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  • Writer's pictureChoo Choo

China Chronicles: II

SUBJ: This email is brought to you by Jet Lag.

DATE: Sat, Jun 14, 2014 at 4:51 AM

Got up at 3:30am today instead of 3, so...progress?

Jet lag has been kicking my ass soundly. I no longer have control of my faculties, and spend every day floating in a waking dream, performing rote activities--eat, walk, nap, repeat--as if on autopilot. I have no say over when the exhaustion will strike, and when it does I fall into the sleep of the dead from which nothing can rouse me; not a flash thunderstorm, not the ring of LaoYie's deafening telephone, not the sonorous squawk of NaiNai's classically-trained voice box. (I know this because I have slept through all these events.)

On Thursday we spent the day with YieYie and NaiNai, first tortuously winding our way through the un-air-conditioned hell chamber that is the Ou Ya Shopping Center in search of a yoga mat for me. We kept getting rerouted by different shopping attendants along the way who clearly had no idea what they were talking about, and by the time we found the correct location we were all sweaty and exhausted. Mom tried to grab the yoga mat out of the attendant's hand while simultaneously shoving cash into it, but she was made to wait (impatiently, and she loudly voiced her impatience) while they drew up receipts and asked her to sign them and went to retrieve change (the mat cost 99 yuan; Mom gave them 100 and told them to keep the stupid dollar, but they wouldn't listen).

For lunch we went to a restaurant frequented by the grandparents, conveniently located next to their apartment. NaiNai couldn't wait to show me off as we walked into the establishment, elbows hooked, her grinning like a be-dentured Cheshire cat. We ordered a couple veggie dishes and a large fish, ate our fill, and then waited for NaiNai to finish. She ate more than all of us, tearing into that fish like a starving animal with fresh prey, dipping her vegetables into her water cup to rinse off the oil, leaving a pile of grease and fish bones around her plate. After she was done, there was a tiny bit of leftover rice in her bowl and she tried to take it home in a napkin, but we managed to dissuade her.

Bright and early Friday morning I went for a run around Nanhu Park and garnered a lot of weird stares. That's one thing about Chinese people that I've never quite been able to shake: instead of attempting to hide their curiosity so as not to appear rude, they will blatantly gape and gawk (thankfully, no one has pointed...yet) and make even the most secure person feel self-conscious. Luckily, everyone in Nanhu Park is a very slow runner, which is saying a lot because I am a slow runner. I breezed by everyone and tried to ignore their stares while dodging the tai chi-ers and the raucous "niu yang ge"-ers waving their neon-colored sashes and dancing to an erhu-heavy arrangement of Auld Lang Syne.

Back at LaoLao/LaoYie's, I was subjected to an hour of LaoYie's poetry about his dead comrades, followed by the obituary he wrote for himself (it sounds morbid, but it was just more poetry, and he wrote it a couple years ago so he'll have to change some of the dates again), followed by a long reading from a book about plum blossoms. I couldn't understand any of it, so I employed the old smile-and-nod method and he was thrilled to have an audience for his readings. (I guess that's where my penchant for reading to others comes from.)

After breakfast LaoLao and LaoYie headed off to the ElderYMCA and Mom and I bought a bunch of fruit and headed over to see Kong Wei's mother, who was dog-sitting for her daughter. The dogs were a yappy little Pekingese named Da Bao and a cockapoo named Xiao Qiu which unfortunately translates to Little Balls. Da Bao wouldn't shut up for awhile, but Little Balls and I got along famously, and she climbed into my lap and licked me all over and let me rub her belly and she was just the cutest little teddy-bear-come-to-life and I almost stole her.

I took another long nap in the afternoon and woke up to go to dinner with Mom, all the grandparents, and LaoShu/LaoSher. We ate a bunch of dumplings and went back to LaoSher's house so I could try out her piano. It was hideously, horrifically out of tune, but the action wasn't nearly as egregious as NaiNai/YieYie's piano.

I'm a little worried about this piano situation. I'm supposed to play a concert here in a week, the grandparents are inviting all of their old musically-inclined friends, LaoShu is apparently videotaping it, I haven't practiced in weeks, and the only two pianos I currently have access to are in total disrepair. Oh well. Keeps life interesting.

SUBJ: Pre-breakfast musings

DATE: Tue, Jun 17, 2014 at 8:03 AM

I am lying on my yoga mat in LaoLao/LaoYie's living room, watching the last fifteen minutes of the US/Ghana match, laboriously tapping this out on my phone. (I'm gonna call it right now--I don't think anyone is gonna score again.) Since no one here uses their air conditioners, I am in a state of constant stickiness. The sweat just flows and then sticks to my body and I spend my days stickily prying myself off one surface after the next, trying to ignore the ever-present urge to shower. I was wrong. Ghana just scored and tied the game. This is why I'm not a betting man. The rampant pollution, terrible driving, and rude populace are starting to wear thin. You haven't lived until you've seen cab drivers swarm on a roundabout like ants on a lollipop, trying their damnedest to turn a three-lane road into five, and to hell with any brave, foolish pedestrians who try to get in their way. Wow! The US just scored. I am very bad at this. Yesterday we went to lunch with a few of Mom and Dad's old childhood friends. There was Ming Da Yie, who has an acute respiratory condition and has to use an oxygen tank, but still smokes cigarettes because I don't really know why anyone would do that. I don't remember anyone else's name: there was The Guy With A Giant Canon SLR Camera And Kept Taking Pictures, The Guy With The Cute Grandkid, and The Chubby Guy Whose Eyes Looked Like They Had Been Stung By Bees. I ate a lot of food. Game's over; go USA. Not long after we had lunch, we went to dinner with the Hu side of the family. Chinese burritos are so delicious. I ate six. I don't know where this appetite came from, but I still could have eaten more if pressed. I think it's because I don't eat meat and there's no dairy in any of the food here, so with the exception of eggs I've basically been a vegan this whole time. Later this afternoon Mom and I are flying to Zhengzhou to visit Teacher Sun for a couple days. It is supposed to be incredibly hot over there. I fervently hope that they have air conditioning. Thus continues my Song of Sweat and Stickiness.

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