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December, 2014:

Forbidden Chips

We held a movie watching party the other day. While walking to the place where we were going to watch the movie, I stopped in a convenience store to buy some movie snacks. I picked out some cookies, sunflower seeds, and two bags of potato chips.

I dumped my loot on the checkout counter, and the clerk started tallying up the bill. She rang up one of my bags of chips, the took the second bag and placed it in a shelf behind her without adding it to the bill, and rang up the rest of my items.

A little confused and incredulous, I mentioned that my second bag of chips was behind her. “Yes,” she said. “You can’t buy that.”

I thought that I misunderstood her. “I can’t buy it? What do you mean?”

“You can only buy one bag,” she replied matter-of-factly.

“But I want two bags,” I protested. The situation was getting weird. “What, is there a shortage of chips? Are they being rationed?” I was sort of joking, sort of irritated at the lack of explanation of this strange turn of events.

“Yes,” she replied, probably calling my bluff. “They’re in limited supply.”

Sometimes I think there’s a conspiracy in China to drive me insane. This was one of those times.

I bought an extra can of beer to replace the chips. The clerk didn’t forbid that.

I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation for why I was not allowed to buy the second bag of chips. Maybe there was a promotion going in, and I inadvertently grabbed a bag of chips from the “special prize” shelf. Or maybe I am actually living in a Kafka novel. But the bottom line is, I was not allowed to buy the second bag of chips, and I was not given a reason why.


The Speech Contest

The Consulate gets many invitations to participate in educational and cultural events. Yesterday I was a judge in the provincial English speech contest for high school and college students.

The Stage

The Stage

Chinese take things like this seriously. The event was in a studio, the stage was professionally lit, and the hosts were oily and plastic like variety show hosts (but they were very nice, I swear).

The contest consisted of three events. First, the contestants gave a one-minute self-introduction, then they had to read a passage in Chinese and translate it into English. Third, they look at a picture and gave a three-minute impromptu speech about it. The judges could then ask a question to elicit some more from the contestant.

There were eight or nine judges, some Chinese and some foreign teachers. We rated each contestant like Olympic judges, by writing our scores on a little whiteboard and holding it up after the performance.



One contestant broke my heart. In her self-introduction, a 16-year-old high school student said that 8 days ago, her parents were in a car accident. Her father was killed, and her mother was in the hospital. They didn’t know if she would live or not. The student said that she decided to compete, despite her family situation, because her parents always encouraged her to do her best.

Randomness can be inhumane. The translation passage that she got was about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. When she read the section about wearing a carnation on Mother’s Day, and the color of the flower depends on whether your mother is alive or not, she almost broke down. The hostess on the stage was crying. The student made it through the event, though. Brave kid.

Randomness wasn’t done being cruel to this kid, though. The impromptu speech was about how your parents help you decide on which college to choose.  The student was as incredulous as I was. She said: “family, again?” But she got through it.

When it came to giving the score, I am proud to say that I was impartial, and didn’t take her situation into account when I judged her performance. I treated her just the same as every other contestant.

Yeah, right.

The presentation of the awards was also very formal. I got to present some of the awards.

We were given the prizes by assistants, then we presented the prizes to the winners.

We were given the prizes by assistants, then we presented the prizes to the winners.

Presenting the prizes.

Presenting the prizes.

The judges also received a thank-you gift: A copy of the president’s book “Governance of China.” I can’t wait to read it cover to cover. I actually received a Chinese version of the book last week at another event, so now I have an English version, too. Hooray.

Hey, we get a prize, too!

Hey, we get a prize, too!

Curtain call

Curtain call

Me and Host

Me and Host

Me and Host

Me and Host

The day was loooooooong. I originally expected it to be a morning event, but it lasted from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. I was really tired afterwards. But it was another interesting day in Shenyang. Every one of them is, it seems.


Sure hope and love are good things, but I don’t think that you can just smash things together like this.


Flu shot made me sick

We are encouraged to get the flu shot every year. I never had gotten it before, partly because of my love deathly fear of needles. But I figure that the State Department knows more about this than I do, and the nurse had some of the nasal spray version, so I got the inoculation.

The point of getting an inoculation is so that you won’t get sick. That’s what I was told, anyway. So imagine my unhappy surprise to get flu symptoms two days after getting the up-your-nose-with-a-rubber-hose flu “shot.” Three days after, I’m sneezing and blowing snot at visa applicants.

I suspect that among the local applicant pool, I’m already one of the less popular visa officers. I can’t imagine that infecting them with my diseases is improving my reputation.

Festive but not Seasonal Lights

Just a random street with some random lights. Reminds me of Christmas decorations, but apparently it’s just Shenyang decorations


Happy Ayi Day!

I love Thursdays. Thursday is Ayi Day.

What is Ayi Day, you ask? Why, Ayi Day is the day that my Ayi comes to my house, of course!.

What is an Ayi? It literally means “aunt” (阿姨). It’s the local word for someone who cleans your house and does your laundry. There are different kinds of Ayis. Some are full-time caregivers for children, some are live-in help. My Ayi is a once-a-week, part-time Ayi.

Li Ayi comes on Thursdays. I gave her a key to my apartment, and she comes after I have left for work. When I come home at night, my house is cleaned, my clothes are washed, my shirts are ironed. My Ayi even waters my plants!

I love Ayi Day. Every Thursday morning when I go to the office, I wish everyone that I see “Happy Ayi Day!” Sure, they look at me like I have lost my mind, but I don’t care, because I have the spirit of Ayi Day in my heart. My footsteps are light, a serene smile is on my face, because I know that as I work in the office, Li Ayi is making my apartment a heartwarmingly great place to live.

I didn’t have an Ayi for the first month that I was here. I thought that since I was living by myself, I didn’t need an Ayi. But then some coworkers told me that Li Ayi was looking for more work, and that she cleaned for the person who lived in my apartment before me. They told me that having an Ayi was like a jobs program for the local economy. So I thought what the heck, I’ll give her a try.

My eyes were opened to the gloriousness of Ayi Day. Now I know the truth: Everyone should have an Ayi.

Happy Ayi Day to everyone, and to everyone a good week!


As I was paying my phone bill yesterday, I made small talk with the guy in the shop. I commented that it was quite cold, and asked if it would get even colder. The high temperature yesterday was in the 20s.

He smiled and said yes, it would get much colder. He said that after it snows, the temperature typically drops. He cautioned me to dress warmly.

Sure enough, this morning it was 5°, with a predicted high of 24°. We can’t expect to see anything above freezing in the foreseeable future.

Shenyang enjoys four distinct seasons. Summer was very pleasant: high temperatures and low humidity. Autumn was short, though. Will winter be long?

The good thing is that there is a light dusty of snow on the ground, and Christmas decorations are going up. It feels very festive.

Thanksgiving table at the CG’s

The CG (Consul General) invited the “orphans” to his house for a Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. The table was beautiful: a picture-perfect Thanksgiving scene.

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2:30 am, December 1, 2014

Wide-awake at 2:30am this morning. The wind was howling and it snowed some more, so I played with the night settings on my camera until I was sleepy again. My insomnia = your viewing pleasure of Shenyang at night.

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