Maria Holland

Dirty Dancing: Xiamen Nights

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2010 at 12:37 am

Today in class I heard something that I’ve never heard before, and never expect to hear again – someone saying that there really aren’t that many Chinese characters.  Whether or not this is true, the teacher immediately followed it up by saying that Chinese has a lot of words (combinations of characters).  Either way, it’s a lot of stuff to learn . . .

We interviewed each other in pairs and then introduced our partners and their hometowns to the rest of the class.  I was stumped for a second when my parter, a guy from Osaka Japan, asked me what the 特产 (special product) of Minnesota was.  My instinct was “things on a stick” but dismissed that as 1) too hard to explain and 2) completely overshadowed by China’s tendency to put literally anything on a stick.  (At the Minnesota State Fair you can get “anything [that Americans eat] on a stick”; in China you can get “anything [that Chinese eat] on a stick”.  Guess which category includes more things?)  I finally told him that our thing was cheese, but that’s really more Wisconsin. 

I was kind of bummed when I realized that my states (I have two: MN and OK) have no special products.  But then I remembered something a wise person (Kristina) once told me: “When they say 特产, I say no.”  This is because, to make a generalization, most 特产 are really gross.  Remember New Year’s dinner when I was served Xiamen’s specialty of worms in jello?  Or the countless items of dried fruit with special nasty flavor added because they were ____ city’s specialty? 

Oh wait, maybe lutefisk is Minnesota’s 特产!  That sounds about right . . . and proves my case as stated above. 

In the afternoon, I did my flashcard reviews.  Doing Chinese and Spanish reviews back-to-back is a crazy exercise in mind-bending.  It probably doesn’t need to be stated, but the two languages are very different.  After nearly 10 months of rather intensive Chinese study, I have developed some habits that are turning out to be very bad for my Spanish.  I tend to leave out words that I don’t think are necessary, like prepositions and the verb “to be”.  I am uncomfortable with naked adjectives and have an irrational need to put ‘muy’ in front of them.  I often end my interrogative sentences with ‘ma?’ and actually have a hard time making my inflection sound like a question.  I have even less idea of the gender of various nouns and find the whole concept incredibly weird.  I am continually confused by the Spanish accent mark which looks like a second tone (está) but sounds like a fourth tone (està). 

Qué lástima!

Later, XuLei accompanied me to the hospital for a check up.  I have had a pretty horrible cough for almost two months now (and hadn’t had enough of the hospital these last few weeks) so I decided to go in for a check up.  While I had previously undergone a health exam, been to urgent care, and spent many hours accompanying Lester in the hospital ward, this was my first time going in to see a doctor during normal hours. 

The examination took place in a room containing two small cubicles.  There was a doctor in one, talking with patients as they filed through her door-less “office”.  When it was my turn, I explained my breathing problems to the doctor and the audience of fellow passengers.  It wasn’t that bad, but I could imagine some conditions in which this level of privacy would be extremely uncomfortable.  Then again, on a later trip to the same room, we saw (from behind) a man pretty obviously fumbling with his half-open pants.  I continually underestimate the Chinese people’s ability to ignore those around them.

After a quick examination and an X-ray, the doctor told me I was fine.  Then – in an action I took to negate what she had just stated – she gave me a prescription for four drugs and told me to come back on Monday.  I think this is fairly typical in China; actually I’m kind of surprised I got off without an IV!  FYI – Chinese medicine tastes worse than American.  Sad day . . .

XuLe and I went to dinner afterwards, which was a very interesting experience.  We went to a restaurant that I frequent with my [foreign] friends.  They recognize us, at least in the form of a huge mob, and over time have come to remember some of our habits.  They sometimes prompt us if we don’t order a dish we always order, and they ask how many bottles of beer we want instead of asking if we want anything to drink.  But when it was just XuLei and I, they treated us differently – not good or bad, just different.  The waitress asked if we wanted soup (which we foreigners never do) and they made us write our order down ourselves! 

As we walked home, we had a funny conversation and freaked out some Chinese passersby.  I sometimes forget that everyone can understand when I speak Chinese . . . until someone reacted to me saying “I don’t want to lose weight – I like my fat!  If I could lose weight off my feet, I would, but I can’t.”

Back at home, I read some emails and blog posts concerning the feast day of St. Joseph, which was apparently today.  It’s a Solemnity, which trumps Lenten obligations like abstinence on Friday.  Unfortunately, Friday was quickly winding down as I found out this information.  Like I said, my Lenten sacrifice of not eating meat hasn’t been really hard so it wasn’t too big of a deal that I didn’t find out until the day was over, but it still made me sad.  It just made me realize that, for all the progress I’ve made here, I’m still not really integrated fully into the church community here.  Living the faith is such a communal thing, you know?  I love my church here and am still delighted at its very existence, but it’s still a far cry from Newman . . .

Because Lester hadn’t broken the doctor’s no-dancing-for-three-weeks rule enough yet, we decided to go to the Key.  XuLei and XiaoYang went with us, XiaoYang for the first time.  It was really lame at first, not least because they made us buy drinks if we wanted a table!  My outrage is probably mainly a reflection of the ridiculously privileged status that we foreigners hold at bars here (as in, most of my friends have at least one bar in which they drink free and/or are paid to hang out), but still.  Anyway, it turns out that Friday nights aren’t as fun as Saturday nights, and the dancing doesn’t get started until at least midnight.  I had recently been wondering what we danced to before Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas; well, last night I saw the answer and it was not pretty. 

But eventually they got the dance tunes cranking and it got fun.  I immediately hit the dance floor and somewhere around the time I saw XuLei and XiaoYang doing the jive to Sean Kingston I realized that my life is basically like the plot of a Dirty Dancing movie.  You have your basic street-wise dancer; your sheltered classically-trained dancer; a collision of their worlds, values, and experiences; and an awesome soundtrack. 

So where’s the male love interest??

  1. I don’t think you’re going to find Javier in China.

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