Saturday, April 26, 2008

That Pope and his Rock Music

I am getting pretty good at being able to tell if my employee, Mark, is understanding what I'm saying. Sometimes he doesn't, and I'll have to ask him two or three times before he finally admits that he doesn't understand one of the words of the sentence. He thinks he gets it anyway, but usually it's one of the rather more important words.

And I can tell when he dismisses a throwaway sentence, knowing what I mean without knowing the meaning. And--I actually started doing it without thinking about it, and only realized it yesterday--I've started throwing in extra phrases when I know he's not understanding/listening.

For instance, yesterday. I was talking about how we're going out of town again on Monday. I said we'd get back on Wednesday, "and--" (in reference to preparing for/meeting with a potential landlord) "rock it out." I saw Mark's eyes glaze a little, and he glanced to the left. The sign. So I quickly added, "as the Pope would say."

And yeah. Not a flinch.

It happened too fast for me to have willingly, consciously done it. I really hope that it keeps happening, though. I'll let you know how it progresses.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sitting with the Fruit-Seller

I probably spend at least 45 minutes every day walking down the street--I try to walk pretty much everywhere I need to go unless I'm late, especially as the weather's been getting better over the last few weeks. Normally every day I would greet, and maybe sit down with, a man who has a tent where he sells fruit about halfway down my street. Lately he hasn't been there--his tent's been closed down--and today it made me start thinking about him a lot.

I remember one time in particular that I sat down with him. He sits there all day, and different friends come, sit for awhile, and go. Normally no one says very much--we all just watch the people walking by, maybe exchange a few comments about the weather. He's a man who knows how to pass the time.

Well, this particular time I noticed that he had a bird in a cage--and I told him that it was beautiful. And it was--it's one of the dark-colored mountain birds that are beautiful, yes, but untame. As you walk up, each will glare at you with a wild, yellow eye and beat its wings against the cage.

Well, when I commented on it, the look in his eyes immediately showed me that I'd said the right thing, and it's clearly something he cares for. And he reached over, opened the cage, and took it out to sit on his hand.

The bird obviously didn't share his sentiment. It immediately started pecking his hand with its incredibly sharp beak. When it started pecking one spot over and over, he would slowly turn his hand, so that it wouldn't start tearing out a lot of flesh. It had to hurt, but he just continued to look at it in love and wonder, offering only a soft smile, handling it gently.

After about a minute he put it back in its cage--and I saw flecks of blood all over his hand where the skin had been punctured in several places. There was something really special about the moment. But something would be lost in the interpretation. I'll just leave you with the story.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hua'er Cafe?

So! After a ridiculously busy week that included a last-minute trip to the big city to get the company's name approved, I got the company's name approved! The good news is that now we know the name of, if not the coffee shop, at least the business. The bad news is that it doesn't translate very well into English. Go figure.

It's the 花儿餐饮有限公司. The last part basically means that we're a company that deals with food and drinks--basically it indicates that we're in the business of starting restaurants/drink shops. The first two words, "Hua'er," are a little more difficult to explain.

Basically, a long time ago in our area, men would be way too embarrassed to tell women how they felt about them. So, instead of going through the immense embarrassment of a red-faced "I like how your shoes are so sparkly," they would instead sing a song they would make up as they went along, that implies that they like the girl. To me, impromptu songs are a few more rungs up the ladder as far as embarrassment goes. But anyways: those songs are called hua'er.

Mark gave me an example of what a hua'er would be like: "Everywhere I look, I see pairs. The doves in the sky are two, and every railroad track has a mate. But I am alone. I use all my strength to climb the highest mountain. I look down, and I see a beautiful flower." THE END. Sorry, girls--we're too manly around here to actually say (sing) anything directly about a woman ever.

I told my friend that I'm going to sing a hua'er to the next girl I date. But it's probably going to just be an out of tune rendition of the following: "I climb a mountain... and I see this flower, right? It's a really beautiful one... and its name may or may not rhyme with someone's name who's in this room right now. Hint hint."

Eventually it became a genre of folk song, and a man and a woman would, at festivals, stand on different ridges of mountains around here and sing hua'er to each other. Nowadays, there are still hua'er festivals, but they sound slightly less dramatic.

I like the fact that it was a spontaneous, impromptu love song that rose in spite of embarrassment. You get the feeling that the guys had no other ways of expressing incredibly strong emotion, so eventually they just had to start to sing--and the only way they wouldn't be completely embarrassed was to sing something that would take some interpretation. It makes me think of the love song that stirs in our hearts when we see those first buds of spring, wake from a nap on the couch to a light breeze blowing through the apartment, or lay in bed in the early morning, inexplicably awake, listening to the rain.

Although, admittedly, Spring's not coming easy. It snowed again today. But I didn't mind. Something about the sound afterwards of it melting--like the whole world was dripping to the ground.

Friday, April 11, 2008

That whole Spring thing?

Yeah, scratch that. It's been sleeting and snowing for the past couple of hours, right in the middle of the day.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Popsicle Scandal Shocks Small Town

Newspapers today probably read, "Tempers flared today as the foreigner accused respected local businesswoman of trying to cheat him on popsicle purchase." The dialogue went something like this, as I approached the smiling, laughing proprietor, who was obviously having a wonderful day before I ruined it:

Me: "I'd like to buy [this popsicle]."

Her: "That'll be 1.5 kuai."

Me: "Really? It's not 1 kuai?"

Her: "No, it's not 1 kuai. It's 1.5 kuai everywhere. I'M NOT TRYING TO CHEAT YOU. IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BUY IT, DON'T BUY IT."

Me (handing her 2 kuai): "Ah, I'm sorry. Really, 1.5 kuai is okay."


Me: "I mean, 1.5 kuai is really good! I'm sorry! Thank you very much!"

Is that Idaho? Or a kidney?

Every day after class, I walk to lunch through a street where people are butchering sheep on the side of the road, with large numbers of carcasses just hanging up next to them. And today, I wasn't really paying attention, and I came *so* close to stepping on a random organ that had made its way to the street. It's the type of thing where you see it at the last moment, and immediately exert all your strength to lunge forward and step past it.

I think maybe it was a sheep's kidney.

I feel like I should be able to be a little more definitive about that. I think if I saw where it was positioned in the sheep I could've figured it out--but when it's lying in the street, it's a little more difficult. It's like how you can name a state if all the lines are drawn, but it might be difficult to draw Idaho, for instance, in the exact right location on a blank map (Idaho in this way--and maybe others?--is much like that nameless internal organ thrown in the street).

Monday, April 7, 2008


Now, it snowed here last Wednesday. My heat actually runs from November 1st to March 31st, and it snowed on October 31st and April 1st. Awesome.

But it seems like now we've finally entered spring. Just in the last two days I've seen a lot of trees budding and flowers blooming.

I went for a long walk today to enjoy the sun and warm weather (and because I didn't have anything else to do), and tried to snap a few pictures on my way.

I'm assuming that this is home-made incense out drying in the sun--perhaps because the family used all theirs up during last weekend's GHOST FESTIVAL. Which, unfortunately, is nothing like Halloween. There are a lot less costumes and candy involved, and a lot more burning your possessions (including cars and houses) to appease your ancestors.

A shot of the 70-100 or so mosques in our city.

So! At one point in the day I went over to Red Park Square, which is pretty near my home, and read for awhile. While I was doing this, a *really* old man wandered over and started looking at my book. He tried to start talking to me about it but his accent was so strong, at first I could barely understand what he was saying. Finally I realized that he was pointing at different letters and saying them, like 'M. C. B." And really, those were the only ones he knew. He kept finding M's, C's, and B's.

So finally these two young boys came over, and started laughing at him when they saw what he was doing. Finally he asked, "What, can you speak English?" They said yes, and then he asked, "Well, then what does 'M' mean?" And the kids started dying laughing again. And the old man furiously starts yelling at me and everyone within a mile radius, "These kids think they know English, but they don't even know what 'M' means!"

I was trying really hard not to laugh, and mostly succeeded.

In other news, I just ate a hot dog type of thing without properly cooking it (I just microwaved it)--which I only realized afterwards may be somewhat more ill-advised in China. Well... I've always wanted to check out the inside of the local hospital--be crossing your fingers!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Vegetarians and Paper Shredders

A few days ago, I was in class learning about food from my employee, Mark.

Mark : If someone is trying to cheat you, and you are getting angry, you can say, "[DON'T TRY TO CHEAT ME! I'M NOT A] CHI SU DE REN."
Me (writing it down) : Ah, okay.
Mark : Or, you can say about someone else, "[Don't try to cheat him. He's not a] chi su de ren."
Me (with a look of realization) : Wait. Wait. "Chi su de ren"? Vegetarian?
Mark : Yes!

So, basically here 'Vegetarian' is an insult reserved for the gullible. Sorry, Michael and Amy. When you come, I'll do my best to explain that you don't eat meat, but you're not 'vegetarians,' per se.

And then, yesterday:

Me (seeing a paper shredder) : I want one of these so bad.
Mark : Oh... what is it?
Me : It says in Chinese what it is.
Mark : But what does it do?
Me : It cuts up paper!
Mark : I know, but... why?
Me : So other people can't read it!
Mark (laughing) : But you can just burn it!

Silly Americans with their paper shredders.

It's sort of been awhile. I make no apologies!

So. Instead of waiting and making some massive post about EVERYTHING that's been going on, I'm going to put a few random pictures on here to try and sum up the past few months. But this doesn't mean that my time was divided evenly between the actions present in the pictures, or I would've spent about a month just eating Holethings. Which doesn't sound like a bad idea, but sadly wasn't a possibility.

One might think that a Holething would be something like a donut hole, but One would be wrong. In fact, it is a donut on a plastic stick. Note that Valentine's Day Holethings are available, next to the normal Holethings that you've come to know and love.

This speaks for itself. I think with this kind of name, you're not exactly giving your business the chance it deserves. It doesn't exactly bode well. Anyways, when we went to this place Michael paid probably a little too much to get "Sandwiched," wherein the cooks get to throw sandwiches at you for about a half hour. But I guess it was a pretty interesting cultural experience.

Would've been nice if I wasn't brutally ill basically the whole time I was on vacation.

This mall really, really felt like America. But a little bit cooler than America. And at the moment, significantly hotter than America.

And... back. I wish my apartment wasn't always this messy. But, as the Rolling Stones song "You Can't Always Get What You Want" wisely says, you can't always get what you want.

And now I'm running out of batteries on my laptop. But! You guys should know, I've begun the process of starting the coffee shop. As soon as we find an actual location (cross your fingers), we're on.