August's Story of the Month
Wandering In The Spring Festival, China
The morning starts with a bang or one bang after another, a series, a chorus – the same sound that lulled me to sleep the night before. Well, I smile to myself, after all it's their country and they're free to do as they like. How does it matter that most cities elsewhere have practically banned firecrackers?
I totter out of bed, thinking I'll go for my morning walk, a habit that's not been practiced for over three weeks, courtesy a broken rib, couretsy an evening of hard drinking, a huang jiu (house liquor, yellow in colour at a restaurant), bai jiu, the fiery white rice wine topped by swigs from a bottle of Chivas Regal. I was brought home (apartment at the university) drunk where I promptly crashed into my bed…yes crashed, and was left with a broken rib. Anyway, that was a few weeks ago…
I sit at my computer, checking my mail – there's hardly any, other news sites – nothing of earthshaking importance and a chatsite where I meet new people, flirt and generally make friends fast and lose them faster with my sacrilegious pronouncements.
I spend the morning doing this and a little more of the same….Ahhh wait…CCTV 3, there's a girl in a gypsy dress on what looks like a circus stage, walking a dog through her very pretty legs…hey, I think to myself, I too am a Dog (was born in the Dog Year) so why am I being denied the pleasure of weaving in and out of those legs. As if in response, she stops!
I sit and spend the morning thus, making friends and losing some and finally decide lunch can wait no longer. I walk down the four four flights of the hotel building where I and others of my ilk are housed. We, the so-called foreign teachers are on the top-floor, I guess, to ensure we can't make a quick getaway. My apartment is cold. The airconditioners (with heating) stopped functioning many weeks ago. I complained to the FAO, they bought me an electrical heater. I suppose they didn't consider me worthwhile investing on any more…they have me by the balls of my contract anyway and the contract says nothing about ensuring the aircons will work. So, here I am, freezing sometimes. The weather has been very cold, well below zero most days…
Anyway, I walk out and out the compound that houses the teachers and oficials' residences, looking for a place to get some chow. Everything is closed. Everyone is celebrating the Spring Festival. I walk further down the road and come to a fandian (a small restaurant) that's still open to custom. I order some cabbage (not the hot and sour one, I make clear to the waitress, a young thing with a bigger butt than most but an equally pleasant smile) and rice. I watch television while I wait for my meagre lunch to arrive and then eat quickly and leave. Outside, I walk past the numerous karaoke bars. Looks like everyone's there, dressed in their best, smiling their prettiest. Young women in tight jeans through which my eyes can sometimes discern the indiscernible never fail to escape these lecherous eyes. Sometimes I wonder if my eyes are the busiest on earth. I wave at a few nodding acquaintances. Suddenly someone steps into my path, 'Jack' he says. I smile a smile that's reserved for times when I know I am known but don't know the knower myself. He fishes out a red pack of cigarettes…Chungwahs. Very expensive at about 50 to 80 a pack. He gives me one and I gratefully accept. It's not polite to refuse offers of cigarettes here in China. In any case, it would take me very little persuasion to accept a Chungwah though I often refuse others, and perhaps make secret enemies. I already have a lit cigarette in my hand and resist the temptation to stick the new one above my ear as so many do here and also in India. I don't want a precious Chungwah to fall unceremoniously onto the spit-and-retch-washed pavement from where retrieval would be difficult and non-retrieval of a Chingwah equally painful. Pleasantries over, I make my way further down….and I see a family get off a bus and a young woman looking curiously at me and then suddenly calling out, 'Jaaaaaack'. I look more closely. It's a former student, and she's back in Huainan from Shijiazhuang in Hebei to be with her family. She runs across the street, arms opened wide, her family trailing, a curious and confused expression on their faces as she comes straight into my arms. We hug..it feels warm in this season of frost, ice and snow. Passersby look even more curiously. We stand and talk for a while, exchanging telephone numbers and her father offers me a cigarette…I am about to say a polite no, when I notice…yes, another Chungwah. My lucky day, I smile to myself. They continue on their way, as the father says they must have me over for a meal. I nod gratefully…it's nice to see a former student.
Further, into the main city square…i see more of what I saw at the karaoke bars…people…happy, smiling, chattering, shopping, spending. China is a giant at all times…during Spring Festival it's like a giant dancing. People from Xinjiang, the ones with the small muslim white caps line the streets selling small pieces of meat kababs on sticks, little stands where kids and adults take aim and shoot at helpless balloons in an effort to win an apreciative word or look, electrically operated height-weight measuring machines, stalls selling preserved and sweetened colourful fruits on long sticks, smellly suasages also on little sticks. Everything seems to be on sticks, even girls' legs in tight jeans look like sticks…i wonder what delicacies come on those!
I notice the heat…it's the warmest day we've had in months and I'm sweating… I unzip my feather-lined hooded jacket to let in some fresh air. Others stare at me…they don't like bearded men, I guess…only the homeless, the beggars, the tramps in China seem to have anything close to a beard…I carry on…until I return to my sanctuary, hot and sweating…
About the Author: He is a published writer, now living and working in China http://www.writingup.com/blog/oneinabillion