Sunday, October 11, 2009

Days 1/2 again, why the hell not: The Man Who Knew Too Much

It's your lucky day: I pulled out my diary* and realized that there are a few things from the first day that I forgot to talk about, so here're a few more exciting tales about our arrival in Wuhan.

*Yes, I keep a diary, and, yes, as you may expect, it's mostly just doodles punctuated by occasional whining. E.g. excerpt from an entry written on the (very heavily air-conditioned) train: "Jesus Christ it's cold in here. [Doodle of a hexagon.] I should go wash my face. [Doodle of train, doodle of Chinese characters for train, doodle of my Chinese name.] Dear God, what is this, the fucking polar express?"

As I have mentioned several times before on this blog, Chinese people are still not totally on board with the idea of foreigners living and working in China. There are many more people than you'd expect here who have never met an American, much less talked to one, and most of those who have met Americans have never met Americans who speak Chinese. So lots of people (on trains, on subways, around the city) talk about us right in front of us. Which is fantastic. One thing that neither Gus nor I mentioned about the lady on the train trying to get her baby to defecate was that, in between her whistling and whispered exhortations to "go, go, go", she said, "You better go soon, or those foreigners will take you to the bathroom." I can only speculate what horrors this was intended to convey to the tiny Chinese baby. Perhaps it was just the idea of having to go to the bathroom, which I totally buy, because a squat toilet on a train is pretty horrific in and of itself.

A guy on the train got up the courage to ask us if we spoke Chinese, which started us on the "quiz the foreigner" game. An only slightly edited version of one portion of that conversation follows.

A: What do you think about Taiwan?
Gus: It's complicated. [Brief attempt to explain American views on the Taiwan question.]
A: What do you think about Tibet?
Me: It's complicated. [No real attempt to explain American views, because that's more dangerous than Taiwan.]
B: So, 9-11, huh?
Gus and Me: Wait, what?
B: 9-11. Pretty bad, huh?
Me: Yeah, pretty bad.

Unfortunately for me, this sort of language blindness also works in reverse, i.e., I am now conditioned to believe that no one around me speaks English (this is more or less true in Guangzhou, not so much true in Beijing or Shanghai, definitely not true in Hong Kong), and so we feel comfortable talking in English about sensitive topics, like the people we see around us. Like that time when we were at Yellow Crane tower in Wuhan, and I said, "Man, look at that woman's outfit," and then that woman turned around and stared at me, and then walked away. Making friends!

Also, at lunch that day, I put my bag down on a chair next to me, and then I heard a terrible noise of something screaming or crying, which I thought was a little weird. Turns out I that there was a puppy underneath the chair and I had somehow crushed a part of its body when I put my bag down. The waitress ran over and took the puppy away and said, "your bag is too heavy." Making friends!

Yeah but I felt really bad about both of those things. Sort of still do. But my karmic payback came in the form of the 11 strange bug bites that I got while I was on the train. Still unclear what those were from. Oh, and now there are two small flying insects in my room which seem to be copulating against my mirror. I am beset by biblical plagues.

As Gus mentioned on his blog, we also saw a wonderfully named restaurant:

(Photo by Gus.)

Jane Eyre Time: Lock your hunger in an attic!
Jane Eyre Time: Would you like some autobiographical social criticism with that?
Jane Eyre Time: So delicious, you'll set your house on fire!

Eh, pick your favorite. No time to edit. I'm tired.