CHINA JOURNAL‹THURSDAY, APRIL 4 FRIDAY, APRIL 5, 2002
Well, the life of Easter bunnies in Tianjin was four days. I bet that's about average where poor little bunnies and chicks are sold all over the world for Easter. What a pity particularly since the season is all about new life. One of the days this week when I was sitting across from Liu Yong at our desks, he said, ``Now, was it `giving thanks' that just passed?'' I replied that, ``Yes, it was a day of giving thanks but it wasn't Thanksgiving Day. This past Sunday was called Easter.'' He said rather hesitantly, ``That means `new life', doesn't it?'' I stand amazed at how bits of information and feelings have spread about the Christian faith over many long years. It makes me realize that even though I can not speak about my faith openly that my attitude toward others and their culture, and my actions, coupled with the big cross I wear daily here just as at home all speak to identify love for others, service and oneness as somehow being associated with that cross. I'm so glad I got the word just before I came that it was okay to wear my cross.
I thought the Wednesday activities had come to an end when I wrote my journal. Was I wrong! Fu Ling was to leave at 5:30 Thursday morning with Sun Zhi Hong for a two week business trip in Switzerland, so I shouldn't have been surprised to have Zhang Jie come in at about 7:00 p.m. and announce, ``We go eat, wash hair, have massage.'' So I put on my shoes and off we went in a taxi to a big down town center. We walked in through the entry to the smell of Starbucks on one side and McDonald's on the other. We were in the shoe floor. Zhang Jie said, ``We get shoes. Mother.'' Fu Ling apparently needed some travel shoes. It was very modern looking, there were dozens of individual shoe merchants of high quality shoes (prices in US$40 and US$50 range, which is really high for Chinese.) Each had his own section of the floor, so you could wander from the Hush Puppy section to the Valentino Rudy section to the B. Silly section. It really is a great idea if you know you want shoes. It is like having all the good shoe stores in town under one roof. (The second floor did the same thing with clothes.) None of the individual merchants handled money. They gave you a receipt which you took to a central cashier, paid, and brought back to the merchant in order to leave with your purchase. It was about 7:30 p.m. when we arrived at the shoe store.
It was 8:30 p.m. when we arrived at the fast food place in the basement. I wished I had brought my camera to take a picture of the English translations on their big lighted sign. `Hot creey rich' I finally figured out was `hot creamy rice.' Cui Hua joined us there so we were the four ladies.
We left there in a taxi and arrived at the hair dressers' at about 9:30 at night. I couldn't believe it. Three of the men who worked on us the last time were waiting for us. I demurred on the ``do'' but was delighted for another wash with head and shoulder massage. (I'm getting spoiled.) The other three had fun things done to their hair which, of course, took longer, but Fu Ling gets the whole works so we didn't hold her up. It was 12:05 a.m. when we left! The men went outside with us to try to find a taxi. Usually they are all over the place, but not at that time of night on a quiet side street. In just a few minutes, the owner, who had walked to the corner, had one hailed. After we got home, Fu Ling got out her suitcase to pack.
On Thursday, when I go to the middle school to teach, someone normally comes on a bike to pick me up, but no one arrived. It was getting late enough that I was a little nervous about it, so I motioned to the lady at the gate what I was doing and she understood. I had been analyzing the two busy streets I cross. The first is only four lanes wide (six if you count the large bike lane on each side.) The second is a major artery at a busy corner (no signal light here) and is six lanes wide (eight if you add the bike lanes.) I've decided I am most comfortable walking my bike across, so I do. Fortuitously there was relatively little traffic and I sidled up to some others who were working their way across and did just fine. I'm not sure who dropped the ball on that. It wasn't Zhang Jian because he really winced as he accompanied me home when he asked questioningly, ``Come school self?'' and I nodded yes. I had told one of the English teacher ladies who greeted me when I arrived that I could do it by myself and to let them know. She came back and said that they didn't want me to. They would send someone.
I finally got down to a low enough level to capture the 10th graders and we had a good time together making it into a game. Disgustingly elementary, though. I had learned a bit from Miss Su that helps me realize why these may be so low. After the ninth grade, everybody takes big tests. If you score well, you get to attend one of the five large ``Key Schools''. So from the 10th grade up, the students you find in the other senior middle schools are ones who did not score well. I believe it! One of the middle school teachers at the meeting had identified herself as a teacher at the big middle school next to where we live. She said it is in the process of being named the sixth ``Key School''. They have 1000 students, half of whom live there during the week. No wonder it is so big. She says the students there can carry on a good conversation, so I'm eager to visit it, which she will arrange. I want to have good thoughts about the English program in China.
Back at Bohan, I observed two new games the children play. One is like dodge ball but it is played with one team on the inside and the other team split into two lines facing each other on the outside. The ``ball'' is a bag that is shaped like a hacky-sack but is not as hard. It is rather like a bean bag but not quite as floppy. The ones on the outside throw it back and forth trying to hit the ones on the inside to eliminate them. I'd like being hit by that much better than being hit by a ball.
The game that I marveled at was a jump rope game. Remember how we used to do finger string games like cat's cradle and Jacob's ladder with a circular string held taut between our hands? That's what this is. They have a large circle of clothesline size rope (but softer). Two girls stand with that around the back of their waists and hold it taut. Now, remember how you weave the strings in and out by picking one up with your middle finger and crossing it over another and maybe dropping still another string? Believe it or not (I wish I had a video), a third girl comes into it like she is jumping rope and with each rhythmic jump a leg swings out and pulls a rope over, then the other leg jumps in, then another string is picked up by another jump, and so on. They actually form a design like cat's cradle with only their legs and jumping. It is almost unbelievable. I turned to get my camera and playtime was over. Not even in my best days would I have attempted that!
There was a new hair-cutting stand outside the school for one day. It consisted of a folding chair and a little portable stand on which the tools were placed. For the first time I noticed that there were electric clippers. Visually I followed the long, long cord until it disappeared behind a building. This means, of course, that all the portable stands with lights at night have to be plugging in somewhere. It would be interesting to know the ins and outs of that.
Friday morning I had planned to spend all morning on the computer connected to the Internet, if everyone was gone, starting to gather info for my famous people talk. Zhang Jie and I came in from exercise and, at 8:30 a.m., I had just bitten into a bean bun and started a yogurt sippy cup when Zhang Ji Sheng told Zhang Jie that the school was going on a trip to the Army today. After some fast evolving conversation about whether I was supposed to go or not, I asked what time it was leaving. She didn't know, so I motioned for her to call the school. She came back and said that they were leaving right now and were waiting for me. (This is the first I had heard about it.) I grabbed my stuff and Zhang Jie wisely put some buns and cheese in a plastic bag for me (``You no eat Army food'') and I flew out the door and onto my bike for a fast ride. When I got there, the last ones were just getting on one of the five buses. The whole school was going. I hopped off my bike out in front and the gatekeepers took it and my pack and my helmet. I climbed on a bus, and someone plopped on my head an official Bohan School visor, which everyone wears for identification on a trip. It was 8:50! After the bus was on its way I realized that we were going to the ArmyŠand I didn't have my passport on me.
The whole school takes a one-day field trip two times a year. This was the one in the spring semester. It was a forty-five minute drive to the Army-Police base which houses 200 men (only men in either force). I say Army-Police because it almost seems as if the two terms are interchangeable. I never did get a clear explanation. Another school was there with three buses. The eight busloads of children were walked upstairs to an area overlooking a very dusty exercise or parade field. They had brought pillows and pads to sit on. Fortunately there were a few chairs which we seniors got to use. I was the only Anglo thereŠand very conscious of it until we had gone past enough Chinese officers and no one had pulled me out of line. Zhang Yu said she hadn't thought to tell me about it. Ren Heiying said she asked the headmaster if she should tell me and the headmaster said that I couldn't go (I took that to mean since the visit was to the Army.) I'm not sure when the changeover took place. At that point I decided to keep my camera hidden under my coat though I would love to have taken a few snaps. There were only two students taking pictures, and I didn't want to stand out anymore than I already did. What followed was a beautifully planned and executed series of demonstrations of martial arts (real martial arts, not derivative) of all sorts. There were the ones doing the high kicking exercises and falls, the take downs, the riot squad, the obstacle course, the hostage breakers, the bank robbers, the blindfolded gun disassembly and assembly, and best of all, the dogs. They did dog demonstrations first on obedience. Then they moved into a twelve part obstacle course for the dogs. I was surprised that they had them do twelve that were heavy exercise in a row at a run. Then they added fire to one of the hoops that they jump through and the dogs didn't even flinch. They had nine dogs. I guess they were all German shepherds. Only five were the usual coloring. There was one black one that looked like a ferocious black bear cub. He loved the part where he got to grab hold of a victim's arm and hang on tight. The most remarkable dog demonstration is where a dog and his trainer are captured and tied to separate posts with a gag stuffed in the trainer's mouth. The dog proceeds to work at the rope until he bites it apart. Then he goes to his trainer, jumps up and pulls the gag out of his mouth (and the trainer didn't flinch)! Next he gnaws at the trainer's rope until he breaks free.
Half way through the demonstration it started to sprinkle so there was a scramble to get under cover. When the demo was done we all filed into the buses which were parked around the field. We ate our lunches on the bus (we left five pretty crumby buses) and then, true to form, had a rest on the bus for about a half hour. Then we went into their big building to see the rooms. One of the men came in an apologized that the rooms were messy since the men were all at lunch. The beds looked very like the dorm beds at the school. A flat sheet is on the bottom (pastel blues). A comforter (pale blue with flowers) was folded in the particular way they fold itŠin thirds lengthwise. Then it is folded to half that length. From there, each end folds in to the middle and the whole thing folds together. Only the Army's comforters looked as if they had been folded and pressed into a square edged block. That must take some doing. The perfection of the squared-off folding job must be akin to bouncing a quarter on a well-made US Army bed. (I did take a photo of that.)
They then gathered all the students into the matted exercise room and sat them down. The students are great at lining up by twos and then marching into position to sit in front to back rows exactly lined up. They're not so great at keeping quiet when someone is talking, which a man did for quite a while.
By now it was seriously sprinkling, not a real rain. On the bus ride home I saw lots of a type of poncho made specifically for riding on a bike. It comes way out in front and, as it turns out, has clips attached inside so it can be attached to your bike basket. They were obviously the most popular rain garb for the cyclists and came in lots of colors. When I got off the bus at school I walked right down and bought myself a Yu Pi in bright yellow. It cost US$1.60.