At 7 am, the phone rang. A sugary female prerecorded chinese voice said "This is your morning wake up call." I hung up the phone and debated not getting up. Responsible Tyson took over and dragged me to the shower. The water felt wonderful. I wanted to stay in the shower all morning but I knew I had to be quick because I still had to shave before breakfast.
Once I was out of the shower, I felt the chill of the bathroom which had no overhead heater. I turned on the blowdryer and let it dangle. It kept hitting the sink as it blasted hot air which quickly warmed up the bathroom while I shaved.
With my hygiene chores out of the way, I put on my D&G suit - which I had bought at Loehman's in New York a year ago on sale, a red and white striped Ted Baker dress shirt, my brown striped John Varvatos tie and my Miu Miu shoes. I was ready to take on the world or at least a small part of the world in the People's Republic of China.
I headed down the stairs to the adjoining building for a Chinese breakfast of noodles and pastries. My cohost was nowhere in sight. I was the last one to hit the buffet breakfast. At the end of the line were empty dispensers of orange juice and coffee. I would have really loved a cup of coffee or even tea. Later I found out that the Chinese drink a porridge for breakfast so they do not drink tea at that time. Since I was one of the last ones to eat, I ate quickly. After I ate, I ran back upstairs to get my notes for the contest. When I got back downstairs, at 7:55, a handler told me everyone was already in the bus and they were waiting on me. I dashed out and onto the bus.
When I sat down, Lanny asked me if I had a nice rest. I told her I had a very nice rest. She did not have a nice rest because of all of the noise in the hallway. I told her the noise did not really bother me.
"Mr. Tyson you are so lucky that you had a nice rest." For some reason, when she said this, I felt like I had won an award for sleeping through an atomic blast or something. She then asked me if I went right to bed or if I stayed up for awhile. I told her that I read some before I went to bed. She misunderstood what I said and thought that I stayed up and practiced being an emcee. With this she said, "Oh, you are so hardworking. I was too tired."
The bus rolled through town. The town was flat, sprinkled with sculptures and new buildings. The school was on the other side of town from where we were staying. On the other side of town was an industrial park like many of the industrial parks in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma. Most of the buildings looked like they had been erected within the last 10 years.
Anji Changshuo High School was the location of the speech contest. From what I was told, Changshuo was a famous artist who donated money to help build the high school which looked fairly new to me. The campus was the size of a small junior college.
When we arrived, Lanny and I were ushered back stage and given water and green tea. We were fitted with clip-on mics and corsages. Throughout the day, the mics did fine, the corsages were troublesome. At times, my corsage was upside down. The corsages were constructed of scotch tape, safety pins and random flowers. The corsages had the aesthetic of a VFW shotgun wedding. I imagined some Chinese mom putting them together the night before as she drank Sanka and smoked Parliaments. By the time we met everyone and put our mics and corsages on, the time was 8:40. The contest started at 9:00.
"Let's practice one more time Mr Tyson."
At this point, I had decided I was not going to be nervous. I thought back to the times I had been booed during Kittens shows - Janes Addiction in Austin, P.I.L. in Boston. My cohost did not make not being nervous easy. She kept correcting me and telling me how important (as in world peace importance) my pronouncing the names was. For instance, when I introduced a professor from Zhejiang University, I had to remember 'zh' makes a 'j' sound. And that is the easy part, all of the places my tongue had to be during this endeavor was like trying to learn how to French kiss in braile. I would have liked to see Casey Kasem in my shoes.
The introduction went fine even as the engineer was trying to stop our mics from squealing like an Eddie Van Halen solo. I would speak and then she would translate in Chinese and nod to me and then I would speak and so forth. We then introduced the first contestant which was fine. I introduced her and told which high school she attended and then Lanny would say it in Chinese. We would then walk off stage and the contestant would come up and give a speech on the environment.
Backstage, Lanny would coach me on how to pronounce the next contestants name and high school. During this time the next contestant would come backstage and we would make small talk to keep said contestant from being nervous. I tried to tell most of them how courageous they were to tackle a speech in another language. Or, I would tell them to imagine the audience in their underwear like Marsha in the Brady Bunch when she was nervous before she took her driving test. This hit a big fat cultural barrier so I did not press it.
At lunch time, we survived intact, Lanny and I followed the others for a meal in the school cafeteria. Yum. (JOKE!) We had bamboo and cold fish (which she told me was most delicious, it was not) and mystery greens. After lunch we walked around the barren campus. One of the reasons that made me think the campus was newer was because the trees were all saplings. In the distance were mountains but where we were was as flat as Amarillo.
We then looked for a place to rest. We were led into an empty conference room and given water. Lanny disappeared. I asked myself why I decided to come to China as I sat there. Lanny came back in and told me that the gentleman in the office by the conference room wanted us to come into his office to listen to music. Lanny acted as our translator. The man had his PhD. He offered me a cigarette. I took it. Lanny looked at me in shock.
"Mr Tyson, I did not think you would smoke."
"Yeah, sometimes." I did not know how else to say it. How do I say I am a non-smoking smoker and a coffee drinker who does not like coffee?
Our time in the man's office was a mystery to me. He seemed like an important official and wanted to practice his English but then Lanny acted as our interpreter. After drinking green tea and smoking cigarettes, we headed back to the auditorium to conclude the speech contest. The morning part of the contest was the junior high section which included the four children in primary school. The afternoon, the senior high students competed. At this time, the results were given to Lanny and me from the mornings competition.
During the last half of the senior high competion, I started getting nervous. Lanny at this point told me the order of the announcements and how we were to announce the students and the high schools they attended and the presenters which I thought the presenters would have to read some student names. No, all the presenters had to do was hand the students certificates stating the students had won the awards in the International Students English Speech Competition. The other factor that made me nervous, we were given papers to read and then five minutes later someone would come correct it, maybe the presenter had not shown up or a person was left out. This meant more names for me to potentially butcher and end the world as we know it. To add to all of this, I had to pee really really bad and I could not leave the backstage. Lanny said it would not be a good idea. I thought about peeing out the backstage window. In my drinking days, I would have.
Okay, to set this up, 32 students were in this final competition (15 in the morning and 17 in the afternoon) and 32 students won prizes. Do the math. Yes everyone won something. Which means, yes, I had to announce 32 winners and their prospective high schools and the presenters and their prospective titles and universities. Lanny said the names first in Chinese and then I followed in English with everyone including the presenters coming onstage. At first, I think I did okay but it quickly was reminicsent of the 'I Love Lucy' episode in which Lucy was in the production line at the chocolate factory. Names like Pu Jing Jing, Shen Li Li, Li Zhi Chao became a blur. At this point, the numbers on the stage made the Polyphonic Spree look like the Kingston Trio. Unbeknownst to myself, one of the presenters Mr. Qian Jianping was my boss whom I know as Edgar. The one name that I absolutely wanted to say perfectly I crapped all over.
I have not been that embarrassed since my miniature weiner dog, Goldie, got out when my mom opened the door to get the morning paper. Goldie - in her prime - chased after my junior high marching band - in which I played the snare drum - with my mom (in her house coat and night gown and morning hair) chasing Goldie. Since I took drum lessons from the junior high band instructor Mr. Tanzey, he knew my mom. Naturally, when she came up to collect Goldie, cordially, Mr Tanzey greeted her "Well...Hello, Mrs. Meade." And, of course, for the slower students (aka stoners) that did not realize it was my mom in a house coat, night gown and morning hair standing there holding a barking weiner dog; my friend Steve Fowler said to me loudly "Hey man, it's your mom!"
Fortunately, I am an adult now. I am able to laugh those sorts of things off. And, if that doesn't work, I have a credit card; I can move to another town. China is a big country.