Local American population surges twice 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — I live in a small city in the western fringes of Hunan. The usual American population here is normally four in a city of 300,000. Last week, the American population briefly surged, twice.

The first influx was on Wednesday. A group of ethnobotanists (folks who study people’s uses of plants) arrived from Zhangjiajie to spend two nights in Jishou. The US national basketball team was the second wave. They played an exhibition game against Lithuania Saturday night (a close win for USA, btw), and left the next day.

[The US basketball team was involved in a intercultural faux pas earlier that day. Details are here.]

It was fun while it lasted.

Dr.Gordon Tucker and Zhiwei Liu of Eastern Illinois University have brought a group of students to China four times now. EIU and Jishou University are sister institutions, so part of their time was spent at the campus in Zhangjiajie and here in Jishou.

Typical of communications at educational institutions, I learned of the Americans’ visit only by the way. My neighbor, MeiMei, a Russian translator for the university, told me about it on Monday. So, I asked my foreign affairs officer, Cyril, if I could meet them.

I ended up having dinner with them Wednesday at the Qin Zhao Hotel, which belongs to the university. Students sat at one table, faculty and uni officers at the other. Ample food, grape wine and baijiu soon had all of us feeling quite happy.

[The students (six women and two men) were not served baijiu, but one of the JiDa biology profs soon was bringing baijiu over to the students’ table for toasting. Per local custom, only the men got the baijiu.]

I had tried to convince Cyril to let me bring some of my students to meet the Americans, but the uni was worried about exposing our students to potential swine flu carriers. {sigh} Gordon told me the Chinese health ministry had everyone checked before they left the airplane in Beijing, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

When I visited the student table (baijiu cup in hand), I asked them and their local student guide, Aimar, what they planned to do after dinner. They said Aimar was going to take them to a KTV (karaoke club) and would I like to come? Bingo! I immediately sent out a flurry of texts to friends and students I knew would be free that night.

Our party that night included the American students, me, Aimar, MeiMei, my former neighbor, Ailsa, and two of her friends, my good friends, Tina, Elektra and James (who was celebrating his 32nd birthday), and James’ date. The American profs stayed in their hotel room.

After being cooped up in a train from Beijing for 24 hours, the Americans were ready to party! We had a great time, and (for the teacher in me) I was able to get a few Chinese speaking to native English speakers. Tina, a senior in my department and the manager of a clothing store owned by her mom, helped the Americans shop downtown the next afternoon and evening, and Elektra (a senior at the teacher’s college) and Ailsa (a sophomore in the politics department) exchanged email addies with a few of the Americans. We have also joined their Facebook group.

So far, photos of the party have not yet come my way, so you will have to use your imagination. We partied until midnight.

I didn’t see the entire American group again, but did run into Daniela (born in Brazil — I could dust off my Portuguese conversation skills) and Brant on the JiDa campus Thursday evening. The rest were shopping with Tina downtown. The EIU folks left for Fenghuang Friday morning, and were bound for HuaiHua, Guilin and finally back to Beijing by train.

The basketball players arrived sometime that night, but unlike the American students, they were not interested in hobnobbing with the locals. My friend in the PE college, who has the curious English name of What, told me the teams would practice in the gym Saturday morning.

I arrived at 8, but then we learned the teams would not come until 9. I called a few of my students (the girls were especially interested in seeing the tall, handsome men 😉 ) to come join us. But, the teams then announced they would come at 11.

So, What, Kasurly and I decided to eat lunch in my flat. Kasurly and I also planned to cook dinner for our friend Mary, who turns 19 today, so we three went shopping at Jun Hua supermarket for food.

On our way out, we ran into Julila, a classmate of What’s, who asked if she could join us. We ordered a cake for Mary at the university canteen, then proceeded up the hill to my apartment. We asked Mary to meet us on the way.

On our way upstairs, I knocked on MeiMei’s door to invite to her lunch, and keep her from away from her usual meal of noodles.

While we ate, Kasurly’s roommates called her to say the Americans were practicing in the gym already. So, at 2, we all rushed down the hill to watch and take photos. The US team left for their hotel (the Qin Zhao, naturally) soon after we arrived, but the Lithuanian team then took to the courts.

After their practice ended, one of the Lithuanians told MeiMei (in English), “Beautiful shirt, beautiful girl.” MeiMei, who lived in Minsk for 10 years, automatically responded, “Spasibo.” Then the player, his team mate and MeiMei had a brief, but happy conversation in Russian.

At this point, it was time to pick up the cake and head up the hill to fix dinner.We were joined by Elektra and her friend, Sara, who is also one of Mary’s classmates. Mary encouraged us to try to get into the game without tickets (it is possible here if you are patient), so around 8:30, we returned to the gym to stand by the entrance.

The guards let me in, as the token white guy with a camera. One guard was from Elektra’s and Sara’s hometown of Hengyang, so they were able to get in, too. Elektra and I ended up sitting on the gym floor by the Lithuanian goal; Sara went into the stands.

It was a close game, and well worth the effort to evade spending 300 yuan each for a ticket. It also cheered up Elektra, who had found out that day that she had not done well enough on an entrance exam to attend the foreign language college in Zhangjiajie. Her postgraduation plans are in disarray, for now.

The teams left the day after, so the American (and Lithuanian) invasion was over as quickly as it began. Now, we’re back to normal: four Americans in Jishou.

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One comment on “Local American population surges twice

  1. Reply Darcy May 27,2009 6:33 am

    haha funny stuff. too bad the basketball team didn’t feel like schmoozing with everyone, but I bet they have a decently-packed traveling schedule and if they’re running around all day, maybe they want to be super couch potatoes and just watch tv? I dunno hah

    anyway, sounds like it was an interesting, eventful week for you, daddio!

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