Really weird

 Fountain, new campus, UESTC

 

I’m having a rather unique experience: four entire days off in a row. I say “having” rather than “enjoying,” because I’m really sick. The cold weather in Chengdu brings with it new smog levels, as coal dust is added to the toxic soup that simmers slowly under the winter skies. It’s 5:00 PM, and I just woke up from my daily nap feeling, well, really weird. I slept with the heater on, blowing warm, dry air from above the bed, and I woke up with a scratchy, dry throat, burning eyes, and a horrible thirst. However, all is not lost, because my naps accomplish two things: 1) I get to spend 2 or 3 hours being blissfully unaware of my allergies and exploding head; and 2) I get to have a cup of strong, black coffee upon waking.

Now the truth comes out: I’m a coffee addict. Usually I can’t drink it after about 12 noon, though, because of the danger of sleeplessness at night. Being sick, however, I can safely consume vast quantities of the stuff, with a hardly noticeable effect on my spaced-out, drowsy brain. It’s a miracle of sorts, a silver lining to my cloud.

My classes in Xindu were canceled today, as four of the students are taking the CET-4 (College English Test, Level 4). It left me free to accomplish such undemanding tasks as eating lots of toast with butter, making a batch of dog food, and scrubbing the counter-top stove until it gleamed.

Life is just a blur
 
 
So what does one DO with the unusual luxury of four days? On Thursday I spent the afternoon at the Song Xian Qiao antiques market. I was ostensibly looking for a couple of hanging scroll paintings to adorn the apartment, but spent the time just aimlessly browsing. One has to be extremely careful about showing an interest in anything, since some of the sellers can be quite aggressive and predatory. I happened to glance – momentarily – at a hanging rectangle of carved wood with various Buddha figures worked into the design; within seconds one woman had taken the carving down for my inspection, while her companion grabbed a pad of paper and a pen and wrote an asking price of 280 yuan. She then shoved the paper and pen at me, ordering me to make a counter-offer. I signaled “no,” to indicate “just looking,” but to no avail; she insisted. When I didn’t respond soon enough she wrote “230” and shoved the paper in my face again. I tried to demur gracefully, and started to retreat. The woman followed me halfway across the market, grabbing at my arm and demanding a negotiation.

The truth is that I LOVED the wood carving, but I wasn’t about to be bullied into a rash decision. I had also decided that I would not, under any circumstances, make an impulsive purchase. In addition, 230 yuan seemed a little cheap, and I hesitated to buy anything “antique” without doing a little research first, or bringing someone with me who knew what they were looking at. I spent the rest of the day being blissfully un-attacked.

A shadow of my former self
 
 
Friday, I went to pick up my salary from one of my teaching jobs, then made a trip to the bank. I did a lot of walking, which more than justified my daily nap. I stopped at Carrefour on Babao Jie to pick up some groceries, where I succeeded in getting my backpack stuck in one of the automated self-service lockers. One of the straps was sticking partway out when I closed the door, jamming it shut. I panicked, but realized this was a good chance to practice my Chinese. I conducted myself admirably, saying 帮我 bāng wǒ [help me!] and 我不会开门 wǒ bù huì kāi mén [I can’t open the door]. I think I said them correctly. An amused customer service woman deftly liberated my backpack.
I also made some gong bao ji ding (kung pao chicken in American English), which turned out halfway good. It’s taken me a long time to learn the secret: mix the diced chicken with a little water and corn starch or potato flour first, then put it aside for 30 minutes or so; the absorbed liquid and the coating will keep the chicken moist as it cooks in the pan over high heat. Duh.

Today I had a major victory: I succeeded in making a long-distance call to Citibank in the U.S., from the China Mobile office just up the street. It was deceptively simple, after so many previous failed attempts. No only did I obtain my bank balance (higher than I had thought), but I succeeded in getting them to mail my new bank card to my address in China. Another victory: I’ve now managed to save enough to pay off all my remaining credit card debt in one payment. This has enormous implications: it will not only make me debt-free (except for one student loan) for the first time in 30 years, but I will no longer have the burden of having to set aside half of my monthly Chinese salary for my debt repayment program. As a bonus, I may be able to buy my new digital camera in January or February. Woo-hoo!

 

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