Legit Concerns, Best Laid Plans, Whatever

When Harold and I started dating, we were working together at Next Island. I really loved working with him, whether it was there, or last summer when we worked on Star Trek: Rivals together, or when we met at Merscom five years ago.

When I introduced Harold to my parents… well, this was more when I introduced him as my boyfriend than the first time they’d met. My parents had already met him, as my friend and then as my in-denial-about-dating friend. (I found one of my old journals when I was packing for Yangzhou, and there were literally pages and pages about how just because I spend all my time with Harold, that doesn’t mean he’s my boyfriend or anything. Delusional explanations I wrote to myself. I am great at emotional maturity.) My parents already liked Harold but my mom wasn’t really happy about me dating someone at work.

She raised some pretty reasonable objections: Dating at work doesn’t usually end well, and if we broke up, I’d have to see my jerkface ex-boyfriend every day.  If the relationship did work out well, in such a volatile industry, it would be foolish to have all our income tied to one company. Pretty legit concerns.

Anyway, now Harold and I are married and in two different countries and still working on cool game projects together. 

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Marco Polo

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Detail of a photocopy of a map drawn by a previous expat teacher. I paid extra for an iPhake with a workable map app, but I really like the idea of a hand-drawn map of the city’s highlights, and maybe adding my own notes for the next teacher.

A Song of Bing and Huo

I’ve been reading A Song of Ice and Fire, thanks to SuperDan’s recommendation, which means I’ve been lying in front of my room fan in my underwear, trying to remember what being cool felt like, and reading about how winter is coming. Can’t come soon enough for me, Starks. I’ve just finished A Feast for Crows, which ends with a little note from George R. R. Martin, saying that he’s totally going to tell us what’s going on with Jon Snow and Daenerys and the rest of the characters we barely saw in Crows, and that book will be called A Dance With Dragons, and it’s coming soon. I requested Dragons from Chapel Hill Public Library as soon as I finished Crows, but I was waitlisted because the second-to-last person in the entire world to read A Song of Ice and Fire is still finishing it.

It was only about two days of waiting before I got an email saying my ebook was ready, but I was wating anxiously to see what happens next. Good thing I didn’t read them all as they came out, or it would have been six years of waiting anxiously  between Crows and Dragons.

Key Words

I’m really lucky that when I’m at a bit of a career crossroads, and I decide to spend a few months back in China, I can easily do it. I try to keep this constantly in mind, as if by being more aware of it, I can be more deserving of the opportunity. Really, I’m able to find a job here mostly because I happen to be a native English speaker at a time when foreign English teachers are in great demand.  I do put effort into my work — I plan interesting lessons, I work to be a better teacher, after being granted a work visa as a completely unskilled new grad, I now have years of teaching experience — but I can’t forget just how much of this opportunity is mine by luck. My native language is in demand, I didn’t do anything special.

This morning, the staff needed my keycard for a minute, and then we had a bit of a misunderstanding, basically I thought someone was bringing me the key when they thought I was picking it up. And then when I realized what happened, I thought I’d go pick it up, but of course now someone was dispatched to give it to me, so it wasn’t there, and I’m boring myself explaining this. It was the kind of misunderstanding that occurs regularly when you have a toneless, tiny Chinese vocabulary, and you’re still determined to do everything yourself. And by you here I obviously mean me.

Then the housekeeper came to my room to give me my keycard, and I thanked her. I tried to use a complete sentence, and as I was struggling with it (You guys. My Chinese is really, really bad.), she said “your key” in English.

So, the person who takes out my trash is better at English than I am at Chinese.

 

Lady Laowei

Before I came to Yawalkngzhou, I wanted to live in the housing arranged by the school, but I specifically asked not to have to share a room. When I was told that a single would be no problem, I was so very proud of my negotiation skills and of my work experience. Clearly I provide so much value that my employers wants to make me comfortable and happy! I’m so great!

Now that I’m here, I’ve ended up with a double room to myself, plus a Western bathroom with a bathtub, too. (The water doesn’t actually get warm, and the faucet has been disabled so it’s only a shower, but Yangzhou in summer is place for cool showers, not steaming tubs). Our rooms are in a sort of long-term hotel, which mean my room is cleaned when I’m out, toiletries are replaced, my trash is taken out, and I never have to go to the bank office to pay my utilities.

My room is awesome, is what I’m saying, but no thanks to my negotiation skills. Turns out that both the other women are here with their partners, so there isn’t anyone for me to room with, anyway.

In related news, I made it three days in China before I got a surprise transfer at work. My school has three campuses around the city, all within walking distance of my room. I started training at one of them, but on my second day, I was asked if I’d mind teaching at another one. The asking was quite nice because I could just as easily have been informed that starting right now, I work somewhere else.

It was a little disappointing to switch, because it took me those two days to find the first campus easily (Pro tip for schools employing foreign teachers: Show your staff where classes will be held, or draw a map, or at least give verbal directions. A text saying the school name in pinyin and the time of expected arrival is really not sufficient.), so it was disappointing to be reassigned just as soon as I was confident I could get there easily.

My new school is literally across the street from my room, though, perfect for a lazy commute, or for avoiding the school’s squatters. And since there are only three female foreign teachers and three campuses, I’m not entirely surprised I was moved to the only campus without a lady laowei.

 

Book Review: The Search for Kindronium 379

I was interested in The Search for Kindronium 379 because it was described as a teenage adventure story, along the lines of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

An accidental fall down an ancient mine shaft leads to the discovery of a refugee scientist’s research diary that describes a new super element, Kindronium 379. Unfortunately, news of the discovery leaks to agents of the International Communist Workers party. The fight for possession of the document culminates in a gun battle within the confines of the old mine.

The premise of schoolkids stumbling on a scientific secret, hidden in the old mine, was so good! O was pretty excited to read this. But the actual novel was a blend of village novel and adventure story, both things I like, but an odd mix.

Throughout the book, the pacing was slightly off, swinging between suspenseful and meandering. We got multiple excuses when Gareth was going to skip practice or class (Don’t worry, Gareth! It’s OK to skip football practice once if you’re solving an international mystery!), and secondary (or tertiary?) characters would appear with a long description of their background, and then wander off, never to be seen again. While poor Gareth was down a mineshaft, we got a meditation on Viktor’s feelings about tea. None of it was uninteresting — actually, I wanted to see more of these minor characters or hear more about life at their school — but the pacing varied from Welsh village story to action-adventure.

Women exist in this world, but mostly as passing mentions as annoyances. Girls are interested in handsome Viktor so Gareth decides to go caving to get away from them, no girls are taking the hard sciences so beloved teacher Togi doesn’t have to be “gentle” in his teaching, etc., etc. Moms and farmwives offer tea to the protagonists sometimes. The Search For Kindronium 379 is hardly the first time I’ve read an adventure story without any female characters, and it probably won’t be the last, unfortunately.

The adventure itself was engaging, with the boys getting lost while spelunking, finding a mysterious old journal, one of them falls down a mineshaft, and of course the evil communists come to steal secrets. It made me think of (all-male) Trixie Belden adventures. Anyway, cave adventures, from Colossal Cave to that part in Tom Sawyer, are always really interesting. And scary. I also enjoyed the attention to historical detail in the novel.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to review. All opinions are my own, as always.

The Austen Test

A couple days before my wedding (wow, I got married, that is still sinking in), my mom, my dad, Harold and I were talking about Call The Midwife. Actually, my mom and I were talking about what a great show it is, while Harold and my dad admitted that there was a little too much blood and screaming for them. This is extra hilarious because Harold is a horror writer, and I’m usually pretty upset by seeing blood on TV. A few weeks ago, we tried to watch Pet Cemetary but I got too scared that Tasha Yar was going to get killed so he shut it off.

The reason I like Call The Midwife is that all the blood and screaming leads to high drama and cutie little babies.  Also, it’s an entire show about women. I mentioned the Bechdel Test to my dad who was sort of confused by the point of it, and I tried to explain that it’s a way to note and view female characters in media, to go from I kinda feel like there aren’t a lot of women in mainstream entertainment to quantifying exactly how few named, speaking women exist in typical movies. But if there were some kind of reverse Bechdel Test, that is, if you watched Call the Midwife and watched expectantly for two named men having a conversation that isn’t about a woman, well, it would be a long wait.

This is a show about female friendships, with arcs about friendship and motherhood. Even the romantic storylines, like Chummy and Noakes, the conflicts are Chummy’s internal ones, about her overbearing mother and her midwifery career, not silly misunderstandings and dramatic reconciliations. Obviously Chummy is the best character of all, although for some reason, Harold doesn’t enjoy the part about Constable Noakes running up and down the stairs in Poplar to pass his physical to go abroad with his wife. I don’t know why, I mean, in one of the rare storylines where a man’s character development is central and there’s no blood or screaming at all.

I recently got Jennifer Worth’s memoir out of the library for a little more cuteness and drama. (I haven’t found a smooth way to watch American movies or TV here in Yangzhou, but it takes about five minutes on the VPN to get my library books loaded on my Kindle, so I haven’t been terribly motivated to try. I’d like to watch a little Call The Midwife or Doctor Who, but having all the free books North Carolina will give me is pretty sweet, too.) If you found the TV show squicky, you should skip the memoir too, because she describes some of the births she attended in detail. But I didn’t find that gross, and I really liked the accounts of Poplar life.

In the opening to her memoir, Worth explains the world she’s experiencing and writing about:

So, like Jane Austen, who in all her writing never recorded a conversation between two men alone, because as a woman she could not know what exclusively male conversation would be like, I cannot record much about the men of Poplar, beyond superficial observation.

As One Does

My suitcase, after its adventures.My flight was pretty great, I had a couple of good books (You guys, how did I ever do long flights before ereaders?) and a seatmate who was the right amount of chatty for a 16-hour flight. We landed in Guangzhou, where I needed to go through immigration and customs before switching to a domestic flight to Yangzhou.

I waited at baggage claim for a while, but my bag didn’t turn up, and after the waiting crowd dispersed and the belt was empty, I had to admit it wasn’t coming. I wasn’t entirely surprised that my checked bag was missing, since I’d been rerouted a couple times, but I was still hopeful that mine was just going to be the last one off the plane.

So I waited in a couple lines and filled out some forms for my missing bag. It was pretty troublesome because I just landed so I didn’t have a phone number. I needed to get through customs so I could buy a SIM card and get a Chinese phone number, but I couldn’t go through customs without my bag. And by the time I’d finished sorting that part out, I’d missed my connecting flight to Yangzhou.

The airline rebooked me on the next flight, which would be leaving the next morning, and comped my hotel, which was lovely but didn’t really make me feel better because I was still going to have figure out my way to the hotel, navigate check in, using a hotel voucher, get myself fed in a strange city, make my way back to the airport on time and check back in for my new flight. Also I would need to sort out a SIM card or wifi, hopefully both, so that I could let my school and my family know that I was just missing, not actually dead. Trial by fire for my Chinese skills. (I’m actually not terribly worried about my bag, since airlines have lost my luggage before and it always turns back up in a day or two.)

Before I came, I thought a lot about how it would feel to be back in China, and what differences I’d notice and all the expat adventures I’d have, but when I left the airport, I was just glad the airport shuttle wasn’t too crowded and that the driver had agreed to tell me where to get out. It turns out that Guangzhou is a lot more tropical than I was expecting, with gorgeous bright flowers and palm trees. Unfortunately, I was dressed for an overly air-conditioned plane ride, so at the hotel I stripped down to just one sweaty layer and sink-washed the rest and left them drying in my room. Then I set off down the street, looking for food and/or wifi, when I noticed a familiar logo.

And that’s how I spent the first night of my Chinese adventure eating in a Pizza Hut in the wrong city.

CamRate Everything

CamRate banner

CamRate, a fun new lifestyle app, lets users take photos or share photos, add a name and a description, and rate it, and publicly share their rating. Then, you can see what others think about it, or rate what other people have uploaded. You can browse CamRate photos,  follow users, or search for things you like. There’s an option to view the latest uploads, which creates a feed of pictures, sort of  like Pinterest or Instagram, with the option to rate what you see. And users can also follow other users to see their rates. The userbase is small, active, and positive, so current users are using this functionality for finding shared interests and good photographers.

Tthe big blue wet thinghe app is just so pretty, with a simple design that really shows off the user-generated photos, and uploading my own photos was easy. Items are rated on a simple 1-to-5 stars, a bit more granular than a Tumblr or Facebook like. Another CamRate reviewer, Viktoria Jean, suggests giving “5 Stars for Channing Tatum’s abs, and maybe 4 for Ryan Gosling’s, versus a simple Instagram “LIKE” for both”, which is a pretty great use for the app. I’m not saying I would scroll photos and objectify handsome men… I’m just saying if you wanted to post some more ab photos, I wouldn’t mind.

Amazon ratings are pretty polarized, shoppers tend to rate their shopping experience when it was great or miserable. So you have to read through and see which ones are from normal people. Is it all 5-stars from satisfied customers who loved this book, and some 1s from a lady who thinks the cover font is ugly? Or are the 1-star reviews from people who found this app crashed their phone, while the 5-stars are mysteriously all from accounts that only leave 5-star ratings and just happened to review a bunch of the same products? With CamRate, users are just sharing their favorite things (and occasionally unfavorite things!), so I haven’t seen as much polarization. I also looked really hard for angry or unkind comments, especially on items with a lot of different ratings, but I was pleasantly surprised when I couldn’t find any mean comments at all!

The CamRate userbase is small but growing. With a small group of active accounts, you can really different personalities uploading and rating, and changing the CamRate conversation. The intention seems to be to use it for fashion, by sharing photos of an outfit you’re trying on or a item you’re considering buying, and then getting ratings and comments on your style. But there’s also a fair amount of books, movies, foodstagram uploads, and random silliness shared for your rating enjoyment in CamRate.

CamRate is free, and available on iOs right now. Check it out and share your own ratings!

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This post is shared with you in partnership with CamRate. As always, review posts are written by me, about my real opinions and experiences with the product.

 

TLDR: Z Achieved

So of course I have delivery tracking for my visa, and I’m not saying that I’ve been refreshing that page obsessively, but yesterday morning, I saw it left the center in Durham and was on the final leg of the journey to me. I stayed in the apartment, doing a little packing and cleaning, but mostly just bouncing around waiting for my visa’s arrival. Because I’m going back to China! Did I mention that?

Around 4, I got an email saying the delivery had failed because no one was around to sign for the package. But… but… but… I was here and no one came…. well, anyway, I called FedEx customer service. and a really nice man explained that once in while that happens, and not to worry, my package wasn’t lost, and it would be redelivered tomorrow. That wasn’t exactly reassuring, since I didn’t have any reason to think tomorrow’s driver would ring the bell, knock on the door, or call, either (adding still more days to my visa wait, and making my express shipping fee an even sillier waste of money). But! I could also go to the FedEx center and pick it up. And look, I have the center’s address right here because I’ve been obsessively refreshing the page.

“It’ll be there at 5, and it’ll take a few minutes to check everything in, so you can come get it about 5:30. Have a great night.” It really was going to be great as soon as I get my visa!

Of course it wasn’t there.

“Not here.” I could actually see “没有” appearing in subtitles as the cashier spoke to me.

“Do you know where it is?”

“It’s still on the truck.”

“Do you have any idea when it might be here?” (Ok, Meg, don’t freak out, I’m sure every package that comes through here is someone’s really important something. Stay calm and polite.)

He got on the phone, and found out that the truck was expected back around 7:30. I reminded myself to unclench my teeth, and relax my shoulders, and to politely confirm that they would indeed be open at 7:30 and be able to hand me my package then.

The cashier mentioned that it was the driver’s second day on the job, and I went from feeling the fury of YOU HAD ONE JOB! to a much more sympathetic reaction. Everyone screws up sometimes! You have a lot to remember on your second day at a new job! And it’s not like my package got destroyed or sent to Timbuktu! Everything is about to be fine!

“Maybe you could let the driver know that next time, they could ring or call or knock, so I’d know there was a package for me–”

“They always do that.”

“No, see, I’m here trying to pick it up because no one knocked or rang — ”

“That’s impossible. Our staff doesn’t do that!” I’m not entirely sure what he expected me to say there You’re right, I’m sure your coworker did everything properly, but hearing the doorbell is really complicated, you know? And I might have messed it up or maybe he was expecting It certainly seemed like I was sitting at home waiting for a package all day, but you’re right, I might have actually entered another dimension. But sure, the new uy running several hours late definitely didn’t skip a step anywhere, and I’m a weirdo who pays for express delivery, refreshes the tracking page all day, but ignores the doorbell so I can come to the FedEx center for kicks.

Since we had some time to kill, we went and picked up some comic books and action figures, and here we is a special pronoun that actually means my husband, Harold. (Did you guys see how I worked “my husband” seamlessly into my post about getting my visa? Being married is so awesome!)

When we came back, I wasn’t actually sure if I would ever get my package or if I would find out that they’d closed at 7 and it was impossible that any staff had told me differently. But, no, my package was there! And inside that was my passport! And inside that was my visa!

My visa is for the correct type, correct entry date, correct name, correct passport number. I was about to take a photo, so I could share how beautiful it is, after this long wait, but then I thought the better of posting my passport number and visa number online. But trust me, it is lovely.

 

In Which I Completely Love A Prequel

Maia Sepp’s new novel Wake, takes place before her previous book, The Etiquette Guide To The End TimesI don’t usually like prequels (SORRY MAIA!) because they have to be so, so good to let readers overlook that the definition of prequel means they know how everything’s going to end up.

But this prequel is based around Camilla, a minor character from the Etiquette Guide and someone I really, really wanted to know better. In The Etiquette Guide To The End Times, Olive says Camilla used to do PR, back when there was anything to publicize, and in Wake, we get to see it.

The world hasn’t quite ended yet in Wake, so even though there’s an unprecedented amount of glacier melt (calving, as Camilla’s climate scientist father would say), and a carefully orchestrated almond theft (nut-napping) on her morning commute, Camilla’s working at her high-pressure, high-stakes PR gig.

Camilla’s company has gotten an account with a SmartHomes manufacturer, so free and basically mandatory home upgrades for all employees! Like that time the PR company next my studio did some work for Arizona, and I drank all the watermelon coladas ever. Only the smarthomes are a bit more invasive than sugary not-soda, so when they’re hacked, everyone’s personal lives are suddenly exposed.

wake squareThere was just so much to love this book! Like the nerdy accountant, who really doesn’t want his relationships with his two wives exposed. He’s not a bigamist, that is, like most of my poly friends, he is just quietly involved with two people, and doesn’t want to discuss that at work.  I also loved Camilla’s discussions of her work visa, because this is now my third (3rd) time going through the application process, and basically you hand in every piece of paper proving you’re not a criminal, that you’re a real person, and that you can legitimately do your job, and then after a while, you get back another terribly valuable piece of paper, saying you can work legally, that you promptly shove into a drawer and forget entirely. Which is exactly what Camilla does.

Olive and Fred, from The Etiquette Guide To The End Times, make appearances, but this is really Camilla’s story. I could see Camilla’s hardworking optimism, totally different from Olive’s sensible practicality, but another good way to face the end of the world. There are so many threads to this story, and at times I really wondering how the nut-napping. mysterious visa problems, angry refrigerator, cute coworker, and oh, yeah, the end of the world, were going to tie back into each other. But they do.

I’m so glad this is a series now, and I hope there are about a hundred more books in this series!

I received an eARC of this novel from the author, which was awesome, but eARCs have never stopped me from snarking about a bad book. All opinions are my own.

 

 

IFTTT Recipe: Tweet Book Reviews connects feed to twitter

If you enjoy these posts, and feel like sharing my book reviews by tweeting, tumbling or smoke-signaling, I’d really appreciate it! There are little social-share icons just for that!

Actually, if you like these, and you’re lazy, I made an IFTTT recipe to tweet all my book reviews. It’ll only share the title and link to my game reviews, nothing else on my blog, so you won’t find yourself posting about how much you love Harold or how bad you are at Chinese or anything. You can see the feed of posts you’ll be tweeting here.

Actually About Ethics

So I wasn’t really thrilled with this class from the beginning, but I soldiered on, taking a large amount of comfort from looking the teacher up on RateMyProfessor, and reading others students’ complaints that matched my experience.  I’m pretty glad the class is finished, which just reminds me how much of education is checking the boxes that other people tell me I need to check.

Another thing that disappointed me throughout the course was the nagging feeling that I’d already thought more critically about media ethics than this course was leading students to think. It’s not a massive revelation to me (or to most adults, I think) that a major advertiser could pressure an editor into holding off on a story that reflects poorly on their company, or that political campaign ads might not be fully accurate.  So most of my assignments were really a case of rephrasing the text, drawing a surface conclusion, and citing them correctly. (One of the RateMyProfessor commentors noted that the key to getting good grades is working the chapter’s vocab words into every essay. Thanks, my anonymous internet friend, you were not wrong, and my GPA thanks you!)

Anyway, it’s finished.

 

Rockstar Diner Food in ‘Papa’s Cheeseria’

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papa's cheeseria bannerCasual browser games Papa’s Cheeseria has all the cute time-management fun from Papa’s Donuteria, but instead of decorating donuts for hungry customers, this time players will be fixing delicious grilled cheese sandwiches.

Players begin as a young rockstar with a gig a Papa Louie’s Grilled Cheese restaurant. (Hey, when you’re a starving artist, any show is a good show!)  It’s worth pointing out that you can play as a boy or a girl, and the goals are exactly the same. Hmm, it’s almost like it’s not all that hard to add playable female characters to games. Anyway, when my rocker Scarlett’s gear was tragically stolen, Papa Louie offered her a job making grilled cheese sandwiches. Scarlett keeps her adorable star earrings and adorable rocker accessories even in her food service uniform.

This time-management game is a little bit different from DQ Tycoon, Youda Survivor, or Cake Mania. In the Papa games,  one customer at a time arrives, with a long and complicated order, and players need to fill their request before next customer can give an order. Fortunately, most customers love their grilled cheese, and tip well for their custom orders.

Each customer wants a certain kind of bread, cheese, extra like bacon or tomato, and a side of fries. Players start with a lot of options, and just like Papa’s Donuteria, there’s a lot more interaction and choice, and not very much appointment-style click-and-wait.

Except for the frying part… I’ll never understand why watching a timer tick down is considered fun. I’ve been conditioned to check to see if there was an Inst-fryer as an in-app purchase, but no. Frying and waiting wasn’t a plea for an IAP — the game really is free —  just not a mechanic best suited for impatient players. I just wanted to plate and style my virtual food, like in Cooking Mama!

This is another cute, casual cooking game in the Papa Louie series, but this one makes you hungry for diner food!

Papa’s Cheeseria is currently available on CrazyGames, along with plenty of other Flash games like puzzle game 2048, and evil twin 2584, secret vampire makeouts in Twilight Kissing, and cute buttonmashing adventure Mighty Knight.

[Here comes the game]

Source: CrazyGames

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crazygamesThis post is shared with you in partnership with CrazyGames.