8:30 PM, Sunday night, in a dimly lit bar filled with small groups of young-adult Chinese. The air, which had previously stunk of must, was now filled with the faint odor of cigarette smoke and alcohol. The jovial bartender lays down four 百威 (Budweiser) next to the four already empty bottles at the table. His target? Four foreigners who are in attendance for the band which is hurriedly tuning their instruments.
The first song is a bit uninspired, but interesting if for no other reason than we’re at a bar in China. The second song, the singer announces, is a rendition of the Ramones’ hit 80’s song “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” Surprisingly, hours of practice by the singer engenders properly pronounced English, and the song is a great success amongst the listeners. This was my first time at a well attended bar in China, and it was certainly an exciting affair. However, it was by no means the most interesting experience of the weekend.
My mid-afternoon lounging on Saturday was interrupted by a text message from Ben asking if we had any dinner plans for the evening. His friend, Zhu Xue (Juu Shway), was interested in meeting us and treating us to dinner. Zhu Xue, Ben had told us previously, was a wood carver who had some intentions to learn English. I quickly forgot about the text message, choosing to indulge myself in a book.
At 12:00 I met with Ben to go check out the English broadcasting club of Henan University. Each week they create original radio programs to broadcast to across the campus regarding current events, literature reviews, movie reviews, and numerous other lifestyle stories. On the way Ben questioned me as to whether it was ok to have dinner with Zhu Xue– I responded with a nervous yes, worried that the dinner might be uncomfortable due to his lack of English or because I figured he would be extremely old and have little in common with us. Zhu Xue was to pick us up at 6:00 PM in what Ben described as a large SUV.
And so it came to pass that at 6:00 PM Zhu Xue pulled up to the gate directly outside of the foreign experts housing and stepped out to meet us. To my great surprise he was a young man, looking to be in his early 30s (we would later learn he is 31). Zhu Xue decided first to take us to his shop in Western Kaifeng. On the way he managed to show off his fancy sound system, as well as his hands free mobile set in his car. When we arrived he asked us to wait outside while he prepared the shop.
Having grown up beside a wood-working person my entire life, I expected there to be a myriad of small wooden trinkets and objects that were of great fascination. However, to my shock and amazement I was greeted by the sight of a great many ornate carvings, including furniture, bodhisattva statues, Buddhas, and many other objects. Zhu Xue’s shop spanned two large rooms, and carried products ranging in cost from 90元 (~$14) to a fully refinished car with carved wooden panelings that cost roughly $2,000,000. It is, of course, no stretch of the imagination to refer to Zhu Xue as Kaifeng’s most eligible bachelor.
Zhu Xue’s many talents do not end at being awesome and carving wood. Indeed, he is also an accomplished calligrapher. After giving each of us a small wooden trinket (I received a hand-carved Buddha while others received small animal carvings) he offered to paint each of us a stylized version of our favorite character. For Marija, this of course meant the painting of the phoenix character. For Josh it meant a dragon. For Marlie, a duck. For Ben, the symbol for god. And I chose the symbol for Tao (道 pronounced dao) meaning “path” or “way.” Tao is the titular word in Laozi’s Tao Te Ching (and the fundamental learning in Taoism). The picture below is the painting, and as you can see, Zhu Xue stylized the calligraphy to hold a yin yang within– symbolic of the meaning of the Tao.
All in all, we spent roughly an hour and a half in Zhu Xue’s shop before heading to the nearby Dio Cafe, a restaurant purveying Western foods. Three of the foreign teachers got a pasta dish, while another chose a Western-style pizza and I settled upon a Thai dinner set consisting of rice, lotus root, broccoli, spinach, and mushrooms. The dinner was delicious and there as no shortage of fruit, snacks, or beer. Throughout the dinner we chatted about Zhu Xue and his life in Kaifeng. He inquired about my veganism and about other aspects of our character.
At about 9:30, we decided to head back to the university as Lao Wang would be locking the gate at 10:00. As we drove, Zhu Xue offered to take us to K-TV, the Chinese karaoke shop. As almost everyone in the car was a fan of karaoke, there was no way we could turn the offer down. Zhu Xue told us he would take us to the “swankiest K-TV in Kaifeng.”… Ok, he didn’t actually say swankiest– I think he said the best or something like that, pardon my hyperbole.
Upon arriving at the K-TV it felt like I was back in Las Vegas at the Venetian. The walls were covered in neon lights, and the decor was entirely too cordial for karaoke.
As we boarded the elevator to head to our private suite, Zhu Xue eagerly asked if 40 beers would be enough. As the gates to the university close at midnight and there is no way to bargain our way out of the situation, this would have left us with 40 beers to drink in a little under 2 hours. Somehow the number was reduced to only 31 beers, and much fruit was proffered. We sang for the full two hours. Everything from “A Whole New World” to “My Girl” to “Rocky Mountain High,” and many more. At one point, Zhu Xue thought it would be hilarious to shake up two beers and spray them on us all– and he was right, it was downright ridiculous and funny.
At 11:40 we walked out of K-TV, heads held high. Packed ourselves into Zhu Xue’s SUV, and made our 12 AM curfew. All a little sick from the volume of drink (and lack of buzz) in our stomachs. Enjoy the pictures– this weekend was full of win!