This too shall post

Back to talking about China, then.

The weather is slowly growing colder, but it's still nothing serious. In fact, my apartment somehow manages to defy the cold and the monstrous mosquitoes that everyone else complains about. I've seen their handiwork, too - they're not to be taken lightly. One friend got a bite on his arm and it swelled up looking just like a third nipple. One student had a largely swollen ear that we thought was the onset of some serious disease, but no - it was just another bite. I'm not sure why they cause such a reaction, but damn I'm happy I haven't had them buzzing around my head while in bed at night.

In general, I'm quite happy with my apartment. It's not some sardine tin; I feel a bit guilty about the spaciousness at times, considering I'm usually in one or two rooms - often neglecting the kitchen and second bedroom (or "study," as I like to think of it). Renting is the way to go in Harbin; buying an apartment (let alone a house) is prohibitively expensive for most people, myself included. Even after months of living here, it's still pretty bare-bones. I've got some minimal decor left-over from the previous occupant, and maybe a few practical changes on my part, but it's almost the same as I found it. The idea was, well, I wouldn't be staying here that long anyhow. This still appears to be the case, but I'm still on a variety of fences regarding what to do next, so it's something I'll have to report back later on.

In the meantime, I can briefly describe some of the events I've been privy to (in no particular order):

Firstly, there was a boat trip. I received an email asking me to join my co-workers in a day off, cruising a boat up and down the Songhua River, having lunch on an island, and drinking merrily all the while. It's hard to turn down that offer for another day of walking around or sitting in front of the laptop. Most of the teachers and TAs attended as well (TAs: free food, teachers: free beer), and it was a pleasant little excursion. Nobody fell in, which is always a plus - especially since I later heard a tale from a new teacher about his former company having an outing at sea, the boat capsizing, and the majority of them drowning. Is that a chapter in your company's disaster recovery manual?

Also, a few teachers and TAs went to KTV, the Chinese take on karaoke. It's nearly identical to Japan's - private rooms rented by the hour, food and drink available for purchase (at a premium), tambourines awaiting you in the room. The biggest difference for me was the dissatisfying selection of English songs. Of course it's China, but damn... oh well, as long as you're with friends, it tends to be fun.

A different group went to a dance club called "D+" as well. The interior was shockingly elegant ("A+" material, actually), but the table charge was shocking to match. The idea is that there is a minimum amount that your party has to pay, up front, in order to sit at a table. When we went, it was 300 or 400 yuan (about 40-50 per person). To put that in perspective, you could buy a standard-size can of beer for about 1 yuan. Still, it wasn't disappointing: they had a spacious joint complete with periodic shows from in-house dancers. The most annoying part about the club experience here (as opposed to how annoying clubs can be in general) was without doubt the music. My friend has a theory that all the venues in this region simply play the same mix CD and the "DJs" standing about are frauds, doing little more than periodically bursting out on the microphone at key points in the songs for maximum annoyance. Having visited a few bars and clubs, I can't challenge this observation, though I sincerely hope he's wrong.

I was in a party of people that went bowling as well. Nothing unusual to report, except that the maximum shoe size was woefully inadequate for me. Well, maybe that isn't unusual after all. Believe it or not, the Chinese tend to swim, dance, bowl, sing, and otherwise function like many other humans on this planet. The intent of this blog was to inform about my activities here, but I'll spare you these less-than-profound observations.

The majority of insight I've had into the culture here has come from a few sources: foreign teachers who've been here a while, natives with a good command of English, and personal observations/research. Regarding the personal stuff, during my day off this week I'll be diving deeper into the history of Chinese-Japanese conflicts, war atrocities, and modern propaganda in hopes of understanding better the animosity that exists between the two even today - in spite of being major trade partners and only a stone-throw away. I've downloaded some pseudo-documentaries related to Unit 731 - the Japanese attempt at human experimentation that was in-vogue during WW2 - and have been reviewing more reputable materials on it as well. Since Unit 731 was located in Harbin, I can see why the anti-Japanese sentiment here still runs strong. Then again, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on largely civilian targets in Japan during those years, and we're practically best friends now (Germany's neighbors, too, seem to get on all right these days). My hunch is that the proud Han Chinese forever "lost face" by Japan's occupation, and - like the guys who think they're defending their "honor" by leaving a fist-fight only to come back with a knife - refuse to let it go. Yet, it's also convenient for the government to continually remind the people of this in order to drum up nationalistic support using us-vs-them rhetoric. Come to think of it, the second notion isn't too dissimilar from other tactics employed beginning about 8 years ago today in the United States...

On Tuesday, I intend to visit the remains of the notorious Unit 731 personally; I'll probably wait a bit to sort things in my head before detailing it, however. In the meantime, perhaps you or others will find some solace in these four simple words: "This too shall pass."

Since I haven't yet penned my treatise on nationalism, I hope the following advice is succinct enough:

Political charlatans will continue to harp on about these contentious affairs in order to divide and conquer people of all nations, but remember that the next time one of them climbs onstage, wraps a flag around his dick, and violently jerks off, you don't have to stand there swallowing it up like the crowd of blind, hungry birds all around you.

RSS 2.0