Friday, September 29, 2006

Hohhot and why I was there for 2 days

Convincing the medical staff was a complete no-go from the beginning, first of all. But that came later.

The two hour train ride went well enough. I fell asleep with my mouth wide open, but no flies landed in it, which was fortunate. The other people around me fell asleep too, and since I was window seat, I pretty much built my body into an impermeable fortress around my purse, which had many important documents in it-- not only mine, but Russ's too. And I could just envision everyone's face if I let Russ's passport get stolen too.

The Hohhot train station was insanely crowded. I guess just more so than I expected. Anyways, all the empty taxis were trapped by all these full taxis, so I gave up and walked a block to where things were less crazy. The driver I found was like... Xtreme stunt driver taxi man. I really didn't know how to communicate how impressed I was with his inter-traffic fluency, so I just mentally cheered him on from the backseat. The man had like... raptor-like problem solving ability behind the wheel. It was cool.

By the time I met Alice's friend at the university around 11, she still hadn't been able to locate the place we needed to go. She and her boyfriend had been asking people all morning apparently, TO NO AVAIL. That was initially a capslock mistake, but... i sorta liked the way it looked.

After many a phone call, the two of us asked a taxi driver, who got us there in like 2 min. About here is where I realized I had no control over whatever the situation might be, and that it's really difficult to deal with 3 screaming receptionists. They were like yelling, and I'm not really sure why or what about, but what Meng managed to explain was that no way in hell were they going to accept my documentation and it was going to cost almost twice as much as we thought to get the exam done. Because Russ and I had faxed and e-mailed everything over to save time, we had to subject ourselves to the exact same tests again.

Only Alice forgot to give me the photographs necessary to complete the process. And since they only conduct the exam between 8 and 11:30am, I'd have to wait until the next day anyway. So Alice headed to the train station to meet me, Russ was informed that he'd have to join us, and I went back to the Inner Mongolia U campus with Meng for lunch and a nap.

On the way, I watched her get mowed down by some middle schooler on a bike. I felt sooo bad for this girl, it must have been one of the most inconvenient days ever. But she wasn't injured, thank goodness.

Lunched at Yong He, which sports a Chinese lookalike of the Colonel as its spokesman. Actually, it's not even distinctly Chinese. The only thing that distinguishes it from trademark/copyright/whatever infringement (and not very well) is a slightly different perspective... and well... maybe shorter hair. Had some steamed baozi and tea eggs which all ruled.

Then a quick walk through the campus to the dorms... and it looked really nice-- yesterday was a pretty day. We passed: two white girls outside a shop speaking Chinese, the artificial lake, some nice buildings, a "slope" (a lengthy handicap entrance?), a exploded-looking sewer, and the shower building. Disembuildinged showers (indoors, but still!)... terrifying thought when you consider the winters here.

Nap. Alice showed up around 3 or 4. We went over to her dorm room and met her roommates-- one of whom is getting married in a few days. She was really cool actually, and was busy packing up all of her things. Alice is avoiding going back to school-- she's 3rd year grad so it's possible for her to do that. So we sat around there a while then waded through rush hour traffic to dinner at a Korean restaurant. They definitely served dog at that restaurant. I was really shocked. Speaking of which, I'm really gonna have to get a dog when I get home. You know how some women get baby envy when they see happy little children? I'm that way with nearly every dog I see these days... it's unusual. Afterwards, we went into a little shop, and then checked out a few things that folks were selling on the street.

Actually, Alice's dorm had dorm mothers, whose jobs were to keep non-residents from being in the building. Really lucky about that whole Chinese ancestry thing. But we were still really careful, and I didn't speak while we were walking down the first floor hall or anything. Alice's engaged roommate offered to sleep in a different room so that we wouldn't have to share a bed. Oh, yeah, it's 4 people to a room there (undergrads get 6). The rooms are about the size of a typical cornell single, and they get bunk beds, a carrel of 4 desks, two wardrobes, and some cubbies, plus a little tv above the door that was playing attractive Korean dramas that evening. So yeah, all 3 of Alice's roommates were present. So I'd just finished washing my face in the basin, when there was a knock at the door. Suddenly one of the dorm mom's burst through with her clipboard, saying something like, "Room 424 (my freshman room #... weird, huh? ok, maybe not)... 4 girls, right?" And then she launched into what sounded like a list of rules. There were definitely 5 of us in there, but one of the girls happened to be in bed in some configuration that made her invisible to this woman. I, meanwhile, just went about my business, blowing my nose, with my face hidden, etc. I was thinking of all the possible ways that I could spend the night if she caught me, among them: hanging out at the train station or scaling 4 stories of wall to come in the open window.

Oh, that open window! After we finally got to bed... Ok, well I woke up intermittently to just... scratch. I was really dry and itchy and ugh. But I woke up this morning and found that I was just lying there scratching my cheek. I was like... aw, man... a mosquito bite on my FACE. I went to splash my face in the... sink... room... and noticed not one, but 3 bites on various parts of my face. Additionally, there's an entry-exit wound type situation near my collarbone on the right and the corresponding region by my shoulder blade on my back. Meaning that I was snacked on through my clothes. Then later I discovered another bite on my neck near my jaw and one on my chin also. I look like I have the pox, frankly, it's kinda funny but also uncomfortable.

Popped two pieces of gum into my mouth, and we made it to the... place... around 8. The cashier didn't show up for another 30 min, so that sucked. But yay, I finally got to start my exam around 9ish maybe? This examination... I could compare it maybe to a scavenger hunt or a fraternity house-party... or maybe like one of those elementary school carnivals. An activity in every room! The adventure began in the blood room. I sometimes am not a morning person. Today was such a day, when the first thing I had to do = one of my greatest irrational fears. I was a meeeeess. But after that initial... stab... the rest went ok. The doc who filled out the sheet may have been even less thorough than my practitioner back home, but she was sympathetic to the whole date problemo.

Then to the ECG room, which... well, it's a good thing I'm not really modest or anything, cuz they definitely make you bare a lot more than you usually would. The lady was all like "get on the table and lift up your shirt... oh yeah, and this too" and just... took the liberty of flipping up my bra. I was all like "k..." And whereas the ECG I had in the states had like those little sticky pads... this one used a series of clamps for the ankle and wrist and a cluster of suction cups... at least three of which left a line perfectly circular hickeys along my ribcage.

Then a chest x-ray, which was really really casual. Whereas in the US it was really expensive and involved wardrobe changes and being lost in a hospital, here you could just stand there while the doctor examined someone (waaay cool, by the way), and then it was just like "next!" and then the person leaves through a door, you enter through the door, stand on a platform, breathe while the doc reminds you to do so, and you're done.

Then, the ultrasound. I don't know why we needed an ultrasound. Maybe for parasites? This was maybe the most stressful one, if only because it was in demand and people were lining up and sorta pushy about getting in. But the woman chose me, and proceeded to like... yell... in harsh fast Chinese and I wasn't 100% sure what she was telling me to do. It was over in seconds, and I didn't know if I should take the piece of paper back out with me so I stood there a sec for a clue. The woman kept telling everyone there "she doesn't understand, she doesn't understand," which she may have just figured out herself. At last, the cute doctor next to her turned around and said very sweetly " mei shi" which means that I ain't got no issues, so I left.

That concluded my part of the exam, and Alice & I bused over to the train station (really long, really crowded ride, but thank goodness we had seats) to pick up Russ. Then back for his examination, which went fast, then we were done!

There was a moment where we thought we might have to stay another night to wait for the results, but Mr. Liu said that he'd take care of it the next day since he's going to Hohhot to get our foreign expert cards anyway.

So we went to get noodles. Ever see an episode of Yan Can Cook where he makes noodles? It's like a 3 ring circus, it's so awesome. Anyway, this place Yan Can Cooked the noodles right in front of your face, then covered them in broth and dressed them with the obligatory greens and beef. Very nice. Very mesmerizing. Very hard to hide the fact that you're staring very hard.

Then walk to the bank, past some shops, back to the south gate of the university. Then... DVD adventures! What I've been waiting for! First we checked out the piles some folks were selling in an alley (a really roomy, commercial alley). I didn't get anything, but Alice got 2 Korean drama series' which look as exciting as they do incomprehensible. One of them is the one that I got in Maryland this summer, for about 1/14 of the price. I saw one episode with my mom, with every combination of Chinese Language, Korean Language, Chinese Subtitle, and English Subtitle, and neither of us understood much more than the very basics of it. Alice said she'd explain it to me, which is really really good news. The man even gave her the guarantee that if she didn't like that show, she could call him and she could return it. THEN CAKES. BOUGHT CAKES. I ate two of them already and they ruled. One of them was like... a mini-pie/turnover/pastry. Mmmmm. Then we went into a store and I went crazy go nuts. Bought a bunch of movies and some CDs... got a Chinese CD for free... and free is cool. I really wanted to build more of a collection... I mean, they had The Philadelphia Story, for goodness sakes, but I couldn't really afford many more. I know, right? I'm sort of poor.

Then back to the dorm to pick up a bunch of Alice's belongings. She's like... really good at convenience lying. By this I mean... you have to explain every time to try to remove things from the building. And a woman like yelled at her through the window on our way out trying to figure out why she had so many bags with her. So she just said that she was helping her engaged friend move out. Less trouble for everyone! I was so impressed.

Then pilgrimage to McD's to sit. I'd been wanting to go there since the day before, just because it's the place I go to drown my frustrations in french fries, which I've come to embrace as my favorite food.

We went to the train station at 4, and on our way into the ticket hall, we heard some dude lament that there were no tickets for Baotou left! So a little background: October 1 is their National Day here, it's one of their big holidays, with significance comparable to July 4 for us. Buuut, it's like a weeklong government holiday and entails a lot of travel or family reunifying, so the train was booked. Alice got us some standing tickets, just for me and Russ though, since she had just been ordered by her uncle to stay in town (which was kind of rough of him, but I guess he still didn't know that she wants to take care of her mom here). Then we went to the bus station to see if we could get a bus.

The short answer is no. The crowd at the gate was sooo thick. It was like a mosh pit, and every once in a while you could hear people screaming or like... shouting for everyone to quit pushing. I didn't really feel like insinuating myself into that. Russ, on the other hand, didn't feel like standing on the bus for 2 hrs. So? He asked if we could just make a deal with a taxi driver. Alice estimated that it'd take us $300 to get back to Baotou using this method. Which, I guess, it cheaper than certain articles of clothing. But it was worth it to Russ, so we went in search of a driver, and found one real fast. He already had two other guys paying their way, so we had a nice full car. I think these other two guys might have met on the plane. One of them was a middle aged-ish businessman type. The other was a really young looking guy in a suit with a briefcase full of people's business cards. This one sat next to me. He was real friendly though. I think the other man had offered to help pay his ride or something, but he spent a really long time trying to fix him up with one favor or another. He like... networked like crazy. I think he ended up getting the man a discount at the Baotou Hotel, which I saw tonight is really posh. He also tried telling me about some English teaching job somewhere in... Lanzhou? But ended up just giving me his business card. I'm a little confused as to what I'm supposed to do with it. I don't know if Russ and I now have some social obligation to fulfill. Because he left with a "call me, ok?" sort of statement, but I didn't really get when or why I was supposed to do so. I thought maybe he was offering to show us around, but he's only visiting for a little while I think. So then I thought his company might do something with tours, but no. It does like... consulting? Advertising? Construction? Not sure. So yeah. Impasse. I think I may have fallen asleep on him briefly though. Oops.

Got dropped off at the Baotou Dong station, which is on the waaay other side of town (it's like another 30 min by train from there to the Baotou station, which is in our district). But we cabbed with the businessman and he paid Y15 of the fare (which... may have been less than I thought he would, but whatev). This cab driver. Whoa. It's like he's not from this town. Man clearly subscribes to the anything-goes school of cab-driving. Like holy shit. So far, it's been my only experience in this town where a driver willfully crosses into oncoming traffic for extended periods of time. And it wasn't exactly like oncoming traffic was clear. I mean, it was still coming. But really, it was up to them to rearrange themselves... our driver wasn't going back over until he felt like it. Even on the right side of the road, he was like Matrix driver. Bullet-time driver. Moses-parting-the-Red-Sea driver. It was intense. And it was like he was too good for any single lane. He's all living between the lanes. Also, he was driving really fast for a town where no one utilizes reflective tape-- especially not bounding pedestrians.

Made it home! Mr. Liu stopped by to pick up my last remaining passport photo for Hohhot tomorrow. We walked over to his office at the training center to get the ATM card and credit card that arrived the other day concurrent with my new passport (best mail call ever). There was some waiting involved since the building was locked. He went to find the key, and I just stood around. Lucky I did cuz the key came riding up on a bike with this man who asked me what I was doing standing around there. Alice is coming back to town tonight after all, though she'll probably stay at home. Showered at last, and I really needed it by then, cuz whoa. And I don't mind telling you that.

And my face itches.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Reassured: for now.

Virus scan came up clean. Um. Just saying.

Some bitterness of mine

So, it turns out that one of my USB drives is veritably infested with viruses! Specifically, Win32.Mima.C, the bastards. And this is something I didn't know until after I plugged it into my laptop. My antivirus software has no idea how to deal with it, and won't load, and mcafee has never heard of it. I figure that means that I can get as paranoid and worked up as I want. Having googled, I found only one website that has a description of it, and it ain't pretty (well it's enough to freak me out anyway). Apparently it destroys word documents and assumes their identities. I am concerned for certain of my essays and so on that are located on this drive and on this drive only. And then of course it steals information.

I'm not sure how the virus got on there, but I suspect that it took up residence either at the training center last night when I used their computer, or sometime earlier that day before my laptop flipped out. Too many variables for me to sleep very soundly.

Doing a system scan of my laptop now with my fingers crossed.

Just thought I'd share.

But yeah, I'm really pissed at people who make this shit up. I mean come on. This facet of our society is just one of many that will keep our civilization from colonizing space.

That thing about going to Hohhot

Today's not one of those days where the information gets better.

So I talked to Alice again. I knew I had to go to Hohhot. And I knew I needed to go somewhere tomorrow. But what I didn't quite get was that I need to go to Hohhot tomorrow.

Reasons that this is an issue: Russ has to take over class for me again. I have neither funds for the train nor for the exam itself. Russ has class soon and the train leaves early tomorrow, so he can't change money for me. Alice is really busy right now and it's inconvenient for her to accompany me, but I'll have a lot of trouble talking/arguing to/with the officials myself.

So now she's got to call all of her friends in Hohhot to see if they can meet me and be my guide, otherwise she'll have to come along, which is equally problematic.

I'm not sure what I've accomplished here other than taking a lot of extra time and money to deal with things like this. Gracious!

Should I take this as a sign?

I've been led to the Small Batch website through two separate, totally unrelated avenue's twice within the last 24ish hours.

Yesterday afternoon I ventured there after a google search inspired by an episode of friends to find out just what an 8 year Small Batch of Basil Hayden's was.

Today, it was through a link to the beverage warehouse from an online comic.

Yay more hoops!

Aaaargh, guess what wonderful new trial has sprung up on me? This one was most unexpected.

Alice called me earlier today to ask if I had my medical exam form with me, to which I said yes, because I brought copies of every damn thing with me, thank goodness.

Hours went by.

I got a call from her just now saying that her uncle told her that my med for was outdated. And I'm like... but I just got it done in July. Everyone knows it was done in July, because we had to wait until July to get it all in. I was perplexed, because all the sheets from the various tests I took read July 24 and July 26. Then I was like "shit" because she was right. Next to his signature, for whatever mysterious reasons, he'd written 1/28/06. I very nearly fell over.

So I had to call Liu himself. He said that because the government is very touchy on the truth of documents like this, I will have to go to HOHHOT and have yet another examination!

This upset me for several reasons. The first of which being the chase that resulted in my exam form getting filled out the first time. The second of which being the massive charges these cost my uninsured body this summer. The third being the desire to not have my routine interrupted again. The fourth being the face that I might not be able to explain my way out of it. Aaaah, I'm making noises but I don't know how to type them!

So I started doing my laundry.

But ok, here's another thing. Who knew that this med form would be so important? I mean, Russ didn't even bring a copy with him. No one explained to me that this would become a legal document as important as my passport. No, I was under the impression that it was just a random string of red tape that I'd have to deal with in order to get my visa. Blah. That's it. I mean, my doc wasn't aware of the importance either. It's just like... never was it brought to my attention during this entire process, until TODAY, that anyone actually cared about the information of this form.

And one slip of the hand, and it's several months out of date. My only theories... maybe it was too early? I mean, the doc was running the office himsellf that day and I showed up first thing and wasn't the only person trying to get his attention. But I was looking at the paper, and I think that what actually happened was this. He wrote 7, but with a hook on the end. And the middle bar connecting the hook with the stem didn't copy. But having a stem that looked like a / just led him to continue writing the date without a /. Why do I think this? Because, just with the hook and the / it looks sorta like a 7. And also, when writing dates, his 1's tended to be longer. Unfortunately, he didn't have a reason to write any 7's on the rest of the form, so there's no confirmation to be had.

I'm giving my mom a call in a few hours, maybe she can chew him out a bit and get a few future exams for free for m'self.

I mean, really.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ta da!

Ta da actually references the moment that I threw a champagne bottle at my laptop in my imagination.

After tinkering (wrestling) with blogger all afternoon, I finally got myself a blog. Blogblogblog. I'm still not sure how I feel about that word. Yes, it's nearly midnight here. No, I didn't spend the whole night trying to figure this out either.

Anyways, some thoughts that ocurred to me as I did this:

1) The big mushroom in the sky- for some reason, Len's farewell letter for our 11th grade English class that reminded us of the absurdity/profundity of the whole transcendentalist oversoul concept really stuck with me over the years, and popped into my head for... maybe no reason, as I berated my internet connection.

2) How bizarre it is that and all its punctuated variations is actually unavailable. Ok, so I actually just looked it up... dude's not even using it.

3) That the only unusual nickname I have is, in fact, "Tomato Face." And that I've grown attached to it over the years.

Currently, my ipod is behaving strangely.

Earlier, I made fried rice. It was the first from-scratch thing I've made since I got here. And it really sucked! Not sure what went wrong... although... perhaps the rice was too sticky (rather large rice cooker is of a different ilk than I'm used to), and perhaps the soy sauce wasn't salty enough. One thing I do know is that in my laziness, I convinced myself that it was unnecessary to salt the eggs. As trivial as that may seem, I wish I'd done so just so I'd know whether that was the crux or not.

I fried rice tonight because it never ocurred to me this afternoon to eat. I think it's something I meant to do before I went to teach my 7-9, but... I didn't? Not totally sure why. Also I didn't have a real lunch or breakfast, so...

What I did do today was make a powerpoint presentation about food and the home... implements, appliances, ingredients, fruits, veggies, place settings, and so on. I was working on adding photos around lunchtime, and coupled with the nice smells coming from my neighbors' apartments, they were making me really hungry. But I think I just ate some bread and peanut butter. And a pear.

This morning, I really had to force myself out of bed. I had to work on the presentation, because at that point I was still planning on using it in my high school class. This class was cancelled a few hours later, but I would have been done in time. And I still needed to use it for my class at the training center. So I got out of bed... sorta nauseous... sort of... emotional?... and the first thing I did after sitting still on the couch for a few minutes and all those hygiene things was to make myself a strong cup of coffee.

Later, I really regretted the coffee. I was so strung out that I didn't know what to do with myself. I was like, inches away from losing control of my body completely, but as it was, my eyes were really wide and stuff.

Then I had a scare when my computer started doing some really frightening shit, and I mean stuff it hasn't done since I had the motherboard repaired/replaced (I actually don't know exactly what they did with it). I think it might be ok now?

Also, Alice was gone all day, so not having my usual amount of human contact sort of skewed my perception a bit probably.

Anyways, class today went ok. I think actually maybe the powerpoint was boring. There was a lot of new stuff in it, and I guess maybe folks didn't pick up as much of it as I'd hoped they would. I sort of made it with high schoolers in mind, and expected to spice it up with many rousing activities (cough). But I did get to chat a few minutes with the students in small groups, which is my favorite part. It's more like hang-out time, and I'm not really sure what everyone else does when I'm with each group... haven't worked out those kinks yet (had a Mrs. Barber graduation flashback that would have been especially inappropriate here). But I like talking to them!

Returned Brokeback Mountain to the rental place having seen only about a minute of it before the VCD went all flaaaah. So they traded me Ant Bully. And one of my training center students found me there and offered to lend me Brokeback Mountain on Thursday, so that's pretty sweet.

Ok, had an observation but forgot it. These things happen, I suppose!