Friday, February 8, 2008

Chinese New Year, part 1

Chinese New Year, part 1

I'm back now from the craziest adventure I've had in my whole time here in China. And speaking of my time in China, I've been here a month from yesterday. It's a good thing I've had some time to settle in, because I don't think I could have handled all the stress before now. Here's the story.

Tuesday was our last day of class before our week-long break, Wednesday was Chinese New Year's Eve (picture the importance of family during Thanksgiving, the importance of tradition during Christmas, and the importance of fireworks during the 4th of July), and Thursday was Chinese New Year itself—the start of their lunar calendar. Before I went to tai chi Tuesday afternoon, I decided to call the Chinese family whose house I had dinner at and hope that they brought up again the idea of doing something with them during the break. As soon as they picked up, the wife asked if I was going to come celebrate Chunjie (aka Spring Festival and Chinese New Year) with them. For the Chinese Chunjie lasts almost two weeks, so when I said yes I didn't really know what they meant. They said that they would be celebrating Chunjie at the wife's family's house, at which point I tried to tell them that I was taking care of a dog while a family I knew was on vacation, so anything I did would have to be limited to one day so I could be back.

I don't really know how to say that I'm taking care of a dog in Chinese, though, so the wife said something about calling me back and a few minutes later I got a call from her cousin who speaks pretty good English. I explained my situation again and she told me that what they had in mind would be for up to ten days. I said that as much as I wanted to come, I couldn't abandon the dog, so the cousin said she would talk to the wife and call me back. The cousin called the sister, who I'm sure called her mom and possibly her husband, then called the sister back, and eventually I learned that they still wanted me to come, but the wife's mom was allergic to dogs and her son was deathly afraid of them, so how big was the dog I was taking care of?

By this point I was in a taxi on my way to tai chi and was trying to figure a more precise way to say that it was a small dog than saying "It's a very small dog." The taxi driver and I had been chatting a bit before my call came in, so he tried to help me say "knee" to let them know how tall the dog was, but I'm not sure he didn't give me the word for "thigh" or "leg." Regardless, when they were still unsatisfied and wanted to know how many kilograms the dog weighed, I was out of my depth. I suggested that since I had made it to school, I would just run up to my Chinese teacher's office and ask if she could help. I explained the situation to her in thirty seconds (since I still had tai chi to go to) and handed her the phone. She explained that the dog I was taking care of was very small and would not kill her son, and after a few minutes they had hit on a plan. So with our program director acting as mediator for a situation she had no information about, it was determined that the wife knew a family that could take care of the dog while I went with them.

Now, this family lives in a pretty swank apartment, and I figured that any family they left Shawna with would be fine. Moreover, the USAC director is standing right there negotiating the whole thing and saying that it sounds like a fine plan.

From there we worked out what time they would pick me up. They didn't want to run into New Year's Eve traffic, so the earlier the better. They finally asked if I could just leave then. That sounded fine to me, so I skipped tai chi, took a taxi back, and packed my things and Shawna's thing in the next fifteen minutes so a family I barely knew could come pick me up, take me to a place I didn't know to join people I had never met, and somehow handle the dog that I was totally responsible for.

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