Monday, October 16, 2006

To the Countryside

There are certain things I've prolonged doing in China as long as I could, and dancing is one of them. Given my awkwardness on the dance floor, it's not something I'm quick to do in a country where all eyes are on me pretty much every time I'm in public. But I'm easily talked into embarrassing myself, and the new Peace Corps teachers Danielle and Stephen convinced me and a fair number of foreign teachers to go out clubbing in Zhangye. When we arrived there were exactly four people on the dance floor, but Danielle and Stephen were having none of that and pulled people from the crowd until the dance floor was packed in all its smoke-machine drenched glory. Secretly I was sort of enjoying myself, and even Gary (pictured feeding a donkey) got out and tore up the dance floor, though the three Brits didn't muster up quite as much enthusiasm. Andrew and Phillip were in attendance, and Tracy who taught at the Middle School last term was visiting for the weekend. She stayed at my apartment, my first hosting of a friend in my own place, making me feel vaguely like an adult.

After late-night food and "bubble tea" I went to bed around 2am, and was feeling a little unmotivated for the morning trip the next day to the countryside. But with Miss Mao in charge I knew it would be worth going, wherever it was we were going this time. This time some of the Chinese English teachers were invited along with the foreign teachers, so I even had the rare chance of making slightly awkward conversation with the Chinese teachers. Whether through lack of self-confidence or uncertainty about our foreign ways, they tend to shy away from us and few Chinese-Western friendships have struck up in the English Department. There was only one random, unexplained stop during the two-hour journey, in which we were surrounded by mostly auto shops and I saw Miss Mao disappear with a stranger on a motorcycle for 25 minutes, to return later with apples from his home ("he was a very nice man").

It ended up being a very, very pleasant day in the remote hills of Gansu province. Intense climbs were rewarded with wonderful views and a hill-top picnic, and there were no living things but some shepherds flocking sheep and a few donkeys to disturb us. Miss Mao was in top form, dashing up steep hills with two shopping bags, a fur coat and high heels, and swiftly dismissing any second-guessing of the paths she chose. Happily, the day ended with two rounds of the colossal danpanji: Big Plate of Chicken. It's tempting to open a danpanji restaurant when I return to America. I'm certain it would be a hit with the late-night college crowd.

And reaching back over the last few weeks to things I had wanted to mention, there were a few shining moments in my most ambitious class activity thus far: a trial. I wanted to teach about the American jury system, so I gave students the roles of judge, prosecution, defense, defendants, jurists, witnesses, and journalists with instructions, and watched with amusement for 30 minutes (or in some cases, strained patience). The back-and-forth arguing was heated and often clever in the likeable Class 6 (the classes are all numbered since they stay with the same classmates in every class for all 4 years). After a primary witness gave her emotional testimony of the bank robbery, the defense team began questioning her state of mind at the time. The prosecution suddenly provided medical evidence of her sound mind, to which the defense shot back "but we know the doctor who provided that evidence happens to be her husband!" The lawyers were more motivated to win than I expected, piling on more and more last-minute evidence, and I was amazed at the English level that came out when it was time to argue.

And in the realm of getting things repaired the Chinese Way, a computer repairman very nearly erased every computer file I've created in the last 7 months. My internet wasn't working, and his problem-solving "method" was thus: hit the "refresh" button on the desktop around 50 times and empty the Recycle Bin (shockingly, still no internet), check to see if the wire is plugged in (I know at least that much about computers), and reset the computer. Still not having succeeded, he promptly just re-installed Windows, erasing the old one and all its programs, without the slightest hint to me of what he was doing. The internet did work after that, but I had to re-install every program I had. I'm assuming that if I didn't have all my photos, lessons plans, music, etc. on a different drive because it had more room, he would have erased absolutely everything I had. I had a previous adventure that involved fixing my computer's sound, which also involved erasing Windows; I then went without an anti-virus program for weeks, and when I finally installed one after having some problems, it found a record 1,432 viruses on my computer. I still recall a comment Miss Mao made to me at the very beginning: "in China.... many people are not very careful about their jobs".

1 comment:

Nicole said...

yeah dan!!! living abroad baby. it's awesome, isn't it? i should make my way up to see you. it's probably cheaper than going home. anyway, i'll be home in march :-( so we won't see each other. but keep in touch and keep rocking mate.