Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Would it annoy you if your electronic safe played half the McDonald's tune every time you opened it?

Well it annoys me.

I spent the better part of the day sitting in my office eating cookies. The first were some chocolate sandwich cookies that looked interesting but ended up being some sort of salt free Ritz Cracker with a relatively flavorless fudge filling. Having been let down by those I went back down to the convenience store and went for the hard stuff – Chinese chocolate-filled Oreos. No fooling around anymore.

I didn’t think there was much potential for a story today but as always, things come along to make the day more interesting than it initially promised. Aside from the cookies, work was work. I made a little more headway buying down my meal card with four bottles of water and six more Dove bars (plus the aforementioned pastries) but I’m still looking at a solid $20 left to go. More water and more chocolate tomorrow, my last day in the office before I head back to the US.

The trips to and from work today were brightened by my conversations with Mr. Jiang. On the morning route I was able to fashion the tale of how I first came to Dalian in 2006 and when I did, all the land around the factory was still farms and villages. I told him about our walk down the dirt road that would eventually become this broad boulevard and how the farmers came out of their houses to stare at the Americans who suddenly appeared in their neighborhood. I related how they waved and yelled, “Mei guo ren” and how they thought that we must be slow-witted for being out there in the middle of nowhere wandering around. I think though that the joke was on them though, because the farms are long gone and they’re now living in high rises in town watching television and taking showers in hot water. Mr. Jiang thought about this for a few seconds and then burst out laughing; apparently my attempt at getting the humorous tale across was a success.

On the way home tonight we passed a cart being pulled by one donkey and ponying a second. They looked pretty old and tired, being in the middle of an early summer shedding, but in general they looked well fed. I asked Mr. Jiang for the correct name, “Lu” and just for grins I asked him if he liked donkey meat. He lit up and said “Oh yes, it’s my favorite.” Pressing the topic I tried out the word for deer, which is also “Lu” but in the 4th tone instead of the 2nd tone with an umlaut as it is for donkey. I’ve heard more than once how westerners have gone to a restaurant and ordered venison and received the equine version instead.

Mr. Jiang informed me that deer was his second favorite and then went down the list – donkey, then deer, then beef, and then chicken. Pork he said, well actually he said “Pigguh” was very bad. He doesn’t like it at all. A bit of a surprise to me given how common it is here, but I guess it’s no different than people everywhere – some things they like and some things they don’t.

Having said goodbye to him, I went in my building and caught the elevator. There was a couple already on-board having come up from the garage that I think is under the building. Just as the door was closing, two more women jumped on. One Chinese and the other a short, 20-something blond westerner.

Encountering people over here from my side of the globe is always an open-ended situation. On the one hand, some will make a small gesture simply because it’s nice to see a fellow traveler. On the other, some will ignore you simply because they’re too cool to give into the former. This one unplugged her iPod and stared straight ahead. The tension was a bit thick as we ascended.

The couple got off somewhere around 8 and the Chinese woman got off at 22 leaving us alone. I figured I’d have some fun so I took off my sunglasses, slowly folded them and tucked them in my collar and said, “All this time I thought I was the only one.” She laughed nervously and replied that often it feels just that way. We exchanged home ports – she was from Canada – and told me that she was from western Canada when I replied that Ontario was my family home. We arrived at my floor and much to my surprise she got off in front of me. I told her that this was even odder, living on the same floor and she laughed and said no, she’s a tutor; this is not where she lives. It got a bit stranger yet when she turned towards my door and I suddenly figured out that she was the tutor to the children that live right next door to me. I gave her my name and she told me that hers was “Abigail” and we said goodbye. Funny, the only real conversation I’ve had with a westerner outside of my fellow workers and it happens in my elevator.

For dinner I went over to Matt and Kris’ and we sat out back on their patio while they watered the newly planted grass in their backyard, all under the amused watchfulness of the neighborhood Chinese walking down the back street. They stop, press their faces against the wrought iron fence and observe the foreigners doing foreign things in the Westerner Living History Museum. I wave and say “Ni hao” and they smile and reply in kind. I guess I now know how the residents of Williamsburg feel.

As it was getting dark some drumming started up at the park down the block. We decided to walk down and watch the Fan Dance that is held every evening. Strolling is a pretty common thing here in the evenings, especially before it gets stinking hot. You pass young women walking hand in hand, couples chatting about the day and grandmas out in their purple, red or green silk pajamas. Tonight the street and park were loaded with them as it was a wonderfully clear and balmy night without a hint of smog for a change.

The music level at the park was quite loud, the drums being supplemented by a pair of high pitched squeaky horns. On a broad plaza, a hundred or more women were lined up in long columns, each holding a brightly colored feather fan. As the music blared, the women moved forward, doing a sort of two-step line dance. Some added more flourish than others, many kept their motions simple. I took some photos and a couple of videos and just watch, mesmerized. They went from one end of the plaza to the other where the leads of the columns split to the left or the right, half reversing up the outside of the pack and half doing the same up the middle. This continued on and on until I’d finally just had enough of watching it. As we left the park the music continued, once again reduced to the rhythmic beating of the drums.

I bid adieu to my party outside the gates to their complex and started my walk home. I’ve found as new route that goes straight through a gated community from their place to the back of my building running up the slight hill through rows of apartment blocks on one side of the street and a couple of schools on the other. Tonight it was almost silent, for once you could not hear the traffic from my normally busy route home. The street was barely lit by a few lamps which cast big yellow circles on the street between the trees. At one small intersection I could hear Chinese music playing up above me from one of the apartments. A tiny bat flitted through the trees, picking off insects attracted to the light.

Approaching the end of the gated portion of the street I walked slowly to watch three women doing Tai Chi under a streetlamp. One stopped and watched while the other two, tiny and elderly and dressed in white and purple silk pajamas, slowly and precisely went through the motions. The moment was dreamlike.







stick this little bit of filler in here.

(Sorry for the so-so nature of the photos, I had to go to the maximum ISO to avoid using the flash. The blurriness might actually convey the moment fairly well)



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