1,000-year egg, 1,000 less taste buds and other stories


Much has passed over the course of the previous few days, namely, me with regard to class. While it has been a bit 伤心的 (heartbreaking)seeing Eric come to terms with the fact that we won’t be performing translated Lord Byron works in class, I’m having a great time deciphering the lessons to be learned in my Stories for Middle School Aged Children book. Most recently, the stories have been inundated with proper loose tooth disposal lore- for instance, if one were to lose a bottom tooth, one must cast it atop a mountain, roof, or other readily accessible items of height like an airplane or giraffe. The opposite goes for top teeth, and a threat of crooked teeth or no teeth at all if protocol isn’t followed usually keeps kids consistent with the standard. Or at least keeps the book’s small cat Ping Ping (but not his extraordinary pig friend!) in line.

I also learned that a correlation exists between work done outside of class and work done in class. In order to ready myself to present an improvised verbal synopsis of the 6-page story I translated as homework, I made 50 or so flashcards with new words I wanted to have down cold, for the purpose of using them in my oral summary. Once Eric realized that I’d made flashcards (for personal use!) he picked them up and quizzed me on all of them. If I’d never made the flashcards, I wouldn’t have been quizzed. If I hadn’t done well, I’d be angry, but I’m more or less complacent – I’m being conditioned not to do work, which is only an issue during times when I dream about how much I’m going to push myself to learn Chinese here. Inevitably, rather than be a complete lazy bum, I’ll push myself- I just won’t let Eric know about my extra credit study habits.

Outside of reading and orating skills training, I’m being tutored in the proper STYLE of orating. Eric, before graduate school, was a voice coach for CCTV, the national television news network. A devout scholar and fan boy of his own voice coach, Eric practices a series of vocal warm-ups and tongue twisters daily. My first day of class, I did an hour and ten minutes of forced hyperventilation and no longer have lips after buzzing them so much. If nothing else, my lung capacity is going to blow Aretha Franklin’s out of the water pretty soon.

Speaking of Aretha, the UNC group went karaoke-ing last night in an establishment with the most technologically advanced karaoke materials I’d ever seen but also with song menus in which Christina Aguilera was pictured as Barbra Streisand, etc. I sang ‘Magnificent’ by U2 (of course) ‘(Hit Me Baby) One More Time’ by Britney Spears (which shant be a regular deal) and ‘Rehab’ by Amy Winehouse. I love that my Amy Winehouse impression went over well and that I’m not the only one who thinks I sound like her, at least when my audience is drunk (I’ve been allowed to drink for a week and still haven’t- not that I ever really want to drink when I’m not allowed to, either- it’s sometimes more fun to be the sober one [read: people have lower standards for humor when they’re drunk and I like making people laugh]).

I’m making the kids on my trip laugh. But not my family and friends. Because I HAVE MADE CONTACT WITH BARELY AND OF YOU HOOLIGANS! Deal is: I can receive texts but not send them (12165432390), Skype when I find wifi (set up times to talk!), email when I find wifi (mushupork@att.net), but can’t get Facebook stuff (except for random email notifications). I love hearing about y’alls lives, and I miss you! Shout out to Schuyler Kylstra for a successful Skype session- time to play catch-up, the rest of you.

Random note: Keeli got me to go to the campus anthropology museum. It was cool to see the history of human kind from an Asian-centric position, but also made me aware of how ignorant I am of Asian culture- I always associate Asians with computers, and science, and business, but never with humanities outside simply memorizing Confucian theory. There’s a whole subset of Chinese society specifically, well represented by Professor Yue, that deals with the less quantifiable aspects of what it means to be human. Realizing this helps me see the Chinese as less of a people, but a group of individuals.

My immediate life:

Today, our group awoke bright and early (and yet, 6:15 is an hour later than I’ve been getting up, thanks jet lag) to board a bus that would jettison us about Xiamen’s concrete blocks as part of a cultural tour. Professor Yue, the world’s most knowledgeable anthropologist/Grateful Dead fan, bestowed upon his awed student group a collection of Tao-Buddhist-Confucian knowledge so cheekily random during our off-the-bus stops that I almost didn’t mind not being able to understand our tour guide. Who spoke English. I choose to believe that my lessened capacity to differentiate between English words is correlated with sleep deprivation rather than a diffused or gradually receding lack of general linguistic knowledge as a result of information overload. I did prove to myself that I can make myself focus really, really intently to language to come away with a semblance of an idea of what the conversation/speech is about.

After the tour and a stop at an American-style hotel buffet (or, Asian buffet with black coffee), a few of us toured the local Chinese style and European style malls, differentiating between faux products and the real deal. Antonio, a tall and gangly pal of mine with a jovial, intelligent deportment and wonderfully deficient attention span, happens to be African-American- the great things about walking with him, outside pleasant conversation, is watching the behavior of people around us when Antonio’s mere presence registers in their respective brains. Additionally, in China, it’s not impolite to stare- especially if you catch someone staring and stare back. If you’ve ever felt bad about losing a staring contest, China is your land of unlimited opportunity to redeem yourself.

Three hours of mall walking brought with them naught for me but a milk yogurt purchase, a pack of gum, and the chance to see Asians wearing backpacking gear at The North Face, but we left content with the outcome of our excursion and made our way to the bus stop. After boarding and spending half an hour reading/making sure Sarah’s new Wal-Mart-label cactus plant didn’t fall over in spite of a very jerky ride, I got more fidgety than usual and turned around to ask the girl behind me in Chinese if she knew how much time was left before the bus would reach Xiamen University. She answered, and we made introductions and conversed in Chinese. Mary, as we soon came to know her, is a Xiamen University Music Major who plays piano and is one of the most immediately warm people I’ve ever met. Despite having just met us, she not only agreed to go out to dinner with us after getting off at our stop but showed us the restaurant (a great Japanese place), took us around Xiamen in order to help Sarah find sunglasses, and went with us to hang out with Tony, a 12-year-old kung fu master with his own school who works out every night with his students and dad at a local outdoor gym on campus. Tony, who speaks great English and gives out business cards, is already going into 10th grade. He did a kung fu demonstration for us, taught us some moves on the parallel bars, and gave Sarah and Mary his business card and a photocopy of an English news article about his work (the rest of us already had his business card from previous meetings).

In order to play as hard as we do, we need to eat constantly. Luckily for us, Xiamen is home to a grand variety of local specialty restaurants and (unfortunate) staples like McDonald’s and KFC. Recent outings include a meal at a Korean hot pot restaurant, where I ate something that was probably good but don’t know for sure because it burned off my taste buds; the Japanese restaurant with Mary where we ate chicken, rice, and soup for less than $2, a fermented-egg-and-tofu something that I managed, sadly, to taste despite fewer taste buds, 珍珠奶茶 from a Chinese tea franchise with a crazy menu,and my first meal with pork (knowingly) EVER, quickly followed by my second meal with pork (knowingly) ever.

School, food, run around wreaking havoc on Xiamen and inadvertently ourselves; the only thing missing from the equation is sleep. Hopefully my body will allow me to stay awake past 12 and wake up after 4:50 soon, but I’ve got a copy of Harry Potter in Chinese to work through when I’m the only one up to keep me occupied for a while just in case.

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