It’s opposite day or something. Nothing is the way it should be, and nothing makes sense. I mean, what kind of Saturday morning begins with getting ready for a 10 a.m. class? I’m not sure how much control Beijing has over the sun and the moon, but they apparently have the power to turn Saturday in Monday and Sunday into Tuesday. In America we have “Columbus Day Observed” for when it doesn’t already fall on a Monday; in China they have “weekend observed” for when holidays don’t line up properly.
Class was weird, too. When discussing possible uses for the word 原谅 (to forgive or pardon), the teacher said that it couldn’t be used for enemies or big sins. Granted, we use a different word in church when we talk about forgiveness and pardon, but is it possible that this is also a symptom of a cultural difference that has possibly sprung from religious influences? The feeling I got from the teacher was that she thought these things were unforgivable; the most she would allow is that “Maybe you can just not hate your enemies anymore”.
Yesterday, I asked a friend, “Where are you going to watch the game?” which displays such an uncharacteristic awareness of sporting current events that it momentarily renders me speechless. But today was even weirder. It was midafternoon and there I was, wearing an official (well, probably not) US team jersey and making phone calls to my soccer-obsessed friends trying to find someone else willing to pull an all-nighter to watch the US-England game starting at 2:30 a.m. Beijing time. Wha?? This is crazy talk, I know, but an article previewing the match mentioned the first time the US faced England in the World Cup in 1950 – when “an amateur American team featuring a dishwasher and a hearse driver beat a squad of English professionals in Brazil”, and that sort of underdog story is just what I go for.
Further evidence that I’ve been possessed by a body-snatching pod person: I bet on the World Cup. An international association here organized a pool and I threw in my 20 kaui ($3) because it seemed to be part of the experience. It turns out they’re emailing the results out periodically, which is kind of unfortunate, but I was heartened to see that, after the first nights’ games, Carlos and I are sucking equally bad.
If you’re wondering, “Who is this and what have they done with Maria?” – don’t worry. As a staunchly American friend of mine correctly noted on facebook:
30 days till the World Cup is over. 54 days until the start of the NFL. My mantra: "This too shall pass."
I went to Mass this evening and was beckoned up to the choir loft. For some reason they’ve been doing the Latin Misa de Angelis Mass parts again recently, which I’m actually not enthusiastic about. While I am a proponent of general proficiency in Latin, I don’t think that it should replace the vernacular for most occasions, and should never be used if the congregation doesn’t have the resources to participate.
After Mass, Sister gave me a 粽子 (sticky rice treat wrapped in bamboo leaves, the traditional food of the upcoming Dragon Boat Festival) and Little Brother walked with me to the bus stop. We talked about Nickelback (always) and the World Cup (he likes Spain). He asked me to loan him 100 kuai, which I did in return for him agreeing to help me find two others to sing my absolute favorite church song in 4-part harmony. As I got on the bus to go back to campus, he said “Bye-bye . . . sister?” It took me an inordinately long time to learn his Chinese name, and I’m really fond of him in the way I imagine I would be fond of a little brother, so I usually call him 弟弟 or 小弟 (Little Brother) instead of 嘉晟 – but this was the first time he’d ever called me sister. I think he’ll pay me back, but I kind of feel like he already did.
I made dinner, studied a bit, and then went to sleep around midnight. I slept fitfully, though, because I was constantly being interrupted by phone calls. The football-crazy Dutch guys all wimped out on the prospect of a 2:30 game, and my American friends (okay, let’s be honest here – American friend) kept changing plans. It wasn’t looking good for the home team until I got a call around 1 a.m. from a Russian friend and her Chinese boyfriend looking for someone to watch the game with. Score! (I mean, gooooooooooooooal!)
Londoners was both a) too far and b) obviously English, so we decided to stay close to West Gate. We went to 星期8, a little coffeeshop/bar, where we joined three Chinese fans and the staff for the game. It was a good game, and I was glad I stayed up for it. There were minutes (minute 4, for instance) when I was glad we hadn’t gone to Londoners, and there were times when I wish we had gone so I could have gloated.
I’ve now watched three complete soccer games, which by American standards I think makes me an expert. No, but seriously, watching soccer makes me realize how much football knowledge I’ve assimilated just by living in America, going to a Division I college, and having male friends. I probably already understand the rules of soccer better than I’ll ever grasp the principles of football, but I have a much better sense of what’s normal in American football. I know what kinds of scores are ordinary, what kinds are ridiculous, and what kinds are impossible. I know that interceptions suck but happen all the time, sacking sucks more and happens less often, and I’ve never seen accidentally score on themselves.
I have no such standards with which to compare when watching soccer. Based on the game last night, I was starting tou think that half of the time the ball goes into the net, it will be disallowed on account of offsides. But in tonight’s game there were no such calls, so now I don’t know what to think! Also, I thought England’s goalie looked stupid grasping at straws while the ball rolled casually into the goal he was trying to protect, but thought maybe that kind of embarrassment happened every now and then. According to this article, though, “Green’s blunder will be remembered as long as Bill Buckner’s immortal misplay of a grounder is remembered in Boston” which, I’m assuming, means something to people who know something about baseball.
Also, for all my newfound soccer expertise, it has yet to translate into Chinese. My Russian friend and I only speak Chinese together, which meant a lot of our comments sounded like games of Taboo where all actual soccer words were off-limits.
Me: “Did they just . . . you know, where they get a point? The thing where the ball goes in? What’s that called?”
Hannah: “I think that your . . . you know, that guy. The one in the orange? He’s not bad.”
The good news is, speaking Chinese after 3 in the morning is like a quadruple bonus. I even learned a word – “draw” (as in, “the game was a draw”) is 平.
You know something funny? Of all the things I’ve done since coming to China, the time I felt the closest to Americans back home was while I was watching this soccer game, of all things. All the holidays and anniversaries of personal significance happened here 13 or 14 hours before they did back home, to the point that they often felt like two separate events. The daily, weekly, and yearly cycles of life here and back home are also quite different, so everything from mealtimes and weekends to finals and vacations were also out of sync. The time difference proved too much for the Winter Olympics, so I ended up just reading about the results online the next day instead of watching the events live with my compatriots. But I made the effort to watch this game live, which meant that – for however brief a moment – I was doing the exact same thing as some people back home. I knew my parents were watching, so during both the disappointing early score for England and our exciting goal later, I marveled at the way that this was unfolding before our eyes – a world apart yet, in some way, almost together.