Welcome back to Part 2 of my story. You can read Part 1 here if you missed it.
Nanjing was outstanding. As I mentioned, we all moved in with our respective exchange families. Tim and I stayed with Peng, but because there wasn’t enough room, his parents went and stayed at their other apartment. When Tim and I arrived, Peng had a present for each of us that I still have. It was a piece of jade with a pig etched on the front. We were all born in 1983, so we all shared the same Chinese Zodiac symbol.
His parents didn’t give us gifts, but Peng had a male and female cousin that wanted to meet us. I don’t remember their names but the guy gave me a wooden tiger statue, and the girl gave me a bracelet. Peng later told us they had met very few Caucasian people. His parents didn’t speak any English but we all managed to communicate. We always had dinner together at a small table unless our group had plans. One of the first nights we all went to a fancy restaurant like you would picture in a National Geographic magazine. The walls were lined with different fabrics, yet there was a stage for karaoke. (One of two instances I would participate in ‘song.’ First, at the restaurant when we all sang ‘We Are the World.’ Later on a puddle hopping plane, a few of us sang along with some N’Sync songs. We were delirious by then.)
I’m a picky eater, and I was worse then. Food was always an obstacle, especially across the globe, but I discovered something I will never forget. It’s possible this item existed and I had never noticed. I fell in love with pineapple jelly & peanut butter on thick yellow bread. The jelly & peanut butter were in the same jar. This was mind blowing to me at the time. I would be respectful and eat as much as I could at normal dinner, but rice balls wrapped in green leafs did nothing for me.
A quick aside on food…some people are aware, but American Chinese food is very different than Chinese Food. I don’t remember coming across sweet & sour chicken, or boneless spare ribs. There was a lot of rice, vegetables, and spicy chicken or pork. Even the KFC was all spicy styles of chicken, so I skipped it. We were treated to a meal of McDonald’s (which was 100% American with no hint of Chinese culture). I know beggars can’t be choosers, but when I order food, I order it plain. This was given to us under the assumption everyone ate the same thing with the same condiments. We were also served whole fish, snake, and turtle over the next couple weeks. I refused to touch the turtle.
There were a few other exchange students around where Peng lived, including my girlfriend, also known as a distraction. The best night was our venture into Nanjing’s street carnival. It was mainly street vendors in small tents selling everything. Food, movies, jewelry, fake watches, games, toys, etc. It was really great, and I was the proud owner of a ten dollar Rolex. It didn’t even make it to the trip home. Thinking back, it was a group of about seven or so teenagers wondering into a large population of people, and not one bad thing happened at all. I never once felt unsafe or worried about walking down alley ways. We did pass a porn shop that I wasn’t allowed in, but other than that it went well.
The school Peng belonged to was a top tier school. I didn’t understand the reason behind the rankings, but we got to witness something they could never get away with in America. Their school was being inspected by government officials (China is a communist country), and we got to see the inspection take place…from a small window as far away as possible. Each grade wore specific colored track suits, most of our friends were in red. They started the morning by doing multiple exercises while men in military suits stood on a podium watching. From what I remember everything went as it should with the school.
We got to accompany our friends to a few classes. Other than every teacher speaking Chinese, I had no clue what was going on, because it seemed like everyone did their own thing. At one point someone took out a game system and started playing Street Fighter. Yet everyone was an ‘A’ student. We also planted a tree that I hope is still growing. We played a few organized basketball games, and I got labeled as Jason Williams (which I didn’t mind, he was one of my favorites.) because I liked to pass the ball in crazy ways. One of the few times in my life I got picked first, a lot.
Because we were such honored guests, we were driven around in a large charter bus. The license plate had three red stars, which seemed to translate into, “Get the fuck out of my way, or I’m running you over.” We parked in the middle of the street once because, reasons. Speaking of transportation, everyone rode bikes, except for us. We were told we couldn’t ride due to lack of experience on the streets. Instead, when not on the bus, we crammed in small Honda CRX taxis, which actually seemed safer when you saw the bike lanes. Thousands upon thousands of people rode their bikes everywhere, in giant clusters that seemed impossible to navigate.
It’s time to start breaking Part 2 off and finish up tomorrow…however, I’m going to end with my favorite story. I don’t claim it’s the best though. One of the side trips we took in Nanjing was to a local television studio. Only the American students were included this time, and as per usual we were on high priority to be pleased. I don’t recall the name of the show, and everyone spoke in Chinese, but it was some form of game show. It did have Chinese celebrities though, and apparently a few were a big deal.
Before the show started, we went into a meeting room. A few people from the show came in to talk to us about production in China, and their future around the world. I got bored to be honest until I heard it, the magical words every class clown wants to hear. “Any volunteers?” My hand shot up. I was going to be on Chinese Television, watched by a few million people. I believe three of us got picked; the host came in to talk to us and said he would pick us out of the audience. He spoke English but was a bit hard to understand.
The show started, we had zero idea what the hell was going on. The celebrities seemed to answer questions behind individual podiums. I think one was a famous female singer, and one of the two men was an actor. The time came, we got the signal, and the host came up and got us. People freaked out, (remember, young Caucasians weren’t normal around these parts) and slapped us high five on the way down to the stage. I got paired up with the old actor. We still had no idea what was about to happen. The host explained things to us in a quick broken English.
We were donkeys. The celebrity would pick up our feet while we held onto a wheel. They would wheel us down to one end of the stage, throw a sack over our back, and return it to the start. The one with most bags across the line when time ran out would win. I have no idea who placed first, or last. I was famous.
That’s a bit presumptuous to think, I know. The host shook our hands, we said goodbye to the celebrities, and went back to our seats, and they continued the game, which ended when giant clouds of confetti rained down on everyone. We waited behind for the crowd to leave, and grouped together for the bus. When we stepped outside, I was swarmed. Teenage girls were shoving pieces of paper in my face with a pen. They wanted my autograph. It’s possible my fellow competitors got the same treatment, but I have no idea. It got to the point where I almost missed the bus; I didn’t realize everyone else had moved on.
I got on the bus and waved goodbye to my new fans. It was a once in a life time thing, and I loved every second of it. The next day I talked to Peng about the show. It was in that moment when my head really exploded. The show I was on was one of the most watched television shows in the country. This would explain things later when we went to the Great Wall.
I’m going to cover that tomorrow. I have another city to visit still, the Great Wall, and I haven’t gotten in trouble yet for my discretion’s. Tomorrow is it, I promise. Part 3 of my trip to China, and why anyone with the last name Weaver will go through heavy investigation before taking part in the exchange program in future.
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