Just For Example

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This afternoon, I walked into the English office near the end of the day. There were 5 or 6 Chinese teachers there and as I entered, one of them looked at me and said something in Chinese and the rest of them laughed.

It’s easy, at moments like this, to feel bad. Maybe they’re making fun of me—do I smell or something? Am I a red-faced freakshow? (It’s cold and my nose gets red.) What. The. Hell does it mean?

So I just said, “Exactly” and sat down at my desk.

“Do you understand what she said?” another teacher asked.

“No, I don’t understand,” I said, “but I agree.”

This got a much bigger laugh from all the teachers. No reason to feel bad, no reason for anyone to feel defensive or offended. It’s obvious that in a foreign place, a sense of humor is invaluable as a shield against paranoia and self-pity. It’s just not always so obvious how easy it is.

  1. Dila —
    Tuesday, November 17, 2009 :: 04:18 PM

    Sam—Great little space you’ve got here. Same thing happened to me and James from Beijing to Lhasa, with several pit stops in between. The Muslims in Xining—they didn’t laugh or make any jokes—A welcome respite of seriousness and contemplation in an otherwise unparalleled ride on the self-esteem roller coaster. You have to believe they love the fact you’ve taken your time to be there. Go Sam! Go China!

  2. Emmy —
    Tuesday, November 17, 2009 :: 10:13 PM

    My dear brother. I’m finally writing on your blog, though I’ve been reading and looking at pictures all along… I can relate to this feeling—- it’s so hard to be in a foreign place, trying to understand when it’s all so different. I admire you exposing your feelings here; not easy to do. Hang in there! We love you. Don’t let them mess with you!

  3. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    Tuesday, November 17, 2009 :: 10:31 PM

    I think it’s safe to assume they were laughing about you eating the vegetables before your hot pot came out.

  4. Tony —
    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 :: 12:32 AM

    You might be a genius. Even if they were ribbing you the layers of cultural difference would dictate you neither letting them get to you and\or acknowledging that some amount of hazing is expected and need not perceived as malicious. No idea what I would have done. Maybe exaggerate a pretend cartoon cry.

    Still, if they give you a t-shirt with characters on it as a gift, I would think twice about wearing it in public.

  5. Dad —
    Wednesday, November 18, 2009 :: 05:23 PM

    Hey Sam,

    I’ve been loving your blog and of course the magical photos, but the incomprehensible giggling inevitably raises a father’s ire:  next time I’d ask ‘em if they’ve got any zhīguānjié sānmíngzhì on the menu….you can say it in Courier but the hot-blooded though stenographically challenged Italian beauty, Lucida Sans Typewriter, always gets outstanding results.

    A glorious day at work here. Ribbon cutting for refurbished exterior of Jordan Hall,President waving like the Pope from balcony above front entrance. Finally getting the Mac set up. It’s beautiful-looking, even more beautiful than Lucida who, let’s face it, calligraphically speaking, is rather plain. More soon.

  6. Eunah —
    Thursday, November 19, 2009 :: 06:37 PM

    Being as yourself, being as foreigner.

    I think you are on the process to be a foreigner.
    Don’t be too sensitive on everything because miscommunication usually brings misconceptions.

    you should get to know some skill.
    They know you are not good at Chinese also their culture but you should never let them laugh again in front of you with your special charisma!

    Show them that you have more than something!

  7. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    Friday, November 27, 2009 :: 04:39 AM

    Regarding hazing—I think they DID haze me back in the beginning. I started to notice that every day at the end of the day, the straps on my backpack had been pulled all the way tight. And I might have almost caught them at it—one day I came into the office and one of the teachers was a little too close to my desk. But the next day was my one-week anniversary and I gave all the teachers a little gift and after that it stopped. So I’m not sure they were really hazing me.

    This week has shown some progress. Alphabets for (Chinese) Christmas has helped, although the Chinese teachers think it’s a little crazy. One teacher has asked me about getting a Mac for her husband and I had a long conversation today with another teacher that eventually came around to how she could get a visa to America. Not to say that I’m making progress where Obama couldn’t, but it’s something.