Saturday, July 08, 2017

Little dogs bark
I am teaching in Weihai, which is on a peninsula across the Yellow Sea from North Korea.  At a dinner party last evening, I asked some colleagues how they viewed the nuclear threat from their Northern neighbor.  They were astounded the US takes Pyongyang seriously when he speaks of nuclear attacks. 

“Kim Jong-Yun is like a very small dog,” said one of my colleagues.  “Such animals bark.”
He believes the Chinese government does not put more pressure on North Korea because they feel he poses no danger.  

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Glorious Fourth
While I’m not big on ostentatious displays of patriotism, I missed the red, white and blue paraphernalia one sees on the Fourth of July.  In addition, I was scheduled to teach.  Because I wanted to mark the day in some way, so I invited some friends to have lunch at KFC, which is very popular in China.
Here, the offerings are spicier than in the US, and buckets of chicken come, not with fries but steamed rice. My friend Lucy Zhang said KFC chicken here tastes better than in the US. I thought the stuff tasted weird.
KFC is a popular for dates, and by Chinese standards, a bit expensive.  My friends let me pick up the tab because I insisted, but did not let me order, fearing I’d be ripped off.  The Chinese negotiate prices even in fast food restaurants.  

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

 A Teacher in China 
Personnel in the hotel dining room accord me extreme respect, which is slightly embarrassing. At the buffet breakfast, they put extra food on my plate, and if they see me choose tea, they offer me coffee which they think I prefer.  They will not call me ‘Gan Mei,” my Chinese name; instead they call me “Laoshi” which means teacher.  The term conveys an esteem far exceeding “Doctor” or “Professor.”  Laoshi is what Confucius was called. 
This profound regard for teachers contrasts sharply with the American attitude, where teachers are accused of falling down on the job when tests scores decline. Here, if students do not perform well, the students are told to work harder, and teachers don’t receive blame.

In this time of increasing affluence, China has been increasing the pay of teachers, in recognition of what they do. 

 Racial Profiling?
The Lin Chun Market is a variety store near my hotel something like Target but larger and on several floors. I went there to buy yogurt, biscuits and laundry detergent. After paying for my purchases, I took the escalator to electronics, since I’ve been having trouble with my camera and may need to buy a new one.  As I attempted to leave, I had the small plastic bag with the detergent and yogurt, and I had a receipt.
I was stopped by a stern looking guard who took the things I had bought away and locked them in a blue canvass bag with a gizmo on it that looked like an ink tag.  He motioned me toward the checkout line. My Chinese wasn’t up to this, and the man spoke no English.  I kept pointing to the bag and saying “Fa paio,” the word for receipt.
A saleswoman saw what had happened.  She spoke no English either, but directed me to a second guard by the door who unlocked the bag and handed me what I’d bought without comment. He, apparently, was the door checker.
The procedure is not routine. The first guard must have had some question as to whether I’d actually bought the items and suspected shoplifting.  But why?  I had a receipt.  However, as a racial minority, I was under suspicion. Happens all the time in the US.

Westerners are welcome in China, but occasionally people distrust us. 

Monday, July 03, 2017

Jet lag

 The time here in China is 12 hours earlier than in the Eastern time zone, so day has become night and night day.  This is true on all trips to China, but there were complications this time. Our 4:30 pm flight from Dulles took off three hours late. As a result, I missed my connecting flight and had three hours’ sleep in an airline-provided flea bag hotel. Two nights with almost no sleep.

Jet lag goes away in time.  As with hangovers, there isn’t any real cure for jet lag, though Internet sites hawk melatonin and lavender oil. Usually, I force myself to stay active during the day and lie down after dark when I get here.  This time, I’ve been too tired.
Yesterday, I slept after church.  At 6pm, I was too exhausted to face the dining hall, and even at 9 pm, I was too tired to go out.  The maids left some dried salted green peas when they made up my room, so I ate them for supper with several cups of boiled water.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Hazards of Monolingualism

Getting around is a challenge.  The US government defines disability as a condition limiting at least one major life activity.  My limited Chinese affects everything.
When I gave him the note from my friend with the name of the church, the taxi driver had questions about directions.  But my budding linguistic abilities weren’t up to the challenge.  I wondered if he knew where he was going and asked “Women dao nar chu?” (Where are we going?) 

Taking his hands off the wheel, he clapped his hands together and crossed himself. I was not reassured.

Church was impressive.  The sanctuary was packed, and there were about thirty baptisms that morning, some by sprinkling and some by immersion. This, I have read is not unusual; Chinese churches are growing.  But open profession of faith here comes at a cost.  While the Chinese government tolerates state sanctioned forms of Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism, open declaration of faith decreases opportunity. To get ahead here, one must belong to the Communist Party, and members may not be believers.

Church services are formulaic, so I knew what was going on. Although my fund of Chinese vocabulary is limited, I recognized the beatitudes and Lord’s Prayer from their rhythm and the few words I know.
 After church, I needed another taxi.  Since the church is on a back road, I needed assistance. My fellow worshippers, most of whom spoke less English than I speak Chinese, were worried about letting me walk to a taxi stand on my own, and a group of women clustered around me.  A man in a colorful T-shirt offered to give me a lift on the back of his motorbike, but the thought of riding on semi-paved streets with no helmet was not appealing.  Another, man who knew just a bit of English, walked with me to the taxi stand, which was six blocks away.

A Second Soul

Our flight was delayed, but we took off finally, and they were serving us dinner. The Chinese attendant did not comprehend when I asked for “jiu ro.” I had to say “chicken.”
The plane lurched, and a plastic fork bounced from her tray, hitting my shoulder.  She must have said “I am sorry” six times.  
I assured her it was OK.  “Mei guanxi.”

Every time I successfully communicate in Chinese, it’s a triumph. Languages don’t come easily to me, but I’m persistent. The great philosopher Kongzi, whom the West calls Confucius, said that to learn a new language was to acquire a second soul. Since my Chinese is limited to such profundities as “May I have a napkin?” and “Where are the toilets?” it seems like a stretch to say I’m undergoing a metaphysical change of any sort. Still, it’s fun.

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. ...