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Anomie and Ennui
24 December 2012 @ 06:56 pm
Want to know how Christmas Eve in China works?

I decided to splurge U.S. $5 on treating myself to beer and Korean food at a restaurant around the corner instead of another night eating instant noodles. Hey. I'm trying to save up fun money for my trip back home without dipping into my savings!

It's lonely, it's lame, and I miss my family. I miss my friends, I miss eggnog and punch. I suddenly miss all of my ex-girlfriends as I sit alone in a small Korean restaurant in Beijing, eating Kimchii and reading a book. I miss presents and chocolate and my family's Christmas tree.

This is the second year in a row I've been in China for Christmas.

I'm homesick.

And to all a goodnight.
 
 
State of mind: lonelylonely
Melody: Christmas Music
 
 
Anomie and Ennui
22 December 2012 @ 11:33 pm
So my busiest days here are Saturday and Sunday. I work 10 hours a day both days with a 30 minute break for lunch (if I'm lucky and on schedule for my classes). It can get exhausting but at the end I've cleared $600 for the weekend. This is mostly due to the fact that after only being here a year, I'm already the longest held employee this school has (including Chinese personnel). Turnover is high in China. Workers tend to do a couple month stint at a place before either moving back home or finding a slightly higher paying job and moving on. Most of my fellow teachers are college students earning spending money on the side. They cancel classes often, don't know how to give good demo lessons, and really think that English lessons consist of talking at their student for the 50-100 minutes they signed up for. This works in the short run, but after a couple lessons, the student catches on and realizes they are paying through the nose for not really learning anything. They don't sign back up. So six months ago when my company took a minute to look at their books and realized that I was the drastic outlier in successfully actually... uh teaching English, I've been booked straight through. This all leads up to the fact that after looking at the books and total lessons sold and taught, I am responsible for roughly 40% of this schools revenue and responsible for 80% of their returning customers. This is great! For the company at first, but even more so for me.

Let me explain. It's my micro econ classes being put to good use.

Since I now know that my quitting would essentially mean an impossible to recover loss of revenue for the company, the company now essentially works for me. Coupling this knowledge with my growing understanding of how the English teaching business here in China works has lead to a drastic increase in wages, quality of work, and management. Today, my company moved to a much nicer, larger more professional space with money earned almost entirely from my students.

Ego much? Let me have it. It feels good to be really good at something.

Here is an example where the obsessive number cruncher in me comes in to play in a move I am very proud of. Mom, Dad, if you ever wondered if all those years of playing video games would ever pay off, let me tell you: they have. Just like in a game, once a system becomes thoroughly understood, it can be manipulated to earn the maximum gains for the person. Except now since the company works for me, I also get to tweek the rules of said system.

For example, the company used to have a policy of paying 200 RMB for new teachers recruited. Approximately $35. That's not much. That's barely more than I make in one 50 minute lesson. So I sat down with the finance lady and told her I had a couple of great friends who were looking for work but I was hesitant to tell them about jobs there.

"Why not Mark? You'd get 200 RMB!"
"Yeah, but if in the future, they end up taking even one lesson from me, I've essentially broken even. Actually, I probably stand to lose money in the long run."
"What?"
"See, students here have their choice of teachers, I'm pretty much booked and my schedule is hard to work around because of it. By introducing these other good teachers to you, I actually stand to lose money. Therefore it is actually in my best interest to keep these other highly capable teachers away from here."

It is at this point I should note, that teachers who are actually good at teaching English are a rarity here. The prospect of being able to have more than just one (me) good teacher working for a company makes casino noises start playing in their heads.

"Okay, so what can we do?"
"How about for every 50 minute lesson a teacher I refer teaches, I get 20 RMB?"
"What?! But then you'd be getting paid for just setting it up!"
"Isn't that how you guys get paid?"
"...We'll think about it."

They thought about it, and now I earn roughly 200RMB a week for doing nothing. Also, I am busy interviewing new teachers for the school as I am infinitely more qualified to find decent teachers than the Chinese staff is. Their job has become to find students, and my job is to make sure we have better teachers to make sure the new students keep coming back.

I like being the puppet dictator of a company. Especially when it becomes apparent to the people in charge that it's actually working, and everyone is making more money.

It's kind of like after the first 6 months they looked at each other and went "Wow, this kid knows what he's doing. Uh... maybe we should let him keep doing it?"

If this long boring rant about how I'm manhandling my way up the income ladder has made you think I don't have a soul I promise you that's not true. I started teaching English, and then found out I really actually liked teaching as a job. More than I ever thought I would. I have a passion for languages and I love actually being able to help other people progress in their own studies.

Some of my fun students?

Saturday mornings I start with a two hours science lesson with a 10 year old boy named Joe. We spend it reading through a basic chapter from a science book on the solar system, biology, physics, chemistry or energy. I correct his pronunciation, help him with new vocabulary (telescope, lens, gravity, solar system) and finally make him practice some of the grammar he seems to be struggling with. This normally takes an hour and then we spend the next hour surfing wikipedia, talking about outer space, NASA's current projects, the history of evolution, and a million other things. Sunday morning starts off with 75 minutes of teaching a 3 year old boy. We do colors, sing songs, and practice flash cards while I make funny faces and act ridiculous. Want to know how to keep a 3 year old coming back? Act like a raving lunatic. Is the flash card of a gorilla? Act like a gorilla, chest pounding and all. It not only works, it's a hell of a lot more fun than anything in a textbook. Also, the parents (ie: the paying party) will love you. Then there is Caroline. Shes 13, but way too smart and mature for her age. We talk about J-Pop stars, read magazine articles, practice vocabulary and trade manga and anime suggestions. Also she has my exact birthday but twelve years later which means we are both rabbits and Taurus'. It was awesome finding that out.

My favorite student of all though is John. John is an 11 year old boy I only see for an hour on Saturdays. We started doing science chapters 5 or 6 months ago. We finished those quick enough and now work through several language art books. While we do work through the books, we spend most of our time talking about our lives joking and discussing cool new things (while correcting and practicing grammar and pronunciation I promise). He's way too smart for his age and one of the best children I've ever met EVER.

I just recently bought my tickets home for my vacation to see my family and to get a new Visa. I'll be gone for all of February as I enjoy some well deserved R&R. I mentioned this to John and was blown away by his reaction.

"You mean, you'll be gone for February?"
"Yeah, I need to get a new Visa and see my family again."
"But... all of February?"
"Yeah, I guess so, but I'll be right back at the start of March."

I've never seen a child close the distance between two chairs that quickly. He hugged me, and he hugged me hard.

"I'll miss you..." he said.

Few moments in my life have been as rewarding.

"I... I'll miss you too John."
 
 
State of mind: Tired
Melody: None
 
 
Anomie and Ennui
Dating has been strange in China. Much more so recently, when it seems like all women-friends here have realized I am single and not particularly interested in dating Chinese women.

Usually as a rule foreign women here tend to go straight to the assumption that if you are also western and live in China, you obviously must be dating 3 Chinese women simultaneously. Not to put myself on a pedestal of moral impunity, but that's not really my thing.

You see, Chinese women treat western men here (at least in my experience) with an odd mixture of worship and curiosity. Maybe it's because I've lived in Japan already for so long where the same phenomena exists (but to a much less embarrassing extent) that I'm immune to a trap that lots of foreigners fall into. Chinese men (as a terrible generalization) don't look for good friends,common interests or a personality in their women. They want a woman who will make them feel good about themselves. This usually means either a trophy wife or a someone who will mindlessly agree and reinforce the views they already have.

Infidelity is rampant here. I know a Chinese couple who both cheat on each other at the drop of a hat and then bemoan the problem to me endlessly.

"Why don't you break up?" I finally asked incredulously one evening.

"Because we're probably going to get married and have kids." he stared back at me like I was an idiot. Apparently, that chain of events was entirely out of his or her control. After all, who would want to ruin a perfectly terrible marriage and family by breaking up before it has even begun?

I'm rambling. The point is (somehow), most Chinese women think that what men want is an entirely subservient girlfriend with no opinions, complaints or ideas of their own.

That idea excites me about as much as a damp sponge. I've been on three dates with Chinese women in the year I've been here, each one worse than the last. It seemed that Japanese women grew out of this phase post high school and really found their personalities and sense of self. Chinese women seem to revert and become even more and more complacent as their time without a boyfriend extends. It's depressing. I just want to shake them.

Can't change the world though.

Most foreign men though? Entirely disarmed by the fawning and deferential attitudes Chinese women greet them with. So most foreign men date Chinese women here.

Oh, so what was I talking about again?

Right, right...

So I went on some great dates with other foreign women this week. I guess that was the point.

Hoo-rah.
 
 
Place in life: My Apartment, Beijing
State of mind: amusedamused
Melody: None
 
 
Anomie and Ennui
15 November 2012 @ 08:02 pm
How did you spend today?

Because I spent it watching and rewatching the trailer to the movie version of Le Miserables.

Excited? Yes. Hugh Jackman is a really good fit for Jean, not quite so sure about Russel Crowe as Javert. Can he even sing?

Eh.

Very excited to see Sacha Baron Cohen sing "Master of the House".
 
 
Place in life: My Apartment Beijing
State of mind: bouncybouncy
Melody: Master of the House
 
 
Anomie and Ennui
7:15 PM. Heading out to another open mic night in around half and hour as I try and memorize my new set for tonight. Most open mics I don't actually perform, but I go and listen because it gives me new ideas for my own sets. I pay attention to the delivery of some of the other comedians, and ask myself why the same set that was so funny the last time I saw it seems to be falling flat tonight. I pay attention and watch the audience very closely. It is in this way that by examining comedy so minutely, I can achieve grounding absolutely all of the humor out of it.

-_-

That's a bit of a lie I suppose.

Let me back up just a bit. Around 3 months ago, I was on a date with a very lovely and very boring woman (Sound judgmental? She actually told me one of her hobbies was sleeping) who had heard about Club Comedy Beijing doing a free show at a local bar. I was interested, so we showed up, got our drinks and sat down at a table. Now, the past 11 months have been the longest I've gone without acting since middle school. I've been performance starved. Needless to say, I was enthralled by once again seeing a real live performance of anything. My Chinese date? Less so. Turns out the puns and cultural jokes were a bit too far above her English level. She invited me back to her place for wine and a movie. I told her I was too tired, walked her to a taxi, kissed her goodnight, waved her off and went right back inside for the other half of the show.

I mean, I can have sex any old night. These people were performing!

Long story short, I forcibly attached myself to anyone in the group who would allow me to praise their performance in hopes of finding out more about who they were and when I could see their next show. This lead to me find out about a weekly open mic night. This in turn lead me to eventually getting drunk enough at an open mic night to sign myself up. This lead to better than expected results, which lead me to sit down and start actually writing sets and bits to perform. This lead to me being offered a job in the aforementioned comedy troupe performing around twice monthly for $40 a show and all the free beer I can drink. This has led to some amazing ego boosting shows where the entire audience loves me, and entirely soul crushing shows where I've wanted to stick a gun in my mouth rather than finish my set I feel so embarrassingly bad.

Overall though? I have a new hobby.

It sure as hell beats sleeping.

Want to hear a joke I wrote?

"So my toaster isn't working lately. It's strange. In fact, it's unconvectional."

...YEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!
 
 
Place in life: My Apartment
State of mind: anxiousanxious
Melody: Giant Bombcast
 
 
Anomie and Ennui
10 October 2012 @ 04:39 am
Dear Mark:

If there is ever a time in your life when you feel down, worthless, like a failure, or just plain bad about yourself, I want you to take a deep breath and remember today: October 9th, 6:00 PM to October 10th, 4:15 AM.

You are awesome and you are everything you wanted to be when you were 16.

How cool is that?

Go you.

Love,

Mark

P.S. Seriously, you rock.
 
 
Place in life: Beijing, China
State of mind: drunkdrunk
 
 
Anomie and Ennui
06 October 2012 @ 11:34 pm
So I haven't had a real entry here in months. Shameful really. More than shameful, but I keep telling myself I'll get back into the habit of writing. Hopefully that's true, although it really probably isn't.

Just know for now internet that after an 10 hour day of teaching, all I have the energy to do is lie in bed and sail the Mediterranean Sea with Captain Nemo and the Nautilus.

I really do have a lot to write about. I swear.

I have a million posts just bouncing around in my head ready to come out.

...Not tonight though.
 
 
Place in life: Beijing, China
State of mind: tiredtired
Melody: None
 
 
Anomie and Ennui
17 September 2012 @ 02:15 pm
Dear Chinese Population,

Before you get all up and arms and protest the Japanese ownership of Senkaku, first realize that you are tools. Realize that any protest you are even allowed to have exists only because it suits the governments needs.

Why do you care about a land dispute with a foreign government that will not affect any of your lives at all when the government you should be protesting is right in goddamn front of you?

Stop being tools and see this stupid news story for what it is. A distraction to keep you scared of foreign boogie men while the government goes through it's only period of instability and possible change for the next 10 years.

Seriously.
 
 
Place in life: Beijing, China
State of mind: aggravatedaggravated
Melody: FLCL Soundtrack
 
 
Anomie and Ennui
20 January 2012 @ 03:43 pm
So.

China.

Beijing?

Yup.

I've been here a little over a month now, and truth be told I'm in love with Beijing far passed any of my original expectations. It's not as pretty as Japan, it's not as warm as Taiwan, the food isn't as good as in India, the people aren't as friendly as in Colombia, but I'm in love none the less.

First of all, Beijing is HUGE. I've been here a month and still feel like I haven't seen anything. The number of restaurants, neighborhoods, hutongs, clubs, museums.... it's all staggering. I live on the affluent more westernized east side in the right next to the Times Square of Beijing: Dongzhimen. It's a fantastic place and a convenient meeting point of several train lines.

I guess I should fill in the blanks to how I got here?

I arrived December 8th in my usual flurry of excitement. There are few times in my life I'm as happy as when my plane is touching down in a country I no very little about, but am going to live in for the foreseeable future. Tammy met me at the gate and for the first two weeks I stayed in her small studio apartment. After the first two days of resting/getting acclimated/finding a bank where I could withdraw Chinese currency, I set about starting an actual life here.

That meant finding a job.

Which ended up being as easy as simply showing up.

Long story short, any doubts I had about finding a job teaching English were quickly dismissed. Every single interview I had ended with me not only being offered a job, but sometimes being heavily pushed into accepting their offer. I interviewed for everything from High schools, to kindergartens, to private tutoring cram schools. Working hours, wages and conditions varied broadly across my 18 or so interviews during that first week, but seeing as how I ended up taking the job at the very last place I interviewed with, I'm glad I stuck with my sometimes exhausting trek around the greater Beijing area in search of gainful employment.

So now, Monday through Thursday I teach at a Kindergarten in Wanjing 4 to 5 hours a day, making roughly $30 an hour. Friday is my day off, and on the weekends I teach 6 to 8 hours a day at a private cram school in Yonganli (where Tammy lives). At the kindergarten I teach two hours in the morning, and two to two and a half in the afternoon. I use my 4 hours lunch break to go to a local cafe and study Chinese from some new textbooks I've purchased. These long breaks are part of the reason I took this job and not something more full time. For the first time since my classes in Taiwan, I have a structured study schedule. While my Chinese IS improving day by day, little by little. I will admit there are times I want to throw my hands up in the air and just give up with this godforsaken language. I have never had to claw and fight so roughly through a language before. My daily continued attempts to master this language prove ever humbling.

Long story short?

CHINESE IS HARD.

After getting a job it was time to find a place to live. Once again, it was the very last place I went to where I found the perfect fit.

My job is in Wanjing, which is actually kind of an inconvenient location. It's not on either of the large loop lines that encircle Beijing. When I was staying with Tammy in Yonganli, my commute was a grueling hour and a half slog through the morning rush of Beijing's subway stations complete with not one, but two separate line transfers.

It was exhausting, it was stressful, and it needed to change.

I looked at the subway map, and started using some of my free time to search out locations and neighborhoods where I wanted to set up camp.

I instantly fell in love with Dongzhimen. It's perfectly located on the subway map. I'm dead center in the middle of all the cool neighborhoods and areas (Sanyituan, Gongti, the Hutongs) and it's the midway point between my job (no more line transfers in the morning!) and Tammy.

Now all I had to do was find an apartment.

This is where I was introduced to the absolutely terrible world of Chinese real estate agents. I spent the better part of a week chasing down every listing I found for the Dongzhimen area. My results were frustrating. In China as it turns out landlords don't just give their listing of an empty apartment to one Realtor agency, they give them out willy-nilly. This lead me to being shown the same 5-7 apartments in Dongzhimen repeatedly by 5-7 different agents working for different agencies.

So this is how apartment hunting in Beijing went for me.

Step 1: Show up at Dongzhimen station.

Step 2: Meet way-too-friendly Realtor agent.

Step 3: Climb on the back of their broken down scooter or electric bike and feel my heart rise to my throat as we zigzag through insane Chinese traffic to the available location.

Step 4: Be depressed when I realize they have taken me to a location I've already been shown by another agent.

Step 5: Tell them that I've already been shown this location.

Step 6: Be assured that I have not in fact seen this apartment.

Step 7: Be shown the apartment I've already seen 4 times and given a new and different price each time.

Step 8: REPEAT AD NAUSEAM.

Add to that, the fact that while the modest monthly rent is definitively within my budget, the 3 month's rent deposit, along with the 1 month of rent agency fee and I was getting the sinking feeling that I wouldn't be able to get my own place until I had gotten my first TWO paychecks two months later.

I wasn't excited.

When my hopes had started to scrape rock bottom I stumbled upon an ad on thebeiginger. For those not in the know, thebeijinger in the premier source of info, classifieds, and want ads for expats and foreigners living abroad in Beijing. The ad was simple:

"Looking for roommate. Dongzhimen right next to subway station. Nice area. Nice room. Laid-back room mates. $2,800 a month for the largest bedroom in the place. Available ASAP. Can't get pictures to load on here. Give me a call at xxxxxx".

I was a bit discouraged by the price. $2,800 was significantly lower than any of the other places I had seen that were the bottom of my standards. I didn't really want to start off my adult life by living in some midden heap, but having tried the more conventional means to no avail. I decided to give the guy a ring and check out the place.

I show up. I meet Scott at the station and he immediately comes off as a very friendly, genuine man who's lived in Beijing for the better part of 6 years. We walk five minutes to the complex he opens the door, and I'm stunned.

The place is amazing! Huge flat-screen TV, beautifully furnished, full kitchen, two balconies and best of all a fully enclosed western shower (a true novelty and luxury in most Asian apartment complexes). My room is huge and gorgeous. A king sized bed, amazingly huge wardrobe with a large three sided terraced window facing south.

"Oh, he says. Sorry that only the largest room is available. Hope you don't mind paying an extra 100RMB a month."

100 RMB is roughly 16 dollars for the record.

"Oh, we also play poker every friday."

I love poker.

"We also have some friends who play Dungeons and Dragons if you're into that sort of thing," he mentions nonchalantly.

I feel my heart-rate increase.

"We also drink and play video games kind of a lot. We've got a modded X-box and a huge stack of games. Wednesday's are usually Whiskey/Jenga night."

SLOW DOWN HEART. SLOW DOWN.

"Oh, I hope this isn't an issue, but we also have a cat named 'Wicket'."

I have officially died and gone to heaven.

So here I am now. I sit in my own apartment in downtown Beijing just before Chinese New Year welcomes in the year of the Dragon. I am employed, I am making more money than I know what to do with. I have friends here, I have work to do, I have a language to learn, and I have a life to start.

Last year after New Years in Las Vegas I wrote an entry here wondering where I'd be in a years time, speculating for all I knew, that I'd probably be playing golf on the moon.

The answer turned out to be better.

I'm playing Texas-Hold-Em tonight in Beijing.
 
 
Place in life: Beijing, China
State of mind: giddygiddy
Melody: The Traffic of Beijing
 
 
Anomie and Ennui
27 September 2011 @ 01:18 am
Well, it's that time again.

For the past 6 years now, I have been alternating between living abroad in Asia (Japan, Taiwan) and coming back to the U.S. to finish my degree. Now I have it, and I'm moving to Beijing in a little over a month indefinitely. So for the next month I will be packing my bags, and scouring my parents house for any and all possessions that are mine and putting them into deep storage. Some things I'll probably never use again, others might potentially be shipped over to me in time, and a choice few possessions that aren't clothes and the necessities of life will come with me.

It feels strange this time. I've been talking about moving and living abroad for so long, that now that it actually is happening.... I don't know. Lord knows I've had enough practice at it and there are certainly things I am very excited about. It will be nice to start speaking Mandarin again, and this year has taught me that I really won't ever be happy living alongside my parents again (they are still great, I'm just far passed that age). It will be nice to be earning actual money too. Acting and serving has provided adequate supplementary income, but that's about it. At least I really enjoyed the work.

Things that I will miss however? First and foremost, I will miss Olivia. I've gotten used to saying goodbye to girls and I can recall more tear-filled airport goodbyes than I have any right to. You'd think it would get easier with time and experience.

It doesn't.

On the contrary, over the last month I seem to find myself getting more and more attached to the damn woman.

It's life though. We had a great run. I'll always remember her and the time we had together. Highlights including but not limited to: The best Tuesday ever, Lonesome Dove, drunken Smash TV, spring break, Pho Quan, her birthday dinner and show, having her save me by breaking into my car with nothing but a coat hanger and some pliers- the list goes on and on.

As for everything else? It's transitory enough to not really bother me. I imagine that I will certainly miss certain parts of the internet and am not looking forward to living behind the Great Firewall of China for at least a year, but I'll survive. I'll miss acting, but teaching English in front of kids isn't all that different from acting anyways, and the pay is much better.

I will definitely miss console gaming as I always do. Still can't quite rationalize bringing any of my systems with me though. My old gray launch DS will have to continue its service for at least a little while longer.

I'm going to get back to my coffee and late night PBS marathon as I pack up crap.
 
 
State of mind: thoughtfulthoughtful
Melody: None