Ear Shit: A Gesture of Love

December 17, 2013

It’s just how they show affection here I guess.

With my head in her lap my sweet (Chinese) girlfriend says in a disgusted voice, “why you have so many ear shit?”

She was referring to the healthy buildup of earwax (or in Chinese 耳屎) that seems to collect in my inner ear at a rate faster than she approves of. She keeps close tabs on the wax in my ears. She also attributes my slow acquisition of the Chinese language to the amount of wax in my ears. And on certain rare occasions when I make a minor mistake due to my failure to listen to her she points at my ears and says, “dirty boy!”

To be honest it feels quite nice having someone else gently swab the inside of your ear. It tickles and soothes. If you can find a person who doesn’t mind performing this task then I advise that you try.

I’ll just say that it takes both love and trust to allow someone to dig around on one of your five senses like that.

Have you checked your ears lately?

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This Bar Girl Named #

August 31, 2011

I met a bargirl.

She’s tall, charming, elegant, smart, polite and of course beautiful.

We went to a movie theater and ordered popcorn and iced sodas.

We watched Cars 2 in 3D.

Cars 2 is about a tow truck named Mater who doesn’t want to get rid of his dents because they are memories.

To be honest I was thrilled to be seen with her.

In the lobby she asked me what kind of girl I preferred. So I skirted the question by asking her what kind of girl she perceived herself to be.

She said the international kind.

I asked her what she meant by the international kind.

She said tall and beautiful and compared herself to a Victoria Secret model. I must add a side note here and say that this was a little narcissistic of her to say but in reality it was not far from the truth.

As you can imagine she refused to hold my hand during the 3D Cars 2 movie.

After the popcorn and iced sodas were emptied, we walked around the biggest newest shopping mall in Xiamen

She asked me how often I went to Shanghai or Hong Kong to go shopping. Side note: I’ve never been brand-shopping in Shanghai or Hong Kong. So I asked why she would go to those places when she had this nice and competent shopping mall very close to her own home. She said that this shopping mall was lower quality and there are more options in those cities. She said all this while we passed a Zara for kids and the Starbucks sitting next to a Calvin Klein underwear shop.

Nonetheless, when a thought of inferiority is planted it grows. So I began to wonder if this mall was really cheaper and less desirable than those in Shanghai. I’ve always been a sucker for the best.

Then she began talking about the house she was going to buy. The mall had a model of the city and she showed me the little plastic pieces where her new home was to be and when it was going to be finished. It looked nice and all I guess. She then began telling me that I should buy a car because waiting for a taxi is really quite troublesome. I told her that I wanted to buy the cheap Chinese van that they refer to as the “loaf of bread car.” She looked at me as if I had said something wrong. My Mid-Western sensibilities were kicking in and I could feel that the Victoria Secret model was distancing her from me.

She’s 22. She makes more money than I do though her line of work is a bit different from mine. She’s a bargirl.

So I began asking her about her work. I suspected that asking a bargirl about her work could prove to be tricky business. Nevertheless, at this transition period in Chinese history anything goes so I asked her about her bar business. I’m nosy. Plus I finally started reading Donald Miller’s book and it has me thinking about stories and character arcs and how people change because they want something so bad that they give everything in-order to get it.

Who was she and what did she want?

She’s a beautiful girl from a poor family in an exploding economy with a tiny middle class and Shanghai boutiques. She wants money and status. Face and honor.

So what circus hoop does she have to jump through to get that? She dresses up in short skirts and dolls makeup on her twenty-year-old skin so she can lure the most drinking-aging-beer-bellied men to her boat. A number is pinned to her short skirt so they can distinguish her from the other short skirts with other numbers on them.

The bar girl is China’s new middle class. In a land of a billion people whose average salary is less than 4,000RMB a month she can make about 20-30,000RMB a month. She is no boss or government official but she’s somewhere in the middle sitting comfortably in her short skirt.

She’s been doing this for about a year now. So I being the curious one ask her about her first night at work. What was she thinking? What were her questions? What did the experienced girls tell her?

She said she was really nervous and shy. The skirts were really short for me at the time. The men were old and fat and would try to touch me. I couldn’t drink very much back then. My first night I dressed up like a Princess you know the Snow White. Yea, I know the Snow White . . . I bet you looked beautiful. She smiled.

I started thinking about the first night of this innocent girl from a small town doe eyed by all the lights, money, glamour and makeup being told that she could now dress up like a princess. It made me a bit sad. But she was winning. She was earning lots of money she was being a good Capitalist and a good Confucius daughter, she was taking care of thyself and thy-selves parents.

Have you changed? Oh, yes. Now it is easy for me.

I also asked her what she thinks of when she sees new girls coming to work for the first time. Now she is the experienced one. She is looking at them looking at all this for the first time.

She said that the new girls always look naïve, innocent, pure and a bit nervous.

It was ten o’clock.

She had to go labor.

This is her encounter with the strange exclusive worlds of American High School and Evangelical Christianity

I enter the VIP room at my language school and see a very gifted but shy students staring back at me. She asked me where I was from and I said America and she said where in America and I said Missouri. She says, “Really! I lived in Kansas last year.”

I said, “Kansas? Why the hell would you live in Kansas?”

So the story goes her mom traveled with her to Kansas and then after a short stay returned back to China.

Reality: this 16 year old girl sitting across from me lived alone in her own place for a year in Kansas (for privacy reasons I won’t disclose the location). She giggled as she said that she knew it was illegal. She also said that she was very careful not to tell anyone. I joked with her that this would never happen in Missouri! She smiled. Kansas come on? Really, don’t you know when there’s a 16 year old Chinese girl living alone in one of the sparsest and whitest states in America? Get your shit together Kansas (I’m from Missouri).

She says, “there’s no people in Kansas.” I say, “Nope, I don’t call em’ people either.” (for the record I didn’t really say that and from here on I’ll try and refrain from putting down Kansas)

From a private Christian High school in Kansas

I’m a shy girl.

I don’t fit in.

The people were friendly but they weren’t really friendly if you know what I mean. They would be polite but not really your friend. For a year nobody really talked to me. I felt alone. I hated feeling alone. I felt that we had nothing in common.

People there seemed closed minded.

I know that I’m a boring person. (to counter what she said about herself, I talked with her for an hour and came away thrilled by her experiences and stories. She’s a very brave young lady in my mind).

My friend invited me to Church. I went to church every Sunday with her and listened to the man speak. Always telling me about heaven and hell. And my friend was always pressuring me to believe. It made me feel bad for myself and my family back in China.

I’m okay now but I was really messed up for a few months. I feel if I become a Christian that I will always have to tell my family about it and that will be annoying to them. I don’t want to be annoying to my family.

I didn’t think I would miss China but I did. I missed home! (I told her about another girl from Kansas missing home – There’s no place like . . . )

She actually said that she liked Mexican food I was happy about that.

The lesson for that day had us talking about education so I was asking about her comparative experiences with Chinese and American high school. And of course she said American high school is really easy, you don’t have to do homework every night in every subject and you get to go home at 3:00pm (it’s common for high schools in China to go into the night). But she said that she felt like she still learned despite not be being loaded down with homework (a compliment to western education).

Did you try and play any sports I asked her. She said she tried to play tennis but they already had their group (team) and the other girls were more powerful and better than her. It was my first time to play. I am no good. I have no power.

I asked her about any significant teachers either good or bad and she said that she liked her art teacher. I could tell her about feeling lonely and I knew that she understood. She liked me and would talk to me about everything. No surprise but artists are usually more open and friendly. I later asked if the art teacher was young and she surprisingly said that she was 40 something.

She also said that she didn’t like her Literature teacher because she would always point at me and the other two international students in class and ask us what do you “international students” have to say / what’s your opinion / what’s your perspective?” She hated being pointed out. We wanted to be normal, she said. Why ask us?

I asked if he she liked the great thunderstorms of middle America and she said no, it made her feel afraid.

Get this, next year she’s planning on attending school in Baltimore . . .

“I saw that my life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted.” (The Dharma Bums – Jack Kerouac)

Recently I’ve been fostering within me a rather simple approach to life which goes like this: if a person asks you to do something then do it even if you’re tired and try not to pass judgment. I’ve always been suspicious of this sensibility within me but I’ve never really been serious about it until recently. What happened? I read The Great Gatsby, in particular, the opening paragraphs.

“In consequence, (Fitzgerald writes) I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores.

So my friend (who I refer to as sugar mamma) calls me and wants me to go eat lunch with her friends. So being disciplined to this new mantra of mine I wake up.

Mind you, I live on an island sitting in the Taiwan Strait. This indelibly means a vast array of seafood plus one strange thing that didn’t really look like it fit into the seafood category. My sugar mamma leans over and tells me with her tongue out that this is a platter of duck tongue. Not passing judgment I chopstick’d a splayed marinated duck tongue and put it on my own tongue . . . not bad . . . not good . . . just so so.

After duck tongue I did make a lunchtime mistake. Her friend was more than fashionably late so unbeknownst to me on grounds of not being privy to their local dialect they had set aside the last of the shrimp for her. So naturally I reached for yet another over-sized salmon colored shelled shrimp upon which laughter and rants darted in my direction (there’s nothing like eight Fujianese women telling you that you’re wrong). I threw the shrimp back as quickly as I took it but later when the friend arrived I graciously explained in my splayed-Chinese that her friends wanted to eat the shrimp but luckily for her and in her defense, I had fought off the hungry shrimp-eaters upon which an ego boosting laugh broke out (when eight Fujianese women laugh at what you say you sort of walk away feeling a bit charming – and that’s exactly what I did). Sometimes in this world it’s nice knowing that other people think you’re charming.

With a belly full of seafood and little duck tongue my sugar mamma is telling me that they want to go to the temple in San Ping (which is near Zhangzhou which is about two hours away). There really wasn’t a better place to go to empty my-water-jug-full-of-an-ego than an enlightened visit to a Buddhist temple. After all it takes Dharma to reach Nirvana (try to figure that out later). I always relish quiet places in China because there are so very few of them left so I said let’s go.

Me, my sugar mamma and her lesbian friend are in the backseat. She says, massage my shoulders. My shoulders hurt. Harder, she scolds. I grumble the way I imagine a servant in the midst royalty grumbles. Half-hearted grumbles because I know that it could be much worse. And strangely enough, Fujianese barking orders, are slightly attractive (It’s taken me two years to realize that the Chinese woman is not the meek, mild soft spoken stereotype that she is portrayed to be). The Chinese woman is a vicious and mysterious creature encased in a shell of both fortitude and subtly.

It’s vaguely raining outside as we are slowly mounting the mountain. We stop. Lychees (local fruit) are being sold on the side of the road. From the backseat window the sugar mamma sprays a few orders. A peasant hat and a wrinkled face hand us a bushel of lychees (Historical note: lychees are Empress Yang Guifei’s favorite fruit – one student told me that she would eat over three hundred in one day inevitably Yang Guifei is historically fat).

Massage my shoulders. Harder, the barking orders came. They never stop.

Looking at crumbling houses and farm plots the girls said to each other something to the extent that most people in China aren’t as lucky as they are. How true that is I mumbled under my breath. They are comfortably atop the Chinese economy. In comparison to a migrant farmer these women are like the popes and kings of the middle ages and/or the CEO’s and business tycoons of our own ages.

For example as my sugar mamma was fumbling through her Prada bag demanding to pay for her friends gas I see more money than I’ll make this month jostling between menthol cigarettes, lip gloss and hand wipes. In this social circle of fortunate’s I’m more like a court jester than a royal. I’ve concluded as most foreigners in China eventually come to terms with that that I’m only there for entertainment purposes and when they are finished smiling they will dismiss me. I don’t take it personal. It could be worse.

The lesbian driver was doing some serious rally car racing up the mountain in the rain. I was getting a little nervous. The accountant in the passenger seat was asleep.

Fog on the mountain.

Greenery so far and wide.

Gold laden Buddha’s with melancholy expressions sitting high above looking distantly and vaguely down at you in no particular direction. With a nonchalant grin spread from droopy ear to droopy ear.

In China each year is dedicated to an animal. So in correlation with your birthday everyone has an animal, there are twelve animals in the cycle. My birthday is the year of the pig (the Chinese say that the pig is the luckiest animal in the cycle because it eats and sleeps as much as it wants without responsibility). There are twelve animal statues lining the entrance of the temple so she orders me to go touch the pig for fortune and synergy. I pet the pig.

The routine goes like this: light three prayer sticks, shake (don’t blow) the fire out and stand with sticks above your head while giving a slight repeated bow of reverence in front of the shrine and then place the sticks upward in the ash so that they can continue to smolder and smoke for you after you leave. They smoke in semblance of prayer. It continues to curl and rise as the gloss eyed statues watch you drop money in the adjacent iron bins.

Here’s what you need to know for the temple always step over the doorway. Never step in the middle of it. It’s rude and you don’t want to be rude at the temple. You are being watched.

Drove for two hours each way. Stayed at the temple for 20 minutes. Massage my shoulders deary – peel another lychee – menthol smoke prayers – rearview mirror fog left on the mountain – life being lived somewhere in the middle of that empty page

Yep, you guessed it, seafood for dinner.

So the other day my very wealthy friend invites me to dinner with her two very wealthy friends. I’m asking them what they do for fun and one woman was telling me about a bar for women. I was really curious about this so I told her that next time she went to give me a call and she thought this was a good idea so that’s what she did. Two nights later, the phone rang.

Upon arrival I walked past a room full of young boys (18-25) sitting playing games on their iPhones, chatting and looking bored as hell. They were waiting for something. Somehow I knew what they were waiting for. They were waiting for the cougars but I was surprised at the way it happened.

Sitting in the dimly lit room with menthol smoke swirling in the air. One of the women in the group barked at the waiter to “work quickly!” This meant that she wanted him to bring in the boys.

I sat and watched from the shiny black leather U-shaped sofa with about twelve cougar-esque women (married, dating and single alike) as groups of five came in the room and posed for about a minute as the girls examined them from head to toe. It was weird seeing women do this. I mean, I’ve conceptualized men doing this but not women.

Watching these boys being subjugated to the scrupulous eye of women is a strange thing. Your stomach turns when you see actual people being reduced in this way. In a way, I felt sorry for these young boys. At the most I was embarrassed for them but hey I enjoyed seeing the roles reversed as any guy would. I mean after all I was on the safe side of the sofa. They were the cattle, they were the meat they were being told yes or no based on height, weight, fashion choices, hairstyles, underarm fragrances etc… they would leave and the next batch would arrive. Tall and handsome wearing designer t’s and jeans some were buff others were slim and sleek. All were wearing numbers on their hip.

One of the women (the leader) was giving her choices to the worker as he was pointing his finger asking, “like? don’t like?” The boys were voiceless. They could only smile, suck-in and flex hoping that their number would be called. After about four or five groups of boys left the room the leader had made her choices and compiled her list with a few pointed suggestions from her friends and like that the worker left the room with the good and bad news for the boys.

I’m sure the conversation in the other room went like this: “77, 96, 88, 68, 53 come with me.” While 41 a tad bit disappointed at the news began playing yet another round of Angry Birds on his iPhone.

I curiously watched as the boys entered the room timid and scared wondering which woman to sit by. Who chose me? Which woman paid for me? Can I sit down here or not? Was I really chosen or will I get sent away because my numbers 68 and not 86. A mistake that would be devastating to any young boys ego.

Kat, one of the women in the group was asking me what this place would be called in America and I laughingly had to say that this place didn’t exist in America. I’ve never seen this before and that’s why I’m writing about it.

Kat later joked that I could get a job here and so I asked her how much money I could make in a month and she unflinchingly said 30,000 RMB plus tips. I currently work 40 hours a week for 10,000 RMB with no tips. I’m seriously considering this. I’m tall, I’m white I’m relatively handsome from the Chinese perspective. I mean it would be an easy way to pay off my debt while also doing the good deed of reversing the gender roles. And these women seem nice enough I don’t think they are going to grab my precious ham-chops or follow me home at night.

I need to go do some push-ups and sit-ups first. I’ll have to go shopping . . . get a haircut. You know, I’m a little insecure . . . should I shave my armpits?

A LITTLE JOPLIN WIND

May 27, 2011

Every major news source in the country headlined a little Missouri town called Joplin yesterday. I’m from there. So are about 49,000 other people, but I’m not there at the moment. I’m about as far away from there as possible. I’m in China.

The tornado ripped through the center of the city. Destroying and damaging hospitals, schools, Wal-Mart, homes, nursing homes and churches. The latest death-toll is above a hundred. My grandmother lives in the center of the city with her new husband Clovis, whom I’ve never met because I haven’t been home in two years.

Yesterday my sister’s Facebook page read, “We can’t find Grandma.”

Hours later she reports that we’ve found grandma! It’s funny how hours can turn into years when you know your grandma’s home is destroyed, and you don’t know where she is. I lived in that home with her for two years while I was in college.

My mother writes:
Grandma and Clovis are here with us and alive! It’s going to be hard work but at least they are fine. They went into their closet and that was the only thing left of their house. They had to crawl out of the rubble. They walked for several blocks then someone picked them up and gave them a lift to his relative’s home where they were able to call us. It looks like a war zone. I’ll write more later. I love you!!!

Today my sister says:
Yeah, she [Grandma] is fine but her house is gone. We’ve been there all day looking for stuff and it’s horrible. I fell twice and all you can smell is gas. I don’t see how anyone made it out.

I’m sitting in my apartment thousands of miles away with a ball in my stomach wondering if I can go to work today. I know that with that many people dead, I know someone, but I just don’t know who…yet.

My cousin, living about twenty miles away from the wreckage, found a baby photo that had been blown into her backyard. She prays that the little boy in Snoopy overalls is okay.

The fragility of being human sometimes escapes me.

Pray for my little Missouri town.

Forced to sign-and-red-star-stamp a document insuring that he wouldn’t offend the fragile feelings of the Chinese people. He complied but even a preapproved Dylan is a resourceful Dylan. He’s gritty at 69 and has songs about everything.

Nontheless, the preapproved Dylan was a sad Dylan. A love sick Dylan. A tangled up in blue Dylan. A rollin’ and tumblin’ Dylan. And even an it’s all over now baby blue Dylan. But nontheless in a simple twist of fate he was a forever young Dylan who stood upon the watchtower and told the thin man with a pencil in his hand about the hard rain that was gonna fall down highway 61 revisited.

And I even left a few out like tweedle dum said to tweedle dee. The show thundered down the mountain like a rollin’ stone to the spirit on the water. Of course he said somewhere beyond here lies nothing but I nonetheless think this sad harmonica playing man with the Beijing blues had the intentions of changin’ my way of thinking because that’s what he said first.

Not a sell out at all but an artist who said there’s something happening here . . .

[Workers Gymnasium: Beijing China: April 6, 2011]

A historical moment. I was there. The ticket stub says so.

The same weekend that I get sick and need to gargle salt water happens to be the same weekend that I run out of salt. I’m a bachelor so I don’t need to buy salt that often (once a year maybe) so naturally I went to the supermarket but little did I know that this was also the weekend that a certain little rumor was more than twittering across China (twitter’s band). It was rumbling. Rumor has it that salt is magical. That it can some how fight off nuclear radiation. The Chinese have swarmed the supermarkets and ravaged the salt supply ever since reports started stirring about the radiation leaks from the quake in neighboring Japan.

Some stores have been reprimanded for jacking up salt prices which normally hover around 1-2 RMB. Reports have shown that in the most common cases it is 5-10RMB and in the most extreme cases I’ve heard that it has skyrocketed to 80 to 100 RMB for one bag of salt. Other stores in the true communist fashion have decided to share by taking names down and limiting customers to only 2 or 3 containers per person.

There are two motivations behind the salt dash. One is salt’s supposed superpowers against nuclear waste and the other is the fear that nuclear waste will leak into the water supply and contaminate further supplies of salt.

There have been reports of family member who live in different cities phoning or QQ’ing their far away relatives and coaxing them into sending salt via packaged mail. For younger generations their have been reports of buyers going online to China’s equivalent to Ebay and purchasing salt online. Stores who run out of salt are bringing out stock piles of soy sauce trying to sell that as an alternative and surprisingly it is working.

Newspapers are NOT showing long lines of people waiting to purchase salt but rather large bulges of people wiggling, pivoting and elbowing their way to the cashier all while clutching tightly to their precious salt.

During this mad rush for salt no one has considered that the nuclear spill took place on the opposite coast of Japan and as any meteorologist will tell you that wind and water currents aren’t on their way to China but rather to the western coast of the Americas.

Despite the truth behind any of these claims it is a good day to be in the salt industry in China (government) and a bad day to be sick in China. I wonder if the Japanese, American’s or Canadians are scrambling for salt? Probably not.

The Chinese people are a massive tour de force and something as small as a salt rumor can empty shelves from Beijing to Guangzhou in a matter of hours and this is why the Chinese government is so very careful.

Donald Miller’s new book just made it to paperback for 7.99 on Amazon but chances are I get it for free because he held a contest giving a free copy to the first thirty people to post this news on their blog and seeing that I am awake in China and the rest of you are probably sleeping somewhere out in the America’s. I win. Hey, he’s a nice guy.

And one more thing. I can’t watch Don’s video because I’m living behind the great Chinese firewall but I want you to watch it…enjoy.

At night, the salt and water comes in, the water and salt leave and the oysters stay behind. The salt marsh spreads from the mainland to the adjacent island close to my former home. This is an oyster farmers land.

Mid-day – it’s June – the sun beats down again on an old tired back. Mr. Yang has done this before. Feet sunken hunched low in the quagmire shadowed only by the weavings of his bucket-rimmed hat, his soiled calloused stubs reach under the steeped silted rock upon which he adds one more to a sack full of oysters to later be shucked.

Meanwhile,

Another Mr. Yang with a very different fate sits in the comfort of a first class jet. Mr. Yang has done this before. Sunken deep into a beige leather seat in the air conditioned cabin. Sipping a fine burgundy colored wine the attendant reminds him to buckle for landing. Adjusting his slippers, he stretches his neck and fingers a bit. Putting his things into his black leather bag he takes another drink and rubs out the sleep that had rested on his freshly shaven face as he takes a passing glance to the landscape below.

As he buckles the silver buckle the plane shadows the oyster farmers tired old back. Sweat and salt drip deep down into his glossed eyes as he lifts his head to the ominous roar of the dragon above.

In an odd and yet understandable way both Mr. Yang’s tighten their grip on their respective possessions.


post-script: Solomon, my former roommate told me something similar to this one day after he went running along the coast by our former house and I just couldn’t forget it . . . thanks.