Thursday, March 23, 2006

Making Chinese Friends

Went back down to the Rock and Roll Guitar Pub last Saturday. The owner Xiao Ma ("Little Ma"; Ma is the surname, and this is how friends of the same age refer to each other in China) was glad to see me again, and insisted on stopping what he was doing and changing my guitar strings for me even though I'm fully capable of doing it myself. As he speaks no English I was again lucky to have someone there who does, his friend Wang Ya Juan who is a primary school teacher our age with a lot of "young and naughty" students. According to Miss Wang, Xiao Ma (the "x" in Chinese Pinyin sounds like "sh") wants me to join his "guitar team" and come down every week. She was translating literally from the Chinese and was not grasping the word "band". So, yes, I have been invited to form a band with Chinese students who love Guns 'n Roses and speak no English. Needless to say, I will not be passing that up.

Xiao Ma has a dream of buying an American Fender guitar, a dream I was forced to crush over the course of the afternoon. He was looking to buy a good guitar from America and have it shipped to him - for about $100. Through Miss Wang I delicately explained that a reasonable Fender guitar will cost a minimum of $300 or $400, not including shipping. He was eyeing Eric Johnson's guitar and wanted to know if he could get it for $100, so I looked it up on the internet: $2,000. After an extended period of looking at guitars on, I think reality finally set in, and that was that.

Xiao Ma also took me and Miss Wang to dinner, hot pot once again. I then proceeded to fail at handling my chopsticks, stain my shirt with hot sauce, blow my nose around 20 times (not very polite in China, though spitting is fine), and very nearly die from a hot piece of fish containing about 40 small bones. Miss Wang is a very nice girl but her English is unspectacular, and my Chinese is much worse, so conversation was a bit limited. However, I have actual Chinese friends now, at a guitar shop no less, definitely a step in the right direction. After dinner we went back to the shop to play some more music. I knew they would force me to sing so I brought the lyrics to "Let It Be", and I can only hope the language difference helps mask my terrible voice. Random students hang out there, so there was a girl on drums for some songs. When I finally left at 11pm they watched me take a taxi to make sure I didn't walk home, and Miss Wang called me at home to make sure I was "safe". As an American this was hilarious to me, and you would know why if you saw Zhangye.

To help my Chinese studies I bought a large Chinese-English dictionary this week. It was published in 1978, and therefore serves two purposes: a) looking up Chinese words, and b) good old-fashioned propaganda. Here are some of the example sentences used in the dictionary: "Thanks to the leadership of the Party, we are leading a happy life today"; "When the enemy halts, we harass him" under a word for "rest" or "halt"; "Wherever the troops went, they never infringed on the peoples' interests" under "army"; and my favorite so far, "No one is born with a proletarian world outlook; one acquires it only through ideological remoulding". I couldn't find an entry for Confucius besides "Confucius and Sons: as in the popular slogan, 'Down with Confucius and Sons!'".

I have also had the bizarre experience of a haircut in China. Walking into a haircutter's and saying only "I want" while making a hair-cutting motion, I spent the next half-hour having my hair washed and shampoo-ed, then my scalp massaged for five minutes (by a guy, while my hair was full of shampoo so it was extremely hard not to laugh while looking at the mirror), then my hair washed again, and then cut, followed by another round of wash and shampoo. This set me back all of $1.25, a full ten times cheaper than home.

I don't find it too hard to get by in daily life, but most everything is just slightly different somehow. My campus doesn't seem all that different from a Western campus, but you notice little things like students reading to themselves out-loud from books while standing outside, possibly because of the limited study space you have with 6 or 7 to a dorm room. There is also a loudspeaker system outside, which at certain times plays inspirational music or messages in Chinese or English.

Yesterday, a group of students from class six, my most motivated, invited me to watch the basketball game with them after class. It turns out that different classes form their own basketball teams that play against each other, so me and my students watched their classmates from the side of the court while cheering "Liu Liu! Jia you! (Six Six! Come on!)". I can't say much for their talent, but they have heart. After about 20 minutes they insisted I had better go to get inside, because it was too cold out for me. They want to play basketball or ping-pong with me this weekend, and I suspect they are better at ping-pong than basketball. My students are only about two years younger than me, and I can have actual interesting conversations with them outside of class, one reason I'm glad to be at a University rather a middle school.

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