Maybe it was turning thirty that pushed me over the edge. Maybe being overworked and underpaid felt less forgivable than when I was in my twenties, brazen and broke. Perhaps I felt like the world had humored the trail of cities and jobs and love interests left in my wake before but was now requiring something more age appropriate. But thirty found me single, on a month-to-month lease, and with ovaries that were in no way aching to perform. My job had been the only thing tethering me to one spot and leaving it meant starting over, yet again. I could remember what that had looked like in my early twenties- the drunken celebrations and packing parties and Ikea furniture left out on the curb- but what’s enchanting at twenty-three often appears tragic at thirty-plus. I had to physically distance myself from all the choking expectation if I were to have any chance of deciphering what I actually wanted next. That was as far as the plan had progressed by the time I found myself driving away from Baltimore, alone and with no destination. At best, I was leaving behind options I didn’t like; at worst, this was the most pointless and self-indulgent thing I had done to date. An invisible pull kept my foot on the gas as the silence settled around me. A trunk filled with peanut butter, a few weeks’ worth of canned tuna and only several outfits was tangible proof that something was indeed underway. I scanned the radio then quickly turned it off to focus on my breathing, my eyes set on the road stretching out ahead.
The first night out on the road pummeled my bohemian wanderlust like a sledgehammer. Monsoon-like rain drowned out the flashing hazards of surrounding cars as the wind battered and shoved me at will over the rumble strip. I persisted for an hour before surrendering my pride, and one hundred dollars, to the only “budget” motel within miles in a town called Bethlehem (an irony I would only appreciate in hindsight). I attempted to stay positive, hoarding all of the toiletries and resolving that I would fill my backpack with the contents of next morning’s continental breakfast. Too tired and defeated to even enjoy the hundreds of brain-rotting channels, I drifted to sleep with only one thought in my head: What in the fuck was I doing?
With any semblance of an agenda gone I devoted my time to covering ground, and lots of it. Clueless to the fact that this directionless drive would eventually take me across the country, I first headed north. Through a festival of toll booths I made my way from weathered waterfront towns of Connecticut, across saturated green hills into the bluest skies of Vermont. I didn’t know what I was searching for, but I knew that I had time on my hands, and would maybe figure it out along the way. I dissected my first lobster in Maine and biked through the streets of Salem at night, the wind carrying souls of the wrongfully accused underneath the glow of street lamps. I inhaled familiar scents and sights in places foreign to me: bedraggled mannequins in stale thrift store windows, dusty book shops crammed with wisdom aching to be uncovered, dimly lit bars packed with fishermen slugging beers and talking in loud, salty voices. I was enchanted by what I saw and who I could so suddenly become some few hundred miles from home: a stranger; a visitor; a student of new realities. I wandered into unfamiliar towns knowing no one, crumpled maps and visitor center pamphlets my reliable tour guides. As I talked to people there was little foundation of shared experience, and no supposed goal of building a friendship; it was likely that we would never meet again, and the moments felt authentic if fleeting. When asked what I was doing on this trip, my answer varied slightly each time. The only answer that seemed to resonate with what I was actually feeling was, “I don’t really know.”
The initial loss of purpose was palpable and seeped into my decision making whether I wanted it to or not. I had never enjoyed following a schedule but it was somehow ingrained in me. “What did you DO today?” and even more troubling, “What will you do when this is all over?” The nagging questions waded around in my subconscious. I made unspoken to-do lists: See the Grand Canyon. Have coffee at Café Allegro. Hike the Tetons. My baffling sense of direction ensured that I got hopelessly lost with some regularity, only it didn’t matter. After all, when you have nowhere to be, you’re never late. A few weeks in, one of my couchsurfing hosts in a tiny Massachusetts town gifted me an old GPS. It was slow, and often wrong, but as my direction up until then had consisted of google maps routes scrawled on the backs of old receipts, this marked a crucial moment in my trip.
As I meandered south down the east coast before beginning the drive cross-country, I started to get my rhythm. Until then I had relied on the kindness of strangers to settle down for the night, but the freedom of spontaneity quickly took precedence. I grew accustomed to sleeping in the car, driver’s seat reclined, under the glow of streetlamps and 24-hour neon signs. Broken sleeping bag as a blanket and legs propped up above the steering wheel, my setup left something to be desired, but much repetition convinced my body that this was just the way a person sleeps. I woke with the sun, put on some ten-times-worn shirt, and went out into the world. The simplicity was exhilarating. I brushed my teeth in parking lots; applied eyeliner in the rear view mirror after fourteen hours of driving before stopping for a beer; flew through sprawling deserts with the gas light on hoping like fucking hell to encounter a rest stop. I slipped in through hotel lobbies to swim in their pools, then washed my hair in their bathroom sinks. Free shit and the freedom to make rash decisions were my hard drugs, and I was living a Kerouacian dream.
An older man in Nashville quizzed me on my knowledge of the band performing in the bar one particular night. The lead singer was one of the Allman brothers, and no, I definitely hadn’t known that. When he asked how I wound up there and I told him of my trip, he commended me for taking the excursion alone, something that “too few people do anymore.” On his way out of the bar he shook my hand and slipped me a “small contribution to the road trip fund” which I tried politely to refuse, and looked at only after he had gone: two crisp, hundred dollar bills. I designated the small fortune as beer money, having gone too far down the rabbit hole of “roughing it” to turn my sights towards hostels now. Later that week in Little Rock, Arkansas I pitched a two-person tent on my own for the first time ever. Sweat pouring down my neck in the 90-degree heat, I set up my accommodation for the night: a sleeping bag sprawled atop a yoga mat, and a recently acquired bottle of Nashville bourbon within arm’s reach. The comfort of my air conditioned car sat just yards away, but I hunkered down in the still air of my tent in an act of defiance; against whom, I am not certain. But at the time crews of imaginary men, laughing arrogantly in the back of my mind and doubting my survival skills, kept me perspiring in the woods until morning.
I shot my first bow and arrow outside Santa Fe, with some guys attending what turned out to be a group camping trip for Alcoholics Anonymous. It was a bull’s-eye. “Holy shit, do it again!” they screamed, at which I misfired straight up in the air and lost their arrow in the Rio Grande. I decided the next night to make the seven hour drive to the Grand Canyon, so that I could witness it for the very first time at sunrise. I barreled through a lightning storm in the flat sprawl of Arizona, my car the tallest object for miles. Scared shitless and hunched over the wheel, I made peace with the idea of a bolt through the windshield rendering me brain dead.
The southwest had me crawling through eerie ghost towns to find the single operational gas station, prices jacked up two dollars a gallon higher than the rest of the country. None of the restroom doors closed properly, and the mirrors above the sinks had been pried off their mountings as if to discourage patrons from lingering. Not an issue, folks. The watercolor sunset over the Mojave Desert darkened to an inky night sky, the blackness so menacing it threatened to suck me in from the dimly lit two-lane highway. Nobody even knew I was there, and the thought at once terrified and liberated me.
All of the time spent alone with nature was changing something chemically inside me, and my brazenness swelled with each test of my physical and mental stamina. I skidded down paths into the Grand Canyon in shoes whose traction was but a distant memory. I took wrong turns on trails in Zion National Park and turned a hike of five miles into eleven. Dangerously low on water I staggered back in the blistering sun, singing to myself “You’re thirsty, but you’re fine!” to quell the panic. I took in views from the peaks of Yosemite that I felt pretty sure I was unworthy of witnessing. The Oregon coast felt like a magical kingdom that I am fairly certain, if I were to return, would have vanished into thin air leaving only a glimmering breeze behind. Majestic mountain ranges in Wyoming still drift through the back of my mind like long lost friends.
I felt like the absolute monarch of my own existence. My chariot: a Nissan Sentra with cigarette holes in the upholstery and a partial rear hubcap. My domain: the potholed back roads and sprawling black interstates where fast food signs kept time to the slowly stretching hours. My sense of self-empowerment was inversely related to my appearance, a confidence bubbling up from within with each outfit repeated and shower skipped. My lack of smart phone had me snapping photos with a disposable camera which, upon discovering its 2006 expiration date halfway through my trip, left me feeling like some gross exaggeration of a hipster. There were no photos to exhibit most of what I had taken in, and my eyes twinkled with the delicious secrets of memories that saturated my brain.
On one particular drive through Utah I was hit with a feeling of completeness so overwhelming that I started to cry. Not a pretty, single tear rolling down a rosy cheek sort of crying, but a heavy sobbing grasping me from the gut. I cried out of a sense of sheer joy and fulfillment, and feeling so humbled and grateful for all that is out there to embrace. Sitting in the midst of scenes so grandiose and powerful, just a speck of matter rendered speechless by what I was taking in, I suddenly found the search for answers so irrelevant. I suppose I had set out hoping for some glimmer of inspiration on what to do next with my life, but I was instead discovering all that I didn’t need in order to live. What to “do next” became an invigorating riddle; the vastness of what I was seeing made me feel ashamed for ever having doubted what lies out there for anyone willing to go find it. As I have never been able to meditate for long without falling asleep, I was as of yet unfamiliar with the sensation of Nirvana…but this felt like transcendence.
If my months of solitude on the open road were like floating through a daydream, then returning to the clamor of a city was like being awakened with a taser. The old comforts hardly felt comfortable- the upheaval begged to continue. Back in my original setting, the inclination to begin filling time with all the “should’s” flashed like a warning signal in my mind. Something had expanded inside of me, and it was refusing to be ignored- nagged at me as I bought my coffee or texted about weekend plans. In place of answers I had been left with an even bigger question than I had ever allowed myself to ask; a wondrous, insatiable curiosity for the world that defied obedience to any one path. I still had no idea what was next; all I did know was that my world view had permanently shifted, and falling back on the familiar felt like a betrayal of what I had just glimpsed. There was only room for more exploration. My mental checklist of elements to compose a fulfilling life had been upended, or maybe dissolved altogether. My desire for answers gave way to a thirst for more questions; a gnawing hunger for what I had yet to learn, to realize, to perceive. What exactly that meant for my future, I had yet to decipher. But then again, at least in my experience, that’s how something truly remarkable begins.
I understand the knee-jerk reaction to wanting to distance ourselves from a character like Trump. With every new statement that blasts out of his mouth I, a white person, want to scream THIS IS WRONG/ THIS IS NOT ME. I do not want to build a hundred-foot wall. I do not blame all followers of a religion for the actions of some. My hairstyle does not baffle the masses and, were I to have one, I would not be open to dating my daughter. His bigotry, sexism and classism make him the perfect reassurance of all that we claim to shun in our personal belief systems; he’s the Mr. Scrooge that makes us all feel comforted to know that, compared to him, we still have Christmas in our hearts. But once we’ve stopped patting ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come as a country, we’ve got to face an ugly truth: Donald Trump is not the cause of our problems, he is the result.
With each new shocking video clip that surfaces, I see the nation within my Facebook feed being divided by the language used to introduce it. Those in the “bad white people” camp applaud his honesty and frankness. The “good white people” are outraged by Trump’s statements: How can he even be allowed the airtime to spread such overt racism? The verbalization of his thoughts is jarring, but the sentiments are the same that are ingrained in each of us through lifetimes of white supremacy dictating what’s in our text books, our tv shows and our justice system. No matter how vehemently we may oppose what’s being said, we can’t be fooled to think that racism would be on its way out, if only these larger-than-life caricatures of backwards thinking would keep their thoughts to themselves. There’s a long history of white people benefiting, and everyone else suffering, from a system that upholds all of the values we claim to abhor in Trump. A candidate like him has been a long time in the making, and the shock over his popularity illuminates just how blind we are to the state of things.
The question that begs to be asked, then, is where do we stand once Donald Trump fades away leaving nothing but a glimmer of orange in his wake? Will we instantly be made a less racist society in the same way that electing a black president launched us into a “post-racial” future? Making the personal claim of being #whitesgainsttrump doesn’t do anything to change the structural racism that shapes the world around us. The reason we need to “get our boy” is that he is not only an embarrassment to our race; he is a wakeup call. If white people don’t start taking personal inventory of where we stand and how we benefit from living in a racist society, the Trumps will just keep coming, with nothing but a hilarious hairline to soften the blow.
It’s amazing how many near-death experiences can be squeezed into a two-hour stint within the confines of an elementary school in China. The most mundane, some might say instinctive, actions can have drastic consequences if not carried out correctly. Going down stairs, washing hands, walking across the room– all scenarios in which elders must enforce safety, whether it be for the child in their own care, or in the care of another ayi (the Chinese caretaker.) Every movement of the child must be watched, and commented on, in order to ensure their survival. The extent to which these ayis hover over the children entrusted to them makes me wonder, are they more concerned with the child’s safety, or are they more concerned with appearing concerned?
Four days a week I had a front row seat to this spectacle at the kindergarten where I would attend classes with my employer’s daughter. At school the ayis put on a show for each other, engaging in an unspoken contest of who is more attentive with their employer’s child. Amateurs simply force their child to sit in their lap during any seated activity. More seasoned caretakers go to much greater lengths to prove their worth. The children under the watch of these women may as well have stayed home, as they won’t be getting any sort of learning experience on their own. Not on this ayi’s watch. When it’s time to clap, ayi grabs their hands to make them clap. When it’s time to eat, ayi all but chews their food for them. She places the child in his chair, pushes him up to the table, and proceeds to carefully deposit all the food or drink into the child’s mouth for him (all the while incessantly wiping his chin and constantly instructing him to chew slowly and drink carefully).
Any ascent or descent invites a whirlwind of comments on the proper way to use a staircase. Daredevil foreign kids who hop from one step to the next will quickly be intercepted by an ayi (not necessarily the one taking care of that particular child, mind you) who points out that by behaving so recklessly, they are endangering not only their own wellbeing, but also the wellbeing of every person around them. In most cases, the mother of the child is standing right beside them, and has clearly not found their child’s actions dangerous enough to be interrupted.
There is also a wrong way to wash your hands. Most children stand in a trance as their ayis do the washing for them: turning on the water, squirting the soap, rubbing their hands together, drying them off. This is the correct way. The wrong way goes something like this: a two-year-old attempts to go through these steps on her own, and gets water on her sleeves (where was the ayi to help roll up her sleeves?) This results in a gaggle of concerned ayis flocking to the poor, damp child and shoving paper towels up her sleeves to keep her arms dry. There is, of course, also a lecture in store for the neglectful mother.
The charges of the most attentive ayis have become so crippled in their ability to do anything that they fear even traveling across the classroom without an ayi’s hand to clutch. The most traumatic event for one of these children is when the ayi excuses herself for a moment to run to the bathroom while the child is seemingly distracted by some activity. The scream-crying that erupts from the classroom upon the child noticing his ayi’s absence usually only lasts a few seconds before the frantic ayi flurries back in.
Foreign mothers and ayis generally make no attempt to talk to one another. During the slightly calmer snack portion of class, ayis congregate around the table of children eating to keep a constant watch as the mothers retreat to the back walls for a hard-earned chat with their girlfriends. The resentment was clear both from the ayis and the Chinese teachers, who delighted in any chance to scoop up the plate of a fumbling child or help push in a child’s chair, all while glancing at the negligent mothers talking amongst themselves. It was abundantly clear what was on the minds of the teachers and ayis: they were doing it right, and we Westerners had a lot to learn. And maybe, in a way, they were right.
In a crowded, competitive society in which children are taught from kindergarten to study hard in preparation for one big test at the end of high school which profoundly influences their higher education and career, perhaps the children allowed to learn from their own mistakes and think independently are precisely the ones left behind. But what does this mean for foreign children in the care of an ayi, the children who will go on to expensive international schools and never be placed in the Chinese education system? I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to myself as a kindergartner– scraped up knees, my hair in some bizarre up-do as I had styled it myself, making messy art projects that I thought were so exquisite at the time– and feel that these children were missing out.
Previously published in NewsChina
The general riff between Chinese and Foreign in the classroom began to reach its peak towards the end of the final semester. The Chinese teachers disliked everything about how the foreign parents dealt with their children and were no longer keeping quiet about it. Criticisms that were typically saved for the kids themselves, i.e. You’re gluing that animal’s leg on the wrong way, or If you run you’re going to knock other people down and hurt yourself, were instead being directed straight at the moms themselves. Multiple times throughout the 2-hour class the moms were addressed, first in private and finally as a group, with the issue of “watching your children more closely”. Foreign moms rolled their eyes at this while Ayis nodded heads in agreement as the teacher went on to describe a few horrifying scenarios: children playing with the classroom rug and bumping heads whilst neglectful moms chat about the weekend, the assistant teacher racing after children who go to the bathroom on their own with no help whatsoever (the bathroom which, incidentally, is attached to the classroom.)
The final Chinese class of the semester could not have ended on a more perfectly ironic note. In a portion of the class called Drama Time the teachers would don costumes and use characters to teach the children a new lesson each week. Having just been taught the Chinese word for “to walk”, they decided to enact a scene in which Mama Cat and Baby Kitten could use the new vocabulary while also sending a valuable message.
“I don’t want to walk,” whined teacher 1 as Baby Kitten, “I want you to carry me.”
“No no,” cooed teacher 2, Mama Cat, “you’re all grown up now! You can walk on your own.”
Children and ayis alike applauded the end scene in which Baby Kitten walked off with Mama Cat all by herself. We finished off the class with a group song in which everyone walked in a circle while singing, using their hands to pantomime beating a drum or blowing a horn. Children in the care of their ayis only made it about half a lap before realizing that they were walking on their own and, as all hands were occupied with pantomiming, no one was assisting them. Cries broke out all over the room which were silenced only once ayis picked the children up and proceeded to carry them for the rest of the song. Taking what would be my final look around that classroom, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that the irony was lost on everyone but me.
This happened one night when I ran into a friend of a friend. We began a brief, passing conversation and I sufficed to ask how he was doing. But rather than answering with anything pertaining to his personal life, he slammed me with a movie quote.
“It’s niiice, very nice.” (In what I assume was an imitation of Borat’s voice.)
Ok then. Thinking that it was over, I ventured to ask about our mutual friend. But no sooner had I begun talking than I was interrupted with–
“60 percent of the time, it works every time.”
… I’d been hit again. I let the conversation end there, as it was unlikely that anything resembling an original thought was going to come out of this person. I wondered: just how often had this situation happened to me? And how many minutes of my life had I lost to overused and poorly-reenacted movie quotes, taken completely out of context and dropped into a dialogue in which they had no place and made no sense?
We’ve all been there, in more or less the same scenario, with the substitution of one over-quoted catchphrase for another. It seems that any movie that is slightly funny is doomed to join the ranks of comedically abused films. The misuse of famous lines from these films causes everyone but the unfunny to lose interest in the movie, as all the humor has been violently beaten out of every word by sheer overuse—a comedic tragedy of the commons. Overzealous fans of these flicks can be heard chanting their battle cry of “I’m kind of a big deal.”
No, not really. You’re not kind of anything, except a god damn over-quoter.
An over-quoter, or O.Q., is one who grossly overuses movie and/or TV show dialogue as a means of communication. In my experience, the lines that are most grossly overused are plucked from famous comedies. These lines are used by the over-quoter in lieu of any original punch lines in an attempt to inject humor into a conversation. The O.Q. then leaves it to you to make the transitive connection: this movie is funny; I like this movie; therefore, I am funny. The more dedicated O.Q.’s will assume the role of the character being quoted; they will force you to stand through entire monologues as they imitate voices and facial expressions while you struggle to keep smiling and feign laughter.
One symptom that the most egregious over-quoters seem to share is a disconnect between their internal monologue and the reality of the situation, such as not knowing their audience but finding their quoting to be relevant and funny regardless of the reaction it gets. Sure, sometimes a germane and well-timed quote can enhance an anecdote or enrich a conversation. But the failure on the part of the O.Q. occurs in the use of quotes as a replacement for, rather than an accessory to, any original humor. The most embarrassing situation (embarrassing for the listener, because the speaker is too disconnected from reality to tell) follows when an O.Q. drops a quote that no one understands, often from a movie or show that the audience hasn’t even seen. This leads to even more time being held hostage by an explanation of the scene(s) in the movie/TV show leading up to the quote. Here the O.Q. unknowingly works against himself by breaking yet another rule of humor: if you have to explain why something is funny, it probably never was.
This type of discourse has become so prevalent in the English language that it even exists in other forms. The first cousin of the over-quoter, equally obnoxious but less offensive in that it doesn’t consume entire portions of conversations, is the one-liner. The culprit here clings desperately to the phrase-of-the-day that has gone mainstream and interjects it into conversations to fill a silence. Some of the most infamous include, “bad news bears,” “FAIL,” and this year’s champion: “epic.” These phrases differ from their movie quote brethren in that one-liners, much like a criminal record, were never funny in the first place and yet refuse to go away.
So what are we to do with the over-quoters of the world? Why is it that some are driven to abuse lines previously delivered (more successfully) by others? I suppose there are many reasons, but what I find apparent in most of these individuals is the burning desire to be the comedian of the group. There is a difference between being a person who happens to be funny, and being a comedian. O.Q.’s, I beseech you: Don’t try to be a comedian. It reeks of trying too hard.
Granted, everyone caves to the pressures of society; we change the way they dress or act depending on how we think others will perceive us. There’s no crime in that. But at some point we all have to say, “Damn the man,” (quote!) and do what we do in our own unusual way. Humor is no exception. While we may connect with people who share our sense of humor, the way we each express ourselves and our personal take on humor is unique and can’t, and shouldn’t, be copied.
Some of the most entertaining people to talk with are those who are self-admittedly “not funny.” These sorts of people tend to be genuine in their own, sometimes awkward way, providing a kind of natural humor that proves you don’t need to dominate the conversation as the “funny guy” in order to be funny. Everyone has something to bring to the table, and a natural dialogue in which people’s strengths are inherently displayed is far superior to the tension of a group of individuals with something to prove. So maybe you’re not the funniest person in the bunch—so what? Perhaps you have some interesting facts or anecdotes to offer. Or maybe you’re a great listener with the ability to put others at ease. Or, if you answered “no” to all of the above, then I hope you’re at least attractive.
View this piece on the Hypermodern
In daily life in China I am constantly reminded that, no matter how long I’ve lived here or how diligently I study the language, I am in China’s house, and the house always wins. I’m also reminded of this in my interactions with the locals. By far the most frustrating and masochistic relationship I endure in China is that with my landlord.
She disliked me and my roommate from the start. First she refused to rent to us, then refused to negotiate on the price or necessary repairs prior to us moving in. Plus, we had made the rookie mistake of tipping our hand—she knew we wanted the house badly, and therefore called the shots. She had stated from the start: foreigners are messy and loud and she wanted no part of it. Looking around at the dimly-lit kitchens belonging to our neighbors, meat hanging from the windows, walls crawling with cockroaches, it was hard to imagine what mess we could possibly contribute. We finally settled on a deal. She would continue to hate us but would rent us the house as-is, filthy, in desperate need of repairs, and without a single piece of furniture inside.
My roommate and I signed up for this huge undertaking simply because we had so naively fallen in love with the house. It was an old lane building with antique-looking windows and wood floors—exactly the kind of hidden treasure that foreigners seek out and the locals want to demolish. It was drafty, crumbling, impossible to keep in working order, and completely charming. The repairs needed were constant. Frozen pipes, scorched fuses, broken toilets, and peeling walls were all things that I grew accustomed to encounter at least once a week. There was a silent understanding that whatever help we needed, our landlord would most certainly not provide.
The only other source of inconsistent, unreliable help in our arsenal was our real estate agent. I tap danced between the two women, thinking that surely if I got on one of their good sides, the other would soon follow. Phone calls placed to either woman only resulted in being told, “Why are you calling me? Call her.” After months of asking nicely and speaking to them only in a high-pitched friendly voice, I finally got wise to the Chinese way of doing things and bought the real estate lady a gift. I had her attention at last. She promptly placed a phone call to the landlord to help me get reimbursed for some repairs I had paid for myself. Not yet being used to the very blunt manner in which Chinese people will often address one another, I was appalled to hear my real estate lady screaming at the landlord over the phone: “How are you so dumb? As you get older you just get more and more stupid!” The shouting continued for several minutes until apparently an agreement was reached. Hanging up the phone, the real estate lady once again lowered her voice to speak with me, “Ah, that landlord is so cute. Really adorable.”
As years went on the landlord grew to like me. She even made a trip to the house to help with repairs and, seeing what we had done with the place, seemed grateful for the serious upgrade. I felt secure in our relationship and no longer feared that she would evict me on a whim. Recently, when the power went out in our house, I felt confident that I could call the landlord and have her bring her trusted repairman back around. When I told her of our predicament, she burst out laughing. When her laughter subsided, I asked again what she thought we should do. “Yeah…” she replied, “I can’t help you with that. Call the real estate lady.”
Foreigners outside metro stops citywide have been seen walking off in a huff, outraged by what seems to be an outbreak of race-related overcharging.
“This is ludicrous,” muttered Daniel McKay of Portland, Oregon, rummaging through his wallet for another one-yuan note. “I don’t have time for this.”
“Dwoh-shaow chee-yen?” McKay asked again, then leaned in and asked louder, forcing the baozi vendor to resort to hand gestures when he seemed unable to understand the amount specified in Chinese.
“Tai gui le,” was all he could muster up as he turned away, waving his hands and adding a “No fuckin’ way.”
“They’ve had a good run, but we’re on to them,” said McKay, found later at a different baozi vendor. “I once paid three kuai for one of these little bread things, only to see some Chinese dude come up behind me and pay two. After a while you’ve gotta put your foot down. It’s like, how much am I willing to pay for something I can’t even pronounce?”
This irritation is increasingly apparent on the once-popular snack streets, where exasperated foreigners can be seen practically breaking into a sprint, yelling “Aww hell no” and making references to the recession. One particular sweet potato cart has seen a 42% increase of “You gotta be kidding me” in the past month alone, as well as an estimated 17% of customers comparing the experience to “highway robbery.” The mental health of such vendors is even being called into question, as onlookers proclaim, “If he thinks I’ll pay that much, he must have lost his mind.”
“I can have a cocktail on the Bund for that price,” exclaimed one expat to a cluster of confused looking jianbing merchants.
“It’s total bullshit,” remarked Jake Stevenson, working in Shanghai as an English teacher. He admitted to being a frequent patron of the street food vendors outside any number of expat bars around 3 A.M. “These only cost one kuai each over where I work in Pudong.”
Stevenson then proceeded to buy out the chuan stand’s remaining supply of lamb for the night. “Yeah, I didn’t have change for a fifty, so, whatever. And anyway that’s, like, what—thirty cents American?” Stevenson laughed, throwing a half-eaten kebab at a stray dog.
Some expats have stated that the “questionable pricing” of certain items at fabric markets leads them to wonder whether they are “really even brand name.” When asked their opinion on the recent outbreak of scams, travelers visiting the Beijing Silk Market were baffled. “This girl just sold us 12 scarves!” beamed Sue Hobaker of Jacksonville, Florida. “She gave us a ‘friend price,’ so we had to jump on it! We can’t say exactly how much we paid—she asked us not to tell. But let’s just say we would have been crazy to turn her down.”
Hobaker’s husband, being taken to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony by some newly-found friends, was unavailable for comment.