CHINA JOURNALTHURSDAY, MARCH 21-PALM SUNDAY, MARCH 24
Iıve just discovered the fly in the traffic ointmentmotorcycles. There are getting to be more and more (though not very many in my view) and apparently they tend to not follow the crazy fish flow of traffic I described. Partly that could be because it is harder to go as slowly and stop as quickly as it is on a bicycle, and partly it could be because they are small enough to weave in and out more and build up more speed than cars. At any rate, The China Daily showed a policeman stopping a motorcyclist, commented that they were cracking down on the motorcyclists, and mentioned that eleven motorcyclists had been killed in Beijing traffic last month. A rather amazing figure.
Another little addendum on the transportation. Iıve never seen anything but a single geared bicycle.
The China Daily also reported that our dust storm was the worst of the year. It would be fun to be in California when the remains arrive there and see what is left. If it dropped as much sand all across the ocean as it dropped here, youıd think there wouldnıt be anything left.
Thursdays are my day to go teach at the Middle School---our 10th grade. Young Zhang Jian (any one last name is held by many who apparently arenıt related) is the one assigned to ride over on his bike and escort me to school. This is the second week. I know the way, but across those two main streets I admit that I am still happy to have an escort. He manages to stick right with me no matter what I pull, and every once in a while I feel a welcome warning tug on my sleeve. This time while I waited in the office for class to start, the 9th grade English teacher came in. He really is able to carry on a basic conversation. Also came in one of the younger teachers who sat in the front row at my talk on Wednesday. She had about four other teachers in tow. I have no idea where they are from or what age they teach. They asked if they could come listen to class. Apparently it is a combination of wanting to hear English spoken and wanting to see how I conduct a class. Also the headmaster and one other administrator wanted to come. So in I troop with seven observers in tow to teach the 10th graders who are already petrified about having to speak English for me. Poor kids. I didnıt mind, but I felt sorry for them. The ninth graders all crowded around before and after class because they would like me to teach them. A few brave ones ask questions; the rest just stare and beam at me.
Back at the primary school for lunch with the first graders, a cute thing happened. At home Fu Ling passes out Kleenex to use as napkinsseveral times in a meal. At a restaurant they have the tiny little paper cocktail napkins that get passed around in profusion. At school, toilet paper goes for everything and every person has his own roll in the desk. One day Ren Haiying spilled something and asked for some toilet paper. A little boy on the farthest row came running over with his roll, which then sat on our little desk where we were eating. The next day he brought it over first thing when we came in, and then another boy brought his over. As is appropriate for little boy competition, today four little boys raced theirs over, and we ate our meal with four rolls of toilet paper in front of us.
On Friday looking out our office window, I saw the first two people Iıve seen carrying a weight hanging from either end of a pole balanced on the shoulders like what we grew up thinking of as ³coolie style². It was two women.
Tonight at dinner there was a new ingredient which Zhang Ji Sheng showed me before he cooked it. Heıs great about doing that. It looked like a skinny cucumber, longer than ours but not as long as an English cucumber. When it is this size you cook and eat it as a vegetable. When it grows up, it becomes a loofah, one of those big fibrous scrubbies you use in the bath.
At about 5:30 Zhang Yu and Zhang Jie gathered for an English lesson. We went for about two hours, broke for dinner, and went back to it afterward until almost 9:30. I think Iıll beg off continuing after dinner next time. Thatıs a bit much.
Saturday Sun Zhi Hong with Jian Goa picked up Fu Ling and me. Liu Yong had already arrived at the house. That is a signal that Iım on for something important if the official interpreter is here. We went to visit a middle school that Fu Ling and Sun Zhi Hong (and the Bomei Company) were angling to get the management of. Apparently the Education Bureau builds them and then often farms out the administration of them. The size of the Middle Schools really amazes me as does the number of boarding students. Maybe part of that is Chinaıs answer to two parents working. I donıt know. The second school was a building site in downtown that blew me away. It is the International School that Bomei is building and where any teachers coming for the fall semester will be teaching and living. (I really am having a unique experience living with fu Lingıs family.) It is under construction and due to be finished by September. It is on 70,000 square meters of land (somebody else will have to convert that). It is in prime real estate territory and just that amount of land would be prohibitive for most schools in the US. They expect to have 2000 students and apparently most of them will be boarding there. It is a huge campus. About five or six multi story (around six story) buildings. It includes an indoor swimming pool, what appears to be a big sports complex, another observatory in case any stars are ever visible, a multimedia equipment building, etc. The architectural drawings are very impressive (but then, arenıt they always.) At Friday nightıs English lesson, Fu Ling sort of jokingly said she would make me headmaster if I stayedthough I think if I showed the slightest flickering of an interest, it would be serious, not a joke. Fortunately, I am clear about my limitations along those lines.
Then we went to the office for the talk time. They realize that they have to have something like eight English teachers here in September to fulfill their commitment to the government and they are so inexperienced at getting teachers that they really donıt know how to go about it. Neither do Ibut I come from the American culture and can make some educated guesses on how to line up American teachers. The whole time into the afternoon and again in the early evening was spent brainstorming. One of my first recommendations is to build a website with lots of spin off buttons (see, I donıt even know the correct terms). My idea is to think through ahead of time most of the questions that will be asked and the information needed and get it into good English form. That will minimize the questions to which they, in their limited English, need to reply. They mentioned that they had an application from someone who sent a list of forty questions. (They never answered him.) I asked for a copy. They were great questionsmany of which I had asked too (but never got answers). I realized that, if I had not met Tom Hendricks, the Bakersfield school principal who visited their site in Tianjin, I would have been leery of going. They admittedly donıt know what is important to an American reading the site, but do realize it may be different than what is important to them. They are really quite dependent on me to come through on this. So, guess what I did last nightmade the outline for a web site showing what information I knew and making lists of information which they need to supply. Theyıll be surprised at how much they still need to provide. They say that their new man Mr. Fung has experience with computers and can do the web site. Hmmm. I also suggested that they talk to some agencies in Japan who have this recruiting, training, and placement of English teachers down to a fine art. The Bomei people know even less about maneuvering on the web than I do, so Iım chasing down sites for that. It turns out there are lots of sites on teaching English in China too, one of which mentioned that it is much less developed, organized, and lucrative than in Japan and Korea. Hope it all works!
Early afternoon we broke and the whole staff (twelve of us) broke for lunch at Fu Lingıs Bohan Hotel across the street. Liu Yong was on my left, with Fu Ling next to him. Li Di was on my right, so I was flanked by interpreters. Li Di is very wide eyed and direct in his questions. He looked at me as Fu Ling was reaching across Liu Yong to put food on my plate and said very slowly and seriously, ²Do you sometimes wish you could pick out your own food?² All I could do was laugh. He also translated for me the jocular talk between the men at the beginning, which was the traditional daring to compete on who could drink the most.
Fu Ling had said to bring my bathing suit. Immediately after we got up from lunch we drove to the swimming poolno one-hour wait after eating for the Chinese. The men were Liu Yong, Sun Zhi Hong, and Jian Goa. The ladies were Fu Ling, Cui Hua, Cheng Long Long, Li Jia Ling, and myself. Fu Ling did not go in, Cui Hua doesnıt swim but maneuvered all over on a heavy life saving ring, Cheng Long Long and Li Jia Ling cover the territory in a good dog paddle. The place where we were is a 100-year old lovely three story wooden building that is apparently like a health and recreation club. It has the atmosphere of a private club, but I donıt think it is. In the entry lobby a bare artificial Christmas tree still stands. You are given paper slippers for wearing to the pool and go up a wide staircase with threadbare red carpet and beautiful wooden banisters. That takes you to the ballroom. This was 2:30-3:00 on a Saturday afternoon. It was one of the largest ballrooms I have ever seen. A live band was playing classic dance music and the room was filled with ballroom dancers. Later, when the dancing was done we visited the room. The wooden floor is the springiest I have ever felt. It is famous for that. In his day, when Chairman Mao was in Tianjin, this is where he came regularly to dance. There were white working spittoons placed strategically around the room. Very appropriate in a culture where it is considered proper for both men and women to spit publicly.
We walked to the dressing room area. It has all the accoutrements of our dressing rooms, but all in a Chinese version. Everything is wide open. They do not provide towels. Everyone had towels like the little hand towel that was in my bath when I arrived. That really is what they use! (Must be a lot of communal living where they dry each otherıs backs at home.) As a result, no one walked around the dressing room with towels wrapped strategically around them. There were lots of bare women wandering all over. The swimming suits were interesting. Even for the stout women, the suits were almost a modest racing style suit, and, if there was any latex in them, it was not focused on the waist but on the boobs. It was as if they had bound chestsno choice between soft cup or shelf bras here. Once dressed with those flimsy paper slippers we went down a dark, treacherous metal grate staircase without handrail to get to the pool level. The pool room looked like any of ours built in 1925. It was a little run down in appearance but still quite serviceable. We now come to our usual scene any time we do something new with Granma here. Iım always self-conscious in a swim suit and no sooner had we emerged from the door that I heard this chorus of ³Hi, Jerry² from the pool. The men were already in. I figured out that it had been predetermined that Jian Goa was the strongest swimmer, so he was supposed to be my personal life guard. I looked down the stairway to climb in and here he is at the bottom. Beside the metal steps getting to the pool level, the other bad part was getting into the pool. There were no steps, only the big round metal rods that kill your feet and are very slippery. I did okay getting in but banged a shin getting out. I descended into what was a nice temperature of watercool at first. I did my usual one lap (it is a very long pool) in a dog paddle while I get used to the temperature. I got to the other end and here was Jian Goa, right with me. He looked a bit relieved that I made it. Then I turned around and did a crawl back. They were amazed. I had a great time. It felt so good to swim so I did lots of laps with time outs once in a while to try to help Cui Hua do a bit on her own. I had many, many thumbs up and ³goodaıs² for that performance.
After the swim we went back to the office for more talk. Having started at 9:00 in the morning, we finished up a little after sevenon a Saturday. (Is that why I never wanted to be in the corporate world?) On the way home, they pulled over to a little stand and bought some perfectly roasted chestnuts which we peeled and ate in the car.