Monday, May 15, 2006

Oddz 'n Endz

Okay, so in the title I've used two bits of english shorthand that actually drive me crazy. See if you can pick them out.

First off, for those of you who don't know, my computer's screen has gone very, very dim. So that's a bit of an inconvenience, but I can eventually get it fixed when I get back home.

I had a lot more to say on that subject, but upon further reflection, it was really boring and not particularly relevant. No need to thank me, just doing my job.

This blog post is going to be a little bit of everything, since I don't really have a unifying theme this time. I know that you're all shocked and apalled at the idea that anything I would write could possibly be rambling and unfocused. Unfortunately the higher-ups here at Barbarian at the Gates Inc. have had their say. (Yes, this is the quality that you have come to expect from me, kind of awkward self-deprecation followed by ripping off stuff Matt Wilson came up with years ago).

Oh, I had presentations a while ago. They were mostly good, but one stood out. The students were doing a presentation about a western weddings (that's weddings that are descended from the European tradition, not those that involve cowboy hats). Anyway, the students doing this presentation wrote some words up on the board that were never mentioned again. These words were:


Okay, so far, so good, that seems pretty normal for a wedding presentation. Let's see what else they have...

"Holy ceremony"

That's a bit weirder.  At no point did I ever use the word "Holy", but oh well, let's see what's next.


Ummm...whoa. I think they're moving a bit too far into the honeymoon territory. I'm just glad they never actually tried to work that word into the presentation.

One last item. The GTCFLA had a school-wide English competition that included singing, poetry, drama, and a whole lot of other things that I didn't particularly care about. As a foreign teacher I was asked to judge the singing competition. The acts were the usual karaoke favorites (featuring two renditions of "My Heart Will Go On")  But, it was all worth it for the....well, words can't quite describe what it was. All I remember is that it involved dancing, and tree people, and a person in a suit that was either a bear or a dog or a monkey depending on who you asked. I have pictures, I'll need to put them up, because what I witnessed defies any attempt to categorize it.  It's what I voted for as the winner.

And that's about it. You know what part of essays I was worst at? The conclusion.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Alright, I know what's going through your head. "He thinks that he can just casually wander back after 2 months, and we'll resume our positions on the edge of our seats. Oh, it won't be that easy. He's going to have to grovel a bit." Hey, you have a right to be angry. I realize that the tales of my exploits are the most entertaining things ever, and that my writing style leaves you breathless and wondering how you could have ever even remotely questioned the existence of a benevolent God. I realize there are those of you who, for lack of anything else in your life, sit and reload my blog page over and over again, hoping that I updated in those critical milliseconds (you don't have to raise your hands, I know who you are). I don't have any excuses really, so I'll just assume that, yes, you will forgive me.

In truth, I'm fairly lazy. Plus, China has become so routine at this point that many things that would have had me rushing to my keyboard barely register now. " of my students is wearing a t-shirt that actually says something sexually explicit. Ho hum." Even if they do show up as a gnat-sized blip on the radar, I tend to forget by the time class is out.

So, now I'm traveling again, which gives me some new perspectives on the country in which I live. And this time, it's the travelers, not the Chinese who are going to e exposed to my rapier wit and razor-sharp tongue. I'm in Chengdu again. It's quite a nice city, and I'm exploring some different parts of it. That's not the point of this, though. I'm staying at a backpacker's hostel, and it's one of those places that so desperately wants to be trendy- it encourages people to write messages on the walls, it provides DVDs, etc.- but the confusing this is that people actually seem to buy into it. One guy has been here for 4 months.

Sorry, got a bit unfocused, it's the travelers here who shall receive my scorn. You see, of all the trendy things I think this hostel is trying to do, it's the forced sense of camaraderie that galls me the most. Listen, just because you're in China and I'm in China doesn't mean that I will like you or want to talk to you. Maybe I'm just in a bad mood because people kept interrupting me while I was in the middle of reading, but the other annoying thing was that every conversation was basically the same. And no matter what, the conversation inevitably turns towards travel oneupsmanship (a game that I've taken to calling "Anywhere you have been I have been better"...and yes, I know that doesn't make sense)

Oh, so you've seen the Great Wall? Well I've been horse-trekking across Mongolia.
You've done the 3 Gorges river cruise? I'm going to cycle all the way to Tibet.
I've been to Vietnam.
I've been to India.
I can pack lighter than you.

They're like more athletic versions of music store geeks, with the constant need to find things more obscure to appreciate more than your average schmoe. People who've only done the big things are met with scorn. I actually took great delight in talking to these people, just because I have the G-bomb. "Oh yeah, I live in Guangzhou". You see, Guangzhou is like the backpacker's kryptonite. It's an ugly city, it's a commercial city, and there's nothing to do for travelers. There are some hills to climb, but that's about it. After I drop the G-bomb, you can see the look of disgust spread across their faces, and they kind of move away from me, lest they contract whatever congenital illness I have that moved me to live in such a deplorable city.

Now, the other problem with travelers in China are the long-term expats. There's an old saying about expats in China, they are one of two things. Either they have rejected the west, or the west has rejected them. The latter are annoyingly abundant. One such guy was Detroit. Detroit wasn't his real name, but you quickly learn to assign diminuitive and dismissive nicknames to people you don't like out here. I call him Detroit just because he couldn't go 4 sentences without referencing the fact that he was from Detroit. I know, I know, and if you call now, you can get my book on coming up with clever ways of referencing people you'll never see again.

Now, I could outline the various and sundry ways in which Detroit was a shrilly annoying waste of space, but he's not really important in and of himself. No, I'm only mentioning him because he represents so many foreigners here in China. I'm sad to say that Americans are particularly poorly represented. This poor representation may be accurate, but it's poor nonetheless.

I don't actually have as much to say on this guy as I thought. I'm actually going to head off for now, but I just thought I'd check back in with all the people out there. Maybe I'll talk about something happier?

Oh yeah, I also saw a baby panda.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

It's been a while....what's new in Guangzhou?

Well, Blog title, I'm glad you asked that. I'm sure that out there somewhere my throngs of admirers have been weeping softly to themselves, crying out in their lonliness and wondering how a month without Ben Gulley posting could possibly exist in a world with a loving and benevolent god. Then they remember that it is often darkest just before dawn, and sure enough the rosy glow of my prose comes peaking over the horizon. Hope is once again restored, like an oasis in the middle of the Sahara. Then everyone realizes that the whole "darkest before dawn" saying isn't's actually significantly lighter right before dawn than it is during the middle of the night. Then comes the awakening comprehension that the "throngs" are actually a handful of my friends and family...and that the "weeping" and "questioning the existence of a loving and benevolent god" is actually a vague, tepid apathy. Then I also realize that I ripped off the opening gag from Matt Wilson.

Just a second, I need my checklist...let's see here...

Self-aggrandizement: check
Self-deprecation: check
Actually saying something of substance and worth:...nuts.

So, I'm back in Guangzhou, and I've settled pretty well back into old routines. Unlike the rest of you, spring has already come to Guangzhou in full force. Unfortunately in Guangzhou, spring is the rainy season. I'm not sure how many of you have actually lived in a place with a proper rainy season, but it's not quite what you imagined. Okay, scratch that, it is what you imagined, it's a season where it rains a lot. What I meant was, it's one thing to know about it academically and quite another to live a life where things are never dry. In the 3 weeks I've been back I've seen the sun maybe twice, and it was really hazy one of those times. Combine that with daily rainfall and a humidity rating that would give a lake a run for it's money, and you've got a recipe for general unhappiness. Especially when you consider that everyone has to hang their clothes out to dry and the fact that I've been wearing damp trousers for the past fortnight.

Another fun harbinger of spring is the condensation on everything. Even when it's not raining, every surface of the school has a layer of mist or dew on it. Fortunately, whoever built the school had the foresight to install extra-slick linoleum everywhere to ensure the maximum amount of slipping and sliding. Going from class to class elevated from kind of boring to deadly in a moment. Apparently this is the sign that spring is here for good.

One last thing before I bow out this time. On my 3rd day back I was sitting in a restaraunt with another teacher here, and I mentioned that I won't have as many stories this time around because I'm much more used to China's insanity. "Oh ho!", thought the suddenly anthropomorphic country, "A challenge!" The next thing I knew, a monk had walked in and approached my table. He put a pamphlet down and started talking to me very quickly (whatever it was, he was trying to sell me something for 180 yuan...that much I understood). After a while I just said, "Ting bu dong," which means, "I don't understand". I repeated this while he continued talking to me, and after 5 minutes he finally accepted the limits of my language ability. But, if you can say one thing about this monk, he was persistant. Undaunted by the language barrier, he abandoned his native tongue for pantomime. And the pantomime consisted of:
a). Touching my kidney.
b). Pointing at my crotch
c). Giving me a thumbs up.
So, imagine a monk repeating these three gestures over and over, with the crotch point (already too close for comfort) getting dangerously closer each time. I reiterated my previous not-understanding point over and over, but he could tell I was scared. The blood was already in the water and I was chum. Finally the owners of the establishment chased him out and the meal continued in peace. Never before have I been so curious and yet so afraid of what someone has said to me.

So yeah, China: 1, Ben: 0

At least my crotch is apparently a-okay.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A little bit of this and that

Alright, so it's been a few weeks since my last entry, and I'm currently back stateside for about a month. But first, let's get into some madcap, belated holiday wackiness.

First of all, I suspect that one of the prior teachers at the school was a Christian with slightly more missionary leanings than I'm used to. I came to this conclusion when, upon asking my students what they knew about Christmas, they would all respond, "Christmas is a joyous celebration of the miraculous birth of our savior Jesus Christ." It wasn't just the fact that each class (10 classes of 30 each) would respond this same way, it's that they would chant it robotically in unison. I assume that the intended effect of teaching this to the students would be to share in some of the hope and sense of wonder that is a longstanding part of the Christian tradition. What it actually accomplished (at least on my end of things) was a knee-jerk reaction of "Augh! Creepy death cult!" Again, it wasn't what they said, it was how they said it. The monotone, completely lifeless chant seemed more applicable to saying, "Soon you will join us in the sweet sleep of death," or something equally gothy. It definitely didn't put me in the Christmas Spirit.

Either way, the students obviously haven't learned anything else about Christmas. I say this, because there's a fairly widespread misconception that Santa Claus is the father of Jesus ("In the beginning, Santa created Heaven and Earth"). Now, I'm going to jump to some conclusions, and assume that after the person who taught them the Jesus-chant, they were taught by a British person who told them that Santa Claus was also called Father Christmas. So, when you know about Christmas being a celebration of the birth of Jesus and this other guy known as Father Christmas, it would make sense to put those things together. I have no idea if this is true, but it makes sense, at least.

I ended up getting invited to another party, which was fun, and as a bonus I was asked more than the same 4 questions I normally get ("Where are you from? How long have you been here? What do you think of China? Can you use chopsticks?")  Here was the one main extra question I got asked:

"What can I do to improve my oral english?"
This is a question that makes complete sense. They're all studying english, so they want to know how to speak better. Unfortunately, whenever I respond with, "Practice as much as possible, even if it means using DVDs.", they all give me the look. Yes, the look that says, "You know the real secrets to fluency in english and you won't tell me...very well, but know that when I master your pathetic language I will use its scathing rhetoric to obliterate your puny mind." I try to give them other bits of advice, like how to improve listening skills, but every student thus far has been unsatisfied with my answer. I've taken to just making things up on the spot just to get them off my case. "Oh, you want to be better at oral english? Well, here's what you do. Take the blood of a black cat that died on a Sunday, and then during a new moon you'll need to find a willow tree. Spread the blood around the base of the tree at midnight, and then walk around it 5 times counter-clockwise while knocking on the wood. Next a leprechaun will come out of the roots, and he'll offer you a prize. Don't accept it, and then he'll ask you a riddle. Answer the riddle and he'll open the doors to the fairy lands. In those lands shall you find your english skills."

Hmmmm...that was a bit of a long aside to talk about the party I attended. Anyway, I was at the party, and they were asking the standard questions. After 3 hours of revelry, I decided I wanted to go home, and I'm still unclear as to the etiquette of ducking out of a Chinese gathering, so I made the quick excuse that it was my father's birthday, and I needed to call him (it was actually the day after, and I'd already called Tad). Before I left, they insisted on singing Happy Birthday. Not only that, but they got confused a lot, and thus half of them sang "Happy Birthday, Ben's father" while the other half sang, "Happy Birthday, dear Ben". So anyway, Tad, it's a little late, but class 16 wishes you a happy birthday.

This is long enough for now, and I haven't even gotten to Christmas in Hong Kong. Anyway, I'm home for now. And I really don't know how to end this post.

It's true, I got nothin'.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Chinese kids say the darndest things part 372,925

Most of my students are excellent. They're motivated, friendly, energetic, and in all honesty a monkey could teach these kids. Thankfully though, this doesn't stop them from occasionally saying funny things.

First of all, I had another t-shirt sighting that's even more puzzling than Candy Stripper. A different student's clothing was emblazoned with the slogan "Sex, Bananas, and Rock & Roll". Now, bear in mind that my own experience with rocking is admittedly limited (I've watched This is Spinal Tap a few times), so it hardly qualifies me as an expert in the field of Rock & Roll. Heck, I'm not even a student intern in the field of Rock & Roll, but I could tell you that of the three things on that girl's shirt, one didn't fit. That's not to say that bananas don't have their place in the Rock pantheon (I mean, just look at Keith Richards...that's a man who could go for a good banana), but I vaguely remember hearing a different word used. Maybe I'm just crazy.

In another one of my classes, the most oft-shouted English sentence was "Come on baby, don't be shy". Before you make any snap judgements, three things for your consideration- a). They would say it at random and not direct it at anyone in particular, b). I did not teach them that expression, and c). this is an all-girl class. I'm not sure if they fully understood the implications of what they were saying, but it didn't seem like the best time to launch into an impromptu lesson about context, subtext, and sexual harrassment. I settled for simply telling them they probably shouldn't continue to say it.

Then came Wolf. Yes, a kid named himself Wolf, and no, he's not 8 years old. Wolf is a first year student and he's...weird. Friendly, enthusiastic, and very weird. When he talks, he gestures a lot with his hands, but his middle finger is always extended. I've told him repeatedly about this, but it hasn't seemed to change anything. Anyway, he's a nice kid, just weird (in case you didn't get it the first two times I used that word.)

So, in class today we were talking about what people would give out as Christmas presents if they were independently wealthy. Most people would say a few quick words about buying nice things for their parents and friends, but not Wolf. No, Wolf took it upon himself to talk for at least 4 straight minutes about the Christmas presents he would give. I lost track of his stream-of-consciousness diatribe about 30 seconds in, and so just nodded my head along.

He opened up by talking about how he'd give letters to the leaders of Taiwan and remind them that they are part of China and that they are all yellow people (his words, not mine) and they should be working together and then there was a lot more stuff, but I didn't hear it because I was literally biting my lip. The next thing I managed to hear partially involved something about sharing girlfriends with other people. If this paragraph has thus far seemed rambling and incoherent, that's only because the source material was. As his speech progressed, it got increasingly jingoistic and violent. By the end, his Christmas gift was going to be three bombs, one for Bush, one for Chen Shui-bian (President of Taiwan), and one for Junichiro Koizumi (Prime Minister of Japan). He said that if these three people were killed, there would be World Peace. It was at that point that I experienced the verbal logjam, I had so many things that I wanted to say that they all got stuck and I ended up being silent. I nodded, I think. And then I went on to the next person. They wanted to buy their father a car.

So, what have I learned? I've learned that the true Axis of Evil is America, Taiwan, and Japan. I've also learned.......ummm....pretty much nothing else. Anyway, I'm off for now, I have more to talk about later, but in the meantime there's a band playing this weekend and I've heard that their bassist can hook us up with a sweet load of bananas.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Classroom Predicitons

So, in my most recent week of classes I was teaching the students a lesson about making predictions, where they would work in pairs and one student would make a prediction and the other one would refute it. I got some pretty...interesting results. There were the students who hadn't been listening and didn't know what a prediction was, but there were also some that left me a bit speechless.

One was a pair of girls, and one of them made the prediction "I think I'll be president of the United States one day". To refute, the other said, "But you are not white person, you are yellow person". I tried to explain that your race isn't a legal impediment to your ability to be the president (note I just said "legal", I wasn't about to try and talk socio-economic race politics in America with my students), but I'm not sure they got it.

The next one was special. There's the long version and the short version. Short version: two students very clumsily used an english prediction excersise to re-enact the Annunciation. Long version: The first girl predicts that the second girl is pregnant. The second girl protests, claiming that she's not married (they don't actually know the word "virgin", so not being married is the closest they can do). The first girl then explains that the 2nd is carrying the Son of God, and I quote, "You will have the Son of God and his name will be....will be....[long awkward pause]....Jew." Normally, when students are through presenting, I'll say things like, "Good job," but this time...this time I couldn't really think of anything to say.

At least they had this little presentation during Advent.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Brief Update

As is the human tendency, I haven't found too much in the past few weeks worthy of note. Teaching English in China has become routine. Now, I realize that I have family members and friends reading this, and I try to keep the ol' blog PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned, may contain some scenes that are inappropriate for small children), but there are times when the sheer vastness that is China can only be properly expressed through somewhat coarser language. So here's a few ways that Cathay has managed to blindside tackle me and reassert itself as a place that is, to quote the parlance of our times, damned insane. Here are a few examples.

A girl in one of my classes was wearing a sweatshirt that said "Candy Stripper" in big, colorful letters. The court that is known as Ben's common sense convened for the case of Letting A Girl Go On Wearing That Shirt v. A Very Potentially Awkward Conversation Involving Pantomimes That Would Destroy The Dignity Of All Involved. Both sides offered good points, but ultimately things erred on the side of keeping my mouth shut after a stunning oratory from the part of my brain that likes to take the easy way out of things.

I was invited to a party being thrown by my Business English students. Now, I assumed that it would be a normal party, I could show up, say hello, have some punch and leave. How wrong I was. "Party" here is apparently interchangeable for "Talent Show". And once again, I was given the guest of honor seat, front and center. There was dancing, singing, and short comedy sketches. I can't honestly tell you too much about it, because I really, really had to pee the whole time, but I didn't want to miss anyone's bit.  It did mean that the experience wasn't what I'd call "fun."

Finally, this week I was teaching basic Western manners, topics ranging from, "Don't talk about people's age or weight" all the way to, "if there's a line, stand in it". Anyway, I was telling them that if you really want to be polite, no matter what happens you stay calm and nice and never show that you're shocked or offended. Then later on, the class asked me if I enjoyed their performance from the night before. I said, "Oh, it was great." One girl in the class raised her hand and asked me if I was just saying that to be polite. The first thing to cross my mind was "She's too smart for her own good." I was able to tell her, "Of course I'm being sincere this time!". Then I changed the subject.

I hereby vow to never teach them anything they can use against me again.

Monday, November 07, 2005


I don't know how to do any of this html mumbo-jumbo, but here are the pictures I promised. Now you can know what my dwelling and workplace look like.

Here's an exterior shot of my Apartment building, I'm in the bottom floor, closest to the camera.

Here's the school. The building on the left is for classrooms and the building on the right is offices.

The Gym/Meeting Hall

Interior of the office building from the 12th floor.

The Tianhe district of Guangzhou, as seen from the 12th floor of the office building.

The Foreign Affairs office

Alice (one of my bosses)

Now, my school is fairly modern and clean. Don't let that fool you. Here are some pictures of outside the school gate.

Here are some of the other teachers, Hannah, Leslie, and Helen. Hannah, incidentally, was the one who got attacked (she's fine now).

Alright, so next time I'll have some of my Yangshuo pictures up, too. Until next time, mis amigos.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Gone to war

So, I haven't updated in a while. There have been things to say, but not a lot of time. The whole thing about police boats I alluded to last time? Not really an interesting story. Seriously, what actually happened can't be half as interesting as what any of you THINK happened.

The last thing I'd like to mention about my vacation in Yangshuo....which was 3 weeks ago now, is that the sleeper bus on the way back was one of the more unpleasant experiences of my life. And know that I've seen a few excerpts from the movie Pearl Harbor. Anyway, we bought our tickets from a travel agent a few days in advance...but what we didn't realize is that we apparently didn't have guaranteed seats. There was a big crowded rush to get on the bus, and normally I ignore this. Chinese people crowd everywhere. If there's nothing else to do, they'll crowd. This happens at the train station, at bus stops...pretty much anywhere, even in places with assigned seats. So in this case I decided to hang back and get on the bus at a leisurly pace. Unfortunately it turned out that they'd oversold this particular bus, and so I didn't get a seat so much as a place on the aisle in between two seats. I think this was punishment for wondering earlier if it was possible to make the sleeper bus seats more uncomfortable.

Since then, it's been class as normal. Oh, and one of the other foreign teachers got mugged and cut pretty badly, but everythings fine now.

For the past week, my classes have been giving presentations, and some of them have been pretty good. One class had to come up with some kind of advertisement, and so the used the sinking of the Titanic to advertise a mobile phone (the message was bascially, "If you used our mobile phone service, then you could have joined your family safely in a life raft instead of futilely searching for them in the cargo holds and thus drowning cold and alone.") Others were blatantly plagiarized, as they could not actually tell me the meaning of half the words they used. The best example of that was a group that, instead of a script they wrote, handed in a photo-copied script from a book. What's more, one of the group members didn't even say anything (and the most important rule I wrote down and repeated many times was "Everyone in the group must talk"). So now I have to figure out a way to give this girl double zeroes.

Finally, I come to what I intended to be the actual subject of this entry, war. Yes, last night I went to war. For as long as I've been here, I've held a tenuous peace with the mosquitoes that inhabit my apartment. I usually only got one bite every few days, and as a result I maintained a "live and let live" policy with them. But last night, they just couldn't leave well enough alone. First they would buzz in my ear each and every time I was about to fall asleep. Then I noticed, within the span of about a half an hour no fewer than 8 new bites. So, at 3 this morning, I set out to kill as many as I could, only to realize just how many of them there were. 17 dead mosquitoes later, I still couldn't see an end to them, because they would only come out 2 at a time. The situation looked hopeless until I remembered that I actually have a mosquito net over my bed, and I'd just never really used it. Despite the embarassment, I went ahead and chalked that one up as a victory for humanity.

So there you have it. I've listened to presentations and managed to outsmart some insects. I've made all of you proud.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I'm gonna be a part of it....Yangshou, Yangshuo

First of all, I'd like to warn any of the weak of heart away from this entry as it contains mature content. And by that I mean talking general scatalogical disucssions.

You've been warned.

So, I've been out of contact for a while because I've been in Yangshuo. It's near Guilin. Yes, THAT Guilin. Impressed, no? Once again, I will try to spare you the boring point-by-point itenerary.

Yangshuo and Guilin are famed for their scenery, and I have to admit that it didn't disappoint. You know the traditional Chinese landscape paintings? It actually looks like that in Yangshuo. They have many natural parks filled with pristine walking paths under the wonderful peaks, and the whole thing is quite serene. What wasn't so serene were gastro-intestinal escapades in the park's public toilet under the wonderful peaks. There's a reason they don't show that part in the traditional Chinese landscape paintings, as it does tend to spoil the mood.

Now, just for a brief explanation of Chinese toilets. For those of you uninitiated, Chinese conceptions of toilets are quite different from ours. From my travels, I've seen pretty much every type, and all of them fall under the category of "squat pots". Others are more like troughs, with a stream of water flowing through. The last variety are the simple holes in the ground. Needless to say, they all tend to run in varying degrees of unpleasantness. Chinese people will often try to argue that Chinese toilets are more sanitary as your posterior never actually touches porcelain. I dispute the "more sanitary" claim by pointing out that people can, and frequently do, miss. This makes bathroom experiences significantly more unpleasant than normal.

This toilet side-note basically exists to frame the hotel where I stayed in Yangshuo. It was only 25 yuan a night (about $3) and it was worth every penny. Everything from no air-conditioning to bug infestations plagued my nights there, but the real kicker was the shower. There was a public bathroom (just two stalls with squat-pots), but we couldn't find the shower. What we had, instead, was a bucket. If we wanted bodily cleansing, then we should fill the bucket with water, stand in the stall, poor it over ourselves, lather, and rinse again from the bucket. Normally this wasn't actually too bad, but we did have to stand in the stalls....and like I said before sometimes people miss.

The less said on this subject, the better.

So, I'm trying to think of non-restroom highlights of the trip. I went into a cave. That was fun, except that being 6' 5" and relatively inflexible don't really put me in the group of people best suited for moving through cramped spaces. I was also the only laowai in the group, and if you're the only laowai in a group of Chinese people you get to be part of a fun game called "Stupid Foreigner". It involves everyone closely observing everything you do, laughing when anything happens, and occasionally throwing in some middle school English.

Another annoying thing about Yangshuo was that no matter where you went, people would try to sell you something. I hiked up a mountain, and a lady with a cooler strapped to her back hiked right up with me, trying to sell me water, cola, beer, or post cards all the way up.

The other interesting thing about the tourist shops were the shirts they sold. Obviously they had people who could make custom t-shirts, so you could get Michael Jordan, Yao Ming, Tony Blair, pretty much anyone on a t-shirt. I spotted, and this is by no means a definitive list: Saddam Hussein (pre and post capture), Osama Bin Laden, and Wen Jiabao (China's Premier) all together. What kind of message are they trying to send? The wierdest shirt I saw consisted of a very simple drawing of a cartoonish, buck-toothed coolie straight out of a 19th Century political cartoon. This was being sold in the heart of China.

I'm going to wrap this up for now, but I'll finish talking about it later. The next installment involves wacky adventures at a youth hostel as well as incidents with police boats. Be sure to tune in!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Hong Kong Post

I spent the last weekend in Hong Kong, so I have quite a bit to say. I'm not sure if this update will actually be any longer, because I'm not going to subject everyone to a play-by-play recount of my itenerary, just the interesting parts.

First off, one of the foreign teachers here (Isobel from Scotland) has family in Hong Kong (specifically in the north of Kowloon), so we stayed there. All I can really say about that was that her grandparents were both awesome. They represent a specific type of the Asian Elderly, the kind who laugh all the time at everything. Being that they are from Hong Kong, they spoke only Cantonese, and I've only studied Mandarin, so communication was a bit difficult. And when I say they laughed at everything, I mean everything. It wasn't just at me either, they laughed when interacting with everyone.

Here's a typical conversation:

Isobel's Grandmother: [mumbling in Cantonese followed by a cackle]
Me: [nod]
Isobel's Grandmother: [more cackling]

Also, on the way to Hong Kong island we happened to pass the Hong Kong Avenue of Stars. It's basically the same as the one in Hollywood, except with names and handprints of members of the Hong Kong cinema industry. I myself am never one for traditional touristy photos, and I would never want a picture taken of me with any of the bits of cement in LA, but for some reason when you throw on the name "Wong Kar Wai" or "Tony Leung" on one of those stars, I'm all about it. On a similar note, for the first time in my life, I got to see a new Jackie Chan movie in the theaters, but I'm pretty sure that's a geekdom in which not too many other people share my excitement.

One of the nice things about the day was the temperature. Normally at this time of year, most of Southeast China is still like a broiler, but on Saturday in Hong Kong there was a class 3 typhoon warning in effect. There was only a little bit of rain, though, and the relative coolness was worth the lack of sunshine.

On Sunday morning we also went out for dim sum (or yam cha as it's known in Cantonese). If you haven't tried it, I suggest you do. I won't actually talk much about the actual dim sum on Sunday (it was very good, and thus kind of boring as a story), but I will use this to segue on Guangdong eating habits, and some Chinese eating habits in general.

People in Guangdong take food very seriously, and when people have a meal they are supposed to enjoy themselves. Thus there are very few actual rules regarding table manners. Elbows on the table, chewing with your mouth open, talking with your mouth full, spilling things, this list goes on and the sky's the limit. If the restaraunt doesn't have to bleach it's tablecloths after your visit, then you obviously weren't enjoying your food enough. Now, I say this, because the first thing everybody does after the meal is to get toothpicks and very demurely pick their teeth behind a cupped hand. Why? I already saw everything else you have pertaining to the entry-end of your digestive system. You'd figure they'd work more on not belching out loud during dinner, but no, the only focus on politeness comes when they pick their teeth.

Okay, so that's it for this time. I guess I could also mention that I got a computer while in Hong Kong, but again, not that interesting. Be sure to tune in next time, loyal readers. Same Ben-Time, same Ben-Channel.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

More Weird Names and Vacation Fun

So, I'm finally through with my introductory classes. I had two sections of 1st Year Business English, and they only just got through with their military training. That's right, every freshman in China has to have a week of military training before college.So anyway, this means I get some more funny names!

and...three more Cherry's

On another note, in a week I'll be leaving on my National Day vacation, heading to Guilin. I get a week off for travel, but I have to be back on Saturday the 8th. Why? So that I can make up classes that will be missed. It seems to me like they haven't quite grasped the concept of a "vacation". I mean, they have a vague idea, but they haven't actually grokked it. The other odd thing is that I'll only be making up my Thursday and Friday classes, which is even more baffling. What's wrong with Tuesday and Wednesday classes? Are they so hopelessly behind that even a make up class won't help them? I think this just qualifies as one of those things that I can't quite figure out about this place.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Classroom stuff and the Moon Festival

Alright, so there's actually things to report this time around.

Here are some of the highlights of my class periods:

I had a girl tell me that I was too emotional. What tipped her off? The fact that I laughed. Out loud. Yeah, I know, I know. The first step is admitting that I have a problem.

As part of a conversation exercise about giving excuses, I had a girl ask me to a dance. When I explained that I had a girlfriend, her response was "I can keep a secret." Tali, feel free to come and give her what for.

Anyway, this past weekend was the mid-autumn festival where you eat mooncakes and look at the moon. I'm still not sure why they do this. I asked every single one of my classes, and they would always respond with what they did. "Oh, we spend time with our families and eat moon cakes and watch the moon," they'll say. I'd press them further, asking when people started doing this and for what purpose. It's not that I have anything against admiring the moon, but why choose this day? And why call it the "mid-autumn" festival when it's still summer? Alas, such things may remain a mystery. One word on mooncakes themselves: they are kin to fruitcakes in the West, in the sense that nobody wants them, but everybody gives them. The unfortunate part is that they're much smaller, so you end up with many more of them. I've got a small pile that I don't know what to do with.

Other parts of the weekend involved teaching the students "Cancion del Mariachi," as well as listening to the Backstreet Boys sung in broken English. Truly they have created the most wonderful of holidays!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

More Classroom Weirdness

I have some other things to report, but I also have to meet up with my supervisor in a few minutes. This one will be brief.

Today a student asked me if I hated black people.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

One other note

One thing I think I should mention briefly. I don't want this blog to give people a skewed view of life in China. I'm really enjoying my time here, but unfortunately good news just isn't as interesting as bad news.

For example:

On Thursday we had an opening banquet and it was really good.

On Friday I mentally ran through the various ways in which I could use my keys and a bit of paper in my pocket to commit suicide so that I could taste sweet oblivion and escape the mindless prattle of a Party member's speech.

So yes, I am enjoying myself, but I made a promise that I would only report on the more interesting aspects of this place.

Happy Teacher's Day

So, it's National Teacher's Day in China. It doesn't actually mean much, except for the fact that I get wished "Happy Teacher's Day" now. As a reward, I got a small bonus and I was invited to a special assembly to thank all the teachers at the school.

Before I go on, let me establish one simple thing. The assembly started at 1:00 and ended at 4:00.

Unfortunately, I wasn't told that there would be a high ranking member of the Guangdong Communist Party attending. I assume that these party members actually do something at some point, but every time I see them they make very very very very very long-winded speeches. This meeting was no exception, as the first half-hour of the time consisted of awards being given to exceptional teachers and the rest of it was basically Mr. Li talking. In Chinese.

If this is how they thank teachers here, I sure as hell don't want to see how they punish them.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


So, I've had all my classes for the week save for 2. The one thing I'll mention now is that every student takes an english name, and there are some weird ones.

I have at least 5 students named Cherry (which I originally wrote down as Shelly or Sherry). Vivy and Eva also seem to be very popular. Anyway, onto the weird names...

Denise (it wasn't a weird name, but she pronounced it "Dennis")
Moonlit Franco without the R
Shadow (I have 2 of these)
Sky (3 of these)
And my personal favorite thus far...

I love this country, sometimes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Guangzhou Traffic

I have my first official meeting with my superiors later today, so that should be good for some blog fodder, but until then I'd like to take some time to talk about the traffic here in Guangzhou. I've heard people complain about traffic in pretty much every American city, but believe when I say that you have it soft.

To begin with, there aren't really lanes in Guangzhou. Oh, they have yellow lines painted on the road, but they aren't lanes, merely a suggestion of lanes. "Hey," the line will say, "why don't you follow the path I've set out? don't want to? That's cool too." It's like making the captain of the chess club a hall monitor in San Quentin Prison, they just don't quite have the gall to actually get anyone to listen. Even the lauded middle line fails in its duty.

"Alright, you are not allowed to cross me, and I mean it!," the middle line shouts impotently as my taxi barrels into on-coming traffic, in part to pass a slow-moving bus in front of us, in part to avoid the guy from on-coming traffic who had swerved into our lane. I gripped the dashboard white-knuckled, but the driver seemed relatively unfazed.

The concept that streets are for vehicles and sidewalks are for pedestrians is another traditional western traffic sacrement that Guangzhou loves to violate. As I was walking down to a bookstore, I hear a loud honking coming from behind and leap out of the way of a speeding motorbike. I would have found this odd if it weren't for the fact that I'd earlier that day had to avoid a taxi that was careening down the sidewalk.

I think I'll stick with the bus.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Chinese Medicine and Top 10 lists

For those of you reading this that don't know me, I'm actually quite boring. I've been in China for almost a week now, and I have spent most of my time here reading, writing letters, and sleeping off my jet lag. If possible, this is basically how I would spend my life regardless of where I live.

So, I will recount for a bit the one actual interesting thing that happened. My work permit (necessary for me to get my work visa) was late, and thus I had to enter China without the Z-visa. The long and short of this is that I have to go through many bureaucratic hoops to get one now that I'm here. The first of these hoops occurred yesterday as I went in for my physical. I know that the title of the post said "Chinese Medicine" but it wasn't traditional Chinese medicine. No, I went to a sleek, modern hospital for foreigners, and thus went through the physical assembly line. I was corralled down a corridor and deposited in various rooms along the way where I was weighed, measured, tested, poked, prodded, and generally manhandled. It felt like a Rube Goldberg cartoon charicature of a factory, and I was the product being assembled. I had both my passport and my physical form (which contained another passport picture). At every step along the way, a nurse would scrutinize these pictures, looking first at my form, then at my passport, then at me. I eventually began to time these, and the record was for the woman who took 3 minutes and 26 seconds to determine that I was, in fact, Ben Gulley and not a fraud. Another notable stop along the way was the chest x-ray room, where the doctor positioned my hands on my hips, and then just kept manually moving my hips around until they were apparently right. The final point of interest was a simple examination room where I was led. A doctor there gestured to the bed, and I lay down on it. He shook his head and mumbled something unintelligible. I sat up. He again shook his head and mumbled. I started to lie down again, only to be met with another head shake. I sat up and he began moving my legs, which was a little weird. I finally figured out that he wanted me to lie down, but to take my shoes off first. I think. All I know is that taking my shoes off and lying down got me another mumble, but without the head-shaking. It was at that point where a sign on the wall helpfully informed me that there would be genital examination, and you can't imagine what that did for my mood. Fortunately, that part didn't come (although I have to say the Chinese are falling down on national security by allowing possibly defective genitals in their country).

The whole affair only lasted about 20 minutes, at least 10 of which involved me sitting there while people tried to figure out if I was the guy in the passport photo. All in all, time well spent.

Friday, August 26, 2005

I thought that I would have to wait until classes started before I would get anything really worth mentioning, but no, China decided to be upfront with its weirdness. My phone rings in the apartment, and an unidentified man on the other end asks for "Sophie". Apparently he was wondering if she wanted to do any voice work. I explain that I am not Sophie and that no one of that name lives here. My best guess is that Sophie is the English teacher who lived in my flat before. Anyway, the man, who never tells me his name goes on to ask if I am a new English teacher. I explain that I am, and we have a little chat, him asking me things and me lying.

Him: How many teachers are there now? Have you met any of them?
Me: I don't know, I just got here and haven't met them.
[there are 10 of us, and I've met 4 thus far]
Him: Do you know your schedule? Would you like another teaching job?
Me: I don't know my schedule, I'll have to get back to you.
[I don't actually know my schedule, but our contracts pretty explicitly state that we shouldn't have outside jobs]

Then the already strange conversation took a complete left turn. My answers to him this time around are completely true.

Him: Are you white?
Me: Ummm....yes
Him: Would you be interested in modeling for commercials?
Me: No.

The conversation went on a while longer and basically consisted of me saying in various degrees of politeness that I didn't want to be a model. In some ways I regret telling him that I was white. Maybe I should have agreed just to see the advertising campaign fail. Seriously, I can't imagine that my being white is enough to endear me in the hearts of Chinese consumers, as I'm also ugly. Maybe he wanted me to endorse Big Clumsy Lao Wai Cereal or something.

Throughout the entire conversation, he never told me his name.

There you have it, when I woke up this morning, I had no idea that I would be offered a modeling job. I don't think I'll ever understand this place.

Welcome to my China blog

Dear Family member/friend/acquaintence,

I am very, very lazy. I will be up front with this. That is why I have created my China blog, so I don't have to keep sending all of you long e-mail updates. Now the burden falls upon all of you to keep up with me. If you don't get news about my goings on, it's not my fault.

I'll try to avoid boring point-by-point recounts of my days and only stick to the interesting stuff. If you are the kind of person who wants the boring point-by-point recounts, drop me an e-mail at

That is all for now. I'll be updating with something substantial sometime.