The last time I wrote was just after New Year. Christmas and New Year seem a distant memory now, probably because they are concepts that are still catching on here. I’m sure within the next five years as Western ideologies become more popular, Christmas will be matching the Chinese New Year in terms of popularity. ‘Chinglish’ Christmas decorations and slogans were etched all over shops and restaurants, with "Mas Chris," and "Xmas Merry" the favoured terms of reference.
Even though Christmas Day was a normal working day like any other, the stressful event of present shopping went ahead as usual. I can’t say present shopping fills me with bountiful levels of excitement, but in a foreign country it allows the opportunity to explore new parts of the city and annoy people I wouldn’t normally annoy. With this exploring, I now have the knowledge to find anything from the latest movie releases to freshly plucked pheasants and from dangerously powerful fireworks to ‘Wipe Clean Lifelike Fake Vaginas.’
Upon walking down one dark alley, I came across a shop that was selling bundles of fake money. Although not religious, Chinese people are deeply superstitious, leaving daily offerings to appease somebody or something, and burning fake money as a sacrifice to those people no longer with us. I saw this as the perfect place to stock up on monetary tokens for an upcoming poker night. As I approached the grubby looking seller, he quickly directed the comments, "this money isn’t for your Christmas celebrations," in my direction. "I know, I want them to play cards with," I honestly replied. Apparently asking for superstitious fake money to play poker with is an insult up there with spitting in someone’s face. As soon as I finished my sentence, he angrily pushed me away from his store and would not make eye contact with me again.
To rub salt in to my wounds, as I retreated trying to understand how someone could get so furious over such an innocent ask, I walked straight in to a freshly laid pile of human crap. Like Christmas, nappies are a concept not fully understood in these parts of the world. Instead children wear crotch-less trousers, crouching and crapping whenever they need to go, wherever they may happen to be. Even if this place is a well-to-do shopping centre! I was in no mood to continue shopping after these events, but as a typical bloke and leaving my Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve, I really had no choice in the matter!
With most Christmas presents successfully bought, there was still enough time to find myself at a meat market, where cooked dogs legs were piled high for sale. I had always thought I would at least try dog meat whilst here, especially how locals insist on its stomach cleansing properties. But on seeing how unappetising it looks, I might back track on that comment! If the dog legs didn’t help losing my appetite, then the grotesque dog heads showing faces of immense pain and displeasure, placed behind their severed limbs certainly did.
Normally I don’t mind being stared at like I have a growth the size of a small baby coming out of my head. But sometimes it can be a little too much, especially when spotty adolescents think the best way to impress their friends is to mock the token foreigner. With excrement fresh on my shoe and the stresses of Christmas shopping in full flow, a "hello" in English followed by a "stupid" in Chinese was too much to take this time around. Instead of trying to throw some Chinese insult back in their face, I decided to greet this teenager as though he was a long lost brother.
With a big grin on my face, arms open and shouts of ‘hello friend’ echoing around the outlets, I walked towards the now nervous boy and his quickly dispersing friends. I never expected such a tactic to work so well. The more he walked away, the more I followed him, like some horror flick zombie. After five minutes of following around various stores, I decided enough was enough, safe in the knowledge he would think twice before using Chinese insults to impress again.
Scaring locals is sometimes disturbingly easy. After being watched and followed by a couple of schoolgirls, I turned to them to say hello as they watched me buying a couple of hamsters for my sparsely decorated apartment. Expecting a hello back, I was quite shocked when they just both burst in to tears of shock, unable to move until I had left the shop.
If Christmas was a low key event, a pile of apples off my students virtually the only reminder of the day, then New Year followed in similar circumstances. Of course there was the drinking, dancing, singing and an early morning takeaway (of seaweed that I mistook for something far more appealing in my tipsy state) that many celebrations involve. But it still felt like a normal night out. Maybe I was feeling a tad homesick?
With a face of distraction, amusement and curiosity, I suppose I can’t be too surprised that the Christmas period also saw my first official stalker; Mr. Lucas, a twenty-something skinny, impressionable governmental worker. The fact he was a guy was even less of a surprise! It’s normal when frequenting bars to have locals buy you drinks in return for listening to their limited English skills. It’s also normal to exchange phone numbers in politeness, knowing full well that neither of you will call each other.
Mr. Lucas was different. The following day he called fifteen times, the day after, twelve times. He was clever too. Realising that I could possibly be ignoring his calls, he decided to call from a different phone. A trick that I fell for. Upon answering, he confessed that it was his birthday and that all he wanted was for me to share a few drinks with him. I felt obliged. What harm can a few birthday drinks do?
To cut a long story short, after several drinks with Mr. Lucas, a female cousin and a friend dressed like he’d spent the day bird-watching we ended the night in a KTV karaoke joint. By this point thanks to excessive alcohol consumption, Mr. Lucas was worse for wear. After polishing off a near perfect version of Truly, Madly, Deeply by Savage Garden, a now topless Mr. Lucas approached to congratulate me on such a great performance, trying to plant a smacker on my lips in the process. I fought off his advances as he tried a second and third time. By the fourth time his admiration of my singing skills had turned to anger. "Why you no want kiss me for birthday," he shouted. Knowing fully well any excuse would not be tolerated or understood, I did what any heterosexual grown man would do. I pressed my finger on his lips and quietly whispered ,"Sshhhhhh," before explaining I needed the toilet. This was an ingenious method of distraction. I left the karaoke room, walked straight outside and hailed the first taxi home. It took another week after this eventful night for the calls to cease.
On that image I will finish. Thank you to everyone who have sent stamps. It’s very much appreciated and they have been very well received. To those of you who have emailed in the past few weeks and are still awaiting a reply I do apologise. I should manage one by the end of the week!