Friday, March 31, 2006

The Conclusion of the Speech Contest
At the end of the toasts and drinking, Lanny told me that professional hosts were lined up for the party after dinner. Previously she told me that she and I were set to host the party. Immediately, Bill Murray, singing the 'Love Boat' and 'Star Wars' as the lounge singer on Saturday Night Live, flashed into my head.

The party was down the hill a short distance from the restaurant. I walked with Lanny along a dimly lit road. I felt like I was at Osage Hills State Park in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Of course, that is, if Bartlesville were surrounded by mountains and had an overwhelming majority of Chinese who had just feasted on pigeon and goose shins.

In a clearing, were plastic chairs and tables. Peanuts and bottles of water were on the tables. Aunt Hagatha ws quite impressed with the Chinese Peaunts ("It must be something in the soil" she said.)On a makeshift stage, or a tea house patio rather, a karaoke machine was being set up. At this point, the students had their opportunity to shine. All of the hits that I had been waiting to hear would, unfortunately, not be performed this evening.

One of the students from the insurgence on the bus had an acoustic guitar. I was hoping she might sing 'We shall overcome.' That was not to be. Instead, she stood with a friend holding the mic to her face facing the crowd, nowhere near the stage, and sang some sort of makeshift song that she may or may not have composed, and which may or may not have been composed five minutes before she played. Everyone clapped. There was an endearing Spinal Tap quality to it. While she was singing one of the karaoke technicians was trying to set up a mic on the guitar. He completed his task as she hit the last chord which, incidentally, was the wrong chord.

A couple of the handlers sang some Chinese classics with which, of course, I was not familiar. Another student, Sailor's buddy, sang what I supposed was a Backstreet Boys song. He was really amazing. I was stunned by his near perfect annunciation. When I talked to him later, I assumed he would have flawless English. He did not understand a word I was saying. When he did understand something I said, I could not understand his reply.

Later, Kathy, one of the contestants sitting at the table where Lanny, Aunt Hagatha and I were sitting, went up and sang 'Memories' acapello. The whole time she sang, Hagatha cooed "Oh, she's good. Oh, isn't she good? Oh she is really good." Yeah whatever Hagatha, order another bottle.

The fun, for me, was soon wearing thin. I wanted, I really wanted to go back to the hotel and read and take advantage of its sumptious 4 starness. That was not to be. More people got up to karaoke. I started scanning the crowd for possible dissenters who might want to join me in my karaoke revolt. Crap, everyone looked like they were having a good time.

Then it started. It started to rain. My prayers were answered. Not quite. This is when the umbrellas were brought out and put into the holes in the center of the cheap plastic white tables. Foiled!

"Are you having good time, Mr. Tyson?" Lanny asked.
"Yeah, I am getting a little tired though."
"Ah, so, I am tired too Mr. Tyson," Lanny replied. "The party will end soon."
After what seemed like an hour more, but was probably only fifteen minutes, the party was wrapped up. We then walked along the road which was now even harder to see.
Finally we were back at the bus, I sighed. I will soon be home. Well, not home but the place where I am comfortably sleeping tonight.
"Yes, we will be back to hotel in thirty minutes," Lanny informed me.
Thirty minutes?! Why I assumed the hotel was only five minutes away, I do not know. I looked at the clock at the front of the bus. The time was 8:35. We would be back to the hotel by a little after 9.
Fortunately, we got back to the hotel with no difficulty. Pessimistic me imagined getting: lost; a flat tire; held up and taken hostage by anti-Maoists. None of that happened; we arrived back safely.
I procurred another can of coke from the concierge, threw all of my crap into my bag (so I would not have to do it the next morning), lit some candles, turned on my bedside light and settled in to read my book. Someone knocked on my door. I opened it. The concierge handed me a ticket for breakfast. I said 'Xie Xie' and closed the door and went back to reading my book. Five or ten minutes later, someone else knocked on my door. I opened the door; Megan handed me an envelope and thanked me for hosting the contest. I told her that I enjoyed doing it. As soon as I shut the door, I tore open the envelope. I was anxious to know how much I had been paid. Had the - Chinese Anji - man stuck it to me? Did I need to start an uprising. Fortunately, I was paid a nice Chinese amount. I was paid what it takes the average Chinese worker two weeks to make. I was paid 800 kuai (100 buckaroos). I was happy. After I put the money in my wallet, I got back in to bed. Five minutes later, there was yet another knock on my door. I opened the door. A student named Frankey stood there, holding a bar of chocolate. Would you like some chocolate? Yes, I would love some chocolate. He handed it to me; I said "Xie Xie;" he walked off; I shut the door and continued reading my book. Happy with my Coke and chocolate. I read for an hour or so and then I turned off the light and went to sleep. I had a wake up call coming at 7:30 am. I decided to live dangerously and leave the candles burning.

At 7:30 am, the phone rang. The same sugary female prerecorded chinese voice as yesterday said "This is your morning wake up call." For once, I felt rested and got up immediately and jumped in the shower.

Today, we were to tour the bamboo forrest where parts of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was filmed which I heard people repeat about every five minutes during the course of the tour and before. After eating another breakfast of noodles and pastries, I was ready to see some bamboo.

Past hovels of squalor and polluted canals, the bus made its way to the bamboo forest. At what I assumed was the bamboo forest which I had been hearing about for the previous two weeks("Oh, Anji, there is special bamboo in Anji." and "Anji has famous bamboo.") - we pulled into a rutted gravel and dirt parking lot. The parking lot had all of the permanence of a independence day fireworks stand. We parked and walked to the bamboo forest which was past a wooden stockade and cheap knick knack stands.

I would like to say when I entered this mythical bamboo forest of spiritual martial arts proportions, I had a religious experience. But, alas, I did not. The only thing I soon experienced was sore feet because I did not have my Nikes. I was tromping around in my Miu Miu dress shoes and not happy.about it. I did not know I was supposed to pack like Ginger did for that 'three hour tour.' Oh Gilligan!
This was the start of my not-so-happy phase with the day. The next thing I know is some of the group talking about digging up bamboo roots. If you dig it up, you can keep it because like chicken feet, goose shins, and pigeon; bamboo roots are good eating. This excited Lanny to no end.
"Oh Mr. Tyson, if you dig it up you get to keep it." She talked as if bamboo roots were gold or silver or diamonds. The thing for me about good eating is I am not into digging up my good eating. I like to go to the produce aisles or when I feel really daring I might buy from the farmer's market. Digging for good eating in my Italian leather shoes is not on my list of "Wow someday I want to do that!"

Of course, the next thing I know, I am walking along, part of the group, observing an old man with a pick like you would dig for something in China because god forbid you use something involving modern technology. He is digging up a bamboo root. I am standing back aways. The others are standing close enough to share his sweat. I think to myself, "Wow, I am so lucky because, I am part of the bourgeoisie. I do not have to do that sort of manual labor. And, I do not have to do that sort of labor using a tool popularized in the Tang Dynasty" About this time, I overhear Megan ask for volunteers. Again, I think to myself "What retard would volunteer to do manual labor?"
"Mr. Tyson should give a try." I heard my constant companion's voice. It was starting to sound much like nails on a chalkboard.
"That's okay," I started. "I don't really need to."
"Mr. Tyson, don't be shy," Lanny said with some Chinese thrown in after to seal my fate.
The next thing I knew, I was handed the pick and coached on how and where to swing it. I gave the root a few half-hearted swings as I was being coached in Chinese by the old man and in English by Lanny.
"Hit the side of the root Mr. Tyson"
The students watched attentively. I handed the pick back to the old man. He handed it back and said something in Chinese.
"Mr. Tyson, you have to dig until you can pull it out."
This is when my patience started to ebb. I knocked and scratched at the root with the pick. I was starting to sweat. I was wearing a Ted Baker dress shirt; I was fearing armpit stains! I looked at the root and it seemed happy where it was. Finally, frustrated and fed up, I sliced into the middle of the root with the pick.
"Mr Tyson," Lanny said in the same sort of voice as if I had drown a puppy or slapped a child. I thought she was going to cry. "You have ruined it."
Ashamed, I handed the pick back to the old man and walked off. Stunned, Everyone looked at me. I sat on a bench made of bamboo and sulked. From glory to pariah, that was life in China.

A few minutes later, the mutilation of the root was forgotten. This is when Lanny told me what we were doing next. We were going to the bamboo museum.

The bamboo museum was about as exciting as, well, a bamboo museum. In the entrance was the tallest bamboo in the world. However, it had been cut so that it could fit under the roof. Beyond the tallest bamboo in the world that had been chopped to make it not the tallest bamboo in the world was an elephant made from bamboo. An elephant that could have been a giveaway from Pier 1. "Buy $5,000 of our cheaply made sweatshop crap and get a free elephant."

Other highlights of the museum, a room of canned food that contained bamboo (Oh! Exciting! canned food in a museum.) and a room of yoga mats and floor runners made from bamboo. Lanny was my exclusive tour guide. Lanny was excited and excited to tell me all about the bamboo. After walking through room upon room focused on bamboo, we stopped for lunch. I was starving until the chicken feet soup arrived.


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