Sunday, March 9, 2008

Entry Five: Free Time

One evening after dinner I got a call from Courtney, they were going to KTV. With no clue what KTV is, I put on a new shirt (getting used to chop sticks) and walked out the gate to meet them.

KTV stands for Karaoke TV. It is different than in the states. It is like a hotel, but each room has a jukebox machine, a widescreen TV and two microphones. It costs about 300 yuan to rent a room for a night, plus whatever else you buy from the menu. Immediately as I entered the room a Chinese man, well, got in my personal bubble.

In China it is common when socializing to talk close. Make that, very close. They will sit with arms around each other just talking and it is no big deal. This particular fellow, a Chemistry teacher at a nearby school, was excited to meet me and practice his English. At one point he grabbed my shoulders and encouraged me to sit at the jukebox to pick a song. I did so, picking a Frank Sinatra song that did not go over too well.

When it comes to American music, the Chinese tend to prefer pop music like the Backstreet Boys. The Chinese music itself is quite beautiful and classy, even a little like Sinatra at times, but they generally do not get excited about slow American music. A Chinese English teacher here theorized that the reason that the US music popular in China is all pop is because enjoying energetic music does not require you to understand the lyrics. Hoping to redeem myself, I later attempted a Backstreet Boy’s song, with backup vocals sung by the Chemistry teacher I first met when I arrived. Great success.

While I only ventured to the KTV one time, I have been playing a lot of basketball. Granted, I am awful, but it is one of the few ways where I can interact with a common Chinese person without the language barrier. One afternoon when I first arrived I saw some people who looked my age playing basketball. I walked up and asked if I could play, and one of them nodded.

We shot hoops for quite a while before anyone said anything, but during a break this particular guy started to speak in English and it was like a flood gate opened. He is a graduate engineering student about to leave home to study in Beijing. He likes English, but wasn’t a big fan of it in school. As he kept going and going he stopped himself and smiled, saying “Wow, I am performing quite well!” He was relaxed. He told me to call him “Shot,” because it sounds like his Chinese name and he loves basketball. We then continued the game of 5 on 5.

Now, many reading this know that I am not entirely uncoordinated, but my athletic strength is pushing things, not chasing them. So, they planted me under the hoop and told me to use my size to dominate the boards. I had success on defense, but I missed every shot I took on offense except the last one. In fact, because the game ended immediately after I scored, I have reason to believe they were being polite. They were waiting for me to score, to allow me to “save face,” a very important Chinese concept. To embarrass someone is sometimes worse than to lie to them, so they kept playing until Big Boy finally nailed a shoot before they called it quits.

Also, I must mention that a group of foreign teachers from around the area meets every Sunday and plays football. Among the Canadians and Aussies I might not be the most athletic, but it sure has been fun to draw up plays and feel at home. It’s not often here when I feel like I am the one who knows what is going on, and so playing football is a bit of a refuge.

Another evening a Chinese teacher helped me open a bank account. She tried to show me how to use the ATM, because of course I do not read Chinese. Things weren’t working at first and for a moment I thought I was in for a hassle. But, then I found an English button and then everything became quite simple. As much as I worry about gates and pine boxes that hide computers, the language is still my largest barrier – but I am slowly chipping away at it, and soon enough, I am sure to get through.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

Next time you venture to KTV you should whip out a little Nelly. :0)