So I'm sure you're all waiting with abated breadth to hear whether or not I passed the Chinese Character Challenge I agreed to set for myself, with 32 quai on the line. I ended up shelling out one quai to Robert (the third (and pesty) American English teacher in our tripartite), because, although I had memorized them all correctly, my shiao didn't have enough of a curve to the left. But it's great that I am learning how to read and write the things I'm learning to say, because I'll be able to piece meanings together pretty quickly when I get more into compound words.
Perhaps you are also wondering and waiting to find out if I have a liver! So, I still won't know for a while. The school might go pick up my medical results today. Things happen here, or they don't, and if they do, they might take a long while. Or not. It's very reminiscent of "ahorita" in Mexico... ahorita, mas tarde, pues... nunca jamas.
Right now, I am in a lovely cafe called Brown Sugar, and I hear strains of Eliades Ochoa y el cuarteto patria... that, and the knowledge that they have Go club/class and calligraphy classes here makes me swoony. Holy honeyed bee crap!-- now they've put on Summertime-- this is a classy-ass joint. A perfect corner of Western Comfort from which to clack out descriptions of My China Experience: Baby Learns to Walk Alone.
You know how, as a complete new-comer to a culture or situation, you have impressions and opinions totally uncoloured by background facts or ambient collective cultural realities? Well, I've been here for a whole week now, so I feel completely qualified to comment extensively on aspects of life here. To wit:
Beautification of Xiamen is out of control here. Are they preparing for the spill-over influx from the 2008 Olympics? Are they always this industrius with the cleaning, planting of public flower gardens, innovation with lighting and raising of buildings? Yes, skyscrapers are built in one summer. LEDs in red, green, and blue colour the entire city with a rainbow palette of subtractive combinations. Neon blends into the frenetic sparkling and smooth colour change-over wipes. Whole buildings are programmed to undulate in chromogasmic flashes like a sea-circus of well-trained planktondroids. Such innovative, creative inspiration and technical expertise are put into the multifarious street lamps. No simple sodium here! LED that up, snookums! Even the sides of roads and ramps are lit up, as they curve out over the ocean and back like rollercoaster tracks at an amusemet park. Exactly like an amusement park. Maybe a tri-county fair.
Traffic rushes along roadways with careful abandon. Are you (from California) of the opinion that Chinese (pan-Asian) drivers are road hazards? Here, just because they drive all over the all the lanes ignoring the lines, cut around bicyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and trucks with velociticious unnerving swerving and only centimeters to spare-- does not mean that they are bad drivers. Quite to the contrary... you have to be quite alert and creative to get anywhere. Same with being a pedestrian and not getting plastered. It's a skill based on confidence and follow-through, I tell you.
People, if they know you the slightest bit, will take great care with you, make sure you are comfortable, and sacrifice much to make you happy. If you are a stranger however, you will probably be totally disregarded. Pushed aside, not offered help if you are hurt, and ignored even if you are doing the most ridik-dikulous of antics, roaring drunk on a beach, say. And no one does anything unless it is explicitly in their job description. Otherwise, just keep passing that buck. Goddamn I love American references. Good thing I have you all to drivvel on while I'm in China.
Siestas. Dunno what they are called, but people take lunch from 11 to 2, during which time everyone eats and then naps. Last lunch break, I was the only one wandering around campus, poking about in a little stand of bamboo, admiring piles of over-turned pots and the resident LOL-cats. (Yes, there are LOL-cats on campus... I have pics... (and captions!)) I snuck through a hole in the wall into the streets behind campus. There I was struck by the beauty of some lotus-stem-slice-shaped bricks in a pile of trash, so I took some pictures. (Pics soon, when I get a battery recharger that won't pop and smoke when I plug it in to Chinese outlets, kthx. CHECK UR VOLTUGE, OOPS!)
Architecture: Xiamen is a bunch of books. I keep pointing it out to Mitch. Look! They're all open books and swooping pages. Even the statues, they're mostly all of people reading books, or just giant books. At dusk, the buildings settle back into the literate darkness to compose the overture of light for the nightlife. Mitch goes out and gets hit on by gaggles of gals, even the dancing girls. He says, don't fall in love with the dancing girls; they won't have any time to hang out with you.
Mitch tells me that barnacles are in the sub-phylum Crustacea, infra-class cirripedia. (Yes, goddamnit, they're arthropods, so you can all stop asking!) I've eaten infinitely less twinkies than him, as he's prolly eaten about three and I've eaten precisely none. The way the thick smoke curls out of his dragon-like muzzle--I'm citing him for nose abuse. "Sleep tight; don't let the frogs bite!" he teases me in reference to a can of spray with a picture of a frog on it... frog killer? We have long philosophical conversations on our bus rides to and from school about the nature of belief, collective unconscious, "symbology" of symbols, and linguistic evolution. He contends that the similarities between Native American and Tibetan traditions are too uncanny to be coincidental. All in all, he is a good sort of human being to be living with on a sub-tropical island in southeast Asia, just as a completely hypothetical scenario. Ah, and he doesn't entirely disgust me ;)
Today at work, the boys had fun networking their computers together while I disconsolately toyed with my spiral wood-shavings. "There's a 'find' feature on windows," Mitch gayly remarks to Robert, as I dispassionately try to find features on my wood chips. (This email has taken several stolen minutes over two days to write). *churlish toostie-stamps* It's not /fair/ that the boys get to use the computers while I wait directionless, not told what classes I'm to teach, and expected to be lesson-planning. This waiting thing that pissed me off back in Colorado... well... karma, bitches. And there has to be a word for the concept of "ahorita" in Chinese.
Chinese, back to the language study. China is Molly-crack. I look out the window and the whole world is my personal crossword puzzle, in full colour and 4-D. It's thrilling to understand at least one character on every single placard, billboard, building, street sign! The clues are everywhere, and when I figure out this esoteric, cryptological, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, edifictionary, glitzy mind-whorl, I'll be so overwhelmed with my satisfaction of achievement that I'll prolly have to light something huge on fire to fight my own blaze. And spin. And gargle. Just gargle and spin and bust into flames. Excellent, I now have a directed plan.
P.S. Today, over a hedge of small fragrant white flowers, I saw some huge bees. They were long fat elipses, black butts, bright canary-marigold middles, and brown heads, with big oval wings-- and I knew right then when I met them that I could communicate their presence with the word "feng". First tone.