Who needs a ceiling, anyway?

 Last week my Ayi, who probably thinks that I have mental problems or am a hopeless incompetent, both of which are likely to be the case,left me a note. “Your ceiling fell in. If you’d like, I can talk with the building management when I come next week.”

Implied message: or you can call them yourself, dope.


In my defense, the ceiling was in my guest bathroom, which I never go into. Still, the damage was pretty obvious. It’s hard to take a bath when the ceiling is in the bathtub.


Communicating the problem to the front desk was a challenge as well. They didn’t seem to understand exactly what I was saying

Me: “My ceiling fell in.”

Them: Stunned silence. “What?” Implied response: Ceilings don’t fall in. Not in our perfect building, you crazy foreigner, what have you been drinking?

Off in the distance, a bellhop calls out to me: “Good morning!”

I whip out my phone, show them the photo of the hole where the ceiling used to be.

Me: “See? The ceiling fell in.”

Them: “Do you want us to fix it for you?”

Another employee walks past, calling out to me: “Have a nice day!”

Me: “Yes of course I want you to fix it. Right now would be a good time.”

Them: “Can we go into your apartment to fix it?”

Me: (Thinking: how else the hell you going to fix it?!) “Why, yes, you sure can.”

When I got home that night, the ceiling was “fixed.”

A job “well done.”

I suspect they didn’t want to do a very good job of fixing the ceiling, because they expected to fall in again in the very near future. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened, either. 

Chinese-style “camping”

This announcement on a local website for ex-pats:


Two parks along Hunhe River in downtown Shenyang will open campingsites.


In the west of Shengli (shèng lì) Bridge, Changbaidao (cháng bái dǎo) Forest Park’s campingsite is located on the southern bank of the river with a total area of 50,000 sqm.


The other place you can pitch a tent is in Shenshuiwan (shěn shuǐ wān)Park.


But for safety, people can’t stay overnight or barbecue in the campgrounds.


 So, the camping trip goes like this: we go to the park, pitch our tents, not light campfires, and when it gets dark, we pack up our tents, go home and sleep in our own beds.

I swear to God I am not making this up. Here’s the URL:


I am a hummus consultant

A few weeks ago there was a party at someone’s house. Like most Consulate parties here in Shenyang, the format was pot luck. My contribution was homemade hummus with Uyghur flatbread from a nearby street stand. A quick-and-easy snack.

The Americans at the party recognized it at once, and dove in with relish. It’s hard to find chickpeas here, so I used some that I bought from the U.S. There were several LE Staff at the party too, and apparently they had never seen hummus before. They were interested in it, and after they tried it, there was an animated discussion about how it’s made.

A few days later at the office, I was accosted by two different LE Staff members who demanded that I try their hummus and tell them if they made it right. One person invited me to stick my finger into his bowl of hummus. Another thrust a small jar into my face and demanded to know if she put in the right amount of garlic. “Does this stink enough?” she barked.

Yes, it did stink enough, indeed.

Teasing Innocent Coworkers

I am a terrible person.

Part of the visa interview process is to understand applicants’ jobs. A big cross-section of the local society applies for U.S. visas here, so we interact people with a very wide range of occupations. Most of the time the visa interview is in Chinese, so the interview can strain our vocabularies. Sometimes the interview can pull us into linguistic areas that we aren’t familiar with.

Luckily for me, I have a broader level of experience with Chinese, I know how to say things like “veterinarian” and “mechanical engineer” in Chinese. Sometimes the applicants like to make their jobs more glamorous than they really are. Like the guy who says that he does “greenification” (綠化) when he really means that he is a garbage man. Yeah, I suppose that by picking up the trash on the street, he does make the city more green, or at least less brown. But that kind of euphemism makes our job a little harder. Especially for people whose Chinese isn’t as good.

Luckily for us, we can call on the Locally Engaged staff to help us out with the interview. Sometimes we just have to ask them for a quick translation of a term. Sometimes they have to go to the window and interpret parts of the interview for us. The LE Staff are very good-natured about that, and seem happy to help out.

But sometimes they get put into embarrassing situations.

Sometimes our personal backgrounds and private lives reflect on our ability to conduct a visa interview in Chinese. Lifestyles and personal moral choices can create gaps in our vocabularies. This happened to one of my coworkers last week.

He had to interview someone who works on the local government’s Family Planning Commission. Basically, this person is in charge of making sure that women don’t get pregnant. Unfortunately, the officer is young, unmarried, and is a very devout Christian, and I suspect that’s why he stumbled with some terminology.

Unfortunately for me, I understood the whole exchange between him and the applicant, and so when he went to ask a female LE Staff about some terminology, I feared the worst.

He walked up to the LE Staff, who is also quite young (to me, anyway), and asked her (in Chinese): “What’s ‘birth control’?”

She gulped and told him.

A minute later, after some more back-and-forth with the applicant, he had to ask another: “What’s a ‘condom?'”

Another awkward translation.

By this time, both the officer and the LE Staff were a little uncomfortable with this consultation. It didn’t help when I interrupted to ask with mock incredulity why he didn’t know those terms.

I am a terrible person.

But it was pretty funny.

Emergency! Not really.

The gym in my building overlooks the front of the building, which displays the flags of different countries. One morning last week, as I was running on the treadmill, I noticed something funny about the way that the U.S. flag was hung.



This is a no-no. According to the U.S. law:

US Code:T36 Ch10.176
(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

I mentioned it to the concierge downstairs, who displayed a look of horror on her face, and immediately dispatched a bellhop to fix it.

Another day in the ‘Yang.