Thursday, March 3, 2011

Return to Wafangdalian

Sunday Jerry invited me back to his home town. It was his Grandma’s birthday. He said his family wanted to see me again. The last time I went there it was a blast, so I said sure. Jerry was going to drive this time. He’s bought a car since last I was here. There was one problem…it snowed Saturday night and was still snowing Sunday morning. That means the Chinese shut down the highway. They shut it down whenever the weather isn’t sunny, basically. So Jerry couldn’t drive. He said we would have to take the train. We took the train last time; it was fun, so I said sure. We were joined by Tony, another Rockwell Ex-Pat. We took a taxi to the train station, bought tickets and got on the train.
The ride out was fine. It took about an hour and a half. The snow wasn’t bad at all, they got maybe two inches, but the win was whipping. It was kicking up the snow and swirling it around. We arrived in Wafangdalian and it was freezing! We found a taxi and took it to Jerry’s grandparents’ house. We walked in and there everyone was! I went around the room saying hello and giving everyone hugs. Everyone looked the same as last time. As I finished passing out some love…..there was one more person standing in the kitchen doorway. It was Jerry’s uncle. The master of the Gumbai! Which means in English…”Bottoms Up”. He had this serious smile on his face….like he was sizing me up for drinks. I smiled and said, “Gumbai!”
He smiled and gave me a big hug.
For those of you that don’t remember, Jerry’s uncle was bound and determined to drink me under the table last time….a task he almost completed…the man can drink! So can his wife.
Jerry’s grandparents live in a very small apartment. It’s two bedrooms but is TINY! Everyone was buzzing around preparing for the meal. Jerry’s Dad was in the kitchen cooking, Jerry’s uncle was guarding the four cases of Tsing Tao beer…once again it had a Thanksgiving feel to it.
They set up a table in the living room. Then they started bringing in the food…tons of food! So much food that plates were being stacked two high on the edges of other dishes! It was quite a spread! Jerry’s Dad made his famous pork in Coca-Cola sauce. There were two fish dishes that was basically the fish laying in a sauce of some kind…head, tail, and everything in between. I stayed away from those.
“GUMBAI!” Jerry’s uncle screams before I have my second bite of food…..and so it starts. I lift my bowl of beer…that’s right…bowl of beer. Each bowl holds almost a full beer. We start the day off fast!
Next Jerry’s Grandpa wants to do a gumbai; he’s 82 years old! So we do a gumbai! Things just start collapsing from there. Jerry’s uncle is on a real mission this time. I can see it in his eyes…he wants to put me down! Every few minutes we do a gumbai it seems. I set my bowl down and Jerry’s Uncle is filling it back up. Everyone is having a good time. Tony is also doing gumbai’s, but Jerry’s Uncle is not so concerned with Tony’s intake. He fills his beer up every time he drinks it, but he’s really only concerned that I’m pounding the beers. There is a lot of beer being drank…I mean a LOT!
I can’t tell if Jerry’s uncle is really drunk or not? I can’t tell if he’s slurring his words…he’s talking in Chinese…but who the hell knows? Right?
So as dinner winds down Jerry says his uncle wants to play Ping-Pong again. I laughed; I’m hammered by now…a walk in the freezing cold sounds somewhat sobering. Tony really wanted to see the ping-pong gym. So we decide to go, from there we are going to go back on the train. The ping-pong gym is really close to the train station.
It’s about a ½ mile walk to the ping-pong gym. The wind is freezing! It feels like we are on a forced death march. Finally we get to the ping-pong gym. Jerry’s uncle tells Jerry to get some more beer…which sounds WONDERFUL! Just what we need…more beer.
The uncle gives me a bootleg looking paddle. I just laugh…”No, no, no…I want a good paddle to beat you with.” He knows. That one didn’t need translation.
So he tells us to start warming up….”Um…I’m already warm from the beer.” Jerry tells him and he laughs.
So my first opponent is Jerry’s Dad. He beat me last time, but it was really close. This time I beat him 11-5. I started down 4-0 then rattled off the comeback. So one down, I’m feeling pretty good about things. The next opponent is Jerry…last time I disposed of Jerry pretty easily…he’s been practicing. He beat me 11-8. A tough loss to Bad Noodle!
All of the sudden Jerry’s uncle appears at the table…he’s ready….it’s time for the showdown. I tell Jerry to let him know that this time is going to be different. It certainly has a showdown feel to it.
I hit a volley for serve and Jerry’s uncle lets it go by him. He tells me that he doesn’t want to volley, I can have the serve….interesting…he didn’t even take a hit at it..or stop it…
So I take the ball back and serve a shot to the corner..the ball goes by him..THEN HE TAKES HIS SWING! I almost fell over laughing…he starts laughing….Jerry starts laughing. I look for Tony…he’s talking to a little boy, I yell, “That’s not legal in China either!” Tony starts laughing.
Then I look back at Jerry’s uncle…he’s still standing there crouched, with a big drunk smile on his face. I serve another shot, this time right at him. It hits him in the chest! I start laughing again….he starts laughing…I look at Tony, “You gonna leave that kid alone?”
The game never improves. I beat him 11-3…but I’ll take it! I then played a game against Tony and beat him 11-8. So all and all, not a bad days work on the pong table….3-1.
After that we headed over to the train station. Jerry’s uncle, father, and mother walk us over to the train station. When we walk in the station it is absolutely packed! There are soooo many people in there! You can’t imagine! It’s standing room only. It is not looking good for our return trip. Jerry has told me stories about the train being so packed that people lay on the floor under the seats..just for a place to ride. We are looking around worried….AND we still have another hour to wait for the train. Then Jerry tells me his Dad wants to introduce me to someone. So I follow he and his Dad towards a cop….not exactly my favorite thing to do in China…but I’m trusting. It turns out Jerry’s Dad and the cop have been friends since primary school. I shake his hand and he starts leading us somewhere. I follow and he takes us to the police office in the train station. He tells us we can wait in here until the train comes. It is a dingy looking place…but there are seats and it beats standing for the next hour. So we all pile in here. While we are sitting there we see two different people handcuffed and being walked out the back…not sure what they did…don’t want to know…good job officer!
There is a giant picture on the wall of all the police that work there. There not happy pictures…no smiles…guys that look like they can get the answers they want! So as we sit there…I ask Jerry if we can drink a beer. He says sure, it is allowed. So we crack a cold one and hang out. It’s now official, you can drink a beer anywhere in China. Jerry’s uncle is so drunk he’s swaying on the bench seat. I smile at him, “If you mess with the bull, you get the horns.” Of course, I’m not much better than he is.
After twenty minutes or so I have to use the bathroom. Jerry says he’ll show me where it is. So we walk into the bathroom…this next part will not be for the squeamish.
Upon entering the bathroom…IMMEDIATELY…There is a guy dropping a deuce in a hole in the floor…right in front of me…I just see him deucing in the hole…dropping right out of him into the hole. I’ve never seen a grown man actually in the act of deucing. I was planning on going my whole life without seeing that….I can’t say that now.
I yelled, “Oh my god!”
Jerry says, “Yeah, not good to see.”
“You think?!”
The bathroom smells like that scene looked. I quickly took care of my business…it was horrible…I think I’m scarred…just a bad scene…and tons of traffic coming in there to deuce. I couldn’t leave fast enough….washing your hands would definitely leave them dirtier than they were entering. We walked back in the police station.
Tony asked, “Where is the bathroom, I gotta go.”
I tell him where it is, “Going in there might change your life.”
He looks at me weird…he comes back….”It changed my life”.
After another 20 minutes or so, the police officer comes in and tells us the train is almost here. We walk back out into the sea of people, and we head to the check in line….there are SO many people.
The train arrives; we walk out. You can see in the windows…it is absolutely packed. We walk all the way to the end of the train..each car is packed. We climb in and immediately can’t move. We are stuck standing between car connections…it’s horrible…Chinese people as far as the eye can see. There are no seats. The car aisle is stuffed with people. We can’t even stand next to each other. We are just wedged into the space. You can barely move. It’s hard to describe. I can’t believe they sell that many tickets for this thing. It was the longest ride ever! For a day that was so much fun…the last two hours were horrifying! Having to see a deuce dropped was bad enough, but then you add the crammed train car…and you’re talking painful!
All in all a great day….
By the way it’s Thursday night and I am in Shanghai. I will catch up the rest of the blog tomorrow. Sorry for the delays! Lots to do and little time to do it.

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