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October 31st 2009
Published: November 4th 2009
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Halloween definitely did not feel at all like a holiday being in China this year. We taught our students about it for the two weeks leading up to it and they seemed to have some fun, but it is a pretty weird holiday to explain to foreign people- "Oh yeah, we dress up in creepy costumes and encourage children to demand candy from strangers!" Hmm. I can see why my students looked at me in confusion.

As it was just another day on the trip for us, we woke up yet again at 7am and went downstairs for the standard hotel buffet breakfast. It was fancy, delicious and we definitely were full by the end of it. We ended up sitting with another older Chinese couple (not in our group) at breakfast and they immediately tried talking to us in Chinese. I shrugged and said "I don't understand" in Chinese which set them off laughing, as it usually does. I swear, when we come back I'll be immune to people laughing at me.

We gathered all our stuff and took the same boat trip in reverse- this time it was even rockier, and I couldn't fall asleep so I was forced to sit up very straight in order to see out the window in order to not feel sick. Ugh. Once on the other side, we loaded back onto our same tour bus and proceeded to drive for a few more hours. This time we were headed to Shaoxing, another city nearby Ningbo and Hangzhou.

Right before lunch, we stopped in Xikou and visited the former residence of Chiang Kai-shek, a former President of Taiwan. It was interesting, but I'm sure more meaningful for the Chinese teachers on our trip. We felt a little silly not knowing who he was and had trouble reading the poorly written English signs as we were whisked through the tour. Xikou is known for taro, a potato-like food that we've come to know and love in China, and it was cool to see it being sold by street vendors everywhere. We ate lunch family-style again at a nearby restaurant and were served a plate of fresh taro. Mmm.

Next, we stopped in the town of Shaoxing and visited the former resident of Lu Xun, a well-known writer in China. Once again, it probably would have been more interesting if we'd known who he was before we went there and had some more English signs, but it was still pretty and a fun sight to see. Chou doufu (stinky tofu) was sold all over the place here and we finally got to both try it. You can look it up on wikipedia, but basically it's a fermented tofu that has a VERY strong smell. Westerners are usually turned off by the smell, but Chinese people love it as a snack and it's sold many places by street vendors. For once in my life, I liked something that made Martin want to vomit! It's served with a bit of a spicy sauce and actually quite delicious once you ignore the smell. 😊

After Lu Xun's residence it was dinner time. We initially went to one restaurant and although we never got any translations of what was going on, it appeared that we had arrived late and they were much too crowded. Our tour guides proceeded to get in a yelling match with one of the restaurant workers (you never know if they're mad...Chinese people always yell) while some female teachers in our group stood around and practiced yoga poses. It was classic. After about 15 minutes, I guess our group accepted the defeat and we loaded back onto the bus to drive to a nearby restaurant. This time we were served some local red wine which was surprisingly tasty and stinky tofu was one of the main dishes served.

We'd been told we were going to a show after dinner, and then to the hotel. We walked into the show area where there was a small outdoor stage area and Chinese people completely packed in. Martin and I would have been happy to stand at the back, especially given the fact that we knew we wouldn't understand much of what was happening, but the other teachers insisted on giving us chairs right near the front. Oh, joy. The show started, and it appeared to be a mix of opera, improv and comedy. We happily watched for awhile, and then the always dreaded thing happened. Chinese people love to ask you to do things on the spot. They think nothing of saying "Will you sing a song now?" and you know it's not really a question. You can't say no. You WILL sing a song. "Maybe you will do this?" Maybe is the favorite word of all Chinese people. Maybe, maybe, maybe. The host was talking in Chinese, everyone was laughing and suddenly everyone was pointing at us, shouting "laowai!" (foreigner) and pushing at Martin to join the host on stage. I shrunk back, in no mood at all to be laughed at on stage. One of the teacher's daughters who had joined us on the trip and spoke English went up with him to help translate, as the host didn't speak English. It was pretty much a solid 10 minutes of us foreigners getting laughed at and not really understanding what was going on, but luckily Martin is patient and took it all in stride. When asked for his name, Martin got a big laugh out of the crowd by simply saying "Big Man!" When asked what his wife's name was he responded with "Beautiful!"

I love China. Don't get me wrong, I think there are some amazing things about it. However, this is the one thing that I will never get used to, and the one thing that could stop China from becoming a huge world powerhouse. Their people are not at all used to foreigners. We're not exaggerating when we talk about how much we get stared at, pointed at, how often the Chinese words for 'foreigner' are shouted in our direction. The most interesting part to me is that the Chinese also really HATE 'losing face'. You do not tell someone outright that they made a mistake. You use words like maybe, you talk about it in private with them, or MAYBE you never say anything at all. Why then, is making fun of foreigners completely acceptable?!

End rant. Again, I didn't have to go on stage, and Martin is lovely with those sorts of things, no matter how overwhelmed he also was by the situation. The host proceeded to butcher the 'ABC song' and then the show continued without too much excitement.

It ended after an hour, and we headed to yet another ridiculously fancy hotel. This one also had HBO, so we enjoyed the movie "License to Wed" and went to sleep in more comfortable beds. 😊


4th November 2009

Interesting about the taro---there are taro fields in Kuwai that we walked thru---maybe M will remember. Uncle l changed his shorts there ha ha. Also the book that politicisized me was Nation of Sheep about the overthrough of Chiang Kai-shek---you might enjoy it---same author as The Ugly American.

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