Friday, July 07, 2006

That Juice Is Also Not There

This week I was moved from my luxurious apartment into a smaller one, as I was warned about from the beginning. The new one is fine, but is smaller and older and built with the Chinese work ethic of "eh, good enough". The bathroom is a bit larger than a closet, and so thin that I hit the wall when I bend down to use the sink. The toilet seat is placed at a 45 degree angle, but there's still no room for the legs of anyone but an infant so you must sit at an uncomfortable angle that's actually perpendicular to the wall. But it's on the first floor with a (very) small backyard, and I have an automatic washing machine rather than the dreaded "twin-tub" time-consumer I had at first.

With classes over, several groups of students have taken me, Andrew, and Mohamed out to dinner or cooked us dinner (dumplings are the classic student dinner). Since Mohamed is leaving, it seems every time I step outside I have seen him taking photos with a different class. Chinese students are fond of digital cameras to say the least, so each dinner usually involves about 50 photos being taken, most of them almost exactly the same but with a different student posing with their teachers. Wednesday was Mohamed's birthday, so lunch and dinner were taken care of by two different groups of students. From experience I'm guessing it's a Chinese thing to get cake all over everyone's face at the end of a birthday meal. Like children, honestly.

On Saturday I saw 5 of my students on their first job, a single day of handing out advertisements in front of the opening of a store that sells mp3 players. For my own amusement I grabbed a few flyers and tried to help them hand them out to people passing by, with mixed results. I asked if they were getting well paid, and they replied "yes, 20 yuan [about $2.50]!". When I responded "oh, per hour? That's pretty good", they said "no, for the day!". They also cooked for me that evening, proving that even the guys here put me to shame in the kitchen. Spending time with students is fun; they obviously aren't interested in "could you help me use the past tense correctly?" so much as "play us a song!" or "what kind of girls do you like?".

Later that night I saw MoMo for the first time in a couple of weeks. The fact that their daughter is friends with not only a boy but a foreigner has worried them enough that they've told her not to see me anymore. Her parents' friends saw us walking on the street and talking and said we are "too close". As Andrew sarcastically put it, "yes, you are too close because you talk to her and listen to what she says; when you see her you ought to have your arms draped around another guy friend, smoking and drinking and ignoring her". The worlds of males and females are much more separate here; if you are seen with a single female everyone assumes you plan on marrying her. MoMo's parents told her she should stop being friends with me and find a boy to marry, as if she is allowed one male at a time only to talk to.

On Sunday I finally got around to visiting the Great Buddha Temple, the one tourist draw of Zhangye and the reason it is mentioned in the Lonely Planet China Guide. I went with Joy, Fiona, and Sarah, who tend to call or randomly show up at my door more often now that Andrew is gone (Joy: "do you miss Andrew?" Me: "um... he's only been gone one day" Joy: "but we miss him very much!"). The tickets were a special price of 5 yuan, which as it turns out was because you couldn't see the big Budda statue at all (the largest reclining Buddha statue in China), only the surrounding buildings. There was a procession of monks and Buddhist laypersons walking a circle and repeating a prayer (mantra perhaps?), something about Guanyin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy who is popular in China. Because Chinese words sound so similar, to my ears I was hearing "that juice is also not there", which I was simply shocked to find wasn't correct.

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