china

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!

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First Week In China!

Hi everyone! I haven’t posted anything since I’ve gotten to China because it turns out that wordpress is blocked, along with Facebook, Blogspot, Youtube and Gmail emails that contain photos. I finally found a way to bypass the firewall, so here is my first blog entry. I’ve also found a website where I can upload photos to share, and the link for that is:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/68162807@N00/page2/

So to catch up to whats happening now, I’ll start with the beginning. Last Sunday, August 9th, my mum and dad drove me to NYC to catch the plane to Shanghai. The whole trip I had no troubles at all, except for the 11 hour layover in Shanghai before I caught my flight to Guilin. It was really long and I couldn’t check my bags until an hour before since it was a domestic flight. But other than that it was fine. I flew into Guilin and a guy was standing there with my name on a sign so I followed him and he drove me back to Yangshuo. The drive was pretty good. I had forgotten what Chinese traffic and driving was like. We must have passed every single car on the road, and almost gotten hit head on by a truck multiple times. The guy was definitely a really good bad driver. The scenery was nuts going there too, the sun was setting behind the karst mountains and there were fires burning all over the rice fields, burning the extra dry grass the farmers picked. We stopped for a windshield wash at one point and there was an almost naked guy taking a shower under a faucet at the gas station. When we got to Buckland in Yangshuo, I was greeted by a young guy named Yuan who took my bags and had me fill out some paperwork, then I was shown to my room at the ‘ESL Hostel’. I fell asleep right away even though it was only 8 or 9 oclock. I hadn’t been able to sleep at all on my 11 hour layover, so I was pretty tired.

The next morning I woke up at 6am and so I hung out in my room until I heard the door next to mine opening. I ran over and looked to see who it was and it was another foreign teacher, Craig, who is 6’9 and from Florida. He had gotten there the day before so he showed me where the office was and where breakfast is served. It turns out breakfast is noodles, congee, youtiao (oily breadstick things), steamed buns and hot sweet soy milk. That day I went with Craig to climb two of the karst mountains in the area and took a zillion pictures of it all (on Flickr), and then we went to West Street to have lunch. After that I had to go change money so I went back to my room and got some travellers checks with the intent to go to bank of china to change them, then went back to the school to pick up my passport. There was a foreign teacher there named nick who said he would give me a ride on the back of his bicycle. So after some watermelon, I jumped on the back sidesaddle and we sped off the the bank. I felt like a real chinese lady balancing on the back of his bike, weaving in and out of traffic. Anyway I got to the bank and changed my money pretty easily, then we went back to the school and I went back to my room to get my laptop to see if I could get a wireless connection in the office. When I got back to my room I fell asleep and wouldnt have woken up had craig not knocked on my door to see if I wanted to come to some event that was happening that night on west street with the school. We all got in Yuan’s electric bus and drove over to West Street. I had no idea what was going on but I was told they were filming a tv show to be broadcasted on cctv guangxi on october 1 for the people’s liberation army and the p.r.c.’s 60th birthday and we were to be participants. They sat us down at this table on the side of the road they were filming on, gave us some shiny light up batons and told us to look excited and happy and wave them around. They also gave us pitchers and cups of beer which we were to drink and cheers as often as possible, maintaining our excited looks. There was a guy from the army there next to us to make sure we did just that. There were tables down the middle of the road with snazzily dressed teenagers who were dancing in unison to a song and a camera guy running all around them taking shots every which way. They kept having to repeat the takes because it was so disorganized and people just kept forgetting what they were doing or walking off. At one point a fight even broke out and the police had to run in and take the guy away. I was exhausted, so by the time the thing finished, we left as soon as possible to walk back to the school. It was a long walk but it was fun because I made friends with this chinese kid who works in the office as the I.T guy. He doesn’t speak English, so we talked a lot in Chinese and I was happy I got a chance to practice and to speak with someone who cant speak English and a real resident of Yangshuo. His name is Liu I think. Anyway, we got back to the office and then me and Craig walked back to building number 7 where our rooms are, and I fell asleep soon after I got there.
The next day after breakfast we went to the police station to register ourselves and thats about all I did other than walk around more and I met a few more teachers that arrived from Las Vegas named Corie and Adam.

On Friday night I decided I wanted to explore the places where I can get beer around here, and a few of the other teachers agreed so we went out with some of the Owen College students to Alley Bar near west street on the smaller river. It was pretty fun, we just talked a lot and I had some conversations in chinese as well as english, but more often than not in english and spoken very slowly. I played a game of pool and me and corey won, I got the majority of shots in which is strange as I’m so bad at playing pool. Then tony, one of the students, asked us if we wanted to follow him to another bar called rooftop bar. So we went there and walked through these people’s living room and up about ten flights of stairs until we got to this bar that was…on the rooftop. There was this tiny girl who was the owner and a bartender named stussy who has a maniacal laugh and is the most nuts person in China that I have ever met. We stayed there a while and lit a wish lantern which craig had to let go of because he is the tallest, but the wind just put it right back down onto the roof. So there was a giant flaming lantern bouncing around on top of the roof, and we thought the place was going to catch fire but finally it bounced off and floated away. The bike ride home was nice because there were so few people on the road so we could free-wheel it all the way back without being afraid of dying. I forgot if I mentioned I rented a bike for 5 yuan a day. Ever since I got that bike, I have been zipping around everywhere and all over yangshuo and the countryside.
Last week a few of us decided to go explore the countryside and maybe go swim in the river. It was me craig cory and adam and emmanuel, a guy from Quebec. We were going and got caught in a huge torrential thunder and lightening storm and we ran over to this overhang that was made for a restaurant at someones house that was closed, but then this guy came out and we asked if we could stay under the overhang and maybe have some beer, so we all bought a beer and sat under this wooden hut until the rainstorm passed. When we got the river I jumped in but no one else did. It was good swimming and I swam across, trying to avoid all the bamboo rafts that tourists were taking downriver. I talked to an old fat guy in a speedo who was swimming across as well who said he studied english and japanese in guilin university.
On saturday I went to ask nick, one of the teachers at owen college, if he could tune my bouzouki so I went over his apartment and he did, then he asked if I wanted to go with him to the post office, so we went there and he mailed some postcards then it was so hot, so he suggested that we go swimming in the yulong river again that day. We biked all the way there and then we swam all afternoon. I got incredible burned and red. Then later on he left and all the other teachers came with some new ones that had arrived that day. There are so many arriving now that it is hard to keep track.
I slept a lot on Sunday and had watermelon with some of the new arrivals and then had pizza on west street with craig. I came back and found nick and went to get my bouzouki and we re-tuned it because the humidity is so bad here. Then I went back home to hang around a bit and I watched some things on my computer, then craig came by to hang out and he decided he might want to go to liuyang as well, which is awesome because I was afraid I might be alone there, or at least with an older couple or something. I’d rather be with someone who is around my age and in the same general mindset as me. Also, we were looking in his lonely planet guide and it turns out there is a carrefour in changsha, which is amazing. I can make some western food when I get homesick! Anyway, tonight I’ve just been writing postcards because training starts tomorrow morning and I want to be rested.
I’ll write about training when it’s all over, and by then I’ll also know if I’m going to be going to Liuyang or not!!