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Fri Feb 17, 2012, 07:59 PM

Life in China for an ex-pat (third in a series)

All is well in China. New and exciting happenings every day, usually revolving around the differences in language and customs between China and America.

For example - I decided to have some fun screwing with some Chinese minds recently. Background: In Mandarin, the word "Mei-You" (pronounced "Mayo")(没有) means "I don't have any". I went into a KFC here and ordered a sandwich. They brought it and it had mayonnaise on one of the slices of bread. I opened up the sandwich to the other side, pointed to the bread and said "Mayo"(meaning I wanted mayonnaise on that slice also) , which sounds like "Mei-You" (meaning I don't have any). The look on their faces was very funny, trying to figure out how someone could point to something and say "I don't have any". After watching them get frustrated in trying to understand what I was asking for and me knowing full well, that would happen, I asked them "Mei You Mayo ma?" (没有 Mayo 吗) which literally would mean "You don't have any mayonnaise?" but I knew they would understand it as "You don't have any you don't have, do you?" Once they all were completely confused, I ended the torture by putting the sandwich back together and saying "xie xie" (pronounced almost like ""sea sea") which means "thank you" and left, leaving a LOT of confusion behind me.

Question - how many Chinese electricians does it take to change a light bulb? In my High School classroom, as I am showing a movie, the school electrician decided it was time to change one of the flourescent light bulbs. You would think he would simply turn the circuit "off" at the switch, climb a ladder, change the bulb, then descend and turn the switch to the "on" position, right? That would make sense, and this is exactly why they don't do it that way here. How does a Chinese electrician change a light bulb?

Step 1: Remove the cover plate from the switch box and insert a long, large screwdriver into the box guaranteeing a short circuit and a lot of sparks.

Step 2: Now that all electricity to the entire room/floor/building or city has been cut off by the short circuit, climb a ladder and change the bulb.

Step 3: Descend the ladder and replace the cover plate on the switch box.

Step 4: Go immediately outside the room (a distance of 4 steps) and re-set the circuit breaker you blew in Step 1.

Step 5: Come back into the room to see if the light is now on. If so, smile and leave. If not, return to Step 1.

Thankfully, the light worked. The answer to the question - six - one to change the lightbulb, one to watch and four to put out the fire.

The Bus Nazi strikes again and again. Since I am nearing 60 (this is my father) and I am an American, I frankly don't care about "face", but everyone else in China does. Unfortunately the Chinese are raising a generation of little Emperors and Empresses to whom manners are at best an abstract concept and at worst an unknown one. When an elderly or infirm person gets on a bus and I see an able bodied teenager sitting, I have no problem coming up to them and snapping my fingers right in front of their noses than pointing at them and then signalling "up" with my thumb, all the while saying "Ni Bu Shi Lao, Ta Shi Lao" (You are not old, (S)he is old) (你不是老, 她石老)". A couple of days ago I was in the back of the bus and I saw an elderly lady with a very young child standing right next to such a teenager. My son was with me and he said "wait a minute or two and I will join you". He knew exactly what I was about to do. My response was "this one won't wait". I walked half the length of the bus to order that child to get up. l after he did, I turned around to the other side of the bus and did it to a young girl so an old man could sit. Keep in mind, I am neither quiet nor discreet when I do this, and as soon as the old man sat down, a half a dozen other teenagers all around the bus stood up to give the elderly their seats. The strongest human emotion is shame. Use it well. On that same bus ride, earlier, a different Puyi shot me a look of absolute disdain when I ordered him to get up to surrender his seat to an old woman, so I gave him the "Ni Bu Shi Lao, Ta Shi Lao" (你不是老, 她是老)and added a loud, disdainful "Sha-bi" (pronounced "Sha-bee")(傻逼) which translates to "asshole". Needless to say, all the elderly on the bus gave me a thumbs-up. They would never ask for a seat for themselves and would never "butt in" by ordering the Imperial Butts out of a seat for someone else.

I am in my last two months here in Shijiazhuang (石家庄) ( or, as we call it, "Shit City"). There is nothing here for a foreigner to do and even less to recommend the city to you to come to. The best that can be said it is is a stop on the train between Beijing and Shanghai (上海). The temperature has risen dramatically in a shore span of time so at least I no longer spend 24 hours a day cold. On to Nanjing (南京)....

At dinner a couple of weeks ago we went to a Hot Pot restaurant. A Hot Pot is a "you cook it, all you can eat". Cooking is done by boiling in either a non-spicy liquid or "fart fire for a week" spicy liquid. The waiter seated us and who happened to be seated at the table right next to us? Eight cadets from the Army College I teach at, three of them my students. After the hello's and introductions, each table ate its meal and didn't bother with the other, but when the cadets got up to leave, one of the waitresses decided they hadn't had enough to eat. She literally ordered them to sit and eat more, and positioned herself on guard duty between the cadets and the door, preventing them from leaving until she was satisfied they had eaten enough. A Chinese Jewish Mother.

The Restaurant police had a sweep of unlicensed food places on Da Jing Jie (Jie = street) (大经街) last week. In China (中国) it is very common for people to "open" a "restaurant" by simply bringing folding tables, plastic chairs, a barbecue and food, plopping them all on a sidewalk somewhere and "dinner is served". "Permits, we don't need no stinking permits..." In China, laws are observed more in their violation than in being followed. Many of these "restaurants" have been open in the same "location" (meaning the same place on the sidewalk) for years, weather permitting. They are all over the place, and there are no less than a dozen of them in a two block stretch of Da Jing Jie (大经街). One day the police decided to do a "sweep". In this "sweep" they are supposed to get these unlicensed restaurants out of there because of the competition they pose to the licensed ones. Such a "sweep" happened two weeks ago. I never said that laws here are enforced equally here. Most of the time laws aren't enforced at all. In the "sweep" I got a perfect example of this. Here are the police ordering a "restaurant" on the south corner of a street intersecting Da Jing Jie (大经街) to close up and leave... while their supervisors were having their dinner meal at the exact same type of "restaurant" directly across the street. My guess is that old Cockney saying "It's Crackers to slip a Rozzer the Dropsy in Snide", meaning I think someone's bribe check bounced. Before you get the wrong impression, most of these "restaurants" are quite good, and you can eat a full day's food there for under $1USD. The food is fresh, as is all food in China. When you eat meat here it was walking around the day before. Sea food was in the lake or the sea the day before and was in a tank of water fifteen minutes ago. All the vegetables and fruits were in contact with their roots yesterday. The actual food vendors are also selling on the street on Nan Da Jie (南大街) and it is not uncommon at the fish vendor to see the fish still flopping around on a blanket on the street. The various butchers have the remains of their animal and they cut the meat right off the carcass for you. Remember - the animal was alive yesterday. It's all the same price no matter where on the animal the cut came from. It doesn't matter whether it is the Chuck Steak, the Sirloin, the Fillet Mignon or the bull's Penis, it's all the same price.

There are now about 3 weeks left in the school term and I have officially run out of ideas on how to get my kids to actually open their mouths and speak (short of dousing them with gasoline and throwing matches at them). I did what Richard Mulligan did in the Nick Nolte movie "Teachers" - I threw the book literally out the window months ago. It was a terrible book the kids cannot relate to and found completely boring, and I agree with them on that. Unfortunately, they think they will learn English by watching Tom & Jerry cartoons (no spoken words), Roadrunner cartoons ("beep beep" doesn't count as English), Mr Bean (very little English) or Michael Jackson videos which I refuse to play as matter of principle. I did, however, find that they like limericks and tongue twisters - particularly tongue twisters. Enter William S Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan to my classroom. In their plays there is always a tongue twister or two. I chose The Mikado - it has a simple 4 line Tongue Twister:

To sit in solemn silence in a dull, dark dock
In a pestinential prison with a life long lock
Awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock
From a cheap and chippy chopper on a big, black block

If I can get them to learn that (and sing it for the head of the Foreign Affairs Office and the school Headmaster) the class will be a success by Chinese standards - the kids will have achieved the APPEARANCE of learning English (not the fact, just the appearance). It could have been worse, the selection could have been "Modern Major General" from "Pirates of Penzance". Otherwise, it is like teaching an earthworm to dance Swan Lake.

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Reply Life in China for an ex-pat (third in a series) (Original post)
Suji to Seoul Feb 2012 OP
Duer 157099 Feb 2012 #1
CaliforniaPeggy Feb 2012 #2

Response to Suji to Seoul (Original post)

Fri Feb 17, 2012, 08:16 PM

1. Thanks for the entertainment

Great reading, great writing!

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Response to Suji to Seoul (Original post)

Fri Feb 17, 2012, 08:47 PM

2. I love your writing!

It makes me smile.

Thank you.

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