CHINA JOURNALäSaturday, April 13 through Wednesday, April 17, 2002
As of today I am on the last half of this adventure. I left California on February 17, two months ago, and I leave China on June 17, two months from today. Funny thing is, while I would love to travel all over China, I feel if I had to leave today that I really have ``seen China'' because I have had the delight of living with the people rather than looking at the people.
Saturday was spent all day at the office. Liu Yong picked me up. There were three others there. Liu Yong had written an outline of their project seeking to partner with sponsors in the United States for World Trade Organization training. He had patterned it after the one I wrote for the educators exchange. We spent the whole day going over it, making changes, putting those in the computer, etc. At the end of the day I showed Liu Yong and Mr. Fung how to do a google search for WTO training information and for web sites of groups connected with teaching in China. They were flabbergasted. They have seen even less of it than I have. They kept thinking it was my magic computer. I assured them that they didn't need me or my computer; they could do it on their own. I feel like the mother bird trying to push the fledglings out of the nest!
With Fu Ling gone we have eaten at the restaurant quite a bit in the last two weeks. At one meal Zhang Jie and Ding Bai mentioned that in May we would go on a trip to Guilin (which is on my ``for sure want to see'' list). They said that the two of them, Gao Tian Hui (the singer), Lu Jing Lin (her boyfriend), and I would be going. What a combo. Four youngsters and one senior! Does that make me the chaperone? When I asked where else we would be going, they weren't sure. When I asked the date, it was May 4th or maybe May 2nd. Again they weren't sure. As it gets close I'll mentally pack and be ready for when she walks in the door and says, ``We go!''
I was asking the owners about their restaurant. It is open seven days a week from 6:30 in the morning to 10:00 at night. The family is always there. Can you imagine living with that schedule?
We've had some funny language confusions. Zhang Jie asked if I could eat `finger', which turned out to be a confusion with `vinegar'. And she pointed to one dish and said, ``This is kitchen'' which simply reverses the sounds of `chicken'. At school the English teachers were confused by my use of the word `present' in `present the flag', confusing its meaning with ``Here is a present for you.''
Near the school I just saw the second cat that I have seen in my two months stay in China. Pretty interesting.
I spent a lot of time with my millennium book to gather information for my talk on famous people since I didn't have the computer access. Finally Monday night we got phone service back and I started to work in earnest. I had developed a long list of famous people and realized that I would have trouble covering them all but had begun to figure out how to organize it when I came across my perfect out. The Library of Congress has a site of ``Amazing Americans'' which lists 25 people of a wide variety along with simply stated but accurate information and about ten pictures for each. There wasn't anyone of their list I would leave off, but it didn't include some of my favorites. However, I decided at this late date, since they provided pictures and obviously they had put a good deal of thought into their selections and design, that would become my list. I worked very hard to import all the pictures and sized them (something new for me!) so that I had one screen for each person with two pictures and the identifying information. It looked great. And guess what. On Wednesday again they could not figure out how to send the information from my computer to the screen. (I had written down what I had to do.) I could hardly believe it. I guess nobody took notes when they stumbled across it the last time. Very frustrating!
After the presentation I had six people who signed up to have lunch with me. I said I would provide an American style bag lunch. They were really funny because the idea of not having anything cooked and hot for lunch was more than they could stand, so they went out to bring back some steamed buns to eat along with what I brought. I had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on raisin bread and cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread. (I can't find mustard here though.) I also brought carrot sticks, potato chips, apples, and cookies (which I thought from the picture would taste like oreos, but they were like an English biscuit with a not-rich chocolate filling.) They pretty much ate it up. My favorite scene was the lady across from me holding her peanut butter sandwich with chop sticks while she ate it. We talked about differences in eating and cooking styles. The Chinese have hot food at every meal and they all talked about how long it takes to prepare since they do so much chopping and have so many different dishes at each meal. They all sounded as if they would welcome some fast items like our sandwiches.
Zhang Ji Sheng came in the kitchen this morning when I was starting to prepare the carrot sticks. He was like a chef watching a novice. After seeing what I was trying to do with a very poor substitute for a paring knife, he took the carrot from me and picked up his big cleaver. With the cleaver he took off the peeling in very thin slices, scraped it, and chopped it into wedges. I would have taken off my finger with that cleaver. Very impressive. I also noticed that the stove is a two burner stove. One burner is where they keep the soup and steam pot going for rice and noodles. The other burner is the stirfry burner with the wok, which explains why dishes come out every few minutes from the kitchen, not all at once. All the fried items are done on the same burner and in the same pan, one right after the other with a quick rinse of the pan in between.
On Monday I visited the almost-key school in the neighborhood, the one with 1000 students of whom 500 live on campus during the week. The building is only about two years old. The school that moved in had been a normal school for training teachers of foreign languages. They shifted to a middle school, kept about half of the teachers, and moved into this new building. The most interesting thing I learned was about teacher training which is quite different from our approach. If you go to college for only two years after high school, then you become a primary teacher. If you go for four years, then you become a middle school teacher. How's that for a hierarchy of values. No wonder Sun Zhi Hong couldn't figure out why I was insistent that if someone was trained to be a high school teacher they should not be placed in a primary school, and teachers shouldn't be placed in a middle school just because they have a bachelor's degree if that is not their training. A whole different approach.
I noticed a clever solution on my walk to get a China Daily today. At a very popular outdoor soup stand, they have no way of quickly washing soup bowls. They put a clean plastic bag over the big soup bowl that has been used by others and then fill it with soup and all the goodies that go in it. You drink the soup from the plastic covered edge and fish out the goodies with your chopsticks. When you are done, that plastic bag gets thrown out and another one placed around the bowl.
Fu Ling arrived home today from her two week business trip to Switzerland. She had stopped at the office and brought with her the promised picture album with sixteen pictures of me playing my drum at the temple on Lantern Day. They will be a real keepsake.