Sunday, September 15, 2013

Starships were Meant to Fly

Perhaps only in Shanghai can I say I feel almost no ambiguity having Nicki Minaj in my playlist next to Mongolian Folk Rock. It’s rather fitting, really.

It’s been quite a week. My anxiety has peaked quite a few times this week. And frankly, I think my reaction was merited.

That said, as my anxiety cooled down I realized the cooling down of the situation was much like looking out over the ridge at Serenity Valley being overtaken by The Alliance. Oh yeah, I went there. Peace is nigh, but I’ll still be traipsing around the universe in a secondhand starship, hopes up high and head down low. Will do my best not to get into a bar fight on U-Day.

Seriously Jenny, how much Tsingtao HAVE you been drinking, now? Well today none actually. Then what is wrong with you? Perhaps I have not been drinking enough Tsingtao. Also I have acquired a bamboo plant. Oh you don’t like my shiny distraction?

Aside from my mental calculus re: Alliance vs Brown Coats, there have been other exciting ventures.

Friday night was the worst thunderstorm Shanghai has seen in four years. The horizontal and spider lightning was rather impressive. The Line 2 Metro was shut down for some time (this is apparently atypical). Someone’s husband wasn’t allowed out of his office building. Some teachers were trapped on the Line 2 metro – flooding, power outage? Chinese Whispers flying. People couldn’t hail a taxi for 30 minutes at a time. Some people couldn’t return home from hospital visits with the taxi situation. Some of us hailed a black market van taxi across the river to Puxi. We had two birthdays and one unbirthday to celebrate, after all, nevermind if it wasn’t the best idea to travel. Mei Guanxi!

I saw the strain drawn on other people’s faces as we inched forward in our van. That other people have their own battle of Serenity raging in their psyche. The African American teacher that keeps having clothes snatched from her hands and told “NO!” when she tries to go clothes shopping. The rude gawking stares she gets out in our suburbiate Shanghai.
The teacher who could not complete his wire transfer across the Pacific to pay his US mortgage. (I am so glad my transfer to pay down my credit card processed smoothly.) I realize we all have our walls to climb.

We finally made it to the Shanghainese home turned restaurant in the Jingan Temple district. We had three tables, many dishes and many spirits. There were birthday speeches, and birthday longevity noodles (slurp them in one go, if you cut them you cut your life). “Don’t give up on China,” said in a thick Colombian accent. “Don’t give up on China,” the catch phrase of the week. You are welcome here, little one, with these three tables of celebration, you are. Friday night was a good night.

Our landlord finally called the gas company about our gas leak, the 7th time we complained. It took my roommate throwing up from the fumes for them to take us seriously enough to call the gas company. They were just afraid they’d have to pay to replace the pipe. So, if you have a gas leak in China, throw up. Or tell them you did. I think perhaps they finally tightened the leaking valve. I’d say I’m sorry for my words versus my landlord saving face, but that would imply I cared about it in this situation at this point, which I don’t. I also got Chinese speakers to call and explain, so that’s no excuse either. I’d let the cultural thing slide – but it’s gas. Not ok.

I’m sorry, I’m still quite new to China. Making me deal with a gas leak for a month was not helping everything else at all.

I am not giving up. I really like my classes, my students, my department – what I wanted to get out of China. A more supportive teaching environment, closer to the age group and art discipline I want to focus on. But it is hiking a sand dune, life. Much of what I thought I had figured out has been a backslide here. I didn’t have these kinds of problems with housing in Bangkok. I had problems, sure, but not to this scale. I was able to live alone. My landlords were responsive and helpful. Even the month I went without hot water, they gave me a key to shower in the apartment next door and apologized the technician kept cancelling. They let me move apartment units when mildew overtook my room. They helped, willingly.
Here, I’ve been met with “why don’t you fix it yourself,” like my old college slum landlords, more than once…
“Don’t give up on China,” in a thick Colombian accent.

I’m really enjoying the city. And I also realize some of the road blocks some of the other new teachers have hit, do not phase me at all – having already been in Asia for nearly 3 years. Other things – well, I hit the wall much harder. Some things, I’m the only one of us facing a particular wall – personally, any way. I’m thankful to know I have people standing beside me where before I was much more culturally isolated. Even if now, instead of the only white woman my age, we are many westerners, but splintered.

I tell you what – much like Bangkok, people thought I would have thrown in the towel much sooner. Some of my close friends in Bangkok were quite surprised I hadn’t gone home. Let me reiterate, I am nothing if not stubborn. I mean, I am Year of the Ox and Capricorn; the most stubborn signs of the zodiac by both Eastern and Western standards. Yep. I went there too.

I sit here while the tones of Altan Urag reverberate through the living room. Ok, reverberate might be pushing it for laptop speakers. But I sit here with Mongolian folk rock. And my juxtapositions just keep getting more and more interesting.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Rolling with the Punches

It’s been quite a week over here. Students with 4 or 5 study halls in their schedules for days on end; schedules changing in the middle of the day without teachers being notified and missed teaching. The terror when I thought half of my yearbook staff was going to drop, including the one student with a camera, a sentiment that has visited most of the staff in some way or another this week. I don’t even think I’ve seen the half of it. Things have settled, some.

I figured out how to wire money home to North America as dollars!!!! I don’t have to just stuff cash in my bra on the rare occasions I fly back! I know people are staring at me again with that comment.

There is a new Chinese visa regulation, as of September 1st, affecting at least half a dozen newly hired teachers, when we attempted visa extension on September 4th. So thankful to be single – the married teachers and those with dependents are those affected. There is more to the story than that, likely. Not particularly kosher of me to elaborate on our theories. A fistful of baht? Would that do it? Wrong country again? Only slightly.

I took a second shot at standup comedy. No colleagues along for the ride this time. Just as well, this is my thing. I got up and filled my time with a slightly more PG (as opposed to last week) variation on my rollerblading fiasco. Oh and for the record – lesbian experiences and ladyboys in Thailand – I will own you if you try that as a pick up line on me.

I’m still striking a balance between holding up my professional masks, personal masks and so forth. One thing I’ve noticed – not that it’s necessarily a new observation – but I’ve noticed the burdens others carry showing through this week as the scheduling and visa nonsense wears us down. And in some ways – it’s nice to realize I am not the only one that needs to let my guard down and be real. That perhaps, there is more opportunity to be real than I sometimes think. Even if I still sit back and take in my surroundings a little more carefully first.
Especially as so many have listened to me, these past few weeks a great deal, but really, always, when I’ve needed it. And oh boy, have I needed it. It’s nice to feel I can pay that forward in my own right after so long feeling I was just always taking.

I ate Chinese BBQ street food three nights in a row this week. I hardly batted an eyelash. I didn’t really mean to do that. Aside from my MSG intake I’m really not particularly sorry.

Two others walked with me to watch some ballroom dancing in the park last night. It was a nice, peaceful, an actually Chinese element to our evening as opposed to oh my gosh we’re back in North America mall cruising. There was some fan dancing aerobics taking place as well.

We ate Muslim noodles, and the toddler had Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance playing on a Samsung Smart Phone. Now there is culture shock, right there. None of the rest is surprising, but Lady Gaga in the Muslim Noodles joint. I have visions of visiting Mongolia someday and Gangnam Style busting out of nowhere. I mean really, it’s not that far fetched if you think about it.

The Chinese government has my passport for the next three weeks to process my residence permit. Or something like that. But they were quite efficient about it while we were there actually. Having spent full days in Thai Immigration, it was hard not to scoff at people asking how long is this going to take for a process lasting under an hour, but I tried. I’ll get it back just in time for my October holiday. So, now is definitely not a good time to get arrested. That was totally on my list for next week. I’m just glad I don’t need to notarize any certificates with one or more embassies, nor is my application held up by health check irregularities. No Thai tapeworms – no Dr. House shout outs. Damn. That would be the perfect disgusting facebook status.

There is so much swimming through my head, as per usual. There’s a brief snapshot.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Goals, Momentum and Fapiao

I said I was going to bed. Of course I did. And then I created a spreadsheet to track my finances this year, read more email, posted some more links, downloaded my completed US tax paperwork, put away some laundry, began another blog post…

And didn’t you just blog a couple days ago? What is this about Jenny?

I just don’t stop. That’s still something I haven’t quite gotten the hang of. Learning to stop. The light switch is either on, or off. No light switch raves. Coasting in the middle isn’t really how I do things most of the time.

It’s funny, because I just read a post about setting bigger goals: and the limits of self-censorship:
Both of which are incredibly relevant to where I’m at – need to stretch myself more and stop freaking keeping my mouth shut. It’s not good for me to stop talking. Well – ok that’s a mixed bag. Any way.

On the one hand, I think taking on China in my second year of teaching, and some of the other side projects I’ve got cooking, whether or not I’ve brought them up on here, illustrate some pretty big goals, actually. I’m finally being less of a wimp again.

On the other hand, my voice is still subdued. My writing is still self-censored. It will continue to be – but I am fighting for middle ground.

Tonight I put together my first fapiao paperwork with a neighbor’s help. Fapiao is an official Chinese tax receipt. A fapiao will have an official red stamp. After a purchase or meal you will probably have to take your regular receipt and then go to a separate counter, or otherwise ask for an official fapiao. Be sure you have your company’s name written in Chinese when you get this issued. You will also have to sign the back and/or get a chop made to stamp the back of your fapiao for verification.

There are several categories, we have to learn the Chinese characters to recognize which is which on our fapiao receipts. There are two types of forms that encompass the 4-6+ categories in different ways. The idea is basically you submit a bunch of receipts from living expenses: restaurants, taxis, other transport, rent, food (not grocery, that’s a different category when taken in translation and does not count), telecommunication… I guess it’s kind of like itemizing for US taxes, but it’s monthly and a little different.

A few colleagues have earned the knickname ‘fapiao’ because they are constantly collecting as many tax receipts as they possibly can in an effort to avoid taxes. Though, it can be counterproductive – you have to spend more than you’d pay in tax in order to get the full eligible tax break. So really, just go about your business but collect your receipts meticulously. And if you have a friend who doesn’t use a certain kind of fapiao because their contract is different – get them to collect those for you.

And I thought my US tax filing was confusing.

I am nervous. Earlier today I think I might have been more nervous than for starting last year. I don’t know. I do know I have a lot more support and a lot more resources. I also know I’m finally setting forward on some goals that have been backburnered for some time now.

I guess we shall see. But take it easy there, Jenny. You’re still checking your watch when people ask how long you’ve been in Shanghai.