Sidewalk water calligraphy, Licun Park, Qingdao, China

At our favourite local park 李村公园 in Qingdao this past weekend, a little Chinese sidewalk water calligraphy magic:

IMG 23752 Sidewalk water calligraphy, Licun Park, Qingdao, China

So it begins…

Monday was the first day of a new Chinese preschool school year.

soitbegins So it begins... mamaaaaaa So it begins...

And that pretty much sums it up. But I’ll share some special highlights below anyway.

First day of the school year means the opening ceremony. The school yard is ringed with parents (mostly grandparents) peering between the iron bars. We have to make a good impression.

As a 6’4″ foreign male at a preschool with an all-Chinese-female admin & teaching staff…
fittingin So it begins...
…I totally fit in.

This is where we teachers all pledged to do something, but I’m not sure what: andiswearbythemoonandthestarsinthesky So it begins...
Chinese sound systems are for noise, to make an event sound like a Big Deal, not for clearly amplifying sound so large numbers of people can understand what’s being said. Plus at the time I was thinking: Oh hey, so this is what Chinese do instead of placing one hand over your heart and raising the other palm-out…

The kids had to turn around and bow to the teachers:bowdownpunymortals So it begins...
But only about 1/4 of them got the memo.

The Expensive English-speaking White Guy and the Obligatory English Song:whitemencantjump So it begins...
(I want it noted in my annual review that my feet actually left the ground.)

“Foreign teachers” (外教) are the bottom of the Anglo-American expat barrel, I suspect even below 4th-rate amateur Russian models and, at this preschool, hovering somewhere in the vicinity of the only other males on staff: the cook, driver, and gate guards. And I’m pretty sure I don’t outrank the cook.

More Chinese preschool stuff:

At the beach in Qingdao, China: the biggest honking jellyfish I’ve ever seen in my entire life! [Updated!]

We were walking along the shore of Qingdao’s Shilaoren beach (老人海水浴场) today, just past that drainage river thing near where the ATV rental guys who think they own the beach are, and found THIS:

qingdaojellyfish1 At the beach in Qingdao, China: the biggest honking jellyfish Ive ever seen in my entire life! [Updated!]

That is the biggest honking jellyfish (水母 or 海蜇) I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I flipped it over with my shovel:

qingdaojellyfish2 At the beach in Qingdao, China: the biggest honking jellyfish Ive ever seen in my entire life! [Updated!]

From a distance I thought it was just some garbage (there’s lots of garbage). But man. Can you imagine bumping into this in chest-deep, murky Qingdao beach water?

qingdaojellyfish3 At the beach in Qingdao, China: the biggest honking jellyfish Ive ever seen in my entire life! [Updated!]

And keep in mind that my size-13 foot isn’t hovering *that* close to it, so the photos’ perspective makes the jellyfish look smaller that it really was.

I’d heard from friends about a local jellyfish infestation and checked the Chinese news yesterday. One guy has died this summer from jellyfish. And people we chatted with while taking pictures of this one said there was a 300 one on a beach east of here. I’ll give you one guess regarding it’s fate

P.S. – UPDATE:
Special thanks to science writer and jellyfish expert Dr. Juli Berwald, who’s ID’d this thing for us. It’s a Nomura’s jellyfish (Nemopilema nomurai), one of the two largest jellyfish species in the world. According to the internets, it’s got a painful sting but doesn’t *usually* kill people (?!) and is edible but not considered tasty enough to go to all the trouble it would take to harvest them. They’ve capsized fishing boats and shut down at least one nuclear reactor. And you can’t just go killing them, because whenever one gets stressed it releases billions of sperm or eggs into the water. It’s not the most venomous jellyfish in the ocean, but it is perhaps the most notorious for economic impact. Do an image or video search for “Noruma’s jellyfish” or “Nemopilema nomurai” — fascinating stuff.

More importantly, these recent and massive “blooms” of jellyfish have scientists’ attention. Jellyfish are an “iconic animal of our time”; scientists like Dr. Berwald are currently researching what these jellyfish blooms reveal about the future of our oceans and our role in shaping that future. You can check out her project Spineless here.

Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)

Things That Are Awesome (in sharply descending degrees of awesomeness):

#2. The views on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain (浮山).

FushanviewQingdaoshibei Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)

#3. Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China.

#4. Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain.

#5. Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain playing We Are The World:

Aaaaand…. #1! Those portable personal fanny-pack radios popular in Mainland China on top of Qingdao’s Fushan mountain playing When a Man Loves a Woman when you’ve hiked up there to celebrate your 12th anniversary.

Snogging pics in

3…

2…

1…

Fushansnogging01 Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)
Fushansnogging02 Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)
fushansnogging03 Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)
fushansnogging04 Things That Are Awesome (Fushan, Qingdao edition 青岛浮山)

When little foreign kids go to a Chinese beach…

…this happens. It doesn’t always happen exactly the same way, but what happened this past weekend is pretty typical:


(Language students! Listen for these key words:
洋娃娃可爱眼睛漂亮美女姐姐玩儿。)

I know we’re not the only foreigners in China that regularly attract this kind of attention from total strangers. How do you handle it?

In North America, if some stranger started taking pictures of little kids at the beach or wherever I would automatically interfere and probably call the police. Because that behaviour is outside our norms; chances are too high the person is a creep.

oooyangwawa When little foreign kids go to a Chinese beach...
Our two-year-old, with… I don’t know who.

But what about in China, when photographing, talking to, and even trying to pick up a stranger’s kid isn’t considered odd? I don’t mean that Mainlanders are always running around posing with each other’s toddlers; other Chinese toddlers aren’t exotic to them. And I don’t mean that China doesn’t have its fair share of perverts. I mean that this behaviour isn’t seen as violating anyone’s privacy or personal space. When it does happen, the idea that the person’s a pedophile doesn’t even enter people’s minds. 99% of the time, they really are just being friendly and curious in a socially acceptable way. (They don’t perceive an ever-present pedophile threat like North Americans do; their society just hasn’t caught up to ours, apparently…)

pantslessbro When little foreign kids go to a Chinese beach...
“Wa! The foreign doll is so cute!” “Wa! The Chinese boy has no pants!”

It is stupid to respond coldly or meanly to a Chinese person because they don’t behave according to North American norms. Actually, that’s being an ethnocentric jerk. You’ve got to understand what their behaviour means within their social context, because that’s where you are. If you’re going to treat people like they’re doing something wrong when they genuinely don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, then you’d better be able to articulate a really good reason (or have a good reason why you have to treat them that way regardless — but “It’s so annoying!” is not a good reason).

usualsuspects When little foreign kids go to a Chinese beach...
A typical crowd for our family, from two weekends ago. Compare to the next photo below.

But feeling annoyed is totally understandable and natural. And not all friendly and curious attention is the same, because Mainland China is not a monolithic society:

  • The more cosmopolitan Chinese are more likely to ask you before taking pictures of your kids. Bonus points for them!
  • Typical 2nd-tier city urbanites with leisure time on a Saturday behave like in the above video: form a crowd, take photos, try to hold hands, touch your kid’s face, pick up or otherwise pose with your kid — like the kid’s part-human, part-tourist attraction. If often starts with some mom or grandma trying to get their kid to make friendly and pose with your kid. Collecting photos is a thing here. These are the majority in our experience in Qingdao and Tianjin. I understand getting annoyed with this, and I understand looking for ways to counter it, but I can’t see how it’s right to respond to them like they’re doing something wrong.
  • Peasants (people from the countryside or inland cities) either hang way back, seemingly intimidated, or do like the urbanites but louder, coarser, more blunt. Like yelling at your kid from a few feet away so they’ll turn for a picture, as if they’re a zoo animal: “Hey! Look at me! Look over here! Hey!”
  • The worst (in our experience) are those who don’t attempt to communicate with you or your kid and won’t acknowledge you even if you address them in Chinese. One day I was playing with our youngest in the waves, and a middle-aged countryside woman runs over, grabs our youngest while yelling to her friend to come take a picture, oblivious to our daughter’s efforts to get away — as if she’d just caught a big fish! — and to me yelling at her. I grabbed my daughter back while giving the woman an earful, but she never looked me in the face. This kind of thing almost never happens.

The problem is that for the most part they aren’t doing anything wrong, but to us foreigners it feels wrong, like we have a right to be annoyed or offended or alarmed (and in our own countries we would). So our default tendency is to respond negatively because to us their behaviour is inappropriate. And some days you just want to relax at the beach without having to deal with it! Some days, you feel like doing this:

moatfull When little foreign kids go to a Chinese beach...
I have mixed feelings about the moat; it just seems so… anti-social:
“Take a hint, people!”

Bad China Days and fits of anti-social sandcastle-building aside, here’s what we aim for:

  1. Kids’ physical safety does not get compromised. We are there, fully alert, creep radar running on Chinese and Western dual frequencies, ready to wield those shovels if necessary. And call me ethnocentric or whatever, but you are not sticking your finger in my kid’s mouth (yes I have batted fingers away.)
  2. If our kids indicate (verbally or non-verbally), or we suspect, that they don’t want the attention, then we fend people off immediately/preemptively. You can still do this politely and with finesse, though sometimes in the moment I’m more blunt than I should be. And this only applies to “special” attention; we expect our kids to be nominally decent to people (respond to normal greetings, say thank-you, etc).
  3. Plan ahead. If you’ve got an option where unwanted attention is less likely, then take it. When we go to the beach, we always aim for the least crowded areas.

Or you can send subtle, anti-social messages by doing things like making a moat around your picnic blanket:

moateffective When little foreign kids go to a Chinese beach...
It works! See? (Though it’s not 100% effective — such subtlety is lost on most domestic tourists and āyís over 45.)

Maybe that sounds kind of stringent. But in practice it translates into our kids getting a lot more interaction than the average foreigner family, I suspect.

Basically, we protect our kids, but (try to) remember that most of these “overly-friendly” (by paranoid North American standards) Chinese strangers aren’t doing anything wrong. They aren’t breaking their social rules, and if you respond to them like they’re being inappropriate, your response simply won’t communicate. And you’ll come off like a jerk. Which is understandable, since expecting local Chinese to behave like Euro-Americans is just dumb.

Some related stuff:

P.S. - Though sometimes I have to admit, I do wonder…

igoticeland1 When little foreign kids go to a Chinese beach...

P.P.S. – Not actually recommending the sandcastle “spite fence”, though I’m definitely tempted to use it again. :)

Being Obnoxious With Monks

Actually, it was a nun, and I was arguing with her handlers. It was an irate customer who was yelling directly at the nun. (It looked like the customer got some money back in the end, but I couldn’t tell for sure — she’s in the orange jacket, near the centre of the photo.)

suanmingnun01 1024x613 Being Obnoxious With Monks

A Buddhist fortune-teller eyes my camera in a Qingdao market.

Usually my conversations with Buddhists and Daoists are mostly me asking questions. I try to nail down what they actually think, and get a sense of how their beliefs and practices function in their lives. Because I want to understand them; I want to understand the worldviews we encounter on their own terms. (The “high” Buddhism and Daoism we studied in school seems to have precious little to do with the Buddhism and Daoism we regularly encounter at street level in China.) Since there are lots of little god shops around, when I have a few extra minutes I stop in to chat. It’s never been confrontational. Until the other day.

My almost 5-year-old daughter and I have just finished lunch in the market. We’re going to buy trees to plant in the public grass/dirt area outside our first-floor apartment’s windows. I have a bag of tomato and húlu (葫芦) seedlings in one hand and my daughter’s hand in the other.

There’s a crowd around something on the sidewalk. Actually most of the street and sidewalk is basically one big crowd, but Something is Happening up ahead. I peer down into the circle of heads (6’4″ lǎowài can do this in China) to discover a Buddhist nun doing what’s called 算命, where they tell your fortune and then, for a fee, perform rituals to help you avoid the bad things headed your way. (Apparently, so my friends tell me, you pay even more if your future predictions are good.)

suanmingnun02 764x1024 Being Obnoxious With Monks

Reading futures, selling fortune

Judging by the surrounding interest, this seems like a minor Big Deal, so I pull out my phone and start taking pictures.
suanmingnun04 Being Obnoxious With Monks

Claiming a patch of sidewalk.

Wish I’d taken video; it’d be fun to have this exchange recorded:

“No! No! You can’t take pictures!”

(A handler comes toward me waving her hands.)

“Why not?”

(I wish I’d kept taking pictures.)

“You can’t take pictures of this. It’s bad for your ___.”

(Wish I could remember the exact term she used, but the idea is that me taking pictures of this nun in action would negatively affect my life/fate/etc.)

“No problem! I don’t believe in this superstition.”

(I’m feeling a little ornery. I don’t know why. Maybe being born on the Protestant side of the Reformation means I have a low tolerance for people selling indulgences. Or maybe (yes, actually) it’s because my hands are full, I’m with my daughter, and I’m in increasing need of a public restroom. At least I didn’t use the Mao Era term “feudal superstition” 封建迷信。)

“You can’t take pictures! This is a problem of belief.”

“Right, I don’t believe this. But what are you afraid of? This is a public–“

“We don’t have the same belief. In your country you all–“

(This is common point of worldview disconnect. In China, many people consider your heritage a perfectly valid reason for believing something; in the West, it’s usually the opposite — telling someone they only believe something because of their heritage is a way of saying that person has no good reasons to believe what they claim. Because — speaking very generally — when a North American says they “believe in X”, they usually mean they “think X is true”, but a Chinese using the same phrase isn’t necessarily making a truth claim. Personal convictions about the true nature of Life, the Universe and Everything (and ‘staying true to yourself’) just aren’t as high a value in China, compared with, say, getting along and getting by. And when personal convictions do matter to a Chinese, it can come off as really selfish. Anyway, it sometimes rubs my fur the wrong way when people assume that I think what I think for (what I think is) no good reason.)

“This has nothing to do with my country. Why can’t I take pictures? What are you afraid of?”

(I’m in a hurry, I suspect this whole thing is a scam, and I’m curious what objections they’ll raise since they couldn’t make me fear for my fate. But now the argument that’s been simultaneously happening on the opposite side of the crowd erupts into yelling and accusations of cheating people out of their money. The crowd starts thinning out, maybe feeling a little awkward between me/my camera on one side and the irate customer on the other. If you look closely at the above photos, to the the fortune-teller’s right you’ll see three handlers wearing hats facing away — they’re dealing with the angry woman, whose face can be seen in all the three crowd shots.)

suanmingnun03 764x1024 Being Obnoxious With Monks

Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!

Here’s some “evil cult”-related translations from our daily life in Qingdao. Both sides — the local authorities and the “evil cults” — are attempting to influence public opinion through printed material. At least two locally active but unrelated groups are officially designated “evil cult” (邪教) in China. We’ve personally encountered three different cults here in Qingdao.

Evil Party!

First, here’s the juicy anti-Party tidbits from some altered currency that we’ve received in the past couple weeks (in addition to this, this, and this). I’ve got 72元 worth of this stuff now. Feel free to suggest better translations:

cultmore Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!Remember: Truth-Virtue-Tolerance is good!
FLDF is good!
When disaster comes your life is guaranteed!
The news broadcasts are all fabrications
Many common people have been deceived
FLDF saves the people of the world
You can only survive by sincerity and honesty

cult02cultmonetake2 Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
The Party plucks organs live from FLG practitioners
Sold off at a high price, the list of crimes reaches to heaven
Organ transplant matching is difficult
Outside China people have to wait two or three years
Inside China they only need one or two weeks
Where does this huge number of organs come from?
Irrefutable evidence of crime is like heaven’s blessing (?)

more cult Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Quit the Party Team sign your name:
The evil CCP harms all living things
Inciting the masses to fight the masses
Killing 80 million of my compatriots
Unjustified persecution of FLG
Every offense cannot be pardoned
Heaven’s fury and people’s enmity will extinguish the Party

cultfiver Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Peace to the Party-Quitting Team
Heaven will extinguish the Party
The Party-Quitting Team is the most intelligent
Heaven extinguishing the Party is an inexorably destined fate
Anyone wanting to save [the Party] is completely in vain
The Party is thoroughly finished

10cult Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Truth-Virtue-Tolerance is good
FLDF is good
The net of justice is extensive
[It will] settle accounts with Jiang Zemin

cult20 Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Truth-Virtue-Tolerance is good! FLDF is good!
Sincerity, respect and care get karmic reward (?)
Harmonious society is high-flown rhetoric
Persecution of DF, Heaven is unforgiving
Quickly find the real facts, quickly quit the Party
Choose a future that has karmic reward

20kuai Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
FLDF is good
Truth-Virture-Tolerance is good

cult01handwrittencultmoney Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Remember FLDF is good, Truth-Virture-Tolerance is good,
Good fortune bestowed by heaven, guarantee of wellness

Evil Cult!

Second, the latest from our neighbourhood’s “Anti Evil Cult Warning & Education Propaganda Board” (邪教警示教育宣传), courtesy of the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association (青岛邪教协会) and the Qingdao Office of Guarding Against and Dealing With the Evil Cult Problem (青岛防范处理邪教问题办公室). I feel safer already. As you can see, they really put their heart into these public education campaigns:

20131029 442 cult03board Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Anti Evil Cult Warning & Education Propaganda Board

I’d share what the second anti evil cult poster says (on the left), but it’s buried underneath vandalized neighbourhood committee election notices (apparently someone has issues; election-related stuff on every notice board got defaced).

Now here’s a picky but important detail: The posters below are not about the “evil cult” that stamps the money. However, the previous batch of evil cult posters was, as were the posters we had in Tianjin. The posters below, currently on display in our neighbourhood, are for the other “evil cult”: the Eastern Lightning/Almighty God cult.

Not all “evil cults” are created equal, and these two “evil cults” are not related. I’ve read from non-gov’t sources about the violence, deception, seduction and brainwashing of the group in the posters below. But that doesn’t apply (so far as I know) to the money-stamping group. So for the sake of fairness and accuracy, keep that in mind. Of these two groups, Eastern Lightning/Almighty God comes closer to earning its official “evil cult” designation. (There are links to info on each group at the bottom.)

Anyway, let’s see what we’ve got here…

20131029 436 cult04poster Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
See Through (discern, penetrate) the Evil Cult “Almighty God”

20131029 437 cult05detail Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Immorally Amass Wealth by Scamming People into “Becoming Believers”
This organization employs lies to dupe, violence to intimidate, money to bribe, eroticism to seduce, etc. to draw people into becoming believers, as well as the so-called “Leaving family, parents, wife, husband and children now is entering the start of the spiritual world,” conspiring with believers to abandoned family, cast off family and give up occupations to go out to “evangelize”. In the name of “sacrificial funds” they exploit their members’ wealth, even to the point of inciting believers to sell off family property and live in a collective so as to welcome the arrival of “Almighty God.” For this reason, some believers might go far from their hometowns, with no news of them at all for several years, or sell off family property and without exception dedicate it to the religious leader, causing the family’s elderly to have no one to support them, the children to have no one to look after them. The originally harmony-ful family is shattered.

20131029 438 cult06detail Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
From top, left to right: Lies to Deceive: “You must obey to get rebirth” / Violence to Intimidate / Immorally Amass Wealth: “sacrificial funds” / Money to Bribe: “First give you 200元” / Sexually Seduce: “Join our church and you can enjoy…”

20131029 439 cult08adetail Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
They will separate the believer from social life, disseminate “Doomsday” rumours. “Communicating with the outside world is forbidden! Await the coming ‘Doomsday’!”

20131029 441 cult07detail1 Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Promote “Doomsday Rumours” and Create Social Panic
The “Almighty God” cult organization makes an extreme effort to imprison believers’ thinking, isolating them from normal social life, disseminating “Doomsday” rumours, and creating panic in society. Their backwards and perverse way of doing things has caused the People’s mass livelihood and to receive severe interference, and the social stability and unity situation has suffered serious damage.

20131029 440 cult08bdetail Propaganda fight: Evil Chinese Cults vs. the Qingdao Anti Evil Cult Association!
Conscientiously Resist the Evil “Almighty God” Cult
The numerous People’s masses have a duty to recognize “Almighty God”-type evil cult organizations’ harm, earnestly strengthen wariness and consciousness, conscientiously resist “Almighty God” evil cult’s corrosion, achieve no listening, no believing, no propagating, if you discover or come across evil cult members disturbing and bewitching, distributing illegal publications or such other illegal activities, actively report and expose, without delay dial 110 and report to the police, safeguard our harmonious and stable happy livelihood.

On Chinese authorities’ actual methods for dealing with undesirable groups:

Required reading:

More about “Evil Cult” #1:

More about “Evil Cult” #2:

More “evil cult” money: