Trip to Shandong Province

6 Oct

“Cultural Differences”

Of course the whole point of doing a fellowship in China is cultural differences. Understanding them. Bridging them. It’s what everybody talks about on his or her applications. It sounds grand and noble. Until you run into some actual cultural differences.

My first trip as a tour leader was to Mount Tai in Shandong Province, 6 hours by train, with 75 8th graders from a private school in Beijing. It was five days long. By day four, I felt as if I had been there for five months.

The cultural difference here was British teachers versus a Chinese tour guide, with me in the middle. I looked like the teachers, but I could talk like the tour guide.

The guide’s name was Edward. He was around fifty years old, had a large mole on his upper lip and his khakis were constantly pulled up just a little too high.

During our first night, after climbing five strenuous hours up Mount Tai, one of the students went missing. After realizing that he was merely asleep in his room, we knocked for over 20 minutes before breaking down the hotel room door. The teachers, and the doctor’s at a Beijing international hospital, decided the kid had had a seizure and sending him back to Beijing was the only option.

“Very very expensive,” said Edward, disapprovingly.

“We don’t give a shit how ‘expensive’ it is,” said a teacher, glaring. “it’s about the boy’s safety!”

“If he were my son, I wouldn’t pay so much money!” Edward said.

“He’s about to get a punch in the face,” a small female British teacher whispered. To me.

“I don’t understand these teachers!” Edgar yelled in Chinese. At me.

I understood Edward. During the Cultural Revolution, the government condemned doctors and academics. No wonder he had no respect for medicine. But the teachers won. We sent the kid home.

“These teachers! they don’t get it!” Edward told me. “But you understand Chinese culture.”

Damn, I knew I liked him.

Despite his awkward clothing choices and his ability to inject anxiety into every possible situation, Edward had redeeming qualities. He was always trying to do the “right thing.”

The problem was, the right thing according to Edward, often pissed off everyone else.

The next day while we descended Mount Tai, I got stuck walking with the slowest kid. And Edward.

“Keep going, dude,” I reassured her. “It’s not much farther.

She glared at me. “Don’t ever call me dude,” she said.

I looked toward Edward for help. But he was off on another rant.

“The lead teacher, he reminds me of a Jewish!”

What the hell?

“I had a group once, and there was a horrible couple. Always complaining. They were the Jewish! So ignorant!”

Make it stop! Make it stop!

“Edward!” I hissed. “What are you saying? You are the one who sounds ignorant!”

“Miss Taylor!” the glaring girl was hissing at me now. “I think I have a nosebleed!”
I reached in my backpack for the roll of toilet paper I keep there. (It’s China. You need to have toilet paper at all times, because the toilets certainly don’t.)

“Here you go.” I handed her the roll and continued down the mountain, while simultaneously dodging the toilet paper she was dropping along the path, and trying to explain to Edward why what he was saying was so wrong, wrong, wrong.

Suddenly, there was a loud “squaaaakkkk.” All three of us looked up, Edward from his racist musings, the girl from her bleeding nose, and me from playing “nurse Taylor.” A huge rooster had popped out of the bushes on the side of the mountain path and clucked his way across the stairs in front of us. Edward watched, entranced, then spoke slowly in English.

“What a beautiful cock, such a beautiful, beautiful cock.” He put his hands in his pockets and looked on admiringly.

I couldn’t react just then. Not while I was holding a tissue to a 12 year-olds nose, and only feet away from the cock itself.

“Don’t you think it’s a beautiful cock?” Edward asked. He sighed in satisfaction and kept walking down the stairs, happy for the first time all day.

I couldn’t disagree there. It was big and feathery and colorful, indeed, a beautiful cock. I held my laughter, took a swig of my water bottle and the three of us continued down the mountain.

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3 Responses to “Trip to Shandong Province”

  1. Sue Collie October 8, 2010 at 7:41 pm #

    GREAT article!!!! Sooooo funny!!!!

  2. joyce colie October 10, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    Taylor, you are a entertaining writer. I can’t wait for the next installment.

  3. Mark Smith October 20, 2010 at 5:49 am #

    Your musings are entertaining as always. You are, dare I say it, Cock-sure in the direction your stories take. Was the rooster free range or seeking asylum in your tour? Chinese anti-semitism…huh!

    Love your work and you,

    Uncle Mark

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