Saturday, April 4, 2015

Competition Day (Part 1)

(Edited for spelling errors. Sorry folks!)

    I mentioned in a previous post that I was learning kungfu. I was also fortunate to go see my friend's kungfu/taichi practice. My friend, who also happened to be the assistant teacher for my kungfu class, and his classmate had been training the preceding months for an upcoming competition. In the States, I worked for a Taekwondo dojang and I've been to my share of Taekwondo competitions. I was, naturally, curious to see whether a kungfu/taichi competition was similar. When I mentioned my interest to Chuanchao, he expressed pleasure, ducking his head in embarrassment.
    "My friend would like to go too. I will introduce you and you both can arrive together." He said. "You cannot come with me, because I have to be there very early."


    As the day drew nearer, I got lost in my studies, and Chuanchao in his. Chinese was running me over like a dump truck, and I was not doing as well as I'd hoped. It was the day before the competition, and I was walking home from a particularly horrific class--it was one of those classes during which I was apparently asking really dumb questions. My chin was tucked into the scarf around my neck, and I watched the ground as I strode. I was so lost in self-pity that I didn't notice that Chuanchao walking towards me. He had to step right in front of me, blocking my path, before I realized that he was there.
    As usual, he was wearing loose pants and a sweatshirt. In his hands, he carried several of the swords used in Chinese fencing. Obviously, he'd just come from practice.
    After exchanging greetings, he gave me his friend's number, saying that we should figure out when and where to meet.
    "The competition will be at the medical school." Chuanchao added.
    I nodded, thinking of the medical school near our own campus. "Okay, that's not too far." I murmured.
    "It will be good, I think." he said. "I must go now, but I will see you tomorrow."
I smiled as I waved goodbye. Then, I turned and padded back home.


Apartments above the little north gate.
    His name was Simon. We agreed to meet at the xiao bei men (little north gate). Over WeChat—the app we used to communicate—he seemed nice. His English was better than Chuanchao’s, from what I could tell.
    What I should have asked was what he looked like. My phone, at best, was temperamental and if I wasn’t in my dorm, it was prone to being as useful for communication as a brick was, which is to say, not at all.
    Meeting new people sometimes made me nervous—I’m friendly, but a little shy. It made it worse that I had only “met” Simon on WeChat, and I dislike picking people out in a crowd. My eyesight is atrocious. My stomach knotted as I approached the gate. I consoled myself that chances were that I would be the only foreigner there and Simon could find me.
    I was right. No sooner had I situated myself near the gate did a young man approach me. He wore glasses, like Chuanchao—although Simon’s glasses were wireframe. His face was thinner too. Thick black hair brushed his forehead. He wore jeans and a red flannel shirt.
    “Chloe?” He asked me. I noticed that his lower lip was fuller than his top lip…and that I barely came up to his shoulder. I always seem to meet the tall guys.
    I nodded, “Simon?”
    A brief smile flickered across his face. We started walking and one of the first things he did was to apologize for his English.
    “It is really terrible!” He said.
     It was at that moment that I realized that he must have been as nervous as I was. His English was, in reality, pretty good. We could understand each other by using simple language, and really, that’s all that’s needed for a conversation. Fancy words and complicated sentence structures aren’t really necessary to connect with someone.
    The first surprise came when we walked to a bus station, talking all the while. I made him laugh when I told him I really appreciated him being willing to meet me, because my navigation skills were poor, especially because I barely spoke Chinese and my character recognition was worse than a two year old’s. The medical school was only a couple of blocks down the road from our campus; we could have walked the distance in about twenty minutes, but maybe he thought I would like the bus better? Being a foreigner, maybe my legs weren’t as strong, or something like that. I shrugged it off and continued my conversation with Simon.
    The second surprise came when we were on the bus and Simon leaned forward and told me that we would need to change buses and the entire trip would be about two hours long.

    Before I continue, a note is required. I believe I have mentioned that I was learning about contemporary Chinese culture. Well, two days previous to this story, we had learned that the inequality between the ratio of men and women was a serious issue, especially in rural communities where there were fewer newcomers—in the cities, newcomers (from different parts of China, as well as foreigners) can cushion the difference, but in rural communities, that was far less common. To make up for this problem—farmers need wives and families to support the business, after all—kidnapping is sometimes resorted to. Women from the cities occasionally disappear and are married off to farmers in isolated communities. Rescue, for various reasons, is atrociously difficult and it isn’t unusual if it takes years to complete a rescue. My professor cheerfully added that foreign women are not exempt from this threat.

    When Simon informed me of our trip itinerary, I was at first willing to just go with it. Miscommunication happens—it’s a fact of life here. There were bound to be more than one medical school in Chengdu, or perhaps he hadn’t meant a medical school at all. Basically, I had no idea where I was going. At first, I was content to sit back and listen to my music, but as time passed my professor’s voice echoed in my head. Kidnappers often gained their victims trust….foreign women are sometimes targeted because they don’t know the language or the geography. I examined Simon from the corner of my eye. He seemed nice enough, and I usually trust my instincts. On the other hand, gaining people’s trust could be his job, and of course kidnappers would be good at that.
That, and no one knew what I had been planning for that day or where I would be.
My roommate knew vaguely that I had been planning to go to a competition, but not who with or where. None of my professors—either from PLU or from Sichuan University—knew anything.
    I pursed my lips. As casually as I could, I pulled out my phone and texted Karo.

    “Okay, here’s the situation. Remember I said that I was going to my friend’s competition? Well, it’s not at the school I thought it would be at, and now we’ve been on a bus for over an hour. I have no idea where we are. I am with a friend of my friend. I trust my friend, so I guess I trust his friend, but just in case I thought I’d tell you. I don’t think he’s kidnapping me, but better safe than sorry.”

    I waited for Karo’s reply. It came within five minutes.

“Don’t worry...I will host your mom when she comes to claim your body.” 

    That’s friendship for you. Joking about possible kidnapping and murder.

     He added a more serious footnote a minute later:

    “If you don’t text me at 7 pm tonight, I will call the embassy.” 


    The rest of the trip was (blessedly) uneventful, and it turned out that we were, in fact, going to a medical school. It was in the outskirts of the city (I think), in an area so totally different from Sichuan University. The closest I could describe it would be suburban. The tallest building was no more than ten stories high, and there were spaces between each building. Grass and flowers thrived in small yards. I pressed my nose against the window, my nature-starved eyes drinking in the rare sight.
    I stretched luxuriously when we disembarked. Simon chuckled. A  breeze, fragrant with flowers, made me shiver, delighted.

Ah, the fall colors.

    The competition wasn't due to start for another thirty minutes, so we took a stroll around the campus. It was a gorgeous—I saw more green things just walking around that campus for fifteen minutes than I had seen in the past three months

My only photo of Simon...and his fancy camera.

A boardwalk. No big deal.


They had a river, a river through their campus!

    As the time came nearer, we headed toward the shiny new gymnasium, where we met Chuanchao. He was with his team, who were all jittery with nerves. After a brief greeting he waved us into the building.
    “Go in” he said “Get good seats!”

End part 1 of 2.

*Oh hey, look a link to the Taekwondo Dojang where I work.

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