Saturday, October 18, 2008

Last night was the best night I have had so far in China. Now I realize that doesn't mean much because we usually do nothing but sit around and watch movies at night, but even so, last night was amazing, incredible and ridiculous. After a long day of classes, I was looking forward to going out to dinner with Peter and Li Zhao, whom we had invited out to a Korean barbecue restaurant. Karrin and Nick had been there once before, but for Olivia and I it was the first time. It is similar to a hot pot restaurant, in that there is a central cooking area in the middle of the table and the meat is brought to the table raw and prepared in front of you. Peter ordered for us and we had pork, beef, calamari and vegetables. The food is cooked, then dipped in a variety of sauces and then wrapped in lettuce and eaten in one, big bite. Peter explained that in Korea it is a tradition to feed your good friends. So as yet another attempt to experience something new, we took turns feeding each other. It was fun. And strange.

It was a delicious and lighter alternative to the greasy, fried food we have become accustomed to eating here. Of course, with a dinner like this comes a great deal of beer. What starts as six bottles usually progresses to twenty-six, and before we know it everyone is singling and laughing, followed by a plethora of stares from onlookers. About fifteen beers in, we decided to give Li Zhao an English name. While Nick was adamant about "Thomas," he was outvoted by us girls, who felt that such a beautiful personality, such as Li Zhao's, deserves something a little more exquisite. So we went with "Elvis" and decided his full name was "Elvis Thomas Li." He was ecstatic and we heard about it the rest of the night. We'll see if he remembers it two days from now...

Towards the end of the meal, it was somehow or other suggested that we go to KTV. In case it has not been explained, KTV means karaoke. However karaoke is quite different here than in the U.S., we learned. In the U.S. it is typically done in bars, where an unfortunate and usually intoxicated soul comes to the incoherent decision to sing Celine Dion or Shania Twain to a group of mocking strangers. Here, however, KTV is done in a private room, just you and your friends. This surprised me very much because we have all noticed that Chinese people love to sing. We constantly catch people singing and they never seem embarrassed about it. Our students, almost on a daily basis, ask us to sing. We have even been asked to sing at the upcoming freshman showcase party. It seems to be a singing culture.

We walked into the building and it looked like a cheesy hotel from the seventies, with neon lights everywhere and psychedelic wallpaper. "Where am I?" I ask myself. "Ahh, yes, China," the answer I so often find myself remembering. Once inside the building, you are brought to a small room which contains a computer, two microphones, a screen for the music videos and couches. Almost immediately we were brought more beer and interestingly enough, kettle corn, which was a pleasant surprise. The majority of the songs were in Chinese but we were able to locate a rather random list of English songs from the selections. These were the English songs offered:
1. Fergalicious - Fergie
2. It's My Life - Bon Jovi
3. Beat It - Michael Jackson
4. Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
5. Butterfly - Mariah Carey
6. White Flag - Dido
7. Bailamos - Enrique Iglesias
8. Burn - Usher
9. Stop - Spice Girls

Of course, we sang them all. It was funny to see what had been designated as "American" music. We sang horribly, danced clumsily and a few of us sat on the couch unable to move (won't mention names, you know who you are...) Peter and Li Zhao also sang some Chinese songs, which we could not recognize or understood, but still enjoyed witnessing. It was truly a sight to see. Before we knew it, it was time to leave.

Just when we thought it was going to end, Peter suggested we get more beer. He disappeared for a few minutes and came back with about twenty large bottles and two bags of spicy peanuts. Li Zhao proceeded to open about six bottles using only chopsticks to pry off the cap. We thought this was so miraculous and encouraged him to keep going. He continued to open more and more bottles, none of which got drank. Next it was suggested that we go take a walk on the track, an area frequented by students at this time of night. So with beers and bowls of peanuts in hand, we headed out. On the way however, I began to feel tired and decided to head back with Karrin. The rest of the group walked the track and soon retired to their own rooms. It was over.

I woke up the next morning around eight to the sound of the badminton tournament outside my window. Not only were there many, MANY students outside, but there were also cheerleaders. Yes, badminton cheerleaders, shouting "ji yo!" at the top of their lungs. "Ji yo" literally translates to "add oil" or "add fuel" but is considered the English equivalent of saying "common!" or "let's go!" Who needs an alarm clock when you can have screaming cheerleaders at eight a.m.? I pulled myself out of bed, realizing my students would be here to cook dumplings in only a few hours. I felt like a high schooler who had thrown a party and had only a few hours to clean before their parents came home from their weekend vacation. The remnants of last night still lingered, and the did not smell good. As much as I wanted to crawl back in bed, it was time to mop, scrub, rinse and wash.

Looking back on the night, it's hard for me to explain what was so amazing about it. First, I think it was really exciting for us to finally see Peter and Li Zhao let loose a bit. We are used to seeing them in their business suits, typing away at their computers and disciplining students. We learned last night that they can party just as hard as anyone else. Secondly, I realize this blog entry isn't especially profound or insightful, but I still value these experiences in China just as much as I value my experiences in the classroom, my time at the Shanghai Art Museum, or my cooking lessons with my students. It is moments like these that connect us on such a simple level. We some times have communication barriers with Li Zhao and sometimes we don't always understand exactly what Peter expects from us as teachers, but last night all of those obstacles seemed to disappear. No, not just because we all had a few too many. It was much more complex than that. It was the first time we let down our guards and were not concerned with "losing face."

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