Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Skiing with Chinese Characteristics

Since Christmas fell on a Monday, we decided to celebrate over the weekend. Danielle and Stephen being as ambitious as they are, we ended up traveling 9 hours to the city of Hami in the province of Xinjiang, mostly to see our British friend Tracy and to go skiing. This was well worth the trip. Hami is perhaps slightly bigger than Zhangye, with a similarly small foreign population (meaning you can count them on your fingers), and an eccentric group at that. Two are married to Chinese – an American girl who addresses her own husband as “Mr. Tian” and seems to speak at least some Chinese, and a 60+ year-old man who is married to a 35-year old Chinese woman, and who speaks approximately 8 words of Chinese from the look of it. However, since she was taught English by her smart-ass husband, she had one of the best Chinese-English senses of humor I’ve seen. She seemed a feisty woman, and in fact not only yelled at Tracy to “go back to England and find your own husband!” recently in a fit of jealousy, but started a short fist-fight with her.

Skiing outside of Hami was definitely Skiing With Chinese Characteristics. Me and Stephen at least were well amused to arrive and see this ski “resort” we had traveled so far to reach—a total of one slope, which was no more than a quarter of the size of the smallest bunny hill I’ve seen in America. Which was probably just as well—I may have been the only person in the place who had skied more than twice, and the well-to-do Chinese women who arrived seemed interested mostly in giggling, falling a lot, and getting personal assistance from the “fit” employees (to use a British-ism/Tracy-ism). I would call them ski instructors, had I seen any instructing whatsoever going on. There was also tubing on offer, which was generally agreed to be more fun than the skiing.

That night we went out on the town, and Tracy made plans to meet a Chinese women she knows and her group of friends. This was at a rather up-scale dance club, in which there was no dance floor and everyone danced in their little personal space around their table. Danielle fixed her eyes on a Chinese guy in the group, and Stephen simply likes to dance, so I began to feel a little bored. Tracy then practically pushed me into dancing with a small group of attractive girls, which was suddenly going quite well—until approximately 3 minutes later, when it was time to leave. The obviously interested one asked in (Chinese-)English, “your phone number is how much?” as I left, but I’ll add another check to the “missed opportunities with Chinese girls” column. Zhangye is unfortunately so small, conservative, and aware of the smallest move we make that I think girls here are off-limits (and married by 20 anyway). And everyone knows where we live - one off-balance girl having my phone number is probably enough (more on that another day). The second bar we went to was dull for me and Stephen, who mostly contained our irritation at the stunning beauties in the group being spoken for and watched the recreational activities going on around us in confusion.

The main activity of our last day in Hami was for the four of us to get massages. Not just a massage, but a three-hour marathon on the 15th floor of an expensive hotel, which would be Tracy’s style. So, I sat in a robe and long underwear for hours as a cute but rather young-looking girl soaked my feet. Now I know how to say “ticklish” in Chinese. I’ve never done that before but supposedly it’s very expensive in America; here it ran us about $9 each.

We returned to Zhangye at about 5:30am on Monday morning, Christmas morning. We were offered the day off but it was much too complicated to rearrange our final exams; hopefully I won’t make a habit of working on Christmas day. It didn’t particularly feel like Christmas, though a number of students stopped by my home with gifts, including a scarf from me and Andrew’s friends “the daughters”, which they knitted themselves. And what is Christmas without eating Beef Noodles with Andrew and two of the daughters. In the evening me, Gary, Danielle, and Andrew celebrated at China Fire (where else lately), where I fought off a sudden case of home-sickness, followed by fighting off the urge to inflict physical harm on a few excruciatingly annoying new Chinese “friends” who had had a bit too much Christmas cheer.

More fun than Christmas itself was the English Department’s Christmas Party the week before. The Party, which included 50 guests and the renting out of an entire restaurant/bar/music hall in town, was moved up to Thursday solely so that me and Danielle would be able to attend. It turned out that it was also the first day the place was open, so they had likely moved up their first day of business simply because me and Danielle were going to be gone during the weekend. Certainly you’re never starved for attention here. Though I must admit we did help the party along—I’m always willing to sabotage the poor music, and Danielle got the dancing started as per usual. A few of our students came to sing songs for us, which was sweet, including a very endearing student of Danielle’s whose name is Bamboo. That’s a new contender for my favorite English student name, along with recent favorites Accident, Black, and Jedi, or rather Jedi Dawson Shi. The food was tasty, the dancing was genuinely enjoyable (dancing with my students, who are almost my age…. appropriate?), and we only had to sing one song (My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, chosen by our fair Scotsman).

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