Journal, 2002, 02, 19

Tianjin, China

            At the end of this day, I realize how totally immersed I am in very interesting culture, with nice people, and very little ability to communicate.

            When I got up this morning, I went down to the coffee shop for breakfast.  It was the usual type of four star hotel buffet spread with some Chinese differencesŠ.hot cereal was congee which I think is made from rice, the bread choice beyond some sweet rolls was white bread squares for toast or some extremely challenging chewing in a wheat roll or homemade wheat long loaves from which you cut a slice.  Fruit included  what I think is lychee nuts and something that tasted and looked a bit like loquats.

            After breakfast I wanted to walk to Tienanmin Square which, on the map, looked reasonably close.  I showed my map to the man at the front desk to find which street was the one in front of the hotel.    As it turned out, he was 90 degrees off!  So I followed the map by streets (canıt read the names even when they are there which is rare.)  My first lesson confirms what the guide book saidŠ.Donıt ask Chinese for directions (or if you do, take their advice with a grain of salt.)  I donıt know how many I asked, all of whom directed me a different way.  I had a great walk, but after an hour and a half I went back to the hotel.  This time the concierge was there and I found out I had been going the wrong direction.  So I moved out quickly for a jaunt down first a ³walking street² which is closed to cars for about four long blocks, then on the street the concierge said was the biggest in the worldŠ12 lanes wide.  This really did lead me to Tiananmin Square.  It was very crowded with lots of apparently Chinese tourists.  I saw very few Anglos (you can recognize them because there are much taller than the average Chinese) and of all the people I asked for directions, only one spoke some English.

            My second lesson of the day was that pedestrians are low-man-on-the-totem-pole when it comes to consideration in traffic.  Bicycles are second lowest.  Next going up the power scale comes private cars.  And the top power spot is a tie between taxis and buses.  There are traffic signals which include the pedestrian walk or stop signsŠ.but they are totally ignored by both cars and pedestrians.  A bicycle rider and I just about got creamed by a bus when we were crossing with the light.  I kept walking while the driver and rider had a loud shouting match.  The policeman on the corner never changed expressions.

            When I came back from my walk, Willa arrived to pick me up.  She is the secretary who does the translating.  Now I know why they never particularly responded to many of my questions.  She is a darling girl of 25, but her English is about the level of my Spanish when I havenıt spoken it for a yearŠ.and that is pretty minimal.  Now Iım really wondering what the studentsı English will be like.  Forget about having a translator introduce me the first day to explain the game rules.

            Willa and I took a taxi with my bagsŠthe largest of which is extremely heavy (62 lbs) and large for Chinese car trunks, my normal airline roll on, my back pack, and my computer bag.  It was a hassle to travel with that much luggage but we made it.  The taxi drove us to the train stationŠbut we had to move with all the bags down and up several long stairs.  A young fellow (³son of peasants²)came over and Willa decided to let him help.  (She had refused an earlier offer by one of the men who hawk the cars.)  We finally got on the train.  Each car is a double decker and you have a reserved seat.  Our seat mates got to talking and asking Willa about me.  I am a great curiosity.  They all comment on how strong, vigorous and healthy I look.  The man in the couple is a headmaster at a school in Tianjin.  He knew Bohan.  He then had fun with me learning Chinese sounds.  The whole quarter of the car at our end was smilingly staring at me the entire time. He is a good language teacher. The wife and I were getting along great with charades.  He presented me with his card so I reciprocated.  I have a feeling I will hear from them again.  I hope so.  They were fun.  Their name for me was ³le mama.²  The train cars are double deckers and quite full with both people and luggage.  The restroom is the squat toilet variety but surprisingly clean.

            We arrived at Tianjin after an hour and a half by train and the headmaster Zhihong Sun with whom I have been communicating and the driver from Bohan met us at the train and carried the luggage out. It is really typical of what I think of Chinese respecting the elders.  Willa doesnıt want me to carry anything and they all want to help me up and down steps, etc.  We drove to the main office of the enterprise (not the school itself).  I couldnıt have had a warmer reception (againŠno one speaks English). One lady, Chang Lo Lo (is what it sounds like) met me at the door downstairs and practically carried me to the elevator.  Two others met us in the office.  The owner Fuling Zhan whom I had met in Bakersfield came out and gave me a hug (very unChinese).  I think that getting me there is a bit of a coupŠthey sat me down in a chair and gathered other chairs in an 8 ft. circle.  It was rather like being the monkey in the zoo with all the people looking at you and talking about you and not being able to understand.  They discussed my vegetarian diet, which I had mentioned to Willa.  Then Willa took me downstairs to eat at a little caféŠno one was around.  It had individual woks at each table (with the propane canister under each table).  They bring out soup and lots of individual dishes which you put into the soupŠpeanuts (hey, I could picked them up individually with my chopsticks the way Willa was), taro root (which you dip in a different kind of sugar), winter melon, celery, tomatoes, mushrooms, bean curd in several varieties, seaweed,  green noodles, hot pepper, and more.  You put them in the soup as it is boiling in front of you.  Then you use your chopsticks to pull out whatever you want and put it on your little plate to eat.  In China one should never go to a meal with anyone who is sick, because everybodyıs chopsticks go into the main dish.  When we finished (mid afternoon) they all decided I needed a rest so about four of them escorted me into the office to nap on the couchŠfluttering around and wiping the couch, getting out what looked like a new blanket, and fixing a pillow.  They tucked me in and left me to my rest.  About an hour and a half later I emerged and they all gathered around in the circle again.

            Eventually we went to dinner on the second floor of a restaurantŠ.Sun, Fuling, the driver (Lu?), Willa, and myself. We were in a private room upstairs with a couch and the table which would seat 8.  We are over the hump on the vegetarianism.  They always order some things they know I will eat.  Dishes were brought in one or two at a time and set on the glass lazy Susan which had lovely crocheted cloth under the glass and engraved flowers on the glass. There was a fruit chunk salad, a corn salad, a spinach/nut salad, and one with mixed vegetables.  They served what was called milk but it tasted like an orange yogurt drink.  The feature was dumplings for which Tianjin is famous.  They eat them breakfast, lunch and dinner and the dumplings can be made with pork or other meat or just vegetables.  Again, everyone just picks at the food from the main plates with their chopstick.  Occasionally they will pick a bigger chunk up and put it on a small personal plate.  Fuling, the owner of the school, always wants to defer to me and has me go first.  I keep trying to get her to show me what to do.  We make it about half the time.

There is much smoking by the men at dinner.  Fuling smokes but did not do so at the table. Sun rolls his own in sort of a fluted shape. Each cigarette has probably a third the tobacco in one American cigarette.

            After dinner the driver brought us back to Fulingıs house where I was to stay.  It turns out that school doesnıt start for a weekŠbut I never found that out. Fulingıs daughter is 25 and a cutie pieŠvery bubbly. She has just begun studying English so does not have much vocabulary yet, but she is eager to communicate and learn.  She was giving me her room to sleep in, so she showed me around with very clear, mostly charade directions.  In the house they have a regular toilet and tub/shower but the only towel I have is a hand towel size.  Fuling had bought new colorful sheets and a comforter to go inside the cover so we made the bed.  The beds are like sleeping on the floor which fortunately is just fine with me.  The rooms are kept hot at night. (I couldnıt cool the one off at the hotel either.)  Their apartment is in a highrise (6 story) building as apparently most housing is. It is two flights up (no elevator) and very nicely done inside. The living room centers around a huge TV and has a small dining table at one end.  The small refrigerator is next to the table at one end.  At the other end the water cooler with a big bottle of water turned upside down dispenses both hot and cold water.  One is constantly kept supplied with hot tea.  I have only had a slight peak at the kitchen and other bath.

            Fulingıs daughter wasnıt sure whether my computer would run on their power so she called a good friend to come over tomorrow morning to see.   Off to bed.