Thursday, September 30, 2010

Holiday Season

For most of my friends, what we know as the holiday season starts in November with Thanksgiving, continues through to Black Friday until Christmas and New Year's top it off. Most of it is based on shopping and family, but mostly shopping, since that's what TV has conditioned us to frenzy over at this time. And of course food, where we gorge ourselves on Turkey, Ham, dressing, and whatever fast food is at mall food courts.

This year it feels a bit like the holiday season, just drastically different. Though Spring Festival is the biggest holiday here and not until February, two other major holidays are happening now in our midst here. ZhongQiuJie (Mid-Autumn Festival) was last week and is akin to Thanksgiving. A short 2 day holiday weekend that is mostly about food (gross moon cakes, filled with ham, fruit, egg or tofu) and a tradition of looking at the moon at night to remember family that can't be present as they are also most likely staring at the moon remembering you. It's a nice, quaint tradition.

Today is GuoQingJie. Otherwise known as "New China Day" or "Chinese Independence from the Capitalist Roaders of the Kuomingtang and the Counter-Revolutionary, Chiang Kai-Chek, and the Harmonious Opening of the People's Republic of China." So the last one I made up, but it is essentially our July 4th. Students get from October 1st-October 7th off to celebrate. I am celebrating by doing some traveling and remembering why America is so great. This year, I'm skipping a lot of the Mao-love and taking it as an opportunity to study for language class and relax a bit as many students will be at home with their families (maybe looking at the moon together this time).

One of the interesting parts about this holiday (and every other holiday here) is that students have to "BuKe." Literally, we all have to make up classes that we miss for, you guessed it, the holidays that we are given off. This often means going to class on Saturdays and Sundays before and after the holidays. This has yet to make sense to me.

If there's one way to get people to hate you it's to make them work on holidays. Look at every Christmas movie. The reason a main character is either the miser or the victim, its because they have to work on Christmas Eve. Scrooge, Elf's real dad, Jimmy Stewart, (not to mention when Lumburgh makes Peter work on Saturday and Sunday in Office Space...yeeeeaaaah...) they all are shown to be cruel/be down on their luck because of this holiday work clause (no pun intended). And yet, my neighbors here haven't seemed to learn this lesson yet. Why not just not have a holiday and let people keep their weekends? Wouldn't it cause less resentment for 8 hour class days on Sunday weren't happening? Wouldn't it make you dread the holiday season knowing that you'd have to cram in more class soon after? You'd think it'd be better to align everyone with New China to have them look forward to the opportunity to play Warcraft 24 hours in a row at the net bars instead of studying beginner's English during that time.

But what do I know? They've done it this way for a long time and I'm not about to go changing everyone's paradigms of what's normal. This is definitely a case of "It's not wrong, just different" that I keep having to get used to.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Acquiring Normalcy

One of the major things I've learned in about 2 years in Asia so far is that "Normal" is elastic. In America, "Normal" for me is burgers and spaghetti, not rice noodles and kung pao chicken. It's driving around in my 2000 Saturn SL (RIP) on highways and lined roads, not zipping around on a moped, praying I don't get hit by an overloaded dump truck (don't worry, it hasn't happened yet, and I've gotta be one of the top moped drivers in all of no worries there). "Normal" is watching football on Saturdays at noon, not midnight. "Normal" in America is living in the suburbs with my mom around to help give me old furniture they don't have room for anymore, not coming into a shell of an apartment and having to furnish it myself, with my severe lack of interior design skills (I had to ask someone for the term of arranging furniture and knowing what matches and what doesn't).

Since being back this time, some normalcies I had in America have vanished, some have been adapted and contextualized, and some I have dragged over in an overweight carry-on bag on the plane. However, one of those things that was impossible to adapt (see the previous post about the pretty pretty princess light fixtures...) or maintained was how our apartment here feels and my lack of having to do things like pick out fabrics for a couch or how to arrange furniture in an aesthetically pleasing way which is welcoming to visitors.

When I was here my first year, I had a bad experience. And when I say a bad experience, I mean like one rivaling the time I got judo-chopped by an Amazon of a 10 year old girl during a school project, which caused a neck spasm that left me with my head leaning to one side the rest of the day.

Yes, I'm talking about my first time in IKEA here in China
. That time, I was going in out of curiosity (mainly from Fight Club where Brad Pitt calls Edward Norton "IKEA-boy"), not to buy anything. And it felt like Dante's description of the 3rd of hell. Yuppies were everywhere. The place is built like the Labyrinth (1st every David Bowie reference in a blog!). And the hotdogs they sold made me sick to my stomach while I was waiting for the girls to saunter through admiring every thing. I'm pretty sure we were only there for 2 hours, but it felt like 2 weeks. I had lost my mind and had pretty much become ferrel, ready to do whatever it took to survive in that island of trendiness.

This time, it wasn't IKEA, but it was an IKEA knockoff. As in, they stole the floor plan, furniture setup, uniforms, colors, and snack restaurant from IKEA. If it was in America, where intellectual property laws actually exist, it would've been burned to the ground by repo men and the owners of Furniture 11 (at least they changed the name significantly) would be locked in jail next to Bernie Madoff and become the Carlos Mencia of yuppie furniture retailers. But this is China, and knockoffs are everywhere.

When I went, Jarred and Shelley played the role of my mom (though I really tried hard to make them think I knew what I was talking about) and helped Adam and I pick out some really good stuff. A man-sized couch I can completely stretch out on (unlike beds here, unless you count when you sleep diagonally on the mattress), a two seater, an alpha-dog single seater and an accompanying ottoman longer than any I've ever seen. I paid for it and then waited over a week for it to be delivered to our place out in the sticks. Below is how it arrived upon course rice bags that that were kinda dirty and impossible to open with human strength.

Then, much to my chagrin, I realized there was no fabric on them...which made me think, as often happens, the delivery men forgot something or were misinformed by 12 layers of middlemen who were supposed to deliver the simple message. Thankfully another commonality of communism factored in. The fabric covers arrived 20 minutes later by separate delivery men in a trashbag. Disaster averted. Though my roommate Harrison probably wouldn't have noticed, we would've been stuck trying to convince ourselves that this is how all furniture in China is set up (though surprisingly, without the standard plastic wrap left on it for years).Then the gentlemen assembled the furniture, after I asked them not to smoke their cheap cigarettes in my house. This caused lots of whispering in their local dialect which most Mandarin speakers cant understand either. I'm pretty sure
they resented me for not letting me smoke on the job.
I tried to make conversation and offer them some drinks, but I REALLY wasn't able to buy them off for being their human nicotine patch. They grew more shady by the minute, especially when they went into separate rooms to assemble stuff. So far I have yet to notice anything broken or missing or any cigarette burns on the walls thankfully.
Finally, this is what it looks like set up. I know this ha
s been a bit of a Martha Stewart journey and many of you have given up on this blog because of this not-so-manly, domestic entry. But I promise the next one will be about arm wrestling or eating spicy stuff or Oklahoma State football coach, Mike Gundy (I'M A MAN! I'M 40!).


Saturday, September 18, 2010

King of the Castle

With apologies to Seinfeld, the past two weeks have been filled with me feeling like royalty. People here in my new home treat me, their token, tall white friend they can practice their English phrases with in passing, as if I am some sort of king, smiling widely and graciously welcoming me into whatever home or restaurant or business they happen to be associated with.

So far I've met a few neighbors in my building. One elderly woman called me a "zhongguotong," or literally "a China hand." It's like what we'd call someone like Steve Nash, who is really Canadian, but we like him so much and hes funny, so we try to claim him as our own, since after all he is now an expert of US culture after living there so many years. I think she went a little overboard, but hey, I guess I'll take all of the praises I can get for having barely passable Mandarin language skills.

Many children have also come running out of their parents laps to say hello to the new "laowai," ("old foreigner" literally...its not really a cut down, but it kinda is). I politely keep my cool and am still pretty good at responding to them kindly. Hopefully I can keep that up for a long time.

But the thing that makes me feel most like a king here is my apartment. And when I say kind, I mean like a really manly princess. Thanks, landlord. Not only is it plenty big enough for me and my 2 roommates, especially compared to student dorms which often fit 4 sets of bunk beds in a single room, but the decor is set for royalty. However, I think our landlord didn't get the memo that American men aren't keen on having an apartment full of glittering things, especially like the light fixtures posted above. Yes, those are hearts and stars and crystal disco ball looking things that refract all sorts of harsh light all over my room when I turn it on. Additionally, there is a faux Victorian Era chandelier that was incorrectly installed in our living room and we fear that at any moment it could come crashing down like in an Indiana Jones film.

Overall though, I love this place. The location isn't really close to school, unfortunately, so its a nice 20 minute moped ride to class and to meet friends there. But right now, its a very sufficient castle, where we can relax and watch (legal...) DVD's, eat meals ( know, if there's food here), and sleep soundly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The last month with accompanying pictures

So now that it's football season, it means two things.
1. Turkey Bowl game planning against the SEC squad in November has started (as well as the obvious start to Turkey Bowl beard growth)


2. You get daily 50 person news crews at every football game reporting every minutiae of detail about every game from the NFL all the way down to Snoop Dogg's son's Pop Warner squad.

"Ryan Grant has a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament and is lost for the season"
"His backup is Brandon Jackson and he went to Nebraska for college."
"His Uncle Jim taught him to play football when he was 8 in a cow pasture"
"Breaking news, Jackson's yards-per-carry average may be stunted because his left leg is .25 inches longer than his right leg."

Way too much information really. What happened to the good ol' days when you just pulled for a team and didnt know when star players and even key reserves were going to the bathroom or what they were eating for breakfast?

Anyways, with all the reporters writing during the middle of the week, a whole genre of lazy "Thumbs up, Thumbs down" styles of columns have been birthed. And since it's been a month since I've been able to blog (they are all blocked over here in Asia most of the time) and feel like there is much to say, I figured I'd do this and post some pictures of key moments in the last month.

Thumbs up: Our fantasy football draft with friends from high school. This is the draft board from that night. Toward the end, there was an actual trade announced "I trade Hines Ward for a 14th rounder and a 6-pack (of dr. pepper I think...) to be named later."

Thumbs down: Shooting at the gun range with my dad. I seriously could not hit anything that day, until we came to using the M1 Garand from World War 2 fame. I credit getting pretty good at Call of Duty on this one. Seriously, it came out of nowhere.

Thumbs up: Goodbye party from my friends in Durham. It was Settlers of Catan themed. The shirt was a gift from Josh/Jodes and the cupcakes were courtesy of Lindsay, Sarah, Melissa, et al. I promise I'm not that nerdy. It was a joke. Seriously, guys.

Thumbs down: not getting to pack my dog. She tried to hop in my suitcase, but unfortunately made it over the weight limit. If it wasn't down to her or winter clothes, she definitely would've made the cut. Also, I dont want her getting stolen here. Or worse...

Thumbs up: Getting to go to the LSU game in Atlanta before I left. Though we lost, it was a moral victory without most of our starting defense and first two RB's on the depth chart suspended or withheld. None of the LSU fans could gloat or even look us in the eye after narrowly escaping. And yes, they really do smell like corndogs.

Thumbs down: This picture found in Cary Towne Center the night before I left. So much to say, so few words to describe it.