My Chinese name is Jie Mi. Being a foreigner in a new culture is alternately condemning, forgiving, and finally invigorating: you’re guaranteed to commit faux pas on a daily basis, yet your status as an outsider gives you every excuse in the world to do so, so there’s really nothing to stop you from doing whatever you like. Boiling water seems to be the solution to about 75% of all problems I encounter in my apartment. Eating live animals (i.e., shrimp) has not exactly made me feel proud of being a carnivore, but I at least feel less hypocritical about it. I’m just beginning to realize how incredibly attractive Emily Mortimer is. The first time I really felt a part of the community here in Shenyang was when I spent five minutes helping a stranger remove a plastic bag from the spokes of her bicycle wheel. One of the children I tutor on Saturday mornings is named Panda. Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space*. Chopin’s “Etude Op. 10 No.3 in E major” is just as moving on a Chinese-manufactured recording as it is on that of any other country. Despite losing my sideburns due to some miscommunication, the local barbers treat haircutting as a fine art and gave me the best (not to mention the least expensive) trim I’ve ever had. Kids love staring me—hopefully I can get my college students to do the same. Crossing the street, where cars barely stop for pedestrians and street lights are unreliable, is truly a human-scale version of “Frogger” (if parents want to prepare their kids for a trip to China someday, best to let them keep playing those video games). Reading Danilo Kis’s The Encyclopedia of the Dead actually makes me feel more alive. Hearing a group of cats screaming outside your apartment window at midnight is probably the scariest sound in the world. Morrissey is of a subspecies. Most of the college girls from Russia either roll their eyes or ignore me when I say “hello” to them, which typically occurs in shared elevator space; the occasional friendly soul, however, makes every attempt worth it. Oddly enough, of all the strange dishes I’ve tried in Shenyang, it’s the local KFC that has upset my digestive system the most (then again, maybe that isn’t so odd). Although I have been listening to Tom Waits’s album Foreign Affairs quite a lot, I have not yet had a foreign affair. This picture is adorable:
When you can buy bottled water here for about 15 cents, why would anyone want to drink the unfiltered stuff anyway? Fifteen minutes of mosquito-killing has to now be scheduled into my sleep routine. My top ten favorite Chinese films, in order of preference, are: 1. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai), 2. Centre Stage (Stanley Kwan), 3. Still Life (Jia Zhangke), 4. Comrades, Almost a Love Story (Peter Chan), 5. Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu), 6. Platform (Jia Zhangke), 7. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai), 8. The Blue Kite (Tian Zhuangzhuang), 9. 24 City (Jia Zhangke), 10. Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai). The hot and spicy eggplant is still good, but its magic is gradually fading, perhaps because I’ve recently been introduced to dumplings. Judging by all the rabbit-logoed shopping outlets I’ve seen here, Playboy gets a lot of international business in China selling relatively non-risqué clothing for teens and young adults. Demonstrating knowledge of Yuri Gagarin’s achievements does not impress most Russian females. Chinese hospitality is among the best I've experienced. Given the sudden interest in me that is shown when I mention it, I might be more popular on campus if I figured out a way to better advertise that I’m from the United States. Ricky Gervais needs to get around to producing his rumored Chinese version of The Office. Not only do the squirrels here eat rice, they even use little twigs from trees as chopsticks**. The current trend among a lot of Chinese young adults is to wear t-shirts featuring large-font, all-capped English expressions (e.g., “MUSIC IS MY LIFE,” “A MAN’S GOTTA DO WHAT A MAN’S GOTTA DO,” “STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES,” etc.), which should help my lessons if I ever run out of ideas in class. Did I mention my fondness for Emily Mortimer?
** Not true.