China Journal‹Friday, February 22, 2002


            Well, this has been a very enlightening day.

            In my walk with Zhang Jie this morning, I realized that I am training my own conversation partner in her.  She has a good aptitude and really enjoys working at the language. 

I also realized that there are levels of observation that come with exposure.  The first few times through an experience I am so focused on being with the situation and people involved that I donıt observe a lot of details.  For example, I just realized that the outer doors to the Zhangıs apartment building are steel, as is the door to their apartment.  The same is true at the office.  And it is heavy steel, thick enough for an inset lock, with no attempt to camouflage.  This morning I registered on the size and extent of their sound production system.  Not only is the TV a very large size, there is a speaker on each side that is about four feet tall and eighteen inches wide.  Stacked next to it is a tall column of what must be VCR, video, and Iım not sure what else equipment. Iıve registered on the degree of security around.  The pedestrian entrance to their apartment complex has a metal ³maze² that has to be maneuvered, not very easily if you have any packages in hand. I have also noticed that, with the exception of young Hua, people do not wear a large variety of clothes.  Fu Ling has had on the same long skirt every time I have seen her even in Bakersfield (except for her bright quilted outfit at home.)  Thatıs nice.  I donıt have to worry about the fact that I have about two outfits per season here.

I was ready to leave at the 8:30 hour when Zhang Jie was able to get across to me that her mother had a meeting and had already left and I would go to my meeting at 11:00.  So I laid down my coat and we worked on English.  We took a break at about 10:00 (she made me tea) and I stood in their bay window area that overlooks the park and watched the activity.  Gone were all the early morning exercisers.  Now it was filled with lively children playing on play equipment that looked very much like home.  There was lots of activity, many mothers and grandmothers.  I only noticed one man.  Two ladies were hitting a badminton birdie to each other. All around town outdoor growing bushes, hedges, and trees are wrapped in red, white, and blue mesh plastic, apparently to protect from freezing.  In the park the wrapping went around the outsides of the hedge, but the hedge was open to the sun on top.  The trees, which were maybe 18 feet high, had long vertical poles to which the wrapping was attached.  Looking to the side at the next apartment building, you see the little platform underneath a window of each apartment.  Apparently they are built there to receive what looked like a cooler or air conditioner.

As I was looking, up drove the car at 10:15, so I put on my shoes (we wear slippers in the house) and coat and off we went to the 11:00 meeting at the office.  There I learned that the meeting was at 11:30.  It finally started about 11:40.  A very nice man of 49, Liu Yong, was the interpreter.  He is a friend of Lu Zhin Yuan who was his boss in a consulting company a few years ago.  He worked quite a few years in Singapore with ITC.  Currently he is with a company that helps Chinese companies do what they need to do to get on a stock exhange somewhere.  Thatıs a rather exciting development in China, and he is right at the beginnings of it.  He apologized that he hadnıt spoken English in three years so was rusty, but it was a delight to me to be able to speak two or three sentences in a row at fairly normal speed and have them be understoodŠmost of the time!

            Their very first question was to ask why I did not eat meat and did it have to do with my religion.  They all nodded very knowingly when I explained that it was not because of my religion but because of my respect for life, for my health, and for the environment.  I had been worried before I came about whether I dared to wear my cross.  I neednıt have worried.  Around here at least they have no idea what it is.

The purpose of the meeting was to go over things that they had not been able to discuss with me because of the language barrier.  It also gave me a chance to ask questions (and to get the phone number of someone who speaks English!)  Some of the things I learned are:

1.     The foreign teacherıs apartment in their new building has not been finished yet, so I will be staying at Fu Lingıs the whole time.  Plus side:  nice bathroom and bedroom; good breakfast and dinner; nice people and fun daughter.  Down side:  no drawers or closet space so Iıll have to rearrange my things and live out of my suitcase for 5 months.  (Now, how will I get rid of that portable potty seat that I packed over in my suitcase to use over the squat toilet I thought Iıd be living with?)

2.     Ten of my twelve classes will be teaching elementary students (starting with first graders) instead of the juniors and seniors in high school he had told me I would have. (The opening of the new high school is behind schedule so they donıt have all those students lined up yet.) Plus side:  when we visited that school yesterday the lady who greeted us seemed really nice and friendly and happy to see me (she already knew!)  Iıll catch the students before they have poor pronunciation habits.  Little kids are cute.  Down side:  I have practically no experience teaching ones that age and even less experience starting little ones out on a foreign language.  I brought all sorts of ideas and games (plus bicycle reflector straps) for my 60 expected high school students but nothing, either mentally or physically, geared for elementary students.  Thereıs a reason I taught most of my career with the college and adult ages.

3.     I will share an office with the English teachers in the elementary school. Plus side:  This is great for getting rapport with them and working with them on their own English.  Down side: none!

4.     There are number of middle schools in the Nanking District that have a cooperative organization and they would all like to have their English teachers work with me.  Plus side:  The more people at the grassroots educational level I can reach, the more I can be of service.  Down side:  Oh, my.  Where does one start?

5.     When my tourist visa runs out in three months, they will get an extension. Plus side:  They arenıt the least bit worried that I donıt have a work visa.  Down side:  I still wonder about the inside of that Chinese jail!


Other little goodies were mentioned, such as this week getting in to see Beijing, Imperial Palace, the Great Wall, etc.  They talked about ³several days² but I donıt have an answer yet as to whether this is an overnight trip when we start out in the morning or an out and back each day venture.  They also mentioned that there is a spring break when I can travel.  School ends sometime in June, or late June, or maybe JulyŠall three answers were given. Patience, Jerry!

            Again for lunch we walked to a restaurant on the restaurant streetŠorange colored lotus root this time, turnip sprouts, tofu in several forms, delicious vegetable dumplings.  There were about four plates each filled with boiled dumplings with different fillings and one steam tray of steamed dumplings, so Fu Ling put a piece of the orange lotus root on the plate of dumplings which had no meat to identify it.  One of the rituals when you go to a restaurant is giving the honor of ordering the dishes to the guest.  (Thank goodness I donıt read Chinese so I havenıt had to deal with that.)  So there is much to do about the host passing to the honored guest the single menu card and the form on which you indicate the dishes you want.  Can you imagine having to order when you have no idea what all these strangers would like?  So it often gets passed back to the host or close friend when the honored guest declines.  Their may be discussion within the group, but the host decides the number and choices of dishes.  We didnıt get to lunch until about 1:50 so it was a mid-afternoon return to the office.  Yong and I talked for a little while.  Then he left and I had precious time with the computer. 

            It was 7:00 when we got home from the office so we went out to eat.  Right across the park from the apartment is a nice, clean neighborhood restaurant which the Zhangs obviously frequent regularly.  So Fu Ling, Cui Hua, and Zhang Jie and I sat down for a delicious meal.  Fu Ling has a fascinating ritual of her own which Iıve not noticed anyone else participating in other than her daughter and Cui Hua.  In effect she rinses the dishes in tea.  A pot of tea is always the first thing to appear on the table.  Fu Ling fills her cup about 1/3 of the way. Then she sort of swirls it around and pours it into the saucer that will be her food dish.  She then swirls the saucer around and pours the tea into the empty glass which always holds a little napkin sticking out of it.  Then she wipes off the cup and the saucer with the little napkinŠas well as the table which inevitably has some spills.  Napkins are a lightweight paper cocktail napkin in size.  After the first napkin sticking out of your glass, more napkins come to the table in the plastic wrapping.  They are passed around freely during the meal.

            Home to bed with a cup of tea delivered in my torquise ceramic cup with its lid.