Sunday, October 20, 2013

Real Talk with Xià Mù

A shot of one of the swimming beaches.
I've discovered that my balcony is the perfect perch during the wee hours of daybreak to watch an elderly Chinese neighbor of mine dance his way through a Kung Fu routine. Last Thursday at about 6:00 a.m., riding the courage of a caffeine buzz, I gave him a good old fashioned standing-o and hollered "Mess him up!" while he desecrated his phantom foe on repeat. It's a tremendously elegant art form--replete with suspended punches and kicks and deliberately slow turns and twists--and I count myself fortunate that he performs outdoors in the open for nosey observers like me. Actually, I'm quite aware it's not for my benefit, but it'd be a grievous shame for him to be without a responsive audience. Standing there applauding him, I was feeling all peaceful and smug, and I launched into that same strain of thought I've been inclined to recently, about me being a lucky guy and all. But when I turned and tried the door, the sonuvagun was locked--a surefire warning from the cosmos for me to chill out with the schmaltz. Flustered, I tried knocking, realized how moronic that was, and had to pull the old crawl-in-the-cracked-window trick. I wriggled for what seemed like an eternity, and having just aroused the awareness of the Kung Fu master, I'm sure he watched the ensemble. At least I wasn't in scanties.

Anyway, after watching the Kung Fu show in the mornings, there's sometimes hot water. The old bit about "steaming hot water from 5:00- 8:00 a.m." that's posted in the lobby downstairs is a sham. Empirically, I know this sign to be false, as I've run a half dozen experiments in the past couple'o weeks that prove otherwise. There's hot water alright, the sign should read, from 7:20 until maybe 7:45, depending on the alignment of the stars or the daily sensibilities of the doorman. Otherwise, the hot water beads and dribbles out from 7:45 until 10:00. This poses a problem for me on Thursdays, when I have to leave campus by 6:45 to make get to the med. school for the nursing gals (who are all so sweet as to meet me at the gate). All that to say, I had to follow that embarrassing scene with the Kung Fu laoshi up with a cold shower and then head off to teach nurses about American dating and romance. Talk about insult to injury.

It gets better, though. Scrolling through the e-mail inbox Friday night, I about came apart when I found a message announcing that I'm to take part in a faculty lecture series about American life and culture. "Send your lecture title and the date you plan to present to our Qingdao faculty," it reads. "I'm not into publicly humiliating myself," I considered writing back, although I've partaken in that plenty recently. This series, the e-mail later reveals, runs during both fall and spring semesters and is not optional for foreign faculty. In other words, I couldn't just ignore that I'd received it, which is what I'm inclined to do with e-mails that are too long or e-mails with dictates like "Send your lecture title." I spent the weekend gnashing my teeth. So when I went to the office and read titles like "Technology Practices in American Classrooms," "American Foreign Economic Policy," and "Christmas" on the sign-up sheet, I breathed relief. I signed up to present on "Sports in America" but then realized I'm the only sports fanatic here. I haven't changed it yet, but I'm giving serious consideration to "American Urban Art," even though I know nothing about it. Thinking maybe urban graffiti and hip-hop culture. Give me some suggestions, please, if you're there.

Only other news is that I've become a frequent patron of the nearby KTV, a karaoke joint. My singing voice is quite lousy, and the only jam I know in their selection is Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music." The good folks of Qingdao seem to think I have a gift belting out "Sweet Soul Music," and I think they are just having fun at my expense, but I can have fun at my expense, too.


  1. I enjoyed your writing so much here, Kevin--my escape from the obligations that await me at the end of another Monday at the Poo. Such great voice (and wit) in your work.

    I will do some thinking about this presentation of yours, but one idea off the top of my head might be our fascination with reality TV here (and how it has evolved over the last 25 years or so, from MTV's Real World, which was novel at the time to the myriad choices available now).

    Or maybe something on the idea of celebrity/fame in America and the paparazzi. Or maybe the Top 10 American entertainers of all time. Or of the moment...

    Or you could share some of our coolest landmarks or national parks or treasures or something and tie in the recent story about the Boy Scout leader toppling over that 100+ million year old rock formation out in Utah or somewhere (don't know how much access you have to our news).

    Sports are huge here--that's one thing my foreign exchange students often comment on--for both athletic and non-athletic people alike, so I don't think your initial idea is a bad one. What if you just narrowed it down to something more seasonal and just discussed football or more specifically the NFL and what a typical Sunday might look like for many American families...

    Anyway, probably more info than you were asking for, but feel free to email me if you want to toss around these ideas or others. I'm no highbrow intellectual, but I read a lot of People magazine (and I watch Diane Sawyer each evening on ABC News!) and have lots of info about American culture swirling in my head at all times, for better or worse...

    You'll do great...

    1. This is great. Thankfully, I'm penciled in to present on Christmas Eve, so I have a while to turn over all these ideas. Maybe I could even talk Barbie into sending my Dream Team jersey so I can sport it during the presentation.
      Thanks Hayley--I'll be in touch.

  2. Kevin:

    Jonny directed me to the blog and I've just read every one of the posts in one sitting. This is really spectacular writing and a real pleasure to read. And I agree with the above comment that your initial sports idea is a great one, as it's a huge part of our culture. You could do it more season-specific with discussion of Thanksgiving football and the bowl season/NFL playoffs, or you could use that as a Launchpad for how the sports calendar provides a manner for many Americans to mark time (i.e., summer means baseball, fall means football, spring means basketball/March Madness, etc.)

    Whatever you decide I have no doubt you'll nail it with the same wisdom beyond your years you have displayed on the blog, and in person when we've had the opportunity to talk.

    1. (I am unsure why I capitalized Launchpad. How strange.)

    2. Abe! Thanks for your kind words. I'm thrilled to have a couple Orlansky readers, and I think you and Jonny-cakes have given me some great ideas for structuring this thing. I'm tempted to make the entire spiel about Andrew Wiggins and KU hoops, because as Jonny suggested, I'll look like a regular prophet once ole Wiggins becomes a global sensation. Otherwise, I think taking folks through the sports calendar is a terrific idea. Thanks again, man. Hope all's well, please give the rest of the family my love, and please tell Benji and the newest member of the fam congrats for me.

  3. I thought your song was Cracklin Rosie. Branching out, I see. Love the read! Thanks!