The Bank Is Closed

September 26, 2018, 16:57

His smartphone is updating to iOS 12.0, and he doesn’t want to leave the air-conditioned office, so he pulls up the Word document titled “Shanghai Journal” and looks at the clock and writes a day and time in bold letters.

He just spent 2.5 hours at the Bank of Shanghai. His salary goes there, and he wants to understand how it works. He wants to be able to use WeChat and Alipay to make purchases because most vendors do not take debit cards (which he has) but do take cash (which he’d rather not carry a lot of). Since he doesn’t speak Chinese, he takes a student worker with him; her English name is Alina, and she is more patient than he is. Her English is passable, but she helped him get what he wanted: access to the apps that let him buy groceries and DiDi’s (like Uber) and anything really because WeChat is everything.

His students are quiet, well-behaved, freshmen. They stand up when he calls their name to answer, and they do not sit until he tells them to. This is how they were conditioned in high school. He will try to break this because open discussions are an essential part of critical thinking, which it is his aim to teach. And open-ended questions, though sometimes difficult to answer, are the epitome of freedom and liberty and America and certainly not China because they’re collective here, and individualism is bad and they’d rather be silent anyways because it’s easier to be told what to think by some sage on a stage instead of a recent college graduate who wanted an adventure, so he came to Shanghai to teach English which is obviously not their first language—they wouldn’t even be in his class if they had done better on their examinations the year before.

Sound & Silence

September 18, 2018, 21:01

This will be an entry of sound. Since arrival, his ears have been bombarded by it: the Chinese chatter (to which he stands, politely, trying to look like he understands), the god-awful squawking of whatever bird (he assumes it’s a bird, maybe a crow being assaulted) nests on campus, and the music (or podcasts, depending on the mood) he ingests when he can’t abide by the first two and needs something familiar.

There is silence, too. Like now: all he hears is a keyboard, the AC, and a few noises outside. Laughter, barking, honking. Okay, mostly silent. The only real silence exists in bed, with his orange earplugs expanded, blocking.

He heard another kind of keyboard next door, an hour ago. A piano keyboard. Which reminds him of his new responsibility at SCF—his audition was a success and Josh plugged him into the rotation.

He wants to practice, imagines a scenario where his neighbor lets him in and he plays a piece (River Flows in You or Für Elise, the two he has sort of memorized) to show what he knows. Then he’d be able to learn lead lines for worship or Clair de Lune, for which he brought sheet music.

Sheet music—that’s funny. He realizes, for the first time, oddly enough, that music be universal: the only language we all speak. Notes on a page look the same no matter who you are, what tongue you possess. Aha! There is common ground, at least between enjoyers and purveyors of music.

A Wretch Like Me

September 15, 2018, 21:53

They use a 24-hour clock here. He is adjusting.

He remembers seeing a sign with a quote: “Write drunk, edit sober.” Attributed to Ernest Hemingway; hanging on a wall in Powell’s Books in Portland.

It’s Saturday night, and his roommate has purchased SKYY (vodka) and Kentucky Gentleman (bourbon). He likes the taste, the way liquor breaks apart the cells in his mouth, causing them to be numb and tingle.

He is alone in his apartment.

P. T. Barnum says, according to Hollywood, Goodreads, and Pinterest, that the noblest art is that of making others happy.

Does this make you happy?

Does your soul sing because you know God is faithful? Do Mack Brock and Amanda Cook move you, making you aware of your un-aloneness and the everlasting presence of the Father, here, in the room with you, now and forever?

Hallelujah, to the end. God be praised.

Amen. Let it be so.

He utters words, stopping to pray when Netflix will not stream as it should. He sees a circle, buffering, and decides to leave his twin bed and return to his Pavilion m6 with a newly-installed SSD thanks to a generous best-friend. Do it for the friends and the family—who else will read this, anyway?

Who else?

Thanks to Mineo, Lecrae, Wickham, Zayas, and Good News Today. You are, again, words on a page, a screen. But you transcend, you are more than that.

There is a conflict of two natures. He is of flesh, sold into chains, wrapped up in sin and perverseness and depravity. He may never have committed adultery in the 10-commandments-sense (he isn’t married, anyway), but he has committed lust, the sermon-on-the-mount kind as redefined by his Lord and Savior and Skye Jethani on a podcast he listened to, earlier today.

What would he like to do? He would like, in his mind, to please God. He agrees with Paul—he studies Romans 7 and sees that there is nothing good that dwells in his flesh. But he is flesh, is he not? He found a gym not far from his apartment and ran 0.7 miles to meet a man named Zhu who offers a yearly membership for 1,580 RMB. He wants to accept because they have showers, a bench press, and a patio. Plus, the environment is conducive to bodily improvement, unlike the teacher’s or student’s gym on campus.

His queue runs empty, and now he just types in silence.

He practices the evil he does not wish to do, and it is because of sin which dwells in him. He watches porn because he ignores the other nature, because he is weak. It’s not a habit, though, which he tells himself to justify. It’s just a minor slip, he says. But he won’t get on his knees and repent—not until Sunday, at least—because he feels too guilty after the deed is done.

I am the one who wants to do good.

His Bible is open on his lap; it is dark, and he turns his head from page to screen, letting his fingers do the work. His mind, the mind that Paul says wants to do good, is stimulated by a depressant. It sees a war, waged in the members of his body—WRETCHED MAN!

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7.25). He, too, struggles with sin.

And where is his victory over sin, when he falls?

He is delivered from bondage, so says the heading of Romans 8 in his New American Standard Version. There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8.1). No katakrima even though his guilt is established and he sits, eyes to the floor, as Jesus takes his place.

His mind is more than the brain upstairs: it is the visceral and cognitive aspects of thinking, the parts of him that go beyond intellect and a + b = c. It comes from his chest, from the muscles around his heart. It keeps him from leaving the zoo, where his dead scratches and honest confessions are on view for every gaze, every voyeur.

He is either in Christ Jesus or in his flesh. On his way to life and peace or on his way to death, for the mind set on flesh “does not subject itself to the law of God” and “cannot please God” (Rom. 7.7-8). And what is the law of God, if not to love him and thy neighbor?

I wish to please you, Father. Do I?

Do I make you happy? Do I make you happy? Do I make you happy? Do I make you happy? Do I make you happy? Do I make you happy? Do I make you happy? Do I make you happy? Do I make you happy? Do I make you happy? Do I make you happy? Do this make you happy?

Is mine a noble art?

Writing sobers him, and he rinses his glass in the sink. Pees clear in the porcelain pot, brushes his teeth, hears the electronic hum. He shuts down: body, mind, spirit, droopy eyelids, and cyborg bits wired to create when he should be sleeping. Give him a blank page, and he is Joyce; give him a drink, and he is every Portland hipster, ever. But the stream is dead, now, and his pond is covered in water lilies.

When will he become like Christ?


September 13, 2018, 10:05 a.m.

I start teaching on Thursday, September 20, a week from today. First class will be literature to Rehabilitation Science students. Then critical writing, or “Composition as Critical Inquiry,” to Graphic Design students on Friday. The literature textbook is a Norton Anthology, the likes of which I saw during my time at Oregon State University. I don’t yet have a textbook for critical writing, though I don’t know that I need one. I plan on using the research essay formatted assignment that I used with my high school sophomores in the spring. It was on Fahrenheit 451, but the process could be applied to almost any topic; C-E-A-E-A-Cl is a stable body paragraph, easy to follow. We will see what kind of exposure my students have to the American essay.

I’m writing syllabi. The college gave me a format, but it feels like a formality. Tim Jensen, one of my writing professors, said, “Today is syllabus day, also known as cover-my-ass day.” I’m beginning to understand why—there’s gotta be some accountability otherwise a teacher could do whatever they want on a whim, without much consequence. But the content, policies, and schedule are subject to change at the professional discretion of the instructor, which means I can write with flexibility. Mike O’Malley, one of my education professors, hardly followed his syllabi, written to appease administration rather than give the students something to follow religiously.

Got a Teacher’s Appreciation Day bonus: 3000 RMB or about $400. Will save and use it for food and groceries. Or I’ll go halfsies on an e-bike with my roommate. That could be fun and potentially dangerous. Costly, too, but if it’s anything like the rest of Chinese products, affordable.

Set up an account with the Bank of Shanghai, necessary to be on the college’s payroll. The bank was helpful, I got a debit card, and I pray to God that the money I make will be easily transferable to my American bank account; I don’t want to spend much, here, if I can help it. We ran out of time, though, the bank closed before we could get help connecting our accounts to WeChat, which is everything, it seems. Most vendors and modes of transportation accept WeChat as payment: just a scan away. It’s like China skipped from cash & check straight to smartphones, without much regard to the traditional American form of payment: the (debit or credit) card. I have a debit but have not seen many places where I could swipe it.

On a personal note, God is good and providing. My roommate, Joe, is an MK (missionary kid). We went to Shanghai Community Church last Sunday—a two-hour commute by bus and metro. We walk in, they’re singing something from the mid-2000s, in English. It feels like a traditional American church: pastor is white, crowd is colorful, communion is open. Isaac is a lost patriarch, someone from whom we may learn what not to do when it comes to raising children, apparently. The sermon was three-pointish, with a brief resolution that I found insightful. Mostly, he retold Genesis 25-27, detailed but simple.

I have an audition for the worship team, want to know more about staying connected. I don’t know if there are any churches closer to us, though I’m okay with a bit of travel. I wasn’t expecting to find something like this; they even have community groups. Who knows, Joe and I may eventually host something if there are other believers out here in the Jiading district.

Lot’s To Do

September 7, 2018, 6:58 p.m.

My laptop died while writing the last entry. I don’t remember what I was going to say.

I bought a Bull wall adapter and a white-and-grey-striped bath towel at the Carrefour near Nanxiang Station; the former to charge my laptop which died and the latter so that I don’t have to air dry when I take a shower in the morning. I hope the voltage doesn’t mess with my battery, that would be unfortunate.

There’s lots to do.

I need a bank account, a TEFOL certificate, a this, a that. Food, groceries, I already have a SIM card from the Chinese phone company. I didn’t know what a SIM card was, until now. It cost 50 RBM, Gary paid for it because he assumed he was supposed to. But then Ivy told me I needed to pay for it, so I gave the money to Jeany. (Ivy runs the joint; Jeany works in the office.)


September 5, 2018

My wristwatch says 4:55 a.m. I think it’s closer to 7:30 p.m. But the monitor in the minivan with the soft Chinese automatic voice says it’s 9:57 p.m. I’m a bit turned around.

We are met at Shanghai Pudong International Airport by a young national who goes by Gary—not his given name, which I asked for but would not be able to pronounce myself. He studies preschool education at the college, is the captain of the school’s soccer team, and likes Manchester United. Our driver, Mr. (J)ong is quiet. It will be two hours until we reach the apartment.

The first thing I notice upon arrival is the wet air. A few breaths confirm it in my lungs and send it back with curiosity. Will take some getting used to. And I’m sweating, but the van has air-conditioning.

A bus waits outside the Boeing 767, which traveled 510 mph at 38,000 feet (the plane, not the bus). Actually, there are two buses. The first one filled very quickly. Like, really filled. Crammed, you might say. There wasn’t enough space to our American eyes, so we—Cecilia and I—waited for the next bus. This one carried us and ten others to the terminal.

Inside, we are directed towards the fingerprint station. Scan passport, left four fingers, right four fingers, thumbs, OK. Then to Chinese Immigration Services and a long line. An informative video plays on the televisions: military, smiles, showing the foreigners that China doesn’t mess around. Passports stamped, we head to baggage claim. All our things made it, phew. Through customs, we roll our luggage to a parking garage, up a level, and find Mr. (J)ong.

A bit of small talk, I offer Gary trail mix that my mother sent with me and fudge from the flight. He accepts both, eats the fudge. Mr. (J)ong takes us to the highway. It is dark outside, which is odd for some reason because I don’t think it’s that late in the day. Or the sun operates differently in this part of the world. Or I’m a bit turned around.

There are buildings with lights for walls. Or lights on the walls. I haven’t seen that in person before. Lots of apartment complexes, some are tall and new, some aren’t. I see many air—

400-606-5500,, on a red van next to us on the road—

There’s a funny monkey—