Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sin and Sick Long Underwear

Because it's getting into cooler weather now, I'm reminded of the winters in northeast China, that begin in October and last until April! By now my friends in my town in China are probably wearing several layers already. With buildings not always heated sufficiently, you have to get very comfortable with your long underwear! Here's a story about this topic from my first year in China.

Monday, November 22, 2004

I was in the office of one of the schools where we teach, talking to the head of the English program (a Chinese woman who doesn't really speak English) about our class schedule when it happened. The department head, Nancy,* was looking critically at what I was wearing, which made me nervous, because she tends to be bluntly honest with her opinions. But this time she didn't say anything. She just reached out and grabbed my sweater and lifted it up to see what was underneath! Thankfully I was wearing long johns, as I've been doing since October, because it's pretty chilly in northeast China this time of year. Then she took some of my undershirt between her thumb and forefinger and rubbed it between her fingers, frowning disapprovingly.

"Too sin. Too sin." Nancy shook her head as she grunted her verdict of this random long-underwear test. Since I am now pretty fluent in Chinglish, I interpreted that she was saying I needed thicker long underwear. Before I could protest, she had pulled up her own sweater to reveal her superior long underwear. Then I had to feel HER undershirt myself to see how much better it was than mine.

My concerned supervisor then firmly declared that she would take me shopping to help me buy good Chinese "sick" long underwear. I thanked her for her kind consideration, but politely declined the offer to go shopping. I tried to explain that I had thicker ones at home, but I had worn my thin ones today, because it wasn't very cold yet. However, she wasn't satisfied until I assured her that I would wear my thicker long johns in the future.

From that day on, I was sure to wear my "sick" long underwear at that school, just in case I had another run-in with the underwear police!

* Not her real name.