A China – America Friendship Softball Game

This past weekend was Lanzhou University of Finance and Economics’ 7th Annual “China – America Friendship Softball Game” (中美友好垒球联赛). PCVs from across Gansu gathered in Lanzhou late Friday and took an early Saturday bus down to the school’s Heping campus to play softball and engage in intercultural exchange with the Chinese students.

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Gansu volunteers and our Chinese hosts

Susan and Cam (the PCVs stationed at the Heping campus) had been hyping this event for months- and it certainly did not disappoint! There was a great sense of camaraderie with the group, and I hadn’t seem most of the volunteers since the winter training session back in January. Some volunteers took an 8 hour bus ride from their remote site to come in just for the game, so it makes me appreciate being placed in the provincial capital.

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singing the national anthem

Also, we are a *very* competitive cohort, so there was a real sense of urgency to perform well here. The competition had Viper mascots on their shirts, and we had a Mongoose; a mongoose is one of the few animals in nature that can kill a viper. The six generations of volunteers before us who started this were so cheesy but also bizarrely scientifically accurate and kinda shady with the team name.

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team huddle

We made brief introductions (the volunteers who spoke before me earned applause for saying the names of their schools in broken Chinese… but no one clapped when I did the same, so I guess my ugly yellow-greenish-gray hair isn’t fooling anyone!)

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Awkwardly laughing when there was zero positive feedback for my speech

Also, Gansu seems to attract the tallest, toughest volunteers in all of Peace Corps China. At 189 cm I’ve never felt short before, but next to Cam and Dom I now know how it feels to be one of those people i figuratively and literally look down on, on a daily basis 🙂

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Kascow (far right) is on tippy toes i’m sure

Then the game began…

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Susan the event coordinator goes up to bat

In life (like from Kindergarten until 2016), I’ve always found myself in the lowest quartile among my peers in terms of athletic ability. But due to cast of characters that Peace Corps tends to attract, a quick assessment of the field made me realize I just might [barely] rank in the upper half of a team for hand/eye coordination and speed… for the FIRST. TIME. EVER. IN MY LIFE! Harrison Cheng perceived himself to be in high demand!!!!

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with Persol glasses, jeans and Puma sneakers, i’m clearly dressed for the occasion. i could use a little work on posture too…

After a quick crash course on the rules of softball, I picked up a glove and took on the responsibilities of second baseman and right fielder over the duration of the game. I also went up to bat several times, and made it home twice, which is better than I had ever done over six years at Robertsville Elementary School.

Contrasted against my 8 year old self, I’m probably less athletic now (my quadriceps were on fire just from running one base to another… and this was also a much smaller, modified field), but two decades of learning that you will regret things you didn’t try more than things you’ve tried makes all the difference!

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Brett goes up, kills it, and sends me home. He’s clearly done this before

After the game we were rewarded with a talent show from the local Chinese students- this included several songs played on guitar and other Chinese instruments, a calligraphy demonstration, and a “China through the Dynasties” fashion show.

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We made it the Chinese-themed Met Gala, several years late! Thanks for the invite, Gong Li.

The gang took the bus back to Lanzhou for dinner, and made several toasts to our gracious hosts and event coordinators. The after-party took place on the banks of the Yellow River, under ZhongShan Bridge as always, late into the evening.

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every PCV in Gansu will recognize this bridge, and the large slabs of cement/ rock below it, where we gather for celebrations

I’ll spare you the hilarious and somewhat cringe-worthy details from a night that quickly descended into chaos, but I ended up hosting three PCVs in my living room on a sofa, a yoga mat, and spare blanket.

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morning after- we survived!

And of course we went to Charlie’s for an early lunch, as soon as it was open.

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To commemorate the great weekend, I put together a quick sketch (the bottom left figure is Wang Guiqiu, our site manager who came up for the game!) of the weekend camaraderie

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Great weekend, and already looking forward to next year’s game!

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Short Stories, May 2017

COCO

Coco has the best style out of all of my students; I sometimes wonder if she named herself after Coco Chanel but I never asked. Her hair is poofy when everyone else’s is pin-straight, her clothing is outlandish in color and texture, and her giggle is an octave or two higher than that of her peers. Coco is a welcome addition to my class when the rest of the kids pretend to be too cool to enjoy what I’m teaching.

One day she wore the craziest shirt littered with emojis and smiley faces…

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those happy faces!

The best part of her outfit was on her sleeve

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classic Coco

HOTPOT WITH HARRY

I do Hotpot with Harry on a regular basis to keep in touch with my students from last semester. This is always a fun event that runs late into Sunday evenings, because I get to talk to my students in Chinese and learn more about them and their lives.

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the spread for the latest party

We have an “English Only” policy while in class, which means the kids that speak really terrible English are generally silent throughout the semester. Even the kids with good English limit their responses and conversations to the topic discussed in the lesson plan.

This was especially true for William, I mean his English was from another planet. I almost assumed he was mute since he probably got tired of me asking “What did you say? Repeat please?” 10x after every word he said. But as it turns out, when speaking in Chinese he is the class clown- sarcastic, witty, conniving… he talked nonstop through the evening with rapid-fire responses to his friends. Who would have thought?!?

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William (center, waving)

PLANET EARTH II

To celebrate a belated Earth Day, I showed Planet Earth II to my classes. I love how my students (and myself, honestly) become lost in wonder and awe at scenes from a pristine rainforest, or a green island surrounded by turquoise waters, or Himalayan peaks covered in a crust of white snow and ice.

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a gorgeous snow leopard

The kids cringe and scream at the sight of snakes chasing down baby iguanas for a quick meal, and mourn when a mother bird loses its unhatched egg to a hungry neighbor. We cheer and clap when a father Chinstrap Penguin survives a dangerous day at sea , battered and bruised by the stormy waves and jagged cliff, to return home to feed his chicks.

And then we play Pictionary: here is a hungry lioness striking a giraffe from the opening scene of Planet Earth II.

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NANNY GRAY

As with the previous semester, about three months into teaching I start to get bored with my natural hair, crinkles and all.

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#hairdid

Last time I dyed it a K-pop copper color, this time I went a bit farther and bleached it blond. (BTW, it hurts! My scalp felt like it was on fire. The bleach/ acid was eating away at the outermost layer of skin on the top of my head. I was raining dandruff for days after the dye job.)

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Goku

My hair is now a 奶奶灰 (granny gray) which is an increasingly popular color in china amongst millennials. I’m ready to pick up my pension check, thanks!

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time to retire! bye!!

**UPDATE: with my new hair, I’ve had several instances where people start waving at me and say “HELLO!!” very slowly.. then follow with”你是哪里的人?” (Where are you from??) Apparently, a change of hair color is all it takes to look like a “real” foreigner in Lanzhou. now i know!

Bike Share 2.0

Like a Pikachu hit by a Thunderstone, Chinese bike shares have evolved!!!

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Pikachu, meet Thunderstone

I remember the first week I arrived in Lanzhou, I was thrilled that the city had invested in a bike share program. All along major roads, near public buildings, and some parks were the ubiquitous grey bike racks that ate up half the width of the sidewalk. By tapping my transit card against a sensor, I could unlock the bike and ride around to meet friends for dinner or just explore the city at a leisurely pace.

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standard Lanzhou bike share, also seen in Amsterdam, NYC, DC, Paris, etc

The three MAJOR problems with the traditional bike racks were:

  1. Early mornings, when I needed to get to school (back when I lived off campus), the bike racks were empty!! Early commuters had snatched up all the bikes
  2. In the evenings when I got returned to my neighborhood, the bike rack was completely full. And I would have to ride around to find the nearest bike racks that were still empty (which sometimes took a very long time, to the point where riding a bike no longer saved time)
  3. If I met friends for a meal or drink at a restaurant on a smaller, less prominent street, the nearest bike rack might be ten or more minutes away, and I wouldn’t know where it was located anyway, so I would bike around in circles for some time.

The concept of a fixed pick-up and drop-off point drastically reduced the functionality of the Lanzhou Bike Share. But now, some GENIUS has taken the bike share to the next level!!!

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freestanding bike share!

With the latest bike share model, bikes no longer need to be picked up/ dropped off at a specific bike rack- the rack was entirely eliminated. A bike lock is built into each bike, and will latch around the back wheel of the bike; the lock can easily be opened by scanning the QR code with your phone, and a Bluetooth signal will pop the lock open. When you are finished with your ride, press the lock back into place- and you’re done!

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scan QR code and the lock will pop open.

This means the bike can be dropped off anywhere in the city- outside a café, on a bridge, on the side of a street market, next to a bench in a park, right outside my apartment building…  anywhere! There’s the occasional asshole that will throw the bike into a flowerbed, or leave it in the middle of a busy street, but generally people have been very good about placing the bikes in strategic locations that are easy to spot, but out of the way of pedestrian traffic.

There are several rival companies that produce these bikes, but the most prominent in Lanzhou is “酷奇单车”, the Cool Bike App. With a 300 RMB ($45USD) deposit – a wrecked bike could probably be traced back to the last user – you can get in on the latest bike share. The app also tracks the total distance biked, CO2 emissions saved, and total calories burned. It’s a win win win for the world!!!

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the mobile app tells you everything you need to know
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in case you can’t find a bike, the App will locate one for you

It’s also opened up so many new bike paths for me, especially on the gorgeous, quiet riverside parks on the north of the city (which for whatever reason, never had bike racks installed in the first place). This has come in handy as the weather gets warmer and the skies get bluer- my quality of life has increased exponentially because of the new bike share!

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new parks to explore, thanks to the Cool Bike app!

28

i went to Yuzhong for a hike last week, to celebrate turning 28

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due to the colder climate there, the grass had not yet turned green, so it looked like a scene out of lord of the rings (gondor? rohan? mordor?! “one does not simply…“) the brooks were quietly babbling though, with icy snow meltwater from the peaks in the distance.

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two things came to mind during this non-alcoholic trip:

  1. time flies by when you’re staying busy. (I’ve been in China for ten months now! unbelievable)
  2. i truly feel much younger than 28 – maybe 22 ? – and hopefully i look it, too! 😉 Now you know, acting like a middle schooler 24/7 helps prevent wrinkles/ fine lines, significant weight gain, and hair loss