CHINA JOURNAL---Wednesday, May 1, 2002 through Friday noon, May 3, 2002
May 1st is the big Labor Day holiday here. Having seen movies of the huge May 1st parades in Russia, I was anticipating some sort of special show. As it turns out, it is truly a holiday. Lots of pastel flags over the bridges and down the streets, lots of Chinese flags flying from businesses, and lots of extra colored lights strung. Even the portico in our neighborhood park had garlands of lights strung which were only turned on for the night of May 1. In the park this morning we saw quite a few grandma type of people being escorted by sons or adult grandchildren. It is a day of gathering together.
After Tai Chi in the morning, we watched the drum group practice. I had taken down my gift drum in the hopes that we could find someone to teach me. They pulled out the expert and we had a lesson right then for about an hour (with a large audience) and another the next day. It is going to take more than two lessons and lots of practice. The drumming involves very precise beats (which I can handle), but also precise hand motions to wave the flag, and head direction changes to match that. So far only occasionally have I gotten all three together, but this is one I really want to learn. It's fun! I'm going to get a set of chopsticks from the neighborhood restaurant to practice with on the trip.
While we walked after Tai Chi, I told Zhang Jie that I would like to go to the Zhou En Lai museum. No one in her family had ever been there. We weren't sure whether it would be closed for the holiday or open because of who it was honoring on the holiday. She called and found it open. In the afternoon we took a bus over. There were flags all around there and hundreds of people and many Chinese tour buses. (Normally when we have driven past it on the way to the Nankai Bureau for my talks, it has been absolutely deserted.)
It was a perfect day to go. Not only was the sun out but it was great to see it all in action. The entrance is right next to the Water Park which was also very, very busy. It was hard to find a way through the parked bikes. The museum is a collection of photographs and some artifacts. It is very well done. There was one sign in each room in English. I had read the book the Scotts gave me which pulled in much of the history so I was familiar with what I was seeing. (The book is Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung ChangŠa real eyeopener.) I saw pictures of Nixon, Kissinger, and George Marshall. When Zhou En Lai died in the 70's, he asked that his ashes be scattered all over the rivers and land of the country. He had a special tie-in with Tianjin, having been schooled here and then having taught here. So the last room actually had ashes in the original urn on display. Deng Jing Chao, his almost equally famous wife, was included prominently throughout the museum (or mausoleum). Her ashes were spread in the river which runs through Tianjin. The one thing that surprised me was that when he lay in state he was draped with the Russian hammer and cycle flag rather than the Chinese flag. The same was true of his wife who didn't die until 1992. I have always thought of that as being the USSR flag, but maybe it is actually the communist flag. I'll ask Liu Yong or Dawn Su, the two people I communicate with who might be able to understand both my question and the significance.
We spent all afternoon there, coming home by bus as far as the Bohan School corner. We then walked rather than take another bus. (That was my suggestion. I had an ulterior motive.) We walked on the far side of the street from where I usually bike, and that took us right past a huge market whose fancy front had just been built and about which I was very curious.) It is like the brokers market for all the fruits and vegetables. It is a huge area. This was 4:00 in the afternoon so much of the activity had stopped for the day, but there were still big trucks like I have not seen in the city. They were loaded with various styles of boxes made mostly from bamboos. They arrive early in the morning and pull out their produce. All the little market vendors, restaurant owners, and suppliers arrive by three-wheeled transport bikes or occasionally small trucks to buy their produce for the day. We saw one very old man in a little cart pulled by a little burro. The big open area is ringed by an old one-story building which was cut up into very small rooms where some of the vendors or workers liveŠone door and one window. We bought a pineapple from a stand where the man cuts off the peeling and then cuts out the eyes in a diagonal pattern using a wedge-shaped tool made of aluminum.
That night, Zhang Ji Sheng, who gulps down many tiny very hot peppers in a meal, finally got me to try one by fishing around and pulling out a small one. I just licked it and WOWŠbut I persevered, licking it all the way first and then nibbling in tiny bits until I finished it. I could still feel my tongue burning by the end of the meal. I think his approach of just tossing them in quickly is probably wise. It is rather like the comparison of whether you go into the swimming pool slowly or just leap in. Zhang Ji Sheng sometimes consumes a whole bulb of garlic in a mealŠnot a clove, a bulb! He also pours his beer into a soup bowl to drink.
The next day at 9:00 the drum group was going to perform at the neighboring apartment unit across the canal from us. It was drizzly and chilly, but Zhang Ji and I walked over to watch them. There was one of those huge big tubular balloons arched over the stage with two facing dragons climbing over the top. It turned out to be two hours and fifteen minutes of ever changing entertainment. We stayed for the whole thing. There were various dance groups and Tai Chi groups, all in costumes. It made me realize that this is where we Americans miss out. All of these groups are ones formed in the neighborhoods getting out and doing exercises everyday together, developing routines, and performing. There were the dancers with the long sleeves that they wave around, another group with fans with long tails, and a group with a little smaller than badminton size rackets and what looked like tennis balls. They exercise to music and toss the balls into the air from all positions and catch them with a scooping motion. It was a great morning and, between Zhou En Lai Wednesday and this on Thursday, I was glad we weren't leaving on our trip until Friday. It all works out!
Thursday afternoon Liu Xiao Bo arrived. She doesn't get back home for the holiday since it is so far away. She requested an English lesson so I dutifully performed. I had planned on mailing the swords back on Thursday thinking that the Post Office would be closed on Wednesday but open Thursday. Wrong. The government officials get a week's vacation. Apparently there is no such thing as rotating vacations. The government just closes down for a week.
This morning, after I had packed my school bag which has both wheels and shoulder straps for easy transport, Cui Hua arrived with the travel agency issued athletic bag. This, and nothing else, was what we were to use as our luggage. I was afraid it was smaller than the school bag but it actually works out okay. However, living with that is like having a woman's big purse where everything just gets dumped in and you can't find anything. They also gave us a red cap to wear. I think I'll perch mine on top of my sunhat.
Cui Hua needed to sit down and use the computer to pick up her email. More applications had arrived and so we sat down with the numbered list and made the replies. Having the office closed for a week is a bit awkward too.
At about 2:00 we will leave on our adventure. I'll report back in after the 9th.