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.


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