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Dirt, eating and drinking

I just had lunch at the place that has porch swings hanging from the ceiling at the tables.  They had just played the Kenny G version of my heart will go on from titanic on the house speakers when I heard something that gave me the horrors even worse still.  Someone had taken Kenny G’s elevator version of the song ‘what a wonderful world’ and glued in the voice of the great great Luis Armstrong singing the words on top.  So the lord of teased out hair and phoney easy listening fake jazz was playing a nice duet with Satchmo himself, as though to say his AM radio elevator saxophone could be any match for the devastatingly swinging brassy attack of the Louis Armstrongs trumpet solo.  The very idea made me want to cry.  The layers of insult went too deep.  The best part was the two parts were slightly off beat from each other creating an almost call and response.  As if Louis Armstrong would have ever been caught dead calling or responding to a total lame dick like Kenny G.  I didn’t even try to explain this to my Chinese friend Alice.  The very sacralidge of this would be lost in translation like most things I try to express these days. 

Alice and I were busy a talking about the news at my school, very drama filled week around here.  The head master of our school, (a man who has taken me out for hot pot and got me drunk on chinese wine) got shit canned and replaced just yesterday.  He is currently meeting with the new head master, a woman by the way, to shift power.  Apperantly it got out that he is completly corrupt. In order for a man to be accused of coruption in China I can only guess that he must have worked very hard at it, standing head and shoulders above the coruption of every other office of import. The man had to have been dirty as hell.

The story I heard (from everyone at the school who speaks English and is not afraid of me, not very many people) was that our school was in financial dire straights.  The headmaster had sold space in the front of the building to small shops which sell stuff like pencils and pens and paste and jim clips and such to school kids.  The small shops had paid the school for the space and the school had somehow forgotten to pay the Chinese government the taxes or maybe just straight kick back or bribe or all of the above.  What ever the reason the Chinese government fined the hell out of our school, hence the financial dire straights.

A couple of months ago when I came home from my vacation (more blogs soon I suppose) I was broke and counting on my salery as well as the refund for the airplane ticket I paid for by selling my car (the old buick Amy Jackson sold to me) to Rosemary Parks mom.  All this money had been promised to me for the week of my return.  So I guess you can all understand that I was frusterated when I had gotten no money to speak off two weeks later.  I was finding myself in China as broke as I had been in America living off the same Raymen noodles, only now they came with red hot crab and egg flavor and plastic chop sticks and a picture of a grown Chinese man screaming on the package.  May started insisting on taking me out to lunch everyday and sending me with the leftovers because she knew I was in a bad way. Once she took me out with her husband and all his work friends during the lunch break from their job, I can’t remember what it was they do or where exactly they work, I guess it wasn’t exciting.

Any situation involving more than, say two adult males at a table means that they have to break out the Chinese wine. This is a clear liquid thunder water which they take in shot glasses and goes down about as smooth as swallowing a glass full of cheap gin or vodka or paint. It burns and it burns bad.
So you sit and eat, letting your mind wander as they all speak Chinese. I usually pass the time by trying to decide what dish is good and what dish makes me ill and what dish is so scary looking that I won’t even pretend to eat, most big meals have a healthy smattering of all of the above, and I do give everything at least a try. Sometimes the wierdest looking thing on the table is the best and the thing that looks great may have been boiled in horrific Chinese yucky sauce or something. There is a certain spicey flavor that I first encountered as part of the hot pot fiasco my first night here (see blog tittled day four W.) that initially made me gag but which I now look for greedily.

The meal with Mays husband and work buddies was mutton on large cow spine bones. They give you a plastic glove to put on and you pick up this section of spinal column and gnaw on the mutton around the bone, trying to get the meat out from between the vertibae.  It was so good, you wouldn’t think so by looking, I certainly had reservations at first but damn if it wasn’t tasty.
So you sit and you eat and you listen to everyone else speak chinese and every five minutes or less one of the men stands up raising a shot glass. “gambay” seems to mean cheers or whatever they mean to say before chugging Chinese thunder wine. Everyone tries not to make the ‘holy shit my esophagus is melting’ face, although many are betrayed by the sudden hurrendus pain. And then you go right on eating. 

I was once at a wedding reception for two people I didn’t even know with Alice, and they had the table stand up and recruited me to do the honerary ceremonial shot drinking for the whole table.  I was chosen because I tend to stick out of a crowd for some reason.  Each table had a representative delegate for the drinking and they brought a platter with a shot which I did, they said some words, then came another shot which I did, more words then a third shot, which I did, then I went back to my table and all the men stood and greeted me with yet another shot, which I did, this time with every man at my table.  That diner lasted a couple of hours and I was sitting there not talking to anyone drunker than Cooter Brown, as they say. 

Toward the end of the meal a really pretty english teacher from another school sat next to me.  I remember I talked to her for a long time, I gave her my number.  If she did ever call me I was either out or it was the wrong number period when May kept insisting that my mother and Carson couldn’t work a phone (see blog the really real phone number of one William H Sanders W.) of coarse chances are that she didn’t call because when she met me I was crazy drunk at a wedding.  Everyone else was too, but they all had people to talk to.  I had all of my drunk focus on this poor girl next to me, although I am sure at the time I considered myself “charming”.

If she called me the next day, a saturday I was busy being stuck at the Yellow river with the Hainan family.  They had called me and wanted to take me to the Yellow river, they asked Xiao Yin too, but at the last minute he skillfully ducked out.  We went fishing in the river, which involved renting a boat piloted by two men with long poles and a few boxes of submersable bombs, the same size as the ones I set off in Yunnan on New Years.  These were coated in plastic I guess to stay water proof and came in a box depicting a hump back whale jumping out of the water nose up like a dolphin surrounded by explosions.  One of the kids would light the fuse, drop that puppy in and a low thud would erupt and I could see the muck from the bottom float to the top and small ripples went outward.  This was no doubt superb for the fragile underwater ecosystem, I reasoned, and lit of a couple myself.  They were so powerful.  We didn’t get any fish though, which is the nature of the sport I suppose.  Another boat had a man a woman a baby and a generator.  From the generator came a hot electric wire that went along a pole to a net which glides through the water. 

“It make the fish feel silly.”  Said Hainan older brother as he tapped his temple.

When it became late in the day and obvious that we weren’t getting any fish, Hainan father paid the man with the electric fish stupifying pole for all his fish, which came to around 3 shopping bags.  We then went ashore and threw the remaining bombs in a shallow pond area in a small cove on the rivers side.  I could actually see a fully formed mushroom cloud of mud form underwater.  Once the muddy water cleared I could see the craters left behind by the blast.  They were deep and wide.  One went off in a very shallow area and a full ten to fifteen seconds later the displaced water rained down from the sky.  They then paid street merchants to cook our fish. 

Here is the secret recipe used by the merchants who sat along the Yellow.

Step 1: Take the fish

Step 2: impale fish with shish kabob stick

Step 3: hold over flame for maybe five munutes

Step 4: eat by holding stick and bitting into fish like predatory animal with fresh kill, and watch out for bones!

I was really full after two but Hainan mother insised I have a third. 

After seven and a half hours of wandering around bored unable to talk to these people and unable to leave they took me home.  When I got home they announced that their kids would come and play in my appartment.  I didn’t like the idea.  When we entered a student Wang Gwang Penn entered my apartment so now I had a room full of people in my own home excluding me from the conversation.  I had enough and I kicked everybody out, I tried not to be rude about it but I really wanted them to go fast.  A few days later I recieved a pen pal letter from Hainan brother.  He wants me to write him back and I keep meaning to but I havn’t yet.  I am spoiled with email.

So if the girl from the wedding tried to call me the next day I was stuck elsewhere.  Maybe she tried to call, maybe she never did, I don’t know.  Either way, her loss.

So another thing about eating in China, you don’t really always get a plate, if you do it is an after thought. You get your own rice bowl, or noddles if you prefer, and you just put food that you arn’t eating on top. Really they don’t do that all that much. It seems like the polite custom is to reach and dig your chopsticks into the serving dish. Everyone does this, reaching over one another like pigs at trough, standing and reaching all the way across the table to get to other dishes. This is why you see lazy susans (the revolving wheel in the middle of the table) at some Chinese resturants. They table is always rotating.
On the occasion in question we were sitting around eating mutton off a spinal column and sucking the marrow out of the middle of the bone (the best part according to May, strange at first but not bad according to me) and drinking shot after shot of clear wine. This was lunch and I had no more classes that day. Mays husband and friends all went back to work after dusting off the better part of two bottles with yours truely. I went home and slept until about 7 or 8 when I woke up with a hang over. May didn’t drink, she is too much of a classy lady.

I seem to have lost my train of thought.

I talked to a Chinese english teacher who wasn’t afraid of me about my not being paid on time and she said that she had not yet been paid for the previous 2 months.  This was very common she explained with a smiling glow and the only thing for it was to remain patient and we will all be paid in time.  So I told May that if I didn’t have my salery by that coming Thursday I would stop teaching and ride my bike to the park and stay all day everyday until I got my money.  This is an example of Chinese vs American buisness negociation tactics.  I had my salery a few days later.  Still no airplane refund money though.

Weeks went by and I taught the kids by getting them to take turns reading newspaper articles.  They only understood sometimes and I wrote words on the board and started miming and acting things out to help them.  I did a class on Martin Luther King and the bus boycott.  I taught them all about april fools day and have been messing with them all week.  This week I have been doing a quiz bowl where I read a selection from their English text book out loud.  I then divide the class room into teams and pit kids from different parts of the room against each other asking questions about what I read.  I allow them to use their books and sometimes I throw in something like ‘what is your favorite color’.  They look at their book frantically as I slowly repeat the question over and over thoughtfully.  Finally one of the kids will wise up and say “my favorite color is green.” and I holler “Yes, green is correct!”  Just now I taught class 8, one of my 3 favorite classes.  Class 8 has a goldfish bowl with 3 fish and I always try to find ways to include them in the class, either calling on the fish to answer a question and praising the fish for their smarts or one time I had the class give the goldfish English names in case they ever go to America.*  The kids think this is the funniest thing ever so I keep doing it.  Today I decided to give the fish their own quiz bowl team.  Each round I would pit 2 students really against each other but pretend the fish were playing too.  One girl stood up and asked if she could represent the goldfish team.  I took a vote in the class and they agreed, I went to pretend to confer seriously with the fish on the matter.  I informed the class that the fish have agreed so the girl was in every round against the whole class for playing for the gold fish.  Gold fish team lost but it was so cute and funny, and the kids were really into trying to read English to win for their team.

Last week I passed out the lyrics to blackbird and hey jude.  They really don’t know about the beatles!  Not only does the Beatles seem to be a good starter kit for welcome to western pop culture the lyrics are easy for them to understand and pronounce and for me to write on a black board and explain.  It would all end in the entire class singing the refrain from hey jude, (nah nah nah nanananah, nanananah, hey jude) slowly, I made them sing a little louder each time until I had myself 60 chinese kids screaming at the top of their lungs and laughing and clapping.  Once or twice their version of blackbird was really really beautiful.  This isn’t my usuall method, I try to maintain some semblance of order, but every few weeks I like to make it fun, at least more fun than usuall I hope.

I started buying lunches for my friend Alice, another english teacher who was now into month three of not being paid.  She is a new teacher just out of college and works for the school instead of for the government (as many teachers here) and is therefor a likely canidate for getting screwed out of her salery. Being a special circumstance, I can easily make all kinds of demands about my money.  Alice, on the other hand, could be fired for complaining to the wrong people.  I had slowly become increasingly furious at the head master and the schools ‘financial difficulties’.  May kept arguing that this was very common in China, people having to go long stretches without pay for the good of the company.  I am from America and I think that sucks. 

From what Alice told me, it seemed that the head master of the school is a rich fat cat and a bourgeois swindler.  While Alice had to apply for her job, many of our collegues paid to get in or were related to the head master or one of the other school leaders.  So in addition to the small fortune this guy is claiming for his salery, the money from the kids, (the schools are all government owned but still cost a tuition) he is also getting a steady and sizable income from wanna be teachers bribing their way into the position.  What really tore me up about it is the head master is rich by Chinese standards and still making piles of money yet the poor first year teachers are having to live off their savings.  Even if the school is having financial difficulties I promise he is finding ways to balance the sheets so he gets his beak plenty wet as the teachers go through money they had carefully put aside just to get by.  I began to forget that he had taken me out for hot pot.

The more people I talked to about this the more I started to see a bigger picture.  The other side of the coin is that yes, the head master is currupt, no doubt.  But I am finding more and more that so are most if not all systems in china.  Alice told me that she came from a very poor family, her mother was a poor factory worker and her father was a very poor docter.  If you want to get rich in China you work in the Government, and if you want to do that you better know someone or be somebody importants nephew.  The whole thing in China from top to bottom is dirty and corruption is a gear in the machine that is far too huge to wash away.  This is the birthplace of Beurocracy and sometimes it seems that the ineffieciantcy is regarded as highly as the great wall or Yao Ming of the Houston rockets.  It is a known and irrefutable fact, and it seems to me without a free press to report on it, or any outside tool to battle it the cancer has spread too deep within the system. 

And sure, there is much corruption in America, but at least when we have someone like (former Atlanta mayer) Bill Campbell he had the good manners to try to hide what he was doing.  There are no concequences here.  The dirt is considered clean and regular and the victims are the people in China who count on basic services to work. This may be why my collegue Alice was so willing to be passive and patient when she didn’t get her money. It was almost as though she was expecting disapointment and I was the only one surprised when I had to wait.
Many Chinese people have told me that amoung the biggest problems in their country, along with the polution and the population is the coruption. It has grown with China, and it seems a factor that hinders and slows this sleeping giants developmental goals.  While any small government in any third world country is bound to suffer from this problem, it is hard to get your mind around a place that has come as far economoically and is as conciously growth minded as China still being mismanaged and misrun on such a massive level.
China is a country in great transition right now, it is transforming into an industrial economy from one of agraculture, you can see it happen. Areas which used to be farm lands being bulldozed to build more factories with smoke stacks that billow more poison into the already unbreathable air.

This was the scenary I was watching from my window on the train last weekend going through Shangdong coming home from Taishan (last weekend me and Xiao Yin climbed a mountain). A man next to me who could speak english told me that because China has only been open to outside influence since 1979 the nation still feels like a new kid in class. Nervous and shy and defensive, afraid and unsure of how to apear to the world.  I get a real sense that this coruption is a source of embarassment for many people here.  It is thought of as a unmovable barrier standing in the way of important modernization of systems which many see as a road to econamic growth as well as increased world wide credability.  Chinas need to be thought of as modern and ’the country of tommarow’ is very much a part of the national phyche.  There is a real division between the need to hold on to tradition for dear life and the desire to strut around in Nike while talking on cell phones and sipping coca cola like the rest of the world. Old isolationist tradition has slowly begun to give way to foriegn thought and trends, but not all the way yet, and I really kind of hope it never does, at least not all the way.
So anyway, Xiao Yin and I went to a mountain last weekend.  Taishan is a four to five hour bus or train ride, we did the bus there and a train back.  The whole time the bus driver was honking his horn, over and over without rest, and it was loud.  My headache grew a little worse with each passing hour.  I started waiting for pauses in the honking and tried to count the seconds it took for him to resume.  His all time record high while I was counting was around 40 seconds.  At one point I noticed we were on a lonely stretch of road with no cars or vehicles in sight.  This did not dampen his spirit, he kept honking like a pro, for absolutly no clear reason and at nothing in particular.   

I recently learned about a Russian Tsar called Fyodor I the bellringer*.  He was thought to be mad because he showed little or no interest in ruling Russia, instead he travelled to monestaries and rang the church bells, inadvertantly forcing peasents to attend endless day long masses.  He really loved bells.  It maybe was something about the sound, or the ringing action, or the fact that they now believe he was born mentally retarded as a result of generations of royal inbreading.  I reasoned that maybe the bus driver had the same thing with car horns instead of church bells.  Maybe not I don’t know.  I can tell you that after five hours of endless nonstop honking I was ready to kill the guy.

Taishan is famously considered one of the five great mountains in China.  This week I ask each class if they know Taishan and they all scream YES in unison, like asking a class of Americans if they had heard of Florida.  It was here that Confusious did much of his teaching, and around 1626 they started cutting steps in the mountain all the way to the top.  This is mind boggeling to think of somebody actually doing, it is so so so huge.  Climbing Taishan was like walking up a five hour stair case which just kept getting steeper and higher and steeper as the steps get smaller and smaller.  Along the way are countless Buddist temples and bridges and water falls.  The last hour and a half is walking up an almost sheer cliff face on these stairs, and it really could be fatal if you fucked up bad enough.  And I must say that at one point in my life I would have quit or taken the cable car or only gone half way or something lame, but I comited to climb the thing and although at the end I hurt bad and was scared of falling and gasped for air in the high altitude, I made the top like a cowboy.  When I got up the next morning my lungs hurt from over use.  This was the hardest work my body has ever endured.  It is wednesday, the first day I can really say that I am capable of walking although stairs are still very very painful from the muscles in my legs being over worked.  I am proud of myself.

We stayed at the freezing cold top at a hotel that charged 40 yuan extra to turn on the heat and got up early the next morning for the suposed famous sun rise that didn’t happen due to the god damn pollution so we walked down.  Sunday morning around 5:30 when we were on our way to check out the famous Taishan sunrise I realized my camera was low on batteries.  I stoped and got some more.  One hour later when I started getting the low battery light again I knew something was rotten in Denmark.  Xiao Yin and I went back to the place I got the batteries to ask for more new ones or to get our money back.  Stop and think how normal a reaction this would be in America.  No dice.  The man started yelling at Han Xiao Yin and me, he refused.  Xiao Yin would not back down, he is a tough mutha shut your mouth when he gets pissed off.  It went back and forth and got worse and worse.  I asked Xiao Yin to translate that there was no need for anyone to get upset, all I wanted was good batteries or my money back.  Seemed reasonable to me.  This either was not translated or fell on deaf ears.  Soon a group of 7 or 8 shop owners had circled us, all taking turns yelling at us and pointing at us all angry like.  Finally he gave Xiao Yin ten yuan, it wasn’t a lot, but for us I suppose it was the principle as well as our wanting to stick up for ourselves and not get pushed around.  As the man gave him the money he mimiced my language by running his finger across his vibrating lips.  As we left they cursed us in Chinese and we cursed them back in english.  I do know a few words that are so severe in Chinese it would have garunteed a fight, but like I said there were 7 or 8 of them and at any rate I wouldn’t fight over as silly a as thing as pride or batteries.  I asked Xiao Yin what they had said to him to get him so hot and upset, he was breathing hard from anger.  They told Xiao Yin he was not real Chinese because he would help a foriegner over a countrymen.  I guess the Chinese thing would be to turn a blind eye as a friend gets cheated just out of national curtesy. 

I think Xiao Yin is a good friend for sticking up for me and a better representative of China than a bunch of crooks and I told him so. I would have his back if an American tried to take advantage of him the same way. 

Two nights ago I had diner with my Canadian friend and Shangqiu neighbor Gina.  She brought along her friends, a married couple of english teachers.  They wanted to met me because they heard I play the drums, he plays the guitar and she a traditional chinese instrament whose name escapes me.  They also love rock n roll, their favorites are Guns n roses, the Eagles, and the Carpenters.  The food was great and he taught me a chinese drinking game which we played with beer.  He only drinks beer, never Chinese wine he told me.  The game is like paper rock scissors but with 2 hands.  You say one, two, then throw fingers as you guess the totall number.  You can throw zero, five or ten, and you can guess zero, five, ten, fifteen, or twenty based on the number of fingers the other guy throws.  So if I say “one, two, FIVE!” and throw five fingers and the other guy throws zero then I win.  But if the other guy throws five too and says ten then he wins.  When one guy wins the other drinks.  We went through a lot of beer.

We arrived at the resturant at 5 and the street outside was packed with people.  Mostly parents trying to get into the school across the street where my new friends work.  I had taken my bike because for some reason it hurts my legs less than walking, and my legs still hurt a lot from Taishan.  So I parked my bike and locked it and went in.  When we came out it was 9 and the street was a ghost town and my bike was gone. 

I sighed loudly.  Me and my bike have a very Roy Rodgers and Trigger thing going, I was reletivly cool though.  I am getting really good at not getting upset about things beyond my control.  Gina noticed a shop front with a metal garage door that slides from the top that wasn’t all the way to the ground, and we could see in.  The place was filled with bikes and she called me over.  This door was literally next to where I had left my bike, I stooped to the ground and sure as thunder, that was my fucking bike.

“That’s my fucking bike!”  I told Gina.  Without thinking I slide inside under the door into the strange dark shop front.  Now back in the good ole US of A we have a name for what I was doing and its initials are B and E.  I was trying to be as Indiana Jones as posible about the whole thing but the truth is that I was quite drunk from the fives game.  On my hands and knees I snatched my bike, laid it on the ground and began sliding it under the door.  Suddenly I became aware that a rather large man was now standing in a doorway across the room.  He said something in Chinese and I frowned.  I pointed an angry finger at the bike and then at my face, he knodded slowly and walked back into the other room.  He knew that was my fucking bike as well as I did.  I got my fucking bike outside, unlocked it and left.

May and I had lunch yesterday and I told her about what happeded with the bike.  She said I should be more careful, nagging like the mother hen she is but I could see her heart wasn’t in it.  She was forlorn about the headmaster getting fired.  She prides herself on loyalty and she thinks that It is unfair that he be fired.  Aparently the head masters daughter and wife work at the school which I didn’t know, and they had their fancy teaching award cirtificates revoked.  This means the old head master saw fit to bestow high honer on his family so they would get more money.  May was upset about this, she argued that they must have earned the honer on their own merit.  She argued that all the things the head master did happen all the time everywhere in China, and as I have stated I think that is largely true.  She said that the other teachers and leaders just want the head masters power and they are all jealous of him and they are hateful.  She also told me that his new job will be training teachers to use computers in the classroom.  I suggested that maybe he will like his new job but she said no, everyone at the school thinks it is a very bad job. 

And so today we were sitting in a resturant owned by Xiao Yins uncle, Alice and I.  Kenny G was proving why if there is a hell he deserves to burn in it where in an ironic twist his eternal damnation will invlolve being made to listen to his own crappy records forever.  I’ve been getting Alice lunch lately because she still hadn’t been payed, the same way May did for me when I was down and out.  Today is different though because the new head master (that nobody has seen) has made it her first official act to pay all the new teachers one month worth of the owed three months of their saleries.  I also got my airplane money last night. 


This past month I have stopped asking about the airplane ticket refund they had promised me because I wanted for all my co workers to get paid first.  These people have families and houses and I live free and alone.  So last night when I got my money I first made sure that everyone else got theirs first, which they had.

So today lunch was on Alice for the lunches I got her over the last week or so.  By the way, Alice is foxy yes, but has a boyfriend as every girl here over 20 does, or they are already married and squirting out kids.  This is a big drag but I am optimistic, out of 8 million people there are bound to be chicks that dig white guys, and as far as I can tell I am the only white guy in town. 

This was a special western theme resturant we were at and we had sizzling steaks, Australian style and she asked me to show her how to hold her fork and knife.  As Kenny G murdered Louis Armstrong we sipped beer and discussed coruption in her government and getting paid and the head master situation and our students and classes and our steaks and she told me gossip about the other english teachers.

Nah nah nah nananana, nanananah heeeeeeey jude.


*Assigning English names to Chinese people is something that they want to do, they don’t think that westerners are capable of pronouncing thier names.  When I say Jakie Chan over here nobody knows what I’m talking about even though his face is on every other billboard.

*For more information about Fyodor I of Russia go to Joans mad monarchs, my new favorite website at, or just visit your local library.

4 Responses to “Dirt, eating and drinking”

  1. Amy Bugg Says:

    Fascinating as always, Will Sanders!

    A professor that I had last semester is originally from Hong Kong. He picked “Barry” as his English name. When questioned, he explained that he named himself after Barry Gibb (of Bee Gees fame). Teach your children well, Will. Do not let this be their fate! =)

    By the way, I am proud of you for hiking up that mountain too!

  2. robert paraguassu Says:

    yay! it’s like reading a book, your blog. epic.

  3. marcus (Xiono) Says:

    That’s pronounced She-ee-ei-oo-no-no-ne-no.

    I have to say what’s up to Xiao Yin who I have heard is reading this blog. And taking names.

    Hey Xiao Yin thanks for sticking your neck out for our good buddy Will Sanders all this time, you are a true friend. Make sure to stop by Atlanta on you trip to America so we can return the favor.

    Sanders do you need us to send you a ThighMaster!

  4. Pukie Says:

    My heart will go on…(Titanic song) LOL..

    Take care and have a nice trip!


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