CHINA JOURNAL—Monday, May 27 and Tuesday, May 28, 2002

            Funny, funny, funny. Within a few weeks of my arriving in China, I spent way too high a price for Chinese ``vitamins'' to make me strong and healthy. Within a few weeks of my leaving China, Fu Ling has just spent way too high a price for American (AMWAY!) ``vitamins'' to make her strong and healthy. The grass is always greener... Yes, one of Zhang Jie's friends told her about the Nutralite products. In the next apartment building is a Chinese man who is selling them. Zhang Jie came back with a full supply for her mother, and they are priced in the American range. I tried to tell Zhang Jie that if they like the products she can become an Amway salesman too and get them at a cheaper price. That concept does not ring any bells with her.

            Next Saturday, June 1 is Children's Day. To celebrate, on Friday there will be a program all morning at school and the children will go home at 12:00 noon instead of at the usual 4:00. At lunch in the first grade room, Ran Hie Ying and Zhang Yu asked if I knew the story of Snow (and then they looked puzzled). I offered Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and that was it. The children are putting on the play on Friday and they wanted an English translation of the Introduction. Later I passed the 4th grade room where they were practicing with Li Jia Ling, Fu Ling's friend, among others. It will be a puppet show, and she had a large suitcase of supplies. The puppets are marvelous. They are built on two sticks. One holds the body and the other one holds the head on a very long neck so the head can be poked up in the air and turned in all directions. A long heavy wire is attached to one hand to move it around. I told Li Jia Ling about our church puppet group and asked where I could buy a puppet. You can't buy them in a store. This one was handmade by the husband or friend of one of the other women there. She is going to ask if they will make one for me.

            A long feature article in The China Daily describes a powerful, mesmerizing production of Arthur Miller's 1953 ÔThe Crucible' currently on stage in Beijing by the National Drama Theatre of China. Several of the writer's comments caught my eye. After describing how it is about the Salem witch trials but inspired by the McCarthy ``witch hunts'' in the 1950s, he says, ``Éthe questions it raises about the vulnerability of intellectual freedom and the dangers posed by self-appointed moral crusaders could be applied in assessing any number of dilemmas, past and present... It reminds us that the struggle to preserve life and liberty is a cross that humans will always bear.'' Over and over again, when people tell me they want to come to the United States, I ask ``Why?'' And the answer is almost always, ``Freedom''.         

            This morning Zhang Jie joined me for Tai Ji which she hasn't done for quite awhile. In the middle while most of the group is doing the 42 and 48, we do a quick walk around. Today we saw a small group of three year olds and mothers. They had some big balls, a tape recorder, and a round rack with lots of colored little balls on it. I couldn't figure out what it was and we stopped to look and talk. It turned out the group is what I would call a play school group. The round things were the colored plastic bells on wrist bands. At their invitation, my plan was to go play games with them on Monday, my first available day, but that is now out as you will learn later. (Ah, mystery.)

            The tape recorder the Tai Ji group has been using finally gave out. In good style they got a new one and are asking everyone to contribute to the cause. I like that.

            When I got to school, in came Director Zhang Zhong with a white blouse in hand. She had been unable to find one like her blue blouse (and Fu Ling had called and commissioned her to buy one for me) so she brought a different one of her own that she had bought fairly recently. It is white cotton eyelet with a little different but traditional neckline and white frogs down the front. It fit, and she insisted that I keep it on. It is really comfortable so I'll get a lot of enjoyment from it.

            Back to the books we are making in all the classes. With the fifth graders, I had them compose their own sentences. It turns out they really have no loose paper. Everything is in the bound notebooks for specific classes, so Ren Hai Ying gave them each a piece of paperÉplain white, fairly light weight, in about a 6 x 8 size. The first thing they do is very carefully fold it over and over until it has creases the right width to guide their writing. That's what you do when you don't have lined notebook paper. The teachers do the same thing when they are hand writing a test, which always looks as if it has been typed in a script font, 10 point size. Amazingly perfect. Zhang Fu Ling and Sun Zhi Hong happened to come along when I was putting the second grade books together. They were fascinated and just watched for about a half hour. Teachers don't do anything creative like that here. The sixth graders at Bohan are the only ones I don't teach, but I hated to leave them out. I made book marks for them using the same foam and put three stickers on each one, a big sports ball (which Georgia sent), a U.S. bird postage stamp (which cousin Linda sent), and a little star. Zhang Yu gave them out and said the kids were real pleased. They decided that would give them good luck on their big English exam which they take on Friday.

            This afternoon during nap time when unassigned teachers often work in their offices, I went into the third grade room off of our office. Both Zhang Yu and Ren Hai Ying had pushed three of the flat top children's desks together and were curled up on top sound asleep. The joys of being used to the hard Chinese beds.

            I've been noticing how tarnished my silver cross is. I've worn it for 6 ½ years in Bakersfield and never had to polish it. After two months here it was looking a little dark so I gave it the toothpaste treatment, which helped. Now two months later it is tarnished again. I wonder what a person's tarnished windpipe looks like. That must be what is happening inside each of us. I also remember how mother used to soak white lace in strong tea to come up with a lovely ecru color. I don't know if I am imagining things, but I think my teeth are turning a lovely ecru color in response to all the tea, soy sauce, vinegar, and various other brown sauce ingredients. My Crest can't quite keep up with it. I have my teeth cleaning appointment in August, I think!

            I've learned the hard way that things get done on ÔChina time' here and it pays to be a bit of a pest on trying to follow through. I called yesterday and asked Li Di to please find out what day I would be leaving on my tour so I could plan what I am doing the last few sessions with each class. This was after I found out that I was aced out of a Friday meeting with the second graders due to Children's Day. I didn't hear back. So today at noon I called again. This time Cui Hua answered. She said she would find out and call me back when I got out of class at 3:30. I'm not sure when the action took place, but it did. I am leaving on Monday, the 3rd, which means, thanks to the Children's Day program, that two days from now, Thursday, is my last class. Thank goodness I have the books pulled together enough that I can make it! And I have also already worked out who is going to be the recipient of various gifts and books that I brought along.

I'm pleased with the tour plans. Again, I'll be going Chinese. The first trip is to Xian and the mud warriors. It is a five day trip, probably a day on the train each way. Then we come back to Tianjin. The next day we start out again going down the same direction by train for Sanxia, the Three Gorges trip on the Yangtze. (Seems to me, looking at a map, I could figure out a way to put two tours together without going back to point A.) Sun Zhi Hong said I could pay a little bit more and get a little better boat. I replied, ``Please do!''. I've read that there are several levels of Chinese boats before you even get to the least expensive of the ones used for American tourists. I expect another fun adventure here! The total cost is about $330 with everything paid but the meals on the Xian trip. I'm not sure who is going with me on each trip. I'm hoping for Cui Hua on one and Zhang Jie on the other. Not for me to decide. I end up back here on the 14th. My plane (United, not China Airlines, fortunately) leaves early on the morning of the 17th. Sun Zhi Hong says there is a party with the teachers planned during that time. I'm delighted. That will give me time to write up my journal and pack in more than just a quick overnight turn-around. From something Sun Zhi Hong said, I think Fu Ling will send Liu Jian Goa to drive up with me to Beijing. That would be great. It was not easy handling several suitcases on the commuter train when I arrived.

Over the weekend I started a list of things I'm looking forward to on my return home and things I will miss. I planned to keep adding to it, but I think I'll just attach it right now. It is sort of fun.