FIFA, Finals, and the Fourth of July

Me on an Elephant!I’ve lagged in my blogging again, this time due to finals and the end of school. Mixed in with all the wonderful Chinese exams (my fave!) were the end-to-end World Cup parties at every single bar in the university district, and the world’s favorite birthday party, America’s!

Backing up a bit, since I haven’t been keeping things up-to-date . . . my aunt and uncle from Sacramento came to visit for a week, and we did all manner of see-the-city things, including the Bamboo Temple, the king of farmer’s markets, and the silly billy “Kunming Ethnic Village.” It’s a large park with all kinds of little constructed “villages” representing the different Yunnanese ethnic minorities (e.g. Tibetan, Hani, Hmong) where you can walk around and pay to get your picture taking in ornate minority costumes. The premise is fairly tedious, but the park ended up having some major highlights: 1) I got to sit on an elephant 2) a Hani dude played me the CCTV weather report theme song on a leaf 3) we happened across a free-with-admission song and dance show that was practically Vegas-quality (there were peacocks and a firebreather!) 4) I learned that goats can climb trees if Baozithey really want those leaves. Over the next few weeks I will be traveling again with my mom to many of the same sites I visited with my aunt and uncle, so I’ll write about them more then so as to not repeat myself.

Another thing I did with them while they were in town was to bring them breakfast most mornings on my way to school, the standard Kunming on-the-go breakfast of little filled steamed buns (baozi) and warm soy milk. Recently when walking down the street sipping a slightly sweet soy milk, I noticed how the overcast sky and unseasonably cool temperature of the day reminded me of Seattle. I don’t even usually drink steamed soy milk, but the flavor totally brought me back. I’m starting to have some real pangs of homesickness, beyond missing individual friends and family.

It has helped that lately there’s been a lot of gathering of the American types for things like the World Cup, and a very experimental cookout in honor of 234 years of America. Some of them even liked soccer for real, and weren’t pretending! None, however, would condescend to call it “football.” Okay, sometimes “futbol.” We all pretended to like Budweiser, or at least drank enough of it to keep our favorite bar, Chapter One’s, crazy World Cup hours profitable. You know time zones? Well, the majority of the games we watched were at 2:30 a.m. I did sort of feel like a pompous American imperialist, all pleased with the successes of players I’d never heard of before in my life, while I think many of the other foreigners around (and by the way, there are like, a really bafflingly large number of Ghanaians in Kunming, just considering the relative population of the country) were more invested in their teams and players in a long-term sense. But all in all, the camaraderie among all foreigners was good during the games. And China’s team sucks!

So yes, there were a great many parties at places like Chapter One or a place (really) called Hump Bar (with a surprisingly stringent code of conduct; consult figure at right), and a lot of staying up very unreasonably late, all during preparation for finals at school. The exams themselves were incidental. I did slightly better than on midterms, which was to be expected. Mangosteens went out of season and came back Team Americain again. School has ended for the summer, and most of the international grab bag that were my classmates have gone home.

The Fourth of July was an exercise in “cooking with Chinese circumstances,” a game I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at. You have to deal with a limited–or just skewed–availability of ingredients, and also equipment. I have almost perfected a recipe for baked beans that uses red kidney beans, chopped onions and jalapeno peppers, and, in the absence of molasses and tomato paste, a sauce called “tomato sour hot pepper sauce” that is apparently supposed to be used as the base for a hot and sour fish soup, in which I dissolve ingots of dark brown sugar. The hamburgers were great. The steaks were . . . not so much steaks. One thing about Chinese food is, it’s hard to find large, solid cuts of meat that are suitable to be eaten as such. And good luck finding a proper broiler setting to cook it, much less a proper grill.

If the food wasn’t good, it was hard to tell. We were also drinking bojitos (bourbon mojitos, don’t you know) and Budweiser. Kunming at YES. AMERICA.least does not lack for limes, mint, and cheap imported lagers to compete with the cheap domestic lagers. I think the Jim Beam is pretty reasonably priced as well.

Between belting the U.S. national anthem while watching late-night soccer matches and searching iTunes as a group for over-the-top patriotic songs–the kind you take with not only a grain of salt, but also maybe a squeeze of lime and a shot of tequila (shoutout to Mexico!)–I think I discovered it can sometimes be a lot of fun to bask in the Americanness of being an American abroad.

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