Friday, March 03, 2006

Welcome Banquet

Last night all the foreign teachers at Hexi were taken out to dinner by the President and Vice-President of the University, as well as the Head of the English Department and our waiban Miss Mao. There are nine other foreign teachers (or "foreign experts" as we are considered, and I will soon have a certificate declaring myself one), and I hadn't met most of them. As expected I am the youngest, and the others are from England, Scotland, America, Canada, Singapore, the Phillipines, Egypt, and Hong Kong. The dinner was excessively nice, and we were gathered around a large revolving table with dishes placed all around it, which Miss Mao had to push along the entire meal. There were more than 30 dishes all in all, generally very good, and the most interesting of which included chicken stomach, eel, and an entire chicken complete with head. There was an elegant bird carved out of turnip for the center, which the waitress dropped and broke before it even got to the table, so another was immediately fetched. When I asked what it was made out of, the Vice-President joked that I better not eat it or I would get Avian Flu.

I was told I would have to make a speech as a new teacher and the youngest, but this never came to pass, not that I minded. Eating out in China, especially formally, includes some important social rules such as never drinking alcohol unless you are toasted or toast someone. The bill is also never split, and generally paid by the oldest or most successful. Towards the end, there was quite a lot of toasting going on, and the heads of the University and Phillip started drinking baijiu by the glass, a strong liquor popular in China. Drinking in China is generally only done with meals (I'm not sure yet if there is a single bar in town), and they like to do drinking games that involve fingers and shouting numbers at each other. The game that I was taught involved first showing your middle finger "to show friendship", and I explained that if they are ever in America it would be best never to do that.

This morning Miss Mao took me and the other two new teachers to the bank to open accounts. On the way to her office, I noticed an elderly woman doing Tai Chi with a sword on the basketball courts, which I think is quite a common site if you are up early enough. The bank was very modern-looking, but after about 10 minutes I realized that next to each computer was a wooden abacus, the old-fashioned Chinese counting machine, rather than a calculator. In town there is a new street called European Style Street, or Marco Polo Street, and up and down it are big white buildings with Roman columns, but if you go one street over, there is a dirt road and houses made out of bricks with no doors. There are expensive European cars in town, and right behind them will be a man on a cart being pulled by a donkey. China is supposed to pass Japan and possibly even America in the next century as an economic powerhouse, but they are also the oldest civilization on Earth, and I think this is an interesting time to be here, especially in the places that aren't quite at the forefront of the economic growth.

I also haven't mentioned the weather here. It is cold, probably about the same as New York right now, but considerably drier. It hasn't rained in six months and it seldom snows. However, Southeast Asia was too hot for my tastes and I find the weather refreshing. I think this was also a good time to come because it is only going to get warmer. It wouldn't have been right to stay in Southeast Asia anyway, because if there's one things that connects Binghamton, Buffalo, London, Denmark, and Zhangye, it's that they've all been damn cold.

No comments: