for the first three years I knew him, he explained after every Photic sneeze, "I'm allergic to the light."  After awhile, it drove me bonkers, which I think he mistakenly interprets as disbelief.

Peter: (walking into the bright bathroom from the dim living room): Achoo!
Me: You're allergic to the light!
Peter: That's right! You Google it! (These sentences all have exclamation points because we're shouting across the house)
Me: I believe you!  I don't need to Google it!
Peter: You Google it!
Me: Fine!  (fake typing) I Google it!  I believe you!
Peter: You never did anything that fast in your entire life!
Me: Fine! (Google) Okay, it's on Wikipedia, it must be real!

I am with a student who is interning as an MD.  He's got some famous quote he wants to translate into English.

Deak: How does this sound?  "Life is the hymen between matter and spirit."
Me: (cough) Um, you need to look up that word again.
Deak: Which word?
Me: Hymen.
Deak: ...oh.  Well, ah...
Me: Never mind.

And finally, I saw this sign on the back of a car the other day.  I wasn't quick enough with my camera, but someone else was!  Thanks to Asia Insider Photos for this picture!

Watch where you step!  Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Day Six

God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ, our Savior,
Was born upon this day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy!

In Bethlehem in Judea
This blessed Babe was born,
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn;
The which his mother Mary
Nothing did take in scorn. Refrain

From God our heavenly Father
A blessed angel came,
And unto certain shepherds
Brought tidings of the same,
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by name. Refrain

'Fear not,' then said the angel,
'Let nothing you affright;
This day is born a Savior
Of virtue, power and might,
So frequently to vanquish all
The friends of Satan quite.' Refrain

The shepherds at these tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind,
And went to Bethlehem straightway
This blessed Babe to find. Refrain

But when to Bethlehem they came,
Whereat this Infant lay,
They found him in a manger
Where oxen fed on hay;
His mother Mary, kneeling,
Unto the Lord did pray. Refrain

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace.
The holy tide of Christmas
All others doth efface. Refrain

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day Five

My all-time favorite Christmas Song!

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Silent night, holy night
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Day Four

    O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
    Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
    Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
    The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

    For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
    While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wond’ring love.
    O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth,
    And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

    How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
    So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
    No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
    Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

    Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child,
    Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
    Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
    The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.

    O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
    Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
    We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
    Oh, come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day Three point five

This is one of my all time favorites.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.


Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.


O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.


O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.


O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.


O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.


O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.


O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Day Three

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;


O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten, not created;


Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation;
O sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, all glory in the highest;


See how the shepherds, summoned to His cradle,
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;
We too will thither bend our joyful footsteps;


Lo! star led chieftains, Magi, Christ adoring,
Offer Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
We to the Christ Child bring our hearts’ oblations.


Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I'm reading Dickens's A Christmas Carol for the first time and, since I am a sucker for a good quotation, I thought I'd share this one.

“There are some upon this earth of yours who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us, and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”  --The Spirit of Christmas Present

Day Two

For those of you just tuning in at home, we're taking a six-day trip through the lyrics to some of the most familiar Christmas hymns.  We continue our journey today with "O Holy Night."

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, when Christ was born.

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wise men from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

"And in His name all oppression shall cease."  So apt as we watch the events play out in North Korea.  Let it be so, Lord.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Six Days of Christmas

I love old hymns.  Love, love them.  That's mostly what we sang in church when I was young, and it was by far my favorite part of the service.  Don't get me wrong, I like contemporary music, too; there's a lot of great new stuff out there.  But when things get tight, sing me a few verses of "It is Well With my Soul."  Tell me that's not powerful.

In church we always sang verses one, two, and four, supposedly to save time.  That never made sense to me, because it doesn't take but a minute to sing a verse of a hymn, and it's so fun.  It may have been some kind of "grass is greener" phenomenon, but I always felt like the third verse was the one with the most powerful lyrics.  Was it a conspiracy to cover up the most powerful (and therefore, dangerous) messages of these songs?  The world will never know.

(Now I know that some object to old hymns, claiming they contain faulty theology.  Well, I can't argue with that (I'd never win if I tried, anyway) but I'll only accept that objection if you're subjecting all your music to the same scrutiny, not just the old stuff.)

My favorite worship service of the year has always been the one paltry Sunday on which we sang Christmas carols.  The rest of the year they looked out of place in the hymnal beside the "every Sunday" songs, but the last Sunday before Christmas we were allowed to belt them...verses one, two and four, of course.

Retail Christmas starts earlier and earlier every year, but Christmas hymn Sunday remains frustratingly in place.  If I were a worship leader I'd dust those babies off right after Halloween and keep them in the rotation until Groundhog's Day, so it's probably a good thing that I'm not.  There's a lot of good Christmas songs, but these hymns are powerful.  They get me every time.  It's the only time of year we can go into public places and hear the birth of Christ proclaimed in song.  Sometimes I'm amazed.  How do we get away with it?  I think it's because they're too familiar.  We've known them for so long that they've passed into the subconscious, with all the other miscellaneous stuff.

Though it's true that many of our Christmas traditions do not have Christian origins, Christmas has been celebrated for years by mainstream society as a staunchly religious holiday.  As our culture moves away from that, I see us in a bit of a pickle trying to sort out the traditional from the religious.  We resolve this dilemma with instrumental versions of old songs, and new, Jesus-free Christmas songs, and moving the meaning of Christmas to a belief in "the Christmas spirit" and away from religion.

Don't get me wrong, I think these things are good, not bad.  I think people who aren't Christians shouldn't celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday.  God isn't honored by unwilling, or unwitting, praise.  I think people should be free to celebrate the holiday the way they want.  After all, I'm not free to celebrate in my way unless others are free to celebrate in theirs.  My only beef with the situation is that the drive for secular songs to fill the gap has produced some truly horrible Christmas music.  I'm sorry, but there it is.

So I'm here in China, but I am not without Christmas.  Celebrations of Christmas, at least in this part of China, are more and more in vogue every year.  A couple weeks ago I walked into my local mega-mart (yep, we have those; with a billion people, there required) and saw these:

Who says China is behind the world in human rights?  China is a place where Spanish-speaking Packers, Raiders, and Redskin fans can all share their Christmas lo mein together.  And of course we can do so while listening to this rendition I heard last week in McDonald's, "Jingle bell, jingle bell....in a one-horse open slee!"  I get that "sleigh" is hard to pronounce, but doesn't the rhyming scheme with "way" help?  I know Chinese preschoolers that get it.  Oh well.

So I was in Subway yesterday, and I had this idea.  Subway, like all remotely western businesses, is playing Christmas music.  I was just thinking how nice it was that I hadn't heard any "Feliz Navidad" when they played both "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Christmas Shoes."  Call me a philistine, but those are the two worst Christmas songs ever, closely followed by "Here Comes Santa Claus."  The drummer boy is a nice enough story, but I'm sorry, no mother every gave anyone permission to play a percussion instrument around her newborn.  And Christmas shoes?  I know it was the top of the charts a few years ago, and the mom is dying and blah blah, but I can't stand it.  It's like someone found a way to use the PA system to send me email spam.  Sorry, kids.

As I was yearning for some of the good ol' stuff, I had an idea.  We've got six days till Christmas (give or take), and that's eight songs.  I'm gonna search up my best Christmas hymns and post their lyrics here.  I know you already know them, but take a look.  Really take a look.  For starters, let's get to know that lost third verse.  Most of the hymns we associate with Christmas weren't written specifically for Christmas (validating those of use who want to listen to them and sing them in September) but were written like any other hymn: to be good, ol' praise.  So, I'm going to post the lyrics to one hymn every day until Christmas.  I wish I'd thought of this sooner, then I'd challenge worship leaders to start singing these songs earlier, though perhaps not as early as Halloween.  Well, you'll have to stick that one behind your ear for next year.  Anyway, today's selection is Joy to the World.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n, and heav’n, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

"He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found."  When you hear "Old Man is Stalking You"  ("Santa Claus is Coming to Town") in Walgreen's for the twenty-nine millionth time, think about that.  To make his blessings flow.  Joy to you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This Evening

Peter is using a Chinese language version of MS Word to write up a contract while I watch reruns of 30 Rock.

Peter: How do I start a new page?
Me: Use a page break.
Peter: What?
Me: Okay, is this the insert menu?  Okay, choose that one...click here...no, here...then okay.
Peter:  Great, thanks.
Me: Isn't it kind of sad that I can remember all the menu option in Word so well that I can use them in a language I can't read?
Peter: What?
Me: No, not sad...
Peter: Maybe you're just old?
Me: What?
Peter: Well, you said you were sad.
Me: Since when does sad equal old?  Sad does not equal old, and anyway I changed my mind, it's not sad, it's awesome.  So there.
Peter: If you say so.

I am going down to the convenience store to buy movie snacks.  I don't know which is weirder: his description or the fact that I actually got it.

Me: What do you want?
Peter: A Coke Zero and some of those chip things.
Me: What things?
Peter: I forgot the English name.
Me: What do they look like?
Peter: They're, you know, kind of a round triangle cube.
Me: Bugles?
Peter: Yeah!  Bugles.
Me: That shape is called a cone.  You know, like an ice cream cone.
Peter:  Yeah.  Tiny wizard hats.
Me: I would accept "cone" or "tiny wizard hats," but you're going to lose points for "round triangle cube."
Peter: Don't talk to me again until after you're done grading your tests.

After watching "Columbiana."

Peter: I think that movie should be named "Catalaya."
Me: I think Columbiana means a woman from Columbia.  But it is a pretty name.
Peter: Maybe we should name our daughter that.
Me: Yeah, but what'll we tell her if she asks us where her name came from?
Peter: We could just tell her we heard of the flower and named her after that.
Me: How's our child going to believe we named her after a Columbian flower?  Anyway, do you want to lie to our child?
Peter: You want to tell her she's named after an assassin?
Me: Never mind.  I don't think I want to give our daughter a name that rhymes with playa.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

So Close, and yet So Far

Margie and I are discussing marriage.

Margie: My husband words for Shanxi TV.
Me: I'm going to be a guest on the talk show, Hello Ni Hao.
Margie: Oh, so maybe you'll meet him!
Me:  Maybe I can spy on him for you.
Margie: No, that would be a waste of time.  I never worry about what he's up to when I am not around.  My husband is too old, fat and ugly to have a mattress.
Me: A mattress?
Margie: Oh, I meant a mistress.  Basically the same thing, though.

Discussing America with Jackie.

Jackie: I've heard that America has a lot of terrorist cities--
Me: What?
Jackie: --places where people go to relax, see famous places--
Me: Oh, you mean tourist cities.
Jackie: Yeah, terrorist cities.
Me: Yeah, we need to work on your pronunciation.

Getting to know you.

Me: Have you ever won an award?
Tina: Yes.
Me: What kind of award did you win?
Tina: I won an award for an English competition.
Me: very cool.
Tina: I also won an award for playing the piano...every year for the last six years.  I won two awards for chemistry, one for math, one for and English speech competition--
Me: Dang, Gina!
Tina: What?  What does that mean?
Me: Um, I meant to say, you're very talented.
Tina: So, "Dang, Gina!" means I am talented?
Me: More or less.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Back from Hiatus

Been on a sort of a hiatus, because of the summer rush at my school.  However, I'm back now!  The following conversation occurred after Peter and I watched the movie Eagle Eye.  Usually after we watch a movie I go to IMDB and look it up.

Me: Oh, look, Steven Spielberg was the original director of this movie.
Peter: Who?
Me: Steven Spielberg.
Peter: I don't know.
Me: you don't KNOW?
Peter: What else has he done?
Me: Um, Jaws, Hook, Indiana Jones, ET...
Peter: Oh.
Me:...Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Animaniacs, Schindler's List...
Peter: Ok.
Me:...The Terminal, Minority Report, AI, Batteries Not Included, Catch Me If You Can, Goonies...
Peter: Yeah, ok, that's good enough.
Me: So, you know?
Peter: Sure.
Me: Here's a picture of him.
Peter: Hmm.  Looks like Harry Potter.

Daisy and I are discussing movies.  This post is the reason I don't try harder to clear this up.

 Daisy: My favorite movie is Twilight.  I think it's so romantic.  I really like the girl, Kris...Kris...
Me: Kristen Stewart.
Daisy: Yeah, Kristen Stewart.  I think she's a really good actress.  She can play so many different kinds of people.  She's also really good in Harry Potter.
Me: I'm sorry, what?
Daisy: She's good in Harry Potter.
Me: So the girl in Twilight is the same girl that plays Hermione in Harry Potter?
Daisy: Of course.  Didn't you realize that?
Me: Um, I can't say that I did.  So, what's your favorite sport?

Poor Seven comes from China, but she's going to college in Italy.  Her Italian university has an exchange program to the US, so she's refreshing her English after several years of studying Italian.  This can sometimes be problematic.  Here, our class is playing Catchphrase.

Trinana: Okay, this word is a food.  It's white or yellow, and we put it on top of a pizza.
Seven: Fromaggio...dammit!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Marital Communication

10:15am *Ring!  Ring!*

Peter: Hello?
Me: Hi.  What are you doing?
Peter: Sleeping.  I'm going to work in an hour.  What are you doing?
Me: Teaching. My student is weird.
Peter:  Cool.  Ok, bye!
Me: Ok, bye!

12:42pm *Ring!  Ring!*

Peter: Hello?
Me: What's going on tonight?
Peter: Nothing.
Me: 80 said he was going to cook me General Tso's Chicken.
Peter:  No, we're not doing that.
Me: Uh, ok.  Hey, a bunch of people from work went to your shop for dinner last night.  They said it was good.  I gotta go.
Peter: Ok, bye!

2:53pm *Ring!  Ring!*

Me: Hello?
Peter: The Cessna sales office in Singapore doesn't have anyone who speaks Chinese.
Me: But the web page said their territory was China!
Peter: I know!  They can't speak English, either.  I was trying to give her my email address, I was all like "K for kill you, u for underwear, v for very fat, B for boy," and she was all like, "What?"
Me: Ok, I'll call them.  I'm can do bad English.  Hey, do Chinese people get ear infections?
Peter: Why?
Me: I think I have one.
Peter: Then why does it matter if Chinese people get them?
Me: I need the medicine, of course.
Peter: Er, I gotta go.
Me: So, for sure no dinner tonight?
Peter: Yep.
Me: Ok, bye.

6:10pm *Ring!  Ring!*

Peter's cousin (in Chinese): Peter forgot his phone again.  I'll get him to call you.
Me: Ok, bye.

6:27pm *Ring!  Ring!*

Me: Hello?
Peter: Where are you?
Me: I just left the pharmacy.
Peter: Did you get the medicine?
Me: Maybe.  I gotta go home and google it.
Peter: Are you coming to the shop?
Me: You said no dinner.  Do you want me to come?
Peter: 80 didn't come to his shop today, so he can't cook for you, but you can come if you want to.
Me: I'll come if you want me to come.
Peter: You can come if you want to come.
Me:  Yeah...I'm going home.  I have a headache.
Peter: Do you want to go to Cauliflower's birthday party later?
Me:  No, I have to get up early to go to the bank.
Peter: Ok, you go home, I'll pick you up later and we'll spend that gift card.
Me: Ok, bye.

6:41pm *Ring!  Ring!*

Peter: What are you doing?
Me: I'm at home.
Peter: Cool.  Hey, 80 wants you to come and eat General Tso's Chicken.
Me: You said he wasn't there today.
Peter: He wasn't!  I didn't think he was coming in.  Do you want to come?
Me: Uhhhh...
Peter: You don't have to.
Me: It'll take me forever to get back there.  What's easiest?
Peter: Er...
Me: My ear is full of medicine.  I think.
Peter: We'll do it tomorrow.
Me: Sorry!
Peter: Never mind.  Bye!
Me: Ok, bye.

10:37pm *Ring!  Ring!*

Me: Hello?
Peter: What are you doing?
Me: Sleeping.  I'm sorry I missed 80.
Peter: I'm sorry I'm still at work.
Me: I love you.
Peter: I love you, too.
Me: Ok.
Peter: Bye.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Salute to Fireworks

In honor of the Fourth of July, here's some Chinese firework footage.  The first is a video from Wuhan in 2006, from the top of the building I lived in.  This was taken on Chinese National Day, which is October 1st. 

These two photos are also from National Day 2006.  Some friends and I went to see the city's display of fireworks, set off not near but actually on the Yangtze river.

Oooh!  Ahhh!

Happy Fourth!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Look At The New Restaurant

Sorry for the hiatus!  Peter has sold the stand that previously housed Three Sisters Rice Noodles.  The new, larger location, was formerly an SPR coffee; a Chinese chain that ripped off Starbuck's so badly that Starbucks actually won the lawsuit.  Peter, his cousin, and Dickey (I tried really hard to give him another English name, but Peter named him that when they were in high school, and it's stuck) are operating Thousand Flavor Foods.  The name sounds much better in Chinese, I promise.  Here's a look at it.  You may only watch this video if 1) you agree to bear with me through my unique, Blair With Project style of cinematography and 2) you promise to believe I am actually much hotter than I look in this video, and 3) you bear in mind that my Chinese is much better than it appears in this video.  Peter's mom is asking me what I am doing, but I don't know how to say "webcam," "upload" "email" or "youtube" in Chinese.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Teach a Man to Fish, and he'll be Terrified for the Rest of his Life

More fish tales.  If you want to read the beginning of the fish saga, click here.

Me: What is your favorite food?
Vincent: Seafood.  But I don't like to eat fish.
Me: So, you mean you only like shellfish--crab, lobster, etc.
Vincent: Yes.  I really don't like to eat fish.
Me: You don't like the taste?
Vincent: No, I'm afraid of fish.
Me: Again?  Er, I mean, I don't like it when I can see the fish's face.  I only like headless fish.
Vincent: It's not that.  When I was young, my uncle used to chase me around with a whole, raw fish.
Me: But why?
Vincent: For fun?

Peter and I are in a Thai restaurant.  We're in a booth beside a decorative fish tank, which is filled with large goldfishy-type fish.  They make kissing faces at us.

Me: The fish here are nice.
Peter: Sure.
Me: Oh yeah, can you believe it, I had another student today who's afraid of fish?
Peter: Warily eying the fish tank.  I can believe it.
Me: Are those fish creeping you out?
Peter: No.
Me: What if one of them were to, you know, rush at you?
Peter: Maybe.
Me: Really??!  Why are so many Chinese people afraid of--
Peter: Never mind.  I lied.  I am not afraid of fish and I never was.
Me: Really.
Peter: Yes.  What do you want to eat?
Me: The lime chicken.  You?
Peter: The, er, fish soup.  Ground fish soup.
Me: Do you feel safer if they're ground up?
Peter:  Did I say ground fish soup?  I meant I want the ground Christense soup.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Here's What Happened (not related, I just like that title)

The things that get you most in China are the things you never realized were subject to culture.

Blame, for example.  The Chinese blame each other much differently than we do.  Does that sound petty?  Go get someone to mess with your sense of blame, then come talk to me.  You never know how much a thing like that can bother you until it's happened to you.

So there I was, coming home from school, feet swollen up like marshmallows.  The weather?  The arthritis?  The day?  I don't know why.  This morning student scheduled for two back-to-back classes (four hours),  beginning at 8am, did a no-show.  I ate a very salty bowl of spinach noodles and walked 30 minutes in the hot part of the day to get to my second class of the afternoon.  After two hours standing up talking about Moo Goo Gai Pan, I was bushed.  I wanted to get home and put my (marshmallows) feet up.

Hunting through a forgotten box for my summer shorts, I stumbled upon a long-forgotten bag of Dead Sea salt.  Score!  My feet soaking in simulated Dead Seawater, I propped up my laptop and watched and old episode of Star Trek TNG.  And when that was over, dagnabit, I watched another.  ("Darmok" and "Ensign Ro" for those that want to know.)

Later I was looking up the names of really, really big numbers (could I borrow a quattuordecillion dollars, please?) to teach to my students, when the phone rang.  It was Maia, from my school.

Maia: Are you on the way?
Me: To where?
Maia: To school.  Wang Fei is waiting for you.
Me: You must be mistaken.  I don't know any student called Wang Fei, and when I checked my schedule this afternoon, there was no class tonight.
Maia: There wasn't?
Me: No.
Maia: Well, could you come here, and tomorrow I will ask the scheduler about it?  The student is here waiting to have class.
(Here I should point out that it's 45 minutes into a two hour class.  I don't know why she waited so long to call me, but by the time I got there the class would be half over.  Nevertheless, I don't know what to do.  I've been here long enough to second- and third-guess my first instincts, because what I think it the right thing to do is often not--not at all--right in Chinese culture.  Peter's not home; I wish he were so I could call a sidebar for a culture conference.)
Me: Well, I don't think I can.  I don't know anything about Wang Fei, and I don't have a class prepared.
Maia: Oh.  Okay.  Well, do you have class here tomorrow?
Me: Yes, in the afternoon.
Maia: Okay, can you come see me?
Me: Sure.

Phone call ends.  I feel disquiet within my soul.  The American in me is saying, If you go to school now they'll think they can just call you in whenever they want.  They'll get sloppy about scheduling, you'll never have any peace again.  Besides, it's not your fault.  Any class you'd teach would be useless, anyway.

It's long, hard-won, and I don't particularly like it, but important for any person living or working outside their own culture for an extended amount of time is a sense of justice in that secondary culture.  My sense of Chinese Justice keeps hitting the replay button on Maia (who is one of the good ones) going in to tell the unknown Wang Fei that there would be no class tonight.

I call Peter.  He's wrapped up in some noodle caper and can't talk.  I go back to reading giant numbers, not as amused as I was five minutes ago.

Fifteen minutes later my phone rings again.  I'm briefly afraid it's Maia again, or my boss calling to tell me I've committed some grave offense and I must duel Maia to the death.  After this long, I believe anything can happen in China.

It's just Peter, though.  I sketch the problem for him.

Peter: You should have gone.
Me: Really??
Peter: Yeah, really.
Me: But it's not my fault.  I shouldn't have to rush in and teach some crappy, slapdash lesson just to cover for someone else!  It's not fair to the student to get half a lesson.
Peter: That makes perfect sense...in American culture.  In China you have to help her out, and then tomorrow you can figure out what went wrong.  It's better that the teacher comes late than that you don't come at all.
Me: (I can hear his facial expression) It's too late.  She's already sent the student home by now.
Peter: Okay, well, never mind.
Me: Is it bad?
Peter: No, it's not that bad.  Just talk nice to Maia tomorrow.

I hang up.  Mixed emotions.  I picture myself, arriving to class an hour late.  I'd apologize, because I am genetically encoded to do so; I'd apologize and then hate myself for it.  Alternately I picture Maia, explaining to the student that there won't be any foreign teacher class tonight.  I'm not sure what she's telling the student.  White lies are a perfectly acceptable and essential part of Chinese culture.  The student is not happy.  These kinds of things don't go over well.  Some students can be very demanding...at least, the Chinese teachers think so.  I've never had any trouble with them.  But I don't always get the real.

The bottom line is, coming in late, I'd look wrong.  Me not coming, the school would look wrong.  I am no longer sure what part this blame formula played in my split-second decision to tell Maia I wasn't coming to class.  I am displeased.  I pull on Peter's old sweatshirt and go downstairs to buy a soda.

Later, Peter comes home.  I am on the bed pretending that I am planning a lesson, but really I am flipping listlessly though Facebook.  Peter's birthday is on Wednesday, so I don't take much notice of the package he's carrying, wrapped in pink paper.  (Pink doesn't mean anything.  "Real men wear pink" started in China.)

The package is for me.

Me: Why?
Peter: Why not?
Me: I haven't done the dishes.
Peter: I know.  You had a bad day.
Me: Your mom made fun of my lunch.
Peter: No one but you thinks those noodles taste good, baby.

He hands me the box.  I set it on the bed in front of me.  After generous pause, he takes it and loosens the wrapping paper, as if demonstrating.  I take it back and finish the job.

The outside of the box says...

Me: Lose your life?
Peter: Love your life.
Me: Much better that way.

I open the box gingerly.  My husband is not a giver of spontaneous gifts.  It could be anything: a gag,  something he thinks I'll love but I'll hate, something wildly inappropriate...or something perfect.

Out of the box comes a plastic model of a stone, the size of a large grapefruit.  An electrical plug comes out of the back of it.  On top there's a small round patch of green fuzz.  Emerging from the fuzz are three wires tipped with LED lights.  Each light is shaded by a tiny lampshade, one white, one blue, one orange.  In the box is a small card with instructions in Chinese, and a brand name: Avatap.  My husband has Avatapped me.

Quick, I think to myself.  Say something appreciative.  You want to encourage this kind of behavior.  He'll be embarrassed if you don't like it, so say something that you'd say if you liked it.  Make him believe you know what's going on.

Me: Oh...great.
Peter: It's a light!
Me: Yeah, I see that.  Cool!
Peter reaches into the box and pulls out a handful of artificial foliage and flowers.  He briefly consults the card.
Peter: See?  You can poke these in here (indicating the green patch) anywhere you want, and make it beautiful.
Me: Anywhere I want.  Neat!
Peter: You don't know what it is, do you?
Me: It's a light.  A neat-o light.
Peter: You wanted a lamp for beside your bed, but we never found one your liked.  I was going to buy you a new handbag, but I didn't know what kind you wanted.  I thought this was better for you.  Do you recognize it?
Me: It's a hairy lamp.  It's great!
Peter: This lamp is a piece of that planet, Avatar.
A long pause.  
Me: Oh...oh...OH!

Before my eyes it transforms.  The three little lamps are mushrooms.  The foliage starts to look familiar.  The green fuzz is a patch of moss, in which the plastic daisies will pretend to grow.  Oh!

I've had a vague dislike for Avatar ever since I heard that the movie caused a strange phenomenon. People were actually becoming clinically depressed because they wanted to go live on Avataria (whatever, I can't remember the actual name) but they couldn't because it was, after all, not real.  To me, that seemed to be totally missing the point of the movie.  But I'd enjoyed it otherwise, especially the glowing flora.  If that movie had come out when I was twelve, I would have been totally hooked.

Peter: So, you like it?
Me: Now that I know what it is, I totally love it.
Peter: And the LEDs are earth friendly!
Me: Yeah, sure.  Let's plug it in!
As we bask in the blue-white-orange glow...
Me: So are you mad at me about the school thing?
Peter: Of course not.  You can't be more than you are, baby.  Whatever else you are, you're an American.
Me: Do you think the school is going to make a big deal about it?
Peter: No.  Just talk to Maia tomorrow.  Tell her you're sorry.
Me: Do I have to be 100% sorry?
Peter: No. Ok?
Me: Ok.

Sometimes I'm Smart, Too

Tim and I are playing Catchphrase.  This is why it's hard to get good directions in China.
Tim: This word means what you should do if you don't know something.
Me: Research?  Look it up? Dictionary?
Tim: No.  Someone asks you, but you don't know the answer.
Me: I've played this game a quadrillion times with various students, so I know what all the words are.  Tell a lie?
Tim: That's right!
Me: That's sad.

Amamda and I are playing Catchphrase.

Me: When you see something beautiful and you want to remember it, what will you do?
Amanda: Potato!
Me: Potato?
Amanda: Potato.  Potato...photo!  Take a photo!

In a class of 12 students, we are playing a game called "What did I do yesterday?"  The class has decided where Stuart went (Walmart) what he thought about it (crowded) and what he bought (shampoo).  Just a note here: Peter says Wal-Mart smells like China. 

Stuart: Did I go somewhere in China?
Class: Many countries have this place.
Stuart: Disneyland?
Me: It's a big store from America.
Stuart: Oh, Wal...Wa...wo er ma!
Me: Yes, Wal-Mart.
Class: What did you think about it?
Stuart: Confusing.
Class: No!
Stuart: Smelly?
Me: Yes, but no.
Class: Like riding the bus at 6pm.
Stuart: Crowded!

Later in that class, Michael approaches me.  There's about an hour left of this four-hour class.

 Michael: I'm sorry teacher, I have to leave early.  I have something to do.  (This is a standard Chinese excuse.  I guess they don't feel obligated to make up an actual lie.)
Me: Okay, that's fine.
Michael: Okay, teacher, thank you so much.
Me: Tell your girlfriend I said hi.
Michael: How did you know?!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Here's What Happened

Imagine, if you will, yourself, at home alone on boys' night out.  (If you are a boy, please either imagine yourself as a girl or change "boys' night out" to "girls' night out.")  You're having a grand ol' time watching reruns of the Big Bang Theory, pretending it is research for new class material. 

An onion ring makes an appearance.  Your mouth waters.  Your loins quiver.  You try not to remember that you can make awesome onion rings.

You continue watching for a reasonable time, until transition to sleepytime is practical, but you can hold back the truth no further.  You bought an onion two days ago, right before Peter called and announced you were going out to eat.  It sits in the icebox, awaiting you.  (Yes, I know onions don't live in the icebox.  I like to think outside the box.  Or in it.)  You have the flour--you always have flour, Betty Crocker.  The bodega downstairs doesn't close for another 15 minutes.

It's meant to be.

Off you trot in your PJ's (people stare no matter what, might as well be comfortable) and return with a bottle of Xi'an's cheapest.  The pile of dirty dishes in the sink only slightly dampens the mood.  You're whistling (well, you would be if you could whistle) as you forage for cleanish dishes and line seasonings up in a row.  Down, down to the deepest depths of the cabinet you delve for that all-essential but rarely used flour.


You remember the flour clearly.  You remember insisting on buying it about nine months ago, the flour and an airtight plastic tub (ridonkulously expensive in China) to keep it in.  After using about nine tablespoons of it, you decided on a new organizational system.  You wrapped it and a bag of rice up in a cleverly arranged network of zipper bags, then filled the tub with cleaning supplies.  Tub and flour parted company.


A phone call to your husband establishes that he doesn't remember what he did.  More talking establishes that he remembers taking the rice, and only the rice, to use in his noodle shop.  (No, that's not supposed to make sense.)  The karaoke music in the background is getting distracting, but even more talking establishes that he is sincerely repentant for an offense he does not fully understand.  He holds firm on the fact that the rice and rice only left the house with him, and quickly follows up with a promise of piles of golden-brown onion rings at his shop tomorrow (presumably made from rice...?). 

It is tempting.  His onion rings are better than yours.  So much better, you're not even jealous.  And he's truly sorry.  Yep, he's a keeper.

Nevertheless, it won't help you tonight.  You let him off the hook and ask him to sing Poker Face for you (again). 

Plan second is the world's most awesome smoothie: pineapple-mango, FTW!  There's just enough stuff left to make a really good one.  The mangoes are wrinkly...which means they're in perfect ripeness.  Their smell is intoxicating.  Funny, I've never seen pineapple like that before.  I wonder what it tastes--oh.  Where's the trash can? 

So, to recap, you've got no onion rings, no delicious smoothie, and the taste of overripe-and-not-in-a-good-way pineapple in your mouth.  Sigh.

But!  You've still got your Big Bang Theory research to do (that would be a lot more auspicious if it wasn't capitalized) and you do, after all, have the beer! 

Which is warm.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Middle Earth in the Middle Kingdom, or How my Students are Smarter than Me

I am teaching a lesson about Chinese food to Jeff.  I've just shown him a picture of a bowl of Egg Flower Soup made in the good ol' USA.

Me: So, is this like the soup in China?
Jeff: Kind of.  The eggs look wrong.
Me: What's different about them?
I know very well what's different, but it's good practice for Jeff to explain it to me, so I play dumb.  How can he complain about his food in the States like a true American if I don't teach him now?
Jeff: In China we add more...um...checks dictionary...it's not in my dictionary.
Me: Maybe you can describe it to me.
Jeff: It turns blue when you add iodine.
Me: Um, what?
Jeff: Iodine?
Me: Iodine...
Jeff: Yeah, when you add iodine to it it turns blue.
Me: The only food I can think of with iodine is salt.
Jeff: No, not salt.  When we add it to Chinese soup it makes it thicker and the shape of the eggs is more beautiful, really like flowers.
Me: Thinking of Peter cooking. Starch?  Corn starch?
Jeff: Yes!  Starch.  We add more starch.
Me: You know, iodine is not where I would have started trying to explain cornstarch.
Jeff: You're welcome.

Talking with Stan before the Chinese food lesson.  This conversation took place in Chinese.

Stan: I really like blah blah blah.
Me: You like hot and sour diarrhea?
Stan: I like hot and sour soup.  SOUP!

My students aren't always clear on the difference between "hobby" and "habit."  They mix up both the words and the meanings.  Occasionally, my nerdly heart soars when they ask me:

What's your hobbit?

 Bruce is Party Animal's best friend.  The two of them are going to London together to study English and then go to high school.

Bruce: I like cars, but I don't like buses.
Me: Why is that?
Bruce: Have you been on the bus in Xi'an?  Those drivers think they're driving race cars, not buses.
Me: I couldn't have said it better myself.

My last lesson with Party Animal.  We are doing a lesson entitled For or Against?  The legal driving age in China is 18, and there is no age limit for buying/drinking alcohol or buying/smoking cigarettes.

 Me: Are you for lowering the driving age to 15?
Party Animal: No.
Me: But if it were lowered then you could drive.
Party Animal: I don't think I can see over the steering wheel.  (It's true.)
Me: Oh...er...so, what do you think the legal age for driving should be?
Party Animal: 20.
Me: Really?  I know you like cars.  That's a long time to wait to drive.
Party Animal: I know.  I'm not ready.  My mom wouldn't let me drive, anyway.
Me:  Probably true.  Are you for or against a legal age for smoking cigarettes?
Party Animal: For.  I think it should be twenty as well.  They're not good for young people.
Me: Well, they're not good for anybody.
Party Animal: Yeah, but by 20 if they don't know better it's too late.
Me: Do you think there should be a legal drinking age for alcohol?
Party Animal: What's alcohol?
Me: Beer wine, and hard liquor like baijou.  (Baijou tastes like coconut flavored nail polish remover and is the way the Chinese punish unsuspecting tourists.)
Party Animal: I think the drinking age should be 20 also.  No, wait...
Me: Yes?
Party Animal: I think it should be 20 for beer and wine and 30 for hard liquor.
Me: Will you be running for president any time soon?  I think I'd vote for you.
Apparently-Not-Such-A Party Animal: Leaping to his feet and running to the window.  Dude!  I just saw a Lamborghini!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Bit Fishy

I hit a busy spot so I have been absent, but I'm back with a few recent excerpts.  Let's start with a mistake about a traditional Chinese dish.

Kaelee: I like to eat hot pants.
Me: What?!
Kaelee: Oops, I mean hot pot.

Sherrie: I am afraid to go scuba driving.
Me: Scuba diving.
Sherrie: Oh, sorry.  Scuba diving.
Me: I tried to go scuba diving. but I chickened out.  I don't like deep water.
Sherrie: Oh, I don't mind deep water.  I love swimming.  I'm just really afraid of fish.
Me: Wait, you're afraid of fish?
Sherrie: Yes.
Me: Fish?
Sherrie: Fish.
Me: Why?
Sherrie: I don't know.  They just freak me out.
Me: The scales, the unblinking eyes...?
Sherrie: Yes.  Ew.
Me: Can you eat fish?
Sherrie: Yeah, I like to eat fish.
Me: So it's just looking at fish that creeps you out.
Sherrie: I don't like to see them when they're alive.
Me: So Finding Nemo must have been like a horror movie for you.

Me: Honey, today my student told me she's afraid of fish.  Fish!
Peter: So?
Me: Isn't that weird?  Have you ever heard of that before?
Peter: Yeah, sure.  A few people.
Me: Seriously?  Is that common in China?
Peter: I guess so.
Me: You guess?  Are any of your friends afraid of fish?
Peter: Well...I am.  I was, when I was younger.
Me: When you were younger?
Peter: Well, until I was like, fifteen.
Me: Fifteen?!
Peter: It's really not that big a deal.  Look, can we talk about something else?
Me: Finding Nemo?

I am very pleased this show is catching on in China.

Claire: I like to watch an American TV show called The Big Bang Theory.
Me: I love that show.  You said your major is physics, right?
Claire: Yes.
Me: So can you understand the physics they mention?
Claire: Some of it.  The vocabulary's very technical.
Me: So what's your opinion?
Claire: Sheldon is very interesting.

Kaelee: I had the phone interview with the American high school I want to go to.
Me: Which one was that?
Kaelee: Scared Heart High School.
Me: Sacred Heart?
Kaelee: Oh, yes.
Me: So did you feel nervous?
Kaelee: No, I felt great.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Orange Chicken Recipe

I've been promised a good meatloaf recipe in exchange for Peter's Orange Chicken recipe.  I post it here for those who asked for it.  The Chinese don't measure, so all amounts are approximate.  Feel free to experiment and modify to fit your tastes.  If you like it I wouldn't mind getting a few of your best recipes in return.
  1. Take 2-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut into one inch square pieces.
  2. Roll the chicken pieces in flour. (Peter prefers cornstarch, but it gives the meat a mushy texture I dislike.)
  3. Fry your chicken pieces in one inch of oil in a wok or heavy saucepan. Yes, deep fry. Chinese food is not healthy. (You could probably use grilled chicken if you wanted to.)
  4. When cooked through, remove the chicken from the oil and and drain on a paper towel.
  5. While the chicken is cooking, zest and juice one orange. Or more. Or maybe a lemon. Tangerine?  Set zest and juice aside.
  6. In a wok or large fry pan combine two parts frozen orange juice concentrate with one part water.  (adjusting this ratio of water to concentrate will make the chicken more or less orangey.)
  7. In the pan add the juice of the orange. Add a dash of salt. Don't leave the salt out. Add 1-3 tablespoons of good marmelade (marmelade is a little bitter, so if you're not used to it go sparingly or leave it out.)
  8. In a separate bowl mix some cornstarch with water, one part cornstarch to two parts water. Ish.
  9. Place the pan containing the orange mixture over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer. Using a wisk, add the cornstarch mixture in small amounts until the sauce is thickened to a pleasing consistency.
  10. Add the cooked chicken to the sauce and let simmer for a minute.
  11. Taste. If it seems like it "needs something" add a dash more of salt, garlic powder,sugar, rice vinegar or a dab of chicken broth..
  12. When it's done remove from heat and sprinkle on the orange zest.
  13. Serve with rice and stir-fried spinach or cucumber salad.

The International Bank of Peter

My salary is long gone, eaten by the bills, so I've been bumming from Peter and his noodle proceeds.

Me: Honey, I need some more cash.
Peter: How much do you want?
Me: How much am I worth?
Peter: Here's 150RMB.
Me: This is all in tens and fives.
Peter: So?
Me: Don't you need change for the shop?
Peter: No, I've got too much.  That's why you get it.
Me: I can't walk around with all these small bills.  People will think I'm a stripper.
Peter: It's not like you'll be going around making purchases of 50RMB.
Me: So this is how you control my spending.
Peter: Not at all.  For the right pair of shoes, you'd risk looking like a stripper.
Me: I want a divorce.
Peter: Can you get a divorce for 150 RMB?
Me: Maybe!
Peter: Your lawyer will think you're a stripper.
Me: Rats.
Peter: So, no on the divorce?
Me: Not today.  Maybe tomorrow.
Peter: Great.  Can you make some popcorn?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Though Pregnant Women Were Supposed to be Forgetful

Crap!  She remembers! 

In November I had the following conversation with a pregnant woman who sells fruit on the street near my house.  I am bundled up in Peter's old sweatshirt buying some apples from her, and she is chatting me up about the cool weather.

Fruit Mamma: That's 8.50 RMB.
Me: Here you go.
Fruit Mamma (pointing to the bag in my hand): Did you get that sandwich to go?


The critics might argue that I should have known she wasn't talking about my sandwich.  After all, it was already wrapped up in a bag, clearly "to go."  My rebuttal is that Captain Obvious is alive and well in China.  I offer today's conversation with a taxi driver as proof.  This conversation took place in Chinese.

Me: Please take me to the New Oriental on the Second Ring Road.
Taxi Driver: Where?
Me: New Oriental School.  The one on the Second Ring Road.
Taxi Driver: There's a New Oriental on the Second Ring Road?
Me: Yes, the main campus.  It's right where Hanguang Street crosses the Second Ring Road.
Taxi Driver: I'm not sure I know where that is.
Me: Just head that way.  I know where it is, I can tell you.
Taxi Driver: You're sure you know where it is?
Me: Of course I do.  I work there.  I'm a teacher.
Taxi Driver:  Okay. (Beat) How long have you been in Xi'an?
Me: A year.
Taxi Driver: Are you here for work or travel?
Me: Maybe I should get another taxi...

So.  Obvious questions?  All a part of the game.  Cut back to me and the Fruit Mamma.)

Fruit Mamma: Did you get that sandwich to go?
Me: Um, yes?
Fruit Mamma: Cool.  Me too.  How many months?
Me: Huh?
Fruit Mama: When will it be born?
(At this point, the sluggish part of my brain that speaks Chinese reminds me that the slang for "baby" and "to go" sound awfully similar to me.  I do some fast thinking.)
 Me: Uh, July.
Fruit Mamma: I'm due in February.  Maybe our "to go"s can be friends.
Me: Yep!  Okay, bye!

Fast forward to today.  I haven't seen Fruit Mamma in awhile, because women are usually confined to the house for the last month of their pregnancy and the first month of motherhood.  It's considered unhealthy to go outside during this time.  There's a host of other superstitions that go along with this.  

At the time of my original mistake we had plans to move to another neighborhood before my mythical baby was to be born.  Those plans fell through, however, and Fruit Mamma's back today.  As I buy a bag of tiny, delicious mangoes she looks me up and down and says:

That baby's coming soon, huh?

I experience a lurch of vertigo as all of the above, which I had forgotten, comes crashing back to me.  I should have planned for this.  Of course she'd remember; the strongest bond two heterosexual women can form is that of being pregnant at the same time.  I have a deer-in-the-headlights moment as I try to think of a plausible way out of this situation and come up with nothing.  Crap.  What due date did I make up?  I guess:


She looks me up and down and says dubiously:


I cannot resist trying to read her eyes to see if she thinks I look like I am more or less than six months pregnant.  I am afraid it is more.  Or maybe she's doing some math and figuring out that my pregnancy is lasting an unnatural amount of time...because as I am thinking this I realize my initial calculation may be off.  Did that sandwich conversation occur on a warm night in fall or a cool night in summer?  Am I pregnant with a rhinoceros?  What's wrong with those crazy Americans?  Did you know they actually bathe and go outside less than a month after giving birth?  I feel the tendrils of panic creeping around me, so I blurt out:

Yep!  Okay, bye!

Safely at home, I have Peter, the tiny delicious mangoes, and barbecued fish to comfort me.  We concoct a plan (Peter and I, that is, the fish has no feasible suggestions).  When next I see Fruit Mamma I will pretend that I thought she was asking me about when I was next going home to America.   For some reason I find this mistake much less embarrassing than the actual mistake I made.  I guess I'd rather have her think I mistook "go home and eat tacos" for "give birth."  It's believable.  After all, I did mistake "to go" for "baby."

Sigh.  I think I'll be ordering that Rosetta Stone software on payday.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Odd Couple

Peter and I are watching TV.  Except, as usual, we're not so much watching it as sitting in front of it ignoring it and talking.  We are watching an episode of Mythbusters about the 5 second rule.

 Peter: What's the 5 second rule?
Me: That you can eat something off the floor if it's been there less than 5 seconds.
Peter: I would never do that.
Me: I used to believe in that.
Peter: Why'd you stop?
Me: I stopped right around the time I became responsible for cleaning my own floors.  Would you eat off your grandma's floor?  She's really clean.
Peter: She is, but I wouldn't eat off her floor, because she's crazy.  She does mop twice a day, though.
Me: Really?
Peter: Yeah, everyone on that side of the family does.  They're a little anal.  My grandfather used to yell at me for watching TV and reading the newspaper at the same time.
Me: Why?
Peter: He said it was a waste of electricity.  Also he wouldn't ever let me sit on the bed with my pants on.
Me: Pardon?
Peter: He said the only thing that should go on the bed is your body in pajamas.  Your street clothes are dirty.  He also didn't let me put my school bag on the bed.  Or any food.
Me: Is that why everyone takes their pants off whenever they go to your grandparents' house?
Peter: Yeah.  Anal.  I never told you before, but it kind of bothers me, too.
Me: You told me before.
Peter: I did?
Me: Remember when I was packing to go to America and I put my suitcase on the bed?
Peter: It had been in storage for a year!
Me: I dusted it!  You're turning into your grandfather.
Peter: Maybe.
Me: Wait a few more years, then you'll start turning into your father.
Peter: What's wrong with that?
Me: Nothing, but I'm turning into my mother.
Peter: So it'd be like your mother was married to my father...
Me: Yeah, that wouldn't work at all.
Peter: I think we discovered where divorce comes from.

Peter's family are lovely people.  They have a quirk or two, like the rest of us.  Pants are generally removed only when wearing long johns underneath, in the winter, which is not (too) unusual here.  My mother and his father are lovely, caring people, but definitely not made for each other!

Monday, March 21, 2011


I lost my internet access for a few days, but I'm back now!  If you're interested, I finished reading The DaVinci Code and wrote a short review on Goodreads, which you can read here.  If you're on Goodreads, or you like reading, you should become my friend.  I want more people to talk about books with me.

Here are some conversations I've had recently.

Me: What is most important to you?
Harmony: My family.  And books.
Me: I knew I liked you.

Me: Why'd she let you answer her phone?
Howard: She was too drunk to answer it.  We had been drinking Pee...peer...beef... no, beer!
Me: When?  This morning?

Judy and I are guessing words, Catchphrase-style.

Judy: I don't live in a house, I live in an apart...
Me: Apartment?
Judy: Yes.
Me: Okay, go on.
Judy:  That's it.  The word is "meant."
Me: Do you know what it means?
Judy: I'm supposed to know what it means?
Me: Of course.
Judy: Whatever.  I still got you to say it.

I am showing Harmony pictures of American holidays.

Me: Do you know what day this is?
Harmony: (Mentally translating from Chinese) Thank You Day?
Me: Close.  It's called Thanksgiving.
Harmony: English words too many long.
Me: I agree.  (Showing a picture of a plate of cookies laid out for Santa Claus) Do you know what day this is?
Harmony: There is Cookie Day in America?!
Me: There should be.  I think I like your holidays better.
Harmony: You welcome.

We are looking at a map of the world.

Michael: Where's Panama?
Gene: In the White House.
Abbot: That's Obama, genius!
Gene: There's two?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Self-Esteem FAIL

Sheri: I'm going to go to high school in California.
Me: Which city?
Shari: Sack...er...Sack...
Me: Sacramento?
Shari: Yes!
Me: Do you know the name of your high school?
Shari: Loser High School.
Me: Say what?
Shari: Loser High School.
Me: Umm...
Shari: You know, it's spelled L-U-T-H---
Me: Oh!  Luther High School!


About a week ago I had a Who's on First-style discussion with Saul, whose job it is to help me with class-related issues.  You can read the original conversation here.

Saul: Oh hey, Christense, I found out that you probably do need a specific textbook for that IELTS class.
Me: Great, what is the name of the textbook?
Saul: Sorry, I don't know.
Me: How can I buy the textbook if I don't know the name?
Saul: Yeah.  I'll try to find out for you.
Me: The class manager at the IELTS center could probably tell you.
Saul: Yeah, I should go back and ask him again.
Me: I happened to be at the IELTS center this morning.  I talked to the class manager myself, and he said there is no textbook for that class.
Saul: Oh.  Really?
Me: Yes.  So you don't need to bother talking to him "again."
Saul: (Sincere) Great.  Let me know if there's anything else I can help you with.
Me:  I sure will.

The Uniforms Would be More Interesting

Emmy: Your student Harmony is going to have an interview to get in to a private high school in Florida.
Me: Great!
Emmy: If she doesn't get in, her family says she will have to go to the anime.
Me: Anime?
Emmy: Yes, go to the...anime?
Me: Enemy?
Emmy: Take part in the anime...anime...you know, where they make the soldiers?
Me: Oh, the ARMY!

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Chinese is Getting Better...Great

To be fair to the Chinese, this is not an insult in China.  Not all the time, anyway.  This conversation took place in Chinese, except my first thank you.  He caught me off guard.

Punk Sitting on the Curb Drinking a Bag of Milk: Hey, look at that fat foreigner.
Me: Thank you.  Xie xie.
Punk: Dude!  She speaks Chinese!

Monday, March 07, 2011

A Little too Progressive

12-year-old Judy and I are playing Catchphrase with words from a list that I made.  Note that a lot of teachers in China begin class by saying, "Are you ready?"

The word is "ready."
Me: Before class, the teacher will ask the students are you...?
Judy: Are you students?
Me: Probably not a bad thing to ask, but no.
Judy: Are you female?
Me: What about the boys?
Judy: Oh yeah.

Later, the word is "alive."

Me: What's the difference between a plant and this desk?
Judy: Plants are green.
Me: What if the desk were green?
Judy: It would be ugly.
Me: What's the difference between this desk and an animal?
Judy: The animal is more interesting.
Me: Ok.  Animals can run, play, eat and poop because they are...?
Judy: World citizens.
Me: What are they teaching you in school?
Judy: I don't know.  Our desks are brown.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Refrigerator Physics

Two days ago I scrubbed the heck out of my refrigerator.  For those of you who don't know, The Heck is a fungus that lives in the refrigerators of lazy people.  You've probably heard of it, every so often somewhere in the world someone opens a refrigerator and says, "What?  The Heck is in here!" and someone else says, "Get The Heck out of my fridge!"  If that's not ringing a bell for you, you may be asking yourself "What The Heck is she talking about?"  You'll just have to take my word for it.

So I scrubbed the refrigerator within an inch of it's life (In An Inch Of Its Life is the best cleaner available for getting The Heck out of your fridge) and now it's all pearly and shiny.  However, because I have a memory like a---what's that animal?  Well, like something---I forgot all about it until I opened the fridge tonight.  I don't get in the fridge often because all that's in there is an iffy ear of corn, a package of bacon and a pitcher of ice water.  So it was nice to surprise myself with cleanliness.  It beats the heck out of a dirty fridge.

Seriously.  Surprise is very toxic to The Heck. Ta ta!

Who's on Question 24?

Harmony and I are working through a list of conversation questions about personality.  Harmony, along with other students who are beginners at English, has a habit of saying "no" when she means "I don't understand the question."

Me (reading question 24): Is there any part of your personality that you would like to change?
Harmony: No.
Me: No?
Me: The answer is yes?
Harmony: No.
Me: You mean no.
Harmony: Yes.
Me: No, you don't understand the question or the answer to the question is no?
Harmony: No question.
Me: The question I just asked?  Or question 24?
Harmony: Um...
Me (pointing to question 24): You understand this?
Harmony: Yes.
Me: And the answer is no.
Harmony: Yes.
Me: Okay, I think we got it.  Next question.

Friday, March 04, 2011

We've got Baseball and Apple Pie, too

Party Animal and I are looking at a map of the US, locating famous landmarks.

Party Animal: Where is the free woman?
Me: Pardon?
Party Animal: (poses)
Me: Oh, you mean the Statue of Liberty!
Party Animal: Yeah, the free woman.  It's famous in America.
Me: So they say.

That's Why They Have Stripes

Gene: So, all the information for each part should be displayed on a tiger?
Me: Huh?
Gene: Oops, I meant on a tag.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

A Moment of Panic

A popular method of practicing English in China is to choose famous speeches or monologues from movies and memorize them.  Neil and I are looking at a map of the US, choosing destinations for his trip to the US this summer.

Neil: Oh look, Texas.  They lynch Negroes in Texas.
Me: What?!?
Neil: It's from the movie, The Great Debaters.
Me: Sweetie, I gotta explain something to you...

Here's something lighter.  Candy and I are looking at the map of the US, preparing for her to go to high school in Tampa, Florida next year.

Me: Here's Tampa.  Here's LA, Washington DC and New York.  I come from here, Portland.  That's the best city.  Here's Forks, where vampires come from.
Harmony: Where's Denmark?
Me: Denmark?
Harmony: Wait, never mind, that's in Europe.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Lost in Translation

One of Saul's jobs is to help me with questions I have about my classes or my schedule.  This conversation is not to make Saul look stupid (he's not) but to demonstrate why things take longer when we're not all speaking our native language.  Sometimes nobody says anything wrong but things still don't get across exactly right.  In retelling this I have improved his grammar for clarity.  Also, even if someone speaks to me in bad grammar I tend to remember it in correct grammar.

Me: Last Friday a girl called me and wanted to give me my new class schedule.  I had to leave before I met her because I apparently got some bad Moo Shoo Pork.  I forgot her name.  Do you know who that might have been?
Saul: I think they're making the schedule now.  I'll print it out and give it to you when it's done, don't worry.
Me: She said it was done.  She wanted to give it to me right then.
Saul: Oh really?  Let's go see.
yadda yadda yadda and...
Saul: Here you go.
Me: What's this class?
Saul: It's an IELTS (English test) class.
Me: I've never taught one of those before.  Does it have a textbook?
Saul: Probably.
Me: A textbook assigned for the class?
Saul: I think so.
Me: Do I teach from the textbook? (sometimes I don't.)
Saul: I think you can.
Me: But am I required to?  Do I have to, or I can?
Saul: You have to.  Probably.
Me: So what's the textbook?
Saul: I don't know.
Me: Could you find out for me?
Saul: If you have a minute we can go down to the bookstore downstairs and find out now.
Me: Okay.
In the bookstore...
Saul: All the books on this shelf are IELTS books.
Me: Which one is for my class?
Saul: Any of these would work for your class.
Me: I'm choosing the textbook?
Saul: You could use any one of these to prepare for your class.
Me: Of course, but does the class have a textbook assigned to it?
Saul: Oh, sure.  Probably.  Almost certainly.
Me: And I need to use that textbook.
Saul: Yeah, you'll need to buy that textbook.
Me: So which one is that?
Saul: I don't know, I'm sorry.
Me: Could you find out for me?
Saul: I have a class starting in ten minutes.
Me: I don't mean right now, maybe in the next week?
Saul: Probably I can do that.
Me: Just get me the name of it, is all.  The name of the textbook.
Saul: Sure.
Me: So I can buy it.
Saul: Sure.
Me: And use it.
Saul: Okay.
Me: Okay. (I go to leave the bookstore)
Saul: So you don't want any of these books here?
Me: Nope, I'm solid.

What's Another Word for Thesaurus?

In class we had been studying about satellite repair stations, repair stations that generally function independently but are managed by a main repair station.  The two are separate entities but rely on one another.

Stella: What's a thesaurus?
Me: If we look up a word in a thesaurus it tells us other words with similar meanings.
Abbot: So it's a dictionary.
Me: Close.  A dictionary tells us the meaning, a thesaurus tells us other words with the same meaning.
Abbot: So it's a satellite dictionary.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Jackie Chan or Judge Lance Ito?

Gabriel: Hey, Lucy?  I have a question about American culture.
Me: Okay, go ahead.
Gabriel: Do you know Monica, from Friends?
Me: Not all Americans are like that.
Gabriel: What?
Me: Never mind.  Go on.
Gabriel: You know that girl on Desperate Housewives?
Me: Teri Hatcher?
Gabriel: I don't know her name.  Is that the same actress as Monica?
Me: No.
Gabriel: Are you sure?
Me: 100% sure. (FYI: I very rarely give a 100%) Monica's name is Courtney Cox.  She has a daughter named Coco.
Gabriel:  Are you sure?  Those two women look like the same woman.
Me: Sometimes western people have trouble telling Asian people apart.
Gabriel: (Looks around at his classmates, then looks at me with skepticism) A baby named Coco?
Me: Maybe you should Google it.
Gabriel: Google hates China.
Me: I'm going to go get a coke.

Serenity now, insanity later: another visit from the chinese repairman

I've had another visit from the Chinese repairman.  Now that we live in the more-developed north standards for repairmen have gone up a bit.  In the south they'd arrive without tools and restate the problem.

"See right here, that pipe's leaking?  That's the problem."
"Yes I know, that why I called you."

They would occasionally attempt to use things lying around the house, like coat hangers or kitchen utensils to conduct their repairs.  I once took a butter knife out of a repairman's hand and replaced it with the screwdriver from my pocket knife.  They'd depart for an hour or six to get tools, and never clean up after themselves.  I've told this story ad nauseum, but it's only because it was one of my top five worst moments in China.  A repairman had just finished unclogging my bathroom sink, in which process he had scattered soggy black schmutz all over the bathroom floor.  He looked around himself and said, "Wow, this is gross.  You should clean that up," and left.  It truly was a blessing he came when my students were there, because I'm pretty sure their presence was the only thing that kept me from loosing my cool.  A year before I would have demanded he clean it up, but by then I knew enough to know that in that exchange I'd come off looking like the jerk.

Today I called him because our kitchen and bathroom floors were covered with water.  The bathroom was no surprise, that pipe has been leaking for awhile.  When it first started dripping we'd been planning to move out soon, so we didn't want to buy the new pipe fixture just the new tenant.  The drainpipe for the kitchen sink just fell off last week, but Peter and I keep forgetting and using it anyway, hence the kitchen puddle.

Our current repairman comes with tools on the first trip.  He doesn't bother with restating the problem to us.  He also doesn't bother with spare parts, except for a handful of cheap washers and a few dozen reels of plumber's tape.  (If you don't know, plumber's tape is the duct tape of plumbing.  A few layers of it can seal a pipe connection.  It is not intended to be used in such quantities as to, oh, say, change the gauge of a pipe.  I have come to detest plumber's tape.)  This trip Peter did persuade him to go buy the part we needed.  That was a first, as he's always before asked us to do it ourselves, or at least go with him.

When I say "us" I really mean "we."  For some reason whenever the repairman comes I am always here alone and Peter is translating via cell phone.  I think it's because Peter's a very laid back person.  Left to his own devices he wouldn't call a repairman unless the apartment was actually underwater.  He did rush home to meet the repairman last time, though, when the hose to the washing machine exploded and drenched me with water.  I think Peter came home that time because he was afraid the repairman's life was in jeopardy.

Now the repairman is gone.  In the bathroom is a small heap of discarded plumber's tape, and a fresh wad, about a quarter of an inch thick, is wrapped around our brand-new pipe fixture.  Actually, upon inspection I have found nearly every plumbing connection in the house is heavily wrapped in plumber's tape.  Except the kitchen sink drainpipe, of course.  That's still held on with a piece of rusty wire.  I decided not to make a fuss, though.  As with the washing machine hose, I'll just wait until it fails completely and then ask, "Now how is this really supposed to be done?"  Serenity now.

To speak fairly, or at least attempt to do so, I should mention that culture influences expectations of repairmen, as it does everything else.  No one in China (besides foreigners) expects repairmen to clean up after themselves.  Repairmen generally don't like to go buy parts for you because they don't want to be accused of ripping you off (and such accusations do happen).  In the US the owner of a rental property is required to maintain the property in livable condition, but there is no such law here.  Unless you can talk your landlord into it (and you can't) you'd better pay for repairs out of your own pocket.  Chinese people know that going in.  It's part of the deal.  A building like ours, that keeps a repairman on staff and only charges for parts, is considered a luxury.  Most Chinese tie a rag around a leaky pipe, put a bucket under it, and call it good.  However, when you do have to pay for one, Chinese repairmen are very reasonably priced, often come the same day they are called, and their repairs are usually effective, if not standard.

I'll let you know how the sink wire holds up.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It'd be better to just get a leash

Earlier in this lesson I taught the idiom, "hold on to your hats."

Me: Okay, turn to page 22.
Gabriel: Wow, we're already on page 22?
Me: Yeah, we're making good progress.
Abbot: Yeah, what was that expression you taught us?  Hold on to your cats!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

But where would I put the lotion?

I am playing a board game I invented with my student Judy, who is fantastically twelve years old.  I love her and fear her.  

Question in the game: What would you do if you were a bug?
Judy: I would eat potstickers.
Me: Erm, okay.  Pork or beef?  What kind meat is in a bug's potsticker? 
Judy: People meat.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kind of sounds like Klingon

I am asking Peter questions from an online dyslexia test.  He has to rate the statements from 1 to 5.

Me: The subject often asks to have statements repeated or explained.
Peter: What does that mean?

Peter and I are walking down the street in Beijing with the sun at our backs making fun of each other (which of course is part of a healthy relationship).  Peter has a genetic trait that is harmless but very, very bizzare. 

Peter: You walk too slow.
Me: You sneeze like a mutant.
Peter: Pardon?
Me: Normal people sneeze like "achoo."  You sneeze like "ka-plah," like you're spitting out sour milk.
Peter: Fine, you want to see me sneeze?
Peter stops walking and turns around to face the bright afternoon sun.  Nothing happens for about ten seconds.  Then his face starts to change, until suddenly...
Peter: Ka-PLAH!
Me: See, I told you.  Mutant.
Peter: I'm still faster than you.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On Empty

Peter and I are in bed eating Chinese food (here just called food) and watching Due Date.  It is very funny, and at least 50% funnier to us because Iron Man's name is Peter. (I can't remember Iron Man's real name, but does it matter?)

Movie Peter: We're going to Mexico?!  Why are we going to Mexico?
Movie Ethan: Mexico?  Dude, I thought it was Texaco!  We're low on gas!
My Peter: I knew I wasn't the only one to make that mistake!