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.

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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.

Since one of my very first memories in middle school, I disliked body hair on myself. I remember when I was in grade 7 and I was in the boys change room, and it occurred to me that peach fuzz started to appear on my body, and I didn’t like it at all. I was confused as to why I had it, and the immediate reaction was that it made me feel dirty. Little did I know that it would become a concern, fear, and affair for years to come.

I went home shortly and raided the cabinets and found a razor and used it to remove the hair on my arms, and legs. Little as it was, the anxiety I felt was immediately subsided. It was the beginning of the trials and tribulations of hair removal.

Since the age of eleven to eighteen I shaved on a regular basis to keep things under control. After that, I noticed that the hair would grow in thicker and was now brown instead of blonde. This worried me even more and caused me more anxiety. The more it came, the more I took it away and rid myself of guilt. This was very much the same routine until I was 23 and finally started to look older than 16 years old.

I was working full time with a steady job and had tons of money to spend or waste as I pleased as I had no social life. I frequented every month a health spa to have the hair waxed away instead of shaving. The effects were dramatically different, but the interim period required for the hair to grow to an appropriate length to remove was uncomfortable and made me anxious again. This continued for two full years, and in retrospect I ended up spending approximately $1,500 in that timeframe on the removal. I didn’t really think about it until now; shocking I know!

And so I moved to Asia last year and things got a little weird, mostly because shaving in my shower is awkward and difficult as it’s limited in space and comfort and the water is gross. I started to research alternate more permanent options. Naturally I gravitated to Thailand with their cheap deals, but it wasn’t realistic as most treatments require you to go regularly, and zipping off to Thailand would be hardly a good option.

The magic machine

I compared prices of laser hair removal in different parts of the world, and could range between $250 per treatment to flat rates of $2,000 depending on where you went. Paying that much money for light therapy seems ludicrous, so I asked around here in my village and I got a referral. I would pay approximately $600 all inclusive for IPL (Intense Pulse Light) treatment. After the consult I was sold and excited about the possibility of never having to worry about it again.

The price was right, the location was clean and safe and discrete, and everybody seemed happy. Here I am tw treatments letter and already I notice huge differences. It’s amazing to think that in another 6 months or so I’ll never have to worry about the appointments, or ever have to worry about it again. It’s liberating, it’s freeing, it’s magic, and it’s right. It feels right, and it means I can focus on other things.

And thus the affair that I’ve had for nearly 20 years is almost over. Who knew that being aware of hair cycles and anagen phases of hair growth, or light, or the gentle cold feeling of the applicator and the gentle smell of burning hair follicles could be so comforting.

Smoothness ahoy!

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?

Squatting Man

Upon deciding to move to China I thought of one thing that would be completely incompatible with my idea of civilized society: going to the bathroom in public. I was warned by many people that in China just whip it out and relieve themselves. Having lived in China for a month now in a small village, I can confirm that this was not the case at all. People were very reserved in their actions, and despite the odd habits of the Male China Belly Syndrome, there was no squatting in the streets.

Until last night. It was no more than 24 hours from the moment I thought: “Wow, nobody here goes to the bathroom in the streets like I was told. Great!” There I was, coming home from my daily gym routine at about 21:00 and walking through the commercial plaza to my place of residence when I see a group of five men walking towards me. I took notice because they were young and the demographics of where I live are predominantly older.

They veered off to the right and were very well dressed so I figured they were going out for night on the town. Well within my view one of them went off into the corner, squatted down and in front of about 100 people took a shit. Excuse my language, but it was horrifying. All of my comfort of living in China was shattered at that moment, and what was even worse is that he didn’t even wipe up; he just continued on his way and pulled up his pants.

Shocking – I know. I was always surprised at how well the Chinese can squat (they can even keep their heels on the ground – unlike me). Now I know why, and despite it not being a widespread stereotype, I at least now know it happens.

This must be why here and there you get a funky smell of something – peeeuw!