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March 8, 2007 - Guyuan, China

A Chinese Creek

The Crew

No Paddles

Certain things happen in China that can be baffling. Why, oh why, do pastries with frosting have cocktail wieners hidden inside?

Certain things happen that are strange. The ritual cleaning of chopsticks. First the scraping together to remove any splinters (even with the plastic variety), a quick one-two wipe with a dry napkin and then a rub-down with raw garlic.

Certain things can confuse. Being asked “Have you eaten?” instead of saying “Hello.”

And then there are the things that just happen. With you along for the ride, at the will of the situation, and with no paddles.

We Met at the Mall

There I was minding my own business, trying to find a card-reader for my camera at the only electronics store in Guyuan, being attended to by every sales person on the entire floor. I was taking my time browsing through the glass display cases, reveling in the relatively high technology around me, when I felt a body next to mine.

Standing next to me, teeth beaming away, was a guy about my age - dressed pretty well for Guyuan and obviously proud of it - holding out his hand. Taking it, he introduced himself as Yang Shan and asked my name. That was the last time I understood an entire sentence from him as he went into overdrive.

Now my stroll through the small store was complete with an entourage. The sales girls trying to put whatever small, most expensive MP4 player they could in my hand, the managers clearing the other customers/suddenly-riff-raff out of the foreigners way and my new friend eagerly chatting away. Welcome to the circus, starring in Aisle 5 - MP4 Players, The Almost Blond Haired Westerner! The Slightly Tall Foreigner! The 5 O’clock Shadow Man!

Making my way out of the shop with me was Mr. Yang. He seemed quite content - excited even - to have exclusive rights to a near monologue with me. Three blocks later, the same. Time to test his staying power. I doubled back and went down a small alley I had been wanting to explore since last Fall. Unperturbed, he turned on his heels, and kept on talking. By this point I knew that he had moved to Guyuan a year ago from Peng Yang, he had a younger sister, his parents owned a small clothing store, he didn’t have a girlfriend, he was 25, his best friend lived in Yinchuan and was visiting him now, he liked my shirt, he had never talked to a foreigner, he thought Guyuan was especially dirty compared to Peng Yang, you could get a 1000 kuai fine for having a pile of snow in front of your house there, he just bought a new cell phone and he like to eat noodles.

That was what I had caught - forget the 80% I had no comprehension of.

Another few streets later he was still at it. I was starting to like the background hum he was putting up so I asked if he had eaten and, if not, would he like to have dinner.

He stopped.

I saw him consider for a second, weighing his options.

And he went right back into it. How he knew the best dao shao mien in town, how the owners were his friends, how he had eaten but wanted to show me and that he was happy, happy, happy. Off to the noodle shop we went.

Miraculously, after a meal spent of me slurping some tasty noodles and nodding occasionally, he still had things to talk about. To top that off, somehow he had already payed for my dinner and had his friend waiting outside the restaurant, all without using a cellphone or leaving my side. Not only could this guy talk, I mean really talk, he was telepathic.

New friend in tow we walked back towards downtown Guyuan and the school. For the first time I wondered how I was going to tactfully end our little lopsided conversation - he had the look of coming back home with me - and I settled upon my non-existent 7:30 class at school. I took his phone number, gave him mine, let him know how much I appreciated his skills at paying for dinner without me noticing, dinner and his company but that I really must be going to school.

Nodding with a smile, he did just what I expected. He kept talking.

Getting closer to school he began to quiet. Now this was a change from the last 2 hours and I took notice. The closer we got to school, the closer he looked to bursting with some unanswered question.

Finally, he broke as we passed a small shop.

He asked ever so nicely if I wouldn’t mind coming inside for just three minutes. Knowing full well that was code for half an hour. I accepted, he had after all, bought me dinner and kept me company.

Inside was an immaculate shop with gleaming white floors and three makeup stations facing the windows in front. A row of pink and purple and red wedding dresses along with matching tuxedos in their cellophane wrappers hung orderly along the back wall. Motioning for me to sit down at a small table he brushed aside a few catalogs filled with bridal accessories. The drill was beginning to take shape. This was when the small plastic cups of tea came out and we sat and chatted until my vocabulary ran out and I made a dash for the door.

Not this time though.

As soon as I sat down he left my side for the first time all evening. Near the back of the shop, in hurried, hushed tones he talked with the manager. A wallet came out. I saw hundred kuai notes passing.

That was a bad sign. A very bad sign.

So much for the tea and chat bit, another drill was taking place, the expensive gift drill. I was out of my chair readying for a battle to try and diffuse any gift giving that might be going on when a small back door opened. In went my friend, his buddy and the manager, beckoning for me to follow.

Inside? A full photography studio - pulled right out of New York City - complete with bride and groom standing in loving bliss in front of the Eiffel Tower. This tranquil scene didn’t last long as the photographer motioned for the couple to leave.

Another bad sign.

Turning back, there was the duo polishing their shoes and straightening collars. A huge smile on his face, Mr. Yang dragged me onto the set.

And thats how I came to be in a small photography studio with two random guys on a Thursday night in China.

35 minutes later I had posed cross-armed, standing, squatting, smiling, glaring, giving the victory sign and yelled Chinese phrases back at the photographer trying to keep us excited.

Not to mention the photos I had taken with the managers kids, the photographers assistant, the managers wife, three make-up girls and two walk-ins from the street.

I was along for the ride. A ride I don’t think I’m going to live down after I post the photos.

» Link lovin’

Phone Tricks - Those tricky phone salesmen.

Haute, For a Price - 29 clients, up from 8.

Black - Black is the new Black.

Ha ha. good one.

- SMO on a Friday

This is the funniest yet, I am still laughing!!!
Great photo shoot!!

- kmk on a Saturday

more photos, more photos, we want to see them all!!

- kmk on a Saturday

C'mon hurry up! I want to see the one with you "glaring", that would be novel.

- Oofy Poofy on a Sunday

You are so photogenic. From the way you led us step by step to the photo studio, I thought you'd wind up sans wallet and maybe even pants. In the circumstances, you got off pretty easy.

- Gary on a Monday


- Siobhan on a Monday

This is funnier than the pic of you kissing a drunk Chinese dude!

- Anjali on a Tuesday

@kmk - yeah, yeah, photos coming as soon as possible. i do have other things to do here you know.

@oofy poofy - the glaring one didnt actually make it on the CD they gave me or I would have happily put it up.

@anjali - kissing chinese dudes? you have it mixed up, they have a penchant for kissing me!

- allister on a Wednesday

So which one is he...the guy on the left or on the right?

- Alexandria on a Friday

@alexandria - he's the little guy on the left. i actually just saw him on the street walking to school and he's chipper as ever... to make it even scarier he pulled out a photo of you know who from his wallet...

- allister on a Sunday

that's too sweet dude. too sweet. you know you should've gotten a sweet commission from that. next time just say you're a model ok?

- naree on a Tuesday
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