I took another seven hour train ride from Kunming to Guiyang to see my friend Rachel. Rachel worked with me at Brooklyn Winery for a while and she’s a performer with Fuerza Bruta in NYC and came to Guiyang for six weeks to tour here. For my Grandma and Aunt Gina, she’s the girl who came to the beach house and whose boyfriend was the guy you couldn’t stop staying should model. I’m starting to get used to these long trips again, seven hours doesn’t seem quite as long as it used to. I bought some rip off DVDs on the street and made my way to the train station at 11am. I’m living on a pretty tight budget to try and survive here for 5 months so I got the cheapest ticket I could find which meant sitting third class. I don’t believe trains in America have class systems, do they? It was kind of like walking onto the Titanic as I passed all the private rooms with beds and personal tables with white tablecloths, until I found myself in the third class quarters. There were men, looking starved, pushing by me with massive bags of rice weighing them down and some people crowded around a table playing cards while drinking clear liquid out of a plastic container, but most of them stopped what they were doing to watch me as I walked by, with a look on their face that said, “I don’t think you’re supposed to be here.” So I found my seat and took a look around me. Pretty soon after I got settled in the men across from me started in with how “beautiful” my facial hair was, and pushed their way over to touch my arm hair. It’s been ten years since I last shaved my arms for swimming, but I’m considering doing it again.
I was sitting in a poorer part of China but everyone was dressed so nice. Sure, their clothes had been worn down and their hair was greasy, but all the men wore a suit jacket, button down shirt, and pretty nice shoes; all the women were in clothes that an american girl would wear to a friend’s dinner party. It painted a clearer picture to me of the idea of “face”. You might have heard that some asian cultures and especially the Chinese, try to “save face”. It’s why I never attempt to drink any Chinese man under the table; for many of them, it’s a matter of national pride to drink more than me and, compared to all these other Chinese, I was dressed like a bum in my boots, beat up jeans, and a t-shirt I’ve maybe worn 200 times. But it was good to practice my Chinese, especially in the southwest where the accent is different from Qingdao. Some of the men I met couldn’t speak the dialect I know and we spent most of our conversation smiling and laughing at whatever we thought the other person was saying. Some were getting drunk and, although I had my headphones on, I put the Chinese subtitles on for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation so they could join in on the ridiculous fun. They took off their shiny black shoes and put their feet up which was when I saw that all their socks had holes in them. Lot’s of holes.
I got off the train at 6:45 and Rachel’s show started at 8, so I unsucessfully tried to find a taxi who wouldn’t rip me off for 20 minutes until I gave in and paid a guy 50 yuan to take me to the theater. But Fuerza Bruta doesn’t translate to the same thing in Chinese, and the address that Rachel gave me was for the entire surrounding area so I spent a half hour running around with my huge backpack asking anyone who would stop where Fuerza Bruta was until a girl pointed at a coffee shop. Huh? Whatever, I got to the coffee shop and asked them and they all looked at me like I was insane but then a girl sitting in the corner said in English, “you have to go over the bridge”. Bridge? What bridge? Oh shit it’s 7:50, to the bridge! There was a bridge, a really big one, that took me five minutes to run across and there it was – Fuerza Fuckin Bruta. And what was that short haired girl speaking? Spanish? Oh my god. She came over to me and asked if I was Jim, I said yes and told her in Spanish that I was so happy to see her. She looked at my three bags and told me to check them, all of them please, and she walked me through security.
The show was great, Rachel was wonderful. At one point there were four alomst-naked women water sliding over a plastic ceiling only inches above our heads, and as the ceiling was being lowered I saw some Chinese men position themselves so that their hands would “accidentally” come in contact with the plastic under their breasts. Rachel came over mid show when she saw me and then broke a fake window filled with some type of styrofoam over my head and at the end of the show I was dancing in some type of rain. Great show, really hard to try and explain it but go see it in New York if you can.
We took the bus back to the hotel and grabbed a nice vegetarian hot pot dinner and beer by her hotel. Oh god, Kiss From A Rose just started playing at this hostel while I’m writing this so if it seems like I lose myself in a sea of emotion and wonder, well, now you know why. After dinner we had a drink of whiskey in her room and then we went two floors up to a production party. I’ve been in China for almost two months now, I generally travel by myself and spend almost 3/4 of every day steeping in my own thoughts pondering such things as, “why is there that flute in Elton John’s ‘Philadelphia Freedom’? It doesn’t need to be there and it might be the most flamboyant thing I’ve ever heard.” So there I am, after spending seven hours in a train having my arm hair caressed by middle aged Chinese men, I’m with a friend who I adore, having just seen a wonderful piece of theater in which 90% of the cast and crew are from South America, and now I’m heading to the cast party in a hotel . It was overwhelming.
In fact I got so overwhelmed that when someone opened the fridge and I saw that there wasn’t much beer left I snuck downstairs and bought a case. It was only about $8, ohhhhhhhhhh China. Once again, just having someone’s recommendation goes so far. Everyone was immediately friendly and the fact that I speak fluent Spanish and pretty good Chinese and am friends with Rachel was a big hit. While we had gone out and eaten hot pot, most of the rest of the cast made their own sushi (Made. Their. Own. Sushi) so I nibbled on that while we talked away. After about an hour of drinking they started moving the tables out of the way because all the Brazilians and Argentineans wanted to dance.
So I embarrassed myself on the dance floor for an hour and went to find Rachel on the balcony. An Argentine dancer dressed in a dinosaur costume named Jota was talking about politics in his home country and when he found out I had lived in Chile he asked me about my opinion on certain Chilean political situations. “Who, me? Oh no, please, I couldn’t. Jota, you don’t understand, I just watched theater today and I’m buzzed and there are South American professional dancers dancing behind me and you just asked me in Spanish about South American politics. I don’t have any change of underwear with me right now, I’m really not prepared.” But we got into it, and I noticed I had drawn a few glances when I started getting into freedom of speech territory. At the beginning of the night I kept throwing small Chinese phrases into my Spanish but as the night drew on I found the rhythm, either that or I just got drunker. What a night. Until 4am we drank and talked just like I was back in Latin America. It’s such a contrast to my current situation in China. I love both cultures so much but it was nice to have a straight shot of Latina en mi China.