Wednesday, April 26, 2006

In a week, I will have been in Shanghai for two months. When I first got here, I told myself I was going to study Chinese an hour a night, I haven’t. I have a phrase book, an exhaustive – and exhausting – dictionary, and a Chinese survival guide that I crack open when I think about it which is probably less than every few days. Part of me tells myself learning a language is something possible for children not adults so I do not even try. The other part of me tells myself, I have picked up phrases and basic pronunciation so I should try. If I spend an exorbitant amount of studying, I do well on tests. I must remember this.

In the US, I would rent a car and go across the country or hop on a plane and go across the country but here in China, I am not comfortable doing that. I will take a taxi or walk but I do not like to go to far away from home by myself. I feel like I have no safety net. This is a weird feeling. I have probably not felt this way since I was a teenager, before I started driving.

My mother raised me – by example – to be very independent. In the late forties (or early fifties), she went alone to Boston from Ponca City to nursing school. Of course, back in those days, slow moving letters by the post were really the only way to contact friends and family. Phones were too expensive for the commoner to call long distance. At that time, I am sure Boston seemed much further – or as far –from Ponca City as the People’s Republic seems from the United States today.

The thing about being here is I do not think I get homesick. That is the funny thing. I do not even know if I get homesick. With the number of trips I have made around the sun at this point, I know that I will see everyone again. Or, I hope to see everyone again. Of course, I may just be telling myself I am not getting homesick to keep myself from having a nervous breakdown. Last week I was walking through the enormous school gate and I smelt burning trash – nothing really that out of the ordinary here – and the trash made me have the most intense craving for the a cheeseburger at the Hungry Frog in Oklahoma City.

The funny thing is time has flown since I have been here. Time has been flying at a pretty steady clip since the turn of the century. Next week is May Holiday which is astounding to me. I cannot believe it has already arrived. I feel like I just got off the plane and was unsure about my future, if I had indeed made the right choice in coming here.

Speaking of the May Holiday, for the holiday, Maureen, Jennifer and I are taking a cruise down the Yangtze River next week. We will see a place called the three gorges which I heard is beautiful. Soon, they are damming where these gorges and some very old villages now sit. We have been told this is very important to see. Monday, we fly to Chongqing. We stay in a hotel that night and board the boat the next day. The cruise is a 4 day cruise. From what I heard, the meals are questionable, the toilets are questionable, the rooms are questionable. I think we are going to have the time of our lives.

But now, I am focusing on what is going on here and now. In class today, I asked Class 7 where they were going or what they were doing for May Holiday. No one responded. Slowly, I am getting the idea that most of the time they do not understand what I am saying. I walked back to where Bill – who I called Kira (which he quickly told me Kira was a girl sitting across the room, oops)and who had to give his presentation on China first last week after he kicked his friend – and his trouble maker friends were sitting. They talk though the whole class which is definitely annoying. I went back to ask them what they were doing and one of the boys said to me
“You are Pooh.”
This sounded very Tao to me but then I thought it also sounded a bit like poof.
“I am what?”
“Pooh,” he repeated.
“Pooh?” I asked
At that point, the girl who sits in front of this rowdy group of boys turned around and said. “All of their English is very poor. That is what he is trying to say.”
For some reason, I thought this was the funniest thing because I thought they were saying something of course totally different and the boy was telling me his English was poor. And then, for some reason unbeknownst to myself, when the girl – who was obviously one of the ‘smart’ kids - said this the boys were all very embarrassed and each of these really tough sorts of dudes put their heads down on the desks in embarrassment.

Tomorrow for the Geography and Culture Class, I am showing North by Northwest. Cary Grant and Mt. Rushmore, what else could a guy ask for?

Okay, so I have not buckled down and studied Chinese like I promised myself I would. I do, however, feel like I have got a crash course in the culture since I have been here. What I have learned during my time in China:

1. Egg goes with (and on) everything. Stewed cucumber and scrambled egg are a lunchtime side dish as is slightly blanched tomato and scrambled egg, a fried egg tops off any noodle dish, a mystery meat – that looks like ham – sandwich is not complete without a layer of egg.

2. It would be easier to find hip Chinese indie-rock at Quail Springs Mall in Oklahoma City than it would be to find it in ….China.

3. When creating a world geography and culture midterm, keep in mind that you will be grading said midterm later. Do not make the midterm a pain in the ass to grade.

4. Do not lose any midterm once it has been handed back from the student and before you have graded it. That is not smart.

5. If a somewhat spoiled Chinese teen - who seems to eat everything in sight - promises you the most delicious steak ever at an American style restaurant in China, opt for a poke in the eye instead.

6. If you must jaywalk and you are caught, pay the fine which - I read in today’s follow-up jaywalking story in The Shanghai Daily – will set you back between 5 to 50 yuan (60cents to $6.20). If you do not want to pay the outrageous fine, do not scratch or berate the policeman because you may accidentally be caught on videotape like the woman from the other day. You will then be on the news. You will then be embarrassed and resign your post from an educational consulting company. Masters be dammed. That’s educational.

7. The Chinese eat a lot of rice, every meal has a bowl of rice on the side. Surprise.

8. If the dish rotating around on the lazy Susan appears to be roasted goose shins, barbequed pigeon parts, goose foot soup, chicken foot soup, any part of the frog anatomy (which you might recognize from 9th grade biology), possum, chicken head soup, fish head soup, cow stomach, creek snails, river snake; you are in fact correct. That varmint is going to be in your craw before you know it. Yum.


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