I’m getting lazy with this blog, but I have plenty of excuses, my default is that I’ve been busy with a lot of “things”. I haven’t posted since last week, so this may go on for a while because I did a LOT this weekend, and I hope to remember it all for posterity’s sake.
I had already planned to spend this past weekend with some of my relatives from my Mother’s Father’s side of my Chinese family in Shun De (a town an hour outside of Guangzhou). I didn’t expect much, and I hoped to simply enjoy the company of more family members. As I drove out, I enjoyed leaving the urban sprawl of Guangzhou and appreciated the emerging greenery, although seemingly random skyscrapers mark the countryside in China. My car followed the GPS, and it led us to a gilded mansion. I checked the address to make sure I was in the right place, and looked out with incredulity at the massive roman columns and the sheer impressive stature of my relatives’ house.
My mother had warned me that they were rich, but what stood in front of me exceeded everything that I had expected. And that’s not to say I was impressed. The gaudy ostentatious design of this house was slightly nauseating, but since it was family I didn’t reveal that sentiment. I was warmly welcomed into the house, and got the full tour. The whole house felt cold although, and I came to the conclusion that this wasn’t really a home; it was more an indicator of social status.
The in depth tour of the house worked up my appetite, and my new host drove me to a local restaurant in her 2011 Mercedes S600. The restaurant was a small, run down row of shacks that served as dining rooms for separate parties. The road leading to this secluded restaurant was unpaved and pockmarked with potholes. I appreciated the nearly comic juxtaposition of this $100k car (the worth of which probably exceeded the worth of its destination) driving down a dusty country road to a run-down restaurant. No matter how much I may criticize their living habits, I can’t deny that the food was delicious. Many Chinese restaurants take pride in displaying the food that will end up on your table. In this case, I saw a number of creatures that I didn’t know existed. I had no problem eating them though. That sounded vicious, but then again “vicious” sounds like “delicious”!
After eating lunch, I relaxed in their back yard, and then took a swim in their heavenly pool. I was still incredulous, but hey, why not take advantage of what was before me?
That Saturday evening was and adventure. It was my hostess’s (she is the daughter of my grandfather’s brother) birthday, and since they were a multi-million dollar family, there was a big party. I sat, and felt slightly like an exotic animal in the zoo as distant relatives arrived and filed past, fawning over the prospect of this foreign relative sitting before them. Nevertheless, my host family from Guangzhou was there with me, and by this point I’ve become very comfortable with them, so they acted as a barrier to the crowds of Chinese cousins, aunt, uncles, great aunts, great uncles etc. The party was amazing, and they certainly had now problem with showing unrestricted hospitality. My uncle and I took advantage of the free-flowing Hennessy.
After the dinner party, the group migrated to a Karaoke club, and by then everyone was glowing as only Asians do. I sat on the plush couches and enjoyed watching the whole birthday party cycle through the karaoke, more often than not with the microphone in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other. I then came to the realization that I would probably spend the rest of the night partying with women of approximately my mother’s age. The karaoke eventually petered out, and a group of cousins (who looked eerily like my grandfather) boisterously invited me to go to a local Shun De disco.
At this point I was already tired, and I had to decide between going back to Guangzhou and sleeping comfortably in my own bed, or going out with my uncle and aunt (the son and daughter of my grandfather’s brother) and seeing where the night would take me. The uncomfortable decision is always the right decision, so I allowed myself to get swept away into the Shun De nightlife. The stories from that night abound, but I will summarize with two texts, one from my aunt and one from an unknown number respectively, on my phone the next morning; “U COME BACK, DANGEROUS!” and “I Miss u baby”.
Sunday morning, I was anxious to get back to Guangzhou for Sunday ultimate practice and scrimmage, and I expressed that to my hosts, although like most other Chinese adults didn’t understand what “fei pan/fei die” (Chinese for frisbee) meant. I got back to Guangzhou via my Shun De relative’s chauffeur, but didn’t remember much of the ride as I spent it napping and drooling on the Mercedes’ leather. I got to the fields and the rest is pretty standard. Had an awesome time, got my weekly quota of layouts and hucks in. Bled a little bit. Worked on my OI backhand pulls despite the fact that they consistently went out the back because of the short field. I again enjoyed matching up on Albert from Carnegie Mellon, he actually makes me play honest D. The heat here is oppressive, and wearing a jersey quickly becomes impractical as the sweat soaks in.
Practice was followed by Viet food for dinner (every meal is an adventure) and a couple beers at our buddy’s bar to celebrate Independence Day as a bunch of expats.
Men thin away to insignificance and oblivion quite as often by not making the most of good spirits when they have them as by lacking good spirits when they are indispensable.
—Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd
I’ve lost count of the days that I’ve been here, but I think that is a good thing. I don’t want to count down the days until I leave. It reminds me too much of the intricate calendars and countdowns I kept during my training at both Parris Island and Quantico. Here I’m enjoying something new everyday, and should just focus on learning the language, as that is the ultimate goal of these two months. Surprisingly, it’s going very well. (That’s for you, parents. Your money is going to waste)
I’ve been busy this week with a bunch of extracurricular activities that my hosts have arranged for me. The People’s Republic of China’s Communist Party’s birthday is on July 1st, and in recognition of that upcoming date the Guangzhou theatre put on a number of play/opera/concert events to commemorate the foundational narratives upon which the party was established. I was excited to witness the stories and songs that are well known to those who lived through the Cultural Revolution. My mother had often mentioned these songs, and I’d always been intrigued by their exotic unamericanness. The theatre itself was a sight to see. It sat in the shadow of Guangzhou tower, and like the tower, constantly changed color. I don’t know why China has so many buildings with this unique design feature. I think it’s tacky, but I guess they dig it here.
I couldn’t follow anything that was being said during the play, which I guess contradicts my earlier statement that my grasp of Mandarin is growing stronger. Anyway, the plot was fairly easy to follow – it was a foundational trope of a strong female figure fighting for the people and defying those in power, and her passion for the cause eventually lead to her personal demise. Inspirational stuff.
My uncle was in the orchestra too, which made me invested in liking the production. I’d never seen a Chinese orchestra before, and I was surprised to see the entire orchestra comprised of Chinese instruments. Despite the totality of the difference in instruments, the sound was similar to a western orchestra.
The next night, was much more modest, but ultimately more fun. Before I left for China, my uncle had recommended that I try eating snake while in Guangzhou as it is a local delicacy. In my mind, a snake isn’t so different from an eel, which isn’t so different from a fish, so it’s not that unnerving. I expressed my desire to eat snake to my hosts, and they were very happy to take the ignorant and uncultured westerner to eat something new. We had to drive quite a ways out of the city to a secluded little unimposing restaurant. Apparently it was one of two in the area that served snake. We met one of my uncle’s friends there, and he immediately produced a bottle of baijiu for the men to drink. My auntie scolded him for corrupting me with his vile poison, but I just smiled and said I’d try it. For those of you who know me well, you know that I’m a competitive person. He said westerners couldn’t drink baijiu. I had to prove him wrong. “Trying some baijiu” eventually led to an empty bottle and three smiling, red-faced Asians. He then ordered a couple bottles of the local beer and was adamant about keeping my glass full. I am glad that I had four years of collegiate drinking to help me keep up with this guy. The snake was delish. It had a different texture than fish or eel. In fact, for a reptile, it tasted surprisingly mammal-ish. That’s my way of saying it tasted like chicken. We eventually walked back to the car and drove back to the apartment. I made every effort to compose myself and walk straight. However, from experience, I know I probably looked like a degenerate drunk. My auntie drove home (because my uncle was toast) and boy was that a harrowing experience…Not going to make a female, asian driver joke. The next morning, we learned vocabulary about sickness and medicine. I appropriately learned the word outu (呕吐).
Tomorrow, I have my final exam for the first 2-week Mandarin crash course. I’ll be spending the evening hunched over flash cards memorizing the stupid tones for each word. I resent tones. People understand me just fine, and I don’t really care if at this point I sound American.
bad habits everywhere:
- Not defending my man
- Lazy poaches
- Never looking dump
- taking the hammer as the FIRST option
My first week in Guangzhou is behind me. Although the weekdays are less eventful now that I’ve settled into the routine of daily classes, I still have the weekend to look forward to. And seeing as I no longer have the weekdays available for my shenanigans, the weekends have become that much busier. So far my class has emphasized basic phrases and sentence structure, and has slowly built upon an ever-growing vocabulary. The language is not proving to be as difficult as I had anticipated, but I’m still stumbling through sentences like bull in a china shop. Although I can easily grasp vocabulary and structure, the nuances of Mandarin tones are frustrating. I am confident that I’ll have a basic conversational understanding of Mandarin by the time I’m done here.
My weekend started on Saturday with the final game in the Guangzhou – Shenzhen ulti series. To some degree I was disappointed to play in the game because of my previous plans for the day. Originally, I had planned to drive to Shenzhen to be in a photo shoot. Yes, I was going to be able to put “international model” on my resume. One of the Guangzhou ultimate player’s close friends works for a marketing firm. The firm needed “foreigners” for a photo shoot, and instead of paying for a modeling firm, they decided to recruit any foreigners they might know. Ultimate happens to be a sport that is primarily composed of foreigners, so they asked around for any foreigners that would be willing to be in this photo shoot. At first I thought that this was too good to be true, and that this was inevitably a scam that would leave me naked and shivering in some dark alley. However, I talked to some of the other people that play ultimate in Guangzhou, and they accounted for the legitimacy of the offer. I promptly told my parents and local family that they could be proud of me for at least one accomplishment – becoming an international model, and set my sights on stardom. However, after returning from class on Friday and checking my e-mail I found that the shoot had been cancelled since they had not been able to find enough foreign females in Guangzhou to fill the requirements of the shoot. My dreams were shattered, but not really because not going to Shenzhen meant that I could stay in Guangzhou and play in the final game of the Guangzhou – Shenzhen series.
The game officially started at 3pm, and the captain-ish guy told us to arrive at 2 for warm ups and drills. We ran an end zone drill that was almost comical in its inapplicability to real game scenarios. I played the entirety of the pregame warm ups and drills throwing lefty so that I wouldn’t draw any suspicions of being an international ringer. That went down the drain when we started playing. We destroyed them. My goal for this game was to practice following my throws, as that is something I’ve struggled to do well for a while. It is entirely mental, as I’ve never considered myself a primary handler. In the Shenzhen game, I relied heavily on a select few ultra-athletic receivers and put a couple of swilly hucks up to them just to make it exciting.
__Me and Oscar, my receiver of choice__
I think we took half 8-2. At that point I had 8 points, and a +/- of 8. I sat out the next couple of points because I became conscious of the fact that I was getting a lot more playing time then a lot of other players. We eventually won the game 15-7, and my final point total was 13 with a +/- of 12. I had a lot of fun playing with a new team, and although the level wasn’t that high, I got to practice what I needed to practice. It felt good being dominant on the field, but then again I kind of felt like a washed up NBA player competing in EuroLeague Basketball. I only fear that I’m picking up some bad habits.
__Setting up some mismatches__
Since the fields didn’t have a functioning shower, I showered by spraying myself down with a hose behind the field shed and toweling off with a dry jersey. This isn’t something that I’d readily do in the states but fuck it; it’s china, why not? Since we won the series, we were responsible for throwing an end-of-the-series party. One of the captains of the Guangzhou team owns a restaurant and bar called 13 Factories. The restaurant’s concept is to bring quintessentially American food to China. The menu includes such deliciously, unfair representations of American cuisine as chicken fried steak, and fried chicken with waffles. We walked there after the game, and I immediately took advantage of the buy-one-get-one-free pitcher deal for ultimate players. I didn’t know how to say pitcher, so I just said “big, big cup.” That worked. The beer started flowing, and I started sharing my pitchers with the same Shenzhen people that I had recently been viciously calling travels on. (Everyone travels in China). We ate, drank, and caused a general ruckus until the restaurant closed for business, and we were able to start playing beer pong inside. Then we caused more ruckus. The next step on the night’s journey was a huge club called True Colors. By this point I was just going with the flow, and don’t actually know where this club was…but it was mind blowing. Firstly, I was massively underdressed but aloof enough (see: drunk enough) to not care. There were beautiful Chinese women everywhere who I unsuccessfully tried to woo with a drunken amalgamation of English and broken Mandarin. It turns out “where is the train station” isn’t such a great pick up line in Mandarin. I just danced (see: flailed around uncontrollably) with the group of ultimate girls and often stopped in awe of the club environment. There were lasers EVERYWHERE, and there were androgynous, leather-clad acrobats hanging from the ceiling. They often descended from the ceiling to catwalks and turned on lasers that shot out of their face. Like I said, lasers everywhere. We eventually left for another club, but that’s when my host family started calling expressing a concern for my safety. Apparently my grandmother had also called from America, and said that I would probably get robbed and stabbed and left naked and shivering in a dark alley. I half-heartedly bid my ultimate buddies/biddies adieu, and caught a cab back to the apartment. (This segment was selectively edited for my parents’ well being.)
The next morning I was hung over. I wandered around the apartment while my auntie chuckled. Eventually I had to go eat lunch with Kau Pau and the families of the sisters of my uncle’s wife. I’m scheduled to meet just about every extended family member living in China. I don’t mind, because they are generally nice people, think that I’m much more intelligent than I actually am, and feed me well. I enjoyed meeting all of these relatives, and managed to mask my hangover.
I returned to the apartment, and started studying for my upcoming test on Monday. However, there was another Guangzhou Ultimate practice scheduled, and I found it hard to concentrate as I knew I could be out on the field getting dirty, so I finished up a couple of drills and then threw my gear together, hailed a cab, and got to fields about an hour late, but just in time for the scrim. I wasn’t really surprised to meet a guy named Albert who played for Carnegie Mellon, played at MCUDL, and who grew up in Montgomery, NJ. It was fun playing against Albert, who’d I’d seen at MCUDL last summer and at this past spring’s James Madison tournament, at a secluded field Guangzhou, China. The scrim was eventually cut short by a massive downpour. We sought refuge in a foul-smelling stairway until the rain abated, and then burned our esophageal lining with some chili-laden Szechuan food
__New Jersey in Guangzhou__
For the past two days, I’ve been consumed with my new class materials, and have fallen into a routine that often omits this supposedly daily blog. My new routine reminds me of high school. I get up in the morning, and help myself to a typical breakfast of an asian apple (so different from American breeds. What I’d do for a granny smith right now…), buttered bread, and a boiled egg. There is no wifi in this apartment. Rather, there is a landline that runs to my desk and allows me to access the Internet from there. However, the matriarch of the household controls the flow of Internet, so I have to wait until she wakes up to turn it on. I feel like once she turns that switch, a gushing flow of illuminated information pours down the Ethernet cable to my computer. I try to check my mail before class, but the combination of withheld internet and China’s tampering with access to Gmail will sometimes make that an impossibility.
I walk to 4 block to my class, and then commence the learning process for two and a half hours with my teacher Irene. She is a twenty-five, and has been teaching Mandarin for the past four years. She is both competent and patient, only allowing her frustration with my clumsy pronunciations to show with three curt taps of her pen on the desk. Although subtle, those taps hurt. After two and a half hours of drills, mock conversations, and transcriptions, I leave the classroom for an hour lunch break. I haven’t built the courage to go to a local restaurant and try my Mandarin, so I just walk back to the apartment and eat there.
The walk, which is easily less than 10 minutes, always leaves me nastily sweaty. I eat some hastily prepared fried rice and try to drink all the available clean water and get to reading all of news sources – RSD, Gawker, Daily Beast, Texts from Last Night… essentials. SkydMagazine is blocked in China for some reason. The hour flies by, and before I am even able to get settled I have to leave for class again. This walk seems like it will become very familiar, but for now I’ve been reveling in the uniquely perplexing minutia of everyday Guangzhou street traffic. Firstly, people here will load anything on to bikes, and ride it down the road like they own both lanes. I’ve seen refrigerators, filing cabinets, water jugs, rolls of insulation, towers of toilet paper, and entire families strapped and saddled onto sagging antique bicycles. I’ve seen a bike converted into traveling knife sharpening service. I’ve seen a bike towing a cart selling fruit and vegetables to any passerby that hailed it down. Although this walk may eventually become a part of my everyday tedium, for now I’m reveling in the new sights…and smells… that’s another story.
The next two and a half hours are filled with more drilling and talking. I often feel like I am making faces at the poor girl because of the way I have to dramatically stretch and torque my mouth neck and tongue to pronounce the foreign sounds and syllables. After class is done, I give myself a break, listen to some good ole’ fashioned feel-good summer music that I’ve recently downloaded off of Good Music All Day and take a siesta. I am able to use my hosts’ gym membership, so after my short relaxation period, I suit up in gym clothes (apparently a western construct as everyone else at the gym works out in collars, swim trunks, and flip flops…or just swim trunks) and walk to the gym. To everyone in the states; never take your gym’s amenities for granted because, well, let’s say I long for my Rutgers days of unlimited access to the cleanliness and organization of a collegiate gym. My current gym is a large room lines with open windows that contains an assembly of rusty and malfunctioning machines. There is one pull up bar, one bench, and the free weight rack is incomplete and unmarked. I cut my hand on my third set of burpee pull-ups and became very frightened for my blood’s purity. Most of the other men there use the gym more as a social hang out than as a place exercise and seem to be comfortable walking about with no shirt or shoes. Ventilation? Hah. I felt out of place, but continued with my workout nonetheless. I have to stay on my game for the upcoming season. IHUC, baby.
I always look forward to dinner, which is often followed by a casual recline on the roof.
The food is always delicious, and I suspect the generous use of MSG. There’s no other way it would be THIS delicious.
I’ve started calling the little girl “monkey”, because she is off the wall. She can’t be contained. I think in a couple days time I will be calling her demon monkey. However, it is warming to come home from the gym and hear her little demon squeals echoing around the apartment.
Another busy day, and my last day before the start of my classes. I suspect that with the start of classes, and the amount of time that I’d like to devote to studying Mandarin, my arbitrary adventures around Chinese cities will probably disappear. Today I walked down to the World Trade Complex building, a convenient 10 minute walk from my apartment that still causes me to sweat through my shirt. I met with the program director, who outlined the specifics of the Mandarin course that I’d be taking. For next couple of weeks, I will be having one-on-one instruction for 5 hours a day with a personal tutor working with me on basic pronunciation and vocabulary. The director then gave me my study books and a stack of note cards that weighed heavily in my hand, and made my brain cringe at the massive amount of knowledge that I was about to stuff it with. I couldn’t think of any substantial questions at the time of the meeting, and merely nodded. Although learning a new language seems like an extraordinary task right now, I’m very excited to get started. I feel like a school kid on the night before the first day of the new school year…as if I don’t have 3 more years of grueling formal education to live through.
After the meeting I hurried to the Guangzhou Sports University to start GZ ultimate practice/ pick up by 3. I gave myself an hour and a half, because I had scouted the GZ metro, and it seemed much more complicated than the Hong Kong equivalent. I entered at the local station, buying a new Metro Card emblazoned with pink Hello Kitties (it was the only design left) in the process. I literally stood staring at the route map for 5 minutes scratching my head like a typical lost westerner. The interchanges made no sense… Eventually I came to terms with the fact that I’d end up at the wrong place and settled for trial and error. I now know to go from Taojin station, which is on line 3, to the exchange for line 5, change trains, then change to the 5A line that splits off and goes to the Linheixi Station – my desired destination. I say I know all of this now. I spent two hours riding trains back and forth and got to the fields 30 minutes late. It’s a good thing that Ultimate Time is universal, and they were only just starting to get cleated up.
As I approached the field, the first words that I heard were howdy. Hearing English from people my age was a welcome sound, and I immediately introduced myself and started cleating up. I enjoyed the fact that there were about 3 Princeton Clockwork Orange discs at the field, and that one of the players knew Rutgers Machine. This is one of reasons I love the sport. Ultimate is still such a small community that you can travel to the other side of the word…literally, and find awesome people that play the sport and invariably have mutual acquaintances. The captain/organizer guy was an Aussie named Kwong. He was easily the most talented of the local group. He led the team through a bunch of dump, and up-line dump to continuation huck deep drills. I had to bite my tongue to not get involved with coaching the drill, as everything they did directly contrasted what I was used to in the Rutgers system. I just ran the drill, shut down people of dump D, and put up some big hucks. My highlight of the day was a great (probably gratuitous) layout grab that reopened the burn I got in Hong Kong. Eventually we got to playing pick-up. In retrospect I played greedily, and followed the disc for dishies all the way up the field. However, this mode of play eventually took it’s toll as the points started lasting longer and longer. I eventually burnt out as a result of the heat, exhaustion, and massive dehydration. The level of play was not high, so no one really minded when I started picking up and hucking…especially when it started working. I got my camera out during my brief stay on the sideline and realized I had forgot my memory card. I suck at this. Play ended with darkness, and as we decleated, I made appeals to trade for some of the awesome Chinese swag. I have people to please at home with awesome foreign ulti merch.
We went straight from the fields to a local restaurant where the first words out of my mouth were Wo yao yi ping pijiu – a phrase that I’ve practiced regularly. It simply translates to “I want 1 bottle of beer”. After that the food came out in piles, and the 7 other guys and gals dug in with a fervor. I was happy to converse in English about a variety of topics that only got more outlandish as the beer was emptied. I wasn’t surprised that Mary Jane (dipped in Codine syrup) was very popular among this crowd. I didn’t partake, but enjoyed toying with my now visibly intoxicated friends. By the end of dinner it was already 930. I asked one of the locals to point me to the closest bus, and strolled away with a decent buzz. They were going to go on to another bar, but I felt like being responsible and not getting hungover for my first day of class.
The bus stop signs were all in Chinese. Fuck. I whipped out a piece of paper that my hosts had given me with my address and tried to compare the characters on the sheet to those on the bus route sign. This was painstaking, especially because I was a little wobbly. I found the correct route, but then realized it was past 10, and the busses weren’t running regularly anymore. I had flashbacks of Freshman year at Rutgers, and being stranded at a bus station with an hour wait in the dead of night. I conceded and hailed a cab. The cabbie didn’t speak English. Fuck. So I handed him the piece of paper with my address and he didn’t know where it was. Double Fuck. I looked in my new dictionary that I fortunately had with me, and just told him to go to the Garden Hotel, which was about 5 blocks from my apartment. He nodded his apparent understanding, and took me to the wrong hotel. I shrugged, got out of the car and wandered until I found a landmark I knew and navigated home. I approached my apartment lobby sweaty, bloody from the opened layout burn and smelling of booze. Doormen don’t seem to like me when I’m in this state. I had to wave my arms in grandiose gestures that I was a guest of Lao Fung on the 29th floor. Eventually he conceded, probably out of general apathy and I was finally home. Chaos is fun. I didn’t proofread this…