Archive for April, 2010

That was embarassing!

April 17, 2010

April 17th, 201o

So, an incredibly embarrassing thing just happened. Xiao Ayi (my busybody old landlady – the one who gave me the bear faced muff) came over wanting to see my photos from Xi’an and Shanghai. I had saved the photos into a large folder mixed up with all my photos from China. And as I was scanning through them with her, I came upon a photo that caught us both by surprise. When I first got to China, it was right after a crazy night in Canada where I had too much to drink and fell on my tailbone resulting in an enormous bruise. I had never seen a bruise that large in my life and thought I never would. So I thought I needed to mark the occasion by taking a photo. And well it was hard to do the bruise justice unless I put it into perspective by showing my entire body, and what better way to bring out its colour than to contrast it against skin. So yes, I have a naked photo of myself taking a picture of my bruised ass. And that is what Xiao Ayi just witnessed.

I closed the photo as quickly as I could and started laughing uncontrollably. Xiao Ayi seemed confused and chatted for only a little while longer before leaving. I am not sure if the photo came into focus quickly enough for her to realize what it was. But I am sure my expression gave her a clue.

Anyway, here are some of the other photos I showed her 🙂

Just following advice

April 13, 2010

April 13th, 2010

My mother tells me that language learning is like an upward spiral (see the inspired and beautiful photo above). Each loop has a top and a bottom half. When you are on the top half, you are in a swell of positive emotion, you can see quite clearly how much you have improved and feel immense pride in what you’ve accomplished. But with every high there is a low. The bottom of the loop is the overwhelming and discouraging realization of how much you have left to learn. It’s times like this when ignorance comes in handy.

In China, I have only just started to be on that bottom side of the loop, and trust me I am beating furiously against the current. I will not go gently into that good night of depressing self pity. Though anyone who knows me at all, knows I have a broody side to me. Usually the deathly combination is beer and my period. This is when, I will fall into a series of depressing “why did he leave me” or “I thought he loved me” rants that would break a monk. I really have amazingly patient friends.  

My first breakdown in China almost happened at the AIESEC conference. Expectations are always to blame. I was looking forward to going to a conference in China. I wanted to teach the Chinese the cheers from Ottawa, meet a whole bunch of foreigners and get smashed with a bunch of Chinese feeling like a princess. This unfortunately is not what happened. I arrived at the conference in Shanghai to the great surprise of the conference organizers. “We weren’t sure you were coming,” they said. “What do you mean? I registered,” I replied.

Stammering and stumbling a bit over the words, they explained, “yes but we wrote you asking if you were coming because you are the only foreigner.”

“Did you write me in English?” I asked explaining that I am not good at reading and writing in Chinese and usually just ignore those emails assuming them to be spam. Well they hadn’t. They wrote me in Chinese explaining that the conference was in Chinese and that even though all the discussions were advertised on the website with English titles they were all going to be conducted in Chinese. “Great!” (note: sarcasm.)

But still I tried to remain positive. I attended the lectures, tried to understand and went to a party the first night. Though as Shakespeare said, nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so. That was certainly true here. People were eager to meet me and ask me about my life. And instead of being pleased and flattered with the attention I was embarrassed and felt foolish. Of course they are curious about me, I am a freak. I am the only foreigner stupid enough to come to this and everyone is wondering how I could be so stupid. And there I was standing in the middle of an AIESEC party with a rum and coke in my hand, and my mind swung into full-fledged depressing ranting.

The next morning I packed my bags after breakfast, wrote a short note to my roommates and tried to sneak out at Opening Plenary. Unfortunately one of the conference organizers caught me leaving. Their apologies stung further as the embarrassment started tickling at my tear ducts. No I will not break, I refuse to break.   

So the AIESEC conference was a failure. Though through it all, I do remember one great line by one of the presenters, (the only one in English) – “even the great have to deal with all this shit.” The same presenter also said to not be afraid to fail, and that failing was pretty good for a person. So, I guess I could say I was just following her advice.

Africans in China (forgot to add this one)

April 12, 2010

March 15th, 2010

Today as I walked into class my Chinese class, I was confronted by Victor, a Rwandan student with a broody disposition. “Why didn’t you pick up your phone?” I had given him my number on the Friday, because I wasn’t able to come up with an excuse. I told myself if he called I just wouldn’t pick up. He called four times over the following three days. Though I am sure I shamed Miss Manners, I thought that he would get the hint. However, my plan backfired because I hadn’t thought he would actually confront me about not picking up the phone. Stammering I said pitifully, “I am sorry, I didn’t feel like talking.” The rest of the day when I looked his way in class, he pouted and had his arms crossed, it has almost funny to see a grown man (35 years old) acting like such a child. 

Maurice an African man from Uganda has become one of my good friends here in Wuhan. We all laugh at him for his Chinese name (ma li se) which, depending on the tone, translates as dead pretty horse or dead pretty mother. But despite his terrible name, he is a great guy, kind hearted and quick to laugh and always inviting me to great parties.

One drawback however, is that he is always telling me in grandiose language how much he loves me. It is best to take his professions of love with a grain of salt, or maybe a wheelbarrow. He calls me his princess, was the first to notice my new hair cut and is always heavy on the compliments. He calls me almost every day just to tell me how much he loves me and no matter how many times I have told him I just want to be friends he doesn’t seem to show any sign of giving up. He even asks if he can kiss me and doesn’t seem too shaken when I refuse him flat out. His staying power could be called admirable, insane, or just African. But if you ignore all the overdone flattery he’s a good friend.

Last week I accompanied him and a group of French business students to a Chinese birthday party. A couple in their twenties had invited 300 of their closest friends and a table of foreigners to celebrate the one year birthday of their daughter. The event involved a feast, magicians and musicians and like every truly great party, an open bar. It was hard to believe that this whole huge party was for a one year old girl who would probably be the star of MTV Chinas “My sweet 16”. (Though of course there is no MTV in China.)

Then this weekend he invited me and a group of others to join him at the Wuhan East African student party. It was a memorable event with fabulous food, and even better dancing.  During the whole party, I noticed one of Maurice’s friends watching me. He was a nice guy, always buying my drinks, but someone whose name I could never remember. Finally he came up to me and said he needed to talk to me. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Bonnie I have to tell you something very important. I am in love with you.” At that I couldn’t contain my laughter. It was horribly embarrassing. I had only met this guy twice. I didn’t even know his name. Later in the night I asked Maurice what his friend’s name was. He wanted to know why I was asking. I told him honestly that the guy had told me he loved me and if a man says he loves me the least I should be able to do is know his name. “No,” Maurice said. “He tells everyone he loves them, this is not important just ignore him.” But the memory of the confrontation in my classroom is still heavy in my mind and so I have quite the dilemma: ignore him and risk a most certainly awkward confrontation at the next party but talk to him and risk more ridiculous flattery. How will I ever decide?

Goodbyes and Party Planning

April 12, 2010

April 12th, 2010

My parents have now left Wuhan. To celebrate their departure (just kidding) I am throwing a party at my place this Saturday. It will be the first party I have thrown in China. It’s quite difficult to throw a party when you don’t know anyone. But now after more than three months, I think I have acquired enough of a hodge podge of friends to throw a party and my favourite kind of party is always a hodge podge party. Ones where friends of mine from all corners of my life are thrown together in a disordered frenzy spiced up with plenty of vodka and in my experience it’s always worked out. This time I will throw together nationalities and language groups. I have invited a group of Koreans from my Chinese classes – they don’t speak any English and we have to use Chinese to do any communicating. I have also invited my teaching assistants from my English classes, members of AIESEC Wuhan, a couple of Ugandans, a dash of Colombians, English teachers from England to Australia and to finish it off my Chinese tutors and all their friends. I think it will be interesting to say the least.

I will also be celebrating my decision to spend another year in China. I have been accepted into U of T to start a Masters in Economics, but I have decided to apply for a deferral. This country is incomprehensibly huge and at least another year is needed to do it justice.

My parents visit was surprisingly pleasant. As a grown (or so I tell myself) woman, I did not exactly relish the idea of hosting my parents in a country where I spoke the language in a broken (at best) and brutal accent for an entire month. However, it turned out to be great! I loved having them and I was pleasantly surprised to find them positive and flexible. (Flexibility is really key here.) My dad came to China to work and my mom accompanied him to explore and have fun learning the language. Knowing how difficult it would be to survive, I hired them a companion for the month, my friend Shanshan. Without Chinese it is near impossible to do anything in Wuhan. This city is not Western tourist friendly.

It was funny to see their reactions to things. I won’t soon forget the look of abject terror in my mother’s eyes when we crossed the frenzied streets with cars, bicycles, and motorcycles whizzing around against the lights. They were pleasant and good humoured when the waiters, after sniggering at their attempts to use chopsticks, brought them knives and forks. They kept their patience when stared at and even managed to calm me down several times when I just about lost it with a hotel attendant at the inefficiency of “customer service.” Without meaning to be condescending in anyway, I want to say they impressed me. I hadn’t expected them to be such easy going and great travellers. I have often heard said that as we age our parents amaze us more and more and this occasion is a perfect example.

Their visit was lovely. And we even had the chance to travel to Xi’an and Shanghai. Though for tonight I will have to leave that blog for a later date. The weight of the day is wearing on me and my eyes are getting heavy.