Friday dawned in a haze faster than it could seem possible. Four hours of classes swirled by in a whirl. And at 12, freedom struck. Could it really be possible? Again, it has been one of those weeks that flew by so quickly that I am left wondering if a workweek is now comprised of 3 days than 5! Lunch was at the usual Han Niu La Mien restaurant – quick translation – Spicy Beef Noodles. Except that we have it without the beef! On most days that is. Occasionally, despite the most stringent instructions, pieces of beef can be found floating in the broth. And usually, more often, than not it is yours truly, the Tipsy Traveler who is at the receiving end. Today again, swimming in my noodles were delectable pieces of a dead cow (non-vegetarians, please excuse the harsh vocabulary). Birdie gestured to the restaurant lady and the offending bowl was quickly removed to be replaced equally quickly minus the dead cow. Vegetarianism in China is often fraught with such dangers – but it does make each meal such an adventure, doesn’t it?
More adventure was to follow. The Tipsy Traveler has been low on confidence lately. Don’t ask why – her answer is likely to be more complicated than the reason! So her solution? Get a new hairstyle! And no better place than the strangely-named “Sculpting.Org.” So along with Birdie’s student, Lynn as the translator, we cycled our way across where resides the master hairstylist we simply call the GENIUS. Turn your hair over to his hands and you will not dare question the tag of genius. If anything, you will be searching for a better. Genius was also the person responsible for transforming our gawky Birdie (she is gonna kill me when she reads this!) into a woman of the world with wild mop of unruly hair magically subdued into wavy silence. I have hair that is as limp as a noodle and attracts oil as much as flies to dirt. “Give me some volume. Give me some bounce,” I plead to Genius. Lynn obligingly translates and Genius has a stroke of brilliant lightning. Before I know it, I am hurdled into a torturous 3 hour mini-perming session. For all of you who were in love with my straight locks, not to worry -I haven’t turned into an African bimbo. The perm created some wavy textures underneath so that my cabbage-like hair now sprints around like a butterfly high on cocaine. Sitting inside a claustrophobic electronic turban brought back the first headache I have had in months but oh, it was worth it! One hour later, Genius has given me the haircut of my life, and I am simply stunned. He is a scissor man I would love to wrap up and transport back to India – haircuts like this are out of the ordinary. The 3 hours also resulted in among the most interesting conversations I have had with a Chinese student. Lynn and I spoke about families and friends, of anger and patience, of choices and dreams – and even a suicide in the college last year when her roommate had flung herself down from the 6th floor. Indian culture and Chinese culture? Somewhere beneath we all just love, live, cry, laugh and die just the same.
Extraordinary was also the experience that was to follow. Lynn took us to a new Xinjiang restaurant to satisfy Birdie’s ardent desire for that remote province. This was a place that we had seen many a times before but had never thought of entering thinking the price might be too high. Lynn works like a dream – she runs inside and comes outside to tell us that the restaurant can offer a Xinjiang-special noodles for 8 Yuan with NO MEAT. That was the clincher. And immediately regretted that we hadn’t been there earlier. Spotless clean interiors. Bright lights. White tables and chairs. A seat by the window. Waitresses in Xinjiang costumes that looked almost straight out of Rajasthan. An inky blue sky. Surrealism in the air. And tall glasses of green tea enough to drive me drunk. Oh! Did I forget to mention that the food was just among the best I have ever had in China?
Some days just get better with time. The attendants at the door wearing dazzling blue and red gowns promise to dance. And dance they did. To the tunes of the same song that I heard at the college dance on Tuesday. The song reverberated in my head…the movements of the dancers swirling in tune – for an instant it seemed like a piece of India. And for an hour, I felt I was living in another world. But then, today didn’t seem like the same world of yesterday. Perhaps…it was never meant to be.