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!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Peter comes home to find me watching TNG.

Peter: Oh, you're watching Traveling the Stars.
Me: In English we call it Star Trek.  I always used to watch this with my parents when I was a kid.  Do Chinese people watch this?
Peter:  Yes.
Me: Really?
Peter: Sure.
Me: Interesting.  I can't picture Chinese people watching Star Trek.
Peter: Okay, I watched it.
Me: Oh, honey!
Peter: Yeah, I loved this.  (Holding up a Vulcan "Live long and prosper" salute)  Hola!

Around the China in 24 Hours

Peter and I had to go to an appointment in Beijing regarding his green card.  We'd planned to stay a couple days, but the rice noodle acquisition called us home.  We left Xi'an on the overnight train to Beijing at 7pm and returned by plane (thank you frequent flier miles) the following day at 9pm.  Here are some, er, memorable moments from our trip.

Me: My feet look fat in these wool socks.
Peter: Good.  That means they match the rest of you.
Me: I beg your pardon?  Would you care to rephrase that?
Peter: I like Santa Claus.
Me: Damn right you do.

Peter returns from the restroom on the train, looking sheepish.

Me: What's wrong?
Peter: I've been on too many airplanes.  I am airplaneized.
Me: Why?
Peter: I went potty.  I flushed the toilet.  I covered my ears.  Then I realized I wasn't on a plane, and it wasn't going to make that horrible sound like you're going to be sucked out of the airplane. 

I am spelling the name of a restaurant for Peter so he can call 411 and look up the address.  The restaurant is called (coincidentally) Peter's Tex-Mex.

Me: It's like your name, followed by an apostrophe s.
Peter: Say what?
Me: You know, P-E-T-E-R-apostrophe-S. 
Peter: What? A-plastic-free-S?
Me: No, you know, apostrophe, a comma in the air, A-P-O-S-T----
Peter: Maybe we should have Thai.  T-H-A-I.
Me: I bet Peter's serves meatloaf.
Peter: A comma in the air?  Got it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Peter: You're not bringing a bag, are you?  We're only going for one night!
Me: Just a small bag.
Peter: Backpack?
Me: Carry-on size.  I have to carry our winter coats.
Peter: We can wear them on the train.
Me: I am not sleeping on the train all night in a down overcoat.
Peter: Why not?  It's like a sleeping bag.
Me: Exactly.
Peter: Who will be carrying this alleged bag?
Me: You.  You're the man.
Peter: Americans are too difficult.  Like math.


Me: What would you think if someone else fell in love with me?
Peter: I'd be mad.
Me: At me?
Peter: No.  You can't help it if someone else falls for you.
Me: Mad at him?  Or her?
Peter: No.  I'd be mad at your parents.
Me: Why?
Peter: Because they gave you a good face.
Me: Aww!
Peter: Yeah.  If you weren't hot someone might fall for you after talking to you for, like, a few hours.
Me: Um...
Peter: Otherwise you wouldn't have a chance, unless you were hot.
Me: You shoulda quit while you were ahead.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Snake Time!

Party Animal and I are playing MASH, that staple of junior high girls throughout the 80s.  We are filling in what pets he may have in the future.  

Me: How about a tiger?
Party Animal: Yeah, a tiger is good.  (spelling) T-A-T-E-R.  Wait, is that right?
Me: No.  It's T-I-G-E-R.
Party Animal: Okay.  How about a snake?  S-N-A-C-K.  Is that right?
Me: Almost.  Are you hungry, by any chance?
Party Animal: Not really.  Can this game tell me what I'll have for dinner?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

you've fallen victim to another one of my classic pranks

Textbook: The hikers were concerned about bringing enough water.
Jesse: Hiker?  Like on the internet?
Me: No, that's a hacker.
Textbook: Lisa will be at my Bon Voyage party.
Jesse: What does bon voyage mean?
Me:  It's French for have a good trip.  We sometimes use phrases from other languages to make our English sound more sophisticated and exotic.
Jesse: Like bazinga?
Me: Yes.  Just like that.

Me: Peter, we have a problem.
Peter: What?
Me: What was your major in college?
Peter: Business English.
Me: And what do I do for a living now?
Peter: Teach English.
Me: And what was my major in college?
Peter: Psychology.
Me: And what is your primary job function?
Peter: Listening to my boss's wife complain about how much money her husband spends on his mistress and her two children. 
Me: Yeah, I don't want your job.
Peter: All I have to do is smile and nod.
Me: I do a lot of that too.

By the way, have you ever thought how weird it is that we say on Thursdays in January at 9:00?  It's harder to explain than Dick as a nickname for Richard.

What I Did Today

I taught a class of impressionable high school youths today.  One of the things I like to do in class is a bit on English names.  It's really just an elaborate way to exorcise one of my pet peeves: Chinese students with inappropriate English names.  Perhaps you think that is narrow-minded, but three years of students named Eads, Essex, Tree, Lose, Vido and Axue have taken their toll.  I start by asking them, "If I told you my Chinese name was tang cu li ji (sweet and sour pork) what would you think of my knowledge of Chinese language and culture?"  I then go on to explain the advantages of having a culturally-appropriate name that is correctly balanced between unique and recognizable, and gently end with something like, "I'm not picking on you, but you should consider that I may be the only person who will come out and tell you if your name is ridiculous."  I go on to explain why Blue, Pizza, Fly and Jun (all names of actual past students) are not suitable names, but Scarlet, Candy, Faye and June are names.  I also give them the general warning that there are more Michaels, Jacks, and Lilys in China than there are in America, and they may want to consider something more unique.

From there I bring out my book 25,000 Baby Names (which is also named inappropriately because the names it contains are for people, not just babies) and look up the meanings of the English names they may have.  It's fun, and it's also great to be able to say, "25,000 names, but Lose is not in here."  Most of them had pretty good names already.  Suzie decided to change to Sybil, Claudia (which means lame, as it turns out) switched to Sydney.  Don't think I am stuck up, though.  I didn't say anything to Davis about his name even though it's usually a family name.  Albee is a name I've only heard in China, but I like it.  It's not in my book, but I usually tell students it's a variant of Alberta.  However, despite my best efforts Moose and Water Cow did not want to change their names.  I think that Moose didn't really know enough English to understand me, but Water Cow was with me.  I showed him that it was not in the name book and asked him if he wanted to change it and he said, "No.  I love it."  Okay then.  Water Cow it is.

As a parting shot at names, the only thing harder than convincing someone like Water Cow to change his name is explaining why Dick is short for Richard and Peggy is short for Margaret.

Later in class we played a game, "What Did I do Yesterday?"  I put five topics on the board: Where did they go, what did they see, what did they ask, what did they do, and what did they eat?  I then choose two or three students and send them outside.  The rest of the class and I decide what the students outside did yesterday.  When we're finished I bring the students back in and they have to ask yes or no questions to determine what they did yesterday.  It's usually pretty fun.  The part they like the most, though, is when I go outside and they decide what I did.  Apparently yesterday I went to Starbucks, saw a gay couple, asked where they were from, watched them kiss goodbye, and then ate some cake. 

Then Peter and I went to dinner at his aunt's house.  She's his mother's eldest sister, and she grew up during the cultural revolution.  She told us that when she was a girl her English teacher came to school, taught them to say, "Long live Chairman Mao" and then went on vacation for the rest of the year.

So there's a typical day!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Some Gems I've Been Saving

I discreetly make a note in my phone when one of my students says something that I wish to share with you.  Recently I've built up a store of them.  So here they are, for your Monday morning reading.

Me: My secret dream job is to be a writer.
Sheldon: Mine's to be a reader.
Me: Why?
Sheldon: Because it's easier than being a writer.

Trivia Question: What adjective describes a person who comes from Ireland?
Blue Team: Irelish?

This one's appeared on Facebook but I repost here because it's one of my all-time favorites.

Taxi Driver: Where come from?
Me: America.
Taxi Driver: Ah!  The USB!
Me: Sort of.
Taxi Driver: What?
Me: I love China.

From a lesson about the difference between present progressive (I am doing something) and the simple present (I do something).

Textbook: What do you think of fast food? (answer with the verb "love")
Bradley: I am loving it.
Me: No, for that one we'd say "I love it."
Bradley: But I thought I'd heard it that way before.
Me: That's McDonald's slogan, but it's not good grammar.
Bradley: Wow.  Fast food is bad for us in more ways than one.

Conversation Question: Have you ever lied about your age?
Neil (age 17): That's dumb.  Why would I lie about my age?
Me: I don't know, maybe to impress a girl?
Neil: What am I supposed to do, tell her I'm 50?  How will that impress her?
Me: Moving on...

Textbook: Take a breath and hold it for 5 seconds.
Bradley (reading): Take a breast and hold it for 5 seconds.

Earlier in this lesson we'd had the vocabulary word "stiletto heels" as part of a fashion discussion.  Now I'm showing wedding pictures and explaining what makes a Champagne flute different from other glasses.

Me: See this tall, thin part here?  It's called a flute.
Jessie: So it's like a stiletto glass.
Me: I never would have thought of it like that, but yes.

Me: When apartments for rent are advertised we describe them like this, "Three bedroom, one bathroom."
Neil: Are there any three bathroom, one bedroom?
Me: Not to my knowledge.
(The homework assignment for this class was to write a letter to an imaginary friend describing an imaginary apartment he'd just rented.  Neil wrote about an apartment with 100 bedrooms and 500 bathrooms.  The only drawback with his new place was that it was so small, and he expected he'd have to move again in a few years to find a bigger place.)

Found in Bradley's free writing assignment: Select ultraviolet rays are beneficial.
Me: Do you mean to say that the sun is good for us?
Bradley: Yes!

Neil: What kind of practice can I do to make myself speak English faster?
Me:  It's not so important to go fast.  Trying to speak faster can cause you to make more mistakes.  Just go at a pace that feels comfortable.  With more practice you'll get faster naturally.
Neil: But I know sometimes Americans speak really fast.
Me: Yeah, people on TV sometimes talk quickly.  If we are excited about something, we'll talk more quickly.
Neil: When my friend was in America he had a system to learn to understand fast English.  His neighbors were a couple that fought a lot, so whenever they started yelling he snuck outside and hid under their window to get some listening practice.
Me: Did it work?
Neil: Yeah.  He said they were talking really fast and he could hear very well because they were screaming so loud.
(I plan to start a marriage seminar based solely on this principle.  Rather than "Is that what Jesus would say?" it will be "Is that the kind of English you want the exchange student in the bushes to learn from you?")

Textbook: Which of these methods do you use to relax when you are stressed?  Talking to a friend, pampering yourself with a massage or hot bath, meditation, exercise.
Bradley: I like pampering myself.
Me: Interesting.  How do you pamper yourself?
Bradley: I don't have a bathtub and I don't like massage, so usually I just get a case of beer.
Me: To share with your friends?
Bradley: Sometimes.

And finally, a lost gem from the immortal Sheldon.  (I don't think I've posted this before.)  To clarify, sometimes the English word hamburger is mistakenly translated into Chinese to mean sandwich.

Sheldon: How do I order food in a restaurant in America?
Me: Read the menu, choose something you'd like and tell the waitress.
Sheldon: What if there's no pictures, or I don't know what the dishes are?
Me: Just tell the waitress what kind of food you're interested in eating.  She'll tell you what they have.
Sheldon: What if I want a hamburger?
Me: Say, "I want a hamburger."
Sheldon: But how will they know what kind of hamburger?  How will they know if I want a beef hamburger or a chicken hamburger or a pork hamburger--
Me: No, there's no such thing.  Hamburger always means it's made from ground beef.  If it's chicken we call it a chickenburger.  If it's fish we call it a fishburger.
Sheldon: So if it's pork we call it a porkburger?
Me: We don't have porkburgers in America.
Sheldon: We have them in Xi'an!
Me: That would be better described as a pulled pork sandwich.
Sheldon: So if it's beef it's called a beefburger?
Me: No, it's called a hamburger if it's made of beef.
Sheldon: Why?  And what do you call a hamburger made of ham?
Me: There is no ham-hamburger.
Sheldon: Then where did the word come from?
Me: Well, the dish we know today as the hamburger was named for the city of Hamburg, Germany---
Sheldon: Never mind, I'm over it.

Armchair Survivalists

In the horror movie, Dead End, the father and daughter have just gotten out of the car and decided to continue on foot and cut through the woods.

Movie Daughter: I don't think this is a good idea.
Movie Father: Remember what you said!  Every time we stop someone dies.  We should keep moving.
Me: You aren't dying because you're stopping, you're dying because---
Peter (in unison): ---you're getting out of the car!
Me: We could totally survive a horror movie.
Peter: Totally.

On Reading

I have just joined Goodreads and am entering books on my to-read list.

Peter: You should do something more useful with your time.
Me: Reading is useful.
Peter: Only if you read something besides books with dragons on the cover.
Me: I do!  Look at my list.  Do you think a book called Little Women is about dragons?
Peter: Um, do you know anything about women?
Me: Shut up!

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Peter and I are watching The Descent and discussing how important it is for married couples to have hobbies in common. We are considering spelunking (cave climbing) with an option on the homicidal proto-humans.

Me: Would you like to try spelunking someday?
Peter: No. I can get the same feeling of panic a lot easier by putting a plastic bag over my head. See, they're eating apples for lunch. Why? (Peter hates apples.)
Me: See how they're all thin because they climb into caves and eat apples, while we're fat because we climb into bed and eat marshmallows while watching movies?
Peter: So you're saying you want to go spelunking?
Me: If I have to choose between death by being eaten or death by eating, I'll take death by eating. Pass me a marshmallow.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Corleone's China Kitchen

It is 1:00am. Peter and I are sitting in a barbecue restaurant eating grilled zucchini and discussing our latest scheme, to open a noodle shop in Xi'an and use the proceeds to return to the US and open a number of very successful restaurants. We are discussing the risks involved in this plan, and which US cities would be best to settle in.

Peter: What if the mafia comes after us?
Me: Just what sort of restaurant are you planning?
Peter: Does it matter? What if they bother us?
Me: The mafia will leave us alone if we leave them alone. That kind of thing doesn't happen to us.
Peter: Our car got stolen.
Me: That wasn't the mafia. That was drug addicts.
Peter: What if they come up to us on the street with a gun and ask for money?
Me: A mugging? That's not the mafia either. That's also the drug addicts.
Peter: Then what does the mafia do?
Me: Loan money at really high interest rates and pressure us to pay it back quickly.
Peter: Like our credit cards?
Me: Worse.
Peter: Wow. Is the mafia in Dallas?
Me: I don't know. Most of what I know about the mafia comes from movies. I've never heard of a Dallas mafia.
Peter: Why wouldn't the mafia be in Dallas?
Me: I don't know, maybe they don't like rodeo?
Peter: Well, if we do get involved with the mafia, what should we do?
Me: Look baby, you worry about opening the noodle shop, raising the money, relocating us to the US and opening a restaurant there. Let me worry about holding off the mobsters.
Peter: Deal.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

How to Make Cocoa: A DIY Housekeeping Intervention

1. Wake up.
2. Blow nose for 30 minutes.
3. Decide on a cup of hot cocoa.
4. There is only one microwave safe mug in the apartment. It's location, precisely speaking, is "not here."
5. Move to plan B.
6. Dig electric kettle out of bottomless void under the sink.
7. Dig electric kettle base out of bottomless void under sink. Yank on cord until it comes free, but do not speculate on what it could have been stuck on.
8. Find cleanish rag and wash dust off electric kettle. Fill with water.
9. Locate husband's overpriced Starbucks travel mug.
10. Dig down to the bottom of the dish pile and locate lid to said mug. Wash with cleanish rag.
11. Stare at kettle until the realization sets in that it will work better plugged in.
12. Search for cocoa. While searching formulate plan for untimely fate of husband, should he have drank (drunk?) it all.
13. Locate cocoa. Speculate about whether it is still safe to drink if it looks like that.
14. Mix water and cocoa in mug. Stir with butter knife that looks mostly clean.
15. Return to bed. Blow nose for 30 minutes. Go back to sleep. Wake up when cocoa is cold.


I don't know if I've been paying more attention or if my students have been extra-funny, but recently I've had a lot of funny stuff to post to Facebook. I've gotten more than one request to do something more with that stuff than just post it on Facebook. I'd decided to make a new blog for that purpose, but I already had this one, and it was easier to just update the template. I also like composing here a LOT better, because the touchpad on my mouse is a little freaky and sometimes I'll be halfway through composing a note on Facebook when I bump the touchpad the wrong way and lose the whole thing. Sometimes I lose the whole thing anyway, if my connection to the internet gets interrupted. (As an aside, if Facebook really wants to become the Wal-Mart of the internet they need to develop that Notes feature a little more.)

Anyway, I plan on posting my China observations here, as well as anything else that happens to wander through my mind. These will also post to Facebook, so I should be able to keep everyone in the loop.

So, I thought I'd start off my series of China Excerpts with an oldie but a goodie. This is a conversation Peter and I had when we were still dating.

Peter: (sneezes)
Me: Gesundheit.
Peter: What?
Me: It's German. It's a wish for good health.
Peter: Why are you speaking German?
Me: I don't know. We've borrowed that one. In English we say "Bless you."
Peter: Why?
Me: I've heard a couple different stories of why. Most of them are related to your soul or evil spirits. Saying "bless you" keeps the bad stuff out and the good stuff in when you sneeze.
Peter: Weird.
Me: You don't have anything like that in Chinese? Nothing superstitious about sneezing?
Peter: No.
Me: Nothing from the olden days? Traditional? What does your grandma say when you sneeze?
Peter: "See, you're getting a cold. I told you to wear a jacket."