Ni-hou! It's a lazy Sunday afternoon here in Baoding, China. I'm in Kim's room since my internet died again. She's sound asleep.
My internet took a nose dive while I was talking to Bre via video chat. I was standing up to give her a video tour of my room then ker-plunk. I think I have a faulty wire. I'm going to have someone look at it for me some time this week, hopefully. So, Bre, I'm sorry I cut it so short. That was completely unintentional and I must admit I had a bit of a Hallmark moment rubbing your pregnant belly on my computer screen.
This weekend was awesome! I. Love. China. This place is rad. After my last entry (Bored in Baoding), I got off my ass and met up with Emily and Lee for some tasty jiaozit. Jiaozit is dumplings. There's a little spot down the street from where I live that they had not been to yet. Seeing their delighted expressions was a bonus point for me, as I had similar ones the weekend before when I first tried jiaozit. We laughed about our previous weekend in Beijing and I mentioned *cue in nostalgia* my love for crunk juice. Emily cackled that we should have "crunk cups" to carry around with us in Baoding. Then Lee, with the most quote-worthy reply of the night, says, "My crunketh cup hath runneth over..." Shamefully, I don't think that's exactly the quote he said, and I accept responsibility for not giving it its justice. Regardless, another thing I've learned about being in China: you don't just laugh here, you keel over until tears are splashing on your thighs.
After dinner we walked a few blocks, making our way to a spot that is common for American ESL teachers to frequent on a weekend. Thirsty for peejuo, we each grabbed a stool at Charlie bar, and I eagerly took out my translation journal I carry along wherever I go. I practiced my Chinese with the bartenders, it was delightful and fun. "Wuh-i-nee, Tsingtao," I said, clutching my green bottle, and everyone laughed earnestly. Rather than saying I love Tsingtao, I said, "I love you Tsingtao." We decided to have a little whiskey and in walks Frankie. Frankie is a Johnny Cool Guy of Baoding. I met him the first night I was in town. He helps run a hair salon. Once my hair is ready for a new do, I know where to go.
The three of us decided to tag along with Frankie and go hang out at his apartment for a bit. Lee hailed a taxi and Frankie said he'd meet us there since he was on his bike. Bike, meaning motorcycle. The lightbulb above my head began to buzz noisily. "Can I ride on your bike with you?" I asked as Emily and Lee climbed into the cab. "Of course," he replied, and I hopped on the back and held on for dear life.
I've never been much of a motorcycle person, but since I've been in China I've really been trying to make a point to change, to try new things. I plan on shooting some hoops at the basketball court and I rode a motorcycle down the empty Baoding street at some late hour Friday night. The wind brushed my face, it was sweet yet intense, and I giggled nonstop like a four-year-old girl. When we got to his apartment, he asked why I was laughing so much. "I've never ridden a motorcycle without a helmet before," I replied. Welcome to China. No one here wears helmets.
It was interesting watching TV, some strange movie was on. The acting was kinda horrible, even though I couldn't understand what was being said. And the best part was watching the commercials. Rather than seeing a series of brands push and sell their beloved product, it was China pushing parts of its country as though we were watching the travel channel. It was very entertaining and increased my interest to take as many opportunities as possible to explore this very large place. One ad showed the most interesting hills, they were like pencils aiming at the sky. I've never seen anything like those before. I'm used to the Rockies, the Appalachians, not these falic peaks. I cannot wait to board a train and go see this stuff myself.
We grew tired and decided it was time to go home. Since Emily and Lee live in another part of town, they took another cab and Frankie offered me another ride back to campus. I gleefully accepted, only this time I did not laugh endlessly like before. I had a bit of a head change, I relaxed and gazed up at the moon while the engine revved and curved along the empty street. I thought to myself, Wow, I'm in China, this is amazing, I'm living in the moment here. This is my time, belongs solely to me and the moon I'm staring at, smiling at, silently thanking for bringing me here. "You like red lights?" Frankie asked as he tilted his head toward me. I'm not sure what I responded, and I don't think it really mattered, because he raced right through a red light without a moment's hesitation and I released my barbaric yelp. He swirved onto the sidewalk then bounced back onto the street. Frankie was showing off. Frankie is a yemmer. I couldn't blame him. If I had a fast little vehicle, an empty road, and a cute girl holding onto me tight, I probably would've done the same thing.
When we got to campus, I thanked him for the ride by giving him a hug, then skipped off toward my apartment. I stopped and took out my headphones so I could enjoy the walk. I know I've said this before, but I must re-emphasize...it is the most liberating feeling to walk alone at night and not constantly be looking over my shoulder. It's so safe here! There are huge penalties for harming foreigners, especially on campus. No one fucks with you here. So I put on my headphones and strutted to Sonic Youth's Sonic Nurse album, grinning from ear to ear. I could still feel the engine's vibration in my thighs.
Kim was still awake when I got home. I came to her room and we sat in the little foyer between her kitchen and bathroom, a small space with enough room for two chairs and two friends. I love Kim. She's so fun to be around, she likes my humor and she's not afraid to let one rip. We sat and talked about our evenings until it was time to call it a night.
The next morning I rose out of bed. Today was Pet Street day, along with lunch with the newly-arrived Americans who were going to purchase bikes. Yusi gave the taxi instructions to the secondhand bike shop with the American kids in it, then the three of us (Kim, Yusi and I) followed on our bikes. I was wearing my cutoff shorts, and realized the bike seat was rubbing a painful blister in my thigh. It was getting difficult to bear. One of the Americans (I can't remember their names yet) called Yusi's mobile to inform him the bike shop was gone. Disappeared. The government must have closed it down or moved it. Chances are, it was a black market bike shop. Alas, we decided lunch sounded more enticing than searching Baoding for this elusive bike shop, so we went to a place for more jiaozit.
Alex met up with us, as well as a few more Americans and some Chinese. Altogether there was probably around 10 or 12 of us. We took up two large, round tables and began to order what all we wanted. Alex and I, the only vegetarians in the group (well, except Yusi, he's pseudo-vegetarian), picked out jiaozit with cilantro, some with squash, some with carrot. "Mayo-roe" means I don't eat meat. It's actually quite easy to be vegetarian here. Vegan is a different story, as the Chinese are quite fond of using eggs in their meals. What's awesome about China is you can be walking along the street and passing vendors cooking up tofu, or "dofu" as they say here. In the States, not a fucking chance. It's hot dogs or burgers, maybe the most vegetarian thing you can get is a salty pretzel or greasy french fries. No thanks, I'll stick with the dofu.
After lunch, three of the Americans took a cab to go purchase electric bikes. Now this did not make sense to me. I understand they can be fun, hell, I had a blast riding one the night before, but why pass up the opportunity to ride a bicycle? This town has enough smog, why contribute to its delirious fog that often hides the sun? I raised my eyebrow then decided to mind my own business as I unlocked Claudio's lock. The blister on my thigh was getting more painful. Two American girls were getting a taxi back to campus. I offered Claudio to a boy on my floor (can't remember his name!) to take back to campus, as the throbbing sensation made the thought of riding unbearable. I decided to also contribute to the smog and ride with the girls, and since they just arrived and don't know any Chinese, I saw this as my chance to tell the cabbie where to go. And I did! He knew exactly where I was talking about. That was definitely a victory for me.
A little while later, after I changed into jeans, Alex, Kim and I rode our bikes to Pet Street. Pet Street is a long, narrow road with vendors selling fish, turtles, plants. We avoided the puppies, knowing their cuteness might cloud our better judgment. It was a Saturday afternoon, and the whole area of town was packed. People here LOVE to honk their horns. Sometimes I think it's their way of saying "Ni hou!" rather than get out of the way, because often, no one's in their way when they honk. It gets annoying too, especially on a busy day like that, everyone's honking. It starts parading into my cranium unwelcomed, sometimes it will make me a little agitated and claustrophobic. I slowly rode Claudio along the path, looking at dozens of beautiful fish. I refrained from buying anything and just window-shopped, minus windows.
Next on the agenda: meet at 6:10 pm at the south entrance of campus. Why ten minutes after the hour? I do not know. It was the three of us, plus Slova, Hou, Yusi, Sophie, Luna, and the American who lives on my floor. The plan was go grab dinner then KTV!
Above is 1) Kim, Slova and Hou at the south gate, 2) a picture of our reflections on the building, and 3) ME!
We ate dinner at another Chinese restaurant, Emily and Lee met us there. Once AGAIN... the food was delicious and cheap. I must say that out of all the places I've been to, the food in Baoding is by far the best ever. And the price makes it even more wonderful. It's dirt, dirt cheap to eat here. We had green beans covered in garlic, vegetable salad with a delicious dressing of some sort, sweet eggplant and potatoes, peanuts in vinegar, peppery dofu, green omelete-like finger foods, hot tea and peejuo. For dessert, sweet potato fries covered in sugar, much like cotton candy. The strands of sugar stretched across the table like sticky hair connecting each person to one another, all the food was deliciously arranged on the spinning table. It's so easy to just give it a turn, it's a wheel of good fortune. Here's to good health, good food, good friends I've only known a week but it feels like a year.
That was a virtual spin-around-the-room of who was at dinner. This was before Dasha, Emily and Lee arrived. 1) Alex, Yusi, and Cameron, 2) add Kim, 3) Helen, Sophie and Luna, 4) Helen and Luna with our fu yin, 5) Hou and Slova, 6) Slova, 7) Me, oh so excited about everything, and 8) the remains of our food, glorious food.
After dinner it was time for KTV. Since it was a bit far away, most everyone climbed into taxis. But I was feeling rather full from dinner so decided it would be best to continue biking. Slova agreed. So we both got on our bikes, then Hou and Luna joined us. Hou rode on the back of Slova's bike while Luna rode on the back of mine. The way that works, the back passenger sits perpendicular to the person riding the bike, their feet dangle in the street as they sit on the back end. Slova and I rode side by side, the four of us laughing, Hou chainsmoking on the back of his bike, Luna exclaiming, "Whoa! Whoa!" each time I swerved to keep balance. It was so much fun. We decided to stop along the street and purchase some peejuos since they'd probably be a lot more expensive at KTV. The man who sold them to us laughed at my attempts of speaking Chinese, and we stashed the peejuos in our bags and continued on our way.
KTV. Remember in Lost in Translation when Scarlett Johansson sings the Pretenders in that tiny room? Yes, that's what KTV is like, except the room was much larger. There was a tamborine, a shaker, a touch screen to select songs, a large couch, and a huge screen with a projector flashing videos for each karaoke song. We all piled in and rocked the fuck out for hours. I don't have my own pictures from it, but once Kim uploads hers I will gladly post them here. It was so much fun. We sang, we danced, we laughed incessantly. Alex wanted a peejuo and so did I, so I said, "All right, I can do this, I will order them!" so I stepped outside and waved down our little fu yin. I don't know if he did this spitefully or not, but he came back with two bottles of non-alcoholic beers. Wtf? Of course I didn't notice that on the label until after they were opened and the 24 quai was spent. Laaaame. I grabbed Yusi, hoping he could convince the fu yin to refund the money and take the beers back but it was no use. So instead, we got two Coronas, yep that's right, two Coronas in China, 36 quai. Whatever. You live and you learn.
The strobe was turned on, songs were sung with such enthusiasm. I looked around the room at everyone's happy faces. This was amazing. I was having the best time with these people, people I just met. I can hang, I told myself. I can totally hang in China. I will grasp the language and I will rock it.
After KTV, Slova, Hou, Luna and I rode to Charlie bar, then Emily and Kim met us by cab. By this time, I was exhausted from all my dancing and singing and hollering. Frankie showed up again, and this time it was Emily's turn to take a ride on his bike. We decided to go hang out at his house for a little while, and Kim started to doze off a bit on the couch. I left my bike at Charlie bar, so I took a taxi home to campus to get some rest. Once again, the walk to my apartment was blissful. I think I listened to the Pet Grief album by the Radio Dept, while waking up our downstairs lady because it was well past curfew. I told her I was sorry and rushed up the five flights of stairs, where I greeted my bed and went fast to sleep, still hearing the songs from KTV.
1) Hou and Slova on the elevator in KTV, 2) a shot of the screen in our room, 3) Slova, the only person I know who can get away with wearing his shirt like that, 4) "Senor Cuteface" at Charlie bar (le-sigh!), 5) Slova's ponytail while I sat on the back of his bike this morning. He was taking me to pick up my bike from the juo-bah.
To all my friends, and anyone else interested in following along my experiences: I LOVE CHINA. No, seriously, I friggin' love it here. 2008 has been an incredible year, and like Alex told me, it's only going to get better.
P.S. That picture up at the top is of me goofing off in Beijing, there was this fancy restaurant/bar place with all these crazy loopy things, so I saw it as a chance to pretend I was in a Beijing music video and get some funky silhouette photos.