Many of my friends are currently enjoying spring break. I hope everyone is having a fabulous time. Without further adieu, here are five things about China:
1. The Chinese word for road is "Lu." One of my earliest cabbie-jokes involves the word "lu." "Cabbie-jokes" are my largest category of social interaction in China. Functioning as a mute, I've developed an entire series of discreet, non-verbal, or barely verbal, interactions with people. These interactions tend to involve several hand gestures and sounds that I've perfected. For example, there is a displeased sort of smacking noise Chinese people make when something is happening that shouldn't be happening. When I catch a cab to go to my school in the morning, traffic is usually unholy in a special kind of unholy way that does not exist in cities in the United States. It amazes me that people in the U.S., a country that prides itself on automotive aptitude, know so little about what is possible when driving. For example, on an average-sized, busy street, it is in fact possible for five, sometimes even six cars to travel side by side around a corner after a light changes. It is also possible for a fleet of bicyclists to weave in and out between these cars during the same light change. While this is all going on, it is also supremely possible for an octagenarian man carrying a tin cup full of dry rice home from the local market in his pajamas to make his way across the afformentioned intersection. On rare occasions, it is also possible for a city bus to T a bicyclist at this intersection and for there to be blood on the street for several days before someone washes it off. But I digress. All these things are possible.
One "cabbie-joke" that is a favorite of mine involves a very busy street in Tianjin called "Fukang Lu." Taxi-drivers hate this street. I noticed after a month or so of being here that Fukang Lu gets really busy at about the same time each morning. My cab-drivers all start to make the smacking sound about a half a block before we arrive at Fukang Lu. So, I've started making the smacking sound along with them. Happily, the actual name "Fukang Lu" sound awfully close to an English explitive of displeasure. One of the moments in my daily life when I feel the closest connection to a Chinese person is when my taxi approaches Fukang Lu and the driver makes the smacking noise and mutters "Fukang Lu!" This muttering is my cue. I nod my head vigorously, make the smacking noise myself and then mutter "Fu**ing Lu!" along with him. He laughs, and then pats me on the back. We are together in our mutual shared experience at this moment. Last week, after this exchange with a taxi driver, the driver reached with one hand (he was driving with the other) behind his seat and pulled out a loaf of bread. As every Chinese citizen knows, Westerners eat bread constantly all day and night. It is one of our oddities, like having blue eyes and trying to force capitalism on the unwilling. The cabbie was so pleased with our feeling of togetherness that he offered me some of his bread. We ate the bread and he drove me to school. I then made exact change for him, an action that is sometimes met with an extreme degree of surprise by some taxi drivers. It is common knowledge that a bread-eating Westerner, much like a horse that has been trained to count by stomping its hoof, has only a rudimentary grasp of numbers; he may be able to give you money, but not the correct amount of money. When one of these bread-eaters does so, it is a wonder.
2. Last week I, an American, taught my Korean World History students at a public, Communist Chinese High School the five pillars of Islam while we studied the history of Islamic civilizations.
Anything is possible.
3. There are at least six or seven distinct kinds of Kim Chi. I have eaten them all.
4. If my students think the clothes I'm wearing are good, they flash me a thumbs up when I arrive to class and yell "Ben-teacher! Fashion very good today!!" This perplexes me, as I only have about five outfits I cycle through, since I could only bring two suitcases with me, and one was full of books. I will, however, miss this when I'm back teaching at KU next year. I can't imagine a jaded, Johnson County freshman who is being forced to take composition flashing me anything as positive as a thumbs up.
5. The lyrics "whisper words of wisdom" from the Beatles song "Let It Be" are difficult for Korean students to say, which is unfortunate, since this is one of their favorite songs to sing in the singing rooms at KTV karaoke centers. Even their English teachers have difficulty helping them learn how to pronounce it.