Day 62 - Schoolchild Ranks

Saturday, April 9th, 2016
Smog Level: 0/3 Mountains

The VPN is being stupid today and I hope that updating the OS on my laptop will fix it. It says it’ll take 25 minutes. Time to hop over to the grocery store. Fluffs are everywhere, seemingly from the flowering trees losing their flowers. It’s like it’s lightly snowing.

Free Flowers in a QR Code
I’ve noticed that I largely ignore people here. There are so many of them and they don’t speak the same language as me, so I basically just move about them and help them when I can, but don’t interact. I’m guessing this is common, especially for those who don’t speak any Mandarin. I’ve gotta stop doing this and start trying to speak to people if I’m going to get to a level of Mandarin that I want. God, It's going to be painful. Temporary Solipsism: my roundabout road trip to acting without inhibitions.
Traffic here has a reputation for being insane, but it’s really not that bad if you’re at all practiced in jaywalking. I put enough points into that skill while in North America that this is like the next level of difficulty, but still manageable. I actually found Australia more difficult because you had to remember which way the cars were coming, while here they drive on the same side as back home. Just.. a little more liberal with the rules. Once you've seen how they react to certain circumstances, you can guess when an opening will present itself.

I spend the morning cutting up fruit and using the new blender that has also arrived alongside protein powder. Sweet, now a healthier, more filling breakfast, and I get to experiment with that 30g protein approach. First experiment: papaya, dragon fruit, mango, spinach, yogurt and protein powder. I put too much spinach, but it’s still not too bad. Dragon fruit seems optimal for this because it's easy to prepare, cheap, and will add enough liquid to balance all the powder. I wonder about the health benefits of dragon fruit.

After spending about an hour getting across town, we were 20 minutes late meeting Qiqi [chee-chee] for Batman Vs Superman. Given how slow it moved, I doubt we missed much. It’s 2.5 hours and could have cut plenty. Something about live-action superhero films DC never can seem to get the pacing down. It was alright, which is the reaction of most people had. Well, that, and aggressively hating it.

Virtual Reality seems to be coming around.
Found in the Movie Theatre
After the movie, I grab a book I had been eyeing before being paid: “Chinese Stuff.” It outlines a lot of common items you'll find here. Some of them just make me ask more questions, like the three stripes on the students shoulders. I’ll get to that later.

We cross the "walking street." Little flags on poles float around, indicating tour groups. I find I dislike being around the touristy areas because then everyone assumes I’m a tourist and will automatically switch to English. I’m not sure if I still am or not, but being able to order a coffee and make sure it has milk or sugar is a small victory.

Apparently, three Chinese girls had said hello to me when I was throwing stuff out. I had completely ignored them. Tuned out with the din of the hundreds of other people. I missed it; Shimou didn’t. Hah.

"What? This is a walking street? Nevermind that! I want to get through!"
Over our sushi dinner, I had said something that made Qiqi wonder “what kind of Chinese [Shimou] was teaching me." To answer, him, I said “Biǎozi,” with a long pause before saying all the other swear words I knew. For a split second, he appeared to think I was calling him a bitch (hah). Good thing it’s not my first time meeting him.

After dinner, we all take the subway. Qiqi gets off before us, and we continue onward to GuGaga’s residence. Upon arrival, I’m introduced to Fancy, another of Shimou’s high school friends, and her boyfriend. No idea his name, and we barely spoke since he doesn’t speak English.

One of the Mall's "Maps"
Common topics when the girls get together: becoming fat, becoming thin, and plastic surgery - at least 3 of the ones I’ve met have gone under the knife. The emphasis on weight is insane - for nearly everyone - and yet I just saw an article this weekend about how China now has more obese people than the USA. Sheer number of obese people, that is - not in percentage. Still, because of that, 1/3 of the world’s population of diabetes cases are in China due to their tendency to gain weight around their abdomen. So this article told me.

I mentioned what I had said to the masseuse last night, “Nǐ zuì hǎo.” The most telling reaction was when Gu said to Shimou “don’t worry, he doesn’t know what it means.” Apparently it’s a really big thing, explained by saying “Among all girls, you are the best one,” to which Shimou jokingly quips, “Who am I, [then]?”

"Try to look bored while eating ice cream
in front of giant beer!"
It occurred to me while we played golf that Mah Jong is the Chinese cultural equivalent of the role poker plays in the West. It's played both for gambling and fun, young and old. When tallying the scores, I learned that jiǎn is "subtract," while  jiā which means “to add.” Close enough to be easy to remember!

When hanging out in groups like this, I tend to go back and forth between listening and zoning out. It’s like a mental gym, trying to focus enough to pick up anything that’s being said, then thinking about randoms things. Sometimes you get nothing, sometimes I'd sit back and try to pick apart what that ordering of words meant. It’s also hard to know when the right time to speak might be because you sometimes can’t tell when there’s an opening, or when you’ll be cutting someone off during a brief pause. I probably drive my topic into the conversation like a chisel.

As promised: the patches that the kids wear, pinned to their left arm. One, two, or three stripes - more stripes means higher position, and each school only has one kid with a 3 stripe. They all tell me the usual “it makes them leaders” schpiel, but I have to keep asking, why do they want to be leaders? What do they care? I mean, it seems like being “leaders” ends up sacrificing relationships sometimes. Does it get you into a better school? “I don’t think so.” Do they get awards for it? “No.” What do they get? “They can tell other kids what to do sometimes.” But think about it, the others don’t even have to listen! Hell, some kids don’t listen to teachers, why would they listen to some kiss-ass?

So, what you’re telling me is that they work really hard to get more responsibilities and next to nothing in return? “I never thought about it that way” chuckled Gu.

We stayed really late, something like 2am. Shimou grumbled in Mandarin on the way down Gu’s 6 flights of stairs. I’m guessing it was something about why they don’t have an elevator. Gu had told us about how it’s common for people to own houses where they want to live, and move elsewhere in town during the work week. I asked why. He answered with another question: “Have you ever been on the subway during the morning rush?”

Apparently that is when they’re literally packing people onto the train. I have yet to experience that.

Words of the Day
English - Mandarin [pronunciation]
duì bù qǐ
[doy boo chee]

Editing Music
For a Better day

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