I was feeling very lame when I wrote that last post, if you couldn’t tell. It’s just that in Tulsa, the weekend usually started at 11:50 when 11 o’clock classes got out, which meant Friday afternoons were very much a part of the weekend. I would go to Mass and lunch with friends and then we’d usually play board games for a few hours. Here, though, due to a combination of some people’s afternoon classes and my roommate working until ridiculous hours of the evening (9 or 10), the weekend really doesn’t start until 11 at night or so. Spending Friday afternoons in my room, especially studying, is an act of desperate times in Tulsa, but is the norm here. It really made me miss my friends and our usual activities.
I tried to duplicate it somewhat, trying to get a group together to play Settlers of Catan, but I tried too late and everyone already had plans or was in for the night. Everyone was really interested, though, so we’re going to try another time. In fact, I suggested Friday afternoons and everyone seemed pretty agreeable, so I think we might start doing that. Lunch (probably everyone’s favorite malatang place), then board games and cards until dinner, made by Jimmy (which, lucky for us, he has agreed to do every Friday)!
Anyway, Leinira and I went out to the Key around 10, which is relatively early for us. I have been insanely hungry these last few days (weather? emotions? I don’t know) so by midnight I was insisting that we get something to eat. At the end of the row of bars, there’s a street that’s always filled with little food vendors. Every time, as we drive by in the taxi on our way home, I say that we need to eat there sometime – well, that time had finally come. At the barbeque place I got a slice of mantou (puffy rice bread) and two lamb sticks grilled for me, and at the next place I got a . . . breakfast burrito? Okay, I wasn’t quite that lucky, but it was pretty close. It was a fried egg, shredded potatoes, and some slightly spicy bean sprouts wrapped in a tortilla-like flat thing. It was midnight, I was ravenous, and everything was insanely delicious. Those of you who are familiar with my previous trips to China may find this hard to believe, but this was the first lamb I’ve eaten here, and my knees literally felt weak as by mouth registered the flavor.
I spent today with friends on a boat. A few of my friends had organized everything – renting a boat and taking care of the food – and it was really nice to just give them my money and show up. The weather was not ideal (high of 20°C, or 68 F), but it could have been worse (raining). Our boat consisted of a big flat wooden area with a table and a small barbecue, with a small room for our driver and a roof over about half of the boat. The 20 of us took up about half of the room, and the other half was occupied by the insane amount of food and drinks that we brought.
Our driver took us over to XiaDa, around Gulangyu, and over to Jimen (the mainland), but my camera batteries were dead so I don’t have any pictures yet. It’s a more accurate reflection of my experience, though, to have no pictures, because I can’t say that I saw much.
Jimmy started barbecuing right away so we spent most of the trip seating around the table, eyes only on the food. We had pretty much every kind of meat and a lot of vegetables on the barbecue, as well as salad, potatoes, a ridiculous amount of bread (which we finished), fruit, cookies, and various drinks – juice, pop, beer, and wine with a label that proclaimed it was made “from the best grapes in the world”. Wow!!
It was pretty cold out there, especially when we were moving and the wind was blowing, but I still had a great time. There were 2 of us Americans, 4 Dutch, 2 Swedes, and one person each from Belgium, Thailand, Israel, Taiwan, Spain, Austria, Kazakhstan, Canada, Slovenia, and France.
I didn’t know about half of the people, so I got to make some new friends and even have an incredibly geeky conversation about the metric system with one of them. Other conversations included comparing American Sign Language with other sign languages, and teaching them my awesome hand symbols for “WOW MOM, that’s COOL!” (see below for the first step). It was a big hit.
Another interesting aspect of our time on the boat was observing two of my friends and two mysterious girls who were along with us. I think they have girlfriends! They are the first of my friends to get Chinese (or Taiwanese, I guess) girlfriends, so I’m very curious to watch their interactions.
We got back just in time to go to the Thai festival, which was put on by XiaDa’s Thai students in honor of Loi Krathong. It’s an important holiday in Thailand that involves floating small lanterns, which symbolize letting go of past things and starting life afresh. The festival included some Thai performances (singing, dancing, and martial arts) as well as a full-blown beauty contest with 美女 (beautiful girls) from various countries. Afterwards, we set lanterns afloat on a small portable pond that had been filled that day, making a wish as we did so.
One of my favorite parts about the festival was seeing my Thai friends. They are some of the nicest people I’ve met here, and seem so concerned at all times about my happiness and well-being. It’s really a good example of how I would like to be! I should say, though, that it’s not just the Thais who have won my heart. I haven’t really had any bad experiences besides some creepy Chinese men and one Swede who was very rude when we met (but redeemed himself today). I’ve never really cared much for ‘countries’, which are such an abstract concept, but meeting people has often changed that. For instance, I totally can’t wait to go to Cape Verde some day to see my 姐姐 (older sister), Leinira. All my new friends are giving me the travel bug in a bad way . . .
I tried to go dancing after the festival but stupidly forgot my dancing shoes. After barely getting through a cha-cha in my clunky sandals, I gave up and headed home sad. It was totally okay, though, because people were still hanging out at the festival. I started talking with a Chinese guy that Carlos had just introduced me to and was then joined by a guy I’d met before at English Corner. We ended up talking for a long time and going to get drinks (milk tea, not alcohol) together. One is an architecture masters’ student and the other is mechanical engineering, specializing in aviation, so even got to have another geeky experience, discussing the computer programs we use in our studies. It had been such a long time since I had talked about ANSYS! We also got into a discussion of Catholicism, which included a confident declaration by Yong Zhi that the next pope will be Brazilian. This from a guy who didn’t know the pope is chosen . . . Another highlight of our discussion was when one guy spoke to me in English and the other asked me to translate; it was a little silly.
It was a totally pleasant experience, and I’ve now decided that Carlos is going to be in charge of getting me male Chinese friends. The only bad thing about this is that I then have to put up with being compared to Carlos. For instance, when they asked me why I don’t have tons of Chinese friends and I said that it seems like XiaDa students are really busy and don’t have time, Yong Zhi said “Well, Carlos has a lot of Chinese friends.” Carlos also actually speaks Spanish and Carlos has been to a lot of places in China – basically, I’m inferior in every way.
I still feel like I’m a boat. Room, you can stop moving up and down in gentle wave-like motions at any time. Thanks!