Warnings in August 2014

August, 23, 1994. That’s the date of my first entry stamp into China. It was some time ago, and back then I was a lot fitter, and had a full head of hair. Things then were difficult. Getting a cold beer, for example, was something I had to plan for well in advance. I had to go down to a xiaomaibu, ask the man to turn on his refrigerator, and put the hot beers inside of it hours ahead of time to get something that was even drinkable. Taxis were a nightmare. They had doors as thin as papyrus, and the cabbies drove like maniacs through the newly installed red traffic lights as if they were paid more to get there quicker. Not to mention their feeble, at best, air-conditioners. Then there were the banks, where absolutely everything seemed as if the tellers were doing the things they were asked to do for the very first time. A bank account in a foreign name? Fill out another form, and go to the end of the line again. It took a day to open one, let alone have any money transferred anywhere.  And finally there were the train stations. The time I missed my train to Kunming, had to wait another 24 hours for the next one, and only, after nearly coming to blows with the ticket checker, finally was seated on the dining car for half the journey. All because nobody could tell me where to board the train the day before. On another occasion, I was trying to get a ticket out of Beijing, the most “cosmopolitan” city at the time, and was refused back to back to back, until after the lady behind the counter had her lunch or something, was in a better mood, and eventually relented, and sold me a stand-up ticket.

But then again, I think of all the stuff that we have to go through today, and though things have advanced, they seem no less frustrating. Nowadays, though we’ve got cold beers, we’ve got to pay more for them than we do back home, unlike back when they were three kuai per big bottle. Taxis are certainly air-conditioned, but that does us little good if none of them are available, and we’re standing on the scalding street for an hour trying to hail one. Aside from lining up at a bank, the tellers are more than fluent for any transaction that’s needed, but trying to set up a Taobao account can still be a nightmare, not to mention attempting to put some credit on it. Then finally, once again, are the train stations. The system changes more than a newborn does. First you need your passport to buy a ticket, then you need the dingdan haoma when picking up a ticket at the desk. The last time I was at an iron rooster enclave, I had to get on that monstrous line four times before I could figure it out. Back in the old days, my ass.

By Tim Hoerle

Warnings in July 2014

It looks like I’m leaving China, well for a while at least, but before you start moaning and groaning, this isn’t going to be another one of those “goodbye China” letters we’ve all love to hate. After all, I’ll only be leaving for a year at most, so it’s not really goodbye. It’s more like a zaijian letter. Or more of a mingnian jian letter, and I personally have never read one of those before. And there I go trying, not so successfully, to be original once more. Typically, I hate to admit to being typical. I’ve got tons of questions before I make the longer than a normal vacation visit back to the homeland because I’ve never lived there for any decent period of time since becoming an adult. I’ve never rented an apartment back home. I’ve never filed for taxes (arrest me now) nor have I ever had a “real” job, so though most questions can be answered by looking them up on the Internet, it is very rare that I can find anybody who has been in my position. Needless to write, I’m a little bit nervous. A long time ago, I always pictured myself, after having been on so many adventures, as being the one at the head of the table telling tales to those dining with me. You know what I mean? The dude who knows how to tell the right joke at the appropriate time? The guy who can add an anecdote to go along with any topic? The scholar who passes on ancient wisdom? The man who can tackle any obstacle because he’s seen it all?

In the end, that’s not me, so I’m nervous. I’m much quieter than I used to be as well. Somebody even mistook me as being full of thought the other day. Ha! Me? Full of thought? I care to differ. After all of these years, I’ve turned out much differently from that person I once dreamt of becoming. But hey, at the end of the day, at least I’m able to appreciate things like white puffy pillow clouds in the sky, reasonably priced avocados, and being able to drive all alone down a country road. I still love China, with its strict education system that forces my daughter to bury her head in the books. I terribly enjoy the challenges I face linguistically on a daily basis, and I am giddy when making my way through the throngs of people on holidays. Eating and drinking around a big table of ten while making fun of each other is one of my favorite pastimes. I will surely miss many things from the place I’ve called home for so many years, but as Arnold said, “I’ll be back.” I know, I know. How many times have you heard that one before from people who eventually just become distant Facebook “friends?” Then why leave, if I’ll be back? To make a very long story, very short – circumstance. Okay, it’s because my wife got an offer to be a visiting scholar at a university in the U.S. So, I’m off to drive down that backwater lane looking up at the sky while eating my guacamole, maybe with a passenger or two who might be interested in hearing a story.

By Tim Hoerle

Warnings in June 2014

So this month is going to be a big one. Venues around town are going to be putting up their outdoor screens in the hope of attracting customers and sports fans to watch the World Cup, consume their goods, and I, for one, am glad this year’s gaokao will be finished and done with before it all begins. If there’s anything worse than crazy football fans yelling without any regard for their neighbors’ sleeping kids, I’d like to ask you what that is. Of course a delusional man wielding a knife in a primary school is worse, but you can catch my drift.

This month the mercury will continue to rise, so you can be sure it’s going to be a hot one. That’s not to say May wasn’t already hot. I was out the other day walking up some hills after a nice and refreshing light rain, and I was sweating like a dancer at Carnival. We were hiking pretty fast, but isn’t that how you’re supposed to do it? I was dying, and by the time we were finally at the pinnacle I was completely soaked. I feared that my phone was going to give out. It didn’t, and thank Buddha, I didn’t fall off the mountain because at times, I thought my legs were going to go all rubber band-y on me.

This month is looking to be as tiresome as that hike. From students trying to cram as much into their little heads as they can before their exams, to football fans staying up very late, or getting up extremely early to watch games live, the real strain is on the employees in the service industry who quite possibly don’t give a rat’s ass, but have to push on to make an extra buck for their big bosses. There will be many a sleepless night for just about everybody.

So this month’s bound to be a happy one because China didn’t make the Cup, there will surely be people routing for both teams at one of those many venues playing the game unlike in some really nationalistic nation where you might insight a riot if you cheer another country scoring a goal. You see, we don’t live in Shanghai or Beijing where large groups of people from one country will dominate a late night operator making the situation often stressful for the odd one or two who want the opponent to win. Both sides will have a usually equal portion of the crowd on their side, creating a bunch of basically fun places to participate in the action.

So in this big, hot, tiresome, and happy month, I thank you all who have stuck around making the international cities we live in all the more exciting, and enjoyable to live in. Wear your jerseys, paint your faces, and wave your flags because if there’s a better time to enjoy where you’re from, then there’s no better time than this month. And isn’t that what life’s about?

By Tim Hoerle

Warnings in May 2014

After having my bike for more than five years, and keeping a wicked eye on it at all times, on the first night that I left it out, it was stolen. Stupid me I guess, but then again, I wonder where these bikes go because if they simply go to the scrap yard, that would be a damn shame. Me? I would rather them get painted over, and sold for 100RMB to some poor kid one town over. That buyer would certainly have a treat coming to him. And the timing couldn’t have been worse. We had just finished the magazine, and my preparation for what I usually do after each and every magazine is done failed, so I threw a few too many down, and needless to say, I was hurting badly. I was riding the bike at least an hour a day, and trying to be extra healthy to hold off that typical post-end of the month dive into the liquor tank when wham, my bike disappeared, and into the tank I dove like Tom Daley. Then my sleep morphed from dreaming about fantastic orgiastic feasts, to these demonic episodes with little cats dying in my trembling hands due to my lack of care. Instead of waking up well rested at 7am, I was waking up in an ocean of sweat at 4:30am.

So by the end of last month, I was hitting it extra hard, aside from my smoking, I’ll leave that one in me for a bit longer. I’ve gone out on the bike into the fields, around the water, and under the willows more than ever, and all on my new Giant which, like a newborn, I’m never going to leave. Not only that, but I’m trying out new restaurants almost on a biweekly basis, twice a week to be precise. Here I thought that Chinese was the only language with those words that have double meaning. Ignorant me again. Cooking? I’ve started to actually make my way into the kitchen again, and it really wasn’t too inedible. I mean come on now, I can find basically anything I want these days, save French Saturday morning market fare, so why not go into the kitchen? Thank you, Taobao. And so what, it might cost a bit more than it does at home? I would definitely rather eat one well-made Monterey cheese stuffed burger than eat three double cheese burgers from Mackers. Having said that, I now go to Mackie Ds, and have their cheap 8RMB breakfast deal biweekly, now that we’ve sorted that term out. Here’s me again, looking at the world through chahua colored glasses, but hopefully when I take them off, the chahua will still be in bloom. A petal hits the puddle, just after another rain drop adds to that little pool, and I’m stuck inside once again. Oh God, I need a drink of cool, cool rain.

By Tim Hoerle

Warnings in April 2014

Okay. I’m addicted to – among many other things – Netflix. But as great as it is, though, it doesn’t it make me feel like a kid again — or what? I mean, can’t I remember a time when I was sitting in front of the black and white television, trying desperately to get the antenna to get the reception just right?… to that Bears game, when they were playing in the snow? I mean come on now, have I, with all of the new technology, reverted back to my childhood?

I mean, how many times can one hit the pause button, and then hit the play button? If anything (as I just told an old friend, to his dismay), it’s the one thing I’ve learned since I’ve been here: be patient. I told him because he pissed me off the other day when I asked him how he’s changed since arriving here, only to hear him say that he’s become “intolerant”. This is coming from a very successful businessman; but really, is that all he’s learned since being here? Maybe he’ll be more like me, and he’ll learn my “wisdom” in a few more years — or what? What I can’t stand is – after being here for so long – my old friends come to visit me for the first time in years. Now that really ducks me off. Thank you, autocorrect.

I mean, talk about being in a time machine. Fourteen years, or fifteen years, I really can’t remember, but anyway, although I’m not as fat as I was a couple of years ago, I’m definitely a bit fatter than I was fourteen or fifteen years ago; and I most assuredly have less hair. And to hear that my old friend is afraid to get up on stage, when he is, or was, the best guitarist I’ve ever seen? That to me is absolutely ridiculous. I can understand, I guess, because there was a day when I had no fear of standing up in front of an audience of a thousand, and now, though my oratory skills haven’t declined, I’m a bit skittish in front of a group of ten; so yeah, I can certainly understand the guy. But once the dude got onto the stage he was simply fantastic, which makes me wonder: why I don’t get in front of those thousand-people audiences like I used to. Don’t I watch each and every TED Talk that comes out, and don’t I know what makes one good, and another one subpar? Haven’t I written, in my head, a million times, exactly what I would say if I were given an opportunity to get up in front of a TED audience?

Okay, not exactly, but, make it a few more times. Would it be about addiction? Or would it be about my time in China? I’m not so sure. But I’m convinced that one day it will be a good one. As long as my Netflix works.

By Tim Hoerle

Warnings in March 2014

So I was sitting there with my French/Australian/Singaporean/Greek friend the other day and it got us to talking, as it always does. Anyway we got to chatting about what’s better and what’s worse. UFC definitely beats boxing. That’s for sure. We watch the good stuff every Monday. Though rugby is more physical than American football, the NFL is not without its charms. Belgian beer is better than German beer. My grandma would turn over in her grave at that thought, but it’s true. There’s no better wine on the planet than the good old French stuff. Sorry, you Napa Valley fools. And though I love Chinese food, and Indian food, we had to agree there’s no better food in Asia than Thai food. I just got back from Vietnam and eaten in its “best” restaurants, and had I not been impressed? Pizza? We couldn’t get an agreement on that one as usual, though as a New Yorker, I do have to say the best pizza I’ve ever had was in a little place in Connecticut. The greatest cars? Grandma roll over again. They have to be German. The most outstanding Tour de France rider? Red Bull though he may have had too many, it’s got to be Lance. The longest line we’ve ever waited on aside from Euro Disney or Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida, it’s got to be the line for the taxis in the Shanghai train station.

You see that’s how my French friends and I talk. I was asked by this dude who I just went on this bike trip to Hainan with who my friends were, and I had to say that the majority of them (all ten of them) were French. After all, don’t we play the most challenging game of Tarot every Friday together? That has to be one of the most mind bending card games to ever have crossed my hands. But having said that, though I have been to Paris, and I come from New York, I still think Tokyo is my favorite city on the planet. I just might take back my favorite food in Asian comment, and say it’s Japanese. That would be, of course, if I weren’t considering the prohibitive price. You want some superlatives about China, do you? How about the most people I’ve ever see in any one view at once? How about the spiciest food I’ve ever eaten? Thank you, Chengdu. Alright, I’ve got to take that one back as well. Thank Cluck U. How about the biggest bill I’ve ever seen in my life? Thank you, crazy Karaoke night in Shanghai. I’ve had a fantastic month, and that’s due in no small part to a few vacations, and a wonderful family. So for these things, I need to be grateful, and at least once a year I need to feel this way because if I know my French friends, they will have to argue about that as well. Putain de merde! Vivre a 100%!

By Tim Hoerle

Warnings in February 2014

I met this guy who I’ve known for quite some time the other day, and he said I was extreme. Me? What? This was coming from a guy who had his wife’s placenta dried, whereupon he then split it in half to bury one side with a tree in America, and the other in Australia. This from the same guy who had just come into the bar with blood trickling down his neck after getting part of a chopstick embedded in it. Me? Extreme? I don’t think so. And then there was that youngish dude who just came into the bar after a hospital visit. He said his blood pressure was measured at 207/195. How this dude got here without the aid of an ambulance is beyond me. There was another sixty-something-year-old engineer who used to work for the CIA back in ‘Nam. He married a former nun of all people. I once met another bloke who claimed to have run a marathon after only two days of training. This was the same bloke who then borrowed a cool million in cash from a casual friend only to have it show up at his doorstep in a big duffle bag. Girls feeling a bit left out? No need to worry because I know this girl who got a metal medical tray of golf ball sized tumors removed from her only to have a fully healthy baby the next year. Who could forget that Irish girl who came into town with her Wenzhounese/Danish older boyfriend to open a bar. They did it, split up, and she finally went back to the U.K. to have a son with none other than her cousin. That’s over the top. How about the southerner who set fire to a business partner’s fleet of Cadillac limos after a deal went awry? Chinese people feeling left out. I once knew a girl who started selling “fashionable” clothes out of a ten square meter shop back in the 80s. Standing a full head and shoulders shorter than me, and speaking in a voice squeakier than a chipmunks’, she built that little shop into a “tiny” fashion empire.

So the next time you’re sitting in a bar, and the unfamiliar guy next to you says that he’s been in China since he was twenty years old, please don’t let out a muppet-like, “Wow!” For starters, you’ll make the guy* feel really old, not to mention, you’ll make him feel as if he’s something other than normal. Because let me tell you something, that shrimper who comes here a few times a year, doesn’t consider himself abnormal, though he did go to Afghanistan in ’74. He’s just telling us a good story, and he just wants us to laugh, and enjoy his experiences. And man does that guy have great tales to tell or what? May your Year of the Horse be filled with the extreme. It’s normal for us.

*Me

By Tim Hoerle

Warnings in January 2014

My mishaps seem to never end, though they are getting fewer and farther between. Just the other day, my zipper broke, right when the mercury dipped to make Santa’s house seem like a sauna in comparison. It sucks because though I know exactly where to get it xiued, I’m not going to go around in this wet cold without a jacket, so it’s better to just hug myself while walking to and from my daughter’s school to pick her up. Buy a new one? Ha! You should know me by now. Though I’ve been known to drop a thousand in a night in Shanghai, I’m not known for buying new clothes. That can only be seen in the way my now formless pants desperately need to be held up by my eight-year-old belt. And yeah, I’ve gotten slimmer these past couple of months, but that’s quickly ending with the arrival of all of these new restaurants in town. Then my shoe sole came loose, and where am I to get that xiued? I can’t imagine me sitting there on that little wooden stool in front of the shoe repair guy while he fixes it. And there was the time my bag was “lost” after that Bermuda Triangle ride to the Bangkok airport, and I really had to buy a new wardrobe. That sucked.

And not to mention the time when I broke a couple of ribs while taking off my “new” shoes on the shoe rack, and the time when I smashed my face on the fence outside of my house. And the time, a long time ago, when I got put in the clink by a taxi driver for refusing to pay. And it was eleven years ago as of last month that I got stabbed in the back in the bathroom while taking a piss by some dude I didn’t even know? By a guy who got paid a guitar to do it as well. Anyway, my mishaps seem to be happening a bit less than they used to happen. I mean after all, I’ve got enough money to buy McDonalds for breakfast, and take a taxi to it because I can remember a time, when I had nothing but a few coins in the tray by the door, and I had to ask a local restaurant owner for a loan every month. I can’t thank him enough for that. And I’m grateful for all my friends because that’s what it’s all about now isn’t it? And I can’t think about how I waste water every time I brush my teeth, but instead thank the Buddha that I live in a place, and support a culture that fosters plumbing. So, as I’ve been known to say, turn on the tap, and think not about what others don’t have, but instead be happy for the fact that we have them. Let’s hope that the year 2014 has more goodness in store for all of us. I need it every now and then.

By Tim Hoerle

Warnings in December 2013

It was cold, so we decided to take a walk up the mountain. After all, I had been in that area for over seven years, and I had never been. So we searched, and after meandering our way through beautiful, and ugly houses, we finally found a path that looked like it led upwards. There was a man spilling water over something as they do, and we asked him, “zheli keyi shangqu ma?” “Keyi de, keyi de.” And so, we cut through the man’s yard without a care in the world, and started up the many stairs. Before we knew it, there was steam coming off our heads, and it felt like we were in some sort of a live game of Temple Run. Before we could even think about how tired we were, we were at the ancient altar to the Buddha. I then knelt and prayed. To what I wasn’t sure, but wasn’t it my former university professor from Shanghai who told me that it was okay to do that? He said no matter what I was praying for or who I was praying to, it’s okay as long as I did it in earnest. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing only that my knees felt good on this old and battered cushion that sat before the incense burning little metal pavilion. Then when I was done, I decided to yell. What are you doing man? Hey man, we’re in China, people yell in the mountains all of the time, it’s a good way to just let it all out. Two out of the three of us started to empty our lungs, Pavarotti-style, over the hills. Okay, maybe it was, more Cobain style, because the third one of us just shook his head with a silly grin on his face.

Have you ever noticed, when walking with a kid, you’re basically excused for anything? Like singing a song, or balancing on the curb? When you’re with a kid, almost anything is acceptable. On the same note, have you ever noticed people around here are almost pardoned from doing anything even when they’re not with a kid? People sing on the street, they have a run in their dress shoes, and they’ll even walk backwards while clapping their hands over their heads. That’s the beauty of living here, now isn’t it? I mean wasn’t it the other day I shaved my mustache into some strange handlebar shape for Halloween, and nobody even shot me an extra glance? Hell, I even saw a girl bicycling down the road dressed as Waldo, and she almost fit in. So this year, as the holiday approaches, do it as you would like to do it, sing Rudolph at the top of your lungs on top of a mountain for all I care, all I can ask is the you do it earnestly. Have a good one.

By Tim Hoerle

Extra Warnings 2

There are tons of new places opening up around town these days, and regardless of the quality of their food or drinks, or the prices attached to them, a lot of money is being spent in doing them up. Rent aside, these newbies have custom designed interiors, furniture, lighting, and even made-to-order staff uniforms which all cost mega bucks considering the fact that many of them aren’t just a new location for a restaurant chain.

Can you hear it knocking? Because of the sheer number of flower laden entrances next to a theater near you, many of them are looking for innovative ways to bring people into their doors. Hold an event. What better way than this to try your trade? How many times have people asked why you don’t open a restaurant? Why not go to one of these patina-free spots, and offer your services? How many We Chat contacts do you have anyway? And because football isn’t on every Sunday, what else have you got to do on the weekend? Alright, enough questions, and a few answers.

As a business owner myself, I’m more than willing to talk to anybody, as long as they give me a bit of notice, and they are determined. Tell the owner of the respected place your exact numbers, and show that proprietor your proof, i.e. your We Chat comments. Choose a time when they are particularly empty, and most importantly, give them an opportunity to make some pink ones. I, personally, like it when people tell me that they will let me sell drinks at our normal prices. Other laobans might want you to pay them a flat fee to use their place. And why not? Surely, you can either charge people an entrance fee to enjoy your efforts, or ask them to chip in. Just be clear to everybody at the onset. At the start, you’ve got to look at the long term effect. Remember that, in the beginning, before you’ve got a good following, you’re doing this thing for your benefit, and not to better the place you’re holding it in. And, I mean, you can do absolutely anything from preparing an appetizer, to doing a full blown out meal, to shaking up your own drink, to throwing on some new tunes. Hell, why not do a pot luck? There’s nothing more upsetting than seeing a beautifully done place that’s empty. That goes for the owners as well, but having said that, they do have to pay staff, and put their reputation on the line in case that event you hold is a flop, but it won’t be. After all, you’ve got more people you know than can fit at your kitchen table, now don’t you? Throw a few pictures of your event on your phone, and be sure to show everybody who missed the party. Hold enough of these parties, and people will begin to notice you, and you’ll be able to open the door to many other opportunities that are knocking. It certainly has happened before.

By Tim Hoerle