exploding beer and other adventures

Publié le par chrislzh

Last Friday afternoon I rushed up to Beijing. Last Saturday evening lzh left for two weeks training for her new job. The training was in Shanghai.


Well, I tried to rush up to Beijing. My last class on Friday afternoon finishes at 2:30, which leaves me just enough time to get a taxi to the station and miss the 3:01 train, often by only two or three minutes. So every time I am summoned to Beijing on a Friday afternoon I wind up nursing a beer in either the restaurant or the ‘snack bar’ area at the front of the station on the second floor waiting for the four o’clock train.


Well, I got there alright, anyway.


On Saturday we did a few things to prepare for her trip. I made sure she had a stash of spare money, just in case, we bought her a few snacks and other supplies for the train ride, that kind of thing. Then in the afternoon I went to John Bull to see if they were showing the All Blacks-Ireland rugby game. They weren’t. The boss told me none of the channels they got were showing the game. Bugger.


John Bull has really gone downhill. I’ve been going there off and on for about five years now, back from when I lived in Taiyuan. I never liked the staff there: They always hired people whose linguistic abilities depended entirely on the skin colour of the person they were talking to. But John Bull has always been my refuge for good beer (on those special occasions when spending 50 kuai for a pint can be justified) and rugby. I hate the Den. Frank’s Place was always ridiculously over-priced, and besides, there’s something fundamentally wrong with watching rugby in an American bar. The Brewery Tap pissed me off the second time I went there for having stupid opening hours. There are other places, I know, but John Bull was always a special place for me. Now, though? Shit. The last two times I’ve been there the upstairs has been closed. Why? Lack of staff, the boss said. Can’t justify opening the upstairs. Lack of customers, too, obviously. The second to last time I was there with a mate, and we had to ask for the rugby to be turned on. The boss said neither ESPN nor Star Sports were showing it, but he had ABC Asia. Had to tell him to try that one. We got to see the rugby. Last time, there was just no rugby. So he said. Was a time when if there was any rugby on the upstairs would be packed out with people watching on the big screen. He used to make lots of money off rugby fans. It wasn’t that long ago, either. What happened? Seems that for whatever reason, he’s pretty much ceded the rugby crowd to the Den.


So instead of watching rugby, I wound up talking to this American guy. The tv, for whatever reason, was tuned to Tianjin TV, which was broadcasting the opening ceremony of some Tianjin district-level sports meeting. In classic style, it was just another big, pompous load of shit, with all the district and work unit teams marching in to the usual pompous git music the Chinese government loves so much, carrying signs proudly proclaiming them to be the Hexi District team, or whatever. We got to talking because this guy asked me if I knew about the character “”, which appears in so many place names in Tianjin. I told him, or tried to, that it’s very common in place names around Tianjin, but it also has some other meaning which I don’t know. I did look it up once, but I didn’t remember the meaning, which is probably because it had no obvious connection to any place name, or that I couldn’t see how the dictionary definition could possibly fit in a place name. And besides, I only know this character in the context of place names around Tianjin. Anyway, he then told me he was an interpreter, a statement I took with a large grain of salt, considering how slowly he was reading the signs on the tv screen, or the fact that he didn’t seem to realize that things like “河西区”, or “汉沽区” were the names of districts, even after I told him clearly these were districts of Tianjin. Anyway, he was nice enough, and we chatted for an hour or so. Then at 4:30 I made my excuses and wandered round to Beijing Zhan to meet lzh.


We got some dinner, a mate of mine showed up, we went to meet lzh’s coworker, then lzh and her coworker got on the train for Shanghai.


I was still a little hungry, and my mate hadn’t eaten, so we wandered over to a little restaurant opposite the station, y’know, one of those cheap but edible places that seems aimed more at the migrant-worker crowd. We ate and had a few beers, then we decided to find a place to watch the World Cup. I refused to go back to John Bull, but as we were walking out of the restaurant we realized that the big screen over the forecourt of the station was showing vs. , or whoever it was was playing. So we wandered back over the road, grabbed a couple of beers out of one of the xiaomaibus, and watched the game.


What a boring game that was.


On Sunday I checked out of the hotel, got some lunch, then got to Beijing Zhan just in time to catch the 1 o’clock train back to Tianjin. This is where the exploding beer comes in: I’d bought a few cans of Blue Ribbon Black Beer (蓝带黑啤) the day before. Funnily enough, they were kind of warm by the time I got on the train. Also, when I’d sat down and was reaching for the first can, I forgot that I’d run to get on the train (I’d only just gotten there with time to grab a ticket and run for the gate) and the beers were probably a little shaken up. Anyway, I’d already learnt from experience that the first beer needs to be treated with caution, and I held it down near the floor away from everybody else to open it. It exploded. Beer shot everywhere. I said “Shit!”. The German guy sitting opposite me snickered. A while later, after I’d finished the first beer and waited a little to give the second can a little more time to settle down, I opened the second can. Thinking that it would be safe, as it usually is by the time I’m on to the second can, I opened it on the table. It exploded. Beer shot over my hand and the window. I said “Shit!” The German guy opposite me snickered. The Chinese guy next to me gave me some tissues to clean things up. I thanked him and cleaned things up. I got back to the dorm and put the third can of beer in the fridge, thinking that the previous two had probably exploded because of the heat. This can be a problem with beer in in the summer, especially with some of the gassier beers, if they’re not refrigerated. An hour or so later, when I thought the beer must have been cooled and settled down, I took the third can out of the fridge and opened it. It exploded. Beer shot everywhere. I said “Shit! What ridiculous fucking beer!” I grabbed some tissues and cleaned up. So there you go: Beware the蓝带黑啤.


And then on Monday lzh failed the first test of her training in Shanghai and was told she would no longer be required by the company. It was an oral English test, and they said her accent was too strong. My attitude is, fuck it, she’s Chinese, of course she has a Chinese accent. What’s wrong with that? Well, she tells me that none of the other candidates had particularly good oral English, and one Shanghainese whose English was particularly shite was kept on. The Shanghainese in question knows somebody inside company HQ. So what I think happened was that HQ in Shanghai had already decided who was getting the job, and, lzh, as the only Beijinger present (the colleague she’d gone to Shanghai with is from Tianjin), was an easy choice for the Shanghai management to remove to make way for their preferred candidate. So now lzh is back to square one.


Well, on the bright side, she got an expenses-paid two day trip to Shanghai. She took some pretty nice pictures from the Bund at night. I might post one or two on my Flickr soon.


So she bought a ticket for Tianjin and booked a couple of nights in a 家庭旅馆 (somebody give me and English word for this: It’s an apartment that the landlord rents out on a day-by-day basis, as if it’s a hotel.) She left at 7 or 8 on Tuesday morning, and then, after she’d got on the train, discovered she was on the slowest train from Shanghai to Harbin via Tianjin (and, no doubt, hundreds of little shitholes in Jiangsu, Shandong and Hebei- and she did pass through one shithole I know: 常州, where I’ve been for three professional development/periodic detention sessions with my current company). She was told the train would get to Tianjin at 00:45. Oh well, that meant that I could watch at least the first game of the night. vs. , I believe it was, and it was quite an enjoyable game too. And I saw the first half of vs. , which was boring as hell. And then sometime in the midst of all this I got a message from lzh saying the train had been delayed and would arrive at 1:30. As it turned out, they made up time and she arrived just after one in the morning.


So she spent a couple of days in Tianjin relaxing. Relaxing means that on Wednesday afternoon I had to take her shopping at Binjiang Dao. Why do women like shopping so much? And why do they enjoy shopping so much more when they can drag their men around the shops for a couple of hours of torture? Yes, dear, that dress is almost as pretty as the colossal hole it threatens to put in my bank account. Well, no, it’s not that bad.


On the way to Binjiang Dao, we saw the Xikai Cathedral. She wanted to go inside and have a look. We walked in the gate and then she freaked out: “But I’m a Communist Party member! I can’t go inside! But I want to have a look! Ohhhh!!!!! What do I do?” Well, so we went inside. An old lady showed us a bunch of pamphlets – free giveaways for heathen visitors like us including a brief explanation of Catholic doctrine and the Gospel of Luke (at least, I think it was Luke. One of the four gospels, anyway). She read through this then said she wanted to pray. Then she asked me how to make the sign of the cross. “I don’t know, I’m not Catholic,” I said, which prompted the old lady to ask lzh, “Where’s he from?”


       他们在那边不信教吗?” (Which I took to mean: Are they unbelievers (i.e. not Catholic) over there? Better translations are welcome)

       “They believe in Christianity.”

Strangely enough, the old lady didn’t seem the slightest bit offended by that last comment, as if she accepted that Catholicism was a pagan corruption of Christianity, or something like that. I would’ve expected a Western Catholic to get upset at the implication that Catholicism is not a valid form of Christianity. Well, I’d long since gotten used to the Chinese Catholic/Christian split as a substitute for the Western Catholic/Protestant split, but I didn’t expect Chinese Catholics to accept the usual Chinese Catholic/Christian split. I would’ve expected her to explain that Catholicism is a form of Christianity at the very least, if not launch into some diatribe about the Catholic church being the only true Christian church.


Then that evening I dragged her down to Ali Baba’s to watch at least the first football game of the evening. really kicked ’s arse. And looked really amateurish. lzh ignored the football. She availed herself of the Ali Baba computer, then wandered over the road to that new blue concrete bunker for some mala tang, then dragged me back to the apartment as soon as the game was over.


Then on Thursday I taught my classes in the morning, met her at the school gate, took her to a nearby Hunan restaurant I like, then took her to the station in time for the 3 o’clock train, the very one I have never managed to catch thanks to my Friday timetable and downtown Tianjin’s absurdly narrow, crowded streets.


If all goes according to plan, i.e. if she gets her refund for her train ticket to Tianjin and other expenses from her Shanghai trip from the company on Saturday morning, or at least she has enough money left for the train ticket here, she’ll be back on Saturday in time for the next All Blacks – game.


And the best thing to come out of my classes yesterday was the discovery that I have no classes today. And it was the students who told me, as always.


The worst thing yesterday, though, was having to act as translator for the mother of one of my students. The student in question, who shall be referred to as X, swore at one of my colleagues the other day. See, we’d combined classes and showed them a film. My colleague caught X using a cellphone in class. She tried to take it off him, but he refused. I wandered over to see if I could help, and as soon as he saw me, he gave it straight to me. Then my colleague and I sat down, at which point X decided to yell “臭傻B” in the direction of my colleague. I sat up and looked around. He yelled it again. I wandered over and asked “X, was that you?” Obviously it was him. I sat in the nearest spare seat to give him a talking to, but the seat collapsed and sent me falling on to the poor girl in the seat behind me. I sat back up, as best I could, and started talking to X, but the poor girl behind me said “真难受!”, or words to that effect, at which point I realized that I was still leaning on her. I sat up and tried to set her legs free, and then another of my students came and held the seat up for me while I was talking to X.


Well, after class I dragged X down to my office to apologise to my colleague. It wasn’t much of an apology. Later that afternoon my colleague phoned X’s Chinese English teacher to inform her (we can get usually get better results on matters of discipline when we let the Chinese staff know about a problem, and the Chinese English teacher is our point of contact). Of course, because my colleague doesn’t speak a word of Chinese and doesn’t even know (and seems incapable of learning) her own students’ Chinese names, let alone my students Chinese names or the swear words they use in her presence, it fell to me to explain who said what. That was the last I saw of X until yesterday morning. He’d been away from school for Tuesday and Wednesday, apparently because he was suspended. His mother was really concerned, in large part because he had a 会考 (exam he needs to pass in order to graduate, even though he’s only in Senior 1) coming up, and so she came to the school to apologise personally to my colleague, in the hope that my colleague would forgive her son and all would be smoothed over. Well, X’s mum doesn’t speak English, and the Chinese English teacher was too “busy” to do the translating, and in the process of me translating for and talking to X’s mum, I found out that it was the school, and not X’s mother, who was stopping X from coming to class. So I ran upstairs to the international office to see what I could find out and if I could help get X back into classes, but the head of department wasn’t there, and I don’t trust any of his underlings to get things done properly and quickly. So I ran back downstairs and phoned the Chinese English teacher, who explained that X was being kept out of the foreign teacher classes only in order to teach him a lesson and that he would be allowed back into foreign teacher classes next semester. It turns out too, that the Senior 1 dean was the person who had ordered this. Well, I wasn’t too happy about this. He’s my student, I was present when he swore at my colleague, I was best placed to explain the incident, and yet I was never consulted. Anyway, I was told that he could go to all his other classes, just not the foreign teacher classes, and that he could sit all his exams, including the foreign teacher exams. I explained this to X and his mum as best I could and then sent them off to talk to the Chinese English teacher directly, as she would be able to explain the situation better and more clearly than I could and she could help them track down the Senior 1 dean to try and smooth things over and ensure he could attend all his classes.


But I’m still pissed off that nobody talked to me about this until I found out, through X and his mother, that he had been away because the Senior 1 dean had decided he should be suspended. Still, I should know by now that foreign teachers are always the last to know anything, and that our students are far better at communicating with us than any of the school staff. I’m just a performing monkey, after all, so why should I be told anything?


Enough ranting.

Publié dans chrislzh

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