Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Free Saturday

Hi again, and thanks to everyone who's commented on my writings so far - it helps me feel more connected to home to share some of my experiences.

A few months ago, one of my professors offered the following question as an icebreaker: "What would you do with a free Saturday?" Addressed to a room full of MBA students most of whom had families and all of whom had full time jobs, this question went over like the proverbial lead balloon.

And yet, today it happened! Sure, I was in Lianyungang, in the Jiangsu province of China. Sure I don't speak a lick of Mandarin (well I can say "hello" and "thank you" I suppose). But still, it was
Saturday. And with work done for the week, class work already prepped, and house/yardwork a geographical impossibility, I was Free!

As I ate breakfast, I pondered my choices. As best I could tell, my options were:

1. mope around the hotel all day, watching movies on the edited-for-Asia version of HBO and catching up on world cup highlights.

2. Do something culturally enriching. Visit a museum, or just find out more about why Lianyungang is here at all and what historical intrigue it might be able to offer.

3. Find out if there was a golf course around, and try to play it. Those of you who know me well have no doubt which option prevailed.

At that point, since I've been blogging quite a bit (for me), I started framing the "golf" blog in my mind. I'd find some podunk little course, probably all 80 yard par 3s with the flag in the middle
of the fairway, and we'd all have a gentle laugh at earnest efforts of this Chinese semi-backwater city's attempts to emulate western luxury. Things started out according to plan, as the concierge seemed to never have heard of golf before, and it took a conference of about 5 people to finally write an address down on a card for me to hand to a taxi driver. The hotel employee's broken English comment as I left - "I very sorry. Golf new."

So imagine my surprise when I showed up and saw a championship level golf course 15 minutes outside of downtown.

The cab dropped me off at what I later figured out was the driving range and not the clubhouse, which led to mass confusion and another large huddle, with maybe seven people were involved in trying to figure out what I was there for. I'm getting pretty good at causing these conferences. Every once in a while they would come to a consensus and try something. They tried to give me range balls. They tried to give me a golf lesson. A little girl said "yellow" to me about a dozen times before I figured out enough to say "hello" back and ask her name. Finally, after I had pantomimed about 3 holes worth of golf swings, and pointed excitedly to the course itself, then
dragged some of the clubs available for rent toward a golf cart, we came to an understanding. Not only am I getting good at causing a scene I also am developing a knack for amusing these people with my "large clumsy smiling white guy" routine.

And so, the golf blog I had already composed in my head was summarily dismantled, as I played the most challenging, well maintained golf course I have ever encountered. I won't get into any golf details (even my wife would be bored by that. Well, especially my wife I guess!), but suffice it to say that I was chastened and humbled, but had a GREAT time. It may be the only time in my life that I play a course that nice, am the ONLY person playing, and have a cart and an actual caddy (Wu Tin, more about her later). Given that my google search of "lianyungang golf" turned up 0 hits, it was a pretty amazing result. I thought this picture captured something interesting about the aggressive building and taste for western luxury that I have seen in Lianyungang in general during my stay here.

One thing that I've learned in China (especially in the airports and hotels) so far is that the entire service industry is composed of 18-22 year old women, standing behind podiums saying "I don't know sir" and directing you to yet another girl behind a different podium, one after another until you finally give up in despair. These girls are accustomed to being harangued and harassed, and as a general rule look to be 50% bored and 50% miserable at all times. As a matter of survival in the airports, I learned that by simply smiling at them, and treating them like human beings, these service industry ball bearings suddenly became very helpful. Anyway, back to Wu Tin, my
caddie. For a few holes she was too scared to even talk to me, but after considerable effort (I probably called her a seven iron or something, trying to guess her name), we established knowledge of each other's names. Next we began exchanging the occasional high-five or
bummed out shake of the head (more head shaking than high-fiveing today I'm afraid) after a particularly notable shot. Near the end of the round, she stopped the cart and held up one finger in the universal sign for "I'll be right back" and ran into the bushes. I assumed she was relieving herself and pondered my next shot. When she came back, however, her hands and caddie-apron were full of fruit! She had run into the rough lining the course and picked us a snack!

It was not a round I will soon forget, and I hope that Wu Tin had a good story to share with her caddie buddies as well. I get the feeling big goofy white American guys aren't real regular customers at this establishment.

As fun as all this was though, the next "free Saturday" I get I want to spend with my wife and kiddos. Two more weeks to go until home. Tomorrow I head down to Guangzhou to start my first week of classes.

See you there!


connie88s said...

The most interesting and heartwarming story I've read that involves the word golf! And I don't think it has anything to do with the fact I'm your mother!! Love you, Pete. Keep making adventures : )

Heather said...

Well, Pete, I've always thought of you as a "large clumsy smiling white guy" :)

Frances said...

Good reading, Pete...I'll show this to the two Chinese engineers at work!
My heart goes out to you, my dear!