Monday, September 28, 2009

my face is a certificate

If only they knew. I'm just an average joe back in the states. In fact, I've been told a handful of times that I actually look like "Average Joe" from the reality TV show. But they keep staring and pointing and the girls keep giggling. The fringe life of a pale-skinned American male in China has been magnified this year by my move onto campus, and that my new on-campus apartment is bracketed by two all girls dormitories, each of which can see right into my kitchen and bedroom when my curtains are drawn. It's quite a wake up call when I roll out of bed and shuffle into the kitchen for coffee in just my boxers and slippers. Whoops, looks like I forgot again that there are literally a thousand freshman girls out my kitchen window (5 floors, 6 students to a room). I met a girl named Emma the other day who told me she had already seen me before.

"You live in building #8, Emma? I live in #9. So close!"

"Oh yes, I have you seen you in your window many times."

Not to mention that three of my six classes are all girls, 50 in each. Even though my junior students are less impressed with a foreign teacher than my freshmen were last year, I still hear random snaps from cell phone cameras while I teach. Teaching all girls has had its perks so far. They're more eager to participate and seem more comfortable being themselves, whereas the girls in my other classes don't express themselves as freely, as the boys will joke them for girly comments. And it is always a bigger hit in the all-girls classes when I'm showing pictures of my life and I say, "Do you want to see a picture of one of my handsome friends?" When I hold it up some girls are nearly bursting through their desks with their arms outstretched (they loved Christian's faux senior picture from our trip to Colorado). All this to say that while I'm far more comfortable in my second year as a teacher at the Hebei College of Finance, the school, in many ways, hasn't changed towards me. They still haven't recovered from my initial arrival a year ago. I stand out as much now as I ever did; jogging around the track (that's right, I do that now), eating a bowl of noodles, buying a bottle of water in Chinese. But standing out does have its perks.

Yesterday one of my students from last year, Peter, came over to help me go change my cell phone plan... about 4 hours early. He came over at ten in the morning, just before the rest of our IECS team was to arrive for our Sunday morning family time, and he brought Jessica with him, also one of my old students.

"I'm busy now, Peter,"I said, "I can go around 3 pm this afternoon. Is that okay?" I had already told him yesterday that I wanted to go at that time. They both seemed disappointed. I didn't understand. At 2:59 pm they came back, this time with one more friend named Judy. I thought we were just going to the campus phone store... why the big group? I thought. They stood there looking a little embarrassed, and they peered at me with big puppy eyes. Peter chimed in.

"They very much want to leave school," he pleaded, "can we do this in the city?"

Immediately I understood. The students aren't allowed to leave school due to the swine flu. They need special certificates signed and stamped in order to leave. Some of the students take drastic measures, like Peter, who will climb over the fence with his friends in a secluded corner of campus. Vince, a close friend, works in the administrative office and was left with nothing to do one night for enough time to rummage through all the cabinets looking for the certificates. He found them, made about ten copies for himself, found the official red stamp, and signed and stamped them. He has considered making a business out of it. But for the most part, the students are stuck at school and are bored out of their minds. They flock around the campus pond and just sit there, looking lost. Every day at the gates you can find boyfriends and girlfriends holding each other through the bars, giving each other gifts, as if it were some kind of prison. You just hang in there, baby, we'll get you out of here soon enough. Eat your greens! I looked at how helpless Jessica and Judy were and I knew I was their only hope. My plans for the day flashed before my eyes; class for the next day was
still largely unplanned and I was tired.

"Alright," I said with playful reluctancy, "we can go off-campus."

"Yeah!" the girls exclaimed.

Their plan was to go with me to the phone store and then go off and do some shopping. As we approached the school gate there was a handful of incredulous security guards, screwing up their eyes at us. We walked right through. One of the guards questioned the girls as we walked by and I told him, "yi qi," (we're together) in hopes that my broken Chinese would be endearing and help them forget all the beaurocracy. He smiled and waved.

"That was easy, huh?" I said to them.

"Yes, it was," Jessica responded, "it's because your face looks like a certificate."

I've been called many things, but a certificate, that's new.


On a side note, after I showed the picture of handsome Christian to my first class last week, I followed it up by trying to show them another handsome friend. After
the first picture, they were eager to see what else I had.

"Want to see another handsome friend?"

"Yeah!" Girls were already reaching for the picture.

"This is Chris."

This time, they frowned. The mustache doesn't do it for the Chinese girls. So, I playfully withheld the picture from them.

"What's wrong with Chris? Well then, you don't get to see him!"

In China you can be fairly sure that if one class doesn't like something, the rest will feel the same way; so, each class since I've played the same game. After they are disappointed by the mustache, I angrily put the picture back into my album and they laugh. This morning, after seeing the picture, one of the girls yelled, "terrible!" and everyone laughed. So, I angrily withheld the picture, but I must have played it too well. Tonight I got a call from Sunny who apologized for saying that my friend looked "terrible."

"Maybe I have been in a bad mood this morning and I felt guilty," she told me, "So I'm very sorry. Actually I do think he is handsome!"

I couldn't help but laugh as I forgave her. I told Sunny I would tell Chris that she thought he was handsome.


Here's a shot of a couple separated by bars (it's hard to be conspicuous when you're as white as I am in China. They looked right me when I took it):

Sunday, September 13, 2009

where is my mind?

I'm finally going to China, at least as far as I know. I received my Visa invitation in the mail on Friday and tomorrow I'm heading to the Chinese Embassy in DC to get my Visa. Tuesday I'll fly. If all goes as planned, which it probably won't (not pecimism), I'll be in China on Wednesday. I'll be bombarded by students on arrival, the vast majority of whose names will have left me. Hopefully, they won't take it personally. There are a few students with interesting English names I will remember though, like Loretta, Sunshine, God... seriously, his name is God and He'll be my student this year. I'll be sure to teach Him with reverent fear.

One of the reasons I'm so excited to go is that I think part of my mind is already there. I think Tim and Ryan must have stowed a piece of it in their carry-ons when they flew over two weeks ago. I haven't slept well since they left and sometimes I've even found it hard to think clearly. Like today, for example, I was describing my birthday to my friend in China on Skype and I had to pause after I wrote, "For lunch I ate a..." I couldn't think of the word. I sat thinking. What the heck kind of sandwich was that? I could still taste it. There were a couple people sitting around me, but I was embarrassed to ask them to help me remember a sandwich meat that starts with 'P'. I actually googled "best sandwich meats" for help and I finally found it: pastrami. Anyway, I hope to be in one piece when I get there and that I'll stay that way for the foreseeable future.


I was showing my Aunt and Uncle some videos from China yesterday and I realized that there were still a couple I hadn't made public. So, here are two skits we performed in the Spring. The first is the classic chef skit where the chef's arms aren't actually his, but the guy's behind him inside his oversized t-shirt. You know the one. I pretend to have a French accent as Tim's flailing arms protrude from my armpits, knocking things over and covering my face with peanut butter. Half of the skit is me describing to Tim where certain items are on the table, which never seems to get old. On a side note, Tim can barely breathe inside the jacket I'm wearing and is sweating profusely. Just after the video ends, Tim's slippery hands try to pick up a glass bottle of hot sauce, which slides right out of his butter fingers and smashes all over the floor. The students were very concerned. I made a joke about how dropping the lajiao (hot sauce) is very bad luck. Apparently, they didn't get that I was kidding; later, a couple of students asked me if that was really true. We also didn't practice. We performed it at our English Night. The second video is another skit we performed at an English talent event in front of a good 300 students. It's the Middle School Play. You know the one. Look for Ryan's dramatic fall in the 2nd act.

The Chinglish Kitchen

Middle School Play

Thursday, September 10, 2009

china delay

I was supposed to leave on August 27, but it's two weeks later and I'm still sitting in my old bedroom in Norfolk. The reason I'm not in China has to do with my Visa. For some reason, it expired; no one can tell me why, but it has. For much of my two week hiatus I've been sitting on my thumbs waiting for a package to come in the mail from China. The package is like the flick of the finger on the first domino. Once it comes several things can happen, ending with my arrival in Beijing, which will begin my ten month stint. It seems my wait will come to an end tomorrow, at least that's what the Post Office told me. Apparently, they're tracking it. Today I checked the mail at least four times before it arrived. When it did, I found something like a practical joke:

Maybe this is China's way of telling me they don't want me back... Yeah, here's your "Visa" to China!

During my extra America time I've spent a lot of money, mostly on an iPhone. With it I've been able to record the past two weeks. Here are a few highlights.