At noon, I was invited to lunch by Martin Tang, the Director of the International Office of Exchange and Cooperation. He is the man that extended the invitation for me to come to Changsha and we have been exchanging e-mails since October. It was nice to finally meet him. Also invited to the lunch was his assistant (Amy), another girl from their office who I can't remember her name (probably because she didn't choose an English name--how sad is that), Karen (my personal Mandarin tutor and tour guide), and a married couple from SUU on student exchange (Chance and Brenna Burrows). You can see from the photos below that the lunch involved another community-style serving set up, which often utilizes a "lazy Susan" (I'm going to start calling it a "lazy Suishan" for fun), which allows people to grab what they want with the chopsticks. Everyone has their own bowl and plate, but I didn't see people using the plates very often. They just take their chopsticks, grab a bit of food, and put it in their mouth without using the plate at all. Some people in the U.S. might argue that this isn't very sanitary, but it wasn't like you would think. The Chinese are very precise with the chopsticks and seem to grab just the food they plan to eat without touching the rest. It was kind of impressive actually. The advantage of this type of set up is that it is very social and it allows the guests to talk with each other and about the food (which is always a fun topic for me). It was kind of fun to be chatting away and to try to grab the food I wanted before someone would spin it away from me.
There were some tricky moments in terms of etiquette. The server poured me some tea and Martin wanted to toast me (yes, me specifically). So, he raised his glass and I picked up my juice. He laughed and said "juice is fine" and we proceeded to tap glasses. He also gave me a beautifully embroidered silk as a gift. Thank goodness Sun Xun (Chinese faculty member in the SUU music department) gave me a tip to be ready at all times to spontaneously exchange gifts. So, I was prepared with a wood business card holder that was engraved with the SUU seal. I know that the Chinese are very much into the exchange of business cards, so I thought that would be appropriate. As soon as I handed it to him, he immediately pulled out his business cards, put one in the holder and then gave me one of them. I had also read that upon receiving a business card, Westerners should examine the contents of the business card carefully before putting it away. I made sure I did this as well. During the lunch, I also noticed some power (status) issues at play. First, nobody would sit until I sat (guest of honor I guess). Also, they had designated spots for Martin and I and it was clear that we were of higher status than the other guests. Also, Martin and I generally carried most of the conversation and it wasn't out of rudeness. The others simply did not say much (except for the SUU students a bit) because they were showing deference. My observations about these status issues were confirmed to me when I asked Karen afterwards why everyone was so quiet. She said that myself and Martin had great "authority" and were therefore allowed to talk more freely. Pretty interesting stuff. Oh and the food was good too. Not quite as good as the first restaurant, but still delicious.
After lunch, Karen took me over to the China Mobile phone store where I bought a phone for 200 yuan ($30) and charged it with 150 yuan of pay as you go minutes and 150 text messages (for 5 yuan or $2.25). I can only use it in China, but it will be handy while I'm here and I can also bring it back with me next year and use it again. International calls are very expensive to make on these phones, but the local ones are only .12 yuan per call, so I can use it quite a bit for 150 yuan. After the phone store, we went to the supermarket, where the day before I had trouble buying fruit if you recall. Karen explained to me that in order to buy anything that is loose in the bins (or on a weighted or measured system), you have to make sure it's in separate bags (which I did the first time--I'm not an idiot) and then take it to a "designated" weigher who will weigh it and slap a sticker on it to take to the checker. It's not that much different from the deli at our grocery stores, but deceptive in that you're allowed to grab it yourself, but you still have to get it weighed.
After this venture, I went shopping some more with Chance and Brenna (SUU exchange students). They showed me what places they are comfortable with since they speak just a little bit of Chinese. It was really helpful to have them show me where I could get good food at a decent price. They took me to one of their favorite restaurants, which they claimed to eat at once per day for the last four months. It was down this really narrow looking alley, but apparently all the good places are off in some corner that you wouldn't expect. The owner seemed very warm to them and they ordered three dishes and rice for the three of us to share (again community-style). They paid for dinner, which they say is a custom once you make a new friend. I asked them if I could unfriend them (Facebook style) and become friends again tomorrow just before dinner. I hope they knew I was kidding. After dinner, we took a bus (1 yuan or about 15 cents) to the downtown area where it was very lively and there was lots of activity in terms of the crowds (which are everywhere in China). We purchased tickets to the Avengers at the Changsha IMAX theater by buying an "admit one" ticket from someone on the street and then taking that ticket into the concession booth to exchange it for a regular ticket. I asked Chance why he did this and he said that his local friends told him this trick. Apparently, if you just go into the theater and buy your ticket, it costs 70 yuan ($10.50), but if you buy it from the guy outside, it's only 35 yuan ($5.25). That's a really good deal! Once we were inside, the sound and digital picture were terrific! However, the the Chinese folks who were in the theater were constantly talking and actually using their phones during the movie to make calls. I'm used to noisy environments, though, so it didn't bother me too much. Chance was upset when theater workers threw us out for trying to watch the special post-credits clips. Eventually, they just shut off the movie and we didn't get to see it. They probably couldn't figure out why we wouldn't leave. My favorite part of the movie experience, though, was during a scene in which the Hulk grabs Loki (the bad guy) and starts slamming in on the floor over and over again. The Chinese people thought this was hilarious and it was fun to see them be so spirited toward an American film.
In terms of the teaching, I feel ready to rock and roll. They adjusted my teaching schedule a bit so that I'm starting this Wednesday (May 9th) instead of on the 16th. This means that I will be done earlier than I originally thought with classes. One of the more frustrating aspects of my visit so far has been that they seemed to organize my teaching schedule AFTER I had already arrived even though they have been aware of my visit since October. When I asked Amy about the adjustment, she simply said that she never heard exactly which days I was coming and did the best she could (I did send my flight itinerary early in the process). When I was anticipating some of the cultural differences that would arise, I naturally thought about things like language and food. I wasn't really expecting to have to adapt my very organized personality to a more flexible and spontaneous way of doing things. I suppose it's just part of the process. I'm still grateful to be here and am looking forward to meeting my students this week. Good thing I'm not waiting for anyone to tell me what my course content is going to be.
Bad news of the week for my poor wife: They have NO dryers in Changsha. Everyone hangs their clothes out the window, which looks really interesting in those high rise buildings where you see all these shirts hanging off the 30th floor.
|From left to right: Martin Tang, Brenna Burrows, Chance Burrows, Amy, can't remember her name, Karen.|
|Martin and the Burrows.|
|Amy is on the left. She is Martin's main assistant and she made all the...um...arrangements for my visit.|
|I'm not gonna lie. I felt really...what's the word...heavyset next to Martin.|
|At the restaurant where the Burrows took me.|
|The alley leading to the restaurant.|
|This market is right across the street from the International Building where I am staying. Looks pretty good doesn't it? Fresh fruit is one of the perks here.|
|My dad's always teasing me for my poor photography skills. This blurry one is taken out the window of a bus as we cross the Xiangjiang River. Take that, dad :)|
|A downtown street as we walk to the movie theater from the bus stop.|
|That ticket scalper didn't want me to take her picture for some crazy reason. I'm sending this to the Central Chinese government right away.|
|Now you see why I have trouble getting something to eat.|