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  • Writer's pictureChoo Choo

China Chronicles: III

I have been to hell, and it is a Chinese classical music concert. Despite Teacher Sun's best efforts to add a pre-concert (and mid-concert) disclaimer to the tune of, "If you have young children who can't sit still during the performance, please remove them from the auditorium or preferably the Earth; [he didn't actually say that last part but that was pretty much the subtext]; don't use flash photography, cell phones off, etc", it was all in vain, and as soon as the music started the little kids started squirming in their chairs, giggling, running up and down the halls, entering and exiting willy-nilly.

The adults weren't any better. The people sitting directly before and behind me carried on conversations in audible mutters. Flash photography still happened, and often. Every few seconds the music was interspersed with the dissonant, digital peal of text tones. The girl sitting on my right spent the entire concert playing 2048 on her blinding, tablet-sized phone. During one of the quietest moments of the Liszt b minor sonata, a cell phone started ringing and no one bothered to silence it. I felt sad, and angry, and helpless.

Zhengzhou is a hell unto itself. A combination of desert and swampland, where the heat bakes you dry, then the humidity leaves you standing in a puddle of your own tepid condensation. We saw no sunlight during our two-day stay. A thick gray smog blanketed the sky, raining upon the cars, the trees, the people. A city consumed by dust. It clouded our vision and left us running to the shelter of our hotel room. There, we found respite from the heat and the smog, but not the mosquitoes.

They were everywhere, mean, skinny things, and damn near silent. They crept into bed with me and left swollen welts the size of half-dollars on my arms and back. I counted eight.

The only sun we saw was a distant orb, wrought of blood and fire, shimmering in the blank gray sky like a burning moon. It hung over the campus of SIAS University, a constant reminder that man's arrogance could only last for so long.

And what a monument to man's arrogance that campus was! Giant and sprawling, the size of a middling town, a confusing architectural free-for-all of palatial stone towers commingling with modern structures of glass and steel. One minute you were walking through a courtyard reminiscent of Moscow's Red Square, the next you were in front of the tinted green-glass construction of the indoor swimming pool. Perfectly trimmed box hedges lined all the roads, and if you weren't careful you'd find yourself in a secluded garden with willows gently brushing your cheeks and beautiful jade green lakes that, if you took a closer look, were stagnant and murky and rife with flies. A strange Coliseum wrapped around the athletic field. Several streets away stood a row of Corinthian columns that formed a perfect circle around nothing in particular, each column topped with an identical trumpeting angel. Waterfalls cascaded over manmade rock formations. A set of synchronized water jets that rivaled the fountains at the Bellagio spewed symmetrical streams twenty feet into the air. Flowers of every shape and color adorned the lush green lawns. Where did all this water come from? We were in a desert.

The flight back to Changchun nearly snapped my last nerve in terms of Chinese social customs. The pushing and shoving, even when there was nowhere to be pushed or shoved, the disregard for personal space, the lack of compassion. No one says please or thank you. No one smiles. Everyone fights--fights to be the first in line, the first one in their seats, the first off the plane. Hordes of impatient, unsmiling, impolite savages all simultaneously converging upon a tiny airplane door.

I had the wonderful luck of being assigned a middle seat. When I reached my row, there was a middle-aged man sitting in the aisle seat, so I gestured that I was to be next to him, thinking he would get up and let me in. He didn't move. Figuring maybe he hadn't heard, I repeated myself. He gave me a look as if I were deaf and dumb, then rolled his eyes and jerked his head the slightest bit in the direction of my seat.

Then I understood. He wasn't going to get up. He expected me to squeeze my way past him in order to reach my seat. I uttered a laugh of disbelief, but there was nothing I could do except squeeze through. The guy who took the window seat had to squeeze past both of us. (I would have gotten up, of course, but there was no way of doing that since the man in the aisle was clearly not going to budge.)

Aisle Man continued to give me trouble throughout the flight. He fell asleep almost immediately, but domineered the armrest the whole time and stuck his leg out into my space. Sometimes his head would droop over into my section as well, so I had to squish towards the window. When the in-flight meal arrived, he ate quickily and noisily and belched until he fell asleep again.

Window Man wasn't much better. Sure, he wasn't as rude, but he had a huge SLR camera with him, twice the size of his head, and he took pictures out the window. The. Entire. Time. Click, click, click, the duration of the flight, and there was absolutely no view to speak of, nothing to film! The majority of the flight we were just floating in a great gray void. But he kept on clicking away.

By the time we landed, an hour behind schedule, I desperately needed to pee and the mob swarming to get off the plane was crushing my already dampened spirits. A dinner of chive and egg dumplings with LaoYie's homemade gyoza wrappers followed by a lengthy recitation by LaoYie of his poetry was just what the doctor ordered.

Rude people are the worst. Dumplings are the best.

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