Tuesday, January 23, 2007

New Year's (in my Least Favorite Chinese City)

I've been too busy to write in my blog lately, so I have a little catching up to do. Going back several weeks, to the weekend after the one in which I went skiing, I spent the weekend in my least favorite Chinese city, Lanzhou. As you may or may not recall (rather, as you probably don't recall), Lanzhou is the capital city of Gansu, the province I live in. It's the only big city in Gansu, with perhaps 1 million residents. I've had a general disinterest in Lanzhou when I've been before, but after my most recent trip I've decided I really don't like it, for the following reasons:

1. polluted - Lanzhou has some of the worst air pollution in China, which in turn has some of the worst air pollution in the world. Visibility was shockingly bad at times. Statistics vary but I've seen one source give it the distinction of worst air quality in the world.
2. unfriendly - in Zhangye I get a sense of well-meaning curiosity when I go out in public. In Lanzhou I don't like the way people are looking at me.
3. unsafe - in the past 6 months I know of two foreign teachers being stabbed in Lanzhou. And on one bus ride in the middle of the afternoon, a fight broke out inside the bus. The bus stopped and let them out, and as we rode away we watched about 10 young men beating the hell out of one guy who was crouching on the pavement. I've never seen anything like it.
4. too large - we spent hours upon hours on buses that weekend just getting around the city. I spent 35 yuan on a taxi ride from a club back to the university we were staying at - a typical taxi ride in Zhangye is 3 yuan.
5. dishonest - my dislike of the city was sealed when I was almost massively ripped off as I tried to leave. I couldn't find my bus at first, because I didn't realize it was in the back parking lot. Normally the various workers hanging about are helpful and point you in the right direction, but this time an unscrupulous bus operator led me to the wrong bus, namely, his. I was a little alarmed to see I was on a sleeper bus, which was also empty, and even more so when he started telling me we'd be leaving at 8pm and wanted my ticket. I told him no, my bus leaves at 2pm, and he told me that bus had already left because it was full. I decided to have a look for myself, and at that point he did actually lead me to the right bus, which I caught by only a couple of minutes. If that had been my first month in China I might easily not have known better.

Anyway, moving on, the reason I went to Lanzhou (Danielle, Stephen, and Phillip went as well) was to attend a formal dinner for all foreign teachers in Gansu on Friday to celebrate the impending (Western) New Year. The food was nice enough, but not really worth the 8-hour trip, and at that point I found it more than a little odd to be surrounded by 100+ foreigners in one room. Danielle and Stephen convinced me to stay and attend the New Year's Party being held by Peace Corps volunteers on Sunday night, so it turned into a long weekend.

Saturday night was the most enjoyable part of the weekend for me. We treated ourselves to the first genuinely good pizza I have had in China, and had a decent time at a bar with a few of their Peace Corps friends and an amusing young Chinese man named David. He was fluent in English to the point that he could keep up with our conversation, got our sarcasm, and even swore, all very unusual.

We ended the night at a dance club, something I've actually warmed up to over the course of the past few months. I'd like to think that I am now simply unimpressive on the dance floor, rather than an absolute disaster, just another unexpected result of my life in China. At any rate, after we split a bottle of Jack Daniels I was feeling pretty confident, and meandered away from my group and towards the attractive Chinese girls. At first none of them seemed overly concerned with me and my 3 repetitive dance moves, but before long a particularly good-looking girl I hadn't seen "accidentally" bumped into me and started dancing with me. I never did rejoin my friends. She was a tease, periodically going over to dance with other guys with a sly smile and making me win her back. Eventually my friends left, but I was about 60% confident I remembered the name of the school and could find our friend's apartment in the dark, so I stayed. Once it got pretty late she left, but before that we exchanged numbers. At that point I realized I needed a cell phone, as I seem to be forming a habit of giving girls in other cities my apartment number in Zhangye and never talking to them again. There was afterwards a mystery about what her name could possibly be - she had written it so carelessly that even Chinese people couldn't read either character.

At that point in the weekend I was obligated to stay for the New Year's party, or rather the "white trash" party, as all the Peace Corps parties apparently have a theme. It was pretty much as I imagined, with cans of imported Pabst Blue Ribbon, everyone imitating a hick Southern accent, lots of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, toilet seats hung on the walls, dirty messages in the bathroom, and a general drunkenness and lack of clothing, including a guy wearing only underwear with toilet paper sticking out. And yet despite the charming atmosphere, I managed not to have a good time. I counted myself out relatively early, but I didn't miss much of the party, as it ended with a big trip to the hospital because a volunteer turned out to have appendicitis. I'm not sure it's possible to have a normal Western holiday in China.

1 comment:

Everyday Critic said...

I had no idea Lanzhou was that polluted. And here I thought outside the SEZ of Shenzhen was awful.
Good luck finding a normal western holiday... last Thanksgiving I had fried eel. And this new year we had a hotpot party.