Wednesday, November 14, 2012


The peace sign, cutesy facial expression and lenseless glasses effect.
What is wrong with me?  She's gorgeous, but I can't stand this picture!

I see online that I am not the only person deeply perturbed by the fashion trend in China that involved wearing often huge black plastic eye glass frames that lack lenses in them. I know that this is not just a China deal and my five minutes of research of research into this riveting subject points to Japan as being the point of origin for this Asian phenomenon. I would have figured that as most trends like this that happen in China are derivative of something that started somewhere else. I would assume that it finds its roots in some sort of cos-play fashion, but the so called trend has leap into mainstream fashion (which is something that is a little wacky in China anyway most of the time anyway). I began to notice this a year or more ago and when I began to ask about it I usually (u-wa-lee) got an answer like "she is a very fashion girl". No point in trying to correct that. That is how the word is used. There is some mystique and fascination around the words fashion and sports here. Sometimes see a t-shirt with the word "fashion" across the front. Or sometimes the "word "sports". Once I saw "fashion sports on a t-shirt. Does that translate into some meaningful in Chinese? I don't know. Maybe explore that someday in another enlightening post. Without question many of the young ladies here are extremely attractive, but it what they do with that and what is considered cute and trendy that really get me confused. The pouty face, and the big "anime" eyes and hand gestures like peace sighs and an index finger in the cheek may seem cute to the uninitiated, but all of these things are done in an over board fashion as far as I am concerned. And out here in Kunming everything like this has a real trickle down effect, so that when these ghastly fashion trends are slowing down elsewhere there are in full force in Kunming. And if you look online you will see ads with western models wearing these glasses and some of common folk wearing them at parties or something. But you don't see pictures of school teachers wearing them proudly in the classroom! Maybe they do. Who cares, this post is about the trend in Asia and China, where it is of epidemic proportions. (The issue of people in China copying poses and attire worn by people in trendy fashion magazines is a phenomenon as well. They seem to think people walking down the street to get a hotdog or beer dress like Vogue models or something, so they do too.)

Okay so this image is from Japan, but lets be frank about it,
 those weirdos can't dress either.
Some things seem almost special to Kunming (as far as getting out of control anyway), like these wild ass shoes girls are buying on the streets lately. They're shoes you would only see in some sort of underground fetish photography, with people wearing gas masks and dog collars. But here they wear them to go buy their oily, spicy chicken wings on a stick and look at the lenseless eye glasses on display by the multitude of street vendors. I can't find images online about the shoes so will have to go some field research on that for alter. But for now here are a few samples from online about the eye glass thing. The desperate need here to appear to be a "fashion girl" (or boy, as guys wear these things too) is really a bit embarrassing, and outfits are a mishmash of fabrics and styles that have zero balance or appeal. There seems to some sort of punkish style going on here with the college students in Kunming, but there is no punk culture so I am not sure where it comes from. Lots of skull shirts and the horrible t-shirts with really bad Chinglish splashed all over them. To add a cherry to top of the bad fashion sense cake this eye glass thing has just exploded here recently. I found one picture (used as the lead in photo) with a girl wearing the dumb things, holding her iPhone with pride and doing a peace sign on her face. Now you are in China baby!

Hey, a very fashion boy!

What the hell? Not one single  peace sign! This girl is obviously a foreign spy,
 not aware of essential social customs that signify "I am the real China deal!"

 Click the image of this annoying human being to
 be taken to the original post at Vagabond Journey
 and see more images there by Wade Shepard. 
Lest some guilt stricken white liberal accuses me of profiling, stereotyping or
blatant racism let me make sure I share this one too, of good God fearing white folk wearing
lame lenseless eye glasses.  Cos' white people do it don't make it right!
1) This is just a goofy photo shoot for a slick, vapid fashion mag.
Problem here  in China is that people actually buy those things and read them!
 Bet these models don't go trolling for greasy, spicy tofu and chicken wings on a stick
wearing these along with their fetish boots with stiletto heels, and 2)  they're stupid too!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Doing Dick and Jane in Chinese.
I reached a point over the last week, and yesterday in particular, where I have to accept reality. I am not going to really learn how to be reasonably fluent in Chinese. I will address some of the reasons in a moment, but let me be clear that the number one reason is that I seem to lack the discipline or drive it takes to learn the language. I would need, right now, to go through a period where I study from two to three hours a day for about six months to get over the place I have been stuck at for years basically. For whatever reasons I cannot muster that resolve. Am I simply lazy? No, I would say I am not. But I am a horrible time manager and I am prone to states of anxiety and depression that make me mismanage time even more. Of course I can deal with these moods and make it day to day. It is not like I am maniac depressive or schizophrenic. I guess. And really this morning I am trying to make sense of what I am feeling and how I went from, a couple months ago, a conviction to study and improve to a state today where I just packed up all my Chinese books in a big box and stored them away. What is going on? And while I kept a few books out of course I just feel I am tired and burned out with trying to pick up this language. If it were Spanish or French maybe I would have been fluent at a basic level years ago I feel, as I do have some knack it seems for picking up phrases and vocabulary. I don't know really. What I have to admit is that, for me, there is some issue here other than just my own inability to manage time or stay focused. I have put in lots of work really. Lots of book study and writing. I have notebooks galore to prove it. I have programs for listening and I live in China and hear Chinese spoken everyday. If I wanted to go to some "language school" here in Kunming I could (more on why I will not later). Other foreigners who have lived here less time than I speak pretty decent Mandarin. What is up and does it matter if I can label the problem? Suffice to say I hit a wall long ago and I have been banging my head against over and over to no avail, the wall still stands, and yesterday I came to a reverse position my so called language life: I fucking quit man. 

Trend in Asia and China right now: Big big plastic glasses  with no lenses.
I think it looks pretty darn goofy. Click link to see a story. GOOFY!
Why would I want this person teaching me anything?
What happened? What made a normally happy go lucky chap such as my humble self go totally whacko today and use the naughty F word even in a post? There is no one or two things. I accept the brunt of the responsibility, but not all. I am not the type of person who says if I can't do this or that is all my fault, any ore than if I were to have been at a point now where I were fluent it would have been done all on my own. People don't succeed or fail totally on their own accord I feel. Lot of people in our modern world may disagree with that and that is fine, but I have my point of view and I feel we are who we are for many reasons. Some we are aware of and some we are not, most we have a mistaken position about, but these reasons don't come from nowhere. In the end maybe I can't learn learn Chinese because of some potty training nightmare or because my dad abandoned me when I was at a crucial period of my life and I can't fix any of that. But maybe there are a few other reasons as well. And while I say I am giving up Chinese I simply mean I give up the delusion that I will be "fluent" to some degree. I will still be trying to learn day to day terms and improve my survival level skills. I kept a few books, my notebooks and a couple dictionaries and I still have MP3s and Mandarin apps on my iPad. Now, indulge me whilst I spend a few paragraphs putting the blame on other people and things. Hell, that is why you are still reading this anyway isn't it? Who wants to read some lugubrious self loathing diatribe when they can read some bitter soul's rants about life's injustices? I know which one I would prefer! So lets do this list fashion shall we. 

My reasons why I can't learn Mandarin:

What am I talking about, this looks like a cinch!
1) MANDARIN IS A HARD LANGUAGE: In truth methinks the language is too goddamned hard! Sure, lots of people learn it... and lots of people don't. While in my opinion the vocabulary is not so hard as it based on a set of sounds and combination of those sounds. It just not not get nearly as complex as English in those terms. Words are usually made up of about two or three (at the most) syllables. You could actually learn the Chinese pinyin alphabet in a week or two of study. Now, you can learn to memorize the sounds, like the initials b, f, m, d, t and so on, and the finals, ing, ang, uang, and so on and so on and then you can learn a few word by combing the two, like bing, or fang, or ting or man, but does that mean you will be having chit chat that can be understood by Chinese people? That is the issue for me. So what if I learn some phrase or words but since my pronunciation is not 100% perfect most people will not understand me. There is the matter of tones (which I will go into, believe me, shortly) but the point is, again, how do you think I or any person should feel when they have practiced a phrases over and over only to watch it fall flat the first time they use it? Huh? How do you think we should feel? Oh I can anticipate some replies from some fluent speaking foreigners now: "well, guess you didn't practice that phrase enough then did you?" If you have this position go jump in a friggin' lake. I don't even want to hear from you.

And after a mere five years of exhaustive study you too will
be able to read a basic children's story book! 
I am talking here abut the sounds I make, and not listening, we can do that next. I will give you one example to help you try and make sense of what I am talking about. Now of course I can speak some Chinese, and I can even recognize a couple hundred characters. On a basic level I get around okay. If I don't know something and I need to go out and buy something or do something I can prepare myself with phrases I teach myself from my books or that I learn from somebody real fast.  Usually okay, but often not as well. An anecdote. I wanted to buy some milk tea at a little stand one day. Does not sound hard. You can do this even if you can't speak Chinese I guess. Just point and grunt. But I can say all that. I can even type out the characters here: 你好我要一杯奶茶。(ni hao, wo yao yi bei nai cha/Hi, I would like a cup of milk tea.) Pretty impressive, eh? Well, big shyte. But it does not go so smoothly really. for some reason people here just flip out and make an expression like they just got goosed when a foreigner speaks Chinese. Of course if my Chinese were flawless like a famous Canadian foreigner here called Da Shan it would be okay, but if there is some little glitch here or there they jsut acted so friggin' retarded. So, the girl at the stand asks me after a couple more exchanges ni yao ri de hai shi liang de? (你眼日的还是量的?)Or, do you want it hot or cold? I told her "ri de" and suddenly she got that goosed look. What the fuck! I mean if I jsut walked up to a stranger on the street and for no reason went "ri de" I would understand that expression. But she jsut asked me "ri de hai shi liang de?" Then, right away, I replied "ri de." I said again again trying hard to get that "r" sound, which is not easy but how wrong could I be really, but she jsut panicked and started asking the other workers for help, going "ting bu dong", a term you hear all time when you speak either English or Chinese here, and it means " I don't understand" basically. If she can't understand "ri de" right after she just asked me if want my damned tea "ri de" or not then I am lost. Of course it all got sorted out, and this happened all the time. One person freaks out and the next person understands. Makes no sense. if my pronunciation was so horrible no one would ever understand me at all, ever. But I often say "ri de" (for one example) with no problem, but there can be. So how am I supposed to expect to have a conversation somed ay where I go, "boy it sure has been hot here lately. do you think this hot weather will make the current drought worse?" get my point? Why would I study to learn that phrase when people looked goosed when I say "I want hot tea"?

A common facial expression I get when
I speak the inscrutable language of Chinese.
2) TING BU DONG: Listening is the hardest part of learning any language. I guess you start off with reading and learning to recognize the language, then writing it, then speaking and then finally trying to hear the sounds and know what they mean in a given context. A big problem for me is that the Chinese I have been trying to learn is called putonghua, the "commonly spoken language", or simply Mandarin. This is what the MP3s and DVDs and iPad apps I learn from use. But in China putonghua is not spoken really the way it is on MP3s and sometimes not at all, as local people, like here in Kunming, have their own dialects, or sometimes other languages entirely. And while most people will mix up Mandarin with the local stuff enough that Chinese people can understand each other (most of the time, but not always I have come to find out) it is hard for people like me. But that is not all of the problem. Most people here jsut refuse to speak slowly, or use easy Chinese, or even repeat what they just said over. They speak to people with low level Chinese skills the way they would another native speaker. Fast, long sentences, few pauses, high level vocabulary and the such. It is a real struggle for me. Even when I ask people in Chinese to slow down they refuse. They can't. There is the occasional taxi driver that I can have a basic dialog with as they will speak slowly and ask questions I am familiar with. But the other day I was with my wife and having noodles and the lady is talking to me so fast (as she always does so I long ago stopped asking her to slow down) I can't follow anything. My wife (who does not like to translate for me) told me she was asking me abut the elections in the US and what my opinions were. What! I can't even get hot tea and this lady is asking me at 90 miles a second what my views are on the stupid elections that I don't even care about. But it gets much worse as she is talking and talking to me and I am running out of things to say in Chinese. Getting tired fast. Then she looks at me and says something and I know it is something about my mom but I do not understand her at all,. She keeps looking, waiting for a response. I look over to my wife (remember, she does not like to translate or interpret for me) for a clue and she snaps at me "why don't you just listen!" Wow. She then tells me she asking me how old my mother is. My God. I can't even understand that? I know those phrases in a general way, but I did not hear the ones I know. Maybe she said "ji sui" or "duo da" in there somewhere, but all I heard was "bakakbakakakabaka mama bakakbakakakabaka" at the speed of light. After that I got sullen and went silent and politely told the lady, in modest Chinese,  I could not understand her or speak Chinese. To which she replied with another barrage of "bakakbakakakabakabakakbakakakabaka". 

"Oh let me see your hanzi skills lao wai... hmmm... wrong! wrong! wrong!
HAHAHAHAHA, so funny, like a baby!"
3) KNEEL, LAO WAI, BEFORE THE ALTER OF TONES: Tones are something many foreigners get stumped by and many simply give up. As I did. it is hard enough trying to remember the vocabulary, and then the phrase and then get the basic pinyin pronunciation correct, but when you are attaching "correct" tones to all of this for many people it become the straw that broke the camel's back, or they just quit dealing with them and try to learn a toneless version of the language, that typically gets them by. Of course you will always have Chinese people and advanced speaking foreigners (these people can be the worst sometimes) telling you "oh your tones are wrong! oh, you need to work on your tomes! oh, the world will come to an end if you get one tone wrong!" I am sick of tones. Sick! Sick! Sick!  I feel  a lot of this tone stuff is hype. In fact I know it is. It is in no way 100% crucial for you to get your tones 100% perfect 100% of the time. Why do I say this? Because I know for a fact that many Chinese people do not speak with proper tones, or sometimes any tones at all. Mandarin is a 2nd language for many people here. They cannot even get jobs that require passable Mandarin skills. My wife, who speaks very good east coast style putonghua, gets frustrated with the local Kunming dialect all the time. She tells me people here do not employ tones properly. Okay, they sure do better than I do. That is a given okay.But my point is, why is it suddenly when a foreigner messes up a tone the world stops, when in fact Chinese people themselves mess up tones all the time as well? I know some Tibetan people. I cannot detect any issues, but I am told they do not use the Mandarin tones correctly. Tibetan language has tones and so in my opinion they are probably doing okay in Mandarin, but they are not "perfect". Must be perfect.

Learning Mandarin is simple once you learn where your tongue goes.
The whole issue with tones, to me, even gts into some of the scams that go on with language schools in China. Where foreigners who need to learn survival level language, and told that that s what they will be taught, are suddenly forking over money for "tone classes" that go on for a year. I have met people who have been in a school for a year and cannot even ask for a napkin in a restaurant. I asked a lady teacher friend once, doesn't your teacher tech you those terms and phrases? "Oh, we are still on tones." What? It had been almost a year that she had been taking these classes. The lady is like about 55 or 56 years old. She is not going to perfect tones, ever. That is how it is. But I guess if your school method is perfection of tones (ergo you keep paying until they get perfect) before moving on to actually learning phrases then you are set up pretty good. This is becoming a real conflict with certain type of students in China who are paying lots of money for survival Chinese and then getting hit with daily tone drills for 90 minutes and being taught Chinese characters. This on the net and I have had friends who have had these experiences, mostly when I was in Beijing.  Now let me be clear, I do distinguish between students who want and need to learn perfect Mandarin (and so perfect tones) and those, like myself, whose goals are more modest. There are Chinese language students here from abroad. They have to take high level tests and these are graded by ruthlessly strict Chinese instructors. I pity them sometimes. These students have often studied abroad for years before coming to China and can read Chinese and speak a good level of textbook style Mandarin, and then they pick the rest up real fast.

There are other people like me, and some of my teacher friends, who are Americans never even learned to speak Canadian before taking on one of the hardest languages in the world. Add to that the reality that as you get older the more difficult learning a language becomes and the ceiling gets lower. There are linguistic realities here. There may be an exception to the ruler here and there, but in general a person over 40 trying to learn Mandarin as their first second language is going to have a really hard time, and there will never be perfect pronunciation of the sounds themselves, much less the tones that go with them. I am not going to debate this as it is language learning fact. So the idea here that a person who is 45 or 5o has to spend a year or two (and who knows how much money in one on one lessons) just getting their "tone foundation" down before advancing forward is basically a racket. If I am studying the pass the HSK exam that is one thing, if I am trying to learn to say "I want hot tea" better than that is another. All of students here at this college have "studied" English almost daily for eight to ten years. I guess you could say they sat in an English classroom for that period of time. But none of them (okay, 99.8 %) can't pronounce "think" or "usually" correctly. There is the argument (and I hear this from foreigners too) that "well, English does not have spoken correctly, but the holy, sacred language of Chinese MUST BE SPOKEN PERFECTLY IF YOU WANT YOUR TEA HOT!" okay, I have never heard it worded quite that way, but you get the idea. Often trying to have a Chinese person work with you (work on you actually) in getting a tone correct is an exercise in total humiliation. And with that we can segue into the next rant.

"Your tones like a lao wai's!
Maybe this will improve your listening skills!"
3) CHINESE PEOPLE ARE TOUGH TO LEARN FROM (AND THEY LIKE IT THAT WAY): And closing this particular post on the end of my Chinese language dreams is the the fact that my personality cannot adapt to the so-called Chinese teaching method. Not even teaching method, but simple human interaction method. If you can't handle things like being laughed at for mistakes, corrected over and over to the point of absurdity, lectured to about the sacredness of Chinese language and at times down right insulted then learning Mandarin from Chinese people is probably not the way to go in life. This post is not about trying to learn and speak English in the US or UK, so don't hit with that "well, it's the same in the US" crap, because first off it is not. I am going to leave it there and deal with that issue in some other post, the whole "they do that in America too" response. Lame man, lame. I simply am tired of being laughed at here for my poor language skills. Or listening, like the other day, when I am trying to do something (that day I was trying to have a PDF file printed into a book, not an easy thing to do in Chinese but I got it done) and every time I say something I have to listen to somebody to the side snicker and parrot my Chinese to their friends. I once was trying to order food at a well known fast food establishment in Beijing and a student of mine came up and stood next to me. Every time I said something he snickered and finally chased him off, none too politely I might add. if the twerp spoke flawless English as a second language I could almost understand his rude behavior, but believe me he did not. And this gets into some idea that the Chinese language must be the only language spoken by God, and so they do not have to learn one of those infidel languages to any degree of perfection, but I have to deal with their rude snickering and laughing when I try to speak the sacred language of the holy Middle Kingdom.

Actual picture of a school supply section of a classroom in China.
Teaching is serious business here! *
The method of teaching here is often shamed based and punitive. Not only do kids in primary and middle school here routinely get hit by teachers for things like making mistakes, but parents often support this method. Chinese people seem embarrassed to display kindness or compassion so they act like assholes and then defend their actions with some sort of lame rationalization, like "that is how we do it in China". That may be how they do it, but not all Chinese people behave this way. Just most. I ave dealt with this for so long I tend to not notice it. But I think I hot a wall with trying to learn Chinese from Chinese people. Who else would I learn it from then? well that is the problem  and so I am giving up. The last teacher I had, for all of a month, was a South Korean lady and hands down she was the best Chinese teacher I ever had. She is working too much to help me now and maybe she did not really want to after a while. Either case, she and I are not working now and I doubt we will again, but that one month really boosted my enthusiasm and I did learn quite a lot back then. Still use some of it now. And why not use a Chinese person? Too many reasons. One is that simply because a person can speak a language it does not follow that they can teach it. Even if that person is a genuine teacher with papers. I've known ESL teachers in China with MAs and Phd.s and they aren't any better than some people here without even a BA in teaching English to these lazy ass students here. A friend of mine, long since back in the US, had a Chinese teacher while he was here. I knew her. She was the school appointed Chinese teacher for the foreign teachers here. Had a little class once a week. I quit after two classes as I couldn't stand her. My pal took her on as one on one teacher at 40 RMB an hour. A little high we both thought  for a non-certified "teach Chinese to a foreigner" teacher in Kunming, but he didn't want to say no, thereby hurting her sensitive Chinese feelings,  and he wanted a teacher. He was a nice guy and usually had good things to say about people. I never heard any bad things and I assumed the classes were going okay, until I brought it up one day. "So Bill (his name was Bill as well, we called him Bill2 or William), how are the classes going with L____ going anyway?" And then I got the lowdown.  he wasn't happy but was afraid to hurt those delicate Chinese feelings and end the arrangement (i.e., fire the gal). She never had any preparation, though he was paying her money. If it was one of those useless "language exchange" situations it wold be different, but he is paying her for 4 hours a week and she never brought him and handouts. She never suggested material. Never gave him homework. He requested homework and she said okay but it never came about. She wold show up and ask "what do you want to talk about today?" What! That is your job you airhead, to show up prepared with a topic and lesson, with some new vocabulary and phrases to share with your student(s). And the worst thing it seemed was that she laughed at his Chinese all the time. Not only his pronunciation but it got to where he made up sentences from his dictionaries (since she never gave him any) and brought them in. The vocabulary grammar (which of course will have problems) was greeted with giggles and laughter and questions like "oh why do you use that? we would never say that!" God, it is unsettling to even imagine. He finally severed the situation, delicately as to not have her lose face. She of course had no problem ripping his face from his school every class session with giggles and harsh criticisms, but how could she withstand him telling her "I don't like your style, I am going to find another teacher or learn from a baboon. Thanks." I ave mre examples from my own experiences and from others, but this is the about the best.

And lastly, you may ask, "hey Bill, don't you have a Chinese wife? Can't she teach you Chinese, or can't you learn from her?" I will make it short and sweet; my wife is neither my language teacher or translator. And we can leave it at that.

So, that is it. No more guilt if I watch b-movies instead of working on pronunciation. If I want to record music instead of learning how to say "bath tub plug" in Chinese that is okay. If I am at a dinner and people ask me things in Chinese, I will not hesitate to apologize and say, "buhao yisi, wo bu hui shou hanyu." ("Very sorry, I can't speak Chinese", but of course they will hear me say that in Chinese and then I will get "bakakbakakakabakabakakbakakakabaka") Self acceptance is at the heart of things. I am okay even if I can't speak Mandarin, and speaking Mandarin fluently does make me a btter human being, not does it make me a part of Chinese culture. That is a future post, the foreign person who imagines they are on the inside of Chinese culture because they speak some Chinese, slurp noodles and spit food on the table and drink baijiu  like a fish syndrome. China is for Chinese only, and I wish I knew how to say that in Mandarin, but I can't. And you what, that is okay.

* Okay, so some of the images I posted here have little to do with a foreigner learning to speak Chinese, but they sure as shoot are interesting!

Monday, November 12, 2012


Trying to be vegetarian here can be tough.
Okay, this will be the first of a new series of posts addressing the matter of Chinese cuisine, and eating in general in China. There is no way to cover this in one or even two or three posts, so there will be more down the road. Rest assured. Before I even begin this there are a couple things about myself and my own eating habits I should clarify, as these little traits and idiosyncrasies play an important role in my eating adventures here in China.  1) I would not call myself a vegetarian but I tend to not eat beef, chicken or pork. I have had some beef and chick in the last year, but not too much and often months go by where I have none at all (well, we will go into that more shortly, as sometimes I do, even even I do not want it). I do have some sushi now and then though I tend to shy away from fish with heads and bones still attached. While I am a Buddhist I do not really think meat has to avoided for religious reasons (some Buddhists do) and there are other reasons I prefer not to eat meat here in China. I do consider fish meat. 2) I do not really like spicy food. Spicy in a Mexican food sense is okay. But I do not like Thai style spicy, or Yunnan and Si Chuan style spicy food. I do not like huajiao, the mouth numbing (literally numbing) pepper that is popular here in the southwest of China and in many dishes found across China. 3) I do not like to eat a meal with many different dishes. I prefer a meal with a couple dishes, not 10 or 12 different things. 3) I am not a regular eater. I tend to eat when I get hungry. I never eat breakfast, have a light lunch and dinner when I am hungry and then snack at night. I have always been this way. Maybe not healthy but it is the way I am. 4) I do not like overly oily, greasy food. I like fried food, but I do not oil drenched and saturated foods, especially if the oil is old and dark. 5) I like sweet foods. 6) I don't like to feel pressured when I eat. I just want to eat. I don't want people putting food on my plate, or criticizing my "table manners" (this will be explored later) or telling me I am being rude for doing this or that. 6) I like food I grew up on (American food from the south and Mexican food, and various snack treats) and while I do not have to live on it I want it occasionally.

God, so many things here not worth trying. Believe me, I know.
And with those things in mind let me say that my opinion of Chinese food and dining here in China is (quoting an old teacher friend of mine) "underwhelming" at best. If you have never been to China and eaten here on a regular basis then you cannot say "oh, but Chinese food is so good! How could you ever get tired of it?" Well, the Chinese food you are having in the west, the US for example, is not the same as you're going to behaving here. "But wouldn't authentic Chinese food made in China be better than the Americanized (somehow American food has become the model of "bad food" in the world, don't know how)  stuff here?" You would think so, wouldn't you? Flat out, it is not. My theories on this we can go into later. But one big issue is that the food in the US and west in general is, for the most part,  what would be called Cantonese style food. This is a style of food made in Guangzhou mad Hong Kong, and even then modified for western appetites. This modification includes fresher meats and vegetables for one thing and less oil for another. But Cantonese food is generally cooked with little oil anyway, is quick fried and typically not spicy. The Chinese food made in the west is by Cantonese people who have moved there and started their family run businesses. Sometimes some foreigners who fancy themselves as having gone native because they can slurp down the local cheap swill will criticize some whiner like me and make a remark like "why don't you just go back the USA and eat at a Panda Express!?" God, if only I could find Chinese food here as good as at Panda Express.
While you may think this looks wonderful, I can assure you the big
 Chinese  banquet meal is nothing to write home about.
More on this  in another post.
(That would be sliced up pig ear in the front friends.)
Already this post is getting into issues that will need further exploring, and there is not enough space here for that now. For example, the "diversity" of Chinese foods as you go from region to region (this usually can best be explained as pouring something different on top of some rice or eating flour noodles more than rice noodles, like saying people in the northeast of the US prefer ketchup and mustard on their hotdogs and people in California prefer only mustard then calling that diversity). But lets focus on one issue, one I just had again for the millionth time. If I tell somebody at a "restaurant" I do not want spicy food and that I want no meat in a dish then that I what I, as paying customer, expect. Why doe it seem to become an impossible task for local people here in Kunming to not add meat or lajiao (red pepper) and huajiao (numbing spice) to all dishes. I am ot asking them to remove meat from a prepared dish. Or extract spices from something already cooked. I am asking (at times begging) them to simply not add them to a dish. I am getting burned out with this. In my little neighborhood I struggle to find a place that can fulfill these simple requests and I all but have given up. I jsut went to a local Muslim (Huizu) restaurant (Qing Zhen Cai) where I have been getting a noodle soup and fried rice for a while. Rice and noodle soup. Wow. I wanted to get something different, sort of, called huifan, which is a food dish with rice on the side. Some diversity on this exists in the form of the brilliant concept gaifan, where they pour the rice over the food dish as a variation on a culinary theme. I can read a few characters and saw that they had curry (gali it is called here, 咖喱). I could read it was beef and potatoes and asked the young man if I could ave it with no meat. He knew I did not eat meat and said sure, not problem. I get home and begin eating it and realize after several bites that it is loaded chock-full of meat. I certainly ate pieces, but again it is not a major issue for me. If I wanted to eat meat I could, I just prefer not to.

Highly trained professional chef in China.
Food always served his way, since he knows best.
And when I order a meal and am told there will be no meat why is there? There are many reasons I guess for this, but a couple basics one are 1) Chinese people really can't cook, and 2) Chinese people image themselves to be first rate gourmet chefs churning out haute cuisine and they know more than I do, the customer, what I what and what good food really is. Their "haute cuisine" is usually deep fried chicken feet or pig ears, or rice with fried cabbage on the side. I will explore the reality that Chinese people, for the most part, can't cook later. But the 2nd point is very crucial. They can't imagine that somebody really does not want their ultra-spicy noodle soup. Their minds cannot grasp the concept. No other food exists worth trying other than the foods they grew up on and have eaten three or four times a day for their entire lives. I am not jsut talking about food outside China, but of how Chinese people from one area cannot cope with the food Chinese people from another area are making. Plenty of Chinese people (like my wife who is from Jiangsu, in the east) do not want spicy and oily food every meal. But even they have to deal with this obstinate attitude. My wife is a stricter vegetarian than I am, but she has to compromise all the time  or not eat. Like me she simply pushes the meat to the side and tried to avoid any meat. But of course some will get consumed. She was refused service a while back when she wanted a street snack that had as an ingredient to be added some sort of meat. She asked the man (the CHEF) not to add the meat and he freaked out. Said it would not taste right without meat and refused to even serve her his rare mixed delicacies of oily rubbish. he was indignant. Actually, he was a joke but this attitude is endemic really to people and their foods here. 

Another issue regarding meat is when you order and say no meat and then you get a bowl of noodles (noodles, noodles, noodles) with ground-up meat in it. When you ask they say they did not add "meat". Meat, to them, seems to only be the larger sliced stuff. Ground meat is necessary, to them, for flavor. Even when you say "wo xin fo" or "wo shi fo jiao tu" ( I believe in Buddha or I am a Buddhist, I think) you still will get meat. Okay, maybe one day you do not. But then later you go back to the same place and they add meat again. Seems actually better to get the large sliced stuff as it is easier to remove, ground meat being impossible of course. If you say "I want to meat and no spicy peppers added" you stand to get one of four possibilities:

1) You might actually get what you ordered. Yes, it is possible. But more likely you will get:
2) Meaty food, but not spicy.
3)Spicy food but not meaty.
4) Meaty and spicy food. 

"Are you sure this is not spicy?"
It is China so you cannot ell the cook "I did not order this so I will not pay!" No, you have to pay, no matter what. Are there exceptions, yes, But the rule is no matter how bad your food is or if the cook gets it wrong, you pay brother. Even ore of an issue than meat, for me, is the issue with spicy peppers. While is possible to order a vegetable dish that never has meat, it gets trickier to order vegetable dishes, noodle or dofu dishes and not have the cook add red pepper and huajiao. Even when you tel them over and over. I can tell a waitress in several ways not to add hot peppers. And yet I will be damned if 80% or more of the time the dishes are inedible for me. I am talking about food so spicy that even one bite kills me. I will tell them, in Chinese, 'I told you not to add spicy peppers? But you di. Why?" And I always get "oh, bu tai la." Meaning, "It's not very spicy." But I said NO spice. NO red pepper. NO huajiao. How is "not very spicy (in their view)" the same as "no spicy shit whatsoever fucking ever!" Then it gets into the area with Chinese people and even many foreigners that I can become the "ugly American" or foreigner, disgruntled and arrogant. I am not arrogant, though a tad disgruntled. I know I am in China where the concept of  "have it your way" is a long way off, but why is it so hard to grasp that not all people want food the same way. I have eaten plenty of spicy foods. Huajiao and all sorts of peppers. Plenty. I eat mostly Chinese food on a day to day basis. I am not somebody who needs cheeseburgers and Raisin Brans everyday to be content. All I want is my bowl of measly rice noodles to not sear my tongue off. Local people love it. I watch them add 4 or 5 extra spoon fulls of red pepper to their already spicy soups, when half a spoon full for me makes my soup inedible. Okay, cool. They like it. I do not. I don't want it. And when I am hungry and get a dish served to me with all that stuff already added to it what am I supposed to do? How should I react?  If I say I am unhappy and do not eat my meal so what. I still have to pay for it. if I want another dish I can get that (at still another risk) but I still have to pay for the dish I do not want to eat. Food service is a problem here (or service in general) and will be explored later.

I am tired and will sign off for now but only the tip of this iceberg has been chipped. Do you live in China and have food stories? Maybe you think I am full of shit (many foreigners do) and think I ought to "go back to where I am came from and eat all the Doritos I want". Fair enough. Welcome to share your views and I will add them to the next post. For now, let me see what I can scrounge up here that has no meat or red pepper, as I worked up a slight appetite hammering away at these keys.

Where fine Chinese haute cuisine is cooked up.

Friday, November 9, 2012


While looking for English Corner in China images this came up.  So true.

I decided to give this blog one more go before making a decision to retire it or not. One or two posts a year does not constitute updating. So many things I could cover and so many pictures to share, but I figure I will explore a rather relevant issue that is work related. Recently had a work meeting and while there were other topics worth ranting about one that came up was that the lady who runs the department in a school I am teaching English as A Second Language at had the "novel" idea that the foreign teachers  need to conduct more extra curricular lessons, i.e. English Corners, the bane of every English teacher in Asia, so the students can benefit. Of course she can't speak a word of English herself and needs somebody to translate for her, but that still not mean that we can't shove more English down the throats of her bored and lazy students I guess. Why the uncharacteristic cynicism? Why the negativity? Isn't that part of my job here, to teach so much English that it is dripping out of the students ears like wax? Well yes it is my job and I have no problem with teaching to students and people who want to learn. The word there is "want" to learn. The school I teach at, a three year private school whose only criteria for entrance is whether or not the parents can pay the high tuition, simply lacks motivated students in any area, much less in foreign language. And that is okay, I accept that.But some foreign teachers here have a less jaded point of view than I do and they jumped on the idea of more English Corners (translates to me as more work and strain) and further had all sorts of ideas to make these new ECs more successful than the past ones. Somehow, I felt, that those ideas aregoing to equate to the teachers being expected to work even harder and do more than they're already doing, and boy was I right.

A teacher here began suggesting things like having the classes on the weekends, and at night, like at 8pm or so, and that the teachers can take the students to one of the local coffee houses and (yes, he suggested this) buy them coffees as they all sit in an informal atmosphere and chat away in monosyllabic English, if that much. I quickly expressed that I did not want to work on weekends or at night, and that classrooms were fine for me as a teaching environment, and that I don't think I have to spend money on students to make them come to my English Corners. In the end the one thing that really determines who will come or not is whether their master teachers or classroom monitor selected them to attend the EC for that one week.

The over worked black board syndrome. I know it well.
Did these students copy any of this?
All of these issues really gets into what are the myriad of pitfalls of of trying to teach unmotivated kids in China. Teachers (mostly foreign ones) rack their culture shocked brains trying to figure out how to keep the kids (they are all about 20 years old but the term kid is suitable) happy and entertained. As if somehow happy and entertained students learn better and more. Well, that may well be true but interestingly  all these "progressive" ideas are discarded, or never adopted at all, in the Chinese teacher's classes where teaching by rote for test preparation  is the only method employed really. To be fair the Chinese teachers are under much more pressure and classes can be as much as 80 or more students in size. This is the teaching method in China at all levels, but for some reason it cannot be in regards foreign teachers where we are supposed to give them an American style education (or western country of your choice really as in the west we all seem to learn the way). I gather from students and Chinese teachers that this western style education is one where there is no homework ever, no tests, the students go to the teacher's houses for dinner and all the teachers can sing and dance and do so in the classroom all the time. The students in the west are never bored and have all sorts of free time to hang out with friends and play video games all day and night with no effect being seen on their grades in school.

Oh God, this looks so dismal.
Go fellow ESL teacher, class will be over eventually.
Keep that happy face for a little longer.
Well there are good students of course and all that, but let me get back to English Corners and the debacle that they collectively are, and why I am utterly opposed to more and more of them here at my job. This may go on a bit so this well be part one of a series of posts and anecdotes to validate my claim. I do not think I would be alone in what my opinions of a successful English Corner should be.  At a school English Corner (not one of these public ones that are conducted in parks or coffee houses, of which I have no experience with as I have never in eight years been to one and never will) the group should be made up of students to want, nay, possess a burning passionate desire in the very core of their being, to improve their spoken English. Okay, okay, here and there you actually do have such a student or two, but one out of a hundred does not constitute a rule, but rather the exception to the rule. The students, ideally, would organize facilitate the English Corner and not only speak to the foreign teacher in English but to each other as well. They would arrive with pens and paper and questions. Oh they do have questions, all of about six or so they ask over and over; "how long since you been to China?" "do you like Chinese food?" "do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?" "why did you come to China?" and a few more. Of course all of these can segue into real conversations, but they tend to end with your answers and then the students eyes begin to roll up into their heads like a scroll trying to remember another EC question like, "what is your favorite season?"A conversation may run like this:

Me: Anybody have any questions? (No one answers so I point at some frightened soul and make them, almost at gunpoint, ask me something.)

Student: How long since you been to China? (this is common grammatically incorrect method of asking the question.)

Me: Eight years.

Student: (Silence.)

Well, I can't tell you how many times I've had that enriching dialog. I press on for another question.

Student: Do you like Chinese food?

Me: Well, yes, most of it, but not all.

Student: (Silence.)
How long since you been to China?
 Do you like Chinese food? Can I have your QQ?
Can I go to the toilet?

At this point I am looking at the slow moving clock and sighing in panicky exasperation.  Be clear, there are people in China who can answer these questions and you can have a dialog with them. What I am talking about here are these mandatory college/university English Corners, where you tend to get a group of new faces every week except for one or two occasional motivated students every couple years. Sometimes even the regular faces are deceiving as they avoid questions or sit and talk to their friends in Chinese to the point where you to have to tell them to shut up or leave and then disrupt the atmosphere with negativity. What happens with some foreign teachers is they get into  trying to undo this Gordian knot of laziness. Yes, they proclaim, it is up to us to make them on fire for English. Yes, we can do it! We must do this and do that and blah, blah blah... and later I discover they spend an hour and a half teaching them Row Row Row Your Boat or playing Simon Says. I am not talking about 10 year olds here, I am talking about 2o year old college students. I will not do that. I will let the clock run out on the class in which I am babbling away to myself basically rather then denigrate myself having a group sing along You Are My Sunshine or play Blind Man's Bluff and then later say at a meeting  "I teach my students English, you should use my method!" And that is not to fault teachers who do this. They are basically trying to cope is all. They are signed up to do 90 minutes of something and they resort to things like this out of desperation, though they tend to gild the lily later. Be weary of teachers who always proclaim how wonderful their classes and students are and how much progress they are making. We have someone like that here now. I have spoken to some of their students before and, like most, they are unable to tell be where there hometown is or what they had dinner for last night. But maybe they have to say these things to feel good about themselves. That what they are doing may in some way better mankind as a whole. I can understand. But I don't buy any of that malarkey.

One issue here is that somehow Chinese leaders think students who come to English Corner learn more than when they are in a regular class. They do not.  I think there is even something even more simple and just administrative about it than that. It looks good on paper and on a computer screen to have these classes running in their departments. It is also a way to pad the teacher's schedule. If you are not working your full contract hours then a few English corners gets you closer to that and makes the school feel like they are not giving you free money. Reasonable really. But the only way I can have any success with a class is to have the same faces week to week. I have had really some good EC good students and tell them so. I tell them that their English is wonderful and I encourage them to please come back. "Oh yes, I will come back!" Of course I never see them again and the next week there is a group of fresh faces that were randomly selected by their Chinese master teacher (their only "real" teacher) and the monitor who shows up to make sure the other students showed up as they were told. All teachers have the same problem. And when the discussion begins what do I hear first? "How long since you been to China?"

This will be the end of part one. Expect more English Corner diatribe in the future.

Evidence you are in an English Corner in China. Brave but tired looking foreign teacher putting on a
warm smile. Looks like a nice guy. Does he deserve this?
 Over worked blackboard but no pens or paper in the student's hands.
And lots of photo op "peace signs".

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I really had some plans for this blog a while back and none of those plans have come to fruit. I did finally revamp the site's appearance but I just do not have the spirit to maintain the site. Of course there are probably tons of reasons for that, and some of them I am aware of and most likely some of them I am not. First I just enjoy spending my blogging time doing my two cult/horror movie sites at The Uranium Cafe and Necrotic Cinema. This writing about myself and my feelings and what I do day to day is not so comfortable a matter I have come to find. I used to be quite the journaler back in my time and had thousands of pages of journal writing in little note books before coming to China. I threw all of those away before leaving Seattle. But this blog matter, something I never did back in the states as I did not even know what a blog was back then to be honest, where people can actually read and make judgments about you and your entries is another matter altogether and I am not sure I like it all of the time. But I have no matter writing about topics like movies on my other two sites.  I have always been an insecure and private person and yet at the same time I have an urge to record some of my adventures and feelings about my life here, if only for the sake of personal posterity.

Of course another issue, related to what I just wrote, is the sheer effort it can take to maintain a half way decent site. I am already spending/wasting enough time online maintaining the other two sites and this blog here is on the back-burner most of the time. the last entry was three months ago. But strangely as w ll I find myself turning over events that happens as if they were blog entries here. So when I am doing something or something strange happens I find myself creating a post in my mind about the event and imaging it posted here. Ivy and I have been on several trips and had a lot of personal adventures (good and bad) since  the days when I sort of half -assed maintained this site way back when. Since I do not maintain written journals anymore much of my feelings and experiences on those trips are long lost. I tend to recall things in a vague and general way rather than in a detailed way, or I don't recall things at all. So for example some trips I have been on in the last year include: one back to Shangahi, one to the Xinjiang area, one to Xi'an and the area around there, one to Guilin and one to Western Yunnan in Dexing, near the border of Tibet. I have pictures but not really exact memories any longer as too much has gone by. And yet to is to say that the memories I have retained and filtered are not in some way was accurate as any I would have written about immediately after the facts. Well, I guess I will be doing something on those trips here shortly (or, maybe not). 

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Someone recently showed some interest this blog and that was the long lacking motivation I have been seeking to get it rebooted. Worked on changing the layout and design earlier and plan on doing so redirection with the content. Way too much to catch up since the last post from April and so for now I am just going to share a few pictures of Ivy and myself and a couple of the pets. Lots of things to report as far as work and travel and pets go as well as more opinions on life here in China.