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?


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.


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.


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.

A KFC Menu Poem

February 8, 2011

pre-note: many months ago I scratched this on a menu at KFC . . . I just found it tucked away in a notebook. Enjoy!

Do nothing
To stop
Is most
Them all
Get ahead
Go, go

Lost in the
Burning from
Bang away
People are
Conveyor belt
Compartments are
Moment by
Event maybe
Leisure maybe
Today a
Little more
Creativity class
Free talk
Punches card to
Lost in the
No, no
Better have
Than the best
To gain
BMW’s a
Shows up
a mistake

Do I love?
No, no
Go Forward.
Can we
No, no
Shut your
Happy Everyday
Look at us
Loudest yelling
Man with
It’s the way

No, No
Forward March
Get more
Move up
Turn off
Go, Go
Move up
Rattle more

Give me
Take Me
to it

Give nothing back
Take and keep
was poor
Poverty is
To us
Go, go

Can I
Get someone
Judge me
Grade me
Affirm me
Talk to me
No, No
Forward march
Stand in line
Waiters get
Served last
Don’t be
The same
Set apart

A Mao
Is a Mao
To busy
I’ll dig
For bones
Show me more
Move out
Of poverty
Ignore it
Go, go
Don’t stop
Up, up
Move out

The Music Box

February 7, 2011

There is nothing comparable in the history of the world to the cultural gap between the young and old in China today.

Tonight Qian Yu, one of my very attractive neighbors, sent me a message and invited me to KTV (karaoke). When a beautiful girl asks you to do something, you (I) usually do it. So I flagged down a taxi and showed the driver the address to The Music Box. Upon arrival I found room 119, opened the door, and saw something very strange. A bit odd. I saw Qian Yu’s parents (they were in town visiting for the Chinese New Year). Mother and Father sitting down, arms folded in silent observation of all this “new stuff.” They were out of place: shiny marble floors, dancing strobe lights, blaring speakers, erotic music videos, and now me, an outsider.

I greeted them. They grinned. I sat next to Qian Yu. They smiled.

Qian Yu sang a song. She’s a good singer. Not knowing the words, I watched onscreen as a fresh-faced Japanese love story unfolded. We clapped. Qian Yu smiled.

After I successfully deflected their attempts to hand me the microphone, on the grounds of ignorance, Qian Yu gracefully walked over and handpicked a song for her mother to sing. This song was a bit rigid, it came from another place, a different time. The luster was gone. Again without knowing the words, I watched the video unfold. It featured Chinese children waving Chinese flags, snapshots of Chairmen Mao and historic sites like The Great Wall. Mother knew every word. It was more propaganda than art (granted Qian Yu’s Japanese love story was more emotion than art, but that’s beside the point).

Mother finished. We clapped. Mother smiled.

They persisted so I went to pick a song. I searched the English menu. Qian Yu so graciously piped in and suggested Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” so I went with that. I knew what I thought of their videos; now I wondered what they thought of mine. Lady Gaga is a crass and capricious individual. She’s very different from the banality of patriotism. I was certain that when the words “I want your psycho, your vertical stick” came out of my mouth, Alpha-Centauri would explode, rendering our world moot. The only thing salvaging imminent apocalypse this time was the blessed confusion of Babel . . . thank God.

I finished. They clapped. I smiled.

After Qian Yu sang another song she playfully said it was hot so she took off her long over coat which revealed a black halter-top of sorts featuring swan feathers with hot pink tights hugging her legs running into magenta colored high-heel shoes (for the record it actually didn’t look as ridiculous as it sounds). Upon revealing her dainty shoulders, I watched her mom’s confused and nervous gaze at her singing daughter’s skin. She really didn’t know what to think of it all. The skin. The colors. The feathers. The shoes. Was this her daughter? Mom was wearing a dull colored wool overcoat with plain black pants awkwardly squeezing against the top of her boxy shaped black shoes. Daughter’s hair was long flowing and vibrant mother’s hair was wiry short and grey. The Music Box kept humming. We kept smiling and clapping.

You’ll be glad to know that I finished the evening off with a little evangelism and a lot more confusion. I selected Kanye West’s video “Jesus Walks.”

I teach too much. I’ve been teaching from the same four books for seven months now. I’m not magical but I’ve come to foresee every question, every laugh and every mispronounced word like a sorcerer sees a shrew. This can be mind numbing at times but sometimes, rarely my student’s unravel strange things about the world with their adventures into the feral jungles of the English language.

The other day I was teaching two university-aged students named Lilly and Frank and towards the end of class after learning how to describe people I ask them to envision and describe their dream husband and wife.

The boy’s usually grin in silence while the girl’s start rattling off lists. Of course, Lilly went first. Ladies always go first in Chinese English class. Frank listened carefully. Lilly’s very attractive. Frank would be lucky to have Lilly. I think Frank secretly likes Lilly.

She started saying things about height and muscles and about how caring and generous he should be. She pontificated (as if she had thought about this question before) about eyes, hair, job, bank account and family and then she paused for a moment caught in the thick underbrush she said, “He should . . . uh . . . uhmm . . . what’s the adjective?”

What’s the adjective? I don’t know Lilly but keep searching.

It’s in these remote canopies that I think about my family and friends back home. I think about funny little things like blazing stars and the mystery of language and why creatures are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside . . . but now I’m thinking about adjectives and why we can’t be all of them.

In scope, I haven’t been doing this for very long but I’ve learnt a few things along the way. For example, it’s very important to look away when a girl’s searching for the proper adjective. It’s only polite . . . you’ve got to give ‘em space.

It’s funny how a glance in the other direction can clear the way. So I looked under the table. The shiny glass balls dotting Lilly’s red shoes were shimmering in defiance against the cancerous glare above. The answers to the universe seemed to be caught somewhere in the flux of those beguiling rays. I couldn’t help but think that Lilly was going to be disappointed by whatever adjective she finally pounded into her sentence. Most women are.

Meanwhile, while Lilly was busy being inarticulate I looked at the other pioneer in the room, Frank. Frank was wondering about what an “adjective” actually was. No matter what it was he desperately wanted to become it. Whatever “adjective” meant it now merited the transformative attention of his cerebral cortex. He was determined to become “adjective” for Lilly’s sake.

Frank has forgotten that he and Lilly are both nouns. Adjectives describe nouns. Frank, the noun, is a cluster of sticky adjectives. Adjectives give expression to Frank’s Frank-ness.

God made Frank and Frank is . . .

Lilly’s answer escapes me now. I’m sure it was rapturous or something like that. But that’s beside the point. What incites me is of another sort. Something in my soul tells me that God made you and you’ve been trying on all sorts of adjectives ever since. My question is, what adjectives are you running to and what adjectives are you running from?

I’ll be a gentleman and look away.