A spinoff in proper "Rhoda" style of my patented e-mail blastograms, this blog was created with the intention of keeping friends and family updated on and amused by my life.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hug Me Not!

I just saw this article on CNN: Chinese slow to embrace 'free hugs' campaign, and clearly had to share. I like the idea of giving out hugs to strangers, and I might just have to incorporate it into my new plan of going about London and chalking hop-scotch. We shall see, we shall see.


我真的爱的就是你… (True Love)

Wow, that last post seemed to have hit on a nerve, and has probably produced more responses than even the caparinha post. Some of them were sent as private emails, and I’m asking for permission to post them as comments on my actual blog, so if you’re wondering what I’m reacting to in the following post, wait a day and check the comments of my last post, Typical American.

我真的爱的就是你… (The One I Truly Love is You)

Within a minute of entering the dark karaoke room, I was already off and singing Wang Leehom (one of my favorite American-born Taiwanese, Chinese super-stars). It was test. Well really, the whole evening was a test.

Upon arriving at the LSE, I made a point of signing up for seventy-five billion clubs. I, of course, joined the capoeira club, and then it was on to cultural clubs. I’m an official member of the Chinese Student Scholars Association, the Chinese Society (deceivingly named as it’s actually the Hong Kong Society), the Taiwanese Society, the French society, and the Arabic society. I couldn’t find the American society’s table, though I’m not sure I’m missing anything there.

The LSE is crowded with Chinese students, and so I wanted to take advantage of that fact to keep up with my Chinese (official classes start this week, yay!), but also because I’m really missing China at the moment. Kunming was my home for two years, and it’s an experience I can’t easily forget.

After I lived for a year in France, I was changed. I was no longer American, I had missed too much. I wasn’t exactly French, but I had certainly accepted a French world-view into my psyche. Doubly so after two years in China.

But in France, I could pass as French. Indeed, a wonderful Lebanese LSE student started talking with me the other week and thought I was French. I was flattered.

In China, I was always the 老外 (foreigner), for there, the perception is fairly simple (and this is using Chinese language, I apologize if it doesn’t sound politically correct to the Western ear): yellow skin=Chinese, any other colored skin=not Chinese. So, as my Hong Kongese-American friend, YKC, alluded to, he is considered Chinese because he looks Chinese. He’s also, therefore, expected to speak Chinese (which he happens to be able to do quite well, now, and being raised speaking Cantonese certainly was helpful in that regard, but he is American and his English is perfect). On the other hand, I’m a white guy, so I’m not supposed to understand any Chinese.

I had Chinese-American friends in Kunming who spoke better Chinese than I did, and while I was praised for my amazing Chinese, they were scolded for not being able to. However, it would drive me crazy when I would start speaking Chinese in a group because I could, and the Chinese would ignore me and try to speak to the Chinese-looking person who couldn’t speak Chinese.

My point is, and I think I said this best when I was talking with my dad last week: “I’ll never be Chinese enough for the Chinese.”

And if I wasn’t Chinese enough for the Chinese in China, trying to be Chinese enough to participate in the Chinese diaspora here in London is even more challenging.

As I walked into the CSSA’s Mid-Autumn Festival, one guy asked, “are you sure you’re in the right place?” And yet, I felt so at home there—the party was exactly like any party one could find on a Chinese campus.

When I was in Chinatown on one of my first night’s in town, I was trying to order really spicy food. The waitress replied in broken English, “I don’t know what you mean by spicy.” And so in frustration, I said “我要你们最辣的.” The entire restaurant went silent, and suddenly people from the different tables started shouting questions at me, as if I was some bizarre spectacle they had never witnessed before.

Step right up, step right up for the amazing white guy who speaks Mandarin.

I just felt awkward.

And so last night, I went karaoke-ing with the LSE Taiwanese society. I called the president because I was running late, and he gave me directions in Chinese. I have a hard enough time finding things in London in English, so getting there with Chinese directions was a task. But I made it. Test number 1, passed.

Then the attendants wouldn’t let me in at first. I broke into my Chinese and insisted that I was here to meet friends. They eventually coughed up the room number and I went down to join the rest of the LSErs. Test number 2, passed.

I walked in the room, and they sat me down in front of the computer to order a song. I did, they jumped it in the queue, and suddenly I was there singing before them in Chinese to prove that I belonged. Test number 3, passed…more or less.

But why this need for tests? I suppose that my relations to Taiwan are a bit more tenuous, as I only lived there for three months, but I really do miss it so! Shouldn’t that be good enough of a reason to let me join in club activities?!

When my friend Aaliyah (an American that I know from Kunming) came to the door of the bar, the staff wouldn’t actually let her in. What is this protectionism?

I guess though, that if my Whittie friend, YMC, who is Taiwanese-American isn’t Taiwanese enough for the Taiwanese (and he’s even in the middle of his required civil service stint!) then I have no hope!

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Typical American

Friday, October 20, 2006


It's currently 3:15PM on Friday the 20th of October, and I'm sitting in the park in front of my flat enjoying the BEAUTIFUL weather. I didn't expect to be here now!

You see, my first paper of the school year was due today at 4. And those of you who know me know how I like to push things to the deadline. I was fully expecting to be sitting in the library right now, frantically trying to come up with something to say. I'm happy to report that it was handed in just after noon today though. It's a miracle! I suppose, to be fair, it was only a 1500 word book review--not the most complex paper I've ever written in my life.

The novelty of London, of new places and people, is starting to wear off as the reality of the school year is starting to kick in. I've somehow managed to get really busy, but I'm not so sure when that happened (which is why there have been fewer posts of late). I think it's the reading. The British system is feeling as hands off as the French or Chinese system (though at least we have dedicated seminars here), and I've been finding myself asking why I'm paying so much to simply get told what to go read on my own.

And yet, I've been fairly engrossed. The one really nice feature of our program is that it's very flexible, and so I can focus on things that interest me. They're not offering the class on the Consumer Society this year, which was THE course I came here to take, so I've decided to focus more on globalisation (yes, that's an 's') and the media. Being in London, I find myself everyday confronted with the realities of an "intensification" of international relations. London is a global city, and that's why I love it. Ironically, I'm beginning to think that I should stop learning other languages though. It's so boring understanding the banalities of conversation that seem otherwise exciting when you have no idea what the people are talking about. Maybe I just miss China and having to try to actually think to figure out what was being said to me. It was an everyday challenge...though I suppose I only understand people here half the time as it is, and that's when talking to the native English speakers.

Overall, I have a very mixed view of the LSE at the moment. I'm very impressed with some of my teachers, and find others very lackluster. The newish library pales in comparison to Whitman's Penrose Library. Penrose was so warm and inviting: comfy couches surrounding a fireplace. The LSE library is so very institutional, so cold. The library is designed as a functional space, but to me, the approach to books should be as friends, not as tools. Indeed, all of the facilities at the LSE seem to be quite institutional. As they are right in the heart of London, the LSE is understandably facing a space crunch, but couldn't they add a few padded reading chairs in the hallway? I've learned to take refuge at a cafeteria on the fourth floor that has outdoor seating on top of one of the buildings. Of course, if it's spitting out, I'm screwed.

In addition to reading, I've been slowly progressing down the path of becoming a chocolate-making workshop instructor. I teach my first class next week. If you're interested in finding out more about the company, you can check out their website at MyChocolate.co.uk. And for those of you worried that you missed out on all my fine chocolate-making abilities, don't worry, you didn't. I've started learning the basics now, but the job is more about teaching, about making chocolate entertaining, and that I can do. Plus I get to eat yummy, yummy fudge. Thank god I walk an hour each way to work, otherwise I'm sure I'd be putting on the pounds!

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Mid-Autumn in London

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Un Mégot

Yesterday evening, the rays of the moon pierced me with a profound coldness—a coldness of the heart, the soul, and especially the body. It was an ephemeral trespass, but I shivered nevertheless.

Yesterday was the Mid-Autumn Festival according to the Chinese calendar. It’s the day when people gather to share moon cakes and gaze longingly at the moon, for it’s only on this day that the immortal Chang’E can escape her home on the moon (where she lives with a rabbit) to reunite with her husband Hou Yi. Legend has it that, originally, there were 10 suns that took turns orbiting the Earth. One day they all came out at once, and the Earth became scorched and parched. The Emperor commissioned the most famous archer of the time, Hou Yi, to shoot down nine of the ten suns, which he handily accomplished. He became famous and subsequently drunk with power. He lusted for immortality, and so he coerced a god into giving him a magic potion. Chang’E, not wanting Hou Yi’s cruel ways to endure eternally snuck the potion and floated up to the moon.

But a night of reunion, for me, tonight was not.

It smelled like autumn out. The crispness of the air accentuated t the pungent leaves that had already started falling to the ground. And I had made the mistake of going to see Alan Cumming in Bent—a play about the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust. I went for Alan Cumming, an absolutely amazing actor who you might remember as the Emperor from the movie version of Titus or from a host of other movies and Broadway shows. I certainly wasn’t expecting a lighthearted tale of resistance in concentration camps from Cumming, so I ostensibly knew what I was getting into. But, as the person next to me put it: “it’s quite draining…more than I expected.”

At intermission, just after our main character arrives at a concentration camp after having beaten his former lover to death to prove that he wasn’t “bent,” I needed to escape. An important pastime for Londoners during intermission is going outside and chain smoking a couple of cigarettes to tide them over for the next act. Therefore, the remains of cigarettes litter the sidewalks outside most theatres here. I was one of the first ones out the front door, and I was there just in time to catch a scene the made me shiver.

A chic, 30-something woman came striding down the street. She was dressed with a pink scarf over her head like a Russian babushka, a short beige skirt and black leather boots up to her knees. Her left hand was swinging shopping bags as she marched down the street, head down. Right in front of me, she bent down and picked up a mégot (smoking is so foreign a concept to me that I seem to only know the French terminology—the end of a cigarette. Would we just call it the butt?) that was laying on the ground. She casually tucked it into her jacket pocket and continued on her way.

That’s when I shivered.

The play was draining me, and the strongest association I had with someone picking up a cigarette butt came from a book I just finished reading: Balzac et la Petit Tailleuse chinoise (Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress) by Dai SiJie. The book is set on the Mountain of the Eternal Phoenix in the rural SiChuan province of China during the Cultural Revolution. Two young boys, sons of “enemies of the people,” are sent to the mountain to be re-educated by the proletariat. At first, the boys follow the village chief around, glued to his back, scrounging to pick up the leftover mégots that he wantonly leaves behind.

In the book, it seemed to me the final act of desperation, of clinging on to the remains of normalcy (that is, until they discover the books of Balzac). It was something I could just as easily imagine those in the German concentration camps doing.

I burst from the doors of the theatre trying to escape the feelings of ultimate desperation. But there, on the street in front of me I was once again directly confronted with that reality, juxtaposed by the woman’s neat appearance. I felt trapped, and cold. I looked up to the full moon enveloped in a cloudy shroud but saw only ice.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Other People’s Kids Are SOOOO Cute

Walking home from school a couple of days ago across the Jubilee Footbridge (which overlooks the Waterloo Bridge, the London Eye, Big Ben and Parliament) I heard, then saw, a little girl walking across the other direction with her mom in tow. She was clearly not a happy camper, but was very much in control of the situation. She was throwing a tantrum as she stormed across the bridge. Her mom must have told her to stop crying, for just as I came within earshot, I heard her whine: “But I don’t wanna stop crying!” She continued on, wailing as she went across the bridge. I could only smile and think to myself, ‘hey, at least she knows what she wants!’

Continuing south, I stopped by my local Tesco to pick up a few chocolate-making supplies (more on that later). While I was standing in the aisle trying to figure out the difference between caster sugar and granulated sugar, a plump Chinese boy came trundling down the aisle, pulling his mother by her basket behind him. He pushed his way in front of me and started calling, “zhege, zhege, zhege, zhege, zhege,” or “this, this, this, this, this, this, this,” (good thing I studied 5+ years of Chinese…) and pointing to some Silver Spoon sugar (which I think has some artificial sweeteners in it, I cannot tell you how many different sugars exist in this country in small, 1 kilo packages. What ever happened to regular granulated sugar?!). One of the packages had ripped open, and sugar had spilled on the stack of pouches. He started sweeping it off into his hands and eating it. His mother tried to bat his hand away and told him not to eat the sugar (in English), but it didn’t seem to stop the kid, as he continued to greedily chomp away on the white crystals.

How cute these kids were. I'm just glad I didn't have to deal with them!

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