That was my favorite piece of trash-talking from last night’s USA-England World Cup match.

A drunk Englishman laid that one on me just before the opening kickoff, as we watched the match on a gigantic projector screen in what used to be the beer garden of a popular Irish pub but is now something approaching a minor league ballpark, complete with temporary stadium seating, concession stands serving international snacks, and a face-painting booth that will paint your country’s flag on your face if you forgot to do so at home before leaving for the bar. It’s called O’Malley’s, and if you happen to be in Shanghai during the World Cup you should really check it out.

As it turned out, BP did quite a bit more damage to the Gulf of Mexico than Rooney and company did to Team USA. But by the end of the night, one thing was proven beyond any doubt. There is simply no match for the Brits when it comes to soccer chants.


If you’re looking for examples of modern China, consider my friend Aviva.

She’s the one in the yellow sweater, and she is dancing on the bar in a place called Zapata’s, in Shanghai.

She’s 30 years old, which means she was born about the same time China decided to transform itself from a Mao Zedong-led Communist state into what it is today, an exploding market economy that is both faster-growing and less regulated than just about any other in the world.

The government that has decided not to regulate its exploding market economy still calls itself the Communist Party of China, but at this point it might as well be called the Party That Will Do Whatever Will Keep It In Power. And that, of course, means keeping up the kind of economic growth that makes a story like Aviva’s possible.

Aviva grew up in Inner Mongolia. These days, she’s a stock broker in Shanghai.

Only in America, right? I mean, only in Communist China.

Aviva has been in Shanghai for seven years now, and she spent two years in Guangzhou before that. Which means that at 21, an ambitious girl from Inner Mongolia finished school and moved to the big city to become, of all things, a stock broker.

Her heroes were the guys on Wall Street, half a world away in a country many Chinese idolize and are doing their very best to emulate. She still compares herself to them, sounding very much like an American business major with hopes of becoming the next Gordon Gekko.

“It’s not like the guys in Wall Street,” she says of her Shanghai finance job. “Those guys are really cool.”

Her English is nearly perfect, but she still studies as often as she can to improve it. Many of her clients are foreigners, and like just about every young professional you will meet in China, she wants to do business overseas.

The number of small private businesses that are springing up in still-technically-Communist China is pretty amazing, and almost all of them seem to be doing business overseas. It’s hardly a secret that Americans are buying up zillions of Chinese products, but Americans might be surprised by some of the Chinese entrepreneurs who are doing the selling.

A few weeks ago, I met a Chinese couple in a restaurant. They were both in their early 30s, and they were helping out a friend of mine who had just opened a new restaurant. It is not uncommon for friends or family to help out at a friend’s restaurant when they are short on staff, and I had always wondered how people were able to take the time off work in a city where a two-day weekend is a luxury.

In the case of this particular couple, it was because they own their own business. They sell fishing supplies online, and most of their customers are Americans. None of this was particularly noteworthy until I asked my new friend how many people worked for his company.

“Me and her,” he said, pointing to his wife.

The entire business consists of one man, his wife, and a website.

So how is business going for the couple from Yangzhou and their fishing website? The global financial crisis hasn’t helped things, of course, but they didn’t seem too worried about it, either. When I explained that many people in America are losing their jobs, he joked that they will have more time for fishing.

And as all of those newly unemployed Americans scan the internet for bargains, they may well end up buying their Christmas presents from a single couple running a tiny, online export business from somewhere in Communist China.

The Sports Meeting


The engineers were the big winners last weekend at Yangzhou Tech’s first annual inter-college Olympics.

The event, which my students described as “The Sports Meeting,” featured an extremely long list of sporting events spread out over two days. These ranged from traditional track and field events to the sort of contests you would expect to find at a family barbecue.

The competitors were all students at our school, with each department fielding a team. The engineering department finished first, and sported some very cool orange construction helmets for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies (apparently the helmets are a symbol for engineering, a student tells me).

Our department, which includes students majoring in English, French, accounting, and business management, finished sixth. But we still got two snazzy banners (below), which look exactly the same as the winner’s banner to someone who can’t read the words “sixth-place finisher” in Mandarin.


The bulk of the action was on the track, where there were a few competitive races sandwiched between things like the girls’ shot put, which involved about a dozen 90-pound girls in Yangzhou Tech track suits trying to toss a shot put as their friends cheered them on.

There were also a series of bizarre events, like a contest over who could ride a bicycle the slowest. The entire roster of events, which I foolishly attempted to leaf through to find the two I was meant to participate in, was roughly the size of a short screenplay. It was also written entirely in Chinese characters, which is why I ended up participating in just one event, which ended up being a race across the basketball court while balancing a ping-pong ball on a ping-pong paddle.

But the whole thing was taken quite seriously by most of the students, and it was quite a thing to watch.


I spent much of the weekend playing pick-up basketball games with students and some of the younger faculty. At one point, the school’s president came by, and we watched proudly as he attempted to make a short jump shot. He missed a half-dozen or so times before giving it up and moving on to something else, but the faculty was buzzing long after he left about how wonderful it was that the president was out playing basketball, just like everyone else.

It was like our very own presidential-candidate-serves-food-at-the-diner moment.


Here’s Shadow, one of my students, in her Yangzhou Tech track suit. Shadow was one of the competitors in the girls’ shot-put, and she also tried her hand in the long jump.


The faculty foot races were particularly comical. The guy on the left is actually one of my former students from my faculty English class last semester. Sadly, he lost to the very athletic bespectacled gentleman in lane three.


And since no event is complete without someone wearing a completely inappropriate T-shirt with something ridiculous written across the chest in English, we have a student in the long jump competition sporting a striped shirt that says “Dsquared Fucking” on it.

Hard to believe I was the only person there who thought it might not be the best idea to have the word “Fucking” prominently displayed on one’s shirt during an inter-college long jump competition, but no one seemed to think anything of it. I may have to do a unit on profanity at some point.


And here is the engineering department, rocking their helmets at the Closing Ceremony. The flag-bearer, by the way, has to be the tallest 19-year-old in Jiangsu Province.

1. He’s black.

2. His half-brother lives in Shenzhen. (This was major news in the national press here)

3. He just won the presidential election in America.

4. He beat Hillary Clinton.

Almost no one at the school has heard of John McCain, but there are quite a few students here who are still bummed out about Hillary losing in the primaries.

5. This means Bush isn’t the president of America anymore.

Most people are too polite to say it directly, but the students I’ve talked to seem pretty excited about this.

The students here seem pretty pleased that Obama was elected. One student, who knew I had planned to vote for Obama, came up to me the day after the election with a big smile and yelled, “Obama won the game!”

But there was some confusion about the historical significance of the Obama victory. There is general agreement among the students that Obama is black, and that it’s pretty rare for a black man to be elected president of the United States. But they aren’t quite sure if this is the first time it has happened.

One student asked me if Obama was, in fact, the first black man to be elected president in America. I told him he was, but the student wasn’t quite convinced.

“What about Lincoln?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Lincoln was white.”


Yellow Mountain

HUANGSHAN – I’ve had some time off while my students practice their marching and chanting on the school’s football field during mandatory pre-college military training, so I decided to head to Anhui Province for a few days and climb a mountain.

I hopped on the overnight train in Nanjing, where my inability to speak Mandarin landed me in a hard-sleeper cabin instead of the soft-sleeper I enjoyed on the way to Beijing (learn how to say “soft-sleeper” in Mandarin, kids, it’s just a few kuai extra and you’ll actually get some sleep).

However many hours and almost no sleep later, it was 5:30 a.m. and I had reached a town called Tunxi. Fifty kuai got me to a much smaller town called Tankou, and forty more convinced the driver to take me from the hotel and restaurant he dropped us all off at, to the Bank of China in what some might call the center of town.

I had no real interest in visiting the Bank of China at 6:30 in the morning, especially after hearing that it didn’t open until 8:00, but Lonely Planet told me there was a place across the road called Mr. Hu’s Restaurant and that the owner, Mr. Hu, speaks English and is a good source of information.

Mr. Hu’s Restaurant, of course, was not across from the Bank of China, or at least not the Bank of China that I was driven to. But after just a few minutes of aimless wandering in the adorably small downtown business area of Tankou, a woman approached me speaking very good English and offering coffee and breakfast and hotel information.

She led me to a small restaurant with a sign above the door that read, “English service. Free Information.” An overpriced bowl of noodles and some pretty decent coffee later, she emerged from the kitchen with a map and an armload of Huangshan area travel guides. And in no time, I had a hotel reservation at 100 RMB/night and a route planned out for the next day’s climb.

(I would meet Mr. Hu the next day, actually, when he drove me to the bus station in Tankou, after first showing me the actual location of his restaurant and promising to give me information about the area if I decided to eat there).

Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain for those of you who speak even less Mandarin than I do, is a very touristy mountain to climb. There are paved stairs all the way to the top, and you can hike for hours at the top without ever reaching a trail that isn’t paved. There’s even a cable car to take you up there if you aren’t into climbing stairs for three and a half hours.

But China’s tallest staircase is still a hell of a walk. Especially if you’re carrying a load of food up to the hotels at the summit, like these guys were.

I passed dozens of these guys on the way up, and couldn’t help wondering why they couldn’t use the cable car to carry all that stuff to the summit.

Either way, the mountain was incredibly beautiful. I, of course, picked a day that was both rainy and remarkably foggy, which led to that wonderful moment when you get to the peak after three hours of climbing in the rain and see… fog. Lots and lots of fog. You can clearly tell that what you are looking at would be unspeakably beautiful on a clearer day. But all you see is fog. So you take a picture of it.

I took plenty of pictures, and some of them even came out. Here’s a few of the better ones:

You can almost tell there’s a mountain there, behind the fog.

At the top of the mountain, and at many points on the way up, couples have chained padlocks along the guardrails. The army of padlocks is evidence of just how many Chinese couples have made this climb.

The valley at the base of the mountain is also worth a visit.

So is the waterfall, even if it was more like a very large and impressive trickle during my early-Autumn visit.

There are some really great signs in the Huangshan area. During one stretch of the hike, there were repeated warnings of “Wet Floor.” A sign at the waterfall explains that a famous movie called “lie the tiger to hide the dragon” was filmed there (you might know it better as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Another sign,  asking tourists not to walk down a certain stretch of path, reads, “Visitor Halt.”

But this one (above) is my favorite. Hanging from a metal chain that clearly marks off a certain area that tourists are not meant to cross, the sign asks visitors not to jump over that chain. Complete with a picture of a stick figure doing his best Liu Xiang impression, the sign reads, “Please do not jumps a hurdle.”