Sunday, September 27, 2009

One Down

[you should skip this first part if you're just looking for another funny Gristle story.]

As in "one month down", not 1-Down in Saturday's New York Times crossword ("In relation to" [7 letters]: VISAVIS).

Today is my one-month anniversary of having arrived in Guangzhou. [I had a joke in here about what might normally happen on a one-month anniversary, but then I remembered that my grandma reads this blog (hi, Grandma Joan! We should skype soon!), so I cut it because it wasn't family-friendly.] I already feel like I've been here forever. I know how to take the bus. I know how take the subway. I'm learning Cantonese and teaching English and trying to relearn dusty Mandarin in my spare time. I have a routine.

Also, I've forgotten what it's like to live in a world full of English speakers who do not revere me, as opposed to a world of Chinese speakers who do.

But I almost can't imagine that I'll be here at least 10 more months, and probably for a year after that, because I think about home and Princeton every day, and even though I think about them all the time I can't go back because I have to stay here, in China. And in my free time I look for people that will hire me after I leave China, because even then I can't go back, and I need a job so that I can feed myself, and hopefully at least one other person, and then I'll do more jobs, and hopefully I'll be happy, and then I'll die.


So what have I learned in my time here? I've learned (let's take a u-turn towards Happytown Heights, population me) that going out with Gristle is always an adventure:

This morning while Gus and I were at dim sum with the Yale in China people, Gus got a text from Gristle asking if we'd like to have dinner with him and a friend. We said that this sounded fine. Surely there's no way to misunderstand "have dinner with him and a friend." Surely this means that we would all go to a restaurant together, like it normally does when people say that they'd like to have dinner.

Proverbs for Paranoids (in China), 2: Sometimes it doesn't mean that, and don't call me Surely.

So actually what happened was that we met Gristle, and then he told us that we weren't going to a restaurant, we were going to the friend's apartment to eat dinner. Because she had purchased a new American pot, and she wanted to show us how to cook with it.

Still basically fine. We are still basically in normalville.

Until we get to the apartment and it's not an apartment but actually what looks like the set of Emeril Legasse Live!, minus the stadium seating, plus four folding chairs. Minus Emeril. Plus a 45-year old Chinese woman. Plus an uncooked chicken. Minus its feathers. Plus its head.

And then the woman gets suuuuper excited because Gristle didn't *say* he was bringing two 外国朋友 (foreign friends), and she's sort of mad because he's late, but she's excited because there are two foreigners here and she's got her foreign pots, and she's ready to perform an infomercial for us while we sit on folding chairs and watch her cook.

I will say, they seemed like pretty good pots. If I were a Chinese housewife who needed to boil fish soup, steam vegetables, bake a chicken, and make rice all at once, I would have bought these pots. The lady had a whiteboard behind her which listen the 特点 (special features) of these pots. The number 1 特点 should have been "you get a shitload of pots", because this lady used tons of these pots to make this meal. At least 8 - 10 of these pots. She kept emphasizing that "even lazy people can make meals with these pots", which doesn't seem true, because lazy people don't like to clean pots. I mean, right?

My favorite part was when Gus and I responded to one of the woman's questions and she said, "Wow! You can really speak Chinese!" We were 30 minutes deep at that point. She had been talking at us for half an hour without actually being sure if we could understand a word that she was saying.

Incidentally, all she said was, "I haven't added any oil! I haven't added any salt! Think how healthy this is! Even lazy people can make meals with these pots!" Over and over and over.


During the dinner, Gristle turned to me and said, very seriously, "魏德忠, I have a question that I've been meaning to ask you for a long time, but I didn't want to do it before now because I thought it would be rude." Everyone take a second to think about what that question might be.

When Gus and I heard this, we both thought he was going to ask the same thing. We were wrong. Gristle drew and breath and said, "Do you have more than one pair of shoes? Because these shoes make you look like a homeless man." Making friends with my dot vans.

He later said that he noticed that I always wear black socks, and he said that this was a good thing, because whenever he sees a man wearing high white socks, he always seems like the sort of man who "enjoys sexual violence." I asked him to elaborate. He said, "我只是有这样的感觉。" ("I just get that sort of feeling.")

And then he came to our house and told us a ghost story that his barber had told him in 2007. It was a story about a murdered woman who haunted an apartment. The tenant knew there was a ghost because his room was so cool in the middle of the day that he didn't have to turn on his fan or air conditioning. Guangzhou: Where Having a Comfortable Room Means That Something Is Terribly, Terribly Wrong.