Getting Good at Having No Clue: The Traveller’s Journey

No Lying

Always look for local advice.

Never do I feel quite so self-satisfied as when I enter a Chinese subway.

As you exit Shanghai Central from the intercity trains to the metro, there is a long, horrible corridor coated in sadness and human suffering. There are banks of ticket machines for the subway, each bracketed by greasy aluminum barricades to hold in the masses. As each train lets out, hundreds and thousands of people flow through this hall as they move to the subway. Almost every machine is constantly utilized by people who have absolutely no idea how to work such a machine, nor how to use money, or possibly even their own fingers.

For months I huffed and grunted and tapped my feet, waiting desperately as dozens of people tried and failed to use the machines that worked so simply. I grew frustrated even as I knew that I could cast my speedy technological gaze over the device and have my own tickets and theirs produced in several seconds. Worse yet, experience meant I could probably manage to use the hulking brute in English or Chinese and still get in and out in just a moment. In recent months I have taken the extra step of self-congratulation and have purchased a reloadable metro card, which allows me to bypass the line and feel deeply, undeservedly metropolitan at the same time.

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Visions of Sickness From Faraway Places

Friends, Romans, and countrymen and -women, I have fallen ill. It has been a gross several days of torturous hot-and-cold, toss-and-turn, binge-and-purge grossness, the details of which I will spare you. Well, mostly. I went to the doctor, who diagnosed me with tonsillitis. He helpfully described the pus forming on them as a “cheese.”

You will be proud of me in that I totally did not barf on his shoes at this description.

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Media Delirium Tremens and the Missing Ocean of Crap

It was strange to be the 194,563,906th person to see Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” on YouTube. Stranger still was that I had never heard of the song before.

A friend linked me to a remix which I found infinitely charming, and it struck me that I had not heard the original. I sought it out and gawped blankly at my screen. This was obviously a popular song, a hallowed member of the current cultural zeitgeist of the homeland. This was something that had already become an assumed fragment of cultural heritage, a shared globule of media experience to which all North Americans, and many other global citizens, had already absorbed. In fact, Happy was beyond the saturation point when I came across it. It had already surpassed osmotic spread, whereby every human in that hemisphere had long since realigned their neural networks to simply include the song’s existence. It was something everyone already knew, had talked about, and gotten over.

And I had never heard of it.

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Ayi Audition: Livecast of the “Michael’s Gross Apartment Maid Invitational”

All right, lady. Do your thing.

All right, lady. Do your thing.

At long last, I had cracked. For months, friends and acquaintances had assured me that life on the other side was something incomprehensibly better. That once you crossed the threshold, going back was no longer an option. That even glancing back at your old life would make you shudder and recoil, terrified that you ever could have lived such an unfulfilled, empty existence. I resisted, mostly out of a strange attachment to the status quo. Change is scary. Change is change.

But finally, I relented. On Sunday, I opened my door and let a pleasant middle-aged Chinese woman in to clean my house. And I don’t think I can ever go back.

12:32 I have been tidying slightly, although I know it is a ridiculous impulse. I am somewhat terrified at what this stranger will think of me, what the state of my apartment will say about my character, my personhood, my lack of culture. I imagine her peeking inside the door, cringing visibly, shaking her head and muttering in Mandarin before trudging back to the elevator in disgust.

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Chronicles of Culture Shock: The Internet and the Tortoise of Freedom

Sometimes in life, you move to Asia. Sometimes in life, you move to Asia twice. Chronicles of Culture Shock continues the series detailing my adjustment to life in Canada by looking at my adjustment to life in China.

The tortoise drum

Scoot forth! Into the great beyond!

Brigitte needed a copy of PowerPoint. Apparently it was all the rage in Korean pedagogy, and people at the orientation were already preparing introductory slideshows about themselves, their nations, their interests and hobbies and families. Everywhere around us people were on the Office crackpipe, mainlining delirious helpings of star wipes and flashy, 1980s music-video dissolves. We all sat in a mind-bendingly tedious presentation, so she took to the hotel wifi and purchased a copy of Office, and began the download, thinking she might be able to begin the install some time around lunch.

Something strange was happening on her computer. A thin strip of grey was gradually filling up with blue progress, ticking along with an alarming speed. People began to gather around, marvelling all the while.

“That whole program downloaded in under a minute,” we cooed. “This is the greatest country in the world.”

What was this devilry, this witchcraft? What had this country sacrificed to the gods of the internet to allow for such unholy download speeds, for unlimited bandwidth, for constant, omnipresent wireless connection with five gleaming bars of full signal? What gods from the depths were summoned, what demons from beyond were called upon for such unfathomable agility and electronic prowess? I imagined a Korean Andromeda, chained to the rocks, the personified anima of the internet devouring her alive, cackling as he slithers back into the ocean, the boon of high-quality broadband and and impressive wireless routers left in his bloody, rupturous wake.

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The Pedagogy Marathon, or, Building a Classroom in 4 Hours or Less

I'm sure setting up a classroom will be no hassle at all.

I’m sure setting up a classroom will be no hassle at all.

At long last, I staggered into the staff room of my new school.

Due to the stringencies required for visas, I arrived in China roughly two weeks after training for the new school year had begun. Frantic emails were shunted in my direction every day from secretaries, from principals, from coworkers offering help and condolences and desperate pleas that I maybe get a move on.

My picture had clearly been passed around, as my principals shook my hand, the other grade one teachers gathered to celebrate my foretold arrival, and dozens of others cooed their appreciation at this droopy, wide-eyed newbie. Suddenly I was on a team of people discussing how best to perform sports hall duty at lunch, and whether or not paper was allowed, and how there was always paper to be picked up during PE class, and how that was not on, but maybe if they brought colouring books, or what if they wanted to write, and when did we blow the whistle exactly?

An ocean of information crashed upon me. Schedules and curricula and class lists and furniture arrangements and duty rosters and names and names and names. I met nearly 50 people that day, and would remember the names of maybe four. I arrived in my classroom, Spartan and clean and mine, and was told to prepare.

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Adulthood and Meatballs: My Independence Begins in an Ikea

ikeapic

Two sacks and a basket full of grown-up, please.

The delivery man squinted. If he didn’t recognize my address, he was definitely beginning to recognize my face, and this had been the third time I airlifted food into my apartment that week. My beautiful, spacious, ramshackle and unfinished apartment had no knives. It had no pots or pans, except for the single frying pan given to me by the school, which came sans handle. My apartment had no towels, other than the travel towel I had slipped in my bag for emergencies. My apartment had no mats, no coat hangers, no spices, no sheets.

Of course, confronted by this sort of situation, I usually adapt comfortably. The bachelor lifestyle suits me like a velvet glove, and I can easily subsist in an apartment with a bed, two chopsticks, and a decent internet connection. That my new home had a couch and a television and a spare bedroom and working air conditioners was already beyond my expectations, accoutrements I barely knew how to fathom, let alone care for. Give me a barren concrete block with fewer things to clean and I will live my life in perfect, monastic peace.

Of course, the state of my living space was of some concern for the people whom I worked with, and for my friends. There was the growing concern that I was not eating properly, or not eating at all. Other humans heard the stories of my deliveries and imagined me splayed out on the hard tile, scooping fistfuls of pork and rice directly into my mouth and then, with no towels or water or anything to clean myself, simply smearing the leftover sauce in my hair, which as you know is nature’s towel.

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