Monday, December 25, 2006


"Ms. Mitchell Ms. Mitchell!" six 12 year old girls run at me with piles of red lanterns in hand.

"Well hey! What's with the lamps?" I question them.

They look at eachother in puzzlement. "Shenme? Shenme?" they ask eachother. "What-is---with-the-lamps. Wo bu dong... Wo bu dong, Ms. Mitchell!"

I roll my eyes and chuckle at my mistake. These are primary ESL students after all; they have no clue what I'm saying.

"These things. They are called lanterns/lamps. Why are you holding them?"

"OH! I KNOW I UNDERSTAND!" and they tell me they are for the New Years concert on Saturday. This rings a bell.

"I am performing a song for the entire school for that concert," I blurt out. This is a first for me, it's just that I only then remembered it. Somewhere in the foggy depths of my memory I recalled agreeing to said performance. The girls clap and cheer in glee.

Lastnight I had a vivid dream. I was on an ancient pirate ship playing darts with my friends back home and my ex boyfriend. As the pirate ship moved from port to port everyone slowly deserted me until I was left quite alone. I think I may have walked the plank in the end, or that may just be dramatic embellishment.

I awoke from this meaningful dream with one of the sharpest headaches I've ever experienced. My vision was blurry and I was still dressed. What? I hate wearing regular clothes to bed. What went on lastnight? I vaguely remember coming home... Shenme?

Lastnight was Christmas dinner with colleagues and new friends at an enormous restaurant. It was hot pot and for those of you who don't know what that is, it's like fondu or raclette but with soup. Included in my personal witches brew were the following: fertilized duck eggs, baby silver eels, razor clams, regular clams, cow's throat, cows stomache and many more but my memory got foggy about halfway through and I'm not sure what else was consumed. I will attribute that fogginess to the beer that my male coworkers all but forced upon me. Why are they so bent upon me having a "good time"? It's not all that fun when you find yourself unable to even work your chopsticks by the end of the meal; I dropped at least half a dozen eggs under the table.

But that's the way these meals seem to go, and I am somewhat used to it at this point. Included in this celebratory meal was the headmaster of another school in Dongyang. He sat across the table from me and toasted me quite frequently. I knew he had something up his sleeve when he continually instisted I have yet another and another bottle of Bijio. About an hour into hotpot he cleared his throat and stood.

"I have something important to say," and I'm sure he slurred a bit because he was not going easy on the wine at all. "We are friends as well as co-workers," he began, and I couldn't help but question this so-called friendship considering I'd never even spoken to this man before lastnight.

"And that is why I am honoured to request that you begin teaching three classes at our school every Wednesday. Starting this Wednesday." AHA! I knew there was something suspicious about this dinner! Right when I saw several men dressed in black suits arrive, I knew it had more to do with business than pleasure. "They are trying to relax me with alcohol so I agree to this 'request' which has actually been forced upon me!" I thought. I regret not making a fuss about it now, but at the time I was wayyyy too happy to do anything but nod and smile.

"To the relationship between Chinese and Canadians! May it be long and happy!" Mr. Headmaster cried and raised his glass. "Bottoms up!" he insisted, which meant that I had to down yet another glass of cheap beer.

And then there was KTV (Kareoke television bar). Not my idea, honestly, although I love the place. If a rowdy group of slightly drunken Chinese people finish a meal, it seems the only choice they have is to visit the nearest KTV. Which we did. And I threw out my vocal chords belting out various songs by Westlife, Britney Spears, Celine Dion and some lame attempts at Chinese pop songs. Apparently this was when I agreed to perform a song for the New Years concert this Saturday, because I was "just so good!". Those people were taking advantage of me to the fullest when I was at my most vulnerable! I would have agreed to anything! For shame.

After this I guess I went home and slept in my clothes. I hate myself for wrinkling my good threads!

So I awoke at 6.30 and it was still dark.

And seeing as it was a chilly "London Fog" day and I was cold in my bare white room, I turned on my heater. And it didn't work. And then I tried my light and it didn't work. So I ran to to fridge and threw it open and the light didn't go on. NO! I've lived through enough electricity problems already; I really didn't need yet another blown fuse. But upon checking my neighbours' fuseboxes I discovered that our entire apartment was in the dark. I rushed to the school to find some answers and was informed that the whole block would be out of power until 2pm. Who schedules a power outage, honestly?!

I also discovered something kind of cool from my boss this morning. Her good friend owns a bar in Dongyang. This friend wants me to visit his bar once a week for a few hours and speak to the customers in English. Not only will I be educating his regulars, I will be attracting business to his bar (apparently). In return for this small favour, the owner of the bar will give me free drinks whenever I want. This sounds a bit like a sketchy deal and I'm not too hot on Chinese Alcohol, but at the very least it will be an opportunity to make more friends. Which I love.

I'm off to take advantage of all my wonderful Christmas gifts. Happy Boxing Day, y'all!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

FROM THE ARCHIVES Merry Christmas!

Greetings to anyone who may read this!

I currently have class in one hour and just recently spoke to a whole spit load of my family members on the phone for 20 minutes. They are all over at my house in Canada for Christmas Eve celebrations.

It's Christmas morning here in China, but it certainly doesn't feel very festive; I can attribute that to the 10 degree grey drizzly weather on one hand and on the other I can very easily say that being at an internet cafe full of smoking spitting 20 year olds doesn't set the mood either. But that's neither here nor there.

Lastnight the celebrations took place and considering the circumstances, I'd say it was a good effort all around. The beautiful Cassandra slaved away in the kitchen for hours like a good housewife, and produced candied yams, shortbread, stuffing, mashed potatoes, perogies and cabbage rolls. Andrea had been at her Mormon church in Shanghai, conferring with rich expatriates, and she brought home rolls, french bread, whipping cream etc that doubled as gifts. Us three girls exchanged gifts and it was a happy occasion. My good friend Woody bought me a wonderful Christmas gift and my neighbour stopped by and brought my some Chinese Wine with a ribbon on it. Ribbons are cool and all, but they don't change the fact that Chinese Wine is only one step above grape flavoured rubbing alcohol. But a nice thought all the same.

I was forced to play judge of this Chirstmas Concert starring my students on Saturday night. The only thing festive about this concert were the imposing (and disturbing) santa head appliques on stage and a few red streamers. The rest was just magic and charm... sort of. The skits put on were in English so of course the English teachers were to be the judges of them. Problems: one, kids in the audience don't know how to shut the beep up so I couldn't hear what was being said onstage; two, I believe in constructive critism while the rest of the judges never gave a rating below 95% even if the performances were awful; three, I had told Woody to meet me in the auditorium to keep me company during the inevitably boring concert, but he got locked out and kept text messaging me during the skits. However, we went out shopping after the concert and he showed me that there actually is an iPod store in Dongyang, which will come in handy seeing as the stupid retarded dog I'm forced to share a house with decided it would be a good idea to eat my iPod headphones and charge cord. To quote a wise man, "Canines are the devil in disguise".

I'm finishing up chapter 3 of my long and winding crime novel. It's getting extremely tense, so much so that I have to take a break from it and settle down a little bit. I'm instead spending my time learning how to text message and send instand messages to my friends in Chinese. It's quite simple really, you just have to know how to spell things in Pinyin, which I am also currently studying. I will be master of all things "Asian Tech and Communications" by the end of the year, that is a promise.

I'm off to teach 3 conversational English classes on the subject of "Idioms" such as "you must be pulling my leg", "it cost an arm and a leg", "the whole world hates me" etc. You get the picture.

Monday, December 18, 2006

FROM THE ARCHIVES You can have it, honestly

One week till Christmas and I've never felt less festive in my 18 years of existance.

Getting through December 25th would be so much easier if I weren't being constantly barraged with annoying reminders that don't even mean anything to the people here.

Santa is a joke to them. It's not that I ever believed in him as a child and he holds some importance to me, it's just I can't help but grimmace every time I encounter a Santa applique or statue. Coca Cola would be horrified at how China has butchered the dear old man. He's hidious! Absolutely grotesque! A disgusting bulbous nose, hot pink cheeks, pale albino-looking eyes, and his beard is simply all wrong. Often he is not even wearing a red suit; often it is a ghetto sparkly silver costume.

And the repetitive tinny music is all wrong. Everything is all wrong. Christmas is a stupid consumer holiday that is being reluctantly accepted by every Chinese person who enters a shopping mall or grocery store decked out in gaudy tinsel. It doesn't mean a stitch to them, yet still it exists. It's being shoved down their throats and they don't even understand it.

Being away from my family and friends this year would be much easier if I forgot about Christmas. It's not the presents and apple cider I miss. It's being home that I miss. Since I can't go home for another month point five, I'd prefer to forget about Noelle and go about my exciting daily life. But Silver Santa won't let that happen. For shame.

I hinted at a trip to Shanghai in my last post. It happened. Andrea slept over the night before on the couch in my bedroom. We all got up at 5.30 Sunday morning and made our way to the bus station. The 3 bus ride was decent, which blew me away because my expections are very low of most things in China. There were only about 8 other people and the seats were comfy. Big plus. The first half was spent watching terrible Chinese kareoke music videos. If it was a love song there'd be aerial views of a nuclear plant. If it was a power ballad we'd see random shots of avalanches. The second half we watched a Kung Fu movie that was shot in Hengdian, the place where I started my acting career. I had previously posted some pictures of a Buddha with 1001 hands in Dongyang. It's very impressive. Several of the fight scenes from this movie were shot infront of this Buddha. Tres Cool.

But Shanghai - it sucked. I was there for 4 days a couple months back and it was perfect. Good weather, lots of money, fun new culture etc. The only negative experience I had that time was being scammed by my "friends" Sunshine and Little Boy. Speaking of which: while I was in Shanghai yesterday the same deal went down. The three of us were standing outside the museum discussing which exhitbits to visit when we were approached by five "university students" on "vacation". SS and LB had given me the same pitch. These "students" kept us talking for about 5 minutes. They asked about Canada, told us we were all very pretty, asked us how much Chinese we knew etc. Once the warming up phase was over, the leader casually mentioned how cold it was outside. "We're off to go drink some hot tea! Would you like to join us, girls?" he asked. "Uh no it's fine we're about to head into the museum," I answered quickly. "Are you sure??" "Yes I'm positive. Thank you for the invite, but no. Bye," I said firmly and we walked away. I'm street smart. I'd been through this before.

But of course almost getting scammed again was the least of our problems in Shanghai. It pretty much all started the second we got there. Cassandra realized that she forgot her money. Of course she had enough to get around and buy food, but the only reason we came to Shanghai was for her and Andrea to deposit money into their Canadian accounts at Citi Bank. Without money to deposit, I couldn't help but ask myself why we were even there. Shanghai is notoriously expensive and it seemed like I was wasting previous money on a pointless trip. I was a little bit ticked.

Things went downhill once we got to the Bund. Cassandra had a paper in her purse with our traveling instructions and destinations written in Chinese to show taxi drivers and train people. That's how we got there. So we were at the Bund, taking pictures like a bunch of ridiculous tourists and prancing along the waterfront through throngs of people when a guy approached us, took me by the elbow, and pulled us into an art gallery. "I'm the owner of the gallery," he said. "That's nice, but we're not interested," I said and turned to leave. The guy turned to Cassandra. "Do you have your wallet in your purse?" he asked her. She was flustered and confused but looked in her purse to make sure it was there. It wasn't. "Someone stole it," he stated matter of factly, "they ran off that way." "Oh my god," Cassandra said. "Everything was in there. Even our travel information to get back to Dongyang!"

So Cassandra and Andrea ran off angrily down the street in search of the criminal. I stayed and talked to the gallery owner. His name was Forest and I found him to be quite gentlemanly. He told me that he saw a young boy with a tall man walk close to Cassandra and reach into her purse, then they fled in the other direction. My first thought was of course "Why didn't he try and stop them?" and naturally my second thought was "Forest must not be the owner of the gallery and he's in cohorts with the thieves or he is the theif himself". I clutched my own purse close to me and looked him up and down suspiciously. He was wearing a thin tight leather jacket and I knew he couldn't possibly conceal Cassandra's large purse within it. His pant pockets looked empty as well. "You girls need to be more careful," he said, interrupting my evil thoughts about him. "Always carry your purses close infront of you and never ever leave them unzipped. That's what thieves look for." Right then I knew he had nothing to do with it. I knew I could trust him. I also knew that the precious sheet of paper we had with our travel info on it was inside of Cassandra's stolen wallet. Uh oh. "Can you be a really good friend to me, Forest?" I asked. "Could you please write down in Chinese the names of all these directions and places?" I scribbled the info down in my notebook and he translated. I was so grateful and thanked him a million times over before I said goodbye. It's really great to encounter people like that in dire situations. And it turns out he really did own the gallery.

After a few minutes of searching I managed to find C and A. Cass was freaking out. It was truly a compromising situation. Credit cards, 300RMB, identification, etc were in the wallet. Cass called and cancelled her credit card and she had extra money in her jacket so it wasn't as bad as it could have been, but of course that doesn't get rid of the sick feeling of being robbed. It's like you've been violated and taken advantage of. Andrea and I tried to calm her down but it was in vain; she was pretty much miserable all day.

We went back to my fourth love, the Shanghai Museum, and stayed for a short while. I could have stayed all day but it didn't seem like the other two enjoyed it as much so we left. Meaningwhile our money was being depleated very quickly. We went to an international grocery store expecting great things. We were let down. How many types of Cheese were there? One. One mild cheddar block. Psssht. In general the selection was terrible. The store's only redemption was its bread. I bought a loaf of puffy french bread and ate it on the train back that night.

The train *groan*. After a terrible exhausting day all we wanted to do was head home. We got to the station at 6pm and discovered the earliest train back was at 10. We reluctantly bought tickets. We had barely any money left and 4 hours to kill. It was beastly cold outside. I just wanted to go to bed. We spent 4 miserable hours window shopping *yawn!* and at a stupid coffee shop. I hate coffee but I had to get something so I ordered Rose Tea. This is getting boring.

The train ride back was 4 hours. And it was late by one hour. Typical. It was crowded, cold, and I saw a few cockroaches (one of which crawled from a headrest into a sleeping lady's hair and I didn't say anything!). Andrea and I had a very long interesting discussion which lessened the pain a wee bit, but overall I'd say it was miserable. We got into Yiwu, Dongyang's neighbouring city, at around 3.00am. Fortunately there was a hoard of cab drivers eager to pick up good-paying late-night customers. We came home to our starving neglected puppy half an hour later. Andrea slept on my couch again and left early this morning. I had class today. I'm exhausted and I've got a list of things as long as the Yangzi River that need to be done. Our toilet is clogged by the way; I really need to pee.

But I'm still in good spirits. I still love China and all it's many flaws. I still haven't experienced culture shock at all and am beginning to wonder if I ever will. Here's hoping, but it kind of seems the odds are stacked against me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

FROM THE ARCHIVES Unicorn Bloodbath

is the official name of Stephanie Mitchell's debut novel. Of course this terrifying book has nothing to do with unicorns and is hardly related to a bloodbath, but until I get further suggestions this is how it will stay.

The concept of money has been pressing on my mind of late. Of course I am in no short supply of it considering the cost of living in China is something ridiculously like $200 a month (approx 1200RMB), but there are certain restrictions/limitations.

The biggest factor influencing my budget is my future. I sound very wise saying that I think - I might stick with the character of a sagely world traveler for a while. But about my future: University awaits me, and anyone who's been or has children who attend knows how dear it is. Dear meaning expensive. I can't just go around throwing money at crying babies anymore. I simply must change my ways. No more fake Burberry either.

And no more Thailand.


How much it pains me to admit this is myself and the world, but I cannot visit the Land of 1000 Smiles or whatever they're calling it these days. Siam, maybe.

When will I ever find myself in this area of the world again? When will it be a short 3.5 hour planeride away that only sets me back $400 dollars? When will I be provided with vacation pay that funds this exotic adventure to pure white sand beaches and Jello coloured water at another time in my life? Probably never. But I have to face reality and be an adult, which isn't much fun. I'd rather be about 7.

My previous plan was to hop on an Air India jet from Shanghai at the beginning of Chinese New Year and veg out on the beach getting a tan for two weeks. Maybe buy a snake and some scorpion stingers for cheap. Then I'd go from Thailand to Toronto and spend my remaining 3 weeks of vacation in Canada - although I might experience some sort of fatal shock from the switch from 30 degrees to -10 degrees. But that's hardly why I'm changing my plans. Death can't stop me, responsibility can. University is important and inevitable. I came here partly to save money for it and I'd be incredibly irresponsible if I just threw away a significant amount of my savings on a 2 week vacation. I feel a little ill about it though - I was really looking forward to visiting Siam.

Lastnight I realized how safe I feel in China. I've always been a worried paranoid person. Back at home I'd check the locks several times before I went to bed, and even then I'd stay awake for at least an hour listening for the sounds of Breaking and Entering. What would it sound like I had no clue. I also had a great fear that people were after me, especially guys . Maybe they were. I was the type of crazy chick who'd take long long detours if I suspected the guy in the purple hat or the man with the walking stick was onto me. Deep seeded emotional issues, I know. But I'll never have to see a psychiatrist about these paranoid tendancies in China: they've all but disappeared. The "strange" Christmas wreath on my apartment door tells any potential B&E joker, "Foreigners live here. Leave them alone or you will be punished with whips for the rest of your natural life". For real. Not one person would dare break into our apartment.

Also: I walked Andrea downtown to catch a cab at around 1am lastnight. After I'd given the driver directions and said goodnight, I walked back to my apartment. Alone. At 1am. Through empty streets and dark alleys. "What a compromising situation!" any reasonable Canadian would exclaim. Have no fear, loyal readers: I was safe. I was in China! There was even a large group of rowdy (and probably drunk) young guys walking behind me the whole way. It didn't concern me in the least. I knew they wouldn't try anything because they are so respectful. Even when drunk. What a concept!

This is something that Canada should strive for. I maintain that everyone should feel this safe in their hometown. It's a great feeling. Not an environment that inspires Crime Novel writers like I complained about earlier, but for sure a comforting thought before I drift off to sleep at night.

Once I got home from my beautiful night walk I encountered Cassandra on a mission. When this girl has something to accomplish, you do not get in her way; instead I held her tools. We were breaking into The Extra Room. The locked one reserved for a new English Teacher and a Third housemate. I will rant about how much this thought infuriates me some other day.

The first method of picking a lock is a complex one. Turns out it's not as simple as inserting a flathead screwdriver like I wrote about before when the locksmith broke into our old apartment. A crooked pin, a flathead screwdriver and a small blade are all neccessary. But this method only works 1/10 times and we were out of luck: The room remained uninpenitrable. So we tried the oldschool method of a Sprite Bottle cut into a rectangle of plastic. I donned leather gloves for friction and shoved the piece of plastic into the side of the door. I couldn't use a crdit card because there is a metal piece between the door and the doorway that the flexible plastic could bend around.

It worked. After only 30 seconds of straining, pushing, and jangling the door, the plastic finally pushed open the lock and the door was ajar. Cassandra and I celebrated in true 8 year old girl fashion by jumping on the bed inside. Of course the administrators at the school who were trying to keep us out of the room would be appauled by our collective B&E skills, but ask me if I care. I don't.

The three of us girls are making a day trip to Shanghai tomorrow. Cass and Andrea are there for banking purposes and I'm only tagging along to muck about. I have yet to explore the top two levels of the Shanghai museum so that's where you'll probably find me. We're also buying cheese. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but I'd invite you to picture your life without cheese for an extended period of time. Bleak, isn't it? Now imagine the joy you'd experience by travelling to a big city where this staple food is in no short supply. Heaven.

Today is Saturday so I'm planning my Christmas themed lessons for this week's classes. The dude beside me is playing Christmas themed DDR on his computer and I'm kind of getting into it. I could kick his ass.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

FROM THE ARCHIVES Inspiration: Lost 07/07

I am writing the Great American Crime/Suspense/Horror/Mystery/Thriller Novel. Watch me go.

China is not exactly the greatest place to cultivate a Crime / Suspense / Horror / Mystery / Thriller genre mindset; I find myself at odds with my environment. If only I had set up shop in Madrid where stolen jewels and black cloaked gangsters are old hat. China is too conservative. I need to see more blood - purely for inspirational purposes.

Bugger of it is I haven't the foggiest idea of what to call this soon-to-be-legendary book. The only titles that come to mind are along the lines of "Happy Man means Serenity for our Lives", "Cool Fashion need Cool Taste", "My Desires to Love Untires After Dawn" etc etc. I hope you can see my problem. Please help. It's not very often I try to take advantage of my readers, especially in copyright sensitve areas, but I feel this is important enough to beg clemency (practising my lingo for the novel). What do you think my little black book should be called? Need a hint of the plot? Two words: Unicorn Bloodbath. I don't care if they're endangered! This is happening, right now. This. Is. Reality. Deal with it.

Look down about 7 posts and find the ravings of a feverish lunatic on cough syrup. Essentially every problem mentioned has been dealt with and fixed at this point. The shower was installed this morning while I was furiously writing the beginning of The Book by two men who hotboxed the washroom with their Red Chinese Cigarettes. Gross and unappreciated. Clothes washer was also fixed although I didn't mention it previously. Typical midlife crisis kind of stuff. My new house is clean and I'm ready to start a new chapter here in Dongyang.

In other seasonal news... I got nothing. Probably because Xmas is going to suck pretty hard this year. I'm expecting a package from my parents soon which will be heavenly and incidentally the only package I have ever received in my 3 months here. Let's just say Cassandra has been blessed with approximately 6. It's not my fault I'm a huge bitch and everyone hates me. That's how genious develops: through hatred.

I'm off to never never land aka my flat. Cyber Bar. This Sunday. Be there.

Saturday, December 9, 2006


I just chanced to glance at myself in a mirror. What I saw wasn't spectacular or exciting. It was sad.

My eyes were puffy and watery. My dishevelled hair stuck to my face and scalp. My skin was blotchy and my cheeks were flushed. I had to turn away from my reflection before I got queasy.

I slept for 14 hours last night and woke up exhausted. I am cold and shaky, my swollen tonsils are pushing on the back of my tongue and urging me to gag, and I suspect a high fever although I have no thermometer to be sure.

Good friends, I am ill.

I write this with great gravity coming from my double bed in my new apartment. I will explain everything.

In my last entry I casually mentioned in passing that the electricity in our apartment went out. Once... or twice. I can't be sure what the count at that time was. Point is, by Wednesday's time the fuse had blown not 7 or 9 times but 8. 8 times we were stranded without light, heat, entertainment or showers for a minimum of 6 hours at a time. Needless to say I blew a fuse of my own and talked very harshly to my employer.

If you thought for one moment I was a nice person, I would invite you to time-travel back to Wednesday afternoon and view the drama that ensued. I was so cruel it worked. Not only did they replace our entire fuse board, we were prepped to move come Thursday.

To the New Apartment. The One with Three Bedrooms. And Reliable Electricity. The One we begged for for 2 months. It was going to be great.

But no move can be complete without back breaking hard labour for 2 days straight, regardless that the two apartments are only a courtyard apart. Down five flights, up three. Down 5 up 3. Over and over and over again with every item the two of us own plus our furniture and appliances. I was sweaty and sleep deprived for two days because of the move and unfortunately that was the second cause of my illness, cause one being the cold shock I got from being without heat on and off for 6 days.

I wish I could say the stress and pain was worth it, but when I stepped back to survey the New Place, I realized it was mostly in vain.

The Third Bedroom. Cassandra relayed to me this quote from our employer a few months back: "Two people cannot live in a small apartment with only two bedrooms; you must have three. The New Place will have three."

But apparently the concept of a Third Bedroom is an abstract one. Just the thought of it being there should make us feel better; forget the fact that it's locked and we can't get in! Even worse is the reason this potentially useful room remains uninhabited: There will be yet another English Teacher living there soon! I know, ridiculous! Three people and a dog to one small apartment... it sounds like hell. Sounds like fun!

The wonderful wonderful problematic bathroom we have been blessed with. Oh joy. Where do I start... oh how about the fact that I haven't taken a shower in two days because our water heater is yet to be installed? Add that to the fact that I feel like a 95 year old on her deathbed and I hope you understand how miserable I am. And let's not forget the umbrella hanging on the bathroom wall. Pour quoi, you ask in your terrible French accent? Let's just say it comes in handy when the above-neighbours' piss comes dripping down into our washroom anytime they flush the toilet. The ceiling and pipes leak. Delightful.

I'll admit that my list is concise, but they are two major problems that still need to be dealt with. It's a big deal to me.

So because of all this crap that I have been struggling with, mixed in with the responsibility of teaching 400+ Chinese Teenagers, I find myself laying here, helpless and weak under the covers shivering with only enough strength left to complain with as much sarcasm possible. What a marvellous way to spend a weekend while there are 400 other things I'd rather be doing.

I was invited to a wedding tonight (attending a Chinese wedding is a privilege, not an obligation) but couldn't go in my current condition. I would most likely vomit on one of the bride's many dresses. I can hear the celebration fireworks going off and I just let out a big dramatic sigh for my loss.

Cassandra and Andrea are at some big dinner (which I was also invited to) with the headmaster of Andrea's school. Who is Andrea? I almost forgot! She is this wonderful sweet 23 year old Mormon girl from Montreal with Central American heritage who came here on Thursday to teach and live at another school in Dongyang. She and Cassandra have been taking care of me today in the form of bringing me soup and keeping me company. I am forever grateful.

I have a mountain of other things to get off my chest but I feel I must sleep now. More later, when I don't feel like dying.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006


2 Months Back. Let's go back 60 days.

It was in Shanghai and I was spellbound by everything. Nothing could faze me, there was no evil in the world at all. The China I knew was perfect because it was new to me.

I was with my mom because who doesn't want to visit this country if given the opportunity? Snapping night life photos like the tourists we were and suddenly we encountered Sunshine and Little Boy on the street. "You are so beautiful. Where are you from? We are university students in Shanghai," Sunshine gushed as she gave me several elevator looks. She could have asked me to help her help push some drugs and I would have said yes, I was so pleased with her flattery and the event of encountering a young English speaking girl and boy. "We are off the the tea ceremony come with us. Come with us. Come on let's go." And we went and thought nothing of it. We were whisked away through alleys and into a huge building and up some stairs and down a corridor and into a wooden tea houe and we thought nothing of it.

We thought very little of it when each tea tasting (poured into a tiny glass cup) was 50 yuan and there were 7 teas on the list and there were 2 of us. 7o0 yuan. And to purchase a little box of tea was 80 yuan and Sunshine and Little Boy ran out of money and looked at us with pleading eyes ("foot the rest of our bill please," they seemed to say). And when the whole ceremony was over, our wallets were just a little bit lighter and Sunshine and Little Boy said goodnight and ran off down the street.

I never thought twice of this entire event until lastnight while brushing my teeth. I know now that every good idea I ever have can be attributed to my toothbrush*.

The idea struck me right after I spat in the sink: what if the entire event was a ruse? A cleverly crafted trick? A con even? Could it be that Sunshine and Little Boy were in cohorts with the shifty teahouse to recruit dazzled tourists eager to experience a new culture by blinding them with compliments and forcing them to pay astronomical fees for 7 tiny cups of tea? Perhaps after the two ran off down the street they returned to the teahouse, took back their own money and claimed half of our 700RMB as a finder's fee? I know everyone says this, but it really all adds up. The chances of 2 Chinese students who speak perfect English making their way to a tea ceremony (the equivalent of two Canadian teenagers attending a maple syrup making demonstration) are slim to none. The fact that Sunshine seemed very familiar with the hostess and the history and demonstration puts further doubt in my mind. And having been to several teahouses in my two months here, I know that the fees were ridiculous. I was angry lastnight after my teeth were cleaned, and I might even be wrong.

I am no longer a dazzled tourist and despite my happy-go-lucky blog posts (hah hah) you should know that I have turned into a bit of a paranoid cynic. There is a con artist around every turn in my eyes. Actually this is a bit of an exaggeration, I have merely improved on myself. Previously I was a poor judge of character; I was entirely too trusting of people who could be bad for me. Now I only see evil. Exaggerating once more.

But there is one person I am wary of. Mr. Jiang: the cutest middle aged man ever. That's what makes him so deceitful, dear reader! Who better to instill trust than a short, high-voiced, puppy dog eyed Chinese man who knows very little Engrish? If your name is Andrea or Kim and you are getting scared, I advise you not to listen to my insane opinions. Form your own, don't take my word for it! Anyway I don't trust him.

I have acted at Hengdian World Studios (the movie Hook was NOT shot there, correction) for a total of 25 hours. For this someone owes me approximately 1000RMB by my books. Acting as an extra is hard hard work, especially when you are doing it in China, so I refuse to let this go. Would you? Would you throw up your hands and say "whatever it's only money"? I hope not because I won't and I long for like-minded people. Who has my money??? Three question marks. While in Hengdian with the help of the Beautiful Lu Chao I asked the casting director this very question.

"Who has my money?"

"Mr. Jiang has your money." (he being the person who recruited me to act)

"Mr. Jiang, where is my money?"

"The casting director has your money." (I gathered he said from his broken Engrish)

"Lu Chao, who has my money?"

"Daphne, Mr Jiang has your money." (Apparently Stephanie is too hard so he calls me Daphne and it's too cute to correct)

So the question still remains and every day goes by that I don't see my 1000RMB I get more and more paranoid that my caretaker is more concerned about taking care of himself. As in taking advantage of me. As in pocketing my hard-earned cash.

And on the subject of RMBs, my favourite subject: I have saved 3/4s of my pay from last month and I get yet another lump sum tomorrow afternoon. Getting paid is the best experience ever so I will dramatize it for you.

Cassandra and I walk into the far building of the giant school in silence. All the lights are turned off except one. Light seeps beneath a door and into the dark at the end of a long corridor. Just like Dorothy and her 3 companions walking down the green hallway to meet the Wizard, we quietly tiptoe towards the light and The Door. "You knock," I nudge Cass. "No you do it!" she retorts. We could go on. One of us takes the stand and raps three times, turning into 9 and 18 and 36 raps as it echos down the corridor.

We hold our breath and The Door opens, revealing three men in black suits expelling cigarette smoke through their nostrils and into the hazy air. They know what we want and they grin because we are in a compromising situation. We cannot shoot the breeze or chit chat to ease the pressure of why we've come: money. Mr. Wu stands up and hands us a sheet which we sign and return promtly. The machine shuffles out a stack of red bills. 5000RMB it reads. Again it shuffles and reads 5000. A third time, same deal. He hands the stack to Cassandra. Shuffle read. Shuffle read. Shuffle read. Mr. Wu hands the second stack to me. The two of us turn to leave and I hear the three men chuckling softly. Money is just so hilarious. We quietly close the door and exit the dark building as fast as we can. That place creeps me out but I love the feeling.

That is where I shall be tomorrow at 4.30pm. Wish me luck.

I've almost exhausted my typing hand. Or both of them. With my last kilogram of energy I wil recite the happenings of this past weekend. Quickly while I still have the strength!

Friday: Cass thought it would be a good idea to invite three of her students to our apartment for dinner. Having exactly zero groceries and approximately no table or chairs in our apartment, I decided that wasn't the best idea. Also I object to seeing students outside of school as I heartily stated last week. It happened anyway and I wasn't surprised when the three kids were unimpressed by our bachelor pad. I showed them some pictures of Canada and gave them a tour of my room. They liked the Chinese heart-throb posters I have taped up. I also showed off the wonderfully large blackboard on my wall that is chalk full (oh I'm so good) of Chinese words and phrases I learned last week. It felt great to have the admiration of 14 year olds, honestly. Needless to say we went out for dinner.

Saturday: I woke up with a grin on my face. I pulled back my curtains and witnessed the reason for my good mood: the first blue sky in Dongyang in the past 2 weeks. "Today I shall climb a mountain." And I did. But first our fuse had to be blown and our electricty flow had to cease. Of course. With every blessing comes a curse. "WHY?????" I whined to Cassandra. Blown fuses happen when you are running two space heaters, an iron, a computer, a kettle and several lights simultaniously in a little apartment I discovered. Our wonderful neighbour came and fixed the fuse with the help of some copper wire. What a good man.

We went to our favourite market, bought a bunch of food and stuffed it into Cass' pack, had an awkward little chat with the market manager who just loves to practise his English with us, and made our way to base camp. Our friend Decker called us half way to tag along half way there and we consented. *Note to anyone who got this far: two Chinese guys are presently hanging into our booth, watching Cass and I on the internet and I'm presently giving them Death Stare 2006. It's not working* At the top of the mountain Double Decker and a one eyed mountain dweller helped us start a fire and we cooked Taiwan style "hotdogs" and "marshmallows". It was just like the good old days except I never used to be that way. We spent the whole day on top of the mountain and only came down at dark.

Sunday: Woke up cold this morning thinking "What the flip?". Fuse blew AGAIN. Turns out copper wire isn't the solution to everything. I made breakfast on the gas range wearing boots, gloves and my fur coat. Cass and I had to escape that cold hell of an apartment; we escaped to the internet cafe as always. And here I am.