Sunday, October 20, 2013

Real Talk with Xià Mù

A shot of one of the swimming beaches.
I've discovered that my balcony is the perfect perch during the wee hours of daybreak to watch an elderly Chinese neighbor of mine dance his way through a Kung Fu routine. Last Thursday at about 6:00 a.m., riding the courage of a caffeine buzz, I gave him a good old fashioned standing-o and hollered "Mess him up!" while he desecrated his phantom foe on repeat. It's a tremendously elegant art form--replete with suspended punches and kicks and deliberately slow turns and twists--and I count myself fortunate that he performs outdoors in the open for nosey observers like me. Actually, I'm quite aware it's not for my benefit, but it'd be a grievous shame for him to be without a responsive audience. Standing there applauding him, I was feeling all peaceful and smug, and I launched into that same strain of thought I've been inclined to recently, about me being a lucky guy and all. But when I turned and tried the door, the sonuvagun was locked--a surefire warning from the cosmos for me to chill out with the schmaltz. Flustered, I tried knocking, realized how moronic that was, and had to pull the old crawl-in-the-cracked-window trick. I wriggled for what seemed like an eternity, and having just aroused the awareness of the Kung Fu master, I'm sure he watched the ensemble. At least I wasn't in scanties.

Anyway, after watching the Kung Fu show in the mornings, there's sometimes hot water. The old bit about "steaming hot water from 5:00- 8:00 a.m." that's posted in the lobby downstairs is a sham. Empirically, I know this sign to be false, as I've run a half dozen experiments in the past couple'o weeks that prove otherwise. There's hot water alright, the sign should read, from 7:20 until maybe 7:45, depending on the alignment of the stars or the daily sensibilities of the doorman. Otherwise, the hot water beads and dribbles out from 7:45 until 10:00. This poses a problem for me on Thursdays, when I have to leave campus by 6:45 to make get to the med. school for the nursing gals (who are all so sweet as to meet me at the gate). All that to say, I had to follow that embarrassing scene with the Kung Fu laoshi up with a cold shower and then head off to teach nurses about American dating and romance. Talk about insult to injury.

It gets better, though. Scrolling through the e-mail inbox Friday night, I about came apart when I found a message announcing that I'm to take part in a faculty lecture series about American life and culture. "Send your lecture title and the date you plan to present to our Qingdao faculty," it reads. "I'm not into publicly humiliating myself," I considered writing back, although I've partaken in that plenty recently. This series, the e-mail later reveals, runs during both fall and spring semesters and is not optional for foreign faculty. In other words, I couldn't just ignore that I'd received it, which is what I'm inclined to do with e-mails that are too long or e-mails with dictates like "Send your lecture title." I spent the weekend gnashing my teeth. So when I went to the office and read titles like "Technology Practices in American Classrooms," "American Foreign Economic Policy," and "Christmas" on the sign-up sheet, I breathed relief. I signed up to present on "Sports in America" but then realized I'm the only sports fanatic here. I haven't changed it yet, but I'm giving serious consideration to "American Urban Art," even though I know nothing about it. Thinking maybe urban graffiti and hip-hop culture. Give me some suggestions, please, if you're there.

Only other news is that I've become a frequent patron of the nearby KTV, a karaoke joint. My singing voice is quite lousy, and the only jam I know in their selection is Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music." The good folks of Qingdao seem to think I have a gift belting out "Sweet Soul Music," and I think they are just having fun at my expense, but I can have fun at my expense, too.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Memories for Free Ninety Nine

When I walked through the entrance and surveyed the restaurant, a cozy but standing-room-only little joint in the middle of the student barrio, the only thing I remember thinking was "I'm coming for you, kung pao chicken." This was at about six o'clock on Saturday night at a happening place stuffed with a bunch of hungry college students; nothing unusual. The class monitor and another student were my escort, and while I knew they took me there to celebrate my birthday, they kept me in the dark about other specifics, so I assumed it'd be just the three of us. After all, it was a holiday weekend and I was aware that most students were going to try to make it home to be with family. So, focused only on the damage I planned to do to an order of kung pao chicken, I stayed close behind those two as they bobbed and weaved through the crowd, up a flight of stairs, and past several private parties tucked away in private rooms, thinking along the way that they were being rather managerial about scouting out a table. Finally, they halted in front of the last door. I thought at this point we'd about-face and try elsewhere for a table. They knocked though, as to announce our arrival and then pushed me into the dimly-lit room, where twenty six of their classmates crowded around a birthday cake and began crooning "Happy Birthday." It took me a moment to register what was going on because I was utterly shocked, but once I came to I felt like a bona fide dignitary, the biggest kahuna on the planet.

After the song and the blowing out of candles, I was led to the honorary seat facing the door, given one of those paper crowns to sport for the evening, and one by one each person toasted to my happiness and health. I KO'd lots of kung pao chicken, I had a cake that was gussied up with peaches and grapes, and I got to hang out for an evening with some of the sweetest people I've ever met. The only lamentable moment of the night came when several students implored me to stand up and sing them a song, and although I really gave a few Neil Diamond tracks some serious consideration, I declined. (I once sang a cappella with some American friends at a Christmas party in Spain, and I vowed afterwards never to do it again.) Anyway, when Christmas rolls around this year, maybe I'll find my friend Dolly Parton's Christmas album and she and I can duet some tunes for the class. I'll start storing up the courage.

I intended this post to be about my students' kindness instead of my surprise at the party. I've been thinking about this whole experience a lot recently and wondering what I did to deserve this--them--and there's no good answer. The good karma is pouring in for who knows what reason, and I know I better reciprocate and spread it around. Maybe I should rewatch that overdone disaster of a movie Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt made when they were relevant, Pay It Forward, for some inspiration. Then again, movies like that make me lose faith in such ideas. Only thing left to say I guess: despite the fact that twenty seven is no real feat or milestone as far as birthdays go, this was one to write home about. I'll never forget it.