China JournalWednesday, February 20, 2002
This was an amazing day. I must have seen a thousand people during the day and not one was a non-Asian.
In the morning I showered, dressed, and looked out their bay window overlooking a park to watch the women, led by a man, do warm-ups and then Tai Chi. There was a separate circle of about 10 men standing in that same 8 feet diameter that I witnessed in the office. I kept expecting them to break into exercise but apparently that was simply their morning gab fest. On the other hand, the women were all exercising!
Breakfast was sugared tomatoes, gherkin pickles, and a small green bean type of vegetable. Each of these is on a separate serving plate, a third the size of our dinner plates. Each person has a small saucer with China spoon and chopsticks to serve themselves from the main dishes. Fu Ling then handed me a square of white bread and slathered it with first strawberry jam and then chunks of butter. This she folded over and ate like a sandwich so I followed suit.
The ³good friend² came and checked the computer and said all was well. Then I went with Fuling and Sun who had stopped by with the driver to go to the office. That was hard for me because I basically had to while away 4 hours. Sun did have me read over a four-page proposal that they had written for a large international education interchange. While I could have suggested some more idiomatic corrections, I limited myself to saying that the age range given was not very realistic when they described wanting administrators who were forty years or under with ten years of administrative experience in education. When Willa came I helped her a bit with her English, and she gave me a wonderful shoulder and neck massage. For lunch they brought in steamed dumplings and a carrot and lotus root salad. Again the community dipping-in was in place, though the men each filled a large pot kind of container with food and retired to the other room in the office. I helped Chang Lo Lo a bit on her English and then, since I didnıt want a nap and Fuling and Sun had gone to a meeting, Willa and I started out.
We walked to a bus stopa harrowing walk across the streets and caught a bus, really a minivan in this case. Eventually we got offI have no clue as to where for future referenceand we were in what is the central marketthe old central market. It looked straight out of a Hollywood movie of old China. An archway entrance, Chinese style buildings on both sides of a non-motorized, narrow street lined with small stores and many vendors. The crowds were heavy with the New Yearıs visitors (they warned me at the office to be carefulmany people in town). If I was a monkey in a cage yesterday, today I was the exotic animal being led through the marketplace. Willa was so protective of meIım her ³grandma² which I know is a high honor. It got to be funny. Willa was laughing at how everyone told her I was ³beautiful.² People unabashedly stared at me, but with curious, warm faces, not hostility. By the end of the afternoon the funny part was the ones who asked how old I wasand then wouldnıt believe Willa when she said I was seventy. The vendors had many lovely handcrafts of the sort we thing of with Chinajade, embroidery, wood carving, pearls, and brush paintingsbut also games and typical street fair plastic toys and flowers. My favorite was a version of unattached yo-yo, called a sky bamboo. The ends of a string three or four feet long were tied to two strong sticks. A large piece of bamboo, shaped similar to a yo-yo in that it had a middle track, was balanced on it. The strings were worked with large arm movements to move the yo-yo back and forth and, when wrapped around, made a bull-roarer sound. The demonstrator we saw did great tricks, tossing it up into the air and catching it and forming a catıs cradle design with the string on which he caught the yo-yo and balanced itall without stopping or handling the yo-yo itself. Great entertainment.
As we moved through the old area we eventually came to a plaza type of opening with two very tall poles where ³flags² used to be hung. (The painted time picture in the temple ground showed a long string of probably paper globes hanging down and around.) This was the plaza in front of the Mula Temple (I have to look up the name and confirm it). It is the fourth largest temple to hera young lady born to be a goddess, as attested by her care for the people, who died at age 25 and became revered. It is an old temple with about five different ³palaces² (each a separate, single room building) and is obviously still very active (Buddhist). Willa paid to take me in and bought one package of about 7 bundles of punks, each bundle having about 50 punk sticks. In front of every building was a large metal box (1 x 2 yards) at waist high and filled with sand. Near each was an enclosed upright metal box which contained a pot of wax that was burning with a flame. The door was standing ajar. You took off all but two of the separate wrappings holding the individual punk bundles together and held the top in the flame until it caught. Then you walked in front of the metal tray, held the burning bundle in both hands, bowed slowly three times (Iım sure thinking of your ancestors), and finally placed the bundle standing upright into the sand to continue burning. There were various statues of gods and goddesses in each palace. The signs in Chinese were also in English which was charming. Whenever, and wherever, the translation got to the end of the line while still in the middle of a word, the word just continued on the next line.
We continued on through the central market which was more extensive than I would have imagined. Then we broke out of it, took another harrowing crossing catty-corner across a big intersection (traffic doesnıt stopeverybody just feels free to go catty-corner). Willa really holds on to me tight during that. Then we broke into what is called the ³big street². It is patterned after the old city center but not in the old Chinese architectural part of the city so the prices are cheaper there. It is still very small stalls, but they do tend to be grouped (purses in one area, jackets in another, etc.) Then we got to what I thought was a large department storeit isChinese variety. It was a three story large building with more of the little vendor stalls. It is similar to the Latin American variety. Again, merchandise was grouped, and again I was the object of much curiosity and apparent admiration.
While we were there I asked Willa where a person went to the toilet when they were out shopping. I never did figure out where it would be in the central market, but in this department building it was on the second floor (up the escalator!) You pay to get in and receive paper. (Again, I could not find out from Willa how much you pay to get it because she insisted on paying ³You are my grandmother.² Iım going to be stuck when she isnıt around.) It was a room of short, open stalls that you step up into and there is the squat toilet and a green plastic waste basket. You apparently throw the paper in the waste basket, old time Costa Rican style, and there is a push button flush. In the entry way there is a short piece of hose hanging in a sink that you can turn on to wash your hands and a much used wash cloth that I passed on for wiping hands. Many Westerners would be repelled, thinking it was dirty and lacked privacy. It was really surprisingly clean for a public toilet; it is just that it is unpainted, bare concrete that looks somewhat run-down. Iıve seen (and smelled) much worse at home.
Eventually it was time to go home. We took two different buses to get back to Fu Lingıs house which was probably a 45 minute to an hour trip. One bus skirted the edge of the new district (big modern buildings) of Tianjin, but even then we saw no westerners. Iım sure they are there if you venture into that area.
At Fu Lingıs house we take off our shoes and put on slippers, though the process is not as ritualized nor as prepared for as in Japanese homes that have a separate shoe removal entry. The man that I saw briefly last night and then in the morning sweeping the living room was finally introduced to me by the daughter as her father. When we arrived they motioned me to the couch to sit down. I asked the daughter what she had done today. She said she studied English. I suggested she bring it out. Willa and the daughter then sat on either side of me on the couch and we had a great English session. (This is particularly good for me because it helps alert me to where the problems are before I meet my classes. So far the V is the biggest challenge, not the R as I had thought.)
As is true in many of the old Chinese homes in Bakersfield, the man is the good cook in the household. When we sat down to supper I had to chuckle because the lovely glass table was covered with newspapers just like our Bakersfield Chinese described from when they grew up. It is hard to keep track of what all you have eaten at a Chinese meal. Little dishes keep appearing, from which you help yourselves either by taking a big chunk to put on your little saucer or simply taking bite by bite both maneuvers done with your chopsticks. The dishes tend to start with cold ³appetizers² like vegetables, corn salad, lotus root, gelatinized blue eggs (Willa called them duck eggs but they must have been dried if they were since they were almost smaller than our chicken eggs), prawns, etc. Eventually noodles or rice appears. The rice is not eaten with the meal but seems to come at the end. The Chinese style of eating is with the face going down close to the bowl or dish as needed to keep the food corralled with the chopsticks and into the mouth. If it is soup, slurping is quite permissable. The juice can be finished up either with the China spoon or by picking up the bowl with both hands and drinking it. Later that evening the daughter brought a bowl of strawberries into my room for me.
Willa and the daughter have both become comfortable with me and so were in and out of my room looking at the computer and admiring the picture of the grandsons that Scott put on my desktop.
Before going off to bed, I asked the daughter if she would write down the peopleıs names for me along with the Chinese characters and the tone markings in the pinyin (Romanized) spellings. This is a huge help to me. Here are the ones so far (the first name shown is the personıs last name, so I call them by the next two names when I can remember):
Zhang Fu Ling is the owner at whose home I am staying, not adventuresome in English, but delights in my attempts at Chinese and shows them off.
Zhang Ji Sheng is her husband who is a good cook and partner in the enterprise. He is a retired policeman according to Hua.
Zhang Jie is the 25 year old daughter who is delightful and really working on the Sun Zhi Hong is the headmaster of the middle school and does other things in the enterprise. He confused me as to his first name in the emails. It is not Sun.
Liu Jian Guo is the driver who picks Fu Long and Zhi Hong up every day apparently. He eats meals with the office staff too.
Ciu Hua is the director of the Foreign Liaison Department according to her card. She is the one who is called Willa, described herself as the secretary at the school, and is the English ³expert². I asked where she got the name Willa. That was what she was given in her English class. Iım going to start calling her Hua since that is what everyone else calls her here.
Lu Zhin Yuan is in charge of promoting the Tianjin Economic Research. He speaks some English, actually has a larger vocabulary and understanding than Hua but Iım only finding that out in bits. He strikes me as a wise, very nice man.
Wang Da-hou is somehow doing the same sort of thing as Zhin Yuan and the two of them work together with Bohan in their enterprises.
Cheng Long Long is the happy accountant and has the only name that is easy to remember. I help her with a new English phrase each day which she likes.
Off to bed after writing only half of this(it was later completed the next day.)