Once again the day was rainy and cold. The weather finally let up this evening and I was able to decipher something of a sunset on the bus ride home. The sky is officially clear now, which hopefully means tomorrow's sky will have a bit of personality.
Right now the atmosphere's personality is quite spooky. I went to the corner store to get some juice and a bottle of water. I could see the usual one star in the sky (one night I saw five whole stars) and the sky didn't appear murky. Ground level was a different story -- it was like the streets were steaming. There was a layer 20 feet tall of thick, humid fog. It was heavy and uncomfortable, it reminded me of traditional Chinese paintings that portray the landscape enveloped in a mysterious layer of mist. Rather than craggy mountain peaks and pagodas in valleys, this painting would have been distinctly modern China: nondescript high rise apartments and impossibly small shops with tacky, brightly-lit facades on the ground floor. Certainly not a scene an ancient mystic would find enlightening...
Speaking of enlightenment, I felt like the one little star I can see in the sky today. Though Alex and I are used to getting stared at and receiving strange and excessive amounts of compliments, today was by far the biggest ego-boosting experience I have ever had. I went to English Corner while Alex met with some students.
English Corners are common all throughout China, they are clubs for people to practice their English and learn about other cultures. Today was their first meeting and I was escorted by three eager freshman to the International Culture Club in the library where I was greeted by 40 unnaturally excited faces.
For the next hour, I felt like Miley Cyrus in a room full of overly eager 10-year olds. Never ever in my entire life have I had people so enraptured with what I was saying. If I stood, they stood. If I sat, they gathered in close. They gave me tea and popcorn and told me that I was very charming.
I gave them a very vague introduction of myself and tried to get them to talk or ask questions.
"What would you like to know about me or the United States?"
"Everything! We want to know everything about you!"
Flash. Click. Photos from phones and from digital cameras were being snapped all around me.
"Tell us about traditions!"
I played Christmas songs for them, including a little Mariah Carey and Nat "King" Cole. I told them all about Thanksgiving food and Christmas cookies and winters in North Dakota. I said Christmas was very magical, to which they replied with ample "oooo's!" and "wowww's!"
They told me the types of music they listen to and where they would like to travel after they're finished with college. One of the girls has aspirations to go to Prince William's alma matr in England and another wants to go to France because it seems "very romantic." One girl started excitedly hyperventilating when I told her how many countries I've been to, it's her dream to be able to travel.
Then they asked me to sing. I promptly put my foot down and told them that to me, singing in front of people is far more terrifying than anything else. They didn't understand.
"Look, you know how it's scary to try speak in English with me? I get nervous when I try to speak Chinese, too. But for me, singing is much scarier than trying to speak in another language. I never sing in front of anyone in the United States. It's not as popular as it is here."
"Ohhh! Ok, that's just fine. He'll sing for you!" Score. I was off the hook.
A boy with a perfect American accent but imperfect English was coerced into singing a song for everyone. He was disappointed he forgot his guitar (he'll bring it next week), but bravely sang an R&B love song from the mid-1980s acapella.
He was fantastic. I was in awe of his pop-star quality voice and random song choice. I had a tough time not giggling at the absurdity of the situation -- of course, people were gauging my reaction to his singing more than they were paying attention to him, so I kept my amusement in check.
"Ok, from now on he's singing, not me!" I said.
"He can teach you! He can teach you!"
Sorry friends, my voice is untrainable.
The meeting ended with a group photo in which everyone was trying to stand as close as possible to me. I managed to throw up a peace sign.
When I asked where the bathroom was before I left, two girls excitedly followed me and eagerly asked if they could hold my bag while I visited the squatty. "Thank you! That's very kind of you!" I said.
"It's our pleasure!" they replied (another overly used phrase). They quietly lingered right outside of the stall.
Awkward. Luckily, I'm beginning to realize that awkwardness doesn't necessarily translate that well into Mandarin, at least in the case of my students.
I'm looking forward to another heavy dose of sugary sweet compliments at next week's meeting -- I would bet it will be double the fun since Alex will be with me.