My first days in China
Trip Start Jan 14, 2008
9Trip End Jun 30, 2008
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By the time we got to the airport about 5pm, I thought I was going to jump out of my skin. Can you say way too keyed up? Nervous , excited, scared-sad to leave Tom and my babies-all of them. Luckily, I asked if my bags were check all the way through to China when we talked to the skycap and they weren't so we made sure they got checked through-I had to help the poor little counter man find the correct 3 letter abbreviation for Guangzhou airport (CAN) which I remembered for some obscure reason.
Tom and I say goodbye which was hard-he's wonderful to be willing to have his wife gone for so long and leave him with all that pet stuff I do. Then security-what a hassle what with shoes off, laptop out-I took up about 3 tubs. Then the sitting-we were of course very early. So, I sat and read and finally got on the plane-a little puddle jumper type jet. So small my carryon had to be checked along with most of the other people's carry on bags! That worried me because the laptop was in there-more on that later! The seats were miserable-mine and many other would not lean back and there was no way my fused spine could shape to that curve. It was not a comfortable flight. We got a bottle of water or soda-it seems they ran out of pretzels at some point-how much bad planning was that? We got a $25 voucher in the way of apology. Hmph.
Luckily, the flight was only a little over 2 and half hours. I survived, got my carryon and went out in LAX. I was in terminal 8 and I know I had to go to the Tom Bradley International Terminal-sounds spiffy, eh? So, I turned left and began walking. Not many signs to help you along and no maps. I'd looked at one online. I had over 3 hours though so I figured I could find it. Finally got to terminal 5-7 and 6 were easy but to get to 5 you had to go through this LONG, silent, sort of scary hall way-I was all alone-and it had security doors and all kinds of warnings. I got to terminal 5 and couldn't go any farther. I finally asked someone -several someones-and finally found my way outside where I walked along to the International Terminal. I still had hours to go! YAY!
You get into this terminal and it is completely different from the rest of the airport-chaotic, crowded, lines everywhere of stressed people who often do not speak English so there is a lot of concern that you are not in the right interminable line. I didn't have bags to check so I finally found the China Southern check-in line and waited in it-boarding pass in hand, went to wait in another lines, then security-again. Whew! All done. I noticed that the terminal must be the oldest part of the airport-it is run down, the bathrooms are antique, the ceilings are drooping or missing tiles-very depressing.
I found the proper gate and began the long wait-two hours maybe until we boarded. WRONG! About an hour in, suddenly every one began lining up as the China Southern folks looked like they MIGHT want to board people. Wrong place for the line-the line had to reform at another angle. I was in the very back of the plane so I knew where to line up-they put up a sign. The folks in the back went out first and did we see a plane? No, we saw a couple of busses. We were crammed on-all standing-and then driven what seemed randomly around on the tarmac, dodging planes for about 15 minutes. Finally we got out into another area and sent up stairs to actually board the plane! Amazing!
China Southern planes are REALLY nice-very new, huge-but with narrow aisles and it's hard to get that darn carryon down the aisles. I was not the only one and that whole thing about one carryon, 14 lbs?? Yeah, don't worry about that on the way over-everyone had multiple carry-ons, all heavy. The flight attendant and I wrangled mine into the over head and I got my seat. OMG, the seats are so narrow (no jokes about large butts, please)-and close together! Chinese people are really smaller than we are! You have a monitor on the seat back in front of you where you can watch really a really bad French movie with Gerard Depardieu-seemed stupid without hearing it. There were other stupid things on it and a running log of the flight-with maps-of where we were, how long to go (15 hours) time, temp. That was neat to watch endlessly when I was tired of reading. The man next to me was a rubber band man-he could twist himself in to more positions and he smacked his lips and slurped his food a lot but seemed nice. He also took some of the plastic dishes we got for our meals after carefully wiping them out and putting them in his pocket! The food on these flights is great-fresh, nicely arranged-not like airline food at all. The kitchen on the China Southern planes is the biggest I've seen! It covers the whole end of the planes. Exciting, eh?
Finally, about 14.5 hours in, we began to descend and see land. That was exciting. It had been neat to see LA and that area from the plane but seeing China is really neat....it was cloudy and gray but it wasn't the U.S.! We deplaned-onto the tarmac and stood shivering waiting for a bus to take us to the terminal-what is up with that? I think walking down a tunnel and coming out into the terminal is a better system. Oh well. We finally got in and I got my luggage-YAY! It was all there. I found Ann-the head of CIW where I will be teaching and off we went! The van took us the 50 miles or so to Zengcheng where CIW is. Zengcheng is a smallish city-probably no more than a million and not very many of them foreigners. So, we attract attention there. You also have to go to Guangzhou for most things except food and basic items.
That began a very hectic day-which is good-it keeps me from collapsing into a heap. I knew there was a dinner for the end of the semester that evening and wanted to go to that.
Ann and I went to lunch then at her apt. with her adorable child, Asya. Ann is from Ballinger, Texas but her husband, Osman, is from Turkey. Asya has two Chinese nannies-the child doesn't know which language to use-she's a year and a half almost. She was born in China September, 2006. She's amazed by foreigners like any good Chinese person is so she stared at me all the time. She apparently still stares at Travis though she's known him all her life. Wonderful food-Chicken legs, butternut squash, potato salad, carrot salad-it was so good and very fresh. I love Chinese cooking!
We went to CIW after lunch and found Travis-finally! I got to hug my big, handsome son. They had a faculty meeting so I sat down to check email-what the heck went on from Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening on my lists???? 995 messages in 24 hours-and the internet at CIW moves at very bad dialup speed. Anyone remember 2400 bps??? Yeah, that it! Mass delete on the way. But first Travis came in and said after the meeting he was going to the train station back in Guangzhou to pick up Melissa!! YAY! She came down from Shanghai on the train-neat experience, blahblahblah. 18 hours on a train is not an experience, it's a lifetime. She was supposed to be in about 3:30. Really. Wing, one of two wonderful CIW Chinese assistants , came with us-she's a doll. Little, cute and very funny-she and Travis tease all the time and she gives as good as she gets. I am just sorry I didn't get my camera for the train station. What a madhouse! We wait outside on this huge flat area---there are so many people milling around-some going, some coming. It seems very chaotic. And HUGE-the crowds are something to get used to-there are lots of Chinese people in case you hadn't heard.
We waited over an hour-many phone calls back and forth between Travis and Melissa. He couldn't understand why his sister would want to ride a train and we were getting nervous because the dinner was at 6-all teachers were to be there-and it was approaching 4:30. Finally we see her and I am so glad to see my daughter after 8 months! We really attract attention now-three blonde foreigners all together! The van races back to Zengcheng. I need to change-I'm not looking all that spiffy after all this time and as a teacher, I want to look nice the first time I meet the students.
The dinner was at a very nice restaurant and again, boy do we stand out-the three of us, blonde and all left handed-all eating with chopsticks. The Chinese don't like lefthandedness and left handed kids have to change when young to being right handed. Apparently the students are fascinated by the fact that all three of us eat with our left hands-and write on the board with them-it's just astonishing! The rest of the people in the restaurant watch too. But the food was wonderful-dish after dish of different meat, veggies, noodles-all put on the center lazy susan on each table so we can turn it and get some of each. It's very interesting because in the Guangzhou custom, you get your cups and bowls and they give you a weak, hot tea mixture-not to drink though. You fill each with the hot tea and then pour it into a bowl. It's to sterilize the cups and bowls-Melissa says that they don't do that in Shanghai-Travis, a firm supporter of Cantonese people (Guangzhou used to be called Canton by westerners ) over the snooty Mandarin speakers from Shanghai (his words) says that they don't rinse them in Shanghai because they are lazy. The students love it. Many pictures were taken-many! I hope I don't look like a gargoyle at this point.
We finally get home about 8:30 and I can finally unpack a little-pass out the presents that loaded my luggage down. I get out my laptop and plug it in-nothing! ACK! Travis, who had gone to bed, heard me and came out to help-I'm pretty upset about this turn of events-that's an understatement, of course. I'm also a bit tired (understatement). Bless his heart, he works with it-takes out the battery, puts it in, takes It out, rearranges the plugs-the charger is working but the computer will not even come on, has no lights-it is dead. I told them I was going home. One last battery removal and for whatever reason, that convinced the laptop it was ok to work! WHEW! I really didn't see how I could survive and besides there were almost 1000 emails waiting. Thank goodness I didn't have to go home. Melissa and I tried to get the hot water to work but it gave out in the middle of my shower but my hair was clean and I was too. I sent off some barely coherent emails and went to bed-not surprisingly, I slept no matter how hard the bed! The first day in China is over and we all made it through!
Day 2. Tuesday, Jan. 15-don't get excited here, I doubt that I'll do a day by day thing once I settle in.
I got up today at 4:30! I guess that's pretty good-not a long night's sleep but still pretty good. The kids are both sound asleep, of course and it's chilly. Melissa has the portable heater that would be in my room because Travis had no linens for her-I slept in my jacket and pajamas-a lovely look but no one to see it. I finally got mail in order-deleted over 800 messages and felt all accomplished and stuff. Tom and I talked over Skype-we'd talked the evening before and he got his camera to work! YAY! I can see the birdies and kitties (and him too! REALLY!) and it was so nice to talk to him. Of course, I was also talking to Jennifer on icq and writing mail so I'm not sure the multi-tasking made for a great conversation.
Travis, Melissa and I went into CIW and I went to class with him. It was the last day of his LOGIC class. 6 students. He is so good-I love to watch him teach. He's relaxed and funny and the students respond to him so well. They did want to ask me some questions about him. They are very interested in his mother-and we don't have the same last name. They have an easier time saying Dr. Gower than they do Mr. Lamkin though. Several of them will be in my US history class next semester. They are generally bright and engaged kids-very nice. The class is a Philosophy class and the concepts are not easy. It's taught in English with American textbooks. They struggle with the ideas but really seem to get them-it's amazing how hard these kids have to work at CIW-I've taught the US History online many years and they do well even though the whole framework of the history is so different for them.
After class we went to lunch with Osman, poor thing. He was exposed to the silly banter, teasing, allusions to movies that characterize all my family's conversations-Melissa and Travis tease all the time. He was probably happy to leave. Again, we were the center of attention at the restaurant-it's a neat place too-instead of booths, there are tables and the seats are swings! Very nice, woven swings with flowers on the cables holding the swings up.
Travis had class so Melissa and I bravely found our way back to the apt. by ourselves. We got a bus, and even remembered where to get off-wow! We then found the correct building and apartment and felt very smart.
Day 3, Jan. 16
This is a big day-we are going to Guangzhou on a bus so we have to catch the bus outside the apartment, go to the bus station and get the bus to Guangzhou-It's a long ride what with the frequent stops, honking, swervings to miss motorcyclists and scooter riders. It is amazing to see the traffic here. Around Guangzhou many people have their own cars-very nice new ones too. Many ride motorcycles and scooter and bikes. People also randomly walk out to cross the highway. The scooters scare me esp. when you see small children behind parents, all with out helmets. Some of the folks at CIW have seen accidents involving scooters or pedestrians so none of them ride them. Good plan! But the busses in particular get very close before braking and honk a lot. You have to be very careful all the times crossing the streets except at a few intersections with police who tell you when to go. When you are on the streets of Guangzhou (hereinafter GZ)the press of people, the many scooters and bikers makes it hard to ever look around and take pictures-you are walking fast-at least when you are following Travis you are. Melissa and I would finally make him stop so we could snap
pictures of places-he's been here a year and a half and knows the sights. But we made him stop. He was good about not going off and leaving us since he promised Tom he'd take care of me. We got to GZ about noon so we walked about in the market district-lots of small stores selling new year stuff. The Chinese New Year is Feb. 7 this year-it's a lunar calculation so it's a moveable holiday-10 days different each year, I think. This year---Year of the Rat-so there are all kinds of little rat things around. There are stores that sell nothing but slippers, nothing but hair scrunchies-very odd little shops.
We looked around a bit more at high speed. Travis and Melissa did some dvd shopping-very expensive rip-offs of everything is available here at about $1.00 for a single to $5 for tv series sets. Then we waited for the bus back to Zengcheng (hereinafter ZC) Long ride back and I was hoping we didn't plow down a pedestrian or scooter in the dark!
Ok, that's about it! Today, Jan. 17, Melissa and I stayed home and Travis went off to school. They were supposed to take me to the bank tomorrow but I had a feeling they'd want to do it today but I took them at their word and stayed home. Of course, they had to do it today so Melissa and I had to go out and it was raining and cold-neither of us have an umbrella and bad Travis selfishly took his to keep himself dry. We got the bus downtown and met, Sonny, the other CIW assistant at the KFC in downtown ZC. The KFCs are very nice-very upscale here.
The McDonalds are 3 stories high but not as classy as KFC. We trundled off to the bank where Sonny graciously navigated the labyrinth of bureaucracy to open my account while I signed where she said. She also fussed about Travis and the umbrella-clearly leaving his aged mother with none was VERY BAD!!!
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Where I stayed
Bi Gui Yen