Monthly Archives: December 2016

Holidays Abroad (continued)

God is dead.

I just wrote a three page blog post about that quote. But it’s long and it’s boring and it’s probably not appropriate to be placed on the internet so nonchalantly. That’s a big thing with writing. You never know who will connect with you.

God is dead but I still went to mass on Saturday evening. It was down near the center of the city, right by Tiananmen Square. It’s a very odd thing, to listen to a Catholic mass in Chinese.

Yet it made me feel simple and complete. It reminded me of the days when I was younger and I used to go over to a classmate’s house every Tuesday after school. We would eat nachos and do our homework before going to the church for the local CCD classes.

I still go to Church now but only to hear the priest tell me I need to come back on normal days. Not just Christmas and Easter.

It’s very interesting too, how many Chinese are coming out to the services. It seems China is so morally void that most religions are growing here. I can understand them. The world is a very difficult place to be. We need all the help we can get. All of us.

And it was quite odd, looking out the window after mass on Christmas Eve in the taxi headed north. To pass by Tiananmen and all those buildings. To drive down that big wide road with all that history. Then out, beyond the second, third, and fourth ring roads. Out to my home in a lonely apartment complex just south of an industrial park.

Holidays abroad are tough. Most people with any kind of sense will travel home so they can spare themselves the pain. The only thing is with me that holidays have never been so special to begin with. I am used to not doing much of anything.

I will say though that it was really nice to be in the center of Beijing. Not because of Christmas or the people or anything like that. The mass was nice, but it wasn’t that either. It was all those memories.

In my early Beijing days I used to rent an apartment Holright down the street from that church. It was in an old slate gray communist apartment block and you could push open the fire escape if you wanted to get out onto the roof.

I lived in a spare room with four other people. I would ride my beat up flying pigeon scooter through the hutongs a few blocks over to my office in Wangfujing everyday. In the evenings I would go to one of two restaurants; one that served boiled veggies with soy and peanut sauce or one that served local faire. I wanted to try other places but I still didn’t know enough Chinese.

I had a dutch roommate.He lived right down at the end of the hall. We used to work out together in his room. He had a cheap stereo system he bought off Taobao and some weights too. We would work up a sweat and he would tell me that he wanted to train me in martial arts. 

I had another roommate from Tennessee that was an ABC and wore cowboy boots. He lived in the cheapest room in the apartment. The landlord had made it by building a wall in the middle of the kitchen. You felt bad for the guy when you cooked, but there wasn’t much anything to do about it.

There were others too. They passed in and out of that place. One of my first real homes in the city. A computer engineer that biked from Amsterdam to Beijing. A 30 year old Chinese woman that worked at a famous advertising firm for below market place wages. 

And it was quite odd, looking out the window after mass the night before Christmas in the taxi. We drove across the city and down that big road, pass Tianamen, big hotel buildings meant to impress, and a picture of Mao Zedong plastered above the doorway leading into the Forbidden City.

I thought about all those times I had walked up to Jingshan Park just to see the sunset light fade over Beijing.

Then I was gone, heading north on the expressway away from my past. Christmas Eve in Beijing.

God is dead. That much I agree with. But maybe just a part of him is still alive down in that old center of the city. Where you can eat boiled vegetables and climb up on the rooftops of old slate gray communist apartment blocks. I like to think so. And if I think it, it must be true.

The Fastest Language Acquisition Method

My landlord pulled a fast one. At least, I think he did. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when your dealing with a complex issue using a second language.
All the different areas of life use different types of language. I could know how to order food, but not understand how to buy pants. These are like “language pockets” of the mind. Some people have many pockets, like a serious winter jacket. Other’s only a few.
I guess my Chinese isn’t at a high enough level where I really need to worry about specific areas. I would say though that these kinds of specializations form themselves based on the things that you are doing everyday.
I, for example, know a lot of words about simple office supplies, education, and study abroad programs. I also know about food.
A lot of foreigners have a significant other that is a Chinese national. Maybe they have a really good Chinese friend. I don’t. I have Chinese friends, sure, but not people that I want to constantly ask to help me talk with my landlord or order water.
That’s good. It means that I get to use the language more. I don’t have the “lexical crutch” of always asking my girlfriend to take the phone and translate.
Of course that means I run into trouble more. Even if my language is OK, there is always the cultural layer. Sometimes it’s just that I don’t understand the Chinese way of doing things. But, once again, this is a good thing. The more that I realize I don’t understand, the more I actually learn.
In concrete language terms I learn a lot by being my own first point of contact with the “system” in China. For example, just today I learned the word 押金, ya1jin1, or deposit. Other words for things like landlord, real estate agent, and police have also come to me this way.
I love it. It’s the way you really learn a language.
I am also doing a bit of self study. Most days of the week I try to write ten new words, their pinyin, and three different sentences using the word. Then I test my memory of the words. (Always using characters, of course.) Finally I write the words down again.
When I first started this method a couple of weeks ago I saw immediate improvement. I think that was because I took a gap of about two months between then and my HSK level four.
I took it because it felt like I was just burned out on the whole studying thing. But after a while your mind starts to wander and you wonder what you are doing in a foreign country if you are not studying the language. So, I abandoned my dream of becoming a tortured novelist (for the time being), and I returned to copying down characters in my free time.
Now after about three weeks of it, I am starting to feel the old fatigue. The kind of feeling which happens when you just start to go through the motions and you lose out on all of that beauty from before. I don’t know. At least that’s how it feels to me sometimes.
I guess the point of all this is to say that, for me, learning a language is multifaceted. The most important thing is to practice the four core skills, listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The more diversity I get in these areas, the more I am going to learn.
Now, if could just learn how to gauge the trustworthiness of a real estate company I would be golden.

Holidays Abroad, Christmas in Beijing

The holidays approach and I don’t have much to say. I guess I am grateful. I am grateful for all the things in my life like work and family and a girl. Everything else is irrelevant.

I haven’t been writing a lot lately. I suppose that it’s just something I can put off. It’s weird though because no matter where I go I am always writing. At work I write. At home I smash the keyboard. I even keep a pencil and pad handy for grocery shopping.

The holidays in China are quite odd. I never go home because it seems like a waste of time and money. Sure, seeing family over the holidays is great, but it’s a minimum 14 hour plane ride and then you have to adjust to jet lag.

For me, the holidays have never been a big deal. Even when I was back home I didn’t care too much for them. It’s a good time for perfect families to come together and be more perfect. My family was great but we weren’t like that.

Maybe I’m not the only one. Maybe a lot of people think this time of year has the tendency to hype up expectations for just a couple of days.

I guess the things that make it memorable are our traditions.

For example, I like to go to church on Christmas eve. I am not a particularly religious person, but to me, that is Christmas. It’s going to the church with all of your friends and sitting down while the priest talks. I really like it.

I am not overtly Catholic. In fact, I don’t know if the church would even consider me a member. However, I believe there is a strong connection between a person’s culture and the religion that they grew up around. You can’t separate the two.

So regardless of what I might think of the Pope’s current policies, or the Catholic church’s less than reputable history, I still like going to church. I think it makes me feel like a human. It’s all so confusing some times.

It’s funny too when you go because all of the priests sort of scold you for just coming once. How we should making regular pilgrimages to their parish and so on. I guess that’s OK. They are only doing what they think is best.

In China when you go to a church it feels weird. I don’t care how many times that I do it, it just never feels right. It’s like your in some alternate dimension. Something like that anyways.

In truth it reminds me of the first foreigners in China. The ones who lived in approved settlements like Shanghai, Tianjin, and Qingdao. That was not so long ago, relatively speaking, but still so different. I wonder what they thought about spending Christmas abroad.

I think about all those old movies we used to watch in my living room during Christmas. I think about staying up late by myself and watching a VHS tape I just got while shoving my hand in a bag of popcorn. Playing video games in my mother’s basement.

I guess a lot has changed since then. I don’t live in my mother’s basement anymore and I have my own life. I still talk with my family, but it can never be as much as before. When my parents would pick me up from soccer games and my siblings would talk about their favorite books with me.

I love my life. It’s just different now. The world is a crazy place.

Beijing Countryside Cools My Mind

I spent the weekend in Huairou, or at least very close to it. It was nice to get out of the city.

Beijing is big. It’s a little scary. It sprawls out like the arms of an octopus and if you drive for an hour in any which direction you still couldn’t get out.

I’m not a city person. That’s OK. Maybe it’s just that I miss the ocean and all of that. I don’t know. Sometimes I think that my generation is actually going to move away from the urban centers of the world. Maybe that’s just a hipster thing.

If being hipster means that I can live in a more relaxing place, with a healthier lifestyle, then I want to be a hipster.

I’m tired now after a long Monday, but I wanted to write in here. Just another stream of consciousness post.

My China life has been getting a lot better recently. I think there is a correlation between taking myself less seriously and returning to my Chinese study schedule.

What I mean is that I have the tendency to want to do everything. I think that I need to be doing everything all the time, all at once. But in practice that is not realistic. And it makes me upset.

I didn’t want to study Chinese because in my “plans”, I figured an HSK 4 certification was enough. I thought my time would be better spent on the transition back to America or to another country which I hope to go to someday. But in reality, all that led to was being disconnected from my current situation and the opportunities available to me here.

Studying Chinese is great for me because 1- I love studying languages. (Some people are just like that). And 2- it helps me to connect with the country I am living in.

Once I conceded that I really don’t know what I will use it for in the future, what any of this means anyways, I found it a lot easier to sit down and put pen to paper.

Writing characters for me is in many ways therapeutic. I think it’s because I liked to draw a lot when I was a kid. Lately I have been coming home, burning some incense, brewing up a little tea, playing some dope music, and writing characters.

We all got our rituals.

Having said all that, I still regard writing pros as my number one passion. It’s kind of what I love most. But a writer needs more than just writing. What would he write about without different interests.

So now I am sitting at home on my couch. I am fading into the night. I think back to this weekend when I stayed in the countryside of Beijing. I ate a lot of food and saw some nice cats. I got out of the city.

I don’t always need to leave the city to escape, but sometimes it really helps. Anyways, my Monday had a very positive start. I hope yours does too!