Home > Uncategorized > Culture Shock and the Indian Michael Jackson Saturday, October 17, 2009 3:04 AM

Culture Shock and the Indian Michael Jackson Saturday, October 17, 2009 3:04 AM

Hey friends and family!

I’m sitting in the Q1 internet cafe in San Xiang for the last time, most likely. We received an e-mail on Friday afternoon from Sabrina saying that the rest of us would—at last—be moving to Yan Hua Yuan staff dormitories near campus.
This week has been the most work-ridden so far. It’s also the first week that I’ve really felt the whole brunt of culture shock, despite the fact that I can communicate in small words now rather than cave-woman grunts. The shock particularly comes from the way people at work behave. Since there are no longer fifteen of us living out in San Xiang, our bus forgot to pick us up at all on Wednesday. We had to mime and guide-book ruffle a request for a cab into town and get reimbursed the 90 kuai in cash from HR (which was speedy compared to the rate at which they do things like give us mail keys or get a mattress approved to move into our rooms).

“Emily, if I’m having a horrible day, seeing you get angry about something just always puts me in a good mood,” Megan has said to me more than once. I know. How am I supposed to take that? She meant that my private outbursts against the HR department, whiny co-workers, or sexually creepshow expatriate white-men are humorous word-cocktails. A good steam-blowing explosion after work isn’t so bad, but it’s not really doing the trick anymore, and I, Tin-Hau-help-me, do NOT to cross that line from comedienne to ugly American. I only know how to manage my frustrations in Mandarin class, where I write down every ridiculous thing that the old Israeli professor who sits behind me says.

“Please translate: I do not have a boyfriend. I am very, very busy,” said Amanda, our Chinese teacher.

“Wo mei you nan peng you. Wo hen mang hen mang,” we said falteringly and with questionable tones.

“Is that a reason or an excuse?” The old Israeli man says.

Often he will make suggestions as to the way Chinese grammar should be. Most times Amanda just stares at him, mouth slightly agape. On Friday he suggested that if someone is addicted to coffee, they should use the same grammatical structure as if they were talking about a person who is close to them. Amanda paused for about five seconds and then said the word, “Ridiculous.”

He doesn’t bother me so much, mostly because he’s not threatening my life with a car or the like. Also, his antics are fully documented. It’s the other stuff that’s not so easy to laugh at.

After the cab dropped us in front of UIC I headed to the staff cafe, sweating and shaking, and asked two female English professors what they did to relieve the shock and stress of being perpetually confused and lost. “Massages,” they both said (both before listing other less-specific things). Since I’ve spent the last two months living opposite a spa/massage parlor without taking advantage of it, I figure maybe tomorrow is the day. I take issue a bit with being touched by strangers, but especially as I allegedly train for this alleged half-marathon, as I get knocked around in the seatbeltless backseats of taxis, as I fruitlessly stand in counter intuitive bank lines to try to send money home, I’m starting to knot up in more than just my body.

Whole person education and voluntary service started officially on Wednesday. Sadie, Megan and I went with Ryan and a busload of second years to a government run school for physically and mentally handicapped students. We weren’t allowed to see the school because apparently we would’ve needed special permission to do so, but we were allowed to give attention to the students who came in that afternoon with their parents for physical therapy. Ryan had seen me with my guitar after working on “Surfer Girl” with my a Capella club (I only used the guitar to teach the parts!) and insisted I bring it along. It was a really good idea—the director’s eyes lit up when I came in with it and he told me that it was the perfect thing to relax the children. I parked myself on a blue mat and played the guitar for the entire two hours we were there. It really hurt after awhile.

One little girl who I’m pretty sure was autistic was running from room to room with two students laughing and chasing after her. When she heard the guitar, she stopped, and put her face inches from the strings. “Jie!” She said, looking up at me.

“Mei mei!” I said back to her, smiling and continuing to play. We’d learned “big sister” and “little sister” the first week of Chinese class. The girl continued to stare at my guitar before shouting “ai” the word for love and jumping up and down, then tearing another lap around the room and down the hallway. When she returned, she took the pick that I’d left beside me on the floor and slid it through my strings and into the guitar. I haven’t been able to get it out yet.

Last night really helped me recover from the intense week, as we had a birthday party for Jessica’s boyfriend, Joel. We started at an Indian restaurant called the Indian Kitchen, which was right down the street from The Jewel of India, which lit up incompletely at night so it was actually called The Jew of India. The food was excellent, and Joel kept wondering aloud when Michael Jackson would get there. We thought that he meant one of the hosts kind of looked like MJ—maybe wore a single glove or something. What really happened was that one of the cooks came out of the kitchen dressed in high waters, white socks, loafers, a black hat, and a homemade sequined jacket and glove. They replaced the Bollywood DVDs that had been playing on a TV in the corner with a recording of Michael Jackson singing “Billy Jean” live in concert, and as strobe lights flashed, the cook replicated his dance move for move.

Between the group of us, stories of last night have been unfolding like a dumped out linen closet—all hilarious (except for one possible staff-student not-G-rated breach of ethics, which is undoubtedly going to scandalize next week). Among the best of the stories, in my opinion, was when Sadie’s boyfriend in the US was trying to find her and called Rose, who also has a boyfriend in the US. Rose couldn’t hear Sadies’s boyfriend, John, ask for Sadie as we were in a club called “UFO” with very very loud music (I gave the toilet attendants there a very nice tip). So Rose just started crying, “Oh Aaron! You’re so far away! I wish I could just hear your voice! I love you so much!” and then hung up. Also at one point during the night I got to pet a puppy with enormous bat ears.

I guess I’ll go make the most of my last weekend in San Xiang—by reading Kitchen Confidential and eating matcha Pejoys.

Love to all of you,
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