Adventures in Chinese Banking: It Stinks

I’ve written about my adventures in Chinese banking before, and now I have another story. Yesterday, I took a bunch of RMB to a bank in order to exchange it for USD. I am going home in January, and would like to have some money. Or rather, I would like to have some money I can actually spend. Now, you might think it would be easy to accomplish this goal. After all, one only needs to take the cash to the bank, hand over the money for exchange, and get the dollar bills back.

The image shows some Chinese RMB that I wanted to exchange for USD in my newest Adventures in Chinese Banking.

And in a sane world and a sane system, you’d be correct. However, Chinese banking is not sane, as my adventures in it have shown. I did some research before heading to the bank because I know the system here will screw you any chance it gets. (Also, the info I found turned out not to apply to those working in China.) Sadly, I wasn’t able to find out a whole lot, but I knew that I needed a Chinese citizen with me. Thankfully, the university has a foreign liaison this semester, and she was willing to accompany me. So, we made plans to have lunch and then head to the bank.

The first bank we went to didn’t have the USD on hand because we didn’t call first. Okay, there’s something good to know: call the bank first if you want to exchange money. We then called another branch, but they also didn’t have enough USD on hand. Finally, we decided to call China National Bank: the big bank of China. It was our last hope. They had the cash on hand. We were feeling good about things.

Adventures in Chinese Banking: Even Citizens Jump Through Hoops

Well, we felt good about things, until we actually got to the bank. Unrelated, but an indication of how things would go: the parking attendant was rude to us. When we asked him how to get out of the parking garage on foot, he just shrugged and said walk around. Super helpful.

So, we get into the bank and find someone to help us. After a long discussion between my liaison and the bank worker, we ended up nowhere. See, the problem is I can’t just go in and exchange the money. I need a copy of my contract and my tax information, neither of which I have. Well, I have a copy of my contract, but I didn’t have it with me. I don’t have a copy of my tax information because my company takes care of my taxes.

The next thought was to have the liaison just exchange the cash for me. After all, she’s Chinese, so that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Again, in a sane world and sane system, you’d be right. But this is not a sane world or system. They told her that she could exchange the cash, but if she didn’t go to the US soon, she could get into trouble.

Now, I didn’t want that to happen so I told her not to worry about it, and that we’d figure something else out. As we were leaving the bank, she decided to call the first bank we visited to ask the person there if they would have the USD by Monday. I leave on Tuesday. He told her they wouldn’t but that they had the same policy. He also told her that she could always change her mind about traveling once she changed the money.

The System Almost Won

Armed with this knowledge, and her willingness to take a chance, my liaison returned to the bank and exchanged the money. My nerves were on fire as I waited in the lobby for her to completer the transaction. We’d just been in there trying to do what we were now doing. Would they let us? Was trouble in the cards for one or both of us?

After the exchange, we left the bank. I worried the security guard would stop us and take my money and send us to speak to the police. Not really, but that’s the thing about places like this. You just never know what will happen. We hadn’t broken any laws, but then that doesn’t always matter.

So, that’s the latest of my adventures in Chinese banking. Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned a little about what my life here is like.

Suicidal Ideation: Thinking About Killing Yourself

A few weeks ago, I read an article that got me thinking about suicidal ideation. It’s a really good article, and you should click on the link and read it. Put simply, in that article, Anna Borges describes suicidal ideation as treading water in the middle of the ocean. And that, my friends, is a damn fine description.

You may wonder why I am talking about this now. That’s a valid question. First, I don’t want you to worry. I don’t have any plans to hurt or kill myself right now. But then, that’s kind of the point concerning this condition. SI is a passive form of suicide. It allows for thoughts of self harm to live in the mind, whether or not active plans are present. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’ve suffered from depression for most of my life. I have never gone on medication, mainly because I’m scared. I’m scared of what the medication might do to me, and how it will change me.

I don’t define myself by my depression and thoughts of suicide, but they are a part of me. Sure, they’re an unhealthy part that hold hold me back, but there they are. Does it seem silly to worry about how feeling better will change me? Of course it does, but that doesn’t change my feelings. I often think that I should just go for it, but I always stop myself.

Anyway, back to why I am bringing this up at the moment. One, it’s the holiday season and that is a difficult time for many people. Though, according to this healthline article, suicide rates actually drop during the holidays and increase in Spring. This is interesting, considering the standard myth of most suicides occur during the holidays.

Suicidal Ideation is a State of Being

However, just because most suicides don’t happen during the holiday season, doesn’t mean those thoughts aren’t there. In fact, (again according to the healthline article) those thoughts probably are there. However, many people can ignore the thoughts because of interactions with others. Holiday parties, family gathering, and seasonal cheer might stave off suicidal action. Also, there is the idea that we don’t want to ruin the season for others. Suicide is already often considered a selfish act by many, and the holidays are for giving.

Second, and this goes back to the article by Anna Borges, we need to talk about suicidal ideation. The mystery and complex feeling surrounding suicide makes it difficult to talk about. If we tell our friends or family, there’s no telling how they will react. Some of them might get angry. Others might get scared. Most likely, there will be a combination of emotions. And I understand that. Listening to someone tell you they feel like hurting themselves or killing themselves is hard. It’s scary, and anxiety inducing, and can leave you feeling helpless.

Our friends and family care about us, and to that end they might want to solve what they see as the problem of our contemplation. The trouble with that, though, is they may not be able to solve it. In fact, they probably won’t be. And then they might get mad at their failure. Or, we will let them think that everything is okay while we suffer. Why would we do that? Because we care about them as much as they care about us and we don’t want them to worry.

And that’s the crux, isn’t it? We don’t want our loved ones to worry. So we remain silent.

Silence is Harmful and Unhelpful

But staying silent does more harm than good. It closes people off from us, and creates feelings of isolation. It also prevents us from working through our emotions. I’ve rarely expressed my suicidal ideation to my friends and family, but when I have, I’ve been lucky. No one has freaked out or gotten angry with me for expressing these thoughts. But, I still felt fear when doing so. Just as I feel fear now, writing this post.

But I am doing it because Anna Borges inspired me to be a bit more vocal about my feelings. I am not asking for help, advice, or sympathy. I am just asking anyone reading this to understand that many people have these thoughts. In fact, you, dear reader, may be feeling something similar at this moment. And that’s okay.

It’s okay to have these feelings. And it’s okay to not feel okay. Furthermore, it’s even okay to not want to share these feelings with others. But you know what else is okay? Wanting to and needing to share these feelings. Humans are social creatures. We need people we can trust in our lives, and we need to express ourselves. There is no shame in sharing your dark thoughts.

If you don’t think you have someone you can talk to about this, there are plenty of online resources. One example is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Phone number: 1-800-273-8255.

You can also comment here, and I will listen. Though, I understand if you don’t want to.

As for me, I’ve been feeling blue, so I bought myself a new pillow. It’s a silly thing and it won’t stop my suicidal ideation, but I needed one. And sometimes getting things that we need and want can help keep the darkness at bay.

The image shows my new pillow, something I bought for myself to stay happy and prevent suicidal ideation.

Listen and Be There Without Judgement

If someone comes to you with feelings of darkness, be kind. Understand it took a lot for them to open up. You can experience anxiety and anger and fear, but later. Let them tell their story. Open your ears and your heart. Close your mouth and your rational mind. There will be time for all of that later. But listening is so important. Many people don’t feel heard, and that adds to the pain. When we don’t feel heard, we don’t feel valued. And when we don’t feel valued by others, we often have difficulty valuing ourselves.

I’m not saying we need others to validate us before we can validate ourselves. However, I know when I feel down and worthless, it is nice to hear others express their feelings of love for me. It feels good to be valued by others. Additionally, by listening to your friend who is going through a rough patch without judging them or giving them advice, you show them that they aren’t a burden.

This is important because so many people don’t share for fear of burdening the listener. And yeah, it can be hard work listening to someone talk about suicide. It can also feel burdensome if your friend keeps telling you the same thing without changing. At that point, it sounds like complaining. But, remember, this is a process. It’s okay as the listener to feel like you can’t take it all. You don’t have to be there all the time, but be there when you can. Help when and how you can. It matters more than you think.

Thank you for reading. I love you, even if I don’t know you.

Three Versions of Stagger Lee: Waits, Cave, Hurt

When I taught Czech university students I played them three versions of Stagger Lee. And, since it was a conversation class, I had them discus the similarities and differences before telling them my thoughts. As an ESL teacher, it’s important to avoid injecting your own bias as much as possible. I’m not always successful, but I try.

The first of the three versions of Stagger Lee I played was Mississipi John Hurt’s (Stack O’ Lee). Many consider this version the definitive story of Stagger and William DeLyons. And that makes sense. It did come out in 1928, after all. Things of note in this version: Stack strikes fear in the community. He’s a cruel man and a bad man, and the cops can’t, don’t, or won’t arrest him. The myth of Stack or Stag as pure evil is on full display here. Also notable, Billy steals Stack’s stetson hat, and Stack kills him for it. Keep this detail in mind for later. Also of note, Stack uses a .44 to kill Billy. Something else to keep in mind. Finally, in this version, the law hangs Stack, and everyone is happy.

So, to recap, this first version of the story is the oldest and sets the template. All other tellings of this story owe it. At some point, though no mention of it occurs in this telling, the story evolves into a gambling disagreement. In some of those variations, Billy cheats Stagger Lee, and Stag kills him for it. Still, no matter how you slice it, the core of the story is that Stack/Stag is a menace to his community. People fear him and the police are powerless. He’s the Boogeyman, only real. In his telling, Nick Cave takes this theme to the extreme.

Three Versions of Stagger Lee: Nick Cave Gets Explicit

If Mississippi John Hurt gives us the menace that is Stack O Lee, Nick Cave gives us the terror of that man. Hurt’s version is subtle and understated. Cave’s version is everything but that. Stagger Lee, as interpreted by Cave is a brash and vile murderer. He’s also making a name for himself as evidenced by him having to tell the bartender who he is.

He’s a killer and a rapist. He is as immoral as they come, but still somehow cool. If Tarantino wrote songs, he would share co-writing credit with Cave.

It was interesting playing this second of the three versions of Stagger Lee to my class because it is so different. They were college students, and I warned them of the explicit nature. Still, I did worry that I was crossing the line of good taste. Of course, Nick Cave and good taste don’t go hand in hand. Thankfully, my students didn’t report me to the bosses.

And, they drew the obvious connections: Pork pie hat, bad man. But they also noticed the differences: in Cave’s rendition, Stag is much sexier (explicit). Seriously, listen to that groove, and tell me it doesn’t ooze sex. You can’t.

Another difference between this telling and Hurt’s is that Stag gets away with it. The song ends with Stagger forcing Billy to perform fellatio and then killing him. In an extended version, which I didn’t play for my students, Stagger is worse. He rapes the devil if you can believe it.

Nearly a century passed between Hurt’s version and Cave’s version, which accounts for the visceral difference. Of course, others were playing around with the legend of Stagger Lee in between, and that leads me to Waits’ Small Change.

Tom Waits’ Small Change Is A Different Telling of the Same Story

Now, in all my admittedly limited, research, I’ve yet to find anyone else connecting Small Change to Stagger Lee. But I stand by the connection. Both Stack O Lee by MJH and Stagger Lee by NC tell the story of a bad man with a hat and a gun. Sure, this isn’t much to go on, but the similarities to Small change are too close to deny. All three versions of Stagger Lee mention a hat, a gun, and the general fear of the community. The big difference is Hurt and Cave concern themselves with how nasty the titular character is.

Waits, on the other hand, acknowledges he’s nasty, but adds some optimism to the story. In Small Change, the communal menace gets killed on the street. And the killer uses his own gun, a .38. Here’s something interesting, in Hurt’s version it’s a .44. In Cave’s version it’s a .45. The caliber of the weapon grows in accordance with the menace. Yeah, Hurt’s version is a bad and cruel man, but he is only a simple murderer. Cave’s .45 wielding maniac is a rapist, a terror, and larger than life. Of course he wields the biggest weapon of the three versions of Stagger Lee I am discussing.

Small Change is Billy, Not Stagger Lee

That was the argument made by a student when I played these three songs. She argued that Small Change was Billy. Her reasons: the name, the hat, and the gun. Basically, Small Change, with his .38 is the odd man out. Not only is his name not Stagger or Stack, he’s got a pea shooter. Yes, Small Change terrorizes the neighborhood, but he’s fallible. It’s not the police who capture him, and he doesn’t live. In fact, his killer remains unknown. “Someone will head south until this whole thing cools off.” He doesn’t exude the overall menace of the other two. I am [paraphrasing because it’s been years, but that’s the gist.

On one hand, I can see this. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I can see it. More importantly, I appreciated this amount of thought and consideration from my student, and she made a logical and compelling argument. It happens to be one I think doesn’t hold up, but one I still think about nearly 10 years later.

Small Change is a Version of Stagger Lee

While I respect my student’s idea about this, I disagree. For one, in Small Change people are happy to see him die, just as they are in the other songs. In none of these three versions are people happy at Billy’s death.

Two, his death offers a chance at a better life: “The dreams aren’t broken now, they’re waling with a limp. Now that Small Change got rained on with his own .38.” Billy’s death would do no such thing.

Third, the newsboy steal the hat. If Stagger Lee were alive, that newsboy would be dead.

So, there you have my thoughts on three different versions of Stagger Lee as filtered through a teaching experience I once had. I hope you enjoyed reading this long diatribe.

The image shows the cover of a Stagger Lee comic, which is a fourth version of the three Stagger Lee stories in this post
Order the book and learn more. I don’t get any money if you purchase through that link. I’m not an affiliate.

Rise of Skywalker Review: Overstuffed With Fun

So, I saw Rise of Skywalker and here is my review. Overall, I enjoyed this movie, but that isn’t to say it didn’t have its problems. In fact, it had tons of problems. However, I felt they were fun problems to have, rather than dumb or uninteresting ones. I do think, though, that the ideas presented in The Last Jedi were more interesting in total, but that’s okay. This is a different movie.

For the curious, I will try to keep my Rise of Skywalker review as spoiler free as possible. If you’re reading this its presumably because you want to see the movie. To that end, I don’t want to spoil things for you.

I will say that the movie starts off in frantic fashion and never really slows down. Director JJ Abrams has a lot of ground to cover, and it shows. The first quarter of the movie just feels like a bunch of jump cuts and table setting. Not that there aren’t some cool things there: good action, humor, exotic locales.

Unfortunately all of this kinetic screen time kept me from investing in the film. At least right away. While the pace doesn’t really slow down much, it does offer a few points to catch your breath. And those are important beats. Star Wars, at its core, has always been about character and heart. Sure, epic space battles and laser swords are great, but it’s character that matters. This movie seems to forget that at first, but remembers in time. Or at least, it remembers enough in time.

Rise of Skywalker Review: Not Quite a Nostalgia Factory

Surprisingly, this is not the nostalgia engine I expected it to be. Yes, it has a lot of nostalgic elements in it. And yes, it makes callbacks to itself, to other movies in this trilogy, and to the other movies in the saga. However, I rarely felt annoyed by the callbacks. That might change after subsequent viewings, but this time all was good.

The image shows a First Order Stormtrooper, the bad guys in Rise of Skywalker, which this blog post offers review of
First Order Stormtrooper Statue in the theater here in China

Aside from the pacing, I have a few other complaints, but they verge on spoiler territory, so I won’t mention them.

I will mention, that John Williams’ score was fantastic, as always. And there were a few twists and turns I enjoyed. I think the main conceit of the movie is a little silly, but that’s okay. Star Wars has always been a little silly, so it’s only fitting that the final chapter of the Skywalker Saga follows suit.

While this isn’t my favorite Star Wars movie of the new ones (hello Rogue One), I did like it. There are some things I wish hadn’t happened. And there are some pacing issues. Still, it felt like a Star Wars movie, and that’s a argument for it.

Your mileage may vary, but if you check it out, I hope you like it. And let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks for reading my Rise of Skywalker review.