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SSDD. september

SSDD September 2011

Do you have to be a writer to have writer’s block?

This Post has been removed. We are sorry for the inconvenience.

Here are some pictures. Of the Philippines, not the ultimate fighter.

two fatties on the beach

me playing with a monkey

the girls from the cruise ship

one of the Dames,…. uh i mean Danes.

me about to drop some knowledge…

…useless knowledge no doubt, but knowledge none the less.

coach Yang sporting OMR at the BJJ tourney in shanghai.

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MOST RECENT PUBLISHED ARTICLE

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THE AFTERMATH:

THE AFTERMATH:

I always feel two distinct emotions when I haven’t sat down to write my blog in a while. The first: guilt. I hate to disappoint, so going on the assumption that there is at least one person out there that wants to know what’s going on in the world of Dawei or enjoys my blogs, I feel bad for disappointing him/her/it. Secondly, I can never figure out where to start. Feels like the events of a few months ago are already a decade away. Of course, when someone asks me the final score of my hockey game the previous night, or even what I ate for breakfast, it’s usually a struggle to remember. On the flip side of that, when asked how a friend reacted to some exciting news three years past, I get a vivid picture in my mind. Weird. So all I can say about my blog is, lucky for you all that I’ve been marking things down. Let’s see where I left off…

…oh right, my 45 minutes of “fame”. As it turns out, being the first foreigner on one of these dating game shows brings about no small amount of notoriety, unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at things) that only lasts a short time because many many foreigners will follow suit. As you probably remember, I wasn’t so excited for the dating show to air, but I managed to catch it while visiting my uncle in Shanghai. For some reason, all the girls who were so unattractive in person, were really really pretty on TV! The same wasn’t so true for me. You know how people always say that TV adds 10 pounds? Well that was before the invention of wide screen… Lucky for the Chinese girls, if you only weigh 85 pounds and are a walking skeleton, it makes you look a little nicer.

Side note: after watching the show I went downstairs to the corner store in order to get some boxers that I could double as a bathing suit so that I could enjoy the 5 star hotel pool at the HYATT. Boxers weren’t so easy to find, but I did notice that out of the three corner stores I went to 2 were selling vibrators and dildos at the counter. Now that’s convenience.

I think I mentioned before that this show aired on the Zhejiang TV station, which is the most popular in Zhejiang province, but also popular in neighbouring big cities like Shanghai. Anyway, the next morning, I bought my train ticket going back to Hangzhou. I hadn’t given it much thought, but most of the passengers going from Shanghai to Hangzhou are either going on business or returning from business, which meant there were most likely quite a few people that caught the show in their hotels. It took about 2 minutes before I was recognized and people started coming up to me and asking if that was me. When it came time to board the train someone padded me on the back, called me by name and said “hey, good job on TV”. It was a little weird.

There are really three different kind of things that followed from the 2 shows.

The first is that EVERYTIME I am introduced to new people, one of my friends has to bring up the show and everyone gets a nice good laugh at my expense and I am asked to explain why I didn’t “win”. Sigh. That’s really not my favourite conversation.

The second is a lot more fun. Sometimes I get randomly recognized on the street. Lately it’s been happening less, but the first two or three weeks it was fairly often. Again, now there have been so many foreigners on these dating shows, that I doubt many people remember me. Still, there have been more than a few incidents. One that was really funny was when I went to an outdoor beer festival with a whole big group of people. Randomly, this girl came up to me with her little sister (about 23 and 10years old) and asked to take a picture with me. I was like “uh, ok. Why?” so she says, “cause you’re very handsome.” Flattered, I was quite happy with myself and obliged. Ten minutes later, the two of them came back and she asked if her little sister could have my autograph. I was a little slow, and asked “uh, ok. Why?”. To which she answered, didn’t you sing hotel California on TV, we love that show. My cousin watches EVERY episode!” Then a guy from the table sent over his 5 year old daughter to “cheers” me and chug a glass of beer. Followed by the MC hearing who I am and asking me to do the honours of declaring the winners to the raffle.

Lastly, I started getting a lot of fan mail. The TV station had asked me to create a new email address, which I did, and within a week I had about 100 emails from fans. At first, I tried to answer them all, but after a while I just gave up. There were some strange questions and some strange requests. A lot of fans also sent pictures and asked if I would be their boyfriend… both boys AND girls. Here are a couple for you to see.

I still think the best reaction I’ve had though came a few months later when I caught a 15 year old boy in the train taking my video on his cell phone. I asked him “Do you know me?” and got a really dumbfounded blank stare as my response. Then I asked him, “Do you recognize me from TV?” and his response was to slowly raise his cell phone up in front of his face and continue recording without taking his staring eyes off me for a second.

Not long ago, a friend of mine took me out to dinner with some of his friends including one girl who had just returned from studying abroad in Australia. She sits down and says “wow, I think I’ve seen you somewhere!” so I say “yeah, I know, probably on TV” then everyone present starts laughing at me as though I was making some joke or something about being famous. Ten minutes later she says again “I really think I’ve seen you somewhere”, to which I answered, “It’s got to be one of two places, in your dreams, or on TV”. “No, I’m serious, I feel like I know you from somewhere.” She went on. Somewhat embarrassed I asked “do you watch Ai Qing Lian Lian kan?” Then when she realized that’s exactly how she “knew” me they all started laughing again. “How come you didn’t like any of the girls?” she asked. “Cause you weren’t on the show” I answered. Zing.

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爱情连连看:FALL IN LOVE!

爱情连连看:FALL IN LOVE!

 

 Ok folks, a while back I mentioned that I was asked to be on a dating show. Although, not quite as popular as the singing show, this show is also broadcast in front of more than 30 million people and on this show I will be the main focus of everyone’s attention… unfortunately.

Now that it’s all said and done, I really don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll start by giving you the run down of how the show works. 50+ Chinese girls from all over the country fly in to record this show. They record for a week straight and then fly back home. Each episode has the same 50 girls and several male contestants that come on one at a time and try to “win” a date with one lucky girl. When the make contestant walks onto the podium he is greeted by the two hosts and gives his self introduction. At this time, all 50 girls are sitting behind white curtains and cannot be seen by the contestant. They are each sitting in front of a little table that has a lit light. As I said, there are two hosts, one stands with the contestant and the other sits in a chair offering various bits of wisdom throughout the show to both the contestant and the suitoresses. Once the contestant has introduced himself, the host asks him be express in one sentence the kind of girl he is looking for. If the girls don’t like what he has to say, or don’t like the way he looks they can turn out their light and be removed from the contest. That’s step one.

Step two involves some selection from the male contestant. This is sometimes done in different formats. When I attended the show they asked me for two requirements and the girls who couldn’t satisfy these requirements were asked to turn off their lights.

Step three is the first question-answer period. It’s important to remember that at this time the male contestant still can’t see the girls, but they can see him. Sometimes questions will come from the teacher and other times from the girls. During this stage the girls can turn off their lights any time.

Step four is where it gets interesting. If there are still more than ten girls remaining, ten will be selected at random to come forth and stand behind the curtains. If there are less than 10 the host will ask some girls to reconsider and light up their lights. This stage requires ten girls, one to stand behind each curtain. When the ten girls come forward all the contestant can see is their silhouette. According to their silhouette the contestant must select one girl to have the curtain revealed. At the end of the game, if the chosen girl has turned off her light the contestant will be given a second chance to turn the light back on and try to convince the girl to change her mind. Then all ten curtains are raised so the contestant can see which girls are interested on going on a date with him.

Step five, the contestant’s video is played showcasing a small interview of him and asking about his life and interests. The ten girls can then turn off their lights if they so choose.

Step six, question and answer part two. This is the same as before only now the contestant can see who is asking the questions. Again, they can turn out their lights whenever they want.

Step seven, the second video is shown showcasing interviews from the contestant’s friends and/or family and some more of him.

Step eight is the final round of question-answer. At the end of this stage, if more than 5 girls remain the contestant will win a trip for two to Greece. If there are none, he will be given the opportunity to turn the light back on for his original selection. If there are 2 or more girls left, the contestant can then ask them a question.

Step nine, if the contestant has made it this far he will select two girls (or one if only one is left) and they will join center stage and hold hands. After a countdown the contestant will raise the hand of the girl he wants to date and drop the hand of the other one.

The end.

Day 1 for me was to arrange the interviews. I had asked Matt to provide a short video that they would hopefully include, but they still needed to interview me and a couple friends. When the director picked me up he hit me with a surprise that by now I should’ve come to expect. He said “ok, we just have to make a quick stop to buy you a kung fu outfit”. “WHAT?!” I gulped. That’s right, again, they want me to do kung fu. Damn it all! Of course, the director had to pick out a bright red silk kung fu outfit… oh boy, I just knew this was going to end badly. We went to Mr. Xi’s tea house and proceeded to conduct the interview. When it was done, I reluctantly changed into the cool-aid outfit and walked out into public do record some kung fu by the lake. As if I wasn’t embarrassed enough already just doing the kung fu, within short order there was a litany of passersby lined up with their cell phones and cameras watching me. At one point, while doing some tai chi, I was taking steps backwards and as I stopped I heard one girl in the crowd say “just take one more step”… one more step would have me falling into West Lake… very nice.

The day of the show finally came and believe it or not, I was a little nervous. I’ve discovered that I pee a lot when I’m nervous. I think I went to pee like 45 times per hour. Anyway, the director asked me to meet him that afternoon at the office and then we’d go to the studio together. While I was waiting, I had the misfortune of seeing the final cut of my interviews… oh man… they couldn’t be less flattering. First of all they cut the part with Matthew’s singing, which pissed me off, but what made it even worse was that they edited out all the good kung fu clips and only included the one that they filmed from under me (so all you see is my fat belly) and which happened to be the part where I messed up… the one take of five where I made a mistake… To make matters worse, the interview itself was very unflattering and for some reason, the whole time I’m speaking I have one eyebrow raised a-la Rock. After watching the video I just knew I wasn’t making it past the video stage of the show.

On the way to the show I met another contestant that would be recording that day. In all, they were recording 8 contestants on that day. I was the seventh, which meant I would have to wait through many other episodes. That explained why we only left in the afternoon. As it turned out I only went on at about 1 am and had to fight the yawns and drowsiness, but we’ll get there. It also meant another 350 trips to the toilet.

When I got to the studio I was allowed to watch from the sidelines the shows before me and that’s when I realized how fixed the show really was. For starters, the 50 girls who mostly look like models on TV, are really not very pretty. Still, in my head I kept telling myself they were far away and surely there’d be at least 1 in 50 that I liked. As it turned out, there were two “victors” out of the 6 that went before me. The first had zero interest in the girl he won the date with and she had about as much interest in him. The second, actually liked the girl, but as soon as she got off stage she left for her hotel and the next day would be flying back to her hometown. Didn’t even stop to talk to the guy…. Weird way to start a relationship if you ask me.

While watching the other shows I did notice one curious thing. The camera crane moved dangerously close to the host’s head. But I thought to myself, “he’s done this show for so long, I’m sure he knows where to stand”. I should have considered better my powers of foreshadowing…

My moment came and as the doors swung open and the music started I clambered onto stage waving, raised the mic to my mouth and heard a muffled “BANG!”. Wouldn’t you know, the crane nailed the host in the head. Fortunately, he was ok and we simply re-started. I walked back up and stepped behind the doors thinking all the while what a shame it is that the show wasn’t live.

Step one and two were a hit and not a single girl turned out her light. Step three was a little crazy. Once they finished their questions, they were asked to make their choice and 27 girls remained… odd that specific number, don’t you think? I was starting to be optimistic.

This particular show they added a new element. They had taken the pictures of the days 8 contestants and matched them with whichever girl looked most similar. That girl would automatically be chosen to stand behind curtain number 5. I told the director that if they couldn’t find a Chinese girl with a beard to match mine, they should just insert a cartoon drawing, but they apparently found one. And guess what, she was number 27.

So ten girls are standing behind the curtains and the hosts asks me

“so, do you want to see the girl behind number 5?”.

I’m like, “hells no!”

“why not?” he asks

“well, if she looks anything like me, I sure as hell don’t want to date her!” I answer. But then the “teacher” spoke and since he was able to see the girl from where he sat he assured me that this particular girl was quite beautiful and traditional and the type of girl I claimed to like. Seeing as how in China, you are supposed to respect your elders and especially teachers, I acquiesced.

Alas, she was not.

Then the hosts asks me “so are there any girls that you like?”

Now, what the hell am I supposed to answer to that? There wasn’t a single girl there that I would ask on a date prior to downing half a bottle of Chivas at the Man Cave (my Montreal hang out).

“Yes” I answered dutifully… for the show must go on.

“which ones?” he asked.

Now c’mon man, that’s really an unfair question. He just had to put me on the spot.

“I’m not telling you! It’s a secret” I said.

Then the video… I cringed.

Still, not a single girl turned out her light. Well alright then, he me with the questions! Pas de problemes! Still, ten girls remained. Second video, second cringe. When the second video – the one containing Matt – finished, the host said, “why didn’t he play music?! You said he was a singer!”. I wanted to punch him. I guess no one told him they had cut it.

10 lights remained. More questions. At this point I was almost guaranteed a trip to Greece and I was starting to get excited, that is until the very last question of the show….

One princess decided to ask, “so when do you plan to buy a house and a car?” Like an idiot, I decided to be honest. “well I have no plan at the moment”. As soon as those words left my mouth, ten lights went out. I am not even joking. The hosts and the director alike were speechless.

After tearing that girl a new one, the host asked me if I wanted to turn number five’s light back on. You can imagine my answer. He then proceeded to ask why not, as if it wasn’t obvious. I calmly answered that if she didn’t want to choose me I wasn’t about to try and force her. Wanting the show to end on a positive note, the teacher piped in and tried to convince me. Again, I acquiesced. The girl’s response was that if I didn’t have a house her parents wouldn’t accept it, of course she worded it a bit differently, saying instead that her parents wouldn’t accept a foreigner to be her boyfriend… as if that made it better.

When the episode ended the director was furious. He couldn’t believe how stupid the girl was to ask that question and even stupider that they all immediately turned out their lights cause it makes the show look really bad. It’s supposed to be a love match-making show, not a gold digger show is what he told me.

Anyway, after the show I have to do another interview in which I was asked how I felt when they all turned out their lights. I said I was disappointed with the reason they chose, but not disappointed with the results. I said “they didn’t ask me if I could buy them a house, to which I may have answered differently, or if I had a car, they just asked when I planned on buying one.”

At this juncture I couldn’t help but be reminded of an opening scene in the movie mallrats where two guys are complaining about being dumped by their respective girlfriends; one of them via a nice letter offering a detailed explanation of why he was dumped.

+++

T.S.: Wow, look at this laundry list of complaints. “You have no direction; No college ambition; No job prospect.”

Brodie: It also says I have no dick, but you’ll notice that follows the financial question, proving once more what women really look for.

Great movie. Oh yeah, so after the final show is recorded we’re standing around waiting for our lift and three of the girls come to me separately to apologize followed by two others that were upset at not having been selected amongst the ten asking for my phone number… so weird.

Probably the best part of the show though was wishing my grandfather a happy 90th birthday in China in front of 30 million people.

The show airs mid April… I’m debating whether or not to post a link…

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Back To Reality

Back to Reality

In between the various TV performances, I’ve been working hard trying to put together the pieces of my future while at the same time making enough cash to pay the rent. Seeing as how these TV shows were not offering me any money, I needed to find something relatively fast and most international companies that are willing to interview foreigners are based in Shanghai or Beijing, not Hangzhou, so, reluctantly I went back to the well…. Teaching English. Although Chinese people aren’t necessarily the most superstitious people, there are some notions they abide by that most “Lao Wai” (foreigners) would call crazy. A big one is this notion of “yuan fen”; basically “fate”. Ingrained in Capitalist society is this idea that we are the masters of our own destinies and that “fate” plays no part. Of course, we all like to dream and watch movies that talk about “the one” and how one person is destined for great things etc, but how many of us would actually place our life in the hands of fate? Well, for a great deal of Chinese people this is precisely what they do. Yuan Fen plays a huge role in the lives and decisions of Chinese people. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it is the most popular form of birth control used in this country. I’ve asked several friends who are recently married if they have plans to have kids and when and the answer is almost always “看缘份吧”, or in English “let’s leave it to fate”. In terms that I can understand that means they are not using contraceptives.  

            It doesn’t stop at having kids though. The Chinese depend on Yuan Fen for a great many things. Just to give you an idea, here are some questions I’ve actually asked people:

Me: “So what kind of job are you going to look for when you graduate?”

Student: “看缘份吧”

Me: “Do you think you will be able to pass the exam?”

Student: “看缘份吧”

Me: “When do you think you’ll be able to immigrate to Canada?”

Friend: “看缘份吧”

Me: “Are you looking for a good time?”

Hot chick at the bar: “看缘份吧”

Anyway… you get the picture.

One weird thing about China is that when you’re here things just tend to happen without any potential explanation. Many times I find it hard not to believe in this at least a little. For example, when I was considering buying an electric bike in Suzhou and all the accidents kept happening. What’s my point? Well, I was really reluctant to take any teaching jobs at first. I really didn’t want to end up as a full time teacher with no time to pursue anything else and stuck in a contract that really will not lead anywhere in the future. Last thing I want is to be teaching English in China for the next three years and then still have no real career to speak of. Unfortunately, my first three interviews with “reputable” English institutions were only offering exactly that and demanding a contract of minimum 6 months to a year. After turning down 3 job offers, I started to reconsider. Part of me simply wasn’t ready to give up, and the other part of me was thinking that I’ve been living here for almost 2 months without an income… Fortunately, I had one more interview at a school that supposedly wanted part-time teachers. The director of the school, named Christina, is very sweet. Long story short, the position she was offering was basically, perfect. 4 hours a week, good pay, no long term commitment, and she pays cash. Oh yeah, and she has the exact same birthday as me… same day, same year. Yuan fen? Of course, when it rains it pours, right?

I had been thinking about maybe getting some of my writing published for some time, considering that there are only two English magazines in Hangzhou, I thought I might be able to get in contact with them. One night I emailed the editor of MOREHANGZHOU magazine, which is a privately owned magazine for expats that was been circulating the city since about 2003 or 2004. The very next day, my uncle suggested I contact the very same magazine to write for them. Weird coincidence. Anyway, that night, as promised I took one of my old students out to my friend’s bar. This particular ex-student (Yoyo) was living and working in Suzhou up until about 5 months ago when she got a new position in Hangzhou working in communications at the Marriot hotel. So we go to my friend’s bar and there’s a live foreign band playing with a Chinese singer. Actually, they were better than I was expecting.

So we’re sitting there and listening and finally about to leave when the singer announces that it’s her last day and tells the audience her name. At which point  Yoyo gets really excited and says that she just spoke to this girl on the phone yesterday and that she’s the editor for MOREHANGZHOU. I was like “you gotta be kidding?”. When Jingjing got off stage Yoyo introduced us and sure enough, she is one of the people responsible for creating MOREHANGZHOU magazine back in 2003. Yoyo was getting really tired so I didn’t have much time to stay and chat. I put Yoyo in a cab and started to walk home, but simply couldn’t pass up this opportunity so I went back to my friend’s bar. Of course Jingjing was sitting with my friend (the owner) and chatting it up. I got a second introduction and as it turns out, she knows many of my friends in Hangzhou. Small world! In fact, one of my close friends gave her his guitar back in the day when he decided to trade in his guitar for a double base. Before I knew it we were playing fuzzball together and well, I left feeling pretty good about my chances writing for MOREHANGZHOU until a couple days later when Yoyo introduced me to the marketing coordinator for the other English magazine in town; That’s Zhejiang!.

While MOREHANGZHOU was taking their sweet time getting back to me, That’s Zhejiang! Had already gone through samples of my writing and received me for an interview. Within a day, they had booked me for an outing and offered me a two page spread in their April edition. Admittedly, the first article wasn’t my best work, but it was good enough to have me invited back several times since and today (that’s fast forwarding about 2 weeks) they offered me a job as the chief editor for their weekly newspaper… but we’ll get back to that later…

Meanwhile, a different friend of mine had mentioned me to a long time customer who’s brother was about to write the IELT’s exam and was in desperate need of some private tutoring. For about 10 days I taught him about 3-5 hours a day. Somehow, between the teaching, the writing, and the interviews, I some how fit in some time for a very fun and important afternoon with my old friend Thomas Wang.

Now I’ve known Thomas for a very long time, since probably my second trip to China. As such, I’m sure most of you have heard me mention him several times. Meeting with him this time was great. The last couple times I was in town I had missed him, either cause he was away on business, or simply too busy. In the last six years his life has completely changed. Marage, a baby boy, and becoming a millionaire, will do that to a person. It was really nice to spend some quality time with him and catch up. It was also REALLY refreshing to see that his success has changed him very little. I guess sometimes good people do get what they deserve. His first restaurant, which is probably one of my favourite restaurants, is doing as well as ever. There’s a line-up of about an hour every day for lunch and dinner. You can get a look at some pictures from his website here:

http://www.lv-cha.com.cn/

In Hangzhou alone, he now has three restaurants and they all share similar success. He’s also opened one in Beijing that is doing equally well. This year, Thomas plans on expanding and opening another 6 stores in: Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, and 2 more in Hangzhou. You never know, if you’re lucky I might convince him to open one in Canada!

Thomas was a little upset that I hadn’t mentioned to him my dream/plans to open my own bar… after I explained that I hadn’t really had a chance to talk with him so much, we decided to take a little trip to Shanghai and Beijing together to scope out the scene there. I’m gonna skip over some of the details, simply cause I am starting to believe more and more in Yuan Fen and I don’t wanna jynx it!

I will tell you about one amusing thing that happened in Shanghai though. There is an amazing amount of foreigners walking the streets of Shanghai. Thomas took me to an upscale bar street in the city around 5pm in order to see some of the western owned bars. One in particular that brews their own “German” beer. So we’re sitting at an outside patio chatting and behind us are some rather loud foreigners. Finally, they get up to pay the bill and of course are sifting through wads of cash in front of the waiter (who makes about 300$ a month salary) trying to figure out how to split the bill between them. Eventually, they fork over a pile of cash and belt “you might wanna double check that! Haha! We’re dumbass Americans! Hahaha!” to which I simply couldn’t resist responding “isn’t that redundant?”.

They laughed pretty hard at that “joke” – albeit not as hard as my Chinese friends when I translated it. Turns out they were hockey fans and pretty upset about the hit on pachioretti… but definitely not fans of Subin. I think one of them said something along the lines of how we need to settle down that monkey. I guess they also felt that Subin wasn’t playing the white-er right way. Anyway, as you can imagine, I ended that conversation as fast as possible. (for those of you who don’t know… that was a big Freudian slip made by a TV sports reporter a few months ago about Subin).

That night we flew to Beijing where I was denied entrance to a hotel because I’m Canadian. I was almost expecting that cause it’s happened before in Beijing, but Thomas was pretty upset. If it wasn’t 1:30 am I think we would have had a huge argument on our hands. Fortunately there was another hotel about 15 paces away that did accept foreigners at basically the same price. Still, I have no complaints. There’s a famous idiom in Chinese that goes like this 塞翁失马焉知非福. The lose translation is “an old man lost his mare, but it all turned out for the best” basically sometimes a loss is not a bad thing, but rather a blessing in disguise. Of course, the idiom goes along with a story, but I’ll spare you the details. In short, maybe it was yuan fen because the next day Thomas was so upset that we all changed to a different hotel, which was fantastic. Actually, the new hotel was a youth hostel, but amazingly, double the price of the hotel. The rooms themselves were nothing special, but the hostel was a thing of beauty. Smack dab in the center of industrial Beijing, and only a 15 minute walk from Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City, hidden behind old rustic shops was this small old wooden door that open up into a little travellers’ cache. It isn’t the easiest place to describe, but if you can picture the type of little house Fred Penner might live in, chalk full of travellers’ books, posters, pictures, postcards, vines, plants, a couple couches and wooden tables, a guitar, and then add a computer, you’d have the lobby. There were always one or two sweet young ladies (who speak English) working at the desk and eager to answer any questions. To get to the rooms you had to walk through an adorable communal Chinese-style courtyard, beautifully lit by the sun. Several rooms had their windows facing the courtyard as well. Because the hostel only housed 14 beds, the place was always quiet and you never felt the bustle of over-populated Beijing. I have to admit, when Thomas mentioned the idea of opening a youth hostel, it was hard not to fantasize about.

    

Although the purpose of this visit to Beijing was to do some research with regards to potentially opening my own establishment, on the last day, I found myself acting as tour guide for one of Thomas’ restaurant managers who had never been to Beijing. It was a little weird being the tour guide for a Chinese person in China, rather than the other way around, but still entertaining.

 

 

That’s a Canadian air Canada flight attendant I met.

The afternoon that we spent together did yield some interesting events and I did manage to witness one thing that I had never seen, or at least never noticed, before.

 

That’s right, a sign designating the squatting facilities. But that wasn’t the best public facility. There was an even better one that I wish I had the chrutspa to take a photo of. Unfortunately, you’ll have to use your imagination for this one. I walked into a tiny little public hut to hang a wiz and once inside the small 8ft by 8 ft chamber I found 2 wall urinals facing two squatters, and a western-style toilet all side by side with no walls or doors. As if a westerner would use that toilet! Let me repeat NO WALLS! At the time there were two patrons squatting side by side chatting and smoking cigarettes. I really had to pee, but I got out of there as fast as I could. I think I even dribbled on my pants a bit as I rushed to do up my fly as I ran out.

We hopped into a cab later that afternoon to check out a particular bar that is famous in Beijing. I wish I could say this was the first instance this has happened to me, but if you remember my story about hitting the ebike, you know it’s not. As we drove along, a lady in a little blue car decided to make a left turn ignoring the oncoming traffic as though she had the right of way. In China, people don’t really slow down or yield when someone does something stupid. They just continue on. The lady decided to stop mid turn right in the middle of the intersection and our driver showed no signs of slowing down. I shouted to stop and the driver seemed to all of a sudden wake up from his stupor and hit the brakes. Fortunately we were only going about 30 km per hour and the woman started to drive slowly as if she hadn’t even noticed us. I wanted to believe we’d make it, but I saw the accident in my head even before it happened. Sure enough we clipped her back wheel and tossed her little car about 4 feet off course. No one was hurt and no superficial damage to either car. The damage was to my ear drums when the idiot woman came out and started yelling at the cab driver as though he was blind. We switched cabs.

That wasn’t the first time I predicted an accident and it wouldn’t be the last…

…but I’ll tell that story later.

When we got to the bar I met with two of my pet peeves. One is unique to China, the other is prevalent in Quebec. Service… a word that Quebec waiters and waitresses seem to forget the meaning of all too often. One of the main reasons that I want to be in the service industry is that I quite simply hate bad service. When waiters/waitresses ignore your requests and mess up orders cause they are lazy and not listening or when they ignore you even though you are speaking to them in their language and even though they aren’t busy, when they are laughing and playing with other staff, or sleeping instead of serving you, I get pissed. Well, the staff that day was doing all of the above.

Even more remarkable was the customer sitting near us apparently on a date. The girl simply would not shut up. Normally, that doesn’t bother me. I mean at least they are having a good time and entertaining themselves. BUT, in this case, every single sentence the girl said (and when I say every sentence I mean every sentence, I’m not exaggerating in the least) included one mispronounced English word or misused English expression. After two or three it was starting to drive me crazy. It took two pints just to calm me down so that I wouldn’t go over there and stuff my foot in her face. To me that is the height of modern Chinese pretension. They think it makes them look and sound smart to insert English words despite the fact that the other person may not understand, despite it often being redundant, and despite it often being wrong. It’s not like a Chinese person speaking English and inserting a Chinese word because they don’t know the correct English word, or vice versa. It’s just a Chinese person trying to piss me off. Somehow she knew I was there and this would bother me (even though she didn’t know me) and she decided to speak loud enough for the whole bar to hear that she was doing this to make me angry. She did help me learn a new Chinese expression though: 能猫不教教猫不能。In English, that means the capable cat doesn’t show off and the cat that shows off isn’t capable.   

Returning to the hostel I learned two more things that I didn’t know. First of all, because of the crisis in Japan, Hangzhou had sold out of salt. For 3 days there was no salt available for purchase in the entire city of Hangzhou. That’s what happens when 9 million people think salt will save them from radiation sickness. Secondly, I learnt the name of Hitler in Chinese; Shitler! I kid you not. The Chinese call him SHITler. I think that’s apt.

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DO YOU REMEMBER? 我爱记歌词

DO YOU REMEMBER? 我爱记歌词。

 What a riot… Do YOU remember a famous TV personality on Saturday Night Live named “PAT”? In case you don’t, Pat was the epitome of androgyny and to this day I remain unsure whether Pat is a boy or a girl. Here’s a picture:

When I showed up for the preliminary interview I was greeted by a lovely young person, who I assumed was also named Pat. Having spoken on the phone a couple of times and being unable to tell the gender of the speaker, I was hoping meeting in person would resolve the issue. Because Chinese names typically begin with the family name, this person’s name was no help whatsoever. Is Zhang Yue a girl’s or boy’s name? who can tell? Not me, that’s for sure. As Zhang Yue approached I was even more uncertain. Dressed in cargo pants and unisex style overcoat, I was completely stumped. Zhang Yue was also sporting a short-style hair cut and black rimmed glasses. Totally at a loss, I just followed Zhang Yue in hoping for some clue.

We sat down and met with the other co-director of the show who proceeded to introduce the concept behind the episode and what would be expected of me, which included memorizing 8 Chinese pop songs and singing them on TV. Like trying to memorize western pop songs wouldn’t have been torturous enough. When I mentioned this detail to my brother, he aptly said I was selling out. Indeed my ipod was in protest all week as I hit the repeat button on the same 8 songs every day. I digress. The interview continued as Cao Yi Li, or Rick (his chosen English name), explained that they were inviting in two professional singers from Beijing, and two other foreigners from Beijing and Chonqing who also spoke Chinese. Rick then asked me if I had any special talents. He explained that in the contest, should my team lose I would have to perform a talent in front of an audience. As before, I defaulted to kungfu… at least this time I would practice before hand and be prepared, quite sure that I would lose this particular contest quite fast. As we continued talking Rick got a little personal, asking me about my personal life and whether or not I had a girlfriend. At this point I was saved, or so I believed, by Fengzi who showed up to sit with us. But no, Rick continued with his line of questioning. I told him I was single and he pressed, “what kind of girl do you like? How about Zhang Yue?!”. “uh…” I stumbled. At least I had an answer to my question… That is until Fengzi piped in “that’s impossible Zhang Yue is a boy!”. Zhang Yue then threw her pen at Fengzi and blushed while the other two laughed and I sat there totally perplexed. Later that same day I messaged Fengzi and explained how unfair that joke was. Not because it may have hurt Zhang Yue’s feelings, but because I really didn’t know if Zhang Yue was a girl or boy! Two seconds later I sent another message to remind Fengzi of the obvious “don’t tell her that”…. Which of course he already had.

After a week of trying to memorize lyrics – most of which I didn’t understand – it was finally time to pack my bag and head out to the studio. Unlike the show I recorded for the Hangzhou TV station, this station is much bigger and the recording studio is about an hour out of town. So they booked me a room at a near by hotel and asked that I come the night before to meet everyone and settle in. I have to admit, I was a little excited to sleep in a beautiful hotel for the stars. Here’s a picture from my hotel room:  

When I went in to drop off my bag I decided to quickly use the wash room. Somewhat reluctant to touch anything with my hands I softly nudged the door with my foot – or tried to – but my foot went straight through the door! Notice the hole at the bottom of the door in the picture. Not exactly the lap of luxury I was expecting; to say the least.

            They sent a station “handler” to greet me and drive me to the station. As you might imagine, I didn’t need much urging to leave the hotel. When I met the other “foreigners” I was a little surprised to hear one of them speaking 100% fluent Chinese with a Beijing accent. She also looked Chinese! Turns out we were a “mixed” bag so to speak. The sweet girl with the Beijing accent is of mixed blood. Her name is Liu Jia Dan, her mother is Italian and her father is from Beijing. She grew up in Beijing though and her mother tongue is Chinese. She’s a foreigner the same way that kid on the LA roller hockey team that wore a cross around his neck during the youth Maccabee games claimed to be Jewish. Obviously, her Chinese was better than mine. Still, I was happy to note that my level of Chinese was probably second best in the group, perhaps on par or slightly below the level of Tang Bao Hu, an American girl who’s been living in China since she was 10 years old. She’s 21 now so that’s just about 11 years studying Chinese in China. Tang Bao Hu and the gentleman from Nigeria, Haodi, were both professional singers hired from Beijing to sing on the show. Haodi, having lived in Beijing 4 years also spoke some Chinese, albeit not as well as me. I almost forgot to mention that Liu Jia Dan has studied Beijing opera and singing since she was 5 years old. Lastly there was a Korean girl who’s been studying music and singing in China for 3 years. There was one person missing. An American singer who’s been living in Hangzhou for 4 years named Zim. I was told that he couldn’t speak any Chinese, but considering those around me I was sceptical.

 Me and Liu Jia Dan

Me and Tang Bao Hu

Me and Haodi

Liu Jia Dan and the Korean girl who’s name I can’t remember right now. –oh and that’s Zhang Yue (Pat) in the back.

            After doing a quick run through of the next day’s episode, I had the pleasure of meeting the guest host, Ira, and her husband. Ira is also a professional singer from the Ukraine who is married to another singer from Shanghai. Together a group of us went for some beer and BBQ Chinese-style. I was reluctant to go, knowing full well that there was a high likelihood of it ending in diarrhea, but not really in a position to protest and quite hungry.

            Sleep didn’t come easy that night. Apparently, the folk in the countryside didn’t get the memo about Chinese New Years being over. So between the fireworks, party-goers, frequent trips to the toilet, bed seemingly made from a slab of stone, and nerves, well it wasn’t easy to fall asleep. Nevertheless, I was in high spirits when I woke up the next morning. When I got to the studio I met Zim, who I mistakenly referred to as ZZ top (see the photo) and who later became referred on the show as “big beard”.

Finally we were invited to do our rehearsal run through and make some last minute changes. We were given a new song to sing together and I was told to introduce myself by referring to the statue of David… so lame. Anyway, we were to be divided into two groups 3 boys vs 3 girls. Our group name was the “little sister team” and theirs was the “big brother team”… obviously not my idea. And we had to come up with little chants. Their’s was “we’re so cool, we’re so cool, we’re even cooler than you” followed by fake crying. Ours was “we’re so hot, we’re so hot, we’re even hotter than you” followed by a “gay” wave and saying “I hate you”. Also, not my idea… but hey I guess this is what passes for humour on reality TV.

We did the run through of all our performances and everyone actually seemed pretty impressed with the kungfu, so I was a little excited. Unfortunately, since our team won everything, I never got to do it live… During the recording in front of about 100 people in the audience, I was actually put on the spot many many times. I imagine because my Chinese was better than most I was asked a lot to translate while on stage and had a few dialogues, so even though I didn’t do my performance I was pretty pleased at the end. Still, considering we recorded for about 4 hours I was sure much would be edited out. The show finally aired a couple days ago and it seems they really wanted to make the two “pros” the focus, probably cause they can sing and cause they were actually paid to be on the show… still it was a lot of fun. I’m gonna post a link below so that if you want you can watch it, but it’s all in Chinese.

             During the recording of the show there were many highlights, but perhaps the funniest was what came out of Zim’s mouth when he gave his intro in Chinese. Zim knows a few words in Chinese, but piecing together sentences and understanding the nuances of what he’s saying is a little beyond his current abilities. When asked about himself he went on a tirade about how he loves Chinese tofu. He went on to say Chinese tofu is his favourite especially stinky tofu, he’s eaten 300 Chinese tofus, and that Chinese tofu is “number one”. The host amazingly played along and we were all cracking up. What Zim didn’t know is that in more polite circles to “eat tofu” means to kiss and caress a girl’s skin, in more vulgar circles, it means to eat something else…

 …I’m sorry, but I’m not willing to elaborate in this blog. I’m just gonna say it was a lot of fun.

When I watched the show on TV, I had another good laugh at something I didn’t quite catch during the episode. At one point Haodi is about to sing a love song so the hostess (named Zhu Dan) asks him:

 “Haodi, do you have a girlfriend?”

 Haodi: “um, do you have a boyfriend?”

Zhudan: “no”

Haodi: “so, what do you think about me?”

Zhudan: “well, other than the fact that your skin is too black, you’re ok. Handsome even”

I can only imagine the fallout if this were a Canadian show…

 It was also fun when I walked in to teach my class of 10 students and 3 had seen me on TV. Then as I was leaving the girl at the reception stopped me to ask if I was on TV. “Was that you?!” she asked. It’s amazing out of a city of 9 million or whatever, so many people watch this show. Actually, the show is broadcast all over China and will reach about 25 million homes in Zhejiang province alone!

 Here’s the link for those of you who want to have your ears bleed due to my singing. I advise you to skip forward to Haodi’s solo which is probably the highlight of the show for those who do not speak Chinese.

 http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMjUwMTA2NDEy.html

 Last week I was asked to be a guest on yet another popular show. This one is a dating reality show. Kinda like the bachelor or something. 50 Chinese girls and me. I haven’t decided yet about this one… you can see what the show is like at this link if you want.

 http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMjQ5MzQwMTM2.html

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THE ROAD TO STARDOM:

When I came to Hangzhou in 2003, there were a scarce few foreigners living here, and fewer still who could speak Chinese. So after doing one TV commercial I was quickly asked to do a second and then a radio show and another radio commercial. Had I stayed at that time, I’m quite sure I would’ve had a nice little TV career… Unfortunately, I had to get back for my final year at McGill’s institute for “higher” learning. Today, Hangzhou is full of foreigners and Shanghai, being only an hour train ride away, is more than happy to send in more. Many of which speak Chinese. So finding my way onto TV would be near impossible… if I didn’t have such great friends!

My second week here one friend of mine brought me for lunch and passed me the phone. On the other end was the director at Hangzhou City TV station. A week later I met her in person and she asked if I would like to be a part of their lantern festival program to end the New Year holiday. Obviously, I wasn’t about to say no. She asked me if I had any special skills… I said I could play hockey and that I’m really good at eating, but those two skills didn’t really peek her interest. Somewhat reluctantly I added “I also have a 2nd degree blackbelt in Chinese kungfu”… that, on the other hand, did. She said she’d call me on the weekend and I would have to come in to record the show.

The very next day I received another call from a different friend named Fengzi. Fengzi is one of my oldest friends in Hangzhou and over the years he has become a very famous celebrity in Hangzhou. He is a singer on one of the most popular TV shows on the Zhejiang TV station. The show is called Do You Remember. It’s a variety show where contestants compete in a singing competition where they have to remember the lyrics of popular Chinese songs. He told me they were preparing for a special episode where they would invite several foreigners onto the show and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. Obviously, again, I wasn’t about to say no; despite the fact that I couldn’t carry a tune if my life depended on it.

Within 48 hours I was booked to record two TV shows. One that would be broadcast in front of about 7 million viewers, and the other a potential 40 million or so (just about the size of Canada’s entire population).

Although there is a bit of overlap between the two, I’m gonna tell you about them one at a time, starting with the one on Hangzhou’s city channel.

I got the call the day before asking me for my clothing sizes and telling me to arrive before 3pm. I told them my height and emphasized the fact that I need BIG clothes to absorb my girth. They pretty much ignored me though. When I finally found the young lady responsible for the performers she handed me a Chinese script and gave me a traditional bright red Chinese jacket that was about 3 sizes too small. When I put it on it started to rip at the seams. I could barely button it up. I felt like an over-stuffed red jellybean. She also casually mentioned that I would have to prepare some kungfu moves for my demonstration, then she ran off. Somewhat stunned, I stared at the Chinese script that I could barely read half of and wondered what the hell I got myself into.

Not for the first time, and surely not for the last, I felt a little over my head. But I set my mind to the task of decoding the Chinese hieroglyphics all the while trying to figure out if I was reading words or a Rorschach test. I don’t know if I was more nervous about having to remember a Chinese script or about performing kung fu in front of millions of Chinese viewers. When I met the lady who would be presenting with me on stage, things got even more complicated. After hours of trying to commit words I didn’t understand to memory, she says to me “we’ll just adlib and loosely relate to the script”. I was like “what!?”. Anyway, for a second I thought this might be easier, until she started talking and I realized she could win the Guinness record for speed-talking. With a dumb look on my face I just nodded as she padded my shoulder and said “don’t worry, we’ll run through it once before we go on stage”. Course all I heard was “don’t worry” cause the rest of her road-runner speech ended before I finished translating those two words in my head.

True to her word, after my makeup was done, we ran through our part about 20 minutes before going on stage in front of a packed studio audience. Problem was, she changed everything in our run through and even asked me to add new stuff. Honestly, my kung fu performance was the last thing on my mind.

I ran on stage alone and did my introduction, followed by a quick kung fu demonstration, which I messed up cause I was so nervous about remembering my words, and finally my co-host walked on to again put me on the spot with a new improvised script. In the end, though, besides bursting out of my jacket, it went alright. I was pretty relieved when it was over though. First one under my belt and I was ready to go home and sulk; embarrassed at having messed up the kung fu part.

The show wouldn’t air for another week so in between I had my interview with the other tv station, but like I said before, we’ll get to that later.

When the show actually aired, I managed to catch it in online streaming. The majority of the 2 hour show was in the local Hangzhou dialect so I didn’t understand too much of it, despite having watched it twice live in the studio (rehearsal and in front of the studio audience). Finally, towards the end I came on, and only looked about half as stupid as I had anticipated. Damn jacket was so bright and small though. As if TV doesn’t already add enough weight.

The next day we had a surprise visit from my landlord in the morning. There was some complication with delivery that was suppose to go next door and my landlord came up to sort it out. Of course I had just gotten out of bed cause it was only like 1pm in the morning. But as soon as things were sorted my landlord got REALLY excited. “Woah! I can’t believe you were on tv last night! I was watching and then all of a sudden you were there! I yelled at my wife to hurry over and see it! You were so great!”. To say he was thrilled that his tenant was on tv would be an understatement. For my part, I was just like “oh, you saw that…” and then I wondered how many other people saw it… then I crawled back into bed.

To be continued…

My second week here one friend of mine brought me for lunch and passed me the phone. On the other end was the director at Hangzhou City TV station. A week later I met her in person and she asked if I would like to be a part of their lantern festival program to end the New Year holiday. Obviously, I wasn’t about to say no. She asked me if I had any special skills… I said I could play hockey and that I’m really good at eating, but those two skills didn’t really peek her interest. Somewhat reluctantly I added “I also have a 2nd degree blackbelt in Chinese kungfu”… that, on the other hand, did. She said she’d call me on the weekend and I would have to come in to record the show.

The very next day I received another call from a different friend named Fengzi. Fengzi is one of my oldest friends in Hangzhou and over the years he has become a very famous celebrity in Hangzhou. He is a singer on one of the most popular TV shows on the Zhejiang TV station. The show is called Do You Remember. It’s a variety show where contestants compete in a singing competition where they have to remember the lyrics of popular Chinese songs. He told me they were preparing for a special episode where they would invite several foreigners onto the show and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. Obviously, again, I wasn’t about to say no; despite the fact that I couldn’t carry a tune if my life depended on it.

Within 48 hours I was booked to record two TV shows. One that would be broadcast in front of about 7 million viewers, and the other a potential 40 million or so (just about the size of Canada’s entire population).

Although there is a bit of overlap between the two, I’m gonna tell you about them one at a time, starting with the one on Hangzhou’s city channel.

I got the call the day before asking me for my clothing sizes and telling me to arrive before 3pm. I told them my height and emphasized the fact that I need BIG clothes to absorb my girth. They pretty much ignored me though. When I finally found the young lady responsible for the performers she handed me a Chinese script and gave me a traditional bright red Chinese jacket that was about 3 sizes too small. When I put it on it started to rip at the seams. I could barely button it up. I felt like an over-stuffed red jellybean. She also casually mentioned that I would have to prepare some kungfu moves for my demonstration, then she ran off. Somewhat stunned, I stared at the Chinese script that I could barely read half of and wondered what the hell I got myself into.

Not for the first time, and surely not for the last, I felt a little over my head. But I set my mind to the task of decoding the Chinese hieroglyphics all the while trying to figure out if I was reading words or a Rorschach test. I don’t know if I was more nervous about having to remember a Chinese script or about performing kung fu in front of millions of Chinese viewers. When I met the lady who would be presenting with me on stage, things got even more complicated. After hours of trying to commit words I didn’t understand to memory, she says to me “we’ll just adlib and loosely relate to the script”. I was like “what!?”. Anyway, for a second I thought this might be easier, until she started talking and I realized she could win the Guinness record for speed-talking. With a dumb look on my face I just nodded as she padded my shoulder and said “don’t worry, we’ll run through it once before we go on stage”. Course all I heard was “don’t worry” cause the rest of her road-runner speech ended before I finished translating those two words in my head.

True to her word, after my makeup was done, we ran through our part about 20 minutes before going on stage in front of a packed studio audience. Problem was, she changed everything in our run through and even asked me to add new stuff. Honestly, my kung fu performance was the last thing on my mind.

I ran on stage alone and did my introduction, followed by a quick kung fu demonstration, which I messed up cause I was so nervous about remembering my words, and finally my co-host walked on to again put me on the spot with a new improvised script. In the end, though, besides bursting out of my jacket, it went alright. I was pretty relieved when it was over though. First one under my belt and I was ready to go home and sulk; embarrassed at having messed up the kung fu part.

The show wouldn’t air for another week so in between I had my interview with the other tv station, but like I said before, we’ll get to that later.

When the show actually aired, I managed to catch it in online streaming. The majority of the 2 hour show was in the local Hangzhou dialect so I didn’t understand too much of it, despite having watched it twice live in the studio (rehearsal and in front of the studio audience). Finally, towards the end I came on, and only looked about half as stupid as I had anticipated. Damn jacket was so bright and small though. As if TV doesn’t already add enough weight.

The next day we had a surprise visit from my landlord in the morning. There was some complication with delivery that was suppose to go next door and my landlord came up to sort it out. Of course I had just gotten out of bed cause it was only like 1pm in the morning. But as soon as things were sorted my landlord got REALLY excited. “Woah! I can’t believe you were on tv last night! I was watching and then all of a sudden you were there! I yelled at my wife to hurry over and see it! You were so great!”. To say he was thrilled that his tenant was on tv would be an understatement. For my part, I was just like “oh, you saw that…” and then I wondered how many other people saw it… then I crawled back into bed.

To be continued…

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PERSONAL SPACE

One difficult aspect of China that I’ve had to learn to deal with over the years is the lack of personal space. This might be both my favourite and least favourite thing about China. I love how so many Chinese are so warm, inviting, and friendly… but sometimes I also hate it. I’m usually a quiet and introspective type; so I truly treasure my personal space. In China, this is often a foreign concept. The enormous population notwithstanding, being a foreigner here still draws lots of attention. In the recent past, this has caused some discomfort with my landlords here who tend to use their key to walk in uninvited, sit on my couch, and light up cigarettes with a handful of workers when asked to fix anything. Needless to say, it’s something I’ve become somewhat wary of.

I am very lucky this time around to have a wonderful couple as my landlords. That being said, I still don’t want them wandering in whenever they please, but it’s not the easiest thing to tell someone they can’t come into their own house uninvited. While there are good parts about having your landlord live in your building, you can imagine my apprehension. Day one, our landlord made several visits, as was expected. What was not expected was to come home and find him talking my roommate’s head off in the entranceway while slightly intoxicated.

I made a straight dash for my room, not wanting to be engaged. After about ten minutes I started to feel guilty leaving my sweet roommate all alone, so I decided to “take one for the team”. The moment I opened my mouth, Diana bailed and ran to her room. There I was slowly inching him towards the door nodding and shutting down every conversation starter. He was halfway out the door when he looked down and noticed the locking mechanism.

The next 5 minutes of rambling was a lengthy diatribe about how living with two women I have to be sure to lock the door from the inside at all times and lock three times on the way out. I don’t need to tell you that the second the door closed I flipped the latch locking him out.

With a sigh and a slight chuckle the three of us sat down at our new table. Almost as soon as out butts hit the chairs there was a crash at the door!

More than a couple tries at the handle and finally some knocking. We paused a few heart beats then I got up to open the door an inch. It was our landlord’s wife. She looked down somewhat quizzically at the lock as though it must be broken to have not allowed her entrance, then smiled and wished us a goodnight. Very sweet, but I don’t think there was anything else she needed to tell us other than if we need anything to just call. I know it’s a little mean of me, but I got no small amount of pleasure out of having locked the door and silently thanked her husband for the advice.

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Renting in China & Nostalgia – continued

When I started that little introspective interlude, I was intending to tell a story. Or rather, to continue the stories of my travels.

 Renting an apartment, or looking for a job, or pretty much doing anything productive in China during the new year holiday is virtually impossible. I exhausted every avenue I could think of, but in the end, I just had to wait it out. The day before the end of the holiday I was contacted by a nice young Columbian lady in response to a post I had put on an apartment hunting website. Her and her sister had also just arrived in Hangzhou and were looking for an apartment to rent. They wanted to know if I was interested in looking together to share on rent costs.

I decided to check on my own first and went to visit an agent when they finally opened. Ask luck would have it, of all the thousands of agents in Hangzhou, this agent had just met with the two Columbian girls. The coincidence is uncanny. I went to a big agency that has about 100 offices in Hangzhou alone. Each office has about 15 employees and, of course, there are many other agencies. Yet, they had been to the same office and the spoke with the same agent only hours before. I visited a couple places on my own only to discover the enormous increase in rent since I last rented in Hangzhou in 2003. That same apartment that cost about 150$ a month, would now be priced around 500$ a month. Needless to say, I didn’t find anything I liked within my imaginable budget. The Columbians were looking better by the second. Of course it didn’t hurt that the agent said they were both young and beautiful. Still, judging from previous roommate experiences, I thought I better meet them before making any decisions.

I’ll make a very long story short, a few dumplings and many apartments later we found a place together. It’s brand new, which means; clean. There are two bedrooms so Monica (or Monkey as we call her) and her sister Diana share one room while I’m in the other. Don’t worry mom, I was very gracious and offered to share my room with one of them so that the other could have more space – shit I even offered to share with both of them. Alas, they decided not to inconvenience me. So far so good, they are clean, quiet, sweet, and independent. My only complaint is that unlike my last roommate, they don’t walk around all day in their underwear. Kidding aside, I don’t think I could have asked for sweeter roommates.

Oh yeah, the nostalgic part! When I was renting that 150$ flat in Hangzhou some years ago, I wrote a story about an unfortunate mishap with the washing machine. You see these small Chinese washing machines are a little different from home as in the drain is not so evident. I won’t go into length retelling that story, but in short, I started a wash and left to get dinner and buy some things. When I returned the brand new floating wood floor was in fact floating on about 2 inches of water. Apparently, the drain tube needs to be placed in a drain, not left loose on the floor.

When I told my parents about this mishap, among the colour commentary spewing out of my father’s mouth were the words “what kind of idiot doesn’t plug in the drain?! Where the hell did you think the water was gonna go?!”. Well dad, let me answer those questions for you. To the second question, the answer is simple; I didn’t think. For the first question, I’ll give you a little anecdote:

So day one in the new apartment. Diana and Monkey decide to run a wash while I’m in my room… can you see where this is going? Well, the same thing that did me in when I had my little “accident” saved them; my stomach. I went in to their room to see if they wanted to grab lunch, and they said “sure!”. Then I looked out onto the porch (where the washer is) and saw they were doing a wash, so I said laughing “I hope you plugged in the drain hose”. Then Diana said “the what?”. Uh oh…

Sure enough, the drain plug was left loose… qu’elle surprise! Saved in the nick of time, I ran outside and plugged in the hose just as water started to gush out. Spilling just a tad in the process. What kind of idiot indeed.

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Renting in China & Nostalgia

Coming back to Hangzhou is always very nostalgic for me. At the same time it’s very hard. There is no place in the world that is changing as fast as China, and every time I come back to this city I am reminded of that fact. I’ve watched as Diet Coke made it’s first appearance in China, and now as it disappears to be replaced by Coke Zero. No matter how many times I learn the lay of the land, I have to do it anew when I come back. Last year my two visits were especially tough as my favourite watering hole, the place where I learnt most of my Chinese, was forced to close. The places I’ve lived, places I’ve ate, and places I’ve worked are different, gone in some cases, and moved in others. There are good changes as well, but some are very tough to face. The hardest to accept and also the most exciting have been the changes in the people. Over the years, the friends that I have kept in touch with here have gone through distinct changes. One is a huge star, one is opening his 3rd successful restaurant, one is having great success with his own interior design company, and one has just recently gotten out of jail and is working in Africa. They’ve also distanced themselves from each other and often only see each other or speak to each other when I force them to the same table. This is something I’ve realized I just have to grudgingly accept. But that doesn’t stop me from missing old times and laughs that we shared together.

This year has been extremely tough in that way. So many changes, and while I like to believe change is a good thing, this year has made me believe otherwise. I’m not usually one to dwell on the past for too long. I’ve always been able to pick myself up, dust off the dirt and look to the future and new unexplored roads. This year, certain things have forced me to look back, long and hard, and looking forward is becoming harder and harder. When things beyond your control change all around you, it’s difficult to figure out where to turn. Some people turn to religion, others to family for guidance, for me, I’ve always turned to myself. And until recently, I’ve always found a road to travel. But this year, with people I love getting older, moving apart, getting on with their lives, and in losing someone I love deeply, I’ve found it really hard to look within and find answers. It’s brought me to question things in a new light, to look at my life in a somewhat different way. My path, the roads I’ve travelled and the winding aimless path I seem to be on now. And while none of that scared me too much before, now I find myself asking the same question as before: “why?”, only it’s more unsettling than it was before. And also unsettling in some ways is that I’ve been turning to old comforts for answers, whereas before those comforts were merely a reflection of my own thoughts. Books, family, friends, and perhaps most of all music. “I’ve tried the best I can, but it’s hard to be a man” –Queensryche.

Lately, I’ve just been “going through the motions”. I remember when I was young, my dad was driving me home from hockey one weekend and said “David, you can’t just go through the motions; you have to be aggressive”. And when I was leaving Victoria, Rich told me that I need reach out and remember to be my friendly self. And now, I find myself writing what I told myself I would NOT write and realizing that I’ve been listening to the same Queensryche song over and over the last few days (not the one above), I guess subconsciously trying to give myself a message. You see people always say it’s ok to ask for help when you need it. Maybe that’s true, but for me, that’s never felt right. I’ve always striven to be able to help myself. It’s not that I don’t want or appreciate the help and support of the people who love me, it’s just that I’ve always known what’s in me and never really needed or wanted anyone’s approval for that. I think that most people don’t really believe in fate or a greater power. I’m not sure that I do, but whatever the reason, whether or not there’s a hand that guided me to play this song over and over, I’m glad I finally chose to listen to it.

“Behind my eyes
I keep my truth from you.
No one enters
This secret place,
The barrier only I embrace.
Time is fleeting now
They say,
Take time to look inside
And face… the change.

Dig down deep
To find the man I thought I was.
A dog on a treadmill panting,
The master pulls the leash, laughing.
Now I can’t remember why
I needed to run, needed to try so hard.

One more time around
Is all I ask for now,
A star to steer by, wind to
Take me home again.

Work hard in life boy,
There’s paradise in the end.
Year after year we struggle to gain
The happiness our parents never claimed.
They told us all we had to do
Was do what we’re told, buy what was sold,
Invest in gold, and never get old.

One more time around
Is all I ask for now,
A star to steer by, wind to
Take me home again.”

-One More Time, Queensryche

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