Government-sponsored speed dating in China

In retrospect, I really should’ve realized sooner that there was no possible way government-sponsored speed dating could be as cool as I imagined.

But I was pretty intrigued when my boss first mentioned it to me. I was even more intrigued when he told me that my presence was specifically requested—and not as an example of what not to date. Still, when he asked if I was interested in attending, I had to be honest: “The problem is that I’m not going to stay in China forever, and while I might be interested in something for the short term, it’s hard for me to imagine that’s what any of these girls are looking for. I think it’s just a fundamental cultural difference. In fact, I think it would be pretty disingenuous and irresponsible for me to even show up at all.”

Which is basically just a long-winded way of saying “Hell yes!”

So when the day arrived I put on my best shirt, shined my shoes (well, brushed some of the mud off, anyway) and headed to work. For reasons I don’t fully understand, the whole event was held at the Institute. I thought this was kind of interesting because, well, the Institute is not exactly the most romantic place. But it was convenient. And in a way, I suppose that sort of makes sense, since convenience often trumps romance in a relationship. Or so I’m told. Don’t have a whole lot of firsthand experience with relationships myself.

Like most of the things that happen to me in China, I didn’t fully understand what was going on until someone explained it to me later, but apparently the whole idea was for these unmarried government workers to come to our Institute to pick up some unmarried scientists. And if that makes sense to you, please explain it to me.

There were both guys and girls from the government office, and from the Institute as well, which kind of made me wonder why the single government people didn’t just date each other, and the single scientists just date each other, since they’d be more likely to have things in common. But I guess if we were all normal, well-adjusted people who could form stable relationships on our own, we wouldn’t need government-sponsored speed dating in the first place.

I was a little surprised to see one of my friends there though. Not because she’s an attractive and socially competent person who certainly doesn’t need help finding a date, but because I happen to know for a fact that she has a boyfriend. She got pretty embarrassed when I asked her what she was doing there. Of course, I guess I did pretty loudly point out that she was already ‘taken’.

Her face went a little pink, and she hurriedly explained to me that because it was part of her job to coordinate all guests at the Institute, she had to be there. I could understand that.

“Ah, so you’re just here to look at all the hot guys, but not touch them.”

I think it’s funny to tease people who can’t defend themselves in English very easily. Because I’m an asshole.

No wonder I’m single.

The event in question was held on the badminton court (with the badminton net taken down, unfortunately. That would’ve made things more interesting) with chairs surrounding it. I wondered why they chose this particular setup, but the answer came soon enough.

Apparently, the government’s idea of a good way to get people to fall in love is to make them sit there and listen to a guy talk about…something…for about an hour. I didn’t know what it was because my Chinese vocabulary is limited to the subjects of food, hitting on girls, and profanity. Oh yeah, and I know how to say “down jacket”. But apparently this guy wasn’t talking about any of those things. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is lame. Yeah, he might’ve been talking about the profound and magical connection that can be formed between two loving people, but as my understanding of relationships is also limited to food, hitting on girls, profanity, and down jackets, it was way beyond me.

I also didn’t like the way he would occasionally point to me and everyone would laugh politely. Now I understand Chinese people well enough at this point to know that he probably wasn’t insulting me directly, but it still made me a little uncomfortable. But that’s ok, because I’ll get the last laugh in the end. You know why? Because I can go to America any time I want to. And stay for as long as I want.

So there.

But while I was sitting there listening to this guy go on and on and on about…whatever…something occurred to me: I really shouldn’t be there. Because as long as I didn’t actually open my mouth or give any other indication of the nature of my personality, a lot of those girls would consider me a pretty ideal catch. Basically, I’m their ticket to a better life. Seriously, when I go downtown and girls are checking me out constantly it’s not because I’m so devastatingly handsome (well I am, but that’s not why), it’s because it can still be a struggle to have a decent life here, and in a lot of their minds I represent a way out of toil and uncertainty. And while knowing this does make it slightly less cool when I see a hot girl checking me out, it does not in any way diminish my enjoyment of getting molested by cute female Chinese security guards. Which happens more than you might think.

So yeah, rather than have the Chinese Communist Party set me up with a potential love interest, I decided to just go ahead and ask one of my friends out for a drink. This has the disadvantage of her already knowing my personality, but the advantage of not having to listen to some dude go on for a freaking hour about something I don’t care about (by the way, I found out later he was giving them the history of the Institute. What the hell? The institute is only like 3 years old! And how does knowing it help them pick a potential partner? Oh well.) Anyway, she asked if she could bring some friends along. I asked if any of them were cute. Apparently this was not the right thing to say, and now I have that against me too.

But at least I always have government-sponsored speed dating to fall back on.

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rejected

The other day I got my first ever rejection letter. And no, I don’t mean that girls are rejecting me by mail now too.

Actually, the rejection letter (technically a rejection email) was for a short story I submitted to an online literary journal. They said they enjoyed reading my work, but felt that it just wasn’t a good fit for their publication. I can understand that. Of course, they’d probably tell me that they enjoyed reading it even if I’d sent them a 5,000-word essay on why I love dental floss (it’s magically delicious), but that’s beside the point.

The funny thing is, I’m actually pretty thrilled. Not because I’m some kind of sick, twisted masochist who takes a perverse pleasure in being told that I suck, but because getting a rejection letter means that I’m actually sending my work out there, and people in the business are actually reading it. It means I’ve genuinely taken the first real step towards becoming a published author, as opposed to just whining about wanting to be a writer on my blog. After all, Stephen King wallpapered an entire room of his house with rejection letters before he got his first book published, and look at him now. I’d almost feel disappointed if I was a huge success on my very first try.

Although I think I’d get over the disappointment if it came along with a gigantic paycheck.

Sometimes I can’t help wondering about the timing of things. The very day after I got the rejection letter I got a message on my blog complimenting me on the exact same story that I got the rejection letter for. And while I think that in itself is pretty damn cool, it was also notable for being the first time someone who has never met me personally actually took the time and effort to tell me that they enjoyed my writing (and if you’re reading this, anonymous kind stranger, thanks again!). I mean, it’s great that my mommy tells me I’m a good writer, and I appreciate that my friends are too kind to tell me that I suck, but the fact that a stranger actually bothered to let me know they enjoyed my writing really meant a lot to me.

I really should’ve started this blog sooner. I cringe when I think about how much time I’ve lost just because I didn’t believe in myself enough to just go forit. Of course, I cringe when I think about a lot of the things I’ve done in the past ten years, but that’s another story.

But seriously, if I’d spent the last ten years writing instead of just fantasizing about being a writer, I’d probably have a book published by now. Because while there are a LOT of people out there who are way funnier than me and have way more talent than I do, the reason that I will succeed where some others won’t is that I’m willing to put the necessary effort into it. I know that I have the basic level of writing ability required to get a book published, so the one and only thing that can determine my success is the amount of effort that I choose to put into it. And I choose to put that effort in because it’s important to me. So basically, it’s already a foregone conclusion that I will get a book published at some point. Unless I get distracted by something shiny. Or boobs.

Of course, another reason I should’ve started this blog sooner is that I just really enjoy it. Honestly, there is no possible way that anyone could ever enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it. My favorite part is the links that don’t go to what you think they should, and the hover box (the text that appears when you hold the cursor over the link). These two things add so many wonderful opportunities for stupid humor. I think it’s a shame that news sources and Wikipedia only use them in a serious way. TV Tropes does it right. Still, it’s kind of sad when I think about how much time I spend getting words and phrases to link to stupid things, but hey, at least I amuse myself.

Another thing Scott Adams should be more famous for is his analysis of Affirmations, because what he says is true. Once you make a commitment to pursue your goals, opportunities start to appear. Not because of magic, but because they were always there but you just didn’t see them because you weren’t looking.

For example, I could’ve started a blog at any time, but I never did because I lacked faith in myself and my abilities. But since I made the commitment to go forit, I’ve found that things have literally cascaded in the direction I want them to go. First I started the blog. Then I started corresponding with a friend who is also an aspiring writer (and her book is better than mine, which only inspires me to work even harder), and when I offered to help her edit her manuscript I had to go and read up on grammar and punctuation so I’d know what I was talking about, and that helped me even more. In the process I found some journals to submit my work to, which brings us right back to the rejection letter.

The most frustrating thing for me was looking at something I’d written and knowing that it wasn’t that great, but not quite knowing how to make it better. Now what I’m finding is that as I continue through this cycle of writing-related things, I’m seeing more and more how to make my writing better. And I’m pretty happy about that. And while I’m not particularly thrilled with this blog post (I guess I’m distracted by the prospect of the government-sponsored speed dating tomorrow, which will probably involve an entirely different type of rejection) forcing myself to write one every Monday even when I don’t feel like it is part of the process.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that attempting to turn devastating rejection into stupid humor seems to be a common theme in my life.

Chinese people

I love Chinese people. And I’m not just saying that because the Chinese government monitors all of my internet activity.

No, not really. From what my friends have told me, while the Great Firewall of China does block things like YouTube and Facebook, at the end of the day they really don’t care so much about what you say in English. Apparently, the one and only thing you’re not allowed to talk about in English is +++ SIGNAL LOST +++ NO CONNECTION +++ but aside from that, pretty much everything else seems to be ok.

So yeah, Chinese people. Chinese people are very friendly. Don’t get me wrong, Americans are pretty friendly too, but Americans can also totally flip out at you if you happen to have the wrong religion, opinion, sexual preference, political affiliation, skin color, nationality, gender, birthday, or hairstyle. Chinese people don’t really do that. They don’t seem to have that American need to let everyone else know exactly what they think about each and every topic at all times. But this doesn’t always work out so well for them, because now that they’re the second largest economy in the world, people are starting to get suspicious. Why exactly do they keep selling cheap goods to America, and then turning around and loaning us more money to buy their cheap goods? They’d better have a damn good reason.

Being an American myself I can understand why many are so nervous about China’s growing power, but after living here in China for just over eight months now, I can honestly say that those fears are largely groundless. China is not a threat to us. At least not militarily. And it seems that the main reason we fear them is because we imagine what we would do if we were in their position. But they’re not like us. They have no desire to rule the world. As one of my colleagues at the Institute pointed out, “After 160 years of invasions by foreigners, Chinese people just want a safe place to try and make a good life for themselves.” And regardless of anything the government might say, that seems to be how most people feel.

I once mentioned to another friend that I assumed China’s plan was to get us so deeply in debt that one day they’d just come over and ‘repossess’ our entire country. He explained to me that this is definitely not the case. In fact, for Chinese people it’s the person who receives the loan that has all the power, because if the person who gave the loan isn’t nice enough, the person who received it will just refuse to pay it back. So in reality, when China loans us money, they’re technically giving us more power over them. And why would they do this? Because having a strong and stable American economy is in their best interests, so we can keep buying their stuff. At least for now.

I once asked yet another colleague (I try to talk to as many people as possible because I’m bored at work to get a broader picture), who happened to be a Communist Party Member, to explain to me why, if communism is so great, the more capitalist China becomes more prosperous it becomes. He quickly informed me that it is not, in fact, capitalism, but communism with Chinese flavor.

Ah. I see.

The thing is, a lot of people here don’t really seem to mind that their government isn’t a democracy. After all, they’ve been ruled by emperors for thousands of years. Everyone knows the current leaders are just emperors with different names. The only thing that really bothers them is the corruption. China actually has some of the strictest building codes in the world, but nobody follows them because the contractors simply bribe the officials to look the other way so they can build things cheaper and pocket the extra money. And if you’re wealthy, you’re essentially above the law here. A lot of people aren’t too happy about that. But the government knows that they only have to limit corruption just enough to keep the entire population from revolting against them, and nothing more. And that’s just weak.

But Americans seem to have a funny stereotype of Chinese people in general. Seriously, what do you think of when you think about Chinese people? Delicious food, good at math, can’t speak English, and socially retarded. That seems to be the general view. But now that I’ve been here for a while I can honestly say that, well, yeah, that’s pretty much right on. At least with the people I work with. But that’s because I work at the best biological institute in the country. Basically, everyone I work with is a Super-Dork (wait, what does this say about me?), and it’s only Super-Dorks like them who actually manage to get visas to America (um, except for one beautiful, brilliant, socially magnificent Chinese girl who just got a visa to America and may or may not read this blog. Whoops). So it’s no wonder America has such a skewed view of Chinese people in general. But I have to admit, I did find it funny that the biggest socially inept dorkus in my research group was the only guy who managed to get a visa to go to America. Sometimes I can’t help wondering if that’s intentional.

There does seem to be a sort of national sense of inadequacy and insecurity here though. I mean, everywhere you go in China, they always seem to be trying way too hard to point out that they have a rich cultural heritage, beautiful scenery, and are quickly becoming world leaders in science and technology. Sometimes I just want to pat the entire country on the back and say, “Hey man, it’s cool, you really do have a lot of things going for you. You just have to stop trying so hard and just be yourself, and people will like you for who you are.”

Regardless, if I’m being completely honest I have to say that my favorite thing about Chinese people is Chinese girls. Specifically, how they treat me. I know that probably sounds lecherous and creepy, but seriously, every time I go downtown, gorgeous Chinese girls are checking me out constantly. It’s AWESOME. Hell, it’s amazing I ever even bother going to work.

Last Friday I went to a benefit concert for the environment with a friend of mine because we were given free tickets. On the way in to the concert hall I was stopped by a cute female security guard and patted down. And by ‘patted down’ I mean ‘felt up while her hot colleague watched’. Actually, that was the best part of the whole evening. And if you think I might have just misinterpreted things, I’d just like to point out that this is not the first time that’s happened to me. Hell, being felt up by cute female Chinese security guards just might be my favorite thing about living in China.

I may never leave.

How to deal with irrational people

We all have to deal with irrational people at one time or another, and it can be a very frustrating experience. Some people just won’t listen to reason. Fortunately you have me, your resident bastion of rational thinking, to provide you with simple and useful ways of dealing with these people.

But before we get to that, and before you even try to deal with an irrational person, ask yourself this question: Why is it so important for you to deal with this person? Is it because you are Right, and they are Wrong? Is it really so critical that they are dragged around to your way of thinking? Will the world truly end if they are left clinging to what is, in your personal opinion, an irrational viewpoint? Or is it just really funny to make them look stupid (answer: yeah, it is).

It’s important to ask yourself these questions because you want to be sure that you yourself are not also being irrational. Because while it may often be mildly amusing to others to see two irrational people engage in verbal (and sometimes physical) combat, it’s rarely constructive.

So without further ado, I humbly present to you the Critical Awesomeness Method for Dealing with Irrational People, or CRAMDIP:

Hand Grenades. I wish. Unfortunately hand grenades are not widely available, and pretty much guarantee that Very Bad Things would happen to you if you were to ever try to use one as an arguing tool, even in jest. But it’s still fun to imagine having your very own handheld ultima ratio regum. That’s “last argument of kings”. Louis XIV of France had it engraved on all of his cannons. That dude knew how to deal with irrational people.

The Socratic Method. No, I don’t mean poisoning them with hemlock. Although I suppose technically that would be an effective way of “dealing” with them. Just might get you into a bit of trouble though. Instead, it’s probably better to go with the method Socrates employed himself, which is to simply ask questions in a way that stimulates critical thinking. Honestly, this is pretty much the best way to go in almost any situation. Often by merely asking questions you can get straight to the root of the problem, rather than wasting your time trying to use reasoning that will simply bounce off their irrational shell like ping pong balls off a fat, inebriated college student.

Common Sense. It’s been my experience that “Common Sense” is the term people like to invoke to describe their own personal opinion when it’s completely unsupported by empirical evidence. It’s also been my experience that people don’t really like it when you helpfully point this out to them. But it is pretty funny, so you should do it anyway.

Facts. This may seem like Common Sense (see above), but when dealing with irrational people it’s best to stick with empirical evidence, rather than logic or reasoning. Because even if your logic and reasoning are sound, if the other person could follow it, then by definition they wouldn’t be irrational.

“I agree with your analysis of your delusion.” This one comes from Scott Adams. Apparently he was tired of people assuming that he held some belief that he did not indeed hold, and subsequently berating him for it. Use this when someone has a really stupid idea, but everything that follows from it has been argued to a logical conclusion.

“I’d agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.” I don’t know where this came from, but it’s pretty much a conversation stopper. Use this when you are certain that no amount of logic, reasoning, or empirical evidence will convince the other person that they are wrong, and also probably secretly attracted to farm animals.

“So you say.” This is a pretty good one. It comes from a certain special person who I’m not going to name, because that’s Just not Polite, Truly. Those are his initials, in case that was too subtle. Anyway, this one is useful when you just don’t want to get into it. Because you’re not technically disagreeing with the person, but you’re sort of indirectly implying that they’re wrong. And trust me, when someone does this to you in a really aloof and condescending way, it’s INFURIATING. I mean, it’s been a year since he used it on me and I still HATE that guy. Well, not really. But I was pretty pissed off at the time.

People Who Give Unsolicited Bad Advice. This gets its own category because there is nothing in this world that pisses me off more than unsolicited bad advice. For me this is even worse than “so you say”. If you think about it, unsolicited bad advice is two-pronged dickery [note to self: come up with a less disturbing metaphor before posting this] because not only are they incorrectly telling you that you’re doing something wrong, but they’re also implying that they alone have all the answers to your problems. It’s a double dose of douchebaggery. And they seem to get some sort of bizarre pleasure from dispensing this advice. But hey, at least that means someone is getting some use out of it. Like a monkey frantically flinging poop at anyone who walks by its cage, at least they’re getting some exercise.

The way to deal with these people is to print out their advice on high-quality paper, take a gigantic dump on it, and leave it on their front porch. They’ll get the idea. Or, you know, you could just use the Socratic method. That probably works too. I guess. But don’t bother trying to reason with them. If they were reasonable, they wouldn’t be giving you the bad advice in the first place.

And finally:

That One Guy. This is something I can’t quite figure out. Apparently every single one of my friends knows this same guy who is COMPLETELY irrational. And I have friends from all over the world, so I don’t even know how that works. Regardless, from what I’m told this guy can’t take criticism of any kind. And if that’s not bad enough, apparently he even has a blog where he complains about other irrational people. Can you believe that?

Man, I hope I never run into that guy.

Wait a minute……