The Year of the Tiger

Blonde hair and blue eyes can either get you into trouble, help you get a job at Al Johnson’s, or land you a small role in the latest kung fu movie. Luckily, in my case while living in Xizhou, it landed me a small role in Kung Fu Man.

It was just a regular Friday afternoon and Jeanee Linden and I were taking our daily stroll around the town square. As we were deciding between blueberry and strawberry yogurt, two men approached us and with their Hollywood charm, asked if I wanted to play a tourist in their next scene. I jumped at the opportunity in a matter of seconds. They gave me an hour to change into more “touristy” clothes, which I thought was amusing since I always assumed that I stuck out like a sore thumb no matter how hard I tried.

Martha Aurelius, wearing a traditional hat that represents flowers, snow, wind, and the moon of the region, stands with two local Bai ladies after their musical and dance performance.

Once I came back wearing a sport fleece, a backpack, and Birkenstocks, it was time for my debut on Chinese film. I was briefly introduced to the lead actor, Tiger Chen (who trained Keanu Reeves in all of his stunts in The Matrix series), and away we went.

It only took three takes for me to act like a confused tourist wandering around a gift shop and soon enough, we were able to call it a day. Who knew that buying yogurt could be so eventful and send me into a whirlwind of seeing Hollywood stars!

While that day was a bit out of the usual, I have been lucky enough to experience quite a bit of Chinese culture. In the past month, we have attended two country weddings. To reach the home of the groom for the first wedding, a group of us from the Linden Centre marched through the broad bean fields and the dirt paths of the nearby village. On our way, we passed two other weddings (December 17th must have been a lucky day!), where the brides and grooms stood happily outside their homes and greeted each guest with plates of peanuts, candy, and cigarettes. Symbols marking happiness and good luck for the newlywed couples were placed all over the homes in bright red and gold colors.

By the time we arrived at the wedding, our table was already set up for lunch, and there were plates of spicy pork, pickled vegetables, tofu, and an entire roasted duck covering every inch of the table. After lunch, we were invited to sit in the bridal room and converse with the elderly women. One woman was popping grains of rice in a wok and was allowing the popped grains to fly all over the room. It was if a mini-snowstorm was erupting in the room, where the visions of white caused contagious laughter for all ages that were watching.

And while my travels have exposed me to numerous cultural experiences, there have been specific moments in each of my journeys when I am finally able to immerse myself in the culture and allow elation to completely rush over me. While living in Xizhou, this moment came when I started our first Saturday night class of English Corner for the local children. Since our first class in October, we have had more and more students join the class.

Our hour together is spent huddled around a professional sized ping-pong table, while the older ladies of the village blast Chinese techno music for their aerobics class. It is a total thrill for me to be teaching these children about colors, animals, family members, and body parts. English Corner has helped me find my niche in Xizhou, and I am bound and determined to teach the children as much as I can through posters, songs, dances, and Dr. Seuss books.

There is an energetic buzz when class is over. The proud parents have their children come up and say, “Thank you, teacher,” and with that simple phrase, I am the happiest girl in the world!