Saturday, February 21, 2009

Slide - Skiing and the Ministries

A telephone call.

"Wei?" I say.
"Wei. Is this the boy that I met at the Kunming Airport a few weeks ago?" replies an old female voice.
"Oh, you must be Zhao Ayi! Thank you for calling me! Are you still in Beijing?"
"I'll be here for a little longer than I thought. In any case, will you be busy this weekend?"
"I don't think so..."
"My daughter is going up to Miyun with her husband and friends to ski. Why don't you come? I'm sure you're a good skier."
"Zhao Ayi, I've never skied in my life."

Four days later, I am waiting for Zhao Ayi to pick me up at the Shangdi subway station. While I listen to Chinese weather and traffic reports through my mp3 player, an silver SUV pulls up in front of me. The tinted windows slide down and I see a familiar face from Yunnan.
"Zhao Ayi, hao jiu bu jian," I greet her.
"ni hao ni hao, get in the car quickly!" says her daughter in the driver's seat. "The police haven't seen us yet."
I rush into the back seat. A young white man with glasses already in the back seat looks at me. "Hello."
"Huh?" I reply. I correct myself with a "hi."
"This is my husband, Mr. S, a guy I met when I was studying abroad in Canada." says the driver. "My name is Mrs. C. Nice to meet you."

For the next forty or so minutes, we all exchange life histories. Mr. S came out to China with Mrs. C because of his childhood fascination with Taoism and Chinese women. He wooed Mrs. C with deep discussions on the meanings of 有 and 無. He hasn't finished his bachelor's degree yet, but he's working on it through online classes with his college back in Quebec somewhere. His Chinese isn't good enough to converse with Zhao Ayi, but he's working on it.
"I try not to live by rules," says Mr. S, "I like to look for new ways to beat the rat race."
Zhou Ayi, a elderly woman I met at the Kunming airport, works as a high level 公務員 in Hainan. Mrs. C used to work for CCTV, but after a few years of confusion and frustration with the state of journalism in China, she decided to pursue a masters in international relations in Canada. While working at CCTV and through her mother and wealthy father's connections, she has quite a few connections in the political echelons.
"Oh, I'm bringing a few of those friends with me," Mrs. C says. "Don't worry, we'll have fun!"
"Uh huh." I nod.
"By the way, do you play Dungeons and Dragons?" asks Mr. S, "I've been looking to level up my character in Beijing...."

We pass through Miyun (密云), a growing town north of Beijing. Looking at the facial characteristics of the people walking on the street, it seems there is a mix of Han Chinese and southwestern minorities living here. In the distance, I can see outlines of the Great Wall as well a few miniature fakes. The highway is lined on both sides with leafless trees and banks of frozen snow clumps mixed with dirt. Soon, we pass by huge villas in suburban neighborhoods and chemical factories. The suburbia here looks like California's suburban towns if they were relocated to arctic regions. Arctic Irvines and Orange Counties - hmm.

We meet with Mrs. C's friends at the ski resort. After a few minutes of hellos and introductions, we head inside led by one of Mrs. C's friends, the one with the free tickets. I start chatting with one of the guys. “So what do you do?" I ask.
"Uh...I work for the Ministry of Inspection." Guy says. "Are you familiar with the Chinese government?"
"I remember reading that the Inspection Ministry is responsible for judging corrupt officials.” I reply.
"Oh good, then I don't have to explain."
"How often do you deal with corrupt officials?" I ask.
"That's classified."
"Come on, I'm foreign. Nobody's going to believe me if I share what you've said with anyone else."
"Uh...I inspect at least a hundred profiles per day."
"Cases, people."
"Just you?"
"There are a few other government workers who inspect similar cases."
"How many?"
"Around ten."
"So...that's at least a thousand profiles per day."

Apparently, when you want to slown down as you ski down a slope, you're supposed to adjust your skiboards into an arrow shape and lean into your heels. I made a V-shape instead, which while skiing downslope slid out and forced me to split my legs. My groin skied into a small kid's head.

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Perpetuum Mobile: Halfway

The sun rises at 6:22 each morning, later sometimes. An old 80-something woman comes out bundled in handwoven scarf, beanie and winter jacket to perform her morning calisthenics. A late middle-aged man joins her. Another middle-aged woman comes about ten minutes later, then another. "来了," says the elderly woman. "来了,来了,I've come, I've come," the others reply. 

The magazine pile in my room is reaching a critical level, and needs to be recycled, but I'm still undecided as to whether or not toss the periodicals. Lots of underlined words and notes are scribbled and would be worth reading again later on. The bookshelves are already crowded. I'd rather be a packrat, but the walking space in my room is shrinking. 

Another two modules left at IUP. I'll be studying at the last level of Chinese designed by the program along with the second classical Chinese course. Looking back, I'm fairly pleased with my progress since I've started studying at this program. I read, speak and write at a decent level of fluency and feel a stronger sense of belonging in this country after every television program, conversation with a friend and bike ride. The occasional grammar mistake is inevitable, and I can only hope with practice I will express myself with more beauty and eloquence. 

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