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So obviously I haven’t been updating much recently. Insert standard “I’ve been awful busy with work / side projects / taking on freelance work at insultingly low pay” boilerplate here.

One of the things that I’ve been busying myself with is my weekly column in Chinese for the 珠海特区报 Zhuhai News. They don’t seem to be putting it up on their website, so I’ve restarted my Chinese blog attempts over at 在北京找不着北, and you can find my previous columns, in unedited form, there.

I say “unedited form” because this last week’s column apparently had to be tempered somewhat before going to print — not all that surprising, I suppose, since I was pretty much deliberately pushing it. Here’s a translation:


There are times when absolutely everything pisses me off. Even small things (like migrant workers halloo’ing at me on the street or people disharmoniously cutting in front of me in line) can instantly put me out of my usually good mood. I’ll think to myself, “that would never happen in the States!” What really gets me going isn’t running into vendors who like playing “screw the foreigner” or commuters who don’t understand the basic moral principles of waiting for people to disembark the subway before getting on it; it’s getting stuck behind people who don’t know how to walk.Maybe it’s an East Coast thing. People from the East Coast of the US are known for being direct – in business and in speech, yes, but even more so when it comes to perambulation. There is only one correct way to walk when you’re in the downtown area of a major city, and it is this: pick your destination, put your head down, fix your eyes firmly on the sidewalk in front of you, get over to the right-hand side of the pavement, and start walking forward as fast as possible. Hands should be placed in pockets; eyes should not linger on anyone else; pace should be steady and rapid, and under no circumstances should you stop walking. Chinese commuters do not get this; I am forced, multiple times daily, to stop walking suddenly because the person in front of me has halted, blocking the sidewalk, to gawp slackjawed at something or another. O my Chinese brothers and sisters, I beg you, get out of my goddamn way. It annoys me as nothing else can.

When this happens, I have to pause, take a deep breath, count to ten, and list to myself all of the things that I like about China.

1) Language
I started studying Chinese 6 years ago, and haven’t gotten tired of it yet. Every time I go back home, I worry that my Chinese will rust up from not being used. I always liked languages. Every language has its own feeling – Spanish is excitable; Italian is expressive; Irish is lilting – but of all of the languages I’ve learned, Chinese comes most easily to the mouth. When I was back in the States finishing my degree last year, I itched to speak it.

2) Food
Look, Western food isn’t as simple as most Chinese people think it is, and Chinese food isn’t my favorite — that’d be Vietnamese food (or possibly Indian or Mexican; I haven’t decided yet). That said, Chinese food is so richly varied that it’s hard to get sick of. I particularly like Sichuan and Hunan cuisine, both of which are hard to find in the States.

3) Novelty
The first time I ever came to China was in 2001. When I returned to the Beida area in the summer of 2002, I found that all of the places I remembered near the campus were gone, nothing more than memories. A couple of friends from Philadelphia came to visit me last year, and one day I decided to take them to the hutong alleys around Qianmen, only to find that almost all of them had been torn down. In preparation for the 2008 Olympics, Beijing’s busying itself with destroying what few nice places remain; my disorientation at no longer being able to find my way around in the orient is a symbol of China’s rapid economic, cultural, and aesthetic development.

4) Safety
It wasn’t until after I moved to China that I discovered just how dangerous it is to live outside of China. When I first got here, people asked me if I didn’t feel that China was much safer than the US. This struck me as strange when I first heard it, and when I asked what the questioner meant, they explained: isn’t it true that everyone in the US has a handgun? Aren’t there severe tensions between the blacks and the whites? More or less the next day, I was watching the news when I saw report after report on various natural and man-made disasters, violent crime, human rights violations, and other terrifying stuff going on in other countries. I never knew the Western media was so censored! It really opened my eyes, I can tell you.
Also, I remember that newspapers in the US were full of articles about environmental degradation, official corruption, the growing gap between the rich and poor — stuff you just won’t find in China’s newspapers — proof positive that the quality of life here is way higher than in Western countries.

After thinking all of this, and counting down, and reminding myself of why I enjoy living in China, I can relax and continue walking happily forward.

20 Comments

  1. sabrina wrote:

    heh maybe china is an peaceful place .keep in touch with each other!!!

    Tuesday, May 2, 2006 at 11:52 pm | Permalink
  2. Zoe wrote:

    You finally updated. Still the same style. Keep it on.

    Friday, May 5, 2006 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  3. Ruby wrote:

    I’ve read your article both in Chinese and English that are both great.I know if you want to learn a sencond language well,you should often use it,so I’ve been writing my blog in English.Come on!

    Saturday, May 6, 2006 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
  4. Dan wrote:

    wtf? you were being ironic right? PS What’s happening to Kun these days? I met her once in Beijing.

    Sunday, May 7, 2006 at 1:50 am | Permalink
  5. Mike wrote:

    I apologize if this seems to be purely argumentative, perhaps it is, but you mentioned that not reading about environmental degredation, urban/rural gaps and official corruption was “proof positive” that life in China was better than in the West. In fact, the urban/rural gap in China is one of the biggest problems the country is currently facing, China has been struggling with its environmental issues for years, and *every* country faces official corruption on some level, you’re just not going to read about it in censored media. I think China is a wonderful place, and I have never felt unsafe here even as a foreigner, but even in Western countries, what you do or don’t find in the media is never “proof positive” of anything.

    Sunday, May 7, 2006 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  6. Brendan wrote:

    Oh dear.

    Yes, I was being ironic. Mike, I can assure you that as someone who is not totally stupid, I’m well aware of the social ills that China faces. I work in the news media here, and deal in misery, unfairness, and evil day in and day out. I’d thought that this piece was pretty obviously written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but perhaps something of the original got lost. I’ll have to take it up with my translator.

    Dan – Kun’s in Chengdu now, and still blogging. She seems to be having a great time there.

    Tuesday, May 9, 2006 at 7:06 pm | Permalink
  7. Derek wrote:

    Have you stidied Irish (i.e. Gaeilge as opposed to English with an Irish accent!)?

    I met an Ameican guy here in a bar in Dalian who had a few words of Irish, which was cool!

    Pity that I learned Irish for 12 years in school and I have nobody to speak Irish to! If only my Chinese was as good as my Irish. More work needs to be done!

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006 at 2:27 pm | Permalink
  8. Brendan wrote:

    Nah – I have a few words and phrases of Irish, but can’t actually speak it. I’ve been meaning to learn it for a while, but if I’m going to be honest with myself, I have to admit that it’ll probably never happen.

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006 at 2:52 pm | Permalink
  9. Derek wrote:

    It’s a bitch of a language to learn, lots of complicated conjugations and genitive cases and word muations. But Irish speakers have a great way of putting things! I think it reflects in the way we speak English.

    As for The Commitments. I didnt get a DVD here, although someone said they saw one once. I got the DiVX version myself!

    Wednesday, May 10, 2006 at 7:36 pm | Permalink
  10. Tan wrote:

    I wish it would be as easy for a Chinese man in US to find friendly people to talk to in English ,as it is for an
    American man in China to find friendly people to talk to in Chinese. Unfortunately, that’s never the case(unless you happen to be a beautiful Asian female). I feel it’s much easier for an English speaker to learn Chinese than the other way around,even if he manages to be in the US. Pity all
    those (including me) Chinese who need some conversation in English, only being laughed at for speak stupid Chinglish because we “don’t like to talk”. So much for the “Golden Rule” !!!!!

    Saturday, May 13, 2006 at 2:38 am | Permalink
  11. Anonymous wrote:

    Where do you live, Tan? Not all people are like that. If you talked to me, I’d be very happy.

    Sunday, May 14, 2006 at 7:26 pm | Permalink
  12. Hang wrote:

    Just read your other blog. You are incredibly good at Chinese.

    Monday, May 15, 2006 at 11:05 pm | Permalink
  13. karl wrote:

    A lot of writings are coming with photos. I’ll share with you. It has been very nice meeting you.

    Monday, May 29, 2006 at 3:10 pm | Permalink
  14. trevelyan wrote:

    disharmoniously…. nice word choice.

    Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 7:15 pm | Permalink
  15. Courtnee (Ye Xiao Ya) wrote:

    oh man… the things you said about Harbin sure brings back memories. Especially the part about the people saying “HAA-LOOO” all the damn time! (I taught there from Feb 2004 – Dec 2004)

    Monday, June 12, 2006 at 2:21 pm | Permalink
  16. Tupiniquim wrote:

    I´m still leaning chinese here (and english also). By reading your blog I see the long road I still have to walk before I can write well in Chinese…I had the same impression about the Sichuanese girls…Good luck and keep writing interesting articles!

    Thursday, June 22, 2006 at 5:52 am | Permalink
  17. Good to see you have restarted bloging in Chinese.
    I like it very much !

    Sunday, June 25, 2006 at 4:17 am | Permalink
  18. wenbin wrote:

    Find your site from your xanga. I’m one of those Chinese who are amazed by your Chinese-language skill. 6 years!? Within this short period of time you already can get to speak better Chinese than I do. Dude, now I can call it talent.

    Monday, June 26, 2006 at 1:06 am | Permalink
  19. Tim wrote:

    I’m delighted to stop by and see that your writing is as fine as ever, Brendan.

    Saturday, July 8, 2006 at 5:17 pm | Permalink
  20. Inst wrote:

    I think your sarcasm at the end is very confusing. It leads one to wonder whether the rest of the article was meant with a straight face.

    Thursday, November 9, 2006 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

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