Week III – part 2

So we had a thunderstorm today. It was really fun. I can’t remember the last time I was in a thunderstorm, which is sad because I love them. We were in class at the time (it was in the morning) and had to close the widows because it was raining so hard, we couldn’t hear the teacher over the thunder and the rain falling outside! In between classes though, I went out and jumpmed in puddles, getting very wet in the process. It was nice to be in the rain for a bit. It was pretty hot yesterday, so the rain was a nice relief.

Now, back to last week. So, that thursday night after we got back from visiting the school, was free time. I took a nap and then went out walking in the market with a chinese student. She got a necklace for herself and I bought some fruit and presents. She ‘complained’ that she had to pay more for the necklace because I was with her. Since I am a foreigner, I am more or less charged more anywhere the price isn’t fixed, which gives me lots of bargaining practice. So she thought the ‘puzi ren’ (store owner in chinese) wouldn’t go for less than he did because there was a ‘waiguo ren’ around (foreigner). I’m getting pretty good at bargaining. The most important thing is to be able to say no and walk away. Most things you find, you can find cheeper somewhere else. And sometimes you can say no and walk away, and come back later and get him to go down lower. You have to be able to set your own price in your mind and not buy it if the seller doesn’t meet that price, no matter how much you want it. You also need to start ridiculously low, ask for what you know they won’t give you, then move up to what they might and stay there because in the end, they usually give in.

Friday we got up around 7 and at 7:30 had a group breakfast at the hotel. It was VERY different from the breakfasts I’m used to, though not really strange sinceI’ve been eating chinese breakfasts for a few weeks now. There were eggs, hard boiled ones anyway. And there was milk, though it was whole milk in little bags believe it or not. You had to tear a corner off the bag with your teeth and pour it into your cup, or just suck it out of the bag. Oh, did I mention, the milk was hot? They heat up everything, except for a few strategic cold meats and pickled vinegar stuffs. So, warm milk, warm water, warm cola, warm beer. Fun fun. Oh, and no pancakes, waffles, sausages, jelly, honey, butter, or even fruit was present (wait, they might have had watermelon slices at the end but I don’t remember). They did have baozi (steamed buns stuffed with meat or vegetables), you tiao (fried bread strips, very tasty if they are hot and very greasy if they are cold), and other meat and veggie dishes, I can’t remember that well. Oh yeah, and they had rice gruel. I added some milk to mine and it tasted pretty good.

After breakfast we left for Wu Bei, a small farming town (suburb really) of Lai Xai, about 20 min away. In the village we were to visit another elementary school. Driving down “main street” you could see some stores and people walking around doing business, and the road was paved. But as soon as we turned off toward the ‘suburbs” where all the houses and the school were, the road became a rutted dirt road. It was actually really funny trying to drive to the school since we were in one of those huge, 40 person tour busses. This road was one lane wide and frequented by dirty and beat up farm equipment and people on bikes. Our bus stuck out like peacock among ravens. Everyone we passed stared, and I don’t blame them. Before we got to the school though, the road became impassable and we had to just stop the bus and walk the rest of the way (not very far). This rural school was much smaller than the city one, and obviously had less students. It was, however, clean and neat. Simple without looking shabby. It has two main courtyards, one leading into the other, and several smaller spaces off to the side. The buildings were long and low, no second stories. I’m nor sure why, but they had patches of soy beans inside the school grounds. I don’t know if they were just making good use of spare space, or if it was a school project or what.

The kids were all very shy, probably because we were the first non-chinese people they had ever seen (I’m not counting television). We got to sit in on the second grade’s music class. The teacher played a tune on a small electric piano while the class sang, believe it or not, to a very familiar American tune which I recognized, but I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it. I come from a very musical family and I sing and play the piano fairly well, and I must say that though neither the piano playing or singing was very good, I could tell they were making an effort. I am not sure what they were singing. As you might or might not know, it is very hard to understand singing in Chinese because when singing you can’t pronounce the words with tones (Chinese without tones is extremely ambiguous).

After that we were taken to another place in the school and treated with fresh fruit, while I tried to talk to a group of 3rd grade girls. I say try, because only one or two of them would respond to my conversation and questions (I guess I look more like a foreign devil than I thought >;). With many goodbyes and thanks from the school staff, we left the school and started walking to our next destination. Two of the school girls were taking us to their respective houses so we could see what the village was like. They led us through many winding and dirt paths (roads to them) that crisscrossed and twisted around the mud brick and concrete houses and stacks of hay that sprawled in every direction. I’m sure I would have gotten lost if I wasn’t following someone.

Both houses were traditional chinese houses, if small. They were surrounded by a wall with a main gate. Inside the gate was a tiny courtyard with some farm equipment, guard dogs, and the family’s mode of transportation: bikes. The houses had three rooms each: a ‘kitchen’, a ‘living room’ which also served as a bedroom, and another bedroom for the kids. They had a TV, but I don’t know about phones, and I didn’t see any computers anywhere. The latrine was a pit dug in the corner of the courtyard. We were followed by droves of villages, all very curious at this long parade of white people toting backpacks and new, clean clothes. Many of the very small children were dressed in what I have found is a common practice in china: the poorer people do not put diapers on the kids, instead the dress them in pants that have the bottom cut out. So when the kids need to go, they hold them over some street corner and the kid does his stuff. I’ve watched them do it. They find absolutely nothing wrong with this, and some people think it is better that the children get lots of air around that area of the body, since it is true that a wet diaper left on a baby is not good for it (but a dry diaper is just fine, I’ve heard them say it is more convenient than diapers, and if you are trying to save some money I guess millions have survived without diapers for thousands of years, so no big deal).

Overall, I would say the village was full of normal people going about normal lives: loving one another, working hard, and dealing with what life handed them. They didn’t seem aware of, or resentful of their poverty. Of course, compared to some, they are rich indeed. They have a house, a family, an income, clothes, food, schooling and many other things that millions only dream about. I was very humbled by the experience, and I thank God daily for what he has given me. It also reinforced in my mind my personal rule that I try to stick to (but don’t always succeed): no wining or complaining, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. No matter what happens to me, it is never as bad as what millions of people deal with every day as if it were completely normal. I try to never complain, period, because I have no right to anything at all. Everything I have is a gift and if I got what I deserved it would all be taken away. There’s your life lesson for the day.

After our visit to the village, we loaded back up on the bus and drove two hours back to Qingdao. The rest of the weekend was pretty normal. I did some more shopping, but this time with the daughter of a friend of Hongmei’s and the daughter’s cousin. They are both in middle school, but I felt like they were my age. We had fun and I mostly spend lots of money buying more presents (boy that is fun). I am soooo grateful to certain people, who know who they are, who have so generously given me some spending money such that I can afford to buy presents for everyone. Believe me, it is very much appreciated and I hope I have spent the money well.

Sunday I went to church for the first time in four weeks (cries in relief). It was a very large Christian church, not sure what denomination, or if there even was one. I think the church used to be a catholic church. There were probably a thousand people there, it was packed beyond capacity. The singing was very nice, and the sermon was on a passage in I Timothy. I didn’t understand much of it, but from reading the bible passage (I have a chinese/english bible) and the bits I picked up, I think I got a pretty good idea. One of the main points was that with the Olympics coming up, the Chinese Christians needed to be even more on their guard to be good witnesses for the Lord and to spread his light to the influx of people who will be coming to Qingdao to view the sailing events.

So that’s all for last week, sorry for the delay. Now I get to work on this week (grin, sigh…..).

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.