Thursday, January 21, 2010

Things I Miss About China, #3: Amusing Surprises

The day after Christmas we treated ourselves to massages at this really great massage salon in Xiaogan. While we were getting our massages, we were also watching what can only be described as an Italian/Korean version of every single Disney movie-length cartoon, but mainly The Lion King.

After the massages, Matt & I took a bus to Wuhan (the big city near Xiaogan). We spent our 24 hours there dining at the illustrious Aloha Cafe - where we glutted ourselves on burgers and burritos and chocolate desserts - , riding busses, riding more busses, hanging out with the amazing Ann and enjoying a long Sunday morning at Starbucks. The amusing surprise comes in a few days after we returned when I discovered that I had spent the weekend with the third longest river in the world. I noticed the river, I just didn't know it was significant. The Yangtze or (Chang Jiang) is 215 miles shorter than the Nile, 83 miles shorter than the Amazon and a mere 15 miles longer than the Mississippi/Missouri.

My last example of an "amusing surprise" in China is from my journey home. My flight from Wuhan to Beijing was bound to be a very depressing time. I was prepared to hide my face beneath my scarf and pretend to be sleeping so that no one would have to suffer through the awkwardness of sitting near a sobbing Westerner. However, I never had the time. A business man who spoke a small amount of English sat next to me and started a very rough conversation with me about the book I was reading, Jane Eyre.

It was obvious he just wanted to practice his English, and I needed a distraction, so I spent the next two hours trying to have a conversation with him. He seemed to be better at reading English than at understanding spoken English, so we took to writing on our barf bags. He wasn't a fabulous speller, but it was typically pretty easy to figure out what he meant. The best moment for me was about an hour and a half into the flight when he wrote:

"You are buttyfull."

Yep. I did my best not to burst out laughing as I wrote the correct spelling for beautiful below it. Most amusing compliment ever.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Things I Miss About China, #2: The Scents of Xiaogan

Only for nostalgic reasons.

The streets always smell like ginger (used in almost every recipe it seems). All of my clothes smelled like ginger when I came home from China.

The streets also smell like scooter exhaust, dust and raw meat.

I can't quite describe the emotion I felt the first time I walked past a table of uncovered raw pig feet right on the side of a busy street. It just became normal to duck past a long line of raw linked sausages while chatting it up on the way down the street. If you look out of the windows from Matt's apartment, you can see links hanging out windows in apartments across the street. It wasn't until Christmas day that I saw a sight that would disturb most Americans, but which only added to the intrigue of the country for me: raw dog meat, hanging out to dry.

It may sound crazy, but it was kind of exciting to be among a people who seem healthy enough without obsessing about silly things like germs and sanitation.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Things I Miss About China, #1: Frogger

How many of you played "Frogger" back in the day?

I didn't play it very often back then, but I played it quite frequently in China. Not at an arcade. Not a vintage gaming website on the internet. But every time I crossed the street.

I know this is a common plight for pedestrians in many countries outside of the U.S., and it's certainly true of China. The cars don't brake for dogs, adults, children, scooters, other cars or very large busses. Really, buildings are the only things that are safe. They drive inches away from each other and yet manage to avoid wrecking. It's truly astounding. When crossing a major intersection, you have to take it one lane at a time and just hang out in between the lanes while you wait for your opportunity to cross the next lane, maybe two if you're lucky.

It was exhilarating.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

fancy-pants dinners & karaoke

The week leading up to Christmas was quite full with all kinds of singing and schmoozing. On Tuesday the foreign language department teachers and staff (plus me) were taken out to dinner by Chairman Zhang, the president of the school. It was significant because Zhang is so happy and chummy all of the time. I can't help but smile any time I think of him. It was also significant because the food was very good and very different than I'd ever had before.

Two dishes really stand out: the baby shrimp and corn dish, which were fried (I think). Does it make me a sinner for really loving fried baby shrimp?

Next was what can only be described as crunchy corn & apple pizza with sprinkles on top. Absolutely delicious. And bizarre. But mostly delicious... until it got lukewarm. Lukewarm corn isn't any good, even with sprinkles on top.

After dinner we bundled up and headed out to the local KTV. KTVs are very popular in China. Essentially they are karaoke joints. But erase all your ideas of American karaoke bars and exchange it for cozy rooms with mirrors on the ceiling and waiters who bring tables of snacks while you and your group of 10-15 friends sing to your heart's content. Everyone joins in, even the people who seem very shy. And people don't need alcohol to really get going either. Matt & I sang a couple of duets, including the illustrious "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." I think I need to start a KTV revolution here in the states. So much better than bowling (and I love bowling)!

The next night was an even fancier shin-dig at Xiaogan Hotel where all of the foreigners in town were invited to a big dinner reception to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with the mayor and several other city officials. There were about 50 foreigners present and around 75 people there total. Matt was asked to give a speech (about 4 minutes long) about living in Xiaogan. He was the only foreigner to give a speech. The mayor loved his speech so much, that Matt's name and part of his speech made it into the local paper the next day.

Following the speeches was a dinner of more courses than I can remember. And finally, the entertainment. Some of it planned, some of it on the spot. The mayor, who seemed to be a very happy fellow, attempted to sing a Russian song with a Russian lady acapella. Afterwards Matt & I performed our rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", which was received so well that the mayor himself requested an encore of "My Heart Will Go On". This is a favorite in China, so Matt has sung it a lot already this year. I, however, had never fulfilled my eighth grade dream to sing this Titanic hit to a crowd of strangers - a dream that lost it's luster somewhere around eleventh grade, but no matter, here was my chance! So we grinned and did our best to remember all of the words as some foreigners rolled their eyes, others cheered, waved their arms in the air and took pictures, and the mayor sung along from the front row.

A dream come true.

Christmas day was filled with bliss, too. Matt cooked up a brilliant breakfast (I helped) of pancakes, maple syrup (from scratch), applesauce (also from scratch), scrambled eggs and French pressed coffee. Mmm. We spent the day with the other foreign teachers, exchanged gifts and had an incredibly memorable Christmas dance party at Karen & Jeff's apartment (they are both foreign language teachers from Cameroon - they have an adorable five-month old boy). And as Matt & I strolled back from dinner and dancing, we got to watch fireworks going off just a few streets away from us.