Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lose a Lover, Gain a Language

It's been about three months since my girlfriend and I broke up, and I must say that my Chinese language ability has grown more in these three months than in the entire previous year. There are a few reasons for this, but the biggest reason was that her English was so damn good, we hardly spoke Chinese to each other, except to be cute. She also accompanied me everywhere and usually did the translation for me. In short, I became language-lazy. I was still making progress on my own time, but not as much as my single friends.

Now that I'm flying solo, I've really had to step up my skillz. I learned the Chinese necessities pretty quickly after I came to China and even when I was with my girlfriend, I was always making steady, albeit slow, progress. But language is more than just communication, it's also conversation. In the time since the break-up, I've gone out with a few girls, just to keep my game sharp ;-). Some of them speak little or no English, and of course we can't eat dinner or walk around the park in silence, so these situations have forced me to dig into my vocabulary and assimilate new words that I pick up. And with any exercise, it becomes easier with frequency. The girl that I'm currently rolling with doesn't speak any English but somehow we manage to have really enjoyable conversations together. Of course she teaches me new words and I return the favor but it's more satisfying to speak in Chinese, both for her and for me. Chinese people don't expect foreigners to learn Chinese well and it surprises and flatters them when a foreigner takes the effort to learn Chinese. Especially for the girls, because conversation is such an important part of a girl's life, and she will feel relaxed and excited if she can communicate with a foreigner in her native tongue. As Sinosplice John says, "Learn Chinese." Everything's sexier in another language ;-).

Speaking of sexy, my tattoo shop, which is primarily a make-up salon, had a body-painting show today. I'm sorry, I didn't bring my camera, but let me just say that slim, graceful Chinese girls with pictures on their bodies, painted or tattooed, are beyond hot.

Monday, May 26, 2008

We're Worried That If You Teach Here, The Students Will Want To Look Like You

I recently received an email from the school where I was planning to work next school year. After checking out some of my photos online, they told me that my tattoos would be a problem (not the ones on my back, just on my right forearm), since the school has a mandate that teachers can't have exposed tattoos.

Education has consistently been a conservative discipline, especially so in China. Teachers are admonished to have a presentable appearance, since they are role models for the students and should not exhibit any adverse characteristics that the students might want to emulate (e.g., tattoos, funky hair, etc.). However, changing aesthetic attitudes, especially in the West, means that many foreigners coming to China will have an "alternative appearance" that undoubtedly will raise many eyebrows.

China places extreme importance on appearance. The way you look is generally an accurate representation of your job, personality, and social status (in China, you often can judge a book by its cover) and having tattoos is not acceptable for teachers, which have been traditionally associated with criminals and bad boys/girls. Yet China must also realize that in the West, while appearance sometimes can indicate a person's character, "alternative appearances" are becoming more and more mainstream and benign. I have gotten my tattoos simply for aesthetic purposes (and the surprising fact that Chinese girls love them), not in any attempt to be rebellious or draw attention to myself (I'm a foreigner in China- how can I get stared at any more than I do already?). And I am the kind of person that most schools are looking for- young, energetic, and experienced. Yet this school is letting a relatively small issue overshadow my positive aspects.

I'm not mad or offended or even surprised. I knew that when I got my ink, especially on my forearm, that it might rub some people the wrong way, and I have sometimes been initially perceived as a bad boy. But I am always glad when people tell me later that they are surprised that I'm really a nice and gentle guy, and that is what I would like to proliferate in China- that one's appearance is not necessarily who they are. I gave up long ago trying to get people to think of me as a tough guy- I still get called "cute" no matter how much ink I get :-). And to this school's credit, they did agree that I could teach there but they sounded a bit reluctant and honestly, I don't want to be in an unsure environment and more importantly, I don't want to cause offense or hurt the school's reputation. For me, tattoos are not a big deal, but that's because of my exposure to them. For others, they are still an obstacle and it will take a while before they're accepted. Same story with the miniskirt, and now everything's golden :-).

The good news is that I found another school in the same area and all things considered, it seems to be a better deal. My advice to anyone looking to work in China is check with your employer if you have any visible piercings, tattoos, weird hair, forehead implants, etc., especially if you're working for a school (my new school knows I have tattoos and they're cool with it). I've met teachers with full sleeves, pierced tongues, waist-length dreds, but more often than not, foreign teachers are pretty normal-looking and this is what schools expect. If you're inclined to the rock n' roll end of the fashion spectrum, it doesn't hurt to give them the heads up.

Anyone had any problems caused by their appearance in China?

The arm in question. Good thing I decided against the impaled skull design.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I'm Excited About the Olympics Too! Did You Notice the Beijing Tattoo on My Face?

He doesn't seem too happy though. Maybe he just realized what he did.

Meet T-Bag, Your New 外语老师

Prison Break is the most popular American television program in China. In addition to depicting the glamorous American prison system, it has also increased China's awareness of the proliferation of tattoos in the West.

A heavily-tattooed foreigner is very rare in China, and a heavily-tattooed foreign teacher is rarer still. And because nearly every student in China has seen Prison Break, I constantly hear murmurs of "Scofield!" as I walk past. I hear this almost as much as the ubiquitous “老外!“

But there is another nickname that been bestowed upon me, also thanks to Prison Break. And it has nothing to do with my tattoos.

Bummer, huh?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Pros and Cons of Dating a Small-City Chinese Girl

*Note: generally not applicable to large urban areas such as Beijing, Shanghai, etc.

For the last three years, I've lived in two small-sized cities in China (avg. pop. 1 million) and I've met quite a variety of girls. They all have their differences but they all share similarities, some of which make them ideal partners and some that can drive men away, especially foreigners who are expecting a Western-style relationship. Now we all know that Chinese girls are gorgeous and affectionate and nearly every foreign dude that comes to China eventually picks one up (or several). Here is some advice and suggestions for anyone wondering what to expect from a foreign guy/Chinese girl relationship. Of course individual results may vary, and I hope I do not offend or condescend in any way. I'm just giving my honest opinions from experience and observations.

The Pros:

-Affection: Chinese girls are very emotional, and while this can also be a con, they will devote themselves heart and soul to their man if they feel that he really loves them, or at least reciprocates their affection.
-Eagerness: Chinese girls are waiting to be swept off their feet, and since they are used to being treated merely as sexual objects by most men, it doesn't take much to make their eyes sparkle. If a man shows genuine interest in them as a person and not just as a midnight snack, she will have no hesitation giving herself to him, body and soul. A misconception among foreigners is that Chinese girls are easy to get into bed, but I think it's more of an eagerness to find her man that makes a girl jump into bed with him so that she can keep him interested, but more importantly because she is happy that he loves her.
-Sex: Chinese girls have firm, tight bodies, are very flexible, and are up for anything. She might be shy and coy in public but when the lights go out, there are no limits. Sometimes they might need a little persuasion but it's all just a game and actually makes them more tantalizing. They are also very expressive, if ya know what I mean ;-).
-Excitement: a boyfriend makes a Chinese girl feel complete and validated, and a foreign boyfriend brings the possibility of new worlds and ideas being opened to her. Every girl (and boy) dreams of far-away places and exotic locales, and a foreign boyfriend can make this a reality for her. Of course a girl will not choose a foreigner over a Chinese man simply because he can take her to new countries, but this is simply icing on the cake.
-Family: this is a pro and a con. Initially, it may be difficult for the girl's family to accept the foreign boyfriend (because we know all foreign guys are playboys and heartbreakers who just want sex) but after they realize that he is making their daughter truly happy, and that he loves to drink beer, the family will warm up to him and invite him to their home often. The girl's family is usually from the countryside or suburbs where old-fashioned ideas of chastity and gentility are still rooted, so don't expect the girl to admit to her family that she is living with her boyfriend or for the man to be able to hold her hand in front of her family.

The Cons:
-Attachment: for a Chinese girl, her boyfriend is her support, her anchor, her big brother. An old saying in China goes: "A girl is the bird, and a man is the tree in which the bird finds safety." The girl is expecting the man to take care of her, not looking for a soulmate. A break-up is very difficult for a Chinese girl, because it means she is adrift in the big, wide, unpredictable world. She may not have the job or social skills to be successful, and though she might be able to make a living and be independent, she would much rather have a man to guide and support her. Now I'm not saying that Chinese girls are lazy shopaholics who don't want to work (though I'm met many of these too), but for a Chinese girl, being alone is the worst feeling in the world and she will cling to the relationship with all her might, even if it's time to let it go.
-Lack of hobbies: in general, Chinese people have developed few unique hobbies because of such extreme emphasis on work and study, and most girls have the same interests: shopping, fashion, QQ, singing, calligraphy, reading, maybe an instrument. You're going to have a hard time finding a girl who writes avant-garde poetry or makes mosaics out of coffee mug fragments. Most of them have no interest in philosophical or historical discussions, and they usually like dramas and romantic comedies. In my own experience and most of my friends' as well, the girls we are with become predictable and eventually boring. In a Chinese girl, you're probably not going to find a vivacious and fiery personality. I'm not saying she'll be dull- far from it. Chinese girls are full of energy and pep, but it's not directed towards unconventional pursuits.
-Safety: historically, Chinese are not risk-takers (hence a very stable country with a huge population). Chinese children are coddled by their parents are steered away from any danger no matter how slight, and they are not encouraged to engage in dangerous/adventurous activities (compare the number of Chinese children wearing arm and leg casts to those in Western countries). In China, risk is unnecessary; safety means stability and ensured survival. Thus it's difficult to get Chinese girls to try anything that might even have the illusion of risk, like a roller coaster or zipline. Of course, the non-adventurous blandess has already been pried loose by her willingness to date a foreigner so she'll probably try it with enough prodding, and she might love it or not. But in my own life, I've found a little risk and adventure becomes contagious and I've done some wild things to get that natural high and it's usually no different for Chinese girls.

Bottom line: Chinese girls are sweet, loyal, sexy, feminine, helpful, and above all, loving. They love to have fun, try new things, and are happy just to spend time with their man. I had a girlfriend for two years (and a couple short "flings"), yet the most gratifying aspects of the relationships were physical. I truly did love my girlfriend, but not as deeply as I could have if her personality and spirit captivated me as much as her heart and beauty. She loved me because I provided her with what she wanted and needed, and I loved her back because of this, but this isn't the kind of love that lasts a lifetime.

All things considered, you probably won't find your soulmate/love-of-your-life in a small Chinese city. The bigger cities have more varieties of girls, and there are many reasons for this, but the fact is that smaller-city girls are more serious about marriage and taking care of their families, so they're not thinking as much about hobbies, entrepreneurial ideas, etc. And like I've said, there are always exceptions, and everyone has different tastes and needs. I've met guys that are perfectly content to have the arm-candy/bedroom-entertainment girlfriend who lets them drink with their pals till the wee hours of the morning with little or no complaints. In my observations, I've noticed that more often than not, the foreign guy gets a girlfriend because it's easy, she's hot, and it's better than being alone. It's hard for the male ego to resist a sweet, adoring girl who loves to be with you and help you. The "just because" girlfriend is easy to find and just as easily replaceable. But the girl that truly connects with your soul- that's going to take some searching, and that's the way it is in any country.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fresh Ink and a Photo Op

I satisfied my monthly tattoo fix today (the dreaded inside upper arm- I've got both right and left upper arms inked now and lived to tell about it, but damn if today wasn't 5 hours of the most righteous pain ever). It was at a typical Chinese tattoo parlor- meaning a make-up salon.

The obvious benefits are having a cute tattoo artist (the student of the afore-mentioned matriarch- pretty and petite but slow as hell: BZZZZ, wipe, BZZZZ, wipe. geez girl I'm not made of glass- grind it in there for a few moments, I can take it), as well as other workers and customers indulging their curiosity to see the infamous laowai inked up like a prison convict. Anyway, after the pain and subsequent rejoicing (pictures forthcoming), I went to the counter to make payment and was enthusiastically directed to the Red Cross donations box for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. I yanked out my wallet, extracted some money, and proceeded to drop it in the box, when one of the girls told me to wait. One of her friends promptly yanked out a camera and the other girl cracked a beaming smile behind me as my hand held the money halfway in the donations box, a deer-in-the-headlights grin animating my face. A few photos were snapped, and I left the salon amidst a profusion of “谢谢's," which were probably more for the substantial sum I dropped on my new ink, rather than my well-documented donation to the Red Cross.

I headed down the narrow alley, feeling every bit the foreign bitch that I was.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Chinese historical epics? Yawn. Korean monster epics? Hell yes!

I usually like dark, brooding, thought-provoking films. But sometimes you need some fluffy whipped cream to counter a steady diet of vitamins and minerals. My inner 12-year-old found just what he was looking for with last year's Korean smash-fest Dragon Wars

I won't lie- on all serious merits, this film sucks. The acting is abominable, the dialogue is kooky, and the plot is as thin as a shadow. But the dragons...oh the dragons, the fire, the destruction... I haven't had this much fun since... well it was a lot of fun :-).

I'm not usually a fan of Korean cinema- predictable plots, cliched characters, super-sappy and emotional. Pretty much like Chinese cinema. But whereas China continually cranks out visually-impressive bloated historical battle epics with all the soul and passion of a cement block, director Hyung-rae Shim puts these massive-scale tendencies to good use by having dragons obliterate downtown LA. The dragons are the only reason to watch this film, but it's a great reason. The effects are spectacular. Michael Bay must have blown his load when he saw this. And I'm sure he did, since he's a 12-year-old disguised as a Tinseltown bigshot :-).

D-War- loud, stupid, but I dare you not to crack an impish smile watching 50-story monsters destroy everything in sight. Hollywood has Godzilla, Independence Day, King Kong, Transformers, and tons of other city-squashing delights, but I have never seen anything like this.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

An EXTREME Cheese Snack for Your EXTREME Hunger!

So you've got a few tattoos and piercings, huh? Go base-jumping on weekends? Seen Slayer 15 times in concert? And you think that makes you extreme? Think again. Sucka, you haven't even tasted extreme until you've had Doritos Brand ROCK TACO Nacho Cheese Snacks!

If you like weak-ass teeny-bopper pop snacks, then go home and cry to Mama. But if you've got a heavy metal hunger that only the most extreme cheese snack can satisfy, then look no further. Cowboy up and get in the pit with Doritos Brand ROCK TACO Cheese Snacks! It will kick your ass and rock your face! Available only in China.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Hot Weather, Hot Springs, and a Hot Girl at 明月山

During the lamentably shortened May Holiday, I trekked over to the neighboring city of Yi Chun to check out the Bright Moon Mountain and adjacent hot spring with my friend Mary. She already has a boyfriend and even if she was available, I don't think she would be right for me, but she's probably the coolest Chinese girl I know and I can hang out and talk about anything with her, which is definitely a rarity in this country. The day was a blast and scratched my nature itch (though "nature" by and large in China means a carefully manicured mountain overrun by tourists). Check out the photogs:

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Stop Callin' Me!

I'm a nice guy. For real. I try to make everyone smile wherever I go and be compassionate and mindful of others' feelings. And as you can see from the post below, I'm aware of the delicacy with which a girl's heart should be handled. However, as I also noted below, Chinese girls (and often girls in general) can latch on too tightly to someone and it takes a bit of gentle prying to loosen their grip. (Quick word to the wise: not letting go of someone when the relationship is ending or there is no relationship at all will not make that person want you more; in fact you will achieve the opposite of the desired result). Yet sometimes even the most tactful emotional diplomacy fails.

Where to turn for inspiration in turbulent times? Why, to Atlanta's towering lighthouse of reason and wit, Dem Franchise Boyz, of course! Below is one of their hit songs that essentially sums up the smack you occasionally have to lay down (with utmost tenderness and understanding, of course). Although my situation doesn't exactly parallel the song's content (specifically the baby mama angle), I think this gets the point across.