Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My last weeks in China

I know I keep saying that I’m done blogging because of finals and packing, but this week has been weird. If you’ve kept up with me this long I figured you might be interested.

Make a Rabbit Disappear

This week started with a rabbit. I don’t remember if I’ve told you about Hambowbow yet so let me summarize the situation. For my friend Judith’s birthday, some people came together and bought her a long haired rabbit. He looks extraordinarily Asian, complete with squinting eyes and a fu man chu coming to a point beneath his chin. He was named Hambowbow (the Chinese word for hamburger).
The real story started though when he was brought back to the dorm. Judith’s Korean roommate didn’t want a rabbit living with her. So instead, Hambowbow was sent to live with me for a few weeks. The Korean roommate would be going home then so the ball of fur could be returned to his rightful owner. Until then, the two of us, along with my Russian roommate, would have to get along.
This week though, we prepared for Hambowbow’s departure. The Korean was leaving in six hours and I was packing up the cage. The rabbit was playing outside my window, where a shared stone deck sat on the third floor of our dormitory. I jumped through the window and started the process of trying to get the rabbit back inside.
He didn’t want to. Hambowbow ran in circles around the deck, jumping for every lap he completed. Finally, in a last hop of freedom, the rabbit jumped in a small hole along floor of third floor.

And he was gone.
I just stood there for a moment looking at the place the rabbit had disappeared. I had barely noticed this hole because it was so small. But he was completely gone. I stuck my hand down the gap but it went down too far for me to reach.
Within the next hour we stuck a rope with a banana on it down the hole. Hambowbow loved bananas. But he didn’t even nibble on it. We also realized that the hole went straight down about thirty feet. Into a wall. Apparently, the deck had been built on later that the rest of the dorm so the Chinese left this hollow pillar in the wall. It was about two square feet wide and it literally went straight down to the basement.
With the help of some friends, we went to the bottom floor and deduced which wall the rabbit was trapped behind. I was pretty positive he was dead. I felt awful. But we wanted to make sure. I climbed up into the ceiling tiles of the basement and found a small crack (thank goodness for shady Chinese construction) in the wall. With the use of a headlamp (never leave for China without one) I could see the rope that had the banana on it. It was about ten feet away from me. And we knew that the rabbit would beneath it.

So we stole an American’s cane and an Italian’s sword. I attached another friend’s webcam to the cane along with my headlamp. We had created a probe that could be slid through the crack and look down to see if the rabbit was ok. Even in the midst of probably killing a friend’s pet, I still recognized that this was pretty cool. It was like something off of a spy movie.

After a few tries I was finally able to get a good look inside the hole. The rabbit was there, completely unharmed, and sniffing the banana that hung from a string. I flipped the probe up and saw the great distance between the hole’s bottom and top. I still have no idea how Hambowbow survived.
But his temporary escape from death didn’t help us for more than a moment. There was still the issue of the rabbit being stuck down a deep whole without a way out. And I had to use the length of a cane and a sword attached together just to see him. We decided to wait a night and talk to the people in the Chinese office in the morning. I threw some food pellets down the hole that night. I thought the rabbit might get hungry.
The next day we told the Chinese that there was a rabbit in their walls. They took it surprisingly well. I showed them the video I had taken with the web cam to show that the rabbit was very much alive. And I showed them exactly which wall the rabbit was trapped inside. For a solid two hours the Chinese people considered helping. They brought in janitors and construction workers, looked at the wall, scratched their heads, mumbled something, and walked away. Eventually, someone told us that they could do nothing. To put a hole in the wall would cost about 1000 RMB ($150). They didn’t want to waste that kind of money on a rabbit. And they assured me that the smell wouldn’t be too bad when the animal started to rot.

With that happy thought in mind, I asked them if I could try and save him. I knew that the crack I had put the cane and sword down could be widened. They told me that I could make as much damage as I wanted as long as it couldn’t be seen.
So once again, I climbed up in the tiles. This time with a hammer and chisel. And I started hacking away at the wall. Since I’ve never been in this situation in America, I can’t say that this would never happen. But I cannot imagine a university at home letting a foreign exchange student hack away at a pillar in their walls. I guess I shouldn’t be complaining.
As I started, I found a large pipe that held my weight so I could sit. It was useful as I spent the next nine hours widening a crack in a cement wall. I couldn’t see anyone but from what I heard we had a whole crowd of students beneath me, moving the stones and cement that I threw down. Italians, Americans, Russians, Dutch, Germans, Koreans, and the occasional Chinese person were all helping. About the sixth hour I was exhausted, and an energetic Dutch girl named Charlotte climbed up into the ceiling with a hammer in her hand and started joining me. I would have preferred my roommate who could probably have just punched the wall down, but we needed small, spry people to climb up into the tight tiles.
Charlotte was like a breath of fresh air. Literally, she made the gap big enough so that we had more air going through it. Within an hour, we had a five foot hole made that I could slide down into. It put me into this abyss section that went another ten feet to my left to the column that the bunny was in. We had knocked up so much dust that I could barely breathe. Charlotte continued to make the whole larger behind me in order to fix this. I pushed my feet on one wall while my back pushed on another and slowly moved toward the rabbit’s cell. Once again, even in the midst of a bad situation, this felt pretty cool.
Eventually, I got to the rabbit. With my headlamp back on my head I was able to see the grey ball of fluff down a hollow column to my left. I was too big to get down there so I called to Charlotte to get something that we could get him in. Judith took a sand bucket and filled it with smashed bananas. Some people attached it to my rope (never leave for China without rope) and passed it into me. I unsuccessfully tried to bribe the rabbit into the bucket. Instead of going in, Hambowbow just nibbled on the edges. After thirty minutes of eating the bucket the rabbit walked out of sight.
I couldn’t find him. There was a stone that had come loose at the base of the hole and the rabbit had walked through into another crack. And that crack led right beneath me. I gave a yelp at my sudden good fortune and slowly slid down the mini canyon to pick him up.
But the rabbit ran from me. Me, the guy who was trying to save his furry tail. He ran back through the gap, back to his original column. At this point I considered leaving the rodent in the hole. But I’d already caused so much damage and missed a day of class. Too much of an investment. So I took the bucket, swung it over into his hole and started smacking him with it. I yanked the rope, pulled the bucket a few feet high, then dropped it back on his head. Within a few minutes of being continually beaten across the face, the rabbit ran back to my section. I grabbed him around the waist and threw him up to Charlotte. She grabbed him like a pro and passed him out to growing international crowd.
Somehow, he was alive. The only damage he suffered was a sprained ankle and some sticky fur. And I think the latter was from me hitting him with a bucket full of smashed bananas. All in all, I’d say that this day went about as well as it possibly could have.

When I was younger, I always wanted a pet rabbit. I thought they would be fun to play with. But no, I was wrong. They jump down nearly endless holes. They run from you when you try to save the. I spent nine hours in a ceiling and three in a wall. I think I’ll stick with dogs from now on.

Korean Sports Meet
Friday I went to a Korean sports meet. The first event involved kicking our shoes off our feet at great distances. The person who kicked their shoe off the farthest got a gift certificate to a Korean restaurant. I didn’t know this was a sport. But the Koreans took it seriously. They all wound their foot up with pure concentration and released their shoes at the perfect time.
My own shoe, like many of the other westerners, actually went behind my head. It looks like I’ll continue paying for my Korean food.
After the shoes flew, we had dodge ball, soccer, and foot volleyball competitions. I chose to compete in the foot volleyball. My trip to China was the first time I’d ever heard of this sport. Basically, they mixed soccer and volleyball together and created volleyball with your feet. Our team of westerners finished in dead last but it was a great experience. Why don’t we play this sport in the states? I think I’ll try to start a group when I get back.
After that I had to go to work so I missed most of the other events. I got back a few hours later, just in time to see everyone doing a relay. It involved balloon popping and running in circles. Oddly though, most of the Koreans were uncoordinated. They all appeared dizzy and were giggling as they tried to pop the balloons. I asked one of my friends who was competing what was going on. Through half closed eyes and a goofy smile on his face he told me that two events ago there was an alcohol drinking competition.
I’ve been to a few sports meets before. But this was definitely the first where alcohol was on the same list as soccer and a footrace. The Korean athletes staggered to finish until one, a friend of mine named Gook, finally popped a balloon. He won a plane ticket to Korea. I guess if you really want to win the prize you have to be dedicated to get it.

Technically Not in the Mafia

I was talking to my Russian roommate the other day about Qingdao. He’s lived here for a few years and knows the ends and outs of the city. At one point I asked him about the Russian mafia. I figured since he’s Russian he might know about these things. And one of my friends from the states said there was one in Qingdao. Ivan fell over laughing when I asked him this. “I’m the closest thing to the mafia that this town has,” he said in a thick Russian accent. I laughed too for a moment and then stopped as I realized what he said.
“Wait, have you been in the mafia?” I asked, suddenly thinking this might be a question you should ask your roommate before you agree to live with him.
He paused for moment and thought about it. After a bit he shook his head and said, “No, not really. I’ve done a little bit of lower level stuff back in Russia, but nothing big. Gangs, mostly.”
“Gangs?” I asked, still feeling like I should have been able to check the “no” box on a gang member roommate before coming to school.
“Not really gangs,” said Ivan sensing my worry. “We usually just lived in one spot of a town and played a lot of sports together. It was more like a team.”
I kind of gave a sigh of relief.
“—And occasionally we would require the local businesses and people to pay us a protection fee. Just little stuff like that.”
I sucked my sigh back up. I thought this was the best time to change the subject. I asked him why there wasn’t a Russian mafia in Qingdao. He told me that the bigger cities like Beijing and Shanghai had them but that it was hard to bring them into China. Foreigners have so few rights that they are not protected by the law.
He then went on and told me about a story where some guy came up and fought him in a restaurant. From what Ivan said, he knocked the man unconscious and waited for the ambulance to come pick him up. The police later expected Ivan to pay for the hospital bill. Ivan threw his hands up in disgust when he told this part of story. “In China you start a fight, you get your face bashed in, and you want people to pay for it. Terrible country.”
And looking back as I write this, I can’t help but think that I’ve given a false impression of Ivan. Don’t get me wrong, all of these stories are true, but the kid is definitely much deeper than he lets on. I think he is my closest guy friend living in China. With Florian back in France and the other Missouri State guys on a different schedule than me; I end up spending a lot of time with him. He’s opening a gym here in Qingdao in a week. And he’s already promised me free entry. I’m going to check it out this week. It has truly been a pleasure and an experience getting to know him. And he hasn’t even asked me to pay a protection fee yet.

Gossip Girl?
We have a new laoshi (Chinese teacher). Her name is Laoshi Dong. She is only twenty-six years old and is very enthusiastic in her teaching. Furthermore, her English is great. I can’t tell you how much easier it is to learn Chinese when someone can explain it in English.
Today, while we were in class, Saeroom, a girl from Korea, told the laoshi that she watched Gossip Girl this last weekend. This is a TV drama about rich kids who do terrible things to each other to get what they want. Real classy media.

Anyways, Laoshi Dong smiled and said that she also watched Gossip girl. Soon, every girl in the class, all from different countries, admitted to watching this show. In Chinese they started comparing the relationships, and the people, and the clothes. Soon, we started learning words for sunglasses, earrings, and pearls. We were literally learning from Gossip Girl. And now I know enough of the language that I couldn’t just tune them out. It was awful. There has never been such a painful class.

Bao Jiaozi
This last weekend Judith and I were invited to Ma Laoshi’s (our other teacher) house to make dumplings (called jiaozi in Chinese). This was my first time to be invited to a Chinese household. Ma lives with his mother and father in a small apartment. We also got to meet his niece and younger sister. They prepared bowls of chopped meat and vegetables and small dough patties. We were instructed to use chopsticks to put the ingredients from the bowl on the dough. Then we wrapped (called bao in Chinese) the dough and pinched its edges.
According to Ma’s niece, my bao jiaozi skills are bu hao (very bad). But they tasted delicious. Also, it was just interesting to be with Chinese people in their home. They are so hospitable. And they have these turtles that they keep in a bucket. They are fifteen years old and each the size of my head. This wasn’t the highlight of the day, but definitely interesting.
Also, after much practice, I think I know how to make my own dumplings. They won’t look very pretty, so I’ll need to concentrate on the taste.

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