Adventures at Tetanus Playground, chapter 2

Trip Start Aug 24, 2007
Trip End Jul 04, 2008

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Friday, September 21, 2007

    Sitting on a stoop off of Minglun Jie while eating a meat pocket in the sunshine, I was perfectly content to have a lazy afternoon to recover from my first hell day of teaching.  For everybody at Henan Daxue except for national professors, Thursdays offer a brief break from classes and homework as nothing is scheduled for the afternoon.  So, the three of us sat on a stoop, munching on our one kuai meal and drinking cokes with nothing to do.
    "You know what I want?" Erin asked. "I want to take the boys to Tetanus Playground."
    The guys at this point probably wanted us to take them to Tetanus Playground just so we could shut up about how great it is and how badly they needed to go there.
    Rounding up Sam and Alex, the four of us trekked out to the playground.  After deciding that the area we were walking through was definitely construction, we noticed the progress a group of men was making on what appears to be a pagoda in the making.  We also noticed the progress of two men who have resolutely decided to always nap in the shade of the city wall during the afternoon.
    Again we passed through the same group of men playing with their dreadles and again, we marched through police training accidentally.  However this time they were learning kung-fu instead of how to hold a shield.
    As we approached the magical play land that is Tetanus Playground, we pointed out the monkeys and the structures to Sam and Alex.
    "Oh my God, this is awesome!" Alex said.
    Bian Li was still reclining in her hammock but as she saw us, she leapt up, smiled and waved to us.
    "Liu Peng! Liu Peng!" she shouted, "Something something something waiguoren!"
    He quickly emerged from the wood-paneled shack that serves as the playground office, wearing a white shirt with the Nike swoosh printed on the left side of his shirt.  Underneath it, "NIRE" was proudly stamped.
    Greeting us, they waved us to the playground and holding true to their word, they let us in for free. 
    As Sam and Alex figured out the space ball, Peng and Bian brought us ice cream to eat while we played on the structures.  At first, we were a little leery of their presence.  Our initial conversation with them had been pleasant, but like any interaction in China, you're never quite sure if the interactions are genuine or if people just want to get to know you so they can have you teach them English.  So as we slurped on our melting ice cream cones and laughed as Sam tried his hand at the space ball, Erin and I tried to feel out the sincerity of the Tetanus Playground's masters.  It helped that for the majority of the time we had no idea what they were saying, so I would just look at them with a confused expression on my face.  After awhile, they just left us alone to roam about and to let Sam and Alex experience the joy that is Tetanus Playground.
    After I decided that the broken bridge needed to be conquered, Liu Peng came back to see what we were doing on the equipment.  Sam and Alex were choosing the relatively safe objects like the swings, but I was exploring with trepidation the strength of wood that may or may not have been rotten, with Erin helping me out.
    "Something something," said Liu Peng, while spitting out a watermelon seed he was eating.
    Alex started laughing so I asked him what he said.
    "He says, Be careful."
    As I hopped off the bridge, Peng offered the four of us watermelon seeds, showing us how to crack them with our teeth so we could get the meat out of the middle.  The five of us walked around the park, eating and spitting out the seeds and trying to communicate with broken Chinese, a little bit of English, and whole lot of body motions.  Quickly, my paranoia about Peng's sincerity was dissipating.
    Standing around, Peng taught Sam and Alex the proper stroke order for their Chinese names, some words in Kaifeng dialect and told Erin and I how to say we are teachers in the dialect.    
    Somehow, the five of us moved from the playground to the little table where Bian Li was sitting with one of Peng's friends we met the last time Erin and I were there and another older man.  Getting out old woman stools for us, we huddled underneath the big red umbrella.
    It was an amusing mix of people.  Two Americans who barely know Chinese, and then Erin and I, along with four Chinese who know very select English words.  Somehow we all managed to spend the next four hours sitting around this table as the sun set, talking and laughing as Peng called a couple more of his friends to come over.
    I had no idea what was going on for most of it and Alex valiantly tried to string together what was going on for us.  They tried to teach us words to help us fit in with the locals and offered to teach us mah johng, but when they realized that Erin and I still don't know all the numbers in Chinese, that quickly put a stop to that.  Now we're on a mission to learn all the numbers so the next time we hang out with Peng's family, they can teach us. 
    They also solved one of the bigger mysteries I've had about China for the past month - as I've been walking around or eating at the Noodle Shop, I know that I've heard people say "Hola."  But I had no idea why people were speaking in Spanish. While they were teaching us phrases in the Kaifeng dialect, they taught us that you say "oh la" to answer the phone or to say "OK." 
    At one point, Peng turned to me and said "You need a Chinese name!"  For the past month, most of the Chinese I've encountered have had several years of English language study.  So for them, while the "L's" in my name pose some difficulties, it has been nothing to the difficulty faced by Peng and his family when trying to say my name.  My name is turned into some sort of "Awm-ee" and then some mumbling gibberish for the "Miller."  When Peng proposed that they give me a Chinese name, I was happy but a little apprehensive.  I didn't really know what kind of name they would give me considering this was the second time we had met, and part of me was hoping that this small group of students I have been hanging out with would be the people to name me.  But Peng, and his friends wouldn't have it.  They were going to name me.  And they were so delighted and happy about it, I couldn't really say no.  Peng's face cracked into this wide white smile as they thought about my name.  As they discussed possibilities for my name, they eventually decided on one and told Alex.
    "Your name is Yang Guifei (Yang Gwai-fay)," he said.
    "Um, ok.  What...?" I started to ask, but Alex kept talking.
    "She's a Tang Dynasty beauty!" he excitedly interjected, while Peng kept talking to him.
    "She's very famous and one of the most beautiful women in all of Chinese history and likes lychees," he continued.
    Peng looked at me and asked me a question, which I of course had no idea about because I was too busy being embarrassed and burying my face in my hands.
    "They want to know if you except," Alex told me.
    "Uh..." I said between laughing and being shocked. "Uh, oh la!"
    "Don't be embarrassed," Alex said. "It's a great compliment!"
    (When I got home I researched my name on the Internet so I could get a better sense of who Yang Guifei was.  You can go here for some information.  But the end result is now Max calls me "Pretty Pretty Princess.")
    The rest of the night involved drinking some pijou while having impromptu dance parties to songs on Peng's cell phone, like "Wannabe" and the Numa Numa song, before ending with drunken bumper cars. Before the four of us left, we made plans with Peng and his friends to go to the KTV on Saturday as a way to pay them back for the hospitality they showed us.  And besides, if we have to be indebted to somebody in China, why not be indebted to the guy who runs Tetanus Playground?
    "Did you guys have fun?" Erin and I asked as we left.
    "Oh my God, that was more than I had hoped for!" Alex said.
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Yet another astounding account from my friend to the north. Kudos.

How was hosting this weekend!?

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