The Tale of 3 Burgers

I ate 3 burgers this weekend and learned something new as a result of each one.

The Story of Burger #1

I was scheduled to go to Beijing on Thursday night via a sleeper train. I needed to go to Beijing to handle some paperwork that couldn’t be done in Shanghai (its a long story about paperwork and bureaucracy, so unless you are a paper-pusher-fetishist, you can thank me for skipping over it). I told the taxi driver to go to the train station, but the driver did not clarify which of Shanghai’s three stations and brought me to the wrong station. I blame myself for not specifying and for not monitoring the progress from my phone. The reason I didn’t use DiDi or follow my progress on the phone is my phone was low on battery and I was saving it for the train.

Which brings us to…

Lesson #1: Always have a fully charged phone when beginning an adventure. Seems obvious, doesn’t it?

So, I missed the train. At first, I was more disappointed with myself than angry about the lost money or opportunity. I needed to collect my thoughts, so I sat down in the terminal and talked myself through the situation. That is about when the fury with myself came in. It was the first time I had had a good cry in quite a while.

When the tears began I realized to what extent I was overreacting, I felt a voice in the back of my skull ask why I was. I laughed at myself, stood up, and walked to the nearest Burger King. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast; I had skipped breakfast to plan this last-minute trip. And there was no doubt in my mind that I was more susceptible to stress as a result.

And if I was going to eat food to settle me down, I figured I might as well eat some comfort food. And so I ate Burger #1. 

It was bloody awful. Probably the worst burgers I have ever eaten. Didn’t even come with french fries! But it calmed me down and I got home without incident.

The Story of Burger #2

Friday was not an easy day at work. Many of my colleagues contributed to my Beijing plans, a few changed their schedules around for my convenience, and I had to backtrack on a commitment I gave for Friday in order to go to Beijing. I had to explain and apologize to everyone for what happened and was embarrassed every time, despite all the efforts by others to blame the cab driver. It was an emotionally draining day. After work, I went home and immediately took a nap. I was prepared to spend the evening in my apartment, watching movies, drinking alone, and just recuperating.

Until Harry texted me while he was shopping at Walmart. He told me to meet him at the McDonalds on the bottom floor of the Walmart in half an hour. “come get fat with me” And so I did. I pulled my heavy head out of bed and met him at McDonalds. He knew I needed to get out of the apartment.

We ordered and went to sit down, when we saw Kristen and Luis at a table waiting for their food. We sat down and joined them; Kristen was visibly upset about something. We listened to her vent. Their food came first. While they were eating and we were still waiting for ours, we spotted Vicki and James looking for a table–luckily there was another table available next to us. They also described their need for something familiar.

I got a small double cheeseburger, fries, and some chicken nuggets for us to share. Burger #2 was fantastic. After my horrible experience at Burger King, that small McDonalds cheeseburger restored my faith in what a burger can be. And no, this is not sponsored content by McDonald’s. It was just exactly what I needed in my life at that moment.

After we had our food, an Irish PE teacher came in after he was done with the gym and a primary teacher came into McDonalds as well! He had had a Bad China day.

Without any coordination, 8 of us in 6 groupings from the same school had felt the need for something familiar. We all shared our frustrations and swapped encouragement and support. We had all been brought together to feel something familiar and we found something friendly. Food truly is the great uniter.

Lesson #2: Friends matter. Don’t be afraid to rely on them.

The Story of Burger #3

I made plans with Hannah on Sunday night to go to an Indian restaurant she had been dying to try. We left at 7pm. It was an hour-long bike ride away, but I hadn’t worked out that day, so I figured it would be an opportunity to get some exercise.

So I rented a bike and we got going. (Bike rentals are incredibly cheap; I spent 10rmb–or $1.50–on this whole evening’s bike adventures, which, as you are about to see, are substantial). The journey would have taken an adventure had we known where we going. The maps apps we were using did not update as we moved, so we went past where we needed to go quite substantially. When we arrived at the location the maps app had directed us, I locked the bike I was using (which ends the rental) so we could walk around the mall to find the restaurant. We couldn’t find it.

So, ever the resilient people, we found a new restaurant we wanted to try. But we couldn’t find a Mobike to rent–the one I had used to get there was rented by someone else. I don’t have any of the other apps active. The new restaurant was only a mile away, so I offered to run next to Hannah on her bike to get there.

It was closed.

At this point, it was 830. I was very hungry and more than a little sweaty. And Hannah and I were (semi-) jokingly saying very nasty things about and to each other in order to let off some steam. I proposed we head back to the fancy burger place we had passed to get to this dead end. They were a Michelin-star runner-up last year for their burgers–totally worth it going to while we were in the neighborhood. The fact that it was so highly regarded (and frequently recommended to us to try) meant it was in a league higher than the likes of the King and the Clown.

We sat down to wait for a menu. 10 minutes elapsed. Hannah and I played rock-paper-scissors to determine who would get up to get us a menu. I won. She returned with menus. We figured out what we wanted. Waited another 10 minutes. I got up and walked to the bar to order our food. While there, I asked for ice water.

Our food came reasonably quickly. Time to dig into a well-recommended $14 burger and enjoy a fancy-looking chocolate-mint shake! It had been 2 hours since we had left, we had burned 600 calories to get here, so my excitement for this first bite could not have been higher…

Burger #3 was probably the most average-tasting burger I could image. It had some flavor. The bread was soft, but flavorless. They didn’t grill the bun! There was absolutely nothing good about this burger.

The chocolate-mint shake wasn’t that sweet nor was it minty. It could be described as drinking thick dark chocolate milk. The fries were the same you could expect at a Denny’s and the ketchup was a house-specialty and had about as much flavor as a thrown-away tomato at a Walmart. I was legitimately baffled by how this place was so well-regarded. I will have some choice words for those who recommended it to me.

Hannah and I did not let the disappointing food ruin our evening; we enjoyed a fantastic and insightful conversation–an occupation Hannah excels at. We talked for about 30 minutes after we finished eating–it was now around 11pm.

We got up to go and walked to her bike. She stopped and slapped me. We hadn’t paid. They didn’t give us the bill! We, of course, had to get up and ask for it!

We walked back in and paid, though I argued (for the sake of it) that they did not deserve to be paid for a disappointing meal and terrible service. Hannah, who had been a server in a previous life, insisted that the difference would have come out of the employees’ paycheck and could not live with herself for stealing the food. We paid. Bitterly.

It took us a while to find me a bike for the return journey. A long while. So I continued to run. We passed several bikes that were out of commission and in need of repair. I finally found out, rented it and began riding. The seat was broken, so its vibrations were colliding with all of the wrong places. So I needed to switch bikes.

I rode that one until we found another. Switched to bike #3 of the evening. I so wish this would have been the last one so I could title this post “3 Burgers and 3 Bikes” but no. This one had a wonky chain. That eventually snapped on me! (Don’t worry, I won’t be charged for it). But it did cause me to crash–without injury. And I had to walk to find a new bike.

We got home at 1230. My legs were sore from propelling broken heavy bikes. I had sweated through both my shirt and undershirt.  I chugged what felt like a gallon of water when I got home.

But, I learned something important that night.

Lesson #3: I need to buy my own bike.

Oh and also:

Lesson #4: With friends, all things are possible.

Including the enjoyment of a disappointing dinner, the endurance of a rough night, and the escape from a bad weekend.

To my friends reading this and to those who participated in it: Thank you. 

Love and appreciation to all.

 

 

 

 

 

On Companionship

One thing I love about Shanghai is the guilt-free ability to take long showers.

My hair is still wet as I write here what I was thinking about in the shower.

I am someone who craves companionship and doesn’t fully embrace friendship. By companionship, I mean–I want someone to be my best friend. I want a significant other–regardless of whether there is a romantic side to things or not. I, perhaps, feel as though if I find a companion who I click with at every possible dimension, I will finally be a complete person. This is, of course, hogwash.

But it explains why I am so quick to let whither friendships that I can tell cannot be companionships. It explains why I am so easy to fall in love with people, despite knowing that due to our situation or their personality, we simply are not star-crossed lovers.

And in the shower, I realized that I am growing friendships here, but nowhere has it been more apparent to me that I lack a companion–and that that is okay.

Moreover, it is a useful challenge for myself to learn how to live more independently. To use various friendships and the support and engagement they can provide to enhance my experiences and stabilize my mental health.

For example, Don is the guy I talk to whenever I want someone to teach me something about soccer, kindness, or beer. I can talk to Kat whenever I want to feel inspired to follow my passions, travel the world, and to do good. I talk to Harry when I need to feel down-to-earth or when I need a jolly laugh. Whenever I feel like engaging in deep philosophical discussions, Hannah (who I have not formally introduced here; different Hannah from the one in the Oktoberfest picture) is my go-to. When I want to discuss coping with mental health problems, Hannah’s boyfriend Dan has been a valuable resource. Though none of these friendships are exclusive to those topics or experiences, I can be assured that if I feel like I need one of those experiences, I can talk to the designated person.

I used to think this type of friendship was exploitative or that I was pigeonholing my friends, but I’ve come to realize that just because an attribute of a friendship might be the foundation, it does not have to be the framing, interior design, and exterior painting.

I have also come to realize that it is genuinely unfair to expect one person to provide or be the source of all the support and interaction someone needs in life.

It is also useful to me to have a better understanding of what it is I need in my relationships with other people; I want a better glimpse of what I can provide myself, what I seek in my relationships with others, and why I find tiresome in others as well. In other words, I am collecting data for both how what I want, expect, and need in a companion and how I can be a better friend and eventual companion to others.

This genuinely feels like a mind-altering realization, but it is not yet complete. I hope you will challenge me on these thoughts. I eagerly encourage any feedback or comments to my thinking here. I need it, friends.

On the First Few Weeks

Hello all,

I’m sorry its been a while since my last post. As I am sure you can understand, it has been quite busy here. There isn’t much point in detailing every aspect of the past few weeks, so instead, I will tell a few stories with the pictures I have managed to take. Let’s begin with an unglamorous, but useful picture:

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After the first day of classes, most of us in Building 5 gathered in someone’s apartment to discuss our first impressions of our students. Consider it a mass therapy session. I know its not a well-composed photograph, but I genuinely enjoy candid pictures that capture the essence of a moment, and I think this does that. No one but me knew the picture was being taken.

To introduce some of our players so you can put faces to names. We will go anti-clockwise starting with me. Immediately behind me is Kayla, a middle school English teacher from Stockton. Sitting in the chair next to Kayla is John–who was a BMX coach in his native England. He and his significant other, Kat, (who is on the other side of him) have been travelling around Asia for the past year-and-a-half, including volunteering teaching English for a semester in the slums of India. He is a PE teacher; Kat is a high school English teacher. Her office is directly behind mine, so we have become quite close walking to and from the office. Kat is closest person to Mary Poppins I have ever met.

Next to Kat in the blue shirt is Don, who I have talked about previously. I’ve also mentioned the next two people: sitting on the floor is Emily and by the door is Harry. Here is a moment we all shared the first week in an underground bar (no, those aren’t our first drinks of the evening).

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To finish the introductions above: on the couch talking to Harry is Kristen and her husband Luis from Nashville. Kristen is an elementary teacher and Luis teaches biology. I have spent quite a bit of time with them as well!

So now that you have a brief introduction to everyone, let’s start with telling you about Tiger…

After the first two weeks, Harry–a PE teacher–was desperate for a good workout and knew I, too, wanted to find a gym to frequent. He came downstairs, banged on my door, and ordered me to get ready to sign up for the gym.  We knew full-well that signing up for a membership was going to be a difficulty erected by the language barrier, so we braced ourselves for a stressful time and went to the gym–about a 15-minute walk away on the fourth floor of a mall.

When we arrived, the women at the desk immediately got on the phone and without words, prompted us to sit down. A tall lanky man in his low-to-mid-twenties came out with a big smile and shook our hands. “I’m Tiger!”

We shook his hand and talked about signing up for membership and though his English wasn’t spectacular, the combination of guessing and liberal use of translating apps, we could carry a conversation with him. While I filled out the paperwork, Harry asked him why he chose the name Tiger (for the golfer, naturally) and what he liked to do in Shanghai (oh, you’ll see later in the story).  As Harry did the same, I talked to him about basketball–he is a huge LeBron James fan–he once had dreams of playing professionally, but his ambitions were cut short by a knee injury. As we finished the paperwork and were prepared to start our workout, Tiger asked us if we would like to have drinks with him at 10pm that night. That was quite late for us and Harry was reluctant to do it, but I–wanting to make deliberate choices to be more adventurous–pushed him to agree to do it. Tiger said drinks would be his treat; neither Harry nor myself would ever consider passing up free food and we certainly did not want to refuse his generosity. We agreed to meet him. Wanting to be somewhat safe, we suggested a restaurant in the mall by the gym and Harry and I agreed privately that we wouldn’t go to any other location.

We went home, showered, and then walked to a restaurant near the mall for dinner, where we each got a beer. We finished eating, went to our designated meeting spot with Tiger, got another round of beer, and waited. By 1015, we were talking about leaving. Until he showed up with his girlfriend, who went by Joy. They brought with them a grocery-bag filled with beer. (Note: in China, it is perfectly acceptable to bring your own drinks with you to restaurants. And indeed, most restaurants do not serve many drink options, so its essentially expected you BYOB).

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There are 11 beers in this picture. What I failed to capture was that each of us had already been served one and Tiger had drank one as they walked over. Joy informed us that she would only be having one beer, so it then fell on the three of us to finish the rest.

Every few minutes, Tiger would raise his can and proclaim, “Ganbei!” the Chinese equivalent to “Cheers!” or “Prost!” and, he informed us, it was traditional for the guests to keep drinking until the host put his glass (or can) down. And so Harry and I did–keep in mind, we had already consumed 2 half-litres bottles of beer at dinner and while waiting for him. Yeah, its that kind of evening.

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Little did we know, however, that Tiger had called ahead to order a platter of food, partly seen above. (I took this picture because, well, let’s just say I recognized I would not have remembered much of the evening otherwise).  The platter he ordered was, what he claimed, a collection of his favorite foods, but I suspect he ordered it to challenge our Western sensibilities. I’m sorry I didn’t take more detailed pictures, but the essence of the dinner can be seen above.

On the top of the tower was my least favorite item available: Duck feet. It was all bone and skin that you hate by sucking out the juices. It was flavored quite spicy, so I had one to try, then avoided them. Would not recommend.

Beneath the duck feet on the tower is what I enjoyed the most: bullfrog. It had the texture of a thick fish and was deliciously flavored. However, like most Chinese food, the bones and cartilage are left in–doing so enhances the flavor, but makes eating more of a challenge. Especially with chopsticks!

What looks like an orange fish is an absolutely wonderful mango-gelatin dessert. The was none left at the end of the night.

Not pictured is another item I did not much enjoy; ox stomach. It was incredibly chewy quite spicy, so I avoided it after a few bites. In the bowl closest to Joy in the picture was a fantastic steamed potato dish that was the most comforting food to eat there.

But in the bowl closest to me was the biggest surprise of the evening. When the bowl was placed on the table, I immediately recognized what it was. Being quite drunk, it was the first thing I took a bite of.

And it was delicious. It melts in your mouth; the flavor coats your tongue. No chewing is necessary.

I told Harry to try it; without hesitation, he picked his chopsticks through it and ate it. He asked what that was. I asked if he really wanted to know.

It was pig’s brain.

Tiger complimented us on our bravery and willingness to try everything. I probably ate the frog the most, with the brain second. Despite having had dinner a few hours prior to this feast and having gone through a not-insignificant quantity of beer, we ate and talked and drank until they kicked us out at 1230 in the morning.

We were the only customers left. We attempted to leave a tip; they abjectly refused. We offered to split the cost with Tiger; he abjectly refused. We said our goodbyes–he and Joy were going to visit her parents for a few weeks. Despite the praise of our ability to eat, Tiger was disappointed that we hadn’t drank more–I think he was prepared to get another 16-pack. Harry and I promised that when they returned, we would bring Tiger around town and this time we would pay. So I have to look forward to sometime in the next few weeks.

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Alright, switching gears. This is an almost complete 3-D printed model of the school that the students are constructing for the school’s 25th Anniversary celebration. The blue arrow is my apartment; the red arrow is to my office. The walk takes less than 5 minutes.

732833661672966237.jpgOne of my favorite parts of campus is the colony of semi-feral cats that live here. The guards feed them at night, but they stick around on campus full time. I’ve never seen a mouse or rat on campus and I am sure they are a reason why. There are a few kittens around; the teachers who live off campus either adopt them or find a friend to do so before they get too old. They aren’t exactly friendly, but most don’t mind if you pet them, which I, of course, do on occasion.

The cats are somewhat of a school mascot. There is a club on campus that raises money to treat them for any medical issues and to pay for their food. If someone adopts a kitten, the club will even pay to spay or neuter them and ensure they have all their shots. But there is a much sharper line in Chinese culture between wild and domesticated animals–even cats. So the locals refuse to get the feral cats fixed until they are adopted.

The picture is intended to demonstrate how hot and humid its been here, but also how fearless they are. They sit around the lunch area while the kids are eating; they’ll jump on the tables and follow you around if they know you have food or if you scratched them in a particularly excellent way.

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Despite having an office, I do not always have to work there. This old stone Go table is my favorite place to work. The building you see in the background is where my office is, so its near enough to not be hassle to get to. Behind the table is a heavily forested area, so I can feel like I am a part of nature while being apart of it.

There is also a cafe for teachers only to work and meet in where I frequently find myself working. Think of a toned-down gentleman’s cigar and cognac club, but with coffee and red pens instead.

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Last weekend, a group of us went to an Oktoberfest party. Since we have a few new people here, I will reintroduce everyone. Behind me on either side is married-couple Don and Sarah. The woman doing the sorority-squat is recent college grad (and sorority member) Sam, an elementary school teacher. Next to her is Hannah; they are best friends from their undergrad sorority and embarked on this journey together. They very much act like sisters. The tall woman in the back is Dana, who is also a PE teacher. And you all should be familiar with Harry and Emily by now. Between Emily and Hannah is Kayla (wearing sunglasses). More on her another time.

This was the only picture of the food I managed to get. They gave us these platters of food and we just dug in. There was all sorts of potato stuff, sauerkraut (naturally), sausages, various deli meats. There were only three beer options and none were especially good. But what they lacked in quality, we more than made up for in quantity.

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The last thing I will post here is the activity I have added to my schedule that I am most excited about. I am one of two coaches for the school’s baseball team! There is a baseball club on campus, but the school wants to field an official competitive team. So they recruited myself and a middle school teacher named Dane to lead the team. He played through college (including with a bunch of current major leaguers!), so he will probably do most of the coaching. But I am planning on keeping track of and integrating baseball statistics into our team.

We are beginning by having a teachers vs students baseball game, which you can see us preparing for below. I am coaching the teacher’s team; Dane is coaching the unofficial students’ team. Yes, I already have official school merchandise!!! 596566546786307811.jpg690937243671554846.jpg441907577987115002.jpg

My other extra-curricular activity is a competitive History team that I will be leading. Think a cross between academic decathlon and spelling bee, but purely for history. I went to a meeting to talk with my club members; the photography club happened to be immediately next to us. A member of the club (and a student in my 12th grade class!) snapped what has to be one of my favorite pictures of me ever taken. 54091961005074485.jpg

And that is where I’ll leave you.

Thanks for all of the love, support, and interest,

Atticus

PS: So as to not leave you all hanging for so long, my new goal is to publish shorter posts more frequently. Hope you won’t mind!