(Disclaimer: This image is a digital simulation only. Hammy would never, and has never, worn a toupee. Shame on you.)
Teacher Clive was sort of the celebrity teacher at my old job. Adored by every child, his good-natured grin and backwards baseball cap were greeted each afternoon with squeals of glee. The MC at every big school event, he had a knack for charming young teaching assistants and pulling coins out of kids' ears.
Obviously, I avoided him like the plague. I used to try to slink past him in the hallway without getting roped in to whatever Uncle Funny joke he happened to be stirring up with a student, with only the rarest of successes. Just as I'd be rounding out the corner in to my classroom, on the verge of exhaling with relief, I'd be stopped in my tracks - "Hey, Teacher Risa! Have you seen little Timmy's nose anywhere?" For some reason, "Teacher Risa doesn't get paid to look for noses" never seemed like an appropriate response. Nor did, "I'll get you a nose if you get me a coffee." Fortunately, Teacher Clive's act never really got tarnished by my poor Vanna White - he had enough positive energy to make you vomit.
What I'm trying to say here, is that I'm not exactly what you would call a Joiner.
So it was with slight trepidation that I agreed to attend Family Day 2010, an event organized by Justin's company this past weekend, in effort to support his right to be the Joiner that I myself am not. Justin seemed to have only the vaguest notion of what Family Day would involve, and, being male, seemed to have asked zero questions before signing us up. All he could say was that we were going somewhere near Suzhou (a small-ish city near Shanghai), that we'd have to meet the buses at 8:30 am on Saturday (I KNOW), and that we had to wear these stupid matching Family Day t-shirts, lest we forget how happy we were to be conformist company drones with nothing better to do on a Saturday morning. (I had to cancel Hangover Day for this, 'yall.) He said there would be Activities.
I, for one, was full of questions. How long will the bus ride be? What will they feed us? Do you think there will be coffee there? Is everyone else really going to wear the stupid t-shirt? Will people bring their children? (As a fake-professional, I charge a fee for the presence of children.)
Activities? What kind of Activities? Will there be any team sports? Because I don't do team sports. At least not the sports that involve hitting something with something else, like baseball or tennis or squash. (Soccer is okay, because then you can just sort of stay out of the way.) What about a potato sack race? Red Rover? Bobbing for apples? (I didn't really want to have to get my hair wet.)
While the scenarios I proposed may sound ridiculous, the scenario we pulled up to after 3 hours on the bus was even more ridiculous: The Cowboy Country Club Holiday Village. Yes folks, ten bus loads of human adults (only a few kids, and presumably they didn't have a choice) agreed of their own volition to wake up at dawn on a Saturday, and spend six hours round-trip on a bus in stupid matching t-shirts, all for a day at a cowboy theme park. A very Chinese cowboy theme park.
First up on our day at the "ranch" was lunch - a few hundred of us were herded in to two dining rooms and seated at large round tables where we shared a hearty cowboy feast. Apparently, no cowboy shindig in the wild wild west was complete without mapo tofu on a lazy susan.
Next, the Activities: luckily nothing that involved choosing teams, hand-eye coordination, or donning a bathing cap (which I refuse to do under any circumstances). Rock climbing, tandem bicycles, go carts, and horseback riding were on offer, as were rides on some very dishevelled looking camels. I felt sort of awkwardly embarrassed for the camels - they looked like their toupees were sliding off, reminding me of my pathetic pet hamster when he started to go bald (not that Hammy, a classy chap, would ever wear a piece).
A glance at the handy visitor's map told me that the Chinese proprietors must have gotten some real live cowboys to help them out with the English translations. Hence we were led to "The Lovely Animals Place" (a petulant looking peacock and some ostriches that I'm pretty sure got their "lovely" purple hue from a fungal infection), and "The Child Amuses the Area" (a playground with a big sign indicating that it was for children only - of course, there were adults climbing all over it. There was also a sign stating that drunk and handicapped people should not go on the playground. Which begs the question: if adults aren't allowed on the playground point finale, are there really enough drunk children around to warrant a sign? In any case, the sign tipped us off that there must be booze available on the premises somewhere...)
Did you know that cowboys like playing in teepees and Mongolian yurts? It's true. I learned it at the Cowboy Country Club, where you can see numerous authentic cowboy teepee and yurt replicas.
After moseying around the grounds a bit, we opted for the go-carts. Translation: plastic bucket seats precariously mounted on to lawnmower engines. I actually managed to take a wrong turn on the circular track, evidence of my hyper-acute sense of direction. In my defense, I was distracted by the dual challenge presented by my midget legs and cowgirl skirt, struggling to reach the pedals without displaying my cowgirl undies.
The noble steed
Justin's Big Boss in a Small Car, with a Medium Cowboy
Heavy machinery out of the way, we swaggered over to the Cowboy Town Karaoke Pub (cause you know how much cowboys like to sing karaoke) and drank just enough beer to sleep through the long bus ride home. Oddly enough, only us expats (four of us) found our way to the pub. I guess we Westerners were the only ones with a true understanding of the cowboy way.
Hoedown at the Cowboy KTV Pub (KTV is the Chinese cowboy term for karaoke)