Archive for January, 2010

Starbucks and Goujung

January 26, 2010

January 26th, 2010

Starbucks (or as it is called in Chinese Xing ba ke) in Chicony is the hot spot if you want to make friends in Wuhan. The coffee shop is full of posh Chinese sporting Macintosh computers and Iphones and has foreigners abound, reading the newspaper, studying Chinese and drinking steaming mocha lattes. Waiting in the Starbucks for my Chinese tutor I ran into three people that I had met at Wuhan prison that weekend. Duly noted, if I am ever lonely or bored, Starbucks is the place to be. (Though at Canadian prices I doubt I will ever buy anything. For the price of a Starbucks tea I can treat myself to an entire meal.)

My Chinese tutor, Zhang Yi, is fabulous; almost too good to be true. She is a twenty year old girl studying teaching Chinese as a foreign language at the Wuhan University of Nationalities. As such she is a fabulous and very motivated teacher. She is very professional coming to meetings equipped with handouts and smiles. (Smiles are essential when learning a language; otherwise it can be very frustrating.) And she refuses payment. She says the practical teaching experience and opportunity to practice English is payment enough. However, I do plan on treating her to lunch tomorrow. I am greatly looking forward to it because we will be going to one of the only vegetarian restaurants in Wuhan. It is right beside the temple and as such caters to the monks and devotees. My mouth is watering at the thought of being able to pick anything off the menu without anxiety.

But, best of all, Zhang Yi today introduced me to Yun Yu, a talented musician in her last year in music at the university and a professional goujung player. The goujung is a twenty string classical Chinese musical instrument.  Hearing Yun Yu play this instrument has so far been the highlight of my trip.

Zhang Yi took me on the bus and through the narrow streets littered with music stores of all kinds and up a winding and dank staircase to Yun Yu’s apartment. Yun Yu is more girl than woman, with a gaze that never quite meets mine. She is drowning in her white knit sweater and wearing distractingly bright neon striped boots.

Before she plays the instrument, she explains that Chinese music is about creating an atmosphere and that many of the songs tell a story. Her English is non-existent, so Zhang Yi acts as translator. First she tells me the story of high mountain and flowing water. Legend tells of a musician who was playing beautiful music in the woods of Wuhan. A peasant man was walking by and heard the music. He came up to the musician and said how much he enjoyed the song about the high mountain. The musician was startled. This peasant man was the first person who had ever understood the meaning of his song. The musician played another song for the peasant and asked him its meaning. The peasant smiled and said “it is about beautiful flowing water.” The musician felt such joy and saw in the peasant his soul mate. They became instant friends. But the musician had to leave so the two of them promised to meet back up the following year in the same place. The next year the musician came back but his friend was not there. He asked some locals where he was and when they told him of his death the musician broke his instrument. Never had anyone understood his music before the peasant man and without him he felt playing had become pointless. Yun Yu than began to play and the story unfolded in song.

Yun Yu plays several songs, each accompanied by a story and each sounding completely different from the last as if she were playing a completely different instrument. Her hands moved so gracefully along the instrument I felt transfixed. Yun Yu uses no sheet music. She says that songs are taught from teacher to student by rote memorization and only recently have started being written down to make them more accessible.  

Yun Yu is leaving shortly; she is returning home for the holidays (Chinese New Year is on February 14th this year.) But afterwards she promises in exchange for English lessons to teach me goujung. When I return to Canada I hope to tell the story of the great sadness of the Emperor. He had a wife that he loved too much. He spent all his time worshiping her and not enough time looking after the nation. The country fell into ruin and demanded that he put her to death. The song commemorates their last night together and the pain of the sacrifice the Emperor made.


Dreams, Monkeys and Fate

January 21, 2010

January 21st, 2010

I am beginning to feel better today. For the last three days I have been bed-ridden with a cold that came on suddenly. It could have been any number of things causing it, but I think the constant shivering is the main culprit.

My feverish dreams are easily the worst part of the illness. A couple nights ago, I dreamt I ran into my ex-boyfriend in a grocery store back in Ottawa. I took the opportunity to ask why he left me. He replied, “The real question is – why didn’t I leave sooner?” He continued by detailing how he never loved me and had wanted to leave from the beginning. The dream then morphed and I was back in my childhood being attacked by my high school bully and unable to defend myself because suddenly I no longer had arms. Horrifying as that all was, last night’s dream trumped it. I dreamt I was one of the monkeys.

The monkeys are a terribly sad sight here in Wuhan. I first saw one while running errands with Rico. I saw a monkey crossing the street with his owner. At first I was excited, I thought I was going to see a cherished pet; but as I looked again I saw a monkey chained from  his neck, screeching and terrified being dragged through the congested street and kicking at the vendors in fear. He had only three legs and was limping badly. Rico said the monkeys do tricks at bus stops. I felt sick and I wanted to cry. Rico looked at me astonished “don’t cry,” he said. “It’s only a monkey.”

The treatment of animals here is astonishing. On the streets you can easily find puppies for sale, crammed inside crates, shivering from the cold and the fear of all the pedestrians passing by that pick them up and fondle them. They are clearly puppy mill puppies, and the fact that you can buy them on the street like a sack of potatoes shows a depressing lack of consideration for the lives of animals. Are they going to good homes? I think that is a question no one bothers to ask. There seems to be no end to the wild dogs and cats I have seen on the street. Perhaps when they get older and are no longer cute, people think they can just throw them out, like garbage.

But the worst thing I have seen to date was a modern day Oliver Twist. On my way to my demo class, I saw a small boy pick-pocket an older woman. She caught him and in a rage flung around and started beating him. She was hitting him on top of the head hard and I could hear the thumps. She grabbed her money from his hand and gave him a swift kick. After his beatings the boy walked off and a man came up to him. The mad said something to the little boy and pointed at the next person he wanted the boy to rob. Obviously the boy was a slave and had no choice. This time I did burst into tears, and when I got to the school I was still visibly upset. To my horror, when I recounted the story to the Chinese teachers none of them seemed either surprised or disturbed by it. “That is his fate,” one of the teachers told me, referring to the little boy. “No it isn’t,” I said. “Someone should put him in a good home, let him go to school and arrest that man. Fate has nothing to do with it.”

Yin Hai Ya Yuan, Guang Ba Lu

January 18, 2010

January 17th, 2010

I am sitting in my living room, watching a kung fu soap opera I have been trying to follow, as I write this. I understand very little in the plot; girl with the blue hair cries, guy with the staff and long hair hugs her and he runs off (or rather in the style of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon flies off).  Staff guy runs into skinny serious guy and gorgeous girl in the woods, they fight. New scene, old mad is drinking tea with bleach blond haired guy. They fight. Bleach blond haired guy chops old man’s head off, blood sprays everywhere. Cut to staff guy back with blue haired girl. (I was in the washroom through most of the earlier fight.) Blue haired girl cries again. He hugs her to console her (the consolation part is a guess). She stabs him and cries again. (After making a lunch of strange dumpling-esque things with no meat, I return.) Staff guy is alive and well, fighting bleach blond haired guy.

My new apartment is great. It is sunny with large windows and I love watching people from the balcony. It is furnished and has a television (without any English channels). The bedroom is cozy; the bed fills nearly its entirety. And despite the hideous yellow curtains with huge pink, green and purple flowers, I love it. (Perhaps that is because it is the only room I heat.) However, my apartment does have some major drawbacks that I will have to get used to. The stove top uses real gas, which for the time being terrifies me, not only for the fire hazard, but also out of fear (too much tv) that I have forgotten to turn the gas off and will sleep my way into death. The shower is dreadful. It is not enclosed and as such requires a lot of cleanup afterwards. The water is either freezing cold or way too hot and so I find myself drawing out taking showers as long as possible. The complete absence of hot water in the kitchen and bathroom sinks is also frustrating. I have to boil water in the kettle before I do the dishes.

Another interesting feature of the apartment is the landlady. She doesn’t seem to realize that I don’t speak Chinese because yesterday she called me on the telephone just to chat. I don’t understand much of what she is saying, but I think she is so lonely she doesn’t mind. Xiao Ayi, or Aunt Xiao is how I am to call her.

Xiao Ayi gave me my first present here in China. When we were in the leasing office bargaining for the price, an experience that involved a lot of shouting and finger pointing between Rico, the leasing office and the Xiao Ayi, I saw it in her bag. It was what looked like a bright yellow stuffed animal. During one of the yelling breaks, I pointed at it and said “ke ai de dongwu” (cute animal, I wanted to use the new words I had just learnt from Rico the day before.) She looked down at the thing and handed it to me. She said it was for me. Elated, I took it in my hands and discovered it wasn’t just the face of a stuffed yellow bear (Rico says it’s a tiger, but it looks like a bear to me) but also a muff!!! It even has a pouch filled with liquid that you can heat if you only had a charger (which we didn’t). I put my hands into my muff and felt such a giddy joy. My first present! And what a strange and ridiculous one at that! A bear faced muff! I couldn’t keep myself from laughing all day, every time I looked down at the thing I started giggling again. It now holds a place of glory on my bed.

My apartment is in a building called Yin Hai Ya Yuan. It looks like a giant alien containment centre, with each apartment a little pod. The architecture is very fitting since it is well known to house a good number of foreigners. I think back at when I first arrived and hadn’t seen a single other foreigner. Now I have been moved to a street swarming with us; well that may be an exaggeration because I would guess that I see about 4 or 5 a day now. Foreigners, we are like a virus that is contained to certain apartment complexes, restaurants and bars. It’s funny the feeling of solidarity I feel with the other foreigners I see. The other day two Muslim women smiled at me in the elevator and I smiled back wholeheartedly; we are the same because we are different.

 Yin Hai Ya Yuan is off the main street, on a road called Guang Ba Lu, which offers a different glimpse at life. There are not so many individual vendors lining it, but navigating is still a chore because people bring out card tables to play on the sunny sidewalk and young adults play badminton or pass a ball back and forth. It’s strange for me to see this done on a busy sidewalk in the middle of the city. But strangest of all, young children (some as old as six) have pants with slits down the middle and bums exposed. And I realized this feature was for convenience as I saw one of them squat down in the middle of the sidewalk, with the assistance of her mother, to pee. It is horrifying and I found it hard not to stare because I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

But despite these oddities, my new location has some definite advantages. Only a couple blocks away is a little shop that sells pirated videos for a dollar a pop. The selection the store offers is surprisingly vast, with all kinds of movies available in Korean, Spanish, French, German and English. When visiting it for the first time, I picked up a French movie that looked like my favourite indulgence, romantic comedies. Rico peered at the back over my shoulder and saw that one of the pictures was of a half dressed couple kissing. In shock he said “A Porn!”. “That’s hardly a porn,” I replied. Rico then explained to me that porn is illegal in China. In fact he says, some college students surf the internet looking for porn that hasn’t been blocked by the Great Firewall of China. I didn’t think there was much unusual in that statement until he told me they do it as a job because if they find a site and send the url to the government they can make a tidy sum of money. I’m about to judge, when I think, I bet there are government workers in the developed world, paid tidy sums of money, spending their days searching for unblocked porn on the internet. Just because they weren’t hired for that purpose doesn’t detract from the point.

New Address:  Room 1510, Building B

                                Yin Hai Ya Yuan

                                Guang Ba Lu

                                Hongshan Qu

                                Wuhan, Hubei, China


My birthday in the Wuhan Prison

January 18, 2010

January 16th, 2010

Last night I finally met a group of some of the other foreign teachers; Bob, Josh, Robert and Tara from America and Oliver from England.  They are a fun and lively bunch and I took the occasion to celebrate my late birthday (which was on the 13th.) Tara and I especially hit it off.  She’s chatty, witty and quick to laugh and best of all an ENGLISH SPEAKING GIRL! 

After a few drinks at Tara and Bob’s place we headed off to The Wuhan Prison; an expat bar and a real dive but with a twist of the eccentric. The bar is little bigger than an average sized one bedroom apartment but it is packed with foreigners from all corners of the globe. It feels like the bar in Star Wars, teeming with aliens of all sorts (all legal documents here in China refer to non-Chinese as aliens.) Most people here order the special, an 0.80$ beer called snow, or as we jokingly call Yellow Snow, for its colour and taste.

 In the back of the bar, near the washrooms, there is a small stupid table soccer game (I can’t remember the name of that dumb game) where the males in our group cram around, those not playing making comments and snorting at the others. Men are so weird!

On the stage is a dark and burly tattoo artist from Illinois tattooing tipsy travellers. Tara and I asked how long he would be working; he replies “when I feel drunk, I stop.”

The bathroom is an experience in itself. The doorknob to its door is the painted hand of a manikin, which you have to hold and twist. It is a creepy beginning with more to come. The bathroom like most Chinese public washrooms (“cesuo”) is a hole that you have to squat above, (if you are a woman that is) holding your nose, and hoping you don’t pass out from the smell because the floor looks just about as dirty as the toilet.

In that small bar that can barely fit 50 standing, I swear there were sixty of us, all climbing over each other to get Yellow Snow and in the hustle Tara and I talked to at least forty of them; Russians, Czechs, Latvians, Columbians, Brits, Mexicans, French, Americans, and three girls from Ottawa (Canadians we are everywhere and it’s disgusting!). At one point in the night, one of the few Chinese in the bar, a sweet looking woman, barely 25 years old, seated beside a fat balding 50 year old American, grabbed my arm and said “Hi Pam” as I walked by. “I’m not Pam,” I said smiling back. “But it’s okay, I know we all look the same.”

Afterwards the crowd shifts to Vox, the bar adjacent to the Wuhan Prison. Vox is a dance bar and less notable, either because it’s more similar to bars back at home (the DJ even played Metric) or because I’d had a little too much Yellow Snow to notice anything in particular. But overall, my first night out in China and the celebration of my birthday was a great success as a good time was had by all! I’m sure not everyone who spends time in a Chinese prison can say the same thing. J

Hankou, Frenchmen, and Sibling love

January 12, 2010

January 12th, 2009

Tomorrow is moving day. “Mingtian wo ban jia”. I am moving into a spacious one bedroom apartment with a balcony overlooking a small park in a building that also houses many of the other foreign teachers; though they remain mythic personages that I am always promised I will meet later. (Will that day ever arrive?) So far I have only met Gilles, an English teacher, born in France, who spent twenty years living in Canada married to a woman from Trinidad and Tobago, some five years in Mexico and now the last six months in Wuhan. I feel a strange familiarity with him as if I see in him every French teacher I ever had. It’s funny how so many people just seem to be repetitions of others I have known. I can see myself as an old woman, not even bothering to meet anyone new, saying to myself “I’ve met them all before.”

 I like Gilles very much and feel at ease maintaining my French with him. In him I have found what I longed for (in the most platonic sense), another Westerner with whom I can complain about all the trivial differences that frustrate and irritate me. We laughed together today about line-ups or rather their complete non-existence. Line-ups here look more like the huddles seen when time is called on the football field. I am always standing behind them duped, completely unsure where I should stand. Gilles also has a comparable level of Chinese to me and as such I feel like I too may be able to learn to take the bus (even if I won’t be able to read the stops). And he even rides a bicycle like the Wuhanese, in other words he not only rides a bike through congested streets but he also rides against the traffic balancing an oversized load of groceries on the back.   

These last few days have been very fruitful. I had my first day of work where I was told to prepare a demo class that will be presented to the teachers and evaluated to see if I am prepared to take a class. My first day of work also allowed me to meet the other teachers in my department, which is the foreign test department. I will be teaching the Speaking part of the TOEFL and IELTS English tests. TOEFL is quite a challenging test so I will have to ensure that my students get a lot of practice.

After my first day I passed an elementary school that was also finishing for the day, rosy cheeked kids spilling out in an overwhelming rush of energy into the sidewalk where their fathers had parked their motorcycles waiting to take them home.  

On the weekend I went to Hankou with Priscilla and her friend Xieqing (the first Chinese girl I have met without an English name.) Hankou is the economic centre of the city and it really shows. (I work and live in the education district of the city, Wuchang, with the two massive universities; Wuhan University and Hubei University of Science and Technology. Both university have more than 60,000 students and are growing every year).  When we arrived in Hankou, exiting the ferry that crossed the Yanzi river, I felt my body relax at the sight of the familiar. The architecture is 19th and early 20th century European and used to be the foreign district of the city before the revolution. The streets were nice large avenues with large columns and lions guarding the old banks instead of dragons. Hankou also features a massive outdoor pedestrian mall along Jianghan road; even in China consumerism reigns supreme (though perhaps I should say especially in China.)

Best of all, over the last few days I learned the ever important sentence “Wo chi su” or I am vegetarian. And if my accent fails me, Xieqing wrote me a short paragraph that I show vendors explaining I don’t eat meat but would be happy to eat anything vegetarian. Most of the Chinese I have told here are amazed to hear this and I am honoured with being the first vegetarian they have ever met. As a response, I always tell them about my vegan brother. I am not sure what part surprises them the most, the list of inedible items for a vegan, or the fact that I have a brother (two in fact.)

On that point, I have dedicated myself to educating my Chinese friends by bursting any of their romantic ideas of sibling love with the true yet horrific tales of abuse. Examples include the time my favourite Barbie doll’s head was shoved into the radiator and promptly burst into flame, or the time my brother ripped the tails of all my stuffed monkeys, or the numerous times he decided to go on a “hunt” where he chased me around the house with a large cardboard roll (the one from wrapping paper) in hand yelling “here piggy, piggy, piggy.” Afterwards I think they feel lucky to have grown up Chinese.


January 8, 2010

January 8th, 2010

Yesterday was a great day of exploration. Rico, the foreign teacher coordinator at the school, came to get me in the morning to take me to do some medical tests. Rico is so tiny I feel that if I hugged him I could crush him. He told me that he chose the name Rico because he liked the sound and only later discovered it meant rich in Spanish. He is a really nice guy, genuine and fun. He is determined to learn to speak English with an English accent and gets a kick out of hearing me imitate one.

Many of the Chinese choose English names here. Rico tells me it makes them sound more professional when dealing with foreigners. He told me snidely that Melody recently changed his name. Apparently Melody had been told that the name did not sound professional enough not to mention that it was a girl’s name. For this reason, he has now decided to call himself Elvis. I tried to hold back a laugh when Rico told me this and I told him “I think it best he stick with Melody.”

In the afternoon, I was picked up by Priscilla, another student involved in the ICX portfolio in AIESEC. She is the greatest friend to have because she LOVES food and seems quite knowledgeable of what is best. She told me the names of a couple of Wuhan specialty meals that are vegetarian and that can be eaten at any time of the day. After lunch she took me to a Buddhist temple, where we saw real monks meditating and a religious man sang me a song because in his words I was as tall as the Goddess.

So far, today has not been as eventful. I woke with the determination to find the western style grocery store that Melody had taken me to the first day. It was an ambitious task because I am directionally challenged enough in Canada. But here in China it is even harder because I find it so hard to pay attention with so many distractions, noisy traffic whizzing by spilling black fumes out their tail pipes, endless crowds of people candidly staring at me and vendors spilling out of alley ways with boiling vats of oil, steaming noodles and non-descript meat. I was determined to get some food so that I could cower away in my room if I wanted and not have to face the world.

It’s funny how our insecurities are so changeable and silly. I used to always believe that other people noticed our flaws or differences much less than we did. Like when I have bags under my eyes, I am embarrassed all day thinking everyone is thinking I look hideous when actually no one notices. Well here in China I think that just doesn’t apply. Everyone notices I am foreign, I get double takes everywhere I go and I am wearing baggy jeans and hiking boots. It’s because I am different and everyone notices.

At the cafeteria in the mall outside the grocery store, (where I had ventured to go). I sat down eating a delicious pastry. I was warned by Melody that the pastry shop was expensive. But compared to Canada nothing is. I indulged in a cream and strawberry filled pastry that came to $0.75 CDN. While enjoying my treat, a little boy came up to me and knuckles white clutching the other side of the table he stared at me mouth wide open. I smiled at him embarrassed and he kept on staring amazement in his eyes. His dad ran up to the side of the table, he grabbed his son away laughing, but saying nothing to me. That was when it hit me, I am a freak!

On my way back from the mall, (carrying my loot; English tea, strawberries, sushi, and crab and tomato flavoured Pringles) just like that little boy, I too saw my first foreigner. It was a kind of excitement that is difficult to describe, it was as if I was six years old opening my stocking on Christmas morning only to find socks. I saw him on the crowded street beside a stand for chou do fu (stinky tofu). He had short brown hair, western features and brown eyes. Without hesitation I walked right up to him, sure that we would become instant friends. “Hi” I said, smile spread wide across my face, eyes beaming. “Hi” he replied, not nearly as excited and as if I worried him. At that, he just kept walking past. I watched him go in despair. And as I too started walking, my heart sunk, and it was socks.

Priscilla and I at the top of the tower at the temple

Day 1

January 6, 2010

January 7th, 2010 (3 am)

 It’s 3 am and I am wide awake; so much for thinking I wouldn’t be jet lagged. Yesterday after waking up at an appropriate time in the morning I decided to take a short afternoon nap. That was obviously a bad decision. When I woke from it at 4 pm to meet the coordinator from the school I felt so tired I felt like I would vomit. So far two feelings dwarf all others I could possibly feel; exhaustion and cold. How does a girl from Canada feel cold here where it’s only -5C. Well, there’s no heating anywhere. People keep their coats on in restaurants and stores and I have to wear 2 sweaters and piles of blankets and I still find myself shivering.

I haven’t seen a single foreigner since I got here. I am the only one. I saw no one in the airport and no one on the streets. I was told Wuhan wasn’t an international city but I couldn’t really imagine this. I was told by the school coordinator that in Wuhan one person out of every 300 will be able to speak English. One out of every 300!!!

I arrived in Wuhan airport to find that no one from AIESEC had arrived to pick me up and no one in the airport could speak English. It was ok because my Chinese class had taught me basic questions like can I use the telephone and may I have a tea. For the rest of communication I found I was able to point and repeat (weishenme) “why?” So when I saw that no one had arrived to pick me up I headed for a coffee shop to check the internet. I didn’t have a phone so I knew if Melody (my contact from AIESEC Wuhan – the vice president of incoming exchange) were to contact me he would do so by email. I succeeded in getting on the internet by asking the waitress for help and in exchange ordering a tea. She passed me a menu which of course I was unable to read so I asked her to bring me her favourite tea. Before ordering I asked her if I could use my credit card. She said I could but minutes later came back to tell me I couldn’t. This posed a problem because I didn’t have any cash yet and the ATMs in the airport weren’t international. So I told her I was waiting for a friend and that he would pay. I told her he was coming in one hour; well at least that’s what I thought I said, but I actually said “he’s coming in one child”. When I realized my mistake that made us all laugh – xiaoher (child) in my mind sounds a lot like xiaoshi (hour).

When Melody and Henry (a member of the ICX portfolio) finally arrived things worked out much more smoothly. They took me to the hotel and the following morning we got breakfast and they showed me around the neighbourhood. They were late the previous night picking me up because it was snowing in Wuhan. It seldom snowed in the city so there much confusion and chaos. Coming from Canada is was hilarious to see how they dealt with the snow here. On the stair cases in the streets government workers had laid straw mats over the snow to deal with the slipperiness; that didn’t seem to be too effective because people just ended up slipping and sliding on the straw mats over the ice and snow. On the rest of the streets people with what looked like garden shovels and witches brooms made out of straw were piling the snow in haphazard ways.

The chaos of everything is one of the most startling things. Taking the bus was scarier than any roller coaster I had ever ridden. The bus drivers seem to have a death wish as they wiz in and out of traffic packed streets. At one point two fire trucks with their sirens on tried to negotiate the traffic. To my surprise none of the cars moved out of the way. They seemed completely unmoved that there was a fire somewhere in the city.

Fun fact about Melody; he is a philosophy student and seems just as transfixed and cultishly in love with AIESEC as many of his Canadian counterparts. AIESEC Wuhan is ranked 13th in the World!!! He tells me he sees AIESEC as an excellent opportunity for his country to expand the horizons of its citizens. He is excited about the pace of growth and is refreshingly optimistic about the future. I think it would be hard not to be optimistic in a place that is so visibly changing for the better. His university has 60,000 students and is less than 50 years old. Wuhan is an educational capital but all its universities and colleges seem to be less than 50 years old. What did people do before then? Melody told me the airport is about three years old and the train stations are being newly renovated in every part of the city and in two years the subway will be completed. Growth is happening in China and it’s exciting to see.

After Melody left for class however, I cowered in my hotel room. Without him accompanying me the idea of roaming about the streets was a bit intimidating. Only when my power went out did I have the motivation to leave and even then it was with much anxiety. The hotel staff didn’t speak English. I went down stairs to tell them the power was off; the receptionist couldn’t seem to understand past my atrocious accent as I tried to her I had no electricity (dian). I kept repeating “dian hui le” or electricity broken (at least I think that’s what I was saying) but she kept looking at me puzzled. Finally she said “nide diannao hui le” (your computer is broken?). I started saying the names of every electric device I could think of (which was a total of two – computer and television) and gesticulating wildly at the lights repeating “hui le, hui le” (broken broken). Finally she understood me and when an attendant came to fix the power the whole experience left me with one lesson: the next time the power goes out say “wo de fangjian mei you dian”.

Later, after I had met the coordinator from the school, my body was racked with hunger. So it was a tug of war between hunger and fear. Hunger finally won out and I left my hotel eye lids heavy with exhaustion looking for somewhere to eat. I decided to go to the same place I had eaten lunch with Melody. I told them the name of some food I knew I could eat “Mapo dofu” but they just looked at me surprised. The waitress started asking me a whole series of questions that I couldn’t understand and when that failed she thought it would be better to write out what she was trying to say. What made her think that I would be able to understand characters is beyond me. Do I look like I will be able to understand characters? Finally a senior waitress came over pushing the others to the side, she was quite authoritarian and I just said “hao” or good to everything she said. The food that was finally brought to me was soup and a pile of pork dumplings which was good.

I’ve abandoned the idea that I could be vegetarian here. I probably could if I could speak better Chinese. But something has to give and for the time being my stomach will just have to take a beating. I’ve been vegetarian since I was nine years old so my stomach is in for a valiant struggle. What’s worse is I just don’t believe in eating meat so it’s difficult for me not to get upset when I thought I had properly communicated that I was vegetarian only to receive pork. But as I already said; something’s got to give.

 I found this excellent quote in some of my readings here “To speak another language is to live another life”. And though I am remaining positive; so far my new life is confusing, cold and nauseous.

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