A Week Accomplished

One of my training group members told me today that we’ve been here for 11 weeks, and that means something like 99 to go. Hah.

At the end of my first week, it definitely seems like my biggest challenge will be keeping things fresh and interesting, for me, doing 7 sections of the same class per week. This week perhaps was particularly boring, compared to what others will be, given that we were doing a very basic overview lesson with introductions and the like. In future, when the students are doing more spontaneous production and when I’m having to explain logistics less, I bet it won’t be so bad. I thought about differentiating content for my classes—say, doing lessons or units in different order to reduce repetition during a given week. But after thinking about it, and doing some more work on defining my syllabus for the semester, now that I’ve met my students, I’m just going to stick with one plan for all my classes after all. We’ll see what happens.

My training site friend Gareth, who lives about 300 km away in the northern part of Chongqing municipality, came to visit this weekend. Gareth lives in a very small town (by Chinese standards) in which she and her sitemate are just about all the foreigners there are. So being around other foreigners and other PCVs, being in a city, going out on the town, shopping at a mega supermarket, etc, were all treats for her. The couple of times I’ve had friends come out to Beibei I’ve made a half-hearted feint of, “do you want to walk around the town, see the university, etc? Or…we could just sit and have a beer and not do any touring.” In all cases the latter has been preferred. ‘Cause the thing about a lot of the China that I’ve seen so far is, it all looks pretty similar. Either it’s a big city or a small city, and maybe the background landscape looks a little bit different (number of trees, hilly or not, etc), but in general it’s kind of standard. A mix of big fancy department stores and supermarkets and tiny mom-and-pop stores selling drinks or hardware or shoes. Rows of noodle restaurants and dumpling restaurants and “dishes” restaurants. No building older than a few decades, and many buildings clearly built up only during the twenty-first century. Little scenery visible in the distance due to smog. So yeah, there’s not a huge amount of impetus to spend time walking around, say, downtown Beibei, for a PCV, who probably is coming from a town that looks very similar.

In any case, on Friday night I showed Gareth most of the best Beibei has to offer. We grabbed dinner on “Eat Street,” the awesome alley of street vendors and restaurants that’s perhaps the best thing in this town. We hung out at T Bar (or is it Tea Bar? Tee Bar? Unclear.), a lounge with a sort of hippie vibe with some live music (an acoustic version of Poker Face was a highlight on Friday) that’s decorated with communist propaganda posters. Unclear if they’re ironic or not. Most of the group headed home when it got to be the a.m. but Gareth was ready to dance, so she, contract-teacher Kelsey, and I piled into a cab to downtown Beibei (a 5-minute ride), where we had heard rumor that there was an actual dance club.

Well, the dance club turned out to be more of a lounge with tables, with a smattering people standing around not dancing. This kind of thing is not atypical of this land of mediocre dancers. Beers were being finished and we were about to leave when we were waylaid: it seemed, from the Chinese I was able to understand, that a group of Chinese hipster lesbians (?!) wanted to take us to get food and drink more beer. You know, Peace Corps tells us to accept all invitations. So, sure, why not.

They paraded us a couple blocks of unclear to a corner with some more late-night street vendors, and one of the women proceeded to pick out enough shao kao, barbecue, to provide a full dinner to about 8 people. A heaping plate of potatoes. One of dumplings. One of mushrooms. One of beef. Two whole, bbq’d fish (which were looking at me). Never mind that it was almost 2 a.m. This went on for a while, with the “eat more!” and the “drink more!” and the baffling drinking game-playing until finally we were able to demur that we were “tai lei le” (so tired) and made our escape. And no, of course we were not allowed to pay for our part of the feast. That’s China for you.

I thought Friday couldn’t be topped, but I was wrong. Gareth and I headed into Chongqing city, where we did a little shopping (G needed coffee to take back to her town in a major way, and I needed to buy overpriced toner at Sephora in a major way) and met up with a few friends, including Leora (star of last week’s CQ saga) and her sitemate Dave, who’s a life-of-the-party gregarious kind of guy who’s been here for a year already and knows everyone there is to know in the city. We drank Snow beer and a bottle of Great Wall white wine (the first white I’ve seen in this country) and an 11 kuai bottle of red that I bought that was so foul it was actually undrinkable (yes, 11 kuai is about $1.60, but I had to at least see how it was going to be.) Then it was off to “Tyler’s party”—the house party birthday (?) of some expat that Dave knew nearby.

Walking into the party was bizarre. The apartment was bigger, nicer, and more Western-looking than others I’ve seen here, perched in a luxury high-rise right beside the river. And it was filled with dozens of foreigners—mainly Americans and Europeans, with a few of the Chinese people who love them. I wanted to stare at every single one and ask, “What are you doing here? Why are you here?” Most were teachers (of English), or students here studying Chinese or international relations or some such, or doing fellowships or internships. A few seemed to be involved in business. Almost all were probably under 30, or thereabouts. It was bizarre—at first I felt like I didn’t know how to interact with them or be normal around so many non-Chinese or non-Peace Corps people. But it was fun, and there were some interesting-seeming people. And, of course, some odd ones. Someone said it seemed like half of all of the foreigners of CQ were in the apartment, and I believe it.

Gareth spilled frozen peas all over the kitchen floor. (“Gareth spilled peas on the floor.” “What? No, Gareth is standing right there.” Oh wait, there are two Gareths at this party—one is an Australian man.) Dave almost knocked over the water cooler full of jungle juice (perhaps Tang-like Chinese softdrink and baijiu?). I kept a somewhat lower profile.

I never did meet Tyler, the apparent host. I kept asking people—“What’s your connection to this party?” or “How do you know Tyler?” The reactions, more than half the time, were the same—“Tyler? Is it Tyler? Or Taylor? I don’t know, I just came with ___.” “And where is Tyler now?” “In the back? With some girl? Around here somewhere? I don’t know, I haven’t seen him in a long time.” As contract-teacher friend Matt said upon hearing the story, it’s like a party at Gatsby’s house—no one knows or ever sees the host, but it’s the hottest ticket on the block.

At some point Gareth and I finally tore ourselves away to meet the rest of the PCVs and my other foreign teacher friends downtown (we had kind of said we would be there like 5 hours prior, but you know, China happens.) More shao kao, more beer, more recapping our first weeks of teaching. The PCVs exited stage left and I stayed until the wee hours with the contract teachers, celebrating Briane’s birthday dancing (actually dancing!) in a club populated by a mix of typical Chinse people, atypical Chinese people, a big group of Brazilians. Cabs whisked us home to Beibei—a 40ish minute ride without traffic that cost about 80 kuai ($12).

All of today has been spent recovering in PJs in front of my computer. Who knew Peace Corps, or China, would turn out like this. And who knew my Peace Corps blog would momentarily need to devolve into a typical “and then we got wasted in X-foreign place and crazy shit happened” study abroad-type memoir….

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