What the hell is schmooty-booty you might ask? Why it’s the noun form of schmooty-boot of course. It’s a term coined by the maintenance staff at Camp to describe the act of being friendly and building relations with the campers. Call it networking if you will. Not only is it good customer service, it occasionally results in perks from the campers as well. I chose it as the name for this post since that’s exactly what I did the last day away from Harbin.
You’ll remember I said back in September the American Consulate in Shenyang set up a little event for us Fulbrighters and said we were welcome to drop by in Shenyang any time. Well that’s exactly what I decided to do. After emailing ahead, I took the train out of Beijing on Wednesday night and got into Shenyang on Thursday morning. Not being due at the consulate until noon, I first headed to Beiling Park in the north of the city. The place is huge, and because I decided to walk along the river rather than go in the main gate, it took two subway stops until I found the west one. Good decision though, as the riverwalk was lined with willows and I got to see some retirees practicing their kung fu and croquet skills.
I finally found the west gate, and entered to find what’s referred to as the “ancient pines” on the map, and is a huge sprawling area of Chinese pines criss-crossed with little dirt paths. I had a blast getting lost in them for a while and happened across various groups of retirees practicing Tai Qi or kicking a jianzi. A jianzi is basically a Chinese hacky-sack made of a base of metal rings with feathers coming out the top to guide it. It’s usually played in the same way, people stand in a circle and kick one around. Most of these groups were taking it to the next level though by playing on badminton courts, rotating serves and positions the whole nine yards. The courts were pretty great too, the lines had been marked out with beer bottle caps buried in the hard dirt. Managed to get this great action shot, the white thing is the jianzi.
Worked my way to the Zhao mausoleum which is dedicated to one of the first rulers of the Qing Dynasty.
I then made my way south towards the more paved and inhabited section of the park, past what seemed like thousands of retirees dancing to Celine Dion, some topiaries, and another great walk along a willow-lined lake.
(One of the perks of being retired in China, is that you get free admission to all public parks!)
The lake inspired another poem that I based pretty heavily on the Chinese poem I have memorized the best, 《咏柳》Or an Ode to Willows
Beads of jade strung into the tallest of trees
Ten thousand drooping down like silken strands
I do not know who crafted these fine leaves
The February wind cuts like a blade
For mine (which lacks a title), I kept a lot of the structure and the rhyming sound (ao, which in both mind and the original is the final sound on all lines but the third), and slightly changed some thematic content.
A plane of lapis, fog nowhere to be seen
One hundred thousand strands droop, lifting spirits high
I do not know where my fatigue left for
It suddenly flew away like birds above
Back on subject, I then went down to the consulate to meet two foreign service officers for lunch. Neither were amongst those who came to see us in Harbin, but they were just as lovely and friendly. They took me out to a place called Black Sheep opened by an Australian chef. I had a chili chicken burger of Australian proportions (meaning two patties, too many fries and aoli) that was pretty damn fantastic. Then I went and toured Northeastern University (which has a pretty sweet campus) before returning to the consulate to attend their weekly talk.
This week’s guest was professor Nick Winter from the University of Virginia who was talking to the Chinese audience about the upcoming election. I even learned a lot of interesting statistics, and he broke down how Trump got the Republican nomination in a very easy to digest way. Interestingly he never mentioned China once in his talk, which when I thought about it made perfect sense. As the officers said, their objective is to present America as it is, not to make any comparisons and say that it’s better or worse than other countries (namely China). That burden falls on the observer. Incidentally, as I was sitting there listening and pondering our national seal that was emblazoned on the podium, I felt more patriotic than ever. They were then gracious enough to invite me to give a talk any time I wanted, which would be a great honor. I’ll have to think of a topic, open to suggestions.
The Foreign Service Officers I met were quite friendly and encouraging, and I’m incredibly impressed with the work they do. It was also interesting to hear them echo some of my observations about China.
Now I’m back in Harbin, as I purposefully gave myself some extra time to chill and reflect. This was my first time traveling with other people and my own on the same trip. I generally travel on my own, and while you have more freedom and can usually eat cheaper (someone suggests an expensive restaurant, you don’t wanna say no, you buy drinks for people, etc. expenses add up). But on the other hand with more people you can save on transportation and accommodation, and might run into cool things you wouldn’t have found on your own (see the mountain and night stands from the first post). Time also passes quicker when you have people to talk to. Both have their ups and downs, I quite like doing both on the same trip actually.
Final pictures from around Shenyang to wrap things up. This week sees the resumption of classes while I get back to swimming and working out after my bout with tendonitis and start furnishing my new apartment.