Molly and I see easily four hundred students a week which means we travel to a bunch of different schools. In order to do this, we don’t fly, we don’t apparate, we don’t take a taxi, we have a bus driver that takes us around.
Aside: we met our driver on day one of arriving in Hohhot (pronounced here: Hoe-Huh-How-Tuh). He walked out of the office and took three pictures of Molly and I sitting on the couch. He didn’t even turn off the camera noise on his phone or the flash. It was painfully obvious, totally rude, and annoying, in our opinion. Even a few of the teachers who were sitting around us smiled apologetically or laughed at him. It’s one thing for people who will probably never see us again to take pictures of us on the street (it does happen every time we go to the grocery store), but another thing for people we see daily to do it (no one else has done it, or at least had the wherewithall to do it so pointedly). Also, seeing as it was still our first few days in China, we were still unaccustomed to the event of being local celebrities. Molly and I called him “Creeper” from thereon. Eventually his name graduated to Saucy. We use a healthy mixture of both when referring to him.
Please understand, we’re not really trying to be mean, but Creeper is definitely a little crass and not the nicest fella. We are perpetually late to schools or we have to wait hours for him to pick us up, he argues with police officers or parking guards when he’s trying to park places he clearly can’t, and we are constant companions when he uses his school van to do other business that we have often determined shady. It usually involves picking things up in boxes from guys in alleyways (these things generally turn out to be laser printers or laminaters or bags of toys for the various schools we travel to, but we didn’t understand this at first…why they have to be acquired in obscure places, I am unsure. On the other hand, it’s not like there is a Wal-Mart one can go to here. Sometimes he acquires other things…like wads of cash or passports though. Definitely seems a little abnormal. Molly and I don’t comment, mostly because we don’t know Mandarin).
This last Friday we had to make it to one of our schools by 9:30. Creeper came and told us to be ready at 8:20 and then disappeared into the school where we stay. Now, you may have gleaned from previous posts that driving here is always a gamey endeavor. But even to us, 8:20 seemed overly conservative. But instead of argue (which is quite impossible anyway because, again, we still don’t entirely know Mandarin), we went to wait on the outside front steps of the school.
It was a brisk morning, not quite so cold that we could see our breath, but I was wearing two sweaters and gloves plus, as I may have mentioned, we live in the shadows of small mountains. At the ripe time of 8:50 in the morning, Creeper deigned to join us at the front of the school. Then we set off only to stop at an apartment complex to pick up a lady that we’ve named “shady lady” who works at our school. She is a sort of administrative assistant who also happens to be with Creeper when he goes on these intrigues. We always know that when she’s in the car, something will probably go down involving moon cakes or large stuffed giraffes, a lot of pink 100 RMBs, or heated arguments with police officers or security guards. We continued on our way only to stop on a side street (no shock). Shady Lady and Saucy generally get along, but that morning they were really getting into it. They were yelling and gesturing and yelling. Eventually we pulled up at a meat store. Like, there were huge strips of meat hanging in the window a la Lady Gaga’s meat dress. And Creeper parked. And then he and Shady Lady yelled some more. And it was easily 9:30.
Aside: Speaking of meat, we don’t get a lot of meat in our diets here. Instead for protein they eat a lot of beans. I don’t know if this is a cultural thing, a Hohhot thing, or just what happens in preschools. It seems like they feed the kids really simple foods, so that might be why they cut back on meat. To get our fill of meat, we get to go to places like McDonalds or Pizza Hut on the weekends.
Aside aside: McDonalds food tastes just like food in the US. The burgers are spot on. The fries are a touch less greasy. The coke, if you order one, is less carbonated, and the serving sizes are marginally more modest, but all in all, pretty decent. The differences? Well, when Molly and I went, accompanied by some teachers, and had finished our meal, I stood up to throw away my trash and put up my tray and was consequently laughed at. They called me cute. They have people who work at the McDonalds here that are paid to do that. And you know how restaurants sometimes have words on the wall with phrases or words that describe their dining experience? The McDonalds walls said something to the effect of: a fine dining experience. Not precisely what we would call McDonalds stateside. Also, they don’t have drive-thrus here. I explained them to the teachers, they thought it was terribly convenient. It wouldn’t work here, though, because driving is terrifying enough without adding people trying to scarf down food in the process.
Eventually Creeper got out of the van and walked around to Shady Lady’s door and tried to physically pull her from the car. They yelled more. He pulled more. Eventually they both went into the meat store. Molly and I were left in the car with the hazard lights on. We were a little shocked, but mostly remained calm. There was nothing we could really do about it, after all. Then we saw Saucy leave the meat store and head in the other direction to another store along this side street. We got a little more apprehensive. It was 9:40, then, when a grizzled man who was probably missing a tooth or two walked up to our van and was yelling at us. Molly was insistent. “Don’t open the door, don’t open the door, don’t open the door,” she urged, although this was clearly what the man wanted. I opened the door and he presented us with four grocery bags (like Wal-Mart bags, literally) full of meat. Not packaged meat, just piles of raw meat in plastic bags.
Molly and I were weirded out by the meat, but we were happy to finally be on our way and at least get our day started. Until we arrived at the school and had to help Saucy carry the meat inside (after Creeper had a five minute shouting match with the security guard to get into the complex where the school was located – usually he just drops us off outside and we walk in). Grossest experience of my life. And the bag kept banging against my knee and it was heavy. Life is so different here, and the way they do things seems so backwards and time consuming. None of the teachers seemed bothered by our tardiness, either. In the US, I don’t think it would fly, being forty minutes late to work and show up with bags of meat as compensation.