I had Monday and Tuesday off from work for International Labor Day. In actuality, I only had one day off from work because they scheduled us to work the Saturday before to make up the hours. But we didn’t actually work. I and another teacher were required to teach an open class–this one for the parents–in the morning, but were expected to stay in the office for the rest of the eight-hour work day scratching our butts. That’s a total of 30 minutes of teaching and 7.5 hours of sitting at a desk with nothing in particular to do. Here’s the real kicker: The open class I was required to teach was for a class of students that I didn’t even know! I didn’t know a single child’s name in the class, had never worked with them, and had no time built into my normal weekly schedule to even rehearse the open class with them. The kids weren’t even in any of the grades that teach. The assistant teacher was really wonderful, however, and had prepped the kids and me as much as possible. I wonder how many of the parents knew that I had never stepped foot in their child’s classroom before the open class and how they felt about it. The truth is, I’m sure I was the only one who cared a lick about it. Let’s be real. You switch out a Canadian man for an American woman and you still get one foreign English teacher. Anyway, the class went smoothly.
I took leave for the second half of the day to get started on my 13 hour westward journey to NanNing in the Guanxi province. My friend Katie “up the street,” as I used to call her when we were growing up in the same neighborhood in Miami, Florida (I was Katie “down the street”), is living in NanNing and invited me to visit for the holiday. I got a last minute ticket for a hard-sleeper bed on an overnight train, top bunk. This was my first train experience in China and I was fairly pleased. The bed was decent enough, especially for a hard-sleeper. The train had AC and the bed came with a pillow and a blanket. The downside to the top bunk was that I couldn’t sit upright (the ceiling was too low), which made getting on and off it a little difficult. Also, we were tuned into a Chinese pop radio station for the first few hours and not only was the music really bad and the sound quality tinny, but the speaker was six feet from my head as I lay in bed. It was so loud that I couldn’t hear my own iPod on maximum volume. It was as awful as you imagine it was. To make the situation even more irritating, the two people in the bunk across from me were screaming into their cell phones to be heard above the music and each other. I almost cried. The music eventually stopped, my neighbors went to sleep, and I thanked God for peace and quiet.
My reason for going to NanNing wasn’t just to visit Katie, it was also to work a modeling job at a water park in a zoo. With Katie. She had been working with an agent who hires Western guys and girls to model for anything you can think of in NanNing and surrounding areas. This gig involved lots of posing in a swimsuit on the fake beach and water slides, and walking across a stage. I was supposed to arrive in time to do two of the three days. Halfway to NanNing, Katie calls me to tell me that the gig is off and that her agent is acting funny. When I arrive, the agent tries to appease us by giving us the free passes to the water park that she had already purchased for the gig. That was nice, but I made it clear that she had to at least compensate me for my travel expenses. Without going into too much detail, she agreed and then flaked, we hunter her down, she agreed, then flaked at the last minute…again and again. Katie and I were absolutely livid. In the end, she produce a fraction of what she owed us and tried to make us feel sorry for her by complaining about her personal life. The whole ordeal was absolutely ridiculous and after the steam stopped shooting out of my ears, I learned a few valuable lessons about dong business in China. AND, more importantly, I had a great time with Katie. We hadn’t seen each other in many years.
Here are some pictures of us at the water park where we were supposed to be modeling:
Katie’s in the center. I’m obviously on the left.
Catching some shade under giant mushrooms in the wading pool. Actually, they were all basically wading pools because most Chinese in this part of the country don’t know how to swim.
Here’s the fake beach and the sea of orange life vests. I could stand with my shoulder out of the water in the deepest part. Everyone’s waiting for the wave machine to start. They went crazy for it! Can you see the stage on the left side of the picture? Before the waves started, first Chinese and later foreign models (Brazilian and Polish) did a little strut across it to entertain the masses. I thought it was so bizarre that models were hired to walk across a stage in their own swimsuits. On the stage were a couple huge speakers that blasted Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” on loop. I wanted to shoot myself in the ear.
Some beautiful fake autumn trees.
Later that night, Katie and I went to Club Sugar (not a strip club, I promise) where her friends work. We got hooked up with free drinks, a hookah, and masks! Plus a table right in front of the stage where all the performances (hip-hop dancing, rock song singing, and the like) took place.
Katie bought me a soft-sleeper bus ticket back to Foshan on Monday night. I was really impressed with the service and the bed. Of course, it was made for someone a few feet shorter than me, but I slept on my side and it all worked out. The beds were built like cubbies into the side of the bus and included a shelf to stack your things on. The TV had no sound, but subtitles so that you had the choice to watch or go to sleep. While everyone was getting settled before departure, the TVs played a loop of stylized footage of exotic dancers from the ’90s. That was a hoot. Once we started rolling, the programming shifted to a modern Chinese comedy about love and cell phones, as far as I could tell. I’m not a fan of Chinese comedy, but this movie was hilarious. I was cracking up every thirty seconds and I couldn’t even read the subtitles.
I arrived in Foshan early Tuesday morning with time to kill before heading off to a Chinese BBQ with my boss and some of the other teachers. The BBQ was hosted outside of a Chinese village by a network of Taiwanese business cronies.
We were placed at a table with its own mini-grill in the center and a bag full of raw meat, seafood, and vegetables. Included in the bag was a whole fish.
Here are (from L to R) Rachel, Mandy, and Maggie, all English teachers at my school. Lovely ladies.
Rachel went crazy over the fish eyeball, or rather the cornea. It’s supposed to be good for memory and eyesight. She didn’t hesitate to prick the eyeball as it was cooking to let the fish eye-goo run out and expose the little white ball in the center. Of all the things I’m willing to try in China, fish eye is not and never will be on the list.
See the fish?
In case you need a closer look. Note: This is pre-eye-poking-cornea-eating.
How could a girl who looks so sweet eat such a thing?
Honey and vinegar sauce in the middle. Fried pork fat in the cup on the left. Tea eggs in the cup on the bottom.
Noodles, soup, and fried pork fat were served at the top of the hill next to the bear cooler. The driver ended being the BBQ master because only he had the skill to get the fire started. I tried, but to my defense, the matches were really weak and there was a breeze.
This is (almost all of) us, getting fat and having some laughs.
Some views around the BBQ tables:
Couldn’t resist a glamor shot while waiting for the driver to pull up the whip.
The whip. Haha, we rode the school bus.
After the BBQ, I rested for the rest of the day. It’s so hot and humid here now that I feel like giant sweating slug. I have embraced cold showers. Two minutes out of the AC and I’m drenched. Sometimes I just want to tear my clothes off because the way they stick to my skin drives me crazy. Only the foreign teacher bedrooms have AC. I really feel for the other teachers because when I’m in the office or in the classrooms, I feel like I’m going to suffocate.
Oh yeah, before I left for NanNing, I went to a Thai restaurant with Renae and Michael. I ordered yellow rice and chicken baked in a pineapple. It was delicious except for the little shards of glass that I found inside. My waitress thought it was funny, but quickly replaced the pineapple with a fresh one, sans glass.
I took some pictures of the curries that Renae and I ordered the time before last when we went to this restaurant, but I forgot to post them, so here they are.
Plastic gloves for our hands. I appreciated the courtesy, but wouldn’t it have been easier to give us napkins instead?