I'm too tired to do the easy math and tell you what the date is. Truth is, I don't really care what the date is. It doesn't matter. Besides, I teach English, not math.
Yeah. Tomorrow I make my transition to Tara the writing teacher, rather than Tara the bartender, Tara the waitress, Tara the trainwreck. It's nice trying on hats.
Let's talk about this hat. Let's talk about this whole outfit. It's the most bizarro ensemble I've ever worn, yet I'm so drawn to it that I can't get myself to take it off. I literally wore the same clothes for five days. I didn't have much choice, being that my luggage was missing. The first night in China was, well, rough. The missing luggage, then getting stuck in this room that felt like a hospital, then getting locked out of it with my small, remaining things inside. The locks are some sons of bitches. I started banging on the door, so totally, completely frustrated that I cried, AGAIN, like W-T-F. Why? WHY?
I finally got in the door and got on Skype and called Kim, another teacher here from the States. So shortly after, she arrives with Alex ('nother teacher) and Yusi G-is-for-Gangsta (Alex's boyfriend). I still was not quite over my emotional instability so I made an excellent first impression with mascara smears and a shaky voice. "You want a hug?" Alex asked and I wearily accepted it. After that, things got easier. Then one mentioned plans of going to a bar. I jumped at the idea. Nothing sounded better than a cold drink.
The toilets. Let's talk about the toilets. It's relatable to the outfit because it offers a possibility of getting some of your excrement on your clothes. But whatevs, it's cool. The first one I encountered, I thought it was just a "special" one. I laughed about it at the bar, saying, "Yeah man, we pulled over on the way to Hebei to use the pisser, and it was a total squatter." Then I realized they're all like that here. Bring some tissue and calf muscle, because you're pissing in a hole on the floor from now on. Hmm, all right. I can hang. I call them floorboards now. The first time I took a crap in one was later on in Beijing, and that felt like one of the biggest victories in my life. And yes, in the literal sense.
I drank some Baiju. Tastes like absinthe. This was after the Russian Dasha arrived with her English boyfriend. I forget his name. "I drink vod-kuh," she said with a cold, straight face. Very beautiful girl. Realized she's a student here, not a teacher, and is of the ripe age of 17 when she looks like she could be mine. And it's become a general consensus around here that I don't look 27. The norm I get is either 19 or 22. Okay. Anyway, the Baiju. That set me right. Burned a little, could probably take the polish off your nails, but whatevs. Had to give it a shot. Like my puns? Don't worry, I'll come up with more.
Got up the next morning and my boss. He gives me the schedule: teach writing to Chinese sophomores four days a week, I'm done by noon at the latest. Right fucking on. I can hang with a light schedule such as that. Ate some breakfast with Kim, later realized some squishy gelatin shit I was hesitant about was horse hooves. Okay. The more you know, little miss vegetarian. A rule of thumb here that I figured out pretty quickly, about living in China...do not, I repeat, do NOT sweat the small stuff, or you's fucked. Secondly, leave room for error. I'll explain why.
So after getting my schedule I went to my room and it was already time to catch the train to Beijing with Alex and Kim. Word. I didn't really have much to travel with so I just grabbed my purse and ski-daddled. We missed the first train so we bought tickets for a later trip at around 1. Gave me time to exchange my cash for quai (probably not how you spell it. Sorry.) which took kind of forever. It was cool though, someone left their obnoxiously awesome reading glasses on the counter so I put them on and started 80's dancing while Alex and Kim sang Mariah Carey with Yusi shaking his head. The guy behind the window looked a bit, um, annoyed. Got my quai, and we headed back to the train station.
This time, Alex lost her ticket. So she had to catch the next train while Kim and I went ahead. I felt bad about leaving her but was confident she'd make it. She's a pro compared to me, being that this is her second year. Kim and I had a chance to sit and talk a bit, I was well more composed than the previous night. The ride was easy, comfortable, translucent in a sense that I still wasn't quite seeing clearly what all was going on but had an idea of the general picture. I didn't have any physical jetlag, but emotionally I thought I did. Felt so wacky and ADD. Then I realized that wasn't jetlag, that was China.
Beijing. Let's talk about Beijing. Holy smokes those subway stations are packed. It's intense. I learned the word and character for door. The word is "men." What's interesting is while it was totally overwhelming being completely lost in translation, some places we went to were so western that I forgot I was in China and it kinda bummed me out a little. Like, yo dude, I can see you at home. Go away and let me get back to being a deer in the headlights. Beijing ain't cheap like Baoding either. We met up with some other folks from Baoding, Emily and Lee (two teachers at a boarding school, from Chicago and California) and hit up a hookah bar. We got suckered. For six bottles of Budweiser (bleh!), a plate of watermelon and a water pipe: 525 quai. This was an arm and a Chinese leg, which would be slightly smaller than a western leg but nonetheless, still a leg. Fuck me, I thought to myself. But then I had my floorboard victory so it kind of made up for the money spent.
The hostel we stayed at was by far my most favorite hostel I've ever stayed at, and I've been to a few. When we got back, there were some drunk Welsh guys sitting on the couch, looking to talk some shit. It was Emily, Kim and myself while quiet and outnumbered Lee kinda sat off to the side. The boy asked us ladies what it was like to be cocksuckers. Emily responded she'd cut his dick off while I calmly asked him if that approach ever works for him. The hostel worker (nice, nice guy) says, "Too late!" meaning, Shut the hell up. I grinned at him while I waltzed to the bathroom with a western seat. Later on, I got to talking to the Welsh dudes and they apologized for their rude remarks. Apology accepted. "I know people like you," I said with a raised eyebrow. "You put up the barb wire for someone's first glance and if they're smart and patient enough to realize it's just some stupid first impression armor, you remove it and you become friends." So we did. They gave me some quai and Emily and I walked down to grab some Tsingtaos and proceed to keep drinking. I got in a heavy political discussion with one Welsh guy that was probably one of the best ones I've ever had. I told him I was confused. I told him I didn't like either candidate all that much for the presidential race in the States. Obama's a crowd pleaser while McCain's, well, McCain's a fucking right-wing. And when I say right I mean a direction I'm not comfortable with. But I was confused about everything, I see the war as an unnecessary surgery with a doctor who stole his medical license from someone else, and now the patient's sitting there bleeding on the table. You don't just walk away, you find a real doctor and sew him back up, hence McCain's military experience, but now McCain wants to fuck up our supreme court even more? While Obama wants us out of the war, I also don't trust him either because he says what everyone wants to hear. Remember that stuff with his preacher? Oh yeah, just the loud noisy uncle who says things you don't always agree with but you let it slide. Until the polls start sliding down, then he disassociates? Yeah, I trust you, Barack. You just want to get elected, then we'll see your true colors, not just being part African-American like so many people can't seem to see past. Maybe I'll go back to the original plan and vote for Nader. Or maybe I'll be too busy to vote at all. I've got a right to vote, but I also have a right not to. We'll see, though. More on that one later, let's get back to Beijing!
The next day was spent being a tourist. Saw some Olympic stuff. Bought a pack of postcards I intend to mail some time this week. Got claustrophobic in the subway. China has a smell to it, a complex one I've never smelled before. At first it was difficult to describe. See, in parts of Mexico, you know what that smell is, that's the sewer. But in China, it's a slightly sweet, pungent odor. Think rotting flowers with a dash of pepper. Sometimes it's thick, sometimes it's mild. It's not necessarily bad but it can be overwhelming at times, especially walking past certain restaurants and having their spices leap out at your nostrils.
I've made another rule of thumb for myself: at least five minutes of headphone-land as a form of meditation, a means to withdraw from this world I have a difficult time understanding. I drew a picture, then laid on the couch in the hostel and just let myself be. It was perfect. Then I opened my eyes and decided to take my first solo walk in China, having absolutely no plan where to go, just not far so I wouldn't get lost. I started snapping my finger to the beat of my walk, I started singing. I just didn't care. Who's going to tell me to shut up? And if they wanted to, most of them don't know how. Contrary to western belief, there is freedom in this country. I started singing, I got louder and louder and maybe I turned heads but it didn't seem to matter. Took a few turns and found a hole, into this underground market. That's when I made my first new friend on my own, not through the powers of myspace or facebook, not by mutual suggestion, not by default. By myself. Her name is Julia, and she's a gorgeous Chinese woman with impeccable English. We hit it off right away as she was working a stand that sold some really lovely scarves. I knew I needed something else to wear desperately so I bought a beautiful turquoise scarf with flowers on it. She gave me her card and said to call or text her once I got my Chinese cell, I got me a buddy to kick it with whenever I want to come to Beijing and hang out. Then I found the raddest shirt, fit me like a glove, black, stretchy, awesomesauce, says a bunch of shit on it that doesn't make the most sense and honestly, I haven't bothered to read much of it. I walked out of that market with the biggest smile on my face, because I found my "men", a door, an opening into this world I felt completely disconnected with. I knew deep down inside that I was supposed to be here and that everything was gonna be okay.
Got back to the hostel, still smiling. Kim, Alex, Emily and Lee were sitting in the lobby waiting for me. I eagerly told them how I made a new friend and got a new shirt to wear. I couldn't contain my excitement in the least. Then Emily says with her sly smile, "We've got more good news for you. They've found your luggage and they're delivering it to Baoding tomorrow." Sweet motherfucking tittahs. They called Kim's number I left for them at the airport. I squealed and almost started crying, I was so happy. "Let's go celebrate!" I exclaimed, and that was the plan anyway, well, to get intoxicated anyway. And to meet up with a Brit and a Frenchie, two former Baoding teachers who now reside in Beijing.
The Brit is Richard, who I refer to as "Muppet." Muppet is an insult in England but good jolly fun to us American folk who grew up in the 80's. That kid is funny as fuck. We talked nerd for a good 15 or 20, mostly about Battlestar Galactica and gaming. I'm not much of a gamer but I could be, if it was Mario or Mega-man related. He misses Baoding, for its good, cheap food (which I still hadn't really experienced yet) and it's non-western, authentic Chinese feel. It was also Muppet's night to celebrate his birthday so many gom-beys were had. Cheers, then tits up. Word. The Frenchie was Charlotte, so pretty and polite. I actually got to switch rooms from my creepy hospital of a hole to her old room. I later thanked her for having that room, as I was instantly drawn to its energy and I knew I had big shoes to fill. Alex, Kim, Lee and Charlotte left early to get some sleep while Emily and I, the crazy ones, stuck around. "You wunt a drink, mate?" said Muppet, and Hell yes was the answer so we trotted downstairs and met some dude from Boston, Max, a friend of Muppet's. I was thrilled to see that this bar had my crunk juice: Jameson. So the shots began. Watching these people's eugh-faces was funny and foreign to me. I'm used to drinking my beloved Irish whiskey with my crew-di-dad from Atlanta, not these noobs. One kept saying, Ooh yeah red bull and vodka. Um, no thanks. I may look 22 but I'm not still 22, like the age group of my company. No offense to any of them, as they were all rad in their own unique ways, but I'm not down with the Bull-shit like I used to be in college.
We met a Chinese guy, can't think of his name (I wonder why?), and he couldn't believe I was 27. What do I gotta do to convince you people? I told him it's because my nose is so goddamned small. He agreed, then told me I was adorable. Shia-shia, I said. The Jameson kept coming. Muppet had a friend on another side of town at a dumb and bass bar. So the four of us, Muppet, Max, Emily and I, took a cab to this spot while Muppet practiced his Mandarin with the driver. The bar had more Jameson (wee!) and plenty of Tsingtao so it put me on the dance floor to bust some of my oddly clever dance moves to this not-so-danceable-yet-people-still-dance-to drum and bass music. It was fun, for awhile, then I knew I was tired, Emily was tired, so the two of us left the boys to dance with each other and we dipped.
The next morning was time to go and high-tail it back to Baoding. I can't believe this was earlier today. Weird. Time takes on a totally different spin here. Everything, everything is different. Well, that's being a bit vague and general. Not everything, but most everything. Sure, there's people, and some have kids, some have dogs, most work, some love, others stare, a lot of them smoke and spit. But none carry guns, it's safe as hell for a woman to walk alone, the language is so totally wacky with these tonals, one word means a zillion different things just by how you inflect, oh man it fucks with me. Kids have what I call "shitter splitters," an easy access opening on their pantaloons. One sat on his father's shoulders and I kinda wanted him to take a crap so it would fall down his dad's back. I didn't wish it on him though, I just wanted a good laugh. We stopped at a little outside room that had dozens of beautiful flowers. Orchids. Venus flytrap looking things. Turtles, fish. I've never been a plant person until now. I'm totally going to get a plant for my room. I'm going to let myself blossom and change. An empty journal my friend Sam got me, well I started writing in it. But this time I started on the last page instead of the first so I can go backwards. You have to do shit like that to let yourself understand and thrive in this place.
The train ride was peaceful and awesome, spent entirely with my headphones. Pure, unadulterated bliss. I listened to Tom Petty's "American Girl" and kinda went nuts inside. It was great.
So get this shit. We got off the train, walked outside of the station (which is several miles from campus), and as we start walking, I spot something very familiar in this unfamiliar place. My luggage. Yeah, both pieces, next to a man from the airport who was waiting for a taxi. I ran up to him, grabbed my passport out of my bag and retrieved my suitcases. "Holy shit. Holy shit." I couldn't contain it, not one bit. This was surreal. Alex grabbed one, I grabbed another, Kim grabbed my water bottle and we found a taxi and headed off to campus. Kim gave me her nickname for me: Lady Madonna, a Beatles reference. Listen to it and you'll know why.
I got settled in my room. This feels like a real room. I've got it looking awesome. I need to sweep a bit and set up the kitchen more, but I've got my coffee in the fridge so I'll be fine. Alex came to hang out, then Kim later, and after rearranging the bed's position and putting the last of my clothes away, we decided to meet Dasha and her Russian friend Slova for some dinner.
Slova is tall, with long flowy hair, large hands, and goofy like myself. We found a restaurant for dumplings and clutched our phrasebooks, praying for success that we might actually succeed in this challenge. We didn't have Alex there to help us with the words, and I'm glad. I like Alex, but we needed to try and master the first of many lost-in-translation moments. It was NOT easy, primarily because I'm a vegetarian. They wanted pork dumplings, I wanted vegetarian dumplings, but I was also so very tired that it did not matter, if it came out wrong I was just as content not eating and going home, since my appetite has been zilch the moment I got here. It was almost painful trying to order, and they were busy so I felt bad holding them up from taking care of other tables. But we succeeded. And holy fucking smokes, that meal was BY FAR the best I've had so far in China. Muppet wasn't kidding around. As soon as I took a bite of my vegetarian dumpling, I fell in love and made the one of the sounds you make when you're in love and someone's hitting all your right spots. It was divine. Everything, everything was just so good that I didn't want to go home anymore, I was content staying, eating, and laughing till it hurt with Kim and these two colorful Russians. Slova and the rule of five seconds. We taught him about the "that's what she said" game, I explained some not-so-tasteful phrases (um, think Cleveland Steamer but way, way worse), learned that belching could get you punched in Russia. Kim and I delightfully belched back and forth like a vicious duet while Slova could not mask his contempt for it. Dasha didn't care, she thought it was funny. "How long are you going to be here?" I asked Slova. "A year," he replied. "Well, by the end of the year, you will belch for me once, and I will buy you a drink." Truthfully he doesn't know how so I ribbed him that that's why he hates it, because he's jealous that he can't.
Afterward we walked around Baoding. I bought a coffee cup for four quai. I can't do the math for how much that'd be in U.S. dollars but it's fuck-ing cheap. So was dinner, by the way. Got some delicious lemonade. Practiced Mandarin a bit with locals. Had three very sweet 19-year-old boys practice their English with me and asked if I was celebrating Mid-Autumn day by eating moon cakes. "No," I said, "but I think I will now because of you three" and then they asked to take a picture with me.
Interesting to me how fascinated they are with western culture, and here we are trying to get away from it. Kim and I talked about insecurity. In America, there's all this focus on physical beauty, or at least, its idea of what it should be like, bones poking out, plastic surgery, the works. Here I can just be, I can sing on the street if I want to, I can tell Slova to stop being a baby when I belch, I can laugh, I can cry, I can be the person I'm designed to be, me. I can wear an outfit for five days straight or I can go challenge myself and bargain for a new one. This hat is working. It's strange and it feels weird but it looks good on me. China's like taking a huge hit of acid, you go through every emotion with such extremity. I feel very much alive. I haven't dreamt once yet since I've been here, I feel like I don't really need to, because it's all happening while I'm awake. Holy smokes, I'm in China and I don't want to leave. Not yet, anyway.
So tomorrow I become Tara the Teacher. I'm going to be honest and brilliant and make a difference in these people's lives, and they're going to do the same for me, some more than others. I taught Slova the idiom "Patience is a virtue" because it's true, and I will exercise that in my courses, and while I teach I will be taught, by eager student/teachers who have some things in common with me: the desire to learn, as well as a trade. Language. Along with color and sound, it's one of my most favorite things in the galaxy.
Thanks for reading, I'll have more later. I miss you.
P.S. I don't have my Mac connected with the internet yet so it'll take some time before I upload pictures. But I have some really fabulous shots that I can't wait to share with all of you.
I'm too tired to do the easy math and tell you what the date is. Truth is, I don't really care what the date is. It doesn't matter. Besides, I teach English, not math.
lawd knows i like to ramble. thanks for reading.
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