CHINA JOURNAL---Monday, April 1 Wednesday, April 3, 2002
After I attended the Easter service, I received on the Internet a news release from the State Department that goes to ex-pats all over the world. There were four items. The one that struck me was the one stating that since security has been tightened all over the world in official places and the terrorists do not distinguish between governments and civilians, the terrorists are beginning to target softer targets. They mentioned the terrorist attack in March against the Protestant International Fellowship in Islamabad (of which I had not heard) and warned Americans to avoid places and functions frequented by large numbers of westerners, listing restaurants and churches as examples. Since Tianjin is one of Chinaıs largest cities, and since that International Fellowship is probably the largest gathering of westerners in Tianjin, and since everyone who holds a foreign passport is welcome, and since it is far enough away that Fu Ling would not want me to go by myself and the girls canıt enter, that may end up being the only church service I attend there. Weıll see. But wasnıt that a nice window? I found out about it just a few days before Easter, and I didnıt get the warning until the day after Easter. So I did get to the Easter service, and that can last me, if need be.
Much to my delight Liu Yong joined the staff at Bomei as of today. He was the interpreter they had for my initial meeting who hadnıt spoken English in six years. Before that six years, however, he was with a large international company in Singapore and used the language regularly so it is coming back to him very quickly. He is a very good addition to the company because of the combination of being native Chinese, being able to speak, read and write in English, and having experience with big business, which gave him exposure to international ways of operating and varied cultures. Heıs good. He really likes what I wrote up (that is not the reason I think he is good!) and understands exactly where I am coming from in wanting Sun Zhi Hong to clarify such things as living conditions and the contract. Li Di could translate the words but is very provincial and so was not much help along those lines. As a result, I went into the office Monday through Wednesday to be able to change things on the computer and talk over with Liu Yong items that Sun Zhi Hong needed to clarify.
Since it was Liu Yongıs first day, the office celebrated with a big lunch at the Bohan Hotel. The surprise today was when the dish of dark fried something on the lazy Susan got turned toward me, and I realized it was a dish of fried chicken feet. Sure look like good back scratchers. It amazes me that there is any meat on them! One noon we ate in the office. And the third noon we went over to the inside mall part of food street. We had only been there during the breakfast hour before. It was really bustling. All the stores in the four wings and two stories plus the little stalls set up in front of the downstairs stores are either a restaurant or sell food. This was the first place in Tianjin where Iıve seen a western tourist group. (I almost asked one of them what company they were traveling with.) We stopped and bought some soup that is thick and creamy with a bit of a corn meal flavor. Fu Ling took us there to get a bowl for me. They put a bit of the thick soup in a bowl then hold it in front of the huge copper water kettle which they tilt forward to pour water into your bowl. It is then topped with white sugar on one half and brown sugar on the other half. Quite delicious.
Back at the office, I looked up and there were three cups of tea prepared for me: a green tea, a mountain tea, and one that is called ³one leaf tea². That is because it is so bitter that you only put one leaf into your cup. It still tastes a bit bitter, so I figured it must be medicinally good for something though that information was not forthcoming. At that point I decided Iıve been drinking too much tea and am getting a bit of the caffeine effect, even though the tea is made weak. While I had been thinking I was getting lots of liquid because my cup is always kept filled, I finally realized that since the tea is loose you simply sip it because you need to keep the tealeaves strained out of your mouth. So I decided then and there to start drinking plain hot water during the day. It is never cold water because all the tap water has to be boiled to kill germs, but you can let it sit until it becomes tepid. This reminded me that I have not seen an ice cube since coming to China. To make an ice cube you would have to boil the water, let it cool, and then freeze it. Then you would have to let the boiled water for the drink cool enough to be chilled before you put the ice cube in. It is easier simply not to include ice cubes in the culinary scene, and I havenıt missed them. But it isnıt summer yet.
Liu Yong cleared up for me what was happening in that motorcade with the open trucks carrying prisoners and guards all sitting bolt up right. He said they were on their way to the sentencing. The day and place is announced ahead of time. Then the prisoners are transported quite publicly to a large gathering place, usually outside, and each one is read his sentence. After that they are taken back to their prison, or wherever. The idea is to impress upon people what happens if you are imprisoned.
Each day Jian Goa would drive me back to school just before my afternoon classes. On Monday, Miss Sue, from the Nankai Education Bureau, came to school at 4:00 to take me there so we could try to print out the pages of clip art I had assembled to use in my talk on the holidays on Wednesday. (People come in a taxi to take me back in the taxi so I am escorted all the way.) This is the big education bureau center, and they only have a black and white printer so that wasnıt a good solution. The next step was to see if we could send the information from my computer to their fancy computer rig that would send it to the large screen, a very modern looking arrangement. She had the top man in their computer department plus two others working on it for three hours and they never did figure it out. (I sent an email SOS to Scott and got an answer on Tuesday. He told me which two keys to hit and, on Wednesday morning, it worked perfectly.) It is an indication of where the Chinese (and I) are in widespread computer usage.
For a few minutes while the men were getting something, Miss Su and I sat and talked. I hope I have more chances to talk with her both because of her background as well as because of her comfortable English and her openness. She was 18 in 1969 and was sent to the collectives to work during the Cultural Revolution. She blames her motherıs death on the Cultural Revolution. The one good thing that came out of it, she said, is that now many more people realize how the poor really live. Both her parents were educators, her father being the head of a major university in Shanghai. She felt very fortunate to have escaped out of what might have been her fate in the Cultural Revolution. Many of her friends ended up getting married in the countryside and live very poor lives there, never managing to return to their homes and former lives.
The talk on holidays went very well. She had said they know the most about Christmas so I didnıt need to cover it, but I wanted to get in a good explanation. I did keep it till last to see how our time was doing. At the very end I recited The Night Before Christmas, which they loved. I had lots of teachers ask for copies of it. Iıll give that talk again next week. Meanwhile Iım busy preparing the talk about famous people. One funny question was from a teacher who said they make Valentines in her class and they put the SWAK on itbut ³what does that mean?²
One never knows what form your influence will take. I automatically turn out lights whenever I leave any room. Much to my surprise, when I turned out the bathroom light at the office as we were leaving for lunch, Lu Zhin Yuan disappeared and came back out. They were all laughing because from watching me, they are now turning out lights and Lu Zhin Yuan had gone back to turn his off. Then on the way back after lunch, Li Di asked why Americans donıt drink Coke. (Note the logic here which is awesome in terms of modeling responsibility: Jerry doesnıt drink Coke. Jerry is American. Therefore Americans donıt like Coke.) I told him that Americans do like Coke, but I choose not to drink it and gave my reasons. He said he used to drink one of the large bottles every day but, since watching me, he has drunk very little. Chalk up one for the environment and one for good health!