Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Hi There. My name is Monkey Wrench."

Okay, you tell me: does this say "No Smoking,"
"Keep Off The Grass," or "Will You Marry Me?"
I have no clue.
 I wish people would stop sending me text messages in Chinese. I can't read them. To me, Chinese looks like the footprints of a chicken.

Speaking of which, in the Chinese grocery stores you can buy packages of chicken feet. I don't know what the Chinese use them for, but I ain't noshing on chicken feet.

And I'm not going to learn Chinese. For one thing I'm too old, and for another, I couldn't if I wanted to. Not only does printed Chinese looks like chicken footprints to me, but spoken Chinese sounds like somebody gargling. Forget it.

Which brings me to the subject of names. The Chinese have to deal with "foreigners"
all the time these days, and they've had to make accommodations. I suspect that other so-called "foreigners" here in China besides me have had problems with the language.

By the way, "foreigner" is a racist term if you ask me -- to the Chinese a "foreigner" is anybody who doesn't look Chinese, and where I come from, that's racism.

Also, discrimination based on age and sex are permitted here. I've been a victim of Chinese age discrimination: one school turned me down because I wanted to teach kindergarten and they decided I was "too old" for that. (Without even having met me.) Another teacher I know was a victim of sex discrimination. He applied to a school and was told that the school didn't want him: they wanted a woman instead. You pull that shit in the USA and you'll be in court.

But the Chinese, at least many of the ones I work with, often have two names. They have their Chinese name, and they have an English name. Their Chinese name is always the same: it's "Oogleaggleoohsookieoigledoo." At least that's what it sounds like to me. I can't remember a Chinese name for ten seconds. Like I said, to me Chinese sounds like somebody undergoing the Heimlich maneuver after choking on a burrito.

So they give themselves other names for dealing with dummies like me, who can't, or won't, learn Chinese. For example, the little gal in Beijing who recruited me last summer to come to China calls herself "Linda." That's not her Chinese name; that's her English name. She has a Chinese name, but I couldn't remember it to save my butt.

When I told her that "Linda" means "pretty" in Spanish, she liked that.

My Chinese colleagues down here in Guangdong Province, near the South China Sea, have mostly also adopted English monikers for dealing with the local American moron. My male coworkers here have given themselves names such as "Steve" and "Tracy." My female coworkers go by names such as "Amanda," "Sabrina," "Laura" and "Michelle."

"Michelle" is a little doll, by the way. She's only 24, maybe five feet two inches tall. She's very pretty and she's as sweet as the day is long. I told her just the other day, "I'm glad I'm not 25 anymore, because if I were I'd be in love with you." She laughed and smiled. She has a boyfriend. He goes by "Jason." He's good with computers, and recently tried to help me get mine to work, which it doesn't like to. (The Chinese are my friends. Computers, on the other hand, are my deadliest enemies. Don't you try to tell me computers don't have a will. They do, and their will is to do Evil.)

Not all of my Chinese friends and acquaintances give themselves names as conventional as "Laura" or "Michelle." I've heard some English names here in China that are fairly "off the wall," as we used to say. (Get it? "The Wall?" Never mind.)

When I was on the southbound train from Xingtai to Guangzhou a few weeks ago, I met a nice Chinese girl who called herself "Nature." That was her English name: Nature. (If you're my age, that sounds like something off of Haight-Ashbury, but nobody under 55 remembers Haight-Ashbury anymore.) Nature spoke good English, and she and I had a pleasant chat in the train's dining car. It was Nature who came back to my compartment, which I was sharing with three other adults and three children, and began chatting with one of my Chinese fellow-passengers, who in turn had her baby boy with her. The baby was eating sunflower seeds or some damn thing, (that kid was either crying or eating the whole trip), and he spilled them on the bunk where he and I were sitting. Nature was on the other bunk talking with his mom.

I started cleaning up the seeds, putting them back in their bag. The baby said something to me in Chinese, which of course I didn't understand because to me, Chinese sounds like recorded English played backwards.

But Nature understood him, and she turned to me. "He just called you 'Yeh-yeh," she said. "That means 'Grandpa.'"

They had to mop my melted body off the floor.

I have Chinese friends here in Zhongshan City with similarly weird "English" names.

There is one young woman here named "Beautiful." She is not. Well, she's not ugly, but she's not beautiful either. She has a small mole on one side of her nose. Beautiful doesn't speak one word of English, but she always has a smile for me. Even though we don't understand each other, she seems to find me amusing for some reason, maybe just because I'm big by Chinese standards, and usually look a little bewildered.

I have a Chinese teaching colleague who goes by the name "Small." Now, this time it fits: Small is Small. She's taller than Amanda, who only comes up to my chest, and taller than Michelle (my chin), but she is thin. I don't think Small would weigh 100 pounds soaking wet after eating 12 pizzas. She's darling, and actually quite pretty, but like many Chinese she has terrible taste in shoes. We had a teacher staff meeting a couple of days ago, and Small was wearing a pair of sneakers that would have looked good on Bozo the Clown. They had soles about four inches thick. Chinese women wear some of the most bizarre shoes I've ever seen. Perhaps they've been surfing the web and think Lady Gaga is the cutting edge of chic. Don't ask me.

Yesterday I was teaching at the school and was impressed with one of my middle-school girls. Some of my kids are never going to learn English. I ask them a question and they just stare at me: "Huh?" But this little girl was obviously sharp. I was asking questions about the weather. "What do you do on a rainy day?" Things like that. This kid was giving me answers in English, and they were good answers.

So I paused at one point and asked her name. And of course she replied,
"Aeoitndhsfdjgflkjgghftgfs!?@+#$%&*," like all Chinese do when I ask that question. Then she added that did not have an English name.

"Would you like one?" I asked. "I'll give you an English name."

Her classmates laughed, and she choked with embarassment, which is the standard Chinese reaction to being asked anything remotely resembling a personal question.

I was having fun with this -- embarrassing the Chinese is my hobby -- "I'll tell you what," I said. "I'll call you 'Robert.'"

"No!" she shouted. Then she grabbed her dictionary.

As she was thumbing through her Chinese-English dictionary, I explained softly that I understood why she did not want to be called "Robert." It's a boy's name, and she's a girl.

Well, she came up with her own English name: "Nikki," she said.

"Nikki's a nice name," I said. "I like 'Nikki.'"

And Nikki's a wonderful girl.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Letter From China

I hear that it has become a commonplace among western diplomatic and military circles to talk about something called "emerging China."

Beijing's Forbidden City is eternal. So is the waiting line
in a Chinese bank.

The prevailing wisdom now is that China is going to eclipse the United States in the 21st century. The so-called "American Century," which began in 1945 with Hitler's suicide and then the Marshall Plan, is already over. Look out, world: here come the Chinese.

All I can say is, don't hold your breath.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that the Chinese are not going to dominate the globe in the 21st century, and maybe not even in the 22nd, when I'm among the grateful dead.

I've been living in China for only three months now. I teach school here. On the whole I think the Chinese are nice people, although we have had one or two cultural misunderstandings, my hosts and I. Not to load the dice in my favor or anything like that, but the problem is that they have sticks up their asses. And they have no sense of humor. I'm always offending these people without meaning to. But I think I've found a solution to that problem: I stay home.

But back to my subject. I honestly do not think that the Chinese are going to take over the world, and I'll tell you why.

They'll never get around to it.

I have never seen people take so long to do anything. It takes a Chinese about an hour to buy a pack of cigarettes. (And by the way, the Chinese smoke the way the Americans used to, -- meaning of course, too much -- which is also going to impede world conquest.) I'm serious. They go into a store to buy cigarettes, and they have to stand there and bullshit with the sales clerk until sundown.

I went to my Chinese bank yesterday to get some cash out of the ATM. I do my Chinese banking at China Construction Bank here in Zhongshan. I've figured out the ATM, even though it doesn't "do" English. The agency that brought me here to teach school this fall does "direct deposit" with my teacher salary -- it goes right into CCB.

Well, I was in kind of a hurry, if only because my Chinese cab driver was standing there waiting for me to come back and pay him. He was a good sport about it, but patience is frankly not one of my own virtues, and there was a line in front of the machine. Waiting is not something I do well.

And there was a Chinese lady at the head of the line who proceeded to drive me bananas. She was trying to get money out of the machine, and I still don't know what her damned problem was, but it took her, oh, maybe a week. I just stood there and stood and stood there while this woman fiddled and fiddled and fiddled. What was she doing? Making dinner?

This is a typical Chinese story. You can die of old age waiting for these people to finish doing anything.

I've been here for three months and I still don't still don't have a work visa. Technically, I'm working illegally -- I'm still on a tourist visa. When I was preparing to pack for China back in August, the agency in Beijing which brought me over here told me not to bother applying for a Chinese work visa in the U.S. Get this: they thought it would take too long. Yeah, well, let me tell you, taking too long is something the Chinese are experts at. The agency told me, "Just get a tourist visa, and when you get to China, your school will help you get a work visa."

As the Three Stooges used to say, nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. My work visa is still out there somewhere, floating around in a sewer of red tape. It will probably come through when I'm packing to leave next summer.

Folks, face it: Asians have a different sense of time than we do. They have NO sense of time. (They also have no sense of which side of the street they're supposed to drive on, but that's another story.)

Proponents of the "emerging China" theory maintain that the Chinese version of Manifest Destiny is inherent in the population here. America has 330 million people. China has 1.3 billion people. This makes China the inevitable leader of the world.

Baloney, I say. If you want something done really slowly, tell a crowd to do it. The Chinese can barely manage their own population, let alone conquer the planet. 1.3 billion people means 1.3 billion little problems. The Chinese Communist Party is a monolith that allows no political freedom, but believe me, people have a million ways of getting around the CCP. I did it myself last week when I loaded Astrill, a software program that allows you to access the Internet web sites that the Chinese government blocks.

Again I repeat, I like the Chinese. They're nice people. They've been good to me. But they can't find their asses with both hands. If you're waiting for them to conquer the world, don't watch the clock.

And as my father used to say, "That's my rulin'."