The Weekly Weird–June 16-22

**ANNOUNCEMENT** 

Since I’ll be on the road shortly, this will be my last “Weekly Weird” for a while.  I have no doubt that they’re be strange things wherever I go, but maybe it needs some time off, too.  I’ll be dropping in every so often with updates along the way, so feel free to stop in and have a look. 

For now, here’s a final collection of the strange in Hangzhou.

 

Superpoop

I’ve talked about the smiling poop-like sausage called “Breakfast Sausage” before.  That time, it was a smiling, albeit dubious-looking sausage link grinning at a sun.  This time, what really caught my eye was a more serious poop-sicle.  It had a stern face, furrowed eyebrows, and a red cape billowing behind it.  As if in mockery of the Man of Steel, Superpoop had an “S” on its chest.  Two very large fingers hold up this Justice League reject as it says something along the lines of “Keeping breakfast safe and making health better.”  But I don’t know.  Even in the plastic wrapping, I have to look again and again to make sure there aren’t any other nasty surprises, of not-so-heroic proportions.  Because, if a meal is in danger, Superpoop is probably the last thing I’d call to help.  

 

Collon, come here

This was another snack I saw that made me look twice.  Not because there was anything overtly weird in the packaging, but because the name “Collon” was uncomfortably close to anatomy.  The images on the outside included these toilet-paper rolls with rabbit ears smiling up at the buyer.  They hopped around on the back, on the front, and I had to wonder why toilet-paper wafers had to move at all.  So I was concerned, to say the least.  Instead, when I opened the pastel-colored package with strawberries on it, I saw this rolled wafer-like sticks, which were surprisingly normal.  I ate a few, waiting for some kind of kick, but it never came.  Instead, it was a snack with a very poor choice in name.  Good intentions warped when people like me take them for a spin.

 

Chipmunks for Sale

I found out what will happen with the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise at last dies out.  No, there will not be a nostalgia tour.  No, there will not even be reunions where they sign pictures and reminisce about what it was like to have obnoxiously-high voices.  They will be in China, and they will be sold as pets to anyone who wants them.

Maybe in this part of the world, owning a chipmunk as a pet isn’t all that strange. But for someone who saw them scurrying all over the yard on a daily basis, the last thing I would want to do is keep one in a little hamster cage and watch it attempt to be cute.  All the same, I saw them in little cages outside of Wumart and there were children admiring them the same way we might look at puppies in the window back at home. 

Maybe Alvin would get a second wind and reach star-dom all over again.  

Oh, god, I shouldn’t even suggest it.

 

A-Stick Mini

For my last Weird Random Thing, I decided to try “A Stick” snacks.  Mostly because there was a monster on the front, and it looked cute, even with a wafer shoved into its mouth.  This particular monster was chocolate-colored, had one giant eye, and was holding a brown and white-striped wafer-stick like a staff.  I turned the cover over, and there were more monsters.  “Coconut Boy,” “Cheese Girl,” “Vanilla Girl,” and “Peanut Boy.”  But somehow, the chocolate man was missing.  “Where did he go?” I wondered, trying not to look too deep into it.  The monsters were all lined up with open, grinning mouths.  Above, in slanted red words, read “Let’s Astick.”  What did “astick” mean, actually?  Was there some horrible secret going on in this clan?  Suddenly, they didn’t look as cute, with their garish eyes all glaring at me, vacant grins likened to hunger.  

“You know what?” I thought, “Let’s not astick.”

 

The Weekly Weird–June 9-15

Hangzhou’s gone from nice spring breezes to full-on broiler.  So I’m more than happy to talk about weird things going on rather than how sweat has become the latest fashion trend.

Shall we?

 

Of Mannequins and Feet

Last week, it was mannequins without heads.  This week, it’s mannequins with complete bodies, but wardrobe malfunctions.  I was out with one of my former students, Faye, who was helping me navigate a three-story clothing market, which is home of the ultra ultra cheap clothing.  We admired all kinds of different clothes, Faye sometimes telling me to wait outside while she bargained for something I liked to make sure I didn’t get ripped off (that’s a true friend, people).  When, all of a sudden, I saw a mannequin with its shoes about to fall off.

“It should probably tie those,” I thought, before realizing that it was not a sentient being.  Instead, I looked closer to realize that the shoes were taped onto the toes, and more or less dangling off.  Maybe the designers wanted those heels to look extra-high, but the result was a little bit unsettling for me.  I mean, why do mannequins need shoes anyway?  Who put shoes on if they can’t even fit?  I mean, Cinderella ended up okay, but c’mon, she wasn’t made of plastic (yet?).  

It reminded me a bit of the models I saw on the runway, stomping right out of their shoes if not for well-placed tape.  So I guess mannequins learn this from somewhere.  Still, they’ll be saying something differently when they can’t sneak off to see the male models at night.

 

Robots go for a swim

It was a tiny little slice of street-art that was more science fiction than PSA.  A blue electricity box, with a couple holding hands on it.  Except that this couple was actually a brown robot with a cube head and a blonde woman in a swimsuit.  The robot-person had a wide grin and   wide eyes that said “I’m innocent, I swear!  Now, what were you accusing me of?”  The woman also had round eyes, but also a wide mouth that looked as though she was either screaming or shouting that he was being weird.  Of course, I don’t know what they were doing on the streets of Hangzhou, and frankly am not concerned about that.  I want to know what their first date was like.  “Will.  You.  Date.  Me.”  “Affirmative.”  Was she a robot programmer who, through defect, created a being capable of love, if not obsession?  Was she a more advanced robot?   What if they lived on a planet of robots and were trying to escape to Earth for a vacation in a primitive place?  

The likely story: the artist isn’t very good.  

Dare to dream, people.

Inca Chips

When there’s a product with the word “Inca” in it, I assume that I’m going to eat something that will make me feel part of an ancient society, akin to watching a Dr. Who episode while eating a snack.  So it was with my WRT which was a bag of chip-like things, and a sort of Native American-looking guy in a headdress standing with arms crossed in the corner.  He had a basket of potatoes, earthenware with a stirring rod (Spoon, for those not innately in attuned to the ancient like me, har har!).  When I opened this magnanimous secret to the ancient world, I saw what looked to be corn flying saucers.  Were they supposed to be bowls?  Who knows.  The bag promised to have “Ethnican Flavors.”  They tasted pretty average, to be honest.  But then, maybe if I was wearing a headdress like the guy on the chip bag, I might become one with the unknown.  For now, I’ll stick with crackers.

That’s all for this week, folks!  Which of course isn’t to say that China is done being quirky.

 

The Weekly Weird June 2-8

From talking to my students, it seems like veering into the weird is the best way to experience something worth talking about.  So, please veer with me.

 

Mommy, see that in the window?

From above, apartment windows look like paper lanterns floating up in the sky.  From up close, something altogether different.  I was walking into Beiyin Apartments, where Kay and Elaine lived, when I poked Tanya, another foreign teacher.  

“Look at the window,” I said.

Tanya, probably somewhat used to the eccentricities of living in China, promptly looked toward where I was pointing and gave me a weird look.  In rows, leaning against the barred windows, were white mannequins.  None of them had heads, and they were all the well-sculpted cretins lurking in the depths of Abercrombie and Fitch.  I thought maybe it could be a studio, but that didn’t make sense.  So, we had to reconcile the fact that someone just had that many headless models hanging around their home.  

And so we kept walking, and on our ways up the stairs to Elaine’s apartment, we saw a baby stroller with a lock on it.  Was it locked to anything?  Of course not.  But then, if there were that many mannequins in the vicinity, I’d be locking things up, too.

Bumbles bounce, and so do eggs

I’ve gotten used to the weird things in the classroom I teach in. Rabbits, Santa Clause dolls, Halloween masks…it’s all pretty routine now.  That doesn’t mean that the room can’t still shock me.  And so it was, when I leaned over to turn on the computer, that I saw an egg.  

“I hope no one was planning on saving that for later…” I thought.  Then, doing what I always do best, I poked it.  The shell felt funny, and for a moment, I felt like the archaeologists in Jurassic Park seeing dinosaur eggs for the first time until I realized what it was.  

When my students were all seated and the bell rang, I said “I have a magic trick for you.  I am going to drop this egg, and it will not break.”

Some of them looked confused, some of them intrigued, and some of them sitting closer to the front cringed, anticipating the yolk all over the walls.  I held it up with 2 fingers, and then dramatically let go.

It bounced.  Because it was made of rubber.

Good Good Eat from Mexico

When you see a mustached little girl next to a cactus wearing sunglasses, there’s no saying “no.”  It was a snack I saw in the aisle of the grocery store, and from what I could tell from the pictures, it looked like crumbled tumbleweed.  The little girl standing on top of this bristled treat wore a grandma-high skirt with poofy black hair and an over-large sombrero, in addition to looking dismayed at her creeper ‘stache.  The cactus next to her was grinning like he was the king of secrets, holding his hands up like dukes, ready for a fight.  To indicate the flavor, a chicken breathed fire in the corner.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I opened the snack, it was those threads of dried noodles laced with the fake Mexican spices I know so well from Doritos back home.  

In fact, there wasn’t a lot of surprises in this snack, since it tasted like taco toppings, but what did it for me was the image of the girl, still wearing her mustache in the back with a loudspeaker saying “Good good eat!”  

Was it good good?  I don’t know.  But don’t be surprised if you see me rolling along the sidewalks, deciding to take the adage “you are what you eat” to heart.

 

Stop in next time for more weird things!

The Weekly Weird–May 26-June 1

Well, it’s that time of the week again when I round up funny things I’ve seen around China.  It’s amazing what you see when you really start to look!

 

Finger Biscuits

No, this is not a euphemism for anything.  It is in fact, another Weird Random Thing (WRT) that I decided to try this week. What exactly, you might ask, is a finger biscuit?  To be honest, I wasn’t sure, either.  I sort of hoped that it would be a cannibal snack of some kind.  Which would have been extra-hilarious, given the French-fry rods on the cover with berets, lipstick, mustaches, and classes of wine held despite an obvious lack of hands.  They sort of had this knowing look on their faces (which just sort of blended in with their bodies).  Were they scoffing at my befuddled expression when I read “Daliyuan Finger Biscuits” on the cover?   Probably.  It didn’t matter, because pompous cartoon-biscuits or no, I ripped the package open savagely and pulled out what were pretty mundane crackers.  Yes, they were stick-shaped, which, if I had nutella with, would be exquisite.  As it was, I ate the crackers on their own, wondering what was so funny as the cartoon crackers cajoled together on and on.  

 

Put on your safety face

Somehow, in all of the trips to Xicheng, one of the districts of Hangzhou where I work, I missed the sign heartily telling drivers to be safe.  The characters: 注意安全 (zhu yi an quan) which is also what buses scream at you when they drive by too fast.  “Be safe!  Now get out of my way!!”  The thing that made this sign stand out all the more was that the characters for “safe” (安全) were converted into faces.  The first one wasn’t so bad, I guess.  It had a giant woman’s face in the middle with sort of shell-shocked eyes staring at the drivers all around.  But I think it was the second character that did it for me.  Because that one didn’t even have a face.  Instead, it was just two eyes opposite each other and a mouth, sort of like deranged Christmas tree decorations.  Maybe some people feel safer that way, with their trusty guardian angel-signs reminding them to be safe.  But I think I got the message without the extra help, thanks.  

 

This was a little shorter this week.  I don’t really have a good excuse, but just felt like stating the obvious.  Come back next week for more!

 

The Weekly Weird–May 19-25

I made pancakes for a Chinese friend of mine, and it struck me that nothing could be weirder to her than eating buttery cakes right away in the morning and then dumping sugar on top.  And I thought “If she were to keep a weekly weird, this is probably something she’d include.”  Just goes to show you that we’re stranger than we think. Anyhow, here are some fun things from the past week.

Be loud and proud

I heard the chanting before I actually saw them.  A sort of rallying cry beginning with a count-off and then some Chinese words I didn’t understand.  Guttural, maybe a little intimidating, and when we got closer, it only got louder.  “Oh, god…” I thought as I, Cindy, and Mao-mao trudged onward through the heat.  Cindy turned to me with a grin.  Do you know what they’re saying?  I replied that I did not.  “They’re saying ‘One, two, three, four, I am perfect!”  I thought this had to be some kind of joke, but when we got closer, I saw a group of people in army shirts standing in a circle.  They weren’t having a pow-wow, a debriefing, or anything like that.  In fact, it looked like they were playing “pat-a-cake” or some kind of silly recess game.  One girl switched directions before everyone else did and was almost smacked in the face, which made them all laugh uproariously.  I wanted to ask why, but didn’t.  Because I already knew the answer: because China, that’s why.

Can you stand the heat?

As I mentioned in another post, it gets hot and it gets hot fast in Hangzhou.  In a sense, we’re almost a vampire city because most people only enjoy the great outdoors when the sun goes down and the temperature goes with it.  But for those with no choice but to be outside in the heat, there are remedies.   For girls, there’s the sun-umbrella, which keeps direct sun from scorching the skin.  For guys, there’s the tried and true shirt-removal maneuver.  I mean, I’ve seen this pulled by really attractive guys (or guys who think they fall into this category) to show off muscles back in the states.  But here, any guy is more than willing to undo his buttons and make a flag of his shirt.  Which isn’t too weird, until you’re in a car being driven back from school and see a really fat guy in the driver’s window–who looks completely naked.  He was driving along, happy with the breeze, all while I kept rubbing my eyes to try and stop imagining if he was or was not wearing pants.  I never found out, but then again, I’m not sure I want to.  All the same, I guess Nelly’s adage was true: “It’s getting’ hot in here, so take off all your clothes.”

Join the Club

Maybe it was the fact that I was in the company of a man I’d secretly given the nickname “Ladyface” to, because of his unsettlingly feminine cheeks.  Maybe it was the collection of young men dancing enthusiastically together on a tiny stage in the middle of the room.  Maybe it was the cross-dresser in a bright silvery-sequin dress with feathers being handed a watermelon onstage while trying to sing and dance.  Maybe it was the look on her face when she actually had to take the watermelon.  Maybe it was the women dancing on platforms in flight attendant outfits.  All I know is that when the flight attendant dancer perched at the edge of our table and stared expectantly at us, it was the weirdest thing throughout the entire night.  She had wide eyes, a lot of makeup on, and didn’t say anything as we stared back at her for some social cue.  It never came, and so my friend Charlotte and I were back to dealing with other matters, like the guy walking around with his name on business cards and a smarmy grin when a girl accepted them.  Call me maybe?  Hmmmm…

Kind of a mish-mash this week, but what do you expect?  It’s China, the country of mish-mash joys.  Until next week!

The Weekly Weird–May 12-18

Here’s another collection of odd and frankly awesome things spotted in the past week!

 

Attention, Please

Whenever I see the characters “通知” I usually ignore whatever comes next, because even though it’s an announcement, I have zero chance of fully understanding what it means.  This time, however, it caught my attention.  Perhaps it was the “diverse” animated characters with bright green, purple, and red hair.  Perhaps the woman in a nurse’s outfit with dis-proportionally thin legs grinning next to a sick Chinese man.  Or the happy man about to slap chickens with a red “x” marked over them.  Or the chicken in another panel with waterfall-tears sprinkling from its eyes.  Or the completely unrelated chicken either farting or pooping green onto a cutting board.  All in all, it was one of those serendipitous moments for me—seeing all of those chickens brooding in separate cartoon bubbles and the multi-colored humans trying to pantomime what was so desperate about their plight.  It was like seeing a rainbow, except instead of a pot of gold at the end, there was just a lot of confused faces. 

 

To Catch a Mosquito

If you want to kill insects in China, there’s no limit to the methods you can use.  There’s the Buddhist one, which is that you don’t kill them at all and pray as they buzz past.  There’s the more traditionally-favored coil that you light on fire at the end and let smoke for 4 days (which isn’t as dirty or smelly as it sounds).  There’s a more modern electrical plug-in with insect repellent released into the wild bedroom where it crouches for its finicky prey.  And then there’s a bug-whacker that looks more like a tennis-racket, except that it’s full of a light electrical current that instantly kills whatever insect gets caught in its web.  In terms of efficiency, I can’t really say.  But there was an 11-year old happily bouncing around a house with one of those electric-tennis-racket-bug-doomsday-devices, catching any and all pests in the air with a zap!  Anything around the kitchen table, any that could be trapped on the floor under the web, and then when there were no more to die in the house, he moved his hunt to the outdoors where there were plenty to attack.   

“Is this like your new superpower or something?  Are you Mosquito Man?”  I asked.

Zap!  Zap!  And he crouched in attack mode for the next wave of invaders.  Like the Dark Net–the hero our not-bitten skins deserve.

So you can be discreet with plug-ins or coils, or you can go for the drama with a zapper that sparks with whatever’s life it has taken.  The choice is up to you…just not the mosquito’s.

 

Sponge Bar Square Snack

For my WRT this week, I decided to try something ambiguously called “Sponge Bar” which is cylindrical and made of chocolate.  I had all of these mental images of a kitchen sponge dipped in chocolate, or of a series finale that never was for the porous cartoon down in Bikini Bottom.  What it ended up being was one giant cigar-shaped cocoa puff.  The bar was crispy and easy to bite, and in no way reminiscent of sponges.  I mean, I’ve never eaten a sponge before, so I don’t know what I ought to compare it to.  Maybe there’s a whole colony of crunchy sponges at the bottom of the ocean, which get water-logged so quickly, we’ve never gotten a chance to explore the taste.  I did enjoy making the obligatory Winston Churchill pose in front of my mirror before devouring the rest of the snack, which went down in a chalky haze.  But don’t worry: no Spongebobs were harmed in the process.  Only expectations. 

More weird stuff to come.  Have a happy week!

The Weekly Weird–May 5-11

This past weekend, I learned that silkworms go an entire day without eating, and that pandas are pigeon-toed.  All of which probably amounts to something, but I’d rather just chalk it up to the quirks that spring up when a culture has been around for so long.  Anyhow, here are some more weird things I’ve seen throughout the week!

Fun in Kittyland

For once, I was trying to find something normal in the grocery store: a box of chocolate-covered biscuits with fuzzy animal pictures and an uplifting message on each of them.  A nice way to start the week, right?  WRONG!  See, they look all cute and cuddly-wuddly, but then when you take a closer look, well.  Maybe ‘uplifting’ isn’t the right word.  “Hey, I’ll go first!” says a bear ironing a pair of shorts.  A rabbit in pajamas says “It’s lonely sleeping alone” while a different rabbit on a bike says “Hurry up!”  “Lots of bubbles!” says another cookie.  And then more: “Fly far away!”  “Can I ask for help?”  “I hope she likes it.”  “Take me home, please.”  I can’t tell if it’s just shoddy English translation, or if the intent really is to make it seem as though there’s something nefarious going on in Kittyland.  It just goes to show you: don’t trust anything cute.

Silly Rubix Cube, tricks are for kids!

Somewhere online, there’s probably a forum for ways to outsmart rubix cubes.  But after this weekend, I’ve found the sure-fire way to beat them.  It’s a handy-dandy trick passed down from an 11-year old boy showing me in a restaurant.  First, he said he could get one side, which he did after fiddling with it for a while.  Then, he said he could get all 6.

“Oh, really?”  I asked.

“Uh huh!”  And then he promptly ripped off all of the colored cubes, spilling them onto the table, until there was nothing but the axis in the middle.  “Just wait a moment,” he said.

With the plastic cube-carcass jangling in his hand, he plopped them all back on with the colors coordinating.  Once he was all done, there it was—a complete Rubix Cube.  Maybe I should feel disgusted by the cheating, but really, I’m kind of impressed that no one’s thought to do it before.  Maybe that’s the true sign of a genius: knowing when to bash something and stuff it back together.  A method I may have to try in the near future.

How to say…

Part of the fun in China is seeing the mis-spellings and bad translations that abound.  Here are some more good ones:

  • “Ceivln Klien” on an otherwise lovely shirt.  Assuming it’s meant to be “Calvin Klein,” but maybe Ceivln begs to differ.
  • “Xixi Feelings” on a sign toward the Xixi Wetlands park in Hangzhou.  I’m assuming this is a specific part of Hangzhou sequestered for people to feel emotions really hard.
  • “Downtown Solicitation” on a sign not too far from the Xixi Feelings one.  Perhaps I’ve misjudged what kinds of “feelings” people are experiencing.
  • “Please do not feed the food” outside of the panda emporium.  I wasn’t planning to, but now that you mention it, I really do like to play with my food, provided that it can play back with me.

Bad to the Bike

Walking down Number 4 Street in Xiasha, I heard deep thumping music and revving engines.  In the States, I could assume that it was some teenager with the music cranked up all the way in his mom’s SUV, but in China it usually means something else.  Yes, it was a gang of e-bikes zooming down the road, the riders being badass in their white sphere helmets, tennis shoes, and golf shorts.  They didn’t have time for the law, or anything for that matter.  But what made me smile was how, in their wake, came a much larger e-bike on which three men were seated, holding onto groceries.  Fitting three guys on a bike and managing not to drop groceries everywhere seems much more awe-inspiring to me.  But then, I’m not the one with the bike.

Let’s see what other weird things creep up this week.  Until then!