Well, That Was Unexpected

Real life is stranger than fiction...depending on which authors you read, of course.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Cha Cha Cha

Today was a completely manic day, I think the only unfilled moments were my 15 minute cab rides to dinner and from jenny's house. The kind of day for me that, no matter how productive or filled with mirth, inevitably ends in severe irritation.

It started with lots of judgment: who would win the doris brougham scholarship prize? i had over 120 applications to sort through this week, and believe you me, after about 50 I start getting a little quirky, my eyes start twitching. it's in those moments where i choose winners like the girl who wrote, "my parents are divorced, and i've wanted to be a lawyer since i was little because my father really wants me to become a lawyer, but recently i think, if he thinks being a lawyer is so great why didnt he study harder and do it himself?" i rewarded her sassiness. i mean, she had other qualifying attributes like neediness and good scholarship, blah blah. but i pretty much chose her b/c no one else wrote anything so honest or rebellious. it stood out. so did the kid who wrote that his english had really improved because he joined a star trek usergroup online. in the end i couldnt give it to him b/c some girl with divorced parents and a brother with leukemia beat him out, but his two paragraph shout out to trekkies was extremely endearing. there was a girl whose name in chinese sounds like "raising chickens" and she said her name "has made her life fun and filled it with friends." make a mental note for my progeny. another girl wrote that she is an introvert around strangers, but once she makes you her good friend, she turns outtingly fun. intriguing...one girl talked about learning things from her abecedarian, and i was like "what the hell is that?" apparently it means "one who teaches the alphabet." talk about finding exactly the word you want--i think "teacher" would have sufficed. anyway, she didnt win anything. she could afford cram school so she was shafted.

so, tonight everyone was at a huge evangelistic rally put on by our company, but i couldnt go b/c i had a previous commitment with jenny from the NPA. so jenny and 3 of her best friends take me to this ubersecretive dim sum place with garish chandeliers and food that she tells me is cheap because the owners don't advertise. great! now, usually at dim sum when i am in control, i only get the least bizarre dishes. but they were treating, so i had to endure what can only be described as some extraordinarily weird shit, that i'm still not convinced was all legal. that's the danger of being asked out by taiwanese and chinese people. and i told you about how much food means to them, right? so they have to order only the "best", if by "best" we mean "freakiest", things from the menu. plates piled high with what appears to be slices of fat situated around a ground-up pile of brown things, many different shades of brown thing. an argument about one plate: are they squid eyes or squid mouths? "they are eyes, the dish is called dragon eyes." "but squid don't have eyes, it's just a name, these are deep fried squid mouths." "mouths, really? they look like eyes." "no, they're definitely deep fried mouths." (as i vomit quietly into my rice bowl)..."oh julie, you have to try this: it's vegetables with garlic" thank the lord...hey wait, what are those little white things? "oh, the best part! very small fishes." the small fish look like maggots. oh julie, here are some weird ass dumplings fried and topped with brown gelatinous gravy. oh julie, try these clear, slimy noodles with indecipherable ground up seafood and meat. and the words you never want to hear at a taiwanese restaurant "let's order some dessert." They were in a chipper mood so we horrifically got two--one for there and one to go. black sesame soup for there. the great thing about sesame soup, besides the fact that it tastes okay and isnt made of reconstituted fish parts, is that it turns your mouths totally black. so it's very fun to imagine you are in the middle of a japanese horror movie. it also makes toothpicks essential. the stuff we got "to go," i thought was purple rice, but actually was black gelatin in a grey sauce which i believe was an attempt at some form of plum.

why did we get dessert to go? because we are going to jennys house to sing karaoke, of course! first of all, jenny and this other guy, jackson, are dance partners in the ballroom dance club at work. so when they arent very emotionally singing with their eyes closed to taiwanese ballads and folk songs, they are doing various ballroom dances around the room--sometimes together and sometimes separately. we are to applaud for them at all times. tangent: the national police agency has lots of extracurricular clubs...like a ballroom dancing club. music club, english club, singing club, etc. WTF? and they have talent shows--in fact jenny and jackson will be singing taiwanese and chinese songs at the upcoming birthday talent show. would we like to hear them? heck yeah! it is apparently perfectly masculine to ballroom dance and sing ballads. do you think the CIA secretly does this? "in his off time 007 enjoys the cha cha and singing to mariah carey."
anyway, jenny and jackson are partners in cheesy crime. jenny is a major hip-swirling tart who has had unnecessary cosmetic surgery, and is inexplicably obsessed with becoming more beautiful when her kindness and ability to make phenomenal homemade chocolate are actually her best qualities. in the u.s. i would say that they were a shuffle-ball-change away from raucous affair. but they arent. because it's totally acceptable for people to openly be tango partners and not be involved. jennifer and grace seem to think there is nothing wrong with the cheesy J duo. and, in fact, they all sing emotional karaoke songs devoted to their absent spouses. (another tangent: over half of my students tell me that one way they relieve stress is by singing loudly.) and the reason jenny spent over 10,000 US dollars on a professional karaoke machine for her home is because her husband likes karaoke so much. awww. we applaud. jenny tells me i cant leave because her daughter wants to meet me so badly. her daughter comes home for 2 minutes, says hi and leaves. poor thing. i'm talking about me, here. jenny teaches me the basic cha cha and rhumba. jackson makes me tango. each time i try to get out of it. each time it is made clear that getting out of it is out of the question. they all look mystified, like, doesnt everyone dance and sing upon request? cha cha cha. indeed, they all seem to think it is normal, not, say, incredibly embarrassing or potentially awkward. they decide to make me sing chinese songs that i don't know. it is a well-established fact that i do not sing well in my own language. so imagine how fun it would be to hear me badly sing chinese songs i don't know. i belt out every three characters. they applaud. frickin sadists. jenny forces me to drink painfully strong brazilian coffee "sweetened" with wine. i chug it after i realize that i cant bear to sip it because it tastes like devil vomit. i chase it with a piece of pineapple--it was like a tequila shot, only incredibly unpleasurable. i chop up and pretend to eat some of my grey gelatin. some of the scary grey sauce gets on my lip. i have more pineapple. we sing a dramatic parting song that is about the four seasons and life changes. we wave goodbye to each other repeatedly in a circle. i am confused because as far as i know i will see them next wednesday in class. they ask me if i have any free weekends before i return to america. because they would like to do this every weekend. holy crap. apparently even when totally perplexed i am an instant party. lucky for me, part of my shtick is that chinese people generally have unsophisticated senses of humor, so physical humor and dragging out jokes that are stupid are the cat's meow--i.e. they comment on my deft chopstick ability, someone makes a joke that wherever you hold your chopsticks corresponds to the place in taiwan where your spouse will be from, so i hold my chopsticks at the very bottom and say that my husband will be my next door neighbor. i am the height of hilarity. jenny is beaming like i am a walking month of sundays. they give me cab money--for the way home and the way there. i try to refuse, they gang up on me and make me take it. i feel like an eccentric prostitute. people pay me to be white around chinese people. look how cute i am when i try to speak chinese! look at my face when i realize i've just had a bit of 1000 year old egg! i tell them i have a lot of plans. okay, they say, "every other weekend?" i smile and nod--i mean, they are my best customers, none of my other friends pay me to hang around them, after all. uh, "i really hope it works out," i openly lie. they don't relent. how about once a month until i leave? they really want to take me to all the good restaurants. maybe, i concede.
i am eliza doolittle. soon i will be able to sing proper taiwanese folk songs and will wear a qipao and actually be able to pronounce the 4th tone, and if it werent for my painfully white skin people would think i was from a village near zhongli because of my slight accent. i'm mogli from the jungle book. maybe they will set me up with one of their native sons if i play my cards right. someone dark enough to blot out signs of westernness like light eyes and blonde hair, but to still reap the benefits of my porcelain no-evidence-of-hard-labor skin.

do i sound bitter? actually i had a fine time, most of it was genuinely bizare and hilarious, which i very much apprecaite. it just went on way too long. my eye is twitching. i think it's weird that they paid for everything. i mean, i'm just too american, you know. egalitarianism is a cultural thing. i could be a total psycho for all they know. but i had the great fortune of being born in an english speaking country when english speaking countries are at their zenith. i havent done anything to earn it. cha cha cha


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