Very Superstitious. Writing's On The Wall.

A few days ago my friends and I were at the gym getting in our last workout before we take off for the Tiger Leaping Gorge. We stood around, flexed for the mirror, and talking about our respective plans for the future. We'd stop every so often and go do another lift. I'd gotten to the gym first, so I was done first. I messed with the other guys while they were trying to finish their workouts. Dan was trying to do some nearly vertical sit-ups. I put my finger on his forehead and pushed him every time he tried to come up. Henry found some little two pound weights and started setting them on Dan's chest when he came up.

While we were finishing up, Jackie came into the room. The gym is virtually empty now that all the students have gone home for spring holiday. There isn't anybody around who needs help with training so Jackie has two options: sit in his office, or come talk to us.

"So," he said. "Where are you going?"

It took us a minute to process that he meant for vacation.

"We're going to go to the Tiger Leaping Gorge," Dan told him.

"Ah, very beautiful. Be safe," he told us. "What are your years?" he asked. He was referring to the years of the Chinese calendar, like pig, rabbit, tiger, and the like.

"I'm a Tiger," I told him.

"Rabbit," Dan said.

"Dragon or pig, I can't remeber," said Henry.

"Oh, you must be very careful," Jackie said, looking at me and Dan.

Right now it's the year of the tiger in China. Chinese new year is on February the third, and after that it will be the year of the Rabbit. (I think it changes every year because of the lunar calendar the Chinese use) From what I've heard, it's bad luck for it to be your year. I still haven't figured out why.

"Yeah," I said. "I've heard it's bad if it's your year. We figure that I'm going to slip and fall down into the gorge and that Dan will die in a plane crash on the way back from the trip." Henry and Dan chuckled, but Jackie remained somewhat serious.

"In Hunan province this year there is a story; three police man died. They go to pull over a car. The men they pull over were very bad, and had guns. They turn around when policemen behind them like this, and bang,bang bang to the police car. Three out of the four policemen died. The first one born in 1972, and the other two born in 1986."

"They were all tigers," I said, knowing my own birth year.

"Yes. The policeman who got away, he was not a tiger, so he was safe."

We made a few more jokes about how Dan and I were going die tragically on the trip, when Jackie broke in again.

"Ah, but there is a way to protect from bad luck."

"Oh?" I said.

"In your country you have superman? What you call these? He wear them here." He pointed down to his hips.


"Yes. Like superman, you need to get these. Red ones will protect you from the bad luck."

I've talked to some of my students about this. You'll notice that during Chinese holidays red comes out everywhere. Red is also a popular color on old buildings and in certain social situations. There is an old story that in ancient China there was a town that was plagued by a powerful monster or evil spirit. To frighten the monster away the townspeople hung red paper on their gate which protected them from the monster. That is why red is considered to be a protective color, and a color of good fortune.

Lesson learned:

Remember horror movie fans. If you're ever chased down by some slathering, mewling horror from the black gulfs between space and time, you just need to whip down your trousers and flash him with your red underpants.

Welp, I've got to go. It's 5:07 on Sunday afternoon here in China. Henry, Dan, and I are leaving for the airport at six. We'll be on our plane at around ten. I've packed my I pod and a few books for the trip. I'm going to spend the next week and a half hiking through the Tiger Leaping Gorge, and hopefully visiting Shangri La. I'll not be back till sometime in early February, so I'll catch you all then.


Don't Worry, I Know A Guy

If you spend any length of time in China, there is one fact of life that you'll quickly pick up on: China is a land of relationships. Credentials are nice, but the Chinese don't care what degree you've got or what company you're the head of, if they don't know you, they won't deal with you. If you want to get anything done, you've got to know a guy.

Daniel and I were at the gym the other day, standing around in our rather thin fall jackets. Winter is coming on in earnest here in China, and very few buildings have central heating. Needless to say we were shivering, and lamenting our lack of winter wear. (I may have packed one of my bags full of books when I moved over here rather than warm winter jackets and hats.) We were about to go back to our workouts when Jackie Chan, the gym's owner and fitness guru walked in sporting a brand new winter jacket. Drawn like boyscouts to a campfire, we crowded around Jackie with a group of Chinese people to marvel at his new coat.

"Holy crap," Dan said. "That's made by Arc-teryx."

"Yeah? So?" You'd think I'd know more about outdoor equipment brands considering all the camping I've done.

"Those things are really expensive at home. Like two to six hundred dollars."

Two to six hundred dollars is a lot of money in the States, but it's nothing compared to how much that sort of money is worth here. I don't even make a full six hundred in a month.

After some of the other people cleared out we asked Jackie about his new coat; it was obvious he wanted to show it off. Chinese people love to have the best cloths and to let other people know they've got the best cloths.

"You like it?" He looked down at himself and turned back and forth a bit. "I got it from a friend at good price," he told us. "Three hundred fifty yuan."

That's about fifty dollars.

For the last several weeks we've been planning a trip to a place in the south of China called Tiger Leaping Gorge. It may be in the south, but a lot of the terrain we'll be walking through is up in the mountains where it will be cold. None of us have the equipment we'll need, and we've been talking about how we might go about getting it. We've been looking at coat prices for a while, and you can't even get cheap coats for that price.

"Ah," Daniel said. "That is a very good price." (Daniel assumes his "talking with Chinese people" voice. It's very clear, and a little slower.) "We," he points at the two of us, "have been thinking about winter coats like that one. We don't have coats yet and it is getting very cold outside."

Another pointer for dealing with Chinese people. Chinese people speak in implication; many do not say what they are really thinking outright. I think it's considered a bit boorish. We, as foreigners aren't that good at implication yet, but we're getting better. Notice how we didn't ask him if he could help us out. You imply that you would like help rather than asking for it, as a refusal would cause you to loose face.

But Jackie, being Jackie, wouldn't refuse us help.

"Ah," he told us. "I will bring you to my friend. Maybe I could take you sometime..."

We were all over that.

The next week we met him at the gym. We waited for a while, letting him finish up some last minute errands before we went down and piled into his little white car. I had to control my laughter when I saw the interior seat covers, Micky and Mini mouse. Very Jackie. Soon we were out on the street heading into Hankou, a subsector of Wuhan.

"Chinese driver... many bad habit..." Jackie told us.

"The always do this...." He held up as hand as if to smoke.

"And this," he said while he mimed talking on a cell phone.

"And this..." He stuck some imaginary food in his mouth. With his imaginary third arm.

"Don't worry, you be okay. I have good habit."

I think he knows westerners are a bit afraid of Chinese drivers.

A while later he pulled the car up and parked along a street lined with food shops.

"First, we eat."

Jackie treated Daniel and I to what he called a "Wuhan breakfast". This consisted of some amazing fried bread and a cup of dumpling like things called Tsao Mai. It's a dumpling about the size of your palm filled with a rice/meat sauce. The closest thing I can compare the filling to is beef straugenove (spelling?) The sauce was increadibly sticky, and I was afraid that if I let the things cool off they'd turn into little cement balls.

"The breakfast of the emperor," Jackie told us. "Only rich people eat these in the ancient China."

After breakfast we drove further into Hankou's back streets where the traffic became thick and congested. Eventually we pulled up on a street corner and got out. Jackie led us into what looked like a computer store. Imagine a massive rectangular room filled with desks pilled high with new or salvaged computer equipment. I have no doubt Steven is salavating while reading this. Dark booths lined the walls around the central area and it seemed like you could buy anything. Anything computer related anyway.

"Okay, wait here a moment." Jackie stalked off to a nearby booth and spoke to a person for a few moments. Then he moved to another booth and spoke again. He led us to several other booths deeper in the store where he spoke to a few more people.

"Okay, this way," he told us.

In the back of the store there was a doorway covered in those clear plastic flaps they normally hang over the back warehouses in stores. The sort of flaps that say without saying "employees only." Jackie, heedless, went right on through them. Daniel and I followed, like the two Spaniards on the heels of Indiana Jones in Raiders.

Jackie led us up a fight of stairs and out onto an open air hallway on the back side of the second floor. We could see other parts of the dense city around us, and have clambered out onto the roof of the adjacent building if we'd wished. Eventually we arrived at a set of rooms. Inside, the rooms were filled with boxes and a Chinese man sat on a chair next to the door. He and Jackie greeted each other when they met.

"This is my friend," Jackie said. "The price he give me will be the price he give for you."

When we reached the back room, Daniel and I stood gawking, turning round and round while in the background the Hallelujah chorus sang. There were shelves and tables covered in camping equipment. Stacked literally from floor to ceiling were various brands of hiking boots, coats, sleeping bags, camping stoves, gloves, and socks. There were also an assortment of used power tools, which was a little odd.

"Sometimes the factories will make too much. When they have to much sometimes they give things to people like him. They can sell for cheaper price and not pay taxes on the goods. The things you pay high price in your country for, we can get for very cheap."

Dan and I spent the next three hours picking through the pile, trying things on, checking ourselves out in the mirror outside. I now have some idea of what it must be like for girls when you guys go cloths shopping. I've just never found the right kind of cloths.

After it was all done and said, I bought two coats. One was a green and grey Arc-teryx that I paid about fifty dollars for. It's made lightweight and waterproof for hiking up in the mountains. I also bought a bright orange coat made by a Swedish company called Outventure. They make the coats exclusively to be sold in Russia apparently. The orange coat is crazy warm. I could survive a Siberian blizzard in that thing. And for only fifty four dollars.

I also bought a pair of Arc-teryx hiking gloves, which are very nice, and four pairs of hiking socks. The socks are glorious. I want to go back and buy twenty more pairs. They are easily the most comfortable socks I have ever worn.

My last buy was a pair of hiking boots made by CAT. They're nice brown shoes that have kept my feet a lot warmer in the winter weather.

Jackie also found something for himself.

"What you think?" he asked. He turned back and forth again, looking down at his shoes. They were bright blue, the kind with the white bottoms and end. The sort you often see skater kids or arsty kids wearing.

"I like them," he said. "But if my wife was here, she would say no."

"Why?" I asked him.

"I like to buy these kind of things. She doesn't like it. She always want to have the power." He smirked. "Always Jackie this, Jackie that. I like these shoes."

When I reminded him that his wife wasn't here Jackie's smirk became a broad toothy smile.

In total I think I spent a little over a hundred and twenty dollars on some very expensive stuff. All because Jackie knew a guy. To sweeten the deal Jackie got the guy to kick in some tiger balm, which is supposedly some sort of Chinese herbal healing remedy for aches and pains. So far all I know about it is that it smells funny. If I ever mess myself up, I'll try it out. Jackie also walked away with his new shoes.

Dan and I agree that if we weren't so poor we'd have bought out that entire back room. What was funny was that we ended up buying the same cloths. He also got the orange jacket and the green coat, though thankfully he bought a different pair of hiking boots. It's hilarious when he goes out on campus. Although we look nothing alike physically, Chinese people have a hard time telling Westerners apart. Some of my students have come up to him to say hello to me, recognizing the bright orange jacket. The looks he's described on their faces have been hilarious.

I could tell you a dozen other stories about how I've gotten something because I knew a guy. I got my xbox fixed because I knew a guy. I got a really cheap dvd player because I knew a guy. I can get almost any English movie or television series because I know a guy. Now I just need to find a book guy.

That's about all for today. I started writing this post weeks ago, and finished it up today. I'm feeling pretty bush-wacked since I got back from the gym. What's been amazing to me is how fast I'm putting on muscle mass. I am almost more cut now than I ever was in high school, and I can't even lift half the weight I used to. It's weird. It's probably all the vegetables I'm eating.

I've not read much more of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I'm hoping to bite in a bit more tonight. I've also put aside other writing projects in favor of a short story competition I spotted on the net. I've been brainstorming for it the last few days, but I've got nothing so far. I've got plenty of time though. The deadline isn't till February the 14th. Wish me luck. Catch you all later.


Come And Gone

I would apologize for the following ramble, but it really doesn't bother me at one in the morning.

It's Tuesday here in China. I've sat in my apartment all day and I've done absolutely nothing constructive. (That translates to playing video games all day, something I haven't regularly done for years.) It's been wonderful. I've just finished class; I handed all of the final grades in on Monday. I never thought that I'd be the man some day, but there I was, deciding people's fate from the tip of a ball point pen. At least so far as their fate can be decided by their grade in an Oral English class.

I hope the new year finds you doing well. I hope you've met your resolutions for last year and have laid down some new ones. Things are great here, and I'm in my more usual high spirits.I've been hanging out with friends, Henry, Dan, and Ben. Playing Chess, eating food, watching movies, playing video games. Chris, if you're reading this, we need to watch some more Battlestar. I'm going to text you.

I kid you guys not, I've watched more T.V. over here than I'd watched in the states in years. I've been watching a show called Dexter, a black, sometimes comedic show about a lovable serial killer. Sounds weird, but I mostly like it. I've also caught the beginning of a few other shows; the West Wing, and Battlestar Galactica. I'm eagerly anticipating the premier of HBO's new series A Game of Thrones.

I'm really not sure what to put on the blog next, but now I'll have gobs of time to post. I'm off until February 21st. I'll probably keep busy, but it won't be work busy. I have about a bigillion ideas. (Which is Derek speech for three or four.)Don't be surprised to see a few posts in the next week.

I've blown through Light finally, the last book I was reading. I just sat down one day and ate that thing. It was a weird book, but worth the read for all you sci-fi fans out there. I'm starting The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte next. I'm not sure that I'm in the mood for that either, but I think I'm just going to sit down soon and power into the beginning of it. Once I'm into a book I'm usually fine. I've got lots more books on the list to read, but I'm getting nervous. At my current pace, I'm going to run out of books long before I return to the states, even with the occasional books mailed by family members. If that happens, I'll probably start twitching and scratching myself like a recovering dope fiend who'd like to relapse but can't remember where he put the number for his old dealer.

Other tasks, besides starting on another Bronte book, include finding a way not to starve to death, (The campus cafiteria will close down at the beginning of the next week, as will the night market. There's no money to be made when the campus is empty.) washing my cloths, and getting a hair cut. The stuff is hanging down in my eyes.

I've also come up with a few new years resolutions.

The first is to keep going to the gym.

I know that seems strange, but I've been in the gym on and off for the last two years. I've been three times a week for the last month and I aim to keep going at least twice a week, preferably three times.

The second is to resume jogging.

I was jogging three times a week, but I messed up my ankles and that broke that habit. Le sigh.

The next is to get a short story published. I'm really not that far off from beginning my venture into the short story market. I've got four short stories that could be ready in a month if I'd get my lazy butt in gear. I also know they are better than some of the garbage I've seen published out there. It's go time.

My next goal is to sit down and do a serious review of grammar and punctuation. My grammar is fine, but my punctuation is horrible. Abysmally horrible. Catastrophically horrible. Projectile vomit all over the side of your head from a screaming sick child while on a fourteen hour airplane flight horrible. I really need to get my act together in this department.

The next goal is to fast forward through this boring section of a song I'm listening to.

The last goal is to get better at chess. I'm terrible and my friend Dan is killing me here.

All of these goals are a bit short term, I know, but I've never really been a long term plans kind of guy.

That about sums things up. I think I've also satisfied my desire to ramble. Catch you all later, I'm going to go to bed.