Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Popsicles, or, Almost Getting Hit By Cars

So, in light of a recent post I made mentioning popsicles, I thought that I would make another to further elucidate the subject.

See, many of the current popsicle manufacturers in China have started something truly unique: putting a thin layer of ice around the sides of the popsicle, and making the inside much softer than any ice cream bar in America.

Ingenious, right? Even though it's not nearly as delightful to eat, there's no having to worry about potential drips or, worst of all, the complete loss of one half of the popsicle, broken off and fallen because of structural deficiencies.

Well, wrong. The ice, unfortunately, doesn't continue to the bottom of the popsicle. Therefore, walking down the street you look absolutely ridiculous trying to attend to the top and bottom of the popsicle near-simultaneously. Once you get near to the bottom, the ice has also already started to break up, making the whole thing one barely-cohesive mess on a stick. As this requires all of your concentration, if you are walking in the city square, for instance, hypothetically, you will almost get hit by a car.

Of course, this isn't entirely your fault, or even the popsicle's--cars in China are much less predictable than in America. You can almost get hit by a car while sitting in the living room of your fifth floor apartment if you aren't paying enough attention, especially if you left a window open.

Walk in the Rain

Tonight, I had dinner with a friend of mine, and then I'd planned to have a different friend come over and hang out at my apartment. He ended up calling me at about 8:30 to cancel, though. So I went for a walk.

The night was a little chilly and rainy. I picked up some moon cakes in a bakery that I passed--small cakes with filling, made because the Moon Festival is coming up.

I won't get into everything I thought about on the walk. So many thoughts are doggedly pursued and then dropped on a walk like that, it would be difficult to write it all here. I will say that sometimes long walks like that can go bad with so much time to think, but this was not one of those nights.

I've always been someone who has thought about background music--what music I would like to have as my soundtrack, or just what would be perfect. "Trailways" by Red House Painters for walking under trees with sunlight streaming through, for instance. There is also a certain way that the sun will strike a lake as you drive by that sounds like "Tahquamenon Falls" by Sufjan Stevens. Tonight the call to prayer started to bellow from a mosque I was walking by and echo from building to building. And that is the soundtrack to this place, to the lives that weave through these streets and alleys.

I walked to another part of the city, the large square that I've mentioned before on here. It's about the size of three or four football fields, but because of the weather it was completely desolate. There's something about a place where there should be people when it's empty--like something is wrong, like it's being used for something that was never intended. I walked to the very middle, where there's a huge pole with lights in a ring around the top. Looking up, the rain was falling regularly, but larger drops in two concentric rings because of the lights. The drops would be illumined as they passed the lights, then fade like sparks. It was really indescribable: the whole of it, me standing, looking up, the strangeness and simple beauty of what I was watching, how unusual of a place it was to find it, alone in a huge city square.

I was recently told that the phrase, "Zhen qi guai," means "How strange," but that that isn't the whole of it. There's also beauty implied.

It's hard to describe exactly, but as I walked home I had a whole different set of things to think about.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Restful Day

Things have been a lot more busy here than I expected. I expected there to be a lot more quiet, a lot more rest, than there has been. Part of it may be living in a city--even on what you plan to be a quiet walk, crazy encounters can occur.

So yesterday, after kind of a frustrating day at work, I stopped and picked up a strawberry ice cream bar on my way home. Now, some of you were privy to my absurd Good Humor strawberry shortcake ice cream bar cravings in the days leading up to my return to China. Well, I've found something here that's not the same but... well... it's just close enough to be dangerous.

I threw open the windows, put on both fans, threw on a tank top and some old jeans, listened to country music, ate the ice cream bar, and just felt amazing. I can't really describe it, it just really felt like home. It's true that it doesn't take much to feel at home here--so much of life is so foreign that one day when I saw two different people using the ATM on a walk, I felt like I was in America.

I had plans to have coffee with a friend last night, but I sort of knew it was going to fall through.

So after that, I went to the grocery store and picked up a bunch of different snack foods (usually it's about 50/50 when finding new foods, only about half will be edible) and some things to use for dinner, and headed home. I put on some music, cooked an absolutely amazing dinner (admittedly, I was surprised), tried all the snack foods (all three edible as snacks, though I won't buy one of them again), and watched the latest Harry Potter movie.

It was really quite the excellent evening.

But! For now I need to head to lunch/work. My boss's wife is making tortillas!

Jialifuniya Girls

It's been a long time since I've written, and so many things have been happening!

On a walk last Sunday, I ended up seeing tons of people that I knew, so this week has been really busy.

A few days ago, I was walking down a couple of the newer streets in town, almost like a downtown kind of area, when four very attractive girls around my age stopped me. They all had matching nice outfits, and so it seemed that they were co-workers. So they all started talking to me, and I didn't have any idea what they're saying. But I went with them, because... well, why would I not go with them?

So there was a little tent type thing, and a table under it with a book on it. There were about four other girls waiting for us, and they all watched as I sat down at the table and started looking at the book. It was basically all glamour shots of a couple. Extreme glamour shots--wind in their hair, lying on sofas, airbrushed like crazy. The girls asked if I had a girlfriend, but I, of course, don't. After they all volunteered each other for the job, they said it's okay for just one person to get glamour shots, too. Thank goodness.

After I told them it was too expensive and started to leave, they asked me to sit back down. They really wanted me to stay and hang out. But then it was just really *absurdly* awkward, because I didn't know how to say that much and there were these eight girls just asking me things like who I think is the prettiest and whether I would marry a Chinese girl. I was actually surprised that here, almost as many people ask about marrying a Chinese girl as in America.

It happens a lot--a girl asking if her friend is good enough to marry, or whether I think she's pretty. I try to pretend not to understand for as long as possible, and when they just don't give up, I say I'm too young to find a wife.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Letting the Days Go By...

Random Happenin's:

  1. Last Saturday, I went with "Baxter" to the Great Wall of my city. Which is a short, imitation Great Wall that they put in a park a little ways outside the city. It was pretty... majestic? We were talking about Islam since Baxter is studying to be an imam, and he asked, "Are you Christmas?" I said that yes, I celebrate Christmas, etc. And he said, "Yes, but ARE you Christmas?"

    He meant to ask whether I'm a Christian. I kept correcting him, but he never did quite get it.

    They actually had one room at the park full of different rocks cleaned and on shelves. I asked what the rocks were, whether they were sculpted, but the people had just gathered what they considered to be the most beautiful naturally formed rocks in the area into one room. The idea of the aesthetics of naturally formed rocks was really interesting to me, and we spent a lot of time looking closely and choosing our favorites.

  2. I went for several long walks around the city, which were really amazing, and did good things for my heart. In one part of the city on Monday, I bought a small turtle that I think is supposed to be like a chia pet. I watered him when I brought him home, in any case, so I'll keep you posted about whether I'm right or he's a turtle made of dirt.

    It was in the same part of the city where I'm thinking about living. My potential future apartment isn't in as good of a location as this one, and it isn't as nice. But there's something about it that's indescribably appealing. You have to walk through an alley separated from the road to get there, which usually has old women sitting there just talking, or maybe shucking corn. Off of the alley are many other branches of smaller alleys, both sides brick, overgrown with grass and flowers, ending in doors half the size of a person. As I told a friend of mine, it feels like a secret garden--it feels like anything could happen there.

  3. I had coffee with an old friend of Lee's and one of her friends on Tuesday. We talked a lot about the environment in China, especially desertification, and they told me about the Green Wall of China--a line of trees being planted to stop the spread of the Gobi Desert in northwest China.

  4. Yesterday morning, I spent about two and a half hours teaching a friend of mine to do the Electric Slide. I cannot even describe how fun and hilarious of an experience this was. My doctor friend came over last night and hung out for a long time, which was very relaxing and encouraging.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I Made a Huge Mistake

So. This evening I took a walk around the city. It was the first time I'd just gone for a long walk since I got here, and it was really nice. So I was walking along, passing through the city square, when I hear this truck coming up behind me. You know how sometimes when something loud approaches, you'll see someone on a cell phone run away from it, clutching the phone tightly to their ear?


That happened with a girl in front of me. A loud truck was coming--it made sense. And it made even more sense when it turned out to be one of the huge trucks that drives around the city spraying everything with water. Turns out *everyone* else knew it was coming somehow, so after it passed *I* was left standing alone in the road with my left side completely soaked. In case you've forgotten, it was in the city square, so about eighty percent of the city's population saw it and immediately burst into laughter. Including me, actually--I threw them a thumbs up (which I hope isn't a bad gesture here), and couldn't stop laughing for about twenty minutes.

People kept giving me strange looks as they saw me walking down the street half-soaked, though. But seriously--if you had huge trucks driving around your city for the exclusive purpose of spraying massive amounts of water everywhere, surely you wouldn't be that surprised to see the occasional person with one side of his body drenched.

There are so many situations every day in which I do the exact wrong thing. Walking in the grocery store today, a guy tried to hand me a box of something or another that was long and rectangular, red, with a picture of bees and a honeycomb on it. I thought he was trying to get me to buy it, and stood there trying to get him to understand that I didn't want it. Finally he just threw it in my bag--it was a free sample. I opened it when I got home. I think it might be toothpaste--there's a picture of a smile on one side of the box. But then, toothpaste is one of those things... If it's not toothpaste, you *really* don't want to be using it like it is.

I definitely need people to be understanding and graceful. But they are. And I love that they're so ready to accept that I have no idea what I'm doing.

It's so funny here to watch people with children as you walk towards them. Parents or grandparents immediately bend down to their children, however young, and start shaking them or poking them in the ribs, trying to get them to speak something in English to you. If they do, it's a resounding "Hello!" before they immediately hide behind the adult.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Home again, home again...

Well, I arrived back in my little city at about 6 last night. I had dinner over at my boss's apartment with his family, hung out there for a while, and then came to the apartment, absolutely exhausted. But even though I was worn out, when I went out onto the street to grab some water, I was absolutely beaming. It's good to be back.

Last night I definitely realized how lonely it's going to be here. I've never actually lived alone, and it's sort of a sad feeling coming home at night. But I definitely think that I'll ultimately benefit from living a life with more quiet, more solitude, in it.

Today, I went out to grab a cable that I needed, and I slipped on some flip-flops. I was definitely thinking, "Is this okay? I'm pretty sure this is fine." And then, on the street, everyone kept *staring* at my feet. It's ridiculous how embarrassed I was for wearing flip-flops. On my way down the street, I kept seeing people who were absolutely scowling at me, too. But when I smiled and nodded to them, they would erupt into the biggest smiles. That's one of those things that happens all the time here, but it's just really funny to re-realize.

So I got to where I knew I could buy the cable, and the guy's like, "Hey--are you Lee's friend?" I said yes, and he asked if I was living in Lee's apartment, and I said yes, and he said a few things that I couldn't understand, and I kept nodding, and then he said he knew Lee and he's glad he's my friend now, too.

I just love this place. There are going to be tough times. But right now, I'm elated.