National Day Omissions and Recent Weeks

In addition to new events, there were a couple things that happened over the National Day week that I forgot to write about. I think they are noteworthy so I’m going to fill in the omissions. This is going to be another long one.

The first thing that really happened over the National Day week was that I severed my relationship with Susan. It was the morning of the first Saturday of the week, and we were supposed to by train tickets to take a day trip to Changchun. There were several events leading up to me deciding that I really didn’t want to hang out with her anymore. We had tentatively made plans to travel to Shenyang for a couple days over National Day, but I had decided that I wanted to spend the week studying. My class was really stressing me out because I was so far behind, and I determined that I would be best for me to study during my time off. I told her that I didn’t want to travel anymore. When I told her this, she asked to come up to my apartment the next day to talk about it. I agreed. She came up in the morning, and I had afternoon class that day. I had a dictation test, so I was ready to chat with her for a minute then get ready for the test. She spent an hour in my room trying to persuade me to go with her. Once she realized that I wouldn’t, she tried to convince me to just go on a day trip to Changchun. Her insistence broke me, and I conceded. After I told her I would, she said something along the lines of, “Now let’s go to lunch.” I said I had to study but told her that we could have dinner that night.

That night, Andrew called me and asked to have dinner. I invited him to come with Susan and I. That night it was raining. I was the only one with an umbrella, so we all crowded underneath. I walked them back to their dorms. I we went to Andrew’s dorm first then Susan’s. After Andrew left, Susan started talking about Andrew. She said that she knew him already and didn’t like him. When she would hang out with Brian (a previous English teacher), he would come with both them. She said he was invasive. She asked me if I liked him. I said I didn’t know. I just met him and he seemed nice. She put a disgusted look on her face, hit me in the arm, and walked inside.

The next day, I agreed to help Andrew with an English speech. There was a school wide English speech competition, and he made it through to the second round. We were in the foyer of the library, and I was helping him with his pronunciation when Susan walked up. She said, “What are you doing out of your room? Don’t you know that foreigners aren’t allowed out of their rooms?” She was half joking, half pissed off to see me with him. She asked me why I wasn’t studying. I told her that I was helping Andrew and that I would study later. She started asking me questions in Chinese really fast, so I wouldn’t understand. I told her that her Chinese was bad.

The Friday night just before National Day started, I had dinner with Crystal. His friends had left, so it was just he and I. Susan saw me there. She walked up to me and said, “What are you doing out of your room?” I assumed that this was a running joke that she had with Brian. She told me that we would by the tickets to go to Changchun the next morning. After she left to eat with her friends, I told Crystal that she wasn’t very nice to me and that I wouldn’t go with her to Changchun.

The next morning I met her in front of my building at eight to buy tickets. I immediately told her that I didn’t want to go with her because she wasn’t very nice to me, and I wasn’t going to spend my free time with someone who treated me that way. She asked what she had done. I told her that I didn’t appreciate her trying to influence who I spent my time with, pressuring my into going in the first place, and talking to me the way she did. She tried to tell me that she was only kidding and that she and Brian did this all the time. I told her that you can’t kid with people like that unless you have a certain relationship, and I thought that we didn’t have that type of relationship yet. She made a huge scene. The event took over an hour. There was a wedding in my building that day, and people in the wedding party came at one point and asked us to move. The situation had left her reeling. She started crying a couple times. She kept saying that she would never say that she liked Americans anymore. I told her I didn’t really care. She said that I ruined her National Day. I didn’t see why the time was that important, and I wasn’t about to spend a whole day with her just to wait until after the week was over. She said that she thought we were friends, and I said that I thought I was only someone with whom she could practice her English. Despite her saying otherwise, she kept saying, “Now who will teach me oral English?” The amount of drama in the situation would have lead the people watching to believe that we had been dating for at least ten years. It was one of the worst break-ups I experienced. She was the worst girlfriend I never had.

On day early in the week, Crystal and I went down by the river. The river is really low right now, and there is a muddy island in the middle. There is a walking bridge going out to the island, and people were there flying kites. We sat down on the steps on the embankment leading down to the river to watch the kites. A homeless kid came and sat down next to us. He was young, but he also looked very small for his age. His skin and clothes were dirty, and his sweater and pants were too small. One of his elbows was large and disfigured. He could not pull the sleeve over his elbow. His fingernails were long and dirty. He picked up a stick and started picking out the dirt from underneath his nails. He started asking Crystal questions about me. He told Crystal that he was fourteen years old and that was an orphan. His arm was disfigured because he was working on a building, and he fell off. I asked Crystal if he was asking for money. He was. I tried to tell the kid that I wouldn’t give him money, but if he was hungry, I would buy him food. Either I was speaking poorly or he was trying to ignore me because he didn’t acknowledge me. He and Crystal talked for a second longer, and Crystal handed him three yuan. The kid sprinted off. A couple seconds later, he had three small loaves of bread, and one loaf already had giant bites taken out of it. He was ripping into it like he had never eaten before. He thanked Crystal and walked away.

Sometime early in the week, I went to go study somewhere outside. There is a small park next to our school. I was walking through campus on the way there when I ran into Mark. He asked if he could join me, and I agreed. It was my first time going to the park. It is small and shoddy. There were many older people there playing card, board games, and ping pong. I sat down with my book, and people gathered around as I had hoped. I read out of my book, and the people in the park corrected my pronunciation. A kid with an English book walked up to me. I gave him a little English lesson. When I was done studying, one of the people who gathered around wanted to take Mark, another student from our school that had gathered, and myself to lunch. I was really excited by this prospect, so I accepted the offer.

This guy could speak no English, so Mark was translating for me. We went to a restaurant near by, ate meat, and drank beer. This guy starting telling stories about himself. Here is what I gathered. He said when he was fourteen years old, he joined the army. For some training exercise, his platoon got dumped into the middle of nowhere. Everyone starting getting sick. Luckily, this guy’s father was a doctor and had taught him the secrets of Chinese medicine. Some people died, but he was also able to save many lives. Later in his experience with the army, he had come to Harbin. A couple years ago, there was a big flood. The Songhua River came well over its banks and into the city. The military was responsible for putting up the sandbags to keep the river out of the city. Things didn’t go well, and two of his friends died. Mark also said he was saying that eating snake was good for your skin. I look over at this guy, and he makes the hand motion of a bow and arrow, then eating a snake, then patting his face in approval of his good skin. I asked, “Wait, did he eat the snake raw?” He said yes. He said now he is a doctor and a dentist. After looking at his teeth for about an hour, that made me think he was lying more than anything else he said. That those teeth were the teeth of a dentist was too fantastic for me to believe.

I forgot one small detail about the first snow of the year. That morning, Crystal sent me a message. Here it is:

This morning when I wake up,It is snowwing heavily in the sky.The first snow comes here silencely this year.My eyes turn brighten suddently,enjoying the snow,my heart is still and clean,my feelings are fantastic and excitting. I look at the angel flies into my heart and dream like a springchicken and charming girl.My long expectation at last comes to a real and amorous world.

I thought it was beautiful poetry. I especially like how he busted out ‘amorous’ right there at the end. Impressive.

I had my second round of my new classes last week. I have a book for these classes, and last week was the first time I got to use it. Although I enjoy the freedom I have to teach whatever I want, the book provided some welcome structure. I definitely made it easier on me and made that part of the class fly by. After my second class, I was walking to the dining hall to eat dinner, and I ran into some of the girls from my class. They too were going to dinner, and I asked if they would like to eat with me. We gathered more students from class on the way to the dining hall. By the time we got there, we had a group of ten for dinner. They were nice, and their English is much better than my Engineering students. There was far less of the huddle up and discuss phenomenon over dinner. Afterwards, they asked what I was doing. I told them that I needed to buy some food. They offered to show me a market near school that I didn’t know about, and I accepted the offer.

This market was another night market. It was much nicer and cleaner than the other one I knew about. The prices were cheaper as well. I had bought some apples and oranges when we came across a large crowd. In the middle of the circle of people, there was a fight of sorts. It looked like it had been going on for a while when we stumbled upon the situation. One man was punching and kicking this other man. He was furious and probably drunk. His punches were thrown like a girl, and his kicks had no velocity either. Maybe he had just tired himself out or broken his hand already. The other guy had blood pouring out of his nose. He was completely punch-drunk and would have been on the ground were it not for the two other guys holding him up. The relationship between the guys holding him up and the fight was strangely ambiguous. There were not holding him there to be hit; they were not leading him away to safety; they were not trying to break up the fight. They just back-peddled and wheeled the other guy around the ring of people, so when he received blows, there was no force to them anymore. One of the girls said, “My mother told me not to watch.” We walked away.

That was the most helpless I’ve felt since I’ve been here. There was no way I could have figured out what was going on. I wanted to see this public beating come to an end, but there was no way I could jump in there and stop it. I couldn’t tell anyone to call the police. It could have been over nothing, or this guy could have completely deserved a beating; there was no way I could know. All I know is that someone had done something wrong, and there was no way I could know what it was and rectify the situation.

One night, I was having dinner with my normal group of students (Dave, Crystal, Fred, and Brad) as well as one of the two girls in that class, Rainbow, and I found out some interesting news. Dave, Fred, and Brad had received some sort of invitation to join the Chinese Communist Party, and they accepted. I was a little surprised given that they are the only group of Chinese people I have been around that have shown some level of disapproval with the government. I asked them why they accepted the invitation, and they said it was an honor. I asked Rainbow if she was a party member. She said she already had joined. Fred made a hand motion to me that suggested, “You and I don’t need them.” The three of them still had to take a class and a test in order to become a party member. They have been taking the class at night the past two weeks, and they just the test yesterday.

That night when the others had gone to there class, Fred and Rainbow came back to my room to help me with my Chinese. After spending about twenty minutes trying to pronounce the word for ‘hot’ to Fred’s satisfaction with Rainbow laughing the entire time, I told him that we were going to practice some English. After talking about some simple things with the two of them, Rainbow gave me some important information. All the students in the class are in line to receive a job from Caterpillar; however, there are some caveats. One of them is that they have to pass an English test. Once I heard this, my heart sunk. I’m under the impression that this job is a huge opportunity for these guys. They will make exponentially more money working for Caterpillar that they would going back home and being farmers. Fred took Russian all throughout school, and has only studied English for one year. I’m not very confident in his ability to pass this test with his current abilities and rate of improvement. Now I have a project I can be passionate about as an English teacher.

My decision to stay in Harbin and study has yielded dividends already. Class is much more enjoyable and beneficial I understand what is going on, and it isn’t frustrating. I have a pretty good grasp on both the oral and written sides of what we have covered so far. Last Wednesday, we had our mid-term, and I got a ninety-five. Granted, it was really easy; nevertheless, it was nice to have it quantified that I was doing well in the class.

Our soccer team is receiving a sponsorship. A new club in town called Box is going to be our sponsor. They’re going to pay for our field usage, get us jerseys, and they are building an indoor soccer area in a large empty room in the back for the winter. I think it is a very wise decision on their part. If foreigners come to there club, locals will come too, and if they give of all these benefits, we will certainly come. To commemorate the sponsorship, they gave us two hours of free drinks on Saturday night.

The next day we had a soccer match. We played the professors from Heilongjiang University. My string of consecutive starts ended at one. We almost had enough players on our team for two full teams, and I got to play the whole second half. We won four to two in a hard fought contest. It nearly came to fighting at one point. One of our players got tangled with one of their’s on a tackle, and as our player was getting up, their player pushed him. These last couple of games have been intense. The theory is that these teams don’t want to lose to foreigners even in friendly games, so things get rough. I’m still just happy to be trying to kick things.

This past week has been defined by some humbling moments. I went to the market to buy some fruit, a broom, and a mop. I bought my fruit and found vendor selling cleaning supplies. There was a basket there that I thought would be got for my toiletries. I asked how much it was. The vendor said two-fifty. I asked how much the broom cost. Three. The mop. Four. I have found that if you are buying anything here it is good to try to bargain a bit, and if you want to buy multiple items, you can regularly get them all for less than what they say they cost individually. With this in mind, I added up the cost of each item and told the vendor that I would give her ten for all three. She stopped for a second to add everything up, and she agreed to ten. I was pleased and surprised that I didn’t have to haggle, and I went on my merry way. On the way back, the lack of debate made me question what had just taken place. I stopped and added again. Two-fifty plus three plus four is nine-fifty. I laughed at myself for having pioneered some new bargaining techniques.

Before an afternoon class at HIT, I arrived a little early. I hadn’t eaten lunch, so I went to the supermarket there to grab some food. They have vendors in the grocery store that make dishes for you to take to go. I found a vendor with pictures on the front of their stall I could point at and say, “I want that.” The vendor couldn’t tell what it was, so someone read what it was to the vendor. I watched people to figure out what I was supposed to do in this new supermarket. A guy received his food and walked right up to the cashiers at the front of the store. I got my food and did the same. When I got to the cashier, she said something to me and look displeased. I figured that this was not what I was supposed to do. I walked back up to the vendors to pay there. Not knowing how to say, “I need to pay for this,” I pointed to my food and opted for, “I want to by this. Where do I buy this?” They referred me to other vendors that they thought also sold the dish that I had. When I arrived at those vendors, they said they didn’t make the food I had, and I’m telling them, “No, you don’t understand. I want to give you my money.” I figured that this method wasn’t working, so I went back to the cash registers. I found an open cashier and tried to explain my situation. “I did not buy this. I want to give money for this. Where do I buy this?” Then, the vendor that made my food found me and brought me back to her stall. I apologized and paid. She wasn’t angry, but I could tell she was thinking, “You are so retarded, foreigner.” I walk to my classroom to eat the food I had fought so hard for. I open up the bag and look into my plastic bowl. There are tentacles popping out everywhere. Nowhere in the picture was there anything that looked remotely like tentacles. I ate all the vegetables and rice. On the bright side, now I know what to do if I ever want to eat octopus. I’ve struggled with the grocery store, but hopefully, I’ve put those days behind me.

That is all for this time. Hopefully, I’ll have another post up soon. The number of e-mails I have received from home has dropped recently, and I really appreciate them. I look forward to hearing from people. Checking my e-mail is the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning and when I get home from class, so please, afford me the pleasure of reading your e-mail.