Roll With It

1 I’m not really sure what I was expecting from Peruvian weather. Despite the name, I expected the rainforest to be jungle like, steamy and sunny.  Certainly not the incessant rain, rain that made the supervisor incredibly nervous about the way the river was growing, or the way the pervasive damp made our clothes smell slightly of mildew and wet monkey.  Three weeks into my stay, it had rained every day-we hadn’t worked on any projects for at least a week, and the river we lived next to was so loud that your ears rang any time we left the reserve.  The breaking point was a few days after New Year’s Eve. After a particularly brutal storm the night before, we woke up to find that the zip line, a wire and wood contraption that was our only way across the river had snapped in the storm.  We frantically ran around in the rain gathering rope and wood to rebuild it.  A sodden two hours later, we had cobbled together a suitable zipline, and the supervisor sat us down at the table that also doubled as a settlers of cataan board.  Essentially, the zipline incident affirmed what he had been thinking for some time; at the rate the river was rising we would have to evacuate.  Most of us gathered our things for the walk into town, but three decided to stay on the reserve.  After signing a makeshift contract that they would not sue in case of death (Terrifying sign number one), we walked for an hour to relative safety.  We spent that night crowded two and three to a cot, and the storms were even worse. When we finally made it back to the reserve, the water had made it to the base of the lifted platform that held our beds, and the three volunteers who had stayed had had to evacuate to higher ground.

2 The second summer I was in Taiwan, the group I ran with was constantly in search of “American” style food. Bagels, salads, hamburgers, ice cream, you name it. Despite the fact that there were supremely tasty replacements for all of these (饭团,凉拌,挂包,包冰) I eventually compromised and led the group to an all you can eat hotpot restaurant where chicken testicles were served alongside Haagen dazs (a particular tempting draw). When we got there, I was voluntold to speak with the hostess and reserve a place in line. I was feeling really good about it, as the conversation went smoothly with no embarrassing language gaffes. As the wait time was coming to an end, I got up to ask the hostess how many parties were ahead of us but she had gone inside. I glanced at her list only to realize she never asked for my name. Never fear-it turns out she didn’t ask because she just wrote 老外 (foreigner)

3 People in China are always really excited to see foreigners. If it’s not being pointing accompanied by a breathless 老外! There’s photos, selfies with confused foreigners, and whispered giggles if you say anything in Chinese.  Lastly are the people who want to practice English or have you help their child review for the Chinese college entrance exam. Last winter I was something like a TA on a trip to China. One night I was given some money and told to lead the group to dinner.  While talking with the owner of the dumpling shop we ended at, I asked how many dumplings were in a half kg. Despite the entire exchange having been in Chinese, his response was English. 16, he assured me. 16 in a half kg.  We ordered, but something happened when the food started coming out. Each order had much, much more than 16 dumplings. It turns out, the owner was trying to say 60! That night, we ordered over 500 dumplings, and I vowed to triple check in Chinese any English pronunciation that came my way in China.

4  Since our dorms are very far out from the city center, going into town for a night is a pretty big deal, and it takes a while to get ready.  One night, three of us had heard from some expats that there was a bar that turned into a salsa club on Saturday nights.  We grabbed the first cab that came along, right as a storm hit. We told the cab driver the address, and while at first he didn’t know where we wanted to go, after we clarified he started shouting OK! OK! OK! And took off. I admit, that in fifty some odd cab rides in Asia I have never worn a seatbelt-at least, not until that night. He sped through crowded streets, sometimes in the lanes of oncoming traffic.  The three of us were so nervous that all we could do was babble in Spanish about the driver and whether or not we should take down his number.  When we finally got to the bar, the driver reached over the partition and tapped the girl in the front seat on the head a few times to get her attention.  Needless to say, I’ve never booked it out of a cab that fast.

5 Being not Asian in China can be a very strange experience.  If the constant stares and photos aren’t enough, being at clubs and bars can really reinforce it.  Last weekend in Nanjing, we were at a local hangout that was so crowded we couldn’t find seats.  Luckily, a young couple saw us and invited us to come over and sit with them. We used our Chinese in ways that teachers wouldn’t necessarily be pleased with (namely, teaching each other drinking games).  It was one of my favorite memories from this trip!  However, later that night we were in the club district on Nanjing, and every club we went into we were followed by staff members and told to stay there, and that they would give us drinks, food, and tables, something that they gave to all foreigners because it increased the popularity of the club if there were lots of foreigners.  Compared to the U.S., where I doubt the foreign population has a big impact on students decisions on where to go out.

6 Taiwan’s Palace Museum has all these amazing artifacts that demonstrate China’s history and are just insanely beautiful. I went both times I was in Taiwan, and loved it. The first time I was in China, I went to the Forbidden City and was really sadly underwhelmed.  It was just sad, crumbling architecture that had signs talking about all the really beautiful stuff I saw in Taiwan.  I will say, seeing how a lot of cultural relics and sites get treated in China I was secretly glad it got taken by Jiang Jie Shi.

7  Since our dorms are very far out from the city center, going into town for a night is a pretty big deal, and it takes a while to get ready.  One night, three of us had heard from some expats that there was a bar that turned into a salsa club on Saturday nights.  We grabbed the first cab that came along, right as a storm hit. We told the cab driver the address, and while at first he didn’t know where we wanted to go, after we clarified he started shouting OK! OK! OK! And took off. I admit, that in fifty some odd cab rides in Asia I have never worn a seatbelt-at least, not until that night. He sped through crowded streets, sometimes in the lanes of oncoming traffic.  The three of us were so nervous that all we could do was babble in Spanish about the driver and whether or not we should take down his number.  When we finally got to the bar, the driver reached over the partition and tapped the girl in the front seat on the head a few times to get her attention.  Needless to say, I’ve never booked it out of a cab that fast.

 

Real cabs versus unlicensed cabs are a very real reality in so many parts of the world.  Don’t assume everyone is out to harm or cheat you as a foreigner, because that way lies doom and despair. But, don’t assume that you’re always safe, either. The importance of “rolling with it” cannot be understated.

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