Getting Away

First, an observation which is completely unrelated to anything that follows: I think the Chinese have figured out how to inject all their onions with napalm. There’s no other way to explain the effect they have on the human eye. They’re far stronger than onions anywhere else in the world. Were you to reduce that to an analogy, you might put it this way: Chinese onions:western onions::Taco Bell hot sauce:military-grade pepper spray. When I cut up onions in the States, I get teary-eyed and occasionally need to step away from the cutting board. Here I feel like I’ve been dropped on the wrong side of an LZ in Vietnam.

And now on to other things.

This hasn’t been the best China week for me. Without going into exhaustive detail (stop cheering) I’ll just say that Tianjin has officially run its course with me. Living overseas is a strange experience that way. There’s a certain nuance to it that lingers a long time, but can’t last forever, and when it wears off, you no longer care about exploring or discovering. To some extent you’ve discovered all you care to. A good barometer for judging when you’ve reached that point is your ability to laugh at the insane things around you. Everyone goes through times when things aren’t funny any more, when the guy you see gutting a fish on a public park bench (I saw that today. . .huzzah!) makes you clench your fists on your bicycle handlebars rather than laugh out loud (I wanted to walk over, grab his fish, smack him in the head with it, and ask him if he couldn’t use his own apartment). After a certain amount of time you’re no longer interested in quirky experiences or adventures; you want to grab your morning coffee, get some studying/writing done, and get your groceries without, say, walking past three young women wearing fluffy pink pajamas (saw that in the supermarket tonight). Last night Daniel and I were biking back home and we noticed that both sides of the road were completely packed with cars. Neither of us could figure out why. We were near the Water Park, but surely that many people weren’t out for a stroll. Then we noticed the lights were on in the “Water Drop” stadium, which meant there was a concert. The thing is, there had to have been at least 10,000 cars parked alongside all the roads leading to the stadium. Some of them were parked upwards of a mile from the stadium. Seriously? Why would you drive to an event, then park a mile away? Why not just take a taxi? See, that used to make me laugh. Last night I just swore at the top of my lungs.

Interestingly, dinner tonight was relaxing. I went to my favorite muslim restaurant in the so-called White Market (the ex-pats call it that because, well, the walls are white). Eating there is a little like being completely outside normal China for a while. The Uighurs who run the place just don’t act like the owners of any replace run by someone from the Han majority. I’m not a spectacle there, for one thing. The head guy always smiles and makes polite conversation for a while, but his air is always that of a man who has his own things to do, so after a few minutes he leaves me to my book and he heads off to either chat with the guys roasting the meat or buy more supplies. At most other little places I go to, either the Han clientele stare at me or the owners do, or both. I don’t know any other way to put it than to say the Uighurs aren’t impressed by me. When I speak Chinese they don’t gasp, leap back, and tell me how unbelievable my Chinese is. You might think that would be flattering, but after a while it just serves to underline the dominant Chinese viewpoint, which is that westerners are all oblivious and unable to learn anything about China. The Uighurs, however, don’t make a comment at all. It’s not their language, after all; they learned it in school, not at home, so when we interact the dynamic is different. We’re all visitors in a way, and if you’ve done much traveling you know the kind of instant camaraderie that can develop between travelers in a foreign country. Going to the Uighur place is like that. It’s nice to be able to get away without having to shell out my monthly stipend and one of my kidneys to eat at a nice western restaurant.




4 Responses to Getting Away

  1. kim says:

    love that place!

  2. Jessica says:

    The good news is: cutting Chinese onions leaves you basically immune to the ones here. I have yet to shed a tear while cutting onions even while Joel’s mom and sisters are like, “WHOA! That’s a strong onion.” And I’m all…”What? This? This is NOTHING.” My theory is that the onions in CHina (and the garlic as well) are fresher, and therefore stronger.

  3. Cindy says:

    Rob, I didn’t think your blogs could GET more cynical but this one is a good attempt! Glad your dinner somewhat redeemed your rough China week.

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