Getting there is half the fun!

Remember the 11-day traffic jam in China 2 years ago?  I wasn’t there — thank goodness — but I felt an ounce of fear last night that something similar would happen to me on my way from the airport in Guiyang to Huangping, where I am comfortably air-conditioned now. After 2 hours of racing (I’m talkin’ The Fast and the Furious) through the windy mountainous roads, we came to a halt. For the next 2 hours. By the time we were rolling again, it was already 8:30 pm and would be another 2 hours before dinner. Oh, what’s a 4-hour delay??

(Indiscreetly peeing roadside.)

We were dropped off at the side of a highway (the first time was at a fork in the road), walked through a toll booth with our luggage, only to be picked up by another manic driver who would fly us to dinner, and eventually to our hotel. We were going 60 on roads that would’ve been marked 20 in the US.

One of our drivers (the one who was going to drop us off at the fork in the road). He was all drive, no talk (except when he got a phonecall, which was quite often).

I am safe and sound in Huangping county now, where it’s humid and grey and surrounded by green hills. The majority of the population here are Miao, people from one of the largest ethnic minorities of China.

The locals are very friendly and don’t stare rudely (as they do in Beijing) at the American teacher in our group, a 70-something lady from Jersey who has been teaching English in various countries for over 32 years. But she happens to love Guizhou–its terrain, the Miao and Dong people–so here she is again to train local/rural English teachers on developing their own teaching methods, and I am here to assist.

Nothing spectacular has happened yet, but getting here was certainly half the fun–if you’re into adrenaline rushes from near-death fright.

**If you want to see beautiful photography of Guizhou, check out John Fanai’s site.**

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Emily, the Awkward Turtle

I just taught one of my Chinese students the meaning of “awkward turtle,” a phrase my college friends commonly used to break moments of, well, awkwardness. Then last night, I realized that I am an awkward turtle.

When I was living in Brooklyn, I went out more often than not. I loved going to bars by myself; who knows who you might meet in this wild world? I was a social butterfly! I talked to everyone; the bartenders (I love bartenders), men, women, the underage, war veterans, the elderly… it was the best of times. Since I moved to Beijing, however, I’ve been spending my weekdays exhausted at work and weekends with my parents. Sporadically I’ll go out with Dingding (my only friend–I don’t know what I’d do without her), but she’s always busy (with her boyfriend), and I can’t depend on others all the time. I need to make friends! I crave entertainment (aside from WordPress)! So, I looked online and found a show to go to by my lonesome. Actually, I was quite excited because I thought it would be a great chance to get myself out there and make some new friends!

Boy am I naive.

I went to a bar called D-22 to see an indie rock band from Shanghai–Boys Climbing Ropes–which consists of three tall Canadian men and one little Chinese vocalist who they call Little Punk. She was AWESOME. They were awesome.

While I was sitting at the bar slurping down my whisky ginger waiting for the opening band, Me Too, to start,

I noticed a very studly foreign lad looking my way. Sure I threw him a few glances, but I got tired of doing that and was too nervous to walk over so I opened up an issue of Timeout Beijing, which got me to the show in the first place. While I was reading and pretending I was totally independent and cool and didn’t need any friends, Studly Lad came over and fiddled around with the drink menu on the bar. I thought I would just raise my head ever so slightly to perhaps make eye contact, but instead–I don’t know what came over me–I blurted out “HELLO!” like an overeager beaver. The bartender had also just come over to offer him a drink. Studly Lad became flustered, looked back and forth between me and the bartender and walked away. I wanted to sink back into my hard shell and never come out to face this harsh world ever again.

No, this is not Studly Lad. But close.

And this wasn’t even the first Emily, the Awkward Turtle moment of the night. This incident occurred after my encounter with an American who worked at the bar. Though this conversation wasn’t as awkward as the Studly Lad one, I noticed that while I was “conversing” I had trouble thinking of things to say or even words to express what I wanted to say. When the American introduced me to one of the band members of Boys Climbing Ropes, I said, “Oh wow! Good luck!” to which they responded with chuckling. Do you say “good luck” in that kind of situation?  I can’t remember! Was I supposed to say, “Have a far out show!” or “You guys are awesome (even though I have never heard of you before). Can I have your autograph?”

Anyway, I got over my Studly Lad tragedy and hoped things would improve as the night progressed and I had more to drink. When the music started playing, I wanted so much to dance my brains out as I used to do, but I was too shy. So, I just bopped my head to the beat of X is Y in the corner.

Here and there I made small talk with Chinese girls, too intimidated to approach English-speaking foreigners. And when Boys Climbing Ropes came on stage, I was front and center and even jumped up and down to their heavy beats. They even dedicated a song to me–Socially Awkward. But as soon as the show ended, I walked straight out that door–no goodbyes, no telephone numbers, and no new friends– without looking back except to take a photo to remember the place where I changed forms.

What has come over me? And what am I afraid of, you might ask?

Well, here are my theories as to why I have traded my wings for a hard shell:

1) I have been living with and hanging out with my parents too long. Besides Dingding, I don’t socialize with people my age.

2) My opportunities of speaking English are limited and I am forgetting it orally, as was the case with my Chinese.

3) I felt awkward to begin with because I showed up at a bar alone (even though it used to be a favorite sport of mine).

4) I am currently facing an identity crisis which I shall elaborate on in another post.

Whatever the reason, I have forgotten the art of socializing and I desperately want it back. That night was a kick in the butt I’ve been needing to get my groove back. It might take a while, but I am determined to make friends while I’m here, because life just ain’t worth livin’ if friends aren’t in it.

Anyway, less talkin’, more walkin’. Wish me luck (this is a more appropriate situation to wish someone luck, right?)!

 


Cruising Down the Yangtze

Another highlight of my trip to Chongqing a couple of weeks ago was the boat ride along the cityscape. The port at which the boats are anchored is where two great rivers of China–Yangtze and Jialing–intersect.

The boats are quite extravagant, and so is the lady who runs the boat above.

My parents and I were tricked into paying more money for a fancier boat (should it be called something else? Yacht? Ship? Chitanic?). The smaller one docked next to ours looked far more exciting.

My family is Chinese, but we’re a gullible bunch and fall for tourist traps all the time. Oh well, so our boat had chandeliers and spiral staircases and 80 yuan kettles of tea, at least it was a peaceful cruise.

Irony, or perhaps I should use the term disparity, runs this country. Here’s just one example:

Can you guess which boat I was on?

I’ll give you a clue, I was not on the same boat as this lady who was cooking up a small storm. Though I would’ve gladly given her a hand if I got something delicious to eat in return. I’d do anything for food, except light the stove with a match–I’m afraid of fire.

Anyhow, it was a short ride up and down upstream Yangtze, but I had a pleasant journey.


Mysteries Solved!

There’s a Chinese tradition behind all that free lettuce  (mentioned in yesterday’s post) that I learned today; when China was still very poor, lettuce was one of the few available vegetables people could eat during the wintertime. Now any kind of vegetable can grow, or be chemically produced, in the cold season but for older generations eating lettuce has become a wintertime tradition, for that’s all they had. Although, rather than calling it a tradition, I would say it is more of a habit since being restricted to lettuce wasn’t exactly by choice (though not all traditions are practiced by choice either…). Anyhow, now it makes sense to me why my neighborhood is handing out free lettuce–overproduction and contractors are just convenient excuses for keeping this tradition alive. Whatever, I’ll take it!

Another mystery I solved today was how window washers (aka Chinese Spidermen) do their job: they sit on wooden planks wound tightly to a rope which a lady at the bottom holds onto (for unknown reasons) from which they slowly descend! Brave souls; I commend you!

Something that still remains a mystery to me, however, is why there are so many old school thermoses parked by the bikes at this university, though they do add a nice touch of color to the campus.

I thought these things were “vintage” now. I’ve seen mini versions of them at stores sold along Maoist propaganda that has become part of the pop culture. It’s so hipster–Chinese style. I should stock up while I’m still young and relatively cool.

Two mysteries solved! Infinitely more to go.