30 October 2002

wanshengjie wiles

well, it's been quite some time since my last little slough of jargon flew up on this posting space. ever so much has transpired in the last few weeks, and i'm sure the same can easily be said of readers and writer alike.

strange sightings: three suit-clad businessmen were seen pissing on the side of a major roundabout near numerous government buildings (incidentally next door to my place of employ) last week, nonchalantly shooting the breeze during what i can only assume is for them common elimination procedure. i had to dodge grazing cows on my way home from the trolleybus over a week ago, which i thought strange since their de facto grazing land was smack dab between railroad tracks and busy avenue (is this a chinese version of free range, i wonder?). since the weather has turned cold, most children have transformed into vaguely ambulatory clothing bundles. too funny to watch said bundles perching precariously atop a bicycle. sadly that's all i can think of off the top of my head, but i will surely think of more in the next few days.

well, it's downright chilly here in northeast china. we had a sudden onslaught of freeze about a few weeks ago, and i shudder just a touch to think that this is only the beginning of what is shaping up to be a hypothermia-friendly winter. as i've mentioned to a few folks, central heating is turned on by calendar day, not temperature, and that day is november first. now i have to preface the upcoming tirade by saying that in china, as in no other place i have been, the weather is not an idle topic. it is, rather, a living and predominantly malificent entity whose sole mission is to make northern chinese the toughest, most resilient population (outside new york subway commuters) i have ever come across. that said, you can imagine what most people discuss on an average day when the weather is below freezing and one's apartment is colder than outside. our headmaster woke up one morning to find his sink lined with frozen water. i have never experienced bonechilling weather before, but it has a peculiar effect on brain activity. most people wear at least three layers of clothing, tip to tail. my students look more like bushels of yarn than aspiring young minds, though i'm sure the clever little tykes are in there somewhere. waiguorens are known for not dressing for cold weather, so more than one chinese friend of mine has unceremoniously pulled up my shirt and pants to see how i am dressed. they all reply that i'm not wearing nearly enough. most subsequently display their own layering system so as to give me a point of reference. i'm still a few weeks from my yarn underwear purchase, thank you. any thoughts i previously had of swimming in nanhu park this winter are gone, gone, gone! some bloc's heat was turned on october 25th to avoid frostbite hospital admittals, and my bloc was one of the lucky few. i think this has something to do with the fact that my apartment is located behind a hospital. happy me! i won't belabor a topic that is probably dismal to those of you situated in comparatively tropic climates, but just know that there are millions of dongbeiren (northeast china inhabitants) who are jealous of your single-layer attire (but you're still not wearing enough).

tomorrow is halloween ("wanshengjie" in chinese)! this is a holiday not observed in china, so i have been acquainting my students with some of the practices. of the holiday observances, you can imagine that candy acquisition rates first and foremost. nancy and i (my co-teacher at ji che chang primary school) have explained trick-or-treating, witches and costumes. this has been met with a cavalcade (is that the right word?) of questions. "are there really witches?" "if i dress as a witch, can i fly, too?" "what happens if a person doesn't give you candy?" "why do you wear costumes?" "are there REALLY witches?" "how does the broom fly?" they are so gosh-darn cute!! i can't wait until tomorrow when we trick-or-treat (after their test, of course). will be sure to take pictures, though i am still working on finding a scanner i can use in this coal-ridden city.

thanks to those who helped with the colossal task of naming! of the 300 students i helped name in the past few months, i've tried not to give any name more than twice. tried to approximate the sound of their given name or its meaning. one of my favorites was naming justice, a boy whose chinese name means "ambitious." ambition should be tempered with justice in my estimation, and his given name sounded much like justice. ahhh, small victories! it has also been heartening to meet a few students who didn't want an english name. i had tried to state as firmly as i could that english names are only for those who want one, and it was glorious to see that my speeches seemed to hit home. i'm sadly currently slaughtering their chinese names, but i have vowed to improve with time and practice.

anyway, more soon. thanks to all for sticking out the length of this email as well as the length of my silence. hope to hear from you and to hear that all is well.

03 October 2002

nothing short of paradise

october first is national day in china. the week surrounding aforementioned holiday is a time when most everyone in china has between 4 and 7 days free to travel or shoot the breeze or bao jiaozi or . . . (and, dear reader, perhaps you can understand what this means for the majority of the greatest population on earth to be suddenly unshackled from its occupational dens). as for me, i decided to embark on an adventure to dalian, one of the most renouned coastal towns in northern china.

as it turned out, Jeff (a coworker and friend) and i stayed a day at his friend's place in shenyang (midway between changchun and the much-anticipated dalian) before jetting off to dalian. his friend in shenyang ended up playing host to three or four friends during the holiday, as he is within a stone's throw from his alma mater and hence visited by old classmates. a lively time had by all. Zhao Hao's fiancee is also a grad student in english, so i even had someone to talk to while Jeff, Zhao Hao and Zhao Hai long spoke of days gone by. we played mahjiong, ate good fish and walked to the nearest park. as i may have mentioned to some before in personal emails, most parks in china are green excuses for amusement parks. why, when strolling around a peaceful lake punctuated by the occasional willow tree, there seems to be a burning need for bumper car rides and tilt-a-whirls, i will never understand. maybe it is my poor unsophisticated aestheticism. who knows? but on this particular day, the day before the holiday officially began, battalions of uniform-clad tykes paraded through nanhu park determined to buy every chintsy inflated plastic thingy and to ride every manual-powered amusement ride they could afford. it was so funny to watch the Young Pioneers pedalling away on their roller-coaster-like car or pondering a purchase (useless inflated plastic purple club or useless inflated plastic pink duck?) that the amusement assault on an otherwise serene park evaporated from my noggin.

but enough of pseudo-serene parks! onto dalian! Jeff decided to accompany me to dalian since his sister, an accountant like himself, couldn't get the time off they would have needed for a harbin holiday. we checked out xinghai park and laohutan park (suprise! they both had amusement rides complete with ferris wheel). the view, if you could just eject the giant waterslide from your mind, is bafflingly gorgeous. xinghai park has bungee jumping, which we watched for a good half hour. people spend a lot of money to feel like they are on the verge of dying while being constantly assured beforehand that the feeling is not an anticipation of actual result. after laohutan park and a 2-hour walk back into town, Jeff and i searched for a particular restaurant he remembered from a previous trip to dalian (sorry Jeff, but must tell the story. hope you forgive me). we ended up getting information from a woman who did not have all of her marbles that she knew the place we were thinking of and it was a short bus ride to the big restaurant. we ended up taking a long friggin' bus ride to a tiny restaurant that was, to make matters even more interesting, on military-occupied land and therefore off-limits to foreigners. one of the other passengers, as it became apparent that the woman was telling both Jeff and i to stay on board past the daytime checkpoint, that she was crazy and more than a little stupid to invite a foreigner into a military community. needless to say, we took the next possible bus back and Jeff FOUND THE RESTAURANT!! i had a sea urchin for the first time ever (very odd taste). beer and sleep melted all military hypotheticals away.

after Jeff left for changchun, i stayed on and went swimming fujiazhuang jingqu, a park WITHOUT AMUSEMENT RIDES!!!! i knew from that moment that it was going to be alright. i walked up a little hill and found a patch of zero-traffic woodedness and held on there for at least an hour. silence in chinese wilderness is not easily come by, and i lapped it up sure as shootin'. after this interlude came the real business - swimming. a kindly fellow who looked like he could be a lifeguard (i was suprised when he told me he wasn't) watched my bag while i had the single greatest ocean swimming experience of my life. i feel that's saying a lot. the waves weren't forbidding, the floor pebbly and quickly falling away to great depth, the other swimmers (all men, oddly enough) friendly and ready to either converse or ignore depending on your humor, and the water clear and salty. a covey of fishermen in ancient wooden boats were testing their luck just off shore, but no netfishing. i didn't even care if someone absconded with my bags (the real meat - my train ticket, alien residence card and atm card - were taped to the back of a picture in my hotel room and probably safe) but was pleasantly suprised to find it and the lifeguard-like fellow waiting upon my soggy return. i left to change and eat breakfast shortly after the kindly lifeguard inquired after my marital status. no need to go overboard with souvenirs, i believe.

sweet moses! sorry this entry is so long! i will finish later. in the dalian final edition: japanese food, haircuts, and a few things that haven't happened yet. also why i'm a bad travel companion.

thanks for hanging in there! as my aunt pat always says, "work hard, be happy, make friends."