China, May 1, 2000
Its time to pull out that Bowling League shirt!
Its May Day! Yes, like Russia and most of Europe, China
celebrates the first of May as an official end of winter and beginning of
summer, though they call it Labor Day here. And like Russia, the country
is taking the whole week off to travel around though unlike Russia, the
Chinese are not going to Turkey. Its not just that Thailand and South
Korea are closer and more visa-friendly for Chinese, these Middle Kingdom
kids like to stick a bit closer to home.
Two weeks ago, Jingmei and I started talking about where we wanted to go. I was happy with Dalian, an old Russian port enclave north of here, but the possibility of cold weather killed that idea. Then she proposed we go to Qingdao, an old German beach resort town a few hours away. Unfortunately, when she learned the road to Qingdao was filled with corrupt cops just waiting for cars with Beijing license plates to stop for 'fines,' that idea was tossed.
Finally, on Thursday, she made up her mind. We would go to Shanghai, where her brother lived, to spend the week parting like mad. Great idea, bad timing. In a country of 1.4 billion, and finite train seats, do you think that there was a single ticket left to Shanghai at the beginning of a national spring holiday? Ha! Actually we did find two hard-seat tickets there, but thankfully for my ass and lower back, her brother had already paid for his plane tickets to Beijing.
So here we are, looking at an empty week with no work calling for Jingmei and me totally ready to break my cabin fever with a week outside the house. Its time to mingle with our 12 million Beijing neighbors!
Okay, we didn't mingle with all of 'em, only a few thousand, and then we escaped the masses by bowling. Yes, bowling. I know that its an odd sport in the USA with people either loving it or wondering how anyone could care about a carpal tunnel syndrome inducing plastic-coated ball. Personally, I've never really liked bowling all that much. I'm okay at it, scoring around 150 when I play once every few years.
I remember a job interview I went on once in Florida, where, when asked what sports I enjoyed, I rhapsodized lovingly about surfing and total trashed bowling. Laughing at the overweight Al Bundy's of the sport, my half-hour soliloquy had my interviewer and potential boss smiling as he told me he was Midwest Bowling Champion for several years in the early '80's.
I quickly recovered by asking him to pass the salt for my foot didn't taste so good rammed in my mouth. Oh, and yes, I was still offered the job, though I turned it down. I could see years of forced bowling in my future there.
In my future here, I can see just as much bowling, unfortunately, for the Chinese seem to be taking a serious liking to the sport. There are bowling alleys everywhere, including one across the street from our apartment. Usually sporting modern computerized scoring systems, Western sized shoes (important for big feet Westerners), and plenty of house balls, they are a delight to be in on the bad smog days, though they are missing the all-important snack bar.
They are also missing the bowling leagues so favored by that potential boss, which may be the reason that my 150ish scores have won every game I've played here. Chinese ladies, unaccustomed to the sport, are particularly bad. Many balls are loudly dropped on the alley and once I even saw a throw so poor, the ball crossed the lane divider! I bet that will be on the newest TV show here: China's Funniest Home Videos. Sound familiar? So does the sound of yet another tin-pin strike!