Currently, I am in Chengdu where the rental room’s XP computer limits my website use of all the bells and whistles it usually has. No ability to post pictures and the homepage is all ascew but I did check my stats. As of today, I have had 7,340 visits, which is still shy of my hoped for 10,000 for my special day but nothing to sneeze at.
Best of all, despite the computer’s outdated software, what I can do at present is post an entry about my birthday!
Surprise! An Extra Few Days in the Big City
I arrived in Chengdu for my holiday R&R last Monday, with the assumption that I’d be returning earlier than I’d hoped. In the last post, I mentioned a 2-day workshop on Jan. 14th and 15th which I was asked to lead for area educators. The topic was Activities in the Classroom. After putting together hand-outs, preparing a very nice power point presentation and writing up an outline of the event, it was ready to go and I was happily on my way to Sichuan’s capital.
Then came the text from my vice-dean, Lisa Zhang.
“Connie, so sorry! The lectures are canceled.”
While a little disappointed, I can’t say I was too crushed. This would allow me to spend a few more days in Chengdu than expected, so that’s exactly what I’m doing. Those extra days include my fiftieth birthday, which is today.
So what has the birthday girl been up to and what’s to come? Let’s get started!
A Week of Relaxation
Since I arrived, every morning has been enjoying my pool time at my favorite exercise hang-out, the Meng Zhui Wan Natatorium. My swimming buddies have been wondering where I’ve been for the past 4 months. Many don’t realize I actually live in Luzhou, not in Chengdu, so they’ve been discussing among themselves where the foreigner with the amazing swimming skills has disappeared to. Mystery has been solved now that I’ve informed everyone during our pool deck or locker room chit-chat of my where-abouts.
After the pool, it’s 3 p.m. doggie playdate with Mrs. Zhao, Hairy Bean (her poodle) and our other canine partners. At times, we’ve had as many as 9 pooches frolicking on the Sichuan University campus lawn in front of the graduate school classroom buildings. All breeds of various sizes, including their owners, join in the fun so we’ve had quite a crowd at times.
Also meeting up with me has been Gao Pei (Frank), who is a Sichuan University senior majoring in international economics. Last year, he accompanied me on daily walks while at the same time practicing his spoken English. His hope is to attend a US university after graudation to pursue his MA degree. I’ve likewise helped a bit with his application essays, all outstanding but in need of a little tweeking here and there. He’s applied to numerous top-notch schools so we’ll see what comes of that after acceptance announcements are sent out within the next few months.
Lots of Pre-50 Eat Outs
As for my evenings, I’ve been most fortunate to have had some excellent pre-birthday meals with friends.
The first was Mrs. Zhao, who invited me and Frank for a pizza dinner at a local Chinese pizza place. I haven’t had pizza in quite some time so that was a very rare treat for me. Frank likewise enjoyed the 3 selections we made: Hawaiian, Southwestern flavor and chicken. All were personal size pizzas which we shared. Great way to start off my time in Chengdu.
Next was my invite to others on Friday evening for my Chengdu birthday dinner.
In China, it’s often the custom for those of us celebrating an event (birthday, winning a contest, getting a good job or acceptance into a great university) to invite and treat friends to a big dinner. What a better way to bring in my 50th than to surround myself with an energetic group, those half my age? For my city birthday gathering, I chose the young Chengdu crowd: Jason (Ji Ke, former Luzhou student), Rebecca (Zhang Ou, friend working at a bank in Chengdu) and Frank to eat hotpot with me.
Sichuan hotpot is quite popular in this province and is a specialty item which everyone enjoys. If you’re not familiar with the Chinese huo guo, or “fire pot,” which is the direct translation, it’s basically this: a huge pot of broth (either unbearably spicy or mild and plain, you choose), with a burner underneath, set in the center of the table. The hug pot bubbles away to await what is placed into the turbulent liquid. We customers order raw vegetables, meats, fish and noodles which come on plates to our table. We then throw these into the broth, wait for them to boil up and then chopstick them out to eat.
I chose my favorite place, The Old Ghost Hotpot Restaurant, because they have a half-and-half hotpot where half the bowl is spicy and half is plain. This allows the patrons to choose which is best for their tastebuds and their stomachs.
The establishment was packed full when we arrived at 6:30 p.m. but all the noise and bustle didn’t stop us from sharing our stories, chatting and catching up. I hadn’t seen Jason or Rebecca since October so we had a lot to discuss.
Much to my dismay, Rebecca had to suddenly leave. Her workmate forgot the keys to the office and she needed to unlock the door for him so he could finish a weekend project. That didn’t stop her from making sure I received my birthday present, a lovely silk scarf with a Chinese fan design. Jason’s turn was next with a very warm checkered winter scarf.
And Frank had actually found out my shoe size, gone online and ordered a very trendy, pretty pink-and-gray pair of Nikes for me. Not only were they quite an eye-catching item, but they fit perfectly.
Now that’s a birthday with young folk for you!
Yet another dinner had me at Mrs. He’s home along with her husband. This older couple and I go back a long way. They are the ones who for 10 years took care of Xiao Hua (Little Flower, my dog) while I visited the States. Although my little Chi no longer brings us together, our decade-old friendship still has me visiting their home every time I’m in Chengdu. We had a very simple dinner in their home yesterday and caught up on all the happenings since we last talked. It was very pleasant to sit back and enjoy their cozy home rather than be stuck in my simple, one-room rental for the evening.
Today’s Birthday Jaunts Around Town
For the day itself, which is today, I’ve certainly been making the most of it.
The staff at both indoor and outdoor pools received lots of candy from me. The more candy I bestowed upon them, the more “Happy Birthday!”s I received.
Even the taxi drivers to and from the pool had a handful of sweets to brighten their day, and mine, due to their “Happy Birthday!” greetings after I told them why the give-away.
Best yet was when my return driver gasped in surprise at my age, which I had proudly announced as we drove along.
“50?!” he asked in astonishement. “No, no. I think younger. You look 30.”
Yeah, you know it. I’ll take that compliment any day!
Afternoon walks with the dog owners are soon to come and then to finish off the night, it’s a nice evening watching pirated DVDs I’ve loaded up on.
When I return to Luzhou on Thursday, I’ll be having my Luzhou birthday gathering on Friday night. This has been arranged by my best friend and former departmental dean, Li Xiaolian (Cathy). I’m paying for the dinner at a very nice restaurant and she’s providing the birthday cake.
There will be about 10 of us, both foreigners and Chinese, and I’m truly looking forward to more birthday wishes sent my way, and most likely a few more gifts to boot.
Finished after that? Not by far!
The last celebration will have me trekking across the ocean next week, back to Illinois to be with my parents and earthquake rescue Xiao Lao-lao (Little Old-old), whom I brought back to the States 5 years ago. (He is one very lucky, currently spoiled, little dog.) I’ll be in my hometown for a month before returning to China after the Chinese New Year, which begins on Feb. 18. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on happenings during that time.
Grateful Thanks to So Many
I end this with a special blessing and thank you to those who have sent email birthday greetings, text messages and overseas’ cards which have recently been landing at the college. I’m sure there will be even more envelopes waiting for me when I return in a few days. Lots of birthday surprises yet to open! Excellent!
All I can say is that it’s very nice to be thought of on such a special day by so many.
Half a century old! My goodness. That’s a milestone.
From China, here’s wishing everyone Ping An (Peace) for your day and your week.