March 9, 2011

Sleep your head in my hands

In the past two weeks I've started to become more aware of how I've changed since coming to China five point five months ago. Sure, I've become more responsible and tolerant, not to mention fearless and more laid back as well. But the changes that I find most alarming are in regards to the things I've grown accustomed to.

An hour ago I was sitting in the lobby at my gym, snacking on fresh vegetables and bite-sized sandwiches I had made myself. The sandwich consisted of one cherry tomato, 1/4-teaspoon of mayo, and a tiny bit of sweet bread with almonds on it. Five months ago I would have found this repulsive, but now I find it pseudo acceptable, as long as the bread doesn't have pork floss* on it (see definition of pork floss at the bottom).

While I was eating, I glanced up at the newly redecorated wall covered in decorative green and orange theater gels. On the right hand side, written in a new-age modern font was "take exercise with a green environment." What does that even mean? I was unfazed by it. I'm assuming it's just a phrase that, when loosely translated into Chinese, makes people feel like they're doing something good for the environment by toiling away on electric cardio machines. 

Engrish, Chinglish -- whatever you call it -- are the literal translations from Chinese to English, and are often silly and hysterical. When I first moved here, I got endless entertainment from signs, logos, and slogans that didn't quite make sense. Now I shrug it off, sometimes with a giggle, but mostly I don't even notice it.

I've even catch myself using Chinglish to explain a situation to co-workers, students or taxi drivers. My grammar is becoming poorer and my vocabulary feels like it has shrunk by 25% since I earned my degree last May. It's a disturbing revelation.

Last Sunday, I decided I wanted to dye my hair dark brown. Like my previous experience in a Chinese salon, it was tricky explaining what I wanted. I was terrified that my fine, Scandinavian locks would be fried by dye that is normally used on the thick, durable strands of the locals. Never mind that the guy doing my hair was in training...

The best part about Chinese salons is the hair-washing experience. My hair was washed twice on Sunday, and I would estimate I had at least a 30-minute scalp massage (I was in the salon for 3.5 hours). Since they spend so much time washing hair, the sinks are designed for ultimate comfort, so you essentially lie on a massage table. I still don't understand how my back didn't get soaked from lying completely flat.

Apparently I was a little tense when the stylist lifted my head to rinse out the back of my hair.

"Sleep your head in my hands," he said.

"Wait, what?? Shenme?" I replied.

"S-s-sleep your head in my hands," he repeated.

Ohhh -- I'm supposed to relax my head because he'll take care of it. It makes perfect sense, his hands are the pillow that my head is sleeping on. 

Five months ago it would have taken me much longer to deduce logical meaning from that statement, but now it's an easy thing to figure out. 

My hair turned out great, the styling was a bit off (ok -- way off). I looked like a cross between a 1990s sitcom mom and January Jones from Mad Men. I also found myself with thick, blunt-cut Chinese bangs again as well, I didn't want them back but they just showed up (I'm not surprised). 

I now voluntarily eat with chopsticks (even if it's not Chinese food), and last week I put a piece of mystery meat in my mouth before I realized that a chicken claw was making my bite nearly impossible to chew (again, unfazed). I drink tea like it's nobody's business, particularly green tea. I wear my parka indoors without complaint. I shamelessly bargain.  I no longer wince when presented with an in-ground squatty toilet. And occasionally I eat red beans for dessert and opt for a crepe with pork floss (I promise you're about to learn what it is).

And all of these changes seemed to have happened unknowingly, my sense of "normal" is anything but. C'est la vie.

[Definition from Wikipedia. I highly recommend visiting the site for a description on how the product is made. Mmmm.... delicious.] Pork floss: Rousong, also called meat wool, meat floss, pork floss, pork sung, is a dried meat product that has a light and fluffy texture similar to coarse cotton. Rousong is used as a topping for many foods such as congee, tofu and savory soy milk. It is also used as filling for various buns and pastries, and as a snack food on its own. Rousong is a very popular food item in Chinese culture, and evident in its ubiquitous use in Chinese cuisine.

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