I get by with a little help from my friends


Richard and Elenamary

Richard and Elenamary

My good friend Richard, an Australian national phoned me and asked if I would meet him at the North Gate entrance of our university to accompany him to get his haircut.  His argument was that my Chinese was better than his and that I could stop them if they started to do something horrendous.  My Chinese albeit at this point slightly better than Richard’s (his is now better) was also awful–but I’ve never been timid about trying.  I met-up with Richard and shortly after received a phone call from our friend Dee a Thai national.



Dee and I lived in the same building and he was feeling ill, could I please bring him back some anti-diarrhea medicine– no problem I was on it.  At this point we were finishing with Richard’s haircut when in walked Adlet our Kazakh friend.  Adlet asked what we are up to and laughed at the dubiousness of Richard relying on my Chinese to get his haircut.  I argued, “Well look at him, his hair is cut isn’t it? He looks good so my Chinese worked well enough.” Adlet still laughing questioned me inquiring “how are you going to get the medicine?”  That I figured was more manageable then a hair cut.  “I don’t know the word for diarrhea but I do know the words for poop and explosion.  I will use those words and then see what happens.”

Adlet and Elenamary

Adlet and Elenamary

Adlet always down to tease me, decided to join us and watch me attempt to purchase the medicine.  I used my limited vocabulary and when I used the word explosion pointed at my own butt.  It worked!  I was quite pleased with myself and Adlet enjoyed watching me act out “poop explosion”.
I have been thinking a lot about that day, as I have spent the last few days in Singapore.  I never spoke mandarin well but I am realizing that I did know way more than I gave myself credit for.  I have had a few, let’s call them conversations (barely conversations) the last few days that have ranged in topic from directions, ordering food, to finding an unoccupied bathroom.  I didn’t know I still had that vocabulary.  It has been good for the ego.  Interestingly, I feel more understood here in Singapore, in that I haven’t had to repeat a word trying to find the correct tone, as I did when in Hainan.  I am not sure why I am understood more readily here and need to think about it more.

How Chinese-y

When a cutlural difference comes up here in China, my friends and I will describe the Chinese way as being “Chinese-y” or we might say “How Chinese-y”  I am growing used to some of it and want to document it before I forget.

Not long after I had first arrived here I went to dinner with my friend Adlet of Kazakhstan.  We went to my favorite place, (a place I’d later find out he really hates) the food stalls at the Southern entrance of our school. The food stalls set up nightly and there is a wide array of food to select from.  Rats running around looking for scraps are also bountiful.

Eating at South Gate With Friends

Dinner at South Gate with Friends; Picture by Will Giles
One of the stalls will bbq your choice of food and I had a hankering for bbq-ed eggplant. Adlet (his Chinese is awesome, has been living and studying here for 5 years now) inquired  if they had eggplant.  The woman said that indeed they did have eggplant. We ordered two and then the woman responded “okay, come back tomorrow”.  Adlet explained to me that the Chinese hate to tell you they don’t have something.  I didn’t quite understand it then, and I also hadn’t realized until yesterday, how much my attitude has changed to this cultural difference.

Yesterday, I went to get coffee in one of the back alleys. It is really good deal; a whole pot of coffee for 4rmb with a bit of sweetened condensed milk at the bottom. I like it.  My plan was to finish reading my book, drink some coffee, and have some eggs.  I ordered the coffee and then had the following conversation with my server:

Me: “Have you any eggs?”
Server: “We have eggs.”
Me:  “I’d like eggs–Can I have eggs?”
Server:  “Yes, you can. Do you want eggs with rice?”
Me:  “No rice. I just want eggs.”
Server:  “Do you want eggs with noodles?”
Me:  “No I just want eggs.”
Server: “We have eggs with noodles.”
Me:  “Okay, I’ll have eggs with noodles.”
Server:  “We don’t have anymore eggs with noodles. Do you want eggs?”
Me:  “Yes, I want Eggs.”
The women points at the restaurant across the street says “eggs” and walks away.
Below is a picture of my friend Rachel (a native of Hainan).  On a different morning at a different place, I also wanted coffee and eggs.  Rachel ordered our coffee and our food.  The server returned with our coffee and told us “We have food, but don’t want to make it right now.  You can go across the street to the other restaurant get your food and bring it back here.”  We did just that.  As you can see Rachel is eating her food out of a styrofoam container also visible is our pot of coffee.

Typhoon Nesat

I am still living in China, near Vietnam, on the small island of Hainan, in the city of Haikou.

The school text messaged all students cell phones today and asked us to prepare for the Typhoon. Not sure if they offered any suggestions on how to do this, as the message was in Mandarin-Chinese and Russian (neither of which I read).  Anyway, below is a picture of a map of typhoon Nesat’s path.  I live exactly at the point where the center is at 3am Friday.  I got the map off of Weather Underground’s website.

Here comes my first typhoon ever!

Typhoon Nesat

filter FTW!

Last semester I swam pretty much every morning no later than 730AM.  I’d go to the school pool in the morning for laps and in the evening to either the private pool outside of campus or the beach, for a leisure swim with friends.  This semester I’ve been super lazy and didn’t go at all to the school pool.  That and the school pool was kindy sucky.

I warned my friends about the school pool.  I warned about its lack of a filtering system and their solution being to over-chlorinate and empty the water once a semester (twice in spring semester–but only because of the school swim competition).  As such the water is always super opaque, and has a weird slimey film at the top.  The pool also has  the effect of leaving your eyes, mouth and body with an odd burning sensation from so much chlorine.  This is to say, the pool is not usually pleasant.  However, there is something invigorating about swimming early in the morning with the sun bright and all things still quiet before the students have begun their rush to class.  I love starting my day swimming laps in an outdoor pool.  So, today I did just that, I went to the school pool for the first time this semester.

I arrived and was surprised to see the pool had a great blue-ness to it. The water looked surprisingly clean.  No filmy layer, no floaties, in fact I could see the floor of the pool, which seemed oddly clean. Hmm, I assumed since it is the beginning of the semester and they did just change the water a couple weeks ago, this must’ve been the reason for its appearance. I put on my googles dove in and started my haphazard training.  It was then I saw something I had never seen before.  The pool had drains and filters, with clean water bubbling out!  Christs sake! They had turned on or fixed or installed, over the summer break, a filtering system!  The school pool now has a filtering system!!!!  I feel like emailing people to gloat.  “That’s right all you friends from last semester!  I am not swimming in Chinese mucus bohhyahh!”  I am so excited about this that I am not going to miss any swims. You now know where you can find me everyday at six am.

Here is a link to a blog by my buddy Pete, he has posted some pictures of the school pool. I am in picture number six at the bottom.

God loves Mexicans and Kazakhs more

My mom shares with me a decent amount of Mexican folklore.   Things like, you can tell how much a mother loves her baby by how deep his belly button is.   I tend to listen to the stories but never fully believe.

My mother told me that when I was born, my maternal grandmother flipped me over to check out my butt, to see if I had a blue spot.  My mother explained to me, while I listened dubiously, that Mexican babies, particularly indigenous babies, have blue spots on their lower back or butt when they are born.  It goes away shortly after birth, usually within a few weeks.
I believed this was lore until I was 16 years old and working union organizing farmworkers.  At one of the workers’ camps I saw a mom with a naked new born baby in her arms.   The baby had a blue spot that looked like a bruise on his butt—however, it wasn’t a bruise.  My mom was right.  I never really understood it.   Whenever, I think about that baby it makes me smile.

I recently read the book Apples are from Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared by Christopher Robbins (The book was amazing, I laughed out loud multiple times, I couldn’t book down the book at all and was sad when I finished…I’ll write up a review later.)

I was stunned when I read the following excerpt in a section discussing Kazakh pride and fatherhood:

‘All Kazakh babies are born with a birthmark at the base of their spine, like a purple bruise,’ my friend told me.  ‘This disappears in a few days. Korean, and Japanese babies have this too, but not Chinese. Strange, huh?’

This made me chuckle! It was enchanting, mystical, and uniting in its historical narrative.

I went home and emailed my Kazakh friend AiDana.  Her response was that although only some Mexican babies were born with the spot, ALL Kazakh babies were born with it.   She was so proud that all Kazakh babies had this spot.  Another Kazakh friend, Adlet, laughed and said, yes it was true Kazakh babies were born with this, it is one of the things that make Kazakhs so special.  I asked him why did he think that Mexicans and Kazakhs had this spot, he laughed hard and said “I think it means God loves us Kazakh and Mexicans more.”

I am sure there is a different reason, a scientific one.  I’ll google it and research it later.  For now, I wanted to blog about it, while it was still magical to me.  A Mexican connection to Kazakhstan, with a special temporary birth mark.

Ironman China no swim?

The last couple weeks of my training for Ironman China 70.3 I have left out the the run portion due to a knee injury and have instead been focusing on the swim and bike.  Yesterday, they organizers announced that the swim event has been cancelled and that the race will continue as if there were no swim portion.  This isn’t a triathlon.  I am going to cross  still not having completed my first 70.3. I guess I could call myself a 68.4?

Part of me still wants to compete because there are so few races here in China, in fact this is pretty much it in terms of triathlons.  Then again this isn’t a triathlon.  This is heartbreaking.  I wanted that intensity of emotions before the swim began, I wanted to feel the “human blender” of the swim, I wanted to drift into thought about the day that laid ahead while I swam, I wanted to feel my feet touch the ground and my body lift up out of the water as I moved into the transition area.

I don’t know what to do.  Do I still go?  I am unmotivated, heartbroken, and conflicted. Suggestions?