I’ve had a pretty exciting last two days. I feel like I have accomplished quite a bit. In the morning yesterday, I purchased a cell phone. I was debating on whether I wanted one or not, but I decided it would be the best way to keep me connected to both the locals and the foreigners. Ms. Li came and helped me. And by helped me I mean completed the transaction for me. Although, I did say, “I would like to buy a cell phone” in Chinese. The lady working there giggled and told me that I speak very well. I told her in Chinese that I don’t speak very well. Everyone working there laughed. Every time I use that phrase, people laugh. I think its because they’re thinking, “Yeah, you’re right.”
I feel disrespectful for not taking the time to sufficiently learn the language before I came over. I think it shows an expectation of being accommodated by the locals. The only reason I’m getting by is because the people are so nice. I don’t think I could have ever gotten away with this in Spain. I’m grateful for their kindness, and I hope to repay them in eventually being able to speak in their tongue.
After buying a cell phone, I went to walking around town by myself. I packed my shamelessly tourist backpack, complete with maps, pocket dictionary, camera, and pen and paper in case of a situation where I want to buy something and numbers have to be written down. On the way out, I ran into a group of kids getting out of school. They were in their little uniforms; they were probably about eight years old. They started talking to me in Chinese. I told them that I couldn’t speak Chinese and that I was an American. Once they heard I was American, they started flipping out and jumping around. I guess they assumed I was Russian until then. They had a good laugh. Whenever things like this happen, I don’t know whether to feel flattered or harassed. Right now, I’m giving them (or maybe myself) the benefit of the doubt and feeling flattered.
I successfully navigated the bus and the town. I saw everything I wanted to see on the trip and did some wandering as well. All the pictures from the sight-seeing are up on the picture page. It felt good to have a successful trip. I have been so dependent on others and I’m pretty vulnerable, so I was glad to feel some sense of independence. After the sun went down, I went strolling along the river like everyone else in the city seemed to be doing. I stumbled upon a large group of women doing a traditional dance to traditional music. They were arranged in rows and columns, and they had large fans covered in loose orange cloth that would wave when they were moved. The band that played the music was lead by a small, high-pitched reed instrument with a brass bell. The other band members were percussionists; there was a large drum, two sets of cymbals, and a gong. It was amazing; the music and dance were beautiful. Other than the language, it was the biggest experience that made me realize how far away from home I am.
After stumbling upon a nighttime open market, I ventured to the beer garden on Zhongyang Diejie to meet up with the foreigners. Given my stomach problems and not having eaten anything all day, I abstained, even though I was feeling great compared to yesterday. We talked about American politics for a bit, and it was a good conversation. After the beer garden, we went to the club where all the foreigners hang out, Blues. It was packed with all sorts of English speakers, Chinese, Russians, Koreans, and Mongols. It was a funny scene. Everyone was trying so hard to be cool and tough; not a single person was smiling. The trendy Russian dress was also very entertaining. Think white trash. I didn’t stay too long, and Chris and I took a cab back. I was asleep shortly thereafter.
This morning I went back to Carrefour to buy some more food. When I was walking in, this girl was starring at me and got hit in the face with the door. If I am being harassed, then that was a little bit of vindication. It was another fun shopping experience. I took my time and looked around a bit more. There were fish tanks where you would take a net and catch the fish yourself. One hopped out into the live turtle cage. You can’t question the freshness when you kill it yourself. When I went to checkout, I had some apples with me. There was a problem with them, and it took me a second to figure out what it was. I needed a little barcode to be printed to buy them. After the cashier tried to talk to me without any success, she called for someone else. I assumed that they were going to go run a price check for me. My apples never came back. I also had an item without a barcode. It got taken away as well. The lessons I took away from this experience were: 1) Don’t bring items to the cashier without a barcode, and 2) Buy your produce from the street vendors because I don’t know how to operate the Chinese barcode printing machine and street vendors don’t use barcodes. I couldn’t help but to laugh at myself.
Chris invited me to play soccer with the foreigners today. We met up at a place called Hit Bar. After Chris and I got off the bus on the way to the bar, there was a homeless guy laying on his back against the wall. His eyes and mouth were fixed open and not moving. His body was rigid; his feet were caked in dirt; he had large cuts all over his body. His chest wasn’t moving up and down. There was a policeman standing around. We both walked right past. A couple steps later, Chris asked, “Is that guy dead?” I said that I thought he was. We just kept walking. A minute or two later, Chris said, “What a crazy world we live in.” I nodded.
The walk to Hit Bar wasn’t far from the bus stop. On the way there, we walked through Harbin Institute of Technology. I work at Heilongjiang Institute of Technology, and when I tell people where I work, they think I mean Harbin Institute of Technology. There is a big difference in the two schools. In China, universities are ranked A,B, and C. Harbin Institute of Technology is the only A school in the province. My school is a C school. I had assumed that the game would be a match against two teams made up of English speaking foreigners, but when I got there, I found out that the English speakers were playing against a team of Korean university students. Everyone met up at the bar, and we took taxis to another university. We played in their stadium on an astroturf field, and it was the good astroturf with the ground up tires in it. Our team had more than enough people, so I sat out the first half. We opened up a 4-0 lead at the end of the first half, so I got to play the entire second half. I have never played a second of organized soccer in my life, and I got to play in an international competition against a team of Koreans. This was serious business too. There was a ref, and each team had uniforms. They put me at center-back, and the Koreans scored a goal within the first ten minutes of the half. I’m sure I had to have done something wrong. I was just running around trying to get people to tell me what to do. A couple minutes later I got called for a handball. Other than that, I was pleased with my performance. I averted some opposing scoring chances and stole the ball a couple times around midfield. After watching the World Cup this summer, I had really wanted to play, and it was as fun as I thought it would be.
On the bus ride back home, Chris gave up his seat to an old guy that had sat down on the floor. After that, a high school student started speaking in broken English to us. When he found out we were American, he told us, “God lives in America.” I told him many Americans think that too. After we got off the bus, we saw a crowd of people surrounding a “little person” that was singing. There was also a group of people doing the same sort of dance and playing the same music as the night before. I could get used to seeing that every weekend.
Check out the pictures and send me some e-mails. I would love to hear from everyone.