Spare Change

5 Mar

Things in China seem to happen at a different rate than they do elsewhere. People, for example, tend to be slower. I’m not just talking about the people in front of you on the sidewalk who can’t seem to manage any speed faster than “arthritic statue” while walking seven abreast, although that certainly jumps out at you (though slowly, of course). Punctuality does not seem to be a virtue. Any time you plan on meeting someone here, they will show up no less than fifteen minutes after you. Even if you’re also late. I have since come to never expect anyone to arrive on time.


Other things, however, seem to progress much more quickly. For example, most of Guangzhou’s central business district, now towering high-rises on top of shopping malls for as far as the eye can see, was not twenty years ago an expanse of remote farming villages. To this day, one can still see cranes dominating the skyline, as though somebody decided the skyscrapers weren’t nearly dense enough. In a city of 40 million and growing, as more migrant workers arrive daily from the countryside, they might be right.


The other day, my wife wanted to go to a small grocery store on campus to buy some new notebooks. We had not been by there since before the Spring Festival holiday. The store was no longer there, and there seemed to be no explanation for its removal. Likewise, tonight I planned to take her to dinner at our favorite Sichuan hole-in-the-wall. Again, it had been a little over a month since we had been to that area. We walked along the little road outside the Little North Gate, until we were certain we had walked too far. We turned back. Rachelle was frustrated that I had led us right past it. When we reached the place I was sure it had been last time, I stopped, and realized our favorite place for spicy deliciousness was no more. The sign had been changed, but more surprisingly, the entire layout of the building had been remodeled. The food was still plenty spicy, but they didn’t have our favorite dishes, and everything seemed more expensive. It seems everything’s getting more expensive. The Irish pub and restaurant we frequent recently did away with their daily specials and replaced their whole menu with a selection that was almost identical, but much more expensive. We can’t go there as much nowadays. In the same part of town, the lady Rachelle bought oranges from every week stopped showing up, and none of the other vendors are a suitable replacement. Nothing seems to stay the same around here for very long. This isn’t all bad, though. My time as a last-minute replacement English instructor ended last semester, and now I’m training for a new career as a replacement Pilates instructor.


Only a few things stay the same around this city: The heat and humidity are back, the meat-on a stick vendors still sell their yummy wares, no matter how many times the cops make a show of driving them off, there are still random couches on street corners and people napping on them at all hours, and the haze of pollution never leaves the air for long. Ah, Guangzhou!

Hey, so it’s been a while, hasn’t it?  I’ve been getting my data where I can, but until today there hasn’t been a nice enough connection for me to post at my leisure.  This all changes starting today, and yes I will post about my first week in China over the next few days.

But let me tell you about my day.  Today was the opening ceremony for the School of Foreign Languages at SYSU’s Zhuhai campus.  Rachelle had to attend, and of course, that meant I did as well.  We woke up bright and early and prepared ourselves for the day with coffee and kiwifruit on the balcony.  It was a cool, breezy day–the first we had encountered thus far in Guangzhou.  We met Jenny and the German teacher in front of the SFL building and waited for the rest of the faculty to arrive.  We’re always so early!  Well, except when we’re not.  Anyway.

It was a fairly nice bus ride–long, but we got to see a lot of China outside of Guangzhou.  Spoiler, even outside the city there’s construction everywhere.  I found it hard to imagine how the little agricultural patches could coexist with the high-rises being built just on their edges, but they seemed to be working just fine.  I’m sure that it wasn’t quite so simple as that, but I’m just giving you the drive-by view.  The scenery was beautiful and I do wish I had taken more pictures, but I didn’t.  Maybe next time.

We finally arrived at the Zhuhai campus.  I had looked it up on Baidu and Google maps and image searches, and heard that it was essentially one giant building, and it was true.  The ground floor was really just shops and banks and bike parking around giant support pillars, and the rest was around four stories suspended in midair for what looked like a quarter-mile, at least.  We gaggled along to the second floor, I tried my damnedest not to hit my head on anything, and after a quick restroom break and some taking-in of the views, we filed into a lecture hall of some sort.

Oh, here are some of the aforementioned views.View from Zhuhai

Yeah, my phone camera seems to be a bit blurry.  Meh.

There were a bunch of speeches and the event was MC’d by a guy who reminded me of a Chinese Steve Buscemi.  Then the English department all went into another room and the teachers all introduced themselves and there was a speech speech speech.  It was mostly in Chinese, which I’m still terrible at, so I can’t say much more about it.  THIS IS NOT THE INTERESTING PART.

LUNCH, HOWEVER, MIGHT BE.  We got back into the bus and headed to a restaurant located pretty much across the street.  Food was served in what I assume to be the common fancy-Cantonese style, based on my prior experience (you’ll read about it later I’m sure).  I noticed that in addition to the chopsticks, we all had an additional wooden ‘stabby stick.’  I was informed that this was for snails.  And sure enough, the first thing to come out was a plate full of snails.  Stab, pull, pop, munch.  Not too bad.  Much like clams or other similar molluscs, but these had a bit of an aftertaste if you chewed too long.  Their shells were plenty cool though.

snail shells

From there, the plates kept coming.  There was some sort of freshwater fish that nobody could recall the English name of (mighty tasty though).  At the same time there was a plate of random bird chunks which I was told were pigeon.  Also not bad.  Chicken feet came out next.  Uh…  I tried one, and it wasn’t terrible, but it was a little too bony and gelatinous for my taste.  The beer kept coming–if you didn’t refill your glass, someone nearby would, and if they didn’t a waitress would come by–and the rest of the meal isn’t quite as clear, but there was a mushroom stew with seafood, a beef with peppers and leeks, some greens, some great big pieces of daikon with goose pieces, buns stuffed with either savory meat or sweet pineapple filling (which Rachelle said tasted a bit like bubble gum), a tofu and pumpkin dish, and probably a few more I’m sure I forgot.  By the end of the meal, I was half-staggering, half-waddling back onto the bus.

The itis, Cantonese style

The itis, Cantonese style.

On the way back I got a shitton of text messages in Chinese and then my phone stopped working.  Apparently, although my SIM card allows me 200MB of data per month (I know, right?) my phone is still in “use ALL the data!” mode.  And that’s how I drained every last yuan on my card in two days.  Son of a bitch.

We arrived back, and Paul took us to the networking center to set up our Internet accounts.  It was madness, but we got everything working which is why you are reading this.  Yay.  The following is on the doors of the helpdesk office, and made my head explode.

Merry Christmas, indeed.


Oh, I forgot to mention.  The class (which you would have known about had I been posting regularly up to this point) which was supposed to start Sunday, has been moved to Saturday.  I am teaching this class.  It is five-ish hours long and starts first thing tomorrow morning, and so why the hell am I still here on the internet?  Fortunately, my predecessor had some good lesson plans which I could shamelessly rip off build my course around.