1.1.14

Posting like it's 1999. (Dial up.)

As I rolled the stiffness out of my neck for the first time in the morning and swung to a sitting position  on the edge of bed I had two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home. Not really, but I've loved that rejoinder since I was 11 years old.
Truthfully what I was actually doing while my head and eyes lolled about on their pivots was searching for discarded clothing. I found a pair of leggings and a pair of longjohns both in arms reach, I scooted forward somewhat and bending, clamped my paws around a pair of wool socks. Glancing about I spotted a thermal shirt and sweater and I pulled them both on inside out to go over the tee shirt I wore to sleep. 
Making progress, I left the bed and drew open the curtains. 
There is ice on the inside of my window as I stretch  first my right then the left leg on the sill, exhale bend further, reflect that I haven't slept with clothes on--even in winter, for at least 8 years. Sleeping next to another person usually makes clothing superfluous on multiple levels, I find.  But here I am, now sleeping in at least a shirt, layering up on New Years day for a trip down to the back market to buy baozi for our breakfast. 
Typically I send Sebastien on such missions because in the time it takes him to get there and back I can make the bed, make the coffee and redistribute the distilled water we made the night before.
I'm not sure I've told you that we distill all our water as per Peace Corps China's requirements. Boiling water gets rid of the giardia spores and e coli bacteria true enough--but boiling alone can't remove the heavy metals or pesticides. So we have a semi-portable distiller that we scour with a steel wool between uses. It's nice because aside from providing potable water it also warms up a room.
On my way to the back market, home to 40 some odd restaurants and ten to fifteen push cart food-truck-esque stands, some part of my mind notes with a dry smile that I'm quite cold. I consider how lucky I am to live within walking distance of both so many affordable restaurants and my workplace. I pass the petitely stout coal colored dog that always contrives to force unwitting customers of his caregiver's magazine stand into buying a second hotdog on a stick for him. 
I caught his attention once for holding a bag and I promise you, his charm is a current only the hungriest or cruelest could swim against. There are a lot of stray cats and dogs on our campus and none of them are angular. Each slop of their extremities are rounded and full. Maybe you've heard that the Chinese eat cats and dogs but this isn't Leningrad, this isn't even the period of starvation associated with the Great Leap Forward, this isn't even Guangdong province, so no cats and dogs are eaten here. I'm not supposed to pet them but many of them come when I click. 
Having left my home a good five minutes ago, I'm currently wearing three pairs of pants, three shirts, a leather jacket, a vest, a scarf wrapped three times plus a woolen hat and still I'm thinking of the siege of Leningrad. 
We just finished reading City of Thieves and though I'm stiff-legged and chilled in the joints, I'm not trudging through two feet of snow on a suicide mission to get my ration card back. It's a wonderful novel, makes you feel sick or scared at the top of the page and will having you laughing at boyish behavior by the middle.
I take a few more cold breaths, try not to cough and decide I would never be able to survive a siege. Ok, maybe a short one but not for 900 days. Three years of almost nothing to eat and nightly rooftop duty? Nope. Dead. Someone would have killed me for my boots after the third time I flew off the handle because I was tired, hungry or both.

I arrive at the restaurant where the baozi laoban is standing outside, pulling small stuffed buns off of banana leaf mats and wrapping them in double-fist-sized plastic bags two or four at a time. In my best approximation of the tones involved I tell her I want four pork, two beef, two potato and two cabbage. I think the measure word here is "ge" but I've never bothered to ask my tutor if baozi has it's own measure word, e.g., pieces or bottles or bowls of. She understands me, atanyrate and takes my five RMB which is less than one American Dollar and I unsnap my vest and unzip my coat and arrange the buns like a clutch of small kittens under my breast before redoing the whole careful affair and shoving my gloved hands into the pockets of my vest, being mindful not to the let the metal of my house keys leach the warmth from my right hand. 
Sebastien's has several oral exams today to give in French. I made him take a bottle of water for this morning's session because his voice was nearly gone by the time he made it home for dinner yesterday.  Exam-wise, I've given one already and will give four more on Thursday, three on Monday and one next Tuesday. After that I have to get all my grades shoved into Excel files and off to the official computers before Seb and I join the throng of PCVs heading back to Chengdu for our mid-service formation. 


We had the American traditional meal of Chinese food for New Years Eve and Sebastien finalized his exams while I studied and sang.
In terms of our home life, Christmas was a lovely experience. I woke up early and snuck out of our bed, fired up the glue gun and made a bad choice about what to glue and where. But a stocking and several gifts seemed to be hanging over a craypas fire--a charming effect was achieved, I feel. All in a days, really.
Having to plan and host the Holiday program for my school on the other hand was way more work than it needed to be.
I think most normal people over the age of 12 abhor the ubiquitousness of Christmas music and its insistence on happiness, Christianity, whiteness and snow. That's why I'm sure that the saddest I've ever been in China was two weeks ago when I was hunting around the big supermarket in Lanzhou proper, looking for a something or other for the aforementioned Holiday program.
Melancholy of any sort was something I wasn't expecting to feel because I usually enjoy shopping by myself as  I eschew list-making on principle; thus if I fail to visit every aisle  I won't know if there was an impulse buy I might be missing (!!!)
But on this day, to my great misfortune, they were playing nonstop Christmas music--being there alone I had no one in English whom I could grouse to--specifically on the injustice of moving all the way to an Asian country and living in a provice populated predominantly by Buddhist and Muslims only to still be subjected to "Let it Snow." I tell you I came close to crying then and not just because I  was there to buy 10 boxes of hot chocolate.
Don't get me started on the injustices I've suffered at the hands of hot chocolate(!!!)  >:(
I'm pretty sure that's the best face made of text anyone ever came up with. What can I say? Emoto-iconically speaking, I have classic tastes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I can't really complain and not want to smack myself because hardship was always part of the Peace Corps price and my so-called hardship amounted to not being a fan of a holiday while being asked to be its cheerleader. We made the best of it, Seb and I.
He definitely said, "I know, I know, I know." punctuated by mouth covering kisses more time than he really should have had to.
I'll probably need to do it again next year, but with a little luck I'll  be teaching the same courses and will only have to fine tune my efforts in that regard.
We showed the movie A Christmas Story to anyone who wanted to see it on Christmas day. As the film plodded its course and bits and pieces came back to me, I worried about how they would react to, "Eat your dinner, there are starving people in China," as well as the blatantly racist rendition of Deck the Halls. It turns out, that if you haven't seen a movie the whole way through in all thirty years that it's been on Television, you should watch it before you show it to 30 or so people.
Actually, they laughed at both those situations--and again when the restaurant owner chops off the head of the duck--not that this negates why parts of that movie are fucked up, but maybe it's good to show the sides of the US that are fucked up, in fairness to any dream--deferred or otherwise. Mayhaps we'll show Home Alone or Die Hard next year-- keep the time-honored films a'comin!
Sebastien had his French Students over for a Crêpe making extravaganza last Friday night and they pretty much lost their minds dancing to Mika's Elle M'a dit. The second time they played the song, Sebastien and I were invited to dance in the center of their group and as the track wore on and because all I could see were his eyes, I knew we were making a moment. After the students took us outside to light off fireworks and send lanterns into the sky, we wondered home to enjoyed a cup or two of hot wine with a German colleague who speaks impeccable French.
Our students truly spoiled us. We were gifted scarfs and apples and oranges and pomelos. Green tea cakes and a lemon curd pudding. Frittered octopus balls. Candied strawberries and hawthorns.  Popcorn and caramel popped corn. Roasted chestnuts, cookies, chocolates, fake flowers and fun.
Speaking of eats, We dined on spare ribs paired with red wine, green beans and mashed yams for Christmas dinner and  then we relaxed much more fully then we could have in a spare bedroom at any of our relatives' homes.

And that's a good a reason as any to gâches ta vie.
Alors...on dance.
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