Tuesday, August 12, 2008

an auspicious number

Numbers are important in China.  The unluckiest of them being four, pronounced si (like the sound a snake makes).  The word death shares this same pronunciation, though with a different tone.  

The most auspicious number in Chinese is eight.  You want an eight in your phone number?  You pay more money.  You want to get married?  Best to do it in August, preferably on the eighth.  You want to host the Olympic games?  You schedule the opening ceremony for August 8, 2008 at 8:08pm.  Eight is a number that represents wealth and good fortune; the Chinese take these things very seriously.

My August 8th of 2008 went quite well.  I managed to find myself at a wedding, not surprisingly.  The number of people getting married skyrocketed that day.  Lots of eights and the opening of the Olympics. . .a day that lucky only comes around once in a lifetime.  

This was the third time I've attended a Chinese wedding.  This time I was attending the wedding of one of Ming's high school classmates.  Don't ask me his name, I forgot, as I usually do with Chinese names.  The whole ordeal lasted less than two hours.  Definitely not as fun as an American wedding-no Chicken Dance.  No Holky Polky.  And definitely no YMCA.  There was, however, plenty of alcohol.

We arrived at the hotel banquet hall just before noon and seated ourselves at a dinner table in front of a small stage at the front of the room.  On the table there was already a spread of appetizers, a plate of candy and nuts, a plate (?!) of cigarettes, two bottles of baijiu (vile tasting Chinese liquor), and a few 2 liter bottles of soda.  Mama cracked open the liquor and poured us a couple of glasses.  That woman doesn't waste any time.

A few minutes later the happy couple entered the back of the room.  Confetti and bubbles filled the air as they walked down the makeshift aisle on each side of which were half a dozen tables.  A short speech was made.  The couples parents were seated on the stage.  After the speech the couples took turns bowing to each others parents.  Then they bowed to each other.  Rings were exchanged.  Unity candle lit.  I don't think there was even a kiss. . . and waaa-BAM.  It was over.  All that was left to do was eat.  And drink.

The couples came around to toast us (as well as some annoying man with a camcorder.  I hate those people with camcorders).  The groom's mother also toasted us, but drank Apple Fanta out of a wine glass, which I consider cheating.  I toasted Mama and Mama toasted me, with biajiu, several times.  I began to feel a little woosy, thus switching to beer.  I stuffed my face with fried shrimp, meatballs, stewed beef and potatoes, fish, and fresh fruit.  The food at Chinese weddings definitely trumps American ones.  But there is no cutting of the wedding cake because there is no wedding cake.  No bouquet tossing.  None of the embarrassment of the groom trying to remove the guarder.  No sappy sweet father-daughter wedding dance.  By 1:30pm everything had wrapped up.  Ming had to go to work and I was left stumbling home to await the most awesome opening ceremony ever.  The Chinese may have got it right with the Olympics, but they still have a lot to learn about throwing a good wedding.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Potato Chip Gallery

I am truly amazed at the variety of Lay's Potato Chips in this country.   I've made it my mission to try all the odd flavored Lays I've been avoiding for years now.  I will be reporting in back to you.  

This all began with my discovery of Blueberry Lays a couple weeks ago.  Today I stumbled upon Mango, a true gold mine.  If you want to try any of these delectable flavors yourself, you're going to have to come for a visit.

Blueberry I opened the bag and smelt blueberry deliciousness.  The chips weren't blue or purple as I expected, however; just their normal golden potato color.  The flavor was strange, but manageable.  I have to admit that I'm pretty open minded to tasting new flavors-it's become a means to survive here.  To describe the blueberry chip, well, it tasted blueberry, much like blueberry flavored gum or candy.  It also tasty distinctly potato chipy, like a crunchy, salty potato chip.  The combination of these two separately delicious flavors was ok.  But salt and blueberry don't mix together all that well.  I don't really care much for salt with my fruits.  I do like that there is no aftertaste.  I give it three stars (out of five).  I'd rather stick to "American Flavor Lays" (plain, salted).  

Mango  Has an unidentifiable fruity smell and tastes a bit like a salty peach.  Also, no aftertaste.  I prefer the blueberry.  Two stars.

Cucumber  All this potato chip tasting has made me realize I need to start hitting the gym again.  But for Cucumber flavored Lays, the calories are worth it.  Delicious.  Other than Original American Salt Flavor, these are my favorite.  A little salty, a little vegetably, and no aftertaste.  Four and a half stars.

Lychee  What is a lychee? you might ask.  It is a Chinese fruit that tastes how a grandmother's house smells.  That is, it tastes like stale potpourri and death.  Not one of my favorite fruits.  And it's no better as a potato chip flavor.  It sucks.  One star.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Late Night Rendezvous

When your significant other's cell phone begins ringing at 11:30pm, certain things may cross your mind.  The first being, "Who the hell is calling?"  

Is there a crisis at work?  Some kind of family emergency?  Or worse, a call from a distraught secret lover?  

Where I come from, unspoken phone call etiquette exists.  If you think there is a possibility that the person has gone to sleep for the night, or still hasn't woken up in the morning, than don't call.  Of course there are exceptions to this-for example, all that 4am drunk dialing you did Freshman year of college was probably acceptable at the time.  But now that we are adults, there are certain codes of phone call conduct we must adhere to.  In America.  

In China, things are, as always, different.  For example, it is perfectly acceptable for one of my husband's coworkers to call at 1am asking for advice.  I realize he is the head manager at the hotel he is working at, but I don't think I'll ever find it reasonable for someone to call in the wee hours of the morning to ask, "Can Mr. Wang be given a 20% discount?"  When Ming answers with a furious no, it is not uncommon for a follow up call to occur two minutes later.  "Can we give Mr. Wang a 15% discount?"  To this Ming replies with a long string of Chinese curse words which I usually find highly amusing.  Though it's not so amusing after midnight.

While these calls are a little troubling, they are not as bad as the ones the require Ming to leave in the middle of the night.  Sometimes there's a problem at work that must be attended to, other times there is KTV.

"What is KTV?" you ask.  I'll tell you.  It's a phenomenon that has been sweeping Asia since it started in Japan in the 1970s.  It hit the American scene in the 1990s.  You and I know of it as karaoke.  To us, it's a fun and annoying past time that includes singing while intoxicated to songs like Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back" in a cheesy corner bar full of strangers.  To the Chinese, it is something entirely different.

First, the Chinese don't sing in front of a bar of strangers.  KTV is found in what looks like a hotel.  A huge building filled with rooms of various sizes.  When you enter the lobby, you go to the front desk and request a room.  You can get a larger room if you have a big party or if you are a monied Chinese hoping to show off to friends or business associates.  Larger rooms are more expensive.  Rooms are rented by the hour and rates are usually more expensive on the weekends and at night.

Once in your room you will find a TV, a computer for selecting songs, two microphones, a couch or two, a table, and (if it's a nice room) a bar.  A waitress will come to take drink and snack orders.  Drinking beer is essential to KTVing.  So is chain smoking.

You might be wondering if I can even participate in such an activity.  I'm not much for chain smoking and certainly singing in Chinese is not easy.  Are English songs even available?  I'll have you know, they most certainly are.  The selection, however, leaves much to be desired.  What's on the menu?  A little Madonna circa 1985, classic Britney and MJ.  Oh, and The Carpenters.  Who are they?  Yeah, I don't really know.  I usually stick to "Baby, Hit Me One More Time" and "Smooth Criminal."

What's most different from American karaoke is not the venue, but rather the nature of karaoking itself.  While it can be enjoyed during a drunken night with friends, it is most often used as a way to form business relationships.  Meeting new people and establishing a relationship is key to survival in China, especially for men.  With such fierce competition in the job market, who you know is everything.  And what better way to introduce and meet new people than through a night at KTV?

Last week, I found myself without my husband late into the night after an 11pm phone call requesting him to go karaoke.  This happened twice.  I think most American women would find this somewhat infuriating, especially considering that Ming did not return home until 5am on Thursday morning and then went out again the following night.  But I just try to grin and bare it.  This KTV culture is a part of China that's unavoidable.  Often time I do get invited along, but I rather miss the endless hours of painful Chinese singing and ongoing requests for me to sing Mariah Carey's "Hero" or Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On."  My time is better spend at home in the comfort of my bed.