The Eagles

20 Apr


“Do you like The Eagles?” Matt asked me last Wednesday online, while we sat in our respective Chinese offices. “They’re playing in Beijing on Saturday, and I have two tickets …”

“I LOVE THE EAGLES!” I said, exaggerating slightly.

Matt had gotten the tickets from his aunt, who is friends with one of the drummers (not Don Henley) currently touring with the band. My friend John was also able to snag two tickets from a family friend, and he was bringing Devin. It was going to be a party.

Hotel California is beloved by the Chinese. This bewilders me. The lyrics of Hotel California are the only interesting thing about the song, and in a country where basically no one speaks English, the song must sound like gibberish. Nevertheless, I hear Hotel California being played all over Beijing. In one particular McDonalds, they played the song straight for two months. (Even if they can’t understand the lyrics, I have to believe that gets boring…)

On Saturday night before the show, Matt, Devin, John and I did what people do before going to a concert: we drank. Devin bought a bottle of whiskey for the occasion, and we mixed it with coke before jumping on the subway. The guys were thrilled I’d brought a purse; it was a perfect alcohol receptacle. We held onto the overhead handrails and pulled bottles of alcohol out of it, while fascinated Chinese people watched. I imagine we left quite an impression. It only got more awkward when Matt opened a bottle of coke too quickly, spraying the contents all over Devin’s jacket.

Chinese people have an interesting relationship with alcohol. Most are missing the enzyme necessary to digest alcohol, resulting in low tolerances and “Asian flush.” Despite that fact, Chinese people love to drink, and are always asking what your “jiu liang” is, your “alcohol tolerance.” The more you can drink, the more impressed they are.

Usually when I see drunk Chinese people, they’re bright red, stumbling outside a restaurant, throwing up in the bushes, lying on the floor, or lying on a stretcher, ready to be driven to the hospital in an ambulance. “He’s drunk,” passersby will say apathetically.

No kidding.

They’re not like Devin, John, Matt and me: westernsers who can hold our alcohol. After finishing off the Jim Beam, we were ready to hit up the concert stadium for some beers. The stadium had popcorn, ice cream, and a Nathan’s Hot Dog stand, but no alcohol. We looked at each other, horrified. No alcohol at a concert? Noooo!

Then, down the corridor, a flash of glass bottles and a glossy tint of rum. We ran. It was a booze booth: small Chinese sales lady, tons of alcohol sitting on the shelf behind her. “How much for a bottle?” Matt asked, rummaging for his wallet.

“It’s not for sale.” The woman said. “It’s just a display.” Matt works for a Korean company and gets paid tons to sit around and be the token American. He’s rolling in money. He pulled out several hundreds and offered to pay well over the price for a bottle.

“No, really.” She said. “It’s fake. There’s no alcohol in the bottles. The government doesn’t allow it at concerts.”

Given that the Chinese are generally incapable of casual drinking, I understood why the government didn’t want 10,000 of them drinking at concerts. That would have been a mess.

Dismayed, but determined to enjoy the concert anyway, we headed to our seats, Matt and I were in the section looking directly at the stage. Devin and John were in a section to the right.

The band took the stage and opened with Take it Easy. We stood up to dance and sing along, (as is customary at concerts). The Chinese around us remained completely still with bored expressions. They could have been watching a documentary on Panda reproduction. Matt and I took it upon ourselves to try and rile the crowd, goading them with our loud singing and drunken swaying. People were amused by the happy dancing Americans, but not about to get out of their seats for us.

The Eagles are an underestimated band. Hotel California and Desperado have been so overplayed, you forget how many other great songs they have: Witchy Woman, Take it Easy, Already Gone. And these old hippy rockers hadn’t lost their talent. Their voices were incredible. I’ve grown up listening to artists who can manipulate their voices electronically; the natural ability of these guys was impressive.

We danced through One of these Nights, Best of My Love, and Peaceful Easy Feeling, the only two people in our section who were standing up. We looked over to try and spot out Devin and John in the next section. There they were, also the only people standing for rows.

It was so surreal listening to music I’d heard all my life, live, onstage, in China. I wanted the crowd to get excited. I wanted them to understand how American this was. To them, buying a ticket to the Eagles was a status symbol. They weren’t particularly impressed by these fat, old, has-beens. For us, it was like flying home.

When they finally played Hotel California, the crowd livened up. Some actually stood and sang the chorus. Their expensive ticket purchases had been worth it.

They ended the concert with Desperado. This thrilled the Chinese. “Desperadoooooo … ” they sang, then mumbled the (for them) inaudible rest of the song.

We left the concert sober, but happy. It had been a great American evening in Beijing. We wandered through the crowds to grab a cab, and passed street vendors selling t-shirts and bags emblazoned with “The Eagles.”

“I think I’m going to buy a t-shirt,” Matt said. We walked over to take a closer look.

“Hey,” said John. “Isn’t that the logo for the Philadelphia Eagles?”

“The Philadelphia Eagles, of the NFL?” Devin asked?

There it was. We were back into China, where knock-off Philadelphia Eagles football t-shirts were being sold at The Eagles concert. Really, which is more American? And does it matter to homesick expats? We bought Eagles t-shirts. And got another drink.

Fireworks

8 Mar

About three weeks ago I heard the first one. I was in my living room on a Saturday morning, doing yoga. I was concentrating so hard on my downward facing dog that the BANG BANG POW that suddenly rocketed outside my window nearly knocked me over in fear. Like most bizarre sounds and sights in Beijing, I quickly forgot about it.

Lying in bed that night, I heard a whizzing start quietly, then grow in sharpness, and finally POW. These were giant fireworks, the kind you only see on the 4th of July in the U.S., going off outside my bedroom window. Bright red, gold, green flaming sparks were shooting off 40 feet from me and even closer to the apartment across the street. Was this possible? In China, of course it was.

During Chinese New Year, the government allows fireworks anywhere, anytime. For two weeks, the noise builds from late morning into the night.

Beijing is a congested metropolis of 16 million people. Ancient (flammable) temples nestle between apartment buildings, old courtyard homes next to skyscrapers. It’s not a smart place for fireworks. You might remember the infamous CCTV “pants” building that burned down last year in Beijing. (A mishandled firework sparked the flame). According to a recent NY Times article, there has been a high incidence of firework-related injury all over China. People were streaming into China’s hospitals – mostly with eye injuries – throughout the festival.

“In the U.S. we have to drive somewhere to see fireworks, and we usually have to leave early to get a good spot,” Devin was explaining to our Chinese colleague, Alex. We’d been out to dinner; now we were standing on the sidewalk watching a full-fledged firework show going off in front of us. It was the final night of Chinese New Year, the last night for a whole year that Chinese people would be allowed to shoot fireworks; they were taking advantage. There were fireworks being set off at every block. Once a show finished, all you had to do was turn 30 degrees to the left or right and you’d see more.

“When I see fireworks,” Alex said, “It reminds me of when I was a kid. You can’t understand the feeling Chinese people get when they see fireworks.”

No, I couldn’t. My hands were plugged in my ears and I was cringing in fear every time I heard another blast. Car alarms were going off, sparks were landing on the roofs of old wooden buildings, (or right over our heads, disintegrating only a few feet above).

“It makes me so happy!” Alex said, smiling up at the inflamed night sky. Kids, old people, couples, babies, even a group of cops, outside their squad-cars – all were staring up in awe.

The government tried to ban fireworks in 2006. “People were so mad,” Alex said. “People are so stressed out from work and life, they just – ”

“ – they just need to blow shit up!” Devin finished for him.

I find it strange that in a country where the government can control which websites you look at on the internet and how many children you can have, that they don’t control something as dangerous as this.

The government would much prefer a burning building to any form of public protest. They’ll sacrifice peoples’ safety to maintain control, which in some ways makes the Chinese people very powerful. They can’t have political freedom, but they can have wild reckless fun!

When I was a kid, fireworks made me cry. (Actually, everything made me cry when I was a kid.) When fireworks are a fact of life, kids don’t have the choice to be afraid. Whatever innate firework fear you have will be crushed within the first 24 hours of Chinese New Year. I was only subjected to fireworks a few short times a year, usually from a plot of grass several hundred meters away. For me, loud noises and flaming sparks trigger fear. For Chinese people, fear is something else.

My Chinese colleagues are appalled that I don’t eat rice every day for lunch, alarmed when I wear a short-sleeved shirt in the winter, (even though the heat in our office is sometimes unbearable). Chinese people “pa leng,” – they’re “afraid of the cold;” they don’t just dislike it, they’re fearful. One of my Chinese colleagues told me she thought western parents were too reckless with their babies. (She was referring to the pouches that some parents strap to their chests to hold infants). She viewed that as incredibly dangerous. Why then, I wanted to ask, is it okay to let two-year-olds ride with you through crowded streets on a motorbike?

Honking your car horn in America is usually a last resort, whereas blasting your horn in China is a polite reminder that there’s a car coming. Incessant honking in Beijing makes me irritable and mad – or maybe, it makes me afraid; for Chinese people, blasts of honking (and blasts of fireworks) are the soundtrack of their lives.

One word for fireworks in Chinese is 花火 (hua huo) which translates to “flower fire.” It’s a rather beautiful description, and conjures a harmless image, not a frightening one.

I watched Alex’s wistful eyes gaze at the illuminated sky. Then I jerked and covered my head as a giant spark went off ten feet to our left. Alex and I are great friends, both 22 both recent college grads, both at our first real job.

But here’s where we differ: Alex sees nothing wrong with setting fire to a pack of explosives ten feet from a 100-year-old wooden Buddhist temple.

I’m not sure if this explains an entire country’s concept of fear, but I’m pretty sure it represents something significant. I’m just a little afraid to explore what that is.

Locker Rooms: TMI!

29 Jan

Chinese women are stereotyped as modest, quiet, subservient and small in every way. Five minutes in a women’s changing room in Beijing will shatter that illusion. The nudist colony that is my gym locker room is a free zone for revealing as many private parts as possible. Why be discreet about taking off your bra, when you can just rip if off and be done?

So, what are you up to today? One woman asks another as they casually slather their naked thighs and derrieres with lotion. Some women saunter over to the mirror and blow-dry their hair for minutes at a time, staring at themselves and providing not only their actual bodies, but their naked reflections as well for everyone to see. Some of the older ladies, even less modest than the others, prefer to keep the curtain open while they take a shower. They’re the most detailed shower-ers ever. They take they’re time to scrub every inch of their bodies, and I mean every – s i n g l e – inch.

To the men out there, sounds like a dream, right? Wrong. Every once and a while, a really gorgeous Chinese girl, the kind even I don’t even mind checking out, will be changing in the corner. But, for the most part these women should keep their clothes on. In the U.S. even fat women have some muscle definition. Not in China. A typical Chinese women’s workout consists of walking on the treadmill for fifteen minutes before hopping off to stretch for another ten. Not an efficient way to tone and lift.

To make myself clear I don’t want to watch this pornography, I’m subjected to it like torture. I don’t enjoy stepping out of the shower, wrapped in my large modest towel and tiptoeing over to a quiet corner to change, only to be bombarded by breast after breast and endless skin! It’s not pretty.

Even worse, women approach me. Sometimes I come in the morning when almost no one is there. I have the entire, naked-lady – free space to myself, almost. The cleaning ladies love me, or rather they love my skin. Ni de pifu ting bai! (Your skin is so white!) All three of them stand around me in awe, holding mops and admiring up close while I attempt to change clothes “modestly.” Sometimes they stare at my shampoo and lotion. It’s all in English! Haha! I can’t understand any of it! Hahahahaha! One of them says to me.

No kidding.

If I thought this was invasive, the other day I got out of the shower only to see one of them holding my sneaker up to her face and peering under the flap. You have HUGE feet! She said, laughing again and pointing to the size.

There is an upside. Despite the disturbing nudity and unwanted attention from the cleaning ladies, my gym has hot showers, powerful blow driers and attractive male trainers. If only I could somehow get into their locker room…

China, With a Touch of France

8 Dec

To all my relatives out there, I just want to let you know: Though this story is largely about alcohol, I exaggerated for dramatic effect. (My friends and I are not alcoholics). Don’t judge, just enjoy!

Last weekend was a typical Friday night in Beijing. A bunch of friends and I had agreed to meet for an annual event we’d heard about in one of the local expat magazines. So, Nancy and I met at the subway in southeast Beijing and headed down the street to find the address. “Look for white people,” I said. And so we searched.

“There it is!” Nancy pointed. Another white person? No. I looked up at the bright neon green lights of large building: Carrefour. We were headed for a raging night on the town … at a grocery store.

Looking nervously at each other, we swished through the shopping center doors and hopped on the first escalator we saw.

“Hey look! A white guy!” Nancy pointed. We were in the right place. We rode the escalator past the first floor –isles of canned goods, cereal boxes, and dairy products –up past the second floor –with home furnishings and cleaning products. Along the way, we saw scattered clues to lead us. A cracked plastic wine glass lay on the 2nd floor landing. A stumbling British girl descending-escalated beside us, her lips stained red and a glazed expression imprinted across her face as she giggled to her friend. “Imagine, all that wine for free!”

As we rode up on the third floor we heard familiar laughter.

“Mark?” Nancy said.

“Guys! You made it!” Mark said, hiccuping. “There’s so much wine!” He beamed. Mark, an aspiring connoisseur, had been especially excited about the event. He leaned in and whispered, “The waitress in the Italy section is great. She’s been giving me huge glasses all night. Follow me.”

So we followed him down the hallway and around a corner into a huge space completely filled with Chiantis, Chardonnays and Bordeauxs. Imported bottles stacked against walls, and on central displays. Flags dangled overhead indicating the provenance where the wine was from: African wine, Spanish wine, French, Portuguese … Dutch … Israeli … Icelandic … Everything. It was Epcot for alcoholics!

Mark handed Nancy and me our own plastic goblets and we raced to Italy, waiting eagerly by the Italy waitress who Mark had befriended. “You guys made it!” Several other friends stumbled over.

It was clear that entire social groups, mine included, had arrived together. Tiny Chinese women wearing aprons bustled around opening wine bottles, and western men in suits clung to their plastic glasses and talked business. It was a cocktail party at Carrefour!

“Hey, guys,” Devin said, only slurring a little, “let’s head over to Africa! Looks like they’re handing out baguettes with the wine!” We shuffled over, slurping down the last drops from our previous sample to make room for the next.

And so the night went on. We ambled through the seemingly endless isles of Carrefour, traveling around the world with plastic cups and making progressively lamer jokes about every continent we “visited,” (followed by progressively louder and louder laughter).

A few of us were oenophiles; most of us were there for free booze. Not one of us bought a single bottle. By midnight, redfaced and staggering, we poured ourselves into taxis and to our various beds.

A wine tasting at a grocery store as a major social event: odd? I didn’t think so, until I told my parents about it the next morning. “You went where? For a what?” They shrieked with laughter.

The event hadn’t even fazed me. It’s China, after all. Babies urinating on the sidewalk and donkeys walking alongside taxis are daily sightings. Compared to what I see every day, a wine tasting at a French chain grocery store is practically a debutante ball.

Diversity

27 Nov

The funny thing about being an expat is you become excellent at distinguishing the other expats who are not like you, aka, not from your home country. After first coming here, I made the mistake of assuming every Caucasian or black person was American. I think being in Beijing makes me more self-absorbed. Chinese people are always interested in where I’m from, hold old I am, what my salary is. I have a false sense of importance here which probably contributes to my ignorance of the other expats. In recent days I’ve said “Happy Thanksgiving” to no fewer than three Canadians.

But the longer I live in Beijing, the more discerning I become. I can distinguish Americans from British, Dutch from French, and African American from just plain African. It’s quite a skill. The other morning I was in a grocery store downstairs from my apartment. A tall black man with one hoop earring, tight jeans and a pink polo shirt with the collar popped, was in line next to me purchasing a Heineken. It was 10 am. Definitely African. I tested the theory and asked where he was from. In a slow thick accent he said, “Niggeeerrria.” Thought so.

My friend Devin has the pleasure of living down the street from the Russian embassy. Though all expats have their endearing qualities, Russians are truly special. Early in my stay here, I again assumed falsely, that expats in Beijing were here because they were important in some way, diplomats maybe, or government officials. Based on clothing alone, this doesn’t seem to be true for the Russian community.
The men are rough and mean looking, with tight pants and overdeveloped muscles. The women are generally ugly and wear clothes that look fifteen years out of date while they shop for bejeweled tank tops in Chinese markets. (Cab drivers sometimes guess that I’m from Russia. It doesn’t make me happy). To the Chinese, all white people look the same.

“These Russian youth gangs have started hanging out beside my apartment,” Devin said the other day, a look of concern on his face. “Huge groups of teenage boys sit there all day in their leather jackets, revving their motorcycle engines.” In a city that is 99% Chinese, where old ladies do Tai chi in parks, and young Chinese students bike to school in uniforms, you can imagine how strange the leather-clad Russians look.

As I was walking toward Devin’s apartment the other day I saw one young Russian boy drive by on his motorcycle. He pulled over, took a small remote out of his jacket pocket and hit a switch. Suddenly, multi-colored lights started flashing against the ground under his motorcycle. He nodded, satisfied with the effect, and sped off, lights illuminating the rode. (Apparently the Russian standard for “cool” is a little different than in America).

The longer I stay, the more obvious the differences become. But, no matter how accustomed to the cultural diversity in all its weirdness, the Russians never cease to amuse me.

Trip in Beijing

21 Oct

“Taylor is the love of my life,” I overheard one of the boys whispering to his friends at a restaurant on my most recent trip around Beijing. Giggles and stares ensued. “Trey loves you, Taylor!” One of the giggling cohorts shouted at me. My admirer was a good-looking boy, blond hair, blue eyes. Too bad he was eleven.

I always iron my shirts before trips, and I like to wear a little mascara, but I didn’t know I was looking that good. What can I say, these sixth graders loved me, which was probably not at all related to my appearance, but more so to the fact that I handled snack distribution. “Taylor, Taylor, can we have more Oreos? Thanks! You’re my best friend.”

The teachers liked me too. One teacher, James, a very smart, fifty-something year-old man with incredibly fluent Chinese and a long grey beard, made more than a few inappropriate comments towards me.

I liked him anyway. He recommended various iPhone Chinese dictionary applications and some good Chinese reading material. On the first day he overheard me asking one of the Chinese tour guides to speak to the hotel desk clerk for me in Chinese. “It’ll be faster that way,” I’d said.

“Taylor,” James said to me, “Jump into the fray. Don’t be afraid. Just jump in!”

The teachers and kids wore bright red zip up hoodies that with the name of their school on the front and back. The teachers gave me and the two tour guides their sweatshirts at the end of the trip. “We get new ones every year,” they explained. “You guys should have them as souvenirs to remember us!”

Though my trip around Beijing had no “Edwards,” from Shandong Province, and therefore no hilarious cultural miscommunications, there were almost no problems either. (I consider this trip a reimbursement from the last one). Activities ran smoothly, teachers were responsible, and our dining opportunities were excellent. We ate at some coveted elite Western restaurants, Pizza Hut and TGI Fridays. (It was luxury all the way). I was actually sad when we dropped the kids off at the airport this afternoon.

So, I’m currently curled up in my new sweatshirt, stuffed with Pizza hut and Oreos, and without any witty or hilarious trip stories for my blog. But even though very little went wrong, I regained some confidence that was lost during my last trip, and have made forty three eleven-year-old friends from Hong Kong.

I received a thank you card from the teachers with notes from each student. Like I predicted, they were mostly related to snacks. Here are examples:

Thanks for the snacks and other thingymajiggies. Also for the grape fruit gum, that was cool. Thanks! I gots guummm! ☺

Thanks for the Oreos and organizing everything! WildChina is going bankrupt! (U no Ha)

Sup Taylor! We had so much fun!!! You’re my best friend!!! *wink* Thanks X100000000000000 (until infinity + google plex)

What talented young writers they are.

As the teachers and students were checking their passports and walking through the airport security to their gate, James came over, hugged me and shook my hand. “Jump into the fray, Taylor.”

Jenny Lou’s

8 Oct

Jenny Lou’s

Jenny Lou’s is a Beijing grocery store for expats. It sells everything foreign, from cold cuts to capers, “Lucky Charms” to weird Japanese “digestive cookies.” The fruits and vegetables are imported, so nervous expat mothers can rest easy when serving their children green peas and carrots. The last time I visited Jenny Lou’s, I found English muffins, manufactured in Beijing specifically to sell at the store. They were square shaped and I had to cut them in half myself, but they were so American!

Jenny Lou’s is mesmerizing. As soon as you push past the big plastic flaps on the entrance and smell the hot baguettes, you forget that most of what’s sold at Jenny Lou’s can also be found at a typical Beijing grocery store (mine is called Lotte Mart). For half the price.

Foreigners wander in and suddenly feel at home, although if Jenny Lou’s were transported to a Western country, it would be considered small and under-stocked. In Beijing, it feels like a foreigner-friendly food haven. Surrounded by English nutritional information and “Orbits” gum, I find myself wanting to buy things I never even eat in America.

“Check out that bowtie pasta. Oh hey, are those canned cocktail olives? Look! ‘Meat Lover’s hot pockets!’ “

Before I know it, my cart is full and I’m about to buy a 10-pack of “Bon Bell Cheese” and three frozen pizzas. Why? So I can feel just a little more at home in a foreign city.

But the fact is, though Beijing can feel lonely at times, it’s a booming metropolis, becoming less and less “foreign” every day. One of my friends calls Beijing as a “city for wimps.” With the exception of some genuinely rare products (cooking spray and Yellow Tail wine), most of the items at Jenny Lou’s can also be found in Chinese grocery stores. Oreos, sliced cheese, even “Activia” yogurt are common sights on the shelves at the local “Lotte Mart.”

At Lotte Mart recently, I was putting imported 50% fat-free sliced cheese (20 kuai) in my basket when one of the shop girls pulled me over and pointed to some Chinese cheese next to the imported stuff. It was only 9 kuai.

“Is it 50% fat free too?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “The Chinese brand is exactly the same.” I thanked
her, thrilled to save 11 kuai.

Lotte Mart is fine, but once in a while, you need something that you really can’t get in a Chinese grocery store. And the only thing more disappointing than not finding your favorite ketchup or cereal at your local Lotte Mart is not finding it at Jenny Lou’s. The last time I went to Jenny’s I was looking for honey. Honey is sold all over Beijing, but I wanted the honey bear kind, the one in bottle shaped like a little bear with a plastic hat for a spout. I’d convinced myself that the spout was less messy than the jar kind and easier to pour.

They didn’t have it. I left with a lollipop from the checkout counter. It was the kind sold at every checkout counter at every Chinese grocery store.

It’s not a magnificent grocery store and the imported foods are outrageously overpriced. Every expat I know would agree that Chinese food is awesome. So, why do we feel such a strong need to shop for imported food? Even the owners of Jenny Lou’s know it’s ridiculous. They stock the Chinese brands right next to their imported foreign brand counterparts. At Jenny Lou’s, the “Quaker Instant Oatmeal” (35 kuai) is right next to the Chinese oatmeal (19.90 kuai). They’re the same size and the same product, but  satisfy very different needs.

I still haven’t bought any honey. I see Chinese brands every time I go grocery shopping, but I never spend the $2 to buy a bottle. I guess it’s not the honey I’m looking for.

Trip to Shandong Province

6 Oct

“Cultural Differences”

Of course the whole point of doing a fellowship in China is cultural differences. Understanding them. Bridging them. It’s what everybody talks about on his or her applications. It sounds grand and noble. Until you run into some actual cultural differences.

My first trip as a tour leader was to Mount Tai in Shandong Province, 6 hours by train, with 75 8th graders from a private school in Beijing. It was five days long. By day four, I felt as if I had been there for five months.

The cultural difference here was British teachers versus a Chinese tour guide, with me in the middle. I looked like the teachers, but I could talk like the tour guide.

The guide’s name was Edward. He was around fifty years old, had a large mole on his upper lip and his khakis were constantly pulled up just a little too high.

During our first night, after climbing five strenuous hours up Mount Tai, one of the students went missing. After realizing that he was merely asleep in his room, we knocked for over 20 minutes before breaking down the hotel room door. The teachers, and the doctor’s at a Beijing international hospital, decided the kid had had a seizure and sending him back to Beijing was the only option.

“Very very expensive,” said Edward, disapprovingly.

“We don’t give a shit how ‘expensive’ it is,” said a teacher, glaring. “it’s about the boy’s safety!”

“If he were my son, I wouldn’t pay so much money!” Edward said.

“He’s about to get a punch in the face,” a small female British teacher whispered. To me.

“I don’t understand these teachers!” Edgar yelled in Chinese. At me.

I understood Edward. During the Cultural Revolution, the government condemned doctors and academics. No wonder he had no respect for medicine. But the teachers won. We sent the kid home.

“These teachers! they don’t get it!” Edward told me. “But you understand Chinese culture.”

Damn, I knew I liked him.

Despite his awkward clothing choices and his ability to inject anxiety into every possible situation, Edward had redeeming qualities. He was always trying to do the “right thing.”

The problem was, the right thing according to Edward, often pissed off everyone else.

The next day while we descended Mount Tai, I got stuck walking with the slowest kid. And Edward.

“Keep going, dude,” I reassured her. “It’s not much farther.

She glared at me. “Don’t ever call me dude,” she said.

I looked toward Edward for help. But he was off on another rant.

“The lead teacher, he reminds me of a Jewish!”

What the hell?

“I had a group once, and there was a horrible couple. Always complaining. They were the Jewish! So ignorant!”

Make it stop! Make it stop!

“Edward!” I hissed. “What are you saying? You are the one who sounds ignorant!”

“Miss Taylor!” the glaring girl was hissing at me now. “I think I have a nosebleed!”
I reached in my backpack for the roll of toilet paper I keep there. (It’s China. You need to have toilet paper at all times, because the toilets certainly don’t.)

“Here you go.” I handed her the roll and continued down the mountain, while simultaneously dodging the toilet paper she was dropping along the path, and trying to explain to Edward why what he was saying was so wrong, wrong, wrong.

Suddenly, there was a loud “squaaaakkkk.” All three of us looked up, Edward from his racist musings, the girl from her bleeding nose, and me from playing “nurse Taylor.” A huge rooster had popped out of the bushes on the side of the mountain path and clucked his way across the stairs in front of us. Edward watched, entranced, then spoke slowly in English.

“What a beautiful cock, such a beautiful, beautiful cock.” He put his hands in his pockets and looked on admiringly.

I couldn’t react just then. Not while I was holding a tissue to a 12 year-olds nose, and only feet away from the cock itself.

“Don’t you think it’s a beautiful cock?” Edward asked. He sighed in satisfaction and kept walking down the stairs, happy for the first time all day.

I couldn’t disagree there. It was big and feathery and colorful, indeed, a beautiful cock. I held my laughter, took a swig of my water bottle and the three of us continued down the mountain.

First Days in Beijing

28 Aug

Hello everyone!

My first few days in Beijing have been absolutely insane, and yes, stressful. I’m currently sipping an iced coffee in the very cool Beijing ex-pat hangout, the “Bookworm.” Sting is playing on the speakers and I’m making plans with some friends to meet for dinner and drinks tonight in Houhi, an upscale bar and restaurant street.

I should be relaxed, but while I make plans with friends, I’m also emailing, texting and calling various real estate agents about finding an apartment. My current three real estate agents are Melissa, Conquer, (yes, that’s his chosen English name …) and my favorite so far, Linda from Century 21. It’s hard to get straight answers out of these people. The bottom line is they’re trying desperately to sell you an apartment and they don’t really care if you get cheated in the process. I found a beautiful studio apartment in a complex called “Pearl Harbor.” I wanted to rent it purely so I could tell people I lived in Pearl Harbor.

Unfortunately, the apartment is unfurnished and would cost me a lot of extra money to rent. When I told Conquer I was no longer interested in the apartment he got very emotional and starting yelling. I decided to yell too. We screamed at each other for twenty minutes. After I let slip several F-bombs, he got scared. Finally, and ironically, Conquer relented.

Linda, a very kind 22 year old Chinese girl who just graduated from college, showed me some apartments in a place called “Piao Home.” I believe it stands for “piaoliang,” which means pretty or beautiful. When we walked up to the dingy gray-black buildings I decided the “pretty home” apartments hardly lived up to their name.

I was pleasantly surprised after seeing the inside of the first apartment. It had brand new hardwood floors, a bedroom, living room and kitchen. The TV even had international channels like CNN and BBC. It’s around 3,500 RMB / month, a little more than $500. I’m a big fan and am meeting with the landlord tomorrow to discuss the price. (As long as we don’t have another Conquer incident, I will probably end up renting that apartment.)

In other news, I’ve already been contacted by my boss from City Weekend magazine. He’s hoping I will write some Beijing bar reviews in my spare time. (Free drinks, extra cash and a resume booster? Sign me up!) – As soon as I get a little more settled I’m going to take him up on the offer.

I went out for the first time last night. My friend Hannah, who I’m currently sharing a hotel room with introduced me to some friends. We got dumplings for dinner, then went to a series of four or five bars. Needless to say, I had a rough morning.

Tonight I’m meeting up with my good friend Adam who I know from my abroad program, as well as another Princeton in Asia fellow named Liz. Hopefully today’s hangover won’t be repeated tomorrow! I’ll keep you all posted.

Thanks so much for reading and please forgive any grammar mistakes; I’m still quite jet-lagged.

More to follow!

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