Xianqi on a Train
Our next project was to go to a small town south of Shanghai called Dalan, or Dalanzhen, and work with a group of teenage volunteers who were running a three-week English summer camp in three villages surrounding Dalanzhen. There were two or three volunteers assigned to each of the villages and each had their own way of running things. We were showing up the last week of the program and not really sure what to expect.
We left for Dalanzhen Sunday morning, taking a cab to the Big Beijing Super Fast Train Station. I’m not sure if that’s what it’s called, but that place is huge. It was a five-hour train ride to Shanghai in a pretty nice, super fast train. Along the way David taught me how to play xiangqi in Mandarin, so that was enjoyable It’s a lot like western chess, but a few more quirks that make the game a little more interesting. I didn’t win the first two, or three, times that we played, which I promptly blamed on learning the game in Mandarin, not English, but still it was fun and passed the time.
After we arrived in Shanghai, we transferred trains to one that would take us to Yuyao, which is about three hours by slow train. On that leg we sat in a sleeper car with four other people. David and I continued to play xiangqi and noticed this younger dude watching us. After David beat me, we conversed in chinuk a bit about David asking him if he wanted to play. After we agreed that it would be all right, David asked him and the competition commenced. A quarter of the way through the game, David turned to me and, in chinuk, said that the guy was playing really badly and making some big mistakes. We went back and forth really quick about what to do, and decided on just letting him win, to draw the game out, and to not be insulting. The game went on for a while longer and both David and the guy were playing pretty horribly. It’s also worth noting that before while David and I were playing, this guy had a rubix cube and looked like one of those competitors who solved them in 20 seconds flat. So it’s easy to assume he’d have a knack for games. Then David turned to me again, and in chinuk, said that the guy might be trying to lose, so as to not insult the foreigners. Seemed plausible, we agreed that might very well be the case, then David went ahead and won. Or maybe everyone won? I don’t know, but we maintained the peace.
It wasn’t that much longer before we arrived in Yuyao and were met at the bus station by one of the teenage volunteers. He took us to a waiting car and we got on our way. But first we stopped at KFC.
There’s something about KFC in China. During the weekend after we got back from Fangshan, David and I went out and explored a bit and along the way got pretty hungry. It was hot; the humidity here is insane, and just said to hell with it and went to KFC. It was the most awkward experience I’ve had a fast food restaurant ever. Beside the fact that I didn’t have enough language to order from a menu, it was intimidating. They yell at you and everyone behind you is cutting in line. David also had a hard time with it, and after some time we got through the ordeal and sat down and ate our food. David mentioned how it was a bit of a humbling experience for him, like he didn’t know as much Mandarin as he thought he did, and this was a whole nother kind of language test. Like a solid Intermediate-mid test.
In Yuyao we got a chance for redemption and stopped in for food. It was just as bad this time around. One of the cashiers was laughing at us and I think they hosed me on the fries. We will be back…
We met up with the rest of the teenage volunteers, got to meet the girl that was organizing the whole project. They’re doing cool things. But they wanted to split the three of us up and send each of us to a different village for the week. That didn’t really fit well into our plans or with what we were expecting before we got there. It turns out that the volunteers didn’t know that we were coming until the day we arrived, so there was some awkwardness there, and we really didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes the last week of their summer camp. We had some figurin’ to do.
It was an hour drive from Yuyao to Dalan, and by the time we got to Dalan we had it decided that Irene, David and myself would be staying in a hotel in town and going to the closest village the next morning, Monday, see the lay of the land and plan out the rest of the week from there.
Again, David and I were sharing a room and a bed; a routine we’d grown accustomed to the past week in Fangshan and the two weeks before in Bend. We settled in and went to sleep.