Monday, September 7, 2009

Let me tell you a story

A story called, "My 900 coworkers and I went to a Teachers' Day Banquet and all I got was this mini stair-stepper machine."

But yeah, I won a stair-stepper machine! For all of you thinking of buying one, some thoughts:
  1. It may be difficult to find on the shelf of your local fitness shop, because the box it came in looks like this:
  2. The piece of blue carpet is included, so you don't need to worry about damaging your floors.
  3. It is literally the worst exercise product I have ever used.
But now we have one in our apartment. Gus and I are also looking to get a chin-up bar, so the next time you see us we will have toned thighs, huge biceps, and distended stomachs from the lack of nutrients in our Chinese diet.

(btdubs, the Wikipedia article on abdominal distension [yes, I fact check all my posts on wikipedia] says that distension "may be a sign of many other conditions" and two of the conditions it lists are "weight gain" and "pregnancy".)

So yeah, in another sign that being a teacher in China is much more glamorous than being a teacher in the U.S., we had a huge teachers' day banquet last night. As is the case with all Chinese formal events, it opened with a Synchronized Pseudo-Militaristic Spectacle, viz., in our case, 80+ waitresses wearing Qing dynasty costumes, bearing trays of whole roast pig, processing briskly through the banquet hall as orchestral music roared in the background. We were sitting at the edge of the room, so we could see that there was literally a guy with a walkee-talkee in the back yelling "Go! Go! Go!' when it was time for the banquet to begin.

As for the dinner, it was mostly delicious, but also confusing.

If it were just that people in China spoke a different language, dayenu.

If it were just that Chinese banquets were also governed by baroque rules of politeness, dayenu.

If it were just that we had to navigate those rules with people who were much older than us and whose statuses were consequently much higher, dayenu.

But in China, it's never enough! For one, the baroque ruleset includes rules for alcohol. Everyone had wine, but you're not allowed to drink it unless you're toasting someone or being toasted yourself. So people grab their wine glass and go around from table to table, toasting the other guests so they can drink their wine themselves. Our boss was sitting at our table (naturally), and he (naturally) felt like it was his bossly duty to have the Americans drink as much as possible, so he had us play a game which I assume is called "let's see how many times we can fill up our glasses with wine and toast each other and then finish the glasses in a single gulp before we have to call the waiter and ask him to bring us another carafe." Unlike the drinking games that I absolutely didn't play in college, Mom, the winner of this game is No One.

Lisa also took us to toast the head principal of the school, and when we came to his table, he said to us, in English, "Hello! OK! Thank you!" and then drank his wine and sat down.
Before the banquet, we also got to look at the food emporium in the lobby. We did the standard "gawk at strange foreign food" thing. We saw a plate of these things
which were labeled 鸡子 (chicken offspring/children/-lets). When we asked what they were, the guy said that they were rooster eggs, and when Gus noted that roosters didn't have eggs, the guy smiled and said that they had 2. And then all the people behind the counter laughed and laughed.

Gus and I wore collared shirts and slacks, which I thought at first would be too informal, but we met a guy there in jean cutoffs. So the dress code was fairly loose. Gus joked with him that we were going to cut our pants, and then I said, "yeah, 我们应该试一下" (yeah, we should try that), and then the guy laughed and laughed. This is how I knew I said something incorrectly, because otherwise I never make Chinese people laugh.

[I think that the problem is the use of "一下", which is colloquially used to complement actions which are quick and informal, which might not apply to cutting off the legs of one's pants. Chinese speakers?]

Also, yesterday I told Gristle that I was born in April, and he said that I didn't seem like a Aries because they're usually talkative and I'm so shy. I should have said, "well, I'm just focusing on getting listening practice at this point, and whenever I speak in Chinese you interrupt me because you get impatient, which is why I don't speak that often, plus you'd seem shy in America too, because you don't speak English", but actually I looked at my plate and said nothing.