Archive forJune 30, 2011

Final Post in China.

G'bye, China.

That’s it for the part of this blog in China. I’ll probably end up doing some posts afterwards wrapping bad, because I feel terrible about writing exactly NOTHING about stuff this semester. I’ll also try and do a post about the culture shock, which I predict will be extensive, although those of you with less sensitive ears might want to pay attention to my livejournal, because I predict no less than three consecutive posts bitccomplaining about how materialistic and shortsighted and unfair and doomed America is, and the kind of white-flight suburbs I grew up in are driving us into the ground face-first.

Sometimes I wake in a cold sweat from a nightmare of unhealthy and unsustainable auto-dependent communities, segregated by race and class, and then I realize I live there.

Man, I want to be angry, but I’m listening to a best of disco album as I half-pack, half-write, and I’ve never met someone who can keep a grudge longer than three verses of Chic’s “Good Times”

“You silly fool, you can’t change your fate/

Let’s cut the rug, a little jive and jitterbug/

We want the best, we won’t settle for less/

Don’t be a drag, participate/

Clams on the half shell, and rol-ler skates, rol-ler skates.”

I guess if you insist, Norma Jean.

I think it’s mostly because my brain hears this music and thinks “We have to dance now, and compete with people running entirely on cocaine and polyester fumes. REDIRECT ALL MENTAL POWER TO DANCE COORDINATION.”

“Rol-ler skates, rol-ler skates.” I’m crazy.

AND DIGRESS FAR TOO FREQUENTLY. This is the last day of a ten-month period of what is, for me, deepest debauchery. Mostly sitting around my room, going on the internet, occasionally going out with friends for karaoke or dancing or most often, restaurants to go eat and chat. I go out to eat for every single meal, and occasionally to absurdly expensive restaurants. In Carlisle when I was wearing my Staples uniform to class under a sweater and biking straight to work after lectures, it would be a real treat for me to walk up to the Bosnian grocery and go buy some frozen burek and cheap imported cola to wash it down with, or go to the Mexican grocer-restaurant in the middle of town and get a nice bowl of nopales and some sweetbread to have for breakfast the next morning. I liked that kind of life, keeps you busy, keeps you sweating, keeps you honest, helps you understand folks more. It was really uncomfortable for me to get treated like some lost little princeling when I first got here, and get handed wads of cash–$500 US/month, handed out like toilet paper? And then another $300/month just for teaching a couple of classes on weekends? I was busting five kinds of butt this time last year and scraping by with 800/month as well, but that was American-scale wages (laughable as they are at the bottom of the ladder, particularly compared to the European scale) paying for American prices. I saved a lot of money at first, but after a while…I mean, I still have hundreds, probably over 1500 US, but today I decided to go have fun and buy a bunch of gifts for my friends and a couple of pieces of clothing and accessories for myself.


Only by the end of it, I was a half-dead, incredibly scraggly man dressed as a communist guerilla carrying two overstuffed and a tightly folded military winder greatcoat, dazed and dripping with sweat after running around the Beijing subway system for the entire day. I probably looked like an IRA terrorist, so I really can’t blame anybody for edging away on that last trip from Jianguomen to Changchunjie. It’s gonna be more fun because I’ll be lugging twice that while layered like an Inuit to save luggage space, running around O’Hara tomorrow trying to catch a flight. If Chicago summers are anything worth spitting at I’ll probably melt into a puddle halfway through the layover.

I’m a little worried about baggage issues, I’m leaving a lot of stuff here, or rather sending it off to the post office in the morning to get shipped to me and should arrive shortly after I go to Dickinson. This is of course assuming that I find $60,000 between now and August, and Financial Aid doesn’t have me frozen in carbonite and put in the HUB entrance hall as a warning to other financial truants.

Above: Dickinson College Assistant Director of Financial Aid

So I had fun mostly spending money on my family and some, a fair bit, really, more than I usually spend, on myself. All clothes and books and things, a couple of pairs of earrings, and the stuff  I got for other people I don’t want to spoil the surprise for, on the off chance that my family should check this in the next 36 hours. By the end I was falling asleep on my feet–if you’re lucky enough to think that’s only an expression, I simply cannot describe the hilarious and terrifying feeling of standing still, reasoning to yourself, “It’s okay, I won’t go to sleep, I’ll just close my…my…THUMP” as you fall asleep, collapsing into dead weight, then instantly waking up and putting all your weight on your half-bent knees as you stagger back to half consciousness, possibly doing this multiple times in minutes. It’s particularly hilarious if you’re on a crowded subway or bus with nowhere to sit down and plenty of audience members to watch, and laden down with luggage pressing your shoulders down every time you collapse.

So now I need to find a scale and something like a tape measure to make sure my luggage will work–it may well not, I’ve bought a lot of stuff, although I’ve thrown some stuff out and will just mail others back to myself, but there’s a lot of heavy books, especially in my carry-on.  Ah well.
I want to give some advice to people coming to China, in my last moments on the blog from the host country, and explain my experience a little.
Go and make Chinese friends. This sounds easy, it’s really not, at least it can be difficult unless you get lucky or your language or personal skills are very good. But it will help immensely in adjusting and understanding this place and this country’s people.
Go join Chinese clubs. They’ll have a big open house near the movie theater for the first couple of weeks of classes, go join one or two and have fun. Exercise groups are especially fun and not very demanding linguistically.
Cut out internet time as much as possible. It’ll hurt, but the more you stay off the umbilical the better it’ll be for you, special times for communicating with friends and family aside.
Keep a regular eating, exercise, sleep, and fun time schedule. It’ll help you feel less overwhelmed.
Eat things you wouldn’t otherwise. They’re like as not to be delicious.
Consider buying an electronic dictionary. Expensive but not too, and can be very convenient. Spring for a touch screen so you don’t have to look up radicals like I do in a book the size of my head.
Definitely buy a slang dictionary before you come here. You can get them at Borders and Barnes and Noble type places, look in the foreign language section and then look for small, scruffy little books with clever titles, they should be about $15, a worthy investment. I got “Niubi!” before I came here, which I especially recommend, and “Dirty Chinese” is okay, too. It gives you a nice primer for the way people really talk in a way that our lovely and rather conservative Beida teachers won’t, to say nothing of the New Practical Chinese Reader.
Take public transportation. Cheaper and more immersive. Buses can be especially nice as a fairly relaxing form of transportation on a heavy traffic day, if you get a seat.
Avoid Wudaokou and Zhongguancun. The big foreigner-heavy places, in addition to being very expensive, are not all that interesting compared to some of the smaller, messier apartment complexes, like up by the Summer Palace, for example.
Avoid exclusively staying in English-speaking circles, especially if you’re from the same country.
Realize that you are in the wealthiest 5 percentile of the city and act accordingly. You’ll get a lot of stares and stilted offers of friendship, not too mention beggars, that sort of thing. Take care of yourself.
Teach yourself some comebacks, put-downs, complaints, and aggressive statements, and listen to the locals for examples of banter. One of the best things about Chinese is the constant stream of banter between friends calling each other nonsense-speaking idiots, and if you join they will welcome you.
Try and communicate with multiple generations. There’s a fairly diverse society here but the generation gaps are huge and really fascinating, if you learn to talk with older or younger people it will improve your language and cultural and historical understanding.
Watch cartoons, or something you can find of interest on television or the internet in Chinese exclusively. There’s a lot of interesting and amusing media here, although most Beijing television is pretty bland.
If you go into a relationship with a Chinese person, realize what you’re getting into. Most relationships in China are still very serious, many are abstinent, and almost all are aimed at marriage. China is generally quite a cynical country but in this generation, especially with women, there’s a strong belief in ideas of true love. That said, some people will just use you for your wallet and passport, so keep an eye out in general. 
Explore smaller, local restaurants around your area. Many are cheap and delicious, look for crowded ones with a mix of social classes.
Buy a bicycle, learn to use it, trust it, and love it. Fear not the traffic, they know how to handle bicycles in an integrated flow, as long as you give clear signals and recieve them well.
Try and go to a couple of famous places every week or two. If you google “Lonely Planet X City,” you’ll get a map and a list of stuff to do there, and I’ve found that very useful for fun and interesting stuff. 
Think about a job. Teaching English is the main one, but there’s other moonlight-type work available and it helps you get into society more.
Talk to your family regularly, host family and home family. Communication is vital, I cannot understate this. More important than talking is listening and thinking before you act or say something. If you have a problem, regardless of how you think they’re treating you, they’re probably going out of their way to make sure you are at home in theirs, and if you come in complaining they will see you as ungrateful. Start from a patient position.
Learn to use proxy sites, for facebook addicts. is the one we mostly used this year.
Buy a newspaper every once in a while. Even if you don’t understand most or any of it, it’ll start conversations and you will slowly start to get it, I think Kevin used to do an article every session with his language partner and picked up a bunch of vocab about economics and business.
Get a language partner who isn’t a language partner. Find somebody you share some common interest with, a hobby, a sport, a movie director you both like. This can be difficult but basically the important part is you shouldn’t just find a language partner just because they’re around and they speak Chinese, try and find another network to help you out here. Hell, I found one of my best chinese friends through okcupid, nothing romantic but we both like talking about architecture and Tarantino movies.
Do you care about the NBA? China does.  Consider taking part in the pickup game of basketball out your window.
Basically, find something that makes you want to do that thing more and better, something that genuinely excites you, and do that.
Allright, that’s it, two cents given. Time to take care of some other business and head back to America. Lord, I’m sleepy. See you all soon.