Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Beans in the Plastic Bubble

I've been saving this post for a few weeks, slowly figuring out in my head what to write. It's that awesome, so I hope I can do it justice.

Basically, about a month ago, M and I were dorking around on Facebook when she spotted some strange video on one of our Chinese friend's wall. She had filmed someone inside of a large plastic bubble rolling around on top of a large kiddie pool. Using her razor-sharp detective skills, M realized where the pool was: the U Center mall right in Wudaokou. We both looked at each other and yelled out, "We have to try this!" For us, it was just another one of those China experiences that you accumulate.

I was really worried that the event would close up shop, so I kept going by the U Center to find out when I could seal myself into one of these floating hamster balls. The security guards and cleaning ladies told me that it was only open from 4-7. Why someone would take the time to blow up a giant kiddie pool but only have it open three hours a day is beyond me...

So a couple Fridays ago, I had the day off, and I told myself: "The one thing I have to do today in order to call my day a success is get in that plastic bubble." I waited around all morning and afternoon, until around four, my friend Jeremy and I biked over to the U Center (stopping by Mcdonalds on the way to have a couple chicken wings and a coke). We could see the event organizers getting set-up, but they hadn't gotten started yet. We ran up to get in line, but they told us they were still waiting for some power and wouldn't start until 4:30. At which point, I made one of the more stupid decisions of my adult life. Right in front of the U Center, there was a little shack and patio with beer on tap, so Jeremy and I decided to have a beer while we waited for the bubbles to open. It ended up being a really crappy beer that didn't sit well, especially since I chugged it in anticipation of climbing in that crazy ball. Finally, a little after 5, they had all the extension cords they needed to pump up these balls and get started. By this time, I was experiencing a weird mixture of hype and disappointment. Weird, I know, I'm not really sure how it happens.

I climbed in first, and sat roasting in this plastic ball while 5 Chinese men tried to figure out how to pump it and then zip it really quickly before it deflated some. I'm pretty sure it took a good 10-15 minutes for them to figure it out. Right around then, M ran up and snapped a picture of me pretending to be an American (err Chinese?) Gladiator.

Finally, the ball was pumped and zipped, and they pushed me on my merry way. I wandered away to get my bearings while Jeremy was zipped into his ball. A crowd of Chinese people had gathered to watch and document the craziness. A number of them began picking up the floating plastic fruit that was bobbing in the pool and flinging them at my bubble, so as I walked around the pool, I kept hearing these echoing Zinging noises as lemons and pears ricocheted off my plastic force-field.

The water wasn't actually that deep, so my feet would kind of touch the ground, which struck me as a little dangerous, since if I fell on my head, it would pretty much just smack the concrete, slightly protected by a couple layers of plastic. But it wouldn't be a Chinese Bubble Party without a little bit of head-trauma risk, now would it? I got up the courage to try some acrobatics, and promptly ate it:

Once Jeremy was ready, I attacked him. Apparently, bubble dueling is a really interesting sport. I floated my way over to his bubble, put my hands against the wall of mine and then pushed them down really hard, making both our bubbles spin. I knocked him over a few times since he hadn't quite figured out how to keep his balance, but then he quickly learned and knocked me over quite a bit.

Eventually, M got suited up in her bubble, and the three of us spent a few minutes attacking each other.

After a particularly strenuous burst of energy, I was knocked over and found myself lying at the bottom of the bubble gasping for air. Whether it was the heat, the exertion, or the fact that I'd probably converted most of the available oxygen in my bubble into carbon-dioxide, I could only gasp little shallow breaths of air. Dizzy and disoriented, I fumbled my way over to the corner and the security guards unzipped the bubble and let me out. I stumbled around on dry land for a couple minutes while M and Jeremy finished up. The whole time, that stupid line from the Matrix kept running through my head: "He's gonna pop!" (Freakin' Cypher).

Here's what I've been trying to figure out how to write. How can I describe to you how utterly foreign and disorienting being in that ball was? I was simultaenously experiencing vertigo, seasickness, asphyxiation, dizziness, heat stroke, over-exertion, dehydration, and mild tipsiness. It was a pretty warm summer day, so the inside of the ball was really hot (and echo-y), and since the ball was always moving, we were basically constantly running in order to stay up. So I came out of the ball really really nauseous. I walked around for a bit, but was too dizzy to walk straight, so I ended up sitting down to try and cool off. M and J were out of their bubbles and came over to see how I was doing. I think because I'd been in their the longest, I was the most oxygen deprived out of the three of us. I started to feel better, so we headed over to the grocery store to pick up some stuff for dinner, but every few minutes I'd get hit with another wave of nausea and have to sit down for a bit. M ended up doing all the shopping while I waited for her outside. On the way out, I felt really sick again, so I decided I'd just go to the bathroom and vomit so I didn't have to worry about it. I went into the bathroom and puked a little bit, while the cleaning dude watched in dismay. It wasn't that much, but I felt tons better.

Anyway, later when I had to tell my friends the story, they asked me if I'd do it again. And the answer is a resounding "Yes!" Although next time without the beer, or chicken wings, or coke.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Rabbit's Revenge

A few months ago, M and I dropped in on a dinner with some of her Michigan classmates, but we didn't get a chance to eat, since we were eating with other friends after. But the food they ordered looked really delicious, so when our friend Steven came through town on his way back to the states, we thought we'd take him back to this Sichuan restaurant for his Last Supper in China.

And, since it was his last supper, we decided to try something crazy. We flipped through the menu looking for crazy things, finally deciding on Goat tripe. But alas, they were sold out (?!). So we settled on Spicy Fried Rabbit's Legs. I know rabbit isn't a China-only food, since most of us grew up reading about people eating rabbit on a spit in old-time England and America, but it was the weirdest thing on the menu that we actually wanted to eat (or wasn't prohibitively expensive).

When the dish came, I had us all pick a piece, name it after a famous rabbit, and then all take a bite together. After which, we all promptly coughed from the painfully spicy peppers, since, as most of you know, Sichuan food is some of the spiciest food in China. Over the course of the meal, we ate Roger, Peter, Buster, Bugs, Babs, and the rabbits from Watership Down whose names I couldn't remember.

Unfortunately, I have a suspicion that naming the rabbit legs probably put is in the negative with the karma department because the next day, the three of us were all feeling the effects of "Rabbit's Revenge". Spicy in, spicy out. Oh well, I still don't regret it.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

From the Outside

Well, I'll just go ahead and say it: Happy Fourth of July. Ours is already over, but yours should just be beginning (not that I expect our American readers to just instantly read this once I post it).

M and I were reflecting on how different our last July 4th was. Last year, the rain seeding reached a peak on the Fourth, resulting in one of the worst rains we've ever been caught out in. After retreating back to our dorms, we decided to brave the rain with our friend to meet up with some of her friends, eventually ending up in a small Spanish-style bar in a hipsterized hutong, watching newfound acquaintances pound a couple racks of home-brewed tequila shots.

We weren't planning on doing anything too special this year, as I had to work and M and I both had some volunteering to do. However, somehow by accident, I bought mostly American today: 7-11 and Mcdonald's for breakfast and lunch.

So after I got off work, I kind of kept the streak going by heading to Lush (24 hour pancakes, burgers, beer, hookahs, you name it. It's like an always open ex-pat homesick remedy) for their discounted burgers. Plus, I'd heard through the grapevine that a couple of our friends were going to be playing some music, so we decided to stick around and check it out. Although the patriotism in the bar was often drunkenly over the top (three guys, arms linked, free hands raising beers toward the American flag, slurring the words to American Pie), it was surprisingly cheering. Despite all the crap She gets, America's a great place to have been born and raised. These days it just isn't that cool to be American, China not being an exception, so taking a day out for Freedom was refreshing. Especially when it involves rowdy singalongs of heartland favorites: the Star Spangled Banner, Sweet Home Alabama, American Pie, etc. Jason and Kanene are freaking rockstars.

But my ultimate favorite part? Marissa's awe-inspiring dramatic performance of the Presidential speech from Independence Day. Epictacular. Really makes me want to kick some alien butt.