Saturday, January 24, 2004

It's a Small World
Despite the Strawberry King's dipsomaniacal behavior, I must admit that while New Year with a Chinese family was no Christmas on Walton Mountain, much of my "Adopt a Foreign Devil" homestay contained some genuinely "aww, shucks" moments as well as one that proved that the "six degrees of separation" rule applies in China.
The latter occurred when the Qiu's pulled out some photos to show me and pointed to one in particular that showed Joanne outside Book City posing with a familiar face. It was the young Chinese author/actress/student Niuniu, whom I met and blogged about (Rocky Mountain Way, Dec. 4) after learning she'd spent several years at Denver University.
"Niuniu!" I shouted like an excited kidnapped child recognizing his long lost mother. "I know her!"
Turns out the Qius do too. When he isn't selling strawberries to finance the People's Glorious Shenzhen Cognac Museum and Repository, the Strawberry King also works with Niuniu's mother at an office that specializes in sending Chinese kids to school in Britain.
(The Twilight Zone music in my head went into overdrive several days later when I learned via e-mail from a man in L.A. named James Banquet who reads Shenzhen Zen and is coming here soon to teach that he's virtually certain that his Chinese girlfriend was one of Joanne's chaperones during her U.S. visit in 2002. Check out his blog, The Barefoot Fool at
While the Qiu's politely received my meager gifts of a Teddy bear and Finnish chocolates, I felt like someone who had thought he'd impress an advanced race of aliens with the gift of a disposable lighter ("It makes FIRE! Do you have fire?") when they gave me a red and gold embroidered padded silk Chinese jacket and an elaborate ceramic set for inks and brushes should I decide to suddenly begin studying Chinese calligraphy.
We were also tailed by a reporter/photographer for a Chinese language paper for most of the first day. That was a distinctly strange feeling - almost incestuous - at first, because I've also been assigned to write a story about my homestay for the Shenzhen Daily. A journalist writing about a journalist who is going to write about himself...
I was curious, though, to see first hand how a Chinese reporter works. Well, Simon Wei 24, whom Joanne quickly developed a crush on, spent a lot of time watching and flirting with Joanne and didn't take many notes, except for interviewing the Strawberry King at our initial meet-your-pet foreigner group banquet. He asked me only one question ("What is your view of this family?") and asked me to write my name down. But the Strawberry King and family were thrilled the next day when the paper appeared with a story and color photo of me in my new Chinese jacket with Joanne's cousin, both holding some plants with bulbous orange growths that resemble either blown up condoms or udders from lilliputian cows, depending on your viewing angle. The plants are deemed "very beautiful" here and especially lucky for students such as Joanne and her cousin, but to me they looked like something raised in a Chernobyl greenhouse.
According to Joanne I was quoted extensively and accurately in the story, though I can't vouch for it since I can't read it.
We found the orange mutant plants at a extremely crowded outdoor large flower market that was about one third plants and flowers and two thirds festival schlock, though I was ecstatic to score four Mao hanging ornaments depicting young Long March Mao on one side and genial fat old Uncle Mao on the other. Kind of like hillbilly cat Elvis and fat Vegas Elvis. Though the Qius have a Mao ornament hanging from a mirror of one of their two cars - which seemed to sometimes bob in time to the Backstreet Boys disc that Joanne continually cranked - they were mystified as to why I would want anything like that.
"Uh...they're for, um...friends in the states," I explained, feeling a little like I was caught buying porno. And they will be as soon as I can figure out a way to post them.
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