30 November 2002

a KTV christmas

well, it's still bone-crackin' cold here in northern china with a high today of -4 celsius. happy unthanksgiving to all and hope those of you who indulged in post-thanksgiving consumerism were not trampled into wafers.

Acrobats--four high school students were seen travelling on one bicycle last week.
Hazy Shade of Winter--a few weeks ago the snow started up, and all us shivering inhabitants fell asleep to the glow of a white world only to wake up the next morning to an orange one. occasionally the wind direction changes and we get a visit from the gobi desert's more nomadic elements. the change in hue was, to say the least, notable.
Michelle's Restaurant--okay, this one is second-hand. michelle, another bai da wei teacher, lives above a restaurant which formerly belonged to a friend of ours. as she was walking home last week, she noticed one of the cooks take out some garbage to the dump in back, remove some meat on top of his bag, sniff at it, shrug, and walk back into the kitchen with sniffed meat in hand. despite this invitation to avoid eating there, michelle tried their fare and, shockingly enough (sarcastically), it wasn't very good. shockingly enough (sincerely), she didn't get retchingly ill from the experience.

everyone at bai da wei had america's thanksgiving day off for which we were all very thankful. the restaurant on the first floor affiliated with the school was also closed, and we were able to prepare a thanksgiving meal for 45 people in the kitchen. greg was in charge of the lamb, turkey and stuffing, nell in charge of pavlova, shea in charge of buttermilk biscuits, new michelle in charge of gravy, and i heading up the mashed potato front. the turkey was about a 35-pounder (according to my conversion from jin to kilograms to pounds) and came with claws, head and brains. sadly, my vegetarian self was not around to see the dead bird with head and feet intact, but shea tells me it was quite a sight to behold. the head and brains were on display in the fridge for all to see, and the claws were cooked with the rest of the carcass. serving the food had only one hitch, being that most of the chinese guests had any idea what stuffing or gravy were.

the pavlova was a hoot! pavlova is a baked australian
confection covered with fruit and whipped cream. nell the australian opted for kiwi as the fruit of choice, and she was in the process of slicing up the kiwi when kim the new zealander entered the kitchen. as you probably know, new zealanders are often referred to as kiwis since both the bird and the fruit are native to new zealand. so greg the south african told kim the kiwi to see what nell the australian was cutting up, and poor kim ran away screaming in outrage or fear (couldn't tell which). i won't belabor recounting our thanksgiving, but it was quite a gas and salved being so far removed from american freinds and family.

so i guess i'm going to be on a nationally televised christmas program in china. david, the headmaster of my school, is directing the show and asked a bunch of us teachers to be in the special. nell and old michelle are performing a snowman dance (i'm looking forward to it) and the chorus is doing a few numbers in chinese and english. i am doing a solo and a duet in addition to the chorus stuff. the solo is "mai tang yuan," a vendor song about a kind of soup used to celebrate the lantern festival, and the duet is in catalan with a kick-ass woman named roser (her hometown is not far from cardona, marc torres-gual's hometown). none of the music is live for one reason or another, so we recorded the solo yesterday and are recording the other music today. during the solo recording, we went through it once straight and david then said to add character. "imagine you're missing teeth and have the clap." i'm looking forward to seeing the costume. perhaps the most interesting guy in this whole scene is robert, whom i will hereafter refer to as "mr. star search." during the intial organization meeting, mr. star search asked repeatedly when prospective soloists could expect a call and what opportunities for extra numbers there were and could we expect to be on national television more than once and could we receive individual copies of the program. i hear that one of his desired solos was sinatra's "my way." sadly, this wasn't deemed christmasy enough.

i had dinner the other evening with kate, an english teacher at jilin university, and her friend darlington. after hearing about her students chronically cheating and her hardships with learning the language due in part to knowing so many chinese students who speak english well and in part to living on campus, i am beginning to rethink teaching at a university. my kids may not know much english but they are cute as hell. plus, i live in a small hutong and have to use chinese on a regular basis. decision pending.
darlington is from southern china, and he tapped two fingers on the table after i poured beer into his glass. i told him i had never seen anyone say thanks like that before, and kate asked me how i knew what that meant. i finally remembered that neal stephenson had referred to it in "the diamond age". the man does his homework.

sweet god, this entry is long!!! sorry. i'll finish by relaying that my mensa class (they're my smartest class) loves "you're older than you've ever been" by they might be giants. hope your thanksgiving was marvy and talk to you soon!

16 November 2002

hot rocks with maple

it occurs to me that i have forgotten to relay a swell bus tale from a few weeks ago. Robin, a swinging chick who is also a teacher at bai da wei, has occasionally accompanied me to my swimming hole at xian guanchang. the first of our tandem submerged exploits began with the single most crowded mode of transportation i have ever been in. many buses in changchun are actually glorified (i use the term glorified lightly) minibuses that have no maximum capacity. on this particular occasion, there were so many people on the bus that no one budged as we careened around roundabouts and plunged into stophood at red lights. there is usually a person to take money at the door, and his task on this venture was to jam people in and yank people out of the bus. at one point there were so many people that he could not rejoin the bus' swelling population and the door closed on him. the bus driver, oblivious to his comrade's screams over the din of his disgruntled cargo, started driving on. the money-taker/yanker/pusher banged on the door to little effect, since the occupants were so crammed in that they could not reach the handle to pull the door open. he finally had to rush in front of the bus to get the driver to stop. i wish i could have gotten to my camera.

this past tuesday was spent in the company of Shea and Maple, a new friend of Shea's and hence a happy acquaintance of mine. many teachers have been on the lookout for a bona fide bathhouse/sauna that didn't peddle more services than one would care to explain to mother. Maple knew of such a place and was kind enough to invite Shea and myself to attend. such bliss! we got white pajamas and unlimited use of the milk sauna and oh-so-warm showers. one room had a pile of hot rocks and a stretching session led by an instructor. there was another room with hot pebbles that you could pour over yourself and sleep on, with an adjacent area for sleeping or swinging under heat lamps. the wooden swings under red light seemed so dreamlike, so peaceful and quirkily well-placed. when we were all taking a final shower before joining the clothed world (shea took a sauna), i happened to have a conversation with a woman who was stunned by my white body. she asked if i was married, complimented my chinese, and asked if i would like her to introduce me to a good-looking boy of hers. she asked Maple the same thing about 5 minutes later and i wondered if it was the same boy or if she had a list of eligibles somewhere in her purse. it has to have been one of the most memorable afternoons in changchun for its other-worldliness. the feeling lasted just up until the time that my wet hair froze upon contact with the outside air. the best part was that i saw no flesh-peddling (if you don't count the woman tring to marry maple or myself)! woo-hoo! anyway, i believe a group of us are planning to go next time. will keep you posted.

i was planning to talk about learning chinese chess and discussing the triathalon in chinese during a recent swimming escapade and a televised christmas program i am probably going to take part in and the new teacher whose pluck is immeasurable, but i suppose this will all have to wait. time to study a bunch of characters and prepare for the next day of slinging english with a bunch of aspiring young minds. hope all is well.

09 November 2002

3 truckers and a beer

well, it's been a quiet week in changchun, my hometown. halloween passed with great pomp and a little circumstance. i dressed as a mermaid by borrowing nell's skirt and cutting up an old bedsheet to make scales which were subsequently safety-pinned to aforementioned skirt. that and makeup a la ty's makeup design class (thanks ty) actually allowed most people to guess what i was. the top costumes had to go to lavendar and sharon, who dressed up as a spider and a princess, respectively. lavendar had the best makeup job i have ever seen for halloween, and sharon actually won a costume contest at a nearby foreigner's bar by declaring herself to be a "princess with a bottle of beer" into a microphone when asked. she won 6 bottles of beer, and the rest of us were kind enough to drink her prize. our young students were off their head about speaking one sentence of english ("trrick or treat") and getting a few pieces of candy. it has certainly improved participation in classes, although i think they are beginning to wise up to the fact that candy for a sentence in english is not likely to come around for another year. ahh! the trials and tribulations of children wising up to bribery!

a few days ago was rife for some reason with requests for my drinking or my hand in marriage. i imagine for some women that this is a common practice, but it struck me as a bit odd. one restaurant i walked into had a waitress who was all hip to matchmake and three truckers who insisted i come and drink some beer with them. what a wacky evening!

oy! gotta get to class! talk to you all soon.