…You poor, stupid fool.  Well, maybe that’s unfair.  After all, it’s been nearly a year since you’ve been inside the place, and it can’t possibly be as bad as you remember it.  Maybe it was just a few bad memories, grown worse with time.  Besides, geographically it’s the closest place that’s open, and you only need to pick up a few things.  “How bad can it be?” you think to yourself, and set off down the street.


You have passed the third McDonald’s on the block, and stand in front of the entrance to the main part of the building.


Oh, no, wait.  It’s blockaded.


Next door down should do it.


Okay.  You think you remember the way.  You choose the escalators to the right.  Coming up to the second, or first floor, depending on which sign you look at (they use both systems of floor numbering interchangeably here, after all) you see a couple standing around their child, smiling.  How cute.  Oh, wait, no.  The kid’s pissing on the floor.  You step out of the way of the approaching stream, and try to pretend you didn’t just witness what you just did as you attempt to gain entrance to the supermarket section of the floor.  The spinning barricade, if you remember correctly, is on the other side of the building.  Fuck it, just use the closed checkout lane ahead of you.  One of them only has a chain across it.


First off, toothpaste.  It’s near the laundry section.  Look from a distance until you see the brand you want.  Wait, what are you doing?  You tried to get a closer look at the brands available, and you caught the attention of the display ladies.  One of them starts approaching you with a box of toothpaste, a brand you don’t recognize.  The others follow suit, squawking in incomprehensible Guangdong-accented Chinese.  If you listen closely, you think some of it sounds familiar…


“such toothpaste”


“very clean”


“much value”




Snap out of it!  Shit, you’re surrounded.  Grab the box you want off the shelf.  Close enough.  Whatever the flavor is, it’ll taste at least marginally better than tooth decay.  Now wave your arms, shout BU YAO BU YAO, and push your way through.  As persistent as these ladies are, they’re none too sturdy, and you can break through them with relative ease, until you are back to relative peace and relative quiet.


Now, the next thing you need should be on the next floor.  The problem is, this floor doesn’t always seem to exist.  Sometimes you’ll go up a floor, and find yourself two floors up.  Space and time don’t work the way you’re used to.  Fortunately you must have remembered your sacrifice to Cthulhu today, because it only takes ten minutes to find the moving ramp up, behind a stack of boxes labeled “SILKWORM WARM.”


You dodge a pair of unsupervised children, whose heads are dangerously at crotch height, and navigate a maze of shiny electronics and noisy demonstrations, until you find a water bottle.  No, not that one, not that one…Hooray!  Just what you were looking for.  You grab precisely three binders from the “Back to School” section, and find the ramp up to the foodstuffs section.  It is broken, stationary, and this revelation has shattered the mind of a fellow shopper.  She stands with her cart blocking the entrance and her mouth agape.  After a few moments, the gears start to turn and she decides that dammit, this situation might not have been on any exam, but maybe if she pushes the cart straight ahead it’ll get her to the next floor.  You follow behind slowly, silent, seething.


Peanut butter would be nice.  You circle the store three times.  The third time you pass where the peanut butter should be, it is actually there.  There is one jar on the shelf that isn’t de-laminated and shedding plastic flakes.  It’s not the kind you were looking for, but beggars can’t be choosers.  ParknShop used to have ridiculously overpriced cheese, but one day, it disappeared.  Today, there is some cheese.  Not the same brand, and more expensive than you remember.  You go to take a closer look.  A bespectacled girl, young but old enough to know better, shoves in front of you to get something she could have more easily reached by nearly any other means.  It’s okay though.  You’re a foreigner, and as such you are invisible to Chinese people.  Unless they’re staring at you, in which case you are all they can see until they remember they have an iPhone.


You hold your breath through the dried fish display and finish shopping.  You find a checkout line that looks like it might be shorter than the others.  It’s hard to tell.  Finally, your turn comes.  The checkout lady fumbles through your basket, gets to the binders, notices something is amiss with the UPC tag on one of them, tosses it aside.  You need three, not two, and when you try to express the idea that she can just scan one twice, since it’s the same exact damn product, she shrugs and shakes her head.  The feeling of dread in your stomach intensifies.  She takes your card, swipes it, notices an error.  It’s an old card, and it doesn’t always read correctly.  Usually swiping it slowly in the opposite direction works just fi–no, wait.  she’s swiping it faster and faster.  By this point, she doesn’t seem to be trying to get the machine to read the card as much as she is trying to go through the motions of pretending to as quickly as possible.  You try to show her what you’ve seen to work at every other store you’ve been to, but suddenly she stops, looks blankly in your general direction, and says three words that could almost pass for English.


“You Have Cash?”


Remembering your past experiences with counterfeit change, you don’t even bother to check.  Resisting the urge to flip the basket off the checkout counter, you throw your hands up and storm off towards the escalators.  The kid’s pee from earlier has now spread into an unavoidable slick mess covering the width of the passageway.  In your frustration, you had forgotten about it.  It’s okay, you don’t really need your tailbone, do you?


Fuck ParknShop.

  • Author: krysztov
  • Category: Gripes

I am sitting in a Starbucks in a mall which has an honest-to-Odin Walmart as an anchor. Of course there’s a McDonald’s here. There are at least two. One is right next door to the Dairy Queen and around the corner from the KFC. There’s another one right upstairs, in case the escalator was too far for you. Congratulations, you’ve out-American’d America. ‘MURIC–I mean, CHINER!

But I’ve had to go all over the place just to find a place with decent Internet.  I can’t load the Amazon Webstore interface from campus for some stupid reason or other, and the closest Starbucks wouldn’t assign me an IP.  I got here, and I’m pretty sure they’re blocking all non-Chinese DNS servers.  I managed to manually add the one everyone else was using, but it doesn’t give any responses for my VPN server (big surprise) so I’m still behind the GFW.

Nothing ever works quite right in this country.  The Internet sucks, my umbrella broke the day I bought it, and I am sitting on objectively the worst chair.  There is a spring slowly pushing through my sphincter.

This is one of those days where my love/hate relationship with China is solidly on the “hate” side.  Excuse me while I punt this screaming child through the window.

  • Author: krysztov
  • Category: Gripes

So last week I had to go to Shanghai to do some work.  Originally, I was going to take a train, but not only have they not yet built a high-speed line between Guangzhou and Shanghai yet (so the only option is an overnight sleeper train), but all the seats were sold out a week in advance.  Therefore, I had no choice but to book a flight online.

At that time, the only flight available that wasn’t at a ridiculous time or stupid expensive (I would be reimbursed, yes, but until then I have to float the costs myself) was a flight to Hangzhou, connecting with the high-speed rail to Shanghai Hongqiao Station.


Heroes of China

15 Jul

Chinese history is full of heroic figures, from the ancient founding emperors, to the genius strategies of Zhuge Liang in the Three Kingdoms era, to modern China’s George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Paine all rolled up into one–the venerable Dr. Sun Yat-sen himself.  One might think the days of such great figures are far in the past, but my experience on the Metro last night convinced me that the tradition of great heroes is still alive and well in China to this day.
At most of the Metro stations in Guangzhou, the floor in front of the doors to the trains are marked so that the area is divided into two or three sections, with arrows denoting which sections are for boarding the train, and which sections are reserved for people exiting.  This is pointless in light of the Ancient Chinese Traditional mindset of “Whateva, whateva, I do what I want,” and people will pile up in front of the door as densely as Chinese physics will allow, and of course trying to board or exit the train is in fact more of a contact sport than anything else.  Such was the case last night; although the station was less crowded than it often is, a group of ladies in front of me had started the crowd off by spilling into the exit lane as the train approached.
A young transit guard standing nearby decided he would have none of that.  He strode over the the women, who were starting to be joined by other scofflaws in the group, and although I don’t remember his exact words, they were to the effect of, “Please wait over there,” as he gestured for them to stand back and clear the area.  Of course, this had little effect, as a uniform of any sort in China has the approximate effect of an Invisibility Cloak.  But he persisted, raising his voice and advancing on the group while making little pushing gestures with his hands, and to my surprise, the crowd moved, vaguely conforming to the approximate shape of the denoted area.
The train arrived, and the wall of people inside appeared shocked and confused at the lack of a corresponding wall in front of them.  They stood there for a moment, still braced for an impact that never came.  “Exit the car,” the transit guard said, in the same mildly authoritative tone he had just affected.  The people in the train, bewildered, began to file out of the car.  The people outside waited until there was enough space, and then peacefully boarded.  It was a thing of beauty.  I didn’t even take an elbow to the rib or accidentally palm a fat woman’s breast in the process, nor did I have to frantically grab at my bag to keep it by my side.
I thought to myself, “Anonymous transit guard, when your shift is done, you should head to the nearest C-Store and get yourself an ice-cold 青岛啤酒.  You’ve earned it.

Well, it looks like Guangzhou’s stifling spring season may have passed.  After a brief burst of typhoony weather right before Rachelle left for the summer (she’s safely back in California), the mugginess subsided and for the past couple days we’ve had clear blue skies.  Well, as long as you’re looking up.  Look far enough down the road and you’ll still see some smoggy haze, and it’ll likely get worse if the rain doesn’t come along and keep it down every so often.  So, the air’s drier and cooler, the sun’s brighter, I’m done with classes, and Rachelle is away for two months.  Looks like there’s nothing left to do but explore!

But not today.  Yesterday I made a market run while the Ayi was doing her thing, and to kill some time I wandered along a road to see where it was I had gotten lost previously.  I found a lot of nifty things to take pictures of, and completed a nice big chunk of my neighborhood mental map, but the sun was pretty damn hot.  Even though I thought I had drunk enough water, the heat and sunshine caught up with me, and I stopped sweating and got a headache, and some nausea, and I went to bed early and woke up to my alarm.  And after breakfast and a brief Skype with Rachelle, I couldn’t stay awake and fell asleep again until noon.  But I’m feeling better, and when I went out to buy razor blades I was sweating normally, so by tomorrow I should be back to normal.  Hooray!

Oh, yeah, one more note.  There is a little switch on our bathroom wall which, when activated, turns on a water cooler.  If you leave it on, your electricity bill will skyrocket, but you do need it for short periods of time in the summer.  The water tanks on the roof get extremely hot, and I could not take a shower even with the hot water turned off until I had chilled the pipes for around five minutes.  Yeah, pretty toasty around here.

Happy Fourth of July to everyone back home!

With the return of hot, swampy weather comes a triumphant explosion in the local mosquito population.  And apparently I’m the best thing on the menu.  Yay?

One of the few luxuries we maintain here is a housekeeper who comes around for two hours on one of our busiest days (Wednesday, that is.)  For about ten dollars, we can leave and get all our work done for the day and return to a clean apartment in the evening.  This helps promote sanity and the continued health of our marriage.  The floors will be mopped, the laundry hung up outside, the dishes washed…and this time of the year, the apartment will be full of mosquitoes.  When we’re home, we try to ensure that no window or door to the outside is open for any longer than it absolutely needs to be.  Mosquitoes will exploit any opportunity to get closer to a meal, after all.  Our Ayi is a little less concerned about such things.

Last night, there was a particularly persistent mosquito (or a small swarm of less-motivated ones) buzzing around while I slept.  I woke up looking like a plague victim, or perhaps an unfortunate teenager–swollen red splotches all over my face, and body, even a few on the soles of my feet.  Rachelle managed to squash one against the wall, and it left a bloody smear the size of a quarter.

We have tried a few ways to mitigate this issue, but we currently don’t have mosquito netting, and keeping ourselves covered is just not feasible in this weather.  We have a fan blowing across our bed as we sleep, and that seemed to work for a while, but I think they may have been evolving stronger wings lately.  When Rachelle isn’t around, when I see a mosquito I just surround it with a cloud of Raid, but that’s not really a good long-term solution.  Until we can get a better system to repel them, I may have to go to bed covered in bug repellent.  Or, maybe I should just give up and slather myself in barbecue sauce for them.

By the time I leave China, I’ll either be completely immune to mosquito bites, or dead from malaria.

Oh, Rigel wanted to get in on the biting action too.  Since he likes wind, when I blow on his face he’ll stretch himself out towards me and I’ll usually give him a kiss on the nose.  Last night he decided he’d much rather try to bite my upper lip off.  Time to consult the book of Armaments…

  • Author: krysztov
  • Category: Gripes

More rain.

5 Apr

I’ve already touched on the raininess of spring in Guangzhou.  This place makes Pittsburgh look sunny at this time of year (and we all know Pittsburgh is the Seattle of the East as far as gloom is concerned).  Of course, it’s also relatively warm, which leads to 89-90% humidity being the norm.  This means that nothing ever gets dry.  We generally hang laundry on the balcony, since we (and most Chinese) do not have a dryer, and during most of the year so far, this has worked fine.  But it’s far too humid and not nearly hot enough for anything to dry, and so after three to five days of hanging outside, our clothes are no drier than when we put them there, and smell somewhat of mildew.  Everything starts smelling like mildew and funk in this humidity.

So, I brought the laundry rack back inside.  I put two of our dehumidifiers underneath it (being careful to hide the cords from hungry bunny teeth) and set up the fan to keep air flowing constantly through the setup.  It seems to be working for the time being.  If only I could take advantage of the air conditioner without making it freezing in here…or jacking our power bill through the roof.

I’m really glad I brought my waterproof boots.

  • Author: krysztov
  • Category: Gripes

Oh, Spring.

20 Mar

The rainy season has come.  Last night and this afternoon we had pretty much torrential rainfall with our thunderstorms, with some drizzle in between, and a couple conveniently placed clear moments which coincided with my run out to get Rachelle’s bus ticket, and my travel to and from Pilates class this evening.

With the rain, of course, comes the humidity.  It was pretty brutal when we got here in September, but I’m not sure I can ever really get used to it.  The air might not be all that hot, but if you so much as walk briskly, you won’t be able to cool down until you find an air conditioner.  Our three dehumidifiers and our air conditioner are going to be running damn near full-time.

Rachelle is in Zhuhai until tomorrow evening–she didn’t want to take any more two-hour plus bus rides than she absolutely needed in this weather, so that leaves Rigel and me free to do what we please.  Which isn’t much, given our budget constraints.  On the plus side, Rigel’s hormones seem to be winding down.  He isn’t stinking up the house with body odor or pooping everywhere as much as he was for a while, and he seems to have mostly gotten over his temporary dislike of me.  Now we chill together like bros.  Knock on wood.

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!

Last night Rachelle made some delicious lentil soup and we had Jenny and Sebastian over for dinner and Cards Against Humanity.  While Rachelle finished up dinner preparations, I downloaded the game and ran it down to the little print shop next to the Dig’n'Shop, across the parking lot.  I returned back and Rachelle and Jenny spent some time cutting out hundreds of little pieces of paper while we waited for Sebastian to arrive and the soup to finish cooking.

The soup was delicious, but the wine we had was not so much.  China does not have a long-standing wine tradition, and even the oldest vineyards are very…industrial? so pretty much every bottle of domestic wine I’ve had tastes at least a little off, with some flavors that don’t quite belong in wine and the ones that do belong still being slightly off-kilter.  I joked that the best way to enjoy Chinese wine is to already be drunk.  Fortunately we had plenty of beer as well to wash it down.

I don’t think much more needs to be said about Cards Against Humanity, other than that Sebastian got a crash course in the seedy underbelly of American culture.  He still managed to win a few points by playing cards he didn’t fully understand, though.

I thought I would have enough time to sleep last night, but I forgot to tell you that Chinese wine, in addition to its sub-par taste, also has a devastating effect on my battle-scarred intestines.  Lordy lord.  I woke up at 5:30 in the morning and ended up having to skip my Chinese class for the day just so I could try and get some rest.  I finally managed to drift off for about fifteen minutes before my body said NOPE, time to piss!

Grumble grumble.

So I was going to try to fit in a little more sleep before I had to seriously finish preparing for the class I teach in the afternoon, when China decided to thwart me again.  I get the feeling that the enthusiasm most Westerners feel about watching sports, or having sex, or both at the same time, pales in comparison to the way most of China feels about noisy construction activity.  I closed my eyes, and a hammer started pounding downstairs.  Then another joined in.  Before long a whole chorus of hammers were pounding away beneath me.  At first part of me worried someone was at the door (Rachelle was out at Pilates, and she wasn’t quite supposed to be back yet, but you never know), but eventually drowsiness overcame disturbance and away I drifted for the next hour.  By the time I had finished hitting my snooze alarm, my headache was less terrible, my guts had mostly settled, and I was ready to get on my laptop with its annoying colorful stripe down the middle of the screen (that’s another story, for another day) and finish my lesson.

On a positive note, the new double-edge razor I ordered (well, had someone order for me because most of Taobao’s payment methods require Chinese citizenship), and hopefully I will not turn my face to hamburger in the process of removing my November beard.