Posted by: lklinger2013 | December 31, 2016

Medical update and some left-handed art

This week, I had an MRI on the wrist. Turns out the radius is fractured and the triangular fibrocartilage is torn. That means five more weeks in the splint and no writing with that hand. I made it clear to both doctor and school that I WILL return to work on 1/3 as scheduled. The wrist doesn’t even hurt that much as long as I don’t do anything with it, but the ambiguity about whether or not it was broken was vexing me ferociously.

The hospital has ATM-like machines that allow patients to print their own scans by putting their bar-code stickers under a red light. After printing my scans, I had to look on three floors for a toilet that was not a squatter. I guess I was naïve to expect a hospital to have accessible toilets. It’s not as if disabled people ever go to hospitals anyway.

The most inconvenient thing is having to use the crutch in the wrong hand. Slows me down and throws off my walking rhythm, especially on stairs (which unnerve me these days). Getting anywhere takes longer. So do dressing and washing and preparing food. I can get to important places like Qianfoshan Hospital and Starbucks, though.

The face still hurts, though nothing is bleeding and I can breathe just fine. I use cotton balls to prevent my glasses from hurting the still-healing broken nose.

This week, I managed to grade 50 student final exam essays and will do the grade spreadsheets for the year 12 AP English classes once the other teachers give me the data.

One bright spot: through experimentation I learned that I can still draw and paint with my left hand. Painting with ink and brush feels good. I’m determined to cough up some designs for the Year of the Fire Rooster. The Chinese word for turkey, huo ji, happens to translate literally as “fire chicken” but it’s probably not the same thing. Nevertheless, I’m tempted… 20161222_14270420161224_21123020161224_214205-1-1




Posted by: lklinger2013 | December 16, 2016

Medical leave is a privilege and also boring

The school called my doctor at the hospital, who told them that I should stay home until January 3rd. (The accident happened on December 2nd.) Someone from human resources sent a text informing me of this.

I am lucky. I have an emergency fund. I kept it here rather than sending it to the States. I have a place to live. There are lots of inexpensive shops and restaurants in my apartment complex. I have a computer and internet access. I have hundreds of e-books. I have Chingu-cat. I have ibuprofen and Ultracet, scar cream, hot water, and a washing machine. I still have my job.

I will probably spend a lot of time at Tandoor Kitchen, the nearby Indian restaurant. The owner, who delivered some food even though he doesn’t normally do that, urged me to come hang out and watch videos there, whether I order anything or not. He said to WeChat him if I need help.

A couple of days ago, having finally found a nail shop without stairs, I had a pedicure, partly because I am not capable of cutting my toenails at this time and partly to cheer me up. I also had a haircut, which got the last of the blood out of my hair.

Yesterday, I went back to the hospital to have the wrist looked at. It was still hurting and I wondered why it was only in a splint when a doctor had told me it was broken. A different doctor looked at the scans and the wrist, said he didn’t see any break, suggested it was probably a torn ligament, and put a pain-killing plaster on the wrist under the splint. He said to return in 2 weeks.

Finding the correct department without speaking any Chinese was challenging. I went to a payment window and showed the woman my medical record booklet, card, and the text from the otolaryngologist. She walked me to the triage section of the surgical outpatient clinic. I paid about $10 for this visit.

Taking this much leave seems excessive, though. My nose and cheek fractures are healing. I can eat, dress, and walk, albeit slowly. The wrist only hurts when I try using it. I can (sort of) write with my left hand. If I take pain meds every four hours, the pain is mostly under control (though standing for even a few minutes hurts). I could teach sitting down.

A lazy part of me is glad to avoid the exams, projects, meetings, and end-of-semester paperwork, though I did tell people to email me anything I could grade. I asked a manager to send me textbooks so I could write exam questions.

I’ve yet to hear from the English coordinator about all this time off. He sent a text on the day I got out of the hospital, and that was probably at someone else’s prompting. Today, he sent my student survey results. My teaching… needs a lot of improvement*. Having a normal schedule would help, but I can’t honestly blame all my deficiencies on that. I need to prepare more, find or create more engaging activities, teach more writing skills, and grade assignments more promptly. And I need help to improve as a teacher. Not a coordinator who micromanages and nags instead of listening and offering useful suggestions.






*If this were self-indulgent fiction, the Noble Injured Teacher would of course be The Best Teacher Ever and students would be crying for the return of said teacher. It’s reality, so the teacher is reasonably competent and conscientious but has considerable room for improvement.




Happy reunion with Chingu on the day I got out of the hospital. She hid upstairs for an hour to make sure the stranger (a coworker) was gone. Poor kitty.


Posted by: lklinger2013 | December 15, 2016

Things to Bring to a Chinese Hospital

  1. Passport
  2. Wallet (with lots of cash, bank cards, and ID cards)
  3. Smartphone with WeChat, good internet access, dictionary app*, charger, and extra battery
  4. Your home address and employer, written in Chinese (save in phone notes)
  5. Samples of any prescription drugs you take regularly. Do your best to explain why you take them.
  6. As much cash as possible; seriously, bring a Ziploc bag full
  7. Extra shirts and shorts if you are above average in size (3/4 sleeve button-up shirts are especially good if you have injuries to arms and face)
  8. List of phrases in Chinese and English so you can point to what you need to say (ask coworker to write it out for you)
  9. Water bottle
  10. Toilet paper (the bathrooms don’t have any)
  11. Your own bowl, spoon, fork, etc. You’ll need to buy a meal card and get food from the canteen or have a friend go get it for you.
  12. Scissors to cut your food into small bits (useful if your mouth is injured)
  13. Sense of humor. You’ll need it.

*For those who menstruate, period tracker apps are useful for when the doctor is taking your medical history.

Posted by: lklinger2013 | December 12, 2016

A Brief Stay in A Chinese Hospital

     Two days after moving into the new place, I had a serious accident and ended up in Qianfoshan Hospital for a week. At about 2am, I got up in the dark to use the toilet. Not yet accustomed to the new layout, I fell down the stairs, landing on my nose and right wrist. I did not lose consciousness. There was blood everywhere.

     Somehow, I managed to call KF (the assistant director who hired me) on WeChat. He called an ambulance. He and A (a Chinese calculus teacher who often translates for the foreign teachers) came too. While waiting, I pulled on leggings and threw a few things into my bag: phone, charger, passport, medications, wallet, glasses. The bleeding continued. I sat at the table holding a towel over my nose and hyperventilating. Chingu sniffed at me. I was terrified. Also wondered whether an ambulance was too much. Maybe I *could* find  taxi by myself… at 2:30am… in the dark… while bleeding profusely and unable to see clearly or hold my phone well enough to scroll through for a photo of a hospital address.

     The paramedics wrapped my head, covering my eyes. KF put a hand on my shoulder so I knew he was there. That helped tremendously. A small part of my mind noted that at least I had a solid excuse to skip the faculty meeting on Monday.

     ER admission took forever. Chinese hospitals require payment in advance. Also, the wrist and face were different departments. (The EMTs and other people kept grabbing my wrist until KF loudly repeated my frantic requests to put a splint on it. Yes, the CT scan* showed a small break.) I remembered my bank card. I knew my address and door code and preexisting conditions. I had samples of my Rx meds. I even knew where the cat food was. In the operating room (KF reinforced my demand for general not local anesthesia when the doctor tried to convince me to let them do local), I guessed my weight in kilograms (not bad for a frightened and profusely bleeding English major from the U.S.). KF tells me that after the four-hour surgery, I turned and asked him whether we were still waiting for the operation to start.

     They put me in a room. I refused to use a bedpan so Z (a human resources person who came later) helped me use the toilet. She also helped me hire a carer, since Chinese hospital nurses don’t bring food or help with personal care. She helped until the carer arrived. When S (the school director) visited, I told her that Z deserved a couple of flex days for this.

     The carer, Jong, helped me eat. She put money on my hospital meal card and bough food at the canteen. She cut open the little bags of yogurt that were all I could eat at first. She brought millet porridge and steamed eggs, a roasted sweet potato, a sandwich (cut into bits) and sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. She raised and lowered the bed, helped me change shirts, brought me to the payment window when necessary, and called the nurses when something was wrong. Hospital patients without family nearby have to hire helpers or they won’t eat.

     The hospital kept asking for more and more money. That bag of emergency cash in my underwear drawer quite  possibly saved my life, or at least my face. I had nearly a month’s salary in there. The hospital doesn’t have Bank of China ATMs and they share their credit card swiping machines with another building, so I am glad I had cash. Sometimes in an emergency ONLY cash will do.

     Jong, spoke no English. Z wrote out some key words and phrases in Chinese and English. Otherwise, I used the Pleco Chinese-English dictionary app and an online translator. The nurses used translator apps.

     I picked up some Chinese, to the delight and amusement of my roommates. I learned how to say, “I want an apple/book/water” and “THAT HURTS”. I also mastered “ok” and “there’s none left”.

     I had to learn to talk about pain. There was a lot of it. The nurses were not proficient in the insertion of needles. I have three bruises on my left arm from their clumsy attempts. It should not take five tries to find a vein. When I’ve donated blood or done employment health checks, the phlebotomist always got it in one or two tries. One of the nurses said via phone app that it was because I am fat. I called her on that bullshit. She later apologized for calling me fat. That’s not the point. People of ALL sizes need and deserve good medical care.

     One night, the pain pump needle was bent and nobody would listen when I told them that the pain meds weren’t working. On the last night, as nurses fumbled with yet another malfunctioning IV, I yelled and thrashed and demanded that they TAKE IT OUT. It hurt so much and I couldn’t take it anymore. I refused to “calm down” until they took it out. No more chances. No more tries. They talked to the doctor and brought me some antibiotic PILLS instead. The final morning after stitch removal they wanted to inject “one more” syringe of painkiller. I said NO! I DO NOT CONSENT! They begged to try ONCE. Said it was already paid for, no refund. I allowed ONE try. That’s when the one nurse apologized for calling me fat.

     Pain control was also an issue during the nasal endoscopy. The spray anesthesia didn’t work enough. I said quite loudly, mid-scope, I CAN STILL FEEL PAIN. So Dr .Wang (the surgeon) gave me more until it worked. It is a bad combination to be sensitive to pain and insensitive to drugs.

     Later, Dr. Wang, all smiles, asked whether I’d lost weight in the hospital. Said I should really lose weight. Really. THAT’S your priority? Mine is healing enough to move and eat without pain.

     There are still stitches in my mouth and nasal passages. Half my nose, my upper lip, and part of my scalp are numb. Dr.Wang said the feeling will return in 6 months or a year. He said the internal sutures will dissolve. The attending, Dr.Fu, removed the external ones. That hurt.

     I have been surprisingly well supported throughout this ordeal. Coworkers brought ramen, yogurt, KFC, a pillow, bottled lattes, and gossip. One slipped me some codeine, which I didn’t use but held like a security blanket in case of complete pain med failure. KF sent a phone charger via S (school director). He later sent scar cream, a flashlight, a nightlight, gauze, and a fork. T bought cat food. M fed Chingu and brought some clothes and the computer from home. And sleeping pills (which didn’t do much, but were better than the completely ineffective yet painful sedative injection). J and L, my co-teachers, came on the last day with cards from students and big bags of bananas and dragon fruit. KF and P (another English teacher) shared tips for scar treatment. KF also had tips for one-handed functioning.

        I expect to return to work next Monday. This week, I am to rest. Both doctors Fu and Wang said that I should take a month off since I can’t use my wrist but I can’t afford that. I’m not really supposed to wear glasses on my broken face, but sometimes I need to see, so I’m using a cotton ball to pad them.

     Mr. Mehta from Tandoor Restaurant delivered tandoori chicken and butter naan and salad on Saturday night. He doesn’t normally deliver but KF asked. He also told me to WeChat him if I needed help and said I am not alone.      

     On Saturday, a few hours after suture removal, I was discharged. Jong helped with paperwork. M carried my bags. I walked awkwardly, crutch in the wrong hand. At the apartment, M carried clothes and bedding downstairs. She fetched me a McNugget meal and an iced latte. Chingu remained upstairs until over an hour after M had left.

     Yesterday, I got a green pedicure at D&L, a one-floor place near my new flat. The owner plied me with sunflower seeds, herbal tea, and Wi-Fi while she finished with the previous client. Cost was 80 RMB. I will be back. She was so careful with my injuries. AND she had a western toilet.

         This week, I read The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book. Now I’m reading Lords and Ladies.

     Tomorrow, I can finally take a shower.

     My bruised right knee and shin hurt. So do wrist, shoulders, ears, eyes, hip, and face. Not all at once. They mix and match like a dance. My face is still swollen and I have two black eyes. I walk like I’m 90. The thought of narrow stairs frightens me. The numb places itch. I can breathe through my nose, though. And smell. And eat.

     I’m sleeping downstairs. The couch is much more comfortable than the bed anyway. KF said he thought we should get some guys to bring my dresser downstairs.

     The school insurance will pay for 80% of the hospital costs, not including Jong’s  services (170RMB/day). I was in a better position to pay for medical care than many local people. I had savings. Privilege.

       I can now put on a shirt, and jeans easily enough. Shoes are… difficult. I am wearing the thoroughly broken-in brown DMs. Three-quarter sleeve shirts are ideal when one has a splinted forearm. Soon I will need to do laundry. I dare not climb apartment stairs yet, so it’s ask a coworker or schlep to cleaners.  I need a bag that goes over my shoulder. The left hand is for the crutch and right wrist cannot take weight, though its fingers can move just fine. My shoulders are tired and bruised (right) but adequate.

     When I return to work, I will need a lot of help. I can’t carry anything, not even (or especially) a meal tray. Certainly not stacks of books. Can’t write well either. Or run for the bus. I’d like to talk more with KF about how to manage with mobility impairment and injury. He had really good ideas.

*While in the CT scan, I tried to calm down by pretending I was Dr. Strange going through a dimensional portal. When Dr. Fu removed stitches, I thought about the Igors and Igorinas in Discworld novels. Sometimes escapism is necessary.

Posted by: lklinger2013 | November 6, 2016

Ten things make a post

  1. I  mailed off my absentee ballot a few days ago.
  2. This job takes up more time than any of my previous overseas teaching jobs. The 1.5 hour (each way) commute has something to do with this. So does the quaint Chinese custom of having school on the Sunday after a holiday to make up for lost time.
  3. I am still “covering” the classes of the new  American teacher who the administration finally admits is not coming. They say that they have interviewed other candidates and that someone might be coming in December (at the end of the semester).
  4. One of the British English teachers left. The other A-level English teachers had to absorb his courseload. I worry about what will happen if we lose another teacher.
  5. Micromanagement and erratic behavior on the part of the English coordinator have driven at least one other English teacher close to quitting. Example: he accidentally left someone off the English department’s email list, sent out some important information to everyone on the list, and then sent me a furious email when I forwarded the important email to the person who needed it. He informed me that it was UNETHICAL to share an email with anyone who was not on the recipient list, even after I explained that I had ONLY shared it with a member of my own department who needed the information. In subsequent emails, he falsely accused another member of the administration of “fishing for information” about the English department and said in so many words that in order to trust us English teachers, he needed to know that our primary loyalty was to him.
  6. Besides the fact that I signed a two-year contract and a one-year lease, what keeps me here is the quality of the students. They are the brightest I have ever taught anywhere. They talk about neurotransmitters, quantum physics, world history, and and cultural differences. It is a pleasure to watch them grapple and play with ideas.
  7. I have scarcely drawn or painted at all since coming to China. I wish I could find a class. On the other hand, I often wonder what is the point of creating an art at all. Does anyone even want it?
  8. Once in class, a student said that the Jews deserved to die in the Holocaust because they had ruined the German economy. I told him that first, you NEVER say that millions of people deserve to die like that and second, that’s my family he’s talking about. I didn’t lose my temper. At his age, I said plenty of heartless and ignorant things. I probably still do, especially when under the influence of white privilege. This student often talks flippantly about killing, bombing, and stealing and so on, but he needs to learn that there are some things you Just. Don’t. Say. (At this point, another student, obviously doing damage control, quickly started talking about a Jewish athlete he’d read about recently.) I think he got the point because later he talked about Albert Einstein emigrating to the U.S. to escape the Nazis.
  9. Another time, a fat student stood up to give a short presentation (students take turns giving  a 3-5 minute presentation at the beginning of every class). He asked his classmates what he should talk about and a tall skinny boy said, “losing weight!” I told him not to say such things. Soon, another student suggested computer games as a topic, and that’s what the first student presented about. I do not allow personal attacks in my class.
  10. I’m becoming friends with the school librarian. A few weeks ago, she and I went to a Korean coffee shop called Maan. It even has patbingsu and fruit waffles.
Posted by: lklinger2013 | October 5, 2016

Still alive and twitching

This week, there are no classes due to the Chinese national holiday. Aside from sleeping late and reading, I’ve not done much. The other day, I went to Carrefour for the first time. In front of the store itself was an art vendor, who sold me the first painting paper I’ve bought in China. It’s time to get back to painting. I have hardly painted at all here. Haven’t felt like it. Painting seemed pointless, partly because I doubted whether I had any original ideas and partly because I didn’t think anyone would want to look at anything I painted. I am still lonely here.

I’m thinking about those Asian longhorn beetles that are called sky cows in Korean and Mandarin Chinese. I’m also thinking about red-eared sliders and other invasive species. As a native speaking English teacher in China, I am an invader. I teach Chinese high school students who plan to go study in the U.S. and Canada, invaders in the other direction. I want to paint something with at least two invasive species in it, a sort of fusion reflecting my training in traditional East Asian brush painting with my own (Western) ideas. I don’t want to do any more copying.

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Posted by: lklinger2013 | July 19, 2016

Teaching the Rainbow

The school year ended last week. Two days from now, I will fly to the States to visit family and friends. Despite teaching some controversial topics in the year 12 uni prep class, I am still employed by the same foreign language high school’s international center. For new readers: I teach at a residential high school for elite Chinese students who will study abroad in English-speaking countries. Uni Prep, a new course, covered cultural and practical aspects to living in an English-speaking country. I taught the US-bound students. Another teacher taught the UK-bound students.

For the formal teaching observation, which took place in May, I taught a lesson about LGBTQIA: what the letters mean, the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, and some etiquette regarding pronouns and slurs. I had students pair up to discuss gay rights. I made a PowerPoint, including a photo of Jin Xing*, a famous Chinese trans woman who is a dancer and TV show host. When I explained about asexual people, or aces, my boss called out, “Sheldon Cooper!” I told students that whatever their personal feelings about people of different sexual orientation and gender identity, they would definitely meet such people when they studied in the U.S. Some of their future classmates and professors will identify somewhere on the ever-increasing spectrum of sex and gender diversity. (I didn’t mention that, statistically speaking, at least a couple of students in that room would probably turn out to be gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or ace.)

The students cooperated, more so than they had during regular classes, when the realization that they had already gained admission to elite universities and nothing they did from now on short of burning down the school would affect their transcripts had a certain effect upon attendance. They paid attention, asked questions, and shared opinions. Nobody fell asleep. I didn’t have to confiscate any cell phones. The computer AND the projector screen worked. The only “misbehavior” that the boss noted was that the students spoke some Chinese to each other. Overall, the class was a success.

I hadn’t set out to teach a risky lesson for my observation. The class was almost over and the students needed this lesson before they went abroad. And okay, yes, I did want an interesting class.

On the final exam, I asked students what was the most surprising or shocking thing they learned about in class. Students mentioned this lesson and the unit on U.S. religions (for which I carefully obtained permission from the directors before teaching) more than any of the others. They said that they had never been taught about this subject before. They told me that no Chinese teacher would dare talk about homosexuality in class.

I received  positive feedback from the boss. On the written form, he said, “The presenting of a potentially difficult topic was handled with much professionalism and candor.” At this point, the boss** has probably figured out that I’m not exactly straight, but he hasn’t asked and I haven’t told.


*Students said that her name means “Golden Star.”

** And students– though they are too polite to ask. They haven’t even asked such basics as “How old are you?”, “Are you married?”, and “What’s wrong with your leg?”

Posted by: lklinger2013 | July 2, 2016

Why are You alone?: Furong Jie and the Temple of Confucius

Last weekend, I checked out Furong Jie (Water Lily Street) a traditional shopping street across from Parc 66 (a big shopping center in downtown Jinan). It is a loud, crowded gauntlet of shops and food stands, mostly selling fried squid, colorful drinks, and souvenirs. I bought a lemonade with basil seeds from a vampire-themed drink stand. Not bad. The seeds, black dots coated in clear jelly, looked like frog eggs. (Incidentally, those tapioca pearls in bubble tea were called “frog eggs” when they first became popular in Taiwan, but got rebranded when they came to English-speaking countries.)

I photographed wall murals and stone lions and bought traditional snacks. I tried not to breathe too deeply while walking past all the cooking squid.

Halfway down the street lies a small temple to Guandi, a mortal (Guan Yu) who, after his death, became a war god. I ducked inside for a few minutes. Not much was going on. A couple of people were looking around and taking photos. Incense burned in front of the statue of Guandi himself.

At the very end of Furong Jie is Fuxue Confucian temple. The latter is a refuge of quiet in a noisy, crowded city. It costs 10 RMB to visit. Unlike at Buddhist temples, I saw nobody kneeling or praying. Instead of gilded Buddhas and Bodhisatvas, there were colorfully painted wooden statues of Confucian scholars. When I described the place to students, they told me that it had been a place to study Confucianism.

Near the temple is a drink place with seats. I had an icy mango-coconut concoction that was perfect for a hot day. The woman working the counter (I think her family owns the place) asked to practice her English with me. She said her English name was Gromit (from the stop-motion animated show). When her husband Louis stopped by, she asked whether I thought he looked like Wallace. No, he had hair. And average-sized ears.

Gromit asked why I was alone*. I had no good answer. I looked up the word “introvert” on the English-Chinese dictionary app. She protested that I seemed friendly and was still a human being. Yes, I’m a human being but apparently not the kind that other human beings care to associate with. Yes, there are lots of other foreign teachers at my school, but not one has accepted my invitations to go with me when I explore the city.  Because reasons. They’re busy or tired or broke. They all live in faculty housing and I don’t. They’d rather watch TV. They prefer to go out drinking. They’re cool and I’m not. I admit it: the loneliness is getting to me.

Gromit and I exchanged WeChat info but that probably means nothing. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope so.


*Readers, this is NOT an invitation to comment with “the reason nobody likes you.” I’ve had enough of those little speeches from so-called friends to last a lifetime.20160625_165913.jpg20160625_18255220160625_18261720160625_18314120160625_18385420160626_15030220160626_15124220160626_15263020160626_15313920160626_162247




Posted by: lklinger2013 | June 1, 2016

… and speaking of toilets

They replaced the broken toilet seat at work. One morning, a couple of days after the assistant director promised that it would be fixed, a couple of cleaning ladies enthusiastically waved me into the restroom.

I don’t know whether anyone else complained about the broken toilet, but I’m sure that the pregnant Chinese teachers and the other foreign teachers experienced relief.

The foundation that runs the school is building a new campus. I hope– but know better than to expect– that the new campus will have more accessible bathrooms.

Posted by: lklinger2013 | June 1, 2016

Venturing out to Bai Hua Park and other Places

Last weekend was busier than usual for me. Friday afternoon, I checked out the Shandong Museum of Science and Technology, which is right next to Quancheng Square and Parc 66 shopping center. Admission to the museum is free. It has elevators, escalators, vending machines, a snack bar, and one small gift shop. Some of the exhibits have bilingual signage, but others are all in Chinese. I toddled around, pressing buttons and batting at all the hands-on mechanical exhibits. I glanced at the biology displays (not the most impressive I’ve ever seen), and inadvertently skipped the main drawing point: the 3D and 4D movies. I may go back to see those. As I peered into kaleidoscopes, two giggling young women asked permission to take a selfie with me. I indulged them.

In Quancheng Square, I lingered under an overhang, admiring paintings and bronze sculptures. A loud CRACK caught my attention. Then another. And more. Three men repeatedly whipped at spinning, bullet-shaped metal tops.

Later, I went to Parc 66 for a hamburger, fruit-and-frozen yogurt dessert, and an iced latte. This charming creature welcomed me to the burger shop.


The next day, I went to Bai Hua Gonyuan (100 Flowers Park). This is also free. The end of May isn’t the best time to go: too late for cherry blossoms and too early for lotus, but I saw plenty of birds and trees. Azure-winged magpies, sparrows, and blackbirds were everywhere, though I saw few insects. Near an as-yet unfilled cement pool, music played, people danced solo and in couples, and adults and children kicked a ball around. People from a children’s hospital handed out plastic fans. I plan to go back to this park in late June or early July to see the lotus blossoms. At this time, there were pink and yellow water lilies. No dragonflies yet, but I have hopes.

Sunday, the year 12 students from my school celebrated their commencement at a fancy  convention center sort of place. A teacher from the U.S. emceed. Younger students filmed the ceremony. Four students read an original poem in Chinese and English. A video played of students singing the class song (written by a student). The principal and a parent gave speeches. Then a coordinator of programs abroad from San Francisco gave a speech. All speeches had accompanying translations projected on a large screen behind the stage. Students donated a sculpture to the school: lotus blossoms with student handprints. (Note: the lotus is the symbol of Jinan city). Parents gave flowers to the new graduates. The principal handed them diplomas and school t-shirts. The ceremony was relatively short: only an hour and a half. Students wore red robes during some parts, but not during others. The boys wore suits. Most of the girls had transformed themselves into sparkling elves and princesses, complete with satin dresses, tiaras, and make-up. One girl wore a suit and bowtie. I was happy that she was allowed to do that.

Toward the end of the ceremony, I realized I desperately needed a restroom. Surely a fancy place like this would have at least one western toilet? They did, but it was locked. Back teeth floating, I went to a service counter and begged the staff member for help with my limited Mandarin and some expressive body language. She took hold of my upper arm and walked me to the bathroom. She pointed at the squat toilets. I shook my head, saying in English, “No, I can’t do that!” and pointing at the locked stall. Finally she opened it. When I was finished, she took my arm again. I broke away before we reached the door to exit the building, telling her thank you and I was okay. I didn’t understand why that stall was locked, but at least the bus ride home would be bearable. When I told a coworker about this, he said that he had deliberately dehydrated himself* so he wouldn’t need to use a restroom.

This insistence on western toilets is not mere xenophobic squeamishness. I can’t squat. My hips won’t bend that way. Readers of this blog might think I am obsessed with toilets. I do like a poop joke as much as the next (twelve year-old) person, but it’s more than that. You try holding it in for a few hours and see how often you think about restrooms.

Most big places like parks or malls have at least one handicap stall with a toilet I can use. Sometimes, it’s locked. Or full of cleaning supplies. Concern over finding accessible toilets has made me slow to explore my new home. (Er, slower. There’s also the language barrier, my bad sense of direction, and my ignorance of the bus system.) Even so, I’m checking out more new places these days. Maybe when I have some time off I’ll even try visiting another city… as long as it has toilets.




*Many kinds of people in the U.S. routinely dehydrate themselves due to limited bathroom access: teachers and nurses (no time to go); trans and gender non-conforming people (risk of harassment or arrest for using the “wrong” bathroom); and disabled people. When I lived in the States, I was privileged in being able-bodied enough and cis-gendered enough not to worry about bathroom access. Even when I wore masculine clothing and a buzz cut, nobody bothered me in the bathroom. In the current political climate, I would be more worried about using a public bathroom in the U.S. while looking androgynous.

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