Experience Overload Part 1: Training Day

I don’t think I have it in me to put up a post every day, but I really ought to. Each day in the Valley reminds me of the summer that I took intensive Spanish (bear with me on this analogy) – one day was equivalent to a week, one week to a month, one month to a semester. If I let too many days pile up without ordering it all into neat paragraphs it seems impossible to process. We’re heading out of the Valley tomorrow at 5am after almost two weeks here, so it’s time for some wrap-up. So as not to tax your patience, I’ll put this up in pieces over the next few days…

Training Day

Barbara and I started off Monday by meeting with two Azu women to prepare our training for the next day. The training was to be for some 20 Azu village women, on a topic related to maternal and infant health. We are using the American College of Nurse Midwives’ Home-based Life Saving Skills manuals, which contain very basic, picture-based instructions on how to deal with life-threatening situations that can arise during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. They’ve been used all over the developing world, particularly in rural areas like the Valley, and are easily adapted because the pictures and text are so simple.

(Dear visiting Singaporean medical students who were bored and translated the text into Mandarin for fun: PLEASE STOP. I know you are all bursting at the seams with your newly acquired medical educations, but endlessly crossing out the ACNM’s text and replacing it with complex instructions that women who are barely Chinese-literate will be unable to follow is counterproductive. AHEM.)

The two women we met with decided that “Bleeding During Pregnancy” would be a good topic for the training, as this is something that they’ve encountered in their villages over and over. There ensued a flurry of translation into Azu (seeing Azu being typed out on a computer is supercool), cutting and pasting and photocopying, and BAM! Azu handouts on what to do in case of bleeding during pregnancy.

The training itself went very well, and that was not at all a given. Part of the issue in running such trainings is that any Azu woman will tell you that their main characteristic is haixiu – shyness. Azu culture is highly conservative and thick with taboos around issues of health and the body. It’s not at all certain that you’ll be able to get a bunch of women together and convince them to mime such things as urination over a plastic bucket and getting a friend or family member to keep track of how much blood they’re losing.

During the training there was much discussion of Azu women being haixiu and, given that, what people might actually be willing to do in case of bleeding. They agreed that urination would be ok because they can go off alone for that, but determined that they would keep track of their own bleeding, thankyouverymuch, unless they bled so much that they passed out – in which case someone else could take over.

Fair enough.

Haixiu aside, there are other, equally fundamental issues with running such a training – for one thing, it turns out that many Azu women have no idea what their internal anatomy looks like. If I said to you, “The egg travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus”, it’s likely that a little picture would pop into your head that originally came out of a biology textbook, or Our Bodies, Ourselves. These woman are largely extrapolating visuals from their experience slaughtering livestock, which can actually be useful if they’ve been butchering pigs, but not so much if it’s just been chickens. (I will leave it to you to Google appropriately.)

They are also hungry for information, which makes keeping the trainings on track a real challenge. When presented with a highly experienced and foreign-trained nurse-midwife like Barbara, every question they’ve ever wanted to ask comes forward. What do I do in case of a breech birth?…Why do they happen?…Why does the placenta sometimes not come out? It’s too much for a two-hour training – plus, we’ve got to come with better visual aids showing HUMAN anatomy next time.

One thing that doing such trainings teaches you is that just because people are shy, it doesn’t mean they have nothing to say. This is especially important to understand in the context of hospital care in the Valley, as whenever we’ve gone to the hospital, Azu women and their families are essentially silent in front of the Chinese staff.

We started off the training by having one woman tell the story of a girl in her village who bled seriously during the 4th month of her pregnancy, and miscarried. It was as if she had cracked opened the floodgates – out came the other women’s stories, slowly at first, then faster and faster until they were literally shouting each other down with their tales of pregnancies lost and saved, labors endless and precipitous, babies born alive and dead.

I started bleeding at three months and eventually the fetus came out, the size of a plum…I started bleeding at six months and the twins were born dead – they were girls, I could tell by then…My relative bled all the way from two to seven months, but her mother-in-law prayed every day and the baby was born healthy…A woman in my village had bleeding, so we killed a chicken, stir-fried its innards and made a soup – it saved the pregnancy…A woman I know started to bleed, but she carried to term and even had the strength to pinch and bite her husband during her labor shouting, “This is your fault! You did this to me!!”

I don’t think the staff at the hospital know (or care) what a fine line they are walking with the village women, what a slim margin of error they are being given. For women who are resentful that they have to go to the hospital at all, bad outcomes that happen there are not forgiven. One woman relayed the story of what sounded like a placental abruption and/or uterine rupture – either way, there was massive hemorrhaging. The woman survived, minus her uterus, but the baby died shortly after birth. I have no idea whether or not this was the fault of anything the hospital did, but the conclusion offered by the storyteller was clear: people in her village do not like the hospital any more.

I may be justifying my own ignorance, but with topics like these it strikes me that it may be a good thing that Barbara and I don’t speak Azu. She guides the training in English, I translate English-Mandarin, and another woman translates Mandarin-Azu – which means that these village women are free to say whatever they want, knowing that by the time it gets back to me and then to Barbara, the essential facts are getting through but the nuance is long gone.

In the end, they’re not really telling their secrets to us – and that is a good thing.

Back to the Hospital, and Shabbes in the Valley

Home

I’ve parked myself with a can of beer in front of my room’s electric fan, vainly hoping that either will do something to cut through the humidity that has settled into the Valley over the past few days. Barbara and I just came back from dinner at the house of a foreign friend who lives near by; after dinner we sat with the lights off in the living room, eating a mountain of lychees to keep cool. I complimented her on her beautiful Peruvian wall tapestries, and was then distracted by the concept of a place as inconceivably distant from the Valley as Peru – it might as well be a fairy tale. I spent the rest of the evening staring out the window of her home, overlooking the skeleton of a small, ruined power station in which villagers now grow corn in tight rows.

Tomorrow morning we meet with two local women to prepare a training for village women on life-saving skills relating to pregnancy, the postpartum period, and newborn health. One of the women only speaks the local language – let’s call it Azu – and the other speaks Azu and Mandarin. I’ll translate from Mandarin to English for Barbara, and the whole thing will be a little round-robin of translation and take three times as long as it should, but as we say in Mandarin: mei banfa.

One of the ways I know that my Mandarin skills have improved since we moved to China is that the prospect of this kind of activity only makes me a little nervous, as opposed to paralyzingly nervous in a manner that requires closed eyes and deep breathing. Now I always do pretty well in these situations, if I do say so myself. It’s tomorrow afternoon’s plan, returning to the hospital, that’s got me a little worried.

Back at the Hospital

On Friday we stopped by to see the Matron, and when she wasn’t in that day we casually made rounds, mostly to check on the woman who had had the emergency cesarean and severe infection. She seemed to have improved somewhat from the day before, but as we stood by her bedside I looked at the woman lying in the bed next to her – and then I looked again.

I recognized the face peeking out from underneath heavy blankets, her eyes just showing beneath her “new mother’s” head scarf. When we had visited the day before, she had just arrived at the hospital in labor, with her water already broken. She didn’t seem to be in heavy labor yet, and when Barbara examined her she noted that the baby was posterior, its head wasn’t engaged in the pelvis, and there was very little amniotic fluid remaining. A posterior baby (“sunnyside up”) is often more painful to deliver, but will usually come out on its own with a little maneuvering. One whose head isn’t sufficiently engaged in the pelvis might not come out at all, necessitating a c-section.

There are ways to encourage the baby to move down, but the hospital doesn’t favor any of them. They don’t like the women to move around in general, and particularly not after the water has broken because they fear cord prolapse (that the cord will slip out before the baby, which can be fatal as it cuts off the baby’s oxygen supply). This is not a well-founded fear when there is very little amniotic fluid, so Barbara encouraged this woman to walk the hospital corridor and to stay well hydrated.

The whole thing was hopeless. Let me explain the issues.

The Problems of Hospital Birth for Azu Women

1) This woman had been hooked up to an IV of oxytocin, to make her contractions stronger – this IV bag hangs from a runner attached to the ceiling. It is not mobile. So if she wants to walk the halls (which the staff do not want her to do anyway), they have to unhook the IV from the ceiling and someone in her family has to trail around behind her, holding the bag over their head. This gets tiring, so they do it for 5 minutes, drop their arm, and then the staff tell her to get back in bed.

2) The woman was thirsty, but refused to drink water. She refused to drink not because she’s a fool, but because the maternity ward has no bathroom – so if she wants to use a bathroom she has to go at least downstairs to another ward, or to an outhouse outside the hospital, which is not all that appealing when you’re in labor. The maternity ward does encourage women to use bedpans, but they had run out of bedpans by the time this particular woman arrived. Even if they had given her one, the women don’t tend to use them because they are in open wards, with no curtains separating the beds, so they would have to use them in front of other women’s husbands and relatives. Not gonna happen if they can help it – so they drink as little as possible.

3) By the time this woman arrived, her water had already been broken for two days. She had waited so long to come in for numerous reasons, including: a) Azu women tend to minimize their pregnancies and labors as long as possible. There are taboos surrounding pregnancy and birth that mean such things are rarely spoken of; b) Many Azu women, including this one, live a tremendous distance from the two-street town center where the hospital is located – they don’t want to walk hours and hours down a mountain if they’re not sure whether or not they’re really in labor; and c) Azu women don’t really like the hospital. The care is free, and they’re even given a cash incentive to show up and give birth there, but they still often prefer to stay in their villages. The local government has made that a moot point by recently passing a law requiring them to come to the hospital, but many are still unhappy about it; they have a hard time communicating with the Chinese staff, many of whom don’t speak Azu at all. They feel looked down upon and condescended to by these more affluent “city folk”, who look different, speak differently, dress differently.

4) And then there are all of the larger reasons that any Azu woman here is disadvantaged giving birth; their diets tend to consist of only a few vitamin-poor staple foods at any given time (potatoes, cabbage, hominy). They generally receive no prenatal care, meaning that any problems tend to become emergencies, usually at the time of birth.

This particular woman finally received a cesarean several hours before we arrived at the hospital. In light of the other woman with the severe infection, seizures and emergency cesarean, the hospital staff had gotten too nervous to wait any longer – her labor had stopped, they told me.

And now here she was, under blankets, her baby in some distant part of the hospital. She was mumbling, delirious with pain, unable to open her eyes. I knelt down beside her and squeezed her hand – what else is there to do? – and tears began to stream from her eyes, forming a little reservoir where they reached her nose. She squeezed my hand back and began to sob and shake – I worried that I was making it worse.

I noticed a young man and an old couple nervously hovering against one wall of the room and asked if they were her family – yes, they said. Because the hospital has no chairs or stools for anyone to sit on, they didn’t know where to be. I managed to scrounge a stool from a closet so that her husband could sit next to her, so that at least she would know he was there. When I walked past the room later on, I saw him spooning soup into her mouth.

We’ll see if she’s doing any better tomorrow.

Shabbes in the Valley

I did not grow up an observant Jew, but I’ve been experimenting with a few things lately, trying them on to see how they fit. Last month I decided to start lighting candles on Friday nights, for Shabbes – I cover my head, I light the handles, I wave the flames toward me and cover my eyes, I say the prayers. When I’m done feeling like I’m playing dress up, the whole thing feels pretty good. The first prayer I should say, of course, is  to Adonai, Eloheinu, creator of the fruits of the internet – because seriously, I wouldn’t know how to do any of this stuff otherwise.

Shabbes is always supposed to be a welcome event in the week, but after Friday at the hospital it seemed particularly necessary to light the candles, to go through the steps, to create a break with what had happened before.

I hadn’t brought anything to the Valley with which to cover my head, so I went out and bought the first head scarf I could find, which is one traditionally worn by older Azu women. Barbara was suitably impressed, so she took this photo of me (in which I realize that the shirt-scarf combination is sort of a horrifying optical illusion of plaid – apologies).


On Saturday night, I lit an improvised Havdalah candle for the first time in my life, accompanied not by wine but by Coke Zero, which, unlike wine, is available all over the Valley. I liked Havdalah – maybe this coming week I’ll even spring for some fruit juice.

And Now For Something Completely Different

It’s nighttime in the Valley, a remote, rural part of China to which I’ve travelled from Kunming. As soon as the sun drops below the mountains, the clouds that had burned off during the day return, hastening the darkness.

Those of you who have read other parts of this blog may know that I am a birth doula and aspiring midwife, not a tech blogger. Since midwifery is an even more marginalized and beleaguered profession in China than in the US (and that’s saying something) it was through sheer luck that last year I happened to meet Barbara, an American midwife in Kunming, that she took me under her wing, and that we have been able to travel to this corner of China together. Barbara would call it providence.

We first came here several months ago, invited by the local hospital to conduct a series of trainings in midwifery skills that could help the staff deal non-surgically with the problems they most often see in birthing and postpartum women. The maternity ward of this hospital, a series of adjoined, muddy, concrete boxes, has at most 15 beds in its four rooms to serve a population of some 100,000 predominantly ethnic minority people. The hospital staff, of course, are mostly Han Chinese.

Occasionally the ward is very quiet, with one or two postpartum women lying silently, their new babies beside them bound up in blankets and string like pork roasts. But today was a full house – every bed containing a laboring woman or a new mother and her tiny child, the space in between the beds filled up with husbands and female relatives, small bundles of clothes, food that the families must bring themselves. Last night had been sleepless, a nurse told me, with four women giving birth before dawn. Women, like many mammals, birth more easily during the night, when quiet and darkness leave them less disturbed and more able to concentrate.

When we arrived on the ward this morning, we picked our way among the families and laboring women, searching for a nurse or doctor to recognize and welcome us – as foreigners who drop by only periodically, we are never sure what the reception from the staff will be, despite their having invited us to come. In my peripheral vision I saw a nurse dash from one room across the hall to another and spied a doctor filling syringes in an office at the end of the corridor, but no one looked familiar to me. Was it because all of the staff we had previously met were working a different shift, or because they had all left and been replaced? People change jobs so often and casually here that it was hard to know.

I peered into the staff lounge – really just a cramped patient room, with two beds, that the staff have commandeered – and saw the figure of the ward Matron standing in the window. The Matron is a saucy old broad, unflappable. A head shorter than I am, her face is perfectly round and beginning to be weathered by middle age. If you encounter her outside the hospital, she will be wearing acid washed, appliquéd jeans and a frilly top in the fashionable local manner, her pixie cut moussed into a small bouffant. In the hospital, she wears baby pink from head to toe – nurse’s cap; button-down, short-sleeved scrub dress falling to her knees; spongy, orthopedic shoes. She looks not unlike a waitress at a roadside diner.

Removing the cigarette hanging precariously from her bottom lip, and stubbing it into a wet sponge on the window sill, she called out to me by my Chinese name. “You’re back!” Her voice was croaky as always. “Where is Barbara? We’ll go see the patients.”

Barbara had already installed herself at a patient’s bedside, and was inspecting a slightly jaundiced newborn. The Matron approached her and they made exaggerated, noisy greetings in each others’ directions – the Matron speaks no English, and Barbara speaks no Mandarin. I’m the translator.

The three of us headed over to the far side of the small room to meet a postpartum woman who had been hospitalized for 10 days. She had arrived in labor, with her water broken and a severe infection setting in. She had first visited a village clinic half an hour away up a mountainside – when she had a seizure there, they had made her leave for the hospital. After another seizure at the hospital, she was taken for an emergency cesarean, during which they drained liters of fluid from her abdomen, later inserting catheters to continuously drain the fluid from her body, still accumulating mixed with blood as she lay in front of us.

I pride myself on being known for my toughness and I am embarrassed to admit that my biggest concern about entering nurse-midwifery school is that I will vomit or cry in front of a patient. The wound that a cesarean leaves is always barbaric looking at first – either sewn or stapled shut, I have yet to see a fresh incision that did not look to me like some form of torture. This woman’s wound was no different, regardless of the fact that the surgery had almost certainly saved her life and that of her baby.

Barbara and the Matron variously commented on how well the woman was doing – her infection was clearing, her incision healing, her fever had broken. But this woman was panting, subtly shaking, her face rigid; it seems that people here do not like to discuss their pain, and this woman was palsied with her attempts to hide it. I did not cry, but I wanted to. If someone could let me know why Chinese hospitals so rarely give medication for pain, I’d appreciate it.

We made our rounds of the other patients, all healthy if immobile, discouraged from leaving their beds. The laboring women lay on their sides, IVs tethering them to the wall. The new mothers drank chicken soup and ate hard-boiled eggs, their heads wrapped tightly in scarves to keep the “cold air” from getting to them, according to traditional Chinese medical practice.

We were finally taken to a room that previously I had seen used only for storage, but that was being used today to hold two patients. Dim and airless, the room stank of sickness. The entire maternity ward carries a foul smell, the stench of years of disinfectant fluid spreading dirt evenly across the floor mixed with the stale odor of clothes and bed linens too infrequently washed. The dogs that wander the halls and patient rooms don’t help. The hospital has no janitorial staff, so it is the responsibility of unenthusiastic doctors, nurses and patients’ families to clean the place. This room seemed to be the one that was cleaned least frequently, and I caught myself holding my breath.

What brought these women to the hospital, however, was not contagious. On one bed lay a woman about to give birth, and on the other a woman condemned to death by tumors. Shrunken and white-haired, her abdomen was distended with metastasized uterine cancer. Unable to eat or drink, she periodically spit up clear fluid and blood into the tissues held out by the attentive younger women of her family. Looking over one of their shoulders, I saw the woman’s face tighten and contort. I thought she was seized by pain, but I saw her lips move and understood then that she was praying.

Around the World in 80 Days

The past three months have been a whirl of activity and travel – we actually traveled around the globe in about 80 days – and now we find ourselves back in Kunming for a last burst of activity.

Although we’re now into Year 3 of living in China, we’re fast closing in on the end of our time here: my fellowship is done, I’m dashing off my applications for nurse-midwifery school, RP is finishing up his fieldwork. We have to leave our apartment a little over two months from now, and then we’ll be homeless or itinerant (depending on your view of it) for six months or so, before probably ending up back in the US in the late spring.

But before we get to next spring, let’s start with this one: the end of April and May were spent in the US, moving from place to place as RP promoted his (BRILLIANT! CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED!) book, and checking in with family. From there it was off to Berlin and then St. Petersburg for me, and London for him, finally rendezvousing in Moscow for our Great Trans-Siberian Adventure.

We spent a few weeks traveling across Russia by way of the Trans-Siberian: alighting in eight cities of Siberia and the Far East, eating smoked fish, watching the steppe and then the taiga pass by the window, stumbling through conversations in Russian, sharing tea and biscuits with fellow train travelers, sitting with our thoughts for hours.

All 600 photos I took were lost with my camera, so you will just have to believe me when I say that I saw the sun set at midnight in St. Petersburg, stood and looked out at the Gulf of Finland, put my feet in the freezing, clear waters of Lake Baikal, and took in the Pacific Ocean from the top of a funicular in gritty Vladivostok, where we finally landed. My favorite few minutes of the whole trip happened during twilight leaving Irkutsk for the east, when the train sailed right along the edge of Baikal and I felt as though I were staring out at the edge of the planet.

9,909 km – 6,157 miles – from end to end. An epic journey through a vast stretch of land unlike any other I’ve seen. I’m a lucky one, for sure.

Russia is so enormous that a map showing the basic route we took across that one country alone can’t be displayed on this blog in its entirety…so I decided to make a map showing the entire route that we took around the world and each of the stops we made; by plane, train, bus, van and ferry; from Kunming to Beijing, up over the Arctic Circle to America; through Europe to Russia; and across Eurasia back to Beijing and Kunming. Click “View Larger Map” below to see the whole thing.

And while you’re at it, here are the photos that RP took on the Trans-Siberian journey. Click photo below to see full album.

In Kazan, Going into a Church

We made the last episode of A New York Yid in Khine from Birobidzhan (…not Khine…whatever) that will give you a feeling for what the trip across Russia was actually like, even better than the photos do. Stay tuned for that shortly!

Out of Asia – Part II: Beirut

Beirut is a city that is alternately edgy, trendy, and tragic. A place that, from the vantage point of right-this-minute, seems to have its best days behind it.

Unfortunately, the conference that took me to Beirut was located in an awkward, distant part of town, so I didn’t get much time to explore the city – but I did have one full day to get a little taste of the place, and had an entire week to gorge myself on Lebanese food and drink, which is OUTRAGEOUSLY good, as my parents would say.

I mostly photographed the architecture, and while it may seem like I’m giving too much attention to the bullet-riddled, bombed-out places, this is actually what the city looks like outside of the small kernel of downtown that has been gloriously rebuilt.

Or rather, this is what I was not stopped from photographing by the small army of guys in fatigues with machine guns, littering the city.

There are tiny sections of French colonial architecture that were also preserved and have been restored, but a feeling of decrepitude dominates.That said, there was actually a lot of construction going on when I was there. Considering the current regional instability, particularly in Syria, it seemed…optimistic.

It is a beautiful city, in its way, nonetheless.

Click photos below for full gallery.



Woah, Where’d January Go?

Well actually, I can tell you where it went: Hong Kong.

RP and I have just completed The Great Visa Caper of January 2011, and are now legit in this fair land for another year. It did require us, however, to go to Hong Kong for an absurdly long period of time. And what did we do with ourselves during that time (apart from very diligently completing office work, of course boss!)?

We went to the races at Happy Valley!

And actually very nearly almost won enough money to break even!

We got to marvel at an actual street parade (no such thing ever to be seen on the mainland, for whatever reason…), featuring little girls hoisted up on poles…

And guys about to do a traditional lion dance…BUT WITH A SUBWAY CAR INSTEAD…

Plus we ate enough dim sum to sink a ship, and hung out with more people from college who are now living in HK than I have seen in several years. And beat a retreat to Stanley when the buzz of Hong Kong Island verged on over-stimulation.

Ah, Hong Kong. How I love to visit you. But probably not to live in you, since I would have to prostitute myself in your streets in order to afford it.

So…I know you think I’m back now, but actually we’re leaving tomorrow for New Zealand, via Singapore and back through Melbourne. The Chinese New Year is almost upon us, which means it’s time to exit the country. This is such an itinerant period in our lives that I’m starting to get slightly dizzy…remind me of that when I’m armpit-deep in nursing school and don’t have time to go anywhere.

Resolution for the next 24 hours: POST PICTURES FROM CAMBODIA! Coming shortly.

In the Home Stretch

In case you’re wondering where I’ve been for the past couple weeks, the answer is: work. Mostly work. Crazy work. Work potentially worth a whole lot of money for my organization – fingers crossed. Throw in some wedding planning and some standardized testing*, minus a bunch of sleep, and you get why I’ve been a little stressed of late.

But! Today marks the end of the work (all projects submitted), the test taken, and the end of the wedding planning in sight. I even finished making our ksube (which, by the way, I recommend leaving to the professionals unless there is no one who can do Yiddish calligraphy within several thousand miles of your apartment, as with us). Slightly dark photo of the finished product:

It’s A2-sized in real life. The inspiration for this, in case you’re wondering, is the interesting fact that both the Chinese and European Jews have rich folk art traditions of paper cutting. Et voila: a Chinese paper cut Yiddish-English ksube.

Before you get too excited – I did not actually create these red paper cuts. But I did buy a huge number of them, slice out their details and piece them back together into what you see above! I’m just piggybacking on the tremendous skill of some of the artists in the area. Now I just have to get it back to the States in one piece.

RP and I will be back in New York City one week from right now, meaning that one week and one hour from right now I will have drunk my bodyweight in seltzer. Oh how I miss seltzer!

See you all soon…

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*How to Register for the GREs in China

This was a fairly annoying process, so for those of you who are looking to take the GRE here – this is how it works:

  • In China, the GRE is split into two parts – first you take the writing section, then on a separate date you take the Verbal/Quant section. The V/Q section is only offered twice a year, although if where you are is like Kunming, you can take the writing section any day of the week up to 3 or 4 weeks before the V/Q. The next V/Q is being held on October 23, 2010.
  • You must register through http://cbt.etest.net.cn/WebSR/default.htm, which is a buggy website with bad instructions. Also, it is all in Chinese, so if you can’t read you’re going to need someone to help you. It’s pretty straight forward – create a login, give your personal info, select test date/time etc.
  • One piece of useful information: the mysterious “country code” they want is CHN.
  • It costs 1,460 RMB, and there are limited ways to pay this fee. Probably easiest is to choose the bank transfer option. Once you’ve confirmed it will give you a form to print with a bunch of bank account info on it; take that to your nearest bank with your passport and the money, and they will handle the transfer for you. Your test date isn’t confirmed until your transfer has been received, which takes around 4 business days.
  • When you go to take the writing section of the test you will be registered for the next V/Q section.
  • FYI, depending on where you take it, all of the verbal instructions they give you when you go to take the test may be in Chinese also. Probably not much you can do about that.

Good luck!

A Yid in Khine Strikes Again!

Greetings from Bangkok, chickens! I’ve been shuttling back and forth between a hotel room and a conference room for the past week, concerning myself with grand strategizing and teaming agreements, throwing around vast sums of money on spreadsheets and generally feeling extremely important, all on my organization’s dime.

Ah, the joys of the first expat business trip.

While I’m siting here consuming pad thai from room service, enjoy the most recent installment of everyone’s favorite Yiddish internet content, A Yid in Khine! To those of who are convinced that RP is actually is a spy – and there are quite a few of you out there – I submit this as (shaky) evidence that he is actually getting up to something legitimate in northwest Yunnan.

Originally posted on the Forverts website’s video channel.

This is Not a Joke

Man, if I’d known you could get paid $1,000 a week to play Big Foreign Boss I wouldn’t have done it for free! From The Atlantic:

Rent a White Guy

Confessions of a fake businessman from Beijing

BY MITCH MOXLEY

NOT LONG AGO I was offered work as a quality-control expert with an American company in China I’d never heard of. No experience necessary—which was good, because I had none. I’d be paid $1,000 for a week, put up in a fancy hotel, and wined and dined in Dongying, an industrial city in Shandong province I’d also never heard of. The only requirements were a fair complexion and a suit.

“I call these things ‘White Guy in a Tie’ events,” a Canadian friend of a friend named Jake told me during the recruitment pitch he gave me in Beijing, where I live. “Basically, you put on a suit, shake some hands, and make some money. We’ll be in ‘quality control,’ but nobody’s gonna be doing any quality control. You in?”

I was.

And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image—particularly, the image of connection—that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.”

Read the full piece here.

This Year I’m Springing for Wellingtons

A peaceful weekend.

The rainy season is in full force here, but that didn’t stop me and RP from taking a much needed break from work and our little city to spend the weekend hanging out in the hot springs of nearby Anning – I challenge you to name a better way to relax than sitting in an overly hot pool of lime green water vaguely scented with mint. We get the stupidly cheap package that allows you to sit in the springs all day, get your feet massaged and then get a VERY vigorous scrub down in the changing rooms by a kindly woman wearing exfoliating gloves. (You will be all red, but very soft, at the end.)

A quick detour here to discuss nakedness in China (I’m sure you’re curious!): As modest as the sexes are around one another in public, when things are gender segregated in a locker room people let it all hang out. I actually find it very comforting; people stand around naked, a little towel thrown over their shoulder, laughin’ and scratchin’ (as my dad would say). No one tries to hide their bodies, and no one appears to be embarrassed, unlike similar situations in the US. (Why is it that I know how to change from street clothes to a bathing suit without baring any skin?! So unnecessary.) Take note, America: it’s really so much nicer when you’re not ashamed of your body.

Ahem.

The weekend was made all the better since we got to stay in a mysterious and empty hotel (hotels in China are often empty – the mysterious part was the suit of armor guarding the rickety wooden staircase lined with faux-Euro oil paintings) totally free of charge. Something about the father of one of RP’s friends having good guanxi with the hotel owner. My new motto in China is: Don’t question it, just say thank you.

On top of that, RP and I took out an entire barbecued chicken basically in one sitting, walked through the woods in the pouring rain, and zipped back to Kunming in time for a home viewing of Reds and a very rare dinner meticulously cooked on our hot plate. (Have I mentioned that we don’t have a kitchen so we never eat meals at home? Seeing me stirring a pot over here is like spotting a jackalope.)

I’m sorry I haven’t been posting very much – life has been quiet and busy. I’m working hard and RP is writing his book. In between we’re hosting visiting friends and making wedding plans, and I’m realizing that I’ve seen this season before, which means that soon I’ll have been in China for one year. More on that as the anniversary approaches.

In the mean time I’m enjoying the many new and strange sights brought on by the damp weather, like this guy, who didn’t think a lightening storm was any reason not to tote a motorcyleful of inflated balloons through the streets:

Happy Father’s Day everyone! Dad, all of these are for you: