A Dozen Alarm Clocks

I have two alarm clocks. More specifically, I have two alarm clocks in my room. One goes off at 8am to wake me up, the other is on snooze rotation until around 8:30am, when I debate whether I really need breakfast that morning.

Neither is really necessary, however, because outside my door I have perhaps ten more alarm clocks.

Before I explain that, let me preface with this: I really like my hotel room at the IBIS in WenJiang. The rooms are clean and comfortable, with thick curtains that block out 98% of all light. The staff is friendly, even when we can’t understand each other. I get two complementary water bottles every day, and tea, and what problems I do have (limited breakfast options, mildew smell in bathroom) are minor enough that they don’t warrant serious complaint.

My alarm clocks are the guests.

The hotel’s walls are thin, I don’t have earplugs, and Chinese people speak loudly.  This morning, at around 7am, a man started singing at the top of his lungs in the hallway. Or his room maybe – somewhere really close to me. I hear Chinese people singing all the time, and normally I approve. They just break out into song, to themselves usually, in the supermarket, or just on the street. It’s like they don’t care who listens – they just gotta sing. That has a really negative flip side – not caring who listens means not caring who can hear them. So at 7am, this guy just starts singing as loud as he pleases, and I am less than pleased. It occurs to me to never wish my life were a musical again.

A few days ago, I woke up at about the same time to screaming and shouting – full on, “The hotel is on fire!” screaming. I was just about to bolt, convinced a blown circuit had set a room ablaze,  when the screaming turned to raucous laughter. It took me a couple of minutes to process what I was hearing. A large family was playing some sort of game I guess. The rules of the game were simple – scream really loudly, and everyone laughs. Repeat for half an hour. Once, I lost my temper a little, and decided I would poke my head out of my room to at least make it clear that someone ELSE was also in the hotel, and trying to sleep thank you very much. Except no one was in the hallway – all the loud voices were in rooms, except that the doors were open wide to the hallway. Makes sense – if you want your neighbor to hear you, what better way than to open your door and yell so your voice carries?

(Answer – go into the other person’s room. Jesus, please just go have a conversation in the same room!)

Outside, about the same time as my alarm clocks, comes the faint blaring of music from…well, to be honest, I don’t know. There are carts that sort of drive about playing music, and I don’t mind them because they usually play classical music. I bet I would be less tolerant if they didn’t coincide with my wake up time.

I would simply try to start waking up earlier, except that there are frequent revelers at night who come stomping through around midnight or 1am. The Babiface nightclub is right next door, and while heavy bass actually puts me to sleep, the bombastic party-goers do not. They aren’t so bad, really, since they only come through on the weekends. They’re just a very loud chorus of voices which lasts maybe fifteen minutes. Then there’s door slamming, and if I’m unlucky some loud tv (or sex) in an adjacent room for a little while longer. The issue is that between the evening clubbers and the morning songbirds, it’s hard to get uninterrupted sleep.

If I snap, the headline will read “American teacher stuffs ‘Do Not Disturb’ card down guest’s throat”

Slightly harder to deal with is the hacking wake-up call. Almost every morning I wake to the sound of someone scraping their lungs clean of debris. This morning, that singing man paused every couple of minutes to clear his throat – and I mean this dude was iron wool-ing his lungs of mucus. Since his door was open, the sound simply filled the void.  You know how in American movies there’s that crass hillbilly who just scrapes all the phlegm in his lungs up in one monstrous noise? That’s almost everyone in China. Men, women – no children, because the air pollution hasn’t ruined their lungs yet – they all just hack. And it doesn’t matter if it’s carpet or tile, inside or out. They hack and spit, hack and spit, or occasionally just blow a snot rocket on the street. I mean, no wonder no one sits down outside without bringing a seat cover!

I’ll admit that I really don’t like it. You can clear your lungs without making it a big production number. You shouldn’t spit on carpet, at least, because it’s hard to clean. And I want to chastise the students who spit inside the school, when the door outside is maybe twelve feet away. That is disrespectful to the building.  I put up with on the streets or when I’m driving the scooter, but I admit it makes me gag a little bit at meals. I recognize, however, that this is a cultural thing, and so I don’t say anything.

According to my Surviving China guidebook, the government is pushing to stop the spitting. They’re also pushing for children to start wearing diapers, but I actually understand children going to the bathroom in the bushes more than I get mass spitting. At least with the former you save on diapers, it might be more sanitary, and you learn young to hold it. You don’t keep pooping on the streets into adulthood (though I know there are grown men who see toilets of convenience everywhere).

I do remember that for the Olympics, Beijing tried to break the habit. Good on ya, Beijing. Ah, here is the New York Times piece on the subject. All I can say is: that pressure did not reach WenJiang. Nor did diapers (again, for the most part).

But I’ll be fine – I mean, they say my dorm room is almost done. So then it will just be me and…a few hundred high school students.


Growth to date: Well, while I am maintaining tolerance I am also getting better at recognizing when I don’t like something. This is growth for me – I don’t like to admit that I’m not cool with stuff.



Where the Gate Led…

Where the Gate Led...

This is why you have to explore. Wenjiang looks like an industrial and commercial suburb of Chengdu, but it too has treasures on the side streets.

Here comes the…

Oh my God – the sun is out today!! It’s been almost two weeks of grey skies. The last time I saw the sun was when I visited Chengdu. I can’t believe how goofily happy I am.

So I did what anyone does on a beautiful, bird-filled sunny day – I played video games. Just kidding. I’ll do that when the sun (hooray!) goes down.

No, I went for a walk. There’s this park I’ve been meaning to check out. It’s got the Olympic rings all over the place – I think it might be a sort of sister site for when the Olympics were in Beijing. Maybe it was a gathering place to watch the games on the monster screen on the side of the nearby building? The reason I wanted to go to this park was because it appeared that there was a sort of gym for grownups. And I was correct – there is some free exercise type equipment dotted all over the place. Nothing fancy – the treadmill is a series of metal rods on a slope, for example. Most of the contraptions were for promoting movement in general – twisting at the torso or stretching the arms.

I considered advocating for adult parks back in Chicago – adults deserve to play as much as children, and goodness knows we could use our worries and cares taken away for a few minutes. It’s nice to see something like that implemented, even if it is here in China. Again, I wonder if we could be trusted to have our own exercise equipment in the parks.

Someone would probably sue. That’s why our parks have grown lame – we treat it like it’s someone else’s fault we fall over. In Germany, there were some absolutely fabulous parks for kids. The equipment was amazing and probably not that safe in some regards, but the kids loved it. And when they fell off or over (or, in the case of the centrifugal handle-less merry-go-round, were thrown bodily into the sand), they sniffled and bounced back.

Remember parks – the old parks? The ones with rickety metal slides which burned the back of your legs? I remember jumping off of swings into pea gravel, skinning myself up a little and moving on. I chipped a tooth on the merry-go-round (got that fixed when my braces came off). While I do think that modern playgrounds offer more options for kids – rock-climbing walls, for example – I wonder at how soft and rounded they’ve become. The asphalt got replaced with pea gravel, which got replaced with wood chips, which got replaced with rubber mats. I mean, what’s wrong with skinning your knee every now and again?

That’s off topic – point of this update: It’s sunny. I’m glad it’s sunny. Spent lovely afternoon at park. Don’t know whether the weather helps me weather the stares…

Improving Area Knowledge

Went walking in Wenjiang. There was a leather store I wanted to see if I could find, based on my memories of the drive a couple of days prior. And a gate – I bet that the gate would lead somewhere cool.I haven’t really been walking around much in my immediate area.

I found the store – a place called Bull Heaven. I like this – being made into a travel ready camera bag is every bull’s dream! After pricing some bags I had seen before, I bought a little field journal type thing. I already have a journal for writing/whining, and I have this blog, but nothing for sketching or doodling. Now I do – and it looks pretty cool. It has a sailing ship on it – one of my mantra images.

The spring fashions are out in Wenjiang – riotous color and patterns seem popular, as do very short skirts and pastel lace. A few stores still have out the charcoal grey and black with metal accents. The fashions here are a little hodge-podge. Like the driving, it’s a “whatever I like” deal. So women were knee high boots with gold bows on them, bubble coats and Technicolor skirts. Colors clash all over the place – I sort of like it, in a weird way. It’s carefree. I will not be buying the rainbow prints – no jacket covered in baby photos for me! But it’s nice to walk – I have my music on and the weather is pleasant and I’m getting an idea of costs of things. Food is cheap, dental floss is expensive.

And I found the gate, and I was correct – it did lead someplace cool, the Wenjiang Cultural center. On the second floor I hear a children’s choir concert. Outside are some Tae Kwon Do toddlers demonstrating for their parents. A man explains the museum to me in English (he works for an Israeli company, which is how he learned), and I make up a passport number so I can go in. The translations were not very helpful, but I got to learn a little about what art and burial goods had been unearthed in the surrounding area, and see some more cool traditional architecture and sculptural work. They are not afraid to use color in their carvings! Dragons are blue, white, gold, and green, and multicolored cloud motifs swirl around them.

Feeling carefree myself, I decided I would try to sketch. I am a terrible illustrator – I can never achieve with my hands what my eyes see. I appreciate, however, that the only way I’m going to become better at drawing things is by practicing. So I plopped down and broke out some paper. My subject – a dragon carved into the stairway.I started off by myself – that’s why I chose the spot to draw. But soon I had onlookers – a few people standing right at my shoulders, watching me draw. I felt embarrassed – I was doing a great injustice to my dragon subject already, and now I was feeling performance pressure. I get like this when I feel I’m being judged on talents in which I have less faith – drawing, for instance, or playing my violin. I know I could be better and I’m not, and I feel it. I turn to the boy who has decided to sit next to me, and hold up my dragon drawing. I point to the stone carving, then to my drawing and the space where I made a glaring mistake, and make a face. He smiles and drifts away.

Mom would tell me not to think about these people, and I try to take her advice to heart.Perhaps this is a good opportunity to practice not thinking about what others think about me. Double skill improvement!

Gondor Translates

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is on. At first I thought they had just pirated the music for another show, and was up in arms. Then I realized it was the actual movie. It’s a little easier to identify the Chinese when you know the movie by heart. I like Sam a little better dubbed into Chinese, but Legolas sounds like he’s fifteen.

And I guess the language doesn’t matter – I still get choked up. Such a mess by the end of that movie.

There’s one English channel on my TV, and it’s news only – like CNN and CSPAN, with the occasional culture hour. I can’t watch it anymore, because they keep running shows on how planes crash all the time (as a response to the Malaysian Flight incident). But all the interesting shows are only in Chinese. I saw this curious show on yesterday, a period piece set around the Victorian era. I know this only because of the Europeans who were mocked in the show. The man was a bit of a fop, and he kept trying to kiss the hands of the women, which created quite the commotion. The protagonists – four brothers in neon pastel hats – also did not understand why the Europeans used knives and forks to saw at their food, and tried to educate them. The Europeans were too silly to understand. And then the woman became the object of attention for the local… mayor? Warlord? Anyway there was a bit with the fop pulling a pistol. The woman really didn’t do much for the entire hour except laugh, cry, and scream. Then she threw up at the end of the show when she realized she was eating…I’m going say intestine? Maybe bull penis?

I had watched the previous hour of this series as well, where another woman threw up on a dynamite fuse which had been set to blow up a prince’s carriage. The music sounded like the Price is Right failure trombone. Apparently this comedy finds throwing up to be gold. I wonder about the actors playing Europeans – are they expats? Natives? I mean, it would be a good gig in China, since you’d be there whenever they needed a Westerner.

There’s also a “China’s Got Talent” – Jet Li is one of the judges. I’ll talk more about TV later.