Completely lost in translation
Liz is a 24-year-old who has decided to take a break from city life and visit one of the most mysterious and colourful countries in the world.
Liz returns to school after her summer break and reluctantly gives into a female student demanding to give her a baby oil massage.
Well folks, I'm back from the wilderness of central China. No word yet on whether the government will give me a permit to work at the TV station. As soon as I got back here it seemed like I'd never left. Arrived in my new room, turned on the English channel and a show I'd seen fifty times before was on...that made me feel right at home. But just to really make sure I was in the right country I opened the wardrobe door. It fell off, nearly killing me. Check. Went to the toilet. Bowl coated in petrified diarrhoea splatter. Check. My colleague came in from the next room to announce she'd just found a mouldy old fish in her desk drawer. Eh? ...Check?
Later, went for a stroll around campus and ran into some of my old students (the 20-year-olds, not the eight-year-olds I spoke of last time), who were so happy and excited to see me (it's a very boring town remember) that I couldn't help but feel a warm buzz, even though last time I was here I started feeling so insanely overwhelmed and suffocated by their intensely competitive demands for my attention that I wanted to get leprosy just to scare them away a bit. Bless them.
We enquired about each other's summer vacations, and they responded cheerfully about helping their families harvest rice for twelve hours a day in 40 degree heat, helping their mothers around the house, and studying (for a bit of variety). Montages flashed through my mind of my own break: staggering in the wee hours, beer being drunk out of shoes, and various miscellaneous stupors and adventures. All memories dearly cherished in my own heart of course, but difficult to translate into the Confucian/Communist value system. So I told them I just, you know... saw some friends... think I made them tea... pretty sure I did the washing-up a couple of times...
They filled me in on some changes that have gone down at the new campus. Every Sunday supplement will tell you China is changing, opening up, loosening up. Well it's all true. Everywhere you look, old arbitrary rules, controls, decrees are being replaced by new arbitrary rules, controls, decrees. Like, whereas previously all students were forbidden from entering dormitories housing the opposite sex, now the male students may visit the girls' dorms. Kick out the jams! Of course the girls still can't visit the boys' dorms. Don't be crazy.
China is developing rapidly... you might have read that in Sunday supplements too. Like, the canteens here at the new campus have food warmers. The next step will be turning them on; when the economy develops a bit more.
While I was here over summer, astronomical new records in national power consumption were reported daily and as a committed greenie I was, quite frankly, freaked out. But I'll admit it didn't stop me hoping every time I bought a beer, that someone had gone all-out and turned on the fridge. And now, as I walk into the canteen every day and grab my plastic tray ready for the slop to be slopped on, I hope against hope that someone somewhere has rubber-stamped the go-ahead to turn on the food warmers.
The fact that I'm talking about electricity has probably clued you onto the fact that I'm not actually seeing or doing much of interest right now. The new campus is out of town, isolated and desolate, far from any of China's great markets, restaurants and street food peddlers, which is why I'm stuck with cold, greasy canteen slop.
Occasionally I make the trip into town, and remember why I'm here. For all the agro, the annoying, the mind-boggling China has to offer (i.e. the many paragraphs I've mercifully edited out), there's an impossibly cute child on the back of a bike, holding a bowl of goldfish and singing a song, or an old man with a pointy beard and bits of string tied around his trouser cuffs telling fortunes on the footpath, or any number of delightful scenes to warm my bourgeois bohemian heart.
"Now the male students may visit the girls' dorms. Kick out the jams! Of course the girls still can't visit the boys' dorms. Don't be crazy."
Another delightful scene happened the other day. I went into a village, and was wandering around the market. It was the usual dust, hullabaloo, people everywhere waving turnips at each other and gutting fish in your face. Then I began to notice that everyone was staring at something, and it wasn't me. What could it be? I turned around and there it was, a huge rainbow-striped, 'Brazil 66' looking hot-air balloon hovering just above our heads. The people in it waved down, we waved up, it drifted off, and everyone soon got back to shouting about cucumbers. It was like one of those magic realism scenes which I always hate in movies, but love in real life.
Back at school, most of the students are great and teaching them is pretty fun these days. Now that they've stopped parroting the right answers all the time and have figured out how to really impress me, which is basically just to make cheeky jokes (on topic of course). I can also put up with their bizarre penchant for working in flattery with the course work. For example, the other day when we were doing comparison/contrast language or something, and a student came up with the example; "Liz is both brainy and beautiful". A+ student that one.
But top marks would have to go to a sweet lass who whispered to me in class one day, after I'd complained of a stiff neck and shoulders, that she was coming to visit me that night to give me a massage, adding, "I'm bringing my baby oil".
Background: on a previous late-night visit, last term, this same dear girl sat down beside me on my bed, stared into my eyes and declared, "Liz, I love you!", in such an anguished, earnest tone, that I spent a few stunned moments wondering how I was going to break it to her that I like fellas, until it dawned on me that it was just a case of lost in trans/cultural diff and she was really only trying to say she doesn't mind me and thinks I'm okay-ish.
But back to the baby oil... It wasn't until later that night, when she turned up as promised, told me to have a shower, and said (I swear), "I am going to give you your fantasy!", that I realised, hmmm I'm going to have to get naked here.
No big deal.. I mean, it was a great massage, really sorted out those knots in my upper back. But I mean... can you imagine at high school (which unis here are basically like), if people had found out a female student was going round to a female teacher's place at night and giving her nude massages?
So as I lay there I couldn't help but wonder about what the community would think, especially when a boy from my class called her mid-massage and she blithely informed him of what was going on. The next day I kind of expected to find smirks and whispers as I walked into the classroom.
But of course there weren't. No one gives a shit, I should've known.