I’ve already offered some of my observations about China, and about people I’ve encountered in China. This blog entry is just a bunch more random observations about the Middle Kingdom and some of its residents, a few of whom have appeared here before.
Since the first picture I post is the one that shows up on Twitter, I have to choose wisely. And it is especially wise to include a picture of my two student friends—helpers—Jill and Tianyu. When I have an emergency, they come to my rescue. Since I have not had too many emergencies, I don’t need to bother them: they have plenty of other things to do (such as study). I hadn’t talked to them for a couple of months, and then last week they showed up—completely on their own, and out of the blue—at my flat, bringing me that which is pictured below. It was an incredibly nice and thoughtful gesture.
They have been extremely patient with me, and with my one continuing problem: the bank. As mentioned before, everyone under the age of 120 uses the phone to pay for things, from a small bottle of water to, I guess, a car. (I haven’t witnessed anyone buying a car, to be honest, nor do I plan to. I once tried to buy a car in the US using my debit card, which certainly got an interesting reponse from the dealer.) Jill, Tianyu, and I have not had success in getting my phone to work to pay with AliPay and WeChatPay. My colleague Hongxia then tried. We spent an hour at the bank, only to discover not only could Hongxia and I (and Jill and Tianyu) not get it to work, the bank could not get it to work. While this is frustrating, at least Hongxia has La Gioconda to comfort her.
Hongxia is a philosopher at Suzhou University, with specialties in the philosophy of art/aesthetics and Martin Heidegger. She even puts up with me although everytime I write Heidegger’s name on the blackboard I seem not to be able to help myself and add a little symbolic comment.
She is very tolerant of what I guess is my frequent tendency to annoy her, and even took me out for a lovely Christmas dinner at a Chinese-French fusion restaurant (mostly French), where I never even saw a single chopstick.
Hongxia also helped me (since—did I mention this?—I cannot use my phone to do this) order pizza for the last day of my “History of Western Philosophy: Kant to 1900”:
A couple other random remarks.
As my reader knows, I spend a fair amount of time on the bus. I’m often on the same bus with the same people, and while they may not have figured out who I am, I know who they are. One of the regulars is a woman who rarely says anything, but always sits next to someone who has quite a lot to say. This woman almost exclusively responds to her interlocutor by saying only something that sounds like “aaaaah” or “yaaaaah” or “baaaah,” over and over. Twenty-five minutes of “baaaaah” over and over has led to my new name for her: Goat Lady.
Another regular is a Westerner, a guy I think of as the albino Philip Seymour Hoffman. In fact, he is not albino (is that term politically incorrect? If so, I didn’t use it), but he is really, really white. He also looks a great deal like Hoffman. I’m pretty sure it is not, in fact, Hoffman, since the guy on the bus is alive. However, even though we are often the only two Westerners on the bus, every time he looks at me (looks through me) as if he has never seen me before, even though I have tried to say hello. This, in fact, is fairly standard in my lao wai encounters. Perhaps I appear very threatening.
But on this same note, apparently Suzhou’s bus riders met and voted that it is okay to sit next to me. I’m on the bus almost every day, going one place or another. From August through November, Chinese would never sit next to me unless that was the last available seat, and sometimes not even then. This was a remarkably consistent pattern. Suddenly, everything changed, and now people sit next to me even when there are lots of other seats available. I’m not sure what I did. I’m guessing that, as is so often the case, I did nothing.
One New Year’s holiday, our family spent it in Manhattan, staying near Wall Street. (The daughter wanted to do the Times Square thing, which turned out to be a little frigid for those not sufficiently drunk to realize they were getting frostbite and hypothermia.) The other reason we were there was to see the Vermeer exhibit at the Frick. (The lines were ungodly long, so we didn’t go. These holiday plans, as you can see, didn’t quite work out.) But behind the hotel desk was a framed picture, and the clerk—when he saw I was from Ohio—kindly informed me that it was not the original. That was certainly helpful, given that this is probably one of the three or four most valuable paintings in the world, and how surprising it would be that some random hotel would have the original hanging in the lobby. When I saw the same picture (okay, any philosophers reading this will quibble with the word “same” here) in a shop in Suzhou, I decided not to go in and ask the owner if this was the original.
I usually post pictures of good food; here’s an exception. This was listed as “mashed potatoes with truffle, bacon, and egg.” In fact, it was much closer to lukewarm potato pudding with an overwhelming egg taste, with no trace of truffle (and we all know how tasty those truffle traces can be), and a piece of undercooked bacon on top. I ate it—of course—but it was pretty terrible. Mistakes were made.
A last note, on what is known as “Chinglish.” Anyone who makes fun of odd or humorous translations they see in China should first show me their characters and the brilliance of their own Chinese. Most Americans, were they to try to translate English into Chinese, would come closer to producing a Jackson Pollock painting than anything close to a comprehensible sentence in natural language. So I understand why Chinese folks sometimes get annoyed at those who make fun of Chinglish (中式英语).
With that said, this seemed to be a particularly unfortunate translation choice, particularly given the color of the beverage in question.