Wo yao pi jiu.

1 07 2011

Update: I arrived in Beijing on June 27th, and I will be teaching here for 2 months.

June 29

     Such a stubby cork
     I knew we had no future
     Shitty Chinese wine

My vices are gonna cost me, here in Beijing.  Half a pound of ground coffee? $17.  Bottle of cheap imported wine? $19.  Now, I can’t bring myself to drink instant coffee for 2 months, but I was open to giving $2.50 Chinese wine a shot.  I mean, after all, the label proudly boasted:

“The wine was made from the fine grapes in Jian Vineyard of China.  And with internal advanced technics.  It is clarity and has full-bodied fruit smell, Vinosity and long after taste.”

You wine snobs out there might think that it doesn’t get much tackier than a plastic cork, or a screw-top.  But it does.  This bottle featured a real cork, but the cost saving measure employed by this particular winery was to make it only 2/3 the size of a normal cork.  The taste?  It was like very watered-down Manischewitz, which tastes a whole lot like Welch’s grape juice with some sugar added.  At least Manischewitz doesn’t claim to be made from fine grapes.

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You know that moment in all movies and TV shows with plotlines involving school-age kids, where some reject joins a table full of chattering students in the cafeteria, and they all suddenly fall quiet?  That’s what it’s like being a new teacher.

Now, I’m not going to try to tell you that I didn’t contribute to the awkwardness… when I first entered the lunchroom and saw that it was just 5th graders eating there, my immediate reaction was to turn heel and find some other place to sit.  But there really wasn’t another good place to sit.  So after I weighed standing and eating my plate of food in the kitchen against growing a set and joining the kids, I decided that, since I’m going to be dealing with these mysterious creatures for the next couple of months, I should start getting comfortable with them.  Or at the very least be able to sit beside them for 15 minutes.  I reluctantly walked back in and sat down.  Since this is a move that could probably be interpreted as creepy without any further action, I cheerfully asked what class they are in and what they were learning today.

Mumbled replies.  Eyes on food.  Silence.

Ok.  So this is why people learn magic tricks.  I gotta look into that sometime between now and Monday.

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My roommate and I inherited a fish with our apartment.  I had some pet fish as a kid, but I have since decided that pets that can’t show affection in return for me feeding them and cleaning up their poop are just not an efficient use of my time or emotional resources.  Why call it a ‘pet’ if I can’t pet it?  And this fish is not even a pretty goldfish, gliding serenely about… it resembles a pissed-off sardine, swimming manic figure-eights and dive-bombing nothing whatsoever.  It was probably a fish meant to feed bigger, better fish, and some Chinese petshop owner sold it to the previous residents as a joke.

I gaze at it and I think things like, “this fish’s life sucks. I should just flush it down the toilet and put it out of its misery.”  I also think, “I eat these things all the time without a second thought.  If I pulled a much bigger and (relatively) more sentient fish from a pond, I would gut it, then cook it in a way that allows me to pass it off as French cuisine.  What stops me from making this morsel part of my lunch?”

Location, location, location.  Simply by virtue of living in a bowl on my windowsill, this fish is now my pet.

When I walked into the apartment for the first time and saw him swimming in his filth, I immediately changed his water and I fed him.  When my roommate banged the sliding window against his bowl, I cringed for him.  And this morning before leaving for work, I saw that his water was dirty again, so after some hemming and hawing about how I don’t want to take care of him, I did just that.

As I strained the water through my fingers, careful not to let it get too low, I started thinking ridiculous thoughts like, “I should look on the internet to learn how to take care of him.  I should use filtered water in his bowl.  Maybe I should change his food from pellets to flakes.”  He flipped furiously about, splashing water all the way to my face and charging against the palm of my hand.  If he is a mindreader – as of course all pets are – maybe all of this fuss was because he was thinking, “that would FABULOUS! and can I have a little sardine-sized castle to swim around in also? and some colored pebbles? you’re the bestest!”

Then again, maybe he was thinking, “woman, cut the Mother Teresa crap and move your damn hand so I can go drain diving.”

Ugly little fish, do I take care of you because you are mine, or you are you mine because I take care of you?  Either way, we’re stuck together.  Please die before my two months here is up, so I don’t have to worry that your next owner is neglecting you or enacting any of my imagined scenarios.

Name suggestions, anyone?

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July 1

How to do laundry in China:

1.) Put clothes in washing machine and add detergent
2.) Randomly push buttons and turn dials until something happens
3.) If what’s happening now is not what you want to happen, unplug the washing machine and repeat step 2.

How to speak Chinese in China:

1.) Practice with a native speaker, who will demonstrate correct pronounciation.  Repeat to the best of your ability, but know that whatever is coming out of your mouth bears little resemblance to real Chinese.
2.) But go ahead and use those “phrases” with people anyhow.  The Chinese get a real kick out of this.  Add some gestures while you’re at it.  They still won’t understand, but now they’ll call their coworker over so they can laugh at you together.
3.) Now you can go ahead and give up, knowing that you’ve fought the good fight.  Pull out your phrasebook, or cheatsheet, and point to the written version of what you’re trying to say.

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“If you exclude the thunder, and the rain, and the rivers of water in the street, and the darkness, it’s not a bad mornin’.” – my Irish co-worker, Michael

This is not quite turning out to be the fun experience I had in mind.  It appears that I’ll be working a lot more hours than I was told I’d be, the disorganization of the center is frustrating, and the weather is wretched.  But it’s an experience, I keep reminding myself.  I’m just hoping that once I start working with the kids next week, it will be fun enough to justify giving up a perfectly nice summer in SoCal to come here.

Hello, real world… it’s been so long, I almost didn’t recognize you.


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3 responses

1 07 2011
Tom Milliner

Let the experience begin…I recommend that you be very careful about what you eat and drink since, apparently, labels do not tell the whole story. You’ll need to be in the best of health to keep up with those long (and likely stressful) hours!

1 07 2011
Diane Milliner

Your adventures always give me a chuckle! Now, you get to try out your caregiver role again! There is justice in the universe!!

6 07 2011
Diane Milliner

Fish names: Zippy, Psycho, Crack

Your co-worker, Michael, sounds like a true optimist!

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