Thanksgiving weekend started with me heading to the Chengde train station at 7 AM to get a sleeper ticket. Apparently they only sell hard seats 3 days prior to the traveling date and sleeper tickets the day of, and there was NO way I was taking a hard seat on the hell train to Shizzy for 13 hours again. After exiting my cab (where I had a lovely conversation in Chinese with my female cab driver that I was American, speak English, that it's cold outside and she even knew how to say "red" in English, which she enunciated beautifully as she pointed at the green light we were passing under) I found the area outside the station fairly gloomy and devoid of action as well as covered with frozen loogies. This is the part of the story where my life as a quadriplegic in China flashes before my eyes as I skate gingerly up to the ticket office. I brace myself for severe confusion and utter disappointment as I approach the ticket window because this woman is notorious in the foreign community for being less than helpful, however it was the easiest purchase I've made in China thus far. Perfecting my pronunciation of Shijiazhuang, jintian (today) and ruowo (soft sleeper) coupled with me pointing to the word in my dictionary and acting like I was sleeping on my hands proved to be exceptionally helpful.
Fast forward to my favorite class that day (I figure I somehow have said very little about my actual job here, so I'll throw this in). It's my Wednesday 4 o'clock English Nursing class with juniors. All girls, all really smart, all adorable. The previous class I had given them the assignment of bringing something for show and tell this week. Many of my students in other classes had forgotten, but these girls? Heck no, they've got their act together. There were only about 10 of them there that day (which happens sometimes, I've learned not to take offence. Oral English class is their easiest and the least of their worries so sometimes they take the time to study physics or anatomy instead.) so we just made a cozy little circle to present in. I went first by showing off my sweet sweet 12 inch Apple Power Book with a little photo montage of my friends and family back home. (The first class I showed the slideshow to got really excited when they saw a picture of my family from graduation...
them: "oh your mother is so beautiful, she looks so young!"
me: "thanks, I hope I look that good at 48"
them: "is she Chinese?"
me:"........ do I look Chinese?"
them: " no" (laughter)
me: "*sigh*, no, my mom's not Chinese, she's just extremely Italian")
After revealing such odd traditions as street painting, Drake Relays and my family's ability to contort their faces into unrecognizable, demon-like expressions my students showed off their "show and tell" items. First was Cindy. She brought in her copy of "Tuesdays with Morrie", which she described as being a book everyone should read because it has such a great attitude towards life. Another girl brought a necklace her older brother purchased for her in Beijing. Another, her long distance boyfriend's military watch complete with compass. My favorite was Selina (she named herself after her favorite singer of the girl band S.H.E. which incidentally, is also my favorite Chinese band). She brought in a scarf her father had given her mother, which her mom had now given to her. When I asked her if she'd give it to her daughter, if she has one in the future, she said before laughing, "no, I like it very much. Why would I give it to her?" Oh man, I love these girls. They're all really smart and pretty frequently their sense of humor comes out too.
My second class of the evening was my giant lecture hall full of about 80 freshman except this time there were more like 120 of them. Why you ask? Because my reputation as the most exciting teacher on campus has spread like wild fire throughout the freshman class? No. Because I was showing the movie "Shrek". I could only find a copy in Chinese though, so they were all laughing while I tried to remember what Donkey says at that particular moment. And don't worry, I'm not slacking on my English teaching, it's because we had just talked about fairy tales in the previous class. Anyway, who knew that you could do a Scottish accent in Chinese?
I got on my 10:58 PM train to Shijiazhuang just fine though after I told the men I was sharing my sleeper cabin with that I didn't understand much Chinese they proceeded to be really inconspicuous by staring at me as they talked for the next 5 minutes... but I'm sure they were just talking about Yao Ming. Got to the Shizzy on Thursday morning and navigated my way to Brandon's university all by myself (pat on the back) and of course, made a new boyfriend of my cab driver. He was really excited to point at the bus and say "bus" and the cars and say "taxi" and the creepy building to our right, across from the nuclear power plant and say "jail" with his wrists pinned together with imaginary hand cuffs. Walking into Brandon's morning class to get his keys to his apartment was fun. I was applauded. Apparently being the girlfriend or boyfriend of a student's foreign teacher makes you instantly famous too because they all knew my name.
Anyway the rest of our Thanksgiving in Shijiazhuang was pretty un-Thanksgiving like. Some of us met up at Catharine's apartment and had a few beers as we waited for Laura to finish highlighting her hair with some fancy dye shipped over from the States. We happily stumbled to a Chinese restaurant down the street and had the kind of meal we have every other day we're here but didn't mind that much because at least we could keep toasting what we were thankful for.
Friday I sat around all day and slept/watched movies while Brandon had class. Ha ha, I don't have Friday classes! For dinner we went to a hotel where "they" (I don't know who they are) threw a little foreigner's banquette. I got to see the rest of the foreigners teaching in Shijiazhuang I know that I haven't gotten to see yet since I've been here. We also played a really fun game called "pass around the flower until the music stops and then stand up and show us something" (was the exact name the hostess gave). We then went off to the McPonald's Bar right next to McDonalds... it's a pretty nice place. I enjoyed myself.
Saturday was the real Thanksgiving. Brandon and I met the girls at the train station. Andrea went with Laura, Cathy Lee came with us, which, I might add, was the better choice seeing as how we immediately went and got McDonald's breakfast. Not quite the same as in the States but still quite satisfying. Went back to Brandon's to cook our food and get ready to go to Matt and Julie's which is where the festivities would be held. Boiling potatoes and showering soon finished becoming waiting for the Canooks from the school next to Brandon's and taking pulls off our hosts new bottle of Bailey's... mmm... So apparently it takes Canadian men longer to shower and get ready than it does me. I don't know if it's because the general cooler climate slows down their body's metabolism like a sloth or what, but I suppose I got a taste of my own medicine. Blah blah blah, we got to Matt and Julie's, finished cooking our dishes and ate. It should be mentioned that because supplies were limited for cooking "Western style" food we ended up eating a lot of potatoes. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, potato soup, potatoes with veggies, two kinds of stuffing, a tiny can of turkey, canned cranberry sauce someones loving family mailed them and fruit salad. I also bought a single 8 kuai bottle of Corona for myself to celebrate. I met some new foreigners, some lovely, some odd. Eloise et Pierre are French teachers so I got to practice my French (aka tell them my name in French, also that I like cheese). Pierre's actually from Lyon where Katie's studying right now so that was pretty cool. After dinning and chatting a bit, we all picked up and went to the Joy Fun Bar in the People's Park downtown. This place was awesome. I guess they have a live band almost every night, but on this particular night they had a Filipino cover band. For serious they looked like the Black Eyes Peas dressed in traditional Filipino costumes and the girl singing definitely gave Fergie a run for her money. They played everything from Don't Phunk With My Heart to Jump Up by House of Pain. Aubrey got on stage and helped sing and Andrea and Cathy Lee joined in later. Good times.
The next day was met with mixed emotions. First I was on cloud nine as I ate Pizza Hut surrounded by Christmas music and decorations. Even the wait staff wore stupid little red vests and hats complete with white fur trim. The good times kept rolling as we bought tickets to see Harry Potter at the theater across the street, however, tragedy stuck when we walked into the cinema and saw Hermione speaking in a horrible, disgusting, foul tongue... not cute and British, but ghastly and Chinese. I almost cried. Surely we will be able to see the true Goblet of Fire clean and unfettered in Beijing, however my heart aches at the time it must wait to beat lively once more at the sight of an international Quiddich game.
ps - after three months I decided it was about time I cleaned myself up with a bit of a trim. I am now the proud owner of a true Chinese shag hair cut. You see, they don't use real scissors to cut hair. They use thinning shears. So not a single strand of my hair is the same length as the other. My barber asked if I wanted the back of my hair to be cut in the shape of a "v" as it is so very popular with the young ladies now a days. I declined and handed him the real pair of scissors he had and after cutting into my hair for a moment or two, he simply gave up and went back to the only thing he knows... making my hair as flat and straight as possible. Chinese women, and men for that matter, have very thick wiry hair that they cut to try to look like what mine looks like on a regular basis. He had no idea what to do with me... so I look like my hair was cut with a weed whacker. Mom, Aunt Donna, Aunt Connie... feel free to tell Lisa she's got quite a job when I return.