A Different Tone

I saw Steve Aoki at Club Syndrome last night in Kunming. No, that was the night before last night, actually. Last night I downloaded the Chinese dating app “Tantan” and spent HOURS of my life compulsively swiping left on pictures of men in the drivers seat of Audis. Then this morning I was abruptly awoken by the racket of some very entitled construction workers in the apartment above me removing flooring. I’ve watched enough HGTV to name that sound with a degree of authority. I had an angry meditation in the prone position in my bed for about an hour with that as music. The people who moved into that apartment about two weeks ago are usually screaming at each other until they loudly sob and throwing things so I guess I can be grateful about the sound of construction. Maybe they’ll insulate.

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That’s me with my arms out really wide at the show. I got a bit of Steve’s cake on my face and my friend Kassie back home says that means I’m famous now so that’s cool.

I’m at Sal’s Restaurant caffeinating and shoveling Tex Mex flavored calories into my fat mouth. My feet are cold and I’m regretting my conscious decision earlier to not wear socks. Steve Aoki was lit as fuck but to be honest my body regrets it. Everything hurts. Especially my neck. It doesn’t help that Sunday I wrecked my e-bike because I was tired and someone braked really hard in from of me. It wasn’t severe or anything but I’m definitely inflamed. I spent about six hours of Monday jumping and fist pumping and swinging my long sweaty hair around. There are no drugs in China so this wasn’t fueled by anything other than joy and adrenaline. Not that I’m into drugs, I just wanted to clarify. It was a real rave despite the lack of illicit substances. I wasn’t planning on going to this event as I didn’t know about it. I was just at Barfly guzzling my obligatory “freakin weekend” pint of porter when I saw some VERY well dressed people walk in and heard the news of this show.

I transferred 288 RMB to a stranger on Wechat who promised me a ticket, hopped on my e-bike, forgoing the helmet in my excitement even though it was only slightly over 24 hours since my sleepy mishap with the brakes, dropped my teacher trousers at the door of my apartment in favor of some tights with an interesting pattern and a very short, very flattering dress and arrived at the club about an hour and a half before Steve Aoki came on. I brought the party in my pocket and began dancing the MOMENT I walked in.

I got the opportunity to exercise my boundaries with two different men who mistook my clothing and good vibes as invitations to touch my body in ways that made me feel uncomfortable. One was super creepy and one was actually pretty cool, I just didn’t feel like being touched. This has been an issue at the forefront of my mind lately, the whole people touching me when I don’t want to be touched thing. My friend suggested that I simply assert myself by saying “Don’t touch me.” Great suggestion, friend. It worked. It turns out that most people respond immediately and rather respectfully to clear instructions. I’m not mad at the two people and I wasn’t inappropriately touched by them after I clearly stated my boundaries. New skills being learned at the ripe age of 26. No need to silently seethe when we can use our words.

I met some VERY cool and seemingly VERY wealthy Chinese teenagers there who I didn’t realize were teenagers until they asked me how old I was when I was in the front seat of their Audi on my way home at 4am. When they told me they were 19, I didn’t actually believe them at first, but alas, it was true. I told them to call me “Nai nai” which means grandma in Chinese and we’ll probably hang out in Dali when I visit in a few weeks.

Besides swiping left compulsively into the wee hours of the morning, I also had dinner with my friend Alexis at my Chinese teacher’s home yesterday. She lives with her parents in a beautiful home in a beautiful neighborhood. Her parents were very hospitable. The meal was quite delicious. Her mother is a very proficient chef who studied by watching cooking shows. We were stuffed like the many dumplings we consumed upon our departure. IMG_1684

We all agreed that we were this lovely woman’s new daughters and she will be instructing me in the ways of the Chinese kitchen at a date to be determined. That means my Chinese teacher is my sister, which I’m down with. She’s a wonderfully talented and kind woman, pictured below between friend Alexis and I. This is a tower on top of a mountain that we climbed up to for a beauteous view of the setting sun over Kunming. That’s Alexis on the left there. Olive in the middle, and me on the right. My body was sore but it was worth the climb for the view. IMG_1682

I decided to write all this down because I don’t know why. I haven’t touched this blog since a nice man gave me $50 on Paypal to post a link to his apostille website. I hope he’s well and I hope you enjoyed my rambling. Usually my life here is less haphazard and more deliberate. I just wanted you to know that in case you were worried about the no helmet thing. Love to you and yours whoever you are.

Why I Chose to Move to China

Why China?

It’s a question I hear weekly from locals and foreigners alike.

There are lots of places you can move in the world if you’re a native English speaker with a Bachelors degree. I did a lot of research and decided to begin my TEFL career in China because it seemed like the perfect marriage of my interests.

  • I wanted to be in a country that was going to be a challenge. I don’t like things to beĀ  easy.
  • I wanted to learn Mandarin. I think it’s an important language to learn as a global citizen.
  • I was interested in the fact that China is a communist country, and I wanted to know what it feels like to live in such a place.
  • The pay was relatively high and the cost of living, relatively low, compared to other ESL jobs in Asia.
  • I had, and still have this sense that China is on the rise. They’ve been on the rise, and American exceptionalism has allowed me to discount this. Things are happening here. Mark my words.

Is it Challenging?

I came here with pretty low expectations… or you might say… no expectations. I did my research, don’t get me wrong, but I know that expectations often lead to disappointment, and I figured this move was going to be hard enough already.

I was right. China isn’t easy to live in as a foreigner. I’m not in one of the major cities, like Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou. I’m in the largest city in the poorest province in China. A lot of people here aren’t used to seeing foreigners, and they act accordingly.

I get charged more at the produce markets, corner shops, and when using unofficial e-bike taxis… which at first I was bitter about… then I realized that I have a whole lot more money than most of the people here. Fair is fair. I was allowed into this country, issued a permit to work, and I’ll pay the white people tax happily. The overall warmth I’ve been met with is worth it.

I get a lot of “HELLO/HOW ARE YOU/LAOWAI/WAI GOU REN/MEI GOU” yelled in my general direction. Often Chinese are shy about it, so I’ll hear the word, turn a bit, instinctively, and be met with a person staring at their shoes. People take pictures, sometimes with my consent, sometimes without. Once I was lost deep in thought at the park, fervently working out a thought in my journal, when I got tapped on the shoulder and asked for a picture. It was hard to restrain myself that day. I declined, but I usually try to see these words and photo requests as an attempt to connect. It’s human, I’m an alien, and I can control my reactions to these things that sometimes… frankly… really piss me off.

It’s awkward living here. You get used to it, you adjust, then things change. You lock yourself out of your apartment, you eat bad food and even your toilet regrets it, or you break your leg rollerblading, and you have to figure out how to deal with it.

Learning Mandarin

Mandarin isn’t easy, and I don’t have a lot of time to study because I work really hard. For some reason I thought it would come more naturally than it has. I’m good at learning language, but it turns out that some classroom instruction is necessary, especially considering the fact that most people in Yunnan don’t actually speak Mandarin, but one of many regional dialects. I have a great Chinese teacher, but one hour of instruction per week can only go so far. If I were to stay in China longer than this year, I would love to devote a much larger percentage of my time to learning the language. Having a decent grasp of the language would make me a better immigrant and allow me to connect more with my neighbors and friends.

Communism in China

I think the thing that’s surprised me the most is that China doesn’t FEEL communist. I don’t know what communism is supposed to feel like, and I didn’t live through the cultural revolution… I suspect it felt a lot different back then. China has an enormous population, and despite what Western media leads us to believe, the government has a huge motivation to keep its citizens happy. Can you imagine the power of 1.4 billion pissed off people?

Lots of people in China are rich. There is a massive and constantly growing middle class. While there are a LOT of poor people here, and problems with inequality, like most places, there’s a lot of room for growth and financial improvement, too. Not every family has a path to abundance here, but a lot do. Frankly, China feels like the most capitalist place I’ve ever been. Opulent gestures from people illustrating their fortune are commonplace. There are a massive amount of shopping malls, luxury imported cars, beautiful homes.

Overall, as a privileged Westerner living my day to day life in China, I don’t feel the effects of Communism like I expected. In fact, I genuinely feel more individual freedom and a better sense of personal safety than I did when I lived in the US. I can go where I want, do what I want, and say, more or less, what I want. People here have opinions about the government, and while they may not express them as openly as Westerners, there are strong undercurrents. China’s still figuring things out for themselves, but they’re doing something right.

Cost of Living

I know that cost of living can be pretty high in some areas of China. In Kunming, it’s low, and I can save more money, less deliberately, and still maintain a very comfortable standard of living. China just sort of hit a sweet spot for me when I was doing my cost/benefit analyses. I earn a good wage, have a good quality of life, and I’m happy with my financial arrangement.

The Rise of China

I went into this a little in the section about Communism. This is one of those things that’s sort of vague and hard to explain. Economists won’t disagree with me, but it’s not even necessarily the rising per capita GDP or the fact that China tops the world’s economy in GDP when Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) scales are used. I feel a sense within me that there are real opportunities here, for Chinese and foreigners alike. That’s sort of all I can say about it. I’m not able to use words that I know to describe this sense, so I’ll call it intangible. I find Westerners here, often of the toxic variety, who disagree with this sense that I have. Either way, I’m happy to be able to experience a rapidly developing country and to witness the effects that its prosperity has on its citizens.

phew.

That was long. I guess I can just refer people here the next time they ask, because I have a hard time organizing my thoughts on the spot. If you’re a foreigner in China, or a Chinese citizen who has thoughts on what I’ve written, feel free to give me feedback! I welcome comments and emails. I hope you enjoyed this post.