Friday, February 1, 2008

Ya Nyet Ruskie


I've just gotten back from Dongning (东宁), a quaint little town on the Chinese-Russian border, where I spent a pleasurable ten days taking hot baths, eating incomparably delicious dumplings, being cold, and loving and fighting with my Ruskie princess.

Interesting place, really. The signs are all in Cyrillic, you can buy real vodka at the corner store, and the locals speak a decent mouthful of Russian. Shopping at the trendy boutiques my girl likes to frequent daily, the Chinese salesclerk would often welcome us in Russian. The below exchange came to be fairly typical:

Clerk: купить много одежды!
Me: 什么? (what?)
Clerk: купить много одежды
Me: 我不懂 (I don't understand)
Clerk: (repeats carefully, thinking they had mispronounced something) купить... много... одежды
Me: 我不是俄国人 (I'm not Russian)
Clerk: 要骗我干吗! ( (You're not fooling nobody, Ruskie)

Even after that, a lot of them simply refused to believe me-- it seemed they thought I was a Russian student pretending I couldn't speak Russian in order to practice my Mandarin, or something silly like that. It wasn't until I'd speak English that they would reluctantly admit I might be American. Apparently, this area gets tens of thousands of Russian visitors every year, and virtually zero Westerners.

For all that, I must say I am becoming more and more fascinated by Russians and Russian culture. When my girl's parents hopped over the border for a night, we had dinner with them and a mix of Russian and Russian-speaking Chinese friends. Though I could only communicate with them via translators, I found Momma and Poppa to be just like their daughter-- intensely thoughtful, caring, competitive, funny, and outrageous.

The key word there is actually "intense." I'm discovering the truth so many have already noted, that Russians are the most intense, passionate, laugh-and-cry, love-and-hate, energy-and-emotion-filled people on earth, a fact I'm learning first-hand as my relationship develops with the girl I've pet-named "my beautiful little Chernobyl."

Dating a Russian is, in some ways, like dating all of Russia. Her country occupies a real space in her heart, and fighting for her affections means making elbow room next to the world's largest land mass. Making an off-handly positive comment about Estonia leads to a massive and emotional argument-- don't even mention Kazakhstan or Ukraine. A discussion about chess ends in clenched fists of victory and eyes teary with pride. Various touch-sensitive words-- Pushkin, rouble, Sputnik, lumber-- will inevitably provoke a dramatic and unpredictable reaction... my fear of mentioning such topics is only barely outmatched by my morbid curiosity and the titillating thrill of danger.

Anyway, I'm back in Dalian now, cold and alone and ready to get back to work on my article on Chinese teachers trying to go to America.
Hope to update regularly!


La Mama said...

It's good to have you back! You make me laugh -- and you're a good writer.

Brendan said...

Funny -- I had a lot of similar experiences (that is, with people not believing I wasn't Russian, not with dating girls filled with unstable cesium-137) when I lived up in Harbin. Understandable enough, I suppose, given that the town was basically founded by Russians, but still -- it's not like I had a Russian accent in Chinese or anything.

(The Russian accent in Chinese, incidentally, is easy to fake -- take a Russian accent in English, transpose into Chinese -- and is instant yuks at parties. It also helps fool people into thinking that your Chinese is better than it actually is, or at least it always has in my case. Try it!)

赵晨威 said...
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