Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Legend of Fido and David and the brown bunny rabbit

The Legend of Fido

A few weeks back I was invited by my coworkers at Metrozine for one of their Saturday basketball games, and decided to bring Jaime along. The game itself went like it was supposed to. Jaime was on fire, throwing up and hitting absolutely ridiculous jumpers and I was doing what I do best; rebounding, setting unnecessary screens and trying my hardest not to have to shoot. And Jaime’s and my team won most of our games.

After the game ended Jaime and I decided to play a few games of pool before heading back to our flat. All the participants of the game walked past us, said their goodbyes and headed off. One tall lanky guy who was pretty good at basketball but seemed to be afraid to shoot (with less cause than me) stopped by our pool table to watch. After about 15 minutes of him sitting there watching us, we struck up a conversation with him. He turned out to be a really nice 23 year old guy native to Shanghai with great English skills. He told us his English name was Lucas Cohen, but his friends called him Fido because of his resemblance to the cartoon character of the same name from the 7 UP commercials.

After Fido joined in our pool game and we talked some more, Jaime asked him where the best place to grab a bite in Shanghai was. Fido immediately responded with “home-cooking.” He waited a beat before inviting us over to his family’s apartment for dinner that night. Jaime and I looked at each other, each thinking “why not?” and told Fido yes.

Once in the cab heading to his apartment, Fido explained it was his grandfather’s 85th birthday that night and his whole family would be over to celebrate. Only then did we realize that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

After telling his Mom something in Chinese that must’ve been something like, “Hey Mom, I know it’s grandpa’s birthday tonight, but I met these two random Americans playing basketball today and I know they’re still sweaty and they smell terrible, but I invited them over for dinner,” we were welcomed in to the apartment.

We headed to Fido’s room so the amateur DJ could show us some of his music. I sat on his bed poring over a Chinese book on the history of hip-hop, while Jaime took notes on his recommendations. Fido also enlightened us on how he picked his English name, Lucas Cohen. Lucas came from a character on One Tree Hill, and even though he knew it was a Jewish name, Fido picked Cohen from The O.C.

(That method of choosing takes a close second place in the best way a Chinese person came up with their English name. First prize goes to Eacar, pronounced ee-car. Eacar was the translator for my dad’s business meeting on his last day in Beijing. Over dinner she explained that her first English name, Summer, felt too childish. So she decided to combine her two favorite English words, easy, as in “don’t stress so much Eacar, take it easy” and courage to form an entirely new and non-sensical made-up name. How grown-up and courageous of you Eacar).

One of us commented on all the cool clothes Fido seemed to have. He then took out the dozens of basketball jerseys he had, some of them looking relatively authentic. Jaime complimented him on one particular one and Fido nearly insisted that Jaime have it. We then caught sight of a completely over the top faux fur coat and asked if he ever wore it out. Fido replied that he only wore it once or twice because it got dirty too easily.

He then excitedly explained that he had a couple other ones and that we should try them on. Then for added effect he took out a couple doo rags and New Era hats and suggested we put them on too. He snapped a few pictures of us, and then when we suggested he get in one as well, he called his mom in and had her take pictures of her son, and the two still-unwashed Americans modeling full-length fur coats, doo rags and New Era hats. To her credit, she didn’t even flinch and I now have a new favorite for most ridiculous Facebook picture.

Pretty soon after our photo shoot it was time for dinner. On the traditional menu for the birthday dinner was the usual bok choy dish, some whole shrimps, slices of ham and…. duck tongue. Dark red with little antenna-like appendages coming off the main meat, the duck tongue was just as unappealing as it sounds. I was able to swallow one whole grimacing as it scratched its way down. Since I keep relatively kosher, Jaime discreetly ate the slices of ham off my plate even though he doesn’t care for them either. Then like some twisted Chinese version of the old Starburst commercial where they unwrap a piece of candy with their tongues, Fido demonstrated how to de-shell a piece of shrimp in your mouth.

Fido’s aunt and late-arriving government official uncle soon joined his parents and grandparents at the table completing the birthday party. It was an intimate dinner, and it felt very much like we were intruding on their night with the amount of hospitable attention they showered on us. After practicing with Fido a few times, Jaime and I wished his grandpa a happy birthday in Mandarin, and tried to find a cue to leave.

Before we could go though, Fido said he wanted to “show us some magic.” After a couple weeks of bad English slang, the most common example being “this is really suck,” I assumed Fido meant he wanted to show us something cool. Wrong. Instead he put on a video of a French Japanese magician doing the most random magic tricks. Jaime and I sat there trying to muster up the appropriate amount of shock and awe.

We left soon after that, laughing the whole cab ride back to our flat about our overall most random Chinese experience.


David and the brown bunny rabbit

The most dramatic moment of my time in China happened outside an amusement park one quiet Sunday afternoon. Having never really had a pet before, I had been joking with Jaime that I was going to buy one of the animals they sold on the streets of Shanghai and keep it in our flat. A large group of us from Projects-Abroad was leaving one of the lamer theme parks I’ve ever been to when we spotted one of the streetside vendors hawking the usual mixture of baby chicks, turtles, birds and rabbits in cages that are so small they probably stunt the animals’ growth. Vicky, the German flatmate, spotted a brown rabbit that she found cute. I sensed an opportunity and asked the seller how much he wanted for it. He asked for 65 yuan, a little less than $10. I countered with 20 yuan, he asked for 45, I held at 20 and very quickly he gave in. Suddenly he was holding out the cage to me and asking for his money.

Everybody started shouting. Half of our group was yelling at me to take the rabbit. The other half was trying to reason with me, shouting about how I needed a cage, how I didn’t know what to feed it, how it was probably diseased. The latter, and angrier half, yelled at me to think about what would happen to it when I left. I argued my case back. I’d figure out all the essentials. I wanted my first pet. When I left, I’d pass it on to another flat. It’d become the Projects-Abroad rabbit, and it’d build camaraderie.

It felt like a cartoon with the angel and devil on either shoulder trying to one-up each other.

The first group kept yelling, “Take it!”
“Do it! C’mon!!!”

The second group, louder:
“What are you thinking?”
“Don’t be stupid.”

Meanwhile the seller was still holding out the cage to me, asking for his money.

And finally Jaime yelled at me that buying the rabbit would be murder, and if I did we wouldn’t be friends anymore.

That was enough for me. I turned to the seller, told him “bu yao” (I don’t want) and walked away.