Sleep, where are you?

Sleep can be a fickle thing sometimes, eh. (Please note, the “eh” is not said like a Canadian, as in “eh?” It’s said like a New Zealander which is said not like a question, but with emphasis). I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s really hard to get to sleep for me sometimes. When I want to sleep, I can’t. I just sit there thinking. My brain spins and spins and spins and I can’t shut it off. Sometimes a random lost memory will pop into my head and I will relive it for 5 minutes before the next one. Sometimes I remember someone I forgot about. There are a billion memories trapped in my brain and sometimes it feels like they are all biding for attention, particularly when I want to go to sleep.

What am I supposed to do? It’s hard to read with your brain spinning. You can just sit there and think and hope your brain gives up, which it eventually does. I’ve been trying to sleep for 3 hours now, lying in my bed without success. But that’s how it is when you stay put and give your brain time to think. When you are traveling, you barely have time to eat. You just run from place to place, catch your breath and then move on. You collapse into your bed each night and wake up the next morning in time to catch the next bus or see the sunrise. But when you live somewhere, everything has time to creep back. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s really a bad thing. It’s good to remember everything and a trip without memories would be pretty pointless. But, I can only imagine how it will be when I get back home in a little over a year. The memories will tower over me like a 100-foot tidal wave with me standing on the sea-shore, staring up at it in awe.

I found out something interesting the other day. For the past three months, I thought that I had been asking people stuff correctly. I was saying “Qing wen”, which means “please let me ask” – if said correctly. It’s very important that you notice that I say: if said correctly. I found out that I was actually not saying it correctly. I changed the tone on the “wen”, so I have basically been walking around saying to people something like this (I will show the conversation with both possible interpretations of what I said):

“Please kiss me, how do I get to the bank?”

Or, one could have interpreted what I said like this:

“Please let me slit my own throat, how do I get to the bank?” (my favorite).

Hmm…that explains the confused looks. So yeah, tones are pretty important. I was saying it with a rising or dropping, then rising tone and its supposed to be a dropping tone. Be warned.

Chinese is a very interesting language. While teaching English, you learn a lot about Chinese by the mistakes they make. For instance, when talking about bikes, you will hear a lot of people talk about how many bikes they have “lost” in their lives.

“I’ve lost my bike 4 times!”

That begs the question: how the hell do you lose a bike?? It’s not a set of keys, after all. It can’t fall out of your pocket. My buddy Alex in University was the only guy I ever knew who could actually lose a bike. He would randomly ride his bike on some days and not others, chain it up somewhere, go to class, leave class and randomly walk somewhere else and maybe walk home and forget his bike. The next day he might decide to walk and over the period of two days, he would literally forget where his bike was. He would lose it. But that’s the only person I know who could lose a bike. How could so many Chinese people lose bikes?

In Chinese, they don’t have a word for something being stolen – they just have one for you not having it anymore, translated to “lost”. You don’t know where it is, so it’s lost. You lost it. Interesting, huh? That’s how they lose their bikes. People always get their bikes stolen in Beijing.

They also number the toilets in Beijing. Not the sit-down toilets, but the stand up guy toilets. You will be standing there, staring at the wall, doing your business and take note that you are using urinal 3. How does that system come into place? Does it really save time to number the urinals? Is there some call center somewhere that dispatches repairmen to specific urinals and they need to know which one so that they may shave a few seconds off of their busy urinal repairing schedules by going directly to the faulty one? Maybe different people clean different ones. I don’t know. Not all of them are numbered in Beijing, but they are in the WangFuJing Oriental Plaza. I honestly would like to know the story behind it.

And how is it that there are no stray dogs in Beijing? In South America, they are everywhere – even in the cosmopolitan Santiago and Buenos Aires. Absolutely everywhere. They don’t eat them (all) here, I don’t think. Although you can buy dog in the street stalls and in restaurants, they raise them specially for that purpose. They don’t snag them off the streets. I just want to know why.

Lots of people don’t iron their new shirts nor do they wash them before going to work. They aren’t wrinkled or anything, but you can see the heavy creases from the box still distinctly in huge squares all around the shirt. It’s quite funny to see and so many people do it that it’s not anything strange to them. Maybe it’s a status thing. “I can afford new shirts. This shirt is new.” Maybe everyone just agrees that a new shirt need not be ironed. I’m not sure about this one either.

Yes, indeed. There are lots of questions left unanswered. But, luckily, I am feeling a little tired. I may be able to get some sleep, after all. I think I’ll give it a go as I have to get up for work in 5 hours to teach a class.

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