7 Months of Differences from Beijing, China

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The park near my apartment.

I’ve been in Beijing almost seven months. Here is a quick list of things that are different from home and/or surprising:

  • Chinese people drink hot water. Many of them think cold water is bad for you. Glasses of ice water in restaurants, even in summer, don’t exist. Meat in Beijing is usually covered in fat, and often people think meat is bad to eat, but it might be because lean meat doesn’t seem to exist here. I ate half a duck brain out of a duck’s head; tasted like normal duck meat.
  • The subway is really nice and really cheap; I’ve been told by people who have ridden other subways that Beijing’s subway is phenomenal.
  • Having my days off during normal weekdays, and different days off from all my coworkers, and work hours that usually start late morning and end late in the evening has a massive negative affect on my social life. I’m not a nightlife guy, but I still feel the disruption. I’m an English teacher.
  • There are many more pronunciation differences between American and British English than I ever would have guessed.
  • Being middle class makes life a hell of a lot easier, but it hasn’t been a cure-all path of contentedness like many might imagine.
  • The air isn’t always as bad as they say it is on TV (past week has been really nice), but it does get very, very bad. http://www.stateair.net/web/post/1/1.html
  • Getting past cultural barriers, even with folks that speak English, is tough and I have yet to make any real Chinese friends. I have several Chinese acquaintances.
  • Western men (American, Australian, European, etc.) often get Chinese girlfriends while in China. As in, literally almost all of them, and usually very quickly (unfortunately I’ve managed to break the mold on that one).
  • It’s really dry here and there isn’t much wildlife.
  • I’ve made friends, and I talk to people all day every day, but sometimes at night on the weekends I feel lonelier than I ever have in my life.

Neighbors

I want more people to read this, because it’s good, and I don’t know how to do it other than a link on Facebook and reblogging on Word Press.

One More Good Adventure

In less than two weeks I’ll have lived here in Boquerón for two years. Six months in between six month stints house-sitting in Potrerillos Arriba and a year and a half straight through after that. I’ve written before about how my neighbors seem to have accepted having a gringo in their midst. As an outsider we sometimes wonder if it’s really acceptance or simply tolerance. One of my neighbors, Llella, half way up the block was the first to make me seem to be accepted when I was invited to her birthday party and turned out to be the only person there, with one exception who was a life-long friend of her’s, who wasn’t a family member. She and her husband have also invited me to Sunday lunch at their house which is another honor since it’s not often that Panamanians invite someone inside their homes, especially a foreigner.

I’ve…

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What I’d Do With Five Hundred Thousand USD

I like to think of myself as responsible and that I’m viewed that way by others. First thing I’d do is Pay All Debts. This has a secondary effect of removing all ties and obligations to others, which facilitates the steps after PAD. All my financial obligations revolve around the execution of attending a university from a nepotism-bereft working class background, while also being a straight white American male who isn’t the greatest genius that ever lived. Sociologically common plus poor equals STUDENT LOANS.

After PAD I’d have four hundred and fifty grand. When I first started writing this fantasy I began with 100 Gs, resulting in fifty grand in the bank after PAD, which is significant but I’d still have to work a job. 50 Gs wouldn’t last me longer than two years.

With 450 Gs I’d move to phase two: Walking the Earth. I wouldn’t really walk. I’d probably buy something for around 30 Gs that can accelerate very fast because in a tangent timeline I’m probably an amateur racecar driver. WtE wouldn’t just be traveling. I’d go on a road trip, stopping in towns and living there for as long as it took to get a taste of the place if I thought it was interesting. If every town was unique and full of character I would write about that. If all the towns were the same as the one before, I’d write about that. If most were different but two cities far away from each other were inexplicably identical I’d write about that. I’d be attracted to big vivacious cities and slow, picturesque midwestern towns. I’d avoid rustbelt cities with urban decay; I’d drive right past them.

WtE would serve three purposes: (1) I like to travel and want to explore the United States’ different regions, particularly the deserts of the Southwest, (2) I would get to write a lot of creative nonfiction, and (3) there’s something that happens when moving away from home for a long time that makes a writer better at writing.

In the real world, where I haven’t been handed half a million dollars, I’m moving to China to teach English. This partially satisfies purposes 1 and 2, and hopefully fully satisfies purpose 3. The partiality of purpose 1 is obvious, and in regards to purpose 2, having a teaching job will probably leave me with less time to write.

Regarding purpose 3: I don’t fully understand how or why it happens, but I’ve read and heard about it enough to know it’s a thing. Two teachers of mine, from very different backgrounds, confirmed this phenomenon independently of each other. The first teacher introduced the idea and described it as “moving away from childhood stuff,” suggesting that gaining a wider perspective and being worldly has something to do with it. Years later, after bringing up the subject in a long and very useful conversation, the second told me it might not be necessary for all writers, but it probably was for most. None of my writing teachers were from Toledo.

As I’ve already stated, I’m not the greatest genius who ever lived, so I assume I’m one of most that need to move. Every biographical account of a writer’s history that I’ve seen features this home-leaving. Something about not leaving the place you grew up in is limiting. Perhaps being exposed to foreign people and environments gives you the more worldly point of view that a writer needs, or maybe removing the shackles of the people and places that have always defined you allow you to truly be you and find a voice. I don’t know how or why, but I know I need to execute purpose 3.

I can’t predict what I’ll do after purpose 3, five hundred grand or not, because I’ll be different from who I am now.

Activities and Self Definition

In case movies have confused people: you don’t see bullets come out of guns, not even a quick metallic blur (exception: glowing tracer rounds fired longish distances). When firing a shell of birdshot at a bright orange disc gliding across a marbled sky, for instance, not for a moment can be seen the expanding swarm of lead BBs exiting the barrel of the shotgun, reducing the disc to a cloud of clay dust. I enjoy turning clay discs into clay dust.

Moving heavy metal tubes to track something the size of a cup plate as it flies away at 30 mph is raw; what I imagine athletes feel in the action of an important play. There’s only two or three seconds to match the top of the barrel with the eye line. The barrel ends with a drop of polished metal: this ball must be placed over the disc to ensure accuracy. The trigger must be pulled firmly but not in a jerking movement, which can pull the bead off target.

When the trigger is pulled the assembly releases a hammer which strikes a firing pin which in turn hits the shot shell’s primer which ignites the gunpowder. There is a roar from the device; the faux wooden stock that the cheek rests on punches the shoulder. The disc appears to be destroyed by the great boom of sound from the gun and nothing else.

I purchased my shotgun several years ago for $300. I showed my ID, which confirmed that I was 22, and after a prolonged phone call to the FBI, the army surplus store employee rang me out. I bought it to shoot clay pigeons with my dad. It’s the only thing me and my dad do together.

In a month I’ll move from the United States of America to the People’s Republic of China. I’ll be there for at least a year. Using lead and gunpowder to turn airborne discs into dust will be one of many things I won’t do anymore. Civilian gun ownership is illegal in the PRC.

Other things:

My books, movies, and access to those things will be gone. I can’t take my books, DVDs, or Blu-rays with me; the cost of moving is being pushed to the financial limit as it is. Access to those mediums in English will be limited in the extreme, I assume. I majored in English and minored in film and video studies for my undergrad because I love those things.

My computer will be sold, and the importance of that needs explained. A minor hobby: building fancy, powerful computer towers from separate components. I could do this in China, but didn’t do this much to begin with because it is costly. I’m selling the computer (along with car, TV, video game consoles, and 95% of my possessions) because I need the startup money for an apartment in Beijing, as well as surviving a month until my first paycheck.

What I do with the computer is what I will lose: sequencing electronic music and using photo manipulation software to create artwork and game materials. I’m amateur in the areas, but have spent countless hours doing both, serving as creative outputs. Generally, if I’m not making something or learning to make something, I feel like I’m wasting seconds of my life. My ability to create will be truncated when I lose my computer.

I will have a laptop with Word on it. This is enough for writing and game design: fiction, creative nonfiction, board games, card games, and table top games. Without Photoshop the game prototypes will be rough, but I can write rules, create systems, and hand draw any forms, cards, or anything else I need. I don’t dwell on these things much because I will continue to do them as normal. They aren’t parts me that will be lost like the others

Am I losing parts of myself in China or will they lie dormant, still at home, waiting for me to come back and be me again? Or will I do new things and become a different person, leaving old things behind?

A few weeks ago, during a 1-on-1 online Mandarin lesson, my teacher said in her quiet Chinese voice:

“You must pronounce the first tone high, like all Chinese.”

“Will speaking with a deep voice make my Chinese hard to understand?” I asked.

Through my headphones I heard her chuckle.

“Time will tell. Time will tell.”