Day Off ...

Boring and pedantic thoughts. What's that mean? I think about things that seem at the same time deep and commonplace. Like time. Teenagers in a cafe taking pictures of themselves and enjoying the first real summer day, waiting for school to end while I enjoy my first real day off in weeks. Their experience of time is different from mine. I remember being a teenager and thinking about time being compartmentalized and compressed. Of course I had all the usual angst and anxiety about the expansiveness of time and infinities, but real life time seemed so regular: school, no school, summers, weekends, classes, assignments, semesters, TV shows. When I became an adult, time seemed to unroll in front of me like a giant carpet. Winters and summers, days and nights, weekdays and weekends, nothing was preset. All my unusual jobs, partying, traveling, friends and girlfriends, there were no rules about time and, as much as I've always tried to control it by imposing routines - exercising, writing, eating, sleeping – taming it and understanding it has always been out of reach.

My first real day off in three weeks. I've no idea why I'm working so much. More thoughts. How about opening a cafe called Easy Coffee? Here's the concept: no tax and a simply priced menu, but a nice, friendly, comfy place with a good personality. Does a cafe have a personality? Of course it does. Easy Coffee will have a $1 to go menu: small coffee, your coffee (your cup), small juice, simple snacks such as bagels and peanut butter sandwiches and cookies and mini-brownies. Easy Coffee will also have a $2 menu (coffees, some foods), a $3 menu (fancy coffees) and a $5 menu (protein shakes and maybe sandwiches). And that's it! Easy Coffee. I'd go there. Easy Coffee! It's easy! Or .. Easy Coffee! No Change! No Tax! Good Stuff!

How about a movie? A green card marriage: a guy receives money to marry a girl so she can get citizenship. They go through the interviews and red tape. But they fall in love. Why not? It's an intense experience that they go through together. The immigration interviewer doesn't believe them. The more the marriage is questioned, and the more the couple defends it, the more it seems real. But now they have a problem: they're already married, but they want to do it for real. But they can't divorce for three years. So they wait. They get divorced. And then they really tie the knot.


Toilet Paper

What did I learn from living in China? I’ve been asked this question a few times recently, having recently returned from the place. I was there for four years, long enough (most people suppose) to learn something. Every once in a while, someone in China assumed that I learned how to eat with chopsticks or use a squat toilet, easy to master situations that present problems for some foreigners. But I grew up in New York – I’ve been eating with chopsticks and relieving myself in strange and uncomfortable locations for years.

So what did I learn? I learned how to speak Chinese, but that seems too obvious. I recently got a new apartment, my first real, legal, New York apartment that I’m in all alone without roommates or relatives. The place is totally empty. And, out of habit, I’ve put rolls of toilet paper everywhere: on my nightstand, the table I eat breakfast on, on the kitchen counter, and of course in the bathroom. One type of paper instead of four: paper towels, napkins, tissues, and of course, toilet paper.

With the exception of industrial accidents, such as large dogs or heroin addicts having bodily accidents, I think I’ll be OK with toilet paper for all of my household paper needs. It actually works best for most situations – I think many Americans just think it’s weird or gross to use toilet paper outside of the bathroom, but I’ve been liberated. Thanks, China.


Xmas in Beijing

Xmas in Beijing this year was great. I went to a rave. I danced with glowsticks. I drank Chinese scotch mixed with iced tea. What more can I say?



I haven't written anything here for a while. Ah, China. A few weeks ago, Lisa and I had a crazy Chinese day. We saw monkeys and bears riding BMX bikes, lepers begging outside a temple, and a woman with BOUND FEET begging for money. What centure is this?

But today was just as good. My cousin Jason is here. We got a little tipsy off of 6.5% Laos black beer. We met two girls in the bar, one who insisted on coming over tomorrow to teach us how to cook authentic Gansu food, and another who asked me to help her send an English text message to her Korean-Canadian boyfriend or ex-boyfriend in Canada. I can't stop coughing from this awful cold and in the taxi home from the bar, Jason mentioned that the worst thing about death is no more dreaming. What a concept. I decided we had to check with the taxi driver so I asked him, in Chinese, if he thought we could continue to dream and sleep after death. He didn't think we were nuts. He told us a lot of interesting stuff about death. Then we got home and came upstairs, where I am now. Jason is asleep on the couch and I'm in bed writing. Time for sleep!



Is there an anti-technology trend I wasn't informed of sweeping the world? Lately I've met a few people who don't have cell phones or email accounts. What's going on? Does anyone out there know?

Asian Speed Dating

I've been getting emails from Click2Asia, some weird website that organizes Asian themed events. Every few months for the past few years, they send me an invite to an Asian Speed Dating event in New York. I don't know who they are or how they figured out that I live in New York or, most importantly, why they think I would be interested or eligible to attend.

After receiving my umpteenth invite yesterday I decided I had to find out, so I sent them an email. Here's what I wrote:

I have been receiving email notices about your speed dating events for a long time. I've never replied or registered, because I don't live near New York (or in the US, for that matter). However, I will be returning to New York (my hometown) in a few months.

I have a question: can I register for Asian Speed Dating if I'm not Asian? And, how do you define Asian? I've lived in Asia for many years, but I doubt many people would consider me "Asian".

I'm still waiting for the response, and I'll keep you all posted.



Yesterday was a great day for America and I hope it goes a long way to showing the rest of the world what kind of country we really are. A few hours after watching the election results live on CNN (online, of course) I was on the phone with someone from a local kindergarten about a part-time job. I'm American and well spoken with many years of teaching experience under my belt. Like usual in China, they were very excited about meeting me and giving me a teaching job. Then the woman on the phone asked her final question: "are you white or black?" I've dealt with this a lot in Asia and she was quick to explain herself. She told me that a lot of the American teachers that show up are black and the kids (and parents, she added - I tend to think it's mostly the parents) are scared of them.

Racism is alive and well all over the world, but the next time someone in China accuses me of coming from a racist country, I'm going to laugh in their face.


Na Bang

Writing. I’m sitting at a desk in a hotel. Listening to a BBC podcast about the golden ratio. The host of the show is interviewing a composer whose religious music utilizes golden section divisions. Inspiring stuff. Should be, at least. The hotel is in Na Bang, a border town on the Chinese/Myanmar frontier. We’re on the Chinese side, and this town seems to exist solely for the bigger Myanmar town across the little river. The local people, both Chinese and Burmese, can cross the river and the border relatively at will, but I’m stuck on the Chinese side – this is not an official border crossing point, and foreigners can’t exit or enter China from here. No big deal. I’d rather be stuck on the China side than on the Myanmar side.

Writing, writing. I’m on my third packet of Nescafe black. Soulful, religious music is still podcasting in my headphones. Writing well is so goddamned difficult. I feel as if I have nothing to say, but how can that be possible from where I am? Last night the three of us wandered the six streets of Na Bang – this town is tiny. It’s impossible to tell who’s from China and who’s from Myanmar, since many ethnic Burmese live in this part of Yunnan. The three of us (American, Chinese, and Mongolian) wandered into a brothel looking for a foot massage for our aching hiking feet. My Chinese friend freaked out and went into instant panic mode, repeating “go, go, go” and “out, out, out”. He didn’t want to speak in Chinese because he didn’t want the girls to undersand him, but his English is lacking. He then repeated “bitches, bitches, bitches”. None of the girls looked 18. We were in the brothl for less than a minute, and I knew we shouldn’t linger. Underaged Burmese hookers, border town, heroin trafficking area. But something made us linger for that near minute. For me, it was the one with the typical Burmese off-white face paint covering still pudgy cheeks. She looked up at me and smiled, nothing sexy or whory, just a cute smile. How should I feel? The PC list would’ve covered a range of emotions starting somewhere around pity and ending somewhere around rage. But I felt something more natural, male, primal, just attraction and urges. Young, my Chinese friend, is perpetually scared of things, and he lives here. I knew there was no immediate danger, but we left just the same.

Writing, writing, writing. Outside I told him that I of course knew that they were hookers – I’m not that dumb or naive. I simply hadn’t understood her Chinese, which was mostly local dialect with a little Mandarin mixed in. I asked her if we could get a foot massage and when she said “no” I asked her what the place was. She said something simple, something like “take me”, but it was all dialect. I asked Young to translate and the situation became kind of absurd. But he’s so scared all the time. Once we went to a nightclub in Yingjiang and he warned me over and over about the bad women and all the drugs inside. It sounded adventurous, but it turned out to be a typical Chinese disco with college and high school kids and nothing stronger than beer. Afterwards he admitted he’d never even been there (or any other club).

Back to writing. Damnit again, this hotel feels like the place to do it. Foreign country. Border town. My iPod is playing a new BBC podcast now, something about science. Two days ago we started our hike from the midpoint of the Yingjiang to Na Bang road. The first day we passed a town that had been hit by the recent earthquakes. The local school was damaged and the kids had class in tents. We wandered into a classroom (something I’ve done a few times in Yunnan and I’m always greeted warmly – in America I’d probably be arrested before turning the doorknob) and chatted and taught English for 10 or 15 minutes. That first day we hiked 22 or 23 kilometers, too much for an inexperienced hiker like me. One of our bags, the heaviest one, was a crappy Chinese backpack and hurt like hell after an hour. We took shifts, of course, but on the second day we konked out after 12 kilometers and wimped out by taking a minivan with a carsick Burmese girl who kept vomiting out the window.

Young has guanxi with the Chinese border patrol forces at Na Bang. He works for the local Yingjiang TV station, and they did a story in the area. So when we arrived yesterday we headed straight for the border crossing, a short bridge with two Chinese cops on our side and two Myanmar cops on the other. But it’s relatively friendly and people cross easily. The tricycle taxis on the Chinese side are all from Myanmar – I think they come over to work during the day and return to Myanmar at night. The head cop told me that lots of Chinese men have wives from the other side, but he also added that the Burmese girls aren’t good – their skin is too dark. People in China are obsessed with white skin. The Burmese girls look good to me.

Writing, goddamnit again. Now I’m back in Yingjiang. Yesterday at the Na Bang border crossing I taught an impromptu English class to all the cops in their barracks. We roleplayed the situation of foreigners trying to cross the border, which is not allowed. We practiced saying “it’s impossible!”, “you can’t cross here!”, “show me your passport”, and “it’s the law!” In each roleplay with each cop I took out a wad of money from my pocket at some point and offered it as a bribe to let me across the river and into Myanmar. I taught them to say “no! no bribes!”. Even though it was all acting, offering bribes to the entire border patrol force, one by one, felt dangerous and thrilling.

Writing. Not much more to say. The hiking trip is over and it’s almost time to go home to Kunming.



Every two or three years I find myself in France or in a French type restaurant or cafe and see croque-monsieur on the menu. I never remember if I really like it or not, or exactly what it is, so I order it. And then I wish I had ordered something else. Oh, well.
I’ve been doing a bit of soul-searching for the past 37 years – I’d be lying if I said it was a new thing. But I recently thought about something new and in the process, possibly figured myself out a little bit more. Maybe I’m an adventurist. The word came to me recently out of nowhere and I thought about it in an F. Scott Fitzgerald type of way. I think it’s in A Diamond as Big as the Ritz that Fitzgerald mentions adventurists. To me an adventurist isn’t a conqueror or a tyrant or a crusader (necessarily), and he also isn’t a Casanova. An adventurist is someone who gets off on the romance of life. Traveling to different places, working different jobs, meeting different people:this is the romance of life, the slightly good and benevolent flipside of the playboy, vagabond, tramp, and pirate.

I’ve been going out on dates lately. I love the first date. I love the anticipation, the corniness of just going to the movies or walking in a park or by a lake with a girl you don’t know and maybe holding her hand and hopefully having a first kiss. And doing it in a foreign language, in my case Chinese, is great (because what the hell would be the point of going on a date in English? That's no fun). Then what happens? Do you get bored with her (or she with you), or is it simply more adventurous to move on?

Getting a new job or living in a new place can be scary, but the feeling of being trapped somewhere can be much worse. I recently spent three years living in the same house in Beijing (a record for me) and when I finally decided to move, I was full of ambivalence. But now, in my new apartment and new life in Kunming, I know it was the right decision. There was a girl and a job back there, but those things are all here, too, and the newness of my life is great.

Some people who read this (especially my mom) will be distressed. But I think they may be missing the point. I’m relatively sure that I will settle down eventually. In fact, I’m positive that I’ll at least become more settled than I am now. Theodore Zeldin talks about modern man’s concept of life being very different from how people in the past viewed life. A lot of us, he says (and I agree), look at life as a series of adventures. Work is outdated, therefore, and the days of over-specialization are over. We all need more general knowledge in order to create better work environments and more effective companies. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing these last seven years since I left America. My store of general knowledge probably far outweighs my store of any specialized knowledge.

When I started thinking about adventure I plotted a purposeful essay that would make great logical points, but I think I'll just leave it close and personal for now. I am planning on taking a new type of adventure soon. It's an adventure in the very obvious sense: a one week hiking trip in rural Yunnan, from YingJiang to the Myanmar border. I'm probably going with a friend, but I might go alone. We will bring a tent and basic supplies, and ask people if we can pitch our tent in their yards. I hope to cover 20 kilometers a day. Whatever happens, I'm sure it will be a great adventure.

My Visa Ad

Chinese Class Tuition in Kunming: $1000
Ticket Price at the Local Theater: $1.40
Understanding a Really Bad but Obscure Pun in a Chinese movie: Priceless


Ghetto Movie Theater

My new thing is going to the movies as much as possible in China. I like to choose movies without English subtitles, if possible. Tonight I saw a very silly Chinese crime/comedy film in the local neighborhood ghetto theater. The theater reminds me of the old, dilapidated neighborhood theaters I remember as a kid - the one on St. Marks, the old Murray Hill Theater, the really weird one on Grand Street that's some kind of NYU medical clinic now. The place is musty, the seats and doors don't all work properly, and the movies are cheap (about $1.50). Our movie tonight was 20 minutes late getting started and then, when we were all sitting in the dark theater ten minutes into the film, the ticket guy came in with a flashlight to check our tickets. He had to walk down each row and examine everyone's ticket and even my Chinese friend said she hadn't seen a movie theater that ghetto in China in 20 years. Yay China.


Last night I was in a restaurant with a Chinese friend enjoying a late-night snack after seeing the new Angelina Jolie movie (dubbed with no subtitles, of course). We got into a discussion about something or other and I found myself referring to 外国人 (foreigners) a few times. Referring to people as either 'Chinese' or 'foreign' is common in China, but it struck me as bizarre last night. Especially for an outsider like me, using those terms so naturally is kind of weird.

Of course, China isn't like America. This is a much more insulated and isolated place without any significant history of immigration. In America, it would be insulting to refer to someone as a 'foreigner' simply because they looked different or spoke a different language (such as most of the people hanging out in Chinatown), but here it's totally logical and makes a lot of sense in conversation. So last night, as I swilled beer and chomped chicken kabobs, I told my Chinese friend that she should drink some 白酒 (Chinese vodka) before bedtime to cure her sore throat. When she told me that that was a crazy idea, I replied that it was just a habit that we Chinese had, and a 外国人 like her probably wouldn't understand.


Beijing Blues

We went to a bar to watch a sporting event on TV, but the owner switched off the TV fifteen minutes after we got there so a live band could perform. We had brought our own wine and paid a corking fee; I felt cheated. Let’s just leave, she said, so we got up and walked out.

Outside there weren’t any other bars or cafes with TVs, so we gave up and walked behind the monument on the East side of the square. There was an old neighborhood with narrow streets, brightly colored communist style exercise equipment in a little park, and men playing cards in front of shops. Even though it was night, the moon completely illuminated the small square. We sat down on a bench near the exercise equipment: a wheel that you spun with your hand, something that was supposed to imitate running but looked more like cross country skiing, hard sit-up benches with painful metal rollers that crunched your back. I was the only foreigner there, but people didn’t pay much attention to us.

We sat face to face, straddling the concrete bench. I drank the wine greedily; I’ve never been able to sip anything from a bottle. She didn’t really drink – just a half glass at the bar, and none out in the street. I’d once seen her down a 65ml shot of local vodka and practically had to carry her to a taxi. I took a few swigs and held her. The bottle was on the ground, but a group of local girls sitting on the bench next to us noticed and giggled. I didn’t care. I grabbed her by the waist and pulled her very close. We kissed and she complained about my mustache.

We waited and eventually the girls left. The men were still playing cards, but we were shielded by the exercise equipment and a small tree and I didn’t think they had a clear view of our bench. The wine was almost completely gone and I felt good. Looking at her in the middle of everything, the park, the ancient winding streets snaking out in every direction, the men laughing, cards being slammed onto the tables, so far away from where I was from, everything felt strangely romantic. She put her hand on the inside of my leg and kissed me. Do you think anyone can see us, she asked. No, I don’t think so, I don’t think so.

I reached down to finish the last bit of wine. I put the bottle to my mouth and began tilting it up; she was underneath the bottle playing with my belt. Suddenly she jerked up and hit the bottle with her head. I dropped the bottle and dropped to the ground. I wasn’t in pain, but my mouth watered and I spit on the ground several times. I rubbed my tongue on my upper teeth and the left front one felt different; it was chipped.


三P? 没有...

On the sleeper bus to YingJiang there are a few absolutely horrible beds where you are literally squished between two people. Of course, i had one of these beds. It was totally impossible to sleep without touching the other people and i commented to my bed-partner about how this kind of situation could NEVER exist in America. The bed to my left was seperated from mine by a small arm-rest divider doohickey, but the bed to my right was flush up against my tiny one. I was one of the first people to arrive and the bus was not filling up quickly, so I thought I might luck out and get two beds. But this is China, and more so Yunnan, and they would never let that bus out of the city without filling up the beds, so we eventually wound up going to another bus depot to pick up passengers.

My main worry was who I would be sleeping with. A fat person? A smoker? (yes - people still smoke on the buses in China and no, I'm not going to write something negative about China here, I'm just making an observation) Incredibly, a beautiful, young, Chinese girl got on the bus and headed straight for the bed. We started talking and she even recognized me from YingJiang TV! (I made a travelogue show that was broadcast on the local TV network last time I was here) And then another cute, young girl got into the bed on my left. And no, I'm not going to write anything about sleeping with two young, cute, Chinese girls, but I was thrilled not to be trapped between any of the other bus riders.

We chatted, studied Chinese and English together, listened to my IPOD together, and eventually I fell asleep in a semi-cuddle position with her (there was no other way. Her head and my head were inches apart and our arms kept touching. My bed was literally as wide as my butt!) I can never sleep on those buses, anyway. Every few hours they stop for a pee-stop, once for a police checkpoint, and once for dinner. Oy vey.

Anyway, now I'm here in YingJiang. More later. Thanks for reading my blog and making it the most viewed blog about YingJiang overnight bus trips in the history of the internet.



Today I am going to take a 12 or 14 hour long trip on a cockroach infested sleeper bus with grungy pillows and blankets. It's the only way to get to YingJiang, and it's worth it. Hopefully, I'll have lots of groovy recordings and pictures to post soon.


Blogging in Chinese

For those of you that don't know, I've recently started a Chinese blog (http://zhongguo-china.blogspot.com). I'm mostly doing it to work on my Chinese, but I think it might be an interesting thing for Chinese people to read.


More Recordings

The other day I went to a big temple in Kunming and got some nice chanting recordings. Listen to them here and here.



Guiyang - showed up here to meet a friend whose phone has been off since I arrived. I can't get in touch with her and I might give up and go back to Kunming tonight. How annoying. I came to Guizhou Province to teach English in Liupanshui over the weekend, and then I came here to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, to see this friend. She's a foot massage girl I used to know in Beijing and she told me yesterday to come down and call her and we'd hang out today. Well, I came and I called, but no one answered. Maybe she's married now or something and she didn't want to tell me, but now something happened and she's avoiding me. Chinese girls like her (uneducated and from the sticks) that I've met tend to get married young. So, I'm alone in Guiyang. All I've done since I arrived is read in my hotel room and wander around the city. I'm staying at the Xin Miao Sen Apartments, a kind of transient hotel with 60 RMB double rooms (no bathroom). The window looks out onto the street and my room is just above the red neon sign advertising the hotel - it's like being in a bad movie. And I just read Papillon for the first time and it really affected me - but more on that later.

So now I'm in Guiyang. Maybe my friend lost her phone or is lying unconscious in a hospital somewhere, but I'm still mad.

When I got to Guiyang I jumped in a taxi and the driver helped me find the Xin Miao Sen Apartments (I highly recommend this place if you ever find yourself in Guiyang). Today it took two taxis to find a place to get a foot massage, and I wound up in this beauty parlor in the big hotel near the train station. Taxi drivers in China are great. The girl kept apologizing to me (before and during) that she couldn't wash my feet (not sure why - she did soak and dry them) and that she wasn't a professional at foot massage.

Back in Liupanshui, where I went to teach English for two days (remember that part of the story?) something very weird happened. When I got there I was picked up at the train station and taken to dinner by some people from the school. Then we went to the hotel. Two Chinese guys and I, one was a government worker and the other was the husband of someone who worked at the school (neither of these people were directly associated with the place where I was working, but connections and relationships are very important in China - maybe I just didn't really understand who they were) checked me in and we all went upstairs to my room. I assumed they were just helping me find my room, saying goodnight, and making sure everything was OK. It was Friday night and I had class early the next morning. The government guy turned to leave and before I realized what was going on the other guy sat down on one of the beds and took his shoes and shirt off.

The next morning the two of us woke up and went to work together. After work everyone went out to dinner. Breakfast and lunch was also provided at the school for the whole staff; we all ate together and of course it was all free. After dinner we went to a fancy place with private suites to play mahjong and it was here that I realized that I hadn't been allowed to order anything for myself, use any of my own money or be unescorted (except for using the toilet) in over 24 hours. Keep in mind that I was in the middle of reading Papillon.

They knew I wasn't a mahjong player (I like Chinese card games, not mahjong) so the government guy took me in his van for a ride. We went to the main park in Guiyang, watched people dancing in the square, drank tea, and chatted. He told me that Guiyang is also called "liang du" or "cool capital" because the weather is never hot, and it did feel very nice and very cool as we sipped tea from little plastic cups. We talked about America and how he's dying to visit, but can't speak English and doesn't have enough money to make the trip yet. Halfway through our chat I brought up the subject of my confinement. I tried to tell him, as politely as possible, that I wanted to sleep in my own private room and that I didn't need a bodyguard or an escort, especially when I was sleeping. He told me that since there weren't many foreigners in Liupanshui it was a little sketchy and they just wanted me to be OK. I reminded him that I was OK, that I was able to speak Chinese (I had been speaking Chinese with him for a whole day and two evenings already) and had been living and traveling in China for years. And, in my experience, Chinese cities are relatively safe for foreigners (just avoid the crazy drivers). Besides, I reminded him, I'm much bigger than the guy who was protecting me; maybe I should be his bodyguard. The government guy said he'd see what he could do and we got back in the van to pick up the mahjong crew.

At this point I started getting a little panicky. I do that sometimes: panic. I wanted to get a foot massage. I wanted to walk outside and grab a snack. It was 9:30 and I wanted to be alone and sleep alone. I've never had to have a handler before, and I realized that was what was going on, although in a very informal way. Maybe Guizhou, being more remote, is a bit more communist than most other places in China. In any event, I'd been un-alone for over 24 hours and I was looking at at least 18 more. I had just finished reading Papillon's description of the two years he spent in solitary confinement in the "man-eater" on one of the islands off the coast of French Guyana and, although making any sort of comparison is ludicrous, reading about Papillon's trials made my situation seem more acute: I must escape!

We got back to the hotel and it was clear that the guy who slept in my room the night before was determined to stay with me again. At this point I got annoyed. I had tried to be polite, but that hadn't worked. It all seemed so ridiculous. The school was down the block and this guy had a wife and kid at home. The next day I was going to go deeper into Guizhou; what was he going to do - follow me and keep protecting me? And, I was working off the books for these people, without a work permit, which is of course illegal, although very common. But maybe that was the point. In their minds, that made them more responsible for me. Mostly I was annoyed because I had been promised round trip train tickets, 770 RMB, plus a hotel room for my weekend's worth of work. It's not a lot of money (about $110) and I mostly took the job to get a free trip to Guizhou. But in my mind, my hotel room should not have come equipped with a skinny middle aged Chinese dude smoking cigarettes in the morning.

So I sort of played the "culture difference" card, something I hated to do, since it always irks me when people chalk up any minor difference to culture: "oh, of course he's left handed - he's a foreigner!" Without directly mentioning culture, I explained that I hadn't slept well the night before and I needed my own room because I'm just not used to sleeping in a room with another person. Amazingly, they agreed and booked another room for my handler across the hall from me.

Now for the crazy part. There is a point to this story; I hope you're still reading. I started reading Papillon again in my room and feeling trapped. I really needed a foot massage. I'm a foot massage junkie and I hadn't had one in over a month. Foot massages are one of the best things about China. Soaking your feet, having a cute Chinese girl scrub and clean them, and then massage them for an hour is heavenly.

Every Chinese hotel I've ever been in has massage services, either directly or indirectly connected. What would be the harm? My handler would never know, and I probably wouldn't be leaving the hotel anyway. I went down to the front desk and asked the girl if I could get a foot massage. She said the hotel didn't have any massage services. I was so shocked I questioned her: "really?" This was a big hotel in a relatively decent sized Chinese city. Inconceivable. Oh, well. No worries. I'll just go out and find one. So I asked the girl where a close one was and she said there weren't any places close by and didn't I want to take my friend? I answered no, he's not my friend, and I'd rather go by myself. I told her I just wanted to take a walk by myself. She said "wait" and picked up the phone.

In an instant, everything became clear. She had been given instructions to call up if I attempted to leave the hotel. She had already dialed the room. I remembered Papillon's speech to all the inmates about the purest thing, the break, and how it ought to be respected. I walked quickly towards the door and she yelled "wait" one more time. I opened the door and jogged down the block to freedom. Five minutes later the school called me.

Of course I was never really really confined. It was more like being under observation, ostensibly for my own good, but I'm sure they were covering themselves, too. But combined with the emotions Papillon was stirring up, it made me realize how terrifying imprisonment probably is. No secret there. I hope I never experience a real prison, especially if it's a French penal colony off the coast of South America in the 1930's. That would really suck.


On my recent trip to Guizhou province I took a few trains. Chinese train stations have a lot of security nowadays - metal detectors and X-ray machines at the entrances. Unfortunately, trains are the transportation of choice for all Chinese peasants, who frequently travel with all of their worldly possessions on their backs or in two enormous sacks balanced on a beam of wood and painfully held on a shoulder.

On one of my recent train trips there was a slight hold up at the entrance to the station. A group of peasants was waiting on the side while their bags were X-rayed and searched. The cops had pulled out a hoe and an ax and were trying to decide if the ax was kosher to take on the train. I didn't wait for them to come to a decision. But I recently accidentally tried to bring a Swiss Army knife and a bottle of Burmese whiskey in Kunming and two or three screwdrivers at the airport in Beijing. Both times they were picked up. So the Chinese security machine is working well.

Passport Stamps

Just for the hell of it, I decided to check how many stamps and visas were in my passport. It's the passport I've had since 2002. I'll post the answer here soon - for now I want everyone to guess. :)


Chinese class continued ...

In my listening class we just had a lesson about giving directions. We listened to a tape of a woman asking a cop for directions to her son's apartment. In the end she thanks him and calls him "comrade". How goddamned old is our material? I'm not Chinese and even I know that the word for comrade means faggot nowadays.


Audio Recordings!

I've been wandering around Kunming with my field recorder lately. Last night I wandered into Green Lake just before it closed for the night, and recorded a few groups of people making music. People in Kunming like to dance, sing, and play instruments in the park (no busking, just musical merriment. One group had a guy playing a leaf (click here.) I also recorded another group of banjo players and a woman singing opera (click here). And, finally, I conducted a hard-hitting interview with one of my students about the dangers of teen coffee drinking (click here.)


Kunming Chinese Class 2

I love my Chinese class in Kunming. I'm studying at the KM College of Eastern Languages, which is in an office building and is a bit like Apex Tech or Devry. It's a collge, sort of, and I think they'll give me a set of tools when I graduate. And, of course, I had to take the first step and call them.

My class is full of old people (40's and 50's type of old people - not geriatrics). My favorite guy is this weird fifty something Japanese guy in desperate need of a haircut. He wears skate shoes, baggy jeans, and a black long sleeved t-shirt most days, and is always nervous. Today he had to make a presentation in front of the class (we all do once every week or so) and I had almost no idea what he was talking about (I don't think our teacher did either. He was nervous and rambling, starting off with a discussion of ancient Japanese gods and moving on to mountains, sunrises, different places to watch sunrises, and then he drew a map on the blackboard and started talking about Cambodia, and then all of a sudden his presentation was over).

I just did my presentation two days ago. I told one of my killer Chinese jokes (I know a few, but only one clean one. I'm going to record it later and post a link for the recording on this blog.)

Keep in touch, everyone! By the way - today I found a great new blind massage shop and had a great massage. Afterwards, while playing cards with the massage guys (I guess most of them are just legally blind) one of the really blind guys started playing guitar. Here's a recording of him playing: click here

Kunming Chinese Class

I've recently realized that there's nothing as funny as two middle aged Japanese men with horrible accents reading dialogue in Chinese class.