"Do you know Rose Kilmer?"

Trip Start Aug 22, 2010
Trip End Jul 01, 2011

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Flag of China  , Jiangsu,
Saturday, October 30, 2010

It is a first in China to find myself in an 'Indian Jazz Bar' in SIP (Suzhou Industrial Park: new glitzy neon draped area of the city 45 min. east of us) at 9 pm on a Friday night talking to a musician only to have them say, "Would you know Rosemary Kilmer?" It was a lovely small world experience!

We almost missed this musical evening.  I was too tired to read an email a few weeks ago from my neighbour Jen regarding various events in Suzhou, and which ones would we like to join her on? I didn’t get to the email and after being prodded a few times by Jen, managed only to print out the email as I left for work and asked John to take a look.  He emailed me at work, asking if I had even glanced at the email? No, my reply – so I hadn’t seen the name of one of the bands coming to Suzhou: Five Finger Rapids….. had to be a Yukon connectionJ Performing last night at Ganesh was Five Finger Rapids from Whitehorse.  They performed at a Jazz festival in Nanjing and had added a Suzhou stop en route to Shanghai.  The door price was steep even for a bar gig at home (300RMB each, $46 Cdn) and Ganesh for dinner is expensive but how we can we turn down music from the north! We were very glad we didn’t and had a great time.

The band members include Marg Tatam (the do you know Rose connection), Grant Simpson (we’d met years earlier when Marilyn Smith was doing Frantic Follies), Kate Weekes who I hadn’t met before and Rob Bergman.  Rob was actually the first person I went up to in order to introduce myself.  I knew he was a Bergman, as I’d met his brother years earlier playing in Victoria with Colin Campbell of my Oak Bay Band parents days.  Well, it was a lovely foot in mouth experience, as I was thinking I was introducing myself to a Bergman brother living in the north, since the other one lived in Victoria playing music with Colin, but as I began my intro, I discovered this was the Bergman who played with Colin and so we’d already met, and of course I thought he looked like a Bergman, as he was the Bergman I’d already met!  The many layers of common connections were explored both in Victoria and my time doing band trips to Cuba and Mexico with Colin, and in the north with the Globe Theatre & Tarahne, and how Rose and my co-Historical Society conspirator, Carrie, now lived so near each other on Salt Spring Island.  I particularly enjoyed my chat with Marg who I hadn’t met before who I told all about our Mudu teaching life.

My friend Pat in Victoria would be proud of me, I managed to stay out for an entire set of Jazz musicJ The music was indeed a treat with two particular highlights.  One was Grant doing a Fats Waller tune of 1929 (had to look that up!) called A Handful of Keys.  Grant is an accomplished stride piano player and I wished Linda Fisher, Ian, and Sue were with me to enjoy a John Fisher moment.  I told Jen and Madonna who were with us on this outing, about Dad’s 78 collection down in Ian’s basement and my Christmas efforts last year for Sue, David, and my three boys, to make scrapbook style shadow-boxes with Rosedale Heights Saloon paraphernalia, photos, and Dad’s 78s.   The other highlight was having such a good time, lots of laughing, some silly pictures, great food for dinner (vegetable samosas with a cilantro dipping sauce, a chicken Korma for me, a lamb curry for John, and shared garlic naan bread) and even one dance-floor moment where Madonna and my efforts were met with clapping cheers from the audience.  The evening was a lot of fun and as the four of us poured into a cab to head home at 11 there was more hilarity as we used some of our new mandarin words to get a number of laughs from our driver (wode fengzi pungyo – Madonna indicates to the driver pointing to us in the back… my crazy friends).

It is now Saturday morning.  John’s still asleep while I blog and catch up on the week. Thursday at school was our Halloween party.  We really don’t have enough outlets/opportunities for the students to just have fun.  They are scheduled 7 am to 8 pm and electricity is shut off in the dorms at 10 pm. There are no sports to speak of and almost no free time.  Our clubs twice a week from 3:30 – 5 that we must supervise have started to provide some outlet for fun, but the party was really a big deal for the students.  I got a pretty great reaction from students for my costume.  Many asked if they could have a picture of themselves with me.  To my horror, far too many said I looked very beautiful, I should grow my hair etc…. oh dear, it was so not me, and I was trying to ham it up, but it wasn’t always received that way.  Pat, our principal, said when I came up to him at the door as he arrived, that he had no idea who it was.  That was far more what I had hoped for!

I had lined up 5 staff (2 foreign, 3 Chinese) to be the costume judges and organized the prize certificates for the students.  There really were some great ones.  One of my grade 11s went in a box: Leon in a box, version 1.0 to be precise.  It was quite clever, plus he went in early and sat motionless for a good long while, waited till the students around him didn’t know there was anyone in the box and then got a great startle reaction when he jumped up making the box leap into the air.  Jim, another of my students was an Emperor – great costume with a funky head piece.  His headpiece later became a prop for various pictures including one of our Mr. Tao.  Mr. Tao speaks no English but is the Chinese office worker designated to take care of foreign teachers’ off campus needs. (You can’t begin to imagine how difficult operating through that connection has been when you are trying to communicate about hard beds and where to buy bed liners, broken hot water and flooding bathrooms, or when would the repairs be happening, how to get internet hooked up, or water delivered… the Mr. Tao stories are endless.) He’s not a particularly animated man, and when all the teachers were trying to get set up at once in the beginning, his stress was obvious to all.  But Mr. Tao dropped by on the Halloween party and we soon realized in a fairly inebriated state.  Jen was quick with the camera and Jim’s headpiece, so party-mode Mr. Tao was captured on camera!

Many of the girls went with a Japanese theme and looked good.  A few Mao outfits, military get ups, and a fair number of odd masks were in the mix too.  Leo in my math 12 from Mexico came looking quite like Tiger Woods complete with red gold shirt, gloves, golf club and a black eye make-upped on.  Madonna was a scare crow. John wore light-up devil’s horns - they went well with his black outfit.   The kids played various games the 12s supervised: pin the wart on the witch, a mummy wrap competition, a bun on a stick version of the apple on the string game, a pass the pumpkin relay, a witch broom/volleyball relay game (fabulous local brooms see pic below), and of course played loud music and ate candy. Jen (in charge of the deal) and I had done set-up so we were thankfully not part of the clean up crew that took over at 8 pm, so Jen, Madonna, John and I taxied home together.

I’ll include in the photos some other clothing pictures and a few videos.  When I went to Shanghai the second time, to take Greg and Jeff to the airport and did the ‘check the fitting’ of the dress, the store manager very quickly started making a closure for the dress.  It was not the style of closure I had initially picked two weeks earlier when the store manager hadn’t been there… but as I watched her so adeptly and quickly make this closure, I knew I had to go with the one I was getting to see being made.  They are on the dress at the neck line and side slits – which are alarmingly high! Bending over to pick anything up is not recommended in this outfit!  The weather has dramatically turned cold since I got the dress too and I was worried I’d freeze to death, but I had a pashmina I could press into duty and with over 100 students in our ‘activity room’, I had no trouble staying warm. 

The sun is out today and I can see blue sky! On many days it is hazy and perhaps polluted so that non-rainy days aren’t often very bright. The plan today is to get some exercise – although I bike each day to school, there really isn’t any physical activity to speak of going on, and I’d love that to change. There’s school report card comments to get ready, but I’ve already done a lot there, so a shopping outing for some much needed toiletry items is in order.  I wonder if I can find insole inserts for my winter boots (UGHS) Jen picked up for me last weekend in Shanghai? I’m hoping to meet last year’s math teacher today – I’ve heard he’s in Suzhou visiting, and at the Halloween party we met Tom Fisher and Louisa from the UK teaching in Suzhou at an Ontario-program private school nearby.  They are renting living quarters from our school and dropped by the party.  I’d like to find them and line up a dinner out together sometime. (There were a number of eating out successes this week: students took me to a tiny spot by the school, that a few weeks ago I never would have thought I could safely eat at, where I had a chicken wrap with sweet and sour sauce that was fabulous even though I’d seen my chicken tongs hit the floor, be picked up, and be carried on withJ Jen and I ate at another spot near the school and one of our students helped us write out what we’d like as this was how ordering was done and there was definitely no English to be seen.  On an outing across from the school with Leslie I found hot milk tea @ ‘R&B’: 80% hot milk + tea.  At home we took delivery of 10 lbs of DongShan Oranges a gift for the teachers from school: quite like mandarins, pictured below with my new China dragon mug from Starbucks where John got his coffee press so he could enjoy the coffee sent him by sister Sue!)

This posting has skipped the not-so-ho-ho aspects of the week, but that’s ok too.  There’s always so many challenges at work, kid issues, we had some last minute schedule changes that threw us all for a loop, an intense staff meeting, a Chinese teacher who left so we all went out for a dinner for her, our first Mandarin lesson (exhausting!), and on it goes.  John had more than his share of stress this week too.  I know he’ll do his own blog about navigating employment in China, but K teaching offers were delayed, then morphed to business college settings (just a wee change there!), plans for work visas were revoked (very worrying!), the problems were endless and for now we are back to the tourist visa only route for John.  It has been an ongoing stressor for us.  I now have a work visa and foreign expert certificate that keeps me legal here through the school year.  John’s visa is only good till January 20, so we have more to figure out there.  The story keeps changing as we learn more, but it looks like John will have to exit China just before his visa expires and spend a few days in Hong Kong applying for another one – one that will only get him another 3 months! So stay tuned for more on this story, there are bound to be many more chapters as we’ve already weathered about 6 to date.

I hope this weekend find everyone well. Thank you so much for the emails from home – they really are my life-line.  I wish I was there to give Jill and Glen a special hug.  They lost Jill’s mom Sheila since I last wrote.  I don’t think there is a braver, stronger, more courageous way to journey through cancer than how Sheila did.  I hope when my challenges come, I have 1/10th the grace I saw in Jill’s Mom over the last year.  My thoughts are with Jill, Glen, and Sheila’s hubby of 54 years, Jack.  Thinking of you all.  With love from Suzhou,

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Stephanie Parker on

Wow Kate.! What a small world it really is., meeting Whitehorse Musicians AND having connections to them. Enjoyed seeing all your gorgeous Chinese clothing. Halloween looked like fun. Thanks again, for sharing....Steph

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