With the addition of two young American Peace Corps teachers in Zhangye this term, the "Friday Nights for Foreigners" tradition that began last term has been much more lively. We always meet for dinner on Friday, and this term we generally end the evening bar-hopping on European Street. Yes, that was "bar-hopping"; Zhangye, with its nearest international neighbor being Mongolia, has a cooler bar scene than my American hometown. In particular we've come to like two: "Gary's Friend's Bar", with the owner's girlfriend being a generally agreed front-runner for Most Beautiful Woman in Zhangye, and China Fire. China Fire has a good logo to go with a great name: the place is covered in posters with a flaming huo, the character for "fire".
Strange and amusing things usually happen when foreigners stay up past the time that decent people go to bed in Zhangye. Last time I went out, we attracted an unwelcome, but not unusual, amount of attention at Gary's Friend's Bar. This was, of course, focused on Danielle, who is not only foreign but a young female with blonde hair. She was double-teamed or triple-teamed this time, with a guy on each side, one of whom Gary was sure was Japanese. To this he would only respond confusingly, in English, "I am Japanese guide-o!". By the end of the night, Danielle told me "I think I've been told 'I love you' more times tonight than during the rest of my life combined". I had my own new best friend, who was drunk and mostly repeated the same conversation about seeing me play guitar at Hexi University, occasionally adding emphasis by playing air-guitar and saying "very beautiful!" in English.
Stephen also got a lot of attention, as his beard and long hair also make him a particular novelty. The owner of the bar, Gary's friend, insisted he looked like someone, whose Chinese name didn't make sense to any of us. Finally he found a photo in a magazine: Viggo Mortensen, best known for playing "Aragorn" in The Lord of the Rings. Apparently worried that the hero among us might be under-armed, he fetched a large and expensive-looking dagger (from where, I have no idea) and insisted that Stephen accept it as a gift. Someone soon pointed out that "hey, you look like him too!", referring to the poster of Kurt Cobain on the back wall. To anyone who has felt embarrassed about not being able to tell Chinese people apart, I assure you that they can't tell us apart, and are probably less embarrassed about it. As the swarming of weird, drunk Chinese men began, Stephen, who normally leaves early because his school is farther away, asked "is it usually like this after I leave?", and we assured him it was nothing out of the ordinary.
In an earlier night at the "Halloween Bar" (giant fake spiderweb on the wall), Danielle attracted a particularly persistent friend. As can be seen from the picture (which Danielle may or may not appreciate me putting on the internet), he had had a fair share of alcohol, and was getting a little too close for her comfort. Interacting with locals who pay no attention to the language barrier is generally a good thing, but possibly Danielle finds an exception in sweet nothings being whispered into her ear in unintelligible Chinese, peppered with the occasional "I love you" in English. But then again I could be wrong.