Thursday, July 10, 2014

Li Songshu and Paio Xiuyu are both from Beijing. Both are graduates of Masters Degree programs at ETSU.  At various times they have stayed in our home, because years ago when international programs, our housing department was unable to have apartments available right away when students arrived in China.  Paio Xiuyu, or Judy as she called herself in America, served as my graduate assistant for a couple of years. We got together for a day in Beijing.  It was like a reunion with family.  I remember their struggles with English and the American education system when they were younger.  Both now work for international companies and are extremely successful.

Beijing is hot this time of year, and thick smog surrounds the city.  This was especially hard on Songshu, who married last year and is now pregnant.  We broke for green tea lattes at the ever-popular Beijing Starbucks.

Near Tiananmen Square, security was tight.  The so-called People’s Police patrolled with the sidewalks with metal detection wands, pulling aside random pedestrians. Fortunately, no one selected us for a pat down.
Later in a park adjacent the Forbidden City, I briefly joined a Tai Chi class. Practitioners of this martial art learn to channel energy from the universe to strengthen their own life force or Chi so they can defend themselves against an attacker.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Finding Breakfast
Due to jet lag, I am up early.  I showered well before six.  I need water— what comes from the tap is not safe to drink, and the electric pot provided for boiling water does not work.  At the hotel desk, I use my minimal Chinese to ask about breakfast: “Zaofan za nail?”
None of the clerks understand me because I don’t get the tones right. I have to resort to finding the phrase in my Lonely Planet guidebook and pointing.  One of the clerks responds that there is a restaurant on floor san (number 3) of an adjoining building. I walk over, noticing trees bearing lichee nuts and what I take to be Chinese clover.

 But this is vacation time, and the restaurant is closed. So is the campus convenience store.  A passerby holds an envelope professors here use for grades, and I think she may be a teacher. Her English is as extensive as my Chinese, but we communicate.
She says I can go to a dining hall on the campus, but I must have a meal card, which I do not.  I’m carrying Chinese money, and it is worth a try.  A young man who speaks just a bit of English says I can wait for an hour to see if the cafeteria manager will accept my money.  He is carrying three bottles of water and I offer him two yuan if he’ll sell me one.  He is embarrassed and gives it to me for one. 

There ensues a lively interchange between the young man, another student, and cafeteria personnel. I gather they are discussing whether anyone on the premises has the authority to accept a cash purchase. A cafeteria worker, a middle aged woman, seems to be volunteering, and guides me to the a counter where I select a hard boiled egg and a piece of warm bread topped with pepper and sesame seed.
The cost is four yuen—about sixty cents. I pick up the bag with my breakfast and thank the woman profusely. I eat outside in  a campus garden.
Is that stuff food?

At Li Jing’s home, I was served pig’s feet and cucumbers with lichen.  My friend’s mother-in-law was stunned to see me eating with chopsticks and also surprised I sampled all dishes served.  Americans are known to be picky.  I admit that eating such delicacies as duck tongues makes me uneasy, but I do it. The only food I refuse is dog meat.
Cultures define food differently; I come from one culture which observes strict dietary laws. But I never practiced them because they limit one’s access to people unlike oneself.  The sharing of food is important in creating connections.

Lords of the Internet

Despite the prosperity, this is a difficult time in China, for previously disenfranchised groups are seeking inclusion, and the government fears instability.  Military personnel patrol Beijing International Airport carry machine guns—a warning to would be terrorists.
Control of the Internet is another such warning. Many sites are shut down. Access to email is intermittent.  To me, in my state of exhaustion and culture shock, this is extremely difficult—I crave the connection with home, thought friends here are helping me. 
Yesterday, I visited a Taoist temple with my friend Li Jing where I saw worshippers lighting incense and posting small prayer flags.  There are all sorts of gods, my friend explained—some for fertility, some for health, some for prosperity.  Is there a god of the internet, I wonder, who can restore my connection to gmail?  

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Canine co-passenger

From Johnson City, it takes over 24 hours to get to Beijing. I've completed leg one of my journey and am currently on stopover. Next destination is Seoul, South Korea. There was a Chahuahua on board on the flight from Tri-Cities-- her owner was allowed to bring it aboard for emotional support. It cowered and whimpered under the seat behind me.
I never thought to inquire if Butter, our yellow tabby, would like to come with me to China. I imagine he would have declined. He doesn't even enjoy the short rides he makes in our car.

What does tomorrow mean? It is 5:30 pm here, but at home it’s 5:00 in the morning. I leave Weihai tomorrow and make a stop in Beijing. ...