Pilgrims, Dikes & Chinese Tacos

Trip Start Aug 19, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Jiangsu,
Thursday, September 13, 2012

Well, my second full week is now coming to a close.  That things change constantly in China has almost become a normal theme in life, however hard it is to get used to random schedule changes and strange demands by Chinese Administration or fellow teachers.  One of our poor number in this international office is about to go Office Space on the copy machine here, I think it's as old as I am.  (Also it's Japanese so none of our faithful Chinese office staff have any idea how to read the display much less fix the thing)  Add to it's advanced chronology the fact that they have it rigged to run on oversized, super cheap imitation tissue paper, and you've got a recipe for disaster.  The pages are double wide so (theoretically) you can fit two pages on each, however if your alignment is just slightly off you'll lose half your page, and there's the issue of the scanner on the thing not working so well after over two decades of service.  The paper is, as I said, a little on the thin side, and very fragile.  It's a light brown and seems like it was made to line burger baskets with, not print tests and articles on.  The printer itself also runs off liquid ink that is sprayed onto a roller.  The first time I saw it all I could think of was that Gutenberg would have been proud to see how far his invention has come, it doesn't take 5-20 minutes per parchment any more.  About the title, I'm doing Puritan literature, in geography we talked about how the Netherlands has reclaimed so much land, and I love a new kind of food which I'll simply call a Chinese taco.

Aside from our printing woes, I've gotten rather settled in after a chaotic first week and a very stressful weekend.  On Saturday, I first went to the bank to open an account with one of the Chinese teachers and a Canadian.  It took over 2 hours to open two accounts.  It didn't help that the guy behind the desk had to leave about 8 times to ask permission or help from some one else, some where else.  I think he was sneaking out back for a smoke break, or possible to try to trim the 4 long hairs popping out of one side of his jaw.  It wasn't even a mole, he just seemed to miss them every time he shaved (for the last 3 years)!  In truth, he didn't know what the hell he was doing so it was part cover up for that, part just to hassle some obnoxious foreigners, and wholly due to an absurd level of bureaucracy.  He took multiple photos of our ID's, photocopied them as well, took some photos of the forms he filled out, then copied them, them stamped everything with his official red stamp, then took pictures of everything (including the bank cards he'd just given us).

Fast forward from the bank fiasco to me getting locked out of my apartment when I was due to go on display in just an hour.  What do I mean by this?  I means the foreign teachers are paraded in front of a parents meeting where we smile and look foreign, and the staff of the school tells them all about the good things we do.  Then we are asked to make a short introduction, and our words are likely taken out of context to be more flattering than they already are from a group of people smart enough to know they're talking to the hand that feeds them.  So I'm dressed in gym shorts, atheltic shoes and a T Shirt.  Awesome, because the woman who is in charge of the keys lives an hour away, and isn't answering her phone.  I ran madly from one apartment to the next borrowing a business casual outfit, until I had a get-up that really did look good, about 3 minutes before our showing.  MADE IT!  So, work weekend number one ended with me sitting down on the corner where you can order small sticks of BBQed meat for the next 4 hours, waiting to get back into my place.

The second week of classes went much better, I'd made a pseudo melt-down and needed some reassurance from multiple sources just to keep from freaking out.  But in the end my knowledge and easy going nature helped carry me home with the kids in my class.  Before I knew it I was calling out kids for their "I spilled soup on my homework" excuses, and managing near total attention even during lectures.  I have a rough plan of how I'm going to do things, and the Chinese higher ups seem happy.  This inner peace lasted nearly uncontested until today, Friday.  
The coming weekend was supposed to be my first real weekend of rest since I arrived in China over 3 weeks ago.  I was going to do laundry, sleep a lot and then make a giant pot of soup.  This did not happen.  Instead I ended up working through the whole weekend.  We all did; the city government had decreed that all the schools had to, so the kids would not get involved in the anti-japanese demonstrations and riots that were feared.  Although this did take place in some areas, with crowds burning Japanese cars (regardless of who owned them) and destroying some other Japanese related stuff, it was as much a riot of have not's expressing anger at everything from government control to economic hardship.  They can't openly say those things of course, so the hysteria about these little islands is commonly used as an outlet for anger of all types.  Oh well, I survived but now without a healthy amount of anger myself.  When we bargained with the site principle over coming to work I had pointed out my contract, at which point she laughed.  That nearly made me loose it.  All the random requirements on us are one thing, but to shun the document that brought some one halfway around the world, well lets just say my mid-western sensibilities were nearly overcome, and I had to quickly leave the building.

Fast forward through a difficult week, and I was in Suzhou, Jiangsu.  It wasn't nearly that easy though, I'd awakened late, had to quickly bustle off to school, finish up my morniing, then turn around and high tail it to the train station.  There was no one on duty, so I had to convince a Chinese guy to use his ID so I could operate the automated machines.  I selected a Suzhou ticket, it cost about what I thought it should.  I got on the train without incident, and eventually after what seemed the right time I disembarked in Suzhou.  After multiple and increasing more frantic and annoyed phone calls and texts, and a near miss with a cabbie nearly driving me off into some rice paddy, I had the guy turn around and bring me back to the station.  After waiting a few hours and finally being questioned by some cops, I called a friend who speaks Chinese and it was determined that I was, in fact, in the wrong province.  I had ended up in Suzhou, Anhui, not Suzhou, Jiangsu.  SOB.

Well with that little tidbit of info I scuttled back inside and bought a ticket before the trains quit.  I made it to my real destination around 8 pm, but it seemed like I'd been up for days.  My friend picked me up at the station and I was half asleep in the back of the cab  all the way back to his place.  The following day we were due some sight seeing, but in the end we met one of my friends students and his mother.  They offered to take us to lunch, and that turned into an all day and all night affair.  She (the mother) paid for everything, including a traditional Chinese massage where the lady literally covered me in towels, lit her hands on fire (wearing special gloves) and gave me a massage.  It was uncomfortable, ridiculous, and unexpected, which is why I loved it!  The best would have been if the shower at the end of it had been in warm water, but alas it seems to be healthy one must shower in cold.  BBBBRRRR!

After dinner we heard some very old, very traditional Chinese music, and the kid who was our translator the whole day (that's why his mom was taking us around, to make him speak with us all day) confided in me that not only could he not understand a word they were singing, but that he really wanted to just go home and play video games.  At some level, I completely agreed, but hearing that sing-song performance in a tea house in the oldest part of one of the oldest cities in the world had really awakened me, and was probably the highlight of the day for me, albeit a short one.  

The trip home was relatively unremarkable, except that on getting back to Jinan I realized I didn't know how to direct a cabbie to the school.  So I took what turned out to be the correct bus back to the old station in the center of town (the high speed station is a few miles out) and from there it was a short but pleasant mile or two back to school.  The pictures in this entry are poor quality, because on getting to Suzhou, Carl and I were first just going to check out his school and come back for lunch.  Not wanting to push it, I left my camera at his apartment, thinking we'd do the real sightseeing later.  However, seeing the kid and his mom changed  all that, so I was left with just my cruddy little phone camera. 
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paul on

I love the way you write. Miss you Bro. Dont forget who it was that got you there

laowaibensen on

Thanks man, miss all you guys too. It's been rough, but I had some good training.....just hope it's enough=]

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