Archive for March, 2011


Just for fun, I’ve (with the help of Geoff’s Google Analytics) put together some statistics for this blog.

Before that, though, I really want to thank everybody who has kept up with the site, or even who has just checked in when I got myself in especially deep shit. I’m particularly appreciative of all the feedback that I got; it was overwhelmingly positive, and absolutely the reason that I put in the effort to keep the posts both as frequent and as (hopefully) high-quality as I was capable.

More than that, though, one of the most important goals of the blog for me was to stay connected to my friends and family while I was half the world apart; I’ve known tons of people who went on study abroad and fell off the map entirely. This effect isn’t so bad during the summer because that’s when everyone scatters; during a time when everyone else is together, though, total radio silence can be hell on friendships, and the longer it goes the worse it gets.
Accordingly, the China Match in large part existed as a way not only for people to read about eighty Chinese shenanigans but rather to bridge the 7k-mile disconnect and give people something worth starting a conversation with me about. In this it succeeded with flying colors — for every blog comment posted there were two more facebook ‘likes,’ emails, IMs, skypes, all sorts of stuff. Over the months you guys were able to start literally hundreds of conversations with questions and comments about the random happenings here without having to fall back on the ever-so-nebulous/awkward-and-tricky-to-respond-to-succinctly-in-a chat “so how’s China?” and through all of this I felt so much less alone than I would have been otherwise. It’s tough to describe how grateful I was for that, through it all.

But then, for every one person who said something there were nine who didn’t; Google tells me that since February first, this blog has somehow gotten just short of 500 unique visitors, which is dumbfounding. That number is probably six or seven times higher than I was expecting, and I’m flattered. But yeah, to those 450 unknown faces out there, thanks for reading! Oh, and if one of you mystery-readers ever catches me on Sheridan, know that “Dude, I read your blog, you’re an idiot, how’ve you been” is a completely acceptable way to say hello (=

Ok on to the actual stats, which are kinda neat —

The Cage Match has received 1,907 spam comments since January and 211 real ones, 43 of which are me responding to people. Thank god for Akismet which is a super-helpful spam filter.

It’s 80 entries counting this one and all told is a touch over 55,000 words long… which means that at least at the 250 words/page standard, the five or six of you who have read the text of the entire match, start to finish, have functionally read a 220 page book. And if a picture’s worth a thousand words…
No but seriously. That’s like seven hundred words an entry on average, and that’s including super short posts like “Mrh” and the first “heading home“; I’m sure the median word count would be even scarier but that’s a bit too much work. Come to think of it this paragraph has just been a very longwinded way to say that I’m, well, longwinded. Whatever.

492 unique viewers, 2675 pageviews, 1,151 visits. On average people stayed for about four minutes, which I’d imagine is about the time it takes to read an average post. Most people went to 2.32 pages per visit though, which seems weirdly high considering everything’s on the main one. About a third of my traffic came from people directly typing in my blog’s name into their url bar which is awesome (more than half of the 5% of people directed here through search engines were referred because they typed kevin.thecagematch.com instead of .org), because that means they were checking it on their own. The other 2/3 are from facebook. Some rough math would tell me that that’d account for 392 independent people from facebook looking at the blog at one point another — that’s like 2/3rds of my friends list. Holy hell. I’m either awful at math or you guys are completely awesome.

Huge spikes in traffic around the Jasmine Revolution and Earthquake posts, of course, and that also explains a lot of the non-facebook views because my parents threw those two around to their friends and the rest of my relatives. Overall though traffic was pretty damn stable, even discounting the spikes I still got about twenty pageviews a day, for that average of four minutes per. Crazy times.

Location wise was pretty predicable, huge shoutout to my three or four Chinese coworkers who found the blog at the end of my sojourn in Beijing and opted not to turn me in to the police; 感谢你们啊! Also, to my seventeen Canadian viewers… huh?

All said and done the feedback and viewership of this site has gone way way past my expectations; it’s really humbling, and it means a lot. The blog isn’t completely dead, but it’ll be winding down pretty dramatically for the foreseeable future. As ever there are a few posts that are perpetually in the pipes, but I’ll post statuses or something when they get published.

~

Really though, writing this blog and having it read definitely were critical in keeping me in very high spirits for 60+ days in a place where I had basically no friends. Check back every once in a while, if you like, I have a few plans in my head for new directions in which to take the site, but unlike last time I’m not going to make a bunch of pledges that I can’t follow through. There will be at least one more post though soon with pictures of the absurd decorations in my old house (feat. schwarzenegger/chan, monroe/guevara… pretty epic).

Thanks again for reading; hope you enjoyed.
-Kevin

Update: I’m home, and safe, and about to go to Ken’s Donuts which at this point almost goes without saying. All told it was almost exactly 48 hours from when I left my house in Beijing to when I touched down in Austin, and right now I couldn’t be happier. I’ve got a lot of thank-yous and wrapping ups to do, but again — donuts call, so for the time being I’ll leave you with this little rant on culture shock and nationalism that I wrote up during my four-hour layover in Houston this afternoon. At the time of writing and even now I’m more than a little exhausted so take it with a grain of salt. Oh and to my Chinese friends/coworkers reading, if you think the categorization of China is unfair in any way I wholeheartedly welcome criticism, comments, debate, etc.

~~~

Coming back through Houston elicited some weird feelings. There’s always going to be reverse culture shock with this sort of thing, sure, but before when I came through Chicago it seemed a lot milder.
Houston’s just more, eh, red-blooded-’murican than the windy city. And by this of course I refer to the presence of fat people, who are everywhere here and nowhere in Asia. That whole “sure we will put you in a wheelchair simply because you are fat and do not feel like walking around the airport” bullshit was something that I would have been happy to forget actually happened, for instance.
On the other side of it though, Houston isn’t different ENOUGH. I’ve just come from a one-party controlled security state into the Land of the Free and the first — I kid you not, the very first — announcement that I hear over the PA is about how if you joke about security procedures you will be arrested.
C’mon now, guys. Also the fact that Houston is one of the most populated cities in the States (and each person takes up relatively more volume) means that the whole ‘I am awash in a sea of people” effect hasn’t gone anywhere. Except that now I can overhear and understand all the random chatter around me; honestly it’s a little overwhelming. I’ve become pretty accustomed to really needing to focus one on speaker at a time to get comprehension but now I’m picking up snippets of three or four inane conversations at once and I almost wish that I couldn’t.

Despite this, though, there’s a reason why this country is my favorite one on the planet and I’m not sure it’s necessarily a function of being born here. My last few days in particular have highlighted that.
China and Japan are pretty much opposites — China is developing, chaotic, and boisterous. It pretty much lacks rule of law (for those with money, at least) in a lot of ways; overall it just comes off as raw and exciting, which is why it appeals to me. But as a developing country it comes with all the faults that that entails, especially with regard to just getting basic shit done; every experience is an uphill battle. From roads packed with more and more new drivers who have NO idea what they’re doing — and from what I gather from Hessler, neither the system nor the drivers themselves is improving in the slightest — to local political systems so riddled with corruption that they’re functionally unable to improve the quality of life for a huge number of people there is something about the country that is clearly very, very broken. Several coworkers and Chinese people I met who I independently asked about the state of development and the sustainability of the country’s current way of operating compared it to a sick patient who nobody knows how to cure. The problems are simply too myriad, pervasive, and interconnected to be systematically addressed. Look at the “guanxi” system of business, look at the opaque and frankly oppressive government, look at local debt and corruption; these are the very worst that China has to offer, and these are the most powerful forces in the country.

Now admittedly, I know substantially less about Japan than I do about China, but I’ve visited the country for a combined three or so weeks and I hear plenty about it from Connor, who loves comparing it to China because on paper it’s “better” by pretty much any metric you’d care to pick. That’s mainly because it’s developed and organized and well-run in every way that the middle kingdom is not. Look at yesterday’s earthquake, for instance – the last tally I heard counted deaths in the thousands. You put an 8.9 earthquake in China and you will not have 4-figure deaths. You will have six, maybe seven figure deaths especially if you put it near a coast so that you have tsunamis hitting dozens of cities. Japan is one of the most educated and efficient countries as you could ever ask for. But culturally — to me — there’s something missing. The trade-off in Japan for having everything neat and orderly, for things working when they’re supposed to work and people doing what they’re supposed to do is that you sacrifice everything that makes China fun. You can’t be loud and drunk on the street without shaming yourself (unless you’re old), you can’t find insane hole-in-the-wall stores that violate a million healthcodes but sell delicious kung-pao chicken in Tokyo. You couldn’t lie your way past world exhibition doors or try to bribe someone and be laughed away. That’d be against the rules in a county where rules matter. The important thing here is that these flaws are subjective; they aren’t actual problems but rather just the reasons why I’d rather study Mandarin than Japanese.

America, though, has the best of both worlds. We’re rich and developed and enjoy all the benefits that that confers, just as the Japanese do (aside from healthcare, where they’re kicking our asses but hey). But we also are loud and rowdy and shameless and spontaneous; America is a lot of things but culturally boring or stagnating is not one of them. There’s a reason the whole world has its eye on the states; there’s a reason our music and food and pop-culture, intolerable as the latter may be, are ubiquitous. We’re the greatest country in the world, dammit.
U.S.A.
U.S.A.
U.S.A.
God it’s good to be home.

Photoblog — Narita

Update: It’s 2pm, I have my boarding pass and ostensibly the airport knows where my bags are. Pending further divine intervention, I’ll get out of here by 5:10 japantime and get to Houston by 1:50 central on the same day, because time zones are awesome. A four hour layover and 45-minute flight later, I should be back in Austin.
So from now until boarding I have but one final task, namely to waste three hours on the internet. Fear not; I’ve been training for this moment my whole life.

Can’t wait to get home!

~~~
So, turns out the gas lines have been potentially compromised by the earthquake, so they were shut down. Consequently the entire airport is freezing. On the plus side it made for a natural 6am alarm clock, because by that point it was way too cold in the terminal to sleep. Took a few more pictures —

Took an hour-long walk through the entire terminal today. Whole thing is covered with little makeshift warning zones like this.


Part of a line of people waiting to get into the United equivalent of the Admirals Club. On my way back to my wifi spot I was charged with telling these guys who had been waiting in line for hours that there was earthquake damage in the lounge and that it wouldn't be opening. Here's to being the bearer of bad news...


Probably my favorite picture from the morning. I dont know why there are no airline workers anywhere to be found, but people are getting pretty upset


As soon as I upload this blog, I get to go wait in this. Fun, yes?




Some planes are taking off. Flights have gotten out to D.C., Singapore, and California. I’m trying to connect through Houston later today. Gotta get through that attendantless line first though…

This marks the first time in history a neck pillow has been useful to anyone. Easily a more significant occurrence than the earthquake


Narita's kinda pretty, even when it's full of squatters


Maybe this could be helpful to someone? Kinda hard to see; I'll reupload after I find a way to get my boarding pass

Earthquake

Images in a gallery format because the internet here is awful and uploading them one at a time is not working right now. Will edit later

Bad news: Seems like I picked a pretty bad time to change planes in Japan.

Good news: Instead of reading about playing basketball with all my coworkers on my last day followed by a wind-down of the blog, you guys get to read about earthquakes.

So today I was supposed to be going to see my family (and finally meet my brother’s girlfriend) in Hawaii for spring break. The plan was to leave from Beijing pretty early — at the time of starting to write this, about twelve hours ago (7.30 Beijing time) — have a five-hour layover in Tokyo, then a seven or so hour flight to honolulu, another layover and then wind up in Kuai. All told it was supposed to be fifteen or so hours of flying; certainly not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination but not awful (and it’s hard to complain at all when your end destination is Hawaii). I didn’t quite make it that far, though.

I’d been in Japan maybe five minutes — having not even finished taxing — when the first one hit. For anyone out there in readerland who for whatever reason hasn’t yet experienced a high-magnitude earthquake from an airplane, allow me to describe:
It’s exactly like midair turbulence. Like, I was trying to deplane, and walking around I felt precisely the same sensation of unsteadiness that you get when you’re trying to get down the isle to a bathroom while the plane is going through a storm. So even though we were clearly grounded and stopped, my brain’s immediate reaction to the feeling was “oh. this turbulence is pretty nasty” followed by “ok wait turbulence is impossible, we’re grounded, so man I guess there must be some hell of a wind out there” to “ok there’s no way wind can be this strong and it definitely feels like we’re moving, but looking out the window we clearly — oh holy shit the entire airport is shaking and the windows look like they’re made of rubber what the christ is happening.”

Then the captain came on, said it was due to ‘seismic activity’ and then five seconds later I learned the Chinese word for earthquake. Didn’t quite expect to ever just pick that one up from daily life.
Getting off the plane, the first thing I saw was that first image below. Not so bad. Then I saw the second one. First time in my life I’ve been glad to have been seated near the back of the plane. People near the front of the plane were already off the plane in the area where shit was falling from the ceiling when the quake hit; if someone had been standing under that huge grate it would be… problematic.

For the next half hour or so, we just waited in the lobby with that second picture as the building got rocked by aftershock after aftershock. Incidentally, people are saying these were in fact entirely new earthquakes, but I don’t get the distinction. In any event, it was kinda a scary time; I realized partway through the second big quake that I was standing under a terminal directions sign that was wobbling rather severely. Rather, I didn’t realize this, but the Chinese guys next to me did and I overheard them tell each other to move. Never let anyone tell you that Mandarin isn’t a handy language to know. After that I hung out by a wall after that for a while, until they eventually unloaded everyone onto the tarmac.

So: earthquakes on a plane feel like turbulence, and earthquakes on a building feel like you’re riding a subway without holding onto anything, but earthquakes when you’re just standing on solid, flat ground are above all the most disconcerting. It almost feels like you’re dizzy, because when you start feeling movement while standing still on a huge flat expanse of asphalt your brain automatically assumes that the fault lies with it as opposed to the Earth. So you have to consciously convince yourself that your sense of balance is fine, and it’s actually the Earth moving beneath you; it’s a strange mental conversation to have.

Another bit of advice that isn’t — if you’re going to be in an airport getting hit by earthquakes, do it in Japan. Their reaction was perfect, and pretty timely. Pictures three to six are about the lengths that they went to to get everyone seated and comfortable — they had people sitting on the tarmac vehicles, on the luggage carriers, on these random couches that 300 workers in identical blue suits and white hardhats dragged out from godknowswhere. They put out buses, vans, huge plastic tarps, countless chairs. Best of all they passed out tons and tons of airport blankets and then, when they ran out of those they started handing out bath towels. I again have no clue where an airport produced hundreds of towels from, but I know that Douglas Adams would be proud.

Now, due to the “indeterminate” — read: canceled — nature of all the flights, I’m sitting in the lobby that you see in the last picture. They’re passing around candy and water and ritz crackers. I was able to get a power outlet by acting very, very fast and it’s made me incredibly popular. I’ve set up a really elaborate power-rotation so that in the past three or so hours we’ve had a dozen or so people keep a whole lot of devices sustained off of three outlets. And my laptop is the only one around with 3 usb ports so I’m charging 3 different phones at all times… the amount of camaraderie built by situations like this is pretty awesome.

As of the 9:30pm posting time of this blog, my dad has somehow managed to get me onto a flight bound for houston leaving sometime tomorrow. Also, in the last ten minutes, a flight to D.C. was allowed to take off; the runways are uncracked and operable. I am hopeful that I’ll be in the states within 24 hours. Unavoidably camping out at the airport tonight, but it’s actually kinda fun. Still more pleasant than camping in my powerless/heatless house was, anyway…

“Most powerful earthquake to hit Japan in 100 years” is what the guy next to me is reading…wow

*Addendum: WORST THING ABOUT THIS
Alright, listen. I have spent the last two+ months in a country where if an Asian person is attempting to communicate with me in English, but is obviously feeling awkward about it because their English is not very good, the absolute best way to improve the situation is to begin responding to them in Chinese and carry the conversation from there. Worst case scenario it just transfers that awkwardness and language burden onto yourself, which I’m more than happy to do because it forces me to learn.
But here, here I’m in Japan.
Japan, if you’re not aware, is not the same as China.
– God this has happened like five times now, I swear –
So these well-intentioned Japanese stewardesses will come by and try to check on me / offer me things with like, a few words of broken English
And I’ll auto-respond with a dozen words of Mandarin before I realize ‘shit not only do you have a lesser chance of knowing Chinese than you do English i bet you find this SUPER SUPER RACIST’

And then I feel deeply ashamed of myself for the next hour, until another stewardess comes by
at which point I do it again because seriously, forcing a conversation away from English into Mandarin as a defensive maneuver and selfish way to improve my own language proficiency is actually, legitimately an instinctive reaction that I no longer consciously control unless I’m thinking very very hard about it, and my mental state is not fit to think very very hard about anything right now.

So today’s my last day and that’s all well and terrifying but this post is going to just be some pictures I took along what has to be perhaps my favorite bike ride that I’ve taken in recent memory. I did it this past Sunday while the power was still out, because my computer’s battery had died and there wasn’t much point to sitting in the house.

So I have a thing for old Chinese buildings at night. Sue me.

At one point I ran into this sign -- which says something about engineers, and then "tourists prohibited"; I asked a guard if I could go through anyway and he said sure. Great success!

So consequently I got to spend a decent chunk of the ride up-close and personal with the forbidden city as opposed to seeing it from across the moat, which was a lot of fun but not as good for pictures, because they mainly just show walls, like this.

The main entrance to the 'City.' If you look at the first picture in the post two below this one, I'm behind that building.


How to — get sick in China

I imagine that a good portion of my readers will at some point in their lives find themselves in China. Upon getting here, though, it occurred to me that some people might not know how to get themselves sick properly, so I’m making this handy guide for them.

Now, there are a few reasons you might find yourself in such a situation where you need to become sick in the middle kingdom.

  • Maybe the old man on the corner has challenged you to a loogie-hawking contest
  • Could be that your trip has been a little too enjoyable, so you’re looking for a way to make sure you go out on a particularly low note
  • Winter getting to you? Contract a fever, feel toasty warm all the time!

And so on.

Without further ado:

1) Live in China for about two months and ten days. You see, if you’re coming from a real country your body generally is all full of good chemicals because said countries’ governments love you / don’t trust you to properly nourish yourself on your own, so they infuse all your food with vitamins and things like that so it’s hard to accumulate any sort of dietary deficiency. You want to give it some time for all these to work themselves out of your system while you marinate your lungs in a perpetual haze of industrial fumes, car exhaust, and second-hand smoke.

2) Now, a lot of people here have already accomplished step one and are well on their way to becoming ill. Your next goal is to surround yourself with as many of these people as you can, in as tight of quarters as possible. To this end, spend a few hours a day on public transit systems, or even elevators. The more people wearing the “I am sick” masks, the better, but don’t worry if you don’t see many of them in a given subway car — plenty of people will just not cover their mouths at all and happily cough all over everything. Again, the elderly particularly excel here.

10-to-13 transfer, 6pm. Two major subway lines, only two staircases. So when a train comes in, they stop the flow up one staircase so that the arrivees can come down, and then open the stairway and create a bit of a stampede. If stampeding isn't your thing you can wait in the line on the right, but I shouldn't have to explain why that isn't appealing.

3) If for some reason you can’t locate a suitably crowded place in China, just find some sort of office building where a third of the employees are sick, and hang out there for nine or so hours a day. Extra bonuses if most people don’t wash their hands in the bathroom. Oh and make sure to use plenty of the same water coolers, door handles, etc as they do.

4) Ok, crunch time. Your spitting contest is coming up and ol’ Wang Fung on the corner is on his A-game — if your body isn’t in a seriously compromised state, you’re gonna lose hard. These guys have an INFINITE supply of material. You’ve got one weekend to prepare.

  • Friday: Go eat in a truly filthy establishment. Preferably one where you pay first, and where the waitress is also the cook, so she handles your money and then goes to make your food. You’re in luck if you don’t hear a sink turn on. Oh, and be sure to eat something you’ve never had before so you can’t tell if the taste is off.
  • Saturday: Wake up really early, so that you don’t accidentally use the weekend to catch up on your sleep debt. Later that night, drink heavily and stay out late; it does wonders for your immune system. Oh but be sure not to drink any water — it’s not potable. No need to go that crazy. Before you pass out, though, try to turn off your heater and every light in your house to simulate the effect of running out of power in the middle of the night. This is necessary because you’ll need to
  • Sunday:  Again, wake up way earlier than you normally would because gosh it’s really cold in your house, for some reason. Like, I-thought-I-bought-a-big-fucking-blanket-for-this cold. Spend the day in somewhat of a stupor, and don’t eat much. That night, you’re going to want your house to get down to about 55 degrees — this is a pretty key temperature to hit, because it ensures that you can’t actually sleep even though you’re exhausted, so you get these fun semiconscious feverdreams every half hour or so until 4:30 when your system just shuts down and you actually get some rest

5) But not for long, because it’s up-and-at-em at 8am for work on Monday! You should be pretty much set at this point, especially if you’ve been sticking to the advice in point 1) and haven’t eaten any fruit for a while. Though if you still have any concerns, you can always walk a floor or two in the stairwell of your office; literally hundreds of people use it every day as one big long smokeroom so if your respiratory system isn’t completely broken for some reason you can just get that coffin nailed down tight. And if that still doesn’t do it, your upcoming fifteen-hour, four-airport, three-country international flight sure as hell will. Not that I’m complaining (=

Honestly I like my office a lot. My cube is on the left, with the tea and the headphones.

In seriousness I’m not as bitter as it might come off. The whole reason I made the list is to say that yes, I’m sick, but it’s pretty much my fault (except for the power outage, which was Rayco’s. Bah).  My throat is kinda screwed up and I’m running a smidge of a fever, but hey. Last time I spend two months and ten days in China — I’m serious about this number, this is happening almost exactly TO THE DAY the same as it did this summer — I came out with an upper respiratory infection with pneumonia to chase. So a cold or whatever I’ve contracted isn’t the end of the world, it’s just a kinda sad way to say bye to China. Maybe it’ll go away tonight if I eat lots of oranges and get a buncha sleep. That’s my plan, anyway…

I feel guilty for ranting, so here's a picture of Beijing as seen from my office window. 我非常喜欢这个城市

Friday passed pretty uneventfully with the exception of my lunch — donkey liver soup with a side of donkey-jerky-filled bread. Sometimes I suspect that my coworkers enjoy my reactions to the stuff that they have me eat far more than they enjoy actually eating said stuff themselves, but you only live once so hey.

Saturday was one of the coolest days I’ve had in a while, though, until the end. Started, uh, dark and early at 6am, before sunrise. Every day there’s a big flag-raising ceremony in Tiananmen square that involves soldiers and thousands of domestic tourists; I couldn’t really justify living so close to the square and not going at least once, so I went to check it out. I got to the square by quarter past six or so, and it was already packed with people. Many of said people wanted to take pictures with me; there are few natural forces stronger than those that compel Chinese people to photograph themselves with random whiteys, and the pre-flag lull only amplified the effect.
I was able to convince one of the three or four people that I took pictures with to take one with my camera, too:

Looks a little photoshopped, doesn't it?

I’d heard from both my classmates who saw it last summer and my roommate that I shouldn’t be expecting too too much from the flag raising itself, so it’s only fair to pass the spoiler alert on to you guys now. That said:

Man, you know what this picture could really use? Another red flag.

You know, my brother once told me that a girl I was interested in 'raised more red flags than Tiananmen square.' Watching this, that's all I could think about

Heyooo

Now, to conclude, I’m going to offer up a Beijing-style sunrise. Said sun is trying feebly to struggle through the early-morning pollution, and it’s not a particularly pretty sight. It occurs to me though that I’m going to be jetlagged in Hawaii here in half a week or so; maybe my screwed up time schedule will permit me to catch a Hawaiian sunrise, in which case I’m sure I’ll appreciate the contrast –

~~~

Originally I was gonna go see Mao Zedong’s body after that but I wound up napping through the hours that it’s viewable. Went to the Silk Street Market instead, which is probably Beijing’s most well-known hub for counterfeit goods. I was going to see if I could find a friend of mine a fake ‘longchamp’ (is this even a brand? if this isn’t a joke / i didn’t mishear her I’m pretty sure that’s the worst brand name, like, ever. “Oh yeah, I’m carrying my longchamp today.” Who the hell could say that with a straight face? At least, like, ‘prada’ sounds classy. Whatever) bag, and failing that to at least pick up some souvenirs.

So multiply this image a couple hundred times over and you’ve got the scale of this building (it is indeed just a building, not an actual street). I was kinda curious how it operates from a corporate standpoint, so I bought stuff so as to endear myself to the workers to the point where I was cool with asking them about their commissions, boss structure, etc.

What I found out in a nutshell — although almost all the employees wear the same uniforms, they’re not affiliated with each other. Aside from your basic workers, there are three tiers of management, namely:

  • the senior staffer of a given stall
  • that staffer’s boss (who usually owns between 3 and 10 stalls out of the thousands in the store)
  • one big building boss who does things like set the dress code and charge rent.

The senior staffer, incidentally, is chosen not only by experience, but by number of languages spoken, which is something I didn’t really expect. You quickly see why it’s useful though; more than half the customers on silk street are white people, a huge portion of whom are from Europe. Each and every shop girl knows basic transactions English, but the better paid ones can switch to Spanish or German or French no problem. Oh, and also nobody gets commission at all, which means when you’re haggling with them they don’t actually have a stake in the game; all their anger is pretty much purely for show. I guess some of it can be fairly described as righteous indignation that ‘rich’ foreigners are haggling with them over a few kuai but still. It’s not like they get paid more for making better deals.

Speaking of Europeans, I saw this and couldn’t help but take a picture. Whoever said that dogs were man’s best friend had clearly never been to Europe, where the answer is undoubtedly the tracksuit. My poor roommate spotted this jacket and couldn’t help himself; it’s in his blood. I’m sure it’ll look good on him, but I just couldn’t stop laughing. Jakob, by the way, we’ve gotta get you one of these. If you don’t secretly have six in your closet already.

~~~

Later that night I met up with Kelsey and some of her friends and we went to a solid Thai place called ‘Serve the People.’ (Get it, get it?)
Wound up in Sanlituar, expanding my understanding of the phrase ‘喝醉.’ A little too much, mayhaps. Ooohwell.

Powerless

I’m breaking my don’t-blog-this-weekend rule because I’m pissed off and that is as good a reason as any. You know how a month or so ago when I was leaving for Xi’an my power went out? Because the way billpay works here is that like, you buy a certain amount of electricity and when that number gets back to zero you automatically stop getting power. There’s no reminder or anything that gets sent to you, the concept of paying a bill late doesn’t exist — it operates like gas in your car.

Almost needless to say at this point, the power’s out. Oh and Rayco announced two days ago that he’d be leaving yesterday, so when I woke up this morning he was gone and the power was dead again. And the little card by which one buys more gas is missing, and he has no idea where it is. So thusfar I’ve spent all of my last Sunday in the country searching fruitlessly for this fucking card that he misplaced, and the bank is about to close so I couldn’t get buy more power even if I found it.
Gah.

On the upside, in the event that I am indeed going to go the next four days without hot water, lights, 等等 then Hawaii is going to be that much more awesome.

One week

Wait, what?

Where the balls did winter go? Isn’t this supposed to be the slow season? Especially if you don’t really have, well, friends, and you work nine-hour workdays the whole time (minus Xi’an)? That seems like it’d be the perfect storm of things that would make time seem to pass slowly, but something’s not working. The weather’s been awesome, my job’s been interesting, my acquaintances (got plenty of those!) have been a lot of fun to get to know. And even without them, god knows I’ve been keeping myself entertained otherwise; this blog is a testament to that.

Through it all, I’ve said it before and will gladly say it again — life just moves faster here. This summer evaporated in a blur of happiness, and winter has just become more and more exciting as it’s gone on; if anything it’s been the opposite of the gradual slide into reclusive bitterness that I was half-expecting. (Sidebar: occasionally when making small-talk, I’ll ask people if they like summer or winter better. The answer is, literally without fail, ‘fall.’ In a choice between summer and winter, everyone just dodges the question and says that fall is the best. Pressing the issue does nothing. Weird.) All the holidays, and the political stuff going down help contribute to that, I suppose. In any event I’m coming to grips with the fact that I somehow only have seven days left in this country, and as a weird consequence of that it occurs to me tonight that it’s time to stop blogging for a bit. Or rather, not being able to blog should be a side-effect of my main goal, which is to be out of the house for pretty much this entire weekend. I should ideally be so busy doing cool stuff or at least getting drunk (ha! I don’t even have a wallet for people to steal this time!) that I won’t have half an hour to sit down write about it.

So far I’ve actually planned out by far my most eventful weekend here — helped by the fact that another friend from high school has rolled into town — and if all goes well then I will ostensibly have one last batch of material to write about mid/late next week before I head over to Haiwaii.

Here’s hoping!

Added an Index

Even though the site has been up for a year, today marked the first time I tried to use my site’s external (as in on this page, not in WordPress) search. Turns out it doesn’t work. Moreover, even if it did, I decided I wanted an easier way to navigate the site, so I made this archive page, which lists all entries in order of publication with date, hyperlinks to the blog, and a one-line description of what the post is about. It was an hour well spent; I’m really happy with it. You could use the link in this post to go see it, or you can go there anytime via the big shiny tab up at the top. Tell me that isn’t handy.