Unfortunately, this week our British ex-pat friend Kasia is heading back home to the U.K. Due to her school “forgetting” to renew her monthly visa, she is leaving a full month earlier than she had originally planned, which is a big shame! But I’ve lost track of how many times Kasia’s school has failed to hold up their end of the bargain…they are a really bad company, so good riddance to them! In fact, she is working right up until the day she departs for the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai because they “just don’t have her final paycheck ready yet.” Unbelievable!
We got to know Kasia back in October when we first moved here. She had already been here a full month before us and had somehow already mastered conversational Mandarin. Incredible! She spent her first month here feeling confused and a little misled about the severe lack of foreigners living in Huzhou (as did we), and told us that she learned Chinese so quickly because it was that, or have no one to talk to all day. She found me when she stumbled across this blog (yay!), and we met up with her for steak and coffee and schemed how to find some other foreigners in this town. It wasn’t until around Christmas that we finally met Connie (also from England), Mark from Canada, Len from the Philippines, and several other foreigners who were hiding in different schools around the area.
This past weekend, we attended Kasia’s sendoff dinner and also did a little dancing afterwards. We didn’t want to bring Kasia a gift that she would have to take home with her (we understand how difficult a task it is to pack a year into a suitcase), so Justin had the brilliant idea to bring her a cake. So, we ate a delicious feast of several courses, and had some cake for dessert. It was my first time eating cake with chopsticks! After cake, Peter, one of our Chinese friends, was still feeling a bit peckish, and he ordered a giant steamed fish (so I suppose we actually had fish for dessert). And as always, the baijiu (liquor) that our friend Huolin brought was freely flowing, and everyone had a cup or two to toast with, whether they wanted it or not.
After dinner, we headed to a “club” to go dancing. It wasn’t a dance club in the sense that you may be thinking; it was a place specializing in ballroom dance. I felt like we were the youngest people in the room, but I still enjoyed it immensely more than I would have enjoyed a younger “raver” club. Instead of alcohol, they served traditional Chinese hot tea, and they had a staff of professional dancers waiting on the sidelines of the dance floor to snatch up anyone who didn’t have a partner–how nice! Justin’s first impression of the decor of the place was, “This looks like a high school prom!” True, it did have many streamers and lanterns and silk flowers hanging from the ceiling, accompanied by the obligatory disco ball. Our friend Peter had apparently been to this place so many times that they let our entire group in for free, and immediately brought us all bottled waters after we sat down.
However, we weren’t sitting down for long. Justin and I realized a long time ago that Chinese people are pushers. They push us to drink (“Have a little more! Drink up!” forcing us to cover or hide our glass to avoid a refill), they push us to eat (“You can’t be full yet! You need to eat some more!” they say, as they pile food onto our plates even after we’ve insisted that we’re done eating), and I shouldn’t have been surprised when they pushed us to dance. Almost as soon as we sat down, a dancer employed by the club (wearing a uniform of black pants and a black polo shirt) came over to me and extended his hand, inviting me to dance. I was caught off-guard and replied, “Wo buyao,” (“I don’t want”) shaking my head but smiling so that I wouldn’t seem too unfriendly. However, I must have forgotten that Chinese people rarely take “no” for an answer. He just kept standing there, holding out his hand, repeating some sort of encouragement in Chinese similar to, “Come on! Come on!” Justin repeated for me in Chinese, “She doesn’t want,” and the black-shirted man finally gave up. But that didn’t stop him (or his fellow employees) from stopping by during the following songs to try again, and again, and again…
I really prefer just watching, but I reluctantly decided that I was going to have to dance to at least a few songs. When I say that I’m a bad dancer, I’m not just being modest. It’s as if I have giant cinder-blocks tied to my feet, making my every step clumsy and cumbersome. Justin took me out on the dance floor for one of the waltzes to save me from the persistent black-shirted men, and immediately regretted his decision. “Just step in time with the song,” he suggested, and “Follow my lead,” he instructed, after I’d stepped on his feet several times. People were gracefully whirling and spinning around us at an alarming speed, and I just couldn’t seem to catch up. I realized with chagrin that spinning and baijiu definitely do not mix well.
After that, I was able to sit out for the next few songs under the pretense that I was taking pictures of my friends (and I really was! You can see some of my pictures below). Kasia was much more graceful on the dance floor than I was, I noted, and Justin, as always, was fearless with what he was willing to try. The Chinese ladies soon snatched him up as a partner, eager to have the chance to dance with a foreigner. However, I wasn’t able to watch him for long, as a black-shirted man made a beeline for me when the next waltz started playing. I bashfully accepted his hand, knowing that I was about to make a complete fool of myself, but I was glad that he would at least win the bet he probably had going with the other black shirts about who would get me to dance first.
I felt like we had our elbows held out ridiculously high, as if we were competitors on Dancing With the Stars. He took off across the floor at an amazing speed, and I felt like I was running in my effort to keep up. He soon started feeding me instructions, just like Justin did, except his were all in Chinese and I had no idea what he was saying. When I would tell him (in Chinese) that I didn’t understand, and explain that my Chinese is no good, he would simply speak louder and slower, as if that would help. I did understand when he started counting in Chinese, “One, two, three….one, two, three,” when my clumsy cinder-block feet started bumbling and stepping on his. I was not able to elegantly stick my nose high in the air as I waltzed like the other dancers did; I had to keep my eyes glued to his feet so I wouldn’t mess up. When I finally started to get the hang of the basic steps, he got so excited that he tried to do some fancier moves, and even attempted to dip me. He may possibly have warned me (in Chinese) before doing the dip, but I’ll never know. All I know is that instead of popping my leg deftly into the air, I accidentally kicked it into his shin in my surprise. At least that encouraged the other black shirts to avoid me for the next few songs. He spun me so many times at the end of the song that I almost toppled over as I dizzily returned to my chair.
All-in-all, it was a really fun evening and a nice way to say goodbye to Kasia before she heads back home. We will miss her! Some memories from the past year:
Have a safe flight and good luck back in England, Kasia! Who knows, maybe we will bump into you again sometime… 🙂