Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Oh Yeah BTW I Moved To China (Month 8 & 9)


Not much happened this month. Thanksgiving at the school wasn't a huge event like Halloween was. No plays, no performances, no special songs to sing, or dances to learn. The day of Thanksgiving, a group of my Middle K and Upper K students visited a retirement home to perform a play and pass out gifts.

That's Betty on the right. She's one of the brightest in my Upper K class.
The kids warming up.
Show time.

Me on stage being silly. I dub thee "Sir Demo."
I wish I was able to speak Mandarin or Cantonese fluently so I could have a conversation with some of the people at the home. Imagine the stories they could tell. Imagine the kind of history they have witnessed firsthand. Imagine what they could say about how much China has changed in their lifetime. Not just talking points on TV show about cheap labor, or trade surplus, or economic expansion, or the growing gap between rich and poor. But actually living, breathing history. It was a fun experience, but I felt out of sorts most of the day. This year was the first time in 10 years that I didn't spend Turkey Day with my folks. We skyped and said "Happy Thanksgiving" to each other, but I'm sure you know, it's not the same. I also know it was a tough day for my Father. Unlike most father and son relationships I know, he and I are very close. I miss him very much and know he knows how much I miss him. 
I also know that these pictures brought him great joy:

Happy Thanksgiving from me and these Turkeys in Grade 3!
Rachael & Jenny Xie


It started off rather weird. We got word that government inspectors would be visiting soon, so each class had to prepare and be ready! It wasn't really an inspection of the curriculum, but rather an inspection of how the classrooms looked. So the Chinese teachers went into overdrive to make the classrooms "appear" to be REALLY FUN and INTERACTIVE. 

The kids were drilled on how to behave, while the Chinese teachers spent time filling the classroom with crafts they constructed. But to the outside observer, the crafts looked as though children made them. I'm slowly learning that most what goes on here is for the sake of appearance, my presence included. That's not entirely true, but often times I feel like I'm window dressing. 

"Hey, why are you wasting time on this bullshit? Shouldn't you be teaching my kids? Why is this English teaching wasting a whole day taking photos with kids from another school?"
That's how I would react if I was parent, aware of what day to day operations were. I'm also to the point of, "Well this is how they do things. I'm not going to change the system."

Just go with the flow and enjoy moments like this:

Does this really need a caption?
Unfortunately, I can't take credit for this photo. A friend from  up north in Shanghai sent it my way. There are many "Lost In Translation/That doesn't make sense" or like the above, "Umm, do you really know what that says?" moments here in China. Mostly it's incorrect grammar or phrases printed in English that no one in the West would ever say. 

Or from time to time you have silly, slightly sexual translations like this:

Hey, how you doin?  My name? Baby you can call me,  Black Love ;)
But the "Too Drunk To Fuck" t-shirt, well that's just too much. If you want to have a good laugh, look up some Chinese Translations To English. 

Guangdong Museum Of Art

I don't have really good pictures of this place, or of the art inside, but I did manage to find the museum on my own! The museum is nestled on an island in the middle of the Zhujian River right next to Xinghai Concert Hall far away from noise of Guangzhou traffic. There were two exhibits going on, "China Dream-Guangdong Spirit: Outstanding Works from The Exhibition of The 12th Guangdong Art Festival" and "Tears, Anger, and Tenderness: Retrospective of Oswaldo Guayasamin."
Both of them were solid exhibitions.

How I Got Bird Flu

Don't be alarmed, I don't really have bird flu, but knock on wood just in case.

I am an adorable, and I will infect you!

How did this happen? 
I was sitting with the kids watching videos, and because their chairs are small, I’m at eye level with them if they stand up. Olivia, whom is one of my favorites, kept tugging on my arm. 

“Jeff, Jeff, Jeff, Jeff…”

As I turned away from the TV to ask, “What is it Olivia," it happened.

Just as I was saying the ”aaaa” of her name, she COUGHED INTO MY OPEN MOUTH!

I never found out what she wanted, because as I was reacting, she just laughed like a crazy person and ran outside!

A friend then sent me this clip via youtube. It was funny before, but since I am now a member in the " A Child Has Coughed Into My Mouth Club, " I have a new appreciation for it. And his bit on children is gold!

So far I feel fine, but just in case I die, now would be a good time to buy a painting!

Hong Kong

I never really need a reason to visit HK, so I took a few days off and traveled to the former British Colony. 

I spent a few hours at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, enjoyed the sunny weather along Victoria Bay, ate some really good cheap food, navigated the subway BY MYSELF, and slept in until the late afternoon most days. No kids. No loud noises from outside. No one I knew. No set schedule. It was so relaxing. The only must see item, aside form the museum, was the Pearl Lam Gallery, Hong Kong Branch. I became familiar with this gallery last year at Art Basel, because the paintings of Zhu Jinshi were standouts at the fair. The gallery represents some of China's top contemporary artists, but also shows international art stars like Jenny Holzer, and new comer Ben Quilty.

Not only was "Embodied' a knock out group show, curated by  David Ho Yeung Chan, but the staff was actually friendly! Even the director of the gallery stopped to talk with me! Try walking in off the street in New York and chatting up the director of David Zwirner!

Dancing With The Kids and Christmas Feast

Group yoga, me dancing with pom poms (not pictured), and an army of adorable baby santas, this Christmas/Sports Day celebration had it all!

Opening ceremony.
Never tried this pose. Of course I do yoga by myself...
Fan dancers.
Shiny shirts.
This is how China will conquer the world!
An army of adorable Santas!
I dare you resist their cuteness!

It wasn't the same as a home cooked meal, but the buffet at the Swiss Hotel here in Foshan was legit. I ate so much food, this sums up how I felt:

Food coma!
These girls sang Christmas songs at the hotel during dinner.
They also happened to be students from my school!
This kid was terrible, but hey, he went for it!
Fruits n stuff
Rachael & some ladies from Ireland.
This is Floyd. He is my new pet.

Finishing off a bottle of wine in the elevator.

Floyd getting friendly on the bus ride home.

I had a good time with my coworkers, but this year was the first time I wasn't in California and it was a little odd. I didn't feel sad, but I just felt out of place. There was no gift exchange, no Christmas parties, no homemade apple muffins on Christmas morning. Next year at this time I will be in Shanghai, and I hope that my parents will make use of their passports.

Hint Hint Mom & Dad :)

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Oh Yeah BTW I Moved To China (Month 6 & 7)


Oh how the time goes by! Can it be I’ve been here over half a year? Not much happened during this month, except now I teach Kindergarten. Actually, I don’t know if teaching is really what I do. A more accurate way to put it would be, “ I play games, TRY to teach English, and put out fires before they start.” The classes themselves are lighter and less structured, but JESUS, the energy needed to keep these kids focused is far beyond what I expected! Prior to working here, I never meditated or tried yoga, I always thought it was kind of silly and I didn’t have the patience for it. 

But now…I HAVE TO! 

In order to stay focused on my painting and not loose it in class when twenty 5 year olds are acting like they have turrets, I have to “zen out” and breatheeeeeeee.

“Remember Jeff, they were born sometime in 2009-2010, they’re babies. They are just doing what they are supposed to do. Relax and get them focused again.
Do the 1-2-3, who is good chant... 
And watch out for that one, she looks like she might puke on your shoes!”

And then she did puke. But thanks to my cat like reflexes, I got out of the way in time. But about 20minutes later a little boy named, let's say Nugget, punched me right in the crouch! And this little jackass, unless he gets some discipline in his life, he’s going to be a colossal piece of shit when he grows up. 

I know it’s not his fault, and I shouldn’t say such things because he’s only 5, but this kid is a jerk. Or rather I should say, his parents don’t do their job at home and that’s why he acts the way he does. I also assume both his parents are around, which is not always the case in China. Divorce is not as uncommon as it used to be. 

I’ve only dealt with his mother, who thus far seems to have the IQ of a bag of hammers. When she asked why Nugget didn’t seem to be learning any English, I told her point blank, he doesn’t listen, he’s disruptive, he wont sit still, and I’m not going to stop the class just to get him in line. And when we do discipline him, he cries, screams, throws a tantrum like spoiled child, and I have to kick his little punk ass out! I left the little “punk ass” part out and I don’t know if what I said translated verbatim through my Chinese teacher, but Nugget’s mother did look stunned. So did my Chinese teacher. Evidently the Chinese teachers just let the parents brow beat them and never tell them their “precious little angels” are monsters in the making. 

Neither I or 90's TV Icon Homey The Clown Play That!
Not in my class…Jeff don’t play that shit. 

Two years ago, I would never have imagined that this would be part of my life.  

Two years ago I was smitten over a behavioral neuroscience major named Esther. She was funny, driven, nerdy, adventurous, gorgeous, and liked me for who I was. I wasn’t sure if she was the one, I’m not really sold on the concept of “the one”, but at the time, I was crazy about her. Much of our relationship is a blur now, but there was a particular moment I remember very clearly; it was the moment I wanted to tell her I loved her. 

It was cold in my apartment, rain was slowly falling outside, making a gentle slow steady “tap, tap, tap” on my neighbors wooden fence. Common house sparrows that appear in so many of my paintings were chirping just outside my window. My room was filled with a dull blue color from the early morning sunrise. As I turned to my left, I could see her drooling on my pillow. I laughed silently to myself and tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. It didn’t matter, because a few minutes later, the 7am alarm on her cell phone went off. She stretched, said good morning, and then nibbled on my ear. I laughed and told her to look at her pillow. 

What? Oh no not again! 
Now you have to buy me a new pillow case. 
And if your drool went through to my pillow, we’re over! 

She giggled. Then as she snuggled up next to me she said, “You’re so warm, I love waking up next to you.” 

It would have been the perfect moment to tell her, but I hesitated. I thought it was too soon. I thought she might bolt out the door if I told her. I thought “I haven’t felt this way in years. I’m filled with joy I haven’t experienced in a long time. I want to let you in…and that scares the shit out of me!”

But the moment passed and I stayed silent. I hoped for another perfect moment, maybe after a nice dinner or after her research was published in that science journal.  But it never came. A few months later it was over and I didn’t have to wonder if she loved me. Her actions said all that needed to be said.

Now this is how I wake up in the morning:

The children exercise right outside my window, so even if I take a day off or get sick, there is NO SLEEPING IN! But I’ve actually grown used to it, and dare say, enjoy it. Not the waking up early part, but enthusiasm of the children. It’s quite an ego boost to have 30 children scream your name the second they see you. I still however need my morning coffee to be fully awake.


This month was much more interesting. I went to Xiqiao Mountain with some new friends. The mountain is on the outskirts of the city and is famous for it’s natural caves, huge natural lake and one of the biggest seated goddess statues in Southern China.

The entrance.
We start off full of energy!
Lots and lots of stairs.
After two hours of climbing and walking, you're still only 3/4 of the way there!
One of the many devotional stone sculptures you see on the way to the top.
All this walking made my calves look awesome!
Josie fell for the old "got your nose" trick at lunch.
Just outside the entrance.
Peace Yo!
Hello gorgeous!

"I'm King Of The World"
Up close.
After 7 hours, we were done!

Times Museum of Art in Guangzhou 

Guangdong Times Museum is not only a venue for exhibition but also a space for the stimulation of artistic practices andcultural production. It is an active community cultural center and a platform forthe promotion of art development in the area. It is a new type of organizationwhich allows audiences to experience art both in exhibitions and artistic production.It is a base for artists to gather, exchange ideas and acquire support incompleting their works. It is also a research center and a think-tank. 

Visiting this place was on my to do list for a while now. Some of the artwork in the exhibition space was so so, but the exhibition space itself is gorgeous. 

19th floor with an overview of the city? 

Yes please! 

Plus they were really nice and very appreciative that I traveled more than an hour just to visit.

One of the artist in residence studios! 


Zhujian New Town

Right along The Pearl River, near the world famous Canton Tower. This is an area of Guangzhou that is famous the world over. Countless malls, hole in the wall restaurants, street vendors, The Guangzhou Opera House, Museums, beautiful architecture, cool bars, this area has it all. It’s like the Times Square of Guangzhou, but more spacious, more cultured, and a whole lot more Chinese people. It was a beautiful day so my friend and I checked out a show of Chaozhou wood carvings at the Guandong New Museum. Turns out it's also a natural history museum, which means Dinosaurs!

A special thank you to Joy for taking these pictures for me.

Guandong New Museum
A sample of Chaozhou wood carving.
Amazing detail!
People getting their read on.

Snake skeleton
Whale skull
Overhead view
I think this was a dolphin skeleton
Extinct horses.
More of the same.
Dinosaur & sharks

There was of course Halloween, which I went all out for, but before I get into that, something strange happened that I must share. 

The kindergarten side of the school is much more disorganized than the primary school. Things change at the last minute and the general vibe here seems to be more chaotic. I’ve tried many times to tell the Chinese teachers I work with, “Just relax, it will get done when it’s supposed to. Don’t stress so much. We’re not negotiating a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, we’re teaching children how to count!” The Israel and Palestine thing goes right over their heads, but they get the rest of it. 

The old office was worse!
Anyway, here’s an example of the last minute, disordered, nature of this place: I’m sitting in the office, which itself is in a chaotic state of transition, when one of the Chinese teachers announces, “Next week we will have a dinner for the teachers and the staff. You and the other foreign teachers need to pick a song you want to perform at the dinner!” So Rachael, one of the other foreign teachers, shoots me a, “Wait, what, did she just say?” looks. I’m equally confused so I ask for clarification. We heard correctly, next Friday, everyone from the school with go to a hotel for a big dinner, awards ceremony, and mini variety show! Evidently we, the foreign teachers are required to get on stage in front of 150+ people, and perform a song of our choosing. And we had to decide on a song in 1 day!  

Now when it comes to singing for the kids , I’m all in.
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?
Head, Shoulders, Knees And Toes?
Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round?
Piece of cake.
Put on a ridiculous chef outfit when it's 90+ degrees outside for an all day food festival?


For those of you that have known me, I can picture you laughing to yourself, even asking, “Is there footage of this? I can’t believe Musser would entertain an entire class of five year olds!” I have shattered old comfort zones and expanded into new ones. I have gone leaps and bounds beyond what I thought I was capable of. However, I dry the line at being a dancing monkey. 

Hear that Chinese people?
Not today kids!

I’m not here for your entertainment! If it was at school, for the kids, sure I’ll sing. I have no vocal range, because you know, I’m not a trained singer, but I’ll entertain the fuck out of those kids! But if it’s outside of work, where I’m not getting paid, you can stick that where the sun don't shine.

But here in China, the line between work and outside work is very blurry.
But remember my “No Dancing Monkey Policy?”

Here is how the exchange went with the Chinese teacher:

Me: Yeah, I’m not going to do that. You (Pointing at Rachael) and Kristen (the other foreign teacher) can sing whatever you want, but I’m not doing that.
Chinese Teacher: What? But you have to.
Me: Really? I don’t recall anything in my contract that says I have to sing.
CT: It’s no problem. Other teachers will be singing. It’s just for fun, and it’s for work.
Me: Yeah, that sounds great. But I’m not doing it.
CT: No you have to.
Me: No, I don’t have to!
Me: (At this point I used something I’ve never had to, or wanted to. I pulled out the BUT I’M AMERICAN CARD)
Ok, I know you’re just doing what the director wants you to do, so I’m not mad at you. But in America, if you tell someone at work that they HAVE TO SOMETHING they are very uncomfortable with, outside of work, it would be considered very rude and disrespectful. I would never require you to go on a hunting trip outside of work if you were a vegetarian.
CT: (Listen to her rebuttal)
But you’re not in America, this is China, this is what you do.
Me: I know that, but this isn’t for work. And I’m not getting paid and I’m not Chinese, so I can say no.

There was a weird tension in the office after our exchange and I know they started talking about me Cantonese because they would say something then look at me or gesture in my direction. But no matter, my mind was made up. If they had said, “ Some of the teachers will be performing at the dinner. If you want to sing a song, you’re welcome to,” I would have done it.

I’m lying, I still would have said no, but it would have been nice if they asked first. But to say that I have to when it’s not work oriented, and I’m not getting paid, is bullshit.

So fast forward to the dinner, we’re backstage getting ready to introduce ourselves to the rest of the school. So the plan is, Jacob, Myself, Rachael and Kristen go out on stage, give  a brief introduction, then sing “This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land.”

Now Jacob has been at this school almost two years, so he doesn’t have to do any of this signing bullshit. He told me, “After the intro, just walk off stage with me. What are they going to do?”

But then CT chims in with, “But you have to sing!”
Me: I’m not going to sing!
CT: I’m serious, you’re going to sing!!!

At this point, I thought, “Wow she’s got that look in her eye, this bitch is serious! But really, what is she going to do? Pull some MMA moves on me and force me to sing?”

You better sing! This is CHINNNAAAA!!

So I just laughed. After the speech, guess what I did? Walked the fuck off that stage right back to my table! Guess who didn’t have much to say but just shot me laser death stares the rest of the night? CT. 

Me about to eat a chicken head. Guess what's not pictured? Me singing on stage! Take that CT!

For a brief moment I felt bad for ditching Rachael and Kristen on stage. But they could have said no as well. On top of that, they are the rookies, so they have to go through the hazing process!

It tasted exactly the way it looked…disgusting.


It was a blast! 
Yours truly was Luigi from Super Mario Brothers! 

The Super Mario Crew!
Getting Mario's mustachio ready.

We also had Halloween at the school with all the kids. I don’t have any pictures from the madness that was Halloween Day, which is sad because some of the kids looked adorable. 

I was supposed to lead the children through this castle to perform "The Skeleton Dance" in front of the parents.

Wow, did I just type that sentence? 
I guess the ice around my cold black heart is melting…

We practiced for it all week, then they cancelled it at the last minute!
Olivia is one of my favorites.