Lots to report. In one of my classes, the listening section, we listened to Chinese words and had to write them in pinyin (which is using English letters to spell Chinese words), and the second part was an ask-and-answer section. During that part, the class was asked "ni zhidao shenme" ("what do you know?") and I answered "Wo zhidao Dashan" ("I know Dashan"). Now, most of you don't know who Dashan is, but most Chinese people do. Dashan (which means "big mountain") is a Caucasian, Canadian graduate of Toronto University. He studied Mandarin for four years, and married a Chinese woman. On an extended trip to China, he appeared on TV in a skit, and, unbeknownst to him, 400,000,000 (yes, 400 million) people saw him speak fluent Chinese. So my teacher (who, my classmates say, likes me, because she was asking me all the questions and not the rest of the group) said I was Xiaoshan (small mountain). My classmates told our Chinese buddies, and so far the name has stuck. Now whenever somebody calls out Xiaoshan, I turn my head. (To find out more about Dashan, who's almost unknown in Canada, but hugely famous in China, should check out www.dashan.com)
My Chinese name (Li Xiaoshan): 李小山
That was a couple of days ago. Yesterday was fun. We met Fang Laoshi at the hotel at 4:00, and we were taken to see acrobats, but it can be better described as a Variety Show. First there were the dancers. They were all beautiful Chinese girls around the age of 17 or so. Then there were the unicyclers, who at one point skipped rope while on the unicycles. Then there was a little boy who squeezed himself in a tube and then out the other side. It was quite impressive. And then the fashion show. All the dancers were dressed in just beautiful Chinese dresses and walked around with fans. They were all very pretty, and that was easily the best part of the show! And there was a man who did some Peking opera, but I've always found Peking Opera to be shrill, and he didn't dress up in the traditional costume, so he didn't have much presence. About halfway through the variety show, we were offered to have a disco, for only ten minutes, because we told the lady that some of us had already made plans to go later last night. Well, anyway, it took some of us by surprise (I knew about it during the show, but some didn't). Anyway, when it was time, several young teenage girls asked us to dance, and I ended up being the only to accept. I mean, come on, how many times am I going to get the opportunity to dance in the middle of a variety show? Well, everybody else wasn't interested, but I had fun. I got to know one girl's name (Wei), and I danced for about five minutes before saying "hao le" (okay, done). Then came the magic show. I mean, it was pretty simple, but I was still impressed. Near the end of the show, the woman doing the tricks did the one where she changes her outfit in seconds inside a silk bag. After she did it once, the assistant came to my seat and asked for me to come up. Again, how many times am I going to get to do this? So right away I accepted. I get a pretty good clap from the mostly Chinese audience. Then I helped the assistant bring the bag over the woman, and shook the bag, and she changed her outfit. Again, I was impressed. I got another ovation from the crowd, and then went to my seat. After the show, my friends (or so-called friends, since they didn't want to dance with me) all called out "Xiaoshan, Xiaoshan."
Today we went to the palace of Puyi, the last emperor of China. Those who have seen the movie The Last Emperor will know about Puyi. He was a child when he was installed as emperor by Empress Cixi, but was only given ceremonial powers by the Nationalists. Then, when the Nationalists finally ousted Puyi, the Japanese government set him up as the emperor of Northeast China, but power in that region was really in the hands of the Japanese Ambassador. Changchun was where Puyi and his wives (yes, plural) lived, and the story goes that one of them (there are conflicting stories as to which one it was) smoked opium and went crazy, as people who smoke opium do. We also saw the museum, and there was an exhibition on the atrocities committed by the Japanese army in Northeast China. There is a residue of hatred against the Japanese for this period, as one of my classmates was having lunch just after our trip to the museum, when she walked in to the kitchen by mistake. They called her a Japanese person (which is weird, because she's actually Chinese) and yelled at her to leave.
Anyway, I wasn't overly impressed with the palace. It might of been the traffic jam we got into going there, because today there is a huge market on the street leading into the palace. I had a lot of fun last night though, and I kind of enjoy the attention I'm getting as a gwai lo (okay, that's Cantonese, not Mandarin, for 'white guy').