I’m willing to bet that nearly everyone that’s ever had an email address, ever, has at least at one time received an email from charming Nigerian Prince asking for marriage, money, or some other scam. I had always laughed about it, but never really made any sense to me. Like how do people actually send them money, or don’t they suspect, or what kind of ratchet street smarts do these people not have?

Anyways, how does this connect to me? Well since I lived in China, I’ve been connected on Chinese social media accounts that I check up on here and there. I sometimes get messages from people and I ignore it, but recently I’ve gotten a slew of really attractive guys chatting me up.

Cue to alarm bells ringing, red flags waving, and self doubts flying around like vultures in heat. While in China, I would get tons of people contacting me for no other reason that they want a foreign or white friend. Smooth. But never in my entire life have I been outwardly contacted or pursued by someone attractive.

Cause I, Cause do it better 😛

A post shared by Edson Santos (@edsonnsantos) on

So naturally, as you can probably imagine, receiving a photo like this is both surprising and raises suspicions right from the get go; like look at him, right?! Anyways, he’s chatting me up and I’m keeping it pretty vague and whatever, and then he’s like “Hey let’s move to Google Hangouts” and my immediate reaction is like, I haven’t used that in years but sure yeah whatever.

Then the ratchet mess starts asking me for photos, and I think. Hell to the no, I’m not born yesterday. I already suspected I was being catfished, so naturally I used my internet street smarts to say: I ain’t sending any photos until we video chat and I can see who you are. Seconds later, Video Call incoming. I tilted my phone upwards, and the video came in, pixelated and dark. I saw some faint lights in the background but then they disappeared.

“Where are you, where is your face?” blah blah blah. And then this person says “Oh sorry my webcam doesn’t work” and my immediate reaction was like who the hell uses a webcam anymore? Don’t we all just use our phones? Red flag again. I knew for a fact that the video worked because I saw light movements and if it didn’t work then it would have been all black or the profile picture shows. Luckily for me I didn’t display myself on video.

So flash forward 4 more call attempts and me keeping to deny it; I’m playing hard ball. So few days later this person is still hitting me up and whatever, and I’m out for some drinks with some friends. I tell them that I’m being chatted up by this person, show them a picture, and they are like wow. I say, I ain’t fooling I’m being catfished. So we drunkenly devise a plan to catch this catfisher. I reluctantly give my phone to a friend Alex and she proceeds to start a conversation, initiate some video calls. She’s talking to this guy, he’s not saying anything, and then the call drops. Here’s how the conversation proceeded:

We are laughing at this point, and as the 22:31 call starts, sure enough we find a Nigerian Prince on the screen and the jig is up. The girls tease a little bit, and I’m a bit irritated that I was correct. A sliver of hope existed that maybe this is real and there was some really hot guy into me, but alas it was not to be.

We wrapped up that mess for awhile, and then I went home. I felt invigorated to press this guy on why he’s catfishing and what the fuck basically. I’m able to find the original Instagram account of the guy he’s taken photos of, and then I screenshot some photos and DM the original guy to let him know his photos are being used. He laughs and thanks me, and I go back on my way doing a good thing.

But I’m getting this sap story from a guy in Lagos about how he poses to be hot gay guys in order to get money so he can get educated. I lecture him about if he’s got an internet connection he can educate himself instead of pretending to be other people. And he feels guilty; in other words I’m scamming a scammer.

According to what he’s saying, he feels really bad about what he’s done, discloses all the social media counts of his actual identity (pretty dumb eh?) and then tells me that he lives in a house of 5 other guys that are all scammers. They manage to get $5’000 from some people and this is what they use to support their families. It’s hilarious, but then I realise it’s really sad. Sad that these people have to go to such desperate lengths to scam people. Sure their living conditions are pretty bad, but from what Is saw, they were doing pretty well for themselves.

Thinking back, of course I got the scammer that revealed himself to me, the true empath inside gave me the power to set his spirit free. What’s the message of this storytime? Don’t get catfished and don’t send your photos online to strangers; you never know who could be behind that picture!

Hands unchained

One major feature or change in my life recently was the return to freedom. Although this makes it seem like I might have been legally incarcerated, this is not the case, but living in China does limit some freedoms that one would normally wouldn’t experience in the free world...

A large decision was undertaken in September 2015 regarding changes in my life, and it was when I decided that I would seek other employment opportunities. While I love the kids I teach, the system under which I was teaching was becoming increasingly unsustainable, and I wanted out. I began interviewing in October, and I landed a contract in March.

The decision was not taken lightly; I really did mull it over for a long while. Part of me wanted to stay because living in China became easy, but there were some serious life questions that I started to ask myself: Is living here sustainable? Can I find what I’m looking for here? And after I reflected a bit, and some stuff that went down in my personal life, the answer was an unequivocal no. Thou shall hear of those reasons in reflections in the future, but for no the details are irrelevant.

And so on June 30, after leaving my apartment (and home – and yes it really did feel like home) at 21:00, our shuttle bus bound from the interior of Jiangsu Province was bound for Shanghai. In what has later become 60 hours of transit (which I originally thought was 34), I relived June 30 twice and half of June 29th and arrived into Toronto via Tokyo and Vancouver.

And thus I found freedom, sort of. It’s not my final destination and it doesn’t feel like real freedom yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. Hello Twitter, Hello Facebook, Hello Blog, Hello unrestricted internet, and Goodbye VPN.

I miss you already, China, despite your shortcomings…

It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks a few weekends ago: I’m a full time resident of China. Sure I pay taxes in 3 jurisdictions, but I spend 10 months out of the year in China, so it’s no wonder I feel like I belong here.
I defend my village vehemently against the onslaught of local and expat hatred (“bum-fuck-nowhereness”). I live here and I’m proud to be living here and over the last few months or so I’ve discovered why: because I’m involved in the community.

So how does one go about involving themself in a community when they don’t speak the language, know next to nobody, and have no idea what’s going on in day-to-day life. It’s more simple than you might imagine; find an interest in something, seek it out and take chances. It sounds easier than it is, but it’s really just about keeping your eyes and ears open for opportunities.

Dagang Stadium

Dagang Stadium

For instance, I had the opportunity to compete in a badminton tournament for the city. I played well but the cunningness of the Chinese overwhelmed me; either that or I was placed in the toughest round robin group with Number 1 and Number 2 from the city’s badminton league. The man I lost to in the first match ended up winning the tournament. It was played in the “Olympic” Dagang Stadium, which is the most unolympic thing I’ve ever seen. It’s gorgeous and I never would have had the opportunity otherwise.

IMG_20151206_090528

Then an opportunity to participate in an international marathon came up. I thought about it for a second, and not being a runner I kind of brushed it off. Then I realized, why not? I had been exhausted for so long, but there really is no harm in running 5km, 10km, or a half marathon of 20km, right? I entered and participated in the 5km run and finished in less than 30 minutes with no training. Enveloped by what was rumoured to be upwards of 5’000 people dressed in uniforms, or cosplay, or with cigarettes in their mouths, I was one of them.I went in with a simple goal: pass a few hundred people. I ended up passing what I estimate to be 2’000 runners, most of whom were walking and/or giving up or cheating. I was very proud of myself, but I regretted not doing the 10km run. I reckon I could have done it, albeit slowly.

And through these two events, it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I am a resident of China. I commute to work. I go to the market. The locals recognize me and don’t point anymore. I don’t speak Chinese, but I don’t necessarily need to. I make friends, and meet new people, and see familiar faces, and I never would have thought it was the case. Somehow, against all the things that were against me, I became a Chinese resident.

I suppose the only thing that would complete the trifecta would be dating, but I fear that might be a hypothetical story better told under the influence of plum wine.

It’s once in a blue moon that strange and exciting things happen to people like me. Mostly because I keep to myself and I don’t partake in many activities that the majority of people do. Having said that, a few weeks ago I took part in something totally out of character and it was a strange and hilarious experience that I can’t help but share.

Life lessons can be hard to learn, but are a necessary evil!

Life lessons can be hard to learn, but are a necessary evil!

A couple of my colleagues and I went out for a first week celebratory sushi outing. Low-key in comparison to other group events, the intimate evening included laughing, emotional highs, lows, and of course lamenting on the singledom that China bounds people to. In the defence of the Chinese, they are used to Asians and finding suitable choices of people of different ethnicities is probably unideal.

Despite this disadvantage I got sick of hearing girls complain about their misfortunes when in fact it was about their choices and lack of putting themselves out there that largely contribute to their loneliness. I’ve been the only one on staff that’s been able to make friends in China because I’ve been trying and they just complain and do nothing about it. So I got all diva on them and told them to download 陌陌 and see what they could find. If you don’t know what this is, it’s a sort of dating/hookup/social/who knows what in China. Bottom line you meet people, whether nefarious characters or not.

We delved into our phones, and of course I was right. They got messages and we proceeded to have strange broken Chinese-English conversations with a bunch of people. Not put off at all by foreigners they seemed to be curious and friendly, even towards people of darker skin. Our Chinese-Canadian friend in the corner who’s very fluent in spoken Mandarin but not in writing was quiet, and out of nowhere she started flapping. Apparently we caught a live one.

She showed us some pictures and the news that he wanted to go see a movie with her this evening. We had no such desire to do that so we proposed to just meet him to hang out. He agreed and we excitedly freaked out and set off for our destination, unsuitably dressed in casual clothing and looking like a bunch of bums dying in the humidity of China. We got halfway there, underestimating how long it would take walking with the “Island” folk who clearly do things at a 1/4 pace compared to everyone else. So we stopped at a bus station and he called looking to find out where she was. She said to him the bus stop and gave a description, and for the next 5 minutes we waited for a very attractive Chinese man to meet us.

Dozens of cars passed by and with each there was a panic. It wasn’t until one of the girls got freaked out at me freaking out that she said, “Why are you freaking out? Don’t you do this all the time?” to which I screamed back “No! I chat to them for a month and then meet them for dinner or a walk! OMG!” Then a nicely finished and shiny black car approached and slowed down and the window opened. Unlike most catfishes, the picture was for real and we found ourselves in front of a somewhat shellshocked attractive Chinese man.

She told him that she was with her friends because she was nervous, and he said it was okay and asked us to get into his car. Being adults of excellent education, getting into a stranger’s car is probably one of the worst things that one can do, but onwards ever forging onwards or something. Two of us were in the back giggling and trying desperately to understand the Chinese conversation going on in the front. According to our friend who provided us with infrequent translation summaries, this man was 29, single with non-stable work, and recently was in a car accident on his way to get us. He was drunk, little did we know, after having 8 beers with his mates and as a result of being so excited to meet my friend, got into an accident for which he had to pay ¥500 to bribe the victim. All to meet some foreigner girl – keep it classy, China!

So as we giggle our way trying to understand the conversation, I got some parts about him knowing that she was from Shanghai because of her accent and such, and he seemed relatively harmless and nervous. Shy as Asian men are, having one black woman, a white guy, and a Chinese-Canadian in his car it would be unfair to expect different behaviour.

He drove us to some large pot structure outside of a park, and upon getting out of his car he immediately went to the trunk to get something, which I assumed to be a weapon with which he’d kill us, but instead he opened a package of cigarettes and offered me one, being a polite man to another man and ignoring the others. I refused, to his shock, as nearly all men in China smoke (eww!).

We walked around he desperately tried to explain the structure in Chinese but it was lost in translation. It was at this point that we discovered that he doesn’t speak a lick of English, which made our funny conversations all the more secretive. We got to this one part of the park and he ushered us back into the light; so apparently he’s not psycho and wants to stay safe. First good sign of the night!

He finished smoking and I was taking in the surroundings. I judged that he was divorced, had one or two kids, and was from the military. I based all of this information on the fact that Chinese people unmarried after 25 is rare, and he seemed too hot to pass up by some unsuspecting girl, and walked in the manner of someone that worked in the military. My friend was drilling him with questions, and he didn’t seem perturbed, just shy.

We got back into the car and he took us to another place, along the area of 西津渡 which is the old port ferry area that is nice. It appeared to be the Zhenjiang version of “Makeout Point” as it was mostly couples kissing, having what appears to be sex, and people illegally fishing. The water murky, and views of Yangzhou across the river, again China is keeping it classy. We walked around there and things were getting a bit flirty, the giggling recommenced and then the truth came out. I was dead on with my assessment, he’s 29, was married and has one child, and divorced which all makes sense. He showed us pictures of his ex-wife and his adorable 4 year old child and we proceeded to walk around the port.

We played some games like “guess my age” and I was horrified that for the first time ever someone guessed above my age, or above the age of 24 for that matter. He did preface the game saying that he has no idea how to judge the age of foreigners, so I guess I shouldn’t be that uncomfortable about it. We walked back to his car in the darkness of night and he appeared to be getting less shy. He has a great smile that’s very genuine but by this point, not understanding anything he’s saying, something still isn’t sitting right in my mind.

Hooking up with a stranger off the internet is not a good idea... mostly!

Hooking up with a stranger off the internet is not a good idea… mostly!

As we approach the decked out car, I asked my friend if we should get a taxi home, as to not – you know – cockblock or something. I was trying to be a good friend, I guess. She was horrified and ordered us into the car, and we proceeded. Then he’s asking us where he should drive us, and we told him what village we live in and to drop us off at a mall location where we can catch a taxi. He refused, being a gentleman and convinced us to let him drive us home. We tried to communicate the address but not knowing the Chinese characters he was putting into his GPS my friend whipped out her business card. I warned her that she wouldn’t get it back, and she thought I was crazy. He put it in, pocketed the card and I laughed hysterically. She was horrified.

He turned on the music and away we go. On our journey he said he was in our village to pick up money earlier in the day so he’s familiar with it. This made me more circumspect. Why would he be picking up money in my little fishing village? He warned us that we should be careful because it’s very dangerous there. This is where I started to ask questions and something didn’t make sense. I’ve never felt safer than my little village. This may be because I have no idea what’s going on and ignorance is blissful, but seriously I’ve rarely seen fights or arguments or anything nefarious.

Then he asks for our contact details and he’s all excited about meeting the first foreigners ever and making new friends. I gave him my WeChat detail and such, and being nonchalant about the whole thing. Then he decides that he wants to impress my friend by giving her a present. He whipped out a flashlight and started to hand it over, then turned it on and it was… wait for it… a taser. Yes, a freaking taser. We all screamed and at this point in the night I thought, “Okay, this is where our poor judgement comes to bite us in the butt and he tazers us all and robs us and kills us.” He calmed us down just trying to show this (all while he’s driving, likely drunk). He then proceeds to give her the USB charger, because, well, it needs power I guess. And then he gives her an extendable billy club, and I start to lose it.

Why the f* does he have a taser and a billy club? My friend asked him again, and he gave the same “It’s dangerous here in China” and while I was being a diva and all “What the heck kind of neighbourhoods does he live in? Why does he need this? Shut the front door!?” we decide it’s harmless and she takes the taser, but refuses the otherwise unclassy club.

We huddle to decide a nondescript place he can drop us off that’s close to everywhere, and he does. With no awkwardness, or lingering “I want to have sex with you” body language on his part, he exits and we proceed home. I forgot to mention that all of us had dead phone batteries, so obviously we made some really poor decisions.

I get home and plug my phone in, and within 5 minutes he sent a message saying he was home safely. I thought to myself, weird. Either he went back to the city 50km away at the speed of 150km/h or he lives very close, there is no way he could have gotten there in time. It takes 40 minutes at 100km/h to get to the downtown. I thought little of it and continued a conversation.

I mentioned where I wanted to go and such, and he got all intolerant and hateful of Xinjiang people. Then proceeded to send me videos of a woman getting her throat cut, and beheadings that apparently happen in Xinjiang province. Perturbed, I decided to peace out and go to sleep. Not before he tries to weasel his way into our plans for the next day. No dice, brother.

Hot may ye be, that desperate are we not. It wasn’t until the next day that my suspicions were correct about his military background and all the other details, but we brainstormed what he might do for work. He mentioned going to casinos and such, so he could be a casino worker (which we found out to be illegial in China), a drug dealer, a loan shark, or a prostitute. How else would he afford all this nice stuff? After him sending some racy photos to us, I started to think he’s a prostitute, or really just a regular guy. I mean, guys send photos like that, right? Well, I’m led to believe so, but overall he seems harmless to me.

He messages me all the time asking where is my friend, and he clearly wants to be with her. I just move on and bypass all that and ignore it, because the bottom line is we hooked up (in a nonsexual way) with a really hot Chinese person that didn’t decapitate us. Maybe I’ll get lucky and he’ll be a nice friend that we go “clubbing” with.

Lessons to be learned: don’t do this again, unless you’re really drunk and in a group of 3 which is much harder to kill and cover up than doing it alone. Don’t associate with possible drug dealers, loan sharks, or prostitutes?

Seeing that I’ve been a driver in China for approximately one year, after having purchased my own e-bike (read scooter), I only thought it à propos to reflect on a few things one needs to be aware of when driving in China. This may only apply to villages, such as the one in which I live, but my observations tell me many things that make driving in China incompatible with Western standards.

Beef #1: Turn Signals

You might as well ask what a turn signal is, because in China they are about as common as seeing the blue sky. For any non-resident people, it means it’s super rare as we hardly ever see the sky in a colour other than grey.

Beef #2: Left Hand Turns

Related to the first beef, left hand turns are mostly done into oncoming traffic or taking over the right-hand turn lane of the opposite direction. Perhaps it’s geometry, but people here think it’s appropriate to find the shortest distance to the lane to where they are going, and end up in accidents with oncoming traffic that is either going straight through an intersection, or turning right. I think I get looks when I stay on my side.

Beef #3: Lanes

Related to the previous, sometimes I wonder why lanes even exist in China. They are observed about as much as a blind man sees his own hand. It’s not uncommon to find cars going in every which way with no care about the direction. Often tuktuks go into oncoming traffic lanes thinking that there is nobody coming, and then make a big fuss when someone with the right of way comes barrelling around a corner. Observe the lanes, bitches!

Beef #4: The horn

In the Western world the horn is rarely used, and if used then the one honking feels a bit guilty, even if they are alerting someone else to their presence or an error. It’s rude, frankly. Horns, on the contrary in Asia are widespread (to our delight and disgust) and contribute to noise pollution. Sometimes people honk for no reason, but mostly it’s to alert others that you are there.

Beef #5: Blind spots

What blind spots? According to my observations there is only one perspective or point of view: directly forward. Chinese drivers never look beyond their own periphery vision to spot check or to see what is going on around them. And thus the previous beef comes into effect; it’s necessary to alert others that you’re there when passing, hence a honk, because people won’t see you as mirrors are never used and spot checking is non-existent.

Beef #6: Traffic Signals

While it’s rare to find turn signals in use, observance of traffic directions is even more rare. There is no difference between Red and Green, and the brief Yellow light only lasts about 1 second to give the traffic a warning it’s changing. People don’t care at all, and continue on their way. I’ve seen head on collisions as a result of non-observance and lack of awareness from blind spot checking, or just plain looking. Why stop in an open intersection that has no traffic that you can see, even when the oncoming traffic is blocked by trees or other buildings. It boggles my mind.

Beef #7: Parking 

Any semblance of parking awareness or organization is impossible to comprehend. It’s simply an unorganized space in which one normally finds themselves boxed in and impossible to get out of. I’ve yet to see actual parking lots anywhere (even on my campus). It’s just a wide open space and people can park how they like, where they like, and in any direction they like.

Beef #8: General Safety

Having seen about 4 children hanging off of scooters, tuktuks, or on backs of trucks, there is little knowledge of safety. Perhaps it’s an absence of cultural “common sense” which causes this a problem on a grander scale. The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that “general safety” should be retitled “common sense, or lack thereof.” It’s as charming as it is annoyingly debilitating.

Beef #Infinity

Really this is only scratching the surface as there are so many more things one could say. Why bother nag; this is really just for fun, in an annoying It is the song that never ends way. Why does China even have a test to become a good driver; it’s not like it seems to teach them anything about road awareness or safety. Sounds like a cash-cow to me!

Having said all this, and having never really had a licence or driven in the Western world, I feel like I’m a really safe driver. And in the last year I’m the only staff member that has a bike that hasn’t gotten into an accident. Go team safety and common sense ahoy!