There are a couple stories I’ve heard here that I figure are worth sharing. They’re all from English speaking foreigners (because those are the only people I can talk to). I want to share them because they either have granted me insight into being here, embodied my experiences and sentiments, or were simply entertaining. I promise to share more as I get them.
This Saturday, I rode in a cab with a French-Canadian named Marc on the way to the soccer game. We were chatting and I can’t remember how this story came up, but its the best story I’ve heard since I’ve been here. Marc got his job through a recruiter. Recruiters find you a job at a school, handle all the contracts and visas, and take a cut of your paycheck for themselves. Marc’s recruiter is actually a government official. Marc left town to go on vacation for a couple days with his girlfriend to go see her family. Marc told his boss that he was going on vacation to this city. His boss misunderstands him and thinks he is leaving his job in Harbin and taking one in this other city. Thinking that Marc is leaving his job does not make his boss happy. Being that his boss is a government official, he can actually make the police do what he wants. He sends the police after him in this other city.
The police find Marc at his girlfriend’s house. They come to take him back to the police station. However, his girlfriend’s sister has married into a Chinese Mafia family. The Chinese mob comes, holds off the police, and saves Marc from arrest. Marc eventually returns to Harbin, explains the misunderstanding to his boss, and is no longer a wanted man harbored by the Chinese Mafia.
Marc told me another story in the cab that says something about Chinese culture. He is eating at this restaurant, and he finds an inch-long, rusty spike in his food. He takes it back to show to his Chinese friends. He says, “Look what I found in my food!” His friends look at him casually and tell them about what they found in there school lunch in middle school. Their cafeteria wouldn’t wash the plates. Their lunchroom workers would smoke when they prepared the food. You would always find cigarette butts in your food. If you were unlucky, you would get the plate that they were using for an ashtray. Needless to say, they were not impressed with his spike.
A Canadian that I met named Johnny has been in China for three years. He has taught in many different cities and just recently married a Chinese girl that he has been dating since the first month he was here. His oral Chinese is great and knows quite a bit about the country. Johnny had a job in the province of Inner-Mongolia. Inner-Mongolia is an autonomous province, so you can make your own conclusions about how much the Chinese government cares about it since it can make some of its own decisions. Most of the province is desert from what I gather. Johnny was helping his school look at job applications, and they would have to throw out all the applications from black people. He said there were black people applying from Cambridge with Masters degrees, and they would still have to turn them down. The reason why is because it is illegal to be black in Inner-Mongolia. He finally asked someone at his school why it was illegal to be black. The person said the law had two purposes. The first was to keep out AIDS. The second reason was because when black people would come, people would stare at them while they were driving and create accidents.
In Lonely Planet: China, the first sentence about Harbin reads, “If a city with more than three million people can be considered relaxing, Harbin is…” My Dutch friend, Mark, met me downtown. It was a Sunday, and many people were out. We were both late getting there because of the traffic, but his bus took a little shortcut. Frustrated with traffic, his driver pulls the bus onto the sidewalk. He starts driving along and honking his horn. People just step out of the way like nothing extraordinary is happening. I think that it was wise that Lonely Planet qualifies the end of their sentence by saying “…at least if you join the strollers and shoppers wandering its tree-lined streets and riverfront promenade.”