CHINA JOURNALŠMonday, April 8 through Thursday, April 11, 2002
Is the world still there? The phone service went out over the weekend and is still out so I've been without email contact, and the China Daily hasn't been available for eight days. I finally got one today just in time to read the last notice about the Queen Mother's funeral. (I've always admired her from the days back in WWII when she and her husband stayed in London.) The lack of Internet access has put a crimp in my research too.
There was no time change in China. I've read, but I don't know if it is still true, that China, which spans at least five time zones, has the whole country on the same time and never changes in the spring and fall. I guess since we are near the capital that Beijing gets the ``normal'' time and everyone else has to adjust to that.
I've never been sure at what point the weatherman changes the word from sprinkles, to showers, to rain, to downpour, to storm. Likewise, I don't know at what point the Chinese change from windy and dusty, to blowing sand, to sandstorm. I didn't hear any mention of the term sandstorm on Monday, but the cold wind was really pushing me around on the bicycle accompanied with lots of blowing sand and dust. As a big gust hit me sidewise on the way to school, I recalled the interview with the man from Trona when John and I were interviewing for our first teaching job. (Trona is a chemical producing town in the desert of California which in 1959 paid the highest teaching salaries in the stateŠfor good reason.) After telling us all the good points about Trona, he said, ``I do have to mention three things. Occasionally we do have sandstorms and they pit your windshield. (Same for Tianjin.) And we do have a chemical plant and occasionally the wind blows the wrong direction. (Same for TianjinŠat least it occasionally smells that way.) And there is not a blade of grass in Trona. (That's where Tianjin wins out.)'' Even though the weather can't make up its mind whether to stay quite cold or warm up, the new growth keeps coming and the parks are greening up. Something I admire in Tianjin is that, in spite of the huge population and the tremendous number of apartment buildings, they always manage some green yard space with trees between buildings and there always seems to be a park nearby. However I would be curious to match up Tianjin's windy days against Chicago's. It might be a draw, or Tianjin might even win.
At our neighborhood park where Zhang Jie and I have been walking and doing Tai Chi every morning, the wonderful old Chinese man who is the leader is instructing us in the sword Tai Chi and the fan Tai Chi. He is 74 years old and very slim and trim. In fact he is so trim that his face, when he breaks into his big smile, looks like a skeleton's skull over which skin has been stretched. In the last week he has been dressed in a running outfit that is all white and a white visor. Pretty snappy. He is the picture of health and certainly a walking advertisement for Tai Chi. There is also a dear eighty year old lady in the group. She doesn't do many of the bends and balances, but he does the deep knee bends very easily. Since I can't understand what he is saying, I just watch and try to follow. He just demonstrates a little bit and then we go lickety split through the whole routine which, with the sword and the fan, goes faster than regular Tai Chi.
On Tuesday the director at school said I was going to be on TV and to watch that night at 8:00. Unlike my cousin in Parkfield, I've never been on national TV in the states, but now I have been in China! Of course, if you blinked you would have missed me. It was on the China national station and was a National Geographic type and quality program on the New Year's celebrations throughout China. They showed two scenes where I was drumming with the group at the Buddhist temple on Lantern Day. The director also said the reporter was going to bring by copies of the pictures for meŠbut that hasn't happened yet.
The water meter reader came last night. It was a lady who comes to the door and into the house to read the meter which is in the bathroom. After she reads it, you pay her right on the spot. I wondered how much money she ends up carrying around or if they have a drop spot.
At the supermarket where I heard one of the children's rides playing Auld Lang Syne, I just heard another ride. This one plays Jingle Bells! The third ride plays a Chinese tune. I also saw two large Santa Claus heads on the doors of a restaurantŠin April.
At the talk on holidays to the primary school teachers, the question came up about how Americans decide where to go on family holidays. The woman asking said in China they always go to the husband's family for a holiday. If there is a second day, then they go to the wife's family for that. I was happy to report that a little more compromising, negotiating, and arranging goes on in the states.
For my middle school class, again no one seemed to be arriving to escort me over on my bike, which they are insisting on. Our director called over and the Middle School said someone was on the way. It got to be almost fifteen minutes before my class was to start and I wanted to leave. Hate to be late to class! The young accountant said she would ride over with me. A lady from the middle school met us half way and we got there about two minutes before class started. I asked Zhang Yu to tell our director to tell their director that, if they insist on my being escorted, the escort needs to be here by 9:50 or I am going on my own. Now the next trick is to get them to release me at this end.
The government provides each grade at schools with a little newspaper, rather like our old Weekly Readers. I'm about to send an email to the editors suggesting that if they want their students to be learning polite English, they should not be teaching primary students that ``Oh, my god!'' is a proper exclamation. They use it regularly at all age levels to the exclusion of any other exclamation. The papers have some funny twists. Today they had the song, ``If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.'' The second verse was, ``If you're happy and you know it, stamp your hips.'' Now that's a maneuver I'd like to see! Interestingly where we say, ``If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it'' they say, ``If you're happy and you know it, never be afraid to show it''. That contrast is a fascinating comment on some of their experience in the past four or five decades.
Every semester a team of four people headed by the headmaster comes in to observe each teacher. Both Zhang Yu and Ran Heiying are up for observation this week. I had made a large copy of a game that was in the third grade book with some extra props that made it easy to play in a classroom. Zhang Yu asked if she could borrow it to use on her demonstration day. She tried it a couple of days ahead and I slipped in and listened to it. (The third grade room is right off of our office.) I made the suggestion that she incorporate English into the point where the child draws for a number and tells the class what it is. When she did it for the demonstration it was very successful. In fact, she said usually after the class the headmaster makes a couple of suggestions right away. She didn't have any to make this time. Yeah! Ran Heiying is very eager for me to come in to watch her demonstration class for which I feel quite flattered. Ran Heiying's seven-year old daughter is going to be in an English competition. The students are to recite a poem or story about honesty or politeness, and Ran Heiying hadn't been able to find anything. I looked through my resources and found the story about the boy who cried Śwolf' which is perfect. It was in the supplies the principal at Voorhies School sent along and even has a tape to go with it. Bonanza.
A funny scene today was the two lady accountants and the security gate guard cleaning green beans in the security office. The kitchen workers must have been running too tight a schedule and called in the auxiliary.