the first sunny day of spring
- Today was the first sunny day of spring here in Shenyang, China, so
I penned this poem based on the color of clothes Chinese people (men
and women, mostly women) were wearing:
yellow = how do you know it's spring?
hot pink = i know (it's the color of the year)
red = i know, but
green = i'm scared that i know
brown = i know
purple = i know
blue = i know, too
black = i know, but i ignore
= ok, ok, i don't know
= what was the question?
= i know
= that i don't know that
white = i don't care. i know
gray = huh?
orange = i want to play, too!
Today was a weird day that almost ended with me getting mugged in my
apartment. I went shopping in the afternoon and in the evening, I
watched and listened to the dancers. I'm not sure what else to call
them. In most public squares in China, a bunch of Chinese people
(usually older, average age 40's) get together, play music, and
dance. The basic instrument is some kind of a horn with two lines of
people, which are headed by four people, a young couple (30's) and
an older couple (50's).
Make sense? There's a woman, a man (30's), a woman, a man (50's) at
the front of a line of about 50 Chinese people. I'm not sure how it
starts, but imagine the line breaking in two (usually the young
woman dances with the young man, but sometimes it switches and she
dances with the older man) and they dance in a space about a third
the size of a football field.
But it's not like ballroom dancing. The two lines of people dance
back and forth, usually marching down the field in one direction,
side-by-side, two lines down the middle, and then on the way back,
in some kind of unusual dance, in which one line mimics the other.
What they do isn't special, lift an arm, kick a leg, but it ripples
through both lines of dancers. Where does it start? Who leads? Well,
the lead changes. Sometimes the musicians lead, usually the youngest
woman leads, sometimes the older woman, and occassionally, but
infrequently, one of the two men.
At this particular square, Daguan, there were two groups of dancers.
Tents had been set up in the square for some kind of arts and
crafts, so the second group was pushed off even further to the side
than the main group. I had been at Daguan a week prior and liked the
main group better because in addition to a horn, they also had a
huge drum, two small drums, and a couple sets of cymbals. And I like
But drummers are weird people and when I watched the dancers the
first time, the main drummer kinda went crazy when he saw me.
Actually, another drummer caused the problem cuz when he saw me, he
got scared and he locked in on a rhythm that he couldn't stop.
Imagine a drummer humming a toothpaste jingle. It was stuck in his
head, the same eight beats, he kept repeating, over and over, and...
The main drummer jumped in and tried, without stopping, to find a
new beat. Three or four other drummers tried the same, but they were
stuck like deer in headlights. The main drummer tried the two small
drums, the large drum, exhorting/coaching/instructing the person
playing the small drums, the person playing the cymbals. He finally
took over the cymbals.
And broke one.
I don't know if you've ever played with cymbals, but these things
are metal. They don't break easily.
This one did.
But the band played on, singing the toothpaste jingle for about an
While shopping in the stores next to Daguan today, I saw the main
drummer walk by. I recognized him and said ni hao (hello). He and
his wife invited me to come and watch again.
Last week, I came real close and wasn't more than 10 feet from the
band. This time, I decided to stand back. Just listen and watch from
about 50 feet back.
It was quite a show.
I'm not sure if it was because of the sunny day or what, but this
time, there were about 10 Chinese decked out in beautiful, colorful
costumes. The first four leaders, of course, but, interestingly, the
other six were dispersed through the lines.
Have you ever played the gossip game? One person tells a person
something who tells the next person what they heard. Rarely does the
last person hear anything remotely similar to what the first person
These dances, which occur every evening in every square in every
city in China, near as I can tell, operate the same way. One person
does something and everybody follows. But most people are lazy and
aren't always paying attention and lots of people, let's face, ain't
got no rhythm.
So these ten Chinese decked out were clearly professionals, but
rather than shove them all at the beginning, leaving the uneducated
and stupid all alone, they spaced them out. People in the back half
of the line, for instance, couldn't see the four leaders at the
front of the line, but they could see one of the "professionals"
near them. And they could follow them.
As a white guy, I stand out. People look at me and then look where
What do I look at? I look at stories.
Because of people lined up behind the band watching, I could only
see about two-thirds of the dancing field, so one of my favorite
stories was when the young woman decided to play coy down at the
hidden end. I don't know what she did, but I saw the other 46
people, pulling back towards the sides and I expected the young
woman to come walking down the middle by herself as if she were a
Instead, the four people emerged in a row, creating four lines of
people, each headed by the young couple and the older couple.
Another good story was when a young Chinese girl (not a dancer)
stood directly in my line of sight. Chinese women like to play the
game of chicken with men and see who looks away first. Sometimes I
look away, sometimes I don't. This time, I decided not to look away
even though her boyfriend clearly realized what was happening. (Her
She got scared and pulled her boyfriend in front of her. He hadn't
seen me, but he had seen her looking at me. If he had kept staring
at her and not looked back, all would've been fine as she would've
eventually given up. But, he looked. And he was angry at himself for
looking. And angry at his girlfriend.
And the two danced.
First, she appeared apologetic, lavishing attention on him. And she
ran in a circle around him. Strange, but true. But he was still
angry and he kicked at her head. (This *is* China. Even though most
Chinese don't know martial arts, they see it in their tv and movies
all the time.) I don't know if he accidentally tapped her head or if
he just felt bad for striking back at her, but then he got
apologetic. And he ran in a circle around her.
I'm not making this up.
I was trying to be polite and not watch them too closely, but, damn,
when a boy runs in circles around a girl, three or four times, it's
kinda hard to look away.
And, yes, I could tell he felt like an idiot, so there was only one
Be a bigger idiot.
He ran about 20 feet and did a somersault.
Everything in his pockets fell out.
He felt pretty damn stupid.
The girl laughed, but she seemed to know he was doing it for her.
She rushed to help him and then... I dunno. I think I saw her
starting to do a somersault herself, but I drifted on to another
I looked over at the second group and they were duplicating that
move where the last 46 people (maybe 30 in their case) pull back and
the Princess, Prince, Queen, and King all strut down the field. I
looked back at the main group, and they were doing the same thing.
For reasons I can't possibly explain, I decided to stick to watching
with the first group and damned if the young princess didn't appear
a few seconds later with a huge grin on her face as if she knew she
(and her group) had won (my attention).
I'm currently reading Huckleberry Finn and I'm in the middle of the
fight between the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons, Twain's version of
the Hatfields & McCoys, the Capulets and Montegues.
A dog appeared, not more than five feet from me, sticking his ass
towards me. If I didn't know better, I'd claim that he had come from
the losing camp and was pissed at me for not choosing to watch them.
Which is exactly what he did. I waited, patiently, for the dog to
retreat back to his camp, but he got scared and started trotting in
circles, his head down as low to the ground as could be.
I waited and waited, but I was kinda pissed at him for sticking his
ass at me and peeing in front of me on space that was clearly closer
to the main group than his group. So I made a move toward him, to
scare him back to his side, but he was clearly lost.
He ran off in the opposite direction, away from his family.
I looked up and saw 4 or 5 guys lurch forward, adding to the rear of
a crowd behind the band. They seemed to be Losers.
For reasons I can't possibly explain, 2 of the Losers decided to
walk onto the dancing field. This, in itself, is not that unusual.
Last week, I had noticed people walking through the dance field,
possibly inconvenienced by the arts and crafts tents and not willing
to be inconvenced any more by crazy dancers. But, now, things were
A few minutes later, the Losers gave up, stopped their music and
their dancing. I kept watching the main group, but they seemed to be
surprised at the early ending. They tried to keep it up, but chaos
started to dribble in and five minutes later, they gave up, with the
older man, the King of the Winners, looking back toward the band
area as if a fight were brewing.
I took off, thinking my "fight" with the dog had knocked over a
Oh, I forgot to mention that on my way to Daguan Square, earlier in
the evening, another fight was brewing. A crowd of perhaps 100
Chinese people had gather around to watch. I tried not to look at
the story, but I did see one young boy, maybe 20 or so, obviously
poor, being "pulled" back by 4 or 5 older women. In the other
corner, I noticed a young beautiful Chinese woman decked out in hot
But I only mention this to suggest that the air was taught with
fighting, I suspect between the Winners who are enjoying China's
rapid economic growth and the Losers who aren't. This young
beautiful Chinese woman probably flashed a smile at the poor boy or
perhaps pushed her boyfriend into his path to start the fight. (Her
Anyway, I left Daguan Square and headed home, about a 20 minute
walk. I could tell things were dangerous, so I stepped into
McDonald's on the way home to get a take-home and eat a home-safe-
I walked in to Mickey D's and my heart was pounding. There was a
young couple at the counter and I stood about 3 - 4 feet back,
directly behind the woman. I thought that might be a bit rude, so I
turned to the left, ever so slightly, but, from the guy's
perspective, being to the right of the girl, and having turned
around to look at me (if only boyfriends wouldn't look), it probably
looked like now I was shoving my dick up his girl's ass.
I'm not making this up nor am I needless adding drama. I'm just
telling you like it is. And I wasn't the only one who could sense
the tension. The cashier motioned me to come around and give her my
order. But she was flustered and another cashier, to my left,
stepped in to help. This caused a little dancing between the couple
as, I suspect, the girl was dying to see who the fuck was behind her
and why this mystery person was making her boyfriend so agitated.
I did my best to ignore it, but as I saw the couple drift behind me,
I could see the boyfriend agitate angrily towards his girlfriend.
I'm not sure, but I don't think they got their dinner.
I got my burgers and kept walking home.
I buy cigarettes from four or five different stores in my
neighborhood, so I stopped by one of them, a small store with not
more than 3 cubic feet of standing space. I opened the door and
noticed another customer yelling at the merchant's cousin. Another
door was open and in the living room, the merchant and probably a
relative stood up and came into the "store."
I closed the door, bemoaned the dominoes falling down, and went to
another store to buy my cigarettes. This merchant is kinda friendly
with me, but there were two other guys in the store and they seemed
to be talking conspiratorially. The merchant hurriedly gave me my
cigarettes and I headed home. (I might be adding it on here, but I
I live on the second floor and as I entered my building, I passed
some guy in the dark. As I entered the building, I heard him say
something. He was far enough behind me that he wasn't talking to me
and I had an image of him coming up behind me and shoving me into my
apartment as I opened my front door.
In Chinese buildings, the lights on each floor go on when they hear
noise. There's no light on the first floor, so I entered the
building in darkness. Fortunately, when I get to the first landing,
I can make a noise there and the light on the second floor will
On the last step of the first flight of stairs, I stomped my foot
down to make some noise. Not enough, though, and the light didn't
come on. Wait, yes it did, but it was too late and I was already in
the process of stomping two or three more times.
I got to my door, put the key in, and turned back to look at the guy
coming up. He had a cane, but he wasn't walking with a limp. And
there was a guy behind him with a bag. The guy looked at me, but I
had called his bluff. He kept trooping up the stairs to the third
floor, the second guy meekly following him. I waited a second and
looked again as the second started up the next flight of stairs. He
looked at me and I looked at him.
Then I turned, opened my door, and entered my home-safe-home.
Ironically, I missed what I think was the best story of the first
sunny day of spring in Shenyang, China: the two Losers explaining
that they had walked on to the Winner's dance space because a lao
wai (foreigner) had scared off their dog.