Einstein once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I don’t think I’m insane – I often do the same thing over and over because I want the same results. But in China this logical, cause-and-effect, linear thinking is actually completely insane. I don’t know how to get consistent results in China, but the surest way to get different results is to attempt to duplicate exactly a previous chain of events.
I have so many examples of this in China, many of them involving public transportation. I remember trying to catch the bus out at the farm to go into town – some days it would pick us up before turning around, while other days it turned around and picked us up on the other side of the street. We never figured out the pattern (assuming there was one), so we would just pick a side and stand ready to run across the road if we were wrong. Same bus + same bus stop + same time = different bus stop.
I had another experience today. I’ve been to Gulangyu (the small island off my island) at least 5 times now. It’s pretty easy to take the ferry there and, after the first time, I’ve even been able to find my way to my church without too much difficulty.
But recently I’ve been going to church on the big island and so it had been a while since I’d been to Gulangyu. I got off the ferry and didn’t recognize a darned thing, but when you’re as directionally challenged as me it’s really not a foreign experience. I wandered for a while, convinced that it was “around here somewhere”, and even asked for directions. I actually do mean “asked” for directions as opposed to “got” directions, because the people I approached tended to look at me like I was wearing a hockey mask and carrying a chain saw before averting their gaze and quickening their pace.
Anyway, after about 20 minutes of walking without seeing a single thing that looked familiar, I spotted the ferry quay and “known territory”. That’s when I realized – the reason I felt like I’d never seen any of this before was because I’d never seen any of it before! For some reason, the ferry docked at the OTHER ferry quay this morning. First of all, I didn’t know there was a second ferry quay, but even if I had, I would not have expected to end up there after boarding the same ferry as always, leaving from the same quay on Xiamen. Man, China always gets me right when I least expect it.
I was feeling sick of China and the ever-present 麻烦 (hassle) of living here when I got to Mass. Then I realized I’d also gotten the time wrong and was a half hour early (missing a half hour of sleep). And then I didn’t understand any of the readings, which felt like a big step back. BUT my mood was totally lifted at the end of Mass during the announcements (which I even mostly understood).
First of all, next week is Christ the King, which is the feast day of the Gulangyu church. Secondly, something I didn’t catch (and hope wasn’t important). Thirdly, Deacon Joseph is getting ordained next month!!! I’m really really excited about this. I love the idea of people finding and pursuing their vocations – hence I’m pretty enthusiastic about weddings, babies, joining religious orders, and things like that. Also, I very selfishly hope that he starts to say more of the Masses (in both English and Chinese) because he is much easier to understand in both languages than the current priest. Father Dominic is older, doesn’t speak clearly, and has an annoying tendency to cough and clear his throat directly into the microphone (which is, of course, the only sound the microphone actually amplifies). I’m also strongly considering trying to go to Shanghai for his ordination (if they’ll allow foreigners, that is). If I can’t make it to that, though, I’m hoping to be at his First Mass, which is going to be at his hometown church, supposedly close to Xiamen.
I had a very awkward exchange after Mass. Awkward moments are best when shared with others, accompanied by laughter, so I hope you enjoy:
A Chinese guy comes up to me and asks “Excuse me, do you have time?” Thinking myself very clever, I translate this back to Chinese in my mind: 你有空吗, or “Do you have free time?” I laugh awkwardly and say “Maybe . . .”. He stands there looking at me awkwardly for a few seconds before asking again, “What time is it?” Oh . . . I answer “9:20” and awkwardly walk away.
I was hungry after Mass, so I took a bus back to the West Gate area to look for food. It was too early for most restaurants to be open, so I ended up at a KFC. The perfect description of this situation is NQR, or ‘Not Quite Right’. It’s a term coined by some of the people I lived with in China last summer, used to describe things that are clearly based on American or Western things, but are just a little bit (or sometimes, a lot) ‘off’. Let me detail these differences:
- While KFC does share the name and Colonel Sanders mascot of an American restaurant, the similarities don’t go much further. In America, KFC stands for Kentucky Fried Chicken. In China, KFC’s menu mainly consists of shrimp products. It’s okay, though, because the Chinese name – 肯德基 – doesn’t contain anything that would give a false impression of chicken being sold. It’s just foreigners with expectations who get confused.
- In America, KFC is exclusively a lunch-and-dinner restaurant, and is usually open from 11 to 9 or so. In China, KFC is similar to McDonald’s and is usually open 6-11 or even 24/7. I could tell I was assimilating this knowledge because my first thought upon seeing that most restaurants were closed was “well, there’s always KFC”.
- As opposed to KFC’s long hours, the donut shop next door hadn’t opened yet; I think they start selling donuts around 11.
- When I went to buy a drink at Coco, my favorite milktea place, I saw an advertisement for a new flavor. Brandy milk tea? ‘Well,’ I though to myself, ‘I’m sure it’s not real brandy.” I ordered some and am now pretty sure that it was, indeed, real brandy.
Thus, at 10 o’clock in the morning, I found myself eating KFC, drinking brandy milktea, and wishing the donut shop would open already so I could buy one. Totally NQR.
I went to dance class but bailed out early because of ominous rumblings in my stomach – I blame KFC. While sitting at home drinking yogurt and eating crackers, I had an interesting experience on QQ (Chinese IM). Somebody posted a video making fun of the 2004 election in a student group that I’m a member of. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do about it, but I ended up replying that I was an American and I thought it was rude. I think it bothered me especially because this student group has made extra effort to recruit foreigners, but I don’t find that behavior very welcoming. Anyway, it’s very easy to post things like that on the internet, and I decided to take advantage of the fact that it was equally easy for me to reply and do something about it.
He apologized, so it’s okay. I’m fine with people having opinions about other countries, including mine – even negative. But when talking about it, I would like two things: 1) the ability to respond, and 2) an understanding that citizens are not synonymous with their countries.