THE LAST CHINA JOURNAL---Saturday, June 15 through Monday, June 17, 2002
Having gotten back from the Sanxia trip on Friday, Saturday and Sunday were going to be busy days. On Saturday at 10:00, Zhang Jie and I left the house on the bus to go to the hotel for the 11:00 farewell party for me from the Bohan office staff and the primary school staff. One of the directors and a math teacher got on the same bus and for a while, riding next to the bus, the third grade Chinese teacher was riding her bicycle to the party. There were about thirty people.
As we arrived at the hotel my office mates came out to greet me. We went to the lobby where quite a few had gathered. They all started presenting me with gifts. I asked Zhang Yu whether I should open them now or not.
Here I have to give an aside. When Su Dawn told me that the Nankai Bureau was going to present me with a gift, I asked if it was appropriate to open it or not. She said that often the Chinese prefer to open their packages in private, but in this case she thought everyone would like to see it. (It was all she could do to not tell me what it was.) Just before leaving on the Xian trip, I had given the Zhang family the special gifts I had for them (the only ones I wrapped.) They did not open them at the time. When I got back from that trip, they were still unopened. I have a feeling they will open them the night after I leave China.
So, back to the party and whether or not I should open the gifts. It soon became obvious they really wanted me to. Then it was funny. Each one came up when I had his or her or their package in hand and proceeded to open it for me. It got to be funny. They were such thoughtful dear gifts. By then the office staff arrived and we all went into the dining room. The three tables by the stage, which I had never noticed before, were set up. For some reason the office group seemed to be gathering at a separate table near the entrance. A little special group grabbed me and got set up at one of the tables. My three office mates along with Ran Hai Ying and her first grade daughter Li Lu were there. The headmaster was at my left. The waitresses had already started serving the tea. Suddenly I was hearing, ``Well, we will move around to different tables.'' I was escorted to the third table which was where the high Hottentots had moved. Little Li Lu was not pleased with my being whisked away from her table, but the others understood what was happening. I sat between the headmaster and Zhang Fu Ling. Also at the table were Li Jia Ling and her sister who had hand made two puppets for me.
The food was delicious and I feel certain the event was hosted by Zhang Fu Ling. At the entertainment time, my art/music teacher office mate Gu Xiao Juan was the MC. She is always in charge of programs by the Young Pioneers and is very good at the mike. They said nice things about meŠbriefly, since if I understood it nobody else did, and vice versa. Then came more gifts, mostly from the office staff. The one that touched me the most was an embroidered ``treasure'' box from Liu Jian Goa, the driver! The Chinese are really into what I guess is called karaoke, where you sing along with a VCD. The picture is showing and all the background music can be heard. You see the singer, but the only singer's voice you hear is the one you are seeing in person. A couple of people were planned but others were spontaneous, and the DJ in back of the stage curtain has a wide variety of selections. The number of people who participated and were really good impressed me. With the Chinese talent at memorizing, they knew all the lyrics. Quite a few sang in the Peking Opera type of voice for those selections. Zhang Fu Ling sang, as did Sun Zhi Hong. Chung Long Long and Liu Jian Goa sang a Peking Opera duet that went back and forth between them. These are all unrehearsed. The male physical ed teacher played a harmonica solo. Zhang Jie and Gu Xiao Juan danced.
Li Jia Ling presented the two puppets they madeŠa Snow White type of blonde girl and a Chinese boy. They are beautifully done. I'm a bit embarrassed by them, however. When I saw the puppets they had for the Children's Day performance, I asked if I could buy a boy and a girl to give to our puppet group at church. The wife of the man who made them was there and she was going to find out if he would make them and how much they would cost. (At least that was what I was understanding from the translation.) Next thing I know Li Jia Ling and her sister have made them and, of course, I can't pay for them. That's a tricky part about maneuvering in the Chinese culture. It is hardly safe to express admiration for anything!
The party ended with everybody dancing with the chairs pushed back. I could see as we gathered up the gifts that packing to go home would be an even bigger challenge than anticipated! Zhang Fu Ling was ready to send me on home for a rest, but I expressed interest in going over to the office since I knew it would be my last time there and I still had some things I wanted to cover with Mr. Lu. I could tell they were all pleased with that. We had a good session. It ended up with me writing a letter for them to the Canadian 21 year old woman who will probably come next fall. Quick turn around letter writing doesn't happen easily for them.
That night the three Zhangs and I went to a new soup pot place for dinner. I can only remember one other time when the four of us went to dinner together. Zhang Ji Sheng usually doesn't go. It was the perfect time to get a picture of the three of themŠand I had used up all my film at the party!
Sunday was packing day. After I had started, with the idea of getting it all don during the early part of the day, Fu Ling came in beaming to tell be she was washing my London Fog raincoat! Bad timing. I spent a lot of time during the afternoon rotating it and turning it inside out trying to get it dry enough to pack. All of the special Chinese gifts went into my big hardback suitcase because I wanted them to be well protectedŠand they filled the whole case. I ended up packing a big box with my clothes. (United is now charging a flat $130 for an extra bag. That is about what it would have cost to mail it airmail.) My carry-on rolling backpack is filled with my Chinese drum and bike helmet. Crazy looking luggage if you opened it.
That night, Sunday night, my last night in China, Sun Zhi Hong hosted a dinner at the nice restaurant that has the garden setting upstairs. This time however he had reserved a private dining room. The table and its lazy Susan as well as the chairs were lovely wood with flower designs of inlaid pearlŠone of about four restaurant meals (all but one at that same restaurant) where we were not eating off the lightweight plastic tablecloth. What a delightful change. There were seven of usŠthe three Zhangs, Sun Zhi Hong, Cui Hua, Liu Jian Goa, and me. It was a nice good bye. I realized that it was the last of four months of meals where I basically ate and listened and never said a word.
I turned in the keys to my bike with a sense of relief that I had survived that part of the experience. In the last month I have seen half a dozen accidents involving bikesŠdowned by a bus, a car, or another bike. Our taxi coming home from Xian actually clipped a bike but didn't knock it down. (That one was the bike rider's fault, in my eyes.) At any rate, I loved having a bike even if riding one was a bit nerve wracking.
Monday was the 17thŠmy day to return home. The whole family got up at 4:00 in the morning to see me off. Liu Jian Goa was going to drive me to Beijing (a real relief not having to hassle all the luggage on a train) and Cui Hua and Zhang Jie were going along. Zhang Fu Ling packed a breakfast for us. As we drove, the sun rose as an orange ball, an ironic last reminder of the polluted air I was leaving. But the night before we had looked out at a crescent moon with a planet close by and remarked that it is the same sight I see in California. We are indeed one world.
It took a fast hour and a half drive on an expressway to get to the airport where we said our goodbyes. It took me another hour and a half to work my way through the maze to the departure gate.
In coming back into one's own culture it is interesting to see what catches your notice. Two toilets in a row had seats AND toilet paper. There was a drinking fountain with cold water you could drink directly. They had a packet of party mix for a plane snack. On the plane my Indian vegetarian meal came with a fork, spoon, and knifeŠthe first meal I've eaten with a fork for four months. (I felt sorry for the Chinese man sitting next to me who was not offered chopsticks.) As I tasted the Indian curry, I realized it was the first non-Chinese food I have eaten in four months. The Chinese, at least my Chinese, were not very adventuresome when it comes to trying different cuisines.
As I anticipated arriving in San Francisco, I remembered the biggest culture shock of my life. It was not going to a foreign country. It was 44 years ago. I had been teaching in Lebanon for a year and, having to leave on short notice, was arriving back in the states at San Francisco. As a Hoosier, I had never been west of the Mississippi. Arriving from a year living as part of the Arab society in Lebanon to the San Francisco of 1958Šthat was a real culture shock. But I'm a Californian now, and I feel right at home. My first meal in the United States? Ša Noah's Śeverything' bagel with light veggie schmear at the San Francisco airport. You can't get those in Bakersfield. With six hours between planes in San Francisco, I actually typed this on my lap top computer sitting in the SF airport.
Now I am home in Bakersfield. Ron Dethlefson picked me up and we got back here around 6:15 tonight. I needed to turn on the water and plug in the refrigerator. And, after one clothes washing, I'm turning around and leaving the house at 6:30 in the morning to go join Scott and Patty and the boys camping at San Francisco's Camp Mather outside of Yosemite. I'm so eager to see them. Since Sunday is Scott's birthday, I may go back to the Bay Area with them on Saturday and come home Monday morningŠ or I may just come on home on Saturday so I can unpack. We'll see.
This has been a wonderful adventure. I get teary eyed just thinking about how special it was, primarily because of the special people who loved me, shared with me, and watched over meŠmostly without us even being able to speak to each other in words. It was special too because I was at a place where I really was needed. People are people the world over...and a pretty amazing lot we are. God created us all, and how wonderful it would be if each one of us could have this experience of seeing and feeling our brotherhood with each other. That's what can bring us one world in peace.
The journal has been my way of processing what was happening to me since I had no one with whom to talk in person. Thanks for listening! ZaijianŠgoodbye.