Illness, Dutch Education

In the days following my last post, I became pretty sick. It was much worse than my first round of China sickness. It was very strange; I only got sick at night. On the first night, I started having repulsive smelling burps late in the evening. Grace said that she got a whiff of one and almost dry-heaved. After I went to sleep, I woke up with extreme nausea, but I couldn’t throw up. Finally, I made myself throw up after being miserable for an hour. The next morning, I felt better, but my stomach was still uneasy. By that night, I was really nauseous again. I managed to go to sleep, but I woke up again in the middle of the night. That night was much worse than the previous night. It was one of those kind of sicknesses where your sitting on the toilet with a trashcan in your hands. Between these sessions, I was writhing on the bed with my knees in my chest.

When I was feeling well enough, I got on the internet and started doing some research. I though, “Oh no, I have gall stones… I have stomach ulcers… I’m going to have to go to a Chinese hospital… I’m going to have to go to a hospital in Beijing… I’m going to have to fly back home like this.” I felt my first tinges of wanting to be at home with Thanksgiving; that feeling fully manifested itself in getting sick. I wanted my Momma.

Miraculously, both my stomach ulcers and gall stones were fully cured the next morning.

The most exciting event for me this past week was going to an international speed skating competition on Sunday. In Holland, speed skating is huge, and Marc and Stephan prepared for the event all week. They went to the clothing market and the tailor and had big, fuzzy, orange suits made to wear to the competition. The made a giant banner that said in Dutch, “Our stadium is in fact better.” Marc brought his fabled megaphone to work the crowd.

Saturday was the first day of the competition, and we went our to Marc and Stephan’s dorm before going out that night. They showed us pictures of themselves on the central Dutch media website. They played interview where you could here them yelling and playing songs on the megaphone in the background. They told tales of signing autographs for little kids. They met and took pictures with famous Dutch skaters. They were told by the cameramen filming the event that they could be interviewed the next day. Intrigued by these stories, I asked if I could join them the next day. They agreed to let me tag along.

After a long night, I made it to the arena by 12:30. Marc and Stephan had told me it was free and that there were people outside trying to scam you with fake tickets. When I walked up one of these people approached me. He asked me if I wanted to by a ticket, and I told him that I knew they were fake. He looked dejected and walked away. Another fake ticket seller approached me. I told him, “I don’t want to buy one; I know they are fake.” That was not an acceptable answer, and he kept walking with me. He didn’t really acknowledge that I knew his tickets were fake; he kept showing me them and saying, “Look, these are thirty yuan: I’ll sell them to you for ten.” I kept saying the same things to him, and finally, I just started saying go away with brushing away hand motion. He eventually got the picture. It was the first time I have said something mean to a Chinese person.

I met Marc and Stephan inside a little later. They rallied the crowd for their Dutch skaters. I got to bust out, “USA, USA, USA!” for the American skaters over the megaphone. I think that was the first time an American speed skater has ever been cheered for outside of the Olympics. One was so surprised that someone was cheering for him that he looked up at me, waved, lost his balance and fell down. Marc and Stephan had already established themselves as VIPs, and whenever they walked around, little girls followed them asking for autographs. Eventually some of these little girls started thinking, “Hey, this guy is white and tall. Let’s ask him for his autograph.” I signed quite a few little notebooks. Stephan was signing his autograph “Santa Claus.” I resisted the temptation to write fake names except for once when I signed “President Bush.” I enjoyed chatting with the little kids that hung around. They gave us samples of some interesting Chinese snacks. One older kid asked me for my phone number. I gave it to her much to the dismay of my friends. My thought was that in the best case scenario this kids parents invite me for a free dinner and they offer me an extremely lucrative tutoring job; in the worst case scenario, I just have to ignore calls. Neither ends of the spectrum have played out yet since no one has called.

Marc and Stephan also established themselves as VIPs in the athletes’ area as well. We just strolled through the athlete’s entrance and into the locker rooms. No one stopped us or asked us what we were doing. After the event was over, we walked out and leaned on the pads circling the ice. We took the stairs underneath and saw the skaters doing there cool down exercises. The two of them chatted in Dutch with some of the people responsible for securing advertisements for the competition. We waited out front for a little bit, and one of the skaters that they really wanted to see came out. She was so excited to have the fan support that she gave them the flowers from the medal she had won that day. It was a very interesting day; it was the type of day I never really expected to have here in Harbin.

Our school poured an ice rink in their stadium, so now students can ice stake for P.E. Grace and I went to buy some skates, so we could go out there. My skates cost over twenty dollars, and Grace’s cost about thirteen. I was so excited about buying them that I made Grace go skating with me just after we got back from buying them. Mine fit pretty well, but hers were too flimsy through the heel and ankle to be comfortable. We’re from the South; we had no clue what to look for in a pair of skates. We just picked ones that looked cool that we would want to bring back. To get her skates to be comfortable, we’re going to go buy her some ankle braces. After teaching my 8:00 class on Thursday, I went skating with my class. It was fun, and I instigated an on ice snowball fight.

On December 5th, Sintertklaas comes to visit Holland. Sinterklaas is like Santa Claus except that he comes on a boat from Spain (or Turkey depending on who you ask). He takes his boat through the canals of the Netherlands and brings the good boys and girls presents. If you’re bad, he takes you back with him to Spain. Sinterklaas put a little more mileage on his boat this year and came to Harbin. Marc and Stephan threw a Sinterklaas party, and the man himself managed to show up… twice. Sinterklaas gave me a stern talking-to about dropping out of school; lucky for me he didn’t know I dropped out of school to start selling drugs, so I still got some presents.

Everyone brought twenty yuan worth of gifts and wrapped them individually. We had a couple rounds where everyone opened the gifts, and then there was a dice game to distribute the gifts. One of the gifts I opened was a pair of glasses that was wrapped inside of a half-filled water bottle. I had to cut open the bottle to get them out, and the prescription ended up being a little too strong for me. There was stealing gifts, switching gifts, losing gifts, and ganbei (drinking the rest of your glass). The game was much more fun some other gift games I have played. I had my eye on the green bunny earmuffs and the Christmas tree night light, but I made it away with neither of them. After the final round of trading, Grace and I made it out with a bicycle tire repair kit, a broken set of reindeer antlers, two chocolate bars, some potpourri, chocolate filled rock-looking candy, and a broken guitar thermometer. I was mad a Grace because she traded a sexy poster that would have looked great in our room for the bicycle repair kit. I guess we’re committed to buying bicycles now.

My teaching has been going well as of late; however, I am ill informed about the schedule of my classes. The department heads don’t tell me when my classes will end or when they will not meet. This week I found out that two of my classes either end next week or the week after. For another set of classes, we will have a week off for the first week of January and either we will have our final before or after then. I’m not really sure what is going on, but it looks like I will have substantially more time on my hands before Grace and I can travel during Spring Festival. Hopefully, much of that time will be investing in my tutoring which is going very well. Each time we meet I get to talk and listen at my personal skill level for a long time. My tutor, Carol, is very nice, and I think my Chinese is going to improve rapidly. I hope my Chinese will be prepared for travel.

I appreciate those of you who have sent me e-mail over these past couple of weeks. I’m sorry if I don’t get back to you promptly, but don’t think that this means your e-mails aren’t important to me. I love waking up to a nice full inbox in the morning, so I would encourage those of you who are reading to write to me. I don’t really care what it is about, but it is just nice to know who is reading, what people think, and what is going on at home. I know I have some outstanding e-mails to which I have not replied. We’re going skiing this weekend, so expect replies when I return on Monday. Also, check out my picture site for new pictures from speed skating and Sinterklaas’ visit to Harbin.

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