If there's one thing that unites all Chinese guys...if there's one thing I'm most prone to stereotype about guys here...if there's one commonality that transcends every ideological, sociological, and otorhinolaryngological (it's a word, look it up) barrier between every boy and man...
...it's the NBA.
Basketball is a phenomenon in China. I can almost be sure that every guy I meet here follows the NBA to some extent. Of course there are exceptions, but they are few and far between. So you can imagine the first question most guys ask a 6'5 American...and the answer is No.
I don't play basketball. I don't like to watch sports. I do like to play tennis and ping-pong, and occasionally I'll shoot some hoops with some friends. But by no means am I an athletic guy. As a kid I used to be. I don't know what happened.
The other day one of my friends -- English name Andrew -- asked if I wanted to play basketball with him and his friends. I kindly refused, but offered to go out to eat with him after they were done. We agreed to meet at the basketball court (there are 6 on campus) at 6:00.
I had a hunch that they might try to coerce me to play, so I wore some un-athletic shorts, a jacket, and my backpack. I should have known better.
As soon as I arrived they didn't even hesitate. I have yet to learn the secret of countering the coercive attacks of Chinese people. If they can coerce me into singing a pop song in front of 50 elementary school kids, they can certainly get me to play basketball.
So I played. And as expected, a small crowd gathered to watch the "giant" American basketball player. There sure isn't a shortage of opportunities to practice humility here. They were quickly disappointed, and people slowly dispersed. But I had a fun time nonetheless.
After Andrew and I were drenched in sweat, we walked to the cafeteria. On the way he told me something that I translated as, "After we eat I want to give you a painting."
Did I mention that this guy is an art student? This guy is an art student. I taught him English when I was here two years ago, and we've since become good friends.
Naturally, I was excited, and I was wondering what the painting might be of. Mountains? Pandas? Flowers?
After we ate we walked to the art building and stopped by the art shop inside. Andrew bought an empty canvas then we went to one of the painting rooms. I figured he just needed to pick up a canvas for some other project. I didn't think twice about it. But when we arrived he showed me where to sit, and he started preparing his easel.
At this point I realized he was going to paint ME. Apparently the sentence "I want to give you a painting" and the sentence "I want to paint you" are very similar in Chinese.
So here I was in a sweaty, bright yellow Great Bend Recreation Commission t-shirt, my face covered in dried sweat, having not even looked in the mirror, and I'm suddenly modeling.
Most of the time the students paint live models -- most of which are nude elderly women. Nude models get paid 50 yuan (about $7) an hour. They almost never get the opportunity to paint foreigners -- especially Americans -- so Andrew viewed this as an honor just as much as I did. It's a win-win situation.
And just to clarify again, I was wearing clothes.
Andrew turned on some Whitney Houston, and I sat there for about two and half hours. You can do a lot of thinking by just sitting still for 2 and a half hours. I got a few breaks, and we talked a bit as well.
It was interesting watching him dip his brush in the different colors. I thought to myself, "Are you sure there is neon green somewhere on my face?" -- "Ummmm, I'm pretty sure I don't have any hot pink on me."
At one point he ran out of white paint. He grabbed a sack he brought along and took out a brand new tube of white paint. He said, "Since you're so white I knew I would need an extra tube." That's the kind of stuff jokes are made of. But I don't think he understood the humor.
The "final" result (click to enlarge):
I was blown away. I loved it!
In case you haven't thought about it before, it's almost impossible to smile while modeling for something like this -- unless you can hold a smile for 2 and a half hours.
But that's not the end of the story. Andrew said he wanted to do some finishing touches on my face, and he asked if I would come back the following day to model for a little while longer. Of course I agreed.
The next evening I walked over to meet him, and the first thing he said when he met me was, "You changed shirts."
My heart sank. I was wearing a black shirt. I didn't think twice about it because I figured it doesn't matter what kind of shirt I was wearing since he only needed to touch up my face. He kindly told me it wasn't a big deal, so I felt better.
But as I sat there modeling, I noticed him using an awful lot of black paint. Come to find out, the color of your shirt changes the color of your face because the light reflects off of it. So he had to actually change my shirt color in the painting, as well as my skin color. He showed me how the shadowed part of my skin changed from green to blue when I changed shirts.
So I ended up putting him through a lot of extra work. But he didn't complain at all. I felt really bad, but he said he still liked the painting.
Here is the FINAL result (click to enlarge):
It kind of reminds me of when a comic book hero turns evil and their costume turns black (i.e. Spiderman). If you compare the two, it's easy to get the impression that I underwent some terrible transformation overnight.
But if you just look at the second one alone, I still look like a fairly friendly guy.
He did a really cool thing with the shirt. After painting black over the yellow, he used a knife to sign it by scraping away the black to reveal the yellow underneath.
Next week he wants to paint my entire upper body. I've been thinking of fun poses to do that I can hold for 2 and a half hours, though he'll probably pick the pose in the end.
And this time we're planning my wardrobe.