Month: January 2010

Bye-bye Hunan, Hair-Chop, Guangzhou

Hey everyone! I am in the Guangzhou Baiyun Airport right now, going on some very expensive airport-cafe internet.
Last Thursday I finally got my new resident’s permit, which I was a little afraid I wasn’t going to get in time for my flight, but Owen, the Buckland guy, fanagled my resident’s permit in half the time its supposed to take. I taught my last three classes on Saturday, did a bunch of laundry, cleaned my house and got ready to leave the next day. On Sunday I called a car to bring me to Changsha, kind of early because I was getting anxious just sitting at home trying to find things to do to pass the time.
When I got to Changsha I walked around for a bit but it was super-cold and i didnt bring my heavy winter jacket because I dont want to carry it the whole time i’m in toasty warm thailand. I called my friend Little Seven and went to visit her at the little cafe bar where she works. It was also freezing in there and my feet were wet, but Little Seven gave me some hot water and a candle. I randomly found the book ‘The Wind in the Willows’ on the bookshelf, completely in English, and read that for a while. Then a big group of people came in because it was someones birthday and I met a girl who could speak perfect English. She said she had been learning English for 16 years, but her English was better than most people I’ve met in China who have been learning just as long as her.
After a few hours I went to catch my train, which was at 11pm. As I was walking into the station I ran into some World Teach teachers who were also on their way to Guangzhou, but it turns out we were on different trains that left around the same time. By that time i was a little late to catch my train so i ran to the platform and hopped onto sleeper-car 6 and found my bunk, which happened to be right next to the bathroom. That is never a good spot on the sleeper trains because the light is left on all night, and there is a continuous stream of traffic. As soon as the lights went out, however, I conked out, only waking up when the train stopped at a station.
We arrived in Guangzhou around 8h30 in the morning and I hopped on the now-familiar subway and went back to Shamian island to the youth hostel where I stayed the last time i was in guangzhou.
Everyone was awake in the dorm room, so we all introduced ourselves and there were three other teachers who teach in the same town as a lot of the buckland teachers, Yongzhou in Hunan. There was also a swiss guy who was travelling and an old christian guy who has lived in china for 16 years and was just waiting for his visa.
As soon as i set myself up, i went to the 7-11 and got some breakfast and walked around. It turns out there was a big adoption group all with girl babies from Hunan, around Changsha. The whole group had been in Changsha a week ago. I talked to a little 7 year old girl who was there with her family adopting her little sister, and i told her that my first time in china i was only 11, and that was when i decided to move to china when i grew up. She could speak a little chinese and was wide-eyed in a 7-year-old way, correcting her dad when he said a Chinese word wrong. I like to think i might have influenced her just a little bit by telling her about living in China. Maybe she will move to china when she is older, too!
After that i just went back to the hostel and slept the rest of the morning away because i didnt sleep very soundly on the train. When I woke up everyone had gone their seperate ways, so I decided to go walk around. The week before I had decided to chop off all my hair before I went to Thailand (haircuts are good to get before going on adventures), so I made an appointment with a fancy hair salon in Guangzhou. Little did I know how fancy it was…
When I got there they took my bag and jacket and wrapped me up in a brown jacket-thing and brought me over to the ‘consulting chair’, where i sat and the hairdresser touched my hair and decided what could be done with it. I showed him a picture of what I wanted, and he nodded and sent me to get my hair washed. I think the lady must have washed it four times with all kinds of different stuff, and massaged my head a bit and then dried it off and did a fancy towel wrap. When that was all done they sent me to one of the hair-cutting chairs, which were all positioned so the mirrors they faced reflected each other, allowing the person getting their hair cut to see all sides of their head. The guy came over and started cutting my hair and it must have taken an hour or so, and he was doing all these fancy scissor cuts and chatting away, and then decided he wanted to use a bunch of goo things just for fun, and when he was done i decided the guy was an artist and it was the best haircut I ever got. Maybe its worth paying a little money and not just hacking away at my hair with some scissors in the shower….!
That night I gave some friends a call who I met when they were visiting changsha a few weeks ago. They invited me out for the best hot-pot i’ve ever had. There was endless plates of tripe and beef slices and wierd animal parts and sliced vegetables and little fish and who knows what else, but it was all incredible good and incredibly spicy.
One of them is a hip-hop artist in China and so we went to see one of his friends in their studio in guangzhou and we hung around there and listened to music and drank milk tea. The guy there had a snake that he let me hold, and an orange frog in a box that didnt move for three hours. After a while I was falling asleep and we decided to go. My friend Zhou said he would drive everyone back to their homes, and on the way we stopped for more food. I had some coconut jello stuff that is made out of shaved turtle shell. It sounds weird but its actually really tasty.
The next day (today), I took a .5 yuan ferry accross the river, which i had never known existed. There were a bunch of noodle places and a bakery, and I went with one of the other teachers to get some sweet bread. Their train was at 3pm so we all decided to go get some extremely tasty and cheesy pizza at ‘papa johns’ on one of Guangzhou’s walking streets.
When they had to leave, I decided to stay downtown and walk around for a while to pass time. I took the subway to the train station where there are zillions of enourmous buildings full of shops for wholesalers and regular shoppers. I’m not big on shopping, but there is so much good stuff it is actually kind of fun to poke around and imagine being rich!
After that I went back to the hostel to pick up my bag and hopped on the bus to the airport, where I am now waiting for my check-in time and charging batteries of things that need to be charged.
I’ll be in 86 degree Thailand in exactly 5 hours!!!


Hospitals, China Island, Toy Nabbing

About two weeks ago I got really sick and had a 103 degree fever for about a week. I was feeling pretty feverish that Thursday night and when I woke up in the morning I could barely get out of bed to make a phone call to cancel my classes for that day. When I did, the first thing that the English teacher Cindy said to me was ‘you have to go to the hospital as soon as possible to get injections’. I was thinking…hmm..injections for a fever? I figured I’d wait it out to see if it was just a 24 hour thing, but the next morning I felt extra awful and decided to go get some medicine. The doctor at a little clinic said ‘Oh gosh, you’re gonna need an injection’, only after looking at my temperature, so I agreed, feeling all feverish and wanting to get better. I went down to the medicine shop with a long list of things I was supposed to get and bring back with me, and got a bunch of these bags of clear liquid and some little glass vials and a bunch of pills. The nurse sat me down in a big chair and strung up all the clear bags which she routed into a vein in my hand and told me to sit for about two hours while the stuff dripped into me. All the while there were some pretty crazy cases coming in and out of the injection room, like a guy that had both hands bandaged and his face was covered in a thick white cream. But then there were people that looked fine coming in and out too, getting quick injections or long injections of brown liquid or clear liquid. A guy even came in and just sat down at the nurses station and started saying who knows what to the nurses, which made them all giggle and smile coyly.

When my injection was all done, I was told that my fever should be completely down, but if it came back that night I should come back for more injections the next day. Well, when I left I still felt feverish, so I decided to go in the next day. I was supposed to eat the pills they gave me and drink some thick brown liquid too, in the meantime. That night my fever got way up to 104, so the next day I went back again to finish the injections. When I left, I still felt the same, so the doctor gave me more medicine and told me to take that until my fever went down. It went down a little that night, so I figured I could go to work the next day, Monday.

I woke up on Monday morning and I still had a high fever and opted to stay in bed and not get more injections, but the next day I still had a fever so the school told me that I must go back to the hospital. I went to another hospital in Liuyang, which is the ‘People’s Hospital of Liuyang’, and was told it was the best hospital around, which gave me some confidence. I walked in and it was all concrete and freezing inside, jam-packed full of sick-looking people. The injection room had one wall covered in a thick coat of black mold, with a fan right next to it blowing warm air (and mold particles, i presume) into the freezing room. The chairs were metal and lined up in rows, with metal hooks hanging from the ceiling to hang your injection bag on. I went to the hospital bathroom and I swear there must have been four inches of poo in every stall. Luckily there was a non-squat toilet that no one seemed to use, which was very nearly poo-free…

The doctor must have prescribed some other kind of medicine because it was brown stuff this time, though I was very doubtful any of this would work since I had been twice already with no success. I tried to get the English teacher that was with me to just let me go home and sleep off the fever, but she insisted I stay and come back three more times after this.

I got jammed with a needle to test if the medicine would work, and a little bump appeared on my hand, which I guess told the nurse it would work, so they set me up in one of the metal chairs and let the brown stuff drain into me. After that I came back five hours later to do it again, and I was actually starting to feel a lot better.

The next day I was told to come in two more times, and was given some really really really rancid brown liquid to drink that night as well. The next morning my temperature was below 100 but the school insisted I go back again, which was probably a good idea, even though it was freezing and moldy in the hospital. I went back twice that day and by the time I was done, I felt 100% better and that Thursday I got to go back to work.

This past week I have had a few funny experiences with motorcycle taxi and taxi drivers. One of the times I was riding in a cab and having the typical conversation of where I’m from and why I speak Chinese, and the cab driver said to me “There is a black man who teaches English at the number one school who can speak the local dialect” and I said, oh thats great, where is he from? The cab driver responded “he is a black man, so he must be from africa.” and I told him, well, there are black people everywhere, maybe he is American or England or somewhere, since he is teaching English!”  and he looked at me like I was crazy and said “Western people have blue eyes and golden hair”.  I told him that in America there are black americans and even asian americans. He gave me a skeptical look, saying “Hmmm…”, and changed the topic to “So how much do you make?”…

Another motorcycle taxi driver the other day asked me if I return home to America often. I told him I don’t because plane tickets can be almost 7000RMB from Shanghai to New York. He exclaimed, “So much money for only a two and a half hour flight!!!” We almost fell off the motorcycle when I told him that it was actually an 18 hour flight home….

I figure that this level of knowledge of the outside world is about the same as it would be in small town America, if everyone in America was blonde-haired and blue-eyed. China is huge and powerful, and like a lot of small town Americans, no one really finds the need to care at all about anything outside of their day-to-day surroundings, especially if there is no one around that looks radically different to remind you of the outside world.  I guess its kind of like before I moved to Canada, I think I had thought of it maybe two times in my whole life, and had no idea it was only 6 hours away…

Also, I have developed yet another strategy for getting kids to pay attention. I have a plastic bag that I call ‘The Toy Bag’, which I bring to every class, and by the time I leave, it is full of everything that was being played with in class, whatever it is. I currently have a complete arsenal of ping-pong balls and paddles, along with Slinky’s, Pokemon cards, erasers, cross-stitch, and a probably the entire collection of ‘Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf’ comic books….

The semester is pretty much over, I just have one more day of teaching this Saturday, then Sunday all the kids take exams and go home for Spring Festival for the entire month of February. I’m taking a train to Guangzhou on Sunday night where I’ll fly out of to Bangkok on Tuesday night. I’ll be meeting some friends from Changsha in Guangzhou, as well as the members of the ol’ 7-11 club on Shamian Island again. I’ll be in Bangkok for a few days alone, until my friend Bo from Montreal’s Dutch friend Peter will arrive, then Bo and another friend from Montreal, Shana, will arrive a few days after him! It’ll be so good to see familiar faces, and I’ll be updating my blog a few times during the month, so “see” you all next in Bangkok!!!

Crazy Dinner

One has never feasted until one feasts with the Chinese. This weekend I stayed in Liuyang to have a quiet weekend, and go practice Taekwondo a little. I went on Friday, then went home early and had a good long sleep. Saturday I just sat around all day until after dinner, and ran out to Baisha road to see if I could catch a taxi downtown to the Taekwondo school. It’s always a hit or miss with catching a taxi out here, but I got one at the last minute and was a little late to class. I can usually understand only half of what is going on, and so when class ended a half hour early I wasn’t sure why. It was explained to me that there was a performance somewhere near there and that the black-belts would be participating in it, so I decided to follow everyone over there to watch. We walked down the road and under this archway with flashing neon lights, and then up five flights of stairs into this massive room full of people and a huge dance floor where couples were waltzing around to some strange electronic waltzing computer music. I went to stand on a bench with some of the people I was with, and watched a few performances. They were advertising a dance school, and the performance consisted of men in tight pants doing a line-dance rumba and then a bunch of little girls doing a choreographed dance to some song, then a bunch of professional waltzers waltzed around in suits and crazy dresses. After those performances, the people from my Taekwondo school did their demo, which went really well. There were a lot of people wide-eyed from the board-breaking they did.

After they finished we were all ushered to a private karaoke room where everyone sang songs till about 10h30. A girl convinced me to sing ‘my heart will go on’ with her. Needless to say, she did most of the singing (very well too, considering it was all in English). When everyone started leaving I kind of joined the crowd, and when we got downstairs I realized that a midnight feast was immanent. We piled into a few taxies and ended up on this side street at a big late-night hot-pot restaurant. We crowded 15 people around a tiny table with a giant pot in the middle and they proceeded to order two big boxes of beer and a ton of food (how much food, I couldn’t have known yet). A big pot of crabs was dumped into the boiling bowl in the middle of the table, and we all devoured those, then after three more bowls of delicious crabs, a bunch of steamed buns were brought out with sweet sauce and spicy peppers. After I thought maybe that was it, more crabs were dumped in, and after those were finished, a girl came over and scooped out part of the leftovers then came over and dumped a ton of broth into the bowl and stoked the fire underneath to get it to boil. While all this was happening, I swear two more big boxes of beer and a zillion toasts happened, and then the waitress poured a bunch of meatballs and seafood balls and garlic and onions and cilantro and lettuce into the broth. After this I was figuring that must be the last of the stuff, but then she brought out some fried steamed buns and some fried noodles and salty peanuts and oil-bread sticks and some kind of peanut sauce. While everyone was devouring that, I think every person had a toast with someone else between every bite.

After these four boxes of beer, and all that food, the waitress then brought out two big bowls of noodles that she dumped into the big middle bowl of broth (and everything else previous), as well as some plates of lotus roots and more lettuce and cilantro. I think they must have ordered more beer because someone whispered to me that there was now a challenge between two people on who could toast the most toasts. After a bit I went to the bathroom only to encounter the respected Mr. Li coming out of the bathroom looking a little bleary eyed saying ‘gosh, I sure drank a lot, would you like some full size fireworks for your Christmas celebrations?’. I went into the bathroom and sure enough, the respected Mr. Li had thrown up all over the place and was going out for more.
When I went back, I realized those lotus roots and cilantro plates had come from a metal shelf that was brought out that had about two more big bowls of noodles, meatballs and bean sprouts and Chinese sausage and a zillion other things. These were all devoured in due time, while a few more cases of beer were sucked down.
I also forgot to mention, while everyone was getting more and more intoxicated, and more and more toasts were happening, and more and more food was being devoured, all the crab shells, bones and used napkins and chopsticks and cigarettes were being tossed on the floor. Every time another toast would be poured, someone would drunkenly shove in and try to top off someone’s glass with more beer, and it would go all over the table. This table-beer started to drip off the table onto the mess on the floor, which ended up being a giant soupy mess both on the table and off.
One of my teachers explained to me some of the rules of Chinese alcohol culture. First, when you ‘ganbei’ (dry-glass, aka cheers) someone, your glass must be lower than those who are older than you. Second, you must always have a very full glass. Third, you must drink the entire glass on every cheers and show the empty cup to the table. He explained that this differs from Chinese tea culture, because tea culture calls for a half full glass and small sip.
This same teacher began a game with everyone at the table, where you go around and say a certain specified word or phrase in your home dialect. Everyone at the table had family from different places, so he would point to one person and say ‘Hunan!!! Go!’ and they would say it in Hunanese dialect, then ‘Liuyang Hua!!’ then ‘Hubei!!’ then ‘Jiangxi!’ then ‘Chongqing!’ then ‘Beijing!’ then ‘Cantonese!!’. It was actually really interesting for me, to hear people speaking the same phrase each after the other but in completely different, exaggerated accents in Chinese.
After a few more shelves of lotus roots and lettuce and cilantro and noodles and crabs, and a few more cases of beer, at about 3 in the morning, the big group (1/3rd of which had been sleeping on friend’s shoulders), decided it was time to go home. Two of my teachers brought me home in a taxi (unnecessary but they insisted), and I came home, and jumped into bed, incredibly full and incredibly exhausted, but very happy from the craziest dinner I’ve had in China!

This happened a few weeks ago, but I haven’t gotten around to posting it until now. I will post soon about recent things like Christmas and New Year, just as soon as I have some time to write something up!