CHINA JOURNAL—Saturday, April 27 through Tuesday, April 30, 2002

            As young Zhang Jian, my middle school bike ride escort, and I were tooling along, he said, ``You are cool—c-o-o-l.'' Since his English is quite limited, I thought maybe he was asking if I was cold. But, the weather being nice, I eliminated that interpretation. Then I wasn't sure whether he meant cool as in ``cool as a cucumber'' (since we had just successfully survived a rather harrowing intersection crossing) or as in ``You're cool, man''. Either way I was flattered.

            This was Saturday when, in order to earn the long holiday, we were teaching our Wednesday classes. Since my usual day at the middle school was Thursday, the day I pooped out, they sent me over on Saturday which was fine with me. This time I had the middle school students push all the desks together in the middle and put their chairs in a big circle while we talked. This is far out from their usual experience, but they seemed to warm up to it. I had specially marked tags to give to each person who spoke, so I could tell who hadn't spoken and get them all to speak at least once. That did work.

            Sunday was weird. I got up early for my own private time. Then I left the house at 8:30 a.m. and didn't get back until 7:15 p.m., working the whole time. They wanted me at the office in the morning and brought me back for my classes and then back to the office. I could have skipped the 1st graders. The regular teacher was gone and the man P.E. teacher was the one sitting in. The poor little guys had been in school from morning until bedtime for seven days and they were a bucket of worms and giggles. The P.E. teacher called over four of the boys at the end of class, gave them a talking to, and made them come over and apologizeŠin English. I had a hard time keeping a straight face.

            The reason they were desperate for me at the office was that the teaching jobs I posted for them had now generated nine good prospects, and they had no idea what to do next. So, Jerry to the rescue. They were absolutely delighted, of course, at the good applications. Li Di was busy translating them for Sun Zhi Hong to read. I sat down at the computer to do two things. First, with the necessary time needed for translations, I realized that they needed to send an instant reply indicating the application had been received and they would be hearing a more detailed response soon. This I gave to Cui Hua and showed her how to paste it in for a turn-around response. In doing this I realized that Cui Hua had a way of saving things in email which was difficult to access, so I took time to plan and organize a computer file system for the folders and how to save each applicant's information and correspondence separately.

Then back to the computer where I started typing up suggested individual responses to each application. Pretty soon I noticed that while there was often a little different information that needed to be given, many of the answers overlapped. Realizing

that they don't have me around much longer to handle all this, I know I need to do things to help them be both more efficient and more independent with the least amount of translation time possible. I ended up typing a numbered list of 43 sentences, each appropriate to a need in the correspondence. Then I took the remaining applicants and composed a good letter for each one by giving only numbers. This means that the letter to Applicant A gets sentence 1, 4, 5, and 7. Applicant B gets 1, 3, and 8. And so on. They are thrilled (and so am I). This means that after Li Di translates all those 43 sentences into Chinese, Sun Zhi Hong can compose the letters himself by referring only to the numbers. And Cui Hua doesn't have to type everything in; she can copy and paste by the numbers. ŒTwas a happy office.

            While I was working so much of the day at the office, I made a new discovery of a difference between Chinese and American office procedures. I had waste paper I needed to get off of the desk I was using. I walked past three desks in this back room and four in the front room before I found a very small trash can by the entrance door. They don't generate as much paper as we do, and I guess when they finally do it is an excuse for a walk-about.

            Monday morning was at school again, the eighth day in a row, and it was hard to keep track of what day it was. The morning was at the office again where Sun Zhi Hong had a new fruit to tryŠLiu Lian, an expensive fruit from Thailand. What you eat off the large seed almost has the texture of pudding or a ripe mango. I thought it was quite good, but no one else beside Sun Zhi Hong liked it. It is about the size of a small pineapple with dinosaur armor instead of prickles, indentations like star fruit, membrane divisions, and two large seeds to each section.

            Zhang Fu Ling has been having trouble with high blood pressure and it had gotten quite bad so she went to the doctor (Mr. Lu's wife whom I saw) along with Cui Hua and Sun Zhi Hong. A crowd in the doctor's office seems to be the Œin thing'. She chose to take her medicine as liquid rather than capsules and came home with six of those glass pint bottles filled with a brown liquidŠvery herbal looking. I suspect that most Chinese choose the liquids because it is more like the old herbs they used to brew at home. She had that marvelously funny list showing exactly when to take the medicineŠbut she also knew exactly when she was born.

            When I got home from school I walked over to the flower shop and got a pretty bouquet in a nice vase as a Œget well' for Fu Ling. I also got a vase with a big lily for Cui Hua whose birthday is May 1st (when the office will be closed.) I took it today and it was definitely a success. I think they don't make much of birthdays so everyone enjoyed this. Sun Zhi Hong joked that his birthday was May 2, and Mr. Fung's was May 3, and Mr. Lu's was May 4th. That present idea is fun!

            Since I had no classes today because the kids leave at noon for the holiday, I spent all day at the office. I asked Liu Yong to check with Sun Zhi Hong to see if my presence in the home was adding to Fu Ling's blood pressure problems and, if so, I would be happy to move to a school. Sun Zhi Hong's reply was that if I moved to a school her blood pressure would really go up! I was glad for that answer because I thoroughly enjoy living and sharing life with the family here.

            Fu Ling is interested in starting an International Primary School with American style learning. So she asked Liu Yong to speak with me this afternoon about what they need to do. I feel like Kevin did when, as a new graduate, his Peace Corps assignment was the financial (or whatever) adviser to a co-op in Costa Rica. He said, ``I just graduated. I don't know anything.'' But when he got there he found that their banking system and procedures were back in the last century, and he really did know enough to be of value. That's where I am. I pontificate on these things I know nothing aboutŠbut my Œnothing' is more than their knowledge and experience. I'm really glad that I truly am helpful. And they think my computer is definitely a magic box. I pulled up a list of the International Schools in China and pulled up the address for the New England Accreditation group. I keep telling them that Œgoogle' is the way to go.

            The holiday trip has changed again. First it was changed from leaving on the third to leaving on the first. Then suddenly the travel group had some sort of emergency and the whole thing fell through. So now Cui Hua and I are on a totally different itinerary and I'll hope for Guilin on the next trip. We are now leaving on the third and going by overnight sleeper train to Nanjing (only a 16 hour trip), Wuxi, Suzhou and Hangzhou (the most popular destination for the Chinese and the center of the silk industry), and Shanghai.

            The trip schedule brings me back at a time when I will miss a day of classes at the primary school and the next morning session at the middle school, so I asked Sun Zhi Hong about that. He said he would cancel those classes for me. We went on to talk about where I should go on my trip at the end which is limited because of the short time between my last day of class and the last day my visa runs out. He volunteered that, because of the great job I have done for them, he is flexible about when my last teaching day occurs so maybe I can wiggle in a few extra days. Ah, what a sweet reward!

            With May 1st, May Day, Labour Day tomorrow, there are pastel colored vertical flags lining all the bridge railings and many streets and Chinese flags flying in abundance. There are some extra lights adorning businesses that probably remained after New Years but were turned off from then until now. There are no parades or the like, just family time with the day off. So enjoy your holiday! Goodbye to April.