Blue headed lizard from a local temple

If you know me, you know I love lizards. It’s a childhood passion that carried over into adulthood.

Awakening-upon-death-of-the-bride-of-the-creature-REVISED-copy-2

“Awakening Upon Death of the Bride of the Creature”, by Eric Wayne, 7/2014

I’m pretty happy with this piece. It blends several of my approaches, resulting in a non-cliched Sci-Fi, mixed with and Impressionist treatment, Baconian distortions, and faux painterly flairs including Van Gogh brush strokes. So, I’m mixing my Fine Art with the Sci-Fi (now “retro”) of my childhood, which represented a window of escape from quotidian existence, into the realms of the imagination, and of exploring the reaches of technology and the future. But it also has an existentialist and spiritual aspect to it.

It’s a contemporary tableaux image, done with classic painterliness, composition, color palette. The content is something that I hadn’t set out to do, but evolved through the process. This started as an image of an alien. But what it is, I think, is interesting. Anything to do with the Creature From the Black Lagoon is automatically interesting to me. And you could say this is my attempt to make a contemporary CFBL.

This one appears to be the bride of the creature, which is another thing that just came about. If she’s anything like the Bride of Frankenstein, than she was artificially created. Here’s she’s been shot. That’s how the creature met his end in the Revenge of the Creature of the Black Lagoon (there was no “Bride of the Creature” or “Gil Woman”.).

She seems to be at least half submerged in water, and is looking up at us, perhaps reaching out to grab us. Or she could be falling back and reaching to hold something. Her eyes look shocked. She’s looking into another dimension. She’s died and reawaken. She’s crossing the threshold of death and moving into the void.

That puts us in the void looking at her coming in to us.

So, in addition to some cool Sci-Fi reference, which I didn’t just copy but interpreted in my own way, there’s also this concept of awakening upon death into another reality that is shocking and overpowering, like peering into the absolute truth, or knowing everything at once. It’s also like having one’s spirit peeled like a grape and exposed to the unalloyed power of the void, so to speak.

But it’s visual art so the rendition is going to be the main thing. I worked hard on details like the tendril from the chin that wraps over the shoulder. The hand coming out of water, with fin-like frills coming off of it, was particularly hard to draw. And at one point the lobster was in the hand.

I think this can be enjoyed on a purely painterly level. Yes, it’s digital, but that just means that I “paint” with a pen and tablet. I make every brush stroke individually. I’ve developed techniques over years to make those strokes look like real paint.

In the end, for me, the image is paramount. I don’t care how someone makes it. So I make them look like paintings because that’s the look that I love, but I do it digitally because the process is much more flexible, and allows for a lot more experimentation and mistakes. Since I particularly like to experiment, and make mistakes, it suits my personality.

Even though I’ve made paintings in the past, I don’t think I could have painted this as well.

To me, this is the type of cool art that I like, so it’s what I make. It has an interesting or sensational topic, it’s got the quality of realism about it while addressing something unreal, it has feeling, and it uses aesthetics to a high degree. For me, it’s beautiful. Details like the water being reflective, or the ripples around the arm would be enough to please me if someone else had made it.

I also made this quite large, so it should print out beautifully at 5 feet wide. It could be shown in a gallery. But galleries usually sell one of a kind artifacts for art buyers to invest in. I can only sell copies.

My idea about making and selling art is simple, logical, and optimistic. However, it doesn’t work. My idea is to make the kind of work that I want to see myself, and sell it cheaply via prints (such as posters), which should look awesome because it’s not a photo of a painting, it’s done directly in pixels. So, the end user gets a beautiful product dirt cheap. I could try some tricks like making limited edition prints, but that seems bizarre when it’s a digital file and one can print it on metal if one wants, and technology for printing will probably improve. So why limit oneself to making a small set of prints just to create scarcity?

If I could make a $10 profit on 100 prints, that’s a thousand dollars. I can live cheaply, so one might think it would be possible to sustain myself selling prints. But I haven’t sold any to anyone I didn’t already know. I’ve made $0.00 off of my art.

I need to switch up my strategy for getting my work out there and selling it. I prefer to think about how to make art, because that should be the hard and important part.

Anyway, below are details of this piece showing the painterly feel.

Awakening Upon Death of the Bride of the Creature: details and analysis I’m pretty happy with this piece. It blends several of my approaches, resulting in a non-cliched Sci-Fi, mixed with and Impressionist treatment, Baconian distortions, and faux painterly flairs including Van Gogh brush strokes.

New Art: Awakening After Death of the Bride of the Creature

Just finished this. I’ll share some detail pics (it’s rather Impressionistic up close) and other information tomorrow or the next day.

frong-in-hands
me-with-frog

Trying to release the frog, which didn’t want to go.

Always liked frogs. When I lived in China my nickname was “Xiao Qing Wa”, which means, “little frog”.

[Uuuuh. If you look at my blog for art, don’t worry, I’ve got a couple big surprises on deck.]

Frogs have permeable skin that makes them very vulnerable to any chemicals in their environment. This is why when you start seeing deformed frogs…

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13-reasons-not-to-teach-in-China

I lived in very ordinary cities in China for over four years, and one day I realized that was approximately ten percent of my life. It was rather surprising to think that one out of ten days I’d woken up in China! I wouldn’t have stayed there so long if I didn’t love something about it. Let’s clear this up now. By and large, the Chinese people equal to anyone else, you can find all the best human traits in countless citizens, and even the average Zhang is a good egg. I taught hundreds of wonderful students, ate incredible food, made lasting friendships, and saw amazing sites.

Alpine-lake,-Manigango

My photo of an alpine lake, in Manigango, Western Sichuan. There are absolutely fabulous travel destinations in China.

Some of my best memories are of just relaxing, playing countless ping pong games with colleagues and students at the universities, and of course the big shared meals at large round tables with oversized Lazy Susans in the middle.  However, China is not for everyone, and there are definite downsides which anyone considering moving to China should seriously evaluate! After my first six months in China, I clearly remember thinking that while it was surely one of the most valuable half-years of my life, I wouldn’t want to go through that nightmare again. [See my post about my horrendous first night in my Chinese apartment here.]

teaching-kids

Always one for gross props and buffoonery, here I am having fun with kids in my first year of teaching in China [2007].

The great value of living in China, if one lives in an ordinary city, is the opportunity to be immersed to the gills in another culture. Such an experience brings home the truism that you can’t really truly understand your own home, culture, city, country, and roots until you’ve been someplace completely different. Realizations that life can be lived in a significantly different fashion than one is accustomed to become inescapable. One further comes to interact with the local people and form bonds, and while this may seem obvious, comes to see them as not other and different, but as essentially the same human stuff as you are. Such first hand knowledge of the humanity of people in places that might otherwise seem far off and alien (say, North Korea), reminds us that nobody is expendable, and a bombing campaign anywhere is probably in indifference to life that is criminal insane.

Culture shock, if one lives through it, which one probably does if one completes a contract and renews it, makes you a stronger individual with a broader perspective. Even when you go back to your old way of life, you always know that it’s not the only way, that in some ways it’s artificial, and there’s another you that lived another life in a parallel universe called China.

You won’t generally have anything like that experience in heavily touristed places with large expat communities, like Thailand, where I now live, unless you move to the proverbial sticks and actually have incorporated crickets into your diet and eat sitting on the floor. It’s too easy to speak English, go to the pub for quiz night with other foreigners, buy items like cheese, and otherwise live the western lifestyle overseas on the cheap (which is a big reason so many come here in the first place).

Inside-shop-in-Gheng-gu-copy

You’re not in Kansas anymore. Seriously old school in Chenggu, Shaanxi. I took this photo in 2007.

Despite the great cultural, character building, and even spiritual fortification one can get from living in ordinary China, there are many outstanding reasons for NOT going there. After the initial honeymoon period is over, and the joy one feels at experiencing all the new and different things has worn off, there will come darker moments when one is wearing gloves in the classroom and choking down phlegm while teaching; and there is no working electrical outlet in the classroom; and a side of your podium just collapsed on the floor and you are looking at rows of long protruding nails, wondering why they didn’t bother to use wood glue; and you are covered in substandard chalk dust.

The following are 13 reasons NOT to go to China, no matter how cute the little kids are or how delicious the food. Some may think they need to bathe everything in a positive light, and smile sheepishly like Stimpy when he’s happily getting pummeled in the wrestling ring, but there’s no upside to lungs full of phlegm, or getting the the ole bait and switch on your contract on the day you arrive. The following are the downsides. You’ll excuse me for not candy coating them out of fear of upsetting the Chinese boss (which I don’t have right now), or not appearing like someone self-brainwashed into thinking one must always make everything positive and pretty, including stepping on a landmine.

Stimpy-getting-pummeled

Stimpy happy as can be getting squashed, chew up and spit out in the ring. I’m not going to put a Stimpy face on living in China.

1) Pollution: While I was living in China 16 of the top 20 most polluted cities were in China. My first city had once been in the top ten, but had cleaned itself up a bit. Even having grown up in the most polluted city in America, Los Angeles, I couldn’t imagine people could live in the apocalyptic levels of pollution one encounters in China. It is a grey omnipresence. Out of survival instincts, one likes to tell oneself, as the Chinese do, that it’s not smog, but “fog”. A fog of an unimaginable, noxious, cancerous, and criminal variety. For the health conscious person, pollution has to be the biggest deterrent.

View-of-Xi'an-from-the-Goose-Pagoda

My photo of Xi’an, taken from the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda [2007]. Smog level = normal.

2) internet: The great internet wall of China blocks facebook, sometimes Google, YouTube, and anything that might be a threat to vision of reality the PRC wants its people to believe in. There are careers to be had in monitoring the internet activity of ordinary civilians, and better careers infiltrating forums, chat rooms and the like in order to spread propaganda. For the foreigner, unless you have a good VPN to reroute your connection out of China, and unless you luck into a good connection at all, your internet life will be shit. At my last job I had to have repeat visits to my apartment because my internet would mysteriously stop working.
computer-station

My first apartment didn’t even come with internet, or a full set of drawers. Yeah, one was really cut off. I waited days to send my first email home, from the local “Wang Ba” (internet cafe).

3) spying: The Chinese have a “spy” mentality, and the firmly entrenched believe that the foreigner might be a spy entitles them to provide the often free public service of spying on you in turn. I often marveled that there could be anything at all for me to spy on in the small cities I lived in, unless it was recipes for “mian pi”, the local breakfast noodles. How to strap the harness on the donkey before making it grimly pull it’s impressive cartload of coal through the freezing streets, year after year, is not a technology the U.S. government would be paying me to uncover.

spy-vs-spy

The foreigner is always a suspected spy, and everyone must do their duty to spy on the spy to make sure he isn’t spying.

One of my bosses warned the Chinese staff at one private school I worked in not to associate with me or the other foreign teacher, because the government was watching us carefully, and if they were seen with us than the government would watch them, too. While I was working at a university, national security showed up at the Office of Foreign Affairs and demanded to question me about where I’d traveled the prior summer. Even a little old lady living in a farmhouse atop a mountain, who didn’t possess the health or means to ever travel down to the nearby city, suspected that the foreigners who happened upon her humble lodgings on a summer day’s long hike must be spies.

The assistant to the Foreign Affairs Officer at the uni where I worked informed me on more than one occasion that all of my emails were being intercepted and read. I doubt this was true, and I used to like to say, “Good. Maybe they’ll learn something,” to which he responded, “They can’t understand English”. But what I did believe was that people actually thought it was plausible that officials were perusing my private email, and that it was somehow instrumental to plant such a see in my mind.

There is a Chinese railway policeman who still has a vendetta against me because he erroneously believe that I spread rumors that he was a spy. As it happens, I didn’t think he was, and I wasn’t the one spreading the rumors. However, this lets you know how seriously, and self-importantly, people take the idea of being a “spy” in China.

4) hygiene: The horror! The horror! It is like living in a sealed Petri dish.

The spitting in China is the stuff of legends, while being absolutely grounded in existential reality. The Chinese traditionally believe that the body contains four kinds of fluids, one of which is the evil sputum, which must be forcibly expelled from the lungs first thing in the morning, and at any and all times possible in order to maintain vigorous health. Therefore restaurants often include spittoons with small soft verdigris islands floating about in them. Indeed, one can turn one’s head and spit directly on the floor, multiple times if necessary. [For my discussion of food hygiene in particular, and “monster meat” see this post.]

Germs are some sort of mythical creature, and all colds or flues are caused by “not wearing enough layers”. Food, therefore, can be consumed best and most practically by thrusting ones personal chopsticks directly into the shared food in the center of the table, thereby sharing ones germs with everyone else, and receiving theirs, in the most direct and thorough way possible.

The result is that colds and flus abound and it is not uncommon to spend months out of the year with an interminable, terrible cold. This becomes a normal state of the body. While walking up the steps to a the small bridge that allowed one to walk over the traffic at an intersection, I noticed loogies on almost every step, and then I involuntarily hacked up one of my own, which had been festering in my lungs, and rather than choke it back down, added another member to the exclusive club. One will likely expectorate more sputum in one year living in China than one has in in last decade or two, or even one’s whole life. Indeed, I estimated that I taught half of my total classes in China with a serious cold. Call it 25% to be safe, and it’s still outrageous. I got so many colds that I tried to fight them off by making my own home-brewed ginger, lemon, and garlic tea, which I drank by the quart daily. I also resorted to nuking any food I could in the microwave to kill the germs. In comparison, since I left China some two years ago, I have only had one cold and it lasted all of 3 days. Chinese colds routinely last a full month, and make a bee line for the lungs.

wonderful-students-and-my-bottle-of-juice

Note the bottle of my anti-cold beverage on the podium. These students were great to work with.

Think I’m exaggerating? Consider that restaurants frequently only have cold water in the restrooms, and no soap. The restrooms in the university I worked at were the same (and I forgot to mention no doors on the stalls). In the winter the water that comes out of that faucet is freezing, and without any heat in the classes, one can’t entirely blame students for not lowering their body temperatures even further by doing the equivalent of dipping their hands in ice-water after a good poop. Oh yeah, and there’s no toilet paper.

Related to this, the students dorms don’t have showers, and thus the students need to make special expeditions to public bathing facilities to wash. The result is infrequent washing that can be once a week or less. That’s a long time for germs to flourish without facing the awesome adversary that is soapy water.

The toilets are literally the stuff of horror movies. Chinese believe the WC, as they like to call it, is a horrendously disgusting and bleak room of necessity, often lodged in more rural areas directly alongside the hog pen, and this is for them a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once while traveling with a Spanish woman, she boasted that the toilets in India, where she’d traveled were worse. She changed her opinion that same day after venturing into a rural restroom of unspeakable horrors.

Western-bathroom

Not a public restroom, this was the promised clean bathroom with western toilet of my first apartment in China.

Flushing is not only optional, it seems something Chinese only do for a few days after making a New Years resolution. When entering a public bathroom, one first scans all the toilets to hopefully find one that doesn’t already have one or more piles of shit plopped like chili omelets on the porcelain of the waterless squat toilets. You don’t know your own shit, in terms of smells and textures until you have plopped it on a hard surface in the open air, as oppose to it immediately being submerged in water.

[Warning: Skip ahead to the next point if you don’t savor disgusting details.]  I know this is disgusting business, but I must share my most shocking confrontation with a Chinese bathroom in order to help you decide if you can really stomach moving to China. One day in the park I followed my nose to find a restroom, which was easier to do than using my eyes. Upon entering the WC, with it’s swarm of buzzing flies, a quick scan revealed that the squat toilets were overflowing with shit and one would have to use the peeing trough. However, the peeing trough was overflowing with shit as well. The was the great cornucopia of all kinds of shit. A veritable low wall of every color and consistency of shit, somehow pressed and plopped on top of each other like so many hellish scoops of banana shit ice-cream in the Inferno. There could be no worse restroom in a horror movie or hell itself. I could not even imagine what would allow someone to squat over an already burgeoning hill of shit, and add his own contribution.

Lastly, shit and piss need not be restricted to the confines of the restroom at all. Young children wear split-pants and no underwear to facilitate the easy release of urine and feces. This can be done in places where dogs do it, such as on or beside any tree or bush, but also on stairs (see pic), or even within a restaurant. I once witnessed a kindly parent leading his son to pee in the corner of KFC, behind a sign. To his credit, perhaps on that day the restroom was temporarily closed.

In the apartment building I lived on within the university, where only teachers and their families lived, children would pee on the stairs or on the landings. Once the stairs were decorated with baby shit for days before someone finally cleaned it up (see pic below).

shit-on-stairs

Baby shit on the stairs of the teachers apartment building within the university remained there for days. I supposed everyone was waiting for someone else to clean it up.

5) racism: Most of China is Han Chinese, and everything mainstream China (despite it’s Muslims, resident Tibetans, and few dozen minority groups) is CHINESE. The culture is Chinese. The nationality is Chinese. The language is Chinese. Even the race (I know there is only ONE race: homos sapiens sapiens) can be confused as Chinese rather than confused as “asian”. It’s all rather homogeneous. If you are an American, your parents can be from Tanzania, your race can be “black”, and you can speak English.

Thus, for the average Chinese, an outside can truly be seen as someone alien and different on all counts. Where I lived I couldn’t stand on the street in one place for more than a few minutes without drawing a crowd, unless there was no one about. When we foreigners – of which there were at most ten in the city I last lived in – would go to a restaurant in a small group, all heads would turn. Camera phones would come out. People would hang over the backs of their chairs and stair with their mouths open. Sometimes people would come and touch the hair on our arms. They reacted to us about the same way I’d react to seeing the Sasquatch, had it been apprehended and escorted through town in ropes and chains. My eye would be hungry for any angle, and I want to know the texture of its fur. But I’d fear the probable pungent aroma!Now and again I would get well sick of being called “lao wai” or “wai guo ren” everywhere I went. Some might say, “Ah ha, now you know what it’s like to be a minority in America.”

Perhaps back in the day, but I’ve never in my lifetime seen anyone of any nationality or “race” treated as such a spectacle as foreigners are in China. Unless you’ve had people mill about you taking your picture and calling you foreigner and touching you, and watching you to see if you can eat spicy Chinese food or use chopsticks, and openly discussing everything about you and your anatomy in a language you don’t understand, I dare say YOU might not know what it’s like to be a minority in a homogenous culture.

While much of this behavior is ostensibly friendly, of the thousands upon thousands of “heeeellooOOoos” I was “greeted” with in China, I could count the truly sincere ones from strangers on one fist (OK, probably there were more but I forgot some over the years). At least 95% were said AFTER I’d passed the people, and were said in a mocking way in order to get a reaction out of the foreign monkey, which if accomplished was uproariously funny. (See “Nationalism” ahead for the lethal combination of racism and nationalism.)

Also, while the Chinese may seem over-the-top racist at times, at least in a small, provincial city, part of it is just that they haven’t been drilled from birth to know that expressing such feelings or beliefs is a faux pas. Even fairly hard core racists in America know better than to ever admit it. So, in a way, there was almost something refreshing about an unmasked racism, even when I was the target of it. In short, Chinese probably aren’t any more or less racist than anyone else, they just often don’t know any better.

5) Power and Authority: Everybody is NOT created equal in China. There is a hierarchy in which some people are absolutely superior to others. For example, the boss is the terrestrial God, and “leaders” are princes and princesses whose very blood is of a different and superior liquid. This is hard for an American to take. One is expected to bow and scrape before the somber dignity of the local corrupt official, and one is branded as arrogant if one doesn’t.

My first exposure to this was when my new Chinese boss showed up a half hour late to a mandatory dinner he’d arranged for all the new teachers. This, I later learned, was a customary way of showing power, and is a stunt that was echoed several times over and by different bosses. Suddenly I’d gone from being a traveled, independent, adult male, over 40, with a master’s degree and over a decade of work experience, to being a subordinate and deferential WORKER belonging to a wealthy car dealership owner who had the surplus income to buy a school. [See my post about meeting my boss for the first time here.] If, like me, you don’t like to fancy kissing ass, China can be a rough steel file going against the grain of your being.

The-boss

On the left is the western perspective, and on the right the Chinese. Some of us westerners have a hard time worshiping the boss as a demigod.

The term “leader” in China is applied to anyone with any position of power over others, however trivial, has nothing to do with that person having leadership qualities in any degree, though it would appear that the ability to hold one’s liquor was widely respected, and necessary. So, someone we’d call a mid-level manager in the States, is a revered “leader” in China. [Yes, of course there are noble Chinese who make of themselves worthy role models, and resist all or most attempts to be lured to the dark side with copious amounts of alcohol, and peer pressure.]

6) Nationalism: [At this point just assume the codicil that there are outstanding exceptions in China against any trend I’m mentioning. There are many who are appropriately, studiedly, sophisticated, and eloquently critical of their government, for example. In fact the best critics of any problem in China – from the environment, to manners, to governance – are the Chinese themselves, and they also have most of the best solutions.]

Nationalism in China is even thicker than in America, because it’s crammed down citizen’s throats with even more conviction and regularity. “I Love China” shirts are at least as popular in China as flags are on shirts in America. We stand for US against THEM (even if that means killing innocent people, and getting maimed or killed ourselves, so a select few business moguls can increase their quarterly profit margin)!One memorable example was when the foreign teachers were rounded up and forced to watch a televised Chinese celebration of military strength. We humored our leaders by watching a spectacle of one after another missile-topped tank driving past in an endless parade, while Chinese nationals of the exact same pre-selected height marched about and performed various military stances in absolute conformity like so many robots. We saw the grim-faced, turtle-like, visages of the military leaders wielding their military might, and were reminded that nobody better fuck with China, and that includes America.

Pictures of Chairman Mao are everywhere, even if the current, rabidly predatory variety of capitalism China’s elite enjoy is completely antithetical to Mao’s whole purpose and passion. Corrupt businessmen who brutally exploit the peasantry, and who Mao would have humiliated in the public square and summarily executed for the greater good, nowadays keep his picture above their desks and behind them to lend themselves the power and authority of one who could orchestrate a long march or great leap forward, commanding millions to follow without question. The important thing is that Mao was great, and Chinese, and it doesn’t matter if his ideas are completely out of sink with new and opposite concepts of greatness. He fought off the Japanese, and businessman of today likes to see himself as a proud warrior, even if those he seeks to vanquish are his own countrymen, who have the misfortune of working for him.

I don’t really have any proof, and maybe it was just a lethal cocktail of racism, ignorance, and rudeness, but I suspected that the increasing anti-foreigner behavior I saw at the end of my tenure was fueled by a ramped up Nationalism.

My fist year in China I was subjected to a lot of teasing and whatnot, and this included precisely one flagrant, “Fok U”. I did a U-turn on my bike and confronted the upstart teenaged boy, and said something in Chinese about that being extremely rude. By my last year the “Fok U” and “Fok U lao wai” taunts became so frequent that on one long walk with a friend of mine we received seven different, unrelated taunts of “Fok U”, and other additional epithets hurled at us. The culprits were almost always boys, and one adult man excoriated the several boys who showered us with Chinese and Enlgish curses while we tried to have a leisurely stroll along the river (which was perpetually being dredged for all it was worth for precious minerals).

It became so bad that if I wanted to go to the grocery store, I knew I’d have to brave at least one and possibly several incidents of “Lao wai fok u!” Usually I’d try to ignore it, but my would-be insult assailants had no way to know if they were the first or the fifth people to swear at me in a given, pollution-filled, afternoon. Occasionally, I’d turn around and glare at them, at which point they’d run away.

Chinese colleagues would always make excuses for them and say it must be something they saw on American TV, and that they don’t know the meaning. This explanation fell apart for two glaring reasons. The first is that one particularly colorful Chinese teacher friend of mine told me what I could say to them in Chinese in response. The outcome of this was NOT, however, that I ever said such things, but rather that I became aware of what they were saying to me in Chinese as well as English. There could be no doubt that when they said, “cao ni ma”, for example, that they understood what “Fok U matha” meant, because it meant the same thing in Chinese.

Once a couple very young boys, maybe around 8 years old, said “Fok U” to me while I was walking by the university, near the back gate. When I turned around (naturally they had said it behind my back), they ran into a small mom-and-pop type grocery store. “Aaah,” I thought, “This time I’ve got you.” I went in to the store to tell the owners, who I correctly guesses were the parents, what their children had done. The father became so belligerent, that we were on the verge of exchanging blows – I’d already taken up a kick-boxing stance – when a customer came in and he switched gears to the ever important quest for money. And as former leader of the PRC, Deng Xiaoping, had famously stated, “to get rich is glorious”. Money is the new Mao.

Further, any time that a Chinese friend, colleague, or student was with us when such an incident happened, they were deeply embarrassed, apologetic, and themselves offended.

Even my first few months living in Chiang Mai, I still had post-China-stress symptoms. Whenever I heard laughter I had to remind myself that I was no longer the likely cause of it. If two or more teenaged boys approached me on the street, I didn’t need to brace myself for being mocked. If someone got out a camera, I didn’t need to automatically put my sunglasses on and face the other way. If someone was moving near me while I waited in line, it wasn’t a maneuver to power ahead of me.

After I’d been relatively hardened to being told “Fok U” on a daily basis, Chinese friends would tell me that they didn’t know how I could stand all the attention and abuse.

7) Weather: Most of China boasts four seasons, only two of which show up: blistering summer, and freezing winter. Where I lived in Shaanxi was so hot and humid, that while writing an email and conjecturing that it was even hotter than when I lived in HCM, Vietnam, I checked to see how the weather actually compared, and it was indeed even hotter and more humid. Today, a quick look shows me that my former city in Shaanxi is 85 degrees farenheit with 49% humidity, while Saigon is 79 degrees but with 100% humidity. What is shocking about this is that unlike in Southern Vietnam, which is always hot, it would freeze up for months on end in Shaanxi, thus exposing one to the worst of both worlds with precious few days of anything in between.

snowing-at-the-university

Snowing in a small city in Shaanxi. Me and a group of my students. Yes, I feel guilty bringing up all the downsides of teaching in China, when the students were so good, and deserve good teachers.

The same could be said of New York on a bad year, but one can get through it easier because of things like radiators and air-conditioning. However, my cement classrooms had no insulation, heating, or cooling other than ceiling fans the students were deathly afraid of, and not without some good reason. In a given year I experienced both being so incredibly hot that my shirt became drenched with sweat, and even my legs were sweating so much that my pants were clinging to them – a condition I’ve only experience before AFTER at least a half-hour of jogging on a particularly hot day – AND, my hands being so cold that I had trouble gripping the chalk even though I was wearing gloves in class (and ear warmers).

Restaurants frequently didn’t use heating either, so we’d eat festooned with scarves, hats, and gloves. And in the boiling summer, you couldn’t get cold beer because it was considered unhealthy to drink cold drinks in the heat (which translates as expensive to run the refrigerator).

8) Traffic: If you have enough money to drive a car you do, and if you don’t drive a car it is because you are too poor, you worthless, farmer, piece of shit. I’ve heard a legend that somewhere on the horn of a Chinese car there is a steering wheel. The cars do turn, so I guess that must be true, but from outside the car one would think the most important device inside of it must be the horn, because of the frequency with which it was used. The closest I’ve come to physical fights revolved around my reluctance to throw myself on the pavement to get out of the way of a honking car, when I had the green light.

On my very first day in China I tried to cross a street, and a tax barrel-assed down on me leaning on the horn. I thought something like, “What the hell’s wrong with THAT asshole,” but later realized that from the Chinese standpoint the asshole that there was something wrong with was ME. When you are mere cattle, and a car honks at you, you get the fuck out of the way. It is necessary to honk very loudly at any animal, even or especially ones which walk upright, which were too stupid to have already prostrated themselves or flattened themselves against a wall to make way for the royal class of new capitalists who steered themselves in majestic, mechanical carriages.

Traffic lights are for the poor, and if you are in a car they aren’t for you. This is the unwritten law. And the same goes for lanes. The rich shall drive and park however and wherever they want. The poor be damned (and exploited to all hell for profit)!So many people will insist that the traffic laws are different in China, or the people simply aren’t familiar with them. A quick search of traffic laws in China proves the first claim wrong, and the way every motorist behaves if there is an actual policeman present, or a known video camera proves, the second false. Behind the wheel the average Chinese person becomes a vicious asshole who will as soon plow you over as slow down, indeed they will speed up if you are in their path to show you that they mean business, you leprous dog you!

9) Rudeness: Rude Chinese behavior is more apparent to the foreigner than to other Chinese, in part because they are much ruder to foreigners than to each other (though they can also be more polite, particularly is they mistakenly think you are rich, rich, rich, which you must be if you are like the people on TV). For example, Chinese kids wouldn’t dare say “cao ni ma” (Fok U matha) to an adult Chinese male. It is also very rude to stare in China, unless of course it’s at a foreigner, because, well, shit, everyone stares at monkeys in the zoo, and you can’t blame people for being fascinated if they’ve never seen blue eyes or non-dyed, light-brown hair. The rules just don’t apply when there’s a foreign monkey in the room.

But there is a general rudeness that’s seen in the que-jumping, and other patently selfish behavior. I’ve forgotten most my Chinese, because now I live in Thailand and have to speak Thai, but, I still remember hot to say “don’t cut in line”, which is, “bie cha dui”. I had to use that phrase a lot.

Then there’s the smoking, including in elevators, and in groups within restaurants when seated directly beneath the “no-smoking” sign. The idea that a foreigner might not appreciate at all breathing in volcanic levels of ash from a table of chain-smoking businessmen trying to be the first to request a new ashtray is a foreign idea.

waiting-in-line

On the left is the western system, and on the right the Chinese.

There’s also a need to talk as loudly as possible whenever possible in order to assert ones presence. Tables of men in restaurants can reach shouting level, especially if they are playing their drinking games, and the “bi jiu” (rice whisky) has been free flowing.

And then there’s littering. I don’t think the average Chinese person thinks of it as rude. A Chinese friend once explained it to me in a very succinct way: “In your country public space belongs to everyone, but in China it belongs to no one”. They may even have justifications such as that if they didn’t litter, some inferior being, whose fate it was to clean up the mess created by their superiors, would be out of work. However, even at the seven dragon maiden pools in Dali, a group of Chinese tourists left wrappers and paper napkins strewn about, and just to make sure whoever came after would be insulted, set their paper instant noodle bowls afloat in the very dragon pools.

litter

Convenient places to dump litter ruin what would otherwise be pleasant forays into the countryside. I took this pic in Watertown, Shaanxi.

10) Corruption: Just because someone is smiling at you, telling you that you are handsome or beautiful, congratulating you on the riches of the country you come from, and shaking your hand, doesn’t mean the other hand isn’t eviscerating you under the table.  Corruption is ubiquitous, and everyone at all levels of society feel the need to cheat everyone else just to make up for some of the times they’ve themselves been cheated. Cheating, overcharging, and every kind of short-changing are necessary survival techniques, almost like an unwritten tax. Students regularly cheat, and an argument for cheating from one of my Chinese friends was that students needed to do it to make up for the other students doing it, so that they had a fair chance at getting a top score. To not cheat, some believe, is stupid. For the honest, well-intentioned, foreign teacher, however, you only get the short end of the stick.

To be honest, lay your cards on the table, and tell the truth in China is considered naive and stupid: the equivalent of showing your cards and sharing your strategy while playing poker. The proper way to interact is to be playing a game of chess, without ever acknowledging you are working your own strategies or are evaluating theirs. Play stupid but be secretly smart. Honestly, in China, is the best policy for being duped and face planted (a particularly virulent strain of losing face).

When you arrive you are like those green baby sea turtles, that hatched from a hole excavated by their mother, and are left on their own to make the long trek to the sea through a gauntlet of gulls and crabs and other predators before the sharks have their chance at you. Ruthless Chinese businessmen have figured out that it’s best to seal the deal, and rip off the green foreigner blind before he or she gets any footing, or finds out anything from anyone who already knows the ropes.

One will be generously picked up at the airport, otherwise many a foreigner will have such a difficult time finding his way to his abysmal lodgings in the sticks that he will show up just wanting to collapse (it was at LEAST a 13 hour flight), and not feel ready to be the center of attention in a banquet, in which he will be forced to toast his new masters until he turns green. Once at the banquet, if not in the car beforehand, the bait and switch may begin. Extra classes or duties will happily come up, and perhaps there was a mistake in the contract and you will get one less month of pay in the Summer. Who could say no to an extra class or helping out the leader’s nephew, when you suddenly find yourself in the seat of honor, in a new country, toasting and being toasted. You’re so happily drunk, and everyone seems so incredibly nice, you don’t want to disappoint them, and you don’t want to ruin the evening. Sucker!

One of my bosses slammed me with his own version of a contract, in lieu of the standard contract for the chain school, on my first day after a miserable night in a freezing and moldy apartment. Needless to say, every change was in his favor, and I’d be giving up any overtime pay, and agreeing to work whenever and wherever he could come up with a money-making scheme to take advantage of me. He had plans for me to teach custom lessons in the bank, for example. When I insisted on the real contract, he sourly informed me that we would have a bad relationship, and I would get nowhere in China. Thus began our bad relationship, which included systematic attempt to cheat me, including overcharging me for electricity, and a scam to put his phone calls on my bill. Strike while the iron is hot, and plunge it into the hairy flesh of the green foreign monkey.

As I mentioned before, toilets don’t have doors and public restrooms have neither hot water, soap, nor toilet paper. Which reminds me of something rather special I observed one day while waiting five hours for the train that never showed up. While in the restroom several waiting men were also in there, smoking, and having a lively discussion. It didn’t matter that one of them was crapping, door open, and contributing as much to the conversation as to the porcelain below. I’m pretty sure I shook my head almost imperceptibly, and raised my eyebrows, while doing my business in the un-flushed and abusively reeking urinal, to let the spirits know that I wasn’t a part of all this. However, part of me admired the comfort the men had with each other, and that they’d managed to combine the primal pleasures of hearty conversation, tobacco smoking, and taking a good shit.

And you can’t get simple items like cheese. I once read on someone’s Chiang Mai blog that she was ready to go home because she missed things like cheese. My God! I live in Chiang Rai, which is much smaller and less westernized, and I got the best aged cheddar I’ve had in years at the local chain supermarket. Where I lived in China they only had one cheese, which was some for of “cheese food substitute” that, because it was too sweet, chalky, and yet somehow distantly familiar, we branded as lady’s milk cheese, and never bought again.

11) Lack of basic conveniences: There are things we take for granted because we were born into households that had them, but which other parts of the world still do not have. You cannot drink the water out of the faucet in China. You probably don’t have hot water in any of your sinks. There is no separate shower, and certainly no tub. The shower head is on a hose and attached to the water heating device above the toilet. You will shower next to the toilet.After washing your clothes, you will not throw them in the dryer, but hang them out to dry, which can take a very long time when it’s snowing outside. This is why you string lines in your living room so that you can hang your clothes under the dual A/C-heater on the wall.

Below is a gallery of photos of my first Chinese apartment, which was perhaps lacking in some of the more luxurious or technologically advanced accessories.

As I mentioned before, toilets don’t have doors and public restrooms have neither hot water, soap, nor toilet paper. Which reminds me of something rather special I observed one day while waiting five hours for the train that never showed up. While in the restroom several waiting men were also in there, smoking, and having a lively discussion. It didn’t matter that one of them was crapping, door open, and contributing as much to the conversation as to the porcelain below. I’m pretty sure I shook my head almost imperceptibly, and raised my eyebrows, while doing my business in the un-flushed and abusively reeking urinal, to let the spirits know that I wasn’t a part of all this. However, part of me admired the comfort the men had with each other, and that they’d managed to combine the primal pleasures of hearty conversation, tobacco smoking, and taking a good shit.And you can’t get simple items like cheese. I once read on someone’s Chiang Mai blog that she was ready to go home because she missed things like cheese. My God! I live in Chiang Rai, which is much smaller and less westernized, and I got the best aged cheddar I’ve had in years at the local chain supermarket. Where I lived in China they only had one cheese, which was some for of “cheese food substitute” that, because it was too sweet, chalky, and yet somehow distantly familiar, we branded as lady’s milk cheese, and never bought again.

12) Privacy: The foreign teacher monkey will find he has less privacy on display in the Chinese zoo than he or she did back at home. This is largely because the Chinese themselves have an appalling lack of privacy. When public toilets don’t have doors, there’s not much symbolic privacy left to take away. The students live in dorms consisting of bunk beds crammed together, and they can’t even camp out in the shower for a few precious minutes of solitude, because they don’t have one and have to go to a public shower.

The parents often live with the grandparents in the same house, and I start to wonder if the only place one has to oneself is even in ones own head. Personal space is reserved for internal organs, and one can find oneself sandwiched between pressing crowds, especially if one is near the front of a line for a limited number of, say, train tickets.

I routinely unplugged phones with wires in my school-provided apartments, and I wouldn’t answer any phone call if I didn’t know the number. Unless one was desperately lonely in a new culture, and welcomed any attention, calls were calls of unpaid duty or requests for favors, such as tutoring this or that precious relative or child of a “leader” in your free time. Work doesn’t end when you go home, but rather when you die. You are the bosses bitch in principle, not just on the clock.

I’ve already mentioned the civic duty of spying on the foreign spy, but even harmless intimacy with strangers can occur on one’s doorstep. Chinese teachers customarily live with their families and extended families in small apartments provided by the university, but which can’t accommodate grandpa AND the baby he and grandma have been brought in to watch. Grandpa, therefore, might erect a makeshift bedroom at the end of the hall outside the foreign monkey’s front (and only) door. This actually happened (see pic). Needless to say, it was no secret when I came or left. If the guy in question didn’t seem like a sweet old man who probably needed relief from the racket inside his family’s apartment, I wouldn’t have accepted the situation. But, given the choices of complaining and getting his stuff removed, or just going along with it, I decided to be nice to the old guy, and consider him my private security.

grandpa's-bedroom

This isn’t a small room in an apartment. This is someone’s grandpa’s makeshift room immediately outside my apartment door. To take this picture I just opened the door and aimed the camera left.

I may have added a bit of humor, but all of the above is true enough (and I didn’t even mention the manholes overflowing with shit, or the dank sewer smell that wafts up into ones apartment because they didn’t put proper air/gas traps in the pipes). Once again, one will meet wonderful Chinese people, possibly make lifelong connections, and the natural wonders away from the pollution are marvelous, but, unless one is lucky, the traps and pitfalls can leave one more than a little bruised, and sick as a dog. Teaching in China is the experience of a life time, and possibly the worst experience of a lifetime, at the same time.

~ Ends

13 reasons not to brave teaching in China I lived in very ordinary cities in China for over four years, and one day I realized that was approximately ten percent of my life.

Consciousness, Free Will, and Art

Consciousness-Free-Will-&-Art

Consciousness-Free-Will-&-Art“I want to be a machine” ~ Andy Warhol

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This is the most fundamental question of our era, because everything else rests on the answer to it. You can’t discuss free will, for example, if you can’t basically establish what consciousness is and isn’t. Centuries past the focus was on whether God exists or not, but now we are questioning our own nature. Are we essentially mechanical things or immaterial awarenesses? There are major…

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Say so long to Solipsism

Solipsism

Solipsism

Hard Solipsism is an even easier target than determinism to refute, and I think it’s worthwhile to the fat off of relevant philosophical inquiry.

Solipsism is the philosophical argument that you can’t know that you aren’t the only thing in existence, and that you aren’t just imagining everyone and everything else. The strongest argument for Solipsism is that this is precisely what we experience…

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Grandpa is Sick, humor

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