Friday, March 16, 2018

I am Lazy on an International Level

This month marks 18 months since Red and I arrived in the Middle Kingdom. We've been here long enough that this is just where we live now. The adventure is gone. Having the adventure gone means that most of the stress that goes along with that adventure is gone also. Having the stress gone is a good thing, but I miss the adventure.

We have gotten settled to the point that we are shopping around for apartments. Something that is not fun to do in any culture and China is no exception. Now that we have this place a little better figured out, we know what we like. And, more importantly, we are very aware of what we don't like.

We've learned how to order food directly to our apartment instead of going out. That is really nice in the winter. However, when we do go out, we have the regular restaurants we enjoy visiting. Just like in the States, we try new places also, but you settle into your favorites.

I have received messages from so many people saying things like:
  • "Wow! Your life is so exciting."
  • "What's it like to live in Beijing?"
  • "How do you know what you're eating is actually pork?"
  • "Aren't you scared of all the pandas running around?"
When we first got here, it was adventure all the time. Confusion, cluelessness, abject terror when out of the apartment, but adventure. However, with time, it has just become the place that we live. Most of my life in the States, I would wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, go to work, come home and watch TV, eat dinner and hang around the house. Now I live in China and my typical daily routine is eat breakfast, go to work, come home and watch TV, eat dinner and hang around the house.

As you can see, it hasn't really changed much. The only real work I do here that I didn't do in the States is searching the internet for pirated TV shows to download since there is no Netflix in China.

If you know me at all, you are well aware that I am rather lazy. Now I do love to experience new things and enjoy being the center of attention, but I'm not too keen on either if it will require much effort. I am more than happy to do nothing. And I have quickly learned that I can do that literally anywhere in the world.

My new life goal is to take a nap on every continent.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Starting To Figure This Place Out

Last week, I returned from an English competition I participated in last year. It was four days of sitting under studio lights and listening to children showcase a talent they had prepared.

Some of the performances were great. Others were like listening to Gilbert Gottfried and Fran Drescher having sex with each other.

Despite the long days, I love working on this show. It's an opportunity to do something different and meet a bunch of new people. I make a lot of new Chinese friends and also meet many foreigners who are there doing the same thing. However, this year had one major difference from last year.

Last year, I had only been in China for a couple of months and was still in the "Crap! What have we gotten ourselves into?" mode. Now, I've been here for almost a year and a half and China doesn't seem scary anymore.

I was especially reminded of this when I got home and was reflecting on the week I just had. Each group of judges had two "native" English speakers along with several Chinese judges of differing talents. The other English speaker I was paired with was a Brazilian guy who had only arrived in China the month before and has not had a good experience so far. In fact, the company that brought him here really screwed him over, but he has gotten away from them.

While he enjoys working with children, he is acutely aware of averything around him that "just isn't right." He had a host of complaints over the course of the weekend.
  • He was disgusted that some children had memorized answers instead of interacting with the judges.
  • He hated that the breakfast they gave us was not was 'normal people' would eat.
  • He told us stories of the management style he had to suffer with at his new job.
  • The apartment he lived in was sub-standard.
  • He didn't agree with the educational system he was working in
  • He was having trouble making Chinese friends.
  • The language barrier was ridiculous.
 After one of his stories about something he was not happy with, he walked away and another guy in the room (in China for 6 years) said "He's a whiny little bitch."

While I couldn't disagree with the sentiment, I tried to remind the people in the room that this man had just arrived in the country and is still in freak out mode. Everyone nodded. Those first few months are difficult. It's like being on another planet.

Since I was paired with this guy, we spent a lot of time together and I did my best to help him understand some things, tell him where to buy certain items that he couldn't find and how to do some necessary tasks that seemed insurmountable. One conversation stood out in particular. It happened over breakfast.

James: Don't these people realize that breakfast is supposed to be a different meal? Why are they serving the same stuff we ate at lunch and dinner?

Me: This isn't the same.

James: Well, maybe not. But why don't they at least serve breakfast food?

Me: This is breakfast food. It's Chinese breakfast food. You do understand that we are in China, right?

James: Why can't they serve the food that normal people eat?

Me: Stop and think about this. There are over seven and a half billion people on this planet and almost one and a half billion live in this country. China, the country you are in now, makes up close to 20% of the entire world. Statistically, whatever they eat here is closer to 'normal' than whatever either of us eat in our own countries. This is normal. Everything that happens here is more 'normal' than what happens anywhere else.

He understood my point and let it rest for a moment, but as I scooped up a spoonful of my congee, it struck me. "Did I just say that? Where did that come from?"

As much as I was annoyed at how little this guy was willing to open his mind and try to bend to his surroundings, it occurred to me that this was me a year ago.

I wasn't happy about anything. I didn't know how to pay my bills. Grocery shopping was a disaster. We didn't know how to cook. There were strange smells in our apartment. We came dangerously close to getting hopelessly lost every time we went outside. I couldn't talk to anyone. Even the few people who try to help don't realize how clueless I was. It was horrible.


What a difference a year makes. There is still so so so much about China that I don't understand, but the fear and anxiety is gone. I got this. I'm ready to tackle another country now.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Maybe Society Should Have a Warning Label

Every now and then, something happens in America and I get to hold my smug head high and say "Not me, I don't live there." I may be from the States, but I've been safely on the other side of the world in China for the last 18 months. Therefore, I will accept no responsibility for the events that have prompted some of the recent headlines.

Tide Pod Challenge 

First, let's not even get into how stupid someone has to be to think that eating soap would be a good idea. For generations, parents washed kids' mouths out with soap as a punishment. Now, the kids are doing it willingly. There are plenty of jokes already written about this and a ton of memes. You've already seen everything floating around social media and can look them up for yourself if you wish.

People (especially young people whose brains haven't fully developed yet) doing stupid things is not really surprising. Still stupid. Feel free to shame them all you like (I know I do). But not surprising. A huge percentage of the world's population are idiots and always will be. What surprises me is the reactions that people have to the stupid trends.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Google and other sites started getting pressure to remove all videos featuring idiots eating Tide Pods. Some sites even started giving 'strikes' to people who uploaded content showing people eating Tide Pods. Some people have even suggested holding these companies liable for even having the videos. Click here for an article explaining it all.

Tide even hastily threw together a video to stop people from ingesting their non-food product.

I find it pathetic that pressure was put on them to have to say anything at all to the idiots who are well aware of what they are doing, but I respect the attitude that Tide took with their public service announcement.

They have been active in getting information out there about not eating laundry detergent and have helped to get internet videos removed, but they have stated that they will not change the appearance of their product. To read the article, click here. To summarize their stance: Stupid people are stupid people and we cannot change that. You're lucky we are even acknowledging these idiots. There's already a warning label on the box. That should be enough.

And I couldn't agree more.

It bothers me that pressure is being put on anyone to do something about this. No one is to blame for any idiot older than a toddler purposefully chewing on a Tide Pod. Not a website, not the manufacturer, not another person who did it, no one other than the person who made this choice. That person is a moron and YouTube cannot be blamed for that.

YouYube also has videos showing how to grow a garden, fix your car, ace an interview, etc. If you just have to do something you saw on the internet, have an honor student help you choose a better video.

Next topic, Crock-Pot Mania

SPOILER ALERT: If you are a watcher of the hit TV show This is Us and are not familiar with the big plot-twist that happened earlier this week, do not continue. You have been warned.

Now, I do not watch This is Us. I am not really even sure what it is about, but it is in the news this week because they killed off one of the main characters. Jack Pearson, the "world's greatest dad" dies in a house fire that was started by a crock pot.

Now, other than entertainment news, this doesn't seem like much of a news story. However, it has grown into something more. This sometimes happens when people are stupid. If you haven't noticed, this is the theme I am running with.

People all over the country are looking at their crock pots with suspicion and wondering if they are safe to have in their homes. It has gotten so bad that both the writers of the show and crock pot companies have had to issue statements explaining the safety of these devices.

Apparently, many of the fans of this show don't realize that this crockpot was a fictional item that was 20 years old and had a faulty switch that "had to be fiddled with a little" to get it to work. Emphasis on the word fictional. This was a literary device used to produce the outcome the writers were going for. They could have used an electric knife, a dishwasher, just faulty wiring, or had him stumble down the stairs and break his neck. That's it. But…as with the Tide Pod Challenge, people are stupid. Now, they're scared of their slow cookers. I don't even know what to say.

Maybe we could learn a lesson from Mexico where even their drug lords are more trustworthy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Life is Rough

Today is my first day of my six week vacation. SIX WEEKS! It's time to party.

I get these unplanned (but fortunately paid) breaks quite often due to the nature of my job. I am an English teacher in Beijing, but not the same kind of teacher as the local teachers. I am the "native English-speaking oral teacher" at my school. I have over 700 students spread out across 20 different classes in third through fifth grade. I meet with each class once a week for 40 minutes.

This means that I am not their actual English teacher. They have Chinese English teachers all week and I pop in once a week to play English-speaking games. I don't do typical English lessons. I just design my classes to get my students to talk. It gives them a chance to practice the language they have been learning without getting caught up in structure, grammar, and syntax. Those things are important, but it is not the purpose of my being there. Plus, they get exposure to a native English-speaker.

This makes my job different from the regular teachers in several ways:
  • I don't give homework
  • I don't grade papers
  • I don't give tests
  • I don't have progress reports
  • I don't assign grades
  • I am not responsible for any paperwork
Because of this, I also don't go to staff meetings, teacher's workshops, field trips, extra-curricular activities, after-school programs, etc. I don't even stay at school for the entire day. I show up in time to teach the first class I have for the day and leave as soon as I finish my last class. While the other teachers are there Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., I put in just under five hours and I only work four days a week. Take all these "perks" and add in that as the "professional expert" in my field, I get paid more than them. So you can imagine how popular I am with the rest of the staff.

Me being off work right now is one of those perks. School is still in session, but my services are not needed. This week is the semi-yearly progress test for all Chinese students. Because all students are taking this test, there are no classes for me to teach. So I get to stay home.

All next week, the students are out of school, but the teachers have meetings and training all week. However, it is all in Chinese and most of it doesn't apply to what I do. So I don't have to go in for that either. After that is the start of the Chinese Spring Festival which kicks off Chinese New Year. It lasts four weeks and everyone does get off for that. I just got to leave two weeks early. It's a pretty sweet gig. If I could just find a way to not have to deal with children, it would be the perfect job.

Now that I've got all this time off, I need to figure out what to do.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

National Novel Writing Month

In my last post (click here), I mentioned that I would be tackling NaNoWriMo this year.

NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month that takes place every year in November. Writers from all over the world join together to crank out the story that's been rattling around in their heads in one single month. The measurable goal is to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.

Now, anyone who has ever met me or even been in the same room with me, knows that I have no shortage of words constantly flowing out of my head. Primarily through my mouth hole. I can eek out 50,000 words from my mouth over lunch. There are absolutely no topics that I am not willing to fake being an expert in so I can hear myself talk.

However, NaNoWriMo is considerably more challenging. 50,000 words is approximately 200 pages of written words. And there must be a theme that runs through all these words. Not like speech where you can just talk and talk and change topics from politics to restaurants to polar bear mating habits to the ugliest Sex in the City cast member.

When you are writing a book, it must have a coherent path for the reader to follow. It needs a beginning, middle and end. And that does not even get into the need to have likeable characters, a plausible story arc, a significant conflict, and a resolution. It's rather a large task to undertake, but it has some great advantages.

First, it gets the story written. I came up with my story about two years ago. I even made phone calls to some published author friends to pick their brains about how to get started on a story. I carried around a notebook and made notes about significant plot points as I thought of them and I really enjoyed developing the characters in my head as I was at work. I would get so excited when a new angle occurred to me. It was great. It was energizing.

What it was not was…actually getting written.

I had almost the entire story in my head and a little of it in some notes, but that was all I had done. About six months ago, I actually sat down and wrote out the first five chapters. I wrote them and re-wrote them over and over until they were just they way I wanted them, but it was a very slow process. When I felt that I was happy with them, I even sent them out to about a half dozen people to get their feedback. I got some great pointers on things I could change to improve it. However, once again, that is all that happened. I went back and made changes to those chapters.

The book still wasn't getting written.

I really want to be able to just write for a living. I keep picturing myself getting up in the morning and sitting at my computer for a few hours to work on my next novel and not having to punch a time clock somewhere.  But in order for that to even be in the realm of possibility, I have to actually produce a book now and then. Thinking about a book does not get it written.

Stephen King at his writing desk

So, when people on Twitter started talking about NaNoWriMo, I decided that having the specific goal of having to commit 1,667 words to paper per day might give me the motivation I needed to actually get this book out of my head and onto paper.

Starting November 1st, I dove in with a personal commitment that I had to produce this daily quota. And I did. Turns out I just needed a specific goal to shoot for instead of "Just sit down and write, stupid." As of today (November 20), I have written 40,137 words toward my goal of having 50,000 by the end of the month.

This means, I will actually have my book written before December gets here. YAY!!!

It won't be ready to go yet, because I will then have to start the tedious task of going through it and editing it. For the past three weeks, I've just been cranking out the words to get the story out, but I wouldn't want anyone to read it yet. I need to tidy it up and give it my specific voice, develop the characters further, drop in some witty dialogue, and make sure that it flows well. I have no idea how long that part of it will take, but I have learned that if I set some specific goals for myself, I can get it done without dragging it out unnecessarily.

Once I'm satisfied, I'll be looking for volunteers to read it and give me feedback on what they think needs to be fixed before I start sending it out to publishers.

I can't even begin to express how excited I am that my novel is finally coming to life and that I have that space in my brain back. It's been in there long enough.