When some people buy a house, they open a bottle of champagne and celebrate. Others aggravate everybody within a one mile radius with way more than just a pop.
Get ’em while they’re hot
In 2016, I’d been living in a ghost town that had barely had enough residents to fill 10% of its available apartments. Huangmei’s Jurong Country Garden was 20 miles from the outskirts of Nanjing city, and had been built in anticipation of a subway line that’s still over 5 years away from being completed. Speculation has been rapidly on the rise despite the lack of current infrastructure, and real estate development companies have already built acres of apartment complexes that have yet to be inhabited. There were 1000’s of apartments in this small town, but barely enough residents to even warrant a fully stocked supermarket. Among the empty store fronts and plazas, down the highway from a desolate 6 floor shopping mall waiting for a community to shop at it, was the massive boarding school that had brought me to this barren wasteland.
It would’ve otherwise been silent if it weren’t for the fireworks
Cookie cutter communities
Ghost towns like this aren’t exactly new in China, and cities of anticipation have made world news before with the famous example of Ordos Kangbashi. Some turn out to be huge mistakes and financial sinkholes, but Huangmei had seemed to be catching on. I could hear it loud and fucking clear. Lighting off a salvo of fireworks after purchasing a home is something of a custom in China, and new residents were announcing their prosperity at all hours of the day. Who needs a deed when you have a box mortars.
A typical evening
And a typical day
Jurong Country Garden
Sometimes I’d been in class when I’d heard what sounded like demolition, and other times I’d just crawled into bed when some brand new home-owner had decided to make everybody aware of it. Convenient stores in the area had been sparse and not even close to convenient, but if there was one business that you could count on in Huangmei’s vacant streets, it had been fireworks retailers. Burnt mortar boxes were mixed into the construction debris along the streets, and the booming could be heard from wherever you were in the area. It was like Mad Max meets the Beverly Hillbillies. Let’s just say, I’m not regretting my recent move to Shanghai. But hey, the more you see, right?
Give it a couple more years of explosions first though
Overnight, they appeared in major cities. Within a week, there was a pallet of competing colors along sidewalks. And in under a month, the streets were cluttered by kick stands. Bike sharing has become the latest craze in China, piggybacking off of companies like Uber and Didi to give urbanites a new and health-fueled option for short distance commuting or recreation. There’s just one key exception that sets these bike-sharing companies apart from the ones you’re familiar with back home; there aren’t any standardized docking stations. All it takes is a phone app.
They mean well and just want to have fun, but there’s a certain etiquette to city cycling that won’t be followed by your average mobiker. Meandering and weaving, clogging bike lanes with sheer numbers, riding on sidewalks or against traffic… It stands to reason that somebody who rarely bikes isn’t all that good at it. Streets can already get pretty hectic here in China, and this multi-colored flood of bikers has created a haphazard environment on the streets for both other bikers and pedestrians.
4. Unexpected costs
1RMB a ride is a pretty good deal, and the deposit of 300RMB makes sense. These apps rely on you topping up your account with a minimum amount of credit, and then working off of that. But if you drop below that minimum or park your bike inside of a residential area… expect huge fees!
A 100 ride fee for one ride too many
3. Broken parts
Wear and tear comes with the territory, and months after the launch, shared bikes have become hit or miss due to broken locks and faulty equipment. It’s a no-brainer that a service based on convenience and accessibility will begin to be relied upon, and nothing is more frustrating than when every bike on your block has been temporarily locked down due to maintenance issues. Or worse yet, if a bike doesn’t unlock when scanned, you can’t relock it to end your ride… often resulting in your account being temporarily frozen after you’ve been forced to report the malfunction. But hey, at least the bikes have only been breaking when I’m running late and not while I’m riding one!
While not so much of an issue for the rider, it is funny to see these bikes plastered with ads. As they overwhelm the sidewalks, people are making use of them in every way possible. Then comes the less innocent instances of vandalism, as everybody from disgruntled residents to artistic provocateurs (LINK) do what they please with the surplus of bikes. And let’s not forget the company Wukong, which went bankrupt after 90% of their 16,000 bikes simply disappeared in under 5 months.
This isn’t the first time I’ve wrote about this, and it won’t be the last… Last week, the novelty of being a foreigner in Mainland China got me special treatment. The foreign price is a double edged sword; sometimes you get charged more by a repairman because he assumes you don’t know any better, and sometimes a gym practically harasses you to work out there at a discounted price because your presence will make it seem more international. And do I even need to mention the ESL industry as a whole? This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, and it’s not that I’m actually surprised to have competed in a 5 day sailing competition at a remote lake resort for only 50USD with all expenses paid… it’s just that this is by far the strangest example of the foreign price that I’ve seen here yet.
The foreign price can get you far
It all started when an obscenely rich factory owner’s 3 daughters each got accepted into high schools and a university abroad. Schooling abroad probably sounds like the rich part of this scenario, but the number of kids is what had really jumped out at me, because holy shit is that pertinent in the only country in the world where multiple children is a determinant of extreme wealth. Their mother felt that they needed to get as much international experience as possible beforehand to prepare them for living abroad, and so she did what anybody with loads of money would do; she threw cash around. After enrolling the girls in the Gaochun Lake Sailing Competition, she’d rented 3 sailboats, 3 captains, 3 crews of foreigners. A boat for each girl, a captain to sail it, and a bunch of expats to “acclimate” them throughout those 5 days, because why not?
Crew 1: Rich Chinese girl, yours truly and the crew, and our captain
Crew 2 of 3
“Mate, have you ever sailed before? The National Week Holiday is coming up and there’s this event outside the city that’s at a 90% discount if you’re a foreign passport holder,” asked the British guy who shared an office with me. Having spent most of my middle and high school summers sailing around Lake Champlain (LINK), and having had no issues whatsoever with milking my novelty as much as possible, I’d been down.
Like riding a bike
Gaochun Lake, Jiangsu Province
What a way to spend Golden Week
What a week it had been. We’d arrived at a lake resort with the agent who’d found us all to check into extravagant rooms at an upscale lakeside hotel, and our incoming meal was an all you can eat crab buffet. The sailing competition began with several days of sailing classes, and every day out on the lake was ended with a nice dinner at some fancy restaurant. The last day of the trip consisted of a 10 boat race veering through a buoy course, and culminated in an awards ceremony with a massive buffet and all you can drink craft beer, thanks to the sponsorship of Nanjing’s very own Master Gao Craft Brewery. Local news stations were there with cameras and naturally they’d bee-lined for us to get an interview. Fame, IPAs, and medals for all of us, as they’d paraded us up onto the stage to bow and get photographed.
Interviews with local news stations
The Gaochun Concert Hall that hosted our end of race gala
Craft beer and a feast
Up on stage representing the American Speed
Out of all of the motivating factors that had led to us standing up in front of the crowds, in the concert hall that had hosted our end of race gala, we’d never really been aware of the main reason for which we’d even been there. Free promotion with international faces had been the obvious push for the sailing club, but those teenage girls on each boat had been more or less an overlooked mystery to us until the final night. The agent who had found us had touted her role as part of Jiangsu Province’s international cultural exchange program, and so we’d just assumed this whole trip had been government funded. Little did we know that those timid girls we’d mostly ignored at every dinner and their discerning mother with the designer hand bags had been the real force behind our presence. To save face on behalf of the mother, it hadn’t been until the final night that the agent told us about the mother having paid for all of us, and wow had she paid a lot! I guess I would’ve been more friendly and helpful if I’d known what the foreign price had actually been buying.
During a fire drill, I guess there are two rules; exit in an orderly fashion, and don’t panic. Now imagine what not to do… Does it look anything like this?
Women and children first, right?
Instructed to cover their mouths and run as fast as they could, I’d nearly been knocked over by an avalanche of screaming first grades as they’d bolted towards the stairs. Nobody had informed me of the fire drill, so I’d already been bewildered by the sudden sirens echoing through the halls. The cacophony of panic only added to it. Not at all worried, I’d watched in awe as the courtyard flooded with children running like chickens with their heads cut off. Some knocked into each other, some tripped and fell, and the fittest made their way to the front of the pack. Lord of the flies, Jurong Country Garden School edition.
Head count time, still all riled up
The children bounced and fidgeted as their teachers took head counts, and I took the opportunity to ask my manager if this panic was really what the school had intended and encourages. She gave me an equally baffled look and said, Of course, safety is important and we need the children to exit as quickly as possible. I brought up the sprinting and screaming, and touched upon the multiple incidents I’d witnessed in which a kid almost got trampled… her response? Running is less dangerous than fire. Well, that clears it up.
I’m gonna blow your mind with this one, but the ironic thing about unforeseen problems is that you never realize you’ve got one until you’re too deep to turn back. Deep right? Not as deep as I’d been. I’d already been feeling some pressure as the Vice Principal of my school stared at me from the back of the room, but thankfully up until this point, everything had been going smoothly. It was a lesson on modals, teaching the word should in the context of good and bad behaviors during school, and even though this was by far my worst 6th grade class in terms of both English and behavior, the kids had been keeping up with the materials and getting it smoothly enough. That was actually the reason our Vice Principal had felt the need to be there in the first place; these kids could go full-asshole in a matter of seconds over nothing, and had almost as little regard for their foreign teachers as they did learning English in general. Things had been going uncharacteristically smooth though as they nailed every example that I’d pantomimed for them or shown pictures of, and it had really seemed like their enthusiastic participation was going to impress my boss who otherwise couldn’t understand a single word of my lesson… until we got to the PowerPoint slide You Shouldn’t Say Curse Words. It was only then that I’d realized my lesson planning had suddenly put me between a rock and a hard place.
The lesson became like playing a game of taboo in front of your boss when the answer could get you fired
I’m pretty sure one of the first things a teenager learns in a foreign language is how to insult somebody’s mother or combine the word fuck with a pronoun, but how many people would expect anybody but someone who’s fluent to know what “curse words” means out of context. I’ve already mentioned that these kids were enthusiastic but not exactly the brightest, and while I’m sure that they could’ve completed the sentence “My teacher is _____” in 20 different offensive ways, there was no way that any of them had a clue what a “curse word” was without being given examples. Explaining its meaning by giving examples would’ve been effortless if it weren’t for the simple fact that dropping the F-bomb in front of your students is wildly inappropriate, and so the lesson became like playing a game of taboo in front of your boss when the answer could get you fired. I’d tried category diagrams, as well as defining it with terms like bad words and words your teachers don’t like, and I’d even went so far as to fake stub my toe and literally yell BLEEP, but the more I jumped all over the place grasping for context and beating around the bush, the more I just confused the shit out of them and lost their attention. A game of hangman would be my final attempt, and I’d prefaced my last stand with Do. Not. Shout. Out. The. Answer. before proceeding to draw out the gallows and write the capitol F that would be their first and only clue towards guessing this four letter example of a curse word.
Could I actually be mad that almost half the class shouted fuck, some even gleefully? The most powerful method of teaching is leading the students to figure out the answer on their own, and I‘d just led a class of kids who weren’t used to being successful in English, and who loved cursing, to do just that as loud as they could… right in front of their Vice Principal. I’m pretty sure the goal for eliciting is limited to curriculum materials only, and to the vice principal who had only understood that F-bomb without any of the context that’d been meant to go with it, curriculum materials were probably the last thing he would’ve guessed as he’d lunged for the nearest grinning boy to smack the smile off his face. I couldn’t exactly blame him either, since he’d originally been there to keep a consistently misbehaving class in line, and so I’d been forced to sit back and watch powerlessly as kids who’d merely been following my lead got slapped and screamed at for acting at face value how they’d been expected to act.
It was a Shakespearean tragedy of mouth slapping before one of the girls finally managed get the principal to pause and hear her out. In all of his years in education, this was probably the only situation he’d ever encountered where yelling Fuck in the classroom could be justifiable, and all he could do was stare at me disapprovingly before exiting the classroom without ever uttering a single word. He didn’t come around too often after that, and I’d been pretty much on my own after that as far as disciplinary assistance went. The kids were beyond unruly and defiant for at least a week and a half after that lesson, and I’d just let it ride. I’d figured I owed them some leniency for accidentally leading them into corporeal punishment for the second time that year.
And since this is also the second time I’ve written about flagrant beatings in the classroom setting, I guess I should take a moment to explain that at the beginning of each school year, along with all of the health forms and registration paperwork that we would expect, a standard waiver for corporeal punishment also gets sent home for parents to fill out. The waiver gives educators legal permission to issue a five across the eyes whenever a student needs a study reminder, and most parents aren’t at all opposed to signing it so long as their kids stay on track with their studies.
Nobody knows you and you’re a novelty. You’re one of a few representatives, if any, of where you grew up, and the locals treat you like a C list celebrity for coming from New York. Your personality flaws are forgiven because that’s just your culture. You’re not actually rude, that’s just how Americans act they all assume. You played some ball back in high school but always wanted to have been more? Fuck it, you were great at it. The MVP of senior year even. Playing up the passport at a club gets you dances with girls who’d never talk to you back home. Even the unwanted attention at a Starbucks for being the only white guy there inflates your ego. Your white skin doesn’t make you stick out like a sore thumb, it makes you shine bright like a star. Jobs you’re unqualified for are flung at you left and right because your status as a foreigner means more than your résumé, and the political science degree that you’ll never follow through with has gotten you starring roles in commercials and teaching positions at top level schools. You make more than most of the locals and you live like a king. You can be whoever you want to be over here.
Thousands of expats a year suffer from a complex known as new man new land syndrome. If you’re living abroad, you’ve most definitely met several. They’ve been here awhile and aren’t planning to leave, because the more they set themselves up here and the more connected they get, the easier their lives become. They’re the self-proclaimed kings of their fiefdoms, the regulars of the local Irish pub and the all-knowing settlers of this foreign culture. Unsolicited advice and condescension layer your conversations with them. They’ve been here longer, and when you’ve eventually been here as long as they have, it will all hopefully make sense to you too. It doesn’t matter who they were back home, because there are no social anchors to ground them back to reality. They just better hope they don’t ever run into anybody they once knew.
With great power comes great responsibility. As a foreign teacher in China, we don’t always have the most power considering the responsibilities we have to the education in our classrooms. We’re often seen as an additional recess by the students; a time when they get to play games and sing songs with the foreigner rather than crack the books and study relentlessly. A regular ESL class is meant to reinforce what they’re already learning rather than factor into their grades, and that lack of testing and academic pressure, along with the foreign teacher’s segregation from the school’s discipline system due to both language and position, more often than not transform our lessons into a play period for the kids to release the pressure from their other classes. A good foreign teacher knows how to work within these constraints and control their lesson with interesting content and good management, but there will inevitably be times where outside factors creep into the classroom and make our lessons impossible to control. Whether it’s a major upcoming exam, the days right before a vacation, or a full moon, there are going to be times when the students just aren’t going to cooperate no matter how alert and well prepared we are, forcing us to call on their head teachers for help in order to keep the class running even semi-smoothly. I’ve learned the hard way that using this power has a responsibility of its own, because it could very well result in several crying kids and some minor bruising.
It had been my first semester teaching in the Shenzhen public school system, and my Mandarin wasn’t anywhere near as effective as it is now. I’m not sure what had been going on outside of the classroom, but whatever it had been had transformed 6A into a circus that day. No matter what I’d done I couldn’t get the kids to stay on task, and the group work they’d been assigned had devolved into yelling and bickering. Instead of rounding the room providing feedback while the kids worked, I’d been hustling back and forth, barely keeping them in their seats as they threw things at other groups or tried to chat with friends on the other side of the room. They called my bluff when I’d threatened to get their class teacher, and I’d been left with no other choice but to actually send for him.
The calm before the storm
The short stocky science teacher had arrived at the perfect time for my language barrier and the worst time for several boys; there’d been no need to explain what was going on when they were caught red-handed trying to run back to their seats after knocking the books off of another group’s desks. He’d come prepared too, holding a flexible plastic rod similar to what people put on their lawns to organize parking without damaging the vehicles. But damn could it damage a 6th grader, and he didn’t waste any time with words or figuring out what was happening when he’d used it on them. He straight up descended on the group of boys, moving between the desks as he wailed them in their arms or backs, challenging them to stand up and run around again. Only one of the three boys didn’t cry immediately, glaring at the man defiantly before getting struck several more times and lowering his head to sob. Having accomplished what he’d come to do, their head teacher barked out a short command before giving me a nod to continue and walking out casually. I’d been left there dumb struck and slack-jawed, standing at the front of a classroom that was either sitting still as stone or sobbing silently.
Ehhh, it could’ve been worse
Uhhh, I didn’t know he was going to do that. Seriously, I didn’t ask him to hit you. I mean, you guys weren’t THAT bad. I’d sheepishly tried to continue with the lesson, and it would’ve been hard for an onlooker to tell who was more embarrassed and shaken up by what had just went down. The kids were understandably responding like they were walking on eggshells, and go figure, the class was about as unproductive as it had been before due to their uncomfortable silence. So, uhhh, that’s why we do group work right? And with that, I awkwardly told them we’d continue the lesson next time before giving up to put a movie on. That was the last time I ever called on a male head teacher for help, continuing my teaching career with a deeper understanding of the decision Harry Truman had been forced to make.
It’s no camel, but a monkey in a shopping mall’s courtyard seems to work just as well as far as begging goes. The monkey even did tricks, so how could you not give this guy money for that? Just imagine how this would’ve gone down in America. On a scale of one to Ferguson, how quickly would this guy have been down surrounded by security? But not here, because as usual, just about anything goes in the middle kingdom.
He’d just strolled through casually, turning heads as he’d walked up to people and prompted his monkey to give them a high five or do a handstand. This seemed to be working well too, because most of the people were handing him money without much hesitation. Was the monkey just that cute? Had they never seen one before? Or had he threatened to let the monkey loose on them if they didn’t give up some pocket change? I honestly couldn’t be sure how it went down, since whenever I attempted to get close enough to listen in or get a good photo, he’d gotten pretty aggressive. His monkey was probably camera shy. Honestly though, who brings a monkey to a mall and doesn’t expect to get photographed?! That’s sillier than using a monkey to get money.
Sometimes people bring their monkeys to the Hong Kong border as well
A guy sleeping on the street? Surely he’s homeless… Card board boxes, piss stained clothes, and incoherent rambling, right? Not even close. Sprawling out to fall asleep in random public places is way more of a I’m tired and this is a surface I could sleep on sort of situation than it is home foreclosures and hard times over here. Both schools and offices have a time for napping built into their lunch breaks, which are usually around two hours long with at least one hour of it devoted to sleeping wherever and however you damn well please. Siestas are a common sight all through the day if you’re out and about in the city, because who needs to go back home to nap when they’re shamelessly okay with sleeping in a position that bends their spine in 3 different directions. Or if there’s an IKEA nearby with free AC.
These photos are the best of the best from my time in China, and to my knowledge, none of these people were drunk or homeless… Just too sleepy to give a single fuck whatsoever.
“Help yourself and throw the money behind the counter”
During the office’s designated nap time, anything goes
Once back on the clock though, more subtlety is required
Napping? Or practicing what to do in case of a crash?
“There’s room for more if you’ll pay the meter”
He came prepared with that pink pillow
Where there’s a will there’s a way
Just kidding, this is a Prozac ad
Who actually buys crocs anyways?
Bro tip: Don’t fall asleep in places that make it look like statues are fisting your butt
“Before I attach this door, lemme sleep on it first”
Saved the best for last
Seriously. Not even a hint of fucks to give as he’s so clearly on the clock and also in charge of keeping an eye on the cars. The insides of his eyelids were the only thing this guy was watching
After all of this, I figure it’s only fair to post a photo of myself, since I often fall asleep on the subway. Guilty as charged, and thankfully not in the Bronx at the time
Sky scrapers, luxury cars, and expensive suits are the symbols of success, and naturally you’d expect to see plenty of each while walking through an area of the Central Business District. International businesses and the satellite offices of household names from back home fill the multiple fifty story buildings that tower here, as expensive cars and taxis navigate around pedestrians too distracted by their bluetooth conversations to use the crosswalks of the crowded streets below. It’s hard to imagine a man selling snapping turtles having any place at all here, but the small group of men in suits who had crowded around him and his reptilian merchandise one afternoon in front of a prominent bank had proven otherwise.
And down below
The business men were shouting over each other as they used the money in their hands to gesture and point, employing the same tactics they would use once they returned to their offices to trade stocks and engineer corporate take-overs. Un-phased by the yelling and pleased with their enthusiasm, the turtle man just sat there on the curb calmly, letting the men haggle as he showed off his different turtles.
The caviar of the nouveau riche
While this was definitely the nicest area that I’ve witnessed a turtle sale on the street in, it definitely wasn’t the first. In fact, since early March I’ve been seeing turtle men about once a week in various middle-to-upper-class areas of Shenzhen, strolling around with several snappers at a time sticking out like a sore thumb (often more so due to their fashion than their business). Some have carried their turtles in burlap bags, others have sat with them leashed up in way that reminded me of pitbulls outside of a Brooklyn bodega, while some have even walked through heavy traffic making offers into the rolled down windows of BMW SUVs before the traffic lights had turned green. Day or night, I’ve seen them in every area of the city, selling the oddest commodity I’ve yet to witness here.
Not sure which is more shocking, that outfit or his turtle stick
Strut your stuff, guy
Perplexed, I’d decided to ask around. My coworkers shrugged and said turtles taste good and are healthy, while one onlooker in an upper class neighborhood had mockingly pretended to pray while saying bàifó 拜佛, which means to worship Buddha. I’m still not really sure if he was trying to make fun of me for needing to ask, or the people who’d stopped to inquire about these fine terrapins. As usual, it was my Chinese teacher who’d offered the most helpful explanation. She explained to me the correlation between eating turtles and increasing your longevity, due to how long they can live for. And to my total lack of surprise, she added that there’s a belief that turtles can increase virility and help with making male children. But these turtles won’t work, look at them, they’re obviously captive bred. They’re too well fed and their shells aren’t beat up. You need wild caught turtle to actually get the effect. This guy is a scam artist. And here I’d thought selling a snapping turtle for almost 1000RMB on the street had been the only rip-off happening on that street corner. Silly me.
Traditional Chinese Life Insurance
About as friendly as his merchandise. And as slow with the stick too.