Some E’erguna Stories

I’m writing this post at 7 AM, halfway through the extremely long train journey back to Beijing. At least this time we got tickets for a sleeper car, so it’s not totally uncomfortable and cramped, and I’m actually able to stretch out! Here are some highlights from the past two weeks I spent in E’erguna:

The Bathhouse

Since Alvin, AKA Chang Meng’s (pronounced chong mung) family has no running water, all showers must be taken at a local bathhouse, an ancient staple of Chinese culture. The whole experience is very interesting, and its like this: you enter the bathhouse and go up to the counter and take off your shoes, and are given a pair of shower sandals and a key on a wristband. The showers are separated by gender, so it’s off to the right side of the building to enter the male locker room. You get undressed, weigh yourself on the scale, then go take a shower in a big room filled with a bunch of individual shower stalls, which of course have no doors. At this point, you can choose to lie on a table and have an old dude in a speedo wash your whole body with a cloth, but that’s a little too weird for me, and also more money to spend (even if it only costs one US dollar, haha). Then you go to one of the sinks, where you brush your teeth and shave with the disposable toothbrushes and razors which are conveniently provided for you, along with toothpaste and shaving cream. After that, its off to go sit in the sauna for a few minutes to sweat out toxins or something– I just think it feels good. Then you rinse yourself off and re-enter the locker room, where the friendly attendant hands you a towel that is supposed to be warm, but I have never seen the towel warmer turned on. Now you can either finish up and leave, or put on the provided plush robe and shorts (which are extremely comfortable), and continue on to the second floor. The second floor offers a multitude of services… you can purchase beverages, take a nap in these big cozy recliners, watch news in said recliners, have a number of traditional Chinese medicine things performed on you (acupuncture, fire-cups, etc.), or even, gasp, hire a prostitute. All in all, I love going to the bathhouse; it’s like a complete spa experience and I come out feeling totally and thoroughly cleansed for only ¥6 ($1). The public nudity thing took a little getting used to, but I feel that I’m coming along well with adapting to Chinese culture and customs.

The Wedding

I got to attend my second-ever Chinese wedding here in E’erguna; Alvin told me the weddings up here are totally different, but it was actually almost exactly the same as the one I went to in Jiujiang over the summer: tons of great food, lots of singing, drinking, merry-making… very similar to a Western style wedding. When the announcer/DJ found out that there was an American in the audience, he called me up on stage and gave me a little mini-interview in Chinese… my answers got lots of laughs from the audience (I’m guessing because of my accent; I didn’t say anything other than some basic information about myself and “I love China!”). The bride and groom walked down the aisle to the song “Chariots of Fire”, which had me trying not to laugh, due to how cliched that song seems from my perspective.

The Debate

Alvin, his parents, and I were invited to have dinner at the apartment of his father’s boss and family a few nights ago. By E’erguna standards, they were really wealthy: they lived in an apartment, for one. Most people in E’erguna live in little houses, which strangely are less expensive than living in an apartment. They also had running water, and gasp!, an actual sit down toilet. You better believe I seized the opportunity to use a toilet that wasn’t a smelly hole outdoors or an also-smelly hole indoors! After the delicious meal, we were sitting around shooting the breeze, when Alvin mentioned to the man of the house, who is a high level government worker, that I believed Taiwan is it’s own sovereign nation. What followed was a very cordial and friendly debate on the nation-status of both Taiwan and Tibet. He maintained that they are part of China, while I was arguing that Taiwan is it’s own country and that while China controls Tibet, it should be it’s own country. I was a little bit scared that I was having this conversation with a government employee, considering the Communist Party’s position on these matters, but at no point were there any negative feelings between us. (I’m not worried about posting this from Chinese internet because I’m connecting through a VPN; I can also view youtube and facebook and other sites that have been blocked by their government– including this one.) Neither of us changed the other’s mind, but I feel like this was a very good experience to have regardless.

TV Tower Hill

Chang Meng, his cousin Wu Yang and I spent an afternoon one day going to the top of a big hill overlooking the city. It was freezing cold and very windy, but I got a lot of beautiful photos of the city and the wide open grassland, looking out into Russia. The three of us also had a lot of fun just taking goofy photos of ourselves and messing around. Even though Wu Yang only speaks like 20 words of English, we became pretty good friends on this trip. Whenever we went shopping, she would come with us, and we often had lunch at she & her parents’ home; I even became the honorary “American Uncle” to her year old son An Zi Bang.

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Well, I’m back in Beijing, and I just moved into my new apartment. I’ll make a post about it within the next couple days.