Friday, November 5, 2010

Dr. Jekyll and Mr... Jekyll?


I know I usually pretend that I'm simply above the consumption of popular mass media, but I think it's time I 'fess up. Of course I don't own something as bourgeois as a television set, but who watches tv on an actual television these days anyway?

Yes, I admit I've become a secret television junkie, courtesy of my aging iBookG4.  And I can't help noticing a repeated theme that must somehow appeal to the public imagination of the moment: the phenomenon of the double life. All of the most engaging characters seem to have them right now: Dexter, the mild mannered family man and secret serial killer; Walt, the middle aged chemistry teacher and secret crystal meth big wig; Nancy, soccer mom turned pot dealer, human trafficker and slut; even Finn, big man on campus turned glee club nerd.

And then there's me: teacher/grad student and secret... somethin' else. (The "somethin' else" might be explored in a future post whereby certain grown-ups will be asked to cover their eyes, so for the moment let's stick to the student/teacher act.)

Since Dexter, Walt, Nancy and I share this incongruity of experience, I couldn't help thinking that other people must too.  I asked around, and it turns out I'm not the only one who walks around faking it five days a week. Which means that even my classmate/nemesis Ellen, with her eighteen highlighters and judgy attitude, just might have another side, right? RIGHT?

Wrong.

Not so long ago, some of my classmates decided that we should all get together and get to know each other outside of school. Sounds like a good idea, doesn't it? Maybe we could all just be ourselves for a little while, no?

No.

The Ladies decided that we should all get together for an ice cream sundae potluck and watch a documentary about child development... 'cause, you know, we don't get enough of that in our three hour lectures all week. I'm not going to say the name of the movie right now, because I wouldn't want one of them to google it and end up here by accident. Let's just say that it rhymes with "Rabies" and starts with B.

"Well, maybe it's an interesting movie," you say. Well maybe it is. Fine. I'm a sourpuss and I didn't go.
Did I misjudge them? What follows proves that, no, I did not misjudge them. If anything I under-estimated the Lame Quotient.

In this class of mine, there are about forty students. Just one of them is a man. Hank, we'll call him, since I can't be honest about anything anymore.

Hank is married, and his wife is pregnant with their first child. Great. In all seriousness and earnestness, I think that is just fantastic. I also think it's equally fantastic that other strangers that I know nothing about are having babies. And yet somehow, I am now supposed to dedicate two days of my FREE TIME, unpaid and without school credit, to make Hank's baby production in to a truly special occasion, over and above all the other strangers in the world producing babies.

I think I need to back up a bit. I've become wrapped up in my own incredulity, and I think I might have gotten a little bit ahead of myself. (Sorry, I've been ruminating over the ridiculousness of this situation all week.)

Let's get back to Lenore, my dear classmate who has decided to throw Our Hank (who probably doesn't even know who I am) a surprise baby shower at her mom's house. But it's not just a party - there's a catch. (I mean, a catch other than having to spend an afternoon with my nemesis at Lenore's mom's house, unpaid and not for course credit.) On top of the shower day, we are being asked to reserve another day where we will all get together to create a quilt for Who The Heck Are You's baby - a sewing party.

Yes, that's right. Each of us ladies is meant  to embroider a square of fabric, which will be sewn together to form a hand-made quilt.

I mean, SERIOUSLY? Embroidery? Or quilting, or crocheting, or whateverthehell they're going to do? I don't know how to QUILT for godsake - do you KNOW how long that would take me? Even with the enticing offer of a lesson from Lenore's mom? Plus, I don't even know this dude. In fact, I don't even know who Lenore is, I just got her name off the email. (And of course, her name isn't really Lenore, since Teacher=Lying About Most Things.)

I mean, look. Babies are great. Fine. I'm not such a curmudgeon. But I have REAL FRIENDS with babies. If I was going to make a freaking QUILT it would be for one of them. And you know what? I'm not making THEM quilts either, and no one would ever ASK me to, because they understand that some people have other things they like to do in their FREE TIME. Such as FUN. Remember FUN, teachers? I thought not.

Be glad you've read these words today, blogosphere,  because obviously as soon as any of the girls becomes a facebook friend, they'll be able to find the secret hiding spot that is digressions, and I'll have to remove this post. Although, unless someone reveals a personal side more interesting than documentaries that rhyme with "rabies" and knitting lessons from ma... we might just stick with the "classroom" relationship.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Very Important







For some reason - possibly the week of watching little children use their little peanut brains - this moment popped in to my head tonight, and I feel that it *must* be shared.


******************************************



Let's face it, most of the first five years of our lives become pretty much a blur eventually. But there are always certain key moments that stand out. Images imprinted in our memories forever.

Unquestionably, one of my most salient childhood flashbulb images is - well, put simply: 



My brother Michael's head stuck in the banister. 


Sorry Michael. 

You might not have wanted this shared, and I know you sometimes read the blog. But I'm laughing out loud right now, and the blog's been starved for material lately, so... sorry.

I recall, 
on more than one occasion, Michael poking his head between the wooden rails of the stairway banister, just for fun, and somehow getting it lodged there. My father had to unscrew things to get him out.

I think I also remember him getting his head stuck in a chair - in the space between the back and the seat. Screwdriver to the rescue again.

I'm sorry, Michael. I really am. But this is some funny shit.

p.s. In the name of full disclosure, I should probably admit that I may have copied him once, and possibly gotten my head stuck as well. Still. It was 
his idea first.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

School Daze


Back in Canada, a foreigner no more, and yet still trying to fit in. Blending in with the Chinese was nothing compared to assimilating with the Go-Getter-Teachery Crowd.

For a moment there, I thought maybe I could do it: I was relieved to meet Laura (not her real name, of course, since lying about stuff is all part of this teacher package), who told me that she wasn't really sure if she wanted to be there either. She also said that, like me, she felt awkward that all of the other girls (yes, they are all girls) were yay-dream-come-true teachery people. I thought just maybe I'd have someone to sit in the back of the class with me making snarky remarks.

That was until a few days later, when I caught wind of her talking with some of the other girls about how fulfilled she felt at the end of each day.


Eye roll.

Oh, well. I haven't entirely given up on her - she still comes in to class ten minutes late most of the time, which is encouraging. That warm fuzzy feeling will probably wear off soon, and then I just may have someone who shares my passion for all that is negative/neutral in the world.

On the plus side, I may not have made a friend but I'm pretty sure I've made a nemesis. (And no, I'm not talking about the pair of Scientologists I see every morning doing those stupid arm signals on their bikes even though there's no traffic and I can already tell they're stopping or turning or whatever because, um, they're stopping or turning or whatever. They're really only annoying because it's nauseatingly early in the morning.)

My nemesis is Ellen (again, lying), a classmate that I have sat next to twice now. I'm pretty sure she knows that we are nemesi. She is the Newman to my Jerry.

Spread out on the desk in front of Ellen: a pink highlighter, a blue highlighter, white-out correction tape, a package of eight different colours of felt-tipped pens, a regular pen, about six pages of hand-written colour coded notes on the weekly readings, and of course the note paper for today's class.

Spread out on the desk in front of me? A banana, some kleenex, and a giant cup of coffee.

The first time I sat next to Ellen, we were asked to do some group work with the students at our table. We were supposed to answer a question about a reading, and then present our answer to the class. I was the designated presenter for our group, because Sally's favourite vegetable was squash, or whatever "fun" selection process the prof was using that day.

Anyway. I was presenting. And despite the banana and blue-only pen I actually had read the article, thankyouverymuch. The question was of the straightforward regurgitation variety, no analysis or criticism necessary, so we easily agreed on what I would say. Ellen was scribbling furiously, switching writing utensils at every turn to correlate her notes with the shade of her heart at that very moment, I imagine. In case she thought it was a written assignment, I helpfully pointed out that she might not really need to write down so much - we only had to answer orally, and it was information directly out of the article we each had printed out in front of us. She said she preferred to write it down anyway, just to make sure she knew. Okay. Totally fine. I get that.

But then she says, "And if YOU'RE not writing it down I just want to make sure that YOU know it too because YOU'RE the one presenting for us." 

Oh Yes She Did.

Instant Nemesis.

Of course my answer was articulate and brilliant, SO THERE nemesis, and WE DON'T GET GRADED ON THE QUALITY OF OUR SCHOOL SUPPLIES YOU KNOW. AHRGH!!! I want to scream right now just thinking about it. And also laugh very hard. All at the same time.

So, that's my current level  of adjustment to the student life. It's a good start.

p.s. Does anyone know anyone who can make a mind map with pretty pictures about my vision of teaching and learning and how every child is a special snow flake? I need it for Friday, and I'm willing to pay you five bucks and make you a mojito.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Suburban Limbo



Post-Its From My Mom: The Coles Notes

How To Procrastinate When There's Nothing To Do

How To Get the Most Out of Your Pajamas

How To Get the Most Out of Your Parents Liquor Supply

Yogurt! And other adventures in breakfast

10 Reasons to Stop Matching Your Socks

***************

Oh, what’s a blogger to do when life becomes unblogworthy? 

Having left one life behind, but yet to begin a new one, I find myself waiting in bland suburban limbo without a story tell. Unless you want to hear about the afternoon I spent listening to a radio call-in show about gardening, which was about as riveting as LISTENING TO PAINT DRY, I've got nothing. (You'd think someone could let the callers in on a little something called THE INTERNET and spare the rest of us the drama of their inane questions about mulch.) 

So for today, a story courtesy of my friend Ashley: super-nanny, knitting enthusiast, and the only person I know under 60 who can make a pot roast.

***************

Some time ago Ashley accompanied a 5-year old boy in her charge, let’s call him Connor, to Puck’s Farm, an educational farm outside of Toronto, where she had the occasion to teach him a bit about the birds and bees.

They had come to see some dairy cows, and were waiting for a demonstration of the milking process. Ashley explained that just like human babies drink milk from their mothers, baby cows drink milk from their mothers too. She went on to say that when the baby cows are finished drinking, people can drink the cow’s milk, and that’s where the milk we buy at the grocery store comes from. She pointed out the udders as the part of the cow where the milk would come out. 

Connor looked at the cow, and thought for a moment.

“Oh. So milk comes out of the cow’s penis. One, two, three, four. Four penises!” Connor exclaimed.

“No, Connor,” Ashley said patiently, “That’s not the cow’s penis. It’s the nipple. You have nipples too, you know.”

“Oh… okay…” As he contemplated this, his eyes began to widen incredulously, “… are we going to put our mouths there???”

“NO, Connor. We’re not.”

***************

Soon I'll get back to talking about myself. Or I'll just make fun of my parents some more, which I've been trying to hold back on at least until after I move out of the house next week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

...otherwise I probably would have poisoned myself by now

I know you think your mom is crazy, but she's not. And mine is.

Take, as an example (and mind that this is just one example), the barrage of post-it notes that accosted me last Saturday morning, when the parents had left me to fend for myself while they spent the weekend at the cottage:

On the blueberries in the fridge

On the raspberries in the fridge

On the strawberries in the fridge

On the drawer in the bottom of the fridge, because sometimes the difficulty of oranges can be intimidating... or maybe because the bananas might be looking for a date...

On the bathroom counter, lest I forget to turn the fan on while I shower and cause moisture damage to the paint.

The Care and Feeding of a Loaf of Bread

On a paper bag containing peaches, so that I don't have to open mysterious parcels in order to find out what's inside, just in case its anthrax. (There was also one on the vegetable soup container that said "VEG SOUP"... but I think you get the point.)

On a rectangular foil-wrapped item that MIGHT be brownies - I haven't opened it yet; too risky.

But you know what didn't make it on to a post-it note? "If you use more than a teaspoon of detergent in the dishwasher the ENTIRE KITCHEN FLOOR WILL BE COVERED WITH WATER IN 2 MINUTES."

So, yeah. That might have been post-it worthy, Mom.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pen Pals

Shanghai, to Dehli, to London, to Toronto.

Thirty one hours. Four airports. Five airplane meals. An entire novel. A toddler who peed on the seat next to me. Finally I landed, all head-fuzz and man-glasses, safely in my parents' suburban nest... and promptly began plotting my next path out.

The apartment hunt was on.

Lucky for me, my craigslist peruse proved to be fruitful, and after responding to a few ads I received a speedy reply from one Pastor Tenny Hagen, all the way from West Africa.

Double click to enlarge


As a service to the lazy, I will paraphrase. The Good Pastor, a missionary and a "kind and honest man," has a big swanky apartment to rent out while he's "very busy with missions and crusades" in Africa. He needs a tenant who is "neat, honest, and trustworthy" to take good care of his property while he is away. There is no one here to show the apartment, so if I will just send first month's rent and a security deposit to his wife in Kentucky, they'll send me the keys and documents by courier the next day. Easy as pie.

Well, it seemed to me that emails like this were the fun part of apartment hunting, so I decided to let ol' Tenny in on the fun too, and sent him the following reply:


Click to enlarge

He hasn't gotten back to me yet.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Just My Kind Of Workout

 The New Me (basically)

There are a few truisms so time-tested and self evident that they need not even be uttered.

The Sky Is Blue.

Tomorrow Is Another Day.

Risa Is Not An Athlete.

When I was little, my parents, fully aware of my, er, challenge, signed me up for a t-ball team. T-ball: the Boost Your Awkward Child's Self-Esteem sport. That is to say, my teammates were not exactly olympic-calibre either. At about seven years old, I was already the worst player on a team for clumsy five year olds. I remember going to games and silently praying to be put in the outfield, too far for the ball to intrude with any regularity. Mercifully, the coach also seemed to feel that my skills would be of greatest use to the team out there. Yup, it was me and the toddler who sat down in the middle of the field to blow the fluff off dandelions.

So perhaps you will understand why I am so proud to say that I think I may have found my sport. I've had to travel across the world to find it but I think I've done just that. And, no, I am not talking about the Neti pot, even though I sort of count that as yoga. What I am talking about is the Chairman Mao Eye Exercises.

I initially learned of the eye exercises by word of mouth: reminiscing about some of the inane aspects of primary school, some local people around my age recalled the twice daily broadcast over the school's loud speakers, calling all students to exercise their eyes in the name of Chairman Mao, for the glory of the People and the Republic (or some crap like that).

Apparently, it came to Uncle Mao's attention that his people had a propensity for near-sightedness , and for the advancement of his People's Republic he felt compelled to do something about the People's Eyesight (... although the People's Toilet Trough didn't seem like that big of a deal to him.) In this vein, he implemented in public schools a mandatory  routine of eye exercises which persists to this day, based on his expert scientific knowledge of... erm... beige suits.

And sure enough, on my first day teaching public school back in December, there it was. Fifty little child-pods nestled into identical bulky parkas (the school's winter uniform, due to frigid unheated classrooms), lined up row upon row, like neatly planted cabbages, poking and prodding at their fat little faces as the PA system screeched along it's instructions and careful counting.

YI, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba!
ER, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba!
SAN, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba!

(ONE, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!
TWO, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!
THREE, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!)


... and so on... all set to a cheery musical score so as to ensure a pleasant workout experience, while improving blood circulation to the eyes, and subliminally purging malleable young minds of any budding counter-revolutionary tendencies (maybe)...


As far as I can tell from my observations, the rigorous routine involves:

(1) gently massaging the bridge of the nose with the index fingers while staring up at the ceiling, tongue hanging out the side of the mouth, possibly drooling, thinking about how many pebbles you can fit in your pockets come recess time,

(2) poking around the cheeks a bit, interspersed with some nose picking and spit bubble formation practice (I'm pretty sure that this is because Chinese medicine views the body as a holistic system - you know, like the way that our eyes, noses, and mouths are all connected back there, as evidenced by the spaghetti-in-the-mouth, out-the-nose trick.)

(3) rubbing the back of the neck in circular motion, with the forehead resting on the desk, positioned for a good view of the day's accumulation of pea-shooter ammunition stored inside (because aiming projectiles is also good for the eyes, and isn't really detrimental for learning as long as it's only practiced during English class.)

I'm not sure exactly how the routine goes after this point, because I usually get distracted by the steely prowess of the Eye Exercise Nazi. Hand-picked by the homeroom teacher to patrol the ranks, this pint-sized tattle tale on a power trip marches up and down the aisles barking orders at sloppy classmates who have become engrossed in other endeavors, such as attempting to fit an entire scarf into their mouth or creating sculptures out of eraser shavings gummed together with hand-sweat and maybe snot. (Yes, kids really are that gross when they think no one is looking.)

I'm thinking about asking General Kitty Wong to be my guru. After all, she is already a Face Poking Master at just six years old and three feet tall. If that isn't guru material, I don't know what is. Through her tough-love mentorship, I will become a role model for every child with a collection of "Participant" ribbons.   A beacon for every youngster who has walked the Terry Fox run. A ray of hope to all those who have accidentally forgotten their gym clothes on purpose, or instinctively covered their eyes at the sight of a soaring ball approaching. I'll be just like that fat guy Jared who used to be even fatter, except instead of Subway sandwiches, the secret to my success will be Chairman Mao's Eye Exercises. I can be on TV, and write a book called, "How To Get In Shape By Poking Your Cheeks A Bit."

So there you have it. Mao DID do something good*.

(*He also ended that whole foot binding thing.  So I guess that counts too.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Dog Ate My Homework And I Had to Wash My Hair

When I started this blog, I did it with the disclaimer that all expectations should be discarded. It was not going to be full of high adventure, exotic wildlife, or unique cultural insights.  It's not that I don't experience those things, I just didn't feel like having a blog where it would seem inappropriate to ruminate about tell-tale spit puddles, make snarky remarks about strangers, and reveal the details of my nasal fluids. I didn't want "that kind of blog." Now that I actually read quite a few other blogs, I have also discovered a few more kinds that mine is "not." I'm not going to hash out all of my emotional issues, or tell you that yesterday I did my laundry and ate noodles (although I might tell you about the blatant nose-picker I saw on the subway, but that's different). This just isn't that kind of blog either.

It has been about six weeks now since my last post. Okay, I've been slacking. I've been busy, uninspired, and distracted.

I could explain the "busy" part, and say that I was in Thailand again for two weeks. But that comes a little too close to an "Adventure/Travel" blog.

I could also explain that Michael was visiting for a week, and "Want to watch me type?" didn't really sound like an entertaining prospect to offer a guest. But that brings the blog a little too close to the "Yesterday I Had Oatmeal For Breakfast" variety.

I could also delve in to my mental preoccupation with the fact that I will be moving back to Canada very soon after four years in Asia, that the exciting part of my life may be over forever, that I'm not sure I can handle the workload and responsibility of grad school after living The Easy Life all this time and am genuinely afraid I'll be kicked out, that most of my friends in Canada have spouses or babies or serious jobs or lifestyles drastically different than my own and that I won't be able to relate to anyone anymore, that I'll have more wrinkles than everyone else, that I'm committing to a career that I don't think I'll ever be especially excited about or personally involved in mostly because I don't really have enough faith in myself to dive in to a riskier path, and that I'll be committed to at least two years in Toronto, without the time or money to travel (which I realize is the norm for most people, but it isn't for me) and by the time that two year minimum is over I'll be too old for it to matter anyways. But that would all definitely bring the blog way too close to the Therapeutic / Cathartic / Teenage Angst  genre. And, well, when it comes to emotional expression, I'm a bit of a bottler. (Or at the very least a "let it all out on One Person-er"... thanks/sorry, One Person...)

Now that we're all clear about all of the things I'm not going to say,  what exactly am I going to say?

Not much.

The only funny thing I can think of is that my new teaching assistant's name is Milky. I also have a first grade student named Gogo, who I might have advised to change his English name before it becomes too entrenched, in order to avoid the adult fate faced by such people as Skeletor, Minus, and Sorry, except that Gogo is a little jackass anyways. So whatever.

Laugh at that a bit and accept this non-explanation for my absence, so that we can move on to a real post about important issues such as nude pantyhose socklets (PHOTO EVIDENCE TO COME), the death of The Fart Joke, and maybe even that toilet series I promised way back when.

Don't worry. I'm sure that I'll be far more conscientious about blogging once I start my Master's and have actual important  things to avoid.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sometimes, It's What You Don't Say...



Sorry. ANOTHER article of clothing that I hate. Then we can move on.

Nude pantyhose.

But ESPECIALLY knee or ankle-high nude panty hose with a short skirt. (In case you're a boy, and you don't know what that means, "nude" just means it's skin coloured. Dufus.) That elastic band at the top that squeezes in the leg-waddle just enough to look like a sausage link that couldn't quite squish closed at the end - yek.

I don't mean to be catty. For someone who has been wearing the same jeans since 2004, patched up with some fabric that I ripped off of a pencil case, I admit that I seem to be doing a lot of judging on other people's fashion choices. And I mean people's fashion choices as in People's Square. People's Revolution. People's Republic of China. (We've also coined the People's Barbecue, the People's Laundromat, and the People's Squat Toilet.)

So People - I'm gonna have to come right out and say it. We've got a fashion problem here. I've tried to buy clothes, but seriously - every store looks like someone's grandma's closet threw up, rolled around in some sequins, got tangled up with some lacy bows and landed right there in the shop. After procreating with Mickey Mouse. I might as well just tar and feather myself.

I couldn't understand how everyone managed to go outside fully dressed unless there was somewhere else to shop that I didn't know about. So I spent the last few days observing the ladies around town, and my conclusion is that they are indeed wearing the grandma closet barf. Shirts with hearts and ruffles and slogans like love is a many splendored thing or some crap like that.

I could always find tons of cheap clothes in Taiwan, but by cheap I mean most of them have fallen apart already (probably made in China, but not sold here, like so many important things such as NETI POTS).

Anyways.

Why am I stuck with pom pom shoes and a bedazzled Donald Duck jean jacket? I'll tell you why.

Mao. I blame Mao.

For 30 years, from the 50s to the 80s, China was completely closed. No one going out, no one going in, no letters, no phone calls. No Elvis, no Beatles, no Rolling Stones, no hippies. No Marilyn Monroe. No disco. No Hollywood: only about four Chinese operas and propaganda films. Then suddenly, it's the 80s and its EVERYTHING at once. Elvis and Cindy Lauper in the same breath. Leg warmers, hairspray, bell bottoms, and poodle skirts all in one burst. People probably just didn't know what to do with all of that information at once; they probably couldn't make sense of it. Stimulus overload. Enter Hello Kitty, at the moment of weakness.

Mao Zedong, I blame you and your revolution for the shoes with the cats on them, and the vest attached to the pants, and the big black bow attached to all of them. It is the anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square, but we're not allowed to talk about that. So for now let's deal with this grievance instead.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Fluffinator

Don't Mess Around

The position of the white expat in China is a paradoxical one. On the one hand, we undeniably benefit from whatever status our race seems to confer on us here. A white alcoholic mailman with a Polish accent will be hired to teach English over a qualified native speaker who is not white, not to mention that Asia is a dating mecca for socially awkward pasty men with acne and a lisp who have a taste for supermodels.  Yet on the other hand, there is also a sense in which we are seen as a bafflingly different category of human being, too incomprehensible to relate to or empathize with. This perception is behind a slew of daily hassles, especially outside of the city centre (where I work), where foreigners are less commonplace. 

I am heckled every morning by a herd of rowdy motorcycle taxi drivers outside the subway. I have people stop in their tracks on the street to gawk. Every time I walk past a group of people the word “lawai” (foreigner) jumps out at me from their murmured conversations. The kitchen staff at my school approach my table to check on my chopsticking skills. Bored supermarket employees have followed me through the aisles en masse, curious about what a creature like me might buy. (Actual quote: "You guys eat carrots and potatoes too? Wow, so do we!") Once on a bus in southern China, a woman picked up her baby so that it could see us over the seat back, and cooed to the child, “Look! They are different than me!” In Taiwan, we didn’t attract quite as much attention, although I still had strangers asking to have their photo taken with me on a regular basis.

For some reason, I seem to attract even more hullaballoo than other foreigners I know. As with many other things, I blame the hair. I feel that my image is that of a fluffy puff-ball bouncing cluelessly around town, oblivious to everything outside of her ploof.

The Hair. It cries out "I'm defenseless and I don't belong here! Steal my wallet! Steal my cell phone! Then try to sell me a phone that you just stole from another puff-ball! And while you’re at it, trample me to make sure that you get on the bus first! Go ahead, I'm a tumbleweed, I won't mind!"

To compensate, I try to walk around with my tough girl face on at all times and act as rough-assed as I can. As I'm sure you can imagine, it's a very convincing performance. Seriously, I'm like the Fluffinator or at least Kindergarten Cop.

Fortunately, I have discovered an advantage to being the Bouncy Other around town. (You know, besides that pesky job and money thing.) Once you have already maxed out the Otherness quotient, you sort of have carte blanche for... well, anything. Any odd, embarrassing, or otherwise unacceptable thing that you might do can just slide through, unnoticed. You are already as strange as you can possibly be, so nothing you do can provoke any further reaction. This really opens up all kinds of doors. 

Go ahead, make a scene. Cry to get your way. Confront policemen who run red lights. Ignore the metro security checks. Give that driver a piece of your mind. Walk by the Sunday morning joggers in your Saturday night outfit without shame. No need to confine those fat pants to Pajama Day - why not wear 'em to work? Take over an empty dance floor. Shout at inanimate objects. Spill that coffee on your shirt. The world is your circus - take that plunge, and embarrass yourself. It won't make any difference anyways.



Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Can this really be?


Don't get excited there, Mom, this isn't a real post. It's more of an Addendum to the last post. (Yeah, that's right - I said Addendum.)

There is another ridiculously awful fashion trend running rampant here that must be addressed. I am trying to ascertain how far afield this thing goes in order to determine whether this is a genuine trend that I need to deal with, or a localized phenomenon that I can chalk up to an element of Chinese exoticism that I will never fully understand (such as grown women wearing sequined Mickey Mouse t-shirts, or young heterosexual men wearing their rust-coloured hair in a poofed up Bea Arthur bouffant). I can't imagine anyone back home going out in public like this, but in a world where the skort and diaper pant are back in style, I'm a bit out of my element. I just don't know anymore.

So tell me, Western World: Are people in your hemisphere wearing short shorts with sheer black panty hose and pumps?

Is this something I need to worry about now?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Your Skort Is My Business


Attention all skort and diaper-pant wearers:

Quit wearing skorts and diaper pants. Just because they are available in stores, that does not mean they aren't hideous. Make no mistake - they are hideous.

Just to be clear:

The skort is a loose pair of shorts that disguises itself as a skirt. Think DJ Tanner on her first day of junior high, after Aunt Becky teaches her how to not dress like a whore. The diaper pant fits snugly from knee to ankle but is inexplicably full and drapey from waist to crotch, begetting a mental image of a large pig in high heels, although in actuality the look is more reminiscent of MC Hammer. In a giant diaper.

Has everyone suddenly forgotten that we make fun of these people? Or have I just gotten so old that it doesn't matter who I make fun of anymore? Perhaps the trend-setting cohort is too young to remember the Mistakes of Fashion Past; their cheeks do not redden at the thought of jeans worn backwards a la Chris Cross, and have therefore doomed history to repeat itself. Perhaps we need some kind of memorial sight, lest we forget the likes of shoulder pads, poofy bangs, and body suits.

Skort and diaper pant aficionados, your choices affect me. They create a roller coaster ride of a shopping trip when every "hm, that's a cute skirt" turns in to "blap! another stupid fucking skort!" as soon as you pull it off the rack. This scenario is why I can't just say, "whatever floats your boat", and write the issue off as a matter of personal taste. YOUR skort is MY business. Stop supporting the manufacturers and they will stop appearing on the racks. Have some consideration for people with taste who just want to go shopping without being ambushed by surreptitiously shrouded ghastliness. 

Thank you.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Whoa Nellie!

(Disclaimer: This image is a digital simulation only. Hammy would never, and has never, worn a toupee. Shame on you.)

Teacher Clive was sort of the celebrity teacher at my old job. Adored by every child, his good-natured grin and backwards baseball cap were greeted each afternoon with squeals of glee. The MC at every big school event, he had a knack for charming young teaching assistants and pulling coins out of kids' ears.

Obviously, I avoided him like the plague. I used to try to slink past him in the hallway without getting roped in to whatever Uncle Funny joke he happened to be stirring up with a student, with only the rarest of successes. Just as I'd be rounding out the corner in to my classroom, on the verge of exhaling with relief, I'd be stopped in my tracks - "Hey, Teacher Risa! Have you seen little Timmy's nose anywhere?" For some reason, "Teacher Risa doesn't get paid to look for noses" never seemed like an appropriate response. Nor did, "I'll get you a nose if you get me a coffee." Fortunately, Teacher Clive's act never really got tarnished by my poor Vanna White - he had enough positive energy to make you vomit.

What I'm trying to say here, is that I'm not exactly what you would call a Joiner.

So it was with slight trepidation that I agreed to attend Family Day 2010, an event organized by Justin's company this past weekend, in effort to support his right to be the Joiner that I myself am not. Justin seemed to have only the vaguest notion of what Family Day would involve, and, being male, seemed to have asked zero questions before signing us up. All he could say was that we were going somewhere near Suzhou (a small-ish city near Shanghai), that we'd have to meet the buses at 8:30 am on Saturday (I KNOW), and that we had to wear these stupid matching Family Day t-shirts, lest we forget how happy we were to be conformist company drones with nothing better to do on a Saturday morning. (I had to cancel Hangover Day for this, 'yall.) He said there would be Activities.

I, for one, was full of questions. How long will the bus ride be? What will they feed us? Do you think there will be coffee there? Is everyone else really going to wear the stupid t-shirt? Will people bring their children? (As a fake-professional, I charge a fee for the presence of children.)

Activities? What kind of Activities? Will there be any team sports? Because I don't do team sports. At least not the sports that involve hitting something with something else, like baseball or tennis or squash. (Soccer is okay, because then you can just sort of stay out of the way.) What about a potato sack race? Red Rover? Bobbing for apples? (I didn't really want to have to get my hair wet.)

While the scenarios I proposed may sound ridiculous, the scenario we pulled up to after 3 hours on the bus was even more ridiculous: The Cowboy Country Club Holiday Village. Yes folks, ten bus loads of human adults (only a few kids, and presumably they didn't have a choice) agreed of their own volition to wake up at dawn on a Saturday, and spend six hours round-trip on a bus in stupid matching t-shirts, all for a day at a cowboy theme park. A very Chinese cowboy theme park.

First up on our day at the "ranch" was lunch - a few hundred of us were herded in to two dining rooms and seated at large round tables where we shared a hearty cowboy feast. Apparently, no cowboy shindig in the wild wild west was complete without mapo tofu on a lazy susan.

Next, the Activities: luckily nothing that involved choosing teams, hand-eye coordination, or donning a bathing cap (which I refuse to do under any circumstances). Rock climbing, tandem bicycles, go carts, and horseback riding were on offer, as were rides on some very dishevelled looking camels. I felt sort of awkwardly embarrassed for the camels - they looked like their toupees were sliding off, reminding me of my pathetic pet hamster when he started to go bald (not that Hammy, a classy chap, would ever wear a piece).

A glance at the handy visitor's map told me that the Chinese proprietors must have gotten some real live cowboys to help them out with the English translations. Hence we were led to "The Lovely Animals Place" (a petulant looking peacock and some ostriches that I'm pretty sure got their "lovely" purple hue from a fungal infection), and "The Child Amuses the Area" (a playground with a big sign indicating that it was for children only - of course, there were adults climbing all over it. There was also a sign stating that drunk and handicapped people should not go on the playground. Which begs the question: if adults aren't allowed on the playground point finale, are there really enough drunk children around to warrant a sign? In any case, the sign tipped us off that there must be booze available on the premises somewhere...)

Did you know that cowboys like playing in teepees and Mongolian yurts? It's true. I learned it at the Cowboy Country Club, where you can see numerous authentic cowboy teepee and yurt replicas.

After moseying around the grounds a bit, we opted for the go-carts. Translation: plastic bucket seats precariously mounted on to lawnmower engines. I actually managed to take a wrong turn on the circular track, evidence of my hyper-acute sense of direction. In my defense, I was distracted by the dual challenge presented by my midget legs and cowgirl skirt, struggling to reach the pedals without displaying my cowgirl undies.
The noble steed

Justin's Big Boss in a Small Car, with a Medium Cowboy

Heavy machinery out of the way, we swaggered over to the Cowboy Town Karaoke Pub (cause you know how much cowboys like to sing karaoke) and drank just enough beer to sleep through the long bus ride home. Oddly enough, only us expats (four of us) found our way to the pub. I guess we Westerners were the only ones with a true understanding of the cowboy way.
Hoedown at the Cowboy KTV Pub (KTV is the Chinese cowboy term for karaoke)

Yee-haw!!

Hamsterific

I feel compelled to share that when I did the google image search for the hamster photo, I discovered a website for hamster lovers called "Hamsterific". I am just waiting for an appropriate opportunity to slip that one in to a conversation.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Excuses, Excuses

Hello blogosphere!

I know, it's been a long time now, but I haven't forgotten you. Actually, my mind has just been a bit pre-occupied lately with various issues that are creating a blockage to my bloginess. I'm not going to get in to it all now, not because it's a secret, but just because it's boring. Not to worry though - like any sensible girl, I deal with stress and anxiety in the healthiest way I know how: by throwing irrational temper tantrums that are "officially" completely unrelated to the issue at hand.

Some of my highest points;

-Threw a fit at Justin and stormed out of the house, officially because I lost my 5$ sunglasses. (Found them two days later)
-Threw a fit at Justin, officially because a fax I sent didn't go through on the first try (Justin sent it for me later, attempting to put out fires I assume. He made tacos that day too.)
-Cried at the bank after my wallet was stolen and the teller said it would take three days to get a new bank card. (Got the card on the spot. And a cup of tea. But I can never go back to my neighbourhood branch again.)
-Told a man on the street to fuck off because he was ogling and saying "waiguoren waiguoren waiguoren" (foreigner foreigner foreigner). (On hindsight realized he was probably a crazy person, since he showed no reaction whatsoever to being stopped in his tracks and shouted at by a stranger.)

I'll leave it at that, but suffice it to say that these were only the tip of the iceberg.

In any case, all of this culminated with a trip to my happy place - Taipei - and I feel much better now. I know, Shanghai sounds so much cooler to all of you back in The Western World. It's true, Shanghai has charming architecture, an art scene, museums, and even trees.

But let me ask you this, Western World: did Architecture ever give you the keys to her apartment, buy you coffee, make you breakfast, and listen to all of your problems? Did Museums ever take you out dancing until sunrise on a whim? Did a Tree ever sell you 6$ dresses, 10$ shoes, and all the curly-hair products your heart desired? I'd like to leave Art out of the equation, since Art does give out free booze sometimes... but Art doesn't serve that free booze with Ethan's homemade lasagna and an extra large helping of Angela's wise words (so what if this sage advice is rooted in some cracked out theory about reptilian aliens and a planetary shift to another dimension?)

Yes, there is a bigger music scene here in Shanghai. But the audience needs to learn to have a little more fun. The city is prettier. But it would be prettier still if people didn't pee on it so often, or push you all over it, or drive on the sidewalk and then honk at pedestrians. And of course, we have the Expo now, which is all very exciting, and has given city officials a push to fix things up a bit. Oh, and by the way, by "fix things up" I mean build tall white walls to block the slummy areas from view, and shut down my friendly street meat vendors, and make throngs of people wait in line to get on the subway so that our purses can go through a security check.

Anyways. That's all about that. I have it from a reliable source that my negativity will only feed the aliens who thrive on human despair, thus preventing me from moving in to the next dimension with all the smiley happy people. (Just trust me on this one, okay?) So, from now on, positive vibrations only. Or bottling, at the very least.

On that note, I would like to introduce my upcoming series, entitled "Toilets Around The World." If I know my audience, and I think I do, toilet stories should be right up your alley. Plus the series format will allow me to write a whole slew of posts without ever having to come up with a new idea. Because I really have used a lot of toilets, all over the world. And excretion unites us all.

So get ready to get toilety blogosphere...

p.s. don't worry, it won't be gross. at least not that gross.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

This evening I made the startling discovery that Justin, after all this time, was not aware of my uncanny ability to balance things on my head. In some circles, I actually have quite a reputation for this aptitude. In any case it was revealed tonight, over spaghetti and meatballs, when I performed the gravity-defying feat of balancing a 4-litre water jug upright upon my head. (Some attribute this skill to the puffiness of my hair, but I pay no mind to these nay-sayers. As if my hair could hold a gigantic plastic water jug in its vice-like animal grip.)

The incident sparked a recollection of a similar one from my childhood, when I believe this special gift first took root.

Zoom in on the calendar; pages blowing off in the breeze.... Flash back to 1985...


... a 5-year old afro-ed Risa, in The Old Lambert Cottage. The dining chairs that left ridges on the backs of your legs on hot summer days. The chicken/rooster sugar bowl and creamer set. Booze from my dad's bar mitzvah in the 50s. My mom with a perm, but the same blue eye-shadow, sipping banana daquiris out back with my aunt, while us kids husked corn on the front porch, next to the day's swim suits hung up to dry on the trestle.

Endless games of Monopoly or Battleship or Checkers, that I was usually told I was too young to play, and that I never won anyways. Not to mention the games created specifically for the sake of taunting me: 52 Pick Up, for instance, which involves throwing an entire deck of cards on the floor and then ordering me to pick them up. ("What?! You said you wanted to play-ay!" was always the rock solid defense.) This is what happens when you're the youngest of a big gang of raucous siblings and cousins in close quarters: the easiest to trick, tease, or blame, and forever grasping for that zinger of a come-back. (Although, really, what can be said after, "I'm rubber and you're glue"?)

Actually I wasn't the youngest, strictly speaking. There was one cousin the same age as me, but scrappier than I was, and one  2 years younger, still too cute to really pick on. And then there was me. Helpless and afroed, the obvious target. Which is probably why I stuck to my guns that fateful morning at breakfast time...

Me: (reaching for a full box of Cheerios, and proceeding to place it gingerly atop my afro)


Brother: Risa, don't do that. It's going to fall.


Me: No, it's not.


Sister: Risa, put it down, you're going to drop it.


Me: No, I won't.


Cousin: Risa, stop it, it's going to spill. You're going to get in trouble.


Me: (increasingly confident) You're not the boss of me.


Brother: (growing panic) Take it off!


Me: (arrogant now, attempting to strut around with my headdress) No, look, I can do it! Look! It's...


Sister: (screeching like a communist school teacher) Risa!


Father: (serious stuff now) Put it down!


Me: (prancing) ... but, look!!! Its...


Blonk! psshhhhht-t-t-t-t-t--t---t----t------t.......t.


Box falls. 


Cheerios EVERYWHERE. 


Little Risa Gets In Big Trouble.


Well I certainly Learned My Lesson that day:

If you want to be good at balancing stuff on your head, you have to practice.

And just look at me now! A 4-litre water jug! Take that, nay-sayers!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Old Business

Update on some Very Important Ongoing Issues here at digressions:

1. This week I saw an old man getting totally clawed exiting the subway by this woman getting on. Yes, Chinese culture holds elders in the highest respect. But hey, all is fair in the cut throat game of public transportation.

2. I saw another person clipping their nails on the subway.

And, in related Subway Grossness News:

- Excuse me, China? There is a reason why toilets generally flush. This is the same reason that it is not acceptable to hold your child over a trash can (indoors) so that they can pee in it. (I thought the bum-less pants were cute until I realized what they were for.)

3. In the name of full disclosure, I feel the need to qualify my previous statement that my new batch of third graders are sweet and not, um, as Special as my last group (ie. dumber than a box o' hair). What I should have said is, "not including the two girls who have repeatedly told me that I look like a man." (It's true, I do look mannish  in my glasses, but I wouldn't dare wear them for that crowd.)

4. And of course, The Neti* Update.

(*If you're new here, the neti is a magical little pot used to pour salt water up your nose so that it comes out the other side, and in the process makes your whole life better, or at least smell like the beach. Practiced by yoga masters - not people who string spaghetti through their noses - so it's basically like I do yoga  now, only with the added bonus of no exercise. See Figure 1.)

I had a bit of a cold last week, for which the neti is fabulous of course. And since you're my friends now (and by friends, I mean parents) I can tell you - you would not believe what comes out of there sometimes:





Okay, I promise, this is the last neti post. Then I'll start talking about the interesting things you all came here for, like authentic fortune cookies and lemon chicken and how Chairman Mao is "really a good man who just made some mistakes."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Perils and Pleasures (or ploys?) of a Third Grade Classroom

(But only some of them)

As it turns out, not all third graders are assholes after all. This is good news, not only because it obviously affects my daily life as a teacher, but also because I was beginning to get a bit worried that if I ever had children, I might not be able to resist the urge to throw my spawn down a well on its eighth birthday.

And so my hat goes off to the parents of all the third-grade assholes I've known, for their personal strength and resistance (or perhaps for their inability to locate a well).  And to the parents of the nicer kiddlets, who have reassured me that with proper training, not all third graders need inspire an appetite for strangulation.

My stereotype of the Third Grade Beast turns out to be just that; a stereotype. But while stereotypes are certainly not applicable in every case, they do come from somewhere. Well, so does this one...

... Like Becky in Taiwan, who would run wildly around the room screeching like the Tasmanian Devil with a crazed look in her eye, foaming at the mouth as she swiped classmates' belongings off their desks and scribbled on their homework. Alternatively, she would insist on spending entire class periods under her desk, engrossed in some project that I never could quite figure out. She was probably building a bomb under there. She also liked to bring insects in to the class in paper cups. According to her mother, she had an interest in natural science. Yeah. Right. I say she had an interest in Gross.

Then there was a Shanghai class who would throw things, call me Big Nose, and try to trip me or slap my butt as I walked by. As you can see, I really commanded respect in that room. I felt like Mr. Ramjam, the substitute teacher we tormented throughout the 80s and 90s, and experienced a new empathy for what must have been a highly demoralizing career. (Fortunately, I only had to teach that class for a month.)

While the first and second graders were still young and cute enough to procure whole-hearted enthusiasm for whatever last-minute minimal effort activity I'd thrown together for them, and the fifth graders were mature enough to keep the mocking behind my back where it belongs, I concluded that third graders really were just assholes.

Enter my new school this semester - a breath of fresh air. As the only non-Chinese person on campus, I still attract a lot of attention, and still have children chasing and calling after me everywhere I go. But instead of "lawai, lawai!" (foreigner), I get "Good morning!" and "Welcome to Shanghai!" When I enter a classroom, instead of Big Nose I hear "Harro Ms. Jun!" Some students are even starting to pick up on the fact that Ms. Jun was their previous teacher, rather than a suffix added to "Harro", and are actually starting to use my real name!

I don't mean to sound overly cynical here, but I can't help wondering if this is somehow a trap...

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Weekend: Chinese Bubble Wrap, Creative Mess-Making, and Le Fashion Faux-Pas

Friday night:

Went to a club that was completely swathed in bubble wrap. I kid you not. Floors, ceiling, everything - covered. It was heaven. (Except for the crappy music, expensive drinks, and crowd of two on the dance floor going crazy for the crappy music of course.)

At first I thought, "wow, this is some high end bubble wrap, like Italian bubble wrap, or something," cause you could just press it, like, anywhere, just a bit, and it would go SNAP-SNAP-SNAP-SNAP-SNAPETTY-SNAP. But then I thought, "Wait a second. The actual point of bubble wrap is to pad stuff. So its probably not really supposed to snap so easily. Must be Made In China after all."

I still wanted to stuff my purse with it though.

Saturday night:

Stayed home painting pictures. I'm not actually good at this or anything, it's just fun to muck around and mix the colours and all. So my "picture" is basically the end result of ruining everything, fixing it by painting something new on top, ruining it again, repeat. The masterpiece isn't finished yet, but so far it involves a swimming eyeball, a floating island in the sky, a lot of flying fish, and a skyscraper growing out of a fireball. Who knows what it will be by the time its done. Daniel drunkenly but honestly told me it was disgusting. I still kind of like it though.

Sunday night:

Went to a free concert sponsored by the Alliance Francaise. (Keeping an eye out for events with potentially free booze these days - art openings are usually good for free wine and nibbles, and a few weeks ago the Dutch Cultural Centre had a party with free Heineken and gouda cheese. No crackers though.) This time it was a French electro/hip hop group. Featuring an Axel Rose-wannabe guitarist who desperately needed a haircut, along with an MC and a dj who desperately needed t-shirts four sizes smaller. It was alright, mostly cause it was free. I had trouble getting past the giant t-shirts though.

And now it's back to the kiddlets...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Believe It: 9am Just Got Worse


I drink coffee on the subway.

I write my lesson plans on the subway.

I eat bananas on the subway.

Sometimes I even blow my nose on the subway.

But there are certain things that SHOULD NOT BE DONE ON THE SUBWAY.

And as you have probably guessed from my excessive capitalization, people are doing 'em anyway. Ugh, people...

When I'm on my way to work in the morning it's, well... morning. I am not good with morning. I'm about as perky as a damp leaf of wilted lettuce that's been forgotten in the bottom of the fridge for two weeks. I'm about as tolerant as lactose (and y'all know what an intolerant bigot lactose can be.)

So you can only imagine how I felt when this adorable young couple sat down next to me as I ate my banana, and the female portion of said couple proceeded to undertake the task of squeezing her boyfriend's pimples. And, at his insistence (not that she seemed to mind) this went on for about ten minutes. Maybe longer, because that's when I got off the train. When she was finished with one, he felt along his jaw line and requested that she finish the whole set. She started off sitting next to him, but then crouched down in front of him to get a better angle. It was totally and completely repulsive, and I wanted to barf. The worst part about it was that they were being all lovey-dovey about the whole thing. I repeat: totally and completely repulsive. I kept searching my fellow passengers' faces to see if I was the only one who was totally repulsed - only one lady looked grossed out, but she could have just been a sour-puss in general. Idk.*
Then, later that same day, I saw a woman clipping her fingernails on the subway. Just letting the clippings fall on the ground willy-nilly. Not quite as repulsive, but still strange. Biting, I could understand, because that's spontaneous. But clipping means she actually carries nail clippers around with her, planning to groom in public. There's premeditation involved.

I also once saw a man shaving with an electric shaver on the subway. (I saw a man doing the same thing in a McDonald's - at his table, not in the bathroom - and yet another man doing the same at a fruit stand.)

Now here's the thing. City officials are trying to crack down on bad habits in public places, so as to make a good impression when the Expo starts here in a couple of months and Shanghai is flooded with visitors. But they are talking about things like people walking around in their pyjamas (a funny little Shanghainese quirk). I would actually LOVE to jump on the public pyjama bandwagon. Why can't they leave the pro-pyjama set alone and focus on REPULSIVE PUBLIC PIMPLE SQUEEZING? (Or nail clipping, or shaving, or indiscriminately throwing people out of your way or not stopping at red lights or throwing garbage out the window?)

And one more piece of advice, Shanghai:

STAND LEFT, WALK RIGHT, PEOPLE!

Stand left, walk right.

*Idk means "I don't know" in Cool Internet Acronym-Speak. I read it on another blog, and then googled it 'cause I had no clue what it meant. Or rather "Idk" what it meant. Anyway, I just wanted to use it to sound as cool and bloggy as everyone else.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mongolian Cow Sour Milk Supergirls VS Blair Waldorf


The Chinese government is a little bit like The Bitchy Popular Girl in high school - her status secured not so much because everyone loves her, but because everyone is aware of the unpleasant consequences of going up against her. (At least that's what it's like on Gossip Girl. Not that I've ever watched Gossip Girl, of course. I swear.) What I'm trying to say with this shaky analogy is that political dissent is not tolerated here. It is actually illegal to contradict or undermine the Communist party and its current policies.

So. I've been thinking about instigating a democracy movement. Can't leave Asia without causing at least one international incident, right?

It will all be below the radar, of course, beginning with the mobilization of my first, second and third grade students.  Their oblivion to perpetual post-nasal drip indicates that they're not quite alert enough to catch on to my plan, and with semi-developed malleable brains to boot, they will make the ideal base of supporters.

My re-education program will have to be clandestine at first, at least until we are strong enough to defend ourselves (which could be a while, given that my most senior members are eight year olds). Fortunately, Kitty and Alices #1-5 are deceptively innocent looking, and you'd never guess that little Willy is thinking anything at all. And, luckily, censorship works in my favour here: since blogger is already blocked in China, I can openly share our progress here without any fear of reprisal.

Now, where did I get the idea that my 35-minute "class", which usually opens with a rousing rendition of "If You're Happy And You Know It" and takes it's cues from there, could develop in to a social force to be reckoned with? The short answer - reality TV.  The long answer -The Mongolian Cow Sour Milk Supergirls Contest.

Supergirls was China's first American Idol-type show, sponsored by a dairy company, hence the full length title. Now, you probably never thought that vapid and shallow reality tv programming could have any deeper meaning, or become a force for social change beyond opening the doors of celebrity to any narcissistic extrovert willing to loll around a tropical island in a bikini. (Sorry, I've been out of touch with tv since Michael passed out in the fire on Survivor, so that's the best example I can come up with.) The Chinese government, on the other hand, saw something else there, and come to think of it, they were right.

Think about it: the Idol winner is chosen by a democratic process. Sure, the judges put in their elite expert two cents, but the final decision is made by a popular vote. In a country where the general public has never participated in electing their leaders, where they are told that this is not a good way for decisions to be made, it is quite something to have a television program that proclaims to select the nation's next big star by a popular vote.

And, as the authorities feared, the show was wildly popular, seemingly largely because of the voting process. The first season finale had about 400 million viewers (as compared to about 12 million for the UK version), with votes pouring in, and had the public so stirred up that fans actually formed booster clubs and canvassed shopping malls to rally up votes for their favourite contestants. Some say that it was the largest-scale voting exercise that China had ever seen. The public was drawn to the idea of having a say, of being able to make a difference, and the winner became a sensation overnight.

The implications were not lost on the government, and in China everything must pass through their censors before it makes it on to the public stage. The authorities voiced their disapproval, saying that the show was vulgar, manipulative, and undermined socialist values. They said it encouraged youth to be overly competitive and to strive for instant celebrity (rather than that communisty focus on conformity, and on valuing collectivity over individuality). Attempting to point out the failure of democratic decision making, state media commented, "How come an imitation of a democratic system ends up selecting the singer who has the least ability to carry a tune?"

The show continued for another season, but with new restrictions. To begin with (even in the first series), the broadcasters never actually used the word "vote", having deemed it too inflammatory from the get go. Instead, viewers were asked to send in "messages of support". In the subsequent season, new rules were applied to clothes, hair, and performances so that they would not be "vulgar", and the judges were instructed to be courteous, and not to embarrass contestants. Contestants were not to be overly competitive, everything was to remain "happy and friendly." Discouraging the appropriation of American culture, Chinese ballads and folk songs took the spotlight over hip hop/pop music (which had initially taken centre stage). Soon, the show was cancelled altogether.

In 2009, the show was brought back again, in its watered down version with even more restrictions, most notably, a new selection process. In addition to the four "expert" judges, a handful of judges (maybe five) are chosen from an audience of "common people" to submit a vote for the winner. The deluge of SMS and online voting is no longer. This is eerily similar to the Chinese political system, where there is only one party and a small group within it elects the leaders behind closed doors.

As for Supergirls, now that the viewers don't have a say, they don't seem to be particularly interested. When I googled the show, almost all of the information that came up was from the initial 2005 season. Without a voice, the public stopped paying attention, and it is my guess that that is exactly why the people are not given a voice in politics.

Point being - social change can come about through sneaky and unexpected places, which is what the Chinese Powers That Be realized when they saw the Supergirls phenomenon. If the authorities thought that this was an influence worth worrying about, than it probably was. People will get new ideas in all kinds of ways.

So, from now on, my kiddies are voting on EVERYTHING: which class activity to do next, which song to sing today, who the team leader should be, whatever.

P.S. I've also started making all the games boys against girls, and then subtly skewing it so that the girls always win.

All in the name of building a better future.

YOUR WELCOME, CHINA.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ode To Neti

Her spout curved, smooth, and blue
Seawater; soothing, warm,
Oh snot, she'll make you rue
the day that you were born

p.s. do you think the folks over at Shop Neti might pay me for this?

A new semester, a new nose

 Potential Soulmate?

Turns out most of you are more twisted than I had previously thought - far from being grossed out, it seems that people actually do want to hear about my snot. (If you just said "bleck," click here to catch up. I promise, you too will be swept up in the suspense, and return hungry for more snot related news.)

Two weeks in to a daily Neti routine, I'm happy to report that it really is all I dreamed it would be. It feels a little funny at first, but it looks even funnier. Remember the photo I posted last time? Well, its WAY funnier than that. Its actually more like this
but even funnier, because instead of that girl, its me. At first I kept wanting to look up to see it in the mirror, causing salt water to leak in to my throat, but I've since learned how to catch a peek while still keeping my chin tucked in. Oddly satisfying, that smoothly flowing stream - like the satisfaction of snapping one last hidden bubble when you thought the wrap was all snapped out. Without pills, sprays, or surgical masks, I can breathe, smell and taste. I feel like I'm strolling in a warm sea breeze all day. (Salt water residue, I guess.) I think I've even awakened my Ajna Chakra (a heavy sleeper, at that), and reached a higher state of consciousness. Several in fact.

It's like I have a new nose.

The only problem is that I went back to work this week, which will sort of interfere if I need a mid-day Neti. I'm considering doing it in Starbucks, which functioned as my bathroom oasis first semester when I couldn't bring myself to pee at school - in a trough, in an open room in the presence a bunch of primary school kids. Think of it, I was mocked just for blowing my nose in class; can you imagine the ramifications to my authority status if they'd seen me with my pants around my ankles? Not to mention that it was about zero degrees in that school (no heating), and I couldn't bear the thought of taking off my pants. I've used many a horrendous toilet in my travels, but this one just wasn't going to happen. No way. Enter Starbucks, my saviour with its clean human-style private toilets, heating, and reliable supply of toilet paper.

My new school this semester has marginally better facilities, so I was planning on going back to my sanctimonious snubbing of the evil corporation, but while the new school bathrooms are usable, I'm still not sure it would be totally appropriate to Neti there. As the only foreigner in this huge institution, I get enough laughing and pointing as it is. So I may just have to sell my soul to The Man, and go back to Starbucks. In the meantime, I'm hoping that the Neti will work its magic without a midday swish.

Ok, I'll stop now, before I have to change the blog tag-line to "All Neti, All The Time...."