Playing on thin ice, interviewing locals, gifts, and stuff

I went out this morning to interview Mr. , the neighbourhood bike repairman, and we ended up walking on thin ice – literally. I was trying to chat a bit before we started our interview (see below), and asked about the canal being frozen and when we’d be able to walk on it. He was like, “C’mon! We can go right now!” and walked across the street and down out onto the creaking ice. He turned around and told me to come on. I really wanted this interview, so I thought of light things and placed a tentative foot onto the ice at the edge, where I could see water sloshing up the concrete sides. We walked around in the middle of the canal, where it didn’t creak as much as it did along the edges. I would have taken his picture but he was between me and the sun, plus he told me to back off when I got too close to him; he was afraid our combined weight would be too much in one spot.

You just don’t have these kinds of experiences growing up around Vancouver, where I think I only played hockey on a frozen pond once, and maybe twice on frozen cranberry fields. Of course, there’re plenty of Chinese people to walk around with should a Vancouverite ever find questionable ice to walk around on.

Yesterday afternoon and this morning I “interviewed” (used loosely here) two local characters: Mr. Cháng, who cuts hair on the sidewalk, and Mr. , who parks his three-wheeled mobile tool cabinet at the entrance to our neighbourhood and fixes bicycles from breakfast ’til dinnertime. I’m taking over a monthly magazine column that is supposed to give Tianjin’s foreign community a peak into the lives of the average Zhou; basically helping humanize local blue collar folks in the eyes of foreigners. The writing gig is not near as glorious as it sounds; with such a relatively small pool of foreigners, this isn’t the kind of thing you’d have to interview for (I didn’t). Nor is my Chinese near the level required for this, but I can get by with a voice recorder and a little help from my teachers. I only agreed to do it because it will light an extra fire under my spoken language practice, and I’ve wanted to find out more about our neighbours since we first moved in.

I brought a plate of homemade (by Jessica) cookies to the interview, thinking it’d be nice since he was doing me a favour. Unlike last time, when no one would touch the food I brought, I knew this time I needed to basically force it on them. Him and the three or four buddies who were there at the time didn’t hesitate too much this time. What I didn’t expect was how fast it would be reciprocated. After the interview a left for 20 minutes to get Jessica some lunch (she’s sick and stayed home today). By the time I came back Mr had a handful of pickled vegetable snack packages for me. Later Mr. Sòng caught me on the way home around dinnertime and invited me up to his apartment for a chat. He wouldn’t let me leave without a loaf of bread from his bread machine and a bag of spaghetti noodles.

Tomorrow (Saturday) morning we are outta here(!) for an overnight trip with another couple to a place I can’t mention in case Zhōu Jùn‘s girlfriend is reading this, because she’s not supposed to know where we’re going some cool outdoor hotsprings. Anyway, we’re really looking forward to our first “vacation” since arriving here ten months ago. Merry Christmas to us!

2 thoughts on “Playing on thin ice, interviewing locals, gifts, and stuff”

  1. I don’t understand how all that works on the blog… I know when we changed hosting companies there was a lot of trouble making the characters and pinyin work, they had to change some setting somewhere.

    For MS Word, I think the trick is using “Arial Unicode MS,” and not any other font, and it has to be not a very old version, maybe at least 2003. That’s what I did the dog restaurant menu in. I suspect the school is using too old a version of Windows or MS Office. Their tests are hideous, plus it bugs me when they give you pinyin without the relevant hanzi. Hanzi with or without pinyin, fine. But not pinyin by itself!

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