Xiao Li woke me up this morning around 6 for breakfast. It was worth getting up for, though – rice and a delicious bowl of meat, potatoes, eggplant and garlic. They went to work, but there’s nothing to do in town that early, so I stayed in the house until 9 or 10.
Then I ventured out, to see how this last year-and-a-half has treated Hunchun. The Zhangs live on the same street as Donghai (our favorite plumbing-supply store), so right away I was greeted by something familiar. The big blue sign, shelves and shelves of PVC pipe, and that new-plastic smell that I associate so strongly with China. They’re hiring, by the way . . .
A block further, and I was bombarded with memories. At one intersection, there was the Xinhua bookstore where we bought our grown-up Chinese dictionaries, the tea shop where I bought tea for Will, the ATM where I lost my credit card once, and the DVD store where Xiao Li and Zhang Lei gave me a CD of Chinese Christian music.
I knew exactly where I was at that point – thanks to the amazingly accurate map that Blake drew that summer – and confidently continued on my way towards Yikelong – or, as we affectionately called it, “Crazy Mart”. Based on my walkthrough of town, it seems that most everything is as I remember it – only Yikelong’s storefront is green now, not orange. Other than that, it’s as if we were here yesterday – which would explain why they still haven’t restocked the delicious gummy worms or Skittles. (Yes, of course I checked!)
My next stop was the DVD store. The owner (more on him later) wasn’t there, but the guy working recognized me and wondered where the rest of us were. The store seems bigger, maybe, but has almost no English titles anymore :(
While I was over there, I walked along Ring Road until I got to Double Dragon Alley, a sketchy market from which Alli’s nickname was taken. Being here able to read Chinese is turning out to be pretty fun . . . Apparently the actual name of that alley is “Dog-Killing Field”. Hahahahahaha.
I returned home for lunch – warm milk and moon cakes filled with sugar. It was delicious, surprisingly sweet for a Chinese meal. Xiao Zhang spent the rest of his lunch break poring over my map of Hunchun together with me. It was just like old times, me asking question and question and him patiently answering every single one. Then they went back to work and I took my after-lunch nap.
I was woken by a call on my cell phone, the caller identified as “Mob Boss”. I remember when I used to dread phone calls in Chinese, especially right after waking up, but it’s just cool to get woken up by a phone call from Mob Boss. (More on him – the DVD store owner – on Monday when we have dinner!)
When I went out again, my first priority was to find an internet cafe – it’s been over 48 hours and I’m starting to get a little shaky! But once I found an internet bar, I couldn’t get in. They asked for a 身份证, one of those Chinese words I’ve come to loath – it means identity card, but specifically a card that only Chinese citizens have. I offered my XiaDa student ID and my passport, but nothing but the 身份证 would do. I went to a second place, and the situation was the same – 上不了, can’t get on. It was around this time that I started to throw a fit and they called the manager over. He confirmed that my passport was insufficient, and when I asked him what foreigners are supposed to do then, he just shrugged and said “You can’t get on!”
This really really makes me mad. First of all, there’s so much hypocrisy between the travel-friendly front that China has been trying to present at the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai Expo, and the reality that you’re faced with at any other time or in any other place. It’s not like this rule is new, either – it started a month ago.
But more importantly, I am a legal resident of China! I have a valid passport, an invitation from a Chinese university, a Chinese government scholarship, and a residence permit valid for 4 more months . . . but I am still denied some basic services. There are hotels that I can’t stay at, libraries I can’t use, and computers I can’t get on. I guess it’s not that big of a deal to require ID (although a little creepy), but then to deny the only forms of ID that foreigners have is the same as denying foreigners outright.
After letting them know how thoroughly displeased I was with this requirement, I took a bus out to see our machinist. 李红春 is the machinist who does a lot of work for Timothy; during our time on the farm he helped with a brick press and two wind turbines.
He’s a happy, friendly man who always looks cleaner than a machinist would be expected to look. He is also a ninja – he once cut a square out of sheet metal with a lathe. He has a son of just the right age – 22 now – and there was talk of an arranged marriage to one of our travel team members so that we could bring him back to the US as her father-in-law. That would have been so cool . . .
I caught up with him and his wife, invited them to join us for dinner, and then took a bus back to the center of town to do some shopping. I bought a sweet pajama set, which means I’m ready to go for evening pajama strolls around Xiamen. I also did a lot of looking in different stores, which was annoying because everyone here thinks I’m Russian. Granted, we are mere kilometers from the border and most of the Westerners here are Russian, but . . . I see how many of them dress and can’t help but be a little bit offended! I’ve decided that being greeted in Russian is even more annoying than the incessant “hallooow”s that I encounter everywhere else in China, and having my Chinese answered in Russian is way more frustrating than having it answered in broken English.
I went home to meet up with Xiao Zhang and Xiao Li, then we went to DongFang to meet the others for dinner. DongFang is Hunchun’s best barbecue restaurant, and it is where many of my happiest memories have taken place. Unlike the barbecue places in Xiamen where someone cooks for you and you walk off with your sticks, DongFang is a sit-down, do-it-yourself barbecue place. The 18 of us (10 adults and 8 kids) sat at one long table, punctuated by four metal grills set into the table. Servers poured hot coals into the grills, and then brought out skewers of beef and lamb by the dozen. When we had eaten our fill, I produced a bag of marshmallows, a stack of Hershey’s bars, and two tubes of Chinese breakfast biscuits and we enjoyed a dessert of s’mores roasted over the dying embers!
I ask you, does it get any better than this?
Dinner was my treat (the absolute least I could do for all of these people who have been so wonderful to me) and came to a grand total of 342 kuai ($50) for the 18 of us. *loves China*
I decided to stay another night with the Zhangs, despite the internet and shower situations growing more desperate, because I’m going to Mass in town in the morning. Back at home, we watched Xiao Zhang’s favorite TV show, 松花江上, about the war between the Communists and Kuomintang. Unfortunately, tonight’s was the last episode – just as I was finally starting to figure out who was who! A friend of theirs also came over so that Xiao Li could do cupping on her back. She was having some neck pain, so Xiao Li affixed a bunch of cups to her back using pretty powerful suction and basically gave her a beautiful set of giant hickeys. I hope she feels better!