Happy New Years to everyone!
(Due to my aforementioned inability to commit, I am once again behind schedule. This entry is not about what we did last night–New Year’s Eve–but about Christmas. Still, hope everyone had a great time!)
There is a right number five bus and there is a wrong number five bus. In a post-Christmas effort to expand our slim selection of fine dining establishments here in Dalian we ended up boarding the latter.
The Monday after Christmas the two of us basically spent the day relaxing. I went for a short hike through the park, did some reading and studying. Noelle Skyped with family and friends. Then we hung out at Starbucks for about three hours, reading, writing, and people watching. A buddy of mine seemed intent on getting a glimpse of what a Chinese Starbucks looks like. He Skyped with Noelle despite the fact that it had to have been pushing something like 3 or 4 am in the States.
And to answer his inquiries: It looks exactly the same except there are more interesting groups of people. Germans, Swedish, Russian, French, English, American, and yes, Chinese are all easily found in there any day of the week.
Around, oh, five-ish we decided that it was time for some dinner. Dalian has great public transportation, and as I’ve said before, we’re getting used to taking the buses and cabs. So when we saw a bus with the same number as the one we were waiting for we didn’t think twice. We hopped on and found two seats.
Three stops later we realized that this was not the bus we wanted to be on, and when he stopped again we also realized that we had no idea where we were. We decided to stay on until he began to loop back to where we had gotten on. Seemed like the best plan—a little time-consuming but still the best plan to get us back to familiarity.
That didn’t happen because the driver kicked us off the bus. The route he drove took us out along the coast, much farther down than we’d ever been. When the last of the other riders walked off it was just the two of us. He looked back, said an angry-sounding sentence in Chinese and motioned for us to get off the bus. I tried to say that I wanted to stay, but he wasn’t having any of that. We hopped off and looked around at our surroundings.
Tall, dark, and vacant business buildings loomed over us like giant buzzards eyeing up their next meal as it slowly succumbs to heat exhaustion and thirst. But it wasn’t hot at all that night and we weren’t that thirsty. So near the coast, wind whipped at us in chilling bursts and the icy water sloshing around in my Wahaha brand plastic bottle kept time with our steps out of the skeevy alley we’d been deposited in by the friendly bus driver.
The daylight was gone, but we could still make out the ocean on the horizon. We walked toward it and then turned right, following the main road we both thought we vaguely recognized. After about five minutes of trekking what I can only assume is south—the wrong direction—we did an about-face and backtracked. Another ten minutes went by before we saw, off in the distance, high above the city, the neon blue rings that have become so familiar to us. The UFO. We live right next to UFO Mountain, and suddenly we had our extraterrestrial North Star to guide us home. It shone through the haze and the night, giving us a heading to set our steps to.
And as we walked on it became apparent how far away from that home we really were. And also, we didn’t want to go home. We wanted dinner. We tightened our jackets around our bodies and plugged along for another twenty minutes before we found a bus stop that sat on the number five route. It showed up; we boarded it.
Even that was funny. The stop was actually on a curve of a busy road, so the bus driver didn’t seem to want to fully stop to let us on. He slowed to an idle and I stepped on, but then he must have lifted his foot from the brake because the bus crept forward before Noelle could get up that first step. I looked at her just as the bus began to move and her eyes widened in shock and a bit of fear. I don’t know if the fear came from the idea that she may be left behind or because she was calculating the odds of successfully jumping on a moving bus, but in the end she did get on easily enough. We laughed, and I let my imagination paint a picture where she was chasing a bus like a Western bandit riding down a train on horseback.
We finally made it to the street we’d originally set out for almost an hour before. Had things gone smoother the bus trip would have only taken five minutes from Starbucks. We also made it to the new restaurant we wanted to try with the help of another teacher’s directions. Finally, we could eat dinner.
That was on the day after Christmas. For Christmas Eve and Day we worked. While many people in China know about Christmas and a lot can even give you details, the day itself was nothing more than a Sunday for them. The Western staff definitely didn’t want to work both days, but everyone was in good spirits anyway. The school had been decorated earlier in the month, so there were some lights, a few trees, some tinsel hanging around, and holiday music playing from the speakers. It was much more festive than I thought it would be, and that helped.
After classes were over on both nights, the school put on a Cookie Making Activity. Saturday night Noelle helped and I helped on Sunday. In the morning on Sunday I was “volun-told” (Told in a way that seems like you have an option to say no, but not really) that I would be “in charge” of one of the crafts and that I would be giving the opening ceremony speech to the students and their parents.
It’s not that I’m a shy person or even that I get nervous in front of folks, but getting told just hours before was a bit annoying. Whether it’s a “China Thing”—which I’ve been told it is—or poor communication skills on the part of some of the staff, last minute news is a daily staple of the interactions here. Most times they’re nothing too irritating, but they can become larger annoyances easily. Either way, I didn’t mind the responsibility, and I enjoyed speaking that evening. A few days later one of our supervisors complimented my introduction and said she felt moved. As flattering as that sounds, I think the praise was exaggerated quite a bit. I did nothing more than welcome them and let them know what we had planned for the evening as another staff member translated what I said into Chinese for the parents.
The night did go well, though. We made chocolate chip cookies from scratch, something none of the students had ever done, and then made a strange little Santa head out of an upside-down paper cup and some construction paper. That first night, after the activity was finished and the kids had gone home, some of the teachers snacked on the extra cookies. I must have eaten about 5 or 6. I love chocolate chip. For a few reasons, on that second night I didn’t eat a single one.
As can be guessed, many of the staff had also never made chocolate chip cookies from scratch either. The preparation that went into the activity consisted of, among other things, the Eastern staff acting out the making of the cookies, step by step. This was a good idea for many, many reason, but for two specifically. First: no, you do not individually press the chocolate chips into the dough. Second (and more importantly): the students MUST wash their hands efficiently. It’s for reasons pertaining to this second note that I declined the cookies Sunday.
The students were having a hard time mixing the ingredients and softening the dough, so one staff member told them to squeeze the dough. And they did. Honestly, not the worst idea. But when you add in the sheer number of people handing the food…eh…Each student took turns thrusting their hands into the bowl, squishing and squeezing the dough, ripping and mashing it until it was soft. Twelve different sets of hands pummeled the dough, and even though they had washed them, those hands were not THAT clean.
So when they offered me a cookie or two I kindly said, “Get outta here, Germ Machines!” Or just, “No thanks,” but I was definitely thinking the former.
My craft went smoothly, but I felt like the kids taught me how to do it instead of the other way around. You give a group of kids some glue, crayons, scissors, and paper cups and you’ve got yourself little Picassos…and a mess to clean afterwards.
When we finally left work Noelle and I ate a Christmas dinner at a western style restaurant called The Real Eddies. The staff there is fantastic and the food is pretty darn close to “authentic Western” food. At home, we exchanged gifts and relaxed as we watched National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. And thus we ended Christmas day.
How did you spend yours?
Out beneath the lit street lights.
Yes, I wore the hat all day.
(NOTES: I’m going to add more pictures to this entry as soon as I get them. Should be very soon. If you’re interested in seeing the Christmas Cookie Activity check back here. I’m also trying to get a video of those annoying fireworks that are always going on at all hours of the day and night loaded on here. Also, Next entry—Nesburg and New Years)