Archive for January, 2011


Xi’an!

Edit: Eleven hours (eight of which spent asleep) after getting the idea and writing the initial post under the jump, I have booked plane and hotel tickets. Will be there Feb 3-7. Exploiting the downtime in the middle of 春节 as opposed to dealing with the insane prices on either end, I found some cheap flights so the whole trip is only running around $400.
Call me what you want, but don’t call me indecisive (=

Oh! And for any Cage Match readers who have been to Xi’an before, please please please leave suggestions for things to see/stuff to do/thangs to eat in the comments. Or on yesterday’s facebook status, I guess, because it has kinda exploded in the past few hours

~~~

I really want to go to Xi’an. I have a week to travel starting in 3 days. It is the worst travel week in terms of volume in the most populated country in the world. I’m going to talk to people about it at work tomorrow. How bad of an idea is this? How awesome of an idea is this?
Completely unclear. But I’m stupidly excited all of a sudden, which is usually a good sign!

Cop-Out

Well apparently it’s been too long since I’ve posted on here, because now I have more to talk about than I am able to easily organize into something approaching coherency. Granted this is partially due to one of the components I was going to try to explain happens my current mental state, and even by itself that’s just a mess waiting to happen (if you can’t remember why this isn’t a good idea, I invite you to reread that $40 Pabst post). I also want to write about Egypt/Tunisia/that whole shebang, and I’ve got an ongoing piece about this whole exchange rate debacle in the works, primarily because I need to decide how I actually feel about it, and writing out an argument will force me to substantiate some sort of definitive conclusion.

So naturally this post is just going to be a stupid story about this past Wednesday, when I used my whitey card for the first time. (Get the title? I’m choosing to ignore all of the challenging or important topics. Plus, my story involves police. Puns!)
But first! Another pretty picture from my commute — this one’s of the entrance to the forbidden city at night, taken from the Southeast corner, above the moat. I wish Plex had a moat.

I have an atrocious sense of direction, but a hyperacute perception of time. Seriously. If I had to identify one singular skill that I have and declare “this is what I am best at” it would be knowing, pretty much to the second, about how long everything takes. I am the first to concede that this is more than a little bit sad. I mean ostensibly I’m pretty OK at other things too, but anybody can be sarcastic or write decently or whathaveyou. Not everyone can put lasagna in the microwave for ten minutes, go play with Jack outside, and come back in when the microwave’s at two seconds left. Or regularly wake up naturally fifteen seconds before their alarm goes off. But I digress. Point is knowing pretty much how long any given trip is going to take fits into the same talent, and generally can compensate for the fact that actually getting from point A to point B is something that I struggle with perhaps a lot more than a 20-year-old should. This post about getting to the office on day one demonstrates how this works pretty well. The consequence here is that while I have to perpetually fight the instinct to leave for a party at 10:22, I am exceptionally rarely late to things that matter.

So when I left for this 7:30 dinner at 7:10 or so — hah! you thought that 200-word preface was going to be relevant! Joke’s on you, reader! — I figured I was being pretty generous about time. It was just past Qianmen (do I really not already have a picture or post about Qianmen on here to link to? I guess I don’t. Well, damn I guess I’ll have to dig through my old photo album, I knew I took some around there).

Qianmen


The street itself is hidden behind a set of these big ol’… err… buildings. I’d be more specific if I could.

Anyway, biking straight it’s maybe a ten, twelve minute ride. The extra ten minutes were added because I’d never been to the restaurant before, had no idea where I could actually park my bike, and I knew the whole Qianmen area positively plagued by the most infuriating people-blockers I’ve ever encountered in my life. Honestly they have 5-foot-high white fences bordering every single street. You can see the top of one of them in the picture up there. You have to go underground to cross most streets, but you do this via a series of random tunnels that aren’t all connected to one single nexus so when you head down a tunnel you have no idea where it will spit you out. Truly a marvel of design.

So all this in mind I was pretty confident as I started biking out, until I came to the big street that runs between Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It is fourteen lanes wide. You can’t actually cross it anywhere near the square. Or rather, you *can* cross it, but doing so will quickly earn you the ire of the dozen or two policemen stationed at the two intersections flanking the square.
I figured this out as I came to the first intersection and positioned myself to cross, but was immediately approached by policemen who made it very clear that they would break my face if I attempted to do so. In not so many words. But I had looked on the map and remembered that if I crossed, I’d be biking the wrong way down a large one-way street. I had planned to bike on the sidewalk to avoid this, but hey. Maybe they were just looking out for me. So I biked all the way to the intersection on the other side of the square (it is worth noting here that Tiananmen’s is the largest public square in the world) and tried again. I watched the traffic lights for a full cycle to make sure I could cross without getting killed, and found a window where such a thing would be possible. I quietly realized that the “walk” sign was conspicuously absent on this intersection, too. But there sure were a lot of police. A lot a lot of police. And I couldn’t jaywalk, due to the aforementioned people-blockers. Was gonna be an intersection or nowhere.
So I accosted the nearest cop, asked him if I could cross. No. Hm. Well, I need to go on that side of the street. How do I do that? He shrugged. I tried again, in the clearest mandarin I could come up with: 我怎么去那儿?Shrugs again.
I leave and join some bikers on the other side of the intersection who looked like they were going to cross. They weren’t actually going to cross, because you can’t, but they were positioning to turn into the left lane of the right side of the street, or something. I actually didn’t look back to see where they all went because as soon as they started pedaling and bearing to the right, I took off in a mad sprint across the fourteen lanes. I did this while mentally reciting what has become my mantra here on the multitude of occasions that I do stupid things. It’s a sentence from a Peter Hessler book that I read on the plane to China, and reads simply: “In China, much of life involves skirting regulations, and one of the basic truths is that forgiveness comes easier than permission.” I really needed to cross this street.
I had gotten maybe ten feet when they guy I had talked to and his buddy started yelling “EH! EH! YOU CAN’T DO THAT! STOP!” in Mandarin.
It occurred to me that there was really only one option left open to me that could maybe, maybe keep me from getting in deep shit, and that was to embrace my ignorant American roots to the fullest. Continuing to pedal, I yelled back — in English — “WHAT? I DON’T UNDERSTAND!” Then for emphasis, I dropped all tone, all accent out of my Chinese (this is not much of a feat) and added “DWAY BOO CHEE WAH TING BU DUNG” at the top of my lungs.
And it worked! He gave up! But the shouting had caught the attention of the cops on the other side of the street — there were about eight? Ten? As is so frequently the case on the Cage match, I wish that were an exaggeration — and they took up the yelling almost immediately. What followed was a laundry list of pretty much every single way to say “no,” “don’t,” “stop,” or “prohibit” that I have ever learned in Chinese. They also started waving. Crap. Avoid eye contact.
Me, staring pointedly at the ground two feet in front of my bike: TINGBUDONG A!
Them: “停止! 止步! 禁止!不准! etc”
Me: TINGUDONGTINGBUDONGTINGBUDONG
Them: “Stop!” [in English]
Shit.
I stopped, but was pretty much across the street at this point. I hopped off the bike and walked it the last two lanes. The one policeman who spoke English came over (regarding why they need so many cops to just watch an intersection — I’ll write something about the concept of “overemployment” that Dan and I developed soon) and told me that this entire area was prohibited, but he couldn’t articulate why.
But that’s fine, right? I’m now on the correct side of the street, and the way traffic is going is the way I need to go, so we’re good, right?
Not right. They were pissed, and they’d be dammed if they were going to let me go the direction I wanted. I tried the ‘zenme qu nar’ line again, and they explained that I was going to have to go probably altogether like a mile more out of my way to go around the whole square. They let me go, and I eventually learned that the intersection they directed me to was also blocked to cross, meaning that there would have been no way to legally get where I was going. Fun stuff, right? My sense of time isn’t used to accounting for that one. So yeah I biked another half mile or so out of my way and THEN got to the people-blocker-literally-on-every-curb area, at which point I was already late so I locked my bike to something random and then just jumped a whole whole bunch of fences and ran the rest of the way to Qianmen. All in a suit, of course.
For a city with so many freaking people and traffic as awful as it is, you really have to wonder why they’re doing pedestrians zero favors…

Business!

So today was really, really awesome. Especially from a… business perspective, which sounds a little weird to say. But no seriously in this one day I’ve done more to directly advance any potential career or internship that I may attain in the foreseeable future than I’ve done in like, the last year of my life (not counting education being a desirable asset blah blah blah).

Day started off with a half-hour phone interview with the head of Deutsche Bank Argentina, who gave me a lot advice regarding what I should be doing with myself to network while I’m still in Beijing, and then moreover said that I should get back to him about a career when I graduate because he has a few friends in Argentinian internet companies who might want to hire me. So that was neat.

And then I was given a huge stack of these business cards; I’ve never had or deserved one before, so I was pretty excited about them.

Baller new 名片

And it’s a good that I got them when I did, because I had to give out about seven of them to a bunch of international entrepreneurs that I met at a Venture-Capital-and-Fritz-sponsored dinner where I got to learn a whole whole lot about how VC works in the Chinas, and where new industries are emerging, and where money is flowing, and a whole lot of interesting (to me) things like that. And then there was mingling time, where I met people who had all at one point or another founded their own companies. I met people from Chinese consulting firms, banks, the Chinese indie music industry (I plugged goblin, Connor!), a woman with Microsoft who came from Escapia, a company that Homeaway just bought, and some random guy who makes cellphone games for SKT1 in Korea, among others. It was really neat and one of them told me he might know people who are looking for interns in San Fransisco, which is a city where I would absolutely love to spend the summer.

Also, I got a free dinner that according to their menu should have cost me 458 kuai. I usually eat a gaifan (half rice, half meat and veggie) dish for dinner, and it costs 10 kuai. So I got 45 days worth of dinner for free; if that’s not nice I’m not quite sure what is.

But I certainly do know what isn’t — the Chinese traffic system, specifically the random people-barriers and easily angerable police that inhabit it. I live pretty much right next to this place that this dinner thing was held, but instead of taking this route, the one I was forced to take looked more like this.

But it’s cool. I took a really scenic tour, and got to go past the huge portrait of Mao, Tiananmen, the opera house, and Qianmen — all four of which are definitely sights worth seeing. Ended up being a little late to the meeting because of it but it was only like 5 minutes because I bike like a freaking demon and hop fences like it’s my job and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
Oh, and Rayco’s coming home tonight! Excited!

My parents and particularly brother are fond of teasing me about the Chinese propensity for public urination. Normally I just deny it, or brush it off and attribute it to small children in split pants, or maybe people in rural villages. Till tonight. Block or so from my house (see previous photoblog with the intersection from which you can see the forbidden city — that one) outside the restaurant I usually go for dinner; two dudes hanging out outside of it, one of em peeing on the traffic light, the other one looking on approvingly, chatting away.

“Surely,” I think, “surely these are homeless people, are drunk off their asses, or something. This cannot, cannot be a normal happening.”

I’m a third right. I go into the restaurant and order my meal, and then the two dudes come inside and sit down with the girl at the table next to me. This girl incidentally knows exactly who I am, including where I studied this summer, and regularly says hello to me on the street. I have no recollection of ever, ever meeting her. But that’s neither here nor there –
The point is that these two guys come in and sit down and proceed to have a completely civil and normal discussion with the girl and with me. Not slurring their words (any more than beijing dialect is already slurred, anyway), not walking funny, not obviously drunk. Just you know, outside peein’ on the street for a sec, then we’ll get back to dinner.
The one salvation here was that each of the dudes had taken down a bottle of baijiu, which is a little like having a fifth or so of vodka with your dinner. Unfortunately when I asked them about it they’re like ‘yeah we drink baijiu all the time, it barely does anything.’
Hmm.
Just wish this had happened on January 2nd; it woulda been the best ‘welcome back’ I could have asked for. Either way I now feel somewhat initiated.

edit: It occurs to me that I should be more thankful for these sorts of ‘what-the-fuck, china’ moments. A) they’re a lot of fun, B) they give me endless stuff to write about c) it reassures me that global culture isn’t quite homogenized yet, which is nice because that’d be kinda sad

English tutoring

Longtime readers may remember this post from August where I promised to keep the blog going with all sorts of things, including retroactive uploads of posts I wrote (or partially wrote) but never got around to cleaning and publishing; they may have also noticed that I followed this declaration up by not posting any content for a full three months.
But tonight, I thought I’d throw one on here. As is so often the case on the China Match, I’m doing this instead of going to sleep. Today, this is due to my having turned off the gas when I went grocery shopping this afternoon, and not remembering to turn it on until just now. You guys ever heard of the boiling frog myth? Replace the frog with me, and the slow boiling with a gradual cooling of my house; I didn’t realize until like, just now that I’m freezing. Mind you I am sitting here in a Northface® and even wearing those silly looking typing gloves (shoutout to my little brother Jack for the unexpectedly useful Christmas preset); it occured to me to put on these things far before I realized I should just, you know, turn my heater back on. I’m smart, I promise.
Anyway as a quick spoiler alert, most of you have probably heard this story before; it is one of my favorites and one that I never blogged so I told it several times. I like it so much because it is so patently ridiculous that it’s clear I couldn’t have made it up. But yeah, thankfully before the details of these two days escaped me I typed out a rough version in an email, all I have to do tonight is clean it up a little bit. I’m still going to leave it in the like, I-am-reeling-from-the-strangeness-of-this, stream of consciousness style though. New reflections and clarifications appear in parenthesis.

~~~
Ok China, what the hell.
This is too weird.
The scenario in which I was initially recruited to be an English teacher: last night Dan and I had to kill about an hour and a half before meeting our friend Cameron. (It occurs to me that I am very much doing what Cameron did this summer — namely assuming the role of an outsider breaking in on a coherent group of friends via a highschool connection). We knew Cameron would want to go to a bar but we also were both rapidly running low on funding and aren’t looking to drop 200+ kuai on getting drunk. So we came up with a solution, namely to get a bottle of good ol’ baijiu from the supermarket and drink it on the street. (Baijiu, incidentally, is a common Chinese liquor. It’s sorta like rice-based vodka, smells like gasoline, and doesn’t taste much better. Bottles can run anywhere from ten to ten thousand RMB. I’ll let you guess which end of that spectrum we were shopping in).
Dan’s stomach couldn’t take that for some reason (for some reason = we each took down a whole bottle while watching “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” the night before) so we went to the cheap beer store and we camped outside of it. (Said store, in a bid to outdo the destruction of the Korean alley for most-disappointing-part-of-Wudaokou, no longer offers the big 3 kuai Yanjings consumed by NU students all summer).
Literally sat on the street, drinkin’, people watching. I have Dan’s first empty beer bottle, a bottle of gatorade (best chaser ever), and an empty bottle of baijiu in front of me when this lady comes up with fliers. We automatically wave her away, but then realize she’s speaking in English and asking us if we’re interested in being teachers. After incredulously determining that she’s not just messing with us, we fill out her survey and concede that we have no real teaching experience. She isn’t phased in the slightest and invites us to come officially interview at the language center based on the edge of Qinghua’s campus. Takes our numbers but doesn’t give us one to call; says if the language center likes it then it’ll call us.

To their credit, I actually didn’t get called, but Dan did (he said he had a bit of experience teaching some English to little kids in the DR. Apparently this is close enough to tutoring what turned out to be PHD students for them to consider him qualified). Dan didn’t want to go, but before he hung up on them I had him ask them if I could go interview, just to see what the process was like. They say sure and Dan gives me their number. I call them later that day and they told me to be at the east gate of the school by 3:15 or something.

The 731. These were supposed to run one every 15 minutes. Several times a day though, they'd just send 3 at once every 45 minutes. This picture has two; one of them has already driven past me. Not particularly helpful.

Helpfully I mishear them and think they say Northeast gate. I get there at 3:20 or so because the 431 is the worst bus to ever exist. I call them and it turns out that I waited for the bus for nothing, because I’m supposed to be at the east gate, which is helpfully pretty much where the bus left from. I decide to hike it back down on foot, which turns out to be a poor decision because it’s the middle of August and Qinghua’s campus is gigantic. Takes fifteen, twenty minutes.

I eventually get to the office. They take me in, have me sit awkwardly for fifteen or so minutes, have me fill out another little sheet which asks again: “have you ever taught before?” I don’t lie (against all my instincts), I just put no. Zero experience. They ask me for what I want to be paid, I say 15 kuai, they ask if I mean 15 usd. They laugh at me when I say kuai. I asked way too low apparently. Anyway then they take this chick that’s been sitting in the room with me the whole time and they’re like “here’s your student. Go teach her a lesson.”

I mean, I’m wearing a t shirt and flip flops, sweating a lot because I’ve been walking around in 90 degree heat for a while. I have a backpack but it only has a laptop that can’t get on the internet on campus anymore and some other random crap in there; i’m clearly not prepared to actually teach anybody anything. I thought that I was coming to just fill out some paperwork and then maybe talk about what the potential job would entail in some sort of interview setting.

So I’m understandably pretty confused when they put me in a conference room with this girl and just say “teach English.”

I’m like well ok girl what do you even want to learn? How’s your English level, what do you need help with?

Her response is basically ‘hey fuck if I know just teach me some English.’ In perfect English. I get to know her for a second, talk to her about what she’s studying, how old she is. I quickly realize I have basically nothing to teach this girl. Tells me her English level is higher than most students, so I shouldn’t be worried about that. But yet she’s like yeah, so lets hear a lesson. So I tell her I don’t know how because that’s vague as hell and I have nothing to help me. She keeps telling me to relax, and just teach her stuff. Grammar? Pronunciation? Do you just want to talk? Role play? Everything’s ok apparently. So out of desperation at this point and I write a bunch of words that start with TH on the board because I know Chinese people are bad at making that sound (read: Pat Wang is bad at making this sound, and he is the best Chinese person, so if he can’t then nobody should be able to. I wish that this was further from being my real thought process than it was). Tried some “V” sounds too, because that’s a letter that Chinese doesn’t have, and the reason my name has to be KeWen here. She did both just fine. I had no idea what to do. She spoke English pretty dang well. I was like, do you want to do some work with the past tense and verb conjugations? (Chinese doesn’t have either of these, really, so this was as good a guess as any). And she’s like I already know all that…. super disconcerting. I mean she makes all the little mistakes that Chinese people always make; she omits little words and stuff but it’s hard to describe the scenario in which one would appropriately use awkward-to-translate words like “does.” (When pressed to translate it more fully than I was doing, I was like “how bout you translate 就 clearly for me first”. Not only is this a horribly childish way to act as a potential tutor, it was also somewhat of a cheap shot, because there’s no way in hell one can concisely define a word like that. Just look)

So what the hell am I supposed to be doing, yeah?

I wind up just talk to her about her Qinghua PHD program that she’s starting up soon. (To get into the Qinghua graduate school, you have to score exceptionally highly on an examination where one of the components is English, turns out.) Then they take me back out into this waiting room and they ask if I can come back tomorrow and teach people in half hour sessions for five hours? And I’m like, no – hey p.s. I am hella not qualified for this did you not just watch me fail miserably – and she wont hear a word of either. I tell her I’m just checking this out so I can come back and maybe do it in winter (I do not have time to do it this winter) and they clearly don’t give even one damn. They’re like come teach for five hours tomorrow and we’ll pay you and give you dinner. Which would be kinda tempting, but this was two days before my flight back to the states and I had better things to do.

In my best Chinese, I attempt to communicate that a) I dont understand this process at all b) we now both know I can’t teach English, particularly with zero preparation. Like, isn’t that apparent now? And they say something along the lines of “we’ll teach you how to teach” but first make a demo for these ten kids tomorrow. No matter that you don’t know them or their Chinese level. Just make some lessons and spit ‘em out for five hours and then we’ll start telling you how to stop sucking at it.

“Um lady I dont know how to make lessons why are you asking me for this i’ve already told you I can’t”

“Oh its fine you can just talk to them about whatever”

“The hell does that mean? What are they even looking to learn?”
“We’ll give you a list of topics and you just chat with them about them.” Oh.

I mean ok you liar you’ve said this whole time I was going to be teaching lessons not just chatting about random topics but I still am not coming to help you for five hours on my last day in china.

Long story short they are truly, truly desperate for anyone who can coherently assemble an English sentence or something because otherwise this doesn’t make any goddamn sense at all.

Photoblog — Daily Commute

Because I am lazy, and Beijing is pretty. Sometimes. All those blue skies sure are weird though, huh?

The intersection next to my house. Wave at the forbidden city, everybody

Wangfujing at night. I know I've already done a post committed exclusively to this street but it's still pretty and I still bike by there, so hey.
For all my Spirited Away fans out there:

I’m on to you, Miyazaki.

I’ve even blogged about snack street before, but come on. Between the overhangs and the lanterns, and how it’s deserted during the day but lit and full of food and stuff at night? Ol’ Hayao has clearly been to Wangfujing. I don’t know how I didn’t notice it last time I was here. Anyway all this is also like two blocks from my house. Fun times! Snackable scorpions whenever I want!

I walk down a line of these every day, a tribute to all the famous Chinese jews*


The electric plaza at 9:30am and 7:30pm


*Yeah I have no idea what these actually are supposed to represent, sorry

Do not smile on the subway

Push! Surely, that will help! Everybody, together now!


So before I tell my story about what happened today, I first want to share one from… musta been five or so years ago at this point. Geez. Anyway it was late in the summer and my family and I had been doing some yard work — my parents love yard work more than they love me — and Dad’s like forty-year-old hacksaw just wasn’t cutting it (get it? get it?) because it had gotten really dull. This being late July and Dad’s birthday being early August, I decided to get him another one as a present. Now I think I had a car at this point but I decided against taking it, because there was a hardware store about four walking minutes from my house, and in what is certainly the exception that proves the rule in Texas, driving just didn’t seem worth it.
So I walked over to Breed and bought a rather sizable hacksaw. Maybe three or so feet long? Big orange one. Thing was, of the short walk home, about two minutes of it had to be spent walking down Bee Caves, a pretty well-trafficked road. Considering that it was five in the afternoon at that awful, awful light by the Walgreens, traffic was naturally backed up for about half a mile. Come to think of it this means that Austin traffic engineers have done nothing to ameliorate this intersection’s traffic problem for at least five years. Huh. Anywho as I was walking past all the stopped cars on Bee Caves and I noticed that nearly everyone was looking pretty intently at me. After a second I realized this was probably due to me carrying a big ol’ hacksaw, which not only didn’t have a bag or anything obstructing it from view but moreover didn’t even have a blade cover. I recognized the sight of this might be a little odd, hence all the people staring at me, and so it made me smirk a little bit.
That was a problem, though, because as soon as I started to smirk, I realized now I’m the kid carrying a big hacksaw and looking quite pleased with himself. Which made me grin. Which looked even creepier. Which I also recognized, but found even funnier. So I smiled more and more, and quickly wound up with this absolutely huge maniac-grin on my face, walking within a foot or two of these cars, carrying a saw. If I recall correctly I may have even laughed out loud a little bit and there was nothing I could do to stop myself because the fact that I was happy was what was (indirectly, through the increasingly-horrified looks of the drivers) making me more happy.

So today, my Ipod rickroll’d me on my commute home. For those of you unfamiliar, to be rickroll’d is to have this song, usually accompanied with this video played to you when you don’t expect it. The two most popular rickroll videos have a combined sixty or so million views on them. People rickroll each other a lot. So yes, my Ipod was on shuffle in the first time in forever, and after ten songs Rick Astley began crooning about how he just wants to tell me how he’s feeling — just wants to make me understand he’s never going to give me up, etc etc.
Now: why, you might fairly ask, do you have this song on your Ipod in the first place, Kevin? To which i would shamefully be forced to admit that back in the day my friends and i would occasionally rickroll passerby from our vehicles, because we were stupid and we felt it our duty to make sure everyone in the city heard “never gonna give you up.” Needless to say my Ipod is pretty old and I guess I just never actually took it off.
So yes, I was about to get on the 1 when I got rickroll’d, and I immediately laughed out loud at the pure bizarrity of hearing Mr. Astley on the swarming platform of the chinese subway system. It was just completely, completely unexpected*
I cracked up. Which immediately prompted the six nearest people — I did, in fact, count — to wheel around on the platform and just goggle at me. Which lead to a rush of perspective which subsequently put me back into that feedback loop that I just spent like 600 words describing so I spent a solid four or so minutes on the subway home just trying and failing not to laugh (for whatever reason, it never occurred to me to turn Rick off). It didn’t at all help that halfway through it, I remembered the hacksaw story. So now my fellow commuters may think I’m somewhat of a lunatic but it’s fine; just because I ride the same train with them at the same time every afternoon does not at all guarantee that i’ll ever see any of them again. Not even sarcastic. It’s a funny world…

*For those of you who’ve read the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy series, if I had at this point tripped over something, I definitely would have missed the ground.

Presentation went over really well. Ended up speaking for twenty or so minutes due to questions/answers (about half of which were fielded in chinese! booya!) about all sorts of social-buying related stuff. I asked my boss at the end of it if I was understandable through the broken grammar and questionable vocab and she told me that she got 80% of it, more or less. I’m willing to believe that this was genuine because one of the most endearing parts (at least to me) of Chinese culture is the propensity to be very blunt the vast majority of the time. Especially with anyone who isn’t a very young person from a big city, there generally aren’t personal topics that people stay away from, and people tend to be extremely inquisitive or direct to a point that westerners sometimes see as prying or rude. While this is sometimes a bit awkward — the best exercise we ever did in Chinese was the “deflect-the-way-too-private question” drill — it also means that you can count on people to be basically honest, most of the time. I kinda think that’s worth the trade off.
Note: the “personal/private” is very important here. It’s actually an interesting situation — generally, the same people who will gladly ask about your income, marital status, age, and sexual orientation without batting are an eye are precisely the same people who will avoid conversation about the government, taiwan, the falun gong, and tiananmen (man, if there was ever a list to get your blog blocked by the chinese, there it is) like the plague — and vice versa. Younger people tend to be politically very open and outspoken but are becoming a little more western-minded in terms of personal privacy. While I think the former is fantastic, I see the the latter as a bit of a shame because the I-could-care-less, no-BS approach to conversation fits in so perfectly with the rest of the culture; it’s sad to see that start to fade.
All this to say that the same cultural force that drove a nice middle-aged lady across the street from the hotel where I lived in August to inform Dan and I (completely unprompted) that, because we lived in the same place, she suspected that were probably gay would equally compel my boss to tell me precisely what percentage of my garbled mandarin she could comprehend. Although to be fair, being way too kind with regard to foreigners trying to speak Chinese is far and away the most common white lie that gets told, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Anywho. The speech went as good as I coulda hoped, and I’m looking for a new thing to start working on.

Mrh

Boo.

Big presentation tomorrow. Nervous.

P.S.
I’ve been eating a lot of takeout lately, but the fact that it never comes in those neat folding boxes with big red characters / pagodas / dragons / etc on the side is still upsetting every time.

Boys Noize

Boys Noize. This is probably one of the least distressing images that got projected


Went to a concert tonight and thought I’d write a little bit about how they work in China. So far as the music was concerned it went pretty much as expected, but the concert environment itself was at least to me pretty unusual. First off, I’m not used to concerts that aren’t crowded; in this one, the standing room was only about half full. Nobody really even pressed to the front (probably because it was so damn loud. my ears are still ringing), rather everybody made these rough lines and left everyone like a two-foot bubble of personal space. I’m not sure I’m able to explain quite how weird it felt, that the only time I was in a very populated place but ::wasn’t:: getting constantly jostled and pushed by everyone was at a loud electronica concert. Boys Noize is not mellow stuff by any means, and people were dancing (sorta) but yeah, for god knows what reason everybody kept their distance from anyone else. Consequently the room stayed pretty cool, nobody was even sweating. Which was a plus (I guess?), but that doesn’t mean the place smelled any better, because…

Of the maybe 250 or so people in the room, at least 70 were chain smoking the entire night. I wish I were exaggerating. I mean I realize that people smoke at concerts in the states on a pretty regular basis but this… this was something else. By the end, there actually wasn’t a spot on the floor where you could avoid stepping on a cigarette butt. In fact that only reason I’m even writing this blog (it’s 4am) is that I legitimately smelled too much like cigarettes to go to sleep; I had to take a shower to get rid of that and it woke me up somewhat, so here I am.

Also, dancing with people was really confusing. On three occasions girls made eye contact with me, came over ostensibly to dance, and then like stood stock-still/stopped dancing/became completely unresponsive. After they took the initiative! What the hell, right? I still haven’t figured out why they would do this, but it just befuddled me. I wasn’t incredibly upset by this turn of events though, because all three were of course smoking and i’ll be damned if that’s not one of the most unattractive things a person can do. bah

Getting home was sorta an adventure (read: unnecessary uphill battle) because apparently the club where Boys Noize was playing is the place where all the new taxi drivers hang out or something. Here is how the conversation went with the first three taxis I tried:

“Take me to the intersection of [Street A] and [Street B]”

“Huh?”

“*Assumes I’ve spoken wrong, shows the taxi driver the written address, reads it again.* Do you know it?”

“*looks briefly uncomfortable* i don’t know…”

“It’s by the forbidden city. right on the side of it. can you go there?”

“But i don’t know the street”

“Ok, fine. Tiananmen. You know tiananmen, right? just go to the tiananmen east subway stop”

“Don’t know that one”

“You’re kidding”

“I know where tiananmen is, but not the subway”

“*Leaves in frustration*”

Now, the fourth driver the conversation opened the same way, but I had zero patience and there were no other cabs to try, so I had to try to get this one to understand. So when he didn’t know the address or the subway stop by my house, i kept going:

“Ok, how about tiananmen west, or dengshikou, or wangfujing subway stops. from any of those, i know where my house is”

“I don’t know subway stops.”

“Any subway stops?”

“None of those…”

“You’re from beijing, yeah?”

“Yeah”

“You know where the forbidden city is, right?”

“sure”

“Go there. Just go to that. Go to the east side of that.”

“but…”

“just go”

sure enough on the way home we passed denshikou station (look! i said. that is an important subway station), which is how I got to work during my first week, so I was able to navigate him home from there. The most fun part though was when he was like, you told me the wrong address! we’re going on deng’anmen, and you say we’re near where you live.’

deng’anmen is not my street, but it is one that intersects my street, apparently. I am not sure why this fact means that i was in the wrong, but i was at this point finished talking to this man, plus i would have just been even nastier than i already had been to him and really he didn’t deserve that. but seriously, i feel like taxi drivers should at least know things like major subway stations, or large roads, right? i don’t know if this phenomenon is beijing specific, or what, but it is deeply annoying.

Sorry for the rant-y-ness of this one. Smoke gives me a headache
Here’s another picture, just for fun. Doors were at 10, we came at 1130, and it looked like this:

I am glad I went, though, all things considered. It’s nice to get out.

Banquet

Qunar had its big annual dinner / company meeting / quarterly review / new year’s celebration thing last night. Wish I had known my camera was in my bag. Highlights included

  • The shanghai team doing a song and dance and a guy drunkenly falling off the stage in the middle,
  • The song “Look at us” by Sarina Paris playing 3 times (if you haven’t heard this song, don’t, but if you have, try to imagine it in a ostensibly corporate setting. might help you get a feel for this event)
  • A secret santa component in which I received a huge box of instant coffee — i hope rayco will drink it, because i sure as hell won’t
  • Doing a toast to not drinking and driving(? weird thing to drink to, but that’s as best i could translate it. he kept saying “drink too much then don’t go home” in very clear chinese and very rough english; what else am i supposed to make of that, unless china has some badass maxim about drinking excessively and staying out all night)
  • A weird ceremony where people stood up sequentially according to which year they had started working at qunar — founded in 05 — and when he finished 2010 the MC jokingly goes ‘we have any 2011 hires?’ and everyone at my table forced me to stand up and give a big hello to the company’s two hundred and forty-five employees. Turns out that i am not only the only 2011 hire, but the only other white person employed by the company in any capacity aside from the CEO. Giggles all around.
  • A game where images would be projected onto a screen behind the stage, and whoever was on stage had to try to guess the image from shouted clues from the crowd — kinda like a guided, group charades, i guess — but the only two topics available were anime (i remember seeing fullmetal alchemist up on the screen, and being really confused) and fruit, which was nice because otherwise i wouldn’t have figured out how the game worked. there are only so many ways to describe and apple, though…
  • A raffle where the guy next to me won an itouch, and then in celebration got trashed and periodically screamed “加油!” literally add fuel, figuratively “YEAH! GO!” for the rest of the night at the charade and karaoke contestants
  • A bunch more stuff, but I want to go to sleep

Oh and then on my way home I ducked into a random shop to get some dumplings and it turned out that the girl who accosts all foreigners on their way out of the tiananmen subway station was there with her friends. It was a little weird, because I know pretty darn well that this girl makes money by leading foreigners into redonculously expensive coffeeshops and stuff (like, 20 usd for a cup of coffee. they’re like oh lets go get some tea, and they take you to a certain place and go in and just start ordering things and then when the bill comes you get rocked really hard. rayco told me to look out for these girls on wangfujing but i guess they’re at tiananmen too). Anyway I’d been brushing this girl off / ignoring her for the past week or so and then I go into this dumpling shop and there she is. So why not, I meet her and her friends, turns out they’re all 17-20 year olds who’re still in highschool. One of them took my number. So i guess i have some chinese highschool scammer buddies now. Yay?

Well, alright

Edit 1/14: Presentation pushed to Monday! Yay!

So I’m blogging with pen and paper on the subway again. Three reasons why: 1) My ipod is dead and I’ve got an hour to kill, 2) tonight’s gonna be stupidly busy, and 3) it makes all the chinese people around me nervous, for whatever reason. I’m not particularly sure why, but it’s kinda funny. So as far as #2 goes I need to eat, go to the bank(?) to buy gas for my house, buy a 50 kuai present for the secret-santa part of tomorrow’s office banquet thingy, update my resume to give to the CFO tomorrow, update my linkedin to make my dad happy, and work on my presentation for Friday.

This last thing’s a bit worrisome but also pretty exciting. Basically I was sitting in on another meeting this morning, and after an hour and ten minutes or so, they had finished discussing all the affairs of the day but still had the room for 20 minutes so they asked me to introduce my work. So I did, albeit in a rather rough fasion and with plenty of noun-translation help from Amelia. After this they decided that they wanted to actually know who I was (little out of order, but hey). This was a mixed blessing:

On the one hand, I’ve had the “who are you and why the hell are you in China” conversation at least twice a day, every day since I’ve been here. It’s highly reminiscent of the first week of college’s “name/major/hometown/dorm” conversations that were canned but still sorta necessary. Anyway I know pretty much exactly where this conversation will go including what they’ll find surprising (I am not European! Who would have guessed? Nobody, apparently.) and I’ve got all the requisite vocab to carry out the whole thing. I’ve even got a standard transition out of it — once I’ve talked about where I’m living I’ll ask where they’re from originally, then see if they have plans to return there like they’re supposed to come the Spring Festival this Feburary. All this to say that I’m pretty confident when it comes to introducing myself, so I could relax a little.

On the other, however, it gives everybody a wildly inflated idea of my fluency level in the language. So when they subsequently attempt to have a later conversation with me that I haven’t practiced dozens of times already, they generally don’t go to great lengths to hide their disappointment. I think they rather understandably feel a somewhat tricked, but there’s not much I can do about that. This is relevant because today in the meeting we never got to that critical second step, so the meeting adjourned with everyone still under the false impression that i’m halfway competent in chinese.

As people were leaving, two of them talked to my boss, and she then pulled me aside and was like “that was good and they’re interested in those American companies you were talking about, so tomorrow could you spend 10 or so minutes discussing the different pricing models you’ve been researching?” I of course immediately balked a little and she offered Friday, which sounded much better but really won’t be because tomorrow night is going to be a mess.

BUT although this is kinda scary it’s also really exciting, because if executed well it somewhat elevates me from ‘random foreigner looking up meaningless data in the corner’ to ‘actual member of this team who potentially has something valuable to say,’ which would be nice.

Moreover I really think that some of the stuff I’ve found could be legitimately helpful/profitable to the company so ostensibly if I can communicate effectively enough and make a persuasive enough case I might actually be able to make a tangible, substantive impact on the brand new groupon-style component of a leading company in the rapidly-growing Chinese travel industry. After only a week and a half here, too. Wouldn’t that be cool?
Or maybe this is just a “we’d like you to prove now that you’ve done something quazi-productive since you showed up, but aren’t going to actually take you seriously,” who knows. Will post about how it goes over.

~~~
Blogging in real-time now, the bank apparently closes at 5.30 so i can’t get gas till saturday, which means i might be rather cold come the end of the week because we don’t have much left. Oh well! Resume and stuff is coming along well, but I don’t know whether I should keep up with my normal chinese studying or take a haitus to cram words for the presentation. Or try to do both. Hm.

Edit: just proofread this, my adverb use in this one was off the charts, even for me. Had to edit out six of ‘em. Ick. Sorries if you read it before that happened haha