new city, new blog

the man who broke a dragon's heart

Okay, so it's not as clever as "Cantonstinople." But did you see the domain on that sumbitch? That's my name, written right into the URL! God, I'm terrific.

time flies like an arrow

(Fruit flies like a banana)*.

The two years I’ve spent in Guangzhou have rocketed by like an arrow with its britches on fire. I remember how, around this time last year, David used to shake his head and wax nostalgic: “I can’t believe it’s been two years. It feels like I just got here,” he once said. “Whatever,” I thought to myself, “I’ve still got a whole year left.” Then I must have blacked out because the next thing I remember is flying around my stiflingly hot apartment throwing everything I own into hastily assembled cardboard boxes, leaving sweaty footprints on the tile. That was last Thursday morning.

Backing up a bit, concerned readers may be wondering what I’ve been doing since the last post, since Berlin. Three things:

1. Watching soccer. If you’re thinking, “Wait, Gus doesn’t give a shit about sports,” you must be thinking of the old Gus, because the new Gus has read many Wikipedia articles about international soccer and suddenly finds it pants-wettingly exciting. Sadly, after leaving Kreuzberg, Berlin, a place with so many outdoor TVs you can’t not watch the World Cup, I quickly discovered that downtown Guangzhou is kind of a dead zone for soccer viewing. The one time Jon and I made a special effort to find a place to watch (the US vs. Algeria match), CCTV was only showing England vs. Slovenia. Jon called our failed excursion to the bars in search of the game “the most heterosexual thing I almost did this year.”

2. Final exams. Besides the Oral English final exam, I also gave final exams to my Wordplay and Juggling Appreciation students (those are two different electives fyi, not one wacky “Wordplay and Juggling Appreciation” classtravaganza). Last semester I only did final presentations (and last year hardly anyone showed up to the final exams due to my ignorance of their schedule), so this was sort of a watershed moment for me to see how much knowledge they actually retained. The results were mostly gratifying. One of my Wordplay students called my final “the funnest examitation I have ever had in nearly ten years of my school life!!!!!!” In the whole class, only one poor kid fell for the “schmalindrome” trap in the multiple choice section.

3. Packing. Holy geez. I gave myself three whole days to do this after Jon left, and predictably used two of those three days to not pack a thing. As alluded to earlier, that apartment gets kind of steamy when you’re running around at top speed, pushing boxes and furniture around, pulling textbooks off shelves etc. And it didn’t help that I realized around noon that 11:50pm was my arrival time in Singapore, not my departure time in Hong Kong. By the time I had distributed the last of my Old Kentucky Chocolates Peanut Butter Meltaways to pretty much any staff member (and two bewildered security guards) I met on my way back from the school office to drop off my key, I was fairly certain I was not going to make the plane. It was 3pm, and the flight to Singapore was at 8:15pm (usually it takes a solid four hours to get from our apartment in Guangzhou to wherever I’m going in Hong Kong). Sprinting between every connection with two suitcases and an ukulele, I made it to the gate exactly as boarding began. The twenty minutes spent waiting for my row to board also happened to be just enough time for my neck sweat (which had begun oozing more than seven hours earlier) to evaporate.**

By the time I started writing this, I’ve been back and forth to Singapore for a weekend in paradise with my long-distance friend Natasha, and have aptly celebrated the Fourth of July by playing a grueling four hours of Modern Warfare 2 (i.e. mowing down Russian terrorists on the steps of a firebombed White House) with my not-quite-as-long-distance friend Rory in Hong Kong. Now I’m on a plane to Chicago, land of my birth, where I’ll be connecting to Lexington, land of my home (of course, I can’t post this until I get home so it’s safe to assume that, if you’re reading this, I’m in Kentucky). So what does this mean for Cantonstinople, now that I’m no longer living in Canton? Nothing, for the moment. I may well keep writing for a bit over the summer, assuming I can occasionally pull myself out ot the oily-faced stupefaction sure to result from the exclusive diet of Krispy Kreme and Bourbon Barrel Ale I have planned for myself. Naturally, once I get settled in Beijing as a full time student again, I’m sure to have plenty of material for another personal blog (that is, assuming I can think of a title clever enough to match Cantonstinople (I mean, it was good, right? Somebody hire me!)) and of course I’ll provide a link to that blog here. But anyway, for lack of anything meaningful to say about the end of two years in the Easy Geezy, I’d just like to say thanks for reading and, if you happen to be reading from the United States of America (god bless her), I hope I get a chance to see you over the summer.

*Or in the original Latin: Tempus Fugit, Fruflis Banugit

** Bolting off the train from Guangzhou, I was among the first to get onto the escalators and upstairs to customs at Hung Hom station. I usually fill out the Hong Kong entry card before getting in line but this time, in a butt-chlenchingly reckless decision, I grabbed one off the shelf and filled it out while scooching my luggage forward with my feet. The card must have been completely illegible, but somehow they let it (and me) pass. I mention this otherwise unremarkable event because my place in the line was unexpectedly golden. If I had been first (or second, or third or fourth) in line, I never would have had enough standing time to fill out the card before reaching the customs desk, at which point I would have been sent to the back of the by-then anacondian queue of anxious travelers. As it happened though, I had maybe forty-five seconds of foot shuffling and pen scribbling before I was past the thick yellow line and out the doors to the taxi stand, at which there was no line. Thus, ironically, being too fast and missing the sweet spot could easily have cost me the twenty minutes I had to spare by the time I reached the plane departure gate, ruined my perfect flight attendance rate, and greatly inconvenienced my Singaporean hosts. Lady luck, you saucy minx you!

developed countries are AWESOME!!!


Hey, check out what I saw graffitied on the wall the other day:

IMG_4080 (by johnaugustustate)

A Tibetan flag! Pretty ballsy for China, right? Psyche! I wasn't in China. I was in Berlin, visiting my sister Mary, pictured here with her Teutonic boyfriend Leander:

IMG_4064 (by johnaugustustate)

By sheer coincidence, my other sister June was visiting her sister in Berlin, too. Here is the exact moment we realized we both have the same sister:

IMG_4076 (by johnaugustustate)

Just kidding; that's dumb. Also, I can't believe I put this photo on the internet. Both of us had just gotten off our respective transoceanic flights when it was taken, so we're not looking too hot. Fun fact: June and I each traveled 6 times zones in opposite directions to meet Mary in Berlin, making us potentially the worst jetlag roommates ever. Thankfully, this issue was solved with a little help from melatonin, the only drug approved by my mother (oh wait: coffee). But not approved, surprisingly, by the government of Germany. Don't tell anyone I brought it to Berlin: It's illegal!

I said "surprisingly" because it is legal in Berlin to walk down the street with an open container of alcohol. Which of course I had to do just to say I did:

IMG_4067 (by johnaugustustate)

Actually, this is legal in China too, though besides the one time my tutee's mother served me a tallboy of Budweiser which I couldn't finish and had to chug on the way to the bus, I've never made use of that provision. I live in the central business district of Guangzhou; where am I going to walk to or from with a beer in my hand? In Berlin, though, you can't even gingerly toss a cat and not hit a cool café/bar, the kind of establishment that spends all day hammering together an awning so its patrons can have a brew outside while they watch the World Cup without sun glare (it gets dark around 11pm), the kind of place that gives out free iced coffees when they accidentally make too many:

IMG_4170 (by johnaugustustate)

The kind of place that Jon and I travel 30 minutes by subway just to hang out at. Yes, yes; I know most urban Chinese are too busy feeding their families, breaking their backs on cement bags and selling toner cartridges to kick back with a Tuesday brunch beer. But all I'm saying is, let them taste some of this hefeweizen...

IMG_4179 (by johnaugustustate)

and maybe they'll change their minds! No but for real; it was delicious. Like a cream soda made of beer.

Here's a list of things that I never considered to be quintessentially Berliny but now think of as inseparable from the city thanks to my short time there:

  • fuzz (white allergenic fluff floating virtually everywhere; hard to photograph though)
  • huge dogs (well-behaved man-eaters)
  • dreadlocks
  • lesbians
  • dreadlocked lesbians
  • bike lanes (they're part of the sidewalk, not the road, and people really use them, hardcore)
  • Turkish people (never seen so many Turkish babies in my life. Speaking of, I think it's time we rethink the saying "work like a Turk". Unless I've missed the boat and the phrase now means "work observably no more or less diligently than members of any other ethnic group", I think we should stop saying it. Oh, you already have? Perfect!)
  • awesome wood and metal children's playgrounds that would have been bulldozed and replaced with doubleplusunfun low plastic "safe" versions in the States about ten years ago:

IMG_4081 (by johnaugustustate)

I did not happen to spot any Turkish lesbians with dreadlocks, in case anyone was wondering. But then again, I wasn't really looking.

You can browse the rest of my photos below:

Another piece of evidence in my case that Berlin is the polar opposite of Guangzhou is that the linguistic relationship between me and strangers was suddenly and completely reversed. Suddenly I was the one embarrassed not to be speaking their language. See, here's what the average Chinese stranger thinks as they watch my mouth begin to open in slow motion:

"Oh shit oh shit oh shit I knew I shouldn't have lied on my resume when I said I had fluent English because now there's a white person here and he's going to speak some gibberish at me and I'm going to look stupid and the manager's going to have to come and then oh hey this guy speaks Chinese WHEW!"

Now here are my thoughts every single time I approached a stranger in Berlin, once again in slow motion:

"Oh shit oh shit oh shit I don't speak German at all this Lonely Planet guide is worthless what if this lady gives me an answer that's not in the book what's German for 'ten' again I really should have tried harder to learn some common phrases before I came why should I expect everyone to speak my native language everywhere I oh hey she speaks English WHEW!"

Turns out they have to learn it in school. Chinese people do too, but I imagine it's a little easier to retain for the Germans.

Finally, let me just say that I thought at first there might be a shred of Asian pop culture influence in Berlin when I saw this sweet museum along the canal:

IMG_4194 (by johnaugustustate)

Incredibly, though, the inside had absolutely nothing to do with Dance Dance Revolution. Just something about a wall and a bunch of Commies. Talk about false advertising!

(yes, that's me DDR-ing there, and a salty Bronx cheer to whoever wants to tell me that diagonal steps only count in the Korean spin-off Pump It Up: I KNOW)


IMG_3982 (by johnaugustustate)

Another China Daily story here for you.

The bit about being kicked out of the high school talent show for excessive gangliness is almost true. Almost true in that Ms. Haley let me stay in the act, but I had to keep my shirt on. It was an unfortunate stipulation for a young lad just becoming comfortable with his own puffy nipples (for some reason I used to think my slightly aerated nip tips were a freakish disfigurement), finally ready to bare them to the world.



The following is a real conversation that occurred yesterday between me and a real Chinese person (in English):

Me: Have you seen the movie The Princess Bride?

她: No. Is it a classic?

Me: Kind of a "cult classic" I guess.

她: Ahh, cult classic. You mean like the movie with the transformers?

Me: The movie called Transformers?

她: No, no; it's older. And there's this guy from a planet with lots of transformers, and he comes to earth....

Me: So it's a science-fiction movie?

她: No, a musical. There's dancing and singing, and a fat guy with a guitar who dies.

Me: Meatloaf?

她: What's that?

Me: He's the only famous fat guy with a guitar I can think of.

她: I don't know. But anyway it's so popular that people still act it out at the same time that they show it on the screen, and everyone has the lines memorized and they dress up as the transformers....

Me: Wait, hang on.... Do you mean transvestites?

她: What did I say?

kentucky fried panda


IMG_3974 (by johnaugustustate)

After finding out last month that I hail from the great commonwealth of Kentucky, the Hot Pot column editor at the China Daily asked if I could write a piece about "what I think" about the popularity of KFC in China. Anyone who knows me knows this is a ridiculous request; I have no opinions on anything. But I agreed and eventually cranked out a story (perhaps a misleading term; the only story here is that Kentucky is a funny place to be from in China), a story which they just published today.

Also note that their cartoonist has drawn me with a large-caliber bullet hole through my heart. Should I be concerned about that?

By the way, one of my favorite jokes from The Simpsons is from the episode "Lisa the Tree Hugger", which culminates in a giant log rolling down a hill and plowing into several environmentally objectionable buildings, including a Kentucky Fried Panda franchise. Homer is devastated and exclaims:

Noooo! It was finger Ling-Ling good!

For a while I was trying to work that joke in to the China Daily piece, before I remembered it's not my joke.

the gugglingheim museum

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Last Wednesday at English corner a student was telling me about an online flash game he's been playing:

Student: It's about a detective looking for a lost crate of seafood.

Me: Hmm, I've never heard of it. What's it called?

Student: "A Case of the Crabs".


Luckily, I got away with not having to comment on that one, unlike two weeks ago where someone spelled out P-U-S-S-Y and everyone looked at me for an explanation. One confused girl said "pussy?" and pronounced it like the adjective meaning "full of pus". "Okay, moving on..."

In other "My kids say the darnedest things" news, I was grading juggling essays (yes, juggling essays, don't laugh), when I came across a girl who has apparently been spelling it "guggling" this whole time. As in, "My sister tried to guggle three balls, but she can't. I think it's because I'm not a good guggler myself". Gah! Cute-asaurus rex.

chinese puzzle #6: solution

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Last week I posted a hint to a puzzle from two weeks ago.... which I am now proud to say has been solved by Melbourne University puzzle enthusiasts Michael L. and Jemma X.! Congratulations guys, your prizes are in the mail.

Here's the solution; click for a bigger view:


I was inspired to create this puzzle after I tried to look up the Chinese word for "gong", as in the big round metal thing one beats dramatically with a mallet. This is very misleading request for a smart online dictionary because the pinyin "gong" has way more entries than 锣. So in this puzzle, each character on the bottom row has a pinyin pronunciation which could also be read as an English word, represented semantically by a character somewhere on the top row, for example: 躬 -> gōng -> 锣.

Note: 派 is perhaps not a standard translation for "pie" but if Ronald Maidanglao uses it, it's good enough for me. Let me know if you still have questions; I swear there's a decent explanation for each pair.

april fools, dude!

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Anyone who's been to a college frat party knows the rules: fall asleep without your shoes on and you are officially fair game when it comes to penises drawn on your face, being photographed in compromising positions, and eels slithering up your butthole. And if one of those eels happens to gnaw its way through your rectum and die in there and infect your abdominal cavity, well, you just gotta learn to hold your liquor next time, bro! WOOOOOOOOOOOOO COLLEGE!

No, but seriously.

The following is a story I first saw on the Shanghaiist blog. According to the post, a Sichuan man died from organ failure last month after a swamp eel chewed through his lower intestine. How did the eel find itself inside a man, you ask? After he (the man) passed out drunk one night, the man's friends forcibly inserted the eel into his anal sphincter, as a joke. Haha! Get it?

Here's the problem, though. According to what seems to be the original source, the man didn't die, though he does have to basically poop out of his belly button from now on. The misunderstanding appears to originate with this Japanese culture-watch blog post (warning, ads NSFpeoplewhoforsomereasondon'tlikeanimeporn), which is supposed to be translated from a Japanese edition of the story (which btw has a really funny Google Translate headline).

Anyway, because of this error I took it upon myself to translate the original story from Chinese just to sort of clear the air about this man and his butt trauma for all interested parties. You're welcome:

Eel burrows into man’s body, chews life-threatening hole in rectum

Source reports: Intoxicated man was a victim of prank; Eel taken into police custody for investigation.

Yesterday morning, in Zigong No. 1 People’s Hospital Intensive Care Unit, Chef Zhang Dajun, after spending the last ten days in deep shock and respiratory failure, has finally said goodbye to his oxygen tank. “If all goes well, he should be transferred out of the ICU within 2-3 days.”

Thinking back to the events of ten days prior, a member of the ICU medical staff sighed, “An eel, weighing about a quarter of a kilogram, entered the anus and abdominal cavity of a living person, biting its way through the rectum; I’ve never seen anything like it.”

A strange case: Marbly blotches appear on patient’s lower limbs

Around 4:00pm on April 17th, the emergency department received a call concerning a transfer patient from another hospital afflicted with a bizarre and urgent condition.

The patient in question was 59 year old Zhang Dajun, and his condition was both extremely strange and extremely complicated: In deep shock, his breathing was quick, and his entire waist was red and swollen with blood. The skin on his stomach was like that of a rubber ball, and the majority of his legs were covered in marbly blotches. He showed signs of acidosis and severe dehydration, as well as failure of the liver and kidneys.

But according to the medical records of the transferring hospital, the cause of the symptoms had not yet been diagnosed. According to the patient’s family, he was transferred after complaining of incessant stomach pains for more than ten hours.

Zhang’s life might have been in danger at any moment.

To diagnose the cause as quickly as possible, liver and gallbladder expert and deputy hospital chief Deng Jing immediately convened a consultation of specialists.

Knowing they were facing a rare and complex condition, experienced experts struggled to reach a diagnosis as they studied the patient’s external symptoms.

Finally it was decided that the only way to determine the cause of illness would be to open and examine the patient’s abdominal cavity.

Considering the complex nature of the illness, however, doctors worried that invasive surgery could prove dangerous.

Yet without immediate action, the patient’s life might be in worse danger. “As we entered the operating room, we knew we had to try our best, even if there was only a tiny shred of hope.”

At 8:30pm, after the consent of family members was obtained, Zhang Dajun entered the emergency operating room.

Inside the abdominal cavity: a 0.25 kilogram swamp eel

As lead surgeon Zhang Hongbin opened the abdominal cavity, he and the other surgical staff were shocked to discover a dead eel: over 50cm long, weighing about 0.25 kilograms and thick as a shot glass. The eel had entrenched itself in the abdominal cavity, apparently after gnawing a large hole in the patient’s rectum. The area had become infected and filled with fluid; several organs had also failed and there was severe damage to the kidneys and liver.

It was clear: the eel had entered the body through the anus.

So the cause of the patient’s 10 hours of stomach pain was the eel (in a manner not unlike how the Monkey King scratched at the inner lining of Princess Iron Fan’s stomach*) burrowing into his anus and chewing through his rectal wall. The victim’s external symptoms, including his swollen waist, blotchy legs and acidosis were all the result of this eel.

Due to infection incurred by the bite wounds, the doctors had no choice but to excise the affected area and divert the remaining rectal passage out through the patient’s belly.

Although the cause of the symptoms had been confirmed, one unresolved question still perplexed the group of doctors: Swamp eels live in a complicated natural habitat, cold, full of other aquatic life forms, often raised in captivity; so if a living eel finds its way into a human body, what sort of kind of bacteria might it introduce, and what kind of side effects can one expect to see?

For 59-year-old Zheng Dajun, this was a question of life or death.

For five days after the operation, Zheng was constantly in a state of shock, his life hanging by a thread.

On the sixth day, under the meticulous care of the 24-hour nursing staff, Zhang Dajun began to edge away from the brink of death, his vital signs showing gradual improvement.

Yesterday was the tenth day after his surgery. Although he hasn’t fully recovered, he has already overcome the infection and respiratory failure, and said goodbye to his companion for the last ten days: an oxygen tank.

The resilience of life is a miracle Zheng has now experienced with his own body.

First hospital: Patient stated he had eaten many eels

Around 7:00am on April 17th, a hospital in the city of Zigong admitted a patient whose symptoms included constant abdominal pain, especially in the upper left region.

According to the patient himself, the previous night he had eaten “a lot of eels, and drank a little, too.” The doctor on duty initially suspected pancreatitis and ordered a blood amylase test. “We tested numerous times, finally sending him to another hospital for re-examination.”

The doctor continued to be puzzled: the test results all showed normal amylase levels.

Subsequent tests of fluid samples from the abdominal cavity also showed no signs of intestinal problems.

As the hospital convened a consultation that afternoon, the patient’s condition took a turn for the worse: multiple organ failure.

At 4:00pm, at the request of family members, the patient was transferred to Zigong No. 1 People’s Hospital.

Investigating the culprit: Police take the eel into custody

Zhang Dajun is a chef at a restaurant in a township of Zigong city.

Yesterday, lying in his bed in the ICU, just after parting with his oxygen tank, Zhang and his family declined to speak with reporters, citing personal privacy. As they repeatedly told the hospital, this was not a matter they would like to see reported by the media.

So how exactly did this quarter-kilogram swamp eel find its way into his body? Why were Zhang and his family unwilling to explain the truth to the hospital staff?

According to a source who wished not to be identified, on the night of April 16th, Zhang Dajun fell victim to a prank while under the influence of alcohol. His friends intentionally forced the eel into Zhang’s anus, not anticipating the destructive consequences of their practical joke.

Zigong police arrived to collect the eel at No. 1 People’s Hospital shortly after receiving notification from family members in order to thoroughly investigate the truth about the eel entering Zhang’s body.

(Zhang Dajun is an alias)

Yang Yuanlu, Huaxi Metropolis News

So there you go. And yet, something still doesn't sit right with me after re-reading this. Even if you admit the possibility that there actually are people out there who think this would be a fun prank, how do you go about putting an eel in your drunk buddy's rectum, logistically speaking? God only knows how many eels I've tried and failed to cram up my own anus, so I can only imagine the elbow grease it must take to coax one into a limp, unconscious fifty-nine-year-old man; I don't care how many people are helping. Personally, I don't buy it.

*From a scene in the classic story “Journey to the West”, in which Sun Wukong shrinks himself into a tiny insect, flies into the princess’s body and scratches at her insides until she gives up her coveted Iron Fan.

what's wrong with this ad?

There's something about this ad for Chimelong Water Park (which btw is actually pretty fun) that isn't quite family-friendly. Can you find it?

IMG_3936 (by johnaugustustate)

Hint: it's on the bassist in the background.

Second hint: it's something the bassist is wearing.

Third hint: it's his shirt:

IMG_3937 (by johnaugustustate)

It's a little hard to say for certain because of the angle and the obstructing instrument, but I'm fairly sure that shirt doesn't say "FUCN OED".

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