Friday, October 05, 2007

Putting My College Education to Good Use

Speaking a foreign language is difficult under the best of circumstances. I’d like to think it’s especially difficult in Chinese, a language where changing the inflection a tiny bit—raising your voice at the end of a sentence to indicate a question, for example?—can make a thought unintelligible. And speaking on the phone is harder still, because you don’t have body language or facial expressions to help you.

I say all this in an attempt to convey the level of motivation it took to track down the Hooters in Hangzhou.

During our time in Hangzhou, Pipi and really wanted to see a quarterfinal game being played in another city. In Shanghai, we’d seen a few televised games on ESPN in our hotel room. But our hotel in Hangzhou didn’t get ESPN. The television set had a poor picture anyway. We needed a sports bar.

Hangzhou is a city with an estimated expatriate population of about 6,000, but only 1,000 of those are from North America or Europe, which suggests that it’s not the best place to find a bar with burgers and big-screen TVs. We were going to have to do some sleuthing.

I first called the Shangri-La Hotel, the nicest joint in town. It had two things going for it: We’d been there, and had noticed that it definitely catered to Western travelers. More importantly, we realized it was also the place the U.S. soccer team was staying. (And I promise you, we only went there once to stalk them.)

But there was no luck there. Hard as it was to believe, they said they weren’t planning on showing the game in any public areas.

So Pipi hit the Internet, but had trouble finding listings for sports bars in Hangzhou. The only thing that kept coming up was a blurb for Hooters, which improbably has one of its three Chinese branches in Hangzhou.

I had never realized that Hooters thought of itself as a sports bar, having never been to one. (Pipi remembers that we once almost went to one in Memphis, because it was one of only two restaurants near our hotel, but oddly enough we ended up getting bad Chinese food instead.)

So I called the Hangzhou Hooters, and using the full extent of my three years of college Mandarin, was able to determine that they would, in fact, be showing the game. I got the address, too, and found it was well across town. I forgot to ask the cross street, though, which made the cab ride interesting.

The street that Hooters Hangzhou is located on is long, and the numbers seem to be particularly poorly marked. Our driver stopped once to ask another driver if he knew what block we were on, and twice pulled the taxi over, with the engine still running, and sprinted up and down the sidewalk looking for street numbers. Pipi asked me to remind her what that word was that the Shanghai doorman had used to describe us when we came home soaked from the Nigeria game. She thought this guy was pretty lihai, too.

Finally, we found it. It looked like I imagine an American Hooters looks, with pool tables, several bars, and lots of tacky signs on the wall. The waitresses looked surprisingly like I imagine American Hooters waitresses look like. Ours was named Kiki, which I know because she wrote it on a napkin for us. In my memory of it, she dotted the “i”s with a heart, but this can’t really be true. (I am sure, though that she did write, “thank you” on the bill accompanied by a smiley face inside a daisy.)

Hardly anyone was there, so we got a lot of attention from Kiki as well as the manager, who must not have drawn actual work duty that evening. I thought they might pull up chairs and eat with us until a gong sounded the signal that it was the time at Hooters when they dance. All the waitresses jumped up on one of the bars and began lip-synching to “YMCA,” complete with the ritual arm waving. It was weird. Not as weird as fish falling out of the sky, but almost as unexpected. Hangzhou had delivered us a surreal experience after all.


Anonymous said...

where did you get you stats for the number of tourists in Hangzhou?

Nicole said...

I got that statistic about 6,000 foreign residents from an entertainment guide for ex-pats that my partner picked up at her company's Hangzhou office.

Sorry if I didn't make it clear that I meant foreign residents, not tourists like myself. I don't know how many tourists visit Hangzhou yearly. A lot more than 6,000, I'm sure!