V.I.P.

Today I joined not one but two exclusive clubs.  I have hopes to join a third soon.  (I wonder how you tell people that you’re kind of a big deal in Chinese…)  The first was The Hangzhou Spitters, and membership to the second actually came with its own certificate.  The third I learned about only today, so I’m going to give myself a week or two to break in.  Let me talk about The Spitters first.

There is an elite group in this city, comprised mostly- but not totally- of older men who have perfected the art of the Giant Loogey.  They show off all over town: a big, loud, almost guttural gathering of phlegm in the back of the throat, then a launch whose precision and speed astound the passersby.  And today, I became one of them.

I went for my first run since I’ve been here.  And actually, I haven’t run at all since sometime in mid-January.  (Hard to believe I ran the Philly marathon just 3 months ago, isn’t it?!)  I’ve avoided running here for a couple of reasons: first, I was nervous about my recovering plantar fasciitis; second and more importantly, there are obstacles everywhere.  Obstacles like people, for one, and impossibly long traffic lights, and sidewalks that disappear into 30 feet of bus stop before reappearing on the other side, and dogs in little outfits, etc.  With the unpredictable traffic, it also seemed like I would have to avoid getting into a groove in favor of just staying alive in the crosswalks.

But in Hainan, I saw my first and only jogger since I’ve been in China, and I was inspired.  I’ve also had a lot of milk teas lately and I don’t want to buy new jeans.  So I suited up this morning and hit the pavement.  I picked a loop with longer blocks and relatively few lights.  After 5 minutes, I felt pretty good.  Light legs.  Easy stride.  After 10, I had a good sweat going and my sunglasses fogged up a little.  And then, without even thinking about it, I flicked my head over my shoulder and hocked…a Giant Loogey.  It was perfect.  I spit pretty regularly when I run and it hadn’t even occurred to me until today that running in Hangzhou would mean I’d get to join The Spitters.  I felt reborn.  I felt like…kind of a bad ass.  Suddenly, instead of me moving to the curb, showing deference to other pedestrians, they were moving out of my way.  Spit.

I mentioned that I have not seen other runners in this city- true.  Literally, not one runner.  There must be some because there’s a Hangzhou marathon in November, but maybe running is like wearing sunglasses: an activity for spring/summer/fall, not winter.  Anyway, since I max out at a speedy 10-minute mile, I get passed a lot when running the lakes back home, as you can imagine.  But since no one runs here, today I got to pass everyone.  It was like my dream race.  Spit!

As for the bus stops and bikes and sidewalk planters, I was suddenly engaged in my own game of Frogger.  And I was very good.  (I’m sure there will be a day when I trip and totally bite it, but that day was not today.)  Dodging left and right on the quick feet I forgot I had.  It felt amazing.  I also discovered that I’m getting over my discomfort with people staring at me.  I mean, froggering down the sidewalks dressed in sunglasses and running tights is certainly not the way to blend in, but I naturally fell into this proud, borderline confrontational attitude about it: “Yeah, I’m running.  What’s up now?  I’m out here doing something athletic.  What about it, homes?!”  Or at least that’s what I was saying in my head.  Could have been the endorphins talking.  But anyway, I just felt totally in my element.  A real runner’s high.  Spit, spit, spit!


So that was my morning.  The run just made my whole day better.  Even my shower was more satisfying, like I was actually gross enough to have earned one.  I can’t wait until I work my way up to running around the whole lake, which from my apartment is a 14ish mile route.  I’m going to try to do this before May because then it gets h-o-t here, but we’ll see where my “training” is at.

Now for my afternoon and the second elite group I joined.  Bao, Trisha, and this man named Sandy (I’ll get to Sandy later) picked me up so Trisha and I could get our Foreign Expert Certificates and apply for a residence visa.  Check it out:

I mean, this thing is legit.  It has raised stamps and its own little book and everything.  Never before have I been given a license with the term “expert” in its title.  (When Bao handed it to me, he’s lucky I didn’t spit.)  As a Foreign Expert, I became eligible to apply for a residence visa.  Well, “eligible” meaning “mandated.”
Sidebar: when you first apply for any type of Chinese visa, apparently you have a much better chance of acceptance if you apply for the basic single-entry, 90-day visa.  I actually needed one for something like 170 days, but when I was first applying, Bao said we’d take care of this when I got to China.  This Foreign Expert Certificate is a necessary step in the process.    Our next stop was to some sort of official office for foreign residents.  Lots of not-Chinese people here.  It was fun to hear so many different languages.  
Trisha and I were being helped at the same time at 2 separate stations by 2 different police officers.  We presented the required paperwork for the residence visa; I said “Ni hao” rather than “Hello” to the officer, as Bao instructed.  Things for Trisha went quickly, no problems.
My police officer took some issue with my materials right away.  He and Bao erupted into a heated discussion.  I was pretty sure it had to do with the picture that I used for the application.

This is what I imagined they were saying:
Officer Ni Hao: “This woman is clearly a serial killer.  Look at this picture.  We cannot give her Foreign Expert status.”
Bao: “No, no, no.  She is just an unfriendly American.  I’ve heard she drinks beer well.  Her chopsticks skills leave something to be desired, yes, but she’s learning!”
Officer Ni Hao: “If she’s not a serial killer, then she is definitely a Cat Lady.  We do not need Cat Ladies in China.”
Bao: “I don’t even think she knows any cats!  I’m telling you, her face just looks like that all of the time.”
Officer Ni Hao: “If she adopts even one cat, she’s out.  That’s a promise.”
It turned out that Officer Ni Hao actually said he needed to see another copy of the school’s license, but when Bao pointed out that Trisha had just successfully submitted her application with identical paperwork, he huffily gave in.
Outside on the sidewalk, Bao and Sandy laughed and said I was lucky.  Time to introduce Sandy, because he’s relevant to the third group I want access to.  About 10% of the students on the HFLS campus attend something called the Cambridge program.  It’s sort of like IB in the States.  The classes are accelerated and the students have class with only each other, but all of their teachers are foreigners, and all of them desire to attend university somewhere abroad.  Sandy is like the Bao of Cambridge, so he was learning how to help foreign teachers complete the necessary steps to become eligible to teach and live in China.  He recently came back from spending a year in England, completing his Master’s.  He speaks English with a British accent and seems like a really nice guy.  He wears trendy glasses and (today, at least) purple jeans.
When he found out that I live in the city rather than on campus, he said that his foreign teachers (at Cambridge) meet at least once a week in the city to hang out, grab dinner or drinks or whatever.  “Where are they from?” I asked.  “Mostly America and the UK,” he said.  I said he’d have to introduce me.  One thing I’m really looking forward to about starting to teach is expanding my social circle (I mean, aside from the whole educating the future generation and all of that).  Luckily, I share an office with Trisha and 4 Chinese teachers, so I’ll make some friends that way for sure, but a whole group of teachers who natively speak English and hang out in pubs?!  
I can’t wait to meet them and force my friendship on them.  Oh my gosh, maybe we’ll make Central Perk our favorite meeting spot!
Just kidding.  Sort of.

2 comments

  1. This is my favorite post so far. I loved it so much I was able to overlook the “crazy cat lady” references and the lack of love for Cat. You know, Cat thinks the two of you really bonded that one night, and you're lucky she can't read or use a computer because if she found this I think she would be really hurt. Thank God for Cat's lack of opposable thumbs?

    Like

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